Saturday, April 28, 2012

Useful Books, Drawing with Kids

Happy. I'm happy at finding a good book: Secrets of Companion Planting by Brenda Little.  This is a small, slim volume that I picked up as you can see, at our local library, and it is a gem!  Other companion planting books I have read are intriguing, overwhelming, and not terribly helpful. Perusing the pages here, I found myself wanting to copy down ideas, maps, rotation charts from every other page.  Little presents simple, coherent plans for rotational vegetable beds in small spaces.  Like; three vegetable beds rotated on a five year plan, planted rather intensively, just the way I like it.  She also offers suggestions for a separate potato patch and combinations for fruit trees.  I'm so excited to find this nice volume of very useful and accessible, well-organized ideas.

Pretty.  We've been going through Mona Brookes Drawing with Children, which represents a seismic shift in my art pedagogy philosophy.  Shhh!  She suggests teaching children how to draw things! She says it won't kill their native genius, but will give them skills to keep drawing as they grow.

You see, I never planned on teaching my kids how to draw, say--a duck, or a car, or a... anything.  I thought kids would figure it out all on their own and giving them a method would somehow spoil the artist in them.  But I saw some of my own kids drawing less, ironically, as their artistic eye improved.  This kid was  frustrated so much by a lack of technical drawing skills that the poor fastidious child didn't want to draw hardly at all.

 When I was a kid I loved, loved, loved drawing.  I remember that I liked to draw things I could draw well.  First, I drew flowers and grass across the bottom of the page and a sun.  Then I found a way to draw the sun into the corner and make a face on it.  I drew houses and trees.  Then I copied a house from a girl next to me in Miss De Vine's Kiddie Kollege (sic) who drew her houses sort of 3-D.  I went through a phase where I thought I maybe wasn't so good at drawing and that made me pretty sad, but I was helped out of it by Ed Emberley of the thumbprint books, and various How To Draw books from the library, and Bob Ross, the happy tree guy who had a painting show on public television.  I also had lessons in classical drawing, where I learned that the time-honored method for teaching art students is teaching them to copy masterpieces.  Copying a line drawing, even a cartoon, develops skills that will carry over into life drawing.  Brooke's book amply illustrates that what each student uses the techniques in unique ways, generating original works.  Well, copying simple drawings might not be so crazy after all.

So Mona Brookes' approach really got me started on something.  I found that the kids are hungry to learn to draw things.  She also offers lots of helpful suggestions about teaching methods and attitudes to combat the paralysis of perfectionism!  However, my kids are not crazy about the specific drawings in her lessons.  It helps so much to have subject matter that they like!  So I've been loosely using her method, but swapping the drawings for images that resonate with my kids. Like these ducks by Margaret Friskey. 

Here are my sketches of the splishy, chubby duckies:

I was trying to figure out simple ways for the kids to get them.  Basically, each duck is to circles; one for the head and one for the body, with other shapes added on.  I do a step-by-step demo for the kids, describing exactly what I'm doing in terms of shapes.  ("So now I'm going to draw a half-circle between the bottom corner of the beak and the head.  That's the cheek.  Then I do one on the other side")

 Things I'm learning:
1. My kids have very exacting standards for themselves
2. Not being able to draw as clearly as you see is frustrating.
3. Keeping it short helps.  One drawing is plenty.  Brookes recommends warm-up exercises, which my kids enjoy very much, but we need a break!  After just one drawing, they are bursting with tension!  They run to the couch and throw all the pillows off for a friendly little war.
4. Drawing with my kids is so much fun!

Real: I borrowed Drawing with Children from a friend and immediately spilled water all over it, sigh.  I bought a new copy for her.

round button chicken

Sunday, April 22, 2012

On the love and care of new parents

New parents are awkward as young lovers. Really, we were so fumbling the first time around, with that new baby. Trying so hard, having read so much, all my hopes and dreams being tested so hard for their mettle.

 I speak from experience, as a virgin bride, about awkward love! I loved so much, but knew nothing. I knew so much, and loved so little. Our capacity to love in truth broadens and deepens as we walk in love and grow in the knowledge and discipline of God's love. Just by living on, clinging to our Great Love as our lifeline.

I hope that in coming years I'll be ripened and full of wisdom. I feel like I'm just starting to get my feet under me, and keep losing ground still--and yet, I can say with full assurance that it has gotten so much better! Understanding my baby comes so much more naturally. Coping with the whirlwind of a house of children, managing my own unruly will--as we do and keep doing these things, we get more skilled at them!

Old ladies get such a bad rap these days for telling young moms to enjoy their children, but I think they say it precisely because they remember how impossibly hard it was! They don't say it because they think it's easy for us! They can see how incompetent we are, and how hard we're trying, and they have sympathy and compassion for us.

I am thankful for:
Meals made and given and delivered!
thoughtful gifts, prayers, companionship, absolution
so many hand-me-downs
People really loving my kids
people not angry, but delighted at my kids' interruptions in church
listening, processing, advice, stories, reassurance
friends like family and family like friends
playdates, good books, beauty, cleaning my house!
handmade gifts, babysitting
friendly strangers

Pictures all of Willem Moses, third-time-Charm baby.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kids and Anxiety: Releasing Stress

So when tension builds up, what can we do to let it go?  We have worked to find ways to relax.  Paul and I discovered that the things that used to be relaxing for us before we had kids just weren't fun anymore; weekends with nothing to do in the woods, long road trips to weddings, lazing around the library, strolling the mall criticizing the store displays, long hours at snobby coffee shops, cross-country road trips with vans of teenagers.  Picture any of the above scenes filled with bored, demanding children sucking all the fun and relaxation out of the room.  Just not fun anymore, no? 
The old ways didn't work anymore, but made us more stressed out!  We didn't abandon our pleasures, but we did have to find new ways of relaxing together. 

This post isn't so much about relaxing family leisure time as about ways we've discovered of releasing steam in everyday life, for kids and adults.

 -Release stress with love and work and play.  We have worked to find ways to counteract stress.  Think good-feeling bodily exertion and touch; wrestling, rough-housing, cuddling with blankets, dancing to music we like, playing games, telling jokes, being silly. 

-Rhythmic activities like swinging, rollerskating, jumping (one of our beds is a mere mattress on the floor just so that the kids can jump!)

-Being in and doing stuff in nature.  This is so refreshing and revitalizing.  Get away from roads and machines and media.  Uphill and down dale, get into leaves and birdsong and water and skyscape and the creaks of growing things.

-Firelight and candles.  Fires outdoors are even better.

-Time alone, for those who like or need it!

-Soothing baths, waterplay, lots of backrubs.  Backrubs, and hand and foot massages are also great for desensitizing sensitive and stressed kids.  Playdough, baking bread, doing dishes (!) and laughing have all been helpful.

-Confession-- something one doesn't often think of as relaxing.  But man, if there's something weighing on me, I just can't relax until I get it off my chest!

-Worship- Music, dance, art,

-Absorption.  Really another form of worship.  Losing oneself in art.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sweet Bunny Treats for Eastertide

 Little Willem can reach the piano!  And, oh he loves to.  He doesn't know what to do after he's done playing, though. (funny)

It's a good time of year for adventuring.  I present my all-purpose quick snack. They are little nuggets of goodness which we call energy bars.  I call them NRG bars, because that's the way my high school biology teacher abbreviated energy.  They are good for taking to the library or the woods or camping or for the car ride whenever we are leaving and will get hungry before we get back to real food.  They are just a simple cookie, glorified by tossing in whatever likely dried fruits, nuts, or grains I have on hand.  A bit of chocolate ensures the goodwill of children.
Creme D'Argent rabbits at Flatland Farm.  So sweet. What's prettier than bunnies?

  Energy Bars for Hungry Bunny Children
this is a recipe for human, not rabbit children-do not feed to real rabbits
2 cups Peanut Butter, any-we use salted crunchy just peanut peanut butter
1 cup sugar or other sweetener-I like honey if I have it (2/3 cup honey)
2 eggs
1/2 cup buckwheat groats, sometimes called Kasha, can substitute oats, millet, sesame seeds, or wheat germ
1/2 cup shredded coconut, plain not sweetened
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chocolate chips so the kids will love 'em
1/4 cup peanuts
opt: 2 Tbsp cocoa powder

To be honest, I don't measure this out, so I'm trying here.  I put in a handful each of the goodies and stir.  If it doesn't hold together with all the add-ins, I just stir in another egg. 

Simple enough for a kid to mix up all My-byself.

Roll into balls, put on a greased baking sheet and flatten each with the palm.
Or drop into small greased muffin tins by the spoonful.
Bake 350F 10 minutes or until beginning to turn golden.
When cooled, pop into a cookie tin.  I pack a tin for Paul, because he loves them, tie a few handfuls up in a napkin for the picnic basket, and save a few for the next day.  I often roll half the recipe and  in parchment paper or a paper bag and freeze it for insta-NRG at a later date.

This little guy is Creme-Champagne cross, and looks quite like a wild bunny with his Agouti coloring, but he will be much bigger than a cottontail when he grows up!
Happy, of course, is Easter itself.  More than happy--jubilant!

round button chicken

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Anxiety and Kids: On Finding Rest

I'm going to try doing a little series on families and anxiety.  In no particular order, I will attempt to bring together some of what we have found helpful as we seek a peaceful family life and freedom from the tyranny and fatigue of anxiety.  Has anxiety cropped up in your home life?  Do you know the weariness of worry?  There is rest and peace to be had.  I promise because we are finding it.

-Kids shouldn't be too stressed out.  If life is super stressful, kids quirks will be exacerbated.   Quirks like shyness, phobias, sensitivities, and worries.  Stress, rather than making us more ourselves, makes us rely more heavily on our coping mechanisms because we feel desperate! Serious anxiety in the family is a spur to examine our life and sort out what's important, culling some activities and commitments when necessary.  We seem to regularly accumulate more than we can handle, so a periodic re-evaluation of our time commitments thrusts itself on us when we find ourselves chronically swamped.

-We seek a balanced life for everyone in the family.  Grown-ups and kids all need plenty of sleep and nice doses of work and rest and play.  Taking duty and pleasure by turns helps us find an even keel.  We also each need lots of time with good friends who love us.

 -We have found having a day of rest essential to family happiness and peace of mind and body!  A real day, not just a couple hours or part of an afternoon.  And real rest.  By "rest" I don't mean lazing about in pajamas all day in front of the tv, because that just isn't restful at all to us.  Rest is letting our spirits breathe the breath of God.

-We guard our family day of rest as a time truly set apart.  We don't schedule appointments or duties on this day, or do unnecessary work.  I have found it more restful to do the dishes and clean up after ourselves than to leave it all till the next day!  But we try to plan ahead to minimize the unavoidable work on this day, by cooking ahead simple food and even setting out breakfast the night before sometimes helps to start this special day well.

-We seek activities for our day of rest that are life-giving for everyone.  Finding ways we as parents could rest without boring the kids to death or overwhelming them, or that they could rest without wearing us out or jangling our nerves worse than workdays was something that took us a while and is part of healing as a family from anxiety.

-Make little islands of sanctuary in the regular everydays.  A little quiet, times to talk together, spaces to think and play.


-During the unavoidable seasons of intensity, we hold it together, and keep up what regularity we can as we ride it out.  Sometimes real rest, for one reason and another, is just unattainable.  These are the times to just keep getting a meal on the table one way or another, falling back on traditions, and clinging to the cross while we wait for the storm to subside. They are not times to give up on everything.  Nor are they are also not times to insist everything be perfect.

round button chicken