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!