Mani-Pedi

joyeux noel

The stress and pain of the last few days since last Wednesday’s unpleasantness are still with me. I can be patient; I can wait for the hurt to pass. And I usually find myself rather rueful at just how much I take things to heart. If anything, I am more sensitive as I age – even if I behave better than I used to. I have more self-discipline, I don’t say things I regret later. I behave appropriately in the moment. I am grateful for this.

And – I suffer. I suffer even when it seems everyone else is fine. I suffer even if I’m doing the right thing, and putting one foot in front of the other. This is just how it is. I pray. I meditate. I try to look deeply.

But – I am human.

Friday: I blow the last of our grocery money on a spa date with the kids. My son is ecstatic – he can’t believe the lushness of the services offered. My daughter – well, sometimes it seems she is more than two years older than her brother.

Mani-Pedi
Today the cold and damp weather did not deter us; Phoenix’s beau has joined us for the day and the two of them huddle together in comfortable companionship in the back of my little BMW as we motor through town. Christmas shopping – on a credit card – finding the last little bits and bobs for our gifts this year. The children are happy and they are loud; they are now near adult-sized so after a bit, Ralph and I send them away in the shop so he and I can have some peace.

Downstairs and the wrapping paper stacks, and gifts, and tags – Christmas cards to send out, and so many homemade concoctions simmering on the stove. Shea butter and goats’ milk soaps, and a syrup made with citrus zest, spices, fruit. Candies cooked up on the stove; I show my daughter how I do it, without quite instructing her or making her learn. No, just preparing the ground (as I’ve always done with her!), so that one day if she ever wants to do the same, the rhythm will be in her blood, and her fingertips will have confidence, if not practice.

My husband and son take the dog out for his last walk of the day. A hot shower, pajamas. Maybe one last sliver of sharp cheese, and crackers. It is gorgeous to have days off, now that I work again. Several in a row. Gift-wrapping and tidying the house, and soon the celebration with the family.

thus he does it of a winter night

When I was a young girl – I couldn’t have been older than eight, as we still lived in our bus – I received a pair of Smurf pajamas for a Christmas gift. I loved them – unequivocally. I don’t remember caring much about the Smurfs one way or another, as we didn’t have television and I rarely saw the program. No, what I loved were the colors, and the design: a graphic-printed white torso, cerulean blue leggings and sleeves, and crimson cuffs at wrist and ankle. Today I know the material was probably that horrible polyester that cheap kids’ sleepwear is made of. But then? They were my favorite garment. We were staying at some sort of RV park or camping site when we opened gifts, and Christmas morning I remember petitioning my parents to let me wear the pajamas throughout the day. They, being relatively loving hippie ilk, let me be. There’s a picture somewhere of me standing in front of a camper, hip cocked. Pleased as punch!

I remembered these pajamas quite suddenly tonight, as I stitch up the cuffs for a pair for my son. The pajamas I’m making tonight will be homemade, not storebought; the fabric, an expensive cotton custom print in one of his most dear video game universes. Most of the gifts we’ve slated for the holiday have been homemade – put into the works months ago, in some cases. We are making food delectables from scratch, and I am designing (and hiding!) something special for each child, and my husband. Ralph and I once again put together a special Christmas card; the cards and the selected deep teal envelopes sit downstairs at our crafting bench. Tonight, my husband and I will sit together by our fireside and wind balls of yarn to make – but, well, you never know who might read here.

Remembering my modest childhood, and the relative comforts we have today, I am reminded to slow down for the holidays. There are so many loved ones to thank, to gift, to shower with affection and recognition. It can be very tempting to try to rush through it all – to hop online and search for sales, or run to the mall in desperation. But instead, I refer back to my lists. I try to be cautious. I put aside tonight’s sewing – I’m feeling tired, and my eyes are fatigued from working so intensely at home and in my job. I take an early shower, and a late dinner, with my family – who are more dear to me than life itself.

It’s a time for introspection, and gratitude. A time not to let the house be cluttered but rather to keep it ordered and clean. A time to cherish the season, because we never know if we shall get another.

amanita bisporigera

In the living room I hear my mother turn down the bread my husband offers; Nels asks if she’s on a diet. No, she says. Well, kinda. Her tummy – she tells my son – her tummy is real sick.

From the next room I can feel his demeanor change. He asks, “Have you been eating mushrooms?” He has that alert tone I recognize since he was about three. Like, The Cobweb. Like “Kibbleland”. He’s ten years old and so bright, but he’s still my baby. 

Because I know what he means about the mushrooms. Sure enough, Nels now tells his grandmother: “There is this one kind of mushroom, if you eat it you feel okay at first. But then you get sick and die. And there’s no antidote.”

“Oh!” my mom says, taken aback. A bit impressed, really.

I’ve been so tired lately it’s like something’s wrong. Maybe more rest? Maybe more walks? I think of red meat, I think of fresh fruit. I think of Cher in the film Moonstruck, fixing a steak: “You’ll eat it bloody to feed your blood.”

I spent our Christmas money – I spent it on food for the family, and I “spent” it in the form of a loan to a friend who had to move. I don’t regret either, although sometimes I think I am not practical. I’d offered a loan back in the summer when she was imminently homeless and I had a little bit of savings.

But since the money is gone, I am oddly at peace. Mostly. Some moments, my mind chews on things. The seals in my car are gone and it makes the car wet, cold, and truth be told a bit unsafe to drive. My daughter needs cloth menstrual pads and new bras. There is something about puberty, it’s like leaving home with your baby and finding you are without coat or shoes, it doesn’t feel decent not to immediately provide – and provide as best as one can.

I need to fix my cracked tooth (going on two years – ha!). My husband needs jeans, and I’d like to get him a new wool coat (the green one he has, I bought it for him before we had children together). These little things, it’s my job for them to swim in my awareness, swim away as I rise for the day, wash my dishes, take the dog for a walk. Feel a profound gratitude for all the good things we have, not least of which are these children. They are my heart, they are anything that was ever good about me.

My children, I know, will have a wonderful Christmas. I sometimes get sentimental like most parents: wish I could be lavish and ridiculous and buy them something incredible. It’s okay to think on this a bit, because again the thought floats off and I’m left in the sunshine, in the cold, walking along the bay – I’m left at peace.

And I think to myself how fortunate I am we are satisfied with the life we have. Enough ingratitude, enough envy – and the fattest bank account won’t do the trick. Like Nels’ beloved poisonous mushroom, there is no antidote.

stitch by stitch, inch by inch

Tonight feels very special. The day was a quiet, reflective one – populated here and there by debilitating nausea while my kidneys work stuff out.

My work goes well. I am constructing, slowly but steadily, a tailored wool blazer. The weather outside is crisp, sunny – and has that wild edge, the verge of a storm. In the afternoon I head out to the kids’ school and help my son’s class make a fall craft – grating crayons, pressing the colors into wax paper, cutting out fall leaves. It’s a simple project but the children take to peeling and grating crayons with alacrity – and every one of them enjoys sprinkling the flecks on translucent paper and watching the resultant blooms under my old steam iron.

Tomorrow the children and Ralph don’t attend school or job – so tonight, while they are off at a meeting, I clear up my sewing work, sweep the floor, set some essential oils out in the diffuser, light a new candle for my shrine, put away laundry, and lower the lights. I am feeling nauseated and dizzy, but I pace myself so I can get the house ready. The cats pad in and out of living space – peeking into the master bedroom where Ralph’s floor-refinishing equipment provides new terrain.

Today I only talked to a couple people outside my family, and the classroom of children. This felt nice and reflective. A little different, too, than most my days!

Ralph and the children return. He brings bowls of vegetables out the fridge, kneads masa. Tex Mex puffy tacos with Chile Con Queso, rice, fresh tomatoes. I am secretly working on a Christmas present for him which I have to carefully hide so he won’t discover it. The thing is, I could trust my kids to never ever tell.

They don’t grass up.

Phoenix Fire Hogaboom, Halloween 2014

a bride to amazement! or, how Halloween is finally, finally, mercifully sweet Jeebus, behind me

If you have any questions as to how I made something, or where I found something – ask away! Remember anything you ask benefits those who come searching for tutorials.

Phoenix Fire Hogaboom, Halloween 2014

Last year I believe I created about a dozen pieces for people not related to me – and my children didn’t mind the modest assemblies they received as a result. This year I staved off favors and clients, sewing about six pieces. I wanted to give the kids exactly what they wanted, and to go all out.

So, that happened.

And without further ado:

10 Things I Learned This Halloween Sewing Season

(individual notes on costumes in the Flickr tagset)

Nels, AKA A Dragon

 

1. Sequin fabrics. Unbelievably beautiful, and wonderful to work with. After you’ve spent countless hours painstakingly removing, one sequin at a time, every sequin in your seam allowances. *whimper*

2. Easy “scales” makeup for mermaids, or reptilian what-nots – place a bit of fishnet or tulle over the skin to be made up, and carefully blot a little bit. Nels’ little scales (above) took about thirty seconds and I really adored them.

The Happy Couple

2. You can dye a synthetic wig with off-the-shelf hair dye. Phoenix’s friend Allison (above left) is sporting a thrift store wig that her mama dyed. It turned out fabulous! Phoenix’s wig was purchased as-is from Arda Wigs – and then augmented with a little black hairspray. Colored hairspray, in general, needs to be purchased in large quantities to make a serious dent on hair color.

3. For the bride: mixing dead colors: grey, ivory, pale green and pale grey-lavender – was a total blast! I look forward to making another layered, many-color piece again!

The Happy Couple

4. Tearing and tying one hundred billion strips to the waistline of the wedding gown: worth it. Looks great! I tore along the grain of the fabric which drastically reduces thread coming loose when you launder the costume – which, believe it or not, is machine-washable!

5. Benefits of a dead/corpse/zombie/apocalyptic etc. costume: no need to wash, set and style a wig. Just throw it on!

Nels, AKA A Dragon

6. My costumes are adored not only for their looks but for their wearability. I line and underline them which is why they last through many children. Nels wore his to school and spent our cemetery photoshoot mushroom hunting (there were a billion kinds of mushrooms out!). A garment fully-lined in satin feels wonderful to wear. And of course – I included pockets because that seems like such a lovely and humane feature to give children.

7. Dragon wings: two half-circles of crumpled taffeta, and two of regular taffeta. Each pair sewn right-sides together, then turned right-side out and topstitched. Attached from sleeve hem to hip in one straight line. Simple, sweet, and comfortable to wear.

Dead Bride Costume, Close-Up

8. Bodysuit from mesh fabric, so one can eschew body makeup for that grey corpse-like look: perfect. And surprisingly quick to make. Spandex World for the mesh – using their sample swatch service for the color.

Dead Bride Costume, Close-Up

9. Newspaper roses, spraypainted very carefully: yes. They look as pretty as I thought they might. They are actually rather time-consuming, so be warned.

To Have & To Hold. Plus, A Dragon

10. Crafting as a family affair is wonderful. The clients pictured above all helped with their costumes – and my children did their part doing extra chores so I could work on their pieces. And they thanked me about a hundred times. It’s nice to satisfy!

Happy Halloween!

 

Fall Projects

that will probably become clear later, like the French Revolution

Fall Projects

The summer weather turned so fast I’m still reeling. We are amidst autumn traditions now: baking pumpkin bread, knitting, sewing up wool garments. I’m keeping busy in Halloween sewing (ONE more day. Well, one-and-a-half), rehearsals for Jesus Christ Superstar (I got my apostle name today! #w00t), and of course – raising my kids, caring for the home and five pets, and putting the time into my Recovery life. Kidney stones got the better of me a few days ago for a couple days but I hung in there. I’m still watching and reviewing vampire films like a menace. What can I say? Life carries on.

JCS, Keeping WarmKeeping warm in a chilly theatre.
Sequin Removal

This was my life before I knew anything different than the removal of sequins. Don’t worry, I got a lot faster at taking them out. I have removed one hundred billion sequins. The results are going to be amazing, but mostly the results are going to mean I am no longer cutting sequins, which is something I keep thinking I’m doing, because it’s the only thing I’ve been doing, ab aeterno.

Punkin

A little punkin’ & a big punkin’. Which is which?

My little ones had their school counseling sessions today with their father. I couldn’t be more proud of them. They are performing well, and better than that, they love school. I still miss them terribly during the day but the satisfaction I get knowing they are where they want to be (for now) is worth my occasional restlessness.

Nights I find myself having trouble falling asleep. But I have a warm bed, and loved ones, and (for now) some health. Life is very special. It is a miracle!

near & far & a pilgrimage home

Shrinenote origami giraffe my son made me last night

Christmas: baking sewing knitting gluing designing meetings cleaning washing cooking phone-calls cookies candies emails

Today my son hired his first employee: our friend J., employed as Nels’ “nanny” on the weekends. He has this whole plan to shoe-shine on Fridays so he can pay her. It is this whole weird area because while he enjoys the aspect of the nanny getting to boss him, technically she is his, and not his parents’, employee.

My arms ache. My head hurts. My feet have been restless. I have this inertia, I find it almost impossible to rest. I keep thinking, as soon as I finish the lining in this coat or some such thing.

Only one more gift to mail out; and then counting up all the change we saved over the year and deploying it to someone, maybe the Mission, maybe someone on the street. Sweet potatoes through the food mill; steaming hot tea & freshly baked scones. My son’s flushed cheeks coming in from a walk with the dog. My daughter’s hair falling into her pretty face as she leans over a book. My husbands hands on my body. Hot milk with honey.

Two candle flames, lit for friends who suffer. My heart along with them.

Faint music, the whirr of the heat. Keeping us warm, keeping us safe.

some things never seem to fucking work

Christmas is over, and people ask me how my holiday went. The truth is, I am tired. Christmas was a lot of work for this single income family: two children, a fair number of loved ones, five animals, visiting friends and family, the household bills and fun stuff like that.

Lately my thoughts adhere to taking something I’ve heard called a “staycation”, in that I might get to stay home and enjoy time by myself while the other members of my family absented themselves. As it is, I get very little alone time in my life. While I am not complaining about this precisely, I recognize a lack of balance. I am mindful that whenever possible I should make some allowance to rest and have a period of little responsibility to anyone but my own self.

In addition, I have my work in Recovery, which I am starting to realize can take a toll on me in a way that is hard to explain. One key aspect: I have not allowed myself to write as fully about this as I would have liked and like we would have benefited me. I don’t picture that changing any time soon.

When I got started in this field a little while back, helping other alcoholics and addicts, I refrained from writing a great deal of detail on the work for several reasons. Foremost and final concerning this post at least, I reflected that even if I was very careful to not use names, or details that would reveal the identity or circumstances of any individual I was working with, it felt exploitive to with regularity write in all frankness the experiences I was being exposed to. When I mentioned this difficulty to my friends who know how much I like to write, some of them suggested I focus exclusively on my experiences, therefore maintaining a scrupulous set of ethics.

I have not yet found a way to do this that is not problematic according to my own sense of right and wrong.

I’ve spent hundreds of days in journalistic silence when what I wanted most was to communicate to the world what I was experiencing.

Believe me, if it had been at all possible for me to do as I was advised, this writing space would have been filled to the brim with what I consider today the absolute cornerstone spiritual experiences of my life. However, I have known for some time it is at least theoretically possible anyone, and I mean anyone, could happen upon the words herein. As much as I want to communicate what has become some of the most important work in my life, I cannot yet bring myself to risk someone might read here and have even a glimmer of doubt, the faintest inkling, that I might be exploiting their most personal and private struggles here for some kind of egoic gain. I must continue to write in a general way, then, even though it often seen those writings do not resonate with my readers, nor do they engender the kind of intimate narrative that my previous years of blogging has provided me, personally.

In a general way, then, I will share a bit.

Perhaps it would be different for other people, but I am finding that I cannot do this work without relying daily on regular prayer, meditation, and spiritual study. Last night I spoke with someone close to me as they described their spiritual experiences, and their relationship with God. To me what they were describing were incidents episodic, infrequent, infused with emotion or sentimentality, and discrete. Weather in a chapel or on a river bank, these experiences sound familiar: a human being is suddenly overcome with powerful, usually positive emotions. They sense there is an order to the world, or goodness to the universe, or even sometimes a Grand Plan. These experiences seem to be emotional yet powerful and they sound genuine. I am familiar with these experiences and have had a few of them in my life.

However, I am not strong enough, patient enough, intelligent enough, gentle enough, or wise enough to rely on these kinds of now-and-then experiences to get me through the difficulties I face on a daily basis. My budding spirituality has been built almost entirely on Action. Every day, I take a series of actions that I have come to believe are necessary to sustain my faith, my sobriety, my usefulness to and my quality of life. If I were to rely on positive feelings, or a positive thought-life – well, to put it frankly, I would be a dead man. What may indeed work for others does not work for me.

I have almost nothing to offer. I have my faith practice and today I can give this body of work the macho head nod of acknowledgement because honestly, it’s not too bad. My primary asset is a willingness to “suit up and show up”, as I have heard it said. Each day I take a series of actions that I believe increases my use to others, benefits the rest of the world, and keeps me from going crazy and/or drinking; a series of actions that keep me from being swallowed by despair or impotent rage or crushing anxiety – since, frankly, I apparently never learned how to take a flight into Apathy, another common defense I see in others. Most of these actions I mention are not ones I necessarily feel all groovy doing, and none of them bring the sorts of reward that people are often running after – that is, fame, money, sex, power, or material security. My willingness and my action, therefore, is a little special, and it keeps me a little sane. For I am NOT especially immune to the drives that cause us to run after the various intoxicants I describe here.

I am willing to learn more, and to seek more teachers. I am willing to explore further. I have almost nothing else to offer. I do not have the answers to why human beings have the capacity for, and apparent will to, suffer so intensely. I bring up suffering because although I have known of suffering my whole life, never has it been more obvious, more direly manifest, more destructive, more myriad in form and function  as I have witnessed since coming into Recovery (and not just in the alcoholics and addicts I work with!). My work daily brings me stark confrontation with suffering and I am consciously aware of this confrontation. In contrast, it seems to me that many people trying to ignore suffering – unless it is their own, in which case they make this the center of their Being. Many people try to avoid suffering at any cost, and many people, when confronted with the suffering of others, respond with the strategy – and it isn’t much of a strategy – “better you than me”. Very few people I know would own up to having that worldview, but I think it is very common indeed.

“Better you than me”  was my reflexive response to others’ suffering for quite some time. I am still healing from a lifetime habit that was probably formed when I was very young and could not handle some of the realities of my life. I am still healing from the habit energy of that lifestyle.

Well I remain employed in my practices, trying as best I can to meet my responsibilities to myself, my family and friends, and the world at large, I am building my own personhood. In my case, my principles, my logic and intelligence, my opinions, my emotions and sentiment, we’re not enough to build this personhood. I had to rely on faith practices – that is, taking actions in hopes of a kingdom not seen, almost impossible to describe, and absolutely impossible to “prove” to others. As the product of a skeptical, dysfunctional upbringing, my clumsy-ass clay sculpture of a spiritual life is still, you know, not too shabby. I’m good with it.