Arts & Photography

Better than the Taj

One of our favorite days in India was spent on the outskirts of Jaipur, when we went looking for block print artisans.  Our friend Bela is from Jaipur and her father, sister-in-law, and nieces still live there — and agreed to accompany us to a small town where they new block printers were at work.  Swati (Bela’s sister-in-law) had once worked in a school in the town, which gave some direction to our search.

Finally, we stopped on a regular street — regular in the sense that there were camels passing by…

… and brightly decorated trucks parked along the side…

… and friendly people rushing over to see Kate when she emerged from the car.  A very ordinary experience, surrounded by ordinary sights, in this very extraordinary place.

Right beside all of this, there on the side of that road, in a three-walled shelter opening up to the street, were men carving extraordinary blocks.

Did I mention that they were extraordinary?

At first, they were a little uncertain about why we would even be interested.  Obviously we’re… tourists… right?  Except tourists don’t do this sort of thing.  When they saw how genuinely interested and curious we were, they opened up, showing some techniques and styles of their work.  And gave the kids a few blocks!  They laughed and smiled as the kids ooohed and aaaahed over the scorpion, elephants, and flowers these men had carved out of seemingly ordinary bits of wood.  Simply amazing.

The detail, precision, and layering of each pattern is truly beautiful.  In order for the printing to involve several colors, each pattern requires several complimentary patterns to layer over the first.  So the sizing, grouping, and shapes must be perfect for each set.  They were doing it all with a few small chisels and lengths of wood to use as hammers.

Really, really, beautiful work.

From there, the block artisans told us to go next door to see where their blocks were used… in the print building.  This particular print-maker was made members of a particular family, as is common in this trade.  The “factory” was upstairs.  So, after giving as many thanks as we could, we ventured next door.

Through a narrow doorway, over a flooded area of the ground floor where a pipe had recently leaked and was being repaired, then up some stairs… and…

Printing artisans were methodically using ink, blocks, and leveling tools to maintain precision in each stamp of the block.  Fabric was draped over huge long tables, with more fabric drying from lines across the ceiling above.

Fabric (for pillow cases and sheets) lay around the room in varying stages of production.

Layers are slowly added, color by color.  The pattern is applied stamp by stamp, with painstaking detail to line up each application.  Pieces of thin cardboard are used to make corners — they are placed across the fabric so that only certain portions of the block print, making solid corners.

Below is the block making the base pattern on these sheets:

Although they had to be surprised by our bold entry, the artists quickly put aside their work to show us around.  Then they insisted we try it, too.  They found a piece of pre-treated fabric, made some room, and gathered a few blocks making a layered pattern.  Then talked us through each step, giving everyone a chance to try.

The base pattern allows for the subsequent colors to layer on in the proper places.  The next blocks must be lined up with clues in the base pattern to keep everything together.

A good, hard, tap is needed to transfer the ink.

Kate loved practicing.

The artist helped guide Kate’s hand for the color application.

Will was more bashful.

It took him a few minutes to feel comfortable with trying — and he welcomed help.

Once the fabric is done with printing, it must be soaked in a few different wet mixes to set the color: this pink color below is actually light green when it finally dries!

The artist took our cloth to start treatment, and I spent a few minutes watching the other artists at work.  The focus, detail, and methods of the process were fascinating.

It did not take long for the fabric to be ready for rinse.

The treatment set the color for the fabric — it is now one of Kate’s scarves!

This is the final color for the pink/red pillowcases in the picture above, just to get a sense of how the colors change in the ink wash.

Here is what they look like after the printing and before the wash!

This block-printing is a well-established art in and around Rajasthan, India.  We feel so lucky to have had Swati and her nieces with us to both facilitate and share this amazing experience!

For more examples of block print fabrics, see my two favorite shops in India: Anokhi and Fab India!

Arts & Photography

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Cane Bayou… discovering Louisiana

To provide compassionate, respectful service in a place, I think it’s critically important to form a relationship with the natural environment that supports it.  So, part of understanding New Orleans in a way where you can truly make a difference within its populace means finding appreciation for the unique ecosystems that support and, in many ways, define the city.   With the disaster unfolding, the importance for our Fellows to develop a connection with our local environment was even more critical.  So, as part of their orientation retreat weekend, we went canoeing through Cane Bayou.  A private guide brought us through a mile of natural, undeveloped bayou — protected between a wildlife preserve and State Park.  We paddled out at dusk, ending up parked in the marsh along the edge of Lake Pontchartrain.  We ate boxed lunch dinners watching the sun set over the lake.  Then, as night fell, paddled back with the sounds and sights of the bayou around us.

It was pretty darn awesome.

Here are some pictures.

Arts & Photography
Life in New Orleans

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He wants candy.

It’s been more than 15 years since I helped Grandma Betty do it.  For some reason, the bug bit a few weeks ago.  I collected what supplies I needed, waited for it to arrive, then pulled out Grandma’s molds.

First, I was just going to make peanut butter cups.  But it was taking a while to melt the semi-sweet chocolate, so I decided to go ahead and make some lollipops, too.

candy 1

Paul took these pictures.  I have no idea how he didn’t get Will in the frame.  The kid spent the afternoon sweeping around me like a nervous junkie waiting for a fix.  I was all ready to let him help, but his shakes kept getting in the way and we had to find him a distraction.

candy 2

I remembered a lot of little Grandma tricks, but missed something critical.  Because when they were set, some of the chocolate remained on the mold.  Bah.

candy 3

Soooo… I hand-painted the red bulbs back on by hand.  It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.

candy 4

Will ate one after dinner — thumbs up from little man!

End result.  If you end up getting some of these chocolates, know that while it is a symbol that we care about you and value you in our lives, the true meaning is that Will cares so much about you that he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

candy 5

Arts & Photography
Mi Familia

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How many?


20,480 1×1 plate bricks.  20 base plates.

Arts & Photography

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Chip off my block.

Photo by Will, taken last weekend in City Park:

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Drawing of Mickey Mouse and Goofy, by Will, made in the morning hours before school:


Arts & Photography
Mi Familia

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Household Projects

Will draws.  He made this sitting in his bed and brought it to me before he returned to go to sleep.

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He also wrote this sentence in one of his many “books.” He read it to me, thankfully.  I needed help.

Translation: “When the storm comes to the city, run but you can’t hide.”


Kate has also got a project.  It has to do with Bugs Bunny.

Paul is also working on a project.   I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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It’s growing.  And has a lot (A LOT!) more growing to do.

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Arts & Photography
Mi Familia

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My new career?

The second cast went on week before last.  He’s in this one three weeks (removal day is October 1st).  If everything goes as planned, the arm will have remained unwashed for 6 weeks.

I was not there for cast removal and replacement, but the report was that Will’s dark blue X-wing cast (with autobot logo) made quite a stir.  The technicians cut carefully around the paintings and gave Will the cast to take home.  (Will has an uncanny fondness for things others would see as landfill fodder.)

So… anyone have a creative re-use idea for a full arm cast with an X-wing painted on it?


Last weekend, I fulfilled my promise of painting “Optimus Prime, ALL of him” on The Little Man’s arm cast.  He watched Mulan while I painted.  This time, he managed not to wipe his hand across the wet paint part way through, which really sped up painting time.

It was late in the afternoon and rainy, so it was tough to get a good picture.  That, and the fact that Will, once released from the grasp of Mulan’s comforting glow, WOULD NOT STAND STILL.   We’re outside, the ISO is on, like, 500 million, and the kid is STILL blurry.


He’s posing with the cut-out I used for sizing guidelines.  Because of the bend in the cast and the bumpy surface, both times I’ve used cut-outs to help determine appropriate spacing.  Not that the method produced perfect results, but it was enough to keep Will happy.

So, starting around October 2nd, anyone have ideas for re-using one full arm and one half arm cast??


PS: Please forgive my overuse of the comma. I’m just so very fond of it.

Arts & Photography

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A gift for the bride and groom, story told in pictures.

Arts & Photography

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Portrait of Ardis

Kate’s first caregiver, Ms. Gladys, (blog mentions of her are here) retired last week.  I used to hang out with Gladys when Kate was a baby. Usually it was to nurse (since Kate was adverse to the bottle and I am adverse to the pump) but sometimes when I’d go in for that afternoon feeding, it was hard to leave. I’d help out around the room, giving a bottle, changing a diaper, or rocking someone to sleep. The perk was that it meant I got to talk to Gladys. Gladys can tell it straight, but has a way of gently leading you to the answer so that you come to it in your own time. She is such a wonderful listener that it is easy to get carried away and babble on and on to her soft affirmations. Eventually, it got easier to ask her questions. This was how I learned about her daughter, Ardis, who died shortly before the Flood came and engulfed their home, taking with it most of their physical memories.

Abeona threw a big surprise retirement party for her last Saturday, with people there representing her 27 years of service.  We helped a friend put together a book, scanning pictures and sending photographs from Abeona’s first three years.  She did a fantastic job on the book, which included photos, stories from families, scanned art projects, and memories reflecting many years of work. But I wanted to do something else and asked for help from staff to make it happen.

As I understand, it took some serious work to get this photograph scanned — the last one taken of Ardis. 

As usual, I forgot about taking photographs of the process until I was well into the piece.

This was my toughest portrait to date, mostly because I was so very nervous to do it.  It felt very personal and, in a way, invasive to be doing this as a surprise.  She hadn’t asked me to do this because she felt I could do the job correctly — it was something I was just doing.  What if there was something I missed?

This is the only finished photograph I have — I didn’t take any of it in it’s frame.

Even now, I’m at a loss of what to say about it.

This is Ardis.  She was a beautiful, smart young woman born to an amazing, compassionate woman.  It was a pleasure to draw her.

Arts & Photography
Family Life in NOLA
Life in New Orleans

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Kindergarten is over.

Will has completed Kindergarten.

And will enter 1st grade in the fall.

Aren’t I too young to have a child in 1st grade?

Will made necklaces for his teachers as a thank-you for the year.  For a last minute OH SH!T gift idea that came to me at 11:40pm 2 days before the end of the school year, I think we pulled it off well.  It was just enough time to get the kids to make necklaces (“Mommy, can we make cookies?” “NO, YOU’RE MAKING A NECKLACE.”  “But I don’t want to make another right now.”  “TOO BAD.  GET TO WORK.”)

A.H. and Lulu: we owe you big-time.  Your b-day gift for Kate SAVED MY LAST-MINUTE ASS.

Here are Kate’s necklaces.  She got some help from Will (read: Will did it) on the one with some symmetry.  (Will LOVES symmetry.)

We had a bit more time for Will’s necklaces (he was in school one week longer than Kate).  Thank goodness, as we needed a few more ho-has to stretch our necklace-making capabilities.  The necklace to the left was made with pieces from another kit I got to stretch our supplies.  The only reason there is a necklace not done in a symmetrical fashion was because I encouraged Will to mix it up.

I adore the necklaces but what really got my heart was how he drew the flowery circles and hearts when he wrote out the envelopes.  (Can you tell he has a very special place in his heart for his English teacher, Roxanna?)

Will gave them out the day before school ended, which makes me feel pretty certain that he passed Kindergarten of his own academic merit, not for bribing his teachers with jewelry.

Arts & Photography
Life in New Orleans

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