May 28, 2011

Our solution to those filthy fingerprints...

Home to our TV, games, and toys, our basement is where our kids head to for fun.  But in getting there they have been leaving dirty fingerprints along a half wall that juts out on the right side of our staircase.  With a railing only on the left side going down, my right-handed children naturally grab for what they can and leave trails of whatever they’ve been touching all along that wall.
We’ve lived here for nearly three years now and I have repainted just about every room in the colors I like best.  But our basement and the stairwell leading to it are still the color the previous owners had painted it, what we’ll call new-house-off-white of the poorest quality.  It’s not resistant to dirt at all, and since we moved in with four kids we’ve proven that to be true.
Tired of the fingerprints, I finally did what I do when faced with a need for serious cleaning: I painted.  I wasn’t ready to paint the giant stairwell along with the main room of the basement to which it leads, so I used the shape of the odd wall to my advantage and painted just that part.  As you may know if you’ve read here before, I’m not shy about putting things on walls that don’t ordinarily go there:
This solution works well for me not only because it covers up the dirt that was there, but by using glossy acrylic craft paint for this project I’ve created a smooth surface that can easily be wiped down when my filthy-fingered kids pass that way.  If I don't get around to that for another three years, nobody will mind a little dirt on the grass or the stone wall anyway.
And I suppose that by creating this little cartoonish garden, I’ve now left my fingerprint on another corner of our home.

May 21, 2011

No Elmer's glue, construction paper, or googly-eyes in sight...

Creativity, to me, is not the presence of a particular talent, but the desire to produce something of beauty.  Made in our Creator’s image, we have an urge to be like Him and make things.  Not being Him, our creations are poor, primitive imitations of what He has made in perfection.  A painting of a flower, no matter the artistic skill of the painter, will never capture the beauty of a flower entirely.  Talented photographers can’t even do that.  And though some people can grow beautiful flowers in elaborate gardens, they will never be able to speak them into being as our Creator did.  Yet in our limited abilities and pale reflection of His perfect creativity, we long to express something inexplicable from deep within and make stuff, flawed as it may be.
In our homeschooling and other aspects of our life as a family, it’s fairly easy to find creative things for my children to do.  I have found it just as easy to put off exercising creativity on my own.  My family is and should be my priority, but I’ll often use that as an excuse to not put time and effort into the smallest of project ideas that aren’t directly related to the kids, in order to be sure I’m not taking something away from them.   I have been wrong.
I had a list of simple little painting projects building up in my mind in recent weeks that I had been thinking perhaps, maybe, possibly I could do this summer when we aren’t homeschooling.  Normally when this happens the project list grows at precisely the same rate as the list of other things I think I should be doing with my time.  Like the dishes.  And the laundry.  And organizing or re-organizing the house.  And planning for the next school year.  And thinking up projects for the kids.
But in a rare occurrence of doing things differently than I usually do them, I took the plunge and began to put time aside for these simple projects.  I took to heart what I knew in my head of being made in the image of my Creator, and set to work on my humanly flawed but fun projects:

Terra cotta pots are easily painted with acrylics. This one is intended to resemble the look of my fake flowers.

A touch of paint on the basket, and a new face for this little shelf from plain wood to the painted-and-aged look I enjoy.

This was the lid to a hand-me-down basket that had been a bit too rustic-country for me, repainted to fit my girly-floral taste and as an homage to a fistful of flowers given to me by my sweet daughter.  Displayed like a large platter above our china cabinet, this quick makeover hides the original look and makes it more pleasing to my eye and more fitting with our home.
Just in case the kids forget where we keep the food.  This too was a facelift on a hand-me-down rustic item.  With some acrylics and a paint pen it was easily tweaked to fit our decor.
These clearly didn’t take much time.  And instead of robbing my children of anything, I realized I was doing for them what I try to do in the rest of my mothering: setting an example.  If they grow up thinking that projects of creative expression are things moms only do with their kids, they’ll stop pursuing it in their free time when they reach adulthood.  And that truly would be robbing them of something.

May 14, 2011

The final countdown...

The end of the school year and a wonderful summer are in sight around here; not just in our mind’s eye, but in the hallway next to our kids’ bedrooms.  This past week I asked our three younger students to help me make a countdown chart.
I assigned our eight-year-old Daniel with the task of drawing a picture of the three of them doing their schoolwork.  Not the artsy sort, but definitely a comedian, he came up with a scene at our kitchen table in which his twin Zach is thinking about food, his ambitious little six-year-old sister Audra is trying divide 500 by 57, and he is thinking about a video game.  He even included his teenage brother Scott attempting to find the square root of a twelve-digit number.  (Scott was not involved in our chart-making venture.  Though equally eager for summer, he doesn’t need such things to keep his eyes on the prize.)  I wanted a drawing that showed the reality of how we’re feeling about school as the promise of summer lies ahead, and Daniel didn’t disappoint:
Zach was in charge of drawing figures of each of the three of them.  We cut out the little Wilburs and taped them to bamboo skewers I had lying in the back of a kitchen drawer.  His little figures were so personalized and adorable that they will not get tossed after our countdown is complete.  I see some puppet shows in our future starring miniature Zach, Daniel, and Audra...
Audra had the cheerful assignment of drawing a picture of the three of them enjoying their summer vacation.  Knowing she loves to draw outdoor scenes, I thought this would be the right job for her, and she proved that to be true:
My task in our countdown chart was to use a desktop publishing program to create a banner on which the number of days we had left counted down to one.  I included a backdrop of checkmarks in boxes to help add to the sense of accomplishment and progress.  I set the numbers up high on the page, and after printing and taping the pages together, I folded the bottom of the banner up and taped between each number to create pockets for our little puppets.  We taped Daniel’s woeful school scene to the wall at one end of the hall, followed by the numerical countdown, and finished off with a pretty summer day through the eyes of our little girl.  In went the puppets to begin their countdown to summer.
Every day after they’ve completed all their schoolwork, Zach, Daniel, and Audra move their paper counterparts one step closer to the end of the school year.  It motivates them to do their work each day, and it reminds us all that the season of bug-catching, bike-riding, swimming, sidewalk chalk, squirt gun battles, capture the flag, freeze-pops, and lazy-hazy days is just around the corner.  Or down the hallway.

May 7, 2011

Chaos on the coffee table...

If you heard shouts of jubilation in the distance this past Thursday evening at precisely 5:18, that was the Wilbur family declaring the week of standardized testing officially over.  Allow me to present a small taste of the type of questions found on these tests.  Here we have two pictographs for your analysis:
This first one above is entitled: The Week Before Testing.  Each cock-eyed book and paper represents one unit of the homeschooling mother’s lost sanity as she scrambles to get things done before setting it all aside for a week of tedious and tiresome tests.  Each piece of garbage seen in the pictograph represents five units.  The fish filter box needed two days earlier for submitting a rebate represents two units, and the fishing hat represents five because it doesn’t even belong to the mother.  All other non-essential items represent three units of lost sanity.  Given the information presented in the pictograph, please answer the following: How does the family survive with a mother whose Command Central looks like that?
This second pictograph is entitled: Finito.  The standardized tests have been administered, and the day afterward spent restoring life to whatever we call normal around here.  The garbage has disappeared, the books and school papers put away.  The little round box that holds spelling words (removed from our walls for the sake of honest testing) has even been given a paint treatment.  The coffee represents twenty-five units of restored sanity, and ten for each bottle of nail polish.  Given this information as well as the absence of chaos in this pictograph, and comparing it with the previous one, please answer the following: How long will it take before the coffee table looks that frightening again?