art, artist, beautiful things, Christmas, Christmas shopping

“Box-of-Socks” Happy

Christmas pencil

Merry Christmas morning. I’m enjoying a second cup of coffee as I reflect on holidays past and present, and those things, that usually aren’t things at all, that bring us joy. My family’s original Christmas Eve plans were thwarted by illness this year, and though we did manage to celebrate, it just isn’t the same without all my children present, because it is precisely those people that make holidays special. Cuddle time with grandson Tommy, who arrived safely with his mother from California, helped, but still didn’t make up for the missing family members.

CHristmas Eve with Tommy

While I usually savor year-end reflections on New Year’s Eve, a nearly-empty house this morning has me feeling pensive. Last-minute plans to move the Christmas Eve celebration to my home meant my children had a one-hour trip (or more) here last night, so we decided to delay the usual morning gift-giving until after our noon meal today.

Before my children arrived for festivities last night, a box arrived on my doorstep. It wasn’t a last-minute gift; reminiscent of the good old days when savvy couponing and refunding provided the bulk of our gifts, I’d managed to complete the majority of my shopping before Thanksgiving.

No, this box held 200 vintage advertising pencils. The thrill of excitement I felt upon opening that box would seem ridiculous to some.

pencils

Because you see, although the people I love are the most important things in my life, there are also material things that bring me joy.

Years ago, as the mother of several small children, I revealed to a friend my obsession with cute designed socks for my girls. While a lack of money prevented me from indulging in the habit, I did haunt the clearance shelves of Baby Gap and Gymboree for those socks. Not long after revealing my secret lust, a large box arrived in the mail from this woman. I vividly recall the moment I opened the flaps to reveal the contents; socks of all colors and patterns. There was initial amazement at the sheer number of socks; dozens of each size, from baby to teen, swiftly followed by a spark of wonder and joy at the bounty.

box-of-socks

I knew the particular happiness of a wedding day, the joy at the birth of each of my children. But I wasn’t familiar with this kind of happiness. I grew up in poverty and wasn’t much better off for most of my marriage. Up until that moment, I don’t think I’d known the kind of happiness that came from having a bounty of anything. There were certainly a lot of junky garage sale toys cluttering our living room and play area. Definitely a high volume of dirty laundry. But so much of a good thing?

That day I coined the phrase “box-of-socks happy.” I’ve felt it many times since; a friend gifts me with a garbage bag filled with vintage boxes of stationery, a library book sale nets a goldmine of good reads, or I discover a clearance shelf filled with my favorite type of pen. I felt it, and then craved it, collecting more stationery than I could ever use in my lifetime, more discounted postage from eBay, even though I already have postage stashed away.

I even know what it is to have “too many shoes,” a dilemma I never understood all those years as a stay-at-home mom when a single dress pair inhabited my closet and Dr Scholl sandals vs. tennis shoes signaled the change of seasons.

I felt it last Christmas when my children gifted me with a magic Christmas ball filled with cash designated for a trip, an experience, a tangible wonder that would fill my heart with memories.

It isn’t the vintage pencils that excite me so much as what I will be doing with them; handing them out at “Legacy of the Magic Pencil” workshops and programs I’m planning in conjunction with the release of my new book, Called to Be Creative, next September.

Public speaking also makes me “box-of-socks happy.” I never feel more alive than when I’m conducting a program or workshop on a topic I’m passionate about.

I also feel that same sense of excitement, of wonder, when I find the perfect gift for someone, and I’m feeling it this year as I wait, with bated breath, for my children to arrive and open their gifts. It’s the reason I’ve delayed this post by 24 hours. When my brother Bill of William’s Whittling and Woodworks created the above plaque, I knew I must have one for each of my daughters. It embodies the very topic of my upcoming book. I want each of my children to discover their purpose in life.

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Of course, once I knew what I was giving my girls, I had to shop my brother’s etsy store for the perfect gift for each of my sons, feeling that same sense of excitement and anticipation as I imagined their own moment of happiness as they unwrapped the one-of-a-kind work created by their uncle, an uncle who is living his passion through his woodworking.

What about you? What makes you box-of-socks happy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

artist, Called to Be Creative, creativity, faith, prayer

Is God Calling You?

mixed media

Shortly after I completed my first mixed media piece, a form of art that had terrified me with the potential for disaster, I met with a new friend who’d lost his wife the year before. Replaying our encounter in my head later, it occurred to me how many times he’d used the word “can’t” in our conversation. I immediately knew there was more to my creation than I’d initially realized. I messaged him.

“Did you see that mixed media piece I shared on Facebook? That is what our life is like after we lose someone we love; shattered into little bits and broken pieces. Everything we went through and experienced up until that moment when our beloved took their last breath. There are ugly moments we’d rather not remember and beautiful ones. There are precious memories. There is a pattern to our life that has made us who we are. Picture your life as a mixed media collage. Whatever you add to the collage from this point forward is up to you. You can keep moving those broken parts around. You can add similar pieces. That is your comfort zone, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. There’s a reason it’s called a comfort zone; it’s comfortable. Safe.

But God might have something more for you. If you are saying ‘I can’t’ or ‘I’m not qualified’ you are essentially saying ‘No.’

God’s plans for you are so much bigger than what you can ever imagine for yourself. He can use you in so many ways if you let him. You can grow in him and share in the masterpiece he wants to make of your life’s collage.”

Is God asking you to do something today? Is there something you are feeling led to that sounds too difficult, is uncomfortable, or you don’t feel qualified for?

What might you be saying “NO” to?

Qualify the called

artist, beautiful things, creativity, research for new book

Facing the Fear of Creating

God is all over my next book. How could I write about creativity without talking about The Creator? But more than just writing about God, I’ve begun each and every writing and editing session with prayer, asking for discernment, inspiration, and the words He wants me to share. I’ve been in awe of the ways he has showed up. Recently, however, he asked me to do something I wasn’t sure I was capable of.

I interviewed a dozen “Creative Sparks” for this book; real people doing real things to incorporate creativity into their very real (and busy) lives. Among those creatives: a yoga instructor, two professors from my alma mater, a woman who’d waited nearly fifty years to submit her beautiful poetry, my brother who picked up woodworking tools he’d inherited from our mother to begin carving in midlife, and a nephew who always knew what he wanted to be and never gave up the pursuit of it, not even through grueling cancer treatment.

As I worked on final edits a month ago, it became clear to me that there was to be one more “creative spark,” an artist whose work I was personally drawn to. Not only that, I was to actually create the type of art this person practiced. My publisher didn’t tell me to do this, nor did the editor request it.  We were so close to completing the first edits, they wouldn’t have dared. We’d moved things around, deleted over-used words and phrases, and heavily edited entire sections of the manuscript.  No one insisted I face my own fear of failure by attempting an art form I’d never done before. In fact, the editor gave me an easy “out” when I mentioned my uneasiness about taking on an art project so close to deadline. She insisted it wasn’t necessary for me to create anything more than an additional creative spark profile.

But the prompting from the Holy Spirit was as real as the fear of the unknown and the possibility of failure. What if I messed up or destroyed precious pieces of memorabilia by undertaking an art form I knew nothing about?

It dawned on me then— that is exactly what I ask readers of my book to do—open up their minds to creative possibilities, try new things, and allow for the possibility of failure, all in the name of discovering their true nature, their God-given potential, the creative self within them. How dare I suggest something I was not willing to do myself? I knew that I must do it.  I needed to step outside of my comfort zone and create a mixed media piece.

Perhaps it’s the former dumpster-diving coupon queen in me that accounts for my attraction to mixed media art, with tiny bits and pieces of “trash” incorporated into a work of art. Maybe it is because I have lost so many pieces of my own life through the deaths of mother, husband and grandson in the space of three years. Whatever the reason, I considered the art form I’d seen displayed on the walls of Upcycle Dubuque, a unique and innovative creative reuse store that displays the work of local artisans.

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen Allison Poster’s art. I’d seen it displayed at Inspire Café two years before. Fitting, considering I was there to speak about the legacy of creativity, my mother’s art, and the creativity that resides within each one of us.  When I noticed the beautiful art on the walls, I moved closer to study the mixed media pieces, something deep within me resonating with the images of butterflies, angels, trees, and hummingbirds on old mirrors and windows, and a framed image of a hauntingly sad girl in a birdcage. I was fascinated by the artist’s use of broken and crushed glass, bits and pieces of old jewelry, and repurposed old frames. I snapped a photo, shared it with my daughter, picked up a business card, and messaged the artist to tell her how beautiful I found her art. We agreed to meet in person someday. That someday had come.

Not only did Allison agree to be my final “Creative Spark,” she offered to help me with the creation that was fast taking shape in my mind, a piece directly correlated with the theme of the book, in memory of my creative mother. I’d use small things of Mom’s that were hidden away in drawers, where I never saw them. I sorted through a box of her holy medals and discovered a broken rosary with a blue cross that represented her deep Catholic faith. I’d add newspaper clippings about Mom, pieces of a pillowcase she’d embroidered, and the last chalk pastel drawing that remained on her easel after her death. Then there was the yellow rose painting I’d done at age 16, the same age my youngest daughter is now. I’d sat next to Mom in her workroom as I’d painted it. What better way to immortalize the “magic pencil” I’d found in my mother’s empty house than to include it? I’d ordered hundreds of similar pencils on eBay to give away when I did presentations on creativity, but remained fearful of losing the original. Everything included in the final product had meaning for me, including the words I chose from a vintage poetry book about mothers, the small wooden oval with crosses created by my brother, and the tiny glass owl my son Michael created in the very workroom where Mom and I had sat working in companionable silence forty-five years prior.

mixed media

I smile every time I look at my mixed media memory canvas, which is often. It hangs on the wall near my writing chair. No longer fearful, I’m looking forward to creating a similar piece in honor of my husband.

Not long after I finished this piece, I met with a new friend who’d lost his wife the year before. I realized as he talked how often he used the word “can’t” or the phrase “never” in our conversation. I suddenly realized there was more to my creation than I’d imagined. I asked him if he’d seen the photo of the art piece I created to represent my book’s theme. What I said next was as much for myself as it was for him, and readers of my book who have lost someone important to them:

“That’s what our life is like; little bits and broken pieces. Everything we went through and experienced up until the moment our beloved took their last breath. There are ugly moments we’d rather not remember and beautiful ones. There are precious memories. There is a pattern to our life that has made us who we are. Your life is a mixed media collage. Whatever you add to the collage from this point forward is up to you. You can keep moving those broken parts around. You can add similar pieces. That is your comfort zone, and there is nothing wrong with that. But God might have something more for you. God’s plans for you are so much bigger than you can imagine. He can use you in so many ways if you let him. You can grow in him and share in the masterpiece he wants to make of your life’s collage.”

mixed media close-up