Making A Living Versus Making, A Life

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One of my beloved schools–Penn State

It’s late August and I really should be back at school . . .

That’s what my subconscious tells me. In my conscious brain, I know I’m not starting classes next week, that I am done with that and quite pleased to be, and, yet, old habits die hard.

“Being in school” is one of two themes that have dominated my life.

For 50 of my nearly 60 years, I went back to school every autumn.

From age 5 to age 33, I was a student. Grade school, junior high, high school, undergraduate school, grad school and more grad school. I made grad school last longer than most!

And then I started a career . . . at school. For 22 years I was a college professor and administrator. I taught things like public speaking and rhetorical criticism and critical thinking skills. I was associate dean for a few years.

To this day, I believe that there is no better way to make a living than being a college professor. You get to deal with ideas in a field that fascinates you. I never failed to get a thrill from the notion that, in my classroom, we were discussing the same ideas and principles that Aristotle discussed with his students 2500 years ago. Tingle!

As a college prof, you also get to work with young adults who force you to stay younger than you might otherwise feel. They teach you that the smartest, kindest person might live within the pierced and tattooed body, under the brightest dyed hair. They teach you that no matter how clear, articulate, and brilliant you think you are, you’re confusing someone.

They also teach you that no one, ever, reads the syllabus.

And, of course, being a teacher provides that other benefit, the one the rest of the world envies.

Summers Off.

And, yes, summers off are everything they’re cracked up to be, even though they get taken up, in part, with research and course prep.

Being a college teacher offered just the right blend of freedom and constraints, autonomy and interdependence for me.

Being in school for my life, making a living there, was one theme in my life that gave me the time and opportunity to indulge in the other theme of my life—making, creating, crafting, whatever we call it.

All along the way, while I was happily making a living in the so-called “life of the mind,” I was still yearning for the life of the hands.

Even in grad school, I can remember venting to my doctoral advisor about the frustrations of academic research—I just wanted to see what I’d done with my time, put my hands on a product I made.

And my research, even when published, never felt like a product.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a kick out of seeing my book and articles cited by other authors and I do indulge in a vanity search on Google occasionally. But I can say, honestly and truly, that I am happier with, and more proud of, my quilts and candies and handwovens than I am my published research.

And that explains why, after all those years in school, I retired the moment I was eligible to. I can now turn my focus, almost entirely, to making things and having evidence of progress, if not a full product, in my hands every day.

Making a living was important and satisfying and fulfilling.

Now I choose making, a life.

There’s A New Girl in Town: OMGigi!

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What do we call her? One word.

Trouble.

Gigi!

She’s long and lean and sassy.

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A perpetual motion machine, as if she has a hummingbird up her butt.

Until she wears herself out.

If I don’t show you new weaving for awhile, you’ll understand why!

Thank heaven for little girls.IMG_7572

Loving Hands and A Birthday to Remember

IMG_7907How would you celebrate your 90th birthday?

My aunt is coming up to that milestone and she chose to throw herself a birthday bash with bonfire this past weekend.IMG_7843

This party had it all. Her guests came from many circles—colleagues from her years as a teacher, church members, people from her swim class, family, and many, many neighbors.

One of my aunt’s long-time friends traveled from England. Her oldest friend was there—they’ve known each other for almost every minute of their lives. Almost 90 years—astounding!

The party was at my aunt’s rural home, on a hill overlooking the Champlain Valley of upstate New York, about a mile from the farm where I grew up. That meant I saw some of the people I grew up with but haven’t seen in forever—my sister’s first puppy love, members of the family with whom my family was closest and with whom I share wonderful childhood memories, kids for whom I used to babysit and who are now growing gray.

The party had a definite “loving hands at home” quality, in the best sense of that phrase. Many people chipped in, to make it happen. Daughters made snacks and worried about the details, a son-in-law chopped veggies and arranged food to perfection.

There was plenty of homemade music—we sang “Happy Birthday” to a bagpipe accompaniment and “Auld Lang Syne” to guitar. The birthday girl was serenaded to Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.”IMG_7853

Because an enormous bonfire was the focal point of the evening, the campfire theme prevailed. The ladies from my aunt’s church made cupcakes with a campfire motif and a neighbor friend contributed floral centerpieces in campfire colors.11728979_10153592498309901_5267262041501630761_o (1) 11845088_10153592321439901_4960895211403482030_o (1)

The weather was perfect. The evening ended with the enormous, rip-roaring bonfire. Smaller fires provided toasted marshmallows for s’mores. Falling stars streaked across the sky, offering opportunities for wishes made upon them.

Friends. Family. Warmth. Wishes on stars.

How will you celebrate your 90th birthday, should you be lucky enough to reach it?


Forever Young, by Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

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Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Beautiful

IMG_7805Isn’t she lovely? She and her sister blooms stop me in my tracks every day, in sheer admiration.

They look so out of place, these lush tropical-looking beauties. How does something this extravagant, this opulent, this voluptuous dare grow in Zone 4, in upstate New York, a few miles from Canada?

I don’t even remember where the plant came from but my guess is that my husband brought it home from the deep-discount rack at the big box hardware and garden center. He regularly brings home nearly-dead plants—waterlogged marigolds, root-bound daisies, dry-as-dust coleuses. Some we save, some are already dead and just don’t know it yet.

The hibiscus lived! It bloomed last summer and then looked really, really dead after our long, nasty, icy winter.

But like a colorful, vibrant phoenix, rising from ice instead of ashes, it came back.

I have to admit, as pretty as they are, I’m not entirely comfortable with the hibiscus blooms.

They’re so . . . showy.IMG_7745

They make me think of those girls and women I’ve known who love attention and love to show off their amazing looks. The ones who wear the low-cut tops over their fabulous figures and lots of make-up. They pluck their eyebrows all the time, and do their nails, and always look perfectly turned out for every occasion. They’re even pretty when they cry. I’ve always been suspicious (and envious!) of that.

I feel more comfortable with the geraniums and hostas in my little garden. Like me, they’re more traditional and homey. The hostas, in particular, are happy in the shade and don’t really need people focusing too much attention on them. That’s how I feel, too. I am uncomfortable with bright colors and with looking like I’m trying too hard.

I can relate to the hostas!

The only thing that reassures me about the flashy hibiscus is how short-lived its gaudy blooms are. One day, they’re all done up in total perfection—seductive and impossible to ignore. But the next day, each bloom has drooped and faded. Their petals look like a skirt that’s lost its starch or maybe a bouffant hair-do that’s come undone. Maybe they simply had too much fun on their one-day-long coming-out party and have a wicked, final hangover.

I tell myself that we, the hostas and I, hold up better in the long term. We’re not drop-dead gorgeous but we are sturdy and constant and slow to fade. The garden needs us.

In fact, I realize, my garden is big enough for, and benefits from, all of us—the stately and the understated, the hot and the cool, the extroverts and the introverts. I’ve also learned, across the years, that the prettiest can be the pleasantest, the flashy exterior can contain an interior of integrity and strength. After all, the hibiscus plant can withstand temperatures well below freezing and come back strong, even if its blooms don’t last for long.

So, I’m rethinking my anti-hibiscus prejudices and committing myself to a more open-minded garden policy. Bring on the showy and flashy, those that live fast and fade soon. We welcome you and your vibrancy to our understated world.

We balance, and complete, each other.IMG_7744

Garage Sale Post-Mortem: By the Numbers

IMG_7755So happy . . .

It’s over!

The never-again garage sale is over.

And after all that carrying on I did, I have to admit it went so well!

By the numbers:

  • Days involved—about 2 days of hard-core preparation, focused on making items presentable, setting up tables, pricing, and “merchandising.” The sale itself lasted 1 very busy evening from 4-7, 1 exhausting day from 8-3, and 1 mellow morning from 8-noon.
  • Perfect weather—5 days, for set-up and sale—bright sunshine, low humidity, temps in the 70s. If I could be guaranteed this weather, I might have a garage sale every year!
  • Time the first people showed up for the 4 o’clock sale—11 a.m.
  • Time the same people came back for the 4 o’clock sale—3 p.m.
  • Time I finally relented and let them all in—3:55 p.m.
  • Shoppers—hundreds. Everyone who made it to our house, at the end of the road, talked about the traffic and congestion and throngs/hordes/droves of people!
  • Items sold—hundreds, proving the maxim that, “one person’s trash is another’s treasure”!
  • Items sold that gave me pause—a few. My grandmother’s old bed. A beautiful rocker from the farm. A couple of vintage sewing cases. It helped that the buyers seemed to love what they got!
  • Money made—closer to $1000 than $500.
  • Clean-up time—less than 1 hour; so easy because we had so little left!
  • Leftovers—1 box of books, 4 boxes of odds and ends, all to be donated.
  • Back in the garage—1 old chair, 3 larger antiques that I’ll put on Craigslist.
  • Favorite moments—1. A woman from a couple miles away, who has her own big sale every year, pointed at my little porch glider (not for sale) and announced loudly, “THAT’S what I’m looking for!” To which I answered, “I bought that from you last year!” I really did . . .
  • Free time—Not a lot, except on Sunday morning. I spent that time going through boxes of damaged linens that I’ve accumulated, to decide what could be thrown away, what could be recycled into rag rugs (if I ever go that direction with weaving), and what could be cut up to use in other projects. I started thinking about a quilt that would incorporate pretty fragments, especially monograms, from damaged items. I winnowed 5 plastic bins into 1½.

It was a three-day whirlwind. We ate on the fly, gave garden tours, chatted with neighbors, made sure no one took off with our friendly cats, shooed the neighbor kids away. I dug up a piece of my hops vine to send home with a shopper.

We haggled (not really—we gave great prices!), we laughed, we lamented missing out on the sales down the road.

I didn’t get to the neighbor’s for one of her Michigans. I went to only one other sale, after we had closed ours, but I did score some old linens!

So, it’s over. It was more fun than I expected, more profitable than I anticipated, and we divested ourselves of more stuff than I could’ve hoped.

If fact, it went so smoothly I haven’t even felt the need to exclaim “never again.” But I will say, “No time soon!”

Never Again = Pretty Soon

Yard Sale AheadI said, “Never.”

I said it loud and clear. “Never! Never again.”

And, as usual, saying “never” worked as an anti-spell, a charm that ensured quite the opposite of “never.”

This weekend, three short years after a garage-sale-to-end-all-garage-sales and the unequivocal stating of the word “never,” we’re having a garage sale. A big time-sucking garage sale.

So, this whole, entire week, this precious week of my life that I’m never going to have back again, will be turned over to:

  • Putting prices on stuff I’d be happy to give away for free
  • Composing an ad that doesn’t sound like all the other ads and that avoids the words, “something for everyone” and “too much to list”
  • Obsessing about the weather report because, really, who can fit all their accumulated stuff within a mere garage? We need the driveway!
  • Trying to figure out how to thwart early birds, although I know that they cannot be thwarted; it is in their molecular structure to buy before items are formally for sale
  • Lamenting all the garage sales I will miss because I have to tend to my own

Since we, on this Point, live miles out of town and at the far reach of a dead-end road, it can be hard to draw customers to a garage sale here. But, in early August every year, our Point has a community-wide sale and shoppers come in droves. Throngs and droves. Hordes and throngs and droves.

It’s actually quite a sight to behold. That sleepy road that circles the point we live on and the somnolent dead-end road that branches away in one direction—both are packed with cars. The cars move slowly and erratically as people crane their necks to see where the next sale is and whether it looks worthy of a stop. The cars swerve, brake in unexpected places, and park at random.

There are no sidewalks here so the cars share the rural road with bicycles, motorcycles, tricycles, strollers, walkers, joggers, runners, and dogs. Lots of dogs, because dogs think that garage sales are heaven, with intriguing, intoxicating smells and nice people who pet them.

A carnival atmosphere pervades. Tables with garage sale treasures pop up where there are no garages or houses—people seem to cart their stuff in just for the weekend. Shoppers eagerly cart that same stuff home.

A woman down the road sets up a Michigan stand, and sells hundreds of this local delicacy every year. Once you get onto the Point, there’s no place else to eat! Still, her Michigans are so good that we all, even those of us with our own kitchens at hand, go down and eat at her place.

A fortune could be made by someone willing to rent and set up a portable toilet in their yard, to be rented for a small fee . . .

Once the hard work of setup and pricing is done, it’ll be two days of chatting and haggling over prices, comparing notes on other stops down the road, running into people I haven’t seen since high school and pretending to recognize them.

I’ll try to grab a few moments to go with my mom and check out the neighbors’ sales. I’ll leave my husband home to collect the dollar bills and small change we’ll get for our supremely lovely stuff.

It’s only fair that he stays home—this sale was his idea! I had gone on record as saying, “Never again!”

My advice to you? Yes, that’s right—never, never say never.

And what’s your advice for me? Any thoughts on making a garage sale successful? So successful, I’ll NEVER have to have another?

A Blur of Summer

IMG_7471It went by in a blur, faster than the speed of camera, fueled by s’mores and ice cream. The photos aren’t good but the summer visit was!IMG_7407

Two small boys and their mother. Playgrounds and beaches and music. Long walks, badminton on the lawn, grilled food, the first local corn of the season.

Chasing cats.

Time on the water, and in it.

And quiet moments to replenish energy.