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Portraits of Gratitude 2014


There’s a certain degree of perfection that people try to attain as the holidays approach. The perfect Thanksgiving meal, the best presents, the ultimate in outdoor Christmas light decorations. And I’ll admit I fall prey to it just as much as the next Joe. I find myself lured by the Siren’s call. The one that insists that everything must be homemade to be acceptable. Make your own butter! Needlepoint that pillow! Craft your own Thanksgiving centerpiece from fishing line and dried cranberries! And sometimes I succeed, patting myself on the back as I create my own Thanksgiving table runner from ribbon and construction paper. And other times I fail miserably, as evidenced by the burnt homemade granola bars now lining the bottom of my garbage can. And the pressure of being perfect, of creating the ultimate moment for your family is, dare I say, exhausting. And virtually impossible.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I feel like there is also tremendous pressure to be as grateful as you possibly can. Of savoring each and every moment of the past year and never, ever forgetting to be appreciative and humbled by the bounty of our lives. And as much as I wish I could, I just can’t seem to find the energy to be grateful all the time. I mean, I wish I could. I wish I could be one of those amazing people who go through every second of every day soaking up the wonder of life and saying little prayers of gratitude to every flower, every tree, every moment of sweetness. But I’m tired, people. And I find it almost impossible to feel grateful when I’m scraping doggie doo-doo from the bottom of my son’s tennis shoes. “Isn’t it wonderful that he had so much fun that he walked though poo without noticing! I am grateful for those small moments of happiness!” Nope. It’s just poop on a shoe. I don’t mean to say that I don’t experience moments of great thankfulness, in which I am literally overwhelmed by the beauty and sweetness of my life and the people in it. I do. And I cry over it quite often. But it’s just not every second of every day. At some point I think you have to put the grateful voice on mute in order to get the laundry done , pluck the gray hairs, and start all over again tomorrow. And that’s OK. It’s OK to be tired and cranky and ungrateful…just as long as, occasionally, you turn the volume up on that little voice that’s telling you to stop and put down the fabric softener and the tweezers and remember that even though we may be baffled by the complexities of life, at the rhyme and reason for the events that unfold before us, we can be mindful of the wonder inherent in the journey. My life is messy. It’s loud and frustrating and beautiful and sad and outrageously funny. And I wouldn’t change anything about it. But in loving my life as much as I do, there comes a freedom to be irritated by it. To loathe making lunches every morning. To cringe at the urine lurking behind the boys’ toilet. To roll my eyes each and every time my husband rearranges the dishwasher with the precision of an engineer. I think we work hard enough that we’re allowed to sigh occasionally out of complete frustration, while never forgetting how lucky we are to be irritated by anything at all. For it is in loving something so completely and so generously that we are able to feel the flip side of it, and yet still continue making the lunches, and cleaning up the pee and watching the gray hairs accumulate like a badge of honor.

That said, and in the spirit of last year’s post, I give you my 2014 Portraits of Gratitude…

I am eternally grateful that I married this guy…

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And that I can easily drive and see a place that looks like this:

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That, despite the distance, my children can have friends like this:

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And that this coffee mug exists…

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For letters like this (please note President Taft trapped in the bathtub)…

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For these two amazing, funny, crazy, inspiring boys of mine

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Who send me texts like this

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And for people who write books like this

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And students who make art like this

IMG_4815

And this

ella creation

And who never let me forget that I am learning from them

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For a small Beastie

DSC_0187

And a thespian

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That this guy picked me up from the airport

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When I got to fly across the Pond and drink tea with my dear friend

248249_10151429715578479_671330544_n

And go back to the one place in my life that truly changed who I am

DSC_1485

For mother and grandmothers all rolled up into one

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For furry things

DSC_1360

And furrier things

eliot

I am grateful for kitchens

IMG_3329

And for the friends who cheered me on as I read my heart out

IMG_4907

And for jumping in, white bra and all, without a single moment’s hesitation

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Let’s all give ourselves a break this Thanksgiving and aim less for perfection, and more for perfect chaos. For though we grumble and grimace, our lives are full of everything we can handle. And with each new memory, whether joyous or heartbreaking, comes a firmer ground on which to stand. (Hopefully with no dog poo on it).

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Portraits of Gratitude 2013


There’s a certain degree of perfection that people try to attain as the holidays approach. The perfect Thanksgiving meal, the best presents, the ultimate in outdoor Christmas light decorations. And I’ll admit I fall prey to it just as much as the next Joe. I find myself lured by the Siren’s call. The one that insists that everything must be homemade to be acceptable. Make your own butter! Needlepoint that pillow! Craft your own Thanksgiving centerpiece from fishing line and dried cranberries! And sometimes I succeed, patting myself on the back as I create my own Thanksgiving table runner from ribbon and construction paper. And other times I fail miserably, as evidenced by the burnt homemade granola bars now lining the bottom of my garbage can. And the pressure of being perfect, of creating the ultimate moment for your family is, dare I say, exhausting. And virtually impossible.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I feel like there is also tremendous pressure to be as grateful as you possibly can. Of savoring each and every moment of the past year and never, ever forgetting to be appreciative and humbled by the bounty of our lives. And as much as I wish I could, I just can’t seem to find the energy to be grateful all the time. I mean, I wish I could. I wish I could be one of those amazing people who go through every second of every day soaking up the wonder of life and saying little prayers of gratitude to every flower, every tree, every moment of sweetness. But I’m tired, people. And I find it almost impossible to feel grateful when I’m scraping doggie doo-doo from the bottom of my son’s tennis shoes. “Isn’t it wonderful that he had so much fun that he walked though poo without noticing! I am grateful for those small moments of happiness!” Nope. It’s just poop on a shoe. I don’t mean to say that I don’t experience moments of great thankfulness, in which I am literally overwhelmed by the beauty and sweetness of my life and the people in it. I do. And I cry over it quite often. But it’s just not every second of every day. At some point I think you have to put the grateful voice on mute in order to get the laundry done , pluck the gray hairs, and start all over again tomorrow. And that’s OK. It’s OK to be tired and cranky and ungrateful…just as long as, occasionally, you turn the volume up on that little voice that’s telling you to stop and put down the fabric softener and the tweezers and remember that even though we may be baffled by the complexities of life, at the rhyme and reason for the events that unfold before us, we can be mindful of the wonder inherent in the journey. My life is messy. It’s loud and frustrating and beautiful and sad and outrageously funny. And I wouldn’t change anything about it. But in loving my life as much as I do, there comes a freedom to be irritated by it. To loathe making lunches every morning. To cringe at the urine lurking behind the boys’ toilet. To roll my eyes each and every time my husband rearranges the dishwasher with the precision of an engineer. I think we work hard enough that we’re allowed to sigh occasionally out of complete frustration, while never forgetting how lucky we are to be irritated by anything at all. For it is in loving something so completely and so generously that we are able to feel the flip side of it, and yet still continue making the lunches, and cleaning up the pee and watching the gray hairs accumulate like a badge of honor.

That said, and in the spirit of last year’s post, I give you my 2013 Portraits of Gratitude…

I am eternally grateful that I married this guy…

IMG_2418

And that I can easily drive and see a place that looks like this:

IMG_3374

That, despite the distance, my children can have friends like this:

017

And that this coffee mug exists…

019

For letters like this (please note President Taft trapped in the bathtub)…

Top.bmp

For these two amazing, funny, crazy, inspiring boys of mine

IMG_3143

Who send me texts like this

IMG_5036

And for people who write books like this

IMG_5082

And students who make art like this

IMG_4815

And this

ella creation

And who never let me forget that I am learning from them

IMG_1641

For a small Beastie

DSC_0187

And a thespian

IMG_4884

That this guy picked me up from the airport

IMG_3840

When I got to fly across the Pond and drink tea with my dear friend

248249_10151429715578479_671330544_n

And go back to the one place in my life that truly changed who I am

DSC_1485

For mother and grandmothers all rolled up into one

DSC_1601

For furry things

DSC_1360

And furrier things

eliot

I am grateful for kitchens

IMG_3329

And for the friends who cheered me on as I read my heart out

IMG_4907

And for jumping in, white bra and all, without a single moment’s hesitation

129

Let’s all give ourselves a break this Thanksgiving and aim less for perfection, and more for perfect chaos. For though we grumble and grimace, our lives are full of everything we can handle. And with each new memory, whether joyous or heartbreaking, comes a firmer ground on which to stand. (Hopefully with no dog poo on it).

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The Best Holiday Music for Every Occasion


It’s that time again! Time to dust off your Christmas CDs, tapes and albums, create new holiday playlists on your iPods and browse the music sections at your favorite music store for the perfect jingle. (Incidentally, I think I’m dating myself by referring to Christmas “albums,” but I do still have my parents’ “Christmas with Ray Conniff” on vinyl.) For me, there is always a perfect album for every special Christmas moment – and here are a few of my favorites:

For listening with your children

A Christmas Together: John Denver and the Muppets

Best Track: “The Twelve Days of Christmas”

Second Best: “A Baby Just Like You” Not only does this album feature the irreplaceable John Denver singing some of the most beautiful carols of the season, it highlights all of your favorite Muppet characters: Miss Piggy, Kermit, Fozzy Bear, Gonzo … even Animal makes an appearance on “Little Saint Nick.” For me, the highlight of the album is “The Twelve Days of Christmas” if for no other reason than you get to hear Miss Piggy’s warbly soprano on “five golden rings.” For those of us who grew up with the Muppets, it’ll be a walk down memory lane. And for those too young to remember, it’s a timeless introduction to the wonder of Jim Henson.

For a retro holiday cocktail party

Christmas Album: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

Best Track: “My Favorite Things”

Second Best: “Winter Wonderland”

In 1962, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass debuted with a new sound – trumpets and beats and a distinctive Latin flair. Their aptly titled “Christmas Album” is the perfect mix of holiday favorites and retro brilliance. Imagine a Mad Men holiday party with margaritas. My favorite track is Alpert’s rendition of The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things.” You can’t help but smile and swing your hips. And be sure to listen to “Winter Wonderland.” It makes me think of Mary Tyler Moore in the snow.

For motivation while wrapping presents

A Very Special Christmas Vol. 1: Various Artists

Best Track: “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC

Second Best: “Merry Christmas Baby” by Bruce Springsteen

What were you doing during the holidays in 1987? If you’re anything like me, you were listening to the fabulous compilation album, A Very Special Christmas Vol. 1. This benefit collection features such greats as The Pretenders singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and Stevie Nicks’ haunting version of “Silent Night.” But the best has to be Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis.” Honestly, you hear those first chords and the beat behind, and you’ll be wrapping presents with renewed rhythm and swagger. And don’t miss Bruce Springsteen’s “Merry Christmas Baby.” The Boss has outdone himself.

For sitting by the fire with your sweetie

Christmas Songs: Diana Krall

Best Track: “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”

Second Best: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

There’s just something about Diana Krall. Her voice is deep and rich and just makes you feel sultry and cool. Her Christmas Songs album is a fantastic accompaniment to sitting by the fireplace, maybe even with someone cute. There’s something remarkably simple about her singing – no bells and whistles – just a beautiful voice and a little piano and snare drum. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” has never sounded so good.

For those moments when a little country is needed

Now That’s What I Call a Country Christmas: Various Artists

Best Track: “Silent Night” by Johnny Cash

Second Best: “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives

This album is a veritable goldmine of country greats: Brad Paisley, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn – just to name a few. Where else can you find Johnny Cash singing “Silent Night” and Daruis Rucker (yes, Hootie) belting out “Winter Wonderland”? With 29 songs to choose from, you’re sure to find something to get those boots tapping. And don’t miss Burl Ives singing “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” from the 1964 television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

For those of you who wanted to be in an a cappella group in college (or just like in Glee)

Holiday Spirits: Straight No Chaser

Best Track: “12 Days of Christmas Live”

Second Best: “This Christmas”

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a cappella. And, yes, I watch Glee. But my adoration for this accompaniment-less genre really started in college when “The Mendicants” (one of the myriad a cappella groups on campus) came to sing at my freshman dorm and I swooned. Since then, I’ve kept up my love for all things harmonic – especially Indiana University’s own Straight No Chaser. If you haven’t heard them, maybe you’ve seen them on YouTube – their video of “The 12 Days of Christmas” has more than 8 million hits and you can see why. Their melodies and personalities are infectious and you’ll love how 80s band Toto makes a seamless appearance during those twelve days.

For no reason other than it’s wonderful

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Vince Guaraldi Trio

Best Track: “O Tannenbaum”

Second Best: “Linus and Lucy”

Who could forget Charlie Brown and his poor little Christmas tree – so small and forlorn? The long-running television special is still a favorite of mine and my boys look forward to it all year long. I think one of the secrets to its longevity is the soundtrack – masterfully composed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. This album, with its jazzy bass guitar and soulful piano, is a wonderful addition to any holiday collection – with the added benefit of the Peanut’s theme song, “Linus and Lucy.” You’ll be-bop right along to the music in spite of yourself.

I could go on. Willie Nelson and Norah Jones singing “Baby, it’s Cold Outside”…Frank Sinatra singing “Jingle Bells”…Johnny Mathis singing “Sleigh Ride”… Sara Bareilles singing “Winter Song”…and, especially, The Weepies singing “All That I Want”…much like Nick and Norah, I have an infinite playlist. And I’m always looking for something new. I’d love to hear your holiday favorites…for every occasion!

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New Museum Masters Classes!


Hooray! I just finished the syllabus for my Winter Session of Museum Masters! Lots of fun new artists to discover, including (two of my idols) Barbara Cooney and Kara Walker! Here’s what your children have in store starting in January!

Designed for children grades 1-5, Museum Masters Art Appreciation Classes are truly art history at its finest! These classes provide a fun and engaging opportunity for multi-aged children to learn about artists and artistic styles and design their own original artwork. During this session, Museum Masters will be taking a world-tour of museums across the globe – learning about artists from a variety of different countries and time periods. From the Louvre to the Met and lots of spots in between, our Museum Masters students will see examples of famous artists’ work, learn about their lives and the periods in which they lived, and then create original artwork in those styles.

Winter 2013 Class Syllabus


Yes We Can-Can: The Art of Toulouse-Lautrec

Objective: One of the most fascinating artists in history, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec battledsevere deformities to become one of the world’s most beloved painters. We’ll learn about his love of carnivals and dancers and create an event poster inspired by his Moulin-Rouge advertisements.

 

Hip to be Square: The Art of Mondrian

Objective: Using Mondrian as an entry point to the world of geometric art, we will learn all about this colorful artist, look at samples of his many collections and create our own straight line design with specific attention given to composition and creating a true Cubist creation.

That’s a Wrap: The Art of Deacon

Objective: Richard Deacon is an artist and sculptor who creates works using unusual materials such as steel, wood and cloth. We will be using one of his most famous works, “Restless” as the inspiration for our sculpture project! Each child will write words that describe him or her on long strips of paper, then connect those strips into an abstract piece of art!

 

Fractured Friends: The Art of Picasso

Objective: Following along with another Cubist artist, we will learn all about Pablo Picasso, with specific focus on his Cubist portraits. This is a two-part project in which the children will first paint self-portraits in a classic style. Then, after they are dry, these portraits will be cut into cubes and rearranged to create new and more Picasso-like piece!

 

Let’s Follow Kahlo: The Art of Kahlo

Objective: Frida Kahlo is one of the most interesting and colorful artists in history. Her unique sense of style and fantastic eye for color led to a prolific career as a painter. We’ll visit Mexico to learn about the art of Kahlo, particularly her famous self-portraits, and each child will create portraits in her style!

Gaga for Dada: The Art of Michel Duchamp

Objective: We’ll dive right into the art of the absurd with Michel Duchamp and the Dadaist Movement. We’ll discuss Duchamp’s love of “happy accidents” and his penchant for wacky, playful, inventive artwork. Looking at a variety of Dadaist pieces as inspiration, the children will create their own happy accidents with string drop art.

 

Scratch That: The Art of Cooney

Objective: Perhaps best known for her children’s book illustrations, Barbara Cooney received two Caldecott Awards for her drawings. Her earliest designs were done with scratchboard and the children will be creating their own children’s book covers with this unique technique!

The Red Haring: The Art of Haring

Objective: We will discuss Keith Haring’s importance in pop art and his desire to create art that was accessible to everyone. The children will read a few of Haring’s children’s books and learn about his love of graffiti and break dancing. The children will then create their own piece of pop art centered on a specific theme.

Me and My Shadow: The Art of Walker

Objective: Born in my hometown, Kara Walker has taken the art world by storm with her cut-paper silhouettes. Tackling a variety of social issues, Walker’s artwork pays homage to her African-American heritage and her one-of-a-kind talent. The children will learn about shadow art and create their own piece of papercut silhouette work.

The Tin Man: The Art of De Forest

Objective: Roy De Forest longed to create a magical world in which all of his friends and family could live. He did so with his utterly whimsical and unique sculpture work. Best known as the father of Funk Art, De Forest wanted people to create art that “makes you happy” and we will be doing just that with a fun aluminum foil sculpture project!

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Museum Masters: Paul Klee, or Secret Code Artwork


Paul Klee, for me, is one of those artists who just grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. His work is so striking, so original and so multifaceted that it was with great excitement that I taught my most recent Museum Masters class about him!

Known best as a surrealist/expressionist, Paul Klee (pronounced “clay”) was born in Switzerland to a wonderfully musical family. As a child, Klee struggled with which road to take: become a musician like his parents? or become an artist? Despite his talents with the violin, Klee ultimately (and to our great collective benefit) began to study to become an artist in Germany. Here are a few other fun facts about Paul Klee:

  • Klee’s beloved grandmother gave him a box of chalk when he was a child and he loved to draw with it
  • Klee attended the Munich Academy in Germany to study to be an artist, although he didn’t think he was a good enough painter at the time.
  • In the beginning, all of Klee’s works were colorless. He mostly drew pen-and-ink pieces, some using only one line!
  • After traveling to Tunisia and seeing all the amazing colors there, he immediately began to incorporate bright colors into his pieces, and never looked back!
  • Klee created more than 9,000 works of art during his lifetime
  • Klee worked with both his right and left hands, although he preferred using his left hand for drawing and his right hand for writing

Best known for his colorful abstract pieces, Klee loved to incorporate shapes and vivid hues into his pieces and thought of his own art as poetry through imagery. Here are a few of my favorites!

Castle and Sun
(this always makes me think of the Small World ride at Disneyland!)

WI (In Memoriam)

The Goldfish
(needless to say, the kids went crazy for this one…)

After looking at a wide variety of Klee’s most famous pieces, the children were tasked with creating their own work of abstract art inspired by this talented artist. The children wrote their names in large letters (the letters must reach from the top to the bottom of the paper) with one color of oil pastel. Then, they colored around each letter to create an abstract effect. The children loved the fact that, as they colored, their names all but disappeared into the artwork. They all decided that we should call these “secret code” artwork – and I wholeheartedly agree!

Here are a few of these amazing pieces:


And here are some fun things you can do at home!

  • There is a lovely children’s book inspired by Paul Klee’s artwork entitled “The Cat and the Bird” by Geraldine Elschner. It’s definitely worth checking out at your local library or bookstore!
  • Test your skills at a one-line drawing a la Paul Klee. Draw a complete picture without lifting your pen from the paper once. It’s definitely challenging – and a fun activity for kids and parents to share!

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