Last night’s talk on habits seemed to go over very well. I was astonished that we had forty moms in attendance! We set up chairs and blankets in my backyard. Several of you have asked for a write-up of the talk, so I’ll work on that during the week. Thanks so much for your interest!
Playing catchup tonight, so this will be another quick one. I’ve been making my way through Mystie Winckler’s Simplified Organization eCourse (affiliate link, and I think the “backtoschool” discount code still works), and I really enjoyed her video on Google Calendar. Same thing happened with gCal as happened with Evernote when I read Mystie’s Paperless Home Organization book: in both cases I thought I was already using the platform in question in a fairly savvy manner, but Mystie taught me some tricks I didn’t know. In the case of Google Calendar (my lifeline for years now), I already had multiple calendars set up that I toggled on and off for various views: Appointments, Kid Activities (including, this summer, Jane’s work schedule; also includes family birthdays), and a Deadlines calendar I share with Scott. But now I’ve added:
• a Household calendar for tracking my daily chores, the ones assigned to specific days of the week a la Flylady;
• a Readalouds calendar (a brainstorm that came to me after Mystie’s video; I’ve tried many ways of logging our numerous picture book readalouds through the week and I always wind up dropping the ball; we’ll see if this one works );
• and a very simple Zones calendar that displays the Flylady zone of the week. I’ve been using Flylady’s schedule, modified, on and off for some fifteen years now! When I follow it, the housework flows so much more smoothly. Until now I never thought of having a gCal dedicated solely to announcing the week’s zone.
The Household calendar has already proven its merits. I created it over the weekend and made recurring entries (not pegged to a specific time, so they appear in bands of color) for the rotating daily chores. Then, for extra tasks such as the ones associated with hosting a houseful of moms, I assigned times (somewhat arbitrary, but I did find it kept me progressing through the tasks through the day) so that those would show up without the orange background.
I’ve never tried anything like this before—listing the individual chores necessary for a non-routine event—and it worked amazingly well for me. I was able to work through the list in a pretty calm manner, not the frazzled frenzy that is my usual state when preparing for company. 🙂
I didn’t put our regular morning/afternoon/evening chores on this calendar because those are routine now, for the kids and me. This is only for my jobs that come around weekly or less often.
I got carried away there and wrote more than I meant to. 🙂 I’m thinking about adding yet another gCal for our High Tide studies. I have it marked out in colorful chalk and propped on the mantel where I can see it from my favorite chair, but I think I might enjoy seeing it laid out this way too.
This morning we returned to our (still new) schedule. We’re having a good time with Latin, brushing up on what we learned last go-round. For some reason Latin brings out the merry in all of us. Rose and Bean and I are back to our Romantic poets, so you know I’m in heaven. We’re reading Lear aloud—Rilla is doing a bang-up job as Cordelia—and today (at long last) Rose and I started Paradise Lost. Beanie and I, meanwhile, are spending a few weeks in the company of my beloved Mr. Twain. She’s knee-deep in Connecticut Yankee at the moment. I need to catch up to her.
Obviously we’re going heavy on Lit at the moment. There are other things afoot, of course. Including a whole lot of D&D character-building among the girls. For Rose’s birthday last week, I gave her a new adventure module with a promise to DM for them. In a momentous gesture, Rilla has been invited by her big sisters to join the game. This necessitated a lot of poring over manuals to find the perfect combination of character race and class. I believe she settled upon half-elf paladin. Backstory in progress. I think Rose may enjoy creating characters and fleshing them out even more than playing the game. A girl after my own heart.
It’s funny that I am simultaneously a paper girl and a fan of Paperless Home Organization
Really really really good tips in the Mystie Winckler book Pamela Barnhill recommends here, gang. I thought I was already using Evernote & Google Calendar efficiently, but I picked up some useful new ideas (including better integrating my systems) in the book. Which is 30% off with the code in Pam’s post. So, like, under $3.
In Paperless Home Organization, Mystie Winckler leads you through the process of using digital applications to build your very own paperless system. She walks you step-by-step through how to use four free apps to digitally store the same information you would normally keep in a home management binder.
Which means if you have a smartphone, or an iPod Touch, or any tablet, then your binder no longer sits cluttering up your counter, but in your hand — at the doctor’s office, the bookstore, even at your school room table.
I’d been meaning to try Remember the Milk—my pal Ron raves about it, and he doesn’t rave lightly—and Pam’s post, and Mystie’s book, nudged me to take the plunge. Last year I relied on TeuxDeux for daily task management, but my free trial period ran out and I decided I wasn’t enough in love with it to pay for it. It’s a really gorgeous, clean layout but too hard to go back to past days. Remember the Milk isn’t quite as visually appealing (its web app, that is; on my phone it’s quite nice) but it is so much more flexible and functional. Thanks to Paperless Home Organization, I’ve now got it talking to my Gmail account (my RTM to-do list pops up in my inbox sidebar) and WOW, this is just right for the way mah brain works.
As for Evernote, I rely on it for everything. Or so I thought. Now I see all sorts of new bits of recordkeeping I can shift over there. Very pleased.
Cover assembled from bits and pieces of my precious Small Meadow Press stash. I love that lantern beyond all reason, have ever since I first saw it on Lesley’s papers and site.
(Photo updated Jan. 1st after Rilla and I added the print borders)
The notebook isn’t new; I’ve been scribbling in it on and off since October. And actually the first page is a reading log of Beanie’s from a while back, but of course that makes me love it all the more. I switched notekeeping methods this past fall; for the past year or two I’ve been using the bright-covered unlined Moleskines, which work pretty well for me, but I decided I prefer a spiral (not in looks but in use) after all. I’ve used these little 5×7 spirals for a million years. Got stacks of them stored away in boxes: notes for various books; old shopping lists; scraps of poems; endless to-do lists; enough medical marginalia to fill a filing cabinet. Even though this particular book is in progress already, I decided to prettify it for the New Year. It will probably carry me past January into February and beyond, but I’ll like looking at that lantern in any month.
Here’s the inside front cover…you’ll see that Rilla was having fun snipping bits of phrases out of the old (June 1890) magazine-page photocopy we were using for the borders. Eep for Babies indeed.
Speaking of Lesley Austin (and if I’m talking about paper, it’s impossible for me not to talk about Lesley), she is hosting a “papery days” linkup, and if you too are what she calls a papergirl, you’ll sigh happily over her lovely photos. I don’t believe there’s ever been a single Lesley Austin post that hasn’t inspired me one way or another, both at her blog and over at Wisteria & Sunshine.
Unearthed: the Notebooks
I found 1997 in the bottom of a box today.
1997 was the year that brought two of the most significant events of my life, and my family’s life. It was in March of 1997 that Jane, then 21 months old, was diagnosed with leukemia. A few months later, in her hospital room, I received a phone call from my wonderful editor at HarperCollins, telling me the Laura Ingalls Wilder estate had loved the sample chapter I had been commissioned to write, and they wanted me to write the Martha series.
The talks about my possibly writing Martha had begun months earlier, before any of us had the faintest inkling that there was something terribly wrong with my sweet baby. I had written a chapter (which later became the ending of Little House in the Highlands) and, huge Little House fan that I was (and am), was immensely excited about the prospect of diving into Laura’s family archives and writing books about her great-grandmother. There were actual letters from Laura in those archives! I would get to read them! I would get to try to write books worthy of being shelved next to hers! It was thrilling to contemplate.
And then one day Jane was covered with bruises, and the whirlwind swept us up and dumped us in a children’s hospital on Long Island, where we spent most of the next nine months fighting for her life.
By the time the call came, she was well into chemo. Her hair was falling out. She threw up all the time, usually on me. She lived on ketchup and breast milk. I was learning how to gauge the degree of her fever by the touch of her hand. She was hooked up to multiple IVs day and night.
I wasn’t thinking about writing any more. What I did was take care of Jane. I slept in her hospital bed with her, I changed the dressing on her central line catheter, I swabbed out her mouth with antiseptic and antifungal rinses. I read to her for hours at a stretch, until my voice went hoarse. I sculpted enough little Play-Dough people to populate, well, a cancer ward. I inhaled the scent of toxins from her skin, I took her for walk after walk up and down the corridor, past the nurses’ station and the other patients’ rooms, dragging her i/v pole alongside us.
Scott spent every minute he could at the hospital, but eventually he had to go back to work. He’d race out to Queens each evening, bringing us dinner (which Jane never ate), clean clothes, a book for me to stare at after he dragged himself back to our apartment at night.
Oh, the nights were the worst. You can’t sleep in a hospital. The lights, and the nurses, and the pumps beeping, and the loud voices in the hallway, and the trash cans being emptied with a bang. I would get Jane to sleep, her poor face paler than the pillow it lay on, a cord snaking out from her chest to a dripping bag on the pole beside the bad. I would watch her sleeping and feel grateful I had been given another day with her, and write about that day in a blank book that my friend Alice had given to me the week the nightmare began.
She knew I would need a place to write about what was happening.
That was one of the notebooks I found in this box today. Between the scrawled notes about which doctors had done what are snippets like this:
The other night her i.v. was beeping; she looked at the pump and announced, “Fusion complete.” Gave “timentin” to her baby. Told Daddy he was her best friend.
6:15 a.m. wake up, realize Jane has soaked through all the bedding, both sheets beneath and blankets above. Change her, and then the nurse comes in to say she’s running 100.1 axillary, so could I give her some Feverall. Yeah, right. Try for ten minutes, she pukes up the one sip she swallows, we give up. Jane is now wide awake. I turn on Sesame Street and doze while she plays Barnyard Bingo, using the curve of my body as a recliner.
Or this one, dated 9/27/97, which follows a lull:
This has been a tough month. Not just all the inpatient time, but also the deaths of three of our little friends here: Eric, Jen, and Tiffany.
I don’t want to write about that.
It’s official now that I’ll be writing the Martha books. And Jane herself is exploding with new words and new skills. In clinic one day, the two of us sat eating lunch by ourselves. Jane looked up at me and said, “Me have really good time with you, Mommy.” Melt…
When HarperCollins offered me the books, I wondered if I could possibly manage to write them with all that we were going through. But the nights in the hospital were so agonizingly long. Better to work, I thought, than to sit there marking the hours by the dripping of the drugs into my baby’s veins. When you spend a lot of time in a hospital, there’s a real danger of getting broody. The worry can consume you. You have to forcefully turn your thoughts to something else. Work helps, if it’s the right work.
Martha was. The folks at Harper sent me a laptop to use at the hospital—awfully sporting of them. And they lined up a researcher in Scotland to hunt up answers to my forty thousand questions, since obviously I couldn’t get out to hunt them up myself. I spent the next two months poring over notes in the dim room while Jane slept the sleep of the drugged, and one night I took a deep breath and started to type.
Loch Caraid was a small blue lake tucked into a Scottish mountain valley. On its shore were a half dozen cottages that had no names and one stately house that did. It was called the Stone House…
…and I was off.
Oh, what Martha gave me during those long, hard nights! Highlands is the story of a little girl running freely on the grass, rolling down hills, poking in the corners of the kitchen, getting into scrapes, doing all the things I was afraid my own wee lass might never have the chance to do. My friend Elizabeth, herself a cancer survivor, recently pointed out to me that I talk a lot about Martha’s hair in that book. She is always shaking her heavy curls off her shoulders. Every last wisp of Jane’s hair was gone by the time I started writing, all those fine golden strands swept away by a janitor’s push-broom.
I found my Highlands notebook in the same box today, crammed with descriptions of houses and furniture and meals and customs. There’s a line about how floorboards often had holes in them near one end, holes bored at the lumberyard so that a rope could be threaded through to keep them stacked for the journey on rough, rutted tracks that could hardly be called roads. Next to this interesting snippet I scribbled a large star and the words, “COULD BE FUN—HAVE MARTHA DROP SOMETHING THROUGH HOLE TO ROOM BELOW.” In the years that followed, I wrote three different chapters involving Martha dropping something through a floorboard hole: twice I had her tormenting a guest by raining nuts upon his wig, and twice I axed the episode as not quite in character. I think somewhere in Highlands she pokes her toe into a hole while her mother is brushing her hair; and in Heather Hills I finally used the floorboard hole to full advantage when she desperately needed to get a message to young Lew Tucker, the blacksmith’s son, in the kitchen below.
I wrote Heather Hills here, in Virginia, and it’s strange to remember the details that took root way back in that hospital room in New York.
More from the hospital book:
November 1997—lost first broviac, got new one.
—finished last IV chemo on Thanksgiving Day
—we are pregnant!
December—Bone marrow biopsy on 12/6—still in remission.
Feb 98—Rocky. J has fever. Low potassium. Is utterly lethargic.
4/23, pretty bad again. Not wanting to walk. I asked Dr. R. if we could d/c the Dapsone. She agreed, somewhat doubtfully.
3rd day off Dapsone. Jane jumped out of bed and said, “I would like Daddy’s leftover gnocchi for breakfast.” !! First voluntary mobility in three weeks. We were floored. She devoured a dishful, then two big slices of raisin bread.
Best moment by far—I watched her running in circles on our bed, holding a pair of underwear in one hand, a piece of raisin bread in the other [INTERJECTION: WHAT IS IT WITH THE RAISIN BREAD?], singing:
I’ll never stop dancing
I’ll never stop eating
I’ll never stop doing either of these things.
I’m having fun
Whoa, I’m having fun
How do I express how moved I was by this, and how grateful?
5/20 She has begun to tell long imagined stories. Is also very excited about “her” baby and often kisses my tummy and talks to it.
She saw the word “Kalamazoo” in a book and said, “Look, Mommy! Zoo!”
Oh, and she’s got her curls back.