Monday, January 27, 2014

my girlfriend

i want you to think of your girlfriend. 

yes, i know you have one.  we all have one, or, if we are really lucky, more then one.  she's loyal to your friendship down to the very core, without question, hesitation, or doubt.  she knows what you have been through and how far you've come.  heck, she's been through it with you and has held the light at the end of the tunnel to guide you.  she knows where the bodies are hidden.  she knows your cravings for chocolate and butter and chinese broccoli and indulges in them with you.  she wants to beat up the people who bring you down.  she's strong, she's weak, she's an angel, she's human.  when you embrace you can really feel the physical and emotional connection.  she's raw and honest and tender and soothing.  when she listens, she really hears you, even when the words cannot come but the tears can.  she gets you and loves you in spite of and for what you are.  she's the one you sometimes don't feel worthy of and wonder why-oh-why-does-she-put-up-with-me but then you relax when you realize that her trust and faith in you are abiding and constant and unconditional.

my tribute to girlfriends goes out today to leigh.  thank you, my dear, so very much for your visit.  my cup was refilled.  i love you.
cupcake decorating
must have the crunchies
tween selections for nail adornment

i had to knit
a marin starburst original, now mine!
brownies.  ahem.
chocolate chip cookie dough


diana, sheldon, and marin

doin' the tween thing

minecraft and animal jam mash-up

marin photobomb. cake before spaghetti at silver diner.

diana & marin

ander and his girls

me & leigh

Saturday, January 18, 2014


one of the programs my kids are fortunate to participate in is GRACE art in the schools.  i volunteered to work with ander's class last semester as we all learned about carmen lomez garza and robert lobe.  what i love about the program is the the fact that kids have the chance to be exposed to artists they might not otherwise encounter in their art classes, that the collections are curated by the arts center, and that parents are the volunteers so we have another opportunity to be involved in our childrens' learning experiences at school.

i must admit that i felt something was off, though.  i didn't sense that ander was really connecting to the artists or to their art.  i wanted to do more, do something different.  so when the opportunity came up to lead the next presentation, earlier this week, i embraced it.

mind you, the presentations and lessons are geared towards all elementary-aged kids.  k-6.  there's a wide range of interest, ability, and opportunity in there.  i fully believe that the artists and their representative works are all accessible and interesting to people of all ages, but trying to cram the breadth of their work and complete a project in 30-45 minutes?  oh, it can feel like sheer futility.  the dedicated parent volunteers who organize and lead these sessions are creative and mindfully work within the restrictions of time and space and budget, but it has ended up in me feeling frustrated that the kids are rushed and limited.

i determined to go about it in a different way.  i learned that our next artist would be alexander calder.  not knowing anything about him, i googled and my eyes goggled at what i found.  what a treasury of works and what a fascinating life!  there was so much to learn about this man, but i had to focus clearly on only one aspect of him.  thinking specifically about ander and his first-grade classmates, what i knew to be available to them in terms of time and materials, what i have gleaned from watching them listen to and talk about stories during library time, i was convinced i had to pull away from a presentation on the smartboard.

fortunately, my searching quickly unearthed a beautifully illustrated book about the artist called sandy's circus by tanya lee stone.  this book served as my inspiration - i was going to read the story to the kids, show them the pictures, let the author's words tell the story of alexander calder's life, and have a circus theme for their art project.

i was nervous and excited about this.  it was a deviation from The Plan.  i didn't know how the teachers and other adult volunteers would respond to this change from other GRACE art experiences.  i wondered if it would go over well with the kids.  in the end, my confidence in the kids was resoundingly justified!

did they learn about the artist?  yes!  did they use one of the artist's processes to create their own art?  yes!  did they create something individual, personal, expressive?  yes!  were they proud of their work?  yes! 

so, you wanna know what i did?  lean in and i'll tell you:

  • gather your students together in their being-read-to-as-a-group space, away from their desks and tables, where it's comfortable and familiar and intimate.
  • read the book Sandy's Circus aloud.  show all the pictures.  point out things of interest linking the words to the pictures on the page. ask them if they know where paris is.  you can skip over some of the details within the circus itself as you go along in the interest of time.  (i had their rapt attention all the way through.)  maybe it is the words, or the pictures, or quite possibly the very expressive and enthusiastic voice you'll use, stressing the things you really want them to hear, like:
 "he has discovered, in playing, a new world." 

  • ask them to close their eyes.  tell them to imagine a circus - one they have been to, read about, heard about, dreamed about.  now tell them "imagine your very own circus - where would it be?  on earth?  in space?  in the ocean?  what would be there - animals?  people?  animal-people?  what size would it be - tiny?  humongous? what would be going on - what acts, what experiences?"
  • with them still in silence, imagining in their heads, say " now go.  go to the blank white paper and draw it.  draw your circus.  show me what it would be like to be there."
  • to the teachers and other parent volunteers, tell them to follow your lead.  if you see a student not drawing, ask him or her about the ideas that come to mind.  some kids prefer to think things through completely and then put pencil to paper, so they need to be left alone to concentrate, while others may be hopelessly stumped and need a more specific question to help them get started.  when students want to share a thought or idea or an element they drew, look at it, listen to them, ask them to tell you about it.  reflect their excitement.  there are no wrong ideas here, because it's their own circus, out of their own imaginations.  (one student said he could not imagine a circus he would want to attend, so i told him to imagine one he would not want to attend, and he related easily to that.)
  • when a student claims to be all finished, take a look to see what you can identify within the picture.  ask questions to confirm ideas and encourage explanations.  if it feels incomplete, say you are having a difficult time seeing yourself there quite yet and wonder aloud if there could be more detail.  (the answer is almost always yes.)  to suggest the use of a different drawing implement other than a pencil, ask if the circus was in black-and-white.  (some kids had not known that they could incorporate other elements and happily went to the crayons to bring their ideas to vivid technicolor.)
  • the art needs to be shared with others.  mount each circus representation on black paper as a frame.  find a blank wall near the classroom in a hallway where the students and other classes would pass.  create titles to provide a context to viewers.  thoughtfully consider the arrangement of each piece to display the range of ideas.
one section of the gallery

your efforts will be noticed and appreciated.  one student's reaction made my heart so happy: "thank you for putting our work up.  i love to see it there."  yes!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

i knit a hug

this story is about earlier this week, but the history goes back just a little.  i asked for, and was granted, a hat loom for christmas (thank you, santa).  my mom had been knitting hats for the military for quite some time and said how much she enjoyed it and found it relatively easy to do.  she had made hats for our family as gifts, too.  i asked her to teach me while we were visiting after christmas, and she obliged me.  i knitted a hat for diana's new christmas hello kitty stuffy to match diana's own.

then diana decided she wanted to learn, too.  so my mom taught her.  i'm especially thankful for that, because when i forget my next step, diana can help me with it.

diana working on her first hat for a young child

monday was our first homeschool sewing circle/handwork club gathering of the new year.  i wasn't sure who would be attending, but it doesn't really matter as much to me the number of families who can come, just that the people who come want to be there and share.  i advertise it as an open space for three hours, where you can come when you are able and leave when you need to (an approach i learned during many years of la leche league meetings).  this works because it's not a class, no one is interrupted by comings and goings, no one need apologize for being who and what and where they are.  it's a safe space for families to bring themselves and their work and their intentions and their mess and we all take care of each other and cleaning up.

diana sometimes has a hard time getting ready to go to sewing circle.  it's a mad dash to get the kids home from school, then settle ander in with steve to have their boy time while us girls pack up our  things and head to the library.  what diana would really like to do is have some space and quiet and be alone after having been at school.  but i convinced her to come and she started finger-knitting some new pom-pom yarn, making a fuzzy caterpillar, and the handwork soothed her.  then she went off to search for some new books (another advantage of holding the gatherings at the public library is the proximity to books.  ahhh.)

it was probably an hour later that diana asked how long we were planning to stay.  we had been alone in the room, she and i, and while i was content, she was not.  a few moments later, we got a text that taryn and her family were on their way, and then another family whom we had not seen for months arrived.  we were so happy to see them and reconnect!  a few more people arrived even later, so we had our group.  the kids were immensely pleased to have each other to be with and chatted about minecraft and doctor who as they worked.

taryn's creation

me?  i was happy that others came and appreciated the connection with the moms whom i had missed since before winter holidays started up.  however, i would have stuck it out longer than diana at the library even if no one else had come.  why?  because i had scheduled the time and space for it and it was important to me to honor that.  i had handwork i wanted to do.  i had my materials and tools and intention to follow through.  the beginning time alone was filled for me with the rhythmic motions of turning the loom, feeling the yarn between my fingers as i wrapped it around the pegs, hearing the tiny clicks of the hook as i slid and pulled it at steady points along the circle.  as others arrived, the space filled with voices and became my soothing ambient soundtrack.

my friend louisa wearing the cowl she made and working on a new wrap
you know what?  i finished my project.  i made a hat in that time and space.  i accomplished something because i embraced the appointment i had made for myself, as one of my life gurus lori suggests.  now diana has a hug on her head for when she goes to bed.

the yarns were ones we had picked out together. oh, so very soft. yes, diana's back to her book with her little paper adipose baby on her lap.

and after that, i had time to make more paper snowflakes for our windows.  as i expected, when kids saw me making them, they shifted their attention to me and asked me to show them how i did it.  so i did, and it was good.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

mindfully into minecraft

i know minecraft has been around for a while, that we are relatively slow to the table with it as compared to so many others.  but there's been reason for that.  when i saw posts and reviews and discussions among trusted peers regarding minecraft, i eagerly offered it to diana, thinking she'd love it and jump on board right away.

i was wrong.  she asked why would she want to play a video game (gasp!) when she could play with actual legos instead and not have to worry about being killed by zombie skeletons.  (much as she is fine with zombies and skeletons, she doesn't want to be attacked by either.  or both.)

turns out it's all in the presentation.  it took our friend taryn to show diana that there is a peaceful, creative mode within minecraft.  diana could play within worlds where mobs of hostile creatures could wander around not causing any problem - or not even appear at all.  where she could build houses and tame animals and craft to her heart's content with an endless inventory of materials.  where she could create with very few limits but the parameters of the software.  once she really understood what minecraft was, beyond a survival video game, she was interested.  so we got her an account in december and now it's taken over our household like i had originally thought it would.  she's created so many things - houses and towns and resorts and farms and stores and hot air balloons and on and on and on.  she's tamed ocelots and raised chickens and made sheep turn purple and took me inside falling fireworks.  she asked to build something for me - i now have a new happy place, a large open-space home with lots of windows on top of a mountain where i can watch the sun rise over a waterfall and set over a lava flow, with slimers bouncing quishily all around, adding a contrast to the soothing background music.  our home filled with diana's requests to come and see what she had just made.

she was whitelisted to a friend's server and started interacting with others there every moment she could, getting up and ready early so she could have some time before school, coming right to the computer after school to spend her decompression time in a world where people chatted via texting rather than with noisy voices.

ander, being ander, was quite curious about what his sister was up to.  he watched and listened and gave design directions when diana offered to build him something.  he giggled when diana learned to put a saddle on a pig and ride it.  he urged her to jump in deep pools of water over and over again.  he delighted in her killing the cows to get meat and leather to keep in her chests.  he found a video of someone reviewing another player's massive cruise ship and watched it on repeat for some time, referring to it as his own "playing minecraft."

we were pretty sure ander wasn't ready for playing on a desktop, so when we purchased a kindle fire as a christmas gift to him, i asked steve to install the pocket minecraft app.  even with a new set of controls, it took ander about negative three seconds to figure out what to do, just having watched diana for a couple of weeks.  within days, he created roller coasters with powered tracks and minecarts for cows to ride in.  all on his own.  his original idea, and he created it all.  he actually designed a space where he could spawn several cows to ride in minecarts on closely circling tracks.  when i saw what he was doing, i realized that it looked like the cows were spinning.  just like ander does.  when he got them all going fast enough, he laughed with true, utter happiness.  he had cows to spin with him, and they never tired of it, unlike his family members (i can spin just a few rotations and then get dizzy and fall over.  diana doesn't last much longer.)  no one has his stamina except those cows.  wow.

while enjoyable, he realized fairly quickly that the pocket version was limited, though.  he couldn't do all the same things that diana could on the desktop.  when taryn came over here to play and the girls shared a world over the LAN, he sat between them and watched and directed and asked questions.  both girls, but taryn especially, were patient and gentle with him and showed him how to do what he asked for.

yep, he was ready.

we got him an account and now he's playing on the computer right next to his sister.  she taught him how to fly.  seriously.  in minecraft, he now soars over his domain, examining it from a perspective he cannot often get to in real life.  from above.  big picture.

he knows it's a game.  i was concerned about his understanding at first, because he got scared when diana once got stuck in lava and couldn't get out immediately.  (diana understood the virtual reality of it and was just irritated that the server had a glitchy problem and she had to work and wait it out.)  i unwittingly contributed to ander's concern by expressing my personal displeasure over the kids' killing of mob animals and containing them in close quarters.  that was all about me and my values and applying the rules of reality to the game.  when i finally stepped back and treated the game as what it was, a break from reality, unbound and unrestricted, i could see that actually, he was seeing what happened to creatures as he interacted with them under different conditions, that he was exploring and learning in a safe environment.  he could try something out and nothing would be wrong, nobody would be hurt, it would just produce a result, if anything at all.  oh my goodness, what a fantastic world to play in!  like his beloved legos, he could build and then rebuild if something went awry.  he could try again.  with limitless pieces and more colors and variety than we could ever own in reality.  we talked late at night when he was having trouble falling asleep about how it was a game, how he could jump into lava and be ok, how he could spawn a huge number of mooshrooms, how his cows would not be hurt riding minecarts over cliffs.  we would not do this in real life, of course, but in the game he could do whatever he wanted, including fly.

this is a story of embrace.  of me being open to the possibility that a computer game could be a rich and interactive opportunity for me to connect with my children and foster their personal interests.  of me sighing with relief that there is another place for my children to create and explore and share and try without fear.  we are mindfully into minecraft and loving it.

note: if you don't know about it already, and i'm fairly certain you do if you play minecraft, the minecraft wiki is very helpful if you want to figure something out.  it's a wonderful resource for players in creative mode.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

i'm not waiting

our friend taryn came over for a sleepover last night.  i have mentioned before how much we enjoy her company.  she's good with everyone in our family and plays with ander as a cherished sibling, much like diana does, so he was just as excited as diana to have her over.

i tried something new-ish for dinner.  diana has complimented my homemade mac and cheese, rating it at least as good as the trader joe's rice pasta version, and we were having a guest, so i thought it would go over well.  my variation - an experiment - was amazing.  even ander ate it, and the rest of us had seconds (or thirds, but who's counting?)

dawn's magnificence-n-cheese (diana came up with the name.  she's so good at that)

1 pound elbow pasta
8 oz cream cheese (the real stuff, not the light version)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese (i had vermont sharp on hand, but any that suit your taste will do)
2 cups milk
3 tblsp butter
3 tblsp flour
prepared dry mustard
freshly ground salt and pepper

cook pasta as directed, probably al dente at most, as it will cook more in the oven.  drain and set aside.  prepare a serving of mustard, which is basically stirring in equal parts of the powdered dry mustard and cold water and let it sit to attain maximum potency.  melt butter in a nonstick pot and whisk in flour to make a nice roux.  whisk in milk.  gently whisk in cream cheese.  heat this just enough to melt but not past the beginning of a boil or it may burn, and keep stirring, for goodness' sake.  add shredded cheddar cheese and stir.  add extra sharp cheese and stir.  if it's in block form, as mine was, break it into chunks to aid in melting process.  finally, add in the prepared mustard and salt and pepper to taste.  mix sauce and pasta and pour into 9x13-ish sized stoneware pan (i only bake in pampered chef stoneware if i can possibly help it).

now for my special twist to accommodate various preferences in one pan.  leave alone one quarter.  on another quarter, top with panko (japanese bread crumbs).  believe me, they are better than your run-of-the-mill bread crumbs.  over the remaining half, add pork.  i had intended bacon but didn't have any, so i used leftover pieces of the pork shoulder roast i used in the new year's hoppin john which was oh-so-tender and very tasty.  then, generously cover the pork with fried onions from trader joe's.  do not use french's french fried onions.  i know that's what we grew up with for the traditional holiday green bean casserole but trader joe's does something amazing, like use real onions or something, and we like them so much we eat them straight out of the can.  ahem.

bake, uncovered, in 400 F oven for about 15-20 minutes or until you smell and/or see the onions getting brown.

serve it on china.  yes, china.  why?  why not?  what is your wedding china for, except to serve special meals, like when a guest comes over?  and you want your guest to feel at home, so you treat them as you would family, and if a guest is worth using your china, your family is, too.  when we moved into our dream home in california, we unpacked the china we had kept in boxes for forever and started using it for sunday dinners in addition to other occasions.  why wait?  when we moved here to virginia, the china was included among the other kitchen items requiring unpacking in our rental home, rather than stay in storage, unused, unloved, unremembered.  why wait?  i'm not waiting.  i'm embracing.

our guests are worth it.  our family is worth it.  i'm worth it.  allons-y!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014



according to merriam-webster, it means:

: to hold someone in your arms as a way of expressing love or friendship
: to accept (something or someone) readily or gladly
: to use (an opportunity) eagerly

my word for last year was release.  i enjoyed using that single word as a mantra, especially under times of great personal agitation or stress, and i think it helped me find calm.

at first glance, it might seem that the word i have selected (or actually, that came to me, unbidden, as i was going about my business a week or so ago) for 2014 is the antithesis to last year's, but it's really not.  the concepts can coexist peacefully in my mind.  as steve told me, "i do not need to release myself from release as i embrace embrace."  as in an oft-repeated version of the serenity prayer:
grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change,
the courage to change the things i can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
it feels right to me, this word.  to say it aloud is almost to hum, the sounds are soft and comforting.  i am fond of hugs - to say hello and goodbye, to share joy, to offer a connection when words cannot suffice.  i hug family, friends, strangers - anyone who is willing or wanting.  embrace is a physical and cognitive manifestation of compassion.  when i embrace you, i accept you as you are, for what you are, in the place that you are.

and that applies to me, too.  i begin with me.  i embrace who i am, what i am, where i am, how i am, why i am.  when i start there, extending outwards to others is rather easy and natural and self-energizing indeed.