November + December Reading Lists

December sunset at amyhoodarts.com

December sunset seen through my kitchen window. End of year. Et cetera.

I never posted November’s list, so here they are together. I’ve made it through an entire year of keeping track of what I read (!!). The grand total is 111 books, so you know where all my spare time has gone this year, and then some. Hmm. I might be more productive if I didn’t read so much. Something to think about. You can see every month’s list by clicking on the reading category tag.

November:

Primates of Park Avenue, Wednesday Martin
The Burned Bridges of Ward, Nebraska, Eileen Curtwright
How to Start a Fire, Lisa Lutz *
The Children’s Crusade, Ann Packer *
A Better Man, Leah McLaren
Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand *
The Daylight Marriage, Heidi Pitlor
The Bishop’s Wife, Mette Ivie Harrison
Still Life With Breadcrumbs, Anna Quindlen *

December:

Oranges Are the Only Fruit, Jeannette Winterson
Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer, Rick Riordan
Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell *
The Obituary Writer, Ann Hood
The Boston Girl, Anita Diamant
Days of Awe, Lauren Fox *
Eight Hundred Grapes, Laura Dave
The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman *
Bastards, Mary Anna King
Attachments, Rainbow Rowell
Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick

Knit: Arden Mitts

Arden mitts at amyhoodarts.com

One of my new friends here in Annapolis, who also happens to be an artist, admired some knitting of mine and proposed a barter, pottery for knitting. I’ve never knit for money, but a barter sounded like a great idea. (Why won’t I knit for money? Because when you add up the cost of supplies and my time, I’d need to price it higher than most people would want to pay.) We talked about possible knits, and she decided upon fingerless mitts with long cuffs, to go with a three-quarter-sleeve coat she owns. After looking at several patterns and yarn possibilities, here’s the result–which she is modeling in the pottery studio, where I dropped them off to her. (She expressed concern about the state of her fingernails in this photo. However, those are hands that make. We love those kinds of hands, right?)

Details:

Pattern: Arden, knit pretty much as written.

Yarn: Madelintosh Tosh Vintage, colorway Red Phoenix, close to two skeins.

Needles: US 7.

This was a pay-attention sort of knit, just because of the cabling. But not overall difficult, and the result is gorgeous.

Working with Klee’s Intention

Materials: Watercolor paper, watercolors and brushes, oil pastels, copy of Paul Klee’s Intention as well as other works (as available) to discuss.

Last week I had the opportunity to facilitate some art-making with a group of fifth graders. My daughter’s elementary school has a program called “Guest Artist,” in which parent volunteers come into the class for forty minutes to present an artist and lead a project. Sadly, by the time I gained access to her classroom’s online signup, all the slots were taken, but I let the coordinator know I could fill in if other classes had empty slots. I really kind of love talking with kids about art.

Forty minutes for set-up, discussion, art-making, and clean-up is quite short, so that influenced this project. I also wanted to engage this age level, which is why I settled upon presenting Paul Klee’s painting Intention.

amyhoodarts.com

Page spread from Paul Klee for Children by Silke Vry

We began by looking at some of Klee’s artwork in general and I invited the kids to comment on what they noticed. There are no right or wrong answers here, of course. They observed that his lines were simple, he bordered on the abstract, and he didn’t seem too concerned with mistakes or perfection. He’s not one of those artists painting so realistically that it looks like a photograph (how freeing!). Then I talked to them about Intention (seen above), using Sike Vry’s book as a guide. We talked about how the shapes and symbols stood for things; what did we see? The figure separating the color blocks is a person. Everything behind the person is in the past, a memory or something left behind. Everything in front represents future plans, or intentions. I hung up a sheet with some definitions of the word from the dictionary:

Intention, n. 1. A determination to act in a certain way: RESOLVE
2. IMPORT, SIGNIFICANCE
3. What one intends to do or bring about
(Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition)

I then explained the art-making.

Process: Each student received a 12″ x 18″ piece of watercolor paper and a black oil pastel. I showed my sample and explained they’d be making their own piece in the style of Klee’s Intention, with a figure representing themselves and symbols of both memories/past experiences and future plans.

sample of Klee activity at amyhoodarts.com

My sample artwork.

I encouraged them to make marks with intention as well, to think about their symbols and make them confidently. Pencils weren’t allowed, both because it wouldn’t erase once the pastel went down, and because pencils encourage hesitant work (because of the option to erase and start over). Once the black pastel symbols were down, other pastel colors could be added for emphasis. Finally, the background colors could be painted in with watercolors, which would be resisted by the oil pastel, leaving those lines pure and vibrant while easily filling in the background.

students at work - amyhoodarts.com

students at work

It was a great class to work with and I had loads of fun. The kids took to the process, thinking carefully about what to include and sharing with me the things they’d left behind. Getting to work with a group of kids in this way is a joy!

October Reading List

halloween still life at amyhoodarts.com

We finally live in a trick-or-treating neighborhood after more than a decade, so we had some fun decorating for Halloween.

Fewer books than normal this month, I think. I abandoned more than one, for various reasons, and A Little Life is more than 700 pages. I didn’t even realize that when I requested it via Overdrive, and it’s a perfect use of a Kindle, in my opinion. I fell asleep reading it one night when my husband was traveling, and if I’d done that with the hard copy, I probably would have injured myself. Anyway, here’s October’s list–and honestly I’m amazed I’ve continued to keep track through ten whole months–with, as always, books I particularly liked marked with an asterisk.

The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
Life and Other Near Death Experiences, Camille Pagan *
The Wave, Todd Shasser (handed to me by my eldest, so of course I read it)
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeanette Winterson *
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara *
Who Do You Love, Jennifer Weiner
Two Sisters, Mary Hogan
The Death of Santini, Pat Conroy

Have you read anything good lately?

The Middle Years {And Adjusting}

creating space at amyhoodarts.com

Quiet time together, creating a space for whatever needs to be shared.

“Can you pick us up after school?” my sixth grader asked. “I like to tell someone about my day right away.”

What parent would pass up that chance? It’s not really a hardship to drive ten minutes down Route 2 to pick them up. My middle child gets in the car and goes through his day period by period, telling me everything. My daughter, who just turned seven, often has me to herself when she gets off the bus, since her school releases earlier than her brothers’. My oldest has always been more reticent, but he, too, will share about his day, especially if he learned something he found interesting. We often critically analyze different ideas together. He’s been my main supermarket companion for several years now. He’s a really good helper, and it’s an opportunity to be together without any younger siblings around.

Parenting these children, not surprisingly, is no less involved than it was when they were babies, but instead of changing diapers and being attentive to signs of hunger or distress, I’m quietly monitoring the undercurrents and making sure I’m available when they need or want to talk. I’m making sure we’re not overscheduled, so we have space in our days for connecting. The boys participate in some after-school activities right at school. My daughter plays soccer and just began dance lessons. All of these are their choices. We still eat dinner together just about every night, because eating dinner together has always been a priority.

Last week my daughter complained of a headache and a stomachache. I looked closely and saw a tired-looking, overwrought child and decided she could stay home from school. We sat on the couch together, she reading, me knitting, the cat purring between us. Bit by bit, into the quiet space we’d created, she told me some of what was troubling her. Her new school is very different from her old school. Some of these differences are wonderful: a library, an art room, a room for PE and for eating lunch. But some things are harder to adjust to. The behavioral management charts—nonexistent in her old school—are causing anxiety. I learned details that concerned me. I spoke to guidance to get more information. I met with her teacher, which led to a meeting with the principal. Perhaps these concerns will spark change in the school. I believe in honoring children’s humanity, in believing they are doing the best they can, in helping them to feel invested in the success of the community, not shamed because their clip has moved backwards instead of forwards. I’m glad my daughter felt she could talk to me. I’m grateful we have the time and space to create the quiet necessary to talk about troubling things.

Meanwhile, my boys are getting letter grades for the first time. Our previous school didn’t use letter grades and, of course, my middle child has been homeschooled for the past three years. How does a homeschooler-at-heart adjust to grades, anyway? We’ve talked about them, how they’re not the be-all and end-all, that I don’t want them getting A’s but not engaging (which is certainly possible, as any smart student who’s figured out the game of school can attest). How I hope they’ll connect with their learning, go deeper, get involved. How if their best effort equals a C, that’s fine, but now that they’re in a system that uses grades, they can’t just ignore them, because they might need them for something. (My oldest, for instance, would like to apply to a high school magnet program, which requires minimum grades.) Honestly, A’s and B’s should be no problem for them, but I don’t want them in it just for the grades. The grades are a byproduct. We talk about this balance so they know: You are not your grades. Your grades are not your learning. But assess your goals, and be aware of what you need to do to reach them.

Which is all to say, being mother to these three children is a different sort of engagement than it was when they were small, strapped to my body or constantly by my side. It’s knowing when to step in and when to step back; when a stomachache is a stomachache and when it might be a symptom of something else. Being around and involved but not controlling. Being aware. I am so proud of these children, how they are adjusting, how they are conducting themselves. I am honored to hear their stories of school, to be allowed access, to hang with my boys at the bus stop when most middle school parents have been ordered away. I want each of them to feel they have me when they need me, with no distractions. It’s a sobering responsibility, to be present for these growing people, truly, wholly present. But what, really, is more important?

Sewn: Baby Quilt

pile of nine patch blocks at amyhoodarts.com

A friend of my husband’s is expecting his first child later this year. Normally I knit for the babies, but this time I decided I wanted to sew. In particular, I wanted to sew a quilt. So I ordered a fat quarter bundle and yardage of one of the prints to use as backing and got to work. I posted process shots on Instagram; I guess this took a month or so of intermittent work? The precise work in the beginning was enjoyable in its own way. To start with, I cut 81 squares and turned them into nine nine-patch blocks (above). I made sure each nine patch had the same center and none of them repeated fabrics. Then, I cut each nine patch block into quarters and arranged them into the quilt top. I sewed them all together and added a border of the backing fabric to expand it to roughly 36″ square.

quilt top at amyhoodarts.com

It remained a quilt top for a bit while life got busy with an injured child, but eventually I returned to it and began quilting.

quilting at amyhoodarts.com

I decided on straightforward straight lines, 1/4″ away on either side from the seam lines between the main blocks. Although I’d originally thought I’d use the backing fabric for binding, once I used it as a border, I didn’t want to. So I alternated strips of the same cloud pattern but in the other two colors, orange and green. I machine sewed the binding to the front, but hand sewed it to the back, which is the neatest way to do it. I enjoy hand sewing at times. It has the benefit of being portable, so this even got worked on at my daughter’s soccer practice.

sewing on the binding at amyhoodarts.com

Once it was complete, I threw it in the washer and dryer. I’m not the only one who holds her breath during the first washing, am I? I know I sew well. There’s just something about that first run through that has my heart in my throat a little. I want to be able to confidently tell the new mom and dad that they can use this quilt, and it can get washed warm and dried in the dryer with no problems at all. Which I now know is absolutely true.

Ta-da! The finished quilt.

finished baby quilt at amyhoodarts.com

My boys, ever encouraging of Things I Make, said, “Aw, if I were a baby I’d want to sleep with that,” and, “I like all the overlapping colors.” My husband (who approved the fabric choices, since it’s his friend after all) thinks the clouds are very calm looking. I used a thin (is that the correct term?) batting, so this isn’t a squishy quilt, but I think it’s perfect for laying out on the floor so baby has a clean place to hang out and, later, play. It’s small enough to be portable but big enough to be used as an extra blanket on a big-boy bed. Yay for my first quilt! Now I want to make more.

September Reading List

thistle

I thought this month would end up a little lighter on books, but I see I read ten. This surprises me only because I learned, this past month, that our library system has loads of digital magazines available to borrow. Using the Zinio for libraries app, I always have a magazine or two loaded into my phone. It’s been fantastic–and free. I love libraries.

So, books read in September, with, as always, an asterisk next to ones I really liked. (Although if I can’t stand a book I don’t finish it, so if it’s on the list, I liked it enough to read it.)

Bookends, by Jane Green
The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kennedy
How to Write a Novel (A Novel), by Melanie Sumner *
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson *
The Yokota Officers Club, by Sarah Bird *
In the Language of Miracles, by Rajia Hassib
David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell *
What a Mother Knows, by Leslie Lehr
The Writing on My Forehead, by Nafisa Haji *
The Rumor, by Elin Hilderbrand

Speak was given to my 13yo by the middle school librarian, and when he was done, he handed it to me. Another mom in the neighborhood saw me reading it and felt it was highly inappropriate for the librarian to give it to my son without asking me, because it deals with rape. It’s a YA novel and these situations happen to kids whether we want to think they do or not. I had no problem with my son reading it, and I like that he handed it to me to read, knowing I would and we could talk about it.

Small Acts of Kindness

tiny flowers

After only a couple of days at school on crutches, N said to me, “I don’t like having to be helped everywhere. I just don’t like feeling like people need to do things for me.” I understood him perfectly. For whatever many reasons, I entered adulthood feeling like it was best not to have to rely on anybody, if I could help it. That relying on other people just meant they could let you down, and you were better off taking care of yourself all by yourself. That felt much safer. And in some respects, I guess it is. But it’s also tiring, and a bit lonely. And sometimes, like when you are on crutches in middle school and need to switch classes and get all your stuff from one room to the next, relying on other people is unavoidable.

I tried to explain some of this to N, about how I understood, and shared that it had taken me many, many years to be okay with asking for help–even though I am always willing to help other people. I told him that people like to help, for the most part. It gives them a good feeling. Thus, in a way, he was giving people a gift, because they could help him, and feel good. It’s a very human thing, but we forget it often, don’t we? It feels good to help other people. It fosters connection. We humans, we didn’t evolve to be lone units. We evolved in groups.

It’s been good, observing other sixth graders helping my kid. I chaperoned a field trip for his science class last week (I was basically his personal attendant, carrying all his stuff and making sure he didn’t tumble off a dock and infect his open wound with whoknowswhat from the Chesapeake). During the on-the-dock portion of the program, while I was quietly stressing out every time he moved (narrow dock! no railings! crutches!), N was fretting because it was so hard for him to participate in using the water quality testing equipment. Then another boy came up to him and said, “Let’s test the water together.” He handed N the monitor portion and dropped the sensor into the water while N looked for the readings. “Thank you,” I said, “for making sure to include him.” Thank you for noticing my boy. Isn’t that what these small acts of kindness are, really? Noticing, and then acting.

I picked him up from his after-school activity last week and found him waiting with two boys, one holding his backpack and the other holding his water bottle and sweatshirt. Yes, they’d been asked to do so by the teacher, but neither was complaining. I thanked them and was met with a large smile. It feels good to help.

The small acts of kindness require little more than paying attention. Am I paying attention? I try. To walk through the world mindful of where I am and what’s around me, rather than lost in my own head. To notice the person who may be struggling and remove the obstacle. Like the man backing out of the Whole Foods elevator (because parking is below the store) in his motorized shopping cart, but several carriages were just enough in his way. Simple enough to move the carriages so he could maneuver his way out. “Thank you,” he said, looking me in the eye, once he’d backed out and turned around. That look in the eye–I got the sense he felt noticed, and appreciated it. Perhaps this is the best most important thing any of us can do with our lives: notice our fellow humans and do our part to remove the small obstacles when we can.

I’m not sure if this space may evolve a bit. With a bit more time during the day for my own thoughts to quietly percolate, I find more things brewing that I may want to write up and share, along with the posts about making and creating. It’s all the art of life, after all.

Emergency Adventure

My sweet boy waiting, waiting, waiting in the ER Tuesday night.

My sweet boy waiting, waiting, waiting in the ER Tuesday night.

When I chose adventure as my word this year, this past week wasn’t quite the type I was thinking. We spent eight hours in the ER with our middle child Tuesday night/Wednesday morning after he cut his foot so badly he needed 20 stitches. He’s on crutches now. He’s doing much better and his foot looks like it’s healing well, but I wanted to mention some strategies that came in useful.

  • The medical center had a child life specialist. Obviously this was out of our control; we just lucked out. She visited several times while we waited, provided an iPad with games, answered his questions, showed him the material used for stitching so he could see the size of the needle and the type of thread. While anything was being done to his foot–application of numbing cream, cleaning, and the stitching–she sat right by his head and gave him her complete attention. She engaged him in conversation, let him know what was going on, and helped distract him from the pain. She said that medical center (which has a separate pediatric ER) has three child life specialists, all donor funded. This was our second experience with them. At one visit to the asthma clinic in RI, a child life specialist was available, but it wasn’t common. They should be a staple in pediatric ERs. I’m grateful.
  • Even with the numbing cream and an injection of extra numbing medicine, a few of the stitches were very painful. I reminded N to take bear breaths, something we recently learned about thanks to Yoga Pretzel cards. He knew just what I meant, and he took the deep breaths in, held them, exhaled, and held, and got through those painful stitches. The visualization cards were also very helpful the first day. He’s a very imaginative person and took right to imagining a happy, calm place in detail.
  • When the pain got bad those first 24-36 hours home, I mimed pulling it out of his foot. Sometimes I had to pull really hard. Then I formed it into a ball and asked him where I should throw it. Outside? No, it might be found by an animal. He decided it needed to be thrown out, and so I opened the trash can and clanged it in. I did this whenever he needed me to.
  • He’s an active kid, with a buzzy sort of energy, and he’s not allowed to put his right foot down for at least two weeks. I realized pretty quickly that sometimes when he was yelling, it wasn’t so much out of pain but as a way to get that energy out of his body because he has so few outlets to do so. It can feel good to just yell.

He’s doing better every day. It’s good to know that, as a family, we all are pretty good in an emergency. I was at soccer practice with our daughter when the injury happened, but I heard N applied his own direct pressure and V was steady, calm, and extremely helpful. (“He was a rock,” our neighbor told me. “Exactly the kind of person you want in an emergency.”) It’s been an exhausting week but we’re getting through day by day, as you do.

August Reading List

August book list at amyhoodarts.com

A sweet book playhouse/reading nook behind the Annapolis Bookstore.

I’m a little late with this, but here’s what I read in August. Again, books I particularly liked are marked with an asterisk. I didn’t include the books I abandoned for one reason or another. (Life is too short to read badly written and/or dull books.)

Housebreaking, by Dan Pope
Very Good Lives, by JK Rowling
The Sweet Spot, by Christine Carter, PhD
The Beautiful Struggle, by Ta-Nehisi Coates *
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
Reunion, by Hannah Pittard *
The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion *
Fly Away, by Kristin Hannah
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates*
Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline *
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison (re-read) *
Crossroads of Should and Must, by Elle Luna
The Mermaid Chair, by Sue Monk Kidd

(Sometimes I feel like I should annotate these lists a little beyond starring the ones I really liked, but it’s always thoughts on ones I wasn’t that impressed with, so I end up going with the adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So I don’t.)