So Long Summer!

I had a great summer. It was flipping hot. This was August 13, coming back out to my car in a parking lot somewhere. 

Aside from the heat, which honestly is expected here (it is North Carolina, after all, and they don't make too much of a secret that it's HOT in the summertime), we had some great experiences. To recap:

  • I sent my parents on an LDS mission to Kobe, Japan. (really, I participated from afar)
  • Rowen finished 6th grade with flying colors & good friends. Being 12 is really, really hard.
  • I spent 6 days in the woods with my kid at Girls' camp. Sweaty. Oh, so sweaty. I actually don't think I've ever sweated that much during one 7-day stretch. But totally disconnected from modern life & convenience, living in tents, hiking, tubing, swimming, rock climbing, the works. I loved it, and so did she. Best quote, said during the grueling 2.5 mile hike up the mountain to Hanging Rock, NC? "Heavenly Father made this view just for you, hoping that you'd go up and see it. So let's go." 
  • We went to the Oregon coast for a week (and then had 2 weeks at home without kids! yeah!) Drove to sights along the coast, dined on the most amazing Belgian waffles at the Chalet in Newport, OR, and ate lunch at a GREAT biker bar-turned Vietnamese restaurant with Jared's extended family - including his 94-year-old Grandma. Now that is a memorable sentence, right there. Break it down. ;)
  • We spent the 4th of July in Jacksonville, FL with my soul sister (aka Sister-in-Law) and their 9 kids, plus grandparents. 
  • After 1 1/2 years of homeschool (from mid 4th through all of 5th grade), I sent Elliott to 6th grade at public school, along with Rowen, who was entering 7th. They started school the end of July. This one has caused a lot of stress and worry for me over the past several months - to enroll, not to enroll? Would he be ready? It's mid-september now, and things are going really, really well.
  • Celebrated my 41st birthday the end of August. Rowen baked me a red velvet cake with buttercream frosting from scratch, and I got breakfast in bed!
  • I volunteered to help out with spirit wear this year at the kids' school. I have been designing the t-shirts, which we'll sell at our gear drive in October. I've done t-shirts for my own events in the past - both for Capoeira and for Spraguefest, and I've decided I REALLY like making t-shirts
  • I'm in the works making another shirt for the Triangle Survivors of Suicide annual walk to raise awareness. I volunteered after being asked by my counselor and her husband - he lost an adult son to suicide, and formed the local chapter. I'll show you that design when it's finalized. 

Next Post! -JS

Photoshop Friday : Create a Custom Brush

Hey there! I'm excited to bring back some Photoshop Friday fun! Below you'll find a helpful video that will show you how to create a Custom Brush!

In addition to the video tutorial, you will receive a layered PSD template to make your own digital layout and you will receive a PDF instruction sheet. Not only do these PDFs have all of the video instructions in written format, but they also are full of gorgeous layouts from our Creative Team. They will show you how to take the technique you learned and apply it to a different layout for a whole new look. How cool is that?!

Here is a look at my layout and a sneak peak of the template that you will be working with today

Step 1: Downloads


3. Click here to download the PDF. Make sure that you have the most current version of Adobe Reader found here.

 

Step 2: Video Tutorial

Here you can watch the video tutorial. It was filmed in Photoshop Elements, but it works the same in Photoshop CS3/CS4/CS5.

Step 3: Complete & Share

Create your layout with the Photoshop Friday template and customize it with your own pictures and digi supplies. When you are done, tag us or share it on my Facebook page, Pinterest it and let the world see the beauty you've created! I would love to see your creations!

Photoshop Friday : Repeat Type For A Title Block

Hey there! I'm excited to bring back some Photoshop Friday fun! Below you'll find a helpful video that will show you how to repeat text to make a title block! This great technique enhances the title of a page and makes it very unique. 

In addition to the video tutorial, you will receive a layered PSD template to make your own digital layout and you will receive a PDF instruction sheet. Not only do these PDFs have all of the video instructions in written format, but they also are full of gorgeous layouts from our Creative Team. They will show you how to take the technique you learned and apply it to a different layout for a whole new look. How cool is that?!

Here is a look at my layout and a sneak peak of the template that you will be working with today

Step 1: Downloads


2. Click here to download the PDF. Make sure that you have the most current version of Adobe Reader found here.

 

Step 2: Video Tutorial

Here you can watch the video tutorial. It was filmed in Photoshop Elements, but it works the same in Photoshop CS3/CS4/CS5.

Step 3: Complete & Share

Create your layout with the Photoshop Friday template and customize it with your own pictures and digi supplies. When you are done, tag us or share it on my Facebook page, Pinterest it and let the world see the beauty you've created! I would love to see your creations!

Photoshop Friday : Using a Scanned Item

Hey there! I'm excited to bring back some Photoshop Friday fun! Below you'll find a helpful video that will show you how to use a scanned photo! This great technique will add some flare to any photo, making it look even better than before! This is a great concept for you to show off those cute little finger and footprints from birth, the lace in your grandmother's wedding dress, a dried flower petal from your great grandmother's wedding bouquet and more. 

In addition to the video tutorial, you will receive a layered PSD template to make your own digital layout and you will receive a PDF instruction sheet. Not only do these PDFs have all of the video instructions in written format, but they also are full of gorgeous layouts from our Creative Team. They will show you how to take the technique you learned and apply it to a different layout for a whole new look. How cool is that?!

Here is a look at my layout and a sneak peak of the template that you will be working with today.

Step 1: Downloads

 


Click here to download the PDF. Make sure that you have the most current version of Adobe Reader found here.

Step 2: Video Tutorial

Here you can watch the video tutorial. It was filmed in Photoshop Elements, but it works the same in Photoshop CS3/CS4/CS5.

Step 3: Complete & Share

Create your layout with the Photoshop Friday template and customize it with your own pictures and digi supplies. When you are done, tag us or share it on my Facebook page, Pinterest it and let the world see the beauty you've created! I would love to see your creations!

Don't forget to check out the Family History Series, where you can create a gorgeous Family History tree poster, a gorgeous album showcasing your family through generations (great idea for this Photoshop Friday lesson!) and learn how to restore all those photos your family has collected over the years. Head over and check out the Family History Series! 

Here's a preview of two of the pages of the album as well as the Family Tree Poster!

Photoshop Friday: FamilySearch.org Tutorial

Hey there! I'm excited to bring back some Photoshop Friday fun! Today we're doing something a little different from the usual Photoshop Friday tutorials. With the Family History classes rolling out on my website, I know a lot of people are interested and want a taste of what we're doing in those classes, so here's a helpful video that will show you how to use FamilySearch.org to begin building your own family tree. 

Let's go ahead and get started!

After viewing this tutorial, feel free to jump over to the Family History Album course and view lesson 1 for free! To take the first lesson free, when you get to the purchase page, scroll to the middle of the page. You'll see Course Curriculum. There you can click "Preview" to start Lesson 1!

In Memoriam: Elie Wiesel

This is the Instagram feed for #eliewiesel as it is going on right now. So cool. 

You must select a collection to display.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, memoirist, professor, and humanitarian, died on July 2. His masterpiece is his memoir of his experience in two different concentration camps during World War II. If you haven't read it yet, or lately, I recommend it. 

I first read "Night" by Elie Wiesel in my high school English class. I grew up in a very small town (of 1200) in the middle of Idaho, and this was the first time I ever remember being punched breathless by a book. At 15, I couldn't EVER have imagined that there had been a horror like this in human history. It widened my world, changed me, haunts me to this day, and I will love my teacher forever for giving me that experience. I will love this book forever for that, too - in that "thanks for the hard lesson and for returning me a handful of my own teeth" kind of way. 

Elie Wiesel died yesterday, and I think the celebration - the mourning of his passing, yes - but the celebration of his eloquence and the weight of his words because of the horror he suffered is a perfect counterpoint to the celebrations we're having this weekend for Independence Day. "Night" is one of the supreme accounts of the Holocaust, and the lifetime of humanitarian work and speaking out for the silent and suffering he spent after his experience is what we can remember. That we must never allow human beings to be treated like this again. 

There are millions of people on earth RIGHT NOW who - while not being herded into camps to die - are running for their lives from hatred, oppression, and war. Are being turned away at the doors of country and city and state. 

We say this weekend, "Let Freedom Ring," and we relish the victory here in our own country. That freedom has its costs (you know, so every jerk with a megaphone can say whatever he wants, right? But so can I, and that's what matters). NO PRICE is too high to pay so that all the world might join us in celebration of freedom - from war, from oppression, from terror. 

In remembrance of Elie Wiesel and our commitment to honor the humanity of every human being, maybe we could do a little something extra this weekend - a little donation to humanitarian relief, a little love for the people around us who are different, a little more love for that flag of freedom, a little longer on our knees in prayer for the silent and suffering. 

Rest in peace, Mr. Wiesel. At long last, be at peace.

Welcome to the Beginner Throwdown. You In?

Are you a beginner at something? Consider this the first move in The Beginner Throwdown Challenge. 

You are challenged to put a new skill on display for the world to see. Have you (or did you) start something - anything - after the age of ~30? 

I'll go first.

Me and my (yet to be named) violin!

Me and my (yet to be named) violin!

I mentioned in my earlier post that I've been playing violin for a total of about 11 months (it's 14 months since I started). And I also mentioned, although it bears repeating, that it's really hard to do. Part of what makes it hard is knowing I'm not there yet. Really not anywhere yet. And being ok with that, and still showing up at the music stand every day.

But I was also pretty overwhelmed with the number of comments and emails from other women, who have started playing an instrument or learning a new skill as an adult. First off: I am so stinking proud of you. You make me want to keep showing up at the music stand, forever.

So, because you make me brave, imma lay this following rendition of my very favorite LDS hymn right out there for you. I just set up my phone by my practice spot, and after a few restarts, here we go! 

We Are Not Too Old. Not Ever. 

I'm actually a little surprised how nervous I am to post this. It's hard to be a beginner, but it's WAY HARDER to be a beginner where other people can see. The "what I'm doing" doesn't matter. The "how good you are" doesn't matter either. The part that DOES matter is this: 

WE ARE NOT TOO OLD TO BEGIN.  

That is the truth for the lie, right there. The Lie? That at 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 we are simply too old to start something we always wanted to do. Music. Dance. A language. Flying a plane. Theater. Woodworking. Glass-blowing. Sailboarding. Hang-gliding. Photography. Gardening. Voice lessons. It's all out there, waiting to be embraced. Made part of you. 

I think that the hardest part is that we're afraid that in our beginner-ness, when we're flapping like baby birds, that other people are gonna think we're too old. Why are you bothering, woman? Isn't it time you just went gracefully into that good night? 

Well, haters (and especially that inner hater who puts this stuff on repeat and keeps us from our dreams), I say hell no I will not.

Until your last day on Earth, you have the right and the responsibility to keep learning, keep improving, keep beginning at things you want to, no matter how many wrinkles (or kids, or miles on your car, or candles on your cake, or aches in your back) you have accumulated. Consider that video up there (whew, so hard to post) your permission slip. I've wanted for years to be able to make music and there by the grace of God, I can.  

Now You: What Have You Begun? What Will You Start?

So here's the throwdown. Let's see YOU in your beginner glory! Have you started playing an instrument? Are you learning a new art or crafting skill? Started taking Photoshop classes (ahem...)? Maybe it's yoga or programming. Doesn't matter. But I hope you share it. So hike up those big girl pants, post an image or a vid or tell a story about what you've begun, and then CHALLENGE someone else. 

NOTE: even if you aren't STILL a beginner, give us an image or a story of you when you were a grown-up beginner. :) 

Consider this your double-dog dare. Let the throwdown begin. And I'll think of a prize. Post here, tag on FB, or let's use the #beginnerthrowdown hash on Pinterest and Instagram. Ah! I can't wait! :) 

xo,

-JS

I started Violin Lessons at 39.

I don't consider myself to be a musician. An writer, yes. A designer, yes. An artist - probably. A musician? Nope. I once played a little piano, a little guitar. Jared plays the guitar pretty well, and we put Elliott in violin when he turned 7, because that was the instrument he wanted to play. I've mentioned several times how amazing it is to hear live music being played in my house. But I haven't told you this story yet. ;) First though, as always: backstory.

Meeting Ms. Petia

By total chance in 2012 we met an extraordinary woman named Petia Radneva-Manolova. She had recently moved to the area from California (via Bulgaria, where she was born, and she'd been playing with orchestras all over the world). Elliott and I both loved her immediately, not only for her warmth and humor and excellence at teaching - because she truly LOVES showing people how to play - but for her incredible relationship to the violin as an extension of herself, even something MORE than herself.

Ms. Petia. at Elliott's recital, december 2015

Ms. Petia. at Elliott's recital, december 2015

She understands and relishes the  opportunity to reach people right down to their souls. It's partly the magic of live music, especially when it's played by a virtuoso, and right in front of you. And it's way more than skill, and even more than art, although it's both of those things. Her playing is transcendent.

I am an exaggerator. I know it. Everything is Awesome for me, as the Lego song says. And it's at times like these, when I find myself sitting as she plays for us at the end of a lesson, with my eyes closed to the heavens and tears streaming down my face, that I regret all my exaggerations, because I have no words left to explain what her playing IS for me. It's spirit, and love, and a mountain stream, and the fog rolling in off the sound. It's hope, and goodness, and dancing in dappled light, and the joy of larks in the morning. It's the voice of God. 

I told her (and this was not even entirely a joke) that if she didn't mind, could I just set up a little pillow and snacks in the corner while she practiced and taught lessons? Elliott teases me because I've cried at every lesson I've attended. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, and didn't have an opportunity to hear live classical music until I was an adult. So maybe that's why her work is so breathtaking to me. Why I really do cry every time she plays. She should probably actually be a little creeped out by me. I'm glad she's not. 

Indeed, she seemed really delighted - truly, deeply delighted, when I told her last February that I'd like to learn to play. I wouldn't have been brave enough if it weren't for her, and for my son. And so about 14 months ago, it began.

in the beginning: it was hard.

In our very first lesson, Petia told me that the violin is the most difficult instrument to learn how to play. This is apparently a matter of some dispute among musicians, especially if you play the french horn or the oboe. But no guitarist or pianist who really knows is going to argue the point, and neither will I.

Example: It took me - when I was 8 - about an hour to learn how to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on the piano one-handed. On the violin - at age 39 - it took me a week.

My violin, and "The Red book"

My violin, and "The Red book"

With the violin, there is just more - a lot more - that you have to keep a handle on, in order to even make a single respectable sound. Aside from the usual musical stuff like finding the note on your instrument and keeping time as you find the next one and the next, there is also the fact that right and left hands are doing completely different things - at different angles and levels of pressure. You can't push too hard, or move the bow too slowly in relationship to that pressure, or pull the bow down at a cross angle. Notes are a lot harder to find with the left hand because there aren't keys or frets. Although - you can see in the photo above, she puts stripes on to help the beginners. As you progress in skill, you get to take one stripe off, and then two, etc. Note the THREE stripes I still have.

But here's the big one: The harder you try, the worse it sounds. The violin will not be dominated. You cannot bend it to your will - you have to lower yourself in and find the perfect balance of position and angle and pressure and timing and emotion and find the note and coax it out. All while standing there and trying to find the F sharp that comes next and trying not to ding the E string because you overcorrected on the way over to the A. And then do it in an instant for the next note and the next. 

And to top it all off (this might be a matter of dispute - the french horn and oboe players haven't weighed in), badly-played violin sounds worse than any other badly-played instrument. And it's VERY easy to play badly.

One year later: it's still hard.

I've kept at it. Had to take a break for a few months, but in February I graduated to "The Red Book," which is the second in the Belwin String Builder series we mainly use in lessons. That was a really proud day. I have, if not full mastery, at least a working knowledge of such noble classics as "The Dancing Bears" and "The Happy Camel" and "The Caterpillar." Now I'm on to greater heights with "The Muffin Man." So Look Out. ;) 

I've also been bringing in the LDS Hymnbook every week and picking songs from it to work on in addition to the lessons. Being able to play "Come, Come Ye Saints" as a violin solo - much as the pioneers might have played it at their campfires on the plains - has been one of my best accomplishments (oh, and you can see that right here). I dearly love that song, and I dearly love being able to play it through with mostly all the notes. :)

A year later, I'm struggling with a lot of the same stuff. I push on the strings too hard, and I always, always overcorrect. The angle of bow between the two middle strings is about 4 inches, and I find myself dinging the next string over A LOT when I'm trying to switch between them. Because I'm nervous, and a perfectionist, and I try hard. And the violin isn't about trying hard. Practicing hard, yes. But pushing too hard, no. And I'm wound pretty tightly, as you already know. NOT trying hard, is really hard. Relaxing, letting go, trusting that the fingers and bow will make it there, THAT is hard. And it's also entirely the reason I will keep playing.

Here's why I keep playing: flow

I've been told it takes a lot of courage to begin something like this as an adult. And I guess so. I have at least 20 years on every one of my fellow-students of Ms. Petia's. And I play songs like "The Happy Camel" with as much quiet dignity as I can muster. I know what they really mean, though - is that it's hard as an adult to go into something really big as a beginner, knowing that you'll be sucky at it for a really long time. You might never get beyond the sucky phase at all, and as an adult that's a kind of defeat you see right from the start. 

But.

Every so often I play a mostly-perfect song. A really decent song, right at the top of my skill range, with a minimum of dinged strings and notes I forgot I needed to sharp or hold another count - and I feel the magic of it. Magic that I made or was part of in a way that's beyond just a person standing there with wood and horsehair in her hands. The playing becomes, for a minute or two, its own living thing I'm participating in the creation of, rather than being the sole creator. 

It's been called rapture. Some psychologists and artists call it flow. I'm going to talk about flow in a future post. It's a precious thing, and a lot of people would give up careers and fame and fortune just to pursue that flow every day, just to have it for a handful of minutes at a time. To be fully alive and aware, and somehow touching, by your ordinary action, the intangible strings of creation itself. 

Everyone has flow experiences

I know you know what I mean. Feeling an expanded, perfected universe of possibility in the context of a very narrow circumstance. Making a drawing. Making a scrapbook page. Making a meal. Playing a song on the violin. Rapture. Being able to reach that state - even for a few minutes now and then - is an enlightening and enlivening experience like no other. A HUMAN experience like no other. I've found that along with the other ways I know I can achieve flow (drawing and handcrafting and digital scrapbooking), I can achieve it in violin, and I'm hanging on to that.

I love the great sounds I make, more than I dislike the terrible ones I make. I love my teacher. I love striving for that flow when I practice and play. And frankly, I really LIKE being a beginner. As someone who is a teacher for a living, I have a ton of admiration for anyone who decides at 30 or 40 or 50 or 60+ to learn something complicated like Photoshop. And putting myself at the beginning of something worthy-but-complicated keeps me humble and appreciative. :)

Okay. Your Turn! 

1. Have you begun anything as an adult that say took great courage to start as a beginner? 

2. When was the last time you felt flow? What were you doing? Can you describe it?

3. I need a name for my violin. Ms. Petia's fiesty French lady is named Matilda. Elliott's half-size was named Hans, and his new 3/4 size is named Gretta. What should mine be? 

xo,

-JS