Sunday, November 21, 2010


I just listened to Vivaldi's "Winter" and it was so good that I'm wanting it to not end. I want to hear it again and somehow be in the middle of the orchestra. Why don't I hear music in that way all the time? My husband does.

I think I don't take the time to really listen to the music and in the moments when it really reaches out and grabs me it takes me by surprise. Some Christmas songs are like that for me, "I Wonder as I Wander" having always had that effect. The first time I heard it was when a classmate sang it at a school concert in high school. She sang it acappella and from the first hearing it gripped my soul. Since then my favorite Christmas songs have always been unusual and not often heard ones. Maybe the ones we hear all the time are the ones we quit hearing first. Too much repetition robs them of their beauty perhaps--the old despising the familiar.

When my children brought home their Christmas song books from school, I was thrilled to see "The Wexford Carol" included. It's another favorite, but one I learned on my own. "In the Bleak Midwinter," "Gabriel's Message" (Sting's version is haunting, but he changes the words to present a different message than the Bible; the best one I've heard is on a CD from Our Daily Bread), "Love Came Down at Christmas" (not the Jars of Clay version, btw), and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" are other favorites. I know I'm missing others, and at different times more standard songs have been more esteemed. But these are the ones that touch deeper than my emotions in the last few years. These are the ones that reach my soul.

I realize, now that I've written these words, that it isn't quite Thanksgiving yet. For the first time in a long while I suppose I am feeling very ready for rejoicing. I'm not sure why. The last three years have brought enough challenges to make me feel like I have walked through a fiery place moved to the top of earth's crust (unemployment, finances, health scares, multiple deaths, constant car troubles, work challenges and on and on--I'll spare you the details; chances are you can just fill in your own name and the story would sound similar, times are hard for everyone). Even though we are still in the midst of the journey, though, I still feel ready for rejoicing. Maybe reading Lewis's "Till We Have Faces" and the ending of the book of Job have reminded me that in the end of all the pain, when we have questioned the most, that God Himself, the very one we question, is the answer. And this is the time of year we celebrate His coming.

I'm not ready to say I know my own face, but I am ready to rejoice.

Opening image by Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Melozzo da Forli Angel

A beautiful image by Melozzo da Forli, a fifteenth century Italian artist. He was influenced by Piero della Francesca. Mostly known as a fresco artist, he was adept at the use of foreshortening.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cool Places I've Visited Lately...

One was exceptionally cool, as in not much indoor heating: Pilot Books. However, in my mind the books more than made up for the chill. My chilled-dren (sorry, I know it's a bad pun) weren't so convinced. Score for the day? A fabulous book of Giotto's Arena Chapel frescoes illustrating the story of Christ, and two Asterix and Obelisk books in French. Yes, they can sit next to my French Tintin until I learn French someday. Sadly I did not take my camera to be able to share the fabulously old (for our area) architecture with you.

The other cool place was Mariupol Market, where I went on a Russian Club field trip. And before you ask, no I don't speak Russian either. But my son is learning it. Of course, being only eight years old, he was more excited about the candy by the pound bins than being surrounded by Russian words. I thought the shelf goods were beautiful--so different looking than American goods. And those pastries, well, they just looked plain good!

Monday, November 08, 2010


I was going to change my blog header tonight, but then I remembered that I would have to pull an old header off my stick drive. I really would like to create a totally new one, using a snippet of a more recent photograph. However, the program I once used to make the headers is probably about three generations (that's optimistic) behind current and the computer I used to use it on is now a rather expensive paperweight. I'm too afraid to attempt to install the old software on the computer I use now because it belongs to my school and I've had too many bad experiences with graphics software and system compatibility in my old professional life. So now in order to create a new header I'm going to have figure out some new software, then re-learn some things, which I do not currently have time to do.

All of which makes me wonder how helpful technology really is sometimes... I think I'll go heat my tea in the microwave now.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lost Lore, or, Reading Rescue

My daughter and I almost effected a book rescue last weekend. As we drove down the street toward home, eagerly anticipating lunch when we arrived, we saw a book in the middle of the road. Yes, just existing there quietly in the middle of the street--shocking, but true. What could I do?

I knew immediately I had to turn around and rescue it. Despite the traffic and despite the setback in the feeding schedule, we had to go back. I quickly steered Jimmy (the children's name for one of our vehicles; the pickup is conveniently called Jerry) into the unfamiliar turn lane, which finally roused my daughter's attention. She had her nose buried deep in a book.

"What are you doing, Mom?" she inquired (note the strong verb). "Z, there's a book in the road back there."

Scarcely had the words left my mouth before she exclaimed, "What?! A book? In the road?"

"Yes," I answered, "And we're going back to rescue it. I think it might be a library book."

"What?! Not a library book! We have to go back!"

"Yes, I know. Here's the plan: I'm going to drive around the block and find a convenient place to pull over. If it's safe, I want you to jump out and grab it."

"Got it, Mom."

"Don't unbuckle yet, we're not there!"

"Oh, okay."

We pulled to the stop sign and signaled for the right turn that would take us to the intersection where I had seen the unfortunate volume. Was it a library book? The glassy cover had made it seem so. But there was no orange sticker--oh wait, that's only at Hayden. Yes, I was pretty sure. The book belonged to John Q. Public. Or duty was clear.

Accelerating out onto the road (I can't say into traffic because this piece of road is really small and it just wouldn't be true), we looked toward the place where the victim awaited rescue. Just beyond the next stop sign. The book was almost in sight. Z was peering through the windshield, hand on her buckle, personal music device safely stowed next to her own borrowed novel resting on the console, ready to make her move.

But as we braked at the stop sign we realized the intersection was empty. Nothing remained but asphalt. The book had vanished! Glancing to the right we saw a white car accelerating, moving to the left back into traffic. Ahhh, another book lover.

So glad to know we're not alone in the world. Satisfied, we turned toward home where lunch still waited.

(Of course, there could be an alternative ending or two, like the person was really a book thief who had safely purloined another volume, most likely from the library, sticking some poor soul with a lost book fine and a permanent blot in the library records--Loser. Book Loser. What could be worse than that?)

Monday, September 06, 2010

Books, books and more books

Buying books.
Moving books.
Sorting books.
Looking for books.
Loaning books.
Borrowing books.
Arranging books.
Shelving books.
Moving books.
Moving books.
Moving books.

The implied subject is "I" and the helping verb is "am".

History books, literature books, children's books, art books, old books, new books, writing books, coloring books, small books, large books, heavy books, paperback books, music books, map books, used books, new books, musty books, fresh books, funny books, inspiring books, borrowed books, my books--they're all on my shelves at home and at school.

And that is my life right now as another school year comes hurdling toward me. At this time next week I will have completed the first day of the first operating year of Pascal Academy, a brand new Great Books school.

It's a good thing I like books!

While we're on the topic, anyone want to share something you read or enjoyed or hated or re-read in the last six months? I'd like to know what books are in your life.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Importance of Being Earnest (at Least in All Things Grammatical)

Today I was given a rug for our new school. Somewhere in between finishing "The Eumenides" and beginning "Medea" I found time to wash the rug out in the front yard. To help remove extra water I scrounged up a plastic ruler to use in a squeegee-like fashion (the effects of which greatly impressed my little people). Being well trained to read any letters that enter my vision (a tendency I now fight, given the sad decline in the civility of most bumper stickers), I took in the words on the ruler and continued squishing water with it.

Then I stopped and examined the ruler more carefully. Yes, there was a reason my brain was flashing red alert signals to the part of my anatomy that is connected to a red pen much of the year. The ruler, which was most likely a freebie from a fire safety booth at last year's fair, featured the ubiquitous Smokey the Bear and his earnest message about fire safety. The message, however, didn't convey quite what was intended, I'm sure: "Smokey friends don't play with matches".

Now I ask you, if my smokey friends don't play with matches, then how do they become smokey? Cigarettes? Campfires? Arson?

In all earnestness, the only thing left for me to say is that Smokey's friends should play with a grammar book sometime soon. It will make a nice replacement for the matches.

(Oh yes--and remember, only you can prevent forest fires...)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Practice after Delacroix

I'm trying to draw more often to build up my confidence for demonstrating--something I have long felt is a weakness in my teaching. Because I don't draw often enough it takes longer to arrive at a good place than minutes available in my class time. More practice would help me achieve better results in less time so my demonstration drawings wouldn't be sketched with profuse explanations/excuses/apologies. So with that thought, here is my drawing after Eugene Delacroix.

I have long liked the strength of this piece, which I found in a book somewhere. I'm hoping the label is correct and that it is a drawing by Delacroix and not of Delacroix. (A quick internet search of about 15 pages of Google image results does not help me in answering this question, it does, however allow me to see a hundred or so copies of his famous Liberty Leading the People and show me his amazingly simple and expressive sketch for Attila the Hun.)

I wasn't patient enough to copy the lines of his classical style shading. Deep sigh; but at 1 a.m. my desire to work slowly was asleep without the rest of me (I did not intend to be up that long and it must be understood that I only began the drawing at 11 p.m. or so, so I didn't labor for too many hours on this piece). Instead I dug out my smudging tool and defaulted to a combination of smudge and scribble/hatch. See the shiny graphite--the best drawings avoid this build up by slowly building layers of graphite, rather than pressing hard on the pencil and creating shine.

I'm not sure I like the blue, but again, at that late hour I opted to be adventurous--a choice I rarely make with my drawings. Collage, yes; drawings, no.

I could share a number of other criticisms, but I won't. As long as I see them and know where I went wrong, I know what to watch for next time.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Begin Again

Starting afresh,
bringing me peace,

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Little History Humor

I had the best moment in history this week when I realized that seventh grade is finally starting to get my dry humor. The irony of course is that we're almost to the end of the year...

How do I know they are catching on? Well, this week we encountered another one of those names that probably weren't quite as funny in AD 9 as they are now. This time it was a governor in Germania named Vindex. I wasn't going to share the name, in order to save on confusion, but I still had it written in my notes. When I saw it, I chuckled; of course I was standing in front of the class, and when I looked at their faces and saw the curiosity I couldn't keep it to myself. (I might have a sense of humor that is foreign to them, but I don't need to appear to be totally crazy!)

So I wrote the name on the board and reminded them of their Latin pronunciation. Comprehending faces burst into grins and little chuckles in different places in the room. What's so funny? The V in Latin is actually pronounced as a W. Silly humor I know, but most people today just don't name their children Windex.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How I Spent my Easter Vacation, or Let Someone Else Sweat the Small Stuff

Well, it's Easter vacation for our school. Starting late last week through the end of this one I have had and continue to enjoy (!) the ability to sleep in and move at a leisurely pace in the morning. I have actually read some books; they're still history related books, but I'm reading at my own pace and not at breakneck speed. Best of all I've had time to take care of some tasks that have been sadly neglected.

Ironically these are not tasks I would normally look forward to accomplishing. Things like mopping and dusting always take a back seat in my world, but when they haven't happened in my world since, say, late October or possibly further back, these chores turned into something I have been looking forward to for several weeks. I hadn't realized how back to nature we were growing (pun intended) until I discovered that the dust in some places was no longer dust, but had become actual dirt. I've never been the best housekeeper, but that discovery was a nasty surprise.
Wisely I divided the workload into smaller chunks to be done everyday, so as to not be overwhelming, but the division has also given me some time to ponder.

As I ran a cloth around the upper regions of my kitchen to catch the cobwebs today, I pondered how these messes started off so small. The cobwebs were once little and invisible, until they weren't taken care of and grew into larger dust traps, and then, when the airborne grease particles found the small collection of dusty webwork the problem grew again. Which made for more opportunity to catch dust and so on, until in the dark little recesses of the ceiling there was quite the disaster. Really, isn't that the way most messes begin, though?

Even our personal messes, whether they're financial or relationship-related or workplace problems or spiritual issues, usually begin as small things. But when we don't take care of them they grow. Just like the five cent fee per late item at the library that grows into several dollars when I check out so many items (maybe that's just me...), or the cart full of one dollar impulse purchases at the grocery store that blows the whole budget when it adds up at the end, those little problems left unchecked bloom into larger ugliness. A late payment accumulates fees and that unfortunate sharp word festers in the heart of a co-worker until the situation seems impossible and we wish we had taken the time to deal with it in the beginning, when it was still a small thing.

Those small things matter more than we realize in the moment. In between bouts of cleaning I've also enjoyed having some time to draw during this week and even in that activity I am surprised by how much the small things count. As I have often reminded my art students, the problems in a drawing are usually solved by small adjustments. The eyes are too far apart by fractions of a centimeter, not two or three. The fingers are just barely too long or too skinny or too far left or right--if they were off by a large degree the mistake would have been noticed early on and corrected. But do such tiny errors really matter? Yes. The tiny errors add up and my drawing of one person begins to look like someone entirely different.

And that's just the problem spiritually, too. The big mistakes are so much easier to see and correct. It's the tiny errors that feel like they don't matter that eventually shape who we grow into. Little lies that go unchecked grow too easily into integrity issues that begin to define who we are in the eyes of others. Small deceits that aren't rebuked too often encourage more occurrences until suddenly we find ourselves no longer trusted by those around us. These small moments become so pivotal in who we are later, but we don't always realize it until those small moments are past history and we're stuck in the dirty cobwebs of the present, wishing we had dusted sooner.

I am reminded of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, which shows how God values the small things. Even the one talent was important to the master, who had many. Matthew 25 concludes with the exhortation to take care of even the least among us, which again is a reminder how important the least things are in the eyes of God, who looks not only at the big, abundant, rich things and people of life, but even at the smallest and least. The unfortunate thing for us is that even the smallest errors are noticed by God and separate us from Him. Romans 3:10-12 shows how we are perceived by God: "As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." This is a bold statement that makes us quite uncomfortable--what if I'm taking good care of those least things mentioned in Matthew 25? Doesn't that make me good?

Well, it makes me good in the eyes of people around me. The problem is twofold. First there are all those other small things that add up like the dust in the cobweb. The second thing is also like those dusty cobwebs; from the ground all that mess wasn't quite so visible, and it was only as I stood on the stool and could see clearly that I could see the entirety of the dirt. Our hearts are like that, too, and even if we can show the best and good to those around us, there are always things that we cannot see. But God sees them, as we are reminded in 1 Samuel 16:7, as David was chosen king, contrary to what everyone expected: "The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

All of which convicts me and should convict each one of us. But it leaves me even more uncomfortable than before. If those small things matter so much what am I to do to overcome them? Here's the fortunate part for us all: we don't have to overcome them. "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. ... But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6,8) These words are good news for us all. The Lord will take care of those small things if we let Him. First He cleanses us through His death on the cross. Then He cleanses us daily as we willingly walk with Him through all those small obstacles. He takes care of those dirty cobwebs in our souls and He doesn't need a step stool to see even the most hidden ones. If you have never thought about God's gift or the need for spiritual spring cleaning, I encourage you to do so. We all need it.

As we approach the day of celebration of His gift, I cannot think of a better way to spend my Easter vacation than to ponder His amazing cleansing gift, as I feebly attempt to clean my long-neglected home.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Conquering Time, or Notice that He Wasn't Called Alexander the Late

Time. Why does it seem that there is never quite enough of it? These days I have so many different areas of life that want snippets of my time, which makes me feel a bit like Bessus after he met Alexander*--pulled in too many directions. And like Bessus, sometimes the end result is painful. Worse, I suppose, is to be paralyzed by all the demands on my time. I frequently see that defect in my students, where they become immobilized by the quantity of choices: what should my thesis be? Which piece of art do I submit? Which college do I choose? Which hamburger do I pick?

Oh wait, that last stumper would be the one that plagues me.

I'm not denying the importance of some of the decisions--it's just that some aren't as life changing as others. And some of those decisions just affect our time. Do I stop to read the early history of Bactria? Is it essential to my knowledge of Alexander? Or would it just be an enjoyable diversion? Too many choices, too few hours.

Even my normal night owl routine is wearing thin, leaving me thinking that proskynesis may not be such a bad thing, if it just meant I could catch a few extra winks. How long will it take me to draw that horse example for class? How many maps of ancient empires do I need to look at before I find the one I need? Does my family really need to eat again tonight?

Yes, I suppose they do. And yes, I should be looking at yet more unhelpful maps in the search for the one that will make everything clear. I suppose part of the reason why there are so many demands on my time is that I care about the quality of the things I set out to accomplish. If I didn't care it would be easy to just take the shortcut. Perhaps it's that restless spirit that wants to explore and share it all, just like the Macedonian king who couldn't be satisfied. At least I don't have to take care of the whole kingdom. There's a greater One who does that.

*That would be in Plutarch's account. Great reading that Plutarch--if I just had more time...

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Geometry of a Window

We drew a rose window in fourth grade art today. Ours was based on the one from Grace Cathedral, which can be viewed in animation. After we were finished we watched another animation of Chartres Cathedral. After it finished playing the students applauded and cheered. I think they had a new appreciation for the complexity of the process.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Thinking on the end

I'm still living in the land of the Greeks and still have little time for any art of my own. I did write a short essay this week that I shared with the students and will share here, as well. We're learning to use a proverb as a building block for composition. Enjoy, but not too quickly. ;-)


Acting in haste can lead to unfortunate consequences, and the proverb “Think on the end before you begin” is a good motto to live by. At the beginning of any undertaking, whether it is an everyday choice or a bigger decision, it is a good idea to think ahead to the consequences. Since every choice a person makes corresponds to another action or choice, it is important to evaluate what the potential consequences could be. If a person fails to think ahead he or she may be unpleasantly surprised when an unexpected end result occurs.

A good example of someone who did not think about his actions was King Midas. In mythology, and some think in real life as well, Midas was one of the wealthiest kings of the ancient world. Yet despite his immense riches he wished to have even more gold. After performing a good deed, he was given a wish by the god Bacchus as a reward. Without stopping to think about the end results any wish might bring about, Midas quickly wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. Bacchus tried to talk the greedy and foolish king out of making this wish, but Midas persisted and Bacchus granted the wish. It didn’t take long before Midas realized his terrible mistake. He had not stopped to think that his wish meant that even his food and drink would turn to gold or that any loved one he might wish to hug would also turn to gold. Luckily Bacchus was willing to undo Midas’s wish and turn his touch back to normal.

If King Midas had considered the end result of his wish, he would have been spared quite a bit of trouble. Many of life’s everyday choices still have big consequences and should be thought through with some degree of carefulness. For example, at the end of the day most people want to go home and spend some time in an enjoyable activity. There is nothing wrong with spending a few minutes reading, playing a game or watching a television show, as long as the person has thought about what other things need to be done in that same period. If there are chores, or tasks like homework (if one is a student), or preparation for work the next day (if one is a grownup with a job) that need to be done, it would be wise to think about which activity should receive the most time. If one does not plan the evening carefully it would be easy to spend too long on the wrong activity and end up in some form of trouble. Some students earn poor grades by not thinking in advance about how to best spend their time. They are surprised when they run out of time to finish a paper and unhappy when they receive a poor grade on it. Perhaps if they had thought about the end at the beginning they would have planned more wisely and the results would have been better.

I once ended up in a disagreeable circumstance at a job by not thinking about what the end result of my actions would be. When a friend in the office where I worked left her job, I was elated to be chosen to fill the position. Before leaving, she took the time to explain to me what tasks were fun to do and which tasks were especially unpleasant, then exhorted me to avoid the latter as much as possible. When the other workers would come to me with these “unpleasant tasks” I would find a way to avoid doing them, even though they were part of my job description. I never stopped to think about what the end result would be until I came into work one day and was met by my boss, who asked me to come into her office. Her words were far more unpleasant than any of the tasks I was so eager to avoid would have been. However, like Bacchus, she was kind enough to give me a second chance and I was grateful to not be fired. What I liked to do did not matter, and if I had stopped to think about what the end result of trying to avoid my job duties was, I would have made better choices!

Taking a little time to think about the possible end results of an action is a wise thing to do. It can prevent trouble and extra toil, as well as allow a person to take a different route that might lead to a better outcome. Midas would have been spared grief. Students could achieve better grades. I would have not come within a hair’s breadth of being fired, if only some thought were given ahead of time. And if one persists in not thinking before acting, there is an African proverb that sums up the unfortunate end results: Haste is the sister of repentance.

The image is a study for a portrait by John William Waterhouse. I was trying to find something that looked pensive.