March 22, 2017 @ 3:20 pm | Filed under: Books, Homeschooling
This is going to be terrible, so start with something easy. Let’s say: board games. Collect all the boxes from the playroom shelf and put them in the middle of the floor. Go through each box. Have an old Tupperware container handy; you’ll need something to hold the stray buttons and loose change you’re going to find rattling around each box. (Don’t worry that the Tupperware is missing its lid. You’ll get to Tupperware lids in Step 13, That Box of Miscellany in the Garage.)
Collectively, your board game boxes will contain seventeen dice, forty Pictionary drawings, six Mousetrap pieces, eleven paper squares from Caves and Claws, some D&D minifigures, and 1 1/2 actual game boards. Add the minifigures, dice, and Caves and Claws squares to your Tupperware container. Throw everything else away. I know, I know, the rest of Caves & Claws is long gone and saving random game pieces is pointless, but you’re just getting started here and your heart hasn’t hardened yet. Give it time.
Next up: art supplies. This step will be easier than you think, as long as you steadfastly refuse to let your brain access budget records.
Paint in tubes and bottles: If item was first opened more than six months ago, toss it.
Brushes: If they came from a Crayola or RoseArt paint set, toss them. If your toddler dipped them in glue, face the fact that you are never going to get around to soaking it out. Toss them. All other brushes go in an empty mason jar. Place this jar on a centrally located shelf. Consider artfully leaning your old tin of beeswax crayons behind it. This display will afford you feelings of satisfaction. You will need to summon those feelings in moments of despair as you work your way through subsequent steps.
Crayons: Gather all loose, blunted, and broken crayons from around the house. Place them in a clean five-gallon ice-cream tub. (You’ll find two of those under the kitchen sink and four more stacked on the dryer.) Dig your hand into this glorious collection of crayons. Bring up a fistful and gaze upon them, recalling to mind all the times you resolved to melt them into wonderful homemade crayon balls, blocks, and tapers. As you gaze, ask yourself the one crucial question: Does this spark guilt? Of course it does. Throw them all away. Ignore any lingering pangs of regret. Ten minutes from now you’ll remember it’s your turn to bring a snack to your child’s Little League practice. The ensuing waves of panic will obliterate any memory of the broken crayons.
Delete your Pinterest account.
Glance at your kitchen. Realize people are in there making snacks. This will never not be the case. You will never KonMari your kitchen. Move on.
If, however, you open a cupboard one day and find a refillable plastic cup from the local zoo—it will be giraffe-colored with an accordion-pleated straw—discard it immediately. You are never, never going to remember to take it with you for the 20¢ discount.
Toys. One does not KonMari toys. That way lies madness. You can’t pick up every single toy and ask a question about it. That process would spark many feelings, and none of them would be joy. Anyway, most of the time the question would be “Why is this sticky?”
Here is what you do with toys: gather assorted large cardboard boxes or, if you are one of those fancy types, Rubbermaid storage bins. Dump random armloads of toys in these boxes/bins. Label them Box 1, Box 2, and so on. Allow only one box into the house at a time. Three weeks from now when your children are bored, make them refill Box 1 with all the toys they’ve dumped out in the interim. Swap it out for Box 2. They’ll greet its contents like long-lost friends. Repeat this process, rotating through boxes, at monthly intervals or on the third day of a rainy streak. Store the other boxes in your garage or attic. Your children can deal with sorting and purging these items when they’re grown. I mean, you can’t possibly be expected to remember which My Little Pony is the one that must be kept for all eternity.
Eh, while you’re at it, stick the lidless Tupperware container from Step 1 into one of the toy boxes. There are probably at least three other Caves & Claws pieces in there somewhere.
Look, those nondescript rocks and pebbles are VERY IMPORTANT to someone in your home. If you do not understand what Marie Kondo means when she talks about things “sparking joy,” ask your seven-year-old if these are his rocks and observe the expression on his face. That’s the feeling you’re chasing here.
Clothing. There is no point in attempting to KonMari your children’s drawers and closets. Those places are subject to particular laws of physics which cause any neatly folded or hung matter to expand and accumulate in untidy heaps. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does your child’s sock drawer. Who are you to alter the laws of space and time? Move on.
Craft supplies. (You can distinguish these from art supplies because they exist in a different room of your house and usually involve thread.) Outfit yourself for an archeological dig, because that’s what this stage will be: an expedition through the strata of your previous selves. A dozen fabulous iterations of you will be unearthed as you work your way through the layers. You, the erstwhile quilter. You, the maker of beaded jewelry. You, the needle-felter. You, the handstitcher of faceless cotton dolls. You, the…wait, what’s quilling?
Do not lament the incomplete manifestations of these past selves. Each of them was awesome for at least a week, maybe a whole second trimester. Also, each one of them undoubtedly sparked an enthusiastic blog post which inspired some other woman with more follow-through to actually become accomplished at said pursuit. I mean, that has to count for something, right? Right?
Anyway: here’s what you do with all these craft supplies. You say airily, “Oh, hey, [insert name of nearest child], any interest in [random craft]?” Rotate through children’s names until someone gasps with delight. One of them will, and you’ll look extremely cool for having all the materials on hand already.
You knew it had to come, sooner or later. The homeschooling materials. Brace yourself. This is just a warm-up for your books, which is where the real pain lies.
First, assemble all packaged curricula. If an item is intended for second grade or younger, box it and give it to that sweet-faced young mom at park day, the one with a kindergartener and two babies. She’ll be delighted and will leaf eagerly through the instructor guides, each item sparking joy. As a courtesy, strongly advise her not to use any of it, just as you wound up not using it. She’ll ignore you, and this coming September she’ll suffer through one impossible week in which she tries to “do school.” Then she’ll stuff it all on a shelf and avoid looking at it until her oldest is in college, at which time she’ll repeat this time-honored cycle. This is a necessary stage in the metamorphosis of a homeschooling mother. In inflicting these materials upon her, you’re simply participating in an inevitable, natural process. I mean, really, it’s the same thing as planting milkweed.
Survey your remaining materials. You will be surprised to find that’s it’s all good stuff that your family actually uses. That’s because you successfully emerged from the homeschooling-mother pupal stage about the time your fifth kid was born, and also you were too broke to order anything new.
Have someone sharpen all the stray pencils and put them in a jar next to the paintbrushes. Post a picture of this on Instagram. We’re sparking now!
Who put all these bird feathers in the linen closet??
You’re getting kind of bored with this and anyway, Lent is almost over. You know you have to deal with the books. It’s impossible, but there’s no avoiding it. Marie Kondo says to begin by assembling them all in one place. This is good advice. Gather every single book in the house into one place, preferably the living-room floor. You’ll be bombarded with emotions as you handle each book. Do not, repeat DO NOT, stop to flip through Brambly Hedge or Swallows and Amazons. It is acceptable to sing “Bed in Summer” while adding A Child’s Garden of Verses to the pile.
Complete the process by placing your copy of Home Comforts on the top of the heap. At this juncture, your floor will collapse under the collective weight of your family library, and your entire house will be swallowed into the abyss.
Congratulations! You’re now a minimalist!
Footnote: you’ll notice this guide, and your Kon Mari endeavor, ends before Step 13, the garage. You’re welcome.
March 19, 2017 @ 9:53 am | Filed under: Comics, Thicklebit
March 17, 2017 @ 8:13 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry
Been working my tail off, hoo boy. Poor ole blog went dark again: not enough hours in the day. I have hopes of moving a bunch of things out of drafts this weekend—I’ve piled up so much here in bits and pieces!
Quick notes before I put this computer away for the night. Finished Murder for Her Majesty today—my readaloud with Huck and Rilla for the past month or so. SO good and highly recommended. One of their favorite readaloud novels yet, I do believe. Young Alice, on the run from her father’s murderers, bumps into some amiable choirboys who hide her in their ranks. Elizabethan intrigue with a delightful similarity to Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger (which is what I feel like reading next).
Garden: blooming. Nasturtiums, hyacinth, tree mallow, milkweed, freesia, lavender. Daffodils have been and gone.
Learning notes: Waltzing Matilda (current folk song), Journey North Mystery Class (started quite late—yesterday in fact!—but we’re caught up now and going full throttle), Latin, German.
My first Brave Writer class, Comic Strip Capers, is wrapping up Week 2 and I’m all smiles at the hilarious scripts and clever drawings my students are turning in. I’m having the time of my life with these kids.
Am tuckered out. Night, y’all.
February 21, 2017 @ 8:39 pm | Filed under: Gardening, Nature Study
I lost my voice for a week, and with it my mojo. I’m better now but still tired and feeling (here at the end of the day) low in spirits, probably because I just caught up on the news. I’m not accustomed to this feeling and I don’t wear it well.
The morning was nice, though: warm sun after yet more rain (so much rain! it’s been years since I could say that!), and thyme seedlings feathering up near a volunteer pumpkin sprout. That self-sown arugula I found last month up and bolted on me, and now it’s flowering: starry white flowers, petals veined like insect wings, tangled with the yellow marguerites. I’m not complaining. I’m not sure I’ve ever grown a leafy edible that didn’t bolt. Some years back, I realized my favorite flowers of that summer were my gone-to-seed cilantro. The leaves had turned bitter but oh how lovely those small lacy blossoms all along the back fence. Maybe now that we’ve had some rain, I’ll plant a packet of cilantro seeds and let most of it run away with itself.
I was revisiting a favorite gardening book recently, Eleanor Perenyi’s Green Thoughts. For some reason I had it in my head that she was a garden writer (among whose number are some of my lifetime favorite writers, like Elizabeth Lawrence and Katharine S. White). But a rabbit trail enlightened me: Perenyi was actually a novelist and memoirist. Green Thoughts was her only garden book!
Her obituary in the New York Times describes her as a “writer and deliciously opinionated amateur gardener,” which struck me as an epitaph worth having. Why, I’m a writer and an opinionated amateur gardener, I thought. Whether or not those opinions are delicious must be determined by each reader, I suppose. But the description made me laugh and I experienced one of those little mental kaleidoscope twists after which new patterns reveal themselves to you. Until now I’ve more or less rolled my eyes at my own gardening idiosyncracies: I seldom do anything by the book. I grow things in odd places and wrong seasons. I ignore what I ought to tend, and I fuss over what wants to be left alone. I’ve got lettuce and herbs and flowers all growing in the same big pot, because it sits on the front steps and I know I’m most likely to notice it wants watering, after this burst of weather is past and the baking days return.
It’s funny that while I have no qualms whatsoever about tweaking and adapting some educational resource to suit my own preferences, when I make the same kind of tweaks to proper garden methods I do so with a measure of chagrin, an internal acknowledgement that I’m ‘doing it all wrong but oh well.’ It’s possible, now I think of it, this inner critic (it isn’t a loud one) is the voice of our neighbor back in Virginia, who was positively tormented by my unconventional approach. He’d see me on our sloping lot across the street from his house, painstakingly grubbing out weeds that were absolutely going to rebound with vigor the following week, and he’d holler “helpful” recommendations of Round-Up across the road. “Can’t!” I’d yell back. “It’ll kill the milkweed!” That I planted milkweed on purpose made him sputter. We drove each other crazy, Tom and I, but only during the summer. I planted forsythia, redbuds, and dogwoods at the top of that slope, which means he had me to thank for his lovely spring view. Not to mention the enormous throng of monarch butterflies that mobbed my asters in the fall.
(That’s a big sprig of chicory behind the asters. I left a huge patch of it wild in our yard, intermingled with Russian thistle. Both are wonderful plants for a butterfly garden, but they aren’t exactly lookers. Not by conventional standards, at least. The chicory was glorious in the mornings, like a sheet of fallen sky, but by noon the flowers had closed up and all you had was a patch of scrub. This is why Tom found me trying as a neighbor. And let’s face it: if there is one place I have never belonged, it’s a neighborhood with a homeowner’s association.)
(Well, that and high school gym class.)
Anyway, I’ve decided that being remembered as a “writer and deliciously opinionated amateur gardener” would be a fine thing.
Speaking of idiosyncratic gardeners, here’s another thing that made me smile this morning. I discovered that Rilla had added a little pot to our container garden under the front window. It’s the yellow pot in the photo below—full of weeds. The grass (which is mostly weeds; see above re: no Round-Up) has turned meadowy with all this rain. Rilla knew I was going to mow soon and (she explained) she was afraid all the “beautiful weeds” would be shorn. So she dug some up and gave them a safe new home.
February 16, 2017 @ 9:45 am | Filed under: Books, Cybils
Did you catch the announcement on Tuesday? Here’s a list of the winners—happy reading!
The YA Fiction winner was Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, which I raved about a few weeks ago.
The judges write:
This harrowing historical novel follows the lives of three young refugees seeking freedom and safety in East Prussia as World War II nears its end: Lithuanian Joana, a nurse burdened by guilt; pregnant, Polish Emilia; and Prussian Florian, a German army deserter carrying a valuable secret. A bumbling, delusional young Nazi soldier, Alfred, also narrates from aboard the doomed ship Wilhelm Gustloff—the eventual destination of the three protagonists and their small band of traveling companions. The ship, packed far beyond capacity with thousands of desperate refugees, is struck by Soviet torpedoes in the icy Baltic Sea. Joana, Emilia, Florian and the others must draw from their nearly tapped-out resilience as they try to survive the greatest maritime disaster in history.
Meticulously researched and brilliantly written, this stunning and devastating story will captivate readers. Sepetys shines a light into the everyday life of the citizens of Nazi Germany and the occupied areas, with many parallels to the modern-day refugee crisis. Each character has secrets that unfold gradually and converge with others in unexpected ways, showing the varied effects of war on the average person. The narrative voices are distinct, well-drawn, and, with the exception of Alfred (a vile coward who fulfills a necessary role), sympathetic. Even secondary characters, such as the Shoe Poet and the young orphan boy, are vivid and compelling. Tightly paced and filled with constant peril and action, the story moves quickly, with the rotating viewpoints and short chapters aiding in the momentum. Though the setting is one of overwhelming tragedy, the growing connections between the courageous travelers render the narrative less bleak. This powerful, haunting, and immensely readable novel has wide appeal. Readers will not soon forget Sepetys’s vivid characters or the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff.
We’ll be making our way through the picture book and other shortlists in the coming months. Always a highlight of my year.
This was my first year as a Category Chair. Quite an experience! I’m so impressed with the smarts and and dedication of my two judging panels. I’m already looking forward to next year. 🙂
February 14, 2017 @ 8:54 am | Filed under: Current Affairs
Pruitt confirmation vote (and others) likely this week. I’ve mentioned that special education, healthcare, and policy related to climate change are the three issues I’m focusing my energy on. Pruitt is a disastrous choice to head the EPA.
Also tops on my call list this week: pushing for bipartisan investigation of Flynn. Chaffetz and Nunes (House Oversight Committee and House Intelligence Committee chairs) both said this morning they don’t intend to investigate the circumstances that led to his resignation, which is just bananas.
Chaffetz: GOP Oversight Chair Says His Committee Won’t Investigate Flynn
Nunes: “Nunes also told reporters that he would not investigate Flynn’s discussions with Trump about his calls with the Russian ambassador.”
Celeste Pewter maintains a useful website and Twitter feed for action items, if you’re having trouble keeping up. (Aren’t we all!)
It’s all a bit surreal, isn’t it? In my home this morning, there’s pink milk and chocolate hearts and big smiles. Outside our door, the world churns.
What Wonderboy saw when his bus went past the house this morning
February 12, 2017 @ 12:22 pm | Filed under: Links
If you read nothing else today, please read the story of Ty Templeton’s scissors. Made me cry!
–Did it rain last night or is that condensation
–Wait, I thought “morning dew” meant poop
–Various spellings and meanings of do/dew/doo
–Ice/water/steam, water vapor, why condensation happens
–Is that guardrail crumpled from a car crashing into it
–Why are they called “action figures” instead of dolls
–Where do you think the monkey will be hidden this time
–Are peanut butter crackers sweets
–Sewing, pros and cons
–What to spend birthday money on: probably K’nex
–That bus is too long to be Steve’s
–Why does Steve ride the bus
–What does “qualifications” mean
–Qualifications for being on American Ninja Warrior
–Really nice job parking, mom
February 7, 2017 @ 8:41 pm | Filed under: Current Affairs
Reposted from Facebook, where I have had a lot to say, in these past weeks, about the DeVos nomination.
My objection to Betsy DeVos’s nomination was about, as I have expressed here so often, her absolute lack of public education experience and her shocking gaps in knowledge. Now that she’s been confirmed, you can bet I’ll be focusing on matters of policy. We have some serious watchdogging to do.
And you know what, I know not everyone here agrees with me on all matters of policy. Of course not. I can respect someone who takes a well-articulated, well-considered position even when I believe the position is dead wrong. But I cannot respect a Secretary of Education who doesn’t know the difference between measuring growth vs proficiency, and appears not to grasp what IDEA is and why a federal law protecting the rights of students with disabilities was necessary in the first place.
(That history is sobering. In 1970, five years before IDEA was passed, only one in five children with disabilities was educated in U.S. schools. Many states actually had laws excluding certain students from school, including students who were blind, deaf, or cognitively disabled. Today my son receives excellent, individualized instruction, adaptive physical education, speech therapy, and audiology/hearing aid services in our neighborhood middle school. The intensive physical therapy he received via Early Intervention (IDEA Part C) from age four months on is almost certainly the reason he can walk today.)
I don’t take IDEA for granted. The past two weeks have shown us how rapidly and dramatically things can change. That’s why I’ll be watching vigilantly. And speaking up, speaking out, marching, calling, mobilizing—whatever it takes.
Betsy DeVos, my eye is on you.