Tag Archives: pondering

The Importance of Play

Theo and I recently watched a TEDtalk on the vital importance of play, not only in brain development, but in daily thinking and problem solving. The speaker, in part, was encouraging adults to continue to play, and at first I felt a little frustrated, because I don’t play much here. I recreate, but that isn’t the same as play. And then I realized where I do most of my playing: art. It is where I experiment and take chances; try new things, and put substance to my imagination. So in that spirit, here is where I have been playing lately.

I posted the geraniums I had painted for a neighbor already, which you can see here. I think they began to catch a sense of play in my painting. My next was a painting for myself, also of geraniums. I had a photo of geraniums on a window with French blue shutters, a very common sight here. I am trying NOT to paint all the details of real life, and yet capture the feeling the image originally gave me. I also confess to doing very little architectural painting because line and precision seems rather important to making buildings look “right.” However, I wanted this window for myself, because it felt very French to me, a memento of sorts. The results initially had a sort of mind-bending quality, a sense of M.C. Escher really. The top of the window seemed quite shallow and close, while the bottom was obviously deep enough for potted flowers. I just couldn’t keep that, but I didn’t want to repaint the whole thing. So I played with it.

These begonias have been played with, but still look "off."

These geraniums have been played with, but still look “off.”

These have had more depth and shading added. It's better, but I am still pondering.

These have had more depth and shading added. It’s better, but I am still pondering.

So, I am still thinking about altering it, but it is only for me, which means I am much more willing to forgo the work when it stops feeling like playing and just live with the imperfection. Someday it may feel like playing again, though, who knows. Regardless, I am satisfied to know that my mind is no longer twisting over the truly impossible dimensions!

The other subject that has captured my imagination is the mountain-ringed Lake Brienz. Stoney and I have so many photos, and yet my mind still swirls with how I might better capture the magical qualities of that atmosphere and area. I already showed my little watercolor pencil sketches, where I just felt I had to try to catch, with whatever pale means I had, some of what lay before me. I need a teacher in plein air painting, seriously! Well, watercolor is not one of my better mediums, but I certainly use it better than I do the watercolor pencil, and something about the mountains really suggested an effort in watercolor. The mountains were fun to play with, and not too hard to give a sense of them. I played with the sky until I felt like it was sort of what I was imagining. But the water had me stumped.

Struggling with the problem of water in watercolor?

Struggling with the problem of water in watercolor?

As I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts about visiting Switzerland, the water in the lakes is really remarkable. They are a dense turquoise I had previously only seen in pit mines. There must be some sort of constant breeze over the water that keeps it rippling and moving like it is almost at simmer. And the skies are often at least partially overcast, with a mist or at least haze over the valley. The result is a brightly colored water that usually has very little reflection. I could paint this in acrylics, but how to capitalize on the translucent quality of watercolor and still show this amazing water? I could find no online tutorial or anything with water like my memories and photos were showing me. So I got out my paints and scrap papers and played. What I ended up with is very similar to what I would do in acrylic regarding line, but with a delicate application of wet on dry, and even some lifting to keep the contrast from being too strong. I think it works fairly well.

Lake Brienz completed, probably. Maybe.

Lake Brienz completed, probably. Maybe.

I’m still toying with the possibility of bringing the rose a little more left. And the lower shadows on the fading mountains are really bugging me, so I may do something a tad drastic there, but we’ll see. That’s the fun, isn’t it?

My next attempt to exorcise the swirling images of Lake Brienz from my head will be acrylic, and probably a tad abstract. I don’t play in the abstract often, but it can be a lot of fun. After all, it truly IS play!

Do you do anything, as an adult, for playtime?

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“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This quote from George Santayana written in 1905 is what convicted me as I soberly walked the cemetery and memorial grounds of the Concentration Camp of Vernet d’Ariège, opened initially in 1939 as a refugee detainment camp for Spanish Republican soldiers fleeing Franco’s regime. Within 7 months of opening, it was formally designated a concentration camp to lock up “the undesirable aliens,” particularly some volunteers who had fought Franco, political opponents of Hitler, Mussolini and Petain, and members of the French Resistence, according to the museum phamplet.

The outskirts of the now-peaceful ville, looking over where the internment camp used to be, to the mountains separating France from Spain. The water tower there is the only remaining structure.

The outskirts of the now-peaceful ville, looking over where the internment camp used to be, to the mountains separating France from Spain. The water tower there is the only remaining structure.

What was truly striking in the memorial cemetery is the global nature of its inhabitants. Each of these posts represents a country of someone(s) incarcerated in the camp. 215 people died at the camp, and 152 are resting at the cemetery, covering a large percentage of the represented countries.

Checking out the countries represented here.

Checking out the countries represented here.

And noting that the U.S. is represented. One US citizen is also listed as a casualty of the camp.

And noting that the U.S. is represented. One US citizen is also listed as a casualty of the camp.

This memorial cemetery is well-tended and seems to be well-remembered.

This memorial cemetery is well-tended and seems to be well-remembered.

More than 4500 people passed through this camp, including 90 Jewish children sent here from Auschwitz, ages 2-17. Some were incarcerated for having once espoused Communist views, including one man who fled Hungary because he had changed to anti-Communist views. He was an artist, and his enrollment photos were smiling. He painted and drew the most haunting depictions of men in the camp, and was described as a model prisoner who improved the corps de esprit of the whole camp.

In memory, and obviously remembered. The potted plants on the top step are fresh and alive.

In memory, and obviously remembered. The potted plants on the top step are fresh and alive.

The years people spent here together were obviously a bonding time of survival, because even some survivors chose to join their comrades here after life.

Not all who are here died in the camp.

Not all who are here died in the camp.

Not all who died, are here. Many were deported out of camp, some to even more repressive camps in Algeria, some to Mussolini’s prisons in Italy, some to forced labor, most to Nazi extermination camps. About a quarter of these latter persons were among the last convoy forming the main contingent of the Ghost Train, often dying in transit. Note the survivor of the Ghost Train above, though! This is a spot of victory, of hope!

Stoney looking into one of the actual convoy train cars with our friend and guide.

Stoney looking into one of the actual convoy train cars with our friend and guide.

These train cars were supposed to house 60 men or 8 horses. They often crammed up to 100 people in one of these things. This one is a memorial to the children who occupied it, listed on a plaque inside.

in memory

in memory

I am glad Theodore was with us. As sobering as it was, it was at a level he could absorb without being overwhelmed. And most amazingly, we met the mayor of the town at the museum, who is himself a survivor. He told us (through our friend) that he arrived at 10 months old with his parents as refugees from Spain. He endured decades of prejudice, even though he was married to a French woman and had French children. He fought hard with France to be allowed to become a French citizen because he insisted he arrived in a concentration camp and wouldn’t change his story to be politically correct, but today he is not only a citizen, but the mayor of the town that once housed the camp. We have so much to learn from this man. We must remember.

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Transformation and Aging

When I turned 40, I felt like life was clipping along at a rather high rate of speed. So much of my life was beyond my control, dictated by other forces. I had two teenagers, I was homeschooling two children, and the younger of the two was just beginning to be suspected of dyslexia with its added load of chaos. I had a presence at two schools, and I think that began the second year of really trying to get TeenMOPS rolling, which was a monster of an undertaking. I wanted to be available in my daily life to breathe grace into the lives of friends, neighbors and acquaintances, but I didn’t seem to have the ownership of my time to even stop and take cookies to a neighbor moving out, telling her I’d miss her. This was bad, and I didn’t want to continue in the fast lane the rest of my life. I needed something to change; maybe me to change.

Not a flattering photo, but of me in Texas, 40 years old, re-evaluating my life.

From this was born my 50 Before 50. I wanted to set in print, where it could take on form and potentially life, some of my true priorities. The expressions of those priorities made sense at the time, and I have achieved some in every category, albeit allowing for some flexibility of interpretation:

a closer relationship to God When I became a group leader for Bible Study Fellowship, I took that over a Kay Arthur Bible study (#31). With the required homiletics, I felt it was just as rigorous, and I know I learned just as much from my time in God’s Word.  As a Day Women’s Group leader, I also attended a BSF retreat with my group, and I counted that as a women’s retreat (#27). It certainly achieved the spiritual and relational goals intended. I haven’t memorized the verses, though (#32), which makes me kind of sad, because I invested time trying not to lose the ones I already have instead, and haven’t been completely successful at that.

a closer relationship to my family I am unsure how successful this one has been, but I ticked things off the list nonetheless. I did develop a habit of celebrating even the little victories of my children (#41), thus becoming a more positive, less critical parent. More could be done, though. And some of the items intended to build memories to savor in the future were done with family members, so also serving this goal. I attended my first opera (#24) with my older daughter, which became one of several we enjoyed our experience together so much. I made tiramasu (#8) with my husband, and it was fun together. But Stoney and I never did succeed in making time together for another dance class (#13), I never made time to take the girls to the Hill Country to stay in the Barn(#12), and Theo and I never made it to Mount Rushmore (#40) even after we moved to Kansas, when it would have been much closer to do so. I doubt I’ll squeeze that one in now.

improvements in my own character I’ve thrown out a lot of things I’m not using, and even simplified enough to trim things I was, but didn’t need to (#5). I got up enough courage to donate platelets (#35) and repeated several times more. I maintained a strength and weights program until my injury late this spring (#39), and I ran a 5K (#10), but I had lots of improvement goals that haven’t been met.

goals I need to help my kids achieve Well, I graduated the first three kids from high school, so that’s something (#s16, 36 &37). You might say it should have been on their goal lists, but getting kids through school requires a lot of coaching from parents! And I’m still on track to graduate a child from college (#17), this coming August in fact.

have fun and make memories That’s what most of the rest of the list was for. Some I achieved; many I didn’t. I think the most important ones have been checked off, though.

I just recently turned 47. Now, with time running out, I look over my list and wonder not only if these things are achievable now (any whales in this part of the Atlantic?), but are they even desirable now? My list doesn’t really show it, but these last seven years have been transforming; I am not the woman I was that short time ago. I thought God had already brought me through so much, changed me so much, but I could not have guessed how much more he had in store. My priorities haven’t changed, but are these remaining goals how I still want to achieve them? I’m definitely getting older, and my perspective of what is important is changing. Probably my physical abilities, too!  Do these goals still make sense?

In France at 47.

I’m thinking…no. Especially not in the light of my current circumstances! Most years of my remaining fourth decade are going to be spent right here in Europe. I need an addendum to my list! I’ll be prayerfully considering what I don’t want to leave France without doing, keeping in mind my priorities, and adding a priority: serve others more than myself. And I am willing to hear suggestions as well. When I get my addendum, I’ll add it to the 50 page and link it.

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France: Home of the Wimpy Pests

Imagine sleeping all night with the cool evening breeze from your bedroom window caressing your face. The morning sun begins to light the sky, gently, slowly waking you, while doves coo outside your screenless window. You rise and walk to that window, stretching arms wide into the freshly rinsed air from the late night rain.

My fairy-tale bedroom window.

In every state I’ve ever lived in, this would not have the fairy tale-movie happy ending, where all the forest animals bring you coffee and toast in bed. In the states, you would peer at your newly wakened self in the mirror and gasp at the welts the mosquitos have raised all over your face. The opossum that entered through your window in the night scurries past your feet in terror, wondering how to get out. Mud dauber wasps have begun a nest in the corner of your ceiling, and is that a BAT? And this is if you live in a small enough or rural enough town that you can be sure, well, pretty sure, that no two-legged varmint has come and gone through that screenless open window.

But France can get pretty close to the fairy-tale vision. When I first asked the relo lady why the windows had no screens, and if it was because France has no bugs, she looked at me like I had grown a third eye. She told me that OF COURSE they have bugs. They live with them. I just could not get my head around it. The reason, see, is because she HAS NO IDEA. Yes, France has bugs. We are living with open windows, and every few days a fly wanders in. We bought fly swatters. Twice I have heard teeny, tiny little buzzing mosquitos, and once I think one bit me. A gnat was sort of hovering while I checked my email yesterday morning. Once a neighborhood cat tried to check us out. We get a few moths after dark when the lights are on, but folks, that’s pretty much it in the three weeks we’ve been living here. The relo lady has obviously never experienced American pests.

American mosquitos never, NEVER travel alone, and they are BIG suckers. You hear an American mosquito buzz, and you don’t look around wondering where it is; you’ll SEE it. American gnats travel in clouds, maybe even cloud BANKS. Yes, I have cleaned out wasp and mud dauber nests from inside houses, and that is houses WITH screens. And don’t get me started on the flies! And yes, you will find snakes, bats, and birds in houses in the States, despite our best attempts to seal them out. I have been visited by opossums, skunks, raccoons, and armadillos, and had the door to the porch been open, I am sure some of those visitors would have accepted the invitation. And I would genuinely feel unsafe sleeping with windows and sliding glass doors open in a comparably sized city back home. Or even unlocked.

Here, everyone is doing it. And I DID wake up this glorious morning to the mourning doves and the fresh, rain-swept breeze, and leaned out my open window to greet the day. Amazing!

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Relationships in a Nomadic Life

This week, mornings Monday through Friday, I have led craft-making at our church’s Vacation Bible School. This required a fair amount of lesson planning and preparation in the weeks prior. Four days after VBS wraps up, we board a plane with loads of luggage and relocate overseas. I chose this. In fact, I insisted on it. Speculation over my sanity or lack thereof has been rampant. Some have lauded my dedication. Really, it’s none of the above.

See, I love the people at my church. I have the most wonderful church family, and I don’t want to lose a minute I could be serving with them.

I love me some church ladies!

I work with the best!

The thing is, when you move, there is a tendency to take your time getting involved in a new community. And there is a tendency to emotionally disconnect from those you are moving away from long before you have actually left. But it is the people that make a PLACE your HOME. People are a community: take those people out of their buildings and they can still be a community. If I don’t find ways to connect and make relationships as quickly as possible in any move to a new location, and ways to maintain some of the relationships in the location I am leaving, then I lose the depth of meaning to the life I live. God calls me to community in a worldwide, eternal family, and to draw as many others into that family as He cares to connect me to. How can I waste a single day of that?

That is why I committed to lead crafts for VBS when I knew I just might have to leave around then. I have five days of serving with dozens of people I love and admire. I have seen former art students that passed through my station, that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen this summer at all. I got to rejoice in one little girl joining this amazing family of God! And I am playing arts and crafts with around 90 kids, possibly for the last time for several years.

My buddy Barry the shark, whom I made for the Great Barrier Reef-themed craft room.

VBS-made soncatcher

Making memories with kids.

I can overlook something in the packing, but I WILL NOT overlook people in the moving. It is just too, too easy to do, though. Saturday we will throw an early birthday party for my youngest son, so that he can do this same thing…strengthen the relationships he hopes to maintain to some extent after the relocation, and emphasize the importance of his friendships. When you rarely live somewhere more than five years or so, relationships have to become deliberate.

Do you have friends from childhood that you maintain across distances? I do. Not many, but I do have them. Do you have friends you have maintained from communities you used to live in? I do, although not all of them. It takes work from both parties to keep up with one another regardless of distance. Thank God for the many digital connections that bridge that gap, though! And thank God for friends who work with me to keep in touch! I love them so much, everywhere I go.

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The Australian Mystery

Once upon a time there was a little blog. It was a humble, unpretentious little blog that aspired to document the bland little life and art of its owner. Oh, occasionally someone might wave upon passing, or even drop by for a quick visit, but it really had just a small group of friends.

But then the little blog mentioned Australia. And a few more visitors dropped by. Perhaps they told their friends. The little blog didn’t know how it happened, but suddenly it was twice as popular as before. Later it mentioned Africa, but few stopped by to check that out. It has covered many other topics. Still, searchers are obsessed with Australia. It’s a mystery.

In August I had 177 views. This was pretty typical. I also posted the Australia lesson plan models in August. In September I had 194 views. Normal. This month isn’t even over and I’ve welcomed 724 views, the vast majority of which were referred through searches for Australian aboriginal art. I find this interesting. It makes me wonder what people are really looking for, as if knowing, I could better help them find it. Maybe they would have benefited from all the research and websites I visited. Should I include more? Would they want HOW I taught the lesson? Why such an extraordinary interest in aboriginal art, and why drive it through my little blog? I tried to go back and link up all the related Australian blog pages, to make them easier to find, if they should care. I never wrote much for other folks, and this is an invisible, non-speaking audience; they’re harder to write for. I guess this is one mystery that won’t likely be solved.

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How Far Can I Stretch?

My homeschool class this year spans kinder through 4th grade. I have chewed and chewed how I can successfully teach this span. Back in the day, when I taught my own kids in a span easily as great, the art of juggling made this work. Picture someone juggling. One hand is always catching one ball/baton/scarf/knife and passing it across while the other hand mirrors the action with another, and sometimes you throw one ball high enough several can pass it by before it enters circulation again. This is how homeschooling a wide age range feels. Some parts of the lesson or the curriculum all the kids pass through, and you pull them in engaging them all, and some parts you take further with older students, and sometimes you just send somebody off by themselves for something until you can pull them back in with the rest. But they are always moving, always circulating.

I first considered a variation of this for my homeschool art class. We could all start together at a level the kinders and first grades could follow, then release the younger students and continue a longer class for the older students, building on what we had done in the first segment. For instance, basic information on Australia followed by a pastel hand stencil. Then more information for older students, adding planning time for a story element and their countour line drawing of an Australian animal.

However, the younger segment of the class kept growing. I finally decided that if the moms could agree to stay longer, I would divide the class, and give the youngers a half-hour class of their own, while maintaining an hour of art for the olders. They need a little more focused instruction, and I knew that I would be cheating them AND their older counterparts. Juggling levels is an art best left to smaller groups of 5 or 6 or even 7, I believe. I think it will be a better class for the change.

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Reflections on 2010-2011 School Year in Art

My first full year as an art instructor is done. I LOVED it! This has been a blast, and I am humbled and grateful that God would dream this dream for me.

Favorite moments:

She captured my hair, for sure.

* Hand-crayoned cards with I Heart Art messages, and page after page of variations on any drawing we did in class. One student gave me four Blue Dogs in varying colors and settings. Such happiness!

* “Mrs. Smith, when I grow up, I want to be an art teacher.”

Another 2nd grade tribute.

* The mom showing off her AMAZING Artsonia T-shirt with her daughter’s artwork emblazoned across the front.

* ALL of my entered students scoring above the “good” rating at the Concordia arts festival, and one scoring a rare “outstanding,” when I went hoping to get a few above the “good,” maybe.

* Watching third graders and up dashing all over the WSU campus searching for sculptures in the scavenger hunt, and helping each other find the answers to their questions. And a big HA! to the university student I encountered while creating the hunt who was skeptical that it could be successful and without problem.

* Gazing on the huge canvas painted by Picasso in the gallery foyer at the above university.

* Discovering all the incredible art teacher blogs in the blogosphere!

* Working with the homeschool class.

Bummer moments:

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Hope

I’m still trying the “Creative every weekend” version of CED, and this week I rediscovered Emily Dickinson’s hope-perches-in-the-soul quote. It just quietly lit me up, and I envisioned this pastel sketch. It seemed apropos to the March theme of “Nest.”  Sadly, I got it wet trying to work in the mouth area and got it smudgy, but I still like it. It took the little flicker it had made in my heart and set it on paper, and I am happy. It is only a sketchbook sketch for fun, anway!

Hope sketch

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Deep Thinking

I ran across this quote of Edgar Degas: “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”  Wow. I know when I find art I love, because I can’t stop looking. I am always amazed at how the artist helps me see! I only wish I had the sort of vision that could enable others to see something new or in a new way, and in a way that lifts their thoughts or feelings.

I saw a Jamie Wyeth painting that just grabbed me. I hated to leave it, but I thought maybe I could find a print or postcard of it for myself. So sad! No such luck. I don’t even know the name of the artwork, but the central figure was very similar to his furnace painting with all the seagulls. This was set in a woods, though, on a high hill, with a bay filled with little yachts in the background. It was mesmerizing!

My son’s girlfriend is an artist, too, and she did some paintings of some canyon landscape that are compelling. I just wonder, how do they see things like that? It’s amazing.

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