Archive for the ‘Assorted and Sundry’ Category

Assorted Thursday thoughts

November 19, 2015 @ 9:08 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry

1. I would like to take a drawing class. In a paint-spattered classroom with a real teacher standing over me grimacing at my line. It’s been 15 months since I started sketching (almost) every day and I can see I’ve made progress, but I’m craving instruction.

2. I’d better finish reading that KonMari ebook before my checkout time expires and it goes *poof* from my Kindle.

3. I wish all the things I want to KonMari right out of my house would go *poof* like an expired library ebook.

4. My brain keeps playing the following conversation on repeat: I should do the Everyday Matters Drawing Challenge. That would really help me improve. Ooh, I know! I should post each day’s entry to Instagram; that would keep me motivated. WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? THEN PEOPLE WOULD SEE IT. Right, that’s the point, accountability, encouragement. BUT FULLY HALF YOUR INSTAGRAM FRIENDS ARE PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS, YOU WILL EMBARRASS YOURSELF. Sigh. Right. Of course. I wish I drew better. I just need to keep at it every day. Hmm, maybe I should do the Everyday Matters Drawing Challenge… 

5. Whenever a form asks for hobbies, I never think to put down “listmaking,” but I totally should. I make lists all day long. I have lists of lists. I could compete in the List Olympics. If there were a Nobel Prize for listmaking, I’d be a contender.

6. Today IS Thursday, right?


Throwback Thursday

October 22, 2015 @ 8:42 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Bloggity


Today I cleaned my desk. I organized my shelves. I cleaned under my bed. Can you tell I have a revision to finish?

I was reminiscing on Facebook about when we drove cross-country to move here in 2006. Monday was the 9th anniversary of our arrival, which shocks me. We’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in our marriage. I never saw that coming—that my kids would grow up in Southern California.

The FB conversation brought up my old post about our scary encounter with junkyard dogs on that trip—one of the posts that makes me really happy I started blogging. :) I shared the link and was mildly irked to see it come up with one of my sidebar buttons as the giant header image Facebook likes to add now. There were no photos in the original post. Images were optional in 2006. I wound up going back in and adding a picture from the trip. Oh, my younguns were so very YOUNG back then!

I miss blogging like that. So much of that kind of “here’s what happened today” anecdotal posting has shifted to Facebook—it unrolls so naturally on that platform. Blogging seemed to take on a more…hmm, formal, is that the word I’m looking for? Polished?…a more polished tone. I dash off quips and stories on FB, and there’s that happy dopamine burst of reaction. But always, always, I want to pull it all back here to our family archive. We have over ten and a half years of history here. “We,” my family—and we, you and me. Some of you have been with me since the very beginning in 2005. “I remember when you moved,” wrote one FB friend today. “I was reading your blog like a novel, and it was a great upheaval in the plot!”

No great upheavals in the story today. :) Huck lost his other top front tooth. The Tooth Fairy brought him a buck per tooth, which vast fortune he had lost track of by lunchtime. I walked down the hall in time to hear him mutter, “I want my two dollars!” None of the kids knew why this reduced me to giggles.

Yesterday, hustling out the door to piano lessons, I heard Rilla say as I got into the car, “Mom gets a pass. She’s never the rotten egg.” A generous statement, considering I’m always the one hollering, “Is everyone ready?? We’re out the door in two minutes!”—while I’m still half dressed.

Wonderboy (who REALLY needs a more grown-up blog name, but would you allow it?) is giving a speech at school tomorrow about his family. He described me as a “homeschool teacher and an author” and Scott as “an author, a really good cook, and a good shopper.” True on all counts.

He loves his school, but we missed him (and Jane!!) at the park on Monday. Nine years. I still can’t believe it.


Goodbye, July

August 4, 2015 @ 7:55 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Books, Family Adventures, Photos

…she says, half a week into August.


We had family in town and spent a day hanging out with them at their fabulous beach hotel, and another afternoon touring the harbor on a boat cruise. Glorious weather. At one point, we were approaching Point Loma for a glimpse of the lighthouse when my nephew’s phone buzzed—it was Verizon Wireless texting him a “Welcome to Mexico” message. That was just about as far as we got before turning around to cruise past the downtown area. We saw dolphins and sea lions and pelicans—a perfectly satisfying day, according to Miss Rilla, who spent much of the boat ride standing in the wind with her arms spread wide and her grin even wider.

One of the nicest things about living in San Diego is that so many friends wind up vacationing here, and we get to join in.

Back home, I’ve been in blissful planning mode. I adore low tide; low tide is a deep delight; but my little listmaking heart glories in the voyage-charting of high tide just as thoroughly. I spent a morning gathering books from all over the house to fill a shelf for Huck—treasures I want to be sure my last six-year-old (sniff) doesn’t miss. I’ll try to get a picture and a post up soon, because I know some of you enjoy comparing notes that way.

Plans are afoot for Rilla and my two high-school-age girls too: more booklists, more shelves filling up. Every August I do this massive rearranging of the tomes, shifting high-tide resources to the living room where we do indeed do the bulk of our living. Twentieth-century history for the teens this year, and earth science, and Shakespeare of course, and a fat list of literary texts, and the languages they are studying separately. All juicy stuff. Beanie is forging ahead with German, which is extra fun for me, since I’m fair-to-middling in that language myself and always longing to improve my skills.

And loads and loads of art—along with poetry, perhaps our most constant occupation these days. At Comic-Con, I tried out my (brilliantly talented) friend Zander‘s pocket brush pen and was thoroughly intimidated by it. The next day, our (also staggeringly talented) friend Mark Chiarello showed us art from his forthcoming book (his first since his gorgeous book on the Negro Leagues), and he too was working with this pen, whose merits the extraordinary Roz Stendahl is always talking about. Between them, they convinced me to give it a try, and ohhhh, it turns out I’m in love. It is loosening up my line so much. I have a tendency toward a very careful and nervous line, and I’m feeling much freer about taking chances and using my whole arm, thanks to a few weeks with this pen. My book is filling up with a lot of messy, not-so-lovely pages, but in a good way. And every now and then I draw a line I really like. That’s progress.

Meanwhile, Rilla and I are about to dive into Sketchbook Skool’s “More Playing” klass, which started yesterday. We had a ball with “Playing” in July. Our favorite project was the drawing where we took turns for thirty seconds at a time, filling a page with nonsense. Much hilarity there. This, too, is something I’d like to post more about in the week ahead.

I’m overdue for a books post, too. Got on an Anne Shirley kick in July, following my Betsy-Tacy kick in June. Read the series through House of Dreams (skipped Windy Poplars, because I don’t have it on Kindle). I swear Dreams is better every time, even a dozen or more times later.

I also revisited Pudd’nhead Wilson for the first time since high school—shaking my head in bed at Twain’s audacity the whole way through. Oh, how I love him. I’m deep into Mansfield Park right now. No particular reason; it just decided I needed to reread it. I’m a Persuasion person first and foremost, and then P&P, but I do enjoy Mansfield. The urge to smack Mary Crawford upside the head is such a satisfying sensation.

Well, that’s the news from these parts. What’s your August looking like?


Oh, and I met an owl.


July 17, 2015 @ 2:40 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Family, These People Crack Me Up

the correct way to read a book about a fly

I gained a whole week today. It feels luxurious: what to do with this newfound space of time? It’s like finding a $20 bill in the pocket of your winter coat. Of course, just as with found money, immediately upon the heels of the jubilant discovery rush the responsible thoughts: you could put the money toward bills, or into a child’s college fund. I should (must) work toward some impending deadlines; I should tackle the Extreme Purging project I keep saying I’m going to undertake.

After all, it’s not like I really gained a week. It was here on the calendar all along; it was factored into commitments I have made. I didn’t lose it for long, only misplaced it for a day or two. The culprit was Comic-Con brain, I’m sure. SDCC came earlier in July than it usually does. Somehow, after I emerged from the exhausted post-con daze, I jumped ahead a week mentally. Rose is in Colorado visiting my parents. I knew she was coming home the 24th, but until this morning, I thought that was today. We have family coming to visit at the end of the month. Until this morning, I thought next week was the end of the month. The time in between is filled up with assignments: in a way, I’ve only located the lost $20 I had already spent.

Still, I feel dazzled and charmed: some tasks I’d thought would be frantic may now unfold at a reasonable pace. And how much more might I read, write, draw this month than I had been supposing?

My friend Edith Fine (a wonderful writer) told me once that when she used to teach school, she would always begin a new month by having the kids take note of what day of the week the sevens fell on. Since, you know, the multiples of seven are going to be on the same day each week. I caught the habit from her—it’s quite useful! I think July is the first month I’ve forgotten to notice, ever since Edith shared the trick with me. The sevens fall on Tuesdays, this month. In August, they’re the Fridays.

Next Tuesday is the 21st, not the 28th, in case you were wondering.


There’s something I need to get a picture of—the story begs a visual—but the shirt in question has already gone into the laundry. I’ll share a photo later. The other day, I remarked on Twitter that Rilla has decided to be a fashion designer when she grows up—a designer, that is, of clothing with lots of pockets. A perpetual grumble around here is the dearth of girls’ clothes with useful pockets. This, Rilla has announced, is a wrong that must be righted. I applaud her vision.

Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment. (Which I knew was on the 16th. HOW did I think today was the 24th??) When I returned home, Huck greeted me at the door, beaming proudly, urging me to take notice of his new pocket. Picture a worn gray t-shirt. Way up high near the shoulder, a teeny tiny pocket of some scrap fabric rummaged out of a storage bin, attached with embroidery floss in large, determined stitches. There’s just about room to keep a quarter in it. It is the dearest thing I have ever seen. No moss grows on Miss Rilla, for sure. When she announces a business plan, she means BUSINESS. I’m sure she knows what day it is.


June 4, 2015 @ 4:27 pm | Filed under: Art, Assorted and Sundry, Commonplace Book

On my mind constantly of late: notebooks, sketchbooks, art journals, and combinations thereof. Conversations are swirling in several of my circles—

• at Sketchbook Skool there is always lots of chatter about what people prefer to draw on and with;

• over at Wisteria & Sunshine, Lesley has been revisiting the topic of daybooks (especially handmade ones);

Kortney is posting wonderfully enticing things about right-brain planning;

• Amy Ludwig Vanderwater is hosting a summer “Sharing Our Notebooks” project that I plan to participate in, soon as I get a chance…

Once a week I meet a small group of teenaged girls (one of them my Beanie) at a coffee shop to discuss literature while their younger siblings take piano lessons in the studio upstairs. This is hands-down one of the best hours of my week: meaty stories; lively analysis; word-collection; chitchat. A couple of weeks ago we ran off on a tangent of comparing one another’s notebooks. The conversation coincided with a similar thread at Wisteria & Sunshine, so I was primed. I’ve been using graph-style spiral-bound steno pads for the past year or so, with a modified bullet-journal method. (Chiefly the use of an index page at the front of each notebook—that was a game-changer for me.) But I was hankering after something less utilitarian-looking, and one of my lit girls had a new kraft-brown Moleskine that set me swooning. Back at home, I looked it up and it was exactly what I wanted. Slim paperback in the size I favor (Moleskine calls it “large” but it’s only 5×8), and—this was crucial—they offer a “squared” (graph-style) version.

I’ve used Moleskines before but mostly the Volant model with the bright solid-colored covers. So pretty on my shelf but you can’t really fold them back on themselves, and I don’t like writing on a double-page spread. That’s why I’ve mostly sighed and made do with spirals. But Moleskine’s Cahier model with a heavy paper cover is flexible enough for me to fold back. And I love the pocket in the back, such a nice touch.

Kraft paper is one of my favorite surfaces for decorating, so of course the cover cried out for some decoration. I started on the back in case I messed up. Still haven’t decided what I want to do on the front.


gridded steno notebook, kraft brown Moleskine Cahier journal, Canson Mixed Media Sketchbook

I love a skinny notebook not only because it fits easily in my bag, but because it fills up faster. I am mad for the fresh start. I had a few pages left in my May steno book but I craved a clean slate for June, so I’ve been using up the steno pages with hand-lettering practice.

I use my daily notebook for list-making, idea-sorting, story-outlining, note-taking…basically anything that involves words. Words + doodles, really: my “work” pages are always margined with crosshatching and basketweave and spirals and mushrooms…whatever. I used to try to keep things compartmentalized: one notebook for current book-in-progress; one for medical & insurance notes (I always seem to have volumes of these); one for quotes/commonplace book entries; one for to-do lists…but they always wound up melded together, and then I’d have three or four mishmash notebooks going at once, which was ridiculous. So I gave up and embraced my brain’s clear need to dump itself onto a page, melting-pot style, and now I let all those channels of thought intermingle. (Messily, much like the mingling of metaphors in that sentence.)

april page

And these days my word-notebooks are overrun with drawings, too. I have a separate sketchbook—two, actually; a smaller (5×8) hardcover Moleskine that fits in my bag, and a larger (7×10) Canson mixed-media sketchbook that is my place to experiment with drawing techniques and paint. That’s where I do my Sketchbook Skool assignments—it’s my it’s okay to screw up place. Consequently, it sees way more action than the Moleskine sketchbook, which I pretty much only use when I’m 1) away from home and 2) feeling unobtrusive enough to draw in public. I don’t mind kids looking over my shoulder but I’m way too shy about my work to want adults eyeballing it in progress.

Interestingly, the Canson Mixed Media Sketchbook is the one that got a thumbs-down from Roz Stendahl (THE source of in-the-field info on all things art supply), and when I read her review I had a major light-bulb moment: Ohhhh, so you mean the paper isn’t supposed to buckle when I paint? This Canson (I’m in my second one now) is the only sketchbook I’ve ever painted in, so I thought that’s just how it went, unless you bought one with watercolor paper. Roz’s report clued me in to the possibility that the book I picked (entirely because it was on sale at Michael’s) may not perform as satisfactorily as other brands. I’m nearing the end of this one (you guys!!! I’ve filled two whole sketchbooks with drawings!!) and may take Roz’s recommendation and try a Strathmore Journal Series’ Mixed Media book next time. Does Michael’s sell them, I wonder? Got another coupon burning a hole…


bad phone photo; can’t be bothered to scan

Okay, so I was saying that in theory I have the sketchbook(s) for, well, sketching, and the notebook for all the word things, but the truth is that ever since I started working on my drawing skills last fall, I’ve got rough sketches running wild all over my word-notebooks. Again, this is something I’ve just decided to be at peace with. So much of my work involves a rigorous process of polishing and structure, and I think perhaps my mind really needs a place to be messy and unfiltered, a place to set itself down in raw form. It’s like a test kitchen for my thoughts, I guess. This is where the index is so invaluable: it allows me to quickly locate the notes from that Very Important Phone Call without having to hunt through pages of nonsense. I try to update the index at least once a week—just a mild leaf-through to note down the page numbers on which I have recorded important information. I number the pages of my notebooks in the bottom right corner, about ten pages at a time. I like to write my to-do lists on a Post-It that can travel from page to page. As each task is crossed off, I jot it down in the notebook for a record of what I’ve done.

Since the ugly steno books all look the same on the shelf, I would run a highlighter down the sides of the pages, a different color for each new book. But so far the kraft Moleskine is serving beautifully, and I doubt I’ll go back to the steno grids. I might use a bit of Washi tape on the spine to differentiate the Moleskines on the shelf, once they’re filled.


Back to my coffee-shop girls. We had so much fun that day, comparing notebook preferences, that we decided to all bring our sketchbooks the following week. Which was truly delightful—what a treasure, this look at the outpouring of creativity from these girls. Beautiful design work (I mean really breathtaking, some of it), whimsical drawings (much more skilled than mine), and illustrated quotes, and just so much wonder, so much evidence of curious minds sifting the world. I felt really honored to have this work shared with me. We are nearing the end of the topics we charted for our class, but the girls begged me to keep going through the summer. So we’re thinking of spending a few weeks on sketching and notebooking. I have all sorts of ideas for things we can do together—heavily Lynda Barry-influenced, naturally, because who better to guide you through an exploration of all the things a sheet of paper can become?

The Month That Ate My Brain

June 1, 2015 @ 8:04 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Books, Family, Photos


Oh, May. You beautiful, terrible month. I can’t say I’m sorry to see the back of you. Massive workload, plumbing woes, multiple trips to the children’s hospital (which sounds more alarming than it ought to—here in San Diego they send your kids to Children’s for every little thing; for example: a chest x-ray when your child has pneumonia even though there is an x-ray lab RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the pediatrician’s office, AHEM, and a four-hour wait and a three-second x-ray later the radiologist will say, all right, I’ve just sent these to your doctor, zap)…but it’s June now, let’s put all that behind us.


I suppose, though, that May did have its moments. Scott surprised me with a trip to a big art supply story downtown, a wonderland full of pens singing at me. I came home with a metal brush pen, aka my new best friend, it feels amazing when you pull it across the page; and a tube of raw umber paint because I have been unsuccessful in mixing a shade the color of chocolate with my basic color palette. Rilla’s birthday breakfast is still waiting in my sketchbook to be painted. Since April, sheesh.

In May my boys’ writing class wrapped up—this was a group of nine homeschooled boys ages 10-14 whose mothers approached me about putting together an eight-week writing course. We had us some fun, let me tell you. A highlight of my spring was watching our freewrites transform from “TEN WHOLE MINUTES??!!?” to “Oh wait can I please have a bit more time?”

final freewrite

Other highlights:

Huck discovered the delights of the Oz books—specifically the Eric Shanower/Skottie Young graphic novel adaptations that Rilla loves so much. He spends a lot of time like this:


blurry photo but it’s all I got

He’s also enjoying the Magic Tree House books, like so many of his siblings before him. Scott read him the first one to get him started. The corresponding nonfiction volumes are particular favorites, and I am once again being treated to daily factoids about sharks and pirates. Never gets old.

Little Happy Lists, Redux

May 3, 2015 @ 8:26 am | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Books

1. Piano recital: accomplished. And swimmingly, I might add. Particularly sweet this year because the music school divided the recital students into smaller groups (fewer classes lumped together into each recital), which meant our girls’ three classes were part of a five-class recital consisting mostly of good friends, families in our homeschooling circle. Best part: the way Huck (not yet a student) gasped in delighted recognition at the songs played by the beginner class (a level below Rilla’s group), because he recognized all the songs from last year when Rilla was learning them. Next year it will be his turn to begin! Hard to believe.

2. The drought, oh the drought, it has hit my garden hard. I’ve planted a lot of drought-tolerant natives over the years, so things are limping along, but still, it’s pretty grim out there. As it must be: flower-gardening will have to be one of the indulgences we let go in the new normal that is our hot-and-getting-hotter world. At least here in this dry-and-getting-drier state. Some of my work this year has involved a lot (a LOT) of research into California’s drying aquifers and the truly shocking lack of Sierra snowmelt and its impacts, and the sobering percentage of reduction of water deliveries to certain small towns from the State Water Project, and, well, you can’t face those facts and go on lavishing water on delphiniums. I’m becoming something of a vicarious gardener once again—the way I was in grad school when I confessed to the poet Robert Pinsky, whom I was tasked with picking up at the airport for a reading, that my habit while driving around town was to re-imagine the landscaping of all the yards I passed. Only now I’m mentally tearing up all the thirsty lawns around me in this desert. But I may have to find room for an annual trip to Portland in the spring, to soak myself for a few days in the glories of lush blossom and unfurling ferns. For now I must apply the tactic I used with much success back in those garden-deprived grad-school days: houseplants require very little water. Rilla and I went to work this week, taking cuttings and clippings to bring a bit of the bright outside indoors. And (influenced by Anne Shirley, of course) I’ve always kept windowsill geraniums with their cheery blooms perched on my kitchen sink—you can never go wrong with good old pelargonium. Thus this item belongs on a happy list even though its genesis is a bleak climate situation.

3. Kate Winslet does a smashing job with the voices in the Matilda audiobook. Rilla and I have one chapter left. We may not be able to wait for our Saturday-night ritual (audiobook + sketchbook time while the older girls watch S.H.I.E.L.D. with Scott) to finish. Which means I’d better come up with our next listen before Saturday…

4. Broadchurch Season 2. Wow.

5. Last night we watched a movie called Begin Again. Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, and yet I had somehow failed to hear about it until Scott queued it up. (He has unerring instincts for films that will delight me.) I loved it. A lovely, thoughtful piece by the writer/director of Once. I’ll watch it again.

What I’m reading this week

To the kids: House at Pooh Corner (still)

Myself: Connie Willis’s Blackout (Determined to finish this time! The other times I’ve begun and set it aside, it wasn’t because I wasn’t interested. Other things just kept crowding in. We’ll see if this time around is different.)

Photo of the week

San Diego children's authors

My friend Edith Hope Fine shared this photo, taken at last weekend’s Greater San Diego Reading Association awards breakfast, on Facebook, and our pal Salina Yoon dressed it up with everyone’s book covers. What a fantastic community of writers and illustrators we have here in San Diego! (Thanks, Edith, Salina, and—wait, who took the photo? I can’t remember!)

All the Busy

April 20, 2015 @ 8:30 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry

inkblot rhino

ARGH, when did I go from being a daily blogger to a weekly one? When I took on so much extra work, I suppose. It’s just so. very. busy. right now. But busy is good—busy is kids with full lives and writers with full workloads.

Busy is I got my manuscript back from my editor, so I’m in revision territory now, and that’s absorbing.

Busy is Journey North Mystery Class! Which we finished today with our usual awesome party full of lively presentations and unusual food. Delicious in every way.

Busy is the three (!) homeschooling classes I’m teaching! Two literature and one writing class—I suppose if you count Journey North, which I lead (but my friend Erica hosts at her house, and in my opinion that’s the hardest part), that makes four classes. Except (as I mentioned) JN is done now, so only three. We’re having a lot of fun. I teach because I love. The reading, the discussion, the kids—oh, most of all, these energetic, deep-thinking kids.

Busy is my roster of Other Jobs—the grantwriting gig, the website maintenance gig, the editorial gig. You know, the day jobs that make the writing life possible.

Busy is Sketchbook Skool and my commitment to daily drawing. (The rhino up there was for an assignment—splatter some ink on the page and turn it into a drawing. He’s scribbly on purpose. Also because I’ve never drawn a rhino before and I was winging it.)

Busy is when the neighbor kids are on spring break and therefore practically living at my house during daylight hours. We have become That House!

Busy is evening IM chats with Jane and full days with the rest of the gang. And morning walks with Scott, because no matter how busy All the Busy is, it’s never too busy for that. :)

A Monday snapshot

April 8, 2015 @ 7:06 am | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Books, Family



Small child straddling two barstools, running toy cars up and down the high counter. Another child sprawled on floor, drawing a picture. A third hovering by the cedar chest at the far end of the sofa, at loose ends. A leggy teenager spidering sideways in the comfy armchair. A perfectly typical scene of mild morning chaos.

I curl up in my rocking chair with House at Pooh Corner. The younger set hasn’t heard it yet, in that way that shocks me. They are six, almost nine, and eleven, for Pete’s sake! How could such a thing have happened? Answer: SO. MANY. BOOKS. With no fanfare, I open it and start reading.

The child on the floor flashes a starry grin and scoots closer, her pencils rolling under my feet. The child at loose ends looks up, ears perked. The small one zooming his cars around seems not to notice, but all the engines appear to have undergone sudden tuneups: their roars diminish to silky purrs.

It takes me a minute to find Pooh’s voice. It’s been a few years, after all. Piglet is easy and Eeyore—this revelation would no doubt astonish him—is a delight. It’s snowing, tiddley pom, but at least there hasn’t been an earthquake.

The cars have abandoned the counter and are crossing a bridge of air toward the Hundred Acre Wood. The teenager’s limbs have been transferred to the sofa. The no-longer-hovering child has claimed ownership of the big brown armchair. Nobody knows, tiddley pom, how cold my toes are growing. The postman rattles the lid of the mailbox, delivering the day’s contingent of recyclables. Pooh’s voice has settled down, and the wind must have blown Eeyore’s house over the wood because there it is, just as good as ever, and better in places.

It’s a beautiful house, tiddley pom.