Saturday, October 31, 2015

Rise of the Jack O' Lantern

I spent last night at Descanso Gardens for a Halloween event called the Rise of the Jack O' Lantern.  The event has been running for about 4 years in various locations in both California and New York, but it is the first time I've been.  Descanso is located north-west of Pasadena and is lovely with various gardens during most of the year.  During the month or so before Halloween, they outfit the rose garden with thousands and thousands of beautifully hand carved and hand painted pumpkins.
 When you first walk through the loop, one of their carvers demonstrates "how they do it" by carving self portraits.
 While some were carved and painted just onto one pumpkin, other pumpkins created entire scenes - each one including just a small detail of the entire display.
There were a lot of faces from pop culture and current talking heads.
 The dinosaurs were amazing.  A bit farther back off the path, so not quite a clear in the iPhone pictures.  You get the gist...
 The Inside Out characters
And those who have passed.
The last few of the displays were my favorite.  This dragon was incredible.  It was enormous!  Having to stand a big farther back to get it in its entirety loses some of the detail, but each pumpkin was so intricate, even down to the Chinese lanterns hanging from above.
The loop of displays probably took about an hour or so to walk around.  In the literature, it addressed the issue of pumpkin rot and how they handle it.  Each week (for about its 6 week run) the pumpkins are replaced with new, recarved ones.  While making sense, that also kind of blows my mind.
I was very impressed and look forward to returning again next year for an entirely different show.
Happy Halloween!!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Phonics in oxymoron

October is usually my most hard working month at school.  It's the first (and maybe the only) month with NO holidays or vacations.  October is a good solid 4.5-5 weeks of uninterrupted instruction, which I personally love.  The first couple of months of the school year tend to be very procedure oriented and reteaching of everything the kids forgot over the summer.  In addition, we have Labor Day, multiple staff developments that take me out of the classroom, and pupil free or short days for conferences and meetings.  I find instruction is so very choppy in those first few weeks, that October finally gives me time to TEACH 2nd grade.   
It's also this time of year that I remember how frustrating the English language actually is.  While a handful of my students start the year not needing phonics or decoding instruction, most of them do and October is when we really get into decoding more difficult words.  Phonics rules are heavily studied and practiced.  And that's when the idea that most of the rules really only apply to such a small portion of our language.  So often, there are more words that DON'T follow the rules than there are that do.  Native English speakers learning to read struggle with them, but often their depth of vocabulary in English helps them sort through some of those times the rules aren't followed.  But my poor English language learners want to apply those rules (and why shouldn't they) to everything.  And since they are limited vocabulary-wise, comprehension is very difficult as well.  They have a very hard time compensating when the words break the rules.  Learning to read in English is HARD.  
So when I saw this the other day it made me chuckle but also want to shake my fist at our language as well.  
I know it's long and tiny, but it is linked to the site, where it is much larger.
2nd grade grammar focuses a lot on the irregular forms of words (plurals, verbs, etc).  I could write this same post for grammar.  Most of my instruction sounds a little like this...
Or basically, "Here are the rules that apply to this small group of words.  The rest, you just have to memorize because they don't follow any rule."  Gah!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


As mentioned in various past posts, I am a long time watcher of the show Law & Order.  While I saw each and every episode when it first aired on Prime Time, the show has also been in reruns for years and years and continues to air anywhere from once to ten times a day on multiple channels.  Often times I'll find it on TV while I'm putzing around the house doing chores over the weekend or making dinner when I get home from work.  It's one of those shows that kind brings comfort.  It's also a show that I can partially pay attention to and still know what is going on.  So my point being, it's on in this house multiple times a week.
Changing topics a bit, but it does all link together in a bit, I promise...Rigby is a chatty dog.  Several years ago I had people over and while we were sitting around talking Rigby yawned noisily.  It made us laugh, and we all howled and whined trying to get her to do it again.  Since then, Rigby howls and talks if someone talks or sings to her in a high pitched voice.  She doesn't usually do it unless she's asked to, but once she's asked she'll go on and on and on.  However, just last week I walked out to the garage while making dinner to fill up Rigby's food bowl.  When the door closed behind me, I was startled by a crying noise.  I got back to the kitchen as fast as I could, and Rigby was sitting at the door howling.  It was unusual, but I didn't think much about it other than how darn cute she is when she talks.
Since this past weekend, I've been laid up with some type of bronchial issue (meaning I'm coughing so hard that my head might actually explode), and funnily enough Law and Order was on about 100 times this weekend.  The show entertained me in between coughing and sleep.   On Sunday afternoon, I was curled up on the couch and since Rigby had had just about enough of the couch shaking due to all the coughing.  She found a comfortable spot on her dog bed across the room.  I found myself just dozing off when Rigby started her howling again.  Again, it scared me a bit because it was unprovoked.  At that exact same moment, the Law and Order theme song was playing.  Somehow I put two and two together, quickly rewound the song, and replayed.  Rigby howled again, and again.  And even three more times so I could record her.  
I know I'm biased, but really, could she be any funnier?  And, it's even cuter that the Law and Order theme song makes my dog want to sing along.  And clearly, the theme song was playing when I went out to the garage that day.  I wonder if that's a sign that it's on in my house too much?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

An Author

As I've mentioned many times, the books I read for book club are pretty much the only books that I read anymore (other than the ones I listen to when I walk the dog).  I rarely have time in between book club books to read other things.  Every-so-often though, I do manage to enjoy something in addition to book club.  Maybe eight months ago, I was introduced to author Liana Moriarty.  While searching for something new to read on the library website, I came across The Husband's Secret.  It had 5-star reviews so I put the book on hold.  With about a billion people in front of me in the holds' line, I didn't think too much about it again until I got an email that the book had come available a couple months later.  I quickly downloaded the book and started to read.  In the midst of my slow, 5-minutes-a-night-before-dropping-the-book-on-my-head-and-falling-asleep reading, the new book club book was chosen, and it was What Alice Forgot ALSO by Moriarty.  I had to put The Husband's Secret to the side and start on this new.  But the thing is, I got through it very quickly AND finished The Husband's Secret in no time at all. That's unheard of for me!  Because of Moriarty's subject matter and style of writing, I reserved the four remaining books (there are 6 in all) at the library and have since read those as well.

So what is her style and subject matter?  On the surface, it's probably considered chick-lit.  But as I've read them, I'm not so sure that is really her genre.  And I have nothing against chick-lit.  I've read/listened to all of Sophie Kinsella's "Shopaholic" series, and spent summer after summer by the pool with Marian Keyes' newest (and anxiously awaited) paper back release.  Chick-lit is fun and light to read.  But the thing about chick-lit is that even though it's written about women, the women are not like me or any other women that I know.  Becky Bloomwood from "Shopaholic" is a ding dong and Keyes's characters (while being a lot of fun) are very prettily packaged basket cases, neither of whom would successfully navigate through their life as well as they do in those books.  That is the difference between chick-lit and Moriarty's books.  They are written by a woman about women, but the women are far more realistic than the others in this genre.  The women in her books are smart but not prettily packaged.  They have good and bad days, but aren't defined by them.  And what I think I like best about her characters is that they think like I think.  These women have wicked senses of humor, and when their thought process is shared with the reader, it mostly mirrors the thoughts that go through my head in similar situations.  There are laugh out loud moments because the characters
are so real and we (I) can relate to them far better than the chick-lit characters.

Moriarty's subject matter isn't anything too complicated.  It's real life during a set period of time.  Between point A and B, the events might be told with flashbacks to tell more of the story.  I think the "real life" stories are what I like about these books best.  Most of us go through our lives without some crazy, life altering event that is often the subject of books.  We all have illness, birth, death, relationships, petty arguments, flaws, etc. in our lives, which is why these books ring so true to me.  I would't call them light and fluffy, by any means, but they are fun and easy to read because of the humor and her ability to tell stories about regular women.  While they tend to be supporting characters in her books, Moriarty also writes men realistically too.  They're not written as the hero who always saves the day, but they are not written like idiotic buffoons or jerks either - usually the choices in chick-lit.  I read an article about the author awhile back, and a man commented the following, "Another book by a woman, for women, about how women are abused, battered and put down by all those evil, nasty, beer-swilling, footy-watching, knuckle-dragging men who do not possess an ounce of decency between the lot of them."  Clearly, this man hadn't read her books. Instead, her male characters are sometimes part of the problem, sometimes part of the solution, and sometimes simply a good natured support system for a woman who is trying to navigate a difficult event in her life.  Two of my favorite Liane Moriarty chracters are men.  In fact, two members of my book club are men, and they both enjoyed What Alice Forgot, even relating to the male/female relationships in the book.  I know they both also picked up a couple others by Moriarty, so they were not offended by the male characters.

Moriarty's books are not written in sequential order.  Each are stories in their own right and do not share any characters, so they can be read in any order.  I've been asked which is my favorite, and I can't really say.  I've truly enjoyed each and every one and have recommended reading ANYTHING by the author instead of picking a favorite.  In lieu of a review, here is a synopsis of each, in the order I have read them...

The Husband's Secret
Cecilia, a busy mom and wife, stumbles upon a letter written by her husband to be opened only in the event of his death.  At the same time, Tess moves to Sydney with her young son, after finding out her husband wants to leave her for her cousin.  Both Cecila's and Tess's children attend a school in Sydney where Rachel is the school secretary.  Rachel's daughter was murdered almost 30 years before, but no one was ever charged for the crime.  The three women's lives become intertwined after Cecila opens the letter.

What Alice Forgot
Alice passed out and hit her had while working out at the gym.  When she comes to, her last memories are of her as a newly married 29 year old woman who is hopelessly in love with her husband.  However, she's actually a bitter 40 year old with three kids embroiled in a spiteful divorce.  Her support system as she remembers it is no longer in tact due to her behavior.  She tries to put the pieces of her life back together while still holding onto her only memories.

Three Wishes
Cat, Gemma, and Lyn are triplets who are celebrating their 34th birthday together out a restaurant.  The celebration turns into a terrible fight with one ending up in the hospital.  The story flashbacks through their 33rd year leading up to the birthday events.  The sisters struggle through jobs, family, relationships, handling things differently each with a unique personality.

The Hypnotist's Love Story
Ellen is a licensed hypnotherapist in her 30s who is on a blind (internet) date with Patrick.  Patrick disappears into the bathroom once the meal arrives and is gone for quite some time.  When he returns to the table, he tells Ellen that he's having a very nice time and likes her so feels like he needs to be honest with her...he has a stalker.  His ex-girlfriend, Saskia, is the stalker.  She followed him to the restaurant, and he had to leave the table to go tell her to get lost.  Ellen and Patrick's relationship story is told through third person, while Saskia's story is told in first.  As it turns out, Ellen actually knows Saskia.  This first part of the book - the wheels spinning in Ellen's head while Patrick has left the table and after he tells her about his stalker - is probably the most fun in all the books.  I laughed out loud because it was a very real reaction to an absurd situation.  Also noted, Patrick is one of my two favorites of Moriarty's male characters.  Even though I don't have a favorite, I did like this one a lot, maybe because related to Ellen most out of all the characters.

Big Little Lies
Helicopter parents tell the story of a death that takes place during an elementary school fundraising event.  The accounts of the evening are told from multiple perspectives during detective witness interviews.  Madeline, Celeste, and Jane are close friends and at the center of a lot of drama at their children's school. They are also at the center of the tragic death.

The Last Anniversary
I just finished this one last night...finally! Sophie dumped Thomas three years ago, on the day he was going to propose.  He has since been married and has a new baby while Sophie, at 39, has remained single.  Thomas appears in her life again when she unexpectedly inherits his Aunt Connie's house on Scribbly Island.  This island is the home to the unsolved mystery from over fifty years ago of an abandoned baby.  At first the family objects to her inheritance (after breaking Thomas's heart), but Sophie does move into the house and because part of this Scribbly Island family.  While Sophie is the main character, several supporting characters (Aunt Connie's eccentric family) also deal with life.  There are a lot of twist and turns in the story, too many to summarize.  It was a fun book to read, but out of the six books it's not at the top of my list.  I'd recommend reading one of the others first, but if you like her books this one will be good too.

It's kind of disappointing to have read all the books as I don't have anymore to look forward to.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Another Repeat

After a couple of weeks of playing around with Illustrator, the "need" for a graphics tablet arose.  I put need in quotes because I didn't NEED any such thing.  Instead, after seeing how to use the tablet I had high hopes of being able to emulate my sketching style digitally.  
Chinatown was the inspiration for these patterns.  The sketches were done in pencil, which I prefer to sketch in as opposed to black ink.  Since the tablet would allow me to trace them by hand instead of using Live Trace they didn't have to be so dark.
 After scanning the images, I used the tablet's pen to trace over the sketches in various color.  It was not as easy as it seemed.  My brain and hand didn't always communicate - my brain going one way, my hand another.
The vector graphics were created by the tracing.  From there they could be filled, moved around, etc. At first, the vectors were filled with color and made into repeating patterns.
But I actually really liked the lanterns outlined in white.  After playing around with some color choices, these are my favorite so far.  
I'm still very limited on my understanding of the software and still wish to make the images softer and painterly.  I miss my watercolor washes and drops of color too.  That will be the next skill I want to learn.

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Repeat

Over the last couple of months, I've been dipping my toes into digital art.  After taking a couple of online classes, I've gained some basic knowledge of Adobe Illustrator and am able to make a repeating pattern.  Right now, it's just playing around and trying to figure out how to use the software.
This was my first "project".  At the time, I didn't have a graphics tablet so the flowers were hand drawn using black ink and then AI image-traced them, creating simple vector graphic.
 Those vectors were then colored in and turned into simple patterns.
 and a few more complex patterns.
I wasn't super pleased with my initial color palette, so I recolored them with a new one and created another very simple pattern in those same colors.
It's been somewhat fun to create these.  Since I've just started it's not an entirely comfortable process, and I frustrate easily because the vectors aren't as painterly as I'd like. The learning curve is quite steep with Adobe products.  While I know there are ways to get the wanted look, actually making it happen is another matter entirely.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Bougy in Bloom

Due to the water saving measures we are currently taking to survive the drought, my backyard looks like this...
 The grass is dead in most spots,
 many of the bushes are just sticks,
and my roses (which have always grown so well here, even in the heat) are a shadow of their former selves.
Summer is always a TOUGH time to grow things, but this year it's the worst it's ever been. The ten minutes of watering, twice a week, just isn't cutting it.
Which is why this randomly planted bougainvillea BLOOMING is like a drought miracle?  
 I have done nothing to cultivate the flowers on this bush.  They are long and leggy and the bush is still fairly dry.  These blooms were quit a surprise.