Giving thanks in dark places

So, this happened: I’m unemployed. My hard-won savings is draining like sand in an hourglass. It’s uncomfortable, just like any wait is. Growth hurts! And although I try to handle this with grace, I often fail. I whine. I get angry. I left an interview and got a “no thank you” form letter before I even pulled in my driveway. It’s easy to feel like it’s not fair. Why does life have to be like this, so… I don’t know? Dare I say it? Unfair. How does one maintain dignity under pressure? How do we wait patiently when panic gurgles in your throat?

There’s a homeless family that we’ve helped get life together. We’ve dropped off groceries and skillets, cups, towels and mattresses to the new home. We invited the boy to come play at our house, just down the road. He goes to my son’s school and they ride the bus together. They get along quite well, so it didn’t surprise me that the boys would want to come over and tear through the yard together.

When the boy’s eyes lit across the basketball hoop out front, one forgotten, more often than not, his whole face shone. Ma’am, he asked, can we play? Absolutely! My son, an only child, would love to have a boy his size to shoot hoops with! I smiled inwardly at our good deed, happy that I could make this boy’s day, but feeling a bit smug at the same time. I’m doing what we all should do: love everyone. If only the whole world were full of good people like me!

We pulled out the balls and the boy was exuberant. Almost a dozen balls of varying sizes were heaped in the bin. It’s not unlikely that this boy didn’t have a ball at his house. My son ran over to check out the bin, just as a few balls tumbled off the top of the stack and hit the ground with a fwaaaap.

That wasn’t right. Balls make that annoying ping-ping-ping noise when kids bounce them over and over and over and over and over. Two balls were so flat they looked like crumpled soda cans and were concave where they should’ve been robustly round. The third wouldn’t even bounce. The fourth, fifth and sixth were in varying conditions, both old and new, but provided a disappointing dribble.

I suddenly realized what had happened. When my son asked for a new ball, I bought it. Rather than pumping up the still-usable balls, we tossed them in a corner and used the new ball until it, too, lost it’s bounce. Twenty balls later, we still had not one ball that was serviceable.

The boy’s face fell and I felt foolish like never before. Here is a child who owns nary a toy and I come in, with my $200 stack of useless balls, thinking I could make a difference. I did make a difference, but not how I thought I would. I suddenly looked so greedy and ungrateful that my stomach turned. I promised to locate a ball pump, and even though I knew it had to be somewhere… a closet, maybe? I could not find one. A quick knock on the neighboring house’s door yielded neither a ball or a pump.

In the haste of my life, I failed to see the worth in my possessions. I forgot to maintain them, I felt like both a failure and a fool. No promises of locating a bike pump could turn this boy’s day around, he had been let down yet again. Attempting to buoy his spirits, I searched the entire house again before promising to buy a new pump, new ball, something, before he came over again. But the damper had fallen on the day and he sullenly kicked a few rocks before moving inside to watch tv.

I’m sure he looked at me and thought I was like everyone else: overpromising, under delivering, ungrateful and wasteful. Had consumerism soaked my bones that thoroughly? Had the concept of convenience rewired my brain to believe that little blessing that some take for granted- like a toy, weren’t worth the effort to refill with air?

The next morning, I got a pump and filled every single ball in the house. All two dozen of them, and made a quick promise to myself that I could be better than that. I could make a difference to someone, I could hold up my promise. I could be different. I could be grateful.

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Welcome, Old Friend

So something happens. It smacks you in the face like wet Cleveland sleet in March. And it changes your outlook, your perspective, literally rocks your core. It takes you to places you’ve never been before. And it makes you a person, never the same.

Thank happened this weekend. And it was so good I had no option but to return to the blog.

12 weeks. That’s how long I’ve been unemployed. It’s also the gestation period of a bear, but that’s not relevant, unless you consider I went camping this weekend and did NOT get eaten by one.

In these 12 weeks, I have applied for 102 jobs, I have cleaned grout that has never been cleaned and I have broken a toe teaching cub scouts to tumble. I have bench pressed 130 lbs. and I have ran a 5K with zombies chasing me. I have played hooky with my seven-year-old and watched a 3D movie on a school day.

But mostly, I have monitored my checking account. I watch it trickle away with every gallon of gas. I watch my son’s college account pay the light bill. And something interesting happens when you’re between a wall and a hard place: you pray. Well, technically, not everyone prays, but it’s a good thing to do if you claim to be a Christian and you want to be able to pay NEXT month’s light bill.

This journey changes course: it’s not so much about art, about my musings about my life, but has altered slightly, organically, and become more of a personal record of “God-moments” where I look around and I see wonder in the smallest details. The wind rustling the crepe myrtle blossoms. The smell of coffee brewing as I pour out my words to paper. The way the dog tips her head in acknowledgement when I speak to her.

I guess this is life, reimagined. Once you strip down things to the bare basics: just me and my son, my Bible and my pen, with no 20 hour commute to the city, and no obligatory meetings, peace envelops me, warm.

These are a Few of my Favorite Things!

I’ve always had a knack for collecting and curating things, making little vignettes that draw you in and make you want more of the details and texture. In this new house, I had an entire wall void of furniture and so I found this giant Ikea shelf for just $75. It’s 72″ square, with all these lovely holes begging to be filled. But the challenge in this is to make each cubby a little unique, but not so much that the composition doesn’t also read as a whole.

Of course, I love my books; I have crates upon crates of anything and everything to read. Some are vintage volumes, like a 1940’s guide to typesetting. I have a 1950’s guide to sewing dresses. Others are New York Times bestsellers, books on spirituality, happiness and medicine and books in Spanish. Many of them were from my childhood. E.B. White, the Boxcar Children, and many others. Newer favorites are The Devil in the White City and The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival by Sara Tuvel Bernstein and Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls. The books are both organized by color and subject, with color taking precedence. There’s something dignified about books. They make you seem well-read, well-traveled and worldly.

My very favorite objects are the white coral bookends on top, supporting navy leather-bound photo books. The books have cotton paper and little lines where you can include a caption or description. You’ll also notice my collection of antique cameras. The oldest is the Kodak Eastman 1929 vest pocket camera with the bellows (top right). Next to it is a camera that has a detachable silver flash that unfurls like flower petals and holds and blur flash bulb. The one in the top left , weighting the books is a Brownie. The glass fish on the top left came from Puerto Rico and the shells came from Ft. Lauderdale, FL and Wrightsville Beach, NC. The cherry box holds the cremains of a loved, long-lost dachshund and the sea grass cube holds knitting needles. Stacey’s beloved old fire extinguisher is near the center, the brass now tarnished and scratched with years of abuse. Her firefighter/EMT books support it.

A few of my favorite things

A few of my favorite things

Rewarding your Customers

Part of being an artist and a designer is to study humanity and create based on proven behaviors. That is good design, not a nice picture, but the most functional, memorable option.

Something that I’ve been struggling with is building brand experience, creating customer loyalty and thus having “unintentional sales” as in, recurring customers and word of mouth business that I didn’t have to try beg for on my own.

Some craftspeople I know include gifts or freebies with purchases. I was reading Geninne’s Art Blog http://blogdelanine.blogspot.com/2013_10_01_archive.html and I came across these cute hand-stamped bags that she packs purchases in. Too cute to throw away, I’m sure people reuse them or regift them. They are cool and quirky with just enough uniqueness to stand out. And they weren’t hard or expense to make. Mostly, they made the customer feel good because it was a small token of appreciation. And isn’t that just what we all want? To feel appreciated?

Artist Whom I love: Leonid Afremov

Blue Lights by Leonid Afremov

Blue Lights by Leonid Afremov

Artist I’m in love with: Leonid Afremov  http://leonidafremov.deviantart.com/   (All images herein copyright the artist)

I love the style in which Leonid paints. He obviously uses a palette knife, rather than a brush to create texture and move the paint around. His work feels so cohesive. You can see one piece and immediately be able to identify his works. I wasn’t surprised when Leonid said that he listens to jazz music. Jazz and his paintings share the same energy. Graceful, intentional and articulate. There are no mistakes. Leonid seems to gravitate towards paintings of evening time, especially in the fall or the rain. Ordinary scenes become quite stunning when livened up in his traditional way. He utilizes lots of clear lines and has mastered the art of the vanishing point.

Says Leonid on his artist bio page: “I tried different techniques during my career, but I especially fell in love with painting with oil and pallette-knife. Every artwork is the result of long painting process; every canvas is born during the creative search; every painting is full of my inner world. Each of my paintings brings different moods, colors and emotions. I love to express the beauty, harmony and spirit of this world in my paintings. My heart is completely open to art. Thus, I enjoy creating inspired and beautiful paintings from the bottom of my soul. Each of my artworks reflects my feelings, sensitivity, passion, and the music from my soul. True art is alive and inspired by humanity. I believe that art helps us to be free from aggression and depression.”

DOWNPOUR___Leonid_Afremov_by_Leonidafremov images 17_10_2007_0242713001192570506_leonid_afremov

DIY: Large $8 Architectural Mirror

Here’s another one of my DIY projects that makes designer items affordable for all. I was inspired by a ceiling medallion, found at a yardsale. This was a generic builder’s grade foam piece, 36″ round, with a hole in the center for a ceiling light. It had great bones and interesting details that screamed “unique and classically timeless!” And so I purchased it.

IMG_2745I stopped by a few dollar stores in search of a mirror for the center, but no avail. JoAnn fabrics had them in many sizes. I selected an 16″ mirror. With the 40% off coupon, it was under $5. Using hot glue, I affixed the mirror over the hole in the center of the medallion and added a wire for suspension. Lastly, I took a watered-down gold acrylic paint and rubbed it into the recesses of the design to age the piece and bring out unique characteristics.

For the size, this is absolutely a steal! Most 36″ mirrors are $75 or more! Here’s to cheap tricks and a designer’s eye.

Ball o’ String Light Shade

The project:

Ball o' String lamp

Ball o’ String lamp

The inspiration: I saw this beautiful lamp in a designer catalog for $300. Surely, being the thrifty type I am, I’m not paying prices like this! And so I set out to make my own version of the lovely lamp. My decor is mostly gray, white and beige neutrals with bright pops of aqua and plum. (designer speak: technically, it’s robin’s egg blue and aubergine!) So white seemed like the best color option, not to mention the brightest option for a lamp shade, to best allow light through.

The process:

Supplies:

  • 1 large punch-balloon (the annoying kind attached to a rubber band that kids punch)
  • a bottle of modge podge
  • 1 skein (or so) of yarn
  • water
  • Vaseline
  • 1 Ikea Hemma cord with bulb socket (Looks like an extension cord that ends in a bare bulb.)
  • a large bowl small bucket, paper towels and drop cloths
  • Helpful: a buddy

Directions:

  1. Lay out drop cloths.  Blow up the balloon to fullest capacity. Coat in Vaseline. Ew. (Bad memories of a bloated pregnant belly, circa 38 weeks!)
  2. Mix together 50/50 blend of modge podge and water in a large bowl or small bucket. Unravel several yards of yarn into the bucket, careful not to tangle things up. Clip it from the skein. Let it soak for a moment.
  3. Wrap the balloon in yarn, rotating and moving in every direction. Leave a space open at the top of the shade for insertion of the light bulb. Here’s where your buddy comes in handy! It’s a wet, slimy process. Repeat steps 2-3 until your balloon is mostly covered, yarn runs in every direction and you’re satisfied with the design. Keep in mind that less yarn makes a brighter, harsher light, more yarn makes a softer glow. Likewise, lighter yarn means more light, darker yarn is more opaque. So perhaps darker yarn necessitates less revolutions with the yarn.
  4. Suspend to dry.
  5. Release the air from the balloon and use wire to attach the Hemma cord/bulb to the shade. Hang and enjoy!
String light lit up at night

String light lit up at night

That sinking feeling that your job is a dead end

You know that sinking feeling. When your dream job ends the day more often in frustration. When you’re spinning your gears, doing your best and nothing is happening. Your boss is a hot mess and your coworkers no longer care about their work either.

Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job insists we’ve all been there at one point in our career. “It is often difficult at first to discern if you’re in a stagnant position. The realization rarely happens overnight because oftentimes the employee has offered to take on more challenging assignments, but that falls on deaf ears. After hitting enough walls, however, you realize that those efforts and energy could be better placed toward a new job search.”

I think the hardest part of this is the guilt that we feel when this happens. Suddenly, you’ve pinned all your problems on your poor work ethic, lack of skills and tendency to take too many bathroom breaks. “If only I worked 50 hours a week instead of 48,” you tell yourself. “If only I’d have worked harder to get that project in early.” You don’t realize that you’re killing yourself, trying to blame yourself and fix things.

What is hard to bear in mind is that you can’t fix office morale. You can’t fix the fact that no one lifts their heads to take a lunch break and no matter how many hours you work, there is no place for you to go. You can’t fix the preferential treatment that certain employees get. If your boss doesn’t support you in your career goals, you can’t make him!

If you are no longer challenged, your skills aren’t being utilized and you’ve honestly given it a fair shot, there’s little else you can do. Reach out your feelers and see what opportunities may be nearby. Who knows, there might be an opening in a different department or floor that will be a change worth making.

But most importantly, it’s hard not to lose hope. Invest in yourself. Do the things you love and find solace in them. Meditate and exercise to clear the stress from your head. Relax. Stress only makes things seem worse— your performance suffers, you’re more on edge, you gain weight.

These are the things I am reminded of this month. It has been a long road to a job worth having. After exhausting all possibilities and accepting the fact that i have done all I can do, I reached out to my network of colleagues. Someone knew of an open position and I made a leap.

It was a hard leap to make. The benefits at my current job are nice, and I like my coworkers, but that wasn’t enough to keep me coming to work every day and leaving feeling fulfilled. The team was riddled with problems and crippled by poor management. As bad as I felt, I jumped ship.

I’m thinking nothing but positive thoughts right now. I have come this far, I will make it even further. Don’t give up. There’s hope.