Archive for the ‘Assorted and Sundry’ Category
November 13, 2014 @ 4:01 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry
I’ve been unusually (for me) quiet here lately. Partly it’s due to some unexpected work keeping me out of the house a lot more than usual. But also I’ve just been taking some breathing-in time. Reading, thinking, sketching, a bit (a very little bit) of painting. Reading, hoo boy, my Cybils pile means a whole lot of breathing in…I have so many books I want to tell you about! I’m hoping next week sees a return to a more usual blogging schedule for me.
But (gasp) here it is practically mid-November already, and the kids are practicing for the Christmas recital, and I’ve booked Jane’s train tickets for Thanksgiving (hoorah!), and my editor plans to send notes on my manuscript before the holiday, and—well, I guess it’s a good thing I took a little time to be pensive because there will be precious little time for that during the next two months, eh?
Pumpkins have overrun our front yard. Last year’s decorative pumpkins decomposed quietly under a bush all year; at first we meant to throw them out but then it became so interesting to watch how much more quickly the one mostly in the sun deteriorated than the one completely in the shade. Eventually the heat desiccated them both and the brittle, papery sides split open and exposed the seeds to that one little bit of rain we had. Voila, sprouts galore. Now little green globes that promise to be autumnally orange right around, oh, I’d say Christmas. Right on track for the topsy-turvy seasons of this crazy place.
Glorious right now: my zinnias, which I don’t remember planting. They came up intermingled with the sunflowers, so perhaps someone spilled a seed packet back in June. I did have a lot of helpers that day. Garden surprises are the very nicest kind.
(One of the only kind of surprises I like, come to think of it.)
A neat thing from yesterday: the Stone Writing Center at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, named me their “Writer Crush” for the day.
Even cooler: this comment from Dori White’s niece on my Sarah and Katie post!
Making my life easier: Google Inbox. Anybody else using it?
Yikes, I’m out the door again in 15 minutes. Your turn. I’m way behind on blog-reading (blame Cybils) and I miss you guys! What’s new?
I’m up early, hanging with the three youngest. Huck’s tummy is a bit off today. He climbed into bed with us before dawn and slept snuggled against me in a way that hardly ever happens anymore; he’s getting so big and busy. He was restless, and after a while I reached for my phone and read mail with his arm flung half across my face. It’s not that I ever want my kids to be sick—honestly, I’ve dealt with enough childhood illness for three lifetimes—but there’s something very sweet in the moment, when you’re cuddled up with a heavy-limbed child who just wants to curl into you as close as possible. My baby will be six in a few months (the mind boggles) and these moments don’t happen very often anymore. I enjoyed this one, while it lasted. Then suddenly he clapped a hand over his mouth, ran to the bathroom, and threw up into the tub.
I’m just impressed that he made it that far.
He’s getting the Gatorade treatment now, watching cartoons. (A few sips of Gatorade every ten minutes for an hour, a trick gleaned from the Dr. Sears Baby Book* a million years ago.) I brought my laptop out to the couch to be near him and am trying not to listen to the squeakings of Curious George. At least it’s not Caillou.
*ETA: Scott has chimed in to say he thinks it was The Portable Pediatrician, not Dr. Sears. We gave ‘em both away ages ago, so I can’t check. I’m sure he’s right—he’s been the one handling the timing of this absolutely tried-and-true method for, yikes, almost 20 years now.
I’m still getting requests for those notes I promised to share from my habits talk way back in August (gulp). I’ve realized I’ll have to post them in notes fashion, for sure, because writing up the talk essay-style makes it all seem too formal, too authoritative. The idea of coming across as authoritative about parenting gives me the willies—it’s far too subjective and individual an endeavor for me to ever feel comfortable making pronouncements about the ‘right’ or ‘best’ way to do things. All I can do is say ‘here’s what’s worked great for us’—after the fact, you know, speaking from personal experience, same as I do with homeschooling. There’s a reason my whole Tidal Homeschooling thing is a description, not a method.
So maybe I can just take my habits-and-behavior talk notes and spit them out just like that, as notes, not, you know, entire sentences. Sentences are hard. They need verbs. I’m okay with past-tense verbs (did, tried, practiced, worked, laughed)—it’s the imperative ones that spook me, the kind with the implied “you.”
For my memories file: Several times over the past couple of weeks, after the boys were in bed, while Scott watched S.H.I.E.L.D. or a movie with Bean and Rose, Rilla and I sat on my bed with our art journals and listened to The BFG on audiobook. Colored pencils and markers all over the quilt. (Imprudent but comfy.) Natasha Richardson doing a bang-up job with the voices.
There you go, a bit of parenting advice I can pronounce in the imperative: Do that. It was delightful and you should totally try it.
September 5, 2014 @ 3:03 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry
This is pretty typical for one of my posts. Somewhere in the middle there is when I hit publish, so a number of those edits happened after the post went live. Which means the version that got sent to feed readers and email subscribers wasn’t the final. My ‘blogging freehand’ post went out the other day with a really mortifying apostrophe typo in it. Jane caught it for me, but not until it had been up for hours. One of the hazards of instant publication. But that’s something I love about blogging: you can put a thought out there and tweak it later if need be. I figure it’s sort of like having the kind of house friends can drop by anytime, even if that means sometimes they catch you with crumbs on the floor. I want my blog to be reasonably tidy and presentable but not all scrubbed-up for fancy company, if you know what I mean.
In grad school, my beloved teacher, Fred Chappell, used to say, “How do you know when a poem is finished? When it’s published.” He meant that it’s never really finished for the poet; we’ll go on nipping and prodding at it until some editor takes it out of our hands and says, Enough. Blogging is the same way, for me. A post is never truly finished; it’s part of a conversation.
Jumping to a new topic. Things we read about this week: the French Revolution; Richard II; China’s Emperor Chien-lung and the press of English trade, especially opium; the friendship of Wordsworth and Coleridge; Napoleon; the founding of Rome and the abduction of the Sabine women. A bit wide-ranging but all relevant to ongoing conversations or studies. A rich week.
Something that made me laugh. On Sunday morning I had planned to get outside early and do some gardening before the heat fell, but I got caught up writing a post, a long one, about September in San Diego and how every year it bucks my internal sense of what September ought to be. Eight years we’ve been here, but certain things about the seasons still jar me. Not in a bad way—I like being jarred, being made to notice. Anyway, this post has been sitting in drafts all week: it wants pictures, and I never got around to taking any. Then today one of the ‘related links’ at the bottom of my current post caught my eye: San Diego Autumn. Hello! I thought. Guess I’ve ambled this bit of ground before. Was fun to compare the then (2008, two years after the move) to the now. I may still try to get the new one finished up and posted, but I think the original probably captures my meaning better. And that picture of wee Rilla at the bottom—oh my. She’s all grasshopper legs now.
I’ve been online since April, 1995. Quit my job at HarperCollins, bought a modem, unwrapped one of those AOL starter disks that were ubiquitous in the middle of that decade, created an account—screen name LissaNY—and I was off and running. After my free trial ran out, I think we had something like five hours of dialup a week? Ten, twelve at most? Does that sound right? Whatever the cheapest package was.
Not long after that, Scott’s company (DC Comics, subsidiary of Time Warner, which bought AOL) gave all employees a free AOL account with unlimited minutes. His screen name was StratNY, in honor of his Stratocaster. I spent a lot of time on that account, reading the pregnancy and new baby boards, waiting for Jane to arrive. She was two weeks late. By the time she was born, I had a network of invisible friends—many of whom are still friends to this very day. One by one, we delivered our babies and moved to the Baby’s Here, Now What? board. After a while, we jumped to a listserv—this big group of us who’d had babies within a four- or five-month window. Nineteen years later, more than a dozen of those women are still chatting via email every single day. On Facebook, too, but mostly on the list. We’ve met in person, in various configurations, numerous times. Our babies are in college now.
There was a big schism on the listserv around the time Jane was 18 months old. A lot of women left, and I’ve lost track of most of them. I still remember things they wrote, though, back in those days. I remember the names of their kids. When Jane was diagnosed with leukemia at 21 months, a big group of the women who’d left our original list joined forces to send us a giant box of treats from Zabar’s. Several friends from the original list visited me in the hospital, traveling from New Jersey, Boston, and even Chicago. Another woman we knew on AOL, though I don’t think she was part of the listserv, died of complications after childbirth, so horrifying, and we all made squares for a quilt for the baby. I guess that would have been before the schism, because I remember one of the departees, a New Yorker, being interviewed on the TV news about the group effort for the quilt. They shot footage of her sitting at her computer, typing a post to our group. It was such a novelty then, newsworthy, all these strangers behaving like friends. I’m not sure the reporter was convinced we actually were friends.
We are, though.
Somewhere in my first few months of being online, I began poking around the education boards. People were already asking us where we planned to send the baby to school. School? I was still trying to master the art of burping her. I flailed around a bit, reading about private vs private and whatnot, and then suddenly I discovered the homeschooling boards and our lives were never to be the same. Home Education Magazine was active on the AOL hs’ing boards back then—moderated them or something like that—and I remember Helen Hegener being a presence. And Sandra Dodd, whose kids were pretty young at the time, but she was already speaking with conviction and wisdom. Pam Sarooshian was another voice who stuck out. I seldom chimed in, I was mostly reading while nursing my infant, but boy howdy was I taking notes, mental and otherwise. I subscribed to Growing Without Schooling magazine and ordered a bunch of back issues to boot. To my mind, GWS prefigures homeschooling blogs—all those parents writing in to share details about their families’ learning adventures. I always cite John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Charlotte Mason, and Sandra Dodd as the big influences on my ideas about home education, but probably the greatest influence was GWS: reading dozens of letters by parents in the trenches about the myriad ways their kids were learning outside school. That magazine was a revelation. OH I SEE, was my overwhelming response to the first issue I read. I GET IT. THIS IS FOR US.
I made a friend on the AOL hs’ing boards, Pam, whose son had the same birthday as Jane. We were in close daily touch for years, and when Jane got sick Pam sent the most amazing gifts for the hospital. A little box of things from nature—driftwood, beeswax, beans, seeds—pieces of nature Jane could touch and smell from her bed. We still have it, all those beans and twigs intact. There was a vanilla bean, too, inside a corked tube; I remember how its lovely scent would rise above the smell of betadine and latex. Pam also made a little comb-bound, laminated book full of pictures of road signs. Her son loved street signs and she thought Jane might enjoy them too. She did, she read that book—I almost said “to pieces” except it was so well constructed it, too, is still intact.
A year or so later, I found yahoogroups and joined a whole bunch of homeschooling lists. Friends I made there, too, are still with me. Like, really with me, besties. One of them became Huck’s godmother. Eventually email lists became discussion boards (and fraught with endless drama), and bit by bit some of those faded to silence as many of us migrated to blogs and, later, Facebook. Other boards are still active, and I’m the one who faded away. I moved here, to my little homestead on the internet. January will be ten years. I built my first website the summer before I started the blog, so that’s ten years ago exactly.
Blogs brought new friends. Most of you who comment regularly here are friends given to me by Bonny Glen. Sometimes I go back and reread a friend’s blog from the beginning, if the archives are public. What heady days those were! Sharing with abandon, forming blog-rings so we could hop from one to the next in a long, delightful chain. I miss blog-rings! The little “previous | next | random” links at the bottom of the page. I was crazy about that “random” feature—it was like a teleporter. Click! Here I am in someone’s kitchen! Look, she’s making a pie!
I was thinking about the early days today because I had it in my head to write a post called “Things I’ve Learned About My Online Life.” Number 1 was: BLOG FIRST. (I never got to number 2.) This struck me because I’m realizing I turned my old writing pattern upside down, and it’s got me feeling unsettled and less productive. In the early days—years—I used the blog as my transition from Mom time to Writer time. Writing about the kids (i.e., about momming) for 20 minutes helped me shift from one mode to the other. By the end of a post, I was fully in writing mode and could turn my attention to the next chapter of Martha or Charlotte. It was a pattern that worked beautifully for me, through many novels.
Now my online time is splintered between many activities—editing, researching, banking, socializing, writing, blogging, taking classes, watching compilations of 80s commercials (you know, important stuff)—and I’ve begun to feel wistful about the simpler days of yore. Olden times, when I was astonishingly productive, writing posts for not one but as many as FOUR blogs (Bonny Glen, Lilting House, daily notes, private family blog), two fat historical novels and several early readers a year, dozens of freelance articles, and thousands of words a week in discussions of homeschooling methods and philosophy. Good gravy, that was a lot of writing.
WordPress tells me I’ve published 3,081 posts here at Bonny Glen. That tally includes Lilting House, too, which I folded into this site when ClubMom shut down. I can’t begin to guess how many words that is, especially if you add in the lengthy replies I used to make in the comments. Hundreds of thousands. (ETA: Scott, doing some quick math, reckons I’ve posted upwards of two MILLION words here. Yow.) Enough for a book, several books probably. I have it in mind to collect some essays from the site for a book on tidal homeschooling at some point, a mix of new content and old posts. The trouble is, whenever I start to work on it, I find myself wanting to turn each new essay into a post instead—blogging spoils you with the instant readership, the immediate connections. Writing about tidal homeschooling without all of you chiming in in the comments feels so lonely!
And yet I’d like to persevere and make it happen. Sometimes I think the book I’d like to write isn’t about homeschooling—it’s about the online life, about these text-first connections that become real relationships. Or, well, what I’d really like is to write both books. I got my first baby and my first modem in the same month. (Practically.) I don’t know, have not experienced, motherhood separate from the internet. There’s a story there. New parents now give thought to the Google-factor when naming their babies; some parents buy domain names and lock down gmail addresses even before the child is born. That’s practical, I get it. But I realize I and some of my friends—some of —occupy this narrow, unique sliver of parenthood: the space belonging to the parents who got online first. We didn’t know (or hardly experienced) parenting without the internet. But we grew up without it, and we remember what a world-shift coming online was for us. We may have as many friends online as off. We’ve watched each other’s children grow up through the word-pictures we sketched on discussion boards and elists, the photos we pepper our social media feeds with, and—integrating words and pictures—on our blogs.
Blog first, I’m telling myself. Not with agenda, not toward any purpose other than chronicling the adventure and integrating the two dominant sides of myself. The mother, the writer. “Blogger” is such an unlovely word but it strikes me that it more than any other identifier unites those two parts of me. My blog pulls all my pieces together. It’s the home ground I return to after venturing out into new worlds. I suppose I should have thought up this post five months from now, on its tenth anniversary. But if I’ve learned anything from blogging, it’s: Write it down today, while the thought is fresh. Scheduling a topic for later turns the post into an assignment, which dramatically lowers the odds of its eventual completion. (I really am working on getting that habits post up, though!)
There! It took me all those words to figure out what I needed to know. Blog first—that’s the thought I began with. Blog fresh—that’s what my brain was trying to puzzle out. Blog lightly, in a manner of speaking—not in the sense of avoiding deep or serious topics, but without that sense of pressure and polish that rules the rest of my writing life. So now I guess I’ve gone and written a New Year’s Resolution five months early, too. Blog freehand. How funny this is—I didn’t even know I needed to give myself a talking-to!
Having newly tidied-up files is having a shiny-sink effect on me: I’m just about caught up on all forms of desk-work now, including answering reader mail. Speaking of, how sweet is this Prairie Thief-inspired drawing a young reader made for me? I melted utterly.
Awesome job, Mara!
Now only some personal correspondence to catch up on (hi Brigid!!!) and a short list of work-related tasks. And then, wonder of wonders, my desk will be clear. For a little while, at least. I seem to be a person who enjoys organization in fits and starts.
The new combination of gCal for household chores + Remember the Milk for other (family or clerical) tasks & errands is working really well for me. And since I’ve volunteered to handle the cooking for the next month, I created a Meal Planning gCal too. Dinner prep has gone smoothly three nights in a row, which has got to be a lifetime record for me. WHO IS THIS KITCHEN WIZARD OCCUPYING MY SHOES, YOU GUYS? And how can I keep her around?
(Prepare for the inevitable crash. It’ll be another chai tortilla soup-caliber disaster next week, you know it will.)
Meanwhile, work rolls on. Got another talk to write (this one on writing, happening in October); some books to review; some articles to edit; and oh yeah, a novel to polish. Especially the ending. But let’s not speak of that, shall we?
(The secret to my peace of mind: vicious compartmentalization.)
August 27, 2014 @ 4:22 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry
It’s going to take me a little while to recreate my habits talk in this space. I wrote down the sequence of points I wanted to address and examples I wanted to use, but I wound up not using my notes at all, except to read a couple of Charlotte Mason quotes. But I recall pretty well what I said, and what questions were asked, and I’m gradually jotting it down to share here. I’ve gotten a lot of sweet notes from the moms in attendance, and it’s clear the topic struck a chord. Preparing the talk was a fun experience for me—it reinforced something I learned from Alexis O’Neill, a children’s book author and frequent school-presentation giver, in a workshop she gave for children’s writers last year. She was speaking about school visits, but her point speaks to a wide range of situations. She said, “You have to remember that you already know a great deal about your subject. Things you take for granted, your knowledge about publishing and writing, are topics of great fascination to your audience. There’s a lot you can say that comes just from what you already know inside and out. That’s what they want to hear.”
That’s a rough paraphrase from memory, over a year later. You can see her words really resonated with me. They struck me as applying to many things in my life besides writing. All of us have a wealth of stories and experience tucked in our minds. For the right audience, what you know through life experience—those aspects of life you take for granted because the ideas have become a part of the air you breathe—can make a compelling narrative. In the case of this habits talk, I hadn’t realized until I began preparing it that the degree to which my parenting style was influenced by Charlotte Mason’s ideas about habit formation was, even among my fellow homeschoolers, somewhat unusual. Honestly, I would have said that when it came to mothering, I was more influenced by unschooling philosophy and La Leche League than CM. And yet, sixteen years after first encountering Charlotte’s writings, I can see how profound and lasting her influence has been. On my parenting, I mean. On our learning style, sure; I’m keenly aware of her influence there—we’re living-books, narration, nature-study learners through and through. But the habit-training part? That’s the part I’ve internalized so thoroughly that I stopped really noticing it.
Well, this is a very meta post, isn’t it! Talking about the talk but not talking the talk itself. I’ll get there. It just struck me that Alexis’s insight is a great takeaway for our kids, too (and really, when you think about it, is closely related to CM’s emphasis on narration): there are topics about which you already know a great deal. When you share that knowledge with enthusiasm and conviction, people are interested. I love to hear a kid talk animatedly about some personal passion, some arcane subject that has captured his or her mind. That gorgeous light in the eyes, the tumbling words, the eager gestures. It’s one of the most beautiful sights in the world.
August 22, 2014 @ 6:17 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry
Today I purged a forest of paper from my files and finished setting up a nifty new filing system that has me squeeing a bit. I spent hours on this project over the past three days, but the funny thing is that right now, as I look around the room, I can’t see any difference: all the change is inside closed drawers. But now there will be much less chance of those drawers disgorging their contents across the flat surfaces of this room. Invisible or not, it’s a mighty satisfying development.
Tonight some of us are headed to a friend’s house for a group reading of The Importance of Being Earnest. Promises to be fun.
I’ll be spending part of the weekend prepping for a talk I’ve been asked to give on Monday night, about habits and scheduling and atmosphere. It’s going to be here at the house, since part of the idea is to see us in our habitat (warts and all). I promised myself to do only ordinary cleaning, nothing extraordinary, because I want to give a really true impression of what everyday life is like. (The overhauled files live in my room, where my visitors are unlikely to go, so although my efforts in that department may well qualify as extraordinary—maybe a once-a-decade event for me—it doesn’t count as a breach of my aforementioned promise to myself.)
Was going to add a photo (of what, I know not), but it’s time to head out for our Wilde reading!
The fun is over, and it’s back to regular life. Which is also pretty darn fun, in its own way. My parents and niece departed last night after a short, action-packed visit following on the heels of our other niece-visit. I won’t say it feels like summer is winding down—not on the 6th of August, I won’t—but the crazy-busy part is behind us now. Doctor, dentist, orthodontist, optometrist, audiologist appointments mostly all caught up. And Wonderboy does start back to school next week, which boggles the mind a bit! The rest of us will remain in low tide for a bit longer. Especially Jane, whose sophomore year doesn’t begin until mid-September. Then again, this summer she has an internship, a babysitting job, and an online psych class, so “low tide” is relative.
I look forward to returning to regular daily posts here. I have so many topics saved up, including a rave review of the Phone Photography class I’m taking via Big Picture Classes, an endeavor that has greatly enriched my summer.
How about you guys? Whatcha want to talk about? Dare I admit I haven’t cracked a book in weeks? So unlike me!
July 21, 2014 @ 3:16 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry
Most years, the approach of Comic-Con means that household chores start to slip on the priority list. This year, my 20-year-old niece is flying out for a week, so we bumped the house back up higher on the list above typical pre-SDCC to-do items like read all my friends’ new books before I see them and pore over the con schedule for the best panels. And as always after a deep cleaning, I’m enjoying the minimalism and shine so much I want to vow to keep it like this forever. Ah, but I’m an experienced con-goer by now and I know perfectly well what the place is going to look like after five days of late nights and crowded mornings. I’m enjoying it while it lasts, though.
I really haven’t even glanced at the schedule. I’ll be catching panels on the fly, this year. Mostly I’m looking forward, as I always do, to spending time with friends I see only this one time a year. And my niece! And right after she leaves, my parents and another niece arrive for a few days. One of the nicest things about living in San Diego is if you stay put long enough, everyone will come see you sooner or later.