Carving the Slope

Yes, it is February, and looking down the steep slope of the new year, a new pair of skis would be welcome right now.  Any skis, figurative or otherwise!  With this blog wallowing for too long, I’m determined to forge ahead and carve a new trail into my imagined snowy wintertime, and leave an imprint of the path traveled.  A path that may melt away come springtime, but mud or dirt, I’ll take that trail and record something of it here.

A handful of things* to keep in mind and practice down the hill:

Skis on.

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Re-visit favorite places.  Sit awhile.

Pole plant right.

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Pay attention to the light.

Pole plant left.

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Keep watching.

Lean right, lean left.

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Look up.

Look ahead.

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Stick together!

Breathe.IMG_6403

Mark the seasons.

Glide.  Push.  Glide.

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Recognize the fruit of good work.  Be grateful!  Eat ripe fruit.  Share fruit.  Don’t waste it!

Turn, turn, turn.

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Know your neighbors, or get to know them.  (These lemons and tomatoes came from our neighbors!)

If you fall, brush off, pick yourself up, and go again.

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Find the balance.  Keep building, block by block.

Find your balance.

Late January 160

Find independent, like-minded friends.  Spend time with them.  (Can you see those crows!?)

Keep smiling.  Hum to yourself.  Skiing is fun!

SD trip, CO, NM 405

Know yourself.  Be yourself.

Relax.  Sit on the lift for awhile.

SD trip, CO, NM 020

See the road for what it is.  Wide open spaces.  Cracks.  Horizons.  Signposts.  Take a road trip.

Take a new trail, from the top again.

SD trip, CO, NM 377

Pay attention, keep looking for treasures!   They are all around.   Enjoy life and live it.

Find a jump and take it.  Ski into the trees just a little. 

SD trip, CO, NM 448

Try something new.  Wade in a new river.  Or jump in!

Be brave when it gets steep.  There is more than one way down a mountain.

IMG_6573Reflect.

Stay warm.

IMG_5399If at all possible, do the work that you love.

Follow the trail.

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Be patient.

Skiing takes practice.

SD trip, CO, NM 317

Stay in touch with the people you care about.  If not in person, call, send a note, or maybe even blog a little!  Because the kids grow up too fast.

Just getting to the mountains is good for the soul.    Even if you don’t ski.  Ski in your mind.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

SD trip, CO, NM 699

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

*  A first attempt at getting back to a blog-writing rhythm, just a smattering of photos from 2013-2014 to keep me on track.

Best wishes for 2014!

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Dragons, dragons everywhere!

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On January 23rd, the Lunar New Year began (with fireworks if you were in the right part of town!), and with it started 2012, the Year of the Dragon. From the moment I found out the current creature on the Asian Zodiac, I knew dragons would be the next theme for all of my art classes.  What kid wouldn’t get excited about drawing or painting or collaging a dragon!?  My mind whirled with possibilities, and with dragons.  Over the course of the past two months, the dragon-y features of scales, teeth, claws, beards, and fire, have been making their way from the inventive minds of my art students onto paper. The gallery here is just a sampling of the artwork produced by kids between first and 6th grades.  Some of the work was done in my sons’ classrooms, while some of it was made by the kids who participate in a lunchtime art club at the elementary school, or at a class for home-schooled kids that I teach at the local art museum.  I love each drawing, painting, and puppet, each one so full of personality.

Here is a rare shot of me working with the kids on dragon puppets:

accordion folding

A few nights ago, the art club dragons were displayed together at the elementary school’s Open House, where they made a beautiful backdrop for the opening meeting.  Just hours earlier we abandoned plans to make a hanging art exhibit outside the cafeteria, in what is aptly called the “breezeway.”  I was up on a ladder clipping the long sheets of craft paper to a metal beam when the sheets I just clipped started flying away.  What seemed like a great idea in the planning phases didn’t factor in an afternoon windstorm!  No harm done in the end, just a quick location change midstream, with little time to do it in.

masks, leaves, and a few more dragons

The highlight of the evening was that my husband got to stand in for me, accepting a bouquet of roses on my behalf, from the Principal.  The school honored my work with the kids by naming me Volunteer of the Year, and though I wasn’t there to hear it (I was elsewhere teaching at the time), they thanked me for my contribution to the artistic lives of the students at the school.  It feels good to be appreciated, and I am grateful!

This week, our Spring Break, I’m going to take some time to stop and smell those roses!

Smarter than C-3PO

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How do you tell your mom you love her?  Well, you might compare her to what you think about most in the world.  If you are a nine year old boy, that just might be Star Wars.

When my boys make something by hand, I cherish it.  Even more so if it is made especially for me. Most parents have a soft spot for what our kids give us, but Moms tend to be the savers of pieces of paper, squirreling these treasures away inside scrapbooks, folders, and files, for posterity or reminiscence in some unknown future time.  Because I oversee much of the creative work that happens at home with my kids, I’m rarely surprised by the end results. This means that I look forward to the surprises that come from school, pieces of writing and art that happen under another person’s guidance.

So February arrives (where did January go!?), the month when heartfelt cards are exchanged.  When another parent gently suggested to my son’s third grade teacher that a handmade gift from the kids would be nice for Valentine’s Day, he enlisted my help to come up with a project. Cards seemed to be the most straight-forward thing to make, given that our time to put something together was limited to a Valentine’s Day party during the last forty minutes of school.

Here’s how we collaborated on the Valentine project:

  • I created a template for a simple heart-shaped card on decorative 12″ x 12″ paper, tracing out enough of these double hearts for each child to cut.
  •  Separately I cut out small card stock paper hearts for the kids to draw on with colored pencils.
  • I gave the teacher a list of ideas for what might be drawn on the little hearts before the party:  self portraits, a picture of the parent, a design or pattern, flowers, the words “I love you”, etc.
  • The teacher would lead the kids through a poem writing exercise during language arts time, getting them to “show not tell” their love for their loved ones.  These poems would be written out carefully on small pieces of paper to be pasted into the large folded hearts.
  • The students cut out the big hearts and attached all the small pieces during the class party, signing each card with love and their name.

The cards were a simple smashing success–I only wish I’d thought to photograph some of the funny and sincere messages inside.  A few kids read their poems aloud to their moms during the party, and more than one mom got a little teary.  Sigh.  Can we help it!?

A reading to her mom

D reads to his mom

That's Dobby the house elf with a Valentine

A, really not shy, reads with gusto "Mom, you are smarter than a dictionary!"

Regular readers might be able to spot my son’s Valentine among the photos above.  Look for the one with the castle battle scene and the robot doing mental math, and you’ve got it. Here’s what L wrote:

While some mothers might be compared to sunsets, and flowers, and comfortable pillows, this mom is more (fill in the blank) than Jedis and droids.  I love it.  My husband meanwhile, is deemed “taller than Chewbacca on a growthspurt,” with smarts to outmatch a computer game wizard, and unbeatable fortress strength.  I love that too.

C3PO, Chewbacca, stronghold castle Valentine

Funny thing about love. There are a gazillion ways to express it. This Valentine is surely a keeper (the most artistic mom in the whole world!?!), as is our goofy sweet nine year old boy.  Now if I could just try to feel the Force instead of getting angry, and dig into my memory banks to remember “over six million forms of communication” as I love my family, I’ll be doing all right.

That's AMORE under there

Love, to you all!  Happy Valentine’s Day.

The Other Jingle Bells

November is gone, and December, flashing by at light speed.  So much to write about, but given the choice between sitting in front of the computer and moving through the tasks at hand, I’ve chosen the latter!  Our lives have been full of good everyday happenings– dinners with friends, school concerts, art classes, and creative projects of all sorts–just to name a few.  In the midst of all the activity, we are more grateful than ever for the community we are starting to find here, but continually miss friends and family far away.

For the first time our family is not traveling this Christmas, and although there are pangs of regret for me, staying put is a gift in itself.  More about Christmas at “home,” later.

tree trimmer

Early in December my six year old remarked “I don’t like Christmas Carols. ”  Then he paused and said, “What are Christmas carols anyway?”  When I told him they were songs about Christmas he said, “Oh, actually I do like them.”  The boys have been doing a lot of singing in the past few weeks.  At school the kids have been preparing various Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa songs to sing in concert (in Spanish too!).  Many of these songs came home in their heads, and I’d hear the boys humming to themselves or singing quietly in the back of the car.  My five year old learned the verses of “Jingle Bells,” and over and over wanted me to start singing with the “dashing through the snow part.”

Then one day the six year old says to the five year old, “Did you know that there’s another way to sing Jingle Bells?”  That’s right, the Batman way.  Then with a wicked gleeful look in his eye he launches into “Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid and egg!  Batmobii-le lost a whee-el, and the Joker got away!  Hey!”  and it was all downhill from there.  My husband overheard the Batman version being sung and wondered aloud where they learned it.  His comment was something like, “the funny thing is, we thought that was hilariously funny when we learned it at their age too.”  They have no idea how long kids have been tweaking the song to impress each other.  And as kids do, the five year old went on to teach the Batman Jingle Bells to his best little three year old buddy, and they happily sang it together over and over.  I have to admit that even as the song gets old, really fast, the kids get such a kick out of it that I find myself smiling.  A little.

T's Christmas card: jingle bells and happy face ornaments

Another family music favorite that has had its share of airtime is a home-made CD from the cousins, fondly referred to as “Tree-Hunting Tunes.”   The recording dates back to a Children’s Radio Hour Christmas show in 1999, recorded on tape, by yours truly, as broadcast on Albuquerque Public Radio (KUNM).   I gave the tape to my then very young niece and nephew, not knowing that the Radio Hour would become their all-time favorite Christmas recording, and the music they would listen to every year on their way to find a Christmas tree.  When you’ve got songs like “What Do You Get a Wookie for Christmas,”  “It Must Be Santa,” sung at super speed, and Louis Armstrong reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” in his warm gravelly voice, what is not to love?

A life full of song is a good one, and there is room for the goofy and spoofy, just as there is room for the reverent and soulful.  With the strains of “In the Deep Midwinter” and “What Child is This” in the mix, I’m content.

T draws a snowman and a tree...

As we move into the last days of the season, there are still parcels to be wrapped, cards to be sent, and sweets to bake, and of course, songs to be sung.  

So even if you don’t have a card from us yet, please know, we’ll be wishing you “the happiest, the happiest, and the merriest, the merriest!” wherever you are.

card printing

The leaves never know

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Something in the air today prompted me to pull three slim volumes off my bookshelf.  These books ended up in my possession when I was a teenager, after a great uncle died and the extended family gathered to sort through his things.  As a lover of poetry and occasional poet, I could not pass up charming Haiku books, translated from Japanese to English.

Besides being full of beautiful Haiku from some of the best-loved early Japanese poets, these books are delicately illustrated with woodblock prints, and are a pleasure to look at and hold.  But what makes these particular books even more precious are the notes written inside, by my great uncle, and his brother who gave him the books as gifts.

The first inscription:

I love that Mitchell described haiku as “word pictures of sensitive awareness of nature and life,” and that he trusted his brother would enjoy those very qualities in the poetry.  In the same book, in Howard’s own hand are three haiku.

My favorite:

“The leaves never know

Which leaf will be first to fall

Does the wind know?”

~SOSEKI

I wonder.

Tucked into the first book there is a small slip of paper, carefully cut from a longer letter, typewritten on one side, and in blue ballpoint pen on the other:

“Howard:   Thank you very much for the ‘Japanese Haiku.’  It is an unusually fine translation as it preserves a 5-7-5 syllable form and doesn’t attempt to rhyme.  Efforts to rhyme in the translation often spoil the haiku.”  In red ballpoint pen at the top of this note is written “FROM MBR JAN 1973,” another note from Mitchell, clearly cherished, and safely kept with his own haiku, by Howard.

And last, tucked into the back of one of the books is a folded piece a paper, some kind of photocopy with the exclamatory “A Few Thoughts on Birthdays!” written across the top.

At the bottom is the emphatically underlined phrase:

“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.  Be gentle with yourself!”

The fleeting, bittersweet quality of autumn has always moved me, and in looking to these books for a poem to mark the day, I am moved by the picture of two aging brothers who had room in their lives for poetry, and a love and sensitivity toward the nature that inspired it.  I only hope for the same love of nature and poetry for my children, brothers all, and that they might also write letters and give books.

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My boys know something about the knowing of the leaves and the knowing of the wind.  A couple of weeks ago, the younger two were patiently watching for the signs of the first falling leaves in the back yard.  For us, autumn comes slowly and less dramatically than in colder climates, but it does come in its way.  We are lucky to have great old trees in our yard that lose their leaves and turn yellow, but it takes time.  The boys decided to be prepared for that event.  One afternoon I came out to a yard that looked like this:

When I asked what they were working on, the reply was “We’re making leaf traps!”  The idea was to catch as many leaves as possible, just as they fell.  Here the brothers demonstrate how the traps work:

leaf catchers

caught

Perhaps not the most efficient leaf-gathering technique, but I like the resourcefulness at work!

For my boys, a haiku for autumn:

Fall soon golden leaves

Empty buckets and rakes wait

For you to let go

Autumn is coming here, slowly but surely–even as the days get shorter there is much to savor.

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Perhaps you will be inspired to write your comment as a haiku?

Young Illustrators

my mouse on a log, after Leo Lionni

Earlier this summer I taught a 5 week kids’ art class called “Young Illustrators,” at the art museum.  The aim of the class was introduce the students to a number of children’s book illustrators and their books, and then to create artworks using the techniques and the materials that those illustrators employ.  The class of 13 was the perfect size, and turned out to be an enthusiastic group of 6-10 year olds.  Preparing for the class was almost as much fun as teaching it, as I whittled down my illustrators list with numerous trips to the library and stack of picture books piling up on my studio floor, reading and studying new and old favorites.  What accumulated there was a treasure trove of talent and diverse approaches to art making and storytelling.

The first week we made “mouse in a maze books,” and to get ideas looked at dozens of different illustrations of mice from “The Tale of Two Bad Mice,” by Beatrix Potter, to “Stuart Little,” by E.B. White, and many more.  The kids started by making fast tiny sketches of their own mice, then we created paper mazes for them to inhabit.

The photos don’t do the books justice as the room was dark, but you get the idea!

mouse maze books

student's book covers

My guys at home, always interested in the art project at hand, contributed their own mouse drawings to my mouse maze sample book.  I love how each of them already has a distinct style of his own!

L's cover illustration

M's mice scurry by

Three mice by T

T mouse meets L mouse

mom's mice at book's end

Leo Lionni has got to be one of my all-time favorite author/illustrators, and with his beautiful combination of simple collage and thought-provoking animal stories, he was the perfect illustrator to start us off.  We read “Matthew’s Dream,” the story of an artist mouse, and the kids made paper mouse collages to begin a five page accordion-style book:

contrast mouse!

The next week we drew Wild Things, in the manner of Maurice Sendak…

pencil first

K's wild thing

and here’s my painted  example to show watercolor and pen and ink texture techniques:

unfinished sample

L tries a Wild Thing at home

The third week we finished our Wild Things, then moved on to painting paper with various textures and colors to get us ready for the work of Eric Carle.

Wild Things by Ben age 6

collage mouse & wild thing by Marvin

Eric Carle paints his own paper for his collaged illustrations, and he often incorporates shaped or otherwise cut out pages.   We did the same thing in our books:

Lionni style, Carle style, by Natalie, age 8

Sendak influence, Carle influence, Ariana age 8

books in progress

For the final week, rather than focus on one illustrator, we looked at Fairy Tales as a genre, and some of the different ways they have been interpreted (and taken liberties with!) over time.  We read “The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig,” written by Eugene Trivizas and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, to get the creative juices flowing, then the students chose or imagined a fairy tale to illustrate.  A few kids brought original stories into class to share with me.  Very fun.

Our Fairy Tale illustrations included decorative borders around the main picture, and metallic watercolor paint to add that Fairy Tale Feel.

A illustrates her Fairy Tale

finished books laid out

more finished books

Keeping up with the class meant that I made an accordion book of my own complete with versions of all of the above.  As you can see, I enjoyed myself just a little…

Wild Thing

Lionni, Carle, Sendak...

more like Carle...

Rider

the book

The end of the class is just a beginning, as I barely scratched the surface of all that I love about children’s book illustration.  Next year perhaps I will teach another Young Illustrators session with the same format covering different illustrators.  And for myself, I hope to develop more illustrations of my own and take real steps in that direction.

admiring the finished work

Filling the book

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As sketchbooks go, this one has filled fairly quickly, with life— still and moving around me—as the subject.

Another back yard painting made with waning daylight:

and a quick horizontal yard painting another day.

Pen sketches during swim lessons…

swim lessons

And above the pool, a hillside with gangly palm trees…

Later, sketches in other back yards made while traveling:

and from out the car window…

almost to the Grand Canyon

AZ mountains with raindrops

Then, back at home, the wild life around me:

M with wet hair

fleeting T

And last but hardly least, some guest sketchers made these:

"It's a birthday party--do you see all the balloons?!"

and a collaboration drawing

"That's Dad with a sack of potatoes, and me and the guys coming home. Dad looks like a pumpkin."

And now, just seven pages more to go, and if it gets done before school starts on Monday, I can really call it “The Summer  (of 2011) Sketchbook.”

imagined aerial view

beach sketches

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Just a few sketches to bring in July…

This one, like many warm-up sketches, is slightly awkward.

July 4th

The second full sketch managed to capture the playful scene more to my liking,

and the moving figures have some life.

And last, a quiet moment, at dusk, in the back yard:

When an overall sketch doesn’t quite work, I look for success in the details.

sand digger detail

summer proof

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In the same way that photographs document where we’ve been, who we’ve seen, and what we’ve paid attention to, sketchbooks are recording places for noting details important enough to capture.  This summer, my goal is to keep up with some of the goings on by taking pen and paint to paper.

Already, in the past weeks, the wading pool has been put to good use.  My sketchbook has not seen as much action, but this is the page where I got my feet wet:

Before bedtime the boys listen to the latest book, chapter by chapter, and “Please just one more!?’

And finally this week, the apricots are orange and ripe for the picking.  Picking the apricots is almost as fun as eating them.

top of the tree sketch

Those fuzzy orange apricots are so appealing, I couldn’t resist taking these photos from the top of the ladder.

Many more still to come…  just have to get to them before the birds do!

That’s the proof of summer, right there.

You can’t step in the same irrigation ditch twice

The whole month of May gone and complete radio silence from me, and here we are well into June!  May was momentous, sandwiched between life events of late April and early June that added up together make quite the series of happenings:  death, birth, and a birthday.

In late April, the last of my grandmothers died.  Only she was not a grandmother in the blood-relative way, but in the way of the relationship that she chose to have with me and my siblings.  We called her “Baba,” a nickname given by my younger brother when he was learning to talk, and though it sounded nothing like her name, Mary, Baba she was, and Baba she stayed.  When my parents were a young married couple, Baba took them under her wing, and as just-down-the-street neighbors we spent countless hours visiting the Carlsons–playing in their yard, learning to swim in the pool, sharing meals and holidays.  The four Carlson kids were a generation older than the Rider four, and like aunts and uncles or older siblings, they helped bring us up– babysitting, entertaining, teasing, teaching, making us laugh, and by being good models for living in the world.

Baba was a completely modern woman, who along with being a degreed dietician, had real skill for cooking, sewing and gardening.  She was demanding and loving, with a hearty laugh and an inquisitive mind.  From Baba we learned what it meant to be loved “with a bushel and a peck,” or a swat on the “britches.”  She delighted in us, her chosen grandkids, but didn’t let us get away with a thing.  If we ran out of her house and let the screen door slam behind us we’d hear about it.  If we splashed her drying sheets on the laundry line, we’d hear about that too, in no uncertain terms.  We also knew to throw frisbees and toys for the dog carefully, not in the garden!  Later on, we’d also hear about it if there was any question about our individual directions in life, what we studied, who we dated, where we were headed, because she cared about us like we were family.

As with many memorial services, Baba’s was full of tears and laughter and emotion. I couldn’t get through the first strains of Morning Has Broken and had to stop singing.  But, along with everybody else I laughed in recognition at the memories and stories compiled by family members, of Mary, the person we knew and loved.  The dominant theme running through the recounted stories was one of a woman with an undeniable gift for hospitality.  Her table was a bountiful, and beautiful, and creative one, and the food, always delicious.  I count myself among the fortunate to have eaten at such a table, and the sense memories of Christmas Eve turkey dinners, the smell of homemade fried chicken, delicate lemon custards, and rich coconut layer cake, are so strong that these foods will always remind me of Baba.  It was also at Baba and Dev’s table that we children practiced our best table manners, learning how to use extra forks, cloth napkins, and most importantly, to wait to eat until the hostess was served.

After the memorial service, my sister and I took a nostalgia drive through the old neighborhood where we grew up.  We drove past our childhood home, a two-story Victorian-era house made of stone, now cosmetically improved and added onto since our day.  We continued up the block past the Carlson house, built a bit later than ours, painted a new color, but otherwise much the same from the outside.  I snapped some pictures, and admittedly, felt a little sad.  All of the houses on the block are as they were with small notable differences, plantings, paint colors, surface improvements.  Old houses in a nice, quiet, residential neighborhood, and many seem to have security warning signs prominently posted outside just in case someone with bad intentions gets any ideas.  Inwardly I couldn’t help thinking “that’s not the way it used to be.”  Exactly like the safe neighborhood where we live now in southern California, where the trend seems to be “fix-it-up and keep people out.”

As we completed the neighborhood circuit, my sister stopped the car so I could take a couple last pictures of a best-loved play place of our childhood, the “farmer’s ditch.”  This seasonal irrigation ditch ran parallel to our street, a block down, and from west to to the farm country out east somewhere.  We loved wading there in the summer, would take rubber inner tubes down it, getting out at every under street grate, and walking back a few blocks to do the whole thing again.  When it was dry it was a place to make forts and explore and collect rocks, close to home, but a world away.  Here’s the ditch running with water, just as I remember it below the elementary school grounds:

But just on the other side of the street from this same spot, somebody has improved on my memory, and I’m not sure I like it.  I suppose the truth is that I like the idea of the shored-up bank along the ditch, and the idea of the sanctuary that it looks to be for someone who owns the space.

But this ditch is not what I remember, and my memory is what I want to keep.  And I wonder, would I be welcome there, in our old place?

May, 2011, saw the birth of my newest nephew to my youngest brother and his wife, while other nephews turned 5, and 15.  My own birthday marked the solid move into middle age, as  the five candles on my cake marked out a “41.”  And so life goes.

Any passing on of a loved one is hard, but what seems painfully clear to me is that as the elders born early in the last century pass on, with them goes something we of the younger generations can’t replace.  Even as we celebrate lives just begun, we mourn the passing of a time that won’t come again.

You can’t step in the same irrigation ditch twice.