31 March 2008

simply still, day one :: "shooting up"

This week Jen, over at Beebee Mod, is hosting a week of still-life photos (thanks, Diane, for reminding me).

Come on and join in!

30 March 2008

turning to the dark side

Last night was the self-monitored Earth Hour blackout. The hope was to connect the world as a community about global warming by asking everyone to switch off power to non-essential devices for one hour--8 pm to 9 pm (your local time).

What a prize opportunity, especially in the larger cities where light pollution overpowers even the brightest of stars, to take binoculars and telescopes outside for a little family time under the stars.

One hour to honor the Earth, each other, and ourselves.

28 March 2008

holistic teaching

Even though there are moments when, as a teacher, I may want "calgone" to whisk me away in a speedboat or for "scotty {to} beam me up", the time with students in the classroom is short and precious. An average school day of instructional time is between five and six hours and an average number of days a child is in school for the school year is 185 days (that's out of a total of 365 days in a year, folks). Yes, a very short time indeed.

Hefty responsibilities are laid on the shoulders of schools--well, really, who am I kidding...of teachers--and it seems each year there is a greater focus on cognitive skills and left brain activities. Somewhere along the way, legislators have forgotten a few key items.

Humans are dynamic creatures, not static robots. One of the building blocks/corner stones of schools in this country was to create/train future factory workers. Standing in lines, sitting in rows, responding to bells--training for the future as a worker. We still need to know these skills. It helps keep society from complete chaos. Our society has moved far beyond just needing "factory workers" though. We need people who are not only educated in language, logic, and sequences, but who are also educated in creativity, empathy, and social intelligence. The current "winds" of education are focusing the curriculum and teaching methods with all business and no sense of playfulness. They don't permit the inner child of the teacher or the student to "play at work". Competency is what students are tested on each year. If we, as teachers, could also be allowed time to teach imagination and creativity we would have students who are not merely competent, but remarkable.

The pendulum of education is slow to change. I have been asking myself as an educator what is possible to work into any current classroom system of learning. Something that all educators, at home as well as in classrooms, can accomplish. Something which may seem small and insignificant at first but can have a rippling effect. I do know that the "extra" lesson plans I create and "slip" into the classroom make a difference. I have witnessed it--it's powerful and empowering. I have been lucky enough to have an administration backing my goals. But I was thinking of little things students, teachers, and parents could do to cultivate caring, empathy, creativity, and joy internally, for themselves and others.

Over the past few days, I have read or come across three different sites on the internet that have inspired me.

Every Sunday one of my personal joys is to read the Post Secret blog. For some reason it grounds me, reminds me to put things into perspective, that we are not alone in our secrets and thoughts.

Andrea, an educator in Oregon, was inspired by Keri Smith's book to leave paper fortunes around her town for random strangers to find. She has a wonderful and motivating blog entry about her excellent adventures in this project.

I came across a service training video (so sorry I don't remember where I first linked to it) in my flitting around the internet like a bee in a field of flowers. I don't know if it was a dip in hormones or just thinking about how to create an internal blooming of compassion in students, but this video was brilliant.

So, my rough, big idea is to have students make similar positive statements, fortunes, sayings, but a bit more artistic and colorful (maybe paint a bit of wet-on-wet first), and leave them in desks (student's, teacher's, principal's, parent's), books in the classroom library, on lunch trays, to clerks or waitresses--you get the idea. Maybe a field trip out of it to another school or nursing home... Of course, my lesson will be much more complex and detailed, with environmental issues of littering and appropriate words/phrases to be used. Giving honor to and deepening the experience by journaling will be wonderful. Of course a classroom debriefing/sharing in a circle on the floor is the ultimate culmination.

I'm off to start writing this idea into a solid plan.

{Added 30 March 2008: Judy Lee and Shawn Liu over at "five and a half" --the moniker of both their fabulous blog as well as design studio-- have created a jar of wisdom, containing bits of wisdom, wishes, and fortunes. Oh, do go check it out!}

{Added 02 April 2008: Rosa Murillo is a gifted artist who started "Found Art Tuesdays", yet another form of guerrilla art, spreading good will through leaving small pieces of art for others to find. Rosa's journal can be found here. I encourage you to visit her inspiring sites.}

26 March 2008

wayside market and grill

I drove by this store on my way to a friend's work (she's crazy in a wild got-to-always-be-teaching kind of way so is teaching over spring break). It's a good thing the speed limit was twenty five miles per hour or I would have caused a serious accident gawking at the sign. This is obviously in a rural area (live bait and tackle), and seems to be covering all the basic needs of the community. I wonder...are the bars on the windows to keep the live bait in (just being curious in a snarky way).

I asked if we were going to lunch there, and my friend gave me a look. You know that look: eye brows up, eyes popping, white, ashen face.

No, we didn't eat lunch there.

25 March 2008

awakening the palate from a long winter's nap

This time of year is perfect for eating outside. Pleasant temperatures of 60's and 70's (F). Blue skies with wisps of clouds. Very few mosquitoes (so far). Bird songs galore.

It always inspires me to use more fresh herbs and create lighter dishes.

Dinner last night: Thai-inspired chicken, asparagus, basil, cauliflower, and cashews in a fish-lime sauce. Fresh strawberries and pineapple as a palate cleanser/dessert.

Breakfast this morning: Vegetable soup with cilantro and lime (my usual stand-by for this meal), toast, and coffee.

19 March 2008

the winter passes

Just as there is a sense of reassurance for a child, laying against a parent's chest, to hear and feel the steady breathing and heartbeat, so there is a sense of comfort in celebrations of nature and her rhythmic movements. Tonight (10:48 pm PDT) marks another beginning, another essential shift in light versus darkness, one of only two times a year when there is an "equal" balance of daylight and nighttime. For those folks who look out their windows seeing piles and miles of snow, cheer up. Spring is officially "open for business".

17 March 2008

top 'o the morn'in

There's a bit of a chill this morning but I'm greeting the morning with hot coffee, fresh-baked banana bread topped with cream cheese and strawberries--yes, of course al fresco (in the fresh air).

This isn't the banana bread your mama used to bake. This is super moist and low in fat. I don't remember where it originated from, but I have changed the original recipe several times over the years, looking for a healthier bread. This recipe makes one wee loaf (6-inch by 3-inch by 2-inch loaf pan). If you want more, by all means double, triple the recipe, but I will say from experience that you will still need to use the wee loaf pans. There will be a good deal of very brown and crispy crust all around by the time the center is set if "regular-sized" loaf pans are used (which would be sad). Muffin shapes work well too, but the miniature pans are so very endearing and the perfect size for kids to share.

Wee Banana Bread

1/4 cup unbleached flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar (Splenda can be used as a substitute)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
dash of salt (less than 1/8 teaspoon)
1/4 cup fat free sour cream
1/4 cup mashed ripe banana
1 teaspoon vegetable oil (I use olive oil)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg white

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Sift the first six (dry) ingredients into a medium bowl (sifting ensures the baking powder, baking soda, and salt are not clumped and are evenly distributed). Combine sour cream and next four ingredients in a small bowl--stir well. Add "wet" ingredients to "dry" mixture. Stir just until moist.
  • Pour batter into 6- x 3- x 2-inch loaf pan. (Depending on your pans, you may need to rub a very little bit of oil in them to keep the bread from sticking.)
  • Bake for 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
  • Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan, and let cool on a wire rack.

What a fine way to welcome the day 'o green.

14 March 2008

an irrational day

I so look forward to Pi Day each year. My collection of activities continues to grow, linking all the areas of learning for students (and sometimes other teachers--why is it that so many teachers are afraid of math?--sigh).

There are two videos/songs which are fantastic to use in stirring up excitement in students.

A little language with a palindrome: "I prefer pi."

And a limerick:
If inside a circle a line
Hits the center and goes spine to spine
And the line's length is "d"
the circumference will be
d times 3.14159

At home, since we are teacher and engineer, of course we celebrated Pi Day in style. Homemade pizza and fresh cherry pie with cinnamon.

What a great day it is, for we also celebrate Albert Einstein's birthday today!

12 March 2008

11 March 2008

the time's they are a changing

The season of spring has sprung here in the California valley. Her whispered promises, barely louder than a dream's breath during the cold grip of winter, are gaining strength as witnessed by the lengthening tendrils of daylight each day. The longer minutes of daylight trigger transformations in nature for both flora and fauna. These changes are what we look forward to each spring. Here, I share a few of my favorite spring happenings.

  • Birds are returning, their songs marking a rekindling of courtships and setting up house. Nesting "stash" is disappearing from the bundle I have hanging in a tree. Somewhere there are embellished nests lined with assorted strands of fine wool and alpaca as well as natural cotton batting.
  • White and pink clouds seem to surround trees and bushes as the blossoms explode in pollination competition. Planted by the city in long linear lines, they brighten up streets like a flowered runway for cars.
  • The sight of buds foreshadowing new growth are expanding, swelling, popping open with tender, shiny new leaves. The oak, having bravely held onto its long-spent leaves of last year, will soon begin shedding them, turning the tree from brown to green. The ground, cleaned of fallen leaves months before, will again be blanketed with the crisp brown leaves.
  • Windows are being washed of the dust, grime, and gloom of winter, allowing the warm rays of sun to come inside. On especially nice days, windows are opened to blow out the staleness of winter, replacing the fragrances of winter with sweetness of lemon and jasmine blossoms.
  • Taking our meals outside. Morning coffee, a light cloud of steam rising above the rim of the cup as the still-cool air meets the heated liquid, with a breakfast of toast and fresh strawberries. The back warmed by the first rays of the sun. Evening conversation with dinner. Fresh salad greens from the garden dotted with beets, jicama slivers, kidney beans, oranges slices, crumbled aged cheese, and balsamic vinegar are good partners with something on the barbecue.
  • The smell of rosemary in the fur of the cat after he's been on "guerrilla maneuvers", hiding and blending into the environment watching the birds, causes me to give him an extra hug.
  • The slightly musty smell of the soil being turned for planting, as well as the sighting of worms, points to a promising growing season.
  • Flannel sheets, wonderful on the dark, colder nights, holding in heat, wrapping one in a soft cocoon, are tucked away in the back of the closet. Preferring a lighter touch in the warm months, cotton sheets, which provide a cool smooth surface, are given front-of-the-closet status. I like to stretch out on these cotton sheets, experiencing the contrast of the crisp chill against my warm hand or leg.
  • Priority status for clothes are also visited. Wool and alpaca sweaters are replaced with light cotton t-shirts and three-quarter-sleeved shirts, long pants with capris, shoes with sandals.
  • The last trimester of school has begun. I like to spend a little time reflecting on the changes of the students over the last seven months. There is marked growth--they are taller, wiser, more confident--which we celebrate in the classroom.

10 March 2008

the power of art

The words "recession" and "tight budget" are becoming everyday topics of conversation, especially with teachers and school districts. I'm not sure how much more some schools can cut, having seen so much disappear already (art, music, physical education, many basic supplies).

Linda Crawford, author of "Lively Learning", states there are six reasons for integrating the arts into the daily curriculum of schools (teacher-talk directly ahead for a short bit, but I have watered it down a smidgen for you--just bear with me):

  • the arts make the heart or core of the curriculum more accessible through different modes of learning (visual--seeing, auditory--hearing, kinesthetic--movement)
  • the arts rekindle that feel of delight, wonder, and surprise in learning
  • the arts give children a way to understand and connect personally with the subjects being taught, as well as allowing them to express their feelings and thoughts
  • the arts support students in recognizing and grasping abstract concepts (my personal favorite is movement with mathematics)
  • the arts stir up and awaken higher levels of cognitive brain activities (Benjamin Bloom identifies these as: analysis--compare, contrast, identify; synthesis--explains, creates, summarizes; evaluation--concludes, describes, evaluates)
  • the arts creates and sustains a sense of community (in the classroom, in the neighborhood, in the country, in the world), as well as cultivates collaboration skills (group work on large projects)
I look forward to the annual Arts Resource Faire for teachers, hosted by the College of Education at CSUS, the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, and Rudolf Steiner College. It refreshes and activates the right side of my brain, making it "exercise" by building neurons and connecting with the left side. This event comes in the spring, just when the pressure of mandated regulations seem at their most challenging, offering teachers a reminder of light, color, and dimension in learning. I work hard at finding creative ways to work a pinch and a dash of art into my lesson plans, while still meeting the crushing demands of the state and federal government. Try this exercise. Can you access both your left and right? Which is dominate?

I've included a few photos of art work from kindergarden through sixth grade that were on display at the ARF, in order of grade level. Some of them are stunning.

The premier part of the day, the goal of the day, is being able to learn a new aspect of art by taking workshops, discovering new ways to incorporate art into the curriculum (with budget of zero or darn near close to it), and walking away with small completed projects (if possible). Several I have done (differently) in the past in the classroom myself, but I am always on the hunt for new variants. Below are a few of the "take-homes" I produced, as well as scaled-down, watered-down lessons.

Tin man (really aluminum man, but "tin" has a nicer sound). I love the texture and bend-ability of this guy. He's made out of one solid sheet of 12 inch by 18 inch aluminum foil--no body parts will fall off. He can be used instead of the fancy, expensive articulated wooden body to learn about the human body's proportions and to draw poses.

A self-portrait, drawn without looking at the paper and never lifting the pencil. Feel like you might want to cheat and look? Take a piece of paper, poke your pencil through the middle/center (keeping the pencil in the hole), and lay the paper on your hand like a blanket while holding the pencil for drawing. Or have someone else draw you (using this "blind"), facing you, while you sit still.

Not lifting the pencil becomes important when using the drawing to create, with floral wire, a sculpture of the face. Starting with where the pencil first began (and starting with only about a yard/meter of wire because more than that is difficult and dangerous to work with), bend it, connecting it at crossings, attaching more wire as needed, until you have...well, yourself. I have added it to my inspiration wall above my desk.

Calligraphy is quality writing with a rhythm and regularity to the letters--painting with graceful letters.

Oh, the extended possibilities are endless in my mind.

09 March 2008

beer, sweat, and a near-miss with a nail gun

First on the scene of weekend duties was the nail gun. Who knew that nail guns could be dangerous {snort with one raised eyebrow}. It was "just" a near-miss to the finger with a negligible nick, but it still counts, right? Stop your gasping...it wasn't me. My DH, aka the engineer-work-horse, constructed a frame for a concrete footing and poured concrete this weekend.

Then came the amber-colored liquid and sweat. Did you know it takes more than a six-pack to move (many times between purchasing and pouring), mix, pour, and finish 48 - 60 pound bags of concrete?

One step closer to having the front "yard" becoming eye-catching instead of an eye-sore. Our neighbors have so much patience. In addition, we have a seven-year-old budding-engineer neighbor who bombarded him with questions and observations several times during the day. Contrary to what you might think, he throughly enjoyed nourishing her quest of knowledge.

06 March 2008

what am i doing?

I am easily affected by words. They can be magical, enveloping the reader in another time, awarding the reader a chance to experience the senses through a written communiqué and one's own imagination. Knowing this about me, you must understand a thesaurus is one of my favorite books to rummage through. I have three of them on my reference shelf: two are fair enough to use but not edited as well as I would like (and I just don't care for the fonts particularly); one has been previously moistened by a leaking water bottle (accidents happen) but this is by far my favorite issue and publisher, thus has been well used, with dog-eared corners and clear packing tape holding it together. Have you ever watched in horror as a paperback swells up to double its original size? It's not a pretty sight. Yet, this edition continues to work well for me and I am opposed to giving it up.

This discourse is not about words alone, but also photographs. Snapshots, taken by both amateur and professional, stop time for a split second, filling the mind with images of texture, shadow, and color. For some, a picture can be like a siren's call to the viewer, conjuring up stories and history.

If, as is sometimes the case in blog-land, there is a memorable fusion of both words and image, it can have consequences beyond the receiver's command. Such was my situation last week when my senses took a holiday while reading the bewitching words "Moroccan Days--Arabian Nights" and gazing at the sparkle of wee beads artfully knitted in splendid lacework.

Things to stock up on in the next week:

  • a big bottle of Motrin
  • a very teeny tiny crochet hook
  • a magnetic chart keeper/holder
  • beads: 5000, size 8
Why, you ask? Within the next week I will receive a package from Kim at The Woolen Rabbit. I partially blame Susan for designing a stunning lace wrap named "Moroccan Days/ Arabian Nights", Cass for giving her readers (like me) such powerful words as "swoon", and Ravelry for being so organized (of course there's a KAL). I can't be responsible. It's not my fault I am weak for words and shiny, pretty objects.

What am I doing? Breathe. Thirty inches wide and ninety inches long (it seems smaller when the numbers are written out as words) of lace and beads--5000 small beads. Breathe.

I'm regarding--ok, I'm ogling at--the photo again. Oh, so pretty. May the jinneyeh of the stories in "One Thousand and One Nights" guide me as I embark on my own journey of knitting what looks to me much like a magical carpet. Oh, what a ride it will be!

**These photos are from Flickr and Susan. I can only hope my final photos are as wonderful.

05 March 2008


Winter's roar persists at the door of many as March gets underway. Rather than the rasping of a scraper removing frost on wind shields early in the morning, the crunch of slush-turned-to-ice underfoot as one tenderly finds a safe pathway, small cloud banks of breath momentarily suspended in time, or the stinging bite of below-freezing air on exposed skin, I am finding my first days of March filled with the drone of lawnmowers, the lively a cappella voices of courting birds, the snapping of flip-flops on heels as one walks down the sidewalk, and the earthy smells of decomposing straw with steer manure freshly mixed in gardens, all promising an awakening of spring.

As I am enjoying this delightful change of seasons, planting my garden, humming Disney's "Song of the South" (yes, I'm a dork), several small, fast-moving objects flew past my head, hitting the fence and side of the house with a sharp crack. My first thought was the combination of a pesky neighborhood child and tiny rocks (it happens--physics with gravity and flight are sometimes too tempting to leave unexplored), but then I noticed a rather large, rusty-cinnamon colored seed on the ground. Ah, yes, 'tis the season for the wisteria seed pods (five to nine inches in length) held over from late last year, now drying in the warm air, to twist into hard curls causing an explosion of seeds that can soar over thirty feet from the plant. Mother nature's violent side of propagation.