Saturday, January 24, 2015

Free Rein- One Decision after Another

One of the techniques I used to employ as a family therapist with children, and adults requested it too often times, was to give them free rein in a sand tray.  The size and depth of the box was very specified so that the diorama- like creation in the box was truly scaled to the child’s field of vision. They could make a small world from my large and very odd collections of miniature items sitting ready on nearby shelves and in trays and baskets at hand. 

 Often children who had a hard time talking would begin to relax and as they were drawn to different items and arranged them in the sand I could learn quite a bit before they ventured to explain or share anything verbally. Did they use the tray leaving all the sand as I presented it, raked smooth with a miniature rake and left level all around, or did they dig down to the blue bottom of the box and make a pond or heap the sand in little hills or make one very big mountain?  I never suggested the addition of water to the box, but then I never refused either; it was a good sign that they could ask for what they really wanted or felt they needed and water is a primal element of life and hope.

I would  watch quietly from the other side of the box, not interfering in any way.  When creating in the box began to slow down, if talking had not begun spontaneously, I would ask to be told the story or might only need to say a gentle opening line such as,  “This is the story of…” or   “One day…”  My young charge would usually take up the tale and walk me through the world they had pieced together.  Plastic plants, something I would not use in any other realm, made me happy when they showed up in sand tray worlds, for it usually indicated the child had some connection to nature.  People and animals figures were not all of the same scale and it was always interesting to find out who different figures represented.  

There were times when the trays did not yield any words; eyes averted, little heads shook "no."  I wouldn’t press. I would ask permission, which was always granted, to photograph the tray and not take them apart until the person had departed.  I really had to watch the time when using sand trays.  I didn’t want any subsequent visitors to view another’s tray. So much for resting in between sessions, but in a way it was restful, lining all the horses back up on the animal shelf and digging up the secrets that had been buried in the sand.  Yes, the wet sand was a little messier to deal with, but those were some great worlds that were created when they had water in them.

This week I have been opening the boxes of toys I used for so many years.  They have been stored away while I was down in Carmel seven years. Since returning home I have taken yet another year to contemplate whether I want to, and whether it truly makes sense to have a dedicated therapy office again; I have decided that I will not.  It was interesting to me how like a child looking at my own story I felt as I explored the boxed up toys.  There were my little black rats, plastic flies, beautiful white doves, wedding cake toppers, muscle men, guns, garbage cans, tiny wine bottles, beer cans, horses, swans, flags, balloons on wires, fences, beds, cats, dogs, swings,umbrellas, knives, eggs and those plastic leaves and trees. I found space ships, red wagons, bikes, skateboards and cars as well as tiny money and miniature playing cards, babies and old ceramic figurines. There are even people that I made and baked out of clay to be sure the many colors of flesh and types of bodies we come in were represented. The basket trays had dividers and I  had filled them with mirrors, custom made wooden blocks, logs from my garden pruning and smooth stones from the beach. 



Just a few of the odd odds and ends...
One day a child who hid behind my couch most of his first session made a winding path of pebbles up a mountain he had shaped.  He took pieces of green cloth from the shelf, made a tent, planted a tree next to it and stuck a flag on the mountain’s peak.  He was starting to believe he could feel better about his life, but there still weren’t many people he could trust.  Not a dog or a squirrel or even a bird was up there with him; he was so alone.  But he had made a path and we talked about how he could choose to come back down the mountain when he felt safe. Eventually he chose to bring many more elements into his world and his mountain got more decorated and his valley had some new doings too.

Well, I have decided to give myself free rein. It's time for a new field of vision.  I have some ideas and like some of the young children I watched grow, I think I'll just set  down a few stepping stones one after the other … yes.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

At the Gate of the New Year

Greetings as we await the New Year.
Calendars set off time like fences define space…














and New Year’s Eve sits on the line a bit like a gate. 



I find gates fascinating in their ability to invite or repel.




A friend reflecting on how "as we enter a New Year we do not know what lies ahead," posted a few lines from a poem. Of course we don’t know what's ahead, we never really do, and that can strike one alternately as both exciting and at times repellent. 





And as I experience that it is often easy for me to overlook the obvious, I found myself grateful for her flatly stating that we do not know what lies ahead....and for the lines of poetry she shared; a poem, she says, she likes to read each new year.



At the Gate of the Year
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.
'And he replied,'Go into the darkness and put your hand
into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'
 by Minnie Louise Haskins (1908) *


At the gate of this new year, I wish much for others and 

for myself … may it be a gentle year, healthy, productive, 

joyous and full of step by step 

clarity.

  Happy New Year to You



*This is actually quite a famous poem and if you would like to know more about it and the poet who lived from 1875 to 1957 and had a very varied and interesting career,  there is an excellent brief on her life 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Three Memoirs of Improbable Life Paths


None of the three autobiographical books I've read of late are hot off the press, but they were all new to me. And oddly, these three very different lives have a lot in common.


Late summer a friend gave me a copy of the 2011 New York Times Bestseller, Kisses from Katie.  I confess that I took it home and set it on a shelf.  It didn't look like "my kind of book."  I found the title to be cloying.  However, I trust my friend and wanted to be able to respond when asked if I had read the book, so I carried it on a road trip to Idaho and brought it home again, no more familiar with the story of the young woman on the cover than I was before my journey.


Once I finally began reading, I found a rather amazing tale of a girl who, based on a three week mission trip to Uganda during her senior year in high school, asked her parents for permission to postpone college for a year so she could return to Uganda and teach little children there.  Katie Davis was born in 1989 making her now twenty-five years old  in 2014.   That is especially important for her because Ugandan laws require residents to be twenty-five years old to adopt children and she has been the foster parent to thirteen little girls!  ***Yes, I know that exclamation points are best used sparingly.  I think I have have restrained myself greatly using only one; considering the  information contained in my last sentence, perhaps there should have been  thirteen of them.***

Next the 1990 Ben Carson story  Gifted Hands  fell into mine.  While Katie Davis is a daughter of privilege, her school's homecoming queen and class valedictorian,
Dr. Carson, born in 1951, was one of two sons of a working mother in inner-city Detroit.  The book opens with a letter to the reader from Sonya Carson who writes:
Dear Reader, As the mother of Ben and his brother, Curtis, I had a lot of challenges.  Being one of twenty-four children, married at age thirteen, and later having to get a divorce after finding out my husband was a bigamist were just a few of them....

Ben Carson begins his story sharing his childhood  struggles with a convincing vulnerability.  I had read on the back jacket that he became  director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Medical Institutions at age thirty-three, but I found little hint of that possibility as I read the chapters about his young life. I also had no idea how much brain surgery explanation I was getting myself into, but once I began this book there was no way I going to skip over any of it. In addition to his passion as a surgeon, Dr. Carson offers himself as a motivational speaker for young people.  He believes that "With the right help and the right incentive, many disadvantaged kids could achieve outstanding results."   He certainly has.

Son of Hamas...This incredible chronicle was published in 2010.  Mosab Hassan Yousef was born in the West Bank city of Ramallah "to one of the most religious Islamic families of the Middle East."  It was the same year I was giving birth to my first child in California so I have a very real sense of how long he has been on the planet; he is now thirty-seven years old, but he has lived in an utterly different world than the one I know. He is currently living under political asylum somewhere in America.   He didn't set out to write a New York Times bestseller, but he has.  He didn't set out to do many of the things he has done.

I am recommending these books to you.  I am  reticent to tell you much about their journeys as they are so personal and I want to neither add nor take away from the narrative of these brave souls.  Each one of them hopes to make the world a safer and better realm for others and to tell their respective stories they have to trust the reader to look beyond cultural or emotive differences.  These three lives with not a word written of them already represent tremendous  giving and impact in the world. Sharing one's story is an additional gift, a tremendous vulnerability and I am glad to have been a recipient.


I 'll be interested if you have read any of these books.

If you haven't read Mr. Yousef's book, start there, it's truly a challenging and powerful story and ever so pertinent to trouble stalking our globe.  I am already thinking of rereading it.


By the way, each of these books had an acknowledged co-writer:
Katie Davis with Beth Clark
Ben Carson with Cecil Murphy
Mosab Hassan Yousef with Ron Bracken

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Painting and Praying

Thinking of dear ones....




For Herb M. I am so glad you have been part of my life, with prayers and tears and hope brighter than any colors we can see or share...

For Susan H. as she mends in the hospital tonight.

For my traveling darlings ...

For Bill M. and his dear GJM.

For a sweet foot that has walked ever so many miles for me and mine.

*** *** **** **** ** *******




Tuesday, October 21, 2014

One of A Kind Mandolin Gig Bag ... A Justification for that Stash Pile

I had eyed my husband's mandolin for a long time. It was a gift years ago from his only sibling, his brother Jim, now gone; I knew it was precious to him. I had thought a number of times about making a soft case for it, but the instrument  was either hanging safely on the wall or being played so it was fairly  easy to talk myself out of  making a project for myself.

But lately he had begun taking it out and about with him, propping it in the back of his van or leaving it on the back seat of my car and October is his birthday month, so I decided to get serious.

It would take quite a bit of material for the case and the lining.  I would need a long zipper and  binding for the edges. If I ran out and bought all the materials, it might make more sense monetarily to just go buy a mandolin case.  I poured through my stashed  fabrics. I had several yards of soft small wale brown cotton corduroy I'd found in the free box at The Legacy, the senior center support store that receives all things arts and crafty that need a new home. The fabric was deemed unsalable due to a streak of fading on it.  I found a piece of padded cotton bathrobe the kind of cloth I save to stuff potholders and a piece of padded corduroy I had thought to make into a cat bed.  Why I would make a cat bed, I don't know, given that the cats would perhaps rather sleep anywhere but in a cat bed, except on occasion.

In fact, the reason I am still up and puttering around tonight is because I am waiting for a cat to come home and find a bed of her choosing

I finally stopped thinking about whether or not I could make a decent gig bag, as such soft instrument cases are often called, and took the first step. I laid the mandolin down on a piece of cloth and drew around it and then I cut.   I dug out my zipper collection. The only zipper long enough to let  the mandolin in and out of the opening turned out to be turquoise.  It's teeth will provide a little grin of color every time the bag is opened.


The tear drop shaped  body of the instrument is like cake with a smaller second layer on top so I knew the sides of the case would have to be accommodating.  I wound up making the sides too big and had to cut them down as I assembled.  The first piece of the side that I made was the part with the flashy zipper.
                                           
                                            Inside the case is another little flash of cheerful color. It might have been nice to have enough of the quilted brown, but then again, this case is one of kind.


I basted around the curves with pins and then stitched leaving the seams on the outside of the bag. 

The inside is the finished side of the seam.  

Not having to go out and buy expensive fabric helped me to cut and improvise without worrying my prototype would be a costly experiment.  I have never made a "gig bag" before.


I was getting a good guitar concert during this pinning session.


 Dusty rose binding out of my stash  finished off the top seam and the bottom seam is enclosed in a binding  made of the thinner selvedge edge of the corduroy, enough for one side of the case.  Now all I have to do is put the straps on.


.
At each stage I debated about driving into town and buying matching colors of things, but Mr. Mandolin kept giving me his approval to use the materials I had.  In the week before I started the case I had made a child size tote from scraps and that turned out to be a good warm up for this bigger project. 
 When you have stashed fabrics and ribbons and long turquoise zippers and have moved them down to Carmel and then back up the coast, it is a pretty good feeling to use up some of those items.

Down at The Legacy I bought the one color strap they had for 60 cents a yard. I  wasn't sure how that would look and worried the bag was  getting too crazy.  Mr. Mandolin had to go to the hardware store and there I saw and splurged on  black strap and paid 70 cents a foot, $2.10 per yard.
Now I am not sure which one I like the best. 

Well, I have burgundy strap and black. Which color would you choose?
Which ever one I don't use is going into my stash...never know what I might make next.

Ah, that cat in question just came to the door.  I better put this cozy little bag away or some kitty might think it's just right for a good night's sleep....no, it's not a cat bed! 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Broken Plate Mosaic Bird Bath ...A Garden Project in the Last Rays of Summer




Back in August we laid out our broken dishes on the garden table and began a repair on the bird bath that had both a big edge chip and a crack.  It  would no longer hold water. With summer heat and drought, I like having bird baths for our feathered friends to perch on, drink from and splash in. 

Despite our August intentions, a number of intervening realities left those dishes  spread out for several weeks, waiting on the garden picnic table like a Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
Then on the last Saturday of summer, I saw the opening...it was a day of gentle September sun and we were unscheduled. A small backyard project was just the rest we needed.

It was calming, in our somewhat fractured world, to take disparate pieces and fit them into a new coherence, to bring new purpose to objects too damaged for their original purpose, yet too pretty to just throw away.

Thinset is smeared into the bottom of the bowl.  the broken cherub
 was tried out and removed.
Thinset is nice that way...you can pull things off even after they have dried.
Mark taught me how to use his wet saw and I made some of the pieces smaller.  I plopped some thinset on the back of each piece, fitted them as shape and color seemed to suggest (and hopefully in a way the birds would like) and smooshed them into place.  


Here is my first  broken plate mosaic ready for the Thinset to dry which took over night.

It was fun. You can see we have broken a lot of dishes over the years.  I am glad I saved them. As I wiggled pieces around I remembered where or who the plates were from.  One was Mark's grandmother's and one was from my grandma.  My dad gave me some of the plates.  A few I had bought at garage sales to sit under potted plants and two of them were gifts many years ago from a boyfriend; dear people each one and I believe they all felt kindly towards birds as well.  

I  did the mosaic by myself, but when it was time to do the grout, Mark helped me...which really means, he did all the work, but it allowed me both to learn and take pictures of the process.



He had white grout, but the bird bath was terra cotta, so we added a little red to match it up better.  You pour the grout into the water in the bucket and mix it up so it is smooth and sticky.  


The goal is to spread the grout into all the empty spaces between the broken plates.



The grout tool he had was designed for larger flat surfaces, so I got one of my kitchen spatulas which worked pretty well. 





 Next step is to sponge the tile or in this case plate surfaces clean with gentle wipings with a very soft wet sponge that you keep rinsing out.



 Eventually the grout is confined to the spaces between your pieces and it is time to let it dry and cure.


 The test now was to be sure it would hold water.  It does.


So back it goes on its pedestal...to be filled it up for the birds...



And then you step back in hopes that the birds might come and use it. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

California Fire ...a Happy Update

Happy Update on California Fires

Some much-needed rain stormed into Northern California on Friday complete with super loud thunder and bright lightning strikes.


The first rain drops out on the street!

 It was a gift out of the Pacific Northwest and has helped Northern California firefighters on both the Happy Camp  and  July Complex fires,  as well as the 97,099 acre King Fire in the El Dorado National Forest which is now 78% contained.  

 I was outside on a covered deck, saw lightning and heard hugh cracking reports of thunder very proximate.  It took me by surprise and so did the scream I cut loose.  When I got back up the stairs and inside during a lull I found my kitties hiding under the bed. I didn't feel so silly then, they were scared too. 

I am so grateful for this rain.