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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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A lot of the replies to my blog-topics post asked for more glimpses of our tidal homeschooling days, especially how I work with my teens and my elementary-aged kids at the same time. So here’s a peek at a fairly typical Tuesday morning. The broad strokes—the basic rhythms—of our days stay consistent, four days a week (with one morning given to group piano and [for Beanie] literature classes). The details (what exactly we read, do, discuss, sing) vary, but the shape is the same—sort of like a muffin pan. Yeah, that’s it. Our days are like muffins, alike in shape, but we vary the recipe quite a bit. Make sense?
So—during high tide, we do lessons from 9 to noon, more or less. Noon to 1 is lunch and (often) a read-aloud. From 1-3 the younger kids get gaming time (iPad, Wii) and then they play outside most of the rest of the day. The older girls spend their afternoons reading, writing, gaming, walking, and whatever else they have on tap. I work (write) in the afternoons, and sometimes pop out to teach weekly classes to other homeschoolers. For example, I wrapped up a six-week poetry workshop yesterday with a lively group of boys who always keep me laughing. Love those kids.
Anyway, here’s our Tuesday morning.
Beanie is outlining her Tempest paper for the weekly literature class I teach to her and a few friends.
Huck is playing with refrigerator magnets.
Rilla has drawn a scene from the story of Elissa of Carthage, and is now writing a description under the drawing, complete with Phoenician letters for the names.
Now Huck is noodling around on the piano.
Read Stone Soup to Huck. Rose stopped unloading the dishwasher to come listen—she says it’s one of her favorite stories from childhood.
While I read, Rilla finished her Elissa of Carthage passage. Beanie moved to another room for better concentration.
Rose finished the dishes and began making pretzel rolls for our teatime. Huck, Rilla, and I did our morning stretches and recitations. That word sounds so formal! What we do is quite casual. About four mornings a week, we gather in the living room for some singing, memory work, and movement games. It goes something like this:
—We move through a series of stretches (this is mostly for me) which include two planks. During the first plank, we skip-count by sixes; during the second, by sevens.
—Practice the Shakespeare speech or poem we are currently memorizing. Huck, Rilla, and I learn these all together, and usually the older girls wind up knowing them too, because they’re hearing us recite them all the time. This year, I’ve been using Ken Ludwig’s Midsummer Night’s Dream passages from How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. I had already had Pucks “merry wanderer” speech in mind for Huck and Rilla to learn this year—I earned a small scholarship for performing that one during college, so I’m extra fond of it—when I read the Ludwig book (last summer) and decided his approach meshes perfectly with mine. So: this year they’ve learned “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows,” the merry wanderer monologue, the “Lord what fools these mortals be” speech, and now we’re working on Puck’s final speech (“If we shadows have offended”).
—Then we sing an assortment of memory songs and folk songs. Today it was: U.S. Presidents song; United States song; Horrible Histories English Monarchs song. Yesterday was the same lineup plus Skye Boat Song—a family favorite. This is an informal (meaning not planned-in-advance) part of our day, and basically I just starting singing things and the kids join in. Our Presidents and States songs come from an old Singin’ Smart cassette (cassette!!) I bought back when Jane was little, circa 1999. I wish I could find the booklet—there were some other useful tunes in there. I remember the melody for the U.S. Capitals song and have been meaning to print up a list so my littles can learn to sing along. I’m a big fan of music for anything requiring rote memory. We lean heavily on Schoolhouse Rock around here. Last year our mornings were dominated by French songs, as you may recall.
—This week I started Huck and Rilla on the Latin vocabulary chants from Latin for Children Primer A. We are not doing the workbook—just the rhythmic vocab chants: amo, amare, amavi, amatum and so on. Again, this was something that worked really well with my older set and is a solid, painless way to implant a bunch of Latin roots. We also enjoy my friend Edith Hope Fine’s Cryptomaniacs workbook (Greek and Latin roots)—Rilla will be using that steadily next year.
Rose’s rolls are in the oven. She’s playing piano. Beanie is doing German on Duolingo. I send the littles outside with a snack.
Rose heads to her room to maybe do some math? She’s taking business math this year. Yesterday we slogged through the compound interest chapter together. I know you’re jealous. Beanie’s studying geometry, which I find much more entertaining.
I call Huck and Rilla back inside for some history. I read them the Elizabethan Era chapter from A Child’s History of the World—Walter Raleigh, Roanoke, Shakespeare. Long side-discussion of tobacco was sparked by a mention in the chapter. Also a lot of discussion about Roanoke because who isn’t fascinated by that story? I mention to Rose (who is back, checking on her rolls) that Gwenda Bond has a YA novel about Roanoke she might enjoy. This reminds us we need to return some books to the library.
Rilla has done a little Math-U-See, and Huck and I had an impromptu chat about the short E sound. He is reading incredibly well these days, devouring Boxcar Children books with ease. I picked up an easy spelling workbook a couple of weeks ago and pull it out occasionally to talk about sounds with him. Rilla is the first of my kids to need some deliberate, steady spelling instruction (she’s using a Spelling You See book this year and really enjoying it because it came with a set of erasable colored pencils, which (art supply) is the key to her heart. With Huck, age 7, I’m now casually pulling out some light spelling games to help him start making those phonics-y connections.
Okay, so that was going on but only for a few minutes, and now Rose’s pretzel rolls are ready. We hurry to the table to enjoy them while they’re warm. Tuesday mornings are our Poetry Teatime—which for us generally means Something Rose Baked and a glass of milk. I usually grab our battered Favorite Poems Old and New and read six or seven poems. Not a week goes by that they don’t beg for their favorite, To My Son Thomas…some days I have it in me, and other weeks I’m not up to the performance. When you do that poem, you gotta DO that poem.
Huck and Rilla have gone off to play together. This usually means I will find my bed turned into a fort later. Last week, it became some kind of Monkey Kingdom and I had stuffed primates hanging from the miniblind cords all week.
Time for some history with Rose and Beanie. Today was a selection from Don’t Know Much About American History, one of several books we rotate through. Charles Lindbergh, mostly.
I go grab a sweater from my room. Sure enough, every pillow in the house is piled high. I send Huck and Rilla to get their shoes on. Rose and Beanie are at the piano again, working out a duet—Beanie began taking violin lessons a few months ago and likes to try to work out simple accompaniment to the pieces Rose is working on for piano class.
Everyone piles into the minivan for a quick library run. We have a million things to return. Rilla found a new graphic novel, Jellaby: The Lost Monster, that looks fun. Rose recommended Sarah Zettel’s Palace of Spies for Beanie—a YA historical novel I read for the 2014 CYBILs and passed along to Rose when I finished.
Home for a late lunch. I forgot to read our chapter of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler! I’ll have to try to squeeze it in after dinner. This is because—in an unprecedented development—I went into Scott’s office (aka our boys’ bedroom) to give him a package that had arrived, and I stretched out on the bed just for a second and fell asleep. I never nap.
I guess I napped. Scott is amused. I’m totally discombobulated. Wonderboy is just arriving home from school and the littles are already deep into Terraria. Jane is pinging me from college. My afternoon has begun.
Me, happening upon a small, industrious boy in the hall: “Wow! Thank you for dusting!”
Huck, a certain gleam in his eye: “I need lots of dust so I can shake it in Rilla’s face.”
Ingredients of a typical day in my house
Thanks to everyone for the comments on last week’s post. It was fun to see what you’d like to hear more about. I think I take some of those topics for granted and assume people are tired of hearing me chatter about tidal homeschooling and whatnot. I really appreciate your feedback and look forward to diving into the topics you raised.
I’m coming up bust on the most pressing question, though—details on the washi tape in that photo. I can’t remember where it came from! I’ll see if I can track it down.
I finished reading Ace, the Very Important Pig to Huck and Rilla last week. They really enjoyed it, although they didn’t find it quite as engrossing as our last pig book, Charlotte’s Web. I mean, it’s kind of hard to compete with Charlotte. But Ace is fun and funny and was a lighthearted, enjoyable read. It works really well as a readaloud, too, which can’t be said about every good book. It’s a funny thing that some truly wonderful books just don’t take off when I try to read them aloud. That happened with The Gammage Cup, which is a huge favorite with my older kids—all of Carol Kendall’s books are winners. For sheer enjoyability, her writing style ranks up there with L. M. Montgomery and Elizabeth Goudge, as far as I’m concerned. Delicious prose and endearing, quirky characters. But…I think the very thing that makes her prose so magical—long, complicated sentences with rich description, and a lot of interior life for the characters—renders it difficult to the listening ear.
My older girls tore through Gammage and its sequel, The Whisper of Glocken, on their own. (The Firelings is my personal favorite of Kendall’s books, but I think my girls would vote for The Gammage Cup.) But as excited as I was to begin reading it to Huck and Rilla, and as excited as Rose and Beanie were for them to experience it, we bogged down after a couple of chapters. Then came a busy week and we didn’t make time for it at all, which is generally a good indicator that I haven’t picked the right book. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and I never have qualms about abandoning a book that isn’t making them beg for more. I’d rather they read it alone, later, and really enjoy it. I’m sure that’s what will happen with Gammage, because it’s so darn good.
Anyway, long story short (ha!), we had fun with Ace—lots of great voice fodder among the animals. Yesterday I again faced the exhilarating, momentous decision of The Next Book. I mean, this is just a huge event in my life, over and over. My next read, our next read—oh the agony of decision!
I didn’t dither overlong this time around…a particular favorite had been on my mind, and it’s one I’m not sure I ever read aloud to the other kids. I think most of them beat me to it.
Actually, I’ve always thought of this as sort of a private book, one meant for solo immersion. But…it felt right. Huck may be a little young to care much about the quest Claudia is going to undertake. But he’s into it so far—the big sister/little brother dynamic, the exciting running-away plan, Jamie chewing up Claudia’s instruction note and having his teeth turn blue. Rilla, of course, is enchanted. Running away to an art museum (as Jamie ungrammatically puts it, to Claudia’s disgust)—well, if Rilla could live anywhere but home, an art museum would likely be her pick. She’s impressed with Claudia’s good sense.
I had to decide whether to let Rilla meet the Met as I did, through this book, or to show it to her on YouTube. Would a glimpse of the vastness of the building and the extent of the collection enhance her mental picture of Claudia and Jamie’s adventure, or is it better to create that picture completely in your own imagination? If you’ve not been to Manhattan yourself, I mean. In the end, conversation made the choice for me. We finished our chapter today and Rilla had questions, and next thing you know we were all watching Sister Wendy tour the museum.
I haven’t been to the Met since the 90s. I’m a bit NYC homesick now.
Me: Check out paragraph 2 of this press release I just got—
May 5, 2016, Mount Laurel, NJ: Four of the leading independent comic book publishers have come together with Groupees to offer fans a low cost entry into the world of original storytelling from some of the leading names in graphic fiction!
This cross-publisher pay what you want “Bundle of Independents” features approximately $300 worth of books by some of the industry’s greatest creators from Garth Ennis, Greg Rucka, Duane Swierczynski, Andy Diggle, Howard Chaykin, Peter Milligan, Andy Diggle, Jim Starlin, Jae Lee, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Tim Seeley, Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, Brian Wood, Rick Remender, Joe Hill, Sam Keith, Charles Soule, Cullen Bunn, and more!
brilliant editing, guys
Scott: that’s so embarrassing
The all-men lineup. Lower in the press release you learn that one of the items in the bundle is Saga.
Why on earth wouldn’t you mention Fiona (and BKV for that matter) in your summary???
Scott: that’s insane.
But you know what? They didn’t mention Darwyn Cooke, either. Or Bryan Lee O’Malley, Walter Simonson.
Scott: what a perfect expression
Me: He’s the Mr. Knightley to the Emma actress you looked up the other day, the one I knew SO WELL
from, you know, Emma
Me: Also Edmund from Mansfield Park
Me: You realize this is why nothing gets done in modern civilization
Guys, I need you to help me get back in the groove. Where did my daily blogging mojo go? How about you hit me with some topic suggestions in the comments. Doesn’t have to be kidlit or homeschooling related. Any old thing you’d like to hear me yap about. Sort of like one of those Instagram daily drawing challenges. What’ll it be?
(As I write this, I’m reminded of five or six advice-seeking emails that have been awaiting replies from me for way too long. Embarrassingly long. A lot of the questions in those emails would make good post topics, but a thoughtful response takes time, and time is what I’m short on. But some quick off-the-cuff remarks on subjects you suggest here—surely I can swing that.)
Milo Winter illustration from Aesop for Children
Things we’ve explored together so far this week:
Robert Browning’s “The Pied Piper” (first part)
Thomas Hood’s “A Parental Ode to My Son, Aged Three Years and Five Months” (a family favorite)
Aesop’s Fables—”Belling the Cat” and “The Lion and the Mouse”
Ace, the Very Important Pig by Dick King-Smith
The Jazz Age
Founding of Jamestown (teens and littles are on different history tracks)
Gustav Klimt—”The Kiss,” “Tree of Life” (and this art project)
Plus loads of Journey North prep! Our group’s big Mystery Class reveal party is tomorrow—one of my favorite events of the year.
The 100 Day Project begins today. I’m wary of committing (even in a vague personal challenge kind of way) to any non-work or -family task that lasts a hundred days, but I love following this project on Instagram and found a way I can make it work for myself. As a way to help keep my daily sketchbook practice going strong, my ‘project’ will be to put color down on paper every day for a hundred days. Paint, colored pencil, fountain pen ink, collage…whatever medium I feel like on a given day will count.
To participate in the project, you share your daily efforts on Instagram with the hashtag (#the100dayproject). Now, will I manage to keep up with that part for a hundred days in a row? Not likely. I generally only feel like sharing a tiny fraction of what goes into my sketchbook. But that’s okay. The rules are malleable in voluntary internet challenges, right?
So today is Day 1. This morning I was showing Huck the delights of wet-on-wet watercolors and this little fish turned up of its own accord. At least, I see a fish. My IG friends see a man’s profile.
Don’t worry about diving into this late, if you’re of a mind to participate. Follow elleluna on Instagram for more info, or visit this post for particulars.
Heads up: Mystie Winckler’s free Evernote e-course starts today!
I really enjoyed Mystie’s Simplified Organization and Simplified Pantry courses. She’s kind of an Evernote genius.
…Rilla is ten years old today.
The posts from the week following her birth gave me a lot of smiles. And then I just sat here quietly freaking out for a while because that was TEN YEARS AGO.
All these years of the kids’ piano lessons have been leading to this.
By: Melissa Wiley
Blog: Here in the Bonny Glen
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Actually, I guess the first couple of photos here are from March. (1) We hadn’t been to Old Town San Diego in a while and made a quick pilgrimage there one day during Wonderboy’s spring break. (2) Rilla’s bunny chain—entirely her own design—is the best Easter decoration I’ve seen in a long time. Those ears!
April for real:
(3) How Huck likes to rock his Math-U-See.
(4) Library day. I want that Eric Carle rug!
(5) Another library-day shot. What I love most about this photo is that the bed they’re on belongs to neither of them. It’s Beanie’s—the bottom bunk, which has long been the favorite place for my girls to sprawl. Beanie, meanwhile, does most of her own sprawling on Rilla’s bed. Go figure.
(6) Monarch caterpillar on our milkweed: always a sight that brings me joy.
(7) Wonderboy raised these sunflowers from a handful of old seeds spilled in the bottom of a bag of mostly-empty seed packets. The color surprised us!
(8) Also a surprise this year: the giant blooms on a neglected rosebush by our patio. Loads of them! It’s like Valancy went at the bush with her clippers.
(9) Playing with a Hobonichi Techo-style layout in my bullet journal. Mary Ann Scheuer and I had a fun Skype session last week to chat about my bujo system. What’s working these days: Separate books for my messy notes and my bullet lists. It’s sort of a left brain/right brain thing: I need a space for scribbly notes of all kinds, an unkempt, all-purpose thinking-on-paper space; but I also need nice, neat(ish) to-do lists with boxes I can fill in as I accomplish tasks. It took me a LOT of years—and the revelation of the multiple-insert traveler’s notebook—to figure this out: that I need the two separate spaces.
Yay, now I can fill in that ‘blog’ box!
Huck, oh so casually: “Mom, I like it better when you leave the bag of marshmallows on the counter after you make lunch. Not for any reason. I just like it. FOR NO REASON.”
This simple object is one of my most treasured possessions. It was a gift from the late, great Susan J. Hanna, whose jolly, sonorous voice I can still hear when I read certain T. S. Eliot poems. Dr. Hanna was the head of the English Department at Mary Washington College when Scott and I were students there. I spent two years as her department assistant, thanks to a lucky work-study placement. Funnily, I never actually managed to fit one of her classes into my schedule—except for the time Scott had to miss a few days of school and I sat in on his Modern Poetry seminar to take notes. Dr. Hanna was a marvelous teacher and one of the most ebulliant, brilliant women I’ve ever known. I loved working for her. I loved knowing her. She had a big hearty laugh and a tremendous presence, and she adored poetry and made you adore it too.
When I graduated, she gave me this silver letter opener—monogrammed with L for Lissa—as a going-away present. It lives on my desk and I use it daily, and think of Dr. Hanna every time I pick it up. After college, Scott and I made frequent trips up and down the East Coast between Virginia and Connecticut or New York, and every time we crossed the Susquehanna River we would sing out, The Mighty Susan J! One of our daughters has the middle name “Susanna” in Susan Hanna’s honor. Dr. Hanna died of cancer in 1994, not long before our wedding. We had sent an invitation and received a note back from her husband, the Philosophy Department chair, Professor Van Sant. I slit open the envelope with Dr. Hanna’s letter opener and was gutted to read what was inside. We hadn’t heard she was ill. News traveled more slowly in those days before we all got online.
Such a humble thing, a letter opener, a tool of limited function and unremarkable shape. And yet what a magic key it is: unlocking the portal to words penned hundreds, even thousands of miles away. Today it opened letters from France, Austria, and New York. Everything about it is special to me: the curly L that means Dr. Hanna knew me well; the solid heft of the handle, always cool to the touch. The image it conjures up of Sue Hanna striding into the office in a multicolored blouse, booming out a greeting and asking me to make a few dozen copies for her afternoon class. The stentorian recitation of a few lines from Prufrock. Here was a woman who never had to question whether she would dare to eat a peach—she seized them, split them, shared them around the room.
Sometimes when I’m cleaning the residue of envelope glue off the tip of the letter opener, I’ll catch a glimpse of myself in the surface and think about all the different selves that have been reflected there—all the iterations of myself, like a stack of letters written by the same hand but altering over time. Different paper, different postmarks. And how many other reflections are caught and held in the blade: the faces of my children, each one fascinated at some point by this curious object that looks like a knife but isn’t. Dr. Hanna’s face—I imagine her solemnly inspecting the monogram and nodding her satisfaction at the engraver. “This will do very well,” in that resounding voice. Very well indeed.
By: Melissa Wiley
Blog: Here in the Bonny Glen
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By: Melissa Wiley
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My everyday favorites. After a year of experimenting, I’ve got my system figured out. Top to bottom:
• Midori Travelers Notebook for my monthly calendar, weekly journal, and a scribble notebook;
• Moleskine Cahier for daily to-lists (bullet journal);
• Wild Simplicity Daybook for homeschooling notes and records (including our weekly Shakespeare lines—we learn monologues two lines at a time); and
• the Lamy Safari fountain pen my family gave me for my birthday. (LOVE.) (That’s an Amazon affiliate link but if you’re buying pens in the U.S., you should order from the nice people at Goulet Pen Company. Their instructional videos are invaluable, their customer service is top notch, and they offer inexpensive ink samples so you can try out all sorts of gorgeous colors. And that is not an affiliate link. I’m just a happy customer.)
I still keep the family appointments on Google Calendar, but I enjoy writing everything out in the TN monthly calendar (#017) as well. I use the horizontal weekly TN insert (#019) for chronicling the day after it happens—just a few notes about highlights. For the last several months I’ve used a blank TN insert (#003) for my bullet journal but came to realize I need a separate space for scrawling, sketching, doodling, working things out on paper. If I do that in the bullet, things get messy. WAY messy. So I’ve gone back to my old (cheaper) Moleskine grids for task lists.
The Midori travels with me everywhere; the bullet journal lives on my desk where I do most of my work; and the Daybook has a home in a basket by my rocking chair in the living room.
I’m laughing at how complicated this must seem if you aren’t a pen-and-paper fanatic…but I juggle a lot of roles (and kids) and I find having different paper spaces helps me keep things straight.
More nitty gritty:
I also have a kraft folder (#020) in my Midori to tuck ephemera and snail-mail supplies into. Since I started carrying notecards and stamps around, I’ve gotten much more prompt with my thank-you notes.
• I love the feel of Prismacolor colored pencils on the paper Lesley Austin uses in the Wild Simplicity Daybook. I’m sure I’ve raved about this before—the lovely creamy pencil on this recycled paper with just the right amount of tooth.
• Prismacolor pencils also delight me in the bullet journal: I like ’em for filling in my checkboxes.
• This pic, which I’ve shared here before, shows my favorite way to organize a task list: to-do items on the right, and the verso is for related notes and numbers. I also keep a running “Nag List” on a sticky note that travels from spread to spread. It’s for important tasks that I might not get done today but I gotta deal with soon—like finishing my taxes or booking a doctor appointment. I consult it each evening when making out my bullet list for the next day.
• Sometimes I’ll tuck another insert into the Midori to be used for a specific purpose. For example, I keep a log of incoming and outgoing snail mail. I don’t like a superfat Midori, though, so more often that insert lives in my stationery pouch.
• As I mentioned, I do a lot of casual sketching in my blank Midori insert. I find I’m often more comfortable there than in my proper sketchbook, because it feels more casual. But I do have a couple of sketchbooks going and I try to work in at least one of them daily. One is a spiral-bound 7×10 Canson Mixed Media pad, which gets lukewarm reviews from real artists but I quite like its toothy paper—not to mention its price point when Michael’s has a good sale + coupon combo. You have to watch for it, but now and then they’ll give you a 20% off including sale items coupon during a buy-one-get-one-free sketchbook sale. My other sketchbook is a Moleskine Art Plus, and it’s…okay? I love its size and shape (fits nicely in my bag), but the paper is too smooth for my liking. I much prefer the feel of Moleskine’s watercolor sketchbook—a lovely texture to that paper. But so far I’ve mostly just used that for color charts.
• For sketching pens, I like Sakura Pigma Microns or my Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen (check out all the groovy colors at Goulet Pens) with Platinum Carbon ink, which is waterproof so it plays nice under watercolors. However, lately I’ve come to realize that what I enjoy most of all is sketching in pencil. I love the look of black or brown ink drawings, and most of the sketchbook artists I admire work directly in ink, but I really love the way a pencil feels on the paper. I keep hitting that point over and over, don’t I—the tactile experience matters more to me than how it looks.
Ha, this got long! Would you believe it was just going to be a quick copy-paste of something I tossed on Instagram today?
I hopped on Periscope this afternoon for a quick Q&A about Journey North Mystery Class. If you’d like a peek at our graph (behind as usual) and a walk-through of the project, here you are.
Took a long break from scoping while I kicked that icky cough. Jumped back on today for a quick catchup. I’m giggling now because I didn’t notice until afterward that my phone had changed my #tidallearning hashtag to “#disappearing”—ha! Anyway, we wound up covering a lot of ground in this one: kids’ audiobooks, Creativebug, geocaching, letterboxing, Outside Lies Magic, hand-carved rubber stamps, Sketchbook Skool, Postcrossing…whew!
I hope to jump back on tomorrow at 2:30 Pacific time to talk about Journey North. See you there!
By: Melissa Wiley
Blog: Here in the Bonny Glen
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Pam Barnhill interviewed me about Tidal Learning for her Ed Snapshots podcast. We had a delightful conversation. Here’s the scoop:
Melissa Wiley is an author and a homeschool mom of 6 who blogs at Here in the Bonny Glen. Her novel, The Prairie Thief, is a big hit at my house, and I have a little Laura Ingalls fan who is just itching to check out her two series of books about Laura’s ancestors, The Martha Years and The Charlotte Years. On this episode of the podcast, Melissa gives us a little peek into her school days and explains her unique philosophy, which she calls Tidal Homeschooling. This interview is full of inspiration for how we can foster an atmosphere of learning, creativity, joy, and relationship-building in our homes by recognizing and working within our own natural rhythms or “tides.” Enjoy!
Click here to listen: HSP 24 Melissa Wiley: All About Tidal Homeschooling – Ed Snapshots
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.
…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.
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!
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.
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.”
My last post was February SECOND? For real? I don’t think I’ve gone three weeks without blogging since the summer of 2005 when Wonderboy had an unexpected surgery. Even when we moved cross-country and I spent weeks on the road alone with four little kids and an infant, I found time to toss up some short updates. It’s not that I’m busier, really—although I am seriously busy. But I was busy then too. It’s about daily rhythm and habit. I used to start the writing part of my day with a 20-minute blog entry. For years and years, that was my transition from homeschooling mom to working writer. It worked beeyootifully for nearly eleven years: spend the day with the kids, then write about the kids for a bit, and I’d be in writing mode and ready to work.
We rearranged our schedule last…summer? spring? Instead of one big six-hour block of work (writing) time, I now have a four-hour block in the afternoon, then an hour or two off for dinner and whatnot, then back at work from 7:30-9:30. When we made this shift, which has worked out well in many respects, I started reserving the evening block for blogging and various busywork tasks—paying bills, updating the website, answering emails, and so forth. I tried to save the last 30 minutes for sketching, and for the most part I’ve been successful with that. But the reality is that I need more than four hours a day for writing-work. So after dinner instead of blogging, I’ve been doing the other kinds of writing and editing that make up my workday. I’ll blog at the end, I think, and then…don’t. I’ve filled up three and a half sketchbooks, though, which feels good. I understand that I needed to take this time, need to keep taking it, to develop a sketchbook practice. I spent way too many years wishing I could draw instead of learning to draw, and I’m glad I’ve put in the effort these past 18 months. A year from now, ten years from now, I know I’ll be grateful I cultivated the habit.
Ah, but I miss Bonny Glen. The chronicle, the discussions, the community. I miss blogging and reading blogs (because that too has slipped to an occasional activity). I miss you guys!
Okay, now I’m laughing because I’m making it sound like I haven’t blogged in YEARS instead of a few weeks. When you’ve done something on a near-daily basis for over a decade, it’s reasonable to take a little vacation. It just wasn’t planned, is all. This morning I was thinking about how quickly one habit (blogging daily) can be replaced by another (not blogging). I didn’t even think about writing a post yesterday, and today that fact startled me. My habits have shifted when I wasn’t paying attention. Sneaky little things, habits.
I’ve tried a few strategies for rebuilding the blog habit, this past year, like the weekly roundups of our reading. But those cross over into work territory, and I can’t have that. This blog must be the antithesis of work: no pressure, no obligation, just chronicle and fun. I’m greedy for that chronicle, though! I don’t want three weeks to become three months, three years. In three years, Huck will be ten, Rilla twelve, Wonderboy FIFTEEN, for Pete’s sake. (I just gave myself a heart attack. And holy cats does that boy need a new blog name.)
Well, the timing is good for me to revisit my approach, since I need to dig into my archives here anyway…I’m mining our past for good stuff I did with my older set when they were little. Today was a vintage Bonny Glen morning: first Rilla gave Huck an impromptu piano lesson and played chords to his melody (“I’m learning how to sight-see, Mom”); then a quick Michael’s run for 2-for-1 sketchbooks plus another 20% off—jackpot! Then home where we messed around on Google Maps for a while (they “drove” via street view all the way from our house to piano class); then a geocaching excursion and another two finds logged. Home again, where they made scrambled eggs for lunch. Now she’s reading Warriors and he’s reading Calvin & Hobbes. A lovely low-tide day for my littles. Beanie is off on an all-day field to the Gem Institute in Carlsbad. I have a full deck this afternoon (boy, do I ever) and I ought to get started. But this was good. Let’s do this again.
“But the bag said ‘Complete set’!” —child with Sharpie about to write letters on blank Scrabble tiles.
Well, I tried. Sat down at the start of my work time today, fully intending to transition with a blog post just like the old days, but a pressing email caught my attention…and here I am eight hours later.
It has rained on and off all day. Rose is in heaven—that girl was made for the Pacific Northwest, I swear—but I’m off kilter. Happy for the moisture, of course. My poor garden needs it. My freesia had just started to bloom, though—they’ll be a bit battered after the downpour.
Assorted things to chronicle:
Last Friday I was one of six guest authors at the Greater San Diego Reading Association‘s annual Authors Fair. This year we visited Bonsall West Elementary School in Oceanside. I had three classes of 4th-graders (in two groups) whose teachers are reading them The Prairie Thief. I love this event. The kids are already deep into my book and are excited to ask questions. I always start out by reading a chapter, picking up wherever the teacher left off. This time, I got to read the first encounter between Louisa and the brownie—a super fun for me because it’s a mini-reveal. Of course, that means I have to do a Scottish accent but that’s part of the fun. The kids don’t mind if I fumble it.
The other night I was in here working while Scott watched a movie with the kids. He pinged me with a question from our friend Devin (our brilliant writer friend Devin, I should say). She was working on a scene for her current book and needed help with a tree identification. Here’s a screen cap of the Google Street View close-up Scott sent me:
I couldn’t zoom in any tighter than that. Too fuzzy to make out the leaf shapes. But I figured someone out there would have compiled a list of common Manhattan street trees and I turned to my best friend Google. Turns out Someone did way better than that:
the most awesome Lite Brite I’ve ever seen
All those colored dots are trees. Specific trees. I zoomed in on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal and found our friend the Callery Pear. Man, I love the internet. Major props to Jill Hubley, who created that rather astounding map. And Devin’s dedication to detail is one of the many reasons I love her. Nitty-gritty lovers of the world, unite.
Rilla has learned several speeches from A Midsummers Night’s Dream this year. And of course this means Huck is picking them up, too. Hearing them recite Puck’s monologues tickles me no end. “I go, I go, look how I go!” —or a world-weary yet amused “Lord what fools these mortals be…”
Here’s another thing Rilla and I have been doing with our free time. Color charts. Mmm, I could happily mix paints all day for the rest of my life if you let me.
How’s your week going?
By: Melissa Wiley
Blog: Here in the Bonny Glen
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Ace, the Very Important Pig by Dick King-Smith.
Ace is a descendant of that famous sheep-herding pig, Babe, we all know and love. Unlike the other farmyard animals, Ace can understand people talk. This leads to just the kind of comic intrigue we enjoy. Lots of fun character-voice potential, too. Her Lowness, Megan the Corgi gets my best Queen Victoria impression, naturally. (Er, that is, Queen Victoria as portrayed in the Horrible Histories English Monarchs song.)
Trying a little experiment here: I’ll leave this post pinned at the top of the blog until we finish the book. Check below for new posts! (P.S. If you’d like to sign up for email delivery of my posts, there’s a link in the sidebar.)