Thursday, August 30, 2012

DIY Curtis Jere Raindrops Tutorial


This tutorial instructs one to make a knock-off, far cheaper version of the Curtis Jere Raindrops wall hanging. The real deal was sold in the 70s, and it is now going for no less than $5,500 for the chrome version.  My  interpretation cost me $6.50 in spray paint; everything else I had on hand. Actually, the spray paint I had on hand as well, but then I ran out and needed to buy more.

Materials: wood bits, milk containers, wood
glue, wire, wire cutters, spray paint, glue gun,
circle cookie cutters
You may also need burn salve

A close up of the frame in progress

1) To build the frame, I randomly glued wood bits together.  The Curtis Jere seems to have a frame in a more minimal shape, but I needed to have cross braces for attaching the wire.  So, my frame is a large rectangle with random crosses where my wood scraps fit across, glued with wood glue.  Then I cut many wire pieces and twisted them onto the points where the wood crossed eachother.   I spray painted everything white.

2) To make the circles, I used clay cutters in 2 different sizes.  I gathered up many, many transluscent milk, water and juice containers over the course of a year, but you could collect more than enough containers on one long walk on recycling day.  I heated up the cutters with tongs over a gas flame, and immediately pushed the hot cutter into the plastic. 

3)  Finally, I hot glued the circles to the wires on the frame.  That's it.  I cleaned up the glue bits and strings, attached a string, and voila!  I created a very cool replica of an even cooler sculpture.  It was suprisingly easy and turned out well.  Now that I'm finished, I wonder if I could have used tin can tops instead of milk bottle circles.  Next time!!
I installed the art over the couch.  I think it
is too small.  What do you think?

DIY Curtis Jere Raindrops Modern Wall Art

Okay, how cool is the C Jere sculpture/wall art above?  What's that?  Very, very cool, you say?  Yes, it is!  And, at $5,500, $6,300, or $7,000, c'est très cher!  Whatever is a girl to do?  Well, just like the starburst mirror that I made, after learning that starbursts go for at least $500, it's time to break out the DIY skills.  Now, my version will not be chrome.  Some day, I can dream of using little round mirrors from compacts or craft mirrors.  Or, good heavens, I could come into money and can buy the real thing!  I can really dream up some doozies, right?  But for now, my version will be made of plastic, cut from milk jugs and juice tops over the course of a year, like the version below:

Found on one of my favorite sites of

The shine factor is seriously reduced, it's true, but, if you didn't know that the chrome version existed, you might think the plastic one looks ephemeral and dreamy, and quite cool, right?

This view shows the framework

The above artwork was executed by pinning the plastic circles onto the wall.  The artist's name is Ani Hoover and I captured the images to the left from her site.  The C Jere version welds the circles to a wire frame to achieve the look.  My interpretation will combine the frame without the welding or pinning to the wall.  I completed a proof of concept, and I'm finishing up my DIY, cheap artwork now!  A tutorial will follow, for those kindred weirdos wishing to have junk artfully hanging on walls!

My proof of concept.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Join the Anti-Testing Movement - Why High Stakes Testing is Bad News for Students, Parents and Teachers

Michelle Rhee would look
much better like this.
Oh, why the duct tape? 
Here's why.
Hypocritcal b****.
In discussing three things that parents should worry about with high stakes testing, Valerie Strauss makes some very good, logical arguments.  I would add to her list the disconcerting fact that parents are not informed about their children's areas of strengths and deficiencies.  Now, many years ago, we took tests once a year, and we found out that we were 97% in spacial relations and 58% in listening comprehension, for instance.  Parents could do something with this information.  Now, parents are told, your child is a 2 in math and a 3 in ELA.  Well, what are they supposed to do with this?  How do you know where the problems are?  How do you know what skills your child needs to work on?  Answer: you don't.  What possible use is this test for the students and parents?  Answer: none.  It is completely not for the parents, and not for the students.  And there is an increasingly large amount of time spent on the actual tests, and a full-time push to prep for this test.  In other words, your child goes to school in order to rate his or her teacher, and that is it.  All parents should be extremely concerned. 

"If It was About the Children..." is a structure for a great article by Matthew L. Mandel, which exposes the artifice of the "reformers".  It is amazing how many people fall for these pundits who have little to no experience.  Some of my favorite lines from the article are:

  • These same politicians would be as incensed by children in their state having inadequate nourishment, dental, vision, and medical care as they are about whether same-sex partners have a right to be married.  
  • Academic historians like Diane Ravitch wouldn’t be labeled “traitors” because they no longer support business-model reforms. An intellectual, not a politician, Ravitch lets research and outcomes influence her conclusions. What a novel idea.
  • If it were about children, those who judge me would be able to do my job—today—not just be able to read a book in front of the cameras.
  •  if it were about children, teachers would be respected partners in any dialogue on necessary reforms. In what other profession are practitioners in the field given so little respect for their knowledge, insights, and contributions?

Go, Matthew!  I love it when someone says what I wanted to say with such elan!  Such lies and distortions that the education "deformers" shill don't hold up to thoughtful scrutiny, which is in short supply lately.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  In a exceptional case of synergy, the amazing NORM SCOTT just published an article about parents demanding to see the test results.  I love it!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nagging and Why Only Women Are Accused of Doing It

So, it occurs to me that many husbands accuse their wives of nagging, and I think I have figured out why this is so.  See, the division of labor falls along gender lines with men doing "special projects" and women completing regular tasks.  What I mean is, women's jobs usually include taking care of the kids, washing up, and cooking.  By and large, these are duties that cannot be put off indefinitely, even the washing up must be done somewhat consistently or you'll spend a fortune on new dishes and clothes.  In contrast, men's charges can be put off endlessly, which leads women to goad.  Fix the #%*@ squeaky hinge.  The fence needs to be &^#% painted.  The task that do have deadlines (I'm thinking of taking out the trash), are not areas in which wives need to badger. 

So, ladies, the next time you are accused of nagging, offer to switch jobs for a couple of months.  Yes, that may mean your clothes will be bleached out or shrunk three sizes too small, your children will look like vagrants and will probably develop five cavities, and your home may run the risk of becoming infested with vermin, but think of the fun you'll have as your husband takes care of the day-to-day while you catch up on your reading!  Just imagining it brings a smile to my face!!!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Choosing the Right School for Your Child, A Wish List

In just a few short weeks, I will be sending my child to kindergarten.  Most parents select a home for the schools, and I was no exception; however, she will not be attending the school in our neighborhood after all.  Our zoned school is, by all accounts, a "good" school, as is the school she is going to attend.  But, what exactly is a good school?  Does it mean good standardized test scores?  For some people a good school means that children are exposed to many different experiences and are allowed to explore their creativity and develop their interests.  To others it means a comforting, safe community where their child feels loved and welcome.  Many helicopter parents want their schools to prepare kids for the ubercompetitive world and give them the upper hand against their peers.  Others, like me, just want my child to be able to play and laugh, dance and make music, imagine, make friends, color and do things children do.  Youth is all too fleeting, and she can jostle and wrestle when she's older.

I wish we lived in simpler times, where we could educate our child by working with them day-to-day and show them the skills they'd need to survive.  But, if I lived in simpler times, I would not have a dishwasher or a grocery store, so that's out.  I wish I could teach my daughter in the school of life by visiting exotic lands and meeting interesting, creative people and visit world-class museums and view all types of architecture.  But, if we did that, we'd be living hand-to-mouth, and have to forgo health care and contract parasites, so that's really not an option. 

I really do not know to what type of school I am sending my daughter.  Her kindergarten group will only be the second graduating class of her school.  There is one cohort a year ahead of her, and that is all.  So, by almost all of the measures of a "good" school listed above, there is no surety that the school will provide any of those things.  And even I, with ten years now in the education field, know very little about what makes a school top-tier.  The most illustrious schools don't teach civics or manners or the things that makes a culture bearable to inhabit.  Our country is far too afraid of offending someone that we dare not teach children what is and what is not acceptable behavior.   And parents have abandoned raising their children, allowing the electronic babysitter to form their children's minds. 

It all becomes...
...a vicious cycle

It seems that parents have to select whether they want their child to be considerate, thoughtful, enterprising and, as a result of these characteristics, an outcast.  What will she have to offer in a conversation about The Kardashians or about the latest pop star's attempt at getting more naked than the last pop star?  I am sending her to a gifted and talented school, and in doing so, I hope that we will find similar parents that have that renounced the easy way, and choose to raise their children in the old-fashioned, time-intensive manner.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Mini Castles in Sand

L and her helper friend, who didn't want
to get "pictured"
Here's part of the reason I haven't been as active making miniatures for sale lately.  Making mini-castles!  Hooray.  Lovely, lovely beach day yesterday.  Please notice the tunnel under the bridge.  That is the brain child of my daughter, executed by my former-engineer husband.  Oh, comme je souhaite que le mot "engineur" n'etait pas en cette phrase.  It's fun to work in a new medium every once in a while.

Oh, and after this, we visited our secret seafood restaurant on a pier.  It's a secret, because it has no signs, and it's located behind a gas station.  Only the locals and people in the know can find it (actually, no one but the locals and people in the know would even be in the neighborhood, so I guess it's in no danger of selling out).  And, for dessert, we visited Twist It Top It, where you pour the ice cream and choose your toppings and pay by the weight.  Genius and delicious!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Way We Were - How Teaching Has Changed for the Worse

It's the middle of summer vacation, and I'm going through old computer files, when I find some old pictures that I took when I was a young teacher.  And I am amazed at the enthusiasm I obviously had for the field.  What happened?

Building cans of a fixed volume
and then writing about it
Oh, how I miss building robots
with kids!
Actually, I know what happened.  See, when I first started teaching, I taught 2 extra periods of math a week, and I had the same students for another subject for an additional 2 1/2 extra periods a week.  That's 12 1/2 periods with students instead of 8, which is a huge difference.  But, more importantly than the time element, there was far less accountability in terms of test scores.  In my first three years, I had so much freedom.  Some of the projects that I completed with my students involved building structures with toothpicks and marshmellows (to demonstrate the stability of the triangle),  designing a soda can of a fixed volume, drawing regular shapes with protractors, investigating fractals, building gear trains and levers and pulleys, learning least common multiples with Spirographs, building and researching a website using HTML, PhotoShop and Flash, using pentominos and tangrams, exploring the Fibonnaci sequence and Golden ratio in nature and art, and building and programming robots.  These are just the activities that I remember or for which I have photographic reminders.  It was great fun.
Building towers from marshmellows
and toothpics (picture is intentionally
blurred, even though these kids are
now of age)

This past year, after the all important test, I had planned on building scale models to help reinforce similar figures and proportional reasoning.  I had obtained the clay and tools I needed, and only needed a few photocopies to start the lesson.  My copies were denied and I was told to stick to the pacing calendar.  It was a downer.  The kids didn't know it had been planned, so they weren't disappointed, but I knew how bleak their year had been, and I was saddened that they couldn't have this one little bright spot.  Sure, I let them pour water to learn about capacity, we did use manipulatives for fractions, and I showed a cute interactive movie that involved an activity on the Twelve Days of Christmas, but each of these only lasted one lesson, and BrainPops are only around 3 minutes long. 

We are sucking all of the fun out of school.  Math is great fun, like a huge puzzle, but it is hard to pass on a love for math when it is all drill and kill.  It also drains the joy out of teaching, to say nothing about learning. 

I switched careers because my work in the dot com boom disappeared after the dot com bust.  It was not meaningful work anymore.  I wanted to make a more lasting impact.  I hope that I have done and continue to do so, but it's harder and harder to tell.  I wish I still loved teaching like I once did.  Hopefully, the teacher bashing and the high-stakes testing nonsense has swung as far as it will, and things will return, at least a bit, to the way things were.  As it is now, they basically all but dictate what to teach, how to teach, for how long and in what style, and then it is the teacher's fault when their test scores are not stellar.  Let us do what we, as professionals, have been doing until the politicians and the talking heads interfered, which is inspire a love of learning.  It's really not about factoring polynomials; it's about instilling curiosity and creating life-long learners.  Can I get an amen?!

Great Teachers Who Want to Teach Whole Kids Get Pushed Out


I swear, I'm not
making this stuff up
Honestly, this is so silly
This author has hit the nail on the head.  She says everything I want to say on the subject of teacher harrassment, but she does it much more eloquently.  Face it, there's a lot of incorrect ideas being pushed on teachers, from group work (works great for motivated kids, not well at all for the unmotivated and unfocused) to mini-lessons (teachers can only teach for ten minutes), to Parking Lots (don't answer questions when they have one, have them write in down on a sticky and put in on a piece of paper labeled "Parking Lot" to be addressed later - seriously).  Oh, and I forgot about the Noise Meter, which teachers should set to "Quiet" when the students are too loud to indicate that they should speak quieter, but yet the classroom isn't teacher-centric, and if they're already supposed to be quiet, wouldn't it already be set to "Quiet" and, well, nevermind, I could go on and on about the inanities.  My point is that teachers are compassionate people and are trying to do the right thing.  But, God help them if they ask for things to be done the right way. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I've Looked at Life from Both Sides Now - Why Do Women Wish to Be Married?

I saw a middle school boy today wearing a "Game Over" t-shirt with graphic that showed a bride and groom; the groom wore a frown while the bride wore a smile.  You have to wonder what his parents are thinking allowing him to wear something that underscores a sexist belief in their son, but parenting is not the point of this post.  No, I can't help but think how marriage looks different from the single vantage point than it does as a married. 

I always looked at my mother as someone who was robbed: when she wed, it was taken for granted that the woman would stay at home and the man would provide financially for her and the family.  Now, this could be extremely limiting for the female, as she would be isolated with menial tasks to do all day, and what would she do if something happened to her husband or she just picked a do-nothing loser?  But, there's a whole generation of women that made their "career" choice by default, or, as in the case of my mother, from a very small selection of traditionally female jobs.  This list included teachers, nurses, and secretaries.  My mother, ever the practical one, chose secretarial school, because she didn't see the use in earning a four-year degree that she would probably use for less time that it took in her studies.  Fair enough.  So, imagine her dismay when she then had to work until the age of 68. 

Watching her work as hard as she did inside and outside the home, I grew wary of marriage.  Mom told me many times to not get married until I was at least 30 (boy, did I take that to heart!), because the best years of a woman's life are when she is earning her own money.  Why, then, are so many women so desparate to marry while men try to avoid it?  There have been many studies that show that married men are more satisfied and live longer than single men, while the same does not hold true for married women.  In fact, in order of happiness, married men are the most content, followed by single women, married women, and single men bring up the rear on the contentment scale.  Hmmmm...

Go ahead, taste your freedom
again, boys.  Get yourself
There's no question anectdotally that women work harder in a marriage then husbands.  Does anyone else have the "take care of this" act taken in their house?  That's where the husband just leaves things in a state, assuming that it will get taken care of.  My husband has cleaned the house exactly zero times.  When we came home to find all of our things covered in construction dust, he did not feel guilty leaving me to sort it out while he went boating in Connecticut, or went to his parents to "pay bills" for the whole day.  And, as I point out regularly, we have the same exact job.  Men are amazing, aren't they?  And then they joke about how they're like inmates in their marriages.  I'd like to allow a prison-break; I'll even help dig the tunnel!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Relaxing, Stress-Free Parenting

I have a bone to pick with the author of "Bringing Up Bébé":  your book is five years too late.  Susan Druckerman's book talks about how tiring the American style of parenting can be.  One of my favorite quotes is "good parenting is exhausting".  Well, maybe not.  When Mrs. Druckerman talked about narrated play, I couldn't help but cringe, as I was guilty of this act, yelling "whee" whenever my daughter went down the slide or "good job" when she completed a tiny hop.
Everything is better and more scenic
in France!
I have always felt like I was a great parent, because I limit my child's screen time.  That in itself is exhausting.  But since reading "Bringing Up Bébé", I realize that, although she's not mindlessly unengaged in front of the boob tube, she is relying on me for entertainment.  Perhaps it is her status as an only, but at adult dinners, she feels she is an equal in the conversation.  This, apparently, is not the case in France.  Children and adults move in very different circles: adults have adult conversations and children entertain themselves.

Apparently, as an American, it is assume that child-rearing is like a competitive sport.  What won't you do for your child?  But we can be misguided in our zealotry to give our children every advantage.  In Africa, hands-off parenting fosters self-confidence, resilience, imagination, mutual respect, a sense of humor, and a sense of justice; characteristics found in diminishing quantities in American youth. Amazonian youngsters help out with major responsibilities that ensure the survival of the tribe.

The truth is, my daughter can entertain himself, which she does often, but not so much in my company, which says what about me?  I like to think that I am such a fun mom that she sees me as irresistably delightful company.  That's possible, right?  Anyhow, I am using Mrs. Druckerman's advice now at the park, so that I don't give play-by-plays of my daughter's every move.  And although it may not be very Gallic of me, the playground is fun, and I still get in the occasional "hooray". 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

All Things Great and Small - He's a Magic Man

I am back from vacation.  Actually, we returned two weeks ago, but I have been tackling the overwhelming pile of dust and grime that was my entire household.  See, we had our kitchen redone while away, and foolish me thought everything would be fine in the two other floors of my home.  Zowie, was I ever wrong!

The family vacation was fab-u-lous!  I spent quality time this occasion with my parents and sisters, and my daughter got to catch up with her cousins that she loves so much.  Most vacations have a very sad ending, because a) I'm leaving my family and b) because there is such a long car ride home that my buzumpus starts to hurt just thinking about it.  And although leaving my family is never easy, this time I got to look forward to quite a bit on the way home.

The first bright spot of the ride was a visit to Ann Arbor.  Now, many, many moons ago, while I still lived in Michigan, I was accepted into the University of Michigan's honor's program, and it is one of my life's biggest regrets that I didn't attend this institution.  I received more scholarships from a school in Kalamazoo, which is an actual place, and as shitty as you probably picture it, which was good for a young girl who paid for school completely on her own.  Yes, the house I lived in on campus was precariously close to being condemned, and, yes, I survived on Ramen noodles and Mac n' Cheese for far, far too long (although I always had plenty of beer on hand, if memory serves correctly).  Anyhoo, after graduation, if I had planned on staying in Michigan, I would have needed to move to Ann Arbor.  It is a collegiate town populated with urbane types that can converse about something other than how the Bible supports every selfish and ungracious position held by extreme right-wingers.  Whew, I guess I didn't like Michigan, huh?

Fairies don't have neon technology, duh!
One of the amazing things that I learned about Ann Arbor since I've left is the appearance of fairy doors.  I wanted to see these doors the last two trips that we made to the midwest, and my opportunity came this time.  I was armed with a list of possible locations, and a hard-won promise to spend "at least three hours" searching for them.  Husbands, it seems, feel that fairy doors come clearly labeled and are out in the open, when any fairy fanatic worth her pixie dust will tell you they are secretive, and difficult to find.

At our first stop, I noticed a man crouched down and collecting things from a low place.  Later, after we discovered our first fairy door just where this man was moments earlier, I observed this same person photographing my daughter and me.  And then, when we were ready to leave to continue our hunt, still reeling from our first fairy find, this mysterious gentlemen signalled for us to approach.  Well, imagine my surprise when he turned out to be none other than Jonathan b. Wright, famed and certifiable fairyologist, possessor of the Great Seal of Oberon and the Lesser Seal of Puck!  For me, it was like meeting Santa Claus.  A creative, fun, youthful spirit that made me really, really regret not attending U of M.  A revelatory exchange occurred during our brief encounter:

Our former fairy door that disappeared as
mysteriously as it appeared
Me to Jonathan: We had a fairy door, but it disappeared.
Husband Interruptus: What door?
Me to Husband: The one that was on our tree.
Husband Interruptus: The one that you built?
Jonathan: The one that the fairies built.

He had me at hello.  Some people believe in magic (me), some people create it (Jonathan), and others quash it (I'll let you determine of whom I speak).

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