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Saturday, June 27, 2015

What’s Growing? Ask the Bees…

My artichoke plant is in full flower mode, and it’s really cool. Six artichokes now have bright purple punk-rock hairstyles. I know very little about artichokes, but I’m still surprised that the artichoke produces such a vibrant flower. After all, artichokes aren’t brightly-colored: they’re a muddy green, so a nearly fluorescent flower looks a little out of place on this plant. But I dig it! I’m not complaining. Just observing. The bees like the flower, too. A lot.

The bees are also busy at the Hymenocallis flowers. These aren’t mine, so I don’t know which specific variety they are. But I love how different they look with those six long petals jutting out in all directions.

My yellow Cannas are blooming, too.

And one of the newer gardeners at our community garden is growing blackberries. They look amazing. Wish they were mine! Maybe next year?

Also growing in our yard: native plants (this is what I optimistically call our weeds). They certainly seem happy where they are, growing inches a day, right before our very eyes. I wish they weren’t growing at such an accelerated rate, but who am I to tell Mother Nature her business?!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wacky Wednesday #11: Draw on Me

Let's draw.

Let’s draw on me.

The idea for this week’s wacky fun is the result of several ideas colliding. At first my idea for this week was to make a costume out of art supplies (we seem to have no shortage of dried-up markers around here). But the idea morphed into a dress that people could draw on as a piece of ever-changing, interactive art. Audience participates. I like it! I am a living, talking, walking canvas. Maybe the fact that school just ended and people have been signing yearbooks has informed this idea, too. My only requirement is that no one draws crazy R-rated stuff on my dress. Anything else goes. I’m curious to see how it ends up.

This is my dress before anyone draws on it: 

Of course, I made a hat. It’s getting too hot for hats but I rallied.

Here is my dress after I’ve persuaded people that I really do want them to draw on my clothes. With permanent ink!   

In the 1950s and ‘60s there was an art movement that involved a lot of unpredictability and public interaction. Composer John Cage was one of the first to experiment with the idea of art as an experience rather than something hung on a gallery wall behind velvet ropes. Art was performance-based and these interactions were called Happenings. I learned about this in an art class I took in my early 20s, and some of my artist and musician friends and I staged a few happenings. It was fun in part because it could not be predicted exactly how the happening would go. Freedom and randomness and chance were a big part of it all. My art experiment today fits with this theme.

In 1965 Yoko Ono staged a happening called “Cut Piece.” She asked viewers to cut her dress as she sat on a stage. Ono ended up almost naked, but this (presumably) was something she accepted as a possible outcome. The kind of art in which an audience participates is a little like those Choose Your Own Adventure books—you don’t know exactly how things will end up, but this is part of the fun. My experiment this week is a little like Yoko Ono’s (although I’m not handing anyone scissors!) because having someone change your clothing (whether they’re cutting it or drawing on it) invites people to get closer than they usually would. I’m turning my weekly art assignment on its ear—I’m asking my friends, family and even strangers to become the artist. Will strangers want to draw on a strange lady’s dress? When I talk about art with people I often hear, “Oh, I can’t even draw a straight line.” That’s okay. Having a dress covered in photorealistic art isn’t the goal. The point is asking others to participate. I like seeing what regular people do when presented with something unexpected. What happens when you invite others to contribute to a wearable, changing piece of art?

Update, five hours later:

Well, I’ve been out and about, asking people to draw on me. It’s been fun and it’s also been a fascinating study in human behavior. These are my findings:

·         Most people are glad to participate.

·         Having people draw on your clothes is a great ice-breaker.

·         Some people say they don’t know what to draw and they opt for something quick, like a happy face, and this is okay.

·         Some people drew something personal that reflects their jobs or favorite hobbies.

·         Others felt more comfortable writing something, as opposed to drawing an image.

·         A few people wrote me a personal message (these were friends from the gym, who see me do Wacky Wednesday stuff each week and seem to like my playfulness). That was so sweet. It really did feel like a yearbook signing party.

Let’s think back to yearbooks. What people write says a lot about who they are. Did they sign only their names? Did they write something nice about you in your yearbook? Did they draw a funny picture? It’s been more than twenty years since I last signed yearbooks, in high school. This brought me back. We grown-ups don’t do yearbooks (I guess we do holiday cards instead, because December isn’t quite busy enough, right?)—but maybe we should. It bonds people.

Some people wanted to draw something quick and not very personal, and that is okay. This experiment wasn’t about pressuring people to draw the most amazing piece of art ever. It was about interaction and connection with people. Asking them to draw on me showed them that I like them. Oftentimes people feel more comfortable not starting conversations, but they’re quite friendly if you make the first move and show them that you’re not going to bite! I had some very friendly conversations with people today because I got the ball rolling and once they knew it was okay to open up, they did. It’s quite a revealing glimpse into human nature.

I drew this heart for my friend Allison but the rest of the art was done by others.
I wasn’t sure how covered this dress would be at the end of my experiment. I suppose I could have hit the streets for ten hours, asking hundreds of people for their drawings. But I limited it to five hours and I think I had at least thirty people draw on me. A few people covered up part of what others had done, a little like graffiti on a wall. The first person (other than my kids) who signed was a stranger in a parking lot. She drew a Thai house on stilts in yellow marker. I asked if she was Thai and she said she was. Even though she isn’t 100% fluent in English, we communicated fairly well, which is so cool. I love that connection with others can transcend a language barrier. It’s all about whether people want to try to connect with others. If we all drew on each other’s clothes, I think we would make a lot of connection with others. (We humans are designed to bond, after all!) Maybe we need a yearly Draw On Others day to help facilitate friendliness. Anyone with me?!  






Monday, June 22, 2015

Keep the Change

Things change, as you know. Often I'm an advocate for change because it means that circumstances are getting better. I like social change. Progress.

Of course, it's a different matter when I visit my hometown and notice things changing.

I'm not the first person ever to bristle at change in one's hometown. I think many of us can relate to this. We may like change in the abstract, but when change surprises us, it can be uncomfortable. Maybe we like change when we get to vote on it ahead of time and we're mentally prepared for it. When it sneaks up on us, it's a different matter. Hey, we're human! We can have mixed feelings.

Anyway, I'm in my hometown, visiting my parents, and as I took my morning walk today I noticed lots of change. I visit often but still, changes pop up even between my visits. Big, new houses are replacing the cute little cottages in the neighborhood. This has been happening for decades but it seems to be happening more frequently than before (of course it could just be me). This neighborhood once was lined with darling little houses from the 1940s, like the adorable two-bedroom house where I grew up. Now there are two-story houses with beautiful landscaping and endless storage popping up in their place. I get it, in a way--I have storage envy, too. But still, I am a little sad that things are changing.

You can't resist change, they say. So as I walked the streets near my parents house, I tried to think positively. I reminded myself that it could be a lot worse. In one of my favorite books, a woman's hometown is damaged severely by a tornado. Her home is gone. The store where she worked is destroyed. Where I live tornadoes we don't get tornadoes, and at least my hometown doesn't look like a birthday piƱata after kids rip it to shreds in search of candy. But still, accepting change can be tricky.

So I play devil's advocate for a minute. Let's say everything was the same as it was thirty years ago. That's the case in some places where people have moved away, where the town is nearly abandoned. I wouldn't want that. Still, this change business can be hard to digest.

Why is change so threatening? Even those of us who think we like change grapple with this. Do we want landmarks from our childhood memories preserved because childhood (hopefully) evokes more innocent times and we long for the days when life was simpler?

I remember a few times when people told me that I'd changed. Usually they didn't mean it as a compliment! Maybe they wanted me to be the same as I was at eighteen or twenty five. They didn't like that I'd grown in a new direction. I'm forty-one, and parts of me are as they were when I was eighteen, and parts aren't. I've grown as a person, which is good, and I can't be anything other than what I am right now. There must be some analogy to fit the change in my hometown, too. Parts of this town are as they were decades ago, and parts are different. It's more crowded, yes, and that feels like a downside. But maybe that means that there are more jobs in this community than in the past, which helps our state's and country's economy. There will be upsides and downsides to change. And there will be change.

We can't keep the past frozen in time. We'll have to accept the changes. There still are pieces of the past in our hometowns and in each of us, but there will be change and growth, too. We can treasure our memories but we'll survive the changes better if we try to find some good in the new developments, too. What else can we do? Keep the change.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wacky Wednesday #10: Toys and Trees

Jeopardy-style answer: What is purple?
Jeopardy question: Toys and trees have this in common.
Jacaranda trees. Here in Southern California these trees bloom in May and June. Their colorful lilac blossoms are the inspiration for this week’s Wacky Wednesday.

At first I imagined this costume being all about the Jacaranda. But then, inspiration struck, and I made a purple necklace to go with my purple outfit. The necklace is made out of Shopkins bags. In case you haven’t spent time with school-aged girls lately, Shopkins are the big toy this season. They are tiny rubber figures and each comes in a purple rubber bag. Our daughter is obsessed with Shopkins (as evidenced by the growing number of purple rubber bags here). Since it’s Jacaranda season and purple is on my mind, suddenly I had the idea of negotiating a loan of the purple bags for a Wacky Wednesday costume. The owner of the Shopkins and their bags was not interested. I had to devise a system of using them without changing or harming them in any way, and you should see the iron-clad contract she had me sign. The bags are temporarily in my possession, and I think they make a delightfully wacky necklace.

My headpiece: jacaranda seed pods, fabric, and jacaranda blossoms I made from fabric. 

My outfit: random purple clothes from my closet.

My apron: Jacaranda seed pods, painted in various shades of purple and lilac.

For years I’ve collected these seed pods. I saw their potential as a material long before deciding that they could become part of a costume. I painted them shades of purple, like the Jacaranda blossoms, and then hot glued them onto a tulle apron. (Isn’t this what everyone thinks of doing when they see Jacaranda trees?)

There is a lot of contrast in my themes this week: flexible rubber and firm tree pods; natural elements and manufactured ones; something bought and something found for free. I like this contrast, too: a tree discards pods it no longer needs, and I pick them to turn them into something I can use. This Wacky Wednesday isn’t as funny as some, but that’s okay. Sometimes WW will be funny. It always will involve creativity. This week I’m reveling in the wackiness of turning seed pods into clothing and toys into accessories.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to unravel Shopkins bags from my embroidery thread necklace. The bags must be returned to their owner before the clock strikes midnight--or else!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Where Have all the Hair Bands Gone?

There are certain mysteries in the universe, ones that may never be solved. The one on my mind lately involves elasticized hair bands for little girls’ pony tails. If you’ve ever bought them, you’ll notice that they come in packages of twenty or more. Why so many? Because unlike bunnies, who multiply overnight, hair bands disappear overnight, and you can never find one when you need one (even if you bought the 20-pack the day before). Sure, they’re small, which makes losing them easier to do than losing, let’s say, a Volkswagen bus. But still! I can’t tell you how many hundreds of hair bands I’ve bought in my life, and they vanish. And don’t get me started on barrettes.
One recent morning I went into the bathroom and discovered that a creative young child had been hard at work on an art installation at the bathroom sink. I thought it was quite imaginative.
Immediately, a familiar tune popped into my mind. Won’t you sing along with me? It’s helpful if you know the Peter, Paul and Mary song, Where Have all the Flowers Gone? I’ve adapted the lyrics but we’re borrowing the tune. Don’t be shy—let’s sing!

Where have all the hair bands gone? (So many vanishing…)
Where have all the hair bands gone? (Where did they go?)
Where have all the hair bands gone?
Young girls have lost them, every one.
Will they ever return?
When will I ever learn?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wacky Wednesday #9: Baker Gone Wild

Let’s talk cupcake liners. Or baking cups. Call them what you like. The fluted paper circles that hold a cupcake together, like cupcake underpants. (Stay with me.)

Have you noticed how many cute colors and patterns are available? Gone are the days when they only came in the silver foil type or pastels. Bring in the colors! Polka dots! Leopard print? Yes, please! Stripes, swirls, flowers, zebra pattern, gingham, chevrons—many patterns to choose from and in every color of the rainbow. I’ve kept extra baking cups for years, just waiting for inspiration. I thought they’d make a fun element in an art project, but I wasn’t sure which project. These paper circles have a lot of potential.

This week I decided to turn some colorful baking cups into wearable art. I flattened the cups into circles and kept hot gluing them together until I had a dress. It was tremendous fun. It’s my Wacky Wednesday project and sorry to brag, but I think I look delicious!

For the back of the dress I opted not to put the baking cups everywhere. I do need to sit at some point while I’m wearing this and I don’t want to rip my cups. The rest of the dress has at least a hundred baking cups hot glued on (I didn’t bother to count). They are so colorful and festive.

I don't know if people are curious about this aspect, but I like seeing how much fun I can make without spending a lot. Each week I see how much of my costume I can make with material I already have in my sewing stash. This week's costume was made mostly with supplies I already had (and I don't factor that in when I tally the supply cost).

Total spent: $4.50 (for baking cups). In New York City, you can't even buy a real cupcake for that!
Paper as a wearable material actually has some history. Years ago I learned that people wore paper dresses in the 1960s. I wondered how paper clothes could be comfortable to wear, or sit in—after all, paper doesn’t bend the way fabric does. Wouldn’t tearing the back of your pants be a potential side effect? Today I decided I needed answers, and I took to the Internet. I learned that paper clothing was reinforced with nylon or rayon, so splitting your pants was not as much of a risk as you might think. Paper clothing was advertized as a practical alternative, analogous to a paper cup: easy to dispose of and lightweight. The novelty of wearing paper epitomizes the very spirit of the 1960s: a decade made up of new ideas and fashions, rebelling against the expected, and doing your own thing, man. It was a relatively short-lived trend, however. On I learned more about why the 1960s paper clothing craze went the way of the 18th century powdered wig. Flammability was a concern (!) as was post-consumer waste. Also, the trend ran out its course. Of course, vestiges of the paper clothing fad remain. Paper gowns are still used in certain places, like at the doctor’s office, and those backless dresses obviously are the pinnacle of high fashion.

Here’s what I’ve learned from today’s experiment:

Pro: It’s possible to make a dress from paper baking cups, and it’s fun, too!

Con: It’s not easy to get into (but if you put it over your head, gravity works with you).

Pro: It’s lightweight and fairly comfortable.

Con: It’s impossible to take off by yourself so don’t attempt it if you’re home alone.

All in all, this was a delightful challenge and I had a great time playing around with these paper circles. Most people like cupcakes, but I think it’s high time baking cups get their day in the spotlight!

                                                                               * * * * * *

On a different note, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether my wacky creations coexist with something else on my mind, something a lot more serious. If you have a minute, please read the post below/before this one, “Because Laughter is Therapeutic.”

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Because Laughter is Therapeutic

Today, in the course of one hour, I heard about two serious medical diagnoses given to people I know. Lately I’ve been all wrapped up in my Wacky Wednesday costume ideas, but the news of these diagnoses really brought me back to earth. Part of me sometimes feels a little too self-indulgent, spending time each week creating fun costumes. Are there more important causes I could involve myself with each week? I’m sure there are many. The two diagnoses I learned about added to my questions about whether I can justify the time I spend on these creations. I’m taking to my blog to try to figure it out.

I volunteer every week, so it’s not as though all my time is spent on selfish matters. And as a mom of young kids, I do need parts of my life that aren’t directly about my kids. It keeps me at least semi-balanced. That is a lesson that took a long time to sink in, because there’s always a million things that need doing when your kids are young. Could I justify doing a “me” thing, when kids need so much of my help, time and energy?

Who knows? It’s not like there’s a specific formula for things like this, as there is for things like tire pressure or blood pressure. What about combatting life pressure? Since there’s no equation available, I’m going to follow my instincts and keep doing what has brought me a lot of joy in recent months. I’m going to keep making my creations and sharing the fun.

I’m wondering whether to send Wacky Wednesday blogs to the friend my age who is dealing with a sobering diagnosis. Would it be disrespectful to send her notices of all my fun, when her summer is going to involve regular hospital visits? I hope not. I hope that she’d get a boost and a laugh from my wackiness. Am I simply justifying the time I spend on fun? Maybe. But I also know that people tell me that my wacky adventures brighten their day.

The second startling diagnosis I heard about involves a friend’s dad. My friend said that she was going to forward my wacky blog posts to her mom because her mom will need some laughs in the coming months. I felt so honored that my gusto may give people a laugh when they need it. A friend living out of state tells me that my wacky blogs give her a boost each week, and this means the world to me.

I’m not suggesting that laughter can replace medicine--I don’t believe that. But can it boost people’s spirits as well as their health? I think so. There’s even research that supports that. On a personal note, I can attest to this, too. For decades I’ve managed a chronic health condition. It’s not something I’ve talked about in this blog over the last six years. I am not my medical condition and I don’t want it to be what people remember most about me. But I’m mentioning it now because I know how stressful it can be to manage health challenges. And I take to the Internet for laughter therapy on a regular basis. Does watching a few minutes of Chris Rock or Ellen DeGeneres doing standup comedy actually change my medical situation? No. But it takes my stress level down a notch and then the pressures I feel are a little more manageable. So people, we’re going to laugh it out. Sometimes a good cry is an amazing tonic, too. Crying and laughing both get the stress out, at least for a while, and this helps make things less overwhelming. We all have challenges, whether it’s obvious to passersby or something not everyone can see. So let’s laugh. Laughter is a free gift and a balm. It make me happy to share my wacky humor with the world and I hope that it gives people a boost. So fasten your seat belts because there’s a lot more fun up ahead…

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wacky (Quacky) Wednesday #8—Rubber Ducky, You’re the One

In case it’s been a few years since you’ve watched Sesame Street, the name of this costume references a song that Ernie sings to his rubber ducky while in the bath.
The idea for this week’s costume came about last week on a rainy day. Miraculously, I knew where the umbrella was, and after brushing the cobwebs off it, we opened it up. Our daughter looked so cute walking to school with it, like a cartoon duck. This image started turning the costume gears in my brain.

Rather than attempt to become a rubber ducky, I decided to use lots of ducks as decoration. I love yellow—it’s so cheerful—and duckies are quite fun, and it makes me happy to create something playful.

The first part of this costume to solidify in my mind was the hat. I haven’t been much of a hat wearer until my Wacky Wednesdays began. Now I can’t stop thinking of fun hat ideas. And when you think about it, a hat really announces your presence. It’s visible from a distance. Especially if it’s made of rubber ducks!

It was great fun making the ducks for my dress. Each is different. I created the hat, skirt and shirt from fabric I already had in my sewing stash, so the only thing I bought to bring this costume to life was $8 worth of rubber ducks.

Earrings, while a subtle addition, can bring a costume (or any outfit) from good to great. I created these duck earrings from oven bake clay I already had, and paint.

And don’t forget shoes. Just duct tape or hand sew something fun on top of shoes you already have for a temporary effect.

Thanks for stopping by to check out this week’s Wacky Wednesday. I’ll be back again soon with more fun!

Creator’s note: no duckies were harmed during the making of this costume.