Once Upon a Time in the West: the art lesson

In California it is rare to have large cloud formations.  Huge cumulonimbus formations are unnecessary in a desert climate, perhaps.  That said, from time to time there were clouds, and they were lovely.

One of my favorite things to do as a child was to lay on my back and search the cloud’s various shapes.  I found that watching them morph into something recognizable was fascinating.

Fast forward to the 90s

We had a bit of rain and the inclement weather had kept us inside for most of the day.  The children were boisterous, loud and needing to get outside to run off some energy!  Thankfully, the sun came out and there were some cloud left overs up over head.

As we walked to the playground I asked my students:  “How many of you like to watch the clouds?”

Several responded with:  “What do you mean?” and “No.”  The rest just giggled.

I said:  “Your parents never told you the magic of finding things in the clouds?”

This comment produced more laughter from the group, so I told them to go and play, and when they got back I would have a fun activity for them to do!

While they were out I gathered my tools and supplies:

  • large tarps
  • white construction paper
  • pencils
  • lined paper
  • a book:  It Looked Like Spilled Milk
  • blue chalk

I then sent up a quick prayer that the principal would not catch us in yet another of what I termed a “*Teachable Moment” because he simply did not approve of them!  (He didn’t catch us by the way.)  😉

I met the kids on the playground with my tarps and told them to be very quiet so we wouldn’t be caught out here having fun.  We then went to the quietest spot, and laid out our tarps.  Cautioning them to remain quiet, I then told them to lay down and watch the clouds…

“Look at the clouds up there.  Do you see the shapes they are making?  Do any of them look like something you’ve seen before?”

It took a moment but then someone saw a puppy.  Then another saw Pikachu, and the fun was on!  So many shapes, so many things to see, and all changing before their very eyes.

It was magic!

Whispering, I told them to get up, and gathering the tarps we went inside.  Continuing in my whispered voice, I asked them to go to the carpet and sit so we could talk.  I read the book and then the lesson began.

Today we are going to draw clouds.  I want you to think of your favorite shape that you saw and then I want you to draw it on your paper.  I picked up a large sheet of white construction paper and clipped it to the stand.  This elicited several incredulous responses from the crowd, and in unison they said:

“Teacher, the paper is all white!  Clouds are white!  You can’t make clouds on white paper!”

I could see in their eyes they thought I had lost it.  Shhhhh… I said softly, let me explain!

“To draw your cloud you will have to make your pencil whisper on the paper.  Watch!”

I began to draw an outline on the paper of a simple cloud, and explained about how soft the lines needed to be so that they wouldn’t show up when we were done.  Then I took my pencil and ever so lightly pulled it across their arms so they could feel how softly I was drawing.

“Do you understand so far?”  Nods of acknowledgement.  “Good, now watch, this is the magic!”

Taking my blue chalk I carefully outlined the pencil marks.  Then, taking my finger I softened them into the inside of the cloud.  Next, I laid my chalk on its side and began to fill in the background.  Instantly, there were sounds of Oooh, and Ahhhh…

The children went back to their desks and began their work.  It was one of the most focused portions of our rainy day, and when they were done, there wasn’t a single complaint from the group about the next part of the lesson.

“Tell your table partner about your cloud.  Describe it to them and explain what you saw and drew.”

While they talked I passed out the lined paper…

  “Now, please write about your cloud.  I want details about what you saw, and also about how you drew it.”

It was amazing to watch them write.  Some were only able to write a paragraph, but all were engaged in the task, and all gave me their best work.  Even the non writers in the group!

Later we would have to do the requisite re-writes from our rough draft, but they were proud of their work and excited about the prospect of sharing it on the Parent Teacher Night.

I feel it was a wonderful experience for all of us.  They learned about cloud watching, negative space in art, and had a lesson on drafting and re-writing to boot!  However, for me, the experience was an affirmation of the use of  Art, and a Teachable Moment.  A special gift brought to us on a cloud.



From the movie ~ Mr. Holland’s Opus:

“Well, I guess you can cut the arts [and teachable moments] as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.”
Jessica Di Santo ~ at the Blog by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

“Beethoven *needed* to compose.  As Mr. Holland states, we *need* the arts.  Students *need* exposure to creativity. Children *need* to let their imaginations run wild.”  (You can read her whole article HERE)


NOTE:  Some of you may have previously read this topic here, but I wanted to share it again because my friend “Z” (aka: Lisa) at Zeebra Designs & Destinations is guiding us in a quest to draw, to express ourselves, to stretch our ability and in my case, to break out of my need for perfectionism.   The thought of what you are about to look at just curdles my stomach, but here it is with all its warts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt isn’t even the current assignment, but I had to just DO IT, if you can understand.  So, for the record I thought my photograph of the original cloud looked like a Gnome laying there on the mountain. 

OK, I’m hyperventilating now…

Well, even Monet had to start somewhere.

Didn’t he? 😉

Once Upon a Time in the West: the power of a flower

Please click the photo to go to “Caesara Botanical Consulting” the source for this lovely photograph of Cleveland Sage.

Once in my classroom in California I was given a special needs student for mainstreaming.  He was brilliant in math, and very quiet.  He used to follow me around when all the rest of the kids were on the playground and would be waiting for me each morning when I arrived.  Conversation was not his way, but he sure was an observer!

One day, towards the end of a particularly stressful week,  I brought in a long sprig of Cleveland Sage.  I thought it might help me by lifting my spirits if I kept it near to inhale its heady aroma.  Placing it onto my desk my little friend spoke… “Teacher, what’s that?”

I told him it was Cleveland Sage from my garden at home and that I loved to smell its fragrance because it made me smile.  I demonstrated the action and its effect for him.

“Can I smell it?”  he asked.

“Sure!”  I said, and handed it over to him.

He told me he liked it and I asked him if he would like to keep it in his pocket so he could enjoy it for the rest of the day.  He nodded his head and stuck it in his pocket.  Many times during the day I observed him take it out to give it a sniff.  Each time it produced a smile for him just as it had for me.

It was a beginning.  A way for me to see into the depths he kept locked into that quiet little face.

For the rest of that year I would bring in special things from my gardens and we would communicate through the scent of herbs and flowers.  If he liked it, it went into his pocket, and if he didn’t he would wrinkle his nose and hand it back.
By the end of the year we were having verbal conversations.  They were short ones, but those few words between us are a treasure I hold dear to my heart.

I often think of him and wonder if he remembers our herbal communications.  Did I plant a seed?  Does he still enjoy the scents of herbs and flowers even today?  By now I feel he is old enough to plant a garden of his own, and I like to think that if he does have a garden, that there is Cleveland sage growing somewhere in the midst of it.

You may call me a dreamer, but that was a special year, and I hope the seeds we planted were special ones… and that they bore fruit.


A special thank you to Lynda Phillips Kachurek, at Second Memory, for her post on Aromatherapy which inspired me today. 

Photo Friday: here and there, then and now

When we first moved here I was so exited about how green and lush everything is.  I was also excited to have so much room to plant in and couldn’t wait to get started.  HA!  The first time I tried to put the garden fork into the soil it bounced back and almost knocked me out!  We tried to use the Mantis to till out a garden spot and it just bounced along on the surface while the weeds and grass laughed at our folly…  So we went out and bought a BIG BOY Cub Cadet garden tiller.

I am afraid to use it. 

It is a seriously big and powerful machine.  When cranked up it sounds like a tractor and puffs huge blasts of air out of the front exhaust.  It reminds me of a bull getting ready to charge… I envision that the mighty beast will knock me to the ground,  sit on me, all the while huffing and snorting in victorious laughter.

If you like this and need one, you can click the picture to be taken to their site… (and NO, I am not being sponsored nor receiving any monetary compensation for this.)

For this reason Bob preps the areas I want to garden with the Cadet, and then I come in with the little Mantis to wage war on all the weeds.

Sometimes I get frustrated by the way, seemingly overnight,  the weeds come and take over my garden.  I think about my gardens in California and I get melancholy…  seems that with less water there was more control.  However, there was a cost too.    Water restrictions and the expense of watering the portions of the garden that needed it (my herbs and roses) made the price of gardening high!  Water rates were hiked 40% over a span of 4 years!!!  Hence we hired someone to design a native garden for us.  One that could live off of the average rainfall in Southern California.  We, of course, did all the work to save money!

It looked like this before…

Needless to say, this is not practical in an area that was desert before it was irrigated and overpopulated!

Enter Brian Swope from Tierra Seca Landscape Design who did some wonderful planning for us.    So, when we got done planting the yard looked like this!

Once established we never had to water it!  There are more pictures HERE

By the way, you can see more of his finished projects HERE!  He has since moved to the vicinity of San Francisco, if you live up there I strongly urge you to contact him.  You will not be disappointed!


And so it is, bit by bit, I have been trying to work a miracle.  Trying to turn all the weeds and wild grasses into gardens.  It is a slow and labor intensive process with nearly 6 times the area to cover.  Seems I start at one end, turn around to look back and…

More weeds!

Sigh.  I look for the day when the weeds have given up and the gardens have taken over.

In the meantime, I pick away at it…

Weeds and grass out!  Some new plantings in.

From back to front:  the sunflowers, tomatoes, peppers are done, but the bush beans are still waiting!

A neighbor came by and bulldozed the giant, grass-covered, red clay mountain behind the vegetable patch for us early this morning (red area in photo above)!  Now we will begin the process of sheet mulching to make it healthy, plantable soil!

With the exception of the rock drive, I have stuck to my plan of no chemical agents (Roundup).  I wonder if I will I ever gain control.

How do you conquer your garden nemeses?

NOTE:  Strictly speaking, if you sheet mulch you should not be rototilling.  However, with our hard-packed, concrete, red clay soil we feel the need to get things softened up before we turn 90.  Hence, we sheet mulched for two years, then rototilled, then planted.  The soil is now very friable, allows better drainage, and good deep root structure on the plants.  Over the winter months, we will sheet mulch again and then, hopefully, we will not need the rototill in the areas that have been worked over the three-year improvement time!

We had a bit of real snow for Christmas!

So here I offer a few words, several pictures and a disclaimer for those who wonder…  I am a transplanted California girl, hence my excitement over so little snow.

OH, and for those who are not my Facebook friends, I have reposted a little “One Act Kitty Drama”  at the end.  Enjoy!




Such beauty!  We were stunned to see this lovely Christmas Gift from Heaven and much-loved to receive it…

The animals on the other hand were not so enamored of this lovely, albeit cold, blanket that covered all their familiar turf…

Molly:  “Whooooo… it’s slippery and COLD!!!”


Polly:   “Not good for dibbling either!”

Topper:  “You call this an improvement?”


~And finally, here’s the little Drama I promised~

It is Christmas morning and it’s snowing…

Claus:    Meeeeout?
Bob:   Ok, but are you sure?
Claus: MeeeeOUT!

Bob lets him out.

One minute later…

Claus:   MEEEIN NOW… helloooo? Meeein… OK, I’m not foolin’ let meeeein it’s freezin’ my whiskers!!!

Wishing you all a wonderful New Year! May you find many Blessings as it unfolds!