Art in the classroom

When my daughter was in elementary school, the PTA purchased a program called Art Vistas that brought classic works of art into the classroom and encouraged kids to explore their creativity.

It was tailor made for me! I couldn’t wait to volunteer for it, but for two years someone else beat me to it. I was so disappointed. Sure, there were other things I could do to help out, but I studied art history in college, for heaven’s sake, I wanted that job!

My daughter was in third grade when I finally got it. I split the role with another mom and we had a great time.


The program they purchased included a lesson in Art History and an Art Project that focused on a specific aspect of design or color theory. There were 2D and 3D projects to make, as well as a variety of mediums to try. Each grade had a different theme with different works showcased so there was never a repeat. There were 6 lessons per year and at the end we put on a big Art Show so the students could show off their work.

It was the best volunteer experience! I would prepare by reading through the history lesson and pulling the works of art to showcase from a giant (organized) pile of them in a supply closet. One lesson included telling the stories of artists behind the old masters to illustrate a lesson in portraiture, followed by having the kids pair up and draw each other. Another lesson highlighted the bold colors and shapes of abstract artists and the kids used oil pastels to create their own. We learned about landscapes, the rule of three, shadow, contrast, pointillism, Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollack and much more.

I had the best time working with the kids and seeing them explore their artsy side. One of my proudest volunteer moments came when I asked a class full of 5th graders if they had a favorite artist and almost every single one of them did. It honestly brought tears to my eyes.

Art is this secretly amazing, mind-expanding experience. It seems like everyone recognizes this in pre-school, but as kids grow up there’s suddenly no time for it.

What’s worse, it becomes something they “can’t” do.

“I’m bad at art” is one of those statements that kids (and adults) make that makes absolutely no sense. The term “Art” is so inclusive that everyone can, truly, do wonderful things.  Remember this scene from the Princess Diaries?

SERIOUSLY – you can create Art.

Take the challenge this week — Don’t take yourself too seriously, make a mess, and have a little fun!

P.S. If you haven’t seen that movie in a while, you really should watch it again!


Help Just One

My earliest memory of volunteer work is helping Grandma Thone pack up food for the man that lived under the tree by the freeway. I was about 5 and I was handing her things to put in a bag.

It had been a long day, I don’t know why. I just know she was tired, I remember her breathing hard from the effort and holding tight to the chairs as she moved around the kitchen.

She was born missing part of her leg and the limp she had throughout her life was severe. Add in arthritic knees and too many pounds around the waistline and you can imagine that just getting through the day was an enormous physical challenge.

Grandma Thone and Lizzi in February 1998.

Grandma Thone and Lizzi in February 1998.


She had picked up my brother and I from school that day, as she did most days, then drove across town to her house and arrived just after the school bus dropped off three teenage girls in front. Two were sisters and the other had been living there just a few weeks. They were foster children and over the years my grandparents had nearly eighty come through their house. They went school, learned to drive, went to church and celebrated every holiday and birthday with us. As a little kid, I thought of them as cousins.

I don’t know if my brother and I had been a handful that day, or if it was the teenagers that tired her out. I just remember that she asked me to help her pack up the food for the man under the tree.

I had seen her do it before. She would fill a grocery bag with food and plastic forks. Sometimes she even sent her glass baking dish. A 2L of soda usually went, too, along with a roll of paper towels. Grandpa would drive back to the freeway exit, but he never took us kids with him. He just came back a bit later, sometimes a long time later, and he would tell Grandma that the man said thank you.

Grandma didn’t let herself get overwhelmed with the enormity of the homeless problem in our town. She didn’t judge the man by the choices that brought him to living under a tree. She didn’t weigh herself down with the trying to find a solution or helping the thousands of people who needed it. She figured he needed food, so she sent some.

She knew she could help this one, those two and maybe one more. She made a difference for them.

As a kid, I didn’t know my Grandparents were unique in their capacity for giving, for opening their hearts to serve. It is something I marvel at today. It drives me to give back in any way I can to anyone that needs me.

I was so excited to see that the NaBloPoMo theme for September is Service. In an attempt to live up to my grandmother’s legacy, I have always made time for volunteering and find that it is something that feeds my soul in ways I could not have imagined.

I have taught art and Sunday School. I have led 4-H projects, served as the Community Club Leader, and on the County Council. I’m currently County Key Leader, All Star Advisor, and Project Leader for 4-H, and I’m on the Board for a new non-profit called the Acrobatic Gymnastics Foundation.

I’m often asked how I find time for such endeavors and I simply respond that I don’t do dishes or clean the bathrooms – you’d be amazed how much time it frees up! I love volunteer work and hope that you find inspiration in the stories you read this month.

Stronger than she looks

She’s always been the little sister. Not just younger, but really little. Smaller than her friends, delicate features, and just all around fun-sized.

Bec and friends

Bec (pink shirt) with friends in 2009. Everyone in this photo is the same age. Notice how they are almost a head taller than her.

Her petite frame comes in handy for gymnastics, a sport that favors the small. She’s in her third year of competing and we have certainly seen the skills improve, but there is something else… she is so strong!

I don’t know if you are familiar with the work out schedule that competitive gymnasts keep. My husband, a former Naval Officer, calls it the SEAL Team work out. Core strength, arm strength, leg power, flexibility … and always with toes pointed, head up and a smile.

She loves it. She had a short break over the summer, and couldn’t wait to get back in the gym. She loves her team members, she love competing, she loves the whole package.

She tried various activities – volleyball, basketball (yes, short as she is, she was awesome on the court!), and dance. Last year she was a cheerleader in addition to a gymnast. But it is in the gym that she smiles brightest, works hardest and feels strongest.


Working on a new skill with her new trio and new coach.

That’s my girl in the white leotard and the black shorts. She loves being the base. The steady, strong person that holds other people up.

That pretty much describes her personality, too.

She’s the go to person for friends, the one who knows the right flavor of ice cream to soothe a broken heart or the goofy face that will bring a smile. She believes in herself enough to cheer on competitors, even when they get the gold.

She’s a strong kid. So much stronger than she looks.

Odd One Out – A poem about being Autistic, in her words

I have written about my daughter before (and here). This morning I turned on our home computer to listen to music and found her homework on the screen. What I read made me sob with pride. With her permission, I am sharing it here.

Our journey was filled with doubt and questions and pain and mistakes and worry. Autism is different in every kid, which means that every family has to find their way through the forest alone. Yes, there are experts and resources available, but what works for one child may not work for another. Your journey is unique.

Her high school requires a year long Sophomore Service Learning Project. Through assignments in History and English classes, students study a “world problem” and present their findings at the end of the year. This poem was part of an English assignment.

If you know a child with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, I hope this brings you some peace. There is hope for a bright future.

Odd One Out

When I was diagnosed

It made my mother


And my father was


They were very afraid

Of what would become

Of me

I look up and then look

Down because the world is


My peers always avoid me

They know that I am


Feeling that others can

Cover are not so easy to


The anger, the worry, and the

Sorrow are all so plainly


Now I ask you this

Will I always be the

Odd One Out?


The therapy is working

They have put me on a


I do much better in school

And I can look in your


I now have friends

That I see almost


I found out my obsession

Can be the key to my


Just like Warhaul, Gates

And Zucherberg too

The geniuses

I go to regular school

And I see a counselor

Whom aids me with

Life skills

Don’t focus on the bad

I can never be


But I know I will go far

That you can be


Please do not be afraid

Because I know I will


And so will your child

If they have the proper


They will find the things

That ignites the sparks


It’s the key to their


Believe me when I say

They will not always be

The Odd One Out

Girls bully, too: A comment on princesses and how we treat women that “can”

Ok – just read this post by Peggy Orenstein. It’s not new, it was originally published in November. “princess” connection is fascinating to me. One of my daughters was very into princesses, etc. so to me its not the “evil” empire that some people feel that it is. But then when my daughter was invited to a princess party with other 6 year olds, she went as a pirate. Not a pirate princess, a pirate.  I guess I just had a different princess-parenting experience.I see the do-it-all-perfectly-and-effortlessly thing differently, I suppose. I don’t associate that with princesses at all. I associate it with the way women talk and the way they judge each other.

I think the limiting factor here is the very real possibility that you will be publicly shamed for leaving your house without perfect make-up, making the slightest mistake or showing any effort whatsoever.

Look at the number of articles related to Hilary Clinton’s hairstyle vs. Madeleine Albright! (FYI – 1.1 million in .25 seconds vs 180k in .53 seconds)

It is sad but true.

My 16 yo is presenting a seminar to teenagers this weekend at a local 4H leadership conference. The topic is bullying, with an emphasis on how to support the victim. She has done a lot of research to prepare and one of the stats she pulled was about the shocking percentages of girls that experience emotional bullying through negative comments DAILY. The comments might be about their hairstyle, their clothes, their grades, etc. but very often girls EXPECT to hear negative comments from their peers with any sort of achievement. In contrast, boys could expect bullying to be more physical and tended to be doled out to those who “can’t” rather than those that “can.” **

The message is clear – do well, girls, and there is an army waiting to tear you down.

This is what we have to fight, people.


Peggy Orenstein is an award-winning writer, editor and speaker about issues affecting girls and women.
** Please note – NEITHER form of bullying is ok. I bring it up because the contrast was interesting to me.

Say goodbye to the pink fan

The other day I had a handyman come over and replace the ceiling fan in my daughter’s room. The fan was in good working order, so he was careful with it. He placed it gently in some Styrofoam packing material and it sat in my living room for a day before finding a new home.

We have been planning to replace that fan for months. Over the summer, my girls and I took on a massive redecorating project. I had to pack up my entire home office, including the huge closet of office/craft/sewing/misc stuff and move everything to the living room so the office could be repainted. Once three walls were lavender and one was a dramatically dark blue, my 12 year old could move in and start decorating.

Once her room was empty, it was repainted for my 15 year old daughter, the artsy one. The walls in her new room are deep purple, lime green, bright cerulean blue and … wait for it… black chalkboard.  An entire wall available for friends to graffiti to their teenage hearts’ content, and believe me – that is a lot of graffiti.

With the colorful walls and the ironically black bedding, it was clear that the pink ceiling fan with flowers and butterflies was affecting the overall chi in the room.

So the fan went across the street to the young family with the little girls age 5 and 3. My husband dropped it off and there was quite a squeal from the 5 year old. “Mommy! That for my room?”

Honestly, I had no problem with this entire plan until the fan was gone. Something about watching that little girly-ness leaving forever left me a little sad. It is not like the fact that my girls are growing up was a secret. In fact, the evidence is in every corner of my life: homework that involves medieval politics, the miniature Sephora store in my hall bathroom, the bras of every size and color going through the wash each week…  

But this weekend I just had a feeling that life is shifting into fast forward.

My oldest will be 16 next month. She will not get a driver’s license on her birthday, but she will soon. In April, my “little one” will be 13. She does not have any interest in boys just yet, but she will soon. Instead of the hiding presents from Santa Claus, we have planned a family trip to New York for Christmas break that includes tickets to Wicked and lots of shopping. Last summer we visited a college out of state (my alma mater), this summer we will visit a few more.

I don’t have any regrets about being a working mom. I have been incredibly lucky to work at home for most of the last 10 years. I get a lot of time with my daughters and I am lucky that they think I am pretty ok to hang out with most of the time.  They are interesting people to talk to and I like that we can have deep conversations about life, politics and the economy.

“It’s all good,” I try to remind myself. This is what I have been working towards. But I can’t help it, there are tears in my eyes.

This post was originally published on on November 15, 2011.

Why the t-shirt backlash matters

The whole t-shirt controversy that took over the interwebs this week fascinated me. A shirt that so many people (including me) found offensive made it to the floor of an enormous, and usually non-controversial, retailer.

I took some time to think about why things like this bother me so much. As the mother of two daughters, ages 12 and 15, I see so many things that I want to protect them from – drugs, boys, kidnappers, illness, mean people, etc.

So why did a shirt ruffle so many feathers?

Liz at Mom 101 had a great response and, I hope, you take a few  minutes to not only read her post, but the discussion in the comments (shard of brilliance, as the link says). Mine is in there, too, and is one reason I am back here blogging after a too-long hiatus.

I like to think I am doing what I can to raise my girls to be strong women. But I can tell you, it is harder than anything I have ever done or thought about doing.

They see so much that makes them question who they are and who they are striving to be. Read the headlines on magazines while checkout at the grocery store… Diets! Flat Tummies! Better Sex! I didn’t pay much attention to them until I realized my 12 year old read every one of them.

Those are the words rattling around in her head right now, trying to figure out how it all fits together.


So why does a dumb t-shirt matter? It doesn’t, but it is an example of what is out there. Like “cute butt” sweat pants for tweens (at and shorts for my 15 year old that have less than a 1 inch inseam. Don’t even get me started on the big trend in transparent clothing for teens this year.

Yes, back to school shopping was “fun” for me. How about you?

On the plus side, the power of social media to affect change is once again in the spotlight. This t-shirt garnered so much attention because it was at JC Penney. A 100+ year old retailer that, frankly, is not exactly on the cutting edge of fashion. They are usually pretty conservative in their buying choices, yet a whole line of these offensive tees made it through a buying process that (I am guessing) has multiple layers of approval.

I guarantee you, right now there are meetings happening in JC Penneys about how they got it so wrong.

But the real power and the REALLY, REALLY good news is that there are 100+ other retailers that are also taking a good look at their inventory right now. They don’t want to be the next target of Social Media Backlash – and this may convince a few of them to rethink their plans.

And that would be very good thing.

This post was originally published on on September 2, 2011.