Friday, June 29, 2012

Summer Art Class

I scored a cool gig a couple weeks ago.  The West Hartford Art League was teaching a morning summer camp and their scheduled teacher couldn't make it.  A friend of mine teaches over there and she gave me the heads up!

So, for three weeks, from 9am - 10:15, I will be teaching 4 -5 yr-olds art.  Fun!

Considering the minimal time I had to plan 15 projects, shop for supplies, and make samples, you can imagine I've been in a perpetual state of hustle.  It's not easy planning projects for young artists that have to be completed in an hour and have to be on theme and have to seem like a professional artist taught them.  Not an easy task - but I think I have some fun things planned.

Above - Block printing.  I plan to have the kiddos make one of their own stamps from foam shapes but I wanted to have some animals ready because that week's theme is animals.

Below - Watercolor Guinea Fowl based on a painting by Edward Saidi Tingatinga.

And a wax resist rock spider.

I'll take more pics of the little ones in action and show how they do with the projects.  It will be an interest first few classes, I'm sure.  Then I should get a good handle on how to teach them and what they can handle.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lemon Cake

Tuesday was Mike's birthday, so I made him this yummy lemon cake.  It was a new recipe and - as always - since no recipe is ever exactly right for our diet, there were some substitutions.  But I'm happy to report that it was pretty good.  I would have made more icing - as I think that always helps - but I was low on the "butter."  Next time.

Here's the recipe if you're in a sugar-free, gluten-free kind of mood.


1 cup coconut milk
2 Tbsps lemon zest (3 lemons)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (3 lemons)
1 1/4 cup agave
1/2 cup safflower oil
3 1/2 cups all-purpose GF flour
1 tsp xantham gum
1 1/2 tsp baking power
3/4 baking soda
3/4 salt
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease two 9" round cake pans. 

Mix coconut milk, lemon juice, and lemon zest.  Let sit at least 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, xantham gum, baking power, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk.

Add agave, oil, and egg to milk mixture.  Mix.

Add flour mixture to milk mixture, stir.  Then pour evenly into cake pans.

Bake 30 minutes.

Remove from over.   Check with a tooth pick.  Cool.  After about 30 minutes, remove from cake pans and cool completely on a rack.


I don't know exactly how much I used, but I mix Earth Balance "Butter" Spread with honey at a 1:1 ratio.  Then I added the zest of one lemon.  Mix.

When the cake is completely cool, ice that baby.

And guess what?  I made this cake in my brand new stove!  Ta da!

Two burners were out on the old one so that was it for me.  It was in the house when we moved in ten years ago, so I think it did a pretty good job.  I'm really excited about the new cook surface.  We were always getting crumbs and crud under the burners and I just didn't want to deal with it anymore.  So we're being really careful, trying not to place things on the stove top or scratch it.  So far so good.  It's pretty cool!

In other news:  I think my summer is going to be like that circus act where the person spins plates on sticks.  As one plate slows and wobbles, he rushes over and spins it.  Then another, then another.  He dashes all over, trying to keep those plates from breaking.  That's me!  Nothing's breaking, but there are certainly a lot of plates spinning right now:  writing, illustrating, art classes, commission work, house work, watering the tree and grass, laundry, cooking, groceries, Magoo's social calendar.  It's a lot.

So I'm taking some deep breaths.  Doing some pilates.  And counting down the days until school starts again.  :)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

WATER: The Fun and The Fury

Yesterday started off well enough.  It was day three of the heat wave, but somehow it didn't feel as oppressive as earlier in the week.   Our good friends N and A were in town from Baltimore, so we whipped the slip-n-slide out and had a slippery good time.

Curly and Mo joined us, as did our 14-yr-old neighbor Big J.  Everyone was getting along swimmingly and I even took in a few slides myself.

 Then, around 4pm, things changed.  

We knew storms were coming, but OH MAN, it was a gullywhumper!

See that telephone pole?  That stands between the sidewalk and the street.  And see that UPS truck?  The water is up to it's headlights. 

We took some water in the basement too.  It was seeping in the basement windows at first, so I was able to get a lot of things off the floor.  Then the water from the street was so severe that it backwashed into the house and the sump pump couldn't keep up with it. 

I was downstairs with my bilge pump, filling buckets and dumping them out front.  Big J came over to help, as did his mother and another neighbor.  (I took flowers over this afternoon to say THANKS.)

I think we did a pretty good job of keeping it under control.  Only a portion of the basement flooded and after a light clean-up and some bleach, it's looking good.

And I still managed to make my boy a pizza!  Boo-ya!

Everything is calm again today.  The ground was thirsty, so it sucked most of the water right up.   Most of my new grass looks OK, but I think it would be wise to reseed some areas.  And, yes, branches from teh mighty oak are littered throughout the backyard. 

It was a doosey of a storm, for sure.  But today the sun is shining.

I hope it is shining on you as well.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Our New Tree

It's the last week of school, and as I find my alone-time decreasing, my work load has increased substantially in the last week.  Therefore, less blogging.  Sorry.

But I did want to take a moment to introduce our new tree.  Tree, meet the blog readers. Blog readers, tree.

This is a London Plane.  We are SO EXCITED to have it! 

It was sad not having a tree in our front yard.  We missed out Maple tree.  But, really, it was probably too big to have in the front yard anyway.  And it was on the side of the yard where the wire connected.  (That wasn't our doing - it was there when we moved in.)

So our lovely London Plane is on the other side of the yard, which means it's smack in the middle of the frisbee field of play.  On any given evening, you can see Magoo and Mike tossing the disc around with me on the porch chanting, "Please don't hit my tree.  Please don't hit my tree."

I'm watering it twice a day (along with the new batch of grass seed in the back yard) and hoping for the best!

In other news:
It's the last week of school in these parts!  Wishing everyone a happy summer!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Yarn Along: Goodale Cardigan

I'm plugging away on my Goodale Cardigan - plug, plug, plug.  I'm almost done with the yoke and MAN am I glad.  Those front fold overs and going around the shoulders makes for a very looooong row.  But so far so good.  The pattern is on Ravelry here.

I'm reading A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan.  Interesting.  It's more like short stories about people in each others social circles than a straight-through narrative.  I think it's all supposed to tie together in the end.  I dunno.  It's entertaining enough but I'm not completely hooked yet.

I'm also reading I AM A GENIUS OF UNSPEAKABLE EVIL AND I WANT TO BE YOUR CLASS PRESIDENT by Josh Lieb with my 9-yr-old son.  That one is hilarious!

Today is drizzly and my eyes are begging for a nice,long nap - and it's only 8:00 am!!!  I think I need caffine!

(Joining Ginny at Yarn Along.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How Does My Garden Grow

The garden project started a few months ago.  We had a warm snap in March so everyone was outside cleaning up their yards.

(Above)  This is the side of my house.  I should have taken a photo of it before I pulled out all the weeds and the crazy, over-grown strawberry patch.  Oh well.  You'll have to take my word for it.  It was wild kingdom over there.   I bought myself a tiller and I tilled it up goooood.  Then I marked off the area for my garden.

I had to be realistic when planning my garden.  I could have put more than one frame in, but really, I'm not going to go out and tend more than one frame.  I'm just not that into it.  So I set up my frame and put down the weed cloth.

Then I lined the area with bricks and filled it in with lovely white stones.  It took four big sacks of soil to fill the raised garden bed.  There are only two in it in the pick.  (Just a little FYI for anyone doing a raised garden bed. )

Then I put down some grass seed and I watered, and watered, and watered.

Fast forward to June.

It's not too bad, eh?  The grass came in pretty well.  I put a little heather bush in off to the side.  And (below) you can see the harvest coming in.

There's some lettuce, basil, a tomato plant, cilantro, and rosemary.  Can't wait to make a salad!!!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Art, Limbo, and Birds - Oh My!

Yesterday was a kind of crazy-busy day for this ol' mom.  It started off with Caribbean Day at Magoo's school.  I was asked to run a craft for the third graders.

Choosing a craft can be tricky, yanno.  It has to be complicated enough to take up about 30 minutes, but easy enough for third graders to do without a lot of help.  Also, it can't have a ton of supplies or be too messy.  And it had to be on theme.

I googled some crafts, but nothing sang to me.  Then I started looking at pictures of the Caribbean and some local handicrafts and I came up with the idea to make wax resist drawings.

(Above.)  Those are some samples.  I think they look fantastic!

If you want to do it at home, here's what you'll need:
board.  (I used mat board.)
black india ink mixed with water (about a 1:1 ratio)
paper towels

Step one.  Draw design in pencil.  (Do you see the little white paper in the corner of the photo with the three designs on it.  I drew simple line drawings for the kids to copy.  Some wanted to do their own thing and I absolutely encourage that.  But others like having something mapped out for them.  I did advise the children to use their space well.  So if they did a lizard and had a lot of space left over, maybe they could add grass or a patterned border.

Step Two:  Crayon.  The key is to press really hard.  You need a some layer of wax there for the ink to repel.  Otherwise the ink will cover the crayon work.

Step Three:  Ink.  (Below)  Here's my ink station.  I used a low cardboard box lined with paper towels.  I placed the board in the box, then painted the ink over top.  Magoo did a good job with his crayon work, so the ink had no problem resisting it.

Done!  (Below)  Here's Magoo's finished product.

While I was doing that art project with class after class, Magoo was outside wow-ing everyone with his limber limbo moves.

photo courtesy of Adrian Brown

He made it under this thing!!!  Can you believe it!  He was the Limbo King of the entire third grade.  All Hail the Limbo King!

That was crazy fun.  When it was all over I got to go home and chill for a little while before picking Magoo up from school.  Then, in the evening, we went back to school because it was the SCHOOL FAIR!!!

Here's a single shot from the Angry Birds booth.

I was working it solo so I couldn't take a lot of pictures.  If you want a better look at the catapult, go here.

The kids seems to really like it and it was just the right amount of difficulty.  All the kids were able to operate the catapult.  They had four birds.  Some kids knocked all three pigs down in two birds.  Some didn't knock any over.  I think they all enjoyed it though.  And I only got beaned in the forehead once.

So that was my super busy mom day.  Now I am onto cleaning out the basement for our tag sale on Saturday.  I already uncovered a romance novel that I wrote in my 20's in a closet.  What will I find today?  Hmmmmmm.....

Monday, June 4, 2012


I wasn't going to do Pinterest.  I'm not in love with all the likes, tweets, and whatevers that are happening all the time now.

I joined Facebook for professional reasons, mostly.  Sure, it nice to see what Joe Sixpack from high school is up to and maybe see a pic of my cousin's new baby.  But really it's work for me to think of things to post there.

I try to be a good Facebooker and comment on people's posts and "like" them, then I leave info on my books or school visits or whatnot.

So when Pinterest came along, first I said "Wha?" and then I said "Nah."

But I was at a professional networking luncheon this weekend and the talk turned to how to use social media to market one's book.

I know all about this for YA books.  Teens will follow the posts and tweets of their favorite authors.  But not my audience.  My audience has just learned how to spell their names.

But the wise and more experienced authors pointed out that a lot of Moms and teachers are on Pinterest.  And, as we all know, Moms and teachers buy picture books.

So last night I joined Pinterest.  (Thanks, Angela, for the invite.)

I feel I have a lot to figure out.  Maybe I'll devote 30 minutes a day to it - pinning and repinning.

For those of you who don't know what the heck I'm talking about, let me put it to you this way.  When I was younger, I used to keep notebooks.  If I saw a magazine photo that inspired me, I'd clip it and put it in my notebook.  If I saw a recipe I wanted to try, I would clip it and put it in my notebook.  Pinterest is the EXACT SAME THING, only it's on the internet and anyone can see your notebook pages.  And if they like them, they can repin your recipes, photographs, art, to their pages.

It's basically a good place to share ideas and inspiration.

Anyway, I'm there now.  My username is JCPhillipps, if you want to follow me.

Happy Monday!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Covers Continued

On Thursday and Friday I continued my artist-in-residence gig at Central School in Simsbury, CT.  (Above)  Here I am showing a slide for the Hungry Caterpillar as an example of a cover that is character based.  I also wanted to show how Mr. Carle used a very simple white background to contrast all the energy and detail that was in the caterpillar, and how the text is off center in the composition.  I wanted to show the kids all the different options and creative choices they could make when creating their covers.

(Above)  Some 6th graders hard at work.

(Below)  A collection of covers that popped.  (I have to say, I took so many photographs of such fabulous covers - the 6th grades really did a wonderful job with this project - but here is just a sampling.)
I really love this one.  He captured the steely tone of a ninja and the placement of the text is PERFECTION!!!
This cover was for a group of short stories that the young author had written, one of which involved an iPod and an alien.  I think he picked the perfect image to go with his title and I love the little alien sticking his head out from the corner.

Ooooh - isn't this creepy?!  This is a fabulous example of tone.  So dangerous and tragic.

This is like a cross between a game show and Judge Judy.  I love the title.  It makes me laugh ever single time!  It reminds me of Eddie Izzard's Cake-or-Death bit.

This young lady did a really nice cover for her sketch pad.  I love that she gave it a theme.  And the execution of that theme is really successful.  The text is clear.  She used two different fonts effectively.  And the illustration is bold and well composed.  Nicely done.

This was maybe the only true cover adaptation that we had.  I loved those two little wild things on the cover.  And I think it was a great idea to add the claw coming down, as if it was the one that scrawled some of the letters.

Here we have more of a cover parody.  I guess this young lady had reworked a story with her friend called The Stuffed Boredom.  I have no idea what it was about, but if I was in a bookstore and saw this cover, I'd want to pick it up and see what's what.

I had a fabulous time at Central School.  A big shout out to the art teacher, Mrs. Kelleher, for letting me come in and work with the kids for three days.  I couldn't ask for a better hostess.  It's not easy to let someone come in and take over your space, but Mrs. Kelleher was so gracious and enthusiastic - it made it a really fun experience for me.  And thanks to all the fabulous 6th graders for sharing their ideas with me.  I think you all knocked this project out of the park!!!