365 Days of Earrings

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Yearring's End, and a New Beginning

Today I have come full circle through the year. 365 pair of earrings, one for each of the 365 days of 2011.

Why 365? Because that's how many days it takes for planet Earth to travel around its sun. 365.242, really. It's one of those numbers we can't control.

Nature is full of patterns and numbers. Humans have puzzled over them and created a myriad of patterns of our own.

For millenia, such patterns have been part of human worship, like this lotus mandala used in Buddhist practice. 

One pattern found in nature came to dominate our number system: ten fingers. A logical decimal system, base 10. I'm grateful that people around the world embraced this system: in Egypt, China, and India. Cultures using base 12 and base 60 lost out.

Many other ancient systems remain in use. 24 hours in a day. 360 degrees in a circle. 12 inches in a foot. 4 quarts in a gallon. All had their origins in nature. All have served us well.

But just as cultures all over the world adopted the Base Ten Decimal System, in the last 100 years they have also adopted the Metric system which applies Base Ten to measurement.

We Americans are stuck in the past, using systems that do not serve science, industry, technology, or even cooking well. Our educational system wastes valuable time teaching children how to compute the myriads of conversions.

Today, I wore these lovely hand-crafted flowers that my husband John bought for me at the DC Holiday Market.

Ten-petaled earrings. My final pair for 2011. A bridge to my project for 2012, an exploration that I'm calling Penny Wise and Pound Foolish. I'll be blogging at http://arkametric.blogspot.com/ starting on January 1, 2012. 

But I'll be enjoying my 365 pairs of earrings (and the 20 or so that I never wore) for years to come. With thanks to the makers and to the givers for my yearring.

Dec. 30: Children's Literature Connections

I could not believe my eyes when I spotted this pair of fish earrings at the DC Holiday Market. Koi? Swimming in a pond!?! I didn't just want them, I needed them!

Fortunately, I was being shadowed by my daughter Kathe so that she could inform my son Willem if I found a pair of earrings that I wanted. He bought them, marveling that this could be the pair. Goldfish? Really? Oh, the ecomystery. It's about goldfish this year?

In March 2012, I'll be leading an all-school program about Japanese koi, our annual culture study ecomystery. If my year of earrings were not ending this month, I'd be saving this pair for that morning in March. It's hard to let go of this year's mindset that I have to save my earrings for the perfect day.

But they were a gift from my son Willem, so I wore them on a day when we planned to go to see a movie together.

In the morning, I read some of Grace Lin's 2009 children's novel, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, which tells the story of a Chinese girl's quest, magic carp, a dragon, and mysterious inscriptions.

Too bad Grace Lin's ancestry is Chinese, rather than Japanese. What fun it would be to use her novel as the basis for my ecomystery. 2012 will be the Year of the Dragon in both China and Japan. Koi, the ornamental fish bred in Japan, evolved from carp that were introduced from China as a food fish. I could go on, and on. Because each year's ecomystery becomes a massive research project for me.

I picked up this book at the library because of the dragon on the cover, and my 3rd grade class recently finished writing fantasy adventure stories containing dragons. Carp!?! Magic carp??? Could I weave that element into my ecomystery?

Wearing my koi earrings, I headed off to see Martin Scorcese's movie, Hugo, closely based on another children's book I read earlier this month, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. A great story which reveals some of the early history of filmmaking to young readers. A fun film, but, as Willem says, flawed, dwelling on certain images rather than developing the historical figures that we wanted to learn more about.

Something for me to ponder. Does children's literature too often skim the surface of the author's research and knowledge, leaving children missing the deep meanings the author intended to convey?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Global Connections

I made this pair of earrings last summer using South America nuts (the large tagua nuts with the inscribed swirl, African paper (the small wrapped paper beads), and Asian metal (the earwires, made in China, like too much of what I buy...).

To me this spiral pattern has always symbolized life's long and winding road. 

I wore them today for a shopping expedition with my daughter Phoebe whose life goals involve traveling the world, exploring languages and cultures, and making connections with people around the globe. She'll turn 20 next month. A long and windy road awaits.

Dec 28: Gifts and Giving

For our drive home from a visit with my husband's family in PA, I wore these exquisite earrings that were a gift from my in-laws: "Artisan glass made with crystallized Swarovski Elements," says the tag. We started the day with a family brunch, 4 generations gathered to share food and drink, the only time this group has gathered this year.

I handed out more hand-made gifts to my niece and her family, newly arrived from a trip to visit her husband's family in Germany, and en route to their home in Alaska.

Giving gifts, a great joy of the holidays. But also a source of some stress. What to give? Will it be loved and used? We give with hope. And then we watch, warily.

I received so many thoughtful presents this year, among them books, earrings, a hand-knitted infinity scarf, and a t-shirt on which my daughter Kathe drew my dreamscape: river, pines, and mountains under a cradling crescent moon. I know that the givers are observing me with the same watchful eye I turn toward them: will my gift be loved and used? Will it be worth my time and effort?

I've become more relaxed over the years, knowing that not everyone will appreciate every gift. But still hoping that they will appreciate the investment of love.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Music to my Ears

For my visit with my husband's family, I brought along my new Native American drum earrings, a Christmas gift from my friend and colleague Debbie. Tiny, hand-stitched, made of leather and wood and painted by hand.

During our visit, we're staying in my sister-in-law Beth's music room, home to her paino and the wide array of musical instruments that she collected during her career as an elementary music teacher.
Hanging on the wall next to our bed is this Alaskan drum that Beth received as a gift from her daughter Marianne who has spent 7 years teaching in Alaska.

On the floor stands another drum which has been played in many of Beth's concerts, both by children at school, in her community choir, her adult chorus, and her church choirs.

In this family, music is a way of life. Beth, my husband John, and their other two brothers all have earned their living as professional musicians, teaching and performing. Both of their parents played flute. Their mother's singing was an inspirational part of their childhoods.

For Christmas, Beth gave her granddaughter Hazel a set of drums, just like ones she used to use in her classroom.

Now Hazel holds a drumstick in one hand and a drum in the other, singing songs she's heard sung by three generations. Music to my ears. 

360 degrees and Christmas Trees

This morning I packed my bag for a drive into the conifer forests of Pennsylvania for our annual post-Christmas visit with my husband's family.

I wore a pair of red and blue paper pine tree earrings. (I forgot my camera's card reader at home, so I'll have to wait to post the photo.) These were a gift from my daughter Phoebe last Christmas. I saved them for today, the day after Christmas, a day when I leave our Christmas tree, and get view the decorated trees in homes belonging to three generations of my husband's family. All three trees were cut from my brother-in-law's Christmas tree farm, Tippery Pines.

This year, atop our neice's tree is a glowing green square light that reminded me of a small TV screen. 

"We didn't have a tree topper, but there was that empty plug on top of the tree. So we plugged in a night light," said Julie. "It's perfect!" Nine month old Heidi was crawling beneath the tree, while her sister Hazel, aged two and a half, handed out drums for us all to play. Their tree is the tree of a young family--not too crowded, especially down low where little hands might reach.

Julie's parents' tree is not so tall as the one she and Jake chose for their cathedral ceilinged living room. Beth and John's low ceiling allows a shorter tree, but one laden with far more ornaments, each a memory of their 38 years of marriage. Gifts from friends, souvenirs of trips, hand-made creations.

Grandma and Grandpa's tree is tiny. It stands on a table in the mobile home where they now live, nestled in the midst of the Christmas Tree farm, between their daughter's home and the house that once was theirs, but now houses granddaughter Julie and her family. Their little, scraggly tree holds only the most precious of memories now; so many others once loaded the branches of the large tree that filled a corner of their living room in the home where I first visited them 30 Christmases ago.

It wasn't until I started typing that I realized today is day 360. The 360th day of 2011. The 360th day of my blog. A good day to think about the circle of life. Coming 360.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

An Overlook for Christmas

This afternoon we went for a
hike through the woods near
our house.

The path leads to a clearing on the
top of the ridge.
Civil War soldiers marched through here,
set signal fires, and skirmished.

We hiked to the overlook that looks east
across the valley.

It's a lovely view.

The sign reads,
"We welcome you to the
Piedmont Memorial
a privately owned memorial
to those who spent their lives
protecting the land
you see from here.
Please treat it with reverence
and take from this high place
inspiration to protect the land
that touches your life."

I wore this pair of earrings
that my daughter Kathe and her husband Jim
bought for me at the Highland Games from
the artist who crafted them.
This was the first pair I opened this
morning, and I decided to wear them
all day, rather than change into the
crescent moon Santas I'd thought I'd wear.
They suited the beauty of the day.

Jim, Kathe, and Leif wore the fleece
neckwarmers that convert into hats
which I made for them.
The joy of Christmas:
giving and receiving,
sharing joy,
basking in the glow of family time.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Stockings

Christmas Eve! Good thing we managed to find the stockings before it was time for Santa to arrive. I'd begun to think we might have to leave shoeboxes out instead.

I spent today in my own version of Santa's workshop: sewing and knitting, designing labels to print and trim, packing bags and wrapping boxes. Then off to a church Christmas pageant, home again to cook Christmas Eve dinner, then off to wrap some more. A wonderful holiday, but at the end of the day, I'm as exhausted as if I'd been at work all day.

Today, I wore my tiny glass stocking earrings. They were a gift from a student a few years ago. They are a bit heavy and swing pendulously, reminding me all day that the hours were ticking away.

Christmas Eve! Christmas is less than an hour away! The stockings are hung with care, waiting for everyone to sleep so that Santa can work some magic. These days, Santa wakes up early to fill the stockings at our house. Santa needs some sleep, with morning only a few hours away.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Of Tinkering and Kangaroos

I chose my red kangaroos for today. As my daughter Kathe and I strove to felt slippers for ourselves, she asked, "So, what earrings have you chosen for today?"

None dangled from my ears, and I'd forgotten that I'd set this pair aside for a day I spent some time with this remarkable young woman whom I dubbed Kathe-roo 25 years ago, when she was like a little Joey that I carried about in a pouch.

I saved the kangaroos from a pair of earrings I received as a gift before Kathe was born. My brother and his wife were living in Australia, and brought me this pair when they came state-side for a visit. But the metal of the earwires corroded, so I chopped them off and made this new pair, adding some beads along with the new earwires.

I'm wearing them as I finish off this day in which I enjoyed the company of all three of my children, now full-fledged hopping adults; Joeys in pouches are but a fond memory. My red kangaroos dangle from my ears. The slippers I felted will require some chopping and stitching to make them whole.

That's part of the joy of life--solving problems by fiddling and tinkering, chopping and stitching. But not tonight. My brain's just tinkered out. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mini-Snowshoes and Climate Change

I received this great pair of recycled pull-tab earrings from one of my 3rd graders as a Christmas gift. Benjamin's mom was the second grade teacher who inspired my son to become a reader and a writer; she created magical experiences like runaway gingerbread men who were tracked through town using detective work; both my son Willem and my daughter Phoebe thrived in her classroom. How lovely that I have the chance to teach Paula's son 15 years after she taught my son.

Paula and Benjamin bought these earrings for me at a store in Chincoteague called Flying Fish when the weather was hot and sunny. As Paula anticipated, I love the use of recycled pull-tabs, and the blues and greens. And I also love that they resemble snowshoes.

Tonight, December 22nd, it's pouring rain. The temperature is close to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I have no need for snowshoes tonight. Global climate change? Perhaps. I've experienced some rainy Decembers in the past. But it's clear to me that no matter what the cause, our planet is warming. And I believe that humans can influence the changing climate through recycling, using less fossil fuels, and living more simply. That said, I'm also confident that I'll need my snowshoes at least once this winter. Storms and unpredictable weather seem to be part of climate change.

This is my 355th pair of earrings this year. Nine more days. I'm beginning to mourn a bit.

Shimmery Pines

Last summer, my daughter Kathe and I saw some earrings similar to these. Presto! As I watched, she made me these shimmering danglers-- pine trees from our cabin The Pinery.

I wore them today when Kathe joined us for our annual Celebrate Winter Break outing to DC. We saw the mind-boggling play Equivocation which weaves 17th century English history, Shakespeare's life and plays, eternal politics, and the meaning of truth. A brilliant ensemble performance. Our son Willem and his friend Annie were also with us. Sadly, our daughter Phoebe was sick and son-in-law Jim was finishing his last test.

After a great meal, we wandered through the DC Christmas Market, admiring the work of the many craftspeople who sell their wares. We wander through the whole market, up one side and back the other, then plunge through to make a few quick purchases. We've returned each year for about 5 years now, searching for gifts to buy each other in a complex family dance.
When we got home, Kathe started to decorate our tree, which we'd saved for her arrival since she has no tree of her own. She unpacked the tiny stockings in which we store our fragile ornaments. I made them about 20 years ago as an advent calendar in which ornaments dangled from a rope strung across the fireplace. In those days, our tree went up soon after Thanksgiving, having journeyed from John O's Christmas Tree Farm in Pennsylvania.

Kathe finally persuaded her siblings to help her decorate the tree, and I snapped a photo before heading off the bed. A glorious day.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Festive Earrings

Today was my last school day of 2011. The winter break begins when the Holiday Concent ends. I wore this pair of green Christmas bulbs, a red turtleneck, and a white vest for holiday cheer.

This morning my happy students bounced in, many bearing gifts. The most remarkable was this hand-crocheted scarf, made by Ri (short for Henri). He started crocheting in September so that he could complete gifts for all of his teachers. Ri is my tallest 3rd grader, a rough-and-tumble sort of a guy. This scarf looks like someone spilled a box of the colorful candy called Nerds, he says. A big box!

And today added three wonderful new pairs of earrings to my collection. A lovely pair of birds, some Indian drums that my colleague Debbie bought at the beach, and a pair made of soda can pop-tops adorned with beads. No worries now about finishing off my year of 365 different pairs in style!

A saleswoman in a store eyed my earrings and scarf today and pronounced, "My aren't you festive!" Yes, I am. Let the festivities begin!

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Burl Ives Moment

I wore my Abominable Snowman and Yukon Cornelius earrings today. They were a gift from my friend and colleague Susan about ten years ago. She made them for me using Shrinky Dink plastic. They were perfect today, rehearsal day at school for our holiday concert.

My class is singing Silver and Gold in the concert, one of the songs that Burl Ives sang in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a movie I watched every year as a child, starting in 1964 when it first appeared. My dad often watched with me. He loved Burl Ives, the actor-folk singer who played the narrating non-abominable Snowman.

Silver and gold, silver and gold
Ev'ryone wishes for silver and gold
How do you measure its worth?
Just by the pleasure it gives here on earth.

Silver and gold, silver and gold
Mean so much more when I see
Silver and gold decorations
On ev'ry Christmas tree.

Burl Ives sang many sentimental songs, the sort that would bring a tear to my dad's eye. And then my dad would ask, "Do you know my favorite Burl Ives song?"

It's just my funny way of laughin'
Yes, my funny way of laughin'
Your leavin' didn't bother me
It's just my funny way of laughin'
Yes, my funny way of laughin'
I'm really happy as can be

One day soon I'm going to watch Rudolph, and listen to Ives' crooning. At some point, I'll feel tears welling up in my eyes. Just my funny way of laughing. Something I inherited from my dad.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Bulbs Dangling on the Tree

It's beginning to look like Christmas at our house. John brought the tree in and strung the lights. It's a beginning!

I spent the day writing notes on cards and making a few quick presents to put in the mail.

Our children are trickling in: one is here, one arrives tomorrow, the third on Tuesday; we'll have a full house come Wednesday when our son-in-law Jim arrives. That's when it will really feel like Christmas is coming!

As John strung the lights on the tree, I realized which earrings I should wear today: one of my 4 pair of Christmas bulbs. This is the only red pair, one of the two that once flashed on-and-off, powered by tiny but heavy watch batteries.

I could never stand to wear this pair for long--too heavy. But they're popular favorites among people who're amused by their flashing lights.

Seven days remain for wearing Christmas earrings. Which ones tomorrow?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Family Field Guide: Uncle Sully's Cockatoo

I printed copies of my Family Field Guide today-- this year's incarnation of my annual holiday card. This is my page of photos; there's a page for each member of my family, with accompanying information.

I wore this pair of exotic birds. I call them cockatoos, although I don't know what they're supposed to be. They were a gift from my brother's ex-wife. She bought them for me in Australia, I think, or perhaps Fiji. In the South Pacific, at any rate, when they were living in Australia.

But when I wear them, I always think of my Uncle Sully, my mother's brother.

In this photo of his medical school class at the University of Virginia, he is in the front row, second from the left. He looks like he has somewhere else to be. Uncle Sully became a psychiatrist. During World War II he left his young family and his practice and volunteered to serve his country. He was sent to the South Pacific where he must have helped many young men who needed psychiatric care. I've always wished I knew more. All that I know is that he returned home with many shells and a cockatoo. 

Perhaps his son, my cousin David, will read this and remind me of the whole story. The bird had learned a rich vocabulary from sailors during the war, and Uncle Sully had trouble finding a home for him. 

I've never seen a cockatoo in the wild. Someday!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pandas for my 3rd Grade Poetry Slam

I dressed in basic black today for our 3rd grade Poetry Slam. My students have been writing poetry for a couple of weeks. Today, each student chose one poem to share with their classmates.

We went to the theater, sat in comfy chairs grouped around tables, dimmed the lights, and listened as each child shared a poem at the open mic. Some full of similes and metaphors, some narrative, some following formulas, some metered and rhymed.

At each table, the children chose a comment, Awesome Adjectives, Radiant Reading, Jazzy Jingle... slathered that slip of paper with glue, and sent a member of the group to slam the comment onto that child's Slam Sheet, while announcing their choice into the microphone. Six groups, 24 poets, one hour. A celebration of language. I'm still smiling.

I wore these panda earrings, black and white, to serve as master of ceremonies. I thought about the Eats, Shoots and Leaves panda/punctuation joke. Too much to explain. We only had an hour.

My daughter Kathe made these shrinky dinks for me 8 or 10 years ago before I had any idea I might ever lead a 3rd grade Poetry Slam. They were perfect.