Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cool Craftster Project: Tiny Halloween Town

I love these little houses by phizzychick! Check them out along with lots of other great projects on

I am awed by people's vision sometimes, and items like these take a strong vision and great skill. You can find phizzychick's work for sale at her Etsy store,

Using judgment for good

As an artist, especially as one with a graphic design background, judgment is a tool I use on a daily basis. So, it can be difficult to try to minimize the "bleed" of this requirement to constantly judge things in my work life. By bleed I mean how the habit or pattern of judging makes its way into my personal life.

I believe that we judge constantly. Situations are judged as good or bad, safe or dangerous, boring or exciting. People are judged the same. So it's a natural tendency we all have. I don't know if people who have to rely on judgment in the workplace have more of a tendency to judge in their personal lives, but I know that for me it is all too easy to slip into the role of judge.

Now, to be clear, I don't see myself as the judge, jury and executioner of every little thought I have about a situation or person. Not that I haven't seen myself in that role at various times of my life. I try very hard now to be conscious that I am judging things, people, places and situations. I then try to remind myself that unless I am using judgment for practical reasons (such as to make decisions at work), I need to stop judging whenever I can.

Judgment makes situations bad, people not worth knowing and your sense of self negative. It makes you less or more than other people. It makes your troubles greater, as it does the faults of others. It makes someone else's views less important or valid, and it makes you right and everyone else wrong.

Not judging allows situations and people to be what they are. An absence of judgment can make your problems manageable, and your own faults and those of others less glaring.

With judgment so ingrained in our day to day lives, it seems impossible to eliminate it. I'm not always successful in doing so. I just try to be aware that I am judging everything. I'm not always successful at that either, but I know I am judging less every time I catch myself doing it.

What I try to do when I catch myself judging situations is remind myself that it is my perception of a situation that determines how good or bad it is. When judging people, I try to turn that spotlight on myself. One can't help but notice what people do, and subsequently assign it a good or bad value. You may even say to yourself, "I would never do that." I find if I try to take what I see and then begin to judge to my own behavior and say, "I have to be more aware of myself doing that same thing", I don't follow through with judging that person or their behavior.

What brought this on? This topic? Yesterday, after my post about how hard it seems to get people to interact, I had to pick my daughter up from school. (And yes, I am aware that judgment played a part in making the observations I made in yesterday's post) I was more so than usual aware of my interactions with people. About half of the folks with whom I made eye contact, smiled and said, "Hi!". The other half were closed off. But that's not what brought this post to mind.

Gotta go further back for that.

Last year, at the end of the school year, my wife and I attended a little picnic for my daughter's class. There was a little girl there whose parent did not attend. She was seated near us. She was quiet and closed off from the rest of the group. I was right next to her, as we ate pizza, and tried to make conversation, as did my wife. She would nod responses, kind of tentatively, but she did not talk.

Later, I mentioned her to my wife, and we had both sensed a sadness in the little girl. That was our judgment. She may have been sad or not. She may just have not cared to really interact with the rest of us. Who knows. She is in my daughter's class again this year.

So, yesterday, as I walked my daughter out to our car, we followed behind that little girl and her mother. Her mother talked on her cell phone the entire time. It was a casual, personal call, not business. She walked many steps ahead of her daughter, with the only communication between the two being an occasional roll of her mother's hand to signal hurry up.

Now, of course, I'm walking along thinking just how crappy that is. But I catch myself. I don't know if this is their relationship in a nutshell. This may be the only moment that the two are not completely engaged with each other.

So, I turned the spotlight on myself. Do I do that? Do I take one of the few moments everyday that my 7-year old and I have where it's just us and waste it? I can't recall taking phone calls instead of interacting with my kids, but I suspect I have. I know that I have spent time thinking about other stuff, when I should have just been there, giving that moment my full attention.

I caught myself again. I had stopped judging that woman's behavior and used it to be more aware of my own behavior. My judgment of her behavior had led to me being more conscious in the future that I shouldn't fill the opportunities I will have to be with my kids with other things. I owe her for that.

Still, I felt bad for the little girl. With this type of interaction, how would she ever be anything but closed off to other people? How would she ever learn to just say, "Hi!"?

As both families entered our cars, the little girl turned, and while her mother went on with her conversation, the little girl gave us a little wave.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Can't you just say, "Hi?"

I find myself asking that (in my head, of course) of other people throughout the school year. It's my response to being thrown in amongst the throngs of parents shepherding their kids to class or attending PTA meetings or class picnics. Here we are, adults, having lived a couple of decades at least. We should have some experience interacting with others, right?

Those of us you that have given birth have been in what must be a far more awkward situation than having to acknowledge another person. Especially one with whom we at least have in common that our children attend the same school. You have had a group of people, some of whom you have never met before, doing all kinds of invasive things to you. You survived that. Could a simple head nod or wave be any more difficult?

One might think that who I am and what I am doing at your kid's school might be of at least passing interest to you. I certainly don't look like I'm heading to a job after dropping my kids off each morning, or like I've come from a job to pick them up. Who is this guy who could use a shave and has time to be at school at 2:30pm in the afternoon? What kind of job could he have that he gets to wear flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt? Does he even have a kid here?

Hmmm... sounds like I want them to take an interest in me. Sure, that would be nice. It always feels good when someone seems to care about us, or finds us interesting. But really, I just want them to acknowledge the rest of us, return our waves, to give us more than a blank stare or an awkward downcast expression. I just want them to be acknowledged in return, and for us all to benefit from acknowledging each other.

I try to be a happy person, and it often seems that these non-communicative types are deeply unhappy. I try to keep that in mind when I am making all these little judgments in my head about why so many of the parents don't seem to know that there are others of us there. They have a lot on their plates, they are thinking about work, or the disagreement they just had with their husband or wife. Maybe each of us has a limited capacity for being friendly with everything else we have going on. Maybe we have so many people that need things from us that we just don't have anything left for the folks that just happen to travel in the same circles as us.

Okay, so that's a reason for people ignoring each other. Just don't have it in me. Only so much to go around.

The thing is, it really doesn't take much to wave, or nod, or even smile and say "Hi!". And it's amazing what you can get back. For one thing, it spreads a positive feeling of being connected instead of furthering the isolation that I think some people feel. Being acknowledged feels good, and acknowledging someone else feels good, too. For folks like me, who are constantly creating in their heads, imagining people's backstories, the nod each morning can lead to a "Hi!" each morning to eventual conversations. These usually prove my imagined backstory extremely inaccurate. This reminds me that I don't know everything, and makes me less likely to judge people and situations the next time.

Those conversations lead to the exchange of experiences, to a commonality and collective-ness. That feels good. It gives one perspective on one's own life to hear about the lives of others. It brings you into the moment. It gives you another purpose to be there that goes beyond the routine of your day. Maybe you are meant to find out that someone else is going through difficulties that make yours seem insignificant. Maybe you are meant to do the same for someone else. Maybe you will be lucky enough to share with others, or to make someone learn that you can't judge a book by it's cover.

That is an awful lot in return for just saying "Hi!".

Monday, August 24, 2009

Downloadable Cut-Out Owl Project...

Something new we are trying 'round here is free printable download projects. On a regular basis I will post little illustrations that you can download, print, cut out and paste up. These make great projects for kids and grown-ups, too. You can now own your own piece of my art that you help put together.

I am always on the look out for ways that I can share my abilities and knowledge by helping other folks experience making something. These projects are intended to do just that.

The illustrations are created specifically for this series, and can be printed as many times as you like (good for classes and groups). You will need Acrobat Reader, available here, and a color printer. You can use any weight paper you want, but I use a paper heavier than text, but not quite card stock.

Our first project in this series is Owlbert in green. He is a cute little owl who looks great on bulletin boards and is quite at home of fridges as well. My daughter and I used a glue stick to put him together, but you could use double-sided foam tap to give his parts a little more separation. It's a pretty straightforward project: Just cut Owlbert's parts out, and glue him together according to the little line drawing on your printout.

Click here to download the Owlbert PDF.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Your luxury accommodations await...

Spiders and ants included. A week-long stint in the foothills of North Carolina can be yours for free if you'll just take responsibility for 17 kids.

I highly recommend it. You will learn things about yourself, and you will learn things about those kids. And because there are 630+ other kids attending, you will learn a bit about crowds and personal space as well.

You will learn that, in general, rural folk and city folk approach kid control differently. If you are city folk, you may feel a bit ineffectual, like a bit of a weak egghead if you share your campsite with another group that hails from the country, even if that country is only about 25 miles from the heart of your city.

With a rural inflection, a simple but quietly spoken "Boy. What are you doin'?" stops all foolishness, and a "Put that out. Don't do it again." keeps the foolishness from happening again. In the event that it doesn't squash the foolishness, a good long stare from the adult usually does.

In contrast, the city egghead version goes something like this (paraphrased with the hidden meaning of what is actually said added by me):

Adult: "(Insert kid's name here), why are you doing that? Don't do that! It's dangerous!"

Kid: "Well, I'm not doing exactly that. I'm doing a slight variation of that, that's just different enough that you telling me to stop does not exactly apply. So I can continue to do it."

Adult: "Well, I don't agree that what you are doing is significantly different from what I have told you to stop doing, but just the same, the fact that I have told to stop doing something should be enough to make you stop doing whatever it is you are doing."

Kid: (Either evasive silence, or repeated contention that they weren't doing exactly what they were told to stop doing)

And... Scene.

Whenever I attend camping related events that throw together different parenting styles, I inevitably end up feeling a bit ineffective. As much as I want my kids and any kids for which I am responsible to mind what I say, I really don't want them to do so because they are afraid of me.

One of our kids went up to one of those well-minded leaders, the ones that can control their kids with a look and few words. Our kid said, "Wanna see a card trick?" as he held up a deck of cards. The very leader, who all week had been there on the periphery of my vision, as I parented and led my group; Who I felt watching, whether he was or not; Who I thought was probably judging my control over my group, and finding it lacking. He says, "You mean, Poof! You're a pile of sh*t?"

That guy probably learned nothing that week, but he was part of my lesson learned. What else did I learn? Of what else was I reminded?

Well, the kid I worried about was better than expected, to a point. So I learned that even people I have given up on will surprise me. I learned that if an 11-year old can handle everything he brought with him getting absolutely soaked in a rainstorm with an unflappability you don't see in a lot of adults then I can handle things a lot more calmly myself. I was reminded that not letting yourself get overwhelmed has a lot to do with how much you choose to let things overwhelm you. And as much as I enjoyed my week in the woods, I was reminded that I really just love being home.