Friday, February 25, 2011

[Not so] Random Acts of Kindness

I have a friend, Ypsi, whom I've mentioned here before. I met her, oddly enough, in the play space at the mall when I first arrived in Youngstown. Her daughter and my grandson hit it off, and she was over-the-top gracious to me, inviting me to join her book group and her knitting group. She became the first friend I made on my own in Y'town and, as such, is treasured.

She's been oohing and aahing over my mesh tote bags since she first saw one. Lately she's been thinking aloud that she wanted one to use as a knitting bag, and started proposing a swap—hand-knitted socks for a new knitting bag. Last fall while exploring and petting my stash of quilting-quality cottons, I found the perfect cat print for her, a fellow cat-lady. I posted a note on Facebook asking if she wanted to make good on that trade. At about the same time, her father became very ill in Texas and she had to make two quick trips down, preparing for his passing. Her mind was preoccupied and she didn't see my post. But our fellow knitting-group and book-group friend Nesha—who is a fellow native Orlandoan and works at the Montessori school where she sees my grandchildren every day—saw my post and jumped right in there.

Would I consider making the bag for her to gift to Ypsi, in exchange for a pair of socks that she had knit? Of course I would. Hand-knit socks from a friend are hand-knit socks from a friend, regardless of the identify of the friend. Right?

Last week I finally finished the bag and dropped it off at the school on Tuesday morning, where I picked up my new socks.

I'm betting you want the details. Cool cats, in purples and blues and a great coffee tone. Coordinating hand-paint-looking coffee, with some purples thrown in. The inside pocket is a double pocket—black denim for the front and back, purple cotton in the middle. Both pockets are zippered. The lower pocket has a lampwork bead and seed beads wire-wrapped onto the pull. The upper pocket has the most fab cat-head ceramic bead made by a clay artisan in Tucson. I picked it up at the Whole Bead Show in Tucson about ten years ago. To the right of the pocket(s) is a hanging hook to hold keys or whatever. And there's another separate bag sized to tuck in several circular knitting needles or credit cards and spare yarn money or …. From its zipper hangs a black tassel. Très chic! The big bag closes with an elasticized band and a big purple button, embellished with a couple of small beads. The bag base is in the coffee fabric and both bags and all their cotton pockets and embellishments are treated with Scotchgard™ to prevent stains.

The most fun of the entire transaction happened last week. As I was nearing the end of the project, I posted a photo of the bag on Facebook to alert Nesha to the fact that it was almost done. Ypsi saw it and immediately commented "WANT!". I smiled to myself, excited for how excited she would be when she realized it was hers. On Wednesday, Nesha delivered the bag to Ypsi, who immediately went back to my Facebook page and posted "GOT!!!!!!". I felt giddy with the joy of doing something nice for someone nice (meaning both Ypsi and Nesha!).

And now you really, really want to see the socks, don't you?

Here you go:

Thanks, Nesha!

Postscript Thoughts: I've been trying to come up with a header image for my Etsy page. I really like my white-painted-brick basement wall, which you see behind the bag in the first image, above. Wouldn't it be cool to use a picture of that as the background, with Jan Crews Designs superimposed? I don't have a niche, so it's kind of hard to use sewing or quilting or beading or knitting for the image. Wouldn't that wall work?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life?

Have you ever had life situations attack you such that you just didn't know what to say? That's where I am and why I haven't had much to say on this blog lately.

A couple of months ago I became aware that my income was going to drop off and I needed to find other work to supplement my income. Unfortunately, "other work" has not materialized. I've applied to things that suited my resumé but—as we all know—I'm not the only person applying to any open position.

After much agonizing and conversations with trusted confidant(e)s, I decided to start taking my widow's benefits from Social Security. That limits me to earning just over $14,000 per year. When I add up that $14,000 plus the social security plus my survivor's benefits and disability compensation from John's death, I can just pay the bills. The problem is my current earned income is waaaaay below that $14K/year. So I'm feeling stressed. (Wow! An understatement par excellence!)

For years I've been saying I would retire at the slightest opportunity. Well, the opportunity is here and I'm feeling a tad at sea. I've always said I had lots of interests and not enough time to pursue them. Now I have time, but am still feeling pressured to produce more income.

I opened an Etsy store under the name Jan Crews Designs. I'm trying to learn the best ways to photograph beaded and knit items for sale. I'm sorting through vintage things I have tucked away for years. I'm knitting and sewing, trying to come up with items that the general public would want to buy. From me.

I see unfinished projects in my sewing room that I want to get to, but feel they must be pushed aside until I can get enough stock built up and some money coming in.

And then the cat gets sick. Or the water heater breaks. You know the drill—just when you think you've got all the ends tied securely together, one thread slips out and you've got to attend to it again.

But there are upsides. I've taken a gig accompanying a friend at his voice lessons and juries at the university. A little deja vú, as this was a job I held when I was 28! And tomorrow I'm taking the afternoon to sing at the investiture of a new federal circuit court judge for the Youngstown area. If I were still schlepping to Akron every day, I would not be able to grab these opportunities. Or take the cat to the vet. Or run to the grocery store in the middle of the day.

Yesterday I wanted to put my head in my hands and cry. Today I'm thinking I'll make it okay. Tomorrow will probably include tears again, and next week, and next month.

At some point things will settle down and I'll find myself.

But right now, I need a good map!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Shy Inner Light

Today's post is precariously multifaceted. Let me see if I can make sense of both these faces.

I just finished reading Kim Edwards' The Lake of Dreams. Several Many times while reading, I wondered why I had selected to download this book. Then, a third or a half of the way in, the content grabbed me.

When I look back at the description of the book, I think I was drawn in by "secrets" and "glass artist". But what hooked me was the little girl who had been abandoned by her mother. I walked in her shoes—but also in the shoes of the mother—as I continued reading.

Lots of feelings surfaced—of abandonment; of wondering what was happening for my birthmother in 1949 Gloucester; of examining how I could have handled my untenable marriage differently in 1980; of the sometimes-perceived emotional imbalance that trails a life of feeling like I don't belong, I don't fit in.

Then this morning I read the latest blog post by my artist friend Lynne Farrow. [Lynne and I are fellow alumnae of the "Design Outside the Lines" seminars hosted by designers Marcy Tilton and Diane Ericson.] Lynne's post today includes a quote from author John O'Donohue:
There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself, though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility and our hearts to love life. Without this subtle quickening our days would be empty and wearisome and no horizon would ever awaken our longing. Our passion for life is quietly sustained from somewhere in us that is wedded to the energy and excitement of life. This shy inner light is what enables us to recognize and receive our very presence as a blessing. We enter the world as strangers who all at once become heirs to a harvest of memory, spirit and dream that has long preceded us and will now enfold, nourish and sustain us.

The phrase "shy inner light" grabbed me. I posted a photo the other day on Facebook of 3- or 4-year-old Jan sitting with her mother. Sober Jan. A friend of mine commented, upon viewing the photo, that I was so serious. Well, I remember my childhood as being serious.

I went to school, where the only place I felt accepted was on the piano bench, accompanying choruses and singers. I went home and practiced piano, then read or worked jigsaw puzzles while listening to music. There were no other kids in our neighborhood—I didn't play with the neighbor kids. There was no television. My brothers took each other water skiing or through the chain of lakes to downtown Winter Park in the boat. My brothers were five and seven years older than I and had no time for me. My mother was always in the kitchen—there was no interaction with her. I grew up alone, feeling totally out of place. I lived inside my head.

(I loved the picture of me as a baby because I was smiling. Little four- or five-month-old me was still in the honeymoon phase with this family who had taken me on. They still found me cute, sweet, lovable, desireable. Soon the honeymoon/honeymood would end, and I would start fearing that the slightest misstep would cause them to seek to annul the adoption.)

When I stop and wonder how I got to today, to age 60, it must have been that "shy inner light" which O'Donohue recognizes, that enabled me to hope for a better future, for a tiny space somewhere in this world where I might fit in.

I am thankful for those tiny spaces that have occurred.

Thank you, Lynne, for a beautiful post.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Can You Keep Stuff Too Long?

Over the weekend, I was going through a box of photos that I brought back from Mother's apartment when she moved into the Assisted Living Facility. My older brother wants to see some pictures that were taken in about 1972 when he went with my parents on a trip to Japan, so I was searching through years and years of things Mother has saved.

Deep down in this box I found a plastic bag containing about 10 envelopes. As I started going through these envelopes, I found a few anniversary and birthday cards that Daddy wrote to Mother, back in the early years when he was still enamored of her. His written sentiments were so sweet and showed a side of their relationship that we kids never knew. I opened the next envelope and found some curls of hair. Then I turned to the front and saw it was my mother's mother's hair. At some point in her life (I'm assuming late in her life), her daughter cut some locks of her hair, put them in an envelope and has kept them for almost 68 years. (Her mother died when my brother, almost 68, was a babe in arms.

I thought this was rather grotesque (using the definition "ludicrously odd"), but I kept pulling out envelopes to see what else had been kept far beyond its life.

The next envelope was marked "Cut by Janet, June 8, 1953". I opened the envelope and—Darn, you guessed it!—a big clump of my reddish-brown hair. Two weeks before my third birthday. Next envelope: "Janet's Baby Hair". And one more: "May 9, 1955 - Jan". More little clumps of reddish-brown hair. (I thought I hadn't become "Jan" until dictated by my first grade teacher, Miss Padgett. But it looks like I had already become "Jan" before I turned five.)

Now let's establish one primary fact here: I have never felt loved by my mother. My older brother has indicated that he has always viewed her as harsh and unmoveable—which in Crews uncommunicative unspeak translates to "not loved by."

And yet she says things like, "When you were a baby I loved you so much I used to stand by your crib and cry."

Are three envelopes of my baby hair, held for 55-59 years, to be my affirmation that she truly did love me? That and the crying?

Maybe that's all she knew how to do. (The few stories I've heard about her father make me think this woman and all her sisters needed therapy—a lot of therapy—about 90 years ago! But that was a different world….)

No, the envelopes don't make me feel loved. They do confirm that my hair was much redder as a child. But loved? Not so much.

I just think it's odd.

Okay, I'll confess. Somewhere around here I have some of Scott's and Tyler's baby teeth. They're not in envelopes, so I no longer know whose is whose. If I'm going to bow to "odd", I oughta get rid of them, huh? Maybe I kept them because that was before the divorce, when we were all a "family".

Maybe Mother kept those envelopes because I was likable/lovable at that age. This is the woman who said, "When you were fourteen, I didn't know what to do with you, so I just washed my hands of you."


Ludicrously odd.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Luck or Fluke?

I have my thermostat programmed to let the house settle down to 55° at night, and then bring the house back up to 63° in the morning, about half an hour before the Jazzman's alarm goes off. (Lest you tell me 63° is not warm enough for humans in houses, I will say that the thermostat for this house is funky. I'm comfortable at 63° It feels like 68 or 70 in other houses.)

Yesterday morning he hit the snooze bar, then turned to me and said, "It's cold in here." Uh-oh. We looked at our apps on our iPhones and saw that it was about 14° outside. While he started getting ready to go to work, I ran to the basement to touch the furnace. (That's all I'm qualified to do—touch it. Know how to turn it on? Nah. Know how to do anything other than call the plumber? Not so much.)

I went back upstairs and reported that the unit was cold and silent. When he was ready for work, we went together to the basement. He surveyed the furnace from all sides, then started jiggling the panel on one side. Voila! Heat!!

Now, any intelligent person would have gone ahead and called the plumber. It was, after all, Friday. Not Saturday. Not weekend rates. But, no! I have so much faith in his jiggling capabilities, his ability to fix anything and everything in the house, that I just let it ride, basking in my warm house.

When he came home last night after midnight after his regular Friday night drinking-with-my-buds outing, he thought the house was too cold. He went downstairs (I learned this morning) and jiggled the panel. Nothing.

This morning we woke again to no heat. No amount of jiggling and hitting did anything.

It's 24° outside, with a wind chill of 17°. The thermostat says it's 55° inside, but I seriously doubt it. My feet are blocks of ice, and the cats are hunkered down inside their fur coats.

And I'm waiting for the plumber to come. At weekend rates.

Update: The installer didn't tighten one screw far enough when the furnace was installed almost three years ago. Installer error. No charge.


Friday, February 04, 2011

Done Frogging

You are to be commended for not complaining when I left my "Frogging" post up for so long. PianoLady did send me an e-mail saying, essentially, "Get off your butt, Woman!" So I am getting off my butt and back to this blog.

I finished the sweater Tuesday a week ago (1/25/11), blocked it overnight, and wore it on Wednesday afternoon to pick up the babes from dance class for Dinner-with-Grandma. Why? Because my knitting buddies Tani and Jen have kids in dance at the same time. I knew they would appreciate my sweater.

As I walked into the waiting room, they applauded. And I smiled!

Tani whipped out her phone and snapped these pics.

Love this sweater!!!

(Okay, I must learn better ways to stand when modeling a new garment. This pic could be sooo much more attractive if I didn't look like a paper doll!)

Hot Off the Sewing Machine

Yes, you're right. I've been absent lately.

My brain is overloaded with the anticipation of changes—job changes, money changes, life changes. (Relax, no changes re family or Significant Other.) As things settle down and become clearer, I'll tell you more. But as I'm weighing and balancing and considering all these changes, I haven't had much to say in this public forum.

So I'll share what's been going on in my sewing room.

My 84yo house shares many features with other houses of its vintage. One of these is an incinerator in the basement, in the room I have chosen to be my sewing room. The incinerator was vented out the basement wall. When I got my lovely new water heater six weeks ago, we asked the brilliant HandymanTom to seal off that vent in preparation for removing the incinerator. Two weeks ago I spent several hours moving the incinerator out of the sewing room and cleaning up 84 years of soot and dust and crud that had accumulated around it. Once I could see the floor again, I moved fabric containers into that space and made more room/less clutter.

I'm far from having a space that makes sense and fosters creativity, but I feel great encouragement about the space after all this work.

The first product of the new space is a bag for tomorrow night's gala benefiting the Montessori School of the Mahoning Valley. The bag will be offered in their "Chinese auction" and is, I believe, the nicest of these mesh bags I've ever made.

Instead of leaving the mesh showing on the outside, I have completely enclosed it. So you get a bag that looks like it's just crafted of beautiful, high-quality cottons, but that has the durability and stability of the vinyl-coated polyester mesh.

The main fabric is an African print in amber, burgundy, rust, green and teal. I bought the fabric at G Street Fabrics in 1996 to make a quilt for the third-floor guest room in my Washington home. I have several coordinating teal prints that I used to accent the main fabric. The bag front features an iPhone-sized pocket and an antique mother-of-pearl carved button. (Click on the pics to see a larger version.)

There's an interior zippered pocket that's padded with quilt batting, so it feels much more substantial than a single layer of cotton fabric. The zipper pull? African beads that I got at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show about 8 years ago. They've been sitting in my bead stash, waiting for just such an opportunity as this. They're wire-wrapped with a sterling headpin onto a sterling clasp, hooked to the zipper pull.

The bag has been treated with Scotchgard™ to resist stains. The 18" handles are comfortable to hold, or will easily slip over one's shoulder for carrying. The bag folds flat to tuck in the bottom of a suitcase.

Yes, I am proud of my work! I'm hopeful that the bag's beauty will cause people to spend more on raffle tickets than they had planned, thus bringing in more money for our beloved Montessori School of the Mahoning Valley.