Monday, February 28, 2011

It's Not Elven, It's Art Nouveau

Rivendell from The Lord of the Rings
Anyone who has seen Lord of the Rings would agree that Rivendell and Lothlorian are breathtakingly beautiful places, fantasy that they may be. The elven architecture is rife with natural elements, carved from stone and wood to look like graceful, twining vines, delicate Spring leaves, and ephemeral blooms forever frozen in time. The intricacy and detail involved in creating these elven scenes is honestly amazing, and one might wonder where the designers got their inspiration. The answer is... Alphonse Mucha. Wait a minute, you may be thinking, I thought Lord of the Rings was written by that fellow, J.R.R. Tolkien. Well, you would be right, but Tolkien wrote his books between 1937 and 1949, but the design style used by the set designers on the Lord of the Rings films is older still. Art Nouveau is a design style that encompassed everything from jewelry to graphic art to architecture and reached its peak between 1890 and 1905. Its roots can be traced back to a poster designed by Alphonse Mucha. When you see floral designs twisted into improbable curlicues, sylvan ladies with coiled, voluminous locks and thin clingy gowns, or delicate Tiffany stained glass lamps, you are looking at examples of Art Nouveau, not some sort of Medieval throwback as many might assume. I absolutely love the delicate lines and swooping curves prominent in Art Nouveau style, as well as the leaves and flowers and stylized natural elements because it does remind me of fairies and elves and a fantasy land far, far away. Art Nouveau is pretty and delicate, decorative and whimsical, all the things a little girl could love. It's not a leap to understand why the set designers on Lord of the Rings chose this style for their elven strongholds. After all, that's what I would have done. 
Stairway at Hotel Tassel, by Victor Horta

Art Nouveau poster, Alphonse Mucha

Art Nouveau brooch, artist unknown

Comments are welcome. Please click on the links embedded in the text for more information on Art Nouveau style and examples. Thank you for reading!




Thursday, February 24, 2011

Picture = 1,000 Words

Sometimes for inspiration to take hold, all we need is a jumping-off point, be it a clever turn of phrase, a few dramatic riffs, or a picture of something strange and wonderful. Is it a coincidence that the word 'Image' is practically in the word 'Imagination'? And, with the invention of the Inter-web, and endless supply of inspiration is at our fingertips. On that note, I'll keep it short and sweet, and let the pictures do the talking.

Please peruse the following imagination-capturing Google Image searches and let your mind wander to magical realms and untold adventure. (And then, feel free to tell us.)

Fairy House

Wings

Fantasy

Dreamscape

Eye Lashes

Drip


If the Shoe Fits, or Even G.I. Joes Wear Pink Sometimes



Even a manly man like Joe likes to express
his own personal style on occasion.
I need a box of 70 count, size 5, Parent's Choice diapers from Wal-Mart. No, you could not accuse me of being brand loyal, I usually make a bee-line for whatever is cheapest, but in this case I can only use this specific item. Why? I need it for the box. I have three such boxes already, and I need a fourth for my next doll house. Sometimes you find materials in strange places, where you least expect them. Ever been sipping coffee at Bob Evans, adding a container of creamer to your refill, only to have a eureka moment? The creamer tub looks just like a tiny, white trash can, and you need this for your doll house bathroom! Or maybe you had a hankerin' for some hot, savory Giovanni's pizza, delivered right to your door. Salivating, you open the box, only to be struck by how much the little plastic spacer that keeps the cheese from sticking to the lid looks like a footstool or a small ottoman, just the kind of thing you need in your doll house nursery. When working in miniature, it helps to keep your eyes open and your imagination switch in the 'on' position, because you never know when and where you'll find treasure. For example, my son't G.I. Joes each have a pair of Chuck Taylor's instead of army boots to wear, and you know where they came from? A key chain display at the local dollar store. Sure, one of the Joes is saddled with a pair of pink shoes, but he is secure in his masculinity, and besides, they are stylin', and best of all, unique. When you re-purpose an item, you insure that your project will be unique in a way that a creation filled with mass-produced items never can be. Sure, anyone with money can buy enough accessories to make a great doll house, there are wonderful pieces on the market, but if you want to create something that is truly unique, something that embodies your aesthetic, then you have to be creative and work unconventionally. And if you can save money while doing that, all the better, just ask Joe.
The upstairs room of Eli's GI Joe house has yellow tissue-paper walls and green marble contact paper flooring. His twin size bed is a colorful fabric-covered egg carton with cardboard headboard. Joe's wind-up robot was purchased at the Dollar General for $1 and his ceramic plate came from a tea set. He holds his buddy, a pencil topper monkey. Joe's hat is the toe of a baby sock and his shoes were key chains in a former life.

The Joe's living room has colorful, red wrapping paper walls, and a contact paper hardwood floor. Joe and Barbie are relaxing on a couch made from pinned Styrofoam and denim. Puppy is from a cowboy set, the bowling pin and dish in the corner are dollar store finds. And yes, the stool in the corner came from a pizza box.

Eli's G.I. Joe house is made from a combination of recycled materials and dollar store and flea market finds. What was your favorite homemade toy growing up, and what was it made from?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Creativity and Sleep Deprivation: A Vicious Cycle

Sometimes you just need a nap.
A by-product of working creatively, sleep deprivation can also be the bane of continued creativity, causing one to stare at walls and get seriously distracted by grass growing. After throwing oneself headlong into a creative endeavor and pulling an all-nighter, or for those of us pushing 30, a late-nighter (read: working after 11 PM), the brain gets a little sluggish the next day, and may require a little jump-start. Said jump-start can take many forms, including an invigorating shower, a morning run, or everyone's favorite pick-me-up, caffeine. Getting rid of distractions can also help one to retain focus, such as turning off the TV, closing the blinds (so you can't be mesmerized by that ornery grass), and signing out of Facebook (gasp!). If, after all that, drive does not present itself, sometimes a lazy day can be utilized to give yourself a "cooling off" period between bursts of energetic work, helping one to avoid burn-out from the sustained effort involved in wrapping up a big project. Time spent daydreaming may reveal an angle you haven't considered yet with your project, such as a new character development for your book or a novel use of materials for the latest craft project, and that eureka! moment may just be the poke in the butt you need to get started again. Just remember, if you're feeling snoozy, don't succumb to the urge to nap, no matter how alluring you pillow looks, unless you plan to work another late night and start the cycle once more.

Personally, I stayed up too late last night, and have spent the day wiping the sleep from my eyes and trying to comprehend simple conversation.  Not ideal when one is trying to write, but I always get my second wind around 8:30--when the babies go to bed :) How does the need for sleep affect your work, and how do you cope?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Motivation Revisited

A detour can really make it hard to keep on track
with your project.
Finishing, that's the challenge. I have started a million different projects over the years, but the number of project completions is much lower. Sometimes the problem is time, sometimes it's motivation, and occasionally it is lack of skill. It can be easy to lose momentum when a roadblock comes up (such as a lack of materials, a design error, or the Zombie Apocalypse), and then all your ambition just fizzles out. Sometimes it's just laziness, I admit that. Recently, however, I have discovered a new tactic to combat a lull in motivation: declare your intentions to the world, so that everyone knows what you are working on and can periodically inquire about your progress, cheer you on, or make fun of you when you quit. This may not seem like much of a plan, but as humans, we find appearances very important. We want to be held in esteem by our peers, and we hate for anyone to see us fail. A public failure is so much more devastating than a private one (ask Tiger Woods), and so the fear of failing on stage or social network can be a big motivator. If you have accountability, you don't want to let others down, and that makes you work harder to finish your task, and do it right. So, while I am still loyal to the good ol' fashioned To-Do list, I am giving this tactic a test drive. I suppose you'll know if it works when I triumphantly declare victory or refuse to meet you in the eye and try to avoid the subject. Either way, it's out there for the world to see, and the world doesn't settle for excuses.

How do you keep yourself motivated? And don't tell me you live in a van down by the river...

Need weight-loss motivation? Check out this blog:

Mama Wants her Pre-Baby Body Back

Friday, February 18, 2011

Love and the Placebo Effect, Teaser #3


This is the last teaser I plan to post, at least for a while. The story has several scenes in which our heroine is painting, this being the first. The idea is that not only does the character develop over time, her painting style evolves as well from calculating, planned, and tight to emotional, reactive, and intuitive. Still a work in progress, but I hope you enjoy.

Her phone was ringing, but Jane couldn’t stop, she was in the groove. Having stripped off her work clothes and tossed them over a chair immediately upon entering her cheerfully painted house, Jane had donned something a little more comfortable: a little white cami and some grey yoga pants, both speckled with paint from a prior night’s work. Heading through the apple green kitchen to the back bedroom, or as she liked to call it, her “Studio,” Jane slurped down her chicken and fried rice, washing it all down with a can of Miller High Life, as she got out a fresh canvas and some paints. Barely tasting her much-anticipated feast, Jane turned her mind to other things. She arranged everything within easy reach so that nothing would disrupt her flow. For a moment, she just stared at the sea of white in front of her, determining how best to proceed. The decision made, Jane twisted her hair up and stuck a pencil in it, in an effort to keep it out of her eyes, before choosing a brush, her half-empty container of chicken left to the wayside. She furiously laid down the base coat and worked in the rudimentary forms, before stepping back to judge her work. Not bad, proportions are correct. Grabbing another beer, Jane contemplated her next move. Many people who had seen her work commented on how effortless and free her lines were, at how the color drew you in and how easy it was to look at. But Jane didn’t lay a mark down without first seeing it in her head, visualizing it a thousand ways, and discarding the ideas that displeased her, as she had been taught in school. Settling on a fan brush, Jane added some smoky grey to the background, followed by blue. She wanted her central image to jump off the canvas, so she had used cool colors in the negative space and warm colors on the positive. Switching brushes, and colors, she began building up the form, adding lights and darks for dimension. Her eyes narrowed as her hand moved with precision, willing the brush to do her bidding. With a third beer down, Jane was ready to switch to a smaller brush and start adding the details that would make so much difference to the finished product. I’ve got to angle this just right… Yes, there. This was the delicate part, and Jane concentrated, the tip of her tongue just sticking out of her compressed lips. Cracking open beer number four, she took a sip, eyeing her work. She could see a dozen places that were almost there, just needed a little more working, but it was coming around. Taking a deep breath, Jane dug in and pushed herself to get it just right. As the dawn light was beginning to peek in through the window, Jane put her brush down. That’s it. That’s exactly it! Exhilaration flooded her veins, and she felt a little giddy. Lightheaded from the beer and the all-nighter, Jane took her brushes to the bathroom to wash them out. She giggled at her reflection in the mirror, seeing that, like her brushes, her hair could use a little soap to remove the paint encrusted in it. Returning the paintbrushes to their proper place, Jane took one last look at Eve, and reveled in her work. To the uninitiated, it might be mistaken for a portrait of Medusa, as the snake was coiled tightly around her neck and shoulders, neatly framing her face. Its scaly, silken head rested just above her brow, tongue flitting and eyes narrowed. Eve’s expression was agony and ecstasy all wrapped into one, her eyes closed and lips parted. It was exactly how Jane had seen it in her head. It was perfect. Her energy spent, Jane crashed, making her way to her bed and blessed sleep. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Steampunk: Even Cooler than it Sounds.

My own piece of Pepper Pod jewelry,
handcrafted by Beth Ingles
According to Wikipedia, the ultimate web source for all things known, "Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fictionalternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s.[1] Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century and often Victorian eraBritain—that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may haveenvisioned them; in other words, based on a Victorian perspective on fashionculturearchitectural styleart, etc. This technology may include such fictional machines as those found in the works ofH. G. Wells and Jules Verne or real technologies like the computer but developed earlier in an alternate history." Basically, steampunk is characterized by clockwork and steam-powered gadgets crafted to perform functions similar to many modern technological items, but they look a lot cooler. Wood and brass, pearl and crystal, natural materials that are luxurious, tactile, shiny, and sleek abound in Steampunk design. More recently shows like Warehouse 13, movies like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and video games like Fallout embrace this genre, adding richness to their palette with imaginative gadgets found in a strangely anachronistic time-line. Steampunk stories and art capture my imagination more than knights and dragons or stories of fairies. They paint a world I can relate to, that is at the same time familiar and foreign, embracing ideals of Victorian culture or other "simpler" times while at the same time thriving with clever and whimsical technology. I absolutely love it. For that reason, the jewelry of local artisan Beth Ingles of Pepper Pod Designs immediately caught my attention. Although she may not characterize her creations as steampunk, there are certainly parallels to be drawn. Ingles' jewelry boasts watch gears, metal charms, crystals, chains, and anything else that catches her fancy, all stained with a patina to invoke age and elegance. When I came upon her booth in a local flea market, I just had to own a piece of her art, and I nearly panicked when I realized I did not have enough cash on hand. But don't despair, she takes credit cards, and her creations are reasonably priced, if you wanted to own a piece of her work yourself. Now, here is the challenge: which piece will you pick? Everything in her display is beautiful and unique, and puts me in mind of a different world or time.

Please check out the links below to see some amazing visuals:

Cool Steampunk Gadgets
Pepper Pod Designs Facebook Page

Also, check out All Thing's Crafty's and Her Husband's awesome Steampunk Costumes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Love and the Placebo Effect, Teaser #2


Okay, some of you asked for more... So here's some more. Freshly written, barely revised, no children in this scene. This is where I'm currently at in the story, so once you read this, you'll be all caught up. Okay, not really, but I hope you enjoy. And remember the genre I'm attempting here, so don't judge too harshly!


When she arrived back at her house, Jane stowed her uneaten lunch in the fridge, then, kicking off her shoes, she sank into bed. She was so tired, even her lingering anxiety over the fight with Cassie and her anger at Adrian didn’t keep her from drifting off to a deep sleep. She was plagued with dreams of her paintings coming to life, of a shimmering Adam walking naked through her house, flanked by slithering, black snakes and stalking dragons, steam rising from their dripping jowls; of virgin sacrifice by the stormy sea, sanctioned by a ragged crowd of frightened onlookers. She could hear the spectators chanting, growing louder until their voices pounded through her head like a persistent hammering.

Eyes popping open, Jane realized that the hammering continued, despite her sudden wakefulness. The door knocker. Someone was at the door. Pulling herself together, Jane rushed to the front door, yanking it open to stop the relentless banging. Greeting her eyes was an agitated Adrian, hand still hovering where the door knocker had been jerked from his grasp. Blinking, Jane struggled to process this in her sleep-addled brain. Why was he here? Hadn’t he made his feelings clear earlier when he had acted like last night had meant nothing? What was there left to say?

Adrian apparently didn’t intend to say anything. Instead, he gathered her up in his arms, like a white knight swooping in to save the princess, and kissed her soundly, his lips crushing against hers, the taste of desperation in his mouth. Releasing her from the embrace, he looked deeply into her green eyes, trying to read her. Still reeling, Jane merely stared up at him, blinked again, then turned around, disappearing into the living room. Adrian took the still-open door as an invitation, following closely on her heels. He found her leaning forward in the wingback chair, elbows propped on her knees, frowning in thought.

“Jane, I’ll do the right thing, I swear,” he blurted out, trying to reassure her.

“The right thing?” she asked, confused. What did he mean, he’d do the ‘right thing’?

“I’ll support you, whatever you need. I’ll be there. You don’t have to do this alone.” Adrian kneeled at her feet, taking her hands in his he continued, “Please, don’t shut me out.”

“What are you talking about, Adrian? What are you trying to say? Last night, you left me,” Jane replied, struggling to make sense of his words.

“I shouldn’t have. It was cowardly. I wasn’t sure how you would react, and I needed time to think. Please, Jane, let me help you through this,” he pleaded. Jane could tell he was sincere, but she had no idea what he was talking about. Surely people lost their virginity every day, and weren’t so traumatized that they needed help through it. And why was he being so demonstrative now? He had totally avoided the subject earlier, in the relative privacy of the pizza parlor and the absolute privacy of her office.

“Exactly what kind of help do you think I’ll need?” she asked, attempting to get a grasp on the situation.

“Well, if you need any money, or you want someone to go with you to the doctor. I want to be involved. You shouldn’t have to raise this baby on your own,” he answered, trying to be supportive.

“What baby? Why do you think there’s a baby?” Jane demanded, starting to get upset. She did not want to be with a guy who was only there out of a sense of duty, even if he was delusional enough to think that he loved her. Not that he’d said anything about love, the words had never crossed his lips. But besides that, there was no baby.

“Well, we didn’t use protection, then you almost fainted today, and you kept running to the bathroom to puke, you didn’t touch any of your lunch. When you left work, I thought for sure you had taken a test or something… I looked up the symptoms online,” he finished, fizzling out as he saw her eyes narrow and her brows lower. Why was she getting angry?

“While you were doing your research, did you happen to study the topic of modern contraception? True, we didn’t use a condom. That was careless, I know better than that. And I am not on the pill, I am not what you call “sexually active,” or at least I wasn’t until last night. But if you had spent 5 more minutes doing your research, you would have come across something else: the ‘morning after’ pill, whose side effects include, I might add, nausea, lightheadedness, and fatigue. So before you get yourself in a panic and start making declarations you don’t mean, relax. I took care of it. There is no baby, and there isn’t going to be one, period!” Jane finished, seeing red the same as she had with Cassie the day before, only this time, she didn’t feel the immediate urge to take back the words.

Adrian laughed. This wasn’t a nervous giggle, but a deep belly laugh of genuine amusement. Jane just stared at him. “You sure put me in my place. I guess that’s why they say you shouldn’t assume, I made an ass of myself. I’m sorry, Jane,” he said, looking sheepishly up at her. “Forgive me?”

He gazed up at her so pitifully like a puppy afraid of getting kicked again, the only thing that could have enhanced his pathetic look was a chin quiver. Staring down into those baby blues, Jane’s anger evaporated instantly. She struggled to maintain a stern expression, wanting to make him sweat a little, but the corners of her mouth turned up of their own volition. Soon it was Jane laughing, her head thrown back as the hilarity of it all washed over her, the laughter a much needed catharsis.

“If you still wanna offer me money, you can reimburse me for the pharmacy charges. That damn pill was a heck of a lot more expensive than a package of condoms,” Jane teased.

“What, have you been pricing condoms lately?” Adrian shot back at her, matching her light tone, as he got up from the floor, offering her his hand. Jane turned bright red, her face flaming to match her hair, and Adrian knew he had hit the nail on the head. “Were you hoping for an encore?” he said, as he pulled her to her feet and into his arms, feeling her soften in his embrace.

“Maybe,” she muttered into his shoulder, her blush deepening. The man was hot, and he knew just how to get a rise out of her. Well, she would elicit a “rise” out of him, too, Jane thought, reaching down to gauge his interest. He was definitely interested. Jane smiled and pulled away, fishing her keys out of her pocket and tossing them to him, before sashaying down the hall. “Condoms are in the pharmacy bag in the passenger seat. Go get them, if you’d like a chance to use them.” 

Adrian shook his head, a slow smile spreading across his face. How lucky could a man get? He adjusted himself, preparing for the walk out to her car, and then proceeded to comply with her demands. All of them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Art of the Miniature, or Top 10 Unique Doll Houses

I am a lover of all things miniature, and have been as long as I can recall. It brings to mind thoughts of childhood, the joy I felt upon discovering something "my size" to play with, which is still a rare treat. I remember reading Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit books, marveling at the tiny shoes and perfect jacket that Peter wore, and his mother's  perfect little china set, imagining holding them in my own small hands, if ever invited for tea. When I was a bit older, it was The Indian in the Cupboard, a book about a boy who brought a tiny toy Indian to life, and then had to help construct a home and provide food for him, a task more complex than he at first grasped. I often thought about what I would build for a tiny person, how I would construct the furniture, what I would do for plumbing and heat, and how I would make the home comfortable. I toyed with the idea of getting a pet mouse and building him a home, but realized that Squeaks would probably chew through the walls and crap in the bed, handily destroying my romantic thoughts of a real life Beatrix Potter character. Instead, I indulge these dreams in terms of doll houses, fantasizing about the history of the home, the doll's design aesthetic, functionality, and how to improve upon the design. Because you never know, maybe someday magic will build up like electricity in the air, and will strike like lightening on my little pretend world, and voila, my doll will come to life and will REALLY need a place to live... Hey, it could happen.

On that note, here are 10 of the most unique doll houses I've seen. Enjoy the fantasy. 

#1 An ultra modern design, great for  those dolls who work as architects or doctors and want to live somewhere interesting that makes a statement.

#2 A "green" doll house, designed for low impact on the environment.

#3 A castle, for those more aristocratic dolls who can trace their ancestry back hundreds of years.

#4 New York City inspired doll houses for those dolls who are city-dwellers at heart.

#5 A rustic cabin made from all natural materials, for those who want to feel as if they have just stepped out of a fairy tale.

#6 A camper, for the doll who wants to get away from it all. The simple life can be found here, and you can take it with you wherever you want to travel.

#7 The haunted house, complete with popsicle-stick fenced in yard. This handyman's special can be had for a surprisingly low price, provided your dolls don't mind room mates of the supernatural variety.

#8 This was described as both ultra-modern and green, a real architectural feat. Imagine the tiny designer furniture your doll would have, living in such a place.

#9 Ahhh, the old snail-shell cottage. Perfect for dolls who can boast some fairy in their lineage. Complete with toadstool dinette set.

#10 Haunted house, interior. Okay, I'll admit, this one was mine, but I had to sneak it in there. A little bio-hazard clean-up, and this place is move-in ready!

I hope you enjoyed this little trip of the imagination with me. Which doll house was your favorite, and what does it make you think of? Comments are welcome.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love and the Placebo Effect, Teaser #1

Botticelli's Birth of Venus. Venus being the goddess of love,
I thought this was appropriate for Valentine's Day.
Since today is Valentine's Day, and lately I have been trying my hand at writing a love story/smutty romance novel, I thought I might share a teaser. No, this is not the "love" scene, if I put that on here I would have to flag my blog for adult content, and I'd rather not do that. The story is called, "Love and the Placebo Effect," set to hit the shelves of your local bookstore in 20XX, so keep your eyes open for it. Actually, I would estimate I'm about a third of the way into my first draft, so who knows if this scene will even make the final cut, but here it is anyway. To put it into context, our heroine Jane is bringing her new man Adrian to dinner at her best friend's house for the first time. Jane is single, however her friend is married with two very curious children, and like any kid, they say exactly what is on their minds.


Ding-Doooong.

Jane chuckled, hearing the customary scamper of little feet as once again Evie and E.J. vied for door answering privileges. This time, Evie emerged victorious.

“Aunt Janey!” she exclaimed. Then, visibly retreating into herself, Evie asked, “Who’s that man?”

“Uh… this is my friend, Adrian,” Jane said to her wide-eyed niece, who eyed the big man suspiciously.

“Is he your boyfriend? Do you kiss him?” asked E.J., pushing past his sister.

Jane turned the color of a strawberry, exclaiming, “No! I just… I mean…” Jane stuttered, trying to come up with an answer for the inquisitive 8-year-old. The kids backed away from the door and let them in, Jane at a loss for words.

“Well, I heard Mommy talking to Daddy, and she said that you were kissing some man. Are you sure he’s not your boyfriend?” E.J. accused. Jane heard Adrian snort, trying to keep from laughing. She was mortified.

Coming to her rescue, but not before taking a moment to thoroughly enjoy Jane’s discomfiture, Adrian intervened. Reaching out to shake E.J.’s hand, he asked, “How do you do E.J.? My name is Adrian. Your Aunt Jane and I work together. I happen to know that before I could be your Aunt Jane’s boyfriend, I would need to ask your permission, and since I haven’t done that yet, I can’t be her boyfriend.” Jane didn’t miss the ‘yet,’ but was not in a state to think about the ramifications of his wording.

E.J. thought it over for a moment, considering. “Ok, I believe you. But what about the kissing?” he asked, fixing Adrian with a measuring look.

“Guilty as charged. But you can’t blame me, your Aunt Jane is so pretty, I couldn’t help myself,” he said, keeping a straight face and looking E.J. in the eye. Jane felt a little flutter in her heart, He thinks I’m pretty.

“Well, I guess that’s ok. Aunt Jane, did you bring me a present?” in typical child fashion, once his curiosity was satisfied, E.J. moved on to the next item of interest, much to Aunt Janey’s relief.

I hope you enjoyed this segment. If there is any interest, I may post more at a later date. Feel free to give feedback.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Art of Analysis and Planning, or Why I Can't Work with My Husband

Eli's 4th birthday cake. My husband and I worked on this
together. Personally, I think it would have turned out better
if either one of us had completed the project alone.
My husband does not like to work with me. He hates the way I do things and doesn't understand my process, but that's okay. I don't like to work with him either. When he starts a project, he likes to jump in, push ahead, make swift progress, and be finished. Details are minor compared to the big picture, the work just has to get done. Me, I see things a little differently. I think that details make up the big picture, that every big project can be broken down into a thousand little steps. For me, tackling a project is like eating an elephant: I take it one bite at a time, but first I have to conduct some research on which ammunition to use, where to get the elephant butchered, how to best prepare the meat, and whether elephant is as healthy as the other, other, other white meat. I am a planner. I like to make to-do lists, separated into categories, complete with bullet points. I like to shop around for the best deal on supplies and watch an expert tutorial so I know how to handle my medium. I like to practice my technique on something minor and prepare my work surface for optimal outcome. I probably have 20 different projects milling around in my head right now, in different states of readiness. I have a doll house to build, for which I am currently collecting materials. I have a scrapbook of family recipes, but have thus far only collected about six recipes and have yet to purchase the album. I have a book I am writing, and am currently on chapter 7, page 44, word 24,417. You get the idea. And each of these projects is assembled in my head a thousand ways before I ever begin the actual, physical work. For, you see, I'm something of a perfectionist. Not in the sense that everything has to be symmetrical, sterile, and cut with laser-precision, but in the sense that I want it just-so. In my mind, there is a right way to do things, and that is how I like to do them. This tends to cause problems when I feel rushed or try to do things spur-of-the-moment. I hate last minute plan changes. I hate interruptions when I am working. Once I have set myself in motion, any impediment is at best an annoyance, at worst a disaster derailing my train to the detriment of all. Because of this, my productivity is often low when I try to multi-task, and I am often unsatisfied with the results. I am working on this. I have learned to pace myself, work at the opportune time, and spend the rest of the day planning my next move. If my husband and I are working on a project together, I bite my tongue, and let him get it done. Or, ideally, we work on separate projects in close proximity to one another. And if I am caring for the kids, I discard the idea of doing anything productive altogether, and try to wing it. I'll let you know how that works out.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

Caffeinated Me

When I was little, I frequently experienced sharp pains in my legs, mostly at night, that brought tears to my eyes and grape-flavored, chewable Tylenol to my mouth. My mom, an internet research junkie even then, spent hours studying up on the subject, and concluded that I had "growing pains," possibly brought on by a bad reaction to caffeine. Starting at about age 7, I began avoiding caffeine, and even to this day I rarely consume the drug, except for the occasional 5-Hour Energy Shot, Excedrin, or McDonald's large sweet tea for only $1. That said, when I do partake, even a little caffeine gives me bouncing-off-the-wall energy, jitters, and a slight sense of euphoria.
I don't like coffee, but I can see myself becoming a tea drinker.
This morning I woke with a headache, probably from staying up too late (read: 2:00 AM) typing away on my trusty, little netbook. 2 Excedrin and 2-hours later, I am singing goofy, made-up songs to my children and dancing around the living room, happy for no apparent reason. It is at times like this that I think caffeine makes me a better person, and I contemplate the idea of starting a caffeine habit. But my fear is this: I begin drinking tea or coffee every morning, and soon need more and more to get the desired caffeine "high," and before too long I will need caffeine just to feel normal. Eventually, caffeine will have no positive effect on me, but I will have to have it or else severe withdrawal will take over, making me a cranky, grouchy person, worse than my pre-caffeine self. I don't want to become an addict, a caffeine junky, consumed by when I will next be able to score. The fear of withdrawal is enough to keep me "sober," even though that means my baseline is considerably less peppy than it possibly could be. But on those days I DO find an excuse to get caffeinated, I take full advantage, being more productive around the house and in the studio, churning out work like there's no tomorrow. I'm practically manic, only since it takes so little caffeine to put me in this state, I don't have to worry about hitting rock bottom when the effect wears off. The euphoria will gradually fade, leaving but a fond memory of the child-like energy and enthusiasm that the drug induces, and a stack of folded laundry, a clean kitchen, and 2,000 words added to my manuscript. Caffeine, you are like the long-lost friend whom I rarely see, and love all the more because you are rejuvenating in small doses, and you never overstay your welcome.   

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Inspiration, Fickle Friend

Inspiration can be found everywhere or nowhere,
capricious soul that she is.
Have you ever been driving down the road, letting your mind wander, and suddenly are struck by the lightning bolt of inspiration? Maybe you have constructed the perfect song lyrics, or stumbled upon and idea for the next Great American Novel, or you have simply solved the unsolvable equation. It couldn't come at a more inconvenient time, right? You have no pen or paper handy, and you certainly won't be texting yourself the idea while you drive, because the giant, looming billboard you just passed has warned you not to on pain of death or incarceration. Or maybe you aren't driving, you are at home playing with the kids and you see out of the corner of your eye a piece of cardboard that would be perfect for your current art/craft project, and you feel the urge to immediately run into the studio, lock the doors and work to your heart's content, abandoning thought of all else. But you can't do that, you have other responsibilities. So, like an adult, you do what you have to do first, counting down until the moment when you will have the opportunity to wield the tools of your craft once more. You finish your errands and finally arrive home, or you put the kids to bed at the end of the day, and you breathe a huge sigh of relief, rub your hands together in anticipation, and sit down to work. And just as suddenly, inspiration has left the building. You cannot remember that perfect turn of phrase that you so brilliantly crafted just hours ago. You don't remember where that scrap of cardboard is hiding, or what exactly you had planned to do with it. You wilt as you decry the injustice of an opportunity wasted. O, Inspiration, you fickle friend! Why hast thou deserted me in mine hour of need? And in your despair, you discover something: the fleeting moment of agony you experienced when you realized that your original idea had flown with the wind has inspired you once more, only this time your idea is charged with emotion and angst, and then utter joy as you once again ply your craft, working blissfully uninterrupted until you are spent. Inspiration, once more, has graced you with her glowing presence.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Fruit Pizza for Breakfast

Planning the many intricacies of the perfect menu, scouring the countryside for suitable decorations, hand-crafting and making out the invitations, building props and costumes, you name it, if it has to do with throwing a party, I love it. My particular favorite, themed or costume parties, you can't beat 'em. It is always exciting for me to see how clever and creative people will be with their wardrobe choice, and pictures are a must. I start planning my kids' birthday parties months in advance, and sometimes I wonder if I do it more for them or for me. Okay, I know it is for me, but they reap the benefits as well, so my conscience is clear. As an example of my party craze, I'll detail some of the preparation that went into my son's most recent birthday celebration, a cowboy party for my little 4-year-old sheriff. Guests were greeted at the front door by a bleached out cow skull, 10-gallon hat, and 6-shooters displayed on an old square bale. The menu included beans and cornbread, barbecue ribs, and gingersnaps, as well as root beer in tiny kid-sized pilsner mugs. Hand-painted faux wood signs hung on the walls, directing guests to the Tin Star Cantina and the High Noon Saloon, my bathrooms had the customary half-moon outhouse symbol emblazoned across the doors,  and a scale kids-size log cabin, complete with barrel table, curtains, and a daisy patch under the window was erected for the enjoyment of all the pint-sized guests. The doorway was too low for most of the grown-ups to enter, but perfect for anyone under four and a half feet tall, so it had all the allure of an exclusive clubhouse. There was trail mix, beef jerky, sheriff's badges, and play money in the "loot bags" I had prepared for the kids, and many sundry other props upon which to feast the eye. I was in my element, and everything was perfect. Perfect, this is, until the guests arrived and the party was in full swing. That's when I became overwhelmed with all the noise and action, as I moved from room to room, making sure all the guests were satisfied and the kids were not getting into trouble. Alas, it is a curse to love parties so much and yet by nature be an introvert, a lover of peace, quiet, and calm. I am a person who needs a measure of silence every day so that my brain may continue to function, and when I don't have that I get stressed and snappy, and the steam explodes out of my ears like Bugs Bunny. Okay, I may be exaggerating, a little, but I truly don't do well at noisy, boisterous events, much to the chagrin of my best friend who thrives on such things. So, in an ideal situation, I would design the perfect setting for a party, make the most clever and tasty dishes to eat, turn the guests loose to enjoy themselves, and then go hide somewhere quiet. When the party is over, the last few guests still linger, and the kitchen is full of wonderful, tasty, snackable party food, I would sneak back in and indulge myself. You see, my first love is the creation of the party, but my second is leftover party food. There's something about tiny hot dogs wrapped in biscuit dough that is far superior to an average sized hot dog in a bun: all the flavor of the larger choice condensed into such a small package, it makes my mouth water just thinking of it. And all the wonderful varied concoctions into which one can dip a tortilla chip, oh, the list is endless! And of course, there is my new love, fruit pizza. Icing on a cookie with fresh fruit, melt in my mouth, you decadent morsel! Yes, my friends, I shall feast today, fruit pizza for breakfast, nachos and barbecue on tiny rolls for lunch, loaded potato casserole and tiny hot dogs for dinner! Manna from heaven, and all I had to do to get it was sit through a few hours of party time with the Dotsons, which, I'll be honest, definitely has its moments. No doubt, worth every bit.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ode to the Super Bowl

Ahh, the Super Bowl. Glorious end to football season, you are welcome in my home. I am ready to reclaim my Sundays, my Monday nights, and the occasional Thursday evening. I am tired of shushing my children, shoeing them out of the way of the TV. I am tired of the endless inane drone of the sportscasters, who mix their metaphors and misuse words. I am tired of the arguments over which team is better, who deserves to win, the endless speculation. I am ready for the occasional romantic comedy or cake-off to grace my 50 inch plasma screen. Or, better yet, to turn off the television off once in a while and get out of the house, perhaps for a stroll around Lowe's or the mall or dinner at Chili's instead. A change of pace would be nice, not knowing what my Sunday plans are weeks in advance and the flexibility to change them would be refreshing. I am ready for you, Super Bowl. And I am ready to bid you adieu. Until next year.

Friday, February 4, 2011

To Paint, or Not to Paint...

Not a painting. Pieta, Michelangelo.
I am not a painter. I can paint, I have painted, I know HOW to paint, but I don't ENJOY painting. It is too imprecise, too time consuming, takes too much preparation and clean up. The paint dries too fast, or it dries too slow, or you didn't mix enough and then it is impossible to get it to match. The brush never does what I want it to do, the list goes on. Yet the first question anyone asks when they find out I have an art degree is "do you paint?" Every commission I have ever gotten has been for a painting. People buy paintings, people don't pay for a sculpture that they can't display on a coffee table. So, I am left with a choice, practice an art I hate but may yet yield some coin, or do what I like and give up the hope of it ever translating into a paycheck. Many artists have felt the pain of this decision, even in the times of Michelangelo, a sculptor who will forever be remembered for his most famous work, the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, a PAINTING. Now there's a man who hated to paint, yet did it anyway for the paycheck. In fact, this situation is an analog for the decisions we make every day as adults, do the work that pays, or the work I love? Is it fair to sacrifice for my own happiness when there are people dependent on me? I maintain that it is a MUST to do work that makes you happy, whether it is your primary job, volunteer, or simply a hobby. A person who spends all of his or her time doing something that he hates is miserable, and miserable to be around. If you make this sacrifice for your family, you may be able to give them more *things* but you will have less *you* to offer. A child isn't the only one who needs to play, it is a human thing to need to feel joy in the work we do. And maybe an animal thing, too. It is a basic necessity, the highest of needs on Maslow's pyramid, self-actualization. Michelangelo didn't just paint, he carved the Pieta, David, and other hauntingly beautiful pieces that, in my opinion, far outshine the Sistine Chapel. But, don't get me wrong, you still have to pay the bills, so, by all means, paint.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Momentum

Anyone feel like cleaning up after this meal? I didn't think so.
Football announcers talk a lot about momentum, how one big play can be the turning point of a game, spurring the losing team on to fight until they squeeze out a victory, against all odds. It is the same with house cleaning. You go along, doing the chores you can, as you get to them, but at some point you get the crud and take sick day or two, or you cook a 7-course meal to try to impress the new yuppie neighbors, or the cat gets mad at you and pisses on a whole basket of clean, folded laundry, and suddenly the mess seems much bigger. These things make one lose momentum. It is more difficult to exert the energy required to wash a sink full of dishes if it is two days old and you know the spaghetti is going to be stuck on and it will take forever to scrape the dried-up lettuce from the salad off. So you plug the sink, add water and soap, and let it soak. For a week. Now, with your momentum lower than ever, you find yourself dropping garbage on the floor beside the trash can and neglecting to rinse the toothpaste out of the bathroom sink. And then it's Garbage Day, a holiday that comes around once a week, but since you aren't that religious, you only observe it a couple times a month. Ahhh, Garbage Day, what will you be? Just one more lost opportunity to put some order in this crazy world, or will you be a momentum changer? I choose change! You choose to march proudly out that door in your tattered bathrobe and stained slippers, carrying two bulging garbage bags to your 30 gallon bin, still waiting on the curb from last week, and hold your head up high as you heft the waste into the can and out of your life! And then you will return with the pizza boxes. You scour the house, top to bottom, until you have collected all the candy wrappers and empty toilet paper rolls, the fast food bags and empty Coke cans, the array of Q-tips from the bathroom floor, until you have gathered every last scrap and taken it to the curb. And then, once the garbage is out, you realize that the rest of the mess consists of just three things: shoes, dishes, and laundry. So, while you're on a roll, you might as well put all the shoes away, that's easy. There's no since tripping over them every time you walk by the door. And the dishes have been soaking for a week, they dried on crud has been soaking so long if you look at it wrong, it swims away, so that's no big deal. You don your elbow-length gloves (because, let's face it, that stuff has been in there for a week, there's no telling what is living under that pond-scum in the depths of your sink), drain the water, and replace with new, hot, glorious suds. In no time, your dishes are sparkling clean! Now, what's next? Laundry? Whoa... careful, there, that smell is ripe! You don't want that circulating in the air, there's no telling what kind of germs might be in there. Why don't you just Febreze that and give it a day or two to air out, that way the whole house doesn't smell like cat pee. And with that, you turn the ball over, yielding your hard-won momentum to the other team. You win this round, laundry.