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All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
from the Anglican hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful”
Milestone events often inspire reflection. Though many would think it morbid, funerals often end with laughter as memories of happier times are shared. Who can forget the memorable cemetery scene from Steel Magnolias where Truvy declares “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” As my family enters the intense focus of final planning for our youngest daughter’s upcoming wedding, a sense of reflection swirls around us. Decisions large and small are examined from every angle with the awareness that we are creating memories for her. We want them to be wonderful. As she enters this new phase of her life, we also want to remind her of other times shared by her first family. Poring over the treasure trove of photos collected during the past quarter century, there are those that make me smile through tears…those capturing the furry friends we have lost.
We are mostly a dog family, though the occasional cat has set up housekeeping in our hearts. Most have lived very long lives. While it is wonderful to have them for so long, the grief can be devastating when we lose them. For a while, it seemed there were more goodbyes than we could bear. My girls said we were running a nursing home for dogs because our dogs were so old. I guess it was to be expected, but difficult all the same. There was Benji, a miniature schnauzer, the girls dubbed Bee-joo. My granny tried really hard to get us to let her have him after an extended visit. Dabber, the mixed breed who won the dog lottery. My sister found her on side of the road one night in a mud puddle, too young to be without her mother and loaded with mange. We took her despite having a full doghouse and not much extra money. One week later, someone broke into the animal shelter where she would have been taken and killed all the animals. Boofy, a very unusual white miniature schnauzer, who chose our Bride at the pet store. When her Dad refused to buy the dog, she quit speaking to him for almost a week (the only time she has ever done anything like this in her life.) One month later, we visited the same pet store and guess who was still there – and marked down to the arbitrary price her Dad said he would have paid after that fateful first visit. She had him for almost 17 years. Bert, another miniature schnauzer,the essence of a gentleman in a dog’s body. Bert always barked at the doggie door and waited until he was invited in. He once saved Boofy’s life when he fell into a freezing swimming pool by barking until I came to investigate. Bandit, my husband’s 80 pound basset hound. He was afraid of flies and camera-shy. A gentle giant in our hearts. And finally, Dudley “Booger” Dawson (from the movie Revenge of the Nerds), a tabby cat with white markings. He lived with our Bride when she moved away for college. She was his third owner and she adored him. Dudley returned the love in true cat fashion. He was a great hunter, often leaving his latest “catch” on her pillow.
My grandchildren were watching the movie All Dogs Go To Heaven recently when my granddaughter posed the age-old question -“Do dogs go to heaven?” Before I could gather my thoughts to reply, my grandson piped up “Of course they do! They are waiting for us up there.” I couldn’t have said it better. RIP old friends, we’ll meet again one day.
My favorite pet reading:
Marshall Saunders’ Beautiful Joe (a favorite from childhood)
I seem to find myself increasingly looking for the remedy as others find fault. Tempers flair and reactions are quick and unproductive resulting in a nasty knot that seems to have no beginning or end. It’s a good thing I like puzzles and take pleasure in finding the remedy that allows all parties to keep their dignity and self-esteem intact. Sometimes we become so caught up in our own situation that we can’t gain perspective. Hands reaching out to help become threats and words offered with the best of intentions are tainted by the emotion of the moment.
Empathy is the foundation of my approach in these situations. I work hard to see all sides, present them fairly, and help everyone else do the same. Once we get there, the problem is usually pretty clear and a team approach to resolution prevails. Goodness knows, it doesn’t always happen that way, but it seems to work more often than not. Luckily for me, I had a team who wanted find a solution and they were willing to help each other succeed.
I thought about all this as I completed a few Zentangles this week – clearly I needed the perspective gained in working through the various tangles. The Diva Challenge this week was to use the new tangle designed as a birthday gift to Maria from Rick called Assunta. I used my sketchbook to get a feel for the tangle, it has quite a few nuances as you learn the strokes. Even with the practice, I struggled with this one on my tiles. Mine seemed to fall short of whatever it was I was holding as the ideal in my head. Then I reminded myself, this is not about fault. It is about moving forward from where you are and finding the remedy that feels right. When you think of anything this way, it’s really not so difficult after all.
“One of the good things that come of a true marriage is, that there is one face on which changes come without your seeing them; or rather there is one face which you can still see the same, through all the shadows which years have gathered upon it.” ~George MacDonald
Last week I had lunch with a business associate I hadn’t seen for several years. The thing I noticed first was that he was clean-shaven where I had always seen him with a beard. He told me it was mostly gray now and since he couldn’t bring himself to color it, off it went. A little surprised, I realized that my husband’s beard is mostly white now. When did that happen? I’m sure it has been a gradual change over our 34 year marriage, but I just never saw it.
My husband has always seen me through rose-colored glasses. For him, I am forever the sixteen year old girl he fell in love with so long ago. Don’t get me wrong, he knows I am older and not nearly so slim as I once was, but somehow he sees past those changes. I have several friends who enjoy long marriages and I can tell you, their husbands seem to have those same rose-colored lenses. Pondering the phenomena of my husband’s gray beard, I realized that I must have a pair myself. To me, he will always be the charming guy with the great sense of humor, sparkling eyes and wonderful smile who asked me out on a bet.
Our daughters always say we are silly for each other. Now I think I understand what they mean by that statement. They see the us as we are. They’ve never known the young couple who fell in love, married and still shine with the help of those rose-colored glasses we wear only for each other.
Usually, I hate those times when insomnia visits me. I toss and turn in the futile effort to go back to sleep, then ultimately surrender and get out of bed. Once up, the challenge is deciding what to do with myself. Noise is a consideration since I don’t want to wake my hubby. Putting on a load of laundry is always a safe bet. Get the coffee brewing, check. Now what? This time I noticed some packages of Scratch Art I had purchased several weeks ago as I was wandering around my local Hobby Lobby. I wasn’t feeling in the mood for regular Zentangle, but this might be interesting…and oh so quiet. As I began to scratch away the velvety black to reveal the rainbow beneath, my mind went back to third grade.
My third grade teacher, Mrs. Hebert, was very young and I just loved her. She was the first teacher who seemed equally concerned with our creative as well as academic growth. She had gone to Hawaii for her honeymoon over the summer and she brought that trip into our classroom. We spent weeks learning about poi, hula dancing, volcanoes, island life and making toilet paper leis. Her bulletin boards were artistic and unique – inspiring for me. I carried it all home and worked to make my bedroom walls look as wonderful as those boards. Many family members got toilet paper leis as gifts. She was the one who introduced all of us to the fun we could have with crayons, paper and toothpick. First, we would get out our favorite colors – at least four or five. Then we would color big blocks of each on our paper in random patterns. Next, we colored over the whole thing with a black crayon. I quickly learned it was best to get a good thick layer of crayon on the paper for this technique. The goal was to have no color at all showing – no mean feat if you’ve ever tried it. That took forever and chewed up quite a few black crayons. Finally came the magic, carefully scratching away the black with our toothpick to reveal the color beneath. The simplest line drawings became wondrous works of art when done this way. At least in my third grade eyes. I went through many boxes of crayons that year and was forever looking for more black ones. It’s a good thing they didn’t make Scratch Art back then, I would have spent every penny of my allowance and had to resort to selling empty Coke bottles to support my scratch habit. I just wish I had known about Zentangle back then, cause this is very 1970’s groovy. My third grade self is pretty proud of this one.
I have often referred to my use of Zentangle as a favorite tool to manage stress and work my way through assorted life challenges. That has never been more true as I wrestled with a problem over the past couple of weeks. Sometimes, we find ourselves on the wrong side of shabby treatment by someone we consider a friend. These situations offer ways for us to shine along with lots of places to exhibit just how childish an adult can become. I was at one of these crossroads and needed to find a resolution that would allow me to feel good about my own conduct. I hold myself to some pretty high standards, so for the most part, I am able to rise above these situations and act graciously. Not so this time. My inner child really wanted to throw a humdinger of a tantrum in protest of the injustice.
I started the Diva Challenge early this week. The paradox of straight line string with curvy tangles and curvy strings with straight line tangles turned out to be a lot of fun. I had one of each done by Tuesday morning. By the end of the day Tuesday, I had been on the phone for eight hours straight and found myself with a huge new, rushed project on my plate that I have no idea how I will manage. And then came the call that put the cherry on that stress sundae, confirmation that I had a relationship in the ditch and headed for the bayou. Trying to shed the problems of the day, I sat in my favorite chair to relax and realized that just wasn’t going to happen. What to do?? What to do?? What to do?? I thought about starting a new tile, but just couldn’t find it in me. Then I spied the tiles I had “completed” earlier. Without really thinking, I picked up my pen and kept going. Very slowly and very deliberately, stroke by stroke. As my mind finally quieted, the path was clear and precise for me. Not easy, but the right thing to do. I took a look at the tile and realized I had thrown the Diva Challenge out the window, but that’s okay. Friendships are too valuable to squander and worth the sacrifice. There’s always another tile.
Limitations have been on my mind a little since I barreled right into one of my own this weekend. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I have learned to manage it and I rarely have a really bad flare-up anymore, especially since I began Zentangle. But, I got careless, let a few things slide and got a wake up call from my body on Saturday.
Feeling much better, I took some time today to watch the movie Soul Surfer with my granddaughter. This young woman, Bethany Hamilton, loses her arm in a shark attack, yet goes on to become a pro surfer. Amazingly, she was back in the water only a few weeks after the attack. Her determination and spirit proved to be more powerful than the loss of her arm. She found a way to overcome the limitation and achieve her dream. By the same token, I see my eleven year old granddaughter captivated by this story, when her own is pretty inspiring. Within two weeks of emergency brain surgery for what should have been a fatal head injury, she was back at school, adamantly refusing home schooling suggested by the psychologist in the hospital. About half of her skull was replaced with titanium and an unforseen effect of the brain injury was a hypersensitivity to sound. Few environments are noisier than a middle school classroom. Each day, you could see the toll it took on her physically. Worried about how it was affecting her, I voiced my concern. The answer she gave was: “Kacki, I can’t make the world shut up just because the noise bothers me.” Soon she found a way around it. Ear plugs. She slowly acclimated herself to the noise with them – first both, then one, then none. Once again, an incredibly determined little girl with the heart of a lion finding a way to overcome a limitation.
When you take the time to look at people who amaze and inspire, there is often a limitation that provided the catalyst for moving beyond those limits to something much better than they would have accomplished before. I know that is true with interior design. So often, many of the most amazing interiors are born from the very real limits of budget, space, time, resource, etc. The limits that form the basis of Zentangle serve the same purpose. Each tile is small, 3.5″ square. You draw a border and a string, then tangle in the spaces using a black pen. There are no erasers. These limits are the power of Zentangle. The average person isn’t intimidated by that tiny tile. It takes away the pressure to be creative. But as each person grows with the art form, the limits get pushed aside and creativity begins to grow. Soon, the person who “can’t draw a straight line” is producing very beautiful artwork. Limitations give us a goal to strive for and ultimately an obstacle to overcome with our own brand of creativity, intelligence and imagination.
Lately, it seems I spend a great deal of my work day putting out fires. We all know the feeling. You start out with a well-organized “to-do” list and before you can finish your morning e-mails, something crosses your path that MUST be done NOW. The next thing you know, you have missed lunch, it’s 5 o’clock and you realize how little you really accomplished. Even worse, you also realize that the fire burning up your day was little more than a smoke ring. When this goes on long enough, the important things never get attention until they become the truly urgent.
This week has really brought this into focus for me. I had several meetings and phone calls that were not urgent, but very important and vice-versa. As I reflect on them, it becomes clear just how satisfying it can be to tend to the important. Putting out that fire may offer a sense of heroism – after all, I saved the day. Doing the important feeds my soul. There is little stress in tending to the important and there is a bone-deep feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day. The trick in business sometimes is sorting out the two.
A note from my daughter made me think about this as it applies my personal life. She was inviting me to attend a girls night out with her friends in a couple of weeks. Her maid of honor is visiting from California. Our Bride wants to gather all the girls together since many of her friends have never met this young woman who is so important to her. I’m not a party person, it’s a weeknight, and why in the world would the girls want “Mom” there? What is wrong with me? None of that matters. It is IMPORTANT to my daughter, SHE asked me to be there. That’s what I needed to understand, what is important to my daughter is important to me.
I have been reasonably consistent in setting aside time to tangle. I have come to understand that it is important for my well-being. It is a time of relaxation and intense focus. Somehow the answers become clearer, creativity flourishes and the important is easy to identify. Try it sometime. Invest in the important.