Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Where I've Been

Will I post when I am out of town?  Evidently, no.  So much for NaBloPoMo.  So I skipped almost a week of blogging.  I was busy being not busy, visiting with family, and watching Toby enjoy his grandparents and aunts and uncles.  And getting my dose of Christmas in Kansas City--because I have yet to find a city that does Christmas half as well.  My sister encouraged us all to go down to the Plaza lighting ceremony, it was the first time I'd watched it from the street.  So, of course, I had to take the I-was-there-camera-phone-shot.

As we head into December I'll be posting a bit less, but I'm hoping to add some posts that are a bit more planned out as we work our way through Advent.  In that spirit, I also added an Advent Calendar to the sidebar.  Because the devotionals have been good so far, and we all need some little windows to open during Advent.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Quick Post

A quick photo today, after a long day of traveling by train, plane and car.  Last week we made some stained glass windows with our Art Friends.  Idea from Play At Home Mom.

Monday, November 21, 2011

First Sunday in Advent

"Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand."
-Isaiah 64:8

We got out our Christmas decorations today.  This is the time to start getting excited about Christmas.  (Insert joke about Target opening at midnight here.)  I'll admit, I'm listening to the music already, and half of my shopping is done.  But in these first weeks of the church year the lectionary isn't ready to talk about shepherds and wise men yet.  It jumps into Isaiah's dense and angry and hopeful prophesy.

Most children's Bibles don't bother with the prophets, so I'm impressed by the way Ralph Milton handles these verses in his Lectionary Story Bible.  Instead of paraphrasing the prophecy, Milton takes us back and tells the story of the prophet as his work is forming.  And to see inside Isaiah's head, Milton also introduces us to Rebekah, a child who talks with the old prophet.  The pairing of old and young, male and female, respected prophet and simple child--it's all obvious, but it works.  Through their conversation children are given an accessible entryway into Isaiah's words.  And we are all reminded that the Big Words of the Bible weren't dictated from On High, and they weren't the ramblings of a few lone priests and prophets.  These words were formed in community--written down and preserved by real people.

So Isaiah tells young Rebekah of his frustration with the people, and how he (notice this in the Bible passage as well, the anger does not come from God) wishes God would send an angry punishment.  And Rebekah calms him, reminding him that God loves like a Mother.

And all of this--from a Christian perspective--is part of the preparation for Christmas.  We've messed up.  Righteous people have a reason to be angry.  God has an excuse to be angry.  And yet God isn't angry, God loves us as a Mother; molds us as an Artist.  Through that love a new possibility is forming in these verses. 

I'm not entirely sure what I want to do with this space as I read through the lectionary this year.  But I would like to give back some resources to aid you in reading these verses with your families.  Do you have an Advent wreath?  If not, grab some clay or playdough and make some simple holders for candles.  Traditionally there are four outer candles to be lit the four Sundays before Christmas, and one in the center to be lit on Christmas.  Advent starts on Sunday, so you've got a few days to remember what drawer those candles are hiding in.  As you squish your clay, read from Isaiah 64:1-9, and then share the prayer below:

Steady God, when we mess up, you are our Mother, rocking us close.  When our hearts burn with anger, you are the Potter, molding us for the work that comes next.  Right now we are lumps of clay, still forming, uncertain of what we will be next.  Be with us in the waiting, as we wonder what we will become.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Capitol Gatherings

I'm curious about the protest scene here in DC.  Certainly, there are protests often, but most of them are rather small.  And because they're so commonplace, they don't seem to make much impact.  And until today I hadn't really joined any of the crowds--although we had taken walks by the Occupy campsites and listened in on a few other small rallies.

Last February, we ended up as protest tourists in Madison, Wisconsin.  We were stopping through for an event at my old church, and it just happened to be the first weekend of the massive protests at the capitol building.  The energy there was amazing.  There was so much joy and hope.  But there was also a real sense of what was at stake.  At church the next day I listened in as groups of teachers, working in several area districts, worried about whether their Unions would go on strike, whether they would follow, and how much they were willing to risk.  There was real fear there, too.  Folks were noticing that things were changing for the middle class.

I have yet to see that energy at any of the protests we've stopped by around Washington.  This afternoon we walked, with our church, over to the White House for an interfaith (turned out to be Muslim, Jewish and Christian) prayer vigil regarding the budget super committee's upcoming deadline.  This is big stuff--the cuts made by the committee this week will likely not only take away assistance from needy families right now, in the middle of a recession, but will also change how our country views its relationship to sustaining it's most vulnerable.  The vigil was sponsored by the Faithful Budget Campaign, and these folks have been hard at work all summer and fall.  Several of the leaders even ended up in jail for taking their prayers inside of the Capitol.  Every speaker at the vigil was connected with a national organization that is working for poverty justice.  Shoot, that picture up there?  That's Dr. Bernice Reagan, of Sweet Honey in the Rock, who stopped by to sing her two cents.  Wow.  But the crowd was a moderate size--under 200 probably.  There were twice as many tourists across the street snapping photos of the White House.

I'm glad we went, but I'm not sure I left with any more hope for the future.  I suppose I brought home a reminder of the place of prayer in all of this.  Prayer is for the times when the future is uncertain and the world seems set against justice.  Prayer helps me remember that no matter the size of the rally, God does notice when people slip through the cracks--and when others work to make the cracks larger.  And why bother going to a small vigil?  Because knowing that there are a few others out there tonight praying helps, too.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blessed and Lucky

I spent last night talking with a friend about her trip to Haiti.  And tonight I watched my bus empty when we stopped outside one of the city's largest homeless shelters.  So I'm having one of those evenings where I hug my son a little tighter, and feel thankful for leftovers & warm blankets.

Thankful.  Or just relieved.  This is the season of Thanksgiving, the time to count our blessings.  I stay away from the language of blessing most of the time.  I hear the word used as a synonym for "lucky" far to often, and I'm usually too cautious to use the word outloud.  Because if what I have is a blessing, a gift from God, then why is God refusing to bless someone else?  Why would I be thankful for a God that worked so unfairly?  And where does that put God on the days when the blessings don't come through for me?

And yet we've been lighting candles at dinner lately and saying what we are thankful for.  And it makes my heart melt a little to hear my son say thank you for trains and marbles and mommy and papa.  My heart is very full--from the joy in our little family, from the friends far away who are keeping in touch on this year away, from excitement as we get ready to visit family over the holidays.  I am thankful, but I'm not sure how to express that thanks, or how to encourage thankfulness in my son without teaching him that God picks and chooses who gets the good blessings and who doesn't.

There's more than luck in the relationships that sustain me.  But there's less than divine will.  I'm still looking for the word that fits inbetween.  Any ideas?

{this moment}

Waiting for the bus.  You know the drill.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Short Post

Did you know that Bonsai trees also change color in the fall?

Clearly, from the number of pictures in the past few days, blogging isn't really my thing this week.  I'll write something of substance soon.  Maybe.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Getting Outdoors

I'm not feeling all that chatty tonight, so here's a roundup of pictures from a recent trip to the outdoor playspace at the Brookside Nature Center in Wheaton, Maryland.  To keep me dreaming up plans for when we have a yard again.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

All of the Above

Over the weekend we got out to the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company to see A Bright New Boise.  And while I don't think I want to turn this into a blog of theater criticism, there were some fun arts and crafts projects happening in the lobby before we entered the theater.
The play is set in the break room at a Hobby Lobby in Boise, where the peace is broken when the employees start talking about their beliefs.  And so, the conversations starters in the lobby incorporated pony beads, rubber stamps, popsicle sticks and styrofoam wreaths.  We attended during the last week of the run, so the little questionnaires were well covered with their crafty answers.

Of course, I'm filing these ideas away for use in a Sunday school class.

As for the play--it was incredibly well done, and raised enough questions to make for good after-viewing discussion.  But, like the questions posed in the lobby, it assumed that each person has just one answer to these questions.  One character was ready for the apocalypse, one believed in art, one believed in the marketplace.  I don't think that's how most of us operate--certainly not anyone I'm interested in talking with.  So I enjoyed putting a white, green, yellow, and red bead into the canister above. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Not Quite a Habit Yet

Well, I made it one third of the way through the month, and then I skipped yesterday.  I was going to post after the little guy's bedtime, and then I fell asleep myself.  Inspired somewhat by NaBloPoMo I've been trying to blog every day.  I don't think I'll be keeping up at this pace after the month finishes, but it seemed like a good enough challenge to get me into blog-writing-mode.

And despite taking a day off, I don't have much to say today, either.  It was a full weekend of starting projects--some of them will show up here in the coming weeks.  But nothing's quite at the take-a-picture stage.  So here's a picture of the arches out front of Union Station.  I kind of love all the details of a city that you walk by every day, and I'm proud of myself when I remember to stop and take a picture.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bits of Goodness Fairytale Swap

We got some goodies in the mail last week, and I finally found some light for photographing them:

I've been lurking on a Yahoo group called Bits of Goodness for, oh, nearly a year now, and I finally took the plunge and started playing along.  The group hosts regular swaps of handmade goodies, and everything must be made from natural materials.  For this swap the theme was storytelling and fairytales--so my partner and I pretty quickly decided that our boys would enjoy some costumes for acting out their own stories.  I sent off a bit of knitted chainmail, and in return Toby transformed into royalty.

He having great fun with the crown and cape (and the sword, which wasn't from the swap)--insisting that he is not a king or a prince but a knight. 

This was a well-timed swap, as Toby is just starting to figure out how costumes figure in to pretend play--and other than a few too-small Halloween costumes, his dress up box is pretty bare.  I'm hoping to work on that some more for Christmas, but this was a huge head start.

One more closeup of the dragon on the back.  The crown & the dragon on the back of the cape are made from the softest felt in a cozy green.  Love it!  Thanks so much Marjorie!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Christmas Candles with Decorating Wax

Toby is getting started on his Christmas crafting, too.

It's hard to find craft projects that are kid-driven and still end up with a product that is gift-worthy.  Not that the grandparents wouldn't be happy with any old construction paper doodle--but it's fun for Toby to create something that he knows is special enough to give away.

So I picked up some Ikea pillar candles and I ordered up some Stockmar Decorating Wax (the picture below is of another brand, but same idea).  Unlike modeling wax, decorating wax comes in thin sheets.  It's easy to cut, and because it's thin it's easier for small hands to warm and mold than the larger chunks of modeling wax.


I thought that I'd end up cutting out geometric shapes and Toby would do the placement, but he grabbed the scissors away from me right away.  Turns out this stuff is easier to cut than paper, and if you're two and the scissors are getting you down, you can tear it apart easily, too.  So he set to work chopping and sticking.  We set a few ground rules--the top of the candle is for fire so we are not decorating it, and only small pieces stick to the candle (otherwise he would have happily stuck whole sheets to each candle).  And then he got to work.  (I did need to give the pieces an extra squeeze to make sure they were secure after he went to bed.)

While Toby was working, I used the decorating wax to add little holly berries to some beeswax candles (shown here) and used a hole punch to make the berries.  Toby was immediately curious about the new tool.  It worked, for him and for me, but I'm not quite sure I'd recommend it.  It's a bit gummed up now, and I'm not exactly sure how to clean it.  But it does make circles, and it's a new tool to explore--if your hole punch is as old as mine, give it a try.

And then there was the lesson for me in letting go--of my treasured art supplies.  I am definitely a cut-from-the-corner-of-the-fabric kind of girl, and Toby methodically punched a whole right in the middle of every single sheet, and cut or tore many sheets in half just for the fun of it.  Stockmar wax is quality stuff, and you get a lot of candles out of that little box--but it is a bit pricey.  So I needed to remind myself that this was his project and his space to explore--and that the now disheveled box of wax is still 7/8 full and perfectly usable.

He has decorated three candles so far, and we're hoping for eight before Christmas to be able to give to all the adult relatives we'll be visiting.  That's another key to repetitive gift projects with little ones--start early, give them time to work on a few a time, and give them time to have some weeks where they don't work on it at all.  The more he initiates the project, the more he'll feel like these are treasured works that he's proud to share.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Yes, it's official, the Christmas preparations are starting.  And I love all the fun of making little Christmasy crafts and addressing Christmas cards and making gift lists.  I don't so much love trying to buy tickets for holiday travel online, but I love that my son asks every day when we are going to see "grandma and grandpa" and "other grandma and grandpa" next.  (Grandparents, if you're reading, the title "other" switches depending on who he's visited most recently.)  It is time to prepare!

With the holly and the ivy come the familiar stories of preparation.  Read in worship, explored with children in Sunday school, retold at home around our Advent candles and nativity.  And so we come to a new project for me:

Recently I discovered Ralph Milton's The Family Story Bible, and I immediately wondered why I hadn't heard of this collection sooner.  Milton's stories are Bible and storytelling and a dose of child-sized theology all in one.  It's risky, embellishing a children's Bible with a bit of your own storytelling.  I've pushed aside dozens of children's Bibles for just this fault.  And yet Milton's storytelling is engaging, his theology brings out biblical concerns for justice and peace, and his adaptations are not mere sermonizing, they seem to be a successful effort at bringing some dense passages of scripture into a child's focus.  (I'm already loving his creative solution to exploring the not-so-kid-friendly advent passages out of Isaiah.)

Today I sat down with the Lectionary Year B version.  Are you familiar with the Lectionary?  Many churches use some form of a three-year list of readings to guide the passages that will be used in worship each Sunday.  The idea is that if you show up to church for three years you'll hear most of the major stories of the Bible told at times appropriate to the church year. 

The new church year begins on November 27, the first Sunday in Advent.  We're moving into Year B, hence the version I ordered.  And this year I'm going to try to read through the Lectionary Story Bible on my own, on this blog and hopefully with my son.  I don't have too much control over that last one, and I'll admit that these tellings are better suited for elementary school than preschoolers.  I'll let you know how that goes and what adaptations I make as we go along.

But for now, know that I'm slowly planning some ways to add a bit of theology to the craftiness on the blog.  For me they kind of go together--these are the two main ways I express my creativity and passion.  And they're both part of making a home, setting a table, inviting folks to conversation.  I hope you'll pull up a chair and join in.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Christmas is Starting

Christmas tree pins, made with this tutorial at the Purl Bee.

Tiny garlands, for tiny corners that need decorating.

And the beeswax candles, completed.

Throw in the mini-books from a previous post, and my advent swap goodies for Bits of Goodness are in the mail.  And I managed to order Christmas cards today, too.  So it's official, the Christmasing has begun!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Spray Painting

Two hours at the park today.  Wow, is fall amazing here in DC.  It's November, and we're shedding layers as we run around outside.  And the colors are just hitting their peak as well, so I'm all about finding as many reasons to get outside as possible.  Even better, inspired by the Artful Parent, we've hooked up with some other mamas and young preschoolers for a little art time at the park each week.  At different times we've had playdough and pipecleaners and contact paper--and this week I got a bit brave about the mess and brought out spray bottles full of paint.

My son isn't all that interested in making marks yet.  I'm trying not to take that personally.  But he sure liked having a squirt bottle.  We used these liquid watercolors mixed with equal parts water.  We sprayed onto some basic card stock.  The boys weren't all that interested in the finished product, but it held up to the wet better than plain drawing or copy paper would have.

While I liked the spray pattern that comes from squirting from far away, Toby preferred to get in close and spray and spray and spray until the paper was covered in a big puddle.  Sometimes both boys (there were just two this day) would spray different colors on the same paper, watching the streams of paint clash and mix.  Next time one of the moms suggested that we bring some clothespins and pin the papers to the chain fence so the kids can have a vertical target.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mini Books

Tonight's been spent trying to keep the kid up late to reset his clock a bit and squeezing in crafting time so I can get a swap off in the mail by tomorrow morning

I've been making up some tiny blank books.  For scale, that's a one-inch grid on the cutting mat.  There's no need for a tutorial for these.  I used small Origami paper for the cover and six sheets of copy paper for the interior.  They're just about 1 1/2 inch squares--but because the Origami paper is measured with the metric system they're just a bit smaller.

This probably would have gone a bit quicker with a paper cutter, but I've got the quilting rotary cutter on hand, so that's what I used.  I did learn that making the inner papers just a nudge narrower than the covers on the top & bottom helps them fit nicely inside.  And on the unfolded side (does that make sense?) I cut the papers nearly an 8th of an inch small so that they fit inside when folded.  The cutting isn't perfect (to get that I'd probably have to cut after binding them), but it looks nice enough.

Then I stitch along the middles with black thread.  Sewing down the inside of the fold was easier, but sewing with the covers on the top looked best.  If I was a good sewer I would have replaced the needle in my sewing machine after that--but if I was a good sewer I probably would have replaced my needle a few years ago.

These came together quickly enough that I decided to group them in little packs of 3.  I kept thinking of ways to embellish the covers, but anything I thought of seemed to limit what you could put inside.  So I kept them blank, better for filling during or after the holidays.  I could see them being used as little notepads for keeping in a pocket or a purse, or for drawing little pictures in, or for giving to the kids to make tiny story books.  I'll keep you posted if I get around to filling any of the handful I kept for myself.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Halloween Roundup

Before we get too far from the holiday, I want to post a few Halloween pictures.  Because Toby makes a cute robot, and I'm pretty proud of the costume:

The hat came from this online tutorial, plus some antennae.  The front and back were stuffed with upholstery foam from the craft store, and fit over the shoulders like a sandwich-board.  He wanted to be a robot, but I was pretty sure he wouldn't wear a box around for more than 3 minutes, so we went with a cute & cuddly robot instead.

And we were Sneetches, because that's Toby's favorite story right now.  And because I like the holiday, but I'm not really all that keen on dressing up.  Toby has worn the star-bellied shirt around a few times since, and I'm going to keep it in the costume box for him.  The plain-bellied has already made it's way to the back of a drawer.  Despite the message of the story, nobody much wants to be a plain-bellied Sneetch.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

One Pound of Beeswax: Dipped Candles

I'm always seeing beeswax crafts online, and a few weeks back I picked up a one pound block of local beeswax at (what else) a honey harvesting festival.

Back in my camp counselor days I made, or supervised the making of, hundreds of candles.  But it's been a while, and this is my first time using beeswax, so I took it slow and took on this project while the little guy was napping.  This can be a fun project for kids--if there was another adult in the room I'd do it with groups as young as 6 or 7, and one-on-one I think even my 2 year old would have enjoyed watching and helping with parts of the process.  He wouldn't have had the patience for an hour of dipping, though.

The supplies are simple:  wax, wick (I got mine here, but you can find it at most craft stores), a pot for boiling water and a container for melting the wax.  I did something very silly and used one of my favorite mixing bowls for the wax.  I have no idea how I'm going to clean the wax out of it.  Thrift a cheap container for melting, or use an empty tin can that can be recycled when you're done.

First, melt the wax.  Always melt wax in a double boiler--if wax gets too hot it can catch fire.  I don't have a double boiler so I set the bowl of wax into a pot with some water.  I needed to keep the water boiling to keep the wax melting, and it took about half an hour to melt down the block.  Wow does this stuff smell good as it's warming.

Next, cut your wicks.  Mine were each about 7 inches long, and folded in half to make two candles.  I was going for small, but you could make these any size.  Remember, though, that if they're longer, your container of wax will need to be deeper to dip them.

One at a time, give those wicks a first dip.  I like to let them sit in the wax for a little while to let it soak in.  When they come out, they'll look something like this.  While they're still warm, straighten out the wick.

Now, just keep dipping.  Give your candle some time to cool between dips--wax will stick to cool wax, but it will melt back into the pot if it gets too warm.  If you're doing this with kids keep a bowl of cold water nearby.  My fingers touched the pot of wax a few times, and it wasn't hot enough to burn.  But it was uncomfortable, and the cool water gives kids them a place to stick their waxed fingers.  The presence of safety measures also seems to help kids take the project more seriously.

Back at summer camp we'd have a line of campers dipping their candles, and then returning to the back of the line for their next turn.  This is a fun way to make candles--it's very simple and social, and in the breaks the kids often find creative ways to spice up their candles.  Instead of straight candles, bend the wax into squiggles, or twist the two wicks into one entwined candle.  Use your fingers to pinch and mold the warm wax into shapes.  Press bits of flowers or leaves into the wax as decorations.  Working alone, I set up a little cooling rack with a chopstick and some drinking glasses.  I worked my way down the line, giving each candle a dip and then a chance to cool.

See the little drips forming at the bottom?  I didn't want a lot of drip, so I cut them off about three dips before the end.  I like a little, though--gives them character.  And by this method you're going to get character, not the straight and symmetrical dipped tapers you've seen in stores.

A bit less than an hour's worth of dipping, and I had candles.  I've still got a bit of decoration and some packaging to add to these, I'll share that when I get to it this weekend.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

In Place


Today I ended up at the National Museum of the American Indian.  It is an amazing space, full of history and beauty and thought.  The Museum stretches the limits of what it means to be a museum—you are as likely to learn something from the layout or the landscaping or the cafeteria as you are from the artifacts or descriptions.

At the risk of generalizing, (which is a shame, because the museum does a good job of identifying the diversity among the continents’ peoples) today’s takeaway was all about connection to place.  While chasing around a toddler the themes of knowing the land, remembering the ancestors, listening to the Earth and protecting the natural world repeated around us.  Listening to the stories of the American Indian peoples triggered a hope of sharing similar stories with my son.  Not stealing the Indian stories, but finding our family’s stories.  The stories of who he is, who came before him, and how he is connected to the places we live.

This year my family—my husband, my son and myself—are on sabbatical.  My husband is taking his allotted year away from his teaching job in Indiana, and working in Washington, DC.  It’s an incredible chance to step away from one place and into another.  We’re taking full advantage of it by taking in all of the touristy sights and just soaking in the energy of a busy city.  I kind of love watching this new city with an outsider’s eyes—seeing how the density affects all our everyday activities—and then looking back at the wide spaces of the Midwest with more appreciation.

The US Capitol as seen from inside the Museum of the American Indian.  The garden in front, just outside the Museum contains plants from across the Americas.

But I wonder, too, what it means to have so little connection to a place.  Indiana had only been home for half a dozen years; both my husband’s family and my own have done a good deal of moving around over time.  I’m not going to romanticize having deep roots.  I tried living in a small town with long memories once, and I quickly learned how tradition can be confused with exclusiveness.  Still, I want for my son to have a connection to the community and the earth around him.  Heck, I want to encourage some of that in myself, too.  I’m hoping this blog will be a space for me to explore those connections, share what I find, and hopefully learn a bit about how some of the rest of you are making these connections, too.