Today is the last meeting of this year’s Poetry Club. The fall session was short, just six weeks (minus one when we all suddenly realized Halloween fell on a Friday). We’ve expanded to three age groups now: littles, middles, and bigs. In the older group, we’ve been looking at some poetic forms and doing close readings. Today we’re going off on a different tack and hunting up poems about food. I challenged the kids to write their own poems about food or Thanksgiving, and that’ll be the best part, seeing what they’ve come up with.
Last week in my littles group, the funniest thing happened. We were looking at animal poems, and I had put out a stack of children’s poetry books for the kids to rummage through. They would find a poem and either read it aloud or have me read it. Usually they wanted me to do the reading. We ended with the selection of one small girl from a lovely collection of nature poems. She had picked a spread that featured the medieval song “Sumer Is Icumen In” with a contemporary translation on the recto. “You read it,” she urged, sliding the book across the floor toward me. I dove in and was well underway when I remembered that one line in the middle—the one that brought my college Medieval Lit class to fits of giggles. The modern translation hewed pretty close to the original.
“Bullock starteth, buck farteth.”
This is a group of six-to-eight-year-olds. You can imagine the hilarity. That’s one poem they’ll never forget.
I really think what I love most about that poem, more even than its exuberance and exultation over the return of lovely weather, is its window on human nature. Seven hundred years later: we still enjoy a good fart joke.
(Cut off on the left: everything’s pink except Maine and Rhode Island.)
I’m a little tortured by that Arkansas gap! On our cross-country trip four (!!) years ago, we just barely missed that state; our route eastward took us through Tulsa and then northeast to Mansfield, MO, to visit Rocky Ridge Farm (naturally). We almost nicked the top corner of Arkansas then, but nope. And on the way back, we took the southern route through AL, LA, TX and so on.
I’ve been back and forth past RI several times too, en route from NYC to Massachusetts. But somehow we never drove through it.
Funny that two more of my missing states (so far I’ve been to 40, which ain’t bad) are major Little House milestones! One of these days I’ll get to DeSmet, SD, and Pepin, WI, for sure.
Beyond the borders of the U.S., I’ve been to four countries: Canada (for a wedding in Toronto, but I really need to hie myself to PEI one of these years, too); Germany; France; and Spain. Germany & France were one summer during high school, when I got to stay with a German family for a couple of months. They took me all over the country, with a week in Montélimar, France (nougat capital of the world) to boot. And Spain was the awesome week in Barcelona with Scott in 2008. A life-changer in some ways, that one.
(Added the shadow color before the cookie was dry, and the yellow bled. Whoops!)
Saturday night, as I’ve mentioned, is one of the best parts of my week. My boys go to bed early these days—7:30, ever since the time change. (Ahhh…) Rose and Beanie watched S.H.I.E.L.D. with Scott. And Rilla and I cozy up on my bed to listening to our current audiobook—right now we’re midway through Matilda, having had such a delightful time with The BFG—and our sketchbooks.
Sometimes we start off with a few short art videos on YouTube for warmups. Lately we’ve had some of our most fun bouts of clip-watching yet, because we have discovered Koosje Koene’sDraw Tip Tuesday. Koosje is a Dutch artist who teaches online art classes at Sketchbook Skool and via her own site. Her clips are clear, fun, and super helpful. Rilla and I are having the best time making our way through all of them. I’m learning a lot!
I’ll share only a few here. It was hard to choose which ones! You can click through to see the whole series. We have subscribed to Koosje’s Youtube channel so we won’t miss anything.
I’ve been unusually (for me) quiet here lately. Partly it’s due to some unexpected work keeping me out of the house a lot more than usual. But also I’ve just been taking some breathing-in time. Reading, thinking, sketching, a bit (a very little bit) of painting. Reading, hoo boy, my Cybils pile means a whole lot of breathing in…I have so many books I want to tell you about! I’m hoping next week sees a return to a more usual blogging schedule for me.
But (gasp) here it is practically mid-November already, and the kids are practicing for the Christmas recital, and I’ve booked Jane’s train tickets for Thanksgiving (hoorah!), and my editor plans to send notes on my manuscript before the holiday, and—well, I guess it’s a good thing I took a little time to be pensive because there will be precious little time for that during the next two months, eh?
Pumpkins have overrun our front yard. Last year’s decorative pumpkins decomposed quietly under a bush all year; at first we meant to throw them out but then it became so interesting to watch how much more quickly the one mostly in the sun deteriorated than the one completely in the shade. Eventually the heat desiccated them both and the brittle, papery sides split open and exposed the seeds to that one little bit of rain we had. Voila, sprouts galore. Now little green globes that promise to be autumnally orange right around, oh, I’d say Christmas. Right on track for the topsy-turvy seasons of this crazy place.
Glorious right now: my zinnias, which I don’t remember planting. They came up intermingled with the sunflowers, so perhaps someone spilled a seed packet back in June. I did have a lot of helpers that day. Garden surprises are the very nicest kind.
(One of the only kind of surprises I like, come to think of it.)
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Such a good point. It’s because you can recognize what good art (writing, music, etc) is that you know yours isn’t good…yet. And so the daily habit becomes almost an imperative, if you want to improve. My writing is best when I’m writing every day. If I keep up the sketchbook habit for eight or nine years, I just might be able to draw the way I want to.
It’s been a while since I did a big fat Rillabooks post. The books are piling up! Literally and figuratively. When I want to blog about a book, I leave it out after we’ve read it. This means:
1) There are stacks of books on every flat surface of this house; and
2) We keep reading those books over and over, because they’re out where we can see them.
Which is fine, because I wouldn’t have had the urge to blog about the book in the first place if it weren’t in some way delightful.
Another thing that’s happening a lot lately is that Huck collects favorite picture books to read in his bed at night. I could probably skip writing about them and just post a picture of his headboard every morning. No stronger recommendation for a children’s book than being made part of a five-year-old’s hoard, is there?
But here, I’ll do a proper post. Kortney, consider this my thank-you note for that lovely write-up the other day.
Mix It Up by Hervé Tullet. Here’s a book that beckons a child in and invites him to touch and “mix” blobs of color on the page. Drag some red into the yellow blob, and when you turn the page, naturally you’ve got orange. What interested me is how completely Huck entered into the conceit, touching and swirling those painted spots on the page just as if he were playing an iPad game. “Like this?”—tentatively at first, touching the dot as instructed, and then turning the page and crowing in glee at the change. He engaged just as thoroughly as if it were an app, red + yellow magically turning to orange under his finger. This thrills me, I have to say—the willingness to enter into a game of make-believe with a book when so much in his world trains him to expect animations for every cause-and-effect. The book is full of fun, with dots of color skittering across the page as if alive. Gorgeously designed, too: big bold colors against clean white space. We also enjoyed Tullet’s Press Here which similarly invites interaction. At five, Huck seems to be exactly the right age for these books. We’ve read Mix It Up together several times but most often he carts it away to his bed to enjoy solo.
(You’ll want your watercolors handy after you read this book. Or do as we did and whip up a quick batch of play dough: 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup salt, 1 cup water [add slowly; you may not need all of it]. Knead until it isn’t sticky. I go sparingly on the water and leave a lot of loose flour in the mixing bowl for the kids to rub their hands in before I start handing out lumps of dough. Then, for each lump, a drop of food coloring. They love working it in, watching it marble its way through the blank dough. After the colors are well mixed, I like to add a tiny drop of lavender or cinnamon oil, or a bit of vanilla extract. The smells make them so happy! “I’m probably going to play with this for one or three hours,” Huck informed me when I got him set up the other day—after I’d remembered such a cheap and easy cure for listlessness existed in the world. Why do I forget about this for months at a time? A batch will last in the fridge for about a week. Rilla can measure and mix it by herself. Very handy when, say, an older sister is wrangling with Algebra 2 and needs mom’s attention for a while.)
Borreguita and the Coyote by Verna Aardema, illustrations by Petra Mathers—over and over and over again! Beloved by Rilla too (and all her older siblings before her). Utterly satisfying rendition of a Mexican folk tale in which a clever little sheep outwits, repeatedly, with comic effect, a coyote intent on eating her for dinner. Might I recommend reading this one while lying down so that all of you can stick your legs in the air when you get to the part about Borreguita “holding up” the mountain.
Creepy Castle by John S. Goodall. Out of print but if you can track one down you’re in luck. All six of my kids have loved this book to pieces. No! Not to pieces, fortunately! It’s got flaps inside, each spread flipping to become a new picture. An almost wordless book, which means the kids and I get to narrate the adventure as the two hero mice make their way through a seemingly deserted castle. There’s a sinister fellow hiding in the bushes; he locks them in a scary room with a dragon guarding the stairs, but they climb out the window and splash into the moat. My littles especially like the moment when the villain gets his comeuppance at the end. I can’t count how many dozens of times I have read this little book. They never seem to get tired of it.
Another book back in circulation these days is Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime. (Sniffle: two-year-old Huck in that post.)
Meanwhile, I’m making my way through the leeeeennnngggggthy list of Cybils YA nominees and will have some to recommend in a post coming soonish.
I’m up early, hanging with the three youngest. Huck’s tummy is a bit off today. He climbed into bed with us before dawn and slept snuggled against me in a way that hardly ever happens anymore; he’s getting so big and busy. He was restless, and after a while I reached for my phone and read mail with his arm flung half across my face. It’s not that I ever want my kids to be sick—honestly, I’ve dealt with enough childhood illness for three lifetimes—but there’s something very sweet in the moment, when you’re cuddled up with a heavy-limbed child who just wants to curl into you as close as possible. My baby will be six in a few months (the mind boggles) and these moments don’t happen very often anymore. I enjoyed this one, while it lasted. Then suddenly he clapped a hand over his mouth, ran to the bathroom, and threw up into the tub.
I’m just impressed that he made it that far.
He’s getting the Gatorade treatment now, watching cartoons. (A few sips of Gatorade every ten minutes for an hour, a trick gleaned from the Dr. Sears Baby Book* a million years ago.) I brought my laptop out to the couch to be near him and am trying not to listen to the squeakings of Curious George. At least it’s not Caillou.
*ETA: Scott has chimed in to say he thinks it was The Portable Pediatrician, not Dr. Sears. We gave ‘em both away ages ago, so I can’t check. I’m sure he’s right—he’s been the one handling the timing of this absolutely tried-and-true method for, yikes, almost 20 years now.
I’m still getting requests for those notes I promised to share from my habits talk way back in August (gulp). I’ve realized I’ll have to post them in notes fashion, for sure, because writing up the talk essay-style makes it all seem too formal, too authoritative. The idea of coming across as authoritative about parenting gives me the willies—it’s far too subjective and individual an endeavor for me to ever feel comfortable making pronouncements about the ‘right’ or ‘best’ way to do things. All I can do is say ‘here’s what’s worked great for us’—after the fact, you know, speaking from personal experience, same as I do with homeschooling. There’s a reason my whole Tidal Homeschooling thing is a description, not a method.
So maybe I can just take my habits-and-behavior talk notes and spit them out just like that, as notes, not, you know, entire sentences. Sentences are hard. They need verbs. I’m okay with past-tense verbs (did, tried, practiced, worked, laughed)—it’s the imperative ones that spook me, the kind with the implied “you.”
For my memories file: Several times over the past couple of weeks, after the boys were in bed, while Scott watched S.H.I.E.L.D. or a movie with Bean and Rose, Rilla and I sat on my bed with our art journals and listened to The BFG on audiobook. Colored pencils and markers all over the quilt. (Imprudent but comfy.) Natasha Richardson doing a bang-up job with the voices.
There you go, a bit of parenting advice I can pronounce in the imperative: Do that. It was delightful and you should totally try it.