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Monday, February 23, 2015

grace (eventually)


One plus (potentially the only plus) of many weeks of morning sickness was getting back into my reading habit.  To help relax and distract myself from nausea before falling asleep, I'd read for about 30-60 minutes.  The habit has stuck, and I've been back to reading a book or two a month.  I recently finished another Anne Lamott book and overall I enjoyed the read. 

She tends to talk about her struggles with George W. Bush in this book A LOT - like almost every essay.  But otherwise, the essays contain the kind of honest, soul bearing writing I've come to associate with Lamott.  

Some of my favorite quotes from this book:  

If you have a body, you are entitled to the full range of feelings [depressed, fascinated, scared, fine, exhausted, sad, accepting, enraged, grateful, amazed].  It comes with the package.   

A sober friend told me that while fear and confusion often swirl around us, faith is straight ahead: I trusted that even though I didn't know a thing about taking care of infants, toddlers, kids, or teenagers, I would be shown the next right step on a need-to-know basis.  I trusted that other parents would help me every step of the way, and that if I did not keep secrets when motherhood was going particularly badly, there would be healing and enough understanding and stamina to get by.  And this has proven to be true. 

Children can connect you to the child inside you, who can still play and be silly and helpless and needy and capable of wonder....Having a child, loving a child deeply in a daily way, forces you to connect with your mortality, forces you to dig into places within that you have rarely had to confront before, unless you have taken care of a dying parent or friend.  

In the long haul, grace will win out over everything, over the misery, the stupidity, the dishonesty....

The best way to change the world is to change your mind, which often requires feeding yourself.  It makes for biochemical peace.  It's almost like a prayer: to be needy, to eat, to taste, to be filled, building up instead of tearing down.  You find energy to do something you hadn't expected to do, maybe even one of the holiest things: to go outside and stand under the stars, or to go for a walk in the morning, or in such hard times, both.  

Reading Anne Lamott always reminds me to be gentle with myself.  We're all just human and we're going to have plenty of ups and downs.  I also love the reminder that grace is infused in all those ups and downs and gives extra beauty to our lives.  



Wednesday, February 18, 2015

40 letters in 40 days


This Lent I'll be continuing the tradition of writing 40 letters in 40 days.  I thought about not doing it this year with the whole being pregnant thing, but I thought that next year would probably be even harder to write them with an 8th month old crawling around, so I'm giving it another go this year.  Because I'm crazy, I'll also be trying to start a daily pilates routine and will be taking more breaks from my cell phone (because my hand seems to be glued to it lately). 

Here's what I wrote last year about my letter writing tradition.

Last Lent [2013], I started a tradition of writing forty handwritten notes/letters/cards every day for the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Growing up, my parents said it meant more to do something extra for other people rather than give something up for Lent.  Their thought was that God really didn't care if I didn't eat chocolate for forty days, and it wasn't doing anything to help anyone else.  I hope they were right, because a God that supports abstinence from chocolate doesn't sound like a God that I'd like to spend time in Heaven with. 

Though I understand the need for sacrifice and abstinence in some situations - and can see a lot of beauty in fasting traditions in various religions - self-inflicted suffering in winter just doesn't do it for me.  (With this being said, I can see how cutting something negative/draining/harmful out of your life could still be a good thing, I just won't be taking that approach to Lent this year.) 

So instead, this Lent I'll continue my tradition of taking time everyday to remember someone I love.  I see God in my relationships with others, so I will work on strengthening these.  40 letters in 40 days, 40 chances to show someone I care about them.  Changing my approach to Lent helps me shift my understanding of this season to one of love and rememberance rather than a time of pain, suffering, and sadness. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

reflections on beauty


I mentioned in my last thoughts on pregnancy post that I was struggling with my body image and lots of pregnancy feels in general.  I've been feeling a lot better since writing that post for various reasons.  It helped admitting all those feelings "out loud", having a couple crying sessions, and embracing my pregnant strength - and pregnant body. 

I also came across this quote by Terry Tempest Williams a day or two after writing the post: "beauty is transformed over time, and not without destruction."  How perfect for the transformation women go through in pregnancy and childbirth and motherhood.  Their old beauty is transformed and there might be a bit of destruction that will accompany it but ultimately it's all part of their journey of beauty. 


Also, I've been buying myself lots of tulips.  Tulips help all bad moods. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

today i'm thankful for

(It's been forever since I've done one of these posts, and today seemed like a great day to be grateful.  Photo of Lake Michigan from Lake Park.)

a weekend to rest and rejuvenate

a friend who calls to remind us she can do our taxes for free

Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth

a coffee/tea/smoothie date with old coworkers

 feeling little baby kicks all day every day

the newly purchased humidifier that makes sleeping much more enjoyable

lots of help with starting our baby registry

tulips

a great, simple, impromptu Valentine's Day date with Paul

time to read

new pajama pants that actually fit!

a greater sense of peace after deciding to put away my scale for the rest of my pregnancy


Saturday, February 14, 2015

happy valentine's day!


Hope your Valetine's Day is full of so much love and friendship!  I love this day because I love any excuse to celebrate love in all its forms.  Today Paul and I had an impromptu date lunch at a great new restaurant and started our baby registry!  Talk about lots of different kinds of love. 


This is a Valentine's Day garland I put up in the living room and decorated with various love cards I've given Paul recently over the past year.  There are some really beautiful love cards out there.  It's pretty convenient I have someone to buy them for.  Baby you better be warned now: you will be flooded with so much love and so many love cards when you get here!  You'll get used to it. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

a week of art

 


Last week I enjoyed a full week of artistic endeavors.  The week started with my artist in residence at Marquette University and finished up with an Artivist retreat for teens.  Both experiences were amazing and tiring and also super energizing. 

For my artist in residence I painted a portrait of American journalist James Foley, a Marquette graduate.  I painted the portrait in the Marquette library lobby so students, faculty, and staff could watch my progress and ask me questions as I painted.  I had a nice stool and chair, but a lot of the time I stood to paint which made this pregnant lady super tired at the end of the day!  The photos above are the photos I posted to Instagram showing how the painting progressed over the three days of painting. 

The painting will be finished at the end of this month and will be put up on permanent display at Marquette most likely sometime in April. 

A couple of things I want to remember about the experience:

- how nervous I was about capturing James Foley's face in his portrait and how happy I was when it started to look like I had done it.  It was a lot of pressure to get it just right because I was painting in front of people and because the university really wanted to honor his memory with this portrait.  Not much of an honor if the portrait doesn't resemble the subject. 

- meeting a good friend of James' and hearing him say that I had captured James in the painting.  Also finding out that he had sent a photo of the in progress painting to James' family who also liked it. 

- speaking with students about my painting process and James Foley's memory.  More students were interested in the project and what I was doing that I had anticipated. 

- being interviewed by a couple of local news stations and not tripping over all of my words while speaking with the reporters.  Luckily I had no idea they were coming so I didn't have time to get nervous. 

- Paul miraculously getting off work early so he could stop by and check out my progress and help me clean up my supplies on the last day

- all the conversations I had about art and James Foley and social justice.  They all left me feeling a little more inspired. 

- the look on the face of the person who observed the painting just before I finished my residency.  It was like he could really see James Foley and had an emotional reaction to the painting.  It's a goal I have for all the work I do, and it's amazing to see it happen in real life.

 

After the residence at Marquette, I worked a couple of days then helped as a small group leader at an Artivist retreat over the weekend.  Artivist is the name some artist/activists give themselves: artist + activist = artivist.  The retreat was organized for students considered "at risk" from the north and south side of Milwaukee.  It's also known as a bridge builders retreat because it helps students from the predominantly African American north side of Milwaukee and students from the predominantly Latino south side of Milwaukee come together to learn how to be retreat leaders themselves.

The goal of the retreat was to teach participants how to use art to spread a message and how to use art as a way to process through difficult things in their lives.  We started by talking about issues in their communities and then spent the next day learning about how art could share messages of hope and inspiration.  During the last half of the retreat the teens broke into small groups led by local artists where they got to create murals of their own.  (The finished murals are in the above photo on the bottom left).  A lot of the teens had experienced hard things in their lives including poverty, racism, and family issues; they were able to channel these experiences and their messages of hope into their art.

One moment particularly stood out to me from this retreat.  On the first full day, the students were asked whether they would rather experience pain in their lives or numb it with drugs and alcohol.  A few of the students said they would prefer to use drugs because it made things easier, even if just for a little while.  In the last activity of the retreat when the students were asked to name an action item they would commit to, one of those same students said that she would start trying to use art to express her pain rather than turn to drugs and alcohol.  I so, so hope she is able to stick to her commitment. 

This was such an amazing retreat to be part of.  It was my first time teaching people about art and painting, and my first time seeing a group of teens work together on an art project.  I was super inspired by their courage and teamwork as they put their murals together.    

Thanks for reading about my fun art experiences!  I'll share more updates on the James Foley painting as I have time to actually update it :)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

wordless wednesday: martin luther king day

(Photos from the Martin Luther King celebration at St. Francis of Assisi in Milwaukee.  If I put things in parenthesis it doesn't count as words for a wordless Wednesday post right?) 








Tuesday, February 10, 2015

thoughts on pregnancy (22 weeks)


My thoughts on pregnancy at 22.5 weeks in no particular order:

- That photo above is my favorite bump photo thus far.  Granted, it doesn't have much competition since I've only taken about four bump photos so far.  I love that I look happy, and I love that it's with my coworker who is due two weeks with her first baby after me.  It's been really special to share this pregnancy journey - all the ups and downs - with her.  The day this photo was taken I decided I wanted to wear lots more dresses during my pregnancy; I felt pretty and comfortable which hasn't happened in my pregnancy clothes very often. 

- Yesterday after a lunch of a caprese panini, chips, and a glass of milk the baby didn't stop moving for about ten to fifteen minutes.  It was weird and awesome at the same time.  Paul suggested it might mean the baby will like food as much as his/her mama.  If that's true it another reason this baby is going to be adorable/trouble.  

- I found my first stomach stretch marks this week.  My mom didn't remember getting many stretch marks during her four pregnancies, and I thought I might be one of the lucky women who avoid this part of pregnancy.  Not so apparently.  I told Paul about my stretch mark discovery in my whiniest voice, and he made my day when he said "battle scars."  Not "I'm really going to miss my wife's former body" or even "please stop complaining and get over it" but something supportive and encouraging.  If I wasn't already married to him, I would have proposed on the spot. 

- I had one of my biggest pregnancy melt downs Friday.  I've really been struggling with my body image the past few months, as well as the general fear that there must be something wrong with me since I haven't felt like the past five months have been the most magical of my life.  I started crying Thursday night before I went to sleep and cried on and off Friday morning until I finally managed to make it into work around 11:00 am.  I have never lost control of my emotions like that.  It was slightly unnerving but also felt necessary to get all of that out.  In the midst of my crying I texted Paul, my mom, and a mom friend from Milwaukee, and their support and reassurance gradually helped me feel better. 

- Finding joy being pregnant has been a challenge for me at times.  I spent about two months feeling nauseous 24/7, and then gradually began to watch my body become flabbier and bigger week by week.  I had known this would happen in pregnancy, but somehow I just wasn't ready for it.  I'm experiencing the biggest transition of my life -- from a mostly self sufficient/selfish adult to someone who will be giving life and caring full time for another person.  It's no wonder this journey would have some major ups and downs. 

As I'm reflecting on this, I'm realizing I can give myself permission to feel all the feels of this journey.  It's ok if things are hard.  It's ok if I'm struggling with my changing body.  It's ok if my body is bigger and stretchier than it's ever been.  It's ok to be slightly out of control of my emotions.  It's ok to feel sad about giving up my selfishness.  It's ok to feel all these things and at the same time feel happy, excited, and in total awe of all this journey entails.  

In a way I'm glad I've felt the struggles of being pregnant and haven't pretended they don't exist.  Any major transition like this involves letting go and mourning for things that will no longer be.  My life will never be the same.  My body will never be the same.  And it's ok to feel sad about this while at the same time being ready for what will come from being willing to let go of these things.  I'll have a little baby and will be a parent and will know a whole new way of loving.  And that to me seems worth it.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

beagles on patrol (snow version)

We got about 12 inches of snow since these pictures were taken by Paul.  The neighborhood looks so magical, but the snow is too deep for Pedro to run around like this.  He just loves keeping a watch on what's happening on the street.  I imagine another dog was on a walk.  Or the cat across the street was out.  


I love this last picture even though it's blurry.  It captures the little hop that Pedro does when his feet get cold.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

my portrait painting process



Today marked the beginning of my artist in residence at Marquette University.  Eight hours down, sixteen to go!!  Check out Instagram for daily painting updates.  

Part of Marquette's request for my artist in residence was to document my portrait painting process.  This is a summary of my background work that goes into painting a portrait.  

Pick subject
I paint portraits of people I admire, people I feel have a message to share.  I like to learn something through my paintings and hopefully teach others at the same time.   The more inspired or curious I feel about a subject the more energy and work I’ll be able to put into the portrait. 

James Foley, the subject of this painting was proposed by Marquette University.  I didn’t know much about James before starting this painting, and I was glad for the opportunity to research and study him, especially because of his passion for journalism and the relevance of his story to current politics.  

Research subject
I like to have a good understanding of the person I’m painting to capture their spirit in their portrait.  I read and study available photos, articles, books, and videos to get a sense of the person, their work, and their legacy. 

For James, I read articles written by and about him. I also watched video of the speech given by James at Marquette University.  Finally, I read and reread James’ last letter to his family dictated by his fellow prisoners. 

Pick picture to represent subject
My portraits are typically done of people I don’t have the ability to paint in person so my portraits are painted from photographs of the person.  In my research I come across various photos of my subject and usually one will stand out from the others.  It will usually be “head on,” give a full view of the person’s face, and give a glimpse into the person’s personality.  Much can usually be sensed by very subtle facial expressions. 

For James Foley, Marquette asked that I paint a certain picture of him: James giving a speech in front of the Marquette seal.  I liked this photo because it included all the things I usually look for in a subject photograph: a head on shot, a full view of his face, and a glimpse into his personality.  Additionally it told something about his story and his connection to Marquette University. 


Begin practice sketches, gradually put more time into sketches
After my picture is chosen, I practice sketching the person before drawing on canvas.  Without a good base sketch, the person will not be recognizable no matter how well the paint colors come together in the final painting.  One line in the person’s face being off – even one to two millimeters – can throw off the whole portrait.  For this reason, I’ll invest a good deal of time on practice sketches before I even begin drawing on canvas. 
For the portrait of James I did three practice sketches that took me anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours.  They helped give me an idea of the parts of the portrait that would be challenging for me and what I needed to practice before painting.

Painting sketches – pick colors, pick style
Some of the portraits I paint stay very realistic, true to life colors.  Others, like the portraits of the Salvadoran martyrs, are painted in symbolic colors to capture the energy of the person.  Doing a paint sketch prior to painting on canvas helps me decide how I want to approach the portrait.

Because the portrait of James Foley would be on display at Marquette I decided to use true to life colors.  The painting sketch helped me practice the style of painting in each of the sections.  The painting styles won’t be completely finalized until I’m actually doing the painting.  A lot of painting is experimenting, trying different things to see what looks best and feels right for the painting.  Some things work while other things may have to be revised even on the final canvas. 

Finalize composition
Finalizing the composition includes deciding how large the subject will be in the painting, whether the subject will be centered, how the background will be painted, and what quote will be included on the portrait.  I like to combine quotes written by or about the subject of a portrait because it gives the viewer a better idea of who the person was.  Many portraits can end up having an anonymous feel, but quotes give another glimpse into whom the subject is or was. 

I had a challenge picking the quote to include in James Foley’s portrait.  James’ letter to his family was the last thing he wrote and encapsulated so much of who he was and what and who he loved.  But James Foley’s legacy to the world was his work as a journalist and his passion for what he did.  His letter captured his humanity but other quotes captured why he was killed for his work as a journalist.  For this reason, I chose a quote from James taken from an interview with Marquette students. 

Begin sketching on canvas
This is one of the last and most important stages of the painting process.  It’s tempting to rush the work of the final sketch to get to the fun painting part, but every time I’ve done this it’s been a mistake.  Spending time on this final step before painting is worth every minute to ensure the final portrait is as close to “right” as I can get it. 

I spent hours on this final sketch working and reworking James’ face.  I’d sketch the portrait upright, then flip it upside down, then stand back, then take a day off to look at it with fresh perspective the next day.  The process took a week, and I think it was valuable for the end result.