Crocuses in Wilshire Park, Feb 4, 2018. We’re not quite there yet, but it’s just around the corner.
We had a sudden blast of snow the other day, our first all year, and it caught me completely by surprise. Snow at THIS time of year? I thought—and then had to laugh. It’s January, for Pete’s sake. Nothing astonishing about snow in January, even here in the rainy northwest.
But, you see, the crocuses are budding, and the daffodils are coming up. And the general fresh-start feeling of January, plus the fresh-start feeling of the inauguration, have me feeling very springy. Winter weather was quite unexpected. The kids hurried out to enjoy the flurries while they lasted. By the next morning, they were gone. Wet sidewalks, no ice, no drifts. Not so much as a flake left.
Instead: my neighbor’s crocuses opened wide. Glorious.
My own crocuses are pokier.
We seem to have an odd microclimate in our yard: my bulbs consistently bloom about three weeks later than everyone else’s. I don’t mind that—it stretches out the enjoyment.
Neighborhood walks have become more pleasant since I switched back to putting in my contacts. All this past year of quarantine, I’ve had no need for them—they’re for distance; for driving, mostly; and even before the pandemic, I wasn’t driving very often. Here in Portland it’s easier to walk or grab a Lyft. In fact, we got rid of our minivan last February, so seldom did I use it. Perfect timing, since otherwise it would have gathered dust in front of the house all year!
Several of us have had our first doses of the Covid vaccine (Oregon opened it up to people with disabilities and their adult household members a few weeks ago). I’m hopeful that we’ll get the second dose on schedule in early February. If we do, I know life still won’t be back to normal quite yet, but it will be normal-er? If normal even is a thing, anymore. I look at videos of our Low Bar Chorale pub sings and marvel: a crowd of us packed together, heads close, mouths open wide. How long before such a thing is possible once more?
Speaking of Low Bar!!
In December we made a group video, a virtual chorale performance of God Only Knows. It was splendid. (I didn’t submit a video myself, since they were due the week we lost my brother-in-law. But I run social media for the group and was busy behind the scenes, promoting the event.)
I’ve rebooted my newsletter and sent out a new issue. I moved it from Mailchimp to Flodesk, so if you are a subscriber and didn’t get an issue last week, check your spam filter to make sure it didn’t get snagged. You can read the January issue here or subscribe here.
I put it on pause for January to give me some time to reorganize the tiers. Membership pricing remains the same (it’s cheap!) but the subscriber benefits have changed.
Tier 1 benefits ($1/month or more):
• Daily coworking sessions
• Weekly posts about nourishing a regular creative practice—mine and yours
Tier 2 benefits ($3/month or more):
• Daily coworking sessions
• Weekly posts about creative practice
• Monthly (or twice monthly, if time permits) memoir posts—early looks at a manuscript I’m working on about our homeschooling, creative-living, medical-roller-coastering family adventure. Bonny Glen: the book version, if you will.
Tier 3 benefits ($5/month or more):
• Daily coworking sessions
• Weekly posts about creative practice
• Monthly memoir posts
• Monthly literary essays, usually focusing on a particular author or a linked collection of books. A close reading of a book or deep dive into a favorite author’s body of work.
For all levels: I’ll continue my daily coworking sessions until the pandemic is well and truly behind us, and we can go back to working in coffee shops and museum cafés again. We meet in a private Zoom room and do brief check-ins before and after each hour of work. The usual schedule is M-F, 3-5pm Pacific time (except Tuesdays, when we meet for just one hour, 4-5 PST).
The first week of the year has slipped away. Slipped? Flown? Hmm, neither is accurate. It was a full week, an intense week of long phone calls dealing with IEP issues and other challenges we’re facing with S’s school. (Further affirming my belief that being an engaged school parent is every bit as time-consuming as homeschooling, if not more so. I remember when people used to be shocked when I made that argument. Homeschooling my other kids may be the least stressful thing I do, and the least demanding in terms of time and mental energy. The ratio is tipped so much farther in favor of joy and delight than pretty much anything else I do. But that’s a topic for another post.)
I’ve made some concrete changes in the past several weeks, in an attempt to reclaim lost bits of time and rebuild good habits that have crumbled rather a lot during this past tumultuous year. Had to start with myself, of course. In early December I began writing three pages first thing every morning, before I pick up my phone or even get out of bed. Three pages, longhand in an 8 1/2 x 11″ spiral notebook. I’ve been afraid to talk about it lest that somehow kill the habit before it gelled. But it’s been over a month now and I think I can make myself keep going. I’ve only missed one day so far—Christmas morning has its own particular demands. 🙂 Scott’s a big help, cheering me on, not minding the light popping on at 6:30 a.m. when it’s still deep dark here.
My daily nature walks with Huck and Rilla disappeared during the holidays—in large part because the cold air is making me cough. An allergy/asthma thing, quite annoying. I miss walking, both with the kids and with Scott—a habit we practiced for many years in San Diego but haven’t found space for here yet. I mean, I know we haven’t been here all that long and I wasn’t exactly up to walking for a while there. But the thing with habits is that we form them one way if we aren’t forming them another. And right now Scott and I have the habit of not walking. I loved our old sunset walks, and the early-morning walks before those. I’m looking for the right corner of the day to tuck them back into.
(Other blogging friends did a better job of keeping up the old posting rhythms. They’re in the sidebar under “Blogging Like It’s 2005.”)
Movies watched this week: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
TV: Parks & Rec rewatch
I read quite a lot this past week. I think I always do, during the first week of the year, because the blank space in my sidebar booklog bugs me. Didn’t sketch much. Hoping to kick that habit back into place this week.
Yesterday was all about tying up the loose ends of my reading life in order to start the year with a clean slate. I looked over everything I’m in the middle of—so many books!—and decided, after some reflection, to take Penny’s advice from the comments and dive into the old favorites calling my name in that stack, or some very like them. Ever since I read Thornyhold, I’ve been hankering after The Scent of Water and Wise Child. And Lesley mentioned Miss Read…and I happened upon a description of Mary Stewart’s Rose Cottage that sounds even more enchanting than her Thornyhold. Impatiently waiting for the library copy to arrive…
(It occurs to me Thornyhold also has something of the flavor of Linnets and Valerians, which I’ve not reread in a few years…)
Anyway! That was yesterday’s Old Year Week work. Today I turned my sights to correspondence and (gulp) answered emails dating as far back as 2016. Mortifying but true. Snail mail correspondence is next, and feels like a luxury, not a chore. I’m still working this week, but at greatly reduced hours, and, well, after the year I’ve had, that feels like heaven.
It’s funny—I woke up this morning thinking: Right. I’m going to grant myself amnesty at the end of the year. Anything (non work-related, and work includes my Patreon) hanging unfinished—email, DMs, comment replies, reading plans, household chores, book reviews—all of it gets swept away at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and I will start afresh. And then immediately upon having cut myself this break, I began answering messages I should have replied to (wanted to reply to!) more than a year ago. By noon, I was all caught up. Why did I let it pile up in the first place? Answering was a pleasure—as soon as I gave myself permission not to.
Tomorrow I want to spend some time making High Tide plans for January. I’ll try to share those here. I say try to because I’ve learned not to make promises unless absolutely necessary. Curve balls happen and then I feel guilty. 🙂 But I miss, miss, miss this poor old blog and I’m trying (trying!) to restore some lost habits.
Related to that, I’ve been (again! perpetually!) pondering what, if any, changes I want to make in my social media habits this year. I visit Twitter maybe once a day now, almost out of a sense of obligation: I follow smart thinkers and feel a duty to check in on the day’s social and political commentary. But I can only manage it in small doses. I went almost totally silent on Facebook this fall…popping in occasionally when that same sense of duty propelled me to activism. Which I know is the opposite approach of many (most) of my friends, who have resolved not to bring activism or politics to Facebook. Sometimes my conscience says: you have to talk about this, so I try (try!) to listen. But I logged out of FB on my phone and tucked the app into a folder where it isn’t staring me in the face. I deleted all the games off my phone and unsubscribed from all but a handful of merchant newsletters. The few I kept are for small shops whose owners write thoughtful articles instead of spamming you with sale ads. ::shudder:: Ads bring out the Grinch in me: Oh the noise, noise, noise, noise!
Instagram remains a pleasant haven, a place to smile over friends’ family photos and adventures, and to enjoy glimpses of charming artwork or people’s book piles. Wisteria and Sunshine is a nourishing virtual retreat, like visiting Thornyhold or Juniper’s cottage; and there’s a small creative community I’m part of that is a daily delight. Mostly, though, I’ve wandered away from community discourse…which isn’t very like me, but I’ve had so much work on my plate, and I think I needed some breathing-in time. I’m feeling the wind change, though. I love turning the page to a new year. Always have.
Year after year, this may be my favorite week for blogging. “Old Year Week,” as Mole calls it. I love tidying things up and making a fresh start. It’s a time, too, for reflection: what worked this year; what didn’t. I wasn’t able to be as consistent with daily posting as I’d hoped at the start of the year, but who could have predicted what this year would hold for me, for all of us. Methinks I can cut myself a little bit of slack. 😉
I worked on my sidebar booklog for a while yesterday—it was woefully behind—and discovered to my horror that I had written “Douglas Adams” as the author of Watership Down, which would have been a verrrry different kind of book. I’m going to hope it’s a case of nobody noticing, rather than that you were all too polite to point it out. 😉
Most years, this is the week that my fall Cybils reading frenzy is suddenly, breathlessly, over—finalists selected, blurbs written, book towers carted off to other parts of the house. That’s the case today for my Round 1 panelists, but this year I’m YA category chair only, not one of the YA readers. (I’m a Round 2 judge in Early Readers and Chapter Books, but that work doesn’t start until the New Year, and instead of reading 70-some YA novels in two months as in years past, I’ll only be reading the short lists of finalists. Big difference.)
Anyway, most years right around this date, I find myself suddenly at liberty to read (gasp) anything I want. It’s a tremendous feeling. This year I have a list of books begun earlier in the year, which I’d like to finish up but probably won’t. 2017 was for me a year of leaning on old friends—Hanff, Nesbit, Byatt, Montgomery, Tey, and (ahem) RICHARD Adams—and cozy mysteries during and after the months of my cancer treatment. And a steady course of Moomintrolls in our readaloud life. 🙂 No regrets whatsoever. But I do feel like stretching a bit and picking up something challenging or long-awaited. I also have a few last Arrow books to finish up: a delicious sort of work, that.
A different stack entirely: old favorites I pulled out one day to discuss on a video for my Patreon, but never did. Hmm…now I want to reread The Firelings. And The Sherwood Ring. And The Gammage Cup, which isn’t even in the pile. Oh dear, is there no end to my book gluttony?
This post ran off in a different direction than I intended when I began. I’ll save the other train of thought for later. Until then, I hope Old Year Week brings you some peaceful down time in which to indulge your own bookish whims.
Up before dawn to comfort a sobbing seven-year-old who awoke to the sad realization that he fell asleep before the New Year arrived. We cuddled on the couch for a long while, chattering (him) and murmuring (me). Then I let him play Minecraft for a bit so I could get more sleep.
Late morning: bacon sizzle drifting down the hall. Mmm. Scott served a New Year’s breakfast of eggs, bacon, and almond bear claw. The younger kids and I sat down together and had devoured second helpings before the first teenager made an appearance. Excellent way to start the year. Everyone was singing Moses Supposes His Toeses Are Roses all day due to last night’s viewing of Singing in the Rain.
Early afternoon: my annual New Year’s Day cleaning frenzy. I didn’t realize I was singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” until Jane chuckled at me. She says I always sing that on this day. It’s true: I love fresh starts. I love packing away Christmas and sorting through books in preparation for a new season. Sometimes I get carried away—I have mouse-cookie syndrome something fierce—and commence a heavy-duty purge. This year I seem to have gotten the pattern backwards: I started by reorganizing the boys’ dresser and wound up purging shelves in the laundry room and cleaning out under my bed. The bed part was a continuation of yesterday’s grand overhaul of my desk and all my art supplies. I keep bins of paper and ephemera under the bed, and they wanted tidying.
Then I rallied the kids to help me take down the Christmas tree and decorations. I never can last the full Twelve Days. Too much depends upon that clean, fresh January first beginning.
Scott, my hero, remembered to soak the black-eyed peas last night, and all afternoon they were simmering away with a hambone. Just before dinner, I rounded up my younger set for a readaloud. Since my last little guy is about to turn eight, I want to read our way through all our favorite picture books before my picture-book audience is grown. Of course you’re never too old for a picture book, but you know how it is. They do grow up, these children. 🙂 I just don’t want to blink and realize Huck is twelve and has never heard Borreguita and the Coyote.
First readaloud of the year: Jan Brett’s The Hat—a perfect follow-up to the kids’ favorite holiday book, Christmas Trolls.
At dinner we discussed goals and resolutions for the coming year. Lots of “I’d like to learn __” plans. 🙂 My own goals—besides the picture book readalouds—are to sort through all our books and pare down by rather a lot; and to continue my daily sketchbook habit.
Speaking of which: I haven’t picked up a pen today. Better get to it!
The Round 1 Cybils Award panels have made their selections, and finalists will be announced on Jan. 1st. My YA Fiction team read a total of 140 books (more if you count one or two titles we wound up shifting to YA Speculative Fiction). I finished with a personal tally of 63 novels read. Sixty-three! My eyes is tired. 🙂
This page, which includes Cybils and non-Cybils reads, is about thirty books behind. Yikes.
My reward for finishing Cybils round 1 was setting up my calendars for 2017. I had to laugh when I realized that everything on my Christmas and birthday lists this year was a calendar of some sort. The Lisa Congdon wall calendar for my desk area; a Japanese woodblock print calendar for the living room (Rilla and I are obsessed with Hokusai lately); a 2017 Hobonichi Weeks to be my carry-with-me appointment book; and (swoon) new seasonal inserts and planner embellishments for my Wild Simplicity Daybook (which arrived as a gift from my treasured friend, Lesley). Anyway, I have started the task of entering upcoming events and work deadlines into my planner and appointment book, and I’m enjoying setting up my Daybook for a new season of high tide. (I use the Daybook to record our homeschooling adventures. It makes a truly gorgeous chronicle, and even more so this year with the earth-friendly “stickers”—lovely bits of artwork to cut out and paste in).
It’s a rare overcast morning here, so I’ll have to wait until later to catch photos of everything. Bit of a tease to post about plannery things without pictures, but what can you do?
A new year means new sketchbook plans. I was delighted to see that Lisa Congdon is offering a new class at Creativebug: the Creative Boot Camp. Rilla and I will be spending our Saturday nights this way for the next six weeks.
(Note: that’s an affiliate link. Creativebug was offering a holiday special of a $15 Amazon card with purchase of a gift subscription—as far as I can tell, this appears to be still going on. As I’ve mentioned before, I consider our $4.95/month Creativebug subscription to be one of the absolute best expenses in our homeschooling budget. Unlimited arts and craft classes, beautifully presented.)
I should have titled this post “what I’m busy with this week besides work.” The assignment crunch that kept my blogging sparse during the past two months will continue through January and beyond. But it’s all good stuff. I winced, though, when my friend Jenn mentioned that she’d seen so little of me here and on social media that she wondered if I’d given up the internet altogether. Not by choice, that’s for sure! I’m trying to work out a short daily formula of sorts that I could apply to revitalize Bonny Glen in the new year. The old listography daily happy lists, or Instagram-style with a photo and notes, maybe. And a return to my Booknotes of yore. I miss them! And after the Cybils finalists are announced on Sunday, I’ll have lots of YA novels to talk about…
I made a surprising discovery recently: I realized that since moving to San Diego eight (eight!!) years ago, January has become my favorite month. When I lived in the east, I’d have said it was April—early spring, when you walk outside and feel it coming, a freshness in the wind, the redbuds and dogwoods beginning to flower, the daffodils running riot, the tulips jaunty. Oh, I loved that feeling. The Mary Lennox feeling. I’ve never liked the cold, and Eastern winters were much harder than the sunny-cold Colorado days I grew up with: all that lingering, blackening snow, the dull gray skies, the frozen ears and toes. So the first hints of change—the crocuses, the grape hyacinths, the fountains of yellow forsythia in March—exhilarated me. I love change; it makes my blood sing; and the change that meant spring is here was the best of all, even better than after spring had well and truly arrived.
But here in Southern California, our seasons are different. There’s the Season of Blistering Heat, the Season of Glorious Weather (this lasts most of the year), and That One Day It Rained. And the shifts come abruptly and sporadically, without warning. Any given day could be sandal weather or I-really-wish-I’d-succumbed-and-bought-those-boots. And so I realized that the sweet old sense of change in the air I used to associate with early spring now belongs to a shift less weather-related and more cultural. January, the New Year, the season of beginnings and fresh starts.
Looking through my archives I see I’ve rhapsodized about the Fresh Start over and over, this time of year. January is the month when I deep-clean my bedroom (which is also my workspace) and tidy up the garden. I launch projects (don’t we all): Reading Projects or Crafting Projects or Housework Projects. (This year it’s purging the books. I’ve appointed January the month I have a little conversation with every book in the house and discuss its future. For a lot of them, it’s time to head out into the world and seek their fortunes. Local friends, consider yourselves warned.) I love projects. Love planning them out, at least: as Anne would say, there’s so much scope for imagination in the planning stage. Completion is another subject entirely, best reserved for a different essay.
All through December I found myself looking forward to January—enjoying December, of course, which was particularly rich this year, what with my parents visiting and Jane home from school and a long-awaited visit with very dear friends—but enjoying the anticipation of the impending Fresh Start. I spent part of New Year’s Eve answering piled-up email, achieving Inbox Zero just about the time the East Coast entered 2015.
(Spent the rest of it playing Terraria with Rilla after the boys went to bed, while Scott and the other girls watched The Sting. Thus it was that my favorite moment of the holiday was hearing my pixie-like eight-year-old daughter remark, “Ooh, I’ve always wanted a Deathbringer Pickaxe.”)
My one real resolution for the year is to sketch every day, even if only for a few minutes. All my other plans are the sort that will take more determination to pull off, and I’m therefore afraid to spook them by calling attention to them too directly. I’m keeping my Reading Plans quite casual this year—mostly I intend to read whatever strikes me next, and to try to stick to what’s already on the shelves or the Kindle.
I do mean to choose one category of children’s books to focus most deeply on this year; I often fall into a specialization by accident—say, picture books because I read so many to my kids, or graphic novels because I have so many friends publishing them in a given year, or, like 2014, YA Fiction because I’m on a committee. I try to read broadly, of course—middle-grade and YA, fiction and nonfiction, prose and poetry—keeping reasonably abreast of what my peers are publishing. But I like having a kind of specialty category for the year, one area I can go really deep and try to read everything. As I said, this usually happens by accident; I’m not sure I’ve ever chosen the category in advance. This year I’m having fun thinking about it. Probably it will wind up depending on what kind of ARCs publishers decide to send me, since in the end, that’s the easiest way to keep up with the flood of new books.
As for old books (“old” meaning anything published before this very minute), I have the inevitable nightstand pile, which is much like nightstand piles of previous years. It’s not actually on my nightstand, since I don’t have one, but the pile on my bedroom bookshelf serves that purpose—and the rather staggering queue on my Kindle. I think of these as my Alfred Doolittle books: Books I’m “willin’ to read, wantin’ to read, waitin’ to read.” Books I have probably listed here in the past.
This is also the year I intend to finish Infinite Jest, which may indeed take the whole year.
Casual reading plan—Doolittle books + some particular kidlit category
Household project—all the books
Brain food—right now I’m listening to The Sixth Extinction on audio; also a literary lecture series called A Day’s Read (lecture one was on Kafka’s “The Country Doctor” and was pretty good)
Writing goals—I dare not say, but I’ve got them
Blogging goal—the other day, Melanie of A Wine-Dark Sea and I were discussing the upcoming ten-year anniversary of our blogs. Ten! Years! We both began blogging on January 20, 2005—and met in the combox some time later. That anniversary was much on my mind all through December when I blogged so seldom, what with the aforementioned visitors and the holidays and my Cybils reading. This is another thing I’ve been looking forward to with January’s arrival: a return to steady blogging, and a chance to revisit my archives and reflect on what I love about this space and what I want to do more of. So that’s another quiet plan for 2015: a bit of a blogging renaissance.