Thursday, January 9, 2014

DIY: Hiking and Exploring the Smoky Mountains

Hello there, friends! My fingers have finally thawed out just enough for me to type up a photo-heavy blog post of our post-holidays vacay to the Great Smoky Mountains. Hubs and I left on New Years 
day and drove the fourish hours from Nashville to Gatlinburg. I spent my road trip working on a new embroidery (that you won't see for a while because it's gonna take foreverness) and devouring road-trippy snacks (which included licorice, dark chocolate and some half-eaten mystery cookie I found in my purse). Our first order of business in G'burg was a trip to Smoky Mountain Knife Works because my husband's Top Three Favorite Things in the Whole Wide World are: flashlights, knives and our cat. Sadly, I come in a distant fourth. Whatcha gonna do.
We spent that evening walking the strip in Gatlinburg (which, if you've never been, is nothing like the strip in, say, Vegas. Naw. In G'burg, the strip includes copious amounts of the following: air brush t-shirt joints, old time photo places [where they insist on calling "olde tyme fotos"], homemade fudge -n- taffy joints and moonshine shops. Who needs Cirque du Soleil when you can catch a Lumberjack Feud Dinner Show? [yes, that's a real thing]). 

The following day, hub decided we should walk part of the Appalachian Trail which is where these photos were taken. So we left Gatlinburg behind and drove into the Smoky Mountain National Park.
Now just as we were getting suited up in our layers of clothing and strapping on our ultra chic fanny packs loaded with snacks, water and my hub's idea of "emergency stuff" (which means a fire starter, matches, a compass and a map. My "emergency stuff" includes a chocolate bar, a People magazine, my electric blanket and an ultra long extension cord. Hubs deemed my stuff non-essentials and made me leave it behind. Party pooper), we ran into some park rangers who mentioned that we might wanna take an abbreviated hike as there was some bad weather expected to blow in. In true horror-movie/fore-shadowing fashion, we totally ignored their warning and set upon our adventure.
And about 3 miles of vertical hiking in, that aforementioned winter weather decided to blow in. Which began innocently enough, covering the ground with pure white snowy stuff.
Then suddenly, the snow started blowing completely horizontal taking on an almost blizzard quality (says the person who's lived in practically-snowless Tennessee for far too long. If you live in places where actual blizzards occur, please feel free to scoff at these photos and leave tales of real blizzard woe in the comments).
Evidence of sideways snow and freezing cold as shown in Exhibit A: The Snow-Covered Ginger Beard.
I promise you, I am smiling. It's just that my face was frozen and this was the best I could do. 

When we finally made it back to our car several slippery miles later, the park ranger was waiting in the parking lot next to our lone car. He told us that they were shutting down all the roads in the park due to the weather. Crazily enough, there were dudes strapping on backpacks and getting ready to hike into the park for a snowy overnight. Which makes this camp out of ours seem like a walk in the park (which it was but you know what I mean).
The next day, the temperatures barely made it above 10 degrees. Sadly, this meant that the roads into the national park were still closed. So hubs took me to a Salt and Pepper Museum which was like the most awesome thing ever if you happen to adore all things kitschy and weird. And I do.
For just $3 (which you can later use toward a purchase of your own set of shakers), you can peruse the collection of over 22,000 salt and pepper shakers. There are seriously room after room of every kind of set imaginable. I was totally in love with 'em all and took a humiliating about of photos. Here are just a few of my faves.
Love these wooden ones. One of my favorite things about this place are the memories it brought back. I saw salt shakers that reminded me of sets owned by my mom, grandma and childhood babysitter.
These classy cats were so rad and retro.

Finally, the afternoon brought warmer temps and we were able to drive into the park and hike to Laurel Falls. One of the best parts of this hike were the views of the Smoky Mountains.

Being a Florida boy, my hubs loves the snow since he didn't grow up with it. To me, this snow looked so light and airy, almost like bubbles of dish washing soap.
Laurel Falls proved to be pretty dangerous. The water spray and frozen all over the bridge that is used to cross over the falls. It was a frightening and slippery little bridge to cross.
But worth it as we had the endless trail of snow to ourselves.
The following day, we headed home...but not without first driving in to Pigeon Forge so we could say hello to Dolly Parton who just so happened to be chillin' barefoot on a rock in the middle of winter. She so crazy. And there you have it, adventuring in the Smokies! We were sad we didn't get the chance to try out the new Alpine Slide in Pigeon Forge or hike more trails in the mountains. What are your fave things to do in the Smoky Mountains? 

Monday, January 6, 2014

DIY: A Felted, Light-Up Starry Night Dress!

Okay, first of all, lemme just say Thank You! for all of your amazing comments and input on teaching vocabulary. I started jotting down your suggestions and when I was done, I had three pages of incredible ideas. You guys are seriously awesome! For that reason, I've decided to create a follow-up post with a list of all your ideas (along with linky-loos to your blog if you've got one).

Second thang: Looks like ya'll are interested in an Artsy Book Club! I'm so thrilled, I seriously thought that when I suggested it no one would be down. But it looks like I'm in good book-lovin' company. I'm going to do a little homework to find a list of books we might be into and then I'll provide a poll for ya'll to vote. Suggestions are welcome, pretty please and thank you.

Now, without further a do-do, I present to you my Felted, Light-Up Starry Night Dress!
When I decided to create a dress for each of our monthly artists and began brainstorming famous works of art, I knew there would be just now way around Starry Night. And while the other dresses I'd created had been done with applique (with the exception of the Pollock Splatter Paint number), I didn't think that technique would really showcase the brush stroke business van Gogh is famous for. So I settled upon felting the thing.
 Just a lil back history: Vincent van Gogh painted The Starry Night in 1889 from the window of his sanitarian room...this according to the all-knowing wikipedia. However, I'd always heard that he painted the scene out doors while wearing a crown of candles. This info probably came from my all-not-knowing imagination. Regardless, this painting is considered a real turning point in van Gogh's painting style. AND it's rad.
Now, ya'll, I love felting. Way more than applique because it's much easier to control. That being said, this dress took me for-evah! So it's a good thing that I enjoy it so much. But I do believe I'll be giving it a short rest for at least a week. I might have stabbed my fingers a good two or twenty times and need a little bit of a break to heal.
Since I knew making a Starry Night dress was imminent, I'd had my eyes pealed for a navy blue dress during my thrift store jaunts. When I stumbled upon this dress, I knew it was perfect because I could basically use the entire front as a canvas...and it had pockets. I had this crazy notion that this dress was gonna light up (kinda like my Christmas dress) and I knew a pocket to hold the battery pack would be muy importante.
So I began by sketching out the entire chalk. Which was like the best thing ever because it erased easily and didn't effect the color of my fabric or wool.
And now here's countless photos of (slooow) progress of the dress. Hubs made a sweet little video of me felting but I can't seem to find it. For a more in depth look at how I go about needle felting, check here.
Despite what you see here, you actually don't need a lot of wool roving to needle felt. A little goes a long way. And, if you shop around online a bit, you can find some great retailers who aren't gonna charge you and arm and a leg like those big box craft shops.

You can see it's just a matter of placing the roving and then punching it until the fibers attach to the fabric. This is the first time I ever felted onto a 100% cotton garment. I'm usually working on a sweater. This took a little extra punching but I did get it to stick. By the way, I have a foam cushion under my dress that I punch into. Needle felting tools like the one you see here can be picked up at one of those aforementioned big box craft shops.
We did a lot of car traveling over the holidays. Hubs didn't think I should felt in the car (which is a total bummer because my mother-in-law had hooked me up with a little portable table and everything!). I think he had visions of us getting into an accident and me impaling myself with the needle tool. So I did the gold thread embroidery around the stars during those road trips.
And, after several days, it was as finished as it was gonna get!

Thankfully, I scored a Snow Day today. This meant I could stay up as late as I liked the previous evening...and I worked until the wee hours adding these LED lights.
I scored these for a mere $2 at an after Halloween sale at Big Lots. Notice that it has three settings: On, Flashing and Fading. Fading is my favorite as the stars really appear to twinkle. I think the kids are gonna Freak. Out. when they see this.
To add the lights, I ripped a little hole in the seam of the pocket and threaded the lights through it.
The lights were evenly spaced and there were 20 of 'em. I did have to add a couple of stars to find a place for the lights. To insert the lights into the dress, I cut a small hole in the center of the stars and sewed the light into the hole. I then tacked the wire connecting the dots down in several places on the dress. Fingers crossed these lights never stop working or I'll have a holey, light-less dress on my hands.
And there you have it! By the way, that little red-light clicker I'm holding in my hand isn't the light switch for the dress but the remote for my camera! For Christmas, hubs not only bought me a new camera but he also bought me this attachment that allows me to take pictures with the click of a button. I'm so happy, no more setting the timer for ten seconds only to trip over the cat and fall on my face before the camera snaps. Not that that has ever happened to me, ahem.

Don't forget to suggest an artsy book for the book club is a title comes to mind! Until then, have a great week!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

In the Art Room: Teaching Vocabulary

Okay, ya'll, it's confession time: I stink at reinforcing vocabulary.

Now don't get me wrong, I teach the stuff. But getting 'em to recall the stuff, well, that's another story. For example, after teaching all about Pablo Picasso's Blue Period, the following art class will sometimes go a little sumpin like this: 

Me: So! Yesterday we chatted all about the artist Pablo...

Kids: Picasso!

Me: Right! Remember, he was the artist that was really sad so he chose to paint with a certain color to show his emotions...

Kids: {crickets}

Me: Ahem, it was blue, remember? And we added a little white and a little black to the blue to make...

Kids: {blank-faced zombie crickets}

Me:  Tints and shades! Remember, I taught you a poem, we read a book, WE PAINTED A PICTURE?! (Scratching my head and checking my schedule)...wait a minute, did you guys even have art yesterday?

Kids: {awoken zombie crickets} YEEEEESSS!

Me: (muttering) Really? Were you awake during any of it?! I SUNG A SONG FOR YOU PEOPLE!
Yeah, so. It turns out the little people need a lot of reinforcing of the vocabulary so that it sticks. Just telling them once, even with jazz hands and a musical number, won't do the trick. I've known this forever so my solution is usually just to bring up that vocabulary every time it applies to a particular lesson. The prob with that is, it's often a struggle to squeeze in all that vocab. 

But I think I might have a new idea thanks to Ron Clark's The Excellent 11. I thrifted this book recently and I've really enjoyed reading his different techniques and dreaming up ways to make them work in my art room. Now, I'm not gonna lie, reading Ron Clark's books are not easy for me because the dude is like a super hyperactive teaching genius and I often feel overwhelmed. So I thought I'd try just one technique of his for a while before attempting any others. And that was his means of introducing and teaching vocabulary.
In Ron's book, he talks about how he researched and found 1000 words he thought his students should know. That sounded like a lot of work and I'm rather lazy. I did find a great resource for art elementary vocabulary here that I loved. After adapting the list, I typed out the words, printed them and cut them down to the strips of paper here. 

Ron's idea was simple: as the children enter the room, they are to (attempt) to read the word shown to them. No need to tell them what the word means, just let them get used to sounding out the vocabulary. Once they've read the word, they may enter the room. Flip to the next word and ask the next student. 

So far my 2nd though 4th grade students have done this step with vocabulary A-B. When we return from break, I will continue to show them the same words, this time asking them for the definition. I'm very curious to see what they already know (hello, pre-test!). If they do not know the definition, I will give it to them. I am hoping that by the end of a couple art classes, they'll have a better grasp of the pronunciation and definition.
Now, this little technique has a couple flaws: 
  1. The kids won't get a chance to read each and every vocabulary word. Especially when I begin to introduce more in the next couple weeks. I've not found a solution to that. Suggestions would be great if you got 'em. Right now I'm content with simply introducing them to words we might not otherwise chat about.
  2. I never ever want to rush a child that might struggle with reading. Or processing. However, as the children enter my room, they are to stand silently while the rest of their friends trickle in.  I kinda feel weird about that as they are just standing there when they could be learning. So I've got a kinda solution to that which I'll share with you in a moment.
Because I'm World Famous for losing stuff, I keep the vocabulary in these little holders by the door. I've decided to start this technique with my kindergarten (pray for me) and 1st grade after break, hence the "Little Rockin' Artist Words." For them, I've written down names of colors, shapes and simple vocabulary
Okay, so I mentioned that I found a kinda solution for the kids waiting for their friends to finish reading vocabulary. Well, I had this fantastic idea that I'd have a powerpoint running on my television (can you believe the size of that thing?! I know I'm retro, but c'mon!) that would alternate between a famous work of art and the artists name. This way the kids would not only be gaining vocabulary skillz but masterwork recognition!

The problem? My mammoth television won't hook up to my wee lap top. This seriously saddens me. I'm hoping the tech-dude comes up with a solution (fingers are crossed) but until then, I've got a piece of artwork taped to my 'set. Classy right? I choose a student to play "What do you See? Think? Wonder?" (details here) while they wait.
After we've done the vocab bit at the door, it's then that we recite our "I Can" statements before getting down to business. Details on that here.
That thing on the right is a wrap-up game we sometimes play called The Smartest Artist. You can read more about that game here.
I'll keep you posted on how this works for me. I've got a Word Wall (well, Word Cabinets would be more accurate) that I plan to add these words to as we master them. I don't know if this is going to work or not...but it's worth a shot, right? 

How do you guys go about teaching and reinforcing vocabulary? I'd love to hear your suggestions!

Also...I've got an idea. Would any of you out there be interested in starting a virtual Art Teacher Book Club?  When I was reading Ron Clark's book, I thought how fun it would be to have a group of ya'll reading this book with me. You know, to brainstorm ideas and share experiences. If you are interested, just let me know...and suggest a book! If there's enough interest and book suggestions, we can vote on our first read and get started. That sounds like a fun New Years thing to do, don't you think?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Adventuring: Backpacking at Alum Gap in Tennessee

So I mentioned in this post that the dude who lives in my house and breathes my air AND eats my candy recently decided that we should go on a backpacking adventure. He's had the backpacking bug since reading vintage camping books (the ones that inspired these canvases I painted for his Christmas gift). And, since we're both on vacay, he thought it'd be the perfect time to go. Never mind that it had rained several days in a row; forget all about the fact that the evening forecast was in the 30's; totally disregard that I like to think of complaining a competitive sport: Let's Go Backpacking!
What We Wore on the Trail: Honestly, it's a mishmash of thrifted, army-surplus and outdoor store gear. And 25 lbs packbacks. 

 So exactly what are we lugging around? In my backpack I had my sleeping bag (nothing fancy, just an old Coleman thing), my army-grade inflatable mattress, tent poles, extra clothing for the dropping temps, food and our cooking supplies, two liters of water. Oh! And a roll of toilet paper. Hubs is loaded with the same thing with the exception of the food and tent poles. Instead he's got the tent, a tarp and a foam and enough chocolate to keep me motivated.
The hike to the Alum Gap campsite was about 3-ish miles which is nothing unless you've got 25 lbs of dead weight riding on your back. But it was worth it to get to the campsite early enough to score this spot. There are several sites in this area but this is the only one that offers this view of Tennessee's Grassy Grand Canyon.
Whenever we get to a campsite, our first order of business is always firewood. After dragging limbs and downed trees back to our site, hubs put me to work on sawing this old pine tree. Don't let my smile fool you, sawing wood made my arms want to fall off. By the way, when we are outside, I absolutely love rolling around on the ground and getting dirty, hence the knees.
Hubs using his hatchet to split the wood. I'm thinking the beard and the hatchet make for a good Ginger Paul Bunyan costume.
Hubs always makes the fire. Usually while I'm devouring all the chocolate in the snack bag. This time, however, I decided to pay close attention and do a lil documentation. So here he is using pine (because the sap in the pine acts as good fuel for fire) to create a fire starter.

Hubs has this little thing called a fire steel (or a ferro rod which is like a flint and steel but sparkier) which he strikes together to spark the fire starter. This was done several times before a spark finally fell and caught the fire starter.
Then it was like a made rush to lay just the right wood on the flame before it decided to go out. Fire is a fickle pickle when it's just starting so you have to be careful. When we were collecting wood, hubs had me divide it into several size piles: matchstick, pencil and kindergarten pencil. This was placed on the fire in that order. As the flames got bigger so did the timber.
Hubs stacking the wood up Jenga style and said it was called a log cabin stack.
When the fire got bigger he switched from log cabin stacking to teepee stacking the wood. We had a difficult time really getting the fire going as the wood was pretty damp from several days of rain. But after the steam burned out of it, we had a perfect fire for cooking up a pot of lentils, green beans and carrots and roasting marshmallows.
But you can't spend all night by the fire. It was super hard to leave the fire to crawl into our chilly tent. I believe I wore two pairs of long johns and polartec pants to bed as well as two undershirts, two polartec jackets and a wool hat. To keep our tent a little more toasty, hubs made this thing called a candle lantern. He sliced open one of my drink cans (notice his DIY skills are a little lacking) and placed a candle inside. This kept our tent about 5 degrees warmer and provided some super romantic lighting. As if my evening ensemble wasn't romantic enough.
Surprisingly, we slept in and awoke to this view.
Hubs was able to restart the fire. We cooked up some oatmeal by covering it in tin foil and placing it in the coals of the fire for several minutes. We also made tea the same way. By the way, this photo is a perfect example of our usual camping routine. Hubs working the fire, me eating.
The hike out was four miles and offered much better views of Savage Gulf. By the way, I like to call this hub's Fidel Castro look. Dig the hat and the beard, Fidel.
During this course of the hike you spend a lot of the time walking along the ledges of the valley with incredible views.
Like this one.
And there you have it, adventure backpacking. Not sure when we'll go out again but I do know I'll be taking more chocolate. 

Until we chat again!