Student Mandalas, Fall '07

Here are the most outstanding of the ones from my morning class. Once again, the ones I would have awarded the top honors were not those chosen by the class to receive the prizes, but I would have had a terrible time deciding on first, second and third places. So I will continue to have the students vote on this, although I will always be the one to do the grading.

Weather pundits predicted a terrible ice storm headed our way, so although all we could see were clouds that morning, all the schools (except our college) were closed. N came along with me to see my students' mandalas. She wasn't as comfortable with this group as she had been with the evening crowd, though - probably because as we walked in and they saw her, a loud "awwwww!" rose from the students, and she immediately shrank into herself. (Hard for those of you who know her to imagine, but it really did happen!)

First prize went to this '60s-style "hippie" poster (as her classmates dubbed it), primarily, I think, because it was so colorful. It's a nice piece. She did a good job of incorporating many diverse religious symbols in a cohesive manner, too.
Second place went to a poster that wowed everyone but that I didn't get a clear picture of. The student had visited a church, a synagogue and a Hindu temple and had taken gorgeous photos in each place, then mounted them all on his poster. It's always iffy trying to get a photo of photos, alas.

Third place was a tie between two of the pieces I liked very, very much. This one is a labyrinth created by embedding tiles and wire in calk. Quite nice, and no one could keep their fingers from tracing it over and over.
Below is a picture whose lines flow beautifully. I just like it. Don't you? This guy is a friend of Z's as well as a student of mine, in Z's Chinese class. Interesting fellow. Anyway, you can't really see all the strokes in the picture, but he was meticulous in his use of the marker, making all the strokes go in particular directions. You will see this if you open it in a new window, larger.
Here are a few more from the class that I found noteworthy. This one I am pretty sure was not original to the student, but taken from a website. Still, it's an interesting concept: physical and spiritual evolution.
And this outstanding painting was done by a student who either didn't do his other assignments or did them in such a slap-dash fashion that he did very poorly on them. Yet on this assignment he obviously worked very hard.
Isn't this one clever? This comes from a very quiet, but very bright student who always sat in the back. I wish he had been willing to speak up . . . .
We finished up class by watching a bit of jewlarious and mrdeity, and then when N & I went out into the cold we found ourselves in the midst of the promised ice storm. Instead of taking 12 minutes to get home, it took almost 1/2 hour. Other cars were slipping all over the place, but not ours. Perhaps because of driving very slowly? Guardian angels? At any rate, we were glad to get home.

And here is a picture of Z's tiny menorah, as well as one of N's glass menorah. Finally, now that all the menorahs are put away and we are preparing to put up our tree for Yule!

Next time I will show some photos of Z's & C's latest art.



What Children Learn in School

N has been washing her hands more lately. This is a good thing.

Not that we haven't always taught her to do this, mind you. And not that we have neglected to teach her to use soap, or to spend plenty of time scrubbing (in fact, I taught her to count to 15 slowly while sudsing). But when "nice Mrs. G. at school" tells her to do it, for some reason it carries more weight.

And now she not only washes carefully, but she sings while she washes. Two choruses of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," to be precise.

The school nurse is using this clever strategy to get the younger children to soap up long enough to kill bacteria, and I think it's great! N is enthusiastic about it, and even when she rushes through it, she can only sing the words so fast, you know? Two verses still take enough time that she does a pretty good job with that soap.

Incidentally, she's learned another interesting life lesson from one of her "specials," this one last year, actually. She explained to me very seriously last year that when she runs in gym class she is always very quiet and never yells, because "when you yell, it slows you down - my gym teacher told us that." Heh heh - talk about a smart guy! This is the man who broke her heart by retiring last year, and it's taken the new young woman almost three months to gain N's trust. N is very loyal! This new gym teacher learned the rule from N, according to N, and thought it was just dandy. I asked N if it's always quiet in gym when there is running, and she shook her head sadly. Apparently not all of the kids are as serious about running fast as she is.

Last night it was still enough that R & N managed to light our outdoor menorah. Z had already left for art class, and C had taken her; I was in bed with a migraine, so R & N went out and said the blessing and lit it, and I crawled to the window to admire it. It was lovely, especially with the snow falling. It is R's invention: large jars with candles in them (held in place by wax), sitting on our garden bench. Not easy to photograph, so here's the best I could do:
Maybe tonight R will go out & take a picture from closer up. This was taken by me from inside, which was the best I could manage, given my condition. Considering that the mitzvah is to light a menorah where everyone can see it, and our indoor ones are not by a window, we really should have this in the front yard, not the back, but I'm pretty sure (with all the vandalism lately) it would be broken. Maybe we will try it the last night.



Hanukkah at Our House - Night 1

If you click on the link above, it will take you to the latest Jewlarious Hanukkah film. I am of two minds about this film - on the one hand, having grown up Jewish in the Bible belt, I can really identify with poor Mordecai. On the other hand, the film doesn't exactly promote good relations among religions. On the third hand, why should Jews always be the understanding ones . . . . (Being Jewish, I get to have three hands/see three sides to every issue.)

What do you think?

We make a big deal about Hanukkah at our house, particularly the first and last nights, but all the nights are special. The three kids & I spent a good portion of today cleaning and preparing the house, and R came home early (though he didn't make it in time for sundown, thanks to the hour-long commute and a stop along the way to buy traps for the colony of mice . . . more on that, later). We made mountains of latkes, and when everyone was home and ready, we lit the menorahs.

We gave the kids their presents before candle-lighting this evening. N had told me last week that she felt she needed a new, bigger menorah. C has my menorah, Z has my brother Nick's menorah, and N has my brother Jason's menorah. It just so happens that C's is largest, Z's is middle-sized and N's is smallest (hey, Mom & Dad, did you do that on purpose when we were small?). N opined that now that she is bigger (7 years old), she needed a menorah befitting her size, even though her rank is unchanged.

I'd seen a lovely glass menorah made up of separate blocks that can be configured in all sorts of ways, and had planned to get it for myself, but I got it for N instead. It isn't exactly large, but being able to rearrange it constantly seemed appropriate to her personality, and she loves it. I also found a tiny one that takes birthday cake candles, and got that one for Z, who was enchanted by it and said "Ooooh, I'll take it to college with me next year!" Well, I suppose she can take it to her dorm room, but she won't be allowed to put candles in it. Ah, well.

C said he really only needs one menorah, so we gave him the latest season of "Smallville" instead, and he was really pleased with that.

Then we lit up the five menorahs (I don't put candles in my menorah any more, not since the year I discovered that it was flammable - it caught on fire!) and ate about 3/4 of the latkes (we deliberately make extras). A word about my latkes: I bake them, because I don't like fried foods. So they're weird, but they're healthy. We spent more than an hour over dinner, just enjoying each other - and with all the cooking, the dining area of the house was pretty warm!

At bedtime, I read N a new Hanukkah book: Lemony Snicket's The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story. I recommend it highly, particularly as a POINTED gift to anyone who thinks that Hanukkah is "the Jewish Christmas." N wants to take it to school tomorrow so she can see if her teacher will read it to the class.

We decided not to light our outdoor menorah this evening - it's just too windy, and I was afraid the jars would blow over & break. Perhaps tomorrow night. When we do it, I'll take a picture and post it, along with a picture of the new menorahs. They're more interesting to photograph when there are more candles in them, anyway.

News bulletin: R has come upstairs to announce that he thinks he's gotten the furnace working! Keep your fingers crossed!

Mice: last night, C & I were watching a movie when I heard a noise in the ceiling. Looking up, I saw FOUR large mice (at least, I hope they were mice - if they were rats, they were small ones) skitter across the light panel. C said, "Oh those are just the mice."

What do you mean, the mice?

"There've been mice up in the ceiling since the summer."

Why didn't you say something earlier?!?!?

"We thought you knew about them."


"Z, N & me."

When I mentioned this to Z, she said, "Oh, yes, and this morning when I opened my closet, a mouse ran out of my knitting bag. I should have guessed that would be a place mice would like - a nice, cozy nesting material!"

How long have you had mice in your closet?

"Since last Halloween. It's a problem that I never eat my Halloween or Easter candy. Should I maybe keep it in the kitchen?"

You mean, Halloween 2006?!?!?!

"You think it's getting too old?"

Well, apparently the mice don't mind.


More Student Mandalas

These are from last night's class. Another of the things I love about this assignment is that in general, the winning mandalas tend to be from students who are not the most vocal, popular or academically successful in the class. It's so satisfying to see students who are not as verbally skilled be able to demonstrate their understanding of the material in another way! Here are some of the entries from last night's class.

We talked about religion as a path; this student showed our study of religion as a path as well.
This is part of a larger picture; I liked the way she incorporated all three of the Abrahamic religions into the moon-and-star image.
This one was just plain lovely as well as clever. So I'm a sucker for gold & glitter!
I've never had a student knit one before! He asked his mother to teach him to knit and stitch specifically for this project.
I'm not supposed to have favorites, but I really love the notion of all the gods gathered chummily around the earth. I'd like note cards with this image!
This student had an interesting take on the yin/yang symbol.
My Buddhist student created this one. Not only scholarly, but subtle - his background is Christian, and I love the way he wove this into the design. (And okay, I can't help being a bit partial to one that uses Japanese text!)
This is painted with oil. Very striking!
My Hellenist student, a devotee of Athena, created this one, chockful of information. I think Athena would look upon this with favor.
Another of my favorites, this painting looks very much like a Dine sand painting. Isn't it lovely?
So, can you guess which ones were voted the winners by the class?



Students' Mandalas

Here are the first set of student mandalas. These are from my online class; the students are somewhat limited in that not all of them had scanners, and they had to turn these in halfway through the semester. Still, they did some lovely work. For example, one created a tabletop mandala:

Another student was so into the project that she made two mandalas. The first is a word mandala:
While the second used geometric shapes:
There were many other wonderful mandalas in this class. I do love this project! I have not included them on the blog, however, because they were very personal.

These designs are, of course, copyright @my students.



November's End

Arabel's Raven, by Joan Aiken, was one of those impulse choices - I saw it in the library, noted that the illustrations were by Quentin Blake, and decided N & I needed to read it. It turned out to be a real delight, and now I'm looking for the sequel, Arabel and Mortimer, for this holiday season.
Mortimer, the raven, becomes Arabel's companion through a sad accident. He quickly takes over the household and wreaks havoc in the lives of Arabel and her parents. Arabel adores Mortimer; her mother finds him exasperating; and her easygoing father reacts to Mortimer's antics with bemused calm. The improbable events already taking place in Rumbury Town become even more bizarre with the addition of this raven (N wishes me to point out that Mortimer is a good case of "perfonication" - i.e. personification), and the result was a good romp for both N and me. I recommend the book for ages 7-9 or so. (Aiken's other books, if I recall correctly, are for somewhat older readers.)

R & I have been fans of Maupin's Tales of the City since the publication of the first volume. I recently read in Neil Gaiman's blog a series of the 20 most reread books in the UK (and I was highly gratified to find Gaiman & Pratchett's Good Omens listed above the Bible - funny and ironic, if you know the subject matter). This got me thinking about which books I tend to reread, and Maupin's series falls into that category. So imagine my pleasure when Michael Tolliver Lives came out!

The title is meaningful on several levels - the first, of course, being the message to those faithful readers that yes, our beloved Michael has survived "it all." What has happened to all the other Barbary Lane friends is revealed over the course of the book, but that's not what the book is really about. It's really about Michael - and it's really about us. All the things that have happened to him have, in various ways, happened to us as well in the years since we last read about him. How life has changed him, and the insights he has gained, are the very personal love letter from Armistead Maupin to his readers. And we love him right back.



Starting from Scratch

I've been so overwhelmed by everything that I didn't even consider blogging for a while. Yesterday I spent the whole day up at the college working on the razzin-frazzin online Chinese course I'm creating. Around mid-day I raced over to N's school for her Veterans' Day concert, planning to race back to the college to work. Well, after the concert she asked if I could take her home early (this was an option offered, but I'd been sure she wouldn't want to do it). My initial reaction was panic: "NONONO, I have to WORK!" and then I thought good grief, it's Friday, N's worked all month to get ready for this lovely program, she's so proud of her performance and she wants to spend some quality time with me. So we went home and spent time together. And today I took the whole day off from work to clean the house (I'm not going NEAR that subject!) and to help Z with more college application stuff. Just now, I thought about the blog & decided to make a stab at some catching up. I can't possibly put in all the missing book reviews & art (most of it the kids', as I've had virtually no time for mandalas, alas) in one post, so here's just a bit of it.

We just had Halloween recently, one of my favorite holidays. N created this piece of origami (she has discovered the joys of Japanese paper-folding). The added face, cheeks and limbs were her own design.
Meantime, R had an eye ailment, and in order to discover the extent of the damage, the doctor dilated the pupil. Only one pupil dilated fully made for a strange, demented look - just right for the season.
He's really a nice guy, believe me!

And now to books. I just today finished reading Stella Suberman's The Jew Store. Sounds like an offensive title, but the term was used in the south in the 1920s and 1930s (probably before and after that period as well) to refer to dry goods stores run by Jewish merchants. Suberman's father owned and ran such an establishment in a small town in Tennessee for a decade; the family was the only Jewish family in the area, and this created an interesting dynamic indeed. The book is a loving tribute not only to her parents and siblings, but also to (most of) the people of the town. Far more than this, however, it is a meticulous examination of a complex social situation that could easily have been glossed over by either sentimentality or the desire to cater to political correctness, but wasn't. I was most impressed by it.

Just before this book, I read Octavia E. Butler's Fledgling: A Novel. A couple of years ago, I read her Parable of the Sower, and every so often as I drive through our housing development I get a nightmarish flash of memory from the book, so I've honestly been putting off reading Fledgling. But, darn it, for some reason I can't seem to stay away from (good) vampire books. (Parable of the Sower, by the way, has nothing to do with vampires, but I really don't want to talk about what it's about or why it creeped me out so much - it really is the scariest book I've ever read; I hated every minute of reading and yet could not put it down.) So I finally picked it up.
I'm so glad I did! I already knew what a phenomenal writer she was; Fledgling confirms this. Butler was, as far as I know, the first African American woman to make it big in the science fiction world, and her heroine in this novel, like her other protagonists, is black. Her vampires are completely different from Stoker's or, for that matter, anyone else's, and the theme of vampirism is something fun to explore while we look at what really matter: freedom, family, sexual and racial equality - those things that Butler cared about most.

I can see why she was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. I just wish she had lived to spend it.

And may I say, I am not surprised at all that she was a good friend of Neil Gaiman's.



September Chaos

I can't believe how much havoc a simple cold can wreak with one's daily life. It's been three weeks now that the whole household has been suffering from a particularly virulent head cold. R, Z, N and I have been sludging our way through each day, hanging on until we can fall into bed again at the end of it. Pretty pathetic, eh? I started on an antibiotic 5 days ago for a secondary infection; yesterday was my first really good day. Z obtained antibiotics yesterday, so she's hoping for relief in another couple of days.

And so it goes. Hence the loooong gaps twixt posts.
I only managed one mandala again this past week, but I really like it. I based it on another of Julie Keefe's designs. It was very satisfying. I must write to thank her for her Mandala Mondays, as lately I have not had the oomph to do more than color in someone else's designs.
Reading has been my salvation, and I stayed up far later than was good for me two nights in a row reading Paul Carter's memoir, Don't Tell Mum I work on the Rigs - She Thinks I'm a Piano Player in a Whorehouse. As he explains in a great video clip you can watch here, the title is a phrase from the 1960s, when working on an oil rig was even more dangerous than it is today, and the men who worked the rigs were accordingly even rougher than those he works with. Thus the notion that the piano playing job is more respectable than working on an oil rig.

I'm not sure that I'd want Paul Carter as a next-door neighbor - I certainly wouldn't want him as a steady influence in N's life (she's a plenty tough nut at age 7 as it is!) - but he's a pretty interesting guy, and his sense of humor is just twisted enough to make the book total escapist fare. He's also extremely intelligent, and I appreciate his take on the oil industry:

"To summarize my political opinions about oil, greed and the environment, both then and now:
-I firmly believe that when politicians aren't kissing babies they're stealing their lollipops.
-There is no oil in schoolchildren.
-Everyone in oil is a lying weasel . . . except me."

The book is not, however, a polemic against the oil industry. It's part memoir, part travelogue, part anthropological study, and just a rowdy, bawdy romp through the oil rig subculture, something completely new to me. From a bar-tending orangutan to a feud with a Brit-hating Frenchman, Carter's stories are all equally engaging. Carter doesn't have a particular gift for writing, but he's a good story-teller, with all that implies. He turns a nice phrase, too: my favorite is his comment about China, which was my experience in Taiwan when we lived there in the late 1980s, although it was not as true when we were there in 2000:

"The only thing I couldn't get used to in China was the gobbing. Everyone, and I mean everyone, hacks up a big ball of phlegm and spits it out on the street, every five minutes. Women, children, babies, monks, doddery old people who look like the next big gob could kill them - everyone has a good gob, all the time.
"Perhaps the answer to China's economic problems lies not in oil and gas exploration, but in utilizing its other natural resource: spit. It's a lot cheaper to find than hydrocarbons, all you have to do is set up millions of giant spittoons and find a way to convert the spit into some sort of industrial lubricant. They could spend the money on driving lessons for everyone, because when the locals aren't gobbing all over the place they are driving around like Stevie Wonder. (In China I came frighteningly close to getting flattened by anything from kids on rollerskates to rickshaws and semis, but that's possibly because I was too busy trying not to step in all the gobs.)"

Okay, so it sounds like Dave Barry guest appearing on South Park, but having BTDT, I had to admit that it was only slightly exaggerated.

Z & I have noticed that there's rather a lot of gobbing going on on our campus, actually. It's not a phenomenon restricted to one part of the world, alas.

Looking for something to follow up with, I picked up the Jo Soares novel off my shelf. Not sure whether I'd gotten it from a used book sale, or pbs, or where, but it felt like the right time to read it. What a hoot! Twelve Fingers: Biography of an Anarchist reminds me a bit of Woody Allen's movie "Zelig," in which Allen takes footage from old newsreels and cuts his hero, Zelig (played by Allen himself) into them, showing Zelig with Nixon, Woodrow Wilson and other real people. It also, however, reminded me of Lemony Snicket's author portraits, which always show Snicket walking out of the picture, or completely in shadow. The book features photographs of famous people "with" Dimitri, the 12-fingered, would-be assassin, but Dimitri is almost completely cut out of the picture so that only one arm is visible; or he has "just stepped out to obtain another bottle of wine"; or in one photo, only the legs are showing because the camera was wielded by a dwarf.
The humor is both understated and slapstick, if that makes any sense. It is a very funny book. Inspector Clouseau could not have been more of a klutz than Dimitri. I don't want to give anything away, so I will leave it at that.

Got to run - so many errands, so little gas. Oh - do click on the title of the post - it'll take you to a really good blog by someone else. But don't stop reading mine, please.



Not Nearly Enough

I just finished Peter Carey's delightful Wrong About Japan, and to my dismay, there wasn't nearly enough of it! It's a great companion to Learning to Bow, and in fact I'm having Z read both of them. I'll be interested to see which she enjoys more; I'm betting on Carey's book simply because she's such a mangaphile, but I think the style of Feiler's will appeal to her more.
Anyway, Carey's book is about his brief trip to Tokyo with his 12-year-old son. Their goal: to discover the "real" Japan - not ancient wonders, but the world of anime, manga and robots. Thanks to Z, I actually knew a lot of the people, films, books and concepts described, which was a good thing because Carey takes his subject at a dead run and there's not much time for introductions. I think a rudimentary familiarity with the subculture is helpful in reading this book; some idea of "Gundam Wing" and Hiyao Miyazaki, at the very least.

The interplay between Carey and his son is the dynamic of the book, and it is lovely. As Carey learns how wrong his assumptions about Japan are, he also learns more about his son and his son's generation. Where the otaku and the visualist fit in, not only to the Japanese world but to his son's world, start to make sense to Carey and to the reader. I am sorry that I read the book as quickly as I did; it was an extremely enjoyable experience and I wish it had lasted longer. And now I want to look up more about the cultural phenomena described therein.

R & I went this evening to a lovely interfaith dinner held by the Lehigh Dialogue Center, an organization founded by Turkish Muslims. As we waited at the door in a crowd milling around, a family introduced themselves and told us, with great amusement, that their presence had been requested because the organization had desired "a Turk at every table" in order to keep things well mixed. A chicken in every pot, a Turk at every table . . . . It was the organization's fifth annual Iftar dinner, Iftar being fast-breaking, and this being Ramadan. They invited the entire Lehigh Valley community, asking only that people RSVP, and over 300 people responded.

We sat with two women who had seen the invitation in the newspaper, and a couple from Bethlehem who belong to one of the local mosques. Our table was, alas, Turk-free, but the Hijazes were fine company despite being originally from Beirut rather than Istanbul. I took along the iPod that the IT fellow at the college had loaned me for playing around with, and tested it out - I won't do anything with the recording, as I did not ask permission to record, but I will learn to edit with it tomorrow. The purpose of that was to mess around with the iPod in order to be able to use it when I have guest speakers in my classes.

I do have a pseudo-mandala to show for this week. At Dick Blick's sale I found a medium for acrylic paint that turns it into fabric paint! I tested it on a piece of old t-shirt. After it dried, I ironed it for 4 minutes as per the instructions, then threw it in the washing machine & then the dryer. What you see here is the final result of all of that. No color loss, and it's nice and soft, unlike most fabric paint, which tends to be stiff.
So, now that I know it works well, I need to decide what I'm going to do with the stuff! T-shirts are the obvious thing that comes to mind (and both N&Z have already requested some), but surely there are other good applications. Any suggestions? Or requests?

OH: the four of us watched "The Last Mimsy" yesterday. Fun! And mandalas! N was especially excited about that part of it. R appreciated the Lewis Carroll angle, and found the original story online. I'm looking forward to reading it . . . .



What Is SCAD?

Curious about where C is right now? Click on the above link, and it will take you to the SCAD website. That's where he is, trying to get used to everything being verrry sloooow, in gentle deep-south southern fashion, which right now is driving my NewYorkCity-loving son crazy. Culture shock, indeed.
It took me two days because of interruptions, but I got another mandala done, another of Julie Keefe's lovely Mandala Mondays designs. Do visit her site & try one out! My coloring is nothing particularly spectacular, but as always, the point was in the doing, and the doing felt good! Very gradually, life is beginning to take on some semblance of balance and routine, as new classes and extra-curricular activities kick in, and the girls get used to their schedules, teachers, new surroundings and so on. I'm spending much more time in the car, but a lot of it is by myself one way, which allows me to select my own listening material, and that makes a big difference. I'll be posting reviews of audio books in the coming months, I think!

I do have a couple of books to talk about today. One is a brilliant children's book that no one should miss - 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Any More by Jenny Offill, with pictures by Nancy Carpenter. Anyone who's ever been a kid should read this book. I'm serious. It's brilliant (okay, I already said that, but I mean it!). And if Ms. Offill based the
part about the beaver report on an actual experience, that teacher should be drawn & quartered. (Well, she got partial revenge - he certainly was drawn, and not very kindly, either!)
Go find this book in your library - that's where we got it. And we renewed it. And then we kept it an extra week, after taking it down to Virginia to share with N's fairy godmother, who also needed to read it. Better yet, cut Ms. Offill and Ms. Carpenter a break & buy a copy so they'll get a bit of money from all their brilliance!

Bruce Feiler, author of Abraham (which I read with great pleasure) and Walking the Bible (which I haven't yet read, but plan to), began his writing career with a wonderful book based on his year-long experience teaching English in Japan. Learning to Bow may be the most utterly satisfying book I've read all year - and if you are one of the two or three people who've been reading my blog, you'll know that I've read some pretty darned good books so far this year, so that's high praise indeed.
Feiler's experiences in Japan were very similar to my own experiences in Taiwan, with of course the obvious difference in locale. His insights into all aspects of Japanese culture, how the culture and history impact the education system and how modern Japanese educational philosophy is affecting the course of current Japanese society, make for good reading whether you're interested in education, travel, business or just your fellow human beings.

The book came out in 1991 - hey Bruce, I think it's time for you to go back & write us an updated version that includes some of the latest phenomena, most particularly students (and others) meeting in chat rooms to arrange suicides. Where does that fit into the picture?!

One of the things Feiler mentions with concern is how little downtime students - and adults - in Japan have. In fact, from the time one begins school until the time one retires, the sole exception to this is college, which is mostly play-time for Japanese students. I thought of this just this afternoon when I picked up N after school. She had begged me to sign her up for a textile-art-for-kids class at the Baum School this fall, which entails grabbing her right as school lets out & driving half an hour to the school to get there in time for it to begin.

She was excited about it this morning when she left for the bus, but when I picked her up, she was tired & cranky. "I don't wanna go, Mom!" she pouted. "But, Honey, we paid for it and they're expecting you, so let's go see what it's like. If you don't like it, you don't have to go back," I promised.

By the time we had battled our way through the traffic, she'd polished off her snack & drink and listened to more of Brian Jacques' Redwall on tape, but was no happier about the class. As I parked, she burst out, "I had school ALL DAY!!! I don't want to sit and listen to a teacher any more, I just want to go home!"

We were there, and parked, so we went in & met the teacher. The project was cool, and the teacher was nice, but N went into meltdown mode. She sat on the floor & refused to say a word. Tears coursed silently down her cheeks, but an angry frown made her look scary rather than pathetic.

I explained to the teacher that it was just going to be too much for N, with the long day and then the long drive, and apologized. Only three children had signed up & it looked as if the class would be canceled anyway, so this would be the only day they'd be holding it. N thunder-clouded her way back down the stairs, and we drove home. Once we got home, she got out her math homework & whipped through it happily in less than 3 minutes (her idea) and then went to play with her guinea pigs.

As of today, she only has one after-school activity: acrobatics. She'll come home on the bus and have 40 minutes at home before we have to drive 5 minutes to her lesson, during which she'll jump all over the place - no sitting & listening. And I think that will be enough for this year, no matter how many other things she asks to join.



I'm a Helicopter

According to the description in the above article, I am definitely a "helicopter parent" - that is, I hover over my kids. Heaven knows, I've been trying not to, but it's just the way I am. And as a result, this past week has really been tough for me, as C has been preparing to leave for Savannah.

Oh, sure, it helped a lot that he spent all of July in New York City. That was a dry run for all of us, C included. But one of the things that those of us at home learned was that he doesn't often feel much of a need to communicate with us often, so we know what to expect once he's down south. Sigh.

So - not much time this week for mandalas, what with gathering things for C's dorm room, helping Z get her school year started, and N still on her last week of summer vacation. I did find the time for one the other day, gel pen on vellum, which I titled "Morning Energy" because that's what it gave me as I worked it:
I don't expect to have much time until next weekend to make more, but after that things should settle down to a dull roar, I hope.

I have, however, finished three books recently. The first and most notable is Erik Larson's Thunderstruck.
What did Marconi's invention of the radio and Crippen's brutal crime have to do with each other? Actually there is a significant historical link. With remarkable, painstaking research, Larson weaves the many strands of these two stories, until, slowly but surely, they form one whole picture of a period about which I had previously known very little.

This is an amazing work. In places it is a bit heavy-going, but I found my time well spent, as Larson has a reason for every minute detail he includes. The race to perfect wireless communication makes for a fascinating read; and after the few hints about him, I am anxious to read a biography of Tesla.

I think you need to have some interest in the history of science & technology to fully appreciate the book, but if you do, you will find it great entertainment indeed.
This is the second in the Mobile Library series, and it's every bit as wonderful as The Case of the Missing Books, the first of Ian Sansom's marvelous books about Israel Armstrong. Poor Israel - he arrives in Tumdrum, Ireland, and first he discovers that all of the books in his library have gone AWOL and that his first job is to find them all. Now in this second book, he is accused of robbing and kidnapping the head of the local department store, and in order to clear his name, he sets out to find Mr. Dixon himself.

All I can say is that these books are brilliantly funny, and that anyone who doesn't fall a little bit in love with Israel Armstrong must be an old grouch.
I had mixed feelings about Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy. I expected to love it, and instead I found the style choppy and annoying after a while. I understand the reason he wrote it that way - it is divided according to days and periods of convent time, as it is set in a convent in 1906. But after about 40 pages, the style grated on my nerves.

The book does, however, contain one of the most beautiful descriptions of a mystical experience that I have ever come across. It is almost impossible to describe something like that in words - the mystical is, by nature, ineffable. And Hansen's ability to write as a 17-year-old postulant is quite admirable. But.

I've just started Paolo Coelho's The Devil and Miss Prym. I teach at 8 tomorrow morning, after getting N ready for her first day of first grade. I think I will retire with the Coelho now.



Back in the Saddle Again

Ah, it really felt good this evening to make a mandala! I had intended to work up a design that I'd had in mind for the next painting, but my subconscious had its own plan, apparently, as what came out was something else altogether:
I like it very much, but it's not really what I want for the next big painting project. There are too many shapes - reflecting, I think, the fact that I've got more going on right now than I can handle!

While I was working on it, N was busy with her latest work - bookmaking. No, not taking bets; she's making lots & lots of tiny (as in 1/2" to 1" long) notebooks, illustrated on the outside. Very cute, and handy for making short lists. Here's one she made me for tomorrow:
I think she's now made about 20 of them, and they're all taped up on a large, colorful display in the kitchen.

Meantime, here are the last few of Z's works from her summer drawing class. She's gotten very accomplished at drawing hands, which anyone who draws will tell you are wretched hard to capture:
and this is a cute picture of our guinea pigs:
But here is a typical Z masterpiece - one of her fantasy drawings, just made up from her imagination. As with her portrait of her birthparents, it's done in colored pencils - she gets such rich effects with pencils it amazes me.
Needless to say, Z got an A in her drawing class.

Tomorrow Z & I begin classes at the community college. Z's very excited. She's taking Intro. to Psychology, which will give her a good idea of whether or not she's on the right track in planning to go into Art Therapy; Chinese; 2-D Design; and Figure Drawing. That's a lot for a high school senior, but I think she will handle it just fine.

I am sad to see my summer end. I don't feel as jangled as I did at the end of last summer; this has been a good summer, as I've really fed my soul for the first time in years. It's time to look back on my "49 Project," I think. I didn't do 49 mandalas, but I did focus on art and mandalas for 49 days straight, and that was spiritually very nourishing.

The most important thing I learned was how soothing it is to spend time in the right side of my brain, and how easy it is to slip into it by picking up a piece of paper and a couple of colored pencils or gel pens. And you know, in the beginning it wasn't easy at all! I'd sit and stare at the paper for a long time before I could get started, and I was very critical of myself. Now I can sit down and just begin - well, most times.

A few days ago, R said in a frustrated voice, "I never spend any time doing anything creative, and I really need to!" I've been telling him this for a while, but I think he needed to see me doing it regularly for it to sink in. So this evening when I sat down to make a mandala, and the girls joined me, he came to the table and began folding origami shapes with us. I can't recommend the concept of a "family art night" enough. It's a great way for families with wide age ranges to do things in tandem.

For the next 3 weeks or so, as we all adjust to changes (new semester for me, 1st grade for N, college for S, and C's absence in Georgia for all of us), I will just keep making mandalas as often as possible. But once we're all settled into a routine, I'm hoping to put together some kind of plan. I did promise K's guides I'd come up with a 2-year plan, after all, and that was three months ago.

I suppose if I'm going to teach tomorrow, I'd better get some sleep.

Oh, click on the title for a link to a very entertaining blog. The writer is my new heroine.



The Best Movie of the Summer!

Yeah, I know, this isn't a movie review blog, but I can't help it - you have got to go see "Death at a Funeral"!!! While down in Virginia visiting S, I had the great good fortune to see it, and I can't say enough good things about it! Alan Tudyk (the pilot of "Firefly") is just one of the many wonderful actors that make this a highly successful film. Click on the subject line and check out the website. Better yet, go see it when it comes to your city (alas, for some bizarre reason it's only showing in 200 cities across the US).

And yes, it's even better than "Stardust." Whodathunk?

I've got a lot of catching up to do tonight, now that I'm finally almost ready for classes to start on Monday. I'll start with the last two projects from my painting class, one that I am very happy with: the one my teacher, Ro, called our "loosey-goosey" portrait. She told us to do anything we wanted, incorporating elements besides paint if we wished. I began with a bindu, of course, which at first I intended as a bindi - nice little pun, only it turned into the nose instead.
As you can see, the face became an yin/yang symbol, and the yin/yang shapes kept appearing in other places in the design. It turned into a painting for N, which I called "I Will Meet You In Your Dreams," something that I often say to her at night. The face has a bindi after all, and there are mini mandalas in the painting, as well as the Chinese symbol for breath, the Hebrew letter "chai" (for life) and the Sanskrit "aum."

One of my classmates said that all of my painting is "fluffy," a characterization I didn't much appreciate until she told me she meant it was calming, which is a good thing - this one in particular I intended to be tranquil and reassuring. She said my paintings seem like they'd be good illustrations for children's books. Hm. That's okay, but fluffy? That I don't like.

Here, just to show you that I'm modest, is the portrait. I don't like it. One of my classmates exclaimed "Ooo, it's just like a china doll!" and I agree - no life to it at all, though I am not sure that's what she meant, exactly. I didn't enjoy doing it at all. I learned quite a lot, and it's better than I thought I could do, but I don't expect to do any more portraits, and that's a huge relief. All the others were fun to a certain extent, but this one was just onerous work.
Glad it's over.

I got an A in the class. I learned a lot, and for the most part it really was fun. I don't plan to take any courses this fall; I do plan to paint more, though! The thought of giving "my" paints to Z for her 2-D Design class is painful, but we can share. She shared her brushes with me, after all!

And now on to books. Peggy Orenstein's Waiting for Daisy was the next on my list from Elle. I read it in two sittings, not because it was such a fast read, but because I couldn't stop reading it. Orenstein is a very good writer, and her story is compelling - but that's only part of the reason. Her story is also, in part, my own story, and she wrote about things I hadn't thought about for many years.
Orenstein's book is about a lot of things, including infertility and what the quest for a child can do to a couple. Her descriptions of taking her temperature, keeping ovulation charts, talking to doctors, dealing with the INS - all of that evoked in me emotions I had not felt since I finally became a mother.

Of course, the title rather gives the ending away, but there is much more to this book than even the long subtitle would suggest (
Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Fertility Doctors, An Oscar, An Atomic Bomb, A Romantic Night, and One Woman's Quest to Become a Mother). Orenstein's honesty captured me from the start; I felt she was speaking directly to me, woman to woman. Her last chapter alone is worth the price of the book, and should be required reading for every infertile couple and every infertility doctor.

Too much thunder & lightning; have to shut down the computer for now. Go read the book. It's not just for people with infertility issues - it's a damned good story.