The antlion bit was especially fun. On Tuesday, as I was finishing our Moomintrolls chapter, I noticed that the next chapter was the one with the antlion in it, and I wasn’t sure either Huck or Rilla knew what that was. So without telling them why, I grabbed our Handbook of Nature Study and we read a bit about them. And then of course we needed to see one. We watched a short National Geographic video and then followed the suggested link to this delightful video made by a homesteading dad, accompanied by his four young children. At least, I think I counted four.
The video is embedded below, along with one for The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy—our folk song this week.
Last night I was chatting with Jane on Slack—she had a story for me about her Victorian Lit class—and Sherlock Holmes came up. She asked if I remembered how old she was when she started reading them. I was guessing around age ten or eleven—was it before or after our move to California?—and she remembered that she first encountered Sherlock on a Jim Weiss story tape. So: Virginia probably. Then she pinged a burst of laughter—
lol lol lol i just searched bonny glen + jim weiss
Good old blog comes through again. Our family memory bank.
Of course this made me wince, knowing I’ve dropped the ball on daily posts yet again. I do have a lot of tidbits stashed in drafts, but those aren’t searchable.
We’ve talked so much about how our collective shift to social networks changed our blogging habits, both as blog writers and readers. One of the more subtle shifts, I think, began to happen even before we jumped on Facebook: bit by bit our blogs took on a more formal tone. On Facebook and Twitter, we’re looser, less polished. Personal blogs used to feel spontaneous, immediate, diaristic. A few of them still do, but I think on the broad spectrum of kinds of writing, a blog post is usually closer to essay than tweet. These social conventions fascinate me. These days, more people are likely to read and respond to my writing on Facebook than on Bonny Glen, yet I feel freer about slapdashing an unpolished thought over there.
I used to worry about losing things on Facebook or Twitter. I’d post funny kid quotes there and then, zip, they’d be carried along by the current and disappear. I wanted to archive all those memories here, and I worked out elaborate systems for saving things. I even had a side-blog for a while that was nothing but kid-related tweets I wanted to save. Later, I got savvier and set up IFTTT functions that automatically archive all my Twitter and FB posts in Evernote. This is both handy and dandy, but it’s a clunky substitute for the searchable family chronicle that is this blog.
I’m laughing at myself because I’ve traveled this loop before. There’s such an obvious and simple fix: just post the kid stuff here. Because odds are that one day Rilla will ping me from college—probably via a tooth implant that will trigger my phone-necklace to display her text on the back of my hand—wanting to know when, exactly, was her heavy origami phase. So, for the record: April of 2017, right after you turned eleven, I walked into my bedroom after tucking in the boys, and you pounced on me with a square of pink paper. Which is why I had to write your sister, ten minutes later, to apologize for disappearing in the middle of our Slack conversation.
Lissa: [9:00 PM] Sorry, Rilla came in with an urgent need to teach me how to make an origami piano
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that this is a recreation of the Jamestown fort. As my friend Lori said on Instagram, “the Ikea stepstools are a dead giveaway.”
The settlers are getting along all right so far, despite a stagnant water supply and a rather heated dispute about whether the fort should, or should not, have an anachronistic radio tower. I mean, why let a perfectly good tomato cage go unused?
One young settler expressed consternation over the gap in the walls of the brick storehouse (due to the discovery of a brown widow at the bottom of the old brick pile), but his older compatriot pointed out the storehouse needed a doorway, after all. Crisis averted.
It’s 9pm, I’ve just sent off an assignment that was due, and we’re about to celebrate Beanie’s birthday with a viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring. (Well, half of it. It’s long. It’s late.)
This morning I taught my three local literature classes, wrapping up with a close reading of Billy Collin’s “Marginalia” with the four 7th-8th grade boys in my last class. They loved the egg-salad stains. I love them—all these kids in my little seminar-classes. Beanie’s class is developing outlines for King Lear essays, so that was a lively discussion. We sit at the outdoor tables at a taco shop (ever since our cafe closed down) near a culinary school. Today, a few minutes into our session, the lovely server at the taco shop came out with a plate full of gorgeous little tarts and pastries, beglazed, beswirled, bedrizzled. The culinary students are doing desserts this week and their instructor shares the overflow with the taco shop staff, who in turned shared the bounty with us. And ten minutes later, the chef walked past our table with a platter held high—a few dozen more confections. Into the taco shop he went, and out came our server friend with another plate to share. 🙂 Now that’s how to fuel teenage writers.
Sixteen. The child below is sixteen now, many inches taller than her mother. May her days be filled with lemon-cream surprises forevermore.
January 17, 2017 @ 8:42 pm | Filed under: Books, Family
I couldn’t get to sleep last night. This hardly ever happens. I usually nod off while reading, but I just kept turning pages and suddenly it was 1:30a.m. And then I lay there trying with all my might to achieve sleep, an endeavor not famous for its success rate. Finally, around 2, I gave up and got out of bed. I had a grant draft to finish, so I hunkered down on the living room sofa with my laptop and hammered out another chunk. Crawled back to bed at 3:30 and wished it were Saturday instead of Tuesday. But Tuesday morning rollerskated right on in mere seconds later, or so it seemed.
Huck eats salami for breakfast. I admit I’m not keen on handling cold cuts first thing in the morning, but boy do I love that kid. His full-throttle hugs and the full-throttle monologues he’s clearly been saving for me since the moment he sprang out of bed. And his big brother, spiky-haired and grinning, another morning person, reveling in the crisp, linear order of business that school mornings bring. The bus picks him up at the corner. Huck and Rilla wait with him and tear back to the house the moment they sight it, so that by the time it rounds the bend and rolls past our house, they’ve fetched me and we’re all in the doorway waving as it goes by. These little family rituals are what bind you.
I had to keep plugging away at the grant, so Huck and Rilla listened to some Earworms German and then Rose shepherded them through some math. I took a break to read them our history chapter and some Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen poems from Poetry for Young People. Then everybody else went to the park and I returned to the grant.
The draft is finished and I know I’ll sleep well tonight. Scott just brought me milk and a few of the last Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s. Beanie told me she’s working on characters for a new story and spent part of her day watching early cartoons for style reference. Tomorrow is Lit Class day, which means another dose of King Lear. I love the weeks when my primary task is to drop a few questions into the soup pot like stones, and then sit back and let the girls build their savory stew, carrot by onion by bay leaf.
Hmm, maybe that’s what I should hunt up for tomorrow’s picture book: Marcia Brown’s Stone Soup. We read Barbara Cooney’s version of Snow White and Rose Red last night and Huck was rapt. He was disappointed, this evening, to learn we had finished the whole story last night—he was hoping there was more. Fortunately, when it’s fairy tales, there always are more. Although our pick tonight was more in the fable family: Eric Carle’s The Grouchy Ladybug. I decided about halfway through that the book is even funnier if you read it in the voices of characters from My Cousin Vinny.
Why is he sideways? I have no idea. Too tired to figure it out.
A bonus post for today! But this one’s mostly for me: another little addition to our family collection of All About Weeds stories.
Strangely, I can’t find the first All About Weeds story in my archives. I’m sure I must have written about it here! But maybe not. Maybe it was pre-Bonny Glen, a tale posted to a homeschooling message board instead. I suppose it must have been, now I think about it: my Amazon history tells me I purchased the book on July 13, 2002. And it entered our lives as a library book some time before that. Which fact (its being a library book) provides the drama of the first anecdote, actually.
We’d moved to Virginia only a few months earlier (on New Year’s Day, 2002, as a matter of fact). When spring arrived, O glorious mid-Atlantic spring with its abundance of dogwood and redbud blossoms, I was in a mania to know every single plant growing in our yard. Among the books I checked out from the adorable train-depot-turned-library in our little town was a rather dusty tome about weeds. I did say every plant.
I flipped through the weed book but I found it rather dry, and besides, I was sidetracked by what would become a years-long obsession with Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards. (Chip, meet block.) All About Weeds sat neglected (so I thought) on a table for a day or two, and then I returned it to the library.
Soon after, Jane (age sevenish, I think? heavens, that was a long time ago) came to me, came to me all in a dither. Where, she begged most earnestly to know, WHERE was that fascinating weeds book?
When I told her I’d returned it to the library, she was crushed. It was the BEST BOOK EVER, I was informed (in tones conveying, yes, both capitals and italics). Full of the MOST INTERESTING information.
And as my shopping history testifies, so persuaded was I of the merits of this superior tome that I purchased a copy for keeps.
Second book mentioned (though not by name): All About Weeds, a Jane favorite for years. Seriously.
(Ah, there you go. Not mentioned by name. I’ll have to dig up that post.)
I find it mentioned in a March, 2006 post called “The Tide Is Going Out“—an early exploration of my tidal homeschooling concept.
The other day a neighbor asked me if we take a spring break. I laughed and said, “Yes—the whole spring!”
We’ve had such a pleasant time the last couple of months, immersing ourselves in some good books and other forms of study. Now the outdoors is beckoning, and our daily rhythms are shifting. Spring is calling us, urging us out of the house. We are a bunch of Mary Lennoxes, unable to resist the rustlings and chirpings, the spikes of green, the gypsy winds.
I keep finding cups of water on the counter with tiny blossoms floating like fairy lily pads: the first bluets and starry white chickweed flowers. Chickweed, so Jane tells me, is an edible plant and quite tasty. (“Like sugar snap pea pods, Mom.”) She has begged me not to uproot the vast patch of it that has taken over a stretch of our backyard mulch bed, just uphill from the strawberries. Another weed, a purple-flowered plant the children call “cow parsley,” is popping up all over the lawn, much to their delight: they suck the nectar from the itty bitty orchid-like blossoms and proclaim it better than the honeysuckle they’ll seek out later in the summer.
Jane, who had been binging on math during the past three weeks, seems to have shifted her attentions to botany. I find myself tripping over her tattered copy of All About Weeds everywhere I go, and upstairs, the microscope is much in demand for the viewing of leaf cross sections. An experiment involving scarlet runner beans has become the centerpiece on the kitchen table.
So there we are, four years later, and Weeds is still in constant use. It seems wee 2002 Jane hadn’t been overstating her affections.
A month after that, April 2006: “Things to Do While Your Mother Is in the Hospital” (delivering your baby sister). This one—which is the post that sparked today’s story and this entire trip down memory lane—made me laugh pretty hard. (Not at poor Rose’s plight. At The Book’s role in her recovery.)
If you are seven…
…get stung under the chin by a wasp.
If you are ten…
…recall a passage from that scintillating classic, All About Weeds, describing the sting-soothing properties of yarrow, and concoct a poultice of newly emerging yarrow leaves with which to soothe your little sister’s wasp sting.
Well done, young Jane!
Which brings me to today. Huck’s birthday post keeps turning up melt-my-heart tidbits in the “related posts” widget at the bottom of the page. I was clicking along a little baby-picture rabbit trail when I happened upon the “things to do” post above. Rilla, who was aww-ing over my shoulder at her adorable baby brother’s toddler antics, was transfixed by this glimpse at what her big sisters were up to on the day she was born. She read the post breathlessly, pausing only to interject “Oh, I love that book!” at the bit about “that scintillating classic.”
The chip doesn’t fall far from, er, the older chip.
We found the book, you know, during last week’s grand shelf-cleaning. It has been returned to its permanent spot on Jane’s bookcase.
We interrupt this reading journal for a brief burst of mommyblogging. (But I promise you some Poetry Friday at the end.) The child whose blog name was decided before his real name was firmly settled upon…turns eight years old today.
Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
Of the wild-flower’s time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;
How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole’s nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape’s clusters shine;
Of the black wasp’s cunning way,
Mason of his walls of clay,
And the architectural plans
Of gray hornet artisans!
For, eschewing books and tasks,
Nature answers all he asks;
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks,
Part and parcel of her joy,—
Blessings on the barefoot boy!
The poem’s final stanza paints a somewhat grim vision of the boy’s likely future—”Made to tread the mills of toil,/Up and down in ceaseless moil”—but we’ll acknowledge that the weary adult may from time to time experience a pang of envy, looking at the carefree child with his life before him, “living and laughing as boyhood can.” Eat, drink, and be merry, the poet seems to be urging the child, for tomorrow you must get a job.
This bleak perspective sent me seeking to find out more about Whittier. I learned that he worked as editor of several weekly papers, including the New England Weekly Review, and was a passionate and active abolitionist. His anti-slavery publications and lobbying efforts earned him much enmity, including being stoned by angry mobs. He was politically active, pushing for legislation to end slavery, and was a founder of the Liberty Party which eventually morphed into the Free Soil Party. In addition to numerous abolitionist pamphlets, he published two volumes of antislavery poetry. In the late 1840s and ’50s, he served as editor of an influential abolitionist paper called The National Era. He was one of the founding contributors of the Atlantic Monthly. He was supportive of women writers, and in fact Sarah Orne Jewett, with whom he worked closely, dedicated one of her books to him. In short: Whittier was one of the good guys. And the wistfulness with which he urges the Barefoot Boy to celebrate his current joy and freedom makes sense in the context of Whittier’s grim awareness of the work that awaits him in the adult world. The more I learned about him, the more I saw that my initial take on the poem was a bit reductive.
I came to realize this was a particularly apt poem for me to ponder on my son’s birthday, here at the dawn of 2017. I understand why Whittier can’t extol the delights of a magical childhood—rooted in the small delights of the natural world, “rich in flowers and trees,/ Humming-birds and honey-bees…”—without his mind running to the toil that awaits the boy when he’s grown. We’re not finished yet. In the world of man, there remains a great deal to be done.
Huck this morning: “Why are you on a site called Goo Dreads?”
Dread is actually an apt word for my feelings about catching up my Goodreads, which (thanks to Cybils) is about thirty YA novels behind. I’m trying, but it wants time I do not have. And then there’s my booklog here at Bonny Glen, which is a whole other task. Maybe I’ll outsource it to a kid.
Today’s picture book: Hedgie’s Surprise by Jan Brett. A natural choice after yesterday’s pick. I think this one may be my favorite of Brett’s Hedgie stories. And the needlepoint patterns in the margins have me itching to paint. Maybe that’ll be my drawing challenge subject for the day.
As I mentioned yesterday, I’m hoping to sketch every day this year. A few weeks ago, Scott remarked offhandedly that I ought to draw more bears. So during that night’s art date with Rilla, I pulled up a Google image search and tried my hand at a few. Yesterday I attempted a polar bear. I went right to the good paper, which might have been a disaster because I thoroughly botched the proportions and put the face way too low. Fortunately I have learned to use something water-soluble for my first rough sketch. (Or pencil. I love pencil. A lot of instructors tell you to avoid pencil, but I think they see relative shapes a lot better than I do. I need to be able to shift things around. Like when the nose ends up where the chin should be.) I often begin with a blue or brown watercolor pencil and go over that with black waterproof ink. Lately I’m enjoying a gray Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pen. When I mess up on my first pass, as I inevitably do, I can blur the mistakes into shadow with a waterbrush. The bear is still messy but I was much happier after I redid his face in black ink.
Someone asked how I’m finding time to keep up the sketchbook practice, given all the work on my plate this year. The answer is: I give it fifteen minutes a day. That’s all. I mean, there are days when I get lucky and find some extra time, like if I sit on a bench and draw while the kids are at the playground. But sometimes I prefer to read during playground time instead. And so I’ve committed a quarter of an hour to sketching every evening at 9pm. Fifteen minutes isn’t much. (That’s a big part of why that polar bear is so messy.) But it’s something. It’s what I can manage, for now, and that’s enough.
This morning I sorted two bookcases’ worth of books. I’ve pulled together a new row of picture books for our daily selections—enough to last us for four months, if we read one a day. Every book I handled felt like another conversation, a whole post unto itself. It’s funny that I had so many days last year where I couldn’t come up with anything to blog about—I learned a long time ago all I have to do is walk over to one of my shelves.
At one point this morning I had at least a hundred books in piles on the floor, swallowing the room, when I came across our copy of Material World. Which, if you haven’t seen it, is a collection of photographs of families around the world with all their material possessions spread in front of their homes. The variation between quantity of stuff from family to family is staggering. We Americans, we…accumulate a lot of things. Like, say, books.
We finished Understood Betsy just before the holidays, and now I need to choose the next readaloud. Scott read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever the whole family (including the college kids and me), which bought me time to decide, but…I’m still undecided. We still have so many great books in the pile for this year! Jane (still home for winter break) is plumping for The Firelings. Which may have been one of the first readalouds I ever wrote about on this blog. Maybe it’s time. 🙂
After the morning’s bookcase jamboree, I took the younger kids to the playground. I’ve been a lot better about this lately—you know my older girls practically grew up at local parks, but rhythms change when you have teens, and park visits had all but disappeared from our routine for a while. But last fall I stepped it back up. They’re old enough that I can sit, as I said, and read or sketch. Or catch up on blogs. 🙂 Which makes me That Mother you see condemned in posts that make the rounds occasionally—you know, the ones written in tones half imploring, half scolding, about much you miss when you’re staring at your phone while your kids are playing. “I watched your beautiful daughter twirling around in joy and you—you missed it. Because Facebook.” Those always make me laugh. I’m like: honey, I have been taking my kids to the playground since 1995. I have stood in line at the post office with an imaginary goldfish in my hand. I have sat on hospital beds entertaining a toddler with playdough by the hour. I’ve spent all morning homeschooling them. I’ve read thousands of books out loud. Literally thousands! So here at the playground? I’m good. They’re, you know, playing. They don’t need me hovering over them on the jungle gym. In fact, you just know the next article in my feed is going to be a screed against helicopter parenting. So I’m just going to sit here with my magical smartphone and catch up on some reading. Or play a game. Or maybe even goof around on Facebook. Which is where I happened to be when I came across your post, so don’t pretend you aren’t doing the same thing.
Favorite playground moment today: we’d just arrived and my kids were already up the hill toward the play equipment. As I got out of the minivan, a preschooler in a bright orange shirt jumped out of the next car over, took two steps onto the grass, and shouted, “I’m here!” To no one, and everyone.
Today was too chilly for sitting on a bench. (Sorry, Facebook.) We had unusually heavy rains recently (I mean, it’s San Diego; rain is unusual, period) and there were big sploshy puddles all over the place. The kids mostly avoided them by keeping to the mountain peaks of the jungle gym. I decided to get a bit of exercise in by walking laps around the wide, flat grassy area adjacent to the playground. You can see the play area from the whole circumference, so you don’t even have to miss That Mother’s beautiful daughter twirling around in ignored joy if you choose.
I pulled up an audiobook I started several months ago, Robert Macfarlane’s wonderful Landmarks, which is about the language we use for things in nature—terrain, weather, flora. Specifically: the “place-words” of the United Kingdom. When last I listened to this book, I was playing Minecraft. And as soon as the new chapter loaded and the narrator with his wonderful accent began reading the opening lines, my mind was flooded with images of the house I’d built in that particular Minecraft world—a birch cabin on a bluff overlooking a river, with a village in the distance and a craggy mountain rising behind. I remember thinking at the time that Landmarks was the perfect book to listen to while playing Minecraft, since both are so thoroughly centered around terrain. It was also perfect for listening to on a brisk walk through a soggy park. Macfarlane even mentioned a Scottish word for “a person who is walking briskly”—I need to get hold of a hard copy and look it up, because I missed it on the walk, what with all the puddle-sploshing.
It’s terrible, in fact—every other sentence made me long for a print edition of the book to mark up and dog-ear—on the very day when I’ve embarked on a ruthless shelf-culling endeavor! Plus now we’re past both Christmas and my birthday. 😉 I’ll have to get it from the library, though, because Chapter 4 is all about a Scottish author named Nan Shepherd and her book The Living Mountain, “a celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland.” There were easily five quotes in the first ten minutes that I wanted to copy down. Which I could have done if I were sitting on a bench staring at my phone. I’m just saying.
Backing up to the Minecraft thing for a moment—I’m amazed by how clearly I can picture that map, and even remember some of the adventures that befell me there, just because I was listening to an audiobook while playing. I mean, I’ve played a lot of Minecraft over the years, with my kids and without them. The worlds all begin to blur together after a while. Except for those I’ve explored while listening to something on audio. I went through a whole slew of lectures a couple of years ago—mostly literature classes via Yale Open Course. I can’t just sit and listen to something; I have to be doing something with my hands. (This is why I make sure my kids have something to play with while I read to them.) Nowadays I usually use the listening time to sketch. Or to clean a bathroom. File some papers. But what I have found is that the lectures I listened to while playing Minecraft have stuck in my brain more clearly than the others. You see, the vivid connections are happening in both directions. I remember the house I built during Amy Hungerford’s Lolita lecture (so great!)—a small oak farmhouse with a well in the yard. I remember being down in the nearby mine fighting skeletons during the Wise Blood lecture. During Franny and Zooey I built a house of sandstone and constructed a monster trap nearby. And for all three lectures, I can recall the professor’s words with much more clarity than the one I listened to while scrubbing the bathroom. It’s like Minecraft gave me pegs to hang the lectures on. Or a map, both literal and figurative? I know this: I remember more detail from those lectures than ones I took actual notes on.
I know, I know, this post is ridiculous. You can’t have nine sections in a daily blog post. That’s serious overkill. If I had any sense, I’d have saved some of this for later in the week when open a draft and draw a blank. But I guess that’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in twelve years of blogging. If I save it, it’ll start to feel like A Topic, like something I need brain to tackle. And I have to save all my brains for work. So it’s overkill or nothing, I guess.
Well, maybe we’ll just consider this catch-up for months of sparse posting.