Tuesday, December 27, 2022

I Did It! 2022 Edition

For the past nine 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: 2021 (Apocalypse Year 2) 2020 (Apocalypse Year 1), 2019 (including decade-in-review), 201820172016201520142013. Let's jump right into 2022's I Did Its! Shall we?

Writing I Did Its!

My first book--Uphill Both Ways: Hiking toward Happiness on the Colorado Trail--was published, hurrah hurrah!

To all those people who say that publishing a book doesn't change your life, I say pppppbbbbttttsssttt! Almost nothing could be better, except maybe holding your newborn baby in your arms--I don't know, it's been a while since I did that ;-). Anyway, Oh, happy publication day and month and year!

Book Publicity Activities in 2022:

(See all past and future events here and read/watch/listen to interviews and recorded events here.)

I also did some more revision on Book Two, which I mention having completed drafting in last year's I Did It! post, and I decided to illustrate it (I was wavering for a bit) and began work on those illustrations, basically, teaching myself how to draw in pen. I'm still a bit wishy-washy on how I feel about the results so far, but I'm making progress. I also drafted a book proposal for Book Two, which I haven't sent out, due to working on getting enough illustrations done to my satisfaction first.

I began Book Three, meaning I outlined it and began the research, which is really just a LOT of reading. I've also drafted a very sketchy intro and part of Chapter 1. It's a book I've been dreaming of putting together for nearly two decades, so I'm excited to finally be making progress. 

I started the year with a plan to focus on writing short pieces (essays, stories, etc.), since I couldn't wrap my brain around the idea of a big book project while working on promotion of Uphill Both Ways, but obviously I overcame that block and ended up working on two book projects after all. My plan was to write one short piece a week, in addition to a flash piece on this blog ("Flash Friday"). That did not exactly come to pass, but in a file labeled "2022 Short Works," there are 15 documents, 11 of them complete pieces. In addition, I wrote 5 "Flash Friday" posts, for a total of 20 partial or complete short works, or just shy of two per month (and one of those "short" works is nearly 10,000 words).

This practice probably led to an improved submission and publication rate over last year:

  • Submissions: 16 (double last year's rate)
  • Acceptances: 3
  • Rejections: 8
  • Publications: 9 (so much better!). They are:

(As always, the submission/acceptance/rejection/publication numbers don't add up due to carry over from year to year, not everything published having gone through a normal submission process, etc.)

Other Writing I Did Its!
  • 11 Newsletters (so far)
  • 44 Blog Posts (including this one)
  • I continued working as Literary Reflections editor and senior editor at Literary Mama
  • The writing group I started in 2021 (Maine Writers and Knitters) got together in person about three times and once over zoom, including one fantastic field trip to a local historic author's residence/museum
  • I applied for two grants (and was rejected for both)
  • I completed just over half of a (self-paced) book coach training program
  • I gave a presentation and taught a workshop at my grad school alma mater
  • I taught a nature writing workshop to two different groups 
Travel and Adventure I Did Its!
  • I spent 10 days in Mexico (and didn't write about it much here on the blog; but I have an extraordinarily long essay about the trip that's in my rejections pile).
  • We went on our annual family camping trip 
  • C and I went on a 2-day backpacking trip, kid-free
  • C and I spent a weekend in Bar Harbor for alumni weekend, also kid-free
  • I took some small trips on kayak and on foot here and there
It took me a minute to remember that I went on a BIG trip at the beginning of the year, which tells me I'm either ungrateful or I need to go on big trips more frequently. I definitely need to work harder to make adventure a priority. And keep a list!

    Arts and Crafts I Did Its!

    My focus was on writing more than making, and my sewing machine spent most of the year tucked away on a side table under a dust cover. But I got some things done:
    • Finished knitting the gigantic poncho I started early in the pandemic
    • Made some tiny shoes and knitted a tiny sweater (and deciphered an Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern!) for my niece, who was born in September
    • Knitted a runner hat for Z (and then the weather was warm through cross-country season, so he never had an occasion to wear it, officially, but he has worn it some since the weather has gotten cold)
    • Made a new duvet for C's and my bed
    • Made a fleece skirt, plus two more for gifts
    • Made a silly little (and totally impractical) bird feeder, just for fun

    Household I Did Its!
    • Deep-cleaned the kitchen in anticipation of Thanksgiving and houseguests
    • Cleaned and organized drawers and cabinets in the bathrooms--long overdue
    • Moved several boxes of books and bags of clothes to the used bookstore and consignment shop, respectively
    • Finally made inroads on cleaning the basement (the perennial to-do list item, which I claimed to have done last year--the inroads part--but this year I really made some progress)
    • Tried to be more systematic about menu planning and shopping so that figuring out what to have for dinner every night isn't such a chore; this doesn't make me excited about cooking dinner any more than I was before, but it makes it slightly less stressful
    • Worked on maintaining my houseplants in a healthier, less neglected state than usual (battling some pests like scale and spider mites), even moving a few from the sunroom to the living room to enjoy them more (and because they seemed to want warmer weather conditions)
    • Expanded my pollinator garden, fed it a few rounds of duck mulch, and largely stayed on top of the weeds
    Nature I Did Its!
    • Bird-Watching: 132 checklists and 114 species for the year (in eBird) as well as several new species sightings in Mexico (around 25)
    • Did a little butterfly and dragonfly wildflower watching
    • Taught a nature writing workshop to 3 different groups
    • Made 25 nature journal entries
    • Continued to serve on board of Maine Master Naturalist Program and helped organize their conference
    All-in-all a pretty good year (can't really complain when you've published a book)! It's occurred to me, for the first time after ten years of these posts, unbelievably, that in planning my goals from this year, I can think about what I want this post to look like next December and reverse engineer it so that I aim for what I'll have wanted to accomplish. For instance, I want to see more travel and adventure in my life, so I can set a goal of X number of hikes/kayaks per week or month and X of overnight trips and X real big expeditions. And then make it happen!

    Friday, December 16, 2022

    Book Stack ~ November 2022

    A monthly post about what I've been reading, with aspirations but no real hope of reading down a very tall stack of books. Previous posts from this year:

    May & June 2022 

    October 2022 

    Looks like November was a light month for reading. Part of the that was Thanksgiving and all of the preparations thereunto. Part of it was that I labored over books that I am not enjoying and did not finish (yet). I have a hard time admitting to defeat on a book and affirmatively quitting it (although I'm pretty good at letting it gather dust on my nightstand with a bookmark at the halfway point). Both are books I *really* wanted to love but do not, not even a little bit. And that bums me out. I also am slowly making my way through another longish book that is a little heavy going (in terms of subject matter), so I need to spread it out among a lot of light reading, which is what I've got here.

    Starting from the bottom of the pile, I read The Mammoth Book of Egyptian Whodunnits, edited by Mike Ashley, which I only picked up because Elizabeth Peters wrote the introduction and one of the stories. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Most of the stories take place in Ancient Egypt, and I'd liken them to fantasy in terms of building a world so dissimilar to our own. I didn't think I'd be able to suspend my disbelief in Sherlock-Holmes-types carrying out crime investigations in the time of the pharaohs, but I got swept right in from the beginning through 500-odd pages.

    My other reads for the month were also mysteries: Deborah Crombie's A Bitter Feast, which takes place at an English country house (one of the best settings for murder and mayhem), in contemporary times with a whole cast of Scotland Yard detectives who are supposed to be on holiday but instead find themselves swept up in the murder of a famous but down-on-his-luck chef. I found it very entertaining. The other was Murder is in the Air by Frances Brody, starring her private investigator from the between-the-wars years, Kate Shackleton. This one takes place in and around a brewery. I've ready one other Brody mystery, and I've enjoyed them both.

    For a project I'm working on I read Alice Arlen's biography of Louise Dickinson Rich, She Took to the Woods. [Full disclosure: I have not *quite* finished reading the excerpts of Rich's writing that appear at the back of the book, b/c I got so interested I purchased several of the (out-of-print) books themselves.] I'll write more about Rich and her writing in the future, but I'll say that this peek behind the scenes is fascinating. I was especially interested in how, in her diary she was forthright about how she and her family were nearly *starving* for much of the time in their early years at Forest Lodge, but her writing in We Took to the Woods turns that desperation into funny anecdotes about how to cook creatively to stretch meager supplies (blamed on the difficulties of getting food into their remote cabin in the spring and fall when the lake was neither frozen nor navigable by boat). 

    Friday, December 9, 2022

    Finish It Friday ~ Cookie Monster Skirt

    Although as an adult I identify most strongly with Oscar the Grouch, due to my penchant for a certain fuzzy lime green fleece vest, a period in college when I spent time digging through the trash (as part of a study of solid waste, mind you), and my general personality, when I was very small, I went through a Cookie Monster phase, wherein I had a stuffed Cookie Monster that rattled when you shook it and a pair of Cookie Monster footie pajamas that I loved because not only was there an image of the monster embroidered on the chest, but they were made of fabric with extra long, nappy blue fuzz. Also, of course, me like cookies.

    So when I was tidying up in the basement last week in an effort to access our holiday decorations and ran across a length of midnight blue fabric with a thick, fuzzy pile on one side and a soft fleece on the other, I knew I needed to revisit my Cookie Monster days, but with a cozy skirt instead of pajamas. I followed the same general method I used for these and these fleece skirts that I made a couple of years ago; that is, I started with a pattern and then went off on my own tangent.

    For this one, I made a yoga-style waistband, because the blue wasn't long enough for a skirt in and of itself, and because then I didn't have to mess with elastic. I was paranoid about making the waistband too tight and ended up leaving it too loose, which I think is the exact same mistake I made last time. I did not give it pockets, either, but I can add one later if I decide it needs one. I also flat-felled the side seems, which, together with the waistband, which appears the same on both sides, makes the skirt basically reversible, if I ever want the soft fleece on the outside and the pile on the inside, except that the hem will be rather obvious inside-out (but who cares?).

    I forgot what a fast, satisfying project these skirts are, so I think, in the interest of clearing out some more basement clutter, I'll zip out a few more.

    Thursday, December 1, 2022

    One Final Paddle


    Here in Maine, we've had a mild fall, and all through September and October, when we'd come to the end of a stellar day of sun and warm weather, I'd say, "We should have gone kayaking!" But somehow the thought would never come to me earlier in the day, when there was time to make it happen. Then on the first Monday of November, I worked outside on the picnic table, moving from sun to shade as the sun climbed higher and the day got warmer. I'd planned to go grocery shopping in the afternoon, after the boys got home from school with my car. But by lunchtime the thermometer topped 75 degrees!

    I knew there wouldn't be many more days like that, so I threw on capris and a t-shirt, tossed my kayak in the pickup truck, and headed to water. There's a pond that's close enough, and small enough, that a trip there is about an hour, door to door, including a lazy circumnavigation complete with bird watching. I could kayak the loop and still get home in plenty of time to do the far less interesting task of shopping.

    The water was a little lower than the last time I'd paddled, after a dry summer and fall, making the launch point next to the outlet a little steeper, but it was still doable solo, with no fear of tipping in. It was a different pond than it is in May, June, or July. The cattails and grasses on the shore were dry and blond, the laurel and willow shrubs branchy and leafless. No turtles slid off shoreside logs into the dark, tannic water. No bass splashed. The sphagnum bog at the far end was quiet, without the calls of red-winged blackbirds or song sparrows. But it was still a lovely pond, peaceful and wild when I turned my back to the road and the handful of houses on the roadside shore.

    I made my circuit and when I returned to the put-in point, I realized that the steeper bank would also make getting out of the boat a bit more challenging. Though the water was shallow, I really did not want to dump into the water, when I was there by myself (and with my phone in my pocket), so I hoisted myself out with extra more vigor. I made it to dry land with no problem, but the boat, pushed backward by the force of my exit, drifted off in the other direction, paddle across the coaming, bowline nonexistent. 

    The water was cold but not that cold, and the air was still in the low 70s. Still, I didn't feel like swimming. I steeled myself for that possibility, tossing binoculars and phone onto high, dry ground. Fortunately, the boat bounced into reeds across the outlet channel and came back in my direction, coming to rest in reeds only a few feet from shore, so I only had to wade up to my knees to fetch it. Not exactly a life-and-death situation, but it made for an exciting finish to the last kayak trip of the year.

    Now the boats are hung up for the winter, and the weather has turned to more normal November fare--frosty mornings, a winter chill in the air. And I am thankful for late season sun and a final trip on the water.

    A version of 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."

    Thursday, November 17, 2022

    Book Stack ~ October 2022

    A monthly post about what I've been reading, with aspirations but no real hope of reading down a very tall stack of books. Previous posts from this year:

    May & June 2022 

    My last post was about how fast October went by, and now here we are, already halfway through November. What? I've been spending this week deep-cleaning my kitchen in preparation for Thanksgiving. On one hand, it's deeply satisfying--getting rid of stuff I don't need, finding things I've been missing or forgot I had (Although I did not find my garlic press. How does one lose something like that??), seeing my Fiesta ware all clean and shiny and lined up on the shelves. On the other hand, I'd rather be curled up with a book, like one of these I read last month.

    Audiobooks (not pictured above):

    I had some credits left in the audiobook account I got last year for my long cross-country journey. The first two volumes in Richard Osman's Thursday Murder Club series got me through a good deal of the long drive home, and I really loved the narrator so when the third installment, The Bullet that Missed, came out in late September, I knew I had to listen to it. But when? I didn't have any long car rides planned, so I wasn't sure when I'd fit in listening to an audiobook. I downloaded it anyway and listened as I was going to sleep at night, and again when I got up in the morning, to catch up on the bits I'd dozed through, and while I ate breakfast and lunch, and when I went on my afternoon walk, and while I cooked dinner, in short, at every chance I got. After I listened to Bullet, I went back and re-listened to both of the first two in the series and then I listened to Bullet again. I love the characters, the plot twists, the humor, the light-handed social commentary. I'm back to reading on paper again, but now that I think of it, I should have listened to this series again while I cleaned the kitchen!

    Now when I walk, I listen to podcasts, often Selected Shorts, and that's where I heard an excerpt of Nora Ephron's Heartburn. I enjoyed it so much, I picked up the book, which is entertaining and funny and a little maddening (the husband is a rat).

    And back to murder, we visited M during homecoming weekend at his college in October, and as always when we're there, we popped into the book store, which always has good deals on the clearance shelf, which is where I picked up Anthony Horowitz's The Sentence is Death. Now I recall there being something about the first book in this series (The Word is Murder) that frustrated me--a flaw in the timeline, I believe (strangely I can't find it in my past blog posts!). But I've enjoyed Horowitz's other mysteries, so I gave it a chance and enjoyed it thoroughly (in part because the mild October weather allowed me to read it in my hammock!).

    After my Amelia Peabody jag of August and September, I wanted to keep it going with the Egypt theme, so I found a copy of a book I've been meaning to read for a long while, The Names of Things, by Susan Brindles Morrow, about the author's time spent in Egypt and Sudan as a young woman, traveling to remote regions of both countries. It's written in very much the lyric vein, as in much more impressionistic and poetic than factual and detailed. It's a beautiful book, and it made me wish I'd been that brave when I was young.

    Wanderers: A History of Women Walking by Kerri Andrews is a book I picked up in Colorado when I was there last November, and somehow it took me a whole year to read it, dipping in and out. It tells the story of women writers for whom walking was an important aspect of their lives, such as Dorothy Wordsworth, Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin, Cheryl Strayed.

    In other book news, when I cleaned out my closet, switching summer clothes over to winter, I went through the box of books that I'd stashed in there as well as a couple of other teetering piles of books in other corners of my room, and decided that I'm not ever going to get around to reading most of them, and ended up taking a large box and a bag of books to the used bookstore! My original goal was to read all the books I have and then get rid of them, but if they've been sitting around for years getting pushed aside in favor of new books, I think it's a good sign that it's never going to happen. Now someone else can enjoy them.

    Finally, Arctic Dance is a biography of Margaret Murie, author of Two in the Far North and Wapiti Wilderness the "mother" of the modern American conservation movement. This book is a companion to the documentary of the same name (narrated by Harrison Ford!), and is filled with photos and stories that fill in the gaps about Murie's life that don't make it into her books. She was a courageous, self-effacing, gifted woman who made the world we live in a better place.

    Thursday, November 3, 2022

    Mini Adventures and Nostalgia

    I'm trying very hard not to start this email with a banal statement like, "Can you believe it's already the end of October?" Because I can't believe it. Where did the month go?

    I've been trying to buckle down and focus on my new book project this month, but it's at that big, unwieldy stage where it's hard to see where I'm going or how I'll get there. So instead I seek distractions. One of those distractions is going on mini adventures--a trip to the beach with friends, a hike on a nearby trail. I read in Laura Vandercam's newsletter the recommendation to have one big and one small adventure each week. I can't remember why she recommends this, but for me adventures serve several purposes: getting me out of the house and out of my head, exercise, time with other people, and a teeny bit of excitement. C and I have been watching the TV show M*A*S*H lately, and during the opening credits, I feel this little thrill in my chest when the helicopters come in and the medics run up the hill. I want that, I think, although I definitely do not want to either be in the army or work in the medical field, but I want that surge of excitement, that urgency, that sense that there's something so important that I need to run to get to it (is that why people take up jogging?). While there's not, and not likely to be, anything of such urgency in my life, I can at least create a little excitement by getting out on mini adventures.

    Today my method of distracting myself was less exciting even than a hike--I spent the morning reading my old zines. Back before I wrote e-newsletters and blogs and books, I created a print zine--producing 13 issues over seven years. In the back of every issue I included a roundup of amusing things my kids said (which were no doubt more amusing to me than they were to my subscribers). I pulled the zines out because I remembered that one of the boys had invented a new word for one type of rain. (I swear this was related to an essay I was toying around with.) I found the quote, which had come from from E: "It was not dribbling, pouring regular rain, or sprinkling. Might have been twizzling." But I couldn't stop there and started reading all their adorable quotes and then looking at my hilarious cartoons, and then reading bits and pieces and whole essays, and pretty soon, an hour and a half had evaporated.

    The funny thing is, I don't feel like the same person who wrote about trying to get three little kids to bed or deciphering toddler twin talk. Did any of that actually happen? To me? If I didn't have a written record, I wouldn't believe it. And if I didn't have a photographic record, I'd hardly believe the boys were ever so small. Last week I got the prints of E and Z's senior photos and, for the last time, did the annual tradition of taking apart the picture frames and going through all of the photos stacked behind the current one, from preschool to now, laughing at the various stages (Jack-o-lantern teeth, tough-guy third grader, suit-n-tie sixth grader, crossed eyes, crazy hair, the year I forgot about picture day and they were dressed in rags with bird-nest hair). Although there's a glimmer of familiarity between those earlier photos and now, it's hard to believe they're the same people as these big, tall men I now live with.

    I've heard that all the cells in a person's body are regenerated every seven years, so in a way they really aren't the same people, and neither am I. But if that's so where have those other people, the ones we were then, gone? 

    A version of 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, October 28, 2022

    Finish It Friday ~ New Duvet

    Since about mid-July, C has been begging me to put the down comforter back on the bed. At any temperature below 70 degrees, a quilt and two blankets just isn't enough for him. But, in addition to not wanting to be roasted alive, I enjoy having the summer quilt on the bed--it even inspires me to make my bed (almost) every morning. Besides, our old duvet had become threadbare, with the fabric eroding to tickly fringe all along the top edge. And no wonder--I made that one thirteen years ago!

    I'd been meaning to replace the old duvet, which I'd made by piecing together fat quarters, for a while, but one of the fabric stores near me never reopened to in-person shopping after the pandemic, and the other one moved to a location farther away and changed focus to long-arm quilting, cutting way back on fabric inventory, so I hadn't been able to amass the requisite fat quarters. I finally gave in and ordered a couple of bundles online, supplementing with a couple of additional prints I picked up on a shopping trip with my mother-in-law (to a fabric store that's both open and still selling fabric!), and last week put them together in a big rectangle.

    Last time I went with a lot of pastel hues (although, looking back at that old post, it was not as pastel-ey at the beginning as it was after 13 years of sun-bleaching). This time I went with bright, bold prints. My favorites are the feathers, the turkey-tail fungus, the snail shells, and the agates. So fun!

    The procedure is pretty simple: for a queen-sized duvet, piece together 20 fat quarters in four rows, five quarters high. Sew this to a full-sized sheet*, wrong-sides together, leaving an opening of about 18-24 inches along the bottom edge. Fold the raw edge of the duvet top, at this opening, over on itself and hem, reinforcing the points where the opening meets the sewed-together bits, if that makes sense.

    *It took me way too long that you only need a full-, not queen-sized sheet to back a queen-sized duvet.

    My goal with this project was keep it simple as possible, with minimum labor, and so I used the fat quarters as they came. Unfortunately, there ended up being a difference size between quarters of up to two inches, and I don't think there was a square corner among them, so I had to stretch and fold and fudge to get it to all fit together. To save yourself that headache, consider cutting your quarters to be all the same, exact size.

    The photo above is just staged--two blankets and a quilt still lie beneath the duvet, because it's still a smidge too warm to really need a down comforter, at least until November.

    Friday, October 21, 2022

    Finish It Friday ~ The Everything Bookcase

    When I was visiting my parents last November, I pointed to a bookcase in a magazine and asked my dad something along the lines of, "Do you want to build that for me?" Now, I say similar things to my husband all the time nothing ever comes of it (well, almost never), so I didn't expect to actually get a bookcase, but my mom mentioned sometime last spring that he was working on it, and then she sent me a photo of the finished product a month or two ago, and then last week a freight carrier truck was trying to negotiate my driveway with a heavy wooden crate in the back that contained this:

    It's a round table with bookcases on four sides, set on casters (the original design had a lazy Susan mechanism for allowing it to spin, but casters were more practical from a building standpoint and, as it turns out, from a user standpoint as well). I'm not very good at spatial visualization, and I was expecting something end-table-sized that I could tuck into a corner of the living room (although I became suspicious that I had that wrong when I heard about the woes my dad had at finding a way of getting the table across the country to me). It ended up being much, much bigger than I imagined. At first I wasn't sure where we'd put it, but it fits perfectly in a dead zone behind the couch, which is close to my desk (and who am I kidding, I do most of my work on the couch anyway, so it's doubly handy). Since it's on casters I can move it around so I can access that big piece of furniture next to it or move it in a place where the light is better on a rainy day.

    And, even better, it solved some major storage problems I was having--stacks and stacks of books on my bedroom floor from a new project I'm starting, which I'd have to dance around to avoid tripping over (and knocking over) every time I went to bed; clutter on my desk from admin tasks and works-in-progress as well as works-in-aspiration; boxes of Uphill Both Ways on the living room floor. There's enough shelf space (12 feet, I'm told) to solve all those problems with room to spate.

    And the top of the table is high enough I can use it as a standing station, if I slip a little something under my laptop to raise it up a bit for extended periods of use. My new rule is to check email only when I'm standing, which I figure will help me achieve two goals: to spend less time sitting AND less time checking email.

    Other people in this household had other ideas for how to use it--kitchen island, cookbook storage, drinks cart--but though it's rare I ever win an argument around here, I brooked no dissenting views. My bookcase; build your own island/cookbook shelf/drinks cart. 

    While I didn't really have much to do with accomplishing this Finish-It-Friday project, other than a casual suggestion, ground-guiding the freight truck, and directing my kids to carry it into the house, I think it deserves a post of its own. And now that my storage and organization challenges have been resolved, I have one less excuse for not getting going on my own new project. Onward!

    Tuesday, October 11, 2022

    Book Stack ~ September 2022

    A monthly post about what I've been reading, with aspirations but no real hope of reading down a very tall stack of books. Previous posts from this year:

    May & June 2022 

    So...September's book stack looks a lot like August's, which I guess shouldn't be a surprise, except I kind of expected to spend a lot more time writing and a lot less time reading once all the boys went back to school full time. Then COVID-19 hit, and I spent several days sick on the couch, reading, and the previous week I'd been under the weather as well, and there's no such thing as boys at school full time (in the first seven weeks of school, there have been only two when all three of them--C, Z, and E [at least if M's not in school he's still away at school]--have had five days of school, and only one of those four short weeks was due to illness. So let's say the fall writing program has been off the a rocky start. But the reading? The stack is tall, anyway.

    Fiction. I finished the ten remaining Amelia Peabody books (by Elizabeth Peters...you can read more about them in last month's post). I skipped The Painted Queen--the posthumous homage or pastiche or I'm not sure what you'd call it, because I was disappointed the first time I read it. But these ten did not disappoint. I had as much fun reading them as I did the first three or four times I read them. In fact, I kind of more like inhaled them than read them--like a chain smoker lighting up a new cigarette from the butt of the last one, I turned the last page on one book and picked up the next without missing a beat. Rereading them all was a fun and soothing experience. I can't recommend it enough.

    Nonfiction. I didn't have time to read much other than Amelia Peabody, but I did read one book for my book coach training program: The Artful Edit by Susan Bell. It's intended to help writers in editing their own work, but I found a lot in it that would be useful for editing others' work as well, and I was very entertained by her use of examples of the editing relationship between F Scott Fitzgerald and Maxwell Perkins while The Great Gatsby was in process. I'm intrigued enough to pick up that book, a few decades after the last time I read it.

    Wednesday, October 5, 2022

    Autumn Bluebirds


    I tend to get morbid in fall. I realize that's not a particularly original reaction to the season that brings us Halloween, Day of the Dead, and innumerable religious holidays that center around remembering those who have cast off their mortal coil. And then there's the whole leaves falling from trees, plants turning brown and shriveling up, cold wind blowing in from the north business. 

    This year it hit me harder and more suddenly than usual. Perhaps because it's the last fall in which I will watch my children head back to school, or because it's the last fall when I'll still be less than half a century old. Every year fall is a reminder of passing time and aging bodies, but this year that reminder has a more ominous ring to it.

    A couple of weeks ago, I went out to the garden to gather tomatoes for dinner and found, in place of the laden beds of fruits and vegetables that had threatened to overwhelm our kitchen and our stomachs for more than two months, there remained only a handful of overripe cherry tomatoes clinging to blackened, withered vines. We hadn't even had frost yet.

    The only way I could describe how I felt was betrayed, as if July's and August's abundance had constituted a contract, a promise of endless summer. Fall comes every year, yet somehow, this year, I thought it might pass me by.

    And then COVID struck our house, knocking back three out of four of us for a week. Another betrayal--by our bodies, by the public health system, by society.

    Early this week, when I'd regained enough energy to make the trek to the mailbox, I paused at the spot where our driveway takes a hard left turn at our neighbor's field. He hadn't mown this summer, instead letting it grow into waves of tall grass that turned tawny in late summer, when a farmer from down the road came and cut and bundled it into hay bales. Fresh grass grew in since then and, despite the drought, stretched in a mat of bright summer green. Another promise. The leaves in the trees along the edge of the woods had begun to change, however, golden and orange and russet. Darting between the grass and the trees was a small flock of bluebirds, six, seven, eight of them, their cerulean wings bright against the greens and coppers. 

    A few of them alighted on the next box we put up next to the field a couple of years ago. Perhaps they were part of the brood that had grown up there this summer, or part of the three broods from last summer. Perhaps they were travelers checking out the real estate for next year. It's hard to feel melancholy while watching bluebirds. There's a reason they're the bird of happiness--their bright feathers, their lithe flight, their gentle song. In visiting the nest box, the green field, the golden trees it was as if they were saying, Yes, summer is over, and spring a long way off. But we'll be back next year, and so will the sun.

    A version of 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, September 30, 2022

    Finish it Friday ~ Cross-Country Hat

    This is my seventh--and last--season with a kit on the high school cross-country running team, so in classic last-minute-Andrea fashion, I decided to take this opportunity to knit a running hat for Z. 

    I actually got the idea at the last meet of last year's season, when I noticed the kids from the more well-resourced/well-organized schools wore mass-produced acrylic beanies with little runners sprinting around their crowns. I'll take any excuse to do a little two-color knitting, and there happened to be a fabulous yarn store in the very town where the meet was held. I just didn't get around to starting on it until after this year's season got started. This wasn't a huge problem, since the first meets of the year are usually swelteringly hot, and it's not till the last few that the cold breath or winter breathes down the runners' backs.

    I couldn't find the exact pattern I wanted, so I made this one up, using a couple of other patterns as the basis and a sheet of graph paper and markers to work out the little running guys. You can see my pattern on Ravelry. They ended up with Ancient Egyptian-style hands, which is a detail I might leave out if I were to do it again. You can also see that every once in a while, where I carried my blue thread, it shows through the white. I'm sure there's a technique for avoiding that, and I'm sure I'll figure that out before I do more color work. 

    Now the only question: Will Z actually wear the hat? There are only two or three meets left. But there's plenty of cold winter weather ahead, so the hat might get some use even if it never puts in an appearance at a meet.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2022

    Book Stack ~ August 2022

    A monthly post about what I've been reading, with aspirations but no real hope of reading down a very tall stack of books. Previous posts from this year:

    May & June 2022 

    July 2022

    We've got a tall stack for August. I've always considered summer prime reading season, going all the way back to my bookmobile days and continuing now in my hammock days.


    I started the month reading Paddling My Own Canoe by Audrey Sutherland (which you can barely see way up there at the top of the pile) while C and I were camping on the coast. In it, Sutherland relates several trips by water to a remote part of a Hawaiian Island, the first of which she made by swimming  around the island and towing her gear in a weather balloon wrapped in a shower curtain. Over subsequent trips she improved on her gear--replacing the bundle with a styrofoam box and eventually using an inflatable canoe. On these trips, she gets dashed against rocks, has run-ins with wild boars (though not sharks), and other near-death experiences. I mean, the crazy adventures are enough to make this book enjoyable, but her narration style is so utterly guileless and charming, I was with her all the way on these madcap adventures.

    The boys all went away for a weekend early in the month and I binge-watched Maid while they were gone, then had to go out and pick up the book by Stephanie Land on which it was based. (I have no problem watching move before reading book.) I think both the show and the book show really well what an impossible position we place poor people in this country, with no way to climb out. 

    For my book coach training, I read Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, and it SO good. I really wish I'd read it early in my writing journey, when I was actively trying to figure out (and write) fiction. Sadly, I've put writing fiction on pause (for now), but this book makes so clear so many aspects of what a story requires, and why. I underlined a LOT, and I rarely deface books.


    After finishing Wired for Story, I decided to read a book I'm very familiar with, so I could sit back as a detached observer and take note of the various story elements and see them in action, so I picked up the first of the Amelia Peabody series, Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters. This is a series I read all the way through in 2017, and again over the course of 2017-2018, aloud to my kids, on top of having read most of the books (that had been published at that time) once or twice in my 20s and again when M was a baby and as they came out over the years and probably another time or two in between. Meaning, I've read this book at minimum five or six times--probably more than that. I knew exactly what would happen, who the bad guy(s) would be, what they would try to do and why, and who would end up betrothed to whom at the end. It should have been easy to take a clinical approach to dissecting how it was put together. But of course I got sucked into the story, and, like a chain smoker, as soon as I turned the last page, I picked up the next in the series and the next. In total, I read the first nine in the series (not pictured: The Lion in the Valley, because E is reading it, having also read the first three. I'm trying to not get too excited, but that kid hasn't voluntarily picked up a book since he was about 12, so I kind of want to jump up and down squealing). And of course the binge has continued into this month (despite my determination to focus on my writing projects and eschew distraction). At least all this reading has cut down on my TV watching time.

    Friday, September 2, 2022

    Finish It Friday ~ Tiny Shoes

    My brother and his wife expecting a baby girl gave me an opportunity to try my hand at making tiny embroidered booties of the type I've always admired made by Melissa Wastney at Tiny Happy. (I have made these and these little baby shoes out of other fabric , but something about that vintage embroidery that makes me squeal.)

    I started with this shirt, which, despite my not being a fan of pink, was my favorite summer top for several years, until I wore holes in the arm seams. I hung onto it, though, thinking I could repurpose the soft linen in some way. It's not exactly vintage but it is embroidered.

    I cut strategically around the embroidery, found a fabric that complemented both the pink and the peachy stitching in my stash, and put a pair of reversible baby shoes together (using a tutorial that I had printed out many years ago but which, alas, is no longer online).

    They came out so freaking cute, I must say (I don't have anything to show scale in the photo, but let me tell you they're tiny!)

    They don't exactly match the sweater I made for the same baby, but I think that's okay, because the shoes will fit a newborn and the sweater looks like it's more for a 3-month-old or bigger baby.

    Thursday, September 1, 2022

    September Book Events and Book Half-Birthday

    Uphill Both Ways has been out in the world six months as of today! Join me in a hip-hip-hooray and a many happy returns on the day for this little book.

    If you want to celebrate with me in person, I have two events happening this month:

    Saturday, September 10th, 10 a.m., at Lithgow Library in Augusta, with Jennifer Dupree, author of The Miraculous Flight of Owen Leach.
    Monday, September 12th, 6 p.m., Readfield Community Library, Readfield, ME.

    I also expect a couple of podcast episodes to drop this month, and I'll keep you posted on those.

    Earlier this week, I received my first royalty statement (and check!) for the book. It's sold nearly 500 copies of paper books and more than 20 electronic. I read somewhere that most books sell fewer than 250 copies in the first year, so that's good news, I think. I'd like to double that number for the second six months. Here are some ways you can help make that happen:

    • If you haven't bought your own copy yet, you can order one from one of the vendors listed here.
    • If you read the book and enjoyed it, review it on Amazon and/or Goodreads.
    • If you know of a podcast, blog, magazine, website or other platform that would be a good fit for featuring the book, let me know.
    • Ask your local bookstore, outdoor gear store, or library to carry the book. You can use this sell sheet to provide them more information. 
    • Drop a stack of bookmarks at your local bookstore, library, coffee shop, gear store, or climbing gym. Email me and I'll send you a bunch.
    • Share a picture of the book with your pet, your favorite beverage, or yourself reading it on social media. Tag @Andrea.lani and #uphillbothwaysbook on Instagram or link to my website www.andrealani.com on Facebook or Twitter.
    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...