Creating with Clay

Our next summer activity was to sculpt with air dry clay.  Back in Scotland, we had used air dry clay several times during our summer projects – to make ancient Greek pots, for example, when learning about ancient civilizations – but this time I wanted to let the boys have complete and utter free rein.  I thought it would be interesting to see what they came up with.  I advised on technical issues but otherwise I was able to leave them to it.

My oldest son was over at a friend’s house so it was just the younger three for this activity.  They spent quite some time sculpting – sometimes smooshing their creations up and starting over – and then we left them to dry for a couple of days.  They dried out pretty quickly, perhaps because the hot and humid summer means the air conditioning has been on.  Once they were dry, we got the acrylic craft paints out and they set about decorating their sculptures.

My 9 year old has been making comic books featuring a character from his imagination (who looks a lot like him, a resemblance he denies) so he decided to sculpt that character from clay so that he had his very own, one of a kind, comic book collectible.  My 10 year old loves myths and legends so he made a red dragon.  My 7 year old made a three-eyed slime monster but wanted to challenge himself to make some very tiny sculptures.  He is one of those kids who loves to have tiny wee toys in his pocket so the idea of some small things appealed to him.  In addition to the slime monster, therefore, he made a tropical fish, an apple, and a hot dog.

Clay - Character 1

Clay - Character 2

Clay - Dragon 1

Clay - Dragon 2

Clay - Fish

Clay - Hot Dog and Apple

Clay - Slime Monster

 

Layered Blooms

This month’s Life Book theme of Growth has meant lots of flower paintings.  I am not remotely competent at drawing flowers let alone painting them.  While this means I should probably just challenge myself to practice them, I don’t have time for all of the things I want to draw and paint so I just steer clear of the subjects that don’t particularly engage or inspire me creatively.  Recognising, however, that I have now skipped a few Life Book lessons, I decided to push myself to completing last week’s lesson.

It was taken by Roben-Marie Smith and was all about creating an abstract flower painting through layering collage and paint.  When I started experimenting with mixed media, layering was something I really struggled with.  I made a lot of mud, a lot of mess, and found it difficult to make everything cohere into one complete piece.  In recent months, however, I have found myself actually quite enjoying layering and especially if what I am aiming to achieve is a more grungy and abstract look.  I, therefore, did not struggle with the layering aspect of this piece but again the flower element defeated me.  I honestly think my 7 year old son could have done a better job of painting these flowers.  Sure, I was aiming for an abstract, non-realistic flower look but these bright blooms just look daft.  Well the lesson was worth doing if only to reinforce that I am getting better at layering and that flowers are still very much not within my wheelhouse.

Week 34 - Layered Flowers

 

Seasonal Faces

Despite being a mini lesson, it still took me all week to get around to completing last week’s Let’s Face It lesson.  The tutorial was taken by Angela Kennedy and the focus was on drawing and painting a variety of hair styles.  This is something I have been pondering myself lately as I have noticed I tend to draw and paint hair the same two or three ways over and over.  Therefore, with my 100 Faces series over on my other blog I have been trying to illustrate a wider variety of hair styles.  Following advice from one of my kids, who knows I know nothing about hair or style, I have been eyeball stalking people’s hairdos for inspiration.

Kennedy’s demonstration was in simple ink pen and watercolour.  This was very welcome since I was super short on time.  I decided to challenge myself to work small so cut four 3X4.5″ pieces of watercolour paper.  Having four little oblongs of paper in front of me made me think of either the four elements or the four seasons and so I plumped for using the latter as a theme.  I used the hair of each face as a practice for a particular watercolour technique.  Spring, therefore, has a wash of one colour with more concentrated areas of the same colour added in wet on wet; Summer has a concentrated wash of one colour and then I dropped water in to dilute and puddle the paint in some areas; Autumn has a wash of one base colour and then I painted two further colours on top of that base; and Winter was a wash of watercolour with table salt sprinkled into the wet paint.  I was rather rushed and impatient when it came to painting the faces and experienced some bleed between colours by not ensuring one was dry before adding the next colour.  It was a risk I knew I was taking yet still hoped to avoid.  Working small and in a rush was perhaps not the best circumstance.  Having blank space beneath the heads, I took that as an opportunity to practice my watercolour lettering again.

Week 33 - Spring

Week 33 - Summer

Week 33 - Autumn

Week 33 - Winter

PS  I had not removed all of the salt from the Winter piece before I photographed it as I found some patches were still a bit too damp.

 

Nothing Is Impossible

Last week’s Colour Me Positive prompt was “Possible”.  I was so busy with the kids all week that I had a few days to let the concepts of possible and impossible rattle around in my head.  Flicking through my art journal for inspiration, I had my epiphany when I saw my recent Cheshire Cat page.  Since Wonderland is all about the impossible becoming possible, I decided to draw Alice falling down the rabbit hole.  Once I finally had my idea it was fairly quick and easy to execute by breaking it down into three quick stages: drawing with a fountain pen, painting the rabbit hole with black ink, adding colour using watercolour.  The sides of the page were looking glaringly blank and I toyed with the idea of painting them in but opted to use it as an excuse to practice writing with watercolour.

33 - Possible

Constructing Random Desserts

As I mentioned recently, my 9 year old loves to watch cooking challenge shows.  That was why he recently convinced his Dad to eat a massive steak when we were on vacation as it was a challenge the restaurant ran.  That was down to those competitive eating shows.  He also watches shows where the contestants are given a box of random ingredients from which they have to concoct a superbly delicious and delectably presented meal.  He asked if he and his brothers could have a try at doing the same thing.  Who am I to stand in the way of culinary creativity?  However, given they have limited experience in the kitchen, I decided it was best to steer clear of savoury ingredients for now and let them work on creating desserts.

What was a cooking challenge for them was a control freakery challenge for me.

Phase 1 was to take them shopping for the ingredients.  I promised myself that, aside from stopping them going crazily over budget, I would let them buy whatever ingredients for the box of options as they saw fit.  It started really well.  They chose some dried cranberries, prunes and dates – all things they have seen and helped me bake with.  But then in the bakery aisle, they reached for a bright blue cake mix.  I gulped and went to say something, almost reached out to snatch it from their mitts and place it back on the shelf, but I had a word with myself and let them plonk it into the trolley (cart).  That blue cake mix seemed to taunt me from the bottom of the trolley.  This was not going to be easy.  Then they decided to pick some frosting.  My youngest son, a total chocoholic, reached for a chocolate fudgey type one.  “No,” I said.  “I really don’t think that is going to go with the dried fruit you picked out.”  My 13 year old tsked at me and reminded me that I had said I would neither guide them or interfere with their choices.  OK.  Lips sealed – but pursed – I let them continue.  The chocolate fudge frosting was not selected.  Instead they picked out a lemon frosting.  I managed to say nothing.  How is that for self-control?  Then there were sprinkles and jelly (jello) and all sorts going into the trolley.  Still I said nothing.  We went through the checkout.  I had not made them put back a single item.  I gave myself a mental high five.

So then the challenge was theirs.  They made up the cake mix according to the box instructions and made the jelly.  Once that was all ready, all the ingredients they had selected at the store, plus a few things we had in the larder cupboards, were set out on the kitchen counter and I left them to it.  I had to leave them to it because, you know, control freakery.  About an hour later they ushered me into the kitchen to show me their creations.  The kitchen was utter carnage.  It felt like every mixing bowl, spoon, and spatula had been used.  There were sprinkles all over the floor.  All.  Over.  But their faces were beaming with delight and that was the important thing.

Random Dessert 1

Random Dessert 2

Random Dessert 3

That evening, for dessert, Mr Pict and I got to taste test each of their random dessert creations.  The sugar high was pretty intense and lemon frosting and blue sponge cake were an interesting combination as was biting into cake and squelching into a jelly layer.  We were nevertheless entirely positive and encouraging in our critiques.  The best part of this challenge was that the boys’ confidence in the kitchen had grown.  By creating something edible without any adult guidance whatsoever they realised that they were capable of doing more in the kitchen than they thought they were.

Now they want to do a savoury food version.  I might just have to retain some control over the ingredients for that one though.

Road Trip Review

This is not an advice blog.  Nope, it is not that.  While I might sometimes give recommendations and suggestions based on our family experiences, I would never think I was in a position to dispense advice.  I also have a policy of never giving unsolicited advice.  However, upon reflecting on our recent road trip and what I might do differently next time we undertake such a journey, I had some thoughts I thought might be worth jotting down here.  Maybe someone can learn from my mistakes.  Hopefully that person is me.

  • I am a micromanager when it comes to vacation planning.  It is part of my being a major control freak and also part of my desire to cram as much as possible into each travel experience, as much bang for my buck as possible.  I generate spreadsheets of options, lists galore, and sometimes even hand drawn maps.  When Mr Pict and I went to Rome for a short break a few years ago, I drew a map of the city centre that was both colour-coded and number-coded.  I make lists of what needs to be packed and check off the list as each item is added to the specified case (each person having their own to keep things organised).  And yet, despite all of that micromanaging, despite all that researching and organising and list making to the nth degree, somehow my husband and/or kids will throw some kind of curve ball that makes it feel like I failed to manage all the possibilities.  On this particular road trip, I apparently relinquished too much control immediately before setting off on our trip.  As we ushered the kids into the car, it transpired that the 10 year old had left his shoes at his friend’s house the previous night.  Somehow my husband had collected him and brought him home without noticing he was barefoot.  Impolitely early, therefore, we had to drive by the house and pick the shoes up.  And then, absolutely astonishingly, we arrived in Pittsburgh some hours later to discover that our oldest son had gotten into the car without his shoes on.  He had to spend the first hours of the trip in his Dad’s beach clogs and I for once had cause to be thankful that he has massive feet.
  • No matter how I try to dress it up and make it interesting, my children will not be interested in either topography or architecture.  I can try ad naseum to engage them in the subject but I will fail.  They will, however, monologue endlessly about Harry Potter while I try to take in the topography and architecture.
  • Even in this age of electronic payment options galore, we should always travel with more cash than we think we might need – or at least more than $14.
  • On a related note, one should never purchase a one way ticket unless assured of the ability to fund the return journey.
  • I made packed lunches most days so that we wasted neither time or money on food in the middle of the day.  What I learned from this is that my children will moan about the very packed lunches they would usually regard as a special treat during the school year.
  • Booking non-chain motels is a lottery and will reveal that my kids know tropes from serial killer fiction despite never having seen a slasher movie.
  • My children, who normally beg and plead to have sleepovers in each other’s bedrooms, will argue endlessly about having to share a hotel room with each other and will make decisions about who shares a bed with who feel like hostage negotiations.
  • All hotel showers will be engineered differently and have their own idiosyncrasies making each morning’s ablutions feel like STEM learning.
  • On a related note, one bonus of staying in hotels with pools is that it is possible to persuade yourself that your younger children do not need to be showered on evenings when you just want to climb into bed and sleep.
  • One hotel toilet between six people – five of them male – requires the mother of the group to have the bladder of an elephant.
  • At least one child will vomit in the car with not much warning.  Any warning will sound like, “Mummy, I feel a bit blarfbleughslop!”  As such, despite the fact none of my children have worn nappies (diapers) for years, I still travel with fragrant nappy sacks within quick and easy reach in the car and force my sicky children to have one in their hands at all times.  Their aim is improving, I am happy to report.
  • My children can turn anything into a competition including who can fill the most barf bags on any given stretch of winding road.
  • If we give four kids two options for things to do that day there will be a guaranteed 50/50 split and incredibly often four way splits as two children invent options that were not even presented to them.  Note to self that sometimes parenting has to be a dictatorship rather than a democracy.  If the kids are lucky that dictatorship will be benevolent.
  • Kids who rarely appreciate sculpture will absolutely always 100% adore fountains, especially if they can get entirely soaked to the skin.  Conversely, any fountain that they cannot at least dip a finger into will be anathema to them and the absolute “worst thing ever”.
  • I can research and plan and construct elaborate spreadsheets to my heart’s content but the “of mice and men” maxim will inevitably undermine it at some point – spectacularly so when a child breaks their arm.
  • The things the kids end up loving the most about the trip were not the things I anticipated but were instead the random diversions, the time fillers, and the unexpected.  Our youngest son actually declared that his highlight of the trip was spending a night in a “horror hotel“.  Another child stated that the best thing about being away from home was getting to come home to the cats.
  • The car will start out looking more immaculate and pristine than it does for most of the year but will end the road trip looking like a cross between a biological weapon and an experiment in finding the latest antibiotic.  Utterly gross.

So that’s that then.  Those are my immediate post-road trip reflections.  We have already started discussing what route the next road trip might take.  Perhaps by the time we embark on the next epic drive we will have absorbed some of these lessons.  Probably not.  After all, where would be the adventure in that?

Road Trip #21 – Natural History Museum

It has been our experience that the first and last days of any vacation with the kids are the most trying.  With the first day, it is all about navigating the transition out of routines into some degree of chaos and about managing expectations; with the last day, it is all about fatigue causing crankiness and an unconscious or conscious desire to return to familiar routines, a need to retreat back into the family cave for some hibernation after all the stimulation.

We, therefore, kept our final day of the road trip pretty low key.  We were travelling back to the Philly suburbs that day anyway plus had arranged to meet a dear friend for lunch so we only had the morning to fill.  We selected the Natural History Museum, part of the Smithsonian.  Actually, Mr Pict was keen for us to try a second visit to the Museum of American History since our first family visit there had been less than stellar.  I had cause to reference the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in my blog post about it.  In the hopes that those issues had been resolved, we first headed to the Museum of American History, picked up a map, and discovered that absolutely nothing had changed since our last visit two years before.  Half the museum was still closed off due to renovation work.  We decided to jettison that plan (actually I was keen on jettisoning it as soon as it was the plan since our last visit there had been so cruddy) and move next door to the Natural History Museum.

We had not chosen the Natural History Museum for our last morning in DC simply because we had visited the Field Museum in Chicago just the week before and it felt like a repetition.  However, for that very reason it turned out to be a good choice.  As parents, we felt we could just relax and take a step back since we did not feel that same pressure to educate the kids.  We could just let them wander and engage as they saw fit rather than trying to guide them and focus their interest.

We started with a genuine Easter Island moai statue.  The boys had seen a plaster cast of one of these in February 2014 when we visited the Natural History Museum in New York city but this was the first time they had seen a real one.  It turns out this is because the Smithsonian owns the only two moai in America.  We then ascended the stairs around a group of spectacularly carved totem poles.  The boys enjoyed looking at the carved characters and reading the stories behind them.  The first gallery we visited was one exhibiting National Geographic photographs of Africa.  I love photography and the kids love animals so we spent some time admiring the images.

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Our first proper destination in the museum, however, was the hall of gems.  As I have explained before, our 10 year old loves anything sparkly or shiny.  He has magpie DNA.  We, therefore, thought he ought to see the Hope Diamond.  This blue diamond is one of the largest and most famous precious stones in the world.  We told the kids it had a long, interesting and intriguing history to the point that it had been associated with a curse.  And then we took them in to see it.  And they were underwhelmed.  I think their vision of a large diamond was one the size of the palm of a hand or larger.  It was a failure of reality matching expectations.

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The rest of the gem and mineral collection, however, was a massive hit with the kids – and not just the one who likes sparkles.  They found the diversity of the minerals to be really fascinating and they wandered from case to case choosing favourites.  There were big chunks of quartz that contained bubbles like sedate lava lamps.  There were rocks that looked like Doozer constructions from beneath Fraggle Rock and shards that looked like they came from the Dark Crystal.  There were chunks of gems encrusted with other stones or minerals, such as a chunk of calcite sparkling with a thick seam of chalcopyrite.  There were other lumps of calcite that looked like elaborate desserts encrusted with sugary confections.  There were geodes on display that had been split open to reveal their colourful, sparkling contents – and I could see my 10 year old wanting to take a rock hammer on every nature ramble now.  There was an otherwise unprepossessing rock that had a wide mouth split to reveal lots of rows of white fuzzy mounts inside and which looked entirely like something Jim Henson would have imagined.  There were formations that looked like chunky frost or snowflake clusters.  A geometric piece of purple-red fluorite made my kids think of a set design for Tron or else something from Minecraft.  By contrast, there were pastel hued pieces that looked like petrified clouds or bubbly candy floss.  One enticing display case was filled with forms of gold and silver, thought it was a blobby chunk of copper that I liked best.  When the boys saw the case of glowing willemite calcite, the green glow made the boys think of it as having been spattered with Predator blood. The 10 year old was ecstatic about getting to touch a massive chunk of amethyst and now wants a chunk of his own.  I had never seen that child go as full Gollum as he did in that room full of gems and jewellery.

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Next up – mainly because it was near the restrooms – we popped in to visit the dinosaurs.  We looked at the large fossil specimens of a T-Rex and a triceratops but otherwise, between the Field Museum and the Creation Museum, the kids had experienced quite enough dinosaurs for one vacation.  We, therefore, found ourselves a spot in the insect section.  The boys enjoyed seeing the cockroaches since we used to have Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches as pets back in Scotland but they also got to see a tarantula up close and some butterflies hatching out of their cocoons.  And then we were all museumed out.  Partly it was because our friend had arrived and it was time to head for lunch, partly it was because the museum was very crowded, but mostly we had just absorbed as much in the way of experiences as we cared to absorb for the fifteen days of our road trip.

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And so, after a tasty lunch with great company, after heading back to NoMa to pick up our car and luggage, a few hours’ drive to collect the cats from their cat hotel – to much excited squealing from the kids – we finally emerged from the car that had been our mobile home and tour bus for a fortnight and we were home.  And we were glad to be home.