day two: books and bears

January 2, 2017 @ 3:50 pm | Filed under: , ,

sketchbook bears


Huck this morning: “Why are you on a site called Goo Dreads?”

Dread is actually an apt word for my feelings about catching up my Goodreads, which (thanks to Cybils) is about thirty YA novels behind. I’m trying, but it wants time I do not have. And then there’s my booklog here at Bonny Glen, which is a whole other task. Maybe I’ll outsource it to a kid.


Today’s picture book: Hedgie’s Surprise by Jan Brett. A natural choice after yesterday’s pick. I think this one may be my favorite of Brett’s Hedgie stories. And the needlepoint patterns in the margins have me itching to paint. Maybe that’ll be my drawing challenge subject for the day.


As I mentioned yesterday, I’m hoping to sketch every day this year. A few weeks ago, Scott remarked offhandedly that I ought to draw more bears. So during that night’s art date with Rilla, I pulled up a Google image search and tried my hand at a few. Yesterday I attempted a polar bear. I went right to the good paper, which might have been a disaster because I thoroughly botched the proportions and put the face way too low. Fortunately I have learned to use something water-soluble for my first rough sketch. (Or pencil. I love pencil. A lot of instructors tell you to avoid pencil, but I think they see relative shapes a lot better than I do. I need to be able to shift things around. Like when the nose ends up where the chin should be.) I often begin with a blue or brown watercolor pencil and go over that with black waterproof ink. Lately I’m enjoying a gray Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pen. When I mess up on my first pass, as I inevitably do, I can blur the mistakes into shadow with a waterbrush. The bear is still messy but I was much happier after I redid his face in black ink.

polar bear


Someone asked how I’m finding time to keep up the sketchbook practice, given all the work on my plate this year. The answer is: I give it fifteen minutes a day. That’s all. I mean, there are days when I get lucky and find some extra time, like if I sit on a bench and draw while the kids are at the playground. But sometimes I prefer to read during playground time instead. And so I’ve committed a quarter of an hour to sketching every evening at 9pm. Fifteen minutes isn’t much. (That’s a big part of why that polar bear is so messy.) But it’s something. It’s what I can manage, for now, and that’s enough.


This morning I sorted two bookcases’ worth of books. I’ve pulled together a new row of picture books for our daily selections—enough to last us for four months, if we read one a day. Every book I handled felt like another conversation, a whole post unto itself. It’s funny that I had so many days last year where I couldn’t come up with anything to blog about—I learned a long time ago all I have to do is walk over to one of my shelves.

At one point this morning I had at least a hundred books in piles on the floor, swallowing the room, when I came across our copy of Material World. Which, if you haven’t seen it, is a collection of photographs of families around the world with all their material possessions spread in front of their homes. The variation between quantity of stuff from family to family is staggering. We Americans, we…accumulate a lot of things. Like, say, books.

We finished Understood Betsy just before the holidays, and now I need to choose the next readaloud. Scott read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever the whole family (including the college kids and me), which bought me time to decide, but…I’m still undecided. We still have so many great books in the pile for this year! Jane (still home for winter break) is plumping for The Firelings. Which may have been one of the first readalouds I ever wrote about on this blog. Maybe it’s time. 🙂


After the morning’s bookcase jamboree, I took the younger kids to the playground. I’ve been a lot better about this lately—you know my older girls practically grew up at local parks, but rhythms change when you have teens, and park visits had all but disappeared from our routine for a while. But last fall I stepped it back up. They’re old enough that I can sit, as I said, and read or sketch. Or catch up on blogs. 🙂 Which makes me That Mother you see condemned in posts that make the rounds occasionally—you know, the ones written in tones half imploring, half scolding, about much you miss when you’re staring at your phone while your kids are playing. “I watched your beautiful daughter twirling around in joy and you—you missed it. Because Facebook.” Those always make me laugh. I’m like: honey, I have been taking my kids to the playground since 1995. I have stood in line at the post office with an imaginary goldfish in my hand. I have sat on hospital beds entertaining a toddler with playdough by the hour. I’ve spent all morning homeschooling them. I’ve read thousands of books out loud. Literally thousands! So here at the playground? I’m good. They’re, you know, playing. They don’t need me hovering over them on the jungle gym. In fact, you just know the next article in my feed is going to be a screed against helicopter parenting. So I’m just going to sit here with my magical smartphone and catch up on some reading. Or play a game. Or maybe even goof around on Facebook. Which is where I happened to be when I came across your post, so don’t pretend you aren’t doing the same thing.


Favorite playground moment today: we’d just arrived and my kids were already up the hill toward the play equipment. As I got out of the minivan, a preschooler in a bright orange shirt jumped out of the next car over, took two steps onto the grass, and shouted, “I’m here!” To no one, and everyone.


Today was too chilly for sitting on a bench. (Sorry, Facebook.) We had unusually heavy rains recently (I mean, it’s San Diego; rain is unusual, period) and there were big sploshy puddles all over the place. The kids mostly avoided them by keeping to the mountain peaks of the jungle gym. I decided to get a bit of exercise in by walking laps around the wide, flat grassy area adjacent to the playground. You can see the play area from the whole circumference, so you don’t even have to miss That Mother’s beautiful daughter twirling around in ignored joy if you choose.

I pulled up an audiobook I started several months ago, Robert Macfarlane’s wonderful Landmarks, which is about the language we use for things in nature—terrain, weather, flora. Specifically: the “place-words” of the United Kingdom. When last I listened to this book, I was playing Minecraft. And as soon as the new chapter loaded and the narrator with his wonderful accent began reading the opening lines, my mind was flooded with images of the house I’d built in that particular Minecraft world—a birch cabin on a bluff overlooking a river, with a village in the distance and a craggy mountain rising behind. I remember thinking at the time that Landmarks was the perfect book to listen to while playing Minecraft, since both are so thoroughly centered around terrain. It was also perfect for listening to on a brisk walk through a soggy park. Macfarlane even mentioned a Scottish word for “a person who is walking briskly”—I need to get hold of a hard copy and look it up, because I missed it on the walk, what with all the puddle-sploshing.

It’s terrible, in fact—every other sentence made me long for a print edition of the book to mark up and dog-ear—on the very day when I’ve embarked on a ruthless shelf-culling endeavor! Plus now we’re past both Christmas and my birthday. 😉 I’ll have to get it from the library, though, because Chapter 4 is all about a Scottish author named Nan Shepherd and her book The Living Mountain, “a celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland.” There were easily five quotes in the first ten minutes that I wanted to copy down. Which I could have done if I were sitting on a bench staring at my phone. I’m just saying.

Backing up to the Minecraft thing for a moment—I’m amazed by how clearly I can picture that map, and even remember some of the adventures that befell me there, just because I was listening to an audiobook while playing. I mean, I’ve played a lot of Minecraft over the years, with my kids and without them. The worlds all begin to blur together after a while. Except for those I’ve explored while listening to something on audio. I went through a whole slew of lectures a couple of years ago—mostly literature classes via Yale Open Course. I can’t just sit and listen to something; I have to be doing something with my hands. (This is why I make sure my kids have something to play with while I read to them.) Nowadays I usually use the listening time to sketch. Or to clean a bathroom. File some papers. But what I have found is that the lectures I listened to while playing Minecraft have stuck in my brain more clearly than the others. You see, the vivid connections are happening in both directions. I remember the house I built during Amy Hungerford’s Lolita lecture (so great!)—a small oak farmhouse with a well in the yard. I remember being down in the nearby mine fighting skeletons during the Wise Blood lecture. During Franny and Zooey I built a house of sandstone and constructed a monster trap nearby. And for all three lectures, I can recall the professor’s words with much more clarity than the one I listened to while scrubbing the bathroom. It’s like Minecraft gave me pegs to hang the lectures on. Or a map, both literal and figurative? I know this: I remember more detail from those lectures than ones I took actual notes on.


I know, I know, this post is ridiculous. You can’t have nine sections in a daily blog post. That’s serious overkill. If I had any sense, I’d have saved some of this for later in the week when open a draft and draw a blank. But I guess that’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in twelve years of blogging. If I save it, it’ll start to feel like A Topic, like something I need brain to tackle. And I have to save all my brains for work. So it’s overkill or nothing, I guess.

Well, maybe we’ll just consider this catch-up for months of sparse posting.



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21 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. COD says:

    When you said “Blog likes its 2005” you were not kidding!

  2. Anne Neulieb says:

    I love this post! Overkill or not.

  3. Phoebe Gleeson says:

    You’re inspiring me too. This was such a great read – it does feel like 2005!

  4. Karen Edmisten says:

    Old school blogging? Bring it.

    LOVE Goo Dreads.

    And everything else here.

    I have been trying to draw and sketch more in the last year, but haven’t done much lately. I like the 15 min. a day commitment. Ramona and I did “Inktober” together (an ink drawing every day in October, something she found on Pinterest and something I should credit the originator with, but I can’t remember her name) but then I fell away from the habit again. But it’s a new year! 🙂

  5. Sarah says:

    I love your book recommendations. They are always my favorite.

  6. Kortney Garrison says:

    I listened to a Yale Open course on the early Middle Ages when my last was tiny and new and breastfeeding at all hours. Cried when I finished the last lecture because I had so come to depend and live in those worlds inside my head. When you had Huck, you were reading books on your phone in the middle of the night. I had some major smartphone envy!

  7. Melanie Bettinelli says:

    So old school. I love it.

    Your bears remind me of our latest expotition to the MFA. We got to see Robert McCloskey’s sketches of bears for Blueberries for Sal. And all sorts of other treasures. But your bears reminded me of his. Did I post those yet, I can’t remember?

    I’ve been picking up my sketchbook a lot more. Not every day, but maybe once a week at least. I’m finding it’s a good thing to have on hand while supervising math problems and copywork. I’m on hand to sort of keep the attention focused and to answer questions, but I’m not hovering so much. And the kids have been sketching and drawing much more too. Today Sophie drew a lovely little sketch of a Baby Jesus figure that was sitting on the former-Advent now Christmas wreath. And Ben has been surprising me by the level of details in his drawings.

    Your thoughts about Facebooking at the playground make me chuckle. I’ve been there, thinking: Yes, I’m on my phone now but when we go home we’re going to do two hours of read alouds. And I’ve already spent two hours listening and watching kids. This is my Masterly Inactivity right here. But actually we haven’t been to the playground since I don’t know when. I tend to avoid them in the summer because playgrounds around here don’t have good shade to sit in. And then in the fall I got all busy. Gosh, it might not have been since the spring. And now of course it’s too cold. But if we lived in California, I’m sure I’d be there more often, right?

    And oooh I wonder if Minecraft is functioning like a Memory Palace! I have to play when listening, too, but my games of choice are the more mechanical ones, things like Threes which is just adding numbers. But I was playing Slice Fractions on my first full listen through of Hamilton. I don’t have those kinds of connections, though. Probably because the musical pushed out all those connections with all the rich visuals of the play itself.

  8. Penny says:

    If I was able to draw polar bears like you are able to… that’s all I would do. (sorry for the weird sentence, haven’t had my tea)

    What a great and fun post. Thank you! 🙂

  9. bearing says:

    I have been trying, self-consciously, to force myself to put an image in all my blog posts, or mostly all anyway, ever since I started linking them on FB (to make it easier to attract friends to comment on them). I don’t want every single post to just have the default thumbnail.

    Before that it never seemed to be all that important to have images. Now it seems obligatory…

    • Melissa Wiley says:

      Yes, Scott and I have begrudgingly admitted to each other that we too find we’re more inclined to click on posts with images in the preview…so I’ve accepted that I’ve got to stick one into every post whether I feel like it or not. Or, well, sometimes I don’t bother when I’m only posting a quick kid-quip.

      My current strategy is just to pull something off my Instagram. I set up an IFTTT to automatically save all my new IG posts to Dropbox, which makes it easy to quickly pull a photo into a blog post. Only now I have two IG accounts! And sometimes I want to use pix from the planner account. Which means I’ll have to create a second IFTTT account because IFTTT will only let you connect one IG account at a time.

      Man, how’s that for a paragraph that would have made zero sense in 2005?

      • Ellie says:

        *sigh* would dearly LOVE to still be able to post photos! My blogging app died, and that was my only resuorce for uplaoding photos. …. hav ehad some recent alterations to the technology round here tho’, so paerhaps that will change (not being able to post photos). I miss being able to share images something crazy …

        Query: can one use Instagram with NO access to a desktop computer (i.e. using an iPad??).

        • Susanne Barrett says:

          I use Instagram on my phone only; I’ve never used it on my laptop or tablet. It’s really made for phone/tablet use. You should be fine. 🙂

          • Melissa Wiley says:

            Yes, Ellie, Instagram is primarily a mobile platform. It doesn’t offer much web functionality beyond viewing pictures—all uploading and commenting happens on the phone or tablet. I think you’d like it!

  10. Susanne Barrett says:

    I’m such a Salinger fan . . . well, of everything except Catcher, LOL! Franny and Zooey is one of my favorite 20th century novels (more of a novella, but . . . .), and that’s my weakest area of literary interest. I really need this Yale class, so I’ll probably tackle it soon–at least before I start teaching the MLA class at BW which, although I love it, the final week always saps my very soul with grading two drafts of all of the research papers. 😉

    Thanks, Melissa–I loved this post–all nine parts!!

    Susanne (who simply can’t shake signing comments as if they were notes written on paper)

  11. Corinna says:

    I love this 2005 resurgence. It’s good to be reminded of the lessons from the darkest depths of history at times, isn’t it? Because thats what 2005 is these days, according to my younger crew anyway.

    I appreciate your blog written about family and homeschooling with the persepective of experience – relaxed and in tune with the real life that’s happening around you in each season. It’s a lovely place for me to come and feel like I’m having a chat with a friend who understands me completely.

    The playground comment had me giggling. Recently I was waiting at swimming lessons with two of my children (age 11, 13) and they thought we must be the most old-fashioned family around because one was sketching, one was reading an old school, paper book and I was doing some embroidery. Yet the very next day the kids decided we had finally reached the modern age – all three of us were on a phone or iPod! Life is all about balance, I say.

  12. maria says:

    In playing catch-up on reading your blog and wanting to indulge w/a massive cup of tea for as long as it takes to get caught-up. 😀 Alas, grocery lists and checkbook balancing demand otherwise. 🙁
    However, this blog-reading-catching-up makes for a wonderful carrot to dangle before myself. 🙂
    All that to say, retro blogging rocks! 😉
    And to say, I so enjoyed reading this polite, sometimes ever so slightly snarky, run-on blog entry! It’s beautiful!
    Also, I’m seeing a strong argument for Minecraft being utilised in classrooms to help with retention and attention. Find some scientists, do a study, write a paper & book! Loving it!!! 😀
    Okay, onto that grocery list and crunching numbers. :p

  13. maria says:

    *l’m playing…
    Not ‘In’