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.
This photo is dated October 2016, which seems too recent? Huck would have been six and Rilla around ten. I think. My time-math is blurry. Huck will be fourteen this week. Can you even?
Well, here they are, my last two homeschoolers. We kicked off a new high-tide season this morning, lightly. It struck me recently that while poetry has been a staple of our lesson times since forever, I hadn’t introduced much contemporary poetry to these two. Which is odd, because I read so. much. of it myself. At least one poem a day, often many more than that.
This revelation made my 2023 Fresh Start plans easy: I have loads of lovely and arresting poems I want to share with Huck and Rilla. We’ll keep reading our old favorites, of course, but I plan to dip frequently into the two gorgeous collections edited by James Crews: How to Love the World and The Path to Kindness, as well as Poetry Unbound, Poetry 180, and all the slender, marked-up books on my shelves.
(I say slender, because ages ago I learned a big lesson about myself: I don’t like reading poems in big fat Collected Poems volumes. I want a slim, portable book. I seldom go for a Best Of.)
Today I knew exactly what I wanted to reach for: Olav H. Hauge’s beautiful The Dream We Carry. We read “One Poem a Day” and I was delighted by how much Rilla loved it and saw in it. Huck was reserved at first but warmed to the poem as we discussed it.
One Poem a Day
by Olav H. Hauge translated by Robert Hedin
I’ll write one poem a day,
That should be easy enough.
Browning did it for a while, though
and beat time
with his bushy eyebrows.
So, one poem a day.
Something strikes you,
something catches your eye
—I get up. It’s lighter.
Have good intentions.
And see the bullfinch rise from the cherry tree,
That last image always goes straight to my core. The way he, after mapping out a simple, spare plan for himself, does just what he has resolved to do, capturing some small, striking observed moment in a few lines—lines that represent exactly what the poet does. Like the bullfinch, he rises up, carrying something small, simple, full of promise, the bud of an image that will unfurl into a poem.
Oh, I love him.
Something especially fun about the way our lessons have worked these past few years is that Scott is present for them. He’s got his coffee and his computer, but he listens to the readalouds (of which, despite the kids’ ages, there are many, because we all like learning that way) and he chimes into the discussions, and when I want to show the kids a picture of a bullfinch, he’s already got one pulled up on his screen.
We also began our next Moomins book (Tales from Moominvalley) and watched a couple of scenes from Taming of the Shrew, just for the fun of seeing John Cleese as Petruchio.
This Youtube video walks through a few more problems, including some with three-digit numbers and carrying over. The method works with larger numbers but gets a bit unwieldy beyond three or four digits.
For YEARS I’ve wanted to comb through my blog archives and collect the best writing, the most enduring resource recommendations, the laugh-out-loud kid moments. But that’s a lot of posts to revisit! And time is so short. It struck me that if I aim for three months a week, I could complete the project in 60 weeks—a little over a year. Of course, by then there will be, presumably, 60 more weeks’ worth of posts. But that’s getting way ahead of myself. I’m much better at hatching plans like this than sticking with them over the long haul. (Hello, Gretchen Rubin Tendencies obliger here. I need deadlines and outside accountability to finish things.)
But well begun is half done, as Mary Poppins likes to say (hahaha, it’s clear Mary Poppins never wrote a novel), so here’s one quarter: January-March 2005. Jiminy crickets! There’s some good stuff here!
The comments are closed on some of these older posts, but feel free to hit me with any questions or remarks here on this post.
Here’s a post I wrote on Instagram, the day before my cover reveal last week:
Real talk: here’s what my fancy author life looks like. Snuggled up in my writing chair with my boy (“We’re going to need a bigger chair soon, Mom”), breakfast half eaten, hair unbrushed, trying to overcome my profound self-promo embarrassment in order to give my book a proper sendoff. Huck helped me create my cover-reveal announcement on Canva and picked the color for the countdown clock in my Stories. It’s the time of day when we usually do math and Spanish and read poems, but the reality of work-at-home homeschooling life is: lots of days go in different directions! Right now Huck and Rilla are watching a really good video on space (How the Universe Works on Prime Video—so good!) and I’m sitting here writhing over hashtags. Hashtags! I have “Tom’s of Maine” written on the back of my hand to remind me we’re almost out of toothpaste. I’m wondering if it’s too early in the day for gummy bears. I’m thinking I should wrap up this post and go on a nature walk with the kids. I’m remembering I haven’t sent out an issue of my author newsletter in YEARS and I should really revive that thing for the cover reveal tomorrow! Eep! Forget the gummy bears: this calls for chocolate.
I should hashtag THIS post too but y’all, I’m hashtagged out. My bird clock just chirped the 1pm bird at 11am, so I guess that’s something I should go address. Okay! A plan! Chocolate and bird clock—no one can say I don’t have my priorities in order!
Six days later:
• Bird clock: fixed.
• Nature walk: didn’t happen that day but we made time for it on Friday, and on the way home we stopped for pumpkin snickerdoodles at the German bakery. Oh how I love living in a city neighborhood again! Today’s another pretty morning, a gray sky shot through with light, so I think we’ll make time for another walk this morning, after our Moominland Midwinter readaloud.
• Newsletter: still a work in progress. 😉 If you’d like to sign up to make sure you don’t miss its return issue, here’s a link. If you were signed up before, you’ll get it automatically (unless you unsubscribed at some point).
They’re whiteboards! I bought them a zillion years ago from a website called markerboardseconds.com or something like that. Discounted for scratch-and-dent, and man, what a great purchase that has turned out to be. What you’re seeing in the pic above is the backside, which we use constantly for puzzles–that little card table is right next to the big dinner table, so we need to be able to lay out our pieces and move them off the big table when it’s time to eat.
The other side is the whiteboard surface. We use some for homeschooly things, but mostly under watercolor paintings. Again, it’s nice to be able to move the wet paintings off the table to dry. They’re coated with years of spatter at this point.
That old markerboard seconds site seems to have disappeared, but you can find something similar (albeit considerably pricier) at Waldorf suppliers like Lyra, where they are sold as painting boards. And I’ve seen plain brown ones (no whiteboard side) at art supply shops. When I mentioned in yesterday’s post a topic idea about our best homeschooling purchases ever, these markerboards are what sparked the idea. We use them constantly, daily. The U.S. Presidents are listed on the back of one of them—probably permanent now since I think we wrote them out at least five years ago. And there’s a House of Stuart (or Tudor? both, probably) family tree stained into one of them. And then years and years of watercolor backsplash, as you can see in the top photo here. If you need to move a bunch of wet paintings off the dinner table, you can stack the boards up with Legos or blocks to create space between each tier.
Ahhh. We got a good rain and the air has cleared up. Have been able to resume my long walks with no burning throat and streaming eyes. Felt like years since I’d made my favorite trek to the dog park and back, a meandering route that takes me past my favorite gardens in the neighborhood. (Note to self: plant zinnias next year. This cutting garden, about a mile from my house, took my breath away.)
Here at home: the tide came rushing in and carried my high-school freshman (!!) off to his new school this week. I dove straight into high-tide lessons with Huck and Rilla (Beanie gets another week). This is one of the ways I cope with long hours closeted away, writing furiously (or more likely, gnashing my teeth at the screen and clutching fistfuls of hair): filling our mornings with good, rich homeschooling adventures before I slink away behind the closed door.
(When I finish: autumn. It’s already ablaze in my head; it will be glorious. This time last year, I was in radiation treatment.)
A glimpse of our high-tide mornings (sans photos because I haven’t remembered to snap any pics):
—stretches & math facts (we recite times tables while doing planks: not easy for this spaghetti-armed mama)
—German (continuing with Felix & Franzi; this year we’re doubling with ASL, learning signs as we add new German vocab. Each one reinforces the other.)
—Shakespeare memorization (continuing with Twelfth Night)
—singing (currently Irish & Scottish folk songs and some German songs)
The sign that greets me outside the treatment room is ominous, and in context the words are sobering. But as I lie there on the table—for only a few minutes; the procedure is beautifully streamlined—I think about the words on the sign and realize the core message is one worth embracing. Radiation in progress…in philosophical terms, it’s really only a stone’s throw from Education is an atmosphere, isn’t it?
I just went on a little stroll through my archives, looking for an atmosphere post to link to. I didn’t find the one I wanted, but this one popped up and gave me a few happy pangs: This First Day, about Rilla’s first day of High Tide back in (gulp) 2012. The timing pierces, because today is S’s first day of school and that means the tide is shifting for the rest of us, too. This was a good passage for me to revisit this morning.
I used to waffle about methodologies: was I a Charlotte Mason homeschooler? An unschooler? Something in between—eclectic, perhaps? But it was all just groping for a label—and not even a label for my kids; it was about how to characterize myself in conversations with other homeschoolers, so that we might better understand one another. All the while, my kids and I went on simply doing what worked for us. If something stopped working, we did something else for a while—usually this has meant facilitating a child’s need to immerse deeply into a single passion or pursuit. I grok that; it’s how I love to learn, too. This blog is a chronicle of my own sudden immersions, some of them finite, some recurring at intervals: breadbaking, gardening, sewing, Irish pennywhistle, British period drama…it’s a long list. My kids have lists of their own, each one different, some interests overlapping.
Always, always, after one of these immersions, the diver comes up for air eventually. And there’s a restlessness, a pacing at loose ends, that has, for us, always been cured by a return to morning lesson time. Rose has told me she likes having the structure there to push against: knowing there are things she is expected to do fills her with ideas for things she longs to do. One of my jobs is to keep ears open for the longings, and drop resources and opportunities in her path to help her realize them. I love that part of the job.
After this summer’s upheaval, I’m ready for a return to some of the old rhythms that have served us well for so long. Of course, everything is constantly remaking itself, and the ‘old rhythms’ are overlain with new melodies.
Addendum: here’s another 2012 post that turned up and gave me a smile (and a pang) this morning. This one’s for the curriculum-junkie homeschooling mothers of 2002. I’m going to try not to think about the boatload of books and things we left behind in San Diego—it’s time to go shop my shelves and rediscover the treasures we did bring with us. We made a lot of packing decisions in a tearing hurry and I’ve had moments of wishing I hadn’t been quite so ruthless in the purge. But we still have shelves bursting with literary riches, and my job this morning is to stock the living-room shelves with a few dozen gems. And where’s the giant world map, Huck wants to know?