Friday, November 30, 2007

Enforced Idleness. I Hate Enforced Idleness.

Everything grinds to a halt.....and that's (gulp) OK. (No, I don't believe it, but I'm saying it.)

At Astrid's dance class last night, I realized that my neck and shoulder were burning and tingling. Shingles. Again. It's probably not a bad case, but why?? Why??

Enough whining. (Well, OK, I'm not actually done: around 2 a.m. last night, Astrid started throwing up, and 18 hours later, she's still at it. There's not much rest for the shingly, or for her husband, and there's certainly none for Astrid. Elliot's feeling good, though!)

Around 8 p.m. last night, when I was stomping around the kitchen, grouching at the varicella zoster virus, I remembered that I needed to make cookies for the parish Women's Club bake sale. I'm not a member of the Women's Club, but I was oddly excited when someone called last week and asked if I would bake three to four dozen cookies and deliver them to the school gym this Friday evening. I contentedly agreed--I felt like I was sort of, kind of finding my way into a community that's a quiet but noticeable presence in our neighborhood.

Fast forward to Thursday night.....yes, I made the cookies.....peppermint and chocolate spirals.....pretty tasty. Tonight, in a slightly loopy state (codeine), I walked the tray of cookies over to the school gym and handed them off to the harried-looking woman (my age, my build....what was I expecting?) at the door.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Doin' what I gotta do

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Art Mom on the Job

Tomorrow we have a meeting of our crafters' group at school--I'm faculty advisor, and the group is now "official," which means that we might get some funding. I decided not to wait for money, and went to the art supply store so that I could bring some printmaking supplies to use with whoever shows up. (And I'm not above wandering the halls and dragging unsuspecting students and colleagues into our room!) For the past couple of meetings, I've been teaching people to knit, which I'm happy to do, even though I find it a bit boring (I haven't enjoyed knitting since the kids were born--too many opportunities to get distracted and lose count of stitches). This time, though, I want to do something more adventurous. I'm bringing the supplies the kids and I have been using at home (brayers, ink, tiles for spreading the ink), plus the stuff I just bought (including some foam sheets--I haven't tried these before--I would have just recycled foam plates from the supermarket, but because I don't buy raw meat [it's icky], I never have any.

So I hope people will come and play with us for an hour over lunchtime.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The biggest shopping day of the year

I've been listening to the traffic reports on our NPR station today, the day after Thanksgiving; instead of giving expressway times (something I barely pay attention to, even when I'm driving, because I don't take the highway to work....ha ha is good), the announcer has been reporting on how many parking spaces are available at the major shopping centers. My office is smack dab in between two shopping destinations--Woodfield Mall and IKEA in Schaumburg--so I was feeling very, very thankful that I didn't have to go to work today. (In case you are curious, at 4 p.m. today, the Woodfield lots were 95% full, while IKEA was over 50% full--I bet shoppers are sneaking their gas-guzzling SUVs into the lot right outside my office....). There are many stores in my area that I won't go to between about November 15 and January 3, at least not unless it's a weekday morning. Over the past ten years, some of my most miserable driving/shopping experiences have been in the parking lot of Whole Foods on *any* day in that six-week spread, so that's one place I just plain avoid.

The four of us stayed home, and, in an attempt to fend off another day of nonstop TV watching, I got Elliot and Astrid going on an art project by about 9:30 today. Astrid was a fairly easy sell (though she didn't last long), while Elliot was, well, in a mopey tweeny space. As is often the case, though, Elliot came around and worked for a long time. Astrid, to my happy astonishment, didn't demand that we all stop working when she was bored. Instead, she asked me to get out her tea set, and she had a tea party with her baby dolls (Daisy, Lucy, and the two Shellyenias). Then, as if she wanted me to faint on the floor, she quietly put all of her china tea set back into the box when she was done and put it back onto its shelf in the games cabinet. I *knew* that someday she'd show the effects of her two years in a Montessori classroom! (Just kidding--she gets a ton out of Montessori.)

During our morning work time, we focused on printmaking. Astrid produces the images she wants to print much more quickly than I can carve them; fortunately, Elliot has become more independent (we have new carving tools that take less force, and, at my insistence, he wears big safety goggles), so most of the help I give him is verbal rather than hands-on. I also bought an additional brayer so that we aren't standing around waiting for someone to finish, or, worse, arguing and fussing as the process of printing everyone's images takes longer and longer.

A few days ago, Astrid drew a wonderful rubber block of a sculpture display in "a *real* museum--not a children's museum." I can't recall if she's been to the Art Institute with her class--I haven't taken her since she was in a stroller--so I was interested to find out what she saw as the difference between "real" and "children's" museums. What stands out for her is that, in a real museum, you can't run around; it's a place for using your eyes and ears, she says, rather than your hands. I asked her if one could use one's nose in a museum, and she said yes--an answer that warmed my heart, as I am an art smeller from way back. (This is true--I am regularly approached by security guards who see me sniffing the paintings and sculpture.)

Elliot's prints focused today on Pokemon characters. Some of them came out very well, but the one he tried to do on a linoleum block really frustrated him--I think it was well carved, but he just couldn't get it to print the way he wanted it to. We spent time talking about which kinds of Pokemon figures would make good models for block printed images; he gravitates toward the Pokemon cards with airbrushed, very 3-D looking creatures, but I told him I thought he might be very dissatisfied with how he could render them in a print. He was very reasonable about the issue--much more than he might have been a year ago. He agreed with me that a couple of his favorites might be too challenging; the one he chose was also potentially difficult, but he showed me how he would simplify the image so that he could get the idea of it across without worrying too much about the details.

I was finally able to finish carving, test, and then partially recarve the linoleum block I've been working on for Christmas cards. The figures in the image are partly based on illustrations from 1930s arithmetic textbooks. I took a picture of the block before I carved it, because my husband thought it was unlikely that I'd be able to get all the detail into the carved version (I'm a pretty inexperienced printmaker), and I wanted to be able to save something from my work, in case it was a disaster. Happily, it came out pretty much as I had hoped it would. My husband was impressed, which always makes me happy.

After printmaking, the children and I took a fussy little walk around the block (Elliot wanted to be napping, or, in any case, not walking). It was cold and exhilarating, and even Elliot felt pretty cheerful when we returned. Astrid wanted to make a sock puppet (I ended up doing 90% of it, because she was nervous about using a sewing needle). Then, feeling like I'd done my best to keep the TV off, I let them go downstairs to watch Pokemon episodes on YouTube. Then I got to sew a bit....I finished two pairs of khaki pants for Elliot and two for Astrid, and then moved onto Christmas presents....I'll show a picture, but I'm not saying yet what they are.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

My bias (tape)

It's Thanksgiving, and I'm pretty sure the TV has been on all day---not football, but the "Arthur" marathon on PBS. I know it could be so much worse. "Arthur" really is one of my favorite shows--I'd probably watch it even if I didn't have kids--but I have to say that I feel guilty working in the kitchen and letting the kids watch six straight hours of TV. (Terry's been in the basement for much of the day, trying to do computer coding for his "Macbeth: The Game"--the class he's teaching this semester).

But this is life. It occurs to me right now that the TV-intensive Thanksgiving is a natural consequence of not having relatives or friends over for the holiday. In past years, my mom or my brother-in-law Tim have traveled (from Olympia WA or Milwaukee) to be with us; then we've gotten to experience the "It Takes a Village to Raise A Child" thing that we usually just dream about. There are advantages, I suppose, to having absolutely no family in the area--we have, for instance, developed close relationships with some of our neighbors--but on days like today, it would be nice to have an "automatic" sort of holiday date.

So the blessing associated with the nuclear Thanksgiving (the one with just the four of us and the TV on all day) is that, in between making pumpkin pie and apple cake, I got to make yards and yards of bias tape for the Christmas presents I'm putting together. I probably wouldn't have done that if we'd had family here. And I love making bias tape! It's always touch and go: I look at the instructions, and I think I understand what I need to do, but once I have the cloth cut out, I usually have to rip the stitches out a couple of times and reassemble the package. Cutting the sewn tube into the long, long strip is a challenge, too, as I have trouble accurately measuring the width. But I did it....I made probably 3 yards of light blue, and about 10 yards of bright red tape. It looks good, especially now that it's neatly wound around little bits of cardboard.

I remember reading that, back when most women sewed all their own clothes, there were many, many companies that *just made bias tape* for home sewers. The workers in these factories frequently went on strike, and when they did, there was major economic disruption. It's hard to believe that this could be true, but when I see how many bias tape ads there are in turn of the century (19th to 20th, that is) magazines, I realize that it makes sense.

I do use factory made (Wright's--the only brand now) bias tape for a lot of things, but when I know it's going to show and needs to be strong, I make my own.

Well, our turkey roast is ready to come out of the oven. I'm hungry.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Blog Tinkerer

Sounds like the title of a meaty novel with a reading group discussion guide at the end, huh? I spent the evening trying to figure out how to do things with Blogger--a frustrating couple of hours, but I eventually did make the basic changes I wanted to make. I think this is what I do instead of exercising.

I've been looking at my sister-in-law's work at Whole Cloth Designs--well, not just her art/craft, but the blog itself--both are beautiful. I get excited reading about what she's making, and I feel so sistery when I read how she weaves her parenting and art together. Making art--that is, making the time and mental space to make *anything*--has gotten so much easier for me since Elliot and Astrid have gotten bigger. Carrie's entries take me back to the days when it was....well....not easy. I couldn't think in terms of projects, the way I do now. I am astonished at what Carrie manages to do.

At work today a colleague with two young daughters asked me what I thought about starting a support or discussion group for faculty with children. She was saying how she feels that her life as a parent has to be submerged when she's at work. I know what that felt/feels like. I have felt the same way about the art I make--for the longest time, I didn't tell people how much I thought about making art, how it's often much realer to me than the scholarly work I try to do (but have trouble doing now that I'm a parent). I'm a good deal more "out" about both parts of my identity....especially now that I am crafting a research agenda that focuses on craft, sewing, gender, and motherhood. The parenting work/paid work balance doesn't seem to have gotten easier (we really do need a group for parents at my job), but I've made progress in integrating my worries, dreams, and coping mechanisms into verbal and tactile channels.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Here are Elliot and Astrid's Halloween costumes (actually, the expressions on their faces are probably cooler than the costumes themselves....they both showed so much attitude this year). Astrid was Little Red Riding Hood, the closest she could get to being a princess (I've let her know that I don't sew princess dresses....I used to tell her that my machine wouldn't work on pink cloth, but she doesn't buy that anymore). Elliot was an alien. His costume was by far the most elaborate get-up I've attempted. We were both pleased with how it came out, but I was certainly ready to be done with it a couple of hours before the costume was done with me. I used about ten feet of vinyl tubing in his tunic and on his hat (made of a stainless steel mixing bowl, with a battery powered LED light on top). When he wore the costume at school, he also had black gloves with tiny balloons in the finger tips--all slightly different in size and shape--so that his hands looked like black ginger roots....very creepy.

I wore a black Betty Boop wig and red lipstick on Halloween, but you don't get to see that. I do have some pictures of me looking very severe in the wig; I may incorporate them into a collage or some other project. If I do and I like how it comes out, I'll post it.

Friday night

I managed to get dinner on early last night--Friday night--so we had time after we ate to do some art together. I'd been thinking about printmaking for a while, and had some unused rubber blocks in one of my drawers. Astrid drew her designs on the blocks in marker (the Pterodactyl is her design), and I carved them out; Elliot got to do his own carving (he did the flower). He was pleased about being able to wield the knives.

Astrid's hair is way shorter than it used to be, but it kept dipping dangerously close to the ink--not a catastrophe, of course, but Terry had just given her a bath the day before. It was one of those nights where I had enough energy to do some art or to give her a bath, but not both. She was confused about why her drawings disappeared when I carved into them, and about why a drawing couldn't be used the way it was, without carving it at all, but once she made her first print, she seemed to understand the concept a lot better.

While she was waiting for her turn to print (we have only one rubber brayer), Astrid made a great picture of a one chicken band. After she'd made several instruments (Terry's and my favorite is the drum kit), Elliot joined her and added some more instruments and a comb for the chicken's head.

After Astrid went to bed, Elliot and I spent another happy hour or so making potato prints and listening to a mix tape I made for Terry when we were first dating (in 1989, maybe?). I explained the courting ritual of the mix tape (which I'm guessing has been pre-empted by MP3 playlists, but I don't know for sure....I should ask my students, but I'm a bit embarrassed to).