Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Happiness Vessel

A little story about me... at various times in my life, I've had issues with depression. I believe, but may be wrong here, that I was only ever officially diagnosed with depression in childhood, and that ever after--those times I bothered to see someone, that is--it was always called something else, like adjustment disorder or something like that. Regardless, I was given absolutely no coping strategies as a child, no tools of self-awareness so that I wasn't caught broadside later on, nothing helpful at all. (Whatever issues I still have with THAT whole experience, we'll leave out.) But that's not the story I'm telling you. This story takes place in my very early 20s, beginning with my senior year of college.

I was living a 45-minute drive away from my university and commuting each day. My job--one of them--was almost as long a drive in the opposite direction, which means my job--one of them--and my classes were nearly as far apart from each other as you can get in this, the smallest state. I was living by myself in a really cute apartment--I'll give it that--but before that, I'd been living with a boyfriend, and the not-living-together had not been my choice. My apartment, which admittedly was really very cute, was in an old, old house, and when the winter winds blew they moved my curtains, because the windows were drafty and the house had no insulation. My heating bill was about $150 per month (in the early 90s!) and that was just to stay alive, not be warm or anything. Gas was cheap then, so I'd get into my car and drive around just to run the heat. It's good gas was cheap, because I was spending an awful lot of time driving: back and forth to work, or other work, or, for a time, other work--for a stretch there I had three jobs--and back and forth to school, where I was carrying full-time credits while, at times, working 30 hours per week.

I was sad. I was cold. I was exhausted. Sometimes, driving back to the city from class, I'd approach the infamous (around here) Thurbers Avenue curve and think, If I just got into a little accident, I'd get to rest for a little bit, and the hospital would be warm, and they'd feed me. Okay, I thought this more than "sometimes." And lack of coping strategies or not, I knew this wasn't a good thing. So I decided I would notice at least one thing each day that made me happy and write it down. It could be a small thing, but I had to notice it, and I had to write it down. I wrote down things like "had a dollar to get coffee between work and school" and "buds on the trees" and "the snow is melting" and "got a letter from a friend today." (Remember when decent coffee cost a dollar? Remember when letters came in the mail?)

This was almost two decades ago (lordy, I'm getting old). Before the Internet blew up, before self-help books everywhere, before Dr. Phil Bobby Oz Joe Smith was on every talk show. I don't know where this idea came from. I think the universe took pity on me and stuck it in my head, and luckily, I listened. Writing down happy things is not a substitution for high-powered tools against depression; I'm not saying that at all. But it got me looking up and out, out at the world around me rather than down and in, trudging through the same up early, to work, to school, to work again, cold, tired, to bed, start all over again rhythm of my days.

You know what? I graduated from college and got a job...waitressing full time. I was still cold in the winter, I was still tired, I still got sick a lot, I had no sick days, and a run of bad winter weather on weekends could blow up my budget. I still felt it necessary to write down my happy things.

After a while the habit became so ingrained that I didn't have to write them down anymore, although I periodically returned to it when I felt the need. I do, I do, I do notice the small things. The small things are the happy-making things. The things right in front of your face. Oh, big things make me happy too. I am, daily, grateful for this life, this normal, regular life, with a husband and three kids and money for coffee whenever I want, plus books and yarn and art supplies and fun extras for the children. Imagine! For years I couldn't imagine any of that. I am deeply thankful. But I believe noticing the small things leads to contentment.

True: One day, with my third baby strapped to my chest (because she wasn't happy and wouldn't sleep anywhere else), I achingly, carefully knelt down to fold another basket of laundry. I am grateful we have a working washer and dryer, I thought. I'm thankful I'm not worrying about how to pay for new clothes when my kids outgrow these.

Do I sound like Pollyanna? I'm not. I'm cynical and sarcastic and yell too much and I'm tired all the time, still. I read that book as a kid. I wanted to be that good. I'm not. But I try to take notice. If the small things don't create happiness, you know, the big things won't either, because nothing will ever be big enough. That's my guess, anyway. And some days (like yesterday), the first happy thought that comes to mind is "I'm glad this day is over."

Yes, I'm writing down my happy thoughts again...because the Squam store offered these beautiful gratitude journals and I couldn't resist.

And even though I'm in the habit of noticing throughout my day, I like the idea of writing it down again, so I can look back at all my happy-making moments.

And that is my story of learning the habit of noticing the small moments that create a contented life.

How about you? Do you have a similar habit?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Creative Courage Re-Cap

Happy Monday! I spent most of the weekend unplugged and hope to have much to show and share this week. First, though, the current session of Stephanie Levy's Creative Courage e-course is finishing up (details and registration info on the next session can be found here), and since a couple people have asked me what I thought and how I've liked it, I thought I'd do a quick re-cap, along with sharing the questions and my answers from the final week's exercise (with Stephanie's permission).

I didn't do any research at all and joined this on a whim. Truthfully, I hadn't really thought about taking any e-course. I saw this one mentioned on a blog I read, clicked over, and signed up fairly soon after that. I had some Christmas money...you know. It just sort of happened. It's possible there's a course out there that would seem spot-on just-right for me, and it's possible I could research them until the cows come home and never actually take one. Sometimes you just have to click "pay now" and be done with it, you know?!

So while there were parts of the class that didn't so much apply to me, I did know that going in, and I don't think that's necessarily a problem. It might apply later, who knows? I've certainly collected a lot of resources. And while I did recognize some names in the interview list, not recognizing any wouldn't have been a problem with me. It's nice to get a wide scope of different people with different life experiences--casting a wide net, you're bound to read an interview with someone who speaks to you.

I think I might have gotten more out of the course if I used Facebook, since there's a private group, and it sounds like lots of community discussion goes on there. But I don't use Facebook.

Anyway, on to the questions...

What would you love to learn? Be wild and daring. Please don't be "practical" or think "I could never do that." Your dreams of learning a new skill can tell you quite a lot about your deepest dreams.

Well, this one is tough for me, because historically, if I want to learn something, I do, and over the past decade, usually this means teaching myself, since I kept nursing babies into toddlerhood and not bothering with bottles, making classes more of a hurdle than just figuring it out on my own. I don't, in general, think there's something I can't learn if I really want to. So the most I could come up with here was quilting and screen printing. I was signed up for a local silk screening class, with learning how to burn the screens, even! But it was cancelled. And I'll get to quilting sooner or later. I signed up for a woodworking class at Squam simply because it's not something I already do. I'm like that.

When do you experience your most intense moments of flow and joy?

Well, okay, these are two different things, and I had to put some time into thinking about "flow," because the first definition that comes into my head involves the feeling of being out of time because you're so engrossed in what you're doing, and I can't do that. With three kids aged ten and younger, I rarely get an hour or two completely to myself with no chance of interruption. Even in the evenings, there's a chance of someone waking up or needing something. I do remember experiencing that out-of-time feeling when working on an art minor, specifically while drawing and in the darkroom, when hours upon hours could pass and I wouldn't feel hungry or tired or anything but involved and content. So then I thought, when do I feel such an itch to get to something that I just can't wait...what engrosses me most, even though I can't just ignore time? And I realized I like figuring out design problems. What's the best way to get what's in my head out into the world? I like the nitty-gritty--what's the math, for knitting? How to turn my son's request into an actual hat or sweater? What dimensions do I need to create a sewn book, how should I construct the pages, how to hold it together? Even something as simple as putting together a sewn headband--I enjoy figuring out how to do what I want, rather than searching for a pattern. Sometimes, of course, what results looks nothing like the image in my head. Then I try to figure it out again. I like the problem-solving.

Joy is all over the place, isn't it? Creatively, I guess it's simply the act of bringing forth an idea into reality, with my own hands. A skirt I dreamed up in my head and then sewed is so much more satisfying than sewing jammie pants for the kids from a pattern. I like that they have the jammie pants, of course, but one is pure product and the other is as much about the process as the final result.

How could you share these moments and your talents with others?

NO idea. I asked several people who know me well (funny, two of those people, I've never met in real life, but I still feel they know me well) what they might see me doing, in the creative sphere, that's more "job like." I think they all mentioned teaching kids and/or parents, among other things. My sister sees me as an art enabler when it comes to my kids, and I like that description. I think kids should get to do open-ended, process-oriented art, even the kind that makes a mess. I don't necessarily want most to facilitate that with other people's kids, although I would. I'd rather inspire their parents to do it themselves, if I was going to do anything in that direction.

I also like to share tutorials when I've made something I love.

Has anything changed in your life or in your way of thinking since starting this course seven weeks ago?

I'm trying to focus better. When I have an idea I jot it down, but I'm letting myself pursue more involved projects for a longer time now. For a long time I stayed away from anything that seemed too big, because I always feel like it's not a given I'll finish anything in a reasonable amount of time. Who cares? It takes the time it takes. But it also takes a commitment to focus, and although I wouldn't say I'm a flighty person overall, I do have a bit of art/craft ADD. I can't do everything that catches my fancy. At least not all at the same time.

I'm also continuing to think about what constitutes success for me personally. This has been an ongoing internal conversation, when I let it be. I think it might go hand-in-hand with being a mother who hasn't drawn a paycheck in nearly ten years now. It can be hard, sometimes, to keep my main goal front and center. It's not to impress anyone, or get into the alumni magazine, or get a lot of people to read my blog. It's to be a good mother. And while that's not my job, because that sort of implies I'll be involuntarily unemployed at some point (the whole point, after all, is to get them up and out, yes?), it's really my first priority. Part of that, of course, requires that I be a happy person, so that means making time for what, other than my children, feeds my soul. But my youngest is still young, and usually if I find the slightest bit of "oh, I wish I could do that" creeping in, it doesn't take long for me to recognize no, I don't really want to divide my time and energy right now. I've definitely been treated with less respect on occasion in the real world because I have nothing to answer the "What do you do?" question with, other than "I'm a mom." But ultimately, people like that don't get to measure my success. Only I get to do that. As I've read various interviews over the past seven weeks and thought about various possibilities for my own future, what's still clear is that I'm not looking to make any big changes right now.

However, I'm also continuing to try to be open to what might come my way, and to venture out of my comfort zone, which has definitely narrowed a bit in the past ten years. I am trying to be receptive to saying yes when the opportunity is there, even if I'm not to the point of actively trying to create opportunities. Yes can be as simple as finding a knitting group, finally, or taking a class, or joining an online swap...it's about widening my circle and being, well, open.

Also, I'm beginning to try out the word "artist." It sounds so pretentious at first go, so I hesitate. And I tend to think if I can do something, anyone can. I can sell myself short that way. But if I'm turning my unique vision (and of course it's unique; everybody's vision is) into a representation I can share, how is that not art? Not everything I create is art, of course. But I'm trying out the idea that some of it might be.

What will you do to support and encourage yourself as you now move forward with your creative dreams?

Well, I still don't know exactly what those might be! But these are the three things I jotted down:

1. Seek community (in real life, too)
2. Take time for myself to create
3. Be open


Well, if you've read this far, thanks for sticking through! If you've been thinking about Stephanie's course, if it calls to you, I hope you give it a try. (I don't get anything for saying that, so you know.) If nothing else, exposure to other people who are working on figuring things out, who are creative souls, can expand your idea of what's possible. That alone is pretty valuable.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yarn Bombing at the deCordova

On our last day of this shortened February break week (ie, Wednesday), we headed to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum to meet my sister and her kids and check out the new exhibits since our last visit. Mainly, that's the Biennial. As part of the exhibit, the South End Knitters yarn bombed the museum and grounds. As we drove towards the parking lot after paying, the kids exclaimed, "The trees are wearing sweaters!!"

I was pretty focused on finding parking and getting my three-year-old to the bathroom, so I didn't see what they meant until we were walking around the park. The trees close to the main entrance had been decorated, too.

And knitting was found around the interior of the museum as well, in the most unexpected of places.

This is the mirror in the ladies' room on the third floor.
How absolutely fantastic is that??

The other works in the museum and sculpture park are worth the drive too, of course. I really enjoyed Jonathan Gitelson's documentary-style photography, particularly his artist books. And some of Anna Von Mertens's hand-sewn textile pieces were on display--two pieces from Look to the Heavens and the series You and Me. Look at those stitches--hand-sewn! They are so wonderfully even and precise, and the works combine science and art, something I enjoy again and again. Look to the Heavens involves star patterns, and You and Me, the currents around two magnetic poles.

Shared with our creative spaces, because I always feel inspired and creative after visiting an art museum. Do you?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


This is the last week of the e-course I've been taking, Stephanie Levy's Creative Courage. This is also February vacation week in this area, although my boys only have the first three days, since Thursday and Friday are being used as make-up days for the time lost at the start of the year due to Tropical Storm Irene. While I'd rather they not get stuck in school until nearly July, I'm sort of bummed we have such a short week off.

These two things really do go together; stick with me. Stephanie starts each week of the course with a video, and in this week's, she talked about Leap Year and how that can be an inspiring idea, to leap. "Leap" is actually one of my word cards, but I wasn't making the connection with Leap Year at that time; I was thinking about how going to Squam will be a leap, but such a necessary and good one. I've been trying to be more open to stepping out of my comfort zone, which has definitely narrowed a bit over the past ten years of caring for little people.

So her video and my own thoughts on leaping (and shifting, too; she said the phrase for Leap Year in German translates into "Shift Year," which she thought wasn't as inspiring, but I think sometimes a shift is all we need to see things completely differently) were rolling through my head when the kids and I went downstairs to play with blank Shrinky Dink sheets. Until recently I didn't realize it was possible to do whatever you wanted with Shrinky Dinks. All I remembered from being a kid was those pre-printed sheets you colored in, and where's the creativity in that? Well, the kids and I got creative, as is our habit, and we had a blast--absolutely the most fun I've had with the oven in ages, since when you are forced to cook every night whether you feel like it or not (food issues), it kind of loses any fun it might ever had held. I may have, er, made more pieces than the kids.

Oh dear, these are all mine.
Yes, those four matchy ones are buttons! How cool is that? I pinned this tutorial a while ago and kept it in mind. And hey, want a closer look at that little Leap! pendant?

You know when you're swinging really hard, just really pumping those legs and flying high and feeling soooo free, and then you jump off and fly for just a second or two? That's the feeling I was holding onto while I drew that, just a little reminder--perhaps to go on a key chain, maybe--of how freeing and liberating it can feel to leap! Can't you tell? Whoever it was just jumped off that swing. She is leaping.

I love to swing. I was swinging not too long ago, in the playground at the school where my daughter and I attend parent-child playgroup. We were the first ones outside and she was swinging on her tummy and didn't need me to push, so I got on and just started pumping, and it felt so good, especially because my body has been unreliable for so long. I'm keeping up with my DDD challenge, which is walking, trying to start the month with two walks per week and end the month with three per week. The first day I put my daughter in the stroller and walked half a mile up the street and half a mile back, I was in so much pain afterwards. All my trouble joints ached. But the next day, I got the whole family up and out to a family hike (organized by RI Families in Nature), and it was okay. And the next one-mile walk was better, and the next walk was two miles, and I can do it, and I'm not in crippling pain afterwards, and I'm not exhausted. I ache, and I'm tired, but not fatigued, and I think the exercise is helping with that.

Bit by bit, I am walking through this. My follow-up blood work for Lyme came back okay. On days I get out and walk I feel amazing. I used to not give a thought at all to whether I could handle a walk; my body just did. I'm grateful to be working my way back to that place. I swung next to my daughter and I was grateful, even when my hip began to ache and I had to stop...I was grateful for that time of swinging and the feeling of flying.

Are you planning to make a leap this Leap Year? {I'm pretty sure Squam won't be my only leap...}

Monday, February 20, 2012

What's On My {Creative} Bookshelf

Last week (or so), Feeling Stitchy posted about Hoopla! The Art of Unexpected Embroidery. I immediately put it on my Amazon wish list (otherwise known as "where I keep track of books I want to buy myself, because nobody else ever checks my wish list, ever"). But I also checked my local library system, and they not only had copies, but there wasn't a hold wait-list, either, so I got the book sent to my nearest branch super quick. And then I devoured it. I still plan on buying it, because I need my own copy. This embroidery book speaks to me.

I've been embroidering for less than a year; I decided I needed to learn so I could add some poetry to a pair of jeans. And while I've embroidered other people's patterns, I rather quickly moved to wanting to embroider my own drawings, the gist of my thought process being, If I can draw, why am I embroidering other people's drawings? Likewise, I seem to have moved along from wanting to use embroidery only as adornment or in the process of making something useful, to viewing floss on fabric as another choice of medium for expressing an idea--in other words, as an artistic representation in its own right. This is how I ended up stitching tree branches for two weeks. I could have rendered that in paint or pastel or charcoal...but I wanted to do it with thread.

There's definitely a risk with that choice. Stitching floss into fabric takes time, and there's a chance that at the end, you just won't be happy with the result. If there's a way to make a sketch in floss, I don't know about it. On the other hand, embroidery supplies are inexpensive, compared to other hobbies and other art media. Needles? Super cheap. Hoops, floss, all inexpensive. Fabric? That doesn't even have to be purchased; you can stitch on repurposed items. Even the least expensive (yet still workable) water color set and a pad of watercolor paper is going to cost more than what you need to get started with stitching--never mind acrylics or oils or even a nice set of drawing pencils.

So back to Hoopla: it's not the patterns that draw me in, although there are some fantastic ones--but I don't see myself re-creating someone else's artistry anytime soon. It's the interviews, with loads of people who are using embroidery to express their artistic vision, in sometimes unexpected ways. I'm not drawn to all of those ways, of course; we each have our own tastes. But I am inspired. Some inspiring people in particular:

Annie Coggan Crawford embroiders maps (amongst other things) on furniture--such as the military movements of Ulysses S Grant. (Aside: I was taught, as a copy editor, not to place a period after the "S" in Grant's name because it didn't stand for anything.) I was hoping to find a link to an online gallery of her embroidery work, but I'm having no luck. You can see a glimpse of one piece here.

Ray Materson taught himself embroidery in prison. I've seen his work online, but I didn't know his story, some of which is in his interview in the book. It's fairly powerful. (And his embroidery is amazing, too.)

Also included are goddess portraits stitched by Sasha Webb, another new-to-me name, in floss she dyed herself using natural dyes--to take the time-intensive nature of embroidery up a notch, yes? (The colors are just gorgeous, and perfect against the linen background.)

This piece is by Kirsten Chursinoff, who (like me!) is drawn to sea life, although these, of course, are plants.

Photo of Ernst Schneider's photo of Kirsten Chursinoff's Moonlight Umbels, from Hoopla!

And I love this blend of science and art by Aubrey Longley-Cook (who went to our local art school):

Photo of Aubrey Longley-Cook's photos of his own pieces from the series Zombie Zoology, from Hoopla!
And last, I'll leave you with an inspiring (to me, anyway) quote, from the interview with Penny Nickels:
If you have an interesting idea, you may be the first person to create it with embroidery. I can't think of another art from where that is a possibility.
I was already working on ideas with embroidery, but now I'm teeming with many more to sort through and try. It's a slow process, stitching. You live with the work for a while; it's not something you can finish in a day, even a long day. When I was taking classes towards an art minor, I don't think any professor ever suggested fabric and thread as a medium. It took me this long to make the connection, that what I have in my mind's eye could possibly be expressed through slow and careful stitching, and that this is so much more interesting to me than paint or charcoal. What a giddy, liberating connection to make.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday In My Studio

Saturday afternoon, my {awesome} husband took the kids to the library and on other errands, while I stayed home and played in the basement studio.

First I painted.

The smaller pieces are ATCs for a project I'll talk about more another time. The larger pieces are papers for collage, with the postcard swap in mind. I started with watercolor for all of these, but I added acrylic onto the patterned papers. Here's a closer look at them.

This green one is my favorite, I think. It's green watercolor topped with dark green acrylic polka dots made by stamping a wine cork. Then I added those yellow highlights around the dots with a paintbrush.

This is one of two papers I stamped with a rectangular piece of what I think is compressed cardboard. It was used as packaging for something and I held onto it for the ridges on the long sides. I'm going to have to find more because it didn't rinse well and I'm not sure it's reusable. I used it on two of the papers.

I was curious if I could paint vellum. It curled up almost immediately! But the watercolors dried almost immediately, too, so the curling was okay. I think I'll be able to use these for collage in small pieces. The glue will hold it down.

I painted a few papers with sand and water in mind. Since I'm sending these postcards from Rhode Island, I want to include something that evokes the area, and my Rhode Island is very ocean-centered. (There is more to the state, of course, but it's the coastline that holds my heart.) All of these began with watercolor. The stripy one was painted over with acrylics, and the other three were sponge-painted with more watercolors.

When I was done painting, my husband and the kids were still out, so I carved a stamp. I already have several hand-carved stamps I may use in the postcards, but I looked at my sketches of ocean life from the summer and chose one with a clear outline to turn into a stamp. (As much as I really want a stamp of this hermit crab, I thought it would take far more time than I'm likely to have.) I decided upon Irish moss.

I need to clean up a couple of more spots. And even with the solid outline, all those branchy bits meant this took a bit of time, anyway. Still, not as much time as that hermit crab will. (I may just have to attempt it as a stamp at some point in the future.) If you're curious about carving stamps, I have a tutorial posted. It's really not that hard, it just takes patience and a steady hand.

What a wonderful gift, some uninterrupted time to play in the studio! How is your weekend going?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Some Small Sewn Things

My daughter was the main beneficiary of my weekend crafting, but it's hard to get her to stay still. So I only have a few cockeyed photos.

She picks out her own outfits. We don't quibble about matching.
First, I made her a pair of pants using some dinosaur fabric she picked out in the bargain loft at Lorraine Fabric, a huuuuuge fabric store not quite an hour's drive north from here. They don't appear to have a website; this doesn't surprise me. I don't know how long it's been there, but I can remember going there with my mom when I was a kid--mostly because I remember the sassafras tree in the parking lot near the river bank. (The store is in an old mill building. Old mill buildings are near rivers.) Anyway, everything in the bargain loft is $1.99/yard, so the girl and I went wild and bought two yards of this dinosaur fabric. She'll be getting a skirt out of it too, when it gets to be warmer.

So, pants. Her last pair of pants seemed too small (although she still wears them). In that post I wrote that I probably should have just used a toddler jammie pants pattern, so that's what I used this time. They're too baggy in the crotch, partly because the girl likes to wear her pants low in front, under her belly button (never right around her waist). I guess what I should have done is cut the front of the pants lower, and possibly used a smaller waist size but the same length. I say I guess, because pattern drafting is a bit baffling to me and is definitely something I'd like to learn more about. Even the boughten patterns seem to need adjusting, but I'm not always sure how to go about it. Knitting I can adjust--it's just math. But I have problems looking at flat sewing patterns and visualizing the finished product well enough to adjust.

Anyway. She likes the pants. I tried to get a closer-up shot of the dinosaur pattern, but on the moving girl, which didn't work so well!

It's colorful, isn't it?!

I also whipped out her requested headband.

These are so much fun. And it's useful, too, since her hair is still fine enough that it doesn't stay in barrettes or hair elastics for long. This actually keeps her hair off her face, and it's comfortable enough (just fabric and some woven elastic) that she'll keep it in for quite a while. She picked out the fat quarter, and she is pleased by her head band.

Totally not related to anything else in this post, I signed up for ihanna's handmade postcard swap. This week's "assignment" in the Creative Courage e-course was to make some postcards and send them out, and then I saw the announcement of this swap float through my twitter feed. I decided that was some sort of serendipity at work and signed up. Want to join me?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Embroidered: Handkerchief for a Collaboration

I don't consider myself a particularly political person. I vote, and occasionally I'll be moved to contact one of my elected officials over an issue (and occasionally I'll even hear back). I once took my two young boys to my US Rep's daytime "town meeting" so I could add my two cents about health care reform, despite the glarey looks from one woman in particular who seemed to think that even though moms of young children might vote and might have opinions, they shouldn't show up in public unless their kids are sedated or not present. But really, that's about the extent of it as far as public politics. I've never gone out and protested anything. I do have thoughts and opinions, but I tend to try to live what I think in a quiet way, through how I vote and where we send charitable donations, for instance.

When I saw the announcement on Mr. X Stitch about Hanne Bang's new project (either of those links will take you to an explanation), I knew I'd participate. I suppose it's a political statement, but that wasn't my first thought. What I thought was, That is a simple fact of truth.

I have boys. (I know women serve too, but if this country ever re-institutes the draft, I doubt it will include women.) I have boys who race through the house shooting bad guys and tackling each other and pretending to kill. I also have a boy who carefully catches insects in the house and puts them outside; who has broken down over a dead butterfly at the beach; who, that same day, when hundreds of comb jellies had washed up on shore, not only tried to save them but went and told some other kids to stop throwing them around like that! He wants to know why people go to war, why can't they work out their arguments, why do people have to die? (I've told him that a career in the military would not be a good choice for him. He is, at heart, a pacifist.)

I don't know. I can't say no wars are justified, because, well, we live in a world that spawned Hitler. I do wonder why it has to get that far, so often. I have no good answers for my kids. I thought about these things as I stitched, and I thought about how the language of war has infiltrated our language, how we say This means war! or declare a war against this or that or the other. And how that means that someone is going to win, and someone is going to lose, and there is no in-between or room for negotiation, because in a war, someone has to die. Someone has to lose, if we're saying it's war.

So I'm sending my embroidered handkerchief off to Denmark, where hopefully it will be joined with lots more from all over the world and displayed as a reminder of this simple truth. And I'm paying attention to how often I unwittingly use or even think language that sets up that dichotomy of winner and loser because that, at least, is something over which I have control.

The craft-minded details: I ironed a piece of freezer paper to the back of the handkerchief to make it easier to write on (hat doffed to my sister for telling me about that trick), then wrote the phrase in my own handwriting using a washable fabric marker. (I peeled the freezer paper off when I was done writing.) When I finished the embroidery, I sprayed the handkerchief with water to remove the marker. The handkerchief came from my father-in-law.

Friday, February 10, 2012

How To: Lickety-Split Valentine's Day Napkins

When Valentine's Day falls on a school day, I like to tuck a surprise in my boys' lunches. Last year I wove a little heart out of paper and slipped a note inside. I was wondering what to do this year--and let's face it, I'm running out of time!--when I saw Maya's doily-printed coaster and I thought, Of course! Freezer paper! I love that stuff. I have a stack of white cloth napkins that I bought with embroidery in mind, but the fabric is all wrong for stitching. My kids take a cloth napkin in their lunch every day. Of course!

Materials: Freezer paper, heart hole punches or scissors, cloth napkin, textile paint (I like Speedball Screen Printing Inks), brush to apply

I began by cutting a square of freezer paper to fit in the corner of the napkin. Then I punched hearts into it, more or less dictated by how far the hole punch would reach. You can see that the cut-outs aren't perfect; it's not a very good hole punch, I don't think. (This is what I get for not waiting until I was at the store that carries Fiskars.) I neatened up best I could with an x-acto knife. If you don't have a heart hole punch, you could just cut some hearts the old-fashioned way with scissors.

Iron the freezer paper into the corner of the napkin, then dab on the paint.

I made five of them. Two will go to school with my boys, and the kids will each have one for Valentine's Day dinner. But also, there are five of us in the family, so we have a matching set for all of us, too.

When the paint is dry, heat set it (follow the instructions for your particular paint). And there you go--lickety-split Valentine's Day napkins. I made these after my kids were in bed Friday night.

This will be a sweet surprise in their lunch bag on Tuesday! And I was able to do it quickly and with supplies I already had on hand. Phew!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fitting into the Corners

The kids have been like dominoes with this cough/cold virus--that's what it's like when you have more than one--and while thankfully, it's been nothing terrible (ER visit notwithstanding), it's been hard to find some creative space! So this is a randomish post of what I've managed to fit into the corners.

Over the weekend I sewed the second headband I'd cut out. Isn't that dog adorable? I've gotten compliments on both headbands when wearing them, and there are more in my sewing future. The girl has requested I make one for her, for starters, so I'll be sizing this down for a three-year-old's head.

Also in the picture is the second sock of a pair for my daughter. I finished the first one yesterday, then took the cuff with me when I went out yesterday evening to hear Kim John Payne speak at the local Waldorf School. I really enjoyed his book Simplicity Parenting, and this talk was about discipline, which is the topic of an upcoming book. I knit on the cuff while I waited, but once the talk began I was either laughing or taking notes. He was really funny--I didn't expect that. It was a great talk, and I caught up with some folks afterwards, and when I finally got home at almost 10 o'clock I said to my husband: Thank you. That was like food for my soul.

I've gotten a wee little bit of a chance to work on ideas for my next tree embroidery.

I'd hoped to be farther along than this. Ah, well.

And finally, remember my word cards? My little reminders of what I hoped to be able to do? How about this one?

Well, after Jen commented on my watercolor doodle we emailed back and forth a bit and this is the result. This makes me so happy! One of the reasons I began my kids/art blog is because by making time for artistic experimentation with my kids, I got to do some, too, at a point when it was really challenging to find creative time for myself. So it's doubly happy-making that Jen, her husband, and her toddler all painted together. Yay!

And, well, that's sort of all I've managed in the past week. See more creative (and probably more productive!) people here.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Valentine Banner

The kids and I collaborated on this month's seasonal window hanging. The full story on how we made it is over on my kids/art blog (as you can tell, because I was too lazy to change the name stamp on the pictures to this blog name). It involved paint, and more paint, and paper bags, and glue...

...and it is just so cheery. I admit, I'd been sort of proprietary of that window space, really enjoying decorating it and surprising my kids, but I also really enjoy looking at this Valentine heart, love-filled collaboration that will liven up our dining room all month long.

Since cutting out hearts is (just) a bit beyond my youngest's scissor skills right now, we gave her the scraps and a heart hole punch, and I made this sweet little hanging string of hearts that decorates the doorway at the top of the stairs, into the kitchen.

And this pretty much represents the sum total of weekend creating, and I'm amazed we managed this much. We had one kid in the ER Friday night, another at the pediatrician's bright and early Saturday morning, three separate trips to the pharmacy for prescriptions, and we parents were so exhausted we spent a goodly part of the weekend staring dumbly, trying to remember what we maybe had been going to say, again? Some weekends are like that.

But we have hearts. And I love 'em.

(This project was part of TinkerLab's latest creative challenge, using paper bags. If you're interested, all the information can be found on Rachelle's blog.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Embroidered: Winter Trees

Finished! For now, anyway. I'll set it aside for a bit and look at it again with fresher eyes to see if there's anything I want to add. Then I'll decide how to prepare it for hanging.

Here's a closer look. Clicking will embiggen a little bit (I think).

These colors are pretty true, since I took these photos outside in indirect light. This is stitched with cotton floss on tea-dyed linen. 

One more time, here is the inspiration for this project:

(Previous posts about this project are here and here. It took a little over two weeks to stitch.)

I'm not done with exploring trees yet, I don't think. There is so much more here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Watercolor Doodle {Creative Space}

Remember that watercolor doodle from last weekend? This is what it became.

Isn't that fun? It was inspired by this image on Pinterest, but after pinning it, I didn't really consult it again, just had the idea of filling a page with watercolor shapes and then filling them in with a fine-point Sharpie when it was dry. Periodically throughout the week I'd work on a shape or two. It's very relaxing! This is in a small watercolor sketchbook--no stress attached, it's a sketchbook. A place to play. And this was very much play, and very fun.

My kids and I are also getting ready for Tinkerlab's latest challenge.

The final result will be posted on Monday in my kids/art space.

Some other random things:

* I should be done embroidering my winter trees by now, but I went out Tuesday night (I did! with other adults!), and then yesterday I pinched the tip of my left index finger, resulting in much blood. I was afraid it would re-open if I tried to embroider and I'd bleed on all that hard work. Should be good to go tonight.

* See the dog on the sidebar? I joined the double-dog-dare at the Squam blog. I'm going to try to make myself walk this month. The lingering joint pain and fatigue from Lyme are sapping me (that's the quick, skimming-over-the-dirty-details explanation), and my instinct says that a bit of walking--nothing strenuous, just a stroller walk with my girl--might help both, if I don't overdo it.

Looking for more creative people, who maybe finished their project because they can keep their digits intact? Click here!