“You know what’s inside of a chrysalis? Like when a caterpillar is turning into a butterfly? It’s just goo. It’s just like butterfly soup in there. Maybe that’s like you right now. You’re butterfly goo, and before you know it you will emerge and surprise everyone with some new amazing thing, then flutter off and make it look like it was no big deal.” – from a friend on IG

People ask me all the time why I move around so much. It always sort of takes me by surprise and I think to myself, I don’t ask other people about their whereabouts, so why do people always ask me about mine? If they don’t ask me directly about moving around, they will make small comments, like: your pets must be used to this by now or always on the go!

I’ve been thinking a lot about moving lately, as I get prepared to transition from Phnom Penh to Beijing. It’s an expensive move. Not as expensive as moving my pets and things from China to the United States, but still expensive considering the flight is only about 5 hours.

I don’t like moving. I don’t like saying goodbye to my students and classrooms. And, I don’t like upending my pets so much. It’s not healthy or financially sound. But, I got into full time teaching nearly 12 years ago with one goal: to keep the integrity of art alive in elementary and secondary educational facilities. 

Before I started teaching in schools full time, I was teaching in schools and museums as a visiting artist. I made connections to educational programmers and museum education departments and just sort of inserted myself. I also started teaching out of my house. I taught art camps and homeschoolers, adults and after school students. And through all of this, I would ask my students about the art education they were receiving in their schools and, for the adults, what they remembered about their art education.

My students would tell me they didn’t have art in schools or the teacher just handed out worksheets or that they never got to build anything and only drew things on computer paper. It wasn’t fun, they would say. My teacher tells me I’m not good at art was another popular response.

This was offensive to me.

I was furious that this was happening in schools and classrooms. It’s bad enough that very few people appreciate teachers. But even less appreciate art education and this was the kind of art education that was happening? No! And I have been determined to change this ever since.

Nearly every year of my full-time teaching career, my classes and what I do with my students has been used to market for whatever school I am working at. And nearly every year, I have to beg and plead and prove why I need this, that, or the other supply in my classroom. Why? If the school is going to use what I do in my classroom as marketing material and they are getting students based on this, then the school should be handing me supplies at every chance possible so that I can keep doing what I do with my students for the school’s benefit. 

One of my friends told me that I potentially make what I do look too easy. And I told her that the schools I have worked at are always shocked when the person comes in after me and can’t do what I did. So my thought is, stop taking me for granted! I do not have two masters degrees in art because it’s easy. I have two masters degrees in art because I am a select few at the top-however-many-percentage of my field and I take what I do very seriously. This is not a boast, it’s a fact.

No school has ever asked me to leave. Ever. I choose to leave schools based on their treatment and behavior towards the arts and by association, me. I can not be the best I can be for my students, if the school I am at is not treating my position with respect. As was always my goal from the very beginning, my commitment is to the integrity and value of art. Always and forever.

I know that this is really only the tip of the iceberg. That morale in teaching is incredibly low, that our model of education globally needs to change, that there are so many other things at play within this arena of conversation. But I hope that maybe people will take a pause before asking a pointed question about my choice to leave this position or that. In my current case, there are about 20 other items that went into making this decision, including my dog being very sick in Phnom Penh because of the tropical climate and his skin type. Please feel free to reach out privately if you’d like to know more.

I can’t wait to be in Beijing and set down roots. I will keep you posted! HAPPY SUMMER!

Cardboard Armor

I believe the first time I decided to do cardboard costuming with students was when I was in Thomasville, Georgia. I remember doing research on cardboard costuming while I was in Singapore, but it only came to fruition when I was in Thomasville. At the time, I was thinking strictly about traditional armor that you would see in historical documents from the Middle Ages; like chainmail, shields, swords, and helmets with face guards that raise up

I was teaching middle school students and researching lots of longer term projects that would be fun and engaging for students between the ages of 11 and 13. But, the more I thought about this armor project for middle school students, the more I realized that armor could mean anything. And my students ran with that idea!

Don’t we get out of bed every morning and put on some kind of armor to deal with the day? And isn’t middle school, for some of us, the most challenging point in our schooling experience? Wouldn’t it be great to create armor that shields us from hurt and pain and crushes and embarrassments? Is it possible to create something that lets us hide in plain sight?

So, as I continued on with this project throughout my time in Thomasville, and then throughout my years in China, and over this past year in Cambodia, I engaged students to explore costuming and design by investigating the concept of “armor” and how we utilize devices to protect ourselves on a daily basis.

This year in Cambodia was particularly special because the students worked on their armor and costumes in the Makerspace, which is run by my friend Steve. He is a master engineer and tech guru. He is brilliant at coming up with MacGyver-style craft solutions that encourage my students to think outside the box and really use their materials to the fullest of potential.

During this project, my students employed a variety of expertise in creating these pieces: drawing, improvisation, cutting, painting, gluing, crafting, digital media play, and design. We spent about 12 weeks working on this project and could have worked on it for another 12 weeks. But, I had to give a final cut off date or the tinkering never would’ve ended! As it stands now, ever since this project has taken place, my Grade 6 students have spent time making their own creations in the Makerspace during recess, advisory, and lunch. They are inspired!!

Step 1: Students spend one or two class periods designing and researching. I allow them to work in groups of 3 or individually. They make drawings that include front, side, and back profiles plus a variety of accessories that they think they might need. Their designs need to be drawn in full detail, outlined in black thin-tipped permanent markers, and fully colored so that I know exactly what they are thinking heading into this project. I need to understand their ideas before I can help them construct. I also want my students to understand that their drawings need to be able to stand alone as a work of art and that the drawings will potentially be shown with their finished armor projects during our art show.

Step 2: Students are given a full tour of the Makerspace and tool options by Steve. This included demonstrations on different ways to attach cardboard, how to cut pipe, and all the ways you can fasten things (glue gun, heavy duty stapler, zip ties, and string). He also went over the rules and expectations for using the Makerspace. This step was an absolute game-changer for this project and will be a guide for how I navigate this assignment in the future.

Step 3: Students start the construction phase. They use their drawings as a map and make a plan for how many sheets of cardboard they might need and what tools they need to begin. This year, my students had to meet with either Steve or myself to explain their starting points and next steps. This was crucial for getting the students moving forward and helped to ward off creative blocks and fear of making a mistake.

The construction phase varied in length for each project. Some of the students took the entire 9 weeks to build and three weeks to paint. And some of them took only two weeks to build. It depended on their drawings, their goals, and their investment.

One of my students created a Minecraft Steve. By all accounts, this is a blocky suit of armor because everything in Minecraft is constructed by blocks. So, building with cardboard boxes simplifies things. But, he was so invested and wanted it perfect that he spent the entire 12 weeks on the project and his piece was awesome! Like with anything, the more invested the kids are, the stronger the final projects will be.

Step 4: Once the students’ forms are in good shape and complete, they can begin painting. I had students asking me at every step of the process if they could start painting. I kept saying, “No!” No, no, no. Like how I was taught in college at The University of Texas at Austin: color should never even enter the project until the form can tell a story on its own.

So once the students have created their armor out of cardboard, tried it on, and are genuinely happy with how it fits and looks, they can begin to paint or add color. At this stage, they can use colorful paper, papier mache, or acrylic paint to create the finishing touches on their work. Some of them may use yarn, some may use sequins, and some may even add pipe cleaners into the mix. It doesn’t really matter how they finish it off, as long as they started this step with a completely realized form.

Step 5: Image capture. Students put on their artwork and model it for me. This is a very important step. They must be able to wear it properly and have it photographed. A clear photograph of this work needs to be used in their final step and uploaded to Google classroom for their grade. So, I take all of the pictures. Either in front of a white wall or a green screen. I take 3 – 5 images for each student and airdrop or email them their images. 

If the students worked in pairs or groups, each person in the group needs to be able to wear the costume for a photograph. And each individual student works on step 6 alone.

Step 6: For this final step, the students must use one of the photographs I took of them and place that image into a background that they found either on Google images or captured/created on their own. A lot of students use images from video games or something from pop culture. My favorite one from this year was a background featuring Rick Astley and mushrooms. 

Once they have inserted their image into a digital background, they need to send me their final image (through airdrop or email) and I will grade their project. Some of their final projects make me laugh out loud when I am looking through them: they are so funny! Humor is so important in art making! Especially with middle schoolers!

This is my last year working in middle school classrooms for a while. I will be teaching grades 2 – 5 next year, which I am super excited about. And while I won’t be able to do a big 12-week cardboard armor project with my Grade 5 students next year, I will be able to incorporate smaller cardboard-themed projects (like a mixed media mini-golf course and a relief sculpture shoe design with Posca pens).

I cannot thank my friend Steve enough for all of his help on this year’s cardboard armor project. He always knew just how to tweak something to make it work or take the students’ projects to the next level. So, if you have a Makerspace Steve in your school, make sure you plan to work with them on your next cardboard armor project!

Go. Make. Fun.

Beijing Bound!

I’m moving to Beijing in July.

I began toying with this idea in early October of 2022. I will stay in Beijing for the foreseeable future – it will become my “forever” home. I wanted to be somewhere that I knew I would have ample finances to start building up my studio practice again combined with new university coursework. Beijing is a creative hub and easy to travel in and out of. It is close to The Great Wall and Mongolia: both massive favorites. And my new school is phenomenal!

When I was younger, I thought moving around was the way I could reach the most amount of students across the globe through art. But, as I get older, I’m finding I’m more interested in building longer lasting relationships and watching growth take place . . . Both in my students and within myself, as I learn about and become part of a new community.

As I think about my time overseas, the place where I have been challenged the most and produced the greatest work (amount of and product-wise) with students has been in China. Even during the height of Covid, I felt healthiest and safest in China. I never should have left back in 2021, a setback that has been a huge source of frustration these past couple of years.

I am super excited to be returning to China in July and look forward to all that living in Beijing has to offer. I’m lucky that it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump from Cambodia – a quick and easy flight for the pets and me. 

Feel free to email me with any questions. 

[Images featured found via Google search or taken by me.]

Social outings

I just went onto my blog to see what I posted about last time and couldn’t believe that Chinese New Year was only last month. It feels like it was ages ago! How has only one month gone by?

I feel like I have a lot of things to write about, but can’t quite sit still long enough to do it. I finally took the Christmas tree down last week, so that’s something. The dog was sick for like two weeks – with open sores, throwing up, and diarrhea. The whole 9 yards, which was fun. And, my elementary school students had their last art show for the year recently. So, two art shows this year in October and February. And, now we – the art department, Makerspace, and music department – begin work on our Grade 1 – 5 musical.

While I have not had the chance to do a lot of traveling since living in Cambodia, I have done more reading and socializing than I did last year. And this is something that I was hoping for. Last year I was essentially trapped during the school year and unable to think outside of teaching and school-related things. This year I have been in a book club, gone to movies in theatres, and met people out for brunch. These are not earth-shaking things, but they can be life-altering. I think it’s really important to do things and have friends. I certainly don’t do all the things, but at least I do some of the things!

The books I have read since joining the book club are: Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra and Megan McDowell, Circe by Madeline Miller, Babel by R.F. Kuang, Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri, and I’m currently reading It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover. During my time in between books, I am listening to Spare by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and reading China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan. My favorite genre to read or listen to are autobiographies or biographies. So, I am really enjoying Prince Harry’s book. But I also quite liked Whereabouts and Chilean Poet, mentioned above. Anything that allows me to travel to a new place or a foreign land, I will surely love.

Some friends and I went to see the 25th anniversary showing of the Titanic recently. We had our hair done in 1910 styles at a local salon and dressed the part. There were drinks served at the theatre, as well as food and unlimited popcorn. I even won the costume contest with my “unsinkable” cardboard ship hat. The theatre was amazing with reclinable cushy chairs, gold blankets, and lots of space for food and drinks and movement. It was an awesome theatre! But I had forgotten how sad that movie was, though. Except that in watching it this time around, I felt like Jack’s character was imaginary . . . That potentially Rose made up that character as a way for her to deal with her unhappiness in her relationship and at being trapped on the ship. Just a theory. I also saw Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania a few weeks later. It was fun to watch, although a bit hokey. I love Paul Rudd and will see most anything he’s in.

My friends and I seemingly keep showing up for brunch at Planta, a yummy restaurant in town. They do a cocktail, coffee/tea, and meal for $12.50. It’s such a deal and so much good food that it’s totally worth it! The first time I went, I had eggs benedict. My second time was a combination of coconut pancakes and a shared pizza. Third time was a giant serving of avocado toast, and finally this last weekend, a burger. My friend Jamie and I met a friend-of-a-friend there this past weekend. He was in town visiting and reached out. We also tend to hold book club meetings there a lot, as well.

Roughly three-and-a-half more months in the school year! A quick March break next week, and Khmer New Year for a week in April. And then summer will be here before we know it! Very much looking forward to summer break and seeing what comes next! More soon!

Happy February!

Hello, hello! The Year of the Rabbit is here!!!

I have had a hard time trying to sit down and write this post. My energy is low and I took the month of January to sort of ease into the year. The Year of the Tiger was brutal, ending with me getting my first batch of Covid right as Winter Break began in December.

There are lots of things happening, but I’m not sure how to write about them all. They seem connected, but also separate. I’m trying to sell my car. I’m paying for part of my mother’s assisted living. I’m working for Toddle writing lessons. I’m teaching 28 classes a week. I’m organizing art classes locally at Coconut Park, which is around the corner from my house. I’m moving to Beijing in July. I’m starting a Learning Experience Design program online at Brandeis University in October. I’m hoping for more classes at Takeo Orphanage. And my dog has alopecia due to environmental allergies. 

Basically my next several years are planned out for me. This is great because I certainly don’t have the time to do the planning myself. My hope is to stay in Beijing for as long as humanly possible or until I finish teaching, whichever comes first.

I’m not someone who glorifies being stretched thin or overly busy. I took on the extra jobs that I mentioned above because my salary in Cambodia is not what I had hoped and my finances have already taken a massive hit because of my move back to the States last year. Leaving China or moving to Connecticut – however you want to look at it – was a colossal mistake. I think this coming move to Beijing is going to be fantastic and I am so excited about it. 

I am also really pumped about Learning Experience Design at Brandeis. Not only is it an awesome school, but the program I am entering is going to help me take everything I have done with my educational life to the next level. I am going to be learning cutting edge approaches to education, game design theory, and how artificial intelligence can be used for development and learning. I am super enthusiastic about all of it and creating transformative educational experiences for my students. I think my background in art is going to play a HUGE role in setting me apart from the pack. I am thrilled about this direction!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! May you find endurance, prosperity, and peace in this magical Year of the Bun-Bun!

Out with the Old

2022 was not a good year. Part of me wants to say it was a waste of my time. But that’s never true. You always learn things regardless of the goodness – or lack of goodness – in anything. And just because it wasn’t good as a whole, doesn’t mean that fun and exciting things didn’t take place. There were a lot of fun moments to 2022. But here’s hoping 2023 is a better year!

Things I solidified about myself in 2022:

  • I love snow. 
  • Water is my most favorite drink, but I won’t turn down a Negroni or a glass of Shiraz.
  • I do not thrive in small places: small cities, small schools, small communities. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn!
  • All of my senses need to firing on high all the time. It’s exhausting, but it’s what feeds my soul.
  • I enjoy sleep way more than I used to and get close to 8 hours a night or through naps. That’s a whole 3 hours more than I used to get!
  • While I was not raised in Nashville, I feel like it has reared me as a human. I’m very thankful for this.
  • Elephant sisters are important to have.
  • My identity is wrapped tightly to my job. So if the job’s not a right fit or not going well, my entire life is out of whack.
  • Binging streaming shows is super fun, but it does nothing for my health. Turn off the boob tube and take a walk. I’ve cancelled all of my streaming channels except for one. This is huge!
  • Making art can come and go in my life and that’s okay. I’m still a very creative person.
  • I love learning new things all the time. This is also exhausting, but important to me.
  • I enjoy listening to books more than reading them. 
  • Friends that I still have from second grade continue to be some of the most wonderful people I have ever met.
  • Adventure is my life blood.
  • Usually people are mostly good, but there are some who are not. People show you who they are in the first couple of minutes that you know them. Listen and take notice. Also a tough lesson to learn!
  • I don’t like coffee. I keep trying, but it’s just not good to me. Goodbye coffee.
  • I enjoy independence and being by myself on most occasions. I’m grateful for characters like Miss Havisham, the grandma in Moana, and other eccentric ladies of advanced age.
  • My pets like being back in Asia where they are both from (cat is Qatari and dog is Chinese). I’m not sure how they recognize this, but my guess is there is a smell that they both pick up on. It’s fascinating to experience!
  • Community can be built anywhere that willingness exists.