Spring Fling writing

Thank you to Kaitlyn and Ciara for creating this super fun writing contest. This story came as I lay in bed at night, hoping in vain to go back to sleep.

THE FIRST FROG OF SPRING

Winter had been snowy, cold, dark and long.
Every day I asked Mom,
“When will spring be here?”

Every day she told me,
“You’ll know it’s spring when our friends return.”

I waited and watched and listened, day after day.

First came Robin, singing on my front lawn,
with dark-eyed Junco scratching up our garden beds.

I stretched my itchy arms towards the window and smiled.
The earth was coming back to life.

Next, I saw Squirrel hopping across the street
and scampering up and down trees.

My legs jiggled and jittered.
The weather was warming up, ready for outdoor action.

And finally, one warm evening,
standing on the back porch,
breathing in the sunset,
I heard:

Greep, greep, greep.
Low and loud and strong,
the first Frog of spring sang its song.

I was awake, alive and active
and spring was here.

Adorable tree frog. https://wifflegif.com/gifs/581795-whites-tree-frog-amphibian-gif

Writing plans for 2022

This winter break has, once again, been a time of reflection and refocusing on my writing goals. I happened upon an excellent tweet thread by Jennifer Laughran:

The best advice if you want to write for kids is, GO TO THE LIBRARY AND READ 100 BOOKS PUBLISHED IN YOUR CATEGORY IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS. Put your favorites in a special pile and buy your own copies of those so you can write in them. Tear them apart. Why and HOW do they work? 1/5

and have decided it is exactly the writing learning I need to do, in parallel with actually writing, to move me forward.

Since then, I’ve read over 200 picture books and almost 100 middle grade books, along with my adult reading. I’m recording details about them in a spreadsheet and typing out the text of some of my favourite picture books (so far, this comes to brilliant 5600 words) to help me see more clearly what makes the excellent ones so good.

I’ve learned so much already. I’ve been both en- and dis-couraging (so much good stuff out there! I want to create! I’m not good enough!). I’ve clarified the type of book I want to write (lyrical, tight, engaging, sometimes humorous). Comp titles have emerged through my intensive reading.

I’ve done some initial analysis on the books but as I finish the last few in this current library round, look forward to going back for deeper analysis.

All this reading also seems to have propelled my writing, as I’ve been waking up with new picture book ideas, and lots of writing energy.

Highly recommend!

Heading out into the world

Today was the first time I went somewhere (aside from a walk) since we started self-isolation a week ago. And boy, was it a big outing! There were some things I needed to do, and I was able to bundle them into one trip. It was not comfortable being out and going places. I’m glad to be home, and grateful for those people who are out and working.

First stop was the post office. We have some food parcels and a cheque coming, so this stop is important. Our entire town gets mail through the downtown office. They have had big signs up for days about their Covid procedures, which was reassuring. I walked confidently up to the door with my alcohol spray bottle and wipe. Sprayed the handle down, wiped it, and entered. I was able to stay away from the other woman checking her post box, and collected the one letter we had (thanks sister/cousin!).

Next stop was for gas, as we were almost out. The Co-Op station had been closed last time I went, but fortunately was open and almost empty. I used the spray bottle and cloth here as well on the touch screen, keypad and pump … which was really a mess, and I wasn’t able to spray or swab it off properly. Back in the car, I cleaned off my card and sanitized my hands. And the steering wheel, and my phone again, and threw the cloth onto the floor for washing.

Stop #3 was a grocery pick-up at the local natural grocery store. They were amazing and met all customers with a smile, hand sanitizer, and clarity over where to go in the store. They pushed my order out for me on a cart, and I then slipped back in for a few more fresh vegetables–we are trying hard to limit our trips, and so getting more made sense in my head. Last night, Spouse hooked up another small refrigerator we have on hand for the guest house we’re fixing up, so we had space for it all. Purchase, sanitize, head back to the car.

My friend came by then to pick up her portion of a dry-goods order we had made together a few weeks ago. So good to see her, and strange, to talk from a long distance away about really hard things.

I finished my day out with a walk in a beautiful park. I haven’t been getting out to exercise as much and don’t like meeting people on trails. The park was nearly empty, and I was able to enjoy peaceful trails, the river, a talk with my sister and a writing podcast.

Though I was super careful when out, and cleaned things multiple times, I felt I had to wash again when I was home. I showered, laundered all the clothes I’d been wearing, and finally felt the calm relief of being home. Husband was amazing about cleaning off and putting away most of our big food order. It was strange to be out, good to be home.

Finally: thank you so much to those keeping places open. Post offices, grocery stores, gas stations, are so essential right now.

So how is your apocalypse fantasy playing out?

Though I’m not proud of it, I have felt a thrill contemplating life in a time of disaster. The scenario involves a homesteady home, a capable and loving partner with survival smarts, a luxurious garden, and lots of books. And yarn. And, of course, internet, because if we’re bunking down in our homestead, struggling to survive, I want to relax at the end of the week with a good movie.

Though the current pandemic isn’t the disaster I imagined, it has a lot of its features: widespread social disruption, uncertainty, rapidly changing circumstances, and the possibility of death. I don’t know when the taken-for-grantedness of how we live has been so thoroughly defenestered. The level of unease I hear from everyone I know speaks to how scary this situation is. The worst-case scenario is dire, and social responses don’t seem strong enough to avert this.

However, we are not there yet (Important note! This does NOT mean that we should ignore the current guidelines about strict social distancing. Everyone should STAY HOME unless they absolutely need to fulfill an essential duty, such as getting groceries–perhaps once per week, and less frequently would be good; and please, for the well-being of all, stop socializing with each other. And stop letting your kids play together. PLEASE.) …

To pick up again … We are not there yet, and I’m amazed at how livable life is right now. My spouse and I are able to work at home (me) and next door (him, on an empty house). We are SO VERY LUCKY to have a house with a yard, in a small town, with access to nature. It’s spring, when anything is possible and the sun makes life good. We have books (do we have books!), craft supplies, and gazillions of fun things on the internet thanks to all the beautiful people making beautiful learning opportunities for kids. In some ways, this situation fits really well with some of the rosier survival images I had.

And yet. It’s only been a bit more than a week since this started. Our area hasn’t yet been seriously hit with the outbreak. Our daughter is doing fine, but it’s lonely for her as an only child. We are in a privileged economic situation, but I don’t know how long this will last. If any health problems come up, I worry about going to the doctor or hospital. We are starting to put in our garden, but we aren’t farmers. We can’t grow a year’s worth of food in our yard, try though we might.

And it’s not just about us. We are so, so lucky, but others aren’t. When I first heard the directives to stay home, my heart went immediately to people who experience domestic violence. I can’t imagine the horror of closing horizons, trapped with someone who is not safe. People without homes, as well, are in precarious situations, and I don’t know whether government will step up quickly enough to help. And the countless other situations, of curtailed income, loneliness, and missed opportunities.

In short: lesson learned. My apocalypse fantasy was thrilling as a fantasy; I’m grateful we’re relatively well-positioned to get through this period; but this is not the world I want to live in, for myself or everyone else.

Ready for isolation weekend

I am worn out … the information overload from this week is taking its toll. So glad for Friday night, and the weekend.

Some random thoughts from the week:

Is anyone else starting a list of things to do and get, urgently, once this is past? The list is on my desk, and I’m ready to hit the stores hard once it is completely clear to do so. Because, you know, what if this comes back?

6 feet doesn’t feel like enough distance. I don’t want to breathe anyone’s air.

I’m so grateful for everything online. Daughter has been drawing up a storm thanks to various streaming art classes, and I’ve felt connected in a way that has really helped.

I have more anxiety than I realized about this. It’s easy to see it as remote, even now. But it’s here. Breathe, sleep, walk, yoga, hug (I’m so lucky to live with family), and trust.

I’m so glad for every stock-up we did in the past.

My urge to renovate is HIGH. All this time indoors … fortunately, as we’re in the middle of projects, we have the supplies we need to do quite a bit. If not a full addition.

Growing our own food no longer is a fun hobby. I am so down with the need to produce food hyper-locally. Relatedly, we stopped at a farm stand yesterday and will definitely be doing this a lot more.

I wish we could get everyone to STOP what they are doing and stay home, all the time. Please just stay home.

Sending love, peace, warm thoughts to all.

Week one of our confinement* (photos to come)

Let’s start with the Before.

We were in Vancouver for a few days during Daughter’s spring break. We saw many beautiful, educational things, at at the Naam twice (she fell in love with their vegan Caesar salad) and got some glorious outdoor time. And we were very aware of what was happening around us. We stayed away from people and they stayed away from us. There were event cancellation notices in the hotel lobby, and sold-out hand sanitizer (we lucked into a last package–had planned to make some, but then we left home a day early).

And now, the Transition.

We got back to the Island on Friday night. We had planned to stay in Vancouver for the weekend, but our hosts weren’t well. Normally we would wave this off and visit anyways. We chose to be responsible: things now aren’t normal.

Those days away, the ferry ride, the first days back, we were feeling out the seriousness of the new now and what “social distancing” really means. Basics like how far away do you stand. What can you touch when you go shopping. Should you go shopping? What people you can spend time with. Should you spend time with anyone? We’re still working through these questions.

We were so glad to be home. First thing back was cleaning. Washing the clothes we wore, especially the jackets. Organizing the pantry/laundry room. Cleaning out the house. I’m grateful we did that: M took a big load of recyclables, clutter, garbage away and we had room to breathe again.

Then: stocking up. What is the difference between stocking up and hoarding? When I shop, I normally go big. I don’t like running out, I don’t like making frequent store trips, and it is soothing to have an extra few jars of peanut butter (organic, smooth, in glass jars if possible not for snobby reasons but because plastic increasingly creeps me out) available, given how quickly we go through it. I did buy more than usual, though I did not clear the shelves. If we’re also trying to avoid frequent trips to stores, this seems to me to be a smart idea.

Things were interesting in the neighbourhood. A friend came over to play with Alya. I didn’t think it was the best idea, but didn’t feel clear enough to say no yet, until I did.

Daughter and I were able to go for a glorious walk with friends on Sunday. Chilly but sunny; trees, river, birds, sword ferns, Oregon grape. Talk and play and connection, but no hugs. However, keeping kids 6 feet apart is easier said than done. We stopped by the organic grocery store after that; ran into a friend (not literally! We didn’t even hug, which sucked); and “stocked up” in a non-obsessive way.

And through the weekend, as our reading and feedback from other friends and observations and check-ins began to cohere into a clear understanding, we knew that it was time to self-isolate.

Our Confinement: Week One

Monday: Taxes. Why in the world would I do my taxes when the world is ending?

I was tricked into it. I had to find a receipt which ended up in the tax papers; once they were all over the floor I figured I might as well sort them; once they were sorted, I figured I might as well connect with the accountant, who arranged to pick them up; and then I realized I had a WHOLE PILE of additional information to get together before she came by. Daughter was amazing, keeping busy with an Usborne book on computers, worksheets on binary numbers, and piano composition.

Tuesday’s main event was a family walk through the woods behind our house. We’d never explored this trail before and it was lovely, in spite of the evidences of past logging.

Wednesday: Who knows?? I was working (at home). Daughter was doing stuff … including a bunch of crafts from a “Seasonal Crafts” book and finishing off reading “Heaven to Betsy.”

And Thursday. Yesterday. Another day of work-at-home, with daughter figuring out things to keep busy. More crafts, more books. My mind a lot on what is happening, what we need to be doing, and why we are not doing more to help others. I wish we were more connected with our neighbours so that there was some context for connecting.

And then we had to head into town to pick up some food I’d ordered before it got shipped back to the supplier. I called ahead to figure out pick-up protocols and they assured me I could knock on the door and they would come and check my ID there; that no signature was required; and they could bring the boxes to me on a dolly. None of these things happened. I went in; the person working tried to grab my ID to check it (I pulled it back; and I feel for him, because those address stickers are ridiculously tiny!); they took forever to find the boxes; and I carried them out myself, one by one, to the jeep.

We also stopped to get some diatomaceous earth from a garden store because we have ANTS. One nearby house had ants as well and M and I just saw the horrendous damage they did: part of the frame are completely destroyed. I’m amazed the house is still standing! So anyway, we need to deal with this NOW. I called in the morning to verify the same: do they have it; and how do I get it. Then called from the parking lot. The person answering seemed surprised that I would ask her to bring a bag to the till, and put out when I asked her to bring up a second bag. But regardless, the transaction went smoothly.

M and I are getting clear about how we feel we need to respond right now. I’ve never felt more clear on the boundaries we are setting as individuals and a family, even while those continue to shift. I’m getting better at asking uncomfortable questions: are you sanitized? will you do this for me? will you spend time with me? Practicing clear statements: I would appreciate you doing that. We are not going out right now. No guests in our house. I hope this lesson of unapologetic personal choices lingers.

*Think Sense & Sensibility.

Thanks to Anne Bromley for this article from UVA.

Get your kids to harvest: Seed saving with my daughter

Ever since I taught courses on environmental geography, I’ve been deeply appreciative of the deeply subversive, transformative, connective power of saving seeds.

Seeds are such miracles. Varying in size and colour, some with common features while others are distinctive, containing the pattern for entire plants: stem, leaves, roots, flowers, fruit … all in this speck.

hands harvesting lettuce seeds from pods into dish on table
Hard at work

Harvesting seeds also reminds me of the generosity of nature. Yesterday I cut the top off of a lettuce plant that had gone to seed, and today, my daughter and I harvested its seeds. This was just the seeds from a single plant, and not even all of them, and not even all of them were fully formed. And we have hundreds of seeds. That single plant could produce hundreds of potential lettuce plants next year, which could go on to multiply astronomically. What amazing bounty!

small metal bowl with lettuce seeds and chaff
Seeds, plus chaff and wind lifty bits (still lots of technical stuff to learn).

We are looking forward to a crop next year. And also gathering many more seeds: mustard so far, arugula and others to come.

First, clean it all out. Decluttering adventures restarted

Things I am trying to accept about myself: I can’t think if there is mess around me. I wish I could power through, but no.

Thinking is really important. There are many, many things I want to do. I’ve been trying to get to them for months. That I haven’t is down to many things, but my inability to have a clear mind owing to the ongoing clutter situation in our home is part of it.

Kitchen counters and stove full of dishes and food.
The kitchen never sleeps.

It’s not that we have SO very much. We have got rid of lots of things lots of times. I’ve definitely sent bags and boxes out, and dropped off piles of books in little libraries (without picking up any replacement books! Most of the time … and only once grabbing back a book I still wanted. Not bad?). But still, the piles and covered surfaces and too-full shelves are psychologically overwhelming to me.

Related self-realizations: though there are lots of things I like to have, I’m happier with less. A smaller volume of things brings me more joy than any individual item I could own. Getting rid of stuff and creating space releases my spirits more than acquiring new things to fill the space. In other words, overall, my life will be happier if I stop acquiring and start saying good-bye to more things.

Admitting this, and looking ahead to what fall will bring, my spouse and I have decided: time to make getting-done and clearing-out our priorities. I might as well admit that I simply am not going to write in any meaningful way until we have properly sifted through our possessions, found a home for everything (within reason, for now), and ticked off most of the outstanding items on our list.

Wow, just writing that feels AMAZING.

So, today, I re-tackled my clothes. I’ve gone through my clothes many, many, many, many times. So many. So many times, that today, all I could find to let go of were an old sports bra and a worn-out nightgown. And one scarf I’m going to somehow let go of. And a back pack that doesn’t fit comfortably. I think.

Somehow, not getting rid of clothes–even though I don’t have much–still felt unsatisfactory. Like I missed something. So I did a final walk-through before bed, touched every item and asked, “do I actually want to put this on my body?” Amazingly, the answer was yes. After I did this final check, I felt a surge of satisfaction. I believe I can now call this category complete! My understanding of joy may still be nascent (and I have thoughts about self-honesty and personal growth related to that), but I think I’ve got it for the clothes.

Clothes drawer with folded clothing
Shirts, perhaps not perfectly folded but manageable.

Starting Again

 Family love
Family love

Three years. It’s been three years since I last posted on this blog. What have I been doing since then? Let’s see. Moving to an island. Starting up a full-time job, and giving up stay-at-home mom life. Purchasing a home with my spouse and supporting him to do a full year of renos. Moving to that house and working from a distance and also commuting intermittently. And now, finally, taking almost 3 weeks off from work, while my daughter is off school and my spouse isn’t too busy with work, to have what feels like the first real break since we moved.

The December lull is always feels like the time for reflection and recommitment. With the short days, swirling weather, time to connect with friends and relatives and closed doors on many businesses and institutions, it has all the elements to help me retreat, reenergize and prepare to reemerge.

The things I want are the same as I’ve craved for years. A loving family life. Being of service in my community. Meaningful friendships. A positive parenting relationship. Creative engagement. And writing—always writing. Even if I try to give up the dream of it, the compulsion to put words together seems to live in my core. I’d even say it’s part of my identity. And I’d go as far as to say it feels like part of my purpose in life.

Writing, therefore, is what I need to start again. I know I need to do it regularly. I know that I need to organize my time, my ideas and my physical space to make it happen. I know that I need encouragement and accompaniment, because I’m full of doubts and other work always seems to take priority.

Beginning writing again isn’t a new year’s resolution: it’s something I’ve been working towards over the past weeks and months, that I have been doing, however sporadically, in the intermittent spaces of time I’ve found, and that I must embrace, I must pursue, if I want to bring the meaning I crave into the next decades of my life. It’s what I need to do now so that I can look back in a year, 5, 30, and know that I actually had the self-knowledge and courage to do what I know I need to do and be grateful for the life I made.

More to come. Thanks for being here.

 From a lookout, on a fall family hike.
From a lookout, on a fall family hike.