Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas philosophy.

Last year, a few weeks before Christmas, I was part of a group discussion started by someone else about what to put in their child's Christmas stocking. The conversation went something like this:

Them: I need another stocking stuffer for *****

Me and others: What do you have so far?

Them: An iTunes giftcard, tickets to Beauty & the Beast* and blah blah blah...

Me: Uh... how about a couple of Rolo's and call it a day?

*or Lion King, whichever Broadway show came through last year.

Rusty and I have Christmas rules around here. They came about one year when we heard a child we knew complaining about not getting something they wanted then heard the parents say they'd spent $500+ on this child, plus stocking stuffers. And this was a young child (four years old at the time.) We sat ourselves down and talked about what was important for us and came up with these rules:

1.) Santa brings three gifts for each of the boys. And no, those three gifts aren't like a Wii and two games. Nice try, though.

2.) We buy them each a gift from us (or it's a gift we buy the family - two years ago it was a basketball hoop for the Maryland house.)

3.) They pick out a gift for each other.

We're not Scroogy. And we're not "poor" (though we're definitely living on a tighter budget now that the school loan came due.) But even if we were rolling in dough? Why? Our kids are still relatively young - Liam will be nine in a few months and Sean turned six this past fall. If we give them everything they saw on TV now? What about next year? And the year after that? Where does it stop?

Liam has been asking for a Wii. Literally every family in our neighborhood has one, except us and one other. And one of the Wii families also has a GameCube and an XBox. Their kids are ten, seven and two years old. I am the first to admit that there are absolutely no inherently bad things about a Wii or GameCube. But if that's the norm we establish for them at this age, how do you maintain it? To be honest, our boys love playing the plug-in Atari joystick game I bought Rusty for his birthday last year for $10!

So this year we decided to go ahead and buy a video game system for the "family gift." We decided to buy a Playstation 2 at Best Buy. And the process has been funny. One neighbor even said, "you do know there's a Playstation 3 now, right?" Yeah, we do. But why? Why spend more on kids who are just as happy with Atari in the first place, when you can get the system for much less now, the games for much less now and the accessories for much less now? No answer to that. Buying the older model now when the boys are younger means maybe down the road when they're older and know how to properly care for something more expensive then we can think about it a little more seriously.

I'm not saying if you bought your kid a Wii that you're a horrible parent. I am saying that we are specifically trying to make our kids understand that they're blessed to get gifts at all, that the fun they have with the gift is more important than whether it's this year's model or last. And that the gifts are not the reason we come together for Christmas in the first place. And I think it's sinking in.

When the boys pick their gifts for each other it's usually a Matchbox car "because Liam loves cars, Mom!" or something that seems small but that they each pick because they know the other will really enjoy it. And Liam asked once why so-and-so got so much more from Santa and he didn't. We explained that besides Santa, he has us and lots of family that buys him gifts and that some other kids aren't that lucky so we told Santa he could take some of our extra gifts to those families instead. Liam was cool with that. So we figure they're learning what we want them to.

Disclaimer: Please do not email or leave defensive comments about this. Your budget and your priorities and your child rearing is not up to us. Our reasoning does not mean that your reasoning is wrong. Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Art theory.

I'm so excited about the group of people who have joined in the art and faith conversation. Some from our church, a couple of Vineyard representatives and my favorite new person from Crossroads. Even before our first meeting face to face (and in Emily and Teresa's case, not yet face to face) I felt a familiarity with them. It's got to do with the art. Not the drawing/painting/sculpting stuff. I mean, for example, Brent's a musician but I have a very basic music knowledge, enough to pound out a tune on a piano if the music is written in a beginner's song book. There appears to be little in common on the very surface. But it's a way of thinking and seeing things. That's one reason why I enjoy reading Emily's blog ( Because she reminds me of Sherri, my friend from Cedar Ridge who was constantly seeing the God in unusual yet everyday scenerios. And once you see the God, you see the beauty. Sherri had this completely great analogy for living life. She used crayons as examples. I'm going to use it here and build on it a little.

Imagine two yellow crayons. One is brand new out of the box, pointy, perfectly yellow with clean yellow paper wrapped tightly around it. The other crayon is shorter, its tip is gone and is now a rounded end. The paper is torn down to expose more of the crayon after the tip wore down. The paper is probably streaked with other colors from being tossed in a bucket or bin instead of neatly placed back in it's original box. The crayon itself may have spots where other crayons rubbed against it when the bucket was jostled around.

Which crayon would you rather be? The brand-spankin'-new crayon that was so pretty or the torn up used stubby one? We, especially those of us who call ourselves artists, should aspire to be that stubby one. The one that has been used to create things bigger and better than themselves. Sometimes even coloring outside the lines (gasp!) The one that has been thrown in the mix, bears the marks of having spent time with others - some streaks of other colors that compliment yellow and some that totally contrast with it. Sometimes using that yellow crayon with other colors marked all over it can change the yellow when you use it - there may be some of the other colors mixed in if the marks went deeper than just the surface paper. A lot of times when that happens you find that you like the "new" yellow more than the original and you'd never have discovered it if you had a brand new one.

I used to have a beat all to hell yellow crayon pinned to my bulletin board, after my friend Betsy told me about hers and in honor of Sherri before we moved (it was one of the crayons for little kids, with the flat side so they wouldn't roll away.) That crayon's paper was half gone, it had red crayon marks all over it with some black, blue and brown as well. The tip was so worn that you couldn't tell which end had previously been the tip. You could tell that thing had done some serious coloring time. And that's what I want to be at the end of my life. Someone who's not afraid to get used by God to do some serious coloring, get in the mix with people who both compliment or contrast with myself to make something bigger than just my one original 'color.' I want to have not much left over, if at all. Crayons aren't meant to be bought and looked at then put back in the box. And neither are we.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Date night in DC.

So let me tell you about my favorite date night memory. It was back in winter of either 2004 or 2005, can't remember for sure. Rusty and I left the boys with his mom for the night and drove to New Carrollton where we caught the Metro into DC, switched to to the red line and got off at Cleveland Park (I think) to catch a movie at the Uptown. The Uptown is an old movie theater with one screen (about 40 ft.) with an art deco theme and a fantastic history.

This particular night there was a chance for snow but when we arrived for the movie it was still dry outside. I don't remember what movie we saw but I still remember my love affair with the art deco style of the theathe and the energy of the neighborhood. The movie ended and we left the theather to find DC covered in a layer of snow. We decided to walk down to the 'Four Provinces'. There was live music that night and we were all excited when the duo from Boston took the stage, especially when one of them started to talk with his Irish brogue warming the entire room. We got ready for some hardcore Irish music... and the duo proceeded to sing John Denver! Then Jimmy Buffett. The semi-sober yuppie crowd sang along and Rusty and I enjoyed our time together without kids, housing worries, job stress or what we'd be doing the next day. It was a snowy night in DC, we were enjoying a warm room full of happy people and each other. I know my memory will never be fully appreciated by anyone else but Rusty and myself. But I miss the Uptown and the Metro and the ability to hop on and go downtown.

Run, Forrest, run.

So I just watched Forrest Gump. I've only seen it once and that was in the movie theater and how long ago was that? So this time I only caught part of it (and oh my lord there's a possessed sock monkey cake on 'Ace of Cakes'. Proceed.) Anyway, Forrest Gump.

There were two parts that tore me down. The first was when Lt. Dan is strapped to the mast of the 'Jenny' yelling at God, "You call that a storm? Is that the best you can do?!" I love the irreverence and reality of that scene. Of one man struggling to figure out how God could exist given what he knows about life and the loss he's seen. Love Gary Sinise.

The second was a little more personal. When Forrest finds out he has a son. He says he's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen but takes a step back with tears in his eyes. He just says, "Is he smart?" and Jenny tells him that he's one of the smartest in his class. I've felt that fear that my children - my bright, talented, beautiful children that I fear may have been 'ruined' by my contribution to the gene pool. Forrest's honest fear in that scene is the most powerful part of the movie for me and of course, left me a sniffy mess.

I also turned to Rusty and gave my assessment of Forrest - he's an Asperger's dude. Smart, socially akward, and literal to a fault. I thank God every day for the near miss on that with Liam.

Holy crap. Charm City Cakes is doing a groom's cake with a groom passed out and a bride poking him with a pool cue. And one that a guy's mom commissioned to use the artwork he created when he was little. Art rules, son (I think I may adopt that as my new slogan.)

The list.

I have informed Rusty, from time to time, that if anything were to happen to him I would go after a player to be named later. That person has ranged from David Beckham to George Clooney. I've added another name to the list - Duff, from Ace of Cakes. I mean, the man designs cakes. Some of which explode. And he has Mary Alice working for him. I may go after her too!

And hello, I miss day trips to Charm city.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mural time.

In other news, I did this last week. It's a mural. On the kitchen wall by the doorway to the dining room (the dining room is that blue room through the doorway in the first shot. It still needs a poly coat but otherwise it's finished. This is one of those projects that took two days from painting the base coat, drawing the design then finishing it. Why? Because when I bought the sign that was the inspiration, I bought it with that wall in mind. You know that quote by Michaelangelo? About sculpture being the image escaping the marble? Well this wall has had this image on it since I saw the sign. I just finally let it show, I guess.

My next project is the dining room and I'm thinking of using an image from one of the pieces of antique sheet music currently hanging in the family room and doing a mural on the upper half the walls. The image is navy blue and off white so it would be easy to keep the current color on the bottom and touch it up where needed. I'm intrigued. The more I look at the dining room wall, the more this image keeps peeking through.

Apocalypse now.

You know what that is? It's our van. In the garage. In our garage, even. Sign of the apocalypse? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Daytime TV

You know the stereotype of being home sick for the day and watching hours of daytime TV? Well, I'm down with a cold today. And I've watched more TV in the last three hours than I have in the last two weeks (I don't watch a lot of TV and when I do it's usually HGTV and Discovery Channel kind of stuff.) Here's what I've learned from TV today:

1. Hundreds of years ago in Turkey there were underground cities where villagers would go to hide from attackers. Those cities still exist in tact under existing villages and towns today.

2. A 6000+ mile travelway called the "Silk Road" was the major travel-way between Asia and Europe at the time. There were "rest stops" built underground every 18-20 miles, which is the distance camels could usually travel in a day. The underground rest stops had fountains, bathes, wineries, stables and more.

3. Instanbul (was Constantinople) is the only city on earth that spans two continents - Asia and Europe.

4. Dr. 90210 is a tool.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Give it a rest already.

Really, Beyonce? I don't want to upgrade. And take that necklace out of your mouth before you choke on it. I understand that you want me to upgrade. But I don't think that gold jumper, paired with the awkward dance moves, is doing you any favors. And? I know you have the card. I know you are a world traveler with a busy schedule and yet you're sad that you don't get to really experience the cities on your tours. And I know your nephew asked for a Boomerang. But I don't think it counts when you order one up online - you could have done that from home. That's not a souvenir.

I don't actually mind Beyonce. But there are only so many times we can be pestered to upgrade before there's annoyance.
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