Huck, tearing down the hall: WHOOO, I’M ON AUTOPILOT!
Rilla, tenderly: Honey, I turned your autopilot off.
S. got his new hearing aids—big excitement. His old pair were over five years old, and after a while the quality degrades. The new ones have some bells and whistles we’re still getting used to.
I just realized that the next time he’s due for new aids, he’ll be eighteen. Holy cats.
I’m teaching my second class for Brave Writer this month, nearing the end of Week 2. This one is called “Penning the Past” and is about writing historical fiction. And I’m having a ball. My students come up with the best stuff! I’m going to have to raise the bar on my own writing to keep up with their inventiveness.
I’ll be teaching another section of Comic Strip Capers this summer and possibly another one next fall. Registration for the summer section opens June 5th. I’ll share the registration link in the coming weeks.
Finn Family Moomintroll is our daily delight. I just about have all the voices down now. I may roll right into Comet in Moominland when this one is done; we’ll see.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond: you know, I don’t think we touched it all week. We kept getting swept along by the Moomins and forgetting to come back to the Puritans.
In part our neglect of history this week is because Rilla and Huck and I got swept into a collaborative Minecraft project. We’re building a fairy tale village. (Photo to come later.) So far, we have Rapunzel’s tower and the Three Little Pigs’ huts. I think today we may begin work on the gingerbread cottage. So much fun. We got the idea from my friend Christy, whose kids made their own Minecraft fairy tale world a while back. I often pull Minecraft into our studies…for example, when we were reading about Jamestown, we found some videos showing Jamestown replicas people have built in the game.
I had more to share but the 9:00 bird just chirped and it’s time for me to live high tide instead of write about it. 😉 I’ll toss this post up now instead of waiting to finish later—because lately it seems like later never comes! Hope you’ve all had a good week.
Huck this morning: “Why are you on a site called Goo Dreads?”
Dread is actually an apt word for my feelings about catching up my Goodreads, which (thanks to Cybils) is about thirty YA novels behind. I’m trying, but it wants time I do not have. And then there’s my booklog here at Bonny Glen, which is a whole other task. Maybe I’ll outsource it to a kid.
Today’s picture book: Hedgie’s Surprise by Jan Brett. A natural choice after yesterday’s pick. I think this one may be my favorite of Brett’s Hedgie stories. And the needlepoint patterns in the margins have me itching to paint. Maybe that’ll be my drawing challenge subject for the day.
As I mentioned yesterday, I’m hoping to sketch every day this year. A few weeks ago, Scott remarked offhandedly that I ought to draw more bears. So during that night’s art date with Rilla, I pulled up a Google image search and tried my hand at a few. Yesterday I attempted a polar bear. I went right to the good paper, which might have been a disaster because I thoroughly botched the proportions and put the face way too low. Fortunately I have learned to use something water-soluble for my first rough sketch. (Or pencil. I love pencil. A lot of instructors tell you to avoid pencil, but I think they see relative shapes a lot better than I do. I need to be able to shift things around. Like when the nose ends up where the chin should be.) I often begin with a blue or brown watercolor pencil and go over that with black waterproof ink. Lately I’m enjoying a gray Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pen. When I mess up on my first pass, as I inevitably do, I can blur the mistakes into shadow with a waterbrush. The bear is still messy but I was much happier after I redid his face in black ink.
Someone asked how I’m finding time to keep up the sketchbook practice, given all the work on my plate this year. The answer is: I give it fifteen minutes a day. That’s all. I mean, there are days when I get lucky and find some extra time, like if I sit on a bench and draw while the kids are at the playground. But sometimes I prefer to read during playground time instead. And so I’ve committed a quarter of an hour to sketching every evening at 9pm. Fifteen minutes isn’t much. (That’s a big part of why that polar bear is so messy.) But it’s something. It’s what I can manage, for now, and that’s enough.
This morning I sorted two bookcases’ worth of books. I’ve pulled together a new row of picture books for our daily selections—enough to last us for four months, if we read one a day. Every book I handled felt like another conversation, a whole post unto itself. It’s funny that I had so many days last year where I couldn’t come up with anything to blog about—I learned a long time ago all I have to do is walk over to one of my shelves.
At one point this morning I had at least a hundred books in piles on the floor, swallowing the room, when I came across our copy of Material World. Which, if you haven’t seen it, is a collection of photographs of families around the world with all their material possessions spread in front of their homes. The variation between quantity of stuff from family to family is staggering. We Americans, we…accumulate a lot of things. Like, say, books.
We finished Understood Betsy just before the holidays, and now I need to choose the next readaloud. Scott read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever the whole family (including the college kids and me), which bought me time to decide, but…I’m still undecided. We still have so many great books in the pile for this year! Jane (still home for winter break) is plumping for The Firelings. Which may have been one of the first readalouds I ever wrote about on this blog. Maybe it’s time. 🙂
After the morning’s bookcase jamboree, I took the younger kids to the playground. I’ve been a lot better about this lately—you know my older girls practically grew up at local parks, but rhythms change when you have teens, and park visits had all but disappeared from our routine for a while. But last fall I stepped it back up. They’re old enough that I can sit, as I said, and read or sketch. Or catch up on blogs. 🙂 Which makes me That Mother you see condemned in posts that make the rounds occasionally—you know, the ones written in tones half imploring, half scolding, about much you miss when you’re staring at your phone while your kids are playing. “I watched your beautiful daughter twirling around in joy and you—you missed it. Because Facebook.” Those always make me laugh. I’m like: honey, I have been taking my kids to the playground since 1995. I have stood in line at the post office with an imaginary goldfish in my hand. I have sat on hospital beds entertaining a toddler with playdough by the hour. I’ve spent all morning homeschooling them. I’ve read thousands of books out loud. Literally thousands! So here at the playground? I’m good. They’re, you know, playing. They don’t need me hovering over them on the jungle gym. In fact, you just know the next article in my feed is going to be a screed against helicopter parenting. So I’m just going to sit here with my magical smartphone and catch up on some reading. Or play a game. Or maybe even goof around on Facebook. Which is where I happened to be when I came across your post, so don’t pretend you aren’t doing the same thing.
Favorite playground moment today: we’d just arrived and my kids were already up the hill toward the play equipment. As I got out of the minivan, a preschooler in a bright orange shirt jumped out of the next car over, took two steps onto the grass, and shouted, “I’m here!” To no one, and everyone.
Today was too chilly for sitting on a bench. (Sorry, Facebook.) We had unusually heavy rains recently (I mean, it’s San Diego; rain is unusual, period) and there were big sploshy puddles all over the place. The kids mostly avoided them by keeping to the mountain peaks of the jungle gym. I decided to get a bit of exercise in by walking laps around the wide, flat grassy area adjacent to the playground. You can see the play area from the whole circumference, so you don’t even have to miss That Mother’s beautiful daughter twirling around in ignored joy if you choose.
I pulled up an audiobook I started several months ago, Robert Macfarlane’s wonderful Landmarks, which is about the language we use for things in nature—terrain, weather, flora. Specifically: the “place-words” of the United Kingdom. When last I listened to this book, I was playing Minecraft. And as soon as the new chapter loaded and the narrator with his wonderful accent began reading the opening lines, my mind was flooded with images of the house I’d built in that particular Minecraft world—a birch cabin on a bluff overlooking a river, with a village in the distance and a craggy mountain rising behind. I remember thinking at the time that Landmarks was the perfect book to listen to while playing Minecraft, since both are so thoroughly centered around terrain. It was also perfect for listening to on a brisk walk through a soggy park. Macfarlane even mentioned a Scottish word for “a person who is walking briskly”—I need to get hold of a hard copy and look it up, because I missed it on the walk, what with all the puddle-sploshing.
It’s terrible, in fact—every other sentence made me long for a print edition of the book to mark up and dog-ear—on the very day when I’ve embarked on a ruthless shelf-culling endeavor! Plus now we’re past both Christmas and my birthday. 😉 I’ll have to get it from the library, though, because Chapter 4 is all about a Scottish author named Nan Shepherd and her book The Living Mountain, “a celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland.” There were easily five quotes in the first ten minutes that I wanted to copy down. Which I could have done if I were sitting on a bench staring at my phone. I’m just saying.
Backing up to the Minecraft thing for a moment—I’m amazed by how clearly I can picture that map, and even remember some of the adventures that befell me there, just because I was listening to an audiobook while playing. I mean, I’ve played a lot of Minecraft over the years, with my kids and without them. The worlds all begin to blur together after a while. Except for those I’ve explored while listening to something on audio. I went through a whole slew of lectures a couple of years ago—mostly literature classes via Yale Open Course. I can’t just sit and listen to something; I have to be doing something with my hands. (This is why I make sure my kids have something to play with while I read to them.) Nowadays I usually use the listening time to sketch. Or to clean a bathroom. File some papers. But what I have found is that the lectures I listened to while playing Minecraft have stuck in my brain more clearly than the others. You see, the vivid connections are happening in both directions. I remember the house I built during Amy Hungerford’s Lolita lecture (so great!)—a small oak farmhouse with a well in the yard. I remember being down in the nearby mine fighting skeletons during the Wise Blood lecture. During Franny and Zooey I built a house of sandstone and constructed a monster trap nearby. And for all three lectures, I can recall the professor’s words with much more clarity than the one I listened to while scrubbing the bathroom. It’s like Minecraft gave me pegs to hang the lectures on. Or a map, both literal and figurative? I know this: I remember more detail from those lectures than ones I took actual notes on.
I know, I know, this post is ridiculous. You can’t have nine sections in a daily blog post. That’s serious overkill. If I had any sense, I’d have saved some of this for later in the week when open a draft and draw a blank. But I guess that’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in twelve years of blogging. If I save it, it’ll start to feel like A Topic, like something I need brain to tackle. And I have to save all my brains for work. So it’s overkill or nothing, I guess.
Well, maybe we’ll just consider this catch-up for months of sparse posting.
1. Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett: always our first book of the season. My younger three love it every bit as much as my older three did. I’m right there with them—the troll voices are so much fun to read aloud, and there’s a bit at the end that chokes me up every single time. Plus we have a red wooden horse exactly like the one in the book!
(Why has Amazon started slapping a copyright notice on book covers? They’re fair use.)
2. I really appreciate the downloadable lock-screen calendar Inkwell Press provides for free every month. What a nice gift! I like being able to turn on my phone and see what day it is without clicking to my actual calendar. I’m lazy that way. If you sign up for their email list, Inkwell will send links to each month’s wallpaper options—lock screen, home screen background, and desktop. Pretty nifty.
3. I mentioned this on Facebook and Twitter last night, but for those who missed it: 50 Incredible Minecraft Seeds You Must Try is free on Kindle right now and it’s pretty darn cool. It includes seeds for PC, Pocket Edition, XBox, etc. My kids and I were pretty excited to explore some of the Pocket Edition maps today…there’s one with four villages squished together and another with a mountain village that looks like something out of Howling Fjord. I ran around the mountain one for a while and it was a hoot. The blacksmith shop is high up on a rocky crag above the rest of the town.
4. The Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar! We look forward to this every year. It’s an animated Advent calendar with some new little piece of story to click on every day. I’m glad my friend Phoebe reminded me to download it today. (Costs $4.) This year’s theme is “Victorian Christmas,” which, you know, had me at hello.
5. Periscope: I’ve done about one scope a week since I started. I never know if I should post them here! You can view all my replay videos at katch.me/melissawiley, but I could upload them here on the blog, too, if it would be helpful. Actually, I suppose I ought to start posting a list of links for stuff I mention in each scope, since show-and-tell seems to be what I wind up doing every time. Okay, there’s a plan (but not for tonight). Yesterday’s was called “A quick Monday hello” and is pretty chatty. Sometimes I have a structured topic, and other times I’m just there to gab. 🙂
I mentioned that the kids and I share a Minecraft world. Its name is Calpurnia, after a favorite book. When I got a dog in the game, Rose offered to name it for me. The next time I logged in, “Darwin” was running around my attic—Darwin because of Calpurnia Tate, get it?
Then I wound up with a second dog. It ran around my house nameless for a day or two; then one day I returned home from a grueling shift at the ruined castle we’re building in the mushroom forest, and there, wagging its tail alongside Darwin, was “Newton,” newly monikered by Beanie. It seems I’m raising a bunch of scientist dogs, which is fine by me.
One day I accidentally fed both Darwin and Newton too many pork chops at the same time, and you know what that means: a puppy. I couldn’t wait for this new pooch to grow up, so I could see what name the girls would give it.
When I came home this afternoon, half dead after a skeleton ambush, the pup was waiting beside the front door, all grown up and sporting a new blue collar. Her name was Annie, the hover-text informed me. I was a little surprised that the girls hadn’t continued the scientist theme.
Shows what I know.
Rose, evidently aware of this gap in my education, had helpfully left some signage on the living-room carpet:
The dog’s name is Annie ’cause of Annie Jump Cannon, who
was one of the greatest female scientists; she organized the
stars. We still use her system today. Also, she was deaf.
I learned a lot more about Annie (the human, not the canine) after I logged off. She featured in a recent episode of Cosmos and my girls were quite impressed by her accomplishments. Her lifetime spanned the period between the Civil War and World War II, and as Rose explained, she was instrumental in the creation of the star classification system that is still in use today.
The girls have yet to account for the pig in my living room.
Rose put up some NO TRESPASSING signs outside her house in the Minecraft world the kids and I share. My favorite was the addendum: NONE OF THIS NONSENSE.
Well, of course I couldn’t resist a throwdown like that. A LITTLE NONSENSE NOW AND THEN, I wrote back, when she wasn’t looking, IS RELISHED BY THE WISEST MEN.
And her reply, proving the student has surpassed the teacher: I AM NO MAN.
That’s my girl.