Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Have You Hugged Your Book Today?

Yesterday, fully immersed in summer reading and a hammock, I finished my first book of the summer. Upstream by Mary Oliver was so much of what I needed and didn't know I needed. I hugged this book when I finished it.
Right before the hug

I've had a yearning to escape from the city recently. So much so the BF and I have talked about buying some land and building a tiny home so we have an escape whenever want to hear crickets instead of sirens. Don't get me wrong, I am still a city person but my heart also belongs to the smell of mud after rain, cool grass, and gentle breezes.

The cats love Summer Meg

When Nate passed away and we went home to bury him on the farm where I grew up, there was a part of me that just wanted to stay there forever. I wanted to lay down on that grass where once upon a time I spent my summer vacations barefoot and cartwheeling. Land that held the barrels we stood and raced on. The expansive lawn where we roasted marshmallows over a camp fire, laid down blankets, and woke up to the heavy dew and morning sun on our cheeks.

blurry but important
When I was growing up on the farm, I was so desperate to get out and see the world. And now I look back and see the world that was always there. The world of innocence and freedom and frogs and wild leeks and a welcoming cool woods on a humid day. On the day we buried Nate there I wanted to lay down on that grass, on that land, and say, "Thank you." Thank you for carrying me then and for carrying me now. Thank you for being my foundation and for sharing your strength with my family. Thank you for holding this dear boy who had his own adventures on your gentle green. Thank you for keeping him safe and for being a place where we can always come back.

I have felt a part of my heart wanting to be out in the woods. Maybe it is a need for quiet and contemplation. So when I started reading Upstream it was as if the woods came to find me instead. Where have you been, Meg? Let's have another summer visit, shall we? 

I can't be there right not but in the pages of Mary Oliver's collection of essays, I found my calm, quiet, and space.
doing the best we can, the BF and I escaped the city
for a motorcycle trip to the wilderness

In yoga and meditation, teachers often say to "notice" what you are thinking and feeling. Don't attach any value or meaning, just observe. The purpose is to slow down, to appreciate that some things just happen. Mary Oliver uses Upstream to do just this. She makes observations of the world around her. She sees the turtle laying it's eggs in the sand, knowing they are subject to a host of prey. She does nothing to prevent this. She notices the eggs, notices the turtle, notices the prey. She, in fact, becomes a part of the circle of life when she digs up some of the nest, taking a few eggs for her breakfast. It wasn't a good or bad thing to do, it was just a thing to do.

So many big feels after this one. What ARE we
supposed to teach our kids? 

And then some

The book contains essays previously published but put together here for the first time. Some mostly about nature. Some mostly about authors who have inspired her. One about her hometown of Provincetown and the undeniable present that is change. She speaks of authors as her "friends." Friends she has never met because they lived only in their writing. You may have heard of them: Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, to name a few. Reading her words about them made me want to be their friend too. And hers.

cried on this page. yep, page 4.
Don't resent the change. Just notice it. 

I found myself taking pictures of many pages in this book and I sent them to friends, read them aloud to others. I need to return the book to the library but I think this one will make it's way on to my shelf permanently.
urban oasis. from my morning jog

preach, Mary Oliver

Upstream was the perfect beginning to my summer. It was a reminder. "You must never stop being whimsical," she writes. "And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility of your life."

Look back, with depth of heart, and look upstream, with courage.

message received

side note: I recently discovered this song on Spotify and I am thinking of making it my theme song for the summer. It belongs with this book.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Summer, At Long Last

I am 6 days shy of wrapping up my first year back in kindergarten. It was a wild ride and I have learned a lot, to say the least. My favorite pastime of reading came to a screeching halt - or more of a slow crawl. I found myself checking out books from the library, getting less than halfway through, and then I'd have to return them because I was out of renewals. Seriously, 4 renewals and 20 pages read? Not my idea of reading for pleasure.

This summer will be my first ever where I actually enjoy my entire summer break without working. It's been 12 years and I am looking forward to the travel, the sleeping in, but most of all, the reading. Here is my summer list, including some books that were once returned to the library and I will now attempt to read again.

The Nix by Nathan Hill

One thing different from my previous summers of reading is that this summer I have a long list of grown up books to read. Perhaps that is because I spent the last 8 months mostly in the company of 5 and 6 year olds? I started The Nix and returned it but loved every page of the 30 or so I read. I'm on a waiting list again, only 52 ahead of me instead of the 352 previously, and can't wait to jump back in. This story is about a man reconnecting with his mother. You will notice a theme in my summer books - family. I'm devouring family stories this year. It launched with Moonglow by Michael Chabon, which was one of the only books I finished this school year. I feel like it's such honest storytelling and also brave. I know I feel conflicted about putting my family in my stories and just where to draw the line between public and private information. Family stories toe that line on the regular.

Shared Tables: Family Stories and Recipes from Poona to LA by Kaumudi Marathe

I know her!!!!  When I lived in LA I taught Kaumudi's daughter, Keya. Kaumudi and I share a love of literature and I watched with envy (over social media) as she worked on this book. I yearn to be a writer and Kaumudi just straight up did the damn thing. Brava!! Kaumudi is a chef, a teacher, a runner, a fantastic mother, and a writer - of course. I can't wait to jump into this book and try my hand at the recipes in the back. If you love food and family stories, you will want to add this one to your summer reading list as well.

Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver

I thought I discovered this book through Sarah Jessica Parker's Instagram and I'msorrynotsorry. SJP is an avid reader and she posts pictures of books she reads. She is the only celebrity I follow on Instagram. Heck, I don't even follow most family members and friends. But her instagram account is how I discovered Sweetbitter and The Nix. I looked back to see when she posted about this book and it turns out - she didn't. So it must've been some other source on social media because honestly, that's my best resource for finding good books. I mostly follow readers and authors and publishers on Twitter because that's what fills me up. So anyway, I have no idea what this book is about but I saw it on the interwebs, I requested it in February and this week my number was called. I will probably read this first because it won't renew with a wait list. I'll let you know all about it! (Well, who am I kidding. My blogging status has been basically nothing so that might not actually happen. But come find me in person and I'll let you know.)

my grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry by Fredrik Backman

My mother suggested I read this family story. Backman is the same author who wrote A Man Called Ove. Side note: I tried to listen to A Man Called Ove during a recent sitting for a new tattoo. It was a nice distraction over the length of 6 hours but I honestly couldn't tell you what happened in that story. I heard it's good though. My grandmother is delightful. I started it already but will probably put it down when I pick up Upstream so I can make the two week deadline to finish that. This is a story of a young girl and her aging grandmother who doesn't really like to follow the rules the world has made up. I can definitely relate to that. :) I've been reading this in small bits and pieces over the last few weeks now that school is coming to a close. I can feel full reading pleasure in my near future.

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

Alexie's memoir comes! It is on order at my library and I have already requested a hold. I've loved all the books of his that I've read thus far and can't wait to read the story of his life. I'm not going to read any reviews, just diving in to this one.

Theft by Finding Diaries (1977 - 2002) by David Sedaris

In Sedaris's latest, he reveals entries from his diaries that have inspired his writing. My fondest Sedaris moments in life include listening to his Santaland Diaries with our mother every Christmas and listening to When You are Engulfed in Flames on my first drive from Boston to LA. He cracks me up, which is something we all could use right now. Looking forward to some giggles with this pick.

Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I pick one every year. Gabo is the best summer read because his stories emanate heat. I did this marvelous thing - decided years back to read one Marquez book every summer - followed by a pretty dumb thing - never record which books I've read. I may have read this book before. I guess it is time to write them down so I know which ones I have left. I should be pretty close to reading them.

That's it! Notably missing - teacher books and kid's books. I haven't even begun to look into what to read right now in children's literature so that list will be forthcoming.

Also, this poem is perfect. I plan on getting it framed.

And, how to read a book a week. I read a lot of these but I sort of like his idea - don't treat reading like a precious thing. Read it, it makes sense.

Getting the back deck ready for a summer of reading.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Dance Friday, Revisted - UPDATED

It's been a minute since I've posted a Dance Friday video. Let's dance. (Recorded by my mom, from over the winter holiday, featuring myself and niece and nephew. We sort of picked a long song but it has a great finish.)

Updated! Saw this video just now and had to add it as well. My original video is below.

Go dance!

In With the New

Ahh, how to post about books in a climate of political disaster? How are you friends? I read a tweet the other day that said,

Man, is that true. I've been finding it hard to blog, knit, and do other important stuff because of all the anger and hate in our world right now. I know I'm not the only one and I know it isn't one sided. Today I was given the gift of a second snow day and I am taking the time to create, rather than ruminate. Hopefully this will help. But please, try to take care of yourselves.

I missed posting about all the new awards this year from the ALA back in January. Man-oh-man was there some amazing diversity. Check out the full list of winners here.

Last year, due to limited book shelf space and limited funds, and, let's face it, complete dedication to public libraries, I vowed to check out more books and buy less. I would reserve buying for books I knew I would treasure forever and ever. This holiday season, I was blessed to receive a gift card to a local bookstore and the pressure of what to buy was almost overwhelming. I've read SOOOO many amazing books in the last year. How to choose??? Here's what I ended up with.

Two Books on Writing
Back in November, I picked up and put down two books at the Strand Bookstore when I visited in NY. I am hell bent on writing more this year and I'd heard Stephen King's On Writing and Strunk and White's Elements of Style recommended over and over again. I decided to check them out from the library first and good lord was I blown away. On Writing is definitely in my top favorite books of all time. I've never ever read anything by Stephen King before but I want to hang out with him after reading this. The end chapters about his car accident hit a little close to home but I just cried my way through it and was the better for it in the end. And Elements of Style is something I love, but moving a lot slower through. I'm glad I decided to patronize the library first for these two books but definitely glad I now own them.

I started this book at a coffee shop with a chocolate chip cookie. Both were delicious.

One Picture Book
I know, I know. You can't judge a book by it's cover. And you probably can't judge a book by it's title either. Or at least you aren't supposed to. But folks, I buy wine based on it's label so I'm not apologizing. Also, the Steads (Erin and Philip) are my children's literature crush so I'll scoop up just about anything they make together or on their own. The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles had me at hello. The cover, the title, and the illustrator made it that much easier. I checked it out from the library, read it three times and said to the BF, "Let's go to the bookstore now."

This book is about a guy who lives by the ocean. His job is to look for ocean bottles with messages, uncork them, and deliver the message to the person intended. For real. I read this book and thought, "THIS should have been the book I wrote." It's a brilliant idea and brilliantly delivered. The story is sweet like early spring and the illustrations made my heart bloom in the cold of winter. I brought the library copy to school and I am keeping my copy safe at home.

I will love this picture forever. I hope to be her someday. 

Love that the text is written on a paper that could fit inside a bottle.

The ocean is all over this book. 

Color knows no boundaries - perfect

If you need a little love in your life, definitely pick this one up. And then go do art. It will make things better for you and everyone else. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Risky Business

The children's literature world is all abuzz with possible contenders for this year's big awards. On Monday, January 23rd, at 8 am EST, the American Library Association will once again announce winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, and many other awards. If you want to get a closer look at some hot contenders, just hop on Twitter for a few minutes and follow hashtags with those award names.

This week I read two new picture books. One has a some buzz around it for a possible Caldecott (illustration award) and the other was on a lot of lists as favorites. Both books involve real people who took great risks. Check them out!

A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785 written by Matthew Olshan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Way back in 1785, two frenemies (I'll wait while you roll your eyes at my lingo...) decided to take the first international flight on a hot air balloon. Dr. John Jeffries and Jean-Pierre Blanchard decided to cross the English Channel (La Manche!) from England to France. After a dispute over who would get to ride, they both hop in, dogs in tow, and fly away. About halfway through the flight there is trouble and the two men lose altitude fast. When they have thrown everything overboard, including most of the clothes they are wearing, and the basket of the balloon is floating dangerously close to water, they decide the last step is to pee overboard. Voila! They are saved, the balloon takes flight again and they reach France safe and in their underwear. The mostly true part of this story comes from a few tidbits added here and there. But yes, they actually did pee over the side of the balloon.

Sophie Blackall is a dynamite illustrator and if you want to win a Caldecott she is a good buddy to have on your side. Last year she won for her gorgeous illustrations in Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear. Sophie warmed my heart over with her illustrated Missed Connections: Love, Lost and Found in which she illustrates some of her favorite "Missed Connections" posted to Craigslist.

In 1785, even a sheep had flown

Blackall uses a mix of text and speech bubbles

Oh, yes, they did!

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe

I remember watching the movie Basquiat when I was in high school. I was fascinated by, what seemed to me at the time, a rebel in the art scene. Being a young caucasian female in rural America, the art scene of NYC and a Puerto-Rican/Haitian artist was - well - other worldly.  I only heard of Basquiat in subsequent years in bits and pieces - I admit my dedication to the art world was limited. A few weeks ago, my interest was piqued when I saw Javaka Steptoe's picture book about Basquiat make it's way through my Twitter feed.

In this book, Steptoe uses his own art, mimicking the style of Basquiat, to tell the story of how this young man rose to fame. Through tragedy - a car crash and his mother's mental illness - Basquiat uses art to give his strong emotions a home and a voice. Basquiat presses on despite setbacks to become the famous artist he yearned to become. His short life is narrated in rhythmic prose. Steptoe explains that the art for this book is painted on pieces of wood found all over NYC, inviting his readers "to create using the materials, people, and places in their environment." He adds that by blending the style of Basquiat with his own, " goal was to show how his work has inspired me and to give young readers a sense of his artistic style."

I've seen multiple musings on the internet that Radiant Child is a heavy contender for the Caldecott this year.  I am happy to see another work of diversity added to the world of children's literature. I am excited to see a new face on the biography scene. Huge shout-out to Steptoe for this radiant book.

Basquiat's inspiration was the world around him

Basquiat's mother is taken away
and his heart breaks

Basquiat with his mother in the background
and his world of inspiration in the foreground

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017, I'm Ready

Happy 2017 friends!

I am one of those faithful resolution type people, as you may recall. In 2016, in what should have been a sign of things to come, I forgot to blog about my resolution. Despite the challenging year it was, I did meet my resolution. It was quite cheesy but some of you editing types have reaped the benefits, unknowingly, as you read my blog. (No, I did not master the art of avoiding passive voice. Maybe this year.)

My sister and BF are two such people. It drove them crazy that I always put two spaces after every sentence when I typed. Have you heard of this? When I learned to type, back in the day, we were taught to put two spaces after every period. This harkens back to the days of typewriters. Since it is no longer needed, using two spaces is just some sort of "old habits die hard" thing. Of course, some people feel as if the whole debate is no big deal. After doing some research, I decided 2016 was going to be the year I joined the one-space team. It was a little tricky at first. My rhythm was slightly stilted when typing. However, now that I am used to it, I am back to quickly clicking keys and whammo! another New Year's Resolution has been met.

My grandma got this rocking chair in 1973 (we think)
and I brought it home this year. She once said to me, "I'd rather
have a rocking chair than a bed." 

On to bigger and brighter 2017. My resolutions this year take on a more personal nature, so pardon me for not sharing. I will share with you some other things I would like to accomplish this year. These aren't resolutions, more like, "Dang, wouldn't it be cool if I could..." followed up by, "Why not this year?!"

Here's a beginner list and my guess is it will grow.

  1. I'd like to read 30 minutes every day (not riding the T to work has severely cut down on my reading time. Shame, shame, Meg)
  2. More dates. 2016 threw me into a bit of a lonely place. My heart was healing and not quite ready to give it all to the relationship. So, dates are back. We're going for once a month.
  3. Fly fishing! I've wanted to try this ever since my resolution to do 60 new things. Maybe this will be the year!
  4. Learn to chop onions really fast. My friend Afton is going to help me with this.
  5. Learn to cook more than one poached egg at a time. I love them! It takes too long! Afton (new link! She gets two!) says she will help with this as well.
  6. No summer camp. I've worked at the same summer camp every year since 2010. Mostly I did it because my gypsy lifestyle always left me in debt. Almost all my debt is paid off (just those pesky college loans, but, meh) so I think I can skip it. Also, the sis and I launched a small business recently (more here) and I might sell our wares over the summer instead. Or read. Or sit in a hammock. 
Afton and I, and 6 other friends, rang in the new year together!
We give 2017 a big ol' thumbs up.

That's about it for now. Do you do resolutions? Or are you one of those people who scoffs at the idea? My sister's bf says his resolution is to get annoyed at the people who make resolutions to work out and then crowd the gym for the month of January. (Email me and I'll let you know which gym to avoid!) Ha!

However you have decided to march into 2017, I hope you have a year filled with love and life lived to the very brim, and then maybe overflowing just a bit. If for you, 2017 leaves you some sadness, soak that up too. Someday you will emerge ready to begin again.

Thank you 2017 fortune cookie,
I think I will