Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Comfortable challenges

A challenge is something that will stretch your powers, with the likelihood of confirming them; you want to take on a challenge because you have confidence enough that you can succeed. A threat is a task that seems beyond your powers to accomplish or cope with.
John Holt How Children Learn

Recently I stopped by a Julie's Pictures blog, who sets herself yearly challenges. Her first one was to walk for at least one mile from home everyday and record what she saw. Her friend, Fiona, just started a challenge to stitch a small picture everyday – they are so simple, yet interesting and visually pleasing.

I admire and respect their dedication, but recently I came to realise that for now I’m unable to commit myself to one year long daily challenges. I set myself simpler goals, like trying to make Russian pirozhki following these two Russian recipes: with apples and meat.
Recently I also joined Everyday Matters group, which has weekly drawing challenges. There is a list of 193 previous ones and so I’m trying to complete one old one alongside each new one. Here is the watercolour painting of autumn leaves for the challenge number 34.
The autumn leaves (watercolour)

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Simple drawstring bag

Collage: The Guide
Maybe one day I'll make a prettier reversible patchwork one

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The best guides

Parenting is a process of mutual growth, in which parents and children grow in different levels through their interactions and through the elements they bring into one another’s lives.
Rahima Baldwin Dancy You are Your Child’s First Teacher
Collage: The Guide
Few months ago I pulled out my husbands discarded photos and made a collage from one of them. While making it I contemplated the important influence other people have on our lives and our personal development. And how the best teachers and guides are often the ones, whose intention isn’t to teach us or to lead us down a certain path. Because their intentions are far removed from directing us, we are able to freely journey next to them; to choose the lessons we accept, reserve for later or reject; to grow at the pace comfortable to us.

My dear daughter, thank you for changing my life.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Missing Posts

I keep on having problems with Bloglines lately, which often result in me missing few posts on various blogs. So I'm trying to migrate my list of blogs to Google Reader. Hopefully it will act a bit better (?)

Monday, 20 October 2008

to New York

My dear husband is going to New York for work (28 Oct - 5 Nov) and we are going with him. At first I was just glad that we’ll have a chance to spend some time together, though he may have to work on weekend, and I won’t have to do any housework for a week. I’ve been to New York before, but I mostly remember feeling constantly cold, as it was windy and wet and I didn’t have appropriate clothes. So we spent past weekend looking for some warmer clothes and shoes for our trip.

And now that I’m not worried about being cold and after looking at all the wonderful places we can explore I feel really excited: Museum of Arts & Design, Central Park Zoo, the Met, Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum. And we’ll be in US for Halloween (isn’t it the coolest holiday?), so maybe we’ll go to the Halloween Celebration at the American Museum of Natural History. Looking at their website I’m starting to suspect that we can just spend the whole week there and I know that the Little Girl will enjoy looking at the butterflies more than paintings, so I may have to narrow down the things I want to see. Anyone has any advice on what shouldn’t be missed? Any suggestions for child friendly restaurants and places we should try? Actually every time I go to America I end up overdosing on sugar or salt (or both), because I can’t resist trying things I heard about, like Cheerios, Wendy’s, and all sorts of donuts and bagels; so maybe I should be asking for healthy food suggestions.

Since it’s gloomy and cold outside here as well, we went to our Natural History Museum. I think she was highly impressed by the giant animatronic model of T. Rex, but everything else wasn't very interesting. New York museum sounds like more fun, since it has some live exhibits.
Inside Natural History Museum, London
(She just wouldn't stay still, so this is the least blurry photo I have)

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Procrastionation & masking fluid

I’m still procrastinating on starting any new craft projects, but I got few more supplies today and there are many ideas slowly brewing inside my head and beginning to feel closer to their realisation.
Tulips at Dask
In meantime my friend brought me some tulips, so I enjoyed sketching them.
Tulips - pen sketch
Tried using the masking fluid for the first time – interesting - now that I have a better understanding of how it works I really want to try again, maybe I’ll sketch a cityscape.
Tulips - watercolour sketch

Friday, 17 October 2008

Few more discoveries in London

Turbine Hall at TATE Modern
Today, taking the advantage of the warm and sunny weather, I took us to TATE Modern to look at the installation/sculptures in the Turbine Hall. The experience was super enjoyable, because we could touch them. I don't think it is possible to fully understand and fall in love with most sculptures until one can touch them and trace their outlines not only with the eyesight, but with the hands. I didn’t end up taking any pictures of the actual installation and TATE doesn’t seem to have any info about it on their website. Strange.

Next we headed across the bridge to have tea with our hardworking and rarely seen breadwinner and to visit the real goal of the expedition – Fabric & Trimming sale at the Craft Central. I got some fabric and probably would’ve bought even more if I had some time to think about all the wonderful things I can make, but the Little Girl was getting tired and we headed to the King’s Cross/St Pancras station. It wasn’t the closest one, but they have lifts and I wanted to avoid having to carry the pram with not so light child down the stairs.
St Pancras station
It was also interesting to see bits of the area that I don’t know very well. On the way to the station I noticed Exmouth Market and will add it to my list of potential London spots to visit.
Ironically the lift at home wasn’t working, so we had to walk up the stairs anyway.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Enjoying London

Last two weeks our Gymboree class was extremely crowded; today I didn’t feel up-to spending my morning in the small room packed full with loud, energetic kids and since we’ve been listening to the first 5-10 minutes of the Paddington Bear narrated by Stephen Fry I took Cat to the Paddington station instead to look at the stature of Paddington Bear, .

Cat loves trains at the moment and was highly impressed with the big loudly humming ones there. Afterwards we walked to the Kensington Gardens to look at the birds and the fountains, chase the squirrels and observe the slow fall of leaves. And we got to see few tractors pulling the wagons with collected leaves. Cat loves them almost as much as trains and even started saying tractor/трактор few days ago.

I’m reading John Holt’s How Children Learn and am surprised by how much I’m learning from this book as a parent. For example instead of seeing dangers everywhere, I am able to relax more and trust Catherine to know her own limits. Today instead of grabbing her to prevent the potential fall into the fountain, I peacefully watched as she first sat on the edge and later leaned in to take a closer look at the water. Free from worrying thoughts I was able to see perfectly well that she wasn’t in any danger. Being a relaxed parent is more fun than constantly worrying one - I'm glad we stopped watching news in the morning as they constantly have conflicting segments on dangers surrounding kids, negative effects of overprotection and various debates on parents failing to do the right thing, whatever it deemed to be on that day.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Lime green

For the last two weeks the theme for the A Year of Color: Inside & Out was lime green. I didn't think we had any inside our flat until I started looking around

But I totally forgot to take one outside.

Happythings changed the rules slightly allowing to post inside and outside photos both weeks, so for the next tow weeks I'll be looking for Yellow.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

The Knitting & Stitching show

Yesterday I went to the Knitting and Stitching show and came back home with a very small textile item by Jean Littlejohn.

After seeing her and Jan Beaney in action I understand better why they are so successful: they are so full of energy, humour, enthusiasm and wisdom; they are able to chat to people easily and make their audience laugh and feel inspired by sharing their stories. I wish I could afford to buy some of their big pieces. Their work wasn’t the only one I wanted to take back home with me. I was very impressed by the showcase of graduates work. And my excitement reached its peak when I saw something very familiar and on closer examination confirmed that it was work of Jeanne Beck, who’s creative journey I was following for few months via her blog.

Trying to see all the exhibits and the supply stalls in one day was a bit too much. I bought some fabric and took few business cards, so I can check out their online stores in a relaxed fashion at home instead of trying to make purchasing decisions while being tired and overwhelmed. I also now have a list of other fairs and exhibitions I want to visit. Maybe I’ll make it to Origin: The London Craft Fair next weekend.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Sixth photo challange

I saw the challenge to post the sixth picture in the sixth folder in your photo files on Annie's blog and since Cat is still asleep at 7:30 I thought I'll try it.

I took this photo in Kiev, Ukraine. There were so many old decrepit buildings, falling apart, but yet still so beautiful. I loved this little scene: the veiled building, the half asleep seller in his posture reflecting something of the building.

Friday, 10 October 2008


Despite me counting the stairs in Russian every time we walk down from the third floor and back up, Cat recently started saying “one, two, three” while climbing onto her highchair and before running down a hill. She actually “counts” in Russian as well, but totally out of order with most numbers being три (three) or шесть (six).

And at the moment she is in her bed doing her own rendition of “Row, row, row your boat” instead of sleeping despite looking exhausted for hours.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Strange afternoon

What a funny afternoon we had yesterday. It started very normally with Cat asleep and me embroidering the eyes for the latest sewing project. I was listening to the sound of rain and eventually got the feeling that the rain was inside our building. Maybe the neighbours are having a shower, thought I. They do have showers at odd times, yet it didn’t really sound like one. Eventually Cat woke up, but wanted to stay in her cot to look through some of her favourite books, so we both read for a bit. And then on moving to the living room we discovered water dripping of the wall around the balcony door. It didn’t look like the water was coming from the outside, but from the flat above. So I went outside our flat to investigate and found out that the downpour was much worse in the communal corridor. At this point the fire brigade arrived and turned off the electricity and the water.

Trying to act normal, but unable to go outside for the worry of coming back to drowned furniture, we played inside periodically empting containers of collected water. Since electricity was off I couldn’t cook us dinner (our stove is electric), so we nibbled on fruit, crackers and had some breakfast serial with yogurt. After it got dark I lighted the candles and recited as many nursery rhymes and tales as I could remember. I wonder what my little girl thought about all this, it must have been pretty strange to her – sitting in the dark, listening to my voice and the sound of the dripping water.

We saw the fire-engine leave earlier, and by about 7 I started thinking of going to bed, since no one had any idea if the electricity will be turned back on. And of course as that thought came into my mind I heard the knocking. Some official looking guy brought electrician to check out the damage. After checking the leakage I was told that the electricity will be back on in under an hour – it actually took them less than 10 minutes. We didn’t get the water back on until around 10 pm at the same time as Clive arrived back home from the office. By chatting to the workers, who just fixed the water flow, he found out that a cold water pipe burst upstairs on the sixth floor, which is taken up entirely by a penthouse apartment and since no one was home it flooded the whole apartment until water found a way out and gushed down flooding the fifth floor and eventually sipping down to the fourth and our third one. The water damage was so bad upstairs that people on the fifth floor moved out and last night we were the highest floor to have electricity. We weren’t badly affected, ending up only with the small bit of soggy carpet and some soggy toys. Pretty lucky, I wasn’t looking forward to functioning with candlelight and no running water. Today in the morning I found out that our neighbour’s flat on the other side of the building got much more water damage and was deemed too unsafe to have electricity.

To get some normality back into my life, after putting Cat to bed, I finished the Green Kitty Pillow. The pattern is free from Amy Butler website.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Flashbacks to my education

I mentioned previously that I worry about my parenting style, but at the same time I agree with Rahima Baldwin Dancy:

Our task is to do our best, and trust in the best. We need to trust our children to be resilient, to be able to heal, to be terrific people despite our flawed efforts and our most regretted actions. (from You are Your Child’s First Teacher)

I’m glad that before having a child of my own I accepted that my own parents did their best based on their knowledge, their resources and their emotional/psychological fit with me. I feel that my acceptance of their parenting style gives me more confidence in my own and allows me to be gentle with myself, to forgive my own mistakes faster. I know I’ll make many mistakes, but all parents do.

I started reading R. B. Dancy’s book as part of my research into various educational streams/theories: Montessori, Waldorf, homeschooling, unschooling, autonomous education. I just finished reading John Holt’s How Children Fail. Here is excerpt from his own foreword to it:

But there is a more important sense in which almost all children fail: Except for a handful, who may or may not be good students, they fail to develop more than a tiny part of the tremendous capacity for learning, understanding, and creating with which they were born and of which they made full use during the first two or three years of their lives.
Why do they fail?
They fail because they are afraid, bored, and confused.

His book is so easy to read and I had no trouble agreeing with him throughout the book, because, despite being a good student, I disliked school and as result skipped some of it. Yep, I was a truant. According to my mum I even disliked kindergarten.

At school I was often bored, because the subject matter was irrelevant to me, too easy or plain boring. I still remember listening to my uncle’s stories about Catherine the Great when I was 10 or 12 and being surprised to discover that history can be interesting, that it involves real complex people, that it isn’t all about poor underprivileged people rebelling against the rich.

The whole life in Soviet Russia was full of fear and confusion to me. There were so many unwritten rules, that no one explained to me, but plenty of people were eager to tell one off for breaking them. I think my capacity for learning and creating was getting squashed long before I started school. But specifically at school, I was afraid of being presented as model example to the other students (it had great side-effect of cutting me off from the rest) and being ridiculed for the wrong answers. Being in the middle of the pack was the safest option. I still remember being asked to tell what the classic composer was trying to portray in a short musical piece and being laughed at by the teacher for saying that I heard a train speeding away and the sound of the train horn. The correct answer was the hunters on horses chasing prey and blowing a hunting horn. Trust me when I say that hunters and galloping horses weren’t part of my childhood experience in small Soviet town. So the whole situation seems totally ridiculous to me now. Actually all of us dreaded music lessons, which mostly consisted of learning patriotic songs, because our teacher was sadistic bastard. I learned a lot of things at soviet school like how not to show initiative, not to ask questions, avoid responsibility, hide my thoughts and feelings, cheat, pretend to be dumber than I am, not to stand out.

Yet while reading a book I was also trying to think about studying in Australia and I realised that I can’t form any judgement on their schools as by the time I got there I just wanted to get good grades at school to get into university and at uni to pass to get a well paying job. Learning wasn’t one of my goals. There were some great teachers, some average ones and only one I truly disliked.

I hope my daughter will have better educational experience than I did. After I started working I made sure I enjoy my jobs most of the time and didn’t dread going to work every morning. I don’t see why a child should dread going to school where they spend so much of their time. To keep our options open we are trying to move to an area, which has a range of good public and private schools/kindergartens including Montessori & Waldorf.

On Saturday we actually went to the Waldorf kindergarten/school open day. How could I not like a place that is full of wood, balls of yarn, crayons, music, kindness and respect? I loved it and think I would enjoy chatting to the people, who work there, and creating my own things surrounded by its magic atmosphere. But I’m still not 100% convinced that it is perfect for my daughter, though she enjoyed playing with all their toys, was happy to be away from us and didn’t want to leave.

And since this is supposed to be a craft blog, here is a picture of the shoes I crocheted for her last week, since we were asked to bring slippers as outdoor shoes aren’t supposed to be worn inside the Waldorf school. Crochet pattern from DROPS Design - there are many other free crochet and knitting patterns on their website.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

On a rainy day

I have few quotes to share with you this week; but despite the rain, the wind and the cold we went to the Kew Gardens today, had great time exploring mostly indoor parts of it and now I feel too exhausted to type all the thoughts I have relating to these quotes - so maybe tomorrow.

Russian orphans

A friend sent me a link to the “In a fairy-tale village, Russian orphans thrive” article. I hear from him so rarely that any email, even one that contains no personal information about him, feels like a little gift and I was very glad to read about someone trying to do something different to help a small number of Russian’s orphans. If you want to find out more about Kitezh visit their Russian website.

While we are on the topic of Russian orphans, Rachael posted very positive update on her Simple Wishes Project. The woman is amazing and is definitely one of my real life heroes.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Reality check

I often worry about doing things correctly, what lessons I’m teaching my daughter unconsciously and if I can be a better parent. I’m faster at noticing the negatives than positives. I occasionally get into the complaining about everything mode. And then I’m violently pulled out of it by the reality check. This time it came in the form of a book – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The main character of the book is an orphan German girl and the action takes place in the small town in Nazi Germany during the Second World War. She has real Problems. In comparison whatever problems my family or I may have at the present moment are solvable with a bit of creative thinking; we don’t fear for our lives and have reasonable confidence in our child having comfortable and secure existence for the years to come; we don’t have to make any hard decisions; our morality isn’t tested on any big scale. Basically our lives are good, profoundly beautifully good, and I can see that easily if I stop for a second my fast chain of complaints and actually think about them.

Since I have no idea of how to write useful book reviews, I’ll just point you to the ones here. Hopefully they’ll give you a better idea of whether this book could be worth reading for you. Myself, I fall in love with the book from the first few pages and cried at the end of it, though I seem to be crying at books very easily nowadays.