Wednesday, July 22, 2015

One Knot at a Time


I've been working on a miniature rug kit --  "Two Bunnies" by Renee Bowen. Working on the knots is a slow process. It's extremely relaxing:


Many people look at my work and say, "I don't know how you do it!" or "I wouldn't have the patience!" or "I couldn't even see that -- how do you see that small?" or any other kind of response that basically conveys: "Whoa. I no understandie." It's OK. Knotwork isn't meant for everyone:


I bought a Huglight so I can work on the rug at night when I need to unwind. I've found that no matter what has happened throughout the day, if I pick up the rug and start to stitch, about an hour later, I feel fine. My blood pressure lowers. My breathing evens out. I'm a content knotter. Webster comes trotting over to the couch when he hears me settling in with the blankets and stacked up pillows. The crinkling of the knotwork baggie is a strong magnet. He hears the rustle and starts purring. Then he snuggles on my legs while I work. Webbie is a good stitching buddy. Only very rarely does he try to chase the floss:


I chose this rug because I loved the colors. I also loved the folk art bunnies and whimsical nature of the design. There is joy here:


While I work on "Two Bunnies," I think about where it will go when I'm finished. I'm going to put it in Backyard Bliss. I'm SO excited to start working on that house, but I have a few little projects I need to finish before I crack the box:


This rug kit is different than the other miniature knotwork items I've made/worked on, which were all Teresa Layman kits: the "Jacob Bean Tree" rug in the TeenieTow, the necklace I made for my mother, and "Pecking Order," which is a work in progress for an eventual Chicken/Rooster build. Bowen suggests using two pieces of embroidery floss for the knots. Layman suggests using only one. Because more floss is used with the two-strand method, it's easy to knock out a good chunk of the rug each time I sit down with it:


I like both styles of knotting, so I'll certainly buy kits from both artisans again in the future. Every good miniature project can use needlework somewhere:


Just as with Real Life, sometimes it's hard to see the progress you're making. No matter how hard you try, you feel like you're getting nowhere (especially when you're job hunting, 'nuf said). Knotting reminds me that every single little stitch means something. It's a step forward. Progress. Over time, the big picture will fill itself in:


Little by little, you'll see how far you've come:


I recently changed hoops. I was using a 5-inch, and I moved to a 7-inch. The material is just the teeniest bit too small for a 7-inch hoop, but I was stubborn and didn't want to buy a 6-inch. Brae showed me how she took care of this problem once -- adding on more material. So I asked my mother to help me:


Ma sewed additional material to every single edge. It's the little things in life that mean the most. Thank you, Ma, for sharing your talents and skills with me. I'm getting closer and closer. Almost done:


Time to start planning my next knotting project...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

On Realizing My Own Ignorance


Lately, I've been thinking about the world around me in a distinctly different way than I used to. I've become increasingly curious about how things are made. Like this design on my comfy pants. How did it get there? After investigating for a while, I realized that it must be an ink pattern stamped onto white material, but still -- where did the white material come from? My Gran (pictured above) would be horrified. She had a degree of some kind in textiles, which never made much sense to me when I was a kid. Who cares about textiles? But now that I'm 38, I'm sitting here looking at my comfy pants thinking: Damn. I really should have paid attention and asked Gran questions. Alas, I can't beat up my kiddo self for not asking more questions about the structures of everyday fabrics. I was little. Only with age do we realize how much our grandparents had to teach us -- and how sad it is that we never learned any of it.

This picture above shows Gran decked out in a summer dress planting green beans in the garden Ma used to keep outside our house. I remember planting the beans, caring for the beans, and popping the ends off the beans while sitting on the back steps. Popping the beans was one of my chores. I also remember liking the taste of canned beans way more than the fresh beans. (WTF?) I don't have a food garden now. I could certainly plant one, but they're a LOT of work. Hard On the Back kind of work. Easier to Just Buy It Frozen kind of work. Having my own garden isn't necessary.

I'm only one generation removed from people who had to do every single thing the really hard way. When I moved into this home -- the home my father was raised in -- I started to learn all kinds of strange things about his youth. For example, Pa used to shovel coal into the coal hopper in the basement. That was one of his chores. The coal hopper is no longer there, but he showed me where it used to be and explained the process to me. COAL? Yes, coal. Ma told me that when she was young, there were no hair dryers. She used to sit in a chair with her hair dangling over the open oven to get it to dry faster. She remembered her first hair dryer -- a baggie placed over the head that was connected to a machine -- being a REALLY big deal. She also remembers wall-to-wall carpeting being a really big deal.

*crickets*

I remember when Grandpa got a satellite TV dish that was about 8 feet across and planted it in the yard here. It was so AMAZING!! I was raised with 3 channels, so having options was cra cra. But when I really think about it, Grandpa once lived in a house that had no electricity. He went from that simple (but actually more complicated, I suppose) lifestyle to having access to satellite television all within the span of one lifetime. I wonder what Grandpa or Gran or Great Grandpas on either side would have thought about the helicopters that came to crop dust the cornfields yesterday. Clear blue sky, beautiful day, and two helicopters swooping up and down and over and around to kill off some kind of fungus that infested the crops. I wonder what my ancestors would have thought about Feeding the World with all of that corn in our backyards.

A while back, I found my father changing the brakes on his vehicle in the building outside. I have no clue how to change brakes on the Corolla -- or even how to find them. A few days ago, I asked my mother to help me sew something because I don't know how to run a sewing machine. I inherited two sewing machines -- one from each grandmother -- and I don't know how to make them work. I know how to do all kinds of fascinating things. I've read all kinds of books about history and politics and art and scientific exploration. I went to college and got my degree and have lived a curious life where I take classes and read read read to learn mahself new things all the time.  But the most basic things in the world, like baking a loaf of bread? Making a bar of soap? I don't know how to do them. Does this make me a failure as a woman/human? No. But it does make me a product of my current environment.

I know how to click the buttons to make things work on this here computer. I can type words and send them around the world. PRESTO MAGIC!! But I can't tell you how the pen or paper sitting next to me was made. I don't understand the process by which aluminum is made into Diet Mountain Dew cans. I'm baffled when I try to think about smelting my own nails or actually cutting down enough wood to stay warm all winter long. There is so much that I don't know. And I know for a fact that I'm not alone on this one. The vast majority of people in this modern world don't know how to do any of this stuff, either.

Hmmm. What is my point here? I guess it's that I had a new kind of awakening where I stopped to ponder my mailbox. And my cat food. And my toothbrush. And then every single thing I came in contact with for like a month. I really, really looked at things. I realized how completely helpless I would be if the power went out for good. I'm not prepping for the zombie apocalypse or anything, but I'm now fully aware of how little I know. It's humbling. And downright scary.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Grown-Up Coloring Fun


I've had numerous grown-up coloring books throughout the years, but I've now found the most amazing one ever. It's called Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. I ordered it from Amazon at the very beginning of April and didn't get it until the end of May. That's because Basford has taken the adult coloring book world by storm, and EVERYONE WANTS ONE. I don't blame them one bit. It's BEAUTIFUL. And there's even a little seek-and-find adventure involved.

I'm savoring my time with this book. Using Prismacolor pencils, I've colored a bunny:


And a fox:


And a squirrel:


I'm totally going to need the other book. Sooooo purty. And so relaxing!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sunshine in Miniland


First and foremost, thank you so much for all of the wonderful support you've given me regarding my world going haywire. I have full plans to respond to kind and wonderful emails later. First, I have to ignore that any of this is happening and just pretend Everything Is Happy and Perfect. Miniland helps with that. Let's do an update, shall we?

When we last left off with Ollie, he needed some flooring. I made the flooring for Luna Lair a loooong time ago. It's scrapbooking paper slathered with Triple Thick to make it shiny. I finally installed it:


If you look carefully, you can see that this top floor piece cracked up in front of that penny. This is because I had to bend the floor to get it in there because the roof was in the way. I think the cracks are interesting, so they don't bother me. It just adds to the quirkiness of the house:


The bottom floor went in fine, so no cracks here:


I'm not going to use all of the trim that came with this half scale Buttercup kit because I'm planning on adding some other ornamental decorations of my own. I still have some of the trim that I do want to use, however, so I'll be painting that soon. For now, Luna Lair got external windows:


The turntable is from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. It's very handy as Luna Lair's eventual base:


The outside of the house needs major paint touch ups. All good things in time:


Then I added in the internal window trim. Some of the inner windows don't come with trim, which is a bit odd, but that's OK. This is a weird house. None of the windows have their plastic window "glass" inserts. Ollie will have a door but no windows. This is so wildlife can come in and out. Or something like that:


In the evenings, I've been working on my Teresa Layman "Pecking Order" rug. I find knotwork to be incredibly relaxing. I got a light that goes around my neck and shines right on the fabric because it was too dark in here before. Now I have enough light to stitch for hours. It's very good lalalalalala work:


I also discovered another artist who makes miniature rug kits. This is "Two Bunnies" by Renee Bowen. Renee's kits suggest using two pieces of embroidery floss instead of one (Teresa suggests using only one, so that's the only way I've done this kind of work before). The two pieces of floss create bigger knots and speedier knotting. I'm really enjoying this one:


For a while, I wasn't doing very many creative or mini things because I was all Doom and Gloom. I've been forcing myself to do a little knotwork here and a little painting there because it's very important to keep creating and living and breathing, even when you're going through hard times. Especially when you're going through hard times. It's important to beat yourself up as little as possible when you're already down. It helps to do a small project in small steps. Then one day, you wake up and say: Well, the world still sucks, and I still don't really know what to do, but that Luna Lair is starting to look really good. SWEET.

*winks*

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Fine Art of the Mid-Life Crisis


I have officially started my mid-life crisis awakening. It royally SUCKS. For a long time, I didn't believe that this was a real thing. I thought it was just an excuse for poor, odd, or immature behavior. Then I watched a bunch of people in my Real Life go through it. Now I know it's real because it's happening to moi.

So what exactly is a "mid-life crisis"?

Webster says:
  • a period of emotional turmoil in middle age characterized especially by a strong desire for change 

Google says:
  • an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle age

I'm relating more to Google's explanation. The key part of the definition that is missing from Webster is the part about self-confidence. Nothing is more confusing than a moment in time when your understanding of Who You Are right at the deepest core of your being becomes dislodged from understanding.

What the f*cking is happening? Who am I? 

These are questions I never thought I'd face. Surely I knew who I was. I spent far too many introspective years examining and re-examining my wants, desires, and needs. I journaled and blogged and asked myself important questions over and over again and listened to My Gut and figured this sh*t out. I studied psychology and went to see Shrinkydink and thought thought thought myself into a frenzy about who I am at my deepest, darkest, crustiest black-hearted core. Sure, I still had insecurities about my weight or what people thought about something stupid I said and all of that normal stuff, but I still understood who I fundamentally was.

I. Figured. This. Out.

I figured this out a long time ago.

So why is my self-confidence up in flames? Why am I waking up in the morning and not recognizing myself in the mirror? Why -- despite successfully fighting off the Shame Monster for many years -- am I suddenly feeling so insecure, so beaten down, so much like a failure. Oh, that word. It eats me alive. It has so much power for such a tiny, little grouping of letters.

I can't point to one specific thing that happened to place blame. Life doesn't work like that. In my Gemini head, I have my Logical Voice and my Mid-Life Crisis Voice battling it out. The Logical Voice is saying that it's simply a combination of things all colliding or happening at the same-ish time. Simple cause and effect -- something I've written about for entire career in educational publishing.

The effect is what happened. The cause is why it happened. Sometimes, a cause can have multiple effects. 

I've written hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of lessons on Cause/Effect. It's a very black and white thing. I could easily open one of these books sitting next to me that I wrote right here on this very computer, whip out a Cause/Effect graphic organizer, and literally figure out exactly what happened. But it really doesn't matter what happened. What matters is the end-result Effect that has the most power.

Effect = My Life Isn't Working

One small piece of the puzzle is that a large, good-money contract I was working on fell through. It had nothing to do with me. I was not the Cause in that scenario. The situation was completely beyond my control. I say all of these things not to make myself look good but to acknowledge that For Reals, there's nothing I could have done to change the situation.

Because I took this particular contract, I turned down numerous other contracts for the allotted time period. Because I've been freelancing for eight years, I now only take long-term contracts, so this one was going to go on for quite a while. So one morning, I woke up without a job that had taken careful planning and execution. Bye bye job.

I know that people lose their jobs every day. Companies fold, people get laid off, people get fired. My experience is not unique. I'm not alone. I know all of that, so it's not the end of the world. Logical Voice is all over this one: In the long run, no biggie. However, the Mid-Life Crisis Voice piped up for the very first time during this scenario and said: This freelancing thing is getting old. The hustle is getting tiring. There are 100 reasons why freelancing is a bad idea. Mostly, you need someone to take out your taxes and pay at least part of your health care. Maybe you should stop.

*crickets*

If I am not an editor, what am I? If I do not write children's educational books, what do I do? If I am not helping children learn to read with a sappy Pollyanna sensation of DOING GOOD FOR THE WORLD, who the f*ck am I???

What else do I do?

Every fiber of my being is an editor/writer in the educational market. Yes, I can do other things. Yes, I can write/edit/produce for a different kind of company. Surely, I can reinvent myself or find a new career or whatevs, but I want to shake my fists at the sky and stamp my feet and say: COME ON, WORLD!!! I WORKED SO FREAKIN' HARD TO GET HERE AND BE WHO I AM! WHY ARE YOU MESSING THIS UP?!?

*deep breaths*

My feeling about it is this. We don't get everything we want in this life. It doesn't work that way. Life isn't fair. So we look for what little things we can get to make our lives important and interesting for this short time we have on the planet. For most of my friends, marriage and children have been their defining "things" that give them purpose and meaning. It all comes down to love and family. And then it becomes providing a good, safe life and world for one's children. It's very beautiful to watch this happen with my friends -- and even strangers. I see their meaning in life. I tip my hat in respect.

But what if you don't have those things? I feel like if I can't get the marriage, children, nuclear family, house/home ownership, and some kind of biological legacy, I should at least get the career, right? I should at least have the Universe throw me a bone in one area, yes?

So I have fought, scraped, and clawed my way into having a career in educational publishing during a time when the industry is falling apart. It's not just the 2008 economy problem. It's publishing as a whole. It's falling the f*ck apart. E-books are riddled with errors and typos and hot mess problems. Educational publishers are having to figure out how to suddenly put all of their products into iPad apps. They're having to flush decades of products that were designed for specific state standards to change gears and focus on the Common Core. Trade publishers are fighting to stay alive while their market is being over-run with successful self-publishers and Amazon and the death of big box bookstores. It's all a hot mess. And once again, none of that is my creation. I have NOTHING to do with that. I have zero control.

So I look around for different jobs where I can use my skills. In the professional world, I'm technically "a creative." Not a verb -- a noun. I literally am valued and labeled as an entity who adds creativity to whatever your product is. My job is to make your sh*t more exciting, interesting, and valuable. But now all across the board, companies are expecting creatives to suddenly know computer science. It's also handy if you're a graphic designer. These are all different skills, and they all require different kinds of schooling. But because jobs are disappearing, companies are deciding to combine job descriptions so that you suddenly have to be the writer and the editor and the html coder and the designer and and and and.... These are completely different skill sets, people!

*voice echoes out across the farmland*

Sigh.

Oh, it feels SO GOOD to write all of this out. I've been holding it in for quite some time. The release is important.

Why don't I move to a big city where there are educational publishers? Because I don't trust those companies to not lay me off. Since I've been freelancing, I've watched over a dozen of my close and personal colleagues be laid off with no warning. Multiple times. Like they get laid off and go to another company and get laid off again. People who have mortgages and kids in college and are getting older and are SO brilliant and good at what they do. I can't take that risk. I can't and won't move for a company. Long gone are the days when you uprooted your whole life and moved across the company (on their dime no less) for a job.

So then I look at Omaha -- my nearest major city -- and I see no publishers. No educational companies at all. No small, privately-owned companies where you can grow and be inventive and thrive and feel valued. This is a world of mega-corporations, regardless of where you live. It's acquisitions and mergers. Management-heavy conglomerations where greed is king. It's a red hot mess.

It's so depressing.

But I am all I have, and I have to keep a roof over my head and pay my bills and figure it out. Normally, I would look to my internal compass, which has never failed me thus far. But right now, I can't tap into it. I'm standing over some kind of electromagnetic boo hiss spot that's throwing off my control system. I'm surrounded by "you shoulds." I'm confused. And I'm really, really tired.

I need time to calm my soul and listen. To marinate. To figure it out. But this time thing is limited, so I hope I understand what is supposed to happen next soon.

I'm a really, really good editor. How can I keep that part of myself and also have stability?

Hmmm.....

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Happiness in Small Packages


Today is my 38th birthday. Happy birthday to me! OK, now let's move on.

Just kidding.

But for reals, birthdays are less important as we age, right? Half the battle is even knowing how old I am when people ask. I *think* I'm 37. Wait! Wait! I'm 38. And trying to do the maths doesn't help because I'm Stupid at the maths. Oh well. I'm a year older than I was last year. Hoorah!

A few years back, I started making really elaborate plans for my future. I was going to buy a house and be completely financially stable and find a freakin' husband/life partner already and all of these lovely things and THIS WAS ALL GOING TO MAGICALLY HAPPEN BY THE TIME I WAS 40 DAMMIT! Um, that's only two years away, Self.

What am I going to do about that?

Well, I'm going to let myself off the hook. I don't need my life to be perfect anymore. As I continue to age, my goals become more and more simple. Yes, I want to have a roof over my head and money in my pocket, but more than anything else I really just want to be happy/content. I want to have more good days than bad days. I want to reasons to smile. I want to feel loved.

My parents knew I was going to the Chicago miniature shows, so they gave me some cash to buy my own birthday present from them while I was there. I walked around the rooms many, many times looking for something that would represent my phenomenal parents and their love for me. Then I saw this lovely swing toy from Cinderella Miniaturen (Germany). I fell in love with it the instant I saw it:


Even the back is cute:


When you push on the swing, all of the little boat people move back and forth. They swing and swing and are incredibly pleasing to the eye and are just plain fun. FUN!

After I got back home, I went to look up the swinging toy to see if I could learn more about it since there is no maker's mark. I learned that this is a kind of toy that was produced in the Erzgebirge region of Germany. To see an original of this type of swinging toy, click here. Germany still pumps out many amazing and beautiful miniatures today. I'm SO happy I got one. It's such a treasure.

*beams*

THANK YOU, MA AND PA!!!!!!

Yes, I am an adult. But childlike joy is the most fun kind. There's too many crazy things going on in this world and not enough fun, little treasures. My swing set will eventually go in the Backyard Bliss house, which will be a dollhouse filled with blissfully fun things.

Like any build, it will take a while for Backyard Bliss to really get cranking, so for now, the swing mini is in my Gran's glass bookcase in my kitchen. Every time I walk past it, the swingers start swinging. I always stop for a moment to watch them. No matter how bad my day is going, they never fail to calm me and make me smile.  

Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Sometimes together, sometimes at three different speeds. It's hypnotic. And cheerful. And wonderful.

I'm so glad I found the joy of miniatures. They've brought wonder and excitement back into my life right when I needed it the most. And they give me all of the things I wanted: more good days than bad days, reasons to smile, and feeling loved.

Thank you to all of my wonderful mini friends who understand my world and make it so much better. And thank you Parents for the perfect gift!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Blissful, Beautiful Birthday Gift


I'm using this picture above as a "me in a birthday hat" photo. In fact, it's a Kentucky Derby hat made by my beloved niece. Works for me!

I haven't been writing on my blog much lately because I've been going through some hard times. Some classic Stupid Things have been happening on and near me in rapid succession. I've found I'm becoming more private as I age, so I haven't felt like writing about it publicly. Don't worry -- it's nothing I can't survive. Life just totally sucks sometimes, and you have to roll with the punches.

But after dealing with many Carpet Ripped Out From Under Me moments through the years and working on my mental health long enough, I've started to figure out something very important. In these tough times, no matter how hard life gets, there really ARE people out there who love me and care about my life and happiness. I've been blessed to find some really amazing friends, and they are always there when I need them the most.

*pauses to happily reflect on friends*
*feels lurved*

Back when I was visiting Chicago for the 2015 Tom Bishop Chicago International and Three Blind Mice shows, I got a very special treat. It turns out Brae, April, and Debora had gotten together to buy me an early birthday present. Now of course these lovely ladies have given me amazing gifts in the past, but I had no clue what these sneaky girls were up to. Debora wasn't there, but Brae and April had looks on their faces like they might have swallowed 10 canaries each. Not even mini ones. Like the full-sized kind. Since Debora wasn't at our little gathering, Brae was going to take some pictures of the gifting. Game on.

(photos c/o Brae)

Here I am thinking WTF are these girls up to??????


And now I'm all WHOA OMG NO YOU DIDN'T!!! REALLY YOU DID????!!!!!! I CAN'T BELIEVE IT I'M SO EXCITED SOMEONE HOLD ME!!!


But then I decided to hold my gift instead. I was SO happy:


I even felt the need to hug to my precious baby:


What is it??!! you are asking.

I'll tell you: It's the most wonderful, little dollhouse kit I've ever gotten. Hands down favorite. It's a Backyard Bliss dollhouse kit:


Lemmie 'splain.

I love antique dollhouses. Like reaaaaally love them. I have a whole shelf of books showing pictures of them and explaining who made them and when they were made and all of their good history nuggets. I also have a deep love of the deceased Flora Gill Jacobs. She wrote multiple history books about dollhousing and miniatures from all over the world. She also had a whole museum of antique houses (that sadly was shut down and then almost all of her minis were auctioned off for prices so high that I could never even daydream about buying one). One of the houses Jacobs had that I drooled over endlessly was what is known as a Bliss Keyhole house.

Here are some examples of the true Bliss Keyholes. Click here. And here. And here. And, sadly, here is Flora Gill Jacobs's Keyhole house on the auction block. Sigh. That auction made me very sad, but life goes on.

So because I could obviously NEVER afford one of these beauties in real life, I bought a 1:144 kit version from Cynthia Howe and put it together. It's very tiny, and I lurve it:


It even has wallpaper and things on the inside:


I was pretty sure that the tiny 1:144 version was the end of my Keyhole Bliss story until my dear mini friends surprised me with my new kit. It's not a real Bliss, but it's actually even better because I get to put it together and decorate it and drool all over it without worrying about ruining a real antique. I get to Blondify it without fretting about its historical, museum-worthy value. SCORE.

So how in the world did my miniaturing wizard ladies make this birthday surprise happen? It turns out that a company called Betty's Wooden Miniatures made a version of the Keyhole house back in the 1980s. The company made three little house kits that hang together as a mini village. There was the Backyard Bliss, which I now own. There was also the Storybook Playhouse and the Tulip Cottage. Every so often, one of these rare kits shows up somewhere for sale, but they're very hard to locate. The odds of finding one are kind of like the odds of finding Bigfoot making pancakes in your kitchen one morning. You're very lucky if you find one. And you're even MORE lucky if your friends buy it for you to celebrate your 38th year on this planet.

*beams with happy*

Even the Building Inspector likes it:


The girls lovingly sprung the gift on me early specifically so I could shop for a few doodads for it at the shows, which I did! This little friend will live there for sure:


I haven't opened the dollhouse kit yet though because I was trying to be patient and wait for my actual birthday -- which is tomorrow. So soon enough, I'll be popping open this factory-sealed (!!!! no pieces missing !!!) Backyard Bliss kit and filling my Real Life home up with another wee house that represents friendship, support, encouragement, and love.

Thank you, dear friends. Thank you SO much!