Thursday, November 19, 2009

Art Walk

Artist Joan Archer demonstrates watercolor painting.

Every third Thursday evening a local town has an Art Walk, where the shops stay open late and art is displayed throughout the area. I have wanted to go for several years now, and this week we finally made it a priority. We bundled up and put on our boots to brave the blustery weather. It felt so good to get out of the house for something fun as a family!

We started out at a gallery, viewing interesting paintings by a variety of artists and snacking on cookies and cider. Gabriel was curious about talking with one of the artists, so we chatted with her a bit about her training and experiences. She was very encouraging to Gabriel. We went on to another gallery, where there was an artist doing a demonstration with watercolors. Gabriel was really interested in this, and we stayed to watch as long as she painted. Then it was next door to see a different artist using a completely different style of watercolor painting. She also took time to answer our questions and explain her philosophy of art. At a fourth gallery we looked at some sculptures and yet some more paintings. Somewhere here the word "surreal" was used, and Gabriel picked up on that and came home to do some "surreal" art of his own. I think we're going to have to do some research about different styles of art so he (and I) knows exactly what that means.

The kids observe Autumn Kegley painting at Autumn Leaves Gallery.

I was touched by how intensely interested Gabriel was. I wasn't sure how the evening would turn out with both the kids along, but Gabriel was definitely inspired by the art he saw. I also appreciated the way everyone took time to talk to us, genuinely sharing their interests and techniques, treating Gabriel as a student and not just a little kid. Why haven't I gone to this before??? There were a bunch of other stores we didn't even have the time or energy to see. I think this is going to be a regular gig for us in the future.

This little one, however, was plumb tuckered out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Owl Pellets and Book Review of The Barn Owls

I remember watching the owl. It was twilight, almost dark, that summer evening. We waited at the living room window at my parents' home, eagerly scanning the yard and the tree. Suddenly, there it was, coming out of the tree, a ghostly white shape floating up into the air, past the window and out into the neighbor's field. Mom thought it was a barn owl. They had kept track of when it came out every night; just after sunset.

The next day we went out and poked around under the owl tree. I found two owl pellets, which I picked up and kept safe until the kids were old enough to appreciate the activity. This week it was time: time to get them out and see what was inside. What had this owl eaten? Gabriel already knew what an owl pellet was, but we needed to explain to Annika that an owl can't digest the fur and bones of its prey, so it regurgitates those pieces in oval-shaped packets, or pellets. We can pick those pellets apart and look at the bones to see what the owl's meal was.

Preparation. The kids thought they wanted to use latex gloves to do the dissection, but the gloves were too unwieldy.

We found two skulls among the bug droppings.

One of our pellets had been discovered by bugs who had eaten all the fur and left only bones covered in bug droppings. That actually made it easier to dissect it. The one still covered in fur took quite awhile to pick apart. Both the kids were interested in this activity. Gabriel actually knew some of the bones, and we had a sheet we had gotten online that helped us identify most of what we found. We're not sure exactly what we had; we narrowed it down to some kind of rodent. There were two skulls and lots of tiny bones between the two pellets. Now I'm wishing I had picked up more pellets for our research.

When we were done we had a pile of fur and a plate full of tiny bones.

Lower jaw bone, pelvic bone, and two vertebrae.

Tibia and fibula.

Rodent skull and teeth. Notice the large eye sockets.

Pile o' bones.

The owl did not appear last summer in the owl tree. We hope it will come back again, but if it doesn't we have fond memories of waiting for it on a summer evening and figuring out what it ate.

We paired this activity with a lovely book called The Barn Owls by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray. It is written in poem form, sometimes rhyming, sometimes rhythmic, but either way fun to read. My favorite page goes:

"Where owls hunted,
spiders spun
to hold the barn
to earth.

Where owls hunted,
long snakes sunned
and split their skins
like chaff
and left.

And bees hummed
their hymn
of wheat."

The illustrations are done in watercolor and watercolor pencil. The colors are saturated and mellow, golden and deep. The whole book makes me wish we lived next to a field with a hundred-year-old barn that is home to barn owls. But at least we can have a thin thread of connection to one through our owl pellet findings.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Window Art

The sun was miraculously shining through the windows today, so I thought it would be a good time to try one of the projects in our new book, Great American Artists for Kids by MaryAnn Kohl and Kim Solga. I had the supplies for a project imitating Frank Lloyd Wright's windows. The kids learned that he was a famous architect and artist, and that he designed a play house for the children of one of his clients. The windows in this play house are considered some of his best work. The book suggested taping contact paper to the windows and adhering tissue paper circles and squares to it in the manner of the playhouse windows.

Both of my children really enjoyed this activity, and spent much time working on their art pieces. Gabriel admired the original Wright windows, and was careful to imitate the style. Annika took a more free-form approach. Gabriel was able to cut out his shapes by himself, and I let him use a Sharpie marker (!!) to draw the black lines. Annika needed help cutting shapes, which I was happy to do, and tried to keep up with her speed of work. I was annoyed that I didn't have as much tissue paper as I thought I did, but the kids didn't mind the limited palette. (Unfortunately, they cut shapes out of the middle of almost every piece, so now I need more tissue for wrapping gifts. And I never knew just how difficult it is to cut tissue paper cleanly.) I still need to put the outer layer of contact paper on, and make a black frame for them, but here are the products so far:

Annika's piece, untitled

Gabriel's piece, titled "Uga," signed by the artist. He even tried to write the title backwards so it could be read from the outside of the window. He was thoughtful enough to put a price on it, $1,000,000. I think it's priceless!

One of the things that struck me was the children's mood - they were on edge and cranky, bickering with each other before we started. But while they were working, there were definite calm and peaceful, thoughtful and intentional feelings in the room. Gabriel remarked toward the end of our session, "I love my art!" Those good feelings lasted for a few hours before the bickering started again. It reiterated to me the importance we should place on art in our lives.

I highly recommend this activity, and we look forward to trying more from the book. Pop on over to The Artful Parent to read a wonderful interview with MaryAnn Kohl about her book and her life work.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Photo Safari

Big-leaf Maple Leaves Cover the Ground

One of the worst things about having foot and ankle surgery is not being able to go for walks in nature. I feel like I have missed the best part of the autumn this year - the colorful leaves are mostly fallen and soggy, and the warm weather is gone until next spring. Snow covers our favorite hiking trails in the mountains. Grey clouds and breezy skies dominate the weather forecasts as far as the eye can see. The house starts to feel confining and stale.

Yesterday the sun was out, brightening the windows and causing the birds to be active all around the yard. I was desperate to get myself and the children out into nature, if only for a few minutes. Surprisingly, Gabriel fought me on this. He usually is the one begging to go out. But after I told him he could bring the little camera, he calmed down and grumpily put on his coat and boots. Annika was easier to convince, so off we went for a 20 minute walk, (me using my trusty knee scooter) into the greenbelt down the path, and back out to the sidewalk, up to our house just in time for our friends to arrive and join us for lunch.

Following are some of the photos I took yesterday.

The sensitive artist composes a shot

Shaggy mushrooms in the woods

The weak November sun filters down to the leaf-strewn path

Annika enjoyed collecting maple leaves and stepping in puddles

Another shaggy mushroom

Juniper berries on a neighbor's tree

Back home, autumn cyclamen in our front yard

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Children's Book Review

I have been thinking about starting a new feature on this blog - reviews of children's books we use for our schooling. There are some amazing books out there for children, and we check out so many from the library. I haven't decided yet if I will stick with nature education books, or expand the reviews to include anything I want. I don't plan to do this on a fixed schedule; rather when we find something good to share. So here is my first offering:

Wind-Wild Dog by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Kate Kiesler.


This book follows a husky pup as she is chosen by a man to join his dogsled team. The prose is tender toward the dog, yet really sets an atmosphere of wildness in the natural world. The first line of this book is "The night Ziva was born, the wind held its breath." There are many other poetic phrases throughout this book, which makes it a joy to read out loud, and satisfying to this literary-minded parent. There are lots of juicy verbs, such as smacked, lapped, slunk, pricked, and thrilled. I picked this book out when we were reading books about wolves, and found it an interesting companion to the more scientific wolf books.

The illustrations in this book are warm and exciting, and really bring out the relationship between the man and Ziva, the beauty and wildness of the Alaskan wilderness, and the personality of the dogs. Children could follow the threads introduced in the story to learn more about Alaska, sled-dog culture, wolves, or dogs. I highly recommend searching this book out at your local library. And please post a comment to let me know how you enjoyed this book. Happy reading!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Catching Up

We have been laying low lately since my surgery. We spent a week at my parents', staying for Halloween; this week we were home again. "School" has been very relaxed. Lots of library books, Science Channel and PBS. Gabriel has been doing some interesting artwork, including weaving on a cardboard loom I made him and playing with Sculpey clay with his dad. Legos are a prominent part of the day, too.

Gabriel also spent several hours playing with a snap circuit electronics kit my parents have. We paired this with a Magic School Bus book about electricity.

Grandma and Papa helped the kids carve pumpkins.

Gabriel's has an eye and part of its mouth sewn shut. Annika's is happy.

For Halloween we were still with my parents, and spent most of the day with my brother and his family.
Here is a rare photo of me. I've got my foot up while watching the soccer game.

We watched my niece play soccer, had pizza, and went back to their place to chill. A party and Trick-or-Treating were later in the day.
My niece is a doctor, my nephew is a fire fighter. Gabriel is a mummy/zombie, and Annika is a princess.

The kids got way too much candy, and now I'm sorry I didn't come up with a creative way to get them to trade it in for something else.

We got a new book in the mail today that I am so excited to try out. It's Great American Artists for Kids by MaryAnn Kohl and Kim Solga. There is a nice little piece about the book on The Artful Parent. The book gives a bit of information about important artists, and then activities for young children to do imitating that style. Besides the obvious art implications, I could see this tying into geography and American history. I'll let you know how it goes!