Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Porcelain Doll Project - A Dream Come True

E has always been my girly girl - frilly dresses, lace, pretty things, feminine things, and dolls, oh yes, dolls. So you can probably imagine her excitement when she learned that her involvement in 4H this year opened the door to a porcelain doll project. A local woman provides instruction to 4H kids (and anyone else interested during other hours) specific to building porcelain dolls from the clay out.

Project members first selected from catalogs the doll components that interested them. Some chose matched sets of head/arms/legs, but others mixed and matched (arms and legs from one model with a head from another). The following week, the greenware had been molded and was ready for cleanup. The kids carefully (VERY carefully) scraped off the seams that the mold had left, sanded and smoothed their parts before sending them to the kiln.

The following week, they tinted their dolls, then each following week another bit was completed: cheeks blushed, lips painted, one entire two hour session dedicated to painting the eyebrows (the first one was easy, but making the second match, a serious challenge), stuffing the body (which E had sewn at home), attaching the parts, and finally wig selection.

E should be able to bring her new doll home in late March. I don't think she could be any more proud.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

And Now It's Time for the Big Show...

It all started with Christmas songs.

I don't recall ever sharing my singing voice with anyone. I was in band, liked to sing in the car, and may have sung in the shower. But I was never in chorus or choir, nor did I sing out at parties (unless the stereo was WAY up and it was VERY late into the party). But when E was born, I felt compelled to sing, and she was a newborn, I told myself, it didn't matter whether I could sing or not.

But I kept singing to her, then to V, then we began singing together at home, in the car, in the park, on the train. Wherever we went, we found music or made our own.

A few years ago, as the girls were really coming into their own, I began wondering: can I sing? Am I ruining them with my singing? Clearly they had beautiful voices and it seemed to me they could each hold their own. I didn't want to hold them back with my ineptitude. So I set out to discover whether I should continue influencing their vocal music education or simply shut my trap.

First, I looked for voice lessons; not an easy task here. I finally found voice lessons offered through, of all places, the city's parks & rec department. Alas, the instructor honesty believed that all women were sopranos. The premise was ridiculous, and after a couple of weeks of trying to meet her expectations, I dropped the class.

Then I thought about my stepdad, a member of Masters of Harmony, a regular International Champion Barbershop Chorus out of Southern California. I enjoy the four-part harmony, and they have a pretty strict vetting process - if you can't sing, you're out. So I decided to look for the women's counterpart (Sweet Adelines) here on the Central Coast, and was immediately welcomed into TriCity Sound Chorus. It was Christmastime, so the songs were easy to learn.

Then came the new year, and a new part - baritone - the "other" part, the melody upside down. Learning the part isn't so difficult on songs that predate my lifetime by several decades, but for anything I've EVER heard before, it's a challenge. Christmas songs "upside down" are particularly difficult after a lifetime of singing the melody (lead) of those.

By the second Christmas, the girls were ready to join in the holiday program. E loves to sing. (V loves to sing, too, and has a beautiful voice, but she's not into making her performances public.) Both stood on the risers for rehearsals, and ultimately the Friends & Family Christmas performance where they were well received and did really well. But come the new year, they were out again, too young to stick around year round.

E continued singing the Christmas program two more years before, last year, she was invited to stay with the chorus year-round. She is now the youngest member of the chorus (by far - I'm the next youngest), and is doing wonderfully on the front row alongside wonderful, beautiful, talented and loving women who support her all the way.

Every two years, our chorus goes to regional competition for evaluation, as required to maintain the charter. We work really hard together in preparation for the graded performance, grow tired of our performance package, learn choreography and vocal skills, work on showmanship and grow closer together. This year, E got to be part of that process.

This past weekend, we trucked over to Bakersfield for the Region 11 Convention/Competition. E stood alongside her lead peers on the front row and shined while I enjoyed my spot on the top riser, more relaxed than I've ever been at this event. It was fun, and we, as a group, gave what seemed to me the best performance we've given in my half decade with them.

E said she had fun on stage, but I'm certain she was extra thrilled that with bright lights of the big stage come makeup, and costumes, and big girl shoes. She loves music, but those frilly things were certainly major perks.

Morning Warm-up:

Primping to Perform:

V and her dad had a lot of time together - pizza, games, pool and movies:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Busy, busy times

I know... it's been quiet on the blog. But I haven't heard any clamoring for posts, so I've allowed my energy to be directed elsewhere. SO much going on here, and I suspect this upward trend in activity will only continue for the next, oh, decade.

So, what's up with us?

E is dancing several hours per week now thanks to our change from her old dance academy to the local community college offering. She's in beginning pointe now, no shoes but strengthening, preparing and learning the skills she'll need when she finally grows strong enough to wear those torture specialty slippers. She's also still taking Latin, and piano. is enrolled in a theater workshop, and has begun crafting with some other girls her age. Last week: knitting. Next gathering: who knows?

This morning, E wrapped up work on the porcelain doll she's been making for a 4H project. She started by selecting a doll, then returned to the studio to find her greenware ready for scraping and detailing. The head, arms and legs, once prepped by her, were then fired again to harden. The following week she tinted the legs, arms and head and added color to the cheeks and lips. One lesson was dedicated entirely to adding the eyebrows. I thought she'd taken an EXTREMELY long time at 45 minutes to perfect one eyebrow. The instructor informed me, however, that she's had adult students spend as much as 2 1/2 hours on making a pair of eyebrows! The eyeball selection week was a hoot for me. (Imagine: a bin full of eyeballs...I sure hope those photos turned out well...we shall see as soon as we get the hard drive/computer compatibility issue solved.) Today, the body stuffing was completed and the flexible armature in place, so arms, legs and head were attached. She selected a wig she'd like, and it should be in next week. I'll try to get the photo issue resolved by then so we can share the final result.

E and I will soon sing in regional competition with Sweet Adelines International's TriCity Sound Chorus. She looks so cute on that front row. I wish I could be in the audience to see her shine, but feel so honored to have this opportunity to share the stage with her.

E & V and I have all been enjoying our Saturdays at docent training at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park in Lompoc. E has been wanting to volunteer there for about four years now, but she was always too young. No kids, they said. But this winter we received an invitation to take part and the girls, especially, are having a fantastic time. One Saturday, I had to promote books at a kids' fair in Santa Barbara. The girls had the option to join me there (and play in any of the more than 100 vendor activity areas) or go to docent training. They're unanimous response, "We want to go to docent training because it's really fun!" Volunteers Shelley and Ed have been fantastic with the kids. I've enjoyed my adult training, too, but I didn't get to mash adobe with my feet or ring the bells or work with pottery or any number of other super fun hands-on projects they've enjoyed in the kids' program.

V is cruising along, going with the flow. Her interest is still in animals. She's been entertaining us all with her tortoise, Leo, and helping to take care of our other animals. She enjoys collecting the eggs our hen, Flo, began laying while we were all out of town skiing in February. It seems she needed a little lock-down time to finally get the eggs going - or maybe it was the longer, warmer days. Hey, whatever works. V is also having a great time riding horses weekly, and playing out at the ranch with E and the other horsey kids while I work with our Mattie.

Speaking of Mattie - we've had some valuable lessons recently.

Lesson One: carry an extra cinch in your trailer/gear - When we arrived at the trailhead for the 4H horse group trail ride last month, E's cinch was missing. We didn't have an extra one with us, so she was almost out the ride. But her group leader opted to ride bareback so E could borrow the leader's cinch. THANK you, Brenda!

Lesson Two: carry an extra halter - I finally purchased the leather trailer halter that was on my list. It seems people haul with leather so that if there's an accident, the horse doesn't hang herself on a rope or nylon halter. The leather headpiece breaks away. Sounds better than hangin', but seems less than ideal to me...then you have an unrestrained horse. Still, I did what seemed right.

For this month's 4H horse group meeting, I agreed to take another little girl and her horse in our trailer with our horse. The horses didn't know each other, but did well with the center divider providing enough protection from each other (and their mellow personalities) that they made the short drive without incident. But while the horses were tied up for tacking, hers jumped, then Mattie spooked, the other horse spooked at it was ON. Mattie pulled back to the end of her rope.

When a horse hits the end of the rope, they don't back off...they pull harder. She tugged until she was sitting on her haunches. Then the leather broke. She skipped away a couple of body lengths before standing still to assess the situation. There she was, no halter, no rope. Just standing naked in the parking lot at the arena. Fortunately, I was able to reach under her neck, grab her mane on the other side, and lead her back that way. Then we just tacked her up for the group meeting/ride.

Another fortunate thing is that the leather is easy to manipulate. Since she was on the tightest settings for this head piece, I just adjusted the remaining half down to the lowest hole, then pierced a new hole on the other end. It's not pretty, but it worked to get her home. Now...back to the tack store. (And, of course no tack store within 50 miles has the replacement piece. SIGH!)

Lesson Three: when introducing new gear, do so in a round pen or arena - Yesterday's was the most exciting lesson of all. We want to use Mattie for packing our gear when we hike (camp). I finally gathered the packing gear we'll need. I did so months in advance of our propose first trip because I knew I'd have to work with her and the gear before hitting the trail. Yesterday we had lots of time on our hands, and it was a beautiful day to spend at the ranch. So...

I put on the first pannier and she was a bit leery of the big orange bag sticking out her side. She walked sideways with it for awhile before settling in and ultimately taking a snooze at the hitching post with it still on her side. So, I added the second pannier. She gave it a sideways look, but seemed to settle in with the idea. So, I released her from the hitching post (she wasn't actually tied there, but her rope was looped to give her the illusion of restraint). When we started walking away from the post, she swung her but around so that she hit the pannier against the post. Of course it made an odd (to her) noise, and it was ON! She spooked, tried to run away from the panniers which were chasing her on BOTH sides now, hit the end of the rope I was holding, pulled back even HARDER because now, as mentioned before, she was at the end of the rope, then bolted.

The property where we keep Mattie is fenced on four sides, but there is a healthy opening on one side and, of course, she ran straight for it, then through it, then out of sight. With the help of other horsefolk who were there we were able to find her within minutes, panniers still attached. She was standing, grazing, as if nothing had ever happened.

Sometimes it's good to have a single-minded horse - if that single mindedness involves food.

And finally, I thought I'd post some photos here of Mattie's travel rig. I'm pretty happy with it, though I did find a spot that could use some work...after I wrap up this second edition of "Best Family Adventures: San Luis Obispo County," and get next month's school activities planned, and, and, and...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Goodbye, Caramel and Popcorn and Tacos (oh, my!)

Today, V followed in her sister's footsteps. Having never needed braces, this is all new to me, but it's nice to be returning to the same office where E had hers done in 2008-09. We have some idea what to expect this time, and the staff is fantastic.

V bid farewell, for now, to everything overtly chewy or crunchy. She was excited about the braces for about 20 minutes. Then reality set in. Now, she's just putting up with them.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

La Purisima Mission Docent Training - Where History Is Fun!

Ever since 2007, E has wanted to be a docent at La Purisima Mission near Lompoc. Docents there dress in period attire and perform a variety of tasks for a variet of special events throughout the year. While visitors wander the grounds, these volunteers make soap, mold candles, grind corn, make tortillas, bake in the horno, spin wool, weave, build in the smithy shop and tan hides. They care for the mission animals and answer visitors' questions about the grounds, the history and the activities.

But children weren't allowed in the docent program back in those days, so we just returned when we could to enjoy the days of hands-on activities among friendly folk. I provided our contact info to the docent organizer in case the rule should ever change, but the e-mail box remained devoid of docent news.

So I was quite surprised one winter day to receive an invitation for the girls (and me) to take part in the docent training program. The girls have grown and their interests are ever changing, but when I shared the invitation, they were both thrilled and more than willing to dedicate the following six or eight consecutive Saturdays to learning history.

We've had fantastic days at the mission. Docent training for the adults involves a lot of lecture (there's a LOT to learn and they try to consolidate all that information into as little time as possible), but the kids' training sessions have been entirely hands-on and led by fantastically kid-centric adults. While we all enjoyed making our own leather purses (which we'll wear during full-costume interpretive days), the girls have also enjoyed running the trails on the expansive mission grounds, making adobe bricks (complete with mixing the mud with their feet), playing traditional Chumash games, making instruments and game pieces, working with the loom and, most recently, making their own mugs on the manual spinning wheel (or slab design) for use on those same interpretive days.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conflict with the class; I was already committed to attend a kids' fair in Santa Barbara. We knew there would be more than 100 vendors there, each with free activities for the kids. But when I asked the girls which they'd prefer (kids' fair or docent training), neither had to think about it. "We want to go to docent training because it's fun," V said.

Yep, they chose history education over a day of fun in Santa Barbara. THAT is how great the LPM docent program is for kids. We look forward to sharing the enthusiasm with visitors as we enter the fold.

Thanks, LPM!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Vineyard Tour Turned Barnyard Play Day

It was billed as a vineyard tour, but with vines still dormant and barnyard animals having babies, the final destination was clear.

Blog featured with: