Monday, September 04, 2017

Arty Projects Soothe Worried Minds

Sometimes arty projects soothe worried minds. 

I've been working on a few arty things over this long weekend. The second pic is more like the original watercolor and lettering looked. I added the blur in one of the apps on my phone. I'm not the greatest with lettering. Today I penciled in the letters and went over them with a black marker pen, then went back and erased the pencil marks.

Again, the second pic looks more like the original page I worked on. But I liked the way the black and white looked when I tried it in my phone app. I notice I still have a slant on my lines. I'm clearly not all about perfection!

When I was looking at the pic in the photo editor, I noticed I had not crossed the "t" in "wait" so it looked like "the world can wail." I corrected the error.  

Harvey is gone but he left an unprecedented amount of damage in his wake. There are so many who are hurting right now. I know of four families whose houses have flooded completely. My nephew and his wife are one of those families. They were rescued out by boat last week and they still have not gotten back in to see their house and start working on rebuilding. The water is still too high. We were holding out hope that the water would not get in their house. Our hopes were severely dashed when my nephew saw drone footage of his neighborhood. The water was up to the eaves on all the houses in that area. They had just paid the first note on their house. The check was probably literally in the mail. It's heartbreaking and the damage is so much and so widespread. They didn't buy flood insurance because their home is not in the 500 year floodplain. The neighbors told them the neighborhood had not flooded in the 35 years they'd lived there.

My daughter has been working with a group rescuing dogs that have been displaced by the storm. That too is hard and heartbreaking work.  I worry about her being burned out. Tomorrow she will go back to her full time job but the rescuing and collecting of much needed items will continue for a long time.

It's not a great photo, but this is the one that sucked the air right out of our lungs. They hadn't even been in the house long enough for me to go visit them, so I can't tell you which roof is theirs. Doesn't much matter, really. They are all obviously flooded to the max.

We can go back to our jobs. We have water to drink and flush our toilets. We can cook a meal, or go out to eat. We can sleep in our own beds. The people in Southeast Texas have such a hard road ahead of them. And so many are in the same boat, with water damaged homes and businesses. But by the grace of God they will all make it through. Prayers would be appreciated.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sewing Machines and Hurricanes, An Odd Couple For Sure

I'm just reporting in (maybe mostly for myself). It is my suspicion that if you don't blog for a while it somehow attracts spam commenters. That suspicion may or may not be logical!

I've kept up with the progress made on my house and even made a little more progress.

I've been sewing again on the weekends and now have 6 or 7 quilt tops that need to be quilted. I'll have some of them done and will try to quilt some of the smaller ones on my machine. My machine was out for a bit because my foot control sort of exploded on me (not a real explosion, it just popped apart and couldn't be put back together because some of the plastic parts had broken). After a period of angst and indecision over what to do, I ordered a foot control. It came in, I excitedly plugged it up. And my machine started "sewing" 90 miles an hour! I wasn't even pressing on the foot control! I discovered there were two different foot controls for this model. I returned the wrong one and ordered the correct one. It seems to be working perfectly well now. I'm happy. And grateful.

I've also been trying to figure out how I could get an old Singer (high school graduation gift from my parents) running again. I brought it to a shop but they said it was the gears that were out and it would cost more than the machine is worth to fix it. I thought that was the end of the line for that machine. Except I googled for information on how to fix the gears. I watched a YouTube video and thought it didn't look that hard. That false certainty led me to try taking my machine apart to see if I thought I could fix it on my own. There were parts I needed to come off that were not coming off. The machine has been setting up for quite a few years. The wheel turned and the needle part went up and down. I almost thought maybe the lady at the shop was wrong. But I can't make it pick up the bobbin thread. I imagine that's where the gear is broken. I also managed to put a needle into the tip of my pointer finger. It didn't go all the way through. That's the first time in all the years I've been sewing that I sewed my finger!

With that failed experience in my head, I remembered another small shop that sells vacuum cleaners and sewing machine. I knew they had a guy there who worked on vacuum cleaners and sewing machines. I called them up and the man on the other end of the line was so enthusiastic about what a great job he could do on fixing my machine and how it most certainly was worth fixing. I'm going to bring it to him when I can. But the skeptic in me wonders if he will really be able to fix it!

People don't fix things anymore. They just throw them out and get new ones, expecting that they will have to buy another replacement in a few years. That's why this machine is worth fixing. It was made to last (in spite of its little plastic gears breaking).

I've been off for three days because of Hurricane Harvey. We had a lot of rain and some uncertainty about the damage he would do here. Our ground was so saturated from all the rain. They were worried about trees falling over in the high winds. All in all, our part of the state dodged a bullet this time around (but I hear there is another storm forming in the Gulf).

However, Harvey did unprecedented damage in the state of Texas. This was one erratic storm. Seeing all the damage and all the displaced people is heartbreaking. We've been driving I-10 back and forth to Houston for many years. I've never seen it as flooded as it was this time around.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Not Sure What Bit Me

For a long time now, I've sorely neglected my house keeping tasks. There are some legitimate reasons for this, and some not so legitimate reasons. But during the month of June several things transpired and I cleaned house (or I began to work on cleaning house). I don't fully understand what happened.

I'd started doing Morning Pages (a la Julia Cameron) again and the condition of the house was one of the themes that kept coming up. Also, a while back, one of my grad student friends asked me when I cleaned house. I had to admit to myself (and to her) that I didn't, which made me feel decidedly not adult.

A couple of weeks ago, we had Tropical Storm Cindy come through. She was supposed to be very bad. We got two days off due to the wind and the rain that was coming through. Cindy was not as bad here as was predicted. But I was home alone (hubby was not given the day off due to weather) and what else was I going to do do? Being home alone on a rainy day provides a prime cleaning opportunity.

So I worked in my den and in my foyer. I threw stuff away. I put stuff away. I dusted. I vacuumed. I rearranged the furniture. I rearranged the pictures on the wall. I decorated. I cannot tell you how long it has been since I even cared about decorating. I was so very pleased with myself. I looked forward to my next weekend off so I could continue to get things done that had not been done in far too long. It made me happy. It made me wonder what the heck had gotten into me. I even cut my long weekend short to be home and clean some more.

Things are still far from perfect. There is still much to be done. But I've made a start and I hope to keep on moving forward.

Also, another odd thing. Today I pulled out a quilt I'd been working on. I was disappointed with the way it looked because I'd gotten somehow mixed up with my pattern. I sewed the two patchwork pieces back together and added a border at the top and at the bottom. I'm planning on adding another border around all four sides. It didn't turn out exactly like I'd hoped but it's a pretty good "save" if I do say so myself.

Perfection is overrated. Good enough is good enough. And practice makes progress. That's the biggest thing I need to remember, whether I am cleaning house or sewing a quilt top: don't get overwhelmed by what is left to do. Savor the progress you have made. And keep moving forward.

I'll show you a picture of my quilt top but I'm not yet ready to share house photos. Just believe me when I say it was bad and now it is better.

I"m not a big John Maxwell fan, but I've had this quote in my art room for several months now. It resonated with me when I saw it. I've not been too good at staying consistent with many small disciplines. I'll have to do better if I want not to lose ground and to keep moving forward.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


I was in a room somewhere, staring out at the Houston skyline, trying to think neutral thoughts for my last EKG done with the relaxation study people.

According to my husband, she plopped down in the chair next to his and asked, "Are you a patient here?" He was in the process of answering the woman when I came walking up. We introduced ourselves, the woman and I, she'd already introduced herself to my husband, and started telling our respective cancer stories. She'd had breast cancer around six years ago and now it was back, in her lungs and in her blood.  Her right arm was completely bandaged due to complications with lymphedema. Her left arm was swollen almost to bursting, it seemed to me. She mentioned the word "metastisized. I don't consider that a good or hopeful word (though I could be wrong, having cancer three times doesn't actually make me an expert).

(Let me insert this right here: If you're smart, when someone says they have breast cancer and it was estrogen positive, as yours is, and it came back after the sixth year, you will remind yourself that her story is not your story. Same thing with colon cancer stories. Don't even bother to compare. Every single cancer story has its own differences, along with similarities. But just don't think that just because this or that happened to her or to him, it will also happen to you. Back to the original story now...)

We talked about a lot of things in a short time. She'd been a nurse. We talked about sleeping and how she couldn't get situated at night due to a couple of broken ribs on the left and not being able to sleep on the right because of the lymphedema. She told us about a place that might do laser surgery on carpal tunnel syndrome.

She lives in the area we lived in when we were living in Houston, very close to NASA and on the water. What a small world it is.

We got around to the subject of art when she asked me about the relaxation study and we talked about the things that helped us to relax. She flat out said it, "I'm an artist"! We talked about how art soothes and calms us. She excitedly told me about how they'd converted her garage into a studio for her. She was most thrilled about having a sink! But she also got a full bathroom, with a shower. I told her a garage studio was my secret dream.

I'd already talked too long. I had to get to my next appointment. She was so engaging. I could have talked longer. I could have walked down to the coffee shop with her and visited all afternoon. We would have had so much to talk about, I just know it.

How I regret that I did not have the courage to just ask her if she would like to exchange emails so maybe we could keep in touch. 

Her name was Bess. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Chance Encounters of the Sacred Kind

I've started back to doing Morning Pages again. If you don't know about Morning Pages, it's a practice from Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way. Basically, you get up and write three handwritten pages every. single. morning. You just write whatever is in your head, going in a stream of consciousness style (which isn't hard for me to do). You keep your hand moving and if you can't think of what to write, you write "I can't think of what to write." It's supposed to clear your head of all the piddling things that run through it (and make room for creativity to flourish). Or something like that. Anyway, that's become part of my morning routine.

I've been thinking I'd also like to develop a meaningful evening routine, something I'd do, creatively speaking, that would be non-negotiable. I'd thought maybe I'd write a little short story about something that happened that day, or something I've noticed, in a journal. As it so happens, I have a story for tonight...

Maggie was out somewhere and ran into Brian, the guy who owned the skating rink that my kids and their friends all frequented when they were younger. They made their small talk and he asked her how Tyler was doing. She had to tell him that he had died 5 years ago. It was awkward and sad. They talked a bit about the memories. Brian went on to tell her how he always called her brother Bobcat. We all knew this, but we never really knew why he got that nickname. Today Brian told her. It was because of the way he pounced on the puck when he played roller hockey.

Quoted below is a piece of a poem by Rumi. The smell of Tyler has long been gone from his shirts. Sometimes, if I try real hard, I can remember how he smelled. Oddly enough, I was thinking sometime today of how I'd like to be able to hug him again, really just to sit and talk with him a bit. Things like the encounter Maggie had today can be sad. We are made aware again of our loss, an awareness that never really leaves us. Time doesn't heal that grief. But you can learn, through time, how to walk the changed landscape of your world. And these chance encounters where we have to deliver the news to someone who does not know can also bring joy. We have our family stories of Tyler, we talked about him on Mother's Day. My mom said, and I agree, that Tyler had an "old soul." Today we learned a new story about our Tyler. That makes me happy. It made Maggie happy. Other people's stories about the ones we grieve are a sweet gift. Today I can see Tyler pouncing on that puck.

Who gets up early to discover the moment light begins?
Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?
Who comes to a spring thirsty
and sees the moon reflected in it?
Who, like Jacob, blind with grief and age,
smells the shirt of his son and can see again?

But don't be satisfied with stories,
how things have gone with others.
Unfold your own myth,
without complicated explanation,
so everyone will understand the passage,
We have opened you. . . .

Today was our 42nd wedding anniversary. Burying a child is hard on a marriage. We've managed to walk together through our grief. I'm grateful for our continuing survival. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

More Reading

I read Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. For some odd reason, I didn't think I'd like it. I loved it. This is one of the quotes from the book that seemed important to me (even though, now, it seems rather obscure).

She talked some about doing our art while also doing our day job. It seems to be a recurring message for me right now that I have enough time to do whatever art I need to do in addition to enough time to work a 40 hour week. I spend a lot of time daydreaming about being home and working on creative projects all day.  She says we shouldn't expect our creativity to support us, that we should instead promise to support our creativity, that we can "make art on the side of" our "bread-and-butter job."

Meanwhile, in my day job, I've been busy cleaning my desk area and beyond. I had a couple of drawers that had not been cleaned or emptied since I've been working in this position (8 or 9 years). It felt good to be clearing clutter out and purging decades old paperwork that is no longer needed. I can only hope to be able to bring that industriousness home to my house. Time will tell!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Book Reports

I recently told a friend I don't cry over books. We were talking about the ending to the Harry Potter series of books. I'd been slow to jump on that bandwagon. I was surprised that I enjoyed those stories as much as I did. Now I want to see the movies. Sometime.

I inadvertently landed on two books about death in a short time frame. The first one, which I have already mentioned, was The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, by Frank Ostaseki. He was cofounder of the Zen Hospice Project and he writes of his experiences of being with the dying. I borrowed this book from the library for my Kindle. I like it so much that I've since ordered a hardback copy of the book.

Two of his stories in the book brought tears to my eyes (I do not really consider that crying!). One was about a couple whose young son had died in their home. They wanted to stay for a bit with the body, and the author wrote the most touching recollection of the couple washing the son's body. One of the hard things when my own son died out of state was the waiting for his body to be brought to us. I know he was gone from his body, but I kept thinking about how he was traveling all alone with no one to be with him. And I wondered about how his body was handled by the various people who came into contact with it on his journey home.

The other story was about a female doctor who had grown disenchanted with her work, with the part of it that involved her telling people she did not know (in the ER) that their loved one had died. I can't remember the story well but the gist of it was that the author advised her to find a way to approach the task with intentional awareness. Her father and grandfather had been doctors. She brought her grandfather's doctor bag and her father's stethoscope to her work. When she went to inform someone of a death, she gathered up those two things to carry with her. She needed the reminder of her ancestors to help her make her way. She paused at the doorway, holding the things, taking a deep breath, and walked in to tell the family of the death. She no longer took the task for granted. She was no longer hardened to the task. She was aware and present. I don't know why that story made me tear up, but it did. It was probably something about the possessions of the ancestors she intentionally gathered to help her. I often feel very keenly the presence of my own ancestors. We talk about them and we tell their stories. In this way, they are still with us.

Now I am reminded of Dumbledore telling Harry Potter, "Of course it's happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?" I loved that quote.

The second book on death was When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. This one is about a young neurosurgeon who is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer just as he is finishing his final year of his training. He was in a relatively unique position of being doctor and seriously ill patient. His writing about his diagnosis and his thoughts on his death hit close to home for me (and caused tears to flow). . .

"I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn't know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn't know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn't really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live."

I don't consider myself as having a terminal illness (no more than I consider any of the rest of us having a terminal illness, but there is that quote about life being fatal). But the possibility of that does occasionally loom quite heavily over me. As he said in the book, "Even when the cancer was in retreat, it cast long shadows." So I have this shadow, and in this way, my own diagnosis is a gift, having awakened me to my own mortality and my own desire to live as well as I can (which honestly, quite often, I do not feel like I am doing). I also have the gift of a relatively good prognosis. I do not want to waste it.

I'll also say here at the end, that it's hard work, distilling your life and days down to the values that are most important to you. It's hard to kick the Shoulds to the curb. It's hard to accept (and forgive) your failure to meet up to your own idealized standards.  I keep trying. I keep failing. I keep getting up. And dammitall, I know I'll keep on trying.

"Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow." Mary Anne Radmacher.

(Look at me, giving myself a pep talk!)