Almost every night, Eleanor asks me to “tuck her in,” aka sit on her bed and talk with her. It’s something I enjoy. But my heart sinks whenever she repeats the question: “So what do we have planned for tomorrow?”

I don’t know what she’s expecting me to say. I suggest a few fun ideas, but none of them entice her. I’m not a cruise director. Eleanor turns her face to the wall.

We’ve snuggled tight into our little routine, here. In the morning, I expect the kids to meet me around the kitchen table by at least 9:00 a.m. for “scripture power” time. (9:00 a.m. may seem like a late wake-up call to you, but it’s a challenge for the teenagers.)

After scripture power, everyone goes their separate ways for homeschool. I supervise William and Katie on their schoolwork while I practice piano (I’ve found some left-hand etudes by Bach, Saint-Saens, and Scriabin to work on while my right hand heals). Usually the littles manage to finish almost all their schoolwork before lunchtime, which is how most homeschool curricula is supposed to go (only 2-3 hours a day).

Meanwhile, Jeff pesters me for internet access, which I deny him until he’s done all his “analog” tasks, such as read for an hour, practice his piano assignment, work on the math assignment Brian gave him, and go for a walk. He’s … okay at doing all of these, and then spends the afternoon doing “homework,” which is whatever his teachers are emailing him. It’s almost impossible to know how much of this homework he’s actually doing.

And where is Eleanor during the morning hours? Usually back in bed. Most days, I usually haul her out of bed around noon, which is when we drive to the school for lunch. The school district runs a drive-through lunch program for ages 18 and under, and it’s a great excuse for getting out of the house.

Is it progress that Eleanor is at least coming with us to lunch? Last week she refused.

Afternoons are spent finishing up any remaining homeschool: reading our history chapter aloud, doing hands-on science experiments, playing outside, building with LEGO, etc. Eleanor spends her afternoons in her room, working on the math assignments Brian gives her. Jeff often takes advantage of my distracted state to vanish upstairs with a computer.

One would think I’d spend this afternoon block to get some writing done, but it’s hard. Having all the kids around is sucking the energy out of me. Interruptions happen about every 15-20 minutes. It’s difficult to focus on anything knowing that my teenage daughter is dissolving into the bedsheets down the hall.

A few times I’ve gotten up early to write before the kids wake, but when faced with that quiet space to myself, I found that all I wanted to do was nothing. “Pure nothing, in the middle of the day,” like the line from the Rita Dove poem.

Besides, most of my early morning hours are already devoted to my own sanity-saving exercise routine.

I don’t even want to think how things are going to shift when my music theory class resumes in another week.

Yet my brain can’t let go of writing: it is constantly, constantly working on the novel in the background, formulating scenes, plot points, reams of dialogue, descriptive paragraphs, character arcs. After a few days, I feel pent up and congested inside, and panicked that I’ll never get around to finishing the project.

So to state that I’m feeling frustrated with myself is an understatement. Am I really too busy for this? Or am I using my kids as an excuse?

Around 3:30 p.m. we still gather for kuchenzeit. This week in Panic Baking: Caramel Apple Dapple Cake (not as good as my mom’s apple cake), Wednesday Night Brownies (of course), Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle (similar but vastly improved version of a recipe I already have) and Next Level Krispy Treats (they have double the butter and 4 ounces of white chocolate).

Brian’s been returning home from the hospital at odd early times, which can be frustrating, especially if he has more office work to do at home: I get all excited about having another adult to take a turn with the child labor, only to hear that I’m not getting a break after all.

On Friday, Brian worked entirely from home. I asked him to create his office space on the third floor, where I won’t be able to hear him. It’s disheartening to be constantly reminded that he’s able to accomplish his adult intellectual work when I cannot. I don’t blame him; this is the arrangement and partnership that we knew would work best for our family. And I’m kind of relieved that it’s possible for him to be home instead of going into the hospital, where he’s at risk for getting sick. But still — stay away where I can’t hear you, Other Adult.

Worst of all, because the kids don’t have any early-morning wake-up times, then bedtime tends to slide later and later into the evening. More nights than I’d prefer, the kids aren’t in bed until ten or ten-thirty, all of them needy for their mom, for the kind of stability I can provide them, since their lives are all upside-down. And I love that I can do that for them, and I love how our relationships are all deepening and improving as a result.

BUT — I am going a little crazy without having much alone time these days. I love my big boisterous family, but I’m someone who has always thrived on having “the gift of solitude” to recharge. Last night, a reasonable 8pm start time for the bedtime routine was upended by a Harry Potter board game. None of the children went to sleep until 11p.m. I tried to close myself up in my room with a book, but children kept popping in. It was great to get those extra cuddle times (Jeff came and talked to me! Voluntarily!) but afterwards I felt ragged, and furious.

The teenagers are starting to feel the negative results of their messed-up sleep schedules and sedentary lifestyle. Eleanor and Jeff complain that they are restless in bed and unable to sleep until one or two in the morning. Jeff seems amenable to making the lifestyle changes required to fix this, but Eleanor shuts down whenever I bring up the solution of basic exercise and earlier wake-up times, retreating into her shell of “I’m fine” and a quelling glare.

Last night was a breakthrough — Eleanor said she would like to spend some time walking on the treadmill, but when would she have the time? I pointed out that she might have to spend less time in bed in the morning, only to be burned alive with the Quelling Glare once more.

Ugh, the worst is knowing that I likely would have behaved in the exact same way at her age. What does it say that your mini teenage clone-self is occasionally intolerable?

So anyway isolation’s going fine.




organized.jpgSee that? Up there on the top of the right hand column!

That’s right — I’ve decided to keep a small compendium of my favorite snippets of info gleaned from the kidlitosphere from the past few days. Doesn’t it look all lovely, streamlined, and alphabetized?  (Just like those numerical binders!)

Alas, figuring out how to make that thing ate up my alloted blogging time for the day. And . . . someone has stolen my copy of The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin off my desk, so I can’t write about it tonight as planned. Is someone sabotaging my blog? Or do I just need to clean my desk off more often?

(Don’t answer that.)

In Other News, I feel it would be remiss unless I mention the main reason why my work on this blog has been shortened to weekends only: I’ve started a second blog about my family. I’m just figuring that, thirty years from now, I’ll be happier that I spent more time recording The Tale of Eleanor vs. The Blue Marker, or The Tale of the Embalming of My Glasses, or The Tale of the Lamest Game of Charades Ever than, say, my thoughts on How the Hangman Lost His Heart (and, for the record — it’s pretty swell).

An Announcement . . .

clock1.jpgThe last post I wrote was over a week or two ago, right?  To my shock and horror, I found that someone had left a comment on it recently, which means people are still actually reading this blog.  Augh.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE that people are still reading this blog.  The problem is — if people read it, then the pressure to write the thing is all the greater.  And with three kids under the age of six in my house, that becomes a problem.  I have, maybe, twenty minutes a day in which to spend online.  Maybe.  Things aren’t helped by the fact that the seven-month-old has taken it into his little head to stop sleeping in the wee sma’s.  Blogging takes a backseat pretty quickly whenever there’s an opportunity to grab a nap.

So: the Big Announcement is that I’m only going to be posting on weekends anymore.  (Heh.  I made that decision a week ago, and didn’t have the chance to post about it then.)  Which, as I figure, is about as frequently as people look in on this blog, anyway.

Come back in a week, and I’ll have some Sparkly New Content for you all.



mary-had-a-little-lamb.jpgBad news: the childhood home of Sarah Josepha Hale was burnt down by a pair of idiots over the weekend. Because some people apparently have a thing against lil’ lambies and Thanksgiving.

Sarah Josepha Hale is best known as the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” — one of the few well-known nursery rhymes that have a traceable author — but she was also one of those 19th-century Superwomen who still consistently put me In Awe.

  • She was the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book — THE women’s magazine of 19th-century America — for forty years. (Imagine taking Vogue, Good Housekeeping and Popular Mechanics and rolling them into one publication. And then making it the only periodical available to most women of the rural U.S.)
  • She spent DECADES involved in a letter-writing/lobbying campaign to get Thanksgiving declared a national holiday.
  • AND . . . she had five children. Five!

There’s also a little something about the creation of the Bunker Hill Monument being attributed to her, but whatever. Superwoman.

I confess, when I first learned about her life in my children’s lit. history course in library school, Hale immediately became one of my personal historical role-models. She gave us a song that all children can satirize on the playground with glee (“. . . and then she had a little more”) AND made it acceptable to have an entire holiday which revolves around gorging and sleeping.

For further reading: Check out Laurie Halse Anderson’s Thank You, Sarah: the Womanthank-you-sarah.jpg Who Saved Thanksgiving from your local library and give it a whirl. The nutty illustration of the sad football player is worth the price of admission alone.

I just discovered the delightful blog Vintage Kid’s Books My Kid Loves (again, thanks to Esme Codell) and fallen head-over-heels in love with it.  Brief, enthusastic reviews of picture books found at yard sales, thrift shops, and anywhere else fun old tales lurk are accompanied by small, well-chosen samples of illustration.  Like so:


Best of all?  “Scribbler” has already included a review of The Crows of Pearblossom, the infamous Aldous Huxley/Barbara Cooney collaboration that justly earns the title of “the freakiest kid’s book of all time.”

Ooooooh. It’s only February, and I already know what I want for Christmas:


“Yeah,” you may say. “I’ve seen tabletop theaters before.” Take a closer gander:


Those are tiny little marionettes! With spiffy little 3D pop-up scenery! You can do your own rendition of the “Lonely Herdsman” from The Sound of Music! Also:


It does shadow puppets, too. A feature after my own heart. Pretty, although a bit pricey.

Learn more here. Thanks to Planet Esme for the info.

groundhog.jpgAs a Pittsburgher, Groundhog Day is something of a Big Deal — admittedly, not a tremendously big deal — something on a scale between President’s Day and a Steelers Super Bowl win. We’re the closest major city to Punxutawney, the home of Groundhog Phil, who is the designated rodent for predicting the weather via shadow. (Yes, I know you probably knew that. But there are many who don’t. My father once spent a Feb. 2nd on an airplane next to a British gent. Said gent listened to my father’s explanation of the day and seriously thought he was getting his leg pulled. If you really need to know All the Facts, go to groundhog.org, where you can find interesting tidbits such as the fact that Phil was, until the reign of King Philip, once known simply as “Br’er Groundhog.” Huh.)

I meant to pull together a full Baker’s Dozen booklist of the best Groundhog Day books, but to tell the truth, there really aren’t that many worth getting excited about. My library system buys every single Groundhog Day-related book it can get its paws on, and Lo, many are lame. There’s one that actually called — I kid you not — “Andrew McGroundhog and His Shady Shadow.”  (Can a shadow be anything besides shady?  The word makes it sound as if the shadow was up to dodgy dealings in some dark alley.)  But here’s what is worth taking a gander at:


Note: A common theme I’ve noticed with these books is that the plot usually goes like this: Joe Groundhog is about to predict the weather.  An Obstacle prevents him from doing this.  Joe racks brain, overcomes Obstacle via Clever Solution, does/doesn’t see shadow and Life is Good.  I understand that there’s only so much a person can do with this nutty wannabe holiday, but really.  The repetition made me a little jaded at the end of writing this booklist, and I’m only annotating five books.

Substitute Groundhog by Pat Miller —   In this case, the groundhog is sick and must interview other animals to take his place for the Big Day.  But I’m not complaining in this case — the text is funny and interesting enough to get a roomful of preschoolers to engage in some creative thinking about what animal they would choose for the job.

Gregory’s Shadow by Don Freeman — This title was published posthumously by Freeman’s estate, and as a result, the illustrations look a little sketchy and unfinished, but I don’t mind.  He who gave the world Corduroy can do little wrong, in my opinion.  In this sweet story, Gregory’s best friend and confidante is his shadow, but when Greg accidentally leaves his shadow on a friend’s doorstep, it disappears.  How will Gregory do his weather forecast without it?  There’s a sweet solution, but the what’s appealing to me is the whole notion that a shadow can be lost — as I child, I encountered this idea in Peter Pan and Jack Kent’s The Biggest Shadow in the Zoo.  Chances are, your kids will think it interesting, too.

Go to Sleep, Groundhog! by Judy Cox, illus. Paul Meisel — Hibernation takes a holiday — three of them, in fact — when Groundhog decides to wake up earlier than Feb. 2nd and experiences Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas for the first time.  Fearing that he will be too tired to predict the weather (see what I mean by this pattern?) various holiday characters — Santa, a witch, etc. — take turns tucking groundhog back in.  Meisel’s acrylics are colorful, bold, and full of fun details — who wouldn’t want to be sung lullabyes by a Thanksgiving turkey?

The Secret of the First One Up by Lois Hiskey, illus. Renee Graef — the story gets cuteseyfied in this book, and by that, I mean that the illustrations feature a groundhog sporting a waistcoat and bow tie.  Which I think is pretty wonderful.  All groundhogs should, by law, be required to wear bow ties.  But, anyway, in this story, a young groundhog discovers why her Uncle Wilbur is always the first to rise on Groundhog’s Day (I, uh, won’t give away the obvious reason why).  But it’s neat to see the Groundhog Ur-Story done over as a passing-of-the-torch kind of family tradition.  Besides, most little kids I know wake up at the crack o’ dawn anyway, and this book does a good job at capturing that bit of magic at being the first one up and about in the house.

Punxutawney Phyllis by Susanna Leonard Hill, illus. Jeffrey Ebbeler — Phyllis wants to predict the weather — BUT — her family won’t let her because she’s a girl.  When she decides to take up the job anyway, she proves to be superior to her Uncle Phil (the current official forecaster) and proves that Girls Can Too.  Okay, okay — I do seem a little jaded with this book.  But you read the note at the beginning, right?  The redeeming part of this book are Ebbeler’s illustrations.  Oh, how I loves them cute groundhog clothes.  They really are adorable lil’ cuddly animals.

Here’s what’s great about today: I found out from Educating Alice that dwarves in Sweden have been hiding inside of suitcases in order to steal from tourists.  Eoin Colfer’s referenced as a . . . what?  An authority on fictional criminal dwarves?  The hey?

Also, I discovered that there is such a thing in the world as Gummi Lights:


Thanks to Children’s Illustration for that.

But here’s what’s bad about today: I discovered the horrid collection of recipes that the Girl Scouts of America created to use with their cookies.  You know, I’ve no problems with such things as the Thin Mint Brownies or the Tagalongs Shake (although why anyone would want to consume Thin Mints in any fashion other than scarfing them from the box as fast as possible eludes me).  But “Do-Si-Do Peanut Thai Chicken” and “Samoas Sweet Potatoes” — that’s where I draw the line.

Actually, I drew the line way, way behind the sweet potatoes.  Shudder.

. . . and by “Potter” I am of course referring to Beatrix, not . . . you know.

I thought it would be nice to dig up some Potter-themed videos to kick off the Potter Project (more books coming soon, I mean it!). Here’s an interesting little segment about the Royal Opera House ballet production of the “Tales of Beatrix Potter.” If you’re able to dig up the old VHS release of this production, I highly recommend you do so:

This is from the GO-ORGEOUS animated series of the books. Love that theme music:

And in case you’re still confused as to what this Peter Rabbit business is about, this should fill you in pretty well: