Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wild Wednesday ~ New Nature Books

I've been loving teaching my nature journaling and nature writing workshops over the last few months. I've always hesitated to teach, because I thought teachers needed to be these extroverted, really energetic, bouncy types (which I am most assuredly not), but it's turned out to be very fun, challenging, and rewarding. So I'm glad that the volunteer requirements of the Master Naturalist program forced me into it. On top of the inherent pleasures of the "job," an added bonus is that it gives me an excuse to buy new books, and these four little beauties landed in my mailbox last month.

Into the Field is a handy little guide, designed for classroom teachers to incorporate nature journaling and nature writing and place-based learning into their curricula, but I've found it helpful for my workshops as well. I had originally gotten it through the library, but ran out of time to finish it before it was due back and decided it would be nice to have a copy of my own.

I don't remember where I ran across Letters From Eden--I think when I was browsing for something else online--but it sounded like a perfect book for me: essays and drawings of the natural world around one calendar year. I haven't had a chance to start reading it yet, but I adore these sketches that are scattered throughout the text.

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady is a classic nature journal example that I've been meaning to get a copy of for a long time. I finally went ahead and ordered it to use as an example for my students of what they should NOT expect their journals to look like. I've found people get so worked up about their drawings being "good" that they are afraid to get started. I think they have an image of this book (or something similar) in their heads and don't want to go through the steps of making messy, less-than-perfect drawings in order to see what's in the natural world (and, hopefully, learn to draw better). I'm not sure if showing them this book will help or make things worse!

Again, I don't know how I ran across the Law's Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, but I preordered it on a whim last fall and I am so glad I did.

It's so thorough and full of information about observing the natural world as well as advanced drawing techniques that I've never run across in my smattering of art classes.

Not to mention his drawings are utterly gorgeous! I want to apprentice myself to this book, and spend the next several months (or years, more likely) going through each page and exercise.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

My friend Helene holds a paint night at her art gallery every few months and I've tried to make it every chance I get. It's just fun to slather paint on canvas and drink wine and chat and walk around looking at everyone's creation. This month we painted a snowy scene with a tree and a little house. Right now mine holds the place of honor over our mantel, because I got sick of our Modigliani print last summer and I haven't found a piece of real art that I can afford that will fit there.
The next day after paint night, I got the boys going on a paint project. I'd seen in a coffee shop with art for sale on its walls a picture of birch trees on a solid background and thought "we can do better than that." I picked up some smallish canvasses at the craft store, and gave one to each of the boys (and myself) and we taped strips of masking tape from top to bottom. I then gave them each a palette of paint to represent one of the seasons (purple, white, and blue for winter; red, yellow, orange for fall; dark and light green and yellow for summer; and blue, green, yellow, and pink for spring). I couldn't quite think of how to differentiate colors between summer and spring, and having unrelated colors on a single palette ended up being a mistake, especially since E, who likes to mix his colors into mud, chose spring.

After we painted our backgrounds, we went out for a stomp, looking at birch and aspen trees along the way.

When we got back, we peeled off the tape and added the dark lines (lenticels and branch scars) to the trees.

From left to right: Winter, by M; Spring, by E; Summer, by Mama; Fall by Z.

I absolutely LOVE how they turned out (even E's mud. Spring is, after all, mud season here in Maine). Perhaps I should stop looking in art galleries for a piece of artwork to hang over the mantel and turn instead to my resident artists.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Winter Comings and Goings

Oops, I didn't mean to take a blog break. It turns out I can only keep so many plates spinning at a time--a project that had been in "hurry up and wait" mode for months and months suddenly hit "hurry up" mode and the nature writing class I'm teaching has taken much more preparation time than I anticipated (but it's all good), so the blog plate fell out of the air for a little while. I think I'm back on track now. In the meantime, we've had some snow and some ice and some warm, melty days and then some more snow. I'm glad the snow is back, because it was starting to look like March out there and that's no good for my psyche (my brain thinks "Tulips!" and the world says "Mud!").

It's been such a strange, warm winter. I went snowshoeing for the first time this weekend, though I didn't, strictly speaking, need snowshoes. Our river ice has pretty much all broken up in the last two weeks--there was never enough ice anywhere for iceskating (for my comfort level anywhere). I'm okay with the warmer temperatures, as long as we have snow, not mud (not that it's up to me). Happy February, friends.

P.S. For anyone wondering what the picture of the car driving through the snow wall was all about:


Friday, January 22, 2016

January Knits

I didn't set out to knit a project every month this year, like I attempted to last year, but it looks like I might be on the way to matching 2015's nine-knits record. In any case, I'm putting a dent in the stash

First off, I made this cowl from a skein of yummy rainbow yarn I've had hanging around for years. It came together super quick--during a long car ride and a couple of movies--and I had fun watching the wavy pattern emerge. Sometimes I think a busy stitch pattern doesn't work well with multi-colored yarn, but in this case i love the way the stripes of color emphasize the wave effect.

Not only is the cowl pretty, it's effective. It's snug enough to fit beneath the high collar of my coat without feeling lumpy and my neck has stayed cozy and warm, despite the bitter wind that has been blowing all week.

As soon as I finished the cowl, I got started on a cute stripey baby hat. Right around Christmas, I received an invite for a baby shower I couldn't attend and promptly forgot about it until I saw a picture of the baby of Facebook last week--oops! I dug out some yarn from my stash--leftover super-soft cotton/wool blend from the fingerless mitts I made last spring--found a pattern and got to work. After a long stretch of late-night PBS shows Sunday night and a visit Monday from a friend, who didn't mind my knitting while we chatted--ta-da!--the hat was born. I have just enough yarn for a second hat, which I've already started on for another baby I know of who's on the way (trying to get ahead of the curve this time).

Yarn and pattern information on my Ravelry page.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

New Year, New Me, Part 2 ~ The Books

I like to think I disdain self-help books, but whenever I hit a sticky patch in life, I find myself turning to books for answers (note the grocery sack full of books on managing early childhood that I just donated to a local family resource center). Maybe it's just the cheesy self-help books I don't care for--the ones that promise financial and romantic miracles if only one follows these 13 easy steps. Or maybe I should just get over myself and admit that I'm a willing victim of the self-help industry.

In any case, starting this year with a strong sense that something's got to change in my life, I picked up three books to help me calibrate my compass in the direction I want to travel.

The first one I read was the Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion, by Elle Luna. I ran across the essay by the same name a couple of months ago and promptly asked Santa for the book. The basic idea of the book is that there are two pressures in our lives--Should, which comes from expectations mostly imposed externally (or our responses to expectations we think the outside world has of us), and Must, which is what our soul clamors for--our passion, our creativity. Moms have a lot of shoulds vying for our time (like last night, when I Should have--and did--spent three hours at my kid's high school for parent-teacher conferences and a how-to-prepare-for-college presentation). Sometimes I think our Must gets buried so deeply we don't even know it's there anymore. This book was a fun and inspiring reminder of how to get back in touch with that passion. I noticed that in the book Luna doesn't mention the six-week trip to Bali she took after quitting her job, which is a big focus of the essay. Maybe someone suggested that such a drastic (and costly) life change was not accessible to most people and they would just hate and resent her if she talked to much about it. Instead, she offers small steps for finding your Must (if you don't know what it is) and making room for it in your life without drastic change.

Speaking of people who got to disappear into Bali for an extended period of time, the next book I read was Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was a little skeptical going into this one, for no good reason, but I love, love, loved it. It's really inspiring without in any way diminishing the hard work aspect of creativity. Basically, it's about falling in love with your creative work, letting your work love you back, working really hard and diligently, being open to inspiration, being serious in your work but not taking yourself too seriously, and skipping all the angst, drama, and self-abuse that creative people often seem to court. She also writes about what to do if you don't have a creative passion already--which is, simply, to follow your curiosity. Following her own curiosity in the garden led her to write The Signature of All Things. The book is not about writing specifically, or exclusively--Gilbert has an expansive definition of creativity and makes an effort to encompass a range of creative pursuits from cake-baking to figure-skating--but because she is a writer, and her personal anecdotes come from the writing realm, I felt especially connected. As soon as I finished reading it, I wanted to read it again, to pick out the bits of advice I want to remember.

Neither of the above books has one iota of scientific research backing up the author's claims of how best to live a creative life. The next book, on the other hand, has 18 pages of notes. The author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, Gretchen Rubin, was a lawyer-turned-biographer before she landed in the self-help book realm with The Happiness Project, so of course her books are meticulously researched. I have to admit, I didn't really like The Happiness Project--the whole time I read it, I kept thinking, "Of course you're happy! You're being paid to write a book about making yourself happy!" I started reading the follow-up--Happier at Home--last year, but didn't get very far. But I like the premise of Better than Before--that change in our lives comes from change in our habits--and though I've only read the first chapter so far, I'm excited to see where she goes with it.

What inspiring books have you read lately?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

It's Here

Winter was slow in coming this year.

But now that it's here, we're making the most of it.

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