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

The 25-Day Project

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

25 Days-5K
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.

Meilee's Art
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.

Meilee's Art Closeup

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.

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

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.


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.


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.


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.”


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


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.


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/.