Reading Challenge month 4 ~ A book that came out the year you were born

99Steps In my grandparents’ house (if you didn’t count the steps leading to the veranda outside the front door), there were maybe 10 steps. They were slick, steep, linoleum-covered steps that led from the main floor down to the basement. There was a landing halfway down where you made a 90-degree turn. The steps were so steep and slippery that if you were wearing just socks and were in a hurry you were in danger of falling hard. Which I did more than once.

The basement at my grandparents house was full of mystery. For one thing, it was like a whole different house down there. I mean, another home. There was a bedroom and bathroom and laundry room and boiler room. And there was a huge room we called the “rec room” where there were beds against the walls and a tiny kitchen in the corner.

The rec room sometimes held a ping pong table and sometimes held a table top hockey game. Ping pong I understood (though never excelled at), but the hockey game was a mystery. How in the world did you know which lever controlled which hockey player, and how could you have enough hands to safely pass the plastic puck from one player to the other and into the goal? My uncles knew. They were hockey fiends. They played it in the street out front of the house during the afternoons and early evenings. They played it at the local ice rink. And they played it in the basement on the table top hockey game.

The kitchen in the rec room was especially fun for two little granddaughters on a summer afternoon. We could play house down there and pretend to cook. The kitchen—at the time—was a mystery, but I came to learn later that many houses on that street had the same setup: in times of financial need, you could take in boarders who would have their own entrance and kitchen.

The rec room also had a mystery door. On the far wall, covered with ancient portraits of stern looking family members, there was a door that was never opened. My sister and I stared at the door a lot and discussed what might be behind it, but we never saw anyone else open it or come through it.

One otherwise boring afternoon I got brave, with all my black-and-white ancestors looking on, and I opened the door just a couple inches. Behind it was another door. The very presence of that second door terrified me, and I slammed the first door hard.

It was years later when I learned the solution to that mystery: a cold cellar. The very thing I wish we had in this house.

There was a cupboard under those slippery stairs and, on another long afternoon when I was exploring the secrets of this house I loved, I opened the cupboard door. Inside, I found several pairs of crutches (I imagine that three hockey playing uncles probably needed crutches more than once) and a shelf with several volumes of Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew mysteries.

Our summers never lacked for books. We went to the library every week and came home with armloads of books, but there weren’t that many books that lived in the house on a permanent basis. This small collection was a surprise and another mystery. Who had read them before? My mother and my uncles, I supposed.

I’d never read a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boy mystery before. I pulled out dusty bluish hard covered volume called “The Mystery of the 99 Steps,” crept up the stairs, and lay down on the bed.

The summer afternoon slowly melted away while Nancy solved all of her mysteries. The sun fizzled out behind the back yard and the street lights out front came on. At night, the street was quiet and the curbs were borders for unknown countries. My sister and sat out on the verandah, our thighs sticking to the plastic chairs, cool bowls of chocolate ice cream in our hands, moths dancing around the lights. And we knew everything. Absolutely everything.


Our books for month 4:

We’d love to know what you read this month. Please leave a comment telling us about it!

The category for the coming month is:


I’m a couple days late posting this, so let’s bump the due date out a bit. We’ll see you back here on June 11!

This post is part of our multi-year reading challenge. We’d love to have you join us for the whole challenge or any portion. Take a look at the checklist to see the current category (in green). We’ll announce the next category on the 9th of each month.

Some nights, the bear

Two queendoms

Admit it. You’ve been wondering about the bees, haven’t you? (Please say you have. I like people who take an interest in bees.)

I haven’t talked about them much because, well, as we’ve said before, bees will break your heart. And they do. And they did.

Our little colony didn’t make it through the winter. It could have been the long stretches of seriously cold temperatures. Or it could have been that there weren’t enough of them (after the swarm and loss of the queen) to keep each other warm. Or it could have been a combination of both. But when I went out to check them on a warm day in late winter there was no tell-tale buzzing in the box. I lifted the lid.

Just bodies.

I felt a fresh sadness then even though we pretty much suspected they hadn’t survived. A sadness for their loss. A sadness for not being able to care for them well enough. A grey winter sadness on one of those hopelessly cheerless late winter days when the glisten of winter is gone and spring is still somewhere a few miles down the road, around another bend.

I trudged back to the house and broke the news to M.

He found us new bees. Carniolans from California, by way of New Hampshire. Two packages. Two queens.

We set up a second hive.

We crept closer to spring. There were some warning signs. Postings on the local town email list: bear sightings.

We’ve lived in this house for 21 years now and only just last fall saw our first bear. She (or he) looked like a young one; it ambled out of the valley and through our yard and was gone.


We’d thought about fencing the hives, but since we hadn’t had any bear trouble before and live close to the road, we hemmed and hawed about it. It would be another thing to do, to maintain, to deal with when checking the hives. Maybe later.

On April 26 we brought home the bees. We installed them in their hives. It went (nearly) like clockwork. We fairly congratulated ourselves on how well we’d done. We were getting the hang of this beekeeping thing. The bees were gentle. It felt nice to see them buzzing all around us as we filled their feeders with sugar water to keep them going until things began to bloom.

We tucked them in for the night, promising to visit in a week to refill the feeders and to check for eggs.

Two nights later, M let Gryfe out for a goodnight pee and the dog went nuts barking. M shone a flashlight in the direction of the hives and saw the disaster. We didn’t see what had happened, but we knew what had happened..

The damage

We went out then, in the dark, and collected who we could by flashlight. Hive pieces were all over the ground. Bees were confused and scattered. We had no idea if we’d saved the queens or not. We hurriedly reassembled what we could inside the brand new (electrified) goat pasture fence. The pasture fence was so new, we hadn’t even set the new fence charger up yet; we did that in the dark, too, with bees frantically buzzing all around us.

We were covered in sweat and sugar water. It was dismal.

Still, we went to bed hopeful. There were a lot of bees left. Maybe we’d saved the queens. Maybe they weren’t all too confused.

The next morning we went right to the bedroom window to be sure the bear hadn’t broken through the fence. All was fine. We saw bees coming and going from the hive.

I put on my bee suit a day later, lit up the smoker, opened the hives and refilled their syrup.


They were active. They were striped and beautiful. They were coming and going, beginning to forage in their new valley. And things looked good, promising.

But they were in free fall. We suspected it, and then we knew it. Fewer and fewer bees emerged. We checked the hives earlier this week. Mostly bodies, with a few slow, confused bees wandering around the frames. The queens were either lost or killed or too stressed to lay eggs.

Now the hives are sitting there, safe behind the fence and the only thing we can do is clean them out, find new bees, and start again.

Because this family needs bees. This little farm needs bees. This valley needs bees. This world needs bees.

We need bears, too. Just not on the bee side of the fence.

What’s next?


I have so many things to tell you.

April was a frenzy of activity. It was wonderful but it moved so quickly I’d no time to pin it down here in words. I’ll try to make up for that in May, but right now, I just want to crow for a moment… I completed the PoMoSco challenge!

I wrote and posted a new found poem every day through the month of April.

I did it! And I even wrote some poems I really like.


Okay, crowing over. There’s so much more to be done: spring flowers to coax, poems to write, goats and bees to tend, cats to outwit, dogs to run, musicals to attend, tomatoes to turn into jam.

Let’s get a move on, shall we?


For those who missed it, I posted a link to a poem each day in April that somehow related to the PoMoSco badge of the day. You can see the full list of those poems/links here.

The PoMoSco poems (nearly 4000!) are available to read through the end of May 2015. So if you have a spare moment, stop by the site and just pick one at random to read. There are some really terrific poems here — many you’d never guess are from found material.

The poem I linked to for the final badge (Order’s Up) is one I just love. If you know me even a little bit, you’ll understand why. I’m posting it here in case you missed it:

Paris – Forfar

From the window of the Hardie-Condie Café, I see the ghost of a rich
friend of my grandmother drive down Forfar’s Main Street in a Rolls-
Royce I was sick in as a child. Behind me the watercolours of stick girls
walking through trees are misted blobs percolating in coffee steam.
Mother comes in like Scott of the Antarctic carrying tents of shopping.
The garçon brings a cappucino and croissants on which she wields her
knife with the off-frantic precision of violins in Hitchock’s shower scene.
Soon I will tell her. Show her dust in the sugar spoon. Her knife gouges
craters in the dough like an ice-axe and she tells the story on nineteen
Siberian ponies she queued behind in the supermarket. Of Captain
Oates who boxed her fallen ‘Ariel’. The chocolate from the cappucino
has gone all over her saucer. There is a scene and silence. Now tell her.
Tell her above the coffee table which scrapes with the masked voice of a
pier seeming to let in some waters, returning others to the sea, diverting
the pack-ice which skirts around its legs. Tell her a fact about you she
knows but does not know and which you will tell her except that the
surviving ponies are killed and the food depot named Desolation Camp
made from their carcasses keeps getting in the way. From this table we
will write postcards, make wireless contact with home and I will tell her
of King Edward VII Land, of how I have been with Dr Wilson and then
alone, so alone, in day-blizzards just eleven miles short of the Pole and
ask her to follow me. I am afraid she has been there already. She smiles
like the Great Beardmore Glacier and goes out into the street with stick
girls to the thirty-four sledgedogs and the motor-sledges. You are too
late. Amundsen is in Forfar. She has an appointment. Behind me I can
sense the canvases, the dried grasses pressed into their grain like eczema
on an open palm. Later I will discover her diary and what I told her.

–David Kinloch, from Paris – Forfar (Polygon, 1994)


Update: May 10, 2015. The PoMoSco Scoutmasters posted badge rankings today. The total possible points awarded were 600. Look how many of us completed all the badges!



Bon voyage!


Currently thankful for….

Four perfectly working engines, two structurally sounds wings, and a trustworthy flight crew

Two enthusiastic chaperones and a lot of families who worked all year to send this group of kids off on a grand adventure

A daughter who’s willing to venture a few thousand miles out of her comfort zone

Digital devices that let us track a transatlantic flight in the middle of the night from the comfort of our beds

A big ol’ planet dotted with amazing things, people, food, art, architecture, and cheese that sometimes you just have to go see for yourself

Reading Challenge month 3 – A classic romance


When H chose this category last month, the image that immediately came to my mind was that rack of pink-covered Harlequin Romances at the book store when I was a kid.

That rack that I passed with barely a glance on my way to the brown clad books: dogs, horses, reference.

In fact, I went in search of that rack for a picture for this post and you know what I found? Fifty shades of grey. Quite literally. To be sure, there’s still a scattering of covers dressed in pinks and purples depicting clutching couples, shirtless men, and gowned damsels in distress. But most of the romance covers are unlike those of my dusty pink memory. They’re blue and black and grey, with motorcycles and vampires and empty landscapes. Old houses, space ships, jewels, and, of course, blindfolds.

And still, between the covers, it’s almost always that same long-told, reassuring story: one meets another, there’s the spark (love, hate, disdain, attraction), there’s the longing and the eventual coming to terms, there’s the obstruction (cruel step mother, overseas job, old girlfriend, different species, different planet), there’s the long montage of return to each other. And then there’s the ending… together or apart, with some hope that there will be love at some point, if only in a different time and place.

For this challenge, all I really wanted to do was read my favorite Jane Austen (Persuasion), which has all of the above elements in abundance, plus (to my mind) a heroine who truly deserves the happiness she attains at the end. Instead, I read a more recent classic: The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles.

It was fine. It had most of the elements. It had Sarah in her dark cloak at the end of the Cobb being buffeted by the wind and waves (the Cobb, in fact, makes an appearance in Persuasion). But it was no Persuasion. And now I’ve learned that the crucial element (for me) is the ending: Elizabeth and Darcy must end up in incandescent happiness. Anne and Frederick must end up on the deck of his ship, setting out for adventure.

Otherwise, what’s the point?


Our books for month 3:

We’d love to know what you read this month. Please leave a comment telling us about it!

The category for the coming month is:


If you need help finding a book, here are some good resources (note, however, that just because a book was popular or best selling in a particular year doesn’t mean it was necessarily first published in that year; check the information for the particular book you want to read):

We’ll see you back here on May 9!

This post is part of our multi-year reading challenge. We’d love to have you join us for the whole challenge or any portion. Take a look at the checklist to see the current category (in green). We’ll announce the next category on the 9th of each month.

If you talk about it long enough you’ll finally write it

PoMoSco-Website-Badge-2As much jabbering as I do here about myself, there are probably still one or two things you don’t know about me.

Here’s one: when I was little I was a Brownie, and then I “flew up” to become a Junior Girl Scout, and then, after the novelty of wearing my uniform and sash with badges to school once a week on meeting days wore off, I gave all that up. I’m not really a joiner.

When I first became a Brownie, the thing that interested me most about the whole affair was the manual. It was a square, orange-colored, soft-covered reference book that contained all you needed to know about being a good Brownie: the uniform details, how to wear the sash, the story of how the Brownies came to be, a comprehensive list of all the badges you could earn, the pledges you would recite, the behavior expected of you at meetings and in your community, the songs you would need to memorize, the suggested games and activities for Brownie meetings.

As I remember it, near the back of the book (but it could have been anywhere), there were sketches of Girl Scouts in their uniforms. The dimple-faced Brownie in her brown outfit, the Junior in her green. As you progressed through the evolution from Brownie to Senior, the uniforms (always a dress or a skirt, mind you, back in those days) got more elegant to my mind. The older girls wore cute berets worn slightly askew…. and white gloves. I gave serious consideration to whether I could tough it out long enough to get to white glove stage. Then I thought better of it and went back to my blue jeans and model horses.

I spent a lot of time in that book. More time, in fact, than I spent at meetings or activities. I didn’t much enjoy the activities, but, even back then, grade 2 or 3, I really dug a reference book.

Some things never change.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, today starts National Poetry Month and though I agree with Mary Ruefle that November could use more poetic attention, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t cram the year with a much poetry as possible, so why not celebrate poetry in April? This year, as in past years, I’ll mark the occasion by adding a new poem to this post every day for the month.

On top of that, I’m going back to scouting. Poetry scouting, that is. I’ll be participating in the Found Poetry Review’s  PoMoSco project, where I and 212 other poetry scouts (representing 43 states and 12 countries) will be creating and posting a new found poem every day for the month of April.

Each day there’s a new type of found poetry to compose, a new badge to earn. Through March, I’ve been preparing by gathering source texts and writing some first drafts, but today is when it all becomes real.

Enough talk; it’s time to write.


Details for Paterson

I just saw two boys.
One of them gets paid for distributing circulars
and he throws it down the sewer.

I said, Are you a Boy Scout?
He said, no.
The other one was.
I have implicit faith in
the Boy Scouts

If you talk about it
long enough
you’ll finally write it—
If you get by the stage
when nothing
can make you write—
If you don’t die first

I keep those bests that love
has given me
Nothing of them escapes—
I have proved it
proven once more in your eyes

Go marry! your son will have
blue eyes and still
there’ll be no answer
you have not found a cure
No more have I for that enormous
wedged flower, my mind
miraculously upon
the dead stick of night

–William Carlos Williams, From The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. Copyright © 1988 by Christopher MacGowan

That’s a bonus poem for you.

From now on, I’ll be adding a link each day to a poem that somehow relates to the day’s PoMoSco badge category (in parentheses). I hope you’ll also visit us over on the PoMoSco site to see our poems there. (If you want to see the poems I’m writing, you can get there by using this direct link.)

April 1 (Pick and Mix) ~ Pick ‘n’ Mix , by Holly Magill
April 2 (Shake it Up) ~ Back Yard, by Carl Sandburg
April 3 (White Out) ~ Departure and Departure and…, by George Bruce
April 4 (On Demand) ~ The Grind, by Ange Mlinko
April 5 (All Ears) ~ LXI, by César Vallejo
April 6 (First in Line) ~ Louisiana Line, by Betty Adcock
April 7 (Roll the Dice) ~ Here, by Arthur Sze
April 8 (Redacted) ~ a little bit of poetry, by tychogirl
April 9 (X:Y) ~ X Minus X, by Kenneth Fearing
April 10 (Interloper) ~ The Interloper, by Thomas Hardy
April 11 (Haiku Anew) ~ Not That It’s Loneliness, by Chloe Moorish
April 12 (Chance Walk) ~ A Late Walk, by Robert Frost
April 13 (Picture It) ~ Picture of Little Letters, by John Koethe
April 14 (Survey Says) ~ Phone Survey, by Carole Langille
April 15 (As Advertised) ~ The Letter, by Dana Gioia
April 16 (Blender) ~ Miniature Delights, by Anne Ryland
April 17 (Spelling B) ~ I Wave Good-bye When Butter Flies, by Jack Prelutsky
April 18 (Open Book) ~ Granted, by Maxine Chernoff
April 19 (Quiet on Set) ~ Passing Through, by D.A. Powell
April 20 (Off the Shelf) ~ Canada, by Billy Collins
April 21 (Interrogator) ~ The Wrong Question, by Anne Swannell
April 22 (Dialed In) ~ The Farm on the Great Plains, by William E. Stafford
April 23 (Click Trick) ~ The South Transept Window, St. Lucia at Lowhampton, by Martin Monahan
April 24 (Best Laid Plan) ~ To a Mouse, by Robert Burns
April 25 (Crowdsource) ~ Out of the Rolling Ocean, the Crowd, by Walt Whitman
April 26 (Pinch an Inch) ~ The Sciences Sing a Lullabye, by Albert Goldbarth
April 27 (Spaced Out) ~ Theories of Time and Space, by Natasha Trethewey
April 28 (Cut it Out) ~ Cut Out For It, by Kay Ryan
April 29 (Substitute Texter) ~ The Steam Engine, by Elizabeth Wills
April 30 (Order’s Up) ~ Paris – Forfar, by David Kinloch

Hidden spring

Hidden spring

The internet’s serving up photos of crocuses and daffodils. I hear tell of apple and pear blossoms, kids and lambs, and Easter egg hunts.

Around here, spring seems reluctant. There’s tell-tale mud, to be sure. But there’s still snow. And nothing is blooming.

When I look up into the trees, they look as quiet and empty as the winter that’s just passed.

But just because we can’t see something happening, doesn’t mean it isn’t.


There’s a thaw beneath the fallen snow
And the geese don’t know which way to go
There’s a warm wind blowin’ round the bend
And the days are growin’ long again

And I will go down by the river
And wash the cold away
And gaze across the water all day

There’s a bird rehearsing on a wire
And a soft green underneath the briar
There’s a hazy ring around the moon
And the rains of spring are comin’ soon

–Cheryl Wheeler, from “Spring“, 1997