Friday, September 13, 2013

This Week in Education…

I’ve just finished my second week of Kindergarten with SugarPlum (5). It’s quite the adventure. I’m recording our book lists and some of the games and activities we’ve enjoyed at Classical Explorations. The content and style is quite different from what I usually write here so I’ve opted to post on a separate blog. Every week or two I will compile the posts from Classical Explorations into a single post which I’ll put up here. I hope you take a peek at a post or two. The ideas certainly aren’t just for people who use Classical Conversations as their core curriculum or even just for homeschoolers. Never let a good book list go to waste.
blogger-image-557985143 An almost comprehensive list of library books I’m using for our study of ecology.
IMG_3014 Our super fun active geography review game.
Every week a group of 8 4-6 year olds join us for a morning of learning through games, art, activities, and play. This is what we’re doing next week.
Original image from
closet I’ve had it. I’m breaking dustbunny hearts.
blogger-image--1135310145 A list of the core books I’ve picked out for our first week of school.
blogger-image--1981265361 Modern Slate. I love this erasable whiteboard. It’s cheap and environmentally friendly.

Friday, August 16, 2013

All About Owls

Mini-Man turned one last week. We celebrated with loads of crazy owls. So many people commented on how cute it turned out that I thought I would share my inspiration for the theme.

The balloon owls were inspired by the owl party decorations at Pinning with a Purpose. I was going to hang them from the ceiling too, but I ran out of time. There were owls galore anyway and nobody missed them.

The balloon owls may not have been hanging from the ceiling, but they inspired a whole tree. The trunk is cut from a roll of craft paper. The oak leaves were printed onto card stock from this template at I printed out a couple on copy paper and arranged them so that I could fit two on each sheet and then photocopied it onto green card stock. The lighter colored leaves are from the same template but reduced in size so that four leaves fit on one page of cardstock. If I did this again, I would definitely use a non-lobed leaf template.

The owl sandwiches, pretzel branches, and grape foliage were inspired by this post over at fleeting thing. We also had turkey and cheese sandwiches with cucumbers and black olives for eyes but I didn't get a picture of those.

The flock of owl cupcakes were modeled on this picture on Pinterest. We removed the tops of double stuffed oreos and then pressed m&ms into the filling for the eyes. You can't really split the filling so I put all of those lonely tops into a ziploc bag. I'll have chocolate cookie crumbs for a cheesecake crust later.  The beak is a whole cashew.  I used the Barefoot Contessa's Chocolate Ganache Cupcake recipe. It's so easy. Press the oreos into the ganache as soon as you dip the cupcakes and they will adhere to the top. No mess. No fuss. Just don't bake the cupcakes as long as the recipe says. I did 25 minutes but I would recommend starting at 22 or 23.

The picture which inspired these little gift bags used doilies for the owls' tummies but none of the kids seemed to care that my version was rather slap and dash: strips of colored copy paper adhered to a paper bag with a loop of tape. 

Maybe this will give you some ideas for an owl party of your own. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

When Good Enough Is Perfect

On Memorial Day, it took me until six o'clock to realize that while mini-me might appreciate fun decorations and a cookout with friends, she didn't really want a photo-shoot worthy spread. She didn't need one. I didn't need one. What she needed, what she wanted was me, me to just stop and be, not me rushing around trying to create some idyllic staged meal with chic decorations. Not me doing nothing because I couldn't pull off perfection.

At the time she was obsessed with picnics. She had one with the neighbor boy every single day. So I told her to go ahead, and she lugged the old jean quilt out onto the deck all by herself. I stirred some barbecue sauce into leftover pork, set out bread, washed some strawberries. Voila! A picnic. 

It really was that easy. The next part was not. I bit my tongue. I didn't apologize because I hadn't made the deviled eggs I'd promised earlier, or because we didn't have potato chips, or fancy napkins, or friends. 

Mini-man pulled out his own slice of bread, ate half of it, lost the other half in crumbs, crawled through them to reach the strawberries. He was so determined that I gave in and gave him a taste. He ate two. The juice ran down his chin. Pale pink circles grew gradually larger as the juice seeped into his overalls. Mini-me made her own sandwich without spilling so much as a drop of sauce. The air was filled with smiles and little triumphs.

What makes good enough not good enough is apologizing for it--apologizing that it is not something else, that you are not something else, refusing to revel in the beautiful imperfect moment.

Revel. Good enough is perfect 
when we allow it to be. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013


If I introduced myself as a juggler, I apologize. I dream of being a juggler, sometimes for a few glorious moments I believe that I am a juggler, but I am not a juggler. I spend a lot more time on my knees groping through dustbunnies searching for dropped balls than I do keeping them perpetually arcing through the air in a glorious circuit. 

Every week or two I find myself clutching one last ball in disbelief. It's always rather hard to face up to your throbbing toe and missing balls when you envision yourself keeping at least a dozen flaming chainsaws (I mean, why stop at torches?) in the air all at once. When you're a Mom and you get down to one ball that means people get food and clothes and that's it. When you're down to one ball you can't even guarantee that the floor is clean. 

There is a part of me that really wishes I was ball-size. I could just roll right after them into the odd corner, make friends with the dustbunnies, and never have to come out, never drop anything on my toes, never be left red-faced from embarrassment and exertion staring at the world clutching my one ball. 

I watch other women juggle. Some of them are truly amazing. Very few of them successfully juggle the things I dream of juggling, but then I usually don't take laws like physics and gravity into account in my dreams. Many of them (most even?) are quite a bit better at it than I am. 

I'm not really concerned with what they juggle though, or if they're better. I'm just trying to figure out what exactly I ought to be picking back up (since physics and gravity do exist) and exactly what rhythm I have to hit to keep everything in the air. I tend to pick up too many things. Like facebook, and twitter, and then "Bam!" splat goes the blog. 

It's getting easier to figure out which balls need to be picked back up (like sketching), when I can toss in another one (Hello! Is this an actual blog post?), and which ones need to be left to make friends with the dust bunnies. I've gotten so good at retrieving the things I drop that the dust bunnies actually had to move elsewhere. 

I don't write for the people who can keep a dozen chainsaws in the air all at once, I write for the people who, like me, drop their three little measly colored coded balls on their toes. I write to let them that know that there is no shame in goose eggs and bandaged toes. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Creative Every Day: Eight

Blink. The little man sat up in a high chair tonight, sipped from a straw for the first time, and ate miso soup (well the broth and tofu anyway). He's growing up too fast.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Creative Every Day: Six

I missed sketching yesterday, so I made today's sketch a little more detailed.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Creative Every Day: Five


One of my regrets from my time at Hollins is dropping Jennifer Anderson's class in figure drawing. I realize now that the experience would have been worth any grade above a "D," but at the time I was so tangled up in perfectionism that I didn't see how I could complete the daily drawing and all of the larger projects. I may have saved my GPA from losing the coveted summa cum laude, but I lost an extraordinary opportunity to learn an immense amount about drawing the figure from life. So now I am left to muddle through on my own. I have to admit that the embossed letters on my diploma have not been of particular help. One skill I did master in in my pursuit of that Latin phrase is the art of the library search. It is capable of solving most problems. I exaggerate only slightly. A lot of the art books in the RVL catalogues are fluff and not particularly helpful, but there are a few gems.

One book that I have started to study and that I think will be very helpful is Master Class in Figure Drawing, lectures by Robert Beverly Hale compiled and edited by Terence Coyle. Coyle writes in his preface ,"Beginners see detail first. Consequently, their structure usually falls apart from the start" (11). If I had been in a revival meeting, I could not have been more pierced through with conviction. This is what I do. I am not confident of being able to capture the whole figure or scene so I start with a tiny part. It is easier to convince myself that I am capable of getting the eye or the hand right than it is to convince myself that I can accurately sketch the entire figure. So I start with the eye. Then I add the ear. Each is only a little off. But somehow they do not seem to belong to each other.

"Experienced artists," Coyle asserts, "see masses--big, simple, abstract elements which they first arrange on their paper or canvas--and then may proceed to more detail, which is incorporated into the dominant abstract design" (11). So this is what I am trying to do. It is hard. Not just the doing of it, but the showing of it to others. When one starts with the larger shapes. It is glaringly obvious when one does not know what one is doing, when one cannot comprehend the relationship between parts of the whole. So the sketches may grow worse for a while. But I think in the long run, this approach is a good plan.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Creative Everyday Challenge: 2

Yes, I sat down and sketched stuff I probably should have been putting into a box. It feels a little luxurious to take five minutes solely for myself.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Creative Every Day

This month I'll be participating in the Creative Every Day challenge. The theme for this month is black and white. Since I've already been sketching in graphite this year and posting on twitter under  #SketchTheMess, it seemed like a perfect tie in. I missed the first two days, but I'm not worrying about that. For the rest of the month I'll be posting my sketches here, not just on twitter as usual. I hope some of you will join in as well.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Year of the Platypus

This is not the year of the snake. This is the year of the platypus. I made this discovery while doing a little mental blogging, which is, of course, when you compose things so brilliant while changing diapers, washing dishes, and scrubbing floors that you are sure you'll never forget them. Only you do. You forget them before the next meal. They get lost among the dirty clothes, and the stacks of storybook,s and the perpetually muddy boots. Fortunately  they usually leave a little trail of ideas and words and phrases behind themselves like literary Hansels and Gretels. Unfortunately, life seems to be populated by bird like things that gobble them up while your back is turned. If you are lucky enough to find one crumb, you just might be able to arduously follow it to the next, and so on and, after a lot of convoluted wandering, end up remembering what it was that you wanted to say. Generally though, the certainly brilliant way you were going to say it has vanished entirely. Perhaps it gets sucked down the drain with dishwater.

Sometimes you do find the crumbs. I submit this blog post as evidence. I was going about my day trying to find a way to introduce an interesting TEDtalk by Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring. If you're a writer, an artist, or a lover of art, you'll probably find it worth watching Chevalier confesses that she cruises museums stopping only to look at things that speak to her. I concur and approach them in similar fashion. Life is entirely too short to stare at art that doesn't reach back and touch your soul. That is where we part ways. I do not get bored in art museums. There was a time in my life, I think, when I primarily approached them as she does, looking for a story within the image, but not since I discovered the magic that is painting with oils. Now, I am a docent's worst nightmare. Leaning over the rope, as close to the painting as possible without actually touching it, as if to inhale creative genius by proximity, I try to comprehend the individual strokes, the perfectly mixed color, the composition of it all. Perhaps that will help you understand what struck me as the perfect introduction to Chevalier's talk: "I am not a writer, but.." It seemed so perfect, until I comprehended  with horror its meaning: that maybe deep down I wasn't really what I was claiming to be, maybe I was constructing a writing facade with nothing behind it but a desire to paint and draw.

I am a bit of a platypus, I suppose. The platypus is probably entirely happy with itself. It doesn't realize that it looks like an incongruent amalgamation of dissimilar animals: beaver, duck, reptile, snake, bear. It is just itself, and itself is a wonderful thing which is perfectly suited to everything it does. Sometimes, I feel about myself the way I feel about the platypus (not the way I imagine the platypus feels about itself). I have so many interests. Writing  drawing, and painting are only the beginning of the list. I also love cooking, interior design, gardening, architecture, history, anthropology. The list goes on actually. It is hard sometimes to see how all of the parts will fit together, or even to know which ones to pursue or keep.

I discovered a gem of a book this week. Since it's a New York Times Bestseller, it seems that I'm the only one who didn't know it existed. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon is like a concentrated tangible compilation of all the amorphous things I absorbed about making art and being an artist in Hollins' art classes, plus a few more. He writes, "If I'd waited to know who I was or what I was about before I started 'being creative, ' well, I'd still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it's in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are" (27). Maybe I won't end up being a writer. Maybe I'll end up being an artist. Maybe I'll be an artist who writes instead of a writer who draws. Who knows. I'll never find out if I don't explore them all. Sometimes making it as a creative seems to be all about branding and laying claim to a very narrow niche, so it was refreshing to hear a successful writer say, "If you have two or three real passions, don't feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don't discard. Keep all your passions in your life" (68). All of them are integral to who I am. All of them are expressions of me. I'll never figure out which ones are hobbies and which ones might earn me bread and butter if I  curate before I explore. If I learned anything this week, it's that it's okay, in fact it might even be good, to be a platypus.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

at least the diapers aren't frozen

I borrowed The Irrational Season by Madeleine L'Engle as a treat solely for myself. It's not about being a better anything and it doesn't have pictures. Not that I don't like books with pictures; I adore books with pictures. I'm just not usually choosing them for myself. The daydream attached to this particular book as I picked it up at the library featured me snuggled down into the glider, foot moving rhythmically out of habit, baby at my breast, his little body warm and sleepy, light from the reading lamp falling over my shoulder. I might as well have imaged a hot cup of tea able to hover in mid-air where I could actually reach it without distracting the little guy.

Baby has decided that pretty much everything is more interesting than eating (unless Mommy makes him wait until he is very hungry). If it rustles and Mom is trying to read it, it needs to be inspected and preferably chewed on (if that can be managed). Did I mention the glider is also in the room where my daughter sleeps? So I found myself sitting criss-cross applesauce (because apparently we can't call it sitting Indian style anymore) in the middle of my bed, with the baby more or less slurping down his late night snack, trying to surreptitiously use a pillow to prop open my book. Just when it looked like I might make some progress on the first chapter, he started doing the windmill thing with his free arm and I found myself staring at chapter ten instead. I didn't dare move, so I started reading, and that was serendipitous.

Let me digress for a moment. Last night as I was trudging around the outside house to the basement in my bathrobe, leaving crisp sneaker prints in the snow, and feeling like my hair was going to freeze to my head (because of course I wouldn't be lovable scatterbrained me, if I had remembered to start the diapers before getting a shower), I remembered L'Engle confessing on that very page:
There was, for me, nothing idyllic about struggling to raise our children, trying to keep house in drafty old Crosswicks where the washing machine--once I had graduated from doing the laundry in the bathtub and had a washing machine--froze during the winter months at least twice a week, usually full of diapers; and we were never warm around the edges. (180)
The world was not so difficult after all. My washing machine does not freeze. It's in the basement which stays relatively warm. I don't have to wash diapers. I choose to because it's something I want to do. I don't even have to fold them, or use pins. Diapers have come a long way since I helped my mother change, wash, and fold. We stay pretty warm too, even around the edges, especially when my husband isn't home to turn down the thermostat. I'm not sure what my excuses are for not writing and making art.

L'Engle continues:
There was nothing idyllic in the violent conflict between Madeleine, wife and mother, and Madeleine, writer. I struggled to write under the worst possible conditions, after the children were in bed--that force field of concentration would have been a dangerous idea while they were awake and active. Like most young mothers I was constantly tired. 
I love L'Engle. She is honest--honest about pain, struggle, and imperfection just as she is honest about joy and triumph. And so I keep returning to her work, even though I don't always reach the same conclusions. So often it reaches me right where I am. Sometimes it illuminates where I want to be.

Added to fatigue was struggling to cope with failure, which looked as though it would have no end. I was trying to develop as a writer, but I received from editors nothing but a long stream of rejection slips, mostly the impersonal printed ones, although I had already had several books published, and with moderate success. (180)

This is where I want to be next year. No, not the several published books part. Okay, I do want that but it's about as likely to happen within the next year as my dream trips to the Alhambra or Angkor Wat. I'm not known for being a realist but I do deign to acknowledge what is actually possible once in a while. What I am after are those horribly impersonal rejection slips.

I gave up piano lessons (which I adored) when I was in college the first time because  Dad was afraid I would make a "B" in one of my classes. Later I went to Hollins determined to graduate at the top of my class. I didn't believe in failing at anything. All my life I had avoided everything I thought I might not be great at because I didn't want to disappoint anyone. Yeah, I hadn't done a whole lot. My definition of failing: anything less than an "A." I'm glad I had an advisor who changed that, who encouraged me to take on more than I could possibly do perfectly, who didn't think less of me when I failed, who helped me see that there is as much value in reaching for something great with every fiber of my being, as in actually being able to grasp it.

So this year I am reaching. For the first time since I was a little girl there is a story that seems to exist outside of myself. Not something that I am trying to manufacture but something that I am desperately chasing. It keeps rounding corners and I can only catch glimpses of it. It's a children's story and all of the illustrations keep coming first. Everyone knows that you don't submit your own drawings with a children's manuscript, but I suppose I'll have to drag them out of my head and into a sketchbook anyway, if I ever want to find the words that go with them. This year I can finally chase my dreams, my stories, my art, because this year I am not afraid to fall flat on my face. In fact, I want to. I'll learn something. No matter how difficult writing and drawing seems, at least I can revel in the fact that at my house the diapers don't freeze.