Saturday, December 3, 2016

Thoughts about Who I Am -- Navigating through Life, Past and Present


      I am 55 years old, “over the hill” you might say, or at least over the half-century mark.

     I was thinking about my life—both past and present, and who I am in conjunction with it, and wrote this description of the way I view myself and life in general.

     This is me— besides being a graying-haired woman with small body frame, sometimes intently working at a computer, sometimes cooking a family meal, sometimes running to catch the bus:

     First of all, I am someone who cares.  I care about others in my sphere: spouse, family, friends.  I care about the world—our physical environment and its well-being, and the socio-economic fluctuations that affect earth’s inhabitants.  I care about God, and want to know Him as a dynamic reality and personal friend.  I care about myself—recognizing frailties and limits, but wanting to prosper physiologically, and to grow in greater expression of soul and spirit; if I want anything it is to be a force for good, as an active member of God’s kingdom and created in His image.

     Also, I am someone who has lived a life of nurture.  Being a mother of nine children has been an incredible opportunity to apply caring in a limited human context, and homeschooling them at least through junior high has been a rich and rewarding experience—though not without tripping over the perils of insecurity, self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy—with occasional head-long plunges into failure-- and the puzzle of practical logistics for implementation.

     Emerging from homeschooling to enter the next phase of life has been awkward.  I am still a mom, but my children are mostly not here.  I am not “needed” in the old, familiar sense of the word, but caring and friendship are always needed, by anyone at any time in life.  So my new role is shaping itself gradually, as the old one winds down.  It’s like putting on a garment you’ve been knitting all your life . . . one that is not without blemishes, and in which repairs may be needed— but one that is fascinating and filled with wonder as well as being functional.

    I am an artist, in just about every sense of the word—visual art, music, literary art, filmmaking, and if the opportunity comes along, theatre art.  This is just who I am; it is what I am “made for.”  These areas interest me and creativity itself is a huge opportunity for adventure.  I will never want to climb the Himalayas, but might want to draw an illustration of a watermelon-slice “mountain” with determined mountaineers (this is a current project in process).

     I am also an educator . . . “once a homeschool mom, always a homeschool mom” is how I see it.  I’m not currently teaching anyone anything . . . but after 30 years of day-in, day-out walking along a teacher’s path, the love of learning and joy in facilitating discovery for others is a part of my makeup.  Working to develop educational materials is something that resonates strongly for me— I want to pass along materials that have been helpful and successful, to other educators, and also do really enjoy creating brand new materials— even if at present being without anyone in my own household to try them out.

    I am someone who hopes.  Hope is like an underground river that can be accessed at any time, bringing the means to sustain life in times of drought.  I try not to put my hope in futile things that will not deliver, like praying to “Martians” . . . hope is accompanied by effort, and I think these together can be an effective means to bring eventual desired results . . . a sort of slow-moving escalator made up of many, many individual steps.  If there are setbacks, or I fail to do the needed work— so nothing happens— I can start over, or maybe try a different approach, and there’s no need to abandon any goal that I really and truly want to keep.

     Although it is my nature to hope for the best, I can also be completely devastated when face to face with the ugliness of unconstructive criticism, coercion through threat or accusation or belittling or bribery, or harshness that is experienced during an extended period of time.  But this doesn’t mean there is no hope.  It is still there, just waiting— and with some nurturing it can bring continued growth.

     I like these verses in the Bible, from 2 Cor. 4: 7 – 9:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Preschool Notebook Pages for Easy One-on-One Time

Here is an easy way to help preschoolers with learning, and also just to enjoy spending some time together:

Create a preschool "notebook."

This is not something they write or draw in . . . instead the pages are already made, and printed out, and then you and your preschooler will talk about the pictures/sing a song/ do counting, etc.  for just a few minutes each day.

When I was homeschooling with a large family, it was part of our routine to always have a young child do his/her notebook first, right after breakfast, while the older ones were getting started on some kind of independent work.

We thoroughly enjoyed going through these simple pages (with an alphabet, letter sound activities, counting, days of the week, etc.) repeatedly . . . the same few pages would be in the notebook for at least several days, and often a week or longer, before switching in some different ones.

Here are some pictures of some of the pages in the "Preschool Beginning Notebook Set I," made by Gentle Shepherd (similar to the type of pages we used-- but these are made to be computer print-outs, and our original ones were hand-made with markers on paper).

You can find this set of 15 printable pages at:

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Making Felt Forest Animals

Hand-sewing is a hobby for me.   I like to do it while riding in the car, while waiting for meetings to start, or in just about any spare few minutes.

I've been making felt toys such as felt doll families, felt puppets, and felt dinosaurs . . .

And now have made a new pattern set . . .  it is for felt forest animals.  This new hand-sewing project is more than just the patterns . . . there is also a set of short (1 - 6 min) videos that demonstrate how to make the animals.  

That is because the pattern set is part of a Skillshare class.  I'd never heard of Skillshare before this summer, and I was excited to learn about all the video classes they have.  You can learn all sorts of creative skills, like painting and lettering and making paper flowers and photo techniques, and cooking and . . . the list could go on for a long time . . .

And the really cool thing is that as a class creator, I can share a link that offers 3 months of access to Skillshare's Premium classes, for only 99 cents :)  So you could take my class, and get a download of the felt forest animals pattern set along with watching the videos, and/or you could take any of a multitude of interesting classes that show how to make all kinds of creative projects.  

Besides learning new skills and having fun, these classes could also be a great adjunct for homeschool families who are seeking some instruction in art, graphic design, cooking, filmmaking, or other topics.

Are you ready to take a look at some new creative learning opportunities?  

Just click on this link for their 99 cent offer:

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Making Paper Clowns!

Here are two different clown designs, to be used as craft projects --

First there is a clown that has hinged joints, using metal brads:

For this clown, the pieces are first colored, then cut out, and joined together.  Notice that if you want to make a shorter clown, the same parts can be used, but without the upper arm and leg sections.  

This was a really fun project to make.  The clowns can be posed in various ways, and played with, so it is a craft that also can become a toy.

The second clown project is a simpler project, but also makes a moveable figure.  The body is an accordion-folded strip of card stock, and the head is a cardstock circle, with a triangle hat.  Both arms are made together as one long strip, that is taped or glued to the back of the folded body.

For pattern pages to make both types of papercraft clowns, see Gentle Shepherd's Arts and Crafts Freebies page:

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Wonder of Words -- "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster

 Several years ago, The Phantom Toolbooth, by Norton Juster, was a read-aloud in our homeschool.  My son and I found it to be a delightful story.  Much of the book is made up of plays on words . . . and there is an underlying plot, where a boy travels on a quest to bring "rhyme and reason" (two princesses) back to the kingdom.

     It almost seems to be an "Alice in Wonderland" type of story, because the boy travels to some very unusual places, meeting with a whole cast of interesting characters.  He is accompanied, for most of his journey, by a dog named "Tock," who keeps time by carrying a huge clock that is built into his side.

     Although this is a children's book, as an adult I've found it very enjoyable to read-- and have recently been reading it through a second time-- just for myself, and just for fun.

     If you read this story, here are just a few of the characters you will encounter:  The Spelling Bee (a giant bee who is always spelling things), the "Which" (whose job had formerly been to choose words), Chroma the Great, conductor of color (who directs an orchestra which plays music and simultaneously causes the colors to come into the world, at dawn).  There are many more characters, and intriguing events, in this book-- and it is highly recommended as either a read-aloud or a read-to-yourself book, that will enliven the imagination and take its readers on an enchanting adventure.

     And if my opinion could use some bolstering, here is a quote from the New York Times, that says what I've been trying to say so far in this post:
     "Most books advertised for 'readers of all ages' fail to keep their promise.  But Norton Juster's amazing fantasy has something wonderful for anybody old enough to relish the allegorical wisdom of Alice in Wonderland and the pointed whimsey of The Wizard of Oz."

     So there you have it -- and I hope you will consider The Phantom Toolbooth as one of your next novels to read; it is surely a "novel" read . . .

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Winter Art Project: Drawing Winter Birds

Birds can be an interesting subject to draw; and in the winter time, items such as leafless tree branches/trees, or evergreen boughs, can also be part of the picture.

In a recent art project with 4th grade children, their assignment was to draw a winter bird, along with some kind of tree branch or tree.  They sketched in pencil, then colored the picture with crayons.

There were some printed pages they could look at, to see different types of winter birds and basic bird shapes.

Here is what the birds shapes page looks like; I made these drawings by looking at bird photographs:

And here are the photo pages we used:

Using these pages as a reference, the children made a variety of bird pictures with various backgrounds, such as a city scene (Central Park in New York, including the Statue of Liberty off in the distance), birds in a yard, bird perched on an evergreen bush, etc.

If you would like to download these bird drawing reference pages, they are available on Gentle Shepherd's website on the Arts and Crafts Freebies page--

Here are some example drawings; the bird on the left is an imaginary type; the ones on the right are wrens.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Plaster Pictures

"Fresco" means "fresh," and in art a fresco is a wall painting, usually painted directly on wet plaster.  The paint will actually seep in and become part of the plaster.

Here is a fun way to try out painting on fresh plaster.  All you need is some plaster of Paris, water, some plastic plates, and some paints.

Mix up the plaster and water according to the proportions given on the package, then pour it into the plates. If you'd like to have a hanging hole in the plaster, shortly after pouring you can put a small (about 1 ") tubular piece cut from a plastic straw into the plaster, leaving it there while the plaster is firming.  It takes about 30 minutes for it to get fairly firm, ready to be painted on.  Just before painting, remove the straw tube-- which will leave a small hole.

Tempera paints can be used, but be sure to use a fairly undiluted paint-- because the plaster will absorb some of the paint, the design will tend to fade; you may want to put on a second coat of paint.

Using acrylic paint will result in brighter colors (less fading).

Here are some designs I made, using tempera paint:

I experimented with making some indentations in the plaster, also-- the design on the right has markings made with the end of a spool pressed onto the plaster, and the other two pictures had some lines made by "drawing" with a plastic straw (using something heavier, like a popsicle stick, didn't work well-- it went right through the plaster, tearing it).

Here are some plaster pictures by students in the 4th grade glass I was doing this project with:

Once the plaster is dry, it's easy to take it out of the plastic plate.  (Please note: don't try to do this project using paper plates; paper tends to bond with the plaster instead of resisting it.)

It takes several days for the plaster to completely dry; in the meantime it is especially fragile-- so the pictures need to be set somewhere that they will not be disturbed.

This was a fun project; next time, I'd like to experiment with making different picture shapes-- maybe rectangular or square, depending on what kinds of plastic plates or containers I can find, to pour into.