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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Quilt for Scout

This chick's got game.  She knows the score.  She knows what she wants and she knows how to get it.  She's no damsel in distress.  She's my 3 year old niece, Scout.

Her full name is Scarlet Reagan, which is a gorgeous name, but one look at her big, daring blue eyes and that head of sassy, reddish brown curls and you know the name Scout fits her to a tee.  Scout is the best gal pal every man, woman and child is going to want to have in their lives.  She's bold.  She fun.  She's mad about the color pink.  She likes sparkly things.  She wears sunglasses all the time to keep a cool profile. And she's always up for a good caper.

Scout loves books and cuddling, and can't get enough of either one.   Her favorite animal is a kitten and when she pretends to be one, her cute little meowing is irresistible.   When asked what she wanted for Christmas a year ago, she didn't hesitate a moment with the words "pink helicopter."   And when she opened it up, the excited shout of glee upon seeing that hot pink chopper reverberated through several states.  I don't know any other little girl who would want a pink helicopter, but that's Scout.

She and her brother are two peas in a pod.  They do everything together and have a sibling relationship that most adults would be envious of.  They love each other with abandon, and they always have each other's back.   When one of them is up to something, the other one always on the look out.  There's no doubt these two have a connection that started in heaven.

When my sis-in-law told us there was another little one on the way so soon after her and my brother's first child, Dallas, I was both overjoyed and slightly protective of my perfect little nephew.   He deserved a playmate--someone to go trick-or-treating with and build couch cushion forts with--but at the same time, I thought... how dare they?  It reminds me of favorite family tale, a scene that took place years ago:  When my Dzia Dzia (my grandfather) was told that my mom was pregnant for the second time, he scooped up my eldest brother, who was only ten months old, and held him tightly in his arms as if my parents had just declared their intention to sell him on the black market.   But with Scout, just as it happened years ago, when baby number two came along, the entire family fell completely in love.

When I heard it was a girl on the way, I rummaged through mental images of cutsie pink quilts and decided any child of my brother's needs something different from the normal baby girl quilt.  I designed something elegant and quaint.  Pink columns surrounded by soft green blocks with a cream-colored border was perfect for Scout.   And a thin, bold line of dark brown was the key piece to pull it all together.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Empowerment Tree and Being Creative

When I was a child, I brought home every piece of art I made and presented it to my parents.  My mom and dad would "ooh" and "aw" over my masterpiece and put it in a place of honor where it could be appreciated.  This was enough to make my young artistic self vastly proud.   Grown-up artists, I find, are not so lucky.   Many singers, poets, painters and sculptors create wildly beautiful things, but Mom's dresser or Dad's desk just won't cut it anymore.  Art shows, open mic nights, poetry readings, and blogs are proof that to simply create is not enough.  We want to put our creations in the world.  We crave the opportunity to move at least one person with the creative contents of our hearts.  Recently, I made a piece of art for the sole purpose of putting it out into the world, a quilt which is currently looking for an owner.

Although I'd never in a million years want my doodles in an art show or think I could create a sculpture worthy of looking at, I consider myself an artist, merely because I need to create.  I love to create.  Music is my primary passion, but it is also the most personal and most difficult thing to do.  And so my creativity finds other outlets, including writing, poetry, baking, and design.  Quilts are a favorite medium of mine mainly because the idea of a piece of art that you can wrap around yourself while watching old movies excites me.

Various family members have been the happy recipients of quilts of mine, and until inspiration struck some years ago, I'd never thought of making a quilt to sell.  It was at breakfast at a diner when a friend of mine told me of her plans to participate in the Susan B. Komen 3-day, 60-mile walk.  I thought I had heard her wrong.  Sixty miles???  I couldn't believe it.  (Even now, I have to look up just to make sure.)  I've heard of plenty of walks for causes, but they are usually under 10 miles, most under 5.  Sixty miles was outrageous!  When I got home, I looked it up on the internet and was struck by the empowered women in the pictures taking on sixty miles in 3 days to prove their strength.  I was awed by their determination and devotion, not to mention their overwhelming amounts of pink!

A few days later, an idea for a quilt came to me, and like any artist, I had to bring to life the idea that kept knocking around my mind.  The design I came up with was a huge tree with pink leaves, symbolizing the strength and beauty of the female spirit, a spirit that no disease could ever truly conquer as made evident by the inspiring walkers of the Susan B. Komen 3-Day.  I had never made a quilt before without knowing the recipient.  And so, I took a chance, and every step along the way--designing the quilt on graph paper, collecting fabrics, cutting and piecing--I knew deep down that this quilt must have an owner.  Somewhere, someone was meant to be the owner of the pink tree.

I can't possibly imagine what it must be like for a painter to have a room full of gorgeous paintings waiting desperately for an art show, but in a small way, I've made something and I'm sending it out into the universe.  I'm hoping that it will be seen and appreciated, and maybe, just maybe, my quilt will find its owner.  And so, here it is, I call it "Empowerment Tree:"

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Visitor and a Wrong Turn - Part 3

Continued from Parts 1 & 2.

Even though Poetry was kind of enough to give me these two gifts, I was desperately in need of something more.  I wanted to make sense of the accident, find peace after the pain.   Although each bitter memory from the accident was burned into my brain, I knew this couldn't be all I gained from the experience.  I knew there had to be more.
I know Poetry well enough to know I couldn't force her to visit.   But I also knew she couldn't resist the opportunity to put her skills to work again on such a ripe topic.   And so I waited.   With a twinkle in my eye, I waited, knowing she would be back.  And come again, she did.

She slipped in as if she had never left.  She eyed me, and then, she left her gift in my mind and left.

Thank you, Poetry, for your visits.  Thank you for every tear you helped wipe away, every confused thought you set straight, and every deep question you put a voice to.  I am deeply indebted to you, and I'll look for you as I make my way down the path of life.

My Path
I see my life
Like a winding path,
Paved with pains and joys,
Dotted with trees of wonder,
Stippled with shadows of fear.
I cast my gaze behind me
And see the gruesome visions
Of all the terrors
My sensitive soul has faced,
Each scar,
Each stitch,
Each seizure,
Each failure,
Each terrifying blow.
And the accident that flipped my life
Plays continuously,
In garish brilliance,
All around me Like my own Times Square
Of troubled memories.
I say to them, “Oh, fearful spectres,
Though tears may come,
And come they do,
You don’t scare me anymore.
But if you want to join me,
Come and take this journey with me,
For I will not wait for you.”
And so, I collect the pieces of my soul
And turn my eyes ahead
To the shining city
High on a misty hill,
The emerald city of my dreams,
Which so often seems shrouded
In a dense fog of doubt,
My emerald city
Which so often doesn’t quite seem real.
Taking steps forward,
Steps of faith and steps of fear,
Steps of love and steps of loss,
I move towards that city on a hill,
Choosing to believe,
With all that I am,
That the shining city is real,
And it is not so far off as I thought.
It is my emerald city,
Where I know
My wings
Are waiting.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Visitor and a Wrong Turn - Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

Poetry stayed with me awhile longer. We sat alone, just we two, and she listened as I poured my heart out about that fearful accident. She let me tell her of all my worries and my fears, the headaches and the pain, the bad memories it brought up. It's so easy to tell her the absolute truth. She didn't mind if I cried. She didn't mind at all. In fact, she seemed glad to gather all my pain. She pulled at my innermost thoughts, from the very darkest regions of my mind. She probed my psyche like a most adept psychologist and found a collection of disowned thoughts. These, she wove into a bitter tale and gave me yet another gift.

And though Poetry has often given me profound and beautiful gifts, she sometimes gives me something I don't want. But I have learned never to refuse any gift from her. She is easily offended, and I wouldn't want her to stop coming to visit.


Alone in the Darkness

Am I not allowed to enter darkness?
Am I not allowed to feel despair?
Will no one deign to see my pain?
Will no one join me there?

The world in all its sparkle
Has no time for those dark knights
Whose path may cross with terror
And too many terrible sights.

When fear grips your heart,
And loss tears your soul,
Who will link their arm with yours,
And help you pay the toll?

But the social whirlwind of today
Has no time for others’ nightmares
They can’t see my scarred thoughts,
They can’t hear my anguished prayers.

But still I cry and look around,
Through this dark battle that I’m in,
And ask , “Will no one stand with me?
Will no one even know if I should win?

So, the age-old adage is so true,
This fall of mine has shown:
“Laugh and the world laughs with you,
Cry and you cry alone.”

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Visitor And A Wrong Turn

Poetry, to me, is like a visitor who comes and goes as she pleases.  She comes without warning, sometimes to comfort, sometimes to inspire.  She comes at the most inconvenient times, either while I'm at church or trying to sleep or out with friends.  She never comes to break up the boredom of everyday life.  She never comes when I call her or when I have a pen handy.  She's very peculiar that way.

Her gifts can be great and unexpectedly wonderful.   But other times, she leaves only a few small trinkets.  While she visits,  she gives me a tantalizing earful, and always makes me promise to remember everything she said.   Then she leaves, just as swiftly as she came, and I'm left with a promise that I rarely, to her satisfaction, can fulfill.

A few weeks ago, Poetry heard I was in an accident and came to visit.  I was crossing the street and was hit by a car making a left turn.  He must have been distracted.  He didn't see me and hit me full on.  Now I know what being hit by a car feels like, not that I ever really wanted to.  But in case you're wondering....  here's one of the gifts she left with me:



The river of life floats gently, ever onward,
As my feet move across the same old street,
The same old street,
At the same old time,
In the same old way,

Then, suddenly...

shock strikes me like lightening as my brain, for a flash of an instant, comprehends what is about to happen. the oncoming green sedan flips my dreary world upside down. pain bursts through me as if nothing else had ever existed. my face hits the windshield, and through my pounding head, i hear a crack. the pavement greets me with a thunderous blow. my body throbs, and my legs are twisted. i taste something bitter and see blood staining the ground.

the contents of my life and purse are scattered on the street...

And the river takes a turn.


Read Part 2

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies (a.k.a. Superb, Delicious, Easy Chocolate Chip Cookies)

Everyone has the best chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Just try googling it and you'll see thousands of "best" chocolate chip cookie recipes out there.  I, myself, posted a recipe on this blog a while ago which is absolutely fantastic.  The truth is they are all fantastic.  When butter, sugar, brown sugar, and chocolate chips come together, great things happen no matter what recipe you use.  Maybe there is no best recipe.  Maybe they're all equally sublime, but coming from someone who has made lots of chocolate chip cookies, this is the recipe I reach for when I need the best chocolate chip cookies.

When people today are so overwhelmed with choices, getting the "best" of something has become very important.  We want to eat at the best restaurant, get the best deal, and have the best time.  Need to buy a new hairdryer?  You're probably searching the internet for the "best" one and coming across loads of reviews from people who claim to have found the "best."  Everything from cars to toothpaste has to be the best or the best we can afford.  The trouble with the "best" is, where do you go from there?  What if you find a brand of toothpaste that is better than the "best" you used to use?  Suddenly the "best" isn't good enough anymore.  Maybe it's time to ask ourselves what we're really looking for.

The "best" has become an umbrella term that really doesn't have any specificity at all.  Maybe we should let go of the idea of having the "best" of something, and be satisfied with good.  Or look for other qualities that actually mean something.  Why not eat at a gourmet restaurant, have a fun time, or use an efficient hair dyer?  They don't have to be the best.  Maybe we can appreciate something without comparing it to some, either real or imagined, ideal.

Whether these cookies are the "best" or not is up to you.  For me, they are superbly delicious and come out chewy every time.  It is similar to the recipe I used to use, but the amounts are easier to remember, so now I barely have to look at the recipe anymore.  This recipe was actually given to me by my brother who saw a recipe called "Mary's Chocolate Chip Cookies" on the back of a bag of flour and cut it out for me.   I put it in my recipe book and there it waited amongst the many other chocolate chip cookie recipes I've collected before I finally discovered its superior deliciousness.  Not only is this recipe aptly named, I love the comfortable feeling of having a reliable chocolate chip cookie recipe that delivers every time.  Maybe eventually I'll try other chocolate chip recipes or maybe this will be my one and only for the rest of my life--either way, these are darn good cookies and Mary's Chocolate Chip Cookies belong in everyone's recipe book.

Mary's Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour (I used a mixture of whole wheat pastry flour and all-purpose flour.)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 24oz. package chocolate chips (I find this to be way too many, so I use a 12oz. package.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs and vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda and salt.  Stir in flour mixture to the egg/butter/sugar mixture in three additions. Dough will be stiff.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  (I use a cookie scoop for evenly-sized cookies and line the cookie sheet with parchment paper.)  Bake for 10-12 minutes until just set. (The original recipe said to bake 12-15 minutes, but I find that to be too long.)  Leave on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a cookie rack to cool completely.

Mary's notes:  This recipe works equally well baking at 375 degree Fahrenheit for 8-11 minutes.  I've done it both ways and they always come out terrific.  If making 100% whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, you may want to cut back on the flour--start with 3 1/2 cups and add more if necessary.