This simple object is one of my most treasured possessions. It was a gift from the late, great Susan J. Hanna, whose jolly, sonorous voice I can still hear when I read certain T. S. Eliot poems. Dr. Hanna was the head of the English Department at Mary Washington College when Scott and I were students there. I spent two years as her department assistant, thanks to a lucky work-study placement. Funnily, I never actually managed to fit one of her classes into my schedule—except for the time Scott had to miss a few days of school and I sat in on his Modern Poetry seminar to take notes. Dr. Hanna was a marvelous teacher and one of the most ebulliant, brilliant women I’ve ever known. I loved working for her. I loved knowing her. She had a big hearty laugh and a tremendous presence, and she adored poetry and made you adore it too.
When I graduated, she gave me this silver letter opener—monogrammed with L for Lissa—as a going-away present. It lives on my desk and I use it daily, and think of Dr. Hanna every time I pick it up. After college, Scott and I made frequent trips up and down the East Coast between Virginia and Connecticut or New York, and every time we crossed the Susquehanna River we would sing out, The Mighty Susan J! One of our daughters has the middle name “Susanna” in Susan Hanna’s honor. Dr. Hanna died of cancer in 1994, not long before our wedding. We had sent an invitation and received a note back from her husband, the Philosophy Department chair, Professor Van Sant. I slit open the envelope with Dr. Hanna’s letter opener and was gutted to read what was inside. We hadn’t heard she was ill. News traveled more slowly in those days before we all got online.
Such a humble thing, a letter opener, a tool of limited function and unremarkable shape. And yet what a magic key it is: unlocking the portal to words penned hundreds, even thousands of miles away. Today it opened letters from France, Austria, and New York. Everything about it is special to me: the curly L that means Dr. Hanna knew me well; the solid heft of the handle, always cool to the touch. The image it conjures up of Sue Hanna striding into the office in a multicolored blouse, booming out a greeting and asking me to make a few dozen copies for her afternoon class. The stentorian recitation of a few lines from Prufrock. Here was a woman who never had to question whether she would dare to eat a peach—she seized them, split them, shared them around the room.
Sometimes when I’m cleaning the residue of envelope glue off the tip of the letter opener, I’ll catch a glimpse of myself in the surface and think about all the different selves that have been reflected there—all the iterations of myself, like a stack of letters written by the same hand but altering over time. Different paper, different postmarks. And how many other reflections are caught and held in the blade: the faces of my children, each one fascinated at some point by this curious object that looks like a knife but isn’t. Dr. Hanna’s face—I imagine her solemnly inspecting the monogram and nodding her satisfaction at the engraver. “This will do very well,” in that resounding voice. Very well indeed.
1. Grape soda lupines—my favorite San Diego wildflower
2. Washi makes to-do lists more fun
3, 4. The milkweed is doing its glorious thing
5. Rilla’s shamrock garland
6. The wonderful Jane LaFazio doing a watercolor demo during her class
7, 8. Then it was my turn to try
9. I’m so in love with color
My everyday favorites. After a year of experimenting, I’ve got my system figured out. Top to bottom:
• Midori Travelers Notebook for my monthly calendar, weekly journal, and a scribble notebook;
• Moleskine Cahier for daily to-lists (bullet journal);
• Wild Simplicity Daybook for homeschooling notes and records (including our weekly Shakespeare lines—we learn monologues two lines at a time); and
• the Lamy Safari fountain pen my family gave me for my birthday. (LOVE.) (That’s an Amazon affiliate link but if you’re buying pens in the U.S., you should order from the nice people at Goulet Pen Company. Their instructional videos are invaluable, their customer service is top notch, and they offer inexpensive ink samples so you can try out all sorts of gorgeous colors. And that is not an affiliate link. I’m just a happy customer.)
I still keep the family appointments on Google Calendar, but I enjoy writing everything out in the TN monthly calendar (#017) as well. I use the horizontal weekly TN insert (#019) for chronicling the day after it happens—just a few notes about highlights. For the last several months I’ve used a blank TN insert (#003) for my bullet journal but came to realize I need a separate space for scrawling, sketching, doodling, working things out on paper. If I do that in the bullet, things get messy. WAY messy. So I’ve gone back to my old (cheaper) Moleskine grids for task lists.
The Midori travels with me everywhere; the bullet journal lives on my desk where I do most of my work; and the Daybook has a home in a basket by my rocking chair in the living room.
I’m laughing at how complicated this must seem if you aren’t a pen-and-paper fanatic…but I juggle a lot of roles (and kids) and I find having different paper spaces helps me keep things straight.
More nitty gritty:
I also have a kraft folder (#020) in my Midori to tuck ephemera and snail-mail supplies into. Since I started carrying notecards and stamps around, I’ve gotten much more prompt with my thank-you notes.
• I love the feel of Prismacolor colored pencils on the paper Lesley Austin uses in the Wild Simplicity Daybook. I’m sure I’ve raved about this before—the lovely creamy pencil on this recycled paper with just the right amount of tooth.
• Prismacolor pencils also delight me in the bullet journal: I like ’em for filling in my checkboxes.
• This pic, which I’ve shared here before, shows my favorite way to organize a task list: to-do items on the right, and the verso is for related notes and numbers. I also keep a running “Nag List” on a sticky note that travels from spread to spread. It’s for important tasks that I might not get done today but I gotta deal with soon—like finishing my taxes or booking a doctor appointment. I consult it each evening when making out my bullet list for the next day.
• Sometimes I’ll tuck another insert into the Midori to be used for a specific purpose. For example, I keep a log of incoming and outgoing snail mail. I don’t like a superfat Midori, though, so more often that insert lives in my stationery pouch.
• As I mentioned, I do a lot of casual sketching in my blank Midori insert. I find I’m often more comfortable there than in my proper sketchbook, because it feels more casual. But I do have a couple of sketchbooks going and I try to work in at least one of them daily. One is a spiral-bound 7×10 Canson Mixed Media pad, which gets lukewarm reviews from real artists but I quite like its toothy paper—not to mention its price point when Michael’s has a good sale + coupon combo. You have to watch for it, but now and then they’ll give you a 20% off including sale items coupon during a buy-one-get-one-free sketchbook sale. My other sketchbook is a Moleskine Art Plus, and it’s…okay? I love its size and shape (fits nicely in my bag), but the paper is too smooth for my liking. I much prefer the feel of Moleskine’s watercolor sketchbook—a lovely texture to that paper. But so far I’ve mostly just used that for color charts.
• For sketching pens, I like Sakura Pigma Microns or my Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen (check out all the groovy colors at Goulet Pens) with Platinum Carbon ink, which is waterproof so it plays nice under watercolors. However, lately I’ve come to realize that what I enjoy most of all is sketching in pencil. I love the look of black or brown ink drawings, and most of the sketchbook artists I admire work directly in ink, but I really love the way a pencil feels on the paper. I keep hitting that point over and over, don’t I—the tactile experience matters more to me than how it looks.
Ha, this got long! Would you believe it was just going to be a quick copy-paste of something I tossed on Instagram today?
I hopped on Periscope this afternoon for a quick Q&A about Journey North Mystery Class. If you’d like a peek at our graph (behind as usual) and a walk-through of the project, here you are.
Took a long break from scoping while I kicked that icky cough. Jumped back on today for a quick catchup. I’m giggling now because I didn’t notice until afterward that my phone had changed my #tidallearning hashtag to “#disappearing”—ha! Anyway, we wound up covering a lot of ground in this one: kids’ audiobooks, Creativebug, geocaching, letterboxing, Outside Lies Magic, hand-carved rubber stamps, Sketchbook Skool, Postcrossing…whew!
I hope to jump back on tomorrow at 2:30 Pacific time to talk about Journey North. See you there!
Pam Barnhill interviewed me about Tidal Learning for her Ed Snapshots podcast. We had a delightful conversation. Here’s the scoop:
Melissa Wiley is an author and a homeschool mom of 6 who blogs at Here in the Bonny Glen. Her novel, The Prairie Thief, is a big hit at my house, and I have a little Laura Ingalls fan who is just itching to check out her two series of books about Laura’s ancestors, The Martha Years and The Charlotte Years. On this episode of the podcast, Melissa gives us a little peek into her school days and explains her unique philosophy, which she calls Tidal Homeschooling. This interview is full of inspiration for how we can foster an atmosphere of learning, creativity, joy, and relationship-building in our homes by recognizing and working within our own natural rhythms or “tides.” Enjoy!
Click here to listen: HSP 24 Melissa Wiley: All About Tidal Homeschooling – Ed Snapshots
March 8, 2016 @ 1:24 pm | Filed under: Books
Ace, the Very Important Pig by Dick King-Smith.
Ace is a descendant of that famous sheep-herding pig, Babe, we all know and love. Unlike the other farmyard animals, Ace can understand people talk. This leads to just the kind of comic intrigue we enjoy. Lots of fun character-voice potential, too. Her Lowness, Megan the Corgi gets my best Queen Victoria impression, naturally. (Er, that is, Queen Victoria as portrayed in the Horrible Histories English Monarchs song.)
Well, I tried. Sat down at the start of my work time today, fully intending to transition with a blog post just like the old days, but a pressing email caught my attention…and here I am eight hours later.
It has rained on and off all day. Rose is in heaven—that girl was made for the Pacific Northwest, I swear—but I’m off kilter. Happy for the moisture, of course. My poor garden needs it. My freesia had just started to bloom, though—they’ll be a bit battered after the downpour.
Assorted things to chronicle:
Last Friday I was one of six guest authors at the Greater San Diego Reading Association‘s annual Authors Fair. This year we visited Bonsall West Elementary School in Oceanside. I had three classes of 4th-graders (in two groups) whose teachers are reading them The Prairie Thief. I love this event. The kids are already deep into my book and are excited to ask questions. I always start out by reading a chapter, picking up wherever the teacher left off. This time, I got to read the first encounter between Louisa and the brownie—a super fun for me because it’s a mini-reveal. Of course, that means I have to do a Scottish accent but that’s part of the fun. The kids don’t mind if I fumble it. 🙂
The other night I was in here working while Scott watched a movie with the kids. He pinged me with a question from our friend Devin (our brilliant writer friend Devin, I should say). She was working on a scene for her current book and needed help with a tree identification. Here’s a screen cap of the Google Street View close-up Scott sent me:
I couldn’t zoom in any tighter than that. Too fuzzy to make out the leaf shapes. But I figured someone out there would have compiled a list of common Manhattan street trees and I turned to my best friend Google. Turns out Someone did way better than that:
the most awesome Lite Brite I’ve ever seen
All those colored dots are trees. Specific trees. I zoomed in on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal and found our friend the Callery Pear. Man, I love the internet. Major props to Jill Hubley, who created that rather astounding map. And Devin’s dedication to detail is one of the many reasons I love her. Nitty-gritty lovers of the world, unite.
Rilla has learned several speeches from A Midsummers Night’s Dream this year. And of course this means Huck is picking them up, too. Hearing them recite Puck’s monologues tickles me no end. “I go, I go, look how I go!” —or a world-weary yet amused “Lord what fools these mortals be…”
Here’s another thing Rilla and I have been doing with our free time. Color charts. Mmm, I could happily mix paints all day for the rest of my life if you let me.
How’s your week going?
“But the bag said ‘Complete set’!” —child with Sharpie about to write letters on blank Scrabble tiles.