Friday, June 30, 2017

Free and Fun

Free and Fun has become my mantra for the summer. I fully anticipate that this will be my only summer "off" with the kids (other than those two maternity leave summers, and, of course, last year's hiking summer) and I want to take as full advantage as possible of all summer has to offer. Unfortunately, since I've been "off" for a year now, we have to be judicious with the cash flow, and so I want to take as full advantage as possible while spending as little money as possible.

We got started right away with a trip to a nearby pond, two days after they got out of school (their first day off we spent running errands, which is neither fun nor free). It's a pond I've known about for years, but not one we've ever visited before, since the choice of public access is either the edge of the road or a short hike through the woods to a rock jump-off spot. Not exactly an ideal spot to take little kids, but perfect for big ones. I convinced E and Z that they wanted to try this new adventure by craftily inviting along their BFF.

The day was nice, the water pleasant and the pond just the right size for 12-year-olds to swim across. Their friend made several leaps off the rock, but only Z mustered up the daring to try it—once. Which is fine with me—I spent too many years as a lifeguard, where the dangers of jumping or diving into mysterious waters from heights were drummed in ad nauseam.

When Monday rolled along I threw around some ideas of how to spend the day. I wanted to go to the beach, mainly to sooth the rash from my brown tail moth run-in with cold saltwater. M wanted to do nothing, it being his day off work, though he proposed sending me grocery shopping while they played tennis. E's enthusiasm for returning to the pond overruled everyone else's ideas and so that's what we did, even dragging M along with us.

The rest of this week, E and Z went to a canoe and paddle board camp—also Free and Fun! thanks to our local conservation organization and a grant they have to get more kids outside. Now, looking ahead to July, I'm looking for more ideas of Free and Fun! things to do. Any ideas?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Browntail Moth

This might be as close to a PSA as I come with this blog. First, the saga: Saturday evening, I took a walk to the end of our driveway and back, as I often do several times a day. I'd heard some peeping sounds in the birdhouse where swallows make their home, and I made a detour to check out the box, squeezing between a pin oak and an apple tree, both with lots of low leafy branches, on my way there. About halfway home, I felt a stinging sensation on my neck. Assuming the noseeums, which had been out in force earlier in the week, were back at it, I brushed and slapped at the stinging spot, which seemed to move around and grow worse. Back at the house, I started to rub an after-bite stick on the spots that stung, but rather than soothing, the minty ointment intensified the stinging sensation. Then I noticed a small, brown, fuzzy caterpillar on my shoulder. I ran outside, brushed it onto the ground, and smashed it with a rock (I said "I'm sorry" to it as I did so; it should be noted that the caterpillar did not apologize to me). Then I ran in, shouted to C to look up browntail moth, and jumped into the shower, where I attacked the area with soap and water. By the time I got out of the shower, swollen red welts covered my neck and shoulder from sternum to nape. Meanwhile, C found a picture of the browntail moth larva online, and it looked roughly like me attacker, but a quick scan through the literature didn't offer much in the way of treatment advice, so I took a massive dose of Benadryl and another antihistamine we had leftover from one of the kids' rash episodes, and went to bed.

The next day, I posted a picture of my leprous skin on Facebook with a warning that the caterpillars had moved inland. My field guide describes the moths' range as "presently dunes, coastal strand communities, and adjacent woodlands from Maine to Cape Cod." Last I'd heard about the moths, was when M was a baby, 15 years ago, and I was strongly advised against taking him into a state park near the coast. But as advice and consolation came in from friends, I realized that they had invaded much of Central Maine this summer. I also realized there's not much you can do about them. Again with the field guide: "Its short, deciduous setae (or spicules) [i.e., "hairs"], tightly packed into the rusty brown tufts over the dorsum, are highly irritating to most people and produce pronounced dermatological reactions if numbers of them get embedded in the skin." Yeah, no kidding. It's not only close and intimate contact with the caterpillar that's a problem, but the setae can become airborne and get you as you walk around (I believe this happens when they pupate and shed the old skin). They like all woody plants, but prefer apple and cherry trees as well as beech and oak—all of which abound on our property. The thing to do, apparently, is to look for the webs in the winter and early spring, snip them off, and drop them in soapy water. Too late for that this year.

This summer, I have had a neck covered in blackfly bites, an imbedded tick, clusters of bites from noseeums that somehow found their way inside my pajamas, as well as several dozen mosquito bites, and a small patch of poison ivy. Not one of these irritants, however, has deterred me from going outside. After the browntail moth incident, however, not only did I want to stay inside, I was ready to burn down our entire 15 acres. Every time I stepped out, I got goosebumps (which, of course made my rash hurt more, as each hair follicle stood on end, tugging at the stinging, embedded setae) and I cringed away from all vegetation. Over the course of days, however, I started going out, almost as usual (though not stepping off our driveway) and today, I did a visual survey of our pin oak, looking for evidence of brown tailmoth larvae. This is the only caterpillar I found, and I wasn't entirely sure it was the offending specimen (I could have brushed my skin against it as a test, but I'm not that dedicated to science) until I enlarged the photo and saw the two indicative orange dots at the back end (they really weren't that visible at normal size, and they're this caterpillar's most distinctive feature).

As a PSA, this is not very helpful, since I have no idea what to do about the caterpillars or about going outside without getting a "pronounced dermatological reaction."A Tyvek suit, perhaps? One information sheet recommend long sleeves, long pants, tight collar, hat, polyester fabric (apparently less prone to the setae attaching than cotton). But the whole point of summer is to be able to go outside not suited up for an Arctic expedition! As far as treating the rash, among the various remedies people suggested was scrubbing the affected area with a brush. After reading this, I jumped in the shower, and scoured my neck with an exfoliating face wash and repeated the procedure the next morning. This helped immensely, and when a few more spots sprang up on my wrist, I went at them with a nail brush with the result of almost immediate relief. C, who had a small patch on his lower arm, remarked how satisfying this remedy is, when it's what you most want to do to a rash anyway, but are usually not allowed to do.

Update: More information about the caterpillars' lifecycle and marginally useful treatment info here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Rad Parenting

A couple of months ago, I had the great good fortune of chatting with Tomas Moniz, creator of Rad Dad the zine, co-editor of Rad Dad the book, and editor of Rad Families. We talked about zine-making, storytelling, family, and what it means to be a rad parent. Transcribing the interview later, I noticed a recurrence of certain words—community, collaborate, conversation—words that I think represent much of what we need to heal our cultural wounds. You can read my interview with Moniz here and then consider picking up his books and reading those, too.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Blue Hair!

For a while Z has been asking me to dye his hair blue and I've been resisting, not because I have a problem with a blue-haired kid, but because the whole process seemed like it would be a huge pain in the a**. Finally, though, he convinced me, and last Saturday he went from this:

To this:

I forgot to take in-between shots of his head covered in bleach and his head covered in blue dye with a shower cap. What I really wish I'd captured was the post-bleached/pre-dyed hair, when he was back to his old white-blond toddler self. We went to a cookout that evening, and Z kept his hood on the whole time. Then I was gone all day Sunday and when I came home, I found that this had happened:

It turned out that a kid who prefers to blend into the background was a mite uncomfortable with a mop of blue hair, so he had C buzz it all off.

But he bravely went to school the next day and bravely took his hood off (because hoods aren't allowed at school).

And, of course, other kids said the usual, predictable, a-holey things kids say. In the meantime, Z got used to his blue head and now he kinda likes it. So do I.

Friday, June 16, 2017

New Duckies!

About a month ago, Z came inside after dinner and said, "Has anyone seen Fatsykins?" One of our white layer ducks had gone missing (he and E claim to be able to tell them apart). C and I helped him look high and low, roaming through the woods and down to the river and up the driveway, much farther than any of the ducks has ever traveled before, but we could see no sign of Fatsykins. Which was weird, because I had been home all day and hadn't heard any ruckus and the other ducks were as calm as can be, not acting as if they had all nearly avoided a hawk or fox. Z was pretty upset, and when C asked him if he wanted more ducks he said, "No, because they'll just get killed by something." This was our second duck loss in two years (which isn't bad, compared to our chicken fiasco). I didn't want more ducks, either, because they're messy and gross and a pain in the butt if we want to go away for a night or a weekend or a whole summer. But somehow C prevailed and three new little peepers made it to our house this week (did you know that baby ducks peep?).

They are, clockwise from left to right: Duck Norris (a giant Pekin), Daffodil (a buff Orpington), and Princess Layah (as in "Layer" with a Maine accent; there was some discussion about whether she should instead be Princess Layer, as in "Leia" with a Maine accent. There is a thing here about taking the R off the end of one word and putting it on the end of another. I, for example, am "Andree-er").

Now that they're here, peeping and making a mess and inconveniencing our weekends, even I have to admit they are pretty darn cute.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The World in Their Hands

Our kindling crackles and snaps as it begins to catch fire, and Zephyr and I settle back in low chairs to wait for coals to form. As my gaze drifts over water dotted with bobbing white eider ducks, a dark animal ripples along the rock that edges our bluff. It has the sinuous body and arched back of a weasel, but is as thick and long as my arm. When it reaches the beach side of our campsite, it pauses and turns its triangular head in our direction, fixing us in its deep brown stare. It is a mink, an animal that is supposed to be nocturnal, so seeing it here before us, in the morning mist, is a rare gift.
“Zephyr, look,” I whisper to my son who has been focused on poking the fire with a stick.
He turns his head, leaps up, and runs toward the rocks. The mink pours its body over the lip of stone and vanishes. My boy stands on the fin of rock, where the mink had sat a moment earlier, looking forlornly out over the edge of the world.

While there is immense satisfaction in having a piece of writing published online, with the instant-gratification of being able to share it right away with everyone, there is even greater satisfaction at holding the heft of a thick journal that has your name right there on the table of contents. And yesterday I enjoyed the experience of pulling one such journal out of my mailbox. The essay, "The World in their Hands," is one of those which took a long, circuitous journey to becoming what it was today, beginning as a short little two-pager in my zine and going through many iterations, submissions, rejections, revisions, before The Maine Review accepted and then published it. I'm quite excited and grateful and am looking forward to a little quiet time in which to read all of the other pieces in the issue.

P.S. Issue 3.2 is not up on the Maine Review's website at the time of this writing.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Small Wonders

There is so much going on in the natural world this time of year it's hard to take it all in. Birds! Flowers! Frogs! Bugs! I don't even know where to begin. Here's a smattering of small phenomena I came across the other morning. I stepped out on the front step and saw the dismembered remains of a June bug. Who perched on my porch and snacked on this beetle? My extensive research (googling "what eats june bugs?") turned up a lot of critters that dine on the grubs, but no mention of beetle-eaters. Any ideas?

The bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are still flowering here and there on the lawn. These are one of the first wildflowers to come out in spring and it's nice to see them still going strong (reigns in that "summer's going by too fast" sensation a bit).

E left his flip-flops in the driveway after we got home from camping and this nursery web spider (Pisaurina mira) thought the bottom of one was a dandy place to sun itself.

I've seen a few dragonflies here and there (more every day), but I've been stuck in bird mode—not yet in odonata mode. Time to dig out the net and the field guides and refresh my id skills. A few very cooperative specimens stopped to pose for a picture. This one I think is a stream cruiser (Didymops transversa).

I'm thinking this one is a lancet clubtail (Gomphus exilis).

And this one I'm pretty sure is delta-spotted spiketail (Cordulegaster diastatops).

And finally, Z discovered a robin's nest tucked in the kiwi vine that grows over our deck rail. Mama robin wasn't home when I poked my camera in to snap a shot, and I hope she returned soon after. It will be fun to witness little robins grow up right outside our back door.

What small wonders have you been noticing lately?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Weekend Things ~ Camping With Grownups

Over the weekend, I joined some bird club friends for an overnight bird trip in north-ish Maine.

The weather was hot and windy, so not ideal for seeing a lot of birds, but we did have a few great sightings, including a few new-to-me species. But honestly, it would have been a great weekend even without those sightings—one completely free of responsibilities (for me). I didn't have to plan. I didn't have to cook. I barely had to pack. I didn't even have to drive. Before we left, E asked me where I was going and I said, "I'm going camping. With all grownups. Do you think I should ask them to say, 'Hey Mom,' every few minutes so I don't get lonely for you guys?" And he said, "Yeah. And have them ask you to do stuff for them." So I had everyone say, "Hey Mom, do you think you could give me a haircut tonight?" "Hey Mom, what's for dinner?" "Hey Mom, where's my [ipod, headphones, backpack, permission slip, etc., etc., etc.]?" Just kidding. No one asked me for anything at all and were all super nice and let me ride in their cars and sleep in their tents (despite my noisy sleeping mat and restless sleeping style). It was, in short, a respite, and long overdue.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Weekend Things ~ Hermit Island Camping

We made our annual Hermit Island pilgrimage for, I'm gonna say, the twelfth year in a row.

We had put it off from the usual weekend, for reasons of a certain 16-year-old having his birthday.

And we put it off from Memorial Weekend for reasons of the weather forecast looking cold and gloomy.

But we finally made it this past weekend, the latest in the season we've ever gone (not counting that first time, which was in September).

It might also have been the coldest weekend we've ever had, despite it being June.

But it only rained a very little bit Friday night while we ate dinner (after having kindly held off long enough to set up camp and cook).

In past years, we've brought along various configurations of friends and family.

But having barely gotten our acts together enough to get ourselves there, we didn't manage to bring anyone along.

So we had a quiet, low-key weekend.

I tried to spend most of the time reading, but with interruptions of "Hey, Mom…" every few seconds, ever sentence got read two or three times.

The boys rode their bikes to the store two or three times every day.

Having a source of junk food that close at their disposal was something of a novelty.

And they found a huge chunk of styrofoam on the beach,

which provided hours of entertainment, first as a physics experiment in balance and then as a surfboard.

And, once again, I thought about how this place that never changes, which we visit exactly once each year (usually during Birthday Season) provides a fitting measurement device for boys that change constantly.

A kind of living growth chart.

It was, as always, a fitting segue to summer, a pause and placeholder in the ever-revolving years.

And a good reminder to not let traditions fall by the wayside, just because we're tired or cold or it might rain.

P.S. You can access my new newsletter here. The sign-up field on my blog didn't seem to work—something about it conflicting with the blog subscription button—but if you go to my newsletter page and click on the June newsletter, there's a subscribe tab in the top corner. Hopefully that works! And if you think you were subscribed and didn't get a newsletter, check your "promotions" tab in gmail. Thanks and thank you for reading my words!

Friday, June 2, 2017

May 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
April Reads

Turns out May was a super read-ey month. So much so that I had to take two separate pictures of my books! (Well, that may have been due in at least part to some of them being due back at the library before the month was out.)

Poetry. I had the good fortune to hear Naomi Shihab Nye speak at a poetry festival last month, and there I picked up a copy of her book Words Under the Words. I was familiar with her name, but I wouldn't say I was acquainted with her poetry, until I came across "The Art of Disappearing," which has been the guiding poem of my life ever since I heard it on "The Writer's Almanac" years ago (although I always think of it as the "Pretend You're a Cabbage" poem). Shihab Nye's poetry often starts in the every day—a fig, a broom, sheets—but takes readers deep into what it means to be a human in this damaged world of ours. I read the whole darn book and never figured out how she does it, but I will be reading more.

Fiction. Three whole novels this month! First, I read Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney, which is based on the life of the "highest-paid woman in advertising" of the 1920s-30s, and is a very interesting jaunt into NYC of the mid-20th century and the life of Lillian Boxfish. The book is framed on a walk she takes through the city on New Year's Eve 1984 and deftly weaves back and forth into her complicated and rich past. My mom sent my a copy of The Dead Sea Cipher by Elizabeth Peters, which she picked up at a used book store. I adore Elizabeth Peters, and though the plot of this story had a few gaping holes, it was a fun romp through archaeology and murder. I'd read it before, but long enough ago that it didn't ruin the suspense. After I made my Egyptian skirt, I had to get Crocodile on the Sandbank (also by Elizabeth Peters) down off the shelf, because it matches. I've read this at least three times in the past, but once I had it in my hands, I had to start reading again (and didn't stop until 1 a.m.). I think the Amelia Peabody series gets better and better the more times you read them.

Graphic Novel. I don't read a lot of graphic novels, but when I saw a graphic version of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" at the library, I had to get it. Jackson is my other fave, and her grandson, Miles Hyman, did absolute justice to this iconic story with his illustrations.

Nonfiction. For fun, and also for my naturalist's book group and my nature-writing group, I read The Soul of an Octopus. I really enjoyed Sy Montgomery's voice and writing style, and while I was fascinated by everything octopus, I would have liked a little more science about what consciousness means, which is how the book is billed, and more discussion about the ethics of containing such intelligent, sentient beings in tanks. As a bonus, I realized I had seen Octavia the octopus, with her sad infertile eggs, at the New England Aquarium when we took the kids there several years ago.

For research for my book, I read America's Fires, by Stephen Pyne (can that really be the last name of the leading forest fire historian?), which was interesting, but probably not something you're going to pick up unless you have a fascination with wildfire. I also read Wilderness and the American Mind, by Roderick Nash, which is a classic I feel like I should have read a long time ago. I'm not yet done with Mountains of the Mind, by Robert MacFarlane, but I want to include it in this list because it was so interesting to read it in tandem with Nash's book, since they both explore the evolution of Western thought on wilderness/mountains from a biblical fear/hatred through the Romantic obsession with the sublime to modern overuse of the wild (well, I'm not sure that's where MacFarlane is going, but I can guess), one from the American perspective, the other British. It both frightens and encourages me that humans' perceptions of wild places have changed so much in the last 100-200 years—it means that we can continue to evolve and place greater value on wilderness, nature, and non-human life. But it can also mean that we could crank backward and once again view the wilderness as something to exploit for human gain (there are, of course, people who never changed their mind about this; I'm looking at you, Utah congressional delegation) or something horrifying and full of demons, best tamed into a pastoral landscape.

What are you reading this month?

P.S. I've decided to start a newsletter. If you'd like to sign up, there's a subscription thingy up there in the upper right corner of my webpage.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Egyptian Skirt

As I've been saying, ad nauseam, I haven't been much in the mood to make things lately. But my mom sent me a copy of Sew What Skirts a couple of weeks ago, a book I checked out from the library a long time ago used to make a few skirts (one, two, three). She had also recently sent me a yard of material that must date from when I was in high school and wanted to be an Egyptologist (why oh why didn't I follow that career path? I could spend my winters in the hot, sunny desert!!). I've been wearing skirts a lot lately, especially on warm days, because they're as comfortable as yoga pants but look less like I'm wearing pajamas, and I could use a few more to put into rotation. So: new skirt book + new (old) fabric + recent skirt-wearing phase = time to make a skirt!

There wasn't quite enough fabric for a skirt that covers the knees, so I decided to make a tiered skirt, using some salmon-colored linen I had lying around (actually, the legs from a pair of pants I got at a clothing swap and disassembled with the intention of making linen scarves, which never happened). But the skirt, with a short top tier, and a long second tier, looked kinda funny, like it was a skirt that was falling down, so I folded the linen tier in half and made it into a really wide waistband, kind of like a yoga waistband (only not stretchy). It makes me realize how easy it would be to make a skirt by gathering fabric and attaching it to a pre-made yoga waistband (where can one find such a thing?).

Because the main part of the skirt is two full yards gathered up, it's pretty poofy, but I like the way it feels (how it looks is another story, the poofiness accentuating my already too-generous hips and butt). A friend belatedly suggested pockets, which will definitely happen next time. What I really love about this fabric is that it depicts pages from a field book, of sketches and notes from temples and artifacts, which is exactly what I'd want to do if I went to Egypt—sketch and write about everything. But if I'm not going to Egypt anytime soon, I can at least look like Ms. Frizzle while I reread Crocodile on the Sandbank.

Coincidentally, E and Z were working on Ancient Egypt projects the same day I was making my skirt. Needless to say, I finished my project a lot faster and with a lot less whining and moaning than they did theirs.
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