Monday, June 29, 2015

"The Family: A Proclamation to the World" songs

I love The Family: A Proclamation to the World. I love the simple, inspired doctrines it teaches and the clear way it sets out eternal truth. Last year, during our morning devotional time, we decided to memorize it as a family.

When we memorized our church's Articles of Faith, we found that using the Article of Faith songs from the Children's Songbook made it easier for everyone. We like to sing together, and music has the added bonus of getting caught in your head often! :) So, I looked online and found that a few people had set the Family Proclamation to music, but none of the songs I found fit my requirements for a good "memorization aid" song. What I wanted was:
  • The Proclamation divided up into shorter sections as songs that could stand alone
  • Each section to flow into the next, so that the sections could be sung as one large unit if desired (the Articles of Faith songs work this way—you can sing one at a time, or all 13 together)
  • The words to take priority: that is, they would be sung naturally, as you would speak them. I didn't want drawn-out syllables or awkward pauses in service of the music to obscure the important meanings of the words. And I wanted us to learn the exact words in all their density and power, unabbreviated and unconstrained.
After some thought, I decided that I would have to write these songs myself. I made each paragraph of the Proclamation into its own song. I'm no Janice Kapp Perry, but I have some background in composition (I was a music major in college and wrote a set of Art Songs to words of T.S. Eliot for my Honors Thesis) so I thought it was worth a try.

I tried to make the melodies simple enough for children to sing or hum, but since I was committed to making the song rhythms follow the rhythms of natural speech, there are a few places where I had to use unconventional or changing time signatures (the Proclamation, obviously, was NOT written with a nice ABAB form in mind. I could have wished for it to say, "The family is good/ Do what you should" or something, instead of "We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed." But it's better the way it is.) :) And I suppose the types of melodies that appeal to me are not always the most straightforward, tonal ones, so I can't promise that everyone will like them.

However, with all that said, these songs were a great success for us in memorizing The Family: A Proclamation to the World. We learned it one paragraph at a time until we could sing (and say) the Proclamation all the way through. Paragraph 7, which is the longest song, is also my favorite (with Paragraph 6 a close second). Over a year later, we can still remember the words we memorized, and judging by the humming I overhear from the children, the songs are often running through all of our heads. I don't know if I can adequately describe how nice it is to have "Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ" ringing in your ears—rather than whatever other mindless lyric could be stuck in there. :)

I wrote these songs with only my little family in mind, but as I've thought it over, I've decided that maybe someone else struggling to memorize the Family Proclamation will find them useful. I've included them in three formats below: videos of my family singing each paragraph in turn (the little girls don't know it very well, but they are cute), audio files of just the accompaniment to each song, and .pdfs of the sheet music if you want to print it out for playing on the piano or following along with the audio files.

I hope these songs are helpful to someone! I can testify that studying and memorizing these words has been a great blessing to me and to my children, and I'm so happy we did it!

(I wrote more about our experience memorizing the proclamation, and some things it taught me, on my friend Montserrat's blog. You can find those posts here and here.)
Paragraph 1
Paragraph 2
Paragraph 3
Paragraph 4
Paragraph 5
Paragraph 6
Paragraph 7
Paragraph 8
Paragraph 9

Here are the audio files of just the accompaniment (no words) to the songs.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World songs, audio files:

And here are the .pdfs if you want to download the sheet music.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World songs, sheet music:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

"Begin Japanology" videos we liked

I've mentioned the show "Begin Japanology" (or sometimes "Japanology Plus") several times on other pages, but I thought I'd gather together some of our favorite episodes here. I had never heard of it before this unit, but I'm so happy to have discovered it. I love everything about this show. I love the soft-spoken host Peter Barakan, I love the kind of nerdy music selections, I love the intense focus on the smallest of subjects (e.g. "scissors," "toilets," "chopsticks"), I love the interaction with Japanese shopkeepers and artisans. I love the predictable episode set-up and I LOVE the pleasant, expressive voices of the man and woman who do the voice-overs. I just can't get enough. There seem to be about 300 episodes (plus even more from the newer show; I don't know if there are repeats) and I honestly want to watch every single one of them. I have been working my way through them even though our unit is over now.

And the children loved them too! Here are our favorite episodes we watched together. If I run into any new ones that are especially good, I will add them to this list.

Sampuru or plastic food samples. SO amazing to see how they create this realistic-looking food.

Tokyo Skytree, now one of the tallest towers in the world, and you know how we love tall buildings!

Bonsai. Bonsai are so cool.

Stationery. We are a pen-loving family.

Conveyor Belt Sushi. Maybe our favorite episode of all. We think these are the coolest restuarants ever. So high-tech! We wonder why we don't have anything like this in America? (Or maybe we do, but just not in Utah?)

Miniaturization. Daisy loved this, of course. I wish I could go to Japan just to buy a bunch of miniature things.

Origami. It's so much more than you ever thought.

Shinkansen. We love trains.

Toilets. You will never encounter a more delicate, polite treatment of the subject matter. And Japanese toilets are SO COOL!

Vending Machines. For all sorts of amazing things. Japan is so far ahead of us here!

Cameras. Seb has loved cameras for awhile now. This fueled the fire.

Robots. Couldn't get enough of this, especially since we just learned about robots!

Home Appliances. The high-tech stuff was the children's favorite thing about Japan, in general.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Making Mini Zen Gardens

I have always loved Japanese gardens of all kinds. I love the green, lush, mossy ones; and the restrained, dry, gravel ones; and the ones full of bridges and trees. I was inspired by mini Zen gardens I saw online—these and these—and I knew this would be a great project to do. (The Zen gardens are named for Zen Buddhism; contemplating the carefully raked gravel is supposed to assist in meditation and clarity. But not all dry landscape gardens have to be "Zen" gardens; we just called them that because that's how they're popularly known.)

There are some beautiful garden designs here that we used for inspiration. We also had several books with gorgeous pictures of all kinds of Japanese gardens. I wish we had one of these for our yard. :)

Making our mini gardens was really simple. We just poured white sand into shallow containers; any kind we could find. We used a couple pie pans and a candle tray and a ceramic baking dish and a tiny roll basket-warmer. Then we hunted for lovely and interesting rocks to include.

That reminds me of a funny story: once Sam and I were visiting a Japanese garden in Portland (or was it San Francisco? I'm not sure). One of the workers there came up and started telling us about the Japanese landscape architect who had designed the garden. He said, "The architect even had these rocks brought in specially from Japan. He said that in the United States, there were 'no rocks of sufficient age and character.'"

The guy (the tour guide, and I guess the architect too) was so proud of those ancient and venerable Japanese rocks. And they were lovely. But…afterwards, Sam and I just laughed and laughed at the "sufficient age and character" thing. As if there aren't any ancient rocks in the U.S. just because it's a relatively new country. And geologically, Japan is a much more "young" and volatile country! That architect must not have ever heard of these rocks, to name just one group that is of quite "sufficient age." Ha ha.

Anyway, we didn't worry too much about "age and character," but just tried to find rocks we liked. :) I used some from the beach in Oregon. We placed our rocks carefully (trying to pay attention to areas of rest and detail like Sam taught us) and then raked lines in the land. Some of the children added little "trees" or greenery as well.
It seemed like it would be fun to have natural-looking wooden rakes like they use in real, non-mini gardens. We saw these cute handmade wooden rakes, so we made a few of these of our own. We loved how they looked, and they made nice wide lines in the sand. For smaller, finer lines, a regular fork worked quite well too!
Daisy's was the tiniest garden. So cute!
It was really fun to experiment with different rock arrangements and raking patterns. This garden Sebby made is SO peaceful and simple. I love it.
This was raked with a fork. Then we rearranged it…
and raked with our little homemade rake.
That looked pretty, too!
We absolutely love our mini Zen gardens and we still have one on our kitchen table. It is very calming to sit and rake patterns in the sand. We can see why Japanese monks enjoy it too! :)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Japanese Garden at the International Peace Gardens

Under the red torii gate
We've visited Japanese Gardens in Denver, Portland, and San Francisco, but I was hoping we could find some kind of Japanese garden around here to visit during our unit. I came across some Yelp reviews for the International Peace Gardens, which included a Japanese garden, so I looked up their website and found it here. Based on the reviews, I wasn't expecting anything too great. People said the gardens were pretty, but kind of neglected. Still, I thought they would be worth a visit.

When we got there we were pleasantly surprised! Yes, there are a few aspects of the gardens that haven't been kept up: some of the ponds are empty, and not all the beds are as well-tended as they might have been when this place was new. But it was so lovely, in spite of that! The Japanese garden was one of our favorite sections, but there are gardens from countries all over the world. The children loved running around and exploring them all! It's a great place to come on a nice Spring day. We would love to go back again, maybe with a picnic this time. We were so glad we found out about this place!
Japanese flag above the Japanese garden
It has all the elements of a traditional Japanese garden. Graceful arched bridges (painted the lucky color red)—
Stone lanterns (this one would have been on a little island in the pond, if there had been water in the pond). Daisy found this little branch and was holding it up all day and calling it her little "bonsai," in case you're wondering what she's got there.
Nicely-shaped trees. And this looked like it might once have been a little waterfall. It would be so fun to see this place with all the water features!
Another stone lantern
Abe and Goldie on the bridge
Another small red bridge, by a clump of pretty Japanese iris
And Junie found this lovely Juniper tree.

Each garden section in this park is fairly small, but the whole park covers quite a big area. Then there is an even bigger park, with playground equipment and skateboarding ramps, etc., surrounding the International Peace Gardens. It was so nice to walk around and see everything. I'll show pictures from the rest of the garden, even though they aren't really related to this Japan Unit, just because everything was so beautiful.
Switzerland's garden. Don't you love the Materhorn there?
There was a cute miniature Swiss chalet below the mountain.
This was Mexico, I think. The girls thought this big head was hilarious, for some reason.
The Chinese Garden had a couple nice pagodas, and some cool stone lion statues.
There was water in this pool!
The French garden
Greece's garden
I love this covered arbor walkway! I assume it was for Denmark, because at the end of the walkway was…
The Little Mermaid, just like the one in Copenhagen Harbor!
Daisy and Junie liked her. We wished she had some water to sit in!
The children were playing all sorts of games up by this Stonehenge-y sort of rock installation. I think they were pretending to be trains?
The International Peace Garden is a beautiful place to visit. We recommend it!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Japanese calligraphy

Once our handmade paper was dry and ready to use, we got out ink and brushes and tried to write on it. I don't know if that can be called true "calligraphy." We don't know at all what we're doing, obviously, but some of our books showed us the proper order of strokes to write kanji characters, and we looked others up online. There are sites like this that will show you a character with an animation to show the stroke order.

Mostly, though, we just wanted to get a feel for the technique of using a brush to write with, and see if we could get characters to look good on our handmade paper.

Japanese is a really hard language to learn, we read, because of the three alphabets and the huge number of kanji in use, but we all learned to count to 10, and we liked this site that explained how some kanji characters came to be. We also watched this Begin Japanology episode about one of the alphabets, hiragana. Really interesting. (I thought this article about gendered speech was interesting too.)
I thought writing the numbers was quite fun. They are much simpler than some of the other characters! :) And I love the thick-thin strokes you get when you're using a brush.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Handmade Japanese Washi Paper

Since "washi" means paper in Japanese, I guess it's kind of redundant to say "washi paper," but I thought it might be more useful for search engines that way. :)

We had a great time making paper. Really, it's not true "washi" because it's not made from the same materials, but the process is similar, even though we had the benefit of a blender and paper scraps to use for our pulp! We gained a new appreciation for this ancient Japanese craft. If you'd like to see the process done authentically, this video shows washi being made (without much explanation), and this longer video shows the whole process, with commentary. We liked the second video best.

When I was young, I remember trying to make papyrus out of iris leaves for a school project on Ancient Egypt. I think my mom and I managed to make something that kind of worked, but I wish we'd had the internet to help us, because there are so many tutorials on paper-making! I thought this was the best tutorial for our purposes, because it didn't require us to buy anything (many tutorials have you build a basic screen frame, which seems fairly simple, but not as simple as just…using what you already have) and the pictures were really clear.

In case you want more direction than that on how to make paper, I will walk you through the process as it worked for us.
1. First, decide what you want to use for your pulp. Mostly, you can just use scrap paper, although we read that glossy pages (like from magazines) and newspaper don't work as well. Envelopes are good. We also put in iris leaves, because real washi uses plant material (softened bark and roots), so we wanted to use some plant material too, and iris leaves seemed like they'd be nice and fibrous. (They really probably should have been soaked to soften them first, but they blended up fine, so maybe it doesn't matter.) They made our paper kind of greenish. 

Just tear up whatever materials you are using into smallish pieces and put them in the blender. *NOTE: make sure your scrap paper doesn't have tape on it! We accidentally left some pieces of tape on our paper, and it did NOT blend up well. We kept having to pick little hard bits of tape out of our pulp.
2. Cover the paper pieces with water, so they are mostly saturated. Then pulse it in the blender until it makes a thick pulp. Make sure everything is really well-blended, so you just have a thick, soupy pulp with no big chunks of paper in it. You will need about 4-5 blenders full of paper to make into pulp.
3. Pour the pulp into a large container which has been filled partially with water. We put about 2 inches of water into this plastic bin, and then poured the pulp into it. We used about five blenders full of pulp in total. You want the mixture to be thick, but not too thick. About like a blended potato soup. You can experiment with the pulp-to-water ratio: more water-to-pulp will give you a thinner, more delicate paper. In the video we watched, the washi was SO thin, it was almost translucent. It was beautiful. If we do this project again, I'd like to experiment with trying to make thinner paper, but the thicker paper is really nice too, and I think it might be harder to mess up. :)
4. Stir the pulp so that it mixes thoroughly with the water and the mixture is consistent all the way through. 
5. Now, you need a screen. Any screen will do! In traditional washi making, they use a sort of mat (it looks like the same type of mat you use for rolling sushi, kind of bamboo-y, with slats). That's nice because it's flexible and you can kind of bend it off the paper when it's time to separate the paper from the mat. But here, people seem to usually use screens. This is the part that seemed needlessly complicated in lots of the tutorials we found. Some said you should construct a sort of two-sided folding frame, called a mold and deckle, out of a screen and some wood. This does give your paper a nice straight edge (and makes squeezing easier), but if you are just doing this for fun and don't want to bother with it, you really don't need it. 

The tutorial we used dispenses with the mold and deckle, and has you use two screens (one for holding the paper, one for pressing) instead. But we thought you don't even really need TWO screens. Just one. A round splatter guard screen like this one will work fine. It will make your paper come out round, but you can always trim it into a square later if you want. We also tried using this rock-sorting screen we had (the rectangular one pictured above) but because it had a frame around it, it actually seemed a little harder to use.

Immerse the screen fully in the pulp and then lift it up evenly, wiggling it slightly as you lift. You are trying to get an even coat of the pulp onto the screen. You'll get the hang of it after a couple tries.
6. Lift the pulp-covered screen out of the pulp mixture, and lay it on a bed of towels. While it's still fairly wet, you can press in flower petals. Make sure you press them all the way into the pulp. We never perfected this process—lots of our petals weren't attached firmly enough to the paper and fell off once it was dry. You could certainly just stir your flower petals or leaves right into the big bin of pulp in the first place, and that would work well, but if you do it that way you can't lay them out in the pattern and amount you want. Anyway, as long as you press them all the way in and kind of through the pulp, they seem to stay in place pretty well.
7. Now you need to press the water out of the paper. In the tutorial I linked earlier, she says this is where you can use the second of the round screens. You lay it over the top of the pulpy screen and then press down to squeeze water out of the pulp. We did this the first few times, but then we found that just laying a towel right over the pulp worked fine too. It does leave a little bit of the towel texture imprinted, so maybe that's what the screen can help you avoid, if you don't like that. We didn't mind it. She also suggested using a dry sponge to blot over the paper and then squeeze out, back into the bin of pulp. After all was said and done, we thought the very best way to get out lots of water was to just lay the pulpy screen on a doubled up towel, lay another doubled-up towel over the top, and press down over and over. You can use your hands or even step on it with your feet. Just get as much water out of the paper as possible.
8. Next, you just turn the screen over and kind of whap it so the pulp (now we'll call it paper) falls off in one piece onto a new towel. (We found that putting this towel on top of something stiff, like a cookie sheet or cutting board, made it easier to move later on.) It seems hard at first to get the paper to come off the screen, but if you have gotten it dry enough, it comes quite easily. If the paper is really sticking to the screen, try blotting it more with the towel. Then turn the screen paper-side down, give it a nice sharp rap, and the sheet should fall right off. It is very fragile at this point, so be careful when touching it. If you have to smooth out a wrinkle or something, be really gentle.

9. Take the paper out in the sun to dry (or let it sit in any warm place overnight). Ours dried in a few hours on a very hot day, but we waited until the next day to write on it, just in case.
10. You're done! We liked our homemade paper so much! Junie made the paper in her picture all by herself, and even though it had a few wrinkles and ragged edges, she was so proud of herself! As she should be. It's great paper. We were amazed at how strong, yet flexible, it was.
Our handmade paper was really fun to write on, too. It was quite absorbent and soaked up the ink quickly, and we loved the little plant fibers and flower petals peeking through the paper.

We loved making our own paper! Such a fun project.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...