Making Music

dash-robot-xylophone-accessory-1-large.jpgFor his seventh birthday, Little Fox received a programmable robot. He changed its name from Dash to something rather unique, and had fun learning to program it using his dad’s iPad. Then my partner showed us attachments and upgrades, including a xylophone the robot plays.

Little Fox played around on the robot a while, teaching it to say silly things, to launch ping pong balls, and to dash about. He also played around with the music programmer, which while restricted to a single octave, still allows a good introduction to music making.

After writing his first song from scratch, and not merely editing existing songs, I showed him how to write the music in proper notation on a staff with a treble clef and quarter notes, transcribing it from the dots and colored lines on the screen of the iPad. We simply called this “[Name]’s 1st Song,” and left it at that.


He hadn’t been interested in writing more music on his robot the last couple of months, but then he started playing Super Mario World on the Switch with his dad, and he told me before bed one night that he wanted to write an ode to the level known as Butter Bridge 1.

The next day, I jotted down all of his lyric ideas, and as we went along, he started to solidify a pattern to the lyrics. The day after, I helped him restructure what he’d written into a poem format and made a few minor suggestions about repetition, but left the majority of the lyric writing to him. I typed up what he wrote.

On the third day, we sat at the piano together, recording what we played and said on the phone, and over about fifteen minutes, started to hammer out a basic tune. I let him guide what he thought did and didn’t work, and once he liked the sound of everything together, I quickly plotted the notes sans beats, bars, or other measures.


Today, I downloaded MuseScore, an open source sheet music writing software with high ratings. It looked easy enough to use for our current purposes, so we started playing around to see how it would sound. MuseScore has a playback feature, so we can hear how it would sound if played on a midi keyboard, which really helped him figure out whether he wanted quarter notes, half notes, eighth rests, et al. Then came adding the lyrics into the program.

It took almost two hours to figure out the software and the music, but he’s quite pleased with the result. I also plotted out his “1st Song” using the software, as well, so he’d have a clean sheet music version and not my messy scribbles.

Because there are certain portions I can’t figure out how to change within the MuseScore files yet (especially the copyright), I blacked out his name. Little Fox said I could black out all but “Cal,” but we have both a public version, shared here, and a saved version with the complete text. If you want to play them yourself, I’m including them here:

Butter Bridge” and “Little Fox’s 1st Song

Color Theory


Color Diagram by Charles Hayter

For the last couple of weeks, color theory has dominated discussions between the children and myself. Little Fox is working with crayons more, where only months ago he found no pleasure in coloring or drawing. Now he can’t wait to ask about the colors to use for various projects or pictures.

Meanwhile, Dragon spends hours on their art every day, starting with a sketch, then digital line art, color, and shading. Their art is becoming ever-more detailed, rich, and vivid. They’ve been learning tricks and developing skills from tutorials online, and they recently participated in the first two weeks of #MerMay on Twitter.


“Adorabilis” by Anya Starling

Several times a day now, I’m asked what colors to choose. Whether for my son’s coloring projects, or my teen’s color palettes for their art, it seemed such a big enough deal that I started a Pinterest board dedicated to color palettes and color theory.

When Little Fox recently worked on his wheel of months and seasons, and his wheel of the week, we talked about how colors make us feel, what colors we see or experience during different times of the day, or even the year. Some of his choices were based on what I said about a particular time of the year, but others were entirely his own.

One of Dragon’s online challenges a few months ago was to use a limited palette on a piece–usually three to six–found on a Twitter thread about coloring comics for major labels. There’s a wealth of wisdom about coloring pieces with a limited palette, planned ahead of time, and it challenges artists to make choices in how they use their colors. 0ccba752dd473aea637985174849e3a9Using this concept, I challenged Little Fox to use only five colors on a coloring page, and he loved it. He hadn’t been too keen on coloring before, but being challenged excited him. Now, he doesn’t mind using the whole box of crayons if he so decides, but occasionally, I hand him a range of colors, and he goes to town using the selection.

If you want to give the same challenge to your kids (or for yourself), you can read up a bit on color theory, and either let them choose, or choose a few for them. Consider a range of five complementary colors, see how much they can do with only three, or ask them to make it monochromatic, using shades of all the same color.

Painting with Okra

Okra caps

Okra caps, c. Raven J. Demers 2014

Okra finally returned to the Redmond Farmers’ Market, thanks to a great grower named Vic. Since we live in the Pacific Northwest, fresh, local okra is rare and is usually only available two or three weeks a year. If we don’t get there early enough, it’s often sold out each weekend, so when I saw the box still nearly full last Saturday, I filled a bag of them.

Last night, I made a smoky Indian eggplant and okra curry over coconut rice, which left the trimmings you see in the photo. Though our craft supplies, including all our paints, are packed away in the garage temporarily as we update areas of our house, we would normally have taken those star-shaped caps and used them for painting projects.

Though it’s messy, I highly recommend okra caps for stamping and painting for summer art; especially good are the woody ones that got mixed in with their smaller, tender siblings, which you’d have to add to a slow cooker to get soft enough to eat. Just cut the tops off, leaving some of the star-shaped okra at the end, prep a palette or plate with acrylic paint colors of your choice, get out some paper and a splat mat or tarp, and start painting!

The first time my daughter and I did this, she made a luscious looking multi-colored dress, and I painted a peacock with an elaborately colored tail. Using similar principles to pointillism, you can stamp-stamp-stamp your paint-covered okra caps onto the paper to create any shape or make abstract art using a blend of colors.

Don’t worry if you make a mess. It’s summer, after all, just go outside and hose off. You’ll feel great and have something colorful to put up on the fridge or wall.

I’d like to share my bhindi (okra) masala recipe with you, but despite using the same ingredients for a lot of my curries, they never taste the same each time. Instead, I’ll point you to some recipes for okra, you’re sure to love.

Bhindi Masala by my favorite Indian hostess, Manjula of Manjula’s Kitchen

Chicken, Andouille Sausage, and Okra Gumbo from Deep South Dish

And since I spent most of my childhood in the South, I have to refer you to recipes for fried okra (note, I use a traditional egg bath for pan frying, and add spices to the dry bowl, but everyone has their own method):

Gluten free fried okra by Erin Brighton

Vegan fried okra from the Southern Vegan

Thanks to Wendy!

I just want to give Wendy of AskWendy a big THANK YOU for posting a link to this year’s Epeolatry Contest. Not familiar? There’s still time to get your 600 word entries in! Free and open to all ages. Details here.

Check out AskWendy for information on writing contests for both adults and kids. She posts everything from small contests like mine to ones from big name magazines and presses with large cash prizes. Thanks, Wendy!

Edwin the Super Duper Otter

English: A pair of otters.

English: A pair of otters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seattle Aquarium just published an ebook available for free either for your ereader or as a .pdf.  As a fan of otters, this is an especially adorable book dealing with self-doubt, and includes both charming illustrations and real life video clips from the animals at the aquarium.

Check out Edwin the Super Duper Otter and download learning materials for free!  ^_^


Mmm . . . now I’m hungry for a cake made of sea urchin, clams, and crab.  Nom!

2nd Annual Epeolatry Contest

Gold Apple ( small  and without seed ) .... Tr...

Gold Apple (Photo credit: Vietnam Plants & America plants)

Last year, inspired by a list of obscure words being removed from one of the major dictionary publishers, I held a short story writing contest for anyone who wanted to participate.  The deadline was my birthday, and three handmade prizes were awarded to the winners.

It was so much fun, I’ve decided to do it again, and in order to encourage more entries, I’m posting it here.  This is an all ages contest (if you have budding writers in your homeschooling experiment, this might be fun for them), purely for the enjoyment of the exercise, and the full details can be found at my LiveJournal page.

Brush up on your iambic pentameter, because this year I’m accepting both 600 word short stories AND sonnets from eager epeolatrians.

. . . and I really need to make a banner or official image for this contest.  The Golden Apple captivates viewers with its xanthic radiance, but what, pray tell, does it have to do with writing contests or the word epeolatry?

Coloring At Any Age

Coloring Book & Coffee...

Image by Richard_Miles via Flickr

Maybe I am one of the weird ones (that’s not me in the photo; it’s stock, but it’s a good sign that I’m not alone), but even at 32, I enjoy coloring books.  Just like my purchases of manga, graphic novels, and  illustrated books, I buy many of my coloring books as a form of poor-man’s art collecting.  But not just because I want to own the beautiful work, but because with a coloring book, I get to add my own touches, my own interpretation, and sometimes, given enough white space, my own designs within the images.

While on rare occasion I will buy a cheap (and cheaply made) coloring/activity book just for the fun of being a kid and coloring, most of the ones in my collection are of exquisite images: mandalas, renaissance fashion, detailed First Nations animal art, fairies, vampires, et al.  Squirelflight and I will mark pages with our initials in faint pencil if we really want to be the one to color a certain image, and if there’s contention, I bless the gods and my partner that we have a scanner, because I can scan the image and print it several times over for us to color.  Some images are so beautiful, we don’t touch the original, but scan and print for the fun of it.

But there are ways of getting coloring pages, whether for fun or for the meditative, soul-trance quality of taking your time to bring vibrant life to an elegant set of black lines and white spaces.  When I wrote this eHow article on creating printable coloring books, I had gone through site after site looking up places that provided printable pages for free, not having realized how many there were to choose from!

While they may not compare to the level of quality of my books, they can provide hours of free (mostly, if one does not consider paper, toner, and art supplies into the cost) entertainment for you, your children, or anyone.

Moms Who Think Coloring Pages

The Coloring Spot

Educational Coloring Pages (mostly not educational, but a lot of variety along the left side bar)

Lara Craig’s Free Pagan Coloring Pages

Sacred Spiral Kids Witchy Coloring Pages

Karen’s Whimsy: Dragon Images and Beyond (some of the fantasy art is incredible, check the left sidebar)

One thing I like most about going to my friends’ family’s 4th of July celebrations each year, is that they have a table always set up with coloring books, crayons, markers, and pencils, and we get to pick a page, sit with it a while, and put our names on it.  I’ve done it at other parties (it’s where I discovered the “Vulva”–Warning: adult term used in real title–Coloring Book, and first realized I could “paint” my coloring books with nail polish for added shine and glitter.)

And for people who really want to let their imaginations fly, you can try the Anti-coloring Book, which is more a book of drawing prompts (one step toward getting a sketch book), rather than the traditional image-you-color-in books.