One Year Later

As I write this, it has been one year and one hour since our favorite dog of all time breathed his last breath in the back of my van. It hasn’t been an easy year, and the transition to a five-heartbeat household has been most unwelcome, but we are at peace. The gentleness of that spirit who was part dog/part angel stays with us. We have a family mantra that reminds us to be like Mason, to enjoy life and to love without limits, to be happy in all things.

As with so many pivotal moments in our lives, we divide our happenings into two categories: before we said goodbye to Mason, and after. We prefer the Before, thankyouverymuch. But, as an update on the positive side of After, Mabel is entirely different now. She loves affection. Where she couldn’t have cared less before, she now waits patiently for our arrival after work. She snuggles more now, choosing to sleep curled up beside my legs. She demands attention when she feels she has not received enough. And, a change that I know Mason nudged her toward, she finally found joy in dancing with me in the kitchen, just like he used to.

And so we acknowledge the significance of today, of who we are and of where we’ve been, grateful for the companion that shared so many of our days with us.

We love you, Monk. We miss you still.

Mason and Vic, 2011

Mason and Vic, 2011

Dumbledore and McGonagall

When I first stumbled into Harry Potter lore, the characters sprang at me from the pages, just as they did for many of you. After reading Book Five I began identifying pieces of the characters in people that I knew personally. Some pieces larger than others…

He was the tall, strong and gentle headmaster. The professor of professors among our small Hogwarts community. Our leader. Our anchor. He even had a funny hat to wear with his position.

She was the ever-present and ever-protective right-hand professor. She ruled the school with as much tenacity as any Minister of Magic ever could. She didn’t wear a hat. She didn’t need to.

He was the grandfather-type who entertained and educated us with every conversation. She was the no-nonsense matriarch who kept everyone on task, including him.

She stood by his side through the ups and downs of forging a new frontier. She dutifully gathered the brooms and arranged the class schedules. She loved us and mothered us and admonished us when necessary to make sure we could stand on our own someday. She quirked an eyebrow each time he cracked a joke.

Both were icons in my early adult years. They were there when the rest of my life stretched endlessly before me. They carried with them an immense respect for each other’s spirit and space. Always keeping their propriety, they were a dynamic duo, a hardworking team.

I will never forget the first time I heard her address him as anything other than the title by which we all called him. “Bill,” she said simply, as unassuming as the stoic voice that began quiet conversations with, “Albus…”

She retired just before he did. A lady always knows when to leave. Neither has been at our little Hogwarts for close to ten years. Students and professors have come and gone in the years since. Yet we can never deny the lasting impact of these two stately figures on who we were and who we are now.

As they placed his wand in his casket and prepared the White Tomb, we learned that she, too, had slipped quietly through the smoky veil. We mourn all over again the end of an era that was already in the annals of our history. The closing of the coffins echoes the closing of Book Seven. And the rest of us are left to write the next series without them.

Rest in peace, professors. We’ll see you in the portrait frames.

Life and What-Not

“The problem with adulthood,” I began my conversation with Victoria, “is that by the time you realize what you want to do, what you are good at, it’s often too late to go back for a do-over. Take this quantitative management class I’m in right now. I love it. It’s just straightforward mathematical statistics for the purpose of solving business problems, and it energizes me. I really like this stuff.” (Eye roll from the daughter.)

“I knew this, of course, back when I was in college, but I didn’t pursue the field. I met with one tiny obstacle and – meh – I moved on to an easier path. I was young and dumb and though I don’t have many regrets about my past – other than superficially wishing I could go back in time and give the young Lori a few Gibbs’ head-slaps – I regret not pushing through for the degree I wanted and a career that might have provided more material resources. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do now and I don’t believe material resources would serve me any better than the spiritual resources I have access to, but I often find myself wondering what it would be like if I had been ‘adult-enough’ to insist on more effort from myself at a younger age.

“And so that is what kicks me in the head as an adult – knowing that we cannot change the past, we can only direct the future. We can change what we do today for the benefit of tomorrow, and no more. But when you’re over the proverbial hill, and you see it all this clearly, and you know – absolutely know in your heart – that you could have done better, or more, or whatever with your energy and resources…all you really can do is let your children know the pitfalls. You want to make sure that your kids understand what mistakes not to make, what obstacles to push through.

“And that brings me to the fallacy of youth, in that when I was young and dumb – as so you shall be, too – I was not interested in older people’s advice of the pitfalls. I had my whole life ahead of me, and that’s all that I saw. My future was a blank page, and I was selecting the pen with which to write it. Don’t dare tell me what pen I should use; that’s my decision! And so, when we are young we make the easy choices, the fun choices, the choices that bring us pleasure, even if it is fleeting. It’s only when we are older that we think, what if??? What if I had chased that dream? What if I had studied harder? What if I had actually attended that Business Law class instead of deciding that Dominic might be hanging out in the student center and surely I HAD to be there too? But Business Law, while a really interesting class, at the time paled in comparison to the interest I held for my social life and your father’s whereabouts. (Cue head-slap). Surely I could have pursued your father after my work was done??? But, as I said, I can’t change the past. Our choices, our actions, make us who we are and I do love this life. What I can do now is hand you the information and hope that you choose to make good decisions. That’s the goal of every parent…to make sure our kids don’t have any regrets.”

Victoria seems to consider this for a moment, then says, “I watched this movie last night where this guy walked outside and got struck by lightning. For no reason at all! He just walked out, got struck by lightning, and died right there on the spot.”

Nobody listens to me.

The Most Reverend

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Back in the day, at the “old” Catholic Center housed in a square two-story building on Line Avenue, the secretaries of various departments would share what we called “phone duty” in which we were assigned a rotation of days to relieve the receptionist for her lunch hour. This ensured that the phone was always answered by a live person between the working hours of 8:00 to 4:30. On one such day, as I sat at the reception desk during the lunch hour, an elderly gentleman came to the office to pay on his stewardship pledge. While he stood at the reception window handing me his check, Bishop Friend strode casually through the front door. The man before me turned to see who had come in behind him and, upon watching Bishop Friend enter his passcode into the security system which would open the interior suite door, turned back to me, eyes wide.

“That’s the Bishop!” he whispered excitedly to me, as if we’d just seen a mythical being and didn’t want to frighten it away.

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

“I’ve never met him. Do you…do you think…well…” His voice trailed off as the wish formed and vanished like mist before he could finish speaking it.

“Would you like to meet him?” I asked.

“Really? Meet the Bishop?” He could barely contain his awe. His eyes danced with excitement and wonder. “Surely he’s too busy to meet me,” he mused, his doubt lined with a tangible hope.

“Hold on just a moment. Let me see if he has a little time.” I left the gentleman at the front desk and went to Bishop’s office. As I approached his always-open door, Bishop Friend was removing his hat, an ivy cap which he frequently wore. I knocked gently on the door frame and tentatively asked, “Bishop?”

“Ahh, hello, Lori. Do come in! I was just fixing my hair.” (These comments always elicited smiles, as Bishop Friend was “follicly challenged.”)

“Bishop, there is a gentleman at the front desk who just came in to drop off his pledge payment, but he seems very excited just to be standing in the same building as you, and well, I wonder if you might have a minute to say hi to him? I think it would make his day.”

“Oh, Lori,” he replied with that grandfatherly smile. “No good deed shall go unpunished. Please bring him in. It will be my pleasure to meet him.”

And so I did. As I led the man to Bishop’s office, his feet seemed to not touch the ground. I lingered at the doorway just long enough to see the gentleman reach for Bishop Friend’s hand, his head bowed in reverence, as Bishop Friend shook his hand enthusiastically and began conversation with him.

The brief meeting lasted for a few minutes, long enough for me to resume my post at the front desk and field a couple of phone calls. When the gentleman exited through the same door he had seen Bishop enter, he waved happily to me and said, “Thank you! Thank you so much! Oh, my wife will be so happy to hear that I met the Bishop! Thank you!”

I thought it amusing at the time, that this man was so excited to see a figure I had the pleasure of working with every day. I turned my head to see Bishop Friend walking toward the kitchen for a cup of coffee, or perhaps for the purpose of visiting any employees who were lunching in the staff lounge. Bishop Friend looked over at me and winked as he walked by, and I smiled gratefully at him.

That is my favorite personal memory of Bishop Friend. I recall vividly several snapshot moments… the wide grin on his face as he greeted us each day, his head-thrown-back laughter as a large group of us dined together on his return visits after retirement, his smile as he watched a toddler-size Victoria play with the telephone on his desk.

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Bishop Friend with our favorite troublemaker.

There is no shortage of Bishop Friend lore. The impact of events in which he participated seems as large as he was tall. My favorite story took place before I ever met him, at a time when Shreveport was rife with gang violence. The Crips and the Bloods held our community in a vice-grip, incinerating the inner-city in turf wars. Bishop Friend called a meeting of the two gang heads. As the story goes, the leaders of the rival gangs came to the Catholic Center to meet with each other and Bishop Friend. On behalf of our Catholic elementary school that served the inner-city, Bishop implored the gang leaders to pledge to keep the violence away from the schools in the war-riddled neighborhoods. Through a long and tense meeting, an agreement was struck and the school children remained out of harm’s way. Few people would have placed themselves in the middle of such a potentially volatile meeting in an effort for peace. But such was the character of our Bishop.

I worked under Bishop Friend for ten years and six months. In all that time, I never saw him in a bad mood. There was but one time that he was noticeably upset, when he pulled us all together to tell us that there was no budgetary way to offer pay increases for one year. Otherwise, he was the same happy man every single time I saw him, every single day. That’s not to say that it was always easy. He was a leader, and leaders can never please all people at the same time. I heard him answer attacks with blessings; I watched him pray for people who cursed him. There were days that surely must have tried his soul, but he did not show it. Each and every one of his decisions was made in prayer with the good of everyone else’s soul in mind. He was the first man I ever knew to be made of this precise fiber.

Pope John Paul II with Bishop Friend

Pope John Paul II with Bishop Friend

When Bishop Friend retired in 2006, I felt the absence of his calm and easy-going nature throughout our building. Since then, we at the Catholic Center have taken many opportunities to regale each other with memories and stories of our beloved first Bishop. But now memories and stories are all we have left of him. Our hearts will forever know the boldness of his laugh, the softness of his voice. Most Reverend William Benedict Friend, Bishop Emeritus of Shreveport, passed away just this morning. Our hearts are heavy, our memories are stirred. But it is fitting, at least to me, that he would leave our earthly realm on Holy Thursday. As he himself died with Christ, he rises again with Christ this Easter. Bishop Friend was a man of great faith, a man who walked the walk, a man who led his assigned flock with humility and gentleness and love. I believe his homecoming is well-timed.

I keep on my desk a card that was given on the 25th anniversary of his ordination as a Bishop. The reverse of the card cites a prayer from St. Augustine, and it summarizes best the man whom I knew:

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may always be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy.

We pray for the peaceful repose of Bishop Friend’s soul, that he who “Lived in the Spirit” may also rest in the Spirit. And we take comfort in knowing that he will continue to pray for us, as he always promised.

“Mom, I Can’t Feel My Toes.”

On this, the third snow day of the school year, we finally got actual snow. Admittedly, I never expected it to snow. 1-2 inches in north Louisiana? Puh-leeze, weatherdude! What are you smoking???? We may get ice and sludge and generally terrible driving conditions, but real-deal snow tends to pass us by. We Shreveporters live in what I call “the weather bubble.” Weather aims right for us, turning at the last minute to soar above us or below us, rarely coasting directly through our lovely city. We are grateful that most of the bad stuff passes us by. Unfortunately, so does much of the fun stuff.

Until today.

That heavenly snowfall began around 9:00 a.m. and continued its White Christmas cascade all morning long. But as I look out the window while writing this, the snow seems to have finally stopped falling. 12:21 pm. The driveway is mushy and the street is beginning to regain its grey asphalt hue, no longer smooth and white…which tells me it is melting… just like weatherdude said it would.
(Which also tells me the roads may not be as treacherous as they were two hours ago. I may try again to haul my butt into the office. Y’all don’t lock me out just yet!)

I love the color of our world when it is illuminated by sunshine. But if it can’t be gloriously bathed in bright yellow, then I prefer it to be white. This white…

DSC_0645My photography skills leave a lot to be desired, but my desire overwhelms my pathetic lack of skill to bring you this…

DSC_0624And this…

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My poor, poor confused spring bulbs. :(

And finally, yes, the kiddos took to the great outdoors, shunning their screen devices for a sacred morning of pelting each other with snowballs…

Aaron with a snowball earbud.

Aaron with a snowball earbud.

Look!  They're touching!  And smiling!!

Look! They’re touching! And smiling!!

…and competing in a snowman building contest.   Here are Misty with her creepy penny eyes…

DSC_0015 … and Frosty McTaxFraud, each sporting their very own coffee mug. DSC_0017Does anyone else agree with me that Frosty has a quirky Al Capone look going on? Nice bat.

So, while the kids toast their tootsies in front of the fireplace, I’ll leave you with a few more snaps of my favorite place on earth…

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the garden in winter…

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St. Francis near Mason’s grave

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The Mabelline!

DSC_0606 DSC_0595 DSC_0579 DSC_0599 DSC_0722DSC_0627Mabel’s favorite part of any snow day is coming in and getting dried off.

I’m gonna need more towels.

List Therapy: Things I Like

Here I am, head spinning from a stressful busy week, finding something to be  peeved about at every turn. In fact, this started out as a list of pet peeves (admittedly, some stupid, some funny, and some universal). As I mentally ticked off the things that tick me off, a still tiny voice in the back of my head said, “Way to focus on the positive, Lori.”

Ahem.

So I backed up a bit and decided to make my list about things that make me happy rather than the things that annoy me. Here goes.

  1. Sunshine. The brighter, the better.
  2. 70 degree weather (Can I get an amen?!)
  3. Babies cooing (even if they are so far in my past that I’ve almost forgotten them…almost…my memory was stirred by the family who sat behind us in church on Saturday.)
  4. Mabel in her role as “the Christmas Puppy.”
  5. Sunshine.
  6. Coffee with a just-right proportion of milk. It never lasts long enough. Good thing there are refills.
  7. A clean kitchen.
  8. Glimpses of summer at the end of January.
  9. Seeing Dom and Vic playing basketball when I pull into the driveway.
  10. Planning this year’s vegetable garden.
  11. Our freezer full of deer meat, which means I don’t have to buy hamburger meat at the store for almost the rest of 2015.
  12. Gospel songs, Statler-Brothers style.  “Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?…”
  13. Stove-top popcorn drizzled in Kerrygold butter– better than the movies!!
  14. A new bottle of nail polish.
  15. Sunshine.  (Can you tell I wanted to spend the whole day outside?)
  16. Realizing in the midst of stress just how blessed I really am when Aaron asks me, “Mom, do you need a hug?”
  17. Mommy-daughter time.
  18. Mom-son time.
  19. Dom time.
  20. Sunshine.

What was I stressed about, again?

The Tap on my Shoulder

My favorite inspirational author is Max Lucado.  I have a shelf full of “Max books” and I have read them each multiple times.  His writings somehow resonate with me at the intersection of who I am and who I should be.  Often, his words remind me of truths my heart has always known, even if my thoughts have obscured them. 

I have in my office a flip-calendar called Grace for the Moment, Volume II which contains snippets from his various books .  If you ever see my little flip-book, you will notice that it is permanently displaying October 31.  I have not yet read Max’s book Traveling Light, but the excerpt from it which is the meditation for that day spoke loudly to me several years ago when I first flipped to it.  

It speaks even more loudly today.

No person lives one day more or less than God intends. 

‘All the days planned for me were written in your book before I was one day old.’ (Psalm 139:16)

…We speak of a short life, but compared to eternity, who has a long one?  A person’s days on earth may appear as a drop in the ocean.  Yours and mine may seem like a thimbleful.  But compared to the Pacific of eternity, even the years of Methuselah filled no more than a glass…

In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely.

Peace to all who mourn. 

Two Souls

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I wrote the post on Father David Richter early Sunday morning, almost immediately upon hearing of his sudden and unexpected death, a death which came only three days after the passing of his own mother. After three phone calls, with vision blurred by tears that would not cease, I sat at the computer and wrote. I poured it all out as I usually do, knowing that I would come back to it later and clean it up, make sense of it, try to make it worthy of the man it represented. As I waited throughout the morning for an official, public social media announcement from our Bishop or Vicar General, I read and re-read what I had written. Surprisingly, I changed nothing. Once I was certain my writing would not be the initial notification of his death to anyone close to him, I published it. The outpouring of sympathy and prayers for Father’s family and even for us was overwhelming.

Father Dave’s family is now preparing for a double-funeral on Saturday, where we will mourn together as we commend to our Creator the exceptional souls of him and his mother. To be honest, I have always expected Father Dave to celebrate my funeral Mass. Attending his feels like taking a fastball to the cheekbone.

And so I write through the grief.

Sometimes, in the moving and re-assigning of priests within a diocese, we grow considerably attached to one in particular. The priest becomes a staple in our lives and at our gatherings. We claim him as our own. We invite him into our homes and into our families. We call him for everything. We ask him to baptize our children and visit our sick relatives. We give him the comfy recliner when he comes over to watch a football game. We weep a bit, and we keep in touch when he is reassigned to another parish. We make a point to meet up whenever he is in town. For the Mainiero family and a small portion of Ebarbs in Shreveport, Father Dave was ours.

As much as our family embraced Father Dave, his mother embraced us. She, too, became family. I recall her offering gentle advice before my wedding, when she said to me, “The wedding reception is just a celebration. Be sure you plan for the marriage. The life you two will have together – that’s the real party.”

From my perspective her own marriage seemed one to emulate. When Father Dave was pastor of St. Elizabeth and we would all gather for Sunday morning Mass, I would see Mr. & Mrs. Richter seated about four pews ahead, always together, always smiling. Even from my vantage point behind them I could see their bond, their faithfulness. And I could certainly see parental joy radiate from both of them every time their son celebrated Mass.

Mrs. Richter was proud of all her boys. No one who knew her, even on a limited basis, could ever doubt that she had immense reverence for who her sons are. She spoke so highly of them that I respected each of Father Dave’s brothers long before I met them. I assumed that my own mother-in-law’s duty to Father Dave as his secretary and the resulting care for all things that concerned him was the impetus that initially bonded Charolette and Mrs. Richter. I later came to understand it was likely the shared experience of mothering all boys, together with a fierce love and protection for their families, that solidified their friendship.

It feels natural to celebrate with gratitude the life of Mrs. Richter and the gift of her friendship to us. It is painful for me to think of Father Dave in past tense. My heart, along with thousands of others, is broken with his death. As I struggled to wrap my head around why this happened – a question I know I cannot answer – I imagined a scenario in which Mrs. Richter, upon entering Heaven, saw something that wasn’t quite right. Then, straightening to her full height and with a glint in her narrowed eyes she stated succinctly, “Well. My David can fix this!” And modeling his life after the Master whom he served, Father Dave simply would not deny his mother’s request.

We will each struggle in the days ahead to reconcile our gratitude for a life long-lived and our ache for a life cut short. I thank God that this faith which we share affords us the peace of knowing that we will see these two beautiful souls again.

Father Dave

He was my first office-job boss. He confirmed me. He heard my first confession. He married me and Dom. He baptized our first child. He blessed the land on which we built our home. He was the first priest I ever saw drink a beer.

He was part of our family in so many ways that including him in everything from the most special of occasions to the most mundane came naturally. He often attended family holiday gatherings where he witnessed first-hand our wrapping paper mayhem.

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I had the privilege of working for Father Dave twice. During my senior year in college I was an office assistant at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church where he was pastor. Later, I worked as his secretary in the Chancery of our diocese where he served as Vicar General. In our second working relationship he asked me only once to take some mail to his apartment which was located on the other side of our office building. Inside his home I confirmed what I had always suspected – that he lived simply and neatly with very little fluff.

Usually serious and pensive, Father Dave had a unique funny side. To this day he is the only priest who has ever shot me with a rubber band. I will never forget the look on his face as he peered around a filing cabinet, professionally wrapped the band over his cocked thumb and took aim.

Father Dave had his favorites, too. He was a staunch fan of the Dallas Cowboys and all things Star Wars. As I stooped to take a book from the bottom shelf in his office one day, I was shocked to find that I was face-to-face with a twelve-inch tall Yoda perched on the bookcase. I gave a startled gasp before laughing out loud, only to turn and find Father Dave rocking back in his chair, hands folded across his chest, nodding with a sly grin.

He was soft-spoken and witty, and he gave great consideration to his words before he spoke them. He was kind and hard working, gentle and good, quiet and reserved. He was far too young and his leaving came far too soon.

Soon will I rest, yes, forever sleep.  Earned it I have.  Twilight is upon me, soon night must fall…Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not.

Oh, Yoda, if only it were that easy.

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Father Dave blessing our property before construction. June 2012

 

My Latest DIY Gig

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So, I’ve kinda been working on another project. It’s one that I’ve had in my head for several months. Originally, I wanted to somehow put a photo of me and Dom on a canvas and then script out the words to a love poem in a diagonal around the photo. I haven’t worked it all out yet, but it’s still something I plan on doing. Just… later. Because, really, this other thing morphed out of thin air and sort of took over the photo I was gonna use.

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From the steps of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, November 2009.

Original problem: I need coordinating art to hang on either side of my dresser mirror, which stands pathetically bare at the moment. (And, please ignore the fact that the bed is not made. Thank you.)

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Original idea: Why don’t I paint two canvases to hang on either side?

Secondary problem: What color to make the canvases? Match the room’s moulding? I have that paint. But I want it to look like art. “Hey, Aaron, do you know how to blend paint colors to make them look good on canvas, like watercolor blends or something?”

“Nope. I haven’t been to art camp in like, three years, Mom.”

“Crap. Thanks anyway, sweetie.”

When what to my wondering eyes should appear? My sister-in-law gave me this personally hand-painted wood-art for Christmas. When I asked my mom where in my home she thought I should hang it, she replied without missing a beat, “In your bedroom. You have all black-and-whites in there.”

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She’s right. The bedroom would be the perfect place for it. And then it hit me. Black canvas. White paint. Suddenly, I had my outline. I just needed two perfect quotes. And two perfect pictures. Egad. Whatever “perfect” pictures might include me are so few that they have been excessively overused in everything that represents me. My favorite photo that includes me is from 2007. My second-favorite photo is from 2009…and it’s taken from behind me (see above). You get my drift, right?   Finding two pics of me that are self-proclaimed-“worthy” and not already over-used is going to be next to impossible.

And then my heart spoke up. I have been sorting photos of Mason lately because I want one of them on a mousepad for my office. I found some adorable pics. (The World’s Best Dog…14 years…we’re gonna have more than a handful of good pictures!) By the way, this is his “Did someone say, ‘treat'”? face. Lord, I miss this dog!

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I was also saving a list of quotes that I pondered when we were planning Mason’s headstone. And so I went there. I cried. And cried. (And cried some more). But eventually I settled on one that worked with another quote I had been wanting to place in our home. As Billy Joel sang, it’s all about soul.

“For the soul of every living thing is in the hand of God.” Job 12:10

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

And there I had it. One canvas for Mason, one canvas for me and Dom. Two photos, printed in black-and-white to complement the others in the room. I had the photos printed through MPIX.com because I love how they print B&W photos. They just look awesome. (Get the True Black and White matte paper. It’s worth the extra pennies!) And I figured that under a slew of Mod-Podge, maybe MPIX’s photo paper could hold up like I wanted it to. My own printer paper? Maybe not.

So here is the finished product. What follows after this are directions for those fellow DIY-ers who just like the satisfaction of making something yourself.

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Instructions:

Materials you will need: Canvas, word processor, internet access (if you don’t already have the fonts you want to use), acrylic paint, mixing palate or plate, brushes, photo, Mod Podge glue (matte finish), pencil, graphite paper, tape, paper towels and a jar/bowl of water. This project takes approximately three days to complete, in order allow proper drying time between steps.

First, determine what size canvas you need. I knew I wanted tall-skinny canvases, so I went with 12×24. I found a 2-pack at Michael’s for relatively little cost (with a coupon). This size works great for word processing design, too, because you can base it off of a standard 8½x11 piece of paper.

Second, decide what photo you want to use and what size. Cut a piece of paper to the size of your photo. An 8×10 worked perfectly with the 12×24 canvas, but so would a 5×7. You be the judge here. It’s your art.

Third, design your word art. I used Microsoft Word to space and position my lettering. Set your page properties at 0.5” margins all the way around, and then select “Landscape” orientation. This lets you size your letters to fit your canvas, based on text being 10” wide (size the text on each line specifically). You can set your page size to your actual canvas size and see what prints on letter-sized paper, then literally cut and paste once printed to make it all match up.

My favorite fonts are Cambria (standard font in MS Word) for the block print, and Allura for the script. Scriptina Pro is also a great font for a flurry-ish script. I use dafont.com for downloading all my script and special fonts (Search these font names on their site to download). Size ‘em up, making sure your sidelines are all even with each other, if that’s the look you want. Print on regular paper and then cut off the extra margins so that you can line up your text and tape in place.

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Size up your text with your photo size – place it all on the canvas to be sure that you’re lining it up right.  Remember to use a blank piece of paper cut the size of your photo (or the actual photo if you have it already.)

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Now that you’ve got your wording and photo size all worked out, go ahead and paint your canvas. (I had already painted mine.) If you’re looking to do a solid color like me this will be a breeze. If you want a mottled, blended-color look, you need to know what you’re doing on your own because I am absolutely no help here. ;) I painted mine solid black, remember?

Once your canvas is dry, you will need to use graphite paper (either black or white, depending on your canvas color) to transfer the font image onto the canvas in the desired place. I taped my wording to the canvas and then slipped a piece of graphite paper (or, transfer paper) underneath it.

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Use a pencil to trace around the letters, making sure to move your graphite paper as you go. (You will notice that in my example, the word “soul” is off-center. I had to go back and trace that word last so as to center it with the rest of the text. I could have done that earlier in the paper-taping process, but I didn’t.

When you are finished tracing, you will have this very erasable outline.  (Be careful where you lay your arm to paint, as you could wipe away the markings you’ve so carefully made. You also want to be sure not to apply too much pressure on top of the canvas so that you don’t inadvertently stretch it out.

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Ok, here’s where we have to talk about brushes. First, I know NOTHING about brushes that I haven’t learned the hard way, and even that is pitifully little. What I do know is that you need the teeniest, tiniest brush to paint the words in your selected font. I didn’t know this on the first painting, and my letters lacked definition. See? Yuck.

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That was done using a small angled brush, which I thought was appropriately small enough. But alas, I was wrong. In any brush, your paint is going to eventually glob up and if your brush is too big, then the glob just gets really messy. Like I said, I thought my brush was small enough. No, the next picture shows you the brush I used on the second painting. See, my mother-in-law is a retired certified ceramics teacher. The brush is hers. This is the brush she uses for eyelashes and pupils on the faces of her small creations. This is the brush she insisted I take with me when I raided her stash of supplies for my project. This is the brush that I thought would be too small for any grand thing I was going to do, but this is also the brush that made my words come to life on the canvas. It doesn’t look like much, but trust me, it is mighty.

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So once you have traced your words onto the canvas, and you have your handy-dandy teeny-tiny brush poised in the air, you are ready to paint, my friend. Squeeze out just A LITTLE of the paint from your tube onto your palate or mixing tray (a paper plate works just fine). I squeezed out a quarter-sized dollop of white paint for the first canvas. I used only a twelfth of it and the rest went to waste. Go easy on the squeezing, is my point.

Now, be a good little student and color in the lines. You’ll be so pleased when you do!

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The good thing about using a solid, dark background, is that if you need to touch up any goofs, it’s super-easy!  (See period after the word “God.” I messed up and brought the tail of the “d” up too far.  Once the ModPodge is applied, you won’t see any of the touch-up areas.

Now, where the Mod Podge is concerned, I purchased a small bottle of the Matte finish.  I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but my bottle of glossy Mod Podge looked every bit of its twelve-year age.  I thought the matte version might be a nice touch.  As it turned out, it is not a flat finish, but is not a super-shiny finish either.  I like the minor sheen that the matte option imparts.

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Once the text has dried, you are ready to adhere your photo.  Take a generous size brush (mine is 2″ wide) and dip into a bowl full of the Mod Podge glue.  Brush onto the entire back of the photo before gently placing the photo in the desired place on the canvas. Get the glue as close to the edges as you possibly can.

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Smooth the photo onto the canvas with your hand.  Once the photo was smoothed (remember not to press too hard) I flipped the canvas over onto a towel on my countertop and pressed harder with my hand to make sure the canvas was well-pressed to the photo.

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Allow to dry (1-2 hours).  Clean your brush in the meantime and allow it to dry also.   Cover the glue so it doesn’t dry out.

Once the photo and your brush are dry, using the same 2″ brush, gently sweep Mod Podge back and forth in smooth, easy strokes running the width of your canvas.  Be sure not to stop in the middle.  Once the entire canvas is coated in Mod Podge and you are satisfied with the brush strokes, allow to dry (2-3 hours).

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A few notes about this last step: Be sure to go all the way down the side edges with your glue so you get a uniform look all the way around the canvas.  I worried that the parts of the rounded edge where my glue seemed to pile would be a problem, but they turned out just fine.  I cannot see brush strokes on the canvas, but I can see them on the photos.  It’s not obtrusive at all, but I might investigate a smoother brush for future projects.  Also, the Mod Podge dries so clear that you won’t see any of the glue that might accumulate at the edges of your photo.  Just make sure it’s not a big glob and you’ll be fine.  The glue dries incredibly fast.  I believe within 20 minutes I could not see any glue on the canvas or photo.  It is at this point that you could put on a second coat, but I chose not to.  I hung mine on the wall 2 hours after finishing the last canvas.

And now, my friend, your work is done.  Hang your art on the wall with pride. (P.S.  You may want to affix a picture hanger of some type to your canvas prior to hanging.  I skipped that step also, but I may go back and add it later.)

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