Archive for August, 2007

Poetry Friday: Rachel Field

August 24, 2007 @ 7:17 am | Filed under:

The Little Rose Tree
by Rachel Field

Every rose on the little tree
Is making a different face at me!
Some look surprised when I pass by,
And others droop—but they are shy.

These two whose heads together press
Tell secrets  could never guess.
Some have their heaads thrown back to sing,
And all the buds are listening.
I wonder if the gardener knows,
Or if he calls each just a rose?

Rachel Field was the author of the charming novel Hitty, Her First Hundred Years. Her book, Prayer for a Child, illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones, won the Caldecott Award in 1945.

Hitty  200pxcm_prayerforachild

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By the Way

August 23, 2007 @ 11:36 am | Filed under:

The R.L. Stine ad in the sidebar is driving me crazy, too. Let’s just say I am NOT a fan.

Got More Monet than Time

August 23, 2007 @ 8:07 am | Filed under: , , ,

We’ve been meaning to visit all the Balboa Park museums since our arrival in San Diego, but the zoo and the aquarium kept wooing us back for repeat visits this summer, hogging our outing time. Then a couple of weeks ago, Alice discovered an incredible art museum near her San Fran abode, and her stories of close encounters with works by Rembrandt, Cassatt, and Monet fired me up to move “take kids to San Diego Museum of Art” from the Sometime list to the Do It Now one.

Yesterday, as I mentioned in my somewhat grumbly tale at Lilting House, was the monthly Free Tuesday there, so off we went.

Lesson number one: You might think you are being all kinds of clever and responsible by spending the morning cleaning house before packing up the kids for the big museum outing—”We’ll come home to a nice clean house, won’t that be nice?”—but you are wrong. The parking lot police officer took time out from writing tickets for cars illegally parked in the handicapped spaces to tell me, jovially, that you have to arrive before 10 a.m. if you want to get a (legal) parking spot. It was 11:45 when he was telling me this, so: whoops.

He very kindly told me where to go to find a parking lot I could drive around in for 25 minutes hunting for a space. I took his advice, and figured out all on my own how to stalk a pedestrian strolling into the lot with keys jangling, suggesting the possibility that she was returning to her car and therefore about to vacate a space. The space was approximately four inches wider than my minivan, so I spent another 18 minutes backing-and-filling in order to get into it.

By this time the kids were fed up with Balboa Park and asked if we could go home. I laughed like a crazy person and told them if they thought I was going to give up this parking space, EVER, they were sorely mistaken. “We are going to LIVE here from now on,” I told them. “Forever. I worked too hard for this space. I am never going to leave it, you can bury me here. Hold on, I need to call Daddy and give him our new address. Honey, we now reside at Space #16, The Lot Behind Spreckles Organ Pavilion, Balboa Park, San Diego, I don’t know the zip code yet. Can you change the mail forwarding? Because I can’t leave this spot to go to the Post Office.”

Then one of the kids pointed out the sign that said the lot closes at 6 p.m.

“Shoot,” I sighed. “We’d better go see that museum before they kick us out.”

YoungshepherdessThe facade of the museum is currently hidden behind plywood and tarps, presumably for a restoration of some kind, but you scarcely notice that as you herd your children up the stroller ramp, because your gaze is transfixed by the lovely pensive face of the Young Shepherdess, the gem of the museum’s collection. Painted in 1895 by William Bougereau,  the Shepherdess is arguably the gallery’s most beloved work of art. My daughters want to be her (because she is pretty, goes barefoot, and has sheep) and were desperately eager to see her.

Turns out she is off gallivanting around the country right now. A museum guard told me (very chatty these Balboa Park personnel are, and don’t I appreciate it!) that the painting is making a U.S. tour this summer. But she’ll be back in a few months, and that’s fine because it will probably take me that long to find another parking space.

Instead of the Shepherdess, we visited Giverny. Oh! Giverny! The word is magical. It whispers: Monet, poppies, haystacks, light-streaked skies, picturesque laborers in wheat fields drenched with sun. We made a beeline for the visiting exhibit, a large collection of Impressionist works by the artists who congregated in the little French painters’ colony during the late 1800s. They took their easels out to the woods and fields in a golden frenzy of plein-air painting. All right, the wall placard describing the exhibit didn’t say anything about a frenzy per se, but it did talk a lot about plein-air painting, a term whose pronunciation I managed to fake quite passably but of whose definition I was ignorant until a kind-eyed Englishwoman explained it to Jane.

She was quite a knowledgeable woman and shared many tidbits of information with us as we strolled from painting to breathtaking painting. Monet was everywhere, shimmering in leaf green and spruce green, plummy shadows, frothy blues. Forget my parking space, I want to live in one of those paintings.

I particularly liked the work of American Impressionist Theodore Robinson, about whom I probably ought to have known before but didn’t. (Oh look! I just realized he’s the same guy Elizabeth posted about a few days ago. Maybe that’s why his name jumped out at me.) We also greatly admired the work of John Leslie Breck and Guy Rose. But it was Monet who gave us the goosebumps. Jane and I could not believe we were standing there in front of his actual paintings, a dozen of them at least. I lost count. I was too occupied with counting the heads—and more to the point, hands—of my own children. “Don’t touch the wall, honey. Oh! And don’t point at the paintings. What if you accidentally touched one! Good heavens! Oh! No, Wonderboy, don’t poke the nice English lady. She’s your sisters’ only chance of having their questions answered here because Mommy is distr—Oh! No, Beanie, you can’t eat string cheese in an art museum!”

I do not pretend our outings are serene.

If I get a chance later, I will link to some of the paintings we got to look at. This one, Morning on the Seine Near Giverny (which looks washed out in every image I could find online but is in reality saturated with color so rich it’s like light poured itself into pigment) is the one I mentioned in yesterday’s Lilting House post, the print Rose fell in love with in the bookstore. There were other paintings we liked even better: I think all of us favored the golden haystack ones (and there were many—mighty fond of painting haystacks were those Impressionists) over the misty river paintings.

Not that there’s any reason to choose. The world is an art gallery nowadays. I foresee many virtual pilgrimages to Giverny in our future. As there have been in our past—Linnea in Monet’s Garden and Katie Meets the Impressionists have ranked highly in our book catalogue for many years.

After the Giverny exhibit, we toured several other galleries in the museum, encountering Goya, Renoir,  O’Keefe, Warhol, Fra Angelico, and Giotto. We missed Picasso, Rembrandt, and Chagall, but we’ll be back.

As soon as I find parking.

Maybe I Shouldn’t Have Said It

August 21, 2007 @ 7:47 pm | Filed under: ,

But I did.

I took the kids to the San Diego Museum of Art today, for Free Tuesday. Admission to the various museums and gardens in Balboa Park is free one Tuesday a month on a rotating basis. We plan to hit them all, eventually.

To our delight, we arrived to discover the museum is hosting an exhibit called Giverny, featuring canvases by several well-known Impressionists who came together to form a little artists’ colony in the rural French village of that name. We met Monet in person for the first time today. I had goose bumps. I’ll write more later about the paintings we saw today. I have lots and lots to say about our outing, but for now I’ll just tell this one story.

We stopped by the museum gift shop on our way out. It’s long and narrow, and the free-Tuesday crowd was clogging the aisles. I parked Wonderboy’s stroller in a nook by the door where no one would trip over him, and I left Jane to keep watch over him while I bought a few art postcards. The register was in the middle of the store where I could keep an eye on the kids while I stood in line.

On the whole, they were being pretty patient, I thought, and well-behaved. But Beanie reached out to touch something on a shelf and Wonderboy let out a screech. He can be quite strict with his sisters. He had seen me issue instructions not to touch anything while I was in line. Thus the screech.

Two women happened to be passing behind me at that moment, and one of them rolled her eyes at the other.

“Why do people let their kids scream like animals?” she muttered.

I couldn’t help it. I had to say something.

I turned to her with a big bright smile. “That animal,” I said, “is DEAF. He’s doing the best he can.”

Her face blanched, and she choked out an apology as she hastened past, hurrying far, far away from the poisonously sweet mother of the screeching animal. I’m pretty sure she hid in the back of the store until I left. Poor thing; she had a long wait, for the line was long.


Okay, so maybe it was a cheap shot. In truth, his shriekiness probably has more to do with his being a high-strung three-year-old than his being hearing impaired. And yes, he’s only partly deaf. Medium deaf, if you will. Not all the way deaf.

I just get tired, sometimes, of how intolerant our culture seems to be of little children. I feel like I’m always shushing my brood, reining in their high spirits. I love to take them places, love piling in the car for another adventure in nature or art or history, but there can be so much tension in the role of the mom who is on don’t-annoy-anyone alert.

They are obedient and pleasant children. We get plenty of smiles and compliments when we’re out and about. We also get lots of stares, and sometimes frowns. If you’re walking behind us on a narrow path, we’ll try to get out of your way because I know we can be painfully slow to be trapped behind, but I can’t always pull it off. My stroller wheels stick, and I’m preoccupied with keeping Beanie from walking every wall like a tightrope and Rilla from picking my pocket from her perch in the sling. And whoops, there goes Wonderboy’s sippy cup under the stroller. And Jane wants me to look at a new species of butterfly she just spotted. And Rose requires a detailed explanation of exactly why we couldn’t buy the $60 framed print we fell in love with in the store.

Bright, happy, eager, reasonably polite. Doesn’t that balance sometimes inconvenient and occasionally noisy?

Of course I know it does. I’m not really angry about what that woman said. “Like animals” stung a bit, perhaps, but I know words like that cannot have been uttered by anyone who has walked ten steps in my shoes. And I don’t know what her own shoes feel like. Perhaps she has bunions.

She certainly does not have my screeching, high-strung, hard-of-hearing animal, who sees me taking off his baby sister’s clothes at bedtime and trots off down the hall to fetch her pajamas, unasked, chuckling with the joy of the task, and delivers them with a kiss for the baby and another for me. She does not have those skinny arms around her neck, that gaptoothed grin, those busy little fingers flashing and twisting to shape words in accompaniment to that funny, nasal, charming, tuneless singing.

One woman’s animal, another woman’s heart.


I Don’t Generally Get Too Excited about Shoes

August 19, 2007 @ 11:49 pm | Filed under:

But these…oh, I am smitten. Both with the adorable sneaks and the clever makeover.

Followed the link to Rockin’ Granola from Like Merchant Ships. Meredith has a good many other nifty links in that post…I especially liked the little jars of ocean at Green Bean Boutique.

And from Rockin’ Granola, I followed Kara’s link to another new-to-me blog, Angry Chicken, where discovered its companion blog, Tie One On, and swooned over the chicken-scratch apron.

Angry Chicken’s piece about toys is, as Kara noted, well worth a read.

Amazing Art with Mark Kistler

August 17, 2007 @ 7:29 am | Filed under:

I’ve written before about how much Jane has enjoyed working through the drawing lessons in Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad. When I saw that Mark Kistler himself was offering a summer art camp right here in San Diego, I jumped at the opportunity.

"Hey, Jane," I said, ever so casually, "would you be interested in taking an art class with Mark Kistler?"

"WHAT??????!!!!!!!!!!!" she shrieked, puncturing my left eardrum. (I think I counted the number of exclamation points correctly, but there may have been more.) "REALLY????!!!!" :::pop:::: There went my other eardrum.

"I take it that’s a yes?"

I couldn’t hear her response, but fortunately I have learned a lot of sign language. I interpreted the jumping-up-and-down and maniacal grinning as a yes, and signed her up.

On Day Two of the camp, Rose demanded to know why she wasn’t part of this experience. She fit the age range, so I’m not really sure why I didn’t think to sign her up as well. Perhaps my powers of thought were thrown off by the shrieking and the ruptured eardrums and whatnot.

Happily, Day Two was "Bring a Friend Day," so I was able to sign Rose up for the rest of the week-long camp.

We could have signed up for two sessions—"Draw! Draw! Draw!" and "Beyond Pencil Power"—but I had some scheduling conflicts with the larger chunk of time, so we (to the children’s disappointment) limited our participation to Draw! Draw! Draw!, a one-hour session five days in a row.

They have had the most fabulous time.

They love Mark Kistler. He’s a great guy, every bit as engaging and funny as his books. My girls love his sense of humor and his energy. They come out of class full of laughter and stories—and the drawings, my word, the drawings.

Mark teaches the basics of 3-D drawing. His style is cartoonish, which appeals to the kids. His technique is rock solid, and the concepts they have learned will serve them well for a lifetime of drawing: foreshortening, shading, finding where light would hit the object you are drawing. The kids walked out of the very first class with impressive and delightful drawings. They are thrilled. They are bubbling over with excitement. They are distraught because today is the last day of class.

Never fear!, I told them. We can take Mark Kistler home with us. Of course we already have the cherished copy of Draw Squad, and now (thanks to a little bartering action, heh heh—Mark has a young daughter who is just the right age for Little House) we have his Imagination Station book as well, along with a couple of his drawing-lesson DVDs, which contain episodes of Mark’s popular PBS show of the same name.

And then there’s his website, which is loaded with good stuff.  You can download art lessons and even sign up for Mark’s online drawing school. There are some free lessons to give you a taste of how it works. It’s a nifty format, with animations to walk you through each step.

My girls couldn’t wait to try out the new DVDs, and I have to tell you, I was blown away by the drawings Beanie—six years old, you know, and the only one who did NOT attend Mark’s workshop (next year, I promised her, if he offers the camp here again)—produced after watching the show: a whole page of 3-D cartoon ghosts chasing each other around.

My point being: Mark’s methods are highly effective, probably because they are so much fun. I only wish I could sign up for the class myself next year. (Actually, parents can sit in on the classes for free, and there’s a kids-and-adults mixed session in the evenings. I couldn’t swing it, what with the baby and the toddler, but the opportunity was there.)

I’ll just have to content myself with watching the DVDs. These kids are having too much fun. I’ve got to get in on the action.

“At First I Could Only Hear People Sounds”

August 15, 2007 @ 11:43 pm | Filed under: , , ,

It was a bit humbling to arrive here on the West Coast and realize much of my flora-and-fauna expertise was now obsolete. I don’t know the plants out here yet. Oh, sure, I could identify a bird of paradise or a palm tree—but what kind of palm tree? Got me.

Of course this just makes for a nice new sort of adventure to have with the kids, and honestly, that’s the kind of thing I like best: having a new topic of study to sink my teeth into.

I picked up a couple of field guides and also buried myself in issues of Sunset magazine, a supercool housewarming gift from a certain other East Coast transplant (which: Thank you again, my dear). Lots of local nature centers and gardens have plant labels along their paths, too, and we’ve been slowly educating ourselves that way. But the biggest coup was meeting Julia.

Julia is a young woman we bumped into at a May Fair last, um, May. She and her friend were passing out fliers for a nature studies summer camp, which sounded wonderful but didn’t fit our summer plans. We got to chatting, though, and it quickly became apparent that Julia was just the person I’d been looking for. I’d had a vague idea of hiring a college student to go on some nature walks with us, or even just walks in our neighborhood so we could learn the local landscaping plants. I’m telling you, we’re starting from square one out here!

Julia, it turns out, is an avid urban forager. This news made Jane light up. Back in Virginia, Jane attended several sessions of a nature studies camp, during which she learned (among a lot of other things) to eat her way through the woods and fields and suburban backyards. She got all the other kids in the neighborhood hooked on chickweed as a tasty, iron-rich snack and violets for vitamin C.

But about Julia. I explained what I was looking for, and we exchanged email addresses, and though it took us a while to coordinate dates, we finally managed to schedule a nature hike at Mission Trails, a large natural area close enough to home that I can take my kids there on a regular basis. We have made several visits there already and have fallen in love with its rugged, scrubby hills and rich history.

Yesterday afternoon, I dropped Rose and Jane off at the park entrance, where Julia was waiting with a smile and a backpack full of surprises. ("Grapes, Mommy! She brought grapes for us!") Of course I would have loved to go too, but this outing was a bit more than my younger set could handle. We went to the Super Exciting Grocery Store instead.

Julia had suggested an evening hike for the cooler weather and more active wildlife. And sure enough, the trekkers came home full of stories about the coyote they’d seen, and bats, and birds.

Rose said her favorite part was the twenty minutes the girls spent sitting in silence on a boulder, listening.

"At first I could only hear people noises, Mommy. But then I started to hear lots of birds, and some crickets, and wind and things rustling."

Jane filled a page in her nature book with what she called "sound sketches"—little pencil marks in waves and peaks representing the different sounds she heard. It was really pretty amazing, the way she could look at her cryptic markings and demonstrate the bird calls for me, or the sound of a bullfrog plopping into a pond.

Rose sketched the things she saw: the San Diego River, a fallen tree, a stump that looked like a dog’s head until she got close, a heart-shaped marking on a tree trunk. "I couldn’t tell whether the heart was made by a person or an animal or just Nature," she told me. During the silent listening time, she imagined a whole story about the heart, and although it was nearly nine o’clock by the time the girls were home and had torn themselves away from Julia, revealer of mysteries, Rose insisted upon writing down her story before she went to bed. She didn’t want to forget. Julia had shown the girls flat stones with rounded indentations where Kumeyaay Indian woman had long ago ground their grain. Rose imagined that the tree-trunk heart was carved by an Indian boy, but his beloved had died before he finished the carving and so the tree had finished the heart itself, curving its bark so as to complete the heart.

How blessed are we? I was looking, you know, for our "breezy open," and here it is handed to us on a stone platter, complete with a gentle and enthusiastic guide who knows the way to open a child’s heart is with grapes and a quiet space in which to listen to the wind, the coyotes, and the stories carved on trees by time and imagination.


Fortuna Peak at Mission Trails Regional Park