An Artful Life Primer

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The topic of this book began to take shape soon after my sickness and surgery in 2013. It was June. I’d been doing a lot of thinking, knitting and drawing as I continued to heal, grow stronger and get used to life without a colon. I stood at the sink washing dishes in the beach house where my husband’s family goes for a week of vacation every year. As I washed dishes, the thought came into my head that I no longer wanted an Art Career. Numerous and varied attempts to find my niche seemed to fall flat and be frustrated by life’s demands. It occurred to me there, with suds and dirty dishes in hand, that what I really wanted was an Artful Life.

An Artful Life, to me, meant that ALL of life would be infused with creativity. Or at least with an eye for seeing the beauty in it, no matter what came my way. An Art Career could be, and was, constantly interrupted by domestic duties and often sidelined by health crises. An Artful Life, on the other hand, would be possible, if I lived all of life as opportunity for seeing beauty and listening to what it had to say to me. I realized there at the sink, that I had already been doing this for many years. I had somehow learned to use my pen and knitting needles to draw the beauty out of my circumstances and knit it into my heart.

After a second, and then a third surgery to deal with issues arising from the first one, I began to pen a very basic outline of what I was doing to live this Artful Life. I realized I had been developing a practice, a daily habit, of showing up to the page, the sketchbook, the wools & cottons, and working out what I encountered in life. It didn’t matter if life was boring or repetitive, exciting or painful…ALL of it could be scoured for beauty. Creating something, ANYTHING, in and through life’s days became a vehicle for seeing, capturing, releasing the beauty that I was convinced was there.

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This little book is all about my practice of creativity. It is very simple, perhaps too simple, in its straightforward three-fold approach. But I wrote this with you in mind. I want you, no matter your creative background or dependence on rulers for a straight line ;), to be able to engage in a practice of living artfully. Indeed, this practice doesn’t even require that you know how to draw or knit! Simple acts of creation are all that is needed. It will change you. That’s fairly bold to say. To practice creativity on a daily, or multi-days-a-weekly basis will transform you in astonishing ways.

Beauty comes to us in many forms and surprising packages. We need to train our eyes to see it, our hands to capture it, and our hearts to be transformed by it. Beauty is everywhere, in everything we do and experience. Even in washing dirty dishes.

An Artful Life Primer: Practicing Creativity to See, to Listen, and to be Transformed

Available on Amazon

CGM, JDRF & a WALK

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(quick sketch with Bic pen)

Many of you know the hero who lives in our home. You’ve read about her diagnosis six years ago, the ups and downs of living with Type 1 Diabetes, her bravery and courage in the face of the daily challenges of managing the disease, and the Walk we look forward to each year rallying friends and family to support our hero and all the heroes of juvenile diabetes.

Since the age of 7, Maddie has become intimately acquainted with the discoveries and helps JDRF has brought about to make living with T1D possible. Blood sugar testing devices, insulin, shots and a pump. These are all the weapons with which our hero fights back the debilitating effects of out-of-control blood sugars. Her ongoing commitment to use these fools not only enables her to LIVE, but to live well and healthy. We are grateful beyond words for her and for JDRF.

In this last year, Maddie has added to her arsenal of Type 1 weaponry. she now wears on her body not one, but two insets–one for her insulin pump and now another for a CGM. The Continuous Glucose Monitor, shows us the trends in her blood sugar levels as it continually gauges them via the interstitial tissue. The monitor also sounds an alarm when her blood sugars hit levels either too high or too low, thus alerting her to test her blood sugar and make the necessary adjustment to bring her blood sugars back to a healthier level.

It was Maddie who wanted this new device. Over the last couple of years, she had noticed (as well as Randy and I, her parents) that she was not able to feel when her blood sugars were low until they got down to a scary level. She used to be able to feel it when her blood sugars were in the 70’s and 60’s. Now she sometimes hasn’t a clue until her blood sugars are in the 40’s! We were impressed and amazed that a 13-year-old would want yet another device to wear, keep up with, and manage.

She truly is a hero. Our hero. By saying that, I do not mean that she is impervious to discouragement and frustration. This is how I define a hero:

One who continues fighting the good fight, day in and day out, in the face of challenges of all kinds–discouragement, frustration, discomfort, and even others’ misunderstandings.

On November 7th we Walk in support of our hero and on behalf of all the other brave and courageous families and children affected by Type 1 Diabetes. We invite you to join us! Your contribution to JDRF will continue the ongoing research to create better tools for managing T1D and for finding a Cure! So many wonderful things are on the horizon! We appreciate any support you can offer!!

Click here to make a donation to JDRF in Maddie’s honor

and/or sign up to walk with us on November 7th.

Dreamy Poncho Revisited

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Several years ago I designed this poncho from leftover yarns in my stash. It is one of my favorite things to wear when the temperatures turn cool and is often a conversation starter. Sometime last year I started a second one using all greens and have just recently finished it. While it is still too warm here to wear, it sits on Genevieve (my dress form) waiting for the day to be taken out for a twirl.

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It is  truly a dream to knit from beginning to end. I love to play with color and this gave me the opportunity to see what could be done with one color. I had no idea I had so many variations of green yarns! Even the variegated greens offered delightful pops of blues and other colors here and there to add a little spice. You are never bored with this knit! Every color and texture provides a new vista as you work the simple stitches.

I love wearing this both ways:

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As a poncho, with points down the front and back. (Please disregard the NON-matching skirt Genevieve is wearing!)

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Or as a cape (or wrap). The collar adds just enough drama to the simple construction and finishes it off nicely at the neck.

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For this version of the poncho/cape, I changed a few things. The original pattern was written with this in mind, so I didn’t have to make many changes at all to the pattern. I just added the new photos, and a few extra tips to make the knitting it up even simpler. Here’s what I did differently in this version than in the first one:

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The original version had only garter and stockinette stitching alternated back and forth or to suit the type of yarn used. This made for very quick knitting, especially since you are using size 11 needles.  But for this version I wanted to add a variety of stitch patterns, especially when I worked with the smoother yarns. So I randomly chose garter, seed, stockinette, basketweave, two-color rib and so on to add interest and texture in the body of the poncho.

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The original version had edges knitted in stockinette. This allowed the edges to roll and I do love rolled edges! But for this one, I decided to work the edges in garter stitch so that they would lay flat.

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The original version was laced up (one of my favorite features of this design!) using organza ribbon. This version has grosgrain ribbon for the laced up front. You could certainly use buttons or any other closure here, but I really like the added detail and color you can achieve with the laced up look.

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From now until the end of September, I’m offering this pattern for $1.00 off its regular price to those who purchase the pattern through my ETSY shop. If I knew how to offer a discount on  Ravelry I would certainly do it. But for those of you who see this offer here on my blog or via Instagram, you can use the code DREAMYKNIT to receive $1.00 off!

And I would LOVE to see a photo of your Dreamy Poncho once you’ve knitted it! I know of a couple of them that are in the making right now and I can’t wait to see their versions. I’ll share them with you when I receive their pic!

For now…may all your Knitterly Dreams come true!

Pilgrim

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I’m still feeling it four days later. A tightness along the back of my legs next to the calf muscle, evidence of all the climbing and descending. On Thursday of last week my family and I loaded up a picnic lunch, water bottles and swim gear for a day at Hanging Rock. My son had earlier dubbed our three day adventure- Mom’s Birthday Nature Tour. With our home as our campsite we took off to parts hither and beyond to be outdoors in God’s amazing creation. Thursday would prove to require the most effort of the three day tour.

Passing over the picturesque yet brief waterfall hikes, we decided on the grand dame of all the hikes available at Hanging Rock. Our trajectory: the top of Moore’s Knob to gain a 360 degree view of the world around us. Mind you, we did forego the 5-mile Moore’s Wall Loop which would have gotten us there, but taken longer. Opting for a one and a half mile jaunt through the campground, we found the start of the 770 steps leading up to the Knob. Straight. Up.

It is pointless, in the midst of such a climb, to label the experience with words like arduous, difficult, excruciating, back-breaking. I prefer to say more present-affirming words such as “my heart-rate is greatly accelerated”, or “I’m perspiring profusely”, or “these water bottles in my backpack seem heavier than when we first began.” (And why it is I’m STILL carrying water bottles for all my adult and near-adult children, I do not know!) But nevertheless, frequent rests were needed to sip guzzle water and allow my breathing to return to a more even canter.

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Our son was the first to reach the top. I could hear him, though I was quite a few paces behind…”Oh. My. God.” An apt expression I would soon understand as I too lifted my eyes to a view that took my breath away.

We lingered long up there. Venturing out onto rocks not too close to the edge. Clambering up the staircase of the tower. Trying to keep our bellies in balance as we slowly gazed around. Attempting to take it all in, the height and the breadth of distance, mountains, towns and farmland; sky, clouds, sunshine and shadow.

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Somewhere in all of our oohing, aahing, and picture-taking someone asked if I had any more water for them to drink. We realized we were all just a swallow or two away from being empty and a nagging peckishness pulled us to begin the descent, though each was reluctant to leave such beauty.

Going down a mountain appears to be a much easier endeavor. But I think this is what I’m still feeling in my calves…the jolt and jarring of 770 stone steps DOWN. It is one thing to go on adventures. It is quite another to return from them.

My husband knows of my love for pilgrimages, or at least the image that it invokes in our lives. He commented on the way down how much our hike was like a spiritual pilgrimage. Yes, love, I feel it too. Though my legs were now the consistency of cooked spaghetti, I was strengthened by having gone on a pilgrimage in nature. Not quite the Camino de Santiago, which I dream of walking one day, but every bit as beautiful, heart-rending, body-exerting and soul-filling as a pilgrimage should be.

One day, when I reach the end of the climb of Life, the view will truly and literally be breath-taking. And I will not have to turn around and go back down. There will be no more need for refilled water bottles or food for fuel. Legs will be stronger than ever and somehow I’ll be able to fly off into that vast 360 degree beauty forever. Until then, I’ll count the steps blessings along the way as a pilgrim here, walking my own Camino.

Turning Fifty

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I know, I know. It’s just a number. yet for some reason this number has been looming in my mind for a year now. Probably longer. The thought of turning a half century old has discombobulated me in such a manner I can only describe with the phrase (so telling of my age and generation): it has wigged me out.

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And still is…if I think about it too much.  Now that the actual day is within the week, I’m surrendering and fortifying myself for the event. I will likely sail right through this week without so much as a hiccup. Several changes have been made as I approach this mark. More are yet to be pursued. Certain practices are becoming even more crucial to working out the decades, both behind and before me. These same practices are teaching me an even greater awareness of and desire for dwelling in the present moment, for leaving the past behind and ceasing the future tripping I so easily fall into.

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In a broad sense, I know what the next decade will bring. Children, all three of them, going off to college, graduating, getting married, possibly having children. The thought of myself as a gra…gran…(I cannot type it!) is simply mind-blowing. The decade ahead could also be fraught with more illness for myself and other loved ones, the ache of parents aging, and more dental work. That last one is definitely frightening. Ha!

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I have never faced a decade where I could see such changes, hardships and challenges on the horizon. If I dwell there for long, it takes my breath away quite literally and I have to sit down, breathe, and remember the present…Here is where I am. Here, now, healthy, whole, loved ones all here, sun is shining, all is well. Even on days when the sun is not shining, all is well if I camp out in the present moment. I can breathe. No matter what the next decade holds I’ll be able to breathe if I just remain in  the nowscape of each moment. Prayer, mindfulness, are crucial tools for facing my sixth decade.

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So are drawing and knitting. More than ever before, I find these two endeavors life-giving, healing, enabling me to be fully engaged in whatever circumstance I find myself. I look forward to future drawings and paintings as well as more knitting adventures. I am thrilled to be teaching knitting and crochet classes! I get so excited about meeting new people in and through these classes, offering them the tools to knit that same healing into their lives as I have enjoyed in mine.

With knitting needles in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, I’m ready for the next ten years!

Bring it on!

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Notes on the above photos:

1. Tea and knitting seem to go together, even at the beach! Recent sock knitting has me working with sun colors, neon bright…love it!

2. A friend posted on Instagram a pic of his bicycle in a field of poppies. I asked if I could paint it. This is where I’d like to be. Right now.

3. My birthday tunic is now finished. It is Liesl by Julie Weisenberger. Can’t wait to wear it and share the finished garment with you!

4. I’ve recently been doing a lot of line-only drawings. No watercolor added. Just lines. Continuous. Free-flowing. Caressing the beautiful life I live.

5. I’m enjoying drawing at a farm right across the street from our home. This is not Mr. Whicker’s Farm, as many of you have seen my drawings and paintings over the years. This is a working farm where the Smith family raises goats, chickens, Llamas, and horses. Maddie takes horseback riding lessons here. I draw while she rides. I love drawcumenting my days.

Knitterly News!

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Newsletter #6 is out for July! 

A little something different for your summer travels.

I hope your yarn is going with you wherever you may be!

(Be sure to sign up for this FREE Newsletter so you won’t miss a single one!)

Just Cuz

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Sometimes you just can’t help it! You see something that for whatever reason, catches your eye, tickles your fancy, and you just gotta draw it. But when you’re driving, it’s best not to whip out the sketchbook then and there, but rather take a quick pic and draw it later.

The drawing doesn’t capture the way the center brush twirled and whirled in the breeze as the truck drove through town. Nor did I allow enough space for the broom on the right of the pitchfork. A broom! I may have to re-draw it to include this vital item in the whimsy of it all.

And sometimes you just gotta use your chunky marker and finer Sharpie…oh how I love that combination! Five minutes it took to sketch this out.

Gotta go make some more drawings of the fun stuff I’ve seen lately. How about you?

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May Knitterly Arts Newsletter!

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My Knitterly Arts Newsletter for the month of May is now out and about!

Be sure to subscribe to receive it every month FREE in your email box.

Wishing you an artful day!

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Jennifer

Kernersville Gallery Hop!

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I am SO looking forward to this weekend! My small town in North Carolina is having not one, but TWO art shows on Saturday which make for a fantastic afternoon/evening out!

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First up is my good friend Margaret Harrison‘s solo show at Southwinds Gallery! You will not want to miss seeing her beautiful watercolors in person!! A multi-talented artist, she will also have her recently published book, Howtogetbetternow, available for purchase and to be signed. Small pastel paintings, cards, and many other delightful creations await you at her show from 4-7 pm.

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From 6-8 pm, Debbie Schiappa, Florbela Nienaber, and myself are in a 3 Woman Show together, just around the corner at Eclection. This is where we have been drawing for several years in the cold months of the year when we are unable to be out and about drawing downtown. Eclection is the perfect place for artists to draw and paint due to the revolving menagerie of amazing hand works by area artisans.  Chris and Amanda, owner and manager of the shop, do an incredible job showcasing the work of these artists and the three of us are tickled to be invited to show some of our drawings from this magical place. We will have originals, prints, and cards for you to view and purchase if you like.

If I could be so bold as to suggest that you clear your calendar on Saturday so that you can attend these events, I know you will not be disappointed. Better still would be to attend Margaret’s show at 4. Eat an early dinner at Giada’s at 5. Come to our show at 6 and stay at Eclection for the evening festivities of music in the Breathe Lounge there.

What a day it will be!!!

This Happened…

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This sketch of last night’s momentous occasion does not capture all that is swirling around in my heart. It does not convey our son’s height correctly. Perhaps I’ll always view him as a boy, instead of the man he is becoming. The sketch does not depict the entire concert choir at Glenn High School where William has been singing and learning music for four years. It doesn’t capture his excitement and nerves as he stood to conduct not only this big choir but also the man at the piano…the composer himself of the piece William had chosen for the choir to sing. Nor does this sketch deliver the emotional punch of a mother watching her son step into some pretty big shoes, holding in her heart all the sizes of shoes he has worn the past 17 years.

We are firmly in that period of time I’ll call the “graduation blur”. From the beginning of April through graduation in early June, it all seems surreal. All the “last time I’ll do this or that”, all the award banquets and ceremonies, all the concerts and senior slide shows and dinners, the graduation picnic and ceremony. Perhaps when I look back on it all, this dashed off sketch will communicate more to me in bringing back memories than it does in any details of the drawing.

The wonderful thing is that this is not the end of our son’s music career. Heading to ECU in the fall to major in Music composition and theory will afford us many occasions to hear him sing in choirs and perhaps even conduct again. I’m really looking forward to a day when I can sit and hear a choir sing one of his choral compositions. He has a gift. And I, as his mother, hardly have words these days.

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Our son’s middle name is not spelled with an “e” on the end. Cochran is a family name and I had to look up on his birth certificate to confirm that I had indeed spelled it wrong on the sketch page.

He turns 18 on May 20th. Add THAT to the “graduation blur”. <sniff>