Intentional Kindness to Strangers

  

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I don’t talk about politics in this space, and I fully intend for it to be a place where everyone who is interested in creating a more thoughtful, joyful life through craft and making will feel welcome, regardless of their feelings about which party is better able to govern. But some things are beyond politics, and that’s what I’d like to say a little bit about here, while I’m very aware that feelings are still running high on both sides. Maybe we can start by agreeing that it’s been quite a week?

I made an intentional choice quite a while ago to not hold back from sharing, here and elsewhere, how much I care about preserving our planet, and nurturing our relationships with natural systems. Whether you believe that it’s God’s creation, or that we are here by an entirely random, incredibly lucky chance, surely we can agree that life on this Earth is a gift, and it’s up to us to take care of the environment and the other creatures here, if for no other reason than that we are the ones who have the power to protect or destroy, and it is so good for our own spirits to engage with nature. I hope we can also agree that every human being has a right to live free from fear and hate, and no matter how far from reality that may be right now around the world, we can work toward that goal.

After the election, I started looking around for things I could do to make a difference, anything I could think of that might bring us together and let us start to talk about where we can find common ground and move forward, rather than demonizing the other side and driving us even further apart.

One of the first things that occurred to me was to be kind to the individual people I meet as I go through my day, regardless of how much or little I know about them, or the judgments I’m tempted to make when I first see them. I’m not alone in thinking about this. I’ve heard it spontaneously both from friends of mine via text, and from people I’ve never met speaking on the radio. Somehow it seems to have been an available, actionable idea in the minds of a lot of folks, which must be a good thing!

For me personally though, I was really surprised at the actual power it has. Like a lot of writers and creative folks are I think, I’m a naturally shy person. I’d rather be quiet and observant, especially in strange or complicated situations, and I don’t usually want to engage with strangers. Until last week, I wasn’t fully aware of how that awkwardness on my part can come off as a coldness that the people I meet can sense, making our encounters strained. The most amazing thing about having the intention of kindness is that I don’t even have to do anything or say anything, so I get to skip what seemed like the hardest part before. If I merely walk into a room or up to a person with the intent to be kind to them, they can sense it (just like they could sense my previous reluctance) and we spontaneously start to have friendly conversations, leading to lovely encounters that brighten the day with a genuine acknowledgement of our shared humanity. I swear it’s true, it just happens! I don’t have to change the way my mind works, I just have to set out to be intentionally kind. I’ll freely admit that in the first week of trying this, some days it’s been easier than others. But I’ve made a personal commitment that I will try to do it every day, from now on. Since I tried it and saw the wholly unexpected beauty there, it might be impossible to stop.

So I’m starting with kindness, meeting with friends, making things, and talking about ideas. I still believe in my bones that all of our actions, all of our intentions and words and the things we make with our hands, these all make a difference, and they all can be a part of building a brighter future.

From my hands and heart to yours!

 

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Free Yourself to Make Something Ordinary

 

garment bag stitching

 

Now that I’ve told you a little more about why we travel most of the summer, I can also share some things I’ve made for our trips.

 

Our clothes spend a fair amount of time in a “closet” consisting of a thin strip of wood between the shelves we have built into our truck.  It’s much better than keeping them in a suitcase, but still not ideal since they are unprotected.  At the end of last summer, when we unpacked the clothes from truck to house, I noticed that one my jackets was significantly more faded on one side than the other.  Maybe hanging it with the same side to the skylight for the whole summer was not the best idea?  The same thing happened to Bryan’s jacket, so I’m pretty sure that extra UV light on one side was the problem—combined with the fact that it was warm last summer and the jackets didn’t come off the rack very often.  I had been thinking vaguely for a couple of years about making some kind of garment bags to protect our clothes from getting dirty/scratched up as we move things in and out of the truck, especially as I have started to take more me-made garments on the road.  This was the final straw, I had to do it.

 

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I decided to make two, each half the width of our “closet.”  One would be slightly longer than my summer dresses, and the other just long enough to protect shirts and pants.  I traced a plastic hanger for the shape of the sides, and left a split in the front to close with a zipper.

 

This was the perfect scrap/thrift store shopping project.  Since it didn’t matter exactly what the garment bags looked like, as long as they worked, I could use practically anything.  I used the last of some heavy canvas from old curtains that came with our house, plus another small curtain (made out of some great textured blue-green fabric) that I bought at Goodwill.

 

garment bags hanging

 

This may seem like a strange project to wax poetic about, but here’s the thing: as I cut myself loose from trying for aesthetic perfection, not caring what anyone would think of my topstitching or pieced fabric, sewing felt more like sculpting; using what I had on hand, and my hands, and just making something almost like I was pulling it out of the air.  I was free to use my creativity in any way I wanted, to use whatever I could find, odds and ends of colored thread, salvaged zippers (really nice ones actually)—and I started to see an unexpected beauty in my intentionally imperfect stitching, one that I hope comes through in these photos.  I was free to do whatever I wished, and yet cared enough to add little touches and experiments.  I was trying things, enjoying the process, and making something useful as I went.  With enough practice behind me to be comfortable with fabric and thread, I was able to just play, and it felt pretty magical.

 

garment bag snaps

 

 

garment bag corner stitching

 

Around the same time, as we both worked on various projects for the truck and Bryan’s display before the summer season, he was refinishing the director’s chair that he uses in the booth.  He did a really nice job, dissembling and sanding the chair before applying the new finish.  After all that, I decided it needed a new bag to protect it from getting scuffed all over again as it’s loaded in and out.

 

disassembled chair

Chair in the process of disassembly—we’re looking through where the seat would be.

 

I went back to the thrift store looking for something to line my chair cover with.  I loved searching through the housewares section, looking at everything as a material instead of a finished product (always my favorite kind of shopping), and letting the serendipity of what I found help shape my project.  I decided on two vintage towels for padding the front and back, and a second-hand piece of fabric to round out the outside.  I think the green stripes with my other leftover fabrics make it look like something for sailing.

 

When I announced that I was going to spend our penultimate evening in Flagstaff sewing (this chair cover), I got an enthusiastic “Ok!” from my notoriously goal-oriented husband.  Remind me to try this trick again next year . . .

 

chair bag stitching

 

It’s weird, but having all these me-made covers on our travels this season has been quite a boost to my morale.  Every time I see them, or touch them, I’m reminded that I have a spring of creativity and ingenuity which I can use to make whatever I want, and whatever I need.  That’s pretty much all I need to feel good about life in general.

 

How about you—have you done any creative and/or freeing projects lately?

 

Michigan Winter in Pictures

 

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Out here in Flagstaff, winter is (assuming it snows enough) bright days with the sun bouncing light from the snow everywhere, white too bright to look at and deep dark shadows.  Ponderosa pines collecting snow in huge clumps in their needles, and then when the sun comes out, dropping them with a window-shaking thud on the roof over my head, or on my actual head while I’m shoveling.  It’s getting your skiing in before the snow melts down, and watching the flakes float past my studio windows when it snows again, which is one of my very favorite things about this room.

In Michigan, from whence we just returned, winter is different.  And to me, totally beautiful.  The bare branches against a grey sky are a delicate tracery of subtle colors and shades, more muted but lovely scenes are in the dried branches, the white fields.  After spending the morning playing with my little nieces, I escaped outside with only my camera.  I got that “what are you finding out here to make the picture worth your freezing fingers?” look from at least one Midwesterner I ran across, but that’s the beauty of something unfamiliar, seeing the hibernating landscape with my fresh eyes, I saw worthwhile photos everywhere.

The landscape also meshed well with these thoughts from Kimberly at The Year In Food:

And I love darkness, in the sense that this is a season of long, dark nights, quiet, rest, hibernation. There’s merit to embracing it rather than fighting it and I try my best to do so each year. Perhaps easier said and done from the mild coast of California than in the thick of a midwest winter. But that season of rest is here, nonetheless: the fallow land, the bare trees, the grey skies, the long nights, the snowy mountains off to the east and north. Let’s embrace it, friends.

I often find myself this time of year longing for warmth, summer, light and long days of it.  But seeing a new winter landscape reminds me of the beauty that is here right now, a quiet one perhaps, but one worth enjoying just as it is.  Here’s to embracing your season, wherever you are!

 

michigan winter 1

 

 

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Yarn as Jewelry

 

 

I bought this yarn at a tiny shop in Albuquerque’s Old Town years ago.  It’s hand spun, and there was such a tiny amount on the skein (which I didn’t realize at the time) not even enough for a whole hat!  I ended up using it in part of a hat for Bryan.

But, it’s totally gorgeous!  Just look at it, there are parts that are spun so tightly that it’s basically too much twist, but those parts also give it a bit of shine, and highlight the natural color variations.  I fell in love with it right away, and I was still in love with this little bit I had left.  At some point it occurred to me to wear it as jewelry.  To me this wool yarn is just as beautiful as anything else you might put around your wrist.  So . . .

 

 

If you’d like to make one too, it’s quite easy and quick, I made this one (including a small sample and pulling that out) while talking to friends and waiting for dinner!  Just be sure to use a very stretchy cast on and bind off, because the whole thing must stretch over your hand and still fit close around the wrist.  I like “Jeny’s Stretchy Slipknot Cast-On“, I’ve been using it for all kinds of things lately, as it looks good in addition to being super stretchy.  “Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off” is a little bulkier, but perfect for something like this, or the top cuff of a sock, etc.

I wanted mine to fit close, so I used my wrist measurement minus 10%.  Multiply your desired size by how many stitches per inch you are getting in your yarn, and that’s it!  Mine is 20 stitches around at about 3 sts/inch.  The pattern is purl 3, knit 1, repeat until desired length, or until you run out of yarn like I did.

Bryan called this my “warrior sheep woman cuff”.  I’m, um, calling that a compliment!

What unusual things do you think are beautiful?  Would you like to display or wear them somehow?

 

Technical Delays in a Beautiful Place

After a heroic effort involving all my laptop power and a rainy, foggy day in a huge lovely park with (as far as I know) only one wifi location, the post I have been working on is still “coming soon.”

In the meantime, please enjoy these pictures of Shenandoah National Park. It’s totally beautiful here, the trees are still leafing out and various flowers are blooming on the forest floor. Perhaps they will inspire an unplugged moment in your day!

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