One Year Old!

January 30, 2012 § 7 Comments

This is a big deal! We have been blogging for one year.


In honor of this celebratory moment we are giving away this wreath I made.

For a chance to win, share your favorite post or topics you enjoy reading in the comment section. A winner will be chosen at random this Friday.

Thank you, dear Readers, for making our first year of blogging wonderful.


The Importance of Doodles

January 27, 2012 § 11 Comments

Doodling often gets a bad rap in classrooms and work meetings, as Sunni Brown points out in her TED talk. But, as she also says, doodling is an important part of our ability to process and retain information. Her brief talk below is both fascinating and a little liberating.

Unlike Pakou, I have no eye for drawing and my doodling is usually limited to geometric shapes and birds.

I put birds on most documents.

But I have many friends who do have such talents for doodling and drawing, and they often delight me with their gifts. Here are a few that continue to stay posted on my fridge and in my work space.

1. From my college friend Amelia who frequently left inspiring notes:

2. From my coworker Becky who graciously kept writing through my many revisions:

I love the inclusion of my cup of tea! True editing can’t happen without it. I’m pretty sure I’m about to pick up a red pen below.

3. From Jesse, who advised Pakou and I in our gardening adventures this summer:

We looked just like this, too:

4. From my sister, who loves.

5. And my favorite, from my friend Erik. Several years ago, I asked that any birthday gifts be “tree-related.” And this is what he gifted me:

I wouldn’t say I love Walt Whitman, but I do resonate with his appreciation of trees. The above is one of my favorite quotes as well as as this one:

“Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?”

Have we not, indeed. Let’s go out and move and create. Start by doodling.

Mid-Winter Week Laughter

January 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

Daily life activities, a curry noodle soup explosion in the kitchen, and listening to Obama’s State of the Union address took most of my time this evening; therefore, this post is written about what is daily on mind and what inspires me to go to work everyday. This post isn’t about artistry or aesthetics but it is about good people.

My students.

It’s been a while since I have shared some of my interactions with them. Some days are frustrating and tiring, but I’m thankful for the overall joy they share with me.

Sometimes I wish I could hug away some of the issues my students deal with.

A couple of months ago, I cut off more than 10 inches of hair. It’s the shortest it has ever been since my baby days. Lately, I have been styling my hair a bit different and one of my students noticed.

Miss Vang: What do you think about my new hair style?

First grade boy: You look good and black.

At times working with students with communication difficulties can be somewhat humorous. The following conversation gave me some insight in how adults can often use confusing language with young students.

Miss Vang: Tanya (1st grader name changed), you keep getting taller and taller every time I see you.

Tanya: Next year, I’m gonna be a grown up.

Teaching social skills can be frustrating and funny all within one session. This interaction occurred while helping a class of 6 and 7 year olds on how to identify emotions and share examples of when they feel a certain way.

Teacher: What is this face? (a photo is shown to the class of a boy with a squirmy face)

Class: Gross! (kids yelled it out)

Tanya: Like dirty rice gross! (referencing a hot food option that kids detest)

A nod to my students who inspire me to be a better speech-language pathologist. I am a lucky one.

Portrait 74

January 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

Scott Hamilton, a professional woodworker and unfurling artist, has been making portraits of individuals based on public profile pictures. His goal is to have 100 drawings completed in 20 weeks. A few months ago I came across his project and desired to be involved. I forgot about that request until he shared his 74th portrait titled Pakou.

Scott Hamilton, pencil, 2 3/8" x 3 1/8"

A nod to Scott Hamilton.

Top 10 Books of 2011

January 23, 2012 § 5 Comments

With January almost over, am I too late to tell you my favorite books read during 2011? I do like list-making and the different ways you can measure the passing of a year. So I took a look back and picked ten books whose writing or characters continue to stay with me.

I don't think Mr. Darcy got into politics.

1. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. I’d never read this classic before and thought it would be some slow-paced social comedy of the Jane Austen type (which I do enjoy), but this novel zips along like a contemporary adventure movie with all the necessary cliffhangers, twists and turns, and political intrigue of a modern thriller. It was an unexpected delight and I was hooked.

2. The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccomatios by Yann Martel. In this collection of short stories, the story titled “The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton” (I’m a sucker for lengthy, involved titles) kept this book on the list. When I finished it, I remember abruptly sitting up, emitting an audible gasp. It’s not that this story is the next 21st century classic, but the masterful way in which Martel wraps up all the story’s themes made me admire and envy his extraordinary talent for storytelling.

3., 4., and 5. This year three books of poetry made it to my list. The volumes of Lucifer at the Starlite by Kim Addonizio and The Need to Hold Still by Lisel Mueller quickly made these women some of my favorite poets. (I posted two of their poems here.) The volume Here, Bullet by Brian Turner deals with his time as a solider in Iraq. War seems such an unpoetic topic, yet Brian Turner paints vivid pictures of soldiers and civilians, culture and history, the brutality of war and the beauty of life.

“This is a language made of blood.
It is made of sand, and time.
To be spoken, it must be earned.”

(from “A Soldier’s Arabic”)

6. Blankets by Craig Thompson. I’m not an avid reader of graphic novels, but I really enjoyed this quiet story of a Midwest teenager growing up in a small conservative town and wrestling with ideas of religion, love, and family. It’s honest, sometimes hard to read, and beautifully drawn. Also worth checking out is Thompson’s recent Habibi, which also deals with hard issues, love and religion in the Middle East.

"How satisfying it is to make a mark on a blank surface. To make a map of my matter how temporary."

7. Zeroville by Steve Erickson. With a tattoo of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift on his head, the the main character shows up in Hollywood in 1969, knowing nothing else of life but movies. It’s a quirky book with a muddled plot, but through it Erickson explores the history of movies: of acting and editing, of trends and innovation. It’s a story told via the written word that captures well the magic of movies.

8. Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson. Of all the WWII stories of hiding and escape that I’ve read over the years, this novella is unique in that the Jewish man who is hidden by a Dutch couple grows sick and doesn’t survive. The story deals with the aftermath and the guilt of a couple who have tried to help out their neighbor and must go into hiding themselves.  It’s an interesting point of view by a German Jew who survived by hiding with strangers in Holland.

9. Bossypants by Tina Fey.  It’s just so funny! Pakou introduced it to me first when she excerpted it here. With several of my friends  taking interest in improv, I enjoyed learning more about the craft and the way an improv mentality can influence the way you live. Like always responding with a “yes, and…” so that you always contribute something to the scene, so that the scene can always move forward. And did I mention? She’s so funny! “I am a big believer in Intelligent Design,” she writes. “And by that I mean I love IKEA!”

10. How to Keep Your Volkswagon Alive by Christopher Boucher. This is a quirky novel that is partly about maintenance (the Volkswagon runs on stories), partly about parenting (the 1971 Volkswagon Beatle is actually the protagonist’s son), and partly about a journey (as the protagonist deals with his father being carried away by a Heart Attack Tree). It takes awhile to get into the surreal rhythm of the story since Boucher makes up some words and redefines others, but it’s worth it when you stumble across so many beautiful passages like this one:

Once I was on my way towards Route 116 in Amherst when, in the middle of those cranberry turns, I looked over and found my passenger to be an old, creaky mechanical bull. This bull rode with a bottle of wine between his legs, and he wore a wide-collared shirt, and his face told me that he’d been forced over the course of his trip to say goodbye to people that he loved. He was holding in that love. It burned inside him like a soldier.

What were your favorites of the year?

Weekend Do: Winter Days Edition

January 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

The winter weather has captured this blog and so it continues…

1. Do enjoy the snow. I absolutely love being the first one to step into a field of untouched snow. It’s as if I reached sacred ground that holds the secret – the secret of how deep my boot will sink or if the sound of my foot imprinting the snow will be a crunch or a slush.

via Pinterest

2. Do spend time checking out your local library. I have been in a library frenzy. Being outside in the snow and cold air is great, but another great feeling is coming indoors from the cold. Visits to the library has made my indoor time a lot cozier with movies and books. I have a lengthy list of craft, drawing, and clean food cook books on hold. The best thing is that I get to feed my mind with ideas and others get to do the same. The great thing about this is that it’s all free – YES!

My books from the library sit right next to the books that belong to me on my bookshelf. I wonder what kind of conversations the library books have with my permanent books.

3. Do make lists. Not only have I been in a library frenzy, I’m also in a list frenzy. It could be that the new year brings a freshness that lends to creating lists rather than checking the objectives off as they happen. Some of the lists I have made are to do’s around the home, a birthday list (almost exactly 7 months away), adventure ideas, and movies that I would like to see. I’m super excited about Wes Anderson’s newest film, which premieres in May.

What are you crossing off your list this wintery weekend?

Whatever the Weather

January 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve noticed before how weather seems key to so many of our blog posts. I suppose it’s a carry over from face to face conversation. “Some weather,” we say in passing to the cashier at the grocery store; or to the friends we see daily,  “Can you believe this is January?”

So we say to you, readers, as we start our conversation in this space: Think of the weather! And here is art.

Maybe it’s just that winter has taken so long in coming this year that I continue Pakou’s thread of wintery posts, because even with the weather – a mundane, everyday topic – we are still amazed. Even among things that happen every year, such as the first snowfall, which Peter Eaton captures below in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

I guess we must measure our time somehow, and weather is an old and trusted method. Ken Murphy measured time this way by a yearlong time lapse study of the sky. He captured an image every 10 seconds for the entire year and compiled it in 360 frames so the patterns of light and weather over the course of each day are easily compared.

Eirik Solheim of Oslo, Norway did a similar project, but he captured 3,888 photos of the same scene and compiled slices of each into one photo, moving through the year from January to December:

The passing of this day, however, is much slower, and for this I measure with snapshots not of weather, but brief moments of praise, as the poet Marcus Jackson does in “Winter Thanks.”

To the furnace—tall, steel rectangle
containing a flawless flame.
To heat

gliding through ducts, our babies
asleep like bundled opal.

every furry grain of every
warm hour, praise each
deflection of frost,

praise the fluent veins, praise
the repair person, trudging
in a Carhartt coat

to dig for leaky lines, praise
the equator, where snow
is a stranger,

praise the eminent sun
for letting us orbs buzz around it
like younger brothers,

praise the shooter’s pistol
for silencing its fire by
reason of a chilly chamber

praise our ancestors who shuddered
through winters, bunched
on stark bunks,

praise the owed money
becoming postponed by a lender
who won’t wait

much longer in the icy wind,
praise the neon antifreeze
in our Chevrolet radiator,

and praise the kettle whistle,
imitating an important train,
delivering us

these steam-brimmed sips of tea.

It’s good to end poems and days with tea, regardless of the weather. We should all make a practice of both.

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