Posts Tagged ‘crafts’

Rocks, ritual


I had e-mailed with some of them beforehand, or answered questions on Facebook. But really, they were strangers—13 other women, mostly from the US, mostly schoolteachers.

I had returned to Delhi on the night train from Varanasi; most of the scholars from the six week program had departed or were in the process of departing. In charge of this last journey, I had gone back and forth between our four cars, checking and double checking that everyone had a seat, was settled, had dinner, had water, and was calm. I answered questions about lodging for the last night before they went to the airport. I answered questions about wifi, food, availability of ATMs, printing boarding passes, pick ups from the train station, and cost of auto-rickshaws. I mediated a few little conflicts, mostly cranky and tired nerves, and people weary of one another after six long weeks of travel and complicated academic research.

We said our farewells. One student was vomiting, sick. Another student had missed a flight due to visa problems. I kept problem-solving, sharing wipes, water, medicine, reassuring words, information.

The start of the teachers’ program: new people, new energy, new questions. Finally, an art teacher led us in a simple activity. We each chose a small rock. She had provided paintbrushes and acrylic paint. In silence, we were each to paint our rock, however we liked.

What a simple task. I don’t think I’ve done something so simple since I left home in May.

I looked at the colors, and chose white, pearl, bronze, dark copper, and pale pink. I painted my entire rock white, first, and then waited while it dried. I immediately found a flat side of the rock, and thought about ways to use that side, and whether I wanted to paint words, or a design, or another object.

It felt so good to paint! Everyone painted, including both Jain professors. The room was quiet for a long time. I loved seeing the pearlized surface of the rock once I used the pearl color, and then appreciated—my mouth watered—the sensation of laying down the paint with the wet curve of my cheap paintbrush.

It was so satisfying to see the surface of the rock change, to make my creative mark on it, to be left alone to work with pretty shades of paint, chosen only by me.

The rocks are radically different. One person painted a really great tiny portrait of a face, another did an elegant and minimal flower, following the grain of the marble in the rock. Some people used every primary colors, others used restraint. Each morning, we bring our rocks and place them on white cloth. At night, we take them back to our rooms with us.


Sometimes, I place my rock colored-side down so only the golden-pearl side shows up. Sometimes, I put my rock so it slightly touches my roommate’s. It’s such a tiny ritual, and it’s not very intellectual or complicated at all…and yet, it satisfies me.

One of the challenging things about travel is that we have so little of our familiar home routines. And actually, this can be transformative, as we practice the posture of hands open, ceding control.

It’s a kind of balance: I always decorate whatever room I’m staying in. I hang maps and make collages out of wrapping paper, newspapers, and mantra cards. I put up photographs, patterned paper, and letters above my bed. I hang scarves and put out objects, stacking my books under a make-shift paperweight. I like to walk into my room and see something home-like, something recognizable as “Stephanie’s room.”

And small rituals reassure us. It’s interesting that something as elemental as rocks, paint, silence, and routine (carrying home, carrying back) can provide a touchstone for the group, a marked beginning and a little melody to carry us through the day.


My rock, with the pearl coat drying.



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My hands

This past weekend, I started making many things with my hands. I’ve been using a lot of Elmer’s Glue.

For the wedding, I’m making all of the mens’ buttonholes, to save a bit of money on the florist, and to make flowers they can actually keep.  I’m using pages from an old copy of _The Horse and His Boy_ (the invitations had colored Narnia pages as envelope liners) to make paper flowers.

I cut out petals, looking at the words and phrases on the pages as I go.  I make strips of paper into fringe, and wind them around a green wire, to make a fluffy stamen.  I glue petals on two or three at a time.  Occasionally, I rub my gluey fingers on my pajama pants, to keep my fingertips dry and nimble.  When I grow weary of petals, I make leaves, and glue them onto long strips of green wire.  When they’re dry, I’ll curl them slightly.

Next Sunday is the Christmas pageant at the church where I still teach.  Once again, I’m having a child-centered Nativity scene, where they choose their own parts and animals, and we bring whatever gifts we have in our own hearts.  Along with this comes costumes, and halos to fashion.  The main costume I’ve been making from scratch is for a tiny lamb.  I used one of Matt’s old white shirts, cut the sleeves shorter, and cut down the collar.  Little Terri will wear it backwards, like children wear shirts as painting smocks.

I used styrofoam peanuts that came along with some wedding gifts. I made rows of fabric glue, and glued down the white, /S/ shaped peanuts.  I covered the entire back of the shirt.  Then, I added some more school glue, and then shook out some pale pink and gold and silver glitter.

I like glitter, and I think little Terri does, too.  She is two, and last time we got the costumes out, she fell in love with an extra halo and an old bakelite necklace. The necklace is also part of her lamb costume.  I still need to make some sort of lamb hood/hat for her.

Sometimes, I have dreams where I’m trying to do something very, very small and precise, like a dollhouse-sized collage.  In the dreams, my thumbs are oversized and I can’t hold carefully what I need to hold.  I wake up frustrated, and then remember that it’s a dream.  Sometimes, I even scrape my fingernails against my thumbs, to reassure myself.

When I find myself making collages, or gluing small things, I remember the dreams.  I’ve also been making small gifts for a Secret Snowflake exchange at work, and have been gluing tiny typed letters onto cards.

I like using scraps of paper from my drawers, and old cards, and magazines I’ve been saving. I like seeing a yellowed book actually blossom into a three dimensional flower.  There are probably fancier supplies I could buy, but I use the same scissors I’ve had for more than a decade, and a big bottle of Elmer’s that I always use.   Mostly, I like that I can picture something (how a petal should curve a bit) and make it happen with my own fingers.

Sometimes I like to have perfectly manicured nails, and please myself throughout the day by looking at the shiny smooth ends.  Sometimes, though, I don’t mind if I have dried glue in my cuticles and in the creases of my palm.

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This week, I’m doing my drama camp for neighborhood kids at the church where I teach Sunday school.  Last year, I described it in the “death of a pigeon” post.

Today was the first day, and I had clean forgotten how tiring it is to teach/lead children. They have so much energy!  They talk constantly!  They have so many clever questions that deserve and call for thoughtful responses!  They’re quicker than I am, there are more of them than me, and they always go right to the quick of the matter.

Today, we started our papier-mache masks, worked on acting out or displaying lots and lots of different emotions, talked about two Bible stories (Jacob and Esau and Joseph and his brothers), considered how the various characters thought and felt, play-acted them out several times (in costume), made lunch for each other, played outside, learned a new song, and illustrated different emotional scenes.

Everyone at the church is surprised I don’t either make all the lunches, or have a volunteer make them.  But these kiddos are six and seven years old– they can wash grapes, cut bananas, stack cookies (they do it with such care!), make sandwiches, and set the table.  They like it– they like taking the sandwich orders, and working in the “big” church kitchen, and counting how many of everything they need.  Yes, it takes forever– I could do it much faster while distracting them with an activity, but I like them to prepare food for one another.  For me, preparing meals and sitting down to eat with one another is one of the big, _big_ traditions in Christianity.

Tomorrow, hopefully the masks will be dry enough for us to add noses and cut the eyes out, and then paint.  I was talking about adding noses, and Julliana said, “Oh, yeah. So we can smell.”

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We’ve been talking for the past month or so about the Holy Spirit, and about ways we have to try to capture in language and image the idea of it.  Flames, wind, breath, music, doves.  We talked about things we cannot see, but can feel, or know to be real.  

And since before Easter (since the Jesus in the curriculum grew up enough to be a young boy, and then an adult), we’ve talked about how Jesus used stories to tell us things, and to help us learn.  Recently, six-year-old Louisa has been growing adept at classifying things “fiction,” or “non-fiction.”  

Today we made little gardens of sand and play-doh, and talked about the story of the gardener, sowing seeds into soil that was rich and fertile, and soil that was too hard, had birds, or was full of weeds.  

“The soil is fiction,” Louisa asserted.

 “Yeah,” I said, “I think he’s talking about our hearts, wanting our hearts to be rich where things can flourish.”  

“I have that kind of heart,” she said.

The craft for today was only tangentially related to either of those– while talking about Jesus and his stories (fiction), and the ways we try to understand the Holy Spirit, we made kaleidoscopes, following instructions from here.  It was cool to look through the tiny hole and see the colored light against the tinfoil, to see what had been merely sequins and glitter become wide shapes, colored and new.  

I tried making a pinhole, but Louisa grabbed a pencil and shoved it through the black construction paper, saying, “I can’t see enough; I want to _see_.”

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Romantic mural

While Matt was gone backpacking, I decided our new bedroom needed a little something over the bed.  I didn’t want to hang something–I already had a series of hangings on the other wall near the bed.  I began to think about a mural, a little one.  I was inspired by the little scenes painted by limonana.  (actually, I don’t know if hers are big or little, I use “little” to mean, “charming, and I like them.”)

My style of drawing and painting is very different from hers, and I’m a bit less talented, but I wanted to do a little scene from our courtship. When we began dating, I was getting ready to move 1,000 miles away.  We liked each other, a lot, and I was falling in love with him…but we weren’t sure if it was the “mature and thoughtful” thing to do to begin a new relationship that would have to be long distance for the first year.

We began the M and T conversation by phone; I was in a lovely city park with friends, trying hard to be charming, convincing, serious, and convey to him that I believed we should try this.  Slowly, my phone was dying.  I sat on a park bench while evening fell, wondering how the conversation would end.  At some point, Matt asked, “Where are you [in the park]?”  I said, “On a bench, by the tennis courts.”  And suddenly there he was, walking towards me.

We finished our conversation in person, side by side on the bench, as darkness fell and the fireflies came out.  We had decided to walk into this new relationship with our hands open, grateful and willing.  It was one of the best evenings of my life.

Taped off and sketched; I filled in the grass and trees first.

Close up of us on the bench.  It was tricky to figure out which way our legs should go. And his arm is around me.

I had to go buy brown paint for his head/hair.  I use cheap acrylics, most of them from the Dime Store I’ve had for years, and inexpensive kids’ brushes.

Finished.  I used the balls of my hands for the middle green part, because I wanted there to be lustre around us, as if we were giving off light.  You can just barely see some of the fireflies by the largest tree.

Close up of the finished mural.  You can see many fireflies.







My paint palette.  (It’s the bottom part of a cracker container.)

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Right now

Some things I’m loving

1. Farmers’ market popcorn. I get to meet the people who grow it, it comes in a glass jar, and it pops up amazing. I like to make popcorn in a pan, with oil, shaking it occasionally over the stove top. I put salt on the unpopped kernels before I start, and then it’s just the right amount of salty when it’s done. This organic farm corn is the best I’ve popped–it pops really quickly, and all white and fluffy, and nearly every single kernel pops.

2. The public library. Okay–maybe because I was already working in the school library when I moved to NY, or maybe because I have unlimited access to all of CU’s libraries…I don’t know, I just never checked out the NYC public libraries. Well, given how fast I read novels, it was about time. I went in last week, got my card (free! easy! fast!) and within ten minutes had checked out three books of fiction. Which have lasted a week. Sometimes I finish a really good, 120-200 page novel in two to three days, and then feel bad for having paid twenty dollars for it. No longer. Now I can read for free all summer.

3. Top Chef. It’s another show that we often watch, because on a dorm floor, a particular kind of show is easier/more fun to watch as a group. But lately, I’ve been trying to watch less Law&Order, because I think it adds to my anxiety. Top Chef has been fitting the bill–it has a kind of routine to it, same “schedule” in every episode, and I really like seeing what they make. I don’t think the in-fighting, but usually that only happens in the last four-five minutes. I think they cook too fancy, though. Why don’t they just make a delicious, flaky, buttery biscuit sometime? I think the judges would gobble that up.

4. The Crafty CrowI love this blog. I’m often looking for little projects to do with my Sunday school charge, but sometimes “modern” crafts get too…mass-produced? Like you have to buy a kit or special play-doh accessories to do them. Crafty Crow is very old-school, but in a beautiful way. Old-fashioned crafts that are cheap, or involve recycling–they remind me of things we did in Girl Scouts or 4-H. And the photographs and commentary are very sweet and pretty.

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