Friday, January 31, 2014

Art is Awesome!: Calder Mobiles

When the girls started school in September, I knew that I was going to spend quite a bit of time volunteering there, but I wanted to pick activities that I would enjoy spending hours on. So I signed up to be library parent once a week and art docent once a month. Library parent duty actually is limited to that 45-minute time period every Tuesday, but the art docent program is a different story.

Diana and I call the program "Art is Awesome!" because, well, art is awesome. Also, alliteration's always alluring. I developed a curriculum mixing artists that I adore (Kahlo, Gaudi, O'Keeffe) and artists that I either hadn't heard of or am not as familiar with (Calder, Riley, Kandinsky, Seurat). I spend hours (okay, days) preparing each lesson, usually involving a very short Powerpoint presentation about the artist of the month and examples of that artist's work. Then I spend a couple more hours at school teaching the lesson and leading the project, done in the style of the artist. 

I LOVE LOVE LOVE IT! Finally, I get to use my art nerd Jedi powers for good! 

The program fulfills the part of me that has always wanted to be a teacher. The girls love seeing Mama at school and they visibly puff up with pride when I show up at their classrooms for each lesson. I teach Diana's kindergarten class first, then scale the project way down for Tala's preschool class.

We started the year off with Kandinsky Trees, then O'Keeffe Flowers. This month's project was kinetic sculptures made of wire and beads that we call Calder Mobiles. 

Thanks to the parents of Mrs. Long's class for donating hangers!
The project was fairly simple, or so I thought. There are only three materials for each mobile:
1) 1 wire hanger, like the kind you get at the dry cleaners
2) 3 feet of 24-gauge jewelry wire, fairly pliable but will hold its shape
3) a bunch of beads, including letter beads to spell out names (I prepared 26 envelopes containing the letters of each kid's name to save some class time.)

I prepared each hanger by attaching the wire onto the bottom middle of the hanger and securing it with a small glob of hot glue. Then I gave the kids illustrated directions:

1) Thread a starter bead at the bottom, then thread 3-5 beads onto the first length of wire. When you have enough beads on the wire, twist it onto the hanger at the point shown here. 

2) Thread the letters of your name across the wire and make little peaks and valleys with the wire so all the letters hang down. If your name has fewer letters, you may also thread other beads to fill in the gaps.

3) Thread 3-5 beads onto the last length of wire, like you did with the first length of wire. When you are done, thread the end of the wire through the starter bead and twist the rest of the wire onto the hanger.

4) Twist and bend all the wires around a little so your beads can move but don't bunch up together. 

This is Diana's creation. Thanks, Betsy, for donating the letter beads!
The mobiles look fantastic displayed in the hall, and I've gotten lots of positive comments from proud parents who can't believe their kids did this project all on their own. Well... 

If you are a parent of one of the kids in Mrs. Long's class, then the only thing you need to know is that your kid is super proud of this artistic creation, as he/she should be. The kids worked really hard on the project, picking out beads, designing the sculptures, threading the beads, twisting the wires. They made awesome Calder Mobiles!

If you are a teacher or docent or parent looking for an artsy-crafty project to do with your kids, then you should know a few more things. 

1) On average, the kindergarteners didn't have enough manual dexterity to twist the wire onto the very specific points on the hangers. So the project's success depended on a grownup helping each kid twist the wire onto the hangers and thread the wire through the starter bead twice. That's 4 points of dependency x 26 kids. Even with four grownups in the room, it became a little chaotic.

2) When the kids handed their finished projects to me, the beads and wires all bunched up together and nearly every sculpture became a jumbled mess. I spent almost two hours after the 50-minute class outside in the hallway with my jewelry pliers, bending and twisting the wires on each sculpture so they resembled each kid's original design and all the names could be clearly read. It was my first art installation! Yay!

3) I neglected to tell everyone in the beginning that they should allow for a lot of slack on the wires so they'd be long enough to twist and bend around the 3-5 beads. Some of the wires were so tightly wound onto the hangers, the beads didn't really move the way they were meant to move.

4) If I had it to do over again, I would use pipe cleaners instead of wire. The concept is still the same, but the kids would be able to bend and twist the pipe cleaners on their own. And with pipe cleaners, they can really go wild on the 3D effect, bending the pipe cleaners in different directions outside the confines of the hanger.

Overall, the class had a blast doing the project and every time they see me the kids ask when they can take their mobiles home. If you choose to do this project with your class or your kids, just remember to scale it up or down to make it age-appropriate. Next time, I'll talk about how I scaled this project for preschoolers into Calder Jungle Animal Mini-Stabiles.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dinner Bell

"I wouldn't like a bag of beef or a beer or a cup of chowder / Corn, cake, or creamed cauliflower / 'Cause I'm waiting for the dinner bell to do the bell thing / Dinner bell dinner bell ring"

Dusty and I have lived together in five cities across two countries. Every time we had to move to a different place, there was only one non-negotiable: decent pho within five miles of our house. 

I cannot, must not, will not live without pho. It is my go-to comfort food. We usually have it about once a month, but with everyone in the family sick, we had takeout pho twice in the last three weeks. Good thing our favorite pho place and two decent backups are all about three miles from our house.

Now that everyone is pretty much at 100%, though, it is back to our regularly scheduled menu. I just finished my quarterly menu review and update, got a thumbs-up or down from the family on every meal, and swapped in the thumbs-up meals. You can take the woman out of corporate project management, but you can't make her unpucker.

Here's what a typical weekly menu looks like:
Veggie “meat” tacos
Fish cakes, pesto pasta, green beans
Turkey sliders, roast taters, kale chips
Baked fish, quinoa, gai lan
Leftovers/Empanadas from leftovers/Quick dinner
Salmon chirashi
Daddy’s Dinner: 40-clove chicken, rice, asparagus

Planning is easier with themes:
Meatless Monday
Fish Tuesday
Chicken/Turkey Wednesday
Fish Thursday 
Leftovers/Empanadas/Quick Dinner Friday (It's hula night.)
Seafood Saturday (Can you tell we're trying to eat more seafood?)
Daddy's Dinner Sunday (Mama needs a break, y'all.)

Every week, the menu has different meals that I know the girls will eat, corresponding to the theme of the day. As I mentioned before, I map out four weeks of meals, then make my weekly shopping lists according to what I need to make them. Some meals we have only once a month, like salmon chirashi. Some meals are family favorites, so we have them twice a month, say on Week 2 and Week 4, like turkey sliders

"Holy volcano goddess! This is A LOT of planning, Cookie." Wait 'til I get going! Where was I? Yes, dinners. Specifically, backup dinners:
SPAM, rice, seaweed
Brats/hotdogs, noodles, crudites
Big breakfast meal
Whole Foods chicken, baguette, crudites

Green chile soup (with tortillas)
Lamb & lentil stew
Bolognese sauce (with pasta)
Roast meat, taters, veg
Pork Wellington, salad/crudites
Lasagna, salad/crudites
Tinola, rice
Adobo chicken, rice, monggo
Pancit, lumpia
Bi bim bap/Chap chae
Coq au vin

All of these are meals that I know the girls will eat and the whole family enjoys. They are our pinch hitters when we are a little bored with what's planned or one of us has a craving for something on the list or Life Happens and we are near Whole Foods anyway because it's on the way to swim class.

Okay, we have lunch and dinner covered. Here's what's for breakfast:
Bagels/cream cheese/lox
Puto/biko/pan de ube
Cinnamon rolls
Dipping eggs/toast
Arros caldo

Big breakfasts are generally reserved for weekends, since they take about 30 minutes to an hour to prepare. Still, that's definitely quicker than a big dinner, so we sometimes have breakfast for dinner, maybe served with seasonal fresh fruit or at least fruit juice. In case you're wondering, SPAMwich is just scrambled egg and fried SPAM in pandesal. Mmm... SPAMMM...

The way I see it, dinner planning comes down to three basics:

1) Make a list. Write down all the meals the whole family will eat and (possibly) enjoy. It might take a little time and trial and error, and sometimes a family favorite will fall out of favor. But if you actually sit down and make a list of the meals you already eat now, you might be surprised to see how long and varied it is.

2) Plan around Life. Plug the meals from your list into days of the week, with an eye for what is going on that day (swim, hula, teaching). Don't try to make a big roast dinner from scratch on your busiest day. You'll end up drinking all the wine and leave none for the gravy.

3) Be flexible. Even the best-laid plans can go awry when Life Happens, so make sure you have decent pho within five miles of your house.

All right, who's hungry?

Dinner Bell by They Might Be Giants

Friday, January 17, 2014

On My 39th Trip Around the Sun, This is My Offering to the Universe.

"I love the time and in between the calm inside me / In the space where I can breathe / I believe there is a distance I have wandered / To touch upon the years of reaching out and reaching in / Holding out, holding in / I believe, this is heaven to no one else but me / And I'll defend it, long as I can be / Left here to linger in silence / If I choose to, would you try to understand?"

Every year on my birthday, I write and meditate on a personal reflection that calls on the elements, usually offering up to the Universe something in my life that correlates to Fire, Water, Earth, Air, and Spirit. Early December was crazybusy, so I didn't get to my birthday reflection in time. Right around New Year's Eve, I got some sort of mutated superflu and I've been sick ever since. Sad panda.

I'm mostly back to the land of the living now, and being bedridden last week actually gave me time to just be in the calm inside me, in the space where I can breathe and think and write. Last night's full micro moon also inspired me to honor it by sharing my birthday reflection with all of you. Looking back on past years' reflections, I realized that the things I offered were things that I either wanted the Universe to take away or take care of for me.

This year, I want to change that up. I want to give to the Universe something of myself that embodies the elements, something that I hope will help me make my little corner of this place just a tiny bit better.

On my 39th Trip Around the Sun, this is my offering to the Universe.

In the name of Fire, I will be a light to my children and my students, inspiring them to love learning, especially about art. I will exude warmth to all, even strangers, in friendship and basic human kindness. I will pursue my passions more earnestly: writing, crafting, dancing, cooking, creating with Fire.

In the name of Water, I will be more fluid and not allow my expectations of how things should be to hinder the natural flow of how things really are meant to be. I will be more clear about my intentions, my speech, and my actions, to help me live with more honesty and integrity.

In the name of Earth, I will continue to be a source of stability for my family, nurturing the growth of my children by allowing them to grow away from me and toward their own skies. I will strive to be grounded in reality about what I am able to accomplish with the time, resources, and energy that I have at the present moment.

In the name of Air, I will assume leadership quietly, unexpectedly, with no unnecessary bombast. I will command--not demand--respect by showing what I can do rather than telling. I will adjust my temperature and temperament to fit my present environment and purpose.

I will remember and honor my true Spirit. I may be walking on a different path than I had envisioned, looking at the world with different eyes than I had expected, and growing toward a different sky than I had intended, but I am still stepping with the same feet, reaching out with the same arms, and loving with the same heart.

Blessed be.

Elsewhere by Sarah McLachlan

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Yummy Yummy Yummy: Seven Bento Box Ideas

"Yummy Yummy Yummy / I got love in my tummy"

Everyone who has been to my house is familiar with my Planning Board, which lays out our family menu for four weeks, along with the corresponding grocery lists for the current week. On grocery day, I simply take a photo of the lists and off I go! 

I know some of you, like my beloved sisterfriend Betsy, think I am a little crazy for going into so much detail, but this level of mega-anal-retentive organization helps me keep a calm, orderly, healthy-eating household. 

I feel calm just looking at this photo. Ommm... nom nom...
When Diana started full-day kindergarten last September, I had to add a lunch feature to the menus. Her favorite lunches tend to be sandwiches like Nutella and banana or SPAMwich, but I try to make it more complete by building a bento box around it, with veggies or fruit. A lot of my Facebook food porn shots are of the bentos I make, and they've become quite popular. Popular enough, in fact, that I've been asked how I do it.

So! I have a list of main lunches I know Diana will eat (A) that I pair with different veggies and fruits she likes (B). If your kids' school is like ours, then snack is separate from lunch, so the snack (C) is a different list. Still, when I have it all written down, packing is (say it with me) easy as ABC. 

Here are seven favorite bento box lunches to give you ideas for back-to-school next week. The snacks aren't pictured, but listed for reference.

A: Quorn brand chik'n nuggets w/ ketchup (It's Meatless Monday!)
B: sweet red peppers, cucumber cherry blossoms, nectarines
C: cream custard bun & dried blueberries
A: salame, gouda cheese, crackers (Who needs Lunchables?)
B: grape tomatoes, olives, cucumbers
C: applesauce turnovers
A: SPAM hearts and rice
B: sliced Roma tomatoes, cucumber cherry blossoms, sweet red peppers, nori seaweed
C: squeeze yogurt & brownie oat bar   
A: whole wheat mini-bagel w/ cream cheese & roast beef
B: carrots, pears, grape tomatoes
C: squeeze yogurt, almonds, dried blueberries 
A: pig in a blanket (hotdogs wrapped in crescent roll) w/ ketchup
B: cucumbers, three colors/shapes of sweet peppers
C: squeeze yogurt & strawberry breakfast bar
A: soba noodles w/ tsuyu sauce
B: grape tomatoes, edamame beans, carrots
C: squeeze yogurt, almonds, dried blueberries 
A: Nutella and banana kitty-shaped sandwich & flower-shaped bites
B: grape tomatoes, carrots, clementines
C: squeeze yogurt & cherry-pomegranate toaster pastry 

"But how do you make such cute food, Cookie?" Behold:
Animal-shaped sandwich cutters ordered online
Silicon cups, tiny bottles, egg/rice molds, steel veggie cutters from local Asian stores

Now, go forth and make cute, yummy lunches for your kids. May the Force be with you.

Yummy Yummy Yummy by Ohio Express