I opened my drafts file here yesterday and saw that the last post I started was a one-line fragment written on January 16:
We’ve been sick, most of us. Just a cruel bug: aches, sore throat, cough.
—Which I suppose answers the question of why I fell off the internet for a month. 🙂 My cough hung around for a good while and still hasn’t vanished entirely. But I’m more or less back to myself, and everyone else is fine. But yikes, that virus really squelched my plan to get back in the blogging groove!
And now I can’t get any photos to upload here. Hmm. I was going to pepper you with photos of the incredible bloom happening in my neighborhood right now—crocuses and camellias and hundreds of little daffodil spikes—but no luck. Well, some of it’s at my Instagram if you’d like a peek. (You can view IG pics on a laptop without needing to log in or download the app, FYI.)
What else are we up to? Journey North Mystery Class, flying solo for the first time in many many many years. (Sniffle.) It’s Huck’s first time participating. He and Rilla each picked a mystery city, and I took the one that looks to be somewhere in Antarctica. Plus we’re charting photoperiods for both Portland and San Diego, to compare. Huck is much more into the charting than I expected. Then again, he loves math. Rilla tolerates the math because she likes the discovery part of the project so much.
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.
Heads up: I’m the guest on this week’s episode of the Brave Writer podcast! I had a fantastic time chatting about tidal homeschooling and other good stuff with the brilliant Julie Bogart, who became one of my very first online friends in the mid-1990s. We finally met in person at last summer’s Brave Writer Retreat. I always come away from a conversation with Julie feeling energized and happy, and this interview was no exception. Enjoy!
This is going to be terrible, so start with something easy. Let’s say: board games. Collect all the boxes from the playroom shelf and put them in the middle of the floor. Go through each box. Have an old Tupperware container handy; you’ll need something to hold the stray buttons and loose change you’re going to find rattling around each box. (Don’t worry that the Tupperware is missing its lid. You’ll get to Tupperware lids in Step 13, That Box of Miscellany in the Garage.)
Collectively, your board game boxes will contain seventeen dice, forty Pictionary drawings, six Mousetrap pieces, eleven paper squares from Caves and Claws, some D&D minifigures, and 1 1/2 actual game boards. Add the minifigures, dice, and Caves and Claws squares to your Tupperware container. Throw everything else away. I know, I know, the rest of Caves & Claws is long gone and saving random game pieces is pointless, but you’re just getting started here and your heart hasn’t hardened yet. Give it time.
Next up: art supplies. This step will be easier than you think, as long as you steadfastly refuse to let your brain access budget records.
Paint in tubes and bottles: If item was first opened more than six months ago, toss it.
Brushes: If they came from a Crayola or RoseArt paint set, toss them. If your toddler dipped them in glue, face the fact that you are never going to get around to soaking it out. Toss them. All other brushes go in an empty mason jar. Place this jar on a centrally located shelf. Consider artfully leaning your old tin of beeswax crayons behind it. This display will afford you feelings of satisfaction. You will need to summon those feelings in moments of despair as you work your way through subsequent steps.
Crayons: Gather all loose, blunted, and broken crayons from around the house. Place them in a clean five-gallon ice-cream tub. (You’ll find two of those under the kitchen sink and four more stacked on the dryer.) Dig your hand into this glorious collection of crayons. Bring up a fistful and gaze upon them, recalling to mind all the times you resolved to melt them into wonderful homemade crayon balls, blocks, and tapers. As you gaze, ask yourself the one crucial question: Does this spark guilt? Of course it does. Throw them all away. Ignore any lingering pangs of regret. Ten minutes from now you’ll remember it’s your turn to bring a snack to your child’s Little League practice. The ensuing waves of panic will obliterate any memory of the broken crayons.
Delete your Pinterest account.
Glance at your kitchen. Realize people are in there making snacks. This will never not be the case. You will never KonMari your kitchen. Move on.
If, however, you open a cupboard one day and find a refillable plastic cup from the local zoo—it will be giraffe-colored with an accordion-pleated straw—discard it immediately. You are never, never going to remember to take it with you for the 20¢ discount.
Toys. One does not KonMari toys. That way lies madness. You can’t pick up every single toy and ask a question about it. That process would spark many feelings, and none of them would be joy. Anyway, most of the time the question would be “Why is this sticky?”
Here is what you do with toys: gather assorted large cardboard boxes or, if you are one of those fancy types, Rubbermaid storage bins. Dump random armloads of toys in these boxes/bins. Label them Box 1, Box 2, and so on. Allow only one box into the house at a time. Three weeks from now when your children are bored, make them refill Box 1 with all the toys they’ve dumped out in the interim. Swap it out for Box 2. They’ll greet its contents like long-lost friends. Repeat this process, rotating through boxes, at monthly intervals or on the third day of a rainy streak. Store the other boxes in your garage or attic. Your children can deal with sorting and purging these items when they’re grown. I mean, you can’t possibly be expected to remember which My Little Pony is the one that must be kept for all eternity.
Eh, while you’re at it, stick the lidless Tupperware container from Step 1 into one of the toy boxes. There are probably at least three other Caves & Claws pieces in there somewhere.
Look, those nondescript rocks and pebbles are VERY IMPORTANT to someone in your home. If you do not understand what Marie Kondo means when she talks about things “sparking joy,” ask your seven-year-old if these are his rocks and observe the expression on his face. That’s the feeling you’re chasing here.
Clothing. There is no point in attempting to KonMari your children’s drawers and closets. Those places are subject to particular laws of physics which cause any neatly folded or hung matter to expand and accumulate in untidy heaps. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does your child’s sock drawer. Who are you to alter the laws of space and time? Move on.
Craft supplies. (You can distinguish these from art supplies because they exist in a different room of your house and usually involve thread.) Outfit yourself for an archeological dig, because that’s what this stage will be: an expedition through the strata of your previous selves. A dozen fabulous iterations of you will be unearthed as you work your way through the layers. You, the erstwhile quilter. You, the maker of beaded jewelry. You, the needle-felter. You, the handstitcher of faceless cotton dolls. You, the…wait, what’s quilling?
Do not lament the incomplete manifestations of these past selves. Each of them was awesome for at least a week, maybe a whole second trimester. Also, each one of them undoubtedly sparked an enthusiastic blog post which inspired some other woman with more follow-through to actually become accomplished at said pursuit. I mean, that has to count for something, right? Right?
Anyway: here’s what you do with all these craft supplies. You say airily, “Oh, hey, [insert name of nearest child], any interest in [random craft]?” Rotate through children’s names until someone gasps with delight. One of them will, and you’ll look extremely cool for having all the materials on hand already.
You knew it had to come, sooner or later. The homeschooling materials. Brace yourself. This is just a warm-up for your books, which is where the real pain lies.
First, assemble all packaged curricula. If an item is intended for second grade or younger, box it and give it to that sweet-faced young mom at park day, the one with a kindergartener and two babies. She’ll be delighted and will leaf eagerly through the instructor guides, each item sparking joy. As a courtesy, strongly advise her not to use any of it, just as you wound up not using it. She’ll ignore you, and this coming September she’ll suffer through one impossible week in which she tries to “do school.” Then she’ll stuff it all on a shelf and avoid looking at it until her oldest is in college, at which time she’ll repeat this time-honored cycle. This is a necessary stage in the metamorphosis of a homeschooling mother. In inflicting these materials upon her, you’re simply participating in an inevitable, natural process. I mean, really, it’s the same thing as planting milkweed.
Survey your remaining materials. You will be surprised to find that’s it’s all good stuff that your family actually uses. That’s because you successfully emerged from the homeschooling-mother pupal stage about the time your fifth kid was born, and also you were too broke to order anything new.
Have someone sharpen all the stray pencils and put them in a jar next to the paintbrushes. Post a picture of this on Instagram. We’re sparking now!
Who put all these bird feathers in the linen closet??
You’re getting kind of bored with this and anyway, Lent is almost over. You know you have to deal with the books. It’s impossible, but there’s no avoiding it. Marie Kondo says to begin by assembling them all in one place. This is good advice. Gather every single book in the house into one place, preferably the living-room floor. You’ll be bombarded with emotions as you handle each book. Do not, repeat DO NOT, stop to flip through Brambly Hedge or Swallows and Amazons. It is acceptable to sing “Bed in Summer” while adding A Child’s Garden of Verses to the pile.
Complete the process by placing your copy of Home Comforts on the top of the heap. At this juncture, your floor will collapse under the collective weight of your family library, and your entire house will be swallowed into the abyss.
Congratulations! You’re now a minimalist!
Footnote: you’ll notice this guide, and your Kon Mari endeavor, ends before Step 13, the garage. You’re welcome.
A lot of the replies to my blog-topics post asked for more glimpses of our tidal homeschooling days, especially how I work with my teens and my elementary-aged kids at the same time. So here’s a peek at a fairly typical Tuesday morning. The broad strokes—the basic rhythms—of our days stay consistent, four days a week (with one morning given to group piano and [for Beanie] literature classes). The details (what exactly we read, do, discuss, sing) vary, but the shape is the same—sort of like a muffin pan. Yeah, that’s it. Our days are like muffins, alike in shape, but we vary the recipe quite a bit. Make sense?
So—during high tide, we do lessons from 9 to noon, more or less. Noon to 1 is lunch and (often) a read-aloud. From 1-3 the younger kids get gaming time (iPad, Wii) and then they play outside most of the rest of the day. The older girls spend their afternoons reading, writing, gaming, walking, and whatever else they have on tap. I work (write) in the afternoons, and sometimes pop out to teach weekly classes to other homeschoolers. For example, I wrapped up a six-week poetry workshop yesterday with a lively group of boys who always keep me laughing. Love those kids.
Anyway, here’s our Tuesday morning.
9 a.m. Beanie is outlining her Tempest paper for the weekly literature class I teach to her and a few friends.
Huck is playing with refrigerator magnets.
Rilla has drawn a scene from the story of Elissa of Carthage, and is now writing a description under the drawing, complete with Phoenician letters for the names.
Now Huck is noodling around on the piano.
Read Stone Soup to Huck. Rose stopped unloading the dishwasher to come listen—she says it’s one of her favorite stories from childhood.
While I read, Rilla finished her Elissa of Carthage passage. Beanie moved to another room for better concentration.
Rose finished the dishes and began making pretzel rolls for our teatime. Huck, Rilla, and I did our morning stretches and recitations. That word sounds so formal! What we do is quite casual. About four mornings a week, we gather in the living room for some singing, memory work, and movement games. It goes something like this:
—We move through a series of stretches (this is mostly for me) which include two planks. During the first plank, we skip-count by sixes; during the second, by sevens.
—Practice the Shakespeare speech or poem we are currently memorizing. Huck, Rilla, and I learn these all together, and usually the older girls wind up knowing them too, because they’re hearing us recite them all the time. This year, I’ve been using Ken Ludwig’s Midsummer Night’s Dream passages from How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. I had already had Pucks “merry wanderer” speech in mind for Huck and Rilla to learn this year—I earned a small scholarship for performing that one during college, so I’m extra fond of it—when I read the Ludwig book (last summer) and decided his approach meshes perfectly with mine. So: this year they’ve learned “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows,” the merry wanderer monologue, the “Lord what fools these mortals be” speech, and now we’re working on Puck’s final speech (“If we shadows have offended”).
—Then we sing an assortment of memory songs and folk songs. Today it was: U.S. Presidents song; United States song; Horrible Histories English Monarchs song. Yesterday was the same lineup plus Skye Boat Song—a family favorite. This is an informal (meaning not planned-in-advance) part of our day, and basically I just starting singing things and the kids join in. Our Presidents and States songs come from an old Singin’ Smart cassette (cassette!!) I bought back when Jane was little, circa 1999. I wish I could find the booklet—there were some other useful tunes in there. I remember the melody for the U.S. Capitals song and have been meaning to print up a list so my littles can learn to sing along. I’m a big fan of music for anything requiring rote memory. We lean heavily on Schoolhouse Rock around here. Last year our mornings were dominated by French songs, as you may recall.
—This week I started Huck and Rilla on the Latin vocabulary chants from Latin for Children Primer A. We are not doing the workbook—just the rhythmic vocab chants: amo, amare, amavi, amatum and so on. Again, this was something that worked really well with my older set and is a solid, painless way to implant a bunch of Latin roots. We also enjoy my friend Edith Hope Fine’s Cryptomaniacs workbook (Greek and Latin roots)—Rilla will be using that steadily next year.
Rose’s rolls are in the oven. She’s playing piano. Beanie is doing German on Duolingo. I send the littles outside with a snack.
Rose heads to her room to maybe do some math? She’s taking business math this year. Yesterday we slogged through the compound interest chapter together. I know you’re jealous. Beanie’s studying geometry, which I find much more entertaining.
I call Huck and Rilla back inside for some history. I read them the Elizabethan Era chapter from A Child’s History of the World—Walter Raleigh, Roanoke, Shakespeare. Long side-discussion of tobacco was sparked by a mention in the chapter. Also a lot of discussion about Roanoke because who isn’t fascinated by that story? I mention to Rose (who is back, checking on her rolls) that Gwenda Bond has a YA novel about Roanoke she might enjoy. This reminds us we need to return some books to the library.
Rilla has done a little Math-U-See, and Huck and I had an impromptu chat about the short E sound. He is reading incredibly well these days, devouring Boxcar Children books with ease. I picked up an easy spelling workbook a couple of weeks ago and pull it out occasionally to talk about sounds with him. Rilla is the first of my kids to need some deliberate, steady spelling instruction (she’s using a Spelling You See book this year and really enjoying it because it came with a set of erasable colored pencils, which (art supply) is the key to her heart. With Huck, age 7, I’m now casually pulling out some light spelling games to help him start making those phonics-y connections.
Okay, so that was going on but only for a few minutes, and now Rose’s pretzel rolls are ready. We hurry to the table to enjoy them while they’re warm. Tuesday mornings are our Poetry Teatime—which for us generally means Something Rose Baked and a glass of milk. I usually grab our battered Favorite Poems Old and New and read six or seven poems. Not a week goes by that they don’t beg for their favorite, “My Son, Aged Three Years and Five Months”…some days I have it in me, and other weeks I’m not up to the performance. When you do that poem, you gotta DO that poem. 🙂
Huck and Rilla have gone off to play together. This usually means I will find my bed turned into a fort later. Last week, it became some kind of Monkey Kingdom and I had stuffed primates hanging from the miniblind cords all week.
I go grab a sweater from my room. Sure enough, every pillow in the house is piled high. I send Huck and Rilla to get their shoes on. Rose and Beanie are at the piano again, working out a duet—Beanie began taking violin lessons a few months ago and likes to try to work out simple accompaniment to the pieces Rose is working on for piano class.
Everyone piles into the minivan for a quick library run. We have a million things to return. Rilla found a new graphic novel, Jellaby: The Lost Monster, that looks fun. Rose recommended Sarah Zettel’s Palace of Spies for Beanie—a YA historical novel I read for the 2014 CYBILs and passed along to Rose when I finished.
Home for a late lunch. I forgot to read our chapter of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler! I’ll have to try to squeeze it in after dinner. This is because—in an unprecedented development—I went into Scott’s office (aka our boys’ bedroom) to give him a package that had arrived, and I stretched out on the bed just for a second and fell asleep. I never nap.
I guess I napped. Scott is amused. I’m totally discombobulated. Wonderboy is just arriving home from school and the littles are already deep into Terraria. Jane is pinging me from college. My afternoon has begun.
I joined Postcrossing a couple of months ago and now it’s taking over our kitchen wall—in the best way. This is a site for exchanging postcards with people around the world. Hmm, “exchange” isn’t the right word because these aren’t reciprocal swaps where you send a card to someone and get one back from the same person. Instead, you create a profile and then you’re given the name and address of another user. You send a postcard to that person. When he receives it, he registers the card, which prompts the system to send your address to someone different. In the beginning, you’re allowed to send up to five cards at once. As people begin to receive and register your cards, your maximum increases. Not that you have to send out five, six, seven cards all at once. You can do it one at a time if you like.
So far we have sent out ten cards and received eight—from Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Taiwan, India, Switzerland, Germany, and Finland! As you can see, we’re taping them to the wall above our world map. So much fun. This is a pretty delightful way to combine the joys of snail mail with a whizbang dose of world geography.
Our past few weeks have been a swirl of doctor appointments and deadlines. I had to skip a few of my weekly Books We’ve Read roundups because usually I put them together on weekends, and my last three weekends were quite full! Three weeks’ worth of books is too many for one post, but I’ll share a few particular standouts…and next Sunday I’ll be back on track with my regular “this week in books.”
Mordant’s Wish by Valerie Coursen: a family favorite, now sadly out of print (but available used). This is a sweet story with a chain-reaction theme. Mordant the mole sees a cloud shaped like a turtle and wishes on a dandelion for a real turtle friend. The windblown seeds remind a passing cyclist of snow, prompting him to stop for a snow cone—which drips on the ground in the shape of a hat, reminding a passing bird that his dear Aunt Nat (who wears interesting hats) is due for a visit…and so on. All my children have felt deeply affectionate about this book. The domino events are quirky and unpredictable, and the wonderful art provides lots of clues to be delighted in during subsequent reads. If your library has it, put it on your list for sure.
Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon. Review copy provided by publisher. A strange, snoozing beast shows up in the backyard, and the kids don’t know what it is. They ask around but the adults are busy, so they hit the books in search of answers. All the while, the sloth sleeps on. The fun of the book lies in the bold, appealing art, and in the humor of the kids’ earnest search unfolding against a backdrop of clues as to the mysterious creature’s identity. Huck enjoyed the punchline of the ending.
Possum Magic by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas. I’ve had this book since before I had children to read it to: it was one of the picture books I fell in love with during my grad-school part-time job at a children’s bookstore. Fox and Vivas are an incomparable team—it was they who gave us Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, which I described in 2011 as perhaps my favorite picture book of all time, an assertion I’ll stand by today. Possum Magic is the tale of a young Aussie possum whose granny works some bush magic to make her invisible, for protection from predators. Eventually young Hush would like to be visible again, but Grandma Poss can’t quite remember the recipe for the spell. There’s a lot of people food involved (much of it unfamiliar to American readers, which I think is what my kids like best about the book).
Rilla and I finished Dancing Shoes, our last Saturday-night-art-date audiobook. Now we’re a couple of chapters into Swallows and Amazons. She’s a little lukewarm on it so far—so many nautical terms—but I suspect that once the kids get to the island, she’ll be hooked. The Ransome books were particular favorites of Jane’s and I’m happy to see them get another go with my younger set.
After Charlotte’s Web, I chose Natalie Babbitt’s The Search for Delicious as our next dinnertime readaloud (for Huck, Rilla, and Wonderboy). We’re nearing the climax now and oh, this book is every bit as gripping as I remember from childhood. The kingdom is about to erupt in war over the question of what food should define “delicious” in the Royal Dictionary. The queen’s brother is galloping across the kingdom spreading lies and fomenting dissent, and young Gaylen, the messenger charged with polling every citizen for their delicious opinion (a thankless and sometimes dangerous task), has begun to discover the secret history of his land—a secret involving dwarves, woldwellers, a lost whistle, and a mermaid’s doll. So good, you guys.
My literature class (Beanie and some other ninth-grade girls) continues to read short stories; this month we’re discussing Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” and Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” In November we’re doing Around the World in Eighty Days, so I’ve begun pre-re-reading that one in preparation. But I also found myself picking up a book I read, and didn’t get a chance to write about, earlier this year: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. The fact that I’ve read it twice in one year is probably all the endorsement I need give: with a TBR pile is taller than the Tower of Babel, I really shouldn’t be spending any time on rereads at all. 🙂 But there I was stuck in a waiting room, and there it was on my Kindle, calling me. It’s an epistolary novel—you know I love those—consisting of letters (recommendations and other academic correspondence) by a beleaguered, argumentative university writing professor. His letters of recommendation are more candid and conversation than is typical. He’s a seriously flawed individual, and he knows it. But his insights are shrewd, especially when it comes to the challenges besetting the English Department. I thoroughly enjoyed this book on both reads.
Beanie finished Betsy and the Great World and is now reading Betsy’s Wedding (Rose insisted, and I fanned the flames) and Rilla of Ingleside, as our 20th-century history studies take us into World War I. Don’t Know Much About History continues to work quite well for us as a history spine, a topics jumping-off place, especially given the way it is structured: each chapter begins with a question (“Who were the Wobblies?” “What was the Bull Moose Party?”) that serves as a narration hook for us later. Then we range into other texts that explore events in more depth or, as with the Betsy and Rilla books above, provide via narrative a sense of the period. I probably don’t have to tell you I’m pretty excited about getting to include Betsy and Rilla in this study. Rilla of Ingleside is one of my most beloved books. The fact that my youngest daughter’s blog name—which I use nearly as much as I use her real name—is Rilla is probably a good indication of how much this book (and Rainbow Valley) means to me.
My late-September busy-ness put me in a bit of a slump with my sketching progress—it’s really the first time I’ve dropped the ball on my practice since I began just over a year ago. This week I pulled out our Illustration School books (Beanie and Rilla found them under the tree last Christmas) and decided that whenever I feel slumpy, I’ll just pick a page in one of those, or in a 20 Ways to Draw a… book (we have Tree, Cat, and Tulip) and follow those models. It’s an easy way to get some practice in and there’s something satisfying in filling a page with feathers, mushrooms, or rabbits—even when I make mistakes. Which I do. A lot.
This roundup doesn’t include much of the teens’ reading, and nothing from Scott although he has racked up quite a few titles since my last post. I’ll get the older folks in next time. And I suppose it goes without saying that these posts also provide a bit of a window into our homeschooling life, since I try to chronicle all our reading—a large part of which is related to our studies. If you’re curious about what resources we’re using (especially the high-schoolers, about whom I get the most queries via email), you’ll find a lot of that information here.
Speaking of which: any favorite WWI-related historical fiction you’d like to recommend?
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