Archive for the ‘Books’ Category
August 4, 2020 @ 5:40 pm | Filed under: Books
Have idea for book about a kid in silent film; start project file.
Begin researching, but you’ve got another novel coming out and it gets all your attention for a while.
Sell a different book on proposal, spend years researching & writing. Eventually decide it doesn’t want to be a YA novel after all; it’s an adult book. Probably not even a novel—it wants to be narrative nonfiction. Later, you’ll be intrigued by the possibilities this revelation opens up, but for a while it’s a hard pill to swallow.
Get breast cancer and move to Portland in the same week. Call your editor to ask if you can shelve the not-actually-a-kids’-book draft & give her something new, there’s this idea you’ve been playing with for a long time. Hooray, she loves the concept! Have this conversation in the hotel literally the day after moving away from the town where your book will be set. Then go do the surgery and radiation thing. Watch lots of silent films during your recovery.
Holy cats, you have a book to write. Reinvent your entire daily schedule so you can get pages done before the kids wake up. Research during every spare minute. Write like mad.
Plan a research trip to San Diego. Cancel the trip when your child is hospitalized for MRSA. Reschedule the trip when he’s better. Borrow your friends’ in-law suite. Spend days blissfully working in the microfilm archives of early 20th century newspapers. Find ideas for about six more books.
Summer 2018-early winter 2019
Write like mad. Hold down several freelance gigs on the side. Homeschool your kids. Panic a little each time you glance at a calendar. Turn in your manuscript on the last second of the last minute of the due date.
Edits! Revisions! Realize the grandfather disappears halfway through the manuscript, so just kill him off entirely. Sorry, Grandpa.
Copyediting! Galleys! Swoon over the cover art & squeal with glee over interior sketches. Fly cross country for your brother-in-law’s wedding & huddle over final pass pages in the hotel lobby. Start drafting your author’s note in the airport. Finish it at your favorite pub back in Portland after your trip. Write “author’s note” on the receipt (tater tots + a Coke) and stash it where you’ll find it a year later, just for the smile.
Make an appointment to have the weird spot on your nose checked. When the doctor wants to biopsy it, ask for a few days’ grace period. Call your brilliant photographer friend Jennie and book a head-shot session with her because your previous head shot is 12 years old and who knows what your nose will look like if the spot turns out to be something.
The spot turns out to be something.
Have a fascinating and unnerving surgery to remove basal cell carcinoma from the middle of your face. Get 45 stitches. Feel really glad you splurged on Jennie’s photos the week before Christmas. During your recovery, start making travel plans for next summer & hope your nose won’t look too scary for your young readers.
Oh hey it’s a global pandemic! Turns out no one cares about your nose, not even you.
Spend half the day on Zoom. Fondly recall the Before Times, when you went places. Cancel all your plans to go places. Figure out what to do for your book since school visits and conferences are off the table. Feel a little sick about the timing. Know that it could be worse. Suck it up and start sharing the preorder link. Hold your breath as the reviews start to come in. They’re great! Start breathing again. Scream for your spouse when a reviewer on Twitter compares your book to a Beverly Cleary novel. Wonder if you could have that tweet engraved on your gravestone.
Two weeks before launch day, become convinced you need bangs. Watch a lot of Youtube videos on how to cut your own bangs. Recognize that all these people have straight hair and yours is never going to look like that. Scrap the whole bangs thing. Stress over what to do on launch day. Realize that this is technically event-planning, an activity that lives at the absolute bottom of your skill set. Decide to focus on something that sits a whole lot higher on that list, which is reading to kids. Ask a local bookstore if you can make arrangements for people who want to order signed copies. Start a large-scale embroidery project to soothe your frazzled nerves. Realize you’ve been sitting with a needle frozen in the air for twenty minutes…because you’re lost in thought about a scene in your next book.
Not this year’s calendar
I’ve been updating little bits of my website all week—home page, blog sidebar, booklists—a never-truly-finished job but generally a low-priority one. The higher priority task is updating my school visits page (which looks straight out of 2008) and recasting it into a Covid-era Skype visits situation. That’s a thornier chore than the busywork I’ve been doing, which explains why I’ve done the busywork instead.
In the course of updating my 2020 booklist in the sidebar, I bumped into a discrepancy with Goodreads: there’s a book missing somewhere and I can’t be bothered to track it down. I noticed that I’m reading a lot less this year, which surprised me: it feels like I’m reading a ton. Then I remembered I’ve been working on slowing down, savoring books, not gulping them like they’re Halloween candy. Listkeeping has its perils: the numbers next to the items begin to steal focus from the items themselves.
Why do I number them anyway? When did I start doing that? Maybe I’ll go back through and delete the numbers. Anything to put off revamping that school visits page!
Six months ago, I thought I’d be spending this fall traveling, making lots of school visits. I was mildly agitated that San Diego Comic-Con, which Scott and I had planned to attend, was too early for my book to be out—it would have been fun to plan a couple of local events while I was in town, given that the book is set in a fictional version of La Mesa, the small suburb just east of San Diego proper where I lived for eleven years. Now, of course, that agitation is irrelevant, almost comically so. SDCC will take place online this year, and I’m not going anywhere at all. Like, not even to the grocery store. (Scott handles the shopping. Portland moved to a Phase 1 reopening two weeks ago, but our family is staying home indefinitely for the protection of our high-risk kiddo.)
What I’m doing instead is: planning virtual events via Skype and Zoom, and hoping to give the book a hearty shove out of the nest and into the hands of readers. I’ll be a guest author at Brave Writer’s free Summer Camp on July 21-22, giving a sneak-peek readaloud of Nerviest Girl at 1pm EDT each day. More info here if you’re interested!
LOL my window needed help, eh? (This photo’s a few years old.)
What else am I doing this month?
—Writing Arrow literature guides for Brave Writer
—baking bread (sourdough and honey wheat)
—watching Breaking Bad (finally)
—reading How to Be an Antiracist; Greenglass House; The People Could Fly; and revisiting Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing
—enjoying my daily Patreon coworking sessions
—practicing drawing cartoon figures thanks to Eva-Lotta Lamm’s “Little People” tutorial
–playing lots of Animal Crossing with (and, let’s be honest, without) Huck—we got our longed-for blue rose yesterday!
—working on a stitching project (always)
—reading Sara Pennypacker’s novel Pax to Huck & Rilla
—trying not to spend all my time following COVID statistics and wincing at pictures of maskless crowds
—eating Rose’s homemade almond biscotti (very heaven! the best biscotti I’ve ever had)
—waiting impatiently for more Emily St. John Mandel books to hit my Overdrive account (I savored The Glass Hotel last month and may have to read Station Eleven yet again very soon because it haunts me)
—trying to decide which topic to sift my blog archives for and compile into a book—tidal homeschooling? Funny parenting stories? Reading notes/literary essays?
What is your July looking like? (Here I am at the end of this post asking myself: it is still July, isn’t it? It’s all a blur these days.)
June 28, 2020 @ 8:19 pm | Filed under: Books
Just two months left before The Nerviest Girl in the World makes her entrance! The pub date is August 18 and if you’re inclined to preorder now, well, that would be awesome!
Publishers Weekly review:
Pearl, 11, lives on a cattle and ostrich ranch outside San Diego, where she helps to tend temperamental ostriches, learned to ride horses early on, and rivaled her older brothers on horseback by the time she was nine. The brothers’ advanced riding skills get them recruited to play “Death-Defying Cowboys” in the new moving pictures. When Pearl visits the set and her horse spooks, her ability to remount the galloping animal earns her a part in the director’s next film. Pearl learns to act on the job (“Can you show me scared instead of stomachache-y?”) and begins her career doing parts that require stunts, such as jumping out of a window and even shinnying down a rope out of a hot air balloon. Along the way, she discovers a passion for acting and navigates relationships with her difficult brother, as well as Mary, a town girl jealous of Pearl’s film roles. Lively illustrations by Deas mirror the heart, humor, and bravery of Pearl herself. Set in the early 20th century and inspired by real-life silent-film star Pearl White, Wiley’s (The Prairie Thief) vivid snapshot of cinema’s early days, as well as Pearl’s life on the ranch, offers warmth and wit.
Wiley channels the spirit of silent-film star Pearl White in this lively yarn about a rancher’s daughter roped into the movie business. This Pearl—Pearl Donnelly—could ride a horse before she could run, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She loves living on her family’s ranch in Lemon Springs, California, though she wouldn’t mind if someone else had to tend their ornery ostriches. But that was before Mr. Corrigan came to town to film moving pictures called westerns. Pearl’s older brothers quickly get work performing stunts in his movies, and Pearl accidentally gets a break when the director sees her hold her own on a spooked horse. Soon, Pearl’s jumping out of windows and riding like lightning for the camera. Wiley’s novel is a thrill ride excitingly grounded in film history, which is discussed in a fascinating afterword. Best of all is Pearl, a treasure of a protagonist whom readers will love for her candor and bravery as much as for her willingness to admit to her own failings.
School Library Journal review:
Set in early 20th-century San Diego, Pearl lives on a cattle and ostrich ranch. One day her brothers’ advanced horseback riding skills get them recruited to be “Death-Defying Cowboys” in a director’s moving pictures. While visiting the set, Pearl’s horse gets frightened, and her unique way of remounting her horse gets her noticed. Soon, she too becomes an actress. From jumping out of windows to sliding down ropes, she discovers a love for stunts. Life as an actress, however, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Her relationship with Mary Mason, a girl in town, is strained at best, and Pearl’s mama doesn’t like her doing stunts. Can Pearl learn to balance her acting with real life? Inspirational, funny, full of bravery, and based off a true story, Wiley does a great job of bringing the time period to life. The characters are engaging, realistic, and witty. VERDICT Readers who like historical fiction, nuanced heroines, and humor will enjoy this book. Recommended for libraries where funny historical fiction is popular.–Kira Moody, Salt Lake County Lib. Svcs.
A Junior Library Guild selection
It’s been nearly a month since my last post here, and over a month since I shared any of my own photos on Instagram. This time, the silence was intentional, an awareness that I needed to sit quietly and read and learn, amplifying voices other than my own. I’m working through Mia Birdsong’s antiracism resource list, reading more slowly than is my usual gulping habit. I’m trying to listen more than I speak.
(Facebook friends will know I’ve not been totally quiet over there—that’s the space where I feel most compelled to speak out, for reasons that probably merit unpacking. That’s for another post, though.)
I’ve been wondering when I would come back to this space, and to Instagram, which is where I express myself in visual images—not planning for it, just allowing the tide to carry me back. I never feel entirely myself when I’m not blogging. Last year I read Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work and thought: aha, that’s it, that’s what I was doing for a solid decade on Bonny Glen—showing my work, thinking out loud, writing to discover what I know and what I think. Learning in public.
Of course, it was easier to “show my work” when the main part of my work was homeschooling young children. Thinking my way through various educational philosophies, curating resources, and chronicling our daily learning adventures—these were practices that felt fluid and natural. Inevitable, even. Once I made up my mind about how best to approach our home education experience, I found I had less to say—just as my feverish urge to discuss a book subsides after I finish reading it.
I wrote (a much longer version of) the above across two mornings. And now today I’ve written a new post, which I thought I was going to put on Patreon but (you’ll see me thinking through it below) decided to move over here, which means now I need to go through and reverse all the heres and theres of the first draft. And it’s getting late! Breakfast is nudging me. But I’m not ready to stop. If I include this morning’s efforts, this post will be monstrously long. Maybe that’s to be expected after a month away!
I’ve been driving myself a little bit crazy in the mornings. You’d think the quarantine would have seen me sinking deeper into the creative practice that nourished me all last year—the early rising, the yoga-stretching while water boiled for my cocoa, the fervent commitment to Poetry Before Screens, the writing of morning pages or what Holly Wren Spaulding calls “zero drafts” of poems, the heady feeling of having written, no matter what else the day brought. How gratifying to have the time and space for this practice; how satisfying to feel well begun each day. You’d think!
Instead, I’ve let my good habits slip, one by one. Standing in the kitchen reading Twitter while the water boils? Ah, there’s the whole thing dashed in one swoop. No stretching, no poetry, screens first. The most agitating kind of screen. One tiny choice each morning: which domino chain will I set off?
I resisted the Twitter urge today, the gnawing desire to see what happened in the night, in the East Coast morning while I slept (good thing, because the news of the Trump administration’s renewed efforts to cancel our healthcare would have utterly derailed any creative activity). It drains you, exercising willpower constantly. That’s why habits are so important; they remove the need to expend mental energy on constant choosing.
I worked hard to build good habits around creative practice. If I start my mornings reading—poems, essays, not news—I’ll want to write. Every time, simple as that. Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, for example, sends me soaring and makes my pen twitch.
This morning I kept my rules, and here I am writing. I had a laughing revelation about myself a few minutes ago: I’d followed the steps of my creative practice faithfully, reading all the right things, and I’ve been trying (even, or especially, on the Twitter mornings) to do a tiny two-minute meditation to clear my mind for writing—just two minutes! With an aim to work up to five. This morning I couldn’t make it thirty seconds—and it hit me that what always happens, half a minute or a minute into silence and breathing, is that my mind starts writing. I wrench focus back to breath and two seconds later I’m scribbling another line in my head.
It was comical, suddenly, to realize that I’ve been trying to cultivate a habit that will help me write, and then I exasperatedly push away the writing that wants to interrupt the habit. It struck me as a bit like swatting away the action verb to focus on the helping verb. (And maybe that’s the point of meditation—sitting quietly with “I am” instead of leaping, scrawling, dashing.)
Laughing at myself shattered the silence and I gave in to the impulse to reach for my notebook. I wanted to write down the path my reading had taken before I tried to meditate.
—A Holly Wren Spaulding post featuring a Ron Padgett poem, “How to Be Perfect.”
—Linked in the post, an exchange of letters between Padgett and a bright young student about Padgett’s delightfully inscrutable poem “Nothing in That Drawer.”
—An Austin Kleon newsletter, which I can always trust to send me in good, writery directions. Such as:
• this article about the arson-suspected burning of Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire sculpture in the Presidio (reminding me, because of a long-ago Goldsworthy connection, of John Stilgoe’s Outside Lies Magic, which I should think about rereading);
• a mention of zuihitsu (re Kenko’s Essays in Idleness), which reminded me I meant to read Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book, purchased months ago on a recommendation from Kimiko Hahn in her exquisite zuihitsu collection, The Narrow Road to the Interior
—Tonia Peckover’s new blog post, especially this:
In the garden this morning, I noticed the cool-weather crops have been lingering around longer than usual and the summer plants are still small and unsteady, different than other late Junes – but not surprising for this cool and rainy one we’ve just had. There is no sense of frustration there, no anxiety vibrating off the tomato leaves. I want to live by such confidence, content with the sun I am given, and the rain when it falls, taking what I can and growing. I admit I am not there yet.
I have notebooks full of these connection-lists, each entry dissolving into original writing, notes toward poems or posts. It strikes me that I used to do this kind of chronicling of the day’s rabbit trails here on the blog almost daily! Those collections of thought are invaluable to me now, and they’re much easier to revisit in my blog archives than in my heap of crammed notebooks.
I’m sure there’s a reason I needed to spend the past year writing by hand, but I’ve become frustrated with the aftermath: I can’t get to the particular note or draft I’m looking for without paging through half a dozen Leuchtturms. (Not to mention the expense. That paper is a dream to write on, but those purchases were a thing of the Before Times. My quarantine reality is: use what you have.)
I’m uneasily aware that one reason I keep dropping the blogging habit is because of my Patreon. I have the hardest time deciding where a post belongs. There, because it’s about creative practice? Here, where I’ve stashed fifteen years’ worth of booknotes? There, where I have a bit more privacy, which changes how I write? Here, where search engines can find me (meaning I’ll have an easier time, myself, finding references and quotes later)?
For better or for worse, today it’s going here.
I wrote that line on Patreon and then immediately decided, nope, wrong spot. So here it is, all of it. Way leading on to way.
This is me, showing my work.
andy goldsworthy, austin kleon, creative practice, holly wren spaulding, John Stilgoe, kimiko hahn, mia birdsong, Patreon, poetry before screens, ron padgett, ross gay, tonia peckover, zuihitsu
May 27, 2020 @ 8:44 am | Filed under: Books
Don’t listen to me today; listen to Charnaie.
I watched the video already knowing the plot: the villain, the conflict, the climax and the ending. I watched in utter disbelief and complete sadness as another Black man starred in his own urban tragedy. Another day, another Black life lost, another hashtag. George Floyd is his name.
I am outraged for many reasons, but mainly because I already know how this story will likely end. Justice will not be served.
Please click through to read her whole post.
Astonished, I watch people in other states flocking back to crowded rooms and long queues. I shudder to imagine the steep rise we’re bound to see on the charts in the coming weeks. We don’t have widespread testing or contact tracing in place. Hospitals are still desperately short on PPE. An entire TV news/entertainment network goes on blithely lying to its viewers, putting so many of them in danger. The President of the United States is a feckless narcissist who cares more about his own ratings (ratings!) than the staggering numbers of dead and dying Americans.
My feelings about all of this have made it more than a little hard to write posts here. The staggering misinformation campaign that’s costing so many lives—and putting ours at risk, and people I love. The horror of knowing breastfeeding mothers are being separated from their babies (perhaps forever) or having to endure crowded detainment facilities where the virus is spreading, spreading. The sickening cruelty perpetrated by the current administration. The underpaid, underprotected “essential workers” who bag our groceries and tend our elderly. I’m so angry and feel helpless to fix it. All I can do is keep calling my electeds, who are already fighting the good fight.
Our home life is fine, lovely even. Jane is working fulltime from home, Rose has a part-time job and another one lined up (pending reopening), and is due to start classes at PSU in the fall. Online, probably? Derailing her dorm plans, of course. Beanie is finishing up this quarter’s classes at PCC. Wonderboy has been doing school from home since March 12—the day our whole family began cloistering. I’ve been nowhere except the doctor’s office (for a torn tendon in my hand) since then. I haven’t minded much? I fervently miss Low Bar Chorale and my weekly ramen/OMSI dates. I miss working in coffee shops. But my work has been uninterrupted by the pandemic, and my garden is a mellow and happy place, and I’m playing lots of Animal Crossing with my kids (their recent gift to me!), which is a delight.
Not reading as much as I’d like—or maybe I’m reading more than I give myself credit for? I wrote on my Patreon yesterday about how much I’m enjoying Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, and I’m getting a ton out of B.J. Fogg’s Tiny Habits as well. I’m reading a new Arrow selection to the kids—can’t say what, since the big reveal doesn’t happen until May 28—and we’re all pretty darn glued to it. What I’m missing is some juicy and captivating adult fiction: I haven’t looked for anything lately. Hundreds of options in this house and on my Kindle. That immense ever-growing list of novels I specifically want to read—but I can’t settle on one. My mind is restless and veers away. Poetry works: I’ve read Olav Hauge’s The Dream We Carry almost to tatters.
I might be in the mood for another Riddlemaster reread.
My wretched hand is much, much better (but I still have to be careful when picking things up. I have dropped so many things!) and my nose is almost back to its old shape. I certainly picked a good time for significant facial surgery, I suppose! I’m so grateful the surgery was in the rear-view when the shutdown began.
In bloom: rhodendrons, gloriously. One poppy was unfurling in my back garden this morning—I need to go see if it’s awake! And roses, oh I’m swooning over the roses I inherited from my neighbor last fall—eleven large potted rosebushes, every color.
The peas are nearly ready, and blueberries and strawberries are coming. I don’t have tomatoes yet. There’s curbside pickup at the garden shop; I should look at their order sheet. Our salad greens are just about done—I only planted one round. Still lots of time for more.
Last week I finished a rather big stitching project—a test stitch of an upcoming sampler by one of my favorite embroidery designers, who plans to use it in her next Creativebug class. Whenever that may be! She’d been due to film in mid-April but of course that changed. I loved stitching the sampler and comparing notes with the other three test stitchers. I was mighty chuffed to be asked, I must say!
Now that that’s done, I’m back at work on, oh, four or five other hoops. Including my own secret project (not so secret since I have talked about it on Patreon). Writing about them makes me want to close this tab and get stitching. I’ve got a pile of work waiting for me this afternoon, though.
Work is…really hard, under these circumstances. Staying focused, staying connected, staying sharp. If I read one more post urging us to slow down, take naps, allow more white space in our days, I might scream. Our grocery store workers and hospital personnel don’t get to slow down—they’ve been soldiering on day after day without hazard pay, reusing masks that were never meant for weeks of wear. And for those of us who are fortunate to be working from home, the work is much harder and more intense because of these circumstances. The effort of concentrating is exhausting. The long hours of work are necessary. I’m still paying off breast cancer, and skin cancer set us back another two grand. Boy do I know how to have fun with money or what?
Oregon is moving more cautiously than many states, for which I’m grateful. A slow rollout of Phase One reopenings will happen in rural counties soonish, but not in Portland for a while. I suspect the inevitable spike in cases in other more recklessly reopening states will slow Oregon’s plans as well, and without a robust test-and-trace program I can’t imagine my family (with some particularly high-risk members) will feel able to risk crowd situations until there’s a vaccine in place.
So. Every day I take some time to catch up, to stay informed about what’s happening beyond my home, good and bad. And then I make a list of things that are lovely. A nuthatch at the suet feeder. Rilla’s oat bars cooling on the counter. My vigorous, adorable sourdough starter. The masks my friend Ramona sent. My friend Ben leading hundreds of solitary singers in virtual singalongs every Tuesday evening. The sound of the M*A*S*H opening credits drifting down the hall in the afternoons—Scott is watching with the kids. For me, that’s the theme song of this pandemic.
Oh my friends! I hope you’re staying home, and staying well.
March 27, 2020 @ 4:30 pm | Filed under: Books
Note: this is a pinned post. Scroll down for new content!
Here are links to all of my Prairie Thief readalouds—the whole book!
- Monday, March 23: Chapters One and Two
- Tuesday, March 24: Chapters Three and Four
- Wednesday, March 25: Chapters Five, Six, and Seven
- Thursday, March 26: Chapters Eight and Nine
- Friday, March 27: Chapters Ten and Eleven
- Monday, March 30: Chapters Twelve and Thirteen
- Tuesday, March 31: Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen
- Wednesday, April 1: Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen (Note: two links this time)
- Thursday, April 2: Chapter Eighteen
- Friday, April 3: Chapter Nineteen
- Monday, April 6: Chapter Twenty Part 1 and Part 2
- Tuesday, April 7: Chapters Twenty-One and Twenty-Two
- Wednesday, April 8: Chapters 23, 24 (one video), and 25 (a second video)
- Thursday, April 9: Chapter 26 part 1 and part 2; Chapter 27
- Friday, April 10: Chapters 28 and 29
- Monday, April 13: Chapters 30 and 31—the big finish!
And a note: Starting with Chapter 16, replays are also available on FB Live. Those are the full videos with the before-and-after chitchat still intact. After I finish reading each day, I often answer questions or talk a little about the behind-the-scenes of that day’s chapter. If you’d like to hear that part, visit my FB Live feed and you’ll see those recordings. I have to edit them down to 15 minutes maximum for IGTV, so I chop out all the extra stuff!
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!