Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Just thought I'd take a moment to jot down a few words to finish off 2012.  I managed to post 99 times this year, so I couldn't resist writing one more quick entry to make it 100!  I really intended to take a few moments today to review my goals for 2012 and see how I fared, but I actually did not have one moment to do so until now, and I don't think I'll be able to do it justice.  The girls have invited some friends over to ring in the new year and they will be here imminently, which is why my day ended up being so busy and why I'm too distracted to write much.   A bunch of the girls will be sleeping over, so it's sure to be a long, noisy, fun-filled night!  I stopped at the library to borrow a bunch of the maracas, bells, tamborines, and other instruments we use with the preschoolers, so we'll definitely be making a joyful noise at midnight.  How will you be spending the last night of 2012 and what are your hopes and plans for the New Year?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Much to Celebrate

There's always lots to celebrate this time of year, but we had an exceptionally merry time this year, beginning Christmas Eve.  We attended an early mass at our local church and came home to a dinner of royal proportions, including shrimp cocktail, crab legs, fresh cheese ravioli, and broiled lobster tails drenched in butter!

After we ate and cleaned up, we spent a quiet evening together, and then came my favorite part of the whole season:  the stillness of the holy night.  I got to enjoy a few peaceful moments alone after all the work was done for the day.

 The morning brought a dusting of magical Christmas snow and a flurry of present opening, which never seems to last very long!  Then a hearty Christmas breakfast and another flurry of activity preparing for a big family get-together.  Here we all are!  It's surprising not one of is is making a goofy face in this shot!
 There was plenty more eating and general merry making, including some hot-tubbing
and a musical interlude provided by my lovely and talented nieces!  

It was fun to have real children in the house again, as mine are all adolescents now and not half as energetic and spontaneous as my brothers' kids.  What a fun time!

This year, we also celebrated my oldest daughter's 16th birthday!
It's hard to believe that it's been 16 years since we brought her home from the hospital and began this exciting, rewarding, amazing, (and sometimes scary - notice the pink hair!) journey called Parenthood!  She has grown into a lovely, sensitive, caring, fun, smart young lady and we're so proud of her!

And to top it all off, last night my husband and I got to spend a little time alone to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.  We certainly had a lot to celebrate this year!  God bless us, every one!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Each Kindness

About two weeks ago, I came across the latest picture book by Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis, Each Kindness.  It was a reminder to me of what a unique art form the picture book is, combining the best of fiction, poetry, and visual art.  The story is about a typical elementary school girl, Chloe, and the new girl in her class, Maya.  Chloe has many opportunities to be nice to Maya and make friends with her, but instead turns a cold shoulder, not letting her into her circle of friends.  One day their teacher relates kind acts to throwing a pebble into a pond, how the ripples travel outward, getting larger and larger, just like acts of kindness spread.  She asks each student to tell something kind they've done and drop a pebble into a bowl of water, but Chloe passes on her turn, realizing she hasn't been kind.  Maya moves away before Chloe has another chance to make friends with her, and the book ends on the poignant and thoughtful note that if we let the moment pass, it is "forever gone."

I suppose it's coincidental that I read this just before the recent tragedy in nearby Newtown, CT.  Just as on September 11, 2001, this event seemed very personal, because of our nearness to the location, and because I used to teach children in kindergarten and first grade, and still have close friends who had to return to their classrooms Monday morning, prepared for questions and ready with reassurances.  It's been on everyone's minds all week, first trying to grasp the enormity of such a senseless tragedy, and then empathizing with the parents who rushed to the nearby firehouse, heard the horrific news, and had to somehow cope with the violent death of a child, their empty bedrooms, their unopened Christmas presents, their funeral arrangements.  And of course, there are dozens of unanswerable questions:  how could anyone do this?  Is there a profile for young men who are more likely to commit such acts?  How can this be prevented from ever happening again?  Who do we ultimately hold responsible?

A coworker brought up the illusion of safety that we wrap ourselves up in every day, the assumption that because we are alive and healthy today, we will still be alive and healthy tomorrow.  Indeed, life is very unpredictable, and we'll probably never know why that young man could ever conceive of and carry out such a plan.  Factors such as a genetic predisposition to mental illness, family situations, cultural influences, religion or lack of it, education, even friendships all had a bearing in making Adam Lanza who he was.  I think it would be impossible to draw up any kind of a profile predicting which individuals are more likely to lean towards such violence.  But we want to blame someone or something:  violent video games and movies, lenient gun laws, poor parenting, or mediocre treatment for mental illness.

We want to blame, we want to prevent, and we want to do something.  People want to ease the pain somehow, and they're holding candlelight vigils and prayer services, sending flowers, making donations to charities in the names of the victims, even signing international e-cards and petitions.  All of these send out ripples of kindness, which may begin to erase the pain of that horrific act.

And yet, I can't help thinking that in going forward and trying to prevent anything like this ever happening again, there's more that we can do and the responsibility lies with each of us.   We may not personally be able to change gun laws or influence the kind of video games being produced.  But we can begin by being kind to everyone we come in contact with during our day, starting with our family.   If we make a committment to approaching the day and all its challenges with an attitude of peace, love, compassion, and forgiveness, we may begin to erase the anger, violence, and hatred so prevalent in our society today.  It could be as simple as withholding angry gestures towards the driver who steals your parking space, speaking to your children and spouses with respect and patience, smiling at the coworker who always seems to be in a bad mood.

We may never know if a kindness towards someone like Adam Lanza might reverse their tendency towards anger and violence.  But certainly, the world would be a better place if each of us could overcome our self-centered, ego-driven tendencies, and send out ripples of loving kindness all day long, wherever we go.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gift Card Holders!

If I can't make a homemade gift, I usually try at least to choose something special for each person, but this year I resorted to a few gift cards for our nephews.  They didn't come with any holder or folded card, and I didn't feel like spending another $2.50 (times four) for a cute cardboard or tin holder that would just be thrown away, so I came up with these little wallets!  I actually used recycled denim from one of the girls' old jeans, as well as some of that stiff interfacing like Timtex, a thinner fabric lining, some contrasting thread, a little velcro, and some fabric paints.  It's pretty much just like an envelope, very quick to stitch up.  At the last minute, I decided to add the loop on the side (which is from the seam of the jeans) and the carabiner, so the boys can hook them onto their backpacks or belt loops.  I left them pretty plain, 'cause I figured boys would like them that way, but they could also be jazzed up with pieced prints, additional paints, buttons, rick-rack, decorative stitching, you name it!  I love when a project is quick, easy, costs next to nothing, and creates something useful!

Final Rengas

 As promised, here are the four pieces I got back in our second FANE renga project.  I had made the initial design by sunprinting with Setacolor paints (see the original post from September here).  I think the people that followed me were reluctant to "mess up" the fabric because they liked it so much.  Each one just added a little touch in these two pieces above and below.
 On the next two pieces, some rust colored stems and leaves were added as you can see.  This particular section of the fabric didn't have as much variation in color or as many leaf-shaped prints, so it needed something else.  I like the results!
 The third person added some glitter paints in swirls on this piece.  Nice!
Looks like I'll have some fun and original fabric to work with in the new year!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

More Surface Design

 My Fiber Arts group did another surface design round robin, or renga.  This time, each person brought a half-yard of fabric with one treatment done to it.  That was then cut in half and passed to two new people, who each added a second treatment.  Then those two pieces were cut and passed again to four people.  These photos show the second treatments I did on the four pieces I received last month.

Above, I got a piece of fabric that was painted with teal green acrylic paint.  Although the fabric did not feel stiff, as you might expect with paint, it was on the dark side and a challenge to add to.  The second person added the dotted circles using more paint and a pencil eraser.  I simply dipped a pastry cutter into gold acrylic paint and made the thin wavy lines you see running all around.

Below was a piece of fabric that was dyed with a shibori technique in that beautiful blue color.  The second person added the black dots by printing with bubble wrap.  I added the white lace effect by printing with a metallic paper doily and acrylic paint.
 We were supposed to try some techniques that might be new to us, and I thought I might try distressing the piece below by adding some rusty touches.  The first person had made the dark purple rainbow-shaped monoprint at the bottom, and the second person had added dark purple rectangular shapes all around the edges.  Since I wanted to add rust stains, the first thing I did was wet down the fabric.  Unfortunately, the ink the previous person used was not permanent, and began running.  I wrapped up a bunch of rusty screws in the wet fabric and let it sit for a few days covered in plastic so it wouldn't dry out.  I got a few rusty spots, as you can see, and also an interesting effect from the running ink.  I kind of like it, despite the unexpected results.
 I found this last piece to be a challenge.  The first person had painted on the vertical green stripes, which also have a wavy texture to them.  The second person tried to join the stripes by adding horizontal dark blue stripes.  I tried to unite everything into a sort of plaid effect using a glue-gel resist and acrylic paints.  I debated whether or not to use contrasting colors, and then decided to go for it.  I like the color combo, but I'm not sure it really ties the other elements together very well.  Something in the blue-green family probably would have done that better.  Live and learn!
This was another fun experiment and learning experience.  It was fun to try new techniques without really being too overly concerned with the final product and to learn new techniques from other group members.  I feel like I'm beginning to get a better sense of what works and what doesn't, as far as texture and color combinations.  It was also fun to compare how the four pieces of the original fabric looked after all the different treatments they received.  Some of them looked great together - similar, but different, like fabrics in a designer's collection.  I'll share the results of my fabric in the next post...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Narrating Debut!

For the last year or so, my colleagues and I have been discussing the possibility of putting together some online storytime videos for the Mahopac Public Library website.  Because of some technical, budget, and time limitations, we haven't been able to make this a reality - until this week!  We were recently given the gift of a Macbook Pro (by the Friends of the Mahopac Library - thank you!) which made the editing of sound and pictures so much easier for us.   So here is my narrating debut of the book Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner.  Check out the library website for more online stories!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent Begins

Once school begins in September, it isn't long before we're seeing Halloween costumes and candy in the stores, the leaves change and fall, it's November and Thanksgiving, and suddenly December is upon us!  The last four months of the year just seem to fly by!  And even though I've been thinking about Christmas since September, and trying to get as much as possible done early on, I always feel a mild sort of panic settle in when I see that 12 in the month column.  So many things to think about, plan, accomplish in these few meager weeks!

So this year, I bought myself an early gift:  the little Nativity pin you see above.  I found it at Darlene Hardenbrook's Etsy shop Freeheart1 (where she has some beautiful polymer clay pieces - the design of this one is so special, she had it copyrighted!).  I hope it will be the perfect little reminder to myself not to get caught up in the anxiety of rushing, buying, wrapping, overdoing, but instead to take it one moment and one day at a time, and try to prepare my heart for the Savior's birth.  Amen to that!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Little Publicity!

Once again, I was fortunate enough to have a postcard printed in Quilting Arts Magazine!  I originally posted it here before I mailed it in.  Now that it's in, I'm glad I took the time to create one.  It was a fun challenge to get my vision down in the small 4x6-inch frame, I got to use both fabric and paper (the book is paper) and now I get to see my work in print!  Fantastic!  (If you go to the link where I first posted it, you may notice I positioned it with the feet pointing up.  I intended for the viewer to imagine themselves in the artwork, being the person relaxing with a book in the sun!  But QA decided to place it the other way around.  I guess that works too...)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Poem of the Day

December Leaves

The fallen leaves are cornflakes
That fill the lawn’s wide dish,
And night and noon
The wind’s a spoon
That stirs them with a swish.

The sky’s a silver sifter,
A-sifting white and slow,
That gently shakes
On crisp brown flakes
The sugar known as snow.

-Kaye Starbird

Friday, November 23, 2012

Woo Hoo!

Yesterday, I felt just like the Pillsbury Dough Boy looks - absolutely thrilled to be there!
It's hard to describe how exciting it was to see the Thanksgiving Day banner, the first marchers, and that first balloon come around the corner onto 6th Avenue.  I think the only thing that could be more exciting than attending the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade would be marching in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade!  I may just have to become an employee so I can experience that!

 Who's having the most fun here?!?!  I hope you'll indulge me and let me show you some of my most favorite shots (all taken by my DH - he took over 200 photos!).  Don't you love Kermit...

 and Charlie Brown with his football?

I love how huge the balloons are, even in contrast to all the skyscrapers.  Spiderman was so awesome!  
There were some awesome floats as well, including Sesame Street and many muppets.  Bob was even there, smiling and waving.
 Here is Don McLean with Mt. Rushmore...
  and Miss USA!  The women's gold-medal-winning USA gymnastics team was there too!
Unfortunately, I am not up on all the latest celebrities and didn't know who some of them were...  But I did recognize the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!
 And Whoopie Goldberg was dressed as a pirate and waving from the front of this ship.  How cool is that!
 Not sure who this was either, but we waved to Colby Callait, Cody Simpson, and Carly Ray Jepson, even if we weren't sure which ones they were!

 Once again, I seem to be having the most fun in this photo, but my DH loved Buzz Lightyear, below.

 Finally, after two hours of waving, cheering, and standing on tip-toes, Santa came riding up to usher in the official start of the shopping season.  Isn't he spectacular?!
 We were so fortunate with the weather, so after the parade we wandered around Central Park a bit and found the statue of Balto.  I'm so glad we made the effort to get to NYC this year - everything just came together perfectly:  I had researched everything online beforehand, so we had a good idea where to park and how to get in and out with the least amount of hassles.  We did hit a bit of traffic afterwards on the LIE, but we made it in time for a spectacular dinner at my SIL's.  Everything was scrumptious!
I realized this morning that one of the things that was so fabulous about being there, was that I was perfectly happy "in the moment."  I wasn't thinking about what I needed to do or where I needed to go next.  I completely enjoyed where I was and what I was doing for the full three hours!  Wish I could do that more often, even on a daily basis - just be happy where I am, doing what I'm doing.  I think it would be a lot easier if I enjoyed cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping a bit more, but it's probably all in your attitude.  I'll have to work on that!

Anyway, hope you were able to be "in the moment" as well, wherever you were, whomever you were with, whatever you were doing!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Upcycling Plastic Bags

I've been a little slow getting my groove back, partly because I'm just not feeling particularly motivated (see previous post) and partly because of the construction project going on in my studio area, which has left my worktable completely covered with stuff that used to be on shelves and has made the atmosphere down there not very conducive to creativity.  But a few weeks ago I had started playing around with a way to recycle plastic bags which I read about in a recent issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.  You basically start with white plastic bags (but not the thin grocery-store kind), putting several layers of plastic between two sheets of baking parchment and fusing them together with an iron set on a medium-hot temperature.  The plastic shrinks and wrinkles a bit from the heat of the iron, but if you keep the iron moving in a circular motion, it smooths out and fuses nicely into a base material.  Below is my first attempt, where I used a thinner, cheaper white plastic and then fused shapes cut from other colorful bags.  I layered it over some heavy interfacing and stitched an abstract design with black thread all around the shapes. Then I pressed it one more time because some of the shapes weren't quite fused all the way.  Unfortunately, the cheap white plastic shrunk just a little more, causing the interfacing to curl.  It was a good first try, but my second attempt today was more successful.
 This time I used a thicker white plastic bag and a cooler heat setting.  I only needed two layers of the white plastic, and then I fused on the red and green shapes.  When it looked the way I wanted, I stitched it onto the interfacing with decorative threads and free-motion-stitched some words and fun shapes.  They'll make nice holiday coasters, don't you think?  They look pretty good considering most of the materials were free!
Are you making any holiday gifts using recycled (or other) materials?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Another Disappointing Setback

In 2010 when I contacted the Putnam Arts Council to sell my bookmarks at their annual holiday art sale, it was so late in the game that they had already mailed advertising postcards.  Even so, they accepted my items, probably because they were a little out of the ordinary and were in a lower price range than most of their high-end silver jewelry, hand-blown glass, and hand-thrown ceramics.  This year, I planned ahead, made close to a dozen bracelets, and contacted them several weeks in advance, but THEY DON'T NEED ANY MORE MERCHANDISE!!!  Of course, I hadn't really considered this possibility, since they took my stuff so readily last time and now I'm disappointed and frantically looking for somewhere else to sell these bracelets.  I already contacted a local flower and gift shop, but they have not gotten back to me and I must assume they are not interested.  I have another local gallery in mind, but I haven't worked up the nerve to approach them in person yet.  I don't feel prepared to hit the craft-sale circuit at this point either.  So for now, I am listing things one day at a time at my Etsy shop, as I've heard it's better to list daily several days in a row than all in the same day.  AGHH!  Better luck next year!