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My Crown of Glory

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A few months ago my children and I observed how my dozen or so strands of gray hair had remained steady in number since their first appearance a few years back.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed with dismay that the number had increased twofold, the fierce pale strands fighting for their place amongst the mass of deep brown. A difficult season of parenting had taken place between those two surveys of my head and I knew without a doubt that out of the stress and straining of those days the silver had sprung its roots.

My 12-year-old encourages me to embrace the tale-tell signs of aging. She quotes a passage from Proverbs and reminds me that it’s a sign of a righteous life, that it is my “crown of splendor”.  If I look from the right angle, I can see the new gray stands as an affirmation that I’m not over-exaggerating that short but stormy season, it’s a marking post that I faced something truly difficult and I’ve arrived on the other side. I simply didn’t know my crown of splendor would be arriving at the age of 37.

What if the same process that produced these silver strands also worked in reverse?

For example, today was the opposite of my days a few months back. The April sun was warm, while the shade allowed a playful caress of wind. Instead of fighting, each of my kids engaged in a creative activity, entirely unprompted by me.

My six-year-old sat before me in her red wagon, first drawing a map of an imaginary land and then typing a story of giants and dragons. Beside me sat my ten-year-old (who has spent much of the last year hating any act of school-ish activity) writing chapter five of a story. The twelve-year-old worked on a “creaturepedia” for her own story and the oldest worked on a script for a project that she’s begun with friends. This is how the day began and this is how the day continued for hours and I sat near them all, reading a book and saying a quiet thanks to the Lord.

What if, with the same power that conjured those gray follicles into my hair like wild kudzu, a day like this could just as magically change a few of them back to the rich brown of youth and hope? This too, would be a kind of affirmation, that each day may brings its own mercies, its own renewal.

 

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Art at the Speed of Life

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If you go to an art museum with your four children, you will see the art fast, a colorful blur of masterpieces.

First, the quick pace will be set by your five-year-old, who will drag you from painting to painting (skipping several pieces or walls at a time).

As you try to avoid whiplash during this process, you notice the 14-year-old old has a smile turned upside down and is grinding her teeth because she feels crowded by her siblings and grumpy because she has to rush through the art (even though she doesn’t appear much more interested in the art than the five-year-old).

Eventually you notice the five-year-old has stopped dragging you and now has her arms lifted toward you to be carried.  When you bend down to pick her up you notice the woman with the headphones, who is standing still, listening to the audio tour, and you think how different the art would look at her pace, which seems almost like slow-motion compared to your own speed.

Your attention turns to your nine-year-old son and you know that at least twenty-six minutes have elapsed since he last ate and you calculate how much time is left before “I’m hungry” escapes his lips.

You are now the one that picks up the pace, urging everyone through the exhibit and finally to the stairs that lead to the room the kids have been waiting for, the art-making room. Coats are tossed your way as they disperse to different stations.  You think wistfully of putting your own hands on the fanned paintbrush or making a white line on the black paper in front of the wooden figure. Or maybe making a short animated movie with the giant guinea pigs at station number six.  But you hold the coats and the bags of art as they accumulate.

Later, at home, your husband asks the five-year-old how she liked the art museum and she answers, “First there was this really boring part where we looked at a lot of pictures, but then we went to the part where we got to make art!”

You smile, seemingly amused at your daughter’s cute response, but really you’re thinking again of the woman with the headphones, who walked the exhibit, without any fear of whiplash.

 

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To Linger in Thankfulness

IMG_7834watching backyard animals from the window

I’ve never been good at writing thank you notes. I blame it on my mom, because she didn’t make me write them (love you, momma!). And my kids will blame it on me, because I don’t make them either.

In theory, though, I like the idea of thank you notes. My kids receive thoughtful presents or the gift of time from a relative, enjoy it and then, moving at the speed of life, they forget and move onto the next thing. In truth, I’m just like them with the daily gifts of life. I am guilty of living moment to moment, worry to worry, just keeping my head above the water until the next wave of worry comes along. I easily miss the amazing gifts that arrive with each new day.

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pajama clad girl with her leopard balloon riding her bike in the evening

I’m not good at thank you notes, even if I write them I usually fail to send them. Seriously, I still have sealed thank you notes from our wedding a decade and half ago. Even keeping a thankful list usually falls by the wayside after three days. Lately though, art has become a way to linger in thankfulness a little longer.

These past few weeks I’ve been grabbing my sketchbook to capture moments and then I revisit those sketches later with fresh paper and paint. It’s been a way to slow down, to mark the mundane that is really not mundane at all.  The moments are really endless, but my hand can only catch about one a day or every two days.

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These moments include:

My oldest child in her cat-eye green sunglasses and favorite owl shirt, beautiful in her spirit, poised between childhood and becoming adult.

My nine-year-old son as he exclaims every day, “You’re the best mommy in the whole world”.  (How amazing that someone truly thinks of me that way.)

All four children working together on a Lego movie.

The five of us reading Edward Eager’s books out loud together.

Every day of the fifteenth year of my marriage.

My five-year-old marveling at every bit of life.

Marveling at life, that’s what I’m doing when I take the the time to sketch a moment of our life. I’m looking at life with the heart of a five-year-old, awe-struck and thankful.

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IMG_7838walking with my son during a beautiful sunset last year

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Facing the White Chasm

There is a moment before my paintbrush meets the paper. In that moment, my hand is still while the voices have it out with each other. “Walk away,” the first voice urges loudly while the other voice speaks quietly, whispering under the din of fear, “Maybe today something beautiful will come out of these hands.”

As I begin the first strokes, it’s as if my senses are underwater and the world around me becomes muffled and distant: I’m tuned only to my heartbeat, this paper, and the tools in my hand. I layer color and line and I’m in the Beautiful In Between– past the initial burst of doubt and fear, but not yet to the moment when my hand stops for the last time and the incarnation is revealed to match my vision, or not.

I’m tempted to stop now, and the hesitation invites the voices back. “Tomorrow,” the first voice soothes. “You could leave it right here, in this state of possibility and come back tomorrow.” But the latter voice tells me that tomorrow I will say the same thing, “I’ll leave it as it is, for just one more day.” If making the first mark on the blank page seemed like the hardest part, I know in this moment that continuing is by far the more daunting choice.

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The moment in a story when everything goes wrong is sometimes called the Dark Night of the Soul. I see a similar moment approaching in my work and I know that’s why I’ve paused brush and breath. Soon the original sketch will be hidden completely and my vision all but lost. It is tempting to stay in the before, where possibility reigns.

To go forward means for a little while it’s going to be chaos and I wonder if there’s a way to skip this part. Can I sidestep the Dark Night of the Soul? In writing, this is when the words have been shifted and plucked until they begin to slide out of focus, losing their shape and meaning. In theatre, it’s when the individual scenes have been rehearsed and now it’s time to put them together and add in lights, sound and costumes. For the next three days it’s all going to look worse than it did before the work began. For every artist, all that is visible is a cacophony of unpolished layers. This is the moment when the artist asks, “Will it work?”

The truth is, sometimes it doesn’t. Not every piece emerges from the darkness.

Sometimes, though, it does work. My hand goes back to the brush and from layers of paint, the original vision emerges. It’s altered, of course, because process changes things. Neither is it perfect, because I’m not perfect. But there is beauty in the trying. And what has surfaced is better and truer than the original spark of an idea.

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Either way, what do I do after?

I begin all over again. Hope has been born in the darkness, when the vision was momentarily lost but I continued anyway. Gathering the courage of a superhero and the foolishness of a lover, I face the white chasm, again.

 

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Creative Goals 2014

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As our family gets more intentional with our time this year, my own goals have floated to the surface.  My goals stem from a desire to grow in artistic skills and also to make room for things that I delight in doing, that refresh me in a brief time of respite.  And underlying those goals is a hope that God will shine His light through whatever I’m creating with my hands or my words.

As I wrote “Aimee’s Writing Time” on the Saturday morning slots on the family calender, a little shiver circled around my heart.  “Can I really do this, give myself this time?” I wondered, feeling both spoiled and worried at actually using the time.  To put the time  on the calender frees me to say no to other things that come up, decisions that sound odd when I say them out loud to friends.

Me: No, I’m not going on the retreat, I have writing goals this Spring and if I set a weekend aside, it will be to write.

Quiet. Awkward moment.

Friend: But you have to go!

Quiet. Awkward moment.

Me: I’m really not going to go.

In addition to setting aside time to write (specifically to adapt a children’s chapter book into a play), I’m taking a year long art class with my favorite art teacher, Carla Sonheim. It’s called The Year of the Fairy Tale. I’ve written before about the luxury of being a student and about recovering from a perfectionism that petrified me from making art. Now I get to continue on this journey, mixing my favorite art teacher with stories, and the kids get to come along as well!

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Carla also has an exciting schedule of shorter classes lined up for the start of the year. Coming soon are Faces 101 and GelliPlate and I recommend both.  Don’t let the the online aspect bother you or scare you away. Taking one of her online classes is like having her come and sit at the table beside me, show me her work, share her process (successes and mistakes) and encourage me to jump into the art supplies and make something. She’s also great at never leaving me with a blank page.  There is a blob of paint, a series of words, almost always something rather than nothing, a place to begin.

If it’s art that makes you breathe easier and loosen your shoulders (or if you feel in your bones that art could be that way for you if you could fear less and art more), then put some art dates on your calender and sign up for a class.  If it’s not art, then find out what it is, write it down, and say no to something else!

 

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What’s a Story without the Hard Parts? (Re-post)

(This a re-post from last year.)

(spoiler alert: major plot points of Jane Eyre are revealed in this post)

I re-read books.

I love to re-read books.

There are some books that have been such intimate friends over the years that I can pull one off of the shelf, open it to any page, and be transported to the world of my favorite character, the colors and details as vivid as a movie playing on a screen.

Sometimes I read selfishly, savoring the first half of the book, the build, the love story when the love is still new and unblemished, when the characters are still true to themselves and each other, and then I stop.

I stop before time travel moves from excitement to terrifying for Henry and Clare in the Time Traveler’s Wife. I click off my book light before Jane Eyre leaves Mr. Rochester and spends months in pain instead of newfound joy.

And then I flip to the end. I have the right to do it, I’ve already read the book a dozen times, suffered with her, I’ve earned the right to skip if I want to.

But the end is never as exhilarating if I skip the hard parts.

The first time I walked with Jane toward Mr. Rochester when they finally meet again-well, there weren’t any words for that moment. Together we’d chosen starvation over sin and then faced the temptation to forsake our hearts altogether for a life and marriage without love. I might smile and nod happily when I skip those parts and turn to the last chapter, but take away the hard parts and where’s the story that stole my heart to begin with?

I’ve begun to see my own story in the same way. What is my story without this middle part?

I spend a lot of time running away from pain, either present pain, or past pain, anxious to get to “the good part”. But when I look back at my story of 34 years, which parts do I skip? The past that I once wished to leave closed, present chapters included, are all intricately connected. Events, moments of impact that once (and sometimes still) cause me to cry out, “Why?”, don’t make any sense as individual stories.

When I look back now those collection of moments resemble the Extreme Dot to Dot that my 11-year-old finished last week. 636 dizzying dots that eventually revealed a complete picture. I don’t know the number of days of my life so I don’t know how many dots are left to connect, but enough to know that God’s plan has been purposeful, not one extraneous dot in this book. Each moment has brought me a little more faith, trust, love, and hope, sometimes while the pain is fresh, sometimes later.

“You cannot amuptate your history from your destiny..my past is something Jesus takes hold of and makes into a destiny.  That’s called redemption.”

Beth Moore

While reading someone else’s painful story this week, I felt challenged to be a steward of my story, instead of running from it.  As I read Mary Beth Chapman’s book about the accidental death of her 5-year-old daughter, she spoke of God making her and her whole family a steward of their story. What an amazing response to the pain allowed into their life (deeper pain than I’ve ever experienced). And they have done just that, through their lives, through their books, through their music, through their ministry. They didn’t hide, they opened their story to the world, their whole story.

Stories, both real and fictional, don’t make sense without the hard parts.

What story has God made you a steward of?

 

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Drawing Game

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Last friday night we sat in the booth at Panera, just me, my husband and our four-year old, while the big kids were busy at parties and youth events.  The soup bowl lay empty, the dishes shoved aside, while we tried out a drawing game I’d recently seen in one of my new favorite art books for kids.

How to play:

  1. The first person draws a head and neck (animal, human, fantastical) while the other players look away.  The player folds down the paper until only the tip of the necklines are showing and passes the paper to the next player.

  2. The next player keeps the top section folded and draws the middle body section down to the waist while the others look away. The player folds the paper to cover the section, leaving only a tiny bit of the waist lines showing and passes the paper to the last player.

  3. Keeping the paper folded, the last player draws in the legs and feet and then turns the paper and then unfolds all of the sections for the big reveal.

This was a game full of fun surprises and our four-year old had no trouble keeping up!

If we had more than one pencil, we could have kept three papers rotating at one time, but we didn’t, so we finished one drawing before creating the next one.

This is an easy game to play while waiting in the car, around the table at a restaurant, or part of a family fun night.  If you have more than three players, you can start two or more teams.

Happy Art-ing,

Aimee

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Hutchmoot in Verse

If you don’t know what Hutchmoot is, click here to get a little more confused about the whole idea.

For those of you who have been to Hutchmoot, I hope this bit of verse glimpses a familiar moment, even if your moment happened in a different seat with a different set of characters.

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My pencil records that
which should not be forgotten
as another quote takes its place
in the cramped apartment of my brain.
I shift and shove furniture around,
wondering where to put all the guests,
while my hand scribbles on and on.

By the time the bell rings,
my head is heavy with new occupants,
and I navigate the crowds, avoiding questions.
How was your session?
people are eager to ask me,
but Dillard is still unpacking,
while Chesterton fixes a cup of tea,
and Plato sits in the corner sulking
at his motley crew of flat mates.
Lewis and Rawlings are
fighting over who gets the
window seat for supper and this
din of musical chairs,
has left me breathless and dumb.

Arriving at my bench I invite
the time-traveling tenants
into the wide-open stretch
and they heed my call,
climbing out onto tree limbs
reclining on slides and swings,
giving us all a little room to breathe.

Later, when it’s time to
collect my thoughts,
now dusted with earth,
October leaves askew in L’Engle’s hair,
I notice they’ve settled in nicely,
clearing space just in time
to make room for the residents,
of the post-lunch session.

 

Rabbits, any suggestions for a title?

 

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Does Art Time Make You Want to Cry?

Almost immediately after I wrote my last post, I wondered if it might sound too idealistic to some of you: the family gathered together around the table, savoring the process of making art. You’re thinking of the many art times at your house that have involved a serious level of ugly-crying (both you and the kids) and you’re a little annoyed that I’m suggesting something different happens at my house.

How Art Looks at Our House, Sometimes

That morning we did have a great time, there were no tears, no crumpled papers, no “I’m not good at art” moments.  But we’ve had plenty of those moments, too.  I have one daughter who is a perfectionist and she can get very intense when she works on an art assignment (picture a creature from Poltergeist). I have another daughter who is quick to doubt herself and she often has to walk (stomp) away from her work for thirty minutes and approach it with a fresh perspective.  “I can’t do it!” is most often heard from my son, who’s been watching his sisters draw since he came out of the womb.

Give Me Product, Not Process

In addition, I’m aware that I can be a product-led mama.  I like things to look good with a capital “G”. I loved having an art show last year to display our family’s art work.  But that part of my personality can sometimes lead me astray.  I can end up framing the twelve-year old’s work, while tacking my four-year old’s art to the refrigerator, sending the younger child a silent message “Come back later when you’ve got some ‘real’ art”. When my twelve-year old was four, everything she touched with paint was as beautiful to me as a picture in a gallery. My, how expectations can rise.

Exploring Versus Mastering

Why, then, were we all relaxed during our last art session?  The project was open-ended. It was about exploring rather than mastering. We’ve done a few of these projects lately, inspired from a book called The Artful Parent by Jean Van’t Hul. It’s a book that I checked out with my four-year old in mind, but it’s got all of us, ages four to thirty-six, following the scent of art to the kitchen table.

We need to play with art. We need to dip a lego brick into paint and put it to our paper without any pressure to produce something worth showing. We need to dip a q-tip in paint and see if we can create a face or a tree out of dots and then laugh if the face looks like a person with measles. Or possibly, like my son, we need to get a rubber ball and see how it works as a bouncing paintbrush.

A Little of Both

Now that some of my kids are older, we’ve leaned toward a focus on art projects that develop skills. That type of goal-oriented work has produced some great art and I enjoy seeing the skills show up in the sketch books and projects they do on their own.  But there is a place for both kinds of projects.  A child (or an adult) most likely won’t want to do the skill-focused projects if he hasn’t first experienced the exhilaration of making something with his hands, and continued to re-visit that freedom and joy.

Isn’t it true for many areas that combine skill and creativity?  Think of the hard-working ballerina who also loves to dance to the Beatles in her living room.  Or the classically-trained guitarist who plays in a Rockabilly band on Friday nights. We need to allow our children to play with art, and we need to play right along with them.

If art times are stressful at your house, take a look at what type of projects you’ve been doing. Do you need to put away the “how to draw” books for a a little while? You might need to examine your own attitude toward art.  If you regularly announce to your kids “I can’t draw” or “I can’t paint” then don’t expect them to have a brave attitude toward art. Do you send a message of product over having fun? Try a different approach this week.

Here’s to a great week of art!

Aimee

An artist who keeps these elements of playfulness and skill-building in balance  is Carla Sonheim.  She has two online classes coming up and I highly recommend you sign up for one and do it with your kids.   

Other resources:

 

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The Tempting Aroma of Art

I cover the table with plastic bags, set out the paint trays and the paint shirts.

“Are we going to do art Mommy?!” asks the 4-year old.

We’re the only ones in the kitchen while the other kids are laboring away at grammar exercises and studying science.

“Yes, we’re doing art, Goose.”

The 8-year old instantly appears in the kitchen and says, “What are you doing?”

“We’re doing art,” replies the 4-year old.

He looks at the collection of Legos, cookie cutters, and other odd bits I’ve amassed on the table beside the paint I’m squirting into trays.

“I want to do it,” he announces and dons a paint shirt.

Seconds later his 10-year old sister arrives, “Do what?”

“Art,” answers her brother.

“I want to do it, too!” she says as she grabs another shirt.

Then, like a child sniffing cookies fresh from the oven, my 12-year old follows the scent of art and claims her chair, too.

“I’d rather do art than science tests any day!” she announces.

For the next forty-five minutes we dip, mix, stamp, and admire.

Each of the kids have the same bits and baubles to work with, the same colors of paint, the same white piece of cardstock, and yet not one piece of art matches the one next to it. Piece after piece, the floor and the top of the washing machine are now covered with drying art, each a representation of the very unique being who created it.

Our breathing and minds are loose, we are doing something we are meant to do. Sure, the other tasks are waiting (and they will mostly get done) but what a gift to start here.

 

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