Self-Portrait as Book Worm

This week’s Art Journal Adventure offered a prompt that simultaneously served as a suggestion for overcoming the intimidation of a blank page and that was to use text pages as a starting point, a first layer.  Fear of the blank page is not something I find to be a struggle; my challenge is always finding the time for art and adequate time to develop something to completion, even in my art journal.  I have, therefore, been trying to follow the advice of Sue Clancy and her method of working in short bursts.  I usually try to find a block of 15-20 minutes minimum in which to have a short burst of art time but some weeks I have to work in even shorter gobbets of time.  What I am finding is that even micro bursts are effective in keeping creativity flowing and stopping the art muscles seizing up from rust.

This art journal page, therefore, was built up over three very short bursts.  In the first, I quickly adhered some dictionary pages to the page in my journal.  That took somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes – however long it took for a pot of pasta to boil.  The second burst was under 5 minutes and that was drawing myself as a Book Worm.  The final burst was probably ten minutes in which I added the colour using a variety of media.  The resulting page is simple but I think it is fun.  Had I decided that I needed 25 minutes to create this journal page, I never would have found the time last week; however, by finding small pockets of free time here and there throughout the week, I was able to gradually build the page up so long as I kept it simple.

As indicated, this is a self-portrait of myself as a book worm.  I have always loved books.  Some of my happiest childhood memories are of poring through books in the library and making my selections.  I once ended up in hospital with a concussion because of reading: I was walking in Edinburgh with my nose in a book when I walked at full speed into a concrete lamppost.  I was always a voracious reader who could gobble up a several books in a week.  Even when I was teaching High School and was incredibly busy with little free time, I could read a book a week.  In the past decade, however, the rate at which I can consume books has tapered off.  I still read daily but not for the duration I was once able to.  Nevertheless, since reading remains one of my favourite pastimes, I still think I qualify as a Book Worm.

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Mingling with Magic and Muggles

The Pictlings and I are all Potterphiles.  I read the books when I was teaching High School English because my students were reading them but was then surprised by how engaging they were.  I really liked them.  I only, however, learned to love them when my kids came along and also started getting into Harry Potter first through the movies and then the novels.  When it comes to geekery, they were very much Daddy’s Boys.  Any geeky thing Mr Pict tends to be into, the boys also end up being into.  Harry Potter is one of the few geeky things I share with my kids (the other main one being classic monster movies) so I have become more of a Harry Potterphile as a result of being able to indulge in it with them.

A couple of years ago, the three older boys and I went on the Harry Potter Studio Tour on the outskirts of London.  It.  Was.  Amazing.  It was crazily expensive but it was one of the best value for money things I have ever done.  We had an amazing time.  Wandering around the sets, seeing the props and the costumes was entirely magical.  We also loved learning about all the technical aspects of film-making, from the animatronic creatures to the skilfully crafted props that I would have sworn were CGI had I not seen them on that tour.  We drank butterbeer, we boarded the Knight Bus, we stood outside 4 Privet Drive.  My Father-in-Law accompanied us and even as someone who had not seen the movies or read the book he was engaged all the way through just because of the quality of the film craft involved.  The whole tour was completely enchanting and it has a spectacular conclusion which I won’t relate so that, if you have not been, I don’t spoil the surprise.

On Saturday, therefore, we were excited to head off to a Harry Potter festival which was being held in Chestnut Hill, another suburb of Philadelphia.  In preparation, my children went armed with their Harry Potter wands and I drew a zigzag scar on one and Dark Marks on the other three.  The youngest two also took their cuddly Phoenix and Buckbeak toys with them to join in the fun.

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We had a tough time finding a place to park and the centre of the town was absolutely hoaching (a good Scottish word for “very busy indeed”).  I would estimate that at least 30% of people milling around were in costume.  There were loads of kids wearing Hogwarts uniforms and lots of adult witches and wizards.  Some of the adults had very professional looking costumes.  Lots of other people had nods to Harry Potter in their dress but had not gone the whole hog into costume.  The whole town was also decorated to add to the magic and sparkle of the event.  There were Dementors dangling from trees, lots of elements of set design and Potter props in the store windows and everything had been renamed to accord with the world of Harry Potter – even the portaloos.  The whole place was just buzzing with imagination, creativity and fun.

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In the grounds of the Elementary School, there were a whole load of crafting tables set up.  My kids elected to make their own wands and had a load of fun selecting just which embellishments to use to make the wand the one that would choose them in Ollivander’s shop.  They then ran around wizard duelling with other kids.  In the same place, there was also a live game of wizard chess going on, with umpteen children undertaking the role of the chess pieces and being directed into position by a Professor Snape and a Professor McGonagall.  They also took the opportunity to refuel so Mr Pict bought them each a poke of popcorn and they each got to order a potion from a table full of bottled potions.  The oldest chose flesh-eating slug repellant, the youngest chose love potion (and promptly declared that it was me he loved) and the middle two chose polyjuice potion.  They plucked a strand of each other’s hair to add to the liquid ingredients.  Little horrors.

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The kids got Harry Potter tattoos, poked around in antique shops, ate British style sausage rolls for the first time in over a year, had wizard battles on a lawn, bought butterbeer (which turned out to be a delicious concoction of hot scrumpy and butterscotch, not like the butterbeer at the Studio but still yummy), found owls and broomsticks and wands for sale, and had ballooon animals made for them.

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We all had a blast – including Mr Pict who is lukewarm about all things Harry Potter – and thoroughly enjoyed the festival.  The festival has been running for a couple of years and we hope it will run for many years as we would certainly love to go back again.

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Storytime at the Library

My oldest three sons started elementary school just four days after we arrived in the US.  They mumped and moaned about it a bit but actually they thrive on routine and structure and on time apart from each other and me so jumping straight into school was in their best interests socially and emotionally as well as academically.  The school is fantastic and they are really enjoying it and have settled well.  Unfortunately for my youngest son, we have not been able to identify an affordable preschool option at this juncture so he is stuck at home with me.  We are doing the home preschooling thing, of course, but that doesn’t involve him mixing with other children.  He had been in preschool five mornings a week in Scotland and loved it so it has been a difficult adjustment for him to be home with me all day.  So my aim, until such time as he is enrolled in a Pre-Kindergarten programme, is to take him along to as many child-oriented events as possible.  Thus, this morning we headed off to the library for a story time session.

In Scotland, my preschoolers had attended Bookbug sessions in our small, local library.  They were great fun, parents and children all sitting together being led in song and rhyme and having a picture book read to us by the leader.  It was subtly promoting literacy but was also about engaging parents with their children’s learning through play, about socialisation and about fun.  I guess I drove off to the library expecting the storytime session to be if not a carbon copy then very similar.  It turned out to be really quite different.

The immediate difference was that the session was held in a side room just off the children’s section of the library whereas in Scotland our local Bookbug sessions had taken over an area of the main library, albeit in the children’s area, so that other visitors had to just put up with our screechy, pitchy renditions of “Ally Bally” and “Pop a Little Pancake”.  The next difference was that the kids were ushered to sit on the floor on a comfy rug while the adults sat on chairs that lined the walls. This both suggested and enforced the children being separated or disengaged from the adults who had accompanied them.  It was all about the children and just the children.  The major difference was that there were no songs or rhymes at all in the storytime session (though I guess the clue was in the title) just lots and lots of books.  The man leading the session sat at the front of the library and read the stories to the children – and my youngest was rapt for the entire half hour – but also ensured that they understood concepts like cover, illustrator and half-title page, questioned them about the problems being encountered by characters and engaged them in analysis of patterns and illustrations.

I assume the library sessions in Scotland are run in the way they are because they are aimed at children below preschool age and that means under three whereas, in our current school district at least, a lack of affordable preschool provision means that sessions like this need to attract and engage children up to Kindergarten age (though the flyer said the age range was 3-6).  So instead of literacy being learned through song and rhyme in addition to story, a little more academic rigour is appropriate.  For me, it was strange not to be participating in the session and I felt quite redundant but my four year old was engaged throughout and that was the critical element.  Comparisons are unfair anyway and actually I have no preference for the style of session but it was certainly an interesting and enjoyable first experience and one we will repeat.

We have Library Cards

Today I took my littlest son to the district library to sign up for library cards for myself and all four kiddliwinks.  We have been in the US for a week, all of our possessions – including our hundreds of books – are in a shipping container, and it was time to access some books beyond those stored on our kindles.

The library was amazing.  Granted we have moved from a fairly remote and rural area of Scotland so the library there was on an appropriately small scale, but this new library could have swallowed eight, maybe ten of our old libraries.  It also had a lovely atmosphere (though our old library did too) and everyone was very helpful and welcoming and friendly, which always helps.  My youngest son was spoiled for choice with picture books in the kids’ section and didn’t really know how to select books to borrow as a result.  We grabbed some Halloween ones.

In addition to a vast selection of books, the library also stocks CDs, audiobooks, DVDs, ebooks, video games and DVDs and a whole shelf filled with graphic novels that my second son will go nuts for.  They also run lots of clubs and events that we will aim to get involved in.

I always feel at home in a library and I definitely feel more settled here having a library card.  One small step closer to feeling at home.