Thursday, February 19, 2015


Since Monday was a holiday and M had his voice lesson in Portland that afternoon, we headed down to the big city a bit early for a little adventure.

Which is a very weird place indeed.

But I have a fondness for strange museums (my favorite being the Mutter in Philadelphia).

I think that it would be fun to travel around the country, visiting these sorts of museums, and write a book about them (or maybe just a blog). Someone is probably already doing that, right?

I couldn't quite tell whether the museum was serious or not...I mean, it really felt like it was, but then again...big foot. 

Afterward, we walked several blocks to the music store and then several more to a pizza place. It was so unbelievably windy that day, and I was dressed for walking around in the city, not an arctic expedition (no long johns!). I honestly don't think I've ever been that cold. But I think I crossed the rubicon that day (I don't know if that's really the correct phrase for what I mean, but it sounds good). I went out to fill the bird feeder yesterday morning when it was 1.9 degrees F, wearing only my pajamas, a sweater, and one mitten (to keep my hand from freezing to the doorknob) and it felt downright balmy. Bring it, winter, I don't even feel the cold anymore.

On Tuesday, I took E and Z for a special behind-the-scenes tour of the teaching animals at Chewonki (a nearby camp).

We admired hissing cockroaches and dead rats (lunch) and a little alligator.

Plus the sweetest little saw-whet owls,

barred owls, 

screech owls, 

and great-horned owls.

All the animals were injured and are unreleasable for various reasons and are used for educational programs.

In the afternoon, we went to a nature journaling class at our nearby farm store, and despite their self-professed aversion to interacting with people, both E and Z's arms shot up in the air whenever the instructor asked a question, and they seemed to really get into sketching, which was fun to see.

The boys have just a couple days of vacation left, which they're spending doing their favorite thing--nothing at all. I wouldn't mind a little of that myself.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Weekend Things ~ Valentine's Days

We had a gloriously long weekend, with a holiday Monday and an extra day off yesterday, that I took since the boys are on school vacation. As with most weekends, I stayed far away from my computer the whole time, and am just now catching up. For Valentine's Day breakfast, I made French breakfast muffins and strawberry smoothies (I recently discovered that we have a freezer full of strawberries--the ideal antidote to the very cold month we've been having).

C made me a card out of birch bark, and my mom sent me a Strawberry Shortcake card--a leftover from Valentine's I handed out one year. I love it.

I gave C a heart-shaped bowl of candy (the bowl is really for me, but shh, don't tell him that), and this year's heart in nature addition, a sweet leaf I found on a hike last fall, and a knitted heart, because doesn't every man need one of those?

I had a puzzle made for the boys from a picture of them in front of a lighthouse, with lots of white sky in the background, to make it tricky.

All morning we had this cardinal hanging out around the feeder, a living Valentine in the trees.

In the afternoon, after some cleaning, E discovered these old diggers that he and Z got as a gift when they were almost too old for them, but he ended up putting in some serious digger time in the afternoon, which I loved. It's good to see them be little kids, you know?

In the evening, we left the boys with some boxed macaroni and cheese and a movie and C and I headed out on a real, genuine date, to our favorite restaurant, by way of a local book store where I got On Immunity and Nature Anatomy and a gift shop where C bought me a bracelet (not pictured).

Sunday we were supposed to get another blizzard, but instead we got this: blue sky.

We had planned a party, but cancelled it due to the dire forecast (24 inches!!).

So we spent the day relaxing instead of cooking.

We went on a stomp through the woods, where the porcupines and hares were busy.

And then followed our route down the river.

Although it wasn't snowing, we had blizzard-like winds,

and it felt almost as if we were in the desert, with white sand, not snow, whipping up in little dust-devils and stinging our cheeks.

Imagining I'm in the desert is a frequent pastime of mine, so it was easy to conjure sand dunes form snow drifts.

As we came home overland, I stopped and fell in love with this tree.

The outer two or three inches had been riddled with holes and reduced to a spongy texture, yet the tree itself felt solid and here to stay for a while.

Its perforated wood reminded me of saguaro cactus "wood," to continue with the desert theme.

We arrived home with the lowering sun,

just in time to cook up some nachos and mix a few practice Margaritas with a few hardy souls who made it to our house for a dry run of the postponed party.

Hope your weekend was lovely too!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

February Knits

Would it be a total cop-out if this little heart was the thing I knit for February, for my knit one thing a month challenge?

I've had this lovely soft, Valeniney colored yarn for a couple of years, since I made my sister a pair of fingerless mitts from it, and I've been wanting to knit a heart from it, but it seemed too complicated--figure eight cast-on...knit the front and the back at the same time...what's that all about?

I finally decided to take the plunge and stitched this cute little guy up Sunday afternoon. The cast-on and nearly seamless knitting turned out to be quite easy, but my make-ones left huge holes on one side of the heart and my grafting together at the top is abysmal. I'm a little tempted to make myself knit another one without mistakes, but that might not happen until next Valentine's Day (unless I get inspired to make these for Christmas ornaments).

 I've also been working on an actual, real-live knitting project, not just fiddle-faddle (as my mom calls things like that little heart, the phrase stolen, I believe, from Elizabeth Zimmerman). There are two kinds of people in this world: those who adore fingerless gloves (or mitts or wristers or whatever you want to call them) and those who think they're ridiculous. I fall squarely in the adoration camp. I have two pairs, which I wear in my freezing cold office all winter, every day outside in the fall and spring, on milder winter days (by "mild" I mean above 20 degrees F, not that we've had any days like that recently), and underneath my regular mittens on really cold days, and anytime I want to write, take pictures, fasten snowshoes, or do anything else with my fingers in the winter.

This pair I'm very excited about--they're extra long and fashioned of varied-width stripes in some super soft cotton-wool blend from my stash, in my favorite shade of lime green and a kind of gray-purple color. They're coming out a little wibbly-wobbly due to my uneven tension (I keep trying to keep my stitches tight, but then I pull the running yarn too tight and make a pucker), and my attempt at jog-less stripes is very joggy indeed. I've also come to a stand-still with the cast on after the thumb hole...totally flummoxed by the directions.

You know, I've been knitting for 19 years, and you'd think after all this time I might actually be kind of good at it (admittedly during the first 12 of those 19 years, I averaged only one project per year, so slow progress is to be expected, I suppose). The first thing I knitted was a seed-stitch scarf (because garter stitch is for chumps, or so I thought then), followed by a hat knit on double-pointed needles with color work, and then a pair of mittens. It's like I dived right in at the advanced beginner stage and there I've stayed all these years.

Anyway, to bide my time while I wait for an answer to my fingerless mitt dilemma, and also because I should do this while there's still knee-deep snow outside, I've turned my attention to recreating the mitten E lost one week after I gave them to him for Christmas last year (as in 2013).

It's taken me a while to get around to it, and when I went to buy the Noro half of the yarn, I found this color was discontinued. Not only that, but I had no idea what color it was (not having done anything useful like write down the color code somewhere or put that information in Ravelry). I spent a good long while scanning through projects on Ravelry until I found a match from someone who did keep notes on the color. I then found two skeins for sale on Ebay.

When the yarn arrived, the next problem I faced was needles: the pattern calls for size 11, but I searched the house high and low and could find no 11s, only 10.5s. I've made this pattern five times before, but could not for the life of me remember what I had used for needles, and of course, no notes. I did find a picture of the pair I made for C, in progress, with thick bamboo needles in the stitches, which tells me I have a pair of size 11 bamboo needles hiding out somewhere. And then I found a picture of E's mitten in progress, with a single plastic needle in the frame...the same type of plastic needle as my 10.5 pair. Thank goodness I take silly pictures of my knitting! So, needle and yarn mysteries solved, I cast on for a new right mitten, and I think I should have it done before all that snow outside melts.

In the meantime, will I be tracking my yarn colors and needle sizes on Ravelry? I've done it for the fingerless gloves, so we'll see. Maybe this the the start of a new, more organized me.

As always, pattern links and notes on my Ravelry page. And goodness, sorry but this was a long post. I guess knitting gets me all wordy!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Weekend Things ~ Tracks and 'Tines

On Saturday, I had an all-day class on tracking and scat. I'm always so amazed at how in just one day I can gain ten times more knowledge than I've ever managed to eek out of books and field guides. Armed with this new knowledge, and track and scat keys, I headed out in the wintery world Sunday morning, in search of mammal signs in my study site--the gravel pit pond near our house.

Unfortunately, it had already snowed an inch or two that morning, and  any tracks from the night before were wiped clean away.

We have this funny little basin adjacent to the gravel pit that, despite being only a few inches deep, and despite temperatures well below zero most nights for the last few weeks has still not frozen. I guess it must be a spring. Looks kind of like a hot spring doesn't it? If it were you know where I would be from November through April. Too bad we don't have such things on the east coast.

I tromped across the pond, aiming for a line of what I thought were tracks, but which turned out to be a narrow crevasse, completely surrounding a basin of snow with a wet, brown, slushy patch in the center. Had the weight of all the snow collapsed the ice and forced it underwater? Or is this another never-freezing spring?

Finally nearby, I found some actual real live tracks.

Even though they were somewhat obscured by snow, I figured out they were probably from a gray squirrel, who had scampered down a tree, hopped a few dozen feet across the snow and then vanished into thin air, or perhaps bounded his way over some spindly branches near the ground.

Not exactly another otter, but fun to explore anyway. Later in the day, we all went on a stomp down the river. I left my camera at home--it was snowing pretty hard by then--and just enjoyed. I was a little nervous heading down river after a near-incident on the ice last winter. Although it's been very cold lately, we've also had a lot of snow to insulate the water and prevent the ice from hardening. But we managed to make our usual loop without crashing through thin ice, and we made it in record time. Maybe because the kids are finally old enough to troop along without falling down to rest every ten feet, or maybe because it was too cold to stop and rest or enjoy the scenery. The tall grasses the boys usually like to play in when we make this trek were completely buried by snow and we never even saw the beaver lodge, so obscured by snow it was. Have I mentioned we've gotten a lot of snow this month?

I also begged, bribed, threatened, and generally coerced E and Z into making Valentine's Day Cards for their classmates. They claim the teacher made it optional. I opted for them to opt in. I mean, come on, they're in fourth grade. It's the last year they (and I) will have to do this. We copied this idea (using pre-used tissue paper from my gift-wrap box and cheap watercolor paper from the craft store) only we glued the strips of tissue paper onto whole sheets of paper and cut out the hearts afterward, because efficiency. E snuck outside before I could rope him into part one--the gluing on of strips, so Z and I did it. With each page, he would whine, protest, complain, do it badly on purpose, and then for a few minutes, he'd slip into a "flow" state, focusing, painting glue, laying down tissue, and then it was like he remembered he HATES making Valentines all of a sudden and he'd snap out of it and protest some more.

Later, after the sheets dried, I got both of them to help cut out the hearts and then, the next night, again under duress, they wrote their classmates names on them (writing the four girls' names was especially painful for them; it will be very interesting when they do take an interest in girls. I will remind them of how repellent they once thought they were).

I think they came out pretty cool-looking in the end, sort of stained-glassy. And I also think I am now done with Valentine making forever. I calculated that I've been involved in the making of approximately 395 Valentine cards since M started preschool. And we've made every single one of them from scratch (well, not counting last year's, which we printed from online, and which E still remembers really, really hating). I'm not sure why I've felt compelled to make homemade Valentines...maybe because I'm crazy. Or stubborn. Or have this idea that if my kids learn how to make things by hand now, they'll have the self-confidence and inner resources to not depend on pre-made commercial everything later. Or I'm crazy. In any case, this is one milestone I will not feel weepy about passing by.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Some Recent Writings

I've had a few piece of writing appear online over the last few weeks that I thought I'd share with you.

1) Today my short essay "The Twins and The Pendulum" kicks off a sibling blog series on Brain, Child Magazine's "Brain, Mother" blog.

2) Last week, I shared a tale of my two AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference experiences in "Two Takes on AWP" on the Literary Mama blog as part of their "Snapshots from AWP" series leading up to the conference this April.

3) And finally, Brain, Child resurrected my first published essay, "Raising Private Milo," from their print archives and shared it online a couple of weeks ago. For anyone who reads this piece and shares the same worries I relate in the essay, let me assure you that, as with most things parenting-related, "This too shall pass on." The title character is now thirteen, watches The Daily Show religiously (now that his beloved Stephen Colbert has moved on), and wouldn't touch a camouflage shirt with a ten-foot pole.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Nature Journaling ~ Playing With Media

Part of the requirements of my Maine Master Naturalist class--and one of my favorite parts--has been to keep a nature journal. I've kept nature journals off and on for many years, but with the class, my journals have taken on new focus and have become more of a tool for learning than those I've kept in the past. 

Last month's subject of study was winter weeds, which we had to collect, identify, and sketch. Although I am a bright color person in general, I've always loved using brown or sepia for my journals, and was excited by the idea of making monochromatic brown sketches. I decided to try out several different drawing media to see how I like each one. 

For the first two sketches, I used conte crayon, which was absolutely gorgeous--It flowed so smooth and beautifully and practically drew the pictures without any help from me. I has the drawback, however, of being very smudgy and so not a great choice for journaling (I imagine you could use fixative, but I can't bring myself to buy a can of the stuff...I imagine it's pretty nasty).

Next (below, left), I used color sticks, which are like squared-off pieces of the stuff inside colored pencils. I have a limited selection of colors, and stuck pretty much to straight brown. Once the corners get worn down, it's hard to get a sharp enough point for small details, which I kind of needed for the meadowsweet, which has tiny follicles, but this also kept me from getting caught u in detail.

Next (below, right) I used a set of woodless colored pencils which C bought me for Mother's Day a few years ago. You can't really tell in this picture, but I had fun incorporating a lot of other colors--green, purple, blue, red, into the brown while still maintaining an overall brown effect (this drawing is of a mystery weed, which I finally concluded is some kind of gall, since I couldn't find any fruiting bodies or seeds in that fluffy tuft).

Next (below, left) I tried out some watercolor pencils that I bought recently. I pretty much suck at using these (as I do with regular water colors). I think I don't have enough patience to let each color dry, and it all gets mixed together and muddy.

 Finally (below, right), I used my trusty set of colored pencils, again playing a bit with mixing in other colors with the brown.

For the text and the magnified images of the fruiting bodies and/or seeds, I used a brown felt-tipped pen.

It was fun trying out different kinds of media, and drawing similar things in a similar format gave me a chance to compare both how they went on and how they look (as well as how well they stay on the paper after I put them down). Oh, yeah, and it helped me learn about winter weeds and fruiting structures.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

January Knit ~ One Last Cable

Over the weekend, I finished the last of my Ireland yarn cabled hats.

I had a little trouble with these cables, which is funny, since it was the last of six hats--I should have had the hang of it by now. Maybe it was the mirror-image cables that threw me off--or maybe it was trying to watch TV and knit at the same time (ahem). Several times I cabled in the wrong direction and didn't notice until I had knit to many rows to go back (there is no going back, only forward). The good news is that now I know how to knit a snake, if I should so choose. I came dangerously close to running out of yarn at the end, but made it with enough to spare for a couple more rows.

This is meant to be a slouchy hat, but maybe the yarn is too stiff, or something, but it comes to a gnomish point if I don't fold up the brim, so a brimmed hat it is. It's a little too big, despite having gone down a needle size. I'm tempted to throw it in the wash to try to shrink it down a little.

What are your thoughts on washing/blocking knitted items? I usually don't bother, unless it's something largish, like a shawl or sweater, but I wonder if I'm missing something.

Pattern link and notes, such as they are, on my Ravelry page.
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