Monday, January 27, 2014

On Becoming a Chinese Factory Worker

I sat down today and started planning.  I usually do New Year's resolutions and this year I did not.  I am optimistic for the New Year and that was enough.  Of course, I don't live without my paper-and-pen planning books, and once I have planned projects for the week, months and year(s), I break down what is to be done in the next couple of hours and go to it...List making is like a dangling carrot in front of my nose and I live to cross stuff off my list.

If I am particularly do-less on a given day, I will write down the basics: think, moodle, get out of bed, eat breakfast, and then plan still more projects, as my body is still unwilling to move. If lists are done correctly, it is still possible to cross many items off my do-list for the day and still feel productive, despite it all happening in my head, without taking a step.

Asthenia is the clinical term for a do-less-ness where if someone set your chair on fire, you would have to think about taking action versus taking any.  Some say it is a sign of depression, but with a Vit D level of five or six, by design of my present treatment, it is simply a lack of chemical inertia! I still have the desire to create, but have the resistance in my body to overcome. I give myself double credit for attempting anything, and have found that starting a project is to have it near completed.  Completing what I have started is yet another issue.

Starting projects has always been more fun than finishing them.  I love to cut and so whenever I do, I pull materials out, stacking them high and cut multiples out of everything.  Mundane activities can be like a yoga exercise and very relaxing.  Add color and texture to this play and it is a bit like ecstasy, and I am not talking of the drug...but rather that focus that takes you right out of this world and into another--an in-the-zone sort of creative pleasure--lost in fabrics and color and design!

Sewing is fun too, especially the factory sort....and counting and crossing items off my do-list fits with this mentality! One fleece sock and then another and another and check, two checks, three and so on.  I am a hard worker, and with fun TV programs to watch as I sew, suddenly my day is gone and with it the reward of checking many things off my perpetual and eternal do-lists. As I push to finish my Valentine creations in the nick of time (once again) for the holiday, I realize that sometimes my art work becomes more like being a factory worker, an image that despite my pleasure of sometimes being like one, I actively choose to avoid!!

After a friend's visit this week I have had other thoughts and woke this morning my mind whirring, planning and calculating! I was excited about making many quilts, and jokingly told my friend that I wanted to make as many as one a week....mind you I finished only one that was already started this last year in addition to doing my Little House creations to sell.  Clearly, my asthenia cloud had temporarily lifted and I manically pictured myself as having the energy I had when I was a twenty year old.  She smiled and said that she figured that it takes her one hundred hours to make a quilt from start to finish as one year she made a quilt using set hours in the day so she could easily calculate how long it took her.  She then gave more detail to say that this included machine stitching the pieced top and finishing it with hand-quilting.

My daughter has told me to do time studies on my work and it has become a screaming and hair pulling issue rendering only tears and heartache later. "I don't want to consider myself a Chinese factory worker!!" I would shout back to my daughter...."I am an artist!!" and the thought of counting the time it takes me to complete a project is depressing.  I know that she is right, as that is truly part of being in business, but I fight her in fear that time studies would prove that I am earning pennies per hour and who would stay in business with such a reality! My pleasure in my art work is doing what is fun to do, provided I match the state of my body with the day's activity. Sometimes planning or cutting or machine or hand-stitching all day as I watch a whole season's worth of a particular TV program, or listen and learn about the current events of the present or past is to know the pleasure of hard work! I create best when I do it out of love of fabric and discovery and not figuring my time counted as money.

My daughter, I realize, sounds like my dad. .  He was an engineer and figured everything on his slide rule, cold and calculating and practical and would have banned crayons if he could have!  Sadly, he didn't have a speck of artist in his brain or fingers and is likely why I have had a career in nursing and teaching before settling into doing what I have always loved! I confess I am mathematical too, and calculate with my do lists...what can I get done and how long, but with my health issues every day is different.  It is enough to drive many of us with this disease crazy  and give up on being productive! Counting on my body when it can't be counted on is part of the challenge of living in my body. But still I figured 100 hours/quilt means that I could do 14.6 quilts a year working on them only 4 hours a day! And working on quilts for only 2 hours a day meant 7.3 quilts a year could be easily done on the side of my Little House pincushions, socks etc. and naps included!!

I smile, remembering that my mother had always said that she was Chinese.  Her sisters had told her so, as one out of every six born in the world in her day were Chinese. She was the sixth born child in her family and had rather narrow, squinty eyes. Her sisters delighted in finding opportunity to tease her as children do. She grew up to become a teacher and in her first year of teaching she heard one of her students tell another student that she had the new Chinese teacher, referring to my mother. So there you have it: being my mother's daughter, I am likely Chinese too, and counting how many quilts I can make, just like fleece socks and, two , three, check, check, check...I am becoming a Chinese factory worker after all! And perhaps knowing how much I can do will be fun instead of limiting...and about the money...well, it never was about the money, only the love of designing and creating...and the rest are simply tools to get past my built-in inertia!

P.S. My husband's previous job took him to China on business and he assures me that I don't come close to producing what a Chinese factory worker produces. My respect and admiration goes out to them, and I wish I could produce even a fraction of what they produce!In my imagination, perhaps I will come close!?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Dave Van Ronk, A Modern Day George Bailey Who Changed Our Lives
My friend, Jon Katz blogged today about seeing the new movie, Inside Llewyn Davis and writes about him wanting to be a great musician, but has to reconcile himself to being ordinary versus great. Jon goes on to tell about Llewyn Davis hanging around Dave Van Ronk in Greenwich Village in the 1960's and then tells the story of Dave Van Ronk, a not-so-famous musician, who was never recognized for the talents he had. The world is a small place to be sure..for Jon's blog seemed to trigger a complete circle....

My husband and I knew and loved DaveVan Ronk.  We met him at the Denver Folklore Center where the not-so-great or famous came to play music. It was a favorite haunt of mine starting in my teen years...a sort of Beatnik coffee house that evolved into an acoustical music center that collected many musicians from NYC.  The center was eventually sold, but it lived on as a non-profit group for a while and during this time, my husband ran the music hall, which included picking up performers, and providing them with whatever they needed, from lodging to liquor...

Dave Van Ronk was someone to never forget...His music was exceptional and he did all kinds.  We have a lot of his records and spent an evening out with Dave and a small group after his performance many many years ago now and my husband was privileged enough to take a guitar lesson or two from him.

We loved him as many did.  He definitely lived as a true artist: he was different, brilliant and true to himself the whole way. He apparently lived in the heart of Greenwich Village and was a friend to most street musicians, famous and obscure and collected songs from everywhere and wrote many, like an historical troubadour!  He was a great story teller, that enjoyed his stories as much as those who listened to them! His laugh was infectious!

We were sad to hear that he had died, though we were amazed that he lived as long as he did.  I don’t think fame was his stick....but perfection was when it came to guitar and his song collection. His body was to never forget either! He was a severe asthmatic and pickled himself rather early and smoked like a chimney! His raspy voice was his hallmark! His tall body started to grow around his guitar, conforming to its shape. His fingers were long, thin and adept. He enjoyed amazing his audience with tricks that guitarists everywhere admired and would work for years to imitate.  His humor, bizarre songs and stories regarding the people and experiences in his life delighted us.  We saw him many times, but will never forget the evening that we helped to host him. His excessive liquor consumption just loosened his tongue, and never affected the perfection of his playing. He was quite the character, a bit raunchy and bold in his thinking!

Tom and I met each other through the Folklore Center, and loved its original owner, that I think owns it again now, Harry Tufts. I was a painfully straight, artist-in-my-soul-sort-of-person, a nursing student and a “wanna be musician” that took lessons from Pat Donahue, the present guitarist on Prairie Home Companion. I was hopeless, learning only a few songs and my beautiful Martin guitar was an overindulgence for my limited musical talent, so instead of becoming a musician, I married one.

My husband mostly plays electronic buttons now, though he never ceased to amaze me as to his musical talent. He sang as well and had/has? a great voice. He is the sort of musician that can imitate Dave Van Ronk’s wonderful talent, and it seems that it doesn't matter if his guitar is dusty...his skills only slightly rust where mine disappeared entirely!!  I smile when I remember that I played harmonica to accompany him when he played one of Dave Van Ronk’s songs about Mississippi John Hurt! Wow...what a fun trip down a memory lane that is truly history now!!

Perhaps Dave Van Ronk wasn't so famous or great, but what an influence he had on an even more obscure fabric artist and her family, who now knows other not-so-famous artists in upstate NY, Jon Katz (though he is a New York Times Best Selling Author!) and Maria Wulf who saw a movie in NY about this obscure musical wonder and chose to write about the effect of watching the story of this musician’s life and his effect on others! What a small world this is! Denver to New York to Vermont and Upstate NY. Jon writing about a movie that involved someone that influenced our culture and life of many years ago, now a mere memory...or is that all it was?

I think perhaps greatness is about the ordinary affecting so many others in this world, like James Stewart, playing George Bailey, in the endearing movie, It’s a Wonderful Life!  And to think that we have two beautiful young adult daughters that may not be here without the music of this all-but-forgotten, not-so-famous character, that charmed our life and sparked our marriage of almost thirty-five years! Not being great is good enough, especially in the 'round about way...affecting others in small ways that become big ways is pretty significant actually, like being a modern day George Bailey!

How diminished life would be without the less-than-great that affect each and everyone of us every day!!....So here's to you, Dave Van Ronk for being you and sharing that with as many as you did! That is good enough! In fact that is really what makes this world a special place, and enhances so many lives! I am not sure "the great" do as much.  They get money and fame, but you get the love and admiration of those you touched with your life!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Winner of this Month's Common Thread Give-Away

The winner of this month's Common Thread Give-Away is Sandra. Please be in touch with Maria to receive Jon Katz's photograph, "Morning Road". Congratulations Sandra!  Remember there will be another drawing next month, so don't give up trying!  Maria Wulf will be the next featured artist February 3rd.! Thank you all for leaving your comments!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Little House, Big Government...

When I first conceived of my Little House blog I imagined  that it would be like having a cup of tea and talking about matters regarding domestic life. Years ago I had a neighbor, and we would hoist our flannel nighties up high enough to step over our short picket fence between us with coffee or tea cup in hand to have heart-to-heart chats about the matters that concerned us. I would pack my needle and thread of course, and spend  much time coffee clutching. Occasionally we ranted to each other and found that sharing our issues would not only lighten our load, but often would move us into thinking creatively and solving problems that seemed insurmountable at the time.

Warning: I am going to rant about a subject that I think is not only affecting our household but many around the country. I have promised to not write about politics and will stick to that promise, but do need to speak about our big government as I think we are not the only ones that are challenged by it.

When I joined the Roman Catholic Church many years ago, I was wisely reminded by our priest that it is a very old church and as with any very old institution involving many years and many people, it is fraught with human  imperfections. I am quite human and well aware of my failings as well as those of others and tolerate both well, but I do struggle with institutions that loom larger than life. When big institutions are filled with humans, the errors seem to grow exponentially and dealing with them can be like fighting city hall!

Government has grown bigger and bigger as have the agencies under them. Years ago when I worked in special education we had a simple rule of thumb that I think applies to those that work in government offices as well as schools.  "Have one boy and you have one boy, two boys and you have half a boy and three boys and you have no boys at all!".  Substitute the word boy for government worker and I think you get the picture! It seems that the bigger government agencies become the more fallible they become as well and please, this is not meant to be any personal attack of those of you that do government work! I am sure that you have your frustrations with getting the work done as well with all the regulations that you have to follow.

Almost six years ago, I became too ill to work and needed to apply for disability and found the road hard and arduous to “get there”.  It took two years and a lawyer to navigate my way through the various channels that I had to go through to obtain my social security benefits that, as a worker I had paid into and was entitled to collect under the circumstances. The wait meant that my benefits accumulated, though I found that my lawyer was then entitled to a good portion of what was due me for his savvy in getting me through a complicated and dysfunctional system.

I learned then that government application forms are reviewed by those who work hard to follow rules that are apparently designed to eliminate the need of any common sense, which seems to have been replaced with a complex mechanical system of decision making.  I believe that thinking is reduced to a check list of boxes that do anything but clarify. Issues that aren't hard to understand become very complex and muddled. At the time this process skewed the total picture of who I was and why I couldn't work and needed my insurance to help.

I had worked as a nurse, teacher, special education consultant, as well as professional fishing leader tier. My skill set included working with my mind and body, performing various technical skills as well as making serious health, life and death decisions and judgments. At the opposite end of my talents, I was also capable of performing a job requiring only hand dexterity, speed and a bit of organizational skills. Boxes on my application were no doubt checked and the decision became complex and anything but simple. My work involved standing up, walking, sitting down and from complex brain functioning to almost comatose states, albeit, they all involved various levels of energy to be expended and I thought I made it perfectly clear that my medical condition was such that I had NO energy. Shockingly this is not what made them award me a disability status.

My lawyer had the brains to know how government operated that I did not and proved my need for disability status in such a way, that left me totally dismayed. His skill set to navigate through this complicated government system along with the judge's ability to understand that I had exhausted every possible work situation I could possibly do as my deteriorating health demanded over many decades, rightly proved to him that being disabled was the last thing I wanted and that my ability to think creatively had reached an impasse until my body was given the chance to recover, which was questionable then if I ever could or would.

I later was able to laugh about my trial which felt more like being a contestant for Queen for a Day, but I still have no humor about having to get and pay a lawyer to get me through a dysfunctional government agency to take care of my personal “business”.

My trusted dad had a similar experience at his local social security office which further confirmed my perception of governmental agencies.  He entered the office, at the right time of day when no one was there. and saw one of those “take a paper number machines” with a sign that said. "Please take a number, sit down and wait your turn".  With no one but him in the office, he figured that taking a number was not necessary. He had only a couple of short questions, and being a business man to whom "time is money", he used common sense and simply inquired at the desk about seeing someone.  He soon learned that it did not matter that no one else was there.  In order to get seen, he had to take a number, sit down and WAIT....

Recently it seems that government has grown even bigger and the service seems to be worse than ever. As my readers know, my husband was laid off from a long term job last January.  He was given several months severance pay.  He was told to apply for Unemployment benefits right away, though he was not eligible to receive benefits for six months.  Then he was told NOT to apply for six months to save himself as well as the Unemployment office the aggravation of filing and processing claims that would bring him no benefits. My husband preferred to work and hoped by applying fast and furiously for jobs he could bypass needing this government benefit altogether, as already he was getting the picture that nothing would be straight-forward and easy when involving the government.

Losing his job was only part of the loss, as it came with good health care benefits. In applying for what he hoped would be temporary, inexpensive health insurance through the government, he was required to list all of our assets and was encouraged to apply for government assistance just in case we needed it following his six month severance package.  He fortunately had a second “hobby” job on the side of his “career job” and being nervous about not working, he picked up extra hours, though it wasn't a viable substitute for the full time career job he lost. It became a more real option as this employer offered him a promise of a viable salary to come.

Like I said people are human and complex, as are institutions that employ them.  The salary never materialized, the unemployment benefits he was eligible for were revoked as the reviewers of the government health insurance and unemployment benefits office wrongly viewed this low paying, per Diem work as gainful and also wrongly assumed his severance pay was a dispersion of his retirement account, though he is NOT retired or of retirement age. His inexpensive health insurance was revoked as what they considered his "retirement dispersion" that he didn’t receive, pushed him out of his Medicaid status, which had been granted for several months in error, later forcing him into applying for The Affordable Healthcare Insurance that cost more, covered zip and has a deductible enough to drive anyone into poverty!

He was found  NOT to be eligible for fuel or food assistance due to his "alleged" retirement dispersal that never happened. He was also told that he can't quit his present per diem work without losing his Unemployment benefits, despite the fact that by Unemployment standards and rules he is allowed to refuse work that is way below his income status. He worked at these low wages only as he was promised a viable salary to come in the near future. His only option for collecting his entitled Unemployment benefits is to cut back his present work to apply for other work, though he is not allowed to refuse suitable work, which this job is now deemed? He did take his recent Christmas break from work to apply for other jobs and it seems that the most promising of jobs that may become available soon are due to the fact that that employer is cutting the hours of his present workers back to 25 hours/week so as to not pay them un-affordable, Affordable Healthcare Insurance required by government?

It is possible that if he took a job of 25 hours/week at low wages, he would have a better chance of being considered for a full time job with benefits that will likely open up soon.  This would be a job that would be a better match to the job that he lost, though likely still at a much lesser salary.  It may also avail him to his lost Unemployment benefits as initially he would be working less hours, allowing him to apply for other work and claim a few hours of Unemployment on the side, in case he doesn't get the full time job at a better salary?

It would be funny if it weren't all true. It is all so ridiculous as to cause many in similar circumstances to consider suicide as the only viable option for being so desperate as to simply want a job that will pay them a sufficient salary. I did fail to mention that less than two years before his company laid him off, he was recognized as one of their outstanding employees and honored for twenty years of dedicated service?  Go figure...this is the reward of those with successful careers, not quite ready to retire either by age or by choice.

Fortunately we have significant health assistance through our local hospital during this involuntary lapse and gap in his health care insurance, that was applied for and obtained by careful documentation by us of our present need. It is fortunate too that he will be eligible for Medicare in six months, and that retirement is only 18 months away, though we will soon have to spend into our retirement savings perhaps permanently closing the door to any sort of assistance until our savings is gone, and making it such that we will never afford to fully retire until we die.

Our grounded perspective is that anything and everything outside of God and the Pope is fallible and we know that the Pope is only considered infallible by the church in matters of church doctrine, and so we are clear in expecting that all other institutions will be imperfect--including government! I do believe however that this proves that less government works better for the majority of us, as the bigger it gets the less brain it has and no matter about all the wonderful policies set up to help those that have fallen on hard times, it seems that for many, like us, government seems to get in the way instead.

We will be like others that have to smarten up and figure out ways around what we can't change. I know that many believe government should provide what is lacking in benefits to all, but I am scratching my head and wondering why it isn't working for us hard working people who have suddenly lost a good long term job likely due to the pressures put on them by the government to fix what wasn't broken for us. It wasn't a perfect system, but with big government trying to make it better, we seem to be much worse off than we were before!?

God help us!  It is a good thing that He will, as our Big Bro Government is not!! May I get you another cup of tea or coffee while I listen to your ideas of how to "get around" some of these apparent "no-win" dilemmas, and as for me, I think I will have another shot of Vandermint Liquor in my hot chocolate to anesthetize the pain of all this!

P.S. I am sorry that I couldn't publish, under the threat of blackmail, the picture of my daughter dressed up for this tea party...complete with a pair of shorts I made for her when she was a small child, out of comic book material and worn on her head, with her gold glittered holiday shoes and carrying a silly looking hand-knit bag with her winter jeans and sweater outfit!  My daughter retains her child-like spirit and loves tea parties that used to be held on a Christmas Santa tablecloth on the living room floor complete with games. Her humor cuts through any serious business around here and makes me laugh, keeping me sane (was I ever sane?)!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Jon Katz, The Man With a Heart and January's Common Thread Give- Away Artist

I am a voracious reader and running out of room on my shelves for any more books,so for Christmas my family gave me a tablet, which can be used as a kindle. What a treat it has been to lay in bed, all toasty and warm and sample new literature through Amazon. After reading Running to the Mountain, I sampled Jon Katz's newest book and can't wait to read Second Chance Dog: A love Story about his wife's dog, Freida, "the dog who kept men away". The sample chapter available on Amazon whet my appetite and I can't wait to read it cover to cover!

Jon Katz is not only a  New York Time's Best Selling Author but our Common Thread Give-Away Artist for January. The picture above, "Morning Road" is signed and matted and ready for an 11 x 14 inch frame. In order to register to win this free give-away, please simply go to his wife, Maria Wulf's website, and leave a comment there for Jon. The winner will be announced on Sunday versus Thursday of this next week.
Jon is a man that I am so proud to call my acquaintance and friend, since participating in the Pig Barn Gallery Show and Sale on Jon and Maria's Bedlam Farm a few years ago.They have since moved down the road  to a smaller version of their original Bedlam Farm, retaining all of the original creative charm of the first, a charm that comes from Jon's love of his wife, Maria and the love that they share for their many animals and community that surround them. To know Jon is to love him, and to read his work is to get a bird's eye view into the heart of this dear man.

His list of New York Times Best Selling books are not Jon's only accomplishments however. Jon's blog, Bedlam Farm Journal,( starts my everyday. Unlike other news of the day, Jon's news is guaranteed to start your day with a focus on what is good and prevailing in life. His blog beckons me to see my own life differently and live it to the fullest.  Though Jon may not realize it, his writings often stimulate my thinking which inspires many of my own writings.  I think that that is Jon's gift to the world.  He is unique and he staunchly supports the uniqueness in those around him and his stories bring that to his readers everyday.

Jon's talents and abilities don't stop there. His wonderful photography captures the very soul of the animals and people that he writes about, as well as the country that surrounds him. He never tires of capturing that fresh vision of his world, sending it out to all who subscribe to his blog.  He has also been known to use other mediums to express his joy with the world. He is a man who never seems to grow tired of exploring and expanding his life and sharing it with others. He has even been featured in a special TED talk recently about his gift of living life to the fullest no matter what age. I understand that he was warmly received by his live audience, and I cannot wait to hear and see this special program.

Before I end this blog, I must share a true "Jon Katz story". Last spring, he and his wife, Maria hosted a lunch for our Common Thread Artist's group.  Jon was the featured cook, though his talent was not show-cased by he or Maria, as being the perfect host and hostess that they are, their focus was on us as their guests.  I had brought some of my felted heart pins that I had made and opened the box of them for each to choose one they liked best to keep. It was a bit of a hostess gift as well as a gift for the other members of our group. I narrowly had thought of them as gifts for the women in the group, but was pleasantly surprised that Jon wanted one too. For many weeks after that I would see pictures of Jon with my felted heart pin worn for all to see...and realized then how fitting this was for Jon, for with or without my heart pin, Jon truly wears his heart for all to see and know. I cannot think of a greater gift to give to the world Jon, nor a greater compliment to give to you! You are indeed a special gift to us all! Thank you!!