Kids’ Art Class Update

As I headed to art “class,” the kids were already waiting in the alley. We had class outside today which was kind of funny considering this is the San Luis Valley which is ALWAYS windy and we were working with tissue paper. There were plenty of rocks around to hold stuff down and, godnose, we’re used to the wind. The whole time we were outside working, Bear heard us and barked. We heard her a block away.

We made ghosts. I showed them a finished one and asked them to tell me how I made it. Good strategy. The kids made a bunch, hung them all around, put glow-in-the-dark paint on the ghosts’ eyes. They’re going to tell me later if the ghosts’ eyes glow. “Do you want to stay for supper and wait to see if the ghosts’ eyes glow?” asked the little girl. Because we were outside, there was much running around, then we drew a haunted house.

My drawing is hanging in the little boy’s room. Finally got my gallery show.

The little girl threaded a needle for the first time. They got new snow boots. The little girl offered to come home with me and pick up Teddy’s toys from the back yard. The little boy told me to text his mom when Bear decides where she wants to take her walk today. Going for a walk with Bear and me is his best thing EVER.

I watch them and take in all the beautiful pictures of what they do for the scrapbook of wonder I keep in my mind.

News Flash from the San Luis Valley: More of the Same and that’s OK

Yesterday I sought refuge with Bear and there was a whiff of fall in the air, the fragrance of damp fallen leaves by the pond. Fall was more apparent in the colors of the landscape which here, in the high valley, are universally golden except for the wild currant bush that turns bright red.

None of these out at the refuge.

I saw “my” cows, but Beautiful Bessie was no where in sight. Not that these are ugly cows.

The girls outstanding in their field

The big fire in northwestern Colorado is keeping the mountains out of sight.

The cranes have arrived in their autumn numbers, different from spring when tens of thousands converge on the refuge more or less at once. In fall they kind of straggle in and head off at some point for New Mexico where they’ll stay until March. That’s the story, anyway, but my life here has shown me that they are around all year in limited numbers.

Today is a “school” day, and Hallowe’en is on the horizon. We’ll be making these little guys:

This is Megan, a prototype that we will take apart so the kids know how to put her together again. I will put her together again so at the end of the film I can add in the credits, “No paper and pipe-cleaner spiders were permanently damaged in the making of this film.”

And once more, I tip my hat to elementary school teachers. I don’t know how you do it. I just have two who like me and want to learn and it’s WAY more than I can deal with (in truth). And how do you do it now that recess doesn’t exist any more? I remember elementary school, and by the time recess came around I was so wound up it wasn’t funny and I was one of the calm ones…


When I was in my late 30s and early 40s I found myself surrounded by a bunch of boys who were the right age to have been my kids. They ranged in age from 10 to 15. They were ALWAYS at my house except to sleep. They went hiking with me. I took them to the BMX jumps. We went out for pizza together. We talked about life. We went to the mountains. We made a movie about BMXing. They had free run of my fridge. The youngest one, Mikey, was 10 and soon learned that I loved to see a hawk and that I called them, “My love.” He would point at them high in the sky and say, “Martha! There’s your love!”

Most often I’d hike for several hours and then walk back a 2 mile road to my truck which was parked near the BMX jumps. In the cool of a late summer afternoon, sweat drying on my back, my dogs beside me, tired and happy, I’d look up at a particular rock and see a kid watching for me. Then I’d hear, “She’s here!” By the time I’d reach them, usually their stuff would be packed up and they had loaded it into the truck. I remember one day feeling, “Wow. I always wanted to be part of a group of friends. Who knew they’d be adolescent boys and I’d be 40?”

Today I loaded Bear into the car to go to the Refuge, but when I got to the end of the alley, I noticed the golf course was pretty empty. The little boy came running to the fence. I rolled down the car window. “Miss Martha! Miss Martha!” His mom followed. I asked if I could park there, thinking I’d just take Bear to her happiest of happy places — the golf course. Then, deciding it was probably illegal, I decided just to drive back up the alley and park in my driveway.

“Can I go with Miss Martha?” he asked his mom.

“If it’s OK with her.” It was. He ran out of his yard like this was the GREATEST THING EVER TO HAPPEN, hopped up in Bella and fastened the seat belt.

We drove a ways up toward the golf course so I could turn around legally. There was a HUGE crane truck there with an IMMENSE boom.

“That’s the biggest boom I’ve ever seen,” he said.

“Do you remember the first thing you said to me?” I asked him. “You said, ‘There’s a crane!'”

“Well I never saw one that close before.” That was two years ago and he was five. A crane was lifting the roof from the pump house belonging to the golf course, and he was in his yard, in the snow, watching it.

We took Bella home and walked back with Bear. He got permission to go with me. His mom said, “Maybe I should go get his sister,” but I said no, that the little boy and Bear were all I could handle. Maybe that wasn’t completely true, but his sister has a much larger personality, and the little guy needs his chance, too, an adventure all his own.

We walked across the golf course, I took his picture by the crane truck, I explained why there are “sand holes” and what kind of club you use to get the ball out. He exclaimed over the REALLY tall cottonwood trees that would “…take all day to climb.” I answered his questions about how a golf course works. He’s lived across the street from it for 2 years and never saw it before, except the hole beside his house. He worried that his mom couldn’t see him, but he wanted to keep going. She’d prepared him with a hat and a full water bottle.

We headed back and I noticed a beautiful aspen leaf. I said something. He picked it up and found a couple more pretty leaves on his own to go with the golf ball and tee he’d picked up. We stopped and listened to the wind blowing the leaves of an aspen tree.

When we got back to his house he ran up to his sister and said, “I got to ride in Miss Martha’s car and go to the golf course!” like all that was Disneyland. He gave the leaves to his sister and showed her his golf ball and tee. I chatted a bit and headed home. Then I heard, “Miss Martha! Wait!” I stopped. He caught up and said, “Here’s a cookie for you.”

I thought about this when I got home. It’s true that us old people have more time for meanderings of a childlike nature than does the generation currently holding up the sky, but my values have always been these. Maybe that’s why my first group of friends was a bunch of teenage boys. 🙂

Art School?

I’ve now “taught” art to the kids for a whole month. Yesterday was our worst class so far, but I think that’s due to two things. First, they had a BIG change in their lives over the weekend. They went to Denver (and back). They liked it. Second, their parents are very involved in a project right now — they repair cars in their garage at home — and they have a classic (1978, sigh) Oldsmobile to work on. They are nearing their deadline. I don’t think kids thrive on variety and change. I think it messes them up.

They were desperate for undivided attention from an adult. They were less interested in doing an art project than telling me their stuff. I probably should have given up and just listened to them, but a little voice inside says to me, “You’re here for this purpose and it’s a good idea to pursue that. It’s teaching, too.” I’m serious about teaching. Never in my whole career did I doubt its importance, and I don’t now. At one point I said, “C’mon you guys. We hang out all the time. This is art time, OK?”


Our little task yesterday had a couple of lessons. One was symmetry. The other was that water doesn’t move wax. I got the lesson plan from a website about teaching art to 3rd graders. It seemed like a good idea because it fit with my goal which is helping the little girl get a little more small muscle control in her hands.

In anticipation for the class, I cut up a sheet of water color paper into fourths, and drew the outlines of butterflies on two of them. I outlined butterflies on the paper in yellow so the color would disappear when the kids worked on their projects.

First, I taught them about symmetry by showing them how it exists on their own bodies. They loved that. Then I showed them how butter floats on water. That blew them away. They really expected it to dissolve. I had them feel their crayons and they did get that they felt kind of greasy. “So what’s going to happen when we put water on them?”

I suddenly felt the terrible overwhelming burden of knowledge and how fucking much of it is there is and how intricate and complicated it is. I felt a rush of gratitude to my own parents and my childhood. My mom might not have liked me, but she was a good teacher. And I followed my dad everywhere just because he taught me things. The little boy would follow me everywhere for the same reason.

So they outlined their butterflies in black and then they were supposed to draw the same pattern on each wing so the butterflies were symmetrical. I drew with them. In my mind, of course, were the thousands of butterflies I’ve seen in my life and all I know about them. That was NOT in the kids’ minds. I don’t think they’ve ever looked closely at a butterfly. I’d predicated this whole exercise on their love of butterflies and an erroneous assumption that they’d actually ever SEEN one. The little boy looked at the pictures I’d brought and attempted to make symmetrical wings, and the little girl started out good, but ultimately lost track. That’s all fine. Learning is not the same as mastery and, between us, learning is more interesting.

Then we painted over the crayon. I had brought my paints and though they have their own paints, they used mine which made me happy, actually. Since I started this, I’ve begun to believe that, except for drawing, kids should have the best materials there are to learn with. Good paint is much less frustrating than cheap paint.

I headed back down the alley afterward thinking that it’s just like university. If ONE thing penetrates it’s a good day.

I then thought about the purpose of school. One purpose — I’ve come to realize — is to give kids a place to go away from their home as a demarcation of “this is our learning place” and “this is our family place.” As it was for me, school is also a place where kids can get away from their parents’ preoccupations. I think kids should go to school. Maybe not this year, but in normal times. Yeah, there are a lot of problems with our current educational system, but I believe that anyone who wants to learn will.

Ahead are the holidays which means crafts. I don’t enjoy that at all, but a good teacher meets his/her students where they are and next week we’ll make spiders with pipe cleaners and construction paper. What I LOVE is the kids’ parents are so in love with what we’re doing. It’s amazing.

Quotidian Update 43.2.xxi.5

Our domestic star is reminding me that I have not derived the maximum benefit from the window cleaning kit I bought in the spring. When I get that reminder (daily?) I think (daily?) that home ownership is a 24/7 job and I only show up for work when I have to. I have the impression that I’m the manager of this establishment, but I think I might be the crew…

Bear’s limp has returned and I’ve noticed that her elbow is turned outward. I’m thinking that this happens when she and Teddy play and maybe he pulls on her leg, or she turns too fast, or? Or when the meds relieved her pain, she went back to digging. Maybe she’s like me. I’m not running any more and maybe she’s not digging any more. I’m going to have to sit down and talk to her. Anyway, maybe another trip to the vet, this time for an X-ray. Big big dogs are prone to joint problems. She’s not walking well today, but…

Bear wanted a walk so badly last evening that I took her, even against my better judgment. It’s that difficult decision. We don’t live forever so how much “saving” of ourselves should we actually do?

It was a perfect evening. She got to see her favorite pocket-sized dogs, got to gather and leave many messages along the way to the high school parking lot where she got to do all of the loose-leash work she does so well (and enjoys). On the way home, I saw the little girl waiting by the fence, waving frantically. I also saw a guy walking with a dog.

Bear and I crossed the street to get to the little girl’s house and I said, “Meet me in the alley!” so I did my approximation of running and we got Bear out of sight of the dog. Once he’d passed, we were able to go back to the good spot and visit. They’ve repaired the old fence so it’s safer for the dogs and me. We — the little girl, her mom and I — had a good long visit the kind that is normal in a small town but very precious in these times.

When the little girl tells a story, she acts it out physically. I know that this is partly because she has a small speech impediment, and I think she can tell when someone doesn’t understand her. She also gets frustrated talking, like maybe the words are not enough. Lately, when she’s telling me a story, she also doesn’t look at me. That’s a new development. She really WANTS to SHOW what she means.

I was listening/watching her last evening thinking, “Wow, if she grew up to be a teacher, so many kids would learn that would otherwise have a hard time.” Of course, that’s my bent, but it’s true. Teaching tends to be one person yammering at the class, and while most kids learn that way, a lot don’t. But then, I’m a teacher and that’s what I see first. There’s a way bigger world out there than the classroom, way bigger now than it was when I set out on my adult life.

I asked her mom what M. wants to be when she grows up and her mom said “An ambulance.”

“Not the driver or…”

“No. Not the EMT. The ambulance with the lights, the siren, everything.”

Wow. As long as I’ve known M I’ve known she was a very special little girl. Her heart is as big as the universe, and she’s very, very brave. The day they brought the deck, I learned that reading is difficult for her, but she wants to. If I say something she doesn’t understand she says, “What does that mean?” and then she learns it. Last night she learned, “What’s new?”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, what did you do today?”

“Oh.” Then she told me. She’s really pretty amazing.


Any of you who’ve had kids and grandkids probably know what it’s like to watch a little kid learn how to read. Until yesterday I had not had the experience.

When they arrived to set up the deck, Connor told me he was Hobbes and Michelle was Calvin. I said, “How come you get to be the tiger?”

“We played for it and I lost.”

Personally, I think it’s better to be a tiger, but that’s just me.

Lots of stuff happened in kid time while the project went on. At one point,
Michelle sat in front of me with a well-read Calvin and Hobbes comic book. She read slowly, not totally getting the essence of what the words said, but pointing at the words and sounding them out old-school.

One of the new words was “garden.” I commenced the Socratic method almost instinctively. “Where do flowers grow?”


After a couple failures (this is not university) her mom said, “Sound it out, honey.”

“Gar-den.” She jumped up in delight! “GARDEN!!!”

Then she said down and kept reading to me. I had tears in my eyes at the beauty of this. I looked over at her mom who was kind of teary, too. In my mind I saw the WHOLE WORLD OPEN for Michelle.

P.S. Obviously I’m not a stickler for writing to the prompt.

Hakuna Matata

As dog-pupils go, Teddy is definitely the most dedicated in the class. He’ll perform tricks over and over for the SAME rawhide pencil. For Teddy it’s about attention as much as it’s about treats. He LOVES learning, cares about getting things right and performs every chance he gets. He’s also very affectionate and lovable. It’s fun walking him when the kids are in their yard, particularly the little girl for whom a sight of Bear and Teddy is as good as a Fourth of July Parade. The other day we were coming back toward our street from a training circuit of the high school and Michelle saw us. She stood absolutely still in her yard until we got there. I’d taught her not to run toward the fence because Bear would pull me down.

“Hi Teddy Bear! Hi Polar Bear!”

The dogs are happy to see her, but their happiness does not compare to hers at seeing them.

Is there really anything better than two friendly dogs and an old lady who enjoys talking to you? On that particular day, Michelle had just gotten two little stuffed animals — Simba and Nala. We talked about films and she encouraged me to see Lion King Two. She also highly recommended The Incredibles but I’m not sure that’s my cup of, of, chocolate milk. I didn’t even see The Lion King until I was in my 50s and teaching “The Allegory of the Cave.” One of my students said, “Professor, ‘The Allegory of the Cave’ is like The Lion King.” She brought her DVD to class and she was right. I loved it.

“I like the Hakuna matata part,” said Michelle.

Those are words my brother used to say when I was upset at him on the phone. Of course, they came through the exchange in a drunken voice with an edge. His “No worries” meant, “Shut up and leave me alone.” It was all well and good for him to say, “No worries,” but I was working my ass off supporting him.

“What was the name of that pig?” I asked Michelle.

“I don’t remember.” She looked a little worried.

“It doesn’t matter. He was cool though, don’t you think?”


Bear and Teddy were hot so I said we had to go home. We all walked together along her fence and she held Teddy’s leash over the top of the fence.

I recently learned from a friend that her young grandson has “come out.” I’m glad he is alive now and not 40 years ago. I’m glad it won’t, probably, be as harrowing for him as it was for many of my friends — and my boyfriend — back then. While I don’t think LGBTQ rights are the biggest item on the national agenda, I’m glad people in many parts of this country take them seriously. At the same time I have never understood why anyone’s sexual preferences are anyone’s business, but that’s how we are. And, while I don’t understand why ANYONE would want to get married, I’m glad those who do want to can. At the same time, I’m sorry for him. Even in the most enlightened world, he will live a kind of exile. Even I, straight and all, have lived a kind of exile just from not having children, not being married, not making the usual choices. I couldn’t have made those choices. I tried. As my boyfriend back in the day, a great love, in fact, said, “Who would choose this? Who would choose to live outside the world where 99% of humanity lives?” That won’t have changed, but maybe…

I’m impressed at the self-knowledge of my friend’s grandson. I hope everything good for him. Hakuna matata.

Thinking about that I thought about Michelle and Connor. A few years away from puberty and homeschooled, they’re still in the Garden of Eden. Their big-for-them back yard, their loving (though struggling) parents, big events like me and my dogs, freedom for their imagination, nothing worse happening to them than “time out”. Childhood isn’t easy, and for some children it’s very, very hard, but it still has the filaments of Heaven attached to it, the capacity for wonder. One of my most beautiful memories, toward the end of this past beautiful winter, during the bleak moments when the snow had begun melting, 😦 was Connor running in excitement to the fence saying, “We still have a bit patch of snow for Bear to roll in!”