Sunday, November 30, 2008

Making Way for Advent

Advent starts today. I can feel the tension building knowing how much needs to be done between now and Christmas-- for work, for home, for church, for friends. But, I'm going to resist the craziness with every fiber of my being.

Thanksgiving week was good practice. We spent most of our time in the house. Almost every table was always covered with an art project, craft, sewing, or food. This is how I would like Advent to be this year with lots of time for making homemade gifts.

Done alone, sewing and knitting are primarily quiet activities perfect for contemplation or just thinking about stuff. If done with others, sewing and knitting bring people together in a common endeavor of creativity and community. The children certainly experienced this. My sister and I did, too.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Morning

This morning, Hobson and I were the first ones up. He read to me-- What do you do with a Tail Like This by Robin Page and Steve Jenkins. I finished Kate Dicamillo's The Tale of Despereaux soon to be released in movie form. And, I can't wait to start reading The Underneath by Kathi Appelt that just arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon.

We had homemade waffles for breakfast. And now, my sister is at the dining room table sewing some p.j.'s, the guys are playing with their computers and listening to music, the children are playing hide-and-go-seek, I'm blogging, and no one is cooking or watching football! How do we manage that?

Actually, I am about to make the sweet potatoes and a batch of rolls. Bryan is making shrimp jambalaya later. We'll throw together a salad and some sugar snap peas. Desert is apple dumplings with vanilla bean ice cream. Not your traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book Project

Over the next few days (in between Thanksgiving cooking, visiting with my sister, brother-in-law, and adorable niece from Arkansas, and knitting or sewing) I will be creating an on-line "Who Am I" Book Exhibition. It will be cross-posted on both of my blogs because I did this project with my third through sixth grade students at St. Therese Catholic School. I have to figure out the best way to create it.

I've been thinking a lot about the "Who Am I" book project that I just completed. I was not prepared for the difficulty that some students had with just folding paper, measuring, and envisioning how it all fit together. When I talked with my principal and other teachers about this, we wondered together whether children today do not have enough opportunities to make things from scratch or whether they don't have many craft-like hobbies (beyond Foamie Kits from Michael's) because a lot of free time is spent at sports and/or technology pursuits. I'm sure that they have skills and talents far beyond mine in these areas, but I think some of these children may be forfeiting valuable experiences with problem solving and the creative process. It was obvious to me which students have opportunities at home to make things at the kitchen table. That said, some of the projects were amazing, and I can't wait to take a closer look at them all. I've got some more thinking to do about this. . .

I have been worried that the leaves on my tree might fall off before my company comes this afternoon. It could still happen during the day today, but I'm hopeful that we can all see the before and after process of the Japanese Maple in person. Just a few leaves have begun to decorate the brick sidewalk and grass. From two days ago:

Happy Thanksgiving Preparations!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday Activities

This is one of Bailey's favorite spots. I have an old quilt folded up for him to recline on in front of both windows in the dining room/sitting room.

Last night, Charlie and Nellie found themselves next to each other on the futon in the den. I had been in between them. That they remained so close to each other even after I left was remarkable since grumpy Nellie cannot abide sweet Charlie. Because it was so cold outside, they must have just been grateful to have a warm place to sleep for the night.

My daughter had a spend the night friend-- S. They played and played and played. In the afternoon, they started working on a homemade game-- "A Walk Around the Park."

I piddled around doing this and that. I've started another blanket even though I haven't finished the Sunflower blanket yet. This just ended up in my hands one night this week.

It was a lazy kind of pre-Thanksgiving Saturday. Now, just look at these leaves basking in the sun!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Log Cabin Dishcloth & Styrofoam Printing

Publish Post
Looking at the colors in this washcloth makes me happy! It might even make washing the dishes a little more enjoyable. One of my teacher friends, Kathy D., made this over the weekend after coming to my little knitting gathering to learn log-cabin knitting techniques. It reminds both of us of something from Honduras because of the bright blues, reds, and yellow. Now, I want to make one just as colorful. This was made with Peaches and Cream dishcloth cotton.

At school today, I assisted the art teacher in teaching the students how to make a simple block-prints using recycled styrofoam as the block and ball point pens as the carving utensil. Below is what one of the Kindergarten students made. This is a great method to use with any age child. Sometimes the younger children amaze me with their abstract designs!

Just look at my tree today in the full glory of the afternoon sunshine:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mothers & Daughters

On Friday night, one of the mom's in our "Mother/Daughter" group held a sleepover birthday party at a local hotel suite. It was the group's second sleepover in just a few weeks, and there was much focus on nails by the "9 and under crowd" at both sleepovers.

This "Mother/Daughter" group is comprised of 5 mothers and 5 daughters who are all in the same grade at the same school together. In fact, the mothers met each other through this school association. We are from Arkansas, Chicago, Nebraska, Louisiana, and Tennessee. We are all totally different, but OH, HOW MUCH FUN we have together! And, oh, how much we learn from each other. And, oh, how much we support each other. These women and girls are my life-lines, and I love them all.

My mother died almost 20 years ago. November always makes me think of her more than usual because of All Saint's Day, my birthday, Thanksgiving, and the pensive quality that autumn brings to my life. This year, it has dawned on me how my life is mirroring a little bit of hers at this 40ish stage of life. I remember her becoming so interested in lots of activities like gardening, flower and herb drying, knitting, sewing, embroidery, and dying fabrics with natural plant dyes. And, what am I doing? Hmmmm, it sounds familiar. Where does this burst of creativity come from?

This weekend, I also spent several hours knitting with friends. I hosted a knitting gathering at my house to teach a couple of people how to knit and to help some learn the log-cabin knitting process. This morning at church, the St. Clare's Knitting Guild helped the level 3 Catechesis students learn how to knit hats. What fun to be in a mix of generations with other women and girls (and a few boys) gathered around a common task of creativity.

Finally, here is my finished bird banner. There is one bird for each member of my family (4 people, 2 cats, 1 dog, and one fish). The little bird at the top represents all of those who have gone on-- Maggie the black German shepherd, Uncle Jerry, grandparents, and my mom. Going in and out of the back door is now a little reminder to me of the ties that bind us all together in this little nest of family here and beyond.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Little Bird, Little Bird

From Wednesday crafting. . . my little primitive bird ornament. After making several mistakes, I learned a lot from making this one. Hopefully, the next ones will be a little easier to make and have fewer glitches!

On Monday, my principal started out staff meeting by asking us to reflect on the best learning experience that we have ever had. While I can think of many, the one that I shared with my small group was teaching myself how to knit socks, but it could have been teaching myself how to knit. period. I made so many mistakes, and I often got frustrated trying to figure out exactly how to make some maneuver work. But, in the end, I was so proud of the final product-- imperfections and all. I did it! All by myself! And, most importantly, I enjoyed the process of figuring it out (even if I said a few "less than desirable words" along the way)!

It was amazing how many staff members related stories about enjoying the challenge of a learning situation. Making mistakes was vital to the final sense of achievement and acquisition of knowledge or experience. I worry, sometimes, that our education systems shirk away from the process of trial and error to focus on the end-results of "right answers" for good grades and high test scores. As the art teacher at my daughter's school constantly reminds students who get frustrated when they make mistakes, "There are no mistakes in ART, only happy accidents."

In learning, any mistake can be the doorway through which one may walk towards increased knowledge and improvement. I like that I don't have to do something perfectly the first time and that I can always learn to do something better by paying attention, thinking through the process, and trying again.

In progress. . . a preview of the banner I'm working on for the back door. . .

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Monoprints, Maple Leaves, and Mundane Chores

I am so fortunate to work at St. Therese Catholic School. How many school librarians are able to co-teach with the art and music teachers every week? On Tuesdays, I assist Mrs. Misenar, the art teacher, with Pre-K, Kindergarten, and 6th grades. Yesterday, the upper grades learned about the artist Robert Motherwell and made monoprints using two pieces of wax paper, acrylics, and construction paper. Mrs. Misenar used this technique with fabric to decorate pillows for her sofa.

On Thursdays, I co-teach 3rd through 6th grades with Lynn Tarleton, the music teacher. Mrs. T., as the children call her, has always used literature in her music teaching, and I have always used music in my story-times. The two of us are quite a pair as we both love integrating other art areas into our disciplines and using our disciplines to integrate into core curriculum areas such as math, language arts, social studies, and science. Last week, we pulled out hand drums, maracas and castanets, and xylophones to teach a song about Cherokee Indians and to discuss the Cherokee culture and learn some Cherokee words. This week, we plan to use the computer lab to research the first pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians.

I didn't get home until late on Monday night, so the photo of the Japanese maple looked like this:

Today's leaves are wet with rain.

Now, onto some mundane chores like menu planning for the week, laundry, housework, etc. I have a goal to try to throw away or give away 40 things every day from now until I feel like some of the clutter is gone. So, my "40 things per day" challenge starts today. And I also want to do some sewing before the children come home from school. I'm working on a banner for the door and on some bird ornaments. Sometimes, I amaze myself at my naive ambition for the day!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Afternoon Projects

Sunday afternoons seem to slip away much faster than they did when I was a child. There is always more laundry to do even though it was just done on Friday. And, it is the last chance to get a head-start on Monday morning and the week ahead.

Today, I'm going to try to fit in a little time for knitting, a walk in the sunshine, and maybe some sewing with that new fabric I bought yesterday. This is the yarn I've chosen with which to make a quick felted coaster with a log cabin design. I dyed the yarn this summer from Kool-aid. Information about how to do this can be found here.

Here is the Japanese Maple today:

And here is my imperfect but finished set of coasters in honor of these times:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Leaves and Fabric

This is the Japanese Maple at the entrance to my home. It is just starting to turn from greens to browns and oranges, and then to brilliant red. I'll take a photo of it each day from now until the day that I come home and all of the beautiful red leaves are on the ground and brick walkway. This photo was taken on my birthday (yesterday). It was cool and rainy in the morning. By the afternoon, the sun was out and shining on all of the colorful leaves.

Today's photo (a little more brown and orange) looks like this:

I couldn't resit spending today looking at trees. I took a walk this morning in the neighborhood with my daughter and dog. Then, I went to the Museum of Natural Science to walk on the trails "in the woods." For, now, most of the colors are still green, golden, and orange. There are not many reds in the mix.

This afternoon, I bought fabric from Quilt Arts and Hancocks. I didn't have a project in mind, but these colors and patterns jumped out at me. Comparing the photos of trees that I took today, I think I've been inspired by the palette of today.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Both of my children came running to the kitchen this morning to ask me who won the election last night. I showed my daughter the front page of The Clarion Ledger, and her smile joined mine. I stayed up until the end to watch the speeches and savor the hopefulness and cried again this morning when I heard snippets of the speech on NPR for the second time. This is the first election since my daughter was born in 1999 about which I have been able to rejoice.

The coaster was made last Friday (the day after that wonderful day of creativity and inspiration written about below) in anticipation of yesterday and beyond. It is from Amy Karol's Bend-the-Rules-Sewing book. I only made the one so far, and it is less than perfect. I am a novice sewer, but I'm loving some projects that I've done so far with Amy's philosophy that all does not have to be perfect. Thank you! I made this little blanket last Friday, too, without any pattern whatsoever-- just my measuring tape and an idea in my mind. The sewing machine is the Janome Hello Kitty model that I bought my crafty daughter.

How nice to have my afternoon tea with my little "message on a coaster" and ponder the events of the last 24 hours on this 5th day of November 2008. I think I should make a commemorative set. On the next ones, I can write "Yes We Can," and "Change."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Turning Forty

On November 7th, I turn forty. It feels like the intersection of the first part of my life with the rest, and I'm very excited about the future. I love so many things about my life right now.

I love "log-cabin" knitting, from which this blog gets its name. The above blanket was made over the course of the summer-- on hot afternoons while listening to NPR, poolside, on vacation in Atlanta, at night while watching something on TV that didn't demand my full attention. It is based on the pattern from the Mason-Dixon team in their book Mason-Dixon Knitting: The Curious Knitters Guide (2006). I love the intersections of warm and cool colors as they spiral around the center rectangle in a labyrinth of yarn. My son, Hobson, claimed this blanket and named it his "Rainbow Blanket." The next project is a "Sunflower Blanket" for my daughter, Mary Emerson.

The name for this blog refers to more than my knitting. On this blog, I will start building the next 40 years-- strip by strip, log by log, day by day. Yes, it finally feels like I'm an adult! I'm past the point of saying "yes" to things to which I really want to say "no." I know what I like and what I don't like. I know how I want to spend my time what I would rather not do. It is liberating to be at this point in life. There are limitations, of course. But, a good chunk of time is within my power to design.

I had an amazing Thursday last week. It was a work day at St. Therese Catholic School. I taught 3rd through 6th graders in the morning using a wonderful book called Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2006) by Marisa Montes and illustrated wonderfully by Yuyi Morales. My students made paper-bag puppets for the characters in the story, and we discussed the Mexican celebrations of "Day of the Dead." Then we put on classroom productions of the story with our puppets, sound effects, and musical instruments.

In the afternoon, I made a ballot box for our book character elections for President to be held on November 4th. The entire school, pre-K through 6th grade, has been preparing for this day by holding primaries and caucuses in their classrooms to narrow down the candidate field. My daughter's school, Casey Elementary is also doing this, and her third classroom has chosen Nancy Drew for its nominee. I like Nancy, but I hope another class has chosen Hermione Granger!

That night, I went to see the fifth graders at Casey Elementary perform their version of Shakespeare's Macbeth. The joy on their faces told me that they will remember this experience for a long time-- much longer than any test score. This is the kind of education in which I believe and for which I advocate. I will write about arts integrated education a lot on this blog.

At the end of the day, I worked some on the Sunflower Blanket-- catching up on the election news and getting ready for the next day of Halloween and all of it's festivities. This log-cabin blanket will be completely different than the other. Like log-cabin quilting, there are many variations of how the strips can be put together. As in life, we have so many choices-- so many variations to how we can spend our days.

On that Thursday, at work, at home, with my students and family, I was doing what I wanted to do. I enjoyed the creativity of the day. I felt alive, and this is how it should be.