I was standing in my kitchen last night brushing my teeth when I noticed that the bottom of a discarded baby spinach container – you know, those huge ones full of pre-washed salad greens – had a textured bottom. Hmm, I thought. I could rub that. With crayons, and a piece of paper.
Out of the recycling bin it came, along with a plastic mushroom tray that also had some neat textures on it. I cut the bottom of the spinach container away from the sides, and tried to peel off a label adhered to the bottom. When it wouldn’t totally come, I covered it with packing tape, so at least the paper I was trying to rub wouldn’t stick to it.
Above and below are the first rubbings I made, on scraps of paper I keep for collage projects. The red one is a positive rubbing, while the blue-green one is a negative rubbing (i.e. I flipped over the piece of plastic). So much fun…
When my niece and nephew were visiting in the summer, my niece made a craft with some dyed popsicle sticks. She left the craft behind when they went home. Several weeks ago I found it, and recycled most of the components (shh!). I wanted to do something with the popsicle sticks, though. I thought maybe they would make great God’s eyes or “yarn paintings,” with some of my many colours of yarn.
Tonight when I was gathering together some things to take to my parents’, I pulled out the sticks and some yarn, thinking the God’s eyes would be something nice to make while I visited with Mom and Dad. I wasn’t sure how to make them, though, so when I got there I searched for a tutorial on my iPhone, and found this video. I love how into it the kid is. My finished results turned out really well (see the photo at the beginning of this post). I hung them in two of my windows when I got home.
I just looked up God’s eyes on Wikipedia, because I wanted to learn more about them. I love the many shades of meaning…
Update: Tuesday night, November 29. The God’s eyes lasted less than 24 hours in my back room windows. The cats found them, and managed to pull one down and run off with it the morning after they were made. I moved them to my kitchen doorway, and there they hang, now.
I commented on a thread on Gwen Bell’sGoogle+ page today. She asked: “Tell me something about yourself. (Like: What are you learning about yourself right now? Like: What’s moving you? Growing you? Like: What’s asking you to be a little more tender?)”
I love Gwen’s questions, because they inspire or prompt me to look deeply, with fresh eyes, at my actions and beliefs. In this case, my answer was clear and almost instantaneous:
“Something I am remembering about myself right now (that is also asking me to be a little more tender): I am very comfortable (patient, caring, attentive and helpful) with seniors and sick people.
“Nearly a week ago I was at a meeting at a seniors’ residence, and helped one of the residents with her walker after the meeting. A simple act – all she needed was her walker brought over to her. But it was a strangely profound experience for me, accompanied by a kinesthetic memory of doing the same actions many, many times before. (My first paying job as a teenager was working in a nursing home. I was also a candystriper at a local hospital, and for several years was self-employed in a service industry where I frequently came into one-on-one contact with seniors. I have not worked with seniors or sick people for several years, however.)
“Then yesterday I visited a loved one in the hospital, and was surprised by what a calm, touching experience it was. Hospitals don’t freak me out the way they do some people (probably thanks to the whole candystriper thing), but I’m not necessarily good at making conversation with people who are unwell. In this case, however, what was really needed was a little personal care. I rubbed lotion on his back and limbs, to soothe his itching skin. I fetched him some ice chips (he’s currently nbm). I sorted out all his tubes and bags and took him for a walk. All of it was so strange and familiar at the same time.
“He was so thankful when I was done. I was so thankful that these things came so easily – that my body could remember things I’d forgotten I knew…”
In yoga we work with the “edge” – the place where a pose becomes uncomfortable. Working with the edge teaches me how to work with other edges in my life – the places where relationships become uncomfortable, or my work becomes uncomfortable, or my thoughts and emotions become uncomfortable, or my habits become uncomfortable. I’m often a whimpering coward when it comes to working with edges, though. Just saying. I don’t like pain.
I visited my loved one at the hospital again today. He was sitting up, waiting for me, eager to repeat yesterday’s “massage.” (Funny: for me the experience was simply “rubbing lotion on his skin.” For him, apparently, it was something much greater.)
I wasn’t as present with him today as I was yesterday. Yesterday, it was all uncertain and new. I could only wait and respond to what was needed. Today I expected (and was expected) to repeat yesterday’s magic. And somehow it wasn’t as magical (at least for me).
My edge, today, was my awareness of the nakedness of his need. He needed help getting a tissue. He needed help cleaning his glasses. He needed help checking his phone. He needed help getting more ice. He needed someone to touch him with healing intention, and love. He needed help using the toilet. He needed help going for a walk around his floor. He needed his hand held. He needed help pushing the little-blue-sponge-toothbrush-thingy to the bottom of his styrofoam cup of ice, so that it would soak up the precious few drops of water he was allowed to put in his mouth. He needed to know that his needs weren’t too many for me to help him with.
They weren’t too many. But having met all his asked-for needs, I rushed off to let him sleep – afraid of all the unasked-for needs I couldn’t hear. I don’t know what tomorrow holds for him. I don’t know what they’re going to find. I don’t know if he’s going to be okay. I don’t know if this afternoon was the last time I will ever see him.
There’s a hymn I used to love singing in church, although I could never make it through all the verses without choking up and having to stop. It’s called The Servant Song. I heard it today in my head as I drove home from the hospital.
We are pilgrims on a journey,
fellow travellers on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ-light for you
in the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping,
when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow
till we’ve seen this journey through.
Brother, let me be your servant,
let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace
to let you be my servant too.
That last line is a killer. “Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.” That’s another edge I withdraw from…
This morning I made a list of things I wanted to do today. I don’t normally make to-do lists, but I was feeling scattered.
* visit —–
* x-mas card blog post
The list was supposed to remind me of what was important. So I tended to the compost when I got home from the hospital.
There is a compost bin behind my apartment building. I don’t think anyone else uses it but me. I compost all my kitchen waste – and there’s a lot of it lately, since I’ve been eating a mostly raw food diet.
Funny, he was the one who taught me about compost. And about the rhythm of the seasons – the outdoor tasks for spring, summer, and fall. The composter is nearly full, and I know that when the freezing weather comes, the process of decomposition will grind to a halt until spring. I wanted to make sure there was room in the composter for all my winter waste.
I pried off the two covers at the base of the black plastic bin, and started scooping out dark brown humus with my kitty litter scoop. (I KNOW. At least it’s a really good scoop, okay? I paid a lot of money for it. It’s strong.)
I managed to get out about two buckets’ worth of brown mud. I slid the covers back on the bin. Then I worked down from the top, using my winter snow shovel to dig out layer after layer of progressively muckier rotting fruit and vegetables, in an attempt to get down far enough so that I could push the compost down into the spaces I’d just emptied.
It smelled awful. But it was beautiful.
Compost is a living ecosystem. I saw ants on the very top. (The fruit flies that had been omnipresent all summer died with the recent frost.) Near the middle of the pile I found earthworms. Juicy, plump, wriggling. They eat the decomposing organic matter, and their poop makes nutritious food for plants.
After I finished shovelling everything back in the composter (and gently relocated a few stray worms), I spread the humus on the nearby flowerbeds. Lilies of the valley and peonies will grow there next spring and summer. As I passed my hand over the humus to smooth it, I had a flashback of my palms rubbing soothing lotion over itchy skin.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sacred activities and ritual. About the intersection of the mundane and the holy. About purification, transformation… and shit.
There’s a blessing I perform on my apartment whenever I am about to have guests. (I also do it sometimes for myself, but this particular blessing is primarily for welcoming outsiders into my home.) I wander through each room with incense, blessing each of the four corners with a different intention. “Bless everyone who enters this place.” “Bless their intentions.” “Bless their creativity.” “Bless their relationships.”
As I leave my kitchen, I say, “Bless our elimination, which gives back to the Universe that which we don’t need.” By my back door, I say, “Bless the shadow, which makes us whole.”
“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life – weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode.
“So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.”
Note to anyone who has been checking this page regularly, hoping I would *finally* update this tutorial: Here it is! All the step-by-step instructions and photographs, describing how I created these Christmas cards with my niece and nephew this summer.
And yes, I realize this tutorial is totally too late for Christmas 2011. (I am posting this update on Christmas Eve.) My bad. But maybe you want to keep this craft in mind for next year…
When my niece and nephew were visiting London this summer, I thought up a craft to do with them: Christmas cards for their mom and grandma. The craft was done in several stages, and I assembled the finished cards in November.
I’ll repeat that last part, because it’s important: This craft was done in several stages. It involves a couple of applications of wet poster paint – plus some glitter glue – that all need time to dry. This is not a quick craft! Also: Probably not appropriate for small children (my niece and nephew are 9 and 12), although it can be adapted for different skill levels, with the hard / dangerous stuff done by grown-ups.
For this project you will need:
A ruler or straight-edge (or scissors)
Permanent, felt-tipped markers
White poster paint, and brushes or sponges
Some potatoes or sweet potatoes, and a knife to cut them
Yellow poster paint
Yellow coloured pencils or markers
Metallic pens in gold or silver (optional)
Glitter glue in white pearl and gold
8 1/2″ x 11″ cover stock
A sewing machine (or alternatively: some really strong glue!)
Gold or yellow sewing thread
A bone folder (optional)
Invitation envelopes (4 3/4″ x 5 3/4″)
Start with the scrap paper. I keep a bin of this stuff lying around for crafts and collage projects, and it’s full of paper allsorts: scrap construction and scrapbooking paper, printer and photocopier rejects, junk mail, magazine tear sheets, old envelopes, used colouring book pages, old children’s artwork, recycled giftwrap, old calendars, etc. Basically anything that’s made out of paper and could possibly be recycled in a cool project.
The finished cards will fit in invitation envelopes (4 3/4″ x 5 3/4″), which makes them one quarter the size of a sheet of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper. You want to collect a bunch of pieces of scrap paper that will fit on the front of the cards, with some blank space around the edges. You could measure and create a template that exactly fits this space, but I like projects that are a little rough around the edges, so I just created a few templates by folding a piece of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper in four, drawing a rough rectangle about half an inch inside the edges, and cutting it out.
I think this was probably the kids’ favorite part: We ripped up about 100 pieces of scrap paper using the templates as a guide. I taught them how to use a ruler as a straight-edge for ripping paper, and they loved the physical, noisy, messy aspect of tearing through a bunch of paper really fast. It doesn’t matter what kind of paper you use (colour, darkness, pattern) – it will be whitewashed with poster paint in the next step.
(In the end, some of the most successful scrap papers we used were red construction paper, old photocopied music (I studied classical singing for a while, so I have a lot of discarded photocopies – shh!), and old children’s drawings. But really – the kind of paper doesn’t matter.)
Once you have ripped / cut as many pieces of scrap paper as you need (plus a few extras for bloopers – my niece, nephew and I tore about 100), take some permanent markers and write the word “Hope” on the card, long-ways (i.e. landscape orientation).
The kids got really creative with this, sometimes making puffy, cartoon-like letters, sometimes using wavy lines, sometimes doing it like I suggested (plain block letters). Again – doesn’t matter, as long as the word is more-or-less legible against the paper. (I discovered that black construction paper is not ideal for this step of the craft, but will still turn out okay by the end.)
Next, take some white poster paint and do a quick and messy whitewash of all your papers. (Helps if you have a large table to spread them out on undisturbed, because they take a while to dry.)
When the whitewash is dry, it’s time to do some potato prints.
Take a few large potatoes or sweet potatoes, and cut them in half. Draw star shapes on the cut side of the potatoes, and cut away all the parts outside of the stars. (I realize that’s not a great description, but words are failing me right now. If you truly have no idea how to cut up a potato to make a potato stamp, check out this video on YouTube.
When your potato stamps are ready, dip the stars in yellow poster paint, and stamp them on the whitewashed, dried scrap papers. We did one big star and two little stars on each paper. Then let the papers dry again.
When the papers with the star stamps are dry, take some yellow pencil crayons or markers (crayons would also work) and write the word “hope” on the papers again, this time with the paper in “portrait” orientation.
You can also take metallic pens in gold or silver and draw one large star in the centre of each paper. I did this part in November, without the kids.
Next I painted some pearlized (clear or white) glitter glue in the centre of each star.
Finally, I drew one large star on each page with gold glitter glue.
Let everything dry completely before moving on to the next step.
The next part is optional, but makes the cards look really interesting and unique: Use a sewing machine to sew each piece of scrap paper onto a piece of 8 1/2″ x 11″ cover stock (heavy paper). Don’t worry – if you don’t have a sewing machine, you can just glue the scrap papers onto the cover stock.
Note that if you want to print the cover stock with a message or a date, you need to do this before sewing the scrap paper on. I’m not going to go into a how-to here, but I pre-printed my cover stock with a verse (“Hope is a star that shines in the night / leading us on till the morning is light”), and a copyright on the back, plus a QR code so recipients could navigate to this tutorial on their smartphones. I know, I know – I’m much too clever for my own good, sometimes.
The trickiest part about sewing the cards is positioning the scrap paper correctly on the unfolded cover stock. A hack I’ve figured out over the years (because I’ve sewn cards like this many, many times) is to have a sample card (the pink paper, below).
Position the scrap paper on the sample first, so that you can see how far from the right and bottom edges the scrap paper should go. It’s always kind of a guessing game, and it’s okay if it’s not perfect. (People will be so freaking impressed that you sewed the cards, they won’t care about anything else. Trust me.)
Start sewing on what will be the “back” of the finished card (once it’s folded after sewing), and then sew one continuous line to “draw” a star over the scrap paper with the stitches. Again, I’m not really explaining this well. Have a look at the photos, and write a comment if you still can’t figure it out. I may know how to use my words better by then. :)
I left the ends of thread hanging long on the outside of the card, but on the inside (which people won’t see once the card is folded) I cut them fairly short, about half an inch long.
The last step is to fold the card stock in quarters, to make the finished card. I always use a bone folder to make nice crisp edges that look really professional, but you don’t need to purchase a bone folder to get the same effect. Just use the side of a thick marker or highlighter, and run it along all the folds.
Seeing the finished cards all together is always magical for me. We used such a variety of scrap papers, and each card was truly unique. Together they looked fantastic.