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

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

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen and "Is there a link between science and art ability?"

This week was Science Fair week at my kid's school.  I noticed something interesting...a lot of the kids who won prizes were also good artists.  I volunteer teach art part time to the middle school students at their school.  Most of the really good artists had really good science fair projects.  I think there is this assumption that scientists are all left-brain catalogers, but really, many of them think out of the box.  At least the big time ones, like Einstein and Edison.  A science fair project can join many interests, from building, inventing, nature loving and asking questions about the world.  A good artist can put together a great board, with visual examples.  Art is also about process, just like science.  And it is messy!  It seems like science is taught off to the side these days, at least in elementary school, which is kind of sad.

Because my kids have had great teachers, they've embraced science at school.  Both of them won science fair awards, my daughter won 1st last year, my son won 2nd this year.  My husband and I are NOT sciencey-y at all.  Sure, we love nature, the outdoors, and birding and gardening....but I'm really not sure where they get it from.  I'm artistic and bookish, and my husband loves math, music and sports.  I'm son wants to be an environmentalist.  We need more environmentalists in this world.

In any case, I think the art teachers should talk to the science teachers and talk about how drawing and putting your ideas down on paper should be ENCOURAGED, not discouraged.  Doodling, mistakes and general overall MESSINESS, is how some of the world's greatest scientists made their discoveries.  The discovery of penicillin (mold growth) happened because Alexander Fleming left his petri dish out by the window (in his messiness) and mold grew and voila!  penicillin was discovered.  And let's not even get started on the state of Einstein's hair!

Who doesn't love a science fair project like:  "Which anti-gas remedies decrease gas production?"  Or "Can bubblegum improve your memory?" What curious kid hasn't wondered about the effect of caffeine on plants?  I'd like to water my plants with coffee and see what happens!  And where else in school do you get the chance to build a trebuchet and launch stuff from it, or a hovercraft and get GRADED for it?  These were all actual science fair projects at my kids school this year.  Sadly, these types of events are being erased, downsized, eliminated at even the best schools. 

And now onto Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.   I've refrained from reading what others have thought about it, so as not to inform my opinion.  Well, I was excited when I started the book, but a little exhausted upon finishing it.  It is over 500 pages, which was a little too long.  I read his other book, The Corrections quite a long time ago, so my memory has faded.  But what I do remember is his characters.  In both books, they are generally unlikable.  Maybe this is the "modern novel" for you. 

The novel follows a woman, Patty, who came of age at the tail end of the 70's.  We meet her in high school, follow her through college and meet the two men she loves and then onto her subsequent marriage to one of them.  The conflict that arises from her decision follows her throughout her life.  But this is not the real story of this book.  The book is more about our times, and the characters give voice to the author's ideas and opinions about the world.  Politics, environmentalism, living in a meaningful way....all of these ideas are exemplified by the characters.  One character is an obscure rock star who ironically becomes big later in life.  One character emblifies the progress women made in sports, but sadly, this does not help her much in life.  Another character takes the idea of entrepreneurship in a newly freed Eastern Europe to it's not-so surprising conclusion.  Another character's story explores the uneasy relationship between government, the environment and big business. 

The book was interesting but I got a little bogged down at times by the author's almost too obvious tries to make his characters mouthpieces for his ideals.  Overall, it's worth a read, and you will recognize "types" from people you know throughout the book.

My next book is Great House by Nicole Krauss, a much different read about a novelist writing at a young Chilean poet's desk she inherited that has a mysterious power over those who possess it.  She also wrote The History of Love, a good book that came out a few years ago.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reading two books at once

Sometimes, I mean ESPECIALLY, when I have a book club deadline, I tend to be drawn to all the OTHER books I want to read.  I don't know about you, but I'm the kind of person that always gets too many books out of the library at once.  I have great ambitions, especially when I perceive that I have alot of time, like vacations, 3 days weekends, you get the picture. 

So for my winter vacation I brought 3 books.....and read exactly NONE.  Then in January, with my book club deadline looming, I started on Muriel Barbery's "The Elegance of the Hedgehog," a best-seller BTW.  Well, it is translated from the French and is a little slow going at first.  So when I was cruising a neighboring library I just happened to see a book I had put on reserve at my local library which I didn't expect to get for several months.  It was Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom," which has been all over the press lately as "the great American novel of our time."  So, I did what any self-respecting book lover would do......I snatched it up immediately.  Clocking in at 562 pages, it is quite a whopper of a book. 

I started it knowing full well that I REALLY should have been completing "The Elegance of the Hedgehog," which had stalled for me.  Unfortunately, "Freedom" was quite addictive.  My husband gently reminded me that I should really get back to "Hedgehog," and surreptitiously snatched up "Freedom" when I wasn't looking!  He had recently read "The Corrections," and had also heard all the press.  Next thing I know, I was racing to finish "Hedgehog" and worried that "Freedom" would be due back at the library and I wouldn't have finished it. 

Well, "Hedgehog" got better quickly, it is quite a philosophical read.  The two main characters are a 12 year old girl living at an exclusive apartment complex in Paris and the concierge, who tries hard to hide her intelligence and love for philosophy and Russian novels.  Enter a mysterious, wealthy  Japanese tenant and the story starts to gel.  Each character's story is told from their point of view with a bunch of chapters on philosophy thrown in.  The ending is quite unexpected, and very cinematic.  You can almost see it as a French art cinema piece. 

So, I finished and hoped my husband would finish "Freedom" quickly, as time was running out.  Thankfully, this library has a 3 week deadline, so I'm well on my way to making it before my deadline.

The third book I found at Anthropologie, an artsy clothing/housewares/cool things-you-can't-find-anywhere-else kind of place.  I got a gift certificate for Xmas.  Since most of the on sale clothing was in size XS, I decided to blow it on books and cool turquoise/sea foam bowls for my retro 1950's kitchen.  One of the books, "The Family Dinner:  Great Ways to Connect with your Kids, One Meal At a Time," looked too interesting to pass up.  The author is Laurie David, who just happens to be the ex-wife of Larry David of "The Larry David Show" fame. 

Basically it is a book about how to make family dinners fun again.  It has recipes, games you can play to keep the kids from running back to their screens, treaties on slow food, meatless Mondays and growing your own food.  It's not preachy, which is nice.  The author interviews all sorts of people, from Maya Angelou (the poet), to Mark Bittman, Mario Batali, Jamie Oliver & Alice Waters (the foodies & chefs), to Arianna Huffington and Lynne Rossetto Kasper (Huffington Post and NPR), to writer Robert Coles (The Spiritual Life of Children),Nora Ephron (film director of "Julie and Julia" and "When Harry Met Sally"), Jonathan Safran Foer, and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma).  They even interview Robert Kennedy, Jr. to ask about how his family did family dinners (a most illuminating section!).  I highly recommend this book. 

We have already used it by having my 7 year old set the table decoratively with fun dishes I never use, and played games like "Stinky Pinky" and the "Once Upon a Time" game, where one person starts a story and you go around the table contributing to it.  We actually spent about a half an hour longer at the table laughing together that night, which is worth the price of the book in my opinion.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bread and Coffee

 Breadsmith is an bakery that makes bread in the Old Country style.  They also carry vegan baked goods, which works out wonderfully for my dairy and egg allergic son, and the rising number of vegans in Lakewood.  By the way, they are delicious, and I'm kind of picky about that kind of thing (I'm not vegan).
The Root Cafe is the heart and center of Lakewood, where all the artists, musicians, local community organizers and movers and shakers rub elbows with moms with toddlers, teenagers on wi-fi and Albanians playing dominos.  The former Phoenix Coffeehouse, the Root Cafe expanded last year and opened up a vegan and vegetarian kitchen which serves sandwiches, pizzas, platters and yummy baked goods.  Another place my son can go and have a soy hot chocolate and a vegan muffin.  I regularly visit on Friday mornings to discuss kids, the schools, the community and whatever my friends are knitting.  The renovated vacuum cleaner store has been replaced with beautifully handcrafted furniture and tile made by local artisans.  They have local art on the walls, a heavily stocked bookshelf and game area, and original portraits of Root customers screen painted on the bathroom walls.  I LOVE this place.

Two Antique stores from two different eras....

 Deja Vu Antiques sells furniture, art, clothing and rugs from 1900-1940.  Their windows are a work of art.
Cosmic Collectibles specializes in mid-century furniture, often repainted in bright and fun colors.   This is their window display for October (drawn from life on 10-10-10!).  There are always quirky lamps, decorative objects, retro magnets, jewelry, ornaments, even unusual candles.  She always has the wittiest, most colorful windows that never fail to please.

Another drawing from my sketchbook series....

This drawing is of an independent restaurant, 56 West, located conveniently across the street from Lakewood's Art Deco theater.  They sell healthy and delicious food that is affordable, fresh and made from local sources (their bread is from Lakewood's bakery, Breadsmith).  You can make your own salad or build you own burger for only $6-7.  If you go for dinner and decide to catch a movie, you won't even need to repark your car, just stroll across the street to the movies!

Some drawings from my sketchbook depicting Lakewood, Ohio

The first page in my sketchbook.  As you turn the corner from my street onto Detroit Ave., Lakewood's "Main Street", this is the first building you see. They sell Hemingwayesque furniture to evoke times on safari or in Key West.  Masculine and artfully relaxed is the vibe of this place.  They have NYC style windows at Christmastime with toys that move and tributes to the past windows of downtown Cleveland department stores that have since gone out of buiness.  This drawing was done from life.

Welcome to my blog!

The Artfully Booked Mom describes me to a "T".  Each day I try to balance my desire to paint, craft, or read, while still being a good mom to my two kids.  Although I often feel "overbooked," I find I actually do more when I have less time to do it.....go figure!

I have just completed my latest project, a sketchbook for "The Sketchbook Project 2011," an internet based project that is touring the country.  Over 20,000 people from all over the world submitted sketchbooks that will become the permanent property of the Brooklyn Art Library.  People attending the exhibition can look at sketchbooks which are divided into various "themes." 

For my theme, I chose "Down Your Street."  I live in Lakewood, Ohio, a walkable inner-ring suburb of Cleveland, Ohio situated on Lake Erie and surrounded by the "Emerald Necklace," part of Cleveland's Metroparks.  It is a great place to live, filled with vintage 1910 and 1920 houses, many independent businesses and restaurants, great schools, an award winning library and a great public park on Lake Erie.  Lakewood is what we all wish a city would be:  walkable, affordable, green, artsy, and fun,with gorgeous architecture.  I chose to honor the spirit that is Lakewood with my sketches of local, independent businesses, restaurants, and city amenities.

To view 12 of the 39 images from my sketchbook, check out my page from "The Sketchbook Project" here:
I am also working on a series of oil paintings depicting some of Lakewood's historic homes.  I hope to have a show of them in the next 6 months or so. 

I also knit, sew, make art quilts, and do mixed media collage.  In addition, I belong to a book club, which keeps the English major in me happy and the ideas flowing. 

I have two kids, Fox, age 11 and Charlotte, age 7 who keep me busy.  My husband is an avid birder and record collector.  He had a band pre-kids, a fabulous girl-fronted power pop band called "The Palindromes," google them!

Come visit often!