Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Violet Jelly

Because I'm the decider around here, I'm calling this a Wild Wednesday post because violets are wild flowers. I suppose I could start another series, called Foraging Friday, but that would call for a whole 'nother level of commitment that I'm not quite prepared for.

We seem to have had a bumper crop of violets this year, and, because I've let go of most of my domestic urges, I was perfectly happy to enjoy the sign of them without feeling like I had to do anything with them. On at least a couple of occasions in the past, I've made violet jam or jelly, and on even more occasions, I've felt like I should make violet jam or jelly, but haven't had the time or energy. So it was nice to see them and smile and just be happy to live in a world covered in violets. And then the very next day, E said, "Let's make violet jam!"

Because it was his idea, I tried to get E to pick the violets, but he didn't have much stamina on a day when it was too hot for his taste (his preferred temperature range is about 64-66 degrees) and the back flies were out in force. I picked a few, but I'm no good at tedious manual labor. Finally, when I pointed out that the neighbor would soon mow his field, along with our violets, Z went on an expedition and brought back a cupful. So I scaled the recipe back by two-thirds (seriously, who is going to pick three cups of violets???).

I let the violets steep for most of a day, and they turned the water a weird and wonderful ice-blue color, which instantly changes to magenta when mixed with lemon juice.

The jelly was pretty easy to make, once the violets were picked (turns out, jelly with pectin cooks for far less time than pectin-free jam). It's also beautiful and tastes nice, but not especially like violets. C and I cam to the conclusion that all jellies are really just sugar-flavored, with the fruit (or flowers) used as a colorant.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Weekend Things ~ A Bike Ride

We had planned to go camping at Hermit Island for the long weekend, as we've done for the past few years (and as we used to do the weekend prior for many years before that), but when I got home Friday evening with our camping groceries, I found a deficiency in enthusiasm. I was myself slightly reluctant about the prospect, only because the weather didn't bode well (although the weather in May is never what one would call promising). Most of the time, it's my job to encourage reluctant homebodies out of the house, but when my own enthusiasm is less than 200%, I don't have the energy to overcome the inertia of the other four. So we decided to hold off until the following weekend, which at the time looked like it would be warmer and sunnier (it turned out we got a sunny, if not exactly warm, Saturday and Sunday, and a cloudy and cold, but not rainy Monday, and now next weekend's weather looks even less promising).

Once we made the decision to bail postpone, I insisted that we wouldn't just sit around home all weekend. So on Saturday, we loaded five bikes into C's work truck and headed to a nearby recreation area. I realized once we got there, that this was the FIRST time we've ever gone biking as a family. There were always too many obstacles to overcome—a baby and then two babies, with no baby seat or trailer, and then too many bikes to fit in the car. C took the boys to the rail trail a few times when they were small, and various configurations of some of us have biked in the local area (though there aren't too many places to bike TO around here, and I'm a big fan of having a destination, especially if I'm going to take my life in my hands on the road). And then last week, I went bird-watching at this preserve with a friend and realized it would be a nice place to bike, then C mentioned taking the bikes camping—in his truck, which had never occurred to me before, and it was a done deal. I still had to overcome a lot of inertia, but we made it. The weather was perfect (cool, no bugs). The roads were steep, but it was downhill on the way back to the car. Lots of trails crossed the road, so C and M could go off-road when they wanted. I even got a good look at this prairie warbler:

Everyone even had a good time, despite themselves (afterward, E said, "That was fun. Let's never do it again.").

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Birds!

After getting a bit of a late start bird-watching this spring (I was still in winter-torpor mode through most of April), I went on a few walks with our local birding club and then went out in earnest around our property, heading out at least once, sometimes twice every day.

Yellow-rumped warbler
Without wishing to minimize the very real skills of my professional birding friends, I think a lot of success in bird-watching comes from being in the right place at the right time.

Rose-breasted grossbeak
And I've been very lucky that birds like our property and that I'm home to check on their activities on a daily basis.

Baltimore oriole
This least flycatcher, too, was lucky I was home yesterday when he flew into the window on our sunroom door. He lay on his back, stunned, and I brought him in the house and set up a little grass nest for him. After a couple of hours, he seemed to have recovered sufficiently and I set him on the kiwi vine on the deck. He sat their a few minutes before disappearing in the moment I looked away.

And speaking of flycatchers, while I was tending to the least, which is our smallest flycatcher, a great-crested flycatcher, which is one of our largest, arrived to claim territory in the trees around our house. It's a bird I need to relearn every spring, though I think now that I've spent an afternoon listening to him whoop and trill, I'll have it down pat.

What's wild in your neck of the woods this week?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

This Guy

Milo, 6, at a monster truck rally.

Turns 16 today.

Milo, almost-16, behind the wheel. I think his 6-year-old self would be disappointed it's a Volvo and not a monster truck.

In the last month, he's finished drivers ed, gotten his driving permit, and interviewed for (and got!) his first job. I've been joking that he can move out now. But I guess he still needs me for a little while longer—at least until that permit becomes a license and his paychecks start coming in.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

These Guys

Turn 12 today!!!

We already started celebrating over the weekend, as is our custom, with a movie and bowling with their BFF and an old-fashioned red velvet cake.

It's been a wild ride, twelve years of mothering TWINS. So what can I say about these guys on the big One-Two?

Z: Climber of trees and walls. Cartwheeler, flipper, rural parkour-er. Lover of Norway. Baker of scones. Eater of all things sour. Duck-tender.

E: Lover of cats. Reader and mine-crafter. Sayer of the funniest words and sentences. Baker of banana-chocolate-chip muffins. Rider of bike. Watcher of You-Tube.

We have more celebrating to do this afternoon—a hike, dinner at their favorite spot, and presents.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trying New Things

The 100 Day Project is a worldwide collective art project in which participants do something creative every day for 100 days and post about it on Instagram. There are no rules and what you do is completely up to you. I first heard about it sometime last year, after reading The Crossroads of Should and Must (the author, Elle Luna, is one of the organizers), but I didn't join in because I was getting ready for our big trip.

This year the project began on April 4, the exact same day I finished The Artist's Way, which was too much of a coincidence to pass up. I spent some time mulling over what kind of creative project I would want to work on every day for 100 days. I considered nature journaling, a poem-a-day, a flash fiction a day, sketchbook, and watercolor. The writing ideas didn't inspire me—I've been writing every day for a very long while and I've done a poem-a-day twice before for National Poetry Writing Month—I've also nature journaled (nearly) every day for a whole year before. I wanted to do something new and challenging and watercolor painting drew my interest more than anything else: I've always wanted to learn, but have never had the patience. This would be my chance: If I can't figure it out in 100 days (that's like 3.25 months!!), then I never will.

Still, after coming to that decision, I still had some resistance, mainly to do with the mess and the hassle of getting out paints, setting up, cleaning up. I resolved this by buying a super cheap watercolor set with lots of colors. I know it's generally preferable to use high-quality art supplies when learning, but these $5 paints helped me overcome the mess and setup issues and also made it okay to make a mess and "waste" paint, which a $75 set would tie me up in knots about.

So far it's been fun and I've learned a bit. It's also really hard. It requires patience and an understanding of how the paint behaves. I'm still in the stage of trying to control the paint. I have not graduated to the level of working with the paint to create the effects I desire. I alternate between lessons I found on some random website and just playing around with the paint. I prefer the playing around to the lessons, but I am beginning to understand why piano teachers make you learn scales before you can play songs—a solid foundation is helpful.

The picture above is in the playing around category. It's my second attempt. The first ended up a muddy mess. (When I turned the page to start again, E said, "Don't be a quitter, Mom." I showed him that I finished the first painting, but I wanted to do it again to make it better. Later he said I should get a job as a book illustrator. "I've seen some drawings in books that are way worse than yours. Or maybe you can be a butterfly painter." Aww, kids.)

Forty days in, I've hit a bit of a lull. Or maybe it's a plateau. I feel less compelled to do a painting every day (and I even missed a day this weekend!). It may be time to mix things up, get out the tube paints (or at least the slightly higher-quality travel watercolors), take a real lesson, or establish some sort of goal or theme.

Have you tried something new lately, started a new hobby, or set a creative goal for yourself?

You can see more on Instagram @andrea.lani and #100daysofandrealearningtopaint

Also see #the100dayproject and check out all the cool, crazy, and creative things people are doing.

Friday, May 12, 2017

If Mom's Happy

Many years ago, I was shopping in Portland with a friend when she nudged me into a little boutique and, before I knew what was happening, I was standing in a room surrounded by whips and dildos.

"Don't worry," she said. "It's a feminist toy shop."

The experience was eye-opening, to say the least, and it served as the kernel of a humorous short story I wrote during grad school about a mom in a toy shop. I had fun writing it, but I didn't expect it to go anywhere. It had everything going against it: the protagonist was a mom (protagonists are children, or coming-of-agers, or elderly people looking back over their lives, or men of all ages and types; never moms); it was funny, and not even darkly funny; it was not the least bit tragic; it was not sic-fi, fantasy, horror, or speculative in any way; it was not weird and not hybrid and not experimental and not lyrical. In short, not the stuff of which literary magazines are made.

And then last fall I saw a call for submissions for If Mom's Happy: Stories of Erotic Mothers. From the editor:

"Mothers might be exhausted, over-touched and under-appreciated, but they’re problem solvers who know how to get their “self-care” on.  In If Mom’s Happy: Stories of Erotic Mothers, we hear from women waiting for their child’s arrival; mothers of infants, toddlers and teenagers; straight, queer, partnered and single mothers. We hear from mothers who like it vanilla and others who want some kink. They lust after their longtime partners and near strangers, in public and in private, alone or with another…or a few others. No matter where, when, or how, these stories capture the complex and profound–and ultimately satisfying–task of attending to your own desires while tending to children."

My story was still a humorous tale about a trip to a sex toy shop, not erotica, but I figured it was worth a shot and submitted. I heard back in short order from the editor, who liked the premise, liked the characters, liked the dialogue, liked the writing, but wanted me to turn up the heat a bit…okay a lot…to make it more erotic.

And I did, which was a lot more fun than I had anticipated (why had I anticipated writing sexy scenes to be un-fun? Let's blame a prudish Catholic upbringing, shall we?). So now my story, "Toy Story," is in good company with many other stories of sex after kids in If Mom's Happy, available for order now, just in time for Mother's Day. Not that I would recommend you buy a copy for your own mother, but there's nothing to say you can't get yourself a treat; after all, if Mom's happy, so is everyone else.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Serviceberry Flowering

The trees in our woods have been flowering for a while, starting with the quaking aspen back in April. But most of them, so far, have been of the subtle flower type—catkins and tiny maple blossoms—easy to miss if you're not paying attention and not exactly showy, flower-flowers. The first of those to come alive around here is the serviceberry.

Serviceberry is also known as shadbush, because it blooms at the time shad, or alewives, run up the rivers to breed, and back in Colorado, C and I used to work in a national forest with an area known as Sarvis Creek Wilderness because, apparently, they're called sarvisberry there (one ranger we knew even named his sone Sarvis after the shrub).

Because not much has leafed out yet, they're very visible and easy to spot from a distance, though I have to admit this is the first spring that I've taken the time to get up close and personal with them.

I'm pretty sure these are Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), one of the two species in Maine that grow into a small three (the other five being shrubs), because the emerging leaves are reddish and not downy.

The flowers are pretty, large for a tree flower, white, and five-petaled. My book says they smell sweet, but I couldn't detect an odor in these (maybe all the rain we've had lately has washed it away).

The twigs and leaves are alternate and the buds, before they open, sharply pointed.

The bark is smooth and gray and at this stage, almost indistinguishable from red maple (the tree in the center is maple, to two on the outside are serviceberry). If you look very closely you can see faint vertical lines on the serviceberry bark.

And if you look straight overhead, the branches are so intertwined, you might think you're seeing things: a tree with red maple leaves and showy white flowers.

What's blooming in your neck of the woods?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ The Great Unfurling

Doesn't it seem to you like you wait and wait and wait for spring and then suddenly it's here and somehow you missed it? This year—this morning, in fact, I think I caught the moment of spring, which is, appropriately enough, a verb as well as a noun. The trees are in the midst of opening up their buds and unpacking their flowers and leaves and shaking them out in the sun.

In other exciting nature news, several days of rain have added a bit of water to our gravel-pit pond, and at least three painted turtles have made themselves at home.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

April Reads

Having a single post to cover all I read in 2016 was a bit overwhelming—both to write and, I'm sure, to read. So I've decided instead to do a monthly recap of books I've read, and share a little about each book. For past months, see:
January Reads
February Reads

March Reads

I read a lot of skinny books last month, which I guess is as good a way as any to read a lot of books.

I finished reading Rebecca Solnit's A Book of Migrations, which I'd started in March (fittingly, since it is about her travels in Ireland). I really loved it to begin with, and wished I'd had it with me when I went to Ireland three years ago, but as the book went on, it seemed to wander off into to many side tracks. She kind of tracks her travels through the country with accounts of historical figures and events in Ireland's troubled past. Which was all very interesting, until it wasn't anymore. And it felt a little directionless, in the external story. I guess I wanted more grounding in the places she was going to and why.

I also read a slim little volume called Field Notes from the Grand Canyon, by Teresa Jordan, which is exactly what the title implies—Jordan's handwritten and illustrated journal from a run down the Colorado through the canyon. It also includes a short essay and introduction. I bought it some time ago but just now sat down to read it, in part because I've recently taken up watercolor painting (which I plan to post about sometime), and I enjoy Jordan's watercolor illustrations. It also fits into my own book-writing about a trip. (Notice a theme in my reading?)

I read the poetry collection I Am a Horse, by Kate Newmann. I had the good fortune of meeting this Irish poet in her home country a few years ago. She has a gentle presence that belies the power of her poems. Newmann has a fascination for tragic geniuses, Polar explorers, obscure Irish heroes—people who endured frostbite, tuberculoses, the madness inside their own heads. She writes about men and women of great talent who were in some way fatally flawed, or condemned by society because they did not conform in some essential way. The title poem, which is about dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, contains the lines, "A ballet...about / the agony / of an artist / when composing." This is what so many of her poems are about, the agony of an artist, whether it's a self-inflicted agony, or physical or mental illness, or rejection by the world, or some combination of the above. Newmann approaches her subjects with clarity and directness, but also with a tenderness and compassion, something we could all use more of in the world today.

I read an odd little novel called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin A. Abbott. Published in 1884, the book is  a satire of Victorian society and an allegory about the perils of close-mindedness set in a two-dimensional world where all of the characters are shapes—lines (the women), triangles (the lower classes), squares (the author and minor bureaucrats), polygons (the upper classes) and circles (royalty). The whole book is kind of a thought experiment. I'd heard about it a long time ago, was reminded of it when considering some of the dystopian novels that have been making a comeback lately, and happened upon a $3 copy at a used book store, which seemed like fate.

For writing inspiration and education, I read The Science Writers' Essay Handbook, by Michelle Nijhuis, which probably sounds like the dullest book ever, but which was actually a very engaging and an enlightening journey into the essay form. It's companion to a book called The Science Writers' Handbook, which I plan to get my hands onto post-haste. If you enjoy good nonfiction writing, I recommend checking out any of Nijhuis's many essays.

Note: I used to try to find links to books from independent booksellers, but that is rather time-consuming, so I broke down and linked to Amazon on this post. Don't construe this as an endorsement of the evil giant and do consider finding books that interest you at your local library or indie book store.
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