Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Ants Go Marching By

There is a small army that marches, day in and day out, up and down the sidewalk behind our house.

Red ants, march and march and march. All day. Every day.

These are not fire ants, but some kind of leaf cutter ant. Here is the opening to their underground nest.

The ants wind through the grass, creating paths with their million feet march.

Most homeward bound ants carry pieces of leaves many times bigger than their bodies. Other ants carry pieces of sticks or even other dead insects. Once, I saw two ants, believe it or not, working together to carry a dead bee. It was amazing.

If you start at the mouth of their nest, you can follow their path backwards to see where they are coming from and where they are going.

Up the sidewalk, along the edge Phoebe has nicknamed the "bacon", the ants march in a single file line.

10, 20, 30, 40 feet up the sidewalk, and the ants never vary from their marching line by more than a few inches.

All the way up to their destination: This tree of unknown species.

On the ground beneath and surrounding the tree are hundreds of small, cut pieces of leaves. A few ants scurry around these piles collecting their choice piece of leaf.

But most of the ants keep on going, climbing up the tree, as their march continues on.

The ants carrying leaves march down to join the queue heading toward the nest. Other ants without leaves, march up the tree, heading to the leafy branches overhead.

Once reaching the branches, the ants veer off from one main line, some ants heading this way, others heading that way.

It's like they know where they're going!

When they find their leaf of choice, they use their serrated teeth to cut off small, oval shaped pieces of leaf.

Then, while holding their leaf cutting over their heads, they head back down the tree, across the grass, down the sidewalk, and into their nest.

In this tree, above my head, millions of ants march, chew, and carry in an endless parade of survival.

Right over my head.

I think I'll step back now. Come one, Phoebe, before the wind picks up and it starts raining ants!

Isn't the life of an ant interesting? How do they do it? How do they know where to go, what leaf to cut, who to follow?

I'm tired just thinking about it!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Makeup in My Eye!

When Grandma came for a visit a few months ago, Phoebe wanted to have a make-over. This three year LOVES to wear make up, dress up in a gorgeous outfit, and brush her hair. Her goal in life is to become a princess when she grows up.

Good luck with that.

For the makeover, Paige, Josh, and Grandma all came together to make Phoebe all fancified.

Josh is good at putting on make up, except for lipstick. But don't tell anyone.

What do you think you're going to do with that mascara wand, Grandma?

Beautiful!! Just gorgeous! Josh must have done your lipstick, though.

Paige wanted to go next.

Josh and Phoebe gently attacked her face with various cotton products.

Then Josh went in to apply some eyeshadow.

Paige has never liked makeup, or anything, near her eyes. Even when she was a little girl and had her own makeup kit, she never used eyeshadow.

This should be interesting....

Here is Paige trying hard not to freak out about the eyeshadow.

Here is Paige mid-freak-out about the eyeshadow.

Here is Paige ruining one of my towels trying to remove the eyeshadow.

Well, at least we won't have to worry about her wearing too much makeup when she gets older!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Art Class Instruction

(These are directions for the students in the art class I teach at our homeschool co-op. The class is so short that we weren't able to finish our painting. If you are a regular reader, enjoy a free painting lesson (or come back another day)!)

Art Techniques Class #1: Fruit Still Life

Class Lessons Recap:

1. Hold your paintbrush not like a pencil, but more up and down so the bristles sweep front to back, not to the side.

2. Use a LOT of paint as the low humidity we have here will dry your paint very quickly.

3. Usually, paint objects that are in the background first, then paint the ones in front.

4. Apply one THICK coat of the base color to the entire fruit, quickly. Before it dries, add the lighter color to the left side (highlighted side) and then the darker color to the right side (shadowed side).

5. When adding highlight/shadow colors, do not blend the new colors all the way across the fruit or your fruit will be one color again.

6. If you add too much light or dark color, add some more base color to the fruit and blend in with the other paint that you have too much of.

7. If you get frustrated, STOP. Move on to another piece of fruit, or try again later. After the acrylic dries, you can paint right over any mistakes you've made.

8. If your paint gets too thick and the canvas gets muddy, let it dry completely and then start again where you left off.

The orange:

1. Begin with a base coat of orange all over.

2. Add some white to the left side, blending toward the middle in sweeping, curved strokes that match the shape of the orange.

3. Wipe your brush (do not rinse). Add some pure orange to the right (shadow) side of the fruit. You can also add a small amount of brown to the right side as well.

4. Swipe one thin line of white along the left side to show light reflection.

5. Add a small, starfish shaped stem to the top of the orange (off to one side).

The lime:

1. Start with a base coat of green and a small amount of yellow.

2. Blend in a small amount of white to the left side of the fruit.

3. Add a small amount of green to the right side.

4. Put a very small, half circle of brown at the top and bottom of the fruit to show the stem/flower attachments.

5. Add a thin swipe of white to the left side to show light reflection.

The grapes:

1. Start with the whole grapes in the front.

2. Work on one grape at a time, starting with a mix of purple, red, and blue.

3. Add more purple to the left side to highlight.

4. Add a small amount of blue to the right side to show shadow.

5. For the grapes behind the front grapes, use less purple and more blue/red so they will be darker. Still add a small amount of purple to the left side, and more blue to the right side.

6. Try to change the exact colors you use for each grape. Make some more red, others more blue, others more purple. Grapes have natural color variation.

7. Add a swipe of white to the left side of each grape (in the shape of the grape) to show light reflection.

8. Pick up both brown and green for the stem of the grapes. Add more green to the left side, more brown to the right.

9. Add in a few more small sightings of stem throughout the bunch.

The banana:

1. Start with a base coat of yellow.

2. Add more white to the top and left side of banana (but not up to the exact left side, because the banana curves away from the viewer and so will be darker).

3. Add a brown line down the middle of the banana, then blend down toward the bottom of the banana (adding more pure yellow if needed).

4. Add a small amount of yellow with a touch of green along the banana.

5. Add brown to the top and bottom of the banana to show the ends of the banana.

6. Add a swipe of white to the left to show light reflection.

The apple:

1. Start with base coat of red.

2. Add white to the left side of the fruit, just a little bit!! Blend in toward the center of the apple in curving brush strokes.

3. Add blue to the right side of the apple to show shadow. If your red has dried, add more red to blend in with the blue. Do NOT blend the blue farther than 1/3 of the way across the apple.

4. Add a stem using brown and a bit of green.

5. Add a swipe of white to show reflection.

The Shadow:

I don't think we sent any black home with you. If you do have black acrylic paint at home, here is how you do the shadow that is below the fruit grouping: (If you don't have black paint, I can send some home with you next class)

1. Put a small amount of black on your palette (plate, etc). Dip your brush into water and then mix with a small dip of black paint.

2. Keep adding more water until your black is very watery. I mean, super watery. It's better for it to be too watery than too thick.

3. Using the watered-down black, follow along the bottom of each piece of fruit, blending out away from the fruit until your brush is dry. Work in one section at a time.

4. Remember, the light source is to the left, so the shadows will fall to the right!

5. Extend the shadow 1/2" or so away from the fruit, following the shape of the fruit.

6. If your shadow is not dark enough, keep adding more washes of the watered down black until the shadow is as dark as you want it.


Add your signature to the bottom right or left corner of your canvas. (I use a fancy way of writing my initials.)

I hope this tutorial will help you finish your painting. I will try to make sure that the next painting we do will be faster!!

I had fun in class today. See you next month: Landscapes!


Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Thought that Counts

Jerry and I celebrated our 13th anniversary last week. We're not super-big mushy-gushy lovey-dovey overly romantic people. We celebrated by me taking a half a day off from teaching, and meeting Jerry at Fuddrucker's so I didn't have to cook and clean up lunch.

That was AWESOME. No, really. It was!! Zero sarcasm.

We may not overdo our anniversary, but we find smaller ways to say, "Hey, I still love you after all of these years." Like this lotion Jerry bought me for my birthday.

He bought it at Wal-Mart.

What's so special about that? Well, it's not so much the lotion he bought for me, but the trouble he went through to buy the perfect lotion. He told me that he stood in the fancy lotion section of Wal-Mart, smelling every single lotion they sold.

My husband who is a beast at 6'5", 230 pounds, standing in the cosmetics section smelling every single lotion. Just to find the "perfect" one for me. Can you picture it in your head like I can?

THAT was the best present he could have given me. That he took the time, cared enough, put so much thought and humility into finding something "perfect" for me.

And you know what?

I loved it. The lotion truly is "perfect".

Happy anniversary, babe! I may just keep you around a little while longer......

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Art Show Winner

This is a painting I completed for a local art contest. The theme was "The Power of the Creative Mind." As a science lover, aka dork, when I was planning this painting I decided to go with a scientific approach of power. As in:

Power = Work x Height/Time

How does the brain create work? My brain is constantly churning out new ideas. So many painting, writing, and random ideas that I could never keep up.

So, how to show the concept of "mind"? My first thought was to have a person's head with the top kind of lifted up as strands of imagination flowed out.

But that was too Hannibal for me. I still get nightmares from that movie. So I decided to go a less disgusting way.

Gears! Gears churning. Gears inside someone's head. Gears inside someone's head churning out ideas.

See the gears? They are in the three primary colors: Red, yellow, and blue. From these three basic colors, all other colors are possible. (Except white which is of course the absence of color. The white strands represent wisps, hints of ideas that sometimes turn into something concrete, but often blow away like smoke.)

I won first place with this painting receiving $300 in prize money and my painting on promotional posters around town. It was my first win!

This is another painting I submitted for the same contest (not knowing that we were only allowed to enter one). This represents the left brain/right brain theory of neurobiology. The left brain is associated with complex numbers, patterns, math, language, rules, etc. The right brain is responsible for colors, imagination, and abstract thought.

The theory is that everyone thinks with one side of the brain more dominantly than the other. There are quizzes you can take online to tell you from what side of the brain you think. I am a dork. I took two quizzes and I scored the same thing:

I am 63% left brained. I think more logically, focusing on math, language, and all things dork. I would agree with this. Even while painting I am very rigid and structured. It's hard for me to do abstracts. This is about as abstract as I can get, and I squirmed the hole time while painting this.

What side brain do you think you are?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Day in Del Rio with Flat Stanley

For a school project, my nephew sent us Flat Stanley for us to show him a good time. If you're not familiar, Flat Stanley, or Flat Stacey, is a paper cut-out that children can color and send to far away locales. The recipients of Flat Stanley are to make a journal and take photos of what Flat Stanley did on his adventure to Somewhere New.

Last week, the kids and I took Flat Stanley out for a day in fun in Del Rio.

After our excursion, while emailing his photos to my SIL, I realized Flat Stanley's adventures would be a good, basic tour for others to see our small, brown part of the world.

Here we go!

Flat Stanley started his West Texas Desert Day of Fun with a ride in a Suburban, the unofficial vehicle of Texas.

Our first stop was approximately 200 yards from our house. We were lazy. This is a T-38 static display. A T-38 is a supersonic jet the Air Force uses to train fighter/bomber pilots. This is Jerry's work vehicle. The big dork.

Here are the kids with Flat Stanley. Somehow we all wore the same outfit this day, a Pig Pickin' shirt, so as we traveled around snapping photos, we looked like a group of tourists.

Next we went to the San Felipe Springs. We get a lot of our water from these springs that feed off of the Edwardian water table.

MMmmm. Edward.

These fast moving waters are a steady 72 degrees year round. In the summer, the banks are overflowing with locals barbequing and cooling off in the crisp water.

Next we tried to let Flat Stanley get a glimpse of Mexico since it is only 3 miles away from us. This is as close as I could get without going too far. As US service members and their dependents, we are not allowed to go across the border into the Mexican border towns. Oh, something about drug cartels, kidnapping, and dismemberment. You know, all of that nice stuff.

This is one rule I am happy to obey.

This is as close as he got. He was scared so we turned around.

Yes. This is better. Welcome to the US! Welcome to Texas!

Here is Flat Stanley on an overpass looking at the sweeping desert vista. And a train. Always a train. We have more trains plowing through this area than anywhere I've ever lived. On trips to and from San Antonio, we often race the trains as the tracks follow the highway. We usually win. Usually.

Again we tried to get Flat Stanley close to Mexico. Far off in the distance is the Amistad Dam that spans from the US to Mexico across the Rio Grande River.

The dam was a joint venture between America and Mexico to help regulate the levels of the Rio Grande River to the south. There is a small border station here, but most people come across the border in Del Rio while this is border crossing is 15 miles to the north.

And of course, many cross the border everywhere else in between. But I won't get into that.

When they dammed the river, Lake Amistad was created. It is the 31st largest man-made lake in the country and is one of the best bass fishing spots in the world.

All throughout town you can see signs hanging in restaurants and stores saying, "Welcome Anglers!" Or else, "Welcome Hunters!" as this area is bountiful in deer, axis, boar, dove, and other more exotic game.

Having fun, Stanley?

Flat Stanley enjoyed the lake. He was a bit stiff, though. Like he had a stick up his butt.

Poor guy.

Though the banks of the lake look fun to climb on barefoot, you would be remiss to do so. No, you would be stupid.

One wrong step and you'll be on your way to our every popular, always crowded, used as a primary care center for Mexicans, 12 hour wait, emergency room.

The water here gets warm in the summer but it's winter. You're welcome for that piece of information. Josh was the only one willing to freeze his feet. Flat Stanley got close but he too chickened out.

Another ubiquitous sight in our area are prickly pear. They are still recovering from a harsh, hard freeze last winter so they are not as robust as I have seen them. But you still have to watch out.

Flat Stanley was not harmed in the making of this picture. I, on the other hand, suffered a bunch of microscopic pin pricks when I got too close. You would think I would know better.

The desert is a dusty place, so after a few hours of sight-seeing, it was time to get cleaned up. Flat Stanley, like most children, really enjoyed going through the car wash. He wasn't scared of the big blue-haired monster at all!

And when you've seen the rest of Del Rio, there is only one place left to go. Wal-Mart. Yes, even in the middle of nowhere we have one of those.

See? Our home really isn't all that much different than yours.