hand work

Got home from Tennessee travels late Friday night -- shout outs to my good friend Scot Smith, his colleagues, and all 7th graders who are working on a truly amazing Countdown project at Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge.

You'll be hearing more about this as we catalogue and archive and write up this project. How do we teach Countdown in the classroom? How does it reach into every corner of the new, national, Common Core standards? Stay tuned.

Thank yous as well to Jo Wilson and her team at Eaton Elementary in Lenoir City for an amazing hour with 3rd and 4th graders who have read the Aurora County trilogy and Freedom Summer, and to all teachers and students at Grandview School in Jonesborough, Tennessee, for a memorable teacher workshop day and another day with students in grades PRE-K through EIGHT. Whatta stretch. And it was good.
 Got my hair cut yesterday. Talked with Vincent about working with our hands. I talk about this a lot lately. It's part of what I'm trying to put into words in my new novel, book two of the sixties trilogy, and into a new project I'm cooking up. Again, stay tuned. :>
I made a commitment this year to work more with my hands. I talk about it all the time in schools. I preach about it, actually, about how we have to use our notebooks (Totally paperless classrooms? Aiiieeeee! At our peril!), and keep teaching handwriting and cursive and drawing and doodling and pasting and cutting and taping and knitting and cooking and gardening and sweeping and painting...
I finished Abby's Tiramisu late yesterday afternoon. (Ravelry notes here.) As I wove the ribbon through the border spaces and watched the whole thing come together, finally, I was filled with the delight of "I made this! With my own two hands! And it's beautiful!" I love that feeling. The beauty lies in the process, in the effort, and also in the finishing.

It's like that with writing as well. I've been teaching lots of teachers this spring, and that's what we've been working with -- process, effort, finishing. This is the investment.
Today I'm making this soup. I'm cooking the rice now -- the whole house smells earthy on this cool spring morning. I'll chop the onion and zest the lemons and leave out the mint, and soon we'll have a lovely soup and bread for our midday meal, before I drive to Valdosta this afternoon... to work with teachers again on Monday.

When I return, I'll go back to the project I started last week: moving my office back into its rightful place -- in the living/dining room of this old house -- and making the bedroom a bedroom instead of my office. I tried it for a year. It didn't work. And I don't need a dining room the way I need a large office space.

In preparing to move all this furniture once again, I washed by hand, in hot soapy water, every glass in the red hutch. I felt the ridges and admired the patterns and selected out the chipped ones -- what to do with them? Most are heirlooms, many are my mother's. My mother, who did so much hand work.
 Hand work. I'm thinking a lot about it, as I fashion this new writer's life, in this new writing year. I made a decision at Thanksgiving, and now, six months later, I'm revisiting my progress. I'll have more to share with you about how I'm changing my writing life, as soon as I have adequate words.
 I'm trying on those decisions, and it feels good.


  1. Yes to hand work. Mine tends to be cooking and some fix-it projects.

    Good point about paper classrooms. "Progress is a comfortable disease." -- e.e. cummings

  2. What a beautiful and fitting post on a cool, Sunday morning (at least, where I'm at!). I love doing "projects". I love making things and being creative. With two kiddos I don't feel like I do it quite as much as I used to and I miss it. My oldest is getting into the stage where he likes to string beads and paint so I'm hoping we'll be able to do more together. I have a crochet blanket I need to finish for him myself. Thanks for the reminder and the nudge and sharing your hand work!

  3. I was at a conference last year where a speaker orated about the paperless classrooms and I cringed... I can't do without my physical notebook -- so much scrawling and doodling goes into it. I'm heavily influenced (lately, anyway) by this essay -- have you seen it?...

    Still loving your blog. Thanks for writing.

  4. My Nana's hands were always busy, but my mother's...well, they weren't. So much is revealed through our handiwork, isn't it, or *sigh* the lack of same.

    That tiramisu is darling & the soup sounds delicious...can't wait to hear what you're working on next!

  5. Hey, Melodye and Mrs. Vincent... I'll bet you do more hand work than you realize. I'm thinking a lot about what "hand work" really means, especially in this electronic age. There is some sort of calming effect, some sort of brain/mind-hand connection. I don't think we get it through keyboarding, say, the way we get it through holding a pencil in our hands and making it form the shapes we will it to make. But that's just for starters...

  6. Deborah~ I've been thinking about hand-work myself, for the reasons you've cited here, among others. My aha moments led me back to creative journaling (mixed media), horseback riding, and playing the tambourine! These activities invite a lot of tactile involvement, teach me more about what it means to be "in touch," and all that implies. :)

  7. Yep. That's how it works... all that purposeful, tactile stuff. I want more of it in my life, and want to think about it mindfully. Loved your blog post about the Dalai Lama...

  8. I love this Deborah! I'm totally a hands-on person. So was my mom and my grandmothers... love to keep those hands busy.

    The paperless classroom scares me. I preach journaling to all ages. I've got over 5,400 pages in my journals now- they are more like scrapbooks... not just writing, but also doodling, drawing, pasting things in there, too.

    Okay, think I'll go work on that crochet tunic on a very wet, cold Sunday in the San Juan islands. (at my cabin.) A fire in the woodstove in May, who would have thought that was necessary?

  9. Oh, Deborah... you have hit on it: my hands on-do it-experimental self just jumped out at and absorbed everything you said. Yours is true creativity on all levels
    and comes naturally to you. You speak of change. This is a good revelation, a tribute to your consciousness and sensitivity. Go with that, my friend. There is something there & not quite known yet. Other elements will have the opportunity to fill in the unknown places for you. Love the journey & the doing! ~Mary Hamilton

  10. I'd love to spend some time crocheting in front of the fire in your cabin on your island, Nina. Bliss.

  11. Mary, I wish I could play any musical instrument the way you do. Talk about hand work. I've got my hands on a dehydrator, though, and I want a flax cracker tutorial this summer, when I'm good and home! xoxo

  12. I've been reading Countdown over the weekend and enjoying it so much. I feel like I'm getting to know my mother better, since she grew up in the 6os and has vivid memories of being scared Russia was going to attack. She was able to visit Russia the first time about a decade ago, and the family she visited gave her a painting right off the wall of their house, saying, "See? We're just people, like you." That painting hangs in her house now.

    I love getting to know Franny.

    Your handwork is beautiful as well! I will come back and visit your blog -- it's an inspiring place for writers and lovers of art!

  13. Love your exquisite photographs and keeping up with your journey.

  14. Wow, Heather... thanks for the story about your mom and the Russians and the painting! Fantastic. And thanks for the kind words about Countdown.

    Jennifer -- I'm keeping up with you and ReadWriteThink as well! Still love the Countdown podcast we did together. I'm in awe of your talent. xox

  15. What a lovely post. It helped ground me on my first day home after two weeks of travels that included the NESCBWI Conference.

    I've had the same issue with chipped special glasses. I use them as vases, or rooting containers for plants, or to collect small things (buttons, change, and the like) on shelves.

  16. Doing "hand work" is something I don't do often enough...I have a scarf that I am knitting for my daughter and it should be done by now. I'm often surprised by how many friends in my age group (mid 30s) don't cook and bake and do other projects, but I'm also excited when I hear of friends that do knit and sew and bake and finish cabinets, etc. Thanks for your comforting thoughts.

  17. Hello!
    I just came across your blog I'm a handwork teacher! Using the work of rudolf steiner I teach children how to knit , sew , crochet and woodwork. Will developed intelligence is a great book to look into as well as the hand by frank wilson. Also the school I attend is called Fiber craft studio. lots of love and keep the handwork up its good for the brain!

  18. Hey, mamacurl. I'm writing a blog entry today that refers to this entry, which is how I came upon your comment -- don't know how it escaped me last September. Thanks for the book recommendation -- and the love. :> Love right back. Debbie Wiles

    Heather -- it's good to hear from mid-30s readers. I think there's a trend back toward doing handwork and simplifying, but who knows... we see what we want to see, perhaps. Still, I'm glad you're part of my trend. :> xo


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