Join us for Brave Writer Summer Camp!

July 7, 2024 @ 1:47 pm | Filed under:

Brave Writer Summer Camp is on July 17

Brave Writer online camp is designed for homeschool parents who need a little extra boost of support!

The day-long camp is packed with useful information about

  • homeschooling
  • writing
  • all things Brave Writer

The Brave Writer team offers a day of free webinars on topics like stress-free writing and learning through literature. And during the lunch break, I’ll be hosting a Poetry Teatime for your kids!

Learn more & sign up here.

LOL I forgot to title this post before publishing it, that’s how much I didn’t know what it was going to be about when I started

June 25, 2024 @ 8:27 am | Filed under:

Playing my old game of typing nouns into this blog’s media library search bar and choosing one of the photos that comes up. “Crow” yielded comical results: a good many pics related to my book Fox and Crow Are Not Friends, as you might suspect, and several from Johnny Crow’s Garden; but also four pictures from Comic-Con? With no discernible relationship to crows? This baffled me until I clicked on one of the photos and realized it was labeled “crowds.” Which felt like it should have been obvious, but I had to get up really early today and am fuzzy. Took me five lines to solve Wordle, which hardly ever happens. Unless it’s the nasty kind with a dozen possible first letters, like -IGHT or -ATCH, which, today, it wasn’t. Is that spoilish? Does this caption need a spoiler alert?—Oh! all this and I forgot to say what the photo actually IS! It’s a crow mobbing a kite—the raptor, not the windborne disappointment machine—taken in 2012 on a sub-par phone camera and zoomed waaaay in so I could make the bird I.D.

That caption got so long I had to decaptionify it, because the caption settings here are for small, centered, italic text: annoying to read in bulk. Opening WordPress today felt like it used to, back in the bloggity heydey I now gaze wistfully at through glasses so rose-colored they are fragrant. Which is to say, I opened the tab with zero idea what I was going to write.

That really is how it was, most days, during that first ten or twelve years when I blogged almost daily. Very much a practice of discovering what was on my mind through writing about it. The act of writing came first, the discovery second. Or they were simultaneous. It’s too early in the morning for metaphysics.

I’ve completely lost track of the relative positions of the chicken and the egg. Did I write more because I was less distracted? Or was I less distracted because I wrote more? By “write” I mean blog, that clunky verb for a genuinely nourishing practice, the interactive learning-in-public we were doing together in a long-form manner that has almost entirely disappeared from the internet (along with idealism), except, possibly, on Substack (a platform about which I hold cautiously idealistic views).

Is what I’m writing now a Substack post? Like, what even is the difference? What I write over there is, I would say, still more like a blog post than an essay. Obviously there is a great deal of overlap between those two types of writing, which I’m somewhat stubbornly putting separate labels on: many blog posts are/were essays, and plenty of Substackers are writing loose, thinking-out-loud public journal entries, especially on Substack Notes. I think the distinction, in my mind at least, lies in the discoverability baked into the Substack app: writers can’t help but be aware that Certain Kinds of Writing are more likely to be shared and boosted, and words are like those quantum particles that behave differently under observation. (We think. How do we know? It’s too early in the morning for quantum physics.)

One thing I know is that I have never, never known Where to Post the Thing—whatever the thing may be/may have been. I always had side-blogs, some of them public but nichier than Bonny Glen, some of them invite-only where I used the kids’ real names or conducted experiments to see if I would write differently when anonymous. I had Lilting House, Bonny Glen Up Close, Unsweetened. I had a bread blog! (It was called Peace of Bread. I’m so sorry.) I had a LiveJournal. I had a column at GeekMom. I had blogs I don’t even remember now. Which means I have always, always second-guessed myself about where to post what. Patreon was a bit of a torment that way: I’d write something for my treasured patrons and think: wouldn’t this be better on Bonny Glen?

There was a period where Instagram created the same kind of quandary—that interval when the algorithm demanded long captions, and publishers desired a large IG following. I never did acquire a large IG following, because I couldn’t help resenting the implicit pressure to do more than share nice photos. Any long caption I wrote felt like a blog post, which was irritating.

Not just irritating to me: to many writers who felt affectionate about their blogs or newsletters. We understood that social media platforms had changed the game (as early as 2008 readers were shifting their discourse about blog posts from the comment boxes to Facebook posts meant only to share the links), and certainly we had moments of feeling excited about the possibilities of Discoverability. But the possibilities were mostly a distraction, a fragmenting of our powers of attention. As readers, writers, thinkers.

I do enjoy Substack. I like that it gives readers a way to read posts via email, if they prefer, or to read in the app or on the website, if that’s more to their liking. I do both. But I think it’s also wicked confusing to newcomers (there are Posts, Notes, and Chat—three different formats in which conversations can take place, each with its own nuances and logistics), and it only adds complexity to my where-to-post-what quandary. Blog or Substack? Substack post or Substack Note? Paywall or public? Gah. I don’t know about you, but I can’t run that gauntlet of questions without feeling like it’s rather more fuss than the piece of writing in question merits.

Here I am at the bottom (I think) of this post, unsure what my point is beyond: ugh, decisions of little real consequence are nonetheless hard. However, I do have clarity (950 words later) on one small thing: I like having a place (here) where I can write messily and clarity can be the end result, not the starting point. And that (she says, in the sort of arch ending favored by algorithm-driven platforms) is the kind of ‘discoverability’ I’m looking for. (Ew. Lol.)

Mid-May in the garden

May 16, 2024 @ 8:13 am | Filed under:

Some quick notes to capture what’s in bloom. Too much to list, really—

rhododendrons falling
lupines outstretched & glorious, full of native bees
California poppies poking their orange heads between the blue spires
Icelandic poppies nodding, lifting, days away from blooming
nasturtium seedlings getting hearty
pumpkin and beans just poking above the soil
swamp milkweed pink and cheery
strawberries! a few sweet alpines to savor every day
bleeding heart loving the shade of the neighbor’s maple
columbines tall and unfolding their wings
blueberries and black currants forming fruit: tiny, round, green orbs

Ack—something’s wrong with my WordPress. Can’t upload photos. Imagine a really stunning orange and yellow columbine at the top.

Brave Writer Podcast update!

February 14, 2024 @ 3:45 pm | Filed under:

I have been Julie Bogart’s co-host on the Brave Writer Podcast for over a year now. One of my favorite gigs EVER. Whether we’re interviewing a guest (we get such interesting guests!) or just digging into a homeschooling/critical thinking/parenting/writing topic together, I always have a fantastic time & learn something new, which I love. It’s such a joy to get to dive into these rich conversations.

I’ve been kind of terrible, though, at announcing them. What makes that extra comical is that in a recent episode, Julie interviewed me about my writing career. Which, hi, I really should have shared here! So here you go.

You can listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify (or your own favorite podcast app).

In another recent episode, we interviewed Sarah Edmonson and Nippy Ames of The Vow (two of the NXIVM cult whistleblowers). FASCINATING conversation.

My blue mountains

January 29, 2024 @ 10:26 am | Filed under:

This morning’s sunrise was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I went outside in the chill air to watch the colors seep across the sky—and really, it wasn’t that chilly. After our recent ice storms & bitter cold, it felt almost balmy. I thought about taking a walk but I’d just made cocoa. So instead, I went upstairs and sipped as the streaks of rose and gold stretched out above the blue mountains.

Those mountains: they mean so much to me. In our first years in Portland, after I recovered from radiation treatment, I used to walk a two-mile loop almost every day—a route that took me directly past our current home, though I couldn’t have guessed that lay in our future. I would turn at what is now our actual corner—admiring what are now my own apple trees as I passed—and head toward a park several blocks away, because it had a gorgeous view of the mountains.

In parts of our neighborhood you can glimpse Mount Saint Helens, whom Scott adores beyond reason. (I say “whom” because she is absolutely a personality.) She’s awe-inspiring and quite lovely, but my own favorite mountain in the dog-park view was one of the low peaks in a blue range to the northeast, across the Columbia River. I grew up in Aurora, Colorado, where the Rockies are always in sight—and so often, they too were a deep violet blue. Later, I lived in Virginia at the feet of the Blue Ridge—the hills that gave this blog (birthed in that house) its first and best color scheme.

My two oldest girls, so very young then, standing the the dusk looking across a green field at the deepening blue mountains. Photo by my father.

So I’m deeply grateful that these now-familiar, perfectly blue mountains are part of my daily view. A week ago they were snow-capped. Now only specks of white remain. Beyond the sharply peaked rooves of Northeast Portland is that delicious ridge of deep blue under a pale sky.

Favorite day, favorite planner

January 1, 2024 @ 1:34 pm | Filed under:

Happy New Year! I began the year with a longish post over at Substack

Against a background of clouds, text reads: 'A certain vibrant emptiness' - Hello to my favorite day of the year

—and then popped into my email to discover an announcement from my friend (and favorite maker of papery goods) Lesley Austin of Small Meadow Press. She has created a 2024 digital planner, lovely as all her creations are. I bought it immediately and I can report that it is a delight. I uploaded it to both my iPad (in Goodnotes) and my beloooooved Supernote e-ink notebook, about which I can’t rave enough, and Lesley’s digital daybook looks beautiful in both. I appreciate that she includes a few different layouts for the weekly and daily pages. If you’re looking for something to get your year off to a gentle start, you should take a look.

(Ha! That sounds like a sponsored post but it isn’t. I’m just a longtime & very enthusiastic customer. I first encountered Lesley’s work at a homeschooling convention in Richmond aaaages ago & her stationery had me at hello. The friendship came later, and was a happy perk!)

That would be a yes

November 19, 2023 @ 2:24 pm | Filed under:

Nobody: Gee I wonder if Rose’s rubber snake is still giving her mother heart attacks all these years later

Me, looking for an old photo in my blog archive:

All a glimmer

November 16, 2023 @ 9:52 am | Filed under:
my two oldest girls, very young, silhouetted against a twilight sky and blue hills

Photo by my father, Murray Brannon

The maple has dropped perhaps seventy percent of its leaves now. All the upper branches on its south-facing side are bare and the morning light glows through into my studio. The north-facing side is holding its secrets a while longer.

I love that I can see—in the wide gap between the Norway maple and a different neighbor’s Douglas fir—a distant blue smudge of mountains in Washington State.

In a middle-school art class in my hometown of Aurora, Colorado, I once painted a picture of blue mountains beyond a wide green valley speckled with wildflowers. Blue-green foothills, and mountains in deepening shades of blue and violet. We saw the Rockies every time we walked outside, and I painted those mountains the way I saw them in my mind’s eye. But then another student made fun of them. Mountains aren’t blue, he scoffed. And I remember the sudden flood of doubt. Of course he was right. Mountains are brown and green and gray and snow-white. What was I thinking? Mortified, I cut the entire mountain range off the page and threw it away. I tried pasting the meadow to a new sheet of paper and painting properly tinted mountains, but the glue wrinkled the paper and anyway, the new range was hideous. I trashed the entire thing.

And went outside and saw that I’d been right. There was blue in the hills. I’ve been watching for blue mountains all my life. For a few years I lived at the feet of the Blue Ridge and drank in those blues and violets all day long, feeling like I’d found my own personal Innisfree.

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I’ve thought often of that boy in class with a kind of wry gratitude and ruefulness. Of course I had no idea at the time, but that encounter helped shape me: it taught me to trust my own artistic vision. I knew what I knew. My mountains were blue, and they were beautiful. Everywhere I’ve gone, “standing on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,” I’ve seen them in the deep heart’s core.

Bug snug

November 15, 2023 @ 9:37 am | Filed under:

a tripod of bamboo poles filled with layers of branches, fallen leaves, grass clippings, and flower stems in front of a white picket fence and blue sky.

Yesterday Rilla and I finished filling the bug snug with leaves, grass clippings, flower stems, and twigs. We’ll leave it be now and hope it went up in time to offer shelter to overwintering insects. We may be a bit late for this year, but now we know what to when late summer rolls around next year.

Ideally there would be a lot more twigs and branches among the leaves, but we used what we had in the yard. Flower stalks (we had zinnia, dahlia, rudbeckia, sunflower, and cosmos stems mostly) are excellent to include in the layers because insects can burrow into the stems, especially the hollow ones. Or you can simply leave the stalks in the garden all winter, right where they grew.

The neighbor’s Norway maple has conveniently leaf-mulched the large flower bed in this part of the yard (we call it the back yard, but it’s actually on the side of the house because of this quirky corner lot). The cherry, apple, and Tupelo trees are supplying the sheet-mulching project on the other side of the house. Scott is mightily amused by the way I greedily eye our neighbors’ giant paper bags of raked leaves awaiting compost pickup. I don’t need them—we’ve got plenty—but leaf mulch creates such superb winter habitat and decomposes into fantastically rich compost for your garden beds. The maple’s yellow leaves are rapidly turning brown, but to me they are nothing but gold.