Sunday, January 29, 2012

Quote of the Moment, No. 5 - A Quick Note about Friends

I have been sick with a hellacious phlegmy cough, snotty sneeze and hoarse throat, with a fever thrown in just for fun, this weekend. It's been enough to send me crawling under the covers for escape at every possible moment. In a state of wooziness, I pulled off my jeans after I arrived home from the first day of A.C.E.D. classes (which were awesome, despite my pitiful state), leaving them and the cellphone I had tucked into my front pocket in a jumble on my bedroom floor. I quickly pulled on pajamas and spent the afternoon in a deep sleep. When I awoke several hours later, I could not find my phone. I searched for it in all the places I typically leave it. I checked once, and I checked again. No luck. I needed to leave, so I could get to my parents' house. No one can make you feel better like your mom can, but I did not want to leave my place without my phone. I requested help from a couple of friends on facebook - I said, "I can't find my phone. Please call me until I call you back." At least I hope I said please. They both called me immediately, and I found my phone in my jeans pocket shortly thereafter. Thank goodness for friends who will stop in the middle of whatever they are doing and call you when you need them to, even if you don't even plan on asking them how their day has been going. That's how friendship is - you give some and you take some and, with good friends, everything evens out in the end.

What have you done to help a friend out lately? What have your friends done for you?

Alison :)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Project Me: A Good Reminder

Gotta have friends - a set of sock puppets I made for a puppetry class at A.C.E.D. - frog, birdie, lady, alligator and snake.

Tonight my gym buddy Chalanna and I were sweating it out on the elliptical, when she said she was trying to get in touch with a mutual friend who recently moved out of the Kansas City area. While she really misses our friend and would converse with her about anything, tonight Chalanna specifically needed this friend for her mad skills. Chalanna described a project she was working on and how our friend would be a useful resource due to her knowledge and experience. "Yeah," I said, "it's always good to know people who know more than you do." 

Friends who have different skill sets and knowledge bases can add so much to our own abilities to do and to achieve. I love to make things and collect junk, but if I were ever to open a shop to display and sell these objects, I would need to draw upon someone who is business savvy. I love to sit around campfires roasting marshmallows on sticks, but if I were going camping and wanted a fire, I'd have to bring a firestarter (Drew? Are you available?). I love to sing, but if I wanted to start a psychobilly band, I'd have to find a drummer and a guitarist and someone who can play the upright bass.

I wish I always remembered this. There are so many times when I think I have to do it all, and I have to do it all myself. As you can imagine, a lot of things don't get done by me or anyone else. I have to remind myself, "You can't build an empire by yourself."

What special skills do your friends have? Do you rely on any of them to help you with your taxes, to change your oil, or to hem your pants? What talents do you offer in return?


Hope you're all having a great Thursday night! Mine's been full of planning lessons for my favorite Saturday morning educational program A.C.E.D. (Adult Continuing Education for Persons with Developmental Disabilities) and, obviously, the gym. It seems I've developed a bit of a cough (thanks, boss lady), and I am now relaxing after a long day helping students enroll in classes for the semester.


Alison :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An F-Word List

In honor of my support for the protection of women's reproductive rights, health and family planning, here's a little list celebrating a few of my favorite "f-words." In no particular order:

Girl Scouts - Dedicated to the empowerment of girls, the Girl Scout Movement is an incredible organization. It promotes individual accomplishments, as well as working together to generate positive change in the world. I grew up a Girl Scout, and I am now an adult member of the Girl Scout Movement (At this point I donate money rather than time to the cause - someday I would like to actually participate more actively.). I recall fondly the camp songs, cleaning the Fair Grounds (I lived in a rural area) every summer, hiking for miles at day camp, trying new things (like rappelling), making crafts and earning badges. In fact, most of the girls I still keep in touch with from my childhood were Girl Scouts with me once upon a time. According the Girl Scouts' official website, 2/3 of the female members of Congress were Girl Scouts, and the Girl Scout Movement does have an important advocacy component. It supports pro-girl policies, such as healthy media images, anti-bullying legislation, physical fitness, the development of financial literacy skills, civil rights/diversity, etc. And, eek!, I can't forget the Girl Scout Cookies!

I'd love to know your thoughts on this book.

Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and The Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards - The authors touch upon topics as varied as The Spice Girls and NOW. The book received mixed reviews, but it excited me. Despite its faults, it is a good introduction written by younger women who explain feminism, with its complexities and contradictions, in a way I can relate to. Baumgardner and Richards say of reproductive rights: "It is not feminism's goal to control any woman's fertility, only to free each woman to control her own."

UNFPA (The United Nations Population Fund) -  UNFPA works around the world to protect women's reproductive health and rights, reduce maternal mortality rates, give women access to tools for family planning, etc. 

I still have all my Sassy Magazines!!
Sassy Magazine -  God Bless Sassy Magazine! It truly helped shape me into the woman I am. Filled with Doc Martens, endless plaid, flowy prairie skirts, and brave and rad girls, this magazine truly inspired me as a pre- and early teen. Not only did it acquaint me with Bikini Kill, but it also published firsthand accounts of activism and introduced me to the word feminist.

At left: Hannah Wilke, S.O.S. Starification Object Series, 1974, Black-and-white photograph. At right: Panel 2 of July 26, 1992/February 19, 1992 #4 from INTRA-VENUS series, 1992-93, Chromagenic supergloss print with overlaminate, 71 1/2 in. x 47 1/2 in. each, Edition of 3. Check out these pieces and more here.

Performance Art/Body Art - So much tremendous artwork has been made by female artists who employ their own bodies and physical actions. It has influenced my own work and the way I think about art, for sure. Some examples of artists who are associated with Body Art or Performance Art are Hannah Wilke, Ana Mendieta, Carolee Schneeman, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Yoko Ono, and Orlan. Needless to say, there are MANY more amazing artists who happen to be women.

Planned Parenthood - This organization provides affordable primary and reproductive healthcare. It educates people on healthy sexuality and family planning, and it advocates for  policies that support reproductive and sexual health and the spread of education and information.

A powerful song. Who woulda thunk it would end up on Rock Band 2?

Riot Grrrls - I feel like my own interest in blogging must have stemmed, in part, from the DIY ethos of the Riot Grrrl movement. These grrrls took on the whole world, and they killed.

Male Feminists - Yes, they exist, and thankfully so. Men make up half the world's population, and women certainly can't expect to gain and/or keep their rights without the support of like-minded men.

Birth Control - I had to add it. It has protected many a sister, and it has given women the freedom to express their sexuality as never before in human history.

Susan B. Anthony, who died in 1906, 14 years before women won the right to vote in the United States.

Susan B. Anthony - I use Susan B. as the figurehead, but there are so many women (such as Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, Sojourner Truth, etc.) who worked their booties off without seeing the fruits of their labor in their own lifetimes. They worked for the women of the future. Because of that, I believe we should honor and remember those who came before us, and work hard with our contemporaries to make things better for those who come after us. My fear is of becoming complacent. It has taken generations to win the rights we possess today. Even if we can't always relate to our foremothers, let's not ever forget it was not so long ago that married women gained legal access to the Pill and an even shorter amount of time since single ladies gained legal access. Women in my generation cannot even imagine a world without the Pill or the legal right to a safe abortion. Let's not even mention the right to vote and, ahem, the right to open a credit card account without your husband's permission.

Other Women - I LOVE WOMEN! I LOVE BEING A WOMAN! I know women come from a variety of perspectives, and I know some of you women reading this may disagree with part or all of my f-word list. However, I think we all want to live as well as we possibly can. Let's agree to support one another in our endeavors, even if we disagree.

In my world, feminism is not a dirty word, and I am still waiting for the ratification of The Equal Rights Amendment. How about you? What are your favorite f-words? Do you refer to yourself as a feminist?


Alison :)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Quote of the Moment, No. 4 - Humor at the Gym

A Quote of the Moment a day late! All apologies. After writing my novel yesterday, I thought you could all use a bit of a break from my voice!


I realize this quote refers to the pain of the human condition, or quite possibly the fine art of slapstick, but I think it applies perfectly to working out. Humor is just as essential as a water bottle at the gym. Laughter is good for your health, and it helps you get back up after you've rolled across the gym on a balance ball or run off the back of a treadmill. Surely I'm not the only one, right? Let's face it. It takes a lot of willpower to get off your butt and make it to the gym after a long day at work. Although the benefits of exercising are many, it doesn't always feel so great in the moment. Humor motivates, and it keeps you from taking yourself too seriously while you're owning the elliptical, getting bumped off a weight machine by some beefsteak, or, horror of horrors, farting in front of a hottie during a particularly tricky abs maneuver.

What's been your worst gym gaffe? Did you laugh it off, or did you hide in the locker room until your gym buddy was ready to leave?

Alison :)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Weekend Fun

This weekend was a real treat. Here’s the rundown:

I stayed home on Friday night and attended to some household chores. I half-watched re-runs of Criminal Minds and Cold Case, while I cleaned my living room and browsed the Internet. I also enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in on a Saturday for the last time until ACED finishes up this season (It begins next weekend!).

My friends’ son turned one, and I attended his birthday party on Saturday. I wasn’t certain of what one year olds liked. Luckily, a google search and a panicked phone call to my mom gave me direction. I picked out a pull-along telephone, because I remembered liking play telephones as a kid. The one I chose was old school with its rotary dial and handset. My friends value music, so I thought it might be fun to bring a musical present, as well. I selected some pretty wooden egg-shaped shakers. They were a big hit with the birthday boy. He shook them until he realized he could bang the eggs on wooden surfaces to make REALLY loud sounds. A percussionist in the making, perhaps? His dad said I must have read his son’s mind. I said, “What can I say? I’m a one year old.” And, actually, hanging out with a one year old made me feel unexpectedly childlike. I found my sudden “youth” entertaining,  especially when I consider that working at a college surrounded by primarily 18 - 22 year olds often makes me feel like an old lady. Being with a one year old also reinforced my desire to have children. It was a great time, and I really wish I had photographs to share of the party decor, the delicious and beautifully decorated banana birthday cake, and my little friend’s cake-covered face!

Admiring our berry beautiful lips. We cut someone out of every pic we took. This was the best we could do!

I like my makeup, but can't I just can't keep my hands to my sides!?
After the birthday party, I met up with my girlfriends Kate and Brooke. We went to Yogurtini for frozen yogurt. One of the featured flavors was “Maple Bacon Donut” but without the fat of the real thing! I just had to try it! It tasted like maple syrup, but I didn’t really notice any bacon. Our frozen yogurt date didn’t last quite long enough, so we checked out some Tom’s and pretty jewelry at a nearby store and then headed to Sephora. We gave ourselves makeovers, which made me feel giddy (I think it was the gold body glitter in a beautiful atomizer that did it.). Making yourself feel gorgeous is one of the best things ever, and it is even more of a pleasure to do so with your girlfriends by your side. After I left my friends, I spent the evening watching sitcoms on Netflix with my sister.

To be honest, we were so excited to have sushi, we forgot to photograph the event. We photographed my cousin eating edamame just before we left the restaurant!

My bro and my cuz in the darkened theater. Kinda makes me want an ICEE, too.

For Christmas, my sister, brother and I gave each of our three younger cousins a solo “date” with us. On Saturday we had our first “date.” My youngest cousin really wanted to try sushi, so we took him out for some. It was actually my brother’s first time to have sushi, too. He was not a fan, but my cousin, who is in fifth grade (20 years younger than me - yikes!) loved it! He said he would definitely go for sushi again. We followed up our lunch with a movie - Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, where I was involved in a really strange situation. A mother and her two children were sitting next to us. I was on the end of my group right next to them. The mother came over to me, and I thought she was going to ask me if the seat next to me was available. I had been using it to store my coat and purse. Instead, she asked me if I would watch her daughter (who was two or three) while she took her son to the restroom. She said, “Do you mind? Thanks,” and ran out of theater, before I could completely process her request. First of all, I was really upset, because I couldn’t enjoy watching the previews because I was worried about this child I didn’t even know. Then, the girl started to cry when she realized her mom was gone, so I went over to comfort her. I was afraid I was going to have to leave the theater with this little girl. I was wondering where I should take her, concerned her mom might think I was trying to kidnap her if I left the theater. Plus, I was worried she would choke on something or fall or run away (and I didn’t even know what the kid looked like in the light). It was too much responsibility with too little notice and too little knowledge of the child. I know I have benefited from the kindness of strangers, and I am sure a lot of moms have, too. But I am wondering, would you ask a stranger to watch after your kid in a movie theater or elsewhere? Is that a typical request? After my brain finished processing her request, my first thought was, “Why didn’t she just ask me to save her seats and take both her kids with her?” I hate to be at all judgmental of parents because I am not one yet, and I don’t know all the stress involved. However, asking a stranger to watch your child just seems like an improper request and rude, actually. To be completely honest, I felt rather put upon. Am I wrong here? As I said above, I want to be a parent, and I am sure it is both more difficult and more fulfilling than I can imagine at this point. Maybe going to the bathroom with one kid instead of two was a major blessing for this mother. Maybe I put out good person vibes. I don’t know. I would be interested in hearing what other people think. When the mother came back, she gave me a weird look when she saw me sitting beside her daughter and soothing her, said thank you after I said her child had gotten upset, and then watched the movie with her kids, paying no more attention to me. Either from the stress of that experience or my general lack of sleep, I dozed on and off during the movie. I just couldn’t help myself. I did manage to bob along to the Chipmunks’ pop song remakes, which were really cute.

This evening I watched Once Upon a Time with my mom and sister. Hanging out on Sunday nights has been our thing since the show started. Are any of you watching? I am a HUGE fan of fairy tales and folklore, and I really enjoy this variation on the theme.


Alison :)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Project Me: But for the Grace of...

Rise above. Find pretty photos like the one above here.
Do I possess grace? This is the question I have been asking myself all week. If you see me walk across the room, you might wonder. But I am talking about walking through life with grace, never mind a room.

Most people who know me would say I am nice. Some of those people would call me too nice. But that really doesn’t answer the question, does it? Niceness can hide a plethora of sins.

My biggest allies in the fight against grace? Road rage. Judgment. Envy. Grudges. This week I have decided to be more mindful of my reactions toward people or big metal stand-ins for people, in the case of road rage. I want to let go of slights, and not hold them against people. I want larger transgressions to act as catalysts to make me better. Chances are, people are unaware of what they do - like when they cut you off changing lanes. The people who are aware, well, they probably don’t really matter all that much in the grand sweep of your beautiful life, anyway. Or, if they do matter, I want them to matter in a way that brings clarity and positive change.

My goal is to approach the irritating, obnoxious and just plain awful with a little more generosity. I won’t swear the incidences and people I have experienced (and, yes, some people constitute an experience) won’t make it into my memoir someday, but I will at least try forgive them at some point along the way.

Another even greater challenge is to apply the same philosophy to myself. I often turn judgment and guilt inward. What about you? What are your thoughts on grace? Do you judge yourself more harshly than the people you judge?

Alison :)

P.S. I use the phrase “But for the Grace of God...” All. The. Time. I apply it to all kinds of situations where if the circumstances were just a little different, I would find myself in a truly dire situation ("But for the Grace of God, I could have been raised by Tea Partiers." Kidding, kidding. It's okay if you say the same thing about being raised by Bleeding Hearts, for which I am truly thankful.). I believe in the accuracy of that statement as applied to my own life, and I think I can use it as a personal shortcut, of sorts: “But for the Grace of Alison, so-and-so would be a huge b*tch,” for example. Instead of labeling, which is often my first line of defense, I am going to try to act graciously toward people/myself, whether or not I think they/I actually deserve it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'

You thought I was gonna say Rawhide, right? Nope, not tonight. Instead, I have been thinking a lot about toilet paper rolls. Lately, I have seen a wide range of toilet paper roll arts and crafts floating all over the Internet, which inspired me to share how I use them. Toilet paper rolls are great for art-making. They are nearly free, a fun shape, sturdy yet pliant, and practically unavoidable. I enjoy transforming packaging (especially paper waste) into art, so toilet paper rolls have made for an exciting material exploration. Here is an example of some work I made in grad school: 

Accretion, Alison L. Miller, Size varies, 2004.

However, my most favorite use of toilet paper rolls took no artistic skill or time to make. I made bracelet holders from toilet paper rolls. I kept thinking about how one of my bracelet drawers was difficult to navigate. The bracelets were inaccessible, and I often forgot I had a certain piece because it was covered with a jumble of other bracelets. I decided I needed a long tubular bracelet holder like the ones used in jewelry department displays. At some point during my thought process, I realized toilet paper rolls might be just the thing - and easy to come by, too! Toilet paper rolls aren’t pretty, but they sure make the perfect bracelet holders!

The project was creative only in the way people have those little sparks of ingenuity that make daily tasks a little easier: “Oh, if I do x, blank will work so much better,” “I can’t reach the bag of nuts I dropped between my desk and the wall. Maybe I can use a ruler to extend the length of my arm,” etc. I have those little moments all the time at work, where I employ an object as a tool it was never meant to be.

I know I could cover the toilet paper rolls with lovely paper or fabric, but, for now, I am perfectly fine with the utilitarian quality of the paperboard. I will let my bracelets bring the bling. What objects have you converted into unexpectedly useful tools?

Alison :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

We Shall Overcome

Instead of giving us the day off, my workplace celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with speakers, a  gospel singer, a video about Dr. King's life and his role in the Civil Rights Movement, a sing-a-long to Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” party balloons, punch, and, not one, but two, icing-loaded cakes. The event was a great reminder of what this day is all about.

In this country where education is under siege, where people feel they owe nothing to the people who have less than they do, where the thickness of one’s pocketbook gains one access to the political machine, where people think their vote does not count, where women are still paid less than men to perform the same tasks, where LGBT folks cannot marry in every state, where you can still hear the call to "just nuke 'em," where politicians call each other names and label one another, and, yes, where the color of one’s skin, or the land of one’s birth, still leads to distrust, bigotry and violence, we should remember Dr. King’s words and work to better people’s lives.  I am not saying things have not improved vastly. I am saying there is still work to be done, and I admire Dr. King for believing in the United States of America and the ability of its people to fulfill the potential of its professed creed.

I won’t dare speak for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he does it far better than I ever could:

What bravery it takes to speak out for people, for yourself! Let us all be a little more brave in standing up for ourselves, our beliefs, and our brothers and sisters.

What have you done to further the rights of others? I would love to be inspired by you!

Alison :)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Quote of the Moment, No. 3

What!? Time passing isn't enough for your life's purpose to be exposed!? No, unfortunately, that's not how it works. Simply waiting gets you no closer to your goals (or figuring out what your goals are) than you already were.

Have any of you makers out there ever gone through a phase where you haven't made much of anything, and it just seems like a huge hassle to get out your supplies, open your sketchbook, or actually think about what you might like to do today, let alone for the rest of your life? You just have too much going on, too many social engagements, 40 + hours a week dedicated to your job, a family to spend time with, laundry to do... Or maybe you're just plain frightened of what might happen (good or bad). Surely I can't be the only one who's been there (or is trying to move away from that place). 

Here is my great hope: when I start making something - any little thing - I become engaged with what I am doing. The pleasure of making opens me up to new sparks of inspiration. I have found time and again that one act of creativity leads to another and yet another. It could be using a new spice in a favorite dish, re-using a found object as a decorative piece in your living room, coming up with a great  new method for teaching an art technique, or waking up in the middle of the night with an idea for a blog post. It could be anything. Sometimes I feel stuck exactly where I am, but I know all these little movements add up to big changes in the way I live my life, treat myself, and continue to identify myself as an artist.

Yes, I'm still a mess when it comes to organization, time management and fitting it all in (Lord, help me!) - and I'm certainly moving in directions I couldn't have foreseen five years ago - but I feel really good about some of the recent decisions I have made in the direction of living more creatively. That is why I am so drawn to this quote this week. It fits right in with the DIY ethos.

What quotes are you drawn to this week? Whether you are an artist or an astronaut, what small creative changes are you making now that will lead to big changes in your future?

Alison :)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Project Me: A Time for Change

Putting on the attitude. Photo taken by my lovely friend Kate.
Nearly half the first month of 2012 is over, and I recognize very little of my regular self in my daily habits. I no longer reach for the ever-present bag of bite-size candy bars in my boss's office. I drink more water than diet pop. I spend my time prioritizing the gym over any other social activity. I actually want to run and run well. I am of a vastly different mindset than I was last year when I thought I was in love. You could say these changes in my life are due to the high hopes of a new year, but you would be (mostly) wrong. 

It is true that 2011 was rough on me. With the loss of a job, the stress of finding a new one, and the end of a relationship, the passing of 2011 does not pain me at all. It took me months to assess myself following these blows (or opportunities for new experiences), and I know I am not finished with "Project Me" yet. Not by a long shot. 

A pivotal moment on this journey came several months ago. I was driving from my parents' house to my apartment one night feeling rather peeved about a situation in which I found myself. I realized that I work harder at pleasing the men in my life than I work at pleasing myself. It is not that I am afraid to be single. I am single far more often than not, and I think there is a real benefit to knowing yourself without the influence of a partner. When I am with someone, however, I want it to be the truest best kind of love. I work hard to make relationships last, and I put up with behavior I do not deserve for far longer than I should. 

My response to this epiphany has been to act with unapologetic selfishness when it comes to relationships. Yes, I am still compassionate, but now I am allowing myself to turn that compassion toward my desires. I demand more me only time, more time to develop positive habits, the permission to say "NO" without feeling bad or ungrateful... I even give myself license to envision giant successes earned all on my own.

What about you? What changes have you made that have improved your life? I would love to hear your stories of self-improvment, and I can always use good tips! I have a looooooooong way to go.


Alison :)

Happy Birthday, Dad!!

Dad and I posing back in the day.
To the best ever dirty joke telling, blood-sweating, left wing armchair punditing, wood working Dad of all time:

Happy Merry Birthday!! It snowed tonight just for you!!


Alison :)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Quote of the Moment, No. 2

A gift from my mom.
My parents always give my sister, brother and me a little New Year's gift to help us start out the new year on a positive note. This year Mom wrapped several hand-written quotes with our gifts. I liked the one above so much, I taped it to my bathroom mirror, along with several other inspiring quotes. Every time I walk into the bathroom I see a gallery of quotes curated especially to boost my mood, influence my actions, put things in perspective, and make me think. 

I am a quote hound, and I am always on the look out for good ones. I look forward to sharing old and new favorites with you on Sundays. What quotes have inspired you recently?

Alison :)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Post-Christmas Miracle

Ms. April Mai created the sparkly yellow bauble, and I have had this little girlie since childhood.

I may be overstating the facts when I say I have experienced a post-Christmas MIRACLE. However, I am pretty darn excited. My internet has been on the blink since September (dating to about the time of my last blog entry). It just stopped working, out of nowhere, without apparent cause. I know some people cannot live without the internet at home, and, I will admit, it was an adjustment. Despite that, I did not call my internet provider right away, because I, being the obsessive sort of gal I am, had been paying a little too much attention to my ex-boyfriend via the internet. I figured a little space from cyberspace would really help with the healing process. And it has. It broke my bad habits, and I am in a far different place than I was in September.

Re-focusing on myself and taking a break from the internet has done me good, but a new year means it is time to move on. I made it a New Year's resolution to get re-connected to the web and start blogging again (okay, and play on Pinterest, too). Yesterday evening, I noticed I was connected without having to actually go through the rigmarole of contacting the internet provider, describing the problem over the phone, setting up an appointment, meeting with a technician, getting new parts, etc. Yes, I am glad all those people are there to help when needed, but having the internet just pop back on really expedites the process. Anyone who knows me, knows I have been dragging my feet on this.

Now, I have so many blogs to catch up on, and so many things I would like to share, too! Dear friends, I hope you will all forgive my absence and, please, come back for more!!

Love and hugs,

Alison :)