on turning 71 today

It’s March 11, 2011.

There was a terrible earthquake in Pacific Ocean today, and Japan is being hit with 30 foot waves. Tsunamis of various sizes are headed toward both North and South America. Untold lives are being destroyed even as I write this.

Rebellion and unrest in the Middle East and Africa continues to escalate, as untold lives are being destroyed even as I write this.

The state of Wisconsin is leading the way toward an America I’m not going to want to live in, and untold lives are being destroyed even as I write this.

It is my 71st birthday today, and, as I watch and listen to the devastating events going on all around me, I am grateful for the life I have right now, uneventful ‘tho it often is.

And that’s why today, on my 71st birthday, I am filling out forms to be a hospice volunteer — because I am used to doing useful things and need to do something useful with the time I have left.

When I moved here to be with my daughter and family two years ago — after almost a decade of care-giving and 40 years of various other “useful” jobs — I thought that I would be happy hanging-out, relaxing, reading, doing my crafts, gabbing with my daughter, playing with my grandson.

Well, I’ve been doing that for two years, and now I’m ready to get on with some kind of more useful life.

There are about five nursing homes in my immediate area, all of which have hospice units. I’ve been on the receiving end of hospice services as a family member through both my dad’s and mom’s illnesses. I know, from experience, what kind of support people in that situation need. And, since I was an undertaker’s daughter, death has been a part of my life since I was born. It is as though I am coming full circle.

I’m not doing this for altruistic reasons. My reasons are rather selfish. I need to interact with and meet other people (and I discovered that the gym and senior citizen center are just not my style); I need to do something useful.

And that “usefulness” might even spill over to my creative crafting, since I would be interested in making the kind of “memory pillow” that I made for my mother for others who might find them comforting.

So, at 71 I’m shifting gears yet another time so that my time here has meaning for me. My mother lived until she was 94. I don’t know if I’ll last that long, but, while I’m here, I want to be engaged with the world in a more meaningful way.

For my birthday dinner, my daughter is making my favorites: shrimp scampi and key lime cheesecake.

It’s my 71st birthday, and, even as I write this, my life is good. But as I watch the news on CNN, I wonder — for how long?

training my brain
while playing with plarn

“What,” you’re thinking, “is plarn?”

If you’re a crafter or recycler, you might know what “plarn” is. If not, here’s a definition:

Plarn is a creative way to recycle plastic bags by turning it into yarn. Plastic bags made into yarn = plarn. Green crafter’s have been using plarn in place of traditional yarn to crochet and knit all sorts of items.

I started experimenting with plarn last summer,when I improvised a crocheted tote bag for groceries.

plastic2

The bag was easy to make; making the plarn with which to make a bag, however easy, is tedious and time-consuming — a good thing with which to occupy your hands while watching television so that you keep your hands out of the potato chip bag.

Now, switching to the “brain training” part of this post.

In a recent post at Time Goes By, “Our Plastic Brains — Even in Old Age,” Ronni Bennett reports:

Earlier this month, The New York Times published an essay from Dr.[Oliver] Sacks about how our brains are almost miraculous in their ability to stretch, adapt, overcome injury, retrain themselves and perform feats we could not imagine before.

In addition to giving me an excuse for talking to myself, the TGB post got me thinking about the brain benefits of learning to make and combine knitted geometric shapes.. I could have used regular yarn, but using up our plastic bags gave me a practical point to my creative math exercises.

I started off trying to separate my plastic bags by color. I had a lot of red and white bags from Target, CVS, and Macy’s, so that’s what I started with. Using instructions from a wonderfully simple book, “No-Pattern Knits” (which I bought used cheap from Amazon.com), I made one right triangle, and then added another triangle to make a square (which is one side of the tote bag).

You can see from the photo that the knitted ridges go one way on one triangle and another way on the second triangle. That’s where the Pythagorean Theorum has to be used as well as some algebra to figure out number of stitches for xxx number of inches. I did the second triangle wrong the first time and had to rip it out and figure it out all over again — finally correctly. To make the square into a rectangle, I knitted extra rows on each side of the square.

I was never terribly good at — or interested in — math, and spatial relations was the part of the IQ test I always did the worst at. But combining my passion for knitting with a necessity to use math skills has become a fun way to keep training my brain.

For the second side, I wanted an asymmetrical look, so I used up some bags of other colors and made a mitered square that I positioned as a diamond — with other triangles knitted off the edges to form a large square. Then I added on to one side of the square to make an rectangle.

I made the tote/purse a size in which I could fit a purse organizer that I had purchased a while ago that was too big for the purses I already own. I attached the purse organizer to the inside of the plarn puse with sticky-back velcro.

Plarn is tricky to work with in some ways. The strips can stretch and break as you work, and if you sew it with regular thread, the thread can cut through the plastic. So whenever the plarn purse’s construction required me to sew something, I sewed with a strip of plarn and a yarn needle.

I have every intention of actually using this plarn purse. If nothing else, it’s a conversation piece.

If I ever make another one, I’m going to spend some time coordinating and combining the plastic strips to vary the colors. It’s all a learning process. Good for my brain.

no contest

Well, actually, there was a contest — or, more accurately, a virtual exhibit/contest.

Only it turns out that there were no contestants. Well, actually, there was one. Me.

I follow Vicki Howell on Facebook, own a couple of her books, and submitted my profile for her book Craft Corps: celebrating the creative community one story at a time — in which it appeared, along with dozens of other amateur as well as professional crafters.

Vicki Howell is a young, entrepreneurial, funky, gutsy, energetic, inspirational, and well-known craftsperson. I am pretty much none of those. But I do dabble in various crafts, so when I saw her announcement requesting submissions for “an art piece that reflects your creative passion,” I embraced it as a challenge for me to explore just what that means to me.

Recognizing the breadth and depth of Vicki’s craft community (which includes ceramicists and jewelry designers, as well as fabric and yarn crafters), I began to imagine the kinds of submissions the contest might attract — multi-media, multi-dimensional cutting-edge craft-as-art. Way out of my league, I figured. But I also felt motivated by the challenge to create something that represented my version of “dabbling-as-craft.”

And so this is my three-dimensional wall hanging — featuring, of course, a calla lily.

It includes various quilting techniques, machine embroidery, knitting, crocheting, weaving, and applique — with some button embellishments because I had them on hand.

Since I was the only crafter to submit something before the deadline of August 1, Vicki says that she’s going to put my piece on display at the Creative Connection event, where she is on a panel of entrepreneurial crafters. I could live with that.

independence

There is a lingering scent of bug spray throughout the house this July 4, left over from yesterday’s cook-out and trek down the street to watch the fireworks. I had the option of not hanging out in the 90 degree heat with the forty-something-aged parents and their young kids and not standing around in the mosquito and Japanese beetle invested night with the hundreds of others, necks craned to the sky. I chose to hang out in my own cool space, making periodic appearances to gather up my food and drink and interact a bit with the guests.

Such is the privilege of age — especially in my situation, where I have few responsibilities to anyone but myself. (Except, of course, my 94-year-old demented mother, whom I will visit in a few days to help with her care.)

It is Independence Day in another way for me. For the first time in some 25 years, I am off an anti-depressant. It served it’s purpose, and I was done with the lack of depth of feeling that is the both the benefit and the curse of those meds. It took three months to wean myself off, and I am seeing a counselor to help with the transition, but it’s worth it.

I’m writing more, feeling more, doing more. I’m almost done with the three-dimensional wall hanging that I’m creating for this virtual exhibit. I’m quite pleased with the result, and I have ideas for more such projects. And I’ve begun a sweater for my daughter like the one below I made for myself, but in another color.

I’m even feeling more sympathy for my poor mother, and, in a new strange way, I’m looking forward to spending some time with her, trying to ease her weary mind.

I am thinking a lot about being the age I am (70) and what I want for myself, which is seeming to be so very different from what I wanted even a dozen years ago. I am trying out some alternative ways to relieve the pains of joint and spine problems, and they seem to be working.

Today is Independence Day, and despite the turmoil and despair in so many other parts of this world, in this small space that my life takes up, it’s a good day.

Yes, it’s a good day for singing a song,
and it’s a good day for moving along
Yes, it’s a good day, how could anything go wrong,
A good day from morning’ till night

Yes, it’s a good day for shining your shoes,
and it’s a good day for losing the blues;
Everything go gain and nothing’ to lose,
`Cause it’s a good day from morning’ till night

I said to the Sun, ” Good morning sun
Rise and shine today”
You know you’ve gotta get going
If you’re gonna make a showin’
And you know you’ve got the right of way.

`Cause it’s a good day for paying your bills;
And it’s a good day for curing your ills,
So take a deep breath and throw away your pills;
`Cause it’s a good day from morning’ till night

torn by craft

I’m a writer. I’m a writer. That’s what I am. I’m also a cutter and sewer and looper. I want to do it all. I’ve always wanted to do it all.

So I’m writing. Mapgie Tales for one (a new one in the works). Entered an essay contest about death for another.

Pinned on my wall are pieces of what eventually will be a wall hanging for an online craft exhibit.

Maybe it’s because I started in therapy again, and that always gets my juices going.

Or maybe it’s because I’m cutting down on my anti-depressant.

Or maybe I’m getting manic in my old age.

Or maybe I’m avoiding thinking too much about the awful state my mother is in.

Or maybe all of the above.

So much to create. So little time.

the project of the pink hat

I don’t like to wear hats. It’s more than not wanting to get “hat head.” It’s more the fact that I must have the roundest face in the world and hats make my head look like a pumpkin.

So, I’m not exactly sure why I had the urge to crochet a hat out of strips of fabric. I think it’s because, like “the mountain,” the idea was there and so I had to master it.

The color didn’t matter, so when I found the end of a bolt of sheer pink cotton for $1.50 a yard, I figured why not.

I didn’t have a pattern, but I know how to crochet a circle, and I’ve made hats out of regular yarn before. Used to sell them, back when ideas seemed to automatically turn into energy.

So, I spent one day ripping fabric into 1.5 inch strips and another crocheting a hat that turned out to be too big. I threw it in washer and dryer on “hot,” thinking it would shrink, being cotton and all.

Nope. It stretched

So I undid all of that crocheting and and started over — smaller hook, fewer stitches.

And now I have this pink hat crocheted out of fabric strips, which doesn’t necessarily make my face look less like a pumpkin, but I guess I can wear it when we go to Maine for a late-June vacation. It’s always windy near the ocean, and maybe the big sunglasses will make me look like an aging celebrity. Betty White?

I napped all afternoon today, waking up intermittently during thunderstorms to ponder why I launch myself into pointless projects like the pink hat, why it matters to me that my face is round and sagging, why I am obsessed with my hair, why I don’t write much any more, why am I here?

But here I am, anyway, pink hat, big sunglasses, wattle, and all.

Here I am.

little altars everywhere

Yes, I know that’s the name of a book by the Ya-Ya writer, Rebecca Wells.

But in this case, I’m referring to this slide show of “altars” that people submitted to a request for “What’s on Your Shelf” from the blog on Killing the Buddha.

I’m not sure how I found that site — probably just surfing around, looking for something to think about, care about. Not that there isn’t plenty out there: homeless, bankruptcy, greed, war, fraud, despair. Oh, yes, plenty to think about and care about. Too much, as a matter of fact. Too much for my tired brain, tired heart.


If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him
is one of my favorite non-fiction books. Maybe by only favorite non-fiction book. So, it’s not surprising that when I ran across the Killing the Buddha website, I was intrigued.

I used to have an altar of sorts — that’s when I had room for a surface to put it on. Now I have a wall

wallaltar
that includes a witch’s broom, my old power stick, a quilted shield especially designed and constructed for me by my good quilter friend, my new walking stick, Acuaba, and a photoshopped picture of “witches at tea” using the faces of my women friends. As powerful and meaningful as any shelved altar, I would think.

My shelves themselves are stacked with books, craft patterns, and assorted other things of significance. For example:

shelf

You might notice the Tarot deck, the icons, the empty box from my 3G iphone, a mini cast iron cauldron. What you don’t see in the shelves below are my collections of beads and jewelry findings that I’m trying to find time to play with/work on.

As I hurry along to get ready for Christmas (yes, I do still call it Christmas; why not?), I think about the cocoon in which I have wrapped myself during this time of world wide insanity to escape from the fundamentalists, the radical atheists, the war mongers and warring sufferers, indeed, the sufferers of all kinds.

I surround myself with resident family and Bully Hill Seasons wine and Chocolate Mint kisses, with quilting dreams and knitting crafts, with escapist suspense novels on ipod and paper, with the snores of my old and much loved cat.

I wish there were, indeed, little altars everywhere like mine — eclectic and inclusive and affirming.

I wish there were an altar somewhere on which if could feel prayers for my suffering mother would be answered.mom

knitting as a subversive activity

Over in the UK, there’s a “network dedicated to knitting & crochet work made for visual arts projects” and they have a website called “Subversive Yarn,” which I have joined.

As my first yarn art project, I am submitting an entry into a “Yarn Art” project, Yarn Forward 2009 , which is on display at Manchester Craft and Design Centre.

The instructions are as follows:

Knit or crochet your knitted strip to measure 7cm wide x 40 cm long. Any colour, yarn and technique is accepted, the brighter and wackier, the better.

stripI’ve done one strip so far, make of random crochet stitches using a multicolored cotton yarn. My plan is to play around and design and do several more and then send them off to the exhibition.

Well, all right, not very subversive or terribly artistically creative, but, after all, it’s my first venture.

After this, at my daughter’s request, I’m going to knit up a “hug me” sweater for our front yard maple tree. (I’m stealing the idea from here.)

Except for working on a sweater for my daughter (which I started a year ago), I think I’ll leave off from the mundane crafty stuff and focus on how to be more subversive. Especially, since I just finished this very mundane granny square vest. squares I always wanted to try a granny square something, and I already had the yarn.

Finally, I finally got my “Crafty Side of Kalilily” page launched. So take a look of some of my other mundane (and, eventually, not so mundane) creations.

I’ll be updating it regularly. The link is on my home page.

2 skills, 1 talent

I figure that a skill is something you learn and a talent is something you are born with.

Over my employed years, I developed all sorts of skills, but I still maintain that the two most practical and useful skills — ones that I learned more than a half-century ago — are sewing and typing.

At one time or another I have earned money because I was able to do each, and, as years went by, both skills became essential to fulfilling various creative urges.

My writing has always been dependent on my typing, since I think too fast to write things down by hand. I wind up not being able to read my writing. And editing?! Well, why use anything but a computer?

Tonight, I finished lining one of my crocheted bags so that I can use it as a purse. While crocheting is also one of my skills, it’s not nearly as useful as sewing. Mostly, these days, I fix clothes that I have to make them fit, taking them in, letting them out, shortening etc. depending on what I see as my style du jour.

I like to experiment combining fabric with yarn — hence my crocheted bag with a lining that includes two side pockets — one for my iphone and one for my hearing aids (odd pairing, no?)

Ultimately, improvised products like my new bag are the result of the one talent I have that I find most useful. In my closet is a denim jacket with knitting sleeves that began as a XXL woman’s denim short sleeved button-down-the-front dress that I bought for $3. I took off the sleeves, cut off the skirt part of the dress, sewed on knitted sleeves, a knitted pocket, and a ribbed jacket bottom — and now I have one-of-a-kind denim jacket.

I improvise when I cook, I improvise songs, and I’ve pretty much come to see that I improvise my life in general these days.

It will be interesting to find out how that works for me now that I have no schedule, no purpose/task, no expectations.

One indication is that I’ve joined a fitness club so that I can take water aerobics for my aching back and also use their 30 minute exercise circuit. There won’t be much chance for improvising there. I hope I don’t go and improvise a reason not go.

I am good at improvising. I don’t need patterns or anything but the most rudimentary of instructions. Give me a creative project with a useful goal and I’ll improvise a way to get there. Give me a goal, and I’ll improvise a project to get there.

Tomorrow I will have a new one-of-a-kind bag. Photo to follow.