Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Our New Home...

We close on our house this morning. Here is a picture of our soon to be street, taken just after spring dawned and just after we put the offer in on the house. The leaves on the trees are much thicker now.
The library. Just one of 4 small rooms on the first floor. Pretty easy floor plan. Library, living room, dining and kitchen on the first floor, four bedrooms upstairs.

Front door and living room. Don't like the yellow paint. Will be painting most of the interior walls with zero VOC paint.

Got to get into painting mode. Lots of loud music to motivate me is needed. Glad my boys will be around to help. Just like in the old days when folks had big families to spread the work around. Soon I will come to understand that concept in a very intimate way.

Can't wait to get in a begin to make this home my own...

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Packing Has Begun!

Going to be a bit crazy between now and the end of July while we shift out of a house we have been renting for the last 9 months and into a home we are buying about 10 miles from here.

The place we are buying is in a heavily treed college town and our home which is about 100 years old, is located just two blocks from the town center which has a college, woods and creek for mountain biking, hiking off leash with our dog and outdoor rock climbing. Also a food co-op, train line into Philadelphia, library, independent coffee shop, farmer's market, and other basic town stuff.

I am so excited to be moving into this house and will be happy to be able to walk most of the places I need to go. Having public transportation available will be fantastic too. Living out in the country for the last several months has been wonderful and I will miss all of the birds and animals but I think my new town will offer up wildlife opportunities as well given how wooded it is.

Our new house needs lots of work and we are working hard to determine how to fix things up using the most environmentally sound practices. The good thing is we will be reducing our carbon footprint before we even make a single change because the house is considerably smaller than the one we are in.

This reduction in house size is going to require I get rid of some of my antique furniture so I will run those items over to a local antique shop and see if I can sell them. That is what I love about furnishing my house with old stuff, you buy used and can turn around and sell things when you no longer need them and nothing goes to the landfill.

A few more days of relative calm before the storm of moving begins...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Farms, Childhood, and a Native American

When my now 23 year old son Jimmy was 2, I made a trip back to Walled Lake, Michigan to visit the land I grew up on. I was excited to show him the special natural places I had enjoyed as a child. I couldn't wait to show him the pond edge where I had found baby small...tiny replicas of big ones. I wanted him to stare in to the murky waters and see the wiggly polliwogs, their tiny legs starting to protrude from their fat bodies. I imagined him running carefree through the tall grass to my secret reading spot or checking out the old barns. I figured things may have changed a bit over the years but I didn't think it would be all GONE!!!

Coming down Ladd Road to where it intersects with West Maple brought immediate confusion. Expecting to see the softness that nature lends to an area- fields and ponds and clumps of trees- my eyes met factories and parking lots, roads and manicured green grass. I shook my head in disbelief, tears welling up in my eyes. How could this be? The wetland area where I had found the baby frogs was filled in and a road clogged with busy cars was built on top of it. The barns, my house, all of it gone- a busy industrial park there instead.

Even today, I cry with the memory.

Last night, I heard a similar story of loss. While attending a talk at Pendle Hill, a Quaker study center, Carl Big Heart, a spiritual teacher and medicine keeper in the Turtle Clan, told a story of losing his boyhood home located next to Pendle Hill when a highway was built through it. Big Heart's family was pushed off their land when the government seized their land using eminent domain laws, after which time the family moved away to Vermont.

Years later, Big Heart found himself back in the Philadelphia area for a family funeral, and as he was traveling along a highway one dark and foggy night to pick up a relative from the airport, he began to sob uncontrollably. Through his tears, off to the side of the highway, he spotted his beloved beach tree. The tree he had visited repeatedly as a boy- it was still standing! Saved from the destruction of the highway. Big Heart wondered if this living land of his youth remembered him. The cells of the soil, the tree, did they know he was there? As he traveled over the land of his youth on the highway across it, he vowed to come back one day and visit. To hug the beech tree and have it hug him.

These stories of loss show me how connections to the land made early in life bring about a care for the earth that runs deep to the core. So deep these connections run that there doesn't appear to be a separation between oneself and the trees, the ponds or the fields. The living beings that inhabited the land. These connections to the land, to Mother Earth, have been broken as we have moved away from raising our children on wild spaces and replaced them with groomed subdivisions. Filled their lives with images on a screen.

We need to get our children out into wild spaces again and allow them to form relationships with the land. Let the roots of the trees dig deep into their souls. Let the Great Mystery of life speak to them and bring them compassion and awareness. To revel in the beauty of the water that flows in the creeks and also in them. To breathe the air the flows through the trees and also through them. To feel that we are part of the web and wholly and totally connected and dependent upon Mother Nature.

*Pictures above taken from my childhood home.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wharton Esherick Museum, A Sense of Place

Creating a home is a very individual process and can take years to perfect. Every person has different requirements to create a sense of place and comfort in their living environment. Personally, I like to surround myself with items that are borne out of someone's vision, whether it be a piece of furniture, artwork or a textile. These items, handmade and full of character, lend a feeling of warmth that just can't be found through manufactured pieces.

Last weekend, my family and I visited Wharton Esherick's home and studio just outside Philadelphia and just after stepping into his studio, I was immediately surrounded by the warmth created by his furniture and sculptures. Crafted by his hand as he worked with the grain of the wood rather than against it, Wharton created not only beautiful items but also an aura of peace and comfort in his surroundings not found in many places.

Something about handmade is appealing to me as each piece has its own story and uniqueness. The picture above shows Wharton's dining room. His studio was located on the first floor of his home and nestled above that space was his sleeping quarters, kitchen nook and dining area. Wharton could coax a thing of beauty out of any wood that crossed his path as evidenced from the wooden items shown in the pictures in this post.

As I prepare to move into a home my husband and I are buying just 10 miles from where I live now, it is my hope that I can bring warmth and rootedness to that space in much the same way Wharton achieved that in his. When in Wharton's home, I felt a connection between the indoor world of art and the outdoor space of nature, positive energy coming off the furniture, a simplicity of living which achieved a feeling of living in harmony with oneself, stillness and beauty. Difficult to achieve, yet still worthwhile pursuits when creating my own home.

Picture above, staircase connecting Wharton's studio to his living space.

Click on the link below for more information on Wharton Esherick:

*Bottom 3 photos in this post were taken from postcards purchased from the Wharton Esherick Museum. No indoor photography is allowed at the museum.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Just Shine a Light on it...

Sometimes you just have to shine a light on it. Open yourself up to the thoughts that are waiting to come to the surface and be placed on the page. Allow things to unfold and present themselves as they rise up from deep within.

The process of writing isn't something that I can orchestrate. I am really not in charge of what gets said here on my blog. My fingers move on the keyboard in sync with what lies in my gut. I get my head out of the way and let my unconscious thoughts speak for me. Thoughts and ideas I didn't even know I had really, until I see them in front of me. Me learning about myself as I read what I have written.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Soul Pictures...

My younger son Ryan asked my older son Jimmy to draw a picture of his soul the other night and told him he had 30 seconds to do it. Having just turned out the lights and crawling into bed for the night, Ryan's strange request threw Jim for a loop. "Are you kidding me, its 11:30pm!" Jim said. Ryan stood steadfast waiting for Jim's response, paper and pencil in hand. Jim thought a minute and then quickly scrawled something on the paper. As my son drew, I wondered myself what I would draw if the same request was made of me. After a quick sketch, my son revealed what he had drawn - a funny Casper the ghost type figure- drawn hastily when he found himself empty of ideas. We all laughed, but were made aware that drawing one's soul isn't easy.

The next night, while sitting outside around the table on our deck- past the time when the bats come out and begin their nightly forage and around the time when the bullfrogs chorus becomes more frequent- we attempted the soul drawing exercise again. This time there were four of us, my husband and I and our two boys. With the lightening bugs lighting up the sky closest to the ground and the stars lighting up the sky way overhead, we tried to draw our souls. Ryan explained that it was important to not think too deeply about it but to draw quickly and from the gut. He had completed several mockups of his own soul picture and was ready to share his view with us just as soon as we finished ours.

After struggling a bit, I drew my soul picture- a spiral, surrounded by a heart with rays emanating outward like the rays coming off the sun. The spiral signifying my life's journey, the heart love, and the rays meaning to carry my journey and love outward. After we all finished and shared our pictures, we each tried to explain their meaning. What I discovered from our sharing was that it isn't easy to know what lies within oneself. To draw a single snapshot that tries to capture who you are at your core. To tap into something hidden deep within and elusive.

Yet, sitting on the deck that night, letting the soft whispers of the insects in the bushes speak for us, our voices quieting down and the thoughts and feelings inside us getting louder, we tried to reach that place. Attempting to draw what we saw and felt, coaxed on by nature.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Sense of Place Resources...

* Wharton Esherick Museum, pictured above

I am really interested in discovering a sense of place here in Philadelphia and what better way to do it than visit the workshops and studios of influential artists of this area.


Wharton Esherick Museum - Wharton Esherick, woodworker of furniture and sculptures

Philadelphia Magic Gardens - Isaiah Zagar, mosaic mural artist

Brandywine River Museum - Wyeth, painter

John James Audubon at Mill Grove - John James Audubon, artist

Bartran's Garden - John Bartran, early naturalist and plant preservationist


Quaker pamphlet on creating a Sense of Place the Bioregionalism way

Friday, June 17, 2011

Philadelphia Magic Gardens - Visionary Art vs. Folk Art

When my younger son Ryan was studying visionary art earlier this spring, I wondered how it was different than folk art which has always been my most favorite type of art.

Folk art, as defined by the American Visionary Art Museum is art "learned at the knee" and passed from generation to generation, or through established cultural community traditions, like Hopi Native Americans making Kachina dolls, sailors making macrame, and the Pennsylvania Dutch making hex signs.

Visionary art on the other hand, again defined by the Visionary Art Museum is art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself. In short, visionary art begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul, and often may not even be thought of as art by its creator.

So, the essential difference between folk art and visionary art is that visionary artists don't listen to anyone else's traditions, they create their own. They listen to their own inner voice and create what comes to them from deep in their soul.

Yesterday, my older son Jimmy and I headed down to South Street in Philadelphia to check out Philadelphia Magic Gardens and see the work of a visionary artist named Isaiah Zagar whose mosaics can be found in many places in Philadelphia, but especially at the Magic Gardens at 1020 South Street.

As you can see from all of the pictures in this post which were taken at the Magic Gardens, Isaiah's work is amazing! His mosaics cover half a city block with an indoor gallery and a massive outdoor labyrinth of tiles, mirrors, and found items from the local community. A true example of trash to treasure!

As I stepped into Philadelphia Magic Gardens, I was both shocked and awed at what Isaiah had created and was thankful to those who had worked so hard to preserve his work and keep it from the wrecking ball.

Though the website for the Philadelphia Magic Gardens calls Isaiah's work folk art, I feel it is more in line with visionary art, especially in that there is no true tradition of creating walls out of found items which are then covered in mosaics. Isaiah had a vision that was his alone, borne out of listening to his inner voice, and turning that voice into what lay before my eyes.

It really is impossible to take in all that Isaiah has created in one visit. There are just so many nooks and crannies to investigate. Welcoming chairs throughout encourage one to sit and contemplate the surroundings.

A free mind, unencumbered by expectations is what allowed this work to come to fruition. A reminder to me to let go when trying to bring any of my visions to the surface. To let my soul do the speaking and see what comes.

Above: figures pressed into mortar.

Large panels of tile.

Tiled steps leading up to the second level outdoors.

Bottles pressed into mortar.

Slogans written out with tiles are found throughout.

The wire rims of bike tires are another medium used along with plates and bottles.

More bike tires and glass bottles.

Notice the mortar with layers of found items.

A newspaper story about Zagar, framed at Philadelphia Magic Gardens.

Two, maybe three stories of tiles going straight up the side of a neighboring building.


The basement gallery.

A tall two story wall in the foreground, large wall in the background, all covered with tiles and other assorted found items.

Basement gallery.

First impression of the Magic Gardens as you step outside from the indoor gallery.

Close-up of tile work.

Bottles, tires, tiles, all brought together to create a work of art that is incredibly inspiring...

Philadelphia Magic Gardens Website, click here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Diet for the Earth

Diets don't work for humans and they don't work for the earth. Just as a list of foods to avoid in order to lose weight, become cravings before too long, the lists of things we need to do to save the world soon feel like hardships of the same sort. Hard to give up ice cream, cake, potato chips to save our bodies. Big screen TV's, SUV's, and large houses to save the planet. Especially when the things we are being asked to give up are taken out of context.

When we don't understand the connection between ourselves and our bodies, ourselves and our earth, sacrifices feel like hardships and won't have staying power. Before long, the weight is put back on and in the case of the planet, we purchase another round of consumer goods after trying to show care for the Earth by recycling or using cloth grocery bags.

Making a decision to eat right because you care about the health of your body makes it easier to avoid harmful foods. You decide to not consume processed items in order to avoid GMO's or to not eat soy because the estrogen in soy feeds the growth of cancer cells. You form an understanding as to why you are avoiding those foods and are not doing it just because your diet told you to. Understanding brings a desire for long term change.

The same goes for the environment. If you understand we are all a part of the natural world, understand that whatever we do to the earth, we do to ourselves, you don't just hear those words, but feel those words. Buying a big, resource depleting car becomes near impossible to do because you know the impact those resources make on our world, ourselves. You are in relationship with the planet.

I feel all the lists of things we can do to save the planet become meaningless without a connection to our planet. Without feeling we are the planet. Before we can embrace those lists and ideas, we need to form a relationship with our world by spending time outdoors, learning to love the natural world. Only then will we be willing to do the hard work to protect it.

Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher, founder of the term "Deep Ecology" wrote the following quote which sums up what I am trying to say quite nicely:

"What humankind is capable of loving from mere duty or moral exhortation is, unfortunately, very limited… The extensive moralizing within the ecological movement has given the public the false impression that they are primarily asked to sacrifice, to show more responsibility, more concern, and better morals… [But] the requisite care flows naturally if the self is widened and deepened so that protection of free nature is felt and conceived of as protection of our very selves."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pennsylvania Homeschooling Portfolio...A Review of our Year.

I will admit, I was intimidated at first with the more rigorous requirements of Pennsylvania homeschooling law which required a portfolio containing samples of work, standardized tests, an evaluator's report, and a book log, especially after homeschooling in states that didn't have any such requirements. But after just finishing the compilation of my son Ryan's portfolio for this year, I am glad that I had to collect and put together his work in a bound notebook because I now have a fantastic record of all that he did this year which will come in handy when it is time to apply for college.

There is a lot of flexibility in how the portfolio is prepared and an excellent website to refer to when assembling the portfolio is Ask Pauline. Not only will this site provide you with portfolio advice, but offers a wealth of information on homeschooling in PA. In the picture above, I show part of Ryan's book log by subject.

In the science section of Ryan's portfolio shown above, I show some samples of his work, pictures of him doing science experiments, and part of the listing of science resources used. This is just a small sample of the work included in his portfolio and the portfolio itself is just a small sampling of work done for the year.

Under the English tab of his portfolio shown above, I feature a partial listing of English resources used, a sample of research done, and have spread out the manuscript of a novel he is in the process of writing. Again, just a small sampling of work in the portfolio and work done during the course of the year.

We went on lots of field trips this year so much of the history section of Ryan's portfolio includes pictures of our trips. Visiting the places where history was made is the beauty of homeschooling and makes history come alive. Even so, Ryan still used some books as resources and that list is included in the history section of the portfolio as shown above.

Samples of my Ryan's math work and pictures of him doing math along with a list of math resources are shown above.

Finally, above are pictures of some of the electives Ryan participated in along with him taking part in physical education related activities. A resources list is also included.

What I didn't show and what was also included in our portfolio was a daily log of activities we did along with an attendance log. There was also a required health and safety section. When all finished, the portfolio filled a 2 and 1/2 inch binder.

As a homeschooler, Ryan won't receive a typical transcript for high school so portfolios will serve instead. He has already tested how well this portfolio will work in place of a transcript by bringing it to an interview at the local community college and being accepted for fall of 2012- just after he turns 16- the work of assembling this portfolio already paying off!