Portland sky magic

January 30, 2020 @ 4:42 pm | Filed under:

The view out my studio window this morning. If you’re wondering whether I got any writing done, there’s your answer. I called Huck, my early bird, to see the spectacle and we stood at the kitchen door and just stared and stared. This undoctored iPhone photo doesn’t do it justice. All of Portland was agog—the Portland subred is one breathtaking pic after another today. Ditto the #portlandsunrise hashtag on Instagram.

Rilla’s a cloud spotter (The Cloud Collector’s Handbook is a favorite tome) but a late sleeper—oh the dilemma for a doting mom! I let her sleep. She said (considerably later in the morning) it was the right call. I’m counting on her to educate me about this type of cloud formation, though! We’d have jumped on it already, but I got wrapped up in an Instant Pot burn-error situation and morning ran away from me. (Aloo gobi, one of my favorite dishes. Three burn errors. But eventually an entirely scrumptious lunch, and plenty for later.)

We’re nearing the end of Moominland Midwinter and I’m going to miss it! We all laugh and laugh and laugh. At Little My, especially. Spring is coming back to Moominvalley, and it feels like that here, too, only we bypassed the months of snow and ice. So far. Ice could still happen. Hear that, all you trees bursting into premature bloom? You worry me! (As much as I love you.)

January! Yikes!

Weekend walks

January 27, 2020 @ 9:16 pm | Filed under:

It’s crocus time here, right on schedule. Other bursts of bloom are unnervingly early—branches with pink blossoms, camellias going full throttle. I’ll have to look back at my photos from last year, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t get camellias until March or April. Late January is moss time. Gray skies and green walls. I love it.

That chartreuse just kills me! It’s getting to be the time of year when you don’t want to take a walk with me because I have to stop every six paces for a photo. Scott is very patient.

Funny tidbit yesterday: on Saturday the kids and I had walked down Klickitat Street (still a thrill), and yesterday Scott and I happened to take the same path. A few blocks from home, we noticed a black glove on a low stone wall belonging to a corner house. I stopped to look at the glove, and Scott thought I was taking an arty photo—a lone glove on the mossy wall. But no, what caught my eye was that it looked like my glove. I reached into my pockets—and sure enough, I was missing one. Thanks, kind neighbor, for finding it and leaving it where it caught my eye!

Weekend goals

January 24, 2020 @ 6:41 pm | Filed under:

Moomins doing winter right:

The guests loved their long, somewhat slovenly forenoons, when the new day was allowed to break later, while everybody discussed the dreams of the night and listened to Moomintroll making coffee in the kitchen.

Moominland Midwinter, our current readaloud

Astonished at the voices of Willamette and wren

January 23, 2020 @ 8:22 am | Filed under: , ,

Northern flicker by Rilla, 2017

Would you like to hear this post read aloud? Allears has invited me to try their new voice recording studio for bloggers. I’d love to know what you think! (If the embedded audio player isn’t visible below this note, try this link.)

Most mornings I’m still sipping my first cup of caffeine when Huck rolls in for a snuggle in my writing chair. He’s markedly up-tempo at that time of day, and I’m still dragging. One way I manage the discrepancy in our states of alertness is to reach for a book of poems, which he’ll dive into eagerly and read aloud while my brain catches up to his speed. The Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Haiku volume is a favorite and usually sparks some sweet discussion about the trees, the sky, the rain.

Misty rain;
Today is a happy day,
Although Mt. Fuji is unseen.

—Basho

That’s a pretty good one for a January day in Portland. For us it’s Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens, the latter of which we can glimpse in parts of our neighborhood on very clear days. When we catch sight of Mt. Hood, we’re usually in the car. “The mountain is out today!” someone will exclaim. Or: a delighted gasp and a cry of “Super Death Mountain!” which is what Scott and the kids call our local volcanoes. Third winter here and volcanoes are still a novelty for my gang.

Once a week Huck and Rilla attend classes at a co-op near the science center. Rilla has a free hour that we’ve been spending at the museum, a pretty giddy experience for both of us. We want every single thing in the gift shop. We spend long, absorbed minutes trying to solve brainteasers in one of the exhibits. We look out at the gray river in the rain and make plans for walks along its bank in the spring.

After Rilla heads to her classes, I have a chunk of time on my own—still as much of a novelty for me as those glimpses of volcanoes! Often I’ll have a work date at a café with my friend Shannon. On days she can’t make it, I walk to a nearby ramen shop for lunch and then take my laptop to the riverside cafe at the science center. I could eat there, but I really love ramen. I love the unavoidable single-tasking of eating it. You have your chopsticks in one hand for the noodles and the big spoon in the other hand for the broth, and that’s it, that’s all you can do—just eat this meal. No screens, no books even—you’d splash drops of broth all over the page if you tried. I sit where I can look out at the winter streets and watch people hurry or mosey past, and I imagine what David Sedaris would write about them in his diary. What Ross Gay would notice. What Joan Didion would see. Later, if I remember, I write down what I saw.

Not often, though—by the time co-op is over and I’ve driven back home, my mind has rushed on to the next thing, the next thing. This week we stopped at the bird shop for suet cakes. A flock of bush tits, tiny gray-brown things, swoops to our feeder every day for a feast. A female Northern flicker visits daily, and sometimes the male. Or maybe he comes every day too and I just haven’t caught the moment. We get downy woodpeckers and three chickadees and an occasional nuthatch, and of course lots of goldfinches and house finches. A pair of pine siskins. One sweet little Bewick’s wren. And sometimes a hermit thrush or two strides under the bare bushes, flinging leaf litter left and right in search of insects.

Withered branch
where a crow has settled 
autumn nightfall

Another haiku from Basho, who wrote of being “astonished at the voices of mountain streams and wild birds.” Astonishment, yes. Every day, the world astonishes me.

Rusty, but trying

January 22, 2020 @ 8:17 am | Filed under:

Back in the day, early mornings were my blogging time. In San Diego especially, I remember a stretch of years when an assortment of nurslings and toddlers woke at the crack of dawn, and I would put on Little Bear or Signing Time and perch the laptop on the arm of the sofa, writing a post while the baby nursed. Blogging was my daily habit in those days, and in our Virginia years, too, when I used it as a way to transition from the busy-homeschooling-mom part of my day to the writing-a-book-on-a-tight-deadline part. Writing about the kids helped me cross the bridge from mom mode to writer mode. When people asked me, back then, how I managed to blog on top of everything else, that was my answer: blogging was what helped me do everything else full-throttle.

Here in Portland, early mornings are time I’ve reserved for reading and writing poems—the poetry before screens practice I’ve written about elsewhere. And the rest of the day has been so full, full of family and work and walks and chorale. Blogging became a sporadic activity because it didn’t have that dedicated space it used to own. I tried evenings, as a wrap-up to the day, but my tired brain raised a protest. 😉 So I’m back to mornings—getting up a little earlier in order to keep my poetry time intact, and then, after Jane leaves for work and Wonderboy for school, while most of the other kids are still in bed (except Huck, early bird), with the caffeine beginning to kick in and, here in January, the sun rising behind the bare trees out my studio window, I’m giving myself half an hour to write a post.

I think I’m a little rusty! Posts may be choppy and chatty for a while, until I get back in the groove. If I’m pressed for time (sometimes the poetry practice runs away with me, and I mean to let it) or if I oversleep, my plan is just to dash out a quick did/saw list. That’s a journaling habit I’ve drawn from the inimitable Lynda Barry, who shares in her books Syllabus, What It Is, and Making Comics a “daily diary” practice she requires of all her students. You can get a peek at her framework in this Brain Pickings post, and here’s a video demo from Lynda’s own Tumblr. I tend to dash off a modified version in my notebook: a list of things I did each day, a list of things I saw (lots of crossover with gratitude lists here), and any memorable lines I’ve happened to overhear. The “done” list is especially important for keeping me grounded, because my to-do list is always so long and if I don’t keep a separate record of things I actually did in a day, I measure myself harshly. Of course the to-do list will always be long! But the done list is mighty long, too, and I have to see it in print* to internalize it. (*In cursive, technically.) 😉

Okay, the thing that always makes posts run past their allotted time slot is the looking stuff up and linking to it—the fun part, the show and tell! I have three minutes left here today, which isn’t enough time for fiddling with a new photo & adding tags & all that bloggity stuff. I’m going to enter a random keyword into my WordPress photo library and go with whatever it pulls up. There—I entered “sun,” and the pic at the top of this post is what grabbed me. That’s a photo taken on one of my walks last year. Sunflower season—not exactly relevant to January but I like it!

Must dash. Happy Wednesday, friends.

Highlights from 2005 (Jan-Mar)

January 21, 2020 @ 8:19 am | Filed under: , , , ,

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.

Book recommendations

Boxes for Katje
It’s Not My Turn to Look for Grandma
The Scrambled States of America
A Case of Red Herrings
Fannie in the Kitchen
Books for nature study, some favorites in 2005
The Floating House
Henry Hikes to Fitchburg
One Day in Elizabethan England (A splendiferous book)

Resource recommendations
Brave Writer (One of my very first homeschooling resource recs on the blog, written in Feb 2005. Now I work for them!)
Snoopy the Musical (the rabbit-trailer’s soundtrack)
A Tiger in Algebra? (Jacobs Algebra textbook)
Three ways to get more poetry into your day

Homeschooling ideas that worked

Mealtime readalouds
Strategic strewing
Project Feederwatch
Life on the Trail
Chain chain chain
How Jane helped her sisters learn handwriting

Kid moments (Lots of overlap here with book & resource recommendations & of course homeschooling. Categories are hard!)

Those Stubborn Bunnies
The More It Snows, Tiddly-pom
The Deliciousness of Mah (hearing aids, ear molds, learning to talk)
The Temper of the Shrew
Perspective
Beanie’s elephant (post by Scott)
One wit left

My commonplace book (quotes from my reading)
The earth, galloping / My Antonia, Willa Cather

Happy 15th Birthday, Bonny Glen

January 20, 2020 @ 7:16 pm | Filed under:

I’m feeling very memory lane-ish tonight! Fifteen years of blogging—not always steadily, but persistently. Thanks to all of you who’ve hung in here with me this long. I’ve been working behind the scenes to tidy things up here and have lots and lots of plans for the coming year—things I’m eager to share—but I’d love to hear from you, too, about what you’d like more of, what you miss, what you’re curious about.

In the meantime, here’s a little blast from the past—a post from a randomly-chosen January in my archives. I landed on 2007 and discovered so many moments I’d forgotten, like this epic battle over…wait for it…dryer lint. I’m howling. The involved parties, now all grown up, are going to howl even louder when they read this.

(And don’t miss the recipe for dryer-lint clay in the comments. Clay!!)

 

Daily snapshot

December 10, 2019 @ 9:48 am | Filed under: , , , ,


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).

The Nerviest Girl in the World—Cover Reveal!

December 5, 2019 @ 7:00 am | Filed under: ,

Here it is!!! I’m so excited to share this with you: the cover of my upcoming middle-grade novel, The Nerviest Girl in the World, which will by published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on August 18, 2020! This cover, which makes me squeak with joy every time I look at it, is by the awesome Risa Rodil. I’m over the moon!

The Nerviest Girl in the World by Melissa Wiley cover by Risa Rodil

I love it so much. The book is about silent film and ostrich-ranching and wild rides on horseback—and Risa captured all the excitement I feel about this story, which grew out of my time in East County San Diego, where the book is set.

(And just WAIT until you see the interior illustrations by Mike Deas! So great!)

August still feels far away, but I know the time will go fast. The book is already available for pre-order at IndieboundAmazon, and B&N! (Pre-ordering is a really great—and much appreciated—way for you to help give a book a boost.)

Stay tuned for an ARC giveaway coming soon!