Weekly Photo Challenge – Delicate Christmas Gift to You

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Come and gather around my dining room table – I have a special gift for you. A delicate gift that I made several years ago. Go ahead and take the lid off and peak inside.

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Now lower the left side so you can better see the delights inside.

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And now the right side –

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Within the gift box is a miniature Christmas scene built on a scale of 12:1 which means that the presents under the tree that are normally 12 inches across are only 1 inch. This is delicate because it takes a lot of skill and thought to create items that are to the right scale. Please join me in a tour as I explain some of the more delicate pieces.

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The toys under the tree were bought at a store that sells items for building miniature doll houses. I also bought the double present and the paper printed to scale and the silk ribbon to make more presents. The silk ribbon was very important because silk is fine enough to be able to work into the very small bows. What I remember about doing these bows is how terribly big my fingers felt – I had to learn how to experience the instruments as extensions of my fingers.

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I bought the Christmas tree and the small candy canes but had to find other materials with which to decorate the tree. I used small red, gold & silver beads for ornaments, tucked white silk ribbon into the boughs, and used small pieces of a very small artificial white flower pieces to look like clumps of snow on the branches.

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My daughter had done a miniature doll house and she had some less expensive furniture that she no longer wanted that I used for this room. I purchased the fireplace screen and spray painted the same white flower I used on the Christmas tree to make the garland for the mantle and for the screen, decorating them with tiny red beads and a bow. On the table are real wax candle tapers, a Bible, and a smaller present I made. I bought the plant stand and splurged on the red vase that sits atop. This was hand blown in Austria and was expensive because of the difficulty of hand blowing glass so that it looks light enough when in the 12:1 scale.

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The table is my very favorite part of this scene because this is were I was sitting before I got called away. I had just finished a cup of coffee – there is still a little cream-colored coffee left in the cup. There is a spoon on the saucer which is almost not noticed which is perfect because silver is hard to produce in scale – just like glass. I didn’t even get to finish the cookie that I had taken a bite out of. I was about to make a list of my last-minute “things to do” before our Christmas Eve family gathering – you can see the pencil and paper. The pencil has the diameter of maybe a little larger than the larger paper clip.

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I made this table using a cardboard base. I don’t remember what I used and the fabric is glued to it so I can’t peak. A challenge of decorating in miniature is finding fabric that is fine enough to drape naturally at this small scale. Also any printed pattern has to look right. These pieces were perfect – as I was able to make a fringe with the topper and even make a cloth napkin to match.

And when the Christmas holiday is past I will fold up my special, delicate scene until next year. Hopefully my memories of this Christmas won’t be delicate so I will have them forever.

I Don’t Miss Me Anymore

It was a long time coming and I’m not sure when it happened. I don’t miss me anymore. This is a strange thing to say but I know the frightening feeling that comes from loosing my sense of who I am. I know the sadness that comes from not believing there is enough left of me because of the changes in my life due to contracting a chronic condition. I really did miss me – but not any more.

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know it was originally named “I Miss Me, Too” because that was what I wanted the title of my book – the one that I’m not writing any more – to be called. Here is what I wrote on my ‘About This Blog’ page when I started blogging. It explains how I came up with the title.

One day during that first year after being diagnosed, I was in the kitchen with my husband of 40 years. He stopped working, looked at me, and said that he knew I couldn’t help it but he missed me. He had tears in his eyes. My eyes welled up and I said, “I miss me, too.” We embraced and cried together.

I feel like I turned a corner, when I stopped missing me. How many times have I said that? Whenever I started a new computer file for my journals, the first entry begins “I feel like I have turned a corner.” There are 10 files of journals that cover 8 years – so ten times I had turned a corner. I guess you could say I’ve been around the block a few times. This seems to be my way of explaining that I made a leap of progress towards my emotional and physical healing each of those ten times – now eleven.

Those leaps of emotional healing didn’t happen suddenly. It was more like a long slow, continuous process and what happened was that suddenly I realized that I felt different. Change takes a lot of work. We have to have a vision of what we want, and maybe observe others and think about what we would like to be, and we need to practice actually being like our new vision. Sometimes we need to look at our pasts, confront old ghosts, heal old wounds, let go. Sometimes we need to acknowledge our sadness and anger. It takes conscious effort and courage and perseverance. I have been working on it for nine years so far – taking many small steps and spending lots of time on plateaus where I prepare for my next step.

I began to feel the shift to feeling more whole when I started my blog and became a part of the blogging community. Focusing on how to use a new camera and learning how to take interesting photographs allowed me to connect with a long neglected part of myself. Blogging gave me a platform for sharing the emotional turmoil of having fibromyalgia by posting rewrites of portions of my not-to-be-published book.

Writing for the blogging community was much more rewarding than writing for publishing and thus brought a dynamic, evolving meaning back into my life. My focus began to shift from sharing my illness to wanting to share the life I was living – through photography and story. I discovered that I could touch people’s lives and my life was enriched through the life stories of others. It feels like I am on a shared journey of life that is being recorded through our blogging.

The second event that seemed to give me a new sense of self was the long camping trip to Newfoundland. This trip shifted life for both me and my husband. A while after I was diagnosed, we were talking and he went into that funny mood that says he is thinking about something that needs to be said but he doesn’t want to say it. He finally confessed that he was feeling guilty because he believed I got sick because he “dragging me” on a three-week camping trip to the Canadian Rockies. It is true that I started having symptoms about 6 weeks later – but proximity doesn’t prove causation. He let go of the guilt but still had to live with the fact that our life was changed.

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Lake Louise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our trip to the Canadian Rockies was the last traveling camping trip that we had taken and the trip to Newfoundland was similar in length and work. I had some anxiety about doing the trip but I really wanted to go and knew how to prepare. He had a lot of anxiety because he feared I would get really sick a long way from home or wouldn’t be able to participate in our travel activities. After we returned, he told me that he was really surprised that I had done as well as I had. Our eyes connected and he said that it felt really good to have me back.

I guess I am back. I’m not the same because we both know that we had to do things to take care of me – but I was alive and vibrant and involved on the trip. I worked along side of him and carried my half of the work load – almost and most of the time. It was similar to our Canadian Rockies trip, but I was different. We have adjusted to the changes in me so I can be like I used to be; even though I’m not. Maybe we don’t remember what I used to be like, but he isn’t either. In any case, we have found a way to live life fully, together, that is rewarding for both of us.

This triggers silent tears because it was hard and it wasn’t always clear that it would happen. I spent a day or two feeling sorry for myself. Not in a bad way as I would if I felt like a victim. No, I felt sorry for myself as I would feel towards someone who had gone through a really rough time. I felt sympathy and compassion towards myself. I feel compassion and love for my husband who had to endure all that I have been through but didn’t always know how to handle it. But then neither did I. It was scary and hard.

I have read a lot about grief but I have never seen anything written about the grief we feel after going through a time of healing. When I was a therapist I frequently would sit and listen to people express their joy after making changes in how they thought and felt and the big difference it was making in their life. Then they would grow quiet and their eyes would get glassy. I knew at that moment they needed to lick their wounds – they were remembering how hard it had been, how hard they had worked, how much pain they had felt as they went through the healing process. I am feeling that way.

At the same time, in a strange way, a hard to define way, I am afraid of stepping into the future. I had learned how to live with my emotional pain and sadness. I had gotten used to not knowing who I was. I had adjusted to not being able to do a lot and my husband didn’t expect me to be able to do most things. What if he forgets that I have limitations? What if he expects more from me than I can deliver? What if this living life fully, together, doesn’t last?

Can I maintain whatever it is that I’ve found – forever? I need to remember that this is a new day – singular. All I have to do is live today. I planned for my tomorrows, but none of my futures were improved by feeling anxious about them. I can plan for tomorrow, but I need to live today.

On this new day I may experience pain and fatigue and not be able to do much of anything. On this new day I may have lots of energy and be excited about the work and play I have planned. I am still overdoing on good days, and still paying for it with a day or two of not feeling well. I know how to take care of myself and I’m usually satisfied with moderation but also willing to pay the price for pushing the boundaries.

I have found ways to exercise my brain and body. I have found multiple communities in which I can nurture and be nurtured. My husband and I have settled into a fun and comfortable relationship. I can face my God and see her smiling at me. I don’t miss me any more because I have found a way to live that has integrity.

If you have written a post that expresses similar themes, please leave us a link in a comment. I would love to have us connect in this way.

Story Challenge: Letter “Q” – Quilting

I already did a Q on Queen Anne’s Lace and I had thought about quilts when Frizz posted this theme, but all of my quilts are up north and I don’t have good photos of them in my photo library. I had forgotten about this pieced wall hanging that I have here, in plan view over where I sit every day and blog.

This is one of my favorite works. I made it several years ago using the color technique of Jinny Beyer and patterning it after one of her quilts in one of her publications. She is a well know quilt artist and teacher.

This hanging is only the pieced portion of a quilt and is hung on canvas stretchers. It is a variation of the pattern “Storm at Sea”, one of my favorites because there is so much movement and the appearance of curved lines even though all pieces are cut and stitched in straight lines. Cutting and stitching curved lines for a quilt is very difficult because of the stretching when cutting and stitching curved edges – that can result in a quilt top that doesn’t lay flat. There are enough potential problem when sewing hundreds of small pieces of fabric together without dealing with curved, stretchy edges.

I started by cutting hundreds of pieces of the fabrics I had chosen and sewing them together to form two of the three small squares that are combined to make this pattern. I knew how to piece them together using light and dark fabrics that would be so important in drawing they eye through the finished piece to form the illusion of curves and shapes. I didn’t have a clear idea as to the flow of colors so I had to make lots of small squares with different color combinations to make sure I had a good sample to draw from as I established the overall pattern of colors.

I had an image in my mind that I used to pick my fabrics and in designing the layout. One of my favorite places on earth is a campground on Lake Superior. I spent many hours with my small children on this stretch of narrow beach with the deep, very cold waters of Lake Superior in front of me and the lush green forests of northern Michigan behind me. This park is situated so that I was able to watch many sunrises as I was drinking my coffee on the beach and then see beautiful, orange sunsets late at night. I went through some very stressful periods in my 30’s and this was the place I would take my mind when I needed to escape my burden, find peace for my mind, and release the stress my body carried. I wanted to bring that place into my home.

After I had the small squares sewn, I started laying them out on a flannel board. It took me several weeks of moving squares around and making new squares with the right color and fabric combinations. I needed to arrange them so the contrast of light and dark moved the eye to form curves, create the diamond shapes, and to move around the entire piece. I also needed to portray the dark blue water, the green forest, and the sunny, sunset hued sky. Frequently when doing a quilt top, the fabrics are chosen to form the pattern and then this repeated throughout so that it is uniform and perfectly depicted. In this case, I was wanting to create an illusion of sea and forest and sky so sometimes fabric choices sacrificed pattern for artistic need.

When I was satisfied with the layout, I sewed and added the 4-pieced squares that are in the middle of the diamonds. Then I was able to sew all the smaller pieced squares together, making sure that all the seams lined up perfectly so the viewer’s eye doesn’t get stopped by a small zag as it moves along the lines created by the light and dark and color and pattern of the fabrics. As you study these images you can see how intricate the pattern is and I find people who visit frequently get lost in the viewing. I have never tired of it and find that I still sit for long periods of time following the patterns that were created.

This last photo shows you some of the many fabrics I used. I love fabrics and use them as an artist uses paint. Sometimes I go into my stash of fabrics and just look at my favorites and hold them to my chest. It is so much fun seeing how different fabric designs impact on appearance of color saturation and how a touch of different color can change how a small piece works in the overall pattern. When doing this project, sometimes I had two squares with the same two fabrics but one would work and the other not, just because of how the piece caught the fabric pattern. When using paints, they can be mixed to create light and shadow and flow from one part of the picture to the other, but with quilting different fabrics are used with colors that match and contrast creating illusions of blending and movement.

I hope my story of quilting has inspired you to think about how you use color and pattern and light and dark in your artistic creations. If you have an old post or do a new one, please paste the URL in a comment below so we can ping back. I look forward to reading your posts.

For an opportunity to join the fun of Story Challenge: Letter “Q” click here.

Weekly Writing Challenge: A Few of My Favorite Things – Books

When I read about this WordPress Challenge I was intrigued by the thought of cherished objects. I have lived many years and have accumulated many objects that represent my relationships to others and experiences that have shaped who I believe I am. I enjoy these objects because when I look at them I am reminded of people who I have known, places I have been, things I have accomplished – but I have never used the term cherished object to describe them so this got me thinking about what a cherished object would be.

For me an object is just an object – I try not to be too attached to them because things get broken or lost or stolen. I learned this when my kids were little and we were financially struggling. I didn’t have a lot of nice things but had a pretty little glass something-or-other that I really liked – maybe even cherished. I don’t remember now what it was or where it came from. But it got broke – by one of the kids – by accident. And I cried. I cried because I couldn’t have anything nice in the house. This child felt badly, she cried, and I didn’t want her to carry guilt because deep down I realized that it was just an object and really didn’t matter in the big picture of life. This child was much more important, was much more beautiful than a pretty “whatever.”

I have also found that some objects that were important to me become less important – I can delegate them to a box in the basement or, even better, dispose of them. That part of my life is over or whatever that object represented isn’t as important. And sometimes this act becomes symbolic of the emotional struggle that comes with life transitions. Most recently this has happened with books.

I love books – in fact probably the most memorable birthday gift was a book given to me by Aunt Bernice when I turned 12 – going into 6th grade. It was a real book, not a Little Golden Book that I had lots of. This was a library bound type book – I think the name of it was Strawberry Girl. I put it on the shelf of the two-shelf bookcase I had in my room and I felt important. I don’t know what the reality was, but the picture in my memory is that it was the only book in the bookcase – any others that might have been there were removed either at the time or in my memory.

I don’t know what happened to that book but many books have replaced it. When we built our new house I made sure there were enough built-in bookcases. For my books. I don’t collect books so I didn’t need bookcases on every wall and in every room. Instead I needed just enough bookcases to store the books I enjoy and are memories of my life. And I had bookcases at work – with professional books that I used for reference and for my teaching and to tell people who I am.

You can tell who I am by looking at my bookcases. Don’t bother looking for my work bookcases because I had to empty them when I retired – more about that later. At home you can see the type of fiction I like to read by the books I have saved – the ones that I might get around to reading again some day because they were good, well-written stories.

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And of course there is a shelf of books that I haven’t gotten to, yet. Below the books I haven’t read yet is a shelf of children’s books that have entertained the child within me or have connected me to grandchildren.

Children’s Books

I have a shelf of children’s books in the basement that we read to our children and grandchildren. I picked out the ones we liked the best and I’ll let children and grandchildren take what they want and then give the rest to charity. They aren’t important to my life any more.

I have a shelf with my quilting books, and decorating books that I collected when we built the house. I’ll probably give the decorating books away soon because I like my home and won’t be making changes for a long time. These decorating books aren’t cherished because they aren’t an important part of my identity. I used them to create the home that does reflect who I am and the family I am a part of.

I have a place for books that represent and nurture my religious faith. Other shelves hold books about fibromyalgia, from and about places I have traveled to, and books on plants and landscaping. My bookcases also hold pictures of people who are important to my husband and me, both past and present. I guess I cherish these, because of the relationships they represent. I change them sometimes – as relationships change.

Gardening & Family

Many of my most cherished books have been my professional books. I loved my work, and what I did as a therapist and a college professor was closely tied to books – I used them all the time. Faculty have books – lots of them. And when people visit their office or cubical they look at their books. I did when I was a college student and visitors to my office looked at my books to find out who I was – because the books I had on my selves defined my professional interest and my areas of knowledge.

When it was time for me to retire it took several passes to decided which books to sell, which to give away, and which ones I needed/wanted to keep. It took several weeks because I was breaking down a part of my identity. In a way I was sorting out who I was and who I would still be after I retired. I ended up keeping only those books that had shaped my thinking and impacted on my professional activities. These were the books that were most interesting and written by people who had a major impact in their field. They are the books that I have put in the bookcase across from where I sit in my reading room.

Professional Books

I have also placed items on these shelves that remind me of who I was and what I did during those years. The items in these bookcases have helped me transition into living a life that is different because of the impact of having fibromyalgia and growing older. They are cherished because of the memories they evoke of fun times, professional relationships, professional accomplishments, and because they are a part of who I was and who I still am.

My bookcases are going to need some work soon. I am reinventing myself and will need to make room for my new interests. I have started buying photography books. Actually I started buying books of photography a long time ago because somewhere deep down I was inspired by how pictures could tell stories or capture beauty.

Beginning of Photography Collection

I’ve been thinking that I might have to clear out some of those professional books, the ones that aren’t so important, to make room for the books I’ve been buying on how to use my new camera and how to make good images. I’m excited about the changes that are taking place in my life now that I have the time to travel and a new reason to go. And my cherished books reflect those changes.

Check out this Weekly Writing Challenge at http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/weekly-writing-challenge-a-few-of-my-favorite-things/

Meaning in a Quilt

During the first year after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I was desperately trying to hold on to the life that I had lost. I spent hours sitting, looking out the window, trying to figure out how to make sense of what was happening to me and how to cope with my fear.

I needed a diversion so I started piecing together a new quilt top for our bed. Over the years I had made several quilts, choosing both easy and very difficult patterns – some I finished and some are in a drawer. I looked through my quilting books and picked a new pattern that appealed to me. Here is my journal entry about how this process both helped me cope and seemed to reflect how I felt about my life during this time:

Sewing on my “Contrary Wife” quilt continues to bring pleasure. This has been such a good project because of the symbolism. The name of the pattern fits how I feel I am perceived because of my need to maintain control in my life when I don’t seem to be able to control what my brain does. I know I come across as contrary and always putting up a fight. On the other hand, the pattern is bright and colorful.

It was fun to use all my favorite fabric while buying lots of new pieces. This is bringing joy to days that could otherwise be quite devoid of joy. Each block is unique and different while having a constant pattern. As I look at the different blocks I have designed, they seem to reflect how I experience life on different days.

Some of the blocks are muted and relatively dull – although I love the fabrics and find the combination of fabrics pleasing. Some of the blocks are very bright and intense. Some are high contrast, maybe even sharp, like the pain I feel in my legs and arms. Some blocks are not so pleasing by themselves – the colors are not my favorites and I would leave them out if they weren’t necessary for holding the rest of the quilt together. Sometimes the unpleasant colors of our life-quilts are necessary for the overall beauty. I also like the strong lines of the pattern when the blocks are laid out. The strong diagonal lines seem to hold the quilt together, just like I need strong lines of faith and love to hold my life together.

The most important characteristic of this quilt pattern is the fact that, with careful work, I can make the points and seams line up. With a little effort in measuring accurately, sewing correct seam widths, and multiple re-stitching, I can make it work out. I need this as I am struggling against what seem like the insurmountable odds of finding what will work to help me feel good with a condition that will not go away even if I do everything right.

I am so glad I have my faith to guide me through this. I have to believe that God has provided me with everything I need to make the most of this situation. Of all the hundreds of quilt patterns that I know are just waiting for me to do, the one that I felt compelled to do is the one that is perfectly meeting my needs. 

I finished the quilt top but it was several years before I took it to be quilted and I finished binding the edges so I could use it on my bed. This was my “fibromyalgia quilt” and fibromyalgia was causing me so much emotional and physical pain that I couldn’t get my mind around how my “fibromyalgia quilt” could comfort me as I lay under it.

People deal with traumatic experiences by finding something good within it or turning it into something positive – we want to find meaning in our pain. I wanted to find some good in having fibromyalgia but I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. Maybe not wanting to get comfort from my fibro quilt was symbolic of my not wanting to see any positive in having fibromyalgia. Maybe it was a symbolic act to express my anger over having my life and my very self taken away from me. Wrapping my “fibromyalgia quilt” around me and getting comfort from it was something I refused to do.

I finally did enough emotional healing to finish it in the sixth year after diagnosis and it has become a beautiful expression of my determination and courage. I’m still not sure, however, that I can find any positive meaning from having fibromyalgia. My life is good, but not because I have fibromyalgia.

Copyright © Patricia A. Bailey, 2012-2013.