Creating from Scratch

As a child, I learned to knit, crochet, and embroider.  As soon as I learned to crochet, the knitting went by the wayside because I found crocheting took less time and was more fun.  I occasionally embroider, but not as often as I crochet.  As a teenager, I learned to decoupage. That was my first real “hobby.”  I loved the whole process.

Decoupage for me began in my father’s garage rummaging for scrap lumber, and later at construction sites begging building contractors for scraps.  I sawed the wood to the desired size and shape and sanded it nice and smooth.  Sometimes I would burn the edges of the wood, or use a wood file to make designs.  I spent as much time preparing the wood as I did with the actual decoupage process.  The back side of a picture was lightly sanded and glued to the prepared board.  In those days, decoupage was quite an art, requiring 14-16 coats.  Wet sanding was required every 3 or 4 coats.  By the time the final layer of decoupage was applied, the picture seemed to be part of the wood itself, as opposed to being glued to the wood.

I took great pride in the finished product, as my Dad always taught me to stand back and admire my work.  I gave away my pictures for Christmas and special occasions.  Wedding invitations were decoupaged and given to the couple as a wedding gift.  Invitations to baby showers received the treatment.

Suddenly decoupage was no longer available to purchase and a cheap product (which I won’t name) replaced it.  This new product was slapped on in a couple of coats (usually on a prepared plaque purchased at the hobby store).   The beauty and quality were gone.  The “art” was now a “kit” that was slapped together to replace “art.”  My hobby went out the window.

By this time I was married and raising children.  I didn’t have time for hobbies.  I did, however, teach my children to make crafts for gifts, and we always made our own Christmas cards.  We delighted in coming up with new ideas for our construction paper Christmas card each year.  About the time my youngest was in high school, our homemade cards were no longer appreciated because the Martha Stewart types had begun spending a boat load of money on fancy paper, stamps, and even scissors and hole punches that made different shapes.  Our truly handmade creations made with love paled by comparison.  So we quit.

Now that I’m retired, I’ve been looking for a new hobby.  I’ve always wanted to learn how to tat (the lost art of lace making).  A woman is trying to teach me, but between my lack of time and the fact that she is blind, it is difficult.  I’m also not at all sure that I have the patience for this delicate lace making.  (Remember I gave up knitting because crochet was faster.)

Every tour I make of hobby stores finds nothing but kits to put together.  Everything is built already and placed on shelves for me to purchase and paint.  That’s not exactly my idea of creating something.  I did purchase a stepping stone kit which my husband and I put together recently.  It was enough fun that I’ve decided at some point to forget the kit, buy a bag of cement, find some rocks or glass and really get creative.

Recently, I found some pictures on the social networking site Pinterest that intrigued me. Old glass vases, plates, cups, and nick knacks were glued together to make yard art.  I couldn’t resist the temptation.  I rummaged around my cupboards and collected old vases, and I hit up a few thrift stores for more glass pieces.  The result was two bird baths; one for the front yard, and one for the back yard.  Shortly, I’ll be trying my hand at some glass flowers to hang on the back fence.  I’m having a great time with this because I am creating something from scratch.  I’m using my own little imagination and my own two little hands to create something beautiful.  I’m waiting to be inspired.  I’m not just throwing together a kit, or buying something that was made by a machine and painting it.  I’m not spending a fortune on little scissors and hole punches.  I don’t have to have a bazillion paint stamps.  I’m recycling used items to create something beautiful.  I must enjoy this quickly before someone makes a kit out of it and takes all my fun away!

Pictures below of the bird baths prior to moving them outside.  (The glue needed to dry before taking them outside.)

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What’s Up with Men and Ladders?

Men are way too attached to their ladders.

Many years ago we had wonderful neighbors, Harry and Alma, who were like an extra set of grandparents to my children.  Harry was retired when we moved into our house as first time homeowners, so he sort of took care of us.  We never had the right tools for any household project, never enough money to do anything, and didn’t have the “know how” to take care of anything, let alone a house.

One of the things we didn’t have was a ladder.  Harry hung his ladders on hooks on his back fence so we could reach over the fence or go through the gate and use them whenever we needed a ladder.  He had a six-foot ladder and an extension ladder for bigger jobs.  As the years went on, one of the ladders began to show signs of wear.  I put my foot down the day I realized that the wood had completely rotted off of three of the “steps,” leaving only bent metal dowels to stand on.  I grabbed an ax (probably Harry’s) and chopped the ladder into pieces for the garbage.  Then my husband and I purchased a new ladder to hang in its place on Harry’s side of the fence.

Harry wasn’t very happy with me.  He was absolutely positive that the old ladder was quite safe, and we had wasted our money on such an extravagance.  He tried to pay me for the new ladder, but I refused.  I told him that I wasn’t in any shape to be picking him (or my husband) up off the ground if one or the other fell off that ladder, and it was my pleasure to keep things safe.  A couple of years later when Harry died, I did collect the ladder and hang it on our side of the fence.

Fast forward to 2013.  I was helping my husband clean storm gutters and discovered that the rungs on the ladder were not safe.  On pointing this out to Danny, he protested that the ladder was perfectly safe.  I gave him “the look” that said, “Do I need to get the ax?”   Then with the fingers of one hand, I applied enough pressure to break two of the wooden rungs — and this time there was not even a metal dowel in the middle for support.  We now own a new six-foot aluminum ladder.

So why are men so possessive of their ladders?  It’s a tool, guys; not a toy.  If a tool becomes unsafe, it’s time to replace it.  It’s such a simple matter!  Don’t fight me on this one!

It’s All About Perspective

Maybe it’s because it is a new year, or maybe somebody “up there” is trying to tell me something — I’m not sure which — but I’m learning that perspective can change lives — or at least mine.

I ran across an idea on the social media site “Pinterest” — yes, I admit to that addiction — to each night write on a scrap of paper something that made you smile that day, or a blessing received, and place it in a jar.  It was suggested that at the end of the year, the papers can be read so you can see all the good things that happened to you during the year.  My first thought was “What a clever idea!” followed by “I’ll never follow through.”  The idea intrigued me enough to try it.  After ten days, I’ve decided this is well worth 30 seconds at the end of my day.  I don’t think I’m the only one who sometimes goes through the motions of life without stopping to think about the good things which happen.  In just ten days, I’ve seen my attitude improve as I stop for a few seconds at the end of each day to remember what made me smile and count my blessings.  I go to bed at night thinking about happy things, and I wake up in the morning wondering what the day will bring for the jar.  Little scraps of paper have changed my perspective on daily life at my house.

My backyard is muddy from 11 plus inches of rain this winter, which means muddy dog paw prints on the outside of the sliding glass door that leads to the backyard from our family room.  My husband and I spend a lot of time in that room, looking out that door at the outside world.  We watch the birds, the squirrels, and the dog chasing the squirrels.  We watch roses bloom and leaves (and pecans) drop from the trees.  I have washed the paw prints off that door on a regular basis this winter — grumbling each time that this dog I adore can’t wipe his feet.  This morning as I let him back in from the frost bitten grass, I looked at those paw prints and thought, “I’m so glad his back is healed so he can jump up on the door again.”  Last year our little guy injured his back, and for several months we gently had to pick him up and carry him down the back steps when he had to go outside.  Perspective.

Adoption is often on my mind, as two of my grandchildren are adopted.  The recent news from Russia that Putin has banned Americans from adopting Russian children has made me very sad — for the children, and for would be adoptive parents.  This morning I read an article In Meridian Magazine written by a friend, Erin Ann McBride, which gave me new insight.  While I was moaning and groaning about the situation, it never occurred to me that there were certain things I personally could do to change it.  As the author points out, I can pray for the children, pray for the adoptive families, pray for Putin and his parliament, and make sure that I never do anything that can be perceived as “ugly American.”  Perspective again.

Last year was difficult for me on many levels.  I spent a lot of time mourning losses and wishing things could be different.  The last couple of months my attitude has totally changed. While I can’t change certain situations, I have the ability (and responsibility) to make something good come from them.  I can take bad karma and turn it into something positive. That realization has put me back on the road to success.  What do I want out of life? Happiness.  How do I achieve that goal?  Turn negatives into positives, gain perspective, and be happy.

Purple Lights

I submitted the following entry to a Holiday Writing Contest on January 2, 2013:

I didn’t exactly have the Christmas spirit as I began to decorate for Christmas.  It seemed like every year some virus would attack me just as it was time to begin the process.  I was feeling sorry for myself.  To make matters worse, I had no help decorating as usual.  I didn’t blame my husband as he was busy working his second job to support us.  It was the kids I was irritated with because they always seemed to be “otherwise engaged” when their help was needed.

Years earlier when we purchased our home, I set about slowly collecting Christmas decorations.  We made decorations for the inside, and each year I added one or two sets of Christmas lights for the outside.  The children’s school Christmas artwork was saved each year to be carefully placed on the walls of our home for the holidays.  Four children can produce a lot of Santas, reindeer, snowmen, and Christmas trees in just a few holiday seasons, and it was all saved from year to year—making the chore of displaying it bigger each time.  My family loved the house all decked out for the holidays, so I continued to make it more grand each Christmas.  The Christmas tree was always placed in front of the window so it could be seen from outside, eclectically decorated, including popcorn and cranberry strings.

At the height of my inner self grumbling, I finished up inside and moved outside to put up the lights.  It was bitter cold and starting to get dark, which only added to my sour disposition.  I was grateful for the coffee mug hooks that I’d placed in the eaves many years earlier.  I carefully taped my two-pronged meat fork to the end of the yardstick, and placed tape on the fork allowing for only about 1/4 inch of fork to show.  Then the fork was lifted to the eaves via the yardstick to gently place the lights on the hooks so that I wouldn’t have to climb a ladder.

As I turned around to pick up the next set of lights, I caught a glimpse of a child across the street watching me from the window.  The family was new to the neighborhood, and I didn’t know anything about them other than they didn’t speak much English.  In a matter of minutes, there were several sets of lights on the front of my home, on the railing, and over the bushes.  I reached for the purple lights to run up the branches of the orange tree and realized that the entire family across the street was my audience.  Little faces with dancing eyes gleefully watched as purple lights suddenly climbed the orange tree—and my mood seemed to shift as I watched them watch me.

Five sets of purple lights on those branches, and the tree looked truly magical!  To top it off, I brought out a large set of clear “moving” lights for the top of the tree.  There was no way to stand safely on a ladder in the mud, and since I barely stand five feet tall, I literally threw the lights up into the branches.  With each toss, little heads bobbed, and I could hear squeals through the window.  I chuckled to myself that this family should receive such delight in this silly process.

Later I learned from my youngest daughter (who was learning a little Spanish from the kids and teaching them a little English) why my lights caused such exuberance.  The family came from a very poor part of Mexico, and none of them had ever seen Christmas lights until that night.  A couple of days later, my daughter invited the children inside to see the Santa village, the nativity sets, and everything else that makes Christmas special at our house.

Since that night, I look at decorating my home differently.  My children are grown now, and I don’t know how many more years my bad back and ankles will allow this process to continue.  Each year as I consider tapering off the amount of decorating, I see little gleeful faces from long ago.  Then I consider the demographics of my neighborhood, which has traditionally been the start-up neighborhood for new immigrants from many parts of the world.  We’ve had Vietnamese families, Hmong families, Russian families, Mexican families, and many others.  Maybe the Christmas decorations are my way of saying, “Welcome to the neighborhood, and welcome to the United States of America.”  I hope so.