Saturday, November 5, 2011

Aaaaaand we're back!

I finally realized a few years ago that it actually takes until November before I feel truly settled with a new group of students. During the first week we learn names and stand-out characteristics, some likes and dislikes. After the newness wears off and the kids begin to feel safe in their new environment, truer patterns of behavior emerge. In mid to late October I learn about things that have been flying under the radar--the unknown math skills a certain girl possesses, the lack of phonetic knowledge covered up by a good visual memory. Initial feelings of "Oh did I not notice?" lead to a revised course of instruction.

So here I am, just coming out of the whirlwind of the intense initiation into the new year, already two viruses down, lots of laughs as well as struggles, and feeling like I have a deeper sense of each individual's strengths and needs.

My teaching partner and I have already revised our previous year's math curriculum to move deeper into problem solving, and we recently met Pete Bowers, who completely turned around our ideas about word study and spelling instruction. We presented at a large-scale conference our school hosted, and tomorrow we're visiting the Wonder of Learning exhibit in Monterey, an exhibition based on the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy.

Needless to say, we keep ourselves busy.

But school life is not my only true passion, and so I continue my quest to maintain a work-life balance and devote time in accordance with my heart's desires. I began this blog with the intention of teaching myself how to write regularly, how to make time in the midst of an otherwise full life.

November arrived and several moments of madness pointed to my need to sign up for NaNoWriMo (otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month.) And so I did. This morning.

(I say this succinctly to encourage the idea that this is no big deal, but my ego wants to shout: THIS IS A REALLY BIG DEAL!!!)

It's five days in, but I don't mind. Whatever I get done toward the 50,000 word goal will be far more than I've been getting done for the better part of 7 1/2 years (the official moment I decided to Become a Writer.) I'm entering into the endeavor with a sense of play, the practice of non-editing, and radical self-belief. It's all an exercise in letting go of fear, anyway. Let the writing be wild and reckless! I have a good supply of band-aids and lots of Halloween chocolate. That should take care of any serious injuries that occur.

Alright! I'll let you know how it goes. Feel free to bother me about it. I'm sure I'll need all the encouragement I can get!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The seventh new year


Many people celebrate January 1st as the start of the New Year. For me, I find that the beginning of September is a more organic time to renew and restart the yearly cycle. As a teacher, I continue to hold to the new beginnings we all experienced as children. New clothes, new office supplies, new friends and teachers…

Seven has been coming up as a magic number for me recently. So many things come in sevens—days of the week, wonders of the world, continents, oceans, the seven-year itch… And then there’s that idea that every seven years our bodies regenerate all their cells. (This seems to be only partially true, but it’s fair to say that our bodies of seven years previous are very different than the ones we inhabit today.)

I am entering the seventh year at my current school. A couple a weeks ago I started the yearly ritual of reorganizing and setting things up anew. I thought my big project was going to be to fix up my files, but suddenly my assistant and I were tearing apart cupboards and reorganizing supplies with an irresistible fervor. It was as if my room was begging for its cells to be regenerated.

My workspace is much more than a 9 to 5 location for me, and probably the same for most teachers. It’s not only our office, it’s our creative studio, research lab, theatrical stage, psychological couch…it’s a place for big ideas to be discovered, feelings to be revealed, and bonds to be strengthened. Magic happens there. That magic is our daily reward.

Spending time in the classroom over this three-day holiday weekend does not exactly feel like work, it falls more in the categories of personal renewal and setting intention for the year ahead. We true teachers dedicate our long hours because we care, because we know it makes a difference, and because it fulfills our need to be in the service of others.

Many friends have been setting their intentions in the Black Rock desert this week, and part of my heart joins them there. This year I am deeply grateful for the time to create a fresh space in which my little co-workers and I will learn and grow every day.

I wish you all a bit of renewal in this transition between the seasons…

Happy New Year!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

All in a word: Enjoy

My dear friend, Diane, at The Dew Drop Inn has a very special tradition. On New Year's Eve, she creates a magical bag full of important words written on small cards, words that come from the very depths of spirit and inspiration. She invites everyone and anyone to draw a word from the bag. The word is then yours to ponder, reflect, or just giggle at and toss aside.

I was thrilled to partake in this tradition again this year. I reached in and rummaged through the cards until my fingers found the small word meant for me. I read it, smiled, and let it ooze into my soul. I tucked it into my little black purse as we all headed out to a bacchanalian evening of dance, costumes, and art.

While on our California Coast trip two weeks ago, I reached into the very same bag only to pull out this...

How thrilled I was to find this word on August 3rd! (Or to have it find me again.) And the timing couldn't have been more synchronistic, seeing as I was on VACATION.

It gave me pause to think about all the ways I have lived up to my word so far during this grand year of 2011. Here is a list:

~ A terrifically delightful getaway at Carmel Valley Ranch, complete with moonlit tree swings
~ A luxurious stay at the Kirkwood Lodge for a weekend of snowboarding
~ Cozy dates on the couch with my sweet, streaming LOST (second time through for me)
~ Taking time to enjoy the beauties of the earth: An Andy Goldsworthy inspired unit with the first graders, hikes in the hills near my house, creating my backyard garden, morning walks with the pup
~ Cooking and baking (and eating!), often using fresh herbs from my windowsill
~ Renewing my meditation practice
~ Using my crazy ankle injury as an excuse to Slow Down, write a lot, and just plain rest
~ Experimenting with photography without harsh self-judgment

It's funny, but being tied to crutches for the past few months has really been one of the greatest gifts. I have slowed down in ways I don't think I would've just because I wanted to. I've said no to extra obligations that have been asked of me. I've taken naps when my body was tired. I've allowed myself to move through the world slowly, watching, enjoying each step of renewed strength.

Recently I heard someone describe the joy they got from smoking a morning cigarette. It wasn't the actual cancer stick they craved, it was the quiet moment on the back deck overlooking the garden with nothing but their thoughts and a bit of sunshine. How sad, I thought, that we don't allow ourselves this morning ritual without a reason. What if we insisted on a few moments to ourselves each day where we could stop, take notice, breathe...enjoy?

I'm as guilty as the next, getting caught up in the swirl of life. But having this word and these memories is encouraging me to keep that sacred time, especially now that the new school year is ready to ramp up at full speed. Morning Meditation is written in pen on my daily schedule, as well as permission to say no, and a reminder to take things slowly whenever needed. I give you all permission to do the same! 

What do you do to cultivate true Enjoyment in your life?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Magical souvenirs

I believe everyone benefits from a bit of magic in their lives. 

Magic can come in many different forms, though I've always had a tendency toward forests and fairies. No matter what I do, otherworldy beings find their way into my picture book writing. Also, anything small is completely entrancing to me. Along our trip down the coast last week, I took notice of the magical items that caught my attention. 
(please insert as many squeeeees as you like)

I could not suppress a squeal of delight when I saw this at The Garden Shed. The tagline reads:
'Create an enchanting garden that will open your eyes to the magic of the fairies. This unique mix of wildflowers, herbs, and low-growing plants grows into a miniature landscape to captivate children and adults, and provide a charming home for delightful garden sprites.'

After a breakfast treat of aebelskiver in the adorable Danish-inspired town of Solvang, CA...

I chose some jam to bring back with me.

The name makes me picture small creatures scurrying around to collect berries for their magical elixir.
Fruit of the Forest!

Also at the Garden Shed were these imagination-capturing little lands...

How sweet are these? There were many different styles including a log cabin and a zen pavilion. Look at the teeny tiny details...

I want to make one. My Guy told me perhaps when I retire...

It's so important to collect these magical souvenirs when we're out roaming the world. Even if we don't purchase them, they can stay with us in photos, sketchbooks, imagination... Getting away from my regular day-to-day inevitably brings me new ideas or reminders of things I've always loved. These are not-to-be-missed treasures! They enlighten our sense-of-self and spark our creative muses.

What captures your fancy? And how do you use it in your creative life?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

{Outward and beyond}: Cambria

I want to give you a peek inside a magical little shop in Cambria, California called:
The Garden Shed

Can we start with the sweet packaging? I got a little thrill when the shopkeeper, Ashley, attached this mini-bouquet to the bag.
(Note: all photos taken with iPhone--please forgive the quality!)

This treasure trove contains abundantly adorable garden-inspired pleasures.
Let's take a look, shall we?

 Woah! This is actually the busiest corner of the store, which makes those little birds hanging from the tree all the more whimsical.

I adore this whale weather vane. But I adore most weather vanes.

Botanical prints are another high-on-the-list design favorite of mine. Check out the twig frame lining the textured fabric matte. Gorgeous.

Mosaic fairy mushroom. Complete with a metal stake to hold in place outside. Yes.

Can you resist antique keys? I can't. 
This lock must be for containing magical plant elixirs in the fairies' outdoor apothecary. Very strong fairies, I suppose.

Plenty of plants adorn the outside area ready for purchase. I ended up with a container of lemon thyme to augment the collection on my kitchen window sill. These plants above are called Alkanet 'Blue Angel" (anchusa capensis).

LOTS of succulents, like this echeveria, sat sprinkled with dew.

The name of this plant was much too long to remember but no less intriguing.

Of course, no shop of wonders is complete without its own furry salesperson. Meet Abner:
(and notice the sprinkling of mosaic that delights the entire property.)

Abner would really like you to come visit, too. He has just one request:

[the Garden Shed's website]

Friday, August 5, 2011

Relax and enjoy

We've made it to the final stop on our tour of the California coast--beautiful Cambria! More to come soon...but for now, this pic I snapped in Santa Cruz says it all.

Happy weekend, everybody!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Twenty-two days

Twenty-two days ago I decided to write a blog post every day until July 31st. And here we are! I made it! (Except for one busy Saturday. See below.)

It has been a real shift in habit for me, getting up and writing each morning. It's been absolutely dreamy. It feels important. I feel important. I feel more important if I've already taken a shower when I sit down at the computer. Much more official.

“There is something very right about simply letting yourself write. And the way to do that is to begin, to begin where you are.”
-Julia Cameron, The Right to Write

I gave myself an assignment to formally note what I have learned/noticed/relearned over the course of the month. Here’s what found its way to my list…

~ Writing is magical.
~ Writing is hard.
~ You've got to show up every day.
~ Sometimes you have nothing to say.
~ Time off is also important. We need to fill the well, let things simmer. (Reason for the missing Saturday post.)
~ Some ideas take time.
~ Length does not equal profundity.
~ I'm really wordy.
~ I'm perfectionistic.
~ Being the caretaker of Six Giraffes fills me with elation.
~ It also feels like a big responsibility.
~ This belief often leads to fear.
~ Meeting like-minded strangers is exhilarating. So is turning them into new friends.
~ Knowing I’ve impacted someone's day gives me a tingly thrill.
~ I crave validation. Especially for my personal ideas.
~ I’m still finding my voice.
~ I love telling stories with visuals.
~ I want to create a realistic blogging schedule for the school year.
~ I love teaching people things.
~ I love musing on personal life journeys.

I am a writer.

I’ve been saying that for about eight years now, and it has been true all this time. I’ve gone through periods where I spend copious time in my notebooks, carrying around small journals to capture unusual moments throughout the day. And then I get "busy." Notebooks start to collect dust.

But now I am consistently writing, and that is all it takes to be a writer.

“I think the angels reward people who show up at their desk at 6:00 a.m.”

-Elizabeth Gilbert 

Last night I just had to draft out a snippet of an idea. It was as if I had suddenly stoked a previously invisible smoldering fire. Energy rushed through me and onto the page until I could no longer fight off sleep. This morning I felt a weight had lifted, as if that idea had been taking up internal, spiritual space. The bubble gum that had been holding the envelope tight was gone. Once I freed that character onto the page, I was able to speak about new things. Literally.

This fascinated me. Do I show less of myself when I don’t provide an outlet for the characters inside me? When I am really committed to my writing schedule, will I feel more space to express new ideas? I’m curious to see as well as curious to read what finds its way to my pages.

Thanks to everyone who has spent some time here at Six Giraffes during these inaugural months. I love reading your comments, and your encouragement lands like a bouquet of bright daisies in my happy hands.

Next week I’ll be taking you on a road tour of the California coast. Stay tuned to see what magic awaits—hoping to have lots of special things to share!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A lesson via Coleridge

My mother is ambitiously sorting through all the STUFF in her house. I was informed that I needed to come over and go through various old boxes of mine to decide what I intended to keep. (She is graciously still storing some of them for me. Thanks, Ma!) In one of the boxes was a selection of old books that I had chosen from my grandparents' collection when we cleared out their house, years ago. To my surprise, I discovered an ancient artifact among the pile...

(The title on the spine, Coleridge's Poems, fell off just this morning...)

This leather-bound collection was awarded to my great-grandfather for his academic accomplishments at St. John's College in Toledo, Ohio in 1906! The cover feels silky soft, and the book smells like an old, antique library.

I was introduced to Coleridge and "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in high school senior English. We did "Kubla Kahn" too, which always childishly made me think of Olivia Newton John's cult classic - "In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn..."
We read a lot of romantic poetry that year, and I was completely entranced by the fanciful odes to nature and the faery realm. I've found myself re-creating a relationship with poetry this week, and I felt the power of this volume not just in my hands, but deep in my soul. An affirmation, if you will. 
I'd love to be invited to this party...

Delicious! It makes we want to sit amongst the trees all day weaving words about mossy banks and stream-soaked pebbles. Am I allowed to do that? Well, I am on vacation. 

Isn't this the kind of question that plagues so many of us? If this is what I love, why am I not doing it all the time? That doesn't mean I have to quit the job that pays my bills (and fortunately also feeds my soul.) It is possible to keep our passions present using smaller chunks of time. I know a successful business man who travels abroad several times a month who is also a gifted portrait artist. He uses his time on the plane to sketch, and it's amazing how much he accomplishes.

I've heard this message before. Nothing new. It really comes down to choice. Art, while seemingly thriving in dreamy freedom, needs structure. It needs regular time set aside to perform, develop, grow. The question really becomes...when will I give my art the structure it deserves?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Nobody tells beginners...

You may have seen this already or even watched the original interview with Ira Glass. I can't help but post this anyway. I passed it by once, feeling the little, nagging tug that meant I should probably listen. When I ran across it a second time, I figured I'd better give in.

Brilliant iteration by David Shiyang Liu

I love this idea of good taste. Artists need to hear stuff like this. I often wonder, unconsciously I suppose, "Why is it I've been called here to do this work, yet when I sit down to do it, it comes out so much differently than it felt inside my head??" I understand that skills need practice and time to grow strong. Still, how easy would it be for me to give up? Well as a perfectionist, very easy. But hearing that I have "good taste" is a special kind of reassurance. I need to know that eventually, someday, what I believe to be good work when I read it, will come out of my own pen. I just need to keep showing up. And read good books. And play. And be gentle with myself.

It's okay to be a beginner.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cookies and milk

I've been steadily making my way through a package of amaretti cookies, which I recently bought for my nectarine galette. They're a perfect, bite-sized treat and I have to admit that I've snacked on them before breakfast. More than once. Like today.

I stood looking out the kitchen window enjoying the sweet almond flavor and the quiet neighborhood when Bam! A memory flooded its way back into my brain in full technicolor. You know that feeling?

My grandparents lived only twenty minutes away growing up, so I would often go spend the night with them, especially in summer. They were quiet, neighborly folk who enjoyed speaking French and listening to classical music. Many of my personal influences come from early days spent at their house.

If I happened to be there on a weekday, my grandpa (Boppa) would leave me a special breakfast treat before he left for work early, early in the morning. This was one of the best parts of staying at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Sliding my way into the kitchen in my nightgown, I was sure to find a small plate with four or five Stella D'oro cookies and a tiny glass of grapefruit juice. If you never had the pleasure of encountering these cookies, here's a picture.

They look almost as I remember. But the rainbow sprinkles used to belong to a flower-shaped cookie, and they were extra rainbow sprinkly.  I really don't remember that obnoxious green frosting. Weird.

Anyway, these Italian cookies were such a warm way to wake up. I would eat them while Grandma slept, imagining what Boppa's day was like at work. The cookies were our own little secret, Boppa and I. "Be sure to finish them before your grandma wakes up," he would say in hushed tones. I'm sure she knew, but at the time I felt so...sneaky. In a good way.

These memories are important for us writers. I know this to be true. But I'm having trouble putting my reasoning into words. Anything that zaps out of the ether into my consciousness has got to be worth remembering, right?  I think my job is to write it down and keep it in the Well of Ideas. It might not get used immediately but it's ready to serve at a moment's notice.

This is such an offshoot of my recent ponderings on Flow. I've noticed a lot of other wonderful, creative people who have been musing about the same the past few days. I'm going to let this idea simmer. What do you do with those lovely memorable tidbits? How do you keep them with you and do they ever suddenly reveal their purpose? Big questions...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sunset Love: cocktails and cabins

“The new Sunset is here! Wahoooo!”

My mailbox has become familiar with my monthly little jig. Today (the day after receiving the August issue) I just had to throw some love out to the West’s best magazine. For those of you who don’t have the privilege of living on the “right” coast, never fear! You can join my party, too.

While there are an infinite number of places on the interwebs to find uniquely awesome DIY projects, green thumb inspiration, quick and delicious recipes, and travel tips that get you packing, for me, nothing compares to receiving this all-encompassing present in the mail, wrapped in savory oak woodland, rocky coastline mist, and kitschy food truck wonder. Turning each page, wondering what surprise awaits on the next, is a joy I savor each month.

And if that rousing cheer doesn’t entice you, here are some snippets to show you what I mean.

The Party Starter - a tempting little number I plan to serve at an upcoming summer shindig. Freeze watermelon ice cubes to create refreshment as cool as a dip in the pool. Puréeing watermelon can be a sticky endeavor but my mouth says it was absolutely worth it.

Finally I made me some edamame hummus! It’s been on my list for a while, and I couldn’t resist it paired with this super healthy, hippie burger. I added a good measure of mustard and used Trader Joe’s tomato basil pizza veggie burgers for the base. Tasty blend of flavors!

SoCal Veggie Burger

I love, love, love this idea for an outdoor table by FarOutFlora in San Francisco. Made from a repurposed palette, a table runner of succulents adorns the middle providing an everlasting centerpiece. Brilliant!

Finally, my travel bug gets very hoppy when I read about all the featured amazing places I might journey, like the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge in Alaska or hidden waterfalls in Hawaii. I downloaded the Best of California’s Central Coast guide for our upcoming trip down Highway 1. I know Sunset understands my desire for out-of-the-way wineries and charming bed and breakfasts. (See, for those of you who only visit the West, here’s a handy resource for you!) They even think about my dog and her travel dreams.

Sunset's website is exquisite, and I could easily be lost there for days. But not everything featured in the magazine is easily found there (or found there at all.) I think this makes my paper companion extra special.

What will I be doing today? Continuing to dream about how I might live out of a recycled shipping container or decompress from city life in a tiny lodge in Lassen Volcanic National Park...

Sound good to you? I thought so.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Pleasure is always derived from something outside you, whereas joy arises from within.
~ Eckhart Tolle
{artists unknown}

Monday, July 25, 2011

Curiouser and curiouser: Hummingbirds

I'm hoping this is the first in a new series on Six Giraffes. I'm often fascinated by the living and non-living objects in our everyday experience, and I like to give myself a mini-class on different subjects from time to time. Of course, I hardly remember any of the facts I learn later on, which makes it fun to reread when the mood strikes. So without further ado...HUMMINGBIRDS!

Who can resist this swift little creature with its iridescent flashes?

One of my new life goals is to capture these intelligent aviators with my camera. They are often bold. I've come face to face with three at once, determined to figure out what I was doing in their backyard. My current hummingbird friend seems to visit my hanging fuchsia every day in the noon hour. I'm tempted to silently camp out on the patio to see if I can snap a shot of her in action. During my "classtime" I came across the World of Hummingbirds website and was quickly enthralled. I do love a good list.

Here are some interesting facts about the tiniest bird in the world.

Favorite color: red
Favorite flower: anything tubular
Favorite pet name: Joyas Voladoras (Spanish for Flying-Jewels)
Common foreign name: Colibri

Smallest: Bee Hummingbird (5 cm)
Largest: Giant Hummingbird (8 ½ in)

The Numbers
~ Breathing: about 250 breaths per minute while at rest
~ Heart rate: up to 1,260 times per minute
~ Metabolism: roughly 100 times that of an elephant
~ Body temperature: about 107 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius)
~ Weight: anywhere between 2 and 20 grams (A penny weighs 2.5 grams.)
~ Lifespan: average 5 years but can live for over 10
~ Feathers: about 940 for an average sized hummingbird
~ 30% of a hummingbird's weight consists of flight muscles. (Humans’ pectoral muscles are about 5% of body weight.)

A hummingbird's brain is 4.2% of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom. With their high intelligence, they can remember every flower they have been to and how long it will take a flower to refill. They can hear better and see farther than humans. They can see ultraviolet light but have no sense of smell.

Food Frenzy
Hummingbirds do not drink though their beaks like a straw. They lap up nectar with their tongues. A hummingbird's tongue is grooved like the shape of a "W".
Hummingbirds need to eat on average 7 times per hour for about 30-60 seconds. They will visit an average of 1,000 flowers per day for nectar. They also eat small soft bugs for protein.

Hummingbirds will not get addicted to a hummingbird feeder, so fill with abandon! They know when to migrate south for the winter if necessary.

Patriarchy or Girl Power?
Male hummingbirds are very aggressive and will chase another male hummingbird out of its territory.

Hummingbirds do not mate for life. Male hummingbirds do not help raise the young.
Female hummingbirds do all the nest building, and they will lay a clutch of two eggs. Female hummingbirds are usually larger than male hummingbirds.

A hummingbird baby is about the size of a penny. They cannot fly at birth and will remain in the nest for three weeks.

Take Flight
Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly both forward and backwards. They can also hover in mid-air, fly sideways, and even upside-down. A hummingbird's wings will rotate in a full circle.

A hummingbird can fly an average of 25-30 miles per hour and can dive up to 60 miles per hour. A hummingbird’s wings will beat about 70 times per second and up to 200 times per second when diving.

World Travelers or Homebodies?

Hummingbirds are only found naturally in the Americas. They are found as far north as Alaska and as far south as Chile.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds have been known to travel 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico to breeding grounds, which takes about 20 hours.

Some hummingbirds will travel over two-thousand (2,000) miles twice a year during migration times. The Rufous Hummingbird travels the farthest north of any other hummingbird to migrate, all the way from Mexico to Alaska.

Apparently some people think hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese. This is not true! Geese fly on different migration paths or fly-zones than hummingbirds.

*Most of the 300+ members of the hummingbird species do not migrate.

Hummingbirds have very weak feet and can barely walk. While they are very comfortable in flight, they may actually spend most of their life perching.

Power Save Mode
When hummingbirds sleep at night, they go into a hibernation-like state called torpor to conserve up to 60% of their available energy.. When a hummingbird goes into torpor, their metabolic rate is 1/15 that of normal sleep. Their heart rate can drop to as few as 50 beats per minute, and their body temperature lowers to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius)! They will appear as if they are dead and have occasionally been found to be hanging upside-down. It can take up to an hour for a hummingbird to fully recover from torpor.

I hope you've been as fascinated as I was. Here's to backyard birding, art appreciation, and inspiration!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Weekend fun: alphabets

I'm in love with typography and alphabet inspired art. 
The ALPHABET is a key tool in the physical toolbox of expression.
I'm proud to honor it today, 
along with these featured artists! 
(credited whenever possible)

To start us off, here is a photo of the Celtic alphabet that hangs in my living room. I snatched it up the moment I laid eyes on it in a sweet, little shop in Dublin. It's based on the art found in the ancient Book of Kells.

{artist unknown}

As a teacher and children's book writer, I also swoon over alphabets created for children.

 My favorite board book

Admiring the intricacies of pen and pencil illustration...

Another collection of alphabet eye candy: FOUND ART

 French - avion, bicyclette, canard...

And finally farther afield...unusual examples of alphabet reverence.

And my FAVORITE of the day...

Find more ALPHABET LOVE on my Pinterest board!