Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Little Bit Blue, A Little Bit Birds

We've officially reached that part of an Iowa winter where we start asking ourselves(only half jokingly) why the heck we still live in this place. Everything is cold, dry, dusty, dull, and every shade of sad imaginable.

Yesterday, the sky was so pale it pretty much matched the snow. Even the sun was no match for the power of the great cold colorlessness. Kinda hard to feel anything but a little bit cranky, tired, and bored.

It is amazing what a little bit of color and few dozen big, majestic birds can do to lift the spirits though. We drove to the river this morning, with steaming cups of espresso spiked, blackberry hot chocolate and watched bald eagles, who were perched in the trees and diving and swooping over the river. Those big, beautiful bodies against a background of blue sky and puffy clouds was a soothing balm for our winter worn souls. 

Beautiful blue sky. And the dam.

Not an eagle, but still beautiful!

Sometimes I really dislike the cyclical nature of small town living. Every year is marked by the same repetitive events. New event ventures often fail because people don't seem to like to stray outside of their annual schedules of events. I find myself dreading highly celebrated annual festivals and craft shows because they are just the same thing over and over year after year. However, I will NEVER get tired of these gorgeous creatures making their annual appearance. They mark the beginning of each new year, and are a signal that winter's days are numbered. They have a gracefulness and elegance that is mesmerizing, and they are capable of magically lifting your spirits when they lift their wings.

I could never get tired of that. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Hydrox's First Bread Loaf

Well, the first one he's made in front of me, at any rate. Milestone! 

And then also this.

He wasn't born in a tuxedo for nothin'.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Week In Pictures

This month marks 15 years since I graduated high school. FIFTEEN YEARS. I think this means that I am officially an old and out of touch geezer?!

Maybe not quite yet. It does feel like some of my generation are starting to get there, though. Their eyes seem to become more and more critical of the younger generations with each year that passes. I see them complaining about "kids these days..." on Facebook and I'm just over here like, "Were you the least bit present during your own teenage/early adult years? Because you don't seem to remember them as well as I do, and I was only a bystander/onlooker..."

*sips Hot Cinnamon Sunset tea from prissy bone china tea cup while rolling eyes*

Any who, I graduated a semester early. 

And I did not attend the graduation ceremony the following May. 

Quietly rebellious. *winks*

I don’t know where I thought I would be in fifteen years, but I do know it wasn’t here. I was always an artist, and California or New York seemed like the places to be to pursue that career path. Definitely NOT here. 

Here is probably a better place than I thought I would be, though. I’m sitting on the couch under a cotton quilt with a cup of hot chocolate tea(topped with marshmallows AND whipped cream!) listening to my oldest kid read the first Harry Potter book to the youngest as I sketch booth designs(for markets/shows) and we wait for their Dad to get home. I am warm, safe, comfortable, content and mentally healthy. I am pursuing my art at my own pace, on my own terms. I don't think I would have been strong enough to survive art school/the big city/new relationships had I made such a big leap straight out of high school. I was too mentally and emotionally frail, what with all my undiagnosed acronyms, emotional baggage and all. 

Ultimately, it isn't really worth spending too much time thinking about. A hundred million different things could have happened. There's no way for me to know, 100%, what the "best" decisions at any given time were. Or are, for that matter. It was what it was and it is what it is. 

I'm still hoping to make it to California and New York for art purposes though. I don't feel like I am "there" yet. But someday. 

When I wasn't ruminating on the trajectory of the last fifteen years this past week, I was reading, stitching, planning out my booth for show season, receiving sweet art from sweet kids and watching over Hydrox Heartnose, our new kitty. He had been popping up in the yard for a month or so, and we initially thought he might belong to somebody in the neighborhood, but as the snow and cold crept in, it became obvious that nobody was caring for him. So we took him in a week and three days ago. It has been a bit of a transition period for him. He feels safe in the wood shop(an enclosed back porch attached to the house), so he's mostly been out there, but each day he stays in the house a little bit longer. Today is the first day he's been comfortable enough to actually snuggle up on the couch and sit awhile. He's usually always on the prowl. Progress! 

He's gassy, he drools, His ears and tail are just a tad too long for his body, he climbs the trim on the walls/around the doors, he seems to know what "no" means but he just doesn't care. I think he's going to fit in just fine here. 

And we're pretty excited to have his stank butt hanging around, since our beloved fluff puff Jigglypuff passed away last summer. 

All in all, it has been a pretty lovely week. 

Current reading list. I'm not very good at reading just one book at a time. 

Un unfinished sketch. Because they're all always unfinished. How I roll. 

A little cat skull WIP.

Finished up this French knot piece, just need to stitch up the back. 

The kids made me this cool book of drawings and uplifting comments. Is this not the cutest?! They put aside their usual bickering and worked together to surprise me with this handmade gem. I am so touched and impressed. 

I crocheted a blankie for the new sibling of a couple of kids I teach at school. They brought me some paintings and a sweet note from their momma on the back of one to thank me. I may or may not have cried a little in the car after school...


A series of artistic portraits of Hydrox Heartnose(Or, "Can you just, no, ok, I mean if you could just hold still for a moment, that would be great-ope, nope, that's a little too close, back it up, not that far though, oh I give up! Wait-yes! That's it! Thank you Kitty Meow Meow!!! Thank you!")

And then, for just the briefest minute, he finally curled up right beside me. My heart melted like hot wax, I tell you. He was comfortable enough to fall asleep.

But only for a minute. Then he remembered to wake up and be on alert.

 I look forward to the day when he feels comfortable enough to nap in the same room as us. The vet told us he's about a year old, and already neutered. So who knows how long he had been on the street, or what disappointment and distrust humans have previously sowed in him. It will take some time for him to realize that we love him. 

And we do love him already. I mean, just look at the mug on that goofy little cookie. And those sweet little socks. How could we not love him?!

I apologize in advance for the copious amount of cat photos that are about to hit this blog... 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Has It Really Almost Been A Whole Year?!

Yes. Yes it has.

Yikes. But, so much has happened in that year! I was busy! Doing the things, and like and as such!

When you're a kid, a year feels like FOR. EV. UH. And then you grow up and have your own kids and good Lord is it already a new year?! I'm still trying to stop writing 2015 on my checks...

In all seriousness though, I know this time of year is not fun or pleasant or hopeful for some people, and those people have been on my mind a lot over the past few days. As some people people celebrate the amazing 2017 they have had and excitedly ring in 2018, other people feel like they are jumping out of one personal dumpster fire and into another. It can be hard to watch other people celebrate the gifts the universe has bestowed upon them when you feel like the universe has been using you as its own personal toilet.

But hey, if you are one of those people, you should know that you aren't alone. I’ve been there too. Last year, I was really REALLY there. I wasn’t sure I could survive another year. I was in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pain that caused me so much aguish, I wasn’t sure that I could make it through each new day, let alone a whole year. Seeing others celebrate their victories and accomplishments and joys left me feeling bitter and hollow. 

Over the course of the year though, things started to change. Despite the dumpster fire shit storm fiery car wreck over a cliff that has been America in so many ways this past year, I had a really positive, enlightening and love filled year. Some of this was due to happy surprises that were unexpectedly dumped in my lap, and some of it was due to conscious changes that I made in how I live my life. Over this past year I really started to examine where I was investing my energy, and what the returns were on those investments, and I realized that I was wasting too much time and energy on endeavors that weren’t bringing me, or anyone else in the world, any joy or positive growth or personal contentment, so I made adjustments. These adjustments, in addition to some diet adjustments(I discovered that gluten in not a friend of mine. So much so that ingesting it was causing me severe physical pain, and depression. But that’s a blog post for another day) have had an unexpectedly invigorating impact on my mental, physical and spiritual health. 

So though I don’t make New Year’s resolutions(because they feel too much like rules and I DON'T NEED YOUR RULES MOM! Even though, I am Mom, that's my name now, I don't remember what my old one was.)I do resolve to  continue to pursue these avenues of energy investment in order to feed and nourish my mind, body and soul. I share them, well, just to share. Because I enjoy when other people share their stories with me. 

Grow green things year round: I have made a really conscious effort to keep green things alive this winter, as a friend gave me a lemon tree  this past summer, that had to come indoors once frost hit the area, and I desperately did not want to disappoint her by killing off her gift to me. I have never had much success with indoor plants, and did not expect this lemon tree to do much of anything, but by god, the precious little thing has lemons on it, and I can’t tell you how magical that feels to hold a growing lemon in your hand when wind chills are thirty below zero outside! And while removing gluten from my diet has had a significant positive impact on my mental health, there is still a bit of sadness tinged cabin fever that comes with snow and cold that is noticeably lessened by having a bit of living green mementos of summer hanging about the house. 

“If you wish to make anything grow, you must understand it, and understand it in a very real sense. 'Green fingers' are a fact, and a mystery only to the unpracticed. But green fingers are the extensions of a verdant heart.”-Russel Page

Make things: This seems like an obvious thing, I suppose, since I am, in fact, an artist and by nature that occupation typically requires usage of the hands to make things(with the exceptions of some very unique cases), but even as a person who sacrifices sleep in order to work her craft, I still spend too much time browsing social media, and addicted to the physical act of eating. And while I make my money by making art, I frequently get so caught up in the business aspect of making art that I forget to take time to make other things that are of a more practical value. Right now, my sewing machine is dusty, and the chisels I bought to learn to carve wood with have long since been swallowed up by the cavernous depths of the junk cabinets in my kitchen. 

Recently the husband and I finally got around to upcycling some kitchen hardware that my brother had given us, and some lumber scraps, into jewelry/kitchen towel hangers, and it felt so good to make something that served a practical purpose!

"People who buy things are suckers"-Ron Swanson

I am also currently crocheting slip covers for a pair of unattractive, utilitarian storage ottomans that we’ve had for a few years(That’s the kind of furniture you buy when you have a maniacally destructive two year old!), using a bunch of cotton scrap yarn, and honestly it just feels so good to see this little project come together, knowing that it will bring coziness and cheerfulness to our everyday environment, while also still being thrifty with our pennies. There's a real sense of value and self worth that comes from making things for yourself. That's part of why I volunteer teach kids art, because learning to make things gives them(well, let's be honest, some of them) such a sense of empowerment. 

Do with less so that others might have more: When I was a young woman, I was very much into acquiring “stuff”. Some of that was due to undiagnosed and untreated borderline personality disorder(impulsive behaviors can function as coping mechanisms in BPD patients, for me personally, binge eating and shopping have historically been the impulses I struggle with most), and some of it was this subconscious belief that acquiring things was better than acquiring people because things would never hurt me or let me down. At some point it morphed into thinking that my things made me more interesting, sophisticated and attractive than other people. My things were the proof that I(or alternately my partner) were hard working, successful people. We DESERVED our things. If other people didn’t have the things we had, it was because they weren’t working hard enough, or were making poor decisions, or in one way or another just weren’t as deserving as us. 

And then life handed me an unfortunate obstacle and took me down a peg. And then another, and another, and another. And I began to realize that maybe life wasn’t the easy formula to the American Dream that I thought it was. And my stuff held no value compared to health insurance for my children or a job opportunity for a recently unexpectedly unemployed husband, and no meaning when compared to the sudden death of a loved one. I realized that my stuff, in the end, wasn’t really even mine, but only mine for a time. You can’t take it with you, as the saying goes. And so I went from believing that everything I had belonged to me by right, to realizing that almost nothing really belongs to me, when I really think about it, and anything that does could easily and swiftly be taken away at any moment. So why cling to all this stuff and things, then? If my family's basic needs are met, then that is all we really need to be contented and comfortable, so why continue to hoard stuff and things when there are plenty of other people in the world who are doing without basic necessities? A stack of expensive designer shoes in my closet feels obscene when there are people in the world going for days without meals, shelter, water. 

Does that mean that we never treat ourselves to items that are outside our temporal needs? No, of course not. It just means that when people are in need, we do what we can to help them. We don’t stop to sift through their entire life’s history to determine whether or not they deserve our help based on how they vote, or where they live or the number of “bad” decisions they have made versus the number of “good", we just do our best to help them, and we value helping other people more than we value accruing an arsenal of material items for ourselves.

When you have more than you need, build a bigger table, not a higher fence.

Simplify your life: In America, we suffer a constant hunger for more, more MORE! More excitement, more stimulation, more news, more stuff, more speed, more prestige, more content, more accolades, more money, more food, just...more everything! It is absolutely overwhelming and exhausting at times. 

For example, sometimes I go to the grocery store and stand in the oil aisle staring at olive oil bottles for 20 minutes because I literally don’t know which of the 30 different types is “the best”, and I also can’t decide which “best” is the “best”. Best price per ounce? Best type of bottle for keeping the product freshest the longest? Best place of origin? Which "best" do I go with? And then I just end up with coconut oil anyway because there’s only two or three brands of that to choose from.

And that’s just the olive oil. It gets worse when you have to make big decisions like buying a house or a car, or insurance for those things. 

If I am going to be faced with those kids of time consuming decisions outside my home, then I definitely don’t want to lose twenty minutes of my life each morning trying to determine what shoes go with what outfit, or two hours of my life dusting all of my stuff each week, or an hour each day hollering at the kids to pick up their ridiculous number of toys. I don’t want to be a slave to decisions and things that don’t really matter in the long run or the grand scheme of things. All of that time adds up, and there are other things that I can do with it. I’m much happier, and much more productive when I keep our routines, our belongings, our wardrobes, and our home environment on the simple side. And I’m not the only one. It works for the whole family. So long as our needs are met, we are genuinely happier with LESS. 

“Be as simple as you can be; you will be astonished to see how uncomplicated and happy your life can become.”-Paramahansa Yoganandya

Do more kind things for other people without expectation of reciprocation and do them without the guaranteed social media hearts and likes that filming yourself doing an act of kindness provides: It is true, we are living in some dark and scary times, and people desperately need good news, but can we maybe start hearing about acts of kindness from the people who benefitted from them rather than the people who provided them? Can we please stop exploiting another person’s financial or emotional anguish for the sake of our own social media standing? If you do kind things only for the sake of the camera, are you really all that kind or are you just in it for the personal marketing? 

‘'Like most of the superficially decent things I do in life, my motivation was to impress women more than to aid the suffering.'’-Russell Brand

Social media makes it so easy for us to take our good deeds and turn them into public monuments to how charitable and kind we are, but it doesn’t challenge us to examine our intentions when do this. Are we posting this because we were unexpectedly blessed when we blessed somebody else, and we want to share that experience with people we love? Or because we are so excited about a particular opportunity for giving that we want to share with those we love so that they might participate too? Or are we posting it because we want to be publicly commended and we recognize the inherent theatrical and emotional value of giving a suffering human being some unexpected relief? There's a big difference between filming your kids' reaction to an unexpected Christmas puppy and filming a hungry, homeless man walking barefoot down the road, then filming yourself buying him shoes, then filming his reaction to you giving him the shoes. 

 While some would argue that it doesn’t matter WHY the good deed happened, just that it did happen, I find myself disturbed by the idea of a world where people only treat each other kindly in order to achieve social media points. (And yes, I have totally seen the "Nosedive" episode of Black Mirror. If YOU haven't, what are you waiting for?! That series is fantastic!)

When you give of yourself without fanfare or expectation, you remove the energy that dissection of the deed afterward requires. You give, and then move on, as opposed to give, and then anxiously wait to see what kind of response you get, so you can then expend more energy by responding to the responses. In other words, doing kind things for others without expectation of reciprocation or improved social standing is really just anther way of simplifying. You conserve your various types of energy, because you do not expect a return on your investment for yourself, and therefore you do not waste any energy trying to determine if you have received it.  

That being said, there is a difference between kindness and letting yourself be used and abused. You have to make sure that you are intentionally giving, rather than being taken from and convinced that the pillaging of your resources is actually you being generous. 

It took me awhile to effectively sort out the difference between the two. 

Like, 30+ years. Which is a big part of why this new year is so much more hopeful for me than the last one was, and why I want to impress upon you that even if things feel super sucky for you right now, things can almost always change, in some way or another. I was once so utterly hopeless, that it was impossible to even imagine being so hopeful as I am now. 

Please, don’t lose hope. And please don’t let yourself get bogged down by comparisons of your life’s journey to anybody else’s. What works for me might not work for you. These things that have helped me are just that-things that have helped ME. I share them because they’ve had a positive impact on my life, and maybe they’ll help somebody else as they journey along their own path to peacefulness. 

Or, ya know, maybe I’m a fruitcake.  

Or maybe, I don’t even actually exist. 

Maybe this is all just a Black Mirror style simulation. 

Who the hell knows? 

Simulation or not, though, if you are not having a happy new year, I send love and peace and strength and light your way, and I hope this season of your life will soon give way to one that wraps you in joy and floods your spirit with hopefulness and happiness. 

Here’s to a new year, may it be full of profound growth, peace, meaningfulness and contentment for us all. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Stitching For My Sanity


It has been QUITE the winter, hasn't it?!

The world is on fire outside my window, but I'm still in here cleaning up cat puke, packing my kid's school lunches, and trying to convince the kids I teach at school, one afternoon each week, that art is still not only a "thing", but an important thing.

Meanwhile, I find myself quietly questioning my own work and whether or not it is all a waste of time at this point. Should I be focusing my energy in other directions? More important directions? Or is playing the part you've been given the most important action you can take?

And when I'm not being devoured by the news, parenting, the historical biographies I have recently become obsessed with, or, you know, an existential crisis, I am elbow deep in fibers. Knitting, spinning, and more often, crochet. Yarn work has become my winter sanity saver, since I can't be in my garden.

So today I'm sharing a few of the things I've made over the past couple months, in vain attempts to beat back the paralyzing grip of anxiety.

This is a granny triangle shawl made with variegated cottons, plus a band of variegated acrylic scrap yarn. I used Morale Fiber's pattern.

This is a granny square cocoon shrug made from a nice, neutral color cotton. Neutral color?! ME?! Shocking, I know. I didn't use any specific pattern for this. You just make a square, fold and hem it to create the sleeves. But if you really want a pattern, you can search etsy and find quite a few.

This little shrug is just a nice crocheted rectangle of triple strands of cotton which create a nice ombre effect. My mom had sent over a crochet flower a while back, and after noticing that it matched this little piece, I turned it into a shawl pin. 

This is the granny triangle, without fringe, crocheted in triple stands of size 10 crochet thread. For each band of color, I carried ecru and mint thread, plus a third color. 

This is just a scrap shawl, but honestly I think scrap shawls are my favorite projects, because my stash is always rainbow colored, so my stash projects always look like rejects from a community theatre production of Joseph and the Amazing, Technicolor Dream Coat. Or, Jesus Christ Superstar. Which is totally fine by me, man. 

Little cotton hats that I donated for children Christmas boxes. 

And I made my first pair of arm warmers! Which were super easy to make, just a rectangle stitched together at the sides with a hole left for the thumb, but I'm still excited, because up until this winter, I didn't even think I was capable of making any of this stuff. I didn't think I could follow a pattern, or count rows or stitches. There was a mental block there that I really had to go out of my way to defeat.

I am an artist, through and through, but it does feel really, really good to be able to make practical, useful things too. I've got my eyes on several different charities that accept these types of handmade items for babies, veterans, children, battered women and refugees, but I don't feel like my stitching(and tail weaving) is quite up to the standards that giving them to other people would require(Except for the hats. I'm pretty comfortable with that particular pattern). I mean, I don't want to send shoddy work out into the world, right? But, I'm getting there. And pretty quickly too, thanks to all the anxiety causing upheaval currently happening around the world. 

So for now, since I, insignificant little human, can't offer the madness of the world a giant cure, I keep on stitching, in hopes of keeping bodies warm, and I keep on making art, in hopes of keeping souls warm.