Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bring on the sunshine

Life is Good: you are a treasure

Just in case you have forgotten and just in case no one has told you today, you are a treasure.

You have everything it takes within you to do what you need to do today.

Look deep within and find your sunshine. Let it spill out of you and wrap around you like a giant, warm, yellow hug.

We all have a light within us. Use yours as your force shield as you go out into the world. Let it protect you and empower you.

Do good. Make others feel good. Keep sparkling, sunshine.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pointillism art projects for kids

Life is Good: we're learning from the great artists!

We had a lot of fun with "Great artists week"! Besides talking about artists, we've been talking about styles of art, too. Including Pointillism, which was an offshoot of Impressionism where artists use dots or dabs of paint to create a looser shape rather than strokes for an exact shape. The closer you are to the art piece, the more dots or dabs you see. The farther you are from the art piece, the more the dots look blended. The old saying that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" truly applies to the idea of Pointillism because it relies on the mind and sight of the audience to blend the dots into a shape or frame.

We looked at lots of examples of Pointillism including this piece from Georges Seurat. I love this painting. It looks so happy--the subject and the colors. And although it was created in the late 1800s, it feels very familiar to me. We live near a lake where people sit alongside the water with their children and pets. Change the hats and parasols to baseball caps and running shoes and you have our everyday life in the summer.

To dip our toes into the Pointillism pond, I first made a star shape using dots with marker on paper.

Then, the big kid filled in the star with dots. We talked about how holding the marker at different angles produced different kinds of dots. Some were small and some dots were messy and long.

Then, I created a shape of a sailboat on water with a sun using different colored dots to make an outline for the big kid to fill in.

Then we held the pictures up from across the room to see if we saw dots or a whole image.

Don't worry. Little brother practiced his own kind of "Pointillism"...

Later, we tried our hands at Pointillism paintings. For beginners, you can use a q-tip dipped into paint. After you've mastered the q-tip, try using a paintbrush to recreate the Pointillism style.

The big kid is still stuck on Picasso and ended up doing this masterpiece, too.

He said it was "how Picasso would do Pointillism". That's okay with me! I love that he was grasping the concepts and then putting his own creative slant on it.

It is thrilling to watch my children fall in love with art and interpret it. I can only hope that this provides a foundation for experimentation, critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and individualism in the years to come.

"To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive." (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Picasso art projects for kids

Life is good: art is great!

In my efforts to fulfill the "teacher" part of my role as parent, I dubbed an entire week, "Great Artists Week" at our house a few weeks ago. Problem is, we've been doing so much that I haven't taken time to download pictures! Until now...

I always try to work information into our discussions and we often discuss famous artists--Van Gogh, da Vinci, Michelangelo, as well as Matisse and Monet. It is easy to see art in the everyday. Gardens, a weathered sign, fruit, animals, people waiting for a bus, trees with magnificent leaves...they've all been the subject of works and works and works of art.

But Picasso, who happens to be one of my favorite artists, has really caught the eye of our five-year old. I especially love the simplicity of his line art and adore the imperfection of his cubism works. And it's the cubism pieces that have really grabbed our big kid's attention. We've talked about how Picasso was a ground breaker with the introduction of cubism. Cubism was really unique and different for the time. For Pablo Picasso, it must have felt both exciting and daunting to show this new kind of art to people. It's been a great way to discuss the importance of listening to your heart when creating art and not trying to make your work look like anyone else's, but rather to be inventive and listen to your own creative soul. Picasso once said, "I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them." This also provided a nice segue into a conversation about not following the crowd and being an individual in all realms, not just art.

We've had a lot of fun looking at and discussing Picasso's artwork and then interpreting it into our own. I asked the big kid to draw a self portrait with sidewalk chalk. Then, I drew some lines in it to create a "cubism" effect and then he colored it in.

He really loved this and asked for me to make more "cubist" images. (What is it about boys and dragons?)
Then he wanted to do some drawings on paper with marker "like Picasso". (I love that!) Including a dinosaur, of course...

And another dinosaur...

We've talked a lot about Picasso's line drawings--about how simple they are. We talked about the lack of detail or the minimal detail and then tried our hand at some of our own.

We looked at Picasso's peace doves and discussed our role in world peace. Truly, world peace is possible. And it begins with you and me. If we create peace within our home, then go out into the world in peace--if we show peace and understanding and love to everyone we meet and then they, in turn, do the same thing, we will begin a chain reaction of peace that will flood the world with goodness, kindness, and love. It's idealistic (and I love that) and I believe, it really is possible.

So we made some peace doves. And then cut them out and made a mobile out of them! All we needed was clear fishing line and some glue stick and voila! Of course somehow, I forgot to take a photo!

I love this quote from Pablo Picasso: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." It always breaks my heart when I hear people talk about art like it is silly or childish. I look around at the world and all I see is art. Gardens are like paint palettes. The sky, a canvas kissed by blues and white. The texture of peeling paint, the curls and twirls of a wrought iron fence, grooves from tires driven through mud, patterns of bricks and feathers and waves---all art.

Each day, I have a project or two lined up with different artists and styles, but Picasso continues to creep in.
In paintings...

And games, too. The big kid loves collage and wanted to do a collage "like Picasso" so we talked about this piece and how Picasso didn't always make his faces or bodies evenly distributed or look exactly like a face or body in the mirror. So the big kid drew a face, two eyes, two eyebrows, a nose, and a mouth and then cut them out. Then, we moved the pieces around like a puzzle to find the "masterpiece" in it.

 And then he decided on this...

You don't have to have paintings hanging in a gallery or an art degree to love art or to teach your children about art. All you need is curiosity. All you have to do is ask questions, be observant, and wonder. What do you think was the artist's inspiration? What is your favorite color in this painting? What is different about this artist's style in comparison to the other artist? Just like anything else in life, it's okay not to have all of the answers. And just like anything else in parenting, it's usually the kids that end up being the teachers! Ask your kids to talk to you about some artwork and prepare to be amazed at the observations and creativity! 

"Art is everywhere you look for it, hail the twinkling stars for they are God's careless splatters." (El Greco)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Little boy birthday cake

Life is Good: don't take yourself too seriously!

There are many things that I hope to pass on to my in God, a positive attitude, a strong work ethic, love of family (whether it be blood or otherwise), a desire to serve God's people, being a true and loyal friend, excitement and enthusiasm about whatever is at hand, curiosity about the world...I could go on and on. I can't guarantee that they will learn these things from me and I can't guarantee that those things will resonate strongly with them. But I will do my best. It's the promise I made to them during those many talks we had while they were still in the womb.

One thing I am pretty sure they will learn from me is not to take yourself too seriously. Each day, I give them ample examples of me laughing at myself. And one fine example is this year's (okay, every year's) birthday cake for our littlest. And to prove that I am utterly flawed and imperfect and am the first one to laugh at myself. I am writing this post with pictures to prove it.

It started out like anything else...I had a brilliant great fun idea. Our littlest dude lovvvves music. SO! Why not make a musical note-shaped cake?!  Well, the best thing that I can say about this cake is that I am no quitter. And thank goodness, when you are making a cake for a two-year old, the pressure to make it "perfect" is significantly lowered. At least that is what I kept telling myself. And here it is...

Once you have stopped laughing, please scroll down for more details.

Okay, that didn't take as long as I thought it would. Or maybe it did? Now I know why fondant cake decorating has become so popular. I think fondant tastes horrible, but it is smooth and beautiful and in my opinion, easier to create with. For me, it is like making a collage. Cutting strips and pieces and creating an art piece. (My mom taught me the process when I was younger.) But, man, it is not tasty! So I choose the more imperfect (but sweeter!) route...

For those of you who would like to attempt your own adventure in laughing at yourself (or perhaps, are better equipped for decorating such a cake), here is how this cake came to be...

I started with four cakes. Two loaf pans and two mini, round, springform pans.

I used my Eggless Chocolate Chunk Zucchini Bread recipe (without the cocoa powder) because I knew it would be firm enough to sculpt into the shape I needed. I cut the loaf pan-sized cakes in half and placed the cakes and pieces together.


Then I stared at it for a while and wondered what I had gotten myself into.  I went on Facebook and told everyone who has "liked" the How to be Pleasant Blog about my procrastination. And then I looked at the clock knowing that naptime and quiet time were sure to be over soon, so I needed to, as my fellow Kansans would say, "get my rear in gear" and frost this cake!

I started out by covering the entire cake with frosting. Some people call this a crumb coat. For you painters, it's like preparing the canvas.

Then, I wet my hands and patted all of the frosting all over the cake until it was softer looking.

Then I turned on Annie Lennox's song, "Why" and wondered why I thought I could make this cake in the first place, why I had emphasized the concept and not thought about the implementation of this cake more, and why I had never considered taking a cake decorating class! And then I did something that chills me to my bones, wrecks me to my deepest depth. I took the easy way out. I grabbed my three-opening cake tip and covered that cake with frosting "stars".

It wasn't my finest creative moment. But this cake wasn't about me. It was about our two-year old. And you know what? He loved it. And our five-year old thought it was really great, too. And it tasted good. (Though I must admit that cardboard would taste divine with my Grandma's frosting spread all over it.)

This cake was not about my creativity or my art. It was about my family. It was about the time I put into the baking and the decorating, because the time and the effort are the translation of love. And that's another thing I hope my I can pass on to our children. To be the kind of people who give of their time and their efforts and of all that they have and all who they are to show love to their friends, eventually to their own families, to everyone they meet, and to those they will never meet. Love and giving. That's what this cake was really about.

Oh, and primal frosting carnage, too...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Second a Day from Birth Video

Life is Good: technology gives warm fuzzies!

While pregnant, I had grand plans of documenting the month mark of each child for their first year with a photograph. Sometimes I took the photo on the right date and sometimes it was a day or two after. That first year is just so full. Full of fun and first and deprivation of sleep! While I would love to look back on a series of perfectly-timed 1-12 photos, I gave myself a break about the "8 month old photo" being the day after or the "3 month old photo" being the "3 months and 2 weeks photo".

Something I have done for each child is create a slideshow on the computer of their past year in photos. Each time I download photos, I grab a few of the best, funniest, or most "telling", and add them to a slideshow file. Then, we run the photo on the big screen or a wall or whatever at their birthday party. It has turned out to be a real treasure. Every once in a while, our family will just watch the slideshow for the nostalgia. And the big kid will request a viewing every once in a while, too. He really loves the early slideshows of himself and his brother. We all enjoy it.

I will admit that I am not a regular online video watcher. I just don't take the time. Notice I didn't say that I don't have the time? None of us have the time. We're all busy. But we make time for the things that are important to us; we make time for what we want and what we can. And so I would rather do something else than watch videos. That doesn't mean that I am doing something brilliant or important or satisfying. So no judgements if you do watch a lot of online videos. HOWEVER. I did take the time to watch this video. And I think you should, too. A dad in England took video footage of his son every day for his first year of his life and then took one second from each of those days to create a 365-second video. It is precious. It is lovely. It is 365 seconds of smiles and joy and hope that hug and hover around new and young life.

I loved the video because the daddy shows so much love in that piece. In the thought, in the intention, in the time and effort. I also loved the video because it reminded me of when my children were that tiny. It reminded me of the newness and the bliss of being a new parent. It is also such an amazing visual of the leaps and bounds of the first year of life. We enter this world only knowing how to breathe and sleep. We quickly learn how to eat. And then, in twelve months time, we are balancing a gigantic head, laughing, sitting, talking, walking and more. Amazing seems like such a throw away word these days, but the first year of life really is amazing.

Here's one more chance to watch the video! Here's to giggles and snuggles and j.o.y.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Birthday cakes for boys

Life is Good: it's the little one's birthday!

Captain's Log 07.19.13
My co-pilot is at his day job and the rest of the crew are in their quarters for napping or at least quiet time.

And here I sit with a baked cake before me. No frosting. Completely naked. Staring at me. And I wonder, "how do I get myself into these things?" And also, "why didn't I just make a round, two-layer cake and call it a birthday?"

But no, I have baked 4 cakes. And then whittled them down to a shape that may (or may not) look like a music note. And now, they need to be frosted. They demand to be frosted. And it is in this moment that I truly understand how four little words can bring my grown up, six-foot-two husband to his knees to cry. Those four small words uttered from my lips, "I have an idea."

Oh, yes. I had an idea. The little one loves music. I mean he loves music! So of course, a musical note birthday cake is perfect for him. And I am just silly enough to think that I was the woman for the job. It was so clear and simple in my head.

So now the birthday cake taunts me in a Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry kind of voice. "Go ahead," it says, "make my frosting."

And so I will. I will march myself into the kitchen, make my Grandma's frosting, say a little prayer, and show that piece of cake who's the mama around here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Names for Boys

Life is Good: and full of giggles!

The big kid has been at Vacation Bible School (VBS) this week and having a fun time. Each day on the way home, he tells me what his favorite activity was or who he sat by at snack time. He hooted and hollered as he told me about how the person behind the puppet stage was exposed on the first day.

And each day, I've asked him which friend he hung out with the most; who he sat by, who he played with. His response is typically that he spent time with everyone, which satisfies me to no end. This little boy has always been so friendly and eager to make friends and I love that while he does have his "favorite friends", he is interested and excited to play with everyone. Being inclusive is really important to me and I feel like we are off to a good start with that.

So the big kid has mentioned a boy named "Finn" a few times. "I sat by Finn.", "Finn said this or that.", etc. But I couldn't quite figure out who "Finn" was. It seemed "Finn" always last to arrive and first to leave because I never saw him or his parents during drop off or pick up.

Finally, tonight, as we were setting the table for dinner, the big kid was talking about VBS and said, "Sebastian said something really funny." Sebastian and his mom were in our playgroup when the big kid was about two, so I was happy to hear that they were interacting. "Oh, you were talking to Sebastian? How nice!" I said. Then the big kid explained that, "Sebastian is Finn." Huh? Then he explained that he had been calling Sebastian "Finn" all week. And why, you might ask? "Because he just looks like a 'Finn'" he tells me! What? Then he goes in to great detail about how Sebastian really should be named Finn. "His face and hair and stuff just look like a Finn", so that's what he has been calling him until today when he decided to go ahead and call him Sebastian. Oh, the wheels that turn in that little (big) brain. You just can't make this stuff up, folks.

I think the big kid has a future in naming things. It is a real job, in case you didn't know it! Coincidentally, I was just telling a couple of moms this morning how several Sundays ago, while we were driving home from church, the big kid asked if we could change his little brother's name. To something "less bored". Excuse me? "Less bored meaning extra boring." Well, no. We can't rename your brother. After all, we have been calling him that name for almost two years. And it is not a boring name. Still, the big kid started calling him "Zeke". And without fail. For a couple of weeks, he would call the little one Zeke every single time he spoke to or about him and the little one seemed to respond to it just fine. And then it was Wendell for a few days and then a couple of other names for a few days at a time after that. But now, we are all calling him by his given name again. If the little one needs therapy when he is older, we all know why.

These kids keep us on our toes and "in stitches". I am sure that this all seems so boring to plenty of people who I know but I can't imagine life being any more magnificent. I giggle all day long only to be interrupted by laughter. Life is good. No, it is better than good. Life is blessed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Yoga for Toddlers

Life is Good: these kids are pure joy


At this moment, our just-days-away-from-being-a-two-year old is supposed to be napping. Supposed to be.

Instead, from what I can see on the video monitor, it appears that he is doing some sort of downward dog yoga pose and then standing up, clapping for himself, and yelling, "Ta da!"and "Yay!" at the top of his lungs.

Is tumbling class in his future? Yes. Self-esteem on track? Check.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Photography with kids

Life is Good: photographers are great artists, too!


It's "Great Artists Week" at Casa de How to be Pleasant! A while back, a friend of mine suggested that we give our big kids a couple of disposable cameras and see what...wait for it...develops! I love that idea, but we have yet to do it. However, I got a new camera before our trip to Mount Rushmore in June (more about that later!) and so I let the big kid have my camera (love love love the Cybershot. I have owned four of them!) for parts of our trip and he had so much fun taking pics. (And the photos are pretty cute!)
 Stuff like this...
And this...

 Self portraits...
And food shots. If food was on a plate, he took a picture of it...
    I have to admit, I love the angle of the cracker shot!

So this week, while we are discussing great artists, I've made sure to point out that photographers are artists, too. Artists don't just paint and draw. I love photos (besides what is in our brain, they are all that we have left of a moment in time) and love taking pictures. However I have absolutely no training as far as lighting or using my camera settings properly goes. If I could go back in time, I would take a photography class pre-kids.

We've been looking at photographs and talking about what we like about them. The subject, the color (or lack of it), whether it is a close-up or wide shot, etc. This has all led to some very interesting conversations. And at the end of the day, we've learned about great artists, but more importantly, we've laughed and wondered, we've bonded, we've climbed inside each other's brains, we've simply spent good, quality time together.

After viewing photographs by Ansel Adams, Jay Maisel and Michael Kahn (I had the joy of seeing an exhibit of his originals in a small gallery in Nantucket several years ago. They are breathtaking up close!), we set out on a "photography adventure".

I handed the camera over to the big kid and asked him to take a picture for each letter of the alphabet while we took a walk in the city. Some letters were more difficult than others. It was fun to see how his creativity took hold in some instances. And I loved seeing the results, too. He was very specific about angles, closeness to the subject, and more.
A for antenna...
B for boy...
C is for Conifers (Thank you, They Might be Giants). Sadly, this tree got hit in a recent storm...
 D is for dragon (in a store window). He didn't believe me when I told him it was a gargoyle...

  Two for one! E is for elephant in the store window, too. I didn't even broach the subject that this is Ganesha...
F is for flower...

H is for house...
I is for "image of a totem pole"...

J is for...well, you can read the sign...

 K is for kid...

L is for "lots of trees"...

 M is for man...
 N is for...
 And O...(love that angle!)
 P is for plants...
 Q is for a "quiet sculpture"...(I couldn't make this stuff up!)

 R is for a red fire hydrant...
 S is for a "city stop sign" and "I know city starts with a "C")...
 T is for teepee...(no amount of discussion about arbors would convince him otherwise.)
 U is for ugly trash...
 V is for vein (I knew that kid would work the human body in there somehow!)...
 W is for windshield...
 X is "for the X on that car"...

 Y is for a yellow sign...
 Z is "on the word magazines on that stinky bin!"

Oh, the joy of a photography adventure with a five-year old! Or just the luxury of a conversation with one. I love how that little (big) brain works!