365 Days of Earrings

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Simple lessons from Maria Montessori and My Granddaddy

Long ago, when I first read a book that Maria Montessori wrote about education, I began thinking of the richness to be found in ordinary tasks--if we seek it. Every movement, she wrote, can be executed gracefully, as if danced. Emptying the dishwasher. Hanging the laundry. Walking up the stairs. Each can be a yoga asana of my own invention.

I used to find washing dishes onerous--a tedious waste of time, day-in-and-day-out. But soon after my first child was born, I discovered that I could indulge several times per day in self-indulgent water therapy. Warm, soapy water to swish about. And in the end, a mountain of clean pots, pans, and utensils, gleaming in their drying rack.

My mother used to tell about how her father's tradition was to wash the dishes after the family's Sunday dinner. Sunday was "the help's" day off. My grandmother, Mema, cooked a big meal for the extended family and their assembled friends. Afterwards, Granddaddy put on his apron and washed the dishes. When anyone offered to help, he'd say, "You're too little." I've often wondered if he had discovered the joy of water therapy.

I made this pair of earrings last summer. They remind me somehow of water droplets dangling, ready to fall.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Malleable, ductile, and soft: copper

I wore this pair of copper earrings last summer using copper wire, pliers, a hammer, and a anvil.

The two earrings were very similar--each a two-dimensional spiral. But I grabbed the center of one pair with my pliers and pulled it, creating a 3-D spiral.

I love this simple transformation from 2-D to 3-D. It's the sort of transformation that is possible because of copper's properties: it's malleable, ductile, and soft. It can be polished until it shines, and it glows a lovely color. Because of these properties, humans have used copper since prehistoric times.

Today in Social Studies I set up stations at which my students wrote observations and inferences about a variety of Indian artifacts--both authentic objects and recreations-- arrowheads; bowls made of gourds, clay, and a turtle shell; handmade rope; a pestle; bone beads; and both raw copper and copper amulets.

The children practiced useful skills--measuring three dimensions using metric units; measuring weight in grams on a balance; desc
ribing objects so that others would be able to identify them. After writing their descriptions, they made inferences about the artifacts, explaining what key features led them to make this inference.
Skins, stone, bone, plant fibers, copper. My students and I marveled at how people could make everything they needed using such simple materials.

"Like you made those earrings!" said Rose. Almost like. I didn't mine the copper or grind the stone to make beads. Maybe someday.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cupcake Archaeology

I baked cupcakes this morning. These are the left-overs. The rest were consumed during this afternoon's "Cupcake Archaeology" social studies project.

I mixed up three different flavors of cake mix (chocolate, strawberry, and funfetti), and layered them in different combinations. Odd-looking cupcakes, I know, but yummy.

In class, we talked about how archaeologists have to choose where to dig. We imagined that we were traveling in tiny helicopters that landed atop cupcake mounds. My students mapped the surface, and then sketched a side view. They used plastic drinking straws to take core samples, and then predicted what a cupcake cross-section would look like.

Such careful sketches, persuasive discussions, and thoughtful predictions! Once the cupcakes were cut and the cross-sections sketched, the children ate.

"Best social studies class, EVER!" said at least one child in each section. "Can we do archaeology again tomorrow?"

"Yes, but no eating. Tomorrow we explore artifacts."

For the occasion, I wore this pair of baking earrings that I made over the summer using charms that I bought at a bead store in Leesburg, VA.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Yoshi's Magic Fan

After spending time today working on a school project about Japan, these earrings that were a gift from my cousin David's wife Jeanne immediately came to mind. But when I looked at them closely, I wondered why they reminded me of Japan.
As I reached for a book on the shelf where I've been collecting reference materials for this project, I realized the connection.

The colors and designs on these beads match those in Keith Baker's gorgeous picture book, The Magic Fan, the story of a Japanese boy whose inventions save his town.

Lurking somewhere in the recesses of my mind, Baker's illustrations-- of the kite and the bridge that Yoshi builds--are inextricably linked to Japan.   

 My project is about koi, the Japanese pond fish that is represented on the kites that families fly on Children's Day. I think I'll wear these earrings again in March during our school-wide culture study of Japan. They're so Japanese!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Toy Story, with Paper Guys

Tonight as I watched Toy Story 3 for the first time, I started thinking about earrings made of toys. There are many squirreled away here in the home where I raised my three kids. But the ones that caught my eye when I wandered into my son's room were his hand-made toys, the ones he dubbed Paper Guys--his own art form. For years, Willem created his own action figures so that he could relive the stories he loved in books, movies, and comics.

He would read a book.

Then he'd spend hours making Paper Guys.

He made hundreds of action figures over the years. In 3rd grade he created a Time Line of World History using 100 paper guys, starting with the Titans, then the Greek Gods, and ending with modern soldiers and astronauts. Now, as Toy Story's Andy heads off to college, my son Willem is about to graduate.

So I thought I'd bring a pair of Paper Guys back to life as earrings, to dangle on my rack, reminding me of the joy to be found by creating whatever you can imagine.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Cat Rings

For the 3 days that 2 dogs, Leif and Zeke, visited our house, our 2 cats vanished. Maia, our tortoise-shell female, often disappears when company arrives; she's rarely seen by any visitors.

But not our out-going male tabby cat, Hermes. He parades before company, rubs against their legs, perches in their laps. Hermes is our daughter Phoebe's best friend, and our son Willem's nemesis.

Ringed-in Cat
For more than a day, after the dogs arrived, Hermes vanished. I searched the house several times before deciding that he must have snuck outside. But after a day, I began to worry that he might have encountered trouble out in the wild. How would we tell Phoebe, newly arrived home from college, that Hermes was gone?

But finally Willem searched him out where he and Maia hid amidst some storage bins, high on a loft at the top of the house. For another 2 days, they lurked there, glaring down, refusing to venture down to their food or litter box. Ringed-in by dogs in their own domain.

This morning, the dogs headed home with my daughter Kathe and her husband Jim. The cats emerged once more to claim their home.

I made this pair of earrings this afternoon using cat charms that I bought last summer at a fair in Berkeley Springs, WV during a drenching downpour.

Cat Un-Ringed

It's good to watch our cats roam free. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

National Sardine Day

I received these sardine earrings in the mail a few months ago, in the amazing package that my cousin David's wife Jeanne sent me. I could see immediately that they would become favorites of mine, as they were of Jeanne's.

Why wear them today, Thanksgiving Day? Because I decided as soon as I saw them that I'd wear this pair on National Sardine Day, which I soon discovered to be November 24th. (Every day of the year is designated to celebrate a cause or a product or a person. Just check out http://365foods.wordpress.com/ or http://www.punchbowl.com/holidays 
So much to celebrate!

I didn't eat any sardines today, just our standard turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, sweet potatoes and apples, cornbread, and stuffed mushrooms. But my sardines dangled from my ears, proudly celebrating this day and these clever ceramic earrings.

Reading Jeanne's note reminded me of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row, probably the first adult novel I ever read. I think I was 10 when I read The Red Pony and loved it. I went to the public library and found another slim volume by the same author, and soon found myself in the society of hard-living men on San Francisco's Cannery Row. I read in startled amazement, discovering a world I'd never glimpsed.

We gathered outside this afternoon, after dinner, for some family photos. This one reminds me a bit of those fellows on Cannery Row. My daughter Phoebe (center) received her beard hat as a gift from a crafty friend. Beards were sported by all!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mes boucles d'oreille Françaises, achetées à Pays de Poche

I left home this morning while my family slept: everyone on Thanksgiving break but me.

I wore these ceramic fowl that I bought last summer in Paris at a shop in the Latin Quarter that sells crafts made by local artisans. Chickens, I guess, but perfect for this day before Thanksgiving.

Pays de Poche, loosely translated "pocket country," is just around the corner from Shakespeare and Company. I discovered it on my first trip to France in 2004, and bought a pair of earrings just like this one. A few years ago, they vanished, and I missed them.

I think this is the only pair of earrings that I've ever replaced with ones just like them--and I bought them about as far from home as I've ever ventured.

For this, and for my family now assembled at my Paris, VA home, I'm thankful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Earrings for November 22

Today I wore this pair of "fake gold" earrings that my cousin David's wife Jeanne sent me a couple of months ago. Like Jeanne, I rarely wear fake gold, even more rarely gold. But today, as I looked for earrings that might somehow fit my day, I opted for these.

November 22, the 48th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. November 22, the day when I teach a research lesson about the Pilgrims. November 22nd, the day that my 3 children will arrive home for Thanksgiving.

I wanted something small and subtle, in honor of my distant memories of John Kennedy, the first president elected in my lifetime, shot dead when I was seven.

I wanted something simple and idealistic, in honor of the early immigrants who blazed the path to American's shores.

I wanted something pure, that made me think of family. My kids are coming home!

A couple of days ago, my daughter Kathe posted on Facebook, "gone to Paris Mountain in my mind!"

I took this photo of the earrings on top of the wooden stool that sits in my bedroom. My daughter Kathe painted it some 15 years ago, before we moved here to the top of Paris Mountain. Here sit John and I, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Kathe, her husband Jim, our son Willem, and our daughter Phoebe who are headed here from the corners of Virginia.

"Car!" John calls.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Hail Tagua, the "Vegetable Ivory"

This morning I dressed in lavender and green. I wore this pair of tagua palm nut earrings that were a gift from my daughter Kathe.

All day, I fielded questions from my students about them.

"Is the nut really green?"

"How big are the nuts?"

"What is the tree like?"

"What else can you make out of that kind of nut?"

Tagua nuts can be dyed any color.
Some, like my "avocado" shade,
come from natural plant dyes.
I didn't know. So tonight I Googled a bit.
The tagua nut is white with a brown exterior.
When dried it can be carved like ivory.

The tagua nut is also known as vegetable ivory. We humans have learned that many resources are not as renewable as we once thought. Like elephants, walruses, and rhinos.

"Vegetable ivory" allows us to make products like buttons, figurines, chess sets, and jewelry--without taking a life or damaging an ecosystem. In fact, harvesting the nut of the tagua palm helps preserve the rain forest ecosystems in South America.

I was shocked to discover that in the 1920's--before the invention of plastics-- buttons were often made from this same nut. Only now are we beginning to return to this practice, rather than using non-renewable petroleum products to manufacture plastic buttons.

Squirreled away in one of my drawers, I have this beaded bracelet made of ivory. My father gave it to me in the 1960s, one of many family heirlooms that I was given, "If you'll use it." I wore it for quite a few years, even replacing the elastic a few times when it wore out. I don't have the ivory cribbage board or the ivory chess set, both of which lay on the shelf next to my dad's rocking chair for years. And I can't imagine wearing ivory any more, although not wearing it does not bring the elephants back to life.

So hurray for the genus Phytelephas, source of the tagua nut, savior of living elephants, of rain forests, of vital resources. How I love such simple solutions to complex problems.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Obama Blue

This afternoon I spent some time sorting through the bulk mail that piles up on the island in my kitchen. I remove the bills daily, and toss lots of junk mail in the trash. But some mail sits a while until I decide what to do with it. Like this decal that came in a fundraising mailer for Barack Obama.

I don't like to advertise my political beliefs. I've never put a bumper sticker on my car. But I'm considering placing this decal in my car window. After listening to the Republican contenders embarrass themselves in debate after debate, I'm proud to have voted for a knowledgeable, intelligent, compassionate man.

I made these earrings this afternoon using Ugandan wrapped paper beads and Czech glass beads. They match Obama's blue.  

Squirrels for Saturday, November 19th

Saturday morning I packed a bag to get ready for an overnight trip to Newport News to see my son in a play.

I'd bought these stone squirrel beads last spring, and had been meaning to make them into earrings ever since. I decided I'd make them yesterday morning before we left. Will loves squirrels, the dare-devil acrobats of the forest, leaping through the canopy, dancing along bouncing twigs, nesting high in crooks in trees where no other mammal ventures.

I had to smile when I walked into the theater and saw that the stage was surrounded by bare trees. Squirrel habitat.

Watching Willem on stage always makes me proud. His voice resonates, his presence dominates, his mind shines through his lines. This was a tough role, a murderously jealous brother whose sanity unravels over the course of the play. Whenever the actors left the stage, they stood frozen amidst the trees. From my seat in the highest row of tiered seats, I had a view from the canopy, glad to be safe from the tumult that played itself out on stage.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Warm, soothing mugs

I've owned this pair of shrinky-dink earrings for about 20 years. They were a gift from my ex-sister-in-law, Ann. I wear them on days when I have trouble getting up and heading off into the cold. Days when I feel a bit cranky, and hope that the caffeine in cups dangling from my ears might somehow give me the pep to get me through the day.

Most years, I wear these earrings many times. My students say, "Uh-oh, she's wearing those cranky day earrings." This year, today was my one day to wear them. The first night that Rosie came indoors to sleep in her crate, cold and windy, a warm cuppa something kind of day.

Early this morning, I brewed my strong coffee, drinking from my favorite coffee mug--celebrating NPR's All Things Considered--as I enjoyed my oatmeal laced with walnuts, dried cherries, raisins, maple syrup, and milk. My daily breakfast, my daily mug of coffee.

As soon as I got home, I started a fire in the woodstove and brewed a cup of tea to drink from my favorite tea mug, a mug I've owned for close to 30 years.

And then, later, some mulled red wine in my favorite wine mug, green glass that we purchased at a Celtic Festival some 15 years ago.

Some days are like that. Warm mugs of soothing beverages help me make it through.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Striking Sycamores

My morning drive is strikingly beautiful: my own winding, mile-long road down our wooded hillside; climbing Route 50 to Ashby Gap then gliding down past the spectacular view of Ovoka Farm that changes with the seasons; through farmland, the town of Upperville, more farmland, and then into Middleburg. My daily drive renews my soul.
Now that the leaves have fallen from the trees, I'm struck each day by the solitary sycamores that stand sentinal along the road, their bark starkly white against the deep blue sky of morning. I wore this pair of earrings this morning in anticipation of this sight.
This pair is one of the many that I've bought from the Wood Thrush Studios Fimo clay artist who sells her wares at the Cook Forest Center for the Arts in Cooksburg, PA. The tiny trees can barely be seen as they dangle from my ears. But then, who notices trees, anyway? I pass hundreds--thousands?--on my way to work each morning.
Come summer, the trees will still be backdrops, like the sycamore trunks on the other side of the guard rail along our bank of the Clarion River. There are many species that I cannot name. But as I move through the world, I find joy recognizing those I know by name. Most modern humans no longer learn the names of the trees, the birds, the wildflowers. Perhaps if we knew more species by name, we'd care more about their preservation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Migrate, or Stay Put?

I woke up this morning to chilly rain, with a forecast for more of the same. I'd have been happy to curl up and enjoy another hour or two of sleep, listening to the rhythm of the rain. If I were a bird, I thought, I'd migrate.

So I wore these tiny paper birds, a gift last Mother's Day from my husband John, who commissioned the purchase from my daughter Phoebe. She knew that I'd been coveting a pair of earrings made by this artist whose wares are sold at a little boutique in Middleburg, VA called loulou too. Birds, dragonflies, butterflies, elephants, fish, flowers, cats... Tiny paper cut-outs. 

I spent most of the day indoors, glad for the warm shelter. Each time someone commented on my earrings, I thought of the birds buffeted by the weather outdoors.

This time of year, many birds have left their northern summer homes and are making their way south to tropical climes where they will spend the winter. 

But what of the many species that overwinter here in Northern Virginia, choosing our chilly winter weather over the crowded, competitive life of the tropics where food and warmth abound? 

It's time to lay in the firewood, unpack the sweaters, and load the birdfeeders. Another Virginia winter is on the way.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stained Glass Dragons

Last summer, when I visited the medieval town of Chartres, in France, I wandered into a stained glass studio. Amidst the stunning artwork on display I found glass for sale. I bought a container of small pieces of blues and aquas. This is the only pair of earrings that I've made so far.

Wandering along the cobbled streets of Chartres felt like a trip into the past. My husband John and I were often alone, standing by stone walls and buildings that have stood on the same spot for hundreds of years, perhaps even more than a thousand years. Many of the stained glass windows that we saw were created by medieval artists whose art seemed startlingly abstract.

I wore my Chartres stained glass today for an art project that I'd planned for my 3rd graders to share with their 7th grade mentors.

In writing workshop, the children are drafting fantasy stories in which dragons appear. We've talked about how dragons can represent our fears, our challenges, our emotions. Today I challenged the students to create their dragons on black paper, using colorful squares, rectangles, and triangles cut from construction paper.

Now this wall of our classroom reminds me of panels of stained glass. The bright colored paper draws the eye. The black background helps focus the attention. The viewer peers into each image, looking for detail, picking out bits and pieces. The children gather round, sharing their stories.

"Mine has the sharpest claws. No other dragon dares come close."

"My dragon breathes fire that chases away evil!"

"My dragon is invisible. No one can see him coming!"

Stories told in color, shining against a background of black.