Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Book Stack ~ August 2021

 A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:

Oh, August was a read-ey month! I'm already feeling nostalgic about the time spent in the hammock with some of these titles (though today, the first day of fall, is warm enough to lie in the hammock, it seems like much more of an indulgence to do it in September than in the summer,  doesn't it? I'll have to change that mindset, before winter comes).

I got briefly back into my habit of reading poetry first thing in the morning, with an older book by Pattiann Rogers, Generations. These poems are utterly gorgeous, though I have to admit to being at a loss as to what they were about most of the time. Though the language and the structure is all accessible, the themes are perhaps (though I'm not entirely sure) metaphysical.

Last month's fiction was mostly of the mystery genre, with one older book, Detection Unlimited by Georgette Heyer, a classic whodonit, with a wry detective inspector and an entertaining if somewhat confusing cast of characters (a lot of them had names that start with H), and a good number of red herrings. The other two I picked up after I attended a (virtual) crime fiction conference this summer (the authors were panelists). Death in D Minor by Alexia Gordon is a fun cozy mystery, with a couple of fun ghosts, about an African American classical musician living in Ireland who finds herself caught up in art theft and murder. The Cipher by Isabel Moldonado is about an FBI agent who becomes the target of a serial killer. I usually prefer amateur detectives to police procedurals, but it was super interesting to see inside the workings of an FBI unit, and the main character was every bit as relatable as an amateur. This one fell just inside my disturbing/psychotic killer line. If you have a low tolerance for that sort of thing, you might want to pass, otherwise I'd gladly recommend all three of them to mystery lovers. 

One non-mystery I read was The Nest, by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. I picked it up in a Little Free Library in a friend's neighborhood several years ago--mostly because I was attracted to the robin's-egg blue cover--but never got around to reading it until now, which explains why I'm so far behind the times on this 2016 bestseller (but it's a book from the actual Stack, which is exciting!). I enjoyed this multiple point-of-view story of a family of four adult children grappling with the loss of their inheritance (the "nest" of the title), thanks to the reckless actions of one brother. It's a great example of many protagonists in one story, each having his or her own narrative arc, and each changing by the end (except, I would argue, the main protagonist who stubbornly refuses to change).

Two more books from The Stack--Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald (author of H is for Hawk), which is a beautiful, melancholy, moving collection of mostly nature-based essays, and My Other Ex, a collection of essays about former best friends edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger. I really like anthologies where you can delve into numerous takes on the same topic. As with all such books, some of the essays are better than others, but overall I found it a strong collection that made me think more deeply about friendships I've let fall to the wayside over the years.

Finally, to round out July's swimming theme, I read George Saunders's A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which isn't about swimming at all (except for a single paragraph of a Chekov story--"Gooseberries") but rather a deep dive into six lessons in short story writing from four great Russian writers. It's positively brilliant and beautiful and it makes me wish I could spend all my time reading and writing short stories.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Book Update ~ Page of Praise

It's been a while since I've updated you on the progress of my book, Uphill Both Ways: Hiking Toward Happiness on the Colorado Trail. So how about a little peek behind the scenes? In June I received the copy editor's suggested changes--they weren't huge, just some suggested word choices here and there, a bit of misused capitalization and hyphens, an extremely confusing number vs. numeral convention. I found that I wanted to rewrite my epilogue quite a bit, since that was the last thing I had written and so it hadn't gone through the endless rounds of edits that the rest of the book had before going to the publisher. Also it was meant to be "current," and much had changed between February and June. Most troublesome were the gear tables at the end, making sure I'd gotten all of the brand names correct (why is it that companies--especially outdoor gear companies--must abuse spelling, spacing, and capitalization so egregiously?) and second- and third-guessing my own math on the weight of items.

Last week I got one more round of copy edits from my editor (more overuse of the hyphen) and I saw the draft cover design. It's so pretty!!! I can't wait to share it with you...and I will share it with readers of my newsletter first, so if you're you're not subscriber, be sure to sign up. The file my editor sent me for review was one long, continuous document with the full text of the book and little coded tags for the design team to use for inserting illustrations, photographs, maps, etc. The first page of the document was mostly blank with the following text at the top:

{~?~page of praise to come}

That's that page (or more) inside the cover of most books where other authors and reviewers wax effusive over the text of the book you have in hand, otherwise (and not very attractively) known as "blurbs." My blurbs started coming in in June, all from writers I admire so much, some of whom I know well, others who were scary to contact (and no, I never did hear back from Cheryl Strayed's publicist about getting a blurb from her). June was an otherwise difficult month, a the-bastards-are-getting-me-down kind of month. I'd often start my day like a cartoon character, floating a few inches above the ground, high on a beautiful blurb, only to, a few hours later, also like a cartoon character, have an anvil or a grand piano fall from a second-story window and flatten me into the sidewalk. I can't imagine how I might have peeled myself back up again if not for the stream of blurbs coming into my inbox.

So it occurs to me that we all need a page of praise, not just writers and not just about our books, but all of us should maintain a running list of kind words, compliments, and good deeds that others bestow upon us. And we should all make it our work to fill up the pages of praise of the people in our lives, to counteract the bastards who, let's be honest, are working overtime to get us all down. So next time someone does you a kindness, write it down, save it in an email file, or store it in that part of your brain you turn to when the going gets rough, and then pay it forward, help to fill someone else's page of praise.

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Friday, August 27, 2021

Book Stack ~ July 2021

 A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:

I would say I've pretty much given up on making progress on reducing the size of the Book Stack, especially now that I've boxed them up and shoved them in the closet, but this month I read a couple, which you'll learn about next month. In the meantime, here's a rundown of the all-new books I read in July.

In the nonfiction department, I read on the theme of swimming: Waterlog, Roger Deakin's lush and entertaining account of swimming his way around the lakes, ponds, locks, wet meadows, pools, and seashores of Britain and Why We Swim, an account of the history, health benefits, and some unusual events and traditions in human swimming by Bonnie Tsui. I loved both and, inspired by both, I dug out my goggles and started making a twice- or thrice-weekly swim the length of a local pond with a friend of mine.

For fiction, I was in mystery mode again. My mom sent me the second in Barbara Ross's Jane Darrowfield series: Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door, which was a fun read; the latest lady cop book, Dear Miss Kopp, in which Amy Stewart pulls off the brilliant feat of carrying off multiple storylines and solving several mysteries entirely in letters written to or by the Kopp Sisters; and Recipes for Love and Murder, by Sally Andrew, which I found by happenstance on a clearance table at my local bookstore and which I loved so much: lush descriptions of the South African countryside, a lay detective, a complicated murder mystery, and so many delicious recipes (I don't always love the cozy mystery trope of incorporating food and recipes into the story, but Andrew pulls it off brilliantly, without pulling the reader out of the story, or boring her, and she had me drooling over lamb curries even though I'm a vegetarian).

What are you reading this month?

Thursday, August 19, 2021


C and the boys left Monday morning for a nine-day hiking adventure along the Appalachian Trail through the 100-Mile Wilderness and to the top of Mount Katahdin. They left at just the right time--I was in danger of smothering my children, both literally (with a pillow) and figuratively (with excessive mothering).

I have written before, and I'm sure I'll write it again, that when my kids were tiny babies, my rapture for them was matched only by my desire to escape them. I'm beset by similar equal and opposite feelings for them again now that they're 16 and 20. Like most families, we've been blessed and cursed with an excess of togetherness over the past year and a half, thanks to the closures and constraints placed on schools and workplaces. While in many ways that's been wonderful and a true gift, I also find myself somethings thinking, Please grow up and go away to college, soon.

At the same time I'm afflicted with a maudlin nostalgia for their childhood years and a near-panic that we didn't do all the things we should have done when they were young, before they were grumpy and resistant to everything, and the things we did do, we might not have done just right. So it was time--for us all to get some space from each other, for them to go off and climb mountains and do some male bonding, and for me to revel in a little peace and quiet at home, alone, for the first time in as long as I can remember.

And, oh, have I been reveling. Nothing remarkable has taken place, nothing out of the ordinary, but the number of times I need to clean the kitchen daily has been cut down by a factor of ten, and it's been so blissfully quiet that I can actually hear myself think. Despite the quiet, I haven't accomplished quite as much writing as I imagined I would. It's funny how my job could take me away from home for ten to eighteen hours a day, but now I can't seem to wring more than three or four hours of writing out of a single day. Part of it is distraction, both of the electronic variety and the analog--the world outside is so dreamily magical right now: fledgling broad-winged hawks, clearwing hummingbird moths, painted lady butterflies, mushrooms of every color and shape. I need to get out there and check on things on a regular basis. Part of it is stamina--I'm not used to focusing for such a long time and my brain gets tired. And part of it is some combination of anxiety that I'm working on the wrong project and that I don't deserve to have this time, and doubt that whatever I work on will amount to anything.

To avoid burrowing too deeply into my own head and to quell those doubts and anxious feelings, I take myself to water every day--swimming the length of a pond three times a week with a friend, paddling solo on another pond followed by Indian takeout, a small poolside gathering with friends. I'm conscious of not wanting to give away too much of my time while also avoiding making myself crazy with my own company. The fleeting nature of this period of solitude also bears on my mind--they'll all be home on Tuesday, and then I'll have to recalibrate again, find ways to work amid the chaos.

In the meantime, I'm being gentle with myself. I won't write a novel before the week is out, but I did write a couple of scenes and figured out some character stuff (important things, like the narrator's name!). I also finished reviewing a manuscript I put on hold back in November and rewrote one final essay for it. I'm balancing butt-in-chair time with play-outside time (and lie-on-the-bed-reading-a-book time). The one thing I haven't made time for so far is doze-in-hammock time, which I plan to rectify this weekend!

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Upcoming Workshops ~ Story Mapping

It's been a long while since I last gave a nature journaling workshop (thanks, pandemic), but now I've got two coming up, one in August and one in September, bot on the theme of story mapping.

A story map is a visual representation of a journey that may include:

  • a map depicting the route followed (which may be highly stylized and need not be to scale)
  • locations on the map where interesting things were sighted or took place
  • illustrations of scenery, flora and fauna seen along the way, and companions, among other things
  • lists of birds, wildflowers, or other elements of nature
  • anything else the story cartographer wants to use
Story maps can be made both while on the journey or after the fact.

Last summer, when all of my adventures took place close to home, I had a lot of fun making story maps of  kayak trips on local ponds and lakes. Mapping these trips deepened both my observation skills and my enjoyment while on the water. Even though I may not remember a lot about any of these trips, I only have to look at my maps and all of the details come flooding back to me.

I'm super excited to share this journaling technique with two groups this summer and fall.

The first workshop will take place on Saturday, August 7, at Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson from 1-4 p.m. We'll be walking the Crossbill Loop and journaling as we go. Register here.

The second will be part of the Nature Journaling in Acadia conference that will be held at the Schoodic Institute September 19-21, a three-day extravaganza of nature journaling workshops and activities that is going to be positively amazing. Register here.

I'd love to see you at one of these workshops!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Book Stack ~ June 2021

A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:

The theme for June's reading was mystery and suspense, mostly because I wanted something scary to read in the tent when we went camping over Memorial Day weekend, so I bought the bottom three books in the photo. I don't know why I thought I'd have time to read three books. As it turned out, I only read a couple of pages of two of them. It also turned out that none of them was all that scary, but they were good.

The Whispering House, by Elizabeth Brooks, is a modern gothic with innocent heroine, big scary house, mysterious male. Even though it wasn't that scary, it had a nice amount of suspense. I have to admit to being a little bothered by the bad boyfriend element to the suspense, but I suppose that's what Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester were as well, and maybe Max de Winter also, so I guess it's part of the Gothic tradition.

The Unquiet Grave, by Sharyn McCrumb, a fictionalization of a historic murder of a young woman. I used to read a lot of Sharyn McCrumb, but it's been a while, and I forgot what a master storyteller she is. She weaves history and local color into a fascinating tale.

Careless in Red, by Elizabeth George, picks up after Inspector Linley's wife is killed and he goes on a long hike on the Cornish coast to try to numb his pain. Despite the lurid red cover, this one wasn't too scary, either, and there wasn't much about the hike (I was really hoping for a tent-based nail-biter to read while in the tent). But Elizabeth George is also a brilliant story teller, so it was a page-turner even without the chills. I'm discovering that I'm not a huge fan of the multiple-point-of-view novel, but this one is very well done, with each character drawn uniquely and with a distinct narrative voice, so that it's not confusing about who is who and why they're in the story--you just trust that their purpose will become clear in time.

Unspeakable Things, by Jess Lourey, I ordered after a crime conference I "attended" remotely, Lourey being one of the presenters. In it the young narrator tries to solve the mystery of who is kidnapping and molesting boys in her neighborhood while also living in fear of being hurt herself. It was good and suspenseful if not downright creepy.

Not one of these books counts toward diminishing my book stack, since I purchased them all, my resolution to buy no fiction this year having flown completely out the window.

What have you been reading lately?

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Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Island Time

The last weekend of May we returned to Hermit Island, where we've gone every May since the twins were toddlers, missing only two years (last year, because of the pandemic, and the year before, because I had to work). Now that my kids are so old, I'm cognizant that every time we do something together as a family, it could very well be the last time. So nothing was going to prevent me from making this trip happen, not work, not weather.

And, oh, did the weather try (as did work). True to form, we had a cold, rainy weekend, despite this having been the driest, sunniest, most beautiful spring and early summer I've ever witnessed in Maine. (We're willing to rent ourselves out to go camping in any drought-stricken locale to bring on the rain.) Sunday night it downright poured, though most of the heavy rain kindly contained itself to times we were in the tent. And you know what? It didn't matter. We've done the drill a million times--keeping everything inside the tent or car, packing extra clothes and blankets, huddling around the fire to stay warm.

The weather didn't dampen the fun, although we didn't do a lot--we didn't hike to the head of the island or bike along the lagoon. I did a bit of lazy birdwatching. We sat on the beach and watched the waves. We cooked and ate--a lot. As much as I wanted to get all nostalgic for those camping trips past (you can see a photo progression of them here), and those freaking adorable little campers, I decided that camping with big kids is even more awesome.The boys had a friend and their bikes, and they careened off to the beach whenever they felt like it. Zephyr made beef stew and Emmet fixed cocktails for the mamas. They split wood and set up their own tents and hauled water (complainingly, as always) and finally learned how to wash camping dishes.

I recently was posed the question: when was the last time you tried something new? I racked my brain for a long, long time before I came up with something (sailing lessons, two years ago). I suppose a pandemic isn't a time to try new things, so I'll use that as my excuse. And now that the worst is over, and we're all finally vaccinated, it's probably time for me to get out there and try new things (or at least leave the county). But there's also something to be said for revisiting the same thing from a new perspective, and with taller kids.

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Friday, June 25, 2021

Finish It Friday ~ Garden Beds

 I really had zero to do with this project, so there's no good reason for me to post about it, except that it looks so great! Earlier this month, C finished the raised-bed garden that he's been working on for at least five years, possibly longer, methodically building beds, paving the intervening space with bricks, and, finally, fencing the whole thing in. This shows an amazing level of stick-to-itiveness, and is further proof, in case we needed it, that C is the ant and I'm the grasshopper. I'm all about the instant gratification, and once I get a project in my craw, I want to get it done as quickly as possible.

And, look! We already have peas. Like tons of peas. Normally, you hope to have peas by the 4th of July here, so this is astoundingly early. We've also had one crop of spinach and we're working on the second. Radishes, lettuce, and arugula are coming out daily, and the garlic is almost ready. Tomatoes and peppers are on their way. I dug up a photo of what the garden used to look like, ten years ago, and you can see it's come a long way.

What's growing in your garden?

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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Book Stack ~ May 2021

A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:

I finally emerged from this year's reading slump and made it through a good-sized pile in May. My theme for the month was short and fragmented--I just couldn't get enough of prose poems/lyric essays/micro essays/flash nonfiction/whatever you want to call it.

In the nonfiction/poetry realm (I'm not sure where the line is for some of these selections), I read:

Sound Machine by Rachel Zucker. A kind of meta-exploration of confessional poetry and the life of the poet/mother/wife as she writes the poems and teaches poetry in a form I'm not sure how to describe: really short paragraphs, sentences broken into stanzas--proesms?

Bluets by Maggie Nelson. This is the go-to book whenever anyone talks about lyric essay or fragmented writing, and while I enjoyed the style, I was a little more meh  on the concept--obsession over a color and obsession over an ex-boyfriend. I mean, ugh, get over him and move on.

Heating & Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly. I loved these "micro-memoirs," some only a sentence long, most around a page, and I just love Fennelly's spirit that leaps right off the page in humor and insight.

The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. This book is a joy to read. Gay set out to write about one delight per day for a year and ended up with around 100 short meditations on quotidian aspects of days spent in gardens, coffee shops, and airports, and finds something wonderful in everyday, ordinary things. I did not want it to end.

Flash Count Diary by Darcey Steinke. This book veers away from the ultra-short prose theme of the month, being a memoir in longish essays about a year in the midst of menopause. I'd heard about it as a book about "menopause and whales," which intrigued me. Whales do make a significant appearance--the killer whale being one of the few animals other than humans that experiences menopause--but there's a lot more to it as Steinke explores the medical, cultural, and scientific approaches to this stage in life that half of the human population goes through yet is poorly understood, little discussed, pathologized, and stigmatized.

Writing Wild by Kathryn Aalto. I really enjoyed this book of mini biographies (back to the miniature theme) of women nature writers of England, the US, and Canada. I was familiar with many of the writers featured but enjoyed learning more about them, and I was thrilled to be introduced to a few I'd never heard of. And I love any nature writing anthology or collection that isn't just "a bunch of old white dudes plus Rachel Carson." It's also beautifully illustrated, which is fun.

Onto fiction, and back to fragments, I read Jenny Offill's novel Weather, about a woman juggling motherhood and climate anxiety in near-future New York City. The fragmentary nature of the prose is a perfect fit for the mental state our modern times engender.

Finally, I finally read a book a friend gave me many years ago, a collection of short stories by Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women. Oh! These stories are so good! I read a lot of short stories in grad school, and so many of them leave me cold, but these are so colorful and lively and interesting and heartbreaking and funny and all the feels. I can't believe I've never encountered Berlin anywhere else. This would have been a brilliant book to read when I was trying to be a short story writer. Go forth and find yourself a copy!

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Watching the World Unfold

So much has happened this month! The babies turned 16 and 16 and 20, which don't even know what to think about having a 20-year-old child. I need more time to process it, like another 20 years. In the meantime, outside, the grass has grown and the trees have made leaves. Flowers have come and gone on the alders and aspens and apples. We already have buttercups and blue-eyed grass in the meadow. Does it seem like spring is happening faster than it's supposed to? Does it seem like everything is happening faster than it's supposed to? (See: babies, above.)

Right now the whole world (or at least my tiny corner of it) is that perfect shade of new green where every leaf and blade is fresh and unmarked by drought or caterpillar nibble, and I want it to stay like this forever, except that I'm as much in love with the caterpillars that nibble the leaves (excluding the brown-tailed moth caterpillars; I don't love those at all) and the warblers that nibble the caterpillars as I am with the green. The other day I was watching a dragonfly whir around my yard and I saw a Phoebe dart after it and I didn't even know which one to root for. This is why I can't watch sports; I want everyone to win--the leaves, the bugs, the birds.

In other news, a painted turtle crossed our driveway the other day, heading away from a patch of soil Curry just rototilled. I'm hoping it laid eggs (and that raccoons don't find the eggs; okay, I'll root for turtle eggs over raccoons). We have tree swallows nesting in at least three birdhouses, bluebirds (for the first time) in another, chickadees in another, and a family of phoebes under the deck. Someone is building a nest foundation of moss in yet another house, and I'm hoping it's tufted titmice. We had a nestful last year and they were the most attentive parents, bringing bugs and clearing out the fecal pellets (unlike the swallows who live in insect-infested filth), and the babies chirped so sweetly from inside the box. I came very close to seeing them fledged but missed it due to impatience. I'm hoping for a second chance.

And this week so many butterflies appeared: tiger swallowtails, azures, American coppers, common ringlets, and a possible sighting of a harvester (the only carnivorous butterfly; if that doesn't give you nightmares I don't know what will). There's simply too much going on to waste time on things like work. I'm working on a plan to reconfigure my life. It's not fleshed out yet, but whatever it eventually entails, I know I need to leave May wide open so that I have time to watch the world unfold and contemplate how old my children have become.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

World of Wonders

I've started a new project on Instagram--a #bookstagram series combining to of my favorite things, books and Fiesta dinnerware, #bookfiesta. Once or twice a week I pair a book I've recently read and loved with a complementary piece of Fiesta. I love the juxtaposition of something totally frivolous (my dish collection) and something deeply consequential (really good books). I also love picking our the dish that will go best with a beautiful cover design. And I love sharing what I read with the world. 

Today's post is of World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, alongside a p86 (that's produced after 1986 for you Fiesta ware novices out there) rose individual creamer, and some white lilacs. It's extra-special because I also reviewed the book at Literary Mama for this month's issue. My review begins:

The axolotl is a pink amphibian with dark eyes, feathery gills, and a disarmingly human-like smile. One gazes serenely from the cover of World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, lovingly painted by illustrator Fumi Mini Nakamura and tucked in among a colorful collage of magnificent plants and animals, some familiar (flamingo, narwhal, monarch butterfly) and others unknown to me (potoo bird, ribbon eel, southern cassowary). The axolotl’s cryptic, pink, Mona Lisa smile amid this kaleidoscope of wild creatures is an irresistible lure inviting readers to pick up the book and behold the wonders held within.

You can read the rest of the review here, and you can follow me on Instagram @andrea.lani.

P.S. If you receive these posts via email, the service that makes that happen, Feedburner, is going away at the end of July. You can subscribe to my newsletter here, or you can visit my blog site here to stay in touch.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Finish it Friday ~ Bedroom Curtains

I didn't really set out to give my bedroom a facelift, but things kind of snowballed from a sewing a quilt to painting furniture to making curtains, the previous set of which had gotten faded and tattered since I made them ten years ago, last time I gave my room a total overhaul

This fabric is Anna Maria Horner's Hindsight "sinister swarm" moth print. Because I bought it online, I had no idea how big the moths would be. They're enormous! But perfect for curtains. And, as you can see, they're carrying on that surprising salmon theme I mentioned last week.

I also did a major cleanup of book and sewing clutter (though not having reached any real storage solutions--there are boxes of books and magazines, temporarily, in the closet, and the bin of fabric I usually keep close at hand has moved to the basement. I'm hoping this will make the space more conducive to other activities--like yoga, reading, and writing. I'm just waiting on a comfy chair I ordered like a million years ago to show up, which will make this the coziest reading/writing nook. I'd also like to repaint--not a new color but a fresh coat--but that will have to wait till I have more time on my hands. And I'm still contemplating artwork. I think my way of celebrating vaccination will be to visit art shows and galleries this summer.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Finish It Friday ~ Chalk Painted Furniture

Most of our furniture is junk--either other people's castoffs or purchases from the unfinished pine shop. I believe I've referred to our aesthetic in these pages as "early '90s college student." All we're lacking is a cinder-block-and-board bookcase. I really believed that some day we'd graduate to grownup furniture, but that hasn't happened yet. In the meantime, I thought I'd give a little refresh to a few scraggly looking pieces in my bedroom, using chalk paint, a new medium for me and one I liked the sounds of (no prep work!).

1. The bookcase. An unfinished pine piece originally bought to house kids' toys in the living room. It has since served stints in my room, the kids' room, and then back to my room. When I first bought it, I slapped a coat of interior house paint on it (I think this is the periwinkle of the mudroom) and made back panels of foam core covered in fabric because the back is literally just four narrow slats of wood.

Anyhow, it was due for a new coat of paint--the knots in the cheap pine were showing through the inappropriate paint and it was dented and dinged from years of use. The paint I bought the paint was from Chalk It Up, and it was a dream to work with--easy to apply, great coverage, easy to clean up. The chalk color I picked for the bookshelf is called "blackberry," and it's a bit more magenta than I imaged it would be. I was afraid it would clash with the red fabric panels, and it kind of does, but I think I like it. 

2. The nightstand. This little end table came from one of C's relatives houses when they were moving. It was a badly finished ugly brown when it came to us, but I liked the spooled legs, the book storage area...

...and the groovy scalloped top. So, again, I slapped a coat on of paint (possibly the bathroom lavender?) and called it good.

It wasn't in too bad of shape all these years later, considering it was basically recovered trash, but I was ready for a change and went with "clay pot" for the paint color.

I've never been a pinky-pink girl, but for some reason this salmony color is emerging as a theme in my bedroom makeover (see quilt top and stay tuned for curtains). I think it's a reaction to the testosterone overload caused by being cooped up in the house with four men/manchildren for the last year.

3. Mirror. This item I think C actually did dumpster dive for, or maybe picked up on the side of the road. It's cute, and handy, but the wooden base was painted an anemic yellow of  peeling (probably lead-based) paint. (I forgot to take a before picture.) The purple is much nicer, and in addition to a fresh coat of paint, I gave the glass a good cleaning, so now I can actually see myself in it. 

Clay paint requires finishing with a wax coating. I found some at the craft store that goes on with a brush and is water-based and very easy to use. After the wax dries overnight it just needs a light buffing and then a week to cure, after which I put my books back on the shelves. These are my writing resource and current project books. I used to have them arranged by color (much to C's bemusement), but the sun has bleached the spines so much that the books aren't that colorful anymore. Maybe I should reorder them some other way...size perhaps (to continue to annoy and perplex the spouse, whose books I should mention are in the order of archaeological dig, with the most recent reads on top and a lot of in-situ dust)?

I have a box leftover of stuff that was cluttering up the top and fronts of the shelves. Not sure what I'll do with all that, but I kind of like this clean, minimalist look, and instead of books and papers and stuff taking up the top surface, wouldn't it be nice to have nice things, like an orchid and some sort of object d'art? And then there's the question of those babies--do I keep them or replace them with some fun art?

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Book Stack ~ April 2021

A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:

I redeemed myself in April after a couple of months of very short book stacks. Admittedly, a couple of these were nearly done before the month began, but still, I'll call it a win.


The Ecopoetry Anthology, Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, eds. I bought this book on a whim because it was facing out on an eye-level shelf the first time I went into a bookstore after the lockdown started, way back in August, on my birthday (which is why browsing in bookstores is so much better than buying online; how else would these serendipitous finds take place?). At an average of one poet per day, I finished all 576 pages exactly eight months and two days later, on Earth Day, fittingly. About 1/4 of the poems are historical, the other 3/4 contemporary, which was a nice mix I thought. Overall, it's just a stunning collection with an expansive notion of "eco." My sister asked if any poems in particular stood out, and while it's hard to choose, here are a few that I found memorable:  The Hurricane Katrina poems by Patricia  Smith ("5 p.m., Tuesday August 23, 2005" "Man on the TV Say," "Won't Be But a Minute," "8 a.m., Sunday, August 28, 2005") are heartrending. "The Stars" by Eliot Weinberger was inspirational. W.S. Merwing "For a Coming Extinction." Lucille Clifton "The Killing of Trees." And really I'd recommend everything in the collection except for a small few that left me scratching my head.

What Kind of Woman, Kate Baer. A very different kind of poetry collection, about womanhood and motherhood and wifehood, about the expectations society places on all of the above. I'm looking forward to reading Baer's forthcoming collection of erasure poems.

Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan Goldsmith Woodridge. Not an actual book of poetry, but a book about writing and enjoying and living poetry. I've owned this one a long time but only ever got through a couple of chapters. I decided to write a poem (or do a poetry exercise) every day through April, and used this book as a guide for some of those poems, and just read it for enjoyment otherwise, finally making it to the end. It's a delicious invitation to play with words.


North with the Spring by Edwin Way Teale. I started reading this two years ago and set it aside when spring ended and summer began. I somehow forgot to pick it up last year, but I resumed this year, and I really enjoyed the quiet, gentle account of a ramble from south to north following the flush of spring over the land.

The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham. This is a lovely and moving account of family, place, nature, and race and growing up on a farm in South Carolina and challenges of being a birdwatcher, a biologist and a Black man.

One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder by Brian Doyle. This is another book that jumped off the shelf at me. I'd always enjoyed Brian Doyle's essays when they appeared in Orion or The Sun, but I hadn't picked up one of his books before. The short essays and prose poems here were collected by writer and editor friends after Doyle's death from a brain tumor. Each one is incandescent with joy, love, and humor, even those that were clearly written as he knew he was dying.


Malice Domestic, edited by Elizabeth Peters. I came to this book in the nerdiest way possible: listening to a podcast about the original source of apples (somewhere in Kazakhstan), I heard that the Latin for apple is Malus domestica, and it rung a bell in my head--I knew there was a mystery novel or something similar out there by the name Malice Domestic and I thought I must read the book with such a clever play on words. Turns out it's an annual conference and anthology of short stories, originally started by my mystery goddess Elizabeth Peters. This one, edited by said goddess, is the first of the collection, published way back in 1992, and was highly entertaining. I think short works--both stories and essays--are a good fit for me right now, mentally, especially fun short stories, like those in this collection.

What are you reading these days?

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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

April Delights

 This winter was long, longer than most, despite its relative snowlessness (another reason to read apocalypse in the tea leaves). March brought no relief. It never does. But April, despite what Eliot said, is perhaps the kindest month. Warm breezes and wild flocks migrating north, even in years when the snow hangs around until Earth Day (this year the old snow was long gone, but a new dusting sprinkled down on the 22nd). And though I'm a Leo and a summer girl through and through, April may be my second favorite month. As the world begins to wake up, so too do I, turning outward and uncurling from a winter's introspection, which always, inevitably, leads to moroseness. And so I thought I'd take stock of what's waking me up and bringing me joy this April. 

My father-in-law is a hot air balloonist. But that does not mean he hands out rides in the basket like candy. I've been up only once, long, long ago. Earlier this month, when he was taking the balloon for its post-inspection trial flight, he took E and Z along for the ride. C and I served as chase crew, and it was like a small miracle to see our two youngest children ascend into the sky in a rainbow.

April is the month the birds return, and with no leaves on the trees and none of those pesky other b-words trying to suck my blood, it's the month for bird watching. I made a resolution to bird every day this month, and I've managed 18 so far. A first-of-year bird appears almost every time I go out. This week's new arrivals: yellow-rumped warbler, belted kingfisher, American kestrel, broad-winged hawk, and hermit thrush.

Yesterday I stalked a velvety chocolate-brown mourning cloak through the woods. These butterflies overwinter as adults and are always the first to appear and a sure sign of spring. I was amazed a few days earlier to see a little blue butterfly, a northern spring azure, perhaps. I chased it through the field, it flashing luminous blue upper wings while I tried to sneak up to take its picture. Now I'm aquiver with anticipation of butterfly season.

I have no doubt that social media will usher in the downfall of civil society. Nevertheless, it has its good points. For instance, I've been keeping a close eye on the flower buds of trees and shrubs in the woods around our home and snapping phone photos when the buds open and sharing them on Instagramand Facebook. It's made me much more attentive to the slow unfolding of spring, and I'm discovering that there's much about tree flowers I've never noticed, like the flowering twigs of aspen and yellow birch are high out of reach, and oak flowers, which come out after the leaves, I've never seen before.

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Friday, April 30, 2021

Finish It Friday ~ Birds & Blooms Quilt Top

This quilt top began with the leftovers of a set of fabric in the Alegria lin from Cloud 9 by designer Geninne Zlatkis that I bought about eight years ago and used to made a little spring/summer bunting. I had planned to make the rest into a table runner, but when I sat down to make a list of things to finish this year (this year being my year of finishing all the things), the idea just didn't excite me. Did I really need another table runner? And wouldn't it just get all stained and dirty from the sloppy people I live with? 

Instead I would make a quilt--a quilt for my own bed, which I've never made before. It would be both pretty and practical. C and I use a down comforter most of the year, but there are a few weeks in the summer where it's too warm for goose feathers. But even on those hot nights, when I lie down beneath a sheet and thin blanket an C sprawl on top of the blanket with a fan blasting him (which I turn off, because I can't stand to sleep with a fan blowing), he ends up getting up in the night and rummaging in the closet to find additional blankets, which inevitably don't fit my aesthetic--scratchy red wool things. I've been meaning to make a summer quilt to solve this problem for a long while.

I was able to find a couple of pieces from the Alegria line online, enough to make borders (albeit in two different colorways), but I had to find other fabrics to fill out a whole quilt. I went with another Cloud 9 line, Birds & Branches, as well as fabrics from Cotton & Steel and Rifle & Paper, all selected from tiny pictures on the internet, with great hopes that they would all work together, since the quilt stores around me are still closed. I added in some fabric from my stash, including a couple of Kaffe Fasset prints (there always has to be Kaffe Fasset) and then arranged them in 4-patch blocks, because I was afraid just random arrangement of all this disparate fabrics would be too much, even for me.


Since I chose a pattern of 4 and 8-inch squares, it came together quickly, and I'm pretty pleased with the way it turned out, even though it's more pastel than bright, which is my general go-to color zone. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


Before the pandemic, I wasn't a huge TV watcher. I'd tune in every Sunday night for Masterpiece and watch a movie on Friday and Saturday, and maybe take in a show that everyone in the family enjoyed once or twice a week, but otherwise usually spent my evenings reading, writing, or projecting. I think. In reality I find it hard to remember how I used to spend any of my time pre-pandemic, and I find it hard to imagine having the energy to do anything other than zone out in front of the boob tube. All that changed with the apocalypse. The need to escape into the normalcy...if somewhat zany normalcy...of other, imaginary, people's lives overpowered any desire for productivity or self-improvement. In looking back over the first thirteen months of the pandemic year, I've had a hard time remembering all of what we watched, so I thought I'd attempt to take an inventory here.

Comfort TV

Familiar characters. Known plot points. Memorized lines and jokes. This is what I craved most of all, so early last April I instituted Friends Night every Monday, when we would watch one episode of Season 1 of Friends. I figured the 20 episodes of the first season, which would take us into September, would get us to the end of the pandemic. While this was way more realistic than all of the "shop for two weeks of lockdown" and "we just need to flatten the curve" prognostications, it wasn't even anywhere close. When M went to college, we kept him in the loop by FaceTiming with him every Monday night and setting the phone up in front of the TV. E bought me the discs for Season 2 for my Birthday in August and then Season 3 for Christmas. We're going to need Season 4 pretty soon. I just hope the pandemic ends before we get through all ten seasons.

When one of requires the television equivalent of macaroni and cheese in between Friends Nights, we watch a couple episodes of the BBC/Masterpiece production Jeeves & Wooster, with the madcap duo of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Frye, or (also BBC) Death in Paradise.

Family TV

When your kids reach a certain age, they want to spend less and less time with you, and one of the only ways of spending time together that doesn't lead to some kind of confrontation (except over who gets what seat on the couches) is to sit down in front of a show everyone can enjoy. Soon after he came home from college last spring, M and I were casting about for something to watch when we came upon Scrubs. C and I used to watch it when it was on network TV (a concept totally foreign to my kids), and I forgot how funny it was (that is until the totally unnecessary and off-the-rails last season). 

Before we had kids, C and I used to come home from work, cook dinner, and sit down to eat in front of the nightly Friends and King of the Hill reruns. We kept up this ritual after M was born, until the night when his little diaper butt bounced up and down tin time with the theme song of King of the Hill. After that, we moved dinner to the kitchen table and relegated television to after the kid was in bed time. We reintroduced M to the show, and he loved it still, but instead of his diaper butt bouncing up and down, he took to talking like Boomhauer. Another show we remembered from out network days and that did not disappoint in the humor department (until yet another excessive final season) was My Name is Earl.

We've made Friday night another regular TV night with E and Z, watching The Mandalorian, which I admit I didn't love, then Wanda Vision, which I thought was such a great, original story and a fantastic departure from the predictable plots of most superhero movies. Now C and the boys are watching Winter Soldier and The Falcon, but while I sit with them, I usually read or do a craft project and don't pay much attention, because I don't really like the Winter Soldier as a character and I really don't like the gun violence (as opposed to super hero power violence).

Girly TV

It seems that being trapped at home with four large male people, sometimes going weeks without seeing another woman in person, caused me to gravitate toward shows with women as the primary characters: New Girl and The Mindy Project got me through the rough period of last spring, and often I stayed up way too late at night bingeing on them, avoiding going to bed where I'd have to think about...stuff. I've also been slowly working my way through The Gilmore Girls, but I can only watch that when C's not around because he hates it. He claims the acting is poor, but I tease him that he can't stand watching a show that is entirely focused around women and their concerns, only some of which involve men. (I think I'm at least partly right.)


Life is dramatic enough these days that we've mostly stuck to comedies, though we have continued our Sunday night Masterpiece tradition. I've forgotten about most of these at this point, except a WWII show set mostly in Warsaw after the invasion, which was an extremely traumatic thing to watch during apocalyptic times, and All Creatures Great and Small, which I found lovely and sweet and soothing. Perfectly pastoral.

The Best for Last

It took a couple of years of many people recommending Schitt's Creek to me before we finally dove in and watched. It's true that the premise sounds pretty dumb. And it's true that the first few episodes will have you thinking that it's a show about a bunch of vain, selfish people being not very nice to each other. But it turns out to be very funny, very smart, and also very, very sweet. The characters change and grow over the progression of the seasons, when usually sitcoms work because the characters don't change. They're very loving to each other, in their vain, selfish way, and they love each other in spite of each other's quirks. 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Book Stack ~ March 2021

A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:

Last month's stack is another mini one. I'm getting cranky about how much work is interfering with my reading time (I've decided to stop blaming television and point toward the real culprit instead--capitalism).

Nonfiction: Erosion by Terry Tempest Williams. I've been a huge fan of TTW ever since I was assigned to read Refuge in college. Her writing is just so beautiful and searingly truthful. This one so much so that it hurt a little to read--about the realities of climate change and the abuses to wild lands by the fossil fuel industry and the previous administration. There's none of the cheery optimism so many nature writers feel compelled to tack onto the hard realities of we're basically f*cked. So yeah, a hard read, but a necessary one.

Fiction: A Deadly Inside Scoop by Abby Collette. This book, by contrast, was just pure fun--an ice cream shop, a murder (okay, maybe that wasn't fun for the murder victim), and a number of suspects, including the narrator's father...all tied up in a nice bow after a mildly suspenseful scene, in the best cozy style.

What are you reading this month?

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