What I Learned at the Bounce House

I am utterly convinced that 15 minutes in the Halloween Bounce House will completely prepare you for life.

I’ve just returned from my first-ever Bounce House Referee experience. I was appropriately dressed in flaming orange, as a pumpkin, since it was, well, a Halloween bounce house.  So I signed up to “volunteer,” which apparently means standing next to the door and making sure things don’t get out of control.

I have never been a parent so I can be tentative to work kid events. But I volunteer with children because I love them and want to serve the next generation. So I’m a newbie on bounce house culture.  Friends advised me on a few key things and I forged ahead.

About five minutes in, after witnessing Neil Armstrong attack Woody the Cowboy from Toy Story with a WWE-style hold, and seeing princesses emerge with their tiaras on backwards, I realized this was a microcosm of real life.

  1. If you can’t climb up the ramp to get into the house, then, maybe you’re too small. Or maybe your princess tutu is too puffy. At any rate, at times you must reassess your fitness for the battle ahead and perhaps patronize the baby bounce house next store for a while, to sharpen your skills.
  2. Things will be spilled on the floor. That’s life, it gets messy. One can only hope that it came out of a water bottle instead of a human orifice.  Sometimes as a grownup you just have to get down on your hands and knees and clean up after someone you’re responsible for, before other grownups start complaining. (To the woman who did so this evening, I applaud you, way to “mom up.”)
  3. You will lose stuff. Your ninja hat will come off in the slide and you will lose a sock or two. This will render your costume incomplete, and you’ll be sad.  Get used to it. In life we try to wear masks but the hurly-burly of life rips the mask off. And in the end everyone who truly loves you still thinks you are way cute because they don’t remember what the full getup looked like to begin with.
  4. The bigger kids will take over. But only for a while. Hang out in the corner and they will eventually get bored and leave. There is always somebody bigger, stronger, and higher-bouncing. They make a bunch of waves in the floor but learn to keep your balance and wait it out.
  5. Only dumb-dumbs jump with DumDums in their mouths. Before entering a veritable mosh pit, check your equipment and preparedness.
  6. Remember what shoes you were wearing.  Because when you come out dazed and confused and the sun’s gone down, you have to find your sandals in the pile.  So, take stock of what’s important before you go into the fray so you can find it again when you’re done.

    Actually I had a flashback tonight, seeing the pile of shoes kids shed before entering the bounce house.  I have this recurring dream where I somehow lose my shoes. A few nights ago I dreamed I was down to only one shoe, for every single shoe in my closet. I suspect this is a variant of the “speaking naked in front of a crowd” dream.  Or it’s a dream about feeling hobbled, because there’s a limit to what you can do without shoes. (Too deep for a humor piece?)  Or it may be a memory of visiting Asian temples where you have to remove your shoes and put them in a pile with literally hundreds of guests, and worrying the whole time you’re looking at the amazing jade Buddha from the 15th century that someone is going to steal your $150 Merrills. (Lesson: Don’t wear expensive shoes while temple-visiting in Asia.)

    In any case, I just hope everybody found their own shoes after I left. It would not surprise me if some parents keep spare pairs of shoes in the car.

  7.  Listen to voices of reason.  When you’re curled up in a corner, and you’re too small to see the exit, and someone recognizable says, “Follow my voice,” yeah, that’s a very good time to do what they say. Always remember somebody loves you, especially when you feel like the only one out there who loves you is God himself, and follow that voice.
  8. Smiles go a long way.  To take up the story of Neil Armstrong and Woody, both smiled throughout the throw-down.  I think I know Woody’s grandma but I’ve never met him before. He smiled at me while being pinned and I laughed. He then became my friend for life, relating everything that he experienced. That is the way life should be. Friends made easily with a smile and a shared experience.
  9. Take time to wonder and adventure.  I commented to a friend tonight, “The littlest ones all have the same look on their face as kittens leaving the box for the first time.” I was captivated. I read an article this week about studies on infants following a parent’s gaze, and how important that is to human development.  If the parent looks at it, it’s gotta be important.

    My first-timer bounce house “kittens” would look at the door to the jumping extravaganza, then look at a loving parent, and the parent would look up at the door too, and point with a finger or their chins. The child’s gaze followed the parent’s and fixed on the door. And in an instant they’d decide. “Let’s go.” That, my friends, is the essence of life lived daily, on the edge, trusting in a guide implicitly and going for it, whatever “it” is. Just, be careful who your guide is.

As my shift ended, with no major injuries thankfully, someone I consider to be a super-mom tapped me on the shoulder and said “I’m your relief. What are the rules here?” And I realized that my inexperience was OK, that real-life moms make it up as they go along, that there’s really no cosmic, all-inclusive mom-manual, even if they have kids 24-7. Life moves fast for everybody.  Just make sure you know where you put your shoes.

 

Down Memory Lane: Good/Bad Hair Daze

I have an idea for a new party:  We bring photos of the worst hair we ever had.

An advantage of being in the middle years is you can laugh now — mostly — at what you did when you were younger.

I recently went down memory lane with my stylist, about all the bad things we’d done to our hair over the years.  She is half my age so she has a lot of ground to cover yet. But she is a stylist so she had access to some major hair enhancement chemicals I didn’t, so maybe we’re even.

The Modified Bowl

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This is preschool, I think.  I’m really rockin’ that #RBG* collar by the way. I’m not sure what to call the style. We got our hair cut at the local Beauty School in those days.  Which #thanksmom, was a coping mechanism I have pulled out from time to time when I couldn’t afford haircuts.

Remember the late 1960s where the thing was long, straight, blonde Beach-Boy-Song hair? I was out of luck.  This was the decade of Lady Clairol bleach blondes.

But I saw the curls come back in eventually (see 1980s below). Lesson learned: Ha, take that American beauty products industry!

*RBG=Ruth Bader Ginsberg

The Shag

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Note the combination here of the “America’s mom” Carol Brady shag and the John Lennon glasses, which by this time had last their “pinko pot-smoking hippie” associations.

The Dorothy Hamel Wedge

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Here’s a contest: For those of you who were alive in the late 70s, and have a yearbook, let’s see who has the most wedge hairstyles on their school yearbook page.  They were everywhere.  Remember having to figure out how to get perfectly feathered bangs? I believe this era saw the invention of the round brush.

The Liberal Intellectual Wannabe

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The college years. Yes, those years when I experimented with long hair. And I started going gray, actually. For some reason unkempt hair made you cooler. I voted socialist in college once, for someone I knew who I thought would make a pretty good city councilperson. But other than that I was pretty much a pretender.

The Star is Born Poodle Perm

This phase of my life was short and the photo is MIA. I lost an entire decade’s worth of photos in a move and my perm phase was among them.

The “Star is Born” move with Barbra Streisand came out in the mid-70s but hairstyles can take a while to work their way into the middle class.

Perming my coarse, graying, wavy hair left me looking like a poodle. Especially in my new home, San Antonio, where 80% humidity simply elicited comments like, “At least we’re not in Houston.”

Also MIA: My “Lila” Phase

Ah, the struggle of graying hair in your 30s and 40s.  I went red in 1995 as I prepared to move to La Paz, Bolivia, to live on a shoestring salary, because the gray at my part wouldn’t show as much.

redhead

I decided to save money by coloring at home, so I went shopping for hair color. That in itself wasn’t hard, hair color is in every store in La Paz. I ended up with a bottle of something that wasn’t exactly the red shade I wanted but hey, let’s adapt to the culture. I picked it from the photo.

The color was called “lila,” which they don’t teach you in Spanish class. (The Spanish speakers among you now know how this story turns out.)  I will say that the box, which because I bought it on the black market ,had undoubtedly crossed into Bolivia over the Chilean border, most likely without having paid the requisite duties. And having ridden into town on the back of a large open truck, most probably, it had seen both water and sun damage. So the picture was pretty darned faded.

A friend I met in language school, who had been in the country precisely as long as I had (that is, one month) helped me put in the color, over my red hair, and we chatted and waited. And then she started gasping as we rinsed.  “Lila” means lavender. Think “lilac.”  I had dyed my hair a wonderful light purple.

She gave me a baseball cap to cover my hair and I made my way downtown to look for a salon. I found one, walked to the desk, dramatically lifted off the cap, and simply said “¡¡¡¡Ayúdameeee!!!!” (Help meeee!).  And several lovely ladies gathered around to hug me and play with my hair and tell me it was OK. It took four hours of scrubbing and I went from a redhead to flat out black because that’s all that would cover the purple. (Ayúdame [Aye-YOU-dah-may] is a really, really helpful Spanish phrase to have in your verbal dictionary, by the way.)

I cut my hair short so it wouldn’t cost so much to color, and found a lady to take care of things in my neighborhood for a reasonable price.  Lesson: Never panic when hair is involved. Lesson two: Women “get it” when you have a bad hair day and will always be there to hug you.

The “They Raised My Rent 15%,” aka the Pepé le Pew

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Eventually I went back to red, which involved a lot of scrubbing and frequent haircuts. During my first year in Phoenix, my landlord raised my rent nearly 15%, #rentalbubble. Something had to give in the budget so I finally said, screw it, it’s time to go gray.

So yeah, I went about eight months with weird red tinges on the ends of my hair, as captured in this photo next to an exit sign in Nairobi.  (I hid out for several weeks in East Africa with this hairstyle, another suggestion for when you want to go gray. Find another continent to do it on.)

So there you have it, the “how I went gray” story.  Several years ago I bought groceries at the Safeway at Shea and Scottsdale Roads.  A woman behind me in the checkout line tapped my shoulder. “Who’s your colorist?” she asks.

“God,” I said. I love saying that.

 

 

Pumping Gas Alone

The other day while I gassed up the car at Costco, an elderly woman pulled up to the opposite pump. She had a huge boat-of-a-Cadillac.

She was a beautiful lady, expensively dressed.  I heard a lot of clicks on the pump, over and over, and it was apparent she was having issues with the keypad. The gas hose nozzle banged on her burgundy fender, then clanged on the pavement when she failed to insert the hose correctly.

When the sharp-eyed attendant came to the rescue, she apologized profusely, tense and near tears, saying she didn’t know how to do this. And I thought, I’ll bet she’s a recent widow and she’s never had to put gas in her car…her departed husband always did it.

The attendant very gently helped her learn how to operate the pump. And I said a prayer for her.

Doing It All

I’ve been extremely independent for all of my five-plus decades. I pump gas, I do the bills, I invest, I’ve done basic carpentry. I kill all the spiders and cockroaches. I buy my own cars. I recently set up my own Internet, cable, and wifi network.  With two computers and a wireless printer.  The one time I’ve been admitted to a hospital, with pneumonia and a 103-degree fever, I drove myself there.

I’ve learned to let professionals handle most plumbing and electrical work by screwing things up. Nothing that required filing a claim on my homeowner’s insurance, but just, getting partway into a project and realizing how dumb I was.

Like when I was just dead on my feet tired after putting in my new flooring, and the pull chain broke inside the housing on my ancient bedroom ceiling fan at 1 a.m. on ultra high speed, and I was freezing, and I couldn’t shut it off. I was brain dead and just needed some sleep after multiple days of drama with a cut-rate flooring installer.

So I took wire cutters and wrapped a washcloth around the handle for extra insulation and cut some wires.  Without turning off the electricity. As the wires clipped successfully, my neural synapses began to fire and I realized I should have been electrocuted.  I should have had someone fix that fan years ago because the stupid pull chain was breaking every six to eight months. But I always thought “Eh, I’ll fix it myself. Some day.”

I now have an electrician.

I can see coming down the line, maybe more than ten years away, but certainly not less than 20, there are times when I’ll be forced to swap out my independence for more help. And not just for plumbing pipes and live wires.

I’m coming to that age of age-related health issue that requires a “procedure,” as Billy Crystal put it in City Slickers, where you must have someone take you home. Where driving at night is getting dicier on unlit streets. Where walking alone in dark parking lots is even more risky.

I’m not terrified of this because I’m allegedly “alone,” which for some reason is how our society tends to describe those who have no live-in significant other or children. I’m not alone. I have friends and family.  I am however afraid because I simply don’t know how act when I’m forced to receive help.  I really don’t know much about living in actual community with others who mutually support one another.

More Alike than Different

At this crest in my mid-life, I see a swap of lifestyles coming in the next few decades, between “single me” and friends with families, to a degree. They know how to live in close proximity to other human beings and run lives in tandem. I don’t.  I can learn from others about how to push aside my ego and just be in community, particularly when I’m helpless.

And hopefully I can walk alongside friends who may be newly single and need some self-confidence and practical advice in navigating everyday life.  Not to mention someone to laugh and cry with.

The world categorizes us as “single” and “married,” “alone” and “not alone,” “capable” and “helpless.”  The older I get, the more I see those categories as unhelpful. If I draw a bigger circle and simply think of everyone as “people needing people,” it opens so many doors to a “second act” of purpose and community.

Stuff I Learned from Baking Bread

About three days ago: I decide that I want to try another type of bread as I am feeling like the standard white bread recipe I’ve made twice is pretty flavorless.  So I visit several grocery health food grocery stores and learn that, well, rye isn’t considered healthy enough to merit shelf space.

1:00 p.m. today:  I learn that Fry’s at Tatum and Shea carries rye flour.*  As experienced in other supermarkets, it is classified as “unhealthy” flour since it’s in the normal baking section rather than with the other alternative “better eating” flours.  I also learn that this Fry’s also carries flour made from quinoa, almonds, amaranth and unbelievably, teff in case I ever want to make injera.

1:40 p.m. or so: I learn that rye bread can allegedly be made without kneading.  At least Google says so.  We will see how it plays out.  I would say that somewhere years ago I was taught you should read a recipe all the way through before you start baking.  Obviously I was taught it but didn’t learn it very well. So I start Googling alternative recipes to see if THEY say you have to knead, and the recommendations are all over the board.

1:45 p.m.: I learn that my kitchen is really hot, when it’s 115 degrees outside. I add “yoga/gym sweat towel” to the list of things I have to have handy, when I bake in the summer.

yoga towel

1:57 p.m: This is actually my third loaf of bread in 2 months, and in between loaves 1 and 2, several friends who have more experience than I told me about putting a pan of hot water in the oven along with the bread.  So I put the water pan in the oven. Lesson learned: Cultivate friendships with people who know more than you do.

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Top: Bread. Rising. Bottom: Pan of water. My jelly roll pan is dirty so I lazily used a 13×9 Pyrex pan. Rather than wash the jelly roll pan. Pitiful.

1:57 and a half: I learn upon opening the oven how much olive oil can splatter when you use it to roast baby potatoes and beets. My defense is that when I pull stuff out of a hot oven, my glasses fog up so I can’t see the mess. Ick. Next weekend: Oven cleaning.

1:59 p.m.:  I learn that my oven light has burned out. So this is the best I can do to show you “bread rising inside oven.” If you look closely you can see olive oil drips. Ick again.

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3:00 p.m.:  I am not very good at making bread dough into a loaf. First try, it looks a little like meatloaf in the loaf pan.  I pull it out and try again, but that means there will be some corn meal (which I used to flour the pan) kinda tucked inside the rye bread. C’est la vie.  If this bread comes out OK I can I say I learned that there is grace in baking. [Editor: See 4:30 p.m. below]

3:05 p.m.  I start questioning the recipe I’m using as I now read the last line, I mean really read it, and it says, “Put bread inside oven, and shut the door.”  Inner monologue ensues:

  • Should I trust a recipe that questions whether the baker knows that you have to shut the oven door?
  • This recipe also says brush the bread with water and cornstarch cooked for 45 seconds in the microwave. I have never heard of brushing with water and corn starch on baked goods. Isn’t water, corn starch and flour the recipe for homemade Play-Do? Do I really wanna create a layer of Play-Do on top of my bread? (My inner monologue may not be accurate about Play-Do but I’m just being honest about my thoughts.) Time to consult other recipes again.
  • AllRecipes went a completely different direction with their rye bread, including eggs and milk and kneading, so that one’s off the table for comparison.
  • I hesitate. Martha Stewart has a rye bread recipe.  Do I want to go down that rabbit hole? What infernal, expensive, purchasable-only-by-mailorder-from-MarthaStewart.com advice will I find? I close one eye and click.  Martha says, brush with egg whites.  I do, in actuality, trust Martha for craft and baking advice. I’m more OK with egg whites than Play-Do goo.

I wish I could say I learned a lesson from all this.  Maybe it’s just that Google is a curse. In the olden days you’d just follow the recipe and go beat a carpet, or some other antiquated, hard-labor household chore, while the bread was rising. (How many Weight Watcher activity points would you get for carpet beating, do you think?)

4:05-ish:  iPhone timer goes off. I pull the bread out of the oven.  I do not wear my glasses so nothing fogs up and I see olive oil splatter very clearly. Ick, again.  But I soldier on and pull out the bread.

4:06 p.m.: It looks done.  Beautiful outside crust. I cut off a slice at the heel. I can see raw spots.  I don’t know if this is fixable but what the heck, I’m only in this for about $3.00 worth of flour. I put it back in the over for another 10 minutes.

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4:15 p.m.:  iPhone timer goes off. Wha…what? I oh gosh, now I know why the loaf wasn’t done. I have a timer set for 4:00 p.m. every day for a daily reminder, and when that went off, I thought it was for the bread. I pulled the bread out at least 10 minutes early.

In the old days, when you were beating carpets while your bread was in the oven, and telling time by how far the sun was from the weathervane on top of the barn, you wouldn’t have two alarms going off.  So next time use the stove timer. Or find a weather vane. And a barn. And a farm, for that matter. Lesson learned.

4:30 p.m., more or less:

  • Bread is as done as it’s gonna get, and with regard to the corn starch, it does look kinda like the loaf got pollenated by a rogue cedar tree that set up shop in my kitchen.

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  • There is grace to be had in loaf-formation (see 3:00 p.m. above).
  • It’s pretty raw inside. And kinda flat. Not raised or baked enough. Tastes mostly of caraway  when you pick out the parts that are baked, which I now realize is 99% of the flavor in light “rye” bread. It should be called “caraway bread.”

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4:45 p.m.  Last lesson for the day.  Flour is conveniently packaged so that you can get another batch of bread out of the bag, on another day.

*I visited this Fry’s on the very first day when it re-opened after a huge renovation. I walked in the door with a guy who like, me, just stood there flummoxed on where to go once you stepped inside the door. Color! Lights! Noise! Odd fruits and vegetables! Sushi bar with behatted sushi chef 30 feet from the door! The gentleman turned to the red-aproned greeter and simply said, “Can you direct me to the rides?”  Hence my suspicion that I would hit pay dirt looking for an odd type of flour.

Mr. Liberty

I got stopped by a tall guy wearing sunglasses in the parking lot of the Fry’s at 40th and Thunderbird tonight. He asked politely if I wanted to sign a petition on campaign finance reform.

Normally I’m a sucker for the flexing my one-vote political clout. But I’d read a caution  that there’d been bogus petition-passers working at a shopping center near PV Mall lately. My first thought was, is this an ID theft ring? And was I approached because I have gray hair, and ergo, probably a credit card or two? Usually petition people have a table and some literature about their cause, not JUST a clipboard. And stopping people when it’s 110 in the shade, really?

So I swung by the customer service on my way into the store, to tell them they mightmightmight have a problem, politely. “Ah-GAIN!??” sputtered the manager. “They were asked to leave yesterday.”

ID Theft or Community-Building?

I found an article or two saying that without your social security number or bank account, it’s hard to for crooks to profit with just your name, address, and signature on a petition.

Sadly, stuff like this makes it tougher for people with real ballot issues to get signatures. Still, perhaps there’s another way to look at this.

I have signed petitions over the years at the front door of the Mesquite Library. I have unfortunately forgotten the name of the man who for years has balanced multiple clipboards every weekend, getting signatures on local ballot measures.  I call him “Mr Liberty” in my head. (Admit it, you do it too, give nicknames to people you see all the time but who are, in the end, strangers.) I figure if he were a criminal, he’d have been arrested by now.

I once commented to Mr. Liberty that I’d sign stuff I mildly disagreed with, and I’ll sign on various political parties too, because really it’s all about giving people an equal chance to have their voice heard.

You would have thought I plugged him into a light socket.  “You GET IT! You GET this stuff about freedom and democracy!” he said (or something akin to that), dropping clipboards momentarily to shake my hand.  I mean, this guy was excited to the depths of his soul about the democratic process.

Gosh Darn It, We Have To Talk To Each Other

I now have a relationship with Mr. Liberty, if it’s only a smile and a “Whatcha got for us today?” as I go by. And you know, I don’t think his business will dry up because some poseurs have a racket going at the strip mall next door.

Maybe we’re being sent back to democracy school right now. Maybe passing petitions to trusted friends, instead of blanketing the neighborhood stranger-to-stranger, is the best way we can go, to make change.  

I left Fry’s downcast about people who take advantage of the weak. But I later realized I had a choice to make. I could be upset over predation on the vulnerable or I could do something about it. Talking to the store manager didn’t solve the problem of petition fraud, but they guy was gone when I came out of the store, and I saw the manager walking into the store.  Alone, I was a potential victim. By reaching out, I was part of a community that wants to improve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Gets Better.

[Standing editorial note: I know there is a danger to writing about 40-year-old memories. I do my best to tell the truth. I am a fan of Dave Eggers, who classified “What is the What” as fiction rather than biography because the memory of a refugee is so un-confirmable.  So classify this however you will, fact or fiction, but I will claim it as the way I remember it, as best as I can tell.)

Part of why I’m writing this blog, is to put down the story of how I got where I am. I’m so thrilled that for some reason, people in their teens and 20s want to listen to my stories. And as I move toward Act II, toward “senior citizen” years that give me a chance to hit the reset button, I have more friends my age asking me how they can make a difference.

The answer: You’ll have little incidents happen that seem like nothing, but are really God telling you what to do. Follow those little things.

I remembered a very key moment in high school that put me on this path.  It was a moment of pain that a classy teacher turned around into a vital teaching moment.

Ouch.

Setting the scene: 10th grade, a high school in Wayne County, Michigan. I had stayed after school for Spanish Club.  In 1970s Michigan, there weren’t many of us taking Spanish. I think my 9th grade class barely had the minimum complement of students to warrant a class. My teacher also taught drama part-time. We were a close-knit bunch of futurists who didn’t really know at the time how useful Spanish would be.

I’ll call my teacher simply Señor T. He was from Southern California originally, of Mexican heritage, and his first love was acting.

He was also probably the first gay person I knew. He never shared that with us in class or at any other time. We heard it, unfortunately, in an unkind and spiteful comment from another teacher.

We were sitting in Spanish club after school, Señor T. was in the hallway, and another teacher passed by the door. I have no idea what precipitated the comment, but suddenly we heard another male teacher saying in a very loud voice something about “That G**D**** f****t drama teacher.” (Hint, the second expletive means a homosexual. I think you might get the first one without a hint.)

What do you do with something like that?

We looked at each other in quiet shock. We were still young enough to think teachers were demi-gods. and this didn’t fit our paradigm. But even in our young minds, this wasn’t right.

Señor T. came into the room. He must have seen our stricken faces. After a moment he spoke.

“What you experienced here today — what you just heard– is not the real world,” he said slowly. “The real world is a wonderful place. It’s full of amazing people and amazing ideas. I hope you’ll experience it someday.” And then we moved on to learning about life in Guatemala, from a recent trip he’d led with some other students.

From a man I know others didn’t consider to be a great teacher –who talked too much about himself in class — I learned so much. What he taught us about his supposedly worthless life stories was about that other world, the one where knowing Spanish and loving art and culture, would open doors we couldn’t yet fathom.

Take Homes

And he knew about communication as power. With a few simple sentences he eviscerated a nasty bigot. He also moonlighted as an ESL teacher, working with recent immigrants. He gave power to those who had none, in night school courses in neighborhoods we thought unsafe for visiting. He gave us a vision for how we might also help others some day, to become literate, full-voiced, bilingual participants in our community.

He gave me my first lessons in culture stress. He experienced it as a Latino trying to get a degree at at university when there weren’t many people who looked like him going to college. He experienced it taking students to Central America, and told us how some very central tenants of our identity as Americans and even our faith would be challenged by experiences with the church in Central America.

As mentioned, he never talked about his sexual orientation. I found his obituary on Google and it mentions a “longtime companion” type of relationship. He described a gentleman in passing references as “his roommate.”   I have given my teacher a pseudonym and have not mentioned specific details I knew about his life, because evidently his family wanted to use the euphemisms. I lovingly respect their choice.

What I do now, as a result

I have sometimes fantasized about meeting Señor T. and now know it’ll have to be in heaven, to let him know what joy his teaching has brought me.

But that lesson of turning the ugliness of the world, into a positive, is something I always try to do with young people how come to me distraught and downcast about the state of the world. “It will be better,” I say. This may be the biggest thing we can do, as women (and men) who have been down the road a piece. We MUST communicate hope to the next generation.

And I know that storytelling is an important way to do it. Specific stories stick. I’m not sure how I arrived at the point of realizing storytelling has value, except to say, it was a huge part of my upbringing (but that’s another blog post). My stories, your stories, have value.

Convergence

I did not graduate from the school where I met Señor T., but when I arrived at University of Michigan, several of my former classmates joined me in upper-level Spanish courses.  Several of us converged in the prerequisites for the Spanish teaching certificate. Which is a pretty good measure of a high school teacher’s effectiveness, doncha think?

Despite only having 3 years (on paper) of Spanish (I was put back a year when I changed school systems), I tested at 4th-year level at Michigan and got a pass into upper-level Spanish lit courses. (Props here to Señoras Ward and Lyons for top-flight teaching in Dearborn, as icing on the cake!) My very first class as a first year student, was a junior-level Spanish lit course, taught by an Argentinian leftist, on Octavio Paz’s classic essay “The Labyrinth of Solitude.” Which included a lengthy discussion of several key phrases in Spanish that will get this post blocked by your browser, including a discourse on the four-letter word that begins with “F” and a phrase called the “Madonna/woman who sells herself” complex. Yep, that was 8 a.m. on my first day as a first-year student.

Quite the intellectual blast to a suburban whitest-of-white girl. I didn’t even know what a leftist was. I could barely find Argentina on a map.

Due to Sr. T, I did not quit right there.  Instead I said, “Well, Hello, real world.” I may not have liked it much but I was ready for the challenge. Which set me up for a lifetime of first-days where I was a fish out of water.

 

 

 

 

 

What I’ve Learned Via Needlework

There’s nothing that soothes my stress like needlework. I don’t consider myself an artist — I’m far too content with copying a pattern. But the focus on making beautiful things, even following behind others, connects me with God and with others in a way that few other things can.

And I do it because I learn as I work. Every project has a lesson woven into its trajectory. My home is filled with my projects not because I’m too cheap to buy something better. Rather, each creation has a story that I remember when I see it.

Why do I spend so much time in needlework? The stress-alleviation is just the tip of the iceberg. In reality, I learn so much from creating:

  1. Perfection is unnecessary.  I can deviate from the pattern and still make something gorgeous.  In fact, I have the most fun when I break the rules.  On my latest piece, pictured above, I’m A-B testing  (that’s marketing-speak) a metallic thread that’s a different composition and weight from the rest of the needlework floss.  You can see I worked one motif in lilac and charcoal, and I’m testing a glittering copper-gold/charcoal motif next. Will it work or not? I don’t know yet but I’m sure having fun seeing how it comes out. Thus far I’ve determined I have to double the thread to get what I want.  I may end up pulling out stitches if it doesn’t work. But some of life’s best results come after failures.
  2. Needlecraft anchors you to the past.  Sometimes, the very, very distant past.  When I visited Ireland two years ago, on a day trip to Kilkenny Castle,  I saw amazing tapestries on the walls. As I looked out the windows at the beautiful grounds, I imagined myself as a young woman in the 1200s, when the castle was built, stitching in the natural light streaming through the panes. When I grasp a needle, I feel a deep-down connection with women worldwide throughout history.
  3. Needlework knits generations together.  Some of my earliest and best memories are of my mother teaching me to knit, crochet, and embroider.  Unlike me, my mother is left-handed, but she managed to learn how to teach me using her right hand. She brought me untold hours of joy from that sacrifice.  I hope to someday teach younger women the craft as well.
  4. God is in the smallest details.  I once worked a crochet piece, an original amigarumi animal patterns, where I simply could not get the shape I wanted. I finally put down the crochet hook and prayed. And then I picked up the hook again and figured out the problem. What a life lesson! What other small things in life will God fix if we just turn them over to Him?

What have you learned from household crafts? (Hit the “Leave a Comment” button at the top of the post.)