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Confessions of a Cult Member

Six years ago, as I was preparing to leave the United States for my trip around the world (#worldrace, #11n11) my grandpa gave me a piece of solid advice:

Grandpa: “If they offer you KoolAid… don’t drink it.”

Samara: *eye roll* “Graaaampaaa… it’s not like that…”

And, I can happily report, that it wasn’t (entirely) like that.

However, after living with the Lorensen family for almost four years now, I realize that I may have ignored my grandpa’s advice and have accidentally (willingly) drunk the KoolAid  of the ‘Caleb Lorensen cult’.


I have recently become obsessed with Myers-Briggs personality types.  and I mean obsessed.  Like…I listen to podcasts about personality types on my motorcycle and in the shower.

Because I couldn’t keep my obsession quiet, little bits and pieces of Myers-Briggs wisdom would seep out of me and into our family dinners and conversations.  Eventually the Lorensen’s took the personality test themselves to subdue my curiosity.

The results are as follows:

Samara: ENFP: highly imaginative and free spirited individual that needs help remembering to do normal human things, like showering and putting on clean clothes.

Tracy: ESFJ: the ultimate hostess who is all about caring for and providing for the needs of those around her and can not understand how the ENFP has forgot, once again, where her car keys (cellphone, glasses, motorbike) are.

Caleb: ENFJ: the charming and persuasive cult leader.

Tracy wrote a blog about her life as the wife of a cult leader which includes topics such as: drinking the KoolAid (ie: green juice and smoothies); group think and community living.

So if Tracy is married to a cult leader… I suppose that means I am a full fledged cult member… or a cult leader follower.  This news, my being a member in a cult, was disturbing to me at first.. I mean.. valuing my independence and creativity so highly, but, upon reflection… it may not be all be so bad.

Tracy’s blog covers the most noticeable ways the ‘Caleb Lorensen cult’ has influenced my life.   From dietary habits and work-out regimes to educational pursuits and passions… I am a changed woman.  Her blog is hilarious and you should read it.  Here’s a link: link.

In this blog I will write about a few more subtleties I have noticed in my life since joining the cult.

-Taking on of life mantras:

The Lorensen’s live by a unique set of life values.  There are many and I will not cover them all here…but, the first that comes to mind is ‘if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down’.  I hate this.  But over the years, it has been adopted into my lifestyle.  In fact, the Lorensens exude general lack of shyness about bodily functions—be they farts, burps, poops or periods… bodily functions are not to be ashamed of. Honestly, conforming to this belief system, was not a very difficult one for me and is actually very freeing.  I suggest you pick it up as well.

Another of the Lorensen mantras is that ‘children are assets and not liabilities’. The communal way in which we live our lives over here in Thailand, means I have been given the rare opportunity to actually witness the ins-and-outs of parenting, without actually being a parent, and have therefore, picked up some of their parenting techniques as my own.  The Lorensen’s are not held back by their children, nor do they hold their children back.  Their children are encouraged to explore, be curious, make messes and think for themselves.  This can lead to interesting situations…yes, but it also creates highly creative, confident individuals.  Community living and valuing children… again, ideas that perhaps you pick up with as well.

-Changes in Diet and Exercise:

Again, Tracy already wrote about this in her blog (link)… so I will be brief.  But I want to say, I have never exercised so consistently in my life than I have since living with the Lorensens.  I say this after having NOT exercised consistently since starting my MA program a year ago and the statement is STILL true. As for my diet.. I have been following a no sugar, no carb diet with Tracy for about 9 months now.

The impossible has been made possible via the Caleb Lorensen cult.

-General Boldness:

I used to pride myself with being a sweet, sunshiny girl.  And… I still am.  The difference, however, is since being part of the Caleb Lorensen cult, I have begun to actually take myself more seriously.  I think living under the influence of someone like Caleb… and having him take me seriously, has affected the way I view myself.  I have grown leaps in bounds in my self-confidence.  I have learned how to set effective boundaries and how to say no.  I have also learned how to use my super-power of ‘sweetness’ and ‘like-ability’ to speak hard truths and say hard things to people.  I have become a very bold speaker, standing up not only for the people in my life, but also standing up for myself.

This also comes out in my willingness to state my mind and share unpopular opinions and ideas.  I have found myself playing devil’s advocate in situations where I would have previously just sat quietly.  I have picked up the attitude of the Caleb Lorensen cult and it suits me well.


I could go on an on… from living by sayings like “stop that stinkin’ thinkin,’” “no pressure just opportunity” and “drink good coffee” to pursuing an actual career as an educator, I am a full fledged member or the Caleb Lorensen cult.

I drink the juice and I repeat the mantras  … and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Art Classes with Jackfruit

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This is Kanoon. (ขนุน: Jackfruit)

He likes to smile, a lot.

Kanoon and I have been on a journey together since day one of Sunshine Studios.

Kanoon is a very capable artist and according to his mother (whom I’ve had many meetings with) really enjoys coming to Sunshine Studios.  He is one of the first students to be signed up for any program or class that I offer.  His mom has even started worrying about what is going to happen when Kanoon (a 5th grader) goes on to middle school as I do not offer classes to that age group.

However, in class, Kanoon doesn’t really give me the impression that he wants to be there at all.  He is one of the only students that I have ever had blatantly refuse to do a project and has very frequently given up on a project before he finishes.

I have talked to his mom about this, really questioning her choice to have him in the art classes if he’s not interested.  I’ve explained that he’s often tired after school and if he’s not willing to do the projects he just sits for two hours doing nothing.  But, she insists and Kanoon continues coming.

After about three weeks of butting heads with this particular student, I decided I needed to take a different approach.

I had noticed that Kanoon would work on a project until it’s almost done and at that point he would quit.  I would try and push him to finish, but wasn’t getting any results and then, when his mom would come pick him up, she would look at his project and express disappointment in him.

Something needed to change.  As I can’t change his mother, nor was I affectively changing Kanoon, I decided that it has to be me that changes.  I would have to fight my urge to get annoyed with this kid and instead become his ally.

Instead of getting frustrated with Kanoon when he would tell me that ‘he’s finished’ after just barely beginning, I would encourage him to go take a break, buy a treat, take a walk and then come back and re-start.  This actually shocked him at first, he was so used to my pushing him to keep going that he didn’t really know how to react to my openness to his stopping.

In fact, I started making him take 10 minute breaks and then after his break I would come and sit on the floor next to him and tell him how great of an artist he is.  I would just gush over what he was doing, point out things that are really good and offer him suggestions in his technique.  I started giving him very individualized attention.  I started telling him, ‘Ok, Kanoon, you can finish now and have an ‘ok’ project–or you can keep going, push yourself a little more and have a piece that you will be very proud of.’

Not surprisingly, something started shifting in Kanoon’s behavior.

Number one, he started trusting me.  I was no longer fighting him to perform, but encouraging him to be his best.

Number two, he started finishing his projects.  Be it the breaks or just the idea of having something he was proud of, Kanoon would fill the class time working on his projects, even after his peers had started cleaning up.

And his mom, she started praising his work!  (Maybe not to his face, but to me…)

I suppose none of this should be a surprise, but it was a humbling lesson to me.  I was getting so irritated as this kid.  A kid who I know doesn’t have a steady home and who seemingly doesn’t get any encouragement from his mom.  I was getting irritated by someone who desperately needed praise.

The power of words.  The power of biting your tongue and working in the opposite spirit.  Instead of rejecting the student who is rejecting my lessons, I chose to befriend him.  Instead of fighting his complaints and getting mad, I gave him options.

Kanoon and I have come a long way in our relationship; neither of us are the people we were at the beginning of the term.  My only regret is that I played into the irritation as long as I did.

Here is Kanoon with his acrylic painting.

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This project was hard for everyone, so many new skills being taught at once.   But, Kanoon pushed through. We worked on this for three whole weeks!  And the result, a smiling Kanoon and an awesome cat painting that he is, and should be, proud of.

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First through Third Grade Self Portraits

Sunshine Studios has been one big learning experience for me.

I have learned that I don’t necessarily know how to teach art.  Certain things, like holding a paint brush, choosing colors that look nice together, knowing how to mix colors, etc. come very naturally to me and I have mistakenly assumed my students would just naturally have these skills.

No.  They don’t.

I have found myself teaching how to hold scissors, how to appropriately use glue, and what you should and should not do with paint.

I have chosen projects that are way too hard and, alternatively, chosen projects that are way too easy and have been left with nothing to do and half the period to fill.

Sunshine Studios has been a learning experience… to say the least.

BUT, it has been a success.

We are wrapping up the first semester of classes, so I’ve been trying to do more exciting projects with a couple more steps to them.

I have done a number of self portraits with the little kids (first-third grade) and have had various success rates.  One of the big problems I have encountered, is that despite my handing out mirrors and us looking and the different shapes in our faces, the students want to draw themselves how they have learned to draw people, not as they actually see themselves.  As I am working with primarily Thai children, I end up with a slew of anime faces that hardly resemble their creator.

I also have a hard time getting these little ones to draw BIG and fill up their paper.

Wanting to address both of these issues and getting inspiration from this blog, I ventured into a two day (two week) project with my little ones.

The first week, we played “Miss Samara says” with a piece of watercolor paper and sharpies.  I would give instructions of what they should draw and they would follow them accordingly.  After about 10 minutes or so, I gave the students watercolors and instructions to fill the whole page with color.  “Miss Samara says there can be no white space.”

Those paintings turned out pretty neat.   Though the students all received the same instructions, each student ended up with a very unique abstract painting.

Despite the begging, I didn’t let the kiddies take the paintings home, as they were part one of our two part project.

While the students were painting their watercolors I took individual, close up portraits and then printed them out on 8×10 paper.

The next week, I gave each student the picture of themselves, a piece of transparency paper and a sharpie.  They placed the transparency over their pictures and I instructed them to trace every line on their face exactly as they see it.

This was actually a little more difficult than I thought it would be.  The students traced the general lines of their head, eyes, ears, nose and mouths, but weren’t paying attention to all the other, smaller and very important lines around these areas.

Students would typically tell me they were ‘finished’ about four times before I actually allowed them to be done–I would just keep pointing out more and more lines that they have left behind.

When I finally allowed the student to be ‘done’, we got their abstract from last week and then the students picked their favorite composition and attached the two projects.

The results were better than I could have even imaged.  I’m jealous of each and every one.

So here you are,

Sunshine Studios 1st-3rd Grade Self Portraits:

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This is Nina, she is in 3rd grade and has told me specifically that she wants to be an artist when she grows up.  She saves up snack money from her parents and pays for art class on her own and asks me every day at school if it’s art class day and has even tried to sneak into the older kids class.

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This is Titi.   He has constantly created some of my favorite pieces.  He, along with Nina, is in third grade and says that he wants to be an artist.  He has a very natural ability about him and is very naturally creative.  I couldn’t help laughing when he took his picture like this.  Oh.. and when this project was finished, he hung up his picture (the one he traced) on the mirror by the bathroom so that we see his face instead of our own.  He has the mark of a true artist.

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Pakboong, one of my favorite first graders.   Pakboong loves to draw and does a very good job.  I have found that Pakboong is a bit of a perfectionist.  She will only take her projects home if she loves them 100%, which means that Sunshine Studios has many of her discarded projects on the walls.  I really liked how her portrait turned out, it’s probably one of my favorites, though it’s hard to choose.  I really LOVE how she placed the portrait inside the shape in the center, making it look like it’s inside a mirror.  Her portrait also oddly resembles on of Frida’s famous portraits.  Way to go Pakboong.  (If only she let me keep this one…)

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Namoo.  Pakboong’s other half.  This kid lives inside of his imagination and what he creates is always interesting.  While I had some questions about whether or not he was really tracing what he was seeing, or just drawing what he wanted, the combination of his two projects looks like something I could see on display.

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This handsome boy, as most of you know, is Geshem.  My roommate and usually a co-collaborator on project ideas.  Geshem really loves to draw.  He draws from his imagination every night and his drawings are getting more and more detailed. He was at first, a student more prone to using his imagination while tracing the picture, but through Miss Samara’s repeated ‘you’re not finished yet’ answers, he was able to start seeing some of the natural lines in his first grade face!  He is also quite the lover of colors.  At one point in his growing up, he would say that his favorite color is the rainbow. This usually comes through in his color choices and in this instance, created, what I think, to be a brilliant piece.

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Finally, we have Hezikiah.  Hez really struggled the day that we were doing the abstract paintings.  He was tired and didn’t want to paint.  I wasn’t sure how his project was going turn out as a result.  The next week when we were tracing our faces, Hez was much more motivated and was one of the students that paid the most attention to detail.  I mean, check out how he handled his curly hair.  I was happily surprised when we put the two projects together, the result was actually quite nice, and like the rest of them, definitely wall worthy.

So there you have it!

First term of Sunshine Studios is almost complete and despite the hiccups and learning curve and lesson fails, I would say, we’re doing pretty well!

Lots of thank you’s to everyone who has made this possible!

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Sunshine Studios

I have been having issues with this blog lately.  I just wrote this beautiful blog all about Sunshine Studios and intentionally saved it… only for it to disappear completely.

This happened to me twice while writing the loofah blog.

But I will persevere and you will hear about Sunshine Studios.

 

I finished up the summer classes on Friday and so I figure there is no better time than right now for me to answer some basic questions about Sunshine Studios.

 

Who?

The summer classes were open to anyone who was interested in learning art.  Most of my students were kids from the School of Promise, but I did have other neighborhood kids that I had never met before come as well.

Once school starts up I am going to have three different classes for different age groups.  I am assuming that it will again be mostly students from the School of Promise, but would be really excited if there were other students as well.

Currently I am the only art teacher, but it is possible that in the future there would be a few Thai artists holding classes there as well.

 

What?

Good question.

Sunshine Studios is a place where kids from the community can come and learn about different genres of art, different artists from around the world and use different medias to create their own pieces of art.

 

Where?

The current location of Sunshine Studios is actually right behind my house.  I can literally walk there in about a minute and a half and the walk from School of Promise to Sunshine Studios isn’t much longer than that.

The space is pretty limited and it is possible that we will change locations in the future, but for now the closeness to home is wonderful.

 

When?

Summer classes just ended and starting June 2nd I will hold after school classes every Monday-Wednesday.  My idea is to have parents register their kids for 4 classes (a month) at a time so that we can work on longer projects and perhaps even have a little art show at the end of the term.

 

Why?

Well, first of all I’ve always wanted a little space to do art.

Secondly, after I got over my stubbornness of thinking that I would never want to teach art, I quickly learnt that I quite enjoy teaching art to children.

I love self expression.  I love art history and how certain pieces of art have literally shaped how we see the world.  I love independent thinking and the theropy in creating something of your own with your hands.

I love creating an environment where freedom of thought and creativity flow.

Sunshine Studios is the merging of my desire to have my own place to create art and my thorough enjoyment of teaching little kiddos how to tap into their own creativity.

 

How?

Well, through a lot of help from you all.  Be it through cash donations or gifting the studio with art supplies, Sunshine Studios has been very blessed by you all at home.

Holy Spirit seems to be at play in this whole endeavor and so the how question doesn’t really come up too much.

 

***

 

There you have it.  A brief introduction to Sunshine Studios.

If any of you has a more specific question please let me know–either in email or in the comments section of the blog–and I will answer you as best as I can.

ALSO!  If any of you has an idea for an art project I would love to teach it and then post pictures for you.  Share share share your ideas with me!

 

To close things off, here are some pictures from last weeks classes.  We learned about Folk Art all week long and did four different projects exploring different aspects of that type of art.

 

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I Hate Spiders.

Actually, that’s an understatement.

I’ve only ever had one recurring dream in my life and both times the dream left me screaming and bolting out of my bed to find safety.

What was this dream?  Oh… that my life was covered in spiders.

I don’t hate spiders.  I abhor them.

 

**

 

This evening I was happily organizing the art supplies at Sunshine Studios and getting ready for tomorrow morning’s class when out of the corner of my eye I see him, Mister Freakishly Huge and Hairy Scary Man Eating Spider.  Oh and where exactly was Mister Freakishly Huge and Hairy Scary Man Eating Spider?  Not up in the corner like a good little man eating demon… no, no, he was nonchalantly sitting on the edge where the wall meets the floor–approximately four inches from my hand.

Panic is another understatement.

I speedily fled the room leaving him with my computer and my fan (two of my most beloved belongings) and called Tracy who was studying with our Thai tutor.

Our Thai teacher was able to quickly disembody the nasty demon but with no lack of high pitched screaming and award winning high jumps from me.

 

Needless to say,

 

Mister Freakishly Huge and Hairy Scary Man Eating Spider: 1

Samara: -3 (negative points for lack of dignity)

 

 

 

*The whole time this was happening I was believing the spider to be a tarantula, as I’ve never seen a spider so big and so hairy before… My Thai teacher kept referring to the spiders as a แมงมุมยักศ์ which literally translated means: giant (as in ogre…) spider.  I googled it in Thai to see if it was actually the Thai name for a species of spiders (like ‘tarantula’) or just an adjective.

Turns out, it was just an adjective and Mister Freakishly Huge and Hairy Scary Man Eating Spider was not a tarantula, but a very well fed huntsman spider.

As I was in no state of mind to snap a photo of him for you all, this is the closest images I could find:

 

 

Well, for whatever reason the pictures aren’t loading properly, and since they’re really gross and I don’t know how badly I even want these pictures on my blog… you can just do your own google image search of ‘thai huntsman spiders’.

 

**Note:  Throwing up is an appropriate and acceptable response.

 

***For more of how I feel about spiders you can go here and then here.

 

****UPDATE****

The next morning I had to teach classes at Sunshine Studios so I literally opened the building up and made one of my students do a thorough search of the rooms before I would enter in.   There have, thankfully, been no new intruders since.

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