Wednesday, 26 April 2017

What we pass on to our children

Parents, whether they choose to home educate their children or send them to school, teach them so much day after day in the way they live their lives and the homes they create. They share their own passions with their children just by being with them, it might be a song, or a book or an interest in old maps, ancient ruins, cathedrals, manicuring your nails, gardening, old westerns... the list is endless. 

Lotta and me doing the tree

But listen to any interview or read any biography and almost every time people talk about the things their parents passed on to them, the things they taught them or the passions they shared with them. I wanted to write about that today because I think it's something beautiful and precious.

Maya the artist

We may not realise sometimes how significant the moments we share together may turn out to be. Little did I know as a small girl that watching my dad take photos would inspire me to love photography too. Or that being in the living room with him at the weekends when he played his records would give me a lifelong love of jazz. 

My dad with his camera

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald's birth and as I've been listening to radio shows about this woman I've long admired, I was surprised how many of the songs were so familiar that I could sing along line for line. Even all these years later those impressions from childhood are incredibly strong.

Related image

Many people were interviewed about what they loved about the First Lady of Jazz's music and over and again people mentioned the word joy. And it hit me then, that when my dad shared this wonderful music with me, not only did he introduce me to jazz, to a beautiful voice and it's amazing scats, he also shared his joy with me and gave me a touchstone for that feeling throughout my life. 
I wonder sometimes which of my own passions I'll pass on to my children, I hope my love of words, I hope my enjoyment of the natural world, I hope some touchstones for joy.

Noah collecting shells

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Five Little Things : Blooming Marvelous

Photo Cherry Blossom

I’ve been feeling very optimistic recently and very blessed. It might be joining in with NaPoWrMo (National Poetry Writing Month) or the all singing, all dancing arrival of Spring and the brighter, longer days but suddenly I feel how lucky we are to be living the life we are living. How blessed with abundance we are.

Photo Lilac

So often it is too easy to see all the things we don’t have and wish to have them – a pair of these yellow chairs from Ikea, that ridiculously expensive dress I like, any number of beautiful things from Etsy. And yet. When I take even the smallest moment to think about it or when a thought provoking film, book or article (like I, Daniel Blake) makes me stop and think, I see how lucky we are – really our cups are flowing over.

Photo Cherry Blossom

It’s a good feeling gratitude and one I intend to keep cultivating. After a winter of discontent, finally spring is here and I’m remembering my blessings not least those given by mother nature in the blossom, the flowers, the green. 

Photo cherry blossom

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Homeschooling is living and breathing!

Lotta crafting

photo paper egg
Paper Egg
Easter was a quiet affair here. An egg hunt with the compass and a map, hot cross buns and a wee bit of crafting. Mostly we’ve just been enjoying the warm weather and spending a lot of time outside, gardening, playing, cycling. Oh yeah and creating a massive hurdle course for playing at being ponys! 

photo garden
Obstacles and Swings

Although it might see then that this has been a quiet time for homeschooling that is far from the truth. In so many ways our job as parents and educators is only to open their minds to possibilities and see where they take them. And to give them skill sets which will help them on their journey. In that sense learning is no more separable from living than breathing. And they are certainly doing a lot of that!

Photo Lilac
A home in the Lilacs

So I can breathe too, relax and know that all the imaginary play they are reveling in today is teaching them to use their imaginations to go beyond appearances, find creative solutions, redefine reality. I can see that knowing how to coax a seed into a seedling, taking the responsibility for watering plants, weeding, mulching – all this is giving them the tools to feed themselves and their families for the rest of their lives. And that exploring their passions and their interests fully is letting them evolve to be fully themselves, wonderful, unique beings that they are.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Little Things : Secret Doors

As I think I might have mentioned I have a little obsession with old doors. There's something about them I love. They're mysterious and inviting and I like to photograph them.

Photo Old Door
Discreetly mossy

Sometimes I wonder if it all goes back to a childhood love of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. I loved that book and the idea of a hidden walled garden seemed so romantic. Even now I love walled gardens. But what really hits me about the story is the idea of searching for the door and the joy and excitement of finding it. How Mary's hand must have trembled as she put in the key, wondering what was going to happen when she turned it.

Photo Old Door

Doors are in many ways symbolic of beginnings, opportunities, chances we can take or refuse. Perhaps my love of them - the old and gnarled, seemingly forgotten, beautiful and strange - stems from the desire to explore, to step into the unknown, to voyage in my imagination. 

Photo Old Doors

So here they are, doors I photographed in the lovely town of Chateau Gironde where I had the exceptional good look to spend a few hours wiht my friend Estelle. Our dear husbands watched the kids and we enjoyed great conversation and the magical ambience of a medieval French town on a sunny Sunday afternoon. What more can a girl poet ask for? And is it any wonder they inspired poetry? Well here's the sketch I'm working on...

All the Old doors

Unopened, keys long lost
like forgotten letters,

stand there watching;
silent and patient.

Locks and barrels,
hinges and latches,

orange tinged and tinted;
rusty and dry with age,

stiff as arthritic limbs
they are still waiting.

No one remembers
what they were for,

where they used to lead to,
all the places they could take you

if you knew where to go.

And this door here -
it’s dark blue faded pale,

it’s paneling cracked,
bare wood peeking through,

this door could be the one.
This door could be your future

if you put in the key,
turn the handle and see.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Homeschooling Art : Lino Block Printing with kids

Photo Lino Block Printing with Kids
Owls, Hortensias and other lovely things

So I was probably ambitious last week to think I would manage to blog and prepare our annual homeschooling inspection. It always takes a lot of time and energy but now it's over and done with I'll get back on schedule. Lino Block Printing ended up being our first spring craft. It wasn’t on the list but I’ve been wanting to give it a go for absolutely ages and a warm spring day and the need for some birthday cards provided the perfect opportunity.

We started out as we often do by talking about the technique and how it works. The kids had tried it once before in a workshop situation but didn't remember much about it. I outlined the need to think about presence and absence. I attempted to demonstrate how to use the different tools* we had safely but I’m afraid I failed miserably and instead managed to take a chunk out of my own finger! As my husband said later, well at least then they knew exactly what would happen if they weren’t careful. 

Lino Block Printing with Kids
Using the tools - safely

I had two large pieces of lino which I decided to cut into small rectangles, roughly the size of a note card. Maya began to work on a flower straight away. She drew her idea directly onto the linoleum and got on with carving. Noah took some time to think about ideas and tried out things on paper before finally deciding he wanted to do a tractor. Although I wasn’t sure how this would work I let him go with it. I reminded both of them during the process that it wasn't the same as painting, there would just be one colour at the end.

I worked side by side with them on my own engraving – a magnolia flower. That enabled them to see how I was using the tools and try out things I was trying out to. I’d never done this kind of engraving before (I have engraved a lot on copper) so it was a discovery for me too. I think it's great to try things out with your children. Sometimes as adults we think we need to have everything planned out and have some degree of mastery of what we're doing in order to share it with our kids but actually I think it's really inspiring for them to see you trying things out and learning too. 

In our case, part of our homeschooling philosophy is not to view ourselves as the masters who are dispensing wisdom, but as fellow travelers on the road of learning with our children. We may have begun further along the road in most ways but they are gradually and surely catching us up and inevitably over taking us in the areas they are most passionate about.

Lino Block Printing with Kids
Maya at work

We had a lot of fun especially at the printing stage. We used a blue ink specially for lino block printing which we applied with a roller. We then pressed the paper over the block and rolled it with a rolling pin. The ink was pretty thick so I think you could probably use a good acrylic paint too but we haven't tried it yet. We followed instructions from Lotta Jansdotter's beautiful book Lotta Prints. I love Lotta's designs, I have her sewing book too and it's one of my favourites.

Maya went on to do several more blocks. She loves the process of crafting and likes to practice a new thing repeatedly to gain mastery. Noah took his block away and worked on improving it to get more contrast and definition. Both children seemed to really enjoy the process, Maya said it was fun carving out her patterns. And they were both pleased with the results which were quickly making their way to various of our friends and family celebrating birthdays.

My advice to anyone wanting to try this with their kids would be go for it. It's really good fun and the results are very professional looking. I would advise making sure you know where your disinfectant and plasters are beforehand just in case any of the tools slip - it really is important to emphasize to everyone how important it is to keep hands and fingers behind the tools! That's also why it's important to use a mat if you're working on a table you don't want to scratch. And finally, make sure you print on a mat or table you can get dirty. 

Lino Block Printing with Kids
Such precision and look - the hands are behind the tools!

*We have a very basic set of wooden handled tools. They came from a craft shop and cost no more than 5euros.