Tuesday, December 31, 2019

I Did It! 2019 and Decade-In-Review Edition

For the past six years, I've tracked my annual accomplishments via an annual I Did It! list, originally inspired by writer Lisa Romeo. Previous posts can be found here: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013. It's very easy to get to the end of the year and see all the goals you did not achieve, so this is an opportunity to celebrate the ones you did … and some other non-goals that you hit as well. First I'll give you my 2019 list, then we'll talk about the 2010s as a whole.

This is me, wondering why it's so hard to climb to the top of this writing business.
Writing I Did Its!
This year I felt pretty stuck in quicksand, writing-wise. I had a lot of big goals, but not a lot of forward momentum. Let's see how that shook out, by the numbers:
  • Submissions: 8
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Short Lists: 1
  • Rejections: 12
  • Publications: 3, as follows:
"Persistence Is the Thing with Fins" A Dangerous New World: Maine Voices on the Climate Crisis, December 2019"A Conversation with Caitlin ShetterlyLiterary Mama, January 2019"Confluence" This Side of the DivideFebruary 2019
Okay, well, the numbers confirm that stuck-in-quicksand sensation. Dang. One of those submissions was the proposal for my book, which took all summer to write and therefore took time away from other writing and submitting activitites, so there is that, and I did work an awful lot of overtime between January and June, which didn't leave a lot of time or energy for writing or submitting. Let's see some more positive writing news.
  • I reinvigorated my newsletter, sending out 17 issues since June, when I attempted to relaunch as a weekly missive. I've since scaled back to "twice-monthly-ish."
  • I tried to reinvigorate my blog, and wrote 68 posts (including this one) over the year, which is a pretty low number, but 27 more than last year, and more than half of them I wrote during the last three months, the period of reinvigoration.
  • I did another big revision of my book and wrote a book proposal which I've sent to one publisher.
  • I attended three writerly events: a presentation on novel writing, a poetry festival, and a crime writing conference.
  • I attempted to make contact with other writers, sending emails to two writers whose books, in my genre, I enjoyed, contacting two Maine-based writers and becoming "friends" with them via social media, and making one real-life writing friend.
Travel and Adventure I Did Its!
We didn't get out a whole lot this year, but we did manage a week in DC, which was terrific. E and I went to Boston for a day, E, Z and I went on a weekend camping trip with friends, I did some toodling around on local ponds in my new kayaks, and I took sailing lessons. C, Z, E and I also hiked the Precipice Trail up Champlain Mountain in Acadia National Park in October, which felt like a major accomplishment for my elderly body (see photo above). We also did a lot of local touristing and micro-adventures when my parents were visiting in the fall, and C and I went to two super-fun concerts (Howard Jones and Rick Springfield!!!) at a local winery, which I count as adventures.

Art and Craft I Did Its!
I'm pretty happy with my knitting results from this year, which I'll share at the end of this week. I also  finish-finished (as in bound off) my jeweled squares quilt, made an infinity scarf, made three fleece skirts and then three more, gave new life to an ugly old table with a coat of purple paint, and made a dozen sparkly little houses. I also did some drawing and watercoloring and taught a nature journaling workshop.

Household I Did Its! 
I focused a lot this year on giving our house a little spa treatment. I (with some help) repainted E and Z's room and, some months later, cleaned, repainted, and organized their closet. I also (again with help) patched and repainted the stair walls and (without much help) cleaned and decluttered the whole house above ground level (basement, I'm looking at you in 2020), none of which rated a blog post I guess. I had written that I need less clutter in my life when I was working on last year's goals, and I think I achieved that (above ground level) this year.

2010s Decade in Review

Writing I Did Its!
These numbers are approximate and mostly post-2014.
  • Submissions: ~128
  • Acceptances: ~ 21
  • Rejections: ~93
  • Publications: ~56 (not sure why acceptance and pub numbers are so out of alignment)
  • Blog Posts: ~932
  • Books Written: 1
I also got my MFA in 2014 and have been volunteering as Literary Reflections editor and senior editor at Literary Mama for about 5 years, and I taught a couple of nature writing workshops locally. And I got to spend a week at an artists' colony, where I worked on the first revision of my book.

That's all really great, but I started writing in earnest in 2005, started a print zine and took my first writing class in 2006, started this blog in 2007, started grad school in 2012 … and it just feels like I should have made more progress in all that time. Granted, I also gave birth to two babies in 2005, but they're nearly six feet tall now; shouldn't my writing career be a lot bigger too?

Travel I Did Its!
One of my greatest joys in life and the thing I always want to do more of is travel. I tend to think that we don't do much of it, but while there might not be a lot of variety in our traveling, we've gone on some pretty cool trips over the last decade.

Family Trips:
Just Me Trips
There was also a lot of local Maine travel, hikes, boat trips, etc. over those years, and I spent some weekends away with friends and went on several bird-watching adventures.

Art and Craft I Did Its!
Other Life I Did Its!
  • Trained to become a Maine Master Naturalist and joined the MMNP board of directors.
  • Raised my kids from 8 and 4 years to 18 and 14, saw them graduated from middle school and high school, and sent one off to college.
This is supposed to be a positive post, but I can't look back on the last decade without pointing out that the 2010s were a complete bust professionally, a total failure, in terms of income, advancement, development, the whole shebang. I started the decade working maybe not my dream job but doing work that was interesting, challenging, and dear to my heart; now I make less money per hour than I did 10 years ago, and I'm basically just biding my time, adding to my retirement, waiting for my summers off, when we go broke but at least I get to hang out with my kids, write, and do some things I enjoy doing. My 30s-40s decade, the one where I *should* have been advancing in a career, was a crater, and, unless I can turn writing into something more than a really time-consuming hobby, it's likely that I'll never have a career or professional fulfillment. 

But, other than professional failure and painfully slow progress in writing, it's been a pretty great decade. What are you celebrating this New Year's Eve?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Finish it Friday ~ Holiday Edition

I didn't do a lot of hand-making this holiday, and the one big handmade gift I had planned likely won't be done for a long while, but I did put together little cardboard putz houses for the ornament exchange I do with my family (you can read more about the history of these houses here).

I had thought of making these a long while ago (maybe last Christmas), but of course I didn't get started until December, so there were a lot of late nights and assembly-line-style cutting and painting and gluing sessions. And my house looked like a glitter bomb went off in it for most of the month.

I found several patterns for these houses online, but ended up reading through their instructions and then making my own pattern using an old house I picked up at an antique store a while ago. After my first prototype house, I figured out that painting and glittering the pieces before assembling the houses was the easiest way to go. I also made the windows with orange kite paper rather than the transparent red tape I tried with the first house.
They looked so cute lined up with twinkly lights poked into the holes in back that I was tempted to keep them all for myself, but since Christmas is the time for giving, I sent them on their way to new homes, including the prototype, which I'd intended to keep until I realized I'd miscalculated the number I'd need.

Then I found out I needed an ornament for a Yankee swap at work, so I decided to make two more. These I made with simpler rooflines, because the double peaks were a little challenging to glue, and a little bigger, to fit with the larger bottle brush trees I had left. The bigger size made it possible to fit battery operated tea light candles inside, which made them even better.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

December 2019 Nightstand

December was a slow reading month, in part because I was still finishing up one of last month's selections, in part because I went back to work, and though I don't read much during the day even when I'm not working I'm just too tired now, what with getting up all kinds of early, to read when I go to bed at night, and in part because my evenings have been taken up by holiday preparations—making and baking (and trying to finish up another round of watching Friends before it goes off Netflix).

But I did get a little bit of reading in. First, I'd picked up an Everyman's Library volume of Stories of Motherhood last month, a book I'm surprised I never ran across when I was in grad school specifically looking for short stories on this topic. Not all of the authors are mothers themselves (some of them are in fact men), and not all of them are written from the mother's point of view (one interesting example by Alice Munroe was from the POV of the daughter, even though most of the book takes place before she was born). I enjoyed it and enjoyed finding a few new authors or new stories by authors I was already familiar with.

Next, every holiday season I must read, at a minimum, "Santaland Diaries" from David Sedaris's Holidays on Ice. I thought I wouldn't have time this year and tried listening to the audio from This American Life while I baked cookies, but though it was very enjoyable, it wasn't the same and I squeezed in a reading in the bathtub later that evening.

Finally, I decided we needed to read The Outsiders as a family this winter break, when I found out that three out of five of us have not read it. I picked it up late the night before the night before Christmas, started reading while I waited for the Christmas stollen to bake and finished this morning. I didn't cry quite as much as I did when I first read it in seventh grade, or even as much as I did about six years ago when I gave it to M and reread it myself, mostly because people kept talking at me during the sad parts. I haven't yet convinced anyone else that they need to read this book, but I haven't given up yet, either.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Peak Grinch

I've hit peak Grinch this week. It happens this time every year, when expectations about how this holiday season should unfold collide with reality. The song "I hate Christmas" from the musical Scrooge runs through my mind on repeat, and I wish that Christmas could come at a quieter time of year, like February, or come but once every other year.

Each day, it seems, brings reminders of one more Secret Santa or Yankee swap gift I need to buy, one more dish I need to make for one more party. I obsessively watch the progress of the package I needed to arrive byTuesday as it ping-pongs back and forth between Massachusetts and Connecticut for five days. We haven't finished decorating the house, but it's already succumbed to entropy after all the careful pre-tree cleaning. I haven't baked a single cookie, and the handmade gifts, though few, may not be done till Valentine's Day.

I have, however, finally achieved my lifelong goal of reining in spending, gift-giving, and contributing to the too much stuff-ness of this holiday, though not through willpower or mindfulness, but rather because I don't get my first paycheck until Christmas Eve. Despite buying less, I'm having as hard a time as ever finding those very particular gifts I want to get.

Meanwhile, holidays with teenagers lack the magic of holidays with little kids that makes all of the headaches worthwhile. They don't ooh and ahh over lights. They sleep in late on a snow day rather than running outside in their pajamas to play in it. They're over all the holiday movies. They don't eve want to hang their own ornaments on the tree. I suppose I'll look back on these teenage holidays--when all they want is a ski pass, "soft, fluffy clothes," or a pair of black ripped-knee skinny jeans--with nostalgia in 20 years, when I'm mailing them gift cards for snow tires and a night out from their kids.

Don't worry about me--my heart will grow three sizes in five days, when all of the parties have been had, the gifts opened, the wrapping paper swept away, and the guests gone home. We'll crowd together on the one couch that remains in the living room after the other was evicted to make room for the tree, nibbling on cookies and candy and watching Scrooge, or perhaps all of the Friends Christmas episodes. Another holiday will have passed, pleasantly if imperfectly (what is perfect anyway?), and we'll enjoy the waning days of yet another year.

This post went out last week to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. You can subscribe here.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Holiday Countdown Week 4 ~ Fire

We like to squeeze in a few fun, noncommercial, vaguely pagan celebrations where we can in the holiday season, and fire is always a hit with boys. First, before we could make new wreaths, we had to immolate last year's wreaths and release the wire forms. Wreath-burning is always fun, because you can twirl them around on a stick, and it's a tradition we used to do on spring equinox or summer solstice, but never got around to it this year (in fact never got around to taking the dried brown wreaths down off the house).

Another fiery celebration for us is Solstice, when we traditionally hike down to the river and have a small fire. This year we observed Solstice one day late, mainly because we were all too darn tired on Saturday night. It was a good choice--the night was mild and windless, and we were able to comfortably sit around the fire for a good long while, just chatting and enjoying a quiet, stress-free evening, with nothing to do except try to keep kids from setting themselves and each other on fire.
Which isn't any easier at 14 and 18 than it is when they're three.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Finish it Friday ~ More Skirts

I had so much fun making fleece skirts last month that I had to make more. A few birthdays I needed to attend to this month provided the perfect excuse.

This photo is pre-elastic, which I needed to go out and buy.

Once again I used this pattern/tutorial for all the skirts, but I added a jaunty little pocket to each one (the recipients are Millenials, so natch they will need some place to stash their phones).

The recipients are also all skinny-minis, and I think the pattern runs a little big, so I made them in x-small (the gray and purple) and small (the blue) sizes. I hope they fit!

To customize the fit, I left the elastic casing open, with the elastic held together with a safety pin. I included thread and a needle, so they can adjust the elastic to fit and sew it together/sew the casing closed. I love a quick, fun, and satisfying project like this one!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Finish it Friday ~ NA-SO-WRIMO

Last month I set out to conduct my own version of NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month), which I called National Something Writing Month. My goal: to type up at least 1667 words every day from old journals to generate material for a few essay and memoir projects I'm working on.

I get a sticker on the calender when I reach my writing goal for the day—
sadly I ran out of autumnal stickers, but I got a lot of high fives!
And I came oh so very close—I wrote the minimum on all but three days of the month (including Thanksgiving!!). Two of those days I had all-day meetings followed by evening activities and the other one we had out-of-town guests staying with us. I totaled 46,767 words (the goal of NANO is 50,000) and I got through eight journals (only about 17 left to go!). True, they were mostly not new words (except for some editing/enhancing that took place as I typed), but they were words that needed to get out of my handwriting and into the computer, so I call that a win.

It's also the most consistent I've been about working on a writing project in a very long time, probably since writing The Book, although I didn't track either my time or my words then, so I know neither how how quickly or how often I worked (I do recall some days when I went hiking or got caught in the downward email spiral, and I think I mostly didn't work on weekends).

I discovered that I can type already-written words while a lot of other activity is going on around me—people talking, the TV on, etc, which was truly what made getting so many words possible (new words, that require a fair amount of quiet contemplation, would be much more difficult). I may employ this as a strategy in the future—doing my thinking and writing on paper and typing up later while watching Friends or Supergirl with the kids. My plan is to keep going through December with daily writing/typing, but with a lower word count goal of 1000, now that I'm back to work all day. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Holiday Countdown Week 1 ~ Greenery

Thanksgiving came so late this year that there wasn't the usual lull of late November before the Christmas rush began, but instead here we are catapulted from one holiday to the next. We actually got our tree in November this year (which is anathema in this house, but at least it was the last day in November), because M was home for the weekend and we didn't expect to see him again until the weekend before Christmas.

My brother and my sister-in-law were also visiting for the weekend, so they joined us on our tree-getting expedition, which every year involves tromping through the woods and sizing up several dozen balsam firs and making the same tired jokes about taking a 30-foot tall tree or a hemlock, and pagan ritual of thanking the tree for givin its life to bring greenery and light into our lives. The tree right now is standing naked in our living room, until another weekend comes when we can rearrange furniture and haul ornament boxes up from the basement.

Once we settled on and sawed down a tree, we collected some extra greenery for wreath-making. Most years we go to wreath-making party at a friend's house and/or buy wreaths from one of the kids. This year our friend had her party the same weekend my brother was visiting, and, though E and Z were supposed to be selling wreaths for school, they both forgot about it until the last minute and couldn't find their order forms.

This was my sister-in-law's first wreath-making experience, and she did much better than C and I did the first time we made wreaths, back in our first apartment, when we bent green boughs into somewhat circular shapes and wired them together. They were a little wonky but had gorgeous bows that C had brought home from the gardening company he worked for that year. The next time, we wired boughs onto a wreath form, but it took a few tries before we learned about making bundles of fir tips and wiring those to the form. We still don't have the symmetry thing down, but someday we'll get there.

The traditional Maine Christmas wreath is made of balsam fir, which is what we used as the base, but we also incorporated spruce, hemlock, and white pine, as well as winterberry and red dogwood stems, for variety.

C went even wilder, literally, with a disk of larvae chambers from a wasp's next, pine cones, sumac fruits, and a polypore mushroom.

My brother and sister-in-law live in a condo, so they couldn't take theirs home with them. It now hangs on the playhouse, providing a little cheer and extra cover to the chickadees who visit this feeder.

We may be slow to get this whole holiday train moving, but at least we've got the greenery, just in time for the world outside to turn white.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Writing Gratitude and Gifts

My very first piece of published writing appeared in the online journal Literary Mama more than ten years ago. In 2014, after I finished my MFA, I became co-editor of the Literary Reflections department, and a couple of years ago I joined the Senior Editor team. You can read my editor's letter for the current issue, about all of the amazing talent on our staff past and present, and all of the wonderful content in this month's issue here.

Literary Mama is a wonderful organization to volunteer for, with the great mission of bringing writing about motherhood out into the world. It's also a complete labor of love for its writers and staff. We have no budget and no sponsors, and we're not affiliated with any institution. But earlier this month we were delighted to announce that we have become a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and as such now able to accept donations. We've begun the first modest foray into raising funds that will initially cover our operating expenses and, eventually, pay our writers.

Consider making a small contribution to this wonderful literary organization this Giving Tuesday. One of our other senior editors wrote this beautiful letter about her family's offer of $1500 in matching funds now through the end of December. If you have a mother or a writer in your life, you could make the contribution in her name as a holiday gift.

Thank you to those who have made a contribution and to all of you who read our journal each month.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Finish it Friday ~ Purple Table

We received a set of hand-me-down end tables several years ago. The previous owners had given them an antiqued finish in a color best described as Forest Service Outhouse Brown—not exactly my style. Nevertheless, they have traveled around our house, taking on various roles here and there. One of the smaller tables is serving as the piano bench right now; the other two have been doing duty as junk-collection surfaces in the basement for some time.

I decided to fix the taller, longer of the tables up and give it new life as a plant stand in our sunroom. I would have liked to use chalk paint, which people have told me requires no sanding before use, but instead I used the leftover paint from E and Z's bedroom, which, despite being latex wall paint (my dad always gives me a hard time for using latex paint on wood), had two distinct advantages over chalk paint: I didn't have to go anywhere to get it and it didn't cost me anything. But I did have to sand all the old brown paint off the table first.

C documented the process (ignore the weird sun/shadows that makes it look like I have a beard and/or a missing tooth). Then the painting began. I used to think it would be fun to buy old furniture and fix it up to sell. It was a little fun painting this table, but not fun enough for me to want to do it full time. Also, that would require being careful about drips and lumps and brush lines.

Still, it turned out pretty great, and it fits the space perfectly. I put some cork feet on a few leftover floor tiles (to keep water from getting trapped underneath) and placed them on top to help protect my paint job from leaky flower pots. I'm pretty happy with the result, so much so that I think I'll repaint one of the other tables as well. Now this room just needs a comfy place to sit (the futon that used to live in here migrated to the living room when our family got too big to fit on one couch).

Monday, November 25, 2019

Mindfulness Monday ~ Favorite Moments

I know this is the week when we (we Americans anyway) are meant to express our thankfulness for the various blessings and bounties we enjoy*. And I know that keeping a gratitude journal or other record of the things we're thankful for is supposed to be good for mental health. I also know that I've mentioned on this blog more than once my superstitions about not only saying but writing down the things I'm grateful for being an invitation for all the little demons to come and snatch those very things from my grasp. So I don't do it. I can't.

But I can write about the good things that happened on a particular day; because those events are in the past, no gremils can take them away. My sister-in-law gave me this little "favorite moment a day" journal for Christmas last year (or the year before??), and I'm sorry to say I've been very lax in using it. But I've just started to put it into practice and intend to keep it going, even (especially) once I return to work.

Right now my days are pretty good (mostly because I rarely have to deal with people, other than my husband and kids, and it strikes me that difficult people are the prime ingredients in bad days). So the journal is almost superfluous—every moment is a contender for favorite. I'm going to have to work a lot harder to have good days when I'm selling 10 hours of them to other people. Laura Vanderkam writes in Off the Clock that doing things that stand out in our memory is a good way to make time feel less fleeting. It stands to reason that a practice of writing down the good things that happen each day is a good way to manifest good things happening. I'll let you know how it works out.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Finish it Friday ~ New Noro Hat

Ten years ago, I knitted myself a Noro Spiral One-Skein Hat. Up to that point, I had been knitting for more than a dozen years, but had averaged only one project per year. That hat was the turning point, when I realied I needed to either knit or get off the pot. It was also the first project for which I remembered how to cast on without help and where I learned about stitch markers and yarn-overs. It was also a really great hat—all my favorite colors, and it fit really well, and I always got compliments on it wherever I went.

Then sometime between last hat season and this, it disappeared. I don't remember seeing it when I cleaned the mudroom over the summer (I don't remember not seeing it, either), and since then I've cleaned the entire house, top to almost bottom, so unless it's lurking in the basement somewhere, it's gone. I suspect that it got jealous of this hat, with which it had to share my head last winter, and went off to find a new home. It should have known I always have room on my head, and in my heart, for another hat.

When it became clear the hat wasn't coming back, I picked up a skein of yarn and made a new one.

I normally wouldn't choose such dark, or such neutral, colors, but I had a hankering for an autumnal-hued head-warmer, in part to go with my bright orange fall jacket, and this skein of yarn called out to me the moment I walked into the yarn store—I liked the sunset/night sky/autumn leaves feel of it. This hat knit up a lot faster than the last one, with ten more years' knitting experience (at an average of six projects per year, I'm happy to report) under my belt. I don't love it quite as much as I loved the lost one, and I wish I'd started the decreases two rounds earlier, but it's a pretty good hat, and I think it will grow on me.

Ravelry notes, such as they are, are here.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

November Survival Guide

A wind and rainstorm whipped through Maine on Halloween night, ushering in the bare and bleak landscape of November. The next couple of weeks brought periods of unseasonably cold temperatures (which I read as "unreasonably cold" temperatures, an accurate description in my opinion). Meanwhile the month chugged on, moving with slow but steady persistence toward my return to work and the holidays, when my children's wants ratchet up to an intensity that's inversely proportional to my ability to meet them, even if I were inclined to indulge their consumerist tendencies.

November vies with March in my world for being the most challenging month to get through, the one I'd most like to escape from into a stone hut perched in the midst of a nice warm, dry, sunny desert. So this year I've taken steps to try to keep from getting sucked into the November gloom. They include:

  • Walking daily, whatever the weather (and making a set of cute fleece skirts to wear on those walks).
  • Making stuff. I used to think I needed to "accomplish" things to stay reasonably content, but really what I think I need is to make things, with my hands, that don't need to be remade again the next day. In addition to the skirts mentioned above, I've got two fun knitting projects going (which I never do; I'm usually a very monogamous knitter).
  • Writing. I've been doing my own version of NANOWRIMO, mining journals for material and typing in at least 1700 words per day (and feeling validated for doing so by Lydia Davis).
  • Managing my time. I've been trying to implement some time management techniques that are supposed to make you feel like you have more time. Jury's still out on whether or not they work.
  • Spending time with friends. I've gone on a couple of lunch dates, gotten together with friends to knit, and had a "Girls' Day Out" with a mother-in-law. I've also gotten together with fellow Maine Master Naturalists for events, gatherings, and meetings.
  • Making art. I've been trying to devote at least a little time each week to nature journaling and/or watercolor painting.
All this does not change the fact that the days are about seventeen minutes long, and it's unreasonably cold, and the holidays and the job are bearing down like a runaway freight train. But, along with a few deep breaths and some mindless couch and TV time, it's making this month a lot easier to take.

This post went out last week to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. You can subscribe here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Dangerous New World

I'm very honored to have had my essay, "'Persistence' Is the Thing with Fins," selected to be included in the forthcoming anthology, A Dangerous New World: Maine Voices on the Climate Crisis, which will be published next month by Littoral Books. It was a difficult piece for me to write because my default reaction to all talk of climate change is denial—not the "let's make as much money off of fossil fuels while creating a massive smoke screen—both literally and figuratively—and pretend everything is fine while the earth as we know it melts down" Exxon-Mobil-style denial, but the "oh my god we're all going to die will my children even have a future there's a nice sand hole to stick my head into" ostrich-style denial. But I'm glad I powered through and wrote it, and I'm glad I focused on someone making a real, positive difference in the world for my piece.

If you're intrigued, there will be a book launch party on December 8th at Space Gallery in Portland. I'd love to see you there!

Friday, November 15, 2019

Finish it Friday ~ Fleece Skirts

This month I've been going for a 40-minute walk first thing each morning, to stay active as we slip into the season during which I just want to burrow into the couch with a stack of books, a bottomless chai, and a basket of yarn and hibernate. To ensure that my brain swithces into "exercise" mode and not "wander slowly looking at birds and trees" mode, I dress the part: leggings of some sort of sporty material, sneakers, and a shirt beneath my layers of jackets that is designated an exercise shirt. This uniform worked pretty well, comfort-wise, until last week, when the weather got a little chillier and I found myself wishing for just a little more warmth around the middle and decided I should make myself a fleece skirt.

I have a large bin of fleece, much of it purchased at the Malden Mills (inventor of Polartec) factory store in Massachusetts many years ago, before I had kids and before they (Malden Mills, not my kids) went bankrupt. When I opened the bin up I was so excited by the selection I couldn't stop at one skirt and instead made three.

I started with the purple one, for which I used this pattern. It was very easy to follow, though I will say I didn't do quite as neat a job as she did (I'll blame my lack of serger). I also tried an experiment of using fold-over elastic as sew-down elastic in the waistband, but it didn't quite work out and the waist is a little loose.

For the next one, I used my very favorite blue-and-blue striped fleece, which I made into these pants for E and Z when they were three. Man, they wore those things till they were at least six. They're probably the reason E will only wear soft fabrics and elastic waistbands to this day. I also made E and Z beanies out of the same fabric for the Colorado Trail. I'd already gotten a lot of mileage out of that little remnant of fabric (two, three yards, maybe), and there wasn't quite enough left for a whole skirt, so I copied the four-panel skirt design from this picture, with a stripey pocket on one side, and I must say it's quite jaunty.

Finally, I wanted to try a yoga waistband style, and used a skirt I already own as a guide in making that pattern. I used scraps of four different fabrics—black, tan, green, and melon (or coral?), all of which were too small for a whole skirt. After some seam-ripping caused because I doubted my original pattern calculations and added an extra inch to the black panel, it all came together just fine, super cute, and maybe a mite snug.

Of course, the day after I made the skirts, it snowed, then the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. I powered through with the leggings-and-skirt combo and switched my walk to the afternoon on the two days the temps were in the teens, but it was not quite warm enough with the wind blowing.  I’m either going to have to make a longer skirt for really cold  days or switch to snow pants.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

November 2019 Nightstand ~ British Nature Writing

This month's reading selections reflect a small obsession with British nature writer Robert Macfarlane. It started with me running across a video of Macfarlane giving a talk. That reminded me how much I'd enjoyed reading Mountains of the Mind a few years ago, that I had checked Landmarks out from the library when it first came out but quickly decided I wanted my own copy and returned it unread (and never got around to buying it), and that I had a copy of The Wild Places, which a friend had given me and which I'd been keeping in my car for emergencies of the "a long wait and nothing to read" type. Fortunately or unfortunately, I hadn't had a lot of that type of emergency and had only gotten partway through the book. So I brought it inside and added it to the nightstand and bought myself a copy of Landmarks.

The Wild Places is an account of Macfarlane's quest to explore the last remaining bits of wilderness in the Britain, and along the way redefining what "wild" means in the context of islands that have been inhabited by and transformed by humans for thousands of years. Landmarks is a lovely meditation on a number of nature writers, most of them British, although John Muir is included (perhaps, since he was born in Scotland, he counts as British), and all of them, I gather, having had some significant impact on Macfarlane. Interspersed with the stories of the writers are collections of words from various languages, dialects, and regions of the British Isles for natural features and phenomena, with the idea that losing the language of nature goes hand-in-hand with losing nature itself, and inversely, reclaiming the words is a step toward reclaiming the landscape.

While looking for Landmarks in a little bookstore one day, I came across a slim book with green and purple mountains edged in gilt on the cover. Macfarlane's name was on the cover as well, his introduction to the book coming from his chapter in Landmarks. The book itself, The Living Mountain, was written by Nan Shepherd in the 1940s, and is a life history of the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland, told by a frequent visitor to, a careful observer of, and an intimate acquaintance of those plateaus and peaks.

One last Macfarlane book doesn't live on my nightstand, because it's far too big. Besides, I hope that in its home on the coffee table, it might inspire others to open its pages and read a spell. Also, it looks nice next to my current knitting project. The Lost Words is a collection of poems—a spell book, in Macfarlane's words—for conjuring up the words for wild things, plants and animals, that were removed from the Oxford Children's Dictionary. Macfarlane's poem-spells are acrostics, but not those torturous dry things our children are forced to create for Mother's Day cards. Rather they're living, breathing word worlds that really do conjure the words and the world to life. Listen to artist Jackie Morris read "Otter" while she paints an image of that creature.

Finally, another book by a British writer who pays close attention to the landscape, but through fiction. My mom sent The Ivy Tree, a 1961 suspense novel by Mary Stewart, to me, with a note that said "this is why I get so impatient with modern authors." They just can't spin a tale and use beautiful language to do it the way Stewart did. As I read the book, I was struck by how much detail of the plants, the animals, the clouds, the whole natural world came into the narrative. Even as she was running for her life, the heroine took the time to mention the species of the trees she dodged. In fact, at the risk of spoiling a nearly 60-year-old book, it's this attention to detail that helps clue the reader in as to the mystery. It also sets the mood. I marked several pages as I read. Here are just a few:
The light was fading rapidly. The long flushed clouds of sunset had darkened and grown cool. Below them the sky lay still and clear, for a few moments rinsed to a pale eggshell green, fragile as blown glass.
Presently the timber thinned again, and the path shook itself free of the engulfing rhododendrons, to skirt a knoll where an enormous cedar climbed, layer upon layer, into the night sky. I came abruptly out of the cedar's shadow into a great open space of moonlight, and there at the other side of it, backed against the far wall of trees, was the house.
Rowan was coming…. His nostrils were flared, and their soft edges flickered as he tested the air towards me. The long grass swished under his hoofs, scattering the dew in bright, splashing showers. The buttercup petals were falling, and his hoofs and fetlocks were flecked gold with them, plastered there by the dew. 
While it's true that I had a grad school mentor who probably would have called this "purple prose," I love this kind of writing (and I don't much care for him). I've read so many books where not a tree, not a leaf, not a blade of grass, not a cloud is mentioned in 200-300 pages, and they're so sterile, so detached from all that's living and sustaining, and just so blah, I'll take purple prose any day.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Time Management Tuesday ~ Tending the Garden

One of the recommendations in Laura Vanderkam's book, Off the Clock, is to "tend your garden"—that is, once you've tracked your time, spend some time analyzing it. The questions she suggests asking are:

  • What do I like about my schedule? I like that I have summer/fall off work and mostly control my time in that interim.
  • What would I like to spend more time doing? Writing (I really can't manage to prioritize this enough); making art; nature study; reading. 
  • What would I like to spend less time doing? Driving around, running errands, shopping; reading, deleting, responding to emails; nagging kids.
  • How can I make that happen? Continue to prioritize writing; improve my focus when doing the work I want to do; set aside specific blocks of time for each thing I want to do; unsubscribe from email lists; set a time for email and ignore it the rest of the time.

She also recommends envisioning a "realistic ideal day." (Note the key word "realistic. No sitting in a lavender field in Provence reading E.M. Forster, exploring the ruins of Petra in Jordan, or snorkeling a coral reef allowed). Sometimes my ideal day entails a hike with a friend, shopping with my mother-in-law, or lunch with a writing buddy. Most the time it means staying home (alone—enough of this early release, three-day-weekend, snow-day nonsense!), and it involves getting outside in nature, writing, reading, making (this includes knitting, sewing, painting, drawing, or other project—but not cooking, because that is a chore and not fun). I don't get all of these in every day, but as long as my week includes a litte of everything sprinkled around, I'm content.

The real question is how will I fit in the things I want when I'm back to working full time next month?

  • Spend the 1/3 hour between dropping kids off at bus and work plus two 15-minute breaks for walking outside (no matter how bad the weather is; dress warmly).
  • Spend lunch hour walking or writing.
  • Listen to audio books on commute (reading is hard b/c of work-caused eye strain).
  • Run errands one lunch break and one after-work per week and no more.
  • Knit during evening family TV time.
  • Go to bed early.
  • Make art and spend time in nature and write more on weekends.
Well, that doesn't sound much different from how last year went. And it sounds pretty depressing. I'm not sure I'm fully on board with Vanderkam's cheerful assessment that every week has 168 hours! Sure that's empirically true, but subtract 56 for sleeping, 40 for work, 5 for commuting, 14 for eating, 14 for getting ready to go to work and to go to bed, 14 for quality time with your family, 10 for housework, 7 for cooking, and 4 for exercise, that leaves a little over half an hour per day for things you want to do.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Finish it Friday ~ Mending Pile

I finally—finally—finished cleaning, dusting, and decluttering the final room of the house (excluding, of course, the basement): my bedroom. And the final frontier of that room was my sewing corner, where, among other cluttery bits and bobs, was a pile of things in need of mending, which I tackled this week.

In just over an hour, I fixed or replaced the handles on three canvas shopping bags, sewed the legs back on a long-legged bird puppet (heron, perhaps?), took the top four inches off a pair of pajama pants that had become threadbare around the waist and put in a new drawstring sleeve (they were rather long in the waist to begin with), sewed up a rip in the seam of a pair of shorts that haven't fit anyone in this house for a couple of years, and put buttons on three pairs of pants, two of which, like the shorts, are destined for the thrift store.

One jacket with a broken zipper I put aside (something about repairing zippers that always flummoxes me). It, too, doesn't fit anyone around here, but seems a shame for it to go to waste. I also have a mitten and a slipper that need darning, but I need to first decide if I'm going to do my usual run yarn back and forth over the hole in a random fashion or do a proper knitwear repair.

I was happy to see the pile wasn't quite as large as last time I blogged about mending (I long ago gave up on patching knees in pants and instead cut the legs off and make them into shorts), and it didn't inspire quite the same level of philosophical and political reflection, but I was glad that now I can use my sewing machine for more exciting and creative projects.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Wild Wednesday ~ Little Visitor

A few of weeks ago, as a nor'easter prepared to blow through, I dragged all our houseplants inside. We'd already had a couple of frosts, and, though the plants were mostly protected by the exhuberant growth of a kiwi vine that's taken over our deck in a Little Shop of Horrors-esque fashion, they were starting to glare at me in an accusatory fashion for neglecting them.

The next day, I heard a strange and surprising sound coming from the sunroom, where the plants live: Peep-peep-peep-peep.

I knew that spring peepers occassionally call during the waning days of fall, lamenting, I assume, the onset of winter. I did not know that they occassionally take up residence in houseplants and thereby move into the homes of unsuspecting humans.

I scurried to the sunroom, but the peeping had stopped by the time I got there, and with a couple dozen plants, all overgrown from a summer outdoors, there was no way I was going to find a frog the size of my thumbnail. And so it went over the next week: Peep-peep-peep-peep. Scurry. Silence. I tried playing a peeper chorus from my frog songs CD. I tried combing out dead leaves from the plants and pruning back excessive vegetation. I tried misting them with water to imitate a light rain. No luck.

Finally, after about a week, I made it to the sunroom in time to narrow the call down to the southeast corner. I took the plants from that corner and spread them out, and thus triangulated my way to the call the next time I heard it, finding the little scamp hiding under the succulent leaf of an aloe vera plant. At this point it was late in the day and getting a little chilly out, and I decided to wait until the warmest part of the following day to escort the stowaway outside. Unfortunately, when I went to release him, I found he had absconded to another plant and again I couldn't find him.

I was a little worried that the frog was getting dehydrated, so I lightly watered the plants and waited for the giveaway peep-peep. But it came less frequently and for shorter intervals than it had before. Had I squandered its last chance for survival? Finally, one day nearly a week after I first found the frog, I was able to narrow the call down to a small area of the room and found the peeper hiding between the inner and outer pot of another aloe vera plant.

It was a cold, damp day, but I wasn't taking any chances with the frog relocating itself again, so I took it outside, across the driveway, released it among the damp leaves that it's so well-camouflaged with, and wished it well in its upcoming hibernation and return next spring.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Time Management Tuesday ~ When I Have More Time

I recently came across a journal entry from August 2005, when the twins were 3 months old and M was 4 years old. It was a list of things I wanted to when I again had more time in the future ("approx. 18 years from now," I added in parentheses). Now that I actually do have more time, in slightly less than 18 years, I figured it would be a good exercise to see which of these activities I've actually taken on, and what I might choose to do now, if I had even more time. Here's the list, with each item followed by its current status:

  • Take up meditation ~ Nope, haven't done it. I've tried here and there, but with not any real level of committment. I'm not against the idea of meditating; it just doesn't rise high on my priority list very often.
  • Learn some foreign languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic, Russian should be a good start) ~ I'm afraid that ship has sailed; my brain has ossified to the extent that I'm lucky if I maintain my grasp on English.
  • Make a sculpture ~ I'm trying to think whether I've done any sculpting in the last 14 years. Do needle-felted critters and a knitted gnome count?
  • Learn to paint ~ This I've actually been working on in a semi-serious manner, working on learning to watercolor over the last couple of years and making some progress.
  • Go to Egypt, Antarctica, Siberia & …. ~  Ha-ha nope. Unless Ireland falls under those elipses. Still would like to go to all those places and more!
  • Plant a garden ~ Shhh, don't tell C I wrote this. Now that I theoretically have time to garden, I'd much rather go for a walk, looking at wild plants, or lie in the hammock, or do pretty much anything else. 
  • Swim across the 10 or 20 biggest lakes in Maine ~ This definitely has not happend, and now it sounds kinda cold. Ask me again in July.
  • Learn calligraphy ~ I've always wanted to learn calligraphy, and I make half-a**ed forays into the art every now and then, but like meditation, I lack the commitment and discipline. Maybe some day...
  • Write amusing letters to all my friends ~ This is a quaint notion, now that no one writes letters anymore. I do send the occasional card, but I am truly the worst, most boring letter writer ever. Hopefully I never become a famous writer, or I pity whoever has to deal with my archives.
  • Learn to read hieroglyphics ~ File that under brain ossification and lack of discipline.
  • Go on moonlight hikes ~ Well, we did used to go on moon walks when the kids were little, so maybe that counts. Now I'm afraid my eyesight has gone to the extent that I'd hurt myself (maybe in the desert, where the moonlight would actually reach the ground…).
  • Write 1000 words a day ~ I do this! I actually do this! Or at least I'm doing this right now (and more!) during NaSoWriMo, so hurrah for me!
Well, geez, I sure haven't taken advantage of my funemploment to the extent I once believed I was capable, and I seem to have gotten a lot more boring and less adventurous in my older age. What do I now envision myself doing in the future, when I have more time (and, of course, money)?
  • Travel, still and always.
  • Write, write, and keep on writing.
  • Make more art—drawing and painting.
  • Golly, I hate to write "read" here, but that's what I keep coming back to—so many books, so little time!
  • Hike, kayak, and play outside more.
  • Go whitewater rafting.
  • Take another (solo?) long distance hike.
  • Become a better naturalist.
Well, that's not much of a list, but I'll keep thinking on it and see what I can come up with for things to do with my time, that I can do right now and not wait 18 years.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Start It Friday ~ NA-SO-WRIMO

Today's November 1st, and therefore Day 1 of NANOWRIMO—National Novel Writing Month, a worldwide creative endeavor and event, where the idea is to challenge yourself to write a 50,000 word novel in one month (around 1667 words per day). I kinda half-a**ed NANO last year, starting a novel but not getting very far for various reasons, such as I didn't have a clear idea where I was going, I didn't like my idea that much once I started working on it, and I started a new job on November 5th. I still would love to write a novel during NANOWRIMO, but I still do not have an idea I love enough to develop (or not one I've done enough background work to get going on anyway), and I have several nonfiction projects looming over me like disembodied spirits walking the earth on the Day of the Dead.

SO. I'm not NANOWRIMOing, but I am NASOWRIMOing (that's Nation Something Writing Month), and working on two of those nonfiction projects, which are both essay collections and both require mining material from old journals, so it makes sense to work on the initial gathering phase concurrently since background for both is intermingled in said journals. I've been working on both intermittently over the last couple of months, but now it's time to buckle down, bite the bullet, and do all the cliches that mean get serious, and write 1667 words per day, come hell or Thanksgiving.

I had the decks cleared today for some serious focused work time, and then there was a wind/rain storm last night that resulted in E and Z having a delayed start at school. And of course our internet was out (and of course I work on the cloud). And C only had a small job to do and would be back in the early afternoon. Still I managed to rearrange my day, spent some time in the morning planning how I'd approach the projects this, took my morning walk after lunch, when the wind had blown the clouds away and after C came inside, and finally got my 1670 words typed up and my sticker on the calendar just in time to shower and pick Z up from cross country.

I don't know how it's going to work going forward, but I'm off to a good start!

Are you NASOWRIMOing this month?

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Climb All Your Mountains

The first obstacle nearly defeats me, a granite boulder big as a truck, an iron rung at the level of my chest, another above my head and to the left, and no obvious way to hoist myself up and over. I last hiked this trail 25 years and 50 pounds ago, at a time when nothing seemed too difficult. Will this rock, five minutes into our hike, be my Waterloo? But I can't admit defeat—this hike, after all, was my idea, a trail two teenage boys can't possibly complain about, all sheer cliffs and vertical ascent. It's the reason we woke at five this morning and, against all precedent, left the house at 6:15. I still want to believe nothing is too difficult. If I can't surmount this rock, today, when can I?

I remember how stone works, how there's always a crack or a crevice or a crystal for hands and feet to find purchase, and I make it easily over. From there we clamber over boulders the size of household appliances, shimmy beneath slabs of rock balanced over cave-like crevices, side-step along angled ledges, and climb walls of rock on iron ladders bolted to smooth granite faces. The boys scramble ahead and wait, scramble ahead and wait.

I know we're nearing the top when I smell the familiar dog-poop odor of fall viburnum leaves, a scent that clings to my memories of the peaks in this small range. Atop one last ladder, we pop out onto an undulating plain of smooth granite and short, twisted pine trees. Near the cairn, we sit in the lee of the wind, snack on cheese, crackers, and figs, and watch a schooner with terra-cotta sails ply the waters around the islands, a scene that might be two hundred years old.

The boys bound over the granite as we head down the north ridge of the mountain. We lose them when we reach the trees, and they make their own way back to the car, taking the short spur and walking back along the road. C and I parallel the mountain, climbing up and down and up and down endless staircases of stone, eventually rejoining the morning's trail above the boulder field. Muscles that have been out of use for untold years quiver as I lower myself from rock to rock, exhausted from the morning's toil.

We find the twins at the parking lot, and they tease us over our choice of trail: "It only took us seven minutes to get here. It took you guys an hour!"

"That's okay," I say, "Nobody's lost or hurt, and we had a nice, four-hour hike."

"To be fair," E says, "It was an hour of hiking and three hours waiting for you."

Yes, to be fair, I made my very slow way up the mountain, but at least I made it.

This post went out last week to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. You can subscribe here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Time Management Tuesday ~ Mindsets and Algorithms

I finished Laura Vanderkam's book, Off the Clock, over the weekend (just in time to return it to the library three days late; how's that for time management?), and I have to say I'm hovering somewhere between skeptical and intrigued. The book isn't so much about actually managing your time as it is about changing your perceptions about time. I'll write about some of the strategies she suggests (in addition to the time tracker, which I wrote about here and here) and my efforts to implement them over the coming weeks. It turns out that my strategy of prioritizing my own work that I wrote about last week is also one Vanderkam recommends, so that makes me feel like I'm both on the right track of figuring this out for myself and that some of her other recommendations might work for me.

I know that mindsets (even unconscious ones) affect how much time you experience because I get so much more done on weekends when I'm working full time than I do when I'm literally off the clock—because those two days are the only time I have all week to play outside, do housework, complete projects, and spend time with my family and friends, I make use of every second. When I have all week relatively free, I tend to goof around a lot more on the weekends. Which is totally fine. I love having lazy-ish weekends. But is it really possible to consciously shift the way you perceive time, and as a result feel like you have more of it? We'll find out.

As far as this week's mindset goes, it's only Tuesday and I already feel like my time's compressed into a smaller container than usual. I happen to have a lot of appointments this week—car repairs, a dentist appointment, a meeting about a class I'm teaching, as well as fun things like lunches with friends. None of these fit together neatly on the schedule, so there's a lot of driving involved and, because we live so far out of town, I'm compelled to take care of all my errands while I'm out and about. Z is also still running cross country, so picking him up in the afternoons adds another hour of driving. At the same time lot of tasks for both my nonprofit orgs are also coming to a head.

I'm cognizant that this is nothing compared to a 40+ hour job outside the home, and that all those errands would have to be squeezed into lunch hours if I were working right now, so I'm grateful that I do have the time I have. But I had to break my rule about putting my own work first today, because urgent tasks were screaming louder than the important but amorphous work of thinking about an essay. I'm back to thinking if I could just get everything else done, I'll have time for my own work, knowing full well there's no such thing as done.

I do, however, have recommendations for spending less time goofing around on the internet, for anyone out there who feels like they want to cut back in that area. I took the Facebook app off my phone last January, so now going on that site requires the laborious work of logging on or turning on my computer, and as a result I don't spend much time there. To minimize the time I spend scrolling when I do go on Facebook or Instagram, which I like much better, I've instituted an algorithm of my own—I shut it off after seeing two of pictures of any of the following: dogs, cats, foamed milk on a latte. It only takes about 30 seconds, max, and then I'm free to go do something else.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Mindfulness Monday ~ Self-Care

I made this dumb statement in my Time Management Tuesday post of two weeks ago: "I don't even know what else self-care would entail at this point." The me of 10 years ago, with a full-time job and three little kids, would wanted to have strangled the person who wrote that sentence. The me of 14 years ago, with two five-month-old infants and a four year, old would really have wanted to strangle her. Even the me of next January, working 10-hour days in the dark of winter, would want to strangle her.

I tend to think of "self-care" as things that would take place at a spa—massages, mud baths, face masks with cucumbers on the eye lids and soothing music—pampering the body, in other words, and, since I never even took the time to polish my toenails all summer, I don't allow myself much pampering.

But in addition to nurturing the body, self-care can encompass anything that feeds the spirit, as my long-time blog reader and cyber friend Rachel commented: "I'll just toss out what I consider as [self-care] (though I know you're not asking) ... tea, chocolate, walks in nature, conversation with friends, concerts and readings that fire me up creatively, foot rubs that I give myself, road trips."

I'd already gone for a walk that afternoon and figured out that walking outside on a beautiful fall afternoon is self-care, even if I made myself go out for exercise (walking outside on the ice in January, however, might be a different story). And though my cup of Sleepytime tea at bedtime is more than self-care, it's pampering, since C usually makes it for me, I'm hesitant to add chocolate to my list, because from there it would be an easy slide to a daily trip out for a cinnamon role in the service of treating myself. My ten-to-fifteen minutes of yoga every morning is self-care, even if I have to drag myself out of bed to do it. Going on a hike with a friend on a Monday is self-care. Watercolor painting and nature journaling is self-care. Reading in bed at night is self-care. Knitting is self-care (a friend recently posted on Instagram about all the health benefits, mental and physical, of knitting, and though I don't feel compelled to look it up myself to verify her facts, I'm convinced). Even watching television with one of my kids can be self-care, if we're relaxing and enjoying ourselves.

The fact is that for much of the year under my current work situation, most of my time is self-care. Writing is how I want to spend my time, even if it's a struggle sometimes. And though there are often niggling little tasks that I don't always feel like doing involved in the volunteer work I do for my nonprofits, I believe in their missions and derive a lot of personal satisfaction from giving them my time. I get to sleep in later than if I had to go into an office, I get to go outside when I want or take a long lunch with a friend. I've been known to blow off a whole day of writing and read an entire book.

So forget what I said about not knowing what self-care is. I'm living it, for now. And when I go back to work, I'll be sure to up the bubble bath frequency, and maybe paint my toenails one time before sock season fully sets in.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Finish It Friday ~ Infinity Scarf

This shouldn't really count as something that's finally finished, since it took about an hour to make, two if you count shoveling a path to my sewing machine and ironing the fabric. But I bought the supplies last winter, at the same time I bought the yarn for my poncho, which is kind of fitting, since I finished the very wintery poncho on the second day of summer and I made this very springy scarf well into the fall.

Regardless, I've been wearing it constantly, and it's nice to have a bright splash of spring this time of year. It's made of Liberty lawn on one side—a somewhat economical way to utilize that very dear fabric—and peachy-orange voile on the other

I've been trying to up my scarf game, since I own so very many of them (and I do admire scarfy people), but I'm not great at styling them. So for this one, I went with an infinity style to avoid the conundrum of what to do with the ends. It still might look like I have a blanket thrown around my neck, but I like it anyway.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

October 2019 Nightstand

I've started but not gotten into enough to keep reading several books in the last month or so. I feel like a cat kneading and kneading a cushion, trying to find the comfortable sweet spot. When a book has stuck well enough for me to see it through, it's been collection of shorter works.

Alice Munro's Dear Life has been lurking around the house for a good long while. I have a tendency to buy books and let them ripen on the shelves for a few years before I get around to reading them. But I was trying to motivate myself to write short stories earlier this month, so I decided to read short stories and, of a rather large stack, Dear Life rose to the top. I have a love-hate relationship with short stories (the hate part born, perhaps, from reading nothing but during grad school). Sometimes they're these brilliant little capsules of life, and sometimes they're…WTF? Munro's stories in this collection fall into this former category, most of them little slices of slightly strange, slightly obscure, but mostly ordinary lives of characters living in post WWII Canada. I was particularly fascinated by the way in some cases the stories followed a character through years or over most of a life, in just a dozen or two pages. I always feel the compressed length of a short storie necessitates a short timespan, but I see now that it need not. The book ends with a few sketches about the author's own life, in post-WWII Canada, which are every bit as fascinating as the fictional stories.

I wrote a sonnet once, in 12th grade English class. It was about the first Gulf War and had a rather nice metaphor about war planes and birds in it, and it had only one syllable off meter. I was rather proud of that sonnet, and I'm resting on its laurels nearly 30 years later. Then my co-editor in the Literary Reflections department at Literary Mama had to go and write an entire stack of sonnets and put my small effort to shame. Libby Maxey published her debut poetry chapbook, Kairos, this summer, and it waited on my nightstand, I think, until the world outside matched the cold and leafless but red and glistening image on the front cover. I found myself reading each sonnet two or three times, savoring the rich language and right metaphors, untangling the threads of meaning. The formality of the vocabulary and form gives this collection a sense of timelessness, a faint sepia hue of times past, like a poet from history is whispering the words in my ear, at the same time feel very present, with poems about kindergarten and snow days and looking back at one's naive teenage self. It's a gorgeous collection and I wish my friend all good things to come from its publiction.

Where the poems in Kairos are tightly structured, those in Arrival by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor are loose and free-flowing, sometimes arranged in stanzas and sometimes cascading over the page in widely and wildly spaced words. The words themselves are ripe fruits of Caribbean patois, an accent, a history, an identity, as in the oft-repeated "gyal" (girl). The poems are warm and bright with tropical heat and color, but also achingly real with loss and strained relationships. They tell a story of a life that's rich with varied origins and a winding pathway, one that has been hard and beautiful at the same time.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...