Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Gift From a Friend

This week I am in Kansas City visiting my cousin Hoddy.  It's been a great trip for many reasons, one being that my best friend since kindergarten also happens to live here, so I've been able to have fun with both of them although I admitted to them that I felt a little torn between two lovers, wanting to see both of them as much as possible - what a nice dilemma to have!   But the main reason I came at this time was to visit Hoddy and her family.

Hoddy is fifteen years younger than I, and grew up in San Francisco, CA.  I moved to the Bay area when she was eight, and she and her family are very special to me as they were very much supportive and loving during a time when I literally had no friends or money or idea of what the heck I was doing out in the world.  Over six feet tall, smart, fun and beautiful, Hoddy is a powerhouse of positive energy.  When I first moved to California, she spend a lot of time turning cartwheels in the living room of her flat and perfecting her considerable dance moves.  She then went on to play volleyball at William and Mary, attend law school, marry her college sweetheart, land a job at a top law firm in SF, have three children, and then move to Kansas and start two businesses (the BAR Method exercise studios - look it up, it's fabulous) here in Kansas.  In the space of three years, her businesses are not only successful, they are a lovely gathering place with an upbeat, energetic and caring atmosphere where (I can tell) true friendships and bonds are being formed.  That's because the Bar Method is her bliss - and it shows!  Not only does she give it her love, attention, and energy, she gets so much out of it as well.

And at the moment, Hoddy really needs every ounce of energy she can get, because she is using up a lot of her enormous well of it to battle cancer.  She was diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma in February.   I came to Kansas to visit, give moral support, and help Hoddy, but I feel I've come away with far more than I have given and I want to share some of the things I've learned from my fabulous cousin.  She is attacking the evil disease on every possible front and I for one, really believe there is no possible chance it has against her aggressive and really, quite creative methods of fighting it.

First of all, she is taking the conventional approach.  She has just finished her sixth (and I believe her last) round of chemo.   I look at her and I am frankly, amazed at that fact.  I mean,  I know she has been through chemo because I sat with her through her last appointment, but she sure doesn't look or act like anyone I've ever seen on chemo.  Her color is great, her energy (while it is lower than she likes and is frustrating to her) is far higher than plenty of people who have never even taken chemo, and yes, she may be bald, but she's still lovely.

And I think I know why.  You see, when Hoddy found out she had serious cancer, she began to research.  The first area she looked into was food  She doesn't eat any inflammatory foods (such as dairy).  She does eat a lot of alkaline foods like kim chee and sauerkraut and she takes a spoonful of apple cider vinegar a couple of days a week.  She also eats no, absolutely no sugar (because cancer likes sugar).  She drinks green tea, she takes oil of cannabis, she eats a ton of antioxidant rich foods, and she is 100 percent organic (although she was already mostly organic for the last few years before the diagnosis, I must admit).  She also takes herbs that really help her with her blood counts, and drinks a ton of water (some of it infused with chlorophyll and lemon for their alkalizing properties).  She also fasts for 24 hours before and the entire day of her chemos, because the rate of absorption of the medicines is much higher when the cancer cells are hungry.  (When people ask her how she can do that, she says "I'm highly motivated.")

The next thing she does is acupuncture.  Not just for the effects of the chemo, but also to help her body be strong and fight the disease.  She does an infrared sauna a few days a week.   She works out and takes walks, even when she is tired, because it makes her feel better.  She spends time with her children - yesterday she took them swimming after school and she gets up early every morning so she and her husband get them a good healthy breakfast and a good start to their day.  In other words, she lives her daily life as much as she possibly can.

Hoddy does rest of course; she has to let the chemo do the work. But let's face it, chemotherapy is hardly therapeutic - it's entire purpose is to poison a person within a hairsbreadth of their life - she has to rest whether she wants to or not.  So sometimes she rests.

Another front she does battle on is addressing the emotional issues associated with being diagnosed with cancer at age thirty-three.  She sees a therapist, she meditates, she's just started going to an energy worker (similar to acupuncture but a little more spiritual).  When she's feeling down, she'll get a facial or a massage or pedicure - something that makes her feel relaxed.  She spends time with her friends when she can, and she lets them help her - something that is not easy for her to do, but she knows she would want to do the same for them and she knows she needs them right now.  She's scared, no doubt, but she is trying really hard to live in the moment, to do what she can do and let go of the rest.  It's possibly the hardest of all the battles, accepting that this is real and dealing with the unknowns, but Hoddy is valiantly staying the course, communicating, asking and receiving.

As I've said, I'd be hard-pressed to imagine anyone who is fighting harder or doing more to beat cancer than Hoddy.  And her energy and moxie and her creative, eclectic approach to this disease is inspiring to me in countless ways.  She is the epitome of giving life one's all.  I hope with all my being that I have been able to give her some comfort and love and joy on this trip but this I know: I will go home forever changed and inspired by what my brave and beautiful cousin has given me.

  So -  thanks from every part of my being for being, Hoddy Potter.  And Namaste, baby.  Namaste.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Flying By the Seat of One's Pants

Recently I took a webinar with Cheryl Arkison  It was sooo fun and informational - she's terrific!  I sort of fell in love with her for several reasons - one of which is because she drinks beer while she sews - but also, she's so talented and creative, and - she basically took away my guilt for wanting to work on more than one piece at a time.  She said she has about thirty works in progress right now, and that sometimes a piece is speaking to you at this moment, and sometimes you have to put it away for a while and start something else and get back to it later. And Oh man, I so agreed!  It was so freeing, so now I'm going to work on whatever I feel like in the moment, not slog away until I finish something (unless I have a deadline, of course, or I want to.)  

Anyway, I've had this idea loosely based on Andy Goldsworthy sculptures floating around in my head for a while but being me, I hadn't started it because i was working on other stuff.   Today, however,  decided to take Cheryl's advice and start it even though I'm not finished with my current project.  "This is thing that is speaking to me today and besides, it's so simple," I thought," I can finish the entire top in one day probably, and then I'll go back to my current project..."

 Let's just say I was a little wrong.  Just for fun, I'm going to share my day and the process of improvising this quilt, as it turned out rather differently than I anticipated.  

Here is the original sketch, which was made a few weeks ago.  I liked, but didn't love it. 

Then I did these, which I liked better.

After thinking and staring and drawing some more, I decided to do a triptych - type piece using three different colors for the nests and for the twigs.  Since I knew the rough idea, I decided to pull the fabrics first. 

 I was shocked when I realized this step had taken about two (very enjoyable, fabric-fingering) hours.   No worries - the rest was going to go really fast.  Or so I thought...

Suddenly I realized I didn't have a background color.  I didn't think white would be right.  I toyed with dark brown, dark blue, dark green - but I didn't have big enough pieces of any of those colors at home.  So I went to town and stared at fabric for a while, something which is also very enjoyable.  I found a beautiful sky blue, but I didn't want it to be the entire background, so I added a kind of rough cotton in a beige-y off white that looked great with it.  

When I got home, I went back to sketching.   I decided to have a sloping "sky" with the earthy beige on the bottom. 

This is the final sketch (I think).   Looks pretty simple, huh?  Not so fast.  I now needed to decide how big to make the squares.  Eighteen inches seemed great, so I cut one beige and one blue, made a random cut through the center of each and sewed it together. It looked good!   I then wanted to see how big the nest in the center should be, so I quickly cut some circles. They were too big so I had to cut all of them down.  Did I want them in the center of each block, or randomly placed?  I decided the center, and all the same size, although I still have to decide if I want them perfectly centered in each other or a little off kilter (Later, later, I'm not there yet - see what I mean about many decisions!?).  

I picked up the greens and began to cut snippets from the the edges, just to see how it was going to look.  I still hadn't figured out the exact construction; at the time I was thinking I would do the slice and insert thing and then do appli-piecing for the nest.  But I wanted to see how it was going to look against the background first.  It was rough, but I was liking it.  I actually really liked the unevenness of the green pieces so I decided I want the snippets to be more like branches - not the same width from end to end (they look more nest-y that way).   I couldn't figure out how to do that with the slice and insert (without driving myself mad, that is) so I decided to do rough edge applique, although I am not a huge fan of applique (don't know why, just am not). 

Once I finally got the block set up I really wanted to put the square on my design wall so I could stare at it, but the individual snippets would not stick to the fabric!  So  I ended up putting it on the floor and staring at it from my lofty, almost six-foot height. 

I liked it, but at that point, I realized that eighteen inches was just too small; I would have to make the squares larger. (Don't know why the beige looks so pink in this picture, but it's not pink at all, just fyi.)

Back to the cutting board. 

The new squares are twenty-one and a half inches, roughly.  I almost didn't have enough fabric to do it after cutting so much for practice - that would have really been annoying (If I still got annoyed that is, which, what with my being so zen and all, I hardly ever do!) 

At this point it was five o'clock.   I would have liked to continue working, but dinner had to be made, the garden had to be watered, my blog had to be written...and I was ever so slightly cranky - from having to make so many decisions and not getting to any actual sewing!    The only other thing I got done today was to back the green fabrics with Steam A Seam (a rather boring task - I practiced not thinking, being mindful - it helped).   

Here's what I actually physically completed today, although I see that I am going to have to pull the stitches and fix it as well, so - not really complete, oh well.

So surprise, surprise - my simple design turns out to be a damn sight more complicated in the actual doing.  It turns out that there are lots and lots of decisions that have to be made when one is flying by the seat of one's pants!  I surely do hope it turns out to be the beautiful piece I'm envisioning because it certain is NOT simple and easy to make.

  I know, I know - I'm supposed to be focused on the DOING, not the outcome - but OY!  When I stop and re-read all that and I realize that most of my creating is done in the same manner,  I'm surprised I get anything completed, ever!  I must like it though because, like I said - I kind of do it all the time!

Still, it was a good day.  Although very little sewing got done, at least I know where I'm going with this.  I'm tempted to say the next part should go fairly quickly, but  I learned enough from today not to say or even think it! 

The biggest challenge, of course, was to remain present and calm, which I'm happy to say I basically did.  It's good to know that I accomplished SOMETHING, anyway.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

To Be or To Do - That is the Question!

So I spent a few days doing exactly what I felt like doing, and may I say it was fabulous?  It was, really.  I ate or I didn’t eat, depending on whether I was hungry.  I read a book if I felt like it, I finished a quilt, I meditated…I also cleaned my car, inside and out (the weather was nice and I like it clean), I weeded the garden, cleaned the house from top to bottom, I took some stuff I’ve been meaning to get rid of to the Salvation Army, I wrote a little, watched a movie, took a few naps, exercised, and had a girls’ night with my friends (which was wicked fun!).  I sat on the front porch thinking and watching the grass grow, I played on the computer…All in all, I simply enjoyed myself being responsible for only me.  Now I’m ready to get back to real life.  Because while it is nice to take some time to just be, having responsibilities isn’t so bad, either.
 In fact, I am suddenly thinking that it’s doing all the things that need doing in life that helps me be creative.  The more I’m challenged by life, the more I’m exposed to other people and their thoughts, the more I see when I’m out and about, the more I do for others, the more inspired I get.  I’ve always felt my ideas don’t always just come directly through me – often they are sparked by something I see, hear or experience while I’m being productive, or other people’s ideas spark a new idea in me, or I build on something I’ve seen or heard. 
When I was teaching I was willing to try anyone’s idea if it worked for them, and I freely shared my stuff, too.  I love bouncing ideas off of other people, looking at other people’s creations to spark my own – not necessarily to copy them exactly; sometimes their ideas lead me in the direction of something I’m excited about.   
We’re all connected in a sort of collective way, even though we might not realize it.  I’ve noticed often that I might have a design thought and I might even make the thing, and then I find out someone else has the same or a very similar idea (usually there’s a much easier way to do it than the way I figured out).  Some people find that idea threatening, but I think it’s beautiful - and it’s okay, really.  I can’t get too fussed about being completely “original.”  I’m just happy that I get lots of ideas that I can’t wait to create. To me, creativity is a gift, and I am grateful for it.  I’m not worried that someone else is creative, too.  There’s plenty of creativity to go around, and many, many different forms of it, too.
Sure, creativity does just happen sometimes, but I don’t think it ever occurs in a vacuum.  We may not be able to directly attribute a new idea to anything consciously, but it comes from the connectedness and continuity of life, an openness to new and different ideas, and it leads to more new and innovative stuff  - wave after wave of creativity, all welling up from the same abundantly creative ocean that we all swim in.  It may show up completely differently in most of us, but it is the same soup, of that I’m certain. 
Getting back to my original point, after just being for a while, I find that I am more of an action-type person – I like to be pretty busy most of the time, and it seems when I’m active and interacting with others is when I find the most inspiration and ideas.   I also see the value of just being, on a regular basis – sitting, contemplating, meditating – those things help me get centered, calm me, keep me open, help me remain present.      It’s a balance.  For me, my fulcrum is more towards the “doing” side, but I now find that without the equalizer of just being, I can’t necessarily remember to enjoy the doing. 
 I’d be interested to hear from you if you find you need more of one than the other, and where you find your inspiration.   

WIP Report
So I finished and shipped the charity quilt, Down the Red Steps.  I did a little less quilting on it  and used a little thicker batting, and it resembles a comforter, a little.  I’m pleased with it, and I hope it makes some little boy very happy and warm!

I also finished the “Happy Quilt” and it makes me happy.  I hope it will make others feel that sunshine-y spring sky the way it does me.  

 I really love it, and it looks so simple but graphic.  I learned a lot from it, as i always do. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Little Bit of Nothing

Generally I’m a pretty active person.  I have many things to do and I enjoy the challenge of doing them.  For the last couple of days, however, I’ve been having a problem with motivation – or lack thereof.  Blame it on my knee that’s been bothering me, blame it on the recent discovery that my darling cousin is fighting Stage IV cancer, blame it on hormones - whatever, but there it is!   I feel all of a sudden, as though I’m having to force myself to do things:  exercise, clean out my filthy car, or the refrigerators, or my house (usually I enjoy doing such things, believe it or not – I sort of use them as a spiritual practice – to enjoy whatever it is that needs to be done at the moment, even if it’s spending three hours vacuuming out the car – it is a pleasant feeling of accomplishment and a helluva(n) arm workout!) But I don’t feel like doing right now. 
 I don’t want to just sit and vegetate though, not at all – nope, instead I’m thinking back to my youth when spending an entire afternoon reading a book somehow didn’t seem like a waste of time at all.  What I really feel like doing is being; I want to meditate, pray, read – books and blogs and poems,  I want to write- in my journals, on my blog, on my stories, and of course, I want to create (okay, that’s doing, but it’s also a little like breathing for me – can’t not do it!)
 Of course I’ve got a long list of to-do’s but I don’t feel like striking the iron, so to speak.  Maybe the summer heat has made me indolent, I don’t know.  But for the first time ever in my adult life, I think I might be in a unique position to give in to it.  I’m on my own for a few days – my husband and son are in California, and so I’m going to experiment, and just do only exactly what I feel like doing, whatever that is at the moment.   I realize it is a huge luxury, but I’m calling it a Soul Time.  So what if the house needs cleaning, so what if I have errands to do, phone calls to make, etc. – they can wait a couple of days, none of them is particularly urgent.  I’m going to do the some of the quiet things that I often put on the back burner until I’ve fulfilled all my other responsibilities (which rarely happens, of course!) 
I’m thinking this is a fine idea -  that allowing myself this time to sort of catch up on quiet time will allow me to go back into my regular life with renewed purpose, vigor, and joy.  I also think it will lead to more and new inspirations, as being quiet often does.   Who knows, if it works out, I may plan on doing it on a regular basis – once every so often just giving myself a day to do – nothing in particular.  Sounds pretty dreamy but also it reminds me of the Sirens in Odysseus  – don’t want to get lost in a vortex of not doing for too long!   I’ll let you know how it all works out, of course.  Just – if you don’t hear from me in a few days, send someone in after me, okay.

                                                                  WIP UPDATE:

 Been working on a quilt for charity – it’s the first patten quilt I’ve done in quite some time – lots of little squares!  But I finally got the top finished and am on to backing and quilting.  I admit I had to bring myself to presence several times; I found it a tiny bit irksome because it has been rather time-consuming – especially in my quest for perfection.  It’s been a good practice to remind myself that I want to infuse everything I do with joy, especially something like this which is going to someone who needs it, and I wanted it to be special enough to show the recipient how important he is (it’s a boy quilt).   Anyway, here’s a picture –

I'm calling it "Down the Red Steps."  It's a simple split rail pattern, but I still like to think up fun names as pieces are developing.  I’m pretty pumped because I really have gotten so much from these fabrics – and one purchase!  This is the third piece I’ve completed using this collection – I am so glad I bought it!  It’s a really inspiring line,  I must say – if I had any more of it – I might come up with some more ideas!  So kudos to Carrie Bloomston  for a job well done – I know she’s designed more fabrics for Windham – can’t wait to check them out! 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Deceptively Simple

My latest project has led me to once again, learn a new lesson - sometimes it's the things that look the easiest that prove the most challenging.  Take for example, straight lines.  Straight lines are not easy to make look crisp and clean, especially when dealing with fabric.  Even attempting to quilt in straight lines is not easy, as I am learning.  And woe be unto you if you mess up on the first line, because then you find out all the lines after have to be corrected, but not usually until you've done quite a few.  At least that's what has happened to me.  After ripping out several long rows in my quest for perfection, I finally found a strange little arm I could attach to my presser foot that I'm using to guide me, but even with it, I still have to do a fair amount of stitch pulling.  I'm using it as a way to remain calm and present.  If I can't be cheerful while working on the piece, I stop.  Once I read where some quilter said "Not every day is a good day to sew curves."  The same can be said for straight lines!

It made me realize that we tend to look at simple pieces of art and think that not much thought or effort went into them, but perhaps we are mistaken.  There is a quote that I have perhaps shared before about how any idiot can make things more complicated but it takes real genius to make it simpler, and I agree.  We might do well to remember that next time we look at a sculpture, for example, and say "Oh, anyone could do that!"  I hear it a lot, especially when people talk about modern art, and I couldn't disagree more.  To make an eloquent statement in a simple manner is not necessarily easy.  The sculptor Andy Goldsworthy comes to mind. Here is an example of an incredibly simple piece of his, but to me, it speaks volumes.

I love this kind of stuff, and after watching a documentary on Andy Goldsworthy, I know for certain that a great deal of thoughtfulness and effort goes into his art.  And that the creation of it is anything but easy.  Still, it has a kind of effortless simplicity that is absolutely elegant.  I find it quite inspiring.  

Here's another remarkable, yet simple Andy Goldsworthy piece - most of his are the epitome of the fact that 

simple isn't always easy, but it can often can be quite satisfying. And it can be very difficult to achieve.  So here's to simplicity; no matter how hard it is to achieve, it's well worth the effort. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Update on Quick Quilt-Fixer Upper!

Well, I got it fixed - the warbled edges in my piece- such a relief!  Here I am, with iced tea, music, seam ripper, and the piece:
.  Note the smile - I had a positive, can-do attitude!  Here's what I did:  First, I ripped out the seams in the middle of the quilt, except for the blue center strip.  Then I measured down the middle of the top to the middle of the quilt and carefully measured inch by inch along the yellow and white and cut it to the same length.  Then I flipped it over and did the same for the bottom half and viola! It zipped up quite nicely - no more gaping.  Now the thing is sandwiched and ready to quilt, and for once, I know exactly how I'm going to quilt it.  My only question to myself is whether I should stitch in the ditch to preserve the straightness of the lines or just do the overall design.
I know Weeks Ringle, my current guru, is against ditch-stitching, but I wonder if in this case it's necessary, again, to keep everything super straight and crisp....I need some research for this, I think.  I'm going to the Craftsy Class I took from her to see what she has to say.  I'm also going to have a look-see at what another currently hot quilting guru, Angela Walters, has to say about it in her book.  Naturally I'd rather take the lazy way and not do it, but I'm pretty attached to this piece and I want to do whatever will make it look the crispest (if that's a word).  Oh joy, she doesn't stitch in the ditch, either!  So I guess I'm not going to because why do it if you don't have to? 
So far I'm quite pleased with this piece, now that I've gotten it fixed..  It has been rather a challenge, which may be surprising, given that it looks so simple.  But it really wasn't.  I had to be quite vigilant about making sure it was sewn as straight as a  semi-blind girl who tends to fudge and who is also without a quarter inch foot can sew (which, lacking vigilance and discipline, can lead to much stitch pulling, which in turn can potentially lead to cursing and frustration, which is not allowable if one's goal is zen... and which I am zen to report did not happen!   For once, I kept my presence about me, believe it or not!) And any time there is bias involved, it is tricky. But I'm nearly there, and like I said, pleased.

Here it is before sandwiching, hanging flatly on the wall, like it's supposed to.   It's simple, graphic and I love the colors - I think I'm going to call it The Sunny Day, cause it's just so darn happy!

Friday, June 27, 2014

You Do the Math!

I wish I had paid more attention in my math classes.  I distinctly remember saying many times over in my high school  “I’m never going to use this stuff anyway – what a waste of my time!”  (Sorry for my shitty attitude, high school math teachers, for the record, I was SO wrong!)  What I don’t get is how I managed to make straight A’s in math at the time?!  Go figure!  (And yes, that pun was intended.) Now I really wish I could remember how to do some of that stuff, because believe it or not, I find I often need (gasp) MATH for some of my designs. 

Naturally I would prefer to have a computer program that would do the math for me, but so far I haven’t found one that does what I need it to.  Not that I have looked very hard – yet.  But after the latest issues I’ve had, I may begin a search in earnest. 

It all started with the usual – my getting an idea for a design that I had no earthly idea how to put together.  Here is the original sketch. 

After dutifully drawing it on graph paper, with a scale of 1 square equals 2 inches (It sure looks all official and math-y to me!)

I still didn’t know how to figure out the exact dimensions of the side triangles (I was pretty sure it wouldn't work out to count them diagonally...) But I wasn't concerned about that yet because... 

First I had to think for a moment on how to actually construct it.  Even though it’s a simple graphic design, putting it together was not so obvious to me right at first (Yes, I readily admit to being spatially challenged!)  I decided to construct the middle triangles first,

 then add the one-inch strip of white to the sides of the triangles, (these blue triangles below are not sewn together yet, they just look like it)

So far, so good, right?  But now I could no longer put off figuring out the dimensions of the yellow triangles.   How hard could it be?  I knew the length of the one side by measuring the while pieces on the sides, and I knew it was a right angle, and I knew how wide it had to be from the skinny part of the triangle to the edge if the quilt - at least I thought I did, but I still felt unsure.   

 SoI tried to draw it on an online quilting program but there was no tool for just drawing a straight line and then getting the measurements. 

I thought and thought some more and suddenly the math fairy came to me and reminded me of the Pythagorean theorem: A squared + B squared = C squared.  Only every time I did it, it didn't seem right, and I was scared to cut the triangle and have it not fit and then have to cut more strips and sew them again. 

In the end I decided to forget about trying to be all scientific and just fly by the seat of my pants, like I always do.  I would sew strips of fabric together, then sew it to the side of the triangle and cut it to fit.  No problem, I thought – I have carefully sewn the middle and it should be easy to use the straight sides to use as edges for cutting the triangles. 

What a disaster.   After sewing it together twice, it is still all wonky and I had to stop for the night lest I lose all my ability to remain even the tiniest bit zen due to massive Frustration!  

I was showing it to my husband, and I got the brilliant (we’ll see) idea to measure each triangle down the middle and cut the bottom of the side triangle to that exact specification, (I already know the one side is the correct length as it is sewn on and trimmed) That should straighten it out.  I was too tired to do it last night, but I’m going to take out all the stitches and try it this morning.  I’ll let you know how it goes…I may end up yet cutting and sewing more strips, but I’m resigned to the idea – I really like this design and I’m going to (cheerfully, dammit) make it work.

This whole thing goes to show that I really need a book, a class or (and this is my favorite scenario) a computer program that will do the measuring for me.  All I would have to do is draw the design into the program and it will not only add the seam allowances and tell me the exact measurements, but will also calculate the fabric needs as well.  If such a program exists and doesn’t cost too much, somebody PLEASE  tell me, because my art brain and my math brain do not match up at this point and it’s testing my ability to be - you know -