Thursday, December 30, 2021

I Did It! 2021 (Apocalypse Year 2) Edition

For the past eight 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: 2020 (Apocalypse Year 1), 2019 (including decade-in-review), 201820172016201520142013

This year has felt strange, like suspended animation (or, perhaps, like college friends and I used to joke, animated suspense). Part of that has been the ongoing (never-ending) pandemic, of course, but also the limbo phase between having a book accepted for publication and actually seeing it in print (for all of you who keep asking me, "Isn't it published yet?" believe me, I feel your pain). Book work over the last year has been marked by long periods of waiting punctuated by brief flurries of activity (copy edits, proof review, etc.), which makes it hard to feel like I've accomplished anything at all. Let's review the last year and see if that's actually true.

Writing I-Did-Its!

There were the aforementioned layers of review of The Book, as well as inroads into promotion, reveal of the cover, and corresponding updates to my website and various profiles. (Do go here to pre-order if you haven't already.)

I also finished drafting a second book, a collection of essays on nature and motherhood. For some reason finishing this book felt anticlimactic. Maybe because three-fifths of it had already been written and published, so most of "drafting" it involved revising words already on the page. Or maybe because I expect the road to publication to be steeply uphill. But none of that means I don't deserve a little pat on the back, so here it is: pat, pat.

As far as short pieces go, I'm still struggling to both write and submit/publish. My submission stats for the year:

  • Submissions: 8
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Rejections: 6
  • Publications: 1

"A Review of World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil" Literary Mama, May/June 2021

I know this is supposed to be a positive post, but oof, that's painful. Possibly the worst since I started this tradition. 

Other writing accomplishments:

  • 11 Newsletters
  • 36 blog posts (plus this one, which puts us one ahead of 2020)
  • I worked on a novel (a different one from the one I worked on last year), getting to 14,000 words before deciding I can't stand it. One day I'll make it all the way to 60,000.
  • I continued editing the Literary Reflections department at Literary Mama as well as being a senior editor, helping to bring each issue to publication.
  • I started training to become a book coach. I didn't get as far into the program as I would have liked due to time management issues, but it's my goal for 2022 to complete the training and start bringing on clients.
  • I got back into teaching nature journaling, with one remote workshop and two in-person, including one at a nature journaling conference in Acadia National Park, which was a delight.
  • I gathered a group of Maine writers I know (some of whom I only knew from the internet), who all happen to be knitters, and formed a writing group called Maine Writers and Knitters. I hosted our first get-together in October, which mostly involved getting to know each other and eating, but also included a fun and slightly woo-woo writing exercise. We clicked really well and had a second get-together early this month, this time with actual writing workshops, and we have a third planned for February. It feels so good to have some actual writing community.
  • I (virtually) attended a poetry festival and a crime writing conference.
Travel and Adventure I Did Its!

Again it wasn't much of a year for travel, but I got out a bit more than I did last year.
  • We resumed our annual Hermit Island camping trip after a two-year hiatus (one year because of the pandemic and one because of work), and I resolved to never let a crappy job get between me and my family again (ultimately quitting that crappy job).
  • We went on a fair number of kayak and canoe trips on local lakes and ponds (some of which I did solo).
  • I swam across a nearby pond with a friend once or twice a week during July and August.
  • I went on a solo hike to a tiny cabin at a nearby nature preserve.
  • I drove all the way to Colorado and back, all by myself, to help out my parents for a couple of weeks in November.
Arts and Crafts I Did Its!

My word for 2021 was "finish" and I had a list of 21 things I wanted to finish this year, many of them craft projects (some of which were WIPs and some of which were mere ideas). These are the crafty things that got finished:
  • Some handmade dollhouse furniture.
  • That '70s quilt
  • Wavy charms quilt
  • Chalk painted furniture
  • New bedroom curtains
  • Birds & blooms quilt
  • Little bird embroideries
  • The endless knitting project that I'd started at the beginning of the pandemic I put down sometime last spring and didn't pick it up again until October. It's nearly done, but I'm at a stumbling place and not quite sure how to go on, so it will have to hold off until next year's list. I also have another needlework project that's so close to being done, but not close enough to make it onto this year's list.
  • Finally, I started doing illustrations for my second book (mentioned above). I'd hoped to finish them up this month, but all of my time got sucked up by holidays, child transporting, and pandemic/ democracy anxiety.
Household I Did Its!
  • My big accomplishment here was my bedroom refresh and reading nook
  • I also deep-cleaned the living room and finally replaced our 1990s college student decor with a real couch and two swivel/glider chairs (I can't believe I don't have any photos or a blog post of these--probably because they are not the beautiful midnight blue velvet couch and orange patterned chairs I dreamed of but rather boring tan, gray, and beige). 
  • I made some more inroads into basement cleaning (two steps forward and one back in that department, always--E moved out of the room he shared with Z to the basement; and lives sprawled between the main area and M's room; then this month M moved all of his stuff home from college in preparation for a semester abroad. And everyone throws anything they don't want down there.)
  • I continued to expand my Fiesta ware collection, but at a more sedate pace than the previous year (I think this is a topic that deserves a blog post).
  • I cleaned up the sunroom, repotted several plants so now almost everything is in a pretty, non-plastic pot, and repainted two ugly plant stands a lovely bright turquoise (again, gonna need a blog post on this!).
  • expanded my pollinator garden and kept it semi-weed-free.
Nature I Did Its!
  • I did a lot of birding, especially in the spring (110 eBird checklists and 118 species), and C and I did the Christmas Bird Count for something like the seventh year in a row. I even got a couple of life birds right here on our own property, as well as one in Colorado.
  • I did a little bit of butterfly-ing and dragonfly-ing, but not as much as I would have liked.
  • I kept track of all of the wildflowers (starting with tree flowers) as they emerged in the spring and early summer (falling out of the habit in July/August) with a photo on Instagram.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Book Stack ~ November 2021

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

My reading goal for the last two years has been to get through this enormous stack of books that keeps migrating around my room, and so far I've done a really, really bad job of it. Many of them are books people have given me and aren't necessarily what I might have chosen myself, so I've found ways of avoiding reading them. But I've finally decided that the people who gave them to me did so for a reason--that they believed I would enjoy them--and I should stretch myself and try something different.

That's where the Penelope Lively book I read in October comes in, as well as this second one by her, Passing On. A friend, who has herself passed on, gave both to me many years ago. Like the last one, practically nothing happens in the entire book (although the thing that happens is maybe a bit more significant than the weight the author gives it; and in treating what happens lightly she also conflates homosexuality with pedophilia, which is problematic in the extreme, but I was willing to give her the benefit of it having been the "olden days" when she wrote it, but it turns out the have been published in 1999, which isn't so very long ago, so, ugh, I really can't recommend it, despite what I'm about to write in the rest of this paragraph). So, nearly nothing happens in the lives of the two main characters, who come off as dull, dull, dull, yet somehow I was drawn in and compelled to keep reading. Which seems to me to be a major writing goal--write a page-turning book about boring people who do and experience nothing of significance. In this way, I suppose Lively's writing is as realistic as you can get.

Now onto books I chose for myself. To help get me through the long, tedious drive across country, I read Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty, as a way of unwinding when I reached my hotel room each evening. It's a lovely, lovely paean to the natural world and cry for its protection from a bright young author from Northern Ireland, who writes with heartbreaking honesty about his love of nature, his autism, and his experiences being bullied for his atypical personality. If there are more teenagers like McAnulty out there (as far as I can tell, none of them live in my house), there might be hope for this world.

When I got home from my long, tedious drive back across the country, I sank into the latest Kopp Sisters novel, Miss Kopp Investigates, by Amy Stewart. I love how this series evolves, incorporating both historical facts and the author's imaginings, and bringing different members of the Kopp family to the fore with each edition (in this one youngest sister Fleurette gets to be the heroine). I also love to read a story about strong women characters for whom romance is not their primary (or even secondary or tertiary) goal or outcome. 

Finally, I listened to several audiobooks to help me get through that (say it with me) long, tedious drive across country and back, pictured in reverse order:
  • Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz. It's the sequel to Magpie Murders, which I read some time ago, and it has the same book-within-a-book setup, giving me two mysteries to solve, two narrators (one for each book), and enough twist and turns to keep my attention over endless miles of highway. Plus it was really long (over 18 hours), and got me through two and a half days of my long, tedious drive across country.
  • The Thursday Murder Club and The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman. This pair of mysteries takes place in a luxury retirement home, with an ex-MI6 agent, an aging union leader, a morose retired psychiatrist, and a former nurse as the band of unlikely sleuths solving multiple murders, breaking up organized crime rings, and sometimes contributing to the general mayhem of an otherwise sedate care continuum community. The stories are many layered and hilarious, and the narrator is a delight. I'd be tempted to go on another long, tedious drive across country just to listen to these two books again.
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. This is a book I'd been *meaning* to read, but hadn't gotten around to it yet. C read it and reported that it was very strange and hard to get into. I've heard the same elsewhere, so when a friend recommended it in audio format, I figured that would get me over the hump. It was still strange and hard to get into (the hardest part is that a large percentage of especially the early part of the book is quotes from various sources, including in-text citations, which the narrator insisted on reading). I wondered at first if Saunders wasn't lazy, just using all of these quotations rather than weaving the information into a narrative, but then realized that the many conflicting accounts (beginning with Lincoln's eye color and appearance and leading into impressions of young Willie and the evening of the party while the boy lay upstairs dying) were part of the story. What is truth when everyone has a different version of it? And then the book gets really weird, with the many characters in the cemetery running around doing wacky things. It was dark by the time I got to this part, and the strange melancholy tale accompanied me across Massachusetts, through that annoying snippet of New Hampshire, and up into Maine and wrapping up just as I pulled into my driveway. So the story is all intertwined with this dark, gloomy drive, on the edge of exhaustion after a long, tedious trip across country, and I can't really say what I thought of it. I may have to go back and read the solid book.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Where the Buffalo Roam

 I made an unexpected trip to Colorado this month. My parents were in a car accident in late September, and while I wasn't able to go out in the immediate aftermath, I was able to squeeze a trip in between the end of one kid's cross-country running season and another kid's wisdom teeth removal (my first nibble on the Sandwich Generation). It turned out that delaying my trip allowed me to be more useful than I might otherwise have been, fretting outside a hospital room. Instead I was able to help around the house and take my mom to medical appointments and get out and about. Useful is what we most want to be when someone we love is hurting. Visiting after they were home also allowed me to spend two weeks with both my parents, whom I hadn't seen in three years.

I chose to drive there, due to the pandemic, the rental car shortage, and the illusion that I could control the situation by not being beholden to an airline's timeline. Curry and I made this trip many times before kids and a few times with them, and I did it once with just the kids, when Milo had his driver's permit and was keen to take on as much of the driving duties as he was allowed (his favorite, Wyoming--"Speed limit eighty!"). But I'd never done it alone, and oh, was it a long trip. I listened to many audiobooks. I saw many miles of corn. I developed a Pavlovian response to highway interchanges wherein my palms immediately began to sweat, even if there was little traffic and clear signage.

I also saw many strange things going down the highway: An entire molded fiberglass swimming pool. Several windmill blades, each far longer than its truck and trailer. Fedex trucks towing three trailers (the only sign of a trucker shortage; there was no sign of a supply chain shortage as I passed by millions of tractor-trailer trucks each day). A truck that appeared to be full, if the signage on the outside was to be believed, of ice-cream tubs filled with bacon grease.

I found that in the states where the billboards for Jesus were the largest, so too were the billboards for strip clubs and sex toy shops. In Iowa a farm had mounted satellite dishes on every fence post along miles of highway, each painted in a different brightly colored design, a drive-by art installation. In Kansas, I hit a tumbleweed almost as big as my car. It splintered into a million tiny shards like a dandelion clock blown in the wind.

And in Colorado, on my way out of town, I stopped and visited the bison. My first year out of college I spent as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Aurora, and for one of our projects we worked on the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, a chemical-weapons-facility-turned-nature-preserve in one of those particularly 20th-century ironies where the only undeveloped land is that which is too toxic for people. My team spent our days there digging up Russian thistle and planting American plum (oh, the Cold War symbolism). The place was pretty much a windswept plain of grass and weeds, with roaming mule deer, burrowing prairie dogs, and a few settling ponds that had been recently remediated for organochlorine pesticides, dioxin, PCBs, and other terrible things under Superfund. Sometime in the twenty-five years since I worked there, bison have been introduced, and I hadn't had a chance to see them yet.

So despite the lateness of the hour when I finally rousted myself from the embrace of family for the long trip home, I stopped by on my way out of town, and walked along a trail until I cam within sight of my quarry: the American bison, a herd of at least 60 or 70 animals, beyond a very tall fence. Most of them were lying in the grass, enjoying the view of some strange-looking clouds and the mountains beyond the brown haze of Denver. A few wandered from clump to clump of fellow bison, and the young ones pranced around, and every time one moved, a thin column of dust rose, and you could imagine the dust cloud a great herd might have generated when migrating across the plains. I stood for a long time, sketching and feeling a mixture of awe at this magnificent remnant of our continent's past and melancholy that this is it--this small herd, penned in by a very tall fence and developments encroaching from every direction (despite the Superfund site and the nearby dog-food factory and feed lots). Yet, despite their diminished prairie, despite their limited range, I'm glad they're there, and I'm glad I took the time to stop and say hello.

This post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child" and also be entered in a monthly drawing to win a print of one of the illustrations from Uphill Both Ways.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Book Stack ~ September and October 2021

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

In September I started a lot of books but didn't finish many of them until October, so this time around the two months are combined into one.

In service of researching ways of promoting my book I reread Austin Kleon's Show Your Work and read for the first time Steal Like an Artist. These are fun and fast reads that give good ideas for fostering creativity.

In the long-distance-hiking memoir category, I read Alone in Wonderland by Christine Reed, in which she recounts her hike on the Wonderland Trail in Washington, as well as an earlier partial hike of the AT while she grapples with what it means to be independent versus lonely.

For a long time I've been meaning to read Kathleen Dean Moore's Wild Comfort: Finding Solace in Nature, and now, a million years into the pandemic, felt like the right time to get around to it. I always love reading Moore's gentle words and her twining of philosophy and nature observation, and this book did not disappoint. 

Many years ago I read Wallace Stegner's Beyond the Hundredth Meridien, about John Wesley Powell and the history of water in the West, and I've been meaning to read more ever since. I finally picked up a copy of The Sound of Mountain Water, which is half essays about travel and the natural world around the West and half pieces on Western writers and writing, which is kind of an odd combination that I'm not sure would appeal to everyone. The travel and local interest pieces are delightful, especially one in which he and friends and family take a road trip through the desert not long after WWII, an experience that would be impossible to replicate today.

Continuing on the Stegner theme, I read Angle of Repose, which is one of his most celebrated novels. It's written in a style that reminded me of Victorian writers or William Styron's Sophie's Choice, in which one character tells another character's story, in this case the narrator is a man in the "present" (1970s California) who is suffering from a degenerative bone disease and trying to cope with his circumstances and a changing world while researching the life of his grandmother, a genteel Eastern artist who followed her husband to mining camps and frontier towns in California, Colorado, Mexico, Idaho, and again California in the late 1800s. It's a long book that took a long time to read. Very little actually happens, though the thing that happens is a big one (again like Sophie's Choice), yet it remained an engaging read almost the whole way through (I did feel that it lagged a bit in the middle, round about Mexico). Stegner's descriptions of the places his narrator's grandmother lived, her thoughts and feelings, her experiences are vivid and fascinating.

Finally, I read City of the Mind by Penelope Lively, a book a friend passed on to me several years ago. Again it's a book in which very little happens, but the writing is stunningly gorgeous.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Drumroll, please...

It's here, it's here! The cover art is here! I hope you love it as much as I do. It's nowhere close to what I imagined when I envisioned my ideal cover and filled out the design worksheet for the publisher, yet it's exactly the perfect cover for this book (which, I suppose, is why I'm the writer and not the designer). There are so many things I love about it.

  1. It's a picture I took, which is gratifying and validating and makes this book even that much more a product of my creativity.
  2. It's iconically Colorado--dramatic scenery, blue sky, purple mountains majesty, and all that. You know what you're getting when you buy this book.
  3. The kids look SO small. I remember thinking as they hiked down this very slope how small and vulnerable they were (and no doubt I wrote that thought in the book). It tells potential readers that there will be kids in the book, and it tells them that that's a pretty awesome feat. I mean, that mountain is so big and they're so little!
  4. What you can't see is that this view is from the top of Hope Pass, a place whose name is symbolic of both this journey and of the stage of life I write about in the book. It's also one of the most physically and mentally challenging stretches of trail (something like 4,000 feet of vertical rise over four miles). So descending from that pass, though not quite halfway through our journey and though challenges would remain ahead, was an important symbol of overcoming obstacles and making progress toward goals.
  5. Doesn't that view make you want to sing Sound of Music tunes (as my friend Libby pointed out), especially if you didn't just climb 4,000 vertical feet to get to it?
This week I've been reviewing the page proofs of the book, looking for last-minute typos that I missed in the first 3,000 drafts (like writing "tail" instead of "trail"). Those proofs, along with the cover, makes it all seem so real. They're laid out exactly as the book will appear, with the font and the margins and the photos and illustrations. It looks so beautiful--and professional. A real, live, genuine book. I suppose the proper attitude, the grown-up writer attitude, at this stage would be nonchalance, but it's all so exciting! I'm elated to see five years' (and counting) of work coming to fruition in such a beautiful way, and I'm so deeply grateful to the editors, designers, and other people who have helped get me here, including you, dear reader. Thank you!

This post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child" and also be entered in a monthly drawing to win a print of one of the illustrations from Uphill Both Ways.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Finish it Friday ~ Little Bird Embroideries


My word for 2021 is "finish," and I started the year with a list of 21 things I wanted to, you know, finish. Some big, some small, some totally unreasonable. One that fell into the smallish department, both in terms of physical size and in effort to get done was this set of seasonal bird embroideries. I have a tendency to buy, or ask for as gifts, craft kits (usually some kind of stitchery that I don't normally do) that look super cute, and then never getting around to executing them. 

This embroidery kit from Cozy Blue Handmade was a Christmas present from a year or two ago (and if you look at her website, you too will be overcome with desire for one of these kits!). I'd started a couple of them (during the corresponding season, of course), but had lots of excuses for not getting them done--it's harder to embroider while watching TV than to knit; I couldn't see to stitch because we had poor lighting; I couldn't see to stitch because I needed new glasses. I resolved the latter two issues with new glasses and better lighting, and I just got over myself and worked on them while watching TV. Most of what we watch is dumb and doesn't require full attention (though I think I missed an important clue when embroidering while watching Only Murders in the Building). And I finished! 

And checked another item off my list. I'm up to ten, which is dangerously far from 21 with only two months left in the year, but it's ten more items than were done at the beginning of the year, so I'll call it a win for now.

As for the embroideries, I hang the seasonally appropriate one on a panel of wood separating our south-facing living room windows, which looks cute and festive.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Finish It Friday ~ Bedroom Refresh and Reading Nook


As you may recall, I spent the spring and early summer refreshing my bedroom. First I made a quilt, my first-ever queen-sized quilt made just for me. Then I gave a couple pieces of furniture a facelift. Then I made curtains from some stunning fabric. I'd thought briefly about repainting the walls (the same color, which I still love; it's just a little dinged up), but that wasn't going to happen in June, when I was working a gazillion hours a week, and once work was over I'd kind of lost the oomph to paint. I'd also envisioned spending the summer spent visiting art galleries around the state to collect new artwork to hang on the walls, but with the pandemic resurging, I didn't feel much like shopping. So, aside from those two items, which may still happen in the future, all that was left to do was wait for one last item on my list, which came home not too long ago. Introducing the Reading Nook Chair:

I ordered the chair in January, during what can only be described as a pandemic-induced retail therapy session. It took until late August to be ready to come home (the place I bought it from had it as a floor model, but couldn't let it go until its replacement was in the store), by then it had been so long, I let a couple of weeks go by before making the long trip to pick it up. But it was worth the wait--cute and comfy and completing the salmon color theme. It's a great spot to sit and read or write or carry on zoom calls or just hide out from the rest of the household. 

In preparing for the chair's arrival, and in an attempt to remove all possible obstacles to my getting writing done, especially during the summer when there were people underfoot all of the time, I turned my sewing table into a writing table and disappeared most of my sewing and knitting supplies to the basement. What remains is in this small cabinet and a few baskets, plus my machine, which is hiding under the cozy. (You'll note the poor dollhouse has been consigned--temporarily, I hope--to this corner.)

Finally, I did get one print  earlier in the summer. It's temporarily hanging over my dresser, but I have plans for rearranging things once I get pieces for the various walls in this room and (when I find the right piece) the living room. (It's called "Fog Below Cadillac Mountain, Acadia," and it's by Peggy Clark Lumpkins, and now I see it's a little crooked.)

I think my room is all ready for wintering--snuggling up in my new chair, wrapped up in my wavy charms throw quilt, with a stack of books, a basket of yarn, and a pot of tea at the ready--while the weather and the world does its best outside the windows.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Book Illustration Giveaway!

Once a month between now and when my book, Uphill Both Ways: Hiking toward Happiness on the Colorado Trail, comes out in March, I’ll give away an 8x8 inch matted art print of one of the book’s illustrations. This month is Alpine Springbeauty. To enter, just subscribe to my newsletter by midnight, October 31. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Life is Good

The atmosphere outside is heavy with moisture and an incoming low pressure system. It's hot and humid, but the wind, which blows from every direction, has a chill to it, and it tears the yellowing leaves from the ash trees. Many of the wild apples have already lost most of their leaves, and their bare branches hang heavy with yellow, gold, and green fruit. I'll pick a few sour, mealy apples to make Curry a pie for his birthday next week, but the rest will fall to the ground and rot or feed the deer through the winter. We still have jars of apple butter we made two years ago on the shelves.

The staghorn sumac have taken on their Christmas appearance--half red, half green--but the oaks, the beeches, the hornbeams, even the maples, are still green. I recite their names like a spell to keep summer around a little longer. But in the understory the Virginia creeper has turned crimson, the wild sarsaparilla has faded yellow-brown, and the false Solomon's seal is weighted down by clusters of scarlet berries. Bumble bees nose in the last of the asters, the wild wind tosses grasshoppers and sulphur butterflies, and I hear a late cicada among the crickets, but there's no denying the truth: fall is here.

I have a cozy, brown wraparound sweater that I'm not allowed to wear until after the first frost and my favorite chartreuse teapot I can't use until it's snowed at least once. These are my talismans, or perhaps my bribes. If you don't run away to the desert before winter, you may wear your sweater, drink your tea. And then, wrapped in warmth inside and out, you can look out on the falling snow and remember summer, when everything was so easy. Only it's not always easy in summer, is it? What with the black flies, deer flies, horse flies, and mosquitoes. When it's too hot and humid to move. When you have other obligations and can't be outside witnessing every flower bloom and bird hatch and insect buzz by. It goes by so fast, and I miss so much.

This morning I was salvaging the last of the peaches, cutting away the bad parts and putting the rest in my cereal bowl, and I got a bit of mushed peach on my shirt and it reminded me of baby food, and that brought on the most unbelievable wave of nostalgia, even though my kids hated baby food. In fact, getting them to eat anything other than the gunk behind the radiators during their first few years of life was one of the greatest challenges of my parenting journey, right behind potty training and teaching teenagers how to drive (my current phase of motherhood).

This is what people mean when they tell new mothers, "Enjoy every minute; it goes by so fast." Only it's not impossible to enjoy every minute of motherhood, like all those times you peeled and mashed peaches, scooped the sweet goodness on a tiny, silver spoon, and held it to pair of clamped-shut lips, any more than it's possible to enjoy every minute of summer, like that time you were drenched in sweat, covered in dirt, and swarmed by mosquitoes because you decided to transplant perennials from your neighbor on a 90-degree, 90-percent humidity day. But after you were done with the plants, you went and swam in the pond and then lay down in the hammock with a popsicle, and life was good. So very good.

This post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child."

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.

This post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child."

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?

P.S. If you're wondering what's going on with my book, I'll be sending out an update in my newsletter this Friday. To be one of the first in the know, sign up here.

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