I am nearing the first full year of living in my house. I have experienced one of every day here. A birthday, anniversary, Christmas, Thanksgiving, leaves falling, leaves budding. Each day is new. And each day here still feels like a miracle.
But many days are scary. The reality of a real, grown up mortgage still catches my breath. And personal and work stress have been very close this year. Many of the things I was planning to really enjoy at my new house aren’t realities – except for the magical Saturday mornings I go from fitful sleep to my home office. No slow mornings on my treehouse deck. No walking to downtown Parkville to grab a cup of coffee or lunch. No staring outside my big windows at the big trees.
It is summer. And the solstice milestone is shaking me. There is this one life. This one chance to find joy. And so today I wrote my summer rules…
Only read Wodehouse. And maybe Things Fall Apart or The Year of Magical Thinking.
Listen to lots of live albums. And disco. And Nathaniel Rateliffe.
Drink a cup of hot, sweet tea outside every morning.
Embrace the heat to remind myself that I am alive and being alive is a miracle.
Stitch all the things.
Stretch all the time.
Check in with myself every hour. That I am maintaining boundaries, releasing stress, slowing down, staying present.
I bought my house in 2003. The house I close on in 10 days. When I bought it, I wanted space to create and entertain and a big yard for my dog. The house was built in 1906. My 18 years there was just a small part of its life. But it was such a big part of my life. It was the backdrop of lots of joy, a little pain. It gave me a shelter and it was a major character in my story.
My bathroom was 12 steps from my bedroom. I remember my first week there, waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. And feeling so lonely and grown up and scared and thrilled. I owned this house. Those 12 steps in the dark, the carpet and then linoleum underneath my feet. I had to keep it together so that I could pay for this house. This was mine. I was alone and this was mine.
My sweet Annie. She was so smart and we were growing up together when we moved into the new old house. Gaurding the big yard. Tearing up the garden hose. Dragging my clothing into the yard. Her muddy pawprints on the carpet. Her spot on the couch. Her wiggly butt every time I came home. The box of toys she wouldn’t play with Never agreeing to cuddle with George, but him never stopping trying. And then Annie’s last days. Sitting in the same spot in the yard that she claimed the day we moved in. I had to walk over to her to remind her to come inside. At the end she couldn’t really hear. Her soft fur and sweet eyes and her radiating love and nervous protective energy will always be at that house. They aren’t here which makes them feel even more lost forever. And in some moments it feels unbearable to live in a place that she has never been.
And the tech writers. Band practice with The Imperatives. My wonky french doors open – music inside and outside. Feeling the joy of living a different life. The parties and game nights. Drinks on the porch. Miller lite and Gin and juice – that was such a thing back in the day. Beer bongs and cards and crushes and laughter. Boys who I can barely remember now. Friends who I will never forget. Endless viewings of Pretty in Pink. Burning CDs to capture the perfect party mix. It was at that house that my friend Brett showed me the iPod he had bought. I think second generation – it held up to 8 hours of music! Hundreds of little memories – the tiny history of a GenXer before we were old. You are young and then you aren’t. It is disorienting.
Oh! The vegan cooking. 5 years in that kitchen making everything vegan. My favorites – beef stroganoff and rice krispie treats and snickerdoodles transformed. Arrowroot and glycerin and chemical egg and Bragg’s and apple cider vinegar and Daiya and tofurkey. A revelation every day that this was possible. Living my ideals through feeding myself.
The big change. Husband. Two perfect little beings moving into mine and Annie’s bachelorette pad. Their energy and interest and toys. Alternating weekends of noise and activity with crafting and quiet. Starting a married life. A family life. A family life with all the books. Buying grown up furniture for the books. A new couch. New appliances. Years and years of two big humans crowding into a queen bed – sometimes romantic, sometimes infuriating. Years and years of working and crafting in a small space. Letting it get to me sometimes. Mostly coping. Until the end when both of us cracked and fretted and tried to find the space. The pandemic brought to life and light that we needed some breathing room. Right now I am writing this amongst all of the breathing room a person could ask for.
And life as an artist. Learning to bead, knit, crochet, quilt, paint. All of it on the same pine table that I am working at now. An entire life through the frustration and joy of creating craft.
Moving out was fantastic and horrible. Our sweet cat George passed the same day we closed. The darkness and the light all in one big messy, joyous, tragic ball. There is room for all the books. And my quilts and paints and notes and pictures and monitors. All of the breathing room.
Hummingbirds come every day to tell me it will be ok. I can’t thank them enough. Because in this house there are 16 steps from my bedroom to the bathroom. Four more for the dread and fear to jump in. I have to keep it together for this house.
Truly, I am overjoyed in this new place. The over in the joy is the gratitude for the life that brought me here. Living here with the love of my life and the sweet and mean little cat and all the trees and birds. And joy that in a few days my beautiful house will have a new chapter with people who love her. And so many memories in this new place already. Toby making himself at home at the top of the bookcase. The perfect fall breeze on our perfect deck while we drink homemade mochas because we can’t afford Starbucks. Picking where things go. Still being bad at cooking, but in a gorgeous new kitchen. The endless craft room. The sound of the trains. Giving the tour to my friends. Every day my husband saying “I guess this will do” and smirking. Because it most certainly will do.
A week ago I did something I have never done before. I changed jobs. Ok, well not quite. I changed jobs and the company I worked for. I started with my last employer when I was 24. I am now almost 47. The move has been surreal and wonderful and scary. There is no way of knowing that leaving a company after so long is the right decision. I hope so. I know I am ready for new challenges, a new industry, new people. But leaving was hard on my heart.
In short, I still am processing. Part of my processing is trying to remember all the good things I learned from working for one place for so long. Being part of the “corporate” world has been hard – there are innumerable challenges to being a part of that machinery. But it also has been one of the honors and joys of my life – to work alongside some of the most talented, smart, funny, kind people I have ever known.
Human first. A few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of servant leadership. And it was a relief. The idea that humility and service was not weakness, but strength. Part of being a good leader is letting them see you sweat… admitting that you need help… I 100% believe that if we could all put away our bravada and focus on transparency, we could thrive. I can’t make others do that. But I feel I have led by example – showing that asking for help, admitting when you don’t know is a sign of confidence and strength.
Be present. When things are the most tense is when you need to slow down, breathe, check in. I am not always good at this. There are times when I have been callous, rude, distracted with the people I work with when stress is high. In short, this is one I am still learning to practice. But being able to care for people when it is the most challenging is critical.
Build trust, build people. I believe people thrive through positive reinforcement. It has always been pretty easy for me to see peoples’ gifts – it is one of my superpowers. And I have never been broken of the habit of telling people how they are great. So much seems to conspire against us to make us feel our limitations. But we are limitless – and it never hurts to tell people that. To tell people in small and big ways you see their power, their fortitude, their insight. When people know you value them, they will value your opinion – even when you need to give hard messages. Build people up. I have never regretted that.
Own your strengths. I have well-exceeded the 10,000 hours needed to become an “expert” at my jobs. It is exhilarating and frightening to start that clock back at 0. But I have learned to own my power. If I know something, I don’t demure. I earned my knowledge. I earned my voice. And if anybody wants to know what I am good at, I’ll tell them.
Work as hard as you ask others to work.
Thank people all the time.
Ask lots of questions. Even when it seems everybody but you understands. Ask the question. But don’t talk just to talk – to show your importance – everybody can see through that – and they will lose trust in you.
Be willing to live with the consequences of a burnt bridge. Be willing to not travel that way again. I burned some bridges. Not many – and I am not sure I would make a different decision. But be circumspect in your choices. Don’t carry around a flamethrower.
Take good notes.
Ask the same of men as you do of women. Especially about taking notes and scheduling meetings. Women are not “better” at these tasks.
Get as big a monitor as you can for all of your big ideas.
Triple check your work.
Ask for what you need, even when it is hard. Especially when it is hard.
Wear comfortable shoes. For real. It isn’t worth it. You can’t do the big jobs if your feet hurt.
Some times you just have to use Excel. And that is ok. Fancy, automated tools are awesome. But sometimes you just need to get it done.
Go to lunch with your friends when you can. The work will be there when you get back. I learned this one WAY too late in life – and now I regret the times I didn’t go to lunch.
Good writing will always be a valuable skill. Proofread.
Ask for help. And help others when they ask.
Block time to focus. Save time to get your own work done.
Leave work at work. When I first started at my job, I was a technical writer. I hope you have had the opportunity to know a technical writer in your life. They are the most eclectic, interesting, smart group of weirdos you will ever meet. Being a technical writer, I had a built-in community of people who gave a shit about me. It was a meritocracy of knowing how to use commas. They were all completely different and they were my people. We would go to lunch or for happy hour and complain about whatever, talk about the latest drama at work. There was this guy Chris, who would always ask us to talk about something other than work after a few minutes. I complied, but I didn’t understand. To me, work was the most interesting topic. And then one day, I got it. Work is part of our lives, but we spend enough time there that it is a waste of time to talk about it outside of work. And when I started getting more responsibility, and had more power to affect things, talking about it would keep the stress close, rather than being able to let it go with the pure gift of real people in the midst of real camaraderie. To this day, I prefer to talk about anything but my day at work with my friends, family, husband.
Find excuses to laugh. Lots and lots. Mostly at yourself.
I am so grateful to have meaningful, rewarding work for most of my life. And I am grateful I have a life that expands well beyond work. So here are some things that I learned away from work… that mixing the watercolor on the paper can be better than mixing in the palette… that a good hug can solve a lot of problems… a slightly shallow 1/4″ seam makes for better patchwork… a few minutes in the pre-dawn quiet sitting on my porch is better than checking emails…
One last thing I have learned… as part of my leaving, I got so many well wishes – an overwhelming amount of people telling them what I had meant to them – flowers, cards, video messages that cause me to cry so hard I still haven’t been able to watch all they way through. These have been the greatest gifts of my life. I have learned that when people say they love the people they work with – that means they love you.
The first week of a new year is a hopeful thing. Especially this year. Hope of emerging from a pandemic after a year of collective isolation, grief, fear. The ticking over of the calendar doesn’t solve the problems, but it does punctuate that we might be on the downhill of this sustained total suckiness mountain climb.
And then violent images of insurrection and treason emerged. I took that day off from my pursuit of betterness.
But then the next day I remembered that languishing along with the world doesn’t do me any good. A retreat into lethargy and numbing doesn’t help. So on Thursday, I picked back up with habits that will help.
There is a lot I am tracking this year. Despite my better angels, I am cataloguing it all. Most likely to be abandoned next month. But last year I tracked lots, and didn’t hit my goals, but got farther than I would have. 37 books finished. 27 fiber projects finished. Almost $20,000 of debt gone. Progress.
So I start again this year… here is what I am tracking… this is both boring and overly transparent..
Daily: consumption of 7 fruits and vegetables, 100 ounces of water, keeping my closet neat and tidy, not increasing debt, nightly skin care, 30 minutes of exercise.
Weekly: finish a book, list or promote 10 items on my Etsy shop, walk 6 miles, cook 3 times (my husband does the bulk of the cooking), finish a fiber project
All of this activity to hit my yearly goals: finish 52 books, finish 52 fiber projects, run 3 miles in 30 minutes or less, have 12 epic recipes memorized to become my “signatures”, reduce debt by $24,000, earn $5000 in Etsy revenue, A1C within normal range
It is a lot – but there are things not there – things that I feel a compulsion to track and achieve, but ended up making me grumpy – specifically, learning german and painting every day. I will wait to learn German until the world opens up enough that I could attend some sort of speaking group. On my own is not fun. And having a goal of painting every day has transformed something I love to something that is a chore. Forcing the daily creative works for many – I don’t think for me. I am going to chill out until I feel like painting again. I once loved it – I want to love it again.
Week 1 went well… if I meet my goals today and tomorrow I will have made yummy chocolate chip cookies, a fakin’ bacon pull apart biscuit casserole, finished 2 books, listed 10 items on my shop, walked 6 miles, exercised 228 minutes, made lots of progress on a quilt I am falling in love with. Not bad. And I deep cleaned my bathroom – which isn’t even tracked on a spreadsheet!
I know it is fool’s gold – this much productivity. But I feel happy and better. And I don’t feel like I want a multi-hour nap. And my muscles have that feeling like they are growing. I am a happy sore – mentally and physically. Here is to week 2.
I am sitting in my home office / studio where I do all the things except cook and sleep. I take endless online calls here during the work week. One stacking on top of another – each with fear pockets – the pocket when I try to recall whether the person I am meeting with prefers camera or not. The pocket of whether I am prepared for the conversation. The pocket of what amount of work will be assigned to me during the meeting. The pocket of how I am going to get all the work done when I have to attend all the calls. The type, attendees, content of the call flexes how big the fear pocket is – from tiny to breath- stopping.
I have lived through the worst calls I could imagine. And I am ok – it was ok. But I am hard-wired for anxiety.
Today there is no fear. A day off. No meetings. A new year. Some hope folded in. Resolutions to start.
But last night was rough. In the early morning I had a shaking night terror – the strength of which I haven’t felt in more than a decade. Every time I drifted off, I felt myself being lifted to the top corner of a giant room and dangled. Screaming and no one could hear. My anxiety down to its basest – my life being threatened.
I have bad dreams all the time. As I age, increasingly they are about rows of toilets and not a clean one to use and I have to really, really pee. A strange addition to middle life – amid so many strange additions.
But this was not a bad dream. This was a terror. I remember them. The feeling of death and loss in an instant as soon as I close my eyes. Blech. I remember my training. Training from surviving these terrors in a too-large portion of my 20s. I wake up. That is the first step. And then I remind myself that it isn’t a real threat. And then I spiral about how easy it would be for me to end up homeless with nothing. And then I explain to myself how that it isn’t a real possibility. (I am most likely not going to get fired, and even if I was, I have friends and family who would take me in, etc. – also known as reality.)
The worst possible thing that is happening to me is that I cannot sleep. That is all. That is not that bad. I watch local news – I remember that the same stories on repeat have a soothing effect. And I don’t expect anything of myself other than to live in that moment. Exist. Breathe. That is all I have to do right now. And then I list things that I am grateful for. The first to come to mind is that I live in an age where local news starts at 4 am. When I was living the darkest part of night terrors, the news didn’t start until 5:30 or 6:00 am. Imagine.
I am old. And yet I still approach each new year with the hope of a teenage girl. That this will be the year I change. I always have – and I have given up the expectation that I will ever change. A start to the year with long-gone night terrors is not a good omen. But then maybe it is. I got to list what I am grateful for. I got to see intrepid local reporters report on the state of ice on pavement.
I got to be reminded of how essential my marriage is. Later this morning I told my husband about what happened (he who sleeps blissfully through the night – like a superpower). He told me that it is ok that I didn’t get sleep. That there was nothing I had to do today other than relax. That it is ok to not get anything else done today except exist. And breathe. Those who know how to love me know that it is always best practice to take away expectations, whenever possible – especially arbitrary ones I have set for myself. It is like giving me a gold ring.
Happy new year, from my corner office. The snow is falling. And the absolute worst thing happening to me is that I cannot sleep. Not bad.
This week I was stopped in my tracks. I sat in front of my dinner crying the tears of the defeated. Silent, head bent, no relief. Crying when there is nothing left to do. Work is unrelenting. Every day is the same misery. I never thought I would get sick of being at home. I love home. It is where the yarn and fabric and paints are. It is where my kittens and husband are. But all motivation to create or laugh or connect or move have long left. This is ordinary depression. But ordinary depression never feels conquerable, does it? It feels like the first and forever and only existence.
I am reminding myself that when you can’t control anything, the best advice is to set little goals of things that you can control. Even if you don’t want to. And I really don’t want to. I want to nap and watch dumb stuff and eat peppermints.
But I have to just start starting. I set some goals for the next few months. Or rather, reset. Read some books, sew some stuff, relearn the German I forgot, stop watching dumb shit, listen to my records, paint every day. Try to move. Try. Little goals. Starting even when I don’t want to.
Right now I have Velvet Underground playing on my little Crossley. I am going to make one quilt block. Create a keep going playlist.
One of the first times I was happy with my painting output is when I made mono prints. I learned from a class on the amazing Creativebug. Sharing my slimmed-down version in step-by-step instructions here. There also are different techniques on Youtube.
Let’s get started…
Gather your materials…
Strathmore printing paper – I have a pad of 8×10 – not too expensive for 40 sheets. Watercolor paper could work – just something that can take ink and water.
Painter’s or Artist’s tape
A straight pen with a “Nikko G” nib. The type of nib is important – you need one that is fairly inflexible to make a thin line – otherwise the lines on your print will be too messy.
A sheet of transparency
A computer and a printer
FW Acrylic Ink – probably other inks would work – but I don’t chance it. This ink is gorgeous for this project and it doesn’t get smeared with the watercolor – which is essential. I use the color “Red Earth” in these pictures because I love the old-fashioned look – but any color will work. I am going to try hot pink someday.
On the intertubes, search for an image and print a copy of it that will fit within your printmaking paper size.
Adding “line drawing” will help find images that will be easy to trace.
It is better to use picture of objects to trace – rather than pictures of people.The smudged lines will distort people’s faces and they might not be happy with the result.
Simpler images are better – but you can always omit tracing all of the lines in a picture.
Keep in mind that the image will be backwards – so no words.
You could also draw your own picture!
“Register” everything. This means to take everything down so it stays in place since you will be “printing” over and over in the same place. Tape the original image closest to you. Tape the transparency on top of the original image. Tape the printmaking paper on the edge closes to you like a hinge. Fold the printmaking paper over and make sure the image will print in a good place on the paper.
Drop a little ink onto a palette. I use an old tea bag holder – perfect shallow size.
Now the fun!! Dip your nib into the ink and draw a few trace lines over the image. Fold the printmaking paper over and apply medium pressure to print the ink lines onto the printmaking paper. Repeat until the entire image is transferred.
Because I am right-handed, I go left to right, top to bottom so I can anchor my arm and hand without dragging it through already-inked traced lines. (Ignore the picture above – I started on the wrong side!)
Start with thin lines of ink and increase the amount as you judge the amount of ink you need to use to get the impression you want.
If you use too much ink or trace lines that are very close to each other, you will get blobs. Some blobs are good – adds to the effect!
Use your watercolors to fill in the print. I love bright colors – but use whatever you like.
I love making. I love pulling stuff out of my brain and onto paper or fabric. I struggle with requests for specific colors or patterns. But because I am baby-quilt woman and every new mom wants “something and grey – very muted” for their babies – I try to find the challenge in the restraint – choosing fabrics and patterns that allow me to express my creativity while still meeting the intent of the brief.
Sidebar: I get good practice setting boundaries as craft woman – I don’t make t-shirt quilts or hem anything. I can’t make curtains or dust ruffles or clothes. I hate saying no, but I have to in order to protect my limited sewing time. Most quilters reading have just affirmed with an AMEN!
BUT (there always is one), a friend and cheerleader of my work and her beautiful daughter sent me a picture of the quilt they wanted for her pending bundle of joy. I, of course, was going to make her a baby quilt. I am, after all, baby quilt woman. And I made one for her older sister that they gushed over… “How did you do it?” “I love the fabrics!!” “The pieces are so tiny!” And then they texted me several pictures of the baby with the quilt. Some thoughts…
Sorry fabric designers for all the credit I take for your gorgeous and creative designs. People conflate me being bright enough to buy cute fabric with me designing the fabric. Again, apologies.
Pictures of babies on me-made quilts are more precious to me than gold or donuts.
I make quilts so that they are swooned over. No shame in admitting it.
The quilt I was going to make for Youngest Daughter of Dear Friend had been designed a hundred times in my head. So I was more than a little sad when they had a request for a SPECIFIC quilt. And that quilt was <dramatic pause> a rag quilt. In blush and neutrals. I don’t know how to make rag quilts, I don’t particularly like them. Because she had a specific request, she offered to pay me for the quilt. I don’t think I ever will be ready to take money for making baby quilts – too much pressure!
But I am a nice person or have problems setting boundaries (let’s be honest, it’s the second one). So I found pale fabrics, read how to make a rag quilt. 2 days before the baby shower I was making, making, making.
Boy to the HOWDY! was I wrong. Making rag quilts is pretty fun. And not hard. And blush and grey make a gorgeous color combination. I am thinking of SELLING them on Etsy. There is a lot of demand for them!
Anyway, here is a picture. And I know there will be more coming with a gorgeous baby perched upon it. Joy.
The company I work for has an amazing benefit – every few years we get an extended amount of time to focus on balancing our work and our life, while doing some professional development or volunteering.
This is my third sabbatical – after 19 years. I chose volunteering as my activity and got to make 9 Project Linus quilts. It was wonderful. As overly documented in this blog, I try to make 12 quilts for Project Linus every year, and so I got to pack this activity into my break.
The theme of these quilts is COLOR and scrappiness. I used lots and lots and lots of orphan blocks and scraps. And yet my scrap pile doesn’t look any smaller. Would you like to see the quilts? Off we go….
See? Scrappy? Yes! Um, bright? Yes. My grandmother (the other one) was fond of saying that things she made were cheep and cheerful. She didn’t mean anything negative (I don’t think) – just that particular Midwestern, pioneer spirit of making the best out of what you have. Like when they printed floral patterns on grain bags so farmwives could make dresses out of them.
Oh, but I love these two. Pink and flowers are my favorite.
Another crazy one. And two rather more composed. It makes me so happy to convert fabric to quilt. Especially when I have so.much.fabric.
And two stunners made almost completely out of orphaned blocks. The solid fabrics add a punch to the scrappiness.
Making 9 quilts all in a row is fun, but taxing. I had to put other crafts and pursuits in my studio on hold for the onslaught of press, cut, sew, press, baste, quilt, bind. Here is a pic of the studio on a rather active day.
Really looks like I need a system!
I did get into a rhythm of cutting and piecing. I am thinking of writing a post for how to make a scrappy, constrained improv baby quilt for beginners. Feels like too much to take on right now… but someday.
What a fantastic action shot! Almost like a real quilt blogger.
Ultimately, the best part of making a bunch of quilts is being able to photograph them in a neat stack. So I leave you with that.
My husband and I had dinner with some dear friends last week. And when the conversation started in earnest, one of them turned to me and asked, essentially, why are you selling jewelry?
It is a good question. My life was and is full. I make quilts, play MarioKart with my stepkids, have a great and busy job, embroider, paint, even sometimes exercise. In short, there is a lot going on.
Thanksgiving of last year, my grandmother was hospitalized and then moved into a skilled nursing facility. She will be there for the rest of her life. And we need to sell her things. Pretty simple.
And not pretty simple. My grandmother could be casually cruel to my mother and me in ways that hurt deeply. Complicated.
(And the basic truth is that almost everybody I know has a dark relationship with some or all of their family. I am not special or unique in this, I know.)
I was consistently told by her that my (in her opinion) lack of beauty and slenderness meant that I didn’t matter. That the rest of the wonderful things that I had to give (short list: generosity, wit, intelligence, skilled Ninja) didn’t matter. I now know…
1. That there is more to human existence, female existence, my existence than being pretty.
2. That I am now and always have been pretty frickin’ beautiful.
To make a sale, I am trying to do everything right. Gently clean. Photograph. Edit Photograph. Google to find reasonable price. Describe. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Her jewelry means so much. It reminds me of her presence. Her hobbies. Her sound. Her cruelty. I can remember certain things she said to me while wearing certain pieces. I remember the fear of being close to her, of what she was going to say to me, of how I would be hurt – all while staring at her coral-shaped diamond and gold ring that she wore on her right index finger. Complicated.
My grandmother was loud and beautiful and sparkled and had more presence than anybody in the real world. Like Dolly Parton. She owned a room.
And I am reckoning with that. That thread of sparkle and shine and owning a room is in my core. My dad has it. I have it. And if she wasn’t part of me, I wouldn’t have it. And so I am grateful for her.
And I am grateful for the process of cleaning and sorting and photographing each piece of her jewelry. I am reminded of my own sparkle. These beautiful vintage pieces will find new life for women who sparkle. Women who own a room because of their wit, intelligence, kindness, Ninja acumen. The beauty of vintage is a new life, new meanings for beautiful things.
I do miss quilting and embroidery and reading, quilting, and quilting – all are on hold while I give my weekends to this endeavour. But I know they will be waiting for me when I am ready. And MarioKart and painting and work still are here.