A somewhat grainy photo of my four oldest children taken at the Point Loma Lighthouse in 2007, not long after we moved to San Diego. The Pacific was still quite new to them. When I coined the term “tidal homeschooling,” we lived in Virginia and the image was entirely figurative—but when I think back to those early tidal-learning days, this pic is the one I see.
I remember writing here long ago about how my favorite category of post was connections. The serendipitous links of thought we encounter when something we’re reading or experiencing echoes or relates to some earlier conversation, book, film, experience.
Today, for example: we read another Hauge poem (“Winter Morning”) and had a really rich discussion of how much is going on in those four simple lines—a discussion that incorporated some of the conversation we had in the comments here about yesterday’s poem. We talked about the way Hauge uses simple, crisp, concrete images (frosted windowpanes, the glow of a good dream, a woodstove “pour[ing] out its warmth/ from a wood block it had enjoyed the whole night”) to describe a moment, and something much bigger than the moment. And from that rather animated discussion we jumped to Linda Gregg’s “Art of Finding” essay:
I am astonished in my teaching to find how many poets are nearly blind to the physical world. They have ideas, memories, and feelings, but when they write their poems they often see them as similes. To break this habit, I have my students keep a journal in which they must write, very briefly, six things they have seen each day—not beautiful or remarkable things, just things. This seemingly simple task usually is hard for them. At the beginning, they typically “see” things in one of three ways: artistically, deliberately, or not at all. Those who see artistically instantly decorate their descriptions, turning them into something poetic: the winter trees immediately become “old men with snow on their shoulders,” or the lake looks like a “giant eye.” The ones who see deliberately go on and on describing a brass lamp by the bed with painful exactness. And the ones who see only what is forced on their attention: the grandmother in a bikini riding on a skateboard, or a bloody car wreck.
But with practice, they begin to see carelessly and learn a kind of active passivity until after a month nearly all of them have learned to be available to seeing—and the physical world pours in. Their journals fill up with lovely things like, “the mirror with nothing reflected in it.” This way of seeing is important, even vital to the poet, since it is crucial that a poet see when she or he is not looking—just as she must write when she is not writing. To write just because the poet wants to write is natural, but to learn to see is a blessing. The art of finding in poetry is the art of marrying the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human.
Okay, here’s the thing. I had planned to read this excerpt of Gregg’s essay, and to introduce a new practice for the four of us—Huck, Rilla, Scott, and me. We have a spiral-bound sketchbook that, at intervals, we use as a shared family journal. In 2020 it was the whole family chiming in with quips, sketches, and interesting tidbits. It went dormant last year, and when the Linda Gregg passage resurfaced in my Readwise review over the holidays, I decided to appropriate the journal for this practice. Maybe not daily, but several times a week, we’ll jot down things we’ve seen or heard.
But weeks have passed since I reread the passage, and I’d forgotten that last line—the “marrying of the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human.” That’s exactly what we’d just been talking about with the Hauge poem, and what we talked about yesterday. The way he expresses a single image that speaks vividly both as a literal description (in a way that makes your breath catch) and as a reflection on some aspect of human experience. “Marrying the sacred to the world” is what Hauge does best.
So: part intention, part serendipity. The best kind of high-tide morning.
A postscript added after I made today’s recording—listening to the Linda Gregg passage read aloud, I got to “the art of finding” and went Oh of course! And made a note to let tomorrow’s poem be Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” Another connection.
Heads up on an incredible deal! A whole year of Creativebug for $5. (Affiliate link.) The kids and I have taken sooo many of their art & stitching classes over the years. I’ve taken all of Lisa Congdon’s drawing classes and Rebecca Ringquist’s embroidery classes, to name a few—especially fun since I’ve become friends with both Lisa and Rebecca since moving to Portland!
I’ve posted many times about what an invaluable resource Creativebug is for homeschoolers and anyone else looking for affordable, high-quality art classes. This post recaps a few of my favorites.
Ha, joke’s on me! I wrote this post yesterday morning and left it sitting in drafts, awaiting photos. Went out to putter in the garden and took a spill jumping from the raised bed (I mean it’s not that high, just a step). Smashed flat on the patio. Thumb and wrist now killing me and elbow is pretty ouchy. But nothing broken, I’m reasonably sure. Just sprained, I think? And bruised? And basically furious at me for forgetting I’m not a gazelle?
We scrummaged up an Ace bandage from the first-aid kit and wrapped the hand overnight. I’m not keen on paying a visit to urgent care this weekend, GEE I WONDER WHY, so I’m just keeping it wrapped and we’ll see how I do. Can type for brief periods before my thumb starts to yell but I’m not doing much. Reading. Walking around my garden, longing to dig. Fortunately, the injured hand is my left and I’m righthanded. I might even be able to embroider if I use the hoop stand. Hooray for hoop stands! Okay, no more exclamation points. They’re the ones that hurt my thumb.
(Who even AM I without exclamation points??)
Anyway, on to yesterday’s plague journal. 😉
Things that happened this week:
• I finally planted the veggie starts I bought a couple of days before we went into isolation. (We isolated a bit earlier than the rest of Portland due to some high-risk family members.)
• I repotted a whole bunch of houseplants
• and cleaned the garage
• I got a tower of review books from a (beloved) publisher who, despite nearly three years of dogged efforts to get them to update my mailing address in their system, continues sending packages to our San Diego address. UPS saved up NINE BOXES and redirected them to Portland all at once. Yes, the delivery guy thinks I’ve lost my mind. He’s not far off.
I’ll be sharing these with young friends after I read/review them
• I swapped out the regular suet feeder for the squirrel-proof one (rediscovered during the garage cleanout) because the starlings kept wiping us out, leaving nothing for the bush tits and chickadees. However, the down side of the cage feeder is that the downy woodpeckers and flickers will be as stymied as the starlings. Either way, we only have a few suet cakes left. Our favorite retailer does have curbside pickup during the quarantine, but given the state of things, suet might not make it into next month’s budget.
Bush tits at the old feeder, before the starlings moved in. They’re tiny and travel in a flock of forty or so.
*Sunday update: we spotted a Northern flicker at the feeder this morning! Its beak is long enough to reach the suet through the cage. Not so for the starlings. This may be a solution! Waiting for the bush tits to return. Meanwhile, we had an absolutely new-to-us bird at the feeder just now. Still trying to id. Finch size, blue-gray back (more blue than gray), yellow belly, and the tip of its tail looks like it was dipped in white paint. A warbler of some kind? Photo coming–we got one goodish snap–but transferring the memory card from camera to laptop is beyond my poor hand’s ability right now. As are em dashes. Had to go with double hyphens. This may be the end of me.
• I taught the final week of my Comic Strip Capers class at Brave Writer. I get a week in between and then I’ll start a new session on the 30th. These kids, their comics—such a delight. (My class is sold out but Brave Writer does have openings in other fun courses if you’re looking.)
• I also continued my work on Brave Writer Arrow literature guides. I’m both revising/expanding older guides and writing new ones for the current year’s subscription. I recently finished the Arrow for Bronze and Sunflower, a beautiful tapestry of a book by Chinese author Cao Wenxuan, translated by Helen Wang. The literature guide was challenging to write but oh, so worth it! I’ve walked around for weeks pondering this gem of a novel, turning its poignant scenes and lush imagery over in my mind. I think now that my work on it is done, I might reread it (or read it aloud to the kids?) just for pleasure.
• I worked on a secret stitching project that is different from my OTHER secret stitching project—this one a test stitch of a new sampler for a favorite instructor’s upcoming Creativebug class. Originally I was supposed to finish it by mid-April, but now the class taping is postponed like everything else on the planet. It’s a gorgeous sampler and I’m having a wonderful time with it.
• I went on a few walks in the quiet neighborhood, nodding at neighbors from a prudent distance or chatting from the sidewalk. Our streets are empty but I’m noticing that porches are full. So many more neighbors sitting out front in the evenings.
• Huck is crushed that he can’t play with friends, but at least his very best pal doesn’t have to be kept at a distance. Our next-door neighbor, for whom Huck & Rilla have a standing weekday dogwalking gig, is working at home for now and is therefore walking her mini Schnauzer herself, but several times a day Huck and Barkleigh meet up in the backyard for some buddy time.
I took this photo through the fence. Only one of them noticed.
• I completely failed at playing a game of Ticket to Ride with Huck. I tried, I really did! Couldn’t focus. Got so squirrely between turns, my mind racing. You’d have thought I was the eleven-year-old child, not the mom.
• I laughed over this memory that popped on Facebook from 2013:
So the 4yo is standing beside me and asks, “Are you Mommy?”
“What?” I say, confused.
“Are you MOMMY?”
I’m laughing, thinking he must be playing a game. “Yes, I‘m Mommy.”
He points across the yard at his 17yo sister, nods to himself.
“OK, so that one is Jane.”
• I put in some more work on my rebooted newsletter which I am trying very hard to get out this weekend!* You can sign up here.
*Laughing somewhat hysterically. Obviously that was written before yesterday’s tumble!
As I type, there’s a bustle of creative activity outside my door: Rilla and Huck at work on their costumes, which have been planned for months and in progress for weeks, and for which there is still much to do before tonight’s fun. Yesterday there was a pile of beading wire, aluminum foil, and masking tape on the dinner table; today it’s an antler crown. Rilla has intense requirements for her Artemis costume. Huck is less exacting about his Apollo costume, but his sister has a vision and he’s content to roll with it.
Both immortals needed a quiver for arrows, I was told. I wondered if we could do something with a small poster tube—maybe Jane (a crochet whiz) could whip up a carrier of sorts? I blinked, and there it was: Jane really is a kind of wizard. Two custom-made quivers with straps, all done in yarn that glitters. Blue and silver for Artemis, gold for Apollo.
We went out to the side yard, where bamboo has climbed under our neighbor’s fence, and cut several long, thin stalks from which to make bows and arrows. Rilla had a handmedown blouse from the neighbor on the other side—my kids are her dogwalkers—that will serve nicely as a toga (worn over warm layers because it’s coooold here), and I clipped the corners off an old white pillowcase for Huck.
We had some leafy vines in the Christmas bin which are being repurposed as Apollo’s laurel crown and quiver decorations for Artemis. Toga, crown, bow and arrows…I forget what else they’re cooking up!
One thing I’ve learned after all these years of homeschooling is that Halloween week is all about costume creation. Gotta level up those glue-gun skills!
June and July were mighty full months for me & my gang. I hardly ever travel, but this summer I’ve made three separate trips! The Brave Writer staff retreat in Ohio (I’ll be teaching two sessions of Comic Strip Capers this fall); a big family wedding in Virginia Beach; Lynda Barry’s Writing the Unthinkable workshop; and then back to Ohio for the Brave Learner Conference, where I was part of a panel with Julie Bogart, her mother Karen O’Connor, and Dottie of enchanted art table fame! AND THEN, back here at home, we wrapped up July with a long-anticipated event: a (minor) spinal surgery for the 15yo. (It went swimmingly and he’s recovering well.) And in the snippet of time between the conference and the surgery, Scott drove to San Luis Obispo to move Jane to Portland. She had an Americorps position at the university that wrapped up last month, and now she’s HERE. All my chicks back in the nest for a while. Color this mama hen very happy.
As for me, I spent the days between conference and surgery on a housecleaning spree. (Channeling Mrs. Ray expecting Betsy or Julia home from a trip, you know.) I get organization frenzy every summer. And my poor garden, oof, after two months of neglect it needed some serious TLC. When it’s too hot to clean or garden, I’ve been embroidering a lot, catching up on Cozy Blue Stitch Club projects.
So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to look at my grid today and realize it’s been a week since I posted? I’ve shared tons in my Stories, so it didn’t feel like that much time had passed. But it has! I had hoped to take a little down time in August, but I’m seeing that wasn’t entirely realistic. The multiple trips left me feeling like I could use a vacation, but now I gotta catch up from the trips! Fortunately I love my work. 😄
How about you? Enjoying a low-key summer, or suddenly feeling like fall is peering at you through the window?
I’m heading to Cincinnati in a couple of days for the Brave Writer staff retreat. Looking forward to seeing some close friends! Staggering to realize I’ve been pals with some of these homeschooling-mom-Brave-Writer-coaches for (gulp) upwards of twenty years now. These are friendships that have traveled from AOL boards to Yahoogroups to homeschooling discussion boards to blogs to social media and beyond. However screwy the internet may be, it’s given me some incredible friends.
We slid into full-on summer mode (the mellowest of low tides) this past week. School’s out for my—gulp—rising sophomore (Wonderboy). Beanie’s graduating from homeschooling! She and Rose just finished an oceanography class and she’s got her application in with the local stagehands’ union. Rose is taking one summer course, a welcome respite from the full courseload she’s been carrying. Jane, far down the coast in California, will finish her Americorps job in late summer and then she’ll move to Portland too. Yay!
What this means, of course, is that I’m doing to only two kids to homeschool! Wasn’t it just five minutes ago I had a toddler for each arm?
Yesterday’s post sent me on a happy rabbit trail of reading other posts in my archives bearing the same “These People Crack Me Up” tag. My kids crack me up.
Some of the gems I found:
Disgruntled 3-year-old reporting on her big brother: “Mommy, he keeps telling me to knock it off! The ploblem is, I don’t want to knock it off.” (That IS a Ploblem, 2009)
Huck: “Mommy, be prepared for me to shout, ‘It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas, woohoo!’ tomorrow morning. It will probably startle you.” (Early Warning System, 2015)
“Mommy, whenever you’re not with me, I want you. I want to be with you all the time. At night when I’m sleeping, or when I’m cuddling—I always want you! Or else…I want candy.” (The Birthday Girl Tells It Like It Is, 2006)
Me: Hey, looks like someone forgot to sweep up the dust pile. Rose: Wasn’t me. I never sweep. (Exonerated, 2014)
Huck: “I bet all the kids with this coloring book are doing this with their moms right now, too.”
a clean white sheet, newly ironed;
an empty page;
a field of freshly-fallen snow
waiting to be mapped
by our footsteps.
The moment this tome came to us last fall—a review copy from Nosy Crow edited by Fiona Waters and gorgeously illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon—Huck claimed it as his own. He has announced his plan to enter his name in the “This book belongs to ______” blank as soon as he can write it in cursive. (This melts me. The tattered copy of Alice in Wonderland I read to Huck and Rilla in December is inscribed, in the handwriting of a young Rose, with: “To Rose from Mommy, July 3rd, 2007, With Love.”)
Four frenzied squirrels scrambling across the pergola and flinging themselves into the overhanging magnolia tree. Clearly they don’t have a seasonal poetry anthology because their antics were straight out of spring.
Ron stopping by with a delivery of homemade chocolate chip cookies so delectable they would make a hobbit weep.
This fun art tutorial by Lisa Bardot: part of her Making Art Everyday series. Rilla perched beside me and taught me how to get around in Procreate. Boy am I glad I’m homeschooled.
(I had a little trouble with the blending. Rilla’s was one thousand times better. But hey, baby steps!)
While I worked on my orange (with much merriment and coaching from my daughter), Huck worked on the cursive letters he learned yesterday. How beautiful is that u, I ask you?
Appointment with my new primary care doctor today. She was awesome, and her office is all of six minutes from our house. For this I am profoundly grateful.
Overheard (Rose): “He’s the most boring serial killer, in my opinion.”
These lines from “Planet” by Catherine Pierce, from HERE: Poems for the Planet, a new anthology forthcoming in April from Copper Canyon Press, edited by Elizabeth Coleman:
This planet. All its grooved bark, all its sand of quartz and bones and volcanic glass, all its creeping thistle lacing the yards with spiny purple. I’m trying to come down soft today. I’m trying to see this place even as I’m walking through it.