{heads up, homeschoolers!}

The first week of January is over! Yippee!

No, I’m not ecstatic ’cause we’re that much closer to Valentine’s — please. I intend to be all ironic and hipster and wear head-to-toe black that day like I always do. No, I’m happy that the first week of January has passed because so far I’ve gotten done all that I want to do.

Okay, not all exactly. I’m still doing one last go-round on my MG novel, and I fell asleep in the middle of that — SO not a good sign — but almost all, okay??

The one thing I got done this week was something I intended to do, but didn’t get around to until being given a bit of a swift kick by a homeschooling mom in Detroit. So, Mrs. Ribbron, this one’s for you.

Behold, the Homeschool Teacher’s Unit on Mare’s War!

While this idea sheet is intended merely a springboard for your own ideas, I hope it gives you something to go on, so you’ll both enjoy the novel as a story, and as a chance to think more deeply. Thanks to Adrienne Furness, librarian and homeschool advocate, for helping me be coherent about where I was going with this. And thanks, too, to Lissa Wiley and Karen Edmisten, who gave the sheet a once over and the Homeschooling Educator/Awesome Writerly Moms Seal of Approval.

No, really. It's that seal.

Man, that seal looks happy. It must meansomething good is going to happen… maybe a book giveaway for homeschooling families, kicking off on 1-11-11!

Sound good? Stay tuned! Check out the Mare’s War study unit ideas, spread the word to your homeschooling peeps, and check back on TUESDAY, January 11th, for a chance to win a paperback copy of MARE’S WAR for yourself or a friend.

It’s That Time Again…

Um… eventually I will finish… something.

comix @nataliedee.com

So many people are reflecting on the past year, I suppose I should do something like that. Eventually. The thing is, I like to pretend we’re not facing the end of the year, because I’d then be able to pretend I’d gotten done what I wanted to…

For the most part, my brain doesn’t work the way most people’s do. I don’t have over-arching year-long goals like I want to write six novels this year, or something like that. My goals tend to be more the monthly/weekly/daily/twenty minutely type that are about thoughts like, “If I can just hang in there for five more seconds — !” Seat-of-my pants, off-the-cuff creativity. Much of my life-planning takes place moments in extremis.

Maybe I oughta ponder working on that

Like my friend Cynthia, I don’t make actual resolutions, but I have a List that I keep in mind. It goes something like, Well, January 3, the cookies go back in the back of the cupboard, the chocolate goes back in the freezer, and I go back to the gym. It’s more than that, of course. It’s like what you have to do every morning when you wake up — decide what you need to accomplish, and get it done.

I admire Cyn. She was involved with a lying publisher at a small press who messed her around for AGES about a gorgeous cookbook for which she did all the photographs AND for which she invented all the recipes. It was a painful and frustrating process and the publishing house was duplicitous beyond belief and SO unprofessional, but she didn’t give up — and now, Cynthia’s book is out… because she simply looked at the challenges in front of her, and took that single step which put her on the road to conquering them each.

Tomorrow morning is your morning, just as the upcoming year is yours, too. Happy New Year.

{the elves have retired}

Sugar Cookies 2010 4

…yes, you can, in fact, get sick of the smell of baking butter and sugar.

After a flurry of baking, this Elf has retired. I write to you from an Undisclosed Location, to wish you a peaceful, restful, satisfying and reflective holiday season. May you have friends and family all around when you want them to be close, and may you have a small, warm, EMPTY OF PEOPLE room full of books, gingersnaps, and hot tea when you’d like it.

Merriment to you.

{For Kenneth. And Mike. And Scooter. And Margaret.}

…and Rick. And Phil. And Kathy. And Steve. And Chris. And Jason. And Reena. And Will. And Stephanie.

— And all of my classmates who chose the military over college – and who stuck with it when it was something most of the rest of us didn’t understand, or particularly respect.

— And all of those who are stuck with it now, who really want to come home, yet understand things about loyalty and duty that I never will.

— And all the families who lost someone in the past, who are missing someone still; for those who lost spirits instead of merely bodies, for all the sacrifices and the reasons that may not never make sense:

… thank you.

{hello, darkness; my old friend}

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My November Guest

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
  Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
  She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.

  She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted grady
  Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
  The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so ryly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,

  And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
  The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
  And they are better for her praise.

by Robert Frost, 1915, from “A Boy’s Will”

I absolutely love this poem. Frost’s November guest is melancholia, and for those of us living in the far North, blue moods, gray blahs, cynicism, even depression — definitely a little something which returns each autumnal cycle. And though the time changed this weekend for us — two more weeks for you, U.S. — and has given us a last reprieve before the real dark closes in, it’s hard to get up in the dark, and hard to come home in dimness. It helps that right now it’s not raining, but nothing is proof against sorrow. Nothing cures the winter blues, except for the sun coming back. If we could get out of things like this on our own, there would never be Solstice celebrations, and Christmas would be properly celebrated in March or April. (What shepherd worth his crook watches his flocks by night in the snow? I ask you.) Instead, we find our own happiness this time of year in the north, making a meal of crumbs, and a sun from specks of stardust.

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We count our blessings. We give thanks. We hold onto what brings us joy. We string together shiny bits to reflect what little light there is, and flash ourselves Morse Code messages across the darkness: This, too, shall pass

What makes me happy today: I have found knee-high boots that I like! Shopping doesn’t normally gladden my soul — okay, four out of five times, if I have to actually shop, I do a lot of dragging myself around, whining, and shuddering from Too Many People syndrome, but I am well content to have found these (mail order, which is Cheater Shopping, but whatever) boots in not one color, but two. And thus ends my boot-shopping endeavors for at least six years.

Second happy-making thing, in this the time of our yearly sorrow: Leaves. Because of a massive cold snap in October, we have color like wow and oh my. I am obsessed with taking pictures of a tree outside my window that is doing nothing in particular. It’s not even one of the best ones, but when the sun shines on these cold mornings, it just glows.

(You should know that approximately twenty-five minutes after I took these pictures, it was overcast, and two hours later it was pouring. The weather here truly does change on a golfer’s backswing.)

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The third good joy: Pumpkin. As previously whined on this blog, hard squashes are not New World foods, so the UK does not know from pumpkin, except in specialty shops where they sell it for a £ a pound, and my does the price just soar. However! Much like with Google, you can find nearly ANYTHING on Amazon! Amazon UK has unearthed some dusty cans of Libby’s from somewhere in a warehouse probably in South Africa (!) and is sending them out to me. And I am gladdened with the thought of pumpkin bread.

And fourthly, candy canes! – another not UK thing. I have not purchased any as no matter how many lights are up here, it is not yet that season, but I know now that I could. Amazon again. I never buy books there, but random imported food? Yes, yes.

The fourth joy of this season, and really, any season is, of course, books. Cybils reading is trucking along; I have nine books on order that I have finally been able to beg, borrow, and steal from other libraries in the city. Recently I read — in a book that I didn’t particularly enjoy — a rather funny statement. The character’s mother believed that “any book was a Good Book,” and thus any building that protected books was a sacred place.

Libraries as sacred. (And from that point of view, what a variety of strange gods libraries shelter.) A point to ponder.

Those are my joys, this particular moment; feeling my way through the season of darkness, I know my questing hands will find others.

What about you?

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{sister moon}

Woodlands Road 89

I’d go out of my mind, but for you.

When I was a kid, I read a rather sentimental book called Never Miss a Sunset. I can’t remember what it was about exactly, so this tells you how life-changing the whole experience was for me, but what I do remember is that it was a pioneer tale of some sort (of which I read many, many, many) and Pa (there’s always a Pa, except if you’re a Boxcar child, and then there’s not) wanted the family to gather and make sure and see the sunset — no matter how much work or worry piled on. And so, the title of the book, at least, has stuck with me. And the concept is good.

In Scotland, we never miss a moonrise. We look out and see if there’s visible sky, and proceed from there. We’ve photographed every full moon we’ve been able to see here, which is maybe four in three years. (It could be that the fog clears or the rain stops after we’re asleep and we’re missing photo ops, but, well, one has to sleep…) The city has so much ambient lighting that we never think we’ll get a good shot — and then we do.

This hour, I’m awake, while most of my friends and family are asleep. But it’s the same moon. The only moon. So, we’re closer than we think.

{lucid dreaming}

I love having smart friends. One of my newest is Dr. Lee McClain, author and professor at Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania. She invited me to address her MFA class yesterday – which was a privilege and an honor for me.

They were fun. They were hilarious. They were brilliant and did not mind my use of the nonword “geekitude.” They also got that I named Octavia in Mare’s War after author, Octavia Butler, of blessed memory. How much do I love people who figure out my silent tributes?

It was lovely, but Lee’s class was an evening class in Pennsylvania… which meant it was a verrrry earrrrrrly morning class for me at Greenwich Mean – along the lines of 2 a.m…

…which means I am sitting here… staring. Everything is a moving picture or a dream, a thought that is at the edge of my consciousness, not coming through. I am waiting for my brain to catch up with my fingers… and it’s not happening.

So, let’s look at pretty pictures instead of writing right now, shall we?

Fruit Scones

Been baking a bit lately. Apparently these scones were “gorgeous,” which is high praise from a Scot. Did you know that scones aren’t English at all, but Scottish and Irish? I had no idea.

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Last night we had our first hard frost, and I suspect this rose is no longer this lovely, but day before yesterday, it was gorgeous. In the little classroom garden by the Gaelic school, sunflowers and red poppies are still growing. Sunflowers. In Glasgow. I salute those kids’ faith that the sun will come out… eventually. Maybe they grew them as a science experiment? Hypothesis: Sunflowers will actually grow without the presence of sun…

Most of you by now know that the Vatican has determined, for reasons best left to television producers and lots of watching Simpson’s reruns, that Bart Simpson is a Catholic.

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Glasgow’s done him one better. Glasgow declares that he speaks Gaelic. From my non-existent grasp of Scots Gaelic, I believe this says the ubiquitous, “Don’t have a cow, man.”

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This city is FULL OF BAD PUNS. Of course, that shop is next door to a pub called Fanny Trollope’s. Which isn’t a pun, but which sounds as if it’s the punch line in a ribald joke.

I am still often laughed at by cab drivers. They make remarks about me living here, rather than in “sunny California,” and I shrug. Yes. It rains here. A lot. When it isn’t freezing or sleeting or foggy. Sometimes it does all four at once, which means It Is Bad. But usually, it’s just a bit of rain, which is doable. Rain occasionally makes things unbeautiful — squalor shows itself to be yet more squalid when it is wet and squicky — but you can never truly be surrounded by ugliness when there are trees changing colors, bizarrely bright dye jobs, steampunk inspired outerwear, and train stations.

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Below is Glasgow’s Central Station. I love its sort of Art Deco light fixtures and just the overall airiness of the place. Victoria Station in London reminded me of this place, only Glasgow is even brighter. I look up every time I go there to catch a train – and count the birds which swoop in and make themselves at home there. People watching at the train station(s) is one of my favorite things — unless I’m having to run for a platform. Then I am just annoyed and trying not to run anyone over.

Glasgow Central 18

Even when I’m so tired my eyes are burning, there’s much to like in the world, including this post at Chasing Ray’s What A Girl Wants series, contributed to by a number of female authors on what made them want to scream during their teen years. Powerlessness and being ignored. Being overlooked, having secrets kept from us. Having our bodies out of control and used against us — these were a few of our least favorite things. And we raged.And we grew. And we survived. All hail the riot grrlz.. Never let rage destroy you.

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And here’s to you, moving through your days, seeking your goals and pushing past weariness to get things done. And also, here’s to taking naps when needed.

{i wouldn’t change her story}

The Problem of Fiction

by Marie Ponsot

She always writes poems. This summer
she’s starting a novel. It’s in trouble already.
The characters are easy—a girl
and her friend who is a girl
and the boy down the block with his first car,
an older boy, sixteen, who sometimes
these warm evenings leaves his house to go dancing
in dressy clothes though it’s still light out.
The girl has a brother who has lots of friends,
is good in math, and just plain good which
doesn’t help the story. The story
should have rescues & escapes in it
which means who’s the bad guy; he couldn’t be
the brother or the grandpa or the father either,
or even the boy down the block with his first car.
People in novels have to need something,
she thinks, that it takes about
two hundred pages to get.

Read the rest of this poem here. There’s biting in it.

As a girl who bit (accidentally. Oh, come on. Honest. I didn’t mean to… much) the first boy I really, really liked, this one resonates for me.

Around Glasgow 019

Don’t these girls look like they’re characters in a story? I had so many questions as I passed. I wonder what happened next.

It’s just that time of year, where I am writing like mad, and reading like mad, and trying to make it all balance out. I love taking part in the Kidlitosphere, and being part of the Cybils community is important to me, but every year I think, “Can I do this again?” and I get just the tiniest bit frantic as I try to make it all pan out. But I’m in it – and I’m reading – and I’m writing like crazy. We’ll see what happens.

Poetry Friday today is brought to you by CAKE, polka dots, and the letter three, and can be found at Liz in Ink.