Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit


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Reflections on Gratitude: Word of the Year 2008

Gratitude: (noun) The state of being grateful, thankfulness.

For 2008, I chose gratitude as my word of the year.  Why gratitude?  Well, as the youngest of five children, I admit that many things in life came easily to me.  In a nutshell, I was spoiled.  Receiving the things one wants may indeed be a blessing.  Getting things without appreciating them is another.  And sometimes, when things come easily, you come to expect them.

Over the last couple of years, I started to ask why I was so blessed when others seemed to struggle. Did I make a left turn when someone else took a right?  Was this part of some divine plan that I was completely unaware of?  I found myself asking more questions than I had answers.

At the beginning of the year I took part in Christine Kane’s Great Big Dreams Seminar online.  It was during the Great Big Dreams Seminar that I learned about Christine’s Word of the Year blog post. Instead of making (and breaking) New Year’s resolutions, Christine suggests people choose a word for the year.  The word you choose guides you throughout the year.  Ironically, during her seminar, Christine took one day to discuss gratitude and expanded upon it to include gift and gains.

When I first worked with gratitude, I naturally thought about the big and immediate things that happened in my life: receiving a wholesale order, the consignment paycheck that came in the mail, a loving relationship, a home cooked meal.  But once those “obvious” items were acknowledged, I found myself pausing and reflecting on my daily activities.

And it was through these reflective moments that I learned to appreciate those little things that happen each day.  Those events that typically pass us by because we are too busy to notice.

Sometimes it was something that seemed silly, like having a pair of warm socks on a cold day.  Other days it was something beautiful in nature, such as watching a red tail hawk ride the thermals or the deer standing by the side of the road, pausing before running into the woods.  Conversations with friends and family became more important.  I found myself more interested in going to new events or gatherings simply for the opportunity to meet new people…all because I was grateful to have been given the opportunity.

Through reflection I learned to be grateful for both the material and non-material things in life.  It taught me to pause, to observe, to listen, to be.  Is it possible to be grateful for gratitude?

Last night I was paging through my gratitude journal.  I smiled as I read various entries and how they’ve changed during the course of the year; from sounding like a list of achievements (scooped the litter box, submitted a show application, paid a credit card bill) to more detailed observations (watching a bird bathe in the bird bath, listening to bird songs in the morning, the purr of the cats) to some combination of both.

Some days writing my list is easier than on other days.  Some days I struggle to find the gratefulness.  And those are usually the days when I plow through life, not taking the time to be, to observe, to listen, if only for a few moments.  The word gratitude has taught me to appreciate life and all that it gives me.  It has taught me awareness and acceptance and to be humble.

Yes, for gratitude I am thankful.


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Nature’s Beauty and Destruction: A Follow-Up

The ice storm that hit New England almost two weeks ago left people in the dark and, at least initially, in awe of the power of Mother Nature.  In the days after the storm it was common to see people walking up and down the street wearing helmets for safety.  For two days the wind blew, the sun shined, and the ice melted, cracked and fell from tree limbs.  And precariously hanging tree limbs also continued to fall.  Walking about was a bit of a dangerous activity.

The second day after the storm (12/13), the ice that cocooned limbs and branches revealed curious formations.

icy-ground-cover

Encased Hydrangea

Encased Hydrangea

It also became evident how extensive the damage was to the surrounding power lines.

harvardngreen2

As the initial clean-up took place, often by those in the immediate neighborhoods, the first wave of clean-up crews arrived.

At home on Day 2, we discovered three working electrical outlets in two different hallways that functioned on the same circuits powered by the generator.  With extension cords in hand we were able to use a hair dryer in the guest bathroom, charge our cell phones, and plug in my laptop.  I couldn’t receive any email or view the internet but I could pass the time by catching up on old blog posts collected by Feedblitz.

The laundry room became my makeshift studio.  Using an extension cord, I could plug in my pasta machine motor, an old toaster oven and get back to the business of filling last minute orders.  Sanding was done in the kitchen sink.  I ran the buffing machine off another outlet in the second floor hallway.  It wasn’t the most efficient set up, however, it helped me get the job done.

We headed south that night for dinner and errands.  It was like entering another world.  People had electricity, Christmas lights were burning, and there was very little, if any, ice to be seen.  That night at home we played Scrabble while listening to the Boston Pops holiday program on the radio.

On Sunday, Day 3 (12/14) we found ourselves surrounded by cleaning crews.  They were a welcome sight.  Many crews were from out of state.  I delivered a purchase to a customer in the south end of town on Sunday where electricity started coming back late Saturday.  That was encouraging.  There was a light at the end of the tunnel.

When returning from errands on Sunday, I found myself unable to get back to my own home because the crews were out in force making many roads impassable.  I tried to go down one road only to find it blocked by a debris clearing crew about a quarter way down the road.

This cyclist apparently rode UP that same road through the slop and around the trucks.

wbarehillrider1

wbarehillrider2

I turned around and drove another route home, passed a crew working on that very large debris pile (earlier photo above), and found myself stuck between two more cleaning crews.  I took this picture as the guys were waving at me to turn around and head back in the opposite direction from which I had come.

debriscrews

Eventually I made it home.  The 20 minute ride home turned into a 45 minute adventure.

On Day 3 we were able to do a couple small loads of laundry.  One machine at a time we ran the washer, then the dryer, and then repeated the process.  I became more comfortable starting the burners on the stove with a lighter to boil water for tea.  Eric plugged in a keyboard and played (while wearing headphones.)  On Sunday we watched a DVD on the laptop.  Though our access to electrical power was limited, we felt like we were living like kings.

By Day 4 (12/15) the novelty had started to wear off.

Via his iPhone, Eric was able to access the National Grid web site during the power outage.  He could see how many people in our town and the surrounding communities were without power.  It was curious to watch the numbers fluctuate up and down.

By Day 5 (12/16) it was rumored that our power would be back on by 11:00pm.  That was later updated to 6:00pm. Once again we were surrounded by power crews.  Per National Grid’s site, 50+ homes on our grid were on target to have power returned.  Sometime between 4:30 and 5:00pm the lights came back on.

And there was much rejoicing!

Our art guild’s holiday potluck was scheduled for this night.  Our host, Verjik, had power returned to her house on Monday night (how timely was that?)  The potluck went on as planned.  It was a great event as we toasted the holidays and the power crews.

While we are fortunate to have a generator that afforded us some sense of normalcy during the five days our power was out, 12 days after the ice storm hit 2,500 residents in Central Massachusetts are still without power.  Some have generators, some are living in shelters, and others continue to live in their homes without heat or hot water.  This past weekend we received almost two feet of snow over three days.

As we head into this holiday, be sure to count your blessings and give thanks for those things we too often take for granted. I know I am.

frozenbud


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Nature’s Beauty and Destruction

I’d just hit the “Send” button on the final email for the evening last week Thursday and was thinking about heading to bed when, at 10:45pm, I found myself sitting in complete darkness in the studio.  Hmm, this was curious.  My first thought was to figure out where I’d put the flashlight.  Ah, there it is, glowing from behind some shipping boxes.  (Note to self: in the future, do not lean shipping boxes up against the rechargeable flashlight.)

I grabbed the flashlight and headed downstairs.  Eric and I met up in the kitchen.  The generator has kicked on which re-powered several lights in the kitchen and the clock on the microwave.  It was hard to hear the wind blowing over the whir of the generator and the subsequent snapping of branches.  Looking out the front window, we see that our neighborhood is pitch black.

Neither one of us has a good feeling about this.

Friday, 12/12 Day 1 Welcome to the 2008 New England Ice Storm

At 6:00am the power is still out, the generator still whirs and I realize that the time on my alarm clock, with its battery back up, has drifted a good 30 minutes.  The alarm goes off thinking it is 6:30am but it isn’t.  I lay in bed listening to the news.  The report isn’t good.  We are one of at least 300,000 people without power.

The vision outside is unbelievable.  We are living in an ice forest.  Every tree and bush and plant is covered in a thick coating of ice.  It is raining.  The temperature hovers around 31 degrees.  We are fortunate.  We have heat, hot water, limited lighting, a microwave and refrigerator.  The phone, internet and cable are dead.  Out come the cell phones and the battery operated radio.

is08-front-yd

is08-back-yd

As the morning progresses we listen to the creak, crack and crash of tree branches.  Our yard alone has four tree branches splayed on the frozen ground.  It is a stunning process with stunning results.  Branches rip, tear, and shred, landing on the ground with a dull thud and a crash as the icy coating shatters on impact.

I cancel my chiropractor appointment.  While the situation is fine at their office, getting out of our town is next to impossible.  Eric attempted to go to work.  Driving in our small neighborhood is fine; getting on the connecting road is not.  Look to the right and you’ll see downed branches, ice, and wires.  Look to your left you’ll find even more branches and wires.

It looks like a battle zone.

Eric heads back out on foot with a small saw and loppers in hand.  After the fourth tree limb fell in our yard, I, too, decide to head out and see what things look like.

is08-back-yd-branch

The Kindness of Neighbors and Strangers

I was surprised to see several people out on the street assessing damage not only to their own property but talking to neighbors and commenting on the stunning damage.  People who knew each other and those who do not are out cutting down branches, pulling tree limbs to the side of the road, and checking on each other.  “Oh man” and “Look at that” and “Wow” are said frequently.  We are all amazed at what we see before us.

The road which connects to our street is practically impassable due to the shear number of tree limbs and wires.  Walking up the road is an adventure in itself as ice falls from the branches and limbs continue to break.  Power and cable lines lay tangled together.  Other power lines hang like limp spaghetti.

leaning-pole

tree-and-wire

Two men driving a Range Rover make their way up the road.  They pull off to the side every few feet, climb out, rev up their chain saws and start cutting.  Several of us are like the second crew, pulling and pushing branches, limbs, and fresh cut wood off the side of the road, cutting back those branches that still stick into the road, and shoveling debris.

The most stunning tree damage, however, belonged to two trees in a neighbor’s field.

held-tree-2

One neighbor’s son described it like a flower with four petals that fell open.

held-tree-1

We joked that it looked like the “Whomping Tree” got whomped.

It took a few hours to cut, clear, push, and shovel debris.  And it seemed like the further we walked, the worse the damage.  Post lights were busted when branches landed on them.  Mailboxes were crushed under the weight of tree limbs.  Whole trees were uprooted.  And the only sounds you heard were chainsaws, generators, the falling ice, and the cracking of more limbs.

It was beautiful and devastating all at the same time.

In the afternoon Eric did get out to pick up some provisions for what would prove to be the longest power outage we’ve ever experienced.  I dug through closets and boxes looking for board games to keep ourselves entertained.

That night brought us a full moon.  On my calendar for 12/12/08 were the following words:

Be still and listen on this full Long Night Moon

How true.

is08-full-moon

Next: Beauty and Destruction Part 2


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Tuesday’s Business: Be Prepared

Last week members of the Bolton Artisans Guild were offered the opportunity to submit a picture of their work along with a brief description for inclusion in the local newspaper’s holiday gift buying guide.  Three categories were offered under which we could include our work.  This was a great opportunity to have individual member’s work featured in the paper.  It was also very likely that our work would be featured on the front page of the paper…IN COLOR.

Wanting to take advantage of this opportunity I pulled up the Finder on my Mac and went about searching for the best photos to submit.  And there was the problem.  I was searching through various folders and files looking for the desired pictures.  I sensed another a-ha moment coming on.

More than a year ago a friend found herself in a similar situation; searching for some pictures of her work to submit to a publication.  Deb commented at the time that she needed to create a folder specifically for publication photos.  Brilliant idea, I thought, especially because I didn’t have anything of the sort myself.

And apparently I still don’t!

Well, it wasn’t quite that bad.  Sometime after Deb shared her idea, I did start a folder for publication photos…but I haven’t kept it current.

Here is what I’ve learned from this experience:

  1. Start a folder for publication photos if you haven’t already.  If you have one, keep it current; consider having sub-folders for each year too.
  2. Choose your best images; the ones that really capture the essence of your work.
  3. Give each photo a name that makes sense.  Make it descriptive.  Pick a naming scheme and stick with it.
  4. Start a folder (or sub-folders) for various publications.  This will help you to remember what photos you’ve sent in the past so you don’t repeat yourself, especially if you submit photos to a variety of publications.  It also helps you keep your work looking fresh.  If you need to put your name on the file for submission purposes, do it to these images, not the original files.
  5. If you’re unsure of the required image size and you haven’t time to ask (or specs aren’t provided), err on the side of “bigger is better.”  The image should be a minimum 300 dpi.
  6. If you want to be doubly prepared, save two versions of the image; one at 72 dpi for web and one at 300 dpi or larger for print.
  7. Get into the habit of putting pictures into your publication photos folder on a regular basis.  When you need to submit an image, you’ll be ready to go.
  8. If you haven’t written an artist statement, a bio, or some other descriptive text about you and your work, now is a good time to do so as you’ll most likely need to include something with the photo(s) you submit.  Much has been written about statements.  Some places you can check include Alyson Stanfield’s blog, and Ariane Goodwin’s site.

In the end, I submitted four images; individual pictures of four specific items I sell.  One was chosen for the gift guide (the editor contacted me and asked if a particular picture could be used as she could only use one.)  Had I been even more prepared, I would have had one picture that contained several of the pieces in one shot.  I was pleased, however, that the editor chose the picture below to be featured in the gift buying guide.

Fortune Pyramid Box

Fortune Pyramid Box

The gift guide for the first week focused on Unique Handmade Gifts and Home Accessories.  You can read the text of the ad, without pictures, here

Over the next two weeks, more Guild artists and their work will be featured in the following categories: Jewelry and Other Wearable Art, and Gifts That Keep On Giving.

And the ads did appear in color on the front page of the newpaper!


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etceteras

etceteras: a miscellany of extras; additional odds and ends

Random Thought: If your life is not your own then whose is it?

Mindful Sanding

If you work with polymer clay, you know that sanding is one task that takes a fair amount of time.  For those not familiar with this task, sanding is done with wet/dry sandpaper and typically proceeds through several grades of sandpaper.  Depending on my art work, I start with 220 grit and finish with 2000 grit.  Each of us has our own way to complete this task and, for some of us, gritting our teeth while sanding may be part of the process.

During my most recent encounter with sanding, I decided to practice mindful sanding.  Mindful sanding, for me, is almost like a meditation.  First, it requires clearing your mind of all thoughts.  Not an easy thing to do because sanding can be a mindless task where we let our minds wander and jump from thought to thought.  Much like sitting meditation, thoughts do filter through my head when sanding, from planning dinner, a to-do list, or having conversations with myself.  The difference this time was to be aware of the thought and then to let it go.

When the thought bubble appeared, I engaged it, listened to it, then let it go and returned my focus to the sanding.  In trying to be present and mindful while sanding, I began to listen to the sound and rhythm the sandpaper makes when it engages the surface of the polymer clay.  I could feel the contours of the polymer clay shape beneath the sandpaper.  I could feel the clay becoming smoother with each successive grit.  I alternated between my right and left hands when sanding to engage different motions while one hand held the polymer and the other moved the sandpaper.

The whole process of sanding seemed to take less time and effort.  And when the phone rang, I felt much more relaxed when I answered it.

Pippin “blesses” the pasta machine

pippinblessespm

Then he attempts to tame the polymer clay as it goes through the pasta machine

pippintamespc

Don’t worry.  His paws never get near the PM rollers.  He just seems to be fascinated with the pasta machine, the motor, and the clay.  He likes to swat at the motor and sometimes the clay sheet.  Most times he just likes to sit and watch from the rolling table next to my primary work table.


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Its Beginning To Look Like Christmas

I’m busy this week preparing for my final two holiday shows.  On Friday, 12/5 (6-9pm) and Saturday, 12/6 (10am-4pm), several members of the Bolton Artisans Guild, including me, will have art available for purchase at the Harvard Historical Society Art Festival and Sale, in the old Harvard Library, in Harvard, MA.

On Saturday, 12/6 (10am-4pm) and Sunday, 12/7 (12noon-4pm), I will be selling my art at the Fitchburg Art Museum’s Holly Berry Fair.  You’ll find me in the Greek Art Room.

Below are a few pictures of some holiday themed work that I’ll be selling this weekend.

Santa on Skis

Santa on Skis

A Pair of Santa Wine Bottle Stoppers

A Pair of Santa Wine Bottle Stoppers

Solo Santa Stopper

Solo Santa Stopper

Snowman

Snowman


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Carry a Small Grape

Carry a Small Grape is the title of the third story in Chapter 3, Intensity: Say Yes of Life is a Verb by Patti Digh.

In this story, Patti describes her youngest daughter’s obsession with carrying around a small object.  Tess carried her little object wherever she went; outside on the swings, in her bedroom (where it slept under her pillow, of course), on the seat next to her in the carriage.

What was the object?  Two small bars of hotel soap lovingly preserved in a ziploc bag.

Digh goes on to tell of the same affection her daughter developed for a tiny grape that she found during snack time; how Tess gushed over the tiny grape, how fragile the tiny grape was to her, how teeny-tiny cute it was.  The grape was also carried around by Tess and given a place of honor in a bed of toilet paper placed inside the lid from a bottle.

These small objects are Tess’s talismans; her good luck charms.  They bring her joy and she, in turn, treats them with great reverence.

We all have talisman; a rabbit’s foot, shiny pennies, a favorite pen, a piece of jewelry, a pair of socks, a feather, a shell, a rock or momentos from a favorite vacation.  These are items that bring us joy, bring us luck, bring us comfort.  We cherish them and, perhaps, feel a bit of sadness when they fall apart or when we lose them.

Sacred Space

Sacred Space

In my studio I have a small, sacred space.  In this space I have a statue of Buddha, feathers, shells, pictures, and other small trinkets that I’ve collected along the way.  Here I can sit, meditate, contemplate, and enjoy these trinkets.  However, I don’t carry any of these items with me, like Tess carried her tiny soaps and grape.

At the end of the story, Digh encouraged readers to think about their “grape”; the item or items that create wonder in us and that bring us joy.  Then she challenges us to create a collage or drawing or poem of these items and to make that our personal talisman that we carry with us.

I finally got around to making my talisman this weekend.

Joy Talisman

Joy Talisman

My talisman, my “grape” includes a picture of Eric and I, Woody, Pippin, and a picture from our trip to Santa Fe.  It came together easily, except for choosing a picture from one of our vacations.  I decided on the shot from Bandelier because it symbolizes the awe with which I view our world.  We are but a tiny portion in the immense universe.  And the words are some of my favorites.

This talisman is the size of a standard playing card or ATC.  It fits into my purse so I can carry it with me wherever I go.  And when I’m in need of a little grounding, of a little wonder and joy, I can pull out my talisman and breathe.

What is your talisman?

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