Thursday, December 22, 2016

Reclaiming Advent, part 3

Most years we've  had an Advent calendar in the house for the kids.  Over Thanksgiving weekend I went rummaging in my closet for the one we've used most recently and pulled it out.  I know many people do all kinds of things with their calendars.  Some families put small treats in pockets for the kids, or they move a little figure along, but ours is just the old fashioned kind with tiny paper doors that have small pictures pasted behind them.  Landen enjoys the "where's Waldo" hunting that is required; we've discovered that he has the best eyes in the house for looking.

Then I saw a suggestion on Facebook that really appealed to us: a reverse Advent Calendar.  The idea is to collect food or toiletry items and add them to a box, one each day.  By Christmas the whole box can be donated to a local food pantry.  I shopped for items, found others on my shelves, and put them in a place where Landen can choose the item for the day.  After he opens the window on the paper calendar, he picks something to add to the box.  He really likes doing this; we rarely have to remind him.   But one day, as he added a package of cookies, he asked, "Did you get me one, too?"  This whole project gives us a chance to talk about food insecurity in our community, and about how easy it is for any one of us to come up with small ways to help our neighbors.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reclaiming Advent, Part 2

One of our grandsons has been spending a lot of time with us. At 8 years old, his focus this time of year  is Christmas, anticipating the presents that he might get.  I remember clearly, and with fondness, my own excitement at that age. But in an effort to help him develop an appreciation for other joys  of  Advent we've been looking for opportunities to engage him in those experiences - music, light, stories, scents.

A local event that friends introduced to us is the fabulous collection of creches at Mariopolis Luminosa in Hyde Park.  The campus is a center for the Focolare movement, an organization with Catholic roots that works toward unity and peace throughout the world.  Every December they display over 200 creches from over 60 countries.  Last week we took Landen there after school.

The creches are  arranged by areas of origin - Europe, Middle East, Asia, North America, etc.  Someone, a team, I imagine, spent a lot of time setting them up.The displays were  artistically and thoughtfully done, using many natural elements - bark, driftwood, rocks, sand, grasses, pine cones, well as lights and glittery papers and fabrics. 

We spent  time looking at them, then enjoyed  hot chocolate and cookies that were offered in a seating area.  If you have young children, there is a table that has sturdy stuffed and wooden versions of the figures so that they can play with them.

We took each other to the ones that most impressed us. Landen particularly liked one from South America, made of bread dough.  I was drawn most to a creche from Syria - a small peaceful scene, so poignant this year.  And there was one from Long Island made of three little stones - quite abstract, but the shapes of the rocks captured the postures so well. The creches gave us a chance to talk about how Christmas is celebrated in other countries.  And, of course, there is the story celebrated over and over in such a variety of ways.  Some creches had only a few figures, others were very elaborate.  Some were made with humble materials - bread, rocks, bits of hardware, straw.  Others were more precious - Murano glass, porcelain.

Long Island
The community members we met were warm, welcoming, interested in speaking with us.  We felt like special guests. I think it will be a good memory for Landen to tuck away.

The exhibit is open every day through December 30, usually in the afternoons. Check the website for hours and directions.

Native American

Origami from Japan

Monday, December 19, 2016

Reclaiming Advent

Hudson River from Holy Cross Monastery
Advent is one of my favorite seasons of the year. But without careful attention it can get lost in the drive to Christmas.
Over the years my practice has been to let go  more and more of what I thought was necessary to prepare for Christmas as I experienced it growing up.
My mother was a hard act to follow.  Even when we didn't have much money, she still made the holiday special. There was at least one toy each year that I can still remember opening that absolutely thrilled me. Four years old, my doll house.  Five years old, my little record player ( I still have a couple of those 45 rpm records). Six years old, my Mary Martin doll that had real pierced ears. Seven years old, it was another doll with braids that looked a little like me.  and at eight years, my mother had spent any spare moments she had when I was at school or after I'd gone to bed making clothes for two of my dolls, complete with a blue metal steamer trunk.  I still have it.

She baked for weeks (and when we got a freezer, for months), putting cookies and goodies aside.  We didn't always get a lot of new clothes for school - usually we still fit in the things we'd had when school let out in the summer.  But by midwinter, we'd need underwear, pajamas, a new sweater - so those would be bought and wrapped. That way there were always plenty of presents under the tree.  Our stockings would have a tangerine in the toe, a few nuts and chocolates, maybe a little bottle of bubble bath, or something fun but practical.
We accumulated more and more decorations.  The tree would be fresh.  The ornaments carefully stored from year to year would be hauled out.  Daddy would test the lights and painstakingly search for the burned out bulb so the string would light up again.  And Mom would put the tinsel on one strand at a time till the tree looked like it was covered in sheets of ice.
My dad's birthday is Christmas eve so we would have friends over for a party before we went to church late in the evening.
Mom would knock herself out cleaning, cooking, getting us to look presentable. Christmas morning we opened gifts, had a wonderful breakfast with homemade cinnamon rolls or other treats - and then we crashed.
We arrived at Christmas in an excited, frantically joyful, sometimes tearful state from fatigue and too many expectations.  And, of course, when I got married and had my own children, I tried to follow what I knew. And I failed.  I worked full time outside the home. I'm not as organized and disciplined as my mother. I got grumpy.  I snapped at people when things weren't working out well. And then I began to let go.
And I discovered Advent.  It is a whole season to enter into, instead of one day to aim toward.  And there's nothing in it that demands all the craziness.  It has taken 30 plus years to reach a place where it is a joy in itself.  I no longer do all the baking, the decorating, the buying.  Some of this luxury is a result of getting to a stage in life where I don't have to balance kids, job, house, and Christmas.  Over the next few posts, I'll share some of what we're doing this year to be nourished by these days. And I'd love to hear what you might be doing.  What have you learned over the years?  How do you protect yourself so that you don't find your self exclaiming, "I can't wait till it's over!"

Thursday, July 7, 2016

grandparents and the boys of summer, part 2

I suspect that we are not alone in trying to find ways to engage kids these days, besides letting them spend hours on electronic devices, playing Minecraft or other games. That is the first question they wake up with - can we go on iPads?

We go to the library to borrow books, asking the boys to take turns reading out loud for a while.  Landen chose a book about the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire.  Marcus started reading Lassie Comes Home to us, but got so engrossed that he finished the whole thing on his own.  Ethan loves books on dinosaurs and sharks, but has been practicing his reading with Dr. Seuss stories. 

We've taken advantage of children's movies offered by the library and the local movie theatres. Trevor Zoo is  a fun visit. Yesterday the boys went to Minnewaska with Al to swim. I have made lists of all the different short and long outings we might take with them and the schedules of local things offered on any given day. And then there is fort building in the backyard and art and science projects to try.

One of my favorite craft materials is cardboard tubes - mostly toilet paper rolls, some from paper towels or gift wrap.  You can see how Ethan and I used them a couple of years ago for some indoor exploration

This week I decided to take advantage of their love of Minecraft and invited them to make their own versions of monsters, endermen, etc.  They spent a couple of hours creating them, using tubes, straws, popsicle sticks, yarn, and tape.  I also found some small carpet and flooring squares at Home Depot that they've added to some of their scenarios. And since them they have spent hours playing with them, along with their Lego armies. It is so much fun to watch how they take simple recycled materials and turn them into hours of entertainment!

Monday, July 4, 2016

grandparents and the boys of summer, part 1

I haven't written a post for a long time.  It seems one thing after another has occupied my time - many pleasant or wonderful or necessary things, but nothing that I've felt compelled to share.  My summer occupation is something that might be of interest, however. 
Owing to various circumstances, we end up having two of my younger grandsons here for a good portion of the summer.  These are the boys, Marcus and Ethan, who moved away in January.  I have missed them terribly. We thought they'd come to visit us for a few weeks, but that has been extended.  And that comes with challenges.

I feel my age.  When you're young, you have energy for the non stop activity that is common to a 5 year old. At 71, not so much. I've tried to establish some built in rest periods in the afternoons - an hour when everyone needs to be quiet.  They can read, play with legos, take a nap - but no electronics, no movies. Once I've had this time to myself, I'm better able to handle the uptick of evening energy expenditures that seems to go on from 5 to 9:30 pm.

I am lonely.  My friends do not have young children.  Our socialization does not take place around kid activities. I feel cut off from many of the friends and events that nourish me.  I try to involve the kids in some of the things that are important to me - going to art exhibits that they might also like, exploring the natural world, visiting with friends who do enjoy kids. I do my meditations in short intervals - 5 minutes here, a 20 minute walking time there. Sometimes Al takes the boys out to a park for a few hours and then I get cleaning and a quiet meditation in. I am experimenting. I am remembering how it was to try to exercise and meditate and satisfy some of my needs when I was a young mother.  And I try to use these memories to increase my compassion for parents everywhere.

I find myself being envious - I think of people who have money to send their grandchildren to wonderful camps, who take fabulous vacations around the world, who might have things "easier".  But, of course, the minute you go there, if you are at all aware of anything, you have to get yourself off the damn pity pot to remember that you are very privileged.

These boys, and all of our grandchildren, are the loves of our lives.  We are very lucky. Some live close by. These two who are living away are here for a couple of months. How can we enjoy this gift?

That is the question that needs an answer now. I want to live into these days in a way that doesn't wish any of them away, but wants to be absolutely grateful for this precious time.

If you have any similar experiences and thoughts and insights - I would welcome them!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Exploring What We See with Seven Year Old

Landen was over the other day when school was closed and came up to the studio to chat.  He was looking around at some of the art on the walls and wanted to see what I was working on.  I showed him how I was playing with portrait sketches and paintings, trying to get closer to what I actually saw. 

He saw the self portrait I'd made by looking at myself in the mirror.  I asked if he'd like to give it a try and he agreed.  We set him up with a stool so he could reach the bathroom mirror and then he set to work.  I could see him initially drawing what he thought a face should look like and then making the transition to what he saw in terms of proportion and relationships.

When he finished, he'd drawn a self portrait that reminded me of Modigliani's work.  We went to the ipad and looked up those images;  he could see the style resemblance, too.

Modigliani"s Boy with Blue Eyes
He was clearly enjoying his success and wanted to draw some other things.  He spied a small carved rhinoceros I have and asked to use that.  We set it up on a box and he labored over that, finally getting discouraged and deciding he'd had enough - but he'd spent about 45 minutes on all the drawings.  The one rhinoceros he'd done had been a  pretty good replica - he'd gotten some critical line in it, but decided it wasn't right and did his own version, without looking as intently.  We talked about how a lot of drawing and painting require you to train your eye to see what is in front of you. And then you can change things around to show some other quality, to bring out your own style.

Being around kids as they explore art is just the most fun!  It deepens your own understanding when you try to explain something; and you relearn how to see through eyes that are less critical.  You enter into a more playful state - which is a wonderful thing!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Birthday Book for Mom

In the second week of Sketchbook Skool we played around with making small books.  I posted the first one that was made from an 8 1/2 by 11" sheet of paper, neatly folded and cut to make 8 pages.  It was perfect for my little caterpillar story. I showed that in an earlier post.
The second kind of book Jill Weber suggested was to use an accordion style folding; it offers a different way of telling a story. I decided to make a little celebration for my mom's upcoming birthday in April.

Our birthdays were always special - never over the top in extravagant gifts or outings; when I was young, finances didn't allow that kind of expenditure. But the generosity was clear in the attention to details. From being sung awake in the morning, to a favorite meal, followed by a sumptuous cake, you knew it was YOUR day.

I won't be able to visit mom for her birthday this year so I thought I'd send the party to her!

The Drink, The Balloons, The Fanfare, The Dance

The Cake, The Jive

The Bow, and the Salutation!

Altogether Now

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Miracles Every Day

February 4 is a particular day for me to recognize miracles all around me.

It is the birthday of my dear Marcus, who turns 11 today.  And it is the birthday of my good friend, Maggie who is 61. Both of these cherished people have had close calls - they might not have been here to celebrate this day.  That they are, feels miraculous.

Marcus with Ethan and Landen
Seven years ago, Marcus was in a near drowning accident.  Medical personnel estimated that he'd been underwater for about 5 minutes.  It was the most terrifying thing I have ever  experienced, with vivid memories of that day - of the fear, and also of the great kindnesses of people I've never seen again. Marcus not only survived; he is a very special child - he has a deep sense of compassion, a sensitivity that sometimes startles me.  Where did he get that wisdom?  And then he flips back into being a normal, funny, silly, moody, energetic kid.

Maggie in Rome
On the 16th of November, a Monday morning, Maggie and I had been planning our Thanksgiving dinner.  She had a big project at school so I didn't expect to hear from her for the rest of the week.  On Friday I received a call from a friend that Maggie had been taken to the hospital late the night before.  She had suffered a stroke, probably on that Monday, with three aneurysms that were leaking into her left brain.  Since she hadn't been found for several days, there were complications and the doctors weren't sure she'd survive. She underwent several surgeries over the next week and friends and family kept vigil. Once the doctors were able to remove the sedation, she gradually began to demonstrate signs of recovery. At this point she is undergoing rehabilitation, but each week brings return of function, progress that we can only marvel at.

Over a long period of time I have come to appreciate that we are constantly surrounded by miracles if we only choose to see them.  Albert Einstein said "There are two ways to live your life: one is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is a miracle."  I go for a walk, I look out the window, I spend time in silence - and I feel overwhelmed with gratitude.

Lately, I've been listening to a lot of Peter Mayer's music.  This one feels just right for today.

How about you?  What quietly or outrageously wondrous things are you experiencing?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tiny Books

This week in Sketchbook Skool we are making tiny books.  The teacher, Jill Weber, is an illustrator with a well established career in book illustration and makes the most intriguing little books for fun.  She showed us two different small books to try: an accordion book, using a long strip of paper and just folding it into many sections; and this other little book that I tried first, where I used an 8 1/2" by 11" sheet of paper and by folding and cutting, ended up with 8 pages to tell my story.

I chose this second one to start with. The tricky part is finding the right papers for these. You want it sturdy enough to handle the medium you will use, to be durable - and still to be able to take the folding.  I will have to play with this more.

I used a high quality office paper - but it buckled with my water colors.
And while these are meant to be done fairly quickly, I admit it took me most of my day!  But it was fun.
 I am happy to know how to make these because they would make sweet little gifts for friends and family.

Here's my little story.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sketching is Contagious

Here's another thing I learned when I started carrying around a sketchbook with me.  People like to see what you're finding so interesting that you want to draw it.  I've been journaling for a long time - there would be curiousity about that, too, but then folks would be disappointed when they saw there were no pictures on my pages. Once I started adding little drawings, I'd find that others would be inspired - "Oh, I should do something like that, too."  The fact that my drawings are less than professional might actually give them more license to give it a go.

One of the sweetest instances of this happened when one of our grandsons was staying with us for a while.  He was six.  One evening he was eating before he left to go to a t-ball practice.  I sat at the table with him to keep him company and he also set up his  stuffed animal friends around him.  I decided to sketch him.  He loved the picture and the attention.

The next evening as I was preparing dinner, he said "Don't look!"  and I stayed in the kitchen until he told me I could come out.  When he did call me, he proudly showed me his drawing. I was blown away by it.  He had captured so many elements around him - the cabinet behind him with the stemmed glasses and little figurines, the vase of spring flowers, the lamp, the spiral bound sketchbook on the table. He'd spent over half an hour laboring with the details. I had the feeling that he was claiming the space as his own - a place where he felt at home.  He continues to love to draw, to illustrate the stories that come from his imagination.

What is your experience with sketching or journaling?  Have you done any illustrated journaling? - I know a number of people who love to keep this kind of record of their trips, in particular.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sketching Your Days

I first signed up for Sketchbook Skool in the spring of 2014.  I wanted to get better at drawing. I struggle with proportion, with getting my eye to see relationships as easily as my mind does and then getting my hand to follow! The course was one still offered, entitled Beginnings. Each week for six weeks, there was  a new teacher with new lessons and styles to check out. It turned out to be a great deal for under $100! In addition to the instruction and demos from the teachers,  there is a huge community of class members who write in and show their own progress, struggles, and output.  Some are really experienced and do beautiful work.  Some are absolute beginners and are admirable for jumping in to something new and putting it out there.

I learned a quite a bit. What was even more important than learning techniques was coming to understand what a practice like sketching can do for you.

Here is one lesson from Danny Gregory: sketching something as simple as your breakfast can be meditative, can settle you in to your day.  And the funny thing - when I look at this sketch, I remember that morning clearly almost two years later!  I remember being in my daughter's apartment, waiting for grandsons to wake up.  I can see the light coming through the windows, almost hear and smell the soft spring rain.  Now my drawing wouldn't conjure that for you - you'd only see that I had a well balanced breakfast - some toast and cheese and clementine slices and coffee in my favorite Laura Keller mug. But I am there in that morning, waiting for my sweet ducks to join me.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Hand lettering Fun

Once again I'm participating in Sketchbook Skool.  It's the perfect time of year to jump into these classes that offer so much inspiration and technique, taught by a wonderful variety of artists. The classes go for six weeks online, each week a new set of lessons taught by a different teacher.
This past week taught by Koosje Koene, one of the founders of the school.

The lessons were on hand lettering.  We were encouraged to play with different fonts, think about lettering with composition in mind.  The final lesson was to choose a word or quote and to use hand lettering to give it meaning or impact - or just design.

I decided to use a quote from Annie Dillard's novel, The Maytrees.  I love her characters and there are several quotes from this book that have become part of my view of the world. Here is the one I chose:

And the next line is "She rolled down the dunes."

And what about you?  What are you doing for yourself this winter? What quotes do you find inspiring, challenging, fun?