Coconut-Raspberry Swirl Jello (sugar free, dairy free, paleo)

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I made orange creamsicle jello a while back, and while it was good, it ‘needed something’. Then the raspberries got ripe. Raspberries! It needed raspberries. So I made this.

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Questing for beauty: social media

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I never could figure the whole social media thing out.  I had a business. I sold stuff. Okay. I’m supposed to start a Twitter account? Why? What am I going to do with it? Oh, a Facebook account too? And a Pinterest one? Instagram? Really? I can’t keep up with my personal correspondence, how am I supposed to post on fifteen social media sites every single day?

Well…..yeah. I haven’t figured all that out yet. But I’ve learned a few things.

1. I am a producer. My work is to make things to enrich people’s lives and make their work more valuable. I can’t give if I haven’t received. If I’m not filling my mind with good things and thinking on that which is true and noble and beautiful, I won’t have much to offer others.

2. I don’t have follow the rules.  I am not in a season of life where I can devote my whole workday to art and the promotion of said art. That’s okay. I have important work that can’t be charted by how diligent I am on Twitter.

3. I don’t need to follow everybody to get exposure. Maybe that works…..for other people. But I’m not going to worry about that. This is where the “quality, not quantity” thing comes in. What does 2k followers do for for either me or them if neither of us have anything in common? It’s better to follow a handful of people that inspire you and that share your passions than to follow a million random people. Don’t fish for clients. Attract them.

The bottom line is: don’t kill yourself if you’re not doing everything ‘just right’. I’m not full-time with my illustration (far from it: it’s more of a hobby at this point, not a business), but there are really only a few key rules that I’ve learned from studying this: quality content and consistency. If you can put out your 90% best quality and show up consistently, you don’t need to worry about all the rules that, if you try to follow them all, will run you ragged.

Follow beauty. Seek beauty. Create beauty.

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The Curious Penguin discovers Paint

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About halfway through the designing process of this piece, I realized that it was strongly reminiscent of Captain Cook, the pet of Mr. Popper in the delightful storybook “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”. Don’t you agree?

I think I’ll be revisiting this little fellow. Adélie penguins are so adorable.

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The Golden Chisel of Sorrow

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Arthur Hughes (English, 1830-1915).:

Arthur Hughes (English, 1830-1915)

I flew out on a cool November morning. The sun rose as I cried in the terminal, but darkened again as the passengers shut their airplane windows against its brightness.

I was going to a place that is as home to me as the house of my youth. The loved ones there had learned of my sudden grief, and they heard in my voice the sound of a breaking heart.

So they took me in. They loved me. They allowed me to be quiet, to think, to talk, to try to understand the sudden change that had hit me. They gave me the gift of rest. They watched as I gained strength through work– scrubbing floors and washing dishes — and they saw me struggle through those initial days of shock when I wandered the borders of the hedges and collected fistfulls of grasses and twigs and autumn leaves that I set everywhere about the house. They gave me the gift of home, a place to be safe in my grief.

Grief will bring out the true nature of ourselves and those around us– and often the sweetest expressions of love and friendship will be given through the seasons of struggle and pain.

Why does our Father allow sorrow, anyway? Why must we so often be pierced with the sword of pain, and feel so keenly the loss of our dreams, our plans, our desires, our loved ones? Why do the things we so longed for– good things, things that are worth the wanting– so often get taken away?

I cannot fully answer that question. I know that God has His reasons for everything He does. I know He loves us , His children, and that He does all things for our good– but I still do not always understand why He chooses to show us His love through pain so often. I’m glad that I am not required to understand.

Grief if not a logical thing. And yet, in all of its pain and suffering and ugliness, it is strangely beautiful. There is sanctity when a girl is on her knees before the Lord, weeping tears that cannot be put into words. He hears those tears just as well as he hears a prayer. He will answer her, and he will change her into His image.

That is one of the main purposes of grief in our lives. To change us into the image of Christ.

When you are faced with a trial– a door closing, a long cherished ambition being cut off, a loved one becoming lost to you– what is your response? Do you cling to your own will, refusing to let God take from you what you wanted, or do you ask Him to do what He wills , only that it will make you more like His Son? Can you earnestly fall to the ground in tears, pleading ‘not my way, Lord, don’t let me have my way– I want Your way, no matter what the cost, for my will leads to death, and Yours is perfect. Whatever it takes, make me like Jesus.”
We cannot be like Him on our own strength. He lets us come to the end of our strength– when we cry out with all our hearts “I cannot go on”- – so that we will see our need of Him, and flee to Him for grace and strength. He loves to hear our cries and give rest to our souls. He loves us. He died for us. He does not hold our mistakes and our sins against us.

Sorrow adds to us a certain beauty, both physical and inward, when we take it to the Lord. When we surrender to His will and quietly bow to His providence in our lives, saying “Lord, do what You will to make me like Christ– if it means tremendous pain, even if it means You taking from me this thing I love and desire the most– then do not spare the rod, only hold me up and create me into the image of Your Son.” Through the trials, He will confer on us a grave sweetness, a deep seated joy, and a quiet peace and trust that will sustain us through the hardest of sorrows. When you meet people like this, you know. You see the tiredness on their face, the pain and sorrows that have run lines in their cheeks and put a depth in their eyes, but you also see a tender softness about their lips and a warm, steady glow in their gaze. It is the mysterious, transfiguring beauty of a soul surrendered to God.

James Carroll, The Letter:

James Carroll “The Letter”

“She is not the girl she was in those light-hearted days when the two used to walk and talk together while love’s dreams were so bright. It is not long since; but in the little time she has learned strange lessons— lessons which have gone deep into her soul. All life has been changed for her, and in her, too. She is a woman now, set apart by the baptism of sorrow. The light still shines in her face; but it is not morning light now, it is the serious light of the mid-day. She has a new joy now– joy which is sorrow transfigured, glorified. God’s comfort is in her heart, and a holy peace is in her eyes. She has experienced sore loss, but she never was so rich as she is now.”

-J.R. Miller, “Young People’s Problems” on the topic of grief and disrupted plans

James says that we must not only accept God’s will in giving us trials, but that we must rejoice when they come. I am beginning to see why. If we want to be like Christ, then we will be willing to go through whatever it takes to form us into His image. When we are tried, James tells us, and if we bear it in the strength of God, we will become patient (Christ is patient), and over time patience will become a deep quality of our lives, much different from the common idea of patience which is ‘bearing with the current situation until it goes back to how I like it’. Paul also tells us that we should rejoice in our troubles, knowing that they give us patience, and patience will give us experience (experience brings wisdom when considered in the light of Scriptures), and experience will give us hope (God is always faithful).

“Perhaps some few misunderstood the patient, unselfish way in which this bereavement was met, and thought the brave heart that endured such a sorrow with no clamor, was made of steel. But those who really knew this bereaved mother, knew the whole story. The life-long habit of Gospel love to the neighbor, and of faith in God as One who could not by any possibility make a mistake, came to her rescue. It was right because He did it. And what if she was sorely wounded, was she the only one lying mangled on the battle-field?”  -Elizabeth Prentiss, “The Home At Greylock” 

Grief and pain is like a chisel which our Father uses to work in beautiful details in the sculpture of our lives. He is tapping and cutting and hewing, and sometimes his chisel goes oh, so deep, and the pain is terrible; but we can be still knowing that these things are necessary for us to become shaped into the likeness of our perfect Savior and Lord.

 

Beauty or productivity? Or both?

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My little moss garden

The past few days I was listening to a talk  called The Joy of Food by Chef Francis Foucachon. I listened to this beautiful, thoughtful presentation while trying to juggle at least five different online ‘projects’ at once. Research this. Post about that. Oh, but first I must look this up! Oh man, I forgot to do that. Did I check this off my list? Oh, I’d better write this down before I forget it. Hey, that’s right, I need to do that too.

In the background of my random, disjointed ‘productivity’, Monsieur Foucachon was talking about the blessing of food and a dedicated meal time for family and friends to gather for an unrushed time to savor food and fellowship.

I paused the DVD and sat silent for a moment. That’s…..that’s honestly beautiful. I thought. I want to live like that. I never wanted to run from one activity to another. As a child I was a member of a slow-paced family (by American standards), but we still did our fair share of rushing to activities a few times a week. Staying at home every day would garner very little protest from me. I love home and building a home-culture— Someday I want to create a  warm, welcoming sanctuary for my family to grow and for us to practice quiet, relationally warm hospitality.

And yet, even in my quiet introvertedness, I feel torn and rushed. I see the unending list of things I would like to learn and accomplish and study and pursue, and I feel as if I am being caught up in a whirlwind and I must sink to the floor and cover my head to hide from it all.

How do I balance it to have the productive life I believe is so important, and yet not be so rushed to be productive that I run past the beauty of life?  Is savoring beauty, after all, a form of productivity? If I lay down a project I’ve set aside an hour to work on to stare in wonder at a sunset shining through the woodlands, setting weeds and vines aglow with a magical brilliance, is it  a good use of my time? I think it is. So I then it would follow that…..

Spending hours on crafting a beautiful meal served on attractive dishes and taking the time to set the table tastefully, even going outside for fifteen minutes to pick leaves and twigs for a centerpiece;

Lying on my bed reading to a small child who interrupted my studies;

Drawing a little scene on an envelope which needs to be mailed that morning;

Organizing the washroom decor to be more symmetrical and tasteful;

Instead of  mindlessly eating  in front of the laptop while I work, sitting down at the table and appreciating my meal– the colors, aroma, flavor, and texture;

These are not ‘distractions’ from my ‘real life’, my ‘productivity’, but rather  crucial elements to creating a life of thankful beauty instead of a life of chaos.

This is a seed-thought. It pleads to be pondered. The subject of beauty itself is something that calls for study. And I mean to study it.

[image: a piece of beauty I created for a friend this week]Madisons Talent_0003

Hand work, brain work: Learn things while doing chores

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I really love mindless work because it allows me to learn while being productive. It also frees me up to pursue rabbit trails of self-education, for I’m still getting my to-do list accomplished.

It always bothered me that there were so many things I wanted to learn, and yet by the time I got all my ‘mindless work’ done, it was too late and I was too tired to pursue them. Those dishes don’t care if my mind is improved or not: all they know is, they’re dirty and they want to be washed.

If you want to educate yourself, use every spare second for learning. 

I’ve listened to lectures off and on for years; it wasn’t anything new to me. I’ve been on kicks where I’ll listen to five hours of lectures in a day. But that’s not normal; on the average day, I hardly listened to one.

I don’t remember what changed, or even when it changed. But I have started becoming more and more intentional about learning, about redeeming the time, about using every spare second to do something productive. I don’t always succeed– I find myself staring at my Facebook feed more often than I care to admit. But I’m learning. I’m learning that life is short and that all these things I want to know and do in my life won’t happen without my working intentionally towards them.

Here’s some of the ways that I’m mixing hand work with learning:

  • Listening to online radio shows while tidying my room and making my bed in the morning
  • Watching videos while I’m ironing
  • Listening to podcasts when I’m editing photos
  • Reading a few pages while my computer is processing something/while I’m waiting for a page to load/when I restart my computer
  • Working on my handiwork (knitting, sewing, etc) while riding in the car/sitting and socializing with people
  • Turning on educational material while I’m organizing or cleaning
  • Learning hymns or memorizing Scripture while I wash dishes
  • Reading online articles when I’m chatting with friends (instead of browsing the internet between sending and receiving a message)

I am learning how to learn. It’s a process, and I’m just beginning it. But today I listened to the podcast “How To Become A Learning Machine“, and I’ve got some new inspiration as well as a more focused strategy for redeeming the moments and educating myself. I’ve been kind of jumping all over the place, researching everything from culinary arts to camera aperture to hemming jeans to interior design…. and it’s not effective. Sean’s tip that things must be studied in seasons, and that you should focus on one subject at a time, was helpful. I’ll be looking at my ‘currently learning’ list and prioritizing it to decide what I’m going to focus in on first.

So. Are you going to start educating yourself?

 

“I don’t know enough to write”

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NotebooksThat was something that stopped me from blogging in the first place. I could post pictures of my work— but write? I don’t have anything to write about! I don’t know enough about any given topic to suppose that I can teach people!

So I didn’t write.

What was my problem? First, the issue of pride— I was once again assuming that something isn’t worth doing until I can do it perfectly. (I wrote an article about that).

Second, it’s not true that I don’t know anything about enough subjects to write– I know more than someone who’s just starting out in those areas, and I can write to the person who is one step behind me. If I’ve been doing something for a day, I’ll still know enough to help along the person who started 24 hours later. See how that works?

Lastly– I should write because that’s how you learn. You can’t master something you don’t practice. And you can’t practice something if you aren’t willing to be bad at it for a while in order to learn how to be good at it.

Figure out what’s stopping you from writing. It’s probably not as logical as it seems at first. And then go write.

Set aside 10 minutes a day to write. Figure out what environment you thrive in. Maybe you write best when you open Word on your laptop and just type stream of consciousness (don’t stop to check your grammar or the sentence structure!). Maybe you need to step away from digital devices entirely, go sit on your bed, and write on a notebook with a nice sharp pencil (it’s amazing how inspiring a clean sheet of paper and a sharp pencil is. Really.)

Need some motivation? This video from Sean McCabe was very helpful in giving me perspective.

So go write something. Put it out there. Don’t pay any mind to what other people think. There are those who wish they had the guts to do what you’re doing. Show them how.

To the Perfectionist Procrastinator

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Friend: *sends me a meme about procrastination because he found it funny*

Me: I keep meaning to write a blog post about procrastination, but I keep putting it off.

Friend: Really?!

Me: Quite really.

It’s true. It’s altogether too true. I’m a procrastinator, and a perfectionist. And I think I’m a procrastinator because I am a perfectionist. After all, why would you do something if you can’t do it perfectly?

Problem is… if you aren’t willing to be really bad at something for a while, you’ll never progress to be good at it. No one woke up one morning a master at their craft. The most talented artist and musician have spent countless hours making mistakes and practicing before they got to the level that you admire now.

Are you comparing your first day with someone else’s 20th year? Are you comparing your fifth attempt (or twentieth or thirtieth) with someone else’s work that they’ve been practicing every day for half their life?

The practice isn’t glamorous. You won’t see a million likes on Facebook or two thousand repins on Pinterest for your everyday work. You just won’t. Not now. Not yet.

And, by the way, if you’re trying to perfect your craft just so you can get those likes and pins and accolades, I’d recommend you quit right now and go do something useful with your life.

But for those of you who are serious– I’m writing to you. Right now you need to stop procrastinating. Prioritize your schedule. What on your to-do list is really important right now? Sure, it’s probably useful. But is it useful for your goals right now? Can you put that on your ‘to tackle later’ list?

It’s not that you don’t have time. That’s not why you’re procrastinating. You’re procrastinating because you are afraid that you won’t be perfect right away.

A friend said something to me once, that has stuck with me over the years. I was talking about why I didn’t want to work on a particular project, and he said to me “So you’re too proud to be bad at this for a while in order to get good at it.”

Um. Well, I wouldn’t have put it that way. But….yeah, you’re right.

” ‘Talent’ is too often a myth invented by lazy men,” he continued later.

Too lazy, and too proud. Maybe you’re too proud to let anyone see your imperfection. You want to hide away from the world, to one day burst upon it in a blaze of bright color and perfection. Perfection! Nothing but perfection. And we will die with that dream, because it has never, is never, will never be reality.

This is why I rarely blog. It’s too much work: and even when I do put my mind to the task to do it, I am always disheartened. I come up with a billion criticisms for why I should never hit ‘post’. I compare myself to the eloquent and inspiring authors I see around the internet and book world.

It’s not comfortable. I like to be secure. I like to be happy and confident in where I am, and when I do new things and practice that which I’m not a master of, I don’t have that confidence. I feel unstable. I don’t like that. So I give myself excuses to not do it.

I’m guessing you’re not so different from me.

Tomorrow

He was going to be all that a mortal should be
Tomorrow.
No one should be kinder or braver than he
Tomorrow.
A friend who was troubled and weary he knew,
Who’d be glad of a lift and who needed it, too;
On him he would call and see what he could do
Tomorrow.

Each morning he stacked up the letters he’d write
Tomorrow.
And thought of the folks he would fill with delight
Tomorrow.
It was too bad, indeed, he was busy today,
And hadn’t a minute to stop on his way;
More time he would have to give others, he’d say
Tomorrow.

The greatest of workers this man would have been
Tomorrow.
The world would have known him, had he ever seen
Tomorrow.
But the fact is he died and he faded from view,
And all that he left here when living was through
Was a mountain of things he intended to do
Tomorrow.

Edgar Guest

 

So I’m going to work on this. One of my areas of procrastination is writing. Now– it’s on my daily to-do list to write for ten minutes every day. Just ten minutes. It seems like a lot, but once you sit down and start writing, it’s not. Especially when you aren’t being hyper critical of your work.

Just do it.

The process of a portrait

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So, some of you know that I draw illustrated portraits.

This particular one was made for a couple who have been married over twenty years. It’s so beautiful to see his tender, protective love for his wife, and her faithful care for him and their children.

I’m going to give you a peek into my process of creating this portrait.IMG_9512.JPG

The first thing I did was to gather a number of photos of Mr. C. and Mrs. J. from different angles and lighting. I wanted to see their physical characteristics as well as their mannerisms (I already knew them in person, so I didn’t have to interview the client about their personalities– otherwise I would have spent some time getting a feel for that aspect of this couple as well).

I then took some time to sketch out a basic idea of how I wanted the couple posed, and what colors I wanted to use in their clothing/hair color/accessories.

I chose bright, happy colors for Mrs. J. because she’s an animated lady who doesn’t let much stop her. The colors I sorted through for Mr. C. were more quiet and subdue, to reflect his strong but quiet character. As you can see in the image, I played around with different color combinations before I finally settled on the theme of primary colors.

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I then started drawing the portrait on my watercolor paper. I tried to make sure my lines were dark enough to see, but not so dark that I couldn’t erase them entirely– because in this stage of the portrait, there is a lot of erasing and fixing and re-drawing until it’s just right.

This is the hardest (and longest) stage.

Once I’d gotten the sketch to a point where I was satisfied, I started adding color.

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(often working by the light of a desk lamp. Good for seeing details: bad for taking pictures. Oh well.)

More color was added: then shading. I used watercolor paints, which I’m still learning to use. They’re fun, though. I’m going to have a hard time returning to watercolor pencils.

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Finally, I worked out the border. I did several test-borders before settling on this one. I chose colors that harmonized with the portrait, as well as ones that held significance (the strongest being red to symbolize their love in marriage, and yellow to symbolize their friendship).

And that’s that. I actually forgot to sign the piece before I shipped it off. But oh well. I was happy with it.

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