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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. Midweek notes

Milo Winter illustration from Aesop for Children

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.

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2. 100 days of color on paper

100-Day-Project-elle-luna

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.

100 Days of Color: Day 1

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.

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3. 6-Day Evernote Challenge

Heads up: Mystie Winckler’s free Evernote e-course starts today!

evernote-pin

I really enjoyed Mystie’s Simplified Organization and Simplified Pantry courses. She’s kind of an Evernote genius.

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4. Not to make you feel old or anything, but

…Rilla is ten years old today.

rillaandbeanie2006day1

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.

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5. Finally

All these years of the kids’ piano lessons have been leading to this.

Hamilton Vocal Score

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6. April days

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!

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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.

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(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.

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(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.

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Yay, now I can fill in that ‘blog’ box!

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7. Subtle

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.”

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8. Ode to a Letter Opener

IMG_1284

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.

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9. Roy G Biv (in reverse)

1. Grape soda lupines—my favorite San Diego wildflower
2. Washi makes to-do lists more fun
3, 4. The milkweed is doing its glorious thing
5. Rilla’s shamrock garland
6. The wonderful Jane LaFazio doing a watercolor demo during her class
7, 8. Then it was my turn to try
9. I’m so in love with color

grape soda lupines bullet journal monday in march rilla shamrocks
monarch caterpillar 2016milkweed march 2016  jane lafazio demo watercolor stock watercolor gerbera daisy (1) watercolor jade watercolor snapdragons

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10. Planner love

planner love

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.

kraft folder with snail mail supplies

• 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.

bullet journal

• 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?

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11. Quick Journey North Scope

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.

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12. Back on Periscope!

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!

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13. Ed Snapshots Interviewed Me About Tidal Homeschooling

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

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14. Current Read-Aloud: Ace, the Very Important Pig

Ace the Very Important Pig by Dick King-Smith
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.)

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15. a monday in march

I say, old chap!

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:

bleecker street tree

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

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…”

***

daniel smith watercolor chart

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?

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16. Just following instructions

“But the bag said ‘Complete set’!” —child with Sharpie about to write letters on blank Scrabble tiles.

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17. year twelve

san diego blue

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.

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18. 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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19. 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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20. Overheard

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

Huck: “I’m silent-beatboxing.”

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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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