Thursday, October 23, 2014

To Do: Be Grateful

If my lack of posts hasn't made it clear enough, this month has been a stressful one.

Indy is still getting used to his life as a first-year teacher, and we're both still getting used to a two-teacher household. (Let's just say, we've been eating out and ordering in way too much!)  There has been a lot of stress at my school over a new lesson planning system, S.G.O's, changes in attendance policies and observations.  During this last week all the work for the fall play is starting up, so I'll be putting in more and more hours as the performance dates rapidly approach.  Additionally, I haven't been able to run in nearly a MONTH due to some knee pain, which I'm taking a day off from work next week to see a specialist about.  It's so upsetting not being able to continue with my progress, and I'm realizing now how therapeutic it was to just go run it out!

I feel like I'm all over the place.  I want to do everything and nothing, all at once.  I want to cross off everything on my to-do list, but also crumple it up, light it on fire, and throw it out the window of a moving car.

But I was reminded this month that while there's always something to stress over, there's also always something to be grateful for.  In my case, so many things to be grateful for:

This month we were told that Indy's mom is officially in remission, which is just incredible.  She's been receiving regular chemotherapy treatments for over a year, and she beat cancer.  Again.

Indy's aunt has been suffering from a long time with vertigo and balance issues, and recently she hasn't been able to walk at all.  She kept saying that her legs felt like stone.  Turns out, she had "fluid on the brain" and it required major surgery to fix.  Just last week she had that surgery, and we were all scared.  She's in her 70's, and so frail that a gust of wind could knock her right over.  But the surgery went exceptionally well, and she's literally walking on air.  I've never seen anyone so free and happy.

Two days ago, Indy's best friend and his wife, who has become a very close friend of mine, welcomed their first child into the world.  A week and a half past her due date, they had a beautiful baby girl.  Lots of friends of mine are starting to have children, but we're so close to these two that I actually got emotional when I heard she was finally here!

I feel like this year, more than any other, I need to keep reminding myself to find the little bit in every day that I am grateful for.  I'm hoping this will help me keep everything in perspective.

In what might be the best timing ever, Indy and I will be headed up to Salem, Massachusetts this weekend to celebrate the Halloween season.  We're planning on visiting some museums, seeing the sites and we're going to a costumed masquerade ball!  I am so excited to get away from my to-do list for the weekend.  It will be here when I get back, and I'll deal with it then.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Love Technologyyy...

I came across this article by NYT writer Judith Newman yesterday by chance, and got a little teary-eyed!

If you know any child who falls anywhere on the Autism spectrum, I think it'll tug at your heartstrings.

At times I wonder if we're getting ahead of ourselves with all the innovation that goes on in the technology world- we've got cars that practically drive themselves, for goodness sake!  But then I read about things like this, where the technology someone invented is helping people in ways the creator probably never even fathomed it could, and I get all warm and fuzzy inside.


Monday, October 13, 2014


If I were still a student in high school, this is the date I would write all over my paper-bag book cover in pink and red pen, with bubbly hearts all around it.

Today marks SEVEN YEARS that Indy and I have been together!

Seven years ago today was a Saturday.  Indy and I had begun speaking to one another via Facebook and on the phone after a friend of mine, and a friend of his, who were friends with each other, recommended we get in touch.  After about two weeks of communication, we went on our first date.

I remember, as I was still living at my mother's house, waiting in the dining room, looking out the window every five seconds, waiting for him to pull up.  The Inuits have a word for this: Iktsurarpok
Indy was running late.  My mom, ever the time-freak, started wondering out loud from the kitchen if maybe I had been stood-up, and just about the time I thought maybe she's right... he pulled up in his black Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, and we were on our way.

As he grew up in New York City, that's where we went- to Battery Park, specifically, where they were having some kind of food festival.  We got some tacos from a truck, and Indy was pretty surprised I'd never had tacos before. (This was back when my diet consisted of the same five things it did since I was a child: Pizza, Chicken, Pasta, Peanut Butter and Chocolate...)  I had also never been to Battery Park before.  During our time at the park, Indy had mentioned the Central Park Zoo.  I mentioned that I'd also never been there (literally, my life didn't start until I met the guy), and we jumped in the Jeep.

The zoo was amazing.  It was one of those wacky zoo trips where all the animals are going bananas.  The polar bears were swimming in the water, getting all up close to the glass so you could take pictures.  The seals in the main entry way were jumping and splashing all the bystanders.  All of the animals were hooting and hollering.  It was fantastic.

When we got in the car to leave for home, I gave Indy a CD I had burned for him- it was a Scottish rock band I liked at the time called Biffy Clyro.  Before we left on our date I had noticed they were playing in the smaller room at Madison Square Garden that night, and mentioned this to Indy when I gave him the CD.  "Tonight? They're playing tonight?!" He asked, excitedly. Then he said, "Let's go!"  And he drove us to Madison Square Garden, where he bought us two tickets to see the show!

I was not used to all this spontaneity!  At MSG I used the bathroom and called my mom to let her know that I was still alive and would be home later than I thought.

Before the show we got pizza at one of the zillions of places near MSG that sell pizza by the slice. The show itself was pretty great- Biffy Clyro was opening for Queens of the Stoneage, who I'd listened to before, but developed a new appreciation for having seen them live.  After the show, we walked to a small diner, called "The Victory Diner" and had some dessert and tea before heading home.

Our first date lasted approximately 12 hours.

We got married in July, but always refer to October 13th as our "anniversary."  He even had the date engraved on the inner band of my engagement ring.  Since our first date Indy has opened up my world to more than just the Central Park Zoo and tacos.  The man has taken me to places I'd never dreamed of going- all across the U.S. and to countries near and far.  He's expanded my extremely picky palette to reaches my parents are still surprised at- I've eaten fried rattle snake for Pete's sake!  Over the last seven years Indy has helped me grow and realize I'm capable of so much more than I ever knew I was.  He is absolutely the best friend I've ever had, and today will always be the best day, ever!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Because, Sharks.

In what might be the most unfortunate timing of events ever, Indy and I have booked a trip to Africa for this coming summer.

Before you go and get all crazy on me (much like my mother did) allow me to explain first that we are not going ANYWHERE NEAR West Africa.  We are flying through London into Johannesburg, then taking a 14-day Camping Safari trip through Botswana, which ends in Zambia- then we're flying back through Johannesburg down into Cape Town.  Because, ya know, it wasn't enough for Indy that we'll be on an actual safari with real, live, potentially life-threatening animals, we also have to cage dive with some Great White Sharks.

As I re-read that last sentence, I'm starting to understand why my mother doesn't understand me and the things I do.

For real though, a trip to Africa has been a dream for the both of us.  We're animal lovers, we adore traveling, and in celebration of Indy's graduation and hiring, we decided it was time to go to Africa.  Three very different and very good friends of ours have all gone to Africa and not one of them had a single negative thing to say about it.  Of course, Ebola wasn't a real threat during the times they went, but I'll comfort you the same way I comforted my mother when I finally worked up the nerve to tell her: The distance from Botswana to where the outbreak is occurring is just about the same as the distance from the outbreak to London- a good 3,500 miles.  Another point I made to her that makes us all feel a lot better: Ebola made its way to Texas, and New Jersey is only 1,500 miles away from the Lone Star State, so I think we'll be good.

Anyway, Indy and I have been working up a list of big-ticket items we need to acquire in order to make this trip the best, ever, and there has been much discussion over getting an additional DSLR camera.

I currently have a Nikon D60, which I got as a High School graduation gift back in 2004:


A few years later I picked up a 70-300mm lens, which is great- much better than the standard 18-55mm lens the camera comes with, but super huge and bulky:


And just two or three years ago, I finally got my middle-of-the-road, perfect-for-everything, most-favorite-lens-ever, my 18-200mm telephoto:


Our issue is, while on Safari, we have no idea how close or far the game will be, and I'll be damned if I'm switching lenses in the jeep and miss a shot, or worse, drop a lens.  The entire trip will be ruined! If we get a second camera body, even another D60, Indy and I could both be prepared to shoot at all times, regardless of our distance.

The jury is still out as far as that decision goes...

But then I started thinking about shooting during our cage dive.  We have a small, decent underwater camera we've used while snorkeling and scuba diving in Australia:


We enjoy this camera a lot- it works great! But, if you're trying to catch a fast-moving fish, it's not the best.

So imagine my excitement when I found this photo on the internet today:


At first I was all, "Oh man, that's an amazing professional photo."

Well, I read on to find that not only is it NOT a professional photo, it was taken with a GoPro by an Art Teacher from NEW JERSEY while she was on vacation in SOUTH AFRICA!

Seriously, when I saw this photo, all the stars aligned and I realized that Africa is most definitely in my future and we need to get ourselves a GoPro! Because, SHARKS!

My cousin is a working artist out in California and he shoots all of his surfing shots with his GoPro, so I plan on picking his brain for a lot of advice, but my question is- do any of you use a GoPro?  If so, which one do you have?  What accessories would you recommend?  I need to get my research on!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

On Taking a Time-Out

I addressed this in my first post, back in August, but I’ve returned from a year off from blogging.  I offered a brief explanation there about it, and I could go into more detail, but honestly thinking about last year gets me all crazy and I don’t want to feel all those feels right now.  Just know that things in all aspects of my personal, professional, academic and artistic life were all tossed up in the air and scrambled about.  In some ways it was great, in some ways it was awful.  In the end, everything did or currently still is working out (life has a funny way of doing that- getting you all crazy before being all, “I got this- it’s cool! Relax!”) and now I’m back.

For years I have been following Young House Love and I fully support their recent decision to take a (very well deserved) break from blogging.  If you’re unfamiliar, they’ve been hosting their DIY/Family inspired blog for the last 7 years and have seen so much growth and expansion over this time that for the last few years, they quit their jobs to blog full time.  They had very regularly scheduled posts and giveaways and found a system for them that really worked.  Around the birth of their second child, however, they openly expressed, in several posts, a desire to find more balance in their blogging life and their real life.  After a post where they asked for open reader feedback, things got a little nasty (as any request for open feedback on the internet tends to do) and they decided back in September they would be taking a break.  There was even a New York Times article about it!

I got a comment on my last post from Pat over at SharpieWoman and she mentioned that she, too, hadn’t blogged in a year.  Then I started to check around to some of my other “old haunts”- blogs I loved and checked in on often last year.  I found that a lot of them are no longer in working order.  Ms. Kristen-Crayon Can, for example, stopped blogging around the same time I did.  Some blogs I followed vanished all together- not just no more posts, but the entire site is gone- Kristen over at PopcornOnTheStove- poof! Done.

I feel that for most of us blogging started as a fun hobby.  For some of us, it even turns into a way to make money- but when real life demands your attention, hobbies and even jobs have to take a time-out so you can focus on what really matters: family, friends, peace of mind, your own happiness, the list goes on.

In the nearly 100 pages of supportive comments on the YHL post announcing their "break from blogging", there are what seems like only a handful of nasty reactions.  And I know, why should we take notice of the handful of nasties out there when there is so much abundant love?  But it's kind of unreal to even imagine that anyone could be angry about them taking a break.  They've spent the last 7 years allowing readers to follow and learn from their DIY adventures *for free* and people are angry they're taking a break to focus on their family?  That just seems insane to me.  Even if the blog is their main source of income, anyone will tell you that no matter what your job is- it is most certainly not your life.  And what they do with their lives is their business!

Anyway, when I started blogging again I was hoping to keep the same momentum I had when I quit, posting relevant and entertaining content every other day.  About a month back into posting I realized that momentum I was striving for, and posting that often, was part of why I stopped.  Keeping up with a steady posting schedule was too hard for me then, and it's too hard for me now.  I've got a lot of real life stuff going on and in order to keep this as fun as it used to be, I'm letting my real life schedule dictate my blogging schedule.

As much as I miss YHL's daily posts, I hope they take all the time they need to recuperate.  Even if it's in a much smaller way, I totally understand their need for a time-out.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Zentangles, My Favorite and Teacher Appreciation

Last year we began negotiations for a new contract.  We’re still negotiating.  Morale is rather low, but I’m confident (maybe more hopeful?) we will reach an agreement soon and all will be right with the world, even if its just temporarily.

At the end of last year there was an anonymous letter in my school mailbox.- all of our school mailboxes.  I’m assuming it was from a teacher who works at my school.  Basically the letter explained that as teachers, at times we all feel under appreciated, and how wonderful it would be if we each took a few minutes and wrote a letter of appreciation to a colleague- especially one we don’t know very well.  As someone who loves to write, I thought this was a great idea!  Unfortunately, I was so burnt out by the end of last year that I quickly forgot about my letter and carried on into summer.  But just a week ago, I was reminded about letting someone else know they’re appreciated, and I wrote that letter!

I have a boy in my Art Studio class who is my favorite.  I know we’re not supposed to have favorites, but he is mine, and I can’t help it.  He is the epitome of what every art teacher wants in a student: someone who is a thinker, who likes to be challenged, who is courteous and polite, who is talented and has no clue that he is- someone who thinks outside the box regularly and isn't afraid to take risks.  He can laugh at his mistakes, but also learn from them, and he is my favorite.

Anyway, our first unit in Art Studio is Line, and so our first project was to create an original Zentangle design.  I like this project because while it can be pretty simple for the less art-inclined, it can also be crazy complicated for the kids who want more.  My Favorite (this will be how I refer to him from now until forever) had the idea of sketching a dog, and filling it up with all kinds of tangles….but it was pretty awful.  He knew it wasn't great and when I comically pointed out all the problems, he laughed and agreed.  I asked him to try it again, focusing on a few small details and without hesitation he did- and it was GREAT!  Worlds better than his first go-round.  He saw it, he felt it, and he was so excited.

Then the tangles came.  Tangles can be hard to make up on their own, so I printed out a few pages of tangle samples so the kids could borrow and build upon already-made tangle designs.  The first day of tangling, My Favorite called me over and asked if he could do “reflections” in his tangles.  I wasn’t totally sure what he meant, so I asked him to elaborate.

“Reflections, like we’re learning in math.” He said with a smile.

“Math?” I asked, suddenly scared.  My inner child was curled up, shaking in a corner.

“Yes.  I’m in Pre-Calc.  I’m a sophomore, but I skipped a level in math.  We’re learning about reflections, let me show you…”

He whipped out his math notebook and showed me all these great graphs and charts and explained that the equations for that particular unit resulted in reflections- so the line pattern in one quadrant mirrored the one next to it.

I said, “If you want to give it a try, go for it!”

He did, and it came out AWESOME!

See that blurry patch?  He found a way to write his NAME inside the tangle! First and Last!  I blurred My Favorite’s name from you guys for obvious reasons, but seriously, how cool is that?!  Just try to imagine it.  It’s awesome.

I was so excited not only that his idea worked, but more that it was a unique idea that pulled directly from another subject- MATH of all subjects!

I asked My Favorite who his math teacher was, and quickly jotted down this letter:

Hi Math Teacher,

I don't think we've ever met- I teach in the Art Department, but I had to share the cutest story with you!

I have My Favorite in my Art Studio class.  He is totally adorable and is doing an amazing job on our first project, which is all about black and white patterns.  He's really taken his project to the "next level" in comparison to the other kids in his class.  Anyway, he and I were discussing what he would do with his background and he had this idea about creating a reflected pattern, and I didn't really understand what he meant, so he whipped out his math notebook and showed me all these notes and sketches for reflections he's learned in math, and I have to tell you, it was the first time I've ever really had a concrete concept to tie math and art together.  We often do projects with pattern and some measuring, but I've been looking for ways to really connect the "thinking" of math to what we do in class, and he showed it to me!

Anyway, I always think it's fun when art makes its way into other classes, so I figured I'd share that what you're doing in class made its way over here!  I love when everything the kids are learning come together!


And this is what she wrote back:

You just made my day!!

That is a great story :)  And a great connection!!!

I made her day, guys!  Look at all those exclamation marks!

It felt so good to see a student make such a well-developed seemingly far-reaching connection between the thinking he does in math to what he’s doing in art class.  It felt even better to tell his math teacher about it.  It felt the greatest to know it made her day, and that she knows what she does matters and she is appreciated!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

You Can't Judge a Teacher by Her First Class

I recently had an experience that reminded me you shouldn’t judge a teacher by her first class- that all of us, even the best of us, have “first days” and “bad days” and shouldn’t be judged forever based on them.

I’m currently just about half way through earning my masters degree at a local, affordable university.  While it’s local and affordable, unfortunately, it isn’t the best quality education I’ve ever received.  I chose the school not only because of the proximity and cost, but also because they offer a part-time Masters in Art Studio, which many universities and colleges don’t.  Basically I’m getting my masters in teaching by taking tons of art classes- no papers or research or essays- just making art.

When I say the education isn’t the best quality, this is what I mean:

-The Fine Arts building is gross.  It’s constantly in need of a sweeping and a wipe-down.  The bathrooms are, at times, so atrocious, I refuse to use them from when I arrive at 4pm until when I leave at 10pm.  The art room tables and cabinets are caked in years of thick layers of paint and ink and drawings, which students did, I guess in hopes to leave their legacy.  It sounds like a potentially cool idea, but really it all just looks like nasty, low-grade graffiti.

-The professors are sub-par.  This is my sixth class at this university and I’ve only had one professor from whom I feel like I actually learned anything.  I took him twice.  My other professors were just kind of there, offering critique of our work, but no  instructional help- no technique or constructive discussions, just critique.  I had one professor who would take attendance then announce, “I’m going to my office to check my facebook!” and would be gone for 4 hours.  There are many nights when I ask myself, "What am I paying these people for?"

-The class I chose now had a well-known, well-liked male professor listed as the instructor.  The first day of class, I found that there was a woman there instead- someone I’ve never heard of- who informed us that she would be teaching the first half of the class, and he would come in to teach the second half.  There was no explanation as to why, or any preparation for this before we showed up.  I found, and still find, this to be unprofessional and ridiculous.  I feel like they’re “pulling one over” on me.   How will we be graded?  He won’t know how hard I’ve worked for the first six weeks- how can he grade me at the end?  How is this ethical?  How is this even allowed?

Anyway, for this fall I had signed up for a painting course, which I was very excited about, but two days before classes began, it got canceled. I scrambled to replace it with something- anything – my +15 credit pay-bump was at stake!  The only thing available in the time line I could work with (that wasn’t screen printing…I’m avoiding screen printing like it’s my job) was Computer Art 1.


I’d also been avoiding Computer Art because I’m at the stage in my life where I don’t feel like I really need a computer art class, but I definitely need a computer art class.  I consider myself pretty efficient in computers, and after teaching Photoshop in my digital photography classes for the last 6 years, I’ve taught myself a lot of neat tricks.  I can draw simple shapes and edit photographs all that jazz, but as for actually using the computer as a medium in creating works of art? Not so much.  I had a feeling the first few weeks of class would be pretty painful, and I wasn’t wrong.

To begin with, this is the class where I was expecting one professor, but got another.  She informed us that she’d be teaching us for half the semester and the professor I signed up for would come in the second half.  It was extra painful as the professor was obviously new, and obviously nervous.  She was stammering all night and had absurd demands like, "You must ask permission to listen to music while you work."  Was she for real?  What's worse is the majority of the class was spent discussing how to maximize, minimize and close a window, or how to create a folder, and change the name of it, or the difference between “File, Save” and “File, Save As…”

Additionally, for the first class (which is usually a 10-15 minute “Welcome! Buy these supplies, see you net week!”) she kept us for a full SIX HOURS.  The class is slotted from 5-10:45, all of the art classes are, and even on a regular “full” day, the majority of professors will let us clean up and head out around 9.  Not this one. I think she was flexing her "I'm your professor, hear me roar" muscles.

 ….It was rough.  So rough, in fact, that I actually left the class in tears.  I was driving home at 11pm, after a full Monday of classes, exhausted, frustrated, tired, and crying to Indy about how badly I wanted to drop the class.  He was ever so patient with me, and (as always) was right when he said, “You’ve had a long day, and you’re tired.  The next class won’t be so bad.  Just try and stick it out.”

We had our second class last night, and while it was long, and at times a little tedious, it was way better. 

For our first class, we had an assignment to choose one word from a list of 8 (I chose “Isolation”) and represent that concept in three different black and white works: the first using only circles, the second using only lines, and the third using a mix of both.

It was simple enough, but six hours into it, I was OVER IT.  My eyes actually hurt from looking at the screen for so long.  I was getting headaches.  At one point in the night, maybe around seven o’clock, the professor came around to see how we were doing, and I said to her, “I feel like half of my shapes are created correctly, and the other half are just willy nilly- I couldn’t get them to work the same as the others, so I kept clicking things until it worked…” and she said, “Well the great thing about Photoshop is as long as it looks the way you want it to in the end, it works!”  So I thought, Great! I’ll just keep going…

Fast forward to three and a half hours later, at 10:30 at night, when she’s making her final rounds of “check-in’s” before assigning us the second project.  She stops by my seat and takes a look at my layers.  “Oooooh,” she says, “We have a problem with some of your layers…” 

Que my head-snap in her direction.

“Some of your layers are bitmap, and some are vectors…” 

To which I rather snappily replied, “Is that a problem?” 

All cheery like she said, “Well yes.  All of them need to be vectors.” 

Que the smoke from my ears.

She continues, “You should stay and fix those.” 

To which I rather aggressively replied, “I’m not staying here any longer.” 

She then let out a nervous giggle and said something to the effect of, “Well, yeah, it’s been a long night and the computers can make us all kind of crazy. But before next class you should come in and take care of those.”

I was out of there like a bat out of hell.  Then the crying commenced.

Hell of a time to tell me to fix things! Where was all this "bitmap/vector" garbage hours ago? Also, I thought the great thing about Photoshop is you can’t make mistakes!  I was furious.

So around Thursday that week, at home, I fixed my layers.  It actually wasn’t all that hard.  It took about 20 minutes.  Here is what they look like in the end:

"Isolation - Circles"

"Isolation - Lines"

"Isolation - Both Circles and Lines"

Yesterday was our second class.  I was mentally prepared for another long, boring, droning night of useless information and last-minute critiques.  However, our lesson was something new- something I’d never done before. 

For homework we were to sketch a “simple” object.  In class, we scanned it into the computers and rendered it on Photoshop.  Here was my scan:

The assignment was to render a realistic representation of our object using vector lines and layers and the pen tool and different brushes. Some kids used the fancy pen stylus-and-pad thing, but half of them don’t work on the computers correctly, and I was not about to start off the night with a bunch of unnecessary frustration.  A good ‘ol mouse and keyboard are fine by me.

And so I put on my headphones (I didn't ask permission first...I'm such a rebel!) and got to work.  I worked and worked and worked.  Every time I touched my project, it got better!  There were some frustrating moments, but everything seemed to have a simple solution.  A few points in the night she came by to check-in with me and had some really helpful tips to offer.  She showed me a few tricks that came in really handy and I found that I was actually learning things.  By the end of the night, I looked around the room to find that my piece really stood out.  It looked complete and realistic, and I was so proud of it that I snapped a photo to share on Instagram and everyone, even my non-art friends, were totally impressed!

Here’s what it looks like:

There are a few spots I might go in and tweak before finally handing it in next week, but I’m really proud of myself for keeping my focus, not getting frustrated, and ending up with a product I’m happy with.

The professor seemed really happy, too.  While she still does a few things I’m not a fan of, I realized that no matter what, I can learn things from her. She may be new, and still flexing her muscles- and I can relate to that.  Teaching high school can be intimidating, so I can't imagine how hard teaching college classes can be.  And all of us can have first days or bad days.  Time will tell if she ends up on my list of good or bad professors, but I'm going to give her a few more weeks before I decide.  I've heard that teachers make the worst students, so as a teacher, I'm going to cut her some slack.