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Monday, July 6, 2015

Ordinary pleasures, and a post borrowed from the incomparable Theodora Goss

  I have a day off today. A brilliant, beautiful, probably uninteresting, definitely uncomplicated day off. I have a day off tomorrow as well. Completely empty, full of promise, loaded with things I could do, might even do, probably won't do. How perfectly wonderful.
  I have been so busy lately: working scheduled hours, picking up extra days when coworkers need a day off (I love those girls, and am always happy to lend a hand, but I think I need to work on saying no...hence my two days off in a row!!), writing blog posts (not here, sorry, but check out SageWoman), polishing finished manuscripts, beginning new ones (visiting the Arctic with a walrus named Wallace), and finally, struggling with a decision that will most definitely affect the girls I work with, as well as my family. (That has finally been resolved, thank the gods. A decision that takes three weeks to reach has most definitely been carefully thought over.)
  So what will I do with my two wonderful days off? All three of my children are home today as well. (as I type this they are video gaming. Not what I intend for the entire day.) We have chores to do: laundry, finding the boys' room under the littlest one's toys, baking chocolate chip brownies...okay, that's not a chore. Running along the edge of town by the river is a beautiful bike path, and I think we need some outside time today. I had thought about visiting a local college museum, but sadly, they are all closed on Mondays. Well, we have tomorrow as well.
  In other words, today I am going to do nothing but enjoy ordinary pleasures. Tidying my house and tending my back step garden. Laughing with my children. Listening to Mister G as we clean the boys' room. Singing 'Sneaky Chihuahua' at the top of our voices as we mix brownies. Snapping photos and picking wildflowers on our walk along the river. Pressing wildflowers for Liam's 'Leaf Book,' as he calls it. (I call it an herbarium.) Afternoon tea taken on the back steps, shaded by the grapevine, listening to bees buzz about the tomato and squash blossoms.
  Usually on my days off I'm zipping around, trying to get as much done as I can so things are sorted out for the days I have to work. The result? I'm grumpy, overtired, and just plain snarky. (That's not the word my daughter used, but I'm trying to be PG here.) On reviewing my journal entries from those days, I see a litany of complaints. What good is a day off if you don't enjoy it? Beginning today, and hopefully continuing along from now on, I intend to take my days off in as leisurely a manner as I can. Sort my earrings and toss strays into the craft box. Make an Anthropologie style bracelet. (Thank you Bev @ Flamingo Toes...I love your stuff!) Take the time to make stuffed zucchini for dinner...mmmmmm. Write more. Take photos of everything that catches my eye. You get the idea. Share some of yours, if you would. I'd love to hear from you. In the meantime, I will leave you with this beautifully thoughtful post from Theodora Goss' blog, followed with links to places that are relevant to this post, and yes, a recipe for stuffed zucchini. Enjoy!


Ordinary Pleasures

Last summer, I spent a month in Budapest, taking a class in Hungarian. This summer, I organized my taxes.
I’m not kidding, I really did organize my taxes. It’s such a relief, having all that paperwork organized into individual folders, appropriately labeled. I know, it’s a lot less exotic than flying to Budapest. But this summer has been about trying to catch up on all the ordinary things that, to be honest, I’ve neglected. I’ve lived in my apartment for a year, and it’s still not entirely decorated. Granted, decorating takes a while, at least the way I do it, but still . . . I’d like to have a nice place to live in. And that takes putting in the time, doing the work. So this summer is about doing the ordinary things: working, organizing, catching up.
What I’ve found, staying in Boston this summer, is the pleasure of the ordinary. The pleasure, for example, of watching the procession of flowers. Luckily, I live in the midst of gardens: there are gardens in front of the brownstones all up and down my street, more formal gardens in city squares or close to children’s playgrounds, and even conservation areas where I can go for walks beside rivers or ponds, under tall trees. Just now the roses and clematis are almost over, although this week I still found some perfect roses in a formal rose garden not too far from me. This was one of them:
Rose 1 1000
The lilies have started blooming, and the linden trees are in flower. I’m lucky to live on a street with linden trees, so I can smell the sweet odor every time I step outdoors. It seems to fall from the trees . . . Every time one type of flower fades, I feel sad because it means that summer is passing. But at the same time, it’s fascinating to see them, like the best fashion show ever. Nothing we create is as beautiful as the flowers. Mother Nature is, after all, the greatest artist. And I love walking around the city, looking at the old buildings with their beautiful details. Architecture lost both beauty and detail for a while — we were poorer for that, and are just starting to find those two things again.
Park 1 1000
What we really lost, I think, is the understanding that beauty and joy come from the small, the ordinary. Take those enormous contraptions of steel and glass created by the most famous contemporary architects. They are rarely beautiful, and they rarely give us joy. If we got rid of every single one of them, it would not impact our lives in a significant way. Compare them to a honeybee, so small and intricate. Isn’t the bee more beautiful? And if we got rid of every single one of them . . . well then, we’d be in trouble.
I don’t know what happened to our sense of the small and ordinary, but I think we need to get it back. Recently, I started watching a television show from the 1960s, and I was startled by how small things were: hotel rooms, women’s clothes, international crime syndicates. (All right, if you must know, it’s Mission Impossible. I love watching a show that is almost pure plot . . .) There are ways in which we live in a better world. No Cold War, for one. But I think as we progress, we always lose something. In this case, at least, I think we can get it back.
After I went to the rose garden, I walked to the conservancy I mentioned, which is a wetland. There is a path through the woods . . . (I thought this would be a good place for a metaphor.)
Park 3 1000
We can make a conscious decision to reclaim the small, the ordinary. We can care more about honeybees than skyscrapers. Knitting than international finance. (Don’t get me wrong: you should try to understand international finance. We need to understand what is being done to our world, if only because voting intelligently is one of those small things that make a large impact, like honeybees.) We can learn to cook or play an instrument. We can organize our taxes. Clean our bathrooms. (That’s on the agenda for today.) There is so much meaning in those small acts, and the truth is, when we do something large, the meaning of it usually comes from the small components anyway. If we write a novel, the meaning comes from all those hours we spent at our computer, trying to find the right word. From each edit. From the lessons we learned about ourselves while writing.
Park 4 1000
Aren’t the ferns gorgeous? I had to take a picture of them as I walked through the forest. It was like walking through a green world, made up of all the small things: beech leaves rustling overhead, white trunks of birches, ferns by the path, rabbits hopping under the bushes, looking at me as though wondering what I was doing in their living room, and the magnificent blue heron that was standing in the pond, with a blue heron reflected in the pond water beneath him. I thought, I’d like to have something like this, a connection of this sort, every day of my life.
Then I went home and did the small things there: made dinner, finished some sewing I’d been putting off for a while, intimidated as always by my sewing machine because tension is so complicated . . . but no, my Singer behaved perfect. And then I did something I’m really quite proud of: I figured out how to use my new mat cutting board and cut some mats. It took a while to get used to, but look:
Mat 1000
That’s a small card by the artist Virginia Lee, of a weeping Onion Man. I found the square frame at Goodwill, and I thought, it will be too small. But with a one-inch mat, it fit the picture quite well. (I had to cut the mat twice. The trick, I found, is to use a real mat board under the mat board you’re cutting, rather than the cardboard included with your mat cutter.) Virginia gave me the card when I visited her village, in England. So I’m not saying don’t do the large things — I would not have missed my trip to England for the world. But remember to do the small ones, because those are where we mostly find meaning . . . and joy.

Stuffed Young Zucchini

Beneski Museum of Natural History

Panoramic View of the Museum
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Open Tue - Fri 11-4 & Sat - Sun 10-5
Beneski Museum of Natural History
11 Barrett Hill Road
Amherst College
Amherst, MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2165 
Tekla Harms, Director and Professor of Geology
Alfred Venne, Museum Education Curator (
Kate Wellspring, Collections Curator
Museum Director and Professor of Geology, Tekla Harms, speaks about Edward Hitchcock and introduces Kevin Baines '76 who then discusses dinosaur extinction.
 (Holiday Closures 1/1 - 7/3-7/4 - 11/25 & 11/26 - 12/24-12/26)

And from

Be a Botanist: Make Herbarium Sheets

3.7 based on 34 ratings
Updated on Oct 8, 2012
Botany, the study of plants, is a very important field of science. Many of the medicines we use, as well as most of the foods we eat, come from plants. Botanists cannot go into the field to study every single kind of plant from all over the world so they create an herbarium, which is a kind of plant library. The herbarium library is composed of sheets of paper holding a plant that has been dried and glued onto the paper. Each plant is labeled so that the botanist can studied that plant at any time. In this activity we are going to press and dry a flower and then make our own herbarium sheet!

What You Need:

  • 1 11" x 16" sheet of heavy card stock
  • Printer paper
  • Plant (It can be any plant but make it's small enough to fit onto your paper and that you get some of the root system. Note: If you collect your plant in the wild, be careful not to collect a protected species and make sure you have permission.)
  • Pen
  • Pencil
  • Glue
  • Newspapers
  • Heavy books

What You Do:

  1. Place the plant between two sheets of newspaper and in between some heavy books. Stack more heavy books on top. This process will press your flower and dry it out, and can take up to a week or more.
  2. When your flower is pressed, remove it from the newsprint and carefully glue it to the 11x16 paper. Have the paper go the long way (16") so that you have plenty of room for your plant.
  3. Take your printer paper, cut a 3" x 4" piece of paper and glue this onto the bottom right corner of your herbarium sheet. On this piece of paper write:
    • Specimen: (See if you can find the Latin name in a flower book)
    • Collector: (your name)
    • Where it was collected:
    • When it was collected:
  4. To make it more complete, label your flower parts with a pencil. See if you can identify the stem, leaf, petals, pistol, stamen and root. When you are done you will have a beautiful piece of art and a valuable piece of science. Conitnue to make sheets and then hole-punch them to make an herbarium book
Have a great day all!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Faerie Day!

We had a visitor this evening! (I think it may be a faerie!)

Fairy Day is a day for fairies, magic, and wishes to come true. For one day, put aside the cycnicism of the modern world and embrace the possibilities of the unknown, and believe in fairies…June 24 is International Fairy Day. It’s a holiday for fairies and the humans who want to celebrate them. June 24 falls during the holiday of Midsummer, which is associated with the summer solstice (or winter solstice in the southern hemisphere). Although the solstice actually falls on June 21, the Midsummer celebration extends a few days before and after the actual day.
According to Cicely Mary Barker (1895-1973) artist, poet, and author of several fairy books, “Summer is a very busy time of year for the fairies. However they do make time to have fun at Midsummer to thank the sun for shining its light and warmth on their flowers, helping them grow.”
Midsummer is one of the most magical times of the year, and it is an important holiday for the fairies. Fairy lore says that Midsummer is a time of year when the veil between the human world and Faerie (Fairyland) thins, allowing the worlds to mingle. People were warned not to fall asleep outside at Midsummer because they might be carried off by the fairies.
One of William Shakespeare’s most popular plays is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” which takes place at Midsummer. Unwitting humans in the forest realm of Queen Titania and King Oberon get caught up in the middle of the couple’s argument, and become the victims of Puck’s magical fairy pranks.
The creation of International Fairy Day is attributed to renowned fairy artist Jessica Galbraith. There is a Fairy Day event page on Facebook for those who would like to celebrate.
There are lots of great ways to celebrate International Fairy Day with friends and family. Many people like to rise early on the day and go outside to greet the sunrise. Plan a party, fairy tea, or a bonfire. Remember to leave out gifts and treats for the fairies, such as crystals, sweet cakes, honey, nuts, or fruit. The fairies will imbibe the energies of the treats, and the local wildlife can enjoy them after that. Set up a Maypole, sing songs, play music, recite fairy poetry, or even give a performance or reading of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Remember at least to keep the fairies in mind on Fairy Day, and be on the lookout to catch a glimpse of a fairy.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Reading List: Review Time!

 I've read this before, though I do not own a copy...yet. While my finances are not, and thankfully have never been in as dire a situation as Sarah's were at the writing of this book, I , like so many other people all over the world, do live under the shadow of debt, and quite often my family is living paycheck to paycheck. Sarah's tips and advice for sorting out debt, rearranging and re-managing spending, and tucking away 'pin money' are interspersed with beautifully written essays of real-life living, sparkling wit, and good humor even in the face of debt collectors. I highly recommend it, whether you actually need it or not. :)

Scathing. Witty. Amusing. Enlightening. Alice James' diary is everything you expect a diary to be, and more. Her entries near the end, dictated to Katharine Peabody Loring because James could no longer write them are especially noteworthy. She knew she was dying, and she took that much more time to closely observe the world around her, as though to carry the memories into the next world.

  I found this book to be slow-going, but I am SO glad I stuck with it. It is absolutely charming. Written by a Victorian-era spinster, the language is delicate, but she very readily alluded to certain details, but in such a way that it comes across as amusing rather than stuffy. Kingsley wrote very conversationally: you can imagine yourself seated in her parlor, Wedgewood tea service set before you, spellbound as you listen to her adventures. Later you follow her into the library to view her albums of plant and flower pressing taken from West Africa. Really, simply charming.

(For some reason the image of The Captain's Lady Cookbook-Personal Journal won't copy. See the entry from June 1st)

I am not entirely sure this is not a work of fiction. If so, it is a well-researched fiction, but the language, written at nearly the same time as Mary Kingsley's book, is too.....fluffy. I have no doubt the recipes are authentic, but the actual diary entries seem to candied and overblown to be an actual diary, especially as I am currently working on the diary of Mary Chipman Lawrence (The Captain's Best Mate: the Journal of Mary Chipman Lawrence on the Whaler 'Addison', 1856-1860) and her writing and language is very much like Kingsley's.
And to continue on with Mary Lawrence, I find that her book was not one that I listed on the reading list, but oh well. Let's call it an Easter Egg bonus: I am near the end of the journey, Mrs. Captain and her little family are near home, and what a thrilling adventure it has been. We have been all over the Pacific ocean on our search for whales, have stopped in at the islands of Hawaii for several rests and re-fittings, and now we are on our way back to New Bedford.

That's it for now, my friends. After I finish Mrs. Lawrence's diary, I will embark upon world travels with Ladies on the Loose!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Summer Reading List 2015, 2nd edition...

It's 9:30 PM, I'm tired and just this side of grumpy, but I promised at least part of the List, and here it is!

Peace and Plenty by Sarah Ban Breathnach

I love all of Sarah's books; her essays are beautiful, thought-provoking, and inspirational.

Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale

'The story of a true-life Madame Bovary and the scandalous trial that rocked Victorian England by the bestselling author Kate Summerscale.' Well, that got my attention.

The Diary of Alice James

Having read her biography, I'm interested to read the thoughts she recorded for posterity.

Hypatia's Heritage: A History of Women in Science from Antiquity Through the Nineteenth Century by Margaret Alic

To quote my son Henry "Because SCIENCE!" but really, because women in history...and science.

Travels in West Africa by Mary Kingsley

Victorian lady traveler? I'll be travelling to West Africa from the sandy comfort of my beach chair.

Farm to Factory: Women's Letters 1830-1860 edited by Thomas Dublin

I seem to be on a Victorian trend this summer....

Ladies on the Loose: Women Travellers of the 18th and 19th Centuries edited by Leo Hamalian

More beach chair travelling for me.

The Captain's Lady Cookbook-Personal Journal edited by Barbara Dalia Jasmin

This looks like what I call a commonplace book: a collection of just about anything that one wants to record, the only real difference being I don't have recipes in mine. I'm looking forward to exploring this one.


Prayer: A History by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski

History, traditions, and cultures; language and intent, controversy and faith.

Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal

One day I will visit Spain, and when I do I shall see Alhambra.

The Shape of a Year by Jean Hersey

A month-by-month chronicle of events in one woman's life in her home in Connecticut.

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon
As reviewed by Faerie Magazine, it looks like a beautiful fantastical tale. (Bad pun, I know.)

The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston
Historical magical fiction? Yes please.

The Silver Witch 

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth
Fairly self-explanatory.

Sisters of Fortune : America's Caton sisters at Home and Abroad by Jehanne Wake
I'm not sure just who the Canton sisters were, but I expect I will find out this summer. Thank you Goodreads for recommendations.

Aristocrats : Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832 by Stella Tillyard. 

I saw the miniseries on PBS ages ago....I think the book will be even more interesting, though if you love historical costumes, watch this.

Image of item



Sunday, May 31, 2015

Summer Reading List 2015...almost

I'm behind in formatting this summer's list, as last year I had it ready to go on Memorial Day. I will post it for real tonight (I hope!) but for now, here's a list of some faboo-sounding titles as reviewed by Graham Joyce via The Guardian:

Graham Joyce's top 10 fairy fictions
From Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus to Alan Garner's The Owl Service, Graham Joyce chooses his favourite books in which the Fair Folk find themselves in fresh landscapes
Pan's Labyrinth
Still from the film Pan's Labyrinth Photograph: 1996-98 AccuSoft Inc 1996-98 AccuSoft Inc/PR
I'm very careful to avoid the "F" word. They don't like it. And anyway, I've stepped away from the obvious "retelling of fairytale" candidates. Recasting fairytales has become a publishing sub-genre in itself, and has been done both well and to the point of entropy. More interesting are those works where the structures of fairytales are abandoned but the world of "fairy" is imported as a delicate spice. In these fictions, magical and impossible content tends to be offered in a more naturalistic mode of storytelling. The effect for the reader is that of riding a shuttle between natural scepticism and open credulity. If there were a film paradigm it would start with Pan's Labyrinth. All of these authors are rule-breakers. I'd call them "fantasists" except that it's a word with an unstable currency; but a sense of awe and dislocation is upheld here, and a new way of knowing is always the prize.
Here's my top 10 in no particular order.

1. The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye by AS Byatt

Stuffed with marvels. Byatt doesn't re-tell fairytales, she creates her own and endows them with intelligent intention and original power. The heroine of the title story, Dr Gillian Perholt, is a scholar and a decoder of stories, and the narrative nests inside that detail. But it's not all cerebral fun. This story has a very large genie endowed with impressive and stinky genitals.

2. The Faery Handbag by Kelly Link

To be found in the collection Pretty Monsters. Throw away everything you think you know about short stories and read Kelly Link: her stories get bigger each time you read them. You think you know what's in the bag, but you don't. The rhythms of Link's storytelling evoke some very old cadence patterns, but always operate in a modern idiom. I don't always know what her stories mean, but I always know that they are a delight.

3. The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

Inspired by Yeats's poem about the legend of the changelings, The Stolen Child also owes a debt to JM Barrie's Peter Pan, another fairy story that was not about fairies at all but about the loss of imagination and about growing up. On the surface, a clever novel about some rather degenerate Fair Folk. But while our backs are turned the author performs a switch and delivers a luminous novel about our humanity.

4. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Her collection The Bloody Chamber might be more obvious but some of those stories come under the re-telling category. Nights at the Circus is more anarchic and the chief protagonist is a peroxide blonde with wings called Fevvers, who was hatched from an egg laid by unknown parents. Yes, her wings are a metaphor but yes, her wings are real. Another landmark novel shunned by the Man Booker judges because it lacked, well, gravity. Many traditional fairytales are invoked and overturned throughout the novel.

5. Shod by Mark Goodwin

The wildly inventive Midlands landscape poet won prizes for this brilliant collection. Goodwin experiments with ambient sound or acoustic context for recording his poems, many of which reference fairytales, or furry tales as the poet calls them.

6. The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

This is a novel that draws on the great tradition of European fairytales but which offers us a shimmering romance for our modern world. A luminous work, about a girl's transformation into glass.

7. The Owl Service by Alan Garner

Garner is one of the very greatest fantasy writers in the English language, though I admit that the categorisations of his work as "Children's" or "Fantasy" are meaningless. The Owl Service is set in Wales, and uses as its basis a story from the mediaeval Welsh epic, the Mabinogion. Published in 1967, in 2007 The Owl Service was selected by judges of the Carnegie Medal for children's literature as one of the 10 most important children's novels of the past 70 years. Really, I could pick anything by this writer.

8. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

This is a young adult novel, but nevertheless, the book won the annual Mythopoeic Society Award for Adult Literature in 1993. It combines the Sleeping Beauty story with the Holocaust and themes of homosexuality. That's right. Got it banned somewhere in the American Midwest. Constantly surprises as the standard images of the tale of Sleeping Beauty dissolve into the realities of life under the Nazis.

9. Winter Journey by Joel Lane

A clever reversal of the feral-child story, first published in Black Static magazine, a terrific venue for this kind of writing. Joel Lane is another gem of a short-storyist. The narrator pursues some kind of fox-being, a creature that possesses one person after another, always travelling.

10. Sweet Bride by Kate Rusby

Can we have a song? Yes, let's break the rules and finish on a song. The Barnsley Nightingale singing her own composition. This song is an extraordinary tale of dangerous seduction and it calls on a pan-European tradition of willing abduction into the world of the Other.

(I loved Ali Shaw's The Girl With Glass Feet, and own Jane Yolen's Briar Rose. Both are exquisitely delivered stories in the faerie-tale tradition.)