Archive for January, 2017
I wrote a quickie booknotes post last night in the five minutes between work and family movie time, but I took it down a short while later because it was too quick, too silent about events I actually have quite a lot of words for. Choice words. Not all of them fit for my kids’ ears. I’ve been speaking them elsewhere and seem to have annoyed a fair number of people. Well, that’s too bad. I suspect I’ll be saying more, not less, in days to come. Perhaps not always here, in this space which is a happy little retreat for me. But maybe here too. There is so very much to say.
(Deep breath, fingers twitching.) Not this minute. Right now, I need to work. So I’m going to just open a space for a family story or two. If you want my activist voice, come on over to Facebook or Twitter.
A couple of days ago, a Girl Scout rang the bell. It’s cookie season, as you know. I turned her down with regrets, because, frankly, five dollars a box is too rich for my blood.
An hour later, another ring, another sweet kid, another set of regrets.
THREE MINUTES LATER, another doorbell chime. But this time it was our neighbor, Guy—who seriously is the nicest guy—holding out three boxes of cookies.
“I can’t say no to a little girl,” he said, thrusting Do-si-dos, Samoas, and Tagalongs into my arms. “But I also can’t eat these cookies.”
My children would like to raise a statue in his honor.
My son wrote the following about me in an email to a friend: “She used to cook dinner or all the time until Dad [took over the meal prep] and now she only Cooks now and then. Her Specialties are sandwiches and leftovers.”
I may need to add that to my resumé.
I had garden-y things to add to this post but my
five twenty minutes are up. Tomorrow, maybe. And I’m going to re-post the one I took down yesterday (it’s not much of anything, trust me, just disconnected sentences about what we’re reading) now that I’ve had a chance to explain why I was quiet (here) over the (tumultuous) weekend.
January 30, 2017 @ 8:28 pm | Filed under: Books
Had my brief dip into Martin Chuzzlewit—met the Misses Pecksniff—but have sensibly put it aside until Jamie’s May read-along in favor of Great Expectations, which I need to revisit in February so I can teach it in March. Better get hopping.
Murder for Her Majesty is going over swimmingly. Huck would like to squeeze in two sessions a day.
During our Saturday night art dates, Rilla and I are listening to Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy. The library audiobook checkout period is never quite long enough for us to get through a novel. This past Saturday, I was trying to finish something up and told Scott to send Rilla in a bit later than usual. Then I opened an Overdrive tab just to have the book queued up when I was ready for Art Night. And yikes! Overdrive said our loan was set to expire in one hour. So I rapidly scrapped my finish-the-other-thing plans and hollered for my girl. One hour left! Heavens. I hope we can renew it before next weekend. I always try to get auto-renew but our system is cranky about that with digital audiobooks.
January 26, 2017 @ 8:33 pm | Filed under: Books
1. Picture books
Today is the 26th and my Goodreads log says we’ve read 23 picture books so far this year. Sounds about right; we’ve missed a couple of days here and there but not more than two or three. I may have forgotten to log something.
Mrs. Biddlebox by Linda Smith, illustrated by Marla Frazee. Until I went to grab the cover from Amazon just now, I didn’t realize this was out of print. The author died not long after it was published—we had the same editor, who sent me a copy, knowing my kids would love it. They truly do. Mrs. Biddlebox turns a grim, gray day around by, well, eating it up, bad mood and all. I hope your library has a copy because it looks like it has become a collector’s item, judging by the resale price.
I Scream, Ice Cream: A Book of Wordles by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Serge Bloch. Lots of punny fun from the always delightful Rosenthal.
Diary of a Fly by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss.
Diary of a Worm.
Diary of a Spider. Everyone knows these; everyone loves these. My kids can’t listen to one without demanding all three.
The Lady with the Ship on Her Head by Deborah Nourse Lattimore. A longtime favorite of mine—my copy was signed (and delightfully doodled in) by the author when she did a booksigning at the children’s bookstore I worked at during grad school, many moons ago. Madame Pompenstance can’t figure out what kind of fancy hairdo to concoct for the king’s contest. When she bends over to scoop a few sad shells off the beach to ornament her coiffure, a tiny three-masted ship rows right onto her head. She has no idea it’s there, even though the tiny crew drops anchor below her earlobes, forming cunning little earrings; she only knows that she has a fearful headache all day long. So funny, and the art is lavish and captivating. A big hit with my gang.
Frog Girl by Owen Paul Lewis. You had me at the bit where the frog lifts the skin of the lake and takes the girl to her underwater frog village.
World Rat Day by J. Patrick Lewis and Anna Raff. A poem collection of made-up holidays. Dragon Appreciation Day is Rilla’s favorite.
2. High-tide companions
We’re still reading The Secret Horses of Briar Hill at bedtime—only a few pages at a time, because Huck is a sleepy guy at the end of the day. We can’t move it to morning because then Stevie would miss out. So I’ve started a new midmorning read-aloud; I was wanting some historical fiction to tie in with our Age of Exploration studies. Beanie suggested one of her old favorites: A Murder for Her Majesty. I haven’t read this one in ages, and possibly never aloud. SO GOOD. We’re only on Chapter 2 so far: young Alice witnessed her father’s murder and went on the run. She’s been taken in by a group of choirboys at York Minster, and they’ve just decided she should cut her hair and hide in the choir. Suspense!
3. My own meanderings
You didn’t think I really meant that Dickens quote the other day, did you? I didn’t look it up to see who said it, but “Let us have no meandering” sounds like Betsey Trotwood. Me, I’m a meanderer. After I finished Ilsa (about which: seriously, more later—not tonight because they’re waiting on me to watch the rest of Fellowship), I found myself in a familiar dither over what of a hundred (a hundred hundred!) options to choose next. Sometimes it takes me weeks to choose. It’s annoying. Just settle down and PICK something! I fight with my brain sometimes. I’ve read the openings of at least five books. One is about King Edward VII and I do mean to finish it. Another is about bees (I know, shocker), and yet another falls into my favorite subgenre: books about books. I keep dipping back into it and will probably curl up with it this weekend for real. And then there’s a (digital) stack of YA novels whispering to me. Also: I did download Martin Chuzzlewit and have chuckled through two chapters so far. I’m arriving too early at Jamie’s May Dickens read-along but her description of this particular novel piqued my interest. Realistically, though, I’ll have to shelve it soon and turn my attention to Great Expectations, which I’m teaching in March.
Oh, and I forgot the three in-progress audiobooks. What is wrong with me? Code Name Verity (edge of my seat; I’ll be recommending to Beanie; and yes I’m very late in getting to this one, which knocked everyone’s socks off a few years ago); Landmarks (still); and A Short History of Nearly Everything.
It’s 9pm, I’ve just sent off an assignment that was due, and we’re about to celebrate Beanie’s birthday with a viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring. (Well, half of it. It’s long. It’s late.)
This morning I taught my three local literature classes, wrapping up with a close reading of Billy Collin’s “Marginalia” with the four 7th-8th grade boys in my last class. They loved the egg-salad stains. I love them—all these kids in my little seminar-classes. Beanie’s class is developing outlines for King Lear essays, so that was a lively discussion. We sit at the outdoor tables at a taco shop (ever since our cafe closed down) near a culinary school. Today, a few minutes into our session, the lovely server at the taco shop came out with a plate full of gorgeous little tarts and pastries, beglazed, beswirled, bedrizzled. The culinary students are doing desserts this week and their instructor shares the overflow with the taco shop staff, who in turned shared the bounty with us. And ten minutes later, the chef walked past our table with a platter held high—a few dozen more confections. Into the taco shop he went, and out came our server friend with another plate to share. 🙂 Now that’s how to fuel teenage writers.
Sixteen. The child below is sixteen now, many inches taller than her mother. May her days be filled with lemon-cream surprises forevermore.
I would have a lot more time to blog if I didn’t have all these executive orders to read.
January 23, 2017 @ 9:24 am | Filed under: Books
Image source: The British Library’s public domain collection. Taken from page 109 of ‘Pictures from Dickens with readings. With illustrations by H. M. Paget, Fred Barnard, etc.’
Jamie of Light and Momentary has been sparking my desire to read more Dickens since, well, I want to say since 2004 or ’05 when I first encountered her blog. It often puzzles me that I have so many Dickens gaps in my reading history, since David Copperfield is one of my favorite books, one that actually, literally makes me cry laughing. And Tale of Two Cities, jiminy crickets what a nail-biter. Once you get past those impossible opening chapters when you, like the baffled guard, have no idea what’s going on.
“Did you hear the message?”
“I did, Joe.”
“What did you make of it, Tom?”
“Nothing at all, Joe.”
“That’s a coincidence, too,” the guard mused, “for I made the same of it myself.”
I remember reading a Neil Gaiman post a number of years back, in which he described jumpstarting an exercise habit by listening to Bleak House on audiobook:
[The book Younger Next Year] said, among other sensible things, that I should exercise for 40 minutes a day, getting my heart rate up. And I should do weights…
And I thought, But Dear God I’ll Be So Bored.
And that was when I had one of those ideas that ought to come with floating lightbulbs. I thought, Bleak House. A book I loved, but had never finished, due to always leaving it places.
I’ve been chatting to the Audible.com people about a mysterious thing I’ll announce soon, and Don Katz from Audible had shown me the Audible app and mentioned that I could now use my Amazon account to log in and buy books on Audible. So I downloaded the Audible app to my phone and to my iPod touch. I listened to samples of a dozen Bleak Houses, then plumped for the top-rated, which sounded excellent. And from that point on, most days, I did 40 minutes a day of Bleak House. And if I couldn’t do 40 minutes I’d do half an hour, or 20 minutes. I’d exercise, and I’d lose myself in Dickens, and the time would fly by.
It’s a glorious book, and perfect for an audio book…
Brilliant, I thought: I’ll do Bleak House on audio!
I’m not sure I made it through chapter two. I must not have had the same charming narrator Gaiman describes. Mine was so dull I almost dozed off on the treadmill.
Image source: The British Library’s public domain collection. Image taken from page 97 of ‘Pictures from Dickens with readings. With illustrations by H. M. Paget, Fred Barnard, etc.’
I’ll be teaching Great Expectations to one of my English lit classes this spring, so I’ll need to reread it soon. Dickens has, therefore, been on my mind. This morning I experienced an amusing bit of synchronicity: Jamie’s post coming lightning-quick on the heels of my own Dickens train of thought. Jamie is proposing a read-along of Martin Chuzzlewit in May:
Today I was thinking about which fat Dickens novel I’d like to re-read next, after the spring semester ends. “Martin Chuzzlewit!” I said to myself. It’s the only novel that’s partially set in the US, and its biting observations about American culture still resonate. I read it for the first time in 2001, not long after our return from two years in the UK, and I am curious to see how my memories hold up. Plus it’s an interesting time in which to reflect on outsiders’ perceptions of the wacky ways we do things here in the US…
See the rest of her post for details (and a hashtag, even). I replied with a comment so long I decided to turn it into this (even longer post).
Jamie, I’m chuckling over the timing of my seeing this post in my Feedly. It’s early morning here and I just spent an hour not reading, but rather tapping through the bazillion galleys on my Kindle, trying to decide what to read. I have the worst option paralysis when it comes to books.
Then Scott (that angel) brought me a mug of caffeinated hot cocoa and I sat up, sighing, feeling I’d wasted a precious reading hour. The thought in my head was: I’m 48. I can’t afford to waste ANY reading hours. I mean, I still haven’t gotten through all of Dickens!
Which made me remember that last year I set up DailyLit to send emails three days a week containing installments of classics I hadn’t gotten around to yet. I’ve tried DailyLit before, and what always happens is: either I get about a week into a book and then start saving the emails for later, which means never; or I get sucked into the novel and wind up abandoning the installment plan and just plain reading the book. 🙂 I read a lot of Twain that way in 2015. So this morning, about thirty seconds before I opened Feedly, I thought: maybe I should do a Dickens DailyLit project?
And then boom, your post. 🙂
I’ve never read Chuzzlewit. For that matter, I’ve never made it through Bleak House, either. I’m going to go see what Dickens is available via DailyLit because those email chunks really are a good way to get me rolling on a big reading project. (Except when they aren’t.) 😉
Your remarks on Dickens’s biting observations of American culture reminded me of the story about a very young Kate Douglas Wiggins’s biting observations of Dickens’s work–to his face. Do you remember that? Here’s an excerpt from an old post on Bonny Glen:
“Well, upon my word!” he said. “You do not mean to say that you have read them!”
“Of course I have,” I replied. “Every one of them but the two that we are going to buy in Boston, and some of them six times.”
“Bless my soul!” he ejaculated again. “Those long, thick books, and you such a slip of a thing!”
“Of course,” I explained, conscientiously, “I do skip some of the very dull parts once in a while; not the short dull parts, but the long ones.”
He laughed heartily. “Now, that is something that I hear very little about,” he said. “I distinctly want to learn more about those very dull parts…”
The full story is hilarious.
Well, it seems Martin Chuzzlewit is not available via DailyLit installments. It’s free on Kindle, though, if you’d like to join Jamie’s read-along in May. #FAMDRAL
Great Expectations isn’t a DailyLit selection, either, so I’ll have to prep for my class the old-fashioned way. But there are a number of other Dickens novels at DailyLit (see image below)—and if anyone was made for reading via daily installments, it’s Charles Dickens, prize of the periodicals.
Related post: “Snuggling Up to Genius“
January 20, 2017 @ 8:35 am | Filed under: Bloggity
Here’s something I can celebrate today: twelve years of chronicling my family’s reading life, homeschooling adventures, and deep-dive interests. Our high tides and low tides, our passions and problems. When I look back through these archives, I find stories I would never have remembered (and books I really want to read again).
To all of you who visit me here, reading quietly or chiming into the discussion: Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading. It’s the absolute nicest thing you can do for a writer.
I was trying to figure out what photo to post today, and it struck me to just go into my media library and pull up a bunch of images from years past. So here’s what let’s do: give me a word in the comments and I’ll type that into my image library’s search bar. I’ll come back throughout the day to post the pictures your suggestions pull up. 🙂
First suggestion! Thank you, selvi, for suggesting: delight.
I love his quiet delight in riding the park tram
Karen E’s suggestion: Stone House. Aw, Martha’s house! 🙂 Huh—I got nuthin. I tried Glencaraid too and nope, no photos. Closest hit is for just plain “stone.” No idea why I have a picture of Stonehenge in my archives. I’ll have to track down the original post and see what the reference was. [Found it! It’s from my interview with Stephanie Spinner about her Lady of the Lake novel, Damosel.]
(But Karen, I love your prompt and got a wave of happy nostalgia. I loved writing about that house.)
Heather’s word, celebrate, brings up a photo of author Kiersten White at the San Diego Central Library grand opening celebration in 2013. She was my boothmate at the author signing. That was the day I met one of my favorite fictional heroes in real life—Miss Rumphius!
And my dear friend Sarah H. chimes in with the word joy. One of my favorite words, and a recurring theme of this blog. I’m excited to see what it pulls up. Here’s the first hit: Joyful Noise, Poems for Two Voices—a much beloved book in these parts.
Here’s another photo tagged joy—this one gives me a smile for sure. It’s my drama-program classmates from Loretto Heights College at our mini-reunion in Denver a few summers ago. We snuck into our old theater and struck poses to emotion words, just like in the old days. This was the “joy” pose.
Ellie’s word: friendship. (Back atcha, my dear.)
giraffe and friend
animal friends (by Rilla in 2012)
Quasimodo and friend, San Diego Comic Con 2008
Kmom’s word: sketch. 🙂
filling my sketchbooks, 2016
November 2014 sketchbook page (and the beginning of my fountain-pen mania)
My Jan 1, 2017 sketchbook page
Sketch of me by the amazing Fiona Staples, 2010—still makes me grin.
trio of backyard sketchers, 2009
From Susanne Barrett: peace. This photo got a chuckle out of me, because when I first posted it, it was to note that Rilla, just learning to read, thought it was a message to Santa: “Please be on this house.” 🙂
Peace be on this house, our lovely Small Meadow Press banner
Worth noting that the only other photo to pop up with the “peace” search was another Small Meadow image—the Wild Simplicity Daybook. So Lesley, there you, that’s your legacy on this sight. Peace.
Susanne also asked for a Brave Writer search. That one turns up the Brave Writer logo and the Arrow graphic I made for my sidebar. When I first started writing about BW—in the very first month of this blog!—I wasn’t using many images yet. But I raved about The Writer’s Jungle quite early on. I had met Julie Bogart on a homeschooling moms’ list some years earlier (late 90s) and then joined another yahoogroup for homeschooling moms who write. Julie is the only person I remember from that list. Her name jumped out at me when Brave Writer launched a while later and I was eager to see her materials. And promptly fell in love with them.
Finally got to meet Julie in person at the Brave Writer Retreat last summer. She’s the absolute best.
Heh—I figured I’d start the ball rolling with the word “thanks.” It seems I’ve only got one image with that word in the title or caption. It’s from the author panel at the Deep Valley Homecoming (a Betsy-Tacy event, obviously) in June 2015, in which I am apparently crushing someone’s tiny little head. Hit me with some better keywords so I can push this image down the page!
Discussing our writing processes at Deep Valley Homecoming. Photo swiped from Nancy Piccone, with thanks!
P.S. Happy Birthday to The Wine-Dark Sea, which shares this twelve-year mark with Bonny Glen. 🙂
Feb. 17, 1818 Yankee article with my researcher’s sticky note still in place
I woke up to the news that the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities are among the programs slated for elimination in the new administration’s budget proposals. Not exactly a surprise, but still it smacked me in the gut, and I’ve walked around feeling ill all day.
Anyone who knows me knows why I’m sick about the scrapping of the NEA. But losing the National Endowment for the Humanities as well? Takes my breath away. If you’ve read my Charlotte books, you’ve seen one NEH project in action. The NEH funded the US Newspaper Program, which gave grants to all 50 states to preserve old, crumbling newspapers on microfilm.
Massachusetts, for example, received $770,942 in NEH support to catalog over 8000 titles, including the 1680 Publick Occurrences, America’s first newspaper. There are treasures in those archives that would have been lost to time, but for this federal funding program.
You know that hurricane I wrote about in Tide Mill Lane? I learned of it in The Yankee—including whose roof was torn off and what other damages Roxbury folks suffered. The Brighton Cattle Show, right down to all the winners? The Yankee. The vandalism of the Bible in a Roxbury church. The first gaslights in Boston. The parade, the details of the wagons and the whole celebration. The first elephant brought to North America. All that priceless historical information came right out of newspaper articles that are available on microfilm at the Boston Public Library.
Jane was still going through treatment for leukemia in NY when I was researching and writing the first two Charlotte books. I couldn’t travel. My editors at HarperCollins arranged a stipend for on-site researchers who made copies for me. “ANYTHING AT ALL you can get me from the years 1800-1820,” I asked. “The whole paper, not just the news articles. I want advertisements, editorials, everything.” Amy Sklansky and Theresa Peterson put in dozens of hours printing off copies. I pored over those riches for months. I still have them—boxes of Yankee articles on that slippery microfilm paper. I use the story about the orchard thieves (“a man named Peter Twist and two well-dressed women”) in writing workshops to this day.
That’s what the NEH did for me, and for you, if you enjoyed my books. And that’s one tiny fraction of what those tax dollars funded.
January 17, 2017 @ 8:42 pm | Filed under: Books
I couldn’t get to sleep last night. This hardly ever happens. I usually nod off while reading, but I just kept turning pages and suddenly it was 1:30a.m. And then I lay there trying with all my might to achieve sleep, an endeavor not famous for its success rate. Finally, around 2, I gave up and got out of bed. I had a grant draft to finish, so I hunkered down on the living room sofa with my laptop and hammered out another chunk. Crawled back to bed at 3:30 and wished it were Saturday instead of Tuesday. But Tuesday morning rollerskated right on in mere seconds later, or so it seemed.
Huck eats salami for breakfast. I admit I’m not keen on handling cold cuts first thing in the morning, but boy do I love that kid. His full-throttle hugs and the full-throttle monologues he’s clearly been saving for me since the moment he sprang out of bed. And his big brother, spiky-haired and grinning, another morning person, reveling in the crisp, linear order of business that school mornings bring. The bus picks him up at the corner. Huck and Rilla wait with him and tear back to the house the moment they sight it, so that by the time it rounds the bend and rolls past our house, they’ve fetched me and we’re all in the doorway waving as it goes by. These little family rituals are what bind you.
I had to keep plugging away at the grant, so Huck and Rilla listened to some Earworms German and then Rose shepherded them through some math. I took a break to read them our history chapter and some Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen poems from Poetry for Young People. Then everybody else went to the park and I returned to the grant.
The draft is finished and I know I’ll sleep well tonight. Scott just brought me milk and a few of the last Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s. Beanie told me she’s working on characters for a new story and spent part of her day watching early cartoons for style reference. Tomorrow is Lit Class day, which means another dose of King Lear. I love the weeks when my primary task is to drop a few questions into the soup pot like stones, and then sit back and let the girls build their savory stew, carrot by onion by bay leaf.
Hmm, maybe that’s what I should hunt up for tomorrow’s picture book: Marcia Brown’s Stone Soup. We read Barbara Cooney’s version of Snow White and Rose Red last night and Huck was rapt. He was disappointed, this evening, to learn we had finished the whole story last night—he was hoping there was more. Fortunately, when it’s fairy tales, there always are more. Although our pick tonight was more in the fable family: Eric Carle’s The Grouchy Ladybug. I decided about halfway through that the book is even funnier if you read it in the voices of characters from My Cousin Vinny.
Why is he sideways? I have no idea.
Too tired to figure it out.