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.

The Jelly Girls

When inconcJelly Girls Marjorie and Debbieeivable tragedies hit two friends just months apart, it was their art that brought them through their shared grief and back into the light. Silk painting artist Marjorie Pezzoli’s 19 year-old daughter died in an accidental drowning at La Jolla Cove in January of 2013.
Five months before, the boyfriend of glass artist Debbie Solan committed suicide; Debbie found him. Where do you go after that? How do you move on and get our life back? Can you ever really get your life back as you knew it?

Marjorie and Debb were already working on a fundraiser, Palette to Palette, sponsored by the San Diego Visual Arts Network (SDVAN) and San Diego Synergy Art Foundation (SAF). Proceeds benefitted an arts education program at Kimbrough Elementary School, in collaboration with Feeding America San Diego and Young Audiences, as well as ongoing programs of SDVAN and SAF. All very noble, and a distraction, but hard to see the good when tragedy has just taken your joy away. Marjorie and Debbie powered through it as best they could for the greater good, to improve the lives of others.

The diversion of another project probably helped too. They were deep into Sea Changes, part of “The DNA of Creativity”, an idea fostered by SDVAN founder, Patricia Frischer. The endeavor brought together the arts and science, usually an incongruent alliance. Not so, in this case. The four projects sponsored by SDVAN involved 40 artists, scientists and educators, all bent on finding ways to showcase art and science together. Each team’s mission was to cultivate an understanding of issues affecting the ecosystem and to prompt innovative, positive change or at least get people to think about the issue. A tall order I’d say.

Creative minds that they are, Debbie and Marjorie Jellies in Santa Cruztook the idea to a whole new level. They wanted to address the issue of plastic pollution in the oceans and bays. I suppose you just have to be an artist to come up with what was eventually dubbed “Jellies Forever”, a brilliant exhibit in the Museum of Monterey using donated plastic grocery bags, painters’ tarps and salvaged plastic wrap. Their exhibit featured life-like jelly fish hanging from the ceiling. Life-like until you took a closer look and realized you were looking at plastic. Though they intended to install six to eight jellies, they ended up spending two days installing 33 and along the way Debbie and Marjorie were dubbed the “Jelly Girls”, a name that stuck.

Why creaJelly hanging in the museumte plastic jelly fish? If you’ve spent any time at the beaches or on the water you know how sickening it is to see the water teeming with garbage. Many people don’t realize that much of this muck lays underwater plaguing our oceans and strangling sea life; we see a minuscule portion that floats on top. It’s ugly, it’s an infestation. The exhibit ran from March 2014 until early August of that year. The “jellies” as they have come to be known, can still be seen on display at the Santa Cruz / Monterey Bay Exploration Center as well as in Fusionglass Co, a La Mesa gallery, owned by Debbie Solan and artist Paul Fernandes.

But lest you think Fusionglass is a typical gallery, think again. Started in 2007 the little gallery holds special events year round and sells Marjorie’s beautiful painted silks and Debbie and Paul’s glass work, each piece a true work of art. And classes, lots and lots of classes, such as a series called Ladies Night Out where students learn to make their own stunning glass jewelry. (Note to self: gotta sign up for one of those classes.) Fusionglass was a bonafide lifesaver for Marjorie.

“Fusionglass saved my life,” Marjorie says. “This place kept me going.”

Which brings us back to the question of how a person moves on after going through an unthinkable tragedy? Debbie says that when a person goes through a something horrific that it’s essential to concentrate on Post Traumatic Growth, PTG, not the stress of PTSD. “You find a new way of living after you’ve experienced a tragedy,” she says, alluding to what she and Marjorie endured. “You choose how to deal with it, how you get through it.”

It’s still hard for them, how could it Jellies on the Ceilingnot be? No doubt their bond and strong friendship has given them the resiliency to muscle through the emotional and psychological difficulties together, to the next chapter of their lives. Marjorie states that going from one creative endeavor to the next motivates her to get through her days, weeks and months, allowing her to function and to live. She recently received a certificate from the Teaching Artists Institute; now she teaches art to small children, and when she can, connects her lessons to the work of the ocean and the Jelly Girls because the Jelly Girls has become about more than an exhibit.

These days the two dynamic women say that the term has evolved into defining someone who gives back to the community, who creates beauty from materials on hand and who inspires others to care. In other words, thinks outside of herself, thinks of the good. Considering what these two women went through, it’s remarkable that they were able to pick themselves up and find a way out of the sorrow and melancholy that accompanies grief. They did it through their art, through their friendship and through finding a path back to the light when life threw them one of the worst curve balls imaginable.

For more information on them, contact Marjorie, Debbie and the Jelly Girls by clicking on their names to link you directly.


Beating Alzheimer’s

JamieSeven years ago Jamie Tyrone of Ramona, California seriously thought about taking her own life. To look at this 55 year-old attractive, intelligent, savvy woman full of kindness and grace, you can’t help but wonder why. It seems hard to believe because she has a loving husband and family, friends who think she walks on water and a positive outlook on life. But seven years ago the world came crashing down on this retired nurse.

Since childhood Jamie has witnessed four family members develop and die of Alzheimer’s disease, and then in her adult years her father developed it. Once again she watched a loved one fight, but lose his battle with the brain-ravaging disease. At the time she never thought that she too could be afflicted by the devastating, fatal disease. She didn’t get the genetics connection. Then she participated in a research study to find out her risk for another, unrelated disease. She was shocked to learn that she has two copies of the ApoE4 allele gene (one from each side of her family), which puts her at a 91% risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. She is part of an exclusive, albeit unwanted, club; only two percent of the population inherit two copies of the ApoE4 gene. Developing Alzheimer’s is pretty much a foregone conclusion when you find out something like that.

Jamie’s life came to a halt as anger, despair, fear, and anxiety consumed her. She describes that time as living in a deep, dark hole. Her chances of developing Alzheimer’s is 12 times more likely than the general population; she is also at a very high risk of developing early Alzheimer’s, which usually hits before the age of 60. She had good reason to be depressed. She shut herself off from her husband and everyone else. She began drinking excessively; her anger took a toll on her marriage. Then her husband, Doug Tyrone, an executive at Scripps Health, said “Enough”, telling her that she had to figure out a way to deal with the risk and depression before it destroyed what was left of their marriage.

Jamie knew he was right and that he was giving her a wake-up call, one she couldn’t ignore if she was to save her marriage, and herself. She pulled herself up out of her black hole and pushed herself to get help. She learned that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition brought on with finding out her double gene status. She made a decision. Rather than let herself be consumed by both her probability of developing Alzheimer’s and the PTSD that was ruling her life, she went into therapy, leaned on friends and family and turned to science. She joined a program at the Total Health Center in San Diego led by Dr. David Clayton; a program shaped by a study out of UCLA that showed lifestyle changes can reverse memory loss in dementia patients.  At Dr. Clayton’s urging she began a Paleo diet, began taking numerous supplements, and exercising both her body and mind. She also began volunteering as a lab rat, knowing that her unique gene status could help researchers learn more about the disease and find a way to either stop or prevent it. She joined a long-term study at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix. She spends three days every other year undergoing brain scans, cognitive and memory testing. Jamie also agreed to have her brain donated and autopsied after she passes.

While that seems like a lot of change, Jamie wanted to do more. In 2012 she founded a non-profit group, Beating Alzheimer’s By Embracing Science (BABES), to raise money for research and to educate the public about the insidious disease. Has all this activity helped? Jamie says that making personal changes and founding BABES created a renewed sense of direction and purpose that soothed her wounded soul. Even though she knows that her efforts will not likely save her own life she is content knowing that she is helping others. I’d say that’s about as good an example of The Goodness Principle as I’ve ever heard.

If you met Jamie, who can only be described as giving and loving and compassionate with a smile that lights up the dimmest room, you would never imagine that this woman once stood precariously at the brink of suicide, ready to give up. Maybe it takes standing at the brink to find one’s purpose after learning your future is paved with heartache and uncertainty. For Jamie that brink pushed her to find her purpose, to find her future and at least for the present, a way out of quagmire.