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 was my works-in-progress array in Sept 2021. I finished most of these up, abandoned one, and am still working on another. Slooooowly!
At least once a week I like to make quick notes about my stitching projects in progress. This is mainly to help me keep track of what I’m working on so that nothing gets lost if I tidy up. I usually do this in my notebook, but I thought it might be fun to see if I can make a Sunday habit of it here.
The hitch will be photos, so no promises there. Or maybe just a quick snap like the one above? None today, I can’t be bothered.
Projects I actively worked on this week:
• I finished hemming the rust-colored linen square and added it to my wrapping-cloth pile for next year.
• Scott ripped a hole in his jeans so I did a quick mend.
• KZ Stevens dropped the pattern for her Wide-Strap Crossbody Bag! I’ve been eyeing her example pics on Instagram and hoped she’d be offering the pattern soon. I snapped it up in a hurry and cut the exterior fabric on Saturday morning from some red and blue linen fat quarters I had on hand. Chose a striped cotton for the lining. Hand-sewed the two shorter linen strips to either side of the big red block. Spent ages last night looking at my idea files to see what I might like to embroider on the fabric before I assemble the bag. Found something that lit me up: a painting of little watercolor circles I made when I took Lisa Solomon’s Color Meditations class on Creativebug in 2020. Last night I tried a few stitch variations on my scratchpad hoop and decided on satin stitch with some variegated floss to mimic the watercolor effect. Hoping for time to start stitching this evening.
This watercolor exercise was immensely satisfying and I’m excited to translate it to satin stitch
• I put in a little time on the needlepainted dandelion hoop. Really glad I made good notes about floss colors before the holidays because I’d be hopelessly lost now if I were trying to dive back in cold.
That’s it for this week! I need to go finish my Sunday housework (Sunday seems to be the day I’m best able to lavish attention on the house), and then I ought to be able to stitch this evening after dinner.
Today’s pic is from Emily J’s keyword suggestion of leaf. This one was taken in 2019 and I remember being smitten by the green light shining through!
Well, today turned out to be a medical-mom day, by which I mean I spent 3 1/2 hours on the phone making appointments and updating records. But now my boy is set for the next few months, pending a few callbacks I should get next week.
All part of the job, eh?
Now the blue dark is settling outside the east window. Over the side fence, my neighbor’s magnolia tree looks a bit forlorn; our landlord sent some guys today to cut back the branches that were overhanging our patio. I can see clear through the tree to the trunk now and it feels a bit impolite to stare at its secrets.
Have you read Wishtree? I wrote a Dart for it, one of Katherine Applegate’s loveliest novels. If you don’t know it, you should treat yourself, even if you haven’t got a small child around to read to. I don’t either, anymore! How strange is that? But Huck read this one, perched beside me while I wrote the Dart (he often chimes in with adjective suggestions), and it was his favorite of last year’s Dart line-up. A gorgeous book about the long memories of trees, and the bustling world in and above and under and around them, and human stories, too: prejudice and pain and friendship and wonder.
We saw an owl in the magnolia last summer. Heard it calling and one by one we gathered in my studio to listen. He flew silently into the hidden center of the tree, behind the wide flat leaves, and resumed his thoughtful two-note meditation as we stood there, hushed and awed.
There. I put in “owl” and look what I found. Rilla painted this pair in 2014, just before she turned eight. Sometimes I forget what riches this blog holds for me.
Selvi gave me the keyword “stone” for my media-library game. My book Across the Puddingstone Dam popped up several times, but this long-ago pic of Rilla won the day.
When I said yesterday that I’m not a single-tasker, what I really meant was that I’m not a single-project-er. I can hyperfocus like a champ. It’s one of my greatest strengths and biggest struggles, depending on whether the thing I’m hyperfocusing on is the thing I ought to be hyperfocusing on. For instance, I never care about the state of my closets until I have a book deadline breathing down my neck, and then I’ll care about closets FOR HOURS.
But one project at a time, in an orderly fashion, finishing one before I start the next? Not possible. Not how I’m wired. I’m most creative and (to use a word we’ve all come to loathe, for sound reasons) productive when I have an abundance of projects to move between. A dozen hyperfocus opportunities at the ready, is what I’m saying.
Thus the half dozen stitching projects in various stages of completion scattered around my studio, and the comically long list of books marked “currently reading” in my Goo Dreads (to borrow a very young Rilla’s misreading of Goodreads many years ago—I’ve never not seen it that way since).
Of course this means I’m horribly prone to option paralysis. A pocket of free time can be an occasion for distress. Suddenly the thing that was the only thing I wanted to think about while I was working loses its allure, or at least seems no more or less alluring than any of the other creative projects I was yearning to dive into, or the stack of books I was aching to read, or the poem I was burning to fiddle with. As for the closets, I’ve forgotten they exist.
I’ve learned that in this state of curious misery, I have to pick up any book, any embroidery hoop, any drafts notebook. It really doesn’t matter which. If I can stick with it for sixty seconds, I’ll be consumed by it for hours.
A fun thing about being wired this way is that once or twice a year, I’ll realize I have a whole bunch of projects that are all pretty close to the finish line. Then I go on a finishing spree, which is super satisfying.
How about you? Are you a one-project-at-a-time person? Is anybody a one-book-at-a-time person?
It’s a wet, blustery day and I don’t have anything in particular to say. But I never let that stop me in the olden (blog) times, did I? Ha.
Here’s one thing: you can help me continue my easy-peasy image selection method by tossing out some random keyword suggestions. I’ll type them into my WP media library and see what pops up. Here, let’s try rain and wind.
Aw, this picture gives me a smile. It’s from our first spring in Portland. My youngest kids’ first time needing raincoats! When we moved into this house—a block and a half from Klickitat Street—practically the first thing I did was buy Huck a Henry-Huggins-yellow rain slicker. 😄
Wind didn’t bring up anything terribly windy…just a lot of pretty windows.
Well, my new Dart is underway, I finally wrestled some tax info into shape for the accountant, and I did a bunch of admin chores. Scott & some of the kids are watching an Iron Man movie. I think I’m going to take the rest of the afternoon off and do some prep for some stitching projects. I’ve found that it works well for me to immerse in the planning/cutting/choosing stages for several projects at once, and then I stick everything for each project in a different bin, and that way I can reach for whatever kind of stitching I’m in the mood for. Right now I have: a needlepainting project (begun last fall? summer? but idle for months); a saeksilnubi project (begun even longer ago); a hoop meant just for noodling around and trying things out; a really fun hoop based on Tove Jansson’s Little My illustrations (Rilla’s helping with the design of that one); and a long-in-progress piece I designed myself. Oh, and when all I feel like doing is hemstitching (by hand, which I was surprised to discover I adore doing—having believed Jo March for decades that it was a detestable activity), I work on a long-term project (what am I saying, they’re all long term): hemming big squares of linen to use as gift-wrapping cloths. I only got a few made in time for Christmas this year, but I’m determined to switch over from paper completely.
So that’s plenty to keep me busy for weeks (months) to come, and now I’m wondering why I thought I needed to prep anything new? I guess it’s that I have this cozy flannel I want to make pajama pants out of. Handsewn, if possible, because that’s the only kind of sewing I really like. The machine treats me with the disdain of a cat. If it could knock the scissors onto the floor, it totally would.
What’s on deck for you today? I’m trying to get my head back into work mode. I’ll be diving into a new Dart (the young middle-grade literature & mechanics guides I write for Brave Writer), this time for the April book, Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey, a wonderful short novel by Erin Entrada Kelly, whose work I love. I’ve written almost all of the Darts and a lot of the Arrow guides, over the years. They’re challenging to write but it’s really enjoyable work—getting to dig into other authors’ books and talk about what they’re doing with language. I love the playful vibe and the chance to share my enthusiasm for the fantastic books my editor, Dawn Smith, chooses each year.
I write my Darts in Scrivener, so that’s today’s work: setting up the new draft. After almost six years of working on Brave Writer guides, I must say my Scrivener template is a thing of beauty. 😉 My appreciation of Scrivener as a writing tool has only grown over the years. Its learning curve is on the steep side, but there are great tutorials, and once you know how to use its features, it’s incredibly flexible. I do most of my writing in it: novels (the corkboard view that lets you move scenes around is something I couldn’t live without); blog post drafts (although, oddly, not this one); stitching project notes; interstitial journaling; even some planning.
One day last summer, for my own amusement, I googled “Wes Anderson palettes” and sure enough, there’s a Tumblr for that. I found two palettes I loved and used them as starting points to create my own array of preset colors for my labels and files. Because the prettier the workspace is, the more time I want to spend in it.
I’m working on a new novel at the moment, and it, too, lives in Scrivener. I’m able to stash lots of research and reference photos there, and character notes, plot notes, anything really.
One of the best things about working in this platform is that it lives outside my browser. It’s completely separate from the internet. I mean, I can link to things that would open in a browser, but with Scrivener I could work completely offline, if I wanted to.
(I will never want to. It automatically backs up to my Dropbox, and I wouldn’t like writing without that security net. But I could, is what I’m saying.)
P.S. I said I wasn’t going to bother with book links, and I’m mostly not going to? Sort of? This may sound silly, but I miss the way a title shows up in red when I turn it into a link. So maybe sometimes, when I feel like it, I’ll grab a Bookshop.org link. I dunno. I’m figuring it out as I go along. I suppose where I landed the other day was that I intend to eliminate unnecessary busywork. And what feels like busywork is going to change from day to day. Today, I wanted pretty.
A Welsh-flag-inspired cookie, courtesy of Rose. It was delicious.
Yesterday I mentioned how impressed I am with the Say Something In language courses. In my (yikes) decades of homeschooling, I’ve tried just about every language-learning program on the market at some point or another. A lot of them are good! Some are great, even. But nothing has ever made a new language click for me so rapidly the way SSi Welsh has.
Okay, I said for me. None of my kids have used it—yet. Huck is learning Spanish on Duolingo, and that’s one of a small handful of languages the SSi program offers. I, too, would like to move my Spanish past the tiny smattering of phrases I currently know, so my plan is to see if Huck is interested in working through Say Something in Spanish with me next year. But not yet! I want to complete the Welsh course first.
So much to say. First: why Welsh? The pat answer is that I enjoy trying small doses of new languages on Duolingo, and in the very first Welsh lesson, they teach you to say, “Good morning, dragon.” Needless to say, that had me at hello. But there’s a deeper answer—only it took a while for me to register it.
One of my earliest school memories is my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Vinson, teaching our class the vowels: A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y—and sometimes W.
When I moved to a new school a year or two later, that lesson ran me into trouble. My new teacher was baffled by my inclusion of W in the list. I insisted, because Mrs. Vinson had said so! Mrs. Wiseman begged to differ, somewhat exasperatedly.
Several years later, I learned that W is a vowel in Welsh. With this knowledge, the puzzle shifted: why had a teacher in a tiny private school in south Georgia taught her kindergarteners a Welsh vowel? It must have been some kind of whimsical impulse, or maybe she (like me, actually) had Welsh ancestry—who knows?
Fast forward to the present. I’d been glued to my Duolingo Welsh and SSiW lessons for a couple of months before the Mrs. Vinson connection occurred to me. Actually, it was Scott who pinpointed the link. It’s lovely having someone who knows all your stories.
Well, here I am 114 days later, as captivated as I was the first time Duolingo nudged me to say Bore da, draig!Menyw dw i. It seems W-as-vowel has been waiting for me this whole time.
A few weeks into the Duolingo course, I had lots of questions about the grammar. Duolingo is great for helping you absorb a ton of vocabulary pretty quickly, but it seldom explains why things fit together the way they do. Some googling led me to Say Something In. It’s a really different kind of program—an emphasis on learning to hear and speak the language rather than to read it. (Which works especially well for Welsh, because Colloquial Welsh and Literary Welsh are quite different. Both Duolingo and SSiWelsh teach the former—the standardized written and spoken form of the language sometimes called Modern Standard Welsh.)
SSi’s learn-by-speaking approach is Pimsleurish, I suppose? But better, in my view (here I’m comparing Pimsleur German from years ago to SSi Welsh now). The lessons are all audio, and quite challenging, in a really exciting, lively way. I absolutely love it. It has become my primary means of learning, with Duolingo now serving as a daily supplement. I do like to see the words, so that’s what I like Duolingo for; I’m a visual learner and it really helps me remember a word if I know how to spell it. If I bump into a seeming discrepancy between the two programs, I reach for Gareth King’s Modern Welsh and he helps me understand what’s going on.
The Say Something In courses can be worked through at your own pace, but you have the option of a weekly rhythm with encouraging emails heralding each new lesson. There’s an enthusiastic community who hold lots of live conversation-practice sessions. I haven’t attended one of those yet, but I do plan to. I’m keeping up pretty well with the weekly lesson pace; each audio lesson is around half an hour, and you can do it all at once or in smaller chunks.
It’s sort of a playing-with-Legos approach to language (i.e. a very natural immersion approach), where you learn a few words and start building quite complex sentences with them right away. By the end of Lesson 1 I could state quite honestly: Dw i’n mynd i drio dysgu siarad Cymraeg—I’m going to try to learn to speak Welsh. Last night the lesson had me talking about how the old woman had better try to understand the young man, if she can remember how to say what she wants to say. And believe me, I had a little bit of trouble remembering how to say all of that—but I did it!
Besides Spanish, Dutch, and Welsh (with, by the way, options for lesssons in the dialects of North or South Wales), Say Something In offers Cornish and Manx. Manx! The historical language of the Isle of Mann. A Celtic language whose last native speaker died in 1974.
Which, come to think of it, would have been right around the time Mrs. Vinson was teaching me my vowels.
I typed “January” into my media library and this African violet from several years back is what popped up. Today’s windowsill looks much the same.
Updated to add audio again! Like yesterday, I recorded this in one gulp on my phone. It’ll have hiccups, but if I start trying to polish it up, I’ll never be able to stick with this. Thanks for understanding!
Oh my goodness, what a delight to wake up to so many comments from old blog-world friends! I really really want to get in the habit of dashing off a quick post every day, probably around lunchtime, because otherwise I’ll start doing the thing where a half-written draft takes on too much weight and I never come back to it.
I am terribly fond of containers. I used to have such a good one for blogging—the necessarily short transition from mom hat to writer hat. If I spent too long on a post, I’d lose my window for writing, and I had pretty intense book deadlines when I started this blog (and a lot of bairns) so I didn’t have any windows to spare.
My day still falls pretty neatly into a mom focus and a work focus, but the rhythms are quite different now that I’m only homeschooling Huck and Rilla—who, if you’ve lost track—are now both in their teens, and now that I do a lot of freelance work in addition to writing my own books. I’m prone to catapulting straight from lesson time into work brain without taking a breather. (Or else I dip into social media and take too long a breather!)
Well, I’ll try this midday container for blogging and see how it goes. My friend Chris O’Donnell—who has been blogging longer than anyone I know—made me laugh on Facebook this morning with his New Year’s Eve post: Happy “I will write more on my blog and less on social media next year” night to all who celebrate. Ha! I can’t deny that that shoe fits!
Okay, SO. As I read your comments, a slew of replies and post ideas rolodexed through my brain. I made a list. I made several lists. This is so energizing! Thanks, seriously, for jumping right back into conversation here. You made my day.
Question: if I reply to a comment, do you see it? I used to have an option for readers to get comment replies by email, but I feel like that stopped working a long time ago. Just curious.
My gravatar isn’t working, either! But some of yours are. I mean, I logged into my gravatar account and it still appears to be linked to this one, but the pic doesn’t show up.
Well, that’s cosmetic and not all that important. I promise I’ll stop being 100% metabloggy soon. But, you know, first you have to tune up the jalopy before you can take it for a spin! 😄
I liked, yesterday, that I landed on the idea that our old blog conversations were like letters from friends. They didn’t always feel that way, but they often did—chatty glimpses of life in someone else’s world. I’ve always loved a good epistolary tome! I remember so happily the leap of the heart at seeing a friend’s particular handwriting in the mail, and that’s how it felt when your names popped up here yesterday.
All righty. Lunch is over and I’m ready to get back to the household-reset that is my much beloved New Year’s Day tradition. I did the files this morning and now I want to tackle some bookshelves. And it’s sunny today! In Portland, in January! I think Scott & I will take a walk after he finishes chopping an onion for the black-eyed peas.
I’ve already overhauled my studio for the season, and I’m half giddy over the enticing rows on the little built-in shelves next to my writing chair: a shelf for poetry, one for fiction and nonfiction (currently reading or at the front of the queue), and one for embroidery and art books. Heaven. The two books delighting me most at the moment are Padraig O’Tuama’s perfectly wonderful Poetry Unbound (which I forgot I’d preordered until it arrived—on my birthday!) and Gareth King’s Modern Welsh: A Comprehensive Grammar. It sounds funny to say I’m enthralled by a grammar book, but I am! Both for the clarity he brings to the concepts I’ve learned in three months of study on Duolingo and Say Something in Welsh, and for his descriptivist approach to language, which is so in keeping with my own approach and the vibe of the Brave Writer programs I write for.
I want to say more about the Say Something In courses soon—I’m wildly enthusiastic, and if you or your kids are studying Welsh, Spanish, or Dutch, you should check them out—and more, too, about Readwise and some of the things you mentioned in the comments. And Moominmamma, that post has been percolating for a while.
So much to talk about, once I start talking.
Well, I said I wanted to dash off a post and I have, in the sense that I wrote it rapidly and haven’t gone back to polish anything at all—but I didn’t promise it would be a short one. I’m not a novelist for nothing. 😉