Category Archives: Everyday inspiration

Favorites from 2017

I know I’m a little late to the “best of 2017” party, but I think something is better than nothing! At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. In fact, this year I’m resolving to be kinder myself and my body. I’m releasing some of my many responsibilities and prioritizing a few others. Sadly, this blog is on the chopping block. I love writing posts, but it takes a lot of time and it stresses me out when I can’t post. So, I’m being gentler with my psyche and letting these posts linger. I have one lined up for in two weeks, but after that…well, I’m not making any promises.

I managed to finish my penguin drawing.

Favorite Books of 2017

These books weren’t published in 2017, but were books that I found interesting and inspirational when I came across them this past year.

  1. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (and sequels) — I don’t know how this juvenile series escaped my noticed. However, we have since corrected that issue and my boys and I have each taken to these novels. I love all of the literary references!
  2. Desperate Duchesses series by Eloisa James — Just to prove that smart, witty women read (and love) Romance novels, I’m including a favorite series that I re-read this year. In this tumultuous and scary political climate, I really needed some happy endings.
  3. Designing Your Life — I love this book for its “design thinking” approach to career and life development. There is no “what’s your end goal,” but rather a way of looking at your life (and career) as a work in progress. I liked the exercises and approach of this book so much that I included some of these concepts in my college class, Intro to College Success.
  4. Art Lab for Kids — Although the kids and I slacked off on completing more of the projects in this book, the ones we did complete were fabulous! I really liked that each and every one of these projects was simple, but worthwhile. You can check out a few of our projects here.

Favorite Artisan Posts of 2017

  1. SCBWI Art Challenge — This is one of my favorite posts because it represents a change in focus for me and my interests. My art still needs work, but I have found my “posse” in SCBWI.  This organization is a major favorite of mine for 2017 (and 2018)!
  2. Elementary Electronics Series (Homemade LED bracelet) — I had forgotten that I conducted an elementary electronics class last Spring (was that really in 2017)? In doing so, I created a make your own LED bracelet pattern to help the kiddos understand circuits. Fun!
  3. FETC 2017 — Last January, I presented a poster session at FETC. This poster showcased how a teacher can use Scratch to learn about other content areas (not just computer programming).
  4. Minds Maps for Learning — This is another favorite post because I realized (this year) how much I truly love making mind maps. They are a fabulous way to combine learning (and remembering) with artistic design.
a colored picture of a mind map for the book, The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

I used color pencils to complete the map.

Favorite Curriculum Used in 2017

  1. Improve Your Painting: Luminous Watercolor Mixing by Kateri Ewing. I think taking art classes in person are the best way to learn, but when that’s not an option (due to finances, time, location…or all three in my case), Craftsy classes have filled that void quite nicely. I have taken many of their classes and only one was a dud (and even then I learned something…just not as much as I would have liked). They are much more interesting than Udemy art classes and most of them have lots of hands-on projects, which is a must for me. My current classes are Perspective for Sketchers and Developing Your Main Character. I can’t recommend them enough (and no, they don’t pay me to say that).
  2. Meet the Masters Art and Art History Series for Kids — We are on our next set of artists, but since my 8-year-old is the only homeschooler left in the house, we bought the 8-9-year-old pack. I like that there are a number of simple drawing/art techniques to try before doing the final project. I also like that I can make my own projects. Check out our lesson on Impressionists.
  3. Story of the World — I’ve been using this series for seven years. It brings history alive, and when combined with juvenile historical novels…well, the subject just teaches itself.

I’m sure that if given more time, I could come up with a much longer list. However, I think in this case, less is more. I really enjoyed looking back and focusing on the positive things in 2017. Thanks for indulging me.

Making for Halloween

As a parent, I find the Fall “holidays” a bit draining. Why is everything stacked on top of each other? First, it’s the Fall semester (for college), which is always busier than Spring, and second, it’s college football season! There’s just not enough time for holidays (she says, tongue in cheek). Yet, we parents (mostly moms) are expected to create a fabulous experience for our children, all while stressing ourselves out even more.

Making for Halloween

I sound a bit whiny today, don’t I? And here it is, the day before Halloween. I’m not complaining, truly. I recognize that I live a blessed life. Rather, the above sentiment was my mood earlier this week. I am incredibly busy at work right now, but also trying to maintain our other commitments (healthy food & homeschooling). So, when my younger son came to me Friday afternoon and needed help making his Halloween costume…well, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the endeavor. But once we go started, everything clicked into place. The artistic nature of “making” energized me.  It was fun to be making for Halloween. I was able to get into the flow of creating…and pretty soon, I was a lot more relaxed (and a lot closer to a finished Halloween costume).

a picture of a boy making for halloween

C, age 8, painting his Halloween costume.

Crafting for Halloween

I’d like to say that I inspired the boys, but really it was the other way around. Earlier in the week, they made their own Halloween decorations and hung them around the house. Today, we were reviewing a book and they were inspired to create a few other decorations.

A picture of a boy making for halloween

R, age 11, was inspired to create a paper jack-o-lantern.

I’m sure I bring on some of the holiday stress myself; I’m not willing to participate fully in the consumer nature of these holidays, but we still try to be a part of the experience. Our neighborhood is full of excitement at Halloween, and the kids love that they get to hang out with their friends at night. So, we participate…and my husband tells me I’m not allowed to pass out pencils. (This year, I’m opting for Earthbound lollipops and lunch snacks…yeah, I’m that parent).

When the kids were younger, I didn’t buy stuff because we didn’t have the money. As they got older, I didn’t buy stuff because I didn’t want to store it all year. At least, those were the reasons I told myself. I think the real reason is that I wanted to create a “maker” culture in our home.

a picture of a very large piece of loose-leaf paper made from cardboard.

C decided he wanted to be a piece of paper (and a pencil). He painted the white background, and I added the details.

Maker Mindset

For their homemade decorations, the boys didn’t ask for help – they just grabbed the art supplies (and their secret stash of tape) and started drawing. They didn’t ask for directions or permission. It was assumed they were allowed to hang up toilet paper from the front windows. (Front windows – yes; mailbox – no).

I was feeling pretty stressed out this week, but after seeing (and appreciating) my boys’ maker mindset, I felt a lot better. It takes a lot of work to support a maker culture, but the extra time and energy is worth it.

Dad contributed his talents to creating this cardboard pencil.

A picture of a woman's arm with a hummingbird, flowers and butterfly airbrushed on it.

I wanted to continue to spread the “maker” love by showing off my airbrushed tattoos (all done by a veterinarian, no less). There’s all sorts of making for Halloween!


Current Projects

Keeping Track of Projects

My husband and I tend to forget all of the really cool things we do – and work on – each year. We get caught up in the day-to-day activities of working, teaching children, worrying, making lunch (and dinner), cleaning the house (again) and shuttling kids to various activities. Like most people, we are often busy, so we need a little help remembering all of the unique things in our life. We are fortunate to experience new places  – and make a lot of cool stuff. Here’s what we’ve been working on lately:

Joe created a desktop (for me) from piece of plywood and trim. He' sitting it on a top of a re-purposed bookshelf (which he made years ago).

Joe created a desktop (for me) from piece of plywood and trim. It will sit on top of a re-purposed bookshelf. Oh yeah – he made the bookshelf years ago.

C (age 7) was so interested in the artist, Vincent Van Gogh that he created a 4-H project.

C (age 7) was so interested in the artist, Vincent Van Gogh, he created a 4-H project. Two weeks ago, he presented his project to a 4H judge. My shy, reserved son beamed when the judge praised his work.

R (age 11) wanted to submit another project for the 4-H non-livestock fair. This one is on his favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

R (age 11) wanted to submit another project for the 4-H non-livestock fair. (He won a grand prize last year). This one is on his favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Liz has been developing her colored pencil skills. This drawing is based on an old penguin calendar we had years ago.

I have been developing my colored pencil skills. This drawing is based on an old penguin calendar we had; I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils.

Joe took our distressed, chipping dining table and stripped it. He then proceeded to sand, stain and lacquer it – repeatedly. It looks amazing.

Book Review :: Making Makers

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

picture of cover of making makers

Published by Make and written by AnnMarie Thomas, Making Makers is a good read.

Making Makers

Audience: Parents and Teacher
Thomas, AnnMarie. Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation. Foreward by Dale Dougherty. Maker Media: Sebastopol, CA, 2014

AnnMarie Thomas is an engineering professor (and parent) whose research focuses on technological literacy in K-12 environments. She is a leader in promoting play and learning, especially with regards to hands-on science materials for young children. Her five-minute TED talk on squishy circuits is fabulous, and I’m including it here:

Making Makers – the book

‘Make’ publishes some great books, and Thomas’ Making Makers is no exception. Many are written in narrative form and provide tons of examples and anecdotal stories. It would be nice if the grainy black and white pictures were better, but I think that keeps the price down.  I would much rather read about the inspirational projects featured in each book.

A picture of a grainy black and white picture from the book, Making Makers

While interviewing a number of professional “makers,” Thomas discovered a few traits that many makers seem to have. They don’t have every trait, but they might have a few, or they might have many. It seems to depend on what type of medium they are working with (robots, electronics, fabrics). Obviously, since she is an engineer, there is a heavy emphasis on electronic and engineering projects, but she is quick to note that sewing is definitely part of the maker movement. Who knew that all of those years ago when I taught myself how to sew, I really wanted to be a maker?

This book is sprinkled with interviews and stories about “makers” around the country. Most of them are well-respected in their fields and it’s fascinating to find out how they “fell” into their professions. Some had a love for it as children, while others were just creative, make-do kind of people and could switch mediums as they discovered a new interest.

picture of the table of contents from book, making makers

Becoming an Engineer

As a parent, I was interested in finding out how I could assist the “making” process that is already going on in my home. In her book, I found a lot of similarities between the skills I learned during my Montessori training, and those that I picked up from reading current educational research. Some of the best practices seem centered on encouraging your children’s “tinkering” interests, facilitating their learning (or finding someone who can) and making a point to continue learning yourself – all while trying to maintain a growth mindset.

Traditionally, many of our strong engineering students came from farming backgrounds. They would arrive at the university with hands-on experience maintaining and building equipment….while the mechanical savvy that many “farm kids” possess is often discussed, I see that as just one attribute shared among this group. Farm families depend on all members to do their part in getting the work done, and thus most farm kids grow up with a strong sense of responsibility.                       AnnMarie Thomas, Raising Makers.

My oldest son has been saying, since before the age of six, that he wants to be a robot engineer. Will he become one as adult? Who knows? My husband and I don’t care either way, but I do want to prepare him for the eventuality. As the grandson of two mechanically-inclined grandfathers, if there is an engineering gene – he has it. One grandfather was a “farm kid” who has a degree in engineering and the other can build anything out of wood. But, our sons aren’t being raised on a farm, and while we do have some  backyard chickens, I don’t think they count toward “farm life.”

So how is a Montessori tech librarian supposed to change her behavior to accommodate all of these future engineers?  Thankfully, it seems that all of the sewing and reading that we do also contributes to an engineering mindset.

Significance of Being a Reader

There was one point Thomas made that has stayed with me. She mentioned that most of these makers were avid readers as children. They weren’t all “good” students in school. Some struggled, some didn’t do the work, and some did well, but still had to work for their knowledge. However, they all knew how to find out more information – through books.

Although the web has made it “easier” to find certain things, the fact remains that books are still a great resource to begin your research. Certainly, I’m not discounting the wonderful information online, but I have found that we still need a good combination of both tools. Books and web research, combined with a good mentor, seems to be the path to successful learning. Of course, the interest has to be there first.

picture of green LED

You can’t see the 2 AA batteries that are powering the green LED, but the multimeter is measuring their voltage.


Reading – Trying – Testing – Changing

With Space Camp under my belt, I’m really looking forward to summer camps and classes. Camp registration is up and while I’m still trying to find a place for the Mindstorms Clinic, I’m reading, trying, changing and testing all sorts of kid-friendly projects.

Reading – Trying – Testing

First and foremost is a heavy focus on HTML, CSS and Javascript. This summer, I am teaching beginning web design for Santa Fe’s College for Kids (CFK) .There are so many things that I want to show the kids and there will be a strong emphasis on writing HTML code. It may be plain, but it provides a good foundation for understanding the structure of web pages. While I anticipate mostly beginning students, I may have some who are already HTML-savvy and ready to jump into cascading style sheets (CSS) or Javascript. I want to be prepared for those students, so I have been working my way through this book, while also building and testing my own prototype sites. I love the deep learning that is happening in my brain. I had forgotten how much fun true web development could be.

Ten years ago, I managed part of my library’s web site using (mostly) Dreamweaver. I didn’t go much further with it at the time because I was enamored with teaching, but now that I am really jumping into CSS I am fully engaged and truly enjoying myself. I definitely see some front-end web development classes in Artisan Education’s future.

A picture from the fabulously talented Sally Mavor. This is from her book, Pocketful of Posies.

A snapshot from the talented fiber artist, Sally Mavor. This is from her book, Pocketful of Posies.

Of course, to balance all of that screen time, I usually have some sort of knitting or sewing project close at hand. My inner artist loves being creative with handwork and I like that I can bring my projects to gatherings, as well as to park outings with my kids. When I’m drawing, I need complete quiet (which rarely happens at my house), so I tend to stick with fiber arts. Therefore, I am really excited to be offering the ‘Making in Action‘ camp this June. Plus, I will be teaching the beginning sewing class for CFK in July. Thank goodness there will be a lot of fiber art to go along with all that programming.

For the summer, I am focusing on hand-sewing and the boys are currently testing out my projects.  This way I can tell which ones need more instructions or perhaps, more choice. I recently found an interesting embroidery-pin project that we’re going to work on this week and I can’t wait.

Enough chatting – I’m off to create. I hope you have a ‘making week’ too!

A picture of a half-traced hand-drawn tiny rocket to be used for embroidery

R’s embroidered design choice. He’s testing a backpack pin project.

Our Family’s Growth Mindset

A few years ago, I was fortunate to come across the book, Mindset, by Dr. Carol Dweck. It sounded familiar and I vaguely recalled a chapter on something similar in Po Bronson’s runaway book, NurtureShock. That book was all over the blog-o-sphere and talked about frequently in my parenting groups.

But, somehow Mindset wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous….until recently. Now, there is a lot of talk about grit, brain science and its importance to overall “success.” Personally, I found the book to be life-changing. Not just for my own children or the children I work with, but for myself.

Before, I never would have let anyone see how I struggled. Now, I think it is imperative to show my kids that learning something new can be hard - even as an adult.

An ugly and badly knit tube. My second attempt at knitting solely with double-pointed needles.

Before, I never would have let anyone see how I struggled. Now, I think it is imperative to show my kids that learning something new can be hard – even as an adult.

As a first-born perfectionist, I can recall stopping short of many projects because I got stuck, or found it to be too hard, or was afraid to ask for help. This rarely applied to school work. I was mostly a model student, finding the innate praise of spitting back information to be a true reward.

Nowadays, before I stop a project, I ask myself if I am stopping because it’s getting too hard. Have I really given it my all or do I need to farm out the work? Have I really learned everything about that topic – or am I trying to get to a new level and I need to jump off the plateau? Am I ready to give up because I left it for a few days, weeks or months because I am done learning? Or, did it just get too hard and I need to push through this point and strengthen my brain connections?

knitting in the roundIn college, I dropped classes that I loved because grades were the only thing that mattered. I didn’t pursue my love of French because it was getting really hard – and I thought I wasn’t any good at it. Now, I realize that I didn’t want to fail at anything. It would crack my self-righteous attitude and the carefully created persona that doing well at school had re-affirmed.

In the ensuing years, I have failed many times. Often, I wasn’t ready to learn from those failures, but eventually I did. Changing my mindset has also helped with that. Although I still like to be well-prepared and avoid embarrassment at all costs, I am more willing to admit my mistakes, to apologize and consider another person’s point of view. I realize that my children need to see the mistakes we make – and see them often.

I’ve found this to be especially true with homeschooled children because they do not see frustrated peers on a daily basis. However, I also think it’s good for kids who don’t really struggle in school. If you are always on top, how do you know what to do when you encounter a really tough problem?

That’s why our kids will always see us learning something new. This might be for work, such as computer programming, soldering or learning about circuits. It might be for a personal project – homebrewing for my husband or rekindling a love of French for myself. The journey is not easy and it’s important for our kids to see that. Of course, that doesn’t eliminate the crying and anger that comes from being frustrated, but it does help to move past it.

A "growth mindset" reminder for our family.

A “growth mindset” reminder for our family.

Above our dining room table, we have a small, handmade poster that asks three questions. A couple of years ago, we referred to it often, but now we have internalized the message. “Did I try my hardest today? Did I keep trying even though I was frustrated? How did I grow my brain today?”

After two attempts, I sought out a solution from this fabulous book - The Knitting Answer Book. Voila! A nice, neat tube...I'm almost ready for socks!

After two attempts, I sought out a solution from The Knitting Answer Book, a fabulous resource. Et voila! A nice, neat tube. Now, I’m almost ready for socks…





Do I need a tutor for my young child?

Most of the time, the answer is no.

Ironically, there are so many answers to that controversial question, but for many of us, the answer is no. Are we worried about the development of our children? Yes. Are we worried that if they don’t master (sight words, blends, subtraction facts, chapter books) by a certain age, they will never catch up? Of course we are concerned. We are parents (and teachers and well-meaning grandparents and friends). That’s what we do. However, the fact that you as a parent are seeking out a tutor implies that you are doing what you need to do as a parent. Unfortunately, it’s the parents who assume that a child only learns from a teacher that is in the most danger as he or she grows up. But, I digress…


If your child is having difficulties – whether with reading or school in general – I would like to recommend that you read two books before seeking out a tutor. From a personal standpoint (and as a Montessori teacher and homeschool parent), these books have been immensely life-changing for my own family. The first book is called Mindset and it’s written by Dr. Carol Dweck.

Dweck is an educational psychologist who studies how and why children succeed in school and life. To sum up her main argument, she found that those people who had a “growth mindset” were more successful in life. A growth mindset encompasses a train of thought that embraces challenges (rather than shying away from them because “they just aren’t my strength”). This mindset also sees effort as the path to mastery, accepts criticism as a way of learning, and finds lessons and inspiration in the success of others. It also tells us why we should never praise our children for being smart or assume that someone else just has “natural talent.”

So, when your child comes home from school on Friday, and you ask how they did on the spelling test, you say, “How did you feel about the spelling test? Did you try your hardest? Were you happy with your results?” You ask this, rather than praising them for only getting 1 wrong, or get angry about them getting 3 wrong. Then, you make a mental note to talk about those words and their meanings at dinnertime (with your spouse) and perhaps your child will join in and point out what she did wrong.

The other book I would recommend (especially for the oldest and only children) is The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Lehman. This book is invaluable for helping those of us firstborns to recognize our own shortcomings as perfectionists with a fear of failure. And, for those of you who are not firstborns, it will help you to recognize why your own firstborn, or only child is struggling (in school, in dance, at home, in homeschool, etc.). They look to the adults as peers and find it exceedingly frustrating that you make it look so darn easy!

In my family, we found these two books extremely useful in helping our energetic and independent-thinking eldest son. We have a printout of the lessons of the growth mindset and routinely invoke that in discussions (with him, with ourselves, at dinner, etc.) We are constantly challenging ourselves to become better – even if it is hard. And, to be able to recognize when it is just a difficult phase of learning – or if perhaps this isn’t that important after all? (A side note: we found this worked well at age 7 and above).

Before engaging a tutor, check out the above-mentioned books and discover if you recognize those behaviors in your children (and yourself). Then, use the helpful hints given in the book to change YOUR mindset and YOUR praise and assistance to help your child overcome his fear. And, if you find that you have changed your mindset and your child is ready to advance her knowledge, then you can happily engage a tutor, and know that your money will be well-spent!

Practical Life :: Using Real Tools

If you view childhood through the works Dr. Montessori, our goal as parents and teachers are to assist our children to learn how to care for themselves. This is the work of the child. Thus, children as young as 18-months are encouraged to use “real” tools to accomplish their tasks. This can be a scary prospect for parents of young children (and for the record, I didn’t let mine touch a sharp knife until almost 3).


My young four-year-old successfully opening a package

Obviously, I am not advocating that you allow your children to run around with scissors, but allowing them work with “real” tools is very important work. It provides them with dignity. Even our youngest children possess a desire to belong and have pride within their work. A child inherently knows when you are not treating them as equals — when you pass off the “play” knife while you cook dinner. While it is not always an option for my children to assist when they want to, I make sure to be as open to the possibility as I can. Often, cries of “I want to help,” are followed by suggestions of assisting with stirring, obtaining ingredients or cutting bananas with a butter knife (for the very youngest among us).

**Safety Disclaimer ** You know your child. Do not assume that other children are as advanced or capable as your own child. Always supervise your child – especially when they are working with sharp tools and new materials.

My seven-year-old is now so proficient at cutting up fresh broccoli that he takes the leftover stalks and makes carvings — using a very sharp paring knife. (I did some extra observing with that one).


Using a hand saw – October 2012

These pictures were from last Halloween. The boys carved pumpkins and were generally messy – outside – with Dad supervising. If you look closely, you can see that my son’s thumb is colored black. That’s not nail polish…he banged his thumb with a hammer a week earlier while working on a project of his own making. He hurt himself – yes – but he hasn’t done it since and it hasn’t stopped him from continuing to create and use his hammer. You have to observe your child to know when they are ready for new tools, but please do give them a chance. Each child will be different. That’s okay.


The three-year-old used a spoon.

“Who does not know that to teach a child to feed himself, to wash and dress himself, is a much more tedious and difficult work, calling for infinitely greater patience, than feeding, washing, and dressing the child one’s self? But the former is the work of an educator, the latter is the easy and inferior work of a servant.”

-Maria Montessori in The Montessori Method



It's a bit late for a post about Spring, but because "Spring" is such a beautiful time in Florida, we usually spend all of our time outside. Thus, very little computer or TV time. We have to soak up all of the nice weather before it gets too hot. (Like the last couple of days…in the 90s!)



Painting. A very nice activity that was recently introduced to Calum. Outside. And, smoothie pops. Also, an outside activity. I do have a few cleanliness rules.

Ronan was very excited to be able to paint since he usually only has a chance to do so while Calum is taking a nap. But, this time, they both shared the watercolor set and Calum "helped" Ronan with his picture. They both really enjoyed it and I enjoyed the time spent sitting in the chair nearby. This will definitely be a repeat activity – assuming Calum has sinced learned that we do not drink the cup of water near the paints.

We've also been spending a lot of time watching our garden grow. In February, our plants bloomed and we have been eating salads daily.

(late February)

(early April)

The gorgeous bluish-purple bushes are red cabbage.(In the top of the above picture). They needed more light than they were getting with a winter sun, but they are really taking off now. But, our lettuce is bolting. However, we have just planted a few other "plots" with summer veggies. Bring on the tomatoes, okra and eggplant. (Hopefully).


WIth the nicer weather, the kids are on the back porch much more often. One afternoon while Calum was napping and I was hanging out on the porch with Ronan, he drew this picture. He started with the ant hill and the ants going below. Then, he decided he needed to draw the ground (so we would know the ants were below the ground) and he added the grass for effect. Finally, there needed to be more ants (I think to symbolize the large amounts in our backyard) and those are the dots everywhere. I was thoroughly impressed.


summer scavenger hunt

I'm fortunate to be a part of the summer edition of a great online magazine, Rhythm of the Home. This magazine is dedicated to articles that discuss mindful parenting, conscious living and activities that work within the Waldorf and Montessori educational frameworks (all things that are on my brain quite often). I was lucky enough to be able to share one of our outdoor adventures…the scavenger hunt.


Our scavenger hunts were designed to get us out of the house – a little jump start for a boy who is quite engrossed in his morning work. But, sometimes, we need no push, just a breezy day and a willing parent.  On a recent family walk, we stumbled across a fantastic find :: a reddish egret (quite rare for these parts). We all took it in stride as Ronan quietly observed and then suggested that we go on over to the poster depicting the park's wildlife, in order to make a proper identification. His excitement continues to spark my own sense of wonder in this wondrous place we are lucky to call home.