Sunday, June 23, 2013

Still sew much to learn

            I spent the afternoon reminding myself that I'm a knitter, not a sewer.  I admire those who can make intricate and incredible items to wear as I'm still in the kindergarten of garment making.  You'd think I would have learned my limits by now, even though it's supposedly in my genes.  There's a beautiful quilt on my bed that was hand-stitched by my paternal great-grandmother.  My maternal grandmother made my sisters and me little jackets when we were young and I still have mine in a keepsake box.  My mother is a master at creating clothes that fit not only American Girl dolls, but any American girl in the country.  So why didn't I catch the sewing bug when it was going around?
            To be fair, I can stitch a straight line and make curtains for any room in the house.  Come this Christmas, I'll once again make stockings for some friends of mine.  It's not that I don't like sewing per's that I don't like making clothes.  The last dress I stitched was in the early nineties and I vividly remember sitting at my mother's machine, fiddling with the seam ripper while I tore out the sleeves for the umpteenth time.  Mom ended up doing most of the finishing work, but she insisted I do the top stitching and I swore I'd never make another article of clothing ever again.  So why was I tempted to venture down that road once more? 
            Darn that JoAnne Fabrics and their gorgeous display of batik material! 
            I found a splashy blue design and a pattern that promised the simple dress could be made in an hour.  Still, the shopping bag full of materials sat in my craft closet until this afternoon when I had no motivation to do much of anything.  I'd already gone for a hike, ran errands, and did a bit of writing.  My hands needed a break from all the animals I've been making this year, so I didn't want to knit.  It's been too hot to garden, so what's a girl to do?
            I know...let's try my hand at sewing again!
            I popped "Ghandi" into the DVD player (perhaps as a subconscious reminder to peacefully make my way through the process) and set to work.  Just figuring out which pieces of the pattern I'd need took twenty minutes.  Pinning the pattern to the cloth properly, then cutting out the various parts took another half hour....not to mention how long it took to figure out which way to cut the fusible interfacing! 
            Once I sat down at the sewing machine, over an hour had passed.  Still, it was simple to stitch the shoulder and side seams.  Then came the battle of the interfacing and my first huge mistake.  I'd sewed the pieces together incorrectly, but only discovered this after I'd trimmed the seam and cut in the easement.  With that completed (albeit with a few choice words), I set to work on the underarm reinforcements.  I wrestled with them for about forty-five minutes, but in the end, they looked better than the neckline!  As the final credits of "Ghandi" rolled on the screen, I was pinning the hem, silently bribing myself with a chocolate banana smoothie if I finished the project.
            Unfortunately as I was sewing the hem, I realized I was using a zigzag stitch, not a straight one.  Oh well, I thought.  I'll just leave one will know but me.  Alas, instant karma arrived as the bobbin ran out of thread shortly thereafter.  Frustrated, I turned off the sewing machine, made myself a smoothie and went outside for a break. 
            Sitting in the sun, soaking my feet in a wading pool, I contemplated that while there's great satisfaction in sewing an entire piece of clothing in one day, my reasons for being drawn to knitting are vast.  If I mess up (and make no mistake, I make lots of those), it's simple to rip back a few rows and use the same yarn to fix the error.   I can make countless easements in shape and size for whomever I'm knitting.  The work is portable and I can take it to the park, the coffee shop, or sit on my front porch without the need for electricity.  I don't need an iron to steam open seams or straight pins that inevitably poke through my fingertips while I'm working.  And there's a rhythm to knitting, even when working a complicated pattern, that no amount of sewing can ever create.
           One of my friends and yoga students told me years ago that I'm a "relaxed Type A" personality.  She said I'm a "doer" and like to get things done, but at a more relaxed pace and rhythm.  I'll take that.  As I get older, I'm learning to let go of needing to master everything that looks appealing and relax into that which creates harmony and a fulfilling sense of accomplishment.  With so much in our lives that we have to do, shouldn't we fill our bonus time with that which makes our souls sing?
            As for the rest of my day?  I'll be reworking the hem of my dress and then bid my sewing machine a fond farewell until the snow flies.  There's still a lot to learn as life goes on and what I'm discovering today is that the next time I see a beautiful piece of fabric, I'll call my friend, Colleen, and ask if she'll make me something in trade for a nice warm pair of hand-knit mittens or socks.  



Saturday, June 15, 2013

Naughty and nice

            When my nephew was eight, the whole family was gathered around a table in a fancy restaurant.  John sat next to me and as we traded stories, he leaned over and grinned.  "Say something funny, Aunt Katie....just make sure it's appropriate."
          Yes, I can be a bit naughty sometimes.
          In one of Chuck Spezzano's books, he defines naughty thus: it brings delight in its fun and outrageousness.  It adds humor and life to the party, refreshing and jump-starting the routine in our lives.  Naughtiness is winsome and playful, dancing around the edge of appropriateness, but rarely going as far as an infraction.
          My mother always said she wished I had a child as ornery as I once was, but this time around it came dressed in a fur coat.  Jhoti came into my life nearly five years ago while I was living in Big Sur.  Adopted as Esalen's garden cat, she soon purred and pounced her way into the hearts of many.           
          As a kitten, Jhoti's life was filled with adventure.  She rarely slept through the night and often woke me by nipping my nose or patting my face.  She scratched my bedspread and hung by her claws on the door screen.  Because it looked like fun, she jumped into the muck-covered pond, climbed the highest tree in the rose garden and daily rolled around in the dirt.  She skipped along behind me as I walked through the herbs and scampered up my back to sit in the hood of my jacket as I snipped rosemary and thyme and oregano.  The guys on the crew would carry her around on their shoulders and she would nibble their ears in thanks. 
          Real life doesn't follow any rules and neither did Jhoti. 
          Then or now.

          We traveled back to Ohio together and since then she has rarely left my side.   When I teach yoga classes, more often than not, she's my assistant, weaving her way through my students' legs and plopping down on an inviting mat.  She loves sticky notes, so I'll wad one up and toss it to her as we begin practicing.  Delighted to be the center of attention, Jhoti will play fetch and carry with some lucky person until she tires and lays down to watch the rest of the "yoga show." 
          Sometimes Jhoti's attention seeking and naughtiness distracts me, but one of my students reminds me that part of her yoga experience involves playtime with my middle child.  Just this morning, there were only two students, so I unrolled an extra mat in the hopes that Jhoti would occupy it and leave Melanie and Doris' alone.  True to form, Ms. Naughty sat next to the mat as if to say, "Have we met?  I'll get on that mat when I want to."
          I passed a dish of angel cards to the ladies and they each chose a word on which to focus as we practiced.  Jhoti looked up at me with curiosity, so I randomly chose a card for her as well:  "Birth."
          "You best not have any kittens," I laughed.  "But you're spayed, so no worries there."
          As I went back to my own mat, I mixed up the cards and dipped my hand into the dish.  Naturally, I pulled the identical "Birth" card from the pile. 
          "You better not have any kittens," Doris chided playfully.
          "No worries there, either," I replied. "Jhoti and I will have new beginnings elsewhere."
          Jhoti reminds me that playtime is essential and if I don't stop to drop on the floor and roll around with her, the fires of defiance will soon ignite.   She warns me, though.  First it's a meow, then a body slam, then she'll jump onto the book, the manuscript, or the knitting pattern I'm reading and sit her big bum down until I pay attention.  (All you cat people can relate, right?)  Still, Jhoti has such a big personality and is so much fun, I don't mind a little naughtiness now and then. 
          She knows her limits....and mine.
          Earlier this week I was sleeping in and Jhoti wanted her breakfast.  The aforementioned activities quashed, she enlisted the help of her little brother, Forest, who is too sweet to do anything more than gently lick my face.  True to form, Ms. Naughty proceeded to show Forest how it's done and jumped into my gorgeous new fichus tree, knocking it to the ground and dumping nearly all the dirt.
          That did it.
          I started my day earlier than I had wanted, but Jhoti showed instant remorse by watching my every move as I cleaned up her mess....and she has been an angel ever since, curling up with me while I read, sitting by the window and watching me garden, waiting for me by the side door whenever I come home from running errands.
          I always say to my little friends in yoga class, "A little naughty is all-righty with Katie."  Yes, Jhoti can be mischievous, but she's also very nice to have around. 

Ms. Naughty a.k.a. Jhoti

Naughty Katie, age 4


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Batgirl mobile

            My first car was a used powder blue Chevy Malibu, the second, a grey Citation.  This was followed by two more grey cars, then a malachite green Honda which was eventually traded in for a used purple Pontiac I called "the eggplant express."  I wrote about the Pontiac's demise in "Humble Me" as it breathed its last by being t-boned by an SUV twice its size and the grace that allowed me to lease a blue Honda CRV.
            But now I drive a black car. 
            In the six months I've been tooling around Toledo and Ann Arbor, I've been in more near miss accidents than ever.  My insurance company need not worry -- I obey the speed limits and traffic laws.  It's that I realize a black car is not as readily seen by other drivers, particularly a compact one like mine.  I have to be more alert and aware when maneuvering the uneasy streets of my hometown.  For as one of my clients recently said, "We have two seasons here in Toledo:  winter and construction."  Still, there's a lot to be said for driving a black vehicle, and I imagine when my lease is up, I'll choose another one. 
            Yes, I have to wash it more frequently as it shows every speck of dust and rain residue, but that simple act is satisfying.  As I wipe down the sidewalls and polish the windows, it becomes a moving meditation and the peaceful space I leave behind makes me more calm when on the road.  I find great satisfaction in stepping into a clean car on my way to teach a yoga class or meet with friends.  (Did I mention that I'm a Virgo?) 
            To me, black is soothing.  I prefer to sleep in pitch darkness and complete silence.  My college roommate once commented that our dorm room was like a tomb every time I went to bed.  I prefer the idea of a womb, but that's just me.  The only drawback is that my car is so comfortable (thank you, heavenly shock absorbers), it's like traveling around in my living room and I often need to chew peppermint gum to stay alert.  But that's all good, especially when driving my little friends to and from soccer practice. 
            Although I'm a teacher, when I'm not working, I prefer to be in the background, moving through life in my own way, at my own time.  I know how to make myself invisible and clandestinely move with stealth.  When in over-stimulating environments, I zip up my energy and disappear, figuratively or literally.  Perhaps that's why I chose a black car this time around.  It's more in tune with who I am as I continue this expedition of driving into the mystery of where my life is leading.   All I ask is that you keep an eye out for my little black car and all the others on the road as you get to where you're going.   May we all arrive safely. 
           And just in case...I'll be the one with her fog lights glowing.



Monday, June 10, 2013

What comes around

            It seems that ever since I started writing Open Road, my life has taken spontaneous and interconnected twists and turns.  Events sync up; people are in the right place at the exact right moment; traffic lights are usually green and I have been creatively inspired beyond belief.  It's not as if everything I touch turns to gold -- it's that I'm finally able to see the golden moments that have been waiting for me.
            There's a new age belief that to be in the flow of life, we need to disconnect from needing to control the outcome.  It's not wise to try and push the river.  Still, there's something to be said about getting in the canoe, paddling on and enjoying the ride.
            Take last Saturday for instance.
            Before my morning yoga class, I was outside watering the garden when my neighbor stopped by.  "Our garage sale's open," Rick said. 
            "Have any bookshelves?" I asked, turning off the hose.
            We walked over to his house and although I didn't find a shelf that I needed for my closet, I did find a nice one to house my garden gear.  I'd just finished painting my guest room and wanted a couple of pictures to hang on the walls.  As I flipped through a box of prints that Karole, Rick's wife, had kept from her framing business, I was stunned to see a cross-stitch sampler I had made when I was sixteen along with a lovely Charles Wysocki print that had once hung in my dining room.
            "Those are left over from all the stuff you gave me to sell when you moved to California," Karole smiled.  "Want them back?"
            "YES!" I exclaimed.  "This sampler was one of the things I regret getting rid of and I totally forgot about the print!"
            "They're yours," Karole said. 
            I put them in a box along with some other trinkets and then needed to head home.  "Can I leave these here and pay later?" I asked.
            Karole nodded.  "Sure...just set them aside and I'll see you after your yoga class."
            A couple of hours later, I returned with one of my students.  As Barb and I walked by the side fence, I saw a jean jacket hanging on one of the posts.  I instantly recognized it.  It too had been mine, pre Big Sur, and I'd been trying to find one just like it at our local thrift store for years.  "Can I try this on?" I asked Karole.
            "It's yours," she smiled.  "Why not?"
            As I slipped it over my shoulders, I blurted out, "Well, now I'm really home."
            "I don't usually put out clothes, but thought I'd try a few coats," Karole said.  "You know how it is...that was meant to be."
            For five years, the pictures and the jacket had made annual appearances at Rick and Karole's garage sale, but for some reason, they were passed over so they could be magically passed back to me.

            It's funny the things I've remembered since bringing them home again.  As I hung the sampler, I remembered my family's road trip to South Carolina and how I'd meticulously passed the hours stitching the heart and snowman and pitcher of flowers.  Our dog, Cinder, sat on my feet and kept them warm as my father always blasted the air conditioning in the car.  When I finished the sampler, my mother carefully washed and framed it herself and it hung in my bedroom, then my first and second apartments and finally, in this house for more than fifteen years.  
            The Wysocki print was purchased during a time when I was pining after my first love, lost in a sea of denial, always hoping he'd return to me so our lives could begin again.  It's no wonder I was draw to paintings of women on widow's watches, or "Supper Call" in which a woman faces the sea and blows a bugle to signal her husband to come home.  When I look at that painting now, hanging in the heart of my guest room, all I see are the warm hues and autumnal favorite.  Gone are the pangs of anguish, the longing for something that was not meant to be.  Had I gotten what I wanted, I imagine it would have been me boarding a ship to sail the seas.
            The jean jacket now hangs in my closet awaiting cooler weather.  Sandwiched between a plethora of colorful scarves, tapestry embellished skirts and funky blazers, the jacket is a reminder of who I used to be and also who I still am.  Long gone are the jumpers and turtlenecks of my teaching days, and the years I wore only dark, solid colors so I would fade into the woodwork.   Living in California and perusing the Free Box at Esalen allowed me to experiment with clothing styles in ways I never would have dared before.  Since discovering Saver's Thrift Store, I can afford a colorful and rich wardrobe all the while living within my means.  The jean jacket is a reminder that, no matter how bright and multi-hued an outfit might be, I still like to anchor it with something simple.  And that's me -- complicated and simple, no matter how you slice it.

            I find it a blessing and comfort that karma works in mysterious ways.  What goes around, comes around, and never in the ways we expect.  I didn't go looking for those pictures or jacket; didn't even know they were safely harbored across the street, waiting for my return.  But they were and I embraced them, joyful to revisit parts of my history that I can metaphorically reframe and welcome into the present....and do so with ease.
            Forrest Gump's Mama had it right:  life is like a box of chocolates and we never know what we're going to get.  Sometimes it's nutty or filled with stuff we don't like. But in the end, it's all sweet to me.

"Supper Call" by Charles Wysocki

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bohemian heartland

            I was born in Ohio, the home of eight presidents, Neil Armstrong and Thomas Edison.  Toledo, my hometown, is the birthplace of Jamie Farr, Gloria Steinem and a famous actress, also named Katie.  We grow them eclectic here in the heartland. 
            The first half of my life followed the natural order of a young girl born in the Midwest.  On the outside at least, I did what was expected of me.  I graduated from high school, earned a college degree and immediately started teaching.  However, by my thirtieth birthday, I felt a longing for something more wild and free.  Those of us born in 1966, the year of the Fire Horse in Chinese astrology, long for unique adventure and creative stimulation, things not often found at the Mud Hen's Stadium or Tony Packo's Cafe. 
            On a cool November evening in 1996, I went to my first yoga class and discovered a pathway to what I had been truly seeking.  All the outer work (teaching, volunteering and talk therapy) could not compare to the inner work on which I was about to embark.  Yoga opened the door to an inner peace I would never find in my job or relationships or anything else.  It was through tapping into my inner Bohemian, a place which lay silent until I was ready to awaken her, that I was able to become more fully whole and alive.
            Changes were soon afoot.  I donated all of my denim jumpers and turtlenecks; I traded in my Disney character clothing for flowing batiks and scarves.  The gardens surrounding my home went from simple to multi-layered with texture, color and variety galore.  Through learning I possessed many palates from which to choose, I soon left the classroom and became a yoga instructor myself.  For over a decade, it has been a joy to invite others to discover their own unique latent qualities and spark an interest in something engaging and encouraging. 
            And yet, I still struggle to make peace with both sides of my life.  Can those parts of me that thrive in constancy be congruent with those that live spontaneously and constantly want to stretch my edge?  Can my "writer self" live with the part of me that wants financial stability and success?
            Can I truly have it both ways?
            I'm living proof that an unconventional life can also be grounding and fruitful, but don't ask me how I do it.  I couldn't really tell you, other than to say that for the past sixteen years, I've striven to follow my heart and not always my head.  I've held on to my hopes when others would have long gone back to what was familiar and safe.  I've learned how to live with much less and feel that much richer in the process.  Instant gratification has a price, and for me it's often a high one. 

            When I moved into my first apartment, my parents and I picked out a bedroom suit in a huge warehouse near Troy, Ohio.  A dark cherry four poster bed and a heavy chest of drawers moved with me from Troy to Maumee and finally to the home in which I'm now living.  When I left teaching and was struggling to build my yoga business, I was blessed with a lot of time, but not a lot of money.  I sold some of my furniture to pay the utilities and the mortgage, but was never without the comfort of a place to lay my head at night. 
            Along the way, a dear friend donated a lovely living room set of furniture and another one helped me move it to my place.  When I moved to California, it too was sold along with most of my belongings so that I had enough money to make the trip west and start over.  Of course, that never materialized and when I moved back to Toledo, all that was left here was the mattress set, a few tables and an antique secretary.  Over the past five years, I've slowly been able to create a home that reflects my artistic side while keeping things simple and peaceful.   And just this week I finally replaced the twenty-five year old mattress with a brand new one.  It's a delightful experience to sleep on something that has nothing to do with my past; that doesn't contain the energy of all the days gone by which ended with my slumber there.  
           For someone who's perfectly content with thrift shopping and restoring used furniture, I'm surprised by how much I find great satisfaction in my new bedroom.  Still, I imagine that's the Midwesterner in me.  After all, she did let my Bohemian side choose the comforter and headboard.  

My trio of black cats enjoying the comforts of a new bed.