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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Little Hands

Today I’m starting work on my third quilt. It’s for a silent auction at my kids’ school’s annual fundraiser. Each class produces a piece of art for the auction and the variety is amazing. Last year I helped the first graders make a collage of San Diego, which I framed. The kids did an amazing job. This year we are making a quilt and I am going to incorporate their hand prints into the design.

Since I don’t know whether this quilt will go home and rest on a boy’s bed or a girl’s bed (or a grown up’s bed) I want to make it something that works for both genders. I hope it comes across that way. The school colors are blue and red and I decided to go with that color scheme, along with accents of white and possibly black (and maybe tiny hints of other colors). This quilt will have a patriotic feel, absolutely. I guess that anything that is red, white and blue feels patriotic. That’s fine by me because I love America and making something with a patriotic look suits me.
I hope this becomes something that a family uses and enjoys for generations. Possessions aren’t passed down to the next generation the way they once were in times past. But I hope that this quilt might be used for decades…I love pieces of art that are functional as well as beautiful.

I’m really excited! Just this morning I picked out the fabric and that alone was invigorating. If you are a creative person, just browsing through supplies gets your imagination excited. I can envision what the quilt will look like—to an extent. But part of my (non) method is to do some planning ahead of time but also to go in new directions mid-project, depending on what kind of inspiration strikes on any given day. This means that when the quilt is finished I get a surprise, too, even though I’m the one creating it.

So for the second time in two days, I’m sharing a sneak peak at something before it’s finished. This is unheard of. Who is this new me?!

Here are the fabrics I chose today:

Watch for an update next week, after I’ve finished the quilt. I don’t know if I’ll post any blogs before then—I think I’ll be up to my eyeballs in fabric! But it’s for a good cause and I have fun working with the kiddos. (Just a little back story here: I was going to give myself a quasi-break this year. I did not volunteer for the art project when they had the sign-up sheets out on the very first day of school. But one day in October the room mom ran up to me and asked if I could do it. Being me, I agreed to, even though part of me was hoping not to add new stuff to my plate. But no one else had signed up, and apparently I’m pretty malleable when it comes to causes that need help. And really, I do love a creative project…)

Well, I’m off now. Tomorrow morning I visit the classroom to work with the kids on this quilt. Before then I need to cut some squares of fabric and develop some fool-proof (ha ha) steps the kids can follow. (I’m going to cut extras because 8-year-olds sometimes feel they’ve messed up and want to start fresh, even if you reassure them that their first attempt rocked.)   

Anybody else working on a cool project? (With or without second-graders.) Let me know…

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Breaking Tiles—and Rules

I’m breaking my own rule today. Well, it’s not a rule cast in stone, but I’m going against my usual tendency. I’m going to give you a sneak peek of something I’ve been working on at the community garden. Three weeks ago I started this column and it’s probably 80% finished. Usually I don’t like people to see my creations before they are finished because I like doing a big reveal. The mosaic parts on the column are not grouted yet, and I still have to paint the cloud that is sketched in to the left of the heart. But I’m excited about this column and I want to share this photo.

One of these days I might do a tutorial on making mosaic art. I’m no expert, but I’ve learned quite a lot about mosaic in the years since I started experimenting with it. (I actually had a funny moment just now, which I’ll share since it’s good to laugh. I thought it had been approximately five years since I taught myself to do mosaic. But I decided to look through some photos of mosaic work I’ve done and I realize that I first tried it out over fifteen years ago. WHAT?! I took a long break from mosaic after my first few attempts and then revisited it seven years ago. Funny how my brain does this with time—always underestimating the amount of time that has passed. You, too? Oh, good. I guess my brain isn’t the only one with its own wacky relationship with time.) Anyway, back to mosaic. Anyone could learn how to do this. It isn’t rocket science. It’s fun, it’s therapeutic and it beautifies an area. Okay—it’s settled. I’ll do a tutorial on it (someday!).
There are many things to love about mosaic. Although I love painting and I’ve painted some of the columns in the community garden, mosaic is beautiful in a different way than paint is. Light bounces off the various planes of the mosaic pieces, and all the different angles create more reflection. I love mixing colors, too. For example, I decided to do a rainbow on this column. I could have used the same shade of red for the entire band of red, but what I prefer to do it to mix it up a little. I used different shapes within the band of red. Some are square tiles. Some are round beads. Most are broken pieces of ceramic tile or pieces of broken plates. The variation in colors within the red band makes it visually much more interesting. Same for the other colors. You can see the variety in each band of color. The variety in the shades makes it prettier.

Texture makes the column more exciting, too. Some pieces of tile are flat, but many have slight curves. I used a lot of shells in my clouds, and the shells have a lot of rough texture, too. I also am using some found objects—things not designed for use in mosaic. There is a medallion I recently bought at a garage sale. At the time I didn’t know what I’d use it for, specifically, but I knew it would make a cool accent in an art piece. Same for the red ceramic heart on my column (inside the pink mosaic heart). I rescued that from the top of someone’s trash can a year or two ago (there I go, dumpster diving again!). Why would someone throw that away? I kept it until I had the right spot for it. Now I love looking up at the column and knowing the back story to that red heart.

The garden is continuing to change every day. And I’m not talking about my columns. I’m talking about the flowers and plants growing in the garden. The additional beds we added to the garden six months ago all have been adopted by gardening enthusiasts. Some people grow flowers only and others are growing vegetables. Each bed looks completely different from its neighbors and the variety is delightful. The garden is literally coming to life, evolving as each plant grows a little each day. (My first artichoke plant is growing quickly—it’s exciting!) This garden gives me so much joy. And I think it brings a lot of cheer to the many people who walk by it after getting off the bus at the corner or leaving the shopping center nearby. It just feels right to help create something beautiful that a whole community can enjoy seeing.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Spring-like Symptoms

A few precocious blossoms are on our peach tree. In mid-February. What happened to this El Nino rain-soaked winter we were supposed to have?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy Hoopin’

Hula hooping is major fun, in case you haven’t tried it lately. I’ve enjoyed it for years, and I’m good (no real tricks but I can keep the hoop going for ages). So imagine my delight when we made a spontaneous trip to the park today and there was a hoop group.
A groovy retiree named Walt brought dozens of hula hoops to our local park, just for fun. He goes to different parts of San Diego each week and brings hoops of all sizes for friends and strangers to use. This was the first time I’ve seen him at our small neighborhood park and I was charmed by the show. Perhaps he’s a self-appointed ambassador of peace: people connect when they’re doing something fun. Maybe we need to get politicians some hula hoops. And roller skates. Laugh a little and who knows what kind of progress could be made?
Anyway, Walt is the uncle of my friend, who lives across from the park. I’m not sure how long he’s been sharing his hoops but whatever his age is (I’m guessing 60-something), he’s young in body and in spirit. (I’d like to interview him! If I do, I will post the interview here. This man is the kind of free spirit I’m intrigued by, and I want to know more about him.)
When we arrived at the park, Walt was giving lessons to kids and grown-ups alike. He helped me learn something I’d tried to learn off of YouTube. Walt managed to climb over a picnic table (climbing onto the bench, up to the table, then down the other side) while maintaining a spinning hoop around his waist and two more hoops spinning in his hands. Amazing.
There were literally dozens of hula hoops scattered about, beckoning people to give hooping a try. I’d estimate there were at least 50 hoops, which is less than Walt used to have. He used to have 100! Some were small (intended for preschoolers), some were standard size (I’d guess three feet across), some larger still (these are easier to use, Walt says) and there was even a giant hoop (custom-made) that Walt says is seven feet in diameter. I wasn’t sure the seven-footer would be manageable but Walt said it wasn’t hard and so I gave it a try. I asked someone to take photos of me, since you know I love posting fun photos of unexpected moments. Sadly, my hula-hooping stance (butt out, kind of chicken like) is not my most flattering pose but I’m throwing vanity to the wind and sharing the photos of the hooping happiness that was spinning through the park.

Walt isn’t doing this as a business—it’s just his way of bringing fun to the community, getting some exercise and some fresh air and enjoying his retirement in his own way. It completely made my morning. These serendipitous moments are the best—unexpected gifts I stumble upon when I’m just doing my usual thing.

Here’s to Walt, and all the free spirits out there who find unusual ways to share their talents and enthusiasm with the world, just to bring happiness to others. Thanks, Walt. Keep on hoopin’…

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Art of the Compliment

Let’s talk compliments, shall we? I’m not Emily Post or a trained etiquette advisor. But I have a few tips to share and I do consider myself a bit of an expert. This is because I have received plenty of back-handed compliments over the years so I can tell you what not to say. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “backhanded compliment,” it means a comment that is supposedly intended as flattering but instead comes off as negative because it has a critical element to it.

Here are a few gems that have been lobbed my way over the years:

Wow, you look so much better with your hair down.” (Offered by a young man at my work when I was 17. Sad that I still remember that comment all these years later, but I’m telling you, our brains do tend to recall negative comments rather than positive ones. There have been studies and everything!) At the time I wasn’t as bold as I am now so I didn’t tell him that this was rude. I did give him a weird look, to which he responded, “WHAT?” He clearly didn’t get that he was insulting my usual look (hair up) when he used the phrase “so much better” about my hair worn down. He would have done fine by saying, “Wow, you look great!” Or even, “I love your hair down!” Don’t point out that a person’s usual look or former look is worse. Just keep it positive.

Are you having twins?” (Offered by an elderly gentleman when I was pregnant with my first baby.)         
A) Sir, you’ve never been pregnant so just ZIP IT when it comes to commenting on a woman’s body. You don’t know what it’s like. And pregnant jokes aren’t funny.

B) Sir, unless you want a pregnant woman to shove her pregnant fist into your puny tummy, ZIP IT!

C) Which memo did you get that said it’s okay to poke fun at someone who is pregnant? During pregnancy a woman has very little control over how her body changes. She is very hungry and is bigger than usual but it’s necessary in order to grow a baby. This doesn’t mean she gets to be the punch line to all jokes. If you see a pregnant lady, tell her how cute her bump is. Don’t say what someone once said to me, “You’re not huge yet.” I looked her right in the eye and asked whether I was going to be visually calipered every time I saw her. She claimed she was complimenting me. But believe me, just don’t mention the word “huge.” Just tell her she looks great, or ask how she’s feeling. Don’t comment on how big her bump is. Just don’t. Tell her you’re excited about meeting her baby. Smile at her. It’s not that hard to be nice!

Are these your grandkids?” (In reference to my kids.) Sadly, this has happened to me four times, three times while I was still in my late 30s! No, I don’t look as fresh as I once did, it’s true. But at 41 I’m not a grandma yet. My oldest is almost 11. I suppose some people become grandparents at age 30, but I am not one of them. Sheesh! Never suggest that a woman is a generation older than she really is. I don’t care if she has a walker and a sweatshirt that says, “I’m 100!” You do not suggest that she is older than she is. You ask something like, “Who are these delightful kids?”

If someone has lost some weight, perhaps say something like, “Wow, you look so healthy!” Don’t insult how they used to look. Don’t say, “Wow, you used to be such a lazy slob. Not anymore.” The positive message in that comment is completely hidden under a ton of manure. The negative comparison transforms what could be a compliment into criticism. Likewise, women do not particularly feel flattered when you describe them as solid or mannish. Nor do many of us feel grateful when you say that you’re just being honest with us. Did we ask for brutal honesty? Nope. In fact, we didn’t ask for your opinion at all! But if you must comment, you’ll get more flies with honey…

And who says we really have a right to comment on others’ appearances, anyway? The best compliments I’ve received involved a big hug and something like, “Man, it is so good to see you!” I don’t think you can go wrong with telling someone how glad you are to see him or her.

Now I’ve given you some tips on the art of the compliment. If you are someone who claims to say the wrong thing, despite your best intentions, I want you to run (not walk) to the mirror and practice saying nice things. It’s like when you memorized multiplication tables in grade school—memorize some nice things to say and you’ll always have something thoughtful at your fingertips. (But if you don’t heed my advice you may lose a fingertip if you scorn the wrong woman!)

The Gum Wrapper

On Saturday morning I woke up two hours earlier than usual—which is just wrong, given that there was no school that day. I was having a bad dream and could not fall back to sleep because I was obsessing about my gum graft surgery, scheduled for today.

I’m really nervous. The periodontist reassured me that this is a routine procedure, to which I responded with a raised eyebrow and a look. I reminded him that it’s not his mouth in question.

The gums surrounding my four middle teeth on my lower jaw are receding a bit. In order to protect the root and my health I need to have this procedure. The periodontist will take a piece of tissue from the roof of my mouth and attach it to the area behind my four lower teeth. I’ll give myself a gold star for being responsible and brave. (And I do recognize that I’m very fortunate to live in a country with great medical and dental care. So many people around the world don’t have access to that, and I’m grateful. But I’m still really scared!)

I joked with the periodontist that he’s not going to be my favorite person after this procedure. Nope. I’m going to hold a grudge! He’s very good (the only one my dentist recommended) and he’s going to wrap my gum and help my mouth. But I don’t have to like it!

Before last month I’m not sure I was even aware that gums could be grafted. I’m 41 and my mouth has been mostly a healthy place. Sure, a couple of crowns and fillings, but I’d never had to ponder gum grafts until recently. It makes me uncomfortable even saying that word (the G word). Maybe it makes this whole thing real. I think grafting is great—as long as we’re talking about citrus trees and the creation of a new hybrid fruit. This I am fine with, but grafting when it relates to my tissue (full body shudder)—not so much.

A year or two ago I blogged about a plumbing situation we had at our house. A giant hole was dug out front--something about a pipe and roots growing into it and lots of dollar signs. At the time I lamented that the most expensive things often seem to be the most boring things, but necessary. I think this applies to things like gum grafts. Mine will be on the inside of my lower teeth—a place no one will see, but it’ll cost! (My dental insurance does not cover this--surprise, surprise.) If I’m doling out big bucks to improve my body, I’d like the wrinkles gone and a more noticeable payoff for my payout. Sure, teeth and gums are important, but gums are not the most exciting area to repair.

Whatever you’re doing today, I hope it’s more fun than what I’m doing. Still, I’m in good hands and I’m grateful. And nervous (in case I didn’t mention that before). Sheeesh, all this responsible grown up stuff is no picnic. I’ll let you know how it goes. Keep your fingers crossed…

UPDATE: I am two hours post-surgery now. So glad to be home and doing my normal things (oh, except for taking loads of meds and steroids and antibiotics). I was so nervous during the procedure but I got through it. The waiting can be almost as awful as the actual procedure. It was no picnic. My mouth looks like Frankenstein's face, with stitches zigzagging here and there. The adrenaline poured through my system as the doctor did his thing. I could see him pulling the suture thread, and I could see my blood on his gloves. It's quite surreal to know that something major is happening to you--you may not feel it entirely, but you see the evidence and you feel pulling. Physically it's not great but the dreading was hard, too. I'm giving my poor, frazzled self an A+ for courage today...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sequins and Signs

A few days ago I treated myself to three pieces of sequined elastic. Colorful sequins are fun, although I probably wouldn’t devote a blog post to that alone. But the conversation I had at the checkout immediately struck me as the launch of an amusing post. Read on.

The woman cutting the sequins asked what I was making. (This happens a lot in fabric stores. People who work there are people who sew, and people who sew always want to know what other people are sewing.) I said truthfully, “I don’t know. Sometimes I just buy supplies that appeal to me and I save them for the moment when an idea strikes. Or I feel inspired by the material and create something around it.”

The cashier loved my explanation and shared a story about her friend. Sometimes the cashier’s friend calls her and says something like, “I’m at a store, eating ice cream.” The cashier responds, “Really? It’s raining. It’s freezing!” The friend says, “God told me to come here.” Once, the friend called to say she was driving to San Francisco (a mere 500 miles away), “because God told me to go there.” The cashier isn’t sure what to make of this. Her friend truly believes that God tells her to do spontaneous things like this. (The friend sounds like a real hoot to me—a very colorful personality and fun to be around, I’d say.) If the friend believes she is getting orders from God, okay. But I wonder if people think they are receiving a message from above simply because they want to get ice cream in the rain or drive 500 miles. If so, I see nothing wrong with embracing the unexpected and needing no further explanation than this: I just felt like it!

Although I believe in God I haven't received messages from Him that include destinations and driving directions. I'm also not one who believes in signs the way some people do. I’ve never had a moment when I saw a canary and said, "Eureka! This means I'm supposed to wear yellow shoes today and call a friend I haven't spoken to in years." No, I'm not much for signs. Spontaneity, yes. Sequins, yes. Signs, hmmm...

My decision to stop for sequins was based on the fact that I had ten minutes between my final errand and picking up the kiddos at school. This was just enough time to pop into the fabric store near school and get something for my next fabric creation.

But then again, had I not stopped for sequins I would not have heard the story about the friend who does unexpected things. And we did get an amusing blog post out of my spontaneous stop for sequins. So was it a sign that I was supposed to stop at the fabric store? No, I don't think so. But it's a happy coincidence and that's enough for me.