Sometimes I miss the obvious

February 2, 2016 @ 10:36 am | Filed under: Huck, These People Crack Me Up

In my house this morning: a breadcrumb trail of Angry Birds playing cards leading from my bedroom, down the hall, through the kitchen, through the patio room, to the wide-open sliding door.
 
Me: “It’s freezing in here!”
 
Huck: “That’s what the trail is for. To show you what a cold day it is.”

Scaling Wall

January 28, 2016 @ 7:56 pm | Filed under: Huck, Poetry

Something there is that does love a wall,
That sends the gangly boy-limbs clambering up
And bids the mother not to fuss or call
Out words of caution, not to spoil the bliss
Of racing, arms outspread, along the bricks,
Along the road that crests the world, the whole
Huge world six cinder blocks and seven leagues
Below. The boy is king, is wind, and she
Must hush: just study shrubs in neighbors’ yards,
Imagine herself a Seventies mom, unfazed
By threats to skull, spine, ulna, femur.
He shouts, he leaps; the earth (a mother too)
Shivers, lets loose the cord of gravity
This once, just once, and also on the next
Block, the next wall, each ridge that lures
Him skyward all the long way home.

***

This week’s Poetry Friday roundup can be found at Reading to the Core.

Downton Abbey Season 6, Episode 3

January 19, 2016 @ 9:41 pm | Filed under: Books

Downton Abbey Season 6 Episode 3

Well, I didn’t think I was going to have time to do Downton recaps this season—I mean, I don’t have time; it’s crazy how much I don’t have time for it. But I watched episode 3 on the treadmill this evening and doggone it, I miss talking about it with you guys. I thought I’d see if I could knock out a quick comment on each major plotline—no frills, no photos, no direct quotes, because that’s what turns a recap into a nine-hour endeavor. (No exaggeration.) Sound all right?

Spoilers below, obviously. :)

DON’T DREWE IT

Let’s see, where to begin. I’ll focus mainly on this week’s episode (argh, here I go already), but we’ve got to chat about the whole Drewe of Yew Tree Farm situation. Or maybe we don’t. I’m too irritated by that whole hamhanded series of events. My heart breaks to think of the family leaving the farm they and their forefathers have nurtured “since before Waterloo.” The wrenching resolution of that storyline illustrates one of the dominant themes of this season: the question of agency. Who has it, and who doesn’t. The difference between doing what you want to do and what you must—and what kind of must it is. Duty? Desperation? Social roles? Lack of options? Sometimes the “want” and the “must” overlap, but not often, so far this season.

Mrs. Drewe wants Marigold back (wants not to have had to give her up at all), but she has no agency, no say in the matter. Mr. Drewe wants conflicting things: to keep his farm; to keep his promises; to protect his wife’s mental health; to take care of his family. The farm, which is part of his being at the cellular level, is the thing that must be sacrificed. He started this chain of events in motion by agreeing to raise Marigold, and then by giving her back to Edith, and he’s doing what he sees as his duty by handing in the lease and relocating his family, to remove Mrs. Drewe from Marigold’s vicinity. And…as a plotline, I think this stinks. It’s one of those places where I’m just yelling at Julian Fellowes: “Write it differently! Come on!”

SAD-EYED MR. MASON 

Also out on his ear. Zero agency. New estate owner, new plans, old story. Of course it all seemed too coincidental last week—dear old Mr. Mason is going to need a new farm, and why look, there just happens to be a vacancy at Yew Tree. I made the same leap Daisy did, and this week I’m scratching my head, wondering why Cora hinted about “an idea” (strongly suggesting she was picturing Mr. Mason being able to take over for the Drewes) but is now being so cagey about it. Daisy, positively quivering with agency, is determined to maneuver her father-in-law into that gap whether Cora likes it or not. This is a pretty interesting turn of events, actually—Cora being all “oh, I don’t know, I wouldn’t get your hopes up” about it and Daisy just barreling ahead and announcing it to the world like it’s a done deal. “I want to get things settled,” she insists, when Molesley chides her for counting her chickens before they’re hatched. Daisy’s ready to start cracking open some shells. Her impetuous efforts to help Mr. Mason at the neighbor’s auction in Ep. 1 backfired rather badly, but it is to be hoped she’s more successful this time. I mean, that perfectly nice farm is wide open now, SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM, CORA? And how come this hasn’t occurred to anyone else? Robert makes such a convincing worry face but I’m not sure he’s had an original thought in a decade.

THOMAS, ODD MAN OUT

Second most infuriating storyline. Robert and Carson have accepted that a staff reduction is inevitable, but why fire someone when you can freeze him out? Thomas is openly, deliberately made to feel redundant at every turn. Carson seems to despise him. Honestly, this business seems out of character for Carson. He’s usually more direct. If you’re going to sack him, sack him already.

So Thomas goes on another job interview and I have to say, there was a moment in this scene that choked me up. The vast, empty house; the lonely old man. For a moment I thought Thomas was going to find a congenial and fulfilling position here: the chance to be important to someone, to be needed and useful. But the scene turned. The house is a tomb. Sir Michael is a ghost. Thomas, despite a dearth of other options, walks away from the opportunity. He won’t be the guy holding the tattered coattails of the 19th century as it staggers into the sunset, thirty years late. Nor is he eager to shift from being an under-utilized under-butler to the jack of all trades, master of none (no staff, that is) that is what Sir Michael’s servant will have to be.

What will become of him? I find I’m more interested in learning his fate than almost anyone else’s—with, I think, one exception. Another underdog, of course. But we’re coming to her.

THE HOSPITAL BUSINESS

War! Bloodshed! Venom! Hats with feathers perched at indignant angles! For three episodes, we’ve watched Violet and Isobel duke it out over the question of the Great Hospital Takeover. Good for the village, or bad for the village? Here again, of course, we’re grappling with the question of progress: is change a force for good, or for destruction? Everyone has an opinion except Robert, who isn’t allowed more than two opinions a season and he’s already spent one on the matter of where Carson and Hughes should have their wedding reception. (He was wrong, of course.) I expect he needs to save his other Season Six opinion for naming a new dog. Surely he’ll have a new dog to name soon, no?

But back to the hospital. Poor Violet, losing her allies one by one. Now even Dr. Clarkson is wavering. Isobel was pretty hard on him this week, and now he’s rethinking his position. Maybe a merger isn’t a terrible fate for the village. It’s interesting that in none of these barbed conversations has the subject of Sybil’s fate come up—how if the family had listened to Clarkson instead of the Important City Doctors, she might still be alive. I would have expected Cora to be more suspicious of the Royal Yorkshire.

One thing is certain: Cora has elbowed her way into this fight (as I certainly hoped she would), and Violet’s not going to forget that in a hurry.

ROBERT HAS INDIGESTION

This got ten seconds of screen time and had me convinced a heart attack was imminent and would either delay the wedding or interrupt it. But no, he just needed to burp. Carry on.

SPRATT AND MRS. BUSYBODY

Mrs. Denker is gleeful to have some dirt on Spratt—his no-good nephew escaped from prison and Spratt helped him on his way. She covers for him when the constable makes inquiries, and Spratt knows it’ll cost him, sooner or later.

MARY, MARY…

…didn’t have much to do this week. Except make faces about Edith and be dressed down by her mother over the wedding plans, which I enjoyed. Cora calls her out for “bullying” Carson and Mrs. Hughes into having the reception in the Great Hall. Mary can’t fathom a situation in which her opinion isn’t the correct one (she’s more like her grandmother all the time) and is baffled—and a little insulted—by the suggestion that she might not understand all the nuances of a situation.

Then she completely misguesses the way her mother will feel about having Anna and Mrs. Patmore rummage through Cora’s closet in search of an evening coat for the bride-to-be. Cora, bursting in upon the unexpected trio in her bedroom, behaves very badly indeed, addressing them coldly and severely. I’m glad she had the face to apologize later.

ALL ABOUT EDITH

This is who I really want to talk about. I can never resist a good “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” I cheered when she sacked the heinous editor; I crossed my fingers when she agreed to have a drink with Bertie; and I positively beamed when they hustled all night to put the magazine together. Come on, Edith. Unlike so many of the people around you, you have opportunity. You have options. You have a magazine, for Pete’s sake. And a flat in London! You’re a Muriel Spark character waiting to happen and I for one can’t wait.

CHARLES AND ELSIE CARSON

They did it. Whew. I really wasn’t sure it was going to be allowed to happen.

ENTER DOROTHY

Tom! I have nothing snarky to say. His return brings me one hundred percent delight, even his hokey ripped-from-the-Wizard-of-Oz line about having to go all the way to Boston to learn that Downton was his home.

Oooh, but does this mean Mary will have to share estate-running duties again? Or will Tom find something else to do?

As always, there’s so much more I could say. But I’m already late for the next thing. Chat away, my lovelies. Let’s pick it apart!

early 20th century historical fiction reading list

January 4, 2016 @ 8:52 pm | Filed under: Betsy-Tacy, Books, Fun Learning Stuff, History, Homeschooling

Thought I’d share a few of the books I’ve tossed/will be tossing Beanie’s way during our 20th Century History studies…

Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart LovelaceRilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace. Betsy’s family, ever supportive of her writerly dreams, sends her on a trip to Europe in 1913. Venice, Germany, England. She’s in London when the Great War begins.

Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery. Always and forever one of my favorite books. Life on P.E.I. during WWI, with beloved brothers…and Ken Ford…away at the front.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth CareyA Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. When you hit the Roaring 20s, you gotta read Cheaper by the Dozen. That’s practically a Law of Homeschooling.

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller. This was one of my favorite reads during the CYBILs 2014 judging: the story of an English girl who gets involuntarily (at first) swept up in the fight for women’s suffrage.

 

Lost by Jacqueline DaviesLost by Jacqueline Davies. Wrenching story (how could it not be?) about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

jan 1: jane eyre prep

January 1, 2016 @ 8:24 pm | Filed under: Books, Homeschooling

image source: wikimedia commons

Charlotte Brontë. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

I’m teaching Jane Eyre to my lit class girls this month and therefore spent a good bit of last week prepping—a most delightful occupation. Here’s what was on my list of things to do:

• Reread the book (rererereread, more like)

• Compare movie/TV versions:
Masterpiece Theater miniseries, 2006 (Ruth Wilson, Toby Stephens)
1996 (Charlotte Gainsbourgh, William Hurt)
2011 (Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender)

Cathy David lecture (SO GOOD)

• Teaching Company “The English Novel” course, Lecture 11, “Novelists of the 1840s—The Brontës” (Audible.com version)

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (not really for the class, just because all of the above put me in the mood)

2015: Year of Paper

December 31, 2015 @ 10:27 pm | Filed under: Art, Assorted and Sundry, Handwriting, Paper & Desk

sketchbook page inspired by 20 Ways to Draw a Cat

It started, I think, with my commitment to a daily sketching habit in the fall of 2014. By last January, the habit was firmly established, and I only missed a handful of days all year. January is also when I started taking “kourses” at Sketchbook Skool—which exposed me to not just the lessons and work of accomplished artists, but also to their media of choice. Which is to say: they have firm opinions about pens, making them my kind of people.

Putting pen to paper in my sketchbook reminded me how much I love that feeling. Now, I have never enjoyed doing large amounts of handwriting—I can’t write my books longhand, for example. My wrist aches after a couple of pages. But I love penmanship: other people’s, mainly. My handwriting is changeable and seldom neat. I never managed to commit to one way of shaping letters, so I wind up with different kinds of I and r and k all in one line. Last night I was numbering pages in a new bullet journal and realized that some of my 4s were the pointy kind and some were not. Happens all the time. I like change, y’all.

varsity

Anyway—I can’t write volumes by hand all at once, but I adore the feeling of a good pen on the right kind of paper. Experimenting with various pens (Pigma Micron, Le Pen, Pilot Metropolitan, Lamy Joy with 1.1 nib) reminded me how much I love analogue notetaking. So while I still find apps like Workflowy useful for tracking particular kinds of tasks, in the past few months I have shifted almost entirely to written notekeeping.

Notes on paper

Bullet journaling works very well for me. I’ve always kept a notebook as an idea and memory catch-all: phone call records, tasks completed, shopping lists, story ideas, doodles—it all winds up in the notebook in a giant jumble. Adding a bullet-journal-style index and page numbers was a revelation: now I can have my hodgepodge but find things later. Perfect.

cahiers

For the first part of this year I used kraft-brown Moleskine Cahiers. They’re just the right size for tucking in my bag, they’re sturdy enough to handle the beating I give them, and they fill up in a month or two which means the continual fresh start I love. Then, in August, a glorious friend surprised me with a Midori Traveler’s Notebook. It was love at first sniff. I mean, I. JUST. ADORE. THIS. THING.

Midori TN and Wild Simplicity Daybook

A traveler’s notebook, if you don’t know, involves a cover (usually leather, sometimes cloth or vinyl) that has a sturdy elastic cord or two strung through the spine. You slip a paper notebook under the cord to hold it in place. Then you can use additional bands to hold other inserts—various types of notebooks, folders, calendars, even plastic credit-card sleeves or zipper pouches.

My Midori set-up

After playing with my Midori for a month or two, I settled into the configuration that works best for me: a weekly calendar insert, a grid notebook, and a kraft folder that holds stickers, postage stamps, notepaper, and such. I keep a monthly calendar, too, but I don’t need to carry the whole year around with me so I have begun photocopying (and shrinking a bit) the current month and clipping that to my weekly page.

Bullet journal

The blank grid insert is my bullet journal/idea repository/casual sketchbook, replacing the Moleskine Cahier. I number the pages and use the first page as an index, just as before. I like big fat checkboxes for my task lists, which I fill in with Prismacolor pencil as tasks are completed. Color is my happy place. :) I also like to paste in ephemera and sometimes embellish with stamps, doodles, or washi tape. Basically, these inserts become collages of all the things that occupy my days and my mind. I seem to do a fair amount of sketching in them, too, even though I have an actual sketchbook for that purpose—I work in the real sketchbook daily but the TN grid insert is a low-pressure place to experiment, and I always have it with me.

Thanks to Lesley Austin’s beautiful Wild Simplicity Daybook designs, I discovered that a week-on-two-pages spread is an excellent space for me to do some chronicling. I’ve posted before about how I use the Daybook for recording homeschooling and housekeeping notes. I really like having a separate space (and such a beautiful one) for those things. I wear so many hats, and I need ways to keep my roles sorted. The Daybook (visible under my Midori in a photo above), like all of Lesley’s paper goods, conveys a sense of peace and serenity, and so it has become a really nourishing space for me to jot down my notes about what the kids read, did, said. I always feel so happy when I open that book.

Taking a cue from that experience, I decided to try the Midori week-on-two-pages for my TN. The version I selected (Refill #19) has the week in seven horizontal boxes on the left page, and a grid page for notes on the right. I use Google Calendar for our family appointments and schedules, so a couple of times a week I open G-Cal and add any new appointments to the Midori insert. At the end of each day, I create an entry on the weekly calendar page, filling it with notes about what happened that day. It isn’t a to-do list, it’s more like a diary. Not what needs to be done (that’s what the bullet journal is for), but what I actually did. The facing page fills up with quotes, ephemera, drawings, and notes on things I’ve read or watched.

weekly spread

Since these pages serve as a kind of journal, I like to decorate them with washi, drawings, and watercolors. I wind up doing the ornamenting mostly on weekends. Often, I’ll start the week with two or three colors of washi in front of me, and that will set the tone for my week. This daily decorating is relaxing, it takes only moments, and I enjoy paging back through previous weeks.

So those are the two main TN inserts I carry around: the weekly calendar for journaling (more or less), and the grid notebook (Refill #2) for everything else. Those two inserts plus the kraft folder (Refill #20) make the Midori as fat as I like it to get. I could easily come up with uses for half a dozen more inserts (the TN’s capacity for letting you compartmentalize is its genius), but I found that I really prefer a non-chunky Midori.

However! I did decide to devote a single insert to all medical and health-insurance-related notes, and this has been one of my best moves ever. Instead of having those notes intermingled with everything else, they live in their own space now, with a list of phone numbers on the first page. I can tuck THAT insert into the Midori when we’re heading to an appointment. It’s perfect.

NEED MOAR PAPER

All this notebooking served to increase the satisfaction I was finding in putting pen to paper. And I found I was thinking about handwriting a lot. My little goddaughter sent me a thank-you note, and her mother’s handwriting on the envelope—the gorgeous, familiar handwriting that graced pages and pages of letters in the years after college when Krissy and I wrote to each other constantly—gave me a little jolt of joy and nostalgia. I hadn’t seen her writing in a while, and I missed it. I told her (via text, naturally) how happy I’d been to see her writing, and she said the same thing had happened to her when she saw my writing on the package I’d sent her daughter.

Shortly after that, I read that Atlantic article that was making the rounds about how the ballpoint pen killed cursive. Fascinating stuff, but the bit that grabbed me was this: “In his history of handwriting, The Missing Ink, the author Philip Hensher recalls the moment he realized that he had no idea what his good friend’s handwriting looked like. ‘It never struck me as strange before… We could have gone on like this forever, hardly noticing that we had no need of handwriting anymore.'”

Downton notes

He had no idea what his good friend’s handwriting looked like. I miss handwriting, I thought. The distinct and beloved scripts of my old friends flashed before my eyes. I’d know those hands anywhere, could pick them out of any penmanship lineup. My kids probably won’t experience that. Jane has friends on the other side of the country she talks to via electronic means every single day, but they probably don’t know each other’s handwriting. I have plenty of friends myself whose writing I’ve never seen. If we met after 1995, chances are I’ve seen your handwriting seldom or never. (Tanita! What’s your writing like?)

Channeling my inner Jane Austen

The handwriting epiphany spurred me to the next phase of my analogue journey: I started writing letters again. Like, by hand. I have penpals in Denmark, France, Austria, and England, as well as various friends across the U.S.

snail mail

I’m amused and a little baffled that for so many years I thought of letters owing replies as a kind of guilt-ridden chore—I always took forever to answer, always had them nagging in the back of my mind. Because the truth is: snail mail is the cheapest fun around. Sure, they’re slower to write than email; slower to arrive than a Facebook message. But that’s part of the charm: the slowing down, the taking time. Just as many of us have (re)discovered the joys of slow reading in the past couple of years, I have found satisfaction in…what to call it? Not slow writing, really, because part of the point is that instead of waiting months or even (gulp) years to answer a letter, I now try to reply within three weeks; I guess what I’m enjoying isn’t about speed (or lack of it) after all. It’s about a tactile experience. The skritch of a fountain pen on flecked paper. The careful selection of stamps. The smoothing-out of a bit of washi tape across a seal. The rustle of envelopes as they slide into the box, slumbering before their journey to places I’ll never go.

mail from denmark

And best of all: the incoming letters. Foreign stamps, unfamiliar scripts, universal experiences. Beautifully decorated, many of them—it’s like getting mail from Griffin and Sabine. This one written at a café in Vienna; that one at a Starbucks in Portland. Kaleidoscopic glimpses of a life gradually resolving into a picture. We talk about things we could easily tell via email, but we’ve decided to let these stories take the scenic route. Some of them never arrive, or show up months later, ragged and stained. This only makes us love them more.

I’m writing to say I’ll write soon

A piece of the experience that affords me much merriment is the impulse, whenever a letter arrives, to hurry to Facebook and ping the friend who sent it. “Got your letter! Will reply soon,” I’ll write, and “Yay, can’t wait!” she’ll ping back. Never mind that the letter asks questions which could be more immediately answered via any of a dozen digital platforms. The answers will keep. Come Saturday afternoon, I’ll settle in with my cocoa, my envelopes, my wonderful new pink Lamy Safari that I got for my birthday. Which paper—the whimsical or the lovely? The fern stamps, or the Ingrid Bergmans? I’m almost out of globals, and the post office won’t have the new ones for a while. But have you seen them, the moons? I’m already imagining them on dark blue envelopes…

Our digital and analogue worlds will forever be intertwined, I believe. We’ll snap photos of our beautiful incoming mail to share on Instagram, hashtagged so our kindred spirits can find and enjoy it. We’ll trade addresses on Facebook. We’ll email to find out if that letter ever arrived. We’ll scour Etsy for traveler’s notebook inserts and stock up on ink at Goulet Pens. We’ll sign up for swaps on websites, and then anxiously check tracking to see when packages might arrive. We’ll reblog Tumblr articles about clever ways to hack a bullet journal. We’ll watch Youtube videos about how to set up a Midori and we’ll tap the heart button a zillion times during an unboxing on Periscope. We’ll link to photos of new USPS stamp releases in our blog posts. 😉

new years eve desk

My blog, though, is perhaps the thing that suffered this past year as my attention shifted to paper and ink. I found that when I had a few quiet moments, I was more apt to want to spend them sketching or writing a letter than blogging. After ten years of a steady blog habit, that was a bit of a surprise. In January, this blog will be eleven years old. I’ve successfully figured out how to integrate my analogue and digital calendar-keeping and task-tracking, but it did take a little while for the pieces to settle into place. I expect the same will happen with blogging.

Happy New Year, friends!

Overheard

December 24, 2015 @ 7:00 pm | Filed under: Family, These People Crack Me Up

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

Huck: “I’m silent-beatboxing.”

Early warning system

December 24, 2015 @ 8:38 am | Filed under: These People Crack Me Up

Huck: “Mommy, be prepared for me to shout, ‘It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas, woohoo!’ tomorrow morning. It will probably startle you.”

I guess she has a future in catalog copy?

December 22, 2015 @ 4:12 pm | Filed under: Family, These People Crack Me Up

Rilla, standing in front of the coat closet: “I’m looking for Jane’s old coat with flowers on it.”

My mother, pulling out the flowered coat directly in front of Rilla’s face: “You mean this one?”

Rilla: “No, Mom said it was an aqua background. That’s seafoam.”