Various excerpts from "Analytic Posturing" series currently online at the NewerYork. Take a peek.
Why not take our sketchbooks to a tiny cemetery and see what falls on the page?
As a prompt, the kids "collected" nouns- everything from oak leaves to infant tombstones. The Eldest settled into leaves and quickly began sketching the peculiar lineaments of lichen on stones.
Prophet copies the letters from gravestones- she feels confident when copying letters because they don't flip around on her as much. What is more difficult about dyslexia- the lagging behind on reading curves or the sense that letters play tricks with you, a fundamental mistrust of the written word?
Gnome abandoned her sketchbook to chase a squirrel. Something about the shadows and the silhouettes of a four-year-old's sketchbook wanted to become a story... but there is not time enough in the universe for all the stories I want to tell.
Upon her return, Gnome attempted various sketches before getting frustrated that her drawings "didn't match." The eraser washed across the paper.
"It doesn't have to match," I said, "just to capture the way you see it." Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
The Eldest sauntered through a corridor of graves and paused briefly to remind me how easy it is to get frustrated- and how hard to crawl out of it. There are moments when he takes life in stride (this one) and moments when he stomps hard enough to hurt.
The fence captivated all four of us so that we found ourselves sketch-collecting it together. Four people scrunched down like pinecones catching the fence from different angles.
I wondered who made the small fence- it didn't look like anything I've seen around Tuscaloosa- maybe a small business that passed away. Is there irreverence in attributing death to a business, in saying aloud what we believe at heart- that the life of a business bears more value than the life of children whose mothers raise them alone, scrimping every penny, worrying about whether they can afford the power bill this month?
How will they blend their colored pencils to capture the vagaries of rust?
We collected nouns and marveled over rust. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, those with enough mullah may also earn rust.
Art Lesson: Value (Art Outside the Box)
Art Doodle: Warm Up (Art Chick)
Art Elements: Space and Shape (Art Outside the Box)
Rainbow color and color wheel lesson (White Tiger Renee)
Art Elements: Color and Pointallism (Art Outside the Box)
Rainbow Roosters Art Project (Purple Paintbrush)
Math and Art: Fraction Pizzas (Art Outside the Box)
America's Southwest landscape art lesson and video (Deep Space Sparkle)
Crayon pop art lesson (Art with Mrs. Smith)
Helen Frankenthaller and the Art of the Stain (Art Lady)
Art Lesson: Shading and shadow (White Tiger Renee)
Art Activity: Patchwork names (Tim Donnelly)
Egyptian faces art project (Deep Space Sparkle)
Principles of Design: Proportion and Review (Whitney Panetta)
Abstract monotype printmaking for youth (Jessica Barber)
Gabriel Moreno art nouveau style pencil portraits (J Thomas Uhl)
"Guess It" game (Little Thinkers) Use the word as an art prompt.
Art history timeline (Art Teacher Diaries)*
Franz Marc's "Fate of the Animals" (The Art Curator for Kids)
Van Gogh art history cut and paste (Joseph Lemien)
Toulouse-Latrec art history cut and paste (Joseph Lemien)
"Gallery of the Louvre" art history cut and paste (Joseph Lemien)
"Say NO to Nazism" pop neorealist drawing lesson (Art Lesson Plans)
MOMA virtual lesson and field trip (nearpod)
Note: An asterisk (*) indicates a foldable which can be used with an interactive notebook or lapbook. Most of our science, math, nature study, creative writing, and global study work is composition notebook-based. A tilde (~) indicates a printable book, or emergent reader.
Fred Fisher, the husband of Angelynn Parks Fisher, spent many happy days at Hurricane Creek where his father-in-law, the late Stanley Parks, owned a large chunk of property. Upon the death of the late Stanley Parks, this property was sold to the Trust for Public Land, a land trust, for the purpose of fulfilling Stanley's wish that the public enjoy this land for perpetuity.
This area is known as Hurricane Creek Park, though the Friends of Hurricane Creek (disclaimer: I am on the Board of this organization) would prefer the name be Stanley Parks Nature Preserve. If you walk the trails, you'll discover all kinds of stories.
The North Loop leads through the area where Mr. Fisher once raised a barn and kept cattle.
You can recognize the premises by the mossy fence and the massive old tree, a survivor of storms and incubator of stories.
The relics of remain to be interpreted. Once upon a time, there was a barn built painstakingly by men to house and nurture cattle.
A tornado whirled through and demolished the barn and the workshop, the hallowed family places and spaces, pockets of nature that begin to feel like home. What you see is the remains-- what looks like junk from here is the skeleton of a family story.
What was this? What can we read beyond the rust? How do we keep the past from haunting us by its incompleteness?
After roaming through the old stable area, remembering Mr. Fisher mentioned horses- horseback rides through the woods at family events- I think of how much care we put into places that disappear. How much we hope in our hearts that someone will keep these places from disappearing completely. How only stories keep breathing when material expires.
The Eldest looks for tadpoles in the lake created by Mr. Fisher as a watering hole for the cattle. If you're looking for stories written in trees, visit Hurricane Creek Park and wander through the North Loop. Do it for the late Stanley Parks, whose family left this land for you.
And the truth is the first girl I ever kissed, tasted like tomatoes.
And I know this, because the second girl I ever kissed tasted like pepper.
It wasn’t unpleasant.
It’s just that I was expecting tomatoes.
(Excerpt from Koyczan's "Tomatoes")
A poetic feast of tomato poems...
"Cherry Tomatoes" by Sandra Beasley
"Tomatoes" by Shane Koyczan
"Ode to Tomatoes" by Pablo Neruda (plus riotous illustration)
"September Tomatoes" by Karina Borowicz
A shape poem variant on a tomato poem by Victor Hugo
"Patio Tomatoes" by Krista Lukas
"Tomatoes" by Stephen Dobyns
"Roma" by Matthew Dickman
"After Tomato Picking" by Maria Garcia Teutsch
"Fried Green Tomatoes" by Pris Campbell
"Diary from a Tomato Cannery, 1912" by Sandy Solomon
"Tomato Hornworm", a great teaching poem
"I Used to Like Tomatoes" by Flora Veit Wild
Image source: Gathering Books
Interactive notebook starter kit (Mrs. West Knows Best)*
Interactive notebook bookmark (Performing in Fifth Grade)
Tips for teaching with math games (Laura Candler)
Math Comics: Fractions (David Rickert)
Fraction foldable (Teaching with a Cup of Tea)*
Simplifying squid fraction packet (Inspire Teachers)
Pizza fraction fun for equivalents (Laura Candler)
Mixed numeral & improper fraction puzzle set (Dennis McDonald)
Simplifying fractions bingo (Laura Candler)
Comparing fractions foldable (Abby Sandlin)*
Factors and multiples card game (Literacy and Math Ideas)
Fractangle puzzles (Ms Haslacker Teaches 5th)
Place value foldable (Suzanne Karim)*
Graph foldable (Sonja McGinnis)*
Notorious scatter plot worksheet (Mr Doll)
Greatest common factor foldable (Hodges Herald)*
Factor race math game (Laura Candler)
Common divisibility rules foldable (That Math Lady)*
Decimal models worksheet (Michelle Moon)
Writing decimals in expanded number form (Raise the Rigor)*
Understanding decimals foldable (Fun in Room 4B)*
Decimal operations flow chart (Susan Thomas)
Converting fractions and decimals foldable (Middle School Math Moments)*
Why decimals repeat: Converting fractions to decimals (IgnitED)
Decimals art (Susan Ferdman)
Dividing decimals (Chelle)
Pirate decimal game (Teaching 5th Grade in Georgia)
Fractions and demicals reader's theater script (Rosalind Flynn)
Basketball throws calculations (Mindy Rosenberg)
Teacher guide: Decimals and fractions grade 5 (The iTeach Hub)
Teacher for a Day: Decimals, Percents, Fractions (Performing in Fifth Grade)
Maths about me activity (Mrs. West Knows Best)
Gallon robots craftivity (Laura Candler)
Units of weight foldable (Tanya Villacis)*
Customary measurement conversions foldable (Laura Candler)*
Mean, median, mode and range foldable (That Math Lady)*
Tangram polygon explorations (Laura Candler)
Type of triangle foldable (Ambedu)*
Lines, rays, and segments foldable (That Math Lady)*
Scientific notation foldable (Miss Shanky's Math Shack)*
Number properties foldable (That Math Lady)*
Understanding decimals foldable (Fun in Room 4B)
Triangles math foldable (That Math Lady)*
Finding perimeter foldable (To the Square Inch)*
Mystery Perimeters learning packet (Laura Candler)
Island Conquer Game: Area and perimeter (Laura Candler)
Understanding expressions foldable (Fun in Room 4B)*
Solving a system of equations foldable (The Crafty Math Teacher)*
Slope foldable (Bovio Math Creations)
Spot Math (Ying Zhang)
Note: An asterisk (*) indicates a foldable which can be used with an interactive notebook or lapbook. Most of our science, math, nature study, creative writing, and global study work is composition notebook-based. A tilde (~) indicates a printable book, or emergent reader.
It's almost that time of the year when everything begins blooming at Hurricane Creek, and each walk brings encounters with new forms of life.
We took Bunica and Gary along the bike paths this weekend... because they'd never hiked the creek before and the weather begged us into the woods.
Paused for a precipitous view near a woodhewn bench. The water was high- perfect for paddling. "May God remind us greener grass is not cleaner grass," I think.
The kids gaze down at the creek, listen to the water churn over the rocks. We can count on the neverending jazz improv of Hurricane Creek's riffles.
"Look mom, it's a shelf fungus!" Our necks crane skywards, climbing the bark of a dead pine.
Drawing closer, the color is soft, the impressions feather. Watercolor or gouache. Pastels.
How one hefty shelf captures a falling gymnast, a piece of pinestraw performing a perfect split.
I have to admit that I kept hearing Amy's voice over my shoulder- and missing the time we spent exploring together with the kids. Hurricane Creek is one of our places but it doesn't strike me so poignantly until I'm there without her.
And then it strikes me again when I see something that would make Amy laugh or else just groan.
At which point I realize, again, how little time in the world for all the people I love and value. The people-I-love commune dreams return... how perfect to have everyone near enough that a holler would be all that stood between us.
Unable to hold people near, I wave from faraway, beckon "come here", whisper "look here, see what we found", and hope somehow that the spirit of love and friendship moves from one open palm to another, sustained through the seasons of life.
Fire Safety: Digging your own fire pit (Christine Kight)
How to avoid lyme disease (Christine Kight)
Bug Scavenger Hunt (Green Grubs Garden Club)
Backyard Ecology Assessment (Science Stuff)
Garden Discovery activity (KinderKay)*
Read and Write on the Road packet (Erin Wing)
Cloud Hunt Bingo (Green Grubs Garden Club)
Green Events Calendar with Dates From Around the World (Green Grubs Garden Club)
Renewable energy sources foldable (Sandy's Science Stuff)*
Earth Day Is Everyday (Katy Did Doodles)~
Nature-Themed Cootie Catcher (Green Grubs Garden Club)
Math in the Outdoors: Bar graphs (Teach to Tell)*
Race to Write 12 for on the road fun (Laura Candler)
Animal Dwellings and Debris Hut Construction video lesson (Deep River Visions)
Daisy Chains Activities (Green Grubs Garden Club)
Public speaking or TED talks worksheet (Laura Randazzo)
Note: An asterisk (*) indicates a foldable which can be used with an interactive notebook or lapbook. Most of our science, math, nature study, creative writing, and global study work is composition notebook-based. A tilde (~) indicates a printable book, or emergent reader.
There are so many ways in which writing intersects with learning at home. Yesterday, I couldn't get the juices flowing so I played around in my notebookm making lists of favorite nouns- words like derby, montage, cellulose, and bravado- when I realized the activity could be extended to the include the kids. Let's face it, everyone has favorite nouns, including toddlers who spout off their affection for Thomas the Tank engine in grocery store lines.
So I whipped together a quick worksheet for the Eldest to distinguish between abstract and concrete nouns and then to assemble a collection of 50 favorites each. What I didn't mention was that the collection would be used for next week's writing and poetry prompts. We live with our choices, right? Live with and through them until the verses set us free.
You can print your own free version by right-clicking the PDF below. I hope you enjoy it and do it along with your kids.
NOUNS: ABSTRACT VS. CONCRETE (PDF, 2 pages)
The holiday mantle decorations are packed and put away for next year. Things feel normal again, now that my armless wood statue girl is back in her place beneath the antlers.
"Why do you love that thing so much?" my husband asked earlier in our marriage. At the time, I didn't have an answer but today the shadow of a reason emerges. I like her because she's not smiling and because she looks as if she's cut from bone.
A statue carved from bone.... What if death was acknowledged by carving a statue of the each person from their large leg bone? Imagine all the space we'd save only one bone from our bodies was preserved and the rest was donated to hospitals and organ banks.
The Eldest has been helping Gnome make a paper craft village from the book given to her by Santa this year. Gnome expressed a desire to see her village "grow up" on the mantle.
Each house has its own set of residents, including pets. Dogs get their own houses but cats are expected to live indoors with their owners.
And here is the book by Delphine Doreau, My Town: A Little World For You To Build. If you aren't sure the book is worthwhile, download a few of Delphine's freebies (posted below) and see if your appetite changes.
Delphine Doreau's Generous Freebies
Free sample advent calendar house printable
Baby bear wreath printable
Surprise origami wrap printable
Angel ornaments printable
Mini owl paper dolls printable
3-D cuboctahedron puzzle printable
Delphine's dollhouse giftbox printable
Madame Sapin 3-d printable
Black and white matrioshka paper dolls printable
Colorful matrioshka paper dolls printable
Delphine's adorable hanging birdhouse printable
3-D polyhedron ornament printable
The King's cabbage salad.
Romanian girls aren't raised on sugar and spice and everything nice. We grow into our skins with the tangy sourness of vinegar and red cabbage salad.
Vinegar may not smell pretty but magic doesn't work wonders through smell. The vinegar in our blood preserves the words until we're ready to crack open the jar and unpickle the nascent poetry.
"The French poet, Rimbaud, predicted that the next great crop of writers would be women. He was the first guy who ever made a big women's liberation statement, saying that when women release themselves from the long servitude of men they're really gonna gush. New rhythms, new poetries, new horrors, new beauties. And I believe in that completely."
Surely Patti Smith craved vinegar when she made this remark....
Additional meditations on vinegar by minds worth excavating:
"What I've learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head. First there's the vinegar-lipped Reader Lady, who says primly, "Well, that's not very interesting, is it?" And there's the emaciated German male who writes these Orwellian memos detailing your thought crimes. And there are your parents, agonizing over your lack of loyalty and discretion; and there's William Burroughs, dozing off or shooting up because he finds you as bold and articulate as a houseplant; and so on. And there are also the dogs: let's not forget the dogs, the dogs in their pen who will surely hurtle and snarl their way out if you everstop writing, because writing is, for some of us, the latch that keeps the door of the pen closed, keeps those crazy ravenous dogs contained."
- Anne Lamott
"As the best wine doth make the sharpest vinegar, so the deepest love turneth to the deadliest hate."
- John Lyly
"I was a thorn rushing to be with a rose, vinegar blending with honey…
Then I found some dirt to make an ointment that would honor my soul…
Love says, “You are right,
but don’t claim these changes.
Remember, I am wind. You are an ember I ignite."
Bunicu uses plaster to prepare the volcano as Prophet watches. He explains that plaster won't get sticky until you add water and then mold the wet plaster into a shape.
There are old black and white photographs from Romania-- photos from my baby days-- where I lay naked in the crook of his arm after a bath. I recognize the hands and how little they have changed-- still big enough to move mountains and gentle enough to soothe nightmares.
I only notice the cobwebs on the windows in retrospect-- when I see a photo, for example.
The plaster is dry-- and the volcano simulation is ready to go. "Everybody outside," Bunicu declares. The fastidious metallurgist within seeks extra cardboard just in case this volcano gets wild.
"Oooooh," admires the Eldest in his best faux-Romanian accent.
I try not to mention what strikes me at first glance-- hey, that's a really little volcano. The captive audience awaits an explosion.
Soon, the Professor is doing what he does best-- pontificating about chemical processes and molecular physics. It's my favorite part, if only because it brings back childhood memories of dinner.
In his hand circles a bottle of citric acid mixed with red food dye. This citric acid will be key to the volanic eruption.
"Hey," offers the Eldest, "you know vinegar works just as well-- maybe even better-- than citric acid."
"Bah," says the Professor.
The Professor (a.k.a. Bunicu) begins to squirt the citric acid solution into the tube which runs under and up the small plaster volcano.
A small trickle of red frothy liquid spittles up from the top of the volcanic cone.
"Oh no!" yells Gnome. "It's not working!"
The Professor continues his patient infusion. Finally, overhearing the Gnome's huffing and puffing, he asks what isn't working.
"The volcano!" shouts Gnome. "The volcano's not 'splodin'."
"I'll be right back"- and the Eldest returns with a bottle of white vinegar procured from somewhere in the nether-regions of the kitchen cupboard.
As the Professor watches, the Eldest pours a capful over the volcano's top-- "so the baking soda will fizz."
When it fizzes and soaks the cardboard box, a satisfied smirk appears on Gnome's face. "Now it's splodin'," she tells us.
"What did she say?" the Professor asks patiently.
"Oh. She said thank you."
Did I say thank you, dad? For all the ways your hands still grace our lives. Thank you.
The ground is still wet and the scent of frozen soil wafts upwards, beguiling us further into the backyard woods. Each of us decides to select a special, secret something for sharing. I find the prospect dizzying- there is too much to see and say, too many changes since we walked through the woods last week.
After the long winter rains, tiny bobbed mushrooms peak out from the foliage. It is Prophet who spies the shroom, and Prophet who kneels by its side and tries to sniff it.
"This is my special thing," she says, "but I wish it had friends, you know, so they could be a fairy circle."
Gnome wants us to come and rub the furry vine winding round a slender tree trunk. "It's not real fur," chides Prophet.
But Gnome refuses to be diminished- "Then how come he grew it? Hmph."
The Eldest lingers near a light orange fungus-- "a lichen growing on dead wood," he determines. Prophet wants to know what he's found; it's situated high enough in the trees for her to miss the view.
"It's symbiosis," he says as he removes the deadwood to show his little sisters. While he thinks mutualism, I think death and rotting and how the world is replenished by what we make of the recent past, how we churn it into legends and stories.
"What about yours mom?" Mine is the view through bitten evergreen leaf, the other side of magnolia's velveteen dress. At their urging, I remove the leaf and we take turns putting it to our face and peering through it like a glasses.
It is quiet. A dog barks in the distance towards our house. Home calls. Pinka needs food. We walk back in our heads, brewing wooded secrets.
All the things I wanted to study with the kids were in my head, so I took a little time between nursing a croupy Gnome and rubbing beeswax under Prophet's red nose to make a handout, a hopeful activity.
There's a simple handwork embroidery project on the reverse. A little freebie for celebrating plants and their role in the sustenance of life. Download and enjoy.
THE GIFT OF PLANTS (PDF)
The cut rose looks beautiful in a vase but why can't we bear the sight of her roots?
I took his name because part of me wanted to believe marriage was an all-consuming fire that no one could bear in their unadulterated, premarital form. Marriage changed the life and its subjects. Name change seemed slight in comparison to the overall geist.
To be fair, the romance began much earlier than the wedding vows intended to seal it. The little girl who wanted to be Joan of Arc grew into the woman waving signs along the sidewalks of Boston, D.C., and Birmingham, her parched lips repeating again and again “NOT IN MY NAME.” She shouted until she grew hoarse and finally lost her voice. To that woman who wore black for all the innocent victims of war, her protest upheld the magic powers of a name-- the dissident’s belief that words can change the world, the existentialist’s assumption that we embody our ethics with every choice and breath. She didn’t care if she marched with strangers or friends so long as she walked uphill, lifting her vocal chords for what the media called a losing battle but what sounded to her like the stained glass echo of a cathedral chorus.
Such a woman has no business taking a man’s name after having worked to hard to say her own.
But I took his name anyway.
I took his name because romance felt sexier than revolution.
But also because my name sounded like boiled cabbage and foreign accents and the contaminations of communist history. “Stefanescu” is a common name in Romania, but raised eyebrows never ceased to remind me how uncommon such a name sounded in native Alabama drawl. “Stefa-what?” being the question I’d learned to anticipate at gas stations, courthouses, and extracurricular sports.
So maybe I took his all-American name to reduce the mispronunciation of my own. Or perhaps I thought C. sounded less suspicious than Stefanescu. Alina C. could be a good mom. Alina Stefanescu, on the other hand, couldn’t sit still.
The woman who took his name flips through albums containing photos of her previous versions. She looks back and admires the awkward, half-smiling teenager with unmanicured, soil-friendly hands. The girl in the photos doesn’t consider being anyone else except a future heroine. The girl in the photos is still trying to grow into the discounted Guess jeans she could barely afford.
I took his name because I come from an immigrant family that went red-white-and-blue. During the first year of college, my parents divorced each other, severed ties with their Romanian love stories, and moved into large, accommodating, American marriages brewed with the tasteful banality of Pottery Barn pieces. Suddenly, my email account inbox featured family events hosted on the July 4th.
My husband’s parents didn’t need to divorce and remarry to become authentic Americans. They were born here. Their first wails echoed down the sterile hallways of US hospitals. They didn't undergo the awkward process known as "naturalization." They’d always held hooplas on the 4th of July.
So I took his name. Erased my name to become another C. in a ceaseless succession of C.'s because, of course, every C. wife since Christ walked the sea of Galilee took her husband’s name.
But the external change failed to fix the internal discrepancies. C.'s hated flag-burners while Alina valued free speech more than sacred fabrics. C.'s voted Republican while Alina couldn’t bring herself to vote. C.'s were “pro-life” while Alina wondered why so many people who were pro-life valued the gestating life of fetuses over the life of suffering human beings. C.'s valued consumer prosperity while Alina feared it like the plague-- for its generous numbness, its splendid distraction, the danger of generalized, nonspecific good times.
As Alina C., I had a responsibility to fit the family heritage. Looking different was fine so long as I didn’t think too differently. The pregnancies prevented me from thinking too deeply about my failures as a C. Every family needs a black sheep. Some families need several. I’d find a way to fit in.
I took his name because my in-laws spent years in the belly of the marital-problem whale but stayed married anyway and maybe the name was a hedge against my own family’s legacy of divorce. The lucky talismans I’d been raised to revere weren’t much help from across the ocean. Not even the Carpathian mountain legends remained stable-- unstable stories are hard to recall, harder still to re-tell.
My childhood came back to me in another language-- a mystical, fragile, evocative language, a tongue difficult to translate. Going from Romanian to American is like moving from magic to meal-planning.
Finding no middle ground, I looked for clear and present signs of impending good fortune. I read surnames like self-help books or guides on how to walk through the minefield of entitled maskulinities.
The right name was a free ride to happy places-- destinations like Disneyland commercials where everyone laughed and smiled. Stefanescus divorced but Coryells stayed married for life.
I took his name because it mattered to him-- and I liked how much he wanted me. I kept this a secret from my Stefanescu self because she was the sort of feminist who wouldn’t approve. Maybe people were right about feminists. Maybe they were just bitter. Maybe they didn’t know how good it felt to let go and get lost. To become a well-coiffed woman.
I liked how he wanted me so much that he was willing to act like an amoeba and settle for nothing less than swallowing me whole. I took his name and gave our children his name and tried (so hard) to feel proud that we were all the same.
Instead, I discovered unspeakable shame. The shame of selling out.
Because I never became a C. and he married a Stefanescu and when a C. marries a Stefanescu what comes logically is Stefanescu-C. but somehow we become our inherited mutations and so Alina C.-- this mutant concoction-- acknowledges how marriage alters a woman while Husband Coryell stays unchanged.
My mother was a champion downhill skier, a physician who took flying lessons at age forty to overcome her fear of flying, and yet she married my father and permitted the mutation. She took his name.
I took his name. When friends asked why, I said "it's complicated." What I meant was wordless-- a persistent malaise at denying my family history and heritage to assume a foreign identity that, for all external appearances, approximated the coveted "normal."
Whatever my rationale for taking his name, the truth is simple: the name doesn’t suit me. Though I love my husband's family, I don’t want to be a C.. I don’t want to use air fresheners after taking a shit and I don’t want to put down my protest signs and become an apologist for cultural Christianity or neo-imperialism. I don’t want gift pedicures or marble countertops. And it still makes me cry sometimes to think of how my government terrorizes innocent civilians in foreign countries.
I'm an idealist, a tree-hugger, a person who thinks courage involves crying. I don't care if America looks exceptional. At this point, I'd rather we look humane and decent. And I will never ever ever so long as my name is Alina stop believing that love can save the world.
I lack a Protestant work ethic. I don’t have ambitions for a bigger house or to be the president of any association. I don’t want people to admire me, and I am humbly grateful for every friend and stranger who sees the best in me rather than the obvious worst.
I don’t want to be cool or coy or sexy. I like cool, coy, and sexy things but I don’t want to be a thing and I’m working on unliking the ways in which my mind objectifies others.
I’m a restless, homeschooling, wanderlusty dilettante who never needed to get married. When I agreed to do it with the only male that had been my equal partner in crime, I pretended the equality could persist if I signed onto the romantic myth of amoebal maskulinity. I was wrong.
I don’t want to smile stoically and tell young lovers that marriage is “hard work.” I will never tell anyone to stay married “for the children”-- no child should carry such a burden or be tormented by the guilt of being the world’s navel. Marriage is not (and should never be) an agreement to be deformed but an agreement to be formed together, alongside another human being. When marriage deforms a person, divorce is the most honest, decent solution.
In this castle I've built with my husband, we shoot the moon more than we build. Often, we tear a wall down and watch to see what grows in its place. It feels more like wonder than work.
There's no how-to manual for building the castle that you imagine. The risk doesn't settle into the cushion comfort of stability. We admire our callouses and weave stories from scar tissue.
If I thought changing my name would secure my marriage, I didn't bargain for the way in which it denatured me. So now I'm going through the ardorous and unbelievably exciting process of changing it back. Not because I don't love his family but because I didn't marry his family-- I married him.
Honestly, I think my husband will be relieved to lose the striving Mrs. C., the worry-laden wife who felt guilty for not having a pimento cheese recipe or not giving a rat's ass about Disneyland. I tried to care-- honestly, I did. But it's possible to love and enjoy life without visting the Epcot Center or chilling with Snow White. There are many ways to be happy-- many different formulas for fun. I've grown to accept that my idea of fun isn't popular or cool-- and that taking his name didn't make me a better person or mother or wife. Only a less certain woman.
If my marriage can’t accommodate Alina Stefanescu, then my marriage is not related to me. Because I am Alina Stefanescu, a wild concoction of vowels, a name that crawls through teeth only to emerge as a song of myself, a racuous, immigrant litany.
While the kids work on their journals, I admire the sunlight and find myself captivated by the conversations of recently-read authors in my head. The motif is a combination of Ellis Island and Atlanta, Georgia, though I don't have any particular story I'm trying to tell about either.
The extraordinary grandchildren portrait
SAUL BELLOW: "Though everybody wished to be an American, everybody's secret was that he hadn't suceeded in becoming one."
The extraordinary family portrait.
LISEL MUELLER: "At her wedding, a woman gave up
half of her name
and exchanged it for another.
Half of her is public,
subject to trade; the other
private, treasure and loneliness,
what he thinks of as her ,
what she would share, if she could."
The King's cross-stitch design and handwork
SAUL BELLOW: "Dreams are readmitted only through the Ellis Island of science, by officials qualified in the legitimate interpretation of dreams. Music we bootleg. We bring it across the threshold surreptitiously."
LISEL MUELLER: "At night, with the lights out
and the TV turned up,
a woman whispers his secret name:
it frightens and excites him,
like the hundredth name of God."
The Eldest recoagulates.
SAUL BELLOW: "When the noise dies down you'll find yourself with the "I" you first knew when you came to know that you were a self-- an event which occurs quite early in life. And that first self is embraced with a kind of fervor, excitement, love-- and knowledge! Your formal schooling is really a denaturing of that first self."
HERBERT LOWENSTEIN: "If you are a poet, I hope you can use language not just as it is, an oily lubricant for the frictionless working of the system."
All family portraits were taken by the talented Wildnei Suane. You can see more of his work online at Willarts and schedule a photo session with him if you happen to be in Atlanta. Because Brazilian photographers rock.
Last night's torrential rains brought down branches and created new "creeks" in the woods behind our house. There's no time like the time after a big rainstorm watch watersheds in action.
S. and Prophet try to zip up their coats.
S. flashes a debonair grin while Prophet shows off her riot grrrrrin.
J. demonstrated a slight bit of jealousy when presented with the King's outrageous Zappa.
For every lovely moment in life, let there be green porta-potties in the background.
There was the seven square foot jagged rock with puddles in certain portions that captivated the kids. I don't know how many times the climbed the rock, teetering to and fro, looking like they might bust their heads, and then pooling all the energy to let out a passionate "yaaaaaar" and leap from the side of the rock onto the gravel below.
S. atop said gnarly rock.
Be still, my heart.
Little G. and his amazing, expressive eyebrows.
Little G. won't take no, maybe, or later for an answer. He follows his geist.
They are wild, unruly, wacky-yum-yum, and really cute to their parental units.
Fiction. Creative nonfiction. Avant-pop. Avant-garde. Dada. 2014 was a year of many events and occasions. Alas, when I look back, it's the books that leave footprints in my mind. The discoveries (and re-discoveries, in some cases) of my year-- not including books for younger people-- some of which disturbed more than they inspired but all of which illuminated dark corners and offered the candlelight's respite.
[A link means the text is available free online.]
A Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes
The Notebooks of Malte Lorids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke
The Disappearance of the Outside by Andrei Codrescu
The Shape of A Pocket by John Berger (an annual read)
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
Channels of Desire by Elizabeth and Stewart Ewen
Compulsory Happiness by Norman Manea
Selected Writings by Robert Musil (German Library Edition)
Panorama by H.G. Adler
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (a must-read)
How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen
Light Years by James Salter
Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle
Mother Box and Other Tales by Sarah Blackman
Living Dolls by Gaby Wood
Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression by Robin D. G. Kelley
The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis
The Holy Terrors by Jean Cocteau
The Prisoner of Guantanamo by Dan Fesperman
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos and M. Mitchell Waldrop
Different Hours by Stephen Dunn
Fugitive Days: A Memoir by Bill Ayers
Strangers and Sojourners by Michael D. O'Brien
Sleep is scarce.
The Eldest began using his holiday loom almost immediately.
Hand-painted ducky wrapping paper for Isla's gag gift.
Bunica and Ratpaw collected their handmade gifts, though I still have to finish stitching the ski pillow. It felt so different (make that "good", "cool", "spiffy") to have the King do the embroidery designs and stitching while I specialized in the sewing.
Uncle Germ scopes out the scene. Shortly after this photo was taken, he began grooving to Gogol Bordello.
Hand-embroidered Romanian tablecloth on the kids' tea party table....
There are books you haven't read by Romanian authors in the Dalkey Archive... The holidays are a time for catching up on things we love, including books.
People matter more than books. You should hang out with your partner and master the chain stitch together over a cup of lemongrass tea.
A frugal, green-tinted female might consider upcyling all the extra yarn for a hanging mural. It could be a new year tradition-- a way of weaving the past through the present. Imagine the symbolic value.
But harem pants...
Forget upgrading the house. Having a small carbon footprint soothes the way the soul treads over the earth.
Give the money to Habitat for Humanity and make spoon dolls instead. Imagine the family who will receive a house... imagine their story. Humanize the abstraction of love.
Make thank you cards for everything we've been given.
Anna and Prophet thought this was the silliest tree on the tinsel trail.
When it comes to trees and holiday decor, it's all a matter of perspective-- all about how we decide and agree to look at things.
And while we're looking at things, don't forget to sit and savor the moments. Nothing is perfect. Presents don't replace presence. And love is an ongoing story..... Sing it.
Because everybody needs a holiday playlist.
A scrap flower by the Eldest and a decades-old poem found in one of my diaries
Fear smells like old boots
left in a gas station restroom,
the kind you never wanted to put on
stinking from miles away
yet everything begins with this lack
for anything better to wear.
cowboy hat cocky
tries to pay for my gas
a heart races, doom sounds
like spinning vinyl
exits bloom into prospects
his eyes twinkle
Southern boy blue.
Fear tastes like a beard
after chicken at Denny’s
two shots of tequila
spiked us into sharing
the laugh that cinches the deal
not BOGO but one of a kind
desire crisped by the deep fry.
The salt from here
What the Eldest stitched for his friend, Erin
I love handmade holidays-- despite the incessant tug to stitch as I speak, walk, sit, wait, or daydream. So many beautiful things to make for people we love and admire. This year, we've been rummaging through the huge box of decorator fabrics donated by Pamela.... and all sorts of critters and creatures are coming to life.
The Eldest models his creation
The King spent at least an hour last night learning how to embroider from the Eldest. It's the first year in which the King has decided to participate in handmade holidays and I love hearing their husky voices bicker over thread techniques.
Miss Meow tries out Gnome's chair.
Little Isla took her ornament home on Friday...
though the box interested her more than the ornament itself.
"Mom, I really want to make something for Josiah's family...."
The Eldest and I collaborated on a ornament for our neighbors, the Blankenships, whose oldest daughter was born with Rett syndrome. If you haven't heard about Rett syndrome, it's probably because it is a rare congenital disorder. The Eldest designed the purple ribbon himself and wanted very much to make this gift-- which warmed my heart because it came without prodding or poking. The gift of life is a beautiful one, and if you're looking for a gift to give friends and family this year, consider donating to the Rett Syndrome Foundation. Research and cures cannot emerge from the woodwork-- and rare congenital disorders are not high on the research interests of any drug companies whose interest in profit rules the bottom line.
And so the stitching continues.... with every stitch, I consider the gift of friendship and family, sew love in between seams, backstitch with a kiss.
Our unfinished tree... a work in progress.
Since we are picky about toys (we prefer no plastics, no violent stuff, and no misogynistic toys), our family and friend frequently ask what to purchase for the kids for holiday gifts. Since it is no fault except my own for not answering, I decided to make a list of things we'd like or love to receive- precious things, many of which will allow us to learn more in our homeschooling.
(The ones with an asterisk are on our Amazon wishlist.)
Story Box Circus by Janod *
Story Box Farm by Janod *
Family Pastimes Cooperative Game *
Once Upon An Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers *
In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek *
Mooshka Tots Doll *
Apple sorting game *
Children's tea set which can be used to drink tea *
Water pouring pitcher for drink time *
You Are Stardust by Erin Kelsey *
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship of Her Own Making by Cathyrenne M. Valente *
A Kid's Herb Book by Leslie Tierra *
OGO Bild pod *
50 t-nuts for climbing holds *
25 kids' large rock climbing holds *
Discovery Kids motorized pottery wheel *
Melissa and Doug magentic wooden alphabet *
FOR THE ELDEST
The Wall by Peter Sis *
The Tree That Time Built by Linda Winston and other poets *
A Kid's Herb Book by Leslie Tierra *
Toy rope ladder *
The Microbiology Coloring Book *
History of Art Card Game *
Student Owl Pellet Kit *
FOR HIM AND HER
Into the Field: A Guide to Locally-Focused Teaching by Clare Walker Leslie *
Baxton studio chairs for the study *
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay *
Spectrum: From Right to Left in the World of Ideas by Perry Anderson
It was a surprise. A sign intended to demonstrate when I was grappling with words, trying to write, and therefore better left undisturbed.
The King got the kids to paint it in secret. How much more could I love a dude that understands my need for space and makes every effort to honor it without throwing a messy den or unmade dinner into the batch.
Do I use it? Sometimes.
Though mostly I write on the back stoop-- and in the bed-- anywhere I can steal the seconds. So I'm grateful. For the gift. And for what it symbolizes.
What to do with all the Romanian lei in our piggy banks? How to bring a little Romania onto our tree? Why not stitch an ornament?
1 Romanian cash leu (or euro or dollar or whatever)
thread and machine (use a constrasting thread color)
piece of colorful fabric cut to same length as cash
six inch hemp twine or whatever string for hanging
First, use your hole puncher to punch as many holes as you like in your money. Clever folks can punch a shape if they want to get frisky.
Then fold your bill down the center with your chosen fabric inside the bill. Make sure the printed side faces up so you can see the colors through the punched holes.
Use your machine to stitch together the edges, leaving a little room at the top for the string. Fold the string in half and tuck it 1 or 2 inches inside the folded fabric. Then stitch and backstitch to secure. Play around and make stitch designs until you're satisfied. Now you have a durable, longlasting ornament that can easily be slipped into an envelope to travel across the states and excite loved ones who come from Romania. Or whatever your native country might be.
At last count, we had over fifty unmatched socks. So I made a sock monster this weekend-- and the girls made sock cuffs. Get this, though-- the King made his own sock monster. He asked me nicely to help him out with the eyes (which I plan to do pursuant to fire tonight).
Part of me thinks it ridiculous that I can be excited when the King does something conventionally outside his gender's craft domain, and then part of me feels guilty for feeling excited. Should I just respond as if such things were normal? Isn't excitement a way of babying him?
No, self, it's just a way of reminding him that he can be good at needle and thread-- his penis does not prevent him from sewing or from enjoying it-- despite his socialization to the contrary. I know, I know, it's sexy for a woman to wield a circular saw or a power drill... I've seen the Man Show, I got the message that it's okay for us to build stuff because men have decided to find it "hot". (Part of me resists handling power tools for fear of pandering to the new sexy.) But the King doesn't get social sexy points for stitching. Instead, he gets nerd points. In my book, nerd points are the only points worth pursuing or having.
Because we didn't have the extra cash to purchase fancy Minted cards this year.... but boy did we have lots of materials from which to make collage cards. The kids either colored, painted, or wrote at least one part of each card to ensure our handmade cards were kidmade as well.
Front: kidmade watercolor, printed quote, glue stick, cardstock, scissors
Back: kidmade watercolor, glue stick, white mailing sticker, pen to write your message
Front: black ink pen, white paper, glue stick, family photo
Front: kidmade watercolors, scissors, glue stick, white paper, black pen
Front: kidmade watercolors, scissors, glue stick, white paper, black pen
Back: kidmade watercolors, scissors, glue stick, computer printout of words
Front: kidmade watercolors, scissors, glue stick, free printed gift tags
Back: black ink pen, yellow Avery office stickers, free holiday clipart, glue stick, white paper
Front: copper glitter, school glue, scissors, kidmade watercolors, white Avery office stickers
Back: kidmade watercolors, scissors, glue stick
Front: kidmade watercolors, scissors, glue stick, white paper
Front: kidmade watercolors, scissors, glue stick, white paper, copper glitter, school glue, black pen
Gnome and Prophet crafted ornaments for their own holiday tree, left by St. Nicholas near their shoes. They've been concocting ornaments from string, floss, and even uneaten cereal flakes and then adding them to the their tree. I'm glad they have a space to create their own version of conventional American Christmas.
In addition to the tree, St. Nicholas left some clementines, Guatemalan worry dolls, and suspenders for each.
While Prophet appreciated her Tetris-style suspenders, it was Gnome who forged a special relationship with what she calls "my wangs". After running about the yard by herself for at least half an hour, she raced into the house to ask if we'd seen her "flying"-- and how he wings "were flapping".
She insisted on wearing her wangs to the tree lot, under her coat, and even in her carseat. Boy oh boy did the scene get rough when the King suggested she remove her wings for the duration of our tree-hunting expedition.
Pajamas were also a red-letter area. Gnome cried and cried because she didn't want to take off her wangs. We compromised by insisting she change into pajamas and then attaching her wangs to pj bottoms. The kids colored and painted holiday cards while the King made a fire. Gnome slept with her wangs. Thanks for the wacky gift, St. Nicholas.
The manger scene is unpacked and put on the piano. There are so many stories lodged inside the nativity-- stories of tribes and discrimination, stories of poverty and tradition, stories of childbirth in which we resemble our animal brothers and sisters.
The wise men, or three kings, carry magic potions and Eastern incense which you can smell on a Sunday in any Eastern Orthodox church. We brought our own frankincense back from Romania a few years ago, and I love to burn it at Christmas.
The angel hangs from a metal rod with a star in the center of her chest. Who wouldn't love to bear the sky and its stars in their torso? Now for a little nativity craftivity...
MY FAVORITE NATIVITY FREEBIES
DIY wooden nativity set (DIY Candy)
Printable coloring nativity set (Marloes de Vries)
DIY lego nativity set (Apartment Therapy)
Simple wooden nativity scene (Dabbles and Babbles)
Felt nativity ornament (Wild Olive)
Christmas nativity tableau (lil blue boo)
Printable nativity scene (Made By Joel)
20 minute felt finger puppet nativity (Little Bit Funky)
Watching the last leaves change color and look like flames on the top of the grass.
Collecting the leaves where we find them and stitching them together with a needle and a long piece of embroidery floss, a hanging mobile collection of autumn leaves. Soon, the leaves will be too crinkly to withstand movement. Then we burn the mobile.
Going on picnics with a vat of Manna Grocery African Peanut soup..... because the cumin helps our sore throats.
Paying our respects to last year's holiday tree who resides in the woods behind our house. Don't ask me how his name became "Hairy" but that's the name by which the kids address him.
Welcoming Bunica from her long trip to Romania, where she voted in the presidential election and saw another little piece of history change for the better.
Hanging out with fantastic cousin Isla Alina, whose name still makes me want to cry a little when I say it in its entirety.
Wandering around the University of Alabama quad with dear old friends.
Playing dress up and then wrestling in high heels and fancy dresses. Because nothing says wrestle like sateen.
Isla hung out with us as we made our first sunprint yesterday.
Prophet selected fallen leaves and arranged them atop the blue sunprint paper. At first, we laid the acrylic insert over the leaves and left Prophet's assemblage in the sun for seven minutes. When we checked to see how it was developing, we discovered it wasn't.
Bleached white and ready to get wet.
So, we removed the acrylic top and left the leaves exposed to the sun for five minutes, thinking maybe the autumn sun wasn't strong enough to develop the print. Sure enough, five minutes later, the sunprint paper had bleached to white and the light blue prints lay under the leaves.
My hand left its mark.
I raced to the kitchen and let cold water run over the print while Prophet counted out sixty whole seconds.
Then we raced into the den and laid the print to dry near the big front window. Prophet said she was pleased with the result but we needed to wait for it to be "totally dry" before we could "decide whether to like it or not". That struck me as an interesting point.
And here is the final, ethereal version.
MORE SUNPRINT FUN
Moire patterns with sunprints
Haeckel’s Radiolarians Mobile
Sunscreen experiment with sunprints to measure effectiveness of different sunscreens
Record a magentic field by making a sunprint
Map the sun's path during a day
Darwin sunprint collages
Capture natural backyard shadows
Astronomy photography prints
The time I steal to right usually occurs during reading hour, when the kids read quietly or aloud or (as in the case of Gnome) pretend to read stories and invent them as they turn the pages.
GNOME AND PROPHET ARE READING
Flashlight by Lizzie Boyd
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahaeme
The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan
The Birth and the Death of Stars by Isaac Asimov
THE ELDEST IS READING
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Doctor Doolitte by Hugh Lofting
Sing Down the Moon by Scott O'Dell
Half A World Away by Cynthia Kadohata
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
The historic plaque at Greenwood.
After reading a few poems at the downtown Dunkin' Doughnuts and meeting a man from Gujarat who longed to return to the bright colors and unanxious life of his Indian homeland, we wandered over to the Greenwood Cemetery. According to the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society:
Greenwood is one of the oldest cemeteries in Tuscaloosa County, having been laid out shortly after the first survey of the city of Tuscaloosa in 1821. In it are the graves of many of early Tuscaloosa’s most prominent citizens. Among those is Dr. John Drish, a famed doctor and landowner, and Solomon Perteat, a prominent free, black craftsman who lived in Tuscaloosa prior to the Civil War.
Only grass covers many of the older plots of African and Native Americans and white settlers.
Greenwood is the final resting place of five veterans of the American Revolution as well as more than 2,500 other individuals in marked and unmarked graves.
The bitter cold left us prey to a sun with teeth. Prophet, Gnome, and the Eldest wandered through the cemetery looking for their favorite gravestone. It was intriguing to see the difference in their preferences.
Prophet liked the "big ones with entire families." She said there was something "kind" about being buried side by side with parents and uncles and aunts. She also got very upset when she found "baby gravestones" tiny as cereal boxes. I read the dates- one of which went back to 1867- and showed her the mother's grave nearby. Both the baby and the mother had been buried on the same day.
She wanted to know why. I told her about the influenza pandemics and how mothers sometimes died during or after childbirth when midwives were unable to attend their labors. Winter babies were especially vulnerable. The Eldest walked around to check the months on the baby graves
The Eldest said this one was his favorite for the fabric draping.
Gnome was busy pouting and declined to select a favorite. But this one was cool.
Pick a gravestone writing assigment.
The Eldest had a creative writing assignment. He was responsible for selecting a grave, writing down the name and date and significant details, and then creating a story about the person's life based on historic context- historical records of what happened during that time in Alabama history. The historic context would include wars, epidemics, fires, economic development, environmental hazards, legislation, etc.
I can't wait for him to share the imagined history of Permelia S. Weger with us later this afternoon.
Other interesting historical gravestones at Greenwood include:
Solomon Perteet (1789-1863)
George Whitfield Crabb (1804-1846)
Confederate General Phillip Dale Roddey (1826-1897)
Marmaduke Williams (1774-1850)
John Mason Martin (1837-1898)
The Leland Family
Sallie Ann Swope
Jack and Jerry Winn
Dr. William Banks (d. 1877)
Richard C. McLester and family
James and Thomas Maxwell
Captain Benjamin T. Eddins
The day we read "The Legend of Atalanta".
Here's the first stanza from my poem, "Soddy Daisy, TN":
We’ve been driving since the sun
rose neon as Vegas.
Respite shares two letters
with Soddy Daisy, and two
is enough for us.
Read the remainder in issue 5 of Brickplight.
Late last weekend, we celebrated our Annual Fall Ball, an acknowledgement of the glorious seasonal cycle in wear their most flamboyant dresses for one final dance before dropping them. The origins of the Fall Ball event were inspired by George Cooper's poem, which I modified to suit our circumstances.
Prophet lingers near a corner of the yard, hunting for "orange leaves". She returns with a golden leaf instead.
The King helped Prophet identify the warm golden leaf she found using our favorite tree ID book- an out-of-print Little Golden Books guide from less sophisticated days.
Gnome participated this year for the first time, adding her own leaf chronicle of colors. She was our most enthusiastic leaf finder.
As you can see, however, the leaf identification was less than thrilling for her. Fortunately, the King relished leaf ID.
The Eldest took his sweet time, wandering through underbrush, considering vines and shrubs as well as trees. I snuck a photo of his work in progress while he dallied near the garden, which still bears green tomatoes, and continues to fruit despite recent freeze.
Sweet Isla on our hike in Tannehill last week.
"And then the party ended, the season's lost and found."
If you'd like to add your own tradition of a Fall Ball, the printables and description from last year are free. And they exist for you to enjoy.
This semester, thirteen students enrolled in “The Nineteenth Century City,” an undergraduate course taught by Dr. Sharony Green of the University of Alabama’s Department of History, searched for “the nineteenth century city” in Tuscaloosa. The results of their efforts will be presented in a 12 minute documentary music video.
As the students walk through downtown, they appear to be in awe of the idea of “the urban space “as much as they are in awe of the details on dwellings that date back to the nineteenth century like Christ Episcopal Church and Depalma’s Italian Restaurant, formerly the First National Bank.
Join them at the Jemison Mansion on Wednesday, December 3 at 5:30pm where they will continue their commitment to learning about emerging urban life, not only in Tuscaloosa, but America. It provides an opportunity to not only hear great music and see a student video-documentary, but an experience in an incredible mansion that paints the picture of Tuscaloosa’s past and present. Dr. Robert Mellown, a renowned retired UA art history professor, will be the keynote speaker. He will also stay after to sign copies of his latest book The University of Alabama: A Guide to the Campus and Its Architecture.
We're going on a black walnut hunt today because Kristine's Herbal Rootlet pointed out black walnut dye is colorfast and needs no additional mordant- just water and heat. Here are her instructions:
Search for stained white or off-white natural fabrics in your closet. Wool works as well.
The first method for making a dye is to put Black Walnut hulls (green or black) or leaves into a half gallon or gallon jar and fill with water. Screw the lid on and let it sit in the sun for 5 - 7 days. Green hulls give different colors than black ones, the green giving a more golden appearance. Leaves often give a more olive drab color.
The second method is quicker, simply fill a stockpot about half full of the hulls or leaves add water to completely cover and simmer on the stove for an hour. The longer you let it steep, the darker it will get.
To prepare your items for dyeing, wash them through a normal wash cycle if they are brand new. If they are used, pre-washing is not necessary.
Decide how you want your items to look. If you bind them tightly with twine or rubber bands, the results will be lines and streaks or various tie dye effects depending on how you bind them. I love to carefully fold up the fabric then tightly bind it with thin cotton or hemp twine. The result is streaks with lines through them, reminiscent of trees.
If you don’t prefer special effects, you can place your fabric directly in to the pot and get a solid dye. Be sure to remove the hulls first or you may get some mottling (which is also another nice effect).
Once your dye baths are ready, strain off the liquid and set it aside. Compost the hulls. If there’s enough room, you may wish to leave the hulls in for a mottled effect.
Return the dye bath back to the pot or jar and add your fabrics. For the sun dyeing method, place the sealed jar back into the sun for an additional 5 - 7 days. For the stove top method, return the pot to the stove and bring it back to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let the dye bath sit for 30 minutes - 2 hours. The longer it sits, the darker it gets.
Once you are done dyeing, use tongs to remove the article from the stock pot if you want to save the dye bath for a second round. If not, dump the entire pot into the sink. Run cool water over the items until they are cool enough to touch then start squeezing out the dye and water until the water runs clear. If you are using the sun method, follow the same procedure but there’s no need to worry about the hot dye bath.
When your items are clear of any leftover dye, hang them on the line or dry in a dryer. The color is set and can be washed with like colored items.
It was a beautiful fall weekend in Tennessee, the leaves burning every possible color- including dark, dark purple.
Mallory was a vision in white and tulle- a beautiful, whipper-snapper, ceaselessly sassy bride. Seeing her say the magic words was sweeter than most magic words for their resonance. I know what it means to love your independence and enjoy being a mother and yet- still- hold out for a partner worth marrying rather than settling for something easy and more socially-acceptable than single motherhood.
I was the bridesmaid who never, ever, ever wanted to catch the bouquet. After every wedding, all I could think was "I don't ever want to be some man's wife." What I wanted was to be myself without having to account for all the ways in which I was different from other females or males in demographic category. When I finally decided to marry, it was not for a traditional dream of male-female hierarchy but for a thoroughly gender-flexible partnership between a person who happened to be a male and a person who happened to be a female both of whom- most importantly- happened to be human beings with their own hopes, dreams, fears, and ideals.
When Mallory's voice cracked as she said the magic words, I wanted to hug her and say- "This won't be the first time your voice will crack over those words- because they are not small words at all but big, massive, clumsy, impossible words that mean the world and reshape the world. I can't imagine saying them lightly. I can't imagine saying them without fear and trembling.
We basked in the free-flowing love around us. There was a tremendous amount of tenderness at the wedding this past weekend- tenderness between cousins and family members and strangers at the wine bar. It was cheesy and lovely and wonderful to witness. My hopes for Mallory and Kenny are tiny as a pinhead and wide as the moon- May their marriage remain a canvas they never tire of appending, painting, painting over and even re-painting should the need arise.
Flower-girls Gnome, Little J., and Prophet goof off as only cousins can do.
Now for serious faces.
The ring-bearer of the hour was Gabriel, whose shoes matched Kenny's.
She told us they were called "troll homes".
It's been a fantastic past week with everything from pumpkins to leaf hunts to this afternoon's backyard wild leaf chase. All Hallow's Eve is upon us, and I can't decide whether to be one of Serge Gainsbourg's mistresses or the daughter-in-law-you-dread-having. Both costumes are easy ones to pluck from my closet.
Fall colors at the pumpkin selection in Northport.
Gnome balances a troll home on her head.
Funky, gnarled squash.
Gnome samples cool squash.
Everyone picked out their own mini pumpkin for our annual dysfunctional pumpkin family. Now for the rest of the rigamarole.
The beautiful mysterious wildflower we found on a nature walk.
There are times when writing another word feels like terrorism. What begins with the beauty of an fragrant curly pea vine ends with my fingers deep in the dirt, digging further into the soil, exhuming the dead below.
What begins with a garden winds its way into a grave.
This is not what I intended- not this horror on a sunny autumn day- but there is dirt under my nails and I keep on digging. The choice is not mine anymore because now I must know what happened- must tell this desecration clean.
Perhaps the writer can only expunge the rubber-necker's shame by dignifying it in a story. I ask forgiveness in advance for the ghosts and goblins I set loose in the world. If there was any other way...
The frog we saw near a beautiful flower.
I tell you it’s too late for anything
but you seem very nonchalant about our dilemma’s solution,
both players must shoot off one of their legs so they can’t chase
the hare, you say, as if legs are just words to throw around in a game.
Think only how clean and cauterizing, this solution,
the only fair solution to the dating dilemma being
voluntary, mutual self-mutilation.
You look happy for once.
We go from Rousseau's story to playing a game
where winning involves accepting a known loss.
Read the rest online for free in Issue 5 of Brickplight.
Seed pods are stranger than fiction.
I've revised characters countless times to ensure no one will take offense at possible imputed personal resemblance, but the characters lose their luster and those who might be offended will surely find something else to offend them in my writing. It helps to fall back on the words of the writer I'm currently devouring, and his thoughts on the writing life:
“The notion that anything can be invented wholly and that these invented things are classified as fiction and that other writing, presumably not made up, is called nonfiction strikes me as a very arbitrary separation of things. We know that most great novels and stories come not from things that are entirely invented, but from perfect knowledge and close observation. To say they are made up is an injustice in describing them. I sometimes say that I don’t make up anything—obviously, that’s not true. But I am usually uninterested in writers who say that everything comes out of the imagination. I would rather be in a room with someone who is telling me the story of his life, which may be exaggerated and even have lies in it, but I want to hear the true story, essentially.”
[James Salter in an interview with Paris Review]
The house comes loose at the hinges when the blue stockings come out...
Author James Salter understood the imperative of a strong nose. His protagonists expressed their inclination towards permanence by virtue of their noses- “a mark of commitment to life” is how Salter described a big nose. The manifest brilliance of a unknown face as apprehended through the nose- the face’s “keel”.
An unfold-able character requires only one physical feature to keep from bending- a strong nose, one which cannot be forced into falseness. The strong nose which remains signals resistance against the cultural prefernences for small noses. The nose’s job being to keep things real, to anchor us to a complicated genetic past.
Not a diminutive nose- not a precious “button” inferior enough for endearment- but an ardent nose, nostrils curved like torches. At least, that's the story I'm trying to tell about why I'm comfortable when told my nose is "massive" or "big" or "interesting" or "Romanesque" or "large" or "buxom", all those words being more affirming than the hidden barb of "your nose isn't THAT big", implying that big is bad.
In my spare (and stolen) time, I've been absorbed by the characters in my novel- how they developed unpredictably, as if they ran away from me and took on a life of their own. Sometimes, I am the ungrateful parent who wishes they'd behave more like obedient children- fit the expectations I have of them. Other times, I am grateful for the way they float outside my grasp, defying my notions of goodness, my expectations of what a character should be.
Julia Alvarez says you should write about something you haven’t figured out--write your way through to an answer. Embrace and pursue discomfort. Take surprise as a boon. That is the mind-bendingly awesome part.
Then you prepare to present your baby to the the editors. Much like opinionated parents, most editors have a specific philosophy- a bias towards sleep training or attachment parenting or metered verse. The rejection letters come with the profusion of fall foliage, and I take comfort knowing that every editor feels passionately about their choices, every "no" makes every "yes" all the sweeter.
There's nothing like the way the heart swells an octave when an editor says "yes". Nothing.
Still, the writer wonders- am I fooling myself? Do these poems, stories, or books deserve to be read? Do they add anything to the world?
In comes Ruthi Thorpe to rescue me from misgivings and self-pity. In an essay for Poets and Writers, she says the only two things a writer needs is “a love of books” and “perversity of spirit,” or the ability to remain unfazed by valid criticism and keep on chooglin'.
“You have to fall in love with the dark formless place where the words come from. You have to be addicted to that deep-sea inner world that is the reading and writing of books. And you have to be willing to ignore just about everything else.”
Ruthi, thank you for reminding me not to take the darkness personally- not to be sad when editors or fellow mothers see things differently. Life is richer for these differences.
On the surprising side of things, I have three poems in Brickplight this month.
"Letter to An Unknowing Pissant" was inspired by a conversation I overheard at the playground- a conversation between a father-in-law and a wide-eyed, worried young mother. He was so cruel to her- and his cruelty made him look small.
"Soddy Daisy, TN" was written on the car ride back from a trip to the Smoky Mountains with my one and only beautiful sister- and our families to boot. I imagine all sorts of things on long drives. All sorts, all flavors.
"Stag Hunt" was inspired by my fascination with game theory and a game theoretic experiment that Ed Lopez finished for his economics dissertion in Virginia way back when. I learned so much from participating. Like economics in general, the economics of love is reductive. We make decisions based on assumptions about what the other person is thinking or feeling- then we pretend our assumptions are actually truths. Such is the social construction of reality.
Take a gander over to Brickplight and see the exquisite compilation of poems selected by Jason Barber for Issue 5, including poetry by Arthur Plotnik, Fassbinder-aficionado Drew Pisarra, flophouse dandy Harley Lethalm, Tim Kahl whose "oh" stops traffic, and the tender voice of John Grey.
Given my fear of competition- the fear of winning, possibly displacing someone, giving others reason to resent me- it's awesome that Prophet can't hide her contempt at my non-competitive inclinations.
"I love playing," she assures me.
"Because I love winning." The words slide like raspberry jello from her tongue. "Don't you love winning, too?"
"Well, Prophet, it's complicated."
"Nope it's not. Winning is awesome." She looks convinced.
What else can I say except- "That's one way to look at it."