Although I don't always succeed in completing an entire month, I enjoy participating in brush lettering challenges on Instagram every now and again. One of my favorite challenge creators is Olivia, aka Random Olive, partly because I like her theme choices and even more because she posts awesome video demonstrations on her Instagram feed. February proved to be an especially enjoyable month because Olive chose gemstones as her theme and, as a jewelry designer and seller, I love those gemstones!
I tried a variety of papers and inks, but in the end liked my Tombow dual tip brush markers on watercolored backgrounds the best. When I had the actual stones available, I added them to the photos as well. I used both the Canva and PicCollage apps to add photo backgrounds to some of my pieces. Here's a little slide show of my opal brush lettering project:
For now, I've just been playing along with Olive, but I think some of these brush lettered gemstones are going to find their way to my Birthstone Blooms shop soon!
Check out Random Olive and join me in her next challenge...and if you let me know that you're playing along, I'll check out your work!
One of my favorite February art lessons with my littlest students in first grade is our "Jim Dine Valentines" project.
Dine, one of the premier American artists of the mid-20th century, is still a force in the art world today at the age of 81. Although most known for his images of colorful hearts, Dine produced a much greater variety of artworks in his long career, most notably carefully rendered drawings of common objects such as hammers, pliers, and other tools, colorful paintings of kimonos and the iconic character, Pinocchio, and large sculptured hearts.
Although his friendship with Claes Oldenburg and gallery exhibitions with such artists as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol led to Jim Dine often being classified as a "pop artist", Dine did not consider himself to be a part of the Pop Art Movement. Nonetheless, his work is always a hit with my students, who love creating their own "heart art" using oil pastels and pan tempera paints! And, since I like to work along with my students, I now have my own collection of Jim Dine inspired art to share, along with a few of my favorite "love quotes".
Wishing you love, hearts...and chocolate!
So here it is...January 1...2017...
The tree is down to its lights and will soon be out to the curb for pick-up. The mantle is bare except for a simple wreath and lanterns. And the toys and games have been enjoyed by two little boys. Soon I will be heading home to put Christmas away in Ohio, but for now, I'm enjoying the first day of the new year with my daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons.
Do you make resolutions to begin the new year? Put away the holiday clutter and give the house a thorough cleaning? Or just move on, business as usual?
I first heard about the Word of the Year as we were rounding the corner into 2015. At the time, I was just beginning to explore my options for life and work after my eventual retirement after 40 years of full-time teaching.
The idea of focusing on just one idea for an entire year seemed to make sense. At the time, I was struggling to maintain a balance between my personal life and my work life. And my personal life was suffering the most.
Sometimes you just know that you need to put more effort into making time to take care of yourself...exercise, healthy meals, time with family and friends, and a decent bedtime. This was one of those times for me.
Although I wasn't totally successful, and there were periods of time when I gave up on the idea completely, I did like the idea. So when 2016 rolled around, I was ready for a fresh start.
Word of the Year... 2016
In December of 2015, I had just finished reading posts from the website "Becoming Minimalist" by Joshua Becker, and was inspired by his lifestyle dedicated to living with less in order to enjoy life more. Of course, inspiration and action are two entirely different things, at least in my world!
Although my closets are a little less full, my kitchen has fewer unnecessary gadgets and utensils, and I have made cooking meals easier by having a rotation of family favorites, I cannot claim to having fully embraced the idea of minimalizing or simplicity, even after two rounds of
participating in Joshua's Uncluttered course!
Word of the Year...2017...Third time's charmed?
This post appeared in my Facebook feed several weeks ago. At the time, I thought...hmmm....maybe ENOUGH should be my Word of the Year for 2017. After all, I certainly have enough stuff in my closets and cabinets...enough money to pay my bills and still have a little leftover for the fun things in life...enough love and friendship...and I have a hard time remembering all of that when I have an opportunity to add just "one more thing" to my very busy life.
But ENOUGH just didn't resonate with me... a bland word...a word that implies standing still...not making changes...not doing things differently. I wanted...needed... more...
And then I found it!
Since July, I've been a member of the Sunday Society, a group of amazingly creative women in business, led by April Bowles-Olin, author of the blog Blacksburg Belle. Our end of the year challenge was to reassess our lives and businesses as we lived them in 2016 and plan ahead for success in 2017.
One of the exercises in our planner was to go through a list of words and circle the ones that resonated with us most. As I did this, the one that jumped out at me was MINDFUL. At first, I didn't circle it, but I found myself drawn back to it after several days had passed, so I knew in my heart that this was it!
In a way, mindfulness (or the lack of it!) is most likely what kept me from achieving my goals of finding BALANCE and SIMPLICITY the previous two years...my a-ha moment!
So for the next 365 days, my challenge-to-self will be to practice mindfulness in my daily life. To remain in the present instead of constantly looking backward and regretting decisions made in the past. To remain in the present a little bit longer instead of moving full speed ahead into the future before the present has been savored and lived.
What about you? What works in your life?
Are you a resolutions maker?
Or a Word of the Year fan?
I'd love to hear from you, so leave a comment!
Meanwhile, Happy New Year to you!
We all know that feeling...a glance at the calendar tells us that Christmas is only a few days away. And it suddenly dawns on you that you are NOT quite prepared! Sure, you have the important gifts. You know, the ones for the children...your spouse...mom and dad...grandma. But what about the neighbor who waters the garden when you go on vacation every summer? Your book club group? Your monthly dinner group? The sibling or best friend who already has everything they could possibly need or want?
My father used to tell us that he didn't need any gifts. When we protested, he replied that if we really felt that we had to give him something for his birthday or for Christmas, it should be something he could consume so that it did not clutter up his simple mountain lifestyle. So we began to bring some of his edible favorites...red wine...Mayhaw jelly...Polish Christmas bread...homebaked cookies. At first, this seemed to be "not quite enough", but for my father, it was exactly enough.
Dad is gone now, but his spirit lives on. So in his memory, I've decided to carry on the tradition of simple gifts from the heart and from the home. Oh, my two grandsons will still have presents to open, as will my daughter and her husband, but the rest of my holiday gifts will be stress-LESS, easy to make, treats from my kitchen.
Holiday Trail Mix
It doesn't get much simpler than this! Combine the ingredients in a big bowl, mix it up, and you have a festive snack that can even be gluten free as long as you read labels carefully!
One 16-oz. jar of dry roasted peanuts with sea salt
One 14-oz. can of salted cashew halves and pieces
One 11-oz. bag EACH of M&Ms: regular, dark chocolate, holiday mint, white peppermint
One 6-oz. box or bag of toasted coconut strips (Kroger and Trader Joe carry these.)
Two cups of dried cranberries (I buy a huge bag because I use them for many things, so I just toss in a few cups.)
Holiday Homemade Mocha Mix (serves about 8)
I discovered this recipe in a coupon booklet from our local Kroger store. I made five batches to fill six Mason jars to give as gifts to my dinner group friends. Be sure to include the serving directions. Add a snack size baggie of mini marshmallows or a few soft peppermint sticks and a cute mug and you have a perfect little gift!
Mix together: 1/2 cup powdered milk
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Cocoa.)
1/4 cup instant coffee (I used Folger's decaf, but regular is fine, too!)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli dark chocolate bits.)
To serve: Put 1/3 cup Mocha Mix in a mug.
Add 1 cup boiling water. Stir until the chocolate bits melt completely.
Garnish with mini marshmallows or a soft peppermint stick, if you like that.
This recipe takes a little more time, since baking is involved, but the results are worth it! My mother gave me the recipe many years ago and I have been making it ever since, but I have no idea where it originally came from. It is worth the time to go to Trader Joe's, if you have one nearby, to get the best walnut halves. Most grocery store bags will have a lot of bits and pieces, but the Trader Joe's walnut halves are as close to perfect as I've ever bought, with very few smaller bits.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Blend the following ingredients in a large mixing bowl:
1 egg white (Whole eggs are best. If you are making several batches and don't want to have a lot of
leftover yolks, you can use liquid egg whites. However, cut the amount of water in half to keep the
consistency of the mixture less watery.)
2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. water
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Add 3 heaping cups of walnut halves.
Prepare a large baking pan with sides of about 1 inch by lining it with non-stick foil. This will prevent you from having a very sticky pan to clean when the baking is finished! Spread the walnut mixture in the pan. Set the timer on the oven for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, stir the mixture to redistribute the liquid. Return the pan to the oven for another 15 minutes.
Repeat one more time, for a total baking time of 45 minutes.
While the walnuts are baking, prepare the cooling surface by spreading a large sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper on the counter top. When the walnuts are removed from the oven, spread them out on the parchment or waxed paper to cool. Once the walnuts are fully cooled, break them apart and store in a covered container in a cool, dry place. No need to refrigerate.
Stress-LESS Packaging Tips
These treats can be presented in so many containers! This year, I'm using tins, Mason jars, and jelly jars, but you could also use baskets, flower pots, a pretty bowl or platter, pasta jars, or food boxes from the local craft supply store. A large baggie with a colorful ribbon, placed in a pretty basket or bowl, makes a lovely presentation.
When it comes to colors, think beyond the traditional red and green. Try deep blue, silver, gold, or white. This year checks and plaids are prominent in the craft stores as well.
For ties, instead of ribbon consider twine, yarn, raffia, or colored string.
I like to have a theme for my packaging, and this year I've chosen to use neutrals mainly because I fell in love with the glittered cotton ball twigs in the craft store! With those "almost Christmas" coupons, my teacher discount card, and sales, I was able to purchase the twigs, snowflake ribbon and tissue, tins, jars, and the cute polka dotted gift bags all at 60-70% off at my local JoAnn Fabric and Crafts store.
Not a bad way to put together my Stress-LESS Christmas packages!
If you try any of my recipes, please let me know what your think either here or on my Facebook page!
You know the feeling, right?
The ghosts and goblins of Halloween have barely been laid to rest when the media barrage begins.
Buy this...you NEED this...your friends NEED this...your kids NEED this...
Black Friday deals...Small Biz Saturday...and don't forget Cyber Monday!
And then it hits you...what happened to Thanksgiving? What happened to gratitude and thankfulness?
Thanksgiving is my idea of the perfect holiday...a time to share our faith and the blessings of family, friends, and food. No need to dress up, bring gifts, or put on a show. And yet, all too often, this beautiful respite from daily toil gets lost in the consumer culture that surrounds us.
So now it's mid-December. Thanksgiving is behind us, the radio stations are playing
24/7 Christmas and holiday tunes, and television is pretty much a non-stop catalog of
gift-giving ideas for everyone...even the dog and the cat!
It's easy to get caught up in this frenzy of activity and if we spend any time at all on Facebook,
Instagram, Twitter, and (my person nemesis) Pinterest, it's no surprise that we begin to feel
inadequate and incomplete.
We start to ask ourselves, "Is my house clean enough?" "Are my decorations pretty enough?"
"Is this gift good enough for my friend?" and "How am I going to get this all done?"
Time out, my creative friends!
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or just enjoy the
colors, music, food, and celebrations of the season, December is not a
reason to become a heaping mass of stressed out humanity!
Here are my top three tips to creatively stress-LESS this holiday season, in
no particular order. I'm sure that you have a few of your own, and I'd love
to have you share your ideas here or on my Facebook page.
1. Make time to PLAY!
Play is NOT just for kids!
Meet up with some friends to take a walk in the park or a jog around the neighborhood...or go yourself if everyone else is "just too
Do you have children or grandchildren? Make a "play date" and do a craft, make ornaments, play a classic board game or card
game, read a book together while drinking hot chocolate and nibbling cookies, fill pinecones with peanut butter, roll them in
birdseed and hang them in the trees for our feathered friends.
Got snow? Build a snow family in your front yard, take a walk and leave a footprint trail, be a kid again and lie down in the snow
and make a snow angel...or do as my grandchildren do, and play snow baseball!
2. Make time to RELAX at the end of the day...
Take at least 30 minutes at the end of the day for yourself...relax...recharge...renew your spirit.
For me, it's a good book, hot herbal decaf tea, a comfy afghan, curled up in my favorite chair with soft instrumental music playing in the background.
Maybe for you it's a fragrant bubble bath with scented candles, or a quiet game of solitaire with an old deck of cards.
Whatever your preference, the key is to turn off all digital distractions...cell phones, computers, iPads, even television with its incessant commercials. If your preference is for a few episodes of Gilmore Girls or a movie, stick to Netflix or a DVD to avoid all those marketing discractions.
3. SIMPLIFY your holiday preparations...
Stay stress-LESS by not trying to "do it all"...
Plan simple meals for the family. There's no reason not to have breakfast for dinner, especially if it is presented festively!
Use paper products when possible, especially if you don't have a dishwasher in your kitchen. There are plenty of biodegradable paper products available so that you can avoid styrofoam and plastics if you prefer to do that.
Keep the holiday decorations simple. Your home doesn't have to look like the local Hallmark store to be festive and bright!
Attend only the parties and events that are truly meaningful to you. It's ok to say "No, thank you", just be sure to mind your manners and RSVP when requested by the host.
Above all, remember that it's not about the gifts! Create memories instead. This is an excellent post from one of my new favorite websites with an amazing array of suggestions for creating memories instead of clutter: How to Give Experiences Instead of Gifts from the Wellness Mama blog.
In my next post, I'll share three of my favorite simply delicious food gift recipes. Look for it on December 15! Until then, make time to PLAY, take time to RELAX, SIMPLIFY the preparations, and stress-LESS!
How did this book lead to a chance encounter with a fellow artist...in an airport gift kiosk, no less? Only in Key West, my friends!
And how did this chance encounter lead to my bringing home this print...signed on the spot by the artist himself? Or was he a clever imposter? And if so, why would he give away this print instead of attempting to pry the few remaining vacation dollars from my purse?
Let's backtrack a bit...
One of the highlights of my five days in Key West, aside from the beaches, of course, was a morning spent with a delightfully knowledgeable tour guide at the home of Ernest Hemingway. Her admiration for the man and his literary legacy were obvious and her meticulous attention to preserving his memory left me curious to know more. But, as is bound to happen when on vacation with friends, beaches and sunset cruises intervened, and scholarly pursuits were abandoned.
And then departure day arrived...
Let to my own devices after the earlier departures of my two friends, I wandered into the "Last Call Beach Bar" in the hopes of finding at least a magazine rack or newspaper stand for a little reading material to pass the time. Sure enough, around the corner and behind that soda vending machine, was a very small "Last Chance Souvenir Shop". I quickly spotted the bright red cover of "Hemingway's Key West", and walked over to see if this might suffice. As I was fanning the pages to determine whether to make the purchase, a gentleman dressed very casually in Key West style walked over and asked if I wanted to purchase the book.
Not ready to make a commitment, I responded by saying that I had found the tour fascinating and considered it one of the highlights of my stay because of the very engaging tour guide. Turned out that he knew her and that she was considered one of the best tour guides on the island...and here is where my encounter with the mystery artist really begins!
Our friendly conversation continued for a bit, as I had plenty of time until my flight, and as we chatted about my work at home as an art teacher and occasional artist, I noticed a small, hand-lettered sign..."Free print with any purchase". Of course, I was curious and upon asking was presented with this rather interesting print. The man assured me that it was signed by the artist, Michelle Kennedy, since he knew her personally.
Although this artist's style is not quite my taste, I thanked him and he began to roll the print to put it in a tube. Suddenly he stopped, turned to a rack with much larger prints, and said to me, "I think I have a print from the Hemingway House. Would you like to have it, too?" I was pretty certain that a sales pitch was forthcoming, but instead, the man pulled out several prints of watercolor paintings highlighting Key West landmarks. None proved to be of the Hemingway House, and he seemed a bit disappointed, but he turned to me and said, "You teach art...I'd like you to have one of these." Surprised, I chose this one of the oldest house on Key West.
"He smiled, confirmed my choice by saying, "Nice one, I believe", then proceeded to pick up a pencil, saying "This one's not signed," and quickly wrote a name in the corner of the border. He wrapped it up and handed it to me with a smile, and before I could say another word, wished me safe travels, spread the curtains behind the table with the cash box, and said, "Guess I'll get back to work now." Behind the curtains, I saw an easel with a partially completed painting, a watercolor paint box, and several brushes.
Had I met the artist...or just another interesting Key West character? Now I needed to find out who is he really was. Was he an unknown "wanna be" working at the airport kiosk to support a simple Key West lifestyle? Or was he someone more...someone who preferred a simpler life and a chance to meet people just for the fun of it?
As it was, I had a long day of travel ahead, with long layovers in two different airports. Plenty of time for a little research on the name "Kennedy" and any possible connections to Key West. And midway through a two+ hour stay in the Tampa airport, I found this link www.kennedystudios.net/index.php/robert-e-kennedy/florida/key-west.html. Robert Kennedy (no apparent relation to the famous Kennedy family in Massachusetts!) is indeed a watercolor artist with a gallery in Key West and several others up and down the East Coast. Although I couldn't find a reference to the print I was given on any of his gallery sites, the similarity was obvious...so I will always believe that I did, indeed, meet the artist in an airport gift shop kiosk!
What's not to love about Key West? Warm sunshine, clear waters, soft sand...and all the action on Duval Street in the evening! Not to mention those amazing sunsets over the calm water of the the Gulf of Mexico...best observed while sipping an exotic adult beverage on the Pier or while on a sunset music cruise!
After a wonderful five day stay at Bahama House with two of my very best friends, it was time to head back to landlocked Ohio. Since we had met up in Fort Lauderdale and driven the Keys to our destination, I had no prior experience with Key West International Airport. I knew it would be small, but I had no idea what an artistic treat it was going to be for this art loving traveler! From the time I entered the lobby to check in with Spirit Airlines until I reached my departure gate, I was delighted by artwork everywhere I looked! All of it was amazing, but I think my favorites were the photo-realistic wall paintings tucked into unexpected corners. And who would have thought...Key West International has the ONLY airport beach in the world! Check it out in the slideshow below!
This was a fabulous vacation for an art loving traveler, but there's more to come! In my next post, I'll fill you in on my art filled day at the Hemingway House and a chance meeting with a local artist...one more lovely surprise at Key West International Airport!
Summer time means travel time for those of us fortunate enough to have those long weeks of summer to look forward to after a hectic ten month school year! This year, my travels took me through several airports and involved some lengthy wait times between flights. Luckily, two of these airports featured some interesting artwork to keep me from boredom...or too much time wandering Facebook and Instagram.
Stop #1 was a stay at Atlanta's Hartsfield International on my way to Key West, Florida...
After a wonderful five days in lovely Key West, it was time to return home...more art full airport time from stop #2, Key West, in my next post!
During those final, endless weeks of the school year, just when I needed it most, got a subscription email from Bonnie Glendinning of ThrivingArtistAcademy.com inviting me to join a closed Facebook group called The Artists' Mentor and to check out one of the photography courses that was being offered. The course, titled The Present Perfect, was a short seven day exploration of Mindfulness, using photography as a tool.
Even though May is one of the busiest months of my school year, the thought of taking a few minutes a day for seven days to do something for my own artistic soul, was very appealing. So I signed up, followed through, and loved every bit of the experience! Jen Kiaba, professional photographer, educator, and digital marketer, not only presented new ways to explore photography as an expressive art form, she also provided helpful, encouraging comments on every post made by one of her students.
I must say that learning the ins and outs of any new digital device is always an adventure! Not all my apps and links want to play nice yet, and some passwords are refusing to let me make changes, but overall I think I am going to really like creating art on my new iPadPro. Here are a few of my first adventures into digital lettering.
"Brushing up" on my long-neglected calligraphy skills has been great fun since I discovered @randomolive, thanks to a class with April Bowles-Owen on Creative Live last October. Before then, I knew nothing about brush lettering, although I had been doing pen and ink calligraphy off and on since high school art class. The April challenge of 30 baseball related words really caught my interest since my grandson is now playing tee ball!
The countdown to summer has begun in my head, even though there are still five very busy weeks left in the school year for me. I recently acquired a gorgeous selection of stones from Dakota Stones and am spending as much time as possible building my Sand and Surf summer collection for my Etsy shop. Right now, I have listings for stretch stacking bracelets, but I have plans to add earrings and other bracelet styles in the coming weeks. Check back often and follow me on Instagram to get all the latest updates!
February 21...Day #52 of 2016...the year with the #oneword365 goal of SIMPLICITY.
Time for a reality check!
Since my last post, I have taken on no fewer than three, yes THREE, web-based art challenges!
CHALLENGE #1: One Little Tag Craft Challenge
What is it? A Facebook group for people who want a daily dose of creativity on a small scale...specifically a little hang tag, like you might put on a shipping box. You make a tag each day (or week, or month...whatever works!) and post it to the FB page for all to see.
Who is doing this? Hosted by blogger Jenny Barnett Rohrs, mastermind behind Craft Test Dummies, this FB page has over 300 participants, although only a few seem to post regularly. Lots of scrapbooking, stamping, and mixed media fans seems to be on board with this challenge. Every few weeks, Jenny writes a post or shares a video with some new twist to the challenge, just to keep it interesting. After all, this is a full year challenge!
CHALLENGE #2: Brush Letter Practice Challenge
What is it? A really fun way to add to my calligraphy skills! I've been doing traditional pen calligraphy since high school art classes, back in the pre-internet dark ages. Instead of a stiff pen and India ink, you use a soft, flowing brush and watercolors.
Who is doing this? The work of Olivia, who goes by Random Olive, first caught my eye when she was a participant in a Creative Live class I was taking last October. I liked her style, so I checked out her website, Instagram, and YouTube videos to learn more about brush lettering.
How does it work? Each month, Olivia posts a list of words with a theme. December was all about yummy holiday cookies, January was a list of inspirational words, and February is definitely my favorite so far...flowers...hint of spring to come! Olive also offers great practice sheets that you can download each month to help with learning the brush strokes. My skills have improved just enough to give me the confidence to occasionally post a sample on Instagram at #brushletterpracticechallenge, although I have a long way to go!
One plus, though is being able to combine challenges. I've used brush lettering with iPad drawings on some of my tags for the One Little Tag Craft Challenge. A little bit of simplifying!
CHALLENGE #3: #28tomake with Creative Live
When I got the email from Creative Live, offering a free 28-day drawing challenge, I couldn't resist! Each morning brings a new email video with a prompt for the days' creative challenge. These are quick, no more than 20-30 minutes, which is perfect. I've even been able to do a few of them during my lunch break at school, and one of them, the tangram challenge, became a lesson plan for my first grade classes this week! The best part of this challenge is going to Instagram to see all the amazingly creative problem solvers posting their responses.
Will you join me?