december 3: blog challenge

December 3, 2018 @ 8:32 pm | Filed under:

Guess I’ve returned just in time, because my friend Chris O’Donnell tagged me in a 31-day blogging challenge. Several of my favorite homeschooling bloggers from the olden days (circa 2005) are participating. I don’t know that I’ll be able to manage a post every day for December—that’s pressure, and I’m doing my best to give myself a break—but it’s fun to see a burst of activity on blogs I’ve been missing for ages.

I’ve been making a list of things to write about. But it’s like the scene in Overboard:

“Captain Karl, we never talk.”
“No, ma’am.”
“Well, there’s no time now!”

Huck is waiting for me to come tuck him in, so I won’t linger here. But one of the post ideas I jotted down was a peek at what he’s been reading lately. Some good stuff! And I need to catch up my own book log as well. My sidebar is months out of date!

How about you? Whatcha reading right now?

 

december 2: feederwatching

December 2, 2018 @ 2:48 pm | Filed under: ,

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago; most of those glorious leaves have fallen now and the sky is hung upon the bare arms of the trees. Light glows from behind the clouds. I hadn’t realized how much I missed clouds, all those years under the clear blue Southern California sky. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the sky is painted by Maxfield Parrish, shot through with light. Even when it’s overcast and gray, there’s a glow behind the veil.

I made a list yesterday of things to write about. I’ve tucked so many stories in drafts this past year! But everything on my list feels like work. And I’m trying really hard not to work today.

So I’ll talk about Project Feederwatch instead. 🙂 Are any of you participating this year? We missed it last year. And our San Diego feeder attracted rats, so we abandoned it. But here, the birds are putting on quite a show. Our count days are Monday and Tuesday. Last week we counted 25 goldfinches, a flock of bush tits (we lost count at 25 but I think there were more), a handful of house finches and juncos, a female Northern Flicker who visits the suet feeder every morning, a downy woodpecker, two chickadees, two scrub jays, and some starlings. A highly satisfying count. The best view of the feeders is from my studio window, and it amuses me no end to come in here and find the chairs pulled out for better viewing. Huck and Rilla spend a lot of time in here, watching the show.

If you’re interested in taking part in the project, it’s not to late to join for this season. It takes a few weeks for the packet to arrive, but you can download a data sheet to tide you over. Once you get your registration packet in the mail, you begin entering your bird counts online. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology uses this data to “track long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.” I think it’s open to U.S. residents only (and costs $18 to participate), but there’s a Canadian version linked on the site.

I fill our two tube feeders with sunflower seeds. One suet feeder holds a peanutty cake, and the other is a suet-and-insect cake that the woodpeckers seem crazy about. We scatter a bit of millet on the ground for the juncos, and they clean up any sunflower seeds spilled by the squabbling goldfinches. We also have a mesh sock full of nyjer thistle for the finches. But my favorite is when they descend upon the big pot of cosmos and pick out the seeds from the flower centers.

I keep watching for the varied thrushes who began visiting our yard last winter. No luck yet but I’m hopeful!

I would love to hear about the birds that visit your yard, feeders or no!

december 1: new leaf

December 1, 2018 @ 12:07 pm | Filed under:

Ahhhh. Here it is, the day I’ve been working toward. There was no nice clean line between buried under work and wooo I’m free!—it’s been a gradual digging-out process, like shoveling snow. But my walks are clear now and I can at least emerge from the cave.

I’m blinking a bit. It’s ironic that this hemisphere is heading toward its darkest, coldest season, and here I am feeling like spring is on the way. The icicles haven’t even formed yet and I’m already hearing them drip. Sometimes the seasons of our personal lives don’t sync up with what’s happening in nature.

I’m glad, though, that the chilly weather, the rain, the early dark, will keep me physically cloistered a bit longer. I need some time to regroup, to restore balance. And of course there’s the holidays to consider…I’ve just barely begun the shopping and the house is still wearing autumn clothes.

This time last year I started a practice of writing Morning Pages a la Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Three pages longhand immediately upon waking, before opening any tabs or apps. I kept it up for a couple of months, then fizzled out. Resumed the practice in June and shifted my work routine so that right after finishing my morning pages, I worked on the novel for a couple of hours before breakfast. That was a wonderfully productive schedule for two or three months, and then summer ended and the family’s morning rhythm changed, and I had less solo time before breakfast. I dropped the morning pages and kept plugging away at the novel.

I’m shifting back now to my summertime rhythm, with tweaks. Up early, twenty minutes of quiet writing time, then Huck joins me in the studio for an early morning snuggle and chat. We watch the black sky fade to navy blue, steel blue, sky blue streaked with cream-colored clouds. The birds wake up, crows winging past the window, goldfinches arriving at the feeder, juncoes perching on the rain dome. Steven wakes for school and comes in to tear off the page on my ‘year of tiny pleasures‘ calendar. Then both boys scoot out to get their breakfast and I try to work for another hour or two. The temptation to climb back in bed next to Scott for a few minutes is strong, and some mornings I succumb. Never for long, because he gets up to make Steve’s lunch, and then the bus comes, and the girls begin arriving in the kitchen, and the busy day has begun.

For the next few weeks, instead of morning pages I’m going to do the lessons in Holly Wren Spaulding‘s 21 Day Poetry Challenge. I’m excited: I don’t think I’d be enthusiastic about getting up in the early dark on these cold December mornings just to write my morning pages. (I find the pages to be a valuable practice, but I don’t enjoy writing them. I’ve never been a journaler.) The theme for Holly’s course is “interior,” which is just right for this change-of-season I’m in. I also plan to choose a corresponding art practice for these twenty-one days, something simple—a daily sketch of some kind, perhaps sparked by a Creativebug* lesson, perhaps just something on my desk. My sketchbook practice has been a bit sporadic of late, although I did manage some good work this fall.

I recently read Austin Kleon‘s Show Your Work, a book that felt like a fresh pair of batteries for my blog. It made me realize that “showing my work” was exactly what I did here from 2005-2015: I was thinking out loud, learning in public, about homeschooling and parenting. Tidal Homeschooling grew out of that pondering. My sketchbook habit great out of it. A lot of things grew out of it! And I realized that’s what I want to return to. I don’t yet know where in the day a regular blog practice will fit but I plan to spend December playing with rhythm to see if something clicks.

What does your December look like?

*That’s an affiliate link because there’s a sweet deal on right now: three months of Creativebug for $1. I consider our CB subscription to be the best five dollars I spend every month.

Pioneer Woman, Watch Out

November 23, 2018 @ 11:09 am | Filed under:

Thanksgiving is one of the three days a year on which I do the cooking. I’m sure it’s a total coincidence that this morning my family is developing a treatment for a cooking show.

“I know! It’ll be called ‘Ms. Frazzle’!”

“Tagline: ‘This gravy isn’t my best.'”

Little happy lists, redux

November 20, 2018 @ 8:05 pm | Filed under:

Howdy. I’m finally climbing out from under a crushingly busy autumn workload, and the first place I wanted to come—blinking like a mole emerging into the light—was here. I’ve missed this space, and I’ve missed you.

I’m sitting on a pile of unfinished draft posts that I don’t know if I’ll ever finish. But I’m keen on fresh starts, and Thanksgiving week is a good time for one.

I’m rusty, though! What did I use to write about? 😉

While I’m rediscovering my bearings here, I’ll keep it simple: a list of three happy things from the past couple of days.

• Spotted a downy woodpecker on our suet feeder, and later that day Scott and I saw two nuthatches during a walk down Klickitat Street.

• Just being able to say I took a walk down Klickitat Street makes me pretty darn happy. Several years back, I heard that the chocolate-colored house from the Betsy-Tacy books was for sale. A move to Mankato, Minnesota wasn’t in the cards, but can you imagine? We could have lived in Tib’s house!! Well, I think living a block from Klickitat Street thrills me even more.

• Jane is home for Thanksgiving—for almost a whole week!

There. It’s a start. Glad to be back.

True story

October 2, 2018 @ 12:53 pm | Filed under:

I’ve reached the stage of writing in which I hate writing, I wonder why I ever thought writing was a good idea, I don’t ever want to write anything again, and I have an overwhelming urge to write about it.

What I look like while writing, according to Rilla some time back. Not sure I’m buying it. 😉

Getting hot in here

September 28, 2018 @ 1:08 pm | Filed under:

Some of you have heard me talk about the “tipping the cup” metaphor my family finds useful. Have you ever watched a toddler with a full cup of juice with no sippy lid? I have witnessed this many times: the cup tips a little, juice sloshes out, and instead of halting the spill by straightening the cup, the child tips it all the way, dumping the entire cup of juice. It’s like toddlers see the total spill as inevitable, once the first drops hit the floor.

In my house we have often applied this metaphor to emotions—how if you feel yourself about to lose your temper, you don’t *have* to tip the cup all the way over. But it applies in other contexts as well, and this one here is one of the scariest examples I’ve ever seen.

Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous 7 degrees by the end of this century.

A rise of 7 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 4 degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial levels would be catastrophic, according to scientists. Many coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.

But the administration did not offer this dire forecast as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.

The draft statement, issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), was written to justify President Trump’s decision to freeze federal fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks built after 2020. While the proposal would increase greenhouse gas emissions, the impact statement says, that policy would add just a very small drop to a very big, hot bucket.

So….we’re just gonna tip a big ole cup of fire on the planet, I guess.

Source: Trump administration sees a 7-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100

Booknotes: Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser

September 20, 2018 @ 8:34 am | Filed under:

I’m reading Prairie Fires, Caroline Fraser’s A+++ book about Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane, and I quipped on Facebook that so far a chief takeaway for me is: One should never achieve a level of fame that inspires historians to go through one’s personal correspondence. 😉

That post has generated a good discussion of Fraser’s book, and in answering some friends’ questions I wound up writing a whole tome, which I thought I might as well share here.

S. mentioned, “I didn’t realize there was so much new material in it!”

I replied: re new material, you might be thinking of Pioneer Girl, which is Laura’s original memoir, a manuscript written long before the Little House books. I was given a copy back in the 90s when Harper commissioned me to write the Martha books. It was published for the first time last year in a wonderful edition annotated by Pamela Smith Hill. It’s a much bleaker narrative, telling many chapters of the story that Laura left out of the children’s series (death of her brother Freddy, the awful Burr Oak Iowa years, etc). I haven’t reread it in many years but at the time I loved getting a peek behind the curtain to the more raw, adult memoir and learning what happened in some of the gaps in the series, and what kinds of changes she made to the narrative thread when she reworked the material into children’s novels.

Prairie Fires is a stunningly thorough nonfiction book by Caroline Fraser which maps out the life stories of Laura, her parents, Almanzo, and Rose. It’s impeccably researched, drawing heavily on Rose and Laura’s personal correspondence, Rose’s diaries, their many published writings in various periodicals as well as their books, land records, local archives, etc. The depth of Fraser’s research is impressive and makes this historical fiction writer’s heart go pitty-pat.

In this account, Laura comes off better than Rose, but Fraser doesn’t shy away from discussing Laura’s flaws and quirks. Not a problem for me, since LIW was demystified and humanized for me a long time ago. As a look behind the curtain at writing process, Prairie Fires is fascinating and hugely valuable. I’ve loved watching the interplay between Laura and Rose (and occasionally Laura’s editors) that helped shape the Little House books. I think Fraser does a much better job of unpacking the complicated writing/editorial relationship between the two women than Holtz’s Ghost in the Little House.

I do wonder sometimes if Fraser’s educated guesses (and they are HIGHLY educated and thoroughly considered, don’t get me wrong) are a tiny bit presumptuous—she does make some assumptions about motivations and personal emotions. But she always makes it clear that those statements are suppositions. “Laura may have felt…” etc.

In response to J.’s question, “do I dare to read it?”: If Laura is on any kind of pedestal in your mind, this book probably knocks it out from under her. But for me it’s been marvelous–a look at the real Laura, the woman, the often struggling writer doubting her abilities and deferring to her daughter’s judgment–then bristling back and defending certain authorial choices, digging in when she felt strongly about a scene. As a writer of historical fiction I am just EATING UP the conversations about how to mold *truth* and *fact* into a compelling fiction narrative.

[Side note: I was really stunned to encounter a speech in which Laura talks about how she tells the truth ***but not the whole truth*** because that’s what I have said myself many times these past 13 years about my blog (everything I share is true, but I don’t share everything) and of course it served as a major theme in The Prairie Thief. “Not the Whole Truth” was in fact my working title for that book! (Nixed by my publisher as not kid-friendly/gripping enough. Prairie Thief was their title but it gave me serious angst since I wanted the book to stand apart from my Little House work.]

I had already been aware that Laura rearranged some of her family’s travels and left whole huge chapters out of the series. Fraser’s book delves into precisely why those changes occurred. Excellent insight for any student of fiction and memoir.

S., re how Laura’s books are doing these days…well, the past twenty years have been a time of growing awareness of the highly problematic areas of her books. Her family’s story goes hand in hand with the story of Native Americans being cruelly displaced from their lands. Fraser takes an unflinching look at that history, as well as the ways in which Laura’s pervasive message of rugged individualism breezes past the many times her family received government or community assistance of various kinds. (Not to mention the Ingalls family skipping town when Burr Oak debts mounted up.)

My understanding is that sales of Laura’s books have declined somewhat over the past fifteen years but they still remain staples. Personally, I think contemporary children are less engaged by the long, detailed *process* descriptions (making bullets, making a door, etc)–why read a step-by-step when you can watch it on Youtube, you know? (I’m not being disparaging–I freely admit I too would rather watch a video of a door being made than read a blow-by-blow narrative. But not sausage. I don’t want to watch a sausage-making video. Give me Laura’s narrative anytime.) And of course Harry Potter swept in a great wave of interest in children’s fantasy. Historicals were on the downswing for a bit but have bounded back up now with many brilliant own-voices works.

The reality is that Laura’s books require discussion. When my own kids came along I realized I was hesitant to just hand the books over–I felt like conversation and contextualizing was necessary because of the treatment of Indians, the minstrel show, etc. Today I would add: the climate disruptions also invite what Julie Bogart calls Big Juicy Questions. Not to mention the politics (for older readers)…

Laura’s work is certainly in no danger of being forgotten—she’ll always be a pivotal figure in children’s literature. But the field is rich and crowded now. The glorious explosion of kids’ graphic novels, the brilliant prose of contemporary authors—there’s an overwhelming abundance of books competing with Laura’s now. Not to mention all the visual media. Much of her prose is what would now be called “quiet”—I say this as a passionate lover of “quiet books” — in a market that prefers action and zip. All of which is to say that I think there are many reasons why contemporary kids aren’t embracing Little House with quite the fervor we did (and for our generation it’s probably impossible to gauge how much our zeal was spurred by the TV show—I honestly don’t remember which way I encountered Little House first! But I do know that Nellie Oleson always had Alison Arngrim’s face in my mind. I would guess I encountered book and show more or less concurrently).

Probably more to come when I’ve finished the Fraser book. Closing in on the finish now…heart in my throat.

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Evening walk

September 5, 2018 @ 1:59 pm | Filed under:

I’ve had to change my evening schedule again to catch the light. All summer I reveled in the long, long days of the Pacific Northwest. I like to take my walk during golden hour whenever possible and in June and July I grew accustomed to slipping out around 8pm. But this week that put me walking home in the dark! I’m shifting back to an after-dinner walk. Dinner, a long walk, a bit more work before tv time with Scott. (We’re starting Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society soon. Y’all know I adore the book, so I’m both excited and nervous about the show!)

What’s your favorite time of day to take a walk?

Bonus: my current evening-walk playlist