A Veteran’s Guide to prepping for summer art camp

This post is being written in the midst of a flurry of pre-camp activity. You will be reading this (hopefully) on the Monday of the first week of the  2017 Noctiluna Summer Camps, woohoo!!

My house looks like a crime scene (you know, the one where someone knocks off an art store, and their local Target, and then tries to hide the goods in their living room, dining room, garage, and kitchen). My mind is on constant overdrive (Paper towels, HDMI cable, bug spray, did I remember the sunscreen? Oh, and paper towels… and bug spray… wait, did I eat today?). My kids have gotten used to my muttering and glazed expression, and the local librarians raised their eyebrows again, when I took out my requisite camp book haul today.

But here’s the thing, I actually feel calmer this year. I’ve been doing this for about five years, and I’m beginning to feel like a veteran. I have a tried and tested system when it comes to getting ready for the camps and I’m going to be nice and share it with you.
Here are some things that I do beforehand:

  1. Use checklists, many checklists
    Apart from the obvious list of art materials, running an art camp requires a host of must-haves, that make camp-life smoother, from wipes and band aids to plastic tablecloths and bug spray. I also make class lists and attendance registers for each week. IMG_6395
  2. Sorting the Art equipment
    This is invariably when I realize how lazy I was after last year’s summer camps, and repeatedly curse myself for not being a more careful and conscientious person. I take inventory of all the art materials that are strewn all over my house, and stuffed into weird places, toss damaged and and empty items, and sort them into categories (drawing, painting, printmaking etc) before the packing begins. Sometimes there is crying involved, often Beyonce helps me get through it all.
  3. Packing the Bag of Fun
    The Bag of Fun contains all sorts of outdoor play items including chalk, frisbees, jump ropes, and bats and balls. The kids look forward to seeing what is in the bag every year, and it helps break the ice during those first few breaks.
  4. Communicate with parents
    I never leave anything to chance. I’m a parent, and I know how confusing kids’ summer schedules can be. An welcome email with pertinent information, is a must. Make sure no one is confused about pick up/drop of routines, or ways to get in touch with you during the day.  This is also a great way to gather last minute information from parents about kids with schedule changes. As the Radiohead lyrics go, no alarms and no surprises.
  5. Soundtrack
    Speaking of which, there is always a strong certainty that someone is going to want to play Freeze Dance at some point during the camps, so it’s useful to have a tween friendly playlist ready (or a handy teenage helper with an iPhone).
  6. Buy extra snacks
    Because no matter what, there is going to be a kid who finishes his/her lunch and snacks, and extra snacks, and starts to openly eye your leftover lunch.
  7.   Library run
    I always take out a variety of books to have on hand. Some to do with the week’s themes, some for the kids’  recreational reading, some to read aloud to kids when they are tired, and of course, the obligatory audiobook (normally from the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson series) to soothe beasts on savage summer afternoons.
  8. Move into my space beforehand
    I always set my classroom up the weekend before camp, and have it looking as organised and pretty as possible, so that I can walk in with a breezy swagger (and a bag of fifteen things I had forgotten) on Monday morning.
  9. The Talk
    My kids attend my camp, so I’m in the unique and unenviable position of being a camp teacher and a parent of campers at the same time. it’s not easy, and every year we have to have The Talk about how to behave at the camp, and about mummy being everyone’s teacher, and having to give everyone equal attention etc, etc. This leads nicely to….
  10. Obsessive Lunch planning
    When you run a summer camp, you don’t have the time or energy to stop and wonder what to pack for your brood’s lunches every day, and if you skip your own lunch, the kids WILL suffer. So I write out a detailed lunch and snack schedule ahead of time for every day of the week (for the kids and me). That way our groggy morning selves don’t have to do any serious thinking, and can get packing like robots.

That’s it for now. I have to go test my marker collection for next week (yawn). I ‘ll be back with updates of what the kids are creating every week! Fellow camp organizers, hope you found this useful (or at least amusing).

Ten Natural Mood Enhancers For My Rubbish Week.

This post was supposed to be an upbeat one about happiness, but I have not been at my happiest this week.
It has been a frustrating and pretty crappy week, but hey, silver linings, it’s almost over.  Nobody is happy all the time, even though Facebook would like you to think so. It’s normal to have highs and lows, and it’s normal to stay low for a while longer sometimes and dedicate solid time to a good mope. Considering my obsession with Thomas Hardy novels, I should be a lot more mopey and morose than I actually am.
Despite all of this, and despite my less than ideal week, I’m going to go ahead, and share this list of things that have brought smiles into my life over the past month (partly because I don’t want to rewrite this post, and partly because I want to help bring shiny, happy moments into your lives. I do take time to appreciate the beauty of little, everyday things, and there have been some good moments over the past few weeks. So here goes…

  1. Reading Passion: Americanah
    This book is seriously interfering with my ability to do anything. It is so good that every time I catch sight of it, I need to read a few pages. It makes me think “yes!” after every page. I know that there is going to be a serious hole in my life when I finish this, so I definitely need to have another one of Adichi’s books on hold and ready to pick up at the library.
  2.  Drawing Every Day
    My favorite mood enhancer. Drawing and reading have always been my favorite things to do. I treat drawing like a form of meditation and get antsy and worried if I go too long without doing it. Most of the time, I start without any idea of what I want to draw, and just let things unfold on my page in their own way. It’s cheaper than therapy! Try it
  3. Warm Weather
    Okay, it’s not warm, it’s sweltering, but I don’t care. I grew up in England, so any sunshine is a good thing, and a reason to open doors and windows to let in the outside, while other people get annoyed. Also, how great is it to not have to put twenty pieces of outerwear on your kids before they leave for school? My mornings are much better.

    Time off with the kids
  4. Sharing Interests With My Kids
    My kids are getting to that golden age, where they are fairly  independent but still love hanging out with me, and they are getting into stuff that I like too! We have been crafting, biking, coloring, and watching Anne of Green Gables, and reading The Hobbit together. The eleven year old shares my dark sense of humor, and does a nice line in sarcasm. My birthday comes up in a couple of weeks, and I know that all of us will have a good time this year.
  5. Plaza Arts
    Okay, this store is seriously addictive, and way too close to my home. I go in for a canvas, and come out with a handful of newfangled markers. There is also something nice about seeing other artists shopping for materials, and knowing that they exist nearby. I think I actually saw a rainbow over the store the last time I walked towards it!

    Notebooks from Plaza
  6. Mastering a new method of screen printing
    I’m so happy about this!!! I have finally been able to put aside the time to figure out how to expose screens properly with photosensitive coating at home.Didn’t you study this sh#% at college? Aren’t you a professional screen printer? I hear you say. Well yes….but at college, we used premixed screen coater, and had big, professional exposing tables, and time! Putting aside time to figure out the logistics of how and where can I do this was something that took me longer than it should have. But finally, I have figured it out and the world is my screen image! I can put any of my drawings on a screen, woo hoo!
  7. The Hand Maid’s Tale
    One of my favorite books is a TV series, and it does not disappoint me. I know it is dark, but it tackles issues close to my heart, head on, which is actually soothing.
  8. Planning For A Vacation
    I’m going to my original hometown, London,  in a month’s time! Wait, I need to put this laptop down to do the Snoopy dance from Charlie Brown ………………………………………………………. okay, I’m back. Yes, I still have one fair and three weeks of summer camp to deal with before this happens.  But when I feel down,  planning details of my trip is an instant happiness boost. Just thinking about seeing my parents, and childhood home makes me smile.
  9. Unexpected Meetings  
    I bumped into the Mayor of Vienna last week, while having my hair cut, and she offered to visit the kids at my camp, and look at their town planning projects! I also, met the owner of a boutique, while working at a market in Alexandria, who was interested in my products. Last night, I caught up with a parent at my children’s school, who I haven’t seen in a year and had a really nice chat. Sometimes, I forget to connect with other people because I work by myself, but it is always lovely when I do.
  10. Remembering All Of The Above
    Writing this blog sometimes forces me out of a rut, because it forces me to look back and take stock of my life. It is so easy to stay bogged down, and forget about good aspects of your life when you are having a bad run. And sometimes it feels good to wallow in sorrows for a bit, but when I want to climb out of that pit, the blog certainly helps me stay thankful for what I have. I think everyone should have an equivalent, be it a diary to write in, or a friend to vent to. Do it, get that stuff out of your system when you need to.

Take A Break Wonder Woman! (identifying your work patterns)

I think have mentioned this before: part of working for myself means that I often alternate between periods of hyperactive, super-smug productivity, and what I like to call ‘Buffering Time’.

You know that experience when you are fully immersed in a movie on Netflix, and all of a sudden it stops, and you have to wait for it to sort itself out before it can continue playing? It’s annoying, but you know that it will resume playing at some point. So instead of glowering at the screen you go and fix yourself a snack (or stare at another, smaller screen – don’t lie, we have all done this). I do a version of this with my work schedule. Sometimes my brain starts buffering, and I scale what I do down, or change direction for a while.  For all you visual people, here is a highly scientific graph showing my working patterns:

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Stop laughing.

I recently had a great run of highly productive weeks, where I finished projects, checked tasks off lists, and felt great power running through my veins like a smaller, more jumpy version of Wonder Woman. I printed, ironed, sewed, and packed products for a fair, did inventory, wrote curriculum for my summer camps, worked daily on my illustrations, got up early, hydrated regularly, practiced yoga, and Instagrammed a lot of it,  every – single – day.

The line on my graph has turned downwards this week. The Buffering Time strikes again. I spent two days running back and forth between my kids’ school, the pediatrician’s office, and the ER, due to an appendicitis scare (it’s fine, turned out to be something much less worrying). I spent another two days feeling thrown off schedule, overwhelmed with unfinished work, and too physically tired to wake up early and work that extra hour.

That’s fine, I’ve learnt to take the dips in my work rhythm in my stride, they don’t freak me out (as much) any more. At the risk of sounding like an old hippie, you learn to breathe through the hard stuff, like in Yoga. Someone please hit me with a big stick, I sound so annoying.

The point is, managing time effectively isn’t the same as being busy all the time. I know I will catch up with any work that needs to be done once I hit my stride again, because when I’m on, I’m ON. I know that the graph will turn upwards again soon, and I know that I need to recharge a bit this week, or I will crash. I’m going to take advantage of my dip. I’m going to get my hair cut, and try some of those lettering projects in Mollie Makes’.

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It’s important to identify your own work pattern, and know how to use it to it’s fullest advantage, and please be forgiving with yourself.
My business’s busiest season is about to coincide with the end of the school year, and all the hoopla that that brings with it. I have two weekends of craft fairs to work (which means making more shirts), and concerts and recitals to attend. This will be followed by three weeks of teaching what has to be the world’s best Summer camp, no compromises. This will be followed by a month in England (woohoo!), and another, final week of summer camp. Then the new school year, and my design/printing session for the Holiday fairs begins.

So I’ll take my relaxed, dopey weeks when I can take them, without any apologies thank you very much. You should too!  Be nice to yourself.

Love, Chitra