My How Time Flies or What’s With the Art?

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11/15/16

Okay, so it appears my last post was WHAT???? THREE MONTHS AGO?!?!?! WOW!!! Where has the time gone? Is it because I’m in my 40s now that time is going by so quickly? Or is it because as a mom of eight I usually don’t even know what time of day it is?! I just don’t know. So, for my few (very few – that’s okay) readers, I want to apologize if you’ve been holding your breath waiting for another blog post from me!

Whew, okay….now I got that out of the way. I thought maybe I’d tell you a little more about myself. (I originally sat down to write this on my computer on October 16 – the date is on the document) and now it’s November 14  November 19.  I’m glad I’m not doing this for a living!

My Creative Journey or What’s Up With All This Art Stuff?

Well here’s some background and history for you…

Anybody who knows me well or has known me for a very long time knows that my journey in creating visual art did not start with my introduction to Instagram at the end of 2015. Although any of my Facebook followers might think all my plethora of recent photos of art stuff might be a new thing for me, it is not.

Is Social Media a Downward Spiral?

For several years now, I’ve resisted “joining” IG – that’s Instagram – because I was already on Facebook and I just did not need any “more” social media in my life. In July of 2015, I was persuaded to open a Twitter account (to be able to watch Periscope back when it was directly linked to Twitter – a means to an end…) by my mom and brother. And then in December, an American friend and a South African friend here in Mozambique were extolling the virtues of Pinterest (which I’ve purposefully avoided for many years for several reasons). Well, I liked the idea of having a “visual” scrapbook of ideas as opposed to magazine clippings littering my life. And so, since I decided to join Pinterest, I thought, “What the hey… I guess since I’m on FB, Twitter, Periscope & Pinterest, it’s only a short jump to Instagram! So I joined.”

Well, I’m so incredibly grateful to the Lord for Instagram. Honestly…it has boosted my creativity to new heights.

Back to the Story…

My history goes back to probably when I was born to the Art Lady of Beaumont, Texas. If you’re reading this and grew up in Beaumont between 1980 and 2015, then you most likely know Mrs. Garrett, the Art Lady! Anyway, she’s the one who, when my best friend came over to spend the night when we were 7, let us walk through acrylic paint and walk all over big rolled out butcher paper in the garage. I did take some art classes at the Beaumont Art League when I was about 12 or 13. I specifically remember an oil painting I started of a horse’s head and never finished. Oil paints were far too high-maintenance for my lazy self! Then in 8th grade, I took art, which was fun. I didn’t take any art during high school due to the fact that I was already taking band and French, which I pursued all 4 years. And I don’t know what I did in College. I think I’ve blocked that time from my memory. Oh, Russian….I learned Russian. And I watched movies.

After I graduated from Texas A & M University with a bachelor’s degree in Russian, I spent almost one year in Far East Russia as a missionary on a team of people with the Navigators. Anyway, my spiritual mentor while in Blagoveshchensk was a sweet Jesus-lady from Florida who is very artistic. I’d learned basic calligraphy years before and had experimented with it. But she wrote beautiful encouraging scripture cards in calligraphy. So the artistic spark ignited the smoldering coals of creativity within me.

When I returned to the United States and lived with my parents for a year or so, I took a couple more art classes. One was a watercolor class by a well-known local artist in our area. He encouraged me to do some collage with old watercolor paintings and form them into a new painting. I tackled a huge full-size watercolor sheet of paper (which is like 4 feet by 4 feet or something) and worked from a photo of tobacco fields that I had taken while in France. All the old ladies in my class (why is it that all the “hobbies” I pursue are comprised of anywhere from 10-100 ladies with a median age of 65 while I’m the lone 25 year old?)…anyway, all the ladies in my class all exclaimed with excitement and awe: “Your work is so loose and free, etc. etc. etc.” I had no idea WHAT they were talking about!!!! That painting is still around (I think hanging on mommy’s fridge! – well- really the living room wall). Anyway, in those two or three years between Russia and getting married, I produced several paintings using different mediums. I also started doing calligraphy again, usually on the background of watercolor that I’d painted. The Art Lady and her best friend tried and tried to get me interested in 3-D work (sculpture and such), to which I looked at them and replied, “When y’all were 23, were y’all doing 3-D? No! Y’all were doing watercolor and calligraphy and acrylics and pastel!” “Well, yes, we sure were!” At that age, I just couldn’t see 3-D. Still have trouble with that!

So when I met and married the mechanic poet, and God started giving us encouraging words for the young single people around us, usually in the form of poetry, I would paint a background and then transcribe Brad’s poetic thoughts onto the painting in calligraphy. We did quite a few of these. And then came the beginning of the Artillery!

If you’ve ever been a young mom, you probably know what happened to my creative process. It was pooped on, puked on & flushed down the potty!!!! Well, not entirely. I did actually start hand embroidery during this time, which was a lot less messy than painting.

Well, God led us to Cape Town for our first year in Africa (which is one of the main reasons we ALWAYS return to the Cape for births….it’s most definitely our home away from home). In Cape Town, I discovered the Cape Embroiderer’s Guild, which I joined and started to learn many new (actually old techniques) things. Once again, I was a twenty-something in a world of blue-haired old ladies. Of course, now, blue hair is pretty popular amongst the younger crowd too (I still have some blue left in my hair from last year in Texas!) I absolutely LOVED (still LOVE) hand embroidery. It’s much harder to find time to pursue this now with 8 children, but I digress. Once again, in 2003, all those older ladies were amazed at my refreshing choice of colors and my interpretation of ancient techniques. I can’t help it that I’m in love with lime green and turquoise and orange. I’m just not a traditionalist.

During that first eight months in Africa, we found ourselves serendipitously placed by the Lord in a duplex in Table View, a suburb just north of Cape Town. At that time, we weren’t doing anything in the way of “street ministry” or anything else. God was adjusting us to life overseas with small children and had us in a very unique place. Well, wouldn’t you know it, we noticed that the lady across the street from us was doing pottery in her garage. So I walked across the street to inquire about it. Well it turns out, she was not only doing pottery, but she was teaching it as well. Right there in her garage. Two kilns, two potters wheels. Right across the street. Brad said to me, “Jen there’s no question at all. You have to take a class from her. God dropped it on our doorstep!” Literally. So entered 3-D. I enjoyed it. I loved it! I loved the feeling of the clay in my hands. I liked throwing little bowls. I liked painting the greenware with glazes. I liked building things with my hands. It was a great time. I’ve kept a few of those things.

Others eventually broke or I ended up giving them away. And while I loved the whole aspect of working with clay, I somehow just decided it wasn’t for me for the long-term. Maybe I’ll do it again. But I’m not crazy enough about it to go out to the local river and try to find clay and build a kiln here. I know others who have done that. But all the physics and math and chemistry process that go into sculpting in clay is not for me. I love the “IDEA” of it. But not the daily practice of it. It’s just too much work.

I want instant art gratification.

So…let’s see….that was 2003. And why does it seem like 2004-2008 are a blur to me? We lived in 4 different countries, had 4 pregnancies, 1 miscarriage, 3 babies, moved into our village…into a house with no bathroom and no kitchen and no running water and….okay….now I know why it was a blur.

Enter Art Journaling magazine and Cloth, Paper, Scissors.

It was at this time during 2008 I think that I discovered the world of mixed-media art. I was so drawn to it. I devoured magazines that Mom sent me, longing for the “know-how” and the time to do it. I bought a few books. One of them was The Artistic Mother by Shona Cole, another mom of 6 children who has learned how to incorporate her art into her daily life. That inspired me greatly. But still, I didn’t know how to “do” art again. No time to stitch. No time to sketch. Definitely no time to paint. My art supplies were in storage in the States. There was an unquenchable longing to create. Now, I know some people who are amazingly creative and their medium is baking. One friend in South Africa who has a daughter that does the most amazing birthday cakes. That’s not me. That’s not my medium. Neither is cooking. I am a creative cook. And I cook all the time. But it’s not my art. It’s not where I am fulfilled expressing the creative spark from within me. I know that. I’m one of those people that is on a constant “self-discovery” journey.

We’ve been like that in missions as well. Someone once said, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you kiss the prince.” Well, in missions, we’ve done some work with orphans. We’ve done some work with food programs. We’ve done some other “humanitarian” stuff. And that’s not us. I am a wife and mommy who lives in a culture completely different from the one in which I was raised. THAT is my gifting. To support my husband and my family in difficult living circumstances. Our mission ministry is evangelism and church-planting. We’re so grateful that God has placed people here to feed orphans and such. It is a HUGE need. Well, we feed hungry people here….I’m not saying we turn away hungry mouths. But that’s not WHY we are here. Brad’s passionate about entering a village that’s never seen a white face and never heard the Name of Jesus. THAT is what we’re about…but I digress….I was talking about art…hold on, backing up out of the rabbit hole….

Finally Creating Art Again

What’s especially interesting is that I’ve been looking at those Art Magazines since about 2009. They are ones that my mom would buy to peruse and then send to me when she was done with them. Anyway…I’ve had a longing to make visual art again. And so at the beginning of 2015, Brad and I started trying to make it a daily habit of praying for each other right before bed. You’d think after 16 years of marriage (at that time) we would have already been in the habit of doing that. But if you know anyone who has children or if you have children yourself, especially more than 4, you know how your time is full of good intentions, but reality is often a different story. Well, as I’m writing this, we’ve slacked off a bit with this pray for each other thing. But for most of 2015 we prayed daily for each other. We shared 3 requests with each other and that’s what we brought to the Throne of God each night. One of my requests was that I would be able to actually pursue some mixed-media art journaling in practice and discover if that was one of the ways I could find a creative outlet. Well, several things happened through the year that brought me to where I am now in this journey.

In the past, I’ve gotten some supplies together to try to make a daily practice out of art, especially when we go to South Africa and have a baby and I want to save mementos and keep a visual journal (quasi-scrapbook) about our time. However, I haven’t been accustomed to making it part of my daily life. So in June of 2016, after having prayed for months about my explorations in art and after having discovered how many talented artist there are on Instagram (and Facebook as well, incidentally), I finally committed to doing the ICAD Challenge put on by DaisyArt. Basically, you do something visually creative on an index card for 61 days (all of June and July). It was a great jumpstart for me back into creating visual art and realizing, also, that I can just do some paint swatches or doodle with a pen or paint something that “feels” like art to me. Index Card Art is a great way to experiment with new techniques or different products without feeling like you are wasting supplies. I had a great time doing all those miniature artworks. And I was able to be more intentional about incorporating art into my daily life.

When August started, I was at a bit of a loss as to “what to do now.” But the embers had been reignited and I started approaching my daily life with some creativity in mind. Since then, I’ve had a real desire to paint whimsical faces. At least once or twice a week, I have been drawing, sketching or doodling or painting a lady’s face in some form. Enough that my two budding children artists have started doing faces as well. It’s really exciting to me to see how my interest in developing my own style and pursuing my art has trickled down to my children. Can’t wait to see how this progresses over the next few years!

Check out my Instagram feed by clicking on the IG icon in the right column to see some of my current artwork and projects.

Building, Construction, Process

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Family Life Anecdote

I’m cleaning up the kitchen after breakfast with friends here – a family of 6 – and Gunnar, 13, comes in to wash oil-based paint off his hands. He uses some dishsoap liquid (Maq) and comments, “I don’t like this one as much as Sunlight.” I didn’t respond for a few minutes. Then he says, “This one doesn’t foam as nicely.” And I say, “Wait a minute….I’m still trying to process the first statement coming out of a 13 year old’s mouth! These are things that don’t come out of the average American 13 year old’s mouth! I’m so glad I have children that are above average!” (I chose those words “above average” so I didn’t put the moniker of “abnormal” or “weird” or “crazy fruitcake” into his impressionable 13 year old head. I’m really trying to watch what I say around them and speak life into them! He responds, “Well, the average American 13 year old wouldn’t have an opinion on dishsoap because he doesn’t do dishes, or if he does, he sticks them in the machine, then puts that little tablet of whatever it is in there, turns it on, then goes to play PSP. Except they probably don’t play PSP anymore, but whatever!”

So for awhile we’ve been wanting to take in a shed that was attached to our pantry. In fact, before Christmas, Brad and the two older boys ripped the roof off of it, rendering it completely useless for the duration of rainy season (which lasted from December until April). That was a bit unfortunate because it’s where we store things that we don’t need in the house (think of it like a garage of sorts, but not big). We have no closets, so our warmer clothes and sleeping bags and camping stuff is packed away in foot lockers and stored in this shed). So we moved all the stuff to the Long Drop (that’s a latrine with a lid on the hole and a shed around it). The idea was that they’d start demolition and reconstruction, but then with the rains and a month and a half of sickness, the wind was knocked out of our sails. Then we also had the issue of floor plan. From my understanding, when married people are building any physical structure together this is always a source of disagreement, to put it mildly. He has in his mind one idea, from which he has no intention of deviating. And she has in her mind the way things really ought to be. And she’s right of course! Chill out, that’s a joke!!!! Well, for us, I wanted an extended room that would make my kitchen bigger (since it was originally tacked on to our walk-in pantry). Brad wanted more of a living room area, but had envisioned a very large one. We didn’t really have to compromise as such, because it took so many months to decide in the first place. When it all came down to it, we decided we want to have to lay a bigger foundation (for the time being) than the one we already had. We just wanted to enlarge the room. We both felt complete peace about that decision.

And so we got our contractor and discussed it with him. Now, you have to get out of your head the American idea of a contractor. I have friends who are contractors that are brilliant! That’s not the case here. The man who is our contractor is a local pastor who also works as a bricklayer (of mud bricks, mind you). He built our current houses (we have 2 separate structures – one for sleeping and one for eating that are joined by a veranda or porch). Quality control here is not a high priority like it is in our home culture. But this friend of ours can measure correctly and can mix cement (ratio-wise) that is fairly strong and reliable. That’s pretty much what is required. So they started what we projected to be maybe a 3 week job. Back home, it would have only taken about a week, tops. But more than likely about 3 days. Simple plan really…fill in a 3 foot high stairwell to take in as part of the new foundation, build a rectangular room with a corner half-bath. Install ceiling beams, tin, sand on top for insulation, then roofing beams and tin on top of that. Install front door and bathroom door. Brad installed the windows (which we haven’t sealed yet because he has to buy sealant in Pemba – 4 hours away). Well, as is not unusual here, the job has stretched into 2 months of sporadic labor, and the doorjambs were finally installed a few days ago by the workers (without the contractor here). Well, they installed them completely crooked. The bathroom door is narrower at the bottom than the top. And the front door is wonky-warped. It appears both will have to chiseled out and re-cemented.

And so we wait. We wait because the contractor is busy helping his son build an adobe hut. We wait because somebody’s brother’s cousin died and the workers have a funeral to attend. We wait because we need to learn patience. We wait because This Is Africa. We used to say, “TAB!” That’s Africa, Baby! Until we saw the movie Blood Diamond, in which the main character uses the acronym, “TIA – This is Africa.” And it’s true. It’s beautiful and rugged and right now it’s a huge dustbowl where we live, but it is Africa. It’s different than the city in which I grew up in Texas. It’s different than the United States. But for now, it’s home. It’s the only home my children have ever known. It’s how we roll. And one day, we’ll have a couch or sofa in the Alcove (that’s the name I’m contemplating for the new room, in which there will be no toys…and the adults, when we have guests over, will sit and drink tea and coffee) and it will be finished, complete with paintings by our British missionary friend hung on the wall. And the doors will fit and close snugly. But for now, it’s in process! The story of my life. Process.

If any of you might have seen my Facebook or Instagram post, we had an interesting incident with the very curious and adventurous toddler. I was making granola in the kitchen (the first window in the red house) when I heard Magnum exclaim, “Mom, Thunder is on the roof!” I literally was up to my elbows in mess and wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, so I told him to call Daddy. When I exited, I understood. Magnum was standing at the top of the ladder so Thunder wouldn’t fall. Thunder was up on top of the roof before they laid the roofing tin. He had climbed the ladder in the following picture (where the workers had left it) and was standing up on top of the edge of the roof with a somewhat surprised look on his face. Thank God that He always protects us! And oh that I had had my phone in my hand to take a picture, but I guess some situations call for wisdom. Like rescuing the toddler from a potentially lethal fall.

IMG_20160802_163053As I’m typing this, they have just ripped out the door jams and are re-cementing them in correctly. And I’m working on our newsletter and our new surprise…..a VLOG!!!!

If you’d like to subscribe to our newsletter, you can check out our Facebook page here. Or you can go to our website here. It is out of date, but that’s the other project I’m starting is updating the website.

Thanks for taking time out of your day to read. I’d love it if you replied with a comment or sent a message otherwise. It really means a lot when I hear from “the outside world!”

Until next time….

Jen

Re-Introduction – I’m Back!!!

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So, I’ve decided to attempt to restart my blog. If any of you have visited here in the past, you have seen that even when I started I wasn’t an AVID blogger by any shake of the stick. But recently our communication lines have opened up such that I’ve discovered many new friends on Instagram and Periscope (mostly artists), and it occurred to me that I should at the very least update our 3 year old website and possibly even try to start blogging. Some obstacles I’ve faced as contemplating this are that there is such a culture out there of stay-at-home moms blogging as a way to make income for their family. I think that’s great! It’s wonderful! But it’s not for me. In fact, everytime I think about making money (however that happens) off of a blog, I get a sick feeling in my stomach. Literally! Another factor I’ve had to consider is that I feel like I have “nothing to offer.” Now, that’s not me being down on myself. It’s just that if you look at so many blogs out there, there’s lots of “tips” and “tricks” and “encouragements” and “teachings.” That’s not me! If somebody learns something from me, it’s just from me being me. It’s not because I’m a gifted encourager or teacher, because I’m not! I am who I am and I’m learning more and more everyday who that is and who that is not! So basically, I just want a little “corner” on the web where I can share my ramblings that give you a peek into our life. Life in the bush. The ups and downs and ins and outs of a Texan Christian missionary living in a village of mud huts in Africa. With 8 children. The only white family in our district (like a county). I hope you find this peek into my world encouraging in some way!

In the next few days, I hope to have a surprise to go along with our new newsletter, but it’s taking me a little time and brainwaves to organize it, neither of which I have in abundance at the moment! So, a little grace, if you will…

Back log on newsletters

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How does one keep up with 7 children, a husband, newsletters, a website, & updating FB page? I have no idea?!?! I’ve visited a few blogs or websites maintained by moms of lots of children and I have no earthly idea how they do it! My brain has the capacity for it, but somewhere between making chips, popcorn & 3 meals a day and the computer, my brain becomes mush! All I want to do is sit still and listen to nothing! But since I’m trying to finalize the latest newsletter & the internet seems to be working & I’ve already ignored the children for breakfast and lunch and skipped my meals (basically) as well, I guess I should try to update the links to the latest newsletters. It seems as if maybe our last one was not put up on the blog either. Wow, but just the dashboard of this blog site scares me….it doesn’t seem to me quite as user-friendly as I originally thought. Also, I’d like to start posting a bit more, but most blogs are full of photos….and this one probably will not be, as the connection isn’t always reliable. We’ll see what I can manage.