Thursday, November 20, 2014

art class with still life

Our friend Molly is an artist. Not only a born-with-scads-of-talent kind of artist, but a bona fide educated artist, with degrees and everything.  She also loves working with children and misses being the 24/7 homeschooling mama since she took on full-time teaching at the university, and we are greatly benefitting from her impulse to offer art to our kids!  This week they were drawing.

They started out learning about the tools - which pencils to use to get each effect, which eraser works best for what.  And smudge sticks.  "I've wondered what to do with those!" Now we know.

Molly talked them through the proportions of a face, and gave some tips on doing a quick sketch of the person across from them.  The kids were so squirrely and restless and it quickly got goofy.  Next she suggested she set up a still life, hoping, I think, for a bit more focus.  It's so much easier to draw a plant than the face of the person who is staring at you!

The kids - ages six through twelve - were silent for a good 20 minutes. Silent and intent on their drawings.

Ani's bowl
Noah's still life
Ani loves this class.  When we're out in the world and she sees art, she exclaims, "We could do that in Molly's class! I bet Molly knows how to do that!"  She was so inspired that on the way home she told me that she would be looking at kitchen implements totally differently now, and that maybe she would be drawing them.  A couple of days later she set up her own still life, making sure there was ample shadow to work with. She was very happy with it, particularly with the shape she arrived at with the vase.

Another post for November! 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Maybe probably

There is some seriously old stuff in Israel.  When I traveled there with my family in 1987, the visits to churches and historical or biblical sites seemed boring and endless - rocks, rocks, more rocks, too many people in large buses,  My excuse for this irreverent remembrance is that I was seventeen and much more interested in the present and the future - and frankly, myself - than in anything that happened forever ago.

Before I left on my trip, Dan and I had lunch at a Jordanian restaurant uptown, a joint that serves good falafel and shwarma.  The owner strolled up to us towards the end of our meal and said he'd just made some tea flavored with cardamom and sage, and would we care for a cup? We pushed aside our plastic baskets with the remains of our falafel and fries to make room for china tea cups and a small tray holding sugar and spoons.  We told our host where I was headed, and his response was to exclaim, "Why God does this? Why does everything have to happen in such a small place? Everything important in one place? Why not Mohammed in Argentina, Jesus in Alaska? It makes things so difficult.  So difficult and so beautiful."

It does make things so difficult. And it is also what makes "the holy lands" so interesting.  Our extremely knowledgeable driver, George, liked to point out all the ways in which the Jews, Muslims and Christians are "cousins" - the ritual bathing, the prayers, the holy sites themselves, the ancient stories.  He also prompted our personal tour guide, Bonnie, about all the places where "maybe probably" stories from the Bible occurred.  "Here is where maybe probably Jesus spoke to the fishermen."  We saw places where Jesus maybeprobably walked, preached, lived...What astounded me was not so much that it might have been Jesus maybeprobably doing those things, but that we could visit places where people of a time much farther ago than the first century BC walked, sat and lived their lives. Not maybeprobably, but definitely. Israel is a dry country of stone, and though stone can be covered by sand and dirt, it does not deteriorate very quickly, and so much of what was still is!


In Jericho we visited Tell es-Sultan - where one city has been built upon another city has been built upon another city - and the earliest area to be excavated had walls of what is thought to be a neolithic home.  Walls. I could imagine someone sitting and resting against those walls, in out of the blazing sun, 10,000 years ago. Living their human lives in the oldest city in the world.

When we traveled to the north end of the Sea of Galilee we visited a place where a new hotel was to be built.  Before any construction begins, the site must be preliminarily excavated to a certain extent to make sure nothing awesome is being destroyed in the process, and by awesome I mean Really Old. In this instance, the would-be hoteliers discovered a first-century synagogue, and a market place, and a ritual bath called a mikvah that is believed to be the ancient city of Magdala, on the shores of Galilee.  Magdala, as in Mary of Magdalene.

We had an impromptu tour of the site by one of the volunteers working on the site (you too can travel there and take part in the excavation!) who explained the particular significance of the carvings uncovered in the synagogue, but what caught my imagination were the baths.  When they were discovered and excavated, there was a moment when stones were removed that held back the mountain spring that originally filled the bath.  With the stones gone, the water flowed again, filling the baths.  Seeing the steps descending into the water, I was moved to imagine the mothers and grandmothers using those steps, performing their cleansing.  Living their lives.

The Sea of Galilee is replete with maybeprobablies.  At Tabgha there is the church of the multiplication, where the famous story of the loaves and the fishes is to have taken place.  There is a church called Peter's Primacy where Jesus called Peter to lead the church.  There is a beautiful church and convent on the Mount of the Beatitudes...

Tabgha - mosaic on the floor of the church
Peter's Primacy
 At the church of Peter's Primacy we were able to step into the lake, which was cool on our hottest day so far.  We waded past a large group of rambunctious teenagers, and paused to watch a feisty  Franciscan monk shoo a young woman in a bikini from the water.  She somehow missed all of the signs about modesty in a holy place...

We got to talking to this group of young people, and found out that they were Palestinians from the Diyar school in Bethlehem, "out" from behind the wall on a day pass for the holy week!  One sixteen year old we spoke with said that it was the first time she was out of the West Bank in 10 years.

   "It does not make sense that I should need permission, a pass, to come to my home, but I have the attitude of have joy with your day, live for today."

What a total pleasure it was to watch these kids be kids, splashing each other and enjoying their moment of freedom.

We ended this day up on the Mount of Beatitudes, which gave us a beautiful if hazy view of the lake.

Galilee, with view of Tabgha and Capernaum on the lakeshore

By this time I was more interested in the lizards playing in the garden and the brilliant metallic-blue hummingbirds in the trees than I was in fighting my way into another church full of pilgrims.

fellow weary travellers

The peaceful garden was the perfect balance to the pace of the day.

And I was clearly more interested in the human ironies of our surroundings than I was in the artifacts. But one more maybeprobably to share today.  This night we spent on the shore of the lake at Nof Ginosar kibbutz, which houses a museum that has a first century wooden boat!  The boat surfaced from the muddy bottom of the lake during a drought year, and was carefully preserved.  It is made of 16 different kinds of wood, probably salvaged from many other boats, and is from a time when Jesus maybeprobably was looking for fishers of men...

My pictures of this are all so very fuzzy, but, like those steps in Madgala, this ancient boat caught my imagination, and the maybeprobablies became a little more real.

I have posted several reflections on our trip to Palestine and Israel.  You can see them on the page titled Stories of Palestine.

I am posting every day in November.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

baby steps

I am wanting to write a post about what we're doing, learning-wise, with resources and such, but it is feeling daunting, and so is just not going to happen today.  I am feeling the early darkness and my shifting hormones and it has me out of sorts.

I've had a phrase spinning in my head for the last couple of days, that I heard during a talk on stress at the herbal conference.  I didn't remember it exactly, and I'm laughing because when I googled it I got a bazillion different variations, but the gist of it is Take one step towards God and God will take ten steps towards you. You can imagine what came up in my search: it was two steps, ten thousand steps, even ninety-nine steps.  Whatever. The idea is that when you make a commitment to open to the divine, through connection to and care of yourself, the earth, and the people around you, the response is strong.  

The teacher leading the class emphasized baby steps towards unwinding stress.  Most are obvious: get more sleep, get quality sleep, get some exercise, learn to say no.  Pay attention to your nutrition: eat nutrient-rich foods, eat organic, non-GMO foods, learn to manage your blood-sugar levels.  Find your de-stressors: meditation, yoga, emotional support from the people around you.  Actually, looking at the list makes me feel a little anxious about managing my stress, so let's move on.

I woke up ridiculously early this morning, feeling worry filling my belly, tingling in my chest, making my eyes tear.  This happens, and I'm assured that it's normal to wake up in the night, that it's my age, that it's a part of menopause, but it never feels normal or ok.  There are always thoughts accompanying the feelings, though they aren't always clear or quick to surface.  This morning it was about, oh, something small - like my children's education.  My mind wandered through the bubbles of doubt and worry - do I have enough perspective to know how my kids are doing? Will I know when they need more? Should I be pushing them in some direction?  Are they happy and learning with joy? None of my deep beliefs about how kids learn seemed to matter in this moment, it was all Worry.  And then we entered dangerous territory: comparison.  I found myself recalling conversations with my beautiful niece, who is such a brilliant sparkle and loves loves loves her school.  She is really fortunate to attend an unusual school that gets it about as right as any school can, and she will be able to stay there through eighth grade, which is amazing.  Ah, now I'm seeing a bit of what might have been happening for me.  Eliza, as you might know, has been attending one class a day at the local middle school.  For nine weeks it was art, and she loved it.  She loved the teacher, she loved the room, she enjoyed the projects.  She was not crazy about her table-mates, but she made the best of it.  At the midterm, art ended and health class started.  She makes her health teacher sound Lucille-Ball-funny, but last week she told me she hates it.  I assumed it was because it is boring to her - they've spent three weeks on bullying and naming feelings (which I was impressed by!), and now they're studying nutrition, reading labels. She said it wasn't so much that.  It's the feeling of the building.  The attitude that she feels in the halls.  A meanness.  And - it's the blasted lights! The horrible florescents! Art class is in the nicest room in the building, with huge skylights and high ceilings.  Health class is back to reality.

So my mind wandered to having better options for my girl.  I don't think school, this school, is a great place for her, but I want her to feel supported and have options.  I want her to feel challenged and engaged and have as many friends as she needs to feel a part of the world.  So I put that all on me - I lay there trying to figure out how the hell I could be Lucy's private school with its well-read, creative teachers, beautiful rooms and scads of dear friends for my girl.  You can guess where this got me.

Inhale, exhale.

There is a thriving co-counseling community here and I've been learning a little about it since summer.  Saturday I gathered with women who have trained in this method of peer-counseling, and at the end of our time the woman who was leading for the day said something that did not resonate with me at the time but rose to the surface this morning as I lay there in bed:  You are good.  You. Are. Good. 

It felt like an honoring of the struggling times and the fact that even when things aren't looking so pretty or I even fall flat on my face again, I am worthy of love and kindness.  Even from myself. Yow.

When I got out of bed I could feel that thought lingering with me.  I decided to put aside the worries about school and take inventory on the baby steps I've been taking towards meeting the divine.  They are small - sleeping when I need to, really listening to my body to know I'm eating food that is good for me,  listening to music that takes me to that zone, singing, reading, holding stones, getting out in the cold, meeting with friends and co-counseling - but I wonder if collectively they can start to shift things.  

Still writing a post every day. Still November. Thank you for reading. I'd like to say all of the posts are well-thought-out, but sometimes it's a bit of a wander...

Monday, November 17, 2014

snow and poetry



by Eliza

The pitter patter on my umbrella turns to needles, thundering down,
Like an archer shooting them from high, high up, higher than understanding.
The arrows melt as they touch the ground, the needles suddenly turn to pitter patter
And then stop altogether.
I look out from under my umbrella.
As if the archer is teasing me,
The sleet comes down again, catching my face.
The archer switches to different arrows,
This time cupid's soft arrows that bring love and joy
To anyone they touch.

A guest post from my lovely daughter...

Sunday, November 16, 2014


I am packing. I can't pack without a story.
My ipod is malfunktioning. Sort of.
might be the name of my new band)

Ani would rather tell a story than write it down.  I haven't quite determined why, but I imagine it's because the process slows down the lightning speed of the thoughts.  And writing letters? Geez, what is one to say? I mean, it's all pleasantries and what if you just can't think of what to write? (If you've ever received a letter from Ani, treasure it.)  But when I have my worried nights - which I do every few months - I finally come around to the fact that she is more than capable of communicating her thoughts and needs in written form, when necessary.  And, as with the last photo above, she can also funnel off her frustration through her pen, which goodness knows is how I got through high school.

We work some writing into our weeks in multiple ways.  She loves learning cursive and often asks me to show her a few more letters so she can write more words.  She'll write a recipe up on the window when she wants to double it and needs a place to work it out.  The new favorite writing practice is making lists.  They often sound like poetry.  In fact, this list has the word "ellipsis" written above it, making me think it could be the title of this poem.

If roads were rivers...
If chickens had sails...
If birds were teapots...
If sweet potatoes were submarines...
If salt was treasure...
If napkins were flying fish...
If squash wore skates...
If fruit flies had kazoos...
If lasagna was president...
If potatoes wore glasses...
If sandwiches wrote poetry...
If lakes were full of butter...
If cameras were kiwi...
If lemons sang opera...
If toast swam laps...
If raisins wore pants...
If beans were motors...

Another post for November! 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

annual leaf drawings

Eliza, 2010
Ani, 2010
Ani, 2012
Ani, 2014
Ani, 2014
Ani, 2014

Almost annual.  Like growing handprints, they track their interest and style in leaf drawings.  Ani was determined to know the names, looking them up in our new tree guide.  We were talking about Latin today and how we can find Latin in the roots of many words in English, and Ani quipped, you can find latin in the roots of plants too...roots of plants, get it? Acer saccharum, Fagus grandifolia...Mwah ha, a botany-language joke, I love it.

Still November, still writing...

Friday, November 14, 2014

a short story about balloons and the facts of life

We live within walking distance of Dan's work, which is why we are still in our Green Acres rental after six years of living here.  When he forgets something he needs, it is an easy drive-by on our way to the library, or better yet, an excuse to get out for a walk in the middle of the day.  Such was the case one day this last spring, when the girls and I found ourselves on a walk uptown to drop something off. The girls were excited to show me the "short-cut", ducking down an alley behind the parking garage, winding past a few parking spaces and dumpsters to a walled-in courtyard behind the theater building. It was a typical trash-strewn alley in a college town, and I should mention that the "uptown" is also basically the middle of campus.  It is the night-time stomping ground of all of the undergraduate peacocks and peahens on the make, stumbling their way from dorm to tavern to tavern. This might help you understand my reaction when Ani, who was holding my hand, suddenly exclaimed, "Oooh! Balloons!"

Wait for it...

Are you with me? I immediately began to tug at her hand, because of course she had stopped.  Ani, though a quickly-growing nine, still has her focus on the ground, constantly scoping for treasure.  Her hand is often slipping into my pocket to deposit stones, seeds, and other pretties. So my mind sped along to the logical conclusion, and I panicked.  "Don't touch those!" Tug, tug, tug.  She reluctantly came with me, but wanted to know WHY? Why shouldn't she touch those balloons?

I try for full disclosure about these things, often waiting for them to come up naturally. But when they do, I go for it, figuring we'll have these conversations many times before they actually start to make any sense.  So I launched into a breathless, "Well, when a man and a woman want to have sex but don't want to make a baby or share diseases, they use this rubbery thing called a condom to catch the sperm, and it looks a whole lot like a balloon that hasn't been blown up, and when it is used, not in its package, it is dirty and you really don't want to be touching it. Kind of like you don't want to be picking up someone else's snotty tissue."  

(How did I do? I mean, on the fly and being in the alley and all?) 

There is silence. Dead silence. Deep thinking kind of silence. Somehow it is all such big news that she miraculously seems to miss the obvious question of WHY human beings would be having sex in an alley, even though I somehow prolonged the conversation with a throw-away, "Hmph. I applaud them for being responsible and having safe sex. But really, don't they care about the earth?"

We make our delivery, and head back through the alley, and Ani stops in her tracks, again gazing at the ground.  I catch up to her in time to hear her say, "Really? That's what these are for?" and I look down at my feet and see twenty or so tiny smurf-blue waterballoons scattered on the bricks.  

I can't get anything out, I'm laughing so hard.  Little and blue. And that, my friends, is the kind of information I've been giving my kids about the facts of life.

Yay! Another post for November!