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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Mosaic and Mom-Zebra

I am now a part-time zebra.

I’ve been up to my elbows in a mosaic project, and to make space, I had to move a lot of dirt. When you spend hours shoveling dirt and mixing concrete, a certain percentage of these materials land on your skin. And they settle into the generous layer of sunscreen you have applied. Hours later, when you are sitting in the bath, scratching layers of grime off your arms, you’ll notice that the lines you scratch appear gray (dirt-sunscreen mix) against the light brown of your arm. Faintly zebra-like.

My summer theme: Got dirt?

This idea was inspired by two friends: Sam and Veronica. Sam is my artist friend who personalizes her yard with mosaic she makes. Veronica led the art camp in which I taught kids to make mosaic stepping stones. Mosaic has been on my mind, and I decided I would make stepping stones at our place. First, I trimmed part of the Jasmine vine to the right of the door, while leaving all of the vine to the left. This was followed by moving a lot of river rock, shoveling loads of dirt and pulling tons of weeds. Yard re-dos aren’t crucial the way faulty plumbing issues are, but for a Do-It-Yourselfer like me, they give a gal a boost.

There have been multiple trips to the home improvement store, hefting 60-pound bags of concrete mix. (Yes, that was me, yelling a Tarzan/Jane roar and beating my chest.) A man behind me at checkout said, “It’s not every day I see a woman with a cart full of concrete mix.” To which I replied, “It’s very satisfying!” What does all this concrete-mixing, dirt-shoveling and rock-moving do for a mom’s manicure? Who cares? These things at the end of my arms are not decorative. My hands are tools!

We have an unusually-shaped garden patch to the right of our front door, the result of a room addition that predates us. Over the years I’ve tried different ways to use it. I planted things, and I added potted plants. I rearranged. I pulled weeds. I ignored weeds. I have three kids to keep alive, so sometimes yard projects wait. A long time. But I wanted to try to make the area different. I wanted the weeds gone. I decided that a colorful mosaic “floor” was an option. There were a few dozen bricks available for free, when renovation was complete at our neighbor’s house. I wasn’t sure what I wanted this area to look like but I wanted change, and figured I could adjust it later if I wanted to. Eventually I decided to make a curved path of bricks, with mosaic stepping stones and ground cover. 

BEFORE. This is our garden patch before my re-do.
I didn't end up buying new plants, because we have plenty.
Simply rearranging the potted plants gives the area a new look.
AFTER. Here is the same area. Who knows?
I may change it at some point but it has given my soul a boost to try a new look.


If you’re thinking of making some stepping stones, you can map out your design first on paper. I traced the outline of a plastic garden saucer onto paper, because I was going to use this saucer for my stepping stone mold. I found the center of the circle and divided it into four, so that my stepping stone would have a symmetrical design. I had a lot of the materials on hand already, so these pieces were not only easy on the wallet, they were also satisfying because I made a dent in my giant collection of PAMs (Potential Art Materials).  

I repurposed an old kitchen drawer for my paver mold.
It's an original drawer from our 1956 kitchen.
This drawer was sitting in our garage for years.
I knew it would come in handy someday!
Here's a photo I took during my re-do.
Leveling the area involved moving more dirt than I expected. 

I used chalk and a tape measure on our driveway to map out the shape I wanted to create.

The "Aloha" mosaic I did on our wall is one of the first mosaic pieces I ever made--probably ten years ago.
The weed cloth above will keep the weeds out (or to a minimum)--I hope!

This photo isn't really a Before Photo.
I'd already trimmed a lot of the vine before I took the photo.
The vine hung almost to the ground and really blocked a sight line to the front door. 

So far I'm liking the pavers I made.
I love that the space is now more open.
But now I see lots of areas where I need to touch up paint,

so I guess that the To Do list is never truly finished!

The bulk of this work was completed before the recent major heat wave descended on us. This was coincidental, but the timing was good. It’s sweaty work, even when it’s not a million degrees outside.

The summer is off to a good start. In addition to all this yard work, I've spent more time with our kids. They have needed a break from the hustle-bustle of the school year, and it's a win-win to have a different pace. 

Sweating in the sun and scraping layers of dirt off each day may not be your cup of…lemonade--but it’s quenched my thirst for a re-do. Personalizing my space always feels so satisfying. My mosaic projects may not save the world—but they are bringing more color and joy into my world, and that’s worthwhile.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mosaic Gives the Past a Future

Art can help us heal. I was reminded of this truth when my friend Gladys gave her late mom’s jewelry to the mosaic workshop I led recently.

The mosaic lessons were part of a local art camp organized by our friend Veronica. It was at the church where I participated in the community garden for a number of years. It’s where my kids did preschool. So I have positive feelings about the place, and immediately agreed when Veronica asked if I would teach the kids to make mosaic stepping stones.

We brainstormed about what to ask people to donate for the stepping stones. With mosaic, you can mix and match, and the components don’t have to be expensive. (This is a great way to repurpose things you may have kept for sentimental reasons—a single earring, a broken necklace, old keys. This is also an excellent way to bring whimsy to your garden—because mosaic can involve things as random as hard plastic toys, extra scrabble tiles or almost anything made of a hard material that can stand up to outdoor elements like rain, wind and sun.)

The camp was possible because lots of volunteers came together to make it happen. Gladys was there every day, helping. After the kids finished their stepping stones I learned that some of the bracelets and necklaces we used in our mosaic pieces belonged to Gladys’ mom, Ida. Ida passed away recently, and Gladys has been sorting through her mom’s possessions. The timing coincided with our need for donations for mosaic projects. Gladys told me that it was more meaningful for her to give the necklaces to the camp rather than to donate them to a thrift store. She liked that she would knew some of the kids who created something unique from Ida’s jewelry.

I divided the items into groups so that each camper would get a variety of items.

I love that Gladys wanted to give new life to her mom’s jewelry by giving it to the kids for art. In their grief, some people cannot bear to part with a parent’s things, and I’m not judging that because we all grieve differently. But I think that Gladys saw the potential for a little bit of healing in donating Ida’s jewelry to the kids. These items are from Ida’s past but they now have a future. Since I cut the necklaces up, the beads went into more than forty different mosaic pieces. Maybe it is because Gladys and I knew each other through the community garden, but I feel like turning those necklaces into dozens of art pieces is similar to how gardening works. You take one seed and it becomes a plant, which makes seeds, which turn into many plants.

The campers had fun making their stepping stones. (It led me to want to make some for our place, which I began doing a few days later. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this mosaic theme.) The kids had different approaches to their mosaic art: some were meticulous, and formed symmetrical, detailed designs. Others placed the pieces randomly, and finished in minutes. But they all created a stepping stone. Some kids may not have back yards for keeping a stepping stone, but these mosaic pieces can be a colorful welcome at the front door to an apartment. Each stepping stone is unique, just like the kids who made them.

And now Ida’s jewelry pieces are in stepping stones throughout San Diego, twinkling in the summer sun. Scattered seeds. And Ida shines on.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Pass the Tissues…

My daughter recently asked, “Mom, are you going to cry a lot this spring? You always cry at our events.” To which I replied, “Of course. It’s what I do.” This is both a humorous observation, and a serious one.

It’s true—I cry at the drop of a hat. We artists are emotional. Plus, in our house we are embarking on a season of change. Our firstborn is about to graduate from eighth grade. He’s been at the same school for nine years, and this chapter is about to end. Oh sure, graduations are beginnings, too, I know. But from an emotional mom’s perspective, it’s bittersweet and it takes time to digest it.

I remember my graduation from eighth grade. Although I was very excited to start high school, at my eighth grade graduation I did shed tears. I was going to miss my friends (none of whom were going to my high school). But I was so ready for the next chapter, too. Like a snake shedding her old skin, the teenaged me was ready for something bigger, something different. I think most teens look forward to a future filled with new opportunities. New adventures. New privileges. Finally being old enough to do x, y and z.

This is in stark contrast to my current stage. One of the few things I’m not yet old enough to do is collect Social Security! Time has taken on a completely different feel. Did this happen when I became a mom? Or does it feel that way once your teenager is taller than you are? We see our growing kids and we’re instantly transported back to when we were their age, walking across the graduation platform, leaving one stage and beginning a new chapter. Other transitions will be meaningful, too. But this one feels monumental to me. I think it is because more change happens in the first fourteen years than in any other fourteen year span. Teens will change over the four years in high school, yes, but not as much. The physical, emotional and mental growing these kids have done in the last nine years makes this graduation feel especially significant. 

Truthfully, I started crying about all of this last fall! I couldn’t help it. Changes were on the way. In December, seeing my kid singing in the holiday show for the last time just set the tears a-flowin’. All the teenagers suddenly looked grown up, and I felt emotional. Of course, since I started my crying last fall, maybe by June I’ll be all dried out. I doubt it, but who knows?

Watching your kid become a teen sure is fascinating. It happens fast, but not overnight. There’s time to marvel at the deepening voice, the hairs on his face, his having “teen” in his age. And yes, my daughter is right. I do cry a lot! And I’m not apologizing for it. It’s my way of processing the changes that are coming. Time is racing along, whether I’m ready or not. (And while I sometimes think I’m not ready, I usually find that we adjust pretty quickly to the next chapter. We are stronger than we think we are. Yes, transitions can be nerve-racking but we will make it…)

Recently I watched a mom hold her young baby, whose sock had fallen off, revealing a miniature foot that kicked and curled. These days my baby boy is a fourteen-year-old with hair on his feet. Oh, how I love babies. I’m not in the market for another, but I do love seeing them. I remember the days when we didn’t leave home without a bag stuffed to the gills with diapers, toys, wipes, snacks, a baby blanket and a change of clothes…While it was a relief to graduate from carting a closet around with me, seeing the young mom’s diaper bag sure brought me back. Parenting older kids is different from having a baby. Both stages involve challenge…and reward.

Actually, I think we still have the diaper bag tucked away somewhere. And while I no longer drag around diapers and baby toys, that bag sure can hold a lot. It probably could hold thousands of tissues. So if you see me at graduation with a bulging diaper bag, you’ll know why. And if you start getting teary, too, I’ll have plenty of tissues to share.

Monday, May 7, 2018

I Heart Art (Shows)

It feels like I just ran a one hundred mile ultramarathon, with a grand piano strapped to my back, while wearing pinecones instead of shoes. In other words, I’m tired. I’ve spent the last two weeks preparing for a big art show at the school where I teach--and I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that by the day of the show, my feet were killing me, despite wearing supportive clogs. Also, my brain was in knots from counting art, cross-checking names, sorting art, gluing art to background paper, labeling art and occasionally removing labels from art after determining that this art piece was not done by this Luciana, but by that Luciana. And there were blisters on three of my fingers. But the good news is that I put together my first art show as an elementary art teacher, and I lived to tell the tale! Not only did I survive, but I also felt very proud of the show.

There were more than 450 pieces of art at the show. Almost 400 were done in my classes, and the rest were done with homeroom teachers. They were displayed against neutral backdrops of black fabric and white tablecloths, which made the bright colors of the art pop. We had drawings, paintings and origami pieces. Not all of the projects completed this school year were in the show because I gave back the fall projects before I learned there would be a spring art show. But each student chose a piece in the show and there was variety.

Here are a few thoughts and anecdotes from the last two weeks:

A few days before the show I had a brief spell of panic, while sorting art. I was in a fog after labeling hundreds of pieces of art, and maybe this led to self-doubt. Unfortunately, I started falling down the rabbit’s hole. I wondered if I could put together a good enough show. I questioned whether I had taught the kids something interesting this year. I began to fret and worry. Panic set in. But then…I yanked myself out of the rabbit’s hole and sternly said to myself, “Shut UP! SHUT UP!!!!” This was my way of halting the downward spiral of self-doubt. I simply didn’t have time to be derailed by doubt. There was a looming deadline and too much to do.

Soon after, I turned the corner with the preparations. The next day I felt more confident and I told Hubby about my stern talk with myself the day before. I am prone to self-doubt. I have very high expectations of myself and because of that doubt can creep in. And when you’re intimidated, a task can loom as large as Mt. Everest. I’ve learned something really valuable because of the busy schedule leading up to the show: simply refusing to succumb to doubt is a helpful response! This was the first time I’d ever told myself that we didn’t have time for doubt. Historically, I’ve let doubt set up camp, but this time I moved past the quicksand, and found that my fears were unfounded. I’m going to try to use this technique in the future, even if I don’t have a looming deadline. 

Kirigami flowers made by my seventh grade class. Kirigami is different from origami in that you cut paper.

Kindergarten Aboriginal art piece. Aboriginal art often incorporates circles and dots.

First grade Aboriginal art. 

First grade art: an introduction to perspective. I thought it was charming that this student decided to label each crop.

Second grade: Aboriginal art. In this type of art, there is a lot of pattern in the background. 

Third grade: Aboriginal art, including circles, geometric shapes and of course, dots.

Third grade art: Aboriginal designs in earth colors.

Fourth grade Aboriginal art: an animal is often the main focus of the art, with shapes in the background.

Fifth grade art: still life drawings of bird of paradise flower, lemon and three-dimensional container.

Fifth grade still life. This student's bold outline gives the piece a distinct look.

Another fifth grade still life. Lots of texture and added color in this one.

Fifth grade. Same subject matter. Completely different style.

Fifth grade still life. Lots of texture.

So much action and life in this fifth grader's still life.

More Aboriginal art, using a traditional earth tones color palette. Aboriginal artists made paint from clay, dirt, charcoal and other substances found in nature.

Fifth grade: an introduction to perspective drawing, in which all receding lines meet at the vanishing point on the horizon line.

Sixth grade: Aboriginal art incorporating the use of symbols, which recorded major events.

Sixth grade: Aboriginal art including symbols commonly used.

Seventh grade: raccoon drawing. This project tied in with a book the students read, Where the Red Fern Grows. In the book the main character has coon hunting dogs.

Seventh grade: another raccoon, but with a completely different style.

Seventh grade: a curious raccoon...

Eighth grade: bird of paradise still life.

Eighth grade Aboriginal piece: dots for days...

Eighth grade still life: full of color.

The day before the show some students came into the library, where the art show was. The library looked quite different with its temporary fabric “walls” up. One first grader came in and said with confusion, “Is this the library?” So cute.

It’s been a full year. At the beginning of the school year I wasn’t sure I could teach. The hard parts of teaching were harder than I’d expected. Noise and behavior were big issues. But at some point, I turned a corner. I got savvier. The kids are still noisy but they have warmed up to me. The little ones hug me and the teenagers try to teach me dance moves and new slang. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m returning to do it next year.

I feel proud to be an art teacher. I’m new at it, but I think I’m doing a good job. No, I’m not curing cancer. But helping kids to learn something is important, too. Showing them that they can do art, that they can shade something to look 3-D and that they can draw--this helps them overcome their self-doubt. For the ones who are creative, it gives them pride to see their art displayed in a show. Some of the kids remind me of myself when I was a first grader. I was very shy, and I was as uncoordinated as a newborn octopus wearing roller skates. Sports scared me—but art was where I could shine. So I relate to the little artists in my class who may struggle with spelling or math or sports—but who love to draw. And for the ones who don't believe they are artists, when they try, they show themselves that they have potential far beyond what they imagined...