Altered Selves

In my work as an Art Therapist and Licensed Counselor, I am helping adolescents and adults dealing with substance abuse issues.  We have been creating “altered books” as a means for journaling and self-expression. I have come to see the altered book as a metaphor for the physical body, and its alteration from substance abuse.

I am using hardcover books – cast-offs gathered from friends and the local Goodwill thrift store – that my clients have reinvented and redefined to hold words, images and transformed paper; the altered book releases feelings and communicates ideas. Covers are collaged and fixed with Mod Podge, and then about 1/3 of the existing pages are torn out from the book to relieve the binding and allow space to add new works.

This has been a powerful art experience for everyone. While there are wildly creative and endless possibilities, here are a few images from my own journal just to give the idea. A special thanks to those friends who have rallied to collect books for this ongoing project.

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Light & color: making marks

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Fairy Condos

Adding some pint size (maybe more half-gallon) magic to the property this spring with milk cartons, acrylics, Sharpies, stickers, varnish, sticks and glue gun…
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Question Box

The older I get, the less able I am to multitask. Or, perhaps it’s not age but hours of sleep I miss each night (see previous posting :). Either way, after tending to the household tasks, little ones’ needs, and work prep, by the end of the day I can only focus on one thing at a time.

It’s possible that this is in fact the time of day when my daughter’s charming curiousity cuts loose and needs the likes of Google-for-preschoolers to sate her questions: “Why do princesses have so many dresses? How did the creator create the world? Where did I come from?” Truth be told, there have been times I’ve just had to ask her to stop talking so I can finish the thought in my own head.

Several days ago I vented to our beloved Auntie Beth who, without blinking, offered up the idea of a Question Box – a special place to hold the question until I have time to give her the attention she seeks.

Using cardboard scraps and a glue gun, I constructed a small box with a piggy bank type slot on the top and a flap on the bottom to access the question cards.
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Elena decorated the outside of the box with tissue papers and aluminum foil. While the glue dried, she furiously worked on index cards drawing symbols and letters to record her thoughts. IMG_0946 Thankfully, collecting her questions in the box will allow me a little time to prepare my responses. “Why did the creator make bananas? Was that before the dinosaurs?” and “How does Peter Pan fly?”. I’ve got some research to do.IMG_0948


Spontaneous Art Making – 101

Just before bed time last night, our daughter was inspired to make her 1 year old brother a pirate boat out of wood. In the basement wood shop she had her first lesson with her dad on using power tools. Furious that there was no time left to paint the boat before going to bed, we urged her to come up with a color plan. We drew a picture of a boat and encouraged her to plan out her colors. Off she went to bed and continued to draw, filling her notebook with countless drawings of pirate boats. Today, she had her first color mixing lesson and finished the boat. A most charming experience to watch.IMG_4391IMG_4395IMG_4400


Sheet Mulch: where the Princess meets permaculture

There are three stages to the life cycle of corrugated cardboard: it arrives as a shipping container, becomes an enchanted fairy princess castle, is put to use restoring the soil.  Each has its purpose, but the last pays dividends for a long, long time.

During our renovation, new appliances arrived packed in lots of cardboard.  I was as excited for the packaging as for the appliances.  The cardboard was repurposed quickly, as a fairy princess castle was ordered.  I was up to that challenge.  Many years back, I transformed, for my Nephew, some boxes into an underwater cave surrounded with schools of fish.  Image 1

These days my ambitions are less grand and a few cuts with a sharp knife sufficed here.  The rest was left to our daughter’s imagination.  Of which she has plenty.

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Eventually that castle became part of the clutter in her room, and I was beginning to plan a large sheet mulch project.  I carefully broached the topic that her castle would become a part of the garden.  To my relief, she said, “That would be fine, Daddy.”

The corrugated cardboard became a key layer of the 12-inch sheet mulch for the 600 sf vegetable garden that we are preparing for next season.  We layered the materials in October to allow them to decompose over the winter.  IMG_4610

I first learned about sheet mulch from David Homa, of Post Carbon Maine.  He is a local maven of permaculture and gave me this list of ingredients: lawn, stone dust, crushed shells, seaweed, leaves, finished compost, newspaper, straw.

Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden, has an excellent discussion of sheet mulch.  His material list for “the perfect sheet mulch” is:

  1. newspaper, corrugated box cardboard without staples or tape. cloth, old clothing, or wool carpet, provided they contain no synthetic fabric, but these take far longer to decay than paper.
  2. Soil amendments: lime, rock phosphate, bonemeal, rock dust, kelp meal, blood meal, and so on.
  3. Bulk organic matter: straw, spoiled hay, yard waste, leaves, seaweed, finely ground bark, stable sweepings, wood shavings, or any mixture of these, ideally resulting in an overall C:N ratio of 100/1 to 30/1 about 4 to 8 cubic yards of loosely piled mulch for 100-200 square feet
  4. Compost, about 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cubic yard (6 to 12 cubic feet).
  5. Manure: 1⁄4 to 1 cubic yard,
  6. A top layer of seed-free material, such as straw, leaves, wood shavings, bark, sawdust, pine needles, grain hulls, nut husks, or seagrass. You will need roughly 1 cubic yard

There is a wealth of information available on the web, including this site with photos showing each step in the process:

http://permaculturenews.org/2012/07/20/gorgeous-gardens-from-garbage-how-to-build-a-sheet-mulch/

My own recipe was based on the materials on hand.  My first layer was about three inches of horse manure applied directly on top of the lawn.

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I scattered stone dust and then layered the corrugated box cardboard.   The cardboard was placed above the manure to create a barrier preventing hayseeds from sprouting.  Newspaper was used to fill in the gaps between the pieces of cardboard.

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Wood chips were spread thickly on top of the cardboard, and then, for bulk organic matter, we put maple leaves, grass clippings, end-of-season cuttings of comfrey, hosta and other perennials.  The brown – carbon – side seemed to be dominant, so to boost the nitrogen side, I mowed my neighbors lawn (with fallen maple leaves) and added that into the mix.  My neighbor was thrilled – and a bit incredulous – at my generosity, but I still think I got the better side of that trade.

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I would have liked to add seaweed into the mix, but I never found the time to get down to the shore.  Our final layer was loam, primarily as a weight to keep the leaves and clippings from blowing during late autumn storms.

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I would have liked to top dress everything with a layer of finished compost, but that can wait until spring.

Gone are the days of “double dig” garden beds, and whether the rationale is carbon sequestration or protecting the soil structure, my back definitely was better off for following the sheet mulch approach.  We are building the beds directly on top of the existing lawn.  I have no idea what our final C:N ratio was but I remain steadfast in my belief that nature is forgiving.  We were close enough, and will continue to add layers of rich organic mulch annually.

We have made a big step forward toward our sun-loving vegetable garden.

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Happy Holidays

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