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.

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

Texas Wonder Woman

TWW Ricki 2You’ve probably heard the phrase, “she be small, but she be mighty”. That pretty much describes Ricky Polcer of Tyler, Texas. Though a woman of small stature, that has not deterred her from finding needs and filling them. Like others profiled on this blog, she radiates goodness.

Her story begins with quilts, simple quilts that comfort people across the United States. She learned the craft from her aunt who taught her how to piece together fabrics at the age of eight. She didn’t get serious about quilt making until her retirement from the civil service in 2001 and then she began making quilts and more quilts and yes, more quilts. To date Ricky has made over 1,120 quilts since she hung up her day job and began using her talents for helping others. Of course you must be wondering what one woman needs or does with 1,120 quilts. Charity. She makes quilts for charity. And are they grateful!

Of that mind boggling number she has made and donated 146 quilts to the National Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study Quilt Project that provides lap sized quilts to TWW quiltspatients who participate in Alzheimer’s research. Her father suffered from Alzheimer’s for over 10 years, the last eight months in a coma, and knew well what patients and their families endure. She says she makes quilts for the project because “it’s one way I can give back in his memory.”

Ricky also sews for the Quilts for Kids chapter in Austin, Texas, an organization that provides quilts to children with life – threatening illnesses and children of abuse. Ricky’s says “I love knowing I’ve provided someone with warmth and love, giving throughout the year, it’s a good feeling.” She had made and donated 982 quilts to QFK to date.

Those child and teen quilts go to a variety of local kids’ causes such as CASA, (Court Appointed Special Advocates), for newborns to teens aged 18, who are removed from their homes due to neglect, abuse, parent incarceration or death. Another group that receives her quilts is Hospice Austin for newborns to kids up to 18 who are either a Hospice patient or have an immediate family member in Hospice. A third organization who receives her quilts is the Dell Children’s/Ronald McDonald House for children undergoing long term treatment for a life altering disease or condition.

And then there are the girls at New Life. These children aged 11-18 have suffered the unfathomable: severe physical, sexual and mental abuse.  The girls who live in and go to school at New Life undergo psychiatric intervention to turn their tumultuous lives around. Many are suicidal when they enter New Life.  My gosh, what do you do for a kid like that? Ricky knows; she has made a bunch of quilts for the girls as well as 288 pillow cases that the girls received at the holidays. To give the girls something fun to purchase in the New Life facility store, she whipped up 104 cosmetic bags that they girls can “buy” using good behavior points that work like money.  To make sure there was makeup the girls could buy to put in the cosmetic cases Ricky purchased 200 e.l.f. cosmetics to line the store shelves. She also made 36 fleece throws and 153 totes the girls can purchase in the little store.

TWW two pupsDoes this woman have a heart as big as Texas, or what? She makes the Energizer Bunny look like a slacker especially because that’s not all this spunky woman does. Ricky is as passionate about her other “hobby” as what she sews for those in need.

Since 2007 when she took in her first greyhound and got involved with Greyhounds TWW Ricki & pupsUnlimited of Dallas, Texas she has been fostering and adopting the elegant former racing dogs. To date Ricky has fostered 10 “greyts” with medical issues, and adopted eight. At this time she cares for two greyts, an eight year-old named Jinx and seven year-old Manuel. To be expected she sews for the dogs too, items like fleece belly bands to keep male dogs from marking the inside of a house. The woman’s energy knows no limits.

I’m not sure that this dynamo eats or sleeps, how else does she do it? I imagine that joy and the elation of giving back plays a big part. When asked her favorite part of quilting she answered, “I treasure the quiet time with my greyhounds at my feet helping.” For Ricky, quilts and greyhounds go hand in hand. Quilts and greyts, what a sweet combo.

Do you know of a selfless hero or heroine like Ricky Polcer in your town? If so, I’d like to hear about it. Please leave a comment below.

 

Tidbits of Love… The Biggest Little Thing

TBoL be braveIf you strolled along the Coast Highway in Encinitas, California on the pedestrian path, you’d come upon a Nantucket style fence with little pieces of whimsical artwork tucked under the wires, free for the taking. Or maybe you’d see one left behind in a café, on a park bench or a little box filled with them in a local gift shop. If you were really lucky, maybe someone handed you one featuring a colorful dragonfly, you turned it over and read “Be brave. Believe in you!” And suddenly you know that you’ve been handed an unexpected gift because that was exactly what you needed to hear that day. It happened to a runner named Jenna. She saw that little piece of artwork featuring a wave along the Coast Highway the very day she was going for a job interview. She needed that encouragement to be brave.

So what are these little cards and who is behind them? They’re called Tidbits of Love® and TBoL Sharonare the brainchild of local artist, Sharon Belknap. She was born with a natural ability to draw that lead to a degree in art and a career in graphic design. But as Sharon says, when the field entered the age of computers the whole tactile sense of drawing became lost to her. Not every graphic artist would notice that loss, but Sharon did.

“I felt something was really missing in my life,” Sharon remembers. “Two years ago I started sketching again. It wasn’t that I wanted to get back to my drawing, it was that I left something important behind.” In other words, Sharon needed to get back to drawing, back to the pencil on paper, the tactile part of creating art.

She took online classes at SketchbookSkool.com and found a global community of like-minded aspiring artists. Sharon began drawing and posting her work on her Facebook page. She was provoked by one comment in particular.

“Up comes a friend from 8th grade, Heather Walsh, who even in 8th grade would tell you what you needed to do. She just had a sense of things. She’d been watching my sketches and challenged me to do seven consecutive days of positive Facebook posts with sketches. A lot of work! I thought what can I do that’s small and from my imagination?”

TBoL painting

Sharon drew seven little sketches, outline only, just the pen and ink, applied watercolor paints, photographed, and posted them on Facebook. Subsequently, she remembered her community of sketchbook skool artist friends and posted to them as well. The comments came at her like a hard summer rain, relentless. She sat for hours reading and responding to everyone.

“That was my seminal moment – all this love, genuine appreciation of the style, the imagery, the colors, the idea to do little drawings,” she says.

She wasn’t yet developing a product; she was only fulfilling a challenge from an 8th grade classmate. Then came a comment from a woman who wrote “they exude joy”.

“When I read her words something shifted in me and I realized I had a responsibility to do something with these drawings, because I’ve always had a personal commitment to bring more joy into the world with every interaction. I felt a responsibility to use my talent.”

TBoL little girl

Around that time Sharon decided to take her art out of her home and into a studio space, a place that would support her creativity, apart from her graphics and home. She’d moved her design business home 28 years ago to raise her two children. It was time to fly. She rented what can only be called a tiny cottage on the Coral Tree Farm in Encinitas. It’s an organic farm right in the center of town. One moment you’re in a neighborhood and the next you’re walking by trees laden with fruit and vegetables as bountiful as waves on the nearby Pacific Ocean. From somewhere at the back of the property you hear the bleating of a goat. And then you see Sharon’s tiny studio; you step inside; Sharon’s creative genius envelops you.

With a place to create her art and a vision Tidbits of Love® was born. At this point you may be wondering what exactly is a tidbit of love? They are tiny cards with a big heart. Have you ever heard the phrase that from little things come big ideas? Small as they are these tidbits are big for all the good they do. Tidbits come in small boxes of 40. The fronts feature Sharon’s whimsical hand drawn sketches inspired by nature like a sun, a ladybug, a water lily or a butterfly, to mention a few.  Five of the backs are blank for writing your own messages, the rest express messages like “Smile! You’re appreciated!” and “Thank you for you!” and “Enjoy the journey, it’s all yours!” I especially like the one with an endearing crescent moon surrounded by stars and on the back: “A shooting star for you.”

I’m not the only one mesmerized by these little wonders that Sharon calls her ‘little bits of magic’. Once people receive one or see them, they get it right away and understand the powerful message that the tiny cards pass onto others. They feel supported and appreciated and the little card is theirs to keep, to cheer them on.

TBoL make a wish

“I’ve sent boxfuls to places where tragedy has occurred,” she says. “I sent a box to a friend in Arizona who is a principal at a school for kids who are high risk. They are now part of their weekly accountability chart. I sent several boxes to the White House and received a lovely thank you.”

Sharon says that people are working them into their daily lives, and finding their own ways of using them. In the first year she went through 2,000 boxes, selling and giving them away to promote what she calls ‘random acts of kindness’.

TBoL Bill Tall

Recently Sharon asked her Facebook followers how they’re using Tidbits of Love® and what kind of responses they’ve seen. A few of their answers tell the story:

“Making the world a better place, one tidbit at a time.”

“One of the many things that resonates with me is that most recipients look at the tidbit and then press it to their heart in thanks!”

“I gave a box of tidbits to my dear Aunt following a diagnosis of terminal cancer. She said they gave her gratitude a voice. She warmly shared them with friends and caregivers. I believe they made her final days a bit warmer.”

“I love sneaking tidbits of love into unexpected places like the Goodwill donation box, or in the mail box for the mailman to find, or on random windows in the parking lot. It’s fun to give people an unexpected smile and warm up their hearts.”

“Typical responses to receiving a tidbit? Smiles, smiles, and more smiles!”

Tidbits of Love. The biggest little thing. Visit Sharon at her website and tell her what you think.

 

 

 

 

Home Sweet Home

An 11-month-old Siberian Husky named Kiera and her two puppies suffered unfathomable cruelty that no animal should endure. It was remarkable that she was found on the brink of death and even more remarkable that she survived. Clearly she possessed a powerful will to live.

Local police in Oceanside, California found Kiera in a backyard, tethered to a steel ladder by a bike lock cable with less than 12” slack. She had no access to shelter, to food or to water. Furthermore someone had tightly bound her muzzle with duct tape for who knows how long, preventing her from eating, drinking or attending to her two 12-week old puppies. When found she was underweight and her fur severely matted. Law enforcement found her puppies confined to a garage, dehydrated, but otherwise in good condition.

Steve MacKinnon, Chief of Humane Law Enforcement for the San Diego Humane Society said that the condition of the duct tape, and her emaciated frame, suggested that she had been suffering for a long time. They could not figure out how she survived as long as she did, or how she was able to care for her puppies. What kind of monster does that to innocent animals?

After a thorough investigation, the law enforcement division determined that the cruelty was committed by people living in the household, but there was not enough evidence to establish who actually committed the acts of cruelty. All residents in the house had some level of knowledge of the cruelty, and everyone failed to act to protect Kiera. Without substantial evidence they could not press cruelty charges. Damn. Those people deserved to have the book thrown at them! Had the Oceanside Police Department not contacted the Humane Society Law Enforcement division when they did Kiera would likely not have survived.

Upon arrival at their facilities San Diego Humane Society veterinarians conducted thorough medical exams on Kiera and her puppies. Over the following weeks, given proper nutrition and a safe, warm place to recuperate, Kiera and her pups recovered to the point of being cleared to find their furrever homes. And find those homes they did.

All three dogs went home with their new families on January 26th.  Eric Vanaselja adopted Kiera and he says that she has been a great addition to the family.

“She lives with my grandfather and I,” he says, “and though she’s still a puppy at heart and can be a handful, she listens and follows directions very well. She gets a lot of love from both friends and strangers. It’s hard to resist that face of hers, and she receives it well–she loves the attention, no matter who it is.” He adds that when he first took her home she was very malnourished, thin, and shedding heavily. “Since then, the shedding has slowed a lot, and she’s back up to a healthy weight. Overall she seems to be a happy pup!” Absolutely remarkable for a dog abused as she was who stood at death’s door.

Shannon Gearing and her boyfriend, Yuri, adopted the puppy Johnny, who they renamed Brewski. She says he’s completely healthy now. He had a kennel cough and a bad stomach when they adopted him, but medication cleared up those issues. He’s been fully vaccinated and is growing fast, recently weighing in at 25.4 lbs at 19 weeks old.

“He’s very sweet and social and always wants to stop to say hi to people and other dogs,” she says. “Fear is not really in this guy’s personality.” Considering the horror this puppy experienced in the first three months of his life it’s really incredible that fear has not marred him. At the time of this writing Brewski was returning to the Humane Society to begin puppy training.

Brewski’s sister, June, was adopted by a gentleman named Maurice Wrighten, who renamed her Junebug. Cute, huh? Love that name.  She has gained about eight pounds and is undergoing puppy training. Maurice says Junebug is making lots of friends at the park near his house. “She loves the water at the beach but is not crazy about the waves yet.” Ah, Maurice, give her some time. She will be a surfing dog yet. The bug interacts with his 12-year-old daughter Gabriella, his close friends Lily, Dannie and his neighbors. He says that she plays with lots of kids, and  judging from the photo of Junebug, that’s not hard to imagine. Junebug obviously found a great home and great dad.

Animal cruelty stories are tough to write and equally tough to read. But once in a great while they have a happy ending like the one that these sweet dogs found. Thank goodness for the Oceanside police officers who rescued these innocent dogs and the San Diego Humane Society who cared for them and found them new homes with kind, loving pet parents, Eric, Shannon and Maurice. Talk about finding a furrever home and a happily ever after. I love stories like this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tim, a Remarkable Young Man

Tim Harris and his story warms my heart. I’ve never met Tim, though I always meant to. You see, Tim is the first person with Down Syndrome to open and operate his own restaurant. Tim was as good a restaurateur as anyone. He’d wanted to own his own restaurant since he was a kid. To pursue that dream he attended Eastern New Mexico University and graduated in the summer of 2008 with certificates in food service, office skills and restaurant hosting.

In 2010 when he opened “Tim’s Place” in Albuquerque he became something of a local and national sensation. A true celebrity, for all the right reasons. Not only did he break barriers by doing what most people figured that someone with Down Syndrome could not do, he did it with a smile. You see, when you walked into Tim’s Place he greeted you with a smile so infectious that you couldn’t help but grin back. On the menu you could order a free hug. And boy did Tim give them out. As of the end of 2015, he’d given out approximately 75,000 hugs. To make sure his tally was accurate he put a counter on the wall to keep track of the hugs. How cool is that? It wasn’t long before Tim’s Place took on a slogan: “the world’s friendliest restaurant”.

I lived in Albuquerque for nearly 10 years and though I’ve been gone a long time (since before Tim opened his place) I frequently return to visit friends. On every trip I say that I’m going to swing by Tim’s Place and meet the man behind the smiles and hugs, but to my own loss, I never did. I waited too long because I recently learned that Tim closed down his restaurant in late 2015. I was a little devastated when I heard about the closure, for my own selfish reasons that I never got one of those magical smiles or hugs, but also because I wondered what happened. I’d read that the restaurant was his dream, his dream-come-true and it was successful, so why close? It seemed such a blow, however I learned it was anything but.

Love. Tim closed his dream restaurant for love. He met a wonderful woman, Tiffani Johnson, at the National Down Syndrome Congress Convention. The two started dating the summer of 2015, a real challenge because Tiffani lived in Iowa.  Even so, Tim and Tiffani fell in love, fell hard. It was tough on Tim and Tiffani, ultimately they decided to move to Denver. They picked the Rocky Mountain city because Tiffani had already been planning to move to Denver to be near family, but for Tim, the stakes were higher. Ultimately, love won. Tim made the decision to close the restaurant and move to Denver to be with Tiffani. His decision was not lost on Tiffani who recognized what he was giving up to be with her.

Sad as this seems, there is a happy ending here. Not only is he now with the woman he calls the love of his life, but he plans to open a new Tim’s Place in the Denver area. And when he does, I will definitely visit. You see we have family in Denver and get up there every year. Personally, I can hardly wait for Tim to open his new place so I can order a hug off the menu. Maybe I’ll order more than one to make up for lost hugs.