A 3-Point Pact

A couple of years ago, I started taking colored pencil drawing classes.  (We have a great art school program here in Kalamazoo - for adults and kids.  It's a year-round program with a huge variety of class offerings.  I'm so grateful.)  I've learned a lot over the years, and I've created some drawings I'm really proud of -- and some real duds, too.  

I like picking out challenging projects for myself in my classes -- because I'm there to learn and develop my skills.  Last fall, I decided I wanted to try to draw something shiny.  Something with a lot of metal in it.  (Because there is a colored pencil technique called "burnishing" that makes wax-based colored pencil drawings "shine" like metal.)

So I decided I'd draw Tom's car.

And it has been the bane of my drawing-life ever since.

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Because it is hard.  And my drawing is big.  And I'm not actually all that fond of drawing cars.  And it is taking me so very long.  And I have wanted to throw it in the trash and just be done with it many, many times along the way.

But then, something interesting happened.

My instructor (who is also a friend) asked me to teach her how to knit.

So I did.

And she is determined to make (as her first project) Jared Flood's striped scarf in two contrasting colors of Noro Silk Garden.

Although she caught on to knitting immediately (she had tried it once or twice in the past, so wasn't completely new to to the task), she struggled a bit.  Because it is hard.  And she can't fix her mistakes.  And she wasn't completely sold on the colors she chose.  And it is taking her so very long.  And she has wanted to throw it in the trash and just be done with it many, many times along the way.

Sound familiar? 

Over a glass of wine, we laughed at ourselves . . . old dogs learning new tricks.  And we made this 3-point pact with each other:

  1. We will allow ourselves time and space to learn and improve.
  2. We will ask each other for help without apology.
  3. We will throw perfection out the window (instead of our projects).

I'm hoping that I'll be able to finish my car drawing before the end of my next "semester" of colored pencil drawing class.  And she is hoping to finish her scarf in time to wear next winter.

I'll keep you posted!

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To read more Three on Thursday posts, be sure to hop on over to Carole's!

 


On Sleeves and Stitching

When I knit a sweater, I always knit a swatch first.  If I can, I really like the sleeve-as-swatch approach.  Somehow it just feels like I'm more productive that way.  Y'know . . . moving forward right out of the gates and all.  (Even though I end up knitting more than two sleeves for one sweater sometimes.)

Anyway, I decided to apply that same logic to my big (and really rather overwhelming) Alabama Chanin wrap dress project:  Start with the Sleeves.

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This is a big project with many pieces and a complex stencil.  I'm using the sleeves to kind of find my way with the stitching and the cutting and the beading.

The sleeves are manageable pieces to work with, both to handle for the stitching and to look at.  Because it's hard to find your way at the beginning of a project like this one.  (And after the inspiration of the Alabama Chanin workshop I attended last fall, the ideas are just . . . oozing!)

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One stitch at a time.

Dreaming and scheming as I go.  

(It looks a lot different before it's cut, doesn't it?)

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(That beaded bit right there?  So far, it's my favorite part!)

You can learn a lot from a sleeve or two, y'know?

How about you?  What's your approach to a big project?  Where do you start?

 


Mud Pit in the Making

After living my whole life until last summer without the pleasure of a Bobcat in my yard, I've got another one parked out front.

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As I've mentioned many times, my house is built on a rather significant hill.  On one side of our property, there is a city sidewalk that follows the slope of our yard.  So it's steep.  Like . . . really steep.  Brian and his pals used to love it for skateboarding, but it's not so much fun if you're pushing a heavy stroller or maneuvering a wheelchair.

The city finally took notice.  Because the pitch of that sidewalk was not ADA-compliant.

A couple of weeks ago, a city-representative stopped by the house to explain their plans for making it so.  Let's just say it involves a lot of digging and some sort of retaining wall.  The photo above shows the work as of Sunday.  By yesterday, a whole lot more of my yard has disappeared, and now there is a big trailer, a Bobcat, and several piles of dirt and broken sidewalk at my house.  (Because of the hill and the layout of my house, I can't see the work being done at all.  But I can hear it!  And the dogs are very aware that we have a Perimeter Breach.  I can only see what's happening when I'm in my driveway.)

I'm anxious to see how it all turns out.  For today, we have rain in the forecast.  Lots of rain, actually.  Followed by "wintry-mix" and then several inches of snow.  (Yay.  My favorite kind of April weather.)  

Can you say . . . mud pit?  (Stay tuned.)


In Quiet Celebration

"I decided if you're lucky enough to be alive, you should use each birthday to celebrate what your life is about."
                                                                              ---Mary Steenbergen

Today is my birthday.

I'm 59.

And I'm damn happy about it!

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Ten years ago, when I was turning 49, I was in a much different place.  I had a kid in college and a kid in high school.  I had a puppy.  My husband was really busy with his job and traveling a lot.  I was looking for a new job.  I spent a lot of time and money hiding the grey in my hair.  I was dreading my next birthday.  And . . .  I was beginning to seriously worry that there was something wrong with me.

By the time my 50th birthday rolled around, though, I was so happy to see it.

Although I never think having cancer was a "good" experience, I  know that it brought a perspective about life and living that changed everything for me.  As I celebrated my 50th birthday, I was just a few weeks out of chemo.  My hair hadn't grown back yet.  I was just beginning to feel strong enough to take a walk around my neighborhood every day.  I was fragile, but ready to begin living again.  Trust me -- I had no regrets or concerns about turning 50!  

I'm pretty sure that this entire decade of my 50s has been different because of my cancer experience.  Although I likely would have gotten to the same place (physically, emotionally, spiritually) eventually, I'm pretty sure my new perspective got me there faster!  Before cancer, I can't imagine I'd have let my hair just be its natural white.  I think it would have taken me longer to go out without worrying about putting on makeup.  I know I would never have started a blog.  I doubt I would have had the confidence to take art classes.  I would have thought meditation was too "out there."  And I'm certain I'd still be just dreaming and waiting-for-someday to travel.

Being diagnosed with cancer . . . and then coming through treatment . . . just brought a sense of clarity and immediacy to just LIVING.  Really . . . this decade of my 50s has been so much richer because I suddenly understood (in a very real way) that I actually wasn't going to live forever!  That I needed to take responsibility for embracing every day that I have.  That if I wanted to do something, I better do it now.

I am so lucky . . . 
to have been diagnosed early
to have a new treatment protocol available
to have had the support of Tom and my kids, my sister and my parents
to have LIVED.

So, my birthday is a big deal to me.  It's a marker that I've reached another year.  I'm still here.

Older.

And damn happy about it!


The Sparkle Bonus

We have three stained glass windows in our house.  One is embedded in a cabinet in the kitchen, and two of them are in a corner of our bathroom.

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They are definitely a unique feature - and I wish I knew their story.  But I don't.  (It's one of those things I wish I'd asked the sellers about the house - they were the original owners and had the house built to their specs.  But I never even thought to ask at the time.)

When we moved in, and up until 3 years ago when we did The Great Bathroom Renovation (because the shower leaked), the bathroom was covered in busy, dark wallpaper and had dark carpet on the floor.  I would notice the stained glass windows, but not much -- because the room was so dark and rather like a cave.

Something totally unexpected happened, though, after our renovation.  We replaced the carpet with a light, neutral color and removed that dark wallpaper, substituting a soft neutral shade on the walls.  We also replaced an old and unused jacuzzi tub with a "fitness corner" that includes my meditation spot.  So, the bathroom was suddenly light, open, and . . . sparkly!

Because in the morning, when the sun is shining, my stained glass windows do these three things:

1 - They reflect the bright colors of the windows on the floor (which move across the room as the position of the sun changes through the morning).

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2 - They create dancing rainbows on the carpet (because those small circles in the window are prisms).

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3 - They create a moving lightshow on the walls.

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It's magical!

I love walking into the bathroom on sunny mornings.  It never gets old.

And to think . . . we lived with this for 12 years before discovering it!  The dark wallpaper and carpet completely hid the beauty and magic of those windows.  We only discovered it when we lightened up the room in the Great Bathroom Renovation.

I call it . . . the Sparkle Bonus!

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To read more Three on Thursday posts, hop on over to Carole's.


Unraveling . . . Life

So, I'm still knitting away on my little mitered squares project . . . 

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It's fun.  It's easy.  It's slow.  I like playing with the colors.  It's a great way to (finally) use all the Koigu I've had rolling around in my stash for oh-so-long.  And it's rhythmic.

Which gives me time to think as I knit.

And as I stitch, I've come to see that this project is actually a pretty good metaphor . . . for life!

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  • Life plays out on a neutral background.  There are plenty of colorful bits, and every now and again a bright pop of color.  But's it's the ordinary, everydayness of neutral that holds it all together.

  • Balance is essential.  Too many pops of color in one place throw the balance off . . . making you crave more of the neutral, that more ordinary rhythm of things.

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  • Building a strong foundation makes for structural integrity.  Yes, it takes a long time to build that foundation, but once it's there, you know you can make anything happen.

  • Focus is the key.  When you want to get something done, chip away at it a little bit every day.  One stitch at a time . . . adds up.

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  • A colorful life is a messy life.  Regular maintenance - and cleaning up your messes as you go - can keep things humming right along though.

  • Risk is good.  Don't be afraid to make a mess.  It's fun.  And besides, once it starts coming all together, no one will see the mistakes, the missteps, the crookedness . . . except you.  Perfection is over-rated.

  • Life is about resilience.  Sometimes you have to re-think and adapt.  Problem-solving is a good thing.  It makes us stronger and it keeps our brains supple.  (And that's a story for another Unraveled Wednesday.)   (Just sayin.)

What are you unraveling today?  (In knitting or in life. . . )

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To read other Unraveled Wednesday posts, check out the links in the comments over at Kat's.


The Color of Gratitude

Last week I pulled a new card from my Sacred Invitations card deck. . . 

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You might remember . . . last November, I was writing quite a bit about gratitude here on my blog.  Specifically, I was talking about my efforts to notice, record, and acknowledge gratitude in my life.

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Back in November, I did a lot of reading about the benefits of developing a regular gratitude "practice" and the power of writing gratitude lists (which I had done before -- but always on a rather hit-and-miss basis).  I found a lot of quotes, I read some great essays, and I was more committed than ever to gratitude as a daily practice.

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Although I'm a lifelong journal-er, I have never had much success in keeping a long-running, written gratitude list.  While I think about the things I'm grateful for every day, I have never been particularly inspired to write them down in an actual list (and I have tried . . . many times). 

But after all my research, I decided to give it a try again.  I jump-started it by creating a more "artful" list in November.  I used a piece of illustration board, and created a spiral of gratitude.  I used my watercolor pencils and a water brush to "paint" it, and once I was finished with my list, I included some quotes and poems about gratitude on the margins.

It was fun and colorful and kept me interested and engaged . . . while focusing every day on gratitude.

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But once the holidays were over, and the dark and dreary days of winter set in, I was - once again - less inspired.  I continued to think about gratitude every day.  I created daily lists in my head.  I just couldn't quite figure out a way to be inspired about writing them down!  

Since I had tried keeping special gratitude journals in the past - without much success (I think it was the structure that did me in) - I decided to try other options.  First, I decided to just keep it simple by recording my gratitude list as part of my daily journal writing.  (But I found I missed seeing my gratitude in its altogether-ness.)  

Next, I tried a "gratitude jar" where I added a brief gratitude note each day.  (But that felt cluttered and cumbersome to me.  Besides, the jar always seemed to be in the way on my desk.)  

Finally, I thought back to what I had liked so much about my November list.  I wanted to figure out just what it was that had me looking forward to writing my list each day.  And then I realized . . . it was the creativity and the COLOR!

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And then . . . inspiration hit!  Last year, Carole sent me a special journal with coloring doodles built right in to the pages.  I decided to use that color journal to keep track of my daily gratitude lists -- using brightly colored ink. 

So far, it's working!  Now I look forward to grabbing my pens and my journal every day to jot down my lists -- and do a little color-doodling, too.  And to avoid the structure problems that plagued me with gratitude journals in the past, I've decided not to date my lists, and to just let them flow without regard to a certain number of items.  Some days I write long lists, and some days I write short lists.

But one thing is consistent:  my gratitude lists are full of COLOR!

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How about you?  Do you keep a gratitude list?  And if you do, what form do you keep it in?

 


Sometimes Mondays

. . . begin with stillness.

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"Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen -- that stillness becomes a radiance."
                                                                                                ---Morgan Freeman

I hope your week is off to a great start!


Bloomin' Friday: Early Spring Edition

I am happy to report that we have no snow on the ground.

We have sunshine and blue skies.

Don't get all excited, though.  We also have cold north winds.  And they've been blowing for a few weeks now.  
(Apparently, the same weather pattern that is sending nor'easter after tedious nor'easter to the east coast is keep those cold north winds blowing here.)  

So it's cold.  Bitterly cold.  
(Which is such a rip-off when the sun is shining so brightly, y'know?)

Not much blooming on this sunny, cold Friday.  
(Even the crocus are staying pretty much in tight bud right now, holding out for just a bit of warmth.)

Outside, that is.
Inside, though?  That's another story.  Because I've got blooms!

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The last blast from my amaryllis crop.

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And my "Christmas" cactus . . . blooming at Easter time.  
(As it does.)  

Hope you've got something blooming in your world!
Happy Friday.