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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Should I?

New Year’s Resolutions. Will I? Will I not? Anyone have a coin I can flip? Are they a good idea, or an albatross weighing heavily from our necks, pressuring us excessively?

I’d tend to pick the latter. Then again, making a New Year’s Resolution can be a good way to kick off something I was intending to do anyway. Having an agreed-upon start date is good motivation. It’s a fresh start. A fresh new year. Okay. I’ll do it. Sounds good!

But honestly, I have a knee-jerk reaction to the word “resolution.” Resolutions almost always involve the word “should,” and there’s a lot of pressure in that word! “Should” is often used in reference to something we don’t completely want to do! (I should get up early and clean the house. I should start my taxes in March so I’m not panicking in April. I should eat more fiber but I really want to eat more chocolate!) And don’t try to trick me by saying that I can avoid the pressure of “should” by using the word “ought.” Or the phrase “I will.” I can’t be fooled that easily. It’s not my first New Year’s Eve.
Am I the only one who associates New Year’s Resolutions with penance? Impossible. Many people kick off resolutions on January 1st because they indulged over the holidays and feel they must atone. But I’m not sure it’s the best time. On January 1st many places are covered in snow or rain or hail or all of the above and it’s gray and freezing and depressing and there’s no sun and the days are short and the heating bill is long. So why choose this season to add to the misery? Why kick yourself when you’re already down? I say April 1st is a better choice for forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do. At least in April it’s sunny and warm and things are growing and there are flowers and nests full of baby birds and things are more cheerful so this is a much better time to embark upon a new fitness program or some other resolution you don’t completely want to do.

Here in sunny San Diego, we can’t claim evil weather as a reason not to do a New Year’s Resolution. But I’m thinking of the rest of my fellow Americans, in places colder and wetter and grayer than here. Don’t you think April 1st is a more reasonable day to start something difficult? It’s more manageable to stick to a challenging resolution when it stays light later and you can wear shorts and spring grooviness is in the air. Who’s with me? Let’s get a petition going. Or let’s forgo a giant stack of paper and just start a movement. We will not make resolutions on Jan. 1. We may consider making them April 1. And if, by 8pm on April 1st, the resolutions aren’t going well, we can just say it was all an April Fool’s Joke and (ha ha ha) the joke is on you people! Later I’ll insist that I was kidding the morning of April 1st when I said my resolution was starting today and that from this day forward I would be rising with the birds, dusting my house before dawn, saying positive things to myself in the mirror, eating bran and fiber for breakfast, washing my breakfast plate immediately after using it, leaving surprise gifts for neighbors, smiling all day because there’s no room for negativity, not swearing (not even once, all day!), chewing each bite twenty times, standing and sitting tall without one hint of slouching, flossing every single tooth—twice, walking ten miles a day, biking to work, never again using sarcasm, volunteering for Jury Duty, cooking a balanced dinner that is ready right on time, whistling while I work, leaving anonymous notes in mailboxes with inspiring messages like “You rock!” in them, doing the dishes after dinner instead of leaving them overnight, not thinking any mean thoughts about neighbors/coworkers/bosses/strangers/meter maids or politicians, and going to bed with a smile on my face. And you fell for it!


I won’t promise I will do all those things, each and every single day. But I suppose I could try to tackle a few of those ideas--maybe one per day. I could try. That’s all I can agree to do. But it’s not a resolution, okay? I don’t want the pressure and I don’t want you playing cop, checking up on me. I’ll call them suggestions instead.


Yes, I like this new plan. New Year’s Suggestions, possibly starting on April 1. Or not. We’ll discuss it in March. Or April.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cheery Chevy

This 1957 Chevy Bel Air wagon is rocking its holiday cheer. Seriously, you can learn a lot from cars. This car is owned by someone in the neighborhood, Jack. I blogged about this car years ago. See here. I love its style. I wonder if Santa could borrow the wagon if his sleigh gets too full. (See, I’m full of solutions!)

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas—whatever you’re celebrating, enjoy. Cheers…

Friday, December 19, 2014

Adding and Subtracting

It’s holiday card season, and I’ve up to my eyeballs in envelopes. My card list forces me to assess what has happened in the last year—the ways in which my circle of friends and family has changed. This year there are names I’m taking off the list—people who have died. Most years the list expands and contracts, changing shape from the form it took the previous year. This altered shape represents life itself: an ever-changing scene, like the fragments in a kaleidoscope—tiny movements creating new configurations.

I go through the list and edit: the 104-year-old matriarch gone, a baby born. I know it’s part of life. But I hate erasing a name from my list. It’s all on the computer, and with the click of a mouse, name and address are gone. Although removing names from my list is startlingly abrupt, I’ll never forget those who have passed. In the last nine days I learned that another two people I knew died. A cousin by marriage passed. She was extraordinary, sharp as a pin. She hung on long enough to celebrate her 103rd birthday, and two days later it was time for her to go. Our friends’ dad passed just last night.

I’ve been working on our cards for the last two weeks. Cards have arrived from overseas and from other parts of America. Two friends sent photos of new babies—babies I didn’t know existed. I guess a lot can change in a year. Subtracting names from my card list feels uncomfortable. But it’s also a weird feeling to realize that I don’t know that much about the lives of certain people on my card list. Should I feel glad that people still want the connection with me, even if it’s only once a year by card? Yes. But an announcement of a baby I didn’t know existed also highlights how infrequent our communication is. It makes me feel more distant from the senders, not closer.

Maybe this is a dilemma most of us face. How do we know when to prune our contacts list? I’d rather have a smaller number of real friends, not a giant number of acquaintances. Perhaps in the new year I’ll do a post on Dunbar’s Number. Dunbar wrote about the size of our tribes—the number of people to whom we can maintain a meaningful connection. Some of these cards depress me when they show how little contact I have with the senders, but other cards give me a boost. I know it took effort to address the envelope, to buy a stamp, and to mail it to me. I know I matter to those friends. Some have hand-written notes inside—a sign that someone took the extra time to write something personal to us. I’ll try to focus on those ones.

In an age when a lot of our communication is via computer, an actual card sent through the mail is a sweet gesture, a more personal touch, an old-fashioned and meaningful way to connect. This week we heard that our friends are expecting a baby next summer. I know that a year from now when I’m tinkering with my card list, I’ll add their baby’s name to the list. I may have to subtract other people from the list: elderly relatives or friends who have passed. It’s not easy. But it’s life. It’s hard to say goodbye to people. But maybe I can turn the losses into reminders to feel grateful for those who are here. I can’t stop change, but I can remember to appreciate fully the special connections I have with people …

Monday, December 8, 2014

Feathered Fun

I may have mentioned my obsession with flamingos once or twice before. A while ago I began sewing a dress out of some darling flamingo fabric but I ran into a problem I didn’t know how to fix. So I put the dress aside--for two years. That seems silly now but let’s not dwell on it. Recently I took that dress out and told myself that I was going to finish it, and I did. It’s not perfect but then again, I’m not building a piano. The design is my own creation—something with touch of a 1950s or ‘60s vibe. I dig it! Obviously, a photo session with a midcentury feel was in order.
I wanted to experiment with making some of the photos black and white. It adds to my vintage theme. On the other hand, it deprives everyone of seeing how delightfully pink the flamingos are, and gray flamingos just don't bring it.

I decided to make a killer headpiece to go with the dress and a cute pair of flamingo earrings my friend Roxie gave me last week. Every Monday should be this fun!


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Cheap Frill Tutorial #5: Belt or Headband or ???

Let’s cut up our clothes!

Yep, I said it and I meant it.

Now, I don’t mean you should grab the nearest pair of scissors and cut to shreds every last article of clothing you own. That would not be practical, given that it is winter (at least here).

What I mean is this: do you own an article of clothing that isn’t working for you? You love the color or fabric but something about it isn’t right? Don’t be afraid to take some scissors to it and make it better!

I recently bought a shirt at a thrift store (LOVE thrift stores—more on that in the future). I liked the fabric and knew I could use it for a SSP (Someday Sewing Project). At home I tried it on and didn’t like how the elasticized waist band sat so I cut off the waist band. Then I promptly forgot about it because it’s December and I have a lot to do before the 25th!

A few days ago, in my attempt to reconfigure the avalanche of stuff in my art studio, I found the delightful scrap of fabric that I’d cut off the shirt. Either I was procrastinating getting back to reorganizing the studio or I was inspired to share what this scrap of fabric could be. 

(Now before I go further I feel a little sheepish even calling this a tutorial. Except for the initial cutting of fabric, there is nothing involved in this tutorial. Is it even a tutorial? Oh well. Maybe I’ll call it an idea…)


This waistband from the shirt was elasticized and it could stretch around my head twice. If you have a scrap of fabric that doesn’t stretch around twice, stretch it around once and tie the ends at the back of your head. Colorful, keeps my bangs off my face, and keeps ears warm. (Cleopatra eye makeup entirely optional.) 

Headband-Scarf Combo:

Again, my fabric scrap was long, so I had enough material to make a figure 8 (the part where the loops cross goes at the back of your neck). This one is fun because it looks a little different, and keeps both ears and neck warm (which is a major bonus in a freezing place like San Diego!). 


If your scrap of fabric is too long, gather the extra and fold it back and forth a few times in front before anchoring it with a fun pin you’ve made with felt and beads. (If you haven’t made a pin like that, don’t worry. Even a safety pin would do. But fun pin is obviously just more fun!)  

Actually, there could be a lot more options with this loop of fabric. You could wrap it around your wrist a bunch o f times as a funky bracelet. There may be endless possibilities.

A word of caution: if you are going to keep pieces of fabric for SSPs (Someday Sewing Projects) or FAPs (Future Art Projects), please learn from my story and know that you may end up with a huge amount of stuff because almost anything can be repurposed. The danger is that you may end up with an avalanche of stuff in the room where you keep such things. But this is the case when you have lots of creative ideas. It goes with the territory.

And now I must get back to my studio reorganization. I know you’re curious about all the other random things I’m finding in there, but I must put my foot down and insist that you wait until January. Please, no more interrupting me!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

California Dreamin’ (or not)

Forget raining cats and dogs. Last night’s storm sounded like an entire zoo in the sky. At three am I got out of bed to use the bathroom, my bladder feeling full after hearing so much water fall outside. I’d been asleep (kind of) for four hours and the rain had woken me at least ten times. This is not good for blogging--I need rest in order to dream up funny blogs! But the whole thing got me wondering: was I waking up because of the intensity of the storm or because we’re not used to rain in San Diego? In places where it rains a lot, do people just sleep right through everything but the very loudest storms? Note to self: ask friends in rainier places…

I know our garden beds will be happy for the rain. We are in drought conditions here, and we definitely need rain. And my car did need a wash. But after a restless night listening to the percussion section in the sky, this California non-dreamer needs a nap…

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Scalpel and clamp, STAT!

I have never performed actual surgery. At least not yet.

But tonight I had a moment when I thought, “This must be what it feels like to be a surgeon, mid-procedure.” I was in the middle of a chaotic furniture rearrangement and pile relocation and mess transfer between my bedroom and my art studio. I began to panic a little. The mess was just so huge. I began to regret ever attempting to make the switch. But on I plowed. At that moment I imagined a surgeon cutting organs, staunching blood, and trying to remain organized even as the mess got messier. It would get bloodier before it got better. I decided that like a surgeon, I needed to keep going, even though things were pretty crazy during the middle of the procedure. The surgeon’s end goal is getting the patient on the right track toward recovery. My end goal was getting my bedroom and art studio on the path toward looking less like the town dump. (See, this is an excellent analogy!)

Like a patient post-procedure, the two rooms undergoing some changes will bear the scars of surgery. There may be swelling and discoloration. There could be stiffness and sweating. Recuperation might take a lot longer than expected. But there was a reason for the procedure and I already can see some positive change. My bedroom looks better (even if my studio looks worse for now). Still, changes had to be made and I hope that with some good physical therapy this studio can be rehabilitated from a bruised bag of bones to an organized castle of creativity where—inspired by actually being able to find things—I will make even more art magic than before!


Saturday, November 29, 2014


According to my informal research while watching movies set in the 1950s, "Go stuff your bra" was a major insult at the time. It was a reference to someone's lack of body development. (If only they knew that as of 2014 many Hollywood types have had their implants removed and a smaller size up top is considered chic. But let's get back to the topic at hand. I run a G-rated or sometimes PG blog here and I don't want to shock you awake from your turkey coma by discussing boobs so early in the morning. And you thought a post entitled "Stuffed" would be about post-Thanksgiving full stomachs. Fooled you again!!!) Anyway, the bra-stuffing punch line led me to consider how I sometimes throw things into my sports bra, which gives a whole new meaning to stuffing a bra.

Women's clothes often do not include pockets. (Men's clothes always have pockets.) Maybe fashion designers assume women will carry a purse large enough to house anything and everything she might need (and whatever her dog, boyfriend, kids, family, friends and strangers might need on a given day, too). So pockets in women's clothes apparently are deemed unnecessary. I agree about the purse assumption. My purse is chock-full of the necessities, plus lots of other items for "just in case" scenarios. But there are times when I don't carry my purse. If these times coincide with times I'm wearing pocketless pants or shorts, what's a gal to do? I'll tell ya.

Every day I walk for exercise. I don't bring my purse and my shorts have no pockets. It's freeing not to have to lug a giant purse but still, I might need a few things while I'm out. If I'm walking for exercise I'm wearing a sports bra, which can house a few small items in addition to housing the parts it is designed to hold in and up. The elastic around the bottom of the sports bra ensures that things won't fall out. They stay just where you put them and are easy to find, unlike when I dig around in my purse, wondering if it has a trap door where my keys are hiding.

This bra-stuffing idea first occurred to me over the summer while I was at the beach with the kids. We chose a few special shells to bring home with us. Not planning ahead, I didn't have a bucket with us and I wasn't clutching my purse as I stood calf-deep in water. What to do if you don't have pockets? Stuff your bra, of course!

(I actually think this concept has been germinating in my brain for years, ever since I learned that in Spanish, the words for "purse" and "pocket" are the same: bolsa, which means bag. And a pocket really is a small bag, one that happens to be attached to your pants, so this is all quite logical.)

Anyway, a sports bra can hold quite a bit without anyone knowing anything unexpected is in there. I have tossed in lip balm, money, my driver's license, keys, tissues and shells. There are limits, of course. Let's say you need both your hands to push a stroller or hold your phone while walking your dog--I don't advise sticking your umbrella in your bra. No, I'm not concerned about weird stares you'd get by having an arrow shape pointing off your chest. I'm concerned only that the elastic in your sports bra would be stretched out to the point of no return if an umbrella were kept in there. And then you'd have to go buy a new sports bra and you'd be mad at me for telling you the old one could hold an umbrella which led to your needing to buy a new bra. I'd feel badly and I'd feel compelled to accompany you around for a while, holding your umbrella for you, just to redeem myself. And I've got things to do. So please, just believe me now--don't put the umbrella in there. We'll all be happier.

But lots of small things can fit in a bra. I think it makes excellent sense and since you're probably already feeling like you have too much to carry and do (simultaneously), just do what I do. Stuff that bra. Bras may not be a new invention, but carrying things in them is going to be the big new trend once word hits the street. Purses won't go the way of the dinosaur but it's nice to have an alternative for the times when you don't want to lug your bag.

Bras: the latest hands-free device. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

We are Thankful...

Recently I won an important argument. Yes, I’ll share details. It went like this:

Fun me: I should make a Thanksgiving banner to hang out front. Thanksgiving doesn’t get enough attention as far as decorations. It’s squeezed in between Halloween and Christmas and people don’t decorate for it. (It could be that they’re waking up at 2am on Thanksgiving to start cooking and they don’t have time to decorate. This is not me, by the way. 2am is sleep time.) But really, think about it. People decorate for Halloween. People decorate for Christmas. Thanksgiving? Not so much.

Responsible me: Decorating is fun, yes. But there is plenty of cleaning to do around here. Boring chores galore. I don’t think making a banner is urgent. That pile of dishes is almost touching the ceiling.

Fun me: Yawn, yawn. Dishes and chores can wait. After all, they have been ignored around here plenty of times and it’s not like they threw down their dirty dish cloth and screamed, “I’m out of here!” (Actually that would be welcomed. If chores simply left because I was ignoring them it would help me out…)

Responsible me: Is this just an excuse for you to ignore chores and do something you like?

Fun me: (shocked) I am so misunderstood! It is not about my selfish preference to make art. I am being selfless, thinking only about how ignored Thanksgiving must feel.

Responsible me: This isn’t procrastination?

Fun me: You say that like it’s a bad thing.

Responsible me: You swear you’re going to do the dishes later?

Fun me: I made no such promise. And shhhhhh. I’m trying to brainstorm designs for this banner.

Responsible me: I give up. There’s no point in arguing with you. You win. Get your craft on.

Fun me: I’m so glad you’ve decided to be reasonable about this. You’ll love my banner!

Responsible me: Yeah sure, fine, whatever. I have to go to bed. You’ve given me a headache…

Fun me: No problem. I’ll stay up and get stuff done while you sleep…Now where’s my hot glue gun?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Animal Behavior

If you read my recent post about the Isetta (what do I mean “if?” Of course you did! And you loved it, too!), you will recall my mentioning the illustrator Richard Scarry. Maybe I’ll call this Scarry Week here on my blog, because I’m about to mention him again. (Note the extra “r” in his name. Scary week—with one "r"—was Halloween week. This is different…)

Scarry illustrated many children’s books (more than three hundred). Some illustrations were playful and cartoony, but his talent went beyond cartoons. He painted beautifully and realistically, which you see in illustrations like this, from I am a Bunny:


I like Scarry’s illustrations of fall from his book Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever (yep, that’s the whole title):

We don’t burn leaves like this now, but why haggle over details? Look how charming it is to see the bear rake leaves:

I think bears get too much of a bad rap. Everyone warns that they’ll break your car windows to get your picnic basket (pick-a-nick basket if we’re talking about Yogi Bear). But in some parts of the world, as Scarry has shown, bears are responsible creatures that rake their own leaves and even wear clothes when it gets extra cold. That hibernation story must be an urban legend…

And check out the turkey:

He seems like a very competent driver. Both wings are on the steering wheel. No texting and driving for that turkey…

I know I’m not the first person ever to say this, but we can learn a lot from our animal friends...

Monday, November 24, 2014

And The Green Plants Grew All Around, All Around, And the Green Plants Grew All Around

(Well, that’s the longest title I’ve ever given to a post! If you don’t know the song I was referencing it's a classic folk song, “The Green Grass Grew…” and you must check it out online.)
You’ve probably been on the edge of your seat, wondering why I haven't blogged about the community garden lately.
You see, I’ve wanted to make sure you were good and ready for an update. If I yap about it every day, you wouldn’t be as excited by the updates. Plus, I’ve been a little busy. The school year is a non-stop sprint when you have school-aged kids!
So let's back up a minute. Over the summer we expanded our community garden. Some of the new garden beds are growing with major gusto. Here are a few photos of some of the beds. I’m not always sure what’s growing in them (as in the photo below) but I still find it exciting to watch things grow:
Since I haven’t been at the garden as much in the last few months, I notice major change when I do pop in to see what’s growing.

This weekend I spent some time in the garden. It was a beautiful day: not hot, not cold—just right. Butterflies and hummingbirds meandered through while I was visiting. People wandered in and we chatted. Radios blared from the street a few feet away. The siren wailed from the fire station. But even noises like that don’t disrupt the serenity I feel at the garden. All the sounds blended into a vibrant soundtrack and I felt happy and alive while I was there. It feels like a modern day town square, the crossroads of a neighborhood, filled with activity. But it’s also a harmonious place where you can just be. Somehow the garden is simultaneously humming busily and breathing peacefully. 

Because it is Thanksgiving week here in America, let me say that I am so thankful for this garden…I give my garden bed water, the rare haircut and occasionally I dig some coffee grounds into the soil. I give it some care, but it gives me back so much more. And I am grateful for what it brings to my life…

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Isetta and Drive-a

(The first draft of this post was written on Nov. 23, 2011; It finally was posted on my blog on Nov. 23, 2014. Three years later. I feel a little silly that it sat unfinished for that long. It’s true that I get all gung ho starting projects and that I sometimes don’t finish them. Three years seems like a long time to let this post marinate. Of course not when I compare it to the age of our planet…)

‘Twas the day before Thanksgiving,

with much cleaning to do,

but Sarah was gazing online

at cars that looked like shoes.

It’s true. Thanksgiving (2011) is tomorrow and I do have tons of cleaning to do before people come over. But I’m procrastinating. I mean, I’m doing important research on my blog post about the Isetta. Do you know it? It’s a teeny, three-wheeled car from the 1950s and 60s. I love things from this era and this is no exception.


Before I go any further, allow me to do a mini Italian lesson. (I used to be fairly fluent in Italian and I studied there when I was twenty-one.) Please pronounce it like this: EEE-set-tuh. Not, I repeat not, like this: EYE-set-tuh. In Italian the “I” has an “eeeee” sound. When you start sharing facts about the Isetta with your friends, you want to pronounce this correctly, right? (On a related note, Iran and Iraq are not pronounced “EYE-ran” and “EYE-rack.” Talk to any person from Iran or Iraq and listen to how they pronounce it!)

My mom likened the Isetta to the cars Richard Scarry drew, which is right-on! Here are two of Scarry’s illustrations that remind me a lot of the Isetta:



(The photo above must have been a later incarnation, with four wheels. But its top remains mostly glass, like the earliest models, and like Scarry's illustrations.)
Of course, Scarry illustrated books in the 1960s, and Isettas are from that time period so the similarity makes sense. My appreciation for items from that time period comes from the rounded shapes used in a lot of designs from the ‘50s and ‘60s, from toasters to cars. Compared with cars of today, ‘60s cars had a lot of glass and chrome, rounded edges, and a more playful, less boxy look.

Isettas are were not the only microcars developed in the 1950s and 60s. (Microcars are exactly what they sound like: cars that look like they were shrunk in the hot water cycle.) Microcars were developed in Europe after World War II, when small vehicles were in demand because of their fuel efficiency. But today I’m focusing on the Isetta. Their small size (only 7.5 ft long by 4.5 ft wide) and unusual design make Isettas intriguing. But what really fascinated me about Isettas was that they opened at the front, like a refrigerator. An Italian company named Iso SpA, which built refrigerators and motor scooters, made its first foray into car design in 1955. Their engineers decided to use elements of what they already made, and when they combined an engine from their scooters and a door from their refrigerators, the Isetta was born. (Oh, how I love this charming backstory!)

Isettas were known as bubble cars because of their curved body style and almost all-glass tops. There are other bubble cars, including the one, below: 

In the 1950s Isettas were built in various countries including Spain, Germany, France, Great Britain, Belgium, and Brazil. In 1954, the French company VELAM acquired a licence from Iso to make a car based on the Isetta. Iso had sold the body making equipment to BMW, so VELAM developed their own body but used the original Iso engine. The VELAM body was rounder and more egg-like than Iso's Isetta.


In 1955, Iso licensed the Isetta to Romi, a Brazilian company. With each new manufacturer, the body style changed slightly. Some companies chose to elongate the car so that more people could fit into it. Other companies made their microcars pointy or squarish. But for me, the original Isetta design wins in cuteness and originality.

In 1962 manufacturing of the Isetta was stopped. Among other factors, competition from the VW Beetle and Fiat created less demand for the Isetta. The Isetta’s seven year ride was short but this unusual car has not been forgotten. Today small cars are in demand due to fuel prices and a growing concern about the environment. Fuel-efficient cars, electric cars and hybrids are popular. I’d like to think that the Smart Car has picked up where the Isetta left off. It’s small, it’s very different-looking and it’s fuel-efficient. Did I mention cute? (No, I don’t drive one, nor do I work for Smart Car!)

I’m a good driver but I don’t understand much about how car engines work. I am convinced a really fast hamster is running through a wheel under the hood to power my car. Even if I know very little about how cars work, I’m intrigued by the design of cars from the 50s and 60s. Cars had such unusual design features back then: exaggerated lines and curves and true personality. And some had really fun, pointy tail fins!

This is only somewhat related to our chat about the Isetta, but I did spot a tuk-tuk on the streets of San Diego a few years back. It too is three-wheeled, small and efficient. I was shocked to see it!

That’s why I’m keeping my eyes peeled, people. I’m always on the lookout for something unusual and I feel it’s my calling to share my observations and photos with you. Fear not: this won’t be my last post about vintage cars or unusual sights. I’m on it…

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Til We Meet Again...

A little more than a month ago I wrote a serious essay about death and life. Although I planned to post it immediately, I didn’t. Instead I let it sit for a while until I felt ready to post it. Here’s what I wrote:

Mostly my blog is a collection of funny (true) stories and craft projects but sometimes life serves up something very serious and I feel a need to work it out in my blog. Why talk about death in a blog? Is it too personal of a subject? In some ways, yes. But it’s also a universal theme. Instead of avoiding something that we all witness and mourn, maybe we can share experiences and be supportive of one another because we all go through this.

This fall three people I knew died within eight weeks. That is a lot. Life and death are on my mind these days. In late August we learned that our former neighbor John passed away. We’d lived across the street from John for nine years before he had to move to assisted living. He was the neighbor who inspired me to be a great neighbor. The second time I ever spoke with John was on a Wednesday, trash day, and he was bringing trash cans up the driveway after collection. He was doing this for the entire block. John did this every Wednesday. It was his way of being a good neighbor. That stuck with me. He did this for years before his health worsened. Nearly two years ago John moved to assisted living. He was in his eighties and his body and brain were not in prime shape anymore. So his death was not a complete shock but it was still sad. We went to John’s memorial service to support his kids, whom we know. He was a wonderful neighbor and I feel grateful to have known him.

The second death this fall was the hardest. My husband’s godson Keil died in late September, after a nearly four year battle against bone cancer. He was only twenty-two and his youth makes his death so hard to try to accept and understand. The cancer started in his knee. At age nineteen he had most of his leg removed. There were lots of stays in the hospital. The cancer spread. He had surgeries. Yet things seemed to be looking up even a few months ago, and this gave us a false sense of hope. But cancer is a sneaky creature and it quietly crept into Keil’s abdomen. They tried again to treat it but it was too late. In September we learned that Keil had only a few weeks to live and we made reservations to fly up to see him. When Keil took a turn for the worse a few days later, Hubby made a last-minute trip to see him. We didn’t know whether Keil would live long enough for us to use the tickets we’d bought to see him the following week. But he did. That kid was a fighter. It was awful to see him in a bed in a hospice facility, medicated and unconscious. But we also cherished the chance to see him one last time. We held his hands and talked to him about all kinds of things, telling him our favorite memories from his childhood. We had hours with him that day, and late that night we told him we’d return the next morning. But he passed away overnight. Somehow I was shocked. A living, breathing, warm-handed young man with soft hair and a pulse was now dead. We were so grateful that we were there to support him on his last day. His family is coping as well as they can. They are surrounded by many friends and family members.

We flew into town for Keil’s memorial service. There were lots of tears. This young man did not live as long as he deserved. In this country, where we have excellent medical care, it’s easy to assume we will have many decades of life. At first it felt impossible to accept the unfairness of it all. But it’s slowly sinking in. And the memorial service seemed to help many of us to heal a little bit. There’s no way to wrap up this loss with a bow and make it okay. But I see moments of catharsis. Keil’s younger sister spoke about her brother during the service. She shared funny memories, and everyone laughed. There’s some healing in laughter. It helped us to remember Keil’s humor. His friends spoke at the reception, telling amusing tales about Keil. It was so moving to listen to a bunch of 22-year-olds pay tribute to their friend, a guy who made them feel more comfortable in their own skin, who made them see that they were okay, human warts and all. I marveled at the maturity of Keil’s friends, who visited him in hospice. I don’t know if I would have been able to handle seeing a peer so close to death when I was twenty-two. But his friends visited, again and again. That alone shows the kind of impact Keil had in his short life. He deserved a longer stay here but in the time he had, Keil brought laughter to those around him, and made a difference to people.

Keil’s final battle shared the same timeline as my great aunt Kay’s last weeks. She’s the extraordinary woman who celebrated her 104th birthday this August, which my daughter and I attended in Canada. In the weeks after Kay’s birthday, I received emails from her daughter about her health. There were some medical concerns and at one point she was eating only a little each day. Some emails suggested there were only a few days left, but at one point her doctors predicted she’d make it into the new year. Ironically, as I stepped out of the church after Keil’s memorial service, I received an email with the news that Kay had passed away in her sleep that morning. The timing of the news felt significant, as Keil and Kay both began their final laps at the same time. I felt sad that she had passed, but this felt different from the horror of Keil’s passing. The contrast struck me again and again: Keil’s life was unfairly cut short, while Kay’s life was exceptionally long. Both people have inspired me in different ways.

I’m still grappling with all this. It takes time to make peace with someone’s passing. It’s easier to accept death if it happens to someone who had a long, happy life, like John and Kay did. It’s different coming to terms with someone whose life was cut short. But going to Keil’s memorial service helped me, and it appeared to help the others who came to honor him. Keil’s parents, sister and other family members seemed to find comfort in being around others who love and miss him, and in laughing about the funny times and the good memories. And it is cliché, but it did remind me to be present, to treasure the moments and the connections with people. It reminds me to call those I love and to tell people when they inspire me.

Keil’s untimely death led his friends to become closer at the end. They’ll miss him, always. But as I told one young man at the reception, he will make other close friends in his life because he has felt how important it is to connect with others. This young man will be a true friend to others and will have other good friends in his life. It’s awful when we lose someone but attachment to others is part of what makes us human, and part of what it means to live a meaningful life. I’ll miss John, Keil and Kay, but I feel so fortunate to have known them all…                                                                                  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Twister Dress


Have you played Twister lately? For me it’s been a long, long time. In fact, this game was completely off my radar until last fall, when I saw some kids playing Twister at a party. If it’s been a while, let me refresh your memory: Twister is the game that asks you to weave your body into a knot as you simultaneously put your hands and feet on different colored circles. I took one look at the Twister floor mat and decided I wanted to make a dress inspired by the game. I decided I’d use the bright colors used in the game against a white background so they colors would really pop.

Here is my initial sketch:

This is a photo of my creation in progress:

And here it is, finished:

It took a left turn at some point and veered a bit from my initial design. But then again, initial designs are not carved in stone. They are a jumping-off point and if you come up with a more creative idea after the initial sketch, that’s great.

I used hundreds of plastic buttons and hot glue to transform an ordinary white sundress (thrifted) into the magic you see here.

In case you haven’t been into a craft or fabric store lately, you’d be amazed at how many delightful buttons there are: many shapes, colors, sizes and designs. I am not the first person to put buttons onto clothes as decoration. But I think it’s a fun idea and an imaginative way to bring color and pattern to clothes. I’m here to put the fun into the function of buttons.  

I love wearing something that involves an unexpected element and hundreds of buttons seem to qualify as unexpected. This dress also scratches my itch to use lots of color.

Let me know if any of your clothes could use a little more button pizazz. My hot glue gun is ready!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Special Delivery

Earlier this year I discovered a piece of the past that has loads of charm and a good back story. That’s all it takes to pique my curiosity.

Have you ever heard of Mailsters? Officially called Westcoaster Mailsters. They were three-wheeled vehicles used for mail delivery in the USA in the 1950s and 60s.

I discovered these darling little cars quite by accident while in a post office I’d never been in before. (As you may know, this is how I find many blog topics: by stumbling upon something intriguing.)

This model was from 1966, after various modifications to the original design had been made:

I love the design of anything from the 1950s and 60s: the rounded corners of things made in that decade make everything look friendlier. There’s something so charming about the design itself. It looks like an adorable toy! It reminds me a bit of another vehicle that has fascinated me for years: the Isetta. (I actually once drafted a blog post on the darling Isetta but it’s been on back burner for a while. Three years, if we want to split hairs. I’ve been a little busy…Perhaps this post will kick me into gear on the Isetta post!)

Like most inventions, the Mailster was created in order to save effort and time, and therefore money. Some carriers rode bicycles to deliver mail but most walked. By driving Mailsters, which could carry 500 pounds of mail, postal carriers could cover more ground in less time than they could on foot. In their heyday (1966) there were approximately 17,700 Mailsters in use.

Below is a photo of a 1955 Mailster, before they were designed with doors:

Although it looks like a large toy, the Mailster could travel as fast as 35 miles per hour. Drawbacks to the design included the fact that it only took three inches of snow to render the vehicles unusable. Another issue was the Mailster’s likelihood of tipping over if it rounded a corner too quickly. One carrier even complained that a large dog tipped over his Mailster (the dog must have shared my take that this was a toy). Eventually Jeeps replaced Mailsters because the US Postal Department needed reliable vehicles. I get that. But for the fun factor, I cast my vote with Mailsters.


Doppelganger Strikes Again

I think it takes a certain amount of guts (or insanity?) to take photos of oneself within a minute of getting out of bed and voluntarily post them online. So let me pat myself of my brave back. Either that or I’m a slave to comedy, willing to show the world my least flattering photos, all in the name of a laugh…Might be both.

Anyway, I awoke this morning and glanced in the mirror and suddenly I saw Conan O’Brien staring back at me from the mirror. Was I still dreaming? No. I was awake, noticing that Conan and I are twins!


(If you’d like to create your own Conan moment at home, put a little mousse in your hair and wear it all day and then go to bed without washing your hair. You may wake up with your very own Conan hairdo! I can’t guarantee that your resemblance to him will be quite as astonishing as mine (she says modestly), because you may not have Conan’s and my freckles. He and I both have Irish heritage and you can’t manufacture that with a little hair product. Of course, the similarities end there. I think he’s seven feet tall or something. I am not. He is a man and I am not. He gets paid a trillion dollars a second to entertain people on tv. I love to make you people laugh—for free! But this morning, for a few minutes, we were twins, and I’ll just savor that for a while…)

Realizing that my hair had a lot of potential for fun this morning, I gave it a bit of a shake and came up with this, my impression of Little Miss Muffet, who was scared by the spider:

illustration by Mark. A Hicks



With a little sculpting my hair morphed yet again. I  call it The Smurf:


And last, but definitely not least, is Conan’s impression of my impression of a smurf…

Enjoy, folks!