Monday, November 23, 2009

Thought You Should Know!

Well, it was only a matter of time, right! I've been scrapbooking for over ten years and I am so happy to say that I will now be published in the April 2010 eddition of Scrapbook Trends Magazine! It's a really cool mini album about all my past sewing projects. I can't share with it with you just yeat, but after it's on the news stand I will post some photos here. In the mean time, how about I share a couple of my favorite recent pages! (oh, and Thanks everyone for your support!)

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Taste of Tangerines

Today I peeled a tangerine and ate it as usual. But a wave of enjoyment rushed over me as I realized that this tangerine season I would not enjoy alone. This tangerine season I would not make lonely quesedilla dinners or tuck the kids in with a lonely goodnight kiss. It's funny how a little thing like knowing that last year when I bought the first crate of tangerines, David had already left for Afghanistan, but this year as I bite into that first juicy tangerine, it's just a little sweeter than before.

I had no idea six months could be so hard. I had no idea it would take so long to feel "normal" again. But I did know that the boys need their father. And everyday we build back the bonds and the strenghth of our family as a whole and it feels good. It's easy to take the little things for granted. We all do. But when I ate that tangerine and looked over at my husband standing there eating a tangerine,too...well, I was just glad to be doing it together this year!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Final Paper

I got an "A" on this final paper, and I got an "A" in the class. More significantly, I got to know myself a little better. This was written out of thin air in a computer lab at the education center. I did not have time to think. I did not need research. I was given the option between writing two very personal essays, and either one I chose I think I would have come out of the final paper knowing something I did not know before: I am still affected by my parents' divorce twenty years down the road.

I haven’t been camping since my childhood days. I am not a princess, I can handle the dirt. I wouldn’t mind pitching a tent and building a fire, or hiking to the top of the waterfall. I love the smell of the campfire. And it is always nice to get away from the everyday life and get closer to the fresh air and television-free, natural life for a moment or two. But I don’t go, I don’t even make the effort to go. It was only in recent conversation with my sister that I finally came to the conclusion as to why this aversion has come to pass. My happy memories of family vacations to the Great Redwood Forests of California have been polluted with the divorce of my parents in my teenage years.
From my earliest memory I can see myself standing like the tiniest ant next to one of the world’s tallest living things. The great Sequoias of the Sierra Nevada are like nothing else on earth. A vehicle can pass through a carved tunnel, or drive on top of a fallen tree, with room to spare! As small children, my siblings and I would run rings around the base of the tree until we were out of breath, never once catching up to the other side. I couldn’t resist rubbing my palms over the furry, outer layer in amazement that the tree had existed for hundreds and hundreds of years. We were lucky enough to travel to the National park several times a year, always camping, always excited to explore what nature had to offer.
I remember one time the whole brood of us, five kids in all, went for a hike through the forest with our parents leading the way. We came to a meadow where the giant trees had fallen and made homes for all kinds of animals to live. We climbed on top and for dozens of meters we crossed the marshy meadow on the fallen foot bridge to the end where the branches shot out into the sky. We saw deer and rabbits, but my favorite were the littlest tree frogs I had ever seen, no bigger than a teaspoon. We spent the next hour catching and releasing the frogs, hoping to cause no harm.
There were times when I didn’t enjoy myself as much. Some nights were cold and I know I must have been sleeping on rocks. Occasionally our camping neighbors stayed up too late being rowdy and playing loud music. I couldn’t wait for the morning to come, to release me from the long night of waking and drifting. But an early morning campfire to warm us up and hot cocoa never failed to get a bunch of kids running and playing and generally giving back to our neighbors a taste of what we got the night before.
Once we were a little older, I had the permission to wander the campground with my sister on our bikes. A little freedom in a time of perceived safety did wonders to young girls’ confidence. We never came across any real danger, and in the world we live in this was a miracle. It did happen that we got careless in our bike safety, and chose not to use helmets while riding tandem on a one-seater down a big hill. Ouch! No concussions, but scrapes deep enough to keep my father at bay while my mother played nurse to clean out the wounds.
By far my favorite memory of camping was Beatle Rock. Even before the siblings became numerous, and my sister and I were barely old enough to go to far from our parents, we would wander about on the great rocky mountainside that overlooked the valley below. It wasn’t impossible to catch sight of a bear or an eagle from this magical place, and I even knew as a small child that the sunset was unbelievable. I had moments of fear that we could fall off the edge of the great rock that held us up so high, but my parents were both there to lead us and reassure of us against any danger that could pass our way. They were our protectors.
As the marriage dissolved, the illusion of safety and guidance dissolved as well. My parents became separate individuals trying to make an impact in our lives, and often times contradicted one another. Their influence didn’t hold the same power as it once did when they were one parental unit. I left out into the wide world soon after the split and forged my own way in life, not really mourning the loss of my parents’ marriage or my childhood, but not looking back either. Now I have become one half of the parental unit, “the great protectors” to my children and I am finding that I am finally taking a greater look at my childhood days. My happiest memory will always be long summer days camping in the Redwoods with my family, even if the thought also brings out the hidden sadness I feel of the dissolution of our family as a whole unit. The solution I feel, may be, that it’s time to go camping again.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Scrapbooking Isn't Everything...

But it's almost everything! After all the other things that make me who I am - husband, kids, the to-do list, keeping in touch with loved ones, keeping on top of the bills, keeping up with the speed of life, well, then there is only one thing...scrapbooking! I know just about everyone who knows me, knows that this is my hobby, passion, obsession! I love the smell of the paper, I love the ink on my fingers, I love looking at other talented artists online, I love telling a story and putting our life on paper in the best way I know how. Scrapbooking is art and I must be satisfied by doing it everyday! I don't read much anymore (mostly because I'll fall asleep if I slow down for half a second) and I don't watch TV except for the occasional movie rental, and I don't stress about a perfectly clean house, and it's obvious I haven't been as good at updating my blog as usual!

So, why haven't I posted my scrapbook pages you might ask? Well, I had another blog for that, but I am in the process of consolidating. Another thing you should know...I'm teaching classes at my house. Not a consultant, don't have an agenda, not selling, and not really for profit...just want to inspire more people to document their lives in a really fun way. Last year was so much fun and now I'm starting a new season at the end of this month with a summer themed class using the cutest paper from Cosmo Cricket!

You know you can ask me...if you want to know know more about the class, where to get supplies, why I spend all my time and money on this one thing! OR if you want to ask about Europe, the boys, my crazy thoughts that I keep posting in short story format, what it's like to be married to a viking, what I had for dinner last night - you know anything - just e-mail me! I'm not hard to reach! So, here we go...I will continue to post my short essays on life, art and travel AND I will post my scrappy stuff here, too. I sure hope you all enjoy!

Laundry Day

It seems simple really. A task everyone must undertake. Laundry. I have become inundated and therefore have no choice but to become an expert. This task begins with a search and rescue. It’s wise to start with the various collection sites in the bedrooms and bathrooms, but attention must turn to the smaller less obvious hiding places: at the foot of the bed, under the couch, in the car, on the dining room table, behind the couch, etc. After the offending articles have been recovered and deposited on the laundry room floor, it’s time for sorting into appropriate piles. I prefer to separate the clothes as follows: white whites for a hot load, reds and oranges together to keep the colors true and avoid the infamous pink socks scenario, darks, lights, and linens. I also choose to wash anything associated with the dog or wiping up messes separate from all other items. Then load by load I make progress through the cleaning cycles; cup of detergent, turn the water on, fill up basin with clothes, top off with fabric softener ball, close lid, and try to remember in thirty minutes to switch the wet clothes over to the dryer. It usually takes at least two cycles of drying to finish off one load and I like to fold the clean, crisp laundry right out of the hot dryer and into the basket. This is where I feel the need to tell you that I often forget my laundry duties and the wet articles will go untouched for hours before I manage to finish one load. But eventually I have baskets brimming and spilling with all the clean, folded and evenly divided clothes, ready to be tucked neatly into drawers or closets. The baskets sit in my path begging to be put away, and after a long week of endless washing, I get to the final task of finding a home for every last shirt and underpant. I very easily could have completed ten loads on any given week, but this is not all. No, this is not all. The final step is what I kindly refer to as the Sisyphus Syndrome, because like the Greek God that was required to push a boulder to the top of a mountain only to find it at the bottom and starting all over again, I must go back to the very beginning of my laundry task only moments after having seemingly finished.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I see colors in Van Gogh hues. The world around me beckons to be captured and pinned down as a shape or a texture or a word that I might later refer to as a memory or a reflection of my soul. I see art in everyday life. I transfer this creative energy to every motion, moment or memento that passes me. I file images in my mind like an intense conversion in a Caravaggio painting or a simple flirting with happiness like Renoir would depict. Is every little lily pond just a Monet in disguise? Or a urinal simply Duchamp reminding me that anything could be art, but probably (most definitely) is not! If I could translate my children’s laughter into a masterpiece I would have nothing left to say, but such a thing is impossible to capture as a tangible object. So, I create because the world I see refuses to be tied to physical boundaries. I am an artist and before I rest my head at night, I have created a hundred works of art in the recess of my mind.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Country Girl, City Girl

When my husband came home and announced that we could move home in forty-five days, my heart sank and I felt a bit sick. It was not the reaction he was expecting. Maybe I wasn’t even aware of how I felt until faced with the moment of decision. After all, I’ve done nothing but complain for the last three years about the difficulties of life in a foreign land. I missed Starbucks and Target. I wished for street signs that made sense to me. The language has been daunting, and service is s-l-o-w. And I’d rather not eat another croissant. But as it turns out, I am finally accepting my life in Belgium and I’m not ready to go topsy-turvy and run back to America just yet.
We were enjoying our Independence Day cook-out in our yard with friends and a few out-of-town visitors, when I sat back and took a good look at what we have and how our family has developed since moving here. It seems that at the very moment the rest of the world is in shambles, we have never had it better. We gathered at the table to feast on food we had prepared together, laughing and talking until the last twinkling of sun went out of sight. It was well past eleven and I was satiated. This was the simple life that I wasn’t even aware existed. Years earlier you would have probably found us eating dinner in front of the television or rushing in and out of a chain restaurant. Going out is not as convenient in a small European city and it didn’t take us long before realizing that doing it at home was not only easier and more economical, but increasingly more enjoyable.
This “can do” attitude has perseverated into most of our daily activities. The morning begins with a fresh brewed pot of coffee, made from beans ground at home, and poured into a moderate size mug. Stopping in for a latte and doughnuts on the way to work is not just a luxury we’ve chosen to pass on, but it’s simply not an option. At night we gather together as a family for a home cooked meal and talk about our day. Nowhere in the middle does Oprah or Sponge Bob play mindlessly in the background on cable TV like it once did. We reserve our big screen for family movie night and an occasional Rock Band jam session. Don’t get me wrong, we are an electronic junkie family like most others, but there is little need to be plugged in to the outside world for constant input. And it feels good to use the dining table for dinner rather than a collection point for all our miscellaneous acquisitions.
Recently, I have watched creativity blossom. When the mind is not constantly kept distracted by the need to run and go, or see and do, then suddenly it must find new ways to be entertained. I have inky fingers from daily interaction with paper and paint, David is currently constructing a massive game table, Gavin has drawn entire scenes about stories he knows and Taylor made a Lego city without instructions. I feel like every moment is an opportunity to put our Da Vinci side of the brain to work, instead of using a trip to Best Buy to derail our imagination. And I find that this creative ingenuity works in time of need, or rather want, not just boredom. We’ve gotten good at going without certain wants, and making do with the perfectly good stuff we already have. When want creates action, we find ourselves reusing, repurposing and revamping items we already had in totally new ways. I don’t think the economists would be happy to hear me say this, but I don’t think we need the newest line of towels and dishes at Pottery Barn.
Not every moment of European life has been perfect. If you visit us in the winter, then you know how damp and dark Belgium can be. Likewise, that “can-do” attitude could be applied to getting our toilet fixed as well and in the moments when we’ve waited weeks for repairs, we can’t help but long for the American way of efficiency. There has been a time or two when I wished something was written in plain English, but usually the moment has been fleeting and I try harder to learn a new language. And when I’m down and out, I think a bookstore or an afternoon matinee would hit the spot. Instead I spend some time in my studio and it’s not long before I’ve forgotten it was ever routine therapy before.
It’s the thought of going back to the masses of traffic as far as the eye can see that keeps me grounded in the desire to stay just a little longer. I know where our home is and we are bound to return, but hopefully having learned a lesson or two in moderation. The uncomplicated life that is right now may be just enough to guide us down future roads with less strife and a greater appreciation of enjoying the moment. But in the mean time, this wine and cheese, garden forts and hide-outs, breezy summer afternoon kind of living is exactly the “joie de vie” our family was destined (needed?) to experience.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I wanted to preface this entry with the fact that I have been writing blog posts, But for some reason I just haven't been ready to post my life and thoughts. Well, I am out of hibernation and I'm sharing now! This first entry I give to you was written in May, right after David came home from Afghanistan. And you can find more entries in the days to come, so come back for more....

Play is the word of the day. Have I forgotten? Did I get lost in the difficulties of deployment? Did I forget to be kind and have fun with my children? To enjoy the moment and adopt a lighter load? Did I lose sight of the ultimate goal? HAPPINESS? Somehow in my survival mode I have not made the best out of the last few months of my life and it shows in every way. I thought I knew what to do to make a success out of hard times, but coming out of the other side I realize that thinking I know anything is the first mistake. Not asking for help was the second. I’m not as strong as I thought I was, but probably stronger than I give myself credit for. Now that it over, though, I need to take the next step and heal my family, myself. It’s time to be playful, fun, positive, and mostly KIND. It’s time to create the environment that we can all thrive.

Replace fear with hope.
Change anxiety into action.
Turn the negative energy into positive FUN.
Let go of the tension and Play Again!

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Alright, trying to get back in the swing of things after what seemed to be a very long December. I want to explain my title. I've been watching the show 30 Rock and saw the Christmas episode from last season where they had a LudiChristmas Party. Then the aha light went on and I realized that's ludicrous and Christmas put together. (duh!) And boy am I going with it. Every year the things we put ourselves through to make a spectacular presentation for our friends, family and children. And every year I swear I'm going to scale back, but somehow it still seems to be all consuming. Now, I don't want you to think of me as a grinch or a scrooge. I participate in the season's various activities, and I go out of my way to make sure the kids are delighted on Christmas morning, and I love to think of everyone who is important to me and how I can honor them with a gift or baked good or card at this time of year; but I can't help but ask every year when it's over - was it worth it?

Let me be honest for a moment here, the truth is I am not a Christian. I have a couple nativity scenes for the sake of it, but if you pressed me I'd have to say I do not believe in the virgin birth. (gasp) And in doing a little research, it seems the idea of Christmas started long before the arrival of Christ when the Pagans celebrated the sun and the beginning of the days lengthening again - hence brightest star, lights, trees and gifts. You don't have to agree with me, but even the Catholic church concedes that the 25th of December was not Christ's actual birthday, but rather a really good day to celebrate in order to convert all the Pagans of olden days. Brilliant if you ask me, but I'm not a Pagan either even if it does strike me as a fun alternative. I have some Jewish ancestors, but do not participate in Hanukkah, definitely no Kwanzaa, Ramadan also a no, and well, New Year celebrations are way past my bedtime.

And another thing about the whole Christmas season while I'm deep in the subject. It's wasteful. Don't let the economist hear me say this, but we spend so much of our resources on things we don't want, can't use, will forget about later, that end up in our landfills, are toxic to our bodies and the earth, won't get played with, take up more space, and rarely benefit our character. But every year we go in for another round on the credit cards, wrap it up, pay the postage, ship it off, have it delivered, put it under the tree, and pray someone will be thrilled for at least two hours on Christmas morning. I asked my sweet middlest child, Gavin, why he wanted Santa to bring him toys if he wasn't going to play with them, and I kid you not, his reply was,"because it's just fun to have things to open on Christmas day!" Out of the mouth of babes; it sums up my whole theory on our over-the-top, commercialized, frenzied holidays that I kill myself over every year for what seems to be just a moment of excitement.

So, why do I celebrate at all, you might ask? Tradition? My American Capitalism? Responsibility? I've thought about this one a lot over the last couple years. I've finally come to the conclusion that I am doing it to celebrate my love for my family and for the people I care about all year long but may not have found enough time to show them how I really feel. Non-the-less, when all the stuff is put back in boxes, and space is made in the house for new stuff, and the bills are paid off, and it's all said and done, I am exhausted.

I propose a new plan to you today to celebrate in true spirit of the season through the whole year and right up until next December: Let us serve others instead of ourselves. I would like to do a family service project as a gift to my children and my extended family. I can't bare the thought of one more year of the gimmies. So, though I will still send photos and well wishes, I will be thinking of you through the whole year as I work towards doing a little something for someone else. Please do not feel pressure to participate in this if it does not suit you, but also be kind to yourself and resist sending gifts. Santa will still come to the Conrad house (as long as my boys don't end up on the naughty list!), and we will know you love us even without a package to unwrap - I promise.