2015 pic totally unrelated to this post, but my media library search button isn’t working and this one caught my eye as I scrolled down the archive
(Audio recording coming tomorrow; sorry; asthma is kicking me a bit today.)
Whew! I’m climbing out from under a convergence of big projects. Cybils are over for another year; I’ve wrapped another issue of the Quill; I finished a hefty freelance assignment that takes over my February every other year. And I’ve taught Finding the Volume of a Cylinder for probably the last time.
I even made it to the eye doctor and ordered a new pair of glasses for the first time in years.
And then of course there’s the podcast! Instead of linking to individual episodes here, let me send you over to the Brave Writer Podcast home page where they’re all collected. Today’s episode is extra fun—a look at our favorite kinesthetic games and activities for learning grammar and math concepts, and more.
Julie and I recorded another episode today, an interview with reading specialist Dr. Marnie Ginsberg. I loved every minute of the conversation. That one airs in a couple of weeks. Immediately after we finished, I changed back into pajamas because it is snoooooowing here—first real snow this year. It’s a doozy. It’s a pajamas-in-the-afternoon kind of storm. Cocoa and a big sweater. A big, if I can wrangle my post-Cybils brain into a decision. Or better yet, a cozy mystery on audiobook while I do a bit of stitching. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
Of course that means I have to choose one. Fun decisions: my absolute Achilles’ heel. I know I have a list of cozy murder audiobooks somewhere, but by the time I find it and see what’s available on Overdrive and actually commit to one…it may well be time to take these pajamas to bed.
I saw the first snowdrops yesterday. Crocuses seem a bit late this year—usually there are many in the yards of our neighborhood by this point. The photo above was taken at a local park the last week of January, the year we moved to Oregon.
I took photos like mad that year—that first incredible Pacific Northwest spring. Funnily, I’ve hardly taken any pictures at all in the past few months. I think that without noticing it, I’ve hit a point where I’ll look at something beautiful and think: I’ve already got a photo of that somewhere. It’s nice, quite peaceful really, feeling like the seeing alone is enough.
I’m now wondering if this shift is related to my increasing immersion in needle-painting. The time-scale is so different: you can snap umpteen pics a minute, or you can spend months laying stitches with single strands of floss. Both art forms spark great joy. But I think right now I’m more nourished by the slower one. Now I only seem to take a photo if I think I might want to stitch it at some point.
Even now I’m staring at those petals and stamens and imagining what colors of thread I might choose. Those delicious lines of dark purple against the lighter shades. The deeper orange-yellow of the stamens that are farther from the lens. The way you could drop in just a stitch or two of the gold in the center of the more distant crocuses. The question of focus: would you try to recreate the mist of flowers at the top edge of the photo? Or zoom in close to the few up front?
In one of Eric Maisel’s wonderful books—I think this was A Writer’s Space, but it might have been Fearless Creating—he suggested an exercise to help give clarity about what you really truly want to do. He said to dream big, just imagine the grandest vision possible involving the art you wanted to create. Like, say, giving an acceptance speech for a major award for your novel. And since this was when I was becoming really obsessed with embroidery, I started to imagine a gallery wall with my original pieces—but the thing is, the vision immediately shifted to a small mountain cabin, quiet, a tumble of floss skeins, a chair with good light. I understood in a flash that my embroidery ‘dream’ was simply time and space in which to work.
That was a good little epiphany. Apart from the mountain cabin, there was nothing in the vision that isn’t within my reach nearly every day, if only for a few minutes.
I’m so excited to share this news with you. Julie Bogart of Brave Writer has asked me to come on board as her co-host for the Brave Writer Podcast. Julie’s incredible podcast about homeschooling, lifelong learning, critical thinking, parenting, and so many other excellent topics has been going strong for eight seasons and millions of downloads. Which: wow! I was a guest on the show many years ago, and now Julie has invited me to share the mic as her ongoing co-host. We’ve recorded three episodes so far and I am having the best time. Yesterday we recorder was an interview with SUCH an interesting guest, and I enjoyed every morsel of the conversation, and it has me so excited for this new endeavor.
This is the only pic that came up in my media library for the word “garage.” It isn’t my garage, but it is one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken because it exactly captures the mood of my first spring in Portland.
Whew! How is it possible that February is peering around the corner. I had a heavy workload last week & had to give every morsel of writing energy to the work, so no posts actually made it to the finish line here. But the energy was still there, that good blog mojo I used to love.
Back in the 2000s, a lot of blogs were about blogs, about blogging. If that sounds exhaustingly meta, well, yes — but it was also SUPER generative. When the thing can describe itself, when it becomes the natural place to discuss and debate itself, I am telling you: some flywheel gets spinning, and powerful things start to happen.
This is related to my opinion that the very best movies are about movies, the very best books about books.
I was mentally hollering: yes! exactly! That spinning flywheel! It’s what I was talking about a few weeks ago when I recommitted to posting here, right? The way our 2005-2010ish blog conversations generated meaningful experiences, reexaminations, and new lines of thought. And yes, often arguments—but they were (this is just striking me now) more personal arguments than today’s social media pile-ons. You may have been in a fierce debate with someone you’d never met in person, but you knew the ages of her kids, what their current read-aloud was, what their kitchens or gardens looked like.
I’m thinking this through, even though it was a tangent—you can now see those details of people’s lives on Instagram, but something was different during that particular blog era, at least in the book and homeschooling corners I inhabited. There were fewer of us writing, I suppose; but maybe also it was the sense of visiting each other’s personal spaces? I remember around 2009 explaining to a friend that my blog felt like having friends over to my home, whereas Facebook (the Facebook of that time) felt like meeting people in a public space. (Not realizing, then, that it was a data-harvesting space.)
I know this sense of home is why I never did let the blog lapse completely, despite some long silences. I remember an in-person writers’ gathering around 2012—I was vigorously arguing in favor of maintaining one’s own website (and blog) no matter where else you were actively posting. Platforms change, or they disappear. This space has always been mine. An internet home base.
Ah, okay, this wasn’t what I was going to write about at all! (Though related, in a way.) I realize that much of what I’ve posted here since waking the site back up a month ago has been meta. But that’s because I’ve been developing a thought about the role of Bonny Glen in my present life, and what it has meant to me at different touchpoints.
Which is related to the news I wanted to share about Patreon:
After several months on hiatus, my Patreon is reopening to new members. (Current members, this means billing is resuming tomorrow, Feb. 1st, so please check today’s update for details about tier changes.)
Why Patreon? Two reasons. One: the income I earn over there helps keep the lights on over here. Two: I’ve got some things I want to write about in a less public space, and Patreon is a good place for me to do that. In the past I sometimes found it difficult to figure out what posts belonged here on Bonny Glen and which ones belonged on my Patreon, but the distinction is quite easy now because of Circumstances.
If Bonny Glen is my living room, full of bookpiles and notebooks and puzzles and a jumble of items in active use, then my reinvented Patreon is…my garage, in a way? It’s seen by fewer visitors, and only the ones who really want to be there. Ah, I’m losing hold of the metaphor. What I mean is more literal. Of course I want visitors to keep coming to Bonny Glen. But I also literally want to write about my garage and all it contains.
I want to grapple in a very frank and personal way with a topic that has been a throughline of my entire adult existence: the ups and downs of dealing with—well, I don’t like the word clutter, because it always seems to me to devalue the objects we care about. So: just Stuff. As I wrote on Patreon earlier today:
I want to write about Stuff. Possessions. A lifetime’s accumulation of objects. The stories they hold, the feelings they spark, the challenges they present.
Our garage right now is like an archaeological dig through the layers of my family’s history and all our interests—the enduring, the recurring, or the only briefly alluring. (Ha, there, that’s the organizational structure I’ve been looking for. I want to write about the incessant necessity of figuring out what goes where, and what got forgotten about, and what should really be gotten rid of.)
I feel like I’ve been struggling with finding balance in this area since the day I arrived at my grad-school apartment with a U-Haul stuffed to the gills, and my wonderful program director, Jim Clark, waggled his impressive eyebrows at me and said wryly, “Thought you said you didn’t have much stuff.” And I was surprised—I mean, it was the smallest size of U-Haul! In that moment my understanding of what “not much stuff” meant was dramatically recalibrated. But, you know, the shift in vision didn’t keep me out of used bookstores or plant nurseries. And then I went on to have six kids.
So I’ve been wanting to do some really focused writing about this topic for YEARS—and to do it in tandem with the process of sorting and sifting and saving and shucking. And now (not a minute later) is the right time.
And Patreon, because it is a just a bit more secluded, is the right space. I keep the subscription fees low in hopes of making the content affordable for those who wish to see it. (There are $1, $3, and $5 monthly tiers. All three give access to my posts—as well as to a personal RSS feed for all the audio recordings of my Bonny Glen posts—and the $5 tier includes access to a weekly live coworking session.) I would love to have you join me for this exploration.
Either way, I’ll still be over here on Bonny Glen, writing about what I’ve always written about here: my family’s reading life, our homeschooling adventures, my current enthusiasms, of which there are many.
This is the dream we carry through the world
that something fantastic will happen
that it has to happen
that time will open by itself
that doors shall open by themselves
that the heart will find itself open
that mountain springs will jump up
that the dream will open by itself
that we one early morning
will slip into a harbor
that we have never known.
My copy of The Dream We Carry (named after a line from “This Is the Dream”) has the original Norwegian on the verso and the English translation on the recto. Rilla, curled up beside me, enjoyed comparing the two versions. She was struck by the lovely image of the mountain springs “jumping up” and reached for Google Translate’s snapshot feature to compare the literal (and much less poetic) translation. That led to a line-by-line unpacking of the language. The Hauge collection Luminous Spaces has an entirely different translation and we got really caught up in discussing the figurative and connotative differences between these variants:
…that we one early morning
will slip into a harbor
that we have never known
that I one early morning will glide
in on a wave I have never known
(Google Translate’s rendering of the original—interesting that it’s in first person singular, when both English translations use we)
Slip into a harbor, glide into a cove, glide in on a wave—such distinct and potent images, each in their own way.
There are buckets more I could say about our Hauge conversations, but the only one I’ll mention now is the Fillyjonk connection. We’re reading Tales From Moominvalley and today we finished the scene in which the anxious, constantly catastrophizing Fillyjonk tries to share her worries with her neighbor, Gaffsie, over tea in her gloomy seaside house:
“…This calm is unnatural. It means something terrible is going to happen. Dear Gaffsie, believe me, we are so very small and insignificant, and so are our tea cakes and carpets and all those things, you know, and still they’re so important, but always they’re threatened by mercilessness…By something one can’t ask anything of, or argue with, or understand, and that never tells one anything. Something that one can see drawing near, through a black windowpane, far away on the road, far away to sea, growing and growing but not really showing itself until too late. Mrs. Gaffsie, have you felt it? Tell me that you know what I’m talking about! Please!”
Gaffsie, a practical and restrained creature, doesn’t get it. She’s uncomfortable with the Fillyjonk’s demonstration of emotion, and she doesn’t have much use for a dramatic recitation of all the terrible things that could happen—because none of them have.
The poor Fillyjonk! Hauge’s dream is utterly closed to her—so far, at least.
Today this chapter sent me leaping (like a mountain spring) to read Hauge’s poem “We Don’t Sail the Same Sea”—
We don’t sail the same sea,
though it looks the same.
Rough timber and iron on deck,
sand and cement in the hold,
I ride low, plunge
headlong through breakers,
wail in fog.
You sail in a paper boat,
your dream fills its blue sail,
so soft is the wind, so gentle the wave.
Hauge struggled with depression and had to endure some very dark periods. Some of his poems acknowledge a sense of bleakness or of brooding menace—Fillyjonk feelings. I think the two of them do sail the same sea. But Hauge has the promise of that dream, the promise that some day the doors will open to a world where mountain springs jump up and and the wind fills a blue sail. I have hopes that the Fillyjonk, too, will encounter that dream—perhaps through an encounter with the Moomintroll family, or with Snufkin, later in the book. Right now she’s wailing in fog—with a kind of raw courage, the kind it takes to “plunge / headlong through the breakers.”
Well. At the end of lessons today I said we’d be moving on from Hauge next week, and such a clamor arose! Scott and the children think not. It seems I’ve been remiss in hoarding Hauge to myself all these years. I’m so happy they find him as compelling as I do.
Well, I worked through the weekend and planned to take this afternoon off, which of course means I’ve spent much of the afternoon dealing with tax stuff and medical admin. I’m chronically bad at honoring my own breaks. So I’ve come here to tell on myself and create a little accountability for the rest of the day. I have a last few Cybils Easy Reader & Early Chapter Book finalists waiting to be picked up at the library, so I think I’ll walk over there while Scott is in his Tuesday family Zoom meeting, and I’ll stop into the grocery store on the way home to get dinner fixings. I’m roasting a chicken tonight.
Since I was finishing up a Dart, I didn’t write a Sunday stitching update. I did take a picture for it, though! I’ve added a few more circles since then. What I’m aiming for is capturing the loose, blendy watercolor feeling of the painting exercise I posted last week. The circles are meant to be irregular, with their colors bleeding into the adjacent rows. At first (the circles on the left, which is the bottom of the design) I was using a Frixion pen to draw circles as guidelines, but I quickly abandoned that plan. You can see from the marks inside some of the stitched rings that I didn’t even keep to the guidelines where I drew them. Now I’m just winging it.
I love using the heat-erasable Frixion pens for embroidery designs. A quick hit with an iron or blow dryer will zap those marks away.
I’m enjoying the looseness of this project, the way I can make a couple of extra-long stitches at the top or side of a circle to have its colors bleed into a new one. It’s also fun to be so deliberately imprecise—since most of my embroidery is quite the opposite.
It’s a meditative process and I’ve been stitching a few circles each morning, not even listening to anything for once. Just thinking, or not thinking.
I’ve needed those pockets of quiet because life has been rather full this month! Full in some fabulous ways, and some frustrating ones. I’ll be able to share more about the fabulous bits soon.
I do think it’s funny I decided to stitch these slow circles on fabric intended for a crossbody bag. It’ll be ages before I’m ready to get on with the bag assembly so that I can actually use it. But no rush.
Ha, the weather app has just informed me there’s a 50% chance my library books and I will get rained on. Guess I’d better scoot out the door!
Gotta be quick today: it’s a birthday in these parts. Y’all, my baby is 14. That’s bananas.
In lieu of a new post, here’s something delicious: my father’s family recipe for biscuits with chocolate gravy. When I was growing up, this was the star of the meal whenever we had breakfast for dinner (eggs, bacon, fruit, and biscuits with chocolate gravy—heaven on a plate). After Scott and I had kids, it gradually became our special birthday breakfast. Maybe that’s why we wound up with such a big family—more birthdays!
Okay, I thought this was going to be a quickie. Turns out that old post 2007 had an image hosted on my original Typepad blog. I didn’t know that was even still around! I had to update a bunch of old links and images and now it’s about time to go make dinner—Huck has requested paninis. We’re all about the food today!
This photo was taken in June, 2018, in a little town on California’s Central Coast. At least that’s how I remember it. Today Portland is gray and bedraggled, and I needed a bit of color.
This photo reminds me that at one point, I had a whole secret theme going on my Instagram. I never told anyone (except Scott, of course) what I was going for, but I kept the project going for months. It wasn’t every photo, just one or two a week, and the theme would have been hard to guess at. It was a look at juxtapositions of color: manmade structures and objects behind or next to objects from nature. Flowers against walls, brilliant red poppies in front of a bright blue recycling bin, lime-green moss next to yellow rain boots, that sort of thing. I remember one of my favorites was a scatter of autumn leaves in a leaf-shaped pothole.
It was fun, having a secret art project. I tend to spill all my artistic secrets out of enthusiasm—sometimes to their detriment. It’s easy to lose steam on a project after I’ve had the fun of telling about it.
Back when I was writing Little House prequels, I used to have to turn in outlines for approval by the Laura Ingalls Wilder estate. Outlines are deadly to my writing process; once I’ve mapped a book out in that level of detail, the energy fizzles. It’s like I’ve had the fun of telling the story and now what’s left is the hard part, the actual writing.
So every time one of these outlines was approved, I’d sit down and write a totally different book. I never meant to; I would just start writing in the middle somewhere, searching for life, and suddenly the story would grow legs and skitter off in a different direction than the map I’d submitted.
And you know what? No one ever seemed to notice. When I turned in a manuscript, my editor edited the book she got, not the one she didn’t. I’m proud of those books and I’m happy they wouldn’t stay in their boxes. Some of the broad strokes do parallel the original outlines; there were parts of each story that I knew from the beginning I wanted to tell—the Roxbury hurricane; the story of Charlotte’s baby brother—but most of the everyday happenings in those stories grew as I wrote, not before.
I’ve been treading cautiously with my current novel-in-progress. With this one, I could see the broad outline very clearly from the first—danger! But as soon as I started writing, new developments elbowed in, pushing the early conception to the far corners of the page.
Which was a huge relief. I have to do this dance with any written work: know enough, but not too much. I remember once complaining to Scott that I had a paper due, and it seemed like a pointless exercise: “I know I can write it, and the professor knows I can write it, so why can’t we just leave it at that?” Heh. That was toward the end of a rigorous two years in graduate school and I was tired. Grinding out that paper felt rather, shall we say, academic.
Anyway, that’s where my thoughts have wandered on this cloudy afternoon. I didn’t plan this post in advance; I just searched “color” in my photo library and let my thoughts roam where they pleased.
A somewhat grainy photo of my four oldest children taken at the Point Loma Lighthouse in 2007, not long after we moved to San Diego. The Pacific was still quite new to them. When I coined the term “tidal homeschooling,” we lived in Virginia and the image was entirely figurative—but when I think back to those early tidal-learning days, this pic is the one I see.
I remember writing here long ago about how my favorite category of post was connections. The serendipitous links of thought we encounter when something we’re reading or experiencing echoes or relates to some earlier conversation, book, film, experience.
Today, for example: we read another Hauge poem (“Winter Morning”) and had a really rich discussion of how much is going on in those four simple lines—a discussion that incorporated some of the conversation we had in the comments here about yesterday’s poem. We talked about the way Hauge uses simple, crisp, concrete images (frosted windowpanes, the glow of a good dream, a woodstove “pour[ing] out its warmth/ from a wood block it had enjoyed the whole night”) to describe a moment, and something much bigger than the moment. And from that rather animated discussion we jumped to Linda Gregg’s “Art of Finding” essay:
I am astonished in my teaching to find how many poets are nearly blind to the physical world. They have ideas, memories, and feelings, but when they write their poems they often see them as similes. To break this habit, I have my students keep a journal in which they must write, very briefly, six things they have seen each day—not beautiful or remarkable things, just things. This seemingly simple task usually is hard for them. At the beginning, they typically “see” things in one of three ways: artistically, deliberately, or not at all. Those who see artistically instantly decorate their descriptions, turning them into something poetic: the winter trees immediately become “old men with snow on their shoulders,” or the lake looks like a “giant eye.” The ones who see deliberately go on and on describing a brass lamp by the bed with painful exactness. And the ones who see only what is forced on their attention: the grandmother in a bikini riding on a skateboard, or a bloody car wreck.
But with practice, they begin to see carelessly and learn a kind of active passivity until after a month nearly all of them have learned to be available to seeing—and the physical world pours in. Their journals fill up with lovely things like, “the mirror with nothing reflected in it.” This way of seeing is important, even vital to the poet, since it is crucial that a poet see when she or he is not looking—just as she must write when she is not writing. To write just because the poet wants to write is natural, but to learn to see is a blessing. The art of finding in poetry is the art of marrying the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human.
Okay, here’s the thing. I had planned to read this excerpt of Gregg’s essay, and to introduce a new practice for the four of us—Huck, Rilla, Scott, and me. We have a spiral-bound sketchbook that, at intervals, we use as a shared family journal. In 2020 it was the whole family chiming in with quips, sketches, and interesting tidbits. It went dormant last year, and when the Linda Gregg passage resurfaced in my Readwise review over the holidays, I decided to appropriate the journal for this practice. Maybe not daily, but several times a week, we’ll jot down things we’ve seen or heard.
But weeks have passed since I reread the passage, and I’d forgotten that last line—the “marrying of the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human.” That’s exactly what we’d just been talking about with the Hauge poem, and what we talked about yesterday. The way he expresses a single image that speaks vividly both as a literal description (in a way that makes your breath catch) and as a reflection on some aspect of human experience. “Marrying the sacred to the world” is what Hauge does best.
So: part intention, part serendipity. The best kind of high-tide morning.
A postscript added after I made today’s recording—listening to the Linda Gregg passage read aloud, I got to “the art of finding” and went Oh of course! And made a note to let tomorrow’s poem be Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” Another connection.