Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In Bloom

Oh, my! Has it been gorgeous outside! It was 83 degrees yesterday, which, according to the 10 o'clock news, is more typical of late June in Kansas City than late March. I guess that makes sense since many winter days this year felt like early spring. I took a walk during lunch today and noticed everything was suddenly green and blooming. Returning to the grind is rather difficult after holding private lunchtime reveries amid the natural blessings that can indeed be found within the city.

In fact, I've been taking walks during lunch and after work, instead of working out at the gym. It seems fresher and more invigorating to stroll around the neighborhoods near work and home. And it's a good thing I've been doing that. My other excuse for staying home is that I want to put more time in on my current cut paper collage. It's getting closer to finished, although I still have hours of work ahead of me.

I need to "flesh out" my little Rainy Day Girl with arms, face and a permanent position. I can't wait to add the finishing touches! I've come up with a lot of new techniques while making this piece, and I am so excited to finish it and move on to the next project!

Speaking of spring and art projects, my ACED students made blooming button flower friendship cards in class last weekend. During the first session of ACED I helped out in the class I am teaching this session. The instructors offered a similar project, and I thought the results were so cute that I decided to introduce it to my class, too. We hot glued buttons to the cards, and then we used silk flowers and green pipe cleaners to construct the petals, leaves and stems. Actually, the student who made the card at the bottom right made a pipe cleaner eye and cut paper leaves and stem. Too cute! I was really pleased with the results, and I think the students were proud of themselves, too!

Next week, we will tackle the get well card, which makes me think of my dad's current card collection. So many get well cards cover the breakfast bar. These cards reveal a range of moods and emotions. No matter what the sentiment, people always show their love during major medical episodes! And, luckily, the goal of the cards is being met. My dad continues to recover from bypass surgery. He fatigues easily, which is normal considering what his body has been through. Yesterday was his first full day without a nap, though! Yay! A real symptom of improvement! Aside from us all adjusting to a post-bypass kind of existence, life has been steady. I've been hanging out with my girlfriends and spending a lot of time with my family. What's been going on in your world lately? 


Alison :)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Quote of the Moment, No. 7 - Creating Yourself

My friend Chalanna gave me the card above in honor of my birthday. I L.O.V.E. the sentiment and wanted to share it with you all. I am often trying to figure out, not who I am, but what I want to do with all the talents, interests and skills I possess, so this card is entirely appropriaate. Life can seem pretty well set sometimes. It can be hard to remember that all the little things we do now add up to major changes in our lives later. In two years or ten, we may create for ourselves vastly different realities than the ones we are living today. Today, instead of worrying about what we haven't yet achieved, let's consider what we are currently doing to better ourselves and our lives.

For example, I began working on a new art project (which is nearly finished!) that will hopefully epitomize one of my favorite styles in which to work; Chalanna got a new job in her field (long overdue and much deserved); my sister Lisa tried out for a set of plays taking place this summer (and the producers pronounced her vocals "beautiful"); and my friends Brooke and  D.J. started their own businesses (fine art and jewelry, respectively). Kudos to these girls for spreading authentic beauty throughout this world. I am sure a lot of you are working toward exciting goals. Tell me, what are you doing to create the newest manifestation of you.


Alison :)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Take Heart

Dad and I sharing a beater back in the day.

I don't even know what to say about the past couple of weeks. I'm in a post-shocked, nearly normal state by now, I suppose - 

My dad had open heart surgery - a triple bypass - which was an unexpected situation for him and the rest of the family to find ourselves in. It all started with a calcium test, which my dad took after his best friend had one. My dad's friend's results were not so great, so he encouraged my dad to get the same test done. And thank goodness. The calcium test led to an angiogram, which showed MAJOR blockages in the arteries of my dad's heart. Based on what they saw, my dad's doctors decided the best course of action was bypass surgery. A stent wasn't going to cut it. Heart surgery was scheduled for the day after my dad's angiogram. The lucky thing is that my dad came into the hospital with a healthy heart, rather than one damaged during a heart attack, but you know things are aren't looking too hot when the doctors want to move that fast. My dad checked in to the hospital, and we hung out in his room all evening. Apparently, Dad slept just fine that night. I, however, slept terribly! My back hurt. I couldn't get comfortable. I had chest pains and difficulty inhaling. At the time, I thought I was having sympathy pains. Now, I'm pretty sure I was manifesting the panic I was feeling. Thank goodness we only had to wait one night for dad's surgery.

Although bypass surgery is very common in the US (implying, as a nurse told us, both the American lifestyle and lifespan), it isn't common when it comes to your own father. It is terrifying to imagine your dad's rib cage being opened and his heart being stopped. Even though most people's hearts start again, you wonder if your dad's will. It did. Thank God.

During the surgery itself, I wasn't nearly as panicked or frightened as I had expected. At some point, it's not worth the internal drama. It fades, and the reality of the moment, the being in the moment, takes over. What needs to be done will be done. What is going to happen is going to happen. I had to trust in the professionals and acknowledge the fact that I cannot control everything. That is incredibly difficult for me. It is also nearly impossible for me to not visualize the worst outcome possible in any situation. It's not that I expect the worst, I just worry about it, probably because I don't want to lose what I hold dear. That possibly explains the darkness I have within - my sometimes morbid preoccupations with death, illness, and other inevitables in this world that will someday touch me and the people I love. Luckily, though, the darkness did not set in on the day of surgery. I felt calm - emotional, but calm. The nurses, the surgeon, even the housekeeper, made us feel really positive about the surgery. When everyone around you believes in a positive outcome, so do you.

Before surgery, each time the nurses or technicians asked why Dad was in the hospital (because they ask again and again what you are there for, so as not to confuse you with another patient and to make sure the patient is not confused), he would say, "Well, they're going to crack me open..." My dad is a really good patient. He always faces surgery with humor and kindness. I don't know how he does it, but I hope I can be that kind of patient if the time ever comes. I was scared, and I wasn't even facing surgery! Having a good disposition towards those who care for you and a fear-combating sense of humor have got to offer a protective shield.

Dad has been home for over a week now and is doing well. He was in the hospital for five days, which is typical after bypass surgery. Going through such an intense surgery weakens a person's body. However, from all that I've heard, Dad will be like a new man once he heals. He'll be getting better blood flow and more oxygen. He will feel more energetic than he has felt in years. Bypass surgery is amazing! Watch out, Dad, I can think of several woodworking projects I need your help with!!

Have you or a loved one had an unexpected hospital stay or medical procedure? How did you get through it?

Alison :)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Food Adventures: Preserved Eggs

My first taste of a Preserved Egg!!

I first heard of Preserved Eggs in one of the most influential books I have read, Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. Since the moment I read about them, I have wanted to try one. Watching a television program on the Food Network that featured a segment on preserved eggs only reinforced my desire. Preserved eggs are a traditional Chinese treat (or practical way to keep eggs) traditionally made from uncooked eggs that have been plastered with clay which has been processed with a mixture of salt, ash, lye and tea. The eggs are covered in clay for a month or more. This process keeps the eggs from spoiling. When the eggshell is cracked, the egg comes out whole. It is translucent, brownish to greenish to grayish-black in color, with a consistency similar to that of a hard boiled egg. The yolk is creamy, and the egg white is rubbery. Preserved eggs are also called "1,000-year-old eggs" and Century eggs. I call them intriguing. 

Some like it hot. Some like it cold. Some like it in the pot, 1,000 days old.

I had the opportunity to try a preserved egg when some old and new friends and I decided on a whim to go to the locally-owned ABC Cafe in Overland Park, KS. I had never been there, but I had heard about their many tasty offerings. They had a large menu, and everything sounded good. Everything I tasted was delicious, too (especially the slightly spicy turnip cakes - trust me on this and give the dish a try!)! 

Thinking about it.

Before I ordered, I noticed they served Preserved Egg in porridge. I just had to try it! Apparently (says Wikipedia), this is a typical way to serve Preserved Egg in a dim sum restaurant. I thought it was a good way to serve the eggs and show off their attributes. Preserved eggs are very eggy - egg-squared, you might say. The mild porridge complemented the strong flavor of the eggs. I also think Preserved Eggs would taste good cut into small pieces in a stir fry or noodle dish. A Preserved Egg is not something I would want to eat whole, like an apple. Its flavor is too strong, or maybe I just need to grow more accustomed to the taste. According to Wikipedia, Cantonese people serve slices of preserved egg wrapped in pickled ginger as an hors d'oeuvre. That sounds appetizing to me. I believe those two strong, and opposing, flavors would work well together.

I am happy I tried preserved eggs. I am not sure it will become a favorite delicacy, but it could add an interesting element to a dish - or even a party! I am a rather adventurous eater (Hey, I prefer to travel by food, not by motorcycle!). I truly enjoy trying foods that are unique or new to me. It helps me tap into other cultures and get to know the people the foods belong to, explore new things, and expand my world, in general. I would really love to taste-test my way around the globe. I realize my food adventure is somebody else's  comfort food, which, of course, makes it easier to eat foods with which I am unfamiliar.

What's the most exciting or unusual food you have tried? Where do you draw the line? Or do you have a line? I found this kid while I was looking up videos about preserved eggs on YouTube. I'm kind of in love.

Here's to many grand food adventures,

Alison :)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Project Time

I have been scarce during the past week. Here's why:

Yes, I mistreat my yoga mat by employing it as a knee and bum pad when I'm working on art projects. I like to spread out on the floor when I'm working, and hardwood ain't comfy. And those "scraps" on the mat are actually individual blades of grass.
I've yet to add the subject to this background. The image is glossy due to the combination of magazine paper and Mod Podge.

I have been working on my latest cut-paper collage. These pieces are incredibly time-consuming, and they keep both my brain and my hands active, leaving little time for some of my other favorite creative outlets - meaning blogging.

Anyone seeing this piece who is mostly familiar with the work I did in undergrad or grad school might be surprised. My undergraduate work was process-oriented, primarily monochromatic and lacked narrative - aside from its conceptual back story. I "discovered" narrative during grad school, but the majority of my thesis work was digital, dark in subject matter, and the narratives were applied with a light hand. Its making was still very much inspired by process, specifically the processes of repetition and tool use (meaning anything from a pencil to cyborg-like additions).

I get real pleasure from making up colorful scenes like the one above.  I am definitely inspired by a folk art aesthetic, children's art and quilting. This work is still very much tied into labor-intensive processes - from finding the perfect colored paper in magazines to cutting the right shapes  (usually many of them!) from the paper. If I could do these collages easily or quickly, they just wouldn't be as satisfying. Figuring out how to express the idea of an object existing in the real world through cut paper is a challenge I enjoy. Creating "grass," for instance, is a good example of what I mean. In this piece, I am using long individual blades in the piece above, while in other pieces I have created grass quite differently - sometimes it needs to be short or choppy or windblown or ragged or... you get the idea. 

I get to tell stories through cut paper, while also exploring texture, color and shape. These pieces are so fun to make, and I could see myself expanding this way of working in several different directions.

Thanks for taking a look! Come back for updates - I will definitely share the finished piece. What are you working on these days? I would love to see...


Alison :)