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.
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
Huck, in solemn tones: “Mommy, I like you more than television.”
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!
Our insanely busy summer is winding down, and soon we’ll be back to just regular busy. Jane took the week off her internship because she landed a short-term gig at a community college bookstore—the very college at which Rose is now taking a Spanish class, though the store is not on campus. Nearby, though, and Scott’s and my taxi powers have not been, er, overtaxed. (Ba dum bump.) And only three doctor visits in the past two weeks: one long scheduled, one unanticipated, and one follow-up. Considering the records we set earlier in the summer, this tally is positively yawnworthy.
(I just peeked at next week’s calendar, and there are NO. APPOINTMENTS. SCHEDULED. Which means somebody will probably break an arm.)
(Not funny, Lissa.)
With Wonderboy back in school and Rose uttering heretofore unuttered phrases like “Here’s my syllabus if you want to take a look” and “I finished my homework” (!), we find ourselves comfortably returning to our high-tide rhythms—with a few innovations this year. I’ve marked out blocks of time (cleverly called Block 1 and Block 2, which has my inner Anne Shirley rolling her eyes in disgust) to focus on Rose and Beanie (1) or Huck and Rilla (2) with some planning and deliberation. That is, I want to make sure we get to the Fun Stuff and the Important Stuff, and I’ve set aside time for the purpose. Four nice chunks of Block 1 and three of Block 2 each week, tucked into specific corners of the day.
Today’s our third day, and so far I’m tickled pink. Yesterday afternoon ended with Huck and Rilla literally climbing on top of me, chanting “More Block 2! More Block 2!” One excellent development is that Rilla and I now have a dedicated time to work on art projects. She picked this toucan painting to start with, and to my amusement I was not merely expected to facilitate her efforts: I was required to undertake a painting of my own. Our works are coming along nicely. Today we put in the skies.
Also chalked in on the schedule is a regular park visit, an extremely important addition in the eyes of my younger children. Huck and Rilla anticipated today’s outing all week long. Finally the appointed hour arrived—and thirty seconds after hitting the playground, all three of us melted into puddles from the fierce heat. Cue general despondency. In times like this, there’s only one thing to be done: find a shady nook under the fringe of pine trees and build ourselves a Roxaboxen. We each made our own little round houses with a nice path connecting them. We’re all in suspense to see what will be left of our realm next week.
August 13, 2014 @ 2:57 pm | Filed under: Author stuff, Books, Games
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Chris Barton, author of many excellent children’s books including that Peterson family favorite, Shark vs. Train, is celebrating the impending launch of his newest book, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!, by interviewing other authors about their relationship with video games. Today it’s my turn. I had a blast (Asteroids reference, get it?) answering his questions. You know how I love me my games.
CB: What games did you play the most when you were a kid? What did you love about them?
MW: We got an Atari 2600 when I was around 8th or 9th grade. I. LOVED. THAT. THING. Fave game: Adventure. The way the dragons curled up when you stabbed them! I went through a whole blissful nostalgia-binge not long ago, revisiting Adventure on a desktop version. It’s amazing the wave of feelings it conjures up. That exhilaration of discovery; the happy state of tension I love in a game.
Naturally I had to give a big shoutout to Glitch, the best game of all time (sniff).
Oh sure, I can write the date, but that doesn’t mean I can believe it. I’d have laid money we weren’t past the 6th or 7th yet. Blink. WB goes back to school on Thursday (!) and Rose starts a Spanish class at the community college next week (!!). I will probably wake up tomorrow and discover that Huck has enrolled in graduate school.
On the forums for my Phone Photography class, someone (possibly my friend Stephanie Elms?) recommended an app called Timehop that, once connected to your various social media accounts, will compile for you each day a look back at what you posted on this date in years past. Thus it was that I discovered today is four years since we (sans Scott) visited Rocky Ridge Farm, where Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote all her books.
In which we continue the family tradition of being unable to all smile for a photo simultaneously, unless Scott is standing behind the photographer working his magic.
It has been a BIG four years. Three of those girls are taller than I now, and that chubby little side of beef is a long, lean boy. There’s a lot less pink in the laundry these days (nearly all of it Rilla’s).
Here’s what we did this weekend: I was asked to be on a panel at WinkieCon, an annual celebration of the Oz books, which I grew up loving as wildly as I did Little House. You can imagine my delight, then, at encountering none other than Ozma herself.
Is that not the most incredible costume? She nailed it perfectly. In addition to being a talented costumer, Natalie makes wonderful jewelry and art.
And that’s not all. My young Polychrome was tickled to meet this fellow:
After the “Playing in Someone Else’s Sandbox” panel there was a booksigning for the authors (Edward Einhorn, Caroline Spector, and me). Look who kept me company at the table!
The convention was a delight for me and my girls, especially Miss Rilla, who dove into a ribbon-hunting quest with considerable verve. She had to seek out attendees with Doctor Who “Companion” ribbons on their badges and ask them to pose for a quick photo; for every five Companion photos she brought back to the game table, she earned a new ribbon for her own badge—starting with Dalek and working her way up through several levels, past Time Lord to a Companion badge of her own. She made a lot of friends that day, let me tell you.
One of the highlights of the convention was—I can hardly tell you how fluttery I felt, walking into this room—a collection of Judy Garland’s costumes. Meet Me in St. Louis, The Harvey Girls, Easter Parade—so many treasures there. And we met Judy’s son. Such a nice man. It was quite a day.
If you ever get a chance to go to an Oz convention (especially Winkie Con, which is such a class act), I highly recommend it. Fascinating people, gorgeous books and costumes and handmade wares, really interesting panels—Jane particularly enjoyed “Oz and the American Musical,” which I wish I’d attended myself—and all in a venue MUCH less crowded and overwhelming than, say, Comic-Con. Many thanks to Eric Shanower for the invitation to speak on the panel.
One of the many long galleries at Balboa Park. Assignment: In a Row.
At Comic-Con two years ago (or was it three? they begin to blur), I dropped my camera in the street, and it has never been the same since. Even before that, I was finding myself more likely to reach for my smartphone than the camera when I wanted to snap a pic. I gather I’m not alone in this. As phone cameras have improved and apps like Instagram make uploading and sharing easier, more and more of us are relying on our phones to capture the memories we want to save.
At times, though, I’ve been frustrated by the frankly mediocre quality of my phone photos compared to the kind of pictures I used to get with my camera. When I saw that Big Picture Classes was offering an online course in phone photography—and furthermore, that my fellow former ClubMom blogger Tracey Clark was one of the instructors—I decided to take the plunge.
Oh you guys, I am SO happy I’m taking this class. The “Before and After” videos, in which various instructors walk you through the editing process on a single photo, using their favorite apps, made an immediate difference in my pictures. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the biweekly lessons with accompanying photo challenges, all based around themes like “In a Row,” “Lines,” or “Fill the Frame.” I’m much happier with the quality of the photos I’m getting out of my iPhone. Almost every image I have posted here in the past two weeks was influenced by the course.
The class runs through August 16 and you can sign up right until the end. You move through the lessons at your own pace. There’s a pretty active message board with lots of input from the instructors, and several bonus videos in which guest photographers spend some time talking about their phone-photography process.
Here’s a selection of my class assignments. There’s a gallery where students may upload photos, but the best place to see others’ work is on Instagram, where we’re tagging our work #bpcphonephotographyproject and adding tags for the individual assignments, such as #ppp2inarow or #ppp2shapes.
Taken at Seaport Village in San Diego. Assignment: Rule of Thirds.
I always swoon over the orchids in Balboa Park’s Botanical Building. Assignment: Fill the Frame.
Snapped in a corner of the music studio where my kids take piano. Assignment: Lines.
Another take on the Lines assignment.
I’m always admiring these beautiful succulents in my neighbor’s yard. Assignment: Fill the Frame.
There’s a man who stacks these rock towers at Seaport Village every day. Assignment: Shapes.
Another take on the guitars…Assignment: Black and White. (I think this may be my favorite of the bunch.)
Rose found this feather and we decided it was meant for my blue jar. Assignment: Light.
Another Seaport Village shot, but I’m not saying where exactly. Assignment: Fill the Frame.
I posted this one here last week, but I tried a slightly different edit when I shared it on Instagram. I think I like this faded version best. (I prefer the taller crop on the original, though.) Assignments: Vantage Point and Rule of Thirds.
I happened to read the Vantage Point lesson right before our trip to Seaport Village, and it’s what nudged me to get down on the ground underneath Beanie as she took a stab at flying this kite. I like how the kite is about to sail right out of the frame.
One of the things I’m appreciating most about this class is the way it makes me notice things in my surroundings that I might otherwise have glanced right past. I passed these cars in a parking lot behind the San Diego Convention Center during Comic-Con and was struck by the reflection of the slats on their windshields. Submitted it for the Black and White bonus challenge.
Thanks to the class I learned how to straighten the horizon in this formerly very tilted shot! I didn’t tag it for any of the assignments, but the way the wind was whipping that seaweed around, it could almost qualify for the Action challenge.
Tomorrow brings a new lesson—I can’t wait!