Archive for the ‘Arts’ Category

I thought I’d fill you all in on what I’ve been doing, since I haven’t been posting all that often anymore. So here it is, a little glimpse into my hobby of making mini quilts.

In Flight, 13 x 19 inches

Snowflake, 13″ x 13″

Harbor Light, 13″ x 9″

Birch Trees, 14″ x 9″ (adorned with real birch leaves, dipped in copper and gold plated)

A Walk in Capitol Square, 17″ x 14.5″

“Tin Goose over South Bass Island” 12 x 12

And a few unfinished works in progress:

Dancer, 11″ x 10″

Violet, 10″ x 14″

Maddie even let me take 2 whole pictures before jumping into the frame!


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Husband’s work had a gift exchange this year, but it was something a little different. They had a Yankee Swap, but instead of buying a gift, everyone was supposed to bring a handmade, homemade gift they made themselves.

In addition to being less commercial and (likely) more eco-friendly, it was a great way to showcase everyone’s talent (or lack of talent, as some of the gag gifts suggested). And it was just plain cool.

Gifts ranged from knitted scarves, bookmarks, screen-printed pillowcases, framed photographs, baked goods, mini clay sculptures, mix CDs, and so much more. What a cool idea, and so completely obvious. It seems like just one more thing to have to do in an already busy time, but I had so much fun making my gift, and I imagine others did too. What a great way to bring some meaning back into gift giving. I usually try to make most of my gifts anyway, but it was fun to know that everyone had made theirs too. Usually, I’m the rogue crazy environmentalist offering homemade lip balm and vanilla extract, wrapped up in a reusable bag made from an old umbrella, and it felt good to not be the odd one out for a change.

So what did I make? I wasn’t sure where to start, but I wanted to definitely make something fun and whimsical. Then husband asked, “what’s a Yankee Swap without a Yankee to swap?” And it was all over from there. I had to make a Yankee. Uncle Sam was my inspiration (whom I have now decided bears the surname Yankee).

And here he is, himself. Uncle Sam Yankee.


Did anyone else give or receive cool handmade gifts this year?

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Deep breath….Ok, I officially signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo, as it’s called. November is National Novel Writing Month, where lots of people declare to write that novel they’ve always (or never) dreamed of writing. The rules are simple. You’re not allowed to write a single word of prose until November 1st, and on November 30th at 11:59pm,  it’s pencils down, fingers stop typing. “Novel” is defined as a document containing at least 50,000 words of nonfiction writing. Pre-game plot outlines, character outlines and other things are fine, you just can’t start the actual prose writing until November first.

To keep participants motivated, their website recommends broadcasting to absolutely everyone that you’re working on this:

Tell everyone you know that you’re writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who’ve had to hear about your novel for the past month. Seriously. Email them now about your awesome new book. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.

So posting this here is a good insurance policy that I’ll finish. Hopefully. Otherwise, I have to come back in December and sheepishly declare to the Internet at large that I was not able to complete a measly 50,000-word document within a month’s time, so I wimped out and quit. And I don’t really want to do that.

What I like about this is it totally emphasizes quantity over quality. The novel’s going to be bad. That’s a given. Even so, writing even a terrible novel is better than never writing one at all. Just keep cranking out the words. Get it all down in November, then edit and rework in December and beyond. The importance is just getting the ideas written down.

And besides, it’s a little cocky to expect the first novel you write would be awesome, right? I mean when I first started piano, I wasn’t expecting to get famous playing Liszt. I was trying to learn Mary Had a Little Lamb. And I sucked at first. Writing, like learning to play an instrument, takes lots of hard work and practice. It just doesn’t make sense that the first novel I would sit down and write would be anything better than the literary equivalent of “Mary had a little lamb.” But I’ll never write a good one without writing a lot of crappy ones first. Heck, maybe I don’t even want to aspire to write a good one. But I’ll never know if I don’t write a bad one first.

For anyone else participating, my profile username is kalzayer. Find me on http://www.nanowrimo.org/ and we can be writing buddies!

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When I chose the name “Path to Green,” I was thinking in terms of environmentalism, in terms of being greener for our planet, reducing our reliance on commercially-produced products that leave a long trail of waste in their wake, and reducing exposure to scary chemicals in commercial products. And I’ve told the story already of why I got started with this in the first place, no need for repeating. I was also thinking in terms of helping out others, compiling recipes and advice in one place, helping make it seem “do-able” to make lots of small changes that eventually accumulate into big change, and adding my voice out there to say that we can do this together.

But what I didn’t realize was the bigger picture in my life. When I chose the name Path to Green, I wasn’t thinking about “greener pastures” in the larger sense of my life. I was thinking specifically about being green in the environmental sense.

But it ended up being a piece of the puzzle. See, I started this whole writing “thing” in the midst of some big life changes. I had just left my teaching career behind and was adrift looking for something new. And I started simplifying. First with the basic recipes I’ve been posting, and then it expanded from there. This simplification has opened up a space in my life that wasn’t there before. I connect more with the people around me. I make and maintain stronger relationships. New ideas and relationships flourish where mental clutter and stress used to be. I’ve become more in touch with my own self.  I have a stronger voice. I feel more relaxed and settled in a job I probably never would have considered before, but it’s a good fit for me. I have ended up somewhere I never thought I’d be. And it’s a much better place.

This experience has truly taught me a lot about letting go, about knowing when to quit, about how to listen. Listen to my body, my inner voice, my inner artist, my hopes, to others, to our planet.

And yes, this “path to green” has led me on a path to freedom, and into a path of artistic expression. Maybe I’m not an “artist” in the traditional sense, but I definitely hear the voice of my creative force that inspires me, I feel the pull to create, and I artistically express myself without reserve. I draw, paint, quilt, write, dance, sing, play piano (again!), and sew. And I wouldn’t have any of these wonderful things in my life if I hadn’t embarked on this journey. If I hadn’t opened up the space for it.

It all starts with awareness. My career change helped me to be genuinely aware of myself and helped me to sort out what’s truly important from what I had attributed false importance to. Even something as simple as cutting back on commercial products and making my own opened up space for awareness.

It’s also about listening. There’s a little voice in each of us that is like a compass: it will point us in the right direction (where we need to be) if we’re still for a moment to listen. I still feel unsure, but I know I’m on the right track. And I also know that voice will always be there when I need help.

And it’s about faith. At times it’s been hard to trust that little voice and to know that it’s never wrong. Mine pushed me somewhere scary: out of the only career I had known and into somewhere completely new. But I’m in a better place, and I’m learning something new. And it’s certainly better for my well-being than my stress-filled teaching job was.

It’s not just about the environmental path. This experience has taught me a lot about all kinds of paths. And it all starts with the first step.

How do you make space in your life?

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Lottery litter: a big problem

First, a little background:

Playing the lottery is an interesting thing to me.

I used to work summers at a local grocery store where I sold lottery tickets, among other duties, and I always found it interesting to watch people, especially their emotions, as they purchased and scratched off lottery tickets. Scratch-off tickets provide a clear window into a whole range of human emotions, one right after another. The numbers games also show these emotions, though in a more extended time frame, as one has to wait several hours or days for the winning numbers to be revealed. And while playing the numbers is perhaps more emotionally damaging (because one has more time to connect to the ticket itself and speculate about being the winner), scratch-off tickets show a more immediate reversal of emotion and offer more for a casual observer like me, who is just trying to figure people out.

There is so much extreme emotion associated with the lottery: complete assuredness that THIS ONE is the mega winner followed by ecstasy and speculations on how the winnings will be spent, which immediately reverses to despair upon actually scratching off the ticket. This emotional reversal very often leads to an immediate discard of the ticket itself, wherever it may fall: on the bus, sidewalk, parking lot, train, or very often right outside—or even inside—the place of purchase. It immediately becomes worthless, even disdainful, a vile thing to expel as quickly as possible. Many people fold them up, tear them in half, or even shred them before throwing them on the ground.

After watching people scratch off lottery tickets for two summers, it’s very easy to see how gambling addiction gets started. You buy a ticket, experience the thrill of being a winner and spend all the money in your mind, scratch off the ticket, and are immediately brought back to the reality that you just wasted $10. And you’re so down, you need to buy another lottery ticket to get that high back again.

And now onto the litter part:

I walk a lot: to and from the grocery store, to the bus stop, to the subway, around the city, just about everywhere. And the amount of discarded lottery tickets that end up as litter is staggering. I mean really staggering. Once I noticed it, I saw them everywhere, like at least one every few steps on the sidewalk.

And then I began collecting them. My rule was that I had to pick up every lottery ticket I saw in my path. My eventual goal was to create something artistic from them to exemplify the manipulation, extreme emotional reversals, emptiness, and falseness that result from playing the lottery.

But something else happened too. I quickly realized that there were so many lottery tickets littering public spaces that I would have more than enough for my project within a few days. I mentioned earlier that the amount of tickets strewn about my neighborhood is staggering. Here’s an example. Husband and I would take a short walk (about ¾ mile) to the grocery store, and we would collect about $400 worth of discarded tickets, without ever having to leave the sidewalk. And this was just the way there. By the time we shopped and headed home, there were fresh tickets already littering the very sidewalks we had just cleared. And this was every week. I quickly learned that with any routine trip, I would gather about $300-400 worth of tickets, though it was gradually less as I continued to collect them, as I would often end up gathering them faster than they would accumulate. I began actually logging my day’s collections in my journal: how many tickets I picked up, how many of each cost bracket, the total cost of the tickets I picked up for that day, and the cumulative total cost of tickets gathered so far.

It quickly became more tickets than I ever thought I’d pick up. I gathered them for about a month, then I just couldn’t do it anymore. I gathered more than $2000 worth of lottery tickets, all wasted money, and I just couldn’t look at them anymore. Also, I was pretty sure I had more than enough tickets to make whatever I was going to make out of them.

I quickly began to be disheartened by what I saw, day after day. Among poorer areas I walked, I found more tickets. Among places where people were less educated, I found more tickets. Among places where people were more educated, I found less tickets. Among places where people had more money, I found less tickets. Were these people rich enough to not need the lottery? Smart enough to know it’s a scam? Conscious enough to throw their tickets away rather than toss them on the sidewalk? Well-off enough to not have to walk or take public transport? Are their cars full of discarded lottery tickets? I don’t know. And while all of those things are possible, I doubt they’re more probable than my guess that people who can least afford to waste their precious money buy (and discard) the most lottery tickets.

This lead me to not only feel that making my artistic statement about the lottery is super important, but also to feel very angry that the lottery sort of targets poorer, less-educated people.

I made a sculpture, “False Hope” as my statement. A statement that while playing the lottery feels exciting, welcoming, and thrilling, it only leads to emptiness. And upon closer examination, the lottery structure is unsound deceptive and exploitive, the thrill turns to despair, the foundation is weak, and the price tag is immense.

"False Hope" tower front, with windows and entrance door

"False Hope" price tag. Sculpture uses $500 worth of tickets. Cost: $500. Value $0.

Welcoming, bright entrance door...

Empty and dull inside, with cold "tile" ticket floor

But I’m still angry. I’m thinking about continuing to gather tickets and mailing my weekly findings to the Massachusetts Department of Whoever-does-the-lottery (State Lottery Commission?) to build awareness of this massive litter problem.

And in the mean time, I’m trying to come to terms with what in my mind now equates to a tax on being poor and less educated. It’s billed as helping local communities, but at who’s expense?

Anyone else now noticing discarded lottery tickets everywhere?

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I suck at keeping a journal. I’ll get one as a gift from someone and the cover is beautiful, the blank pages look all inviting, and I make a new resolution to write in this one. “This one won’t be like all the others. I’m really gonna write in this one,” I tell myself. I write in it every day for about two days and then the entries drop off. A few weeks go by before another entry. Then a few months. Then a year or so. Then I just give up.

I recently unearthed one of these past books (mostly blank of course) and started this cycle all over again, but a little differently. I’ve decided to stop being so nice and neat with it. That doesn’t really sound like a big deal, but I’m probably one of the most organized, neat people in the universe, so it’s a big deal to me to let go and not think about sentence fragments, run-ons, paragraph structure, or in general if my entry will make any sense. It’s also been hard for me to break out of the conventional journal entry and feel like it’s ok to include sketches, doodles, scribbles, stickers, programs from events, to-do lists, pressed leaves, rubbings, etc. Keeping these things in mind has been so completely freeing, both to my mind and my personality, and has helped me to really value my journal time and get something meaningful out of it.

But what has helped me the most in my new commitment to writing every day was this post about keeping a logbook. Nothing too detailed, just a simple, no-frills list of daily events. I’m not just limiting it to the list though, so when there’s something I really want to expand on I do. And I also have taken time for traditional journal-type entries as well, but I enjoy keeping a log of my day. I’ve always felt that my journal entries should distill meaning from my thoughts, activities, or things in my day, and maybe that’s why I always give up on writing them: I can’t always attach some deep meaning to what’s going on in my head. It takes some of the pressure off just to list what I did. And I can always write more if there’s more meaning behind it.

I do have to say it’s really helping. At least for the last 39 days (!) I’ve been able to keep this going. And that’s definitely a record for me. Also, this journal is exceptionally pretty, so I don’t mind carrying it around. And it smells nice. I’ve never had a journal before that’s smelled nice.

My journal is now a completely messy but well-loved and essential part of my life. I like to think of it as the ONLY place that chaos and mess exists for me. Something to strive for, right?

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Yesterday, I visited the Institute of Contemporary Art. I go there a lot, but hadn’t been recently. I primarily went to see the Mark Bradford exhibit, and while I enjoyed his work very much, I was surprised to enjoy the other exhibit on display perhaps a little more.

Gabriel Kuri’s exhibit there caught me off guard the moment I walked in. Using everyday materials, Kuri explores our hyper-consumerist habits, our relationship with disposable items, our interactions with money, and our consumer culture in general.

DigBoston summed up the exhibit a little better than I can:

After visiting Gabriel Kuri’s exhibition Nobody needs to know the price of your Saab at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, you’ll think differently about the next time you pick up a newspaper or receive a receipt in a store.

Through the use of disposable materials such as plastic bags, magazines, parking stubs, price tags and aluminum cans to create collage and sculpture, Kuri challenges contemporary consumer culture and how we interact with money on a daily basis.

“When Kuri looks at a newspaper, he is looking at its physical material but also the words, the way we use it in the world, what it means to us and the way it conveys information,” says ICA Associate Curator Randi Hopkins.

A quick look around the exhibit shows pages of magazines covered in price tags, hand-woven tapestries replicating receipts, a metal spindle extending from ceiling to floor with a year’s worth of his receipts arranged by date and a conveyor belt in motion … as an empty energy drink can is stuck at one end.

“It’s that interesting juxtaposition for him of what the materials are on a sculptural basis and what our relationship with it is, especially with words in a linguistic way but also just in our common usage of vocabulary,” says Hopkins. “[The exhibit is] a place where your physical experience and intellectual experience of the world come together.”

What first grabbed me upon walking in was the plastic shopping bags filled with air and suspended from the ceiling as clouds. But upon entering one of the following rooms, I froze, transfixed by Column. Column is a collection of an entire year’s worth of receipts, arranged chronologically, spaced according to their timing, and mounted on a large spindle that rises from the floor to the ceiling. There are actually two spindles: one for receipts, and the other for all the numbers saved from whenever it’s necessary to take a number, from places like the RMV or the deli counter. The spindles were held in place by a slab of cement at each end.

What really struck me was that the first thing I saw about it: the way the two wire columns were intertwined, a double helix, just like DNA. It made me uncomfortable to consider Kuri’s accusation that at our core, when pared down to our most basic programming, we are all just consumers. We are beings who need certain things to survive, and our culture has built a system of profits around those needs so that a few may benefit at the expense of the rest of us. Are we no more than consumerist zombies who need to buy things to survive? I don’t like to think of it that way, but it’s kinda true, especially in my experience with American consumer culture. Can I change my DNA? Do I have to have everything about my being tied to money and my financial situation in this way? Can we change this? Is this system truly cemented in place at both ends? Don’t we deserve better than having everything about us come down to money and consumerism?

This whole exhibit was haunting to me, particularly because it spoke specifically to the environmentally-minded green movement out there that I feel a strong connection with. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so interested in making as many of my own household products as I can. I know I still need to buy the supplies from somewhere, but it makes me feel like I’m making a difference. Like maybe deep down, my own DNA isn’t made up of my receipts.

I usually don’t like to advertise stuff on here (and I have neither been asked nor paid to), but if you live anywhere near the Boston area, I highly encourage you to walk through and see it for yourself.


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