Saturday, February 25, 2012

Let the Music Play and the Art Flow!

I had a cousin when growing up in the country who was (and still is) a talented pianist. I used to love sitting on the piano stool with her in the front parlor of the farmhouse near the stairs while she played. I was amazed how she knew how to hit the right keys-creating something marvelous that drifted through every room-upstairs and down.

Her fingers were long and slender. They could stretch across those keys as gracefully as a ballerina warming up before performing. Sometimes she asked me to turn sheets of music for her while she played. They were full of strange little notes and bars that made no sense to me. She'd nod when it was time. On occasion I was one of her students. Chopsticks was as far as I got. I preferred asking her to play Rhapsody in Blue.

Music was a part of our playing and pretending back then in our chicken coop clubhouse. Sticks were slammed together; brooms strung like guitars and pretend horns blasted over the fields. And when we went to school, music and art were never a novelty. They were a part of the routine.

In grade school we'd sing along as a music teacher played the piano. Pianos were in every room. Art projects were provided by art teachers who got us involved with big crayons and white paste and chunky chalk; construction paper, popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners, and scissors with rounded ends. Nothing was downloaded. It was hands on from the start. Picking up was even fun!

In middle school, art and music intensified to include real instruments like cymbals and drums; blocks, triangles, and tambourines. Art class was expanded to include watercolors and sketching. When I look back at those early school years, it's not the arithmetic or science I remember. It's the projects I made; the songs I sang and instruments I'd never before touched. Music and art made those other subjects bearable to me. You must understand I took Algebra three times before passing it in summer school thanks to an elderly teacher who took the time to explain the basics. Any type of math made me freeze. It was too exact; too formulated; too black and white.

Some kids do just fine without art amd music in their schools. Some kids feel like they don't fit in-until their senses are stirred and imaginations ignited by color and design; piano keys and drum sticks. I understand that feeling. Music makes you sing or hum or dance or dream. It fills the heart; sets a mood; creates possibilities. Music and art add character to little characters.

All good lessons are not found in textbooks. Some life lessons are created while using white paste and big crayons for as a student sings along or plays an instrument or draws trees that look like broccoli, that student is learning about being part of a whole. They may have to wait their turn or share scissors or negotiate for that last pipe cleaner. At the end of the day, they've discovered their contribution to the whole and their fellow classmates has value.

Realizing you have worth is a stepping stone to becoming a valued citizen of the world. Art and music in classrooms are about so much more than the obvious. Their impact can last a life time.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Don't Go Down To The Creek!

I've written before about how much fun my cousins and I would have playing down at the creek that flowed behind our houses out in the country. It didn't matter the time of year. We were always down there. I've written about the rafts our uncle made us out of telephone poles and how we'd go all over that creek pretending this or that. It was called Sucker Creek for a reason-there were blood suckers in it but it never kept us away. We just never swam in the murky water. In the winter we'd skate for hours-even at night under the moonlight. But it was one Saturday morning, as the hint of spring was in the air while snow was still covering the ground and the ice was still intact, that will forever remain my most poignant memory of those days down at the creek.

My mother asked me to watch my sister-who is seven years younger than me-as out the front door we went to play. I must have been around eleven years old at the time. Her last instructions were firm, "Don't go down to the creek. The ice isn't safe."

After being outside for a bit I heard some friends laughing and playing-down at the creek. I told my sister to follow me. Down to the creek we went. I wasn't going to actually go on the ice. I was curious. I wanted to know what they were doing especially since my mother said the ice was not safe. I remember standing with my sister on the creek bank watching them. They had their skates on. They were having fun. When they saw us standing there they waved us over. I said no-at first-but then that curiosity took over. I remember telling my sister to "stay right here. Don't go on the creek. I'll be right back."

I meant what I'd said. I thought I'd be right back but once I reached my friends I lost all track of the time-and my sister. Finally-finally I looked back where I'd left her-and she wasn't there. My first thought was that she'd gone back home and my mother would be running through the field after me. I knew I'd better leave. As I reached the point where I'd last seen her I heard water. Someone was splashing water. I looked around and saw my sister further down the creek. She'd fallen through the ice. She was trying desperately to keep her head above the water. One time she disappeared but came back up and grabbed hold of the ice. It kept breaking.

I screamed for my friends to help me. My sister was dressed in a heavy, woolen snow suit which added to the weight pulling her down. The closer I got the more the ice would crack so I decided to get down on my hands and knees and crawl towards her. One of my friends threw a limb to me as I edged my way forward. My sister went under again and that's when I went for her. I threw the limb aside and crawled at lightning speed. Reaching the dark hole I stuck my hands in and felt her. I pulled with all my might and soon out she literally popped. Taking my coat off I covered her up and carried her-not home-but to my grandmother's house next door. While she was frozen to the bone, my sister was awake and breathing.

Our grandmother stripped us down and covered us with warm woolen blankets in her bed. She gave us hot tea and hot cereal. Once she knew we were safe and sound she called our mother. The rest of this story you can only imagine!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Hearts Day Everyone!

Celebrate! This is the day of hearts and chocolates and little messages of caring and expressions of Love! Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Learning How to Sew on Saturdays in the Winter

When I was in my preteens my grandmother taught sewing on Saturday mornings during the winter in my mother's fabric shop which was attached to our home. That's where I learned about darts and inseams; marking and pinning patterns and secrets of how to cut the patterns out. I discovered how some materials such as silks and velvets are harder to sew than others like cottons and rayon. While it took me forever to trim a pattern, pin it to the fabric, and cut it out, my grandmother did it in lightning speed. On went the pins and soon, off they came. That's the manner in which she sewed, too. And when she wasn't the instructor, she'd be at her little black Singer sewing machine pumping the foot pedal and turning out one item after another. This instructor never needed a pattern back home in her sewing room. She had the eye for her artform and those of us lucky enough to be in her family, benefited. When you have the eye-the imagination, the creativity is the driving force, not what's been learned in a book or classroom on a winter Saturday.

I haven't sewn in a very long time yet I still wander about fabric stores. There's something about all those bolts of material that ignite a spark. I find myself pulling one bolt off the shelf and matching it with others. There are so many from which to choose in so many colors and designs. I mix-match corduroys with linens and organzas with taffeta. I go from sewing a dress to a coat to a fancy outfit and then I start all over, overlooking the fact I have no fancy event written on my calendar. I check out the buttons-so many buttons. I am amazed at the endless shades of thread or fancy sewing machines that seem to have a brain of their own. I sit at the pattern table and wander through pattern books. Nothing escapes possibility as I sift through those pages.

When all is said and done, I eventually close the books, put the bolts back where they belong and walk out the door without buying a thing. For the time being, that urge to sew has been satisfied-until the next time.