Spring…FINALLY!

DSC00289Winter went on waaaay longer than necessary around here, with absolutely vicious ice, but finally nice things are beginning to happen outdoors if you remove a compressed pollen season from the equation.

The very first Nice Thing of May occurred on May Day itself, when fifth graders from a nearby school tiptoed through the not-yet-flowering tulips to hang May baskets on selected doorknobs. I was thrilled to discover that our house was one of the favored ones!

As a measure of how desperately late the season is, flowers that usually show up in the May Baskets hadn’t begun to think about blooming yet, not even the dandelions, so this year’s May flowers were hand-crafted from paper. And wonderful they are to behold! The blossom in mine resembles a miniature hibiscus in a rich, dark pink that seems to glow from inside. Paper flowers might not be traditional, but the upside is that I’ll be able to enjoy this May Basket all month long. I might even put away for next year.

The spring weather also brought out the house-hunters, including the young couple below who seemed to be thinking about raising a family in our old sandbox.

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Apparently a fixer-upper didn’t quite meet their needs; they waddled off after a few minutes and have not yet put in an offer.

This is probably for the best. There’s a gap in the fence along the back of our property through which an adolescent Labrador bounds now and then and I imagine this would be upsetting for a young mallard family, as would more sinister visits from area hawks, foxes, raccoons, and the coyote Younger Son saw down the street  as he was going to work early last Saturday.

To clarify: it was Younger Son who was going to work. I don’t know where the coyote was going. I’m just glad it wasn’t toward Younger Son because I don’t think his car insurance has an anvil rider. I must remember to suggest this if he encounters the coyote again.

© 2013 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

Friday Four

1.     The Christmas Tree is up (a real one) and the angel and lights have been installed. Sometime this weekend I’ll put up the bead garland, and sometime next week, once Older Son arrives for the holidays, the ornaments will go on. The only major holiday work I have left is advance meal prep, all of which can go in the freezer.

Holly mug2.     Oh, and the rest of the decorating…which includes swapping out the everyday mugs for the Christmas ones. Many of them were inherited from my husband’s aunts, some were gifts. My favorite is this holly cup, too small to be considered a mug but just the right size for an ice cube and enough Bailey’s Irish Cream to make winter worthwhile. (Santa foolishly purchased her Irish Cream before the $4-off-on-a-purchase-of-2 coupon showed up in the paper…but at least Santa got a sale price.)

3.     Deer have been uncharacteristically absent from the neighborhood lately, but last month Walking Partner and I stood on a bridge over a nearby river and watched a mink–a real live mink!–catching fish and hauling them to an underwater burrow.

The next day I went back with a camera and naturally there was no trace of mink. Good thing I had a witness. However, I did see my first muskrat ever. I felt as if I’d been transported inside a Thornton W. Burgess novel! Had I not obsessively searched online the day before to ID the mink, I might have mistaken the muskrat for a small dog gone for a swim, but I caught a good look at the tail and it definitely was a muskrat. Despite close to a dozen visits to the bridge since, I haven’t spotted either one. Perhaps it was Water Mammal Meet-and-Greet Week?

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That’s Jerry Muskrat between the parallel shadows. Jerry wasn’t cooperative about posing and I was as far out on the rocks as I cared to go without my wellies, but if you click on the photo it probably will enlarge so you can tell that the shape is a furry creature and not random river debris.

4.     This past Thursday night Younger Son and I were up late–way too late–staring at the sky hoping to see a Geminid meteor. Living in a metropolitan area makes home-based skywatching a challenge, but even with light pollution and inconsiderate neighbors who keep their lights on, we usually see something if it’s not overcast. Younger Son saw three (one as he was getting out of the car after work, one when I was watching another part of the sky) and we both saw the third, a big bright one that streaked right over our house. After that we gave up because it is a lot chillier hunting for meteors in December in Wisconsin than it is in the middle of August (fewer mosquitoes, though). One of these years we really have to arrange to borrow a farm field to get a good look at the Perseids.
© 2012 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

To 35:27, and Beyond!

A few days ago I ran in the city’s annual 5K, which conveniently goes through our neighborhood and along a beautiful parkway.

I am not athletic by nature or build, and it was only my fourth race ever. The first one was so long ago, and I was so not-in-condition, that they were taking down the finish line when I arrived.

I started over in 2010, with simple goals: Not Dying, and Not Coming in Last. I don’t remember what I did to train; I probably just started running after a few blocks of warming up. I met my goals: I survived, and I was not the last one in.

For the 2011 race, I started training at the end of June and this time I used Cardio Coach, an interval training program I found online. July was hot but I managed to run a couple of times a week through the worst of it, three times a week when the weather was cooler. I ran at night, partly to avoid the heat, mostly so nobody would see me. I felt much better prepared and I not only didn’t die or come in last, I beat my 2010 time by 4 minutes 57 seconds!

This year we had a mild spring so I started training sooner (in daylight! right down the street and onto the parkway, where anybody could see me!). Then came the Summer from Heck. For almost a month the weather was too beastly to run even in the early morning, even with a Snickers waiting at home (see “not athletic by nature,” above). I finally resumed running the last weekend of July. Twice I even managed to train three times a week. By race day, I didn’t feel especially ready, but as I was transporting around 20 pounds less than I had the year before, I felt more confident that I wouldn’t die and that I might even match last year’s time.

Dear Reader, I beat my 2011 time by more than 2.5 minutes, coming in at 35 minutes 27 seconds.

The first mile was hardest. The legs just did not want to work. During the second mile, something seemed to kick in and I was able to keep a steady pace with only one brief slowdown to catch my breath. The third mile…the third mile was not easy, even with the headphones and Cardio Coach Guy cheering me on, but it wasn’t awful, either. I had to slow down a couple more times (again, not for long) and I felt a bit nauseated a couple of times (but it went away). I felt really, REALLY good on the walk home and the next day. (Monday…well, let’s just say it caught up with me on Monday.)

I admit that I was the teeniest bit chagrined when I checked online and saw that my 35:27 time was exceeded by more than 30 seconds by an 81-year-old woman.

We’ll call her L___ G______ and I’m pretty sure I saw her ahead of me as I was huffing the last quarter-mile to the finish line. She probably was the elder of the two women who were running arm in arm. I suspect the other woman was a daughter or daughter-in-law.

New goal for 2013: Forget surviving and not coming in last. I want to beat L___ G______’s time. And her daughter’s, while I’m at it.

I emailed Older Son, the only true athlete in the family, asking if he’d run with me on his arm when I’m 81.

He said he would if L___ G______ is still around to beat.

© 2012 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

What I’ve Been Reading

I’ve run into a bunch of good books lately, and re-read some others that I wanted to share with you, so pull up a chair because it’s a short stack of books but a longer-than-usual post.

In the Professional Reading category, I was impressed with Just Write: Here’s How, by Walter Dean Myers, the award-winning author of dozens of books, many of them about (and for) at risk-kids. Just Write‘s written for middle- and high-schoolers but has good points for any writer coping with revision, plus it’s a good story about how Myers and Ross Workman, who first wrote a fan letter to Myers when he was in a young teen, came to co-author Kick. I learned as much from that narrative as I did from the rest of the book. Makes me wish I had a young teen of my own to hand this off to. Donate a copy to your school or public library if it doesn’t already have it.

In the Porch Book/Just for Fun category, I enjoyed very much Courtship & Curses, by Marissa Doyle, a brand-new YA historical novel “with a touch of magic” set during the last days of Napoleon.

It’s not a particularly short book, but I gobbled it up in one glorious day, one of the few times this summer I’ve had a chance to just sit and read. (Sorry, Marissa: I know how long it took you to write the book and it seems wrong, somehow, to snarf up all that work at once, but I just didn’t want to put it down. Also, um, I had a freelance project to revise and it was much more pleasant reading your book than buckling down and actually working.)

Although C&C is a sort-of prequel to Marissa’s other historical-with-a-touch-of-magic books, it works perfectly well as a stand-alone and I recommend it highly, especially if this sounds like the sort of thing you wouldn’t dream of reading because you are sooo above historical novels/romance/fantasy. It’s just the thing to take your mind off your troubles if you’re dealing with sick children, aged parents, appliance meltdowns, or carpenter ants under the eaves. [Disclosure: I "know" Marissa from the Verla Kay Blueboards, where she's a volunteer administrator.]

Another just-published book by another Blueboarder is The Voice of Thunder, a novel for the middle grades by Mirka M.G. Breen. It’s based on her experience as a child in Israel during the 1967 war with Egypt. A book about children caught in war is never an easy read for me, especially when the characters seem so real, so I was impressed with how skillfully Mirka balanced the immediate danger that the main characters experience with an age-appropriate exploration of the roots of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and what war does to the characters of the people involved. It is an impressive feat, especially at the middle-school reading level.

I almost put off reading The Voice of Thunder because I’d recently finished another novel about children caught on the hinges of history, a young adult novel by Ruth Sepetys entitled Between Shades of Gray¹ which is set in Lithuania in 1941 as Stalin begins destroying the nation and the main character’s family. However, Mirka’s book, being for the middle grades, was less grim than I feared. I’m definitely going to put off In the Shadow of the Banyan, though. It’s about Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge and I need a couple more Courtship & Curses kind of books before I tackle something like that.

And then we come to the Books by Friends IRL² category.

In the Poetry By Friends subcategory, we have Whole Cloth, an illustrated poem cycle by Ronnie Hess of Madison, WI, and New York City. Whole Cloth reflects on emigration, family roots, and what it might have felt like to move from the sub-Carpathian Rus’ to America more than a hundred years ago. You can read one of the poems here.

The book would be a treasured gift for anyone whose ancestors came from Western or Central Europe–especially Central Europe–and knows only fragments of their story, because the poems and the old family photos fill in the gaps. Ronnie’s also the author of Eat Right in France (includes recipes!), which you can read about here.

Just about every published writer in southeastern Wisconsin has been through a Redbird workshop at some time in his or her career. Redbird is a writers’ center founded by Judy Bridges in the 1990s; a couple of years ago she turned over the workshop part of Redbird to Kim Suhr (who had been facilitating Redbird’s Young Writers summer programs) to focus on writing the book everybody’d been nagging her to write. The book became Shut Up & Write! after her no-excuses workshop of the same name. SU&W works both as a stand-alone motivator and as part of her workshop. More info here.

Redbird brought Amy Jenkins into my life when I facilitated a workshop back in the day, and I’ve had the privilege of watching Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting grow from a handful of writing exercises to a few stand-alone essays published in literary magazines to a thesis for her MFA at Bennington and now…a book!

Every Natural Fact chronicles a series of field trips through Wisconsin’s forests, shores, and other natural areas by Amy and her then-middle-school-age son Dylan, a companion sometimes reluctant, sometimes more enthusiastic than Amy. Actually, it was published in 2010 but because I’d read so much of in draft form, I just got around to reading it all-put-together with a cover that looks eerily like her son Dylan used to look back in the day.

[Another Disclosure: I might just be mentioned in the Acknowledgments section of some of the above books--alas, not the one by Walter Dean Myers.]

Speaking of acknowledgments: Older Son was home for a few days this month and pulled out The Lonely Planet Guidebook to Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan to show us his name in the Acknowledgments of that book. Well done, Older Son!³

What have you been reading lately?

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¹Focus, people. Between Shades of Gray = good book to read. 50 Shades of Grey = haven’t read it, don’t intend to. It’s all about how you spell the color.

²In Real Life. I hope it won’t be too long before I meet my online friends in IRL.

³He ran into the author in an English-language bookshop during his 2011 Let’s-Teach-English-in-Georgia adventure (that would be the Georgia that’s north of Turkey, not the one that’s north of Florida).

© 2012 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

It’s August, and this is a LILAC flower.

Not a so-called summer lilac (which is really a buddlia–I have one of those, too) but a plain old May-blooming syringia, one of a half dozen along the property line between our screened porch and the neighbor’s house.

Problem is, it hasn’t been May for, oh, 11 weeks now, and yet here it is, one lone lilac stem blooming its little lavender heart out. In the 20 years I’ve been living alongside this particular hedge, nothing like this has happened before.

Spring came three weeks early this  year, and all I can think is that the early bloom plus the intense heat of July and the nearly month-long drought caused the lilac to go dormant, and when the rains finally came along with a few 50-degree nights, the lilac woke up and thought it was spring.

So I hauled out the tripod and took a picture of it for you. Happy Sprummer. Or Sprautumn.

© 2012 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

Snapdragons in the Sun

Summer is a vase of snapdragons backlit by the morning sun.

The show lasts only three or four minutes and is possible only a few days of the year, when the sun rises at a certain angle over the roof of a particular house to the east and sunlight streaks through a specific gap in the branches of the sugar maple to a glass-topped porch table positioned in just the right place.

Also, someone must be sitting at the table looking for something–anything!–to do besides finish her Morning Pages, which were being boring, and a vase of gorgeous flowers must be close at hand along with a working camera that has reasonably fresh batteries (because digital “film” is cheap and 40-some exposures will be made of this particular solar event).

This  year it all came together on July 23 at 7:25 AM. It’s one of my little Stonehenge moments, and I’m grateful I was able to capture it.

© 2012 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

‘Best Talk on Writing Ever’

Gary Corby, author of two mysteries set in ancient Greece, posted a video last week of a 2009 TED talk about the nature of creativity. The speaker is Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love.

Gary calls it “the best talk on writing ever.” I can’t verify that, not having heard all the talks on writing that have ever been given, but it’s One. Fine. Talk.  I’m jumping on the bandwagon because it’s worth calling it to the attention of folks who missed it the first time it made the rounds online. It might be just what you need to get going on whatever’s sitting on your desk scaring you to death.

The video is about 20 minutes long; my attempt to embed it in this post follows.

In case the video doesn’t work, here’s a link to it on Gary’s blog. Actually, you oughta visit his blog anyway. Then check out the rest of his posts. His two books, The Pericles Commission and The Ionia Sanction just might do for you what Survey of World Lit and various translations of Homer, Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles failed to do: turn the ancient Greeks into real people.

Not to mention giving a house elf’s face to one’s muse.

© 2012 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go