Balancing painting, parenting, crafting and book loving one day at a time...

Balancing painting, parenting, crafting and book loving one day at a time...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Laura Ingalls Willder's Little House books-Stories for our time?

As a child, my sisters and I were obsessed with the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder,  from Little House on the Prairie to The Long Winter. 
We read the books, and we were lucky enough to also watch the TV show with Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon, which made it even cooler to like the books. 
Reading those books, along with The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia and Little Women, I found young female heroines I could relate to.  They were spunky and curious and not always “good” like the girls on the 1950’s style sitcoms on TV.   Growing up in the 1970s was confusing.  Our textbooks were a jumble of old 1950’s texts  like Dick and Jane and black and white newsreels with omniscient, white male narrators talking down to us in self-important tones about how we should view the world, whether the topic was business , history or puberty.


Counteracted with this were the alarmist, pseudo-psychedelic films we were shown in middle school health classes that meant to warn us about the dangers of drugs and sex out of wedlock.  (  Drug Abuse:  The Chemical Tomb) The heavy rock and primitive special effects were supposed to scare us, but they often just made us laugh, or think not very highly of our elders.
Then there was TV and the movies.  If you want to see how confusing the messages were, just go out and rent the original Electric Company episodes.  Comingled with the children’s message of “free to be you and me, “ were hipster actors wearing bell-bottom jeans and women in extremely short hot pants giving off a not too subtle dose of sexual innuendo.  Maybe it’s not too different than the subtext in today’s Pixar movies, who knows.  But rewatching them with my kids as an adult, I was shocked.  These shows were trying to awaken our inner feminists and they were groundbreaking, I don’t deny it.  But the switch from prim mothers on Romper Room to the sexy hipsters on Electric Company was a little much.  Which brings me back to the Little House books. 
They were refreshingly wholesome.  Even without the TV image of Melissa Gilbert (as Laura) galloping through the high prairie grass in her gingham dress and bonnet, I could close my eyes and imagine the settings in each book, from the big woods of Wisconsin, to the sod house by Plum Creek in Minnesota. (opening credits of Little House TV show)  As I read them to my 9 year old daughter, I am struck by how much physical description of the land (and a lot of it is quite repetitive) there is in the books.  There are stretches where not much happens, the girls play on the prairie, that’s all, but every detail is in there, from the way the grass feels on their bare feet, to the smells of the hay that is laid out to rest in the sun.  That’s all they did all day, played out in nature.  Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods:  Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder) would be proud.  So would all the slow food movement people.
There seems to be an appropriate fit with these books and the way we want life to be again.  Making do, being happy with the simple life, eating off the land, even dealing with unusual weather, like huge snowstorms and weird insect plagues (grasshoppers or 17-year locusts).  We’ve messed up nature’s balance so much we can stand to learn a little from the original back-to-the-landers,  American’s pioneers.  Laura probably had A.D.D. anyway….she was always getting in trouble for being impulsive and fancy free and wanting to do what the boys did.  Mary, the one who was always good and “ladylike” was never any fun.  She certainly didn’t have the pioneer spirit.  My daughter, when asked which daughter is the most like her, shyly says, “Laura.  I really don’t like Mary. “  My 21st century, independent-minded, athletic, nature and science loving daughter bonds with Laura.  And she should.  No wonder she feels an affinity with her.  After all, aren’t we all just Laura at heart?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer is here!

There is always a little bit of sadness that accompanies the end of school.  Even though it means the end of homework, the structure is gone, the friends are scattered, there are days to fill. 

So, at the end of every school year, our family makes a list of things to do, usually overly ambitious, which serves as sort of a guidepost for summer.  This year, my son remembers things we didn't do last year and complains about not doing them.  What he doesn't realize yet is that thinking and planning summer is almost as good as doing it.  The anticipation can be a happiness goal.

Speaking of sister sent me a book called The Happiness Project.  Originally begun as a blog, it turned into a best-selling book.  The author broke down her "happiness goals" by month.  Her categories were things such as decluttering, exercising, improving her marriage, improving her relationship with money as well as friends.  My sister wants to do her OWN happiness project with me,so I told her I'd go ahead and do it with her.  It's sort of like the idea of writing down what you eat when you go on a diet, you record things in a log or notebook and pay more attention to the little things.  It serves to clear the mind, in the same way that making New Year's resolutions does. 

The end of the school year/beginning of summer is as good a time as any to reflect on goals.  When each school year ends, I am more and more aware of time passing.  I start many more summers will I have with my 12 year old son?  Maybe we SHOULD take that cross-country trip that we always talked about.  My sister is doing this very thing.  She has 3 boys, age 13, 11 and 4.  Is there ever a perfect time?  No.  Will the 4 year old remember it?  Probably not.  But the older ones will. 

Her planning this trip helps to increase MY anticipation of our own possible cross country trip.  Which path should we take?  Which sites should we visit?  How far off the beaten path can we go?  What can we do that will be a memory that my kids can hold onto until THEIR kids are old enough to go? 

In closing I leave you with some items for our Summer "To Do" list:

play in the sprinkler
climb a tree
go crabbing

go strawberry or blueberry picking (can already cross that one off!)

water balloon fights (check)
creek walking (check)

grill outside
craft days (check)
art openings
catch a frog (check)

sparklers (check)
get muddy (check)
make a mosaic table
sleep in the backyard
watch for snakes (check)

watch movies from Mom and Dad's era (check)
make a pond
have a Star Wars movie viewing party
giant Nerf war
go swimming
put on a play
go to farmer's markets
eat cherries and peaches
stare into the sunset (check)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Spring at Last!

Finally!  After months of endless, 100 year record breaking rain and cool weather, spring has finally arrived.

 e.e. cummings had alot to say on the subject of spring, but he says it best here in this poem:

In Just-
spring         when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles        far     and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far       and    wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and



balloonMan           whistles

That about says it, no?  Anyway, spring is inspirational and I was in desperate need of inspiration after being cooped up all winter. 

I don't usually get to go to art openings but as my kids get older, I find I can drag them to some.  One in particular was at the Wall Eye Gallery in Cleveland, on the near West side.  A friend had a bunch of prints in the show, which was centered around the theme of bicycling.  There were bicycles hanging from the ceiling from all eras, plus bicycle-inspired artwork on the walls.  There was even a parking lot for cyclists!  Artwork ranged from photos, to fiber art, to tire prints, to paintings.  My daughter's favorite was an actual bike treated as an artwork in itself, decorated in Browns colors.  She loved it because she could touch it and ring the bell, which she did over and over in a room filled with people!  In the basement, someone had set up a virtual bike race, with two actual bikes on runners, hooked up to a computer that showed how fast you were riding.  You had to race your "opponent" and the clock.  Of course the kids loved this more than the art!  All in all, it was an interesting show and raised awareness of the "green" practice of biking over car riding.

Another wonderful show I saw recently was a collage show.  Collage can be done by anyone, and incorporates found objects re-purposed and made into art.  Sculpture, 2-D work and quilts were highlighted in the show.  Here are some of my favorites. 

The artists were:  Clare Murray Adams, Gail Crum, Shirley Ende-Saxe and Linda & Opie O'Brien.

Lastly, my book club and I went on a combined "art date" and "garden date."  An "art date" is when you take yourself out to art exhibits or openings to get inspired and excited about doing and seeing art.  Julia Cameron's excellent workbook for artists, called "The Artist's Way," suggests an art date every so often.  So we went to see the M.C. Escher show at the Akron Museum of Art.  It was quite crowded for a small regional art museum, but the exhibit is one of the only North American venues, so we were lucky to have it so close to us. 

It was interesting to see the process that Escher went through to make some of his most famous prints and drawings, but also fascinating to see HOW he got there.  Some of his earlier work is shown below.

 This woodcut reminds of a scene from Harry Potter!

Here's an Escher book plate.

 Above are and white and red horse tessellations, then a progressive one with bees turning into ducks, then fish.  This last one was horizontal and went almost all the way across the room, changing shapes as it went.

 They even had models that he used for his stairs that seemed to be going up and down at the same time. 

After that, we went to Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, a 19th century estate with extensive gardens.  There was a wedding going on, which made for some nice views. 

One of my favorite places to take photos is on the Birch Allee. 

The irises, peonies and lupines were just in bloom, and lovely to see. 

 But my most favorite of all their gardens is the walled English garden.

 I call it the "Secret Garden" because it reminds me of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, one of my favorite children's books.  In fact, I loved it so much I even made an art quilt about it, complete with a book-like opening in the middle that showed the garden in it's various stages, from winter, to early spring, to full summer bloom.

Recently, a newly illustrated version of it was published with many, many gorgeous drawings in full color along with the complete story.  If you are a fan of this book, you don't want to miss this version with illustrations by Inga Moore.
I have my own garden too, and Memorial Day is one of it's peak times.  My favorite color is purple, so you see a lot of it in my garden.  Here you see purple allium (I call them puffballs), along with poppies and iris.  The poppies were supposed to be pink, but some of them came out an orange red.  Oh well! 

Here's an area with iris and clematis training on a trellis.  There's a cupid here too, that someday will spout into a pond, if I ever get it built.  Yea, someday! 
Back when my son was 7, he wanted a pond and couldn't wait for me to get around to it, so he took an orange juice gallon container and turned it on its side and filled it with water and surrounded it with rocks.  That was his "pond!" 

It just reminded me that I better put that pond in before he gets to old to enjoy it.  I have 5 more summers before he goes to college.  Better get digging!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Overactive Parenting

After all the press I've heard about Amy Chua's book,  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I figured I should go ahead and read it for myself.  Her book is about her desire to raise her two daughters "the Chinese way" which is more strict than the "Western" or "American" way.  She feels that the "Western" way of parenting is too lax and permissive.  For example, here are some things Amy Chua would never allow her daughters to do:

• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin

She makes her daughters practice their instruments 3-5 hours a day, while she stands behind them criticizing them for tiny errors.  She is unfailingly honest and completely obsessive about her parenting style.  This honesty saves the book from being horrific, as she is openly honest about what she is doing.

It is an odd book, and I'm not recommending her parenting techniques at all.  BUT, and this is a big BUT....I think she does have a point about the permissiveness of Western parenting.  The "everyone wins" mentality, where every kid is a soccer star and gets an award for just being on the team isn't really working.  We are producing entitled, lazy college students who think they deserve an "A" for just showing up to class, and have their parents complain if they don't get what they want.  I work at a college (and have for many years) and the "Millennial" generation who have been raised this way along with being "taught to the test" are nearly incapable of thinking for themselves or accepting that they can't do whatever they want when they graduate.  Of course, the current job climate will stop them in their tracks, especially the ones who come out thinking they "deserve" that high-paying entry level job.  They want to bypass the "getting their foot in the door" type of jobs, thinking it a waste of their time.  Their attitudes are appalling.
If we could just fall somewhere in between these two extremes, I think we'd be doing well.  Parents who have students in music or sports are not unlike Ms. Chua, with the endless practices and games or performances.  A generation ago, Little League started at age 9.  These days, parents feel that if their child hasn't started a sport by age 5 ot 6 then they just can't compete.  Starting a sport at age 9 with no former training is just asking for humiliation.  Late bloomers need not apply. 

On the other hand, and I'll play the devil's advocate here, if you want your child to be a "master" at something, then you SHOULD start them early, or have them practice for hours and hours.  Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Outliers, describes the :"10,000 hours" phenomenon.  He says that anyone who has put in 10,000 hours will have an edge or mastery over a subject, be it sports, the computer, academics or music.  So discipline has its advantages.  But balance is key. 

Being a parent in these times is no picnic.  If you read parenting books, prepare to be very confused.  Parents today worry if their child isn't growing fast enough, or if they have grown TOO fast.  They worry if they don't show musical talent or sports ability at a young age.  They worry about them being exposed to everything via TV and computers.  They worry about them growing up too fast, yet buy 7 and 8 year old's clothes more appropriate for high school. 

One of my worries is that my daughter (age 7 1/2) was more interested in the computer and TV and would not choose to read.  My son at her age was reading voraciously.  I couldn't get books out of his hands, he read in the car, at the table, in bed at night.  My daughter resisted my attempts to ply her with books.  She is  a math girl, and loves games, search and find books, puzzles, and sports.  This wasn't enough for me.  Being the good English major that I am, I was collecting a library for her while she was still in the womb.  I felt that there weren't enough good role models for girls on TV or the movies (and I'm right!).  The girls were either too mean, too sexy or too dumb.  For me, the girls I've admired have always been in books.  Jo March, from Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking, Caddie Woodlawn, and Laura from the Little House on the Prairie books, now THOSE were good role models.  Even new heroines like Hermoine Granger from the Harry Potter books were admirable.  Smart, resourceful, a bit rebellious, yet kind and strong were how I'd describe these girls.  I wanted my daughter to know about them.

Something I've learned with my daughter (who is quite stubborn), is not to force the issue.  If she sensed I wanted her to do something, she would do the opposite.  (Amy Chua had the good daughter 1st, followed by the rebellious one 2nd, whom she tried to break).  So I found myself biting my tongue a lot and letting her read things that interested her, even if they weren't the books I had in mind for her.  She would sit down at the grocery store with a teeny bop magazine.  I said nothing.  She'd want her bedtime reading to be a search and find book, I said nothing.  Her father read her mysteries over and over, Geronimo Stilton being a favorite.  Mysteries, like math, are like puzzles.  She enjoyed them.  I let her pick out her own books out of the library.  I tried non-fiction, stories of female heroes, like Amelia Earhart, or Marian Anderson.  She liked these.  I read her the American Girl doll books about the different eras in history.  She liked these.  She couldn't believe what it meant to be a girl before the women's movement changed everything.  Mom, that's not fair! she would cry incredulously.  Then she would want to know more.

Lately, I've caught her with the light on after we've tucked her in, reading a book.  I caught her the other day, sitting on the couch reading.  I went to to a book sale and let her pick out whatever she wanted.  She seems to have turned a corner.  I try not to draw too much attention to it, but I am secretly thrilled. 

Not every child is the same.  I must remember that.  I must have patience.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Women writers who make me laugh

Don't all of us need a good laugh now and then?  Especially after the non-stop rain we've had all April and into May...

So here goes.  Nora Ephron is laugh out loud funny.  Especially if you are a certain age, probably over 35.  Her two latest books of essays, "I Feel Bad About My Neck" and "I Remember Nothing" are those kind of books.  Nora Ephron may be known to many of you through her films "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle," and "You've Got Mail." 
Some highlights from the Table of Contents for "I Feel Bad About My Neck" are:  I Hate My Purse, On Maintenance, Me and JFK: Now It Can Be Told, and What I Wish I'd Known.  I think most women can relate about getting older, how they feel about their purses, and "maintenance", meaning, trying to stay younger looking as you age.  Her witty, often hysterical observances will leave you howling with laughter.  And since she has lived in NY and LA, and has known many interesting people, her stories keep the reader on their toes.

Ephron describes what motivated her to write this book: 

"When you’re young, you make jokes about how things slip your mind. You think it’s amusing that you’ve wandered into the kitchen and can’t remember why. Or that you carefully made a shopping list and left it home on the counter. Or that you managed to forget the plot of a movie you saw only last week.

And then you get older. "

You can tell just from the titles that you in for a laugh:  Who Are You? (about forgetting the name of someone at a party), Twenty-Five Things People Have a Shocking Capacity to Be Surprised By Again and Again, I Just Want to Say:  The Egg-White Omelette (how can you NOT want to read this one?), I Just Want to Say:  Teflon and I Just Want to Say: No, I Do Not Want Another Bottle of Pellegrino.  Then there is:  "The Six Stages of Email", which coming from the writer of "You've Got Mail" is just perfect.  She goes from confusion to obsession to hatred.  So true, and SO funny.

Now, for my next favorite funny author:  Maira Kalman. 

I first heard of Maira when I discovered her books for children:  Sayonara,  Ms. Kackleman about two children who travel to Japan; Next Stop Grand Central about the people and goings on in New York's Grand Central Station, Chicken, Soup, Boots and Ooh-La-La, Max in Love about a dog who lives in Paris. 

My children love reading her books and they are great for adults too.  Maira has this special ability to take something ordinary and have you see the fascinating bits in it.  In Next Stop, Grand Central, she describes all of the people coming in and going out of Grand Central, from the bassist going to his Greenwich Village gig, to the night watchman, to the lady and her dog visiting her ailing mother on Long Island.  The drawings are funny and the people she draws are described in witty, unexpected ways.

She continues this style of observation in her newest books of essays:  The Principles of Uncertainty and And the Pursuit of Happiness.   

The Principles of Uncertainty is a strange mix of observation, admiration, a wandering mind and an interest in historical figures and their unusual lives, all mixed up with a fascination with objects like sinks, tassels, hats and pickle tags.  Oh, and the backs of people as they are walking down the street in NY.  It's hard to describe.  Let me show you some pages from the book:

Her other book of essays is called And the Pursuit of Happiness and was a year-long series of essays in the New York Times, that coincided with Obama's Inaguration and her traveling to DC to see it, as well as her musings on important politicians and historical figures from Lincoln, to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to Thomas Jefferson and many other things in between.