Thursday, September 13, 2012

Quilt of Valor #5: Full Circle

     There are really few times when I am rendered speechless. Even in this situation, I'm not so much speechless as I am awestruck. Because of this, I have struggled more than a couple of days to complete this post to let you know about the Quilt of Valor's last leg of its journey. I may be breaking my old teacher rule to "show don't tell" this story, but like I said, I'm really a loss for words...sort of.

    The simple idea to be a part of an organization that wants to offer some comfort to soldiers has melded into something on a scale I can't comprehend just yet.  Yes, this foundation did start as a small idea  from an individual and has mushroomed to reach so many. It would be so cool to such a "mustard seed."  We can all names such beginnings: Race for Cure, TOM Shoes....  
     But I am really getting away from my point.   This small idea to help a soldier may have been spurred by the  QOV Foundation, but my solitary motions triggered even more actions by others not even associated with the initial program. 

     Once I finished my quilt, I wanted to make sure that I made a personal connection, so I asked my brother (a retired Army Colonel) if he had  any ideas. He gave me a name of a Colorado Guard chaplain. Through emails and facebook messages, I eventually reached her.. I trusted this young chaplain to find a recipient.  She took it to several co-chaplains, and how the name was chosen was out of my hands. But in those few remaining days, my family was met with a grandmother's death and so too the chaplain  experienced the same loss.  Responsibilities of such events over and above this small mission created a break in the process.   This just had to take a backseat. Even so, the machinations were still spinning to completion.   The details were sketchy, erratic and by the morning of 9/11 I thought  the final delivery might not happen as I planned.  I tried to soften the disappointment with the idea that I at least met my goal to have it ready on that day.  (You can read my other QOV posts about why the date held more than the obvious reason.)

     At literally  "the 11th hour" I reached SSG May's wife through email. I think she must have recognized my desperation (or was it obsession?) to get this to her husband that day..  How trusting! She sent me directions to her house.  

     I'm not going to go into Marty's story to tug your heart strings and make you feel bad that you're feeling sorry for yourself.  He's the first one to admit there are many worse off than himself. I don't want to start a "his story is worse than your story" tug of war.  His experience is not much different than any soldier injured in a theater of war, but  the details of his story are unique to him. However,  it's his willingness to plod on to whatever his unknown  future holds, with not only his own strength, but also to hang on tightly to those who stand by him; in this case, his wife Wendy and his 3 children. He is a symbol of so many, yet I can't shake that he is just an individual, an THAT is just as important.

     We visited for over and hour in their kitchen, listening and connecting. Three strangers left as friends. We "friended" each other on Facebook, and I received one special message that Marty was curled up on the couch wrapped in his quilt in the waning colder morning hours,  "silently going out of his mind" waiting for the email that would determine his "rating" with the VA and the Army that could sink or keep afloat an uncertain future for him and his family.  

     We will always live in a world of doubt,  global unrest, indifference, family grief, economical woes, bureaucratic red tape. The media is bereft with such problems. We all experience them in our daily lives.  As we peel away that onion of life (my sweet brother's analogy) we meet individuals and make a tiny connection of commonality. This is the core of our existence...what's important. At least I think that is the reason for my  awe in the experience. The quilt was just the catalyst; meeting Martin and Wendy May was the result that matters. The realization that working with a string of unknown individuals can create a special moment for another. That magic maze of humanity circles right back to the beginning and sends currents of change to everyone involved. What a blessing to us all to have the ability to experience this connection to each other! I wish you all happy connections!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Quilt of Valor #4: Points and Borders

     I meant to post this on July 4th, and not until today did I realize it was a draft.  I have been absent from here far too long and I am finally getting my mojo back to keep going. hope to still see you here.

As a promise to myself, I finished the top today. It only required a strip of ribbon points on all sides and a solid border all around. It has been a fast and furious month full of family obligations in which I was not able to work on the quilt at all. I knew I would have only a day or two to complete this task.
     My thoughts about the soldier receiving this quilt was a bit sidelined in the past few days, because my dearest friend (my long-arm friend)  has been evacuated from their beautiful mountain home in Wyoming.  With so many fires in the west right now this fire was getting little attention. It has now grown to the third most active fire in the nation, but there has been nothing in the news about this one. I have been glued to the tiny maps on the information website trying to see where the fire is going. My eyes strain to focus while I try to figure out which dot or X's is their hourse or fence.  It has been a search of points and borders of another kind. 
     As I continue on that thought of points and borders, I drift into how we have become a nation of pushing our points across to each other and the building up of borders to keep us from our neighbors. Whether it is a political division, or  a marital spat, or just a traffic lane change, we seem to take on a it's my way or no way. We may listen to, shake our heads at, and even pray for those devestated by fires, or battles, but very quickly we get back to our own lives and pay no attention to those around us. I'm usually wrapped up in my own sorrow that accompanies this day, and I forget that there is a soldier that will one day get this quilt who is fighting whatever battles still may remain with him or her.  I was stopped in my tracks to switch into a prayer and wait and see mode for my friend.   I remember hearing some saying that goes somewhat like this, "Be kind to everyone you meet because they too are fighting some battle." 
     A call this morning did give bittersweet news from Wyoming: she's fine and their home is okay...for now, but their old homestead ranch where she grew up and her brother lived was completely destroyed. It will still be a long wait until they are able to see their home and assess the damage to livestock and buildings and a lifetime of memories. Although this is usually a tough anniversary day for me and my family, my tears flow for my dear friend today.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

10 Gratitudes for July 5

10. My friend in Wyoming is safe. 
9. The 4th was simple, good, and happy. 
8. My son is a fabulous father with a darling wife and kids. 
7. My daughter is beautiful, brave, and loving. 
6. My quilt top is finished. 
5. My hearing aides work...better than my ears. 
4. I love and adore my siblings. 
3. I can find creative outlets for my frustrations. 
2. My 18 mo. old grandson, who is not a cuddler, came to me yesterday for a little comfort hug. 
1. Thirty-seven years ago today I began a journey with a good man, a wonderful father, and a lifelong companion who makes every morning a grateful day.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Quilt of Valor #3 Decisions! Decisions!


      Except for one blue strip of the weave, everything has been placed on my design wall. This is called a scrappy quilt because the materials have come from my own personal "stash" of materials. Yes, we quilters have our private stash. Sounds clandestine, doesn't it? There have been a lot of jokes about how we hide our stashes and keep trying to find  places to put it all. My stash is really quite modest and I have pretty slim picken's finding the right colors and hues to create some order in the pattern, even though it really doesn't have to be, being scrappy and all.  I'm not the best colorist when it comes to this part of the quilt making.  When you get me together with my 2 quilty friends from 100 miles away, we become a dynamo team, selecting, scrunching, displaying, viewing all kind of color schemes.  It's such a joy to find that strength with my buddies.  But going this one alone really boggles me. Because I am limited to what I have, (yes, I could go to the quilt shop and purchase many more fat quarters to make the color scheme "pop") but I really wanted this to be from me, my stash and my heart.  Some of the materials carry precious memories of past works or favorite shop hops, and one is even a fabric gift from my sister when she was in Australia and wanted to send me something for my quilting. She sent me a huge bandana!  Do you see that one?  I like the idea of selecting all these mixed up pieces to create one new piece. Kind of fits what I was saying on my last post.
     As I am struggling to decide on the just right placement of the rows, I think about all the decisions we all have to make in our lives. As with most families, we are at the crossroads of many decisions, individually and as a family unit. My adult children struggle daily with the pressures of work and home that keep them from finding moments of joy.  My husband is trying to decide how best to help his aging parents when is he too many miles away from them.   I keep waffling in my decisions to find a happy medium between stepping in to "help" them all or standing back in love.  Then my mind goes to you. What decision you must be having to make. What struggles are you confronting?
     After staring at the wall all this time, I need to take a break as the colors are becoming a blur. I choose to do a mindless task of making the "flying geese" blocks that are the ribbon points  of each row. These are simple and no major thinking has to take place to get them done. Just 3 blocks, diagonal lines and little ironing and cutting and Viola! flying geese and my brain can relax for a while. A whole new lesson in this too: when the task gets to be too much and everything is rushing in, around, and by us, we need to stand down, walk away, and re-group our senses.
      So now, is there a better way to arrange these rows? I know in any art, the eye needs a resting place. Eyes follow to the light. I have a lot a patterns in here that are keeping the eye busy.  Then I go the the real purpose of this quilt. It's not supposed to be hung on a wall for the discerning art critics. This unknown soldier is supposed to take it to his/her bed or couch and snuggle under it and find some warmth, calmness, and love amid all these reds, whites, and blues. It should surround him with the untold stories of someone who is grateful for his service even if he doesn't know her, while he can hopefully and in the spirit of healing, reflect on his past, and rebuild whatever the future may hold. I know that the hardest struggle is in getting to the decision itself, because once it's made there is a clear path, and there's no looking back. No time for "woulda, shoulda, coulda.  Just keep on moving!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Quilt of Valor # 2 Order Among Chaos

     I have almost finished cutting all the red materials into the required squares and triangles.  I am lining them up on the table next to the un-cut blues. The table is beginning to really represent today's title.  It is easy to compare it to a unit of soldiers lined up and ready for whatever is commanded of them, while the rest of the world around them is jumbled into a chaotic hodge-podge.

    Adding to my chaos, a little diversion occurred  when the grandkids came with their dad to help Papa Wayne. Three little ones under the age of 5 do not allow for this kind of concentration. Only when they all went down for naps did I get a chance to return to this endeavor. But four year old Tayah woke early and came into the sewing room. I had her sit on a stool and watch. Needless to say, the curious questions and inquisitive fingers kept me from cutting accurately, and I messed up a fat quarter and will have to find a new one. 
    I stopped and spent a rare precious moment with the one singleton child to teach her how to cut fabric with little round tip scissors. What fun to see this new skill develop.

    Back to the quilt project:
         Every Quilter has probably been asked the same redundant/rhetorical question, "Why would you want to cut up perfectly good pieces of material just to sew them back together again?"   I hear a similar statement addressed to paratroopers on why they want to jump out of perfectly good airplanes.  Do they really want an answer? Whatever others think of our reasons for doing anything that brings us some kind of joy should not be a topic to address.  I do think the questions and our reasons pose polar views that may add to the scheme of things and how we do find some order.
         If anyone would want an answer to the cut up question, I would want to answer with the analogy of our lives.  We come into this world like a beautiful piece of fabric, untouched, pure, and beautiful. Some are richer than others, and some are stronger. The colors may be muted or vibrant.  There may even be some flaws, but that just adds to the beauty of the material and its unique individuality. Our life's journey can cause some pretty heavy slashes mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Whether it was the horrors of war, a loved one's death, a physical disability, or discord within a family or at work, these experiences cause severe cuts into our well-being.   It would be easy to end up in the scrap heap on the floor.  But working together with others, adding support to and from each other, we can stitch together a new being, more beautiful and stronger than ever before. We may not be the same as we started out, and all the cuts and slashes are still there, but we can create this new life to take on anything else that comes our way with a new found strength, purpose, and resolve to find some type of order in this chaotic world around us. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Quilt of Valor

I've been trying to wean myself from electronic devices because they have just invited more isolation from those around me rather than stay connected.  I was fearful that all this inward "acedia" as it may be was going to just sound like a pity party, and I didn't want this blog to turn into that, which seemed to be the path it was taking.  I have decided to make a move away from self-pity and just plain loneliness by turning my attention on to something/someone else. 

I have been hearing about the great organization that encourages people to make a quilt for a returning soldier. The requirements are quite quicky quilts, no tying, required dimensions, and it has to be quilted on a longarm! I don't have one, but I have a dear friend that does...3 hours away from here. So I am planing a great reunion with her in July for this.
Here's the plan...Today is Memorial Day. What a great day to start! Chris was born on Memorial Day and this year the date is the same as well.  I have been tear-y eyed all week anticipating the inevitable "Day." They say the hardest day for a mother who's lost a child is his birthday.   It's hard to put any day on a scale  because then there would be an "easier" day...ain't gonna happen.  Back to "The Plan" .... I want to have the top finished by the Fourth of July and have it ready to send off to the soldier by 9/11.

These dates have special meaning to just about every American, but they are especially poignant to me. Chris died on the Fourth of July, and when that horrible event of 9/11 happended we were just 10 weeks into mourning the loss of our boy.  The whole nation was forced into mourning, and I was angry that I was supposed to push aside my loss and join the nation. Besides, Chris wasn't a soldier, and his death seemed to pale in comparison to all those who had died. This is a terrible confession but an honest one about the horrors of grieving. 

It's been 11 years. and each of these dates bring too much sadness into my daily life.  It's time to create new memories and a purposeful gift to someone else. So this Quilt of Valor in my sewing room has been born today. Here's another quirky fact...the pattern I have chosen takes 9 red fat quarters and 11 blue ones.  This is meant to be.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Irises -- Revisited

Last March I posted a childhood memory about fingerpainting flowers as a child. This week I was able to "pass it on" in a special way to my sister.  I know the picture is dark but I just wanted to share this story and this phenomenal talent that was emerging at such a young age.

After writing that post on March 1st, many asked me if I still had that picture.  A child's painting from 50 years ago?!  I had a few things tucked away but I doubted I had that after all these years.  It did get me to thinking if it was indeed in a particular box. Deep in the junk closet of my own children's packed away keepsakes, I found what I was looking for -- an elongated flat box that held some quick drawings my mother had done, and a funny huge robin on manila paper and swashed with a thin layer of tempera paint  -- a faint memory, too. Rolled in the bottom were two finger paintings. A blue one that I think I did but not signed and this brown one. Great, this is it! But the artist signature was not mine! Instead, my little sister had signed her piece of art( two years later with the same teacher) and for some reason, I had it.

This had to be preserved, and I had to get it back to her.  She had been in the huge process of helping her son plan a wedding many states away, and buying and refurbishing a home that was taking longer than anyone cared to admit. Even as an artist in her own right, with a degree from UT and our mother's genes, Janie still only dabbled in her art. But a studio room is part of that new house and I wanted to make sure she had this piece to adorn a wall of that room to remind her of her gifted talent.

I framed it between two pieces of glass, printed out the Irises story and placed it on the back just above her childhood signature. Then it was off to UPS to get it safely to her.  I am a little OCD when it comes to mailing packages; checking every hour the staus online and calling to see if it came to the right door.  I was beside myself when Janie did finally say that it came, but she would open it...later. WHAT!? Who does that?

  As it turned out, the wait was some sort of divine intervention. The next day, Janie heard about the passing of her dear godmother, a precious friend (and the last) of our mother's.  The sad moment at least became bittersweet as she finally opened the package with her husband.  A treasured memory preserved of art, mothers, sisters, friends, and lasting love.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dedication of Mud Woman by Artist Roxanne Swentzell at DAM 10/10/201

I have recently become attached to Storyteller dolls of the Pueblo people.  Maybe I wishfully think that I am a storyteller myself and just like the association. Last year The Denver Art Museum added this large sculpture to greet patrons to its beautiful Native American Art collection.  The artist gave a  dedication at its unveiling.  Her words resonated such truth for everyone, and these few sentences seem to be the cornerstone of what I have been trying to present in the blog.  I gladly share her thoughts with you. 

This piece is dedicated:
To all who feel like they have lost a parent...someone who can hold your bonds of love and security...this piece is for you. 
To all who have lost a child and feel that love got stopped from entering the future... this piece is for you.   To all who feel sisterless or brotherless, who've forgotten the bonds of growing together, of sharing the world together through play and experience, this piece is for you.  
To all those who embrace All  life, knowing we are One, this piece comes from you.  
She came through your love and your prayers for life to continue in a good way.  This piece is dedicated to you.  
To all our parents and parents' parents, to all our brothers and sisters, to all our children and children's children, from every corner of the world...from the birds in the sky, to the fish in the oceans, from the highest peaks to the lowest deserts, we are One.   All our Relations, we are one held in the power of love, held in the arms of our mother we share, The Earth.  
Let us remember the dirt beneath our feet, the mud of our rivers, and the grass swaying in the breeze...  
Let us remember the our roots and our future, of our love and how we are loved.   Fresh waters, cleanse us.  Repined fruits fed us. Tall forests protect us.  Songbirds fill our ears with joy. We are loved by so much beauty, so much beauty all around..    
Mud Woman, speaks for us, now, from our hearts. Let us stand ready to listen. She speaks of timelessness and care, of nature and right place.   She has always been and always will be.  She sits here in the dirt and straw gathered up and formed together by many hands that gave her presence, so that we may remember what has always been and always will be, deep in our hearts.   
I ask that the spirit of our fathers bless through this song so that life may continue in a good way, the right way....

Friday, April 6, 2012

From Mother to Son

I had given this poem to Chris once, and then more recently passed it on to my youngest, Sam.

 I made it through the colic days and the multiple stitch stage.
 I thought I could claim success. You have survived, and quite well at that.

With a great deal of encouragement from both your father and me,
but mostly a task of your own doing, you have grown into a fine young man.

As a mother, I can do so little now.
I look back and think the past was such a breeze.
 THIS is the time to try a mother’s soul.

But, without a doubt, without a faltering thought,
I will always love you.
Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood,
 I was the instrument that brought you to this world.
Your life is the reward of that sacrifice.

And what a wonderful reward you are!
I know deep in my heart and in the marrow of my bones
 that you will always treasure that “reward”
 by passing on to your family
 the same duty, honor, and love that has been given to you.

You know value.
And you are the most valuable thing you own:
A priceless asset, who I am proud to call my son.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Gift of Life

I'm thinking about Chris today. No special day, no anniversary, birthday, just an ordinary day. While I know I should think  and write about the 23 years we did have that wonderful boy instead of the day we lost him, that day still echoes through every fiber of my being.  Even though it's been almost 11 years, it just never leaves. 

     Independence Day 2001 in the Big Horn Mountains, my husband Wayne and I were surveying the land boundaries of his father's cabin. The day promised to be a bright and cheerful holiday while we awaited the weekend arrival of our children, Chris, 23; Stephanie, 18; and Sam, I6. We had taken off early to spend the extra precious days to celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary.
During a quiet lunch break, the sound of an ATV broke the silent morning and put into motion the tragic journey than no parent should have to take. A neighbor had received a radio call from the sheriff's department that our son Chris had been in an accident and we needed to call the sheriff's department right away. Fear and dread increased with every jarring bump as we drove down from the mountain.  Just six months earlier, Chris had survived a horrible accident, escaping death's grasp.     What about Stephanie and Sam? Were they together?
Once in town, we were able to make the needed phone calls and tried to piece together the fragments of information...
on the road to our home...again...
       with a friend...
                           brain dead.. .
                                       get back to Cheyenne as soon as possible.
     During that six-hour drive from northern Wyoming to Cheyenne we stayed in touch via cell phone with the hospital about Chris's status. Decisions had to be made. Decisions we were not prepared to face. Flashbacks of Chris growing up, trials and tribulations of raising a teenager, his humor...meshed with thoughts of how, why, what to do, how to plan.  One sure moment of clarity pierced the horrors of these agonizing hours: If it had to be, Chris's wishes would be honored, and we wanted them to make every effort to donate his organs and tissues. That was the one sure thing we could understand. Chris's favorite art teacher was on a transplant list for a liver and although a remote possibility would be that his liver would help his mentor, at least it would allow the list to be reduced by one. We let the hospital know of our wishes as we continued our dreaded journey home Forty-five miles outside Cheyenne, the hospital called to say that our precious first son's heart had stopped.
     Once I had a few moments to hold my other two children and let them know how sorry I was that they had to bear these past few hours alone, the busines of death began. How cold that sounds...the business of death. But that seemed to be what we were facing. As I dealt with the family and friends who met us, Wayne talked with the hospital's representative for organ donations. I did not get to meet with her, but Wayne said that she was calm and compassionate. Can a heart sink anymore? When I heard that his organs were not viable for donation, I felt that I had lost the last chance to "feel" that Chris was still alive. . Heart valves, and corneas...that was all...? What's the point of making that precious body go through any more for such a small donation?  A quick flash to fifteen years before...Wayne's 2 nieces were born with congenital cateracts and had received donor corneas.  Okay, maybe it would help someone. So that was it; end of that decision. Or so I thought.
     You hear about how the days and weeks after are a blur.  They are.  Daily life begins to take on a new distant meaning.  The letters, cards of sympathy, insurance forms, hospital bills pile up on the kitchen table.  About a month later I opened a letter from Donor Alliance.  This was not just another form letter that wound up lost on the pile. Although I knew that it was probably a routine letter of "thank you for your gift of life," the words seemed more personal and specific to our individual situation.  The writer said that Chris's (She used his name!) corneas and valves had been used, but she could not divulge specific information about the recipients.  I ached to know more, but knew that I might be met with disappointment, so I packed away the letter and tried to put my curiosity to rest.
     Over the course of the next 18 months, during holidays and particularly difficult anniversaries and birthdays, we would get another letter with a handout or pamphlet, which helped us deal with our grief. Each communication from Donor Alliance became a soothing salve for our grieving wound. What I thought would be an impersonal "harvest" became a driving force to my healing. I felt a personal connection to the After Care correspondent but did not want to pierce that veil of anonymity.
      I wish I could say we had that miraculous meeting you see on TV that unites the donors with the recepients, but it never happened. I sometimes get to a point of anger when these reunions are shown, because it does bring such false hope. Nevertheless, I  do praise the After Care program especially because of its service to those like me who hang on to the hope that their loved ones will not be forgotten.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A desire to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired by his fellows is one of the earliest as well as the keenest dispositions discovered in the heart of man.

     John Adams's quote was a proverbial slap in the face this morning.  It's amazing how some random piece of information can find the most opportune time to appear. Of course these bits of wisdom are probably always floating across our faces, but it takes a specific act or emotion in tandem at the right time to make it jump out and shake us.

     The details of my experience are really not as important as the lesson.  I can keenly identify with this basic need. That's probably why I decided to create a blog, and I revel in the observations and praises that I receive. It reminds me that I matter, and I am doing something right. Countless times you hear of wives hoping that their spouses would just appreciate the work that they do, and the opposite is also just as true for many husbands, right? Workers are constantly complaining under their breath and at the water cooler how their work is not appreciated by their bosses. So if you can relate to this disposition like I can, then why don't we recognize that very need in our fellow beings, and most especially our own children?

     I guess as parents of 20+ somethings we spend a heavy 18 years guiding, coaching, and yes, praising our young charges. But when they become adults, we (maybe I should shift to the singular)... I can't quite shake that facade. It's always with the best intentions that  I want to help my son and daughter through their lives. Possibly to spare them the mistakes that I made at their age, or get them to see that they should react to a situation in a better way. Boy, no matter how many times I've preached it or heard it, I still can't follow the old guideline, everyone needs to learn from their own mistakes. Instead it comes out  You need to.... Or  I've been around a lot longer than you have...Or  I've been doing this since you were in diapers, so listen up.

     Is it no wonder that I see my adult child bristle at this kind of "help"? I would have!  Maybe I can use the excuse that my parents were both gone before I was 30 years old, so I didn't have that kind of experience to model... or resist. But I have to say that is a pretty lame excuse when I was definitely taught and try to abide by the Golden Rule. I just seem to be selective in that Rule's use when it comes to my adult children. This intensifies especially when another parent and maybe a fellow sibling joins in and tries to deliver the blow of correction all with the best of intentions. Unless it's an out right and organized  intervention, the "gang up" approach doesn't work very well.

     I am blessed with a family that even when things get a little heated, we allow each other to have a bit of cool down time and amends are made.  I may not like how others react to my "suggestions" but then again, I can't always live by "Be reasonable and do it my way."  I do hope though, that I will try to be a model to my kids that when the time comes, they will  want to emulate rather than resist my behaviors. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012


It's the first of March, which would have been my parents 66th wedding anniversary. It's a blustery day waiting for the snow to arrive tonight, and I have been in hiding far too long. Even though I was going to save this post for the  first day of Spring, it just seems like a perfect day to recall this 54 year old memory. 

     Irises always bring to mind my second grade class with Mrs Collingsworth.  As a budding 7 year old artist I immediately connected to this tall be-speckled lady and how everyday we had some activity that stretched our imaginations and artistic endeavors.  Today it is finger-painting. Not the sloppy hand slapping gooey mess, but art  in its finest form.
     Mrs C brought to my table one iris bloom and visited with us at length about what colors we saw, how the petals curled and changed shades from purple to yellow. Even the leaves and stalks had different greens. She wet the taped down paper and squirted a grey blob of goo in the middle. I looked up at her and thought ew, how dull. She just grinned and took my hand at dotted my pinkie with a dot of yellow paint.  I watched the other students swishing their blobs into streaks across the paper, and I did the same. As I angled the swishes from the top left corner to bottom right, the white paper became an early morning sunrise.
     Now how was I going to make those stalks?  One finger? Nope. I remember her taking my hand and gently turning it to expose the pinkie side of my palm and plopped three different green dots there and told me to swish it onto the paper. Evidently this second stare revealed my confusion and she guided my hand for the first one. Low and behold as we moved my hand upward a beautiful stalk of green appeared.  I didn't need any more coaxing. I was off!
     But then came time for the blooms. No problem. She told me to make a fist and with the same maneuver she placed a dark purple and yellow dot on the side of my tiny fist. Taking my fist straight down on the paper and with a slight twist and lift, a perfect petal formed. Okay! Do that two more times and I had a perfect iris! It was no trouble to finish the other 2 flowers.
     I had created a masterpiece! My first. Probably my only -- but it definitely is the first thought I have when I see these beautiful messengers of color every spring. It may not be Spring yet, but it sure brightened my day thinking about that little artist again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Words that Stick

      A few  weeks ago I wrote about the idioms in our lives that were left to us. Those that inspired us, kept us going, or truths that help us go through this journey of life.  Many wrote to share their profound inspirations from fathers and mothers.  Today, I m facing those other statements or comments that have trapped us or kept us from growing.  Those that steal our creativity or our self-worth and chain us for a lifetime.  Whether it be a thoughtless remark about our weight, our nose, our profession, or how we decorate, the instant it is said, maybe falling off the back of the one standing beside you, but hits it mark on you; and it plants itself in the middle, germinates from that little negative seed and grows into a mighty oak of doubt and fear.  Most of these remarks were so off-handed or so flippantly made that the speakers probably don’t even remember saying them, but those words settled into the core of our being and shaped us into who we are.  It may have been so internalized that we don’t even know where it started but every incident closely related just intensifies the negative thought, and it grows.
     My issue is money…or  rather the lack of it. I don’t even remember the initial statement that might have caused me to feel that I can't spend my money because a sucker-punched incident will be around the corner, and I won’t be prepared.   I don’t hoard my money. If that were the case, you would see a large bank account or stuffed mattress somewhere.  I would be one of those recluses who when they died, left bajillions somewhere.  NO we live paycheck to paycheck, and I feel a constant struggle to keep on top of every debt, and literally shut the pocketbook before the month runs out.  Trying to plan trips is a nightmare because of the expense.  I don’t enjoy shopping (retail therapy? HA!)  and usually I look at the price tag before I even look at the style or color.  Now this may be considered a blessing to some; I know my husband doesn’t mind his wife’s desire to be frugal, but I am now facing the fact that my issue is not the lack of money, rather that it is me.  When something surprising happens, I want more than anything to erase that initial thought of “Oh God, how much will this cost us?”
      I have a classic picture of my sister and me at a market that shows the vast difference between our way of looking at the world. We are at an open market and Janie is showing me the wares of the booth, so excited to find something for me to pick out. I’m standing right next to her, and the clinched fists along with the look on my face says it all.  How did these two girls grow up under the same roof and be so vastly different?

     We weren’t considered wealthy but we certainly did not do without.  “Money doesn’t buy happiness”  we were told, but I sure would like to do a test drive.  My siblings have all been much more successful financially than I have been and they all seem pretty darn happy.  So what made me this way?  I remember my mother juggling the budget on my father’s feast or famine paychecks that was typical for  most salesmen.  I remember Mom saying,  ”Someone in this family has to be the Scotsman.”  “Don’t hang anything  on the walls in your room; we may have to sell the house soon.”  I remember choosing to stay in town and go to the local state college instead of going to the more private (and expensive) Christian College away from home because it would be cheaper.  I wasn’t told I couldn’t go, but I know it was a relief to hear me say it. Maybe the desire to please is attached to this money issue.  If that’s the case, I may have made a life time of pleasing others and never myself, and it just surfaces as a money issue.  If this is true, I am at least in the beginnings of recognizing it, so hopefully I can begin to work on it. I think I have heard that there is a book out there called Your Money or Your Life.  I think I had better go check it out. Then I can start working on those other past words cramming my head about my lack of decorating talent.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Excised Heritage - Chapter 2

     Suzy felt the vibration of the garage door opening below her and knew that Sam was home.
She waited until he came upstairs to her in her quilting room rather than take a mother-run to see how the in-office surgery went. Only taking a quick glance up to see her son at the doorway, she tried to keep her voice as nonchalant as possible to avoid sounding too smothering to her still growing adult son.
     “Hi, son. How did it go?”
     “Mom, this sucks! I could hear every piece of cartilage crunching under his knife, and I could hear every stitch going in and out my ear; the thread even screeched as he pulled it through. The Novocain was useless, and it still hurts.”
     At that, Suzy couldn’t help but stop her own needlework, and rose to give her son a gentle silent hug.
     “You know the worse thing? Sims said that there is no guarantee that it won’t grow back. I know he was the best, and he knows a lot about keloids.  Been doing this kind of surgery where there have been so many docs that wouldn’t touch ‘em.  But the weird thing is the stuff he told me about them.  He said that they mostly grow on black people. “
     “I had heard that.”
     “Mom, why would we have them then?”
     Suzy shrugged and walked back over to her quilting frame.  Taking the taut sandwich of material into her lap, she picked up the needle once again only glancing quickly at the bump in her own wrist.  “You, know Sam, because you never even knew your grandparents on my side, I have always wanted to get information about them down for you and your sister.  I know so little and no older relatives are around to fill me in. Your dad was the late child with siblings in their 20’s when he was born. Kind of a shameful thing back then.  Dad gave me a few tidbits, and I have made those into stories for you, but I really don’t have much in the fact department.  Besides, I’ve learned that most history is created by the winners not the losers, and the stories will exalt the winners and their families more than give any credit to the downtrodden. Then in recent years, it was cool to create exposés of the inhumanities…  ”
     “Mom, Mom, what are you getting at? You’re not answering my question. “
     Suzy looked up from the tiny handstitching and smiled, “Sorry, son, still in teacher mode, I guess.  What I’m trying to say is that I don’t have any clue because the clues are hidden. Something shameful would never be written down.  A late in life birth would have been shameful, or mental illness, any disability, or possibly some negroid features in a Caucasian family might bring up side comments like “they must have had a Nig…:” Her words choked in her mouth.  “Oh my, I haven’t thought of that phrase in such a long time.”
      Sam looked confused, and she caught his expression. “Growing up in the ‘60’s and ‘70s surely makes me sensitive to saying that word out loud, and I remember many heated discussions with my dad about it. I never considered him a bigot, but he was a product of his time.”
     “Mom, you’re trying to nigger aren’t you?”
     Suzy was shocked at her son’s flippant behavior to even say “THE N WORD” out loud.  Even out of context it chilled her to hear it. “Yes, I am. The phrase ends with … in the woodpile…ever hear that?
     “Not really, but I can get the meaning pretty easily.”
     “Well, back to the keloid question, all I can say is that it’s entirely possible. Your grandfather’s, my dad’s family was from Tennessee before moving to Texas at the turn of the century, and I have no way of figuring that out.  The country is a big melting pot and the backdoor stories aren’t in the history books or even family bibles.”
     “Mom, would it make any difference if it was true?
     “I suppose not.  You?”
     “No, but I would like to know. Even with today’s technology and research, I would think it would be easy to find out more. “
     “Believe me I have tried. When Chris died your great uncle gave me a software program to trace my roots.  Kind of a weird sympathy gift I thought at first, but I did start digging.  Then I got hooked and it was an addiction to keep looking.   I eventually had to stop because it was taking up all my time.  I had hit a “brick wall” as they say in the genealogy world.  Along the way I found so many relatives that I felt a connection to. Many times I wondered if they experienced the same feelings that I have felt. That’s when the stories started to flow. “
     “What stories? I didn’t know you had written anything.”
    Oh, my great reader.  Oddly no one in the family seems to care about these so I have just stashed them away until you are ready for them. Probably after I’m gone.   I guess it’s my way of saying, I was here and that  I mattered  - something that I feel all those ancestors deserve, too.  Maybe I’m doing it a little for Chris, too.  So many of those ancestors were young like Chris when they died.  I want to know that they mattered more than what kind of heritage they hold.  What kind of dilemmas, challenges, and heartaches they had like we have had.  Maybe we can learn from them. At least know that the past is nothing to fear any more than the future.  If it helps anyone to stop living in any kind of fear, it’s got to be worth it.”
    "Okay, but I think you need to find out the heritage stuff, too.  Maybe you’ll find out about your hearing loss, or heart attacks, or even the depression issues that seem to run all over this family."
    "Well, if it keeps you from thinking everything that bad happens because of what’s around you than what is in you, then it might be worth the dig. When you're ready to hear more. I'll tell you. What do you say?"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Excised Heritage

A shift in another direction to what I hope will be a starting point to pull all my family stories together. My youngest son Sam and his recent experience was a catalyst in trying to find out more about my father's ancestors who had eluded me for so long.

       The Novocain had worn off in less than 10 minutes. Sam was beginning to feel every pull and slice of his skin being excised from behind his ear.  Less than 15 minutes before, his first sight was the syringe when he walked into the examining room. Well, I guess this is going to hurt, he said to himself.  The nurse was smiling as if this was an ordinary day, but to Sam, he was about to experience pain that he hoped would not have to be repeated. 
      Earlier the nursing attendant with short spiked hair and gapping teeth instructed him to lie flat on his stomach with his head turned to the side on the pillow. A cloth was placed over his head, and he was shrouded in a blue darkness unable to see what was taking place.  The small hole in the face cloth exposed his ear and every sound seemed to multiply tenfold.  He heard the door close with little more than a mumble from the attendant as she left the room. He was alone.
      He heard  the door open a few minutes later, but he was sure it had been a half an hour. The doctor’s soothing voice of mundane conversation starters did little to relax him, but he played along, answering the irrelevant questions. "So what do you do, Sam? I hear your Dad broke his ankle, just like I did. When are you getting married now? How about that new Broncos Quarterback.?  Do you think he has the right stuff?"
      The clattering on the surgical tray left little to the imagination and then the doctor said, you may feel a little prick but it won’t last long. Little does he know, Sam thought.  A little prick?  He had known a lot of those.  He had really hoped that this time the stupor would take hold, and this great numbing drug would work on him.  The syringe’s needle pierced  his earlobe, not unlike the initial piercing he had done many years before, but this time he could hear the liquid swishing around inside his earlobe as the cold burn entered his head with an evil rush under his skin.  Whatever it was that contradicted the expected reaction in his body, he was resistant to its power.  Novocain was useless after less than the time it took for the doctor to pick up his scalpel.  Sam’s hoping was useless, too.  Even though he didn’t feel this first slice under the keloid scar, the awakening nerve endings started to feel the exposure to the air, and they flashed instant messages to his brain that the violation to their existence was threatened. The throbbing continued as the scalpel was charting its course though the fleshy mass that had grown behind his ear to double the size of the lobe.
       Last year he had decided he could just whack it off himself as it just hung by a small flap of skin. It couldn’t be worse that the piercing itself. After numbing his earlobe with two cubes of ice, he snipped at the attached appendage, and it had easily fallen off. The bleeding was more excessive than any head wound he had ever seen, but with a pressure  bandage applied by Chrissy, it eventually stopped. No big deal and easily forgotten, until two months later, the tiny scar became a welt overnight and within 6 months, the fleshy lobe had morphed into a lump twice the original size of the one he thought he had killed. It looked like a cancerous tumor growing outside his body. There were to be no more self-healing chances, he had to see Doc Sims.
     To ward off the pain Sam talked to the doctor about what he was actually doing, trying to mask each stabbing pain but the evidence was accented in the pitch of his voice.
     “Say Doc, what makes these kinds of scars anyway? I’ve got lots of friends with piercing and tats that don’t do this.” Sam felt the suture needle enter one side and the cat-gut thread singing through the needle-made hole, and the needle hitting its mark on the other side of the wound to draw the skin together for its first stitch.
     “How many black friends do you have, Sam?"  
What kind of bigoted question is that, man?  “What’s that got to do with anything, Doc? The second suture began in making the second stitch.
     “Keloids are predominately an African-American syndrome.  After an initial trauma to the subdural layer of skin, as the body tries to heal itself, it seems to take on a super healing process and grows the scar faster and larger than necessary. “  Needle, screeching thread, tie off number three.
     Sam blinked back the pain induced tears under the blue shroud. “But why me then?”
    “Sam, America is a pretty good melting pot of all cultures and races. I’m sure there was probably a bit of color mixing all along its history. It’s quite probable that there is some black heritage running through your veins.  Ever talk to your folks about it?  “Dr. Sims finished with the 3rd and 4th stitches.
     "Not really, but it sure seems unlikely on my dad’s side. I’ve heard every cowboy, Irish, outlaw story at least a dozen times over.  But my mom has always been pretty quiet about her family. Both her parents died in their 50’s and she and dad had moved to Wyoming . I really only hear a little bit about her folks."
     Five more agonizing stitches later, Sam shook hands with the doctor and headed for home.  He tried to mask the pain from his throbbing earlobe by jacking up the rap on the radio to a deafening pitch.  All that did was to let the pain throb to the music as he tried to take in the information the doctor had just told him. Next stop, Mom's house.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Idioms for a Lifetime

       Do you have any particular idioms you grew up with that you use constantly? I guess I hang on to the few I have, because I only knew my parents a little less than 30 years. And, if you don't count the first 20 years when we never think our parents know anything, I can only gather from maybe 10 years of their wisdom.
       One such idiom I recall and found myself using all my life was a phrase my dad had placed under the glass of his home office desk. He had this wonderful "office" that doubled as my brother's bedroom on his occasional visits back home from college. The desk was so unique though. It had cinder block legs sprayed black, and the top was a door covered in green felt with a large piece of glass to fit over that. He could rub elbows with the executives sitting behind rich mahogany monstrosities, but his frugal nature and his darling wife created this masterpiece that rivaled any top-of-the-line furniture. He would place precious pictures, quotes, maps, or papers under the glass for safe keeping. I loved going in there to see what new things he had placed there.
   Oh, I'm getting to it -- Here it is

                                WANT TO ENOUGH
I don't think my sister or brothers even remember it, but my initial curiosity transformed into a full blown mantra.  To this day, it answers all my questions about why I may have failed at any endeavor or challenge.

  • When I didn't mend a relationship,
    • I must not have "wanted to enough."
  • When I couldn't lose the weight I needed to, 
    • I must not have "wanted to enough."
  • When I didn't strive for that job advancement,
    • I must have not "wanted to enough."
  • When I don't clean up, or order blinds for the window, or finish that quilt,
    • I must have not "wanted to enough."
  • When I don't sit down to write and organize my a family stories,
    • I must have not "wanted to enough."
  • When I don't share myself, or get out, or contact others; therefore, feeling lonely,
    • I must have not "wanted to enough."
He had a similar phrase that was much cuter - "Honey, it's your little red wagon. You can push it, you can pull it, or you can just let it sit." But that little 3-word ditty was always my own proverbial slap in the face to realize my actions (or lack of) are mine alone, and I had the choice. I have no one else to blame. 

Now, a caveat is needed here, and I do speak from experience.  As with any lesson I have learned, I need to apply it to myself  -- not try to push it on others and tell  them  "Hey, you just didn't want to enough." oopsey.  I may have turned into my mother like all moms do, and spit out mom-isms on a daily basis, but this one is really just for me. 

Granted, I seemed to use it more in the past tense after I had "failed" so I can explain to myself what went wrong. But I am still hoping that I can use it in the present tense more often so I will  get off my butt, and do what I know is important.  When I do, I amazingly have a better day because I want to enough. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012


     Happy New Year, everyone. I'm sure you have heard that a million times already on TV, from strangers, friends, loved ones. All the good will we can muster has been crowded into the past 2 weeks.  My only wish is that it could last through the next 50 weeks. It seems once the decorations are stored away, the frustrations and short fuses multiply; and, when someone cuts me off, takes too long to get my food order right, makes a rude remark in passing, I begin grumbling under my breath (I'm usually never a vocal madwoman).
      The negativity doesn't just creep in; it implodes destroying within and then billowing out like the old Dust Bowl storms of the 30's. My husband just remarked about watching a particular show and how no one has anything nice to say to each other any more. This was just seconds after he got off the phone berating a contractor for his late billing and complaining how his adult daughter wasn't as nice as she should have been to his men friends. Oddly enough, the show he was watching was demonstrating how a father was losing connection with his family because of his constant complaining, and my dear hubby could not see the similarity at all.  His negativity isn't the focus here. As a matter of fact it's just that it surrounds us in the news, sitcoms, dramas, politics, on the freeway, at work, and sadly at some dinner tables. Trying to make a positive comment gets you an accusation of being a Pollyanna. Or, as with my M.O. stay silent and complacent, which can be just as destructive.
      Even as old as I am, I'm still learning when to keep my mouth shut and when to speak up. Definitely,  it's easy to see that the the time to shut up is when I want to complain about something, and the time to speak out is to try to assuage the negativity of others. The HOW and WHAT to say something falls below my tactful radar though.  Oh, one more observation, I can do this pretty easily with strangers. It's practicing this with my dearest ones that is the biggest hurdle.  It's a frustrating balancing act, but I am determined to figure out how to walk that tightrope. Then the biggest challenge is to make it last longer than the weight loss/exercise resolutions that have already begun to wane. I do wish you better luck than I am having in this redo of good will toward ALL. .