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Melissa Wiley is the author of The Martha Years books about Laura Ingalls Wilder's great-grandmother, Martha Morse Tucker, and The Charlotte Years books, about Laura's grandmother, Charlotte Tucker Quiner.
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1. Sometimes I miss the obvious

In my house this morning: a breadcrumb trail of Angry Birds playing cards leading from my bedroom, down the hall, through the kitchen, through the patio room, to the wide-open sliding door.
 
Me: “It’s freezing in here!”
 
Huck: “That’s what the trail is for. To show you what a cold day it is.”

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2. Scaling Wall

Something there is that does love a wall,
That sends the gangly boy-limbs clambering up
And bids the mother not to fuss or call
Out words of caution, not to spoil the bliss
Of racing, arms outspread, along the bricks,
Along the road that crests the world, the whole
Huge world six cinder blocks and seven leagues
Below. The boy is king, is wind, and she
Must hush: just study shrubs in neighbors’ yards,
Imagine herself a Seventies mom, unfazed
By threats to skull, spine, ulna, femur.
He shouts, he leaps; the earth (a mother too)
Shivers, lets loose the cord of gravity
This once, just once, and also on the next
Block, the next wall, each ridge that lures
Him skyward all the long way home.

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3. Downton Abbey Season 6, Episode 3

Downton Abbey Season 6 Episode 3

Well, I didn’t think I was going to have time to do Downton recaps this season—I mean, I don’t have time; it’s crazy how much I don’t have time for it. But I watched episode 3 on the treadmill this evening and doggone it, I miss talking about it with you guys. I thought I’d see if I could knock out a quick comment on each major plotline—no frills, no photos, no direct quotes, because that’s what turns a recap into a nine-hour endeavor. (No exaggeration.) Sound all right?

Spoilers below, obviously. :)

DON’T DREWE IT

Let’s see, where to begin. I’ll focus mainly on this week’s episode (argh, here I go already), but we’ve got to chat about the whole Drewe of Yew Tree Farm situation. Or maybe we don’t. I’m too irritated by that whole hamhanded series of events. My heart breaks to think of the family leaving the farm they and their forefathers have nurtured “since before Waterloo.” The wrenching resolution of that storyline illustrates one of the dominant themes of this season: the question of agency. Who has it, and who doesn’t. The difference between doing what you want to do and what you must—and what kind of must it is. Duty? Desperation? Social roles? Lack of options? Sometimes the “want” and the “must” overlap, but not often, so far this season.

Mrs. Drewe wants Marigold back (wants not to have had to give her up at all), but she has no agency, no say in the matter. Mr. Drewe wants conflicting things: to keep his farm; to keep his promises; to protect his wife’s mental health; to take care of his family. The farm, which is part of his being at the cellular level, is the thing that must be sacrificed. He started this chain of events in motion by agreeing to raise Marigold, and then by giving her back to Edith, and he’s doing what he sees as his duty by handing in the lease and relocating his family, to remove Mrs. Drewe from Marigold’s vicinity. And…as a plotline, I think this stinks. It’s one of those places where I’m just yelling at Julian Fellowes: “Write it differently! Come on!”

SAD-EYED MR. MASON 

Also out on his ear. Zero agency. New estate owner, new plans, old story. Of course it all seemed too coincidental last week—dear old Mr. Mason is going to need a new farm, and why look, there just happens to be a vacancy at Yew Tree. I made the same leap Daisy did, and this week I’m scratching my head, wondering why Cora hinted about “an idea” (strongly suggesting she was picturing Mr. Mason being able to take over for the Drewes) but is now being so cagey about it. Daisy, positively quivering with agency, is determined to maneuver her father-in-law into that gap whether Cora likes it or not. This is a pretty interesting turn of events, actually—Cora being all “oh, I don’t know, I wouldn’t get your hopes up” about it and Daisy just barreling ahead and announcing it to the world like it’s a done deal. “I want to get things settled,” she insists, when Molesley chides her for counting her chickens before they’re hatched. Daisy’s ready to start cracking open some shells. Her impetuous efforts to help Mr. Mason at the neighbor’s auction in Ep. 1 backfired rather badly, but it is to be hoped she’s more successful this time. I mean, that perfectly nice farm is wide open now, SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM, CORA? And how come this hasn’t occurred to anyone else? Robert makes such a convincing worry face but I’m not sure he’s had an original thought in a decade.

THOMAS, ODD MAN OUT

Second most infuriating storyline. Robert and Carson have accepted that a staff reduction is inevitable, but why fire someone when you can freeze him out? Thomas is openly, deliberately made to feel redundant at every turn. Carson seems to despise him. Honestly, this business seems out of character for Carson. He’s usually more direct. If you’re going to sack him, sack him already.

So Thomas goes on another job interview and I have to say, there was a moment in this scene that choked me up. The vast, empty house; the lonely old man. For a moment I thought Thomas was going to find a congenial and fulfilling position here: the chance to be important to someone, to be needed and useful. But the scene turned. The house is a tomb. Sir Michael is a ghost. Thomas, despite a dearth of other options, walks away from the opportunity. He won’t be the guy holding the tattered coattails of the 19th century as it staggers into the sunset, thirty years late. Nor is he eager to shift from being an under-utilized under-butler to the jack of all trades, master of none (no staff, that is) that is what Sir Michael’s servant will have to be.

What will become of him? I find I’m more interested in learning his fate than almost anyone else’s—with, I think, one exception. Another underdog, of course. But we’re coming to her.

THE HOSPITAL BUSINESS

War! Bloodshed! Venom! Hats with feathers perched at indignant angles! For three episodes, we’ve watched Violet and Isobel duke it out over the question of the Great Hospital Takeover. Good for the village, or bad for the village? Here again, of course, we’re grappling with the question of progress: is change a force for good, or for destruction? Everyone has an opinion except Robert, who isn’t allowed more than two opinions a season and he’s already spent one on the matter of where Carson and Hughes should have their wedding reception. (He was wrong, of course.) I expect he needs to save his other Season Six opinion for naming a new dog. Surely he’ll have a new dog to name soon, no?

But back to the hospital. Poor Violet, losing her allies one by one. Now even Dr. Clarkson is wavering. Isobel was pretty hard on him this week, and now he’s rethinking his position. Maybe a merger isn’t a terrible fate for the village. It’s interesting that in none of these barbed conversations has the subject of Sybil’s fate come up—how if the family had listened to Clarkson instead of the Important City Doctors, she might still be alive. I would have expected Cora to be more suspicious of the Royal Yorkshire.

One thing is certain: Cora has elbowed her way into this fight (as I certainly hoped she would), and Violet’s not going to forget that in a hurry.

ROBERT HAS INDIGESTION

This got ten seconds of screen time and had me convinced a heart attack was imminent and would either delay the wedding or interrupt it. But no, he just needed to burp. Carry on.

SPRATT AND MRS. BUSYBODY

Mrs. Denker is gleeful to have some dirt on Spratt—his no-good nephew escaped from prison and Spratt helped him on his way. She covers for him when the constable makes inquiries, and Spratt knows it’ll cost him, sooner or later.

MARY, MARY…

…didn’t have much to do this week. Except make faces about Edith and be dressed down by her mother over the wedding plans, which I enjoyed. Cora calls her out for “bullying” Carson and Mrs. Hughes into having the reception in the Great Hall. Mary can’t fathom a situation in which her opinion isn’t the correct one (she’s more like her grandmother all the time) and is baffled—and a little insulted—by the suggestion that she might not understand all the nuances of a situation.

Then she completely misguesses the way her mother will feel about having Anna and Mrs. Patmore rummage through Cora’s closet in search of an evening coat for the bride-to-be. Cora, bursting in upon the unexpected trio in her bedroom, behaves very badly indeed, addressing them coldly and severely. I’m glad she had the face to apologize later.

ALL ABOUT EDITH

This is who I really want to talk about. I can never resist a good “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” I cheered when she sacked the heinous editor; I crossed my fingers when she agreed to have a drink with Bertie; and I positively beamed when they hustled all night to put the magazine together. Come on, Edith. Unlike so many of the people around you, you have opportunity. You have options. You have a magazine, for Pete’s sake. And a flat in London! You’re a Muriel Spark character waiting to happen and I for one can’t wait.

CHARLES AND ELSIE CARSON

They did it. Whew. I really wasn’t sure it was going to be allowed to happen.

ENTER DOROTHY

Tom! I have nothing snarky to say. His return brings me one hundred percent delight, even his hokey ripped-from-the-Wizard-of-Oz line about having to go all the way to Boston to learn that Downton was his home.

Oooh, but does this mean Mary will have to share estate-running duties again? Or will Tom find something else to do?

As always, there’s so much more I could say. But I’m already late for the next thing. Chat away, my lovelies. Let’s pick it apart!

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4. early 20th century historical fiction reading list

Thought I’d share a few of the books I’ve tossed/will be tossing Beanie’s way during our 20th Century History studies…

Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart LovelaceRilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace. Betsy’s family, ever supportive of her writerly dreams, sends her on a trip to Europe in 1913. Venice, Germany, England. She’s in London when the Great War begins.

Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery. Always and forever one of my favorite books. Life on P.E.I. during WWI, with beloved brothers…and Ken Ford…away at the front.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth CareyA Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. When you hit the Roaring 20s, you gotta read Cheaper by the Dozen. That’s practically a Law of Homeschooling.

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller. This was one of my favorite reads during the CYBILs 2014 judging: the story of an English girl who gets involuntarily (at first) swept up in the fight for women’s suffrage.

 

Lost by Jacqueline DaviesLost by Jacqueline Davies. Wrenching story (how could it not be?) about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

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5. jan 1: jane eyre prep

image source: wikimedia commons

Charlotte Brontë. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

I’m teaching Jane Eyre to my lit class girls this month and therefore spent a good bit of last week prepping—a most delightful occupation. Here’s what was on my list of things to do:

• Reread the book (rererereread, more like)

• Compare movie/TV versions:
Masterpiece Theater miniseries, 2006 (Ruth Wilson, Toby Stephens)
1996 (Charlotte Gainsbourgh, William Hurt)
2011 (Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender)

Cathy David lecture (SO GOOD)

• Teaching Company “The English Novel” course, Lecture 11, “Novelists of the 1840s—The Brontës” (Audible.com version)

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (not really for the class, just because all of the above put me in the mood)

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6. 2015: Year of Paper

sketchbook page inspired by 20 Ways to Draw a Cat

It started, I think, with my commitment to a daily sketching habit in the fall of 2014. By last January, the habit was firmly established, and I only missed a handful of days all year. January is also when I started taking “kourses” at Sketchbook Skool—which exposed me to not just the lessons and work of accomplished artists, but also to their media of choice. Which is to say: they have firm opinions about pens, making them my kind of people.

Putting pen to paper in my sketchbook reminded me how much I love that feeling. Now, I have never enjoyed doing large amounts of handwriting—I can’t write my books longhand, for example. My wrist aches after a couple of pages. But I love penmanship: other people’s, mainly. My handwriting is changeable and seldom neat. I never managed to commit to one way of shaping letters, so I wind up with different kinds of I and r and k all in one line. Last night I was numbering pages in a new bullet journal and realized that some of my 4s were the pointy kind and some were not. Happens all the time. I like change, y’all.

varsity

Anyway—I can’t write volumes by hand all at once, but I adore the feeling of a good pen on the right kind of paper. Experimenting with various pens (Pigma Micron, Le Pen, Pilot Metropolitan, Lamy Joy with 1.1 nib) reminded me how much I love analogue notetaking. So while I still find apps like Workflowy useful for tracking particular kinds of tasks, in the past few months I have shifted almost entirely to written notekeeping.

Notes on paper

Bullet journaling works very well for me. I’ve always kept a notebook as an idea and memory catch-all: phone call records, tasks completed, shopping lists, story ideas, doodles—it all winds up in the notebook in a giant jumble. Adding a bullet-journal-style index and page numbers was a revelation: now I can have my hodgepodge but find things later. Perfect.

cahiers

For the first part of this year I used kraft-brown Moleskine Cahiers. They’re just the right size for tucking in my bag, they’re sturdy enough to handle the beating I give them, and they fill up in a month or two which means the continual fresh start I love. Then, in August, a glorious friend surprised me with a Midori Traveler’s Notebook. It was love at first sniff. I mean, I. JUST. ADORE. THIS. THING.

Midori TN and Wild Simplicity Daybook

A traveler’s notebook, if you don’t know, involves a cover (usually leather, sometimes cloth or vinyl) that has a sturdy elastic cord or two strung through the spine. You slip a paper notebook under the cord to hold it in place. Then you can use additional bands to hold other inserts—various types of notebooks, folders, calendars, even plastic credit-card sleeves or zipper pouches.

My Midori set-up

After playing with my Midori for a month or two, I settled into the configuration that works best for me: a weekly calendar insert, a grid notebook, and a kraft folder that holds stickers, postage stamps, notepaper, and such. I keep a monthly calendar, too, but I don’t need to carry the whole year around with me so I have begun photocopying (and shrinking a bit) the current month and clipping that to my weekly page.

Bullet journal

The blank grid insert is my bullet journal/idea repository/casual sketchbook, replacing the Moleskine Cahier. I number the pages and use the first page as an index, just as before. I like big fat checkboxes for my task lists, which I fill in with Prismacolor pencil as tasks are completed. Color is my happy place. :) I also like to paste in ephemera and sometimes embellish with stamps, doodles, or washi tape. Basically, these inserts become collages of all the things that occupy my days and my mind. I seem to do a fair amount of sketching in them, too, even though I have an actual sketchbook for that purpose—I work in the real sketchbook daily but the TN grid insert is a low-pressure place to experiment, and I always have it with me.

Thanks to Lesley Austin’s beautiful Wild Simplicity Daybook designs, I discovered that a week-on-two-pages spread is an excellent space for me to do some chronicling. I’ve posted before about how I use the Daybook for recording homeschooling and housekeeping notes. I really like having a separate space (and such a beautiful one) for those things. I wear so many hats, and I need ways to keep my roles sorted. The Daybook (visible under my Midori in a photo above), like all of Lesley’s paper goods, conveys a sense of peace and serenity, and so it has become a really nourishing space for me to jot down my notes about what the kids read, did, said. I always feel so happy when I open that book.

Taking a cue from that experience, I decided to try the Midori week-on-two-pages for my TN. The version I selected (Refill #19) has the week in seven horizontal boxes on the left page, and a grid page for notes on the right. I use Google Calendar for our family appointments and schedules, so a couple of times a week I open G-Cal and add any new appointments to the Midori insert. At the end of each day, I create an entry on the weekly calendar page, filling it with notes about what happened that day. It isn’t a to-do list, it’s more like a diary. Not what needs to be done (that’s what the bullet journal is for), but what I actually did. The facing page fills up with quotes, ephemera, drawings, and notes on things I’ve read or watched.

weekly spread

Since these pages serve as a kind of journal, I like to decorate them with washi, drawings, and watercolors. I wind up doing the ornamenting mostly on weekends. Often, I’ll start the week with two or three colors of washi in front of me, and that will set the tone for my week. This daily decorating is relaxing, it takes only moments, and I enjoy paging back through previous weeks.

So those are the two main TN inserts I carry around: the weekly calendar for journaling (more or less), and the grid notebook (Refill #2) for everything else. Those two inserts plus the kraft folder (Refill #20) make the Midori as fat as I like it to get. I could easily come up with uses for half a dozen more inserts (the TN’s capacity for letting you compartmentalize is its genius), but I found that I really prefer a non-chunky Midori.

However! I did decide to devote a single insert to all medical and health-insurance-related notes, and this has been one of my best moves ever. Instead of having those notes intermingled with everything else, they live in their own space now, with a list of phone numbers on the first page. I can tuck THAT insert into the Midori when we’re heading to an appointment. It’s perfect.

NEED MOAR PAPER

All this notebooking served to increase the satisfaction I was finding in putting pen to paper. And I found I was thinking about handwriting a lot. My little goddaughter sent me a thank-you note, and her mother’s handwriting on the envelope—the gorgeous, familiar handwriting that graced pages and pages of letters in the years after college when Krissy and I wrote to each other constantly—gave me a little jolt of joy and nostalgia. I hadn’t seen her writing in a while, and I missed it. I told her (via text, naturally) how happy I’d been to see her writing, and she said the same thing had happened to her when she saw my writing on the package I’d sent her daughter.

Shortly after that, I read that Atlantic article that was making the rounds about how the ballpoint pen killed cursive. Fascinating stuff, but the bit that grabbed me was this: “In his history of handwriting, The Missing Ink, the author Philip Hensher recalls the moment he realized that he had no idea what his good friend’s handwriting looked like. ‘It never struck me as strange before… We could have gone on like this forever, hardly noticing that we had no need of handwriting anymore.'”

Downton notes

He had no idea what his good friend’s handwriting looked like. I miss handwriting, I thought. The distinct and beloved scripts of my old friends flashed before my eyes. I’d know those hands anywhere, could pick them out of any penmanship lineup. My kids probably won’t experience that. Jane has friends on the other side of the country she talks to via electronic means every single day, but they probably don’t know each other’s handwriting. I have plenty of friends myself whose writing I’ve never seen. If we met after 1995, chances are I’ve seen your handwriting seldom or never. (Tanita! What’s your writing like?)

Channeling my inner Jane Austen

The handwriting epiphany spurred me to the next phase of my analogue journey: I started writing letters again. Like, by hand. I have penpals in Denmark, France, Austria, and England, as well as various friends across the U.S.

snail mail

I’m amused and a little baffled that for so many years I thought of letters owing replies as a kind of guilt-ridden chore—I always took forever to answer, always had them nagging in the back of my mind. Because the truth is: snail mail is the cheapest fun around. Sure, they’re slower to write than email; slower to arrive than a Facebook message. But that’s part of the charm: the slowing down, the taking time. Just as many of us have (re)discovered the joys of slow reading in the past couple of years, I have found satisfaction in…what to call it? Not slow writing, really, because part of the point is that instead of waiting months or even (gulp) years to answer a letter, I now try to reply within three weeks; I guess what I’m enjoying isn’t about speed (or lack of it) after all. It’s about a tactile experience. The skritch of a fountain pen on flecked paper. The careful selection of stamps. The smoothing-out of a bit of washi tape across a seal. The rustle of envelopes as they slide into the box, slumbering before their journey to places I’ll never go.

mail from denmark

And best of all: the incoming letters. Foreign stamps, unfamiliar scripts, universal experiences. Beautifully decorated, many of them—it’s like getting mail from Griffin and Sabine. This one written at a café in Vienna; that one at a Starbucks in Portland. Kaleidoscopic glimpses of a life gradually resolving into a picture. We talk about things we could easily tell via email, but we’ve decided to let these stories take the scenic route. Some of them never arrive, or show up months later, ragged and stained. This only makes us love them more.

I’m writing to say I’ll write soon

A piece of the experience that affords me much merriment is the impulse, whenever a letter arrives, to hurry to Facebook and ping the friend who sent it. “Got your letter! Will reply soon,” I’ll write, and “Yay, can’t wait!” she’ll ping back. Never mind that the letter asks questions which could be more immediately answered via any of a dozen digital platforms. The answers will keep. Come Saturday afternoon, I’ll settle in with my cocoa, my envelopes, my wonderful new pink Lamy Safari that I got for my birthday. Which paper—the whimsical or the lovely? The fern stamps, or the Ingrid Bergmans? I’m almost out of globals, and the post office won’t have the new ones for a while. But have you seen them, the moons? I’m already imagining them on dark blue envelopes…

Our digital and analogue worlds will forever be intertwined, I believe. We’ll snap photos of our beautiful incoming mail to share on Instagram, hashtagged so our kindred spirits can find and enjoy it. We’ll trade addresses on Facebook. We’ll email to find out if that letter ever arrived. We’ll scour Etsy for traveler’s notebook inserts and stock up on ink at Goulet Pens. We’ll sign up for swaps on websites, and then anxiously check tracking to see when packages might arrive. We’ll reblog Tumblr articles about clever ways to hack a bullet journal. We’ll watch Youtube videos about how to set up a Midori and we’ll tap the heart button a zillion times during an unboxing on Periscope. We’ll link to photos of new USPS stamp releases in our blog posts. 😉

new years eve desk

My blog, though, is perhaps the thing that suffered this past year as my attention shifted to paper and ink. I found that when I had a few quiet moments, I was more apt to want to spend them sketching or writing a letter than blogging. After ten years of a steady blog habit, that was a bit of a surprise. In January, this blog will be eleven years old. I’ve successfully figured out how to integrate my analogue and digital calendar-keeping and task-tracking, but it did take a little while for the pieces to settle into place. I expect the same will happen with blogging.

Happy New Year, friends!

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7. Overheard

Scott: “What’s with all the hand gestures?”

Huck: “I’m silent-beatboxing.”

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8. Early warning system

Huck: “Mommy, be prepared for me to shout, ‘It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas, woohoo!’ tomorrow morning. It will probably startle you.”

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9. I guess she has a future in catalog copy?

Rilla, standing in front of the coat closet: “I’m looking for Jane’s old coat with flowers on it.”

My mother, pulling out the flowered coat directly in front of Rilla’s face: “You mean this one?”

Rilla: “No, Mom said it was an aqua background. That’s seafoam.”

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10. Heavy Artillery

Huck (returning home from a playdate): Can I add something to my wish list? Two shields, a sword and a cotton ball.

Me: …A cotton ball?

Huck: You know, the little white round puffy kind?

Me: Okay, so a regular cotton ball. I’m just curious, what’s it for?

Huck: Well, it could be two shields and TWO swords. But Parker only has one sword, so he let me use it, and he had a cotton ball that he threw at me and I deflected it with my shield EVERY TIME.

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11. december 11: well, that was interesting

duolingo french

We had quite a week here. First a stomach virus laid most of us low, and then yesterday when I was finally feeling more like myself, I managed to wrench my back during a cough. So stupid.

But a lot of nice Decemberish things happened in between the grim bits. Before I got sick, I led a craft workshop for a group of teen girls—we made little Midori-style booklets out of envelopes and washi tape, a favorite project of mine. :) I got the tree up yesterday—no ornaments yet, just the lights—and even a strand of outdoor lights. And we had a double birthday this week, celebrated with marshmallow krispie treats instead of cake.

Last December I was reading novels nonstop for the CYBIL Awards. This year, I’ve hardly read a thing. This month, I mean. Between work and kids and illness, my brain just hasn’t been there. Except for reading Christmas books to the kids, of course. Jingle the Christmas Clown, Christmas Trolls, The Baker’s Dozen, Hanna’s Christmas (Huck’s pick, I swear).

I did a Periscope yesterday (about five minutes before I messed up my back) about how we use Memrise and Duolingo for foreign language and other things—a topic I’ve addressed here on the blog many a time. Earlier in the week when I was too sick to read, I found it soothing to review Memrise topics I’ve completed in the past…U.S. Presidents, British Monarchs. Rilla is loving Duolingo French and is now at a great age to use that program. As I said in the ’scope, it’s a bit too advanced for Huck—too much English spelling, let alone German—but there are aspects of the platform that he really loves, and if I sit with him to help with the spelling he gets along pretty well.

No plans this weekend except rest, answering some letters, and maybe cracking a book that has a spine thicker than a quarter-inch. You?

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12. december 4: fun with sarah mackenzie

My friend Sarah Mackenzie of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast is in town for a speaking engagement, so we got to hang out for a while. (Kortney, we missed you!) We decided to hop on Periscope for quick hello and wound up chatting about Betsy-Tacy and Little House and middle-grade vs. chapter books, and all sorts of bookish things. Super-fun. Come back soon, Sarah!

Sarah interviewed me on Read-Aloud Revival a while back—here’s the link if you missed that episode. If books are your jam, you should subscribe to the podcast; Sarah has some awesome guests lined up for next year—and the archive of previous episodes is full of riches.

How to find us on Periscope: I’m @melissawiley and Sarah is @amlovelythings. :)

 

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13. december 3: who composed me?

IMG_0269.PNG

I’ve written before about how useful my kids and I have found Memrise for foreign language study and certain kinds of rote memorization. We’ve tackled the American Presidents and the Monarchs of England this way, and I dip into various German vocab lists every six months or so to keep my intermediate-ish skills from backsliding.

IMG_0275.PNG IMG_0272.PNG

Today we were exploring new courses and happened upon this gem: “Who Composed Me?” You listen to audio samples of particular musical works and match them to their composers. We’re having a lot of fun with it so far. This mini-course lends itself well to group study. We already know several of the pieces by heart, having enjoyed them in our own composer study times in years past. I like to pick one composer a month to encounter Charlotte Mason-fashion, listening to one key work per week, more or less. It’ll be fun to draw from the pool in the Memrise course for future selections.

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14. december 2: my annual Hanna post

I can tell it’s December when my stats are full of searches for Hanna’s Christmas! If you’re new: it’s been out of print for a long time, so here’s a read-aloud video to share with your kids.

If you’re on the hunt for a used copy, set yourself a reminder to check Amazon Marketplace and eBay in June or July. :) Resellers tend to mark the book up to ludicrous prices at this time of year, when demand is high.

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15. Open mouth, insert foot

the creative exchange presents

I had the hugely fun experience today of receiving a present in The Creative Exchange, an Instagram present swap organized by Sam Dunne of Dunne With Style. When you sign up for this exchange, you are assigned a person to secretly stalk on Instagram for a couple of weeks, and then you put together an assortment of small goodies for her and send it off. Meanwhile, someone else is doing the same thing for you. I had boatloads of fun getting to know my recipient via her feed and picking out treasures to send her—the package is due to arrive tomorrow, and I can’t wait to see how she likes her presents.

Well, today I received my package from a lovely woman named Karla, and I’m just blown away by the abundance and gorgeousness of her presents. She did a great job sussing me out via Instagram, because every single item made me squeal with delight. I mean, it’s all just perfect.

creative exchange closeup

I just had to run to Periscope and do a show-and-tell video because the whole experience was so much fun. I was watching the replay just now and heard myself say something completely stupid. Like, so stupid I gasped. (This is not uncommon. I routinely wince at the memory of idiotic remarks I’ve made, but it’s eighty times worse watching it on video.)

I was describing how this experience—opening these presents that are so exactly what I would pick out for myself—reminded me of the time I visited my online friend Lisa and her family for the first time. We knew each other through my blog, and in fact years earlier, Lisa’s daughter, a very young girl named Annie (age eleven, I think), had left a comment that solved a sewing machine problem I was having. Such a gem. Well, years later, I was driving cross-country with the kids, and Lisa knew we’d be passing her town and invited us for dinner. And Annie, who was a teenager by then, surprised me with an amazing homemade dinner that was all my favorite foods. She had gleaned this information by reading my blog over the years and so thoughtfully put together a delicious feast for me of things she knew I would love! Amazing. I was blown away.

So, okay, in the Periscope I’m talking about how today’s experience—having Karla pick out such PERFECT presents for me based only on the hints about my tastes and hobbies she picked up from my Instagram—reminded me of Annie’s feast: this one other time I can think of that someone I hadn’t met in person gave me a wonderfully on point treat based on things I’d written.

Telling it like this, I think you get how I meant it. But what I SAID was: “I’ve only once in my life had an experience quite like this, where somebody gave me something that showed such thoughtfulness and such a grasp of what I love…”

Um, NOT WHAT I MEANT. :)

I can think of MANY, MANY times in my life when someone gave me something that showed immense thoughtfulness and a grasp of what I love. Like my parents, for starters, who do that on a regular basis. Or how about my husband? The guy who once socked away a stack of my favorite Ritter Sport bars because we had to be separated for several months and he knew a day would come when I’d be in desperate need of a chocolate remedy. Or my kids, routinely. :) My sisters, my cousins, my in-laws. And a stream of friends come rushing to mind…Sarah H. giving me that Karl Larsson book as a going-away present because she knew I loved him. Erica and my other local friends, all the abundance of goodies in birthday baskets over the years. :) Alice, all the way back to the basket she brought to the hospital when Jane was sick, crammed full of the exact things it turned out we would desperately need. Lesley’s beautiful Small Meadow gifts over the years. Krissy, the Midori!!! I mean, the list goes on and on. I could keep this up for hours. Meals, presents, endless kindnesses. Thoughtfulness and a grasp of what I love. Over and over and over: all these cherished friends.

So, yeah, the key words missing from that sentence were “where somebody I’D NEVER MET IN PERSON gave me…” :) :) :)

Of course even as I write that, I’m thinking how inaccurate it too is, even with the addendum…we got a lot of thoughtful presents from strangers when Jane was ill. So maybe I should also add “such a grasp of what I love, picked up by things I posted on the internet.” LOL. I’m howling at myself now. Probably that’s not accurate either. The second I hit publish on this I’m going to think of ten times a kind reader sent me something sweet. Actually, I’m recalling instances already.

So basically I’m just a nitwit with the good fortune to be on the receiving end of a lot of thoughtful gestures. Despite what I may babble while live-streaming, I appreciate each and every one. :)

(But Karla, seriously, you nailed it.)

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Anyway, here’s my show-and-tell scope…if you’ll just kind insert the appropriate mental edits to my boneheaded remarks!

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16. december 1 show-and-tell

Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett

1. Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett: always our first book of the season. My younger three love it every bit as much as my older three did. I’m right there with them—the troll voices are so much fun to read aloud, and there’s a bit at the end that chokes me up every single time. Plus we have a red wooden horse exactly like the one in the book!

(Why has Amazon started slapping a copyright notice on book covers? They’re fair use.)

DEC15_lockscreen_iPhone2. I really appreciate the downloadable lock-screen calendar Inkwell Press provides for free every month. What a nice gift! I like being able to turn on my phone and see what day it is without clicking to my actual calendar. I’m lazy that way. If you sign up for their email list, Inkwell will send links to each month’s wallpaper options—lock screen, home screen background, and desktop. Pretty nifty.

3. I mentioned this on Facebook and Twitter last night, but for those who missed it: 50 Incredible Minecraft Seeds You Must Try is free on Kindle right now and it’s pretty darn cool. It includes seeds for PC, Pocket Edition, XBox, etc. My kids and I were pretty excited to explore some of the Pocket Edition maps today…there’s one with four villages squished together and another with a mountain village that looks like something out of Howling Fjord. I ran around the mountain one for a while and it was a hoot. The blacksmith shop is high up on a rocky crag above the rest of the town.

4. The Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar! We look forward to this every year. It’s an animated Advent calendar with some new little piece of story to click on every day. I’m glad my friend Phoebe reminded me to download it today. (Costs $4.) This year’s theme is “Victorian Christmas,” which, you know, had me at hello.

5. Periscope: I’ve done about one scope a week since I started. I never know if I should post them here! You can view all my replay videos at katch.me/melissawiley, but I could upload them here on the blog, too, if it would be helpful. Actually, I suppose I ought to start posting a list of links for stuff I mention in each scope, since show-and-tell seems to be what I wind up doing every time. Okay, there’s a plan (but not for tonight). Yesterday’s was called “A quick Monday hello” and is pretty chatty. Sometimes I have a structured topic, and other times I’m just there to gab. :)

 

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17. Postcrossing Fun

postcrossing wall

I joined Postcrossing a couple of months ago and now it’s taking over our kitchen wall—in the best way. This is a site for exchanging postcards with people around the world. Hmm, “exchange” isn’t the right word because these aren’t reciprocal swaps where you send a card to someone and get one back from the same person. Instead, you create a profile and then you’re given the name and address of another user. You send a postcard to that person. When he receives it, he registers the card, which prompts the system to send your address to someone different. In the beginning, you’re allowed to send up to five cards at once. As people begin to receive and register your cards, your maximum increases. Not that you have to send out five, six, seven cards all at once. You can do it one at a time if you like.

So far we have sent out ten cards and received eight—from Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Taiwan, India, Switzerland, Germany, and Finland! As you can see, we’re taping them to the wall above our world map. So much fun. This is a pretty delightful way to combine the joys of snail mail with a whizbang dose of world geography.

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18. Assorted Thursday thoughts

1. I would like to take a drawing class. In a paint-spattered classroom with a real teacher standing over me grimacing at my line. It’s been 15 months since I started sketching (almost) every day and I can see I’ve made progress, but I’m craving instruction.

2. I’d better finish reading that KonMari ebook before my checkout time expires and it goes *poof* from my Kindle.

3. I wish all the things I want to KonMari right out of my house would go *poof* like an expired library ebook.

4. My brain keeps playing the following conversation on repeat: I should do the Everyday Matters Drawing Challenge. That would really help me improve. Ooh, I know! I should post each day’s entry to Instagram; that would keep me motivated. WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? THEN PEOPLE WOULD SEE IT. Right, that’s the point, accountability, encouragement. BUT FULLY HALF YOUR INSTAGRAM FRIENDS ARE PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS, YOU WILL EMBARRASS YOURSELF. Sigh. Right. Of course. I wish I drew better. I just need to keep at it every day. Hmm, maybe I should do the Everyday Matters Drawing Challenge… 

5. Whenever a form asks for hobbies, I never think to put down “listmaking,” but I totally should. I make lists all day long. I have lists of lists. I could compete in the List Olympics. If there were a Nobel Prize for listmaking, I’d be a contender.

6. Today IS Thursday, right?

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19. Thursday Q&A: Are they ALL bookworms?

pocketfulofcricket

I was going to make this a Monday thing, but the week ran away from me. So let’s try Thursday. I’ve enjoyed having a regular day for posting my weekly booklists—it helps keep me on track, knowing I’ve slotted the roundup for Sundays. I thought it might be nice to set aside time to answer questions from the comments on another dedicated day. Maybe not every week—every other, perhaps? When I answer questions in the comment box, I’m never sure if the original poster sees the answer (since sometimes it takes me a while to reply). So I’m going to start pulling questions into these Q&A posts. You can leave more questions (or discussion topics in general) in the comments here and I’ll tackle them in the next Q&A.

On my High Tide for Huck and Rilla post, Jen asked,

I’ve just got to jump in and ask, do your kids read a lot in their free time?  Your philosophy is very much like what I’ve done with my kids and I also have olders and youngers.  It just doesn’t seem like mine are not like I once was and couldn’t wait to have some free time to read.  I wonder if it is all of the technology available (which I greatly limited with the older kids and have, admittedly, given too much slack with the younger ones).  I am comforted that there are still really great books going into their little ears and they have book jags every once in awhile, but…am I being idealistic in our present society or simply expecting too much of a picture book image in our homeschool?

With this many kids, my answer’s going to be all over the place. :) Some of them read constantly, incessantly. One of my teens was an obsessive reader when she was younger, but now she goes in spurts—she’ll be up late many nights in a row, devouring a stack of books, and then weeks will pass where she feels sort of meh about reading and pretty much only reads things necessary for her studies. I think she gets more sleep during the meh times, so it’s probably a healthy balance.

My younger children are less book-obsessed than my older three, and I do think that has something to do with the presence of gaming devices in their world—increased options, perhaps? We have limits on game time (two hours a day), so my younger kids’ day divides roughly into morning lesson time, after-lunch gaming time, and the rest of the day is free time until evening chores. There’s a good chunk of free time in the mornings, too, most days. Whereas Jane, Rose, and Beanie were apt to spend a large portion of their free time buried in a book, my younger trio choose other activities more often—drawing, crafting, Snap Circuits, outdoor play, etc. A lot of hands-on activities. If I find them sprawled on the sofa with a book, it is probably a graphic novel or picture book. Rilla hasn’t sparked to a prose fiction series yet the way her older sisters did with Redwall, the Warriors books, Boxcar Children, and other series. She is more drawn to art books and nonfiction—specifically books about bugs, birds, and animals. :)

So my younger kids aren’t as bookwormish, but I don’t worry about it. I figure they are getting plenty of reading in their day through readalouds and audiobooks—as you say, “really great books going into their little ears and book jags every once in a while.” That’s a dead-on depiction of what I’m seeing here these days! Since our homeschooling style is literature-centric, I feel confident they are absorbing a wide range of excellent books, stories, and poems.

One more thought: I do make a habit of combing the shelves for good picture books every couple of weeks. I’ll swap out a batch in an easily accessible basket—or leave a pile on my dresser, which seems even more effective at catching their eye. For some reason everyone likes reading on my bed best. I display books face out so the covers jump out at the kids. Huck is especially attracted to these casual displays and I will often him lolling on my bed, surrounded by these little curated collections. They also jump on any library or review copy that comes through the door—it seems the novelty makes a book extra attractive. I’ve known them to check out library copies of books they’ve walked past on our own shelves a thousand times. And the review copies—oh boy. Anything that arrives in a box is a hot commodity. The magic of the brown truck?

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20. Throwback Thursday

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Today I cleaned my desk. I organized my shelves. I cleaned under my bed. Can you tell I have a revision to finish?

I was reminiscing on Facebook about when we drove cross-country to move here in 2006. Monday was the 9th anniversary of our arrival, which shocks me. We’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in our marriage. I never saw that coming—that my kids would grow up in Southern California.

The FB conversation brought up my old post about our scary encounter with junkyard dogs on that trip—one of the posts that makes me really happy I started blogging. :) I shared the link and was mildly irked to see it come up with one of my sidebar buttons as the giant header image Facebook likes to add now. There were no photos in the original post. Images were optional in 2006. I wound up going back in and adding a picture from the trip. Oh, my younguns were so very YOUNG back then!

I miss blogging like that. So much of that kind of “here’s what happened today” anecdotal posting has shifted to Facebook—it unrolls so naturally on that platform. Blogging seemed to take on a more…hmm, formal, is that the word I’m looking for? Polished?…a more polished tone. I dash off quips and stories on FB, and there’s that happy dopamine burst of reaction. But always, always, I want to pull it all back here to our family archive. We have over ten and a half years of history here. “We,” my family—and we, you and me. Some of you have been with me since the very beginning in 2005. “I remember when you moved,” wrote one FB friend today. “I was reading your blog like a novel, and it was a great upheaval in the plot!”

No great upheavals in the story today. :) Huck lost his other top front tooth. The Tooth Fairy brought him a buck per tooth, which vast fortune he had lost track of by lunchtime. I walked down the hall in time to hear him mutter, “I want my two dollars!” None of the kids knew why this reduced me to giggles.

Yesterday, hustling out the door to piano lessons, I heard Rilla say as I got into the car, “Mom gets a pass. She’s never the rotten egg.” A generous statement, considering I’m always the one hollering, “Is everyone ready?? We’re out the door in two minutes!”—while I’m still half dressed.

Wonderboy (who REALLY needs a more grown-up blog name, but would you allow it?) is giving a speech at school tomorrow about his family. He described me as a “homeschool teacher and an author” and Scott as “an author, a really good cook, and a good shopper.” True on all counts.

He loves his school, but we missed him (and Jane!!) at the park on Monday. Nine years. I still can’t believe it.

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21. What would you like to chat about on Periscope?

Periscope trial

I’ve been meaning for a while now to give Periscope a try, because I think it would be a great platform for the kind of book- and resource-sharing I like to do here on the blog. This evening I decided to pop on for a trial run, just to see how the platform worked. To my surprise, viewers started arriving within seconds! I spent about ten minutes chatting with some very supportive friends, and I loved it. I’m hooked. This is something I can have a lot of fun with.

I’d love to know what topics you’d be interested in hearing me chat about. Today’s viewers gave me some excellent suggestions, including doing some read-alouds of my work. I’m keeping a list of ideas and will try to do a scope at least once a week, if I can work out some better lighting than what I was getting in my bedroom for today’s impromptu recording.

Because I hadn’t yet signed up with katch.me to archive my scopes, this one will only be around for the next 20-something hours. By tomorrow evening (Pacific time), it’ll be gone. I’ll aim for another round early next week, so let me know in the comments here what you’d like to chat about! And thanks so much to the sweet friends who dropped by and encouraged me with all those happy little hearts bubbling up on my screen. :)

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22. Virtually Perfect

Rose was just recollecting with great affection all the times when she would return to the house, exhausted after a full day, and know she could count on me to have a pantry full of tasty things to eat. “And you always had a nice hot bowl of stew waiting for me,” she murmured dreamily. “Awesome stew.”

Real-life friends reading this account will be understandably puzzled. But it’s true, every word.

All right, I may have omitted one teeny-tiny piece of context.

Its actual name was Awesome Stew

what my stew looked like

Trill

what I looked like when I made it

That’s right. When my children reminisce about their mother’s wonderful home-cooking, they’re talking about a computer game.

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23. Our Week in Books, November 1 Edition

Bonny Glen Week in Books #6

Happy November! Just a quick list (no commentary) for this week’s books recap—my weekend is running away again.

The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Family Read-Alouds:

I finished The Search for Delicious. The kids were glued to every page. Stay tuned for a Periscope in which I will discuss what book I chose for our next read-aloud and how I arrived at this choice. I’ll also talk a little bit about how I approach character voices.

Speaking of doing voices, Scott just started reading the first Harry Potter book to Rilla. His Dumbledore is magnificent.

 No That's Wrong by Zhaohua Ji Blue Whale Blues by Peter Carnavas

This Orq. He cave boy. The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree

Some of the picture books we enjoyed last week:

Ninja Baby by David Zeltser and Diane Goode

No, That’s Wrong! by Zhaohua Ji and Cui Xu

Blue Whale Blues by Peter Carnavas (links to pdf)

The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree by Stan & Jan Berenstain

This Orq (He Cave Boy) by David Elliott. We received a copy of this book from a friend at Boyds Mills Press and it became an instant hit. I booktalked it on Periscope on Thursday, if you’d like to hear more about why we fell in love with it. (The link will take you to katch.me where my scopes are archived, or you can scroll to the bottom of this post and watch the replay there.)

bestloveddoll rowan of rin dorothywizardinoz

What Rilla read:

The Best-Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill

Several Oz graphic novels (see this post for more about why they’re her favorite books)

Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda (in progress)

Around the World in 80 Days Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

What I read:

“The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allen Poe for a class I’m teaching

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne (in progress), also for the class — this is Beanie’s reading list, too

Marine theme

Beanie also read:

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

I know I’m forgetting something. And I forgot to ask Rose for her list at all!

My boys are both enjoying:

The Magic Tree House books — they’re both working their way through the series. It’s such fun to see them side by side with their coordinating books. :)

Light & Shade Conversations with Jimmy Page Swag by Elmore Leonard Comfortably Numb Inside Story of Pink Floyd Enduring Saga of the Smiths

Things Scott has recently read:

Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page by Brad Tolinski

Swag: A Novel by Elmore Leonard

Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake

The Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths by Tony Fletcher

News!

I’ve launched a series on Periscope. I’m calling it “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something True” — this will be a regular feature in which I do my favorite thing: talk about books. A family favorite (that’s the “old”), a new gem, a library book, and a nonfiction title. I tried out the format last week and I think it’s going to work nicely! Here’s the first installment. I’ll announce future editions here and on Twitter.

Related:

   Books We Read This Week - Here in the Bonny Glen Books We Read This Week - September 13 Bonny Glen Week in Books 5

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24. Periscope: The biggest decision of my week

Popped onto Periscope today to discuss readalouds, including how I approach character voices. You can catch the replay at katch.me (or watch it below). I dust off my Scottish accent around minute 27. :)

Picture quality seems a bit dodgy–sorry about that. It looked fine on my screen during the recording!

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25. In which I am interviewed about this here blog

I’m all smiles today because I had the fun of being interviewed about blogging by Lesley Austin. Her questions were wonderfully thought-provoking and set me musing about how to rearrange my days to allow the daily blogging I maintained for so many years. I miss it! Lesley’s questions helped me hone on on what has shifted in my daily rhythm so that I’m blogging less often than I used to.

lesley austin interview

Lesley’s site is so lovely—it was a real treat to see my words on her beautiful page. And I was really moved by the photos she chose from my archives—some of my particular favorites, and some moments I’d already forgotten.

Here’s a tidbit:

How do you think your own way of connecting and being in the world influences your blogging?

I think I was made for sharing neat stuff. :) Scott and I have a joke about my superpower being enthusiasm. For me, full enjoyment of a thing (book, game, app, article, website) comes only when I get to talk about it with other people. I think that’s why I took to blogging so readily, and why I’ve stuck with it for so long—it’s been a place I can always jump to to say “Ooh look at this awesome thing I found.” I’m a magpie, a curator. :) I think all my internet spaces reflect that urge—I share links all over the place.

You can read the rest here. And do visit the other posts in her series of interviews-about-blogging:

a conversation about blogging with Sarah

a conversation about blogging with Jane

Thank you, Lesley!

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