Thursday, December 31, 2020

I Did It! 2020 (aka Apocalypse Year 1) 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: 2019 (including decade-in-review), 201820172016201520142013

Let me just start this year's list by acknowledging that 2020 was a real sh*t-show of a year, and if all you managed to accomplish was doom-scrolling Twitter and binge-watching Tiger King, that's okay. I'm not here to judge or make anyone feel bad. In terms of hours devoted, streaming TV was probably my most productive activity of 2020. Nevertheless, traditions are traditions, and my tradition is to take a minute to celebrate my wins for the year, big and small.

Writing I-Did-Its!

My big win for the year is, of course, finding a publisher and signing a contract for my book. This was a four-year-plus-long process to get to this point, and I'm not going to let 2020 take that away from me.

My stats for this year:

  • Submissions: 16
  • Acceptances: 3
  • Rejections: 7
  • Withdrawals: 4
  • Radio Silence: 2
  • Publications: 4

"The QuiltWillows Wept Review, September 2020 

"A Review of The Beginning of Everything by Andrea J. BuchananLiterary Mama, May 2020 

"Faith in a Seed" Spire: The Maine Journal of Conservation and Sustainability, April 2020  

"Sled Dogs and Search and Rescue" Maine Wilderness Guide, Winter 2020  

As  was the case for the last few years, while I've been working on The Book, I haven't been producing as many shorter works for submission. Some day I'll have to figure out how to keep short pieces going on the side while working on longer works. 

Other writing accomplishments:
  • I re-reinvigorated my newsletter, moving to a monthly schedule and sending out 11 issues.
  • I only wrote 35 blog posts--my lowest number ever--but I didn't abandon the blog entirely.
  • I mostly finished drafting a second book and I did a fair amount of research on a third.
  • I started a novel and got pretty deep into characters and plot, but had to shelve it at the point when I needed to delve into historical research, just when all the libraries shut down for the pandemic.
  • I continued to edit for Literary Mama, both as a department editor in the Literary Reflections Department and as a Senior Editor (I suppose you could call another publication my letter from the editor in the July/August issue).
Travel and Adventure I Did Its!

Well, it wasn't much of a travel year for anyone, was it? Weeks went by in spring when I barely even left our property, let alone the county. What I did manage:
  • Several local kayak trips, including one night paddle among the bioluminescence. I had fun making journal pages for some of these trips
  • An overnight at a cottage on the beach, courtesy of a friend.
  • A November hike with my family (who are usually impossible to drag out of the house) up a mountain not too far from home.

Arts and Crafts I Did Its!

Likewise, this wasn't a very crafty year, although it seems like it should have been what with all the stay-home-ness. What I did do:

  • Made a cute little table topper thingy.
  • Made a table runner.
  • Made a billion face masks, starting with these.
  • Finished C's fair isle vest.
  • Remodeled my old dollhouse (phase 1, phase 2, phase 3).
  • I've been working on one, long, endless knitting project most of the pandemic. It's been a good TV-watching knit, since it doesn't require a lot of attention-paying, but I've fallen out of the habit the last few weeks. Time to pick it up again.
  • I did not do as much art as I would have liked, other than a little nature journaling and a couple of watercolor paintings. This is an area of my life I'd like to reinvigorate in 2021.
Household I Did Its!

2020 was the year of dealing with deferred maintenance, from repairing little things (bracelets and wind chimes that have been broken for years) to finally, finally repainting (most of) the house trim and the exterior doors. (See above. How much do you love that purple and green together?) Not that anyone other than the UPS man has seen the results, but it makes me smile every time I come home. I also:
  • Finally cleaned up and organized the basement, starting with the "jar room." Other areas that got tidied up were my arts and craft supplies, three big bins of hand-me-down clothes that are all now either in kids' drawers or at the thrift store (or waiting till spring to go to the consignment store). I would still like to do a better job of organizing the camping gear and my fabric stash (maybe either burn through or get rid of some of it), and I finally threw out stuff I was waiting for recycling opportunities to open up for--old floppy disks and vinyl bags, that sort of thing. What I'd really, really like is for C to finish off the corner of the basement where all this stuff is stored and put in better lighting and shelving so I have better space to work with. Maybe some day...
  • Expanded my Fiestaware a lot. I admit, I got a teensy bit carried away, but I'm pretty happy with my purchases (it all started with Goodwill but after the pandemic began, I turned into eBay, Replacements Ltd., and Fiesta Factory Direct for my fixes). Okay, so maybe buying stuff isn't exactly an accomplishment, but Fiestaware was invented during the Great Depression to cheer people up, so I feel like I'm carrying on that tradition--of cheering myself up with colorful dishes. All the new dishware necessitated reorganizing kitchen shelves and cabinets to create storage and display space where there was none before, so that's something
  • In this same vein, I continued on my never-ending (and vain) quest to get the house so clean it stays clean by reorganizing and decluttering various book cases, cabinets, closets, and rooms.
  • I spread topsoil and grass seed in front of our house, something we neglected to do after building, resulting in a bald, weedy lawn (don't get me wrong; I'm okay with "weeds" and even planted violets and bluets in the new lawn, but more green growing things than brown dirt was my goal).
  • And I planted a butterfly garden, where I long ago put in an herb garden and then neglected it.
Nature I Did Its!
  • I co-coordinated the Maine Master Naturalist training course for 2020, with three other terrific leaders. We pivoted and retooled with the pandemic, and were able to continue carrying out a complete and robust course using remote learning platforms, videos, do-it-yourself field trips, and socially distanced field days. The further I get from the elbow-deep, day-to-day operational logistics of this, the more I realize what an accomplishment it was. As a bonus, sitting through all of the lectures reinforced my own learning from the course (back in 2014-2015) and re-sparked my interest in several nature topics.
  • I took an online class in butterfly ID and ecology, and discovered 40+ species of butterfly on my property alone.
  • Most of my birding I did at home, yet I managed to log more checklists on eBird and more species than any previous year. I also had a couple of life birds and a few not-seen-in-a-long-time species, including two great sightings of sandhill cranes (not on my property), and I worked on my birding-while-kayaking skills. One of my big plans for 2021 is to get a lot better at birding.
  • All the kayaking reinvigorated my long-held but recently dormant interest in dragonflies, and I reacquainted myself with some of my favorite species and learned several new ones. I look forward to pursuing this more in 2021.

Not too shabby for an otherwise hellish year. Another goal for 2021 is to not try to wish time away--even pandemic time, even work time--but to appreciate each moment as it comes. I'll let you know how it goes in next year's I Did It! post.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Tiny Things


This holiday season has had a strange, slow-motion feel to it, as if we're operating underwater. Oddly, during this high-anxiety year, this normally high-anxiety season is pleasantly un-fraught, thanks to evenings and weekends that aren't overloaded with parties and concerts, my having done much of my shopping early for the first time ever, and a surprising willingness to let things go. Not so much resignation (though that's part of it) as an openness to doing things differently. For instance, instead of badgering the kids into watching classic Christmas movies, we've been watching the holiday episodes of our favorite TV shows (a fitting cap to a year where much binge-watching ensued). I've also contented myself with buying ornaments for the kids and the family ornament exchange, rather than making them by hand. In fact, I haven't made anything by hand, all my crafty energy instead being channelled into a totally unrelated, all-about-me project: renovating my childhood dollhouse.

I wasn't looking for a project last month when I came across a friend's photo of toy mice living in dollhouse rooms and decided to dig out the house my grandparents made for me. But a project it's become, as I've stripped, sanded, painted, carpeted and decorated over the ensuing weeks. Feel free to offer your diagnosis--I'm acting out a desire to escape from politics and pandemic, a need for control in a world out of control, an attempt to cling to the past as my kids near adulthood and I careen toward 50. I plead guilty on all counts. 

But the real explanation might be simpler. It's been a year of big projects for me. I finished my book and found a publisher. I started two more books. I co-coordinated the Maine Master Naturalist training course. I painted the exterior doors and the trim on our house as far as I could reach with a 20-foot extension ladder. Even my pandemic knitting project is an enormous poncho that's starting to resemble the afghan in Like Water for Chocolate.

Maybe the dollhouse project is all about focusing on something small--tiny even--with very low stakes. I don't need anyone to accept, publish, wear, graduate from, or even like this project. It's instant gratification with zero external validation required, although I've inspired a surprising number of my friends to haul out their own dollhouses and received a surprising amount of criticism from those who like to police how others spend their time. More importantly than any psychological analysis of my motivations, I'm having a huge amount of fun, which during a year like this one is saying something.

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Book Stack ~ November 2020

A monthly list of books read. Previous months here: JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugustSeptember, October.

November's book stack is not so much a stack as a teeny, tiny little pile. What was I doing in November instead of reading. There was, of course, the dollhouse project. And a fair amount of work on The Book. And, if I'm being honest, an awful lot of television.

In the fiction department, I finished up the last two of the Flavia de Luce novels that I've been devouring over recent months (the last that I'm aware of anyway). These, The Grave's a Fine and Pleasant Place and The Golden Tresses of the Dead, were as entertaining as ever, although I admit to kind of losing the thread of the mystery in the latter one. Also, earlier books have veered a bit into espionage and these veered right back out again. I'm curious what that's about (market research?) and I'm also curious if there will be more.

For nonfiction, I finally read Robin Wall Kimmerer's Brading Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants. Though it came out in 2013 and I've had it in my possession since last Christmas (or maybe the one before???) I had been saving it up, in the weird way I have of delaying gratification. It was worth the wait. The essays within are lovely meditations on the author's life, her heritage as a Native American, and the interrelationships of plants and culture. This book may be another reason my November stack is small--this book is weighty, both in size and in content, and each essay demanded slow savoring and quiet reflection.

I also read Entangled Live: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake (isn't that the perfect name for a naturalist???). This one was less memoir-ey than the nature writing I normally read, and more straight nonfiction (though the author does not remove himself completely from the narrative). Nevertheless, it was a completely fascinating deep dive into a kingdom we so rarely notice or think about and the many ways our lives are entangled with the fungal world. Ever since reading it, I study the fungi growing in containers in the refrigerator before dumping them in the compost and, when I walk in the woods, I think of the vast networks of mycelia underneath my feet. Also, isn't the cover one of the most gorgeous you've ever seen?

What have you been reading lately?

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Dollhouse Renovation ~ Part III, The Upper Floors

I was going to do a slow reveal on the rest of the dollhouse, one room per post, but then I decided that might be a bit much, so here goes, the upper floors of the dollhouse, starting with the Yellow Bedroom. This was my favorite room when I was a kid, because yellow was my favorite color, and because I thought bunk beds looked like fun (that was before I actually had to sleep in a bunk bed).

I kept the original, macaroni-and-cheese colored wallpaper, replaced the carpet with a similar color, painted the furniture a creamy yellow, and added bedding: yellow gingham mattresses and bright orange and green afghans.

I drew drawers and knobs onto the dresser, but did an even worse job than I had with the kitchen cabinets. I might paint it again and try redoing the lines, but I kind of like the childish look for this child's room. The rocking horse was mine as a kid (you can tell by the repaired break in one rocker), the red dala horse is an ornament that lost its string, the blocks on the dresser are beads, the tiny wooden owl I was something I had, the Mickey Mouse book came from a friend, the butterfly art is a cancelled postage stamp, and the bunting is cut from decorative paper and glued onto embroidery floss.

The bathroom cracks me up--for the realism it offers, both in its mere existence in a house for dolls and its long, narrow design, like all 20th-century bathrooms.

It's complete with all the basic fixtures: sink, tub, toilet, which I painted the same cream as the bedroom furniture. For faucet handles, I added map pins, for the white porcelain look.

The painted fixtures brightened it up, but it could use some artwork, and maybe a bath mat. 

The Blue Bedroom was the only room where the wallpaper was in too rough of shape to salvage. I replaced it with origami paper in a similar color, which, at 6x6 inches, exactly matched the height of the room's walls and the width of the inner right-hand wall (hot tip for dollhouse builders).

The furniture in this room was in pretty good shape, so I left it the original brown-stained color, adding a mattress and afghan to the bed, and C and I built a little desk.

The map on the wall came from a National Geographic magazine order form, the sailboat picture is a sticker my mom sent, the globe and dictionary on the desk and the old-timey camera, rock collection, and rock hammer (all of which you can barely see) on the dresser came from a friend, the car I had since I was a kid, the cat my dad made (along with the cat in the kitchen and the dog in the living room), and the skateboard, which is a tad on the large side, was my kids' toy.

When C and I were planning our house, we for a time considered a design very like this dollhouse, tall, wide, and only one room deep, to maximize southern exposure. It would have included an attic room like this one, which I'd envisioned as my yoga/sewing/writing/art studio. Now I just have to pretend this mini attic is my all-purpose studio.

The original bed for this room didn't survive, so C and I built a new one, and I painted it green, with a little attempt at tole painting on the footboard, and added a green gingham mattress and a striped afghan.

We also built a little sewing table (the tiny Singer came from C's grandmother's house many years ago). The art in the back corner, original to the house, is a picture of a sampler that says "Love Spoken Here."

The remaining furniture in this room includes two dressers (original) and a funky plexiglass table my dad made for me a long time ago. I added two bird postage stamps to the back wall (I hope I'm not overdoing stamps as artwork, but I love them so) and, after several aborted attempts at weaving or knitting a basket, I made a little tote bag for knitting projects. After I post this, I'm going to make a tiny yoga mat from leftover felt.

And now, except for little additions to be made here and there, it's done! Here are the upstairs rooms:

And here's the whole house, all snowy and decorated for Christmas:

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Dollhouse Renovation ~ Part II, The Living Room

After I finished remodeling the dollhouse kitchen, my friend Libby commented that it was a "very Andrea kitchen." The living room on the other hand, is not very me, covered with pink rose-patterned wallpaper. But I didn't want to replace the wallpaper--it's in pretty good shape, and it has sentimental value (it is very my grandma), and even though it's nothing I would ever dream of living with in my house, I like it. In fact, I decided to lean in on the late 70s / early 80s Hollie Hobby, Little House on the Prairie, Jessica McClintock aesthetic and go full-on "olden days" revival. 


I replaced the carpet (which had been originally magenta, and then dark green in the early 2000s remodel) with a deep rose color. The felt-covered couch and chair that my grandparents made had gotten moth-eaten in our basement over the last several years, so I had to reupholster, which was a lot more challenging than it looks (maybe because I was doing it at the kitchen table while my family was cooking Thanksgiving dinner all around me). I stuck with the original colors of green and yellow, and for both the furniture and the carpet, I used bamboo felt, hopefully not delicious to moths but with a nicer look and feel than acrylic.

None of the other original living room furniture survived to today, so C helped me make some new pieces. A coffee table, complete with a National Geographic magazine (with actual readable articles inside) and a bird book I made with a kestrel postage stamp and cutouts of birds from a bird seed bag (every house must have a bird field guide).

One of those tall, spindly tables that people used to put potted ferns on but that would never survive in my house. I made it from a wooded spool that the heavy-duty thread I sew outdoor gear from comes on and a circle of wood C cut for me. On top, a lace coaster I had lying around and a little jug of blossoms snipped from a dried flower arrangement.

The original house did not have a fireplace. We lived in the suburbs and my grandparents had left woodturning behind on their respective farms decades earlier. But now that the house is in Maine, it needed a fireplace, mostly because a mantel is a handy place to display things. A friend of mine gave me a baggie of miniatures she had collected over the years but didn't want anymore. Among them were the Nat Geo mag from above, this tiny photo frame for which I made teeny silhouettes, and a mini bud vase. The original paper rose had faded with time, so I made a fresh bud from crepe paper. The candles are beeswax birthday candles and the logs are oak.

I said in my previous post that I was going to use handmade/found-around-the-house items to decorate the house. But then I remembered The Rambling Rose. When I was little, the local mall, Cinderella City, boasted all the best of malls in the their heyday: escalators, fountains, Christmas trees two stories high, rising into the vaulted ceilings. A below-ground level called Cinder Alley was designed to look like a small town Main Street, with sidewalks and a black-painted "street," each storefront made to look like actual buildings. (The irony of the role of the mall in round-one, pre-Walmart decimation of actual Main Streets was lost on six-year-old me.) My favorite store in Cinder Alley was called The Rambling Rose. I don't know what its primary merchandise was--only a dim vision of  a tumult of ribbon and lace and chintz. But I do remember the jewelry case with shelves that revolved vertically, each one crowded not with diamond rings but with dollhouse miniatures. I could stand and watch those shelves cascade for hours. But I never never bought--or was given--a miniature from the case. Maybe I never asked. Maybe my parents figured that I'd lose or break it within minutes (they would not have been wrong). But whatever it was, I had almost no realistic dollhouse items, and I figure, why not indulge that inner little girl now? 

So for the living room, I bought this tiny frame, painted it gold and made a tiny watercolor from a photo I took on the Colorado Trail. It's fancy like the living room, but also very me.

I also bought two framed botanical prints to hang over the mantel--also a little Victorian and a little me.

The new art complements the original art, a print of wildflowers just barely visible on the side wall.

And finally, the finishing touches: an afghan for the couch, so you can snuggle up and read the magazine by the fire, a little dachshund, for my friend Lisa who needed a dog in the house before she could move in, and a teeny rotary phone, which is one of the only real miniatures that I had as a kid (an antique store purchase probably), with the cord and receiver long gone.


Don't you want to move in there?

Monday, November 23, 2020

Big News

November is always a long month for me, what with the short days, downed leaves, and impending work season. This year it has been especially long, thanks to the agonizing wait for the election and the agonizing wait for the vote count and the ongoing agonizing wait for some grownup somewhere to step in and do something about the Keystone Kop Koup attempt. And now the holiday season is approaching, and it's hard to know what to do about it during a pandemic, when every holiday since the beginning of time has revolved around meeting other people's expectations.

If it were up to me, I'd spend Thanksgiving on the couch, watching movies and eating macaroni and cheese. It's not my favorite holiday: I don't care for the food, I don't care for obligatory gratitude, and I don't care for the whitewashed version of our genocidal relationship with the indigenous peoples of this land. However, C and the boys want turkey and all the trimmings (these being the same boys who for the first half dozen or so years of their lives ate nothing from the Thanksgiving table except cranberry sauce), so we'll have turkey and all the trimmings. At least I won't have to clean the house.

And this year, despite the pandemic and the political uncertainty (will we or won't we trade in democracy for a fumbling and inept authoritarian state?), I have much to be grateful for: my and my family's health, my oldest son close to home at a college that takes the pandemic seriously (and can afford to do something about it), and (drum roll, please) now the very real possibility that the book I've spent the last four years writing and rewriting will see the light of day! I'm very happy to share with you that yesterday I signed a contract with Bison Books, the trade imprint of the University of Nebraska Press, for publication of Uphill Both Ways: Hiking Toward Happiness on the Colorado Trail.

It will still be a couple of years before you can hold the book in your hands (start planning your 2022 holiday shopping now), and between now and then there will be many rounds of editing and I'll no doubt take a few turns through the emotional blender. But for now I'm elated! Not even November can dampen my spirits. And hopefully by the time it's published, it will again be safe to breathe each other's aerosolized spit particles and we can celebrate in person at the biggest book release party you've ever seen!

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

Friday, November 20, 2020

Dollhouse Renovation ~ Part I

My friend Jenna has an instagram account called @townandcountrymousehouse, where she turns the shelves inside a cabinet into perfect little mouse house rooms. I was scrolling through her photos Friday night and got inspired to dig out my old dollhouse and give it a refresh. After much searching through barn and basement, I finally unearthed it. It was in rough shape, like Grey Gardens after a tornado. 

Like you do when you buy a pre-owned house, I ripped out the carpets and gave it a good cleaning. The budget even extended to a fresh coat of paint on the ceilings and the exterior, although the roof will have to wait until until the home equity loan comes in, or until I get to the craft store to buy aqua paint, whichever comes first.

My grandpa built the house for me when I was about three years old (I thought I had a picture of me unwrapping it at Christmas, but it turns out I have a picture of me right before I unwrapped it). I assume my grandma decorated it, with felt carpeting and shelf paper on the walls. I'm guessing they worked together on the handmade wooden furniture. I passed the house on to my younger sisters for some years and then repossessed it when M was little. He and E and Z got a few good years of playing out of it before it was ignominiously put away to gather dust and wool moths.

I'm going to renovate one room at a time, maintaining the original '70s aesthetic for the most part and using handmade and found objects for furnishings, like the original, mostly. If you know me at all, you know I started with the kitchen. Here's how it looked pre-remodel: 

First of all, it needed some color, what with white walls and floor, so I decided to paint the cabinets. The originals were unfinished pine with doors drawn on in pencil by one of my grandparents.


I painted them turquoise with a white countertop. I felt bad about covering up the lines my grandparents drew, so I tried to recreate them with a white chalk pencil. It turns out I'm not very good at measuring or drawing straight lines. But the teeny-tiny dishtowel obscures the wonkiness. The cookie jar is a small wooden spool with a bead glued to the top, painted red.

Next came the appliances. These were originally what I thought was a beige-ish color, but after I started paining, I noticed a metallic gleam, and realized they were meant to be copper, like my grandma's stove and fridge were back in the '70s. I might repaint them copper later, but for now I like the white. And of course I had to knit the world's tiniest potholder to go with the stove.

The original table and chairs are long gone, and I don't remember what they looked like, so I had to start from scratch. C cut a small rectangle of wood for me and I glued it to a large wooden spool and painted the whole thing red. This is a nod to my grandma's kitchen, which had a pedestal table. Though hers was of gleaming oak, the chairs were cushioned in red vinyl before her early '80s upgrade. 

Speaking of chairs, I'm not sure what I'll do about those--maybe benches or spool stools. Right now it doesn't matter, because I don't know who (or what) is going to live in my house and what kind of chair might fit their anatomy--mice? pipe cleaner people? peg people? hedgehogs? I never really had suitable dolls for my dollhouse, so playing with it was mostly a matter of arranging and rearranging furniture, which suits me just fine. To finish off the kitchen, I added a plate rail to the back of the cabinets. The buttons were meant to be placeholders until real dishes arrived, but I liked them so much, I decided to let them stay. I gave the table a cloth and covered the gap in wallpaper with some complementary washi tape.

Finally, the dishes. I know I said I was going to furnish the place with handmade or found items, but technically, I bought these before I made that decision, as the result of late-night Etsy scrolling (very dangerous). But, oh! So cute. Four fruit plates, a bowl, and four pitchers or creamers (they're from France, but the yellow creamer and sage green pitcher have a very Fiesta aesthetic, n'est pas?). 

That sounds like a lot of pitchers, considering there aren't even any glasses or silverware. But compared to my kitchen, were there are about 35 pitchers or creamers visible (not counting the five in the living room or the ones behind closed doors because they're purely utilitarian or there's not room to show them off), the hypothetical people (or mice or hedgehogs) living in my dollhouse are very restrained.
Note two more tiny touches: the folk art coffee pot stamp (5 cents) wall art
over the stove and the teeny toaster, which was a gift from a friend.

Playing with a dollhouse is a very solitary, antisocial activity (and not just when you're forty-ahem years old; I don't remember ever playing dollhouse with my friends or sisters), which is just what the doctor ordered for month 10 of the pandemic and a welcome distraction from the Keystone Kop Koup attempt.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Book Stack ~ October 2020

A monthly list of books read. Previous months here: JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugust, September.

While we're all chewing off our nails waiting to find out whether we'll be saved from full-on fascism by a tiny thread, I thought I'd lighten the mood, or at least change the subject, with a rundown of last month's reads.

October for me involved an inordinate amount of adulting. There was the sending for, filling out, returning, and making sure it arrived-ing of my absentee ballot. There was used-car-shopping and convincing C that we really do need to get another car, not only to make his 65-mile-a-day commute more gas efficient but also to save me from having to drive the hugest, most gas-hogging, impractical truck in the world. There was FAFSA-filling-out. There was a contract to decipher and negotiate. (A good contract, one I hope to tell you about very soon, but a contract no less.) So my reading list consisted mainly of escapism. I also continued to watch way too much TV, finishing up New Girl and starting in on The Gilmore Girls (apparently all the shows I watch have to have "girl" in the title--a side-effect of living in a house of men). Expect that bingeing trend to continue at least through the vote-counting.

Anyhoo, on to the books. I'd been watching Z devour volume after volume of a series he loves and has read at least once or twice before and I felt a little envious. Other than Amelia Peabody, I haven't gotten into that many book series, but that urge to plow that finish one book and dive into the next experience looked really appealing. Then I remembered the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley that I'd started in April and stopped mid-series in May, and went to the bookstore to pick up the next three: The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mew'd, and As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. True, they get a teensy bit off the rails with the introduction of a spy element, but still I find Flavia a complete delight and the books endlessly entertaining. I've got the next two in my stack for November. If you like a good mystery, if you like a smart and spunky narrator, if you like a bit of English countryside, you'll love this series.

My mom sent me Whispers of Warning, the second in the Change of Fortune series by Jessica Estevao, the first of which I'd picked up at a conference last summer. Another mystery, this series is about a young woman in the early 1900s who has escaped a checkered past and been welcomed into the fold of her mother's sister, who runs a hotel in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, that caters to spiritualist interests. The narrator, Ruby, reads cards and hears a voice that warns and guides her, and she uses this psychic ability to help solve a murder and avoid being exposed. If you like historical fiction, especially with a bent on women's history, a hint of the supernatural, and strong women characters, you'll enjoy this series.

In the nonfiction department, I read White Feathers by Bernd Heinrich, about the nesting behavior of tree swallows. This is pretty much straight up natural history, with a little hint at the author's life and his humor thrown in. We have swallows that nest in boxes near our house, so it was fascinating to learn more about their behavior. If you're interested in birds and the scientific process, this one's for you.

Finally, I read Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. You already know about my Hamilton obsession, and you can read my mini review of the book here. So all I'll say here is, get yourself a subscription to Disney+ and watch the show if you haven't already, and then watch it again and read this book. It's your civics assignment now that the other important civic duty of this month is done.

What have you been reading?

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Transform Margins

I've been thinking about plate tectonics lately, in part because I've sat in on several geology lectures over the past month and in part because of Hamilton,the musical. I'll explain that last part in a minute, but first a refresher for those of you for whom it's been a hot minute since you last took an Earth science class.

As you are no doubt aware, the earth's crust is divided into nine major plates, and, due to convection in the mantle, these plates shift around. Along the margins where plates come in contact, they may diverge, pulling apart from each other, converge, either through collision of two plates of continental crust or subduction of denser oceanic crust beneath more buoyant continental crust, or slide past each other in opposite directions along transform margins.

Now back to Hamilton. We're obsessed in our house. We've watched the musical twice since it became available on streaming, we listen to the cast album excessively, C is now reading the doorstop-sized Ron Chernow biography on which the show was based, and I just finished reading Hamilton: The Revolution, which includes the lyrics of show, annotated by Lin Manuel Miranda, and bios of the cast members and stories of how the show came to be by Jeremy McCarter (you can read my mini review of it here).

And the thing I haven't been able to wrap my head around every time I watch the show or listen to the album or read bits of the book is how did this show, which gives a steely eyed but sympathetic appraisal of our Founding Fathers in all their faults, which is a triumph of imagination and creative genius, which shatters all previous paradigms about who is allowed to portray these dusty old gods of our nation, which celebrates America as it is in all of its beautiful diversity, how did this show come out in 2015 and Donald Trump get elected president in 2106?

This is where I come back to geology, specifically transform margins. I think of the great mass of our nation as a continental crust moving forward, in the direction of progress, equity, and justice fueled by kindness, generosity, imagination, and a willingness to change. Moving in the opposite direction is the smaller but still substantial (40+ percent? C'mon people) plate, regressing toward white supremacy, patriarchy, oppression, and division, fueled by fear, hate, insecurity, intransigence, and lack of imagination.

The meeting points of tectonic plates can be violent places, if "violence" can be applied to morally neutral geological phenomena. They can certainly be destructive--resulting in earthquakes and volcanoes in the short term and complete transformation of the face of the earth in the long term. And so, as the plate of progress shifts forward--our first Black president, an earth- and norm-shattering Broadway show--the vibrations are felt along the opposing plate and erupt in shootings in schools, churches, and synagogues, attacks on peaceful protesters, plots to kidnap and murder elected officials. 

Plate boundaries can be destructive places. But they can also be creative, giving rise to mountain ranges. That is our goal--to rise up, not only move mountains but build them. So what can any one of us do today to keep the plate moving forward? Examine our biases, be kind, do good works, and VOTE.

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Book Stack ~ September 2020

A monthly list of books read. Previous months here: JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugust.

September felt like al low reading month. It was, in fact, a high TV-watching month. I was exercising my coping mechanism of staying up half the night watching New Girl. But still I somehow managed to finish a respectable number of books. 

In the fiction department, I read the latest installment in the Kopp Sisters series by Amy Stewart: Kopp Sisters on the March. These just keep getting better and better, with more interesting (and dispiriting) historical details about what life was like for women in the US just over 100 years ago.

I also read a book by a new-to-me author: Dangerous to Know by Renee Patrick (the pen name of a husband and wife team). This was a murder mystery set in Hollywood in the 1930s. I know very little about cinema of the time; I recognized the names of major actors who made an appearance--Errol Flynn, Marlene Dietrich--but I wouldn't be able to pick them out of a lineup. Still, it was a delight to read, with clever, almost Wodhousian, narration and dialogue, and I would not be opposed to picking up more books in this series.

In the nonfiction department, I'm continuing on two related projects of reading the important works of nature writing by women historically and reading memoirs or collections contemporary women's essays that have both motherhood and nature themes. 

In the important works of nature writing by women historically department, I finally read Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin. I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading such a short book. It was well worth the wait. Austin takes readers on a tour of the landscapes, people, and plants of Southern California of the late 1800s, early 1900s in vivid and often humorous detail. 

I also read Fallen Forests: Emotion, Embodiment, and Ethics in American Women's Environmental Writing 1781-1924. This may sound dry and dusty and academic--and it was, a little--but it was also incredibly interesting and eye-opening in the way it expands what environmental writing is from the point of view of women, including Native Americans, slaves, and servants, who themselves were treated as "natural resources" by the patriarchal society. It also gave me a long list of books to add to my pile of to-be-reads.

In the contemporary women's nature and motherhood themed writing arena, I read The Art of Waiting by Belle Boggs, about the author's challenges with fertility and her pursuit of ART (assisted reproductive technology) in order to have a child. This was an interesting book to read at this point in my life--when I'm almost done raising my kids--and as a person who did not have to face the challenges of infertility. It made me think a lot about what I would have done if I hadn't been able to have children, what lengths would I have gone to? I have no answer to that question. Motherhood has been the central pillar of my identity for 20 years. There is no "me" that is not a mother. But I can easily imagine a life unencumbered by offspring. Would I spend tens of thousands of dollars to disrupt that life? 

Finally, I read one last just-for-fun book, Dress Your Family in Corduroy in Denim by David Sedaris, which didn't make it in the initial lineup photo. I really needed some escapist, comfort reading, and I remembered I picked this book up at M's college bookstore clearance shelf as an emergency backup Christmas present (am I cheap? yes I am).  I'm not sure if I'd read it before. On the one hand, many of the stories were familiar, but that may be because they've appeared on This American Life or one of the live readings I've been to. On the other hand, it wasn't already on my bookshelves, and I'm a notorious book hoarder. Either way, it was just what the doctor ordered for mid-pandemic stress disorder.

What have you been reading?

Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Sun Rose Red

Yesterday the sun rose red in a smudgy sky, a result of the wildfires burning 2,500 miles away. The meteorology nerd inside of me is fascinated by the workings of the jetstream, but the former air quality regulator in me is distressed about the health of those experiencing the brunt of the smoke. And the naturalist in me is in agony over the effects on wild places--rare and endangered plants and animals, invertebrates, like butterflies, that spend a part of their lifecycle immobile in eggs or pupae that cannot escape or survive fire. Fire is a natural part of the ecosystems of western North America, but the fires burning now are anything but natural, the results of a century of forest mismanagement and an even longer period of fossil fuel abuse.

As the West burns, hurricanes launch themselves at the Gulf Coast and, of course, the pandemic looms as dangerous as ever, despite the magical thinking that is our national policy. All these problems result from humanity's irresponsible use of natural resources and the continued disregard for human life on the part of those who benefit with profit or power from that disregard. It's almost too depressing to get out of bed every day.

Later in the day, as I was walking up my road, I saw a dragonfly fall out of the sky and land on its back. I went over and held my finger to its upturned legs. It grabbed on, letting me pick it up.

I walked on, new friend perched on my fingertip, facing forward as I walked. I wondered what it was thinking as it traveled through the air without moving its wings. I know that dragonflies don't have consciousness in the way we do, but it's hard to not think of them as sentient beings with their big eyes and oddly anthropomorphic faces. They surely have some way of processing stimuli, and it was interesting to put myself inside its tiny brain as it tried to comprehend this new experience.

There were no obvious signs of injury on either its body or wings, but it clung to my finger for most of a mile, occasionally shivering its thorax. When we reached the beaver pond, I held it (or, more properly, her; she had a ovipositor) so she could see out over the water, hoping the sight would inspire in her a will to live. And it did. She lifted off my finger, but instead of darting out over the pond, she rose up high, high above the trees until I could see her now longer.

My dragonfly friend--a Canada darner--reminded me of the resilience of life. Her ancestors, big as kites, flew around the swamps of the Carboniferous period 300 or so million years ago. The earth has seen many changes, some of them catastrophic, many more remarkable. We happen to be in a stage of catastrophe. That doesn't mean the remarkable can't also happen. 

This post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. You can subscribe here.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...