Finding Happiness One Stitch at a Time

There’s been a lot of talk about happiness these days, mostly because there are a lot of unhappy people walking around. Seems everybody is complaining about something and a lot of people are downhearted. Despite having lost my job last year and spending months finding my way back into the work force, which I did the end of February, I should have been unhappy, but I wasn’t. Part of what got me through my bump in the road was keeping a positive attitude and quilting. It’s my sanity check because it makes me incredibly happy. I got to wondering, what about other quilters; do they feel the same way? Is quilting their bliss too, is it their source of happiness? So I asked several quilters and here’s what I learned, key lessons that can be applied to anyone in any situation.

Betsy M. of Ramona, California says that “Each time I look for a quilting pattern to create, the excitement starts right away.  I love looking at the quilting shapes and colors and imagining what the person I’m going to make this quilt for will feel about my choices. It continues as I create the colors I’d like to implement in my creation. I love touching the fabric and auditioning the color combinations. This is when I enter my own world where nothing else matters, I’m the creator!”

Betsy likes every aspect of it, even cutting out fabrics, because to her it gives her a sense of a job well done. Her spirit soars as she “lovingly sorts and stacks the precious pieces of different colored fabrics that are now ironed and crisp. I admire my work, it’s stimulating, like looking at a bowl of fresh fruit that has multiple colors and textures. As I stitch the pieces together, the quiet hum of the sewing machine is melodic and soothing.” As she quilts, she is at “one” with the fabric, the machine and her objective — to imbue love and security into every stitch.

“Each quilt contains a piece of myself that I joyfully pass on with the hopes that its new owner will “feel” what was made for them. I love sewing for friends and family as well as making quilts for babies in the NICU at one of the local hospitals. I see my woven intentions every time I look at one of my quilts. Others may not see those intentions but I hope they can feel them. The best part about quilting is that I complete each quilt, then step back and admire my work. I did this! I took a piece of cloth and made it into something beautiful.”

Gillian Moss of San Diego told me “Quilting, sewing, creating is a huge part of who I am, I can’t imagine a day without doing or at least thinking about it.” She’s involved in various quilting and sewing groups and guilds, plus she runs the critique group at Visions Art Museum and occasionally teaches. Gillian says that each of them, in their different ways, feeds her soul. But it wasn’t a quilt that recently made her spirits soar.

Her daughter, who she says was never much of a ‘clothes horse’ type of girl, paid her a visit and entered Gillian’s studio with a very old shirt in her hand. “It’s finally done” her daughter said. Gillian immediately recognized the beloved shirt with a seahorses pattern. Her daughter had worn it for many years and now it had two tears and was on its way to the trash.

“Memories of a rare mom and daughter shopping trip made me say ‘ let me try to mend it’,” Gillian recalls. “Is the shirt salvageable? Is it worth my time and effort?” Gillian decided that it was. “As I sit and sew the fabric back together, working out how to give this shirt with all its memories a new lease of life, I am happy. I think of my daughter, much changed since the day I bought her the shirt. The fact that I can mend this one small thing in her life — that makes me really happy.”

Lindy Chrivia, El Cajon, California got talked into taking a beginning quilt class by her sister. She remembers thinking that only old ladies quilted; at age 55 she didn’t think of herself as old yet. She was hooked from the first class. Over the years she has made traditional pieced quilts for family, graduating to hand-appliqué. In 2015 she won two impressive prizes at the San Diego County Fair, a best in show and another quilt won second prize. Lindy recalls it was “a highlight that reduced me to tears!”

At age 65 Lindy received news that no one ever wants to hear; she was diagnosed with stage four cancer. She says that years of chemotherapy have taken their toll on her.  She has very little energy, saving whatever she has for making quilts. Cancer doesn’t stand a chance with Lindy; she has better things to do.

“I happily sew for hours; the quilt making gives me peace and the pain and nausea seem to disappear.” It must be incredibly therapeutic for her. Lindy’s doctor originally gave her a prognosis of living 18 months, at most. Lindy has more than outlived that dire prediction. She says her doctor calls it a miracle, but Lindy sees it differently. “It seems part of the miracle is making quilts.”

VCB, who asked to stay anonymous, was divorced and suffering from an ailment her doctors could not diagnose. To put it mildly, she was not in good spirits. One day she walked into a quilt shop at a mall, bought a magazine on Miniature Quilts and some fabrics to give it a try. At home she cut out the tiny pieces and assembled the little quilt by hand. She was pretty pleased with herself, adding that it greatly improved her outlook. Years later, after overcoming cancer she went back to work, taking a position that proved to be one of the most atrocious jobs she’s ever had. Day after day VCB would come home and cry. She was just plain miserable and realized it was no way to live; she had to do something to counter all the negativity at work. She knew how much joy she got from making her mini quilts and decided to join a quilting guild, a wise decision that has helped maintain her sanity. Besides improving her state of mind she’s now making big quilts!

Darlene Piche of San Diego started quilting 30 years ago.  She still remembers the delight she felt putting together different prints for her very first quilt. She says, “that thrill has never left me.  Putting prints, colors, and textures together is a creative expression.  It is my go-to happy place.  When I am creating a quilt, I’m able to forget about the responsibilities of my normal life.  Yes, I’ll admit, it is an addiction. ”

Darlene adds that quilting has been the foundation of many meaningful friendships with people who share her passion.  “With my quilting friends, I am always learning new things,” she says.  “It’s a wise way to age and still stay young at heart. I cannot imagine my life without quilting. Any day I have a needle and thread in my hand is a great day!”

So my friends, what makes you happy? For me it’s getting lost in the creative endeavor of making a quilt. I love visualizing the initial style concept, choosing the colors, the patterns of the fabric, the style of quilting stitches. The whole thing—keeps me engrossed in the process and relieves my mind of the travails of everyday life.

Everyone should find at least one thing that will alleviate stress they can rely upon for solace. And as a bonus, perhaps even give additional meaning to their life.

A Simple Act Makes a Difference

Sometimes it’s easy to become complacent whether it be in your own community or beyond. Many people question if anything they do can truly make a difference and often, assuming that they can’t, don’t even try. If you find yourself falling into this rut, take a look at what two women are doing to bring joy to veterans and active service members.

Bonnie Aker and Kathi Henderson of Albuquerque, New Mexico are quilters with big hearts, huge hearts actually. They don’t just make quilts; they make quilts with a purpose. Since 2011 they have made 45 Quilts of Valor, 25 of which have been donated to veterans on dialysis at the VA Hospital in Albuquerque.

What is a Quilt of Valor? It’s an organization full of volunteers who make quilts for veterans and service members touched by war. As of this writing QOV volunteers have made and donated 151,768 quilts. Just to give you an idea of what this entails, most quilts without a lot of complicated design take 25-45 hours to complete (some longer, some shorter). Averaging 35 hours per quilt that comes out to over 5.3 million hours! Now that’s a lot of heart. You must be wondering how all these people came together to make these quilts for our deserving military.

To give you a little background, the Quilts of Valor Foundation began in 2003 while founder Catherine Roberts’ son Nat was deployed in Iraq. She had a dream that her son was battling war demons and in the next scene he was wrapped in a quilt, his demons at bay. She knew what she had to do and QOV was born. The organization awarded its first quilt in November 2003 to a young soldier from Minnesota who had lost his leg in Iraq. From there it grew, went viral in internet-speak.

Fast forward to 2011 when Kathi and Bonnie got involved. They learned that Sue Wolf of the QoV Foundation put out a call for quilts. That was all the impetus they needed to start sewing. Several of the quilts they made were for what Bonnie and Kathi call “woodworkers”, veterans who were having a hard time with issues ranging from depression to alcoholism, vets who seemed to come “out of the woodwork” when presented with a handmade quilt.

Several quilts stand out in their collective memory. When they heard about Marine SSGT Andrew Saiz, awarded a Silver Star, who was killed with six of his MARSOC Raiders 5 team members in a training helicopter crash off the coast of North Carolina in March 2015, they made one for his parents.

Another quilt took on personal significance. They designed and personalized a quilt to honor a close friend, one of Albuquerque’s true heroes, John Bode, who was awarded an Air Force Cross for valor in Vietnam.  They created a “T-shirt Quilt”, with pictures, logos and airplanes depicted on the shirts. John Bode is a pretty stoic guy, but even he couldn’t keep his eyes from welling up when given the quilt that documented his years in Vietnam.

        

And then there is “Ted’s Quilt”, that will probably stand out as one of the most significant quilts the women ever made. It was conceived after a trip to Spartanburg, South Carolina in September 2016. John Bode received a call that one of his buddies from his Air Force fighter pilot training days over 60 years ago was going through a rough patch. As soon as he spoke with his old friend, Ted, he knew he had to fly east.  You see Ted had been captured and imprisoned in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” (yeah, THAT Hanoi Hilton); he was a POW for 6-1/2 years in what can only be described as a hell hole. It was Ted’s imprisonment that compelled John to volunteer to go to Vietnam. With a history and bond like that it’s no wonder that John sprung into action when he heard his buddy was having a hard time. Kathi and her husband, Air Force Colonel (ret), Wally Henderson flew with John and his wife, Diane, to South Carolina.

At his home Ted showed the group around his “I-Love-Me Room”, the study that his dear wife Ruth had decorated for him with all of Ted’s medals, pictures of all the jets Ted had flown in his Air Force career, all of his unit patches, all of his commendations and achievement awards, and his pictures of being released as a POW. After Ruth’s passing the room took on even greater meaning.

The tour of Ted’s study haunted Kathi. She couldn’t forget Ruth’s careful placement of each item and the love that permeated that room. It was as though Ruth took up residence in the study. The moment Kathi returned from the trip to Spartanburg, she knew exactly what she needed to do and began to design a personalized quilt for Ted. It had to be a T-Shirt quilt, though different than John Bode’s.  It had to have all the elements that Ruth had included in Ted’s study, not an easy task. But given the wonders of the internet she was able to find a number of websites that offered military T-Shirts including all the military jets Ted had flown – the F-86 Sabre, the F-100 Super-Sabre, the F-104 Starfighter, the F-105 Thunderchief, as well as the POW/MIA logo, a map of Vietnam, and a “TAC Patch” shirt. First Kathi made fabric transfers of pictures that she had taken in South Carolina and incorporated them into the quilt design. She found two of Ted’s unit patches on eBay – the 13th and the 44th – to appliqué onto the quilt as a finishing touch. She framed the design with fabric featuring grey pilot wings on a red background; the sashing (strips between the blocks) displayed a blue sky with clouds. She even found US Air Force licensed fabric for the back.  After Kathi completed the top and made it into a “quilt sandwich” with the batting and backing fabric, Bonnie machine-quilted it with a military jet pattern on her 12-foot long-arm sewing machine.  Kathi hand-bound the quilt, sewed a label onto the back and appliquéd on the two patches.

Now this is where serendipity chimes into the story. On the following Monday, out of the blue, Ted emailed John and Kathi a letter he had written to Ruth when he was a POW; it was dated Christmas 1970. All it said was, “After four years. No end in sight. Ted”.  Kathi felt like the email was asking for some response, though she wasn’t sure what could be said. She wrote back, “Your letter from 46 years ago touched my heart. Is this your first Christmas without your beloved Ruth?” His reply, “It’s the second. She passed away Dec 16 last year. Ted”.  This unexpected exchange of emails happened on December 13th.

Suddenly everything fell into place. Kathi said, “The quilt positively, absolutely, unmistakenly HAD to be delivered on Friday, December 16th, the first anniversary of Ruth’s passing.”

After Ted opened the package on that Friday, the delivery right on schedule, he wrote, “I am amazed, flabbergasted, dumbstruck. I could not believe what I was unfolding! What wonderful workmanship. My sister came over later and took  pictures. She wants to hang it on one of my walls. I said not until I spend the rest of the winter keeping warm with it. You are right. I can feel the warmth and love that comes with it. PS. Ruth loves it too.”

Kathi replied, “Ted, I believe our visit in September, the conception of a QoV for you, the design, the timing — were all meant to be. Call it the work of angels; call it kismet; call it karma; call it quantum entanglement. It was just meant to be. I know Ruth loves it…”

Talk about making a difference. So the next time you think you can’t do something to brighten the life of another, think again. The simplest act can make the greatest impact in ways you can never imagine. Kudos to Kathi and Bonnie for keeping the spirit of giving back alive.

For more information on the Quilts of Valor Foundation please visit them here.

Reasons to be Thankful

It’s that time of year when we reflect upon all the blessings in our lives. While the “thankful” part of Thanksgiving seems to have taken a back seat to football, Black Friday specials starting in the afternoon and a general sense of malaise, it remains an important holiday in our American culture. It makes us stop whatever we are doing and think about all that we have, not what we don’t. Which is kind of an oxymoron with the commercialization of Christmas right around the corner, encouraging people to overspend, over consume and be sure to buy presents for themselves while shopping for others. With that in mind I started thinking about what I am thankful for this year, which by the way for reasons I will keep private, has not been an easy year. Nevertheless there is much for which I am grateful; here are a few of them:

reasons-sign

Family. We don’t always agree nor do we see each other much due to living all over the country. Even so, they are mine and I love them.

I’ve always looked at life through my own pair of rose-colored glasses. From an early age, these special glasses instilled in me the ability to see the proverbial “cup” as half-full, even when it isn’t. This is the source of my optimism.

I believe that people are essentially good and have good intentions, though their behavior indicates otherwise. Call me a Pollyanna. This viewpoint gives me an unwavering capacity to recognize the best in every situation, to be able to find the silver lining. It is that silver living that gives me hope for humanity.  I trust that a good heart will always prevail over one full of deceit or venom. Karma has a way of evening out the playing field.

Call me naïve — I’ve always maintained that given a choice, people will do what is right. Time and again I have witnessed the opposite; even so, that does not dampen my faith in humanity.

Taking the high road is always the best route. There’s something to be said for civility, grace and treating one another with the utmost respect, which these days seems to be a lost art. Even so I think it’s the best way to travel.

Trusting gut instincts and a keen intuition. Everyone has these abilities; we are all born with them. I am incredibly grateful that mine are still intact because they never fail me when I listen to them. If something feels wrong it’s because it usually is.

We all have voices in our heads, they are our conscience. I listen to mine, because my conscience usually perceives danger before I do; it’s sort of a warning signal. Those times that I’ve ignored my conscience, hoo-boy, have I gotten into a boatload of trouble.

I am thankful for the simplicity in my life, a conscious decision I made several years ago. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that life really isn’t that complicated unless you make it so. These days I make a daily effort to reel in what is simple and plain to the eye because that is the soul of a life worth living.

In closing I leave you with this — many years ago I read a quote by Maya Angelou. In paraphrasing she said ‘you may not always remember what someone did, you may not always remember what someone said, but you will never forget how someone made you feel.’

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Wishing all of you a safe and grateful Thanksgiving.

Until next time,

Jeffree Wyn

Cool Kids Chillin’ in Buffalo

Chill Kneeling with kidsIt’s summer, it’s hot and muggy, and it’s impossibly hard to cool down, especially in the inner city neighborhoods. Then a guy comes by on a bike, an ice cream bike, and relief is within reach, except for one little problem. You’re a kid whose family hasn’t much, even enough for an ice cream. So you stand to the side and watch and salivate and wish you could have an ice cream.

This scenario is not so unusual and it’s why I particularly love what James Karagiannis of Buffalo is doing for kids in his community. He’s the perfect example of how one person can generate a smile in a second and make a difference.

In his upstate New York hometown locals know James as the Ice Cream Dude, and what a dude he is. In 2007 he started a bicycle ice cream business, sort of like the ole musical ice cream truck, only it’s a cart of frozen treats connected to his bike. He doesn’t charge a lot for his ice cream novelties, just a buck a piece, but for some kids who have nothing, even that is too much. From the start he encountered a dilemma—how to help out these kids without giving them a handout.

He says that “one of the hardest parts about being an ice cream dude is seeing the disappointment on a kid’s face when all of their friends buy ice cream but they’re left out because they don’t have a dollar.”

While he says that he has the latitude to give away freebies he can’t afford to give to every single person. “Trust me, we get asked a lot!”

Chill James and more kidsHe adds that he doesn’t like just giving something away to a kid “without at least trying to teach a lesson. We’re in these neighborhoods every day and are a part of these kids’ lives; we have the responsibility to be positive role models.”

He came up with a way to teach them a lesson while being a positive role model and giving them the ice cream they want. He makes them earn the ice cream by answering questions, a quiz.

“They love questions,” he says “and I love that I’m teaching them things. I would have been a teacher if I wasn’t an entrepreneur.”

James makes it fun while making the kids feel that they earned their ice cream, which he ensures they do.

“I let them choose their subject, but often times it’s easiest to pull a dollar out of my pocket, tell them I’ll give them the dollar if they can tell me the city it was printed in. I give them clues, for example, San Francisco would be ‘there was a gold rush here in 1849.’ They can’t figure that out until I have them draw the connection between the football team and the meaning of 49ers.”

Answering questions doesn’t always work out for every kid, so he came up with another idea. “If they want a free ice cream, they’re going to have to write a thank you note.”

And boy, oh boy, have those kids been writing thank you notes! James thought that the thank you cards would be a nice because he personally appreciates personal thank you cards, something you don’t see much these days. A lost art.

“For years people have been giving me a few bucks to buy ice cream for the next group of kids I see. I thought the thank you cards would be a nice gift for them while teaching the kids in the process.”

Another reason he decided to have the kids fill out the cards is because the people who donate money never get to see the joy on the children’s faces when he gives out the treats. The cards work both ways.

Chill TY postcards“Now there’s an opportunity to put a smile on someone’s face and receive one in return,” he says.

The process is pretty simple. For anyone who donates he has the kids write thank you notes, which James mails to the donors. The thank you notes do just as much for the donors as the kids.

“Maybe it arrives in your mailbox long after you’ve forgotten about it, maybe it arrives on a day you could use an extra smile.” James just loves the idea of helping the kids and showing them how they can express appreciation.

Oh, and I almost forgot, he’s so humble all he sees is the goodness in others. When asked what’s his favorite part of the job he said “when a kid who only has $1 offers their ice cream to a friend, sibling, or parent. Totally selfless. I always buy those kids an ice cream.”

James says that there are eight of them on the ice cream bikes and each of them does something extra for the kids. All of them have the kids fill out the thank you cards, but each has an extra thing they like to do with the kids. James asks questions and sometimes races his bike with them.

“Rex likes to shoot hoops with the kids. He gives them a freebie if they make a three point shot. Jerrod likes to do science experiments.”

Chill girls with ice cream mess

Ice cream on a hot, sticky day, giving back, and having fun in the process, ah, life is sweet, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Be sure to check out the Ice Cream Dude’s website and Facebook page to see more photos and videos. And if you’re feeling inspired and want to support the ice cream fund, it’s easy.

What do you think—is James’ idea cool or what? Leave me a comment.

 

 

Unleashing Hidden Talent Restores Dignity

Though Alzheimer’s devastates individuals and their families, occasionally a bright light shines from its dark tunnel. Sometimes innate gifts obscured through the toils of daily life emerge. Like what happened to Lester Potts, the late father of Dr. Daniel Potts, a well-known Alabama neurologist.

UHT HummingbirdLester was a rural Alabama saw miller who became an acclaimed watercolor artist after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (AD). Prior to developing AD he had never before shown any artistic talent. Art and music therapy at Caring Days, a dementia daycare center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama fed his creative expression, improving his cognition, mood, and behavior.

Daniel and his wife Ellen witnessed a transformation in Lester quite unlike anything they had ever seen. Moreover, what impressed them was how these therapies helped to restore Lester’s dignity and improved his quality of life. It was nothing short of extraordinary. Ellen remembers the time clearly.

“The only thing Lester had drawn before was of something to build. He was practical, the most utilitarian soul ever. For him to become an artist, it was so out of character. The more his disease progressed the more he painted his memories. This part of his psyche was released as his frontal lobe deteriorated. Where (Alzheimer’s took) the sense of self went away,” she explains, “his right parietal lobe was pretty much untouched until late in the disease process. All that creativity was probably there all along.”

Ellen explains that the frontal lobe inhibits creativity that may be buried deep within. “You’re inhibited from doing things you may have the talent to do because you don’t think you have the ability or you’re too inhibited to try. All that creativity was untouched until late in the disease process. It was probably there the whole time. The fact that he of all people would become an artist was the most miraculous thing of all.”

Lester’s new abilities influenced his son. “Before we knew it the art got a hold of me and I was staying up all night writing poetry, which is something I’d never done in my entire life,” Daniel says. “I went to Ellen and said we ought to put a book together of Dad’s art and my poetry.” In 2006 they put out The Broken Jar featuring his poetry and Lester’s art.

You’d think that a story like this would be enough, right? Not this couple. They took it and ran in order to give other dementia patients the same good fortune. They developed a program in collaboration with the University of Alabama Honors College, called Bringing Art to Life.

UHT GroupEach semester the program pairs five participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s with three Honors students.  Before the start of the art therapy sessions the students receive instruction on Alzheimer’s, person-centered care techniques, art and other expressive arts therapies, and are taught the importance of honoring and preserving the life story.  For the next eight weeks the students and patients work side-by-side in group art therapy.  During the sessions, the students capture life story elements for later use in crafting a memoir.

According to Daniel and Ellen, one of the most heartwarming aspects is watching how the students develop empathy for the dementia patients and for their caregivers.  The Potts’ based the course on A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer Caregiver, a book they co-wrote in 2011. Lester was not their only family member with Alzheimer’s. Between the two of them they have lost eight family members to Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. They demonstrated every situation in the book with a family story.

Daniel explains their motivation for establishing the program. “We were trying to use our experience with Dad and others to show that the person is still in there and build on that. Our focus is honoring the human being, the dignity people still have, despite this disease. We can still have a relationship with them that can be transformative for everybody. The art and the music help you tap into that.”

Ellen says “Through the pairing of the students and participants, it’s been nearly miraculous how some of the participants were able to come out of their shell.” She describes how the students and dementia patients found a connection, adding that previously many of the patients had been withdrawn and had stopped interacting with their families. “In the art therapy and reminiscing sessions they came to life.”

They tell the story of a well-known Southern artist, Sara Turner, who lost her sight to macular degeneration and developed Alzheimer’s. She joined Art to Life in 2014. Daniel remembers the day the 95 year-old joined the program.

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“Sara came into the room the first time and said she used to be an artist but didn’t think she could do the art project. Her students helped her, guided her hands, talked her through it, and asked her favorite colors.” She was elated and told the students “I can feel colors again”.

“Sara was completely authentic; the Alzheimer’s couldn’t mask that. The students were completely inspired by this blind woman with Alzheimer’s,” he says. “She was so full of gratitude, just to be alive and present. It made the students have introspection and look at their own lives and their own fears and the things they’re dealing with. Interacting with Sara brought all that out. It was therapy for those kids to be in the presence of this woman.”

UHT Sara CelebrationHe remembers sitting back and watching and being in tears. “Sara named the finished piece, Celebration – it’s a new beginning. It was a celebration and a new beginning and it was one of those Art to Life moments that has changed so many lives over the course of the last five years.”

Indeed. And to think it all started with a rural saw miller who had never painted a day in his life. I imagine that Lester is still painting, and smiling down on Daniel and Ellen, proud of how they’re changing lives through art, proud of all the goodness they’ve instilled. And maybe he’s just a little bit proud to have been the inspiration. How could he not be?

To see The Broken Jar, click here.

To learn more about Bringing Art to Life please visit them here.

 

Genesis

With the many blogs on the Internet you might be asking “Seriously? Do we really need yet another blog?” Good question. Is a new blog going to answer unanswered questions, heal our psychological wounds or do something, anything that makes a profound difference? Something that other blogs do not? Yes, I believe that this blog will do exactly that because that is the reason for its creation. Continue reading “Genesis”