Friday, July 31, 2009

Needle in a Haystack

A friend of mine recently became a grandmother for the first time. It’s definitely a major milestone for her and she is ecstatic. I decided to mark the occasion by making a simple cross-stitch project that I found on the internet. It’s a sign to be hung on a doorknob with a design that says: “Shhh … (insert name) is sleeping.” No specific colors are given, so I figured I’d do it in various shades of pink, in honor of the new granddaughter.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any cross-stitching. I found the fabric and embroidery floss easily enough, but for some reason I couldn’t find a needle. There are dozens of needles in this house, every size and type needed for my sewing machine and serger, curved and straight, metal and plastic, pointed and blunt – but no cross-stitch needle. I dug through every drawer and under almost every piece of furniture. No needle. If I were a logical person, I would have run to a craft store and bought one, but a) I was short on cash, b) I was really busy, and c) why would I spend money on something I know I already have? So I put the project on hold and went to work on something else. After all, the baby will be taking naps for a while – unlike my own children, who grew up overnight.

So I gave up looking for the needle, and I started packing for a weekend trip. I unearthed a suitcase I had used for a trip in April. When I opened it up, I found an old cross-stitch project – with two needles in it! Fortunately, my friend’s granddaughter is still a baby – and I still have the fabric and floss. Wish all my “lost” objects could be found so quickly!

It seems the things I can’t find always turn up when I stop looking for them. Is it a conspiracy? Perhaps. Maybe all the items in my house like to take turns driving me crazy by hiding when they know they’re wanted, and then appearing when I’m no longer looking. I’m sure my husband wouldn’t appreciate being compared to a “lost item”, but he did turn up when I stopped worrying about finding my soul mate. I wonder if the strategy works for finding things like my youthful figure, and oh yeah - my memory?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Beginning a New Chapter

We’ve had three family graduations this year. My daughter completed her graduate studies and is now a licensed school psychologist. One niece graduated as a Doctor of Pharmacy, and another niece graduated from high school. It’s a happy time in our families, because these three young women have proven their worth as students and are now looking forward to a new chapter in their lives.

I remember the feeling of exhilaration each time I entered a new life chapter. graduations, teaching, marriage, motherhood, retirement – times of excitement and trepidation. Each milestone represented a time of promises to myself as well as others that this new life path would be the right one for me and that I would make the most of it. Would I have been so eager if I could have seen what the future actually had in store for me? Probably not. Things turned out quite differently than the scenario I had planned.

The challenge is to keep the momentum going. After several years, the newness goes away and without nurturing, the happiness can die. Excitement about the new job, the new school, or the new marriage can wane. The joy of being a parent is difficult to maintain amidst the pile of diapers and the sleepless nights. We all have our ways of dealing with the “letdown” – whether it’s working to improve things, accepting the status quo, or getting out of the situation.

I’m happy for the new graduates. I’m excited for them, and I know they will all do well, no matter what choices they make, and what the future holds for them. There will be pitfalls, as there are in everyone’s lives. All I can do as a mother and aunt is to be there, ready to provide physical, financial, or moral support, and let them go again.

What do you do to keep things fresh?

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Family Afghan

One of my current projects is an afghan. I like the pattern because it’s easy to do and doesn’t involve any counting of stitches. I can watch television and keep my hands moving, or work on it while I’m talking to people. It gives me something to do while I’m waiting in a doctor’s office, or riding in a car. It’s kind of a “no-brainer” project that allows me to sit and observe without feeling guilty about being unproductive.

This weekend I went with my daughters and my mom to a family gathering. The trip was a ten-hour ride each way. Since my children are both convinced that I’m going senile, I didn’t have to do much of the driving. So my afghan grew quite a bit on the drive there. We spent a lot of time together, and my afghan grew some more. And while the girls and I discussed our favorite and not-so-favorite parts of the trip it grew again.

As I sat with my family, reconnecting with those whom I don’t see very often, I felt our bonds strengthening. I saw the thread of our shared past intertwine with the new experiences and become something unique. The addition of new family members, new friends and acquaintances, new places, all add on to my family afghan and make it grow. They all make for a beautiful new product - the extended family. The pattern is easy, and doesn’t take any concentration or counting. It’s a “no brainer”, like my knitting project.

My wool afghan grows when I sit and let my hands work while my eyes and ears observe. My family afghan grows the same way. Who knows what it will look like when it’s done? No one but the Almighty. But if I keep working at it by simply being there, watching, observing, and keeping my hands busy, I know it will be wonderful.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Live to Embarrass My Children ...

I never really thought of myself as having a particularly vivid imagination, but apparently it’s enough to make me think of some strange scenarios. Sometimes I’m swept away into a world only I can see, embarking on weird and wonderful adventures. It’s great until one of my children appears, bringing me back into the real world. For some reason these journeys begin when I’m facing some inanimate object and my eyes glaze over, making me look pretty silly – at least to my offspring. Apparently it’s not cool to have a mom who stares at things like vending machines and trees.

What’s so mesmerizing about a vending machine? Nothing much, except that one day, right after I finished deciding what drink I wanted, I started to think about what it would be like to be a little person living inside the machine. I’d spend my days riding on the cans sliding down the chutes, grabbing on to some ledge just before the can reaches the bottom, and then climbing up to the top again. Yeah, it’s weird, but maybe this was my way of going down a water slide without having to wear a bathing suit. Anyway, my eldest child was mortified that her classmates were there to witness my mental departure from the real world.

The tree provided an even more curious scenario. We were in Washington, DC, listening to a particularly boring tour guide drone on about some historical trivia. I happen to love learning about history, but I prefer to hear about it from people who actually know what they’re talking about. I stood at the back of the group, next to a tree. A lone ant came up to the tree and started climbing it. I watched as it wended its way in the channels drawn by the bark and wondered how it know which way to go every time it got to a fork in the “road”. Did he have a specific destination, or was he just looking for food? If I were that ant, how long would it take me to get to the top of the tree? This time it was my younger one who dragged me back to the present.

Now that both girls are on their own, I have more freedom to daydream. And some of the less strange daydreams have made it into scenes in stories (no, not the pop can slides or the tree-climbing ant). My dear husband doesn’t seem to mind when I “disappear” unless I happen to be facing him when my eyes glaze over (did you ever wonder what it would be like to be a zit?). I do try to make it back to the real world when we’re eating meals together. But I think it makes life easier for him. If I’m off “visiting” someplace in my mind, he can have total control of the remote!

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Look Into the Past

Last night my daughter came over and we had a scrapbooking night at my kitchen table. It’s always a pleasure to have the kids here, but it’s a special treat when we can share an interest like this. She’s working on a baby book for her husband, and I had several pictures of my dad to add to his Korean War album.

Since Dad is no longer with us, it’s a bittersweet experience to work with his pictures. I can’t ask him who the people in the pictures are, and have no idea about the order in which they should appear. A few of the pictures have names and dates printed on them in my father’s precise lettering, but most are a mystery. Nonetheless, I put them on the pages, trying to group them in what I thought was a logical arrangement.

There were pictures of soldiers at work in the field – men intent on doing their job in a foreign land. There’s Dad, hunched over a map illuminated by a single bare light bulb. Men are shown maneuvering tanks and other heavy equipment. Other pictures were taken during quieter times, smoking, drinking, or attending a makeshift church service. A few included Korean children at play, with American soldiers watching them. And there were several taken at the Army hospital where Dad was recuperating after sustaining his injuries.

I suppose I will never experience firsthand the things that Dad and his comrades had. And I suppose it’s a coincidence that I happened to be working on his military album just a few days after Independence Day. But I thought again how fortunate I am that men and women like Dad have been willing to put their lives on the line for things they believed in. It’s so humbling. And when I want to complain about the state of my life, I have to think about what it could be like without these brave souls.

Thank you.

PS It’s been a week, and I’m keeping both goals! On to Week Two.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Crazy-Quilt Philosophy

One of the perks of being retired (from full time teaching, anyway) is that I am able to work with a group of creative women who make quilts. On the first and third Tuesday of each month, we meet at church for a morning of fellowship. And while we chat, our hands create comfort quilts for those who are hurting, either physically or emotionally. Some ladies choose to piece together the colorful quilt tops. Others sew the tops to the batting and backing fabric. And still others do the tying that holds the pieces together.

Last month one of the ladies brought in several quilt tops so colorful I had to take a closer look. Instead of a pattern of select colors and textures, she had randomly pieced together hundreds of tiny scraps, and then framed them with a dark solid color. “I hate to waste fabric,” she told me, “so I put all my extra pieces together, and get a quilt that’s just as warm and comforting as any other!”

I decided to follow her example and tackle the pile of scraps lying all around my sewing machine. I sorted the pieces by size, rather than color, and started piecing them together. Before I knew it I had four quilt tops! Tomorrow I’ll take them to church so that they can be made into something that will offer comfort to someone who needs it. And my sewing table looks a lot cleaner.

Meanwhile, I’m still writing at least two hundred words each day. I think the “crazy quilt method” works a little bit here, too. Each article or story I write has building blocks from various random bits of my life. Each character I create is a variation of someone I know or have met. The crazier the combination, the more interesting the story. But If I do it right, when I put it all together, I'll get something that’s warm and comforting.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Peeking Out From Under the Mountain of Chaos

Yesterday I turned another year older. The jury is out as to whether I'm any wiser, but my list of "things to do before I die" is not any shorter. I guess I'm luckier than most: I've found my life partner, we have beautiful, intelligent children, and we're not in danger of losing our home. Most of the things I want to finish are located in three places - my basement, my bedroom, and my computer. I'm a creativity junkie, and I spend my time going from project to project. Around my sewing machine and serger are piles of fabric. In my basement are file drawers full of patterns, cabinets of paints and brushes, and hidden in my computer files are several stories in various stages of completion. And then there are the instruments (oboe, flute, clarinet, saxophone, trombone, and piano) and the mountains of music for each.

I know that I should complete one project before going on to another. I know that my messy house is the result of tackling too many projects at once. I know I spend way too much time on the internet, reading books, watching television, etc. instead of completing my projects. But it's like rich, chocolatey dessert - I KNOW I shouldn't eat them, but that doesn't mean I listen to myself.

So - why the blog? I've been observing other blogs. Some are informational, some are inspirational and motivating, and others are just cathartic. Maybe this is a bit of the last, but I think maybe this is about accountability. A writing friend recently blogged about the similarity between dieting and writing. And one of the things I learned from my thirty years in Weight Watchers is that writing down what you consume helps you stay on track. Also, letting other people know what you are doing means that when you stray, it's not a secret.

I don't think I'll ever have the type of home worthy of a spread in a women's magazine (unless it's an advertisement for an episode of "Mission: Organization") but I'd like to decrease the size of the piles of unfinished projects. So - here are two mini-goals for this week:
1. Write a minimum of 200 words each day (I think this post satisfies that for today)
2. Work at least one hour on another, non-writing project
Hopefully by next Friday, I'll have some progress to report! And maybe some of you will have some words of advice. How do you organize your "creative urges"?