Because It Has to Be…

August 14, 2014

So I hiked last night. I think it will be very difficult for me to pull these hikes off during the school year, though…the mid-week after-work hikes? I didn’t get home until 9:30 and then cooked dinner and laid around like a sloth for a while, which is what you do after a 5- to 6-mile hike at the end of a long day, and then I did some more stuff on the floating house, but it really sucks hours out of your day. Three hours just gone. And I’m gonna need those hours. Sigh.

We did Iron Mountain again…

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It’s a nice hike. Not too hard. Harder coming down in the dark. We led a Swedish team of kids down (actually, although I was in front, I led no one…Gail had to tell me where to turn, because I suck at that).

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It was beautiful at the top. We ate snacks and talked and watched the sun drop below the marine layer and the colors reflecting off the mountains and clouds to the east.

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Every time I get to the top of a peak in San Diego County, I look out and see this beautiful undulating, rocky landscape that is home. Maybe I need to put mountains on my floating house (shit. I don’t think I have the right colored organza for that). The surrounding landscape is home too. Living in the UK for a year, it never felt like home. It was too green and verdant, and although it was undulating (I was in Wales), it wasn’t very high or rocky. It was hills with sheep cavorting across them. It didn’t take long to climb to the top of anything. You were never very far from sea level.

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And I tried to figure out last night, Why Hiking? What is it about putting the pack on, pulling 720 foxtails out of your boots from Saturday’s hike (seriously, I am not kidding), slathering deoderant on so you don’t smell too bad, stomping up a steep slope in the late-afternoon August heat, into the cool shade of the back side of the mountain, shading your eyes from the low-slung sun as you come around the corner facing west, summitting the peak, taking your pack off so the sweat drenching the back of your shirt can dry before heading down, thinking the downhill might never end, slipping a bit because you’re hiking in the dark, blinded by the lights behind you that splash your giant silhouette across the trail in front of you. And you don’t have dinner waiting, you barely ate all afternoon, you had a handful of peanuts and two grapes and five carrots at the top. And you come home covered in dust and needing to shower, sweaty to the core despite the cool night breeze for the last half of the hike. Why do this? What does it bring? There is this sense of accomplishment, of survival sometimes on the longer/harder hikes, this mental rush from the adrenaline, the serotonin release, and it makes you turn up the music LOUD on the drive home and you feel all I Am Strong for a while, and then the rush slips away and you are sad. Because there is no dinner waiting; there is only silence. And yeah, you did it. Good. You will strengthen this body and make sure it lasts as long as possible. This is one reason why you hike. And you hike so you actually TALK to people in the evenings or Saturday mornings, because otherwise the silence overwhelms you. But that feeling doesn’t last. It’s not sustainable. And that is the depression talking. It always has a cord around your neck, pulling you towards the hole, and when you are tired from the hike and you haven’t eaten yet and the thought of cooking something is already exhausting, then that cord can pull you back down really easily.

I came home and meditated while dinner was cooking. Jake, the German Shepherd, was not very respectful of my meditation time and kept plopping toys into my lap (I had left him alone all day). Tired won for a while. I worked on the house after professional development yesterday, before the hike…

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I started the veins on the other side of the house…I run the stitching line first and then trim…

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And then I put a second layer on top. Because if you’re using organza, you should overlap it.

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And I’m not sure I like it at the moment. I liked it last night, but today I’m not so sure. I have some other stuff that needs to go on it. But I may just leave it hanging there for a bit to get used to it. Maybe. And I have another idea for something I want to do, but I’m supposed to be simplifying my life, right? So it doesn’t overwhelm me right as school starts?

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It looks so different in artificial light…

I just don’t think that’s in my nature. Simplifying. I mean, maybe on some level, because last year, I worked really hard to streamline stuff so I wouldn’t have to bring so much work home, and I think that worked, but…reducing the amount of time I’m in the art mode? Or the number of things I work on? That doesn’t seem healthy. I know I cause more stress to myself by taking on artistic projects, but these are also the things that keep me functioning. They keep me from falling into that hole and staying there. Even though I’m barely out of the hole, hanging on by my fingernails, slipping back down on a regular basis, at least I’m mostly out. And that’s the art. The hiking might help a little, but it’s the art that sustains me.

Anyway. Back to school again today and tomorrow. In the old days, I would have fought it more, stayed away longer, but in the old days, I had more that was at home that sustained me and kept me recharged. I don’t have any real rechargers any more. I don’t feel like summer has given me the break I need to start a new year of teaching, but I think it will be OK. It will be different, and I don’t know what that different will look like, and I’m sad about some parts of it and excited about others, but I also know at the end of every day, I can come home and draw or sew or cut up pieces of organza and hang them from a coathanger in some crazy-ass desire to express what home is. And for now, that is enough. Because it has to be.

Building an Ephemeral House…

August 13, 2014

Exhaustion kicked my butt yesterday. Something about spending all day in a workshop about culturally responsive classrooms when you already know how to do that and what it looks like. Isn’t my masters degree in cross-cultural hoohaw? Yup, there’s some official title there, but I can’t remember it. I feel like there was a lot of eye-rolling and No Duh moments. Plus I was doing it on 4 hours of sleep. Troubled sleep. Almost killed the alarm clock with my sword, I did.

I did manage a kamikaze run through Walmart (no one goes there this time of year without fear in their hearts) and swore at their self-checkout machine, which kept telling me there were UFOs in the bagging area (no, you idiot…those are the bags I’m filling. They are meant to be there.), and then came home and attempted art.

I’m really not sure how I feel about it. I’m obviously messing around and there’s some feeling/picture/UFO? in my head that’s guiding all this…

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I’m stitching vein lines on the sides…from certain lighting angles, the red looks really freaky…

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And then it almost fades away. So then I’m cutting around the stitching lines.

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I have a pile of bits and pieces…

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Using wire and fabric and thread…wire cutters, needle-nosed pliers, scissors, pins. A little different than my normal stash of materials. Organza. Fucking loosey-goosey stuff. Anyway. It doesn’t require much thought because I’m just fucking around with this idea of home, what is home, what does home look like and feel like, is home a good thing, is home a solid thing (well, obviously not to me, eh?). The show is about the border fence, about these fences we put up to keep people in or out (hell, you should see my fence at the moment. I’m trying very hard to let the sides down occasionally to let people in, but it’s really hard, because even that makes things hurt more. I’m really tired of the hurting, I have to tell you. It’s just so never-ending. I’m staying away from the word relentless. It’s a bad word. It’s a hurtful word. It’s a word I will have to carry around in my heart forever now, I think. Long story. I know.). ANYWAY. Houses floating over the border, the fence. Birds. I’m not sure the bird group has explained the significance of the birds to me! I guess I don’t have to understand the whole exhibit to understand the little piece I’m doing.

I went out to dinner last night with mom because everyone else is in Arrowhead, and came back needing to exercise off the million calories, but Babygirl was hogging the bike.

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Yes, I have an exercise bike in my living room. It gets used almost every day by me or the girlchild. And now, apparently, the elderly cat. Jake’s here, my ex’s rambunctious German Shepherd, so I think she didn’t feel safe on the floor…like this is out of his reach? Midnight was smart and moved to the top of the light table. Jake is NOT smart and has had his nose bopped by everyone but Midnight. She disturbs him by wrapping herself around his legs and ignoring his attempts to nose her to death. She is not scared of dogs. The other two are…well, not of Calli, because she doesn’t even notice them. But Jake is a cat chaser, or at least he would be, if they would run and stop bopping him on the nose. Then he looks at me, all confused. “Aren’t I supposed to chase cats?”

Anyway, more professional development to suck my brain out today. We are in Positive Behavior Interventions today…which my mother commented on, “Why would you want to intervene if they’re behaving positively?” thus proving that teacher PD is a waste of time (most of the time…I’ve had a few, all science-related, that were not). OK the real name is Positive Behavior Supports…and I’m the smartass who wants to know WTF to do with the kids who don’t respond to these supports. I have so little faith these days. The afternoon session was about behavior with technology in the classroom, which actually was helpful.

More about this Robin Williams’ thing that came up on the way to school, after I’d read a few more articles about his death (not on purpose…it just happened): The thing about really cool people killing themselves is that you know for sure that you will never be as cool or amazing as Robin Williams and he couldn’t keep himself going. So when you’re having a hard time getting out of bed or off the couch, something like his suicide can really rock you; it can trigger even more feelings of depression and uselessness and lame-i-tude (it is TOO a word). I came home after yesterday’s class and read The Bloggess’ post from January about depression and it just made me cry…and then laugh…and then cry. And turkey butlers! There is a community out there that supports you when this shit is in your head, when you’re down in that hole. Use it. Cry if you need to. Take a damn nap. Eat a piece of cheesecake. Or don’t eat it. Exercise (I did kick the cat off the bike). Draw. Watch shitty TV…or really good TV. Just don’t do what he did.

With that in mind, I’m gonna stitch those veins for a while as I watch bad television, while getting ready for a night hike…sunset at the top of the mountain and then back down in the dark. And I’ll think about the bit of news I got today that threw me back in the hole, although not very deep, because I realized it wasn’t a really bad horrible thing like someone dying of cancer, but a smaller sad thing that was disappointing, yes, and a downer, yes, but not the end of the world. I’m just so much more likely to cry when I’m sad these days, so it seems like a bigger thing than it is. It’s OK to be sad when there is a loss or an unhappy change. Then take a deep breath and move on.

If I tell myself that, it becomes easier to actually feel that way.

You’d Think…

August 12, 2014

Sometimes it’s good to let the brain wander down new streets for a while…to let it consider other ways of thinking, of making, of creating. I have one art group I’m a member of where I am often doing this meandering down avenues I wouldn’t normally frequent. Which is why tonight found me wiring two coathangers together and handstitching organza on top…

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No really. I’m building a floating house of sorts and this is the picture in my head.

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Or at least, this is part of the picture in my head. There’s more. Again, though, the quickie painters kick my butt. The people in my group who just spend an hour or so on a painting? I’m so jealous. Everything I do is so time-consuming. I’m over an hour in and nowhere near done. I have some time on this one though, a couple of weeks. This is for a show about the border between the US and Mexico, and we’re working with a group of female Mexican artists. My house is ephemeral. Maybe. We’ll see what it really looks like in the end. This is just the base layer. I’m handstitching it to the wire and coathangers and then there will be more layers and more handstitching and those worry dolls I ordered. Maybe some writing as well. We’ll see. I’m just glad I finally got started, so some of the image can get out of my head and into reality. The head was getting crowded. Too many ideas in there.

I also traced the five birds I need to do next…

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Three are commissions and the other two are for the same exhibit as the house. They will be for sale at the exhibit or afterwards. Girlchild picked the additional two…some of that was based on size, since they need to fit into a particular shape.

Midnight was very helpful.

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Not. She is known for taking bites out of drawings that are on the light table. She was also watching bad television. And reminding me that I still need to hang the TV and sort out the technology storage and put shelves up for the books. And then hang art. Because I’m not stressed out enough at the moment about getting things done.

Have I told you that I have no idea what day it is? I really don’t.

The reason I finally got going on the birds and the house was because I managed to trim the big quilt yesterday…

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It’s not as straight as I’d like…the image, that is. The rectangle is in fact rectangular and not a parallelogram. Although I did consider a different shape. But in the end, I figured it was fine…

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Although I would have liked the head to the left a bit…oh well. When you look at the whole thing, it’s not a problem. I see it, but most people won’t. Of course, now I’ve told you about it, so when you see the official photographs, you’ll be all judgmental, just like me.

When I bought the binding fabric, I saw some great reds for heart colors…

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I actually had an idea for a quilt of a huge heart. Because I don’t have 17 quilts ahead of that one. I entered another show today and did some research for the next batch of shows, what can be in and what can’t kind-of-thing, whether it’s subject matter or size or date completed that causes the issue. I actually said out loud that if I didn’t get into one of the two big shows I’m entering, then that’s it, I’m done. No more quilts.

Yeah right. I know. Not gonna happen. But it is discouraging to have rejection after rejection for months on end, especially when you know the stuff you’re making is bang, in your face, detailed and amazing. You wonder where it belongs. You wonder if you will ever find a place where your life’s work belongs. It doesn’t have to be in a tribe of likes or anything…just to belong. I realize it has to fit into the shows I enter. Maybe that is the core problem, the fitting-in.

I got the binding sewn on last night, super late.


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I used a lighter background fabric for once, so you can see the outlining.

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I got everything pinned down and started stitching it down last night. Had a hard time going to sleep. Brain was racing around like a crazy car…

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So I stitched for a while. There aren’t enough waking hours in the day to get everything done. I’d rather be awake and making art than sleeping. That’s probably not healthy, but it is where I’m at at the moment. At at.

This, by the way, made me inordinately sad.


To realize how much pain he must have been in. He was so great in Mrs. Doubtfire, and also in Dead Poet’s Society…in everything. At some point, I guess, it no longer matters that you haven’t read all the books or seen all the movies. I joke about not killing myself because my Netflix queue is too long or I don’t know if Arya will survive George R. R. Martin. I can’t possibly die not knowing that. I am not the suicidal type, at core, so that helps, but have experienced the depths seriously enough to feel an electric shock when I hear of someone who seemed like he had it all together and thought this was a solution. Look at that face. I’m very sad. My whole household was sad. Well, except for the cats, and that’s because they are just clueless assholes.

(I just had to get up and go look for Babygirl, because I realized I hadn’t seen her in a while…she’s an old lady and sleeps a lot. I found her in the dining area, deeply asleep on the floor.)

By the way, the girlchild’s friend who gave her the Frozen soundtrack? I hate you. You bitch. But it was amusing to walk past her bedroom as she was packing for their trip to Arrowhead and hear the music blasting and seeing the boychild (who spent 2+ hours with me today negotiating shipping boxes to New York, ordering textbooks from multiple sites, trying to figure out his mailing address, and trying to open a bank account, and finally walked out and handed me his phone, saying he wasn’t going to watch it for a phone call) sitting on her floor untangling all of her bracelets and necklaces, and when I asked him why, he said the knots offended him. He leaves in 10 days. Sad. I think he might miss us. I know we will miss him. Greatly. He tells me he won’t answer his phone if he doesn’t recognize the number. I suggested he might have to get over that in the next few weeks. Damn. Sending your oldest off to college, knowing they will only barely come back, that this is the line between childhood and adulthood, that now it’s his life and not his life as my child. That is just so difficult. More so knowing that he provides me with a level of sanity that I otherwise don’t have. I’m rewriting my life as I sit here. I don’t know what it will look like any more than he knows what his looks like.

I finally managed to break through the writer’s block that was stifling me the last 10 days on the science fiction novel I am apparently writing. Yes, it still surprises me that I am doing this, but I am definitely doing it, and already have a core outline for book 2, which is not related…or is it? Hard to say. I was stymied by the science at one point and kept thinking myself into this hole of wanting GOOD science, but not having a strong enough background to write it well. So I wrote a paragraph that was extremely vague and then, because I’m using Google Docs, wrote a comment telling myself to add a bunch of good science here, once I have a chance to chase down a source of said information (I think I need to pick someone’s brain, a plant geneticist or something like that), and even wrote “blah blah blah” at the end of one sentence, and then actually typed, “Add good science here.” And then? Then I could jumpstart the story again (although now I need a gun consultant, dammit), and it wrote another 1000 words all by itself without my even trying very hard. I think that’s the goal. Get the core story out and then go back and fix all the shit I don’t really know yet. Like people’s names…although the three core players in this section all have names. I still have a main character named Dr. Blank, though. Not good.

Anyway. Unfortunately, the rest of my week is full of school stuff, mostly professional development. I’m taking the iPad so I can work on the book if it’s boring (it usually is), and hopefully I’ll get the binding on that big quilt done this week so I can call the photographer, plus get the birds in gear and make a bloody floating house. The kids are gone for a few days to Arrowhead with their dad and grandpa. I get to house Jake, the amazingly large and overly friendly German Shepherd who belongs to my ex but really loves me more…plus clean up vast amounts of cat puke and negotiate a houseful of silence…which honestly might be a joy after three days of teacher talk. I shoved a hike in there too, because why the fuck not? And the weekend is full of soccer, or maybe it’s full of drawing boobies on the soccer field (the breasticle kind instead of the blue-footed kind). Whatever. Three to five soccer games in two days in the OC? There are many things wrong with that picture, but in the end? It doesn’t really matter. I will do this or that and make this or that and get into this or that show and whatever. School starts in a week and I am not ready, but then again, when am I ever? It’s a job and I do it relatively well, despite the mental crap I carry around.

I had to apologize to the kids about 14 times tonight. I tried a new meal (we do a lot of that over the summer, because there is more time than during the school year), and the recipe said 20 minutes prep time and 40 minutes cook time. What a joke! I think it took me 90 minutes to prep, and no, I wasn’t being particularly lame…there was just a lot of cutting and chopping. Girlchild says some recipes don’t count that as prep time (fuckwads!), so who knows. She is willing to look for shortcuts for me. So we didn’t have dinner until 9 PM, and I said, well, at least you’ll look back at these years and laugh, because your mom was so lame at the basics, like cooking and cleaning (because I was entering an art show!), but the thing that sucks is that the recipe was really GOOD (both kids went back for seconds), so I will probably have to make it again. At least I have leftovers for the next two days of lunch, right? Unless some kid bogarts it for breakfast. Seriously. I started cooking at 6:15. I’m not totally lame…just mostly lame.

OK, I really should have gone to bed two hours ago, but the brain is not complying. Fucked up, for sure, because that’s two nights running with very little sleep. You’d think I would have figured that one out by now.

Out of the Pit, into the Cave

May 21, 2014

Depression is an interesting beast. It’s so prevalent in our world, has been for years, just read some Romantic poetry or wallow in Russian literature for a while, and you’ll realize how not-alone you are in this feeling that never seems to go away. I’ve seen it described as a rain cloud that follows you around, the big black dog, a pit, a hole, a cave. We come up with these personifications, these illustrations, to try to make it something we can look at, distance ourselves from, maybe even fix. My meditation guy wants me to look at my whole brain that way. Like I’m a private detective, leaning up against that lamppost in the dark, lighting the cigarette and watching the brain (hey…shouldn’t smoke!). Watch what the brain does, make notes in a little book, process it, spit out a report at the end. This is what happened, this is where it went, dry and dissected, no emotions.

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I wish my depression was the big black dog. I know how to deal with dogs. It started out as a pit, a hole. It’s been that before. Prior to my divorce, back in 2000 or so, it was a giant hole, and once I had dragged myself out of it, with no help from my husband at the time, he tossed me back in. But I got out…probably because I had spent a couple of years trying to deal with my brain and what it was doing, and I had enough tools to build a ladder out of there fairly quickly. I had some control over the situation.

Not so this time. This time I didn’t even see the pit before I got tossed in. I thought it was way behind me, filled in, totally safe ground to walk on, and I blithely continued on, carrying my little beachball of work stress and hormonal disruptions…which yes, caused a minor depression, but it was completely treatable. I just didn’t know I needed to deal with it. I think it would have eventually worked itself out with the right supports (which I wasn’t getting). But then a giant maw of a deep dark hole opened up and I just tumbled all the way down. And I can look back now and see how deep I went, how bad it was (sometimes still is).

They tell you that once you’ve experienced one depressive event that you are more prone to them later on. Great. Appreciate it. Didn’t ask for this. Mine are event-based. This isn’t just random shit being shot out of a cannon, like some people’s depression, which I can see would be much harder to deal with, because you can’t pinpoint the cause. It just is. It’s that brain chemistry out of whack. No, this is because of what other people have done, and in each case, it is out of my control. I am just the one dealing with the aftermath. It seems unfair, but I know that life is not set out to be fair…there is no arbitrator of fairness and karma setting out punishments and rewards. You may believe otherwise…feel free…but I don’t.

So once I’m in the pit, the deep hole, I have to find my way out. Sometimes it’s medications, which didn’t work this time, it’s always counseling, it’s always a time of deep reflection and artmaking for me, which makes me somewhat lucky, in that I can actually create while down in the pit. I know plenty who can’t, who are hogtied by the depression to a point of not being able to even pick up a pencil. I guess I’m glad that when my brain goes into that hole, she takes her sketchbook and her pens with her. I guess that is a learned defense against the depression.

And it really is me, the private dick, still leaning up against the lamppost, checking my watch, adjusting my hat against the misty rain, waiting for the brain to show herself again, logging her activity.

I guess the plus is that she’s moved out of the hole. Well, she moved into a cave recently, I guess…I don’t know why the visualization changed, but it did. It seems easier…she can just walk in and out of the cave, no need to build a ladder or scramble up the sides of a muddy pit. She hunches over, my brain, and she brings a bowl out into the light, gathers some leaves or berries (I’ve been eating a lot of berries lately), she blinks, squints up at the sky, sees me and drops her chin, acknowledging my presence, and then shuffles back into the cave. Brings tears to my eyes. There she is. She was out. She tried. She’s going back in for a while, because it was too much.

Some day I’ll talk about the current quilt and its title. Because it is the hardest part of this depression. I know what was in my head as I drew it, and…it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever had to deal with in my own head. Yes, only one. Sad but true.

I’d better find a way to do something restorative tonight, beyond exercise and meditation. Because…ouch. Bad place.

Earth Stories: Drawing It Big

May 14, 2014

The Earth Stories exhibit opened at Michigan State University Museum in Lansing, MI, on May 11, and continues through November 26. The opening reception is May 16 from 4-6 PM. It then travels to the University of Central Missouri Gallery of Art and Design, Warrensburg, Missouri, January 19 – February 28, 2015. This means I will finally be allowed to post the pictures of this quilt as of the 16th…I thought I’d spend a few posts reviewing how these two pieces came to be.

I was accepted into the exhibit in October of 2012. I wasn’t even going to enter. I got into this huge discussion with the family, intellectuals all (although I qualify as an emotional intellectual…nowadays only barely rational apparently) about what could actually SAVE the Earth. The original plan for the exhibit was to pick a group or person who had made a significant contribution to saving the Earth, to keeping our planet livable, whole, sustainable even. I kept coming back to science in general, but the thought of doing a quilt of people in labcoats with microscopes and water-testing devices seemed kinda lame.

Then I watched this video:

It was Monique’s fault. She posted it. And it clicked a switch in my brain. A huge one.

Understand that I teach life science. I teach biology to 12-year-olds. I teach human reproduction. What do we need to do to save the world? We need to stop overpopulating it. We need to make sure that the available resources are distributed fairly, but also that we don’t overwhelm them with too many people (it may be too late for that, honestly). So when I saw that there were groups that were trying to help women who actually WANTED to control the number and timing of their births, the size of their families, to keep them within the constraints of what they could afford, of what they could handle, THAT was the group I was going to put the strength of my convictions behind.

That was the International Planned Parenthood Federation. They provide voluntary birth control to women in countries where it’s not allowed or where they have financial or religious difficulty in getting the medications they need to make sure they can take care of their families. They can decide how long to wait between births, which is healthier for both mother and child, but she can also decide when to stop having children. Imagine, giving women a choice? Plus helping to conserve our natural resources? All good.

Once I was accepted into the exhibit, which is an interesting story in itself, I sort of looked at how much time I had during the school year and how much time it would take to make a 72″-square quilt, and I planned my time. My goal was to have it drawn before Spring Break, traced onto Wonder Under during Spring Break, ironed to fabric before Summer Break, and then get the whole nasty beast done over the summer.

Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men, and overwhelmed single moms who don’t even know what kind of shit might hit their fans.

I did OK with the first part, actually…OK, well, not really. I had about 4 or 5 mis-starts to the drawing…in fact, I think I started drawing in February (Spring Break being April). I already knew what position I wanted the main figure in, but I couldn’t quite visualize parts, so I asked the girlchild (who was running a nasty fever at the time that turned into the nasty flu that messed up her system for a while) to pose…

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She was thrilled. As I’m sure you can see. Yes, my carpet is that beat up.

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She didn’t have the right look on her face. She’s supposed to be Earth Mother. I decided not to make her old…mothers aren’t usually super old. They’re frazzled. Plus she had live trees on her, and it’s not supposed to be alive.

A few days later, I tried again.

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Serious issues with the thighs. And the mountains are lame. Plus that left hand? Both hands…way too small.

I don’t usually fuss this much over drawings, but that was the thing with this one. I needed it to say the right thing and I don’t usually care so much that the viewer is getting the message. I figure they will get SOME message and that’s all that matters. On this one, the message mattered.

So I tried again…

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Much better belly/thigh area (and the pregnancy finally shows up…notice it wasn’t there before). Her face, though…too spacey. Like she’s contemplating what color nail polish might go with those shoes.

I gave up for a while…a month actually. Then I realized Spring Break was bounding towards me, so I started again…

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Ugh. Too small, arms suck. Whatever!

A few days later, though…BOOM!

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There she is. There’s the start. Much bigger and the right look on her face…but I filled an entire page just with this part of her torso. I copied the bottom part and taped it to another page and then drew the bottom half…then enlarged those and taped them together.

I finally had the beginnings of this thing.

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Now realize that light table is 3 feet by 4 feet, so it gives you a good idea of how big this thing gets. I started in a 14×17″ sketchbook. I think I enlarged the drawing 200-300%. Then I drew the rest of it to size (which is always a crazy tiny-piece mistake for me, and yet I do it every time).

I spent about 20 hours drawing this thing. I’d draw for a while and then step back and look at it (or stand on the piano bench and look at it, because it was the only way I could see the whole thing).

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Most drawings take me a couple of hours, maybe four or five for a super-complicated one like what I’m working on now.

I had TV shows running on the laptop (the computer in the back is too slow and sound is an issue) to keep my brain occupied. Here’s me drawing the thought cloud that shows a happy world with plenty of food…


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This is back at the beginning, right after I had taped all the extra paper around the enlarged figure to make it 72″ square.

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It was a huge endeavor. I’ve never spent so long DRAWING a quilt, but it really did need to be forcibly pulled out of me…it took a good chunk of Spring Break to get it done. This was before all the shit hit the fan at work, so my brain was mostly OK for this type of task. I don’t know if I would have been able to do that now. It was really difficult. Maybe the art brain would prefer that level of involvement in a drawing to all the other crap I throw at it.

Next post? Numbering and tracing pieces…


Stop and Let Me Be

April 30, 2014

Having a full-time job and being a single mom and being an artist means I never feel like I’m caught up with anything. My ex made some snotty comment about the state of my house yesterday…he doesn’t bring his job home with him, that’s for sure, and I deal with most of the kid stuff. Plus he actually cleans house on the weekends or at night, and I obviously don’t. I’m doing art instead. I keep meaning to schedule 30 minutes every other day or so to pick up, or even 10 minutes each day to focus on one small area of the house, but then reality kicks in and I don’t get to it. Time gets sucked up by stuff like making tonight’s dinner last night or dealing with some stupid tax thing or yet another college thing or an expired prescription.

This is why I can’t pick a new camera, even though I have birthday money to pay for it. This is why I can’t figure out the car situation. This is why the house is not clean. Because I have a brain that would rather be picking fabric or drawing or even reading a book than straightening up the house. I solve so many problems during the day that at some point, I run out of problem-solving ability. Literally, my brain just stops working on that stuff…it’s like a puppy who doesn’t want to walk any further. It pushes its feet into the ground and no amount of pushing, prodding, cajoling will budge it.

The only thing it wants to do is wander off into that calm arena of artmaking.

So I let it. Maybe that’s not the best thing to do; certainly it doesn’t get the house clean. I have a plan for the damn car. I don’t have a plan for the damn camera. And I think some of this looming depressive cloud that is settling over me this week is summer coming. I’ve never been depressed about summer coming. But it’s just another unstructured break that reminds me of badness. Yesterday was sad day. I thought maybe part of it was lack of sleep, so I made an attempt to go to bed earlier last night…which is why this post is happening NOW rather than last night.

I did make a decision about the main figure in quilt…she’s flesh, not gray. She’s still alive. Barely. So I stayed in sorta grayed-out flesh tones…nothing bright.

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The other two figures are more on the pink side of flesh, and I’ll use those fabrics for the two hands grabbing her thighs. Need contrast.

The biggest problem with picking fabrics for this section is that there is no way I can pick the whole body out in one night, and I don’t want to iron a bunch of flesh fabrics and then have to re-iron those fabrics with the next batch of flesh fabrics every night. I need to see the WHOLE thing. Usually I lay out the whole body and then iron for hours. Like I would budget a weekend day (in reality, I would have done this during break). Not happening this time. So I started laying them out…

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And I realized that I could do all the bone pieces and some other things on the leg, like a stitched scar. I have to cover everything during the day, because I have cats who like to sit on fabric and get things all messed up, so I didn’t want to lay out too much flesh last night. I think I did about an hours’ worth, and I know I’m in the 900s now, but I still have a bunch of random 800 pieces to do, like the eyeball on the leg (you know, because legs have eyeballs) and the grabby hands…oh yeah, and pubic hair, which means I have to decide what color hair she’s going to have.

More pieces…the big ones are all leg bones and pelvis…

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It’s really hard sometimes to explain to people what I do in the middle of the night, when they ask how much I sleep or how I stay up so late, while they are obviously thinking how fucking crazy I am. When I’m ironing, I’m not tired any more. I’m not stuck in a bad place in my head where some 6-second Vine of derision and uselessness runs over and over again, berating me for my mistakes. I’m in a place of peace. So it makes sense that I would want to stay there for as long as possible, to make that feeling the largest part of my brain, especially as I get ready for sleep; having that be the prevailing thought as I fall asleep helps me stay asleep, helps me have good dreams instead of bad. Helps me wake up in an OK mood instead of the other kind.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really get the good sleep last night, despite the early bedtime (“early”…make that 1 AM instead of 2 AM). I have been reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak…


It’s a beautiful book. The words, how Zusak writes a phrase, the visuals of the sky and souls, are absolutely wonderful to read. Yes, it’s a WWII book about Germany and Nazis…but it’s really not. But it is. Death is the narrator, and it’s surprising how human death seems…more human than some people I know. I was reading it at the gym and came to the last 50 pages and started to get very emotional…now have I cried at the gym? Heck yeah. Regularly. Sad, really, but it happens. Too much brain time. Proof that this is a significant depression, because the serotonin levels from exercise should be helping with mood, and they don’t. Not really.

Anyway. I chose to stop reading, because I figured the last 50 pages would be pretty sad. And I was already in sad mode. So I came home and cooked tonight’s dinner AND last night’s dinner (god I hate all that cooking) and ironed for a while and thought I would put off reading the end until another day. Except I couldn’t. So I sat in bed at 1 AM and I finished the book (I read fast). And I cried during the whole last 50 pages. So I guess it’s a good thing I waited until I got home. It’s a good book. Don’t care about the movie.

Anyway. So I’m not really starting off today in the right mood, and it’s kind of a crazy day. I wish I could regulate my mood better, but despite taking all my meds and trying to eat and sleep right, best I can, and exercising every day, my moods have a mind of their own. I’m standing off over here watching them fight and piss and moan, wondering when they will just stop and let me be. Deep sigh.


Where Am I?

April 15, 2014

Such a philosophical question. I am significantly damp, somewhat peckish, with blood sugar definitely dropping. I forgot an umbrella, I left all my snack food in the motel (brain not functioning), and I’ve been up since 3:30 AM Pacific time.

Where am I? Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University, where the boychild will probably be spending the next 4 years of his life.

It’s a little mind-boggling and even sad to be here. I’m excited to send him here, to have him be moving on to being a college student…but with all the upheaval of the last year, it’s also really hard to be here.

Plus it’s pouring rain and getting colder, with snow expected this afternoon. In 5 minutes, I have to put all my wet outerwear back on and venture out to meet him at some info session, but right now, I am (shockingly) sitting in a nice comfy chair and drinking tea, texting the girlchild (who is not even up yet) about what color shirt she wants.

A few hours later…we did the info session and food and shopping for family, but by then it was hailing and windy and significantly chilly. On the one hand, worst day ever to visit this week, but he now has a better idea of what clothing he’ll need to live here. And he still likes it! Me, I’m happy to be living in Southern California. I spent a year living in Britain and constantly feeling damp and having my glasses fog up.

In San Diego, everything is green, that lime leafy green, right now. In a month or so, it will start to turn brown. Here in New York, everything is brown and dead-looking right now, with the exception of a few trees setting out buds. Spring isn’t quite here.

I’ve been reading a lot. It’s hard to stitch on the plane if you don’t know the people around you. They want to talk, or it just takes up too much room. It’s easier to read with headphones on so you don’t have to engage. Same with drawing…I did draw on the plane, but only when I got to sit with the boychild. Drawing is even more personal. I really don’t want to discuss it with strangers. But, yes, then I post it on the web…seemingly an incongruent act…but you are all out in the ether, not sitting next to me for four hours. No one can disapprove of reading, right? It’s an educated thing to do. We want our kids to do more of it…it helps us deal with the world, increases vocabulary, makes you more empathetic, protects against Alzheimer’s…hell, it’s unhealthy NOT to read.

I actually believe many of those things apply to drawing as well…it’s just harder to draw for many people…although no one doubts their drawing ability when they’re young. We haven’t mastered reading and we draw like little crayon ninjas, taking over the visual world with our interpretations. I have students who don’t like to read, who fight it, won’t look for key words, won’t practice. Sometimes it’s a language issue, sometimes it’s parents not making an effort to read TO their kids, to read IN FRONT of their kids (something besides Facebook status posts, folks…because that’s not reading unless you click through and read news stories and blogposts…and even then, your commitment was for a thousand words instead of pages).

I never had to make my kids read. But they saw both parents reading all the time and we read to them every day.

I wonder, though, what happens with the drawing? I wonder what kind of world this would be if we made drawing or visual expression (dance?) or even music as important and crucial, at home and at school, as we do reading? What kind of world would it be then?


Certainly I would be able to draw on the plane then.

That Never Happens in My Real Life…

April 10, 2014

Yesterday, I went on a road trip to Aliso Viejo in Orange County (California) to finally see the California Fibers exhibit at Soka University, where I have had two pieces since January.

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It’s a beautiful campus, at least what little I saw of it.

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It was obviously Spring Break, because otherwise, I’m fairly sure these pools must be filled with students, right?

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There’s no way they’d stay out of there.

Julie was my companion (and driver, which was awfully nice of her)…

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It was a gorgeous Spring day in California, although a little on the warm side…

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I’ll be posting about the exhibit (again) on the California Fibers blog, as soon as I find some free time to do that…today is kinda overbooked. Again. I know.

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Julie and I spent quite a bit of time discussing this global map, especially how it wasn’t the way we were used to seeing maps laid out, with Japan at its center (Soka’s founder is Japanese and the sister school is also in Japan).

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Relative sizes of countries and locations of islands and the equator were part of the discussion.

Then we headed outside again to check out the fountain…

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Especially because it appeared to have dead bugs all over it…

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That may be a commentary on university costs right there (a definite discussion point in my household at the moment). I hadn’t been able to come see this exhibit for so long because it’s only open Monday-Friday, which is kind of annoying. I mean, I guess I understand in that it’s on a university campus, and their staff isn’t around on the weekends, but…hell, I would have had to take a day off work to see it otherwise. I’m not sure how many non-retired people who aren’t students at the university have been able to see the exhibit, which is too bad, because the space is really beautiful. It’s up through May 8…if you’re in town, you should check it out.

It was a nice trip, and I got home early enough to get some stuff done…although some of that was following the kids around. Girlchild is cat-sitting (or checking-in-on-cats really), and Maus decided he didn’t so much LIKE being in the garage, but definitely liked being TALL.

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There was some worry and some kitty squawking and a ladder was involved, but we found out later that he does this all the time. No worries.

I sat outside while girlchild did all her feeding and cleaning and trash stuff and kitty-petting, because I had an ebook that was due back today and had holds on it (not sure how the renewal policy works on that) and I wanted to finish the book…it was Parasite by Mira Grant…


It’s a story set in the future, 2027, where we have developed intestinal parasites that help keep humans healthy, but as always, in the future, our meddling with science will cause issues. This is the first of a 3-part series called Parasitology, and I’m looking forward to the next one. I really liked this book…it was scientifically intriguing (although the reason I gave it a 4 out of 5 on GoodReads is because some of the science wasn’t explained well enough, and that bugged me). There’s some obvious stuff going on and some political/corporate intrigue and a bunch of crazy people acting in the name of science or money or both. And dogs. Dogs are good in this story. All good stories should have dogs in them.

Interestingly, Mira Grant is the pseudonym for Seanan McGuire, whose Rosemary and Rue I read last year. I thought this was much better of a story, more solid and grab-at-you than the October Daye series (although I would probably read more of those as well). McGuire as Grant has also written the Newsflesh trilogy, which is now on my to-read list.

Then I finally made it home and managed to get to work on the last few hundred pieces on the newest quilt…I finished tracing around 11 PM (I fixed dinner and did other stuff in there, really)…and here it all is, laid out…

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It’s probably 7 yards…I try to cut about 1-yard pieces, although I don’t actually measure them, because that would be way more anal than I am (I know, I seem that anal, but I’m not). It took a total of 21 hours and 36 minutes to trace all of them, which is interesting because like I’ve said before, usually I can do 100 in an hour, so this one must have been more complicated. There are 1776 pieces officially (although I know there are probably 10-15 more due to mistakes in numbering). The quilt itself, well, the image anyway, is 34″ wide x 73″ high (so add about 10 inches to each of those measurements for a finished size).

In comparison, the quilt I did for Celebrating Silver is about 40×70″ and has 1227 pieces. So. Yeah. And it took only 95 hours to complete. I’m sure I can cut that time! (Are you kidding me? Tracing Celebrating only took a little over 11 hours. I am fucking nuts.)

Anyway. I’m going to start cutting those out today, knock on wood. I have a busy art day planned, with a new life-drawing class I’m trying out as a plan for the summer, lunch with friends I’ve never met in person (ah, the wonders of the internet), and then a stitching meeting afterwards (that’s where I’ll be cutting stuff…it’s not appropriate to cut out Wonder Under at the other two places, you know?).

I wasn’t quite ready to go to sleep when I finished, but I also wasn’t ready to cut the WU out, so I debated cleaning (I debate that a lot…mostly I do it for about 10-20 minutes and then I figure there must be something better to do). Then I remembered that I only had a little cutting left on the Mammogram fabrics, so I pulled that out…

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and managed to finish. It took a total of about 7 hours to cut this one out…interesting, because it only has about 360 pieces in it. But many of them are big and complicated pieces, difficult to cut out. So now it’s ready to iron down as well. I will probably save that for after Spring Break, because it’s not a difficult task…it doesn’t require a huge amount of brain power. I really want to get to the fabric-choosing phase of the big quilt over break, which is looking more and more impossible as the days disappear behind me. Oh well. It will all get done. And I need to draw! I have two I need to draw in the next few weeks. I’m not worried. They’re smaller than this one, but inevitably, I will make sure they have 12 trillion pieces in them.

Yup. I’m a little crazy that way. But you knew that already. But I finished two tasks! In one day! It must be Spring Break. That never happens in my real life.



Zooming In…

March 31, 2014

It’s interesting to wake up the morning after the hike and try to figure out what the hell you did the day before to cause the specific, different muscle pain that you have today. For instance, why does my right quad hurt so much more than the left? Maybe because that’s the leg I used to pull myself up onto rocks when we were scrambling up the canyon toward the waterfalls?

Then there’s Poison Oak Paranoia: every slightly itchy feeling since Saturday, I’m checking for the rash. I’m convinced it will show up (and it can take up to 5 days to show up, which is scary). At some point, I’ll get around to posting about that hike, but I have to resize the photos and I was in two long meetings yesterday, so I ran out of time.

My women’s art group is doing a show with Mexican female artists in September/October about the border, more of a conceptual collaborative piece than everyone contributing a single piece of art, so it requires meetings and brainstorming and working with people who work very differently than I do. I realize my experience of the border by being a teacher of students who regularly cross it is very different than others. I’m not entirely sure what I feel about it except that it seems to break up families and make it more difficult for certain groups of people, especially those who really don’t need more trouble in their lives. I read a book a few years ago about four Hispanic girls and the Dream Act and how this arbitrary line that we draw affected their lives. Anyway, you will probably see more about this project in the future, but know that right now, I am envisioning floating 3D fabric houses in the air above our real-live fence. And how that will go together. I think it’s good to force the art brain to work out of its comfort zone, out of what it’s used to doing.

Girlchild survived her weekend camp and came back invigorated and excited (she is so much more of an extrovert than I am). She had to tell everyone who her role model was as one of their team-building/introduction exercises, and she told me she chose me, and I said, “because you want to be a depressed, crazy old woman in your future?” and she said, no, because she wanted to be strong like me. Sigh. And I don’t feel strong at all most days. It’s like dragging myself along through the mud most days, but I guess she’s right. I just wish I didn’t HAVE to be so strong. It would be OK to have less to deal with and get through and to not have to feel like I’m always surviving things. I’d be OK with that. I guess I should tell her, some day, when it doesn’t make me burst into tears, that a huge part of my strength comes from having her and her brother around, that if they hadn’t been here this year, if they’d been off at college or even if they’d been around but not supportive (which believe it or not, they have been), then I don’t know where I’d be right now…maybe still in bed and under the covers. Maybe worse. Sigh.

I graded a little, but I didn’t let it take over my day. Then I traced some more…

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Honestly, this seems to be taking forever and I don’t know why. Complicated pieces? Tired brain? Hard to say. Lots of little skeleton pieces…hey, I must be tracing dirt again! Dirt, then water. Skeletons, then bodies. Then birds, always the birds…and cats. Actually, I think this one has a dog instead of a cat. I don’t remember drawing a cat. The drawing is so big and took so long to do that I don’t remember, and when I’m tracing it, it’s upside down on the light table, so I can’t see all of it. I literally only see the little section that I’m tracing.

Kinda how I’m living life at the moment…just the little section I can handle each day. The night before I usually think about the little section I will handle the following day, but I try not to think further ahead than that unless I have to. It’s too hard. It feels too empty.

Brain. You really need to rewire yourself. Being smart and reflective and all inside-looking and crap? It ain’t helping you at the moment. Look out. See the whole drawing, not just the piece you’re on.

Nope. That’s what gets me in trouble right now. Trying to see the whole picture. I zoom out, the brain freaks out, and I zoom back in, quickly erasing whatever set it off. I don’t know whether that’s the healthiest thing to do or not…it’s just what I’m doing to survive right now.

Recovering at Home

March 21, 2014

So I finally got the girlchild home tonight around 7 PM. It took some persuasion, but I was fairly sure she would recover faster at home away from the easy stuff at the hospital, so although she was scared to walk away from 24-hour care and access to better pain meds, we went home. Home, of course, in a divorce is a difficult concept. I did leave her at her dad’s, because he actually has a hospital bed in her room with the adjustable top and bottom (remnants of the marriage…I have one here in my garage as well, gifts from my grandmother to fill out our guest room, back when we had such a thing and she was getting rid of furniture she no longer needed). Plus I need to go back to work tomorrow and he is taking the day off to take care of her, so it makes more sense to not move her more than we have to at the moment.

Here’s where we spent the last 50-some hours…

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in the Acute Care Pavilion of Children’s Hospital, the big glass building in the background. I wish I could say I wandered around and took lots of pictures of all the art that was there, but mostly I stayed in the room with her, barely able to concentrate on anything longer than a blogpost. There was some possibility after this morning that I would have to spend a third night, so midday, I went home and showered and packed another bag for tonight, thus guaranteeing that I wouldn’t have to spend the night, right? Oh well…it was better to plan for it than not, like the night before. I think I’ve been home a total of 4.5 hours in the last 50.

She finally allowed one token photo of her in the room, about an hour before she was discharged…

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The painting behind her? I cannot say. I can tell you that we were on the air or sky floor, so all the paintings and art were related to the sky.

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Like this one of pigs flying…

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There were lots of whimsical things going on here. It was interesting, though, to walk into the family waiting room next to her room (she was sleeping and I was on the phone with work people about the chaos I missed but still need to know about), and to look at the giant photographs in the room and realize you know the artist, that she’s in one of your art groups. Wacky.

There were a lot of mosaics, which I’ve always loved, especially the irregularly shaped ones like this spiraling ocean of life that wandered through one of the outdoor gardens…

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The ex and I actually sat outside near this mosaic for most of her surgery. It was better than being inside. I’ve spent the last 3 days inside, I think. And this tile (and others like it) were in the main bathrooms scattered throughout…

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The animals were happy and calm…meant to make us feel the same way (except for the terrified puppies in hot-air balloons, of course).

Anyway, I left the meds and instructions with dad, and he can be in charge for the next 24 hours…we’ll see where we’re at after that. She can walk for short distances, but it hurts. She has to wear a brace while “ambulating” (doctor’s words) for the next three months. No soccer for three months. She has a ton of schoolwork to get done, and we need to get her back to school ASAP so she doesn’t miss too much.

I’m feeling a little distant from everything. I got very little done for all that time. Couldn’t stitch or read anything long at all. I finally managed to input grades today when I knew she was coming home. There’s something about that waiting state that doesn’t allow anything decisive to happen. I’ve accepted that as lost time. Moving on now.

I came home and did some dishes and ate and exercised and meditated (the first time I’ve done the last two since Monday night), so that was a relief. Now I’m going to sleep in my own bed with enough pillows and no one coming in every 2-4 hours to check vitals or give meds. What a relief. I’m hoping to get my art/creative brain back tomorrow, or at least be able to number the newest drawing or cut out pieces…pretty brainless stuff, but still on the artmaking spectrum.

She’s home. It’s good.


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