Odes to Meilee and Shen


Poems for Meilee and Shen

The sharp winter sunlight broke the gray and amplified the anticipation of Thanksgiving that pulsed through the air at the Sunday farmers market in Ballard, where there is usually one or a pair of poets who will write you a poem based on your choice of subject for whatever you choose to pay.

I basked in the moment. My husband and I had left the kids at home with my mom, so that we could meander through the market and pop into some of the adjacent retail shops. A date at the Sunday farmers market. What a simple luxury. It was the perfect prelude to a poem – two poems.

Normally, I’m task-oriented at the market. The kids have limited patience for shopping and after they’ve had their fresh mini doughnuts or their cups of fresh cider, they are done. So I don’t usually stop long enough for the sound of the typewriters in mid-stanza to sweep me up in their siren song.

Free from a schedule, I approached @williamthepoet. I asked for two poems, one for Meilee and one for Shen. William took notes as I described each child. Meilee: She is creative and loves to draw. She’s a peacemaker who tries to solve conflicts among her peers. She bring light into a room. Shen: His name means “deep thinker.” He’s analytical, love Minecraft, LEGOs and engineering. He has dimples – which he calls “cute pits” – and knows how to use them.

“Come back in about 20 minutes,” William said.

This is what William and his colleague Marlene wrote:

William and Marlene are part of yourtopicyourprice.com

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Kickstarter: Poppy 3D and iPhone

Shen is viewing a 3D movie through a Poppy device.
Shen is viewing a 3D movie through a Poppy device.

My friend Ethan Lowry and his co-developer, Joe Heitzeberg, launched a Kickstarter project for the Poppy, a device that turns your iPhone into a 3D camera. I backed the project at the $39 level and received my Poppy right after Christmas. The concept is reminiscent of the View-Master, which we all have probably played with as children. (The initial fundraising goal for Poppy was $40,000, but the project ultimately raised more than $190,000.) Poppy uses optics to create the 3D effect. You slip your iPhone into the slot and flip the front optics box and start shooting photos or video using the Poppy app. It’s an ingenious and affordable device that I thought would offer us a fun way to collaborate and create.

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After Poppy started shipping, Ethan and Joe sent an email to all the Kickstarter backers inviting them to submit Poppy photos and videos for a chance to win another device. I had just purchased the Animation Studio kit, a box that transforms into a miniature set for a stop-motion movie, as a project for the kids. I thought it might be fun to use the Poppy to make a 3D stop-motion movie. Meilee and I had made a stop-motion movie in the past using Legos and the Stop Motion Studio iPhone app, but we certainly had not shot anything in 3D.

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Animation Studio is a fold-out box that serves as a miniature movie set. The kit includes different backgrounds, a how-to book, and cut-out characters and props.

We decided to create a simple story using two Christmas ornaments and a gingerbread cookie. We shot it using the Poppy and then created the movie with the Stop Motion Studio app. Meilee proudly claims that she did the actual eating of the cookie. I ended up rendering two versions. In the original, the titles are hard to read and the pace is a little too fast. The second version has cleaner titles and a slightly slower pace. You can watch them as is to get a sense of the plot, but it’s best viewed through a Poppy, of course.

Version 1:

Version 2:

On New Year’s Day, we went to the beach near our house and shot this short movie about beach combing.

The 25-Day Project

(Author note: I had started this post in October, but didn’t finish until now. Life got busy.)

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In September 2013, I ran my first 5K race. This photo was taken near the finish line.

Back in August 2013, I signed up to run my first 5K. I had not been a runner and walked on a treadmill to get exercise. One day, my legs wanted to go faster, so I started running. Once I was able to run one mile without stopping, my goal was to run a daily mile and see how long I could maintain a streak. About three days before I signed up for the 5K, I ran two miles straight. This was a first and came after six months of discipline and hard work that resulted in my losing 30 pounds. I celebrated this achievement in a Facebook post and a friend suggested I register for an upcoming 5K. So I did.

But, I had only just run two miles straight and all my running had been on a treadmill. Running 5K (3.1 miles) on pavement is a completely different experience from running indoors on a treadmill. I had 25 days to train outdoors and build my endurance. Of course, I saw this as an opportunity to collaborate with my kids: For each of 25 days as I trained for my race, Meilee would have to spend 20 minutes practicing her drawing and Shen would have to practice writing his name.

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Meilee wraps up her 25-Day Project with her previous drawings as inspiration.

At 4 and 7 years of age, my kids don’t have a concept of time; 25 days is abstract to them. What I hoped to demonstrate by example and practice was what they could accomplish as the result of consistency and discipline. Just as there were days when I had to push myself to run, there were many 20 minutes that seemed like an eternity to the kids – and me, because I had to make sure they completed each day’s work.

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I asked Meilee what she learned from doing the 25-Day Project. “I learned that drawing helps keep me calm when I’m mad,” she said. “It makes me have good thoughts. And doing the 25-Day Project with all those pictures made me feel really good.”

Shen is in preschool and will head to kindergarten in the fall. Developmentally, he has been slower than Meilee was at his age to articulate himself in every way. He struggled with holding his pen, sitting for 20 minutes, staying on task, and sometimes even remembering the letters in his name or the order of the letters. While my goal for Meilee was to practice her technique and explore her creativity, my goal for Shen was more straightforward and, frankly, utilitarian. Worst case, if he ever got lost, he should at least know his first and last names and be able to spell them.

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Shen’s 25-Day Project was to practice writing his name – and the rest of the alphabet.
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Shen got creative with his letter “D” and incorporated a “tomato man” into his last name.
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This was his best attempt at writing his name.

I now have a file folder of a stack of papers containing 25 days of letters and drawings. And a race bib from the 5K.

Harbor Seal Day & Art Contest

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Meilee and Shen pose with their seal masks and the “jellyfish” they made at the craft table.

September 8, 2013, was Harbor Seal Day. Seal Sitters got proclamations from the mayor as well as the governor and organized festivities around the official dedication of the “Sentinels of the Sound” harbor seal sculpture on Alki Beach. The sculpture, by artist Georgia Gerber, shows a mama seal and her pup, and it’s located near the Bathhouse. The dedication involved an invocation from Ken Workman, of the Duwamish tribe, who is one of the descendants of Chief Sealth (Seattle’s namesake).

Sculptor Georgia cuts the ribbon during the dedication of her seal sculpture.
Sculptor Georgia Gerber cuts the ribbon during the dedication of her seal sculpture. Some young seal sitters await eagerly.

As part of the festivities, Seal Sitters organized an art and story contest for kids. I encouraged Meilee to enter and, at first, she was excited about the prospect. Days passed and she still hadn’t made an effort to sketch an idea for the contest. When she finally did draw a picture of a harbor seal, it was lackluster and showed none of the skill or imagination that she usually effuses. These two drawings are “lazy” compared to what Meilee is capable of drawing.

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Lest you think I’m being harsh, here’s a recent drawing Meilee did that does show her abilities. (The snail is a free-hand rendition of a the character from the new book “A Whale Who Dreamt of a Snail” by William Heimbach and illustrated by Angelina Tolentino – the same Gina featured in this previous post.)

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No matter how much cheerleading I gave Meilee about the seal art, she just couldn’t find her inspiration. Even after we attended our first seal sitting shift and she got to see a pup on the beach, a drawing did not emerge. I was disappointed, because this was exactly the kind of opportunity that would give her a taste of working toward an artistic goal that had a potential payoff beyond the satisfaction of completing a project: winning the contest. But, I recognized that I needed to let this one go, because I didn’t want Meilee to have negative associations with drawing harbor seals. If she wasn’t inspired, she wasn’t inspired. Shortly after the entry deadline, Seal Sitters announced that the deadline had been extended.  I took it as a sign that we should try again.

Again, there was struggle. I put Meilee on a phone call with artist Erica Baugh (read post about Erica) to get some advice on how to deal with artist’s block. Still, she “dialed it in.”

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She ultimately decided to write a poem and illustrate it. I was just glad that she completed a drawing before the deadline. She earned an “honorable mention” and “most poetic.”

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I hoped this experience would help her begin to understand the consequence of not putting effort into a project and the potential reward and fulfillment of a job well-done. Meilee's drawing received honorable mention and "most poetic."

Meilee’s drawing received honorable mention and “most poetic.”

Meet an Artist: Erica Baugh Teaches Meilee About Mixing Colors

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Anyone you meet has the potential to influence how you think or act in a positive way. I’m hoping that with every artist Meilee meets that she gets a cumulative understanding about just how different artists can be and be inspired to grow beyond rainbows and princesses. She does have moments of expression that clearly show great potential, but she falls back too easily into the kind of rudimentary drawings you’d expect from a 6 year old. But because I’ve seen that glimmer of brilliance, I want to make sure that she is set up to discover her own tipping point.

This weekend, we were happy to have our friends Colin and Erica Baugh visit from Los Angeles. Colin is a former colleague and Erica is a painter. She saw some of Meilee’s drawings that I had posted to Instagram and asked if it was possible to purchase two of them. I responded that I’d be happy to give her some reproductions of those particular drawings (and a home-cooked meal) in exchange for an art lesson for Meilee.

Erica Baugh teaches Meilee about mixing colors.
Erica Baugh teaches Meilee about mixing colors.

As I cooked dinner, Erica began talking to Meilee about how to mix paints. She quizzed Meilee on some basic combinations: How do you get purple? (Red plus blue.) How do you get green? (Blue plus yellow) How do you get orange? (Yellow plus red.)

And so it went for a few minutes. Then, they started mixing colors in order to make a color wheel.

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Sometimes you have to paint alongside a professional in order to understand it.

Meilee enjoyed learning about how to create different shades of a given color. “Like pumpkin orange, cold blue, warm blue,” she recalled.

Just before we had to clean up for dinner, Meilee interviewed Erica. My husband recorded the conversation (that’s him chuckling in the background). You will also see in the video below what happened the next morning. Big thanks to Erica for her generosity of time, spirit and paints!

Artist Erica Baugh on Facebook

Meet an Artist: Meilee Visits Gina Tolentino’s Studio

Artist Gina Tolentino looks through Meilee's portfolio and offers comments.
Artist Gina Tolentino looks through Meilee’s portfolio and offers comments.

Meilee loves to draw. I had looked into a summer art camp, but the cost and transportation were issues. It occurred to me that I know a few artists and it would make sense to introduce Meilee to them, let her ask questions, and see their art. At work, I learned that meeting a scientist has a positive impact on whether a child considers becoming a scientist. I don’t see why that wouldn’t apply to any type of professional. So I decided to DIY some art “classes” for Meilee.

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I first met Gina Tolentino in 2003 when she started dating Jerry Corso, a friend who was a chef at one of my favorite restaurants at the time. I remember how Jerry described Gina when he mentioned that he was going out with her: “She’s gorgeous.” (They’re now married.) I think Gina’s art is gorgeous: richly colored fantasy worlds. I arranged for a visit to Gina’s studio at the Georgetown Arts & Cultural Center.

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Meilee delighted in the art that surrounded her, especially the painting of a snail that’s the subject of a children’s book that Gina is illustrating “A Whale Who Dreamt of a Snail.” Gina was kind to look through some of Meilee’s drawings and offer some encouraging words.

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I prompted Meilee to ask questions. “I have trouble drawing in the lines,” she said. Gina responded that it indeed is hard to draw within the lines, but that it takes practice to improve. One trick, she added, is to draw a second line to help broaden the border. Then she showed Meilee an example of how it’s also possible to cover up a “mistake.”

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Gina also showed us one of her larger works, a three-panel underwater scene that includes jellyfish with faces and a shimmering mermaid.

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Another great piece of advice that Gina shared was that it’s helpful for an artist to keep a notebook of inspirations. Gina has a binder of magazine clippings. She showed Meilee a picture of a shiny couture dress and explained that when she sees a dress like this she asks herself how she would approach painting the shimmer of the fabric.

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At the end of our visit, Gina invited Meilee to return so that they can draw together. What a great opportunity!

See Gina’s work at this site: http://ginatolentino.com/.