Monday, December 26, 2011

gifts given and received

Ah, fare thee well, Christmas. May you rest well until next season where I can glitter the hell out of you again.

I thought I would share the gift I made for my sister's family. As you probably know, I am an identical twin, and my sister has three children--aged 9, 6 and 4 (two months older than Beezus). Every year we try to give something handmade to one another. She made my kids the cutest stuffed animals ever.  The ballet pig is for Beezus since she was born in the year of the Golden Pig and the elephant is Thor's. She named him Sir Nigel Flopworthy. Thor calls him Da.

That monocle has velcro and goes on his arm if he is feeling less dramatic.

I initially had painted her a mizuko jizo, since she has been saying she wanted one for her house. But it didn't exactly turn out the way I envisioned. So, I sat with it. I had no idea. Then I walked around the pre-stretched canvas section of the art store, seeing if I could envision something for her. And then, I saw three canvases bundled together. Each canvas was four inches by twelve inches, so together they were like a came to me, and I could envision exactly what I was going to do.

Three paintings, one of each kid, representing their beautiful personalities. Ones that worked together or individually.

I hope they like it. The first one is Audrey, who loves doggies, so I have her holding a dog with a spot over its eye and a paint brush, and her one eye painted. The middle one of Maxwell is of him with a bone and magnifying glass since he always seems to be exploring and trying to discover something. I just see him as a paleontologist. And the blue one is Cooper casually hanging out and yo-yoing, which is his personality. I like stripes, so painting each of them with stripes and gray outfits was fun. All in all, I loved the way they turned out.

Merry Boxing Day. Hope you are kicking the crap out of someone. (Just kidding. I know that Boxing day isn't about boxing.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

glitter ornament

My friend Ralph recently referred to glitter as the herpes of craft supplies. It is true. Once you are exposed, it never goes away, and you spread it to all your friends. I used to avoid it like the plague. Everytime I would use glitter, it seemed like three months later I would still find glitter underneath my eye.  It is like Easter grass or tinsel in that way. Damn Martha Stewart crafts. She will be here forthwith be referred to as M.S.

But Beezus loves glitter as the day is long. And honestly, I love glitter. It makes things shiny. I like shiny things. I actually bought some M.S. glitter for my mind jar experiments. A whole box of them in six colors and two styles. Hearts and stars. The reason I selected them was because they are larger and heavier than ordinary, impossible-to-clean glitter. ANYWAY, that is not my point, my point is that the heart and star glitter actually cleans more efficiently than the itsy bitsy glitter and has become an okay craft supply to use with Mama's guidance.

Yesterday, Beezus' friend and our next door neighbor came over to play and they wanted to paint. So, I set them up, and I was looking through my craft supplies and found styrofoam balls. The other day, someone was telling me that they have pretend snowball fights with their kids utilizing styrofoam balls. Isn't that an awesome idea? And so, as I was contemplating this as an afternoon activity, Thor seeming to read my mind and salivate at pummeling his sister and her friend by throwing things, I had a different idea.


That is a holiday craft.

So, I set the girls up with some of that tissue paper squares I bought at Lakeshore Learning store the other day. I can't remember how much this box of tissue paper squares were, but it was something I saw and thought, "That would save me a lot of time and buying of tissue paper, which I use almost exclusively for crafts in very small pieces." There are 10,000 squares in 20 colors. Very useful even though they look completely impractical. We did those little ornaments with the little tissue paper squares, and I thought they would look like stained glass if we decoupaged them.

So, I pulled out some styroglue, but you can use Elmers, or Mod Podge, or even just paint, which works quite well as a glue for glitter and tissue paper. I buy these little bowls for paint/glue from Michaels that I can toss, or I use plastic paint palettes to keep glue. I just pour glue in and let the girls put it on like paint. The girls used some combination of both paint and glue. Bea glued hers and used pink tissue paper. I actually created one out of blues, purples and whites. As you will see in the final product, Beezus' and mine look almost identical in different colors. I am 37 and she is 4, so this is really a craft for everyone. Thor tried to carve his with kid scissors and a pencil, then painted it with yellow/brown paint, so his looks like a half eaten apple. The neighbor girl half painted hers, and half decoupaged it.

It was very fun. Then we sprinkled, sprinkled, sprinkled with glitters--hearts and stars. We used little lids from babyfood jars to stand them up. Our hands got messy, I am not going to lie. And it took all night for it to dry completely, but that was okay. It was a before dinner craft, then this morning, they were dry. There is heart and star glitter all over the craft table, but because they are large glitters, they fell to the floor when the girls stood rather than in everything. That was fine with us, though. Sweep sweep, and it is fine. When the girls were done, I straightened a paperclip, made a small L-shape in the bottom of the paper clip. Then I pushed it through, then looped it with pliers at the top. This ornament is so light, it really doesn't need to be reinforced in that way. I used an ornament hook for it to hang on the tree. I think it would be cool to decoupage a name on it, or use letter stickers to decorate it with each kid's name, if you wanted. It is also not Christmas-centric, so you could use this for a solstice/yule tree.

Happy holidays.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

some recent projects

 I've been needlefelting a shitload of stuff. Ornaments, mostly. There is more, but they are gifts for my niece and nephews and my sister reads this space. I like the aggression release of felting. It helps. I have also been trying to construct a felt bag, though I am terrible at sewing. Maybe it will just be my needlefelting bag.

The red piece is going to be the flap and the other pieces are going to be the long handle.

And then, I am at the end of this painting. Not sure if I really like it. It was supposed to represent the duality of spirituality and grief. Mizuko jizo is a joyful bodhisattva, yet grieving. The tower of stones is supposed to represent all the babies. Perhaps I should have continued them up, up and up. Maybe I still will. This piece is 36" x 48", so larger than both my kids standing next to each other. It is acrylic on canvas. And I think I will be showing it at the show five in January. I am in two minds about it.

I'm also wondering if anyone can give me pointers for making prints or postcards of my work. Do I photograph it? And if so, is there a trick to photographing artwork that I should know. Has anyone used anyone in particular that they like? Thank you for any information.

Monday, December 19, 2011

some solstice crafts and activities

Each day since St. Lucy's Day until Winter Solstice, we do an activity/craft related to the solstice or winter or Christmas. It has been a wonderful and easy way to integrate the seasons into our day, and tie us to rituals that soothe our aching souls.

Snowflakes are a perennial favorite for every preschool classroom. Hell, every classroom. And that is because they really are such an easy, lovely craft. I actually hadn't cut a snowflake since I was a child, so I had to look it up. I knew it involved folding paper and cutting. After I cut the snowflakes, I gave the children some glitter, glue and stickers to decorate their snowflakes, then we hung them on the studio windows. I love them. Beezus decorated her snowflake with strawberries, because she misses strawberries in December. *sigh*

The following day, which was the 15th, Beezus, Thor and I made pomander balls. I had seen these things before, but had no idea what they were or what they were called. I found the idea in the book Celebrating the Great Mother. Actually, all the crafts we are doing this season comes from that book or the book Circle Round by Starhawk. Perhaps I should have started with this part, but before St. Lucy's Day I sat one night with herbal tea and a piece of paper on a clipboard and looked through all my seasonal craft books. I wrote down ideas of things to do for our solstice celebration and things to do before solstice. Basically, a list of crafts, and every day, I have been doing one that pops out at me. I didn't make a formal schedule or anything, but just for idea starters.Maybe it sounds weird or hokey to share this part of my process, but I do get questions all the time about how I come up with crafts, and I thought I would share how. I read about crafts, ideas, ties into nature. I have collected a number of books on crafts and homeschooling, even though I don't homeschool. I just love homeschoolers and their awesome creativity with tying in crafts and activities to nature, seasons, science, math and language.

Oh, right, pomander balls. Pomander balls are an ancient tradition of aromatherapy and protection against infection and disease. They are fruits, apples, oranges or lemons, with perfumes. They are then dried and hung, or put into vases, closets, drawers, as a natural moth repellant and air freshener. I just think they look cool. The kids loved this activity and Thor was even able to participate fully.

We used a chopstick and poked some holes in an apple. Thor poked holes in a lemon.

Then we took some cloves and put them in the holes.

The kids loved this part. 

 Then we rolled the apple and lemon in a mixture of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg that I ground in a mortar and pestle.

We put it in a dish on our sidetable. But I wanted to show you another idea. You can wrap some cloth or lace around it and hang the pomander balls.

Festive, no? And they smell divine. Just take them out and dry them before wrapping them up, because they might get moldy, if you know what I mean.

The 16th, we made some ornaments with cardstock and tissue paper. We traced cookie cutters onto paper and then used glue, glitter glue, markers and tissue paper squares and created little ornaments to hang around our house.

On the 17th, we baked cookies, cookies and fudge. I love getting the kids involved. This year, this was my second baking day, and I anticipate another one this week some time.In the evening we all sat around the fire in big chairs. We actually moved our chairs around to face the fire. Sam was knitting and I was felting. It was so homey and lovely. The kids wanted us to entertain them. So, I told them to pull out their shiny rock basket and make a sacred spiral. Rocks, shells, and stones are just magical to children. My children are constantly looking on the ground to collect cool rocks wherever they go. We were given this basket by my mother many years ago. I shouldn't even say we, I was given it when I was single. And it has become what Beezus dubbed the Shiny Rock Bask. She named it at age two, so Bask = Basket. I had some stones, like lapis lazuli, quartz, an arrowhead that I found as a kid. And they went in there, then she began collecting. There are shells from Australia (thanks, Carly), Panama, Alabama, New Jersey. The rule is that all rocks must be put back in the bask with the lid on when you are done with them. Also, we have an s'load of river rocks outside (the previous owners put these lovely river rocks under the deck), so the kids are constantly finding cool rocks right outside our home. And not just cool to the kids, but cool to me. But the other rule is that the rocks must fit in the basket. If you find a cool one, and the bask is too full, you must take one out and back to the yard.
I have to say, I should probably do an entire post about the Shiny Rock Bask, because come to think of it, it is a totally versatile, awesome toy/play thing in our house. The kids pull the rocks out to drive matchbox cars on them. They become a gnome environ. They are studied. We talk about our travels and where we found rocks. We name them, put them back. We put them in color order. We also use rocks in our meditations. Rocks are serene, quiet, contemplative. When the kids are crazy, we pull them out, and I ask them to pick a rock that feels best to them--calming and lovely. I ask them to hold it and become like the rock. Sit still. I also ask them to imagine if the rock had a voice, what would it be? See, how cool rocks are?

It is the bask that keeps on giving. In our semi-circle, the shiny rock bask was pulled out, and the rocks were split in half. And the kids were asked to make a sacred spiral. I didn't explain what that was, but I explained what a spiral is. Did you know that the spiral is the oldest religious symbol found? The symbol is about the goddess and the womb, the everlasting life force. Part of why the spiral is used in solstice ceremony is that Winter Solstice is the time when the Earth Goddess gives birth to the Sun. It also is about change and transformation and acceptance. All things we have to wrestle with during Lucy's birthday and solstice.

As I felted, I watched Beezus' sacred spiral take shape. Thor occasionally stole a rock or three. His spiral was a pile of rocks. After Beezus was done, I told her she could take a photograph of her spiral, because it was an impermanent thing. And we worked together breaking it down and talking about that. Basically, it was me telling her about sand mandalas and meditations and impermanence.

Hope you enjoyed some of these solstice and winter crafts. I should be posting every day, but life is busy right now, and I am in the thick of my grief season.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

the procession

This was the first year we celebrated St. Lucy's Day. The last few years, we kept meaning to find a church celebrating. We have even considered traveling to Sweden to visit my friend and celebrate St. Lucy's Day there. But this year, after felting the crown, we decided to do our own celebration. Yesterday, after I dropped Beezus off at school, I drove to the coffeeshop to pick up some beans, and Thor fell asleep, so I bought my sister and I some coffee and transferred Thor into her couch, and we sat and had a cuppa. Except I mentioned St. Lucy's Day and my sister offered to make her a robe from an old sheet. So, in a few minutes, we had a dress, and I invited my sister and her kids over to celebrate.

I had read about St. Lucy's Day in Sweden. The eldest daughter wears the crown of candles, a white dress, a red sash, and carries a tray of Lucia Pepparkakor and Lussekatt, or St. Lucia buns. I am a little embarrassed to admit that I have never made bread from yeast except in a bread machine. So, I thought what the hell, I am giving it a shot. I didn't make the Pepparkakor because it is a ginger snap and only I really like ginger snaps in my house. Here is the thing, I can't really eat wheat or gluten because I react in a way that in unlike Rheumatoid Arthritis. My joints swell. I can't bend over. I feel horrible. I followed the linked recipe above. I have to say there was something deeply soul-satisfying to cover the bread in a damp tea towel, and put it next to the woodstove, which is the only warm place in the house right now. Or sufficiently warm for bread.

In the meantime, I made Mexican Wedding Cookies, because all of our family likes them and mini-chocolate chip cookies, which turned out only fair to middling.

The Lussekatt turned out so very good. WOW. I might bake bread far more often then before, like maybe once a year, rather than never.

So, I baked the bread, made some cookies, made an outfit for Beezus. Now what? Yeah. I served dinner. Like I said, what I read about St. Lucy's Day is that the eldest daughter dresses like St. Lucy and wakes her family with Lussekatt and cookies. At night, there is a procession through town with the others dressed in white with cones on their head and holding candles, singing the Santa Lucia song. Well, we adapted it to two four year old girls, a six year old boy, a nine year old boy, a twenty month old and three adults who have not a lick of Swedish in them.

First, my sister dressed Beezus like St. Lucy, while I prepared the candles for the children.

Funnily, my niece Audrey-girl wore a little dress with red wings and said she was the Red Cardinal of Winter which followed St. Lucy around. I thought that was so gorgeous. I love the way children think, and she is a particularly fancy thinker.

Then, I gathered the children. We turned off all the lights in the house besides the Christmas tree and surrounding lights. And one by one, we lit the candles as they stood in line. Audrey-girl refused to light a candle because birds are afraid of fire. (She really is the best.) I told them that this marks the darkest time of the year, so St. Lucy brings the light to the world.

Then we decided on some Christmas songs, of which none of us knew all the words. It was awesome. And we had a procession through the house and then the yard. All of us. In the dark and cold. It was so much fun.

This is a very weird picture because I tried the outside at night setting on my camera, which apparently sucks.

After our procession, the kids ate cookies and we ate the Lussekatt and drank coffee. Here is one more picture of my girl and I in the cold. Happy St. Lucia Day!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

St. Lucy's crown

Today is the Feast Day of St. Lucy.

This day marks the beginning of our solstice days--the days of mourning and activity leading up to Winter Solstice and Lucia's death and birthdays. December 13 to the 22nd is a sacred time for our family. We use this time, each year it has gotten a little more extensive, to bring our family together with crafts, foods, activities and storytelling about solstice. Winter solstice is the time when the Earth Mother gives birth to the Sun. We balance our daughter Lucia's stillbirth against this idea--we hold of birth and darkness and light. In this way, I suppose, this time is one we look forward to as a family, while we also find it somewhat solemn and important. It is a celebration and an acknowledgment of the balance of nature and light and dark. 

I will be sharing some of the crafts we are doing--every day we are planning something to lead up until solstice.  I will try to do tutorials for most of the activities I have prepared.

Yesterday, marked the St. Lucy activity, which is to make a St. Lucy crown.

The traditional St. Lucy crown contains actual candles and is decorated with greens and lingonberries. The base looks like this. But the ladies dressed like Santka Lucia look like this:

I took this pictures from
Obviously, I am not going to let my four year old wear lit candles on her head, so I started a felt St. Lucia crown. I decided to try to felt the entire thing, as in, no sewing, all felting. Michaels and A.C. Moore both sell needlefelting supplies. Michaels just started this year. I always bought my supplies off of a website like Living Felt. Last year, my neighbor who wet felts came over and we taught each other our felting knowledge over some coffee, which was awesome. I have wet felted a few times, but the truth is I found it easier this time to just buy the wool felt base.

My pictures were much lousier than I thought they were on the little screen. Mama needs a SLR camera. Santa, help a sistah out.

Alright, so here is the beginning part of the crown part. I cut a piece of 12"x12" wool felt diagonally, making it three inches wide.

I then took the remaining sections of the square, as well as one piece of 29 cent recycled craft felt and cut out some greenery.

I basically laid these out on the crown and began felting them together. Felting is a process of rapid movement with a very very sharp needle. The process kind of sews the fibers together. Generally, it is a little more difficult, though not at all difficult, to felt two previously felted pieces together. Just because they are harder and their fibers sewn, if you want to use that terminology. So, I used red roving to make ligonberries to help felt the entire crown. In this picture, you can see the roving, or raw uncarded wool, and the needle. The needle is extremely sharp, and I would recommend being an older kid before giving needlefelting as a hobby. I poke myself all the time and draw blood.

After the entire crown was felted and the leaves and ligonberries were not going anywhere, it was time to make the candles. In this picture, at about 10/11 o'clock you can see the multi-needle tool, which helps you felt a larger area. Basically, you are sculpting while you are punching, the roving, which is as light and airy as it looks, becomes dense and hard.

I am sharing this video, because when I felt, this is what Thor does next to me, like I am dancing. But it is a good representation of what is happening.

Now, I needed to start the candles. I decided to make three. Again, I started with white wool felt. I decided to roll it.

After felting an inside roll, I wanted to add the flame.

I pulled yellow, red and orange roving and carded it together.

I did a very minimal needle felt, which is like a few punches just to give it some structure, but I did want it to look like a wild flame.

I added the "flame" to the inside of the candle, then rolled it, punched the outside of the candle, and eh, voila.

Then, I had to felt them to the crown. Since the pictures from yesterday got progressively worse, I took some this morning on the floor of my studio. (Staying classy!) This is the back of the crown and where you felt the candles onto the base. You can also see what the back of felt looks like.

The semi-finished crown looks like this.

I have yet to go buy some ribbon to tie the crown on in the back, because Beezus cried in the car in the parking lot of Joann's afterschool. She was thirsty, so I went home instead. But I forced her to balance it on her head for a picture. (Ignore the studio mess.)

I will take some pictures of Beezus dressed up in the full outfit tonight.

Monday, December 12, 2011

a grove of trees

When my husband and I first married, we bought a house immediately. My husband was still in graduate school and we were saving for my maternity leave. Because we moved into our house at the end of November, we excitedly moved right into Christmas decorating. Sam and I rented a second floor apartment on Fabric Row in Philadelphia before house buying. We had a very little tree in the apartment with a minimum of ornaments. Suddenly, we had this seemingly huge house. (It seems quite small to us now.) And no decorations.

So, we were broke. (Did I mention that?) I actually think we moved to our house and didn't eat out for dinner for six months, because we were so afraid of spending money. I was really excited to decorate though, but I had to get creative. I was walking around Joann's trying to come up with something. I budgeted ten bucks or something. I do not sew, but something about seeing the Christmas fat quarters there for two bucks made me think--I can do something with those. I bought a few packs. I walked around the craft area and saw these styrofoam cones.

They looked like evergreens. I bought three in differing sizes, so they would look like a grove of trees. Then I took my fat quarters, and ripped strips from the fabric. All different green and red fabrics.

See, you need no sewing skills, or rather no skills at all for this project, except ripping and pinning. After I ripped the fabric, I took straight pins, and pinned the fabric into place. Funnily, my mother in law was visiting over Thanksgiving. I pulled them out with our Christmas decorations and she said, "What a clever way to use a thread spool." Or something possibly not thread. She is a weaver, so she thought I had glued the fabric on an old conical spool. You can! You can even glue these onto the styrofoam. They make styrofoam glue. I used pins, though, because that is what I had, and I like the sounds of pins going through styrofoam.

I pinned some red ribbon on top after I pinned all the fabrics. I really like the raw edges of the fabric when it is ripped. Believe it or not, I still have the fabric from those fat quarters. I made ornaments that first year too.


And that is it. Easy peasy, as Beezus says. I love them because we celebrate Winter Solstice, and having nature themed decorations is really important to us. And in context, they make a nice backdrop to our sideboard. Some really cheap decorations are on this sideboard too. For one, we cut a huge limb off our holly tree as a flower arrangement. I wrap the huge painting above the sideboard. It is just an easy, cheap decoration. And we use cuttings from our rope to line the nativity scene. We like to put greens everywhere. I also love displaying all the cards we get here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

needlefelted christmas

I had the most amazing time on Friday night. My friend Janel invited a bunch of women over with their kids to craft. I was so excited, and so were the kids. It reminds me of my friend Betsy's Craft Girls. She used to have these cool wine/cheese get togethers were we just crafted. I'd love to do that here too, but I don't know many people around my area who are crafty.

Anyway, Janel lives a little more than an hour away, so it was actually kind of fun to bundle the kids up, pack jammies for the ride home and head over. I brought needlefelting, because winter makes me want to needlefelt. I have done a few pieces lately that I wanted to share.

First, I needlefelted this little sheep to give to Janel as a hostess gift. It is an ornament. I actually dig the sheep, but she is about one week from being a downer sheep. Only people who have read Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague might know what that means, but let's just say, she is a little wonky and is headed for greener pastures. I still have been enjoying three-dimensional felting.

And while there, I started and today finished a new Santka Lucia ornament. Not sure if I am gifting her, or keeping her.

Sorry for the crap lighting on this one.

I will be posting pictures from the show in the new few days, and some Christmas crafts--easy and cheap decorations I made in the first year of my marriage, and am still using! Hallelujah!

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I've been sketching for the three foot by four foot painting for the five exhibit in January. Initially, I wanted to do my She's not an Angel painting huge like that, but then I thought I wanted to do something completely different. I sketched this one of myself holding groceries with the words don't cry, because basically that is how every trip to the market was for the first four months after she died.

Then I decided, absolutely decided that I wanted to do a jizo. A different kind of jizo, something that represents jizo to me, rather than in a meditation painting. I wanted the duality of jizo--that he is portrayed happy though he is a bodhisattva of compassion, so he has a grief too.

I decided on the one with the leaning pillar of rocks, each one sort of representing a child that died, and one joyful jizo and the other looking down and sad, out of respect. This one looks mad, but the one on the canvas doesn't.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

santka lucia

This year, I am in an ornament swap at Here We Are Together, which is my friend Miri's blog. If you are not familiar with her amazing blog and crafts and sensibility, then you must check her out. She honestly is one of the most interesting people I know. She is a homeschooling Waldorf mama from Germany living in England.  ANYWAY, she paired people up. And the woman whose name I received says she is a Catholic mama who is very into homemade Waldorf crafts and the color rainbow. I wasn't sure what to do, because I do love colorzing things, and making everything rainbow, but I also wanted to connect with the other parts of her too. I also should note that her name is Lucy.

I miss my girl. Three weeks until her birthday and I ache to honor her memory.

And so today, I sat on the orange chair with my needlefelting toolbox and made this for Lucy and for my Lucy. I thought it might capture all the parts of her and me together, even though we never met. I am tempted to keep her for myself, but I made her to give her, and so she will go.