Reading challenge.

Eliot's homework for today included pointing to each word of a book as I read it to him. His class is learning to recognize certain words by sight and learning to understand the way the text on a page is split into words and sentences and read from top to bottom, left to right. Some of these ideas he's already familiar with; I've read to him at home since before he was born. We do quite a lot of reading around here.

It's so exciting to watch him learning and beginning to grasp the concepts he needs in order to read. He can already read quite a few words, but he tends to be rather self-defeatist about the whole endeavor. (My kid? Surely not!) His teacher sent home little "books" last week, illustrated with various animals trying on shoes and each two-page spread repeated the text, "Does it fit? Will it fit him?" When I told Eliot reading the book to me was part of his homework, I thought he was going to cry. He puckered up and whined, "But I DON'T KNOW HOOOOOW TO REEEEEAD..." I asked him to please just look at the words and assured him that I would help him with the ones he didn't know. He read, haltingly, "Does...it...fit? Will...it...fit...him?" over and over, all by himself until he got to the end of the book and looked up at me, amazed. "Mom!" he said, "When I grow up, I might be a person who works in a library because I CAN READ!"

I was so stinking proud in that moment.

I remember exactly the moment that I realized I could read, and it was the exact same kind of joyous revelation. I was sitting on the couch in our family room, and whining to my mom to get her to read a book to me. She was busy in the kitchen making supper, and she kept calling in at me, "Sit down and look at it yourself, Rachel, you can read it!" And I was all, "Nooooo, I cannnnnnn't! wah wah wah." Finally, I opened the book (It was called The Animals at the Zoo.) with a pissy attitude that slowly became less and less pissy when I discovered, page after page, that I recognized the words. A slow, begrudging smile stretched across my face and I yelled into the kitchen, "I CAN REAAAD! MOM! I CAN READ!"

It cracks me up that this seems to be the exact same path Eliot is following. (Well, cracks me up AND breaks my heart.)

But however he gets there, learning to read is so magical. Being able to read opens up so many worlds. Providing a home where reading is encouraged and loved and treasured is one of the most important gifts I can give to my son.

Here's what we're each into at the moment:

This year I've been keeping track of all the books I read (and getting new recommendations) at Goodreads. I've set a goal with the Goodreads Reading Challenge to read 40 books this year, and so far I'm only at 22. (Not counting the books I read with Eliot, of course. Pretty sure that would put me far over my goal!)

Got any suggestions for me?

I'm LOVING Let the Great World Spin so far. It's beautifully written.

Connect with me on Goodreads here, if you like, and let me know what you're reading too. :)


The assignment.

So I spent part of this afternoon writing an essay for my freshman composition class. Their first draft of the assignment was due last week, and I've been reading through their efforts with a bit of confusion and concern. I don't feel like they understood the assignment, or maybe they just didn't understand how to go about fulfilling its terms? In any case, I thought I should do the assignment myself. It isn't right to expect of others what you can't do yourself, right? I wanted to make sure that the assignment was doable, and valuable in the doing. Now, granted, this is something I ideally should have done before the semester even began and I included the assignment on my syllabus. Hindsight = 20/20.

Here I feel like sharing my little essay, my fulfillment of the requirements I put forth for all 67 of my freshmen this semester. The assignment prompt, if you're interested, can be found here.

(Warning: It's a little cheesy, but that's how I roll.)

Simplicity, Squared
A clothesline full of drying garments stretches from the upper left hand side of the square photograph to the lower right hand side. The setting is a yard in a rural area where light filters through the branches of the late summer trees. The clothing, all in muted colors, casts shadows on the long grass. In the background, two vehicles are parked in a drive. This seemingly innocuous photograph of a silent late summer day, when posted to a Facebook profile, tells volumes about the person behind the camera lens.
            This photo sends a message of contentment. It tells the story of a person who takes joy in the small things in life, and prefers a quiet, slow paced, rural existence to the hubbub of the city and crowds. Quietness and a certain measure of solitude are expressed in the picture through the lack of any human figures. Only the laundry blows languidly in the breeze. A few vehicles and the laundry itself show that people are a part of this landscape, but not necessarily the most important part. Nature is not just the background, but the setting here, as the sun casts shadows on the lawn and the green of the grass and leaves covers most of the area. The muted colors of the laundry seem to blend into the background of nature rather than standing out against it. All of these details come together to lend the photograph a tone of quiet, simple pleasure.
            It is that quiet, simple pleasure embodied in the photograph that speaks to my particular values and world view. Even though it is just a simple snapshot, the photo of laundry drying in the summer sun on my lawn, when shared with all of my “friends,” becomes an emblem of my identity. For one, it is a habit of mine to try to find joy in the mundane. A plate of breakfast, warm coffee, the sun shining on my back as I stretch out on a quilt on my front lawn—the simple things in life, to me, are what make it precious. The caption on my photograph reads, “Happiness is hanging clean laundry on the line on the first day of fall. :-D” The caption and the photo itself suggest that simplicity—symbolized by the laundry on the clothesline— makes me happy.
            The photograph also betrays my easy-going, laid back personality. Any viewer of the photo can tell that the grass beneath my clothesline is long and wild. A single dandelion gone to seed sprouts up out of the unmowed grass. The state of the lawn, slightly overgrown, though not completely untended, shows that I am a person who isn’t fastidious about appearances. While I keep my yard mowed throughout the summer, I’m not fussy about it, and I don’t care in the least if it goes a little too long without being tended. The clothes on the line help suggest this carefree attitude, as they aren’t the heavily tailored, expensive suits of someone who worries about details. Rather, most of the clothing pictured is vintage, flowing flowered skirts and light weight, casual shirts in muted, natural tones: blue, brown, black, cream. Both my wardrobe and the state of my grass show that I’m a casual person with simple, uncomplicated tastes.   
            Even though I consider my tastes to be simple and uncomplicated, I also value creativity. The square shape of the photo and the quality of light and color hint that this photo has been taken using Instagram, an application popularly used to add an interesting flair to otherwise ordinary photographs. I chose the “Amaro” filter to give this particular photograph a more vintage tone. The filter emphasizes the light shining through the leaves of the trees and gives the clothing a more washed out, muted color tone. The Instagram application allows me to share this photograph with both my “friends” and followers on Instagram and on Facebook, which gives me a wider audience for my simple photograph of laundry hanging on a line on the first day of fall.
            For some members of my online audience, particularly my sisters, this photograph will elicit some of the same memories and feelings that it does for me. As I was hanging the laundry out to dry, I was reminded of the summer days of my childhood, when my mother used to do the very same thing. Hauling a basket of wet clothes and wooden clothespins, she’d venture out to the exact same type of clothesline to perform the same chore. As kids, my sisters and I delighted in running underneath the lines, pressing our faces against the cold, wet, fresh-smelling fabric of clothing and bed linens. I thought of those days and the simple pleasures of childhood as I hung out my own laundry, and as I snapped the picture of it hanging there in the sun.
            The fact that I posted this photo for all of my “friends” to see shows my wish to connect with other people, to display my own values and receive feedback from others. All human beings desire connection to some extent. Some people use their social networking profiles primarily in order to keep up with friends and loved ones, in order to see what’s new in the lives of their friends, family members, coworkers, or even casual acquaintances. For me, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like allow me to express myself in deeper ways than I necessarily would in person, offline. My photograph, metaphorically, and literally shows that I sometimes use social media in order to air my laundry publicly. I tend to be someone who overshares, and that quality definitely comes through in my posts. Not everyone would post a photo of something as mundane as their laundry hanging on a clothesline, but to me, it’s the next in a series of everyday posts that together reflect my personality. It’s not necessarily that I want to show off, but that I like to put everything out there, to compile my characteristics in a series of online artifacts that proclaim, “This is me. Take it or leave it.” The laundry photograph and my sharing of the laundry photograph is just another part of that proclamation:  Here is my everyday. Here is another single moment in which I am stepping back, appreciating what I have, and displaying it with pride.
            We’ve all heard the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. One photograph can act as evidence of an entire life, in this case, a quiet but connected life made up of ordinary moments stitched lovingly together. My photograph of laundry hanging on a clothesline on the first day of fall stands as a celebration of all that is good and fresh and clean, an everyday magic. To me, it is precisely that everyday magic that is most worth sharing.


I have the power!

I want to share the evolution of my newest finished embroidery project. "Finished" is the key word here. I have about a zillion projects in various stages of non-completion, but this one I was excited enough about to see all the way through to the bloody end. (It wasn't really bloody. That's a lie.)

I was inspired because one morning I came out to the living room after blissfully sleeping in late, to observe my boyfriend and my son watching He-Man cartoons on Netflix. Somehow, I had forgotten all about He-Man. I had forgotten Cringer aka Battle Cat! And the Man-at-Arms! And even more unforgivable, I had forgotten Teela! Dear, sweet, beautiful, ass kicking Teela! I knew pretty much right away that I had to do an embroidery homage.

First, I googled images of He-Man and used a pencil to lightly trace an image onto fabric by holding the linen up to my laptop screen. I started stitching right away, and then almost immediately got pissed off because it wasn't coming out how I had imagined. I scrapped the whole thing and came back to it several days later, when I decided I'd try to run the linen through my printer. Yes! You can do that. I cut an 8.5 x 11 piece of linen and ironed a piece of freezer paper onto it to stiffen it up (You have to put the glossy side of the freezer paper facing the fabric, and it doesn't hurt to use a pressing cloth so as not to muck up your iron). Once I had the freezer paper iron fused to the linen, I crossed my fingers and sent it through my printer.


Then I did a happy dance all over the place because this successful technique just opened up a whole new world of embroidery possibilities. I AM THE SMARTEST WOMAN ALIVE!

Then I peeled off the freezer paper, hooped the linen up atop a layer of red print fabric that I wanted to be my background, and started stitching.

When I got the edge stitching and most of the rest finished, I got antsy wanting to know what it was going to look like, so I went ahead and cut away the extra linen.

I just kept stitching my little heart out until I finished him up. (A fair amount of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe episodes were viewed during the stitching of this piece.)

Here's a detailed shot. My phone is the only camera I have right now, so the quality of the photo doesn't do justice to these stitches, but meh. Whatchya gonna do? 

To finish off the piece, I added a felt caption, then framed it using a plain wooden hoop that I covered with black electrical tape. (Classy, right?!) I always use a layer of batting between my finished piece and the hoop frame. That helps disguise any crazy stray stitching from showing through the fabric, and it gives the piece a nice, slightly puffy, full look. I hot glue the fabric edges directly to the inner hoop.

Now the finished product is hanging in Eliot's bedroom. Any time I'm working on a new project, he always quizzes me, "Is that one for me, Mom? Is that going to be mine? That's mine, right?!"

Yes, kiddo. Always.