Friday, August 30, 2019

Well, listeners actually did come! The room was full! Some of them were people I didn't even know!  I wasn't worried about the actual reading; it was more the "throwing my own party" angle that was getting me worked up. But there were writers, and diaspora friends, and kid-raising friends . . . even my next-door neighbor. I was mightily relieved.

So now I move on to the next big thing on the schedule: getting the boy back to college. We head for Vermont tomorrow, and I'll chug home on Sunday evening--a whirlwind of driving and hauling, with an overnight pit-stop to check in on my parents. So you may not hear from me for a couple of days.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Book launch for Chestnut Ridge, tonight, 7 p.m., Longfellow Books in downtown Portland. I'm excited to say that at least 6 people have told me they will be there. So the room will not be empty.

This morning I'll start cooking down some tomatoes for sauce, and then I'll turn my thoughts to planning my reading. I guess I mostly know what I'll be doing, but probably I'll expand a bit upon the usual, given that this event is all about CR.

Last night we had a long beautiful rainstorm--hours and hours of downpour. Now everything is bowed and sopped, and the cool air is full of water. If I weren't wearing this bathrobe eyesore, I'd be out there now, admiring it all.

Maybe I'll see you tonight?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Late yesterday afternoon the boy and I met a diaspora friend for a walk around Back Cove, and then drove home through a snarl of traffic to discover an ambulance and blue-lighted police cars clogging the road in front of our house. My first panic was: I burned the house down! My second was: Tom's had an accident! Neither of those things turned out to be the case. Instead, before our eyes, one of my neighbors was being taken away in handcuffs.

Needless to say, this was unsettling, and sad, and we fretted about it for much of the evening. Of course I have no idea what he was charged with, though I can speculate. The complications of the human character are many and few.

Later, after the visible drama had ended, we ate beef stew with foraged puffball, garden peppers and carrots, and herbs; parslied potatoes; a big platter of home-grown tomato slices topped with basil and fried okra; quick cucumber and shallot pickles; and a lime cream tart. We had pleasant conversation, Tom washed dishes, Paul and I played Yahtzee, the whole scene was absurdly nice, and I couldn't stop thinking about my neighbor being hauled off to jail, and how un-nice things were fifty feet away from my front door.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Another cold morning, and the nights are creeping in as well. Sky and light are autumn; cicadas shriek their love; birds fatten for travel. If I were back in the woods, I'd be getting ready for the Harmony Fair.

Instead, I am prepping for a reading, planning a giant boy-filling stew, inventing a dessert (puff pastry filled with lime-scented creme patisserie), trying to finish an exhausting editing project, frying a big fat fresh puffball foraged from my own yard (!), harvesting tomatoes peppers eggplant kohlrabi okra cucumbers greens lettuces herbs, walking on sidewalks, listening to helicopters, washing sheets, chatting to my neighbors, looking under shrubs for the cat, ordering excellent Chinese food, living in a house with two bathrooms, a furnace, and garbage pickup, mooning about words, going out in the evenings to listen to bands from other continents, reading the same books I've been reading for 40 years, trying to hang onto and branch out.

Monday, August 26, 2019

It's 50 degrees here--by far our coldest morning since June. I think the weather won't stay so chilly, but the shift does feel sudden, and I am glad to have our wood in and our chimney clean.

I froze tomato sauce yesterday, then refilled the blue bowl with another picking. Tomatoes do feel like wealth to me. I was such a bad tomato farmer for so many years.

So today: back to desk work. My book launch is Thursday. I take the college boy to Vermont on Saturday. I need to find a book to read. We're having tomatoes for dinner.

If you're in town I'd be so happy to see you at the Thursday reading: Longfellow Books, downtown Portland, 7 p.m.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

After so much heat and sogginess, we suddenly have the kiss of fall. On such days a vegetable farmer's mind turns to thoughts of harvest. I spent much of yesterday cutting, washing, and freezing chard; collecting tomatoes for today's sauce; cleaning and storing cured garlic and shallots. I made fresh cucumber and shallot pickles; I fried eggplant and okra; I composed a giant Caprese platter of tomatoes, mozzarella, and purple and green basil.

We listened to three different baseball games on the radio (the boy doesn't know the meaning of baseball overkill); went for a walk in the Falmouth Audubon preserve; played some Yahtzee and Scrabble (the boy beat me by 100 points). The boy made hamburger buns and Tom grilled hamburgers.

Meanwhile, in the air I smelled other people's breakfasts, and other people's laundry, and other people's cars. This made me sad, and homesick for my land, in a way I've mostly been able to shunt aside for the past year.

I don't live there anymore.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

I'm feeling much more rested this morning. And the heat finally broke, so the air is cool and dry, and the sun is shining, the sky is clean and blue, birds are cooing and chattering and clacking and cheeping, and the day altogether promises delight.

I don't know what we'll do today. It's the boy's last weekend at home, so he may have an idea. Or he may not. The grass does need mowing; the house, as always, needs re-sprucing. But I'd be happy to go for a long walk instead. So far this week I've taken a 4-miler around Back Cove and a 3-miler to Hadlock Field, and with the weather so sweet, I'm ready for more.

I'm also ready to take an editing breather. My current project is complicated and demanding and very, very slow, and I'm looking forward to not thinking at all about endnotes for two days. Next week at this time I'll be on the road to Vermont, college senior in tow. Next year at this time I'll have zero children in school. What a strange notion.

Friday, August 23, 2019

After a morning spent editing in my room, and an afternoon spent walking around the cove with my son, and a dinner hour spent making summer rolls and potato salad, I went downtown with my family to listen/dance to the Garifuna Collective from Belize; and the day from beginning to end was dense and sweaty and sticky and hot. Today is supposed to be cooler but so far it feels just the same as yesterday. We are going to a baseball game tonight, which is the correct thing to do in this kind of weather. And I am going to a yoga class this morning, which is less correct weather-wise but undoubtedly good for me, though I wish I'd slept during the night when I was supposed to and not through the alarm when I was not supposed to. I've got that wild-eyed, jangled feeling common to people who almost miss dragging the trash out in time for the garbage guys to pick up.

Anyway, I'm awake now.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Yesterday was one long thunderstorm: it started pouring midday and pretty much kept that up till well after dark. In the meantime, with Paul's encouragement and aid, I took the plunge and decided to make puff pastry. The project took all afternoon, and I was nervous, but all worked out well, and now I have dough for three shells in the freezer, and leftovers from a beautiful little free-form peach tart on the counter.

Tonight we are going downtown to listen to a Brazilian band. The rest of the day we'll spend being extremely hot. After all that rain, Portland feels more or less tropical, though I think the weather is supposed to moderate later in the week. I did waste a lot of time in the kitchen yesterday, so I should try to concentrate on actual paying work today.

I'm still reading Le Carre, still editing, still not writing poems . . . feeling the creep of this fall's teaching storm approaching, beginning to mutter to myself about next week's reading, staring at the insanity of our so-called president. My blood runs cold.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The boys went to a movie last night, which meant that I was home alone for the first time in a while. I did nothing special, other than breathe the night air and stare out into the dusky street. Sometimes there's a spaciousness to solitude.

Days, I'm still striving to keep up with an unwieldy editing project, in between visiting with my kid and managing house and garden stuff. For the moment, poetry has taken a seat in the corner. That's nothing new: summers were always a writing dead-zone when I had children at home full time. So I'm not exactly worrying about poems, but I'm aware of their silence, and it makes me restless.

And the boy is restless too . . . happy to loaf and spend time with us; bored and impatient about not being where his own work is. It's a standard late-summer feeling.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

We got a bit more rain last night, and today is forecast to be dry and hot. I guess that means I can hang laundry on the line for the first time in days.

Nothing much new is happening around here. The boy is working on plans for the play he's directing this fall, and interspersing that with watching Irish sitcoms. I'm editing and running up and down stairs doing house chores and chattering with the boy. Everything feels like it's a bit of a muddle, including the sentences in this paragraph, but that's home life.

This time next week I'll be annoying you by fretting over my 8/29 book launch. Be happy the future is not here yet.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Fog. The air is sodden, and ponderously still. Against the milky sky, the houses look like they've been cut out of cardboard. Somewhere, in the silence, a jay is screaming.

I'm feeling sad . . . the sadness of the world, dusting its wings. Lost children and melting glaciers. Truth and poison.

The rooms in this house are scattered with people I love. The vases overflow with sunflowers. My fortunes weigh upon me. I should never complain about anything.

Outside, somewhere, that jay is still screaming. Shriek. Pause. Shriek. Pause. His throat-song is harsh and relentless.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of crashing rain. Now, at first light, the neighborhood is shrouded in fog as thick as the spider webs in a barn. It's beautiful and ghostly and very, very wet.

Last night's downpour was the most rain we've had since June. My garden looks kind of slapped around, but I'm sure its roots are pleased. And I managed to go back to sleep, even after slogging up and down stairs closing windows at whatever a.m. the torrents began, and I woke up again at a reasonable Sunday-morning hour without a headache, so my roots are pleased also.

I don't know what we'll be doing today. I ought to wash some floors. I want to keep reading this Gothic Iris Murdoch novel I've acquired. I should probably try to figure out a couple of things about my new MSWord update before I try to use it for work tomorrow. I'm semi-immersed in sorting out various rising-college-senior family-event scheduling-hoohah this-n-thats, though I've passed along the "pick the Air B&B" project to Tom, who likes to look at pictures of other people's houses.

Today is my parents' 57th wedding anniversary. It's also the third anniversary of our purchase of the Alcott House. Three years ago today, Tom started ripping out a kitchen, and I started ripping out a weed garden. Things are much quieter around here today.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

I am stumbling through the awkward new world of modern computing. Though everything has apparently transferred from my old computer, I've spent so many years without updates that I can't get into most of my files and sites without undergoing download purgatory. Plus, all the screens look different, and I can't navigate without tripping over myself. On the bright side, when I type something, it stays where I put it instead of jumping up or down three lines and showing up in the middle of another sentence.

Anyway, enough of this boring talk.

I've spent most of the past three days trying to be a useful but not bossy comforter to my friends who were in Portland for a dicey surgical procedure. All went well, and they are heading home today, and I was glad to have been a staff and a support. But I'm also kind of tired.

Now I'm ensconced on my comfortable shabby couch, listening to a boat horn hoot in the distance, wishing I could get rid of the headache that's been plaguing me for days, marveling at the suppleness of the keyboard on this new lap desk, trying not to think about the housework I have to catch up on today, reading an Iris Murdoch novel I've never read before: The Unicorn, first published in the early 1960s. The sky is overcast; with luck we'll have rain.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Yesterday I enacted the role of emotional-support dog for a dear friend whose husband was having surgery. And then I came home, excitedly opened my new computer, immediately discovered that it had been improperly refurbished, and then spent more than two hours on the phone with ten or twelve incompetent customer service reps who should have immediately issued me a replacement but instead maundered and blathered and made me repeat the same information a thousand times and foisted me off onto other departments, until final one man acted sensibly and got me connected to the returns department--which then acted as if this were my own cavalier choice rather than the company's fault from beginning to end, which then led me, finally, to lose my temper and screech at him, which then led him to . . . drum-roll . . . offer me a $100 credit for company products, NOT a deep discount on the product I'd already purchased . . .

Which explains why I'm late writing to you because first I had to fire off a stern letter to corporate headquarters.

In other news: I had a poem in the newspaper.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

We did get a bit of rain last night, a pleasant wetting as we went out for dinner last night with beloved friends from up the coast. Unfortunately they are in town for surgery today, so I will be spending today and tomorrow at their beck and call, maybe in the interstices figuring out my "new" computer, which is supposed to arrive today, but probably mostly sitting in waiting rooms texting dinner-prep instructions to the boy . . . who made the most gorgeous loaf of challah yesterday afternoon, and will not need many pointers from me.

In the meantime, the usual: e.g., laundry and editing. The cucumbers are beginning to pour in; I wish you were here to eat a few with me, maybe with a bit of fresh mint and yogurt. And the August insects are singing their poignant end-of-days songs.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

It's a dark morning, with thunderstorms looming . . . or not: the forecast is coy. Whatever the future, the air is, for the moment, leaden and still. Here and there a knife-edge of sun cuts through the cloud, but to no particular effect. I might as well be wearing a marble toga: in this humidity I feel as heavy as a Civil War monument. Just call me Victory. Or Defeat.

I've got lots of editing to do. I suppose I'll also get beaten again at Scrabble. Apparently, I've reared a monster. Teach a boy to spell and he'll trounce his parents repeatedly.

I'm still reading Pamuk's Snow. I haven't worked at all on poems this week: between editing and mothering, I've been busy. I did pick our first big tomatoes--four gorgeous heirloom slicers that tasted like Eden.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Yesterday I finally did what I've been needing to do for over a year: I bought a replacement laptop. I've had my current one since 2008, it can no longer be updated or stream video, and it eats batteries. The trackpad is recalcitrant and, worst of all, the text I type in tends to jump around and appear in the wrong places--really, really not ideal for a copyeditor. On the advice of my savvy older son, I ordered a refurbished MacBook Pro--only a year old but several hundred dollars cheaper than a brand-new one--and it should be arriving on Wednesday. I understand that this is a boring post, but remember that I'm a writer who hasn't had a new writing tool for more than a decade: a new lapdesk feels like a big deal. Also, it was this, or a replacement air-conditioning compressor for my car. They cost about the same and I can only afford one. If you ride with me, you will have to be hot. Sorry.

Yesterday I also managed to do a bunch of outside things that I've been putting off because of the extreme heat: for instance, hack out the ugly weeds along the curb. As I did this unattractive job, I kept getting accosted by neighbors. One wanted to know where I got my hair cut; another stopped by to have a pleasant chat about books. I still can't get over how friendly people are around here. Maybe that's a normal thing about neighbors, but the neighbors I had in Harmony were blackflies and a creepy guy who claimed to be an ex-bounty hunter and was rumored to sneak around staring into hippies' windows to see if he could catch them getting stoned.

I also picked these beauties: baby carrots, baby beets, and fat radishes.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

I slept late this morning--till almost 7!--and now the day is fully day: cloudless blue sky, shadow fingers under the trees, cats lurking companionable on a sunburnt patch of grass. The coffee in my cup is hot and strong, and I've got a giant son asleep in the back room. Upstairs Tom is reading a Bolano novel in bed. I'm sitting on the couch beside the open windows as a cool wind sifts into the spare and tidy room: A shabby couch and a shabby chair. A wooden box for a coffee table. An old victrola in a corner. Two lamps. Two old metal baskets turned into narrow shelves. We are not rich in furnishings, unless you count books and records.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is now back on the shelf, and I've started rereading Orhan Pamuk's Snow. I have no desperate plans for the day--probably some yard work, certainly some laundry, of course much pleasure in my boy.

I think of my small modest American life: privileged, greatly privileged, in comparison to so many lives around the world and under my nose . . . running water, a roof and heat, calm and apparently safe. But I also think of the life of someone like Jeffrey Epstein: large, hubristic, selfish, manipulative, destroying. Also an American life. I hate to think that we have anything in common. But we do.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Number 2 Son will be coming home today, after an overnight bus odyssey from Buffalo--no doubt smelling of campfires and with leaves in his hair. I'll be so glad to see him. I'd best make up bed his first thing this morning, as I expect he'll be collapsing directly into it, leaves and all.

Outside the air is very still, and cooler than it has been. At the end of the street an Amtrak train is chunking by. Along the sidewalk the sunflowers smile. They are seven feet tall and covered with bright faces--a hedge that laughs.

Tom says my entire garden is comic, though he assures me this is a compliment.

Last night we ate pork chops marinated in lemon and garlic; Yorkshire pudding; corn salad with cucumbers and cherry tomatoes and poblanos and cilantro. On top of the salad I sprinkled a handful of crisp-fried okra. We meant to watch The Bride of Frankenstein afterwards, but I got too sleepy.

For the past couple of days I've been reading Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, which turns out to be have been set in southern Maine. It was published in 1903 and I have a 1904 edition in pristine condition, though I can't remember where I acquired it. I read a library copy as a kid. It's sappy and sentimental and not nearly as good as The Secret Garden or Anne of Green Gables, but I'm still enjoying it. I have great fortitude when it comes to sappy and sentimental.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Yesterday, down at the Laudholm Reserve in Wells, my bird-watching friend Sue and I had the rare and stunning experience of standing next to a flock of piping plovers, which have long been highly endangered. I've seen plovers down there before, but only a handful scuttling back and forth at the water's edge. A large section of the beach is marked off as nesting area, and apparently this year 150 chicks survived in the state of Maine--a banner year, but also a figure that clarifies exactly how fragile these plovers are.

This is not my photograph, but it will give you an idea of the surprise we had at seeing a sudden large flock of these delicate little birds. Many were congregating beside us on a spit of rocks as small bursts of others would wheel in from over the water. They camouflage well against the stones and sand, so it was hard to estimate their number, but we think there may have been at least a hundred.

Probably this was a once-in-a-lifetime sighting. We were so fortunate.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

It's diaspora social week in Portland: one north-country friend was here overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, another will be visiting this afternoon, and Son Number 2 returns from his Canadian canoe odyssey this weekend. Plus, it actually in fact no kidding did rain last night! . . . not nearly enough, but something is better than nothing.

Now I'm awake far too early because that damn cat decided to rip some stuff up at 4 a.m., and then got his claw stuck and wailed and yowled and sobbed and carried on until I got up and unhooked him. Lord.

But anyway the coffee tastes good, and a small rain is still raining, and last night Tom and I went out for dinner and then walked in the wet fog along the marinas and made personal comments about boats, and this afternoon my friend and I will take our binoculars to the saltmarsh and look for egrets and ibis.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A good day: I moved a giant editing project off my desk and then spent the rest of the day hanging out with a friend, making pesto, going for a long walk, drinking rose, welcoming a favorite young person, enjoying a noisy impromptu dinner. . . . It's so sweet to sit outside in the shade drinking ice tea and trimming green beans and stripping piles of basil and talking about this and that with a favorite person.

Today, maybe a bit more of the same, and then back to the next giant editing pile. Thunderstorms are still in the forecast, but I'll believe that when I see it.

I'm glad to be reading Wharton's House of Mirth. The character of Lily Barth seems to be shaping up as complex and not altogether sympathetic, which I like. She's a trained gold digger, on the hunt for a rich husband, but seems to be having second thoughts about the project.

I'm also mourning Toni Morrison, a writer who had a massive influence on me when I was a teenager--especially her novel Song of Solomon. I was overwhelmed, mesmerized, ignited by her language. And reading Beloved about killed me. I was a new mother by that time, and the notion of having to murder a child to save it was like a stake in my heart. Along with Updike's Rabbit, Run (which has a terrible scene of accidental baby drowning), Beloved is a tale too close to my bones. Someday, I might be able to reread it. I know it's worth a few more nightmares. That's the thing about Morrison's work: the tragedies are the masteries.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Still no rain. I dread the sight of the water bill. But I did pick the first two big tomatoes yesterday, and used them in one of our favorite summer dishes--corn salad (with purchased corn, of course: the gardener at the Alcott House regretfully draws the line at a corn patch).

I've started reading Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, which oddly enough I've never read all the way through. You'd think Wharton would be a regular of mine, but for some reason younger me did not fall in love. (Older me recalls that younger me may have been in more of a Henry James zone at the time.)

In other news: car passed inspection (phew); friendly ex-neighbor scared the bejeezus out of the cat by honking at him; weird beetles are annoying me; Sassy Groundhog has disappeared (not my fault!); new poems are coming along; people tell me they plan to attend my book launch (phew, but naturally I'm pessimistic and expect that the only two attendees will be reluctant family members); several people have expressed interest in reviewing CR (very thrilling to habitually non-reviewed me); and I hope to spend this afternoon making masses of pesto with one of my dearest friends (must write pine nuts on grocery list).

Monday, August 5, 2019

Some garden photographs, because anything I might say about this weekend's massacres is what you are already saying to yourself; because I went out last night to watch the band Tal National from Niger and wondered if someone might stop by to murder us all; because loving life is what I can do . . . yours, theirs, mine; tended lives, wild lives.

Sunflowers on the left; tomatoes, peppers, eggplant straight ahead; herbs and greens in the foreground.

 Cucumber trellis, parsley, radishes, dill, arugula, marigolds, sorrel, sage, thyme, rosemary, tarragon.

Another sunflower bed, fronted with cosmos.

The plain-faced little house, with its wild tomato eye patch. You can see the Fred Flinstone front walk, now moderated with creeping thyme.

The house peeking out coyly from behind the sunflowers.

The side garden. I don't know why those flowers in the pot look like Sideshow Bob.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Ugh. No rain, of course. The ground in my backyard is so dry that it's cracking. I'm mostly keeping the garden alive, but the nasturtiums are writhing and wilted, and the artichoke is yellowing. The tomatoes, however, appear to be bionic--6 feet high, glossy-green, and loaded with fruit. They love heat and humidity and can absorb moisture through their leaves. Still, nobody else's neighborhood tomatoes look like these. I think they are monsters.

I worked on a poem yesterday, did some mowing and watering, grocery-shopped, served on that publishing panel I told you about, marinated a flat-iron steak, made a potato salad. . . . Today I guess it will have to be housework. I've got stacks of editing to do, but I'm not going to think about that till tomorrow.

In boring marketing news: I'm tentatively reaching out to people who might consider reviewing Chestnut Ridge. I hate to be a pest, but reviews would be a novelty and a delight. Most literary journals do consider reviews; there are also online review sites. If you have thoughts about the book, I'd be grateful for a few public words.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Another torrid morning, but suddenly the forecast is hinting at the thin possibility of thunderstorms this afternoon. What a relief that will be-- (unless they are all hail and wind and smash and wreck, in which case they can just stay away). This morning I'm serving on a "how to get your book published" panel [Q: do you know how? A: um.], and then I guess I'll be puttering in the garden until the fabled storm arrives/I find something else to do. I've been picking eggplants (beautiful Rosa Biancas, shaped like softballs and striped lavender and white), cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, okra. The bounty of summer, slightly dry and wan.

I did a lot of writing while I was away camping with the high schoolers; now I've got at least three new poem drafts to type out and ponder. Used to be I rarely wrote while I was teaching, and I still don't when classes are large and I've got to coax yakkers and cynics. But it's been good to dive in when I can. While most of what I write in these public settings isn't worth keeping, the act itself is rich. And I do love to surprise myself. And young people do love to watch a teacher fall down a rabbit hole . . . as well they should.

Friday, August 2, 2019

 I haven't bored you with too many house-and-garden shots lately, so I thought maybe you wouldn't mind pictures of my current favorite flowers. These are from a sunflower mix advertised as relatively small in height but currently towering over my head. I like them because they're branching varieties, and the blooms keep coming.

These are cosmos, a deep purple-red variety that I've gotten quite fond of. They enhance the alphabetization of any library.

I am wasting a shocking amount of water on this garden, but we've had zero rain for weeks, and there's none looming in the forecast. Despite my assiduous care, the plants are stressed. The fall crops are tiny; the new blueberry bushes are sad.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The weather was broiling, the mountain hike was panting and slow, the bugs were enthusiastic, but look at these young writers! It was such an honor to spend a couple of days in the woods with them, and with co-teacher extraordinaire Ian Ramsey (on the left, beside me) and photographer Brian Beard (who took this and other wonderful pictures). This was the third year of the Kauffmann Environmental Writing Seminar, and next summer we plan to open it to students outside of Maine as well. It's free and camping equipment is provided, so if you know high school writers who would thrive in this kind of setting, start planning with them.

And now I'm home again, in my hot little house, and poor Tom is suffering terribly from having to build a house in this heat, and my garden is gasping and thirsty. No rain, no rest, no cool nights. It's a hard stretch.