Favorite Books for Spring

PicMonkey Collage

Springtime brings so much with it from a bounce in your step to a breeze in your hair to a song in your heart. There’s a feeling that can only be described as spring, or perhaps the longing for a true spring on sunny February days before the cold has completely gone like we are having now. What can we do when we want spring so badly but we can’t have it quite yet?

We read, of course! If you’re itching for the perfect book to read this spring, a book that will sing of the season as you do, try the ones below.

20518799

The Iridescence of Birds: A Picture Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan – This picture book about Matise is full of delicate springtime colors that make me want to sing like the birds. The entire book is only two sentences long, but it is lovely in its simplicity and delightful in its message. Parents and educators will also appreciate the educational component as the book explores the life and works of Matisse in the most poetic way imaginable.

1328751On Meadowview Street by Henry Cole – I’m not sure this book is too well known, but I think it should be someone’s life goal to change that. This picture book follows a young girl who grows tired of the grassy green lawn at her house that looks just like the grassy green lawns of all her neighbors. Nothing much happens in her lawn, and it isn’t very interesting. All that changes when she convinces her father to leave part of the yard to grown the next time he mows. From there she decides to plant a tree and even put in a pond. The family’s boring old yard quickly becomes a beautiful park, as well as the envy of all the neighbors – who begin to plant trees of their own. Again, the educational element of this book makes it a great pair for learning about ecosystems or permaculture.

140212The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis – Nevermind the snowfall on the cover, this is my number one book for springtime. Why? “Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight. At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more. When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death. When he shakes his mane, spring shall come again.”

 

 

272752Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman – I think I have mentioned this book on the blog before, but I just love it so much! This tiny book tells the big story of how a community garden is begun and cultivated in a vacant city lot. Each chapter follows a different character and the book truly shows the value of our connection with the earth and with each other.

 

 

402032The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett – A list of springtime books would be incomplete without this classic. I love my copy of Mary Lenox’s story like an old friend, as I remember the wonder with which I read it for the first time. That first desire for a bit of earth in the spring which is the rain falling on the sunshine is etched in the memory of many children, for in no season more than spring are we aware of the Magic all around us. This beloved book tells the story of the awakening earth and the awakening heart.

860532

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – This book makes my spirits soar in the same way the spring does, which means I’ve probably talked about this one on the blog before, too. Everyone should read this charming story, but especially writers. To read Cassandra’s diary is to meet a friend and have long, late night conversations with her, finding that you are alike in all of your fears and aspirations.

 

Advertisements

County Roads

River“Why did I listen to you? I was going to take the other road. You have no sense of direction.” (This is true.)

“You weren’t listening to me, you were listening to the GPS. This is the road the GPS said to take!” (Also true.)

“I wasn’t going to listen to the GPS. It thought that other road connected to something and it didn’t. It stopped in the middle of nowhere.” (Frightening.)

We were in the Upper Peninsuala of Michigan, alone. We had food, a tent, and other survival equipment with us in the car, but we were running low on water. The road before us was packed dirt, rough like a series of speed bumps one after another after another. We had no phone signals, and there was no sign of another human being for miles. If our little Toyota Camry got stuck in one of the low places made muddy from recent rain, we would be on our own.

Over Labor Day weekend, we put the dog in the kennel and set out on a grand wilderness adventure. From our home in southwest Michigan we drove to St. Ignace on the north side of the Straights of Mackinack. Our first day didn’t feel so remote: we had beakfast in town and toured around Mackinack Island on bycicle and foot. There were no cars on the island, of course, but there were plenty of people.

That changed on day two when we packed up camp and drove west along the coast of Lake Michigan. It seemed people only lived out there so they could sell us homemade pasties, jerkey, slim jims, and smoked fish, knit us cosy mittens, and sell us gas. The main road – which we were on – was paved, one lane each way, and lined by nothing but lake, sky, and trees.

We reached Pictured Rocks and hiked eleven miles through true wilderness. “All good things are wild and free,” they say, and that was certainly true of this place. After our hike we drove for hours along a winding, unlit road, watching lightning in the sky above the forest tunnel that surrounded us. We were in search of food, and found it, in the tiny town of Grand Marias on the coast of Lake Superior. But we were keenly aware that the brewery we’d found was likely serving the only food availible for hours in any direction.

We kept on that night to Tahquamenon Falls, camped, and enjoyed both the views and the hot food availible at the upper falls in the morning.

Which brought us to the dirt roads.

Our plan was to travel farther north up to Whitefish Point to visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum before heading all the way back home. But we’d seen a sign not too far back for the Big Two Hearted River recreational area.

English major and literature junkie that I am, I’d brought a copy of Hemingway’s collected stories specifically for this opportunity.

So we backtracked a bit until we found the sign, and we followed the arrow.

Little did we know, the arrow was pointing miles back to the mouth of the river, which was hours of gravely dirt county roads away.

We drove until it became obvious that the sign had not been pointing to something nearby. There’d been a small bridge over a branch of the river, so we decided to go back there, snap some photos, and call it good. Time was beginning to weigh on us, and we still wanted to get up to the Point. So we plugged in the GPS and punched in our destination.

We were hours away. But the GPS found another route, one that shaved off about half the time.

“Oh, the GPS says to turn here,”  I said.

And Caleb turned.

And it was the scariest drive of my life. The adventurousness of our trip faded away as I thought about what it meant to be in the middle of the wilderness I often long for.

If something went wrong, no one would see us. No one would stop to help. And we could not call anyone.

I truly realized for the first time how dangerous travel was for generations before us, with their horse-drawn carriages and minimal supplies. As I gripped the handle of the passenger door and prayed while we bounced over the uneven road and took turns too fast out of fear that if we slowed down, we’d get stuck, I would have given anything for a glimpse of asphalt.

We made it out, thanks to Caleb (who does have a good sense of direction) and made it through the rest of our trip without mishap. But I will never look at a “County Road” the same way again, and travelers beware of what the sign for the Two Hearted River on MI 123 doesn’t say – miles and hours of dirt road, this way.)

Oh, but I got my photos.

Two-Hearted

Frozen! Anna’s Winter Dress

Guys, I made this costume for work. The only thing better would be if I could have made it at work. But seriously, this was one of the easiest costumes I’ve ever done! I found the light blue blouse, a black t-shirt, and the blue skirt for $15 in a single trip to the Goodwill one block away from my house. A quick Google for Anna’s costume details revealed stencils and color guides.

I simply trimmed up the t-shirt to the shape of Anna’s vest, hemmed the new edges, and shaped up the collar of the blouse. Then, guided by a YouTube tutorial, I drew the designs onto the vest and skirt with white eyeliner, and painted them in.

Ta-da!

Winter dress

 

Anna

To finish it off, I used one of those great JoAnn’s coupons to get three yards of pink fleece for another $20 and with some quick cuts and just a little bit of sewing created Anna’s cloak. The lining fabric was provided courtesy of Juliet, who shewed up the bottom of our burgundy duvet cover.

Pink cloak

 

Anna

Costumes are so fun! I’m thinking that for Halloween, I will try to find time to add the gold details to the bodice and reuse this costume, which is one reason I didn’t mind spending the out of pocket money for the materials. Also – for $35 this costume was cheaper and (in my opinion) better than a store-bought version of Anna’s winter outfit.

Since no one is thinking about Halloween 2015 yet, what did you dress as for Halloween 2014? Did you make your costume or buy it? Let me know!

How are the Roads?

Skunk cabbage

In Michigan, in February, there is one question I hear more than any other question – more even than “How are you doing?” What question is that?

“How are the roads?”

As much as people instinctively respond “good” to the first question, they seem to take an inexplicable joy in relating just how “bad!” their journey was in the snow. The roads were absolutely terrible, barely even cleared, there were at least a dozen cars on the sides of the roads, and visibility was zilch.

Sometimes that sounds like the answer to the other question. The answer we never give.

Winter tends to have the same effect on my creativity as it does on the roads. It’s hard to find inspiration when everything around me is white or slush brown, and there’s no end in sight. It’s hard to be productive when all I want to do is curl up under every blanket we own and hibernate like a bear until spring.

I think it would be better if I forgot about the bear and tried to be more like skunk cabbage.

Skunk cabbage?

I’d never heard of this plant before moving to Michigan, where it grows freely in the ravine behind my house and my in-laws’ house, and in the local nature center where I like to walk. No one much cares for it, but I think the purple, wild, beak-like flower is really beautiful. What I didn’t know about skunk cabbage until just recently is that it has the ability to generate temperatures 20-60 degrees above the temperature of the air around it.

I know, it’s crazy!

This means that these little green plants started growing in the nature center last week, during the middle of our heaviest, longest snow of the season (so far).

So I want to be a skunk cabbage, and grow, and be green, in February, so I can tell people that the roads are just fine.

Iron Belle

P1040147

If you live in Michigan, you might have seen (or heard?) the news about the “new” statewide trail that will be going in over the next few years. The Iron Belle Trail stretches from Ironwood at the west end of the Upper Peninsula to Belle Isle just outside Detroit. I’ve been waiting for news of places to do some real hiking for a year now, so I’m ecstatic!

I’m so excited, in fact, that I may or may not have set up a second blog to put trail news. Okay, yes, I did. Right now, at this link, you can find out about the Iron Belle, the North Country Trail, and a few guide books along with information about why there aren’t more.

Here it is: northcountryhike.wordpress.com

I’ll be updating there with news about the trails progress, our progress on the trail, and other relevant information.

Happy Trails!

2014: A Big Year

Yes, this is a recap post. 🙂 2014 has been such a huge year for me, personally, academically, and in the world of literature. Instead of summarizing my summary, I’ll get right to it.


Winter

January Wedding

In January, I became Mrs. Vander Ark and moved all the way up to Southwest Michigan, during one of the snowiest winters they’d had in years! Our wedding was largely DIY, and it was a huge relief to be done planning for it.

Shortly after we moved into our cozy basement apartment, I received my first online publication (independent from my undergraduate school’s journal) from TWJMagazine.

In February I started working at the Bridgman Public Library, where I do children’s programming and order picture books through middle grade books – which increased the number of books I read quite a lot!

Notable Reads

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
  • Fortunately, the Milk – Neil Gaiman
  • Bats at the Library – Brian Lies

Spring

Left Bed

My MFA in creative writing at Spalding University began at the end of May, and the week I spend surrounded by other writers in Louisville, KY, was probably the most inspiring time of my life. It came just after the official closure of my undergraduate degree when we walked with our classmates in the early May graduation ceremony at University of the Cumberlands.

After Memorial Day, I also began writing for the Infusco Coffee Roasters blog… and spending a lot of time in the shop!

Caleb and I also tried our hand at raised-bed gardening for the first time and were far more successful than we anticipated.

Notable Reads

  • Wonder – R. J. Palacio
  • The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap – Wendy Welch
  • Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers – Frank Walker

Summer

Brick House

We bought a house! And proceeded to spend an entire month renovating. We refinished the floors, painted ceilings, walls, and cabinets, and moved in to our first house.

My CNF story “There Are No Buffalo Here” appeared in print via Garbanzo Literary Journal this summer. I couldn’t have picked a better place for it!

Notable Reads

  • Norman, Speak! – Caroline Adderson
  • Young House Love – the Petersiks
  • This Moose Belongs to Me – Oliver Jeffers

Fall

j

As if we hadn’t been blessed enough by the rest of the year, September brought us our beloved beagle/foxhound puppy, Juliet. She is smart, loving, playful, and generally pleasant, and we love her to pieces.

We hosted our first Halloween Party and Thanksgiving dinner in our new home, and settled in for the rest of the holiday season.

I switched my concentration at Spalding from CNF to writing for children and young adults, and so far I’m loving it!

Notable Reads

  • Landline – Rainbow Rowell
  • Wild – Cheryl Strayed
  • We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

If you’re interested, you can see everything that I read in 2014 (200+ books) through this link. If you’d rather just know which books I had a lot to say about, check here, here, here, or here.

Here’s to a great 2015! Anyone want to share your resolutions? Mine are to start running again, have a more successful garden, and read more than I did this year. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Greenglass House

Greenglass House

I know I bombarded last week’s post with mini-reviews… so here’s a longer one! Kate Milford’s Greenglass House is a wonderful read for curling up by the fire or Christmas tree with a mug of hot cocoa. There’s no better time of year to read it! For one thing, it’s snowing throughout the entire book. For another, it takes place during Milo’s Christmas vacation. For another, it’s set in a huge, mysterious house full of both people with secrets and secrets of it’s own.

Themes of the book include treasure hunts, roleplaying, making friends, and figuring out who is trustworthy and who is not. Milo is a somewhat compulsive child who likes everything to be just how it is supposed to be, down to the placement of pencils and notepads on his desk. This is a trait he both accepts about himself over the course of the book and is able to overcome when necessary.

Greenglass House reminded me of the Mysterious Benedict Society ( highly intelligent, quirky children, a house full of secrets, unique and funny grown up characters who do not treat the children as if they are stupid) and, weirdly, of Murder on the Orient Express (lots of people confined to a small place, a mystery that must be solved before they are able to leave). Both of these similarities are big check marks in my book. Plus – just take a second and appreciate that awesome cover!

Cleverly written and with a bit of a twist ending, readers of any age (advanced lower grade and up) would enjoy snuggling up with this story over their own Christmas vacations.

Happy winter reading!