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By: Melissa Wiley
Blog: Here in the Bonny Glen
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It started, I think, with my commitment to a daily sketching habit in the fall of 2014. By last January, the habit was firmly established, and I only missed a handful of days all year. January is also when I started taking “kourses” at Sketchbook Skool—which exposed me to not just the lessons and work of accomplished artists, but also to their media of choice. Which is to say: they have firm opinions about pens, making them my kind of people.
Putting pen to paper in my sketchbook reminded me how much I love that feeling. Now, I have never enjoyed doing large amounts of handwriting—I can’t write my books longhand, for example. My wrist aches after a couple of pages. But I love penmanship: other people’s, mainly. My handwriting is changeable and seldom neat. I never managed to commit to one way of shaping letters, so I wind up with different kinds of I and r and k all in one line. Last night I was numbering pages in a new bullet journal and realized that some of my 4s were the pointy kind and some were not. Happens all the time. I like change, y’all.
Anyway—I can’t write volumes by hand all at once, but I adore the feeling of a good pen on the right kind of paper. Experimenting with various pens (Pigma Micron, Le Pen, Pilot Metropolitan, Lamy Joy with 1.1 nib) reminded me how much I love analogue notetaking. So while I still find apps like Workflowy useful for tracking particular kinds of tasks, in the past few months I have shifted almost entirely to written notekeeping.
Notes on paper
Bullet journaling works very well for me. I’ve always kept a notebook as an idea and memory catch-all: phone call records, tasks completed, shopping lists, story ideas, doodles—it all winds up in the notebook in a giant jumble. Adding a bullet-journal-style index and page numbers was a revelation: now I can have my hodgepodge but find things later. Perfect.
For the first part of this year I used kraft-brown Moleskine Cahiers. They’re just the right size for tucking in my bag, they’re sturdy enough to handle the beating I give them, and they fill up in a month or two which means the continual fresh start I love. Then, in August, a glorious friend surprised me with a Midori Traveler’s Notebook. It was love at first sniff. I mean, I. JUST. ADORE. THIS. THING.
A traveler’s notebook, if you don’t know, involves a cover (usually leather, sometimes cloth or vinyl) that has a sturdy elastic cord or two strung through the spine. You slip a paper notebook under the cord to hold it in place. Then you can use additional bands to hold other inserts—various types of notebooks, folders, calendars, even plastic credit-card sleeves or zipper pouches.
My Midori set-up
After playing with my Midori for a month or two, I settled into the configuration that works best for me: a weekly calendar insert, a grid notebook, and a kraft folder that holds stickers, postage stamps, notepaper, and such. I keep a monthly calendar, too, but I don’t need to carry the whole year around with me so I have begun photocopying (and shrinking a bit) the current month and clipping that to my weekly page.
The blank grid insert is my bullet journal/idea repository/casual sketchbook, replacing the Moleskine Cahier. I number the pages and use the first page as an index, just as before. I like big fat checkboxes for my task lists, which I fill in with Prismacolor pencil as tasks are completed. Color is my happy place. I also like to paste in ephemera and sometimes embellish with stamps, doodles, or washi tape. Basically, these inserts become collages of all the things that occupy my days and my mind. I seem to do a fair amount of sketching in them, too, even though I have an actual sketchbook for that purpose—I work in the real sketchbook daily but the TN grid insert is a low-pressure place to experiment, and I always have it with me.
Thanks to Lesley Austin’s beautiful Wild Simplicity Daybook designs, I discovered that a week-on-two-pages spread is an excellent space for me to do some chronicling. I’ve posted before about how I use the Daybook for recording homeschooling and housekeeping notes. I really like having a separate space (and such a beautiful one) for those things. I wear so many hats, and I need ways to keep my roles sorted. The Daybook (visible under my Midori in a photo above), like all of Lesley’s paper goods, conveys a sense of peace and serenity, and so it has become a really nourishing space for me to jot down my notes about what the kids read, did, said. I always feel so happy when I open that book.
Taking a cue from that experience, I decided to try the Midori week-on-two-pages for my TN. The version I selected (Refill #19) has the week in seven horizontal boxes on the left page, and a grid page for notes on the right. I use Google Calendar for our family appointments and schedules, so a couple of times a week I open G-Cal and add any new appointments to the Midori insert. At the end of each day, I create an entry on the weekly calendar page, filling it with notes about what happened that day. It isn’t a to-do list, it’s more like a diary. Not what needs to be done (that’s what the bullet journal is for), but what I actually did. The facing page fills up with quotes, ephemera, drawings, and notes on things I’ve read or watched.
Since these pages serve as a kind of journal, I like to decorate them with washi, drawings, and watercolors. I wind up doing the ornamenting mostly on weekends. Often, I’ll start the week with two or three colors of washi in front of me, and that will set the tone for my week. This daily decorating is relaxing, it takes only moments, and I enjoy paging back through previous weeks.
So those are the two main TN inserts I carry around: the weekly calendar for journaling (more or less), and the grid notebook (Refill #2) for everything else. Those two inserts plus the kraft folder (Refill #20) make the Midori as fat as I like it to get. I could easily come up with uses for half a dozen more inserts (the TN’s capacity for letting you compartmentalize is its genius), but I found that I really prefer a non-chunky Midori.
However! I did decide to devote a single insert to all medical and health-insurance-related notes, and this has been one of my best moves ever. Instead of having those notes intermingled with everything else, they live in their own space now, with a list of phone numbers on the first page. I can tuck THAT insert into the Midori when we’re heading to an appointment. It’s perfect.
NEED MOAR PAPER
All this notebooking served to increase the satisfaction I was finding in putting pen to paper. And I found I was thinking about handwriting a lot. My little goddaughter sent me a thank-you note, and her mother’s handwriting on the envelope—the gorgeous, familiar handwriting that graced pages and pages of letters in the years after college when Krissy and I wrote to each other constantly—gave me a little jolt of joy and nostalgia. I hadn’t seen her writing in a while, and I missed it. I told her (via text, naturally) how happy I’d been to see her writing, and she said the same thing had happened to her when she saw my writing on the package I’d sent her daughter.
Shortly after that, I read that Atlantic article that was making the rounds about how the ballpoint pen killed cursive. Fascinating stuff, but the bit that grabbed me was this: “In his history of handwriting, The Missing Ink, the author Philip Hensher recalls the moment he realized that he had no idea what his good friend’s handwriting looked like. ‘It never struck me as strange before… We could have gone on like this forever, hardly noticing that we had no need of handwriting anymore.'”
He had no idea what his good friend’s handwriting looked like. I miss handwriting, I thought. The distinct and beloved scripts of my old friends flashed before my eyes. I’d know those hands anywhere, could pick them out of any penmanship lineup. My kids probably won’t experience that. Jane has friends on the other side of the country she talks to via electronic means every single day, but they probably don’t know each other’s handwriting. I have plenty of friends myself whose writing I’ve never seen. If we met after 1995, chances are I’ve seen your handwriting seldom or never. (Tanita! What’s your writing like?)
Channeling my inner Jane Austen
The handwriting epiphany spurred me to the next phase of my analogue journey: I started writing letters again. Like, by hand. I have penpals in Denmark, France, Austria, and England, as well as various friends across the U.S.
I’m amused and a little baffled that for so many years I thought of letters owing replies as a kind of guilt-ridden chore—I always took forever to answer, always had them nagging in the back of my mind. Because the truth is: snail mail is the cheapest fun around. Sure, they’re slower to write than email; slower to arrive than a Facebook message. But that’s part of the charm: the slowing down, the taking time. Just as many of us have (re)discovered the joys of slow reading in the past couple of years, I have found satisfaction in…what to call it? Not slow writing, really, because part of the point is that instead of waiting months or even (gulp) years to answer a letter, I now try to reply within three weeks; I guess what I’m enjoying isn’t about speed (or lack of it) after all. It’s about a tactile experience. The skritch of a fountain pen on flecked paper. The careful selection of stamps. The smoothing-out of a bit of washi tape across a seal. The rustle of envelopes as they slide into the box, slumbering before their journey to places I’ll never go.
And best of all: the incoming letters. Foreign stamps, unfamiliar scripts, universal experiences. Beautifully decorated, many of them—it’s like getting mail from Griffin and Sabine. This one written at a café in Vienna; that one at a Starbucks in Portland. Kaleidoscopic glimpses of a life gradually resolving into a picture. We talk about things we could easily tell via email, but we’ve decided to let these stories take the scenic route. Some of them never arrive, or show up months later, ragged and stained. This only makes us love them more.
I’m writing to say I’ll write soon
A piece of the experience that affords me much merriment is the impulse, whenever a letter arrives, to hurry to Facebook and ping the friend who sent it. “Got your letter! Will reply soon,” I’ll write, and “Yay, can’t wait!” she’ll ping back. Never mind that the letter asks questions which could be more immediately answered via any of a dozen digital platforms. The answers will keep. Come Saturday afternoon, I’ll settle in with my cocoa, my envelopes, my wonderful new pink Lamy Safari that I got for my birthday. Which paper—the whimsical or the lovely? The fern stamps, or the Ingrid Bergmans? I’m almost out of globals, and the post office won’t have the new ones for a while. But have you seen them, the moons? I’m already imagining them on dark blue envelopes…
Our digital and analogue worlds will forever be intertwined, I believe. We’ll snap photos of our beautiful incoming mail to share on Instagram, hashtagged so our kindred spirits can find and enjoy it. We’ll trade addresses on Facebook. We’ll email to find out if that letter ever arrived. We’ll scour Etsy for traveler’s notebook inserts and stock up on ink at Goulet Pens. We’ll sign up for swaps on websites, and then anxiously check tracking to see when packages might arrive. We’ll reblog Tumblr articles about clever ways to hack a bullet journal. We’ll watch Youtube videos about how to set up a Midori and we’ll tap the heart button a zillion times during an unboxing on Periscope. We’ll link to photos of new USPS stamp releases in our blog posts.
My blog, though, is perhaps the thing that suffered this past year as my attention shifted to paper and ink. I found that when I had a few quiet moments, I was more apt to want to spend them sketching or writing a letter than blogging. After ten years of a steady blog habit, that was a bit of a surprise. In January, this blog will be eleven years old. I’ve successfully figured out how to integrate my analogue and digital calendar-keeping and task-tracking, but it did take a little while for the pieces to settle into place. I expect the same will happen with blogging.
Happy New Year, friends!
We had quite a week here. First a stomach virus laid most of us low, and then yesterday when I was finally feeling more like myself, I managed to wrench my back during a cough. So stupid.
But a lot of nice Decemberish things happened in between the grim bits. Before I got sick, I led a craft workshop for a group of teen girls—we made little Midori-style booklets out of envelopes and washi tape, a favorite project of mine. I got the tree up yesterday—no ornaments yet, just the lights—and even a strand of outdoor lights. And we had a double birthday this week, celebrated with marshmallow krispie treats instead of cake.
Last December I was reading novels nonstop for the CYBIL Awards. This year, I’ve hardly read a thing. This month, I mean. Between work and kids and illness, my brain just hasn’t been there. Except for reading Christmas books to the kids, of course. Jingle the Christmas Clown, Christmas Trolls, The Baker’s Dozen, Hanna’s Christmas (Huck’s pick, I swear).
I did a Periscope yesterday (about five minutes before I messed up my back) about how we use Memrise and Duolingo for foreign language and other things—a topic I’ve addressed here on the blog many a time. Earlier in the week when I was too sick to read, I found it soothing to review Memrise topics I’ve completed in the past…U.S. Presidents, British Monarchs. Rilla is loving Duolingo French and is now at a great age to use that program. As I said in the ’scope, it’s a bit too advanced for Huck—too much English spelling, let alone German—but there are aspects of the platform that he really loves, and if I sit with him to help with the spelling he gets along pretty well.
No plans this weekend except rest, answering some letters, and maybe cracking a book that has a spine thicker than a quarter-inch. You?
Today I cleaned my desk. I organized my shelves. I cleaned under my bed. Can you tell I have a revision to finish?
I was reminiscing on Facebook about when we drove cross-country to move here in 2006. Monday was the 9th anniversary of our arrival, which shocks me. We’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in our marriage. I never saw that coming—that my kids would grow up in Southern California.
The FB conversation brought up my old post about our scary encounter with junkyard dogs on that trip—one of the posts that makes me really happy I started blogging. I shared the link and was mildly irked to see it come up with one of my sidebar buttons as the giant header image Facebook likes to add now. There were no photos in the original post. Images were optional in 2006. I wound up going back in and adding a picture from the trip. Oh, my younguns were so very YOUNG back then!
I miss blogging like that. So much of that kind of “here’s what happened today” anecdotal posting has shifted to Facebook—it unrolls so naturally on that platform. Blogging seemed to take on a more…hmm, formal, is that the word I’m looking for? Polished?…a more polished tone. I dash off quips and stories on FB, and there’s that happy dopamine burst of reaction. But always, always, I want to pull it all back here to our family archive. We have over ten and a half years of history here. “We,” my family—and we, you and me. Some of you have been with me since the very beginning in 2005. “I remember when you moved,” wrote one FB friend today. “I was reading your blog like a novel, and it was a great upheaval in the plot!”
No great upheavals in the story today. Huck lost his other top front tooth. The Tooth Fairy brought him a buck per tooth, which vast fortune he had lost track of by lunchtime. I walked down the hall in time to hear him mutter, “I want my two dollars!” None of the kids knew why this reduced me to giggles.
Yesterday, hustling out the door to piano lessons, I heard Rilla say as I got into the car, “Mom gets a pass. She’s never the rotten egg.” A generous statement, considering I’m always the one hollering, “Is everyone ready?? We’re out the door in two minutes!”—while I’m still half dressed.
Wonderboy (who REALLY needs a more grown-up blog name, but would you allow it?) is giving a speech at school tomorrow about his family. He described me as a “homeschool teacher and an author” and Scott as “an author, a really good cook, and a good shopper.” True on all counts.
He loves his school, but we missed him (and Jane!!) at the park on Monday. Nine years. I still can’t believe it.
1. I would like to take a drawing class. In a paint-spattered classroom with a real teacher standing over me grimacing at my line. It’s been 15 months since I started sketching (almost) every day and I can see I’ve made progress, but I’m craving instruction.
2. I’d better finish reading that KonMari ebook before my checkout time expires and it goes *poof* from my Kindle.
3. I wish all the things I want to KonMari right out of my house would go *poof* like an expired library ebook.
4. My brain keeps playing the following conversation on repeat: I should do the Everyday Matters Drawing Challenge. That would really help me improve. Ooh, I know! I should post each day’s entry to Instagram; that would keep me motivated. WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? THEN PEOPLE WOULD SEE IT. Right, that’s the point, accountability, encouragement. BUT FULLY HALF YOUR INSTAGRAM FRIENDS ARE PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS, YOU WILL EMBARRASS YOURSELF. Sigh. Right. Of course. I wish I drew better. I just need to keep at it every day. Hmm, maybe I should do the Everyday Matters Drawing Challenge…
5. Whenever a form asks for hobbies, I never think to put down “listmaking,” but I totally should. I make lists all day long. I have lists of lists. I could compete in the List Olympics. If there were a Nobel Prize for listmaking, I’d be a contender.
6. Today IS Thursday, right?
1. Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett: always our first book of the season. My younger three love it every bit as much as my older three did. I’m right there with them—the troll voices are so much fun to read aloud, and there’s a bit at the end that chokes me up every single time. Plus we have a red wooden horse exactly like the one in the book!
(Why has Amazon started slapping a copyright notice on book covers? They’re fair use.)
2. I really appreciate the downloadable lock-screen calendar Inkwell Press provides for free every month. What a nice gift! I like being able to turn on my phone and see what day it is without clicking to my actual calendar. I’m lazy that way. If you sign up for their email list, Inkwell will send links to each month’s wallpaper options—lock screen, home screen background, and desktop. Pretty nifty.
3. I mentioned this on Facebook and Twitter last night, but for those who missed it: 50 Incredible Minecraft Seeds You Must Try is free on Kindle right now and it’s pretty darn cool. It includes seeds for PC, Pocket Edition, XBox, etc. My kids and I were pretty excited to explore some of the Pocket Edition maps today…there’s one with four villages squished together and another with a mountain village that looks like something out of Howling Fjord. I ran around the mountain one for a while and it was a hoot. The blacksmith shop is high up on a rocky crag above the rest of the town.
4. The Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar! We look forward to this every year. It’s an animated Advent calendar with some new little piece of story to click on every day. I’m glad my friend Phoebe reminded me to download it today. (Costs $4.) This year’s theme is “Victorian Christmas,” which, you know, had me at hello.
5. Periscope: I’ve done about one scope a week since I started. I never know if I should post them here! You can view all my replay videos at katch.me/melissawiley, but I could upload them here on the blog, too, if it would be helpful. Actually, I suppose I ought to start posting a list of links for stuff I mention in each scope, since show-and-tell seems to be what I wind up doing every time. Okay, there’s a plan (but not for tonight). Yesterday’s was called “A quick Monday hello” and is pretty chatty. Sometimes I have a structured topic, and other times I’m just there to gab.
I had the hugely fun experience today of receiving a present in The Creative Exchange, an Instagram present swap organized by Sam Dunne of Dunne With Style. When you sign up for this exchange, you are assigned a person to secretly stalk on Instagram for a couple of weeks, and then you put together an assortment of small goodies for her and send it off. Meanwhile, someone else is doing the same thing for you. I had boatloads of fun getting to know my recipient via her feed and picking out treasures to send her—the package is due to arrive tomorrow, and I can’t wait to see how she likes her presents.
Well, today I received my package from a lovely woman named Karla, and I’m just blown away by the abundance and gorgeousness of her presents. She did a great job sussing me out via Instagram, because every single item made me squeal with delight. I mean, it’s all just perfect.
I just had to run to Periscope and do a show-and-tell video because the whole experience was so much fun. I was watching the replay just now and heard myself say something completely stupid. Like, so stupid I gasped. (This is not uncommon. I routinely wince at the memory of idiotic remarks I’ve made, but it’s eighty times worse watching it on video.)
I was describing how this experience—opening these presents that are so exactly what I would pick out for myself—reminded me of the time I visited my online friend Lisa and her family for the first time. We knew each other through my blog, and in fact years earlier, Lisa’s daughter, a very young girl named Annie (age eleven, I think), had left a comment that solved a sewing machine problem I was having. Such a gem. Well, years later, I was driving cross-country with the kids, and Lisa knew we’d be passing her town and invited us for dinner. And Annie, who was a teenager by then, surprised me with an amazing homemade dinner that was all my favorite foods. She had gleaned this information by reading my blog over the years and so thoughtfully put together a delicious feast for me of things she knew I would love! Amazing. I was blown away.
So, okay, in the Periscope I’m talking about how today’s experience—having Karla pick out such PERFECT presents for me based only on the hints about my tastes and hobbies she picked up from my Instagram—reminded me of Annie’s feast: this one other time I can think of that someone I hadn’t met in person gave me a wonderfully on point treat based on things I’d written.
Telling it like this, I think you get how I meant it. But what I SAID was: “I’ve only once in my life had an experience quite like this, where somebody gave me something that showed such thoughtfulness and such a grasp of what I love…”
Um, NOT WHAT I MEANT.
I can think of MANY, MANY times in my life when someone gave me something that showed immense thoughtfulness and a grasp of what I love. Like my parents, for starters, who do that on a regular basis. Or how about my husband? The guy who once socked away a stack of my favorite Ritter Sport bars because we had to be separated for several months and he knew a day would come when I’d be in desperate need of a chocolate remedy. Or my kids, routinely. My sisters, my cousins, my in-laws. And a stream of friends come rushing to mind…Sarah H. giving me that Karl Larsson book as a going-away present because she knew I loved him. Erica and my other local friends, all the abundance of goodies in birthday baskets over the years. Alice, all the way back to the basket she brought to the hospital when Jane was sick, crammed full of the exact things it turned out we would desperately need. Lesley’s beautiful Small Meadow gifts over the years. Krissy, the Midori!!! I mean, the list goes on and on. I could keep this up for hours. Meals, presents, endless kindnesses. Thoughtfulness and a grasp of what I love. Over and over and over: all these cherished friends.
So, yeah, the key words missing from that sentence were “where somebody I’D NEVER MET IN PERSON gave me…”
Of course even as I write that, I’m thinking how inaccurate it too is, even with the addendum…we got a lot of thoughtful presents from strangers when Jane was ill. So maybe I should also add “such a grasp of what I love, picked up by things I posted on the internet.” LOL. I’m howling at myself now. Probably that’s not accurate either. The second I hit publish on this I’m going to think of ten times a kind reader sent me something sweet. Actually, I’m recalling instances already.
So basically I’m just a nitwit with the good fortune to be on the receiving end of a lot of thoughtful gestures. Despite what I may babble while live-streaming, I appreciate each and every one.
(But Karla, seriously, you nailed it.)
Anyway, here’s my show-and-tell scope…if you’ll just kind insert the appropriate mental edits to my boneheaded remarks!
One of the earliest lessons of having a special-needs child was learning to recognize his progress not by comparing him to typically-developing children of the same age, but by comparing him to his own earlier self. I say ‘lesson’ and ‘learn’ but in truth this was something that happened naturally and almost instantaneously after his multiple diagnoses and the beginning of various therapies—physical, occupational, speech. As soon as I had an understanding of his developmental challenges, I was able to rejoice over each increment of progress, each small accomplishment along with the big ones. It was like my brain was wiped free of comparisons to other babies, including my first three, and all that existed was this baby, making these tremendous (even when tiny) strides.
That mental shift keeps popping into my mind lately as I keep working (and working and working) on drawing. Only here, it isn’t natural and instantaneous. Here, I have to keep relearning the lesson; some days I practically have to shout it at myself. The trouble, of course, is that I have so many friends who are spectacularly good artists. Years of training, years of dedication and work. Hundreds or thousands of pages of finished art under their belts. If I compare my drawings—or my slow progress—to them, I feel bleak. I don’t have it, that thing they have. Vision, natural talent, hand-eye coordination, vast knowledge of technique—you name it, I don’t have it. All I have is…earnestness. A belief that everyone can learn to draw, and that includes me. And this long-simmering desire to learn, kindled last fall into a full-boil determination.
So I keep reminding myself, baby artist, to compare myself to the even babier artist I was a few months ago. I remember when my son was finally able to climb up stairs on his own. He was well past a year old. He had motor planning issues, and we spent hours and hours over a period of several months, moving his limbs for him up stair by stair by stair. Hand, knee, hand, knee. Or was it hand, hand, knee, knee, I don’t remember now. Either way, it took so much practice. Until one day his brain figured it out. The pattern was learned. The pathways were formed. Soon after that we could hardly remember what it was like before he learned to climb stairs. We had to scramble to help him learn how to climb down.
Stair by stair, I’m making progress. For every ten drawings I hate, I make one that I like. But I like looking at the bad ones, too, because I know that the fact that I can see what’s wrong with them is another sign of my progress. My eye is improving along with my hand. (“Your taste is killer. Your taste is why your work disappoints you.”)
Today I looked at something I’d done, a couple of quick, surreptitious gesture sketches of some women in a meeting, and realized I’d attempted people—in complex postures, no less—without even thinking about it. Six months ago, I wouldn’t have done that. It’s nice to know I’ve made it up a stair or two.
Small child straddling two barstools, running toy cars up and down the high counter. Another child sprawled on floor, drawing a picture. A third hovering by the cedar chest at the far end of the sofa, at loose ends. A leggy teenager spidering sideways in the comfy armchair. A perfectly typical scene of mild morning chaos.
I curl up in my rocking chair with House at Pooh Corner. The younger set hasn’t heard it yet, in that way that shocks me. They are six, almost nine, and eleven, for Pete’s sake! How could such a thing have happened? Answer: SO. MANY. BOOKS. With no fanfare, I open it and start reading.
The child on the floor flashes a starry grin and scoots closer, her pencils rolling under my feet. The child at loose ends looks up, ears perked. The small one zooming his cars around seems not to notice, but all the engines appear to have undergone sudden tuneups: their roars diminish to silky purrs.
It takes me a minute to find Pooh’s voice. It’s been a few years, after all. Piglet is easy and Eeyore—this revelation would no doubt astonish him—is a delight. It’s snowing, tiddley pom, but at least there hasn’t been an earthquake.
The cars have abandoned the counter and are crossing a bridge of air toward the Hundred Acre Wood. The teenager’s limbs have been transferred to the sofa. The no-longer-hovering child has claimed ownership of the big brown armchair. Nobody knows, tiddley pom, how cold my toes are growing. The postman rattles the lid of the mailbox, delivering the day’s contingent of recyclables. Pooh’s voice has settled down, and the wind must have blown Eeyore’s house over the wood because there it is, just as good as ever, and better in places.
It’s a beautiful house, tiddley pom.
ARGH, when did I go from being a daily blogger to a weekly one? When I took on so much extra work, I suppose. It’s just so. very. busy. right now. But busy is good—busy is kids with full lives and writers with full workloads.
Busy is I got my manuscript back from my editor, so I’m in revision territory now, and that’s absorbing.
Busy is Journey North Mystery Class! Which we finished today with our usual awesome party full of lively presentations and unusual food. Delicious in every way.
Busy is the three (!) homeschooling classes I’m teaching! Two literature and one writing class—I suppose if you count Journey North, which I lead (but my friend Erica hosts at her house, and in my opinion that’s the hardest part), that makes four classes. Except (as I mentioned) JN is done now, so only three. We’re having a lot of fun. I teach because I love. The reading, the discussion, the kids—oh, most of all, these energetic, deep-thinking kids.
Busy is my roster of Other Jobs—the grantwriting gig, the website maintenance gig, the editorial gig. You know, the day jobs that make the writing life possible.
Busy is Sketchbook Skool and my commitment to daily drawing. (The rhino up there was for an assignment—splatter some ink on the page and turn it into a drawing. He’s scribbly on purpose. Also because I’ve never drawn a rhino before and I was winging it.)
Busy is when the neighbor kids are on spring break and therefore practically living at my house during daylight hours. We have become That House!
Busy is evening IM chats with Jane and full days with the rest of the gang. And morning walks with Scott, because no matter how busy All the Busy is, it’s never too busy for that.
1. Piano recital: accomplished. And swimmingly, I might add. Particularly sweet this year because the music school divided the recital students into smaller groups (fewer classes lumped together into each recital), which meant our girls’ three classes were part of a five-class recital consisting mostly of good friends, families in our homeschooling circle. Best part: the way Huck (not yet a student) gasped in delighted recognition at the songs played by the beginner class (a level below Rilla’s group), because he recognized all the songs from last year when Rilla was learning them. Next year it will be his turn to begin! Hard to believe.
2. The drought, oh the drought, it has hit my garden hard. I’ve planted a lot of drought-tolerant natives over the years, so things are limping along, but still, it’s pretty grim out there. As it must be: flower-gardening will have to be one of the indulgences we let go in the new normal that is our hot-and-getting-hotter world. At least here in this dry-and-getting-drier state. Some of my work this year has involved a lot (a LOT) of research into California’s drying aquifers and the truly shocking lack of Sierra snowmelt and its impacts, and the sobering percentage of reduction of water deliveries to certain small towns from the State Water Project, and, well, you can’t face those facts and go on lavishing water on delphiniums. I’m becoming something of a vicarious gardener once again—the way I was in grad school when I confessed to the poet Robert Pinsky, whom I was tasked with picking up at the airport for a reading, that my habit while driving around town was to re-imagine the landscaping of all the yards I passed. Only now I’m mentally tearing up all the thirsty lawns around me in this desert. But I may have to find room for an annual trip to Portland in the spring, to soak myself for a few days in the glories of lush blossom and unfurling ferns. For now I must apply the tactic I used with much success back in those garden-deprived grad-school days: houseplants require very little water. Rilla and I went to work this week, taking cuttings and clippings to bring a bit of the bright outside indoors. And (influenced by Anne Shirley, of course) I’ve always kept windowsill geraniums with their cheery blooms perched on my kitchen sink—you can never go wrong with good old pelargonium. Thus this item belongs on a happy list even though its genesis is a bleak climate situation.
3. Kate Winslet does a smashing job with the voices in the Matilda audiobook. Rilla and I have one chapter left. We may not be able to wait for our Saturday-night ritual (audiobook + sketchbook time while the older girls watch S.H.I.E.L.D. with Scott) to finish. Which means I’d better come up with our next listen before Saturday…
4. Broadchurch Season 2. Wow.
5. Last night we watched a movie called Begin Again. Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, and yet I had somehow failed to hear about it until Scott queued it up. (He has unerring instincts for films that will delight me.) I loved it. A lovely, thoughtful piece by the writer/director of Once. I’ll watch it again.
What I’m reading this week
To the kids: House at Pooh Corner (still)
Myself: Connie Willis’s Blackout (Determined to finish this time! The other times I’ve begun and set it aside, it wasn’t because I wasn’t interested. Other things just kept crowding in. We’ll see if this time around is different.)
Photo of the week
My friend Edith Hope Fine shared this photo, taken at last weekend’s Greater San Diego Reading Association awards breakfast, on Facebook, and our pal Salina Yoon dressed it up with everyone’s book covers. What a fantastic community of writers and illustrators we have here in San Diego! (Thanks, Edith, Salina, and—wait, who took the photo? I can’t remember!)
Oh, May. You beautiful, terrible month. I can’t say I’m sorry to see the back of you. Massive workload, plumbing woes, multiple trips to the children’s hospital (which sounds more alarming than it ought to—here in San Diego they send your kids to Children’s for every little thing; for example: a chest x-ray when your child has pneumonia even though there is an x-ray lab RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the pediatrician’s office, AHEM, and a four-hour wait and a three-second x-ray later the radiologist will say, all right, I’ve just sent these to your doctor, zap)…but it’s June now, let’s put all that behind us.
I suppose, though, that May did have its moments. Scott surprised me with a trip to a big art supply story downtown, a wonderland full of pens singing at me. I came home with a metal brush pen, aka my new best friend, it feels amazing when you pull it across the page; and a tube of raw umber paint because I have been unsuccessful in mixing a shade the color of chocolate with my basic color palette. Rilla’s birthday breakfast is still waiting in my sketchbook to be painted. Since April, sheesh.
In May my boys’ writing class wrapped up—this was a group of nine homeschooled boys ages 10-14 whose mothers approached me about putting together an eight-week writing course. We had us some fun, let me tell you. A highlight of my spring was watching our freewrites transform from “TEN WHOLE MINUTES??!!?” to “Oh wait can I please have a bit more time?”
Huck discovered the delights of the Oz books—specifically the Eric Shanower/Skottie Young graphic novel adaptations that Rilla loves so much. He spends a lot of time like this:
blurry photo but it’s all I got
He’s also enjoying the Magic Tree House books, like so many of his siblings before him. Scott read him the first one to get him started. The corresponding nonfiction volumes are particular favorites, and I am once again being treated to daily factoids about sharks and pirates. Never gets old.
On my mind constantly of late: notebooks, sketchbooks, art journals, and combinations thereof. Conversations are swirling in several of my circles—
• at Sketchbook Skool there is always lots of chatter about what people prefer to draw on and with;
• over at Wisteria & Sunshine, Lesley has been revisiting the topic of daybooks (especially handmade ones);
• Kortney is posting wonderfully enticing things about right-brain planning;
• Amy Ludwig Vanderwater is hosting a summer “Sharing Our Notebooks” project that I plan to participate in, soon as I get a chance…
Once a week I meet a small group of teenaged girls (one of them my Beanie) at a coffee shop to discuss literature while their younger siblings take piano lessons in the studio upstairs. This is hands-down one of the best hours of my week: meaty stories; lively analysis; word-collection; chitchat. A couple of weeks ago we ran off on a tangent of comparing one another’s notebooks. The conversation coincided with a similar thread at Wisteria & Sunshine, so I was primed. I’ve been using graph-style spiral-bound steno pads for the past year or so, with a modified bullet-journal method. (Chiefly the use of an index page at the front of each notebook—that was a game-changer for me.) But I was hankering after something less utilitarian-looking, and one of my lit girls had a new kraft-brown Moleskine that set me swooning. Back at home, I looked it up and it was exactly what I wanted. Slim paperback in the size I favor (Moleskine calls it “large” but it’s only 5×8), and—this was crucial—they offer a “squared” (graph-style) version.
I’ve used Moleskines before but mostly the Volant model with the bright solid-colored covers. So pretty on my shelf but you can’t really fold them back on themselves, and I don’t like writing on a double-page spread. That’s why I’ve mostly sighed and made do with spirals. But Moleskine’s Cahier model with a heavy paper cover is flexible enough for me to fold back. And I love the pocket in the back, such a nice touch.
Kraft paper is one of my favorite surfaces for decorating, so of course the cover cried out for some decoration. I started on the back in case I messed up. Still haven’t decided what I want to do on the front.
gridded steno notebook, kraft brown Moleskine Cahier journal, Canson Mixed Media Sketchbook
I love a skinny notebook not only because it fits easily in my bag, but because it fills up faster. I am mad for the fresh start. I had a few pages left in my May steno book but I craved a clean slate for June, so I’ve been using up the steno pages with hand-lettering practice.
I use my daily notebook for list-making, idea-sorting, story-outlining, note-taking…basically anything that involves words. Words + doodles, really: my “work” pages are always margined with crosshatching and basketweave and spirals and mushrooms…whatever. I used to try to keep things compartmentalized: one notebook for current book-in-progress; one for medical & insurance notes (I always seem to have volumes of these); one for quotes/commonplace book entries; one for to-do lists…but they always wound up melded together, and then I’d have three or four mishmash notebooks going at once, which was ridiculous. So I gave up and embraced my brain’s clear need to dump itself onto a page, melting-pot style, and now I let all those channels of thought intermingle. (Messily, much like the mingling of metaphors in that sentence.)
And these days my word-notebooks are overrun with drawings, too. I have a separate sketchbook—two, actually; a smaller (5×8) hardcover Moleskine that fits in my bag, and a larger (7×10) Canson mixed-media sketchbook that is my place to experiment with drawing techniques and paint. That’s where I do my Sketchbook Skool assignments—it’s my it’s okay to screw up place. Consequently, it sees way more action than the Moleskine sketchbook, which I pretty much only use when I’m 1) away from home and 2) feeling unobtrusive enough to draw in public. I don’t mind kids looking over my shoulder but I’m way too shy about my work to want adults eyeballing it in progress.
Interestingly, the Canson Mixed Media Sketchbook is the one that got a thumbs-down from Roz Stendahl (THE source of in-the-field info on all things art supply), and when I read her review I had a major light-bulb moment: Ohhhh, so you mean the paper isn’t supposed to buckle when I paint? This Canson (I’m in my second one now) is the only sketchbook I’ve ever painted in, so I thought that’s just how it went, unless you bought one with watercolor paper. Roz’s report clued me in to the possibility that the book I picked (entirely because it was on sale at Michael’s) may not perform as satisfactorily as other brands. I’m nearing the end of this one (you guys!!! I’ve filled two whole sketchbooks with drawings!!) and may take Roz’s recommendation and try a Strathmore Journal Series’ Mixed Media book next time. Does Michael’s sell them, I wonder? Got another coupon burning a hole…
bad phone photo; can’t be bothered to scan
Okay, so I was saying that in theory I have the sketchbook(s) for, well, sketching, and the notebook for all the word things, but the truth is that ever since I started working on my drawing skills last fall, I’ve got rough sketches running wild all over my word-notebooks. Again, this is something I’ve just decided to be at peace with. So much of my work involves a rigorous process of polishing and structure, and I think perhaps my mind really needs a place to be messy and unfiltered, a place to set itself down in raw form. It’s like a test kitchen for my thoughts, I guess. This is where the index is so invaluable: it allows me to quickly locate the notes from that Very Important Phone Call without having to hunt through pages of nonsense. I try to update the index at least once a week—just a mild leaf-through to note down the page numbers on which I have recorded important information. I number the pages of my notebooks in the bottom right corner, about ten pages at a time. I like to write my to-do lists on a Post-It that can travel from page to page. As each task is crossed off, I jot it down in the notebook for a record of what I’ve done.
Since the ugly steno books all look the same on the shelf, I would run a highlighter down the sides of the pages, a different color for each new book. But so far the kraft Moleskine is serving beautifully, and I doubt I’ll go back to the steno grids. I might use a bit of Washi tape on the spine to differentiate the Moleskines on the shelf, once they’re filled.
Back to my coffee-shop girls. We had so much fun that day, comparing notebook preferences, that we decided to all bring our sketchbooks the following week. Which was truly delightful—what a treasure, this look at the outpouring of creativity from these girls. Beautiful design work (I mean really breathtaking, some of it), whimsical drawings (much more skilled than mine), and illustrated quotes, and just so much wonder, so much evidence of curious minds sifting the world. I felt really honored to have this work shared with me. We are nearing the end of the topics we charted for our class, but the girls begged me to keep going through the summer. So we’re thinking of spending a few weeks on sketching and notebooking. I have all sorts of ideas for things we can do together—heavily Lynda Barry-influenced, naturally, because who better to guide you through an exploration of all the things a sheet of paper can become?
I gained a whole week today. It feels luxurious: what to do with this newfound space of time? It’s like finding a $20 bill in the pocket of your winter coat. Of course, just as with found money, immediately upon the heels of the jubilant discovery rush the responsible thoughts: you could put the money toward bills, or into a child’s college fund. I should (must) work toward some impending deadlines; I should tackle the Extreme Purging project I keep saying I’m going to undertake.
After all, it’s not like I really gained a week. It was here on the calendar all along; it was factored into commitments I have made. I didn’t lose it for long, only misplaced it for a day or two. The culprit was Comic-Con brain, I’m sure. SDCC came earlier in July than it usually does. Somehow, after I emerged from the exhausted post-con daze, I jumped ahead a week mentally. Rose is in Colorado visiting my parents. I knew she was coming home the 24th, but until this morning, I thought that was today. We have family coming to visit at the end of the month. Until this morning, I thought next week was the end of the month. The time in between is filled up with assignments: in a way, I’ve only located the lost $20 I had already spent.
Still, I feel dazzled and charmed: some tasks I’d thought would be frantic may now unfold at a reasonable pace. And how much more might I read, write, draw this month than I had been supposing?
My friend Edith Fine (a wonderful writer) told me once that when she used to teach school, she would always begin a new month by having the kids take note of what day of the week the sevens fell on. Since, you know, the multiples of seven are going to be on the same day each week. I caught the habit from her—it’s quite useful! I think July is the first month I’ve forgotten to notice, ever since Edith shared the trick with me. The sevens fall on Tuesdays, this month. In August, they’re the Fridays.
Next Tuesday is the 21st, not the 28th, in case you were wondering.
There’s something I need to get a picture of—the story begs a visual—but the shirt in question has already gone into the laundry. I’ll share a photo later. The other day, I remarked on Twitter that Rilla has decided to be a fashion designer when she grows up—a designer, that is, of clothing with lots of pockets. A perpetual grumble around here is the dearth of girls’ clothes with useful pockets. This, Rilla has announced, is a wrong that must be righted. I applaud her vision.
Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment. (Which I knew was on the 16th. HOW did I think today was the 24th??) When I returned home, Huck greeted me at the door, beaming proudly, urging me to take notice of his new pocket. Picture a worn gray t-shirt. Way up high near the shoulder, a teeny tiny pocket of some scrap fabric rummaged out of a storage bin, attached with embroidery floss in large, determined stitches. There’s just about room to keep a quarter in it. It is the dearest thing I have ever seen. No moss grows on Miss Rilla, for sure. When she announces a business plan, she means BUSINESS. I’m sure she knows what day it is.
…she says, half a week into August.
We had family in town and spent a day hanging out with them at their fabulous beach hotel, and another afternoon touring the harbor on a boat cruise. Glorious weather. At one point, we were approaching Point Loma for a glimpse of the lighthouse when my nephew’s phone buzzed—it was Verizon Wireless texting him a “Welcome to Mexico” message. That was just about as far as we got before turning around to cruise past the downtown area. We saw dolphins and sea lions and pelicans—a perfectly satisfying day, according to Miss Rilla, who spent much of the boat ride standing in the wind with her arms spread wide and her grin even wider.
One of the nicest things about living in San Diego is that so many friends wind up vacationing here, and we get to join in.
Back home, I’ve been in blissful planning mode. I adore low tide; low tide is a deep delight; but my little listmaking heart glories in the voyage-charting of high tide just as thoroughly. I spent a morning gathering books from all over the house to fill a shelf for Huck—treasures I want to be sure my last six-year-old (sniff) doesn’t miss. I’ll try to get a picture and a post up soon, because I know some of you enjoy comparing notes that way.
Plans are afoot for Rilla and my two high-school-age girls too: more booklists, more shelves filling up. Every August I do this massive rearranging of the tomes, shifting high-tide resources to the living room where we do indeed do the bulk of our living. Twentieth-century history for the teens this year, and earth science, and Shakespeare of course, and a fat list of literary texts, and the languages they are studying separately. All juicy stuff. Beanie is forging ahead with German, which is extra fun for me, since I’m fair-to-middling in that language myself and always longing to improve my skills.
And loads and loads of art—along with poetry, perhaps our most constant occupation these days. At Comic-Con, I tried out my (brilliantly talented) friend Zander‘s pocket brush pen and was thoroughly intimidated by it. The next day, our (also staggeringly talented) friend Mark Chiarello showed us art from his forthcoming book (his first since his gorgeous book on the Negro Leagues), and he too was working with this pen, whose merits the extraordinary Roz Stendahl is always talking about. Between them, they convinced me to give it a try, and ohhhh, it turns out I’m in love. It is loosening up my line so much. I have a tendency toward a very careful and nervous line, and I’m feeling much freer about taking chances and using my whole arm, thanks to a few weeks with this pen. My book is filling up with a lot of messy, not-so-lovely pages, but in a good way. And every now and then I draw a line I really like. That’s progress.
Meanwhile, Rilla and I are about to dive into Sketchbook Skool’s “More Playing” klass, which started yesterday. We had a ball with “Playing” in July. Our favorite project was the drawing where we took turns for thirty seconds at a time, filling a page with nonsense. Much hilarity there. This, too, is something I’d like to post more about in the week ahead.
I’m overdue for a books post, too. Got on an Anne Shirley kick in July, following my Betsy-Tacy kick in June. Read the series through House of Dreams (skipped Windy Poplars, because I don’t have it on Kindle). I swear Dreams is better every time, even a dozen or more times later.
I also revisited Pudd’nhead Wilson for the first time since high school—shaking my head in bed at Twain’s audacity the whole way through. Oh, how I love him. I’m deep into Mansfield Park right now. No particular reason; it just decided I needed to reread it. I’m a Persuasion person first and foremost, and then P&P, but I do enjoy Mansfield. The urge to smack Mary Crawford upside the head is such a satisfying sensation.
Well, that’s the news from these parts. What’s your August looking like?
Oh, and I met an owl.
I entered the year aware that Bonny Glen’s ten-year anniversary was approaching on Jan. 20, and I had thoughts of all sorts of retrospective posts leading up to the occasion. Then, on Jan. 4, I started a new gig—the kind of steady behind-the-scenes work that makes the children’s-book-writing, homeschooling life possible. I went from Cybils-reading-load busyness to new-assignment busyness, and since I thrive on busy and new (oh especially new), I’ve spent the first weeks of the year in a satisfying whirr of learning and doing.
And I forgot all about the anniversary until I saw Melanie’s post this morning. We began on the same day—a coincidence; we hadn’t met yet; we met through the blogs—and her post puzzled me. Oh, she’s celebrating early, I thought. And then, hang on…
The first kid-photo ever to appear on this blog, posted July 2005
Not early; Melanie is timely, I am tardy. It’s no wonder I lost track of the date; Scott is away for a few days on an adventure with his brothers, and on the rare occasions when he goes away, I always turn the house upside down for some kind of grand-scale cleaning/purging endeavor. This time, because I had resolved to sort through ALL THE BOOKS in January, I’m ignoring books entirely and overhauling the clothes situation. Ugh, clothes. Yesterday, up to our ears in piles, we were pondering the merits of Laura and Mary’s two dresses each. In a few minutes I have to get up and return to the fabric mountain. We’ve just gotten Wonderboy off to school, and Bean and Huck are on a “fog walk” (it’s a rare misty, moisty morning here), and Rose and Rilla are taking advantage of the topsy-turvy schedule to sleep in a bit.
Wonderboy and Rilla, June 2006
And here I am in the old familiar text window. Ten years of writing here. I began at Typepad in 2005 and migrated to this WordPress site in 2007. I’m always surprised by how short a span of time Bonny Glen resided at Typepad; so much happened in those two years, and I met made so many friends in the blog world, both homeschooling and kidlitosphere, that it seems a much longer period. I’d been blogging for about 16 months when Rilla was born, the first baby whose blog name I settled upon even before we’d chosen her real name. A month later, I was offered a job as one of ClubMom’s regular bloggers, so I set up camp at a second site, The Lilting House, and posted there about three times a week for a year or so. ClubMom shuttered the MomBlog program in 2007 and I folded Lilting House into my archives here. I still have some broken image links from those days that need cleaning up—a Someday project.
In those first years, I wrote a lot about homeschooling—not just the daily glimpses I continue to share here now, but also a lot of theory, a lot of methodology discussion. I was sorting out my ideas and I do that best by writing them down. After a while I had discerned that I would probably never fit entirely into any one camp—unschoolish but not unschooling, Charlotte Mason-inspired but not pure CM, etc—and I coined a term to describe what it is we actually do. I’ve written a good deal more about tidal homeschooling since then, but much more casually than I addressed education method in the first years of this blog. I smile sometimes over the difference between me in my 30s, with a houseful of pretty young kids, and me in my 40s, with a range from college to kindergarten. (Oh my heavens, when you put it like that.) I was so full of helpful advice back then! Now, with a lot more experience under my belt, I probably have better advice, but I dish it out sparingly.
2007, the year after we moved to San Diego. Photos got bigger after I moved to WordPress!
2007 was the year I joined Twitter, and I can’t remember if Facebook came before or after for me. Either way, I experienced, like everyone else, a shift in blogging and combox conversation after the social media boom. There was a very good discussion of this topic over at Sarah’s last week, and in the course of it I had a little epiphany: even though social networks have had a dampening effect on the amount of conversation that happens in blog comments—what with so many readers preferring to do their chatting on Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere—it’s the humble blog that keeps such discourse lively. I might write a post here that draws a handful of responses from my most faithful readers, who by this time have become dear friends!—but the very same post will generate multiple long threads of discussion over on Facebook. It struck me what an important role the blog post still plays in our online conversation. In Sarah’s comments, I said:
…even though the ease of conversation at Facebook (with reply notifications, user tagging, all the bells and whistles that keep people tuned into the discussion) seems to have given it an edge in the comment department, it’s the *blog* that makes it possible—one permanent link for the original post, easily shared across a variety of networks, with embedded images and links. I couldn’t post a full Downton recap at FB, say, let alone Twitter or Instagram or anywhere else. So no matter what platforms we all drift to for our *discussions*, we still value the blog format for its completeness, its portability, its whole package. Truly, we can’t do without it!
Generating discussions isn’t the only thing I cherish my blog for. I’ve written before about how important it has become for my family—the primary archive of our adventures. I don’t scrapbook, I haven’t compiled a photo album in years, I don’t update baby books. Most of the kids don’t even have them. But I’ve chronicled our stories here for a decade, and we all enjoy laughing over the kid quips in the archives. I didn’t realize just how much it meant to the kids until recently when Bean and Rose told me how often they go back into old posts “to read about our childhood.” They know I pull back on posting kid-stories as they get older, out of respect for their privacy, but they tell me they miss being able to read about the hilarious thing that happened last week. Food for thought, for this blogging mom!
August, 2008. Heart in my throat, looking at this photo today—now I’m reading that same book to this wee girl!
A challenge of blogging has been how to meld the personal and the private—how to share these family stories without saddling my children with a complicated Google history. And how to blend writing as the frank, flawed homeschooling mom I am with a more professional presentation as a children’s author some readers (students, teachers, editors) are looking to connect with. It’s complicated! I mostly muddle through it. I yam what I yam and all that.
But blogging is more than the sum of its parts—more than simple family chronicle, more than author portal, more than a place to engage in the kind of show-and-tell resource-sharing I love so very much—it’s a crucible for friendships. I get a little choked up when I think about all the very real, dear relationships that were born in the comments here. You, my friends. Some of you I’ve had the fun of meeting in person, and some of you live so far away our non-virtual paths may never cross (sob!), but the friendships run deep nonetheless. In the end, I write to share—and it’s you, the friends at the end of the page, I’m thinking of when I sit down and click “Add New.” Thank you—really, from the bottom of my heart—thank you for keeping me company on this journey. I’m so happy to have my own little house on the internet where you can come and visit.
But in a good way. It’s always nice to be busy with work. Especially the paying sort. Of course, I suppose if I didn’t enjoy the non-paying kind, I wouldn’t make time for it. Well, I guess this week I didn’t find time for it (Downton recap is way late, etc), but that’s okay. It all balances out in the long run.
Something I did do this week—and had a blast at—was give a talk on poetry to a group of mothers from my local homeschooling group. My friend Erica invited me, and our friend Lisa hosted the gathering, and I got to talk about poetry nonstop for 90 minutes! Which is pretty much heaven. I shared my approach to the poetry workshops I do with kids. Their kids, actually—the talk came about after one of our Poetry Club meetings, when I was filling the moms in on what we’d discussed, and someone joked that she could use a refresher course in this stuff herself.
So we set aside an evening and had ourselves a nice long chat about types of meter, literary tropes, and poetry analysis. Did close readings of a couple of poems, including my favorite of Shakespeare’s sonnets: #29,
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
I adore this one because first of all, it sounds like something Scott would say (in slightly more contemporary language, mayhap*). And also because I find it hilarious—and absolutely true to form—that Shakespeare of all people is bemoaning his own talent, wishing he could write like some other guy. Nearly every writer and artist I know feels that same way. You always wish you were better, faster, more lyrical, more succinct, more visionary, something.
*”Slightly” because we do seem to have a taste for archaic language in this household. “Mayhap,” for example. A total Scott word.
And tonight I’m off to a fun event: the Local Authors Reception at the San Diego Public Library. Every year the library organizes a display of books published in the past year by authors who live in the area. Last time around, a stomach bug hit my gang on the day, and I had to miss the event. So tonight will be my first time. Looking forward to it! Have no idea what to wear.
Posts look weird in readers now if you don’t include an image, so here’s a picture of some color therapy I indulged in last night after the week’s deadline was met. Paint = magic.
Bad lighting but swoony colors nonetheless. The stripes at the bottom are mixes I was playing with. I find I’m most enchanted by the grey at top right, a blend of Burnt Sienna and Phthalo Blue. On the page it separates out in places to tiny swirls of rose or blue. Swoony. I quite like the leaf green in that right column, too, a mix of Hansa Yellow Medium and Phthalo Green (blue shade).
But all those “FU” abbreviations are making me giggle. French Ultramarine, of course.
Sheesh, I’d better get going or I will have to show up at the reception tonight in ripped jeans and dripping hair. Offscreen life takes so much effort!
A short one today, to help me get back in the swing. I miss my old blogging rhythm, when it was the first thing I did after switching gears from kid-time to writing-time. Spending half an hour writing about the kids was an excellent way to help my brain transition from one mode to the other. But now I’ve altered my workflow so that I jump right into time-sensitive tasks first thing, and blogging is my reward at the end of the night. Trouble is, by then (by now, that is) I’m running dry. All the things I meant to write about all day long are misting away. Some of them I’ll get to, eventually. Others: poof.
The pile of books to talk about: immense! Soon, soon!
Sarah shared this link to an interactive map of Middlemarch. I swooned. And then made it the wallpaper on my laptop. Every time I shut down tabs, I get so happy.
I finished an absorbing book (Going Clear) a couple of nights ago and have been in my usual post-satisfying-read state of restlessness, unable to settle on the next one. Which is silly, because if you assigned me a book to read I would suddenly have a dozen titles I was absolutely PINING to devour immediately. I remember how as a kid I would come home from the library with a dozen books I’d wanted to sit right down and tear into on the library floor, but once home I’d find myself unable to settle on which to start first. Option paralysis, my lifelong affliction.
I can hear Scott reading Rilla her bedtime chapter of Watership Down. Maybe that’s what I want to pick up next. It’s been too long.
Every year or two I am reminded that I have a Listography account where, for brief spells, I have experimented with logging various kinds of daily notes. In truth, I have these ephemera all over the place—an old Typepad blog, a for-a-little-while side-blog here at WordPress, dozens and dozens of paper notebooks accumulated over the years…sometimes I wish I’d been consistent and kept everything in one place. One shelf of notebooks stretching back through all the years (not leapfrogging over so many), or one lovely Listography archive like the one Sue writes about in this post, which is what nudged me to check in on my own page. Now of course I know that this blog itself is my most consistent record, and here I have captured much of the stuff worth capturing these past ten years.
But as Sue of Mouse Notebook writes, there’s something particularly nourishing in the daily practice of noting things that made you happy.
Exactly five years ago I began the practice, at bedtime, of writing a list of five things that have made me happy that day. It has been so good for me to do this, to look for the small beauties of life as well as remember the big, wonderful things. I now have over 1700 searchable entries recording snippets from my life over the last five years, which feels like a priceless asset.
Her lists are simple and direct and quite wonderful. I don’t know how I came across her list-page (via Lesley Austin, perhaps?), back in June 2010, but I was moved to follow her example:
Inspired by Mouse’s lists of things she liked today. I’d been keeping something similar in my paper notebook, but this might be a better place (baby keeps running off with my pen).
And reading on, I see how many things I captured that I would have forgotten, had indeed forgotten until this moment.
I see I kept with the daily notes barely a week, and then picked up again a year later for a handful of days. Interspersed with the ‘happy things’ lists are collections of links and book titles for various projects I was immersed in. Those have been fun to revisit, too—I’m laughing at the tentative summer reading list from June 2010. I’d be embarrassed to confess to the number of those books I have actually managed to read thus far—though, of course, the list of other books I did read would outstrip that one, thanks in large part to my Cybils-panel stints. (“So, huh, this is like four summers’ worth of books,” I noted at the bottom. Oh 2010 Lissa, you optimist.)
I love that I collected a list of rabbit trails inspired by my immersion in A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, which I’ve reread twice since then! The sight of that jolly face on the jug makes me want to pick the novel up yet again (though it is anything but jolly).
Other sticky-notes there are collections of links I would probably just save to Diigo now, so they’d show in my sidebar. Or Evernote, if they were for me alone. Neither of those platforms (convenient and multifunctional as they are) can touch Listography for visual appeal, though. The look of those simple sticky notes was what drew me to Listography when I already had a perfectly good place to collect ephemera right here at Bonny Glen.
I played a lot of pennywhistle in the summer of 2010. Never got very good at it. By fall I was busy with other things and never circled back around to it (yet). Beanie has recently picked it up, though, and is already far better than I was.
By far the best notes on that page are the lists of happy moments from a handful of June days, a year apart. Planting sunflower seeds with the littles, rolling a ball down the slide, salt water taffy sent by Scott’s brother Jay…I’m glad I captured those. And Sue is right—imagine a list like that kept consistently year after year. What a treasure.
And look! Five years ago I was wanting to memorize all the monarchs of England—and this year I did it! William, William, Henry, Stephen, Henry, Richard, John…
Automated voice answering system: What form would you like?
Me: Driver’s license.
AVAS: Sorry, I didn’t understand you. What form would you like?
Me: Driver’s license application.
AVAS: Sorry, I didn’t understand you. What form would you like?
Me: DRI VERZZZ LIE SENSE
AVAS: ::beep boop boop:: Thank you. I am sending you ‘Power of Attorney’ form. Is that correct?
AVAS: Sorry, I did not understand you. Let me transfer you to one of our customer service representatives. ::beep boop boop::
New robot voice: All of our representatives are currently busy. Your wait time is one and a half hours.
Me: MAIN MENU! MAIN MENU!
AVAS: ::click click:: What form would you like?
Me: DuhRYVerrrz LIIIII SENSE
AVAS: ::beep boop boop:: Thank you. Your Disabled Veterans License Plate Application is on the way.
1. I forgot (again) to pinch off the cilantro and it went (again) to seed. Every year I do this, and every year I glance across the yard one day and feel a rush of joy. I never think to put it on the list if you ask my what my favorite flowers are, but truly: cilantro is my favorite, even above milkweed. Unsophisticated blossoms, insubstantial at first glance, but blooming with such exuberance, beckoning the bees, mingling sociably with the sunny marguerites. Oh, I love them.
2. The stack of homemade Valentines on the kitchen table, slivers of colored paper confettied all over the floor
3. The sight of small boys in bright hats running up a green hill
4. Got the lawn mowed
5. Thought I had to make a health insurance phone call and then did not have to make it
1. Leaving the house early yesterday morning, I spotted a pair of goldfinches feasting on the seeds of my basil—yes, another herb I forgot to pinch back, and now I’m glad
2. Pink milk and candy hearts
3. Saturday night ritual: art time with Rilla while the older girls watch TV with Scott (after the early-to-bed boys have conked out). This week, we binged on Cathy Johnson videos. Oh, I just love her, murmurs my girl.
4. Weeded the front-yard flower beds. Began, at any rate, and made good headway. After I mowed the other day, I discovered just how much is in bloom. Nasturtiums, coreopsis, sweet alyssum, snapdragons, viola, milkweed…Ellie said it’s okay to talk about my flowers, hope you don’t mind.
5. Set up a new palette and spent a good while testing colors with Rilla.
6. This one’s a Big Happy: today I finished the last empty page in my very first complete sketchbook. I started it on August 30. Have drawn or painted almost every day since (even if only for a few minutes). Feeling pretty chuffed.
1. Journey North Mystery Class! Tomorrow is Week 4. I love this project so much. We’ve been doing it for ten years now—hard to believe.
2. This old post that Scott dug up from his archives for, I suspect, the sole purpose of making me melt.
3. Discussing “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” with Beanie and friends (yesterday but I forgot to include it).
4. A great editorial letter.
5. The other day I was cutting back the overgrown pumpkin vines and harvesting our little pile of pumpkins—far more than we had any need for. A neighbor happened by, walking her dog. She stopped to chat about the pumpkins—she said she’d enjoyed watching them grow—and I urged her to take a couple of them off my hands. Today she returned—WITH PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE. Somehow I think we came out way ahead in this transaction.
Rose, stretched out on Beanie’s bunk reading Paradise Lost. Beside her, the bluebook she writes compositions in for the Spanish class she’s taking the community college, and a battered paperback copy of The Wizard of Earthsea.
Beanie, sitting on Rilla’s unmade* bed, drawing a sketch of Rose. Beside her, her Journey North Mystery Class chart.
Rilla and Huck in a corner of the living room, in the midst of a litter of Legos, deep in some complex game. Their tones are urgent, their faces serious. Vast, capricious forces are afflicting a host of small plastic people with a series of grave disasters. Rilla shoots a glance at her fellow demigod, brow furrowed.
“Nobody likes my jokes,” grumps the smaller deity. From the kitchen, I chuckle.
“Ha!” amends Huck. “At least Mom appreciates them.”
Wonderboy’s at school, Jane’s away at college, Scott’s in the back room writing a comic book, and me? I’m just soaking it all in.
*Recently overheard, Rose to Rilla and Huck: “Listen, there’s something you should understand about Mom. If she sees you’re in the middle of a really good make-believe game, she will never interrupt you to make you do your chores.”
Ours is in bloom this very day, as it happens
“Our Christmas cactus has predictably bloomed each December for three decades and some years when it has been colder for longer, as is the case this year, it often blooms more than once a year. Our Christmas cactus is alive and growing 365 days of the year, most of which it is rarely seen by me but only looked at.”
That’s Owen Swain in his post “Blooming Cactus / blooming an illustrated life / and, what I learned in Sketchbook Skool.”
In his drawing of the cactus, he includes a quote which sent me immediately dashing for my commonplace book (which is to say, this blog).
“While drawing grasses I learn nothing ‘about’ grass, but wake to the wonder of this grass and its growing, to the wonder that there is grass at all.”
That. Yes. Exactly. Or at least, I suppose I would say I learn something about grass when I’m drawing it, I learn something about everything I look at closely. But that kind of learning is implied in the quote. I get what he means by ‘about.’ And yes, the waking to the wonder of a thing by observing it quietly, moving your pen along its paths, or by writing a poem about it (“This grasshopper, I mean—/ the one who has flung herself out of the grass,/ the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—/ who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes…”)*; even, I daresay, by blogging about it—the combined act of observing, pondering, and then expressing, in word or line—these endeavors shift your relationship with the humble object; they awaken you to the wonder the thing actually is.
The very first revelation that struck me about drawing, way back in college during a too-brief foray into sketching, was the passage in the Betty Edwards book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain in which one of Betty’s students mentioned that after she began trying to draw faces, “every face I looked at seemed beautiful to me.” I have written before about the enormous impact that statement had on me, not just in relation to drawing but to an overall view of life.
The drawing lessons taught her to really look at people, and when she did, she saw beauty everywhere.
I know I’m going all over the place here, but in my mind these things are all connected: this way of really looking, really seeing, noticing what is interesting and important and even beautiful about things many people whisk by without noticing. And what I can do for my children is refuse to fill up their lives with things they must patiently endure until a better moment comes. I can savor the moments as they happen, and give them the time and space to find what’s interesting and beautiful in every face the world shows them.
As I was writing that last sentence, Beanie appeared in front of me with a big smile and a present: a bracelet made of safety pins linked together, each pin shining with green and blue beads. “It’s for you, Mommy,” she breathed, so proud and excited. “Jane showed me how.” How patiently (the good kind of patience) she must have worked to slide all those beads in place.
I never noticed before what a work of art a safety pin is!
I’ve written so many times on this blog about how my approach to education is to keep the focus on the process, not the product. The lesson is renewed for me every time I take pencil in hand and try to capture the lines of a thing on my page. In the end, it doesn’t matter at all how my drawing ‘turns out.’ The magic is in the doing.
*From “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver
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Louisa by Isabelle, grade 5
• Melted at the artwork and poems created by the three classes of fifth- and sixth-graders who welcomed me to the Greater San Diego Reading Association’s annual Authors Fair.
• Read aloud the last chapter of The Prairie Thief to a roomful of eager fifth-graders. Such a delight. I so seldom get to read the end of the book to a school group—I don’t want to give anything away! Exceedingly fun to discover the teacher had been reading the book to the class and saved the finale for my visit.
• Had a marvelous time swapping book suggestions with the kids during the Q&A after my readings. Hot tip: they are loving The Unicorn Chronicles at the moment.
• Tried out a new voice for Fox in my Storytime at Carmel Valley Public Library on Saturday. Gotta keep it fresh, you know.
• Wrote my tail off all day yesterday.
• Rejoiced with the gang as our monarch butterfly emerged from its chrysalis this morning. We missed the big entrance but not by much. Later, when it was ready to fly, we took it out to the milkweed patch in the backyard, and it rested there long enough for Rilla and me to sketch it. I had just finished adding watercolor when it soared away to the cape honeysuckle, and from there out into the blue. Bon voyage, little dear.
Yes, aphids galore