Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cherry-coloured Twist

This is not cherry-coloured silk twist, ^ this is pink pearl cotton, which I got, of course, at the Thrift Store.
(Hi, Happify!)

But as I researched what in the heck pearl cotton is, I learned it is cotton thread soaked
in a chemical under pressure ("mercerized")  to make it swell round, the roundness adding luster because the light bounces off it:
thus mimicing silk!

And "twist" just refers to the number of turns required to hold the fibers together. 

I got all excited about this because I get a thrill when things connect up, and what this connects up with, in my mind, is
 Beatrix Potter's Tailor of Gloucester.
Have you read it? 

It's my favorite by her: 
A tailor releases some mice from under teacups where his cat has trapped them. When the tailor becomes temporarily too ill to work, the mice repay him by sewing the last remaining details on the mayor's wedding waistcoat that will change the fortune of the poor tailor:
"one-and-twenty button-holes of cherry-coloured twist!"

And... "For the lining of the coat there was fine yellow taffeta"!

The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter, 1903 --links to full illustrated book on Project Gutenberg

Monday, January 26, 2015

Orange Dresses

Margaret Atwood at Cambridge, 1963 ^ via "Margaret Atwood: Interview" 
I wonder what she's reading...

I must be in an orange mood, in these January days: I have nothing in particular to say about Atwood, it's just that her dress caught my eye.

I did think her Handmaid's Tale was all too frighteningly believable--if I were, say, to teach a political/philosophy literature class, I'd definitely include it. But I haven't read (or, rather, finished) much else by her.

A couple years ago, I took a photo of a young woman's tattoo of the famous quote from that book: 
Nolite te bastardes carbonrundorum, "Don't let the bastards grind you down." 
(Googling it, I see it's a popular tattoo.)

Here's a bit of M.A. on Science Fiction.

II. Marz's new Star Trek fanvid:
 "A tribute to Kirk's strange life.
Song: 'Sigourney Weaver' by John Grant"
Despite Sigourney Weaver starring in the parody of Star Trek fandom, Galaxy Quest, one of my Top 10 favorite movies, I can't find anything that direct links her and Star Trek.

But she looks great in orange, eh? I found this photo ^ in an article from the time Wall-E came out--another all-too-believable futuristic story, about an Earth buried in trash. 

She voices a computer in the movie, which is another one of my favorites, and one of the only movies I own. 
So I was happy to read her say, "I have to say Wall-E is damn near close to a perfect movie. It's such a strong powerful context -- scary actually -- and yet within it, there's such a really endearing story and romance."

Don't let January grind you down, I say. Find your orange!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Orange Drip

Vintage orange extract bottle & box. Thrift Store find.
There's no drip-drop of orange juice in today's design.

Clever Contraptions

Good design is such a thing of beauty, it gives me hope for humanity. 

This doohickey for holding spools of thread, for instance. > > >
(Do you know what it's called? I don't.)

I got it at the Thrift Store, and while I'd never seen one, they must be fairly common because the women in the Sewing Group all knew what it was. 

One woman arranged the spools by size---biggest on the bottom row, smaller going up, and, like all (?) good design, the end result was beautiful.
It's also a perfect tool for my work because filling it up offers low difficulty, high satisfaction, and I can easily take the spools off and give it to another person, or to the same person again, if she has short-term memory loss. (Not everyone does.)

Bad Design, Clever Solutions

Alas, the place I work, while designed only three years ago, was––bizarrely–– not designed with people with physical limitations in mind. Narrow doors and tight turns,
for instance, are hard to navigate in a wheelchair. 

Some of the windows in the dining room lack blinds because hardware blocks the way, and at certain times of day, the sunshine can be blinding, and especially hurtful to old eyes. 
The aides sometimes crawl up on a chair and jerry-rig a tablecloth to provide shade. 

< < < Best of all, I love this resident's solution. 

I went to the maintenance crew and asked if they couldn't find a permanent solution. The other day I saw one of them measuring the windows, so I have some hope... The guys in maintenance are pretty cool.

The building's worst flaw, though, from a health perspective, is the design of the sinks: you can only reach them to wash your hands if you're standing up, which half the residents cannot do. 

A wave of intestinal disorders hit last month, and when I expressed concern to nursing about the hand washing facilities, I was told it was too expensive to provide hand wipes. 
I have taken this to my boss, but expect little will be done. I carry alcohol goop with me and dispense it liberally. It's very drying to old skin, but it's better than dysentery.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

I Am Not a Camera

 Plans and dreams and schemes can be like clothes in a closet: 
if they don't fit or you don't like them anymore, maybe they're just a waste of space.
This week I gave away my high-end video camera, tripod, and microphones I'd so carefully researched and bought two years ago when I was going to start a videography business (and maybe make more personal films too). 

I realized business wasn't for me, and, further, I'd never liked the audio-visual part of film making. I never used the equipment.

I've been keeping it around though, like keeping clothes that'd fit if I lost a few pounds.
(Does this ever work?)

Maybe if you have lots of closets it doesn't matter, but in my case, the camera stuff took up precious space.

I'm relieved it's gone. Looking at the empty shelf, I realize the camera was taking up psychic space too, expensive and good equipment that should be put to use, niggling at me, suggesting failure.

It was a failure––as a business idea, anyway––but I don't know that any effort is very often entirely wasted. I've lived long enough to  salvage bits and pieces of my past failures, often and unexpectedly. Their usefulness has surprised me; it's as if my efforts were, unknown to the younger me, preparation for what I'd need years later. 

That's looking through the wrong end of the telescope, of course. 
It's more the case that I do things I'm already equipped for, even if the mental equipment is leftover from failure.

And the physical equipment--in this case--good riddance! I'm happy someone else can use it.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Assistant: I See You, Baby

Yesterday at work, this woman ^ who usually speaks in word salad  greeted me clearly, with affection. 

My Job Review

After lunch I had my dreaded job review with my boss, and it went really well. I finally got to see some of her frustrations, which was what I wanted most of all--to glimpse shared humanity through a crack in that shiny surface. 

We talked for more than an hour (a first!), kicking around all sorts of ideas. 
"I want to work together like this more," I told her. 

She said she did too but was frustrated with how she never has time, she's so busy catering to residents. I suggested that meeting with her staff is a legitimate use of her time too.

So, we're going to meet every-other week, and she's also going to try to check in with me daily. It seems to me that should be standard practice, but since it hasn't been, it makes me really happy.

I really saw her humanity, though, after she told me with some chagrin that Corporate denied my request for a merit-based raise saying that they don't give raises before the scheduled 1% after one year.

"But that's ten cents!" I said.

"Is it?" she said. "Oh . . . yeah." [We innumerates!]

And then she started saying how frustrated she was with Corporate. Of her own volition [I didn't even have to suggest this], she said she is going to take this to the administrator of our place. He's under Corporate, but maybe he has some sway.

I'm not counting on it, but I love that she's willing to go to bat for me. That in itself makes me glad I screwed up my courage to ask for a raise.

Another "I See You"

After the review, I went back to the floor and set up our ongoing Baby Bib Sewing Project. (Follow up to the Hot Pad Project).

An RN came along and asked if she could borrow one the residents, to interview her.

She apologized for the interruption, saying, "I'd rather leave her here, this is more important."

"Well, what you do is important too," I said.

"No," she said, "I'm under no illusions about my job: it's to fill out papers. This..." ––gesturing to the table of people cutting out cloth––"this is way more important."

I didn't know what to say [rare]. I not only basically agreed with her but was also a little stunned at the contrast with how Corporate sees our relative worth.

So, OK.
End result: I want personal connection and meaning way more than I want money. The work is self-evidently important; the residents and I already connect every day; and if my boss and I can start to support each other, then I can work well without a raise. 
For a while, at least...

My boss told me she'd written recommendations for an earlier assistant who'd let her know she was looking for another job that paid better. She doesn't want me to leave, but "I'd do that for you too," she said.

I expect it'll come to that, eventually. But for now, anyway, I am re-energized.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

More Taffeta, Darling

" French taffeta, thin but crisp, striped with a pencil-point black line on the pure evening-sky blue which Mrs. Siddons wore when Gainsborough painter her;  > > >
grey silk velvet, dove-coloured in shadow, silver in light; another grey, corded silk veiled with chiffon, sashed with lemon yellow; more chiffon, pink over pearl embroidery on the breasts; more pearls, a trellis of them as a belt: 
dresses for dancing in!"

--Diana Athill (b. 1917, now 97!) describing her evening-dresses when she was a girl, in her memoir Instead of a Letter (1962)

I'm enjoying this book a lot, partly because Athill is herself rather crisp (like dry apple cider) and she doesn't go in for a lot of  physical description, but when she does, it belongs there, it's not frippery.
I picked the book up because back when I was working in-house at the publisher's, I'd liked her memoir of her life as an editor, the wonderfully named Stet, an editorial term––Latin––for "let it stand". 

Here's Athill on "Why I Moved into an Old People's Home"

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Good Things

Yesterday I walked into the Thrift Store and three people in different parts of the store called out my name, happy to see me.
It was like a balm, to be recognized. 

How hard it is to labor alone, among others, as I do now. [I mean the lack of connection with the other staff, not the people with dementia, who don't know my name but often say kind things to me.]
 Not at all like laboring alone by myself, as I did as a freelancer.

Then the store manager took me aside and asked if I'd like to be on the board that grants the store's profits to people and groups that apply for it.

Yes! I would love to work more for no pay! 
No, really. I am honored, and I very much do want to help the store fulfill its mission to support the community. It's one of the things I miss where I work now-- a for-profit business that doesn't reach out to the community in any concerted way.

Grumbles about my workplace aside, the work itself continues to be good.  

Yesterday at my suggestion we went to the plant conservatory > >

People (including me!) were in raptures about the flowers. 

It's the best place to escape January.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Could "nonviolence" include not-running-away (from the person who annoys you)?

I've been dreading my 90-day job performance review on Thursday, a review I asked for. My boss is super-nice and never less than pleasant, never stands in my way, and yet never helps me much either. She left me alone on my 2nd day on the job, saying, "It's all yours!"  Since then, unless I hunt her down, I only see her in passing. 

Besides that, I realize I've built up resentment toward her for being so unrelentingly sweet. If I complain about anything, I feel as if I'm chopping a marshmallow with a hatchet, while for me, far from being useless whining, venting is the best preamble to brainstorming about how to deal with hard stuff.

My resentment feels a little crazy to me, but I see myself in a favorite quote from Quaker educator Parker Palmer:
"When I think about people with whom I have the deepest sense of community, I think of people who have been able to share with me their contradictions, their brokenness--thus allowing me to share mine.
When we present ourselves to the world as smooth and seamless, we allow each other no way in, no way into life together. But as we acknowledge and affirm that the cross is the shape of our lives, we open a space within us where community can occur."
Yes, that's it: if I can't share my "brokenness"---my confusion or annoyance or heartbreak at working with people living with dementia, I don't know how to keep working well. And yet instead of welcoming this chance to work on improving things with my boss,  I want to cancel the meeting.
I want to quit my job.

I have quit many things in my life because I was too scared to face my own annoyance or to try to practice using my power (or even avoid thinking I had any---so much nicer to feel the powerless victim).

But Parker Palmer also said, “Community is that place where the person you least want to live with always lives.” 

Ohmygod, yes.
This reminds me of the book I'm reading, Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Bolz-Weber was raised in Christian Fundamentalism (a culture I've learned a lot about from Marz). She rejected it in dramatic ways (the Ramones! vodka! stand-up comedy!), eventually becoming a Lutheran pastor. 
 She says:

So these people and ideas buoy me.
I'm not crazy to feel it, but there's really no avoiding my own resentment because it comes along wherever I go, like the sunset.

Still, it scares me to ask for changes, so I want to believe nothing will change, so why bother?
Maybe-- probably!-- nothing much will change, but what have I got to lose by trying? 

Well, that's a silly question: I can lose a lot. For instance, I can lose my calm; I can lose my sense of myself as nice and [emotionally] nonviolent by having to face my irritability and resentment.

While quitting has rescued me from conflict and annoyance (temporarily), it is hardly nonviolent.

Quitting jobs, leaving town, ending relationships (or not entering into them in the first place), not speaking up can be a kind of violence in that it can inflict injury or damage--not through action, like physical violence,  but through inaction.

I like that the Catholic prayer the confiteor ("I confess") includes the omission to act-- that is, passivity when action is called for-- as something to be confessed,  and one confesses to "all the angels and saints, and to you, my brothers and sisters" for "what I have done and what I have failed to do." 

Anyway, I've been thinking about nonviolence lately--it seems in short supply-- and today is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As I've gotten older, the principle of nonviolence seems less like a spiritual or emotional virtue and more like an effective political & interpersonal tactic. 

I used to think "Love your enemy" meant you had to like everybody (hmmm... is my boss trying to do that?). Now it sounds to me more like "the buck stops here": i.e., I will use love to muffle violence so it doesn't keep reverberating. Not romantic, not fun, nothing to do with liking anyone, and possibly dangerous . . . but possibly also effective.
And possibly not.

Well, maybe I won't be able to improve my workplace, but lowering expectations and raising my courage, I am going to try. 

I can always leave town later.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Spool of paper-lined taffeta ribbon and stork scissors, 
from the Thrift Store 

My photo was inspired by Happify's photos of things: I'd asked her how she got her backgrounds so black. 

"Black cloth," she said. 
The word taffeta comes from Persian, everyone agrees, but I found various etymologies. Some say it means "twisted woven"; I prefer "based on Persian tāftan ‘to shine.’"

Saturday, January 17, 2015

February = A Month of Letters

LetterMo Challenge: Put something––anything!–– in the mailbox every day the PO picks up during the month of February.

You can sign up (and find pen pals) at, though this year the coordinator is snowed under with depression and isn't offering the badges (whatever they were) that were on offer in the five previous years ...

I'm not sure if I'll register officially or not, but I'm tempted to accept the challenge. Seems like fun. I used to do a lot of mail art and letter writing, and I keep meaning to get back to it.

Plus I just received in the mail from Scotland a packet of 5 blank cards made by Gwynneth over at Ook?! I love getting mail, and now I have fresh cards to post if I don't feel like making my own.

If you comment regularly, we've probably already exchanged street addresses, but if not, and if you'd like something in the mail, you can e-mail me yours.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Chit Chat

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Joe Sacco on Charlie

Joe Sacco is a graphic journalist I admire--you may know his excellent, and gut wrenching, novel-length reports in cartoon form on the Bosnian War and Palestine.

I've been hesitant to read commentary on the Charlie attack unless I already know and respect the source because I get so upset at what I see as ignorant and simplistic responses, so I was interested to see what he, a source I respect, had to say, and I wasn't disappointed.

Sacco is a Maltese-American, btw.

Below is just THE 1st-of-3 ROWS OF PANELS of
Joe Sacco: On Satire––A Response to the Charlie Hebdo Attacks
 from the Guardian

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Flotsam and Jetsam As Biography

Remember S&H trading stamps? 

I painted them the other day, as part of my project to paint my mother's things
I haven't worked on that in more than a year, and this painting didn't turn out, but the image brought back memories---of places that gave these stamps out––
the gas station (Sinclair, I think, with a big green dinosaur out front) and the grocery store (Piggly Wiggly!)––
and of sitting at the kitchen table helping my mother lick and stick sheets of these stamps into books to be redeemed for... what?... 

Did she ever even redeem them? 

Did yours? 

Here's a similar project---after her mother died, photographer Beatriz Ruibal recorded her things, "in an obsessive fashion."
These are the sort of jetsam* that turn up in the Thrift Store, wrapped in a piece of newspaper, or maybe not, maybe a bit chipped from being loose in a brown paper bag.

Terms for marine wreckage per Wikipedia

  • Jetsam is part of a ship, its equipment, or its cargo that is purposely cast overboard or jettisoned to lighten the load in time of distress and is washed ashore.
  • Flotsam is floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo.
  • Lagan (also called ligan) is goods or wreckage that is lying on the bottom of the ocean, sometimes marked by a buoy, which can be reclaimed.
  • Derelict is cargo that is also on the bottom of the ocean, but which no one has any hope of reclaiming (in other maritime contexts, derelict may also refer to a drifting abandoned ship).

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Piece of Green

A piece of green, some styrofoam balls, a bucket on its side, a club, and...
Bingo! or whatever you say when you score in golf. 

Even the aides wanted to take a turn, and we all had so much fun playing the golf course I'd set up in the Activities room, we laughed out loud --a sure sign of a success.

Friday, January 9, 2015


I try not to say, "Don't do this, don't do that" when I lead activities with the kids and grown-ups (or with the grown-ups alone, either), unless it's something dangerous. 

[ Even then, if I have time, redirection works better. 
But I have been known to yell Don't eat that! at someone about to put cookie batter with raw egg in their mouth. It was too late anyway, but no one got sick. ]

Yesterday I put out tissue paper for people to tear up and stick onto a sheet of  contact paper. Hung on the windows, they make really pretty faux–stained glass. 

Pretty soon, some of the grown ups--the toddlers' teachers and a couple women with dementia who used to teach grade school-- were instructing the little kids, "Don't wad up the paper, tear it in nice little pieces."

Come on people, we're playing, we're not building Chartres!

I just kept repeating, "It's OK, everybody---you can't do it wrong: any shape will work!"

You can see the bottom of the 2nd piece > >
 really does look like pieces of stained glass---that's where the teachers were working. 
And wadded up sections--they look like things moving underwater or flying. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Damp

The temperature has risen to 5ºF above zero this morning. At least this crisp weather freezes out the damp.

Last night I started reading The Animals, Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, just out in 2014.

In Chris's very first letter (page 3)––February 1956, written from his mother's house in Cheshire,  England––he describes winter without central heating:

"The house is damp as a sponge, and cold––you can see your breath even when standing by the fire––and the sheets are damp like graveclothes and the books on the shelves smell like corpses.  And in the kitchen and scullery there are very old smells of dried fat in skillets and old old black rags that are quite frighteningly filthy in a 19th century way, like something out of Oliver Twist.
...I spend a lot of time scrubbing things. If only the pipes don't freeze!"

You can see why he stayed in California.
"Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy,"
by David Hockney (1968), via

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


I'm happy my hair is finally long enough to braid. Now I just have to learn how to braid it... 
(Marz did this one.)

7:30 AM Weather Report: –9ºF, windchill –31

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"It's so beautiful."

Last week I went to the art museum, with work. 
My boss drives a 12-person van out for weekly fields trips. Three women from Memory Care almost always want to go, so then I get to go too, to accompany them. 
At the museum, one woman kept saying, "Look at that, it's so beautiful!" 
She wanted to go into every gallery and see everything--Chinese terracotta camels, ornate Victorian sideboards, medieval paintings in gold frames, everything. 

It was wonderful to be with her, she was so happy. Lately she's been so out of sorts––she told me my exercise class was "pointless"–– I'd worried if she'd be OK on a field trip. Luckily an aide made sure I invited her: "She needs to get out." 
Too true.

Meanwhile in the museum, I kept saying, "Look! A dog!"  which is my main interest in art. My boss snapped us as I pointed out a lapdog:
"Lady at Her Toilet," Unknown Artist, Netherlands, c. 1650, here

Recommended Reading: "Things I Find in the Garbage"

I sat on the couch for hours last night reading this blog:

The appealing young man who writes it (in Montreal) says, 
"I'm a professional scavenger and entrepreneur making a living selling curbside garbage. This blog details my finds and sales. It also acts as an archive for things beautiful and historic that would otherwise have been destroyed."
I started with his 2014 Year in Review of top finds and then  couldn't stop---the blog is like the Thrift Store--a museum of sociology & history.

And now I'm heading off into the –3 morning to bus to work. At the bus stop I shall think:
(From the Garbage 2014 Year in Review ^)