I just counted and this is day 29 of isolation for us. I mean, if you can call it “isolation” when there are eight people in the house. But yeah, March 12 was my last foray into the world, except for a doctor visit when I injured my hand two weeks ago.
I’m no longer taking walks in the neighborhood because my seasonal asthma cough has kicked in & the cool air we’ve had (until today) exacerbates it. And anyway, even with a mask I’d worry my non-covid cough would make others uncomfortable. So I moved the garage clutter off the treadmill and have been using that. And gardening as much as my bad hand can handle. (It’s lots better now but not 100%.)
WB’s school is officially canceled for the rest of the year, and Jane’s job is remote. Beanie’s college classes are online this quarter. Rose graduated from PCC in March (without fanfare—finished last week of classes + finals online, will get her diploma in the mail) and is enrolled at PSU for the fall…whatever that may look like.
For Huck & Rilla, it’s absolutely a low-tide homeschooling time, but we’re keeping up with a few daily things. I’m feeling pretty slammed with work. The usual stuff plus as much extra as I can scrape together. And am feeling uneasy about how back-burnered my own writing is, not to mention outreach to help give Nerviest Girl a good start when she launches in August. There’s not enough time in the day—not when keeping focused moment to moment requires such Herculean effort. It’s exhausting, working through this thing. And yet I’m so grateful to HAVE the work. I just wish my brain weren’t so tuckered out all the time! It’s been…quite a year. Skin cancer surgery, the damaged tendon, my stupid cough which is so worrisome under the circumstances.
Scott’s the only one going to the grocery store, and he takes major precautions. Still nervewracking, though.
My parents’ neighbor’s grandson died of COVID-19 yesterday—the youngest person to die of it in Colorado so far. My sister also had warm ties to the family. It’s so awful. And I’ve had my heart in my throat for friends in NY and elsewhere for weeks. (Keep us updated, y’all. We worry about you.)
Reading is another tricky pursuit right now…I’m darting from book to book like a butterfly. Stitching + listening to stuff works a lot better—embroidery occupies enough of my mind that I don’t start absently opening tabs. Mostly I read coronavirus news.
When Jane was going through chemo as a toddler, we often shared a hospital room with post-op surgery patients. Sometimes we would hear distraught parents weeping on the other side of the curtain while awaiting their child’s return. Then, inevitably, the parents would find out Jane was in for leukemia and they would begin making profuse apologies for crying about elbow surgery or a broken leg. And I’d be like: no, no, you get to feel how you feel about this! You’re going through something hard and real and frightening. You don’t have to grade it on a curve or downplay your feelings just because the kid in the next bed has something more dire. I think about that a lot right now as I see people being honest about what they miss or are struggling with and then immediately apologizing because so many others are dealing with worse. It’s okay to say what you miss & articulate what’s hard. It’s okay to feel upended and anxious even when your day-to-day isn’t bad.
I miss working in coffee shops. I really miss Chorale. But for the most part I’m not finding it hard to be cloistered here at home. My life was already pretty home-based. (Although what’s happening now looks very little like our real homeschooling lives. Homeschooling doesn’t mean you stay home all the time.) I look forward to my early-morning writing sessions, watching the sun rise and listening for the train whistle, the Northern flicker, the first sparrow’s call. I wish I could spend these strange days just hanging out with my kids and making art. I wish I were doing a better job of documenting it all. I wish the federal government would do its job. I wish for people back who are gone.
I wish you all well and appreciate your posts!
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 did some prep work for my Prairie Thief readaloud sessions in next week’s (free! online!) Homebound conference. (You can register for my sessions here. The schedule and other session links are here.)
• 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!
I just wrote an epic Twitter thread with advice for parents who have suddenly found themselves thrust into homeschooling situations due to COVID-19. I promised to compile it here for easy reference, so here it is!
Dear Suddenly & Temporarily Homeschooling Parents:
I’m a work-at-home mom of six who has been homeschooling for over 20 years and I’m here to help if you have questions! I call my family’s learning style “Tidal Homeschooling” in recognition of natural ebbs and flows in life and learning.
One of my kids is high risk for respiratory issues, so our family began social distancing about a week before it went national. This is definitely a low tide season in our homeschooling life! Lots of art projects and games. Gardening. Poetry. Baking. Music. A bit of mellow math.
And readalouds, our absolute staple! Grab a copy of Finn Family Moomintroll or By the Great Horn Spoon or Stella by Starlight or Bronze & Sunflower or The Fourteenth Goldfish or Where the Mountain Meets the Moon or The Girl Who Drank the Moon or…(I could do this all day.)
As you can see, I’m bananas about middle-grade fiction. That’s what I write! Starting next Monday I’ll be reading my novel The Prairie Thief out loud every day at 4pm EDT/1pm PDT. Details coming soon—you can sign up for my newsletter and get more book recommendations. Also this blog! The archives are crammed with book recs for all ages and other fun learning resources.
Challenging but full of delight
I’m seeing a lot of tweets right now about the struggles suddenly-homeschooling families are experiencing and I get it. I’ve homeschooled through book deadlines and killer workloads and breast cancer and kids in the hospital and you name it. What I’ve learned: relationship is the most important thing.
Carve out some work time for yourself & a family quiet reading time if that fits your schedule. Dig out old toys the kids outgrew—nostalgia is a major entertainment aide in times like this. Play board games. Make slime. Find art & craft supplies from projects you meant to finish—let the kids have at ’em. That bin of quilting supplies I’ve been hoarding? Yeah, turns out I’m never going to be a quilter. That fabric is fair game for cooped-up kids now.
We’re getting ready to launch a massive D&D campaign—I’m DMing. And the kid who likes gardening is helping me repot plants. The kid who likes games is roping siblings in to play. Lots of Wii action too.
Don’t try to make it school at home
If they have packets of schoolwork they have to do, don’t let that be the thing that pits you against each other. Working one on one often takes less time than group learning. (Group learning has its perks too. We’re sorely missing our homeschool co-op these days.) Get gummy bears or pretzels for lesson time because chewing helps people concentrate. No, really, it’s a thing. Keep lesson time short for now, and if they’re writing, you write too! Good time to start your plague journal.
Homeschoolers all over the internet are sharing resources right now. Brave Writer’s Homebound page is a fabulous place to start. Or follow Julie Bogart on Instagram. Read her book The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, & Life. We’re all brave learners now!
Feed yourself, too
Follow Holly Wren Spaulding on Instagram for poems and thoughts to keep you sane and grounded. I also recommend Commonplace Podcast and The Slowdown—vital listening for my peace of mind. And the Poetry Unbound podcast!
Makers gotta mess
Use up the paints and good paper you’ve been hoarding. Or use printer paper and a ballpoint. Get messy. Do round robin drawings where you draw a bit, your kid adds to it, you add more, you all laugh hysterically & make sweet memories. Get out the family photos. Make videos!
Watch science videos. Watch Bill Nye! Find Cyberchase on PBS Kids! (More magical nostalgia for my gang.) SING, sing as much as you can. Youtube search any song + karaoke—now’s the time for your family to find that perfect song they can belt out. It’s a life skill!
But what about their homework?
If they have math to do: here’s the thing. There are loads of ways to learn math. If a concept isn’t making sense, ask for help here or on Twitter. You’ll be bombarded with creative ideas.
Don’t try to make it “school at home.” The dynamic is SO different. You can do math in bed & foreign language while loading the dishwasher. Make beanbags (remember that fabric stash? If you don’t have thread just staple them) & toss them while chanting times tables. The beanbags won’t last but the memories will.
I wish I had time to ____(it’s time to fill in that blank!)
Find out what each kid has been yearning to learn. Ukulele? Coding? Cake decorating? Let that happen now. Ransack the cabinets. Try Creativebug or Skillshare for classes. Millions of tutorials on Youtube. Let them go deep if they want.
Or let them chill out if that’s what they need. Down time is a precious commodity and lots of kids don’t get much of it these days. Read comics. Crumple aluminum foil & have a catch in the living room. Tape toilet paper rolls (if you scored any) to the wall to make marble tunnels. (I would say fill a pan with rice and hide “artifacts” for littles to find, but maybe you should save your rice for eating.)
All I want to do right now is embroider—I have a couple of TOTALLY ABSORBING stitching projects—but I have a heavy workload at the moment so I have to squeeze it in. Find out what your kid’s (and YOUR) embroidery equivalent is and let now be the time.
A school day includes making lunches and walk/drive/bus time and moving between classes and tests and homework (one of my six goes to public school, I get it)—remember, all those minutes are free now. So you don’t have to expect homeschooling to take as many hours as school-school. In our “high tide” times (structured learning), we knock out our work between nine and noon. Afternoons are free time for my kids and work for me. I have college grads—it worked fine!
My one school kid is in tenth grade. His teacher sent me a packet of schoolwork but said the only thing to make sure he keeps up with is the gratitude journal. Three things a day. I loved that idea and made them for my younger kids too.
This thread got long! I have a bajillion ideas but they all come back to leaning into the together time as much as possible, diving deep into personal interests, keeping a daily rhythm that suits your family (including your own work time), and lots of readalouds for all ages.
All roads lead to learning
Another thing we do! (See? I can’t stop.) My family uses The West Wing as a spine for 10th grade civics. It’s a springboard for all sorts of research topics. You can do the same thing with any show.
Any kid interest can be that springboard. Homeschoolers call it “rabbit trailing.” I’ve written a ton about it here at Bonny Glen over the years.
Schoolhouse Rock. Downton Abbey. The Importance of Being Earnest. Horrible Histories. Fun in themselves, and also: springboards!
Mad Libs. Hot Wheels on the stairs. Jim Weiss stories. Baby books! Seriously. My 11yo son happened upon all our old Sandra Boynton & Byron Barton board books the other day & hauled them all upstairs for a giggly rereading session.
Here to help
Hit me up for ideas anytime. I know it’s challenging to do kids and work in the same space & same time frame! But it can be joyful, I promise. Forget about subject categories and just explore stuff. Let the teens sleep late. Let the tweens learn fancy hairstyles on Youtube.
Make a family Minecraft kingdom. We had one and my kids kept filling my house with pigs, and one of the tweens had a long-running Monty Pythonesque retort competition with my husband via the wooden signs.
My parenting life got hit with a 9-month children’s hospital stay when my oldest was 2yo (leukemia, she’s 24 and healthy now) so I had to learn fast and young how to make life fun for my kid and me in social distancing situations.
Holler if I can help with anything. As the mom of a medically complicated kid (and a person with a dodgy health history of my own), I sincerely thank you for doing your part to flatten the curve.
Preorder my new book, The Nerviest Girl in the World!