Category Archives: writing

Jon Scieszka-Inspired Writing Workshop

Don't Forget to WriteNot too long ago, I saw the book Don’t Forget To Write in the poets.org email newsletter and ordered it more or less on a whim. It looked good. Tuesday, all my kids were home for Election Day, so I decided to plan a writing workshop from one of the ideas in the book. I like having all my kids home, and while it’s true that in many ways, my middle child is less distracted when he’s the only one home, many explorations work better in a group. Some alchemy exists when ideas are shared, and who can deny the thrill of immediate positive feedback*?

This book is full of activities written by writing workshop leaders, including published authors, and I don’t remember the last time I browsed a kids’ writing book and wanted to try just about all the prompts. This book is good. Because we enjoy Jon Scieszka’s books, I decided to begin with his “lesson,” which consists of him sharing the inspiration for many of his books and inviting us to write stories in the same way. We own The Stinky Cheese Man, and I brought home a couple more from the library last week and left them around so they’d be fresh in the kids’ minds.

Scieszka books

The Stinky Cheese Man is a book of “fairly stupid tales,” created by changing something in a fairy tale in order to make it, well, stupid. Squids Will Be Squids is a book of fables written, Scieszka says, by taking stories of annoying or gross habits, turning the people involved into animals, and attaching a lesson. And The True Story of the Three Little Pigs is simply a fairy tale written from another character’s point of view.

And so we all got to writing, or dictating, in the case of my 6yo. She chose to tell the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff from the troll’s point of view, that poor tired troll, who was trying to take a nap and got woken up by all that trip-trapping over his head, plus a very bad headache, too. My middle child also visited the troll and billy goats, creating a fairly stupid tale by having the troll yell so loudly at the goats that they fell right off the bridge and died, so he ate them. I took the testimony of the duck, the dog, and the cat, who never showed an interest in gardening and wouldn’t have planted the seed anyway, so why is the Little Red Hen so grumpy over pursuing her own hobbies? And my oldest, my almost-teen, good-naturedly agreed to participate and then wrote this fable, which he said I could share. It made me laugh out loud.

Turtle had a pretty good life. Most of the time, he was able to do what he pleased. But one day, Lion came by. Turtle had a day off from work, so he was looking forward to a day of relaxing. But Lion had other ideas. Her cubs were doing schoolwork, and she thought that turtle should do it too, even though it was his day off. So she had him do work and constantly reminded him of what to do.

Moral: Some people don’t enjoy the same things as others. Think of others’ point of view.

For the record, he laughed out loud reading Squids Will Be Squids, and he contributed really good comments on everybody else’s stories. Maybe I can talk him into sitting in on another writing workshop with us on Veteran’s Day…

*The kids were told before anybody read out loud: We’ll be sharing something we like about each other’s stories. This was a workshop focused on generating ideas and getting words down, not tearing apart and revision.

My Writing Process {Link Up}

Last week Angie asked if anyone was interested in talking about their writing process on their blogs, and I thought it sounded interesting. She posted questions and her answers; now it’s my turn to answer the same questions.

What am I working on now?

issue five title croppedI have a column due for the next issue of Home/School/Life magazine, and I’m aiming to have Issue Five of Art Together ready in late September or early October. Although the e-zine is oriented on art activities, it involves quite a bit of writing, some of which requires research. It all needs to be written clearly, in what I hope is an engaging style, and edited and proof-read.

I work out my own thoughts/problems in my journal writing. I don’t share that. Some days all I write in my journal is a brief jotting of the day’s events, something I’ve been doing daily for almost two years now. I enjoy looking back on that the most, I think.

My blog writing is mainly sharing about the surface of our lives–art and homeschooling adventures–but I occasionally go deeper.

How does my writing differ from others of its genre?

The obvious answer is that, as a unique individual–as we all are–with a unique background and personal history, my writing is different in the way all writing that comes from a place of honesty is. Nobody else can write exactly what I write.

As for my perspective as it relates to writing about art, I see lots of writing that focuses on setting up crafts for kids to do, or tutorials for adults who want to make art, but very little encouraging adults and kids to experiment together with open-ended art-making from a similar starting point of exploration and adventure. The benefits of stepping back, as an adult, and exploring together with children, rather than taking on the role as holder of knowledge that must be imparted, are huge. That’s always been my style, from before I had my own kids and I was working in what is known as “informal education.” It was instinctual; it felt right. I had no idea it was so outside the norm at the time and is still seen by many as such.

my writing process at amyhoodarts.com

Tools of the trade.

Why do I write what I do?

I write about art, process, and ways to explore both with kids because I feel so strongly that art-making is valuable for adults and kids alike. I write because I want to demystify it all–from art supplies to techniques to terms. I write because too many people seem to be peering through the window of ART, wanting to join in but having no idea how–or lacking confidence because someone, at some point, told them they weren’t artistic or creative. I want to take these folks by the hand, explain things so they don’t feel intimidated, and set them up to play. That’s why I write the zine. I heard from parents who wanted to encourage their kids’ interest in art but felt unsure, and I want to help them not only support their kids but find their own way into exploring their creative side.

But the true and short answer to why I write at all is because I often have no idea what I’m really thinking until I write it out–but that’s also another sort of writing entirely.

How does my writing process work?

I draft in my head, usually. If it’s a column, article, zine segment, or blog post, I typically know what I’m going to write by the time I sit down at the computer. Everything but blog posts generally goes through several drafts of revisions after that. I am most likely to draft in my head in the shower or while I run, although I try not to do that while running because that’s my time to clear my head. I’m not afraid of revising and never have been–I will ruthlessly cut whole swaths of text for the greater good.

my writing process at amyhoodarts.com

More tools of the trade.

Journal writing just happens–with a pen, in a Moleskine hardcover notebook. From head to hand to pen to paper, with no forethought or pre-drafting.

***

I always feel awkward naming or asking individuals to participate in things like this, so instead–if these questions interest you, I encourage you to take the time to write out your answers. And then if you want to share them, please let me know and I’ll add a link to your post.

Postcard Idea: Found Poetry

Postcard Idea: Found Poetry at amyhoodarts.com

Suppose you want to participate in the summer postcard swap but you’re not sure what to do artistically? You could do something with words instead–such as found poetry.

To do this, first we looked through magazines, newspapers, and old books (the ones we have set aside for collage purposes) for interesting phrases that we liked. This is obviously easier for kids who can read, but my 5yo really wanted to join in, so I read phrases aloud to her and she cut out ones that she liked. But otherwise, let kids choose phrases they like themselves, with no in-between.

found poetry postcard at amyhoodarts.com

Background: Liquid watercolors.

When we had phrases, we created the backgrounds. These can be as simple or complex as you’d like. Most of the ones here just use watercolors.

found poetry postcard at amyhoodarts.com

Background: Ink doodles colored in with colored pencils.

I like to collect the phrases first and then arrange something from what I have, but my 12yo looked for phrases for a specific idea. There are no hard and fast rules here. The fun is in combining words that you didn’t find together to begin with.

found poetry postcard at amyhoodarts.com

Background: Watercolor, with Sharpie pictures added after words were glued down.

My 5yo had me read all her cut-out phrases to her and then she arranged them according to some internal 5yo order. It came out sounding a bit like the Giant’s story in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales–which is also a pretty fun outcome.

We used a glue stick to adhere our words to our postcards. The ones with watercolor backgrounds are on watercolor paper, and the one with a colored pencil background is on Bristol board. You could do this on a solid color background, too…use whatever is on hand.

Have you started working on postcards yet? Share your thoughts/ideas in the comments, or add photos in progress to the Art Together Flickr group. And don’t forget to spread the word about the swap–the more the merrier!

Collage Book

I think I’ve finally broken through my difficulty with “art journaling.”

cover of collage book at amyhoodarts.com

Cover of a book-in-progress.

Part of my problem was trying to work in store-bought journals. So many pages! So. Many. Blank. Pages. I had two small pieces of really thick watercolor paper, so I sliced them both in half length-ways, painted them, folded them, and stitched them together. Now I have a 16-page book. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, but I knew I wanted to start with collages. So I did.

The pictures I chose began to turn into prompts for writing. I’ve been trying to work with memoir-specific writing prompts this month (from both Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg and Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart). But it can often be hard for me to remember things (part of the problem I’m trying to work on with the memoir prompts). What I found when I began playing with the images I had at my disposal and just choosing what I liked is that they brought certain things to mind.

spread from collage book at amyhoodarts.com

A completed spread.

I liked the fish, so I glued the fish down. The fish made me think of Lenten Fridays during childhood, so I glued the pic of me on my First Communion day on the same page. (All the pics in this book are color photocopies of the originals.) And then I began writing. The images from a pattern envelope of course led me to write about my mother sewing me clothes.

I have some pages ready for writing and doodling…

collage book pages ready for writing at amyhoodarts.com

And lots of pages that have neither images nor words yet.

collage book blank pages at amyhoodarts.com

So this can be a project for quite a while. I…I’m really loving it.

**

Since today is the first day of one of my favorite months, National Poetry Month, I wanted to share a bit of poetry, too. (Look for that all month long.) This is an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s “Black Oaks,” found in the book Blue Iris:

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight
from one boot to another–why don’t you get going?

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.

And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists
of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money,
I don’t even want to come out of the rain.

Prompt: Connect the Dots

I often use the writealm prompts in my own private writing, but rarely do I do anything with the results. Usually I’m just musing to myself. Every now and then, though, something results that I want to share more widely. Yesterday’s prompt was “connect the dots,” and this poem emerged. Thanks for indulging me as I share something not at all homeschool or art related.

Craning necks achingly backwards
squinting into inky blackness to find lines
between stars like glittered sand flung from a child’s shovel.
With persistence the haphazard disarray
brought into order
each shine assigned its place
connected with others to form images,
images connected with stories,
figures of myth fixed on high:
navigation linked to plot from the beginning.

I too seek meaning in the arbitrary,
looking to connect the plot points of my life,
seeking the inevitability of the space in which I stand,
tracing my way backwards, finding proof that I am
exactly
where I belong,
proof of the reliability of
the star map of my soul.

{PBL} The Fairy Project

It began late last fall. Gradually, a list of questions grew.

list of questions for fairy project at amyhoodarts.com

We went to the library to look up books in their computer, as you do, and came home with some that day and requested many, many others. Shortly after Christmas we were excited to find this book in a used book store, because we’d kept renewing our library copy:

fairyopolis

I need to compile a list of books my girl has found so far for this project so I can share them in another post. Our library search led us to The Fairy Ring, which I read aloud to both my homeschooled kids. My 9yo is just as interested in the magical and mythical, and fairies and their cousins the elves, goblins, etc, qualify, so he’s interested to listen along. The Fairy Ring is a nonfiction book that reads like a novel and tells the story of two cousins in early 20th-century England who posed a photograph with fairies. The younger cousin maintained all through her life that she did see fairies, but at the time, they were simply trying to get their parents to stop teasing them when they claimed they saw them. Word of their photographs gets around, and the situation becomes larger than they expected.

A Midsummer’s Nights Dream was mentioned in the book, so it’s been added to the reading list. That’s the way things go with projects.

G has lots of ideas relating to this project. She’s making a fairy comic, would like to plan a butterfly garden (in hopes that fairies are also attracted, since they favor the same habitat as butterflies), and she’s been looking through a book of fairy houses. She tells anyone who will listen about her project, and when she tells librarians, they often have books to suggest or, in one case, a friend who builds fairy houses on her front porch. That librarian said she’d see if her friend would mind if we visited.

G has also been taking notes. Sometimes, if she wants to record a lot of information at once, I write it. But mostly, she does.

taking notes for the fairy project at amyhoodarts.com

(toes!!)

I’ll keep you updated on this project, definitely. Just as I thought with my son’s monster project, this project is proof that project topics don’t have to be “real” or close by in order to provide huge opportunity for learning. She’s writing and researching, we’re reading, she’s drawing. She’s planning a garden and wants to build fairy houses in the spring (nature). We’ll be reading Shakespeare again soon. If a child is interested and curious, a topic is rich and can lead anywhere.

The Christmas Project

My daughter, who just turned five, really gets Christmas this year, by which I mean, she is into it. By nature, she is a Planner. She likes to plan birthdays–her own, and, if allowed, other people’s as well. She plans birthday celebrations for her stuffed animals that go on for days, complete with presents wrapped up in pieces of printer paper. So last week, after a morning of listening to her ideas about Christmas, a combination of things we’ve done in the past that she remembers (“We need to drive around and look at lights, Mama! And go around the big lit-up tree!”) and things she’s not quite sure we do but would like to (“Do you make the cookies shaped like men? Will you?”), I suggested we make a notebook for all her ideas, and planning Christmas can be her project. Planning Christmas starting on Veteran’s Day is not necessarily my thing, but my daughter is All Over This.

Christmas project notebook at amyhoodarts.com

We made a simple notebook with printer paper, a card stock cover, and the awesome long-arm stapler, and she chose stamps for the front and back covers. Then she got to work listing her ideas. She began with decorations.

decorations from the Christmas Project notebook at amyhoodarts.com

My favorite is “Santa’s sleigh, reindeer and all.” I’m not sure where she envisions this, or how large it’s supposed to be…but I’ve agreed to give her small budgets for her planning. She will have to winnow her list herself…and therein lies one of the bonuses of putting her in charge of her own project, even if it’s Christmas. We won’t be arguing or negotiating; I’ll be helping her prioritize within her budget.

She is, in case you’re wondering, incorporating other family member’s wishes, too. I told her to put everything on the lists, so nothing is forgotten–we’ll sort it out. Her categories so far also include “Activities,” “Foods,” and “Things to Do.” I’m not sure how “Things to Do” differs from “Activities,” but she is, and that’s what counts.

"Foods" in Christmas Project notebook at amyhoodarts.com

There is a lot going on with the Foods list, as you can see. She’ll have to factor cookie cutters into that budget, looks like.

"What to do" list in Christmas Project Notebook at amyhoodarts.com

Her handwriting, my goodness. It just slays me. She asks how to spell everything, and I either spell it out loud or write it down for her to copy. (In a pinch, her oldest brother helps out with spelling things as well.) Creating this notebook has been great for both of us–she has a place to record all of her ideas, which means I’m not feeling pressured to remember them all. And have I mentioned, she loves to plan? She is telling anyone who will listen that SHE is planning Christmas this year.

As far as I can see, this is a win-win!

On My Table

This is another post inspired by a daily prompt at write alm, On my table. You can also read my response to this week’s Kindred prompt, posted today here.

on my table at amyhoodarts.com

I’m sitting at the art table with G and N. The table has gotten a bit out of control since the Big Studio Clean at the end of the summer. Right now on the table we have:

* my sketchbook, pencils, markers, and wire, along with a full roll of wire;

* pirate hockey stick tape, recently bought and needing to be put away;

* my phone, wireless speaker, and camera;

* a jar of paintbrushes;

* colored tape;

* G’s box of fabric;

* bottles of liquid acrylic paints;

* G’s painting that she’s working on, her reference picture, and her palette, water jar, and cloth;

* N’s canvas, reference picture, palette, water jar, and cloth;

* finished works, in a pile;

* a squash, because it wanted to be a still life;

* tubes of Liquitex Basics acrylic paint;

* the big wooden caddy I built at Squam, full of glass jars of sorted supplies;

* a tray holding odds and ends, and a bowl holding other odds and ends;

* a metal ruler;

* a pad of Bristol board paper;

* a handmade snow globe;

* a wooden model of the human figure;

* a box of wet wipes.

My art table is where creativity blooms, where problems are worked out, where some of the best family time happens. It’s also where frustration sometimes blooms–mine, the kids’, alone or together. But it is the center of our finished basement, where the contractor assumed we’d want a carpeted family room with a TV. “No,” I said. “We’re going to have a washable floor, a utility sink, and the largest table we can manage.”

I Dared

I daredThis month, I am following along with the daily prompts posted at write alm. I do this the old-fashioned way, with pen and a plain notebook, and while Amanda encourages sharing, most of my writing doesn’t seem like it would fit into this space for one reason or another. This one, though, I think I can share. The prompt: I dared.

* I dared to move in with a boyfriend at twenty years old, even though my mother and her family were so ashamed, my aunt did not acknowledge the relationship. My paternal grandparents, however, offered us furniture from their basement.

* I dared to move into an apartment by myself when that relationship ended. Not quite twenty-one years old, a senior in college, I dared to be the only person responsible for all the cooking, re-stocking the toilet paper, and my own happiness.

* I dared to head to Europe by myself for a month, also at twenty-one, with only a Eurail Pass, hostel ID, and what I could carry on my back. I dared to ignore everyone who told me a woman couldn’t and shouldn’t travel alone. I dared to talk to strangers in strange lands.

* I dared to fall in love with my best friend.

* I dared to start a family and trust I could do better than what I’d known. I dare every day to stumble, leaving my good intentions in my wake, and pick myself up. I dare to believe I can always do better.

* I dare to act out of love, not fear or hurt. I dare to be wide open, because closing down predetermines the outcome, and wide open means anything is possible.

* I dare to ask for help.

* I dare to say, “I don’t know.”

* I dare to stake my space and protect it. (I just closed the bedroom door to continue writing uninterrupted.)

* I dare to admit, “This is my passion,” and share it with the world. I dare to fail, because every effort carries the chance of failure, but not making an effort at all ensures a lack of success.

* I dared to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and hit “publish.”

Snapshots

gold

October has been a beauty, with mild days for most of the month and gorgeous colors. When I saw these leaves one morning this past week while waiting for the bus with my oldest, I was immediately reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay. Unfortunately, just a few days later, we were waiting in weather more like this:

frost

Also pretty in its own way, but much colder. I’ve been feeling the effects of the decreasing amount of daylight, I think, because most evenings find me dozing on the couch. Frustrating, because evenings are my work and blogging time, and I feel behind in just about all of my projects at the moment. Hence this catch-up post of snapshots of our days.

running shoes

My sanctuary + my lifeline.

On Mondays Amanda posts writing prompts on the Kindred site, and on Thursday, she shared my photo and words in response to the idea of “sanctuary.” I am terrible at sitting meditation, but I’ve found that running helps bring me out of my mind and into my body in a way that is sanctuary indeed. Another thing that has helped me this past year is the writing of Pema Chodron. I’m currently slowly reading Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion. I read one or two teachings at a time, every now and then, and let the words sit.

at the beach

On one of the last milder days last week, we headed to the beach to collect items for Mudpuddles to Meteors‘ nature exchange. We just heard our match partners live in Alaska. Fun!

making cheese

Checking the temperature of milk that will become ricotta cheese.

My 9yo wanted to know how cheese was made, so we looked it up at the library and he placed a book of recipes on hold. This past week, he made ricotta cheese–twice, actually, because the first time (using the book’s recipe) didn’t yield much cheese. Perfect! More opportunity for learning, as he Googled recipes to see how they were different from the one in the book. We used his ricotta cheese in baked pasta, but he wasn’t impressed with it. (I was! I thought it was yummy.) He would like to make Monterrey Jack next–“an orderly cheese,” in his words. I think the gloppiness of ricotta displeased him. I’m not sure he’s seen it in its natural state before; he’s always just eaten things made with it. However, he also said, “I love math–when it’s used for cheese-making!” This is self-directed learning, folks, and it’s a wonderful thing.

goat note

We are a little later with wrapping up her goat project than I’d hoped, but G’s enthusiasm for printing goat cards waned a bit, and then I waned a bit, but we’re back on track now. We changed in all her coins for dollars, and we’re heading to the bank on Monday to deposit it all so I can write a check. I interviewed her and typed up a letter to Heifer International explaining her project, and she is including this note–on one of her note cards, of course. I can barely stand it. Biased mama, yes, but I think she’s pretty amazing and awfully sweet. I am also extremely thankful for the family and friends, both near and far, who supported her project and helped her raise $120. She never thought it wasn’t possible, and so many of you helped make sure she was right.

I’m hoping to get my evening energy back so I can get back to making progress with Issue Two of Art Together, and a tutorial I’ve agreed to create, and more embroidery, and that sweater I’m knitting… I’ve no time for hibernation! I hope you’re enjoying nature’s “hardest hue to hold” before we slip thoroughly into the starker colors of winter.