Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Long Road

19 days
17 states
5 national parks/monuments/memorials
6,271 miles



We had so much fun driving across country the last two summers in a row, I decided why not do it again this year?



Just kidding. My parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this summer, so we had no choice.



And to be honest, I was kinda dreading the whole prospect. But once we got past the anticipation stage of the trip and on to the actual trip, we had a great time.



C did not join us (his exact words: "I hope when people ask me why I didn't come along, you say somebody had to work to pay for this trip."). Which meant a lot more driving for me. He usually does somewhere between most and all of the driving, while I knit, read, nap, and entertain the kinder.



M, however, has his learners permit and did a fair amount of driving in the states which honor other states' permits (which is most of them). This was a terrifying experience in many ways. But, as I reminded myself over and over (and over and over) again, better he get his first road trip/multi-lane freeway/80 mph highway driving experience with me in the passenger's seat, rather than in a college buddy's near broken-down jalopy. I remember my first road trips and I'm lucky I and my friends are still alive. He did great, but still I nearly wore out my imaginary brake pedal. Needless to say, I did not get any knitting/reading/napping/entertaining the kinder done.



Because C wasn't with us and because I didn't have to worry about fitting the trip in between work obligations or within limited vacation time, I aimed for a bit more of a relaxed pace than usual, and left the return trip open-ended.


On the way out, we took the long way through Missouri to visit Laura Ingalls Wilder's Rocky Ridge Farm, and stopped by Mushroom Rock State Park in Kansas, a side trip C and I took when we drove out with a three-year-old M.



In Colorado, we attended two big family events and hung out with various relatives, doing city/suburb stuff like going to the pool and the climbing gym, eating out, and window shopping. We also went for a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, hiked the first 6.5 miles of the Colorado Trail, which we missed last summer because we'd begun at an alternative start point, and visited a glacier.



I thought for a while about heading up to Yellowstone on the "way" home, but decided that would be too rushed (and, no doubt, crowded). Instead we headed west to the top corner of Utah, and spent a couple of days in Dinosaur National Monument, then drove diagonally across Wyoming to see Devils Tower. From there, we hit the requisite sites of Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, and The Badlands.



We were the ultimate tin can tourists, popping into parks for a few hours. My twenty-something self would be horrified by our rushed sight-seeing, but it poured rain while we were at Devils Tower (which, by the way, is incredible, despite the crowds), so more than the shortest hike around the base would have been miserable.

And there's really not much to see at either Crazy Horse or Mt. Rushmore (in truth, I'm conflicted about both of these sites; on the one hand, amazing human ingenuity and artistry, on the other, is it ever right to desecrate a mountain, whether for a coal mine, a ski resort, or a giant sculpture of a dead guy/guys?). My only regret is that we didn't have more time to spend at Badlands, like a couple of days. We went on two short hikes, and despite the kids being tired and cranky and determined to get out of South Dakota by the time we got there, it ended up being one of their favorite places.

I have to give the National Park Service credit for establishing very efficient sight-seeing tours of their parks. We had a full day, two nights, and an afternoon in Dinosaur, where took two driving tours, stopping off at all of the overlooks, and went on two short, beautiful hikes. The actual dinosaur bones were almost anticlimactic after all of the incredible scenery we took in. I have a super secret plan to go back there and raft the Green River in two summers, after the boys graduate 8th grade/high school. I may even get a job in order to pay for it.

Did I mention that rain followed us almost everywhere we went? 


I discovered that there's no way to get across the country without looking at a LOT of corn. But I did enjoy the fields of sunflowers in South Dakota and appreciated that Minnesota leaves a swath of tall grass prairie growing alongside the highway.







Having done this trip several times and several ways, I've found that the nicest way across the country is to cross Pennsylvania on I-80, then zig-zag down Ohio to I-70.



This way you avoid most of the yucky industrial junk, in the northern parts of the vowel states, avoid most of usurious tolls in those same states (plus NY and PA), have to endure less tractor-trailer-truck traffic, and get better scenery. You still get some sketchy interstate pretzels and multi-lane traffic, in almost all of CT and MA, as well as some midwestern cities, but having taken the long way on I-90 through the heart of Chicago, I'll take Hartford.




As for the kids, this was their third year in a row of driving to Colorado and back, so they did pretty well, sitting in the car all day and helping out at campsites (except when we stayed with relatives in CO and visited my aunt in Missouri, we camped every night).



We had very long days (either C is a faster driver than M and I are, or he's less judicious with rest breaks) and they kept it together really well. M acted as second adult, taking on a fair amount of driving, and bossing people around. We listened to audiobooks on the way out (a challenge in my rather noisy car), as well as music.

On the way home, I had E and Z take turns reading out loud from their respective books (they'd both finished the books they wanted to read and were stuck with books I'd brought along from the bookshelves at home). In each state, they read from their travel atlas. And they got to play a lot more video games than I allow at home, although whenever we went somewhere with a view, I made them put them down ("scenery not screenery" became the mantra).

I don't know what the boys will remember from this trip. The deluge in Utah that nearly washed away our tent? The kind neighbors in Pennsylvania who shared some white gas so we could cook our last night's meal of macaroni and cheese? The glacier? The lizards? The mountains? The desert? The buffalo we barely caught a glimpse of as M zoomed by at 70 mph? The endless seas of cows? The rabbits? deer? pronghorn? lizards? Nearly unlimited Asphalt 8 on their iPads? The dozens of relatives they met for the first, and possibly last, time? Endless corn fields?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

August Newsletter



The August issue of Common Ground, in which I wrap up my 100 Day Project of watercolor painting, flew out to inboxes yesterday.
If you didn't get your copy, you can read it, and also subscribe, here.
If you are a subscriber and didn't get your copy, check your spam box and "promotions" tab in Gmail.

Monday, July 31, 2017

July Reads

Having a single post to cover all I read in 2016 was a bit overwhelming—both to write and, I'm sure, to read. So I've decided instead to do a monthly recap of books I've read, and share a little about each book. For past months, see:
January Reads 
February Reads 
March Reads 
April Reads 
May Reads 
June Reads


This month I went into in full-on summer reading mode. No poetry. No nonfiction. No literary fiction. No catching up on magazines and literary journals. I didn't even read The East Village Inky when it came in the mail. I'm actually a little embarrassed by that giant pile of (eleven!) books up there. Did I do anything at all besides read this month?

You know how this got started. I made a skirt. Then I read Crocodile on the Sandbank, because I had recently acquired my own copy, and because it matched my skirt, and because why not? Then I ordered copies of three of the next four books in the series (I had a copy of the fourth) and plunged in, going much faster than I expected, because soon I caught up to a hole in my collection (I already owned most of the later books, but only a smattering of the early and middle ones) and began combing used book stores, where I was not only able to fill in the gaps, but also scored a signed copy of one (true confession, I did already have a paperback of this particular volume, but at seven bucks, I could hardly pass it up). While I was still searching for a copy to fill the last gap in my selection, I took a detour and read another Elizabeth Peters book, from outside the Amelia Peabody Series.

So, what is my deal with these books? My mom was a long-time reader of Elizabeth Peters, nom de plume of Barbara Mertz, aka Barbara Michaels. The Barbara Michaels books are tales of suspense with supernatural elements and Gothic themes (crumbly old manor houses, ghosts of dead children, etc.). The Elizabeth Peters books are classic who-done-its, with a lot of humor (and history) thrown in. The Amelia Peabody series, which is the most extensive collection of an Elizabeth Peters character, is about a "lady" archaeologist, beginning in the Victorian era and on to the 1920s over the length of the series.

When I was in high school, I picked up one of my mom's paperback books, Search the Shadows by Barbara Michaels, and was immediately hooked on both Barbara Michaels and Egyptology. I read most of both Barbara Michaels's and Elizabeth Peters's books over the next few years. It took me a little longer to get into the Amelia Peabody books, but once I got the sly humor and satire of of our dear, unreliable narrator, I kept up with the Peabody-Emerson family's penchant for trouble ("every year, another dead body") as each volume was released. When I was home on maternity leave with M, I reread the series (up to 2001) while nursing the baby. I reread them all again three years ago (picking up a few I had missed along the way), in order of publication, which is not in order of chronology, so it was a little confusing, but still thrilling. This time I'm reading them in chronological order, which is very satisfying. I really do think they get better every time I read them. I cried through the whole last chapter of The Falcon at the Portal, even though I knew what was going to happen.

These books are not only rollicking good fun, they're suspenseful, funny, wickedly satirical, informative (about ancient Egyptian history as well as Victorian and Edwardian behaviors, norms, hypocrisies and fashion), and relevant. The history of occupation (by the Ottoman Empire and then the British Empire) in Egypt and surrounding countries as well as local tribalisms and religious fanaticism explored in the books all play into today's troubles in the Middle East. And the characters are just so engaging. I really can't say enough.

So now I come to the latest edition. Ms. Mertz /Peters/Michaels, died in 2013, leaving the Amelia Peabody series at 19 volumes (plus a companion book of photos and history of Egyptology in the Emerson/Peabody's time period), with 19 other books published as Elizabeth Peters and 29 as Barbara Michaels, which really *should* be enough for any reader, but…we always want more, don't we? So, I was thrilled that one final Amelia Peabody book was released this summer.

It was written by Barbara Mertz's friend and colleague in mystery writing, Joan Hess, based on copious notes written by the former, with help from other friends and colleagues. I bought my copy earlier this week, with great anticipation. I have to say, I'm a little disappointed. The dialogue feels off. The characters not quite true. The pacing, the phrasing, the whole thing like a photo that's not quite in focus. I keep telling myself to think of it not as an Elizabeth Peters book, but as a Joan Hess book, but I'm not entirely convinced. The good news, though, is that since this book is #14, I have six whole more books to read after I finish, all written by the one, the only, the true Elizabeth Peters.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

July Things



How can July almost be over already? Oh, summer, why do you have to be such a warp-speed time warp? I thought this would be the summer that I sat on my front porch, watching the bees pollinate the flowers, but we don't have a front porch, and I let the marigolds on my deck die from lack of water. And, well, there's been a lot of other stuff going on.



This month has been very full (I'm trying to excise the word "busy" from my vocabulary—and my mindset—and if I look at it objectively, this July hasn't been nearly as busy as in years past, when I had to go to work every day and stuff). I spent a weekend, plus one bonus evening, in the company of alumni and faculty from my MFA program, which was lovely. We talked about things like point of view and revision, publication and rejection. Things that would make people in my normal life glaze over with boredom. I imagine it's like when my husband and his building buddies get to talking about dimensional lumber and R-values.



And I had a whole entire weekend (well, just from about mid-morning Saturday to Sunday evening) all. to. my. self. And it was so amazing to be the master of my own (very, very quiet) universe. I spent a great deal of the time uploading and backing up photos, in my Sisyphean quest to open up space on my hard drive. With no one else home hogging up the bandwidth, I got a lot done. I also read. A lot. (More on this month's reading Monday.) And I only left home to pick up Saturday night's dinner and I only cooked to heat up leftovers. It was glorious.



C and M returned Sunday evening and Monday I headed up to join E and Z at their grandparents' camp. The weather had turned cool and cloudy, so after lunch, we packed up and headed to their house, where we played games and then, the next day, headed to the coast where the boys tried their hands at seine-netting (they caught a few tiny fish and some shrimp, which they had fun eating for lunch).



We've also gone swimming at various lakes and ponds, made one more trip to the beach, and raised two monarch caterpillars, which is very exciting, since it's been years since we've seen monarchs around here. I'm almost done with my 100 days of learning to paint (I'll be talking about that in my next newsletter; don't forget to sign up here). I've gotten less work done on the book than I hoped, but more than I feared. And other than book work and all that photo uploading, I've spent very little time on the computer, meaning I've ignored blogs, both mine and yours (I'm sorry). I've also rarely gotten the camera out, which you know is out of character for me. So maybe I have been watching the bees just a bit, metaphorically speaking.



We leave for vacation in a couple of days, which means it's going to be quiet around here again, but if you want, you can follow along on Instagram @andrea.lani.

What July Things have you been up to?

Monday, July 17, 2017

June Reads

Having a single post to cover all I read in 2016 was a bit overwhelming—both to write and, I'm sure, to read. So I've decided instead to do a monthly recap of books I've read, and share a little about each book. For past months, see:
January Reads 
February Reads 
March Reads 
April Reads 
May Reads
I don't have an excuse for just now getting to June's books, other than the relentless march gallop of time. How can July already be more than halfway gone?

Anyway, June was a light reading month, partly because I read more than half of a book that appeared on May's list (Mountains of the Mind), partly because I was doing a lot of reading for research, none of which added up to a whole book (but which entailed reading most of an enormous tome on grazing in the west), and partly because I made an effort to catch up on magazines and literary journals—not a success, but an effort. Here are the books I did manage to read in June:

Poetry. For my morning poetry reading, I read Sandra Steingraber's collection, Post-Diagnosis, in which many of the poems center around her experience of being diagnosed with bladder cancer in her early 20s. But they also range far and wide, from nuclear testing to the poet Audre Lorde. The book makes clear why Steingraber's nonfiction writing about environmental health (see my review of one of her books here) is so lyrical, despite her training as a scientist. She does not leave that training behind while writing poetry, however. This is the first book of poetry I've ever read that is footnoted with sources of the events and information in the poems.

I also read two chapbooks by my friend and fellow Stonecoast graduate, Amanda Johnston. I LOVE hearing Amanda read her poetry, and I was wishing for her voice as I read, but reading them was the next best thing. Her poems are smart, sexy, thought-provoking, gut-punching, and word-playful, all in one and I can't wait for her forthcoming book!

Nonfiction. I'm trying to keep a steady stream of hiking/outdoor literature going as inspiration and instruction while I write my book and I happened to find a remaindered copy of Colin Fletcher's River at a bookstore (for fifty cents!!!). I'm a big fan of The Man Who Walked Through Time, so I was excited to read River and was not disappointed. Fletcher strikes the exact right balance between description and reflection (how does he do it, I don't know) as he describes his trip from the source to the delta of the Colorado River. I was sort of thinking of him as a mild-mannered Ed Abbey as I read, and then I came to the part where he talks about Abbey, who had contacted him around the time both Desert Solitaire and The Man Who Walked Through Time were published, and how he had responded somewhat churlishly, and missed the opportunity of meeting the more cantankerous of the two (otherwise similar) men. Fletcher took the trip late-ish in life (in his 60s), and while he's fairly reticent about details, he does some looking back over his years and airing regrets, of which the Ed Abbey incident was only one.

Fiction. Okay, once I reread Crocodile on the Sandbank, I dove back into the world of Amelia Peabody, Victorian Egyptology, murder, mystery, mayhem, and other hijinks. One final, posthumous, Amelia Peabody book is coming out next week. I reread the entire series about two years ago, so I didn't think I'd need to read them again, but it turns out that I do and I'm hot on the trail of finishing the 12 or 13 that come before the forthcoming The Painted Queen (some out-of-order writing publishing took place; last time I read them in publication order; this time I'm reading them in order of events). The two I read during June are The Curse of the Pharaohs and the Mummy Case.

What are you reading this month?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Damsels and Dragons

Naturalists are, by definition, generalists, but many, if not most, have a particular area of interest about which they are most knowledgeable—birds or flowers or rocks or moss or trees. Et cetera.

Powdered dancer (Agria moesta) and Variable dancer (Agria fumipennis)
Me? I know a little about a lot of things, nothing about some things, and a lot about nothing. Birds, I'm decent at, wildflowers, trees. But I don't really have that one thing. That one area of expertise. That passion.

Pond damsel spp?


As a result, since becoming a Maine Master Naturalist, a requirement of which is to share naturalist knowledge with others, I've taught classes in nature writing and nature journaling, my area of "expertise" and a naturalist skill that can be applied to whatever interest a person has.

Ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)
That being said, one realm I've been dabbling in for many years, and which is the thing that will be my "thing" once I take the time to really get to know it, is the Odonata—dragonfly and damselfly family.

Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus)



Because they're just so darn cool.

There are 158 species of odonates in Maine alone, and some can only be identified under the so it might take me a while, but half the fun is in the chase.




Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Weekend Things ~ Water

We had a quiet weekend, the last one with nothing scheduled for the foreseeable future. E and Z had a friend over Friday night and, after we'd finished the morning housecleaning (which I very meanly made them do, despite their friend's presence) I asked them what they wanted to do and the unanimous vote was to go swimming. Which I'm always happy to do.



We made our first trip of the summer to our friends' camp on a lake where we had the beach all to ourselves. I enjoyed sitting in the shade reading as much as they enjoyed swimming and dunking and being wet and the obligatory ice cream stop on the way home.



Sunday afternoon, we headed down to wade in the river, for the first time all summer.



C took underwater video.



E and Z chased fish and crawdads.




And I stalked dragonflies and damselflies (more on that tomorrow).



On the way home, C and E visited one of the garden beds and discovered two monarch caterpillars on a nearby milkweed plant—the first monarchs we've found in years! We brought them in raise in our butterfly jar (they have a better chance of survival inside, away from predators). And I'm thrilled.



Three more reasons summer is the best season of all—water, dragonflies, and butterflies!

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