It feels a bit surreal, and amazing, and a bit nerve wracking. But, yes, I’ve been asked to paint three paintings, and I’ve agreed.
So funny to put that out into the world.
But funny or not, nerve wracking or not, I’m an artist. I’m a creative, wonderful, amazing artist who is going to sell her work! Makes me laugh out loud, and want to throw up, all at once!
I’m going to stick with the laughing out loud and, I’m going to change the tapes in my own head. Yup, i’ve got more to learn. Yup, I can become even better at what I do. But to quote my Kindergartners “You’re very arty, Miss James.” and “Wow! You’re so good at that, Miss James!”
I don’t have time right now to create the paintings – teaching, coaching, and being rested and healthy fill my days. BUT, I do have time to play, experiment, learn, and enjoy my art. This was a quick morning session today.
I worked on sketching, then on laying in paint wet on wet. It was fun and I learned a lot. And, when my brother saw it, he immediately recognized it as my waxed amaryllis.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon in the infusion center. All is well. It was an opportunity to increase my health, and as it turns out, a way to work on my practice of seeing the positive and choosing gratitude.
The health center where the infusion center is located, sends reminders about appointments. I typically appreciate the reminders, but this particular one pushed many of my buttons. The reminder read “You have an appointment with Chemo Chair.” I wasn’t going for chemo, just to get some valuable medications and the help of the nurses around said Chemo Chair. None-the-less, the appointment reminder was causing the fear and protective part of my brain to fire a bit more than I liked.
To help soothe my protective brain, and turn on more of my thoughtful brain, I prepped for my appointment with Chemo Chair as I always do — with a walk, sit, breathe, and paint, in nature. As we walked I remarked to my brother that I was feeling stressed about having to go to the infusion center. As the words come out of my mouth I felt my anxiety rising. I also, thankfully, heard the word had. Actually I didn’t have to do anything. I was choosing to do it. And, it was a blessing and privilege that not everyone gets. So I reminded myself I got to do it — it was a gift I was receiving. I noted the positive, accepted it with gratitude, and walked on.
As we sat, and I painted, I noticed my focus and breath — it was calm, peaceful, and quietly joyful. I thought “I need something creative to bring me joy during my appointment with Chemo Chair.” I seriously contemplated my hiking watercolor kit, but decided something simpler with less possibility of mess might be better. I settled on creating mandala-like art on blank cards with markers — creativity, focus, joy, no mess, and I’d have my holiday thank you cards ready to go.
It was so good to have the creative outlet. I drew while I waited for a chair, and while I spent my time in the chair. It definitely brought me joy, kept me focused on good things, and was a conversation starter for people passing by.
As I navigated the many emotional, mental, and physical experiences of the afternoon I remembered this fact about our brains, from Shawn Achor:
Our brains constantly choose to focus on the negative threats or on the positive. We can practice moving our brain towards the positive, and train our brains to begin to scan for things we are grateful for.
So as I practiced noticing and controlling my breathing — in through my nose, out through my mouth — and monitored how I was feeling — I began to scan for things I was grateful for in my life and day. Here’s my list:
I had an appointment with Chemo Chair. Not everyone gets to have one. And, the chair was quite lovely — comfy, with options to recline or heat the seat.
I have access to the medications I need, insurance to help with the cost, and a great medical center close by.
I had food for breakfast, a warm house, a place to cook the food, a warm shower, and clothes I like to wear.
I have a car, money for gas, and a brother who was free and willing to drive me. He even purposefully chose a hiking video with great views and sounds to watch before we left — and then reminded me to think of them as I got my meds.
The nurse I encountered as I climbed the stairs to the infusion center. She seemed surprised that I said hello, but as she passed me she said “Have a great day and a Happy New Year!”
The people who check me in each time I go, and greet me with an enthusiastic “Good golly Miss Molly!”
The nurses — who work like dogs, by the way — who are professional, talented, and caring. At one point I pressed the emergency button – allergic reaction — and in a flash, or less than a flash, half a dozen nurses were in front of me. The anxious tears forming in my eyes, stopped as I laughed and said “Wow. That was so fast — and there’s so many of you!” We chuckled together as they each did their bit to check in, get a doctor, give me more meds, or smile and chat.
The cards and fabulous new markers that I was able to get on the cheap — I had a $5 voucher and found a 20% off coupon! I accidentally bought gatefold cards. Who even knew there were such things? This snafu miffed me at first, but then became fodder for new creative ideas and a cool design revision.
I finished creating more than half of my holiday thank you cards.
My sweet cousin, and the fab bracelet she got me, and the fact that I was able to find it as I hurried about in the morning gathering the things I wanted to bring with me.
I felt pretty rotten when I got done in the chair — but I didn’t have to drive myself home. And when I got home, I brewed myself a cup of tea, had a bite to eat, took some ibuprofen, and headed to bed. Again, things to be grateful for were many — my home, heat, a comfortable bed, lovely pillows, a weighted blanket, tea, hot water, a mug I love, a ridiculously large water thermos gifted by a Kindergartner who’s mom said to me “It’s life changing, Miss James!” I laughed when she said it, but I gotta say, it was wonderful to have it by my bed so I didn’t have to get up for refills!
My family and friends who always support and love me, and who pray for me and send good vibes always — but especially when I’m feeling less than fantabulous.
And then of course the gigantic things like beautiful weather, peace, breath, and life.
I keep saying I’m going to do a daily gratitude practice, and then don’t. I think I may see if I can add it to my nighttime routine. I may not write anything down for now. I think making it simple and able to be down with nothing other than my heart and mind will make me more likely to stick with it. If you give it a try, let me now how it goes.
We have fun-days in math each week. Usually they’re Fridays — because of the alliteration and the opportunity to wrap up the week with some small groups. But sometimes — when Friday Funday doesn’t work out, we start the next week with Monday Funday! Love the rhyming and joy it brings.
Our Fundays — be they Fridays or Mondays — do many things. They:
allow my mighty mathematicians to engage with numbers and mathematical concepts and processes through play. This helps them grow in competence and confidence as they grow their math muscle and mindsets. (And remember, Play is Fun and Powerful!)
provide opportunities for practicing things we are working on — +1, -1, counting, greater than and less than, partner numbers, counting on, shapes, patterns, and much more — by playing games.
give choice and agency to the Kindergarten mathematicians. Sometimes they choose from a curated list of possibilities, other times the entire math center is fair game.
give me the opportunity to work with small groups while the rest of the mathematicians are engaged in productive play.
Early in the year I added two types of paper to the math center. One has dots, the other has a grid of squares. I believe the squares are 1/2 inch squares and the dots are 1/2 inches away from each other. When I added the paper, I wasn’t sure what the Kindergarten mathematicians would do with it. I was purposeful in my choices — grids and dots of this size allow for many mathematical possibilities — but I didn’t have one specific thing that I wanted them to do. Instead I gave them something that might lead them towards mathematical play and exploration. For a while, no one used the papers. Then a few used the square grid paper to create patterns.
The Friday before our winter break this happened.
They used the dots to create patterns, and they used the grid to write numbers! Oh.my.gosh! ON THEIR OWN!!! I was super excited to see this. They were practicing writing and counting. They were noticing patterns, helping one another, using their current and prior knowledge to solve new problems, and teaching me more about what they know and don’t yet know. I gathered these papers and took the picture — at these two tables, with my feet in the photo — with intention! I wanted to document their work and emphasize their curiosity. And, I wanted to emphasize my own curiosity and interest in their work, thinking, understanding, and problem solving.
These mathematicians were psyched by the work they did, and the large numbers they were able to write. The one triumphantly reported that she had written to 1000! The other wanted to write more, but wasn’t sure how to write the numbers past 109. In both instances I acknowledged their amazing work and then entered into mathematical discourse with them.
We talked a bit about what they wrote, and how they decided to write it they way they did. We wondered if it were possible that 1000 would come so soon after 100. We noticed how the numbers preceding 110 were written. We talked about what made sense and why it made sense. We worked together to figure out the conventional way to write the numerals greater than 109. We ended the way we began — celebrating our thinking and work, acknowledging our big beautiful brains and awesome hearts, honoring our courage, might, and joy as mathematicians.
Leaves hold an amazing amount of intrigue for my Kindergarten artists — and for me! I love collecting leaves as I hike, especially knowing I’m going to share them with my artists. I purposefully look for leaves that have a lovely color, an interesting shape, or an exaggerated size (large or small).
When I come in with my stash of leaves, I am always greeted with a plethora of questions and comments.
Ooooh! Where’d you get those?
They’re so BIG (or small).
What are you going to do with them ?
Can I touch them?
Can I have this one?
More questions, comments, oohs and aahhs, and claiming of leaves, come as I explain, “We’re going to paint them.”
The intrigue gets to a fever pitch as I pull out our antique paper press.
The circle of Kindergartners tighten in around me and the press. Their curiosity is peaked, and they have more questions.
Ooooh! What’s that?
What are you going to do with that?
Why are you doing that?
Can I do it?
I tell them it’s a press, and we’re going to use it to press the leaves so that they will dry flat instead of curled and wrinkly. I explain a few safety issues, and let everyone take a turn loading leaves and paper towels, and cranking the press tight. The burning question becomes: “Can we paint them NOW?” I respond: “Nope, they need to stay in the press until tomorrow.”
“This is going to be an exercise in patience.” I say only to myself.
Finally tomorrow arrives. We open the press and extract the leaves. The Kindergartners are mesmerized by the intense flatness of each leaf. The gently sort through the leaves and choose their favorites.
We paint the leaves using paint markers. The markers allow the artists to more easily add detail. I join them at the table with my own favorite leaf. Sometimes they are very talkative — admiring each others work. At other moments they are silent, eyes, mind, and hands intent on creating the perfect piece of leaf art. The structure of the leaf sometimes guides their design, at other times, they approach the leaf as more of a blank canvas. Always, the uniqueness of painting a leaf — versus a piece of paper — grabs their attention and interest.
I’m fascinated by the way photos — intentionally taken — remove the smallness of the Kindergartners. Instead their hands could the the hands of any aged artist. I love that.
I decided to take photos that highlighted their leaf art. I processed the photos to remove the saturation and color from the background leaving their leaves as the stars, while still including a bit of information about each artist.
When you have leaves available to you, give this a try. It’s a fun activity that is filled with opportunity for exploration, learning, trying, collaborating, creating, and growing as artists and a community. Oh! And if you ever have the change to pick up an old paper press on the cheap –grab it! The possibilities in the classroom are endless.
It’s a regular occurrence to find magnets on top of our classroom’s trash can. Sometimes they are arranged in rainbow order, sometimes they are grouped at various points on the lid. I often have to stop kind visitors who want to help by returning the magnets to the whiteboard.
“The Kindergartners put them there.” I comment. “When I need them, I take them, but for now, I let the Kindergartners store them on the trash can lid.”
Let me explain. The Kindergartners are exploring many things by having the magnets on the trash can lid rather than in their place on the whiteboard.
PHYSICS and ENGINEERING – How many magnets do you need to raise the lid without touching the lid or the foot pedal? Where is the best spot on the lid to put the magnets? What if you have a group that works and you separate the group into two smaller groups?
COLOR – What is the rainbow order? Where do the various shades fit in?
MAGNETIC POLES and PROPERTIES – Why don’t these two magnets stick together? Can I get the magnets to attract one another through my finger? Through all my fingers? What exactly are poles of a magnet?
COLLABORATION, SHARING, and PROBLEM SOLVING – “We need more magnets, Miss James!” they say. “That’s all we have right now. The others are holding up your math work.” A little while later, several Kindergartners are gathered around the whiteboard, gently moving magnets so that papers share the magnets thereby freeing some for their use!
I have no idea what new ideas and exploration may happen after winter break, but I’m excited to find out. I have other small magnetic bits, I may add them to the mix. We shall see.
The three wisemen have begun their trek to the manger and Jesus. Today they stopped to rest in front of an art piece of mine.
Today, as the Kings stopped to rest, I too paused, and looked at them, and the art.
I imagined their journey in real life. They must have had to pause, breathe and remind themselves of the possibility their faith told them lay before them. They chose to begin the journey, and I suspect they might have needed to affirm their choice more than once as they walked together.
I imagine walking with them and pausing before this giant graffitied wall. We encourage each other with the words we see “Inhale peace, exhale tension. Trust. Pray.” Waking after a long day, and a not so long night’s rest, we eat, pray, and do some much needed stretching. As the sun rises, I don my sunglasses to shield my eyes from its brilliant rays. I love the idea of rising and burning like the sun, so I encourage myself, and my brother Kings to burn bright like the sun. We set off in search of the amazing possibility of a child King. Our faith creates hope, and our hope feeds our faith.
As I breathe and type these thoughts, I’m struck — again — by the power of art, word, reflection and imagination. I make a mental note to keep beauty and encouraging words near at hand, and to travel with companions willing to burn like the sun together, grateful for the happiness in each present moment we encounter.
I’ve taken a few moments to paint this weekend — which has been wonderful. I did these while hiking. The leaves are from a couple weeks back. The sky was a quick ten minutes paint as the sun went down yesterday.
It’s interesting how different the sky watercolor looks now that it is dry, and being viewed with normal light instead of the setting sun light. The colors — even those I didn’t plan on being light — appear remarkably lighter now.
I’m pleased with the look for what it is and am going to resist any edits. However, I do want to remember just how much pigment is needed to have the watercolor dry a deeply saturated color. As I look at the leaves I’m recalling the amount of paint I loaded onto my brush to get those rich black shadows.
It’s so good to have pieces to look at and compare. It’s one of the things I like about my hiking watercolor journal.
This is a piece I started working on next to my Kindergartner artists. I used a combination of crayon and watercolor. It’s too bad I didn’t think to take a photo of the image before I added any color. It would be interesting to see how I react to it in comparison to the colored image and the black and white. I find both images satisfying. And, interestingly enough, I like the same parts in both images. It would seem that what I’m enjoying is the saturation as well as the actual color. I wouldn’t have guessed that before looking at them side by side. But, looking at them now, it makes perfect sense.
I teach art, but art also teaches me. I just have to be paying attention so I don’t miss the lesson.
Each year my Kindergartners and I work on a piece of art inspired by Sandra Silbersweig. I love the process, and I think their products are always amazing. Here are a few bits of some of their work.
This time we practiced making various shapes that are present in the inspirational image: an uppercase U, a backwards uppercase L made into a bubble letter L, horizontal lines, vertical lines, diagonal lines, zig zags, pumpkin seed shapes, lips, smiles, and frowns. We make each shape and line in various sizes — big, medium, small, wide, narrow, long, short. We do all of this with pencil in our sketch books. I emphasize that we are practicing, and no one erases anything. They simply work.
After about fifteen minutes of work, I ask them a few questions: * Do you feel confident with all those shapes? * Do you trust me? * Do you trust yourself? * Are you an awesome artist? They respond yes to each of my questions.
Before we start I invite them to join me in the power pose. Hands on hips, hearts raised, feet wide, we take a few breaths together and repeat some affirmations. *We have big beautiful brains. *We have awesome hearts. *We are brave. *We are amazing artists. *We can do hard things.
When they sit down, I give them each a black permanent marker and ask them to open their watercolor blocks. I guide them through the process of making the face, neck, and shoulders using the various shapes we practiced. I wander about the room remarking on their work, their bravery, their artistic decisions.
Once the framework is laid down, I encourage them to add detail. They add shapes and symbols that mean things to them. Some add stars, flowers, hearts, others add God’s face, french fries, and swirls. We take breaks to do museum walks to look at the work of our friends. We “Oooh!” and “Ahhh” and remark on things that we find interesting and inspiring.
As the Kindergarten artists continue to work, they grow in freedom and boldness. They add more detail, more lines, more things. As they grow in boldness, I notice the feeling of fretting in myself. I fear they may become so bold that they will “wreck” the work they have done.
I don’t say anything, I just breathe and think. I ask myself some questions: *Do I trust them as artists? *Is it my work or theirs? *Do I trust myself? *What might I say that will help them grow as artists rather than establish my control over their work?
I call for their attention, “Hey amazing Kindergarten artists.” They respond “Hey amazing artist Miss James.” I comment on all their thinking, boldness, work, and product, and then I connect them and their work to me and my work. “I’ve been looking at your work — it’s amazing. You’ve added so much detail! I’m wondering if you think it might be time to stop. I know sometimes when I make art, I’m loving the process so much that I keep adding things — sometimes without taking a moment to look at what I’ve already done. Then all of a sudden I realize I’ve added a too much and I don’t like it as much. So, I’m going to ask everyone to stop, cap your pen, take a couple of breaths, and look at your creation.” I pause as they do that.
I give them a few moments of silence to look and think. Then I comment “Now that you’ve taken a moment to breathe, look, and think. Decide what else you want to do.” I pause again “Do you think you can finish in 2 or 3 minutes?” Heads down, pens moving, most say yes. One or two say “No!” So I ask “How about 5? Will you be able to finish in 5?” This time everyone says yes.
As always their work is remarkable, and it is theirs, not mine. I’m happy I get to be a guide and an inspiration to them, and I’m grateful that they trust me, and in the process, teach me.
A while back I wrote about adopting a practice of writing a haiku poem each day, I haven’t written one poem a day. Some days I haven’t written any, and some days I’ve written more than one. I’m embracing my practice as it is so that I can find joy in it and continue.
I love the process of writing the poems. I’m not following all the rules of haiku, but I am maintaining the 5-7-5 beats for each poem or stanza in my poem. Finding words to fit the form is getting easier, but occasionally I still struggle to express myself in the form. At those times I head to thesaurus. Searching for a new word that has the needed number of syllables and the right meaning and feeling is enjoyable — I may even be enlarging my vocabulary!
As I write I’m working to be true to what I’m experiencing and noticing, but also to be positive and optimistic. I’m happy to report that I find great joy and encouragement as I reread the poems. I’m remind of happenings, pleasantly surprised by the rhythm, and encouraged by the meaning.
A few readers have asked me to share some of my poems and the poems my Kindergartners create. I haven’t introduced haiku to my Kindergartners yet. I think in the next few weeks, It might make sense to bring it into some of our work and thinking together. Once I do, I’ll share their work. For now, here are a few of mine — seven, actually, simply because I like the number.
RAIN (written in the depth of our drought) What’s that? Is it rain? Window thrown open, I melt in the lusciousness of rain.
MORNING PAUSE Wake, sit, breathe, and pray. Mind and body run away. Gently call them back
Hands on heart, I breathe. Inhale, exhale, up and down. Cultivating peace.
Repeat as needed. Notice, accept, and breathe on. Held in prayers and peace.
AMAZING THINGS Believe it, it’s true. Amazing things will happen. Make room, lots of room.
MORNING Drat the pencil’s dull Shavings accidentally Fall upon the floor
REPROGRAM I am courageous I am peaceful. I am loved. I am safe and well.
Reprogram your brain. Create new neural pathways. We have the power.
PHEW, YAY! Worked out yesterday Feeling it today Celebrate new strength
THEY’RE HERE My spot’s invaded by giggles, joy, and chatter, My Kinders are here.