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Valentines & Vocabulary

Journal2

Blake has been in a student in my writing workshop for 9 years. His hand goes up like clockwork each spring, "When can we have a spelling bee?"

My response in the past has been a nod and a smile, but this year something sparked.

Our group dedicated the month of February to words. Twenty students ranging from Kindergarten to 8th grade are collecting words. At the end of the month each student will offer their ten favorite words from their very own lexicon, just enough for a culminating mini spelling bee. 

We are having a blast.

I'm so glad for Blake's persistence.

Then when Tracey stumbled upon this recipe for handmade conversation hearts, we had the perfect activity for a valentine and vocabulary celebration. After all, one of our favorite books, The Boy Who Loved Words, teaches us that words are a gift! And what better gift than a sweet one.

Let our pictures tell the story of how much fun we had!

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A "heartfelt" thanks to the fabulous Crafty Crow blog for connecting us to this inspiring and super-fun Love Day craft!

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Rings Around the Rosy

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Paper chains…oh how I love thee! Let me count the ways…

1. Easy enough for the whole family to help make.

2. Uses up random paper scraps that you feel guilty about just throwing away.

3. Every tool needed was found in junk drawer: paper, scissors, stapler, tape.

4. Instant gratification…my chain was done in under an hour.

5. An ecclectic and colorful way to decorate for Christmas.

6. I feel young when I am making them.

7. Looking at them makes me happy.

– Tracey

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Practicing Gratitude

Hands down, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Once the festivities for Halloween have passed I am so excited to begin the journey towards that fourth Thursday in November. Thanksgiving just seems to embody all that is good in a holiday: great and abundant food, time with family and friends, a meaningful and profound history, and a freakishly enduring lack of materialism (not counting Black Friday). It doesn't carry the frenetic stress and pressure that Christmas often has, and who doesn't like a four day weekend?

Above all, Thanksgiving provides a reason to openly, regularly, and creatively practice gratitude. This is something so important to me as a person and as a mom, but if I'm honest it's not always the orientation of my heart and mind. At least for the month of November I'm reminded to focus on it and last year I had an impromptu idea to help me and my family make "giving thanks" a daily discipline. It came together so easily and beautifully. Here's what we did:

I pulled out some card stock and had my toddler paint one side with a burnt umber color we created by loosely mixing red, orange and brown paint. We used acrylics but tempura would work just fine, even watercolors could make a beautiful transparent and layered effect.

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Once the paint dried, I simply started cutting out simple leaf shapes about four inches in length. Older kids could easily do this part too.

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We cut out enough leaves so that each family member would have a good handful leading up to Thanksgiving. I put them in a wire basket with a pen and placed it on our dining room table. Almost every night, or when inspiration struck, we would take a minute to write something we were thankful for on a leaf and it would get placed back in the basket.

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Our tradition on Thanksgiving morning is to share a special brunch together, just the four of us. We read and talk about the amazing history of the courageous pilgrims, we pray, we look through our Thanksgiving scrapbook and we reminisce about past family celebrations. Then we take time to read out loud all of the things we've written down over the course of the last few weeks.

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There is something powerful about speaking these blessings out loud to one another, and having them written down to look back on. It's an amazing start to a full and fun day, and it helps us to grasp hold of the fact that life is filled with so many gifts, even in the midst of struggle, challenges and loss. Our attitude and perspectives are aligned with what we have, instead of what we're lacking or what we want. Quite simply, we feel content. I love Thanksgiving!

– Tracey

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Making Our Teepee

Since my daughter was a wee one, we've always made a summer wishlist—places to visit, things to make, people to see. Every idea gets put down on paper to hold us accountable to some good memory-making and to have a go-to list when boredom creeps in. At each summer’s end, the truth is that we would usually only have accomplished a small handful of things on the list and I’d feel kind of guilty and dissapointed in myself for not following through. As I get older and wiser however, each end of summer comes with less guilt—we'll do what we can and enjoy it fully…but no regrets allowed for what is not done. Certain items are simply forgotten forever and some get moved to next summer’s list for another chance at life.

Making a teepee is one thing that’s been on the list for about five years now. My daughter REALLY, REALLY wanted one, and so did I actually. Teepees are cool, plain and simple! As this past June rolled around, I came to the sobering realization that it was Cloe’s second to last summer before graduating from high school. In the words of David Byrne, "How did I get here?" OK MOM…TIME TO MAKE THIS THING A REALITY!

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I love the internet. I simply Googled "DIY Teepee" and within seconds I had a list of approaches and step-by-step instructions on how to make our Arapaho dreams come true. I took "Home Ec" in junior high and I have a pretty crafty mom so I can find my way around a sewing machine. Straight lines are my specialty but beyond that, sewing isn't really my thing and I knew in my gut that I didn't want to pull it out for this project. I wanted to take a more resourceful approach and less of a perfectionistic approach—more intuition, less precision! I also made it a personal challenge to build our teepee using supplies I already had lying around, supplies long-ago abandoned and intended for projects that never got done. I wanted to get in touch with my inner Sacagawea and use what I had and what I knew to build something.

After studying a handful of tutorials and formulating a loose plan in my head, I set to work, feeling excited but a little nervous. After about two hours, we literally had an awesome teepee standing before us and my daughter and I were inside, sitting indian-style (of course) sipping iced tea and reading magazines. It was great fun and many hours have been enjoyed inside by all this summer. Although for us the goal of this project was a simple summer backyard dwelling, you could easily incorporate it into your study of Native Americans, architecture, science or handwork. It really is a fun and doable project (which I should have done years ago)!

Crossing this one off the list!!!!

Here’s how it all came together:

1. Most tutorials recommended eight to ten, 12-foot poles. Panic! I only had six, 8-foot bamboo poles. I reminded myself that Sacagawea did not have a Home Depot down the street to bail her out so I determined to just press on and make it work.

2. For the cover I used a large canvas painter's drop cloth that had been collecting dust, unused for five years in our shed. The material was perfect and the size eliminated the need for sewing panels together to make a piece large enough to cover our poles. Bonus!

3. I folded the dropcloth in half and used a pencil/string device to outline a half circle. I cut out the semi-circles and ripped the cloth in half which gave me a nice rough edge.

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4. Cable ties are one of the handiest inventions ever and I had about 30 leftover from some other who-knows-what. I laid three poles on the ground and used one to hold them together at the top. I set up those three poles, and then positioned the other three in between each wedge. It was working! Our teepee was starting to look totally legit! I ripped a strip of canvas from the scraps and tied all six poles together for added stability and frontier charm.

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5. I then took one semicircle and draped it over the poles. I was delighted to find that the length was perfect in proportion to the poles! The craft fairies were on my side for once! I thought for sure that I'd have to pull out the dreaded sewing machine for this part but then I stumbled upon a box of colorful metal brads I had bought in a weak moment eight years ago at the scrapbooking store. These will work, I know it!

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6. I used the brads to attach my two semi-circles together to create the conical shape that the cover needed to fit properly around the poles. The weave on my canvas was course enough that I could just manually push the brads through the two layers of fabric and it was thick enough to hold together without ripping. I trimmed the extra canvas with scissors to tidy up the inside seam.

7. Lastly, I decided to use the cable ties again to hold the cover in place to each pole and create a cleaner, tighter shape. I simply poked two slits in the canvas with an exacto knife at each place I wanted a cable tie and then I fastened the cover to the poles.

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8. Lastly, I adjusted the poles a little so that the teepee was as stable as possible and pulled a small quilt from the linen closet to cover the grass. Mission accomplished!

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Cross Bow

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We’ve been studying Leonardo da Vinci’s crossbow design. So naturally my youngest son wanted to purchase a toy crossbow. His dad suggested he make one. Søren mulled it over for a few days then whipped out his design at the dinner table for Willie to approve.

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It’s Sunday. Søren set up shop on the picnic table, pulled down the plastic picnic pitcher, stocked it with ice water and drew the pattern for his design by hand on a piece of wood supplied by his dad. Søren has been chiseling by choice for two hours.

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My husband is a proud dad, keeps tapping me on the shoulder, “He’s been at it a long time.” He’s the dad pacing in the background like a kid himself waiting to jump when Søren is ready to transition to from chisel to file. I don’t think my husband the master woodworker is entirely sure that Søren’s design will work out perfectly, but there is no doubt in either of our minds that our son will learn much and have a blast trying his idea.

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A Bike of His Own

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Fixed gear bicycles are all the rage in our neighborhood. I think this means that the bike can’t coast because the bike’s crank and the rear wheel are dependent of each other. What is so great about that? I mean I love coasting, don’t all girls?

Still Liam assures me that fixies are, “…awesome Mom.”

Whoever makes and markets these bikes is completely aware of this fact too because the bikes cost a small fortune. So this is how the conversation goes:

“Dad, can I get a fixie if I pay for it myself?”

“Sure Liam, but why don’t you make one?”

Liam had $200 to spend. All his friends ride $500 fixies. Back when his dad was a kid everyone had to have a BMX bike. He couldn’t ever have the newest or the coolest, but if he wanted it he could build it from a combination of used parts and a few new essentials.

Liam’s dad assured him that a homemade bike will never look like Lance Armstrong’s track bike, might not even look like the ones his friends ride but he will ride with the satisfaction of knowing that he made his bike.

And so bike construction began. Liam learned today how to purchase a spoke for 60¢, install it, and true the wheel instead of plunking down $100 for a brand new wheel. 

Ownership is certainly valid, but pride in craftsmanship has personal investment that can’t be bought.

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House of Makers

For the past ten days I have been in Residency. I’m entering
the last leg of my MFA journey. Each day I leave the house with complete confidence that my three sons
are safe under the supervision of their sister, 20-year-old-benevolent-dictator, Hannah.

Yesterday when she picked me up at 6:30. I was informed of
the day’s adventure by all four of my children… simultaneously:

Liam wanted me to
drive through the carwash
        and Hannah
blasted the theme song to Little Big Planet,
… at the park, there
was a… rode my scooter and feed the ducks…
        library and Barnes &
Noble there was a book with a Lego guy
and I checked out a
book about orchestration so I can…
        one on Constantine’s
early rule and a biography of John Lennon… 

Surveying the state of the house when I arrive home, I
realize the morning was an equal bundle of good times. I begin to tidy the
clues. I don’t mind the mess. The process of cleaning up actually helps me
unwind after a day of academia… I mean literally
unwind
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I follow a mass of tangled white yarn that is strewn from
the kitchen to the living room. What I discover at the end of the line is tremendous—two forks cocooned
to stillness, functional objects transformed to a beautifully still
non-functional state. I pause in awe of the ingenuity that drove the artist
into this work and marvel at the result. The sculpture speaks to me, hangs a
question, “Is the yarn limiting the fork or expanding its potential?”

I collect the fork sculpture and head toward the Gathering Ledge, the place in my kitchen
where I put such misfit items, and kneel to my hands and knees to begin
gathering loose items from the low spaces. I pick up some stray pencils, toy
cars, and sit up when I come upon two sheets of paper, ovals mysteriously cut
out of the center.

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Back on my feet I move swiftly toward the trash and am
halted when my peripheral vision is intrigued by a yellow blur… the missing ovals. But they are much
more than ovals. They are prototypes,
furniture design—a bench and a chair that would make Ray and Charles Eames
proud.

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Not sure where I collected the Eye that’s painted on a scrap of canvas, but I do know that Taylor
plans for this to be a small contribution to a very large installation.

Continue reading House of Makers

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Summer…

With a bingo ball and a Lego block, that’s how summer begins.

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It is a typical shopping day:

Hop in the car. Back out of the driveway. “Who has the
list?” Oops… forgot the list, back into the driveway. Søren is chosen for the
journey there and back again. I
watch him up the driveway… there he goes, two minutes later back again clutching
the list triumphantly. My youngest son jumps into the car and we’re off…

 We arrive at Trader Joe’s in nothing flat. In summer we
don’t have to battle traffic patterns.

Splitting the list into five sections, we scurry in five
directions, grab the goods and get in line. It’s a little game we play, our
version of Beat the Clock. I get a kick out of the items slipped into the cart
by my frenetic shoppers: Crispy Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Altoids, frozen
pizza, Hansen’s Soda, lime popsicles, and even rice milk when they’re
desperate. Sometimes I smile, let
them see me turn a blind eye, but mostly I draw the line, “Put it back please.”

On this particular day, the first shopping day of summer, we
are fast, no doubt accomplished our trip in record time. The five of us want
nothing more than to be home doing nothing, that’s right n-o-t-h-i-n-g.

Continue reading Summer…