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For some time I have been birthing -- in my head and on paper -- a new way of seeing, working, living, connecting, and being in the world. Why? Maybe it's turning 60, with the knowledge that there is less time before me than behind me for sure. Maybe it's recent disappointments and realizations. Maybe it's recent gifts and surprises. Maybe it's the on-going therapy, which is hard work. I'm sure it is.
Whatever it is, this shift in my thinking feels major, so I'm going to do something about it, and I will chronicle it here, March 20, 2015 to March 20, 2016 (start where you are, and I started with Saturday's post).
I want to see where this new energy and commitment take me and my work. I'll also Instagram my explorations, using the hashtag "theyearofexploration."
I'll label it that way here, too. I used the blog to chronicle my 2012 year off the road to finish REVOLUTION and called it "the year of possibility." You can read about it by clicking on the label on the sidebar. (or here. :>)
I'll tag some of these exploration posts "the home economics project." I've had a project in mind for a long, long time, and I want to start making it visible.
I'll chronicle book three of the sixties trilogy as well. I've already starting documenting photographs and research at Pinterest. You'll find a "book three hold file" and a "book three playlist possibilities" board as well as the many boards for COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION... and I've started resource boards for my other books.. I'll get to them as I can.
I'm going back to the roots of what makes me happy. I'm going to write more. I'm going to use my hands more, which is something that grounds me and centers me and helps me understand my place in the great continuum.
To that end, I have purchased four cacti, three French lavender plants, and a mother fern. I'm going to take a class at Creativebug - line drawing with Lisa Congdon. Also, Lisa's sketchbook explorations work-along at Creativebug. I've got my supplies (which include these plants!) and I'm ready to go.
I have no expectations. I want to do what I ask students to do when I teach writing: pay attention, ask questions, make connections.
I'll be an explorer like Comfort Snowberger in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS: Explorer, Recipe Tester, and Funeral Reporter. Like Dove, the 9-year-old anthropologist-in-training in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER. I shall be an anthropologist of my life. I'll try to let go of anxiety about the future, and just stay in the day. I will work hard. I will try to uncover as well as discover. I hope to learn a lot. Wanna come with?
This is the hashtag I used on Instagram -- #teachinghongkong2015 -- to document in photos my trip to Hong Kong this month. You can find photos of the trip there, and even more on Facebook, here, along with a few thoughts about teaching writing to students who are learning to be fluent in both English and Mandarin Chinese.
We mainly focused on personal narrative and moments we could add color and flavor and texture to, characters we could create from those moments -- and how to make them come alive on the page -- and then we moved into fiction with them.
We used several mentor texts, including FREEDOM SUMMER, LOVE RUBY LAVENDER, and EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS.
I learned to write by reading like a writer, modeling my writing on what I admired, then making it mine, so that's how I teach. I turn my life into stories. I understand how I do it. I have broken it down to the foundations of how it works, and it's always a stretch and a pleasure to share it with young writers and their teachers.
I am a writer who teaches, and to that end, I will always be a writer first. I have developed my teaching over the past twenty years by teaching in classrooms, from K through college, and I know that what I have to offer is substantial, meaningful, useful, and offers a lasting toolbox partner for teachers and their young writers to use for years to come.
I am thinking about who I am today, as Jim and I return home to spring in Atlanta -- we left in a February snowstorm. This ruminating always happens after I am thrust for a sustained time into an unfamiliar environment, where I am constantly thinking on my feet, meeting new people in new cultures, learning new customs and traditions (and food!) and discovering how people make meaning in their lives.
Traveling, especially internationally, invites me to rethink everything. Invites me to make meaning. It reminds me of my young life, when, as a teenager, I became a mother, and a wife to a boy I did not know, and moved to a place I did not understand, with no support, with people and customs I could not comprehend, and with fear and isolation so complete it would take me years to assimilate and integrate and create meaning from it.
So I am thinking.
I want to chronicle some of that thinking here on the blog. I'm going to play with short posts about what I'm discovering, and just see where it leads me. I can feel myself entering a time of change. I'm working on a sort of manifesto for my sixties. God. I grew up in the sixties, and now I *am* sixty. 61. Talk about a late bloomer.
I raised a family first. I was homeless first. I was lost, first. I had to find ways to stabilize my life and my children's lives, first. I had to live some, first. Make sense of some things. Find my way into my life. Do a whole lot of different things with my life and teach myself how to do... pretty much everything. It would take me time to learn how to help myself, so I could help someone else.. I taught myself how to write so I could tell my stories and find home, belonging, safety, meaning, love.
My first book was published the year I turned 48. I went back to school that year and got my credentials to teach -- I'd been teaching informally for years without them. I became suddenly single that year. My heart was broken. I wrote EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS in response to that loss.
By the time I turned fifty, I had lost not only the long-years marriage, but my mother and my father and my siblings and my home of 25 years and my hometown. My youngest of four graduated and left home for college. I moved to Atlanta. The dog died. My editor of 12 years was fired. My publishing house was decimated.
The bitter was tempered by the sweet. I had created a support system by that time, and my friends became my family. They held the space for me, held me up until I could stand on my feet again. I met my husband, Jim. We had a three year long-distance relationship, a three year Atlanta relationship, and then we married. My books did well in the world, even though my life was so chaotic for a time, I couldn't always appreciate it or participate in the book community that celebrated all of it. Much of my life was a blur.
Little by little, though, I came back from a devastating time of loss. My children grew up and began to blossom. I began to create a home, here in Atlanta, a family home, a home for friends, a home for my own heart to rest in once again.
It took me a long, long time to do this. I was scared, and once again lost, even in the midst of the sweetness. But I kept writing. I kept teaching. I kept on trying. I have been emerging from that difficult place, once again forging an identity and discovering who I am. Making meaning. It's a process. Life long.
I am happy to be here. I love my life. I know how lucky I am.
House of the Bishop by Ellen Beier, from Les Miserables
In this image, Jean Valjean returns to the house of the Bishop: from the (abridged) text: “What a wretch I am!” he exclaimed, and he burst into tears for the first time in 19 years. Valjean realized that he had to change. When the church clock chimed three on that morning, he was kneeling in prayer at the bishop’s door.Add a Comment
It’s a great honor to give you this first look at Carson’s own farmhouse in Oregon where she lives and creates, and some of the art and inspiration inside. Homeis in stores today, so bring it to yours and enjoy.
There’s plenty more to ponder in this volume of homes, and I can’t wait to talk more about it. For now, settle in and enjoy this treat.
Thanks to the fine folks at Candlewick for sharing this with us first!
When it comes to origins, we know as little about the word home as about the word house. Distinguished American linguist Winfred P. Lehmann noted that no Indo-European terminology for even small settlements has been preserved in Germanic. Here an important distinction should be made. Etymologists have spent centuries searching for the ancient roots that spawned the vocabulary of our old and modern languages. To be sure, the reconstructed roots of the ancient Indo-Europeans never floated independently of whole nouns and verbs; they are only the common part of the words that according to our theories are related, but the established relations are probably real. Fierce debates about minutiae only show that modern scholars don’t know how to deal with the embarrassment of riches; yet one of the variants they have proposed may be correct—no small achievement. This is where Lehmann’s conclusion comes in. Let us suppose that the ancient root of the word house meant “to hide” (this is an example from the previous post). There were many non-Germanic words having this root, but none of them meant “house.” Although the requisite stock in trade was present, different languages produced different words from it.
Here is a short list that illustrates Lehmann’s point: burg, thorp (its German cognate Dorf “village” has much greater currency than Engl. thorp), yard, and the nouns that interest us most of all: house and home. One example to make the situation clear will suffice. Let us agree for the sake of argument that thorp is akin to a Hittite verb meaning “to collect.” If so, thorp was coined to designate a collection of houses. This makes good sense (regardless of whether the etymology is correct or wrong), but outside Germanic no word related to thorp means “village.” The development is local.
Haims, the Gothic noun allied to Engl. home, occurs in the texts twice. From Gothic, as noted in this blog many times, parts of a fourth-century translation of the New Testament have come down to us. Gothic is a Germanic language. Haims glossed two Greek nouns for “village” (as opposed to “town”). This makes the idea of what the Goths called home quite clear. Modern German Heimat means “homeland, native land.” No less instructive is Old Icelandic heimr “world,” though it could refer to a more narrow space. Old Engl. ham (with long a, as in Modern Engl. spa) also denoted a village, an estate, and only sometimes a house. The progression was evidently from “abode” to “one’s native place.” Perhaps the most general senses of home have been retained in two Gothic adjectives with prefixes: ana-haims “present,” that is, “at home” and af-haims “absent,” that is, “not at home” (each has been recorded only once and only in the plural). Dutch has a close analog: inheems “native, homebred” and uitheems “foreign” (heem “home”).
We can also remember the convoluted history of hamlet “small village” (no connection with Shakespeare’s hero). Old English had the noun hamm “a piece of pasture land; enclosure; house.” The Middle Low [= northern] German cognate of this word, with a diminutive suffix, made its way into French and returned to English with -et, a French diminutive suffix. (However, Modern French hameu does without any suffix!) The etymology of hamm is disputed, and one can sometimes read that it has been confused with ham, the word known from place names like Nottingham and Birmingham (the same in German: Mannheim, etc.) Allegedly, hamm is akin to hem “edge.” I have always thought that hamm had nothing to do with hem. The word, I believed, referred to a place smaller than a “ham”; to emphasize the difference, speakers shortened the vowel. Serious linguists treat such guesses with disdain, and I would not have dared to mention mine even for the purpose of self-immolation, but for a partial support of Skeat. He indulged in none of my semiotic fantasies, but he also wrote that ham and hamm are related. He was a man of rare common sense. Be that as it may, wherever we look, “home” returns us to a village or a piece of pastured land, apparently owned by a village community.
Today the words of the song “Home, Sweet Home” and “There is no place like home” epitomize the idea of home quite well, though clearly the beginning was less poetic. Yet one’s home, even if not “a castle,” is indeed “sweet,” and it may be that the idea of the “sweet” comfort associated with one’s dwelling is not recent. It has been suggested that home is allied to Irish cóim “pleasing; pleasant.” This connection is often ignored, but I have never seen it refuted. To repeat, “the place owned by the community; village; settlement” preceded the idea of satisfaction of communal living, but home was as dear to its inhabitants long ago as it is dear to us. Not a parallel but an instructive case is the Slavic word that means both “world” and “peace.” If we remember that Icelandic heimr means “world,” we will understand that, contrary to the dream of privacy in today’s overpopulated, overcrowded world, in the past being together, in a place open to the members of the community and to no one else, was the source of peace and pleasure.
In the post on house, I made much of the fact that hus was neuter. The word for “home” was feminine, but it showed a rare irregularity. In Gothic, haims belonged to one declension in the singular and to another in the plural. This oddity has a close analog in Greek, and it has often been commented upon but never explained. Perhaps the true etymology of home will be revealed only when we account for that irregularity and realize that the speakers of Old Germanic looked on one home and a multitude of homes as different entities. The branch of linguistics that deals with such phenomena is called grammatical stylistics. For comparison’s sake I can add that the etymology of wife remained hidden so long because researchers did not begin by asking the main question: How could a word meaning “woman” be neuter?
The old Indo-European root of home remains, as usual, a matter of dispute. At one time, Gothic haims was compared with a verb for “live” (compare the English verb while, as into while away the time). Although phonetically and semantically not implausible, today this etymology has no advocates. Most dictionaries state that haims is a cognate of Greek kóme “village” and reconstruct the root with the sense “to lie, to be situated.” (Other cognates of kóme are Latin civis “citizen” and Russian sem’ia “family,” the latter sounds similar elsewhere in Slavic.) However, the path from “lie” to “settlement” is far from obvious. Besides, for kóme to match haims, its o should have gone back to oi, and the possibility of this change has been challenged with seemingly good reason. Still other scholars consider the relationship between the word for “home” and Engl. hem “edge.” This idea is already familiar to us, though we looked at it from a different perspective. I’ll pass over some fanciful suggestions, even when they have eminent proponents. Hunting for Indo-European roots resembles chasing the rainbow: the shining arch exists but remains out of reach. Let us rather remember the main things: home is a local Germanic coinage (whether it has an ancient Indo-European root is interesting but not very important), speaking about one home and about many homes was marked in a non-trivial way, and on Germanic soil home probably had positive connotations already in the remote past.
Image credits: (1) Cover of sheet music for “Home! Sweet Home!” words by H.R. Bishop [and John Howard Payne], music by H.R. Bishop, Chicago: McKinley Music Co., c. 1914. Project Gutenberg. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Hänsel und Gretel (um 1940), Johann-Mithlinger-Siedlung, Raxstraße 7-27, Wien-Favoriten. Image by Buchhändler (2010). CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Cronin, Doreen A Barnyard Collection: Click, Clack, Moo and More
120 pp. Atheneum (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing) 2010. ISBN 978-1-4424-1263-7
(3) K–3 Illustrated by Betsy Lewin. This volume commemorates the tenth anniversary of the publication of modern classic Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. In addition to that story, this compendium includes Giggle, Giggle, Quack (2002) and Dooby Dooby Moo (2006), both starring the same crafty critters as in Click. A removable sticker sheet is appended.
Jacques, Brian Redwall 351 pp. Philomel 1987. ISBN 0-399-21424-0
(2) 4–6 Illustrated by Gary Chalk. The decline in the American taste for blockbuster fantasies, no matter how good, seems to have discouraged American authors. Such lengthy but acclaimed works as Watership Down (Macmillan) or Hounds of the Morrigan (Holiday) are by British authors; American authors tend to break up long works into volumes — Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, for example. We have in Redwall another long, beautifully written, exciting British fantasy. The hero is the mouse Matthias, a novice in the handsome Redwall Abbey, a haven of bounty, kindliness, and peace. The inhabitants of the Abbey are noted for their charity toward all their neighbors of Mossflower Woods. But the tranquil life of Redwall Abbey and the surrounding countryside is threatened by the advent of Cluny the Scourge, a rat of insane ferocity, and his horde of villainous fighters. Cluny has never been defeated and expects no trouble from Redwall. But Matthias, emboldened by his admiration for the legendary Martin, a notable warrior hero, mobilizes the defense of Redwall. Matthias also begins the search for Martin’s burial place and weapons, which he instinctively feels are the key to defeating Cluny. Matthias’s adventures alternate with Cluny’s, as the attacks on Redwall are fended off and the battle intensifies. The scenes of combat are quite fascinating, with the strategy and counter strategy cleverly and clearly worked out. The book offers an immense cast of distinctive characters, including the redoubtable Constance the badger, extremely strong and utterly fearless; Basil Stag Hare, a satirical replica of the regimental British officer; the sparrows, notably Warbeak, who speak a butter language reminiscent of that of the seagulls in Watership Down; and Abbot Mortimer, the epitome of goodness and gentleness. The flaw in the book, if there is one, is that the lines drawn between good and evil are never ambiguous, not allowing for that shiver of doubt and wonder about the outcome. But the book is splendid, with a delightful hero and a smooth, charming style.
Jacques, Brian and Chalk, Gary Mossflower [Book 2]
431 pp. Philomel 1988. ISBN 0-399-21741-X
(2) 4–6 series. Illustrated by Gary Chalk. In Mossflower, the prequel to Redwall (Philomel), we are introduced to the mouse, Martin the Warrior, the role model for Matthias in the later novel. Martin has come upon the Mossflower community just as their oppression by the evil wildcat, Tsarmina, has become too much to bear. As an experienced fighter, he takes control of the defense of the animals who live in Mossflower, aided by his new friends, Gonff, the Prince of Mousethieves; the strong, brave badger, Bella; the squirrel archers, led by Lady Amber; and the industrious moles; clever otters; and other small woodland creatures. Their chances against Tsarmina and her hordes appear small, but the woodlanders brace themselves to learn military ways and win several minor skirmishes; they even rescue some of their unfortunate comrades from the dungeons of Tsarmina’s stronghold. Martin realizes that further help is needed, and he undertakes a perilous journey to the fabled Salamandastron, in company with Gonff and other friends, to enlist the aid of Lord Boar the badger. The help is forthcoming, although not in the way that Martin expects, and Tsarmina is finally overthrown. The story is very long and contains what seems like a cast of thousands. The characterizatino is remarkably individual, sometimes funny and often even satirical, with many notable characters. There is, however, extended use of dialect, at times hard to follow; the moles make such remarks as “‘Goo boil yurr’eads, sloibeasts.’” The nonstop action suffers from too frequent transitions from one site of battle or intrigue to another. There is much talk of the delectable-sounding food — candied chestnuts, honeyed toffee pears, maple tree cordial — which, with the emphasis on cozy homes and devoted families, is reminiscent of The Wind in the Willows. Although lengthy and quite British, the book will provide excitement, fascinating characters, and an ultimately satisfactory conclusion.
Jacques, Brian and Chalk, Gary Mattimeo [Book 3]
446 pp. Philomel 1990. ISBN 0-399-21741-X
(4) 4–6 series. Illustrated by Gary Chalk. The final volume of the Redwall trilogy is a reprise of the other two books. Cruel villains, indomitable heroes, hearty adventures, and endless cozy talk of food do not quite compensate for the fact that it is far too long. For Redwall enthusiasts only.
Park, Barbara and Brunkus, Denise Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus [Book 1]
70 pp. Random (Random House Children’s Books) 1992.
Library binding ISBN 0-679-82642-4
Paperback ISBN 0-679-92642-9
(4) 1–3 First Stepping Stone series. Junie B. Jones is a likable character whose comic mishaps on her first day of school will elicit laughs from young readers. But the first-person narration by a kindergartner quickly becomes tedious, and the net result is more annoying than amusing.
Park, Barbara and Brunkus, Denise Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business [Book 2]
46 pp. Random (Random House Children’s Books) 1993. LE ISBN 0-679-83886-4 PE ISBN 0-679-93886-9
(4) 1–3 First Stepping Stone series. Junie brags at school that her new brother is a ‘real, alive baby monkey.’ The principal uses her misunderstanding to talk with Junie’s first-grade class about expressions that are not to be taken literally. The cutesy tone makes Junie sound babyish and bratty but is finally dropped for a satisfying ending.
Perkins, Lynne Rae Nuts to You
260 pp. Greenwillow 2014. ISBN 978-0-06-009275-7
(1) 4–6 Jed the squirrel’s odyssey begins dramatically when he is captured by a hawk and carried far away from his community. Using an “ancient squirrel defensive martial art,” he escapes and so begins his journey home. Meanwhile, his two best friends Chai and TsTs set off to find him. In the course of these two (eventually converging) adventures, our heroes meet some helpful hillbillyish red squirrels, a threatening owl, a hungry bobcat, and a group of humans who are cutting brush and trees for power-line clearance, thus threatening the squirrels’ habitat. The three make it safely home only to face their biggest challenge: convincing their conservative community to relocate before the humans destroy their homes. Part satire, part environmental fable, and all playful, energetic hilarity, this story takes us deep into squirrel culture: their names (“‘Brk’ is pronounced just as it’s spelled, except the r is rolled. It means ‘moustache’ in Croatian but in squirrel, it’s just a name”); their games (Splatwhistle); and their wisdom (“Live for the moment…but bury a lot of nuts”). Perkins uses language like the best toy ever. The storm “howled and pelted, whirled and whined; it spit and sprayed and showered. Its winds were fierce. Its wetness was inescapable.” The book begs to be read aloud, except that you’d miss the wacky digressions, the goofy footnotes, and the black-and-white illustrations with their built-in micro-plots.
Rundell, Katherine Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms 248 pp. Simon 2014. ISBN 978-1-4424-9061-1 $16.99
(2) 4–6 Will (short for Wilhelmina), the only daughter of William Silver, white foreman of the Two Tree Hill Farm in Zimbabwe, leads a “wildcat” life with her Shona best friend Simon, filled with good rich mud, lemons pulled from the tree with her teeth, harebrained stunts on horseback, and baby hyraxes in the barn. This idyll ends abruptly and tragically with her father’s death from malaria. The farm’s European owner, gentle Captain Browne, becomes Will’s guardian, but the captain has recently married the scheming Miss Vincy, whose ambition is to sell the farm and ship Will off to boarding school in England. This she does despite Will’s concerted opposition. Will’s arrival at school is a bumpy one — the other girls at Leewood insist she’s a “stinking savage” and a “filthy tramp” — and their continual harassment causes Will to finally run away. The protagonist’s passionate engagement with the world around her, her high moral standards (but not moralism), and her unconquerable search for joy will win readers to her side from the start, while Rundell’s finely drawn etchings of the people in Will’s sphere and rich descriptions of African colonial farm life sprawl across the page in sensual largesse. Only when Will has been reduced to almost complete destitution does Rundell allow a glimmer of hope into her life, but the ending, with its promise of relief from loneliness and despair, is that much sweeter for the wait.
Woodson, Jacqueline Brown Girl Dreaming 328 pp. Paulsen/Penguin 2014. ISBN 978-0-399-25251-8 (g)
(1) 4–6 Here is a memoir-in-verse so immediate that readers will feel they are experiencing the author’s childhood right along with her. It starts out somewhat slowly, with Woodson relying on others’ memories to relate her (1963) birth and infancy in Ohio, but that just serves to underscore the vividness of the material once she begins to share her own memories; once her family arrives in Greenville, South Carolina, where they live with her maternal grandparents. Woodson describes a South where the whites-only signs may have been removed but where her grandmother still can’t get waited on in Woolworth’s, where young people are sitting at lunch counters and standing up for civil rights; and Woodson expertly weaves that history into her own. However, we see young Jackie grow up not just in historical context but also — and equally — in the context of extended family, community (Greenville and, later, Brooklyn), and religion (she was raised Jehovah’s Witness). Most notably of all, perhaps, we trace her development as a nascent writer, from her early, overarching love of stories through her struggles to learn to read through the thrill of her first blank composition book to her realization that “words are [her] brilliance.” The poetry here sings: specific, lyrical, and full of imagery: “So the first time my mother goes to New York City / we don’t know to be sad, the weight / of our grandparents’ love like a blanket / with us beneath it, / safe and warm.” An extraordinary — indeed brilliant — portrait of a writer as a young girl.
Gavin thinks it is going to be another boring Thanksgiving at his grandma's house until he runs into his cousin Rhonda who reminds him, "sometimes you have to make your own fun." So the pair tries to sneak out of the house to play outside. They encounter some unexpected obstacles along the way. First, two vicious guard dogs are blocking the front door, Then Rhonda gets trapped in the "Hall of Aunts". However, there is no stopping these two. They finally make it to the back door only to find a surprise. And, it still does to stop them!
Also coming in the Spring is a new title by Carson Ellis called Home. The Holiday time often brings thoughts of home so I taught I would share a sneak peak. This book takes a simple look at the Home. The main question being, "This is my home, and this is me. Where is your home? Where are you?" It looks at various types of homes from many different angles, styles and cultures. Here is a sneak peak-
Also I can never talk about Thanksgiving titles without looking back on a old post for Balloons over Broadway by Melissa Sweet. The Balloons over Broadway activity kit at her site is just wonderful!
Pushing the boundaries of traditional documentary photography, Liao (b. 1977) creates large-scale panoramas by combining multiple exposures of the same location taken over the course of several hours. The resulting composite photographs are often fantastical; complex, hyper-real views that no single shot—or the eye—could capture. ONE OF THEM IS A PAST NEW YORK CITY THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE!
Title: Three Bears in a Boat Written and illustrated By: David Soman Published By: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014, Fiction Themes/Topics: boating, bears, adventure Suitable for ages: 3-7 Opening: Once there were three bears, Dash, Charlie and Theo, who lived by the … Continue reading →
I was determined to go on a swamp tour while we were in town — something we never got around to doing when we lived in Houma (though we sure loved our swamp adventures). I scheduled a trip with Cajun Man Swamp Tours, invited some friends to come along.
The super personable “Black” Guidry was our guide (check him out here in this Kia commercial). As there were French Canadians on board, Black gave the tour in both English and French, which was a lovely little Cajun bonus.
Oh, we sweltered. But there was Spanish moss!
And cypress knees (those little knobby things poking out of the water on the left-hand side)!
Even Leroy came to visit!
The tour felt especially personal knowing OVER IN THE WETLANDS, my picture book love letter to Coastal Louisiana, is coming out sometime next year.
Often, when I mention that I have five children, people ask, “How do you do it all?” I sometimes quote a response I’ve heard from Donna Jo Napoli, fellow writer, professor, and mother of five:
“How do I do it all? Badly. You could eat off my kitchen floor…for weeks.”
How I do it all is that I don’t do it all at once. As I sit down to write, my kitchen is a mess, and my kids are at their other house with their other mom (my ex-wife). I miss my children, but I’m also grateful to be able to work like hell on the days they’re gone and really focus on them when they’re here. Or at least that’s what I try to do.
Shared reading enables us to slow down and enjoy one another’s company in the midst of our busy, transition-laden routines. I’m currently reading Kate DiCamillo’s 2014 Newbery Medal winner Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures with my four youngest children. I read the ARC by myself and knew my kids would be pulled in by the exact elements that made me initially skeptical. A superhero squirrel? Quasi-comic-book art? Not my cup of tea. But I also felt myself yearning to deliver the message of unconditional love that’s at the heart of the book: “Nothing / would be / easier without / you.”
Sometimes I worry my kids might think I feel differently. There are days when I am snappish or grouchy or just plain overwhelmed by balancing work and motherhood. DiCamillo’s novel has me thinking about depictions in children’s literature of less-than-ideal parents and what they communicate about family life to child and adult readers alike. I don’t mean Roald Dahl-ian parents like poor Matilda Wormwood’s dreadful mother and father, but more like Flora’s divorced parents or her friend William Spiver’s mother and “her new husband.” These secondary, or even offstage, adult characters are believable in all their flawed humanity. Their failings help define Flora’s story as she grapples with the shortcomings of the adults in her life, but DiCamillo paints her characters with such subtlety that the lesson doesn’t overwhelm the text.
On the flip side, many books have the mommy or daddy endlessly reassuring their little Stinky Faces and Nutbrown Hares about their love-you-forever love. Such constructions of adulthood don’t reflect the times we parents fail, as Flora’s mother does. They instead present us with visions of what we might be on our best days.
It’s the rare person who rises to the level of idealized parenting achieved, for example, by the father in Mo Willems’s picture book Knuffle Bunny Too. When daughter Trixie realizes, in the middle of the night, that she mistakenly took home the wrong Knuffle, Daddy agrees to an on-the-spot stuffed-bunny exchange. Would I do such a thing? Not a chance. Faced with such a scenario, I’d tell my kid that we’d sort things out in the morning. If I were feeling very generous, I’d tuck her back in with another stuffed animal. And I wouldn’t go back and forth in some reverie about “and if the moon could talk” or whatever. Good. Night.
And yet, even if I can’t pretend to aspire to Trixie’s daddy’s selflessness, I absolutely see a reflection of myself in how plain exhausted he looks when Trixie rouses him from a deep sleep. Indeed, some of the most rounded portraits of parents in picture books come in stories about them trying to get their little ones to “go the f*ck to sleep.” Amy Schwartz’s Some Babies, David Ezra Stein’s Interrupting Chicken, and Janet S. Wong’s Grump (illustrated by John Wallace) are just a few that conclude with beleaguered, fatigued parents nodding off while trying (and failing) to put their little ones to bed.
And why are they so tired? Well, because the days leading up to those fraught bedtimes can be…long. I have a soft spot in my heart for Marla Frazee’s not-so-flattering but oh-so-familiar depictions of parents at the mercy of their Boss Baby; a mother driven nuts by her little girl (Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! by Mem Fox); and an exasperated Mrs. Peters who can’t satisfy everyone’s tastes (The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman). And high on my list of picture book illustrations that capture not the drama of difficult moments but the tedium of daily routines is a vignette from Amy Schwartz’s slice-of-life picture book A Glorious Day. The droll text reads: “At home Henry and his mother play trains. Henry is the big train and his mother is the small train. All morning long.” I can practically hear Henry’s mother meditating on a refrain from another train book — “I think I can, I think I can” — as she puts in quality floor time with her kid.
And yet, she’s hanging in there. The same cannot be said of Flora’s mother. Until book’s end, she’s so wrapped up in herself and her career as a romance novelist that she is blind to her daughter’s needs. She might find kinship with the mother of another Flora, the star of Jeanne Birdsall and Matt Phelan’s picture book Flora’s Very Windy Day. I’ve read it with my children and have recognized myself in its depiction of a mother driven not wild but to weary despair as, instead of helping her quarreling kids solve their dispute, she shoos them outside while trying to get some work done. Is she writing a romance novel on that laptop? I don’t know. But I do know that she, like the other Flora’s mother, and like me sometimes, is not having a terribly glorious day of attentive mothering.
Phelan’s art deftly and powerfully conveys the emotions underlying the conflict. In the first double-page spread Flora, on the verso, is Eloise-like in her rage, with red emanata surrounding her. Little brother Crispin sits, posture alert, at a safe distance by a messy art table (as we saw on the dedication page, he spilled his sister’s paints — again!), his sidelong gaze directed at Flora. He’s clearly seen her blow her top before. Their mother is far to the right of the composition, turning away from her computer screen with a wan, defeated expression. While Flora is unquestionably the focus—the other characters’ eyes are on her, and her erect, outraged depiction demands attention—I can’t help but home in on this mother. I know her. I’ve been her. I want to give her a hug.
Do my children notice this mom? Not really. And who can blame them? Flora is a force to be reckoned with, and my kids are much more interested in the sibling conflict. When they once did shift their attention to the mother, it was to remark, “It’s not fair!” when she insists Flora take Crispin outside with her. “Give her a break!” I said in a mothers-of-the-world-unite sort of way.
The wind carries Crispin away, and Flora resolves to retrieve him: “My mother wouldn’t like it if I lost him.” My then-nine-year-old daughter Emilia empathetically piped up, “And Flora would miss him, too, even if he spills her paints.” On the penultimate spread, Flora and Crispin return home, and their mother, channeling Max’s mom and his “still hot” dinner, has chocolate chip cookies waiting. The story could end there — the text does — but Phelan delivers a heartwarming visual coda on the final page-turn that shifts attention away from the mother’s act of apology and back, where it belongs, to the sibling dynamic. The couplet of pictures first shows Flora and Crispin sitting apart and eating their cookies, then leaning into each other, not making eye contact or smiling, but with the closeness between their little bodies communicating forgiveness. The scene is familiar to me as both an older sister and as a mother of children who bicker and make up, who love one another through and despite times when they fail or hurt or disappoint one another. “Nothing would be easier without you” these pictures seem to say. “Even if you spill my paints.”
I appreciate how this wordless closing eschews a mama’s mea culpa as resolution to the story. After all, children’s book readers aren’t terribly interested in a mother’s emotional story arc. I recall with chagrin one time when I was sick with the flu — and also sick and tired of kids bickering before bedtime — that instead of letting my children choose our shared reading material, I dramatically pulled William Steig’s Brave Irene off the shelf, self-indulgently recalling how its intrepid child protagonist lavishes her ill mother with affection and support. “Oh Mom-Mom,” Emilia said, after I’d read a few pages. “We have not been so nice as Irene.”
And did that make me feel any better? Of course not. I felt like a jerk. Guilt-tripping one’s children into compliance or sympathy through passive-aggressive bedtime reading selections isn’t a terrific parenting strategy. I can report, however, that my other kids weren’t so moved. “You’re not really that sick,” Stevie said. “Can I choose the next book?” Caroline asked. And on we went.
I know my kids won’t recall their childhoods — even filled as they are with books, and play, and each other, and parents in two houses who adore them — as devoid of parenting failures, lacking in conflict or hurt, and overflowing only with wonder and whimsy. And I know that my own faults contribute to some of the less-than-ideal moments they’ll recall. That’s a hard pill to swallow, and as I (re)read DiCamillo’s book and anticipate Flora’s reconciliation with her mother, I’ve come to think that although this resolution may be a comfort to child readers who see the child protagonist’s wish fulfilled in confirming her mother’s love, it also gently guides them toward acceptance of flawed adults. Forgive us, children, books with such parents say; we know precisely what we do, and we feel like crap about it. DiCamillo’s novel avoids having the final words be delivered in a parental voice begging filial pardon. Instead, the closing poem is a superhero squirrel’s affirmation of his devotion to the girl who saved him.
Adoptive parents like me frequently encounter well-intentioned but misguided comments implying that we saved our kids. “They’re so lucky to have you” is the refrain. The truism that their other mom and I often resort to is that we are the lucky ones. To stretch and invert Ulysses’s line to Flora, nothing would be harder to imagine than life without them. Paraphrasing DiCamillo: “It’s a miracle. Or something.”
And if I lose sight of the miracle of this modern family of mine, there’s nothing like settling in with a book to redirect our attention away from the tumult of our own foibles and failings toward the common ground of others’ stories. Book bonding, you might call it. We put aside quarrels over who had more time on the Xbox, why it’s so hard to just bring the freaking laundry downstairs, and whatever is “not fair!” at any given moment, to read about everything from very windy days, to bunny-exchanging daddies, to mothers driven wild, to superhero squirrels. And, holy bagumba, as Flora might say, I’ll love those times forever — to the moon and back! The kitchen floor can wait.
It wasn't the amount of snow. It was the cold. It was how long it was cold, in Hotlanta. It was so cold this past winter. I just wanted to make soup and popcorn and burrow under old quilts and watch old movies; and look out the kitchen window to see the winter birds forage on all the old seed pods in the garden; take selfies of ourselves now, and compare them to old pictures of us on my dresser
I'm sifting through an experiment. I got my first smart-phone in late November, and I put down my Nikon D-40 for four months. I've just learned (maybe this is a new blogger thing) that I can work on my laptop and access my phone photos here... very good! Google has done some silly stuff with animated gifs and an end-of-year doo-dad that's sweet, silly, and confusing, as I don't know a couple of
Although outwardly it may appear that I am in full possession of my life’s reigns, I’ve come to realize that I control very few things besides my attitude. Most events occur around me while I jab at the air to try to influence their outcome. Like a giant game of cornhole, I throw the bean bag in the air, lean left, hold my tongue just right, and hope it goes in the hole. To give my analogy an Olympic flair, I’m swishing a broom violently in the hopes of pushing the stone to the left. I think we are all very reactionary in how we approach life because the demands of family, creditors, employers, government (and the list goes on) dictate most of our schedule.
I enjoyed my college philosophy classes, but remember nothing except my professor who had spindly legs supporting a massive belly. His poor knees creaked and cracked as he paced around the room. I’m sure he would say my theory is some type of classic Plato “–ism” where we are sitting back watching our lives on screens, only able to choose between limited outcomes.
Don’t overestimate my depth. I’m not philosophical at all. I only know that I have no choice in many things – even in my house. But at home, at least I am the Sadistic Overlord of Technology! Don’t you love the title? I gave it to myself. I should probably put it in bold. The Sadistic Overlord of Technology. If anything remotely technological doesn’t work the way one of my family hoped it would, I am to blame. I get blame, ergo, I get the title.
Take, for instance, our printer. It was one of the first wireless printers and worked perfectly for a long time. It still works fine…for some of us. Three of us have Windows 8 and it seems to like that OS. But it gave up trying for Windows 7. My wife and oldest daughter have Windows 7. I have updated the drivers and tried everything I know to do. But when they push print, it will print no more than one page before it dies. Usually it prints about half a page, violently spits the paper onto the floor, and goes into some form of cleaning mode that makes them scream in frustration. Since both are night owls, this nearly always occurs after the Overlord has gone to bed.
My attitude when awoken to fix the printer is where the word Sadistic got added to my title. I’m not much help after I’ve gone to sleep – part by mental capacity and part by groggy choice, I admit. The help desk is closed! I come out of the bedroom like Jack Nicholson poking his head through the door in The Shining – “Here’s Johnny!”
We’ve been dealing with this for a while and I’ve been dragging my heels on getting a new printer. I guess in some way, my sub-conscious sees this as one thing I can control. As you can imagine, there are ripple effects – mainly in attitude towards the overlord.
Come to think of it, control can be a dangerous thing…
Anyone have a recommendation for a wireless printer?
We had an ultrasound this week and baby is head down.
Baby, please stay that way, okay?
We also got to see the baby find his/her thumb and start sucking on it, which was pretty heart melting for this momma and daddy.
The house is getting more and more organized (thanks to my crazy nesting hormones) and baby’s ‘corner’ is starting to come together. At some point this weekend I plan on making a modified version of this mobile. I’ll post pictures when it’s done.
We received the car seat in the mail this week!
Thanks Mom and Dad!!
We also received a few of the diapers we registered for. We have decided to go the cloth diaper route and we are so thankful any time someone decides to send us one.
Highlights of week 35:
Mom visit!! I am so thankful for the week that my mom was here. We ran errands, ate good food, watched a lot of Project Runway, and had several heart to hearts. It was hard to see her leave, but she’ll be back as soon as this baby decides to come!
Baby shower! Thank you to those who came to my baby shower! I feel so blessed by all of the diapers, clothes, blankets, and love that have been heaped on me and this baby.
Graduation! Thank you to those who came to watch me get ‘hooded.’ Again, I am so blessed by the people in my life!
Lesta, Christina and Annika came for a short visit! It was so good to see them and watch them get excited about the baby visibly moving around.
Before I move on to week 34, here are some precious Francie gems:
She had me laughing so hard in this next one. She loves relaxing in the sun.
Oh, how much our lives are about to change.
Highlights of week 34:
Celebration of 34 weeks with baby Juniper or baby Arthur.
Baby, I have loved these months where I get you all to myself, but I am starting to feel impatient for you to join the outside world. I can’t wait to hug your little body and kiss your sweet face.
Celebration of 4 years with my love.
Forrest, I can hardly believe that it has already been 4 years. I am so thankful you are my husband and friend.
Stepping away from the news and business this evening, I poked around on YouTube for a nice Christmas video to share with you. For some reason I started wondering if Sitka, Alaska, where I’d spent 2-3 of my childhood years still celebrates Christmas. I remember a Christmas there that lit up the dark Alaskan winter. [...]
I would like to introduce you to the newest members of the family. Pip, a silky soft spunky dwarf rex velveteen rabbit, and Sparkles (6 year old naming job), a sweet netherland dwarf. We spent a crafty but cramped new years weekend under the deck building them a nice place to live. Those are the perks of living in a small town, nobody objects, and there isn't really anything better to do. Let me tell you, those are some happy bunnies. "Wait", you say, "don't you already have a Beagle?" - Why yes we do. Poor pet planning? Maybe, but it sure is exciting around here. The dog loves the bunnies, but we are not letting them play together in the backyard.
meet Pip and Sparkles
bunny paradise under the deck
I have to warn you, with these models we'll be seeing some more rabbit themed artwork in 2013.
For as long as I can remember, I have LOVED toys! To have a toy made from one of my cartoons is my dream come true! It will help the world see my character the way I see him. REAL!! ha ha! This series of plush Peepsqueaks in the pictures above, were the first proto-types that came to my home. Merry Makers is the toy company we worked with. It was so fun to see my little Peepsqueak transform from page to puff! He is such a cute little plush!! Merry Makers did such a good job! You can buy Peepsqueak now if you go to their website. They welcome retail orders online at http://www.merrymakersinc.com and retail and/or wholesale orders at 888-989-0454 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is the final Peepsqueak. I just love him! Isn’t he cute!!! I brought him to a preschool yesterday and the children loved him and all wanted to pet him…. so they did!!!!
So order your Peepsqueak now! He is waiting to live in your home!!! Don’t forget, the books, “Peepsqueak”, and “Peepsqueak Wants A Friend” are at your bookstore waiting for you too. They would all make great gifts for the kiddies on Easter.
Production in the studio has been slow. That's not to mention all of the cool stuff that's happening behind the scenes! So let me fill you in with one biggie.
We're moving into our first house at the end of March!!
Yep, my husband and I were finally given the gift of buying our first home, and that means packing it all up. The whole month of March has been preparing and packing, and now we're at the tail end called "crunch time".
This also means working in the studio towards art has been placed aside. Artist cap off, homemaker cap on. Although, picking out paint colors has rambled our design heads a bit. ;)
I'm very excited to be moving into our new home, and the new studio (eeee!!!), and I can't wait to show you! Until I can, here is the before and after of my current studio...the after being where it's at today. Just so you can get an idea.
I still have a mini work space for painting and basic office work since we're still in the apartment for two more weeks, but everything else is getting boxed up and ready to haul.
ETSY SHOP ANNOUNCEMENT My wee shop is going on vacation Wednesday March 20th until April 15th, that's the longest time on vacation since I opened the shop 5 years ago.
Beginning April 15th thru April 19th everything in the shop will be 35% off to kick off the new studio! Mark your calenders for this sale!
More details will be on Facebook along with sneak peeks of the new studio as I get it all put together.
Want the first peek? The studio is through those doors...
What warms your heart on a cold day? What warms your heart when the tides of change come crashing in? What warms your heart when the” no’s” become overwhelming? What warms your heart when the crowd scatters and you are “Home Alone”?
I have a whole list of favorite things I like to look at periodically. These are things that Warm My Heart. I found myself smiling and even laughing. They are things I feel that God has blessed me with. When I look at them I see stories! I see people, I see events… and more. Life is so much more than what we see during our day. Life is a tapestry of stories that intertwine and make memories for us. Some are so real we can almost re-live them just recalling them to our memories.
God my Father, Jesus my elder brother, the Holy Spirit my helper.
All my Family
Friends / art friends
Rosie and Violet
Coffee with cream
Odd things for the house
Trip to Maine and beyond
Goat yogurt and blueberries
Colors : purply blue, raspberry, Yaya green
Good movies with popcorn
Breakfast in bed with a good magazine.
a zillion best friends!
the valley between Kenosha and BaileY
a crackling fire in the stove
deep snow and 4wheel drive
My cozy studio
a good book
a comfy chair
writing a story
a bike ride . . …… and today…. Matthew!
Today’s Warm Fuzzy came from a friend. She took this wonderful picture of her son sleeping with my Peepsqueak plush. He is so cute! Matthew is on my list!
What are your favorite things? I am sure mine will grow!!