Hanging Wallpaper August 5, 2015

Filed under: learning to art — Christina M @ 1:21 pm

Putting one of my paintings on the wall may bring a whole new meaning to hanging wallpaper. See, lately I’ve been experimenting with painting on wallpaper, and I absolutely love it! I have these books of wallpaper samples that I got for free when they expired, and they were just sitting there blinking sadly, begging to be used. As it turns out a little gesso makes them fabulously ready to take paint.

What I like about them is that they have a feel similar to canvas, but they don’t need stretched. They won’t warp like paper, and I can lay them flat or tape them to a board on an easel. Either way, I like them better than either canvas or paper for a lot of uses. With regular gesso, they are a good medium for acrylic paint. (I am hoping to try ink or watercolor later today when my latest batch of gesso-wallpaper dries.) With an extra toothy gesso, like the clear gesso I have, it’s very receptive to pastels. And today I tried applying gesso with a palette knife and I really like the result. It goes on very smooth and thick, with no brush strokes and only minimal knife strokes. I think this is the one I will try with watercolor. It uses a bit more gesso than my usual brush applications, but if it comes out velvety like I am hoping it will, it may end up being my new favorite.

Here is the knife-applied gesso, after a single coat. It’s half dry. The large darkish blob near the middle is a reflection of my head.

knife applied gesso

 

 

 

 

And here is one of my first two works to appear on Etsy, Entitled “Blue Child.” It is part of my Autism Series, and was painted on wallpaper.

 

I’m curious to know, has anyone else here tried wallpaper for painting? I would love to see your comments. (more…)

 
 

Five Things about Manna August 3, 2015

Filed under: faith — Christina M @ 12:40 pm

Some personal reflections about Manna and yesterday’s readings…

1. Manna is about trust. God keeps laying out the manna in my life, too. And I keep wanting to collect it up and save it till it rots, because stupid me, I keep forgetting to trust. What is it that is so hard-headed that I still worry that even though the sun has risen every day since creation, tomorrow it might not rise? And if it didn’t, how could I be so foolish as to think that there’s anything I could do about it?

2. Manna is about gratitude. God has already kept the Israelites alive until this point. But instead of praying to Him that they are hungry, they grumble that He is starving them. I’ve grumbled, too, so many times. Sometimes it’s not really about trust but about comfort.

3. Manna is about patience and forgiveness. God’s that is. They grumble, He provides. I guess He understood that they were still children in their faith, having been brought up in godful Egypt.

4. Manna, and the whole desert experience, is about slavery. It’s pablum to wean the child off of the infected mother’s milk of children who have never known freedom. Like the talking horses in The Horse and His Boy, they do not yet know how to run to their fullest power, because they are still inhibited by having been slaves. They are not yet ready for Everything, so God first teaches them that He will provide Everything. Depend on Him, and He will meet your needs in the way He chooses.

5. Manna is about complaining. Complaining is a special kind of tunnel vision in which we can easily get so wrapped up in criticizing God for what we don’t have that we forget to bless Him for what we have. The Israelites griped about having nothing but manna, even as they roasted their quail. It is awfully easy to get caught up in complaining to God that He doesn’t do things the way we dictate, rather than thanking Him for doing things according to His infinite love.  In the end, until we stop complaining about the manna, we aren’t ready to get to the milk and honey.

Forty years I endured that generation. I said to myself ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray and they do not know my ways. So I swore in my anger they will not enter into my rest.

 
 

Arts and Crafts August 1, 2015

Filed under: learning to art — Christina M @ 12:52 pm

I would like to go on record here as saying that I see very little difference between “art” and “craft.” Or at least, I would say it’s a very slight difference that is often used as a difference without distinction. I suppose by definition, craft is a skill that is learned to create something functional, where art might be perceived as purely decorative. In reality, however, the definitions don’t always work. A decorated canvas is usually seen as art, where a decorated gourd is seen as craft. Is the gourd necessarily useful, or is it purely for decoration? For that matter, is the canvas necessarily decorative?

In popular usage, I think the division is frequently more arbitrary. A three-dimensional thing is more likely to be “craft” unless it is sculpture. A thing that serves the same purpose whether it is beautiful or not might be craft once decorated. A flat piece, or a piece that has no inherent value besides the decorative value is likely viewed as “art.”

But my big concern here is that “art” and “craft” are terms that are subtly used to divide. “Art” is something we see as beyond the ability or scope of the common person. It might raise the esteem of the artist while intimidating the crafter. It also limits: the artist might never see beyond the scope of a given medium, often as taught by generations-old tradition, and a crafter might glue delightful collages but never find the courage to paint with oils.

Children don’t have that kind of limitation. They will probably name their school project with crayons art, but also the bottle covered with masking tape and shoe polish. Or maybe they will call them both craft; because it really doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is the joy of creation and self-expression. What matters is that it came from that place deep inside that is so unique that no two people can produce the exact same results. It is an expression of sheer, undiluted personhood.

My Charming and Patient Husband considers himself neither artist nor crafter, yet like the child he makes little distinction. Art and craft are those things I do in that room at the end of the hall. Whether I am decorating a box or painting with watercolor, it’s all the same at its root: that desire to create, and to reach into creative personhood. Why is it that children and my husband get what people who are really close to the subject have difficulty with? Maybe it’s exactly that closeness. As we age, ego sometimes replaces what we know in our hearts. Sometimes we start needing to view “otherness” as somehow above or below us to assuage our growing insecurities. Whether we think we are too good or not good enough, it all comes from the same place: the concern for how others will see us. Increasingly aware of the fact that the world around us will judge us, we start wondering whether they are right to put us in our places. Maybe, we fear, our value really is determined by other people.

It isn’t.

Our value is determined by the personhood that is at the core of our being. It is from there that our creative urge swells and burbles, not from the court of public opinion. So if you want to call it art, or if you want to call it craft, go for it. The terms themselves can be useful as long as we don’t let them limit ourselves. Meanwhile, I’ve got something to gesso, and it’s anyone’s guess whether it’s an art or a craft.

 
 

Learning to Art July 19, 2015

Filed under: faith,learning to art — Christina M @ 2:10 pm

So in all this time that I’ve neglected you, you might wonder where I’ve been. Aside from being pretty busy with family, I’ve become consumed with a new passion. Art. More specifically, learning to art. You see, my daughter told me for years that anyone can learn art, and for years I didn’t believe her. Till one day I found myself obsessed with it. And I learned two things: one, I do not have natural talent. Some people do. I don’t. And that’s ok, because two, it’s true: it can be learned.

What I’m finding is that I dearly love the learning process. I am enjoying trying new things and following tutorials. I am really enjoying experimenting and following lessons. And I am loving trying new materials and getting my hands messy. I even sometimes like what I produce.

As I go through this learning process, I am beginning to realize I would really like to share the journey. I don’t have all the answers, and some of what I think  I’ve found will probably be wrong.  But I’ve come to believe that creativity is to share in God’s work of creation. Maybe the creative urge is part of what it means to be made in his image. So with that in mind, I have become convinced that art – with or without talent – is worthwhile. And if my faith is worth sharing, maybe so is my art, and my journey into its world.

I can’t wait to keep learning. I hope you’ll join me!

 
 

Runaways and Prodigals June 30, 2015

Filed under: faith — Christina M @ 9:57 am

I think we’ve all run away from something or someone at some point in our lives. Running away sometimes looks like a big, scary, life changing thing like a kid running away from home, or a spouse getting divorced. Sometimes, though, it’s less visible to the outside world. Maybe it’s a worshiper who stops going to church, or a friend who starts neglecting relationships.  Maybe it’s a retreat of a spouse into a hobby or non-communication, or an employee who stops trying.

It could even be a blogger who goes six months between posts.

And do you know what all of these scenarios have in common? A feeling of failure. Sure, there are other reasons for any of these things; but I contend that the single biggest reason for relationship breakdowns is a feeling of failure.  When the Prodigal Son was jealous of how well the pigs ate, he hit rock bottom and finally returned; but why did he take so long to return? Was it because his plan was working out so well? No, he didn’t want to go home and face his father and brother with his failure. For him to find, finally, the courage to return it took a realization that he had no other options.

Biblical parables reflect real life. Sometimes the only reason a spouse or a kid sticks around is because they have no other option. Sometimes the only reason a worshiper keeps going to church is because he or she feels there’s no choice. And having no choice is better than breaking up the foundation of marriage or faith, but it’s not the best way. The best way is to break the hold of the thing that makes the runner want to run. The best way is to help the runner stop feeling like a failure, or to prevent the runner from feeling that way in the first place.

I have a confession to make. I’ve run. I haven’t left my Charming and Patient Husband (and I have not wanted to, either.) But I’ve been terrible about church attendance. I’ve been terrible about maintaining friendships. I’ve been terrible about blogging. All of these things matter to me, and I’ve essentially run away because I felt like a failure. I have something to learn from them. I also have something to learn from the thing I haven’t ever felt like running from, my marriage.

What I have learned:

  • If you feel like a failure and you run away, you feel like a bigger failure. The longer you stay away the more of a failure you feel like. Bite the bullet and return.
  • If it’s an unsafe or unhealthy thing you’ve run from, don’t return. That’s not running, it’s rescue. (But don’t con yourself into thinking “I don’t like it, so it’s unhealthy.”)
  • Prayer and discernment are always helpful and healthy.
  • The key to staying on track with another person is making sure that other person knows that he or she is successful.
  • The key to staying on track with another person is making sure that other person knows that he or she is successful. That’s not an editing error. I repeated it because it’s that important.

A friend of mine once said “for every one negative thing you say, make sure you say five positive things.” That was some powerfully good advice, and it goes really well with helping to make the other people in your life feel successful. Or, I should say, know they are successful. Because if they feel successful in their relationships they probably are.  Tell your husband what he does right. Tell your wife what you appreciate about her. Let your kids know that you are proud of them, and why.

And finally, what if you are the one feeling like a failure? Go back. If you haven’t gone to Mass in a while, go back. If sitting with one foot in the water hasn’t motivated you sufficiently, put both feet in. And remember, God is with you. The Bible says “Pray without ceasing.” What better time to remember that than when we are struggling?

 
 

Thoughts about prayer December 1, 2014

Filed under: faith — Christina M @ 11:07 am

I was thinking today about worry, and all the things I worry about… and there were a lot. I’m a certified worrier. But then I think about all the things I’ve worried about that haven’t come to pass; and I realize that I don’t even remember what most of them were. Maybe they weren’t as important as I thought at the time that they were. And those that did come to pass? They didn’t destroy our life. And worrying didn’t stop them.

Prayer simply works better than worrying.

But… so far we are still talking just about earth prayer. Earth prayer is when I pray for my earthly needs, or my earthly concerns. Not all of them are “gimmes” but they are about the things that matter to me in this life, from the selfish (please let me get such and such) to the unselfish (please help me to be a better person) to the compassionate (please help the victims of the latest catastrophe.) But they are all about this life and its concerns. And there  is nothing wrong with praying for this life and its concerns. Bless my friend. Heal my child. I offer you this day, Lord. These are good prayers. They contact God and invite him into my life. They connect my life with the love of my Father.

They are probably the prayers Martha prayed. And she had a good lot; but Mary chose the better lot. Because she prayed a different kind of prayer, as well.

Mary didn’t just bring God into her world; she brought herself into God’s world. That’s what meditative and contemplative prayer are made of. When we stop looking at our world, and start looking at Christ’s.

My beloved is mine and I am his.

He pastures his flocks among the lilies.

A shepherd doesn’t plant lilies in the wild grazing pastures on faraway hills. He doesn’t plant them in enclosures where sheep normally live. He plants them in his very own garden, within the walls of his very own courtyard. Our Shepherd is inviting us to be fed at His own home. When our prayer is so stuck in the here and now that we forget to glance in the direction of His lilies, it is as though we didn’t even recognize that we are invited into His courtyard, on the very edge of Heaven itself. And we keep grazing away at the dried summer grasses on the wild hills, and begging our Shepherd to water us. Patiently, He leads us to still waters to drink; but all the while He is inviting us to taste the springs that flow from Paradise.

When you have a need, pray for that need. When you have a friend, pray for that friend. These are good, good prayers. But don’t forget to gaze at the Shepherd in His own garden, too. Don’t just invite Him into your world; accept His invitation into His, as well.

 
 

God of the Universe October 9, 2014

Filed under: faith,Uncategorized — Christina M @ 8:08 am

I read this post today about the size of “space” and I really think it’s worth sharing. Go ahead, click on it and go read it. I’ll wait.

There. Aren’t you glad you took the time?

Here’s the thing: there may be many perspectives on the size of the earth, relative to the rest of space; but there are also many perspectives on what this information can mean to us. Scientifically, obviously, we can see all sorts of implications, not the least of which is the question of how far our current understanding of physics can take us. And then there are the obvious questions about whether this means there might be other life out there. I’m not going to speculate on either of these.

Rather, I want to take you on a journey into heaven. Or the heavens.

Has it ever occurred to you how big a God it takes to make something this astounding? For millenia, thinkers have asked the question: Did God invent us, or did we invent God? No matter how strong your faith is, if you have never at least acknowledged the question you are probably a rare person. Questioning doesn’t mean we have weak faith, it means we seek truth. Since I believe that God is the author of truth, I see no contradiction whatsoever. And I’ve never been disappointed. It seems ridiculous to me to think that everything I see could come into being by means of something else that came into being at the hands of something else that came into being, etc. The only way it makes any sense, logically, is there must have been a Creative Force that never came into being, that always was. So asking the Big Question about God isn’t scary to me as a believer, because logic backs up my faith, and my faith includes trust in God as the ultimate Truth.

But today, when I saw these pictures of this little tiny corner of space, my thoughts on the subject did, indeed, take on a new perspective. Not a new belief, but a new depth.  A God who can create the earth, and all I can see on earth and in heaven, is astounding. A God who can create the inner life of biology, a system that can maintain itself for this long, is truly awe-some. But a God who can create so much more than I can even imagine in that tiny corner, and a God who can create a universe where that genuinely unimaginable array is just a pinpoint….

This God is mind-boggling.

Then, to take it backward. Our earth is not even a fleck on that pinpoint in space. Our earth should be invisible. Here I am, a single organism on an invisible planet, right alongside you. And God sent His Son, Co-Creator of the universe, to be one of us. To rescue us.

Yes, you. Invisible you on an invisible planet in an invisible solar system in a corner of the universe tinier than that invisible one that teems with the unimaginable. He sent Jesus to you. And me.

The One who created all that considered us important enough to rescue us from the sin that we brought upon ourselves. That is love.

 
 

Autism Awareness Day April 2, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 9:59 am

It seems ironic to me, to say the least, that we received Monkey’s evaluation report with formal diagnosis an hour and a half before the beginning of Autism Awareness day. While we’ve been pretty sure about this diagnosis for 2 years now, it’s a tremendous relief to have validation. Today is also the day of our annual 504 meeting. (For those of you who aren’t aware of what that is, it is the meeting at which plans are made for special needs students with medical needs, who do not qualify for an Individualized Education Program.)

My Charming and Patient Husband has often said “Autism awareness? How much more aware can we get?” But today I read an eye-opening blog post from Autism Daddy that made some good points about the lack of awareness in the general public. And really, I have to agree if I give it some thought. Yes, the public may be aware that autism exists; but that’s far from a working awareness. To know it exists does not mean to understand the difference between a meltdown and a temper tantrum. To be aware that someone you know has autism is not the same as being aware of the difficulties they face, or the special needs that must be met. To be familiar with their lunch time medicine routine does not equate to familiarity with the hours of therapy that led to it and will probably lead to future medicinal changes. And it certainly does mean familiarity with the emotionally draining consequences of forgetting or running out of the medicines.

You know what else many people are not aware of? The fact that Autism isn’t simply a “mental illness” but a combination of thinking differently and a medical condition.  We’ve come a long way in that regard, at least.  The condition is no longer referred to as Refrigerator Mom Syndrome. Medically, we’ve come to the point of realizing that people with Autism have much more potential than was once believed. Therapy, love, and a variety of approaches can lead us to breakthroughs. We can’t “cure” Autism, but many of us do not want to. I wouldn’t change my Monkey and her delightful imagination for the world. What I would change is her coping ability; and we are working on that. That’s what the therapy and the 504 plan are for. And that is why we play games like the “problem solving game” at home. By teaching her the skills to be happy and successful I am not aiming to take away this condition, but to help her wade through this sometimes uncharitable world. Like a child with any other condition, we do what we have to do to help her meet her milestones. A parent of a child with Type 1 Diabetes helps his child to survive with insulin. A parent of a child with Cerebral Palsy helps her child to learn to walk. A parent of a child with Autism helps her child to learn social skills. In many ways, it’s not that different.

In a few ways, though, it is quite different. Since Autism is an “invisible” disability, it still gains stares and judgement. It takes a little strength to forgive those who suggest that she’d be “good” if we just spanked her more. It takes even more strength to keep my mouth closed and not respond with “That’s why God didn’t give her to you.” It takes strength not to be smug, and it takes strength not to feel humiliated, all at the same time.  And it really, really takes strength to forgive people who see you parenting day in and day out and still judge you, assuming that your child’s behaviors or appearance must mean you are neglectful. There is no room for neglect.

There is No. Room. For. Neglect.

Not when it takes two hours to get her dressed in the morning, and an hour a day to keep her room marginally tidy. Not when you have to quit your job to be available full time for the constant phone calls from the school. Not when you are at the school almost every single day dealing with meetings, meltdowns, discipline, counseling, disruptions, and anxieties.

Yet there are people who can see all that and still assume that you must be neglectful, because no child would choose to look like that and behave like that.

And that hurts. It hurts me, it hurts my husband, and it hurts my children. And it hurts many other Autism families. So, yes, Autism Awareness is still needed.

Then there are the teachers who know nothing about Autism. Many do, but not from training. A few have the training, and many more have learned firsthand, in the trenches. Many, though, still do not know much about Autism. They are well-intentioned, but they’ve been taught nothing. I know this, because I have a teaching credential and Autism was never once mentioned in my schooling. Not once. I learned what I know by reading. And reading. And reading. And by watching and loving. The key to understanding Monkey has always been loving her enough to pay attention even when she can’t stop talking for 45 minutes and when she starts the same sentence over and over again until she gets it just right. You can’t understand someone’s reasons for what they do unless you understand at least a little of how they work. And with children who have extreme anxieties and trust issues, it can be very hard to get “in” unless they know how firmly you love them.

So, yes, Autism awareness is still needed.

If you are not Autistic, and you do not have an Autistic family member, and you think “awareness” has been overdone, let me ask you one favor. Please, ask yourself to take awareness a step further… to go beyond awareness of its existence, into the awareness of the special needs these amazing people have. Go beyond awareness of what Autism behaviors look like, into the awareness of the reasons for those behaviors.

For me, Autism isn’t a disease. It’s a little girl who, for a whole year, wrote “Monkey” on her papers where it asked for her name. It is a boy who talked about keys for two years, until he discovered Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s a child who is lonely, and really does want friends regardless of what the old books say, but doesn’t know how to interact with them. Autism is people. Like all people, they have unique needs and hopes and frustrations.  If you take the time to get to know them — really know them, in the sense that you win their real trust because they know they can always count on you — then, you will be truly aware.

 
 

Guilt Free Dipping Snack January 3, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 11:35 am

I don’t usually do pictorial foodie posts, and when you see my photos you will understand why. But I’m so pleased with my latest snackie I couldn’t resist sharing.

Inspired by the bread and oil/vinegar dips I’ve seen in restaurants, I came up with a variation that eliminates the wasteful carbs and adds health benefits, while (I think) improving on the taste.

balsamicsalad

It’s just four ingredients:

I will say though, that I think one of the reasons this was so thoroughly enjoyable was because of the quality of the ingredients. You see, I didn’t use any old vinegar, I used a balsamic vinegar that happened to be better than many of them I’ve found at the grocery store. (Luck, I’ll grant you. I can’t take any credit for the choice.)

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I don’t know anything about it, but it has a pretty bottle and a deep, dark taste. The one I linked to from Amazon doesn’t have the pretty bottle, but it’s the lowest price I found there.

I didn’t use any old oil, either. I used flax oil, and the best I could find. I read the reviews of different brands and chose the one that sounded like it would taste the best. The reviews were right; it’s kind of buttery, kind of nutty, and altogether delicious. Flax oil has nutritional benefits like omega 3 fatty acids, which are good for brain development and for reducing inflammation. For someone with Sjogren’s Syndrome, anti-inflammatory is good. Flax oil is also very good for anyone with dry eyes. Many people take flax oil every day for its benefits, but this tastes so much better than a pill or a spoonful of oil!

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The next extra special ingredient, and I cannot stress this enough, is Cyprus Mushroom Flake salt. Oh. My. Goodness. This salt is amazing. It isn’t terribly expensive, but you will be shocked that salt can be this good. I’ve begun trying (and loving) finishing salts lately, but this and Smoked Cyprus Flake are by far my favorites so far. The flake salt adds a delectable crunch that bursts in your mouth without being overly saline, because the saltiness is spread over a very thin flake. And these two salts are both very rich. I don’t know how else to describe it.

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Finally, there is the lettuce. Plain old iceberg lettuce, because for some strange reason I love the stuff. If you don’t, feel free to substitute with other kinds of lettuce, or even with other greens completely (I bet fresh mustard greens would be delicious). But I like the crunch of iceberg.

Once you have the ingredients, the rest is super easy. Tear up your lettuce into dipping-sized bites, and sprinkle finishing salt over it. In a separate dish, pour a small amount of balsamic vinegar and flax oil, and then dip and eat. It tastes like a treat, but it’s good for you and even low-calorie.

 
 

Note to Monkeytot December 23, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 3:07 pm

Taping a caster wheel to a razor with masking tape does not constitute “making a present.”