Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Positively November Redux

So I set out this month with the spontaneous Instagram project Positively November to try to see the happy side of this month that traditionally gets me down.

As it turned out, November royally sucked. Not because of the weather—which was unseasonably warm and sunny—or the short, dark days, which are the reasons I usually have for dreading this month. But because of the end of democracy as we know it. Or the end of our illusion of democracy. Whatever. It sucked. It's been hard, for me and for many, many people I know. Good, big-hearted people who all want a free, just, safe, and happy world for their children and everyone's children. We all feel like we just took an enormous step back from that goal.

But I persisted, looking for something each day to feel positive about. And I did it, even if it was something small—leaves on the water, tomatillos from the garden, boys playing. I even got a couple of people to play along with me now and then.

I only missed two days—one because we had house guests and I forgot (I just retroactively posted a picture from that day), and another, this past Monday, whose first glimpse of sun and blue sky in days gave plenty to be positive about, but I just didn't happen to have my phone with me when I went outside.

I think it's going to be more important than ever to find these little moments of beauty in our days going forward, if nothing else to hold despair at bay and remind ourselves of all we have to be thankful for—and all we have to fight for. And it doesn't hurt to spread a little positivity into other people's lives, either.

I plan on playing along with Susannah Conway's December Reflections Instagram prompts next month, if anyone's looking for photo ideas.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Weekend Things ~ Thanksgiving

We had a full house, for both Thanksgiving Day and houseguests for the weekend. It turns out Thanksgiving is not much of a picture-taking holiday (who looks back on their old Thanksgiving photo albums?), although I did take a few Instagrams of the food preparation process. 

But we did get out into the woods a bit, with one of our guests, where I took a few photos.

After an uncharacteristically sunny start to the month, the weather's gone full-on November, gray and damp, and it even snowed a bit today.

Amid all the holiday preparations, I found a little time for craftiness. I worked a bit on a quilt for Z (I had a moment of thinking I could get it done for Christmas, then realized that's crazy).

And I made a set of autumnal placemats in time for Thanksgiving breakfast (our traditional, and very unseasonal fruit-yogurt-granola parfaits). They're to go with our Thanksgiving table runner which, by the time this photo was taken, was in treatment for a full-glass-of-red-wine stain.

This material I bought several years ago at a discount store that has an amazing fabric selection. Something about the design reminds me of eastern European folk art, or maybe Gypsy caravans. It has a lot of motion and energy and I love it.

I added a little rickrack trim around the edges, to make it look like I put in a little more effort than just sewing to pieces of fabric together. It turns our rickrack is difficult to find around here—I had to go to two different stores to get what I thought was enough, and then took an emergency run to two other stores Wednesday morning when it turned out I had underestimated (and it turns out the best source of rickrack is a hardware store!!)
We each made another entry in our Gratitude Journal, for the ninth year in a row. Our kids have gotten so used to it by now they don't hardly even complain. It was good for me to sit down, at this very challenging time, and think about what is still good in the world and my life. I also had C read this blessing at our meal. I looked up "multicultural Thanksgiving blessing" online and this was the first to pop up. It says so much of how I feel right now, and how I wish more of my fellow humans felt. It was a good thing to say out loud, and I think it, too, will become a tradition (by the way, it looks a heckuva lot longer hand written in fancy pen, so if you plan to make your spouse read it out loud, I recommend printing it out, so you don't scare them and your guests).

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Doing Something

It's so easy to feel helpless in the face of powerful forces. My kids—being 11—are really into superheroes right now, and superhero stories are often ones of and underdog beating a powerful foe. The underdog wins because he is on the side of goodness, love, humanity, justice, integrity, rightness, light. I know we're not living in a comic book, but I find these stories more comforting now than ever. But it's important to note that the superheroes don't just sit by and wait for the darkness to subside on its own; they DO something. Yet it's hard to know where to begin, or what will even make an impact.

This week I did some things that I hope, if nothing else, will make me sleep better at night (I've never had nightmares about a president before now, not even W). First, I made some small donations to the following organizations (I don't have much to give, not making an income right now, but every bit helps):

Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, to help in their fight against gun violence, and because the meager protections we currently have will not doubt face assault over the next four years.

NARAL Pro-Choice, because without freedom to make decisions about our bodies and our health, we don't have freedom at all (and also to troll Mike Pence).

Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine, because food insecurity is a problem that crosses political lines.

350 Maine, because climate change is the biggest threat we all, and our planet face.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, because our civil rights are under attack.

Partners in Health, because no matter how bad it gets, someone somewhere has it worse, and Partners in Health brings lifesaving medical care to the very worst off around the world.

I also wrote a (very long, long) letter to Maine's congressional delegation. There have been a lot of petitions and click-sign email campaigns going around, and I've signed some of them, but what I had to say took up a lot more space than a petition or email. There's also been a lot of encouragement to make phone calls, but I really hate using the phone (took me a full week to call and schedule a hair cut) and from what I hear, people get a lot of busy signals and full voicemail boxes. A letter will at least get somewhere, though I doubt the honorable representatives and senators will actually read it. There was so much I wanted to say, I'm sure I missed a lot (I already realized I left out investigations into Trump Foundation and Trump University fraud), but I got some of my most pressing concerns down, and I plan to continue to hold them accountable. Here's what I wrote:

Dear Senators King and Collins,
Representatives Pingree and Poliquin,

I am writing you to express my horror and deep dismay over the election of a racist, xenophobe, sexist, and likely child rapist to the highest office in the land. I insist that you, Maine’s elected officials, stand up to this demagogue at every turn. President Obama set high standards of decorum, compassion, respectability, intelligence, rationality, and unimpeachable character that the office of president has not seen in decades. I insist that you to hold president-elect Trump to Obama’s standards, not to the standards established during the campaign, in which the candidate’s behavior was expected to rise only slightly higher than that of an emotionally disturbed toddler. We have seen first hand in Maine the damage that can be inflicted when an angry, mean-spirited, and irrational bully with the impulse control of a rabid dog and an adherence to ideology that brooks no argument from outside of his narrow world view is elected executive by less than a majority of the voting public. Do not forget that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly two million votes, at last count. The president-elect does not in any way, shape, or form have a mandate and should not be deferred to as if he does.

There are many ways in which our democracy, our values, and our way of life are threatened by the incoming administration and these must all be countered at every turn, by all of us. But you, as elected officials, have a special role to play and much more resting on your shoulders. Below, I outline some of the many ways you need to speak out and uphold our democratic principles and institutions:

Speak out against any and all rhetoric coming from Trump, his surrogates, advisors, and appointees that demonizes or scapegoats any group of Americans, including people of color, immigrants, refugees, muslims, women, the disabled, and LGBTQ community. Denounce any act of violence or intimidation committed against members of these groups and insist on full investigation of all hate crimes. You also have a special role to play in educating your constituents of the value of a multi-cultural society and demonstrating through your words, actions, and deeds that inclusiveness is one of our greatest values and strengths.

Investigate thoroughly any role Russia played in influencing the election, including hacking of DNC emails and leaking of private information of Democratic candidates.

Insist on full financial and conflict of interest disclosure from the president-elect. Demand tax records for the last 20 years. Require the disclosure of all current, former, and past business interests, especially with regard to foreign nations. Demand the establishment of a blind trust, and/or liquidation of all Trump assets. Investigate each and ever instance of possible misuse of office for personal gain and quid pro quo. Establish a congressional ethics committee to maintain constant tabs on Trump’s business dealings and any possible conflict with US policy or diplomacy. Insist that any Trump family member who is involved in his businesses be excluded from all security briefings, policy discussions, and meetings with foreign officials.

Denounce and oppose any administration appointee that does not represent and respect the values of the United States of America. Begin with Trump’s chief strategist and chief counselor, Steve Bannon, a white supremacist, racist, and misogynist whose “news” platform has been instrumental in fronting false conspiracy theories against Democrats. Thank you, Representative Pingree for signing a letter and circulating a petition requesting Bannon’s appointment be rescinded. Senator King, your statement on the Bannon appointment was weak and hollow. Senator Collins, your response was even more vapid than Senator King’s and Representative Poliquin, we have heard crickets from you. Senators King and Collins and Representative Poliquin, please answer the following question: Do you think it’s acceptable and in keeping with American values for a white supremacist to be the chief advisor to a president of the United States? Next, take a look at Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions. Sessions is a documented racist, whose bid for a federal judgeship was denied in 1986 due to his racial views. Again, thank you Representative Pingree for speaking out against Sessions in a statement. Senators King and Collins, your statements of support or non-comment in no way rise to the level of disapprobation that should be heaped upon a racist candidate who, if confirmed, will be charged with enforcing the nation’s anti-discrimination laws. I insist that you take Sessions to task during confirmation hearings and vote against his appointment if there is the slightest lingering doubt of his ability to be unbiased with regard to race, ethnicity, country of origin, or sexual orientation. I expect from all four of you and your colleagues in the House and Senate an intense level of scrutiny and denouncement of any racist, anti-immigrant, misogynist, or anti-LGBTQ extremist nominated or appointed by the incoming administration.

Oppose any nomination to a federal judgeship, including and especially to the Supreme Court, of a candidate who has an agenda of rolling back reproductive rights, reversing Roe v. Wade, eroding the First Amendment’s separation of church and state, rolling back voting rights, reversing equal marriage rights for LGBTQ Americans, or further entrenching the outsized role of corporations and money play in our determining our political outcomes and influencing our policies.

Demand from Mitch McConnell immediate and expedited confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, President Obama’s imminently qualified and intensely moderate nominee for the Supreme Court, which has lacked a full 9-member panel of justices for ten months due to Republican intransigence and obstruction. If Garland does not receive immediate consideration and confirmation, no nominee from Trump should even be considered unless he is MORE qualified and MORE moderate and unbiased in his views than Garland.

Oppose any repeal of The Affordable Care Act. Twenty million Americans receive their health care through the ACA, including me and my family of five. My husband and I are both self-employed—the existence of the ACA made it possible for me to leave my dead-end and deadening job and pursue work I love—and there is no way we could afford insurance premiums without the tax credits. If you are in any way informed about insurance, you should know that without the coverage mandate, insurers would flee Maine where our older, sicker, more rural population makes insurance coverage more costly. If my family loses our health coverage through repeal of the ACA, or any other congressional shenanigans, I will send our medical bills to each of your offices, and I will start a movement for other Mainers to do the same.

Oppose any rollback of our social safety net, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as well as TANF, SNAP, and other benefits that help our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Speaker Paul Ryan has been chomping at the bit to dismantle our civil society, and I insist that you stand in his way at ever step.

Oppose the establishment of a Muslim registry, as the affront to the constitution and American values that it is. This is a country founded on the free practice of religion and should continue to be so.

Oppose any so-called “infrastructure” bill that is merely a hand-out of tax-breaks and privatization schemes for construction and real estate companies. The only infrastructure bill that should be considered would put ordinary citizens to work on actual needed public infrastructure projects, which are not already in the pipeline to go ahead, and would not privatize any public assets, such as roads, water and sewer systems, and would operate through public spending on work, not tax breaks and loans to corporations. Further, any approved infrastructure bill must be fully funded by increased taxes on high-income/high-wealth Americans and corporations. Representative Pingree, I beg you to insist your Democratic colleagues not once again fall into the trap of trying to be reasonable and appease the Republican Beast by trying to cooperate and compromise. They will only continue to devour you and any progressive hopes we have for the future.

Oppose any rollbacks or repeals of our environmental protections. I am not old enough to have seen Maine’s rivers run different colors, depending on the dye woolen mills were using that day, but you know as well as I do that the US EPA, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and subsequent laws and rules and international agreements have cleaned up Maine’s rivers, nearly eliminated acid rain damage to our forests and lakes, slowed the accumulation of mercury and other toxic pollutants in our fish, arrested the growth of the ozone hole, reduced the number of bad air days on Maine’s coast, and protected and preserved our forests, fisheries, and the state’s natural beauty, which is the only natural resource we have that currently has value. Trump has promised to eliminate the EPA, drill on sensitive lands, hand over public lands to the states. All of these policies would be a disaster for Maine, for Americans, for our children and grandchildren and must be opposed vehemently. Further, the greatest threat our world faces going forward is climate change and the catastrophic weather events and dispossession of people it will undoubtedly cause. The president-elect denounces climate change as a hoax. This is a dangerous line of thinking when the survival of entire species, including our own, is at stake. Oppose any withdrawal or non-compliance with the Paris Accord, insist on the full defense of the Clean Power Plan in the courts, and promote the development of clean power and carbon-neutral technologies.

I am devastated that our country voted in a racist, xenophobic, woman-hating, pussy-grabbing, demagogue. I am horrified that there are enough neo-nazis, white supremacists, and ku klux klan members to not only hold rallies and parades but to vote one of their own into the highest office in the land. I am sickened that the Republicans have abandoned all semblance of decency and have embraced an ideology that threatens to send this country back to the 1950s Jim Crow era—or perhaps 1930s Europe. I preferred living in a bubble, believing racial violence, anti-muslim violence, rape and violence against women, and violence against LGBTQ persons were isolated incidents and not a symptom of a great and virulent malady that has stricken our nation. But now I’m woke. And I don’t plan on going back to sleep. I will be watching Washington. I will take note how you vote. I will hold you accountable for upholding the values of a country in which hatred, exclusion, and violence have no place.


Andrea Lani

Friday, November 18, 2016


I've been reading Jane Smiley's 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, a tome thick enough to boost a small child up to the Thanksgiving table, and one I've passed by at the library many a time. But something compelled me to check it out this month. Smiley, stuck in a novel-writing dead-end, decided to read 100 novels that span the breadth and depth of the history of the genre. Over the course of her reading, she gained insights into the nature of the novel—what it is, what it does, how to write one. In the most exciting chapter, Chapter 8, "The Novel and History," Smiley proposes a revolutionary idea: novels do not only reflect changes in society, but the act of reading novels actually has driven those changes.

Smiley writes: "The novel has gotten us from the manners and mores of fourteenth century Florence to those of twenty-first-century very modest means—not by argument, but by proposing simple, understandable choices about common dilemmas." Watching characters struggle with their choices engenders sympathy in the reader, sympathies that can be applied, by extension, to living humans in their own society. As an example of this choice-making, Smiley considers Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice: "Page by page, choice by choice, Austen's own fine sense of discernment teaches the readers to take a view similar to hers." She goes on:
Such transformations in the way a character, or a reader, perceives herself and acts as a result of her perceptions were broadcast into society, and therefore into history, by market forces. In the same way that the popularity of the novel encouraged aspiring novelists to try different techniques in their own works, the nature of the novel as entertainment encouraged, or you might say trained, average readers to think in new ways about themselves and their circumstances. By taking up current concerns and portraying and commenting upon them, the novel made them present and important to readers who might not otherwise have had the eduction or the connections to take a larger view of their lives.
When I feel skeptical of this idea, that reading novels can truly change us, and thus our world, I think of the people I know who read widely and deeply; they are almost to a one also the most broad-thinking and compassionate people I know. And research bears this out: a study conducted a couple of years ago found that people who read literary fiction score better on tests measuring empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence than those who read pop fiction or nonfiction.

But how does this transformation of individuals translate into a transformed society? Smiley writes:
In the course of 650 years, Boccaccio and his successors have helped to create a certain kind of world. It is a world not unlike the novel, a world that seems to many people transparent and automatic but isn't. In this world, everyone, male and female, could become, might be, his or her own protagonist—that is, could develop a rich inner life based on the competing demands of conscience and ambition, selfishness and social connection. In this world each person feels a tension between himself or herself and the group, and also wishes to learn how to negotiate that tension. In this world individual existence has the potential for meaning—it can be understood and possibly changed or at least learned from. Cause and effect can be disentangled and observed. Events don't simply follow one another, as coordinate clauses do in a medieval narrative; they shape one another and grow out of one another, as subordinate clauses do in a modern narrative. In this world the ordinary person can step back, observe both the world and himself or herself, make a judgment, and then make a choice. This world is an agglomeration of individuals who relate to others as individuals. It is a word where "point of view" is a well-developed and important concept, the Western liberal ideal, and a paradox: if you look at a novel or a democracy one way, it is the tale of one person; if you look at it another way, it is the tale of a group. Neither the person more the group gains permanent ascendancy; the two coexist.
But social change, we have learned, is not linear nor is it irreversible. Smiley adds:
After more than a hundred novels and two and a half years of history, I saw that the world I thought was established and secure, at least in the West, is more fragile than I thought, because it is newer than I realized. That a woman could be an agent rather than an object or a possession, that a marriage can be chosen, then rejected, that an identity can be constructed by an ordinary person—these are difficult ideas, strange to many, and dangerous to some. The tension between the individual and the group that the novel depicts is often intolerable to the group, and for some groups, an individual does not have a right to a point of view. The routine quality of the novel, the way that novels seem ubiquitous and benign, pleasurable, or fun, or even tedious to schoolchildren, masks their subversiveness and helps us forget how they have remade the world.
So for those of us feeling off-balance this week, stressed out, helpless, and even for those who feel satisfied, vindicated—especially for them—I offer one task to carry alongside our work of chopping wood and carrying water. In between writing letters and making phone calls, marching in the streets, and holding our children tight, we must read. Read wide and deep. Read classics and current tales. Read about those similar to us and those who are different. Read Dickens and Austen and Hardy. Read the Brontes and Eliot and James. Read Tolstoy and Dumas. Read Kate Chopin and Virginia Woolf. Read Kafka. Read Ayn Rand, if you must, but don't only read Ayn Rand. Read Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain and Harper Lee. Read Oscar Wilde and E.M. Forster. Read Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Tillie Olsen. Read Rebecca Harding Davis and Susan Glaspell.

Read some of these books and authors, below, whose characters may live lives very different from yours. Some of these I've read, some have been on my "to-read" list for a while, and most were recommended by friends. (I'm only including fiction—mostly novels and a few short story collections—in this list; of course there are tons of memoirs and nonfiction and poetry books out there that we also can read to understand more about our diverse, messy, beautiful world, but the thesis here is that reading novels actually changes that world):

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Drown; Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George
Living with The Enemy by Donna Ferrato
The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute
Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
Passing by Nella Larsen
Hell's Bottom, Colorado by Laura Pritchett
Interpreter of Maladies; Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
For Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles by Sujoya Roy
The Known World by Edward P Jones 
Kindred by Octavia Butler
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
How To Escape from a Leper Colony by Tiphanie Yanique
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A Taste of Honey by Jabari Asim
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid 
God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Faith for Beginners by Aaron Hamburger
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
The Lottery and other stories by Shirley Jackson
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
The Translator by Leila Aboulela
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
The Round House and Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

Read to your children. Read them Ashley Bryan and Ezra Jack Keats. Read them Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter and The Dark is Rising series. Read them The Little Prince and Hope for the Flowers. Read them Little House on the Prairie and The Birch Bark House. Read them Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Hand your teenager one of these books:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
The Sun is also a Star by Nicola Yoon
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Something like Hope by Shaun Goodman
Lizzie Bright and The Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
So Far From God by Ana Castillo
And the Earth Did Not Devour Him by Tomas Rivera
Willow by Tonya Cherie Hegamin
Monster by Walter Dean Myers 
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
Darius and Twig by Walter Dean Myers.

Novels can, in the words of Mary Oliver, “take us out of our own existence and let us stand in the condition of another existence, another life.” (Though Oliver was talking about imagery, I believe this is what fiction does.)

Now, dear reader, what are you reading? What would you add to this list? What books have you read that challenged your assumptions about race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, history, class? Do you believe in the power of reading novels to change the world? 

Monday, November 14, 2016


So, fellow progressives, stop thinking about suicide or moving abroad.

Want to feel better? Eat a sour grape, then do something immediately, now, today. Figure out what you can do to help rescue the country---join something, send a little money to some group, call somewhere and offer to volunteer, find a politician you like at the local level and start helping him or her to move up. Think about how you can lend a hand to the amazing myriad efforts that will promptly break out to help the country recover from what it has done to itself. Now is the time. Don't mourn, organize. 
~ Molly Ivins, November 2004

This weekend, E and I organized the shit out of two corners of our rooms. (Just so you know, I'll be cursing like a sailor for the foreseeable future.)

E has been nesting pretty heavily, which is a thing kids do now and then, when they share their room with two brothers, trying to carve out some space for themselves. His results were a bit tidier than what had been there before, but still fairly cluttery and not entirely satisfactory. So we decided to switch his bookcase…

…for my desk.

Nothing was altered in these scenes pre-photo. Yes, I dropped my clothes on the floor before I went to bed Wednesday night, because fuck it.

Along the way, we needed to do some tidying up of their closet to make room for all the books being evicted.

Photo by E. Housework and fascism make me look crazy.

To help us along, I put on some kids' CDs that we haven't listened to since the boys discovered Weird Al. I cried a little when Jack Johnson sang, "I can change the world with my own two hands." I don't know if I was crying because I still believe that's true, or because I no longer do.

Here's the after shot of E's new corner. Better, no?

Their closet still suffers from too many boys with too much stuff in too little space syndrome, but at least the dust has been vacuumed out (from one side) and look at all those books! We can just bunker up at home and read for the next four years.

And here's my new corner. A little more breathing space. But still a little clutter; that big pile to the right is drafts/works in progress/class notes/etc. One cold day this winter I'll go through it and recycle at least half of it.

The top shelf holds my writing books. I don't refer to them too much these days, but it's comforting having them there.

The next shelf down holds my thesis (!!!), a few reference books, and my nature journals. And on the bottom shelf, my journals, going back at least to college, and some notebooks with things like our wedding plans, and plans for our first CT hike. I read once that it takes writing a million words to become a good writer. Do you think there are a million words in all those journals? Nah, probably not.

Along the way, I found some things I needed. I didn't know I needed them, or even remember I had them, but they were good finds. In a sleeve of bumper stickers there was this, which seems apt right now. I'm not much of a bumper sticker person, but I think I might put this one on my car (along with the Colorado Native one, since CO went solidly blue, while Maine split its electoral votes, for the first time since Andrew Jackson).

I found this button, which I think I stole from an old suitcase of my mom's about 30 years ago. It's a good thing to keep in mind—when they deny us our rights, they deny us our basic humanity. I stuck it on a jacket, along with one that says "I said anarchy, not manarchy," and a safety pin.

I found this little paper kite that says on the back, "Fly high! Hero Andrea!" I don't remember who gave it to me or why, but yes, as long as we're going high, we might as well fly high.

I found a printout of these 12 Tools for Changing the World (That you might already have at home). It's a good list. It's a good time for a list like this.

I found a drawing M made when he was four—if I was going to guess what it was about, I'd say it was Mars sending down some fiery wrath on an enemy, cause that's how M rolled back then—and some funny quotes I scrawled on a  scrap of paper:

E: It would be funny if I didn't brush the top of my head and there was a bird's nest in it.

Z: What's kosher?
M: It's where they only eat pickles.

Me: You've got bad breath. Don't you brush those things?
E: I brushed them with pig manure!

Finally, I uncovered these baby faces that had been hidden behind the bookcase part of the desk. I love those babies way too much to sit by and let their world be taken over by hatred and violence and greed.

I know Molly Ivins wasn't talking about bookshelves and closets when she wrote, "Don't mourn. Organize." But moving around furniture is a healthy way to vent murderous rage. And it was a good way to keep the body moving while the mind railed and wailed and turned toward more productive thoughts. And I came to the realization that I need to focus my energies on one thing, one issue, if I'm going to be even moderately effective. There are so many things I care about in this world (that's what makes me a bleeding-heart liberal, right?), so it's hard not to want to embrace everything.

Yet I've decided that, going forward, I'm going to put my energy into fighting climate change. It will affect every single life on this planet and not much else will matter once we're warring over the last drops of clean water and humps of dry land. And environmental regulation is something I know about, having worked in the field for my whole adult life. I know what it can accomplish, given the political will, and I know what its limitations are.

I've been a bit of a climate change denier for the last several years. Not in a I-refuse-to-accept-the-evidence-and-analysis-of-every-scientiest-of-consequence-in-the-universe kind of way, but in a it's-too-big-and-scary-and-I feel-helpless-so-la-la-la sort of way. No more. I'm going to educate myself. I'm going to educate my children. I'm going to write my Colorado book, which is ultimately a book about climate change. I'm going to write other stuff—letters and op-eds and articles and stories. I'm going to research what organizations are doing effective action and join one. I'm going to march. I'm going to chain myself to things. Whatever it takes.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Weekend Things ~ Before

I wish I'd gotten around to writing this post Monday or Tuesday, when I still felt the magic in the world. Maybe it's now more important than ever to find beauty in tiny things, in little moments. Or maybe it's stupid and self-indulgent. I don't really know, but back when tiny things mattered, here are a few from my weekend.

I did some exploring for mushrooms.

I brought my field guide and my camera into the woods.

But these specimens proved trickier than the ones I saw last week.

I even brought a few inside to try spore prints, in an admittedly haphazard way. And then I let them all go when they started to turn slimy, before I'd done the really hard work of keying out.

We didn't have much of a garden this year, being gone all summer, but C planted a few carrot seeds before we left and I harvested them Saturday. They were small, having never been thinned, and hairy, having been left in the ground too long, but they were beautiful (and tasty roasted).

I stole a little daylight knitting time. I'd started a project on tiny needles with fine-as-cobwebs yarn and wasn't getting too far in the evenings, in the dim light, in front of the TV. After a few minutes of knitting in a patch of sun, I was able to get into the rhythm of the pattern enough that I could knit all through 3 hours of Sunday night PBS-watching and am well on my way to an ultra-soft cashmere hat. I'm not sure if gray is my color, but I don't think I care.

Finally, I made a batch of cookies for a picnic at friends' Sunday. They're chocolate sables from The Standard Baking Company (if you have not been to The Standard on Commercial St. in Portland, drop everything and go there now). They're my absolute favorite cookie in the world, but even though I've had their cookbook for a couple of years now, this is the first time I baked them. They're a rich, chocolatey shortbread with a faintly sandy texture that I adore. And they weren't difficult to make, at all, although my dough logs (they're like an icebox cookie) were not exactly round, and the baking time was a little fussy (too long and they start to burn, though you can't tell because of the dark color; too short and they don't hold together).

Every time I took a bite of one of these cookies, I felt happy to be alive. I mean that, really and truly. Unfortunately, I finished the last of them Tuesday morning. I think I need to make another batch, stat.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Dark Days

I don't usually get political around here, or at least not for a long while. I think politics in Maine have been so ugly—and so personal—for the last 6+ years, that I've come here to get away from all that. Perhaps that was a mistake. Perhaps we need to confront the ugliness in our society wherever and whenever we can.

I feel so heartsick and heartbroken right now. I stayed up until 2:36 the night of the election, watching in horror a slow-motion multi-car pileup on the highway as state after state turned red. I didn't think I could sleep when I went to bed, but I went right out, waking less than three hours later from violent dreams. I lay in bed, listening to my children breathe across the hall, imagining them waking up in a world where hate triumphs over love.

I had been excited, it's true, to greet the day when the First Woman President was elected. Yes, Hillary had issues, but I knew that under her leadership things that matter to me—health care, reproductive choice, education, clean energy, environmental protection, social security, food stamps, TANF, equal rights for all races and genders, welcoming of immigrants, higher minimum wage, voting rights—would, if not able to move forward due to an obstructionist congress, at least not get dialed back to the dark ages.

And there was the symbolism of it. We are told (or not told, I now believe, in many cases) as little girls that we can be or do anything when we grow up. But the silent messages are so very different—the imbalance in positions of power, heads of corporations, representatives to congress, the president, even management at dinky little state agencies. Nowhere close to 51% representation. And when a woman vies for a position of power, she is called vile names, she is rated on her appearance, not her content, she is told she smiles too much or not enough is too loud doesn't speak up has a grating voice is not hot enough reminds men of their wives/aunts/mothers/teachers. It is wrong. It is vile. And it is so damaging to girls and young women, who pick up on these messages that they are less than, they are how they look, they cannot play with the big boys. I wanted a woman to shatter that biggest glass ceiling of all, to send a message. To give us all hope and a different view of ourselves.

I lay in bed, watching the sky fade to a pale, death-mask gray. I heard M's alarm go off. Heard him go down to breakfast. He would check online. He would know right away.

M was born in 2001, George W. Bush's first year in office. Four months before 9/11. The W invaded Iraq and my son has lived in a country at war his whole life. E and Z were 5 when Maine's terrible governor was elected. They have lived half of their lives in a state ruled by a "say-it-like-it-is" bully whose language is not fit for public radio, whose targets of vitriol and abuse include public servants, children, the poor, immigrants, people of color, the natural world.

And now. And now M will finish growing up and the twins enter their teenage years living in a country with a president who has been endorsed by the KKK. Who speaks of violence toward immigrants, muslims, people of color. Who brags about violence toward women.

Tuesday morning I had been feeling really good about my life. I had made steps to get out from under the terrible weight of an awful job (directly caused by the awfulness of Maine's governor), I had taken my family on an amazing adventure. I had my days free to write a book, and other, shorter works. I watched the birds on the feeder out the window. I had been very miserable for a very long time and now I was happy. Actually happy. Last spring, I didn't even know if I still knew how to be happy. But now I was.

I know my happiness resulted in part from a huge amount of privilege. We had tightened our belts since I left my job, but I only had to wonder if we'd be able to pay for driver's ed or music lessons for our older son, not whether we'd be able to eat. When M goes out with friends, my only thought is the amount of driving I'll have to do to get him there and back, not whether he will come home alive. When we go to bed at night, we hear acorns falling on our roof, not bombs. There was much to feel lucky and grateful about, living in (what I thought was) a civil society, far from the wars waged by our country and others, among a privileged race that is not the target of police violence.

It's easy to get complacent from a place of privilege. We try to remember to be lucky, grateful. My kids can tell you that nothing makes me angrier than when they act entitled, although that entitlement is (I believe) more of the "I'm a kid and therefore the center of the universe" kind of entitlement, not the "I'm a white male and therefore the center of the universe" kind. But I get antsy about where that line might be crossed, and try to keep them in their place, reminding them of responsibilities to the family. I don't think I've done enough to remind them of responsibilities to society.

This is what the result of this election reminds us of—or teaches us—that this is not a civil society. That there is a huge amount of privilege and that those who possess it will stop at no lengths to hold onto it. Watching, from a distance, the police shootings and extrajudicial killings of unarmed black men and women should have taught us this lesson. And, of course, the members of those communities knew all along. But it's easy to delude oneself. To imagine that the tide is turning. To believe that these are isolated events and that we are, at heart, a loving, open, and inclusive society. Illusion shattered.

I heard a woman on public radio literally say that she voted for T--- because she wanted to "go back to the world like it was on Leave it to Beaver." She was about my age—in other words, she only ever saw the Beav on reruns. Did she think it was a documentary, I asked myself? Does she have no understanding of what else was happening in the Leave it to Beaver days? Jim Crow, for instance.

I think our schools have failed. Both in the teaching of history, and in the teaching of the difference between fiction and reality. This is a skill children are supposed to develop around 2 or 3 years of age, but we don't seem to get it. Some people watch sappy old sitcoms and think that's the way life should be. Some of us read Harry Potter and Jane Austen and we think that good always triumphs over evil, that virtue is rewarded. But the good guys don't win. They get hit by cars, they develop brain tumors, they get shot in their own neighborhoods. We should be reading Kafka. You wake up a bug. You die. The end.

I know a lot of people are spreading messages of hope. Don't despair. Don't hate. Hold onto love. Right now my anger is too white-hot for hope. Right now I'm looking down the hole of four years of lives ruined. People killed by violence or lack of health care or inadequate food resources. I see wildlife refuges taken over my armed sociopaths. I see trees felled and oil fracked. Communities broken. Four more years of inaction on the greatest threat to this planet—and the people on it—we have ever faced. I see that half of the people in this country have said yes to hate. Yes to racism. Yes to misogyny. I see my sons growing up in a society whose values are anathema to everything I hold dear.

I went downstairs to say goodbye to M. To check the news to see if it had all been a terrible, terrible dream. M smiled at me, a sheepish, well-we-tried smile. An it'll-be-okay-mom smile. "At least when he does nothing about climate change Florida will be the first to go," he said. I wasn't ready to laugh. I won't see humor in this situation now, or ever. But I appreciated his vindictiveness.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Small Completions ~ Instant Gratification

Sitting down to write a book is a daunting proposition. I mean, a book is HUGE. When I've spent literally years tinkering with essays and short stories, the prospect of completing something ten times longer is a humbling one indeed.

Just before we left for our trip this summer, I read a blog post by writing coach Sage Cohen called "Honor Every Completion." Sage was talking about the small steps along the way to a big project, but I carried her advice with me on the trail, celebrating each saddle surmounted, each day completed, every significant mile marker passed. It definitely helped to break a 500-mile trek into bite-sized celebrations.

This week, I've been celebrating the first completion in the book process: transcribing my journals. I now have 71,000 words in the computer, ready to be coaxed and cajoled into good writing (a job no less challenging than dragging a family of five over mountains).

But even this mile marker, which is likely the easiest one I'll reach on this book-writing journey, was a long, drawn-out one. In the midst of this big project, I've needed something little and quick and easy to satisfy my need for completion. So I made some fruity potholders and a trivet. They're the knitted version, from Purl Soho. After several failed attempts at knitting lace last month, I picked up some cheap cotton at the craft store and whipped these up over the course of a week or so. Once I re-learned how to knit, each one took me only a little longer than the length of a movie to make. I even made a couple extra for gifts.

I know, I know, after all my talk of my reluctance to return to domesticity, I actually knitted potholders. The only thing more domestic I can imagine making is an apron (fortunately I already have plenty of those). But everyone has to take hot things out of the oven now and then, right? And they're so…fruity! And most of my potholders were pretty grody. 

If these look a little narrow for potholders, it's because they are—I've already burned myself twice. So they take a little careful attention. And I'm sure I'll be grouchy when they pick up their first burnt food stains, but for now I like their shining little selves smiling up at me from the kitchen drawer.

In other kitchen decorating news, Z decided we needed squirrel salt-and-pepper shakers for fall, and I found several pairs like these on Etsy. They're so funny because the native oak trees in Colorado make the tiniest acorns, and the leaves on the shakers are so not oak leaves. But, natural history incongruities aside, they are a festive addition to our fall dining table.

While I was at it, I found this set of orange-and-lemon shakers and they match my new potholders so well I had to get them. They say "Florida" on the other side, but with kind of tacky decals, so I prefer the blank side. I've always wanted a vintage salt-and-pepper shaker collection, and now I'm well on my way there. That's an even easier completion to honor.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Positively November

November can be a challenging time of year for me. All the leaves are down and the sky is gray, and all that. Add in the holidays bearing down like a runaway truck and I could just curl up by the fire with a stack of books and a cup of tea and go into torpor until the lilacs bloom.

 This year, however, I'm trying to take a different attitude toward this traditionally gloomy month.

On a whim Tuesday morning, I started a month-long Instagram project called "positively November."

Each day of November, I'm going to post one photo of something positive happening in my life—that moment, this month, every day. Big or small. And not necessarily unique to November.

I invite you to join me, using the hashtag #positivelynovember, and together we can all find things to appreciate in these shortening days.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Wild Wednesday ~ Mushrooms

A couple of weeks ago, I found this weird mass of mushrooms growing next to our driveway.

Because it was near the house, I could run inside and grab my mushroom i.d. book, rather than my usual "I'll just try to remember what it looked like and look it up later" routine.

And I actually started with the key in the guide, and then, once I got to family Lepiotaceae, cheated and flipped through the pictures till I found a good match, Leucocorinus caepestipes. Which is a mouthful; don't ask me how to say it. And there doesn't appear to be a common name.

Learning a new facet of the natural world is always a challenge because each category has its own unique vocabulary. Mycology was not part of our Master Naturalist training, so I'm starting from scratch, and since my mushroom book is big and heavy and I don't travel with a mushroom basket, I rarely have both book and specimen in the same place, so the education has been slow.

But, with the rain that has come to Maine in recent weeks, I've seen more mushrooms popping up in the woods, and I've been in need of a focus to get me outside and naturalizing, so maybe I'll start toting the mushroom book into the woods, and learn more about these very fun guys.

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