November 28, 2015

Haggling for Pie


The following is a Thanksgiving Day conversation between myself and my five year old grandson, Thomas (with an occasional comment from mom):

Thomas: Can we have pie now?

Me: You want pie?

Thomas: Yeah

Me: Okay, we can barter for pie. (Note: My daughter made all of the pies herself by hand. I made none).

Thomas: (Puzzled look, probably over the word barter.)

Me: I’ll get Mom to give you pie if you trade me something good.

Thomas: You want a cookie? (Eagerly indicating a lone cookie in a clear jar nearby).

Me: No, it has to be something good. Do you have any stuffed toys? I’ll barter you one piece of pie for your favorite stuffed toy.

Thomas: (Face lights up) “Yeah!” (He runs upstairs and reappears with a stuffed parrot.)

One Stuffed parrot

Me: That’s really nice. That one is your favorite?

Thomas: Yeah!

Me: Okay, thanks.

Thomas: Can we have pie now?”

Mom: Wait until Dad finishes putting away the food.

Me: This is a really nice parrot. I can wear it on my shoulder. Very pretty.

Thomas: You can keep it forever if you want.

Me: That’s really nice, Thomas. But I’m not going to keep it, I’m just going to play with it for a while. You can have it back later.

Thomas: That’s okay, Grandma. You can keep it forever. I don’t like it very much anyway.

Me: Don’t like it? I thought it was your favorite.

Thomas: Not really.

Me: Which one is your favorite?

Thomas: (Runs upstairs and returns with a large Spongebob Squarepants toy.) This is my favorite.

Me: Wait a minute! I was bartering with you for your favorite stuffed toy. Now you’re telling me that this parrot isn’t your favorite?

The beloved Spongebob

Thomas: (Contemplates situation.) You can keep the parrot.

Me: But the parrot is not your favorite and we are trading for your favorite. So if you want pie you’re going to give me the Spongebob, right?”

Thomas: (sighs deeply in realization). Oh, yeah. (He looks back and forth at the parrot and Spongebob. Clearly he does not want to part with Spongebob.) I guess.

I think Thomas will barter more thoughtfully in the future. He also had lots of pie and continues to have possession of a stuffed parrot and he and his beloved Spongebob are still together. Thomas is a bit wiser, at least about Grandma.

One of the many pies

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November 26, 2015


     Last December I accepted a Facebook Pay-it-Forward challenge. If you're unfamiliar with pay-it-forward it's a good deed generating process based on the movie of the same name. One person does a good deed for three people who are then each obligated to a good deed for three more people and so on. I agreed to send a small gift within the upcoming year to the first five folks who responded to my post and agreed to do the same themselves. Four wonderful people signed up and I put a lot of thought into what gifts I could send to each of them. 
     I made a scarf for my brother, Leo​. I haven’t seen him in many years and in my mind he is eternally twenty-one, tall and lanky. That’s how he was when I saw him last. He likes to fish. Big game fish. What does one make for a big game fisherman that he might enjoy? I don’t tie lures (do you use lures in big game fishing?) so I made him a scarf. Not just any scarf, but a liar’s fisherman scarf. I called it: “The One That Got Away” and I sent it off. Honestly I thought he wasn’t’ quite sure what to make of the gift until one day some time later when the mailman delivered a huge double box of famous See’s candy. It was a thank you from Leo. I am big fan of chocolate in general, and definitely in handmade chocolate candy and even more especially in See’s candy, but there was much more. Our mom loved See’s, especially their California Brittle pieces. As I opened the box I recalled the first time she gave up her favorite California Brittle to me so that I could appreciate its delicious, crunchy wonderfulness. My brother Leo had sent me much more than chocolates, he had sent me a memory. I was deeply touched.

The One That Got Away

     I then turned to the remaining three gifts. I struggled somewhat, wondering what I could make for people whose homes I had never visited. Carrie-Lou had been a classmate many years ago and we had lost touch. Anna is a fan of my novels and I had met her only once at an arranged book signing. Donna and I have never met in real life, only on Facebook. I decided that instead of fancy, frilly gifts that might simply collect dust, I would send something practical for everyday use.
    Recently Donna became a grandmother. As we all know, with bundles of joy come many other bundles as well, diapers and bottles and clothes and toys. My daughter hangs a granny-square bag I made at the bottom of the stairs to catch all those little bits. For Donna, I made two.

My daughter's lovely home with the granny-bag hanging from the stairs in the far left foreground.

     For Anna and Carrie-Lou I wanted something they could also use every day. On my loom I made them handwoven kitchen towels. Like a good apron, a good towel is a great helping hand to have in the kitchen and in life.
     I packaged the gifts, took a walk to the post office and sent them off. 
     A few days later I received a heartfelt note from Donna saying she had gotten the granny-square bag. Apparently she'd had a rough day at work and the package on her step was just the thing to turn her day around. I was touched to hear she was so pleased by my simple gift.
    When the kitchen towels reached the other side of the country Carrie-Lou and Anna both contacted me. The packages had arrived at a time when they each needed a lift and they said I had helped brighten their holiday season. Again I was moved by their show of emotion.
     And so I come to the thank you's. Today is the day for them, isn’t it? The day we stop and reflect on how fortunate we are. Through all of the hustle, bustle and hassles stop, for just one brief moment. Pull those people you love close and tell them thank you. I know in my heart they'll love hearing it as much as you'll love saying it. Happy Thanksgiving.

November 21, 2015

Unfinished Projects

Dish towels in progress on the loom

     I had a conversation with a friend recently about unfinished projects. She currently has fourteen that are half-done and was starting a new one as we spoke. We both agreed that, as an artist, it's sometimes difficult to see a project through from beginning to end.  So today I decided to blog about my current jobs that are on the needles and looms and look at what helps me get the job done.

A partially worked sweater

     As you can see, I do have a few things going. There aren't as many as usual since I like to clear off my desk in the fall when I’m indoors more and the holidays are looming on the horizon. I did a bit of self-examination to figure out what keeps me motivated to finish a project.

Cards that need finishing

     Like everyone, I can grow bored with something I’m making. For example, the partially worked sweater pictured is a perfect example. While I was figuring out how the unusual pattern came together I was motivated to keep knitting to master the architecture of the sweater. Now that I’m past that part, the monotonous portion of knitting the body has set in. There’s the problem. The sweater is taking forever so I avoid picking it up and making any progress. Since I’m not working on it, it is taking forever. This leads to a self-defeating situation and the end result is that the sweater is not getting done. Here is where discipline has to intervene. First, I go back in my mind to the beginning of the project and I ask myself: what was it about making this sweater that got me started?  In this case I had envisioned a nice snugly house sweater that I could wrap around myself while writing in the long winter months. I would still like to have that sweater. That thought can help me get back in the groove. I also make sure the project is close to my chair, where I can see it waiting in my knitting bag and am reminded that it needs my attention. I know that if I just get started, pick up the needles and start a row, the next thing I know I will be knitting along. Experience has taught me that I have to take that first step or the sweater won’t get done at all. It's kind of like exercise that way, but much less strenuous. 

The beginnings of some spun wool

     But, what about that project that I really don’t want to finish… ever? It happens to every artist. If I can’t inspire myself or find I really am loathing a project then it’s time to reevaluate. Now and again I do start something I really don’t want to finish. I try to be honest with myself over the reason I feel that way. Sometimes the piece is not becoming what I envisioned. Maybe I thought it would look great but in fact it's just ugly or a hot mess. It might be that I lack the skills the pattern required, and try as I might, I’m not getting it. I have to admit I might have gone fickle and turned my eye onto some new exciting project that hasn’t failed me yet and I’d prefer to go there. Maybe it’s just boring. Sometimes the skills I wanted to learn on the project are conquered now so I’m ready for a new challenge. These can be honest answers but they can also be just plain excuses.
      Now this is the time I have to be brutally blunt with myself. Life is short and of course I don’t want to waste my precious hours working on a project without passion. That's understandable if it isn't just an excuse. I'm allowed. I go for the standoff moment. I take out my unfinished project and take a good hard look at it. If I decide not to finish it then I refuse to do it by lying to myself or to just let it die away. If I just want to quit I admit that to myself. I make no excuses. Do it or do not. Then I try to cut my losses. If there is yarn involved I unravel the whole thing. Maybe I didn’t complete the project but neither did I leave it just abandoned in the closet somewhere. That forsakes the supplies and sets up the guilt. I hate that guilt! If I were to do that too many times I’d have this closet full of unfinished, abandoned or failed projects and I’d feel guilty every time I started something new. Those darned unfinished projects would weasel their way into my mind and haunt me and spoil everything new. I’d rather own it. I take apart the project, white out the canvas, sort out the tools and put them away. I dust off my hands and move on. I let the guilt dissipate and accept that I didn’t finish. That’s all right. But hiding it away is not owning it. Moving on is not punishing myself but letting something linger like a failure is.
      I have learned a powerful lesson by doing that. Many times just imagining unfurling a project or clearly calling it quits is enough to make me think about the time and money I already have invested and I realize that I still want to complete the project and then I usually do finish it. If I follow the simple rule that either way the project must be finished or officially terminated then I take that lesson and move on. I don’t have as many projects sitting around on my shoulders or in my closest waiting to be completed.
     Now I’m going to pick up my needles and get a few more inches on that big sweater.

The sweater finished!

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November 14, 2015

There’s an App for That!


   This week I've been testing the virtual closet app called Stylebook. Oh yeah, it’s a wonderful time to be alive. Who would have imagined that here, in the future, one would be able to organize their closet from their armchair? I figured what the heck, I’d play.
     I have to admit that I didn’t really expect much from this app. I 'd read reviews that said it was like playing with paper dolls, something I loved as a kid, and that it was the perfect tool for the fashion-conscious, working woman. I expected that I would mess around with it a few minutes and move on. To my surprise and delight, that was not the case. Yes, like many things on the computer, one might say that this is really a toy, but, like many other things online, it does have some real practical application. I wish I had this when I was working jobs that required me to go outside, look polished and put together every day of the week. Since I'm a writer I could just as well organize my pajamas, right?  

The app's features

     With this little application, and the stuff that already comes with your phone or pad, you take pictures of your clothes and it makes them into little cutouts. I thought this would be overwhelming since I have a lot of clothes, not even including my pajamas. Surprisingly it was not. (More on the best way to do this later.) Once you have pictures of your clothes it sets up a virtual closet. In the app you can click on your clothes and mix and match them with other clothing from your closet. If you make up an outfit you like, you can save that as a “look”. It’s great fun. To start I had loaded in only about six items but I was really inspired to do a few more. I could even do this while eating a Magnum bar and trying to pretend that my clothes would still fit when I actually did get up and put some on.
     At this point I found a couple of clothing combinations I would never have imagined trying in real life. A black and white striped shirt with a tan corduroy skirt? Nope. But it looked great on the little app and when I needed to get dressed for something I tried it out. And I did it without a mountain of clothes spread all over the bed. This was getting to be more fun. I scanned in more clothing. It also does accessories, like scarves and jewelry and, after a bit of roaming around in the program, I found I can add my own categories, like tights. I even considered scanning in a body to put them on. Maybe I need some costumes?

Some of my shoes scanned in (yes, I scanned my favorite slippers too).

     Still in my comfortable armchair, I discovered a video that shows you the best way to take pictures of your clothing. I didn’t have a yellow sheet, as it suggests, but I did have a pale pink tablecloth and it worked well enough. Even better, I found that if I just got online and typed in a description of the piece of clothing I wanted to load in, for example, a black t-shirt, I could download a photo easily and the background was plain and worked perfectly. Now I was finding more ways to do stuff from the chair. Many of the pieces I have in my closet are very basic and this worked great for me. If you shop online it would make sense to just grab the picture and put the item right into the app. I could spend even more time in the chair!

     In much less time than I imagined I had loaded the major part of my wardrobe into the little app and the more I played with it the more cool features I found. One thing I really liked was that it has a calendar. I can either put in one of the outfits I made in the app or any mix of things from my virtual closet and it logs statistics. This tells you how often you wear something as well as what you never wear at all. What an OCD clothes organizer's dream! It certainly beats going through the closet a couple of times a year and trying to remember when I last wore a particular item. Even better, it shows at a glance what pieces were a good investment and which ones were a waste of money. It also makes it easy to pick out something I never wear and try it, from my chair. This adds up to more miles from those clothes I bought and am not wearing, assuming of course I get up and put them on. Conceivably, there should be nothing I own that doesn’t see the light of day, provided I get up out of the chair and go outside.

A "look" I created with my clothes.

     I have to say that this app is a bit addictive. I like to noodle around on my iPad in the evening and this is like playing a dress-up game. It’s private, so I don’t have to build this collage of my personal clothing for all the world to see. I can just play with it all alone in a virtual world and not have to hang things back on the hanger when I'm finished. Or I can pretend I got dressed really awesome and then just stay home!
     If you take your personal clothing seriously this app is worthwhile, or even if you don't it's fun. Once you put in a few pieces of clothing and play with them it's engaging enough that it inspires you to put in more clothes. I gathered many pictures online and it was an interesting exercise to see what I have in my closet that I remembered without looking. Less getting up, right? Is it frivolous? You betcha! In fact that’s part of what makes it fun. Like doing my nails or trying a new hairstyle it’s a fun toy for self-improvement and when I am dressed nicely I feel great, or even if I just imagine I am. I love things that make me imagine I feel great! 

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November 7, 2015

High Tea

     Now, I am not in any way a fan of posts of people's food on their plate in restaurants, especially if they eat half of it first and then get out their phones, but I had to do this. This morning I was treated to a visit to The Painted Teacup, a beautiful, tea-lovers refuge in Upper Darby, Pa. I expected it to be a nice visit since my good friend who had invited me is always wonderful company and she was paying so that would make it more fun. But the tearoom was even nicer than I had imagined. I am a lover of tea and romantic surroundings and The Painted Teacup certainly fit those requirements.

     We arrived a few minutes early for our reservation and the tea shop was largely empty. We were greeted immediately, seated and given a lovely tea menu several pages long that had us oohing and aahing over a delicious selection of teas. My taste buds got a bit confused imagining all the flavorful possibilities. I considered cinnamon and rose teas, lavenders, black and Oolong. They even had a full section of decaffeinated teas. Eventually we decided on a pot of a black rose tea and a spice tea. The setting was stunning and our beverages arrived quickly, and with a warm smile and an aromatic aura. The table was arranged with lemons and oranges, sugars and sweeteners, custom honey and tea flavorings. They had a jar of what looked like over sized after-dinner mints that I am certain had some amazing, fancy name. They came in lemon, cinnamon and other flavors you drop into your tea, gently of course, because they are huge, and they sweeten and tasty up your brew. I was already enjoying the pampering experience when the food began to arrive.

     Each yummy morsel was described by our server and every one sounded more delicious than the last. But, like being introduced to too many people when you arrive at a party, I couldn't remember the name of anything, so I just started with the warm tidbits on the plate. Heavenly. The breads were freshly baked, buttery and rich. As soon as I finished one and moved onto another I had to stop in our conversation and just get lost in the wonderful and unusual flavors of each food. Not much keeps me from talking so you know the food had to be good. Everything was fresh and inviting. This dining experience, on a beautiful autumn day, was the stuff of which dreams are made. By the time I got to the third item on the plate the lovely server had filled my teacup four times. I must have been talking faster and faster because my friend mentioned that the teas here are quite robust with caffeine. Then it hit me. I was high on tea. The place was packed now, but I hadn't noticed people coming in at all. Everyone was chattering away energetically.

     When I thought I couldn’t possibly fit another bite into my mouth or get too much higher on tea, another plate of food arrived, and my cup was filled again. Both my friend and I left with a tiny bag of tasty treats to finish later at home and we headed out to circle the airport without even needing a plane. It was two hours of pure bliss.

     Before we ventured out into the beautiful fall sunshine we took a little peppy tour of the tea house. There are rooms and rooms filled with tea paraphernalia and delicate gifts, pretty jewelry and Victorian style china which I didn't dare touch given my state. I picked up a few unbreakable things for gifts. The prices were reasonable and the selection was unusual. The tea high was great.

     I am thankful for a good cup of tea at any time. But, when it is gifted by a good and beloved friend and served in a beautiful tea house, life cannot possibly get too much better. Once home I wrote four blogs, bathed the cats and dusted all of my lampshades. I saw my friend up the street washing her windows. Now I understand high tea.

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