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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. Cybils 2014

cybils logo

It’s that time of year again: Cybils Award season. The judge announcements went out this morning. I’m delighted to be serving on the First-Round panel for YA Fiction. My last stint on this panel was in 2010, aka The Year I Read a Million Books. (I’m sure it’s a TOTAL COINCIDENCE that that was also the year I began to need reading glasses.)

My appointment to this panel spurred me to make a move I’ve been considering for some time, which is to dust off my tumblr (again) and try using it for my YA-related content. I’ve got a new YA of my own coming out next year, and tumblr seems a better fit for connecting with teen readers. I’ll add a link to the sidebar, or if that topic interests you enough to want to follow it in a feed reader, here’s the RSS. (I also use tumblr for reposting interesting articles and art I’ve come across, so fair warning.)

Disclaimer: I consider all platform changes to be experimental until they’ve proven themselves convenient, so this may or may not be a long-term shift. I just really like keeping things in different boxes. But if you’ve seen my garage, you know there usually comes a point where I get annoyed by the clutter and dump everything into one big container. (Believe me, you don’t want to see my garage.)

I believe this post may have set a new record for ending paragraphs with parentheticals. (Yeehah!)

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2. Sarah and Katie by Dori White

The other day I mentioned I’ve been meaning to write a post about the 1972 middle-grade novel Sarah and Katie by Dori White. THIS IS NOT THAT POST. This is purely a curiosity itch I can’t wait to scratch. I took my query to Twitter, too, and…crickets. Now, ordinarily the merest mention of any book on Twitter, let alone a childhood favorite, garners zillions of immediate and enthusiastic responses. People love to talk about their childhood books.

Which leads me to believe that no one I know either on Twitter or here has heard of this book!

Can this be? Am I alone in my Sarah and Katie mini-obsession?

Sarah and Katie by Dori White

Illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman, you guys. It was a Scholastic Book Clubs book; I’m sure that’s where I came across it.

Anybody? Bueller?

This book haunted me. I don’t remember what age I was, maybe eleven? Story of two best friends, sixth graders, in Depression-era Oregon. Thick as thieves, a regular Betsy-Tacy pair, but the arrival of a new girl in their midst doesn’t work out quite as well as when Tib shows up. (Then again, B-T and Tib were around six in that book. Big difference between six and twelve. Trios are much trickier, at twelve.) The new girl is dazzlingly beautiful, a cloud of red curls, glamorous, dazzling, a wee bit manic; and everyone including Sarah is smitten—except Katie, who sees through Melanie’s stories. Ring a bell? No? There’s a play, and of course Melanie gets THE PART, and she’s amazing in it, she’s this incredible actress, but that too sticks in Katie’s craw…

And the whole scene when they go to Melanie’s crummy apartment, and she’s playing it up, lady of the manor, lavish, starletty…until her mother comes home and suddenly she’s TOTALLY CHANGED—clothes, hair, voice, manner. All meek and humble. And Katie’s like I KNEW IT!

What haunted me about it was the disturbed and disturbing tone, the undercurrents caused by Melanie’s deception. And the idea, which must have been new to me then, that a girl could so thoroughly fool people, could fool even her own mother. And the gradual realization, handled so deftly by Dori White (as I noticed when rereading it last year for the first time in maybe two decades), that there was a deep longing and desperation behind Melanie’s actions, that she wasn’t just someone you could slap a Bad Guy label on. Katie awakens to this slowly, painfully, and she brought me right along with her. The only other children’s book I remember experiencing that same awful poignancy—almost a sense of guilt—was The Hundred Dresses.

Okay, so now I sort of have written the post I was thinking about, I guess. But really what I want to know is, have none of you heard of it?

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3. Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Only With Books (and No Pinning)

Here’s a new game I’ve just thought of: close your eyes and grab a book from your shelves, any book, and then write a brief commentary about it. Or a long one, if you like. I’ve got so many books in my review stack, and so many others (the backlist and midlist titles I love to champion) waiting in my mental queue for some loving attention from me—books I mean to discuss or celebrate or simply wax nostalgic over. (Sarah and Katie, you guys. FOR FOUR YEARS I’ve been planning a Sarah and Katie post. The cover’s been sitting there in drafts staring mournfully at me all this time.)

All those plans create pressure, and pressure, I have found, is the enemy of blogging. So I’m thinking about making a game of it, a game with a challenge built in. I do like a dare. :) Will I find a few words to say about any book I pluck off the shelf? I suppose I’ll have to allow the caveat that if it’s one of Scott’s books and I know nothing at all about it, I can choose another. And I might need to impose some mild rules upon myself about mixing up the shelves, since our books are sorted into a rough order and I could easily stack the deck by reaching for the favorites on the bookcase next to my desk.

Want to play along? Feel free to chime in below, or on your own blog (and share the link, if the latter). If there’s enough interest I could make a Mr. Linky for it, but I wouldn’t promise to host a linkup on any kind of regular schedule, because promises are pressure and see above. Unless maybe a Mary Poppins kind of promise…when the wind changes

All right, here I go, getting up and squeezing shut my eyes. A bedroom bookcase, since that’s where I am now, but not the one by my desk.

***

Okay, that was harder than I expected. It’s tricky to get close enough to make a grab without either walking into the bookcase or peeking at the lineup on the shelf you’re reaching for. I might have to enlist a child to help with future random selections. But I did nab a title, and here it is:

frugal-housewife

The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Marie Child. Now, this little book may have had an unfair advantage over all the others because I happen to own two copies of it. They live side by side on a shelf, alongside my Blue-Back Speller. Both books were indispensable to me during the writing of the Charlotte books. A lot of the meals Martha cooks come right about of Frugal Housewife (“Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy”). Originally published in 1833, this was THE go-to book for housewives, covering everything from recipes to housecleaning to general life advice such as the essay on “How to Endure Poverty.” Mrs. Child was the home management guru of her day, sort of a Tightwad Gazette meets Flylady meets Ina Garten. She’s perhaps best-remembered today for her poem, “Over the River and Through the Woods.” But I think her real genius shines in her foodie writing. For example:

RENNET PUDDING

If your husband brings home company when you are unprepared, rennet pudding may be made at five minutes’ notice; provided you keep a piece of calf’s rennet ready prepared soaking in a bottle of wine. [Blogger's interjection: I MEAN, OBVIOUSLY.] One glass of this wine to a quart of milk will make a sort of cold custard. Sweetened with white sugar, and spiced with nutmeg, it is very good. It should be eaten immediately; in a few hours, it begins to curdle.

That is but THE TINIEST SAMPLE of Mrs. Child’s wisdom, and I could write for hours about this book and its sweeping influence—oh what a doozy of a selection I wound up with for this first go! Actually, I have written a lot about it already, ages ago, when for a time I was doing a recurring “Mrs. Child’s Wise Advice” series here, entirely for my own amusement. Those quotes are a hoot. (“EGGS.—To prove whether they are good or bad, hold the large end of the egg to your tongue; if it feels warm, it is new; but if cold, it is bad.”)

Scott’s waiting for me to finish, so I’ll leave it at that!

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4. Upcycling

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Contrary to appearances, we are not giving away our youngest son (and all his toys, to boot). The neighbors put out this shelving unit and we thought it might be just the thing to replace our sagging makeshift TV stand. We stand corrected. What it is JUST THE THING for is setting up a shop, of course. What were we thinking? The Legos and Wedgits are being offered in lots ranging from  “small pile” to “big pile” to “treasure.” When business is slow, you can fold yourself into your house and take a nap.

TV stand. ::snort:: What nonsense adults come up with sometimes.

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5. Monday Monday

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Today I forgot to blog first; it’s nearly bedtime. :)

Melanie has begun a link-up for sharing daily learning notes, always an engaging topic (if you’re anything like me). I used to have an entire side-blog for my daily notes, and then a different one, and then a different one. These days I’m tracking things on paper, but I do like to compile some of our best resources and rabbit trails here pretty often, as you know.

Selvi asked in the comments the other day why we were working on memorizing the English monarchs, because I’ve mentioned that several times. The main reason, as I replied to her, is because they make very handy pegs for hanging other historical events on. So often in our history, literature, and science reading we come across some incident involving Great Britain and we used to always say, “Who was king then? Or was it queen?” So we set about learning the list (and American presidents as well, but that was easier because these kids grew up on the Singin’ Smart CD with its infectious tune for the presidents) and it turned into a really fun family accomplishment. Oh the triumph now when we can all get through the Horrible Histories song without a hitch! ;)

Our various readings continue to interconnect in satisfying ways. We spent a couple of weeks on Wordsworth (you don’t leave this house until you know a good bit about the Romantics, that’s just the way it is) and are reading Coleridge this week, and that has created excellent crossover with our readings about the French Revolution. Except a MOST UNFORTUNATE THING happened and that is: while (continuing on in the juggernaut of world history) reading aloud about Napoleon, my tongue got twisted and his name came out BonaFART. Never, never, never shall I be allowed to live this down. Never, never, never shall I be permitted to read another word about him without a ripple of giggles across the room. Waterloo can’t come fast enough, believe me. I might have to move to Elba myself.

ANYWAY, back to Coleridge. We began a discussion of “Frost at Midnight” today, which is one of my most beloved poems. It’s a good many years since I’ve lived where there’s frost, but I still look at a winter sky and inhale the cold air and think of silent icicles quietly shining to the quiet moon. We found so much to discuss in the first stanza that that’s as far as we got for now—and the best is yet to come.

Today during our after-lunch block (that’s when I focus my attention on Huck and Rilla), we did cornmeal letters. Uppercase printing for Huck and lowercase cursive for Rilla. This was a new activity for Huck and he enjoyed it tremendously. (And ate a whole lot of dry cornmeal, gah.) He’s not yet shown much interest in writing or drawing—loves to paint big swirls and stripes of color, but crayons interest him not at all—but we have a Montessori Letter Shapes app that mimics this kind of tactile finger-tracing, and he used to play that quite a lot. When I put the plate of cornmeal in front of him today and showed him what we were going to do, he asked, politely puzzled, “But how do we reset it?” No reset button, you see. Oh my digital-era child.

He got the hang of the analog method pretty quick. ;)

G for Grin

G is for grin

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6. Sunday Morning Inspiration: Lisa Congdon & Jennifer Orkin Lewis

Art by Lisa Congdon

Art by Lisa Congdon. Image source: lisacongdon.com.

The Basic Line Drawing class at Creativebug led me to the blog of its instructor, illustrator Lisa Congdon. Lisa and her work have galvanized our artistic pursuits around here, especially Rilla’s and mine. Something she said in one of her videos really grabbed me: a while back, she decided she needed to improve her hand-lettering skills and decided to practice lettering every day for a year. Now her illustrated quote prints seem to be among her most popular creations. Her work is quite wonderful, and I love the idea that an already accomplished artist challenged herself to develop new talents by committing to practice every day for a year. This ties in perfectly to the habits posts I’ve been working on. Daily practice, even if some days what you produce falls flat.

Just like the actor who yearns to be in a band, I’m a writer who wishes I could draw. Draw really well, I mean. I have so many artist friends whose work knocks my socks off. Watching them at work—oh, that’s the best, witnessing their command of line, the rapid unfolding of story on the page. My own work is so internal. All the color and life it possesses comes from within, from a store of words, ideas, memories, experiences—like Frederick the Mouse in winter, calling up the colors and stories and sun-warmth he stored away during the rich seasons. I love this process, I wouldn’t be me without it; but there are times I yearn to grab those colors and pour them directly onto the page without having to first simmer them in the crucible of my own mind for so long.

frederick-the-mouse

Not that I don’t think visual artists transfigure experience in crucibles of their own—I don’t mean that at all, and perhaps my metaphor is running away from me. What I mean is, there can be an immediacy in drawing and painting—you see it, you sketch it, you have it—that is wholly unlike the way writing happens for me. I suppose the place I find immediacy in writing is right here, on the blog, where, as I’ve said, I try to write more rapidly, in what I’ve come to think of as a kind of mental freehand. And the thing I love about drawing, clumsy as my skills are, is that the words part of my mind is actually silenced for a time. I think drawing may be the only thing I do where that is the case. I think in words, I see them scrolling across the screen of my mind always, always—when you speak to me, I see the transcript of our conversation. While things are happening, I’m searching for the words to recount the experience—it happens automatically, I can’t not do it. I first became aware of it on a plane headed for Germany when I was fourteen years old. I was frustrated that I couldn’t just be IN that moment, living it—I was already writing it up in my head.

I remember once telling another writer friend, as she described a similar experience: Oh, you’re like me, you think in narrative. I don’t know what it’s like to live in a mind that doesn’t work this way—except for those brief flashes of silence that come while I’m sketching. And yet I’ll go years without drawing. My skills are elementary (I can go a bit beyond the stick figures I was joking about the other day, but not far) but I know that, like all skills, regular practice would improve them. And so (to come back to my point at last) I was charmed by Lisa Congdon’s determination to hone an aspect of her work by doggedly doing it every day for a year. It’s a simple and even obvious notion, but how rarely such persistence occurs to us! Or occurs in practice, even after we’ve made the resolution.

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And then a few days ago Lisa interviewed another visual artist on her blog (delightfully named Today Is Going to Be Awesome). Jennifer Orkin Lewis is a freelance illustrator living in New York City, and her work is lovely, lovely. I was instantly smitten. I learned in Lisa’s interview that in April 2013, Jennifer decided to paint in her sketchbook every day for a month—which turned into painting in her sketchbook every day, period.

…I decided to do a painting a day for the month. I didn’t put any restrictions on myself and I ended up spending hours each day on them. I finished out the month, but it was stressful. In May I did it again but my rules were that I would limit it to 1 hour and I would only paint food. I finished that challenge as well but I felt too tied down to that theme and I didn’t experiment enough. I picked up the sketchbook I’m using now last October and I started painting in it. Something clicked and I really liked how the paint went onto the paper, its size, the fact that it wasn’t a gorgeous sketchbook. I kept painting in it so when January came it just flowed that this would be my daily project. I decided to post them all on Instagram to hold myself accountable to painting everyday.

When I went to Jennifer’s Instagram account (@augustwren), I was blown away. I think what I like best is that she posts a snapshot of the day’s painting alongside the paints and brushes she used to make it.

augustwrenhouses

Kotor Montenegro by Jennifer Orkin Lewis. Image source: Instagram.

augustwrenbirds

“I’m in Venice, these are some things I saw in shop windows.” Image source: Instagram.

augustwrensheep

Scottish Sheep by Jennifer Orkin Lewis. Image source: Instagram.

“I’ve never really thought of myself as particularly disciplined, so I have surprised myself. I have loads of 1/2 finished sketchbooks on my shelves.  A great result from the practice is I now have hundreds of pages of personal reference material. I’ve gone into it to look for color combinations for projects, for the shape of a flower,  a technique.”

Please do click through to read the whole interview—it’s fascinating. Jennifer now works on these paintings for 30 minutes each. 30 minutes a day for over a year. She posts the finished pieces on her website, and the range is quite breathtaking.

One of the many sketchbook pictures Jennifer has shared on her blog. Click the image to visit her whole sketchbook.

One of the many spreads Jennifer has shared on her blog. Click the image to visit her whole sketchbook. Image source: augustwren.com/category/sketchbook/

The obvious conclusion to this post is a resolution to work in my art journal every day for a year, but do you know, I’m terrified to make such an avowal? I always feel like announcing a plan on the blog is a surefire way to stall it. :) So no public declarations. Just a tiny, quiet—resolve is too binding a word. A notion. A hope. Last night after the boys were in bed, while Scott and the girls were watching a movie, Rilla and I worked in our journals. We used the Lisa Congdon piece at the top of this page as our inspiration. I’ve got Lisa’s 20 Ways to Draw a Tulip book and right now I’m in the copying stage, just trying to improve my own command of line. Got a long way to go. I added a fern to my sketch, though, figured it out all by myself using photo reference, and I’m pleased as punch with it (while simultaneously nitpicking its flaws). My writerly affection for circular structure demands its inclusion at the end of this post, but you that terrifies me too! Well, I once posted a story I wrote when I was five years old. My mother saved it for me and now I look at the fledging handwriting and nonsensical dialogue (“We will have to take care of it. If we don’t it will die.” “OK. Let’s go to the store and buy a big Ice-Cream.”) with real affection. Maybe in a year or ten I can feel the same way about this.

Art journaling with Rilla, modeling a piece by Lisa Congdon.

A different kind of copywork. Rilla likes to work in miniature and I like to eat up the page.

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7. Friday odds and ends

revisions

This is pretty typical for one of my posts. Somewhere in the middle there is when I hit publish, so a number of those edits happened after the post went live. Which means the version that got sent to feed readers and email subscribers wasn’t the final. My ‘blogging freehand’ post went out the other day with a really mortifying apostrophe typo in it. Jane caught it for me, but not until it had been up for hours. One of the hazards of instant publication. But that’s something I love about blogging: you can put a thought out there and tweak it later if need be. I figure it’s sort of like having the kind of house friends can drop by anytime, even if that means sometimes they catch you with crumbs on the floor. I want my blog to be reasonably tidy and presentable but not all scrubbed-up for fancy company, if you know what I mean.

In grad school, my beloved teacher, Fred Chappell, used to say, “How do you know when a poem is finished? When it’s published.” He meant that it’s never really finished for the poet; we’ll go on nipping and prodding at it until some editor takes it out of our hands and says, Enough. Blogging is the same way, for me. A post is never truly finished; it’s part of a conversation.

***

Jumping to a new topic. Things we read about this week: the French Revolution; Richard II; China’s Emperor Chien-lung and the press of English trade, especially opium; the friendship of Wordsworth and Coleridge; Napoleon; the founding of Rome and the abduction of the Sabine women. A bit wide-ranging but all relevant to ongoing conversations or studies. A rich week.

***

 Something that made me laugh. On Sunday morning I had planned to get outside early and do some gardening before the heat fell, but I got caught up writing a post, a long one, about September in San Diego and how every year it bucks my internal sense of what September ought to be. Eight years we’ve been here, but certain things about the seasons still jar me. Not in a bad way—I like being jarred, being made to notice. Anyway, this post has been sitting in drafts all week: it wants pictures, and I never got around to taking any. Then today one of the ‘related links’ at the bottom of my current post caught my eye: San Diego Autumn. Hello! I thought. Guess I’ve ambled this bit of ground before. Was fun to compare the then (2008, two years after the move) to the now. I may still try to get the new one finished up and posted, but I think the original probably captures my meaning better. And that picture of wee Rilla at the bottom—oh my. She’s all grasshopper legs now.

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8. Stuff that’s working

Okay, then. Blogging first, blogging freehand.

romewasntdrawninadayMy visual aids are world-class.

 Some things we’re having fun with these days:

Famous Men of Rome. Rilla’s first time. Rose and Beanie are listening in—they know these stories well and enjoy them, and it’s amusing to them to watch Rilla encounter them for the first time. She’s doing a lot of narration afterward, mostly at dinner in the guise of “tell Daddy all about Romulus and Remus.” Sometimes during or after a chapter, I use the whiteboard to help her remember names.

Whiteboards in general. You guys, I use them for EVERYTHING. A million years ago I made the brilliant move of buying a whole bunch of scratch-and-dent markerboards for a song. The larger size are perfect as painting boards, underneath our paper—they wipe up easily and can be moved elsewhere while the masterpieces dry. We also use the big ones for things we’re trying to learn by heart. Presidents and their terms, British monarch family trees, and so forth. The smaller ones fit handily beside my chair and are great for our Latin lessons. I’ll write out a sentence and let them parse it. Meanwhile, Huck is keeping himself busy nearby with another markerboard and my best dry-erase pens.

Horrible Histories Kings and Queens of England sing-along. Penny!!! I can’t thank you enough for mentioning this a while back when I wrote about using Memrise to learn British monarchs. This video—all the HH videos—delightful. Hilarious. We’ve been watching this one every morning for two weeks and today we got through the entire song without a hitch. I wish you could hear Huck imitate baby Henry VI. (Wah!) Spot on.


Charles II is my favorite.

Creativebug. The other day I happened upon this rather amazing site. It offers video tutorials in a zillion artsy and crafty pursuits, everything from embroidery to cake decorating. I signed up for a free two-week trial subscription, and if you’re my friend on Facebook you know I’ve been having a whale of a time. Rilla and I have already devoured illustrator Lisa Congdon’s Basic Line Drawing course, and we’re three-quarters of the way through Dawn Devries Sokol’s Art Journaling class. We have Art on our schedule twice a week after lunch, but that’s not been nearly enough to accommodate the creative outpourings inspired by our Creativebug explorations. I’m finding the Lisa Congdon class has been particularly inspirational and instructive, spurring me to do a bit of sketching when I hit a snag in writing. Sometimes my other jobs—raising kids, educating them, managing a household, editing—plant me pretty solidly in my left brain and I need a right-brain pursuit like drawing (even though I’m no visual artist, as the whiteboard above attests*) to exercise my creative muscles. I’m enjoying, too, painting backgrounds in the art journal and returning to them later to practice line drawing. Rose plans to watch all the cake decorating videos. Beanie’s interested in the embroidery. Right now Creativebug is offering a whole MONTH of free trial (use promo code “CRAFT,” good through Sept. 14, and thanks Kortney for the heads up on that!), so if your interest is piqued, now’s the time to give it a try. After the trial, a subscription is $9.95/month for unlimited courses, or $9.95 to buy individual courses that you can access forever.

tulipbook*In my defense, I did draw a lot of it upside down.

20 Ways to Draw a Tulip. Lisa Congdon mentioned this book of hers during her line drawing tutorial. I’m in love with it. It’s tulips and 44 other flowers. Twenty ways to draw each of them, from simple-and-sweet to highly detailed to stylized and folk-arty. Wonderful, wonderful, out of all hooping.

And guess what’s back. ModPo!!! The best Coursera class I’ve taken, and I’ve taken some darn good ones. Modern and Contemporary Poetry with Al Filreis and his MFA students at University of Pennsylvania. Last year I watched about 75% of the videos. This year I’m hoping to tune into the entire course, but listen, even if you only manage a single video all semester, you’ve gained something. The discussions are engaging, thoughtful, and lively. My highest recommendation.

Best of all: Wisteria and Sunshine, Lesley Austin’s lovely membership site, has reopened its doors. There’s nothing else like it on the web. Lesley’s posts and pictures are nourishment for the soul, and I always come away with something to ponder, something to act on, something to cherish—just like in the Charlotte Mason motto about how a child should always have Something to Love, Something to Think About, and Something to Do.

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9. Blogging Freehand

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I’ve been online since April, 1995. Quit my job at Random House, bought a modem, unwrapped one of those AOL starter disks that were ubiquitous in the middle of that decade, created an account—screen name LissaNY—and I was off and running. After my free trial ran out, I think we had something like five hours a week? Ten, twelve at most? Does that sound right? Whatever the cheapest package was.

Not long after that, Scott’s company (DC Comics, subsidiary of Time Warner, which bought AOL) gave all employees a free AOL account with unlimited minutes. His screen name was StratNY, in honor of his Stratocaster. I spent a lot of time on that account, reading the pregnancy and new baby boards, waiting for Jane to arrive. She was two weeks late. By the time she was born, I had a network of invisible friends—many of whom are still friends to this very day. One by one, we delivered our babies and moved to the Baby’s Here, Now What? board. After a while, we jumped to a listserv—this big group of us who’d had babies within a four- or five-month window. Nineteen years later, more than a dozen of those women are still chatting via email every single day. On Facebook, too, but mostly on the list. We’ve met in person, in various configurations, numerous times. Our babies are in college now.

babyrose

There was a big schism on the listserv around the time Jane was 18 months old. A lot of women left, and I’ve lost track of most of them. I still remember things they wrote, though, back in those days. I remember the names of their kids. When Jane was diagnosed with leukemia at 21 months, a big group of the women who’d left our original list joined forces to send us a giant box of treats from Zabar’s. Another woman we knew on AOL, though I don’t think she was part of the listserv, died of complications after childbirth, so horrifying, and we all made squares for a quilt for the baby. I guess that would have been before the schism, because I remember one of the departees, a New Yorker, being interviewed on the TV news about the group effort for the quilt. They shot footage of her sitting at her computer, typing a post to our group. It was such a novelty then, newsworthy, all these strangers behaving like friends. I’m not sure the reporter was convinced we actually were friends.

We are, though.

roseandwbonslide

Somewhere in my first few months of being online, I began poking around the education boards. People were already asking us where we planned to send the baby to school. School? I was still trying to master the art of burping her. I flailed around a bit, reading about private vs private and whatnot, and then suddenly I discovered the homeschooling boards and our lives were never to be the same. Home Education Magazine was active on the AOL hs’ing boards back then—moderated them or something like that—and I remember Helen Hegener being a presence. And Sandra Dodd, whose kids were pretty young at the time, but she was already speaking with conviction and wisdom. Pam Sarooshian was another voice who stuck out. I seldom chimed in, I was mostly reading while nursing my infant, but boy howdy was I taking notes, mental and otherwise. I subscribed to Growing Without Schooling magazine and ordered a bunch of back issues to boot. To my mind, GWS prefigures homeschooling blogs—all those parents writing in to share details about their families’ learning adventures. I always cite John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Charlotte Mason, and Sandra Dodd as the big influences on my ideas about home education, but probably the greatest influence was GWS: reading dozens of letters by parents in the trenches about the myriad ways their kids were learning outside school. That magazine was a revelation. OH I SEE, was my overwhelming response to the first issue I read. I GET IT. THIS IS FOR US.

I made a friend on the AOL hs’ing boards, Pam, whose son had the same birthday as Jane. We were in close daily touch for years, and when Jane got sick Pam sent the most amazing gifts for the hospital. A little box of things from nature—driftwood, beeswax, beans, seeds—pieces of nature Jane could touch and smell from her bed. We still have it, all those beans and twigs intact. There was a vanilla bean, too, inside a corked tube; I remember how its lovely scent would rise above the smell of betadine and latex. Pam also made a little comb-bound, laminated book full of pictures of road signs. Her son loved street signs and she thought Jane might enjoy them too. She did, she read that book—I almost said “to pieces” except it was so well constructed it, too, is still intact.

janeinhospital

A year or so later, I found yahoogroups and joined a whole bunch of homeschooling lists. Friends I made there, too, are still with me. Like, really with me, besties. One of them became Huck’s godmother. Eventually email lists became discussion boards (and fraught with endless drama), and bit by bit some of those faded to silence as many of us migrated to blogs and, later, Facebook. Other boards are still active, and I’m the one who faded away. I moved here, to my little homestead on the internet. January will be ten years. I built my first website the summer before I started the blog, so that’s ten years ago exactly.

Blogs brought new friends. Most of you who comment regularly here are friends given to me by Bonny Glen. Sometimes I go back and reread a friend’s blog from the beginning, if the archives are public. What heady days those were! Sharing with abandon, forming blog-rings so we could hop from one to the next in a long, delightful chain. I miss blog-rings! The little “previous | next | random” links at the bottom of the page. I was crazy about that “random” feature—it was like a teleporter. Click! Here I am in someone’s kitchen! Look, she’s making a pie!

rillajane

I was thinking about the early days today because I had it in my head to write a post called “Thing’s I’ve Learned About My Online Life.” Number 1 was: BLOG FIRST. (I never got to number 2.) This struck me because I’m realizing I turned my old writing pattern upside down, and it’s got me feeling unsettled and less productive. In the early days—years—I used the blog as my transition from Mom time to Writer time. Writing about the kids (i.e., about momming) for 20 minutes helped me shift from one mode to the other. By the end of a post, I was fully in writing mode and could turn my attention to the next chapter of Martha or Charlotte. It was a pattern that worked beautifully for me, through many novels.

Now my online time is splintered between many activities—editing, researching, banking, socializing, writing, blogging, taking classes, watching compilations of 80s commercials (you know, important stuff)—and I’ve begun to feel wistful about the simpler days of yore. Olden times, when I was astonishingly productive, writing posts for not one but as many as FOUR blogs (Bonny Glen, Lilting House, daily notes, private family blog), two fat historical novels and several early readers a year, dozens of freelance articles, and thousands of words a week in discussions of homeschooling methods and philosophy. Good gravy, that was a lot of writing.

unsweetenedbanner

WordPress tells me I’ve published 3,081 posts here at Bonny Glen. That tally includes Lilting House, too, which I folded into this site when ClubMom shut down. I can’t begin to guess how many words that is, especially if you add in the lengthy replies I used to make in the comments. Tens of thousands. Enough for a book, several books probably. I have it in mind to collect some essays from the site for a book on tidal homeschooling at some point, a mix of new content and old posts. The trouble is, whenever I start to work on it, I find myself wanting to turn each new essay into a post instead—blogging spoils you with the instant readership, the immediate connections. Writing about tidal homeschooling without all of you chiming in in the comments feels so lonely!

And yet I’d like to persevere, and make it happen. Sometimes I think the book I’d like to write isn’t about homeschooling—it’s about the online life, about these text-first connections that become real relationships. Or, well, what I’d really like is to write both books. I got my first baby and my first modem in the same month. (Practically.) I don’t know, have not experienced, motherhood separate from the internet. There’s a story there. New parents now give thought to the Google-factor when naming their babies; some parents buy domain names and lock down gmail addresses even before the child is born. That’s practical, I get it. But I realize I and some of my friends—some of —occupy this narrow, unique sliver of parenthood: the space belonging to the parents who got online first. We didn’t know (or hardly experienced) parenting without the internet. But we grew up without it, and we remember what a world-shift coming online was for us. We may have as many friends online as off. We’ve watched each other’s children grow up through the word-pictures we sketched on discussion boards and elists, the photos we pepper our social media feeds with, and—integrating words and pictures—on our blogs.

halloweengirls

Blog first, I’m telling myself. Not with agenda, not toward any purpose other than chronicling the adventure and integrating the two dominant sides of myself. The mother, the writer. “Blogger” is such an unlovely word but it strikes me that it more than any other identifier unites those two parts of me. My blog pulls all my pieces together. It’s the home ground I return to after venturing out into new worlds. I suppose I should have thought up this post five months from now, on its tenth anniversary. But if I’ve learned anything from blogging, it’s: Write it down today, while the thought is fresh. Scheduling a topic for later turns the post into an assignment, which dramatically lowers the odds of its eventual completion.

There! It took me all those words to figure out what I needed to know. Blog first—that’s the thought I began with. Blog fresh—that’s what my brain was trying to puzzle out. Blog lightly, in a manner of speaking—not in the sense of avoiding deep or serious topics, but without that sense of pressure and polish that rules the rest of my writing life. So now I guess I’ve gone and written a New Year’s Resolution five months early, too. Blog freehand. How funny this is—I didn’t even know I needed to give myself a talking-to!

boykisses

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10. Blogging Freehand

bgbanner

I’ve been online since April, 1995. Quit my job at HarperCollins, bought a modem, unwrapped one of those AOL starter disks that were ubiquitous in the middle of that decade, created an account—screen name LissaNY—and I was off and running. After my free trial ran out, I think we had something like five hours of dialup a week? Ten, twelve at most? Does that sound right? Whatever the cheapest package was.

Not long after that, Scott’s company (DC Comics, subsidiary of Time Warner, which bought AOL) gave all employees a free AOL account with unlimited minutes. His screen name was StratNY, in honor of his Stratocaster. I spent a lot of time on that account, reading the pregnancy and new baby boards, waiting for Jane to arrive. She was two weeks late. By the time she was born, I had a network of invisible friends—many of whom are still friends to this very day. One by one, we delivered our babies and moved to the Baby’s Here, Now What? board. After a while, we jumped to a listserv—this big group of us who’d had babies within a four- or five-month window. Nineteen years later, more than a dozen of those women are still chatting via email every single day. On Facebook, too, but mostly on the list. We’ve met in person, in various configurations, numerous times. Our babies are in college now.

babyrose

There was a big schism on the listserv around the time Jane was 18 months old. A lot of women left, and I’ve lost track of most of them. I still remember things they wrote, though, back in those days. I remember the names of their kids. When Jane was diagnosed with leukemia at 21 months, a big group of the women who’d left our original list joined forces to send us a giant box of treats from Zabar’s. Several friends from the original list visited me in the hospital, traveling from New Jersey, Boston, and even Chicago. Another woman we knew on AOL, though I don’t think she was part of the listserv, died of complications after childbirth, so horrifying, and we all made squares for a quilt for the baby. I guess that would have been before the schism, because I remember one of the departees, a New Yorker, being interviewed on the TV news about the group effort for the quilt. They shot footage of her sitting at her computer, typing a post to our group. It was such a novelty then, newsworthy, all these strangers behaving like friends. I’m not sure the reporter was convinced we actually were friends.

We are, though.

roseandwbonslide

Somewhere in my first few months of being online, I began poking around the education boards. People were already asking us where we planned to send the baby to school. School? I was still trying to master the art of burping her. I flailed around a bit, reading about private vs private and whatnot, and then suddenly I discovered the homeschooling boards and our lives were never to be the same. Home Education Magazine was active on the AOL hs’ing boards back then—moderated them or something like that—and I remember Helen Hegener being a presence. And Sandra Dodd, whose kids were pretty young at the time, but she was already speaking with conviction and wisdom. Pam Sarooshian was another voice who stuck out. I seldom chimed in, I was mostly reading while nursing my infant, but boy howdy was I taking notes, mental and otherwise. I subscribed to Growing Without Schooling magazine and ordered a bunch of back issues to boot. To my mind, GWS prefigures homeschooling blogs—all those parents writing in to share details about their families’ learning adventures. I always cite John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Charlotte Mason, and Sandra Dodd as the big influences on my ideas about home education, but probably the greatest influence was GWS: reading dozens of letters by parents in the trenches about the myriad ways their kids were learning outside school. That magazine was a revelation. OH I SEE, was my overwhelming response to the first issue I read. I GET IT. THIS IS FOR US.

I made a friend on the AOL hs’ing boards, Pam, whose son had the same birthday as Jane. We were in close daily touch for years, and when Jane got sick Pam sent the most amazing gifts for the hospital. A little box of things from nature—driftwood, beeswax, beans, seeds—pieces of nature Jane could touch and smell from her bed. We still have it, all those beans and twigs intact. There was a vanilla bean, too, inside a corked tube; I remember how its lovely scent would rise above the smell of betadine and latex. Pam also made a little comb-bound, laminated book full of pictures of road signs. Her son loved street signs and she thought Jane might enjoy them too. She did, she read that book—I almost said “to pieces” except it was so well constructed it, too, is still intact.

janeinhospital

A year or so later, I found yahoogroups and joined a whole bunch of homeschooling lists. Friends I made there, too, are still with me. Like, really with me, besties. One of them became Huck’s godmother. Eventually email lists became discussion boards (and fraught with endless drama), and bit by bit some of those faded to silence as many of us migrated to blogs and, later, Facebook. Other boards are still active, and I’m the one who faded away. I moved here, to my little homestead on the internet. January will be ten years. I built my first website the summer before I started the blog, so that’s ten years ago exactly.

Blogs brought new friends. Most of you who comment regularly here are friends given to me by Bonny Glen. Sometimes I go back and reread a friend’s blog from the beginning, if the archives are public. What heady days those were! Sharing with abandon, forming blog-rings so we could hop from one to the next in a long, delightful chain. I miss blog-rings! The little “previous | next | random” links at the bottom of the page. I was crazy about that “random” feature—it was like a teleporter. Click! Here I am in someone’s kitchen! Look, she’s making a pie!

rillajane

I was thinking about the early days today because I had it in my head to write a post called “Things I’ve Learned About My Online Life.” Number 1 was: BLOG FIRST. (I never got to number 2.) This struck me because I’m realizing I turned my old writing pattern upside down, and it’s got me feeling unsettled and less productive. In the early days—years—I used the blog as my transition from Mom time to Writer time. Writing about the kids (i.e., about momming) for 20 minutes helped me shift from one mode to the other. By the end of a post, I was fully in writing mode and could turn my attention to the next chapter of Martha or Charlotte. It was a pattern that worked beautifully for me, through many novels.

Now my online time is splintered between many activities—editing, researching, banking, socializing, writing, blogging, taking classes, watching compilations of 80s commercials (you know, important stuff)—and I’ve begun to feel wistful about the simpler days of yore. Olden times, when I was astonishingly productive, writing posts for not one but as many as FOUR blogs (Bonny Glen, Lilting House, daily notes, private family blog), two fat historical novels and several early readers a year, dozens of freelance articles, and thousands of words a week in discussions of homeschooling methods and philosophy. Good gravy, that was a lot of writing.

unsweetenedbanner

WordPress tells me I’ve published 3,081 posts here at Bonny Glen. That tally includes Lilting House, too, which I folded into this site when ClubMom shut down. I can’t begin to guess how many words that is, especially if you add in the lengthy replies I used to make in the comments. Hundreds of thousands. (ETA: Scott, doing some quick math, reckons I’ve posted upwards of two MILLION words here. Yow.) Enough for a book, several books probably. I have it in mind to collect some essays from the site for a book on tidal homeschooling at some point, a mix of new content and old posts. The trouble is, whenever I start to work on it, I find myself wanting to turn each new essay into a post instead—blogging spoils you with the instant readership, the immediate connections. Writing about tidal homeschooling without all of you chiming in in the comments feels so lonely!

And yet I’d like to persevere and make it happen. Sometimes I think the book I’d like to write isn’t about homeschooling—it’s about the online life, about these text-first connections that become real relationships. Or, well, what I’d really like is to write both books. I got my first baby and my first modem in the same month. (Practically.) I don’t know, have not experienced, motherhood separate from the internet. There’s a story there. New parents now give thought to the Google-factor when naming their babies; some parents buy domain names and lock down gmail addresses even before the child is born. That’s practical, I get it. But I realize I and some of my friends—some of —occupy this narrow, unique sliver of parenthood: the space belonging to the parents who got online first. We didn’t know (or hardly experienced) parenting without the internet. But we grew up without it, and we remember what a world-shift coming online was for us. We may have as many friends online as off. We’ve watched each other’s children grow up through the word-pictures we sketched on discussion boards and elists, the photos we pepper our social media feeds with, and—integrating words and pictures—on our blogs.

halloweengirls

Blog first, I’m telling myself. Not with agenda, not toward any purpose other than chronicling the adventure and integrating the two dominant sides of myself. The mother, the writer. “Blogger” is such an unlovely word but it strikes me that it more than any other identifier unites those two parts of me. My blog pulls all my pieces together. It’s the home ground I return to after venturing out into new worlds. I suppose I should have thought up this post five months from now, on its tenth anniversary. But if I’ve learned anything from blogging, it’s: Write it down today, while the thought is fresh. Scheduling a topic for later turns the post into an assignment, which dramatically lowers the odds of its eventual completion. (I really am working on getting that habits post up, though!)

There! It took me all those words to figure out what I needed to know. Blog first—that’s the thought I began with. Blog fresh—that’s what my brain was trying to puzzle out. Blog lightly, in a manner of speaking—not in the sense of avoiding deep or serious topics, but without that sense of pressure and polish that rules the rest of my writing life. So now I guess I’ve gone and written a New Year’s Resolution five months early, too. Blog freehand. How funny this is—I didn’t even know I needed to give myself a talking-to!

boykisses

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11. Eight years ago this week

Found on my old private family blog, dated August 27, 2006. Scott was out here in San Diego, a month into the new job. I was back home with the (then) five kids, trying to get the house sold. Rilla was only a few months old. Rose would have been eight, Beanie five. Scott and I did not bear the separation easily. I created a little daily-snippets blog just for him so he wouldn’t feel like he was missing everything. At night, after the kids were in bed, I had a gig writing parenting articles for a medical website. Scott and I would keep a chat window open and ping each other back and forth as we worked away on opposite coasts. Sometimes we’d go to audio and listen to the sound of each other typing. Four months, and it felt like forever.

***

August 27, 2006

The Conversation Went Like This

Bean: Why did SHE get to sleep in your bed last night?

Me: Just because. You may tonight, if you wish.

Rose: But won’t she be lonely, waiting for you to come to bed?

Bean: What?

Rose, breaking it to her gently: If you sleep with Mommy, you have to wait a long time in the dark before she gets there.

Bean, brow furrowed: Oh…

Rose, kindly: Do you want to sleep in Mommy’s room, or do you want to snuggle up with me?

Bean’s reply? She threw her arms around her sister. The hug went on long enough for me to snap it.

2006sisterhug

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12. Eight years ago this week

Found on my old private family blog, dated August 27, 2006. Scott was out here in San Diego, a month into the new job. I was back home with the (then) five kids, trying to get the house sold. Rilla was only a few months old. Rose would have been eight, Beanie five. Scott and I did not bear the separation easily. I created a little daily-snippets blog just for him so he wouldn’t feel like he was missing everything. At night, after the kids were in bed, I had a gig writing parenting articles for a medical website. Scott and I would keep a chat window open and ping each other back and forth as we worked away on opposite coasts. Sometimes we’d go to audio and listen to the sound of each other typing. Four months, and it felt like forever.

***

August 27, 2006

The Conversation Went Like This

Bean: Why did SHE get to sleep in your bed last night?

Me: Just because. You may tonight, if you wish.

Rose: But won’t she be lonely, waiting for you to come to bed?

Bean: What?

Rose, breaking it to her gently: If you sleep with Mommy, you have to wait a long time in the dark before she gets there.

Bean, brow furrowed: Oh…

Rose, kindly: Do you want to sleep in Mommy’s room, or do you want to snuggle up with me?

Bean’s reply? She threw her arms around her sister. The hug went on long enough for me to snap it.

2006sisterhug

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13. Thursday

Having newly tidied-up files is having a shiny-sink effect on me: I’m just about caught up on all forms of desk-work now, including answering reader mail. Speaking of, how sweet is this Prairie Thief-inspired drawing a young reader made for me? I melted utterly.

IMG_6450

Awesome job, Mara!

Now only some personal correspondence to catch up on (hi Brigid!!!) and a short list of work-related tasks. And then, wonder of wonders, my desk will be clear. For a little while, at least. I seem to be a person who enjoys organization in fits and starts.

The new combination of gCal for household chores + Remember the Milk for other (family or clerical) tasks & errands is working really well for me. And since I’ve volunteered to handle the cooking for the next month, I created a Meal Planning gCal too. Dinner prep has gone smoothly three nights in a row, which has got to be a lifetime record for me. ;) WHO IS THIS KITCHEN WIZARD OCCUPYING MY SHOES, YOU GUYS? And how can I keep her around?

(Prepare for the inevitable crash. It’ll be another chai tortilla soup-caliber disaster next week, you know it will.)

Meanwhile, work rolls on. Got another talk to write (this one on writing, happening in October); some books to review; some articles to edit; and oh yeah, a novel to polish. Especially the ending. But let’s not speak of that, shall we?

scarlet

(The secret to my peace of mind: vicious compartmentalization.)

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14. Thursday

Having newly tidied-up files is having a shiny-sink effect on me: I’m just about caught up on all forms of desk-work now, including answering reader mail. Speaking of, how sweet is this Prairie Thief-inspired drawing a young reader made for me? I melted utterly.

IMG_6450

Awesome job, Mara!

Now only some personal correspondence to catch up on (hi Brigid!!!) and a short list of work-related tasks. And then, wonder of wonders, my desk will be clear. For a little while, at least. I seem to be a person who enjoys organization in fits and starts.

The new combination of gCal for household chores + Remember the Milk for other (family or clerical) tasks & errands is working really well for me. And since I’ve volunteered to handle the cooking for the next month, I created a Meal Planning gCal too. Dinner prep has gone smoothly three nights in a row, which has got to be a lifetime record for me. ;) WHO IS THIS KITCHEN WIZARD OCCUPYING MY SHOES, YOU GUYS? And how can I keep her around?

(Prepare for the inevitable crash. It’ll be another chai tortilla soup-caliber disaster next week, you know it will.)

Meanwhile, work rolls on. Got another talk to write (this one on writing, happening in October); some books to review; some articles to edit; and oh yeah, a novel to polish. Especially the ending. But let’s not speak of that, shall we?

scarlet

(The secret to my peace of mind: vicious compartmentalization.)

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15. What you already know

It’s going to take me a little while to recreate my habits talk in this space. I wrote down the sequence of points I wanted to address and examples I wanted to use, but I wound up not using my notes at all, except to read a couple of Charlotte Mason quotes. But I recall pretty well what I said, and what questions were asked, and I’m gradually jotting it down to share here. I’ve gotten a lot of sweet notes from the moms in attendance, and it’s clear the topic struck a chord. Preparing the talk was a fun experience for me—it reinforced something I learned from Alexis O’Neill, a children’s book author and frequent school-presentation giver, in a workshop she gave for children’s writers last year. She was speaking about school visits, but her point speaks to a wide range of situations. She said, “You have to remember that you already know a great deal about your subject. Things you take for granted, your knowledge about publishing and writing, are topics of great fascination to your audience. There’s a lot you can say that comes just from what you already know inside and out. That’s what they want to hear.”

That’s a rough paraphrase from memory, over a year later. You can see her words really resonated with me. They struck me as applying to many things in my life besides writing. All of us have a wealth of stories and experience tucked in our minds. For the right audience, what you know through life experience—those aspects of life you take for granted because the ideas have become a part of the air you breathe—can make a compelling narrative. In the case of this habits talk, I hadn’t realized until I began preparing it that the degree to which my parenting style was influenced by Charlotte Mason’s ideas about habit formation was, even among my fellow homeschoolers, somewhat unusual. Honestly, I would have said that when it came to mothering, I was more influenced by unschooling philosophy and La Leche League than CM. And yet, sixteen years after first encountering Charlotte’s writings, I can see how profound and lasting her influence has been. On my parenting, I mean. On our learning style, sure; I’m keenly aware of her influence there—we’re living-books, narration, nature-study learners through and through. But the habit-training part? That’s the part I’ve internalized so thoroughly that I stopped really noticing it.

Well, this is a very meta post, isn’t it! Talking about the talk but not talking the talk itself. ;) I’ll get there. It just struck me that Alexis’s insight is a great takeaway for our kids, too (and really, when you think about it, is closely related to CM’s emphasis on narration): there are topics about which you already know a great deal. When you share that knowledge with enthusiasm and conviction, people are interested. I love to hear a kid talk animatedly about some personal passion, some arcane subject that has captured his or her mind. That gorgeous light in the eyes, the tumbling words, the eager gestures. It’s one of the most beautiful sights in the world.

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16. What you already know

It’s going to take me a little while to recreate my habits talk in this space. I wrote down the sequence of points I wanted to address and examples I wanted to use, but I wound up not using my notes at all, except to read a couple of Charlotte Mason quotes. But I recall pretty well what I said, and what questions were asked, and I’m gradually jotting it down to share here. I’ve gotten a lot of sweet notes from the moms in attendance, and it’s clear the topic struck a chord. Preparing the talk was a fun experience for me—it reinforced something I learned from Alexis O’Neill, a children’s book author and frequent school-presentation giver, in a workshop she gave for children’s writers last year. She was speaking about school visits, but her point speaks to a wide range of situations. She said, “You have to remember that you already know a great deal about your subject. Things you take for granted, your knowledge about publishing and writing, are topics of great fascination to your audience. There’s a lot you can say that comes just from what you already know inside and out. That’s what they want to hear.”

That’s a rough paraphrase from memory, over a year later. You can see her words really resonated with me. They struck me as applying to many things in my life besides writing. All of us have a wealth of stories and experience tucked in our minds. For the right audience, what you know through life experience—those aspects of life you take for granted because the ideas have become a part of the air you breathe—can make a compelling narrative. In the case of this habits talk, I hadn’t realized until I began preparing it that the degree to which my parenting style was influenced by Charlotte Mason’s ideas about habit formation was, even among my fellow homeschoolers, somewhat unusual. Honestly, I would have said that when it came to mothering, I was more influenced by unschooling philosophy and La Leche League than CM. And yet, sixteen years after first encountering Charlotte’s writings, I can see how profound and lasting her influence has been. On my parenting, I mean. On our learning style, sure; I’m keenly aware of her influence there—we’re living-books, narration, nature-study learners through and through. But the habit-training part? That’s the part I’ve internalized so thoroughly that I stopped really noticing it.

Well, this is a very meta post, isn’t it! Talking about the talk but not talking the talk itself. ;) I’ll get there. It just struck me that Alexis’s insight is a great takeaway for our kids, too (and really, when you think about it, is closely related to CM’s emphasis on narration): there are topics about which you already know a great deal. When you share that knowledge with enthusiasm and conviction, people are interested. I love to hear a kid talk animatedly about some personal passion, some arcane subject that has captured his or her mind. That gorgeous light in the eyes, the tumbling words, the eager gestures. It’s one of the most beautiful sights in the world.

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17. “A quick one,” she said. Ha!

summerflowers

Last night’s talk on habits seemed to go over very well. I was astonished that we had forty moms in attendance! We set up chairs and blankets in my backyard. Several of you have asked for a write-up of the talk, so I’ll work on that during the week. Thanks so much for your interest!

Playing catchup tonight, so this will be another quick one. I’ve been making my way through Mystie Winckler’s Simplified Organization eCourse (affiliate link, and I think the “backtoschool” discount code still works), and I really enjoyed her video on Google Calendar. Same thing happened with gCal as happened with Evernote when I read Mystie’s Paperless Home Organization book: in both cases I thought I was already using the platform in question in a fairly savvy manner, but Mystie taught me some tricks I didn’t know. In the case of Google Calendar (my lifeline for years now), I already had multiple calendars set up that I toggled on and off for various views: Appointments, Kid Activities (including, this summer, Jane’s work schedule; also includes family birthdays), and a Deadlines calendar I share with Scott. But now I’ve added:

• a Household calendar for tracking my daily chores, the ones assigned to specific days of the week a la Flylady;

• a Readalouds calendar (a brainstorm that came to me after Mystie’s video; I’ve tried many ways of logging our numerous picture book readalouds through the week and I always wind up dropping the ball; we’ll see if this one works );

• and a very simple Zones calendar that displays the Flylady zone of the week. I’ve been using Flylady’s schedule, modified, on and off for some fifteen years now! When I follow it, the housework flows so much more smoothly. Until now I never thought of having a gCal dedicated solely to announcing the week’s zone.

The Household calendar has already proven its merits. I created it over the weekend and made recurring entries (not pegged to a specific time, so they appear in bands of color) for the rotating daily chores. Then, for extra tasks such as the ones associated with hosting a houseful of moms, I assigned times (somewhat arbitrary, but I did find it kept me progressing through the tasks through the day) so that those would show up without the orange background.

zones

I’ve never tried anything like this before—listing the individual chores necessary for a non-routine event—and it worked amazingly well for me. I was able to work through the list in a pretty calm manner, not the frazzled frenzy that is my usual state when preparing for company. :)

I didn’t put our regular morning/afternoon/evening chores on this calendar because those are routine now, for the kids and me. This is only for my jobs that come around weekly or less often.

***

I got carried away there and wrote more than I meant to. :) I’m thinking about adding yet another gCal for our High Tide studies. I have it marked out in colorful chalk and propped on the mantel where I can see it from my favorite chair, but I think I might enjoy seeing it laid out this way too.

This morning we returned to our (still new) schedule. We’re having a good time with Latin, brushing up on what we learned last go-round. For some reason Latin brings out the merry in all of us. Rose and Bean and I are back to our Romantic poets, so you know I’m in heaven. We’re reading Lear aloud—Rilla is doing a bang-up job as Cordelia—and today (at long last) Rose and I started Paradise Lost. Beanie and I, meanwhile, are spending a few weeks in the company of my beloved Mr. Twain. She’s knee-deep in Connecticut Yankee at the moment. I need to catch up to her.

Obviously we’re going heavy on Lit at the moment. There are other things afoot, of course. Including a whole lot of D&D character-building among the girls. For Rose’s birthday last week, I gave her a new adventure module with a promise to DM for them. In a momentous gesture, Rilla has been invited by her big sisters to join the game. This necessitated a lot of poring over manuals to find the perfect combination of character race and class. I believe she settled upon half-elf paladin. Backstory in progress. I think Rose may enjoy creating characters and fleshing them out even more than playing the game. A girl after my own heart.

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18. “A quick one,” she said. Ha!

summerflowers

Last night’s talk on habits seemed to go over very well. I was astonished that we had forty moms in attendance! We set up chairs and blankets in my backyard. Several of you have asked for a write-up of the talk, so I’ll work on that during the week. Thanks so much for your interest!

Playing catchup tonight, so this will be another quick one. I’ve been making my way through Mystie Winckler’s Simplified Organization eCourse (affiliate link, and I think the “backtoschool” discount code still works), and I really enjoyed her video on Google Calendar. Same thing happened with gCal as happened with Evernote when I read Mystie’s Paperless Home Organization book: in both cases I thought I was already using the platform in question in a fairly savvy manner, but Mystie taught me some tricks I didn’t know. In the case of Google Calendar (my lifeline for years now), I already had multiple calendars set up that I toggled on and off for various views: Appointments, Kid Activities (including, this summer, Jane’s work schedule; also includes family birthdays), and a Deadlines calendar I share with Scott. But now I’ve added:

• a Household calendar for tracking my daily chores, the ones assigned to specific days of the week a la Flylady;

• a Readalouds calendar (a brainstorm that came to me after Mystie’s video; I’ve tried many ways of logging our numerous picture book readalouds through the week and I always wind up dropping the ball; we’ll see if this one works );

• and a very simple Zones calendar that displays the Flylady zone of the week. I’ve been using Flylady’s schedule, modified, on and off for some fifteen years now! When I follow it, the housework flows so much more smoothly. Until now I never thought of having a gCal dedicated solely to announcing the week’s zone.

The Household calendar has already proven its merits. I created it over the weekend and made recurring entries (not pegged to a specific time, so they appear in bands of color) for the rotating daily chores. Then, for extra tasks such as the ones associated with hosting a houseful of moms, I assigned times (somewhat arbitrary, but I did find it kept me progressing through the tasks through the day) so that those would show up without the orange background.

zones

I’ve never tried anything like this before—listing the individual chores necessary for a non-routine event—and it worked amazingly well for me. I was able to work through the list in a pretty calm manner, not the frazzled frenzy that is my usual state when preparing for company. :)

I didn’t put our regular morning/afternoon/evening chores on this calendar because those are routine now, for the kids and me. This is only for my jobs that come around weekly or less often.

***

I got carried away there and wrote more than I meant to. :) I’m thinking about adding yet another gCal for our High Tide studies. I have it marked out in colorful chalk and propped on the mantel where I can see it from my favorite chair, but I think I might enjoy seeing it laid out this way too.

This morning we returned to our (still new) schedule. We’re having a good time with Latin, brushing up on what we learned last go-round. For some reason Latin brings out the merry in all of us. Rose and Bean and I are back to our Romantic poets, so you know I’m in heaven. We’re reading Lear aloud—Rilla is doing a bang-up job as Cordelia—and today (at long last) Rose and I started Paradise Lost. Beanie and I, meanwhile, are spending a few weeks in the company of my beloved Mr. Twain. She’s knee-deep in Connecticut Yankee at the moment. I need to catch up to her.

Obviously we’re going heavy on Lit at the moment. There are other things afoot, of course. Including a whole lot of D&D character-building among the girls. For Rose’s birthday last week, I gave her a new adventure module with a promise to DM for them. In a momentous gesture, Rilla has been invited by her big sisters to join the game. This necessitated a lot of poring over manuals to find the perfect combination of character race and class. I believe she settled upon half-elf paladin. Backstory in progress. I think Rose may enjoy creating characters and fleshing them out even more than playing the game. A girl after my own heart.

Related post:
It’s funny that I am simultaneously a paper girl and a fan of Paperless Home Organization

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19. Big Picture Classes “Phone Photography Project 2″ Class

balboa walkwayOne of the many long galleries at Balboa Park. Assignment: In a Row.

At Comic-Con two years ago (or was it three? they begin to blur), I dropped my camera in the street, and it has never been the same since. Even before that, I was finding myself more likely to reach for my smartphone than the camera when I wanted to snap a pic. I gather I’m not alone in this. As phone cameras have improved and apps like Instagram make uploading and sharing easier, more and more of us are relying on our phones to capture the memories we want to save.

At times, though, I’ve been frustrated by the frankly mediocre quality of my phone photos compared to the kind of pictures I used to get with my camera. When I saw that Big Picture Classes was offering an online course in phone photography—and furthermore, that my fellow former ClubMom blogger Tracey Clark was one of the instructors—I decided to take the plunge.

Oh you guys, I am SO happy I’m taking this class. The “Before and After” videos, in which various instructors walk you through the editing process on a single photo, using their favorite apps, made an immediate difference in my pictures. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the biweekly lessons with accompanying photo challenges, all based around themes like “In a Row,” “Lines,” or “Fill the Frame.” I’m much happier with the quality of the photos I’m getting out of my iPhone. Almost every image I have posted here in the past two weeks was influenced by the course.

The class runs through August 16 and you can sign up right until the end. You move through the lessons at your own pace. There’s a pretty active message board with lots of input from the instructors, and several bonus videos in which guest photographers spend some time talking about their phone-photography process.

Here’s a selection of my class assignments. There’s a gallery where students may upload photos, but the best place to see others’ work is on Instagram, where we’re tagging our work #bpcphonephotographyproject and adding tags for the individual assignments, such as #ppp2inarow or #ppp2shapes.

seaport village houseTaken at Seaport Village in San Diego. Assignment: Rule of Thirds.

orchidsI always swoon over the orchids in Balboa Park’s Botanical Building. Assignment: Fill the Frame.

blueguitarsSnapped in a corner of the music studio where my kids take piano. Assignment: Lines.

leaflinesAnother take on the Lines assignment.

succulentI’m always admiring these beautiful succulents in my neighbor’s yard. Assignment: Fill the Frame.

rocktowersThere’s a man who stacks these rock towers at Seaport Village every day. Assignment: Shapes.

guitarsbwAnother take on the guitars…Assignment: Black and White. (I think this may be my favorite of the bunch.)

morninglightRose found this feather and we decided it was meant for my blue jar. Assignment: Light.

geocacheseaportvillageAnother Seaport Village shot, but I’m not saying where exactly. ;) Assignment: Fill the Frame.

coronadobeachgirlandshipI posted this one here last week, but I tried a slightly different edit when I shared it on Instagram. I think I like this faded version best. (I prefer the taller crop on the original, though.) Assignments: Vantage Point and Rule of Thirds.

beanieflieskiteI happened to read the Vantage Point lesson right before our trip to Seaport Village, and it’s what nudged me to get down on the ground underneath Beanie as she took a stab at flying this kite. I like how the kite is about to sail right out of the frame.

carshadowsOne of the things I’m appreciating most about this class is the way it makes me notice things in my surroundings that I might otherwise have glanced right past. I passed these cars in a parking lot behind the San Diego Convention Center during Comic-Con and was struck by the reflection of the slats on their windshields. Submitted it for the Black and White bonus challenge.

seaweedgirlThanks to the class I learned how to straighten the horizon in this formerly very tilted shot! I didn’t tag it for any of the assignments, but the way the wind was whipping that seaweed around, it could almost qualify for the Action challenge.

Tomorrow brings a new lesson—I can’t wait!

ppp2_120x120

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20. Monday 11 August

Oh sure, I can write the date, but that doesn’t mean I can believe it. I’d have laid money we weren’t past the 6th or 7th yet. Blink. WB goes back to school on Thursday (!) and Rose starts a Spanish class at the community college next week (!!). I will probably wake up tomorrow and discover that Huck has enrolled in graduate school.

On the forums for my Phone Photography class, someone (possibly my friend Stephanie Elms?) recommended an app called Timehop that, once connected to your various social media accounts, will compile for you each day a look back at what you posted on this date in years past. Thus it was that I discovered today is four years since we (sans Scott) visited Rocky Ridge Farm, where Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote all her books.

rockyridgeIn which we continue the family tradition of being unable to all smile for a photo simultaneously, unless Scott is standing behind the photographer working his magic.

It has been a BIG four years. Three of those girls are taller than I now, and that chubby little side of beef is a long, lean boy. There’s a lot less pink in the laundry these days (nearly all of it Rilla’s).

***

Here’s what we did this weekend: I was asked to be on a panel at WinkieCon, an annual celebration of the Oz books, which I grew up loving as wildly as I did Little House. You can imagine my delight, then, at encountering none other than Ozma herself.

ozma

Is that not the most incredible costume? She nailed it perfectly. In addition to being a talented costumer, Natalie makes wonderful jewelry and art.

And that’s not all. My young Polychrome was tickled to meet this fellow:

cowardlylion

After the “Playing in Someone Else’s Sandbox” panel there was a booksigning for the authors (Edward Einhorn, Caroline Spector, and me). Look who kept me company at the table!

ozsigning

The convention was a delight for me and my girls, especially Miss Rilla, who dove into a ribbon-hunting quest with considerable verve. She had to seek out attendees with Doctor Who “Companion” ribbons on their badges and ask them to pose for a quick photo; for every five Companion photos she brought back to the game table, she earned a new ribbon for her own badge—starting with Dalek and working her way up through several levels, past Time Lord to a Companion badge of her own. She made a lot of friends that day, let me tell you. :)

photo 2 (5)

One of the highlights of the convention was—I can hardly tell you how fluttery I felt, walking into this room—a collection of Judy Garland’s costumes. Meet Me in St. Louis, The Harvey Girls, Easter Parade—so many treasures there. And we met Judy’s son. Such a nice man. It was quite a day.

judygowns

judydresses

If you ever get a chance to go to an Oz convention (especially Winkie Con, which is such a class act), I highly recommend it. Fascinating people, gorgeous books and costumes and handmade wares, really interesting panels—Jane particularly enjoyed “Oz and the American Musical,” which I wish I’d attended myself—and all in a venue MUCH less crowded and overwhelming than, say, Comic-Con. Many thanks to Eric Shanower for the invitation to speak on the panel.

photo 1 (6)

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21. Interview at Bartography: Video Games & Me

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Chris Barton, author of many excellent children’s books including that Peterson family favorite, Shark vs. Train, is celebrating the impending launch of his newest book, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!, by interviewing other authors about their relationship with video games. Today it’s my turn. I had a blast (Asteroids reference, get it?) answering his questions. You know how I love me my games. :)

Excerpt:

CB: What games did you play the most when you were a kid? What did you love about them?

MW: We got an Atari 2600 when I was around 8th or 9th grade. I. LOVED. THAT. THING. Fave game: Adventure. The way the dragons curled up when you stabbed them! I went through a whole blissful nostalgia-binge not long ago, revisiting Adventure on a desktop version. It’s amazing the wave of feelings it conjures up. That exhilaration of discovery; the happy state of tension I love in a game.

Naturally I had to give a big shoutout to Glitch, the best game of all time (sniff).

silhouettetrill

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22. Ahhh…

photo 2 (6)

Our insanely busy summer is winding down, and soon we’ll be back to just regular busy. Jane took the week off her internship because she landed a short-term gig at a community college bookstore—the very college at which Rose is now taking a Spanish class, though the store is not on campus. Nearby, though, and Scott’s and my taxi powers have not been, er, overtaxed. (Ba dum bump.) And only three doctor visits in the past two weeks: one long scheduled, one unanticipated, and one follow-up. Considering the records we set earlier in the summer, this tally is positively yawnworthy.

(I just peeked at next week’s calendar, and there are NO. APPOINTMENTS. SCHEDULED. Which means somebody will probably break an arm.)

(Not funny, Lissa.)

With Wonderboy back in school and Rose uttering heretofore unuttered phrases like “Here’s my syllabus if you want to take a look” and “I finished my homework” (!), we find ourselves comfortably returning to our high-tide rhythms—with a few innovations this year. I’ve marked out blocks of time (cleverly called Block 1 and Block 2, which has my inner Anne Shirley rolling her eyes in disgust) to focus on Rose and Beanie (1) or Huck and Rilla (2) with some planning and deliberation. That is, I want to make sure we get to the Fun Stuff and the Important Stuff, and I’ve set aside time for the purpose. Four nice chunks of Block 1 and three of Block 2 each week, tucked into specific corners of the day.

Today’s our third day, and so far I’m tickled pink. Yesterday afternoon ended with Huck and Rilla literally climbing on top of me, chanting “More Block 2! More Block 2!” One excellent development is that Rilla and I now have a dedicated time to work on art projects. She picked this toucan painting to start with, and to my amusement I was not merely expected to facilitate her efforts: I was required to undertake a painting of my own. Our works are coming along nicely. Today we put in the skies.

Also chalked in on the schedule is a regular park visit, an extremely important addition in the eyes of my younger children. Huck and Rilla anticipated today’s outing all week long. Finally the appointed hour arrived—and thirty seconds after hitting the playground, all three of us melted into puddles from the fierce heat. Cue general despondency. In times like this, there’s only one thing to be done: find a shady nook under the fringe of pine trees and build ourselves a Roxaboxen. We each made our own little round houses with a nice path connecting them. We’re all in suspense to see what will be left of our realm next week.

roxaboxen

 

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23. A quick nothing on Friday

Today I purged a forest of paper from my files and finished setting up a nifty new filing system that has me squeeing a bit. I spent hours on this project over the past three days, but the funny thing is that right now, as I look around the room, I can’t see any difference: all the change is inside closed drawers. But now there will be much less chance of those drawers disgorging their contents across the flat surfaces of this room. Invisible or not, it’s a mighty satisfying development.

Tonight some of us are headed to a friend’s house for a group reading of The Importance of Being Earnest. Promises to be fun.

I’ll be spending part of the weekend prepping for a talk I’ve been asked to give on Monday night, about habits and scheduling and atmosphere. It’s going to be here at the house, since part of the idea is to see us in our habitat (warts and all). I promised myself to do only ordinary cleaning, nothing extraordinary, because I want to give a really true impression of what everyday life is like. (The overhauled files live in my room, where my visitors are unlikely to go, so although my efforts in that department may well qualify as extraordinary—maybe a once-a-decade event for me—it doesn’t count as a breach of my aforementioned promise to myself.)

Was going to add a photo (of what, I know not), but it’s time to head out for our Wilde reading!

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24. How to Melt Your Mother

Huck, in solemn tones: “Mommy, I like you more than television.”

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25. How to Melt Your Mother

Huck, in solemn tones: “Mommy, I like you more than television.”

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