March Reading List

Maybe we'll get spring after all! I found these on my walk this afternoon in Providence.

Maybe we’ll get spring after all! I found these on my walk this afternoon in Providence.

Every single book I read in March was well worth it. Isn’t that great? More snow, family illness, husband travel–but the reading was terrific. I liked them all, but I marked the ones you should go read right now with a double asterisk.

Carry On, Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton
The Night of the Gun, by David Carr **
The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M. Valente **
Disgruntled, by Asali Solomon **
Lillian on Life, by Alison Jean Lester
Egg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire **
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher (Short Stories), by Hilary Mantel
Sparrow Road, by Sheila O’Connor
Missing Reels, by Farran Smith Nehme **
Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi

Homeschooling Update

We still are. Here’s the thing: I usually just feel we’re not doing much of anything spectacular. It’s been (and still is) a long cold winter. We are not involved in any homeschool groups or classes, and while probably we should be taking field trips and such, it’s really hard to get my homeschooled kid out of the house. We spend every Wednesday in the city for two appointments, and that one long day usually feels like enough for the week. He takes rock climbing classes and karate and assisted with the after-school art program I facilitated; he’s beginning swim lessons this week along with his brother and sister. In other words, he’s socialized. But he’s also at home a lot. He’s not the type of kid who likes to leave the house just to say we did.

As for subjects, he’s continuing with math, with much bluster (he’s better at math than he thinks he is). We finished Story of the World Volume 3. My thought was to focus on American history for a while, but N isn’t as interested in US History. He requested Chinese history, so I’m waiting for a bunch of books from the library, and I’ll probably order Story of the World Volume 4, since he’s old enough for it now. We continue with his science text, but I don’t force things. We skipped over the anatomy section because it wasn’t grabbing his interest at all. He’s doing far more science than he’d be doing in school, and I don’t see the point in forcing something he’s not interested in. And of course he reads, voraciously, as we all do here.

And he draws.

drawing at

Daily. Sometimes for hours, and always on that futon, no matter how many times I suggest the table. So far he hasn’t done anything with the drawings but create them. He doesn’t write down backstories for the characters he draws, or draw sequential scenes, or even store his drawings neatly. (“Can I get you a folder?” I ask. “A storage box? Something, so they don’t get ruined?” He prefers to leave them on the floor, and I tidy them into a pile on the bookshelf with the colored pencils so they don’t get stepped on.)

I remind myself to bite my tongue. I remind myself that he absolutely doesn’t need some adult’s idea of what he should be doing so I can say, See? He’s doing a drawing project. What else is homeschooling for if not to provide a child with time and space to do what makes him happiest? I have vivid memories of sitting in school at his age, bored, wishing I could be at home working on my latest drawing/writing/crochet project. There doesn’t seem to be much I can do to support this interest right now beyond supplying time, endless amounts of paper, and colored pencils (his preferred medium). When he shows interest in a drawing book, I buy it. He’s exposed to a variety of art, including graphic novels. There is a tendency for adults to want a THING to show as proof that the child was working towards something all along, but no, we need to back away from that impulse. He’ll get to the thing when he’s ready, or he won’t. Maybe he’s just working on 10,000 hours of drawing. He’s happy drawing. He draws daily. I know lots of adults who aspire to do that, including, at times, myself, and we don’t manage it. What he is doing is more than enough, and of his own choice, and I’m not going to do a darn thing to mess it up.

Sewing, Mostly

March has been much like February, but with family-wide sickness along with cold and snow. My main symptoms were cough and narcolepsy, so I’m glad I had the worst of it last week, because my husband left this past Tuesday and won’t be back until next Friday. When I haven’t been sick or taking care of sick people or all my other humdrum responsibilities, I’ve been sewing, mostly.

Remember my machine was in for routine service. When I got it back, I began with this custom order, then moved onto a bag for myself using Charley Harper canvas.

giraffe bag at

Looking at it, I can’t remember why I decided to put the giraffes going from side to side rather than up and down. Maybe the dimensions fit my piece of fabric better than way? They’re up and down on the side pockets. Anyway, it’s hard to photograph an empty bag, but I don’t have anything in it, because I didn’t really need a new bag, I just needed to sew one. If you follow. The canvas was lighter weight than I thought it would be, too. I had enough brown linen left over from my pants to use as lining, too.

giraffe bag at

They go together nicely, don’t they? When the bag was done, I was back to knits, making myself a tee shirt out of Charley Harper elephants.

elephant tee at

It didn’t take much sewing with knits until I got good at it. This is a tee to be proud of, and it will look nice with those brown linen pants, too. (If it ever stops snowing!)

Then it was on to three spring dresses for my daughter. I tackled them assembly-line style, which I’m sure is faster in the long run, but it does seem a tiny bit tedious when you’ve been doing pockets for an entire sewing session.

knit dresses at

These dresses are sewn so much better than the first two I made her, and those were pretty darn good, actually. They are basically this dress from Lands End, but for less money and in the exact fabrics my daughter chose. They’re comfy, she can easily move around and play in them, and they’re adorable. Oh and speaking of pockets, I’ve got those down now.

pocket! at

That is a very neat pocket indeed. When the dresses were done, I sewed her two more pairs of leggings. Here she is, on the first day of Spring (on which it snowed!), in the dim morning light before school (thanks, DST), wearing an entirely made-by-mama outfit.

mama-made outfit at

It’s the rare day when she goes to school without wearing at least one thing I made her. She also picked out fabric for two skirts. They’re woven cotton, straight line stitching, so she and I will be making them together. She’s got quite the spring wardrobe; now we just need spring.

Printmaking Love: Printing With Kids

printmaking love at

One of my gelatin prints.

The theme for Monday’s after school Art Together class was printmaking, so I decided to share gelatin plate printmaking. It was glorious chaos. Eighteen kids, eight gelatin plates, brayers and sponge brushes and palettes that needed to be shared. Bits of texture and stencils for playing with were strewn about, paint on tables and dripped on the floor and on hands. Thirty-six hands that had a really, really hard time resisting the tactile temptation of thick slabs of gelatin, even though they’d been told that touching it and, even worse, picking it up would degrade or even break it. With that many kids, it’s hard to get around to everybody who might need one-on-one help. I gave a demonstration and encouraged them to experiment and remember to share, because we had about two kids to a plate. Then I tried to check in on everybody.

It was great. Printmaking almost always is. It’s magical. Best to let them experiment and discover as much as possible on their own, with a little guidance if necessary. Some kids made collaboration prints all together and worked out who would take them home. Kids helped other kids. Some felt done after just one, and others made twenty.

Sampling of kids' gelatin plate prints at

Just a small sample of the kids’ prints.

They layered prints and colors and textures with abandon, fearlessly, fabulously. I did not sit down for hours. One parent told me that she was grateful her son–one of the kids who printed right up until we were out of time–has taken to the activities in this program. He is put off by drawing, she said, but he has found inspiration here. Oh! Oh. When you find something you love to do that also brings a spark to others–how lucky is that? I need to figure out how to make this happen more often. Right now trying to do that is a casualty of being in limbo–I can’t lay the groundwork to broaden this work here, and I don’t know exactly where we’ll be next. But when the time comes, I’ll figure it out.

paint on my hands at

Paint-y hands are happy hands.

I cleaned and wrapped the gelatin plates to bring home and store in my cold garage. Tuesday, I picked three of the better-looking ones and G, N, and I made some prints ourselves. N and I were too busy to make our own prints on Monday afternoon, and G was home sick with a fever both days.

One of N's gelatin prints at

One of N’s gelatin prints.

Gelatin plate printmaking is so much fun, and the plates are easy to make, too. Art Together Issue Three: Printmaking has all the instructions on how to make a gelatin plate and get started printing with it.

February Reading List

State of the snow pile next to the stairs as of this morning.

State of the snow pile next to the stairs as of this morning.

February included some very meh books, including one I gave up on after 30 pages (One Step Too Far, by Tina Seskis), but it finished strong. Again, books I especially liked are marked by **.

Real Santa, by William Hazelgrove
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
Doll Bones, by Holly Black
The Arsonist, by Sue Miller
The Solitude of Prime Numbers, by Paolo Giordano (re-read)
Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher
Lisette’s List, by Susan Vreeland
Guests on Earth, by Lee Smith**
Happenstance: Two Novels in One About a Marriage in Transition, by Carol Shields**

I read books two and three of the Penderwicks series out loud to my daughter, followed by Ribsy, and we are halfway through Little House in the Big Woods. And I have a stack of library books to dive into in between shoveling. Snow last night and two more storms in the forecast for this week. Please don’t tell me March means spring. Not here.

Art Together Issue Six: Math + Art

{Click here to be taken directly to the sales page on Payhip. For UK/EU customers, VAT is added during the checkout process and isn’t reflected in the $4 USD price.}

I’ve been plugging along on the winter issue of Art Together and–thanks so much, polar vortex–even though it’s almost March, we’re still firmly in the midst of winter, so I don’t feel behind schedule at all even though I didn’t begin until I was sure I’d have a way to easily sell it no matter where you live (thanks so much, Payhip!). Introducing Issue Six: Math + Art:

Art Together Issue 6: Math + Art at

From this issue’s Dear Reader:

Math and art are linked in so many ways. It’s not necessary to force a connection; it’s already there, and has been for centuries. This is a comforting idea for those of us who can feel intimidated or anxious by a wide-open, anything goes approach to art-making. I loved my photography classes (in the pre-digital days) precisely because of the mix of creativity and precision. Photography was part art, part science, and it provided a great balance for me. My photography notebook was, essentially, a lab notebook. What happens when you adjust the light? The ratio of chemicals? The exposure or development time? I enjoyed the experimentation and the structure. This mix satisfied both my creative and my logical sides. And while I have loosened up quite a bit over the years when it comes to art-making, I still am comforted by structure and limits at times.

I have a child who likes structure in his art-making as well, and this issue is created with kids and adults like him in mind. Here are some starting points, some guidelines, some ways in which the wonderful predictability of numbers and geometry and the science of how we see can be used to make art…

issue 6 collage copy

In this issue:

Dear Reader
Artist Spotlight: Bridget Riley
Featured Material: Colored Pencils by guest contributor Mo Awkati
Activity: Op Art—Weaving
Activity: Op Art—Distorted Shapes
Activity: Drawing a Box in Perspective
The Fibonacci Sequence
Activity: Using Fibonacci Numbers
Activity: Mandalas
Try This: Op Art Backgrounds + Shapes

The 35-page PDF download is available for purchase through Payhip here for $4 USD. For UK/EU customers, VAT is added during the checkout process. Currently all issues of Art Together are listed for $4 USD; you can find them all right here.

Thanks for your continued support, emails, and comments when it comes to this little project of mine. I love seeing and hearing about what you and your kids are exploring and discovering together.

Coping By Sewing

I’m not doing well with this winter, with all the snow and the bitter cold and the limbo-ness of life right now. It has always been cold and snowy, it always will be, and we will never sell this house. That’s how it feels. I am cranky and resentful. Every forecast causes husband and I to swear at the TV. Are things blooming where you live? I really don’t want to see pictures. Is it above freezing? Please don’t complain. Freezing is warm to us. See? I am cranky. And to make things even better, our (now former) Realtor spends a couple-three months in Florida every winter. No, we didn’t know this before we hired her, nor did we know some other things that, sigh, don’t matter anymore because I’m sure she’s an excellent Realtor (she told me so constantly), but not for us.

And so, I sew. Last week I made myself a skirt out of thermal knit fabric.

layered thermal skirt at

When I ordered the fabric to make the thermal knit shirt in this post, I also ordered black. Although both colors had the same description and were the same price, the black was thinner; too thin, I thought, for a shirt. But I thought I could double it over and maybe add in some of the olive grey…. and it sat as an idea for a month or three until last week.

I am still (always) learning. I continue to make skirts too big for my waist. I’m not sure if I don’t trust my measurements or I’m taking them wrong (some of both, probably). I knew enough not to follow the directions for drafting an A-line skirt in Sew What! Skirts, because that book only deals with woven fabrics. I used the measurement guidelines in this maxi-skirt tutorial instead. The errors are mine; I should have made the fold-over waistband smaller around. The skirt still works, though, because I intended to wear it over jeans. I’ve found that wearing a skirt over my jeans keeps me warmer. This black thermal knit fabric, by the way, was by far the fuzziest thing I’ve sewn with. Lint was fairly jumping out at me as I sewed.

Sunday morning I sewed my daughter the most cheerful pair of leggings ever, using this Oliver + S pattern.

cheerful leggings at

These are for no particular reason than that I liked the fabric and recognized it needed to be turned into leggings for my color-loving girl. She wore them to school Monday with her ladybug dress. Her wardrobe palette has never been sedate.

Sunday afternoon and Monday, I sewed a pair of linen pants for myself, for when it’s linen-wearing season again.

linen pants at

The pattern is from Simple Modern Sewing, and the fabric was a pre-Christmas on-sale purchase. It’s a nice, opaque linen, although I’m hoping a few more washings will soften it up a little more. The pattern sheets that come with the book are printed with multiple, overlapping pieces on each sheet, so it took me a while (and another cup of coffee) before I could untangle the pattern lines I was trying to trace. (Did M. C. Escher draw these pattern sheets? It seemed so.) Then I thought I’d done it wrong after all because the back pieces are wider than the fronts. This fabric, too, created much fuzz in the machine, and for the first time, I broke a needle while sewing, trying to sew a tri-fold belt loop onto a seam line of the waistband. But lo, the pants are complete, well before I’ll have any chance of wearing them.

Tuesday I dropped my machine off for a cleaning. It’s been almost three years, and I can see cushions of fuzz in places I can’t reach with my little brush. Best to get it cleaned before it’s a problem, is my thought. However, my coping method is now out of my hands for the next week. I plan to cut out lots of pattern pieces so I’m ready to start sewing again once I get it back. I shall sew spring dresses for the girl, as an offering of faith that someday–someday–the snow will melt.

A Couple of Sewn Things

I have lots of fabric waiting to be turned into sewn things, but most of them are spring sewn things and I just can’t yet. The snow, it is piled up, and it’s so cold with wind chill that I can’t in good conscience send my stir-crazy energy-filled kids outside. We all hate snow by now, even the kids.

Anyway. I sewed some things.

kindle cover at

I finally got a Kindle, so of course I needed to make it a cover. I used this tutorial and canvas upholstery fabric from stash. I consider this my starter cover, something to keep it safe and protected until I make one with a bit more personality.

It slides into a pocket for protection in a bag:

kindle case at

And it slips into these nifty corner tabs when I’m reading it.

kindle cover at

Cute, huh? My husband said, “Most people buy a Kindle and then just buy a case, you know.” I said, No, most people who sew make their own. Slightly different worlds! I like my sewn Kindle case.

I also finally sewed the DNA apron I had in mind when I saw this DNA fabric, which I just had to buy, because DNA is so beautiful–not just its structure but the elegance of its construction as a solution to the problem of how to replicate itself.  Nature is a superb designer.

DNA apron at

Kind of a fuzzy picture, taken by my 6yo, but you get the drift. I intend this for an art-work apron, especially while teaching, as I’m constantly needing more hands than I have. Pockets! Hopefully I will someday teach again. If we lose another Monday to snow I’m afraid we’ll never be able to make them all up.

My favorite part is the bias trim, I think.

DNA apron bias trim at

I have some of each fabric left over, too, so I’m sure it’ll show up as a pouch lining or something sooner or later.

I’ll be sewing more soon. Sewing therapy!

Candy Cane Mittens

candy cane mittens at

“Mama,” said my middle child last winter, “can I have mittens striped like candy canes?”

“Sure,” says I, and I began to knit. He didn’t like the striping. There was no talking about it, and so I quit knitting the mittens.

This fall: Lather, rinse, repeat. “I don’t knit for tyrants,” I told him. After a while–and some other, non-tyrant-related knitting–I told him I’d happily knit him solid mittens, but I wasn’t fooling with all those loose ends from striping. But he wanted red and white striped mittens. And then I signed up to offer an after-school program and enlisted him as a helper and offered to pay him in knits–specifically, striped mittens, even though they’re a big pain with all those ends to weave in. The class began January 5 and was slated to end February 9 after five sessions; however, we’ve only managed two because school keeps getting cancelled on Mondays due to snow. It didn’t seem fair to make him wait for the mittens though, so there they are, with all those annoying ends woven in and everything.

He loves them.

And thus ends a rather quick post. What else to say? February sucks my soul. Snow, grey days, snow, shoveling, cold, snow. Why haven’t we moved yet? Why, indeed. I tell myself that all the many annoyances would feel less so if it weren’t February, cold, and snowy. I try to hold my tongue and keep perspective. What seems overwhelming in February is merely a trifle in July. July will come.

January Reading List

valentine banner at

I thought I’d try to keep track of the books I read this year. I’ve tried this before and it never really sticks, but I’ve done it for a month now, anyway. The books I read in January (with asterisks next to the ones I really really liked):

The Double Helix by James Watson (a re-read)
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson **
Day After Night by Anita Diamant (a re-read, which I realized partway through)
Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof
Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf
Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney **
Good Harbor by Anita Diamant
Friendswood by Rene Steinke
The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number by Mario Livio
The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution, by Jonathan Eig

I’m not strictly keeping track of the chapter books I read aloud (mainly to my 6yo), but there were a couple Moffat books, Peter Pan, and the first Penderwick book in January. We just started the second Penderwick book the other night.

(Every post needs a picture, and the one above is of our Valentine banner, now on its fourth year. You can see how we made it here.)