I took a little trip. Had myself a perfectly wonderful time. Got home late, late last night…after many days of very late nights. Will catch up soon. Until then, I wanted to point you back to the comments on this post, where thoughtful writers like Erin of Mother Bird are continuing to share thought about blog commenting. Also, don’t miss this lovely rumination on the topic by Lesley Austin at Weaving Wild Simplicity. I’ll be chiming in on both those threads as soon as I get a chance.
So it seems I hit a little blog lull, quite unexpectedly. I write posts in my head every day, all through the day (it’s why I began blogging in the first place, you know: thinking in narrative is the way my brain has always, always worked)—but lately I seem prone to tossing a thought or a quip or a link onto Facebook instead of chronicling here. And yet I recoil, actually, from the idea of handing over one’s mental activity to the data-miners and the the rushing update stream. I have this looping conversation with myself over and over. If you blog and are also active on Facebook, I bet you know exactly what I mean.
On Facebook, people leave comments: that’s one point in its favor, part of its great appeal. And let me back up and say how much I love certain aspects of Facebook! I champion it often, when people are running it down for being shallow or negative. Facebook gave me what no other medium has: daily contact with my faraway cousins, my old school friends, my coworkers from jobs long past. Very precious contact, actually. Friendships rekindled and deepened. Road trips made merry (and potentially safer) by en route updates, with friends keeping tabs on us and inviting us to stop and stretch our legs as we made our way across the country and back. There are things Facebook can do that this blog cannot.
But: vice versa! Such riches I have tucked into the archives here—family treasures, I mean. Stories I’d certainly have forgotten, had I not recorded them here. A diary of sorts of our homeschooling journey. An annotated reading journal. A commonplace book, with pictures. Oh, I love this blog, what it’s given me. Including the friends: no small matter, that. Facebook reconnected me with old friends. Blogging gave me new ones, and I count those friendships as very real and rich indeed.
I don’t comment on your blogs nearly often enough. I’m still probably among your most faithful readers, though, did you know that? I find myself reaching for the like button to let you know I’ve appreciated a post, am nodding my head at your insight or smiling at your joke. On Facebook people snark about the superficiality of ‘likes.’ I understand why, it’s quick and glancing, it’s not saying anything meaningful, it sometimes suggests an unfortunate endorsement of the wrong half of a sentence. (“I got an offer on a YA novel today! But then I fell and broke my leg.” Er, like? No, wait!) But that silly like button serves a purpose. I means I’m here, I’m reading this, I took note of what you said, I’m glad you shared. If I could click a button on Feedly to let you know I’d appreciated a post, you can bet I would. Clicking through to actually comment, now…oh, I wish I were better about it. Sometimes it’s captcha that deters me, or login technicalities. (Blogger gets very grumpy with me when I don’t want to comment as Melissa Wiley’s Official Data-Providing Google Account, which I loathe doing on friends blogs because I’m just Lissa to you, right? And I can never remember my WordPress login on blogs that aren’t mine.) But other times, a friendly comment is an easy click away and I still don’t take the time, because I’m probably reading your post on my phone, and I really really hate typing with my thumbs.
A Facebook update is much more likely to generate discussion these days, at least for me. Of course, Facebook is such a combustible stew of people from all one’s different worlds and walks of life—sometimes I cringe, seeing all my people jumbled up together that way. I’ve tried separating my personal and professional worlds there but it’s flat impossible. Colleagues become friends, and then what do you do? Make them switch accounts? Who can keep up with multiple accounts anyway? Not I.
All of this is musing without agenda: I simply thought I’d try thinking aloud here the way I did in the olden days of blogging. You know, way back in 2006.
For my own amusement, a few of the topics I’ve posted about on social media recently:
• geocaching, which has become our favorite pastime, and I could talk about it ENDLESSLY for HOURS (see one diabolically clever hiding place in the photo above—oh how we shrieked!)
• how I’ve started writing serious poems again, and I really miss my old grad-school poetry workshop mates and the close readings we used to do of our own poems and others
• Coursera classes I’m taking (alone or with various kids), and many many thoughts about how we use Coursera—and actually I have a long post half-written on that subject. It began here (is still in drafts) and spilled over to Facebook, and judging from that conversation I actually have a lot of practical information to share on the topic.
• related: gossip as a vital tool for human survival—one of the many fascinating points of discussion in the Coursera “Brief History of Humankind” class I’m taking, about which I have LOADS OF THINGS to say
• also related: the Coursera “Modern and Contemporary Poetry” course is wonderful and is going a long way to satisfy my ache for close readings, since each week’s lesson consists of video discussions (grad students and professor) of several different poems—one poem per fifteen(ish)-minute video, perfect for diving into in small chunks of time, which is all I have
• a mocking gripe about my internet service provider, not worth recording
• links to various articles, all of which I’ve shared in the sidebar here anyway
• my delight over the first sketches for Inch and Roly #3
• a picture of The Greatest American Hero, which generated more comments than anything else I’ve posted this month
• the sudden realization after all these years that in the Magic School Bus theme song, the guy is not actually saying “Make a sacrifice on Mars.”
• and in the comments of the above, the revelation that “the guy” is none other than Little Richard!!!
• an adorable photo of my boys
• Overheard, Rilla to Huck: “I’m going to teach you three things. The first one is Pounce, and it goes like this.”
The trouble with a gap between posts is that when you come back, there’s too much to catch up on. Especially a gap like this one, such an epoch in our lives! Abridged version: the trip up the coast was incredibly fun, the college is wonderful, she had a great week of orientation, today is her first day of school. As in EVER.
And there’s too much to say, so I’m not saying any of it. Instead: some pictures from the hike Beanie and I took yesterday morning.
• I’ve resumed posting at the homeschooling side-blog. If you’d like access, drop me a note.
• I’ve decided an easier way of keeping up with the Huck-and-Rilla book log is to tweet it. Every day, I’m trying to tweet a recap of whatever picture books we read together that day.
• Speaking of picture books! I was on my way up the coast when the announcements came rolling out, so I haven’t had a chance to do more than tweet my excitement at having been selected to serve once again on the Cybils Fiction Picture Book panel, Round 1! Fiction Picture Books was my first Cybils judging experience, back in 2008. I always remember the year because I was very, very pregnant with Huck, and we actually scheduled our big discussion with the possibility of his sudden arrival in mind. Of course, there was to be no such sudden arrival. He was born fully two weeks after our discussion, continuing the family tradition of hopeless tardiness.
Since that time, I’ve had the pleasure of serving on several other Cybils panels: Young Adult Fiction (2010, round 1), Graphic Novels (2011, round 1), and Book Apps (2012, round 2). I’m delighted to return to Picture Books—as you know, reading them occupies a significant part of my day—and am looking forward to working with this crackerjack team of fellow judges. Not to mention Pam Coughlan, aka MotherReader, our category chair!
Our Round Buildings, Square Buildings reading took us to the Flatiron Building, which led to the Chrysler Building (cue “Hard Knock Life”), the Empire State Building, the old and new Manhattan skylines, and much discussion along the way. I got a bit homesick for NYC. Somewhere around here I have a copy of a letter I wrote to friends back home during my first year in New York—a long description of the view from the top of one of the Twin Towers. Ouch. It would be a good thing to post tomorrow, if I could find it, but them’s slim odds.
A friend posted a caterpillar pic on Facebook, looking for an ID. Beanie was game, and we wound up meandering around this ID site for a good long while. Didn’t find our friend’s critter, but I learned a whole lot about ghost moths…
Rilla is interested in French, which led to an hour on YouTube this afternoon, listening to French children’s songs (and marveling at their unabashed gruesomeness, some of them). It all began with Alouette:
Little lark, nice lark, I am plucking you?! Who knew? (French speakers, that’s who.) Oh, the belly laughs this generated.
Many videos later, we discovered the Most Persistent Earworm of All Time.
Les crocrocro, les crocrocro, les crocodiles will be haunting my dreams tonight.
Only some of them, you understand. Most of the game-playing and show-watching and walk-taking happens during my work time.
Wonderboy started back to school on Tuesday. That kicked the rest of us into—perhaps not high tide, but the tide coming steadily in.
We watched the first twenty minutes of that Vermeer documentary I posted a link to the other day. It’s riveting so far. The only reason we didn’t view the whole thing in one gulp was because I didn’t want to overwhelm the kids (especially Rilla, who was entranced) with too much information. We’ll take our time with it…a sort of Slow Reading philosophy applied to YouTube.
(“Master of Light” indeed! I learned a lot in that first third of the video—learned to see some things I hadn’t known to look for.)
Earlier this summer, Jane asked Scott to give her a course in the history of rock and roll. So after our busybusy July was past, he put together a playlist for her and commenced the seminar this week. All three of our older girls showed up for class.
Rilla learned a little Latin (dry-erase markers and a whiteboard continue to be a sure-fire way to ensure enthusiastic vocab practice…ditto colored chalk and a little slate). And I love getting to dip back into the stories her sisters loved at this age. The Sword of Damocles went over like gangbusters. And the “Albion and Brutus” opening chapter of Our Island Story, which she’s heard before but likes because mermaids!
Which made it extra fun when “the white-cliffs-of-Albion” showed up in our Just So Stories pick today—”How the Whale Got His Throat.” I’d forgotten that bit, and my Mariner of infinite-resource-and-sagacity was an Irishman until he mentioned his natal-shore. Hasty accent-change required. At the end of the tale, Rilla peered closely at the grating the Mariner had lodged in the Whale’s throat (you didn’t forget about the suspenders, did you?) and commented: “So that’s why whales eat krill. They’re filter-feeders.” I’d been prepared to launch into an exploration of baleen, but I’m informed Octonauts beat me to it.
I was then required to read “Dingo! Yellow Dog Dingo!” (exclamation points very much a part of the title), which is how she refers to “The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo.” Try as I might, I can’t make that inordinately proud creature sound remotely Australian. Gotta step up my game.
(Tangent: upon reflection, if I absolutely-please-don’t-make-me HAD to choose one single storybook for all future readalouds, I do believe I’d go with the Kipling. Playful language, magnificent vocabulary, surprising and amusing narratives, magnetic subject matter, sense of humor, discussion-fodder, colorful locales, magic, and crocodiles. You really can’t go wrong.)
Let’s see, we also spent some time with this book: Assembling California by John McPhee, the fruit of my hunt for something to satisfy the local-geology itch created by our drive to Denver last Month.
First chapter quite promising. Begins at Mussel Rock off the shore of San Francisco, and dropped us right into the San Andreas Fault. Perfect. Then of course we wanted to see Mussel Rock for ourselves. YouTube obliged with this gem:
Those lingering shots on the uneven pavement of the parking lot, and later the cockeyed houses on a San Francisco street, really bring home the reality of shifting plates. And from McPhee we learned that the science of plate tectonics is quite new! Just barely older than I am.
Rilla is learning “The Walrus and the Carpenter” by heart. She had the first three stanzas down last spring but we forgot about it over the summer. She likes to practice when we’re walking around the corner to pick Wonderboy up from school.
There were other things…the visit to the Mammoth and Mastadon exhibit at the Museum of Natural History on Monday (and a carousel ride, mustn’t forget that), and the hopeful rescue of some withering veggies from our sunbaked garden. We relocated the cukes and canteloupe, and both tomato plants, and a poor, parched blueberry bush. Something’s quite different in that corner of the yard this year. Everything’s struggling. Or maybe it’s just that I’m off-season. I don’t usually do much out back during the late-summer months. January’s when my garden really perks up and starts producing.
We’ve got loads of monarch caterpillars, though. And goldfinches galore.
Rose got her ears pierced. Jane and Wonderboy and I cleaned out a Staples. Her college pile is growing.
Huck has not yet seen Bambi, but his inflection perfectly mirrored Flower the Skunk when he said, for no particular reason, “You can call me Mechanic if you want to.”
I have worms on the brain. We had to give up our compost pile a few years ago since it was attracting rats. Not composting kills me. Our town offers coupons for a small enclosed composter, knocking the price down to $40. Or…there’s this. I’ve been interested in vermiculture for a very long time. There are cheaper methods than the Worm Inn; YouTube abounds with videos demonstrating the Rubbermaid bin technique, and that’s probably a better option for starting out. Our favorite local nursery sells bags of redworms for about $15. I’m contemplating.
Yesterday evening, with little fanfare and a grin bigger than the Cheshire Cat’s, Rilla learned to knit. We were lounging in my room while Scott was making dinner, and she happened to spy a pair of knitting needles in the pencil mug on my shelf. “Oh!” she gasped. “You were going to teach me to knit!” (I think we last mentioned it around Christmastime.) Jane supplied a ball of yarn, and before Scott’s chicken fajitas hit the table, Rilla was purling away. I’m putting it here so I’ll remember the day.
(Tip discovered by chance: Use variegated yarn for teaching beginners. The color changes make it easy for newbies to distinguish the different loops on the needle. Rilla got the hang of it much more quickly than her sisters before her, and without the learning-curve frustration. I remember prior first lessons ending in tangles and tears.)
I was going to say July was a month like we’ve never had—on the road almost the whole time—but I remembered that’s not true, of course; three summers ago the kids and I spent three weeks on that cross-country trip from San Diego to Virginia and back, and a few years before that was the grand expedition to our new home, which also took the better part of a month. I guess that’s our pattern: hardly any travel for three or four years, and then something epic.
We drove through Utah and across the Rockies to my parents’ home in Aurora, Colorado. Spent the 4th of July in St. George, UT, where our hotel parking lot afforded a view of six separate fireworks displays across the valley. Spent hours goggling out the van windows at spectacular scenery: so much beauty none of us remembered to read the books we’d brought, or to fiddle with the iPads.
Spent a week in Colorado visiting with my old friends and family. A whirlwind week, full of chatter. At the tail end, I gave three talks at a homeschooling conference and (so very marvelous) spent a series of evenings sitting up late with my pal Karen Edmisten and her husband, whom it was high time we met in person. A very good week. A full week, capped with a wagon ride to a buffalo herd on the prairie I love so much.
Then we drove home just in time for Comic-Con. Had a family playdate with Jenni Holm and her gang—one of our favorite families on the planet. Spent the next four days in the usual blur of crowds, meetings, lunches, dinners, late nights gabbing at the bar. More good time with faraway friends. These conversations with our writer and artist pals are why I love conventions. That, and the panels—I’m an oddity there; few of my pro friends spend much time at other people’s panels, but for me it’s a highlight of the summer. This year I hit Graphic Novels and the Common Core (illuminating; perhaps more anon); Graphic/Prose Hybrid Works (delightful, and dangerous to my reading list); Today’s Kids’ Heroes…and Why They Don’t Wear Capes (featuring my hubby, among other stellar panelists—a most excellent discussion); and a Prismacolor Shading Workshop, which included to my delight and surprise a handful of Prismacolor brush pens and markers. Heaven.
And then! Because that wasn’t enough! The college I attended for my freshman and sophomore years—before it was sold out from under us and we all had to transfer—has never had a reunion, for obvious reasons. Until last week. A number of my theater classmates converged in Denver, and Scott and my mother conspired to send me back out for the fun. The photos tell several thousand words of that story. I’m so glad I went.
All of it, each day of July, merits a post in itself. But here I am back at home, slipping back into routine, and I find that mostly I want to write about my garden. It suffered less than I expected during the month of neglect, but still there’s a lot of cleanup to do. I’ve spent the past two days digging out bermuda grass and planting a few new natives in the butterfly garden. And the new veggie garden is in. Pole beans, cucumber, cantaloupe, tomatoes (I had one good plant in already and expected to find it withered upon our return, but instead it was green and happy and loaded with ripe tomatoes!), strawberries. I’ve ripped out a lot of ice plant and took at least a dozen cuttings off a geranium gone haywire. The red rose bush and the yellow one each presented a single blossom upon our return. The salvia was limp as old lettuce, but perked up after a good soaking. The goldfinches are having a field day with some giant dandelions gone to seed in my absence. The scrub jays have returned to their favorite perches, where they harass us until we’ve filled the birdbath. Home sweet home.
The parent panel was surprisingly united on several points. “Makers gotta make, so if you can’t get their stuff (maker treasure) under control just find a way to live with it.” “Kudos for letting your kids disassemble, repurpose, void warranties, and explore fearlessly!” “Allow projects to take time and make room for play and exploration–even if it means lots of projects are in progress at once (if you aren’t going to work on it in the next six months maybe it can hang out in the back of the closet for now.)”
Whenever I speak to homeschooling groups, I urge something similar. Never underestimate the importance of freedom to be messy. Creativity is a messy, messy business. Art is messy. Writing is messy. Sewing, woodworking, robotics, cooking, all these awesome pursuits we want our kids to dive into, all these handcrafts and skills we love to see them develop—they require room to get sloppy. The paint-spattered corner, the room abandoned to fabric scraps and bits of Sculpey, the table overtaken by wires and circuit boards…
I know it isn’t always easy, especially for type-A parents, to live with the clutter and chaos that so often surrounds a creative mind, but there are ways to compromise. For us, it means keeping the front of the house reasonably tidy, one main room where people can count on an uncluttered space, and letting the rest of the house wear a jumble of raw materials with abandon and zest. The girls’ room is overrun right now with wand-making supplies. The house smells like hot glue. Every time Scott looks at me he finds another piece of glitter on my face—I don’t even know where it’s coming from; it’s in the air.
Along with Freedom to Be Messy goes Lots and Lots of Down Time…that’s part two of my refrain: give ’em time to be bored, time to stare into space, time to tinker, time to obsess. So much of my work as a writer happens when I’m far from my keyboard…I’m writing while I’m gardening, while I’m doing dishes, while I’m curled up under a blanket doing a crossword puzzle. I may look idle, but I’m not. Things are churning in my head. Scott used to do his best writing on the walk home from the subway. Now, far from NYC, sans commute, he stands in the backyard, his mind working while Huck runs circles around him. Our kids know that we’re absent sometimes—lost in our thoughts, working something out—and they understand, they know we try to make up for it by being extra-present, fully engaged, in other parts of the day. But also by giving them that same kind of mind-space in return: big chunks of the day unscheduled, unspoken for. Let me get out of your hair so you can put glitter in it.