Sunday, August 31, 2008

Summer of love and books: my summer review

I'm officially back to work, folks. Summer was lovely and fleeting and swift and jam-packed. I read some great books, and now that I look at the stack here, I realize it was mostly a non-fiction summer. I'm tending to lean in that direction lately, I guess.

Now that I'm back to teaching, I mostly re-read the books I teach in 3 different classes, so the new ones thin out a bit during the school year. Speaking of reading books for classes!!! I AM teaching the new class I created and proposed called Outdoor Literature. I'm just a little excited. Those poor kids. I'm going to give them piles of books to read and drool all over them and jump for joy everytime we head out to the beautiful pine forest behind my school for class.

Three books from the pile are ones I'll be teaching, so I'll start with those. (Bless your heart if you are actually going to read all of this. I'll try to keep my blurbs short.)

Between a Rock and Hard Place: You remember hearing this story about the guy who had to cut off his arm to free himself from a fallen boulder? It's a GREAT read. He's actually a pretty talented writer. It could have been done in about 150 pages less, but that's okay.

Touching the Void: Very much in the style of Krakauer's Into Thin Air, a survival story of a climber in Peru. It's a real page turner.

Last Child in the Woods: A smart and thoughtful look into the gifts our children gain from playing outside and learning the cycles of nature just by being out in it all the time. I didn't think I needed convincing about this, but some of of his research was really amazing. Not playing outside enough leads to ADHD? I believe it.

In case you're wondering, the other books I'm teaching in this class are Into the Wild (Krakauer), Last American Man (Gilbert) Walden (Thoreau), and Outermost House (Beston) plus a 2-inch course pack full of essays and poems.

And on to the others:
Kitchen Confidential: You know Anthony Bourdain, the tough guy on the Food Network? His book is sordid and gossipy and full of interesting insights about the restaurant world. Like, never order seafood salad in a restaurant, as this is a thinly veiled attempt for chefs to get rid of their almost-bad fish. Good to know!

Under the Banner of Heaven: Yikes! Enough said.

The Way Life Should Be: A cute novel, a Maine story, and definitely meant for summer (a love story gone awry). What I loved about this main character is she ends up starting up her own little cafe and bakery on a Maine island which is a life I sometimes fantasize about.

Confessions of an Economic Hitman: One of my students from last year made me promise her I'd read this. (She said: Just think of all the books I had to read because you told me to!) Fair enough. So. This book is scary and alarming about our government's involvement in sabotaging third world countries for the financial benefit of major corporations. It's important for us to be aware of this stuff.

But I like to read about prettier things. Like babies and butterflies.

Out Stealing Horses: You know how I feel about that.

Here if You Need Me: My favorite of the non-fiction. A story of a woman who went to seminary after her husband was tragically killed and then became the chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. For a spiritually searching girl like me, it was perfect. I am consciously stopping myself here from going on and on and on and on. Her voice is one the bravest, clearest, and (sometimes) funniest I've read in a while. I HIGHLY recommend it.

Olive Kitteridge: A novel written about the main character (title) from the perspective of everyone in the town who knew her, a series of vignettes. It's sort of dark, but many of the imges stayed with me all summer.

That's all! I'd love to hear about the great books you read this summer too.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Through Marie's eyes

Our friend Marie, an amazing photographer, took some shots of our kids while she was here in Maine visiting the O'Reillys last week. (Marie was flown in from Ireland for Meredith's 30th birthday surprise). LUCKY US.

Thanks, MARIE! Come back soon.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My aching heart

Someone gave me a card when I was pregnant with Skyler with the well-known expression:

"Having Children is Like Watching Your Heart Walk Around Outside of Your Body."

How true.

And next week my little baby is going to pre-school, and I'm having a hard time letting that settle in. Of course, she's used to going to daycare, and she is fairly adventurous in spirit, but I can't get rid of the lump in my throat. My girl. Having a whole day of school with a teacher and other students, and I won't be there to see what she loves and what makes her nervous and hear
what funny things she says. And imagining her at that first moment when she realizes she's going to stay at this school by herself all day, the moment she decides to be big and brave and do the best she can do is almost more than I can stand.

I know, I know. I'm not the first mother to have these feelings and I can just about guarantee that after the first few days she'll love it. I'm just really nervous about the first day. Skyler has a little side to her that gets nervous and panicky and because she's still 3, she's emotionally unpredictable. What if that panicky side kicks in at the moment it's her time to walk into school?

We have talked and talked about school. She has met her teacher (though she was suddenly struck with shyness and wouldn't talk to her) and loved her classroom. She has talked non-stop since we visited about how much fun it's going to be. But I know her, and I fear she's going to balk at the last minute when it's time for me to go.

So I did what any good mother would do.

I asked my mom to take her to school on the first day. I just can't handle the thought of having to walk away and leave her there if she gets scared. Plus, my mom will have the flexibility to stay with her if she needs more time to get comfortable.

Just watch. Maybe she''ll skip into that school and never look back, come home full of stories of all that she learned, beg to go back right away. What a blessing that would be.

Either way, I'll be at work waiting for a report from my mom of how she did. And I'll be watching the clock slowly tick away until I can go to the playground gate and get her famous running-jumping hugs that I get every day.

My heart. Outside of my body.

This is the part that no one could ever prepare you for before you have children. All of these changes and steps are such leaps of faith for us. I'm left holding my breath, trusting the world to be good and kind to my most
unbelievably precious little person.

When I was pregnant, I had a habit of looking at huge groups of people with a sense of reassurance: See? All these people survived birth! And look at all these women who survived childbirth! Lately, I've been looking at everyone thinking: LOOK! All these people survived their first day of school!

Next Wednesday is her big day. I mean my big day. I mean hers. We'll let you know how it goes.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

For those keeping tabs on Chris...

Chris already made it to the bottom of Norway (275 miles) and is currently on the ferry to Denmark (we know this because he emailed AND called my mom to say Happy Birthday (good boy)). He says Norway was gorgeous and he's looking forward to the next leg. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 25, 2008

One more goodbye

Another day at the lake.

This time with my beloved creative writers, now graduated, who leave for college this week. They proposed one last lunch (and God bless 'em, they brought their journals and wanted to write).

We love that Morgan.

Yep. Skyler made a little friend. EEEWWW. Salt did the trick (good thing Adam knew to do that).

Grace the beautiful.

My beauties! My superstars! My babysitters! My favorites (OKAY? I SAID IT).

Off they go (to UMaine, Univ. of Southern Maine, U of Vermont, Yale, Mount Holyoke, and Central America/Uganda/Argentina).

Sniff. See you at the holidays. Thanks for having us today, Adam.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Oh Brother, where art thou?

My brother Chris is at it again.

Another huge trip. (He's known for these)

This time, of epic proportions.

He left California last week and flew to Bergen, Norway. And now he's RIDING HIS BIKE by himself to Naples, Italy.

In case you haven't looked at a map recently, that's northern Europe to southern Europe, over 2000 miles. Crossing the Alps. He gave himself 45 days to get to Naples.

We Brand women are a little nervous. (Don't bring it up with my mommy. She'll cry). We're sure he'll be fine, but we are desperately awaiting his endearingly short and concise travel reports. So far, we've gotten 2 little messages that all is well and Norway is beautiful. But we WORRY! He'll be hungry! He'll get chafed! His bike will be "stolen by a band of thugs" (my mom's actual words).

What I mean is, YOU GO CHRIS! You're AMAZING! We're so PROUD of you!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The sparkliest day for a wedding

With Erica, the beautiful bride

Today we went to the wedding celebration of one of my dearest, brightest and coolest friends (who was my student 8 years ago... this makes me feel old).

Erica and her (now) husband Jack are building a house in Surry on this incredible finger-like peninsula with ocean on both sides. From their house it was a 1/2 mile hayride down their little road to the water where the party was. In other words, this is their back yard, their property, their home.
I get all misty-eyed thinking about it. It's beyond beautiful. It's a postcard view in every direction.

Not a bad spot for a wedding reception. And Erica cooked all the food!

Erica and Whitney
I used to teach/coach these girls and now they are out of college! working in the world! good, smart, accomplished people!

Scott was in my class my very first year teaching. Now he's a dad!

Janel was a diver when I coached the swim team way-back-when. Here she is being extra-cute and impressed when Skyler tells her she can dive into the pool.

Of course, my kids ended up naked and on the beach in short order.

Reed is going to go ahead and go back to the party in his diaper.

Saying goodbye to the big girls.

We love a wedding that starts and ends with a hayride through the woods.

I stopped the car on their road a few times to take some more pictures.

"Oh for heaven's sake," I said as we drove away. "What do we need to do to be able to live out here?"

Dear Erica. If there is a setting worthy of your presence, this is it. I love you! And congratulations!

American Folk Festival

The Bangor waterfront is hopping again this year. (This end-of-summer ritual makes me very happy and very sad: end of a long, lovely summer. When I run into all of my students, I say: "see you next week").

Friday night, Skyler and I headed downtown to meet a bunch of friends and go dancing.
Within the first 20 minutes, she spilled an entire ($4) strawberry-banana smoothie onto her lap, making her soaked and sticky-sweet right down to the undies, hence the ($10) folk festival t-shirt/ dress, commando.
Here we are at our first stop, the French-Canadian band:

Skyler and Ella:

And then they left and went back to the west.

boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo.

We miss my sister and the boys SO MUCH. We had such a fantastic week together.

Here we are on our last day. Thanks to a tip from a friend, we discovered a new amazing state park/beach to take the kids only 20 minutes away: Swan Lake. It was a perfect spot for our afternoon and dinner birthday picnic for my mom.

We used to do fried-chicken-with-all-the-fixings picnics all the time when we were growing up and wanted to do it again. Here is my main impression from this week's picnic:

It was SO much more relaxing when I was the kid lying on the blanket eating and my mom had prepared and dished out everything.

The big boys teach Reed how to skip rocks.

Sam taking the boys for a ride.

My mom opening her present.

How many people can say they got a new bike helmet for their mother's 71st birthday present?
She's ready for triathlon training!

We were the last ones there...

dear liesel. please come back right now.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My sister is here! My sister is here!

My sister Liesel and her two boys Cameron (7) and Grant (6) came from Utah for a week of Maine livin' and we are having a BLAST.

Good grief. I can hardly stand it. Lovely weather, hugs, kisses, silliness, and happiness all around. I only see my sister and her boys 2 times a year. NOT enough!!! (right now she's thinking... Well then? Move to Utah? Oops. We got a little attached to this place that happens to be REALLY far away from everywhere else.) I'm savoring every minute of our time together. (That is SO something my mom would say). But it's TRUE!

We loved taking the boys to the farm. Here they are cock-a-doodle-doing.

And then we marched them up the hill to say hi to the pigs.

Ummmm. The pig pen was empty. Skyler said: WHERE ARE THOSE PIGS?

I said: Let's go ask Farmer Beth.

You guessed it.


Another day trip included Birdsacre Sanctuary for injured birds (my nephews are crazy-into birds). At one point on our walk, I heard Cameron point to a cage and say, "Look, Mom. A kestral, the world's smallest falcon." (he was right!) Later, we were looking at a display of hundreds of different sized bird eggs. Skyler said: "Chicken eggs"! Cameron said: "No Skyler, these are the eggs of song birds and birds of prey." Smarty pants.

While there, let's attempt to photograph the 4 cousins together.

Where's Reed?

Reed ! Sit still!

Hey, come back here!

Alright, buster. We mean it!

Let's try the swing. Reed! Sit up!

They give up.

This one will have to do for now:

The birds? Oh yeah. Here's a great horned owl with injured legs

And this baby barred owl with a broken wing. Skyler did not want to leave this little guy. She keeps talking about how he "looked like he was going to cry!" I think he looks like he just walked into a surprise party.

Next stop: A swim in Green Lake. These Utah kids are loving the fresh water.
Skyler likes it too.

My pretty mommy with her Cameron