Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Book Stack ~ July 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 

Since it's nearly September, I considered just posting a joint July-August list next week, but my August book stack is accreting so fast it might not even fit into a single photo frame, and I'm already starting to forget what all these July books were about, so let's just do this now! Starting from the bottom:

Fiction: I was again in a light reading mood in July (what terrible thing was going on in the world at that particular time? I've already forgotten.), so I dove into two books that were hand-me-downs from my mom, both homages (or pastiches? I can't keep those straight.). Jeeves and the King of Clubs, a Ben Schott book in the style of PG Wodehosue. Since Wodehouse wrote about a gazillion books, which no person could reasonably expect to read in their lifetime, one might ask why bother writing another? But as a huge fan of both the Jeeves and Wooster books and the BBC production, I'm all in, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and found that Schott captured the style and voice, while adding his own twist (espionage!). The second was The Stalwart Companions by H Paul Jeffers, a Sherlock Holmes story. I have to admit to having read very little Conan Doyle, but I was still entertained by this tale, which takes place in America has a pre-presidential Teddy Roosevelt rather than Dr. Watson as Holmes's sidekick.

Still in the fun vein, I picked up KJ Dell'Antonia's In Her Boots, which was totally fun--a farm, an estranged world traveler returned home, an uppity mother in an uppity New England college town, a couple of llamas and mini ponies, friendship, and a smidge of romance. It's a master class in how to make sure everything that can possibly go wrong for your protagonist does go wrong. It was a perfect summer read.

On the more serious side, I read The Miraculous Flight of Owen Leach by Jen Dupree, about a baby who sails out of the arms of one mother and lands in the arms of another, beginning a rivalry for who should be the infants true parent, with the husband of one of the mothers caught in the middle, and making bad choices of his own. It explores the difficulty of parenting and the lack of support for mothers in our society. I'm doing a joint reading with Jen at Lithgow Library in Augusta on September 10th at 10 a.m. We did a reading together last week in Auburn and it was so fun!

And, finally, I read The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett, a Maine classic that I've been meaning to read for a long, long time. I finally was motivated to get on it when my writing group scheduled a tour of the Sarah Orne Jewett House in South Berwick. It was a spectacular tour, and not just because one of our members was the tour guide. The house is filled with so many fascinating details, many of them original to the house (or at least Jewett's tenure their), including her glasses, the pen holder on her bed frame, and a pair of owl-shaped silver salt-and-pepper shakers on the dining table (Jewett's nickname among her writing group was Owl). The book was fascinating, too, and interesting because I'm in the middle of studying the rules of fiction, and it literally breaks all of them and is yet an utterly delightful read. 

Sarah Orne Jewett's house is a mixture of colonial, colonial revival, and arts & crafts styles.

Jewett's writing desk.

Nonfiction: The only nonfiction book I finished in July (I have several half-read books from the month) was The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier, which is required reading for the book coach training program I'm working on. To be honest, I'm not sure how exactly the lessons apply to book coaching, and I hope that'll come clear over time, but I think it's probably a useful book for people in management positions who want to be better managers (are there such people?).

Poetry: When I was at my alma mater, College of the Atlantic, for alumni weekend in June, I did a book trade with another alum, Lelania Avila, who graduated the year before I arrived. Her book, An Abecedarian Reflection: Parenting through Childhood Cancer, is a lovely, generous, and deeply human meditation on one of the most difficult experiences a parent can go through.

Don't forget you can order a copy of my book, Uphill Both Ways: Hiking toward Happiness on the Colorado Trail from any of the vendors listed here.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Finish it Friday ~ Tiny Sweater

My knitting activity has been erratic of late. The last thing I made was an extremely long (in inches and months) poncho--a project that was supposed to last the whole pandemic, but which took much longer than I expected and still was done long before there was (or is) and end in sight to the pandemic. I've bought some yarn in the time since finishing the poncho, but I haven't felt the project mojo to get started on another project. But when my brother and his wife announced they were expecting a baby girl this fall, I knew it was my chance to do something I never had time or energy for when I was expecting babies of my own--knit a baby sweater. 

And I knew I wanted to knit Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Surprise Jacket, which is made all in one piece, a piece that looks like a weird and wobbly blanket, but which magically folds up into a cute little sweater. I started out with another yarn, a pinkier shade of raspberry, but a finer gauge and a fussy/splitty fiber that was not doing it for me, so I returned to the knitting store for this lovely, soft Malabrigo in a heftier weight (which meant fewer stitches per row, always a plus).

The directions were a little...vague (or, as the updated version of the directions say, "sparse") and leave a lot up to the knitter's knowledge, experience, and personal preference. But ultimately I only referred to the updated directions occasionally to confirm that I'd interpreted the originals correctly. I also enjoyed the humor in EZ's ("Hope you are still with me" when the pattern got very strange, and "The baby will probably be unmoved by this offering, but the parents may well be charmed, and your friends will be amazed."). Really, once I figured out how to tell where my increase/decrease spot was (and gave up being skeptical about the whole thing), it was pretty easy. 

I'd bought some cute little pink flowers for buttons, but they turned out too small for the buttonholes, so I fished these purple ones out of the button jar, hoping they'd give a "whimsical" not "Welch's" vibe.

And, wonder of wonders, even though the salesperson at the yarn store insisted I buy two skeins, I finished the sweater with about six inches of yarn to spare.

Ravelry notes here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022


As I've done readings and interviews for Uphill Both Ways over the last few months, one question has come up again and again: what's your next big adventure? And I've been chagrined to not have an answer. Since our big hike in 2016, the boys and I went on a road trip to Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and points in between. I went on a solo road trip to Colorado last fall. We traveled as a family to Washington, DC, the summer before the pandemic. And I went to Mexico with friends last winter. We've also gone on our sort-of-annual camping trip, with a couple of missed years due to work and pandemic. But none of those have been adventure adventures like hiking 500 miles through Colorado. And since the book came out in March, I haven't had even a little adventure, other than a weekend of car camping, on my agenda.

I needed to do something to remedy that situation, stat, so I began thinking about a hiking trip along the coast in Downeast Maine, a trip we'd planned to take the fall after we returned from the Colorado Trail, until both the weather and the children threatened mutiny. I thought it might be my opportunity to give solo hiking a try, for the first time in 25 years. But as I thought about our gear--tents and stoves designed for groups, not singles--and the fact that I'd have to carry all my water, I decided to invite C along, even though I swore I'd never backpack with him again after our Colorado Trail hike (if you've read the book, you'll know why).

He agreed, and we gathered gear and food for two days and hit the road very early in the morning on the last Friday in July. C loaded his pack with most of the essentials, and with the weight I saved by not carrying anything vital, I brought along two books, a journal kit, a camera, binoculars, and an extra sleep pad for lounging on the beach. After a very long drive, we made the hot, sweaty hike in. On the five miles of up-and-down, rooty, rocky, brushy trail, with six liters of water on my back, I was very, very grateful to not also be carrying our 6-pound, five(ish)-person tent or our not-so-light Whisper-Lite stove.

Once we arrived at our campsite, the apltly named Fairy Head, we spent the afternoon and all the next day moving from rock to rock as we lounged on the beach, cooking, snacking, reading, birdwatching, and swimming, I was again very, very grateful to have company. I'm very good at entertaining myself, but it was nice to have someone to chat with and share camp chores with. Although we wished we'd brought a mini deck of cards, we caught up on about 20 years' worth of conversation. C, for his part, redeemed himself, and he only got a little bit antsy. As a remedy, I proposed a walk to the headland (and ended up slipping on seaweed and acquiring a collection of big, purple bruises). 

Our beach was made up of pebbles ranging in size from marble to potato. Most of them were a slaty gray, but several had blue, red, pink, or green in them, and they glistened like gems when wet from the outgoing tide. I was reminded of the book Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane, where he quotes The Meaning of Liffby Douglas Adams and John Lloyd, which MacFarlane describes as "a genius catalogue of nonce words. . . in which British place names are used as nouns for the 'hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all recognize, but for which no word exists.'" One example he quotes is " 'Glassel (n.): A seaside pebble which was shiny and interesting when wet, and which now is a lump of rock, but which children nevertheless insist on filling their suitcases with after a holiday.' "

C filled his pockets with glassels, several of which now sit on our coffee table. They've been polished enough by eons of being washed and tumbled by the sea that they are a bit more interesting than lumps of rock, and even the least shiny ones are silent reminders of a our adventure.

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."

Monday, August 22, 2022

Leaning into the Lull

July is lull season here in Maine. May and June's headlong rush of flowering and leafing and mating and pollinating and singing has settled into a comfortable summer's pace of more hidden fledging and seeding.

I've had the pleasure of catching some new birds shorty post-fledge: house wrens, white-breasted nuthatches, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, chipping sparrows, common yellowthroats. Our neighbor left most of his field un-mown, and in addition to giving me a front-row seat in watching the progression of grass to hay, this meant the bobolinks got a chance to raise their babies. I missed the swallows' maiden flight, though I watched the biggest baby in each nest box hog the opening (and the bugs) for two days. Bluebirds moved into one of the boxes as soon as the swallows moved out, but they're more shy, not making a spectacle of flight and feather collecting like the swallows.

As the birds wrap up their parenting duties and the flowers turn to seeds, I'm trying not to panic ("winter is coming"). After all, until this week the temperatures barely topped 80 degrees (and the nights dropped down into the 50s or low 60s, even down to 53 one night last weekend), and my trips to the beach so far have involved sweatshirts and very cold, quick dashes into the water. Which has got to mean there's a whole lot of summer left, right? 

After a big flurry of book launch events in late June, I too have hit a bit of a lull with few events scheduled for July. Which is a relief, since I lost a whole week to a tooth abscess. Though I powered through two book readings, two book signings, and four days of alumni weekend activities, most of those events bookended the worst of it, not counting one reading that took place the day of my root canal. In between, I spent a week lying on the couch watching TV all day and night (I was in too much pain to read or sleep or do anything else).

I won't say it was more painful than childbirth, but it lasted a lot longer. I've always thought the washing machine and the window screen were the most valuable of modern inventions, but now I'll throw in antibiotics and anesthesia. When I wasn't numbing my pain and brain with television shows, I thought a lot about people who lived prior to modern dentistry, especially the Ancient Puebloan people of the American Southwest, who apparently died at a relatively young age because the sand grains ground into their corn wore down their teeth. Now I know they didn't fade away from malnutrition but suffered in agony from exposed roots.

Once the pain and swelling subsided, I made it my mission to get out hiking and kayaking as much as possible. I also resumed on my morning pajama bird walks--which have grown a lot quieter of late--and daily search for butterflies. This month is, too, supposed to be a lull for butterflies. Much of the variety of last month is down, but I've seen more monarchs drifting around our property than ever before, and the pollinator garden, which I put in two summers ago, is seeing a lot of action, with six fritillaries, two skippers, and a monarch on one plant during one pass-by alone this morning. It won't win any garden club awards, the plants too close together and of crazily varying heights and colors, but the butterflies and other pollinators don't seem to care.

For what's left of this month, I'm leaning into the lull, in the vain hope that reveling in the slow pace of mid-summer can slow down time and the butterflies fluttering a little longer before it's time to face another season.

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."
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