Archive for April, 2012

Poor little neglected blog.

April 30, 2012 @ 6:16 pm | Filed under:

I think this is the longest I’ve gone without posting since the summer of 2005, when Wonderboy was in and out of the hospital. Nothing like that happening now; I’m just busy writing. Writing writing writing.

But I keep meaning to jot down daily notes, at least, since this blog has become our searchable family memory. What will I forget because I didn’t write it down? Rilla lost another tooth. Jane got some exciting news and is preparing for a busy summer—more on that later. The cover of my second Inch and Roly book is finished; I should get the go-ahead to post it here soon. I guess those aren’t really the sort of things you forget, except maybe the particulars of the lost tooth. We’ve seen a lot of lost teeth in this family. Rilla’s first one—did I write this here?—Huck pulled it for her. Not on purpose. He was wiggling it, inspecting it, and he inspected it right out of her mouth.

The butterfly picture up there: she’s been filling a notebook with these drawings. She copies them (copies, not traces) out of our field guide. Her older sisters, and just possibly her mother, too, are immensely proud of her artistic prowess. She can draw circles around me. And squares and triangles too. (Ba dum bum.) The finished drawing above was carefully labeled “PiPEViNE SWALLOTAiL.” With hearts dotting each i, of course.

Things we read this week—

More Brambly Hedge


Dear Mr. Blueberry

The Flying Garbanzos (oh how all my children have loved this goofy book)

Good Dog, Carl

Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood

Angus and the Ducks

Bink and Gollie

Other things I am forgetting. I’ll do a proper Rillabooks post later if I can, but I wanted to record the list before the books are scattered back to the ends of the earth.

Rose is reading Adam of the Road. Beanie: Caddie Woodlawn. Jane recently finished 1984. And a million other things.

I still can’t read fiction and it’s killing me. Thank goodness for garden lit and essays.

Oh! I have a post on poetry up at GeekMom today. Poetry is one of the things still happening regularly around here.

Another thing is spring cleaning! I have LOTS more to say about that—it’s all due to Lesley Austin and her beautiful, beautiful Wisteria & Sunshine forum. The house, which normally falls to pieces when I’m deep in a manuscript, is positively gleaming. I even did the floors. There are more rooms to go but I’ve done the bedrooms and bathrooms (and hall closet and pantry) and that is a thing that has never, in seventeen years of child-raising and novel-writing, happened during the crunch-stage of a manuscript before. Of course it means last week I neglected the garden, and oh, that’s right! I went over a week without blogging.

Library Day

April 20, 2012 @ 8:16 pm | Filed under:

We haven’t been to the big branch with the excellent children’s room in a while. Huck thought he’d gone to heaven. Books, puzzles, a giant hopscotch mat, and a child’s-sized fire engine? Those letters over the door may as well spell out “Huck’s Palace o’ Fun,” as far as he was concerned.

I saw Angus and the Ducks on the shelf and realized (with a Miss Rumphius pang) that none of my three youngest children have met that intrepid Scottish terrier yet. Our copy of Angus fell apart, oh, back when Beanie was Huck’s age. So naturally we had to bring him home, along with a new-to-us Elephant and Piggie (always a happy day, finding a new Elephant and Piggie) and a stack of other enticing titles…methinks it’s going to be a very good Saturday.

Quote and Notes

April 18, 2012 @ 7:25 pm | Filed under: ,

“She had the ability to write about herself and her friends in a way that preserves rather than destroys privacy, a gift so rare in our time that we may underestimate its importance.”

—from No One Gardens Alone: A Life of Elizabeth Lawrence by Emily Herring Wilson

(EHW’s introduction and footnotes to Two Gardeners are so engaging, and her affection for her subject so evident, that I absolutely had to read her biography of Lawrence. I haven’t even finished Two Gardeners yet; I’m savoring it slowly, you know; but I couldn’t resist peeking ahead at the biography.)

Notes from our morning—no, mornings; I meant to jot this first bit down yesterday and forgot. The older girls and I were all standing in the kitchen, chatting, when Rilla came running in from the backyard, barefoot, breathless, clutching a crumpled bag of goldfish crackers.

“You’ve got to see this!” she declared, eyes shining.

We trooped obediently out behind her.

“There!” She pointed skyward.

Two mourning cloak butterflies, whirling, chasing one another across the blue, weaving in and out among the inquisitive branches of the overhanging pepper trees.

They were lovely and tireless, a rich cocoa color with bands of creamy yellow at the edges of their wings. We all stood and stared for five, ten minutes, squinting against the sun. A mockingbird swooped to the top of the big Moreton Bay fig in the schoolyard behind our house and, all chuffed with pride, began showing off his repertoire. The mourning cloaks danced in complex figures, arcing, coasting, ruffling.

“This,” remarked Rilla, “is such a good movie.” She held out the bag of goldfish toward me. “Want some popcorn?”


Later she painted her rock that’s shaped like a turtle, a gift from my parents for her Roxaboxen. Then she asked me to read Winnie the Pooh, but we found When You Were Very Young instead, and I had to read “Rice Pudding” four times in a row.

But today we found House at Pooh Corner and I read about Eeyore’s house while Rilla did some more painting.


Wonderboy found our laminated map of San Diego, one of those cartoony ones with landmarks festooning it, and when I left the kitchen just now, he and Jane had it spread out on the floor, studying the highways, fingers pinpointing our neighborhood.


Huck is very much attached to a set of puzzle books featuring classic paintings of children and pets. Oh, and I think one of them may focus on food. One of these books is a treasure I gleaned from the giveaway pile at work way back before we had kids—I can’t believe it didn’t lose all its pieces years ago, but there seems to be only one missing,* and rumor has it even that renegade is hiding in a toy bin somewhere. Huck loves this book (a set of five or six small puzzles all bound up to look like a book, I mean) so dearly that Scott hunted down two more titles in the series. Puzzle Gallery, that’s what they’re called. (Oh, look, honey, there’s a Games one, too.)

*You just know that because I put this in print, every single other piece in the collection is going to fly into parts unknown tomorrow.

Monday Notes

April 16, 2012 @ 7:32 pm | Filed under: ,

If I may be forgiven for posting twice in one day…

(This one’s a quickie, just some notes on our morning)—

Rilla met, for the first time, the jolly inhabitants of Brambly Hedge. (The Treasury was one of her birthday presents. I think an April birthday, a sixth birthday, calls for a Spring Story, don’t you?)

We enjoyed this poem very much: “Do You Have Any Advice for Those of Us Just Starting Out?” (And it put me in mind of some of Julianna Baggott’s excellent writing about writing and writers…)

(Speaking of Julianna, did you catch my Q&A with her over at GeekMom the other day?)

My older girls are watching the biology (and other) videos at Khan Academy. I’m watching over shoulders and learning a lot myself.

We harvested scallions and whacked back the cilantro, which seems to want to be a bush.

“Ruins, romance, and rustic seats…”

April 16, 2012 @ 4:16 pm | Filed under: ,

My Two Gardeners rabbit trail has taken a delicious turn down a literary lane…

Nov. 1960. Katharine White to Elizabeth Lawrence, regarding Katharine’s latest “Onward and Upward in the Garden Column” in the New Yorker:

 Then another thing I did wrong, apparently, was to give the impression by my wording on Gertrude Jekyll that England had never had naturalized plantings until Robinson and Jekyll came along. Of course it had, and I knew it. I’m not learned enough to know where the craze for bedding out and for copying formal European gardens started but I remembered a passage in Mansfield Park where all the Bertrams and the Crawfords and poor Fanny Price went to spend the day at Mr. Rushworth’s estate to consider how to remake his landscaping and gardens, and Fanny mourned because Henry Crawford recommended cutting down an avenue of old trees. This made me wonder whether it was not between 1800 and 1820 that this all started. Jane Austen commenced this novel in 1811 and it was published in 1814. Do you, with your real learning, know about this? I would love to use the reference to Mansfield Park (and some others in the Austen novels) in a later piece if by any chance my hunch is right that Jane was satirizing a new fad in gardens…

Elizabeth replies:

I’ll lend you an article I have on Repton and Jane Austen, and I think it will answer all your questions….

The “naturalistic movement” came at the end of the the seventeenth century with the Earl of Shaftesbury, Addison and Pope. but it wasn’t very natural, I gather: ruins, romance and rustic seats.

[An aside. Later in the letter, Elizabeth adds a word of comfort for her meticulous friend’s consternation over slight inaccuracies in the New Yorker piece:

I gruel over things as you do, but I learn more by making mistakes than any other way. Even with the greatest care I find errors creep in, and when I learn better I write and correct what I’ve said before. But I try not to let it bother me. Everyone makes mistakes, but the really despicable people are those who protect themselves by never making a definite statement.

Emphasis mine. Oh how I love her!]

Two Gardeners editor Emily Herring Wilson helpfully includes a footnote to let us know that the article on Repton and Jane Austen was a piece by Elsa Rehmann called “Jane Austen and the English Landscape School,” published in Landscape Architecture in 1935. Katharine sends Elizabeth her thanks and expresses a hope to borrow the article until she has a chance to write her next column.

I admit I was crestfallen to find that Jane Austen had been so thoroughly explored, but I also think the author of that piece and even Jane’s famous editor, Chapman, didn’t quite see that the novelist was satirizing a current fad, in somewhat the same way, except more mildly, that she poked fun at the gothic novel. That least that is my theory, probably false…

This sent me looking for a passage I thought was in Sense and Sensibility, in which the odious Fanny Dashwood points out a grove of old trees and casually mentions her plans to have them pulled down and replaced with a Grecian temple. I couldn’t find it on a quick flip-through, though. Perhaps I am only remembering the film? Now that I think about it, I wonder if Emma Thompson borrowed that bit from the Mansfield Park scene Mrs. White describes above.

Well! Look what the Google turned up! I wanted to make sure I was remembering correctly that Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay for S&S. Turns out the entire screenplay is online as a pdf. But with permission? I can’t tell. (A search for “temple” turned up the scene I was remembering—almost word for word!)

Oh, these crazy interwebs.

(Quotes from: Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters, edited by Emily Herring Wilson, Beacon Press, 2002.)

Two Gardeners: A Rabbit Trail
“I have had to give up writing to my close friends”
“In the last decade our fiction writers use only ‘I’…”
Before the Internet

Before the Internet

April 14, 2012 @ 8:33 pm | Filed under:

Elizabeth Lawrence to Katharine White, September 1960, about her upcoming book:

The publisher is Harper, and the book is Gardens in Winter. Caroline Dormon did the most beautiful drawings for me….It took Caroline two years to do them, as I had to send her many of the bulbs and plants, and she had to grow them first.


Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters, edited by Emily Herring Wilson

Two Gardeners: A Rabbit Trail
“I have had to give up writing to my close friends”
“In the last decade our fiction writers use only ‘I’…”

Poetry Friday: Numbers

April 13, 2012 @ 1:14 pm | Filed under:

We are loving our several-times-a-week dips into Poetry 180. Today’s selection (#8 in the series) was especially fun.

by Mary Cornish

I like the generosity of numbers.
The way, for example,
they are willing to count
anything or anyone:
two pickles, one door to the room,
eight dancers dressed as swans…

Do read the rest. It goes to wonderful places.