Freebasing Spring


I’m on wheelbarrow load number 10 or 12 full of dirt and fieldstone, Vermont’s unofficial state crop. I’m trying to level out an area where we’re about to put a deck or, rather, where the nice young man who lives at the bottom of the hill is going to build a deck for us.

It’s been hot and sunny all morning, but the clouds are rushing in faster than was predicted this morning. I’m trying to get a few more loads done before rain moves in.

I’m ridiculously out of shape, my belly resembling the shape of the more bulging clouds. I want to get the earth cleared so he can start after the rain, so I keep shoveling and rolling. As I’m pushing load number 14 to the edge of the woods, though, I push pause.

I step outside time and lie down on a pallet of lumber in the middle of the yard. I’m supine on the pallet, and the pregnant purple clouds seem to tumble through the top branches of the trees that border the yard to my bed. I could touch the sky, if I just reach out.

Wind starts to whip across the yard and the first gentle sheets of rain brush my skin, the smell of the rain infusing my brain with spring. The rain cools my sweat, restarting the world of work and to-do’s, but long after the clouds move on, it will still be spring.

Come Together


We weren’t late, but we weren’t early enough to Thing2’s band concert to have a good seat selection. The elementary school band is small, and I was surprised by the crowd.

The concert program revealed that the middle and high school bands would also be performing. It’s a small school system, so I was still surprised by the increasingly packed house. We’ve been to a lot of recitals and school concerts over the years, so I thought I knew what to expect.

I knew nothing.

The high school band played first. The elementary and middle schools bands sat in the first row of seats waiting their turn. Mr. Neeson, the band instructor, introduced the piece, a march that the high schoolers will also be performing at the Memorial Day parade in five days. He then called for and got a B-flat from the band before them their cue.

The first notes marched perfectly in unison, echoing through the tiny auditorium and daring the audience not to clap. The band, culled from all grades of the high school, handled changes in rhythm and key, and the Big Guy and I had to remind ourselves that we were listening to kids who weren’t old enough to vote carry on a fairly complex musical conversation.

They segued to a jazzier number, a ‘jam’, we were told, that was composed for the concert. The Big Guy and I gave each other the super-impressed look. Our jaws dropped as the students got up from their places and switched instruments.

“I don’t make each kid solo for a performance.” Mr Neeson turned around to talk to the parents for a moment. “I do require they all know how to improvise, to listen to and play with each other.” Then the music started again.

There are fewer than 400 kids in our entire school system and, from the outside, it may seem fairly homogenous. The reality is that our school sees multi-generation Vermonters and transplanted flat-landers, Trump fans, Bernie-or-busters, and everyone in between. There are kids who get new iPhones every year and kids who may get their only meal of the day at school.

There was no way to tell if the pianist was a liberal or the drummer is a libertarian. The only thing the audience knew for certain was that these kids had learned how to change their perspectives, see new points of view and express their individuality, creating rich, beautiful music instead of just noise.

More than once during the concert, the Big Guy and I told each other that Thing2 needs to be in band again. Thing2’s creative spark burns hot enough that he may very well propel himself into a creative life when he’s grown up — with or without a school program. The performances, however, melded into a beautiful example of how arts in the schools are about so much more than vocation or even avocation. We knew Thing2 loved band practice, but it was only when we saw him and his friends working together to make something wonderful, that we realized the music program was teaching him as much about life as it is theory and even creativity.

The high school band finished, and Thing2’s band took the stage. Mr. Neeson turned to the parents again.

“So how many of you are Beatles fans?” he asked. Every hand in the audience went up. He asked if we knew the chorus to the first song on the album Abbey Road and then enlisted us as backup singers.

The band had no singer, but as the first drum roll completed, I saw a few parents mouthing, “Here come old flat-top”. My eyes were damp as the next two lines reverberated, and by the time the band was playing “One thing I can tell you is you got to be free,” every parent in the room was ready to sing out,

“Come together, Right NOW!” And really mean it.

Focus

Thing2 is wrapping up his second year playing for the minor-league in Little League baseball. He’s played catcher this year and loved it.

I think this is the year that most parents love watching. The kids still place a high values fairness — something about which we all seem willing to compromise as we get older–andsportsmanship. Parents cheer for their own players, but it’s also common and encouraged to cheer good plays made by the other team.

I love watching the players trying to strike a balance between youthful exuberance and competitive focus. Having done this with Thing1 not too many years ago, I know I’m watching the end of one era and the beginning of another.  They’re both amazing to watch.

More than Weeds

A week ago it was in the 30s, and this morning I walked out to the driveway to find that The first wave of dandelions had already bloomed and float away. This is a member of the second wave getting ready to open.
I know they’re weeds, and I probably won’t be so philosophical when I’m yanking them out of the garden next month, but right now, after a long rainy spring, they’re a lot more than weeds. They’re miniature sunflowers.

May Flowers

If was rainy and cooler for most of April, and the May flowers arriving right on cue. A couple weeks ago, I bought a basket of pansies.  I am the world’s worst waterer –so bad that the Society for the Prevention of Picking on Pansies has sent several threatening letters warning me not to buy hanging baskets anymore. Mother Nature intervened this year and made sure they survived. 

A Fish Tale

Today, on All My Guppies, The little Thinker Girl tries to arrange a quiet algae dinner with Herman the Hermit, but is foiled by the snails who, toddling nicely at the ripe old age of the five days, have developed a severe case of Herman worship (T1, who wanted me to attach a picture of T2 glued to his tuxedo sleeve, mentioned how well he empathized with a guy who only wanted to have a nice quiet date without snails or siblings trying to tag along.)

Herman, preferring to be left alone by everybody except the little Thinker Girl, was last seen plastered to the glass border of Tankland, screaming “Get. Them. Outta here!”

Creative Coffee

My morning pages are caffeine. I start off with a drawing exercise from Charles Bargue’s classic drawing course and get loose with a three minute life doodle of the fish or the dog or cat before I get down to business with book illustrations or–time allowing — an actual painting.

My creative coffee doesn’t just jump start painting or illustration. It’s part of the 10,000 hour journey towards mastering an art, and it’s the reminder that anything worth achieving takes practice and persistence.

 It fuels the rest of the day, but it also drives every part of my life.

Creative Blocks and Rocks

5 8Dweezil

Back in April, just about the time I was trying to untie my creativity from a paralysis of over-analysis and get the last few pages of The Truth about Trolls laid out, Thing2 was exploring his and putting my resolve not to limit it to the test. 

His spring time creative effort led to a rock pile in the middle of his room, the fruits of a “quarry” he and a couple friends had started near the kids’ Lord of the Flies training ground in the woods behind our house.

That was three weeks ago. The rock pile is still there.

He’s cleaned his room. I have cleaned his room-a bit. Laundry has been done. Baths have been had. But that rock pile is still there.

At first thing to wanted to hang onto it. Then he was afraid he wouldn’t clean it up the right way. 

It was a story writing itself (Élly has been very understanding, as long as her pages keep developing). 

Thing2, aware that the rock pile and the absurdities of our undeclared battle are serving as inspiration, is more determined than ever that it should stay. To his credit, however, he has moved it out of the center of the room so the rest of us can get from point a to point B without breaking or next.

I’ve decided to exercise my mom authority and remove the “inspiration” as soon as he goes to camp or I finish his story, whichever comes first.

 

The Care and Feeding of Giants

When Thing1 gets on a new diet kick, The price of frozen concentrated orange juice on the commodities market gets thrown out of whack.

Lately it’s been apples and oranges–clementines to be exact. It’s also been lemon on everything, instead of adding salt oil. 

Yesterday, for drawing practice, I picked out one of the clementines that had started to “age out” before it could be inhaled with the rest of the 5 pound box that was supposed to last three days but barely made it to two. I like to draw imperfect fruit more for some reason.

Just Another Day

5 2JustAnotherDay web

Two kids playing two different sports, with one assistant coaching the other, and our morning routine has shot to H E double hockey sticks.

We have not made the bus more than once in the last three weeks, and Monday was no exception. 

Monday was a two sport day with a golf tournament two towns away and a game for the other after school, so we loaded up the car with gear and got to the bus stop to see it pulling away. It was OK, it was an opportunity to go over the schedule for the night and review the to-dos for the rest of the week–testing and more testing for college, prom fittings, and of course the all-important play date. 

The last thing on my mind was creativity. I didn’t even have time to congratulate myself on setting the alarm clock two hours earlier to make sure it happened Monday morning. I’ve been drawing and sketching every day and working on illustrations for a children’s book but have not been in the mood to stop and soak up and/or paint the landscape.

The missed bus stayed two cars ahead of us for most of the drive out of our 300 person town. As we reached a main road, all I noticed that grey morning was the line of brake lights in front of us. 

Thing1, however, was scanning the entire scene as he waited to guide the car into what Vermont calls “traffic”. As I went through the to do list, he leaned forward and glanced up at the sky. Then he looked at the mountain that rows up behind the nondescript garage across the street.

“Mom,” he said, “look at that light. do you see that little sliver of sun hitting the hill?” I nodded no I had not and still didn’t look up as we had seen that particular hill at least twice a day every day for the last 16 years. 

Thing1 does not go gaga for art as his brother and I do. He draws very well, but his passions lie elsewhere so his next words demanded me to look up.

“Now that’s a painting,” he said.

I closed my list and listened and looked at the mountain. The parting clouds had refracted that sliver of sun so that the three-day-old leaves on the trees were infused with gold. Golden mist from the rainstorm that had past 10 minutes earlier diffused the details of the scenery in front of us, and just like that I was back into landscapes.

All it took was an overly busy, completely ordinary day and the observation of a kid who is pretty smart for a math major to point out the forest and the trees.