A Belated Christmas Gift

Jessica was the second sibling to receive a hand-made crocheted blanket from me. As she pulled her Christmas gift from its wrapping, the family ooh’ed and aah’ed.

“How long did it take you to make that?” Meg, my youngest sister, asked.

“Forty hours,” I said, without hesitation.

“How do you know that?”

“Well, I timed how long it took to make each piece so I knew how much I’d have to do each day in order to finish it in time for Christmas.”

“And at the hourly rate she charges, that blanket is priceless,” my father chimed in. At the time, I was a very-well-paid medical computer systems consultant.

“Well,” Meg said, with a wry smile on her face, “I want a sixty hour blanket.” We all laughed, but a few years later Meg got her wish.

Meg was the first–and last–person I ever said could pick out the blanket they wanted me to make. I handed her a pattern book from which I’d made some afghans previously. She picked a pattern of squares, each with a different color flower in its center.

I started that pattern and grew quite frustrated at how poorly it was written. I then realized that not all the patterns in this book were written by the same person, so though other afghans in the book were not hard for me to figure out, this one was much more challenging.

I finally gave in and told Meg I was sorry, but I couldn’t make the one she picked out. Ever the understanding sibling, she laughed about it and assured me that whatever I made she would be happy with it.

That Christmas morning, Meg pulled her blanket from it’s packaging. After the requisite ooh’s and aah’s, Meg donned her familiar wry smile and asked “So how long did it take you to make?”

“Definitely more than Jessica’s,” I assured her.

“Yessss,” she said, eyeing Jessica.

Some years later, my only brother mentioned he wanted a hand-made blanket from me. I never thought to make him one, let alone imagined he would ever request one.

“But you have one Grandma Gallo made you. And you have the one Grandma Doss had on her couch when we were growing up.”

“But I don’t have one you made,” he said. Jeffrey sure knew how to charm his sisters.

And so it was that I set about finding a pattern for Jeffrey. No flowers. No fringe. Certainly no lacy open-work. The first pattern I picked, once I got started, I found boring. If I was bored making it, I’d surely never finish it. So a mere month before Christmas I decided on a different pattern: the Vortex Afghan.

Looking back now, I wonder what possessed me to try a blanket with such a name. Indeed, I felt sucked into a vortex every time I sat down to work on it. With other afghans, I would eventually have the pattern memorized for having repeated it so much. I could then talk to people and crochet at the same time. But not this one. There was never a part of this blanket I could do without the pattern right beside me. More than once, while attempting to watch television while making the blanket, I had to pull out some of it and start again, having lost where I was.

Even if you don’t crochet, you can appreciate this: Each of the twelve blocks started as a circle, and when I was finished it was a square with a circle inside. Not only that, but each circle has two colors, spiraling around each other.

The pattern was so time-consuming that I knew there was no way to have it finished by Christmas. Though I felt bad, I knew Jeffrey would understand.

Jeffrey has always been the most easy-going of my siblings. The only boy among four girls, he learned early on that the easiest thing to do was step aside and let the girls to their squabbling, their demanding. He would just sit back, take it all in, and every once in a while, when things were getting a little too tense, he would step in and change the subject so smoothly that not a single one of us could pick up on it.

For Christmas, I pinned together the six blocks I had made and wrote Jeffrey a letter explaining the situation:

A Christmas Letter

A Christmas Letter

My parents were due to visit me in Asheville in February and my goal was to have the blanket finished by then so they could bring it back to Jeffrey in New York. On Groundhog Day, I noted on Facebook that I was happy there were six more weeks of winter: that meant there was a chance it would be cold enough for Jeffrey to use his afghan this winter.

By the time my parents arrived, all the blocks were completed but I still had some assembling to do, then a border to complete. While Dad drove us to visit a small town in South Carolina, I sat in the backseat crocheting that border. It was the easiest part of the whole thing.

A Work-in-Progress

A Work-in-Progress

My parents left five days later, the completed blanket taking its place in their car.

Last night, Jeffrey’s fiance texted me a picture of him with his blanket, wrapped around his face like a nun’s habit.

IMG959363

Jeffrey would never say how many hours he wanted dedicated to his blanket. He might think it, but knew better than to say a word to me, the super-sensitive eldest. He didn’t have to, of course. Jeffrey, without having said a word, won the prize.

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

Me? An Introvert?

“Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?” he asked me. We met just three hours earlier, and already our conversation had covered religion and poverty, our life stories, and now personal reflection. But this happens all the time when I get in a conversation with the unconventional-traveler types: in this case, a couchsurfer. This guy would sleep on my pull-out couch tonight, and continue on his way the next morning.  I would probably never see him again, and that, I believe, is what drives travelers to waste no time getting into the deeper conversations.

I didn’t really know the answer to his question. So I tried to figure it out in his presence. “When I was little I was definitely an introvert — shy and quiet.” I thought back to those days of hiding out in my bedroom with a book or a craft project, convinced I was adopted.  How else could I explain how I ended up with four siblings who were like pinballs — shooting around all over the house? Those pictures of my mother in a hospital bed holding a newborn that was supposedly me? Staged.

I moved forward to my early twenties. “I took the Myers-Briggs in college. That said I was an introvert.  But I think I was on the border. Now that I think about it, what’s the real definition of the difference between the two?”

He smiled. I had apparently asked the right question to the right person. “Introverts have gotten a bad rap,” he explained. “People think introverts don’t want to talk to anybody. But that’s not it. It’s where you get your energy from. If you get your energy from being alone, doing solitary things, you’re an introvert. If you get your energy from being with groups of people, you’re an extrovert. I asked because you seem to float pretty easily between the two.”

I took this as a compliment and thought  back to a boyfriend’s father telling me I was great “conversationalist.” Then, I remembered a party my company held for our clients back when I lived in Boston. I had been with the company just a few weeks and knew hardly anyone, so I grabbed a glass of wine and started chatting with people. Then I excused myself to get some food, and sat down next time at a completely different table, easily making conversation with whomever I met. I continued on that way for hours. The next day my boss said she thought I talked to more people that night than any of the other employees.

But where is it that I get my energy? I thought of the mornings I used to wake up and write for hours without realizing where the time went. The days I spent in bed reading a  book I couldn’t put down. How much I loved cooking, my music blaring as I danced from fridge to stove to countertop. An introvert. Definitely. It all made sense.

Yes, I love to teach. And help people declutter. And I can hold my own at a party where I know no one. But then there are the days I spend roaming art galleries alone. Or entire cities. I’m the one who took off for Europe alone after college.  I wanted someone to go with me, but all my friends had taken 9-5 jobs with only two weeks off. Extroverts might then choose to go with a tour company, or not go at all. Introverts choose to go it alone.

This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy spending time with others. Quite the contrary. But it certainly explains why I feel so run down when my week is booked with commitments. It’s much harder to hold sacred the time you book with just yourself. But this weekend I managed to do it. And that is why you, my wonderful readers, are seeing this blog post right now. 

 

Some Things Never Change. Need proof? Read your tenth-grade diary.

When my friend Carolyn first told me about Mortified I was intrigued – and just a wee bit appalled.  Basically, people go back and find things they wrote when they were kids – stories, diaries, letters, song lyrics – and read them on stage to a group of strangers.  It sounded like some odd new therapy to get over your childhood – and I thought I just might gain something from reading the secret thoughts of my nine year old self to people who paid to hear them.

A few days later I found myself laughing out loud at the youtube videos of people’s performances.  I so want to do this, I thought.  I wondered if, without any background in theater, someone like me would be accepted to do something like this.  I read the FAQ.  It seemed like if you had material they liked and could pull off reading it, they’d possibly be interested.

My first mission was to find the plastic  18 gallon Rubbermaid container that held every journal I’ve written since getting my first diary in 1985.  That treasure trove of childhood frustrations and angst was on the second floor of my parents barn – where all things deemed important enough to store for “some day” are sent.  My childhood dreams and aspirations were now sharing space with six mattresses, a set of patio furniture, and a cotton candy machine among other things.

I hauled the storage container off its shelf, down the stairs, and out the barn door.  There I dropped it in the grass until I had the energy to walk the thing up to my parents house.  Eventually I lugged it to my temporary room on the second floor of their house.  And there it sat for months while I filled more journals with my thoughts during travels to the Italian Coast and the Spanish countryside.

Upon my return, I finally pulled off the cover and pulled out piles of journals and notebooks.  Then I saw it: the diary that started it all.  I was ten.  It was a gift from Santa.  Pink cover with hearts and a lock.  Now I looked at its torn cover, then carefully opened it.  I read it from beginning to end.  I was surprised by how many times the only entry for the day was, “Today was a HORRIBLE day!”  No explanation of why.  Just the date, those words, and my signature.  Once, three entries in a row professed the sentiment.  Was I such a miserable fourth grader?  And fifth grader?

If I had to pick a theme for the pink diary, it would be “musings on how much I hate my sister Liz.”  But Liz wasn’t the only one I “hated.” Most family members were mentioned at some point after that word, as were classmates who, just a few entries earlier, I had declared to be best friends.

Then there was my obsession with ending entries with, “P.s.  My boyfriend is__________.”  The name changed often in the beginning, sometimes listing three or four lucky boys.  None of whom, I can assure you, ever knew they were my boyfriend.

I eventually started addressing my entries “Dear Tiffy” – short for Tiffany.  And then started signing myself as Vikki (complete with a heart to dot the last “i.”)

Eventually, I grabbed some post-it notes and started marking pages I thought might be appropriate – even funny – to read on stage in front of strangers.  The web site said to bring a few suggestions of material, but that they could help you flesh it all out.

Then I started reading what I wrote in in college and in my early twenties.  I was more than a little disappointed at how little it seemed I’d changed.  Some of the same worries I write about today were first written in those pages over fifteen years ago.  Really?  Do we ever change?  I wondered.

Those who knew me in high school will assure me I’m not the same person.  For one, I no longer deny the fact that Liz is my sister.  But reading the words of my teenage self dampened my spirits just enough for me to pack up my journals and stuff them into the closet.

Maybe when I go home for Christmas I’ll pull them out again.  And just maybe, you can all come see me read my diary on stage one day in NYC.

Weddings – Thankfully, Not My Own

I’m not one of those girls who has always imagined what my wedding day would be like.  In fact, I haven’t thought much about it at all.  But I’ve been present for the stress and cost of plenty of weddings – so much so that I’ve told my mother for years that my wedding will be in the backyard.

“At least call it a Garden Party,” she said.

Since then, I added another detail: my wedding will be potluck.

“Potluck?  Really?” my mother asked.

“Yup.  No gifts.  I don’t need anything.  I just want Grandma to make her meatballs, Aunt Lia to bring her Taco salad, Mrs. Repko to bring a pie.”

“Pie?  You’re going to have pie at your wedding?”

“Sure – why not?  No one eats the cake anyway.”

My mother didn’t have too much to worry about – I wasn’t dating anyone.  When people asked me about my future with the last guy I dated I declared, “He’s the kind of guy I’d like to have live next door.”

Well, on Christmas day, my youngest sister got engaged.  Shortly thereafter, I found myself at the kitchen table with her, her fiance, and my mother.  My mother, eager for another family wedding, was asking about guest lists and locations.  “How about the back yard?” my sister asked.

“Hey – I want to get married in the back yard,” I said.  “Her wedding can be a dry run for mine!” My sister enthusiastically agreed.

My father piped in from the living room, reminding us of our slanted back yard.  “The front yard then!” we declared.  “That would be perfect!”  While dad tried to convince us the front yard was too small for 300 people, Mom interrupted.  “We need to stop talking about this,” she said.  “I’m getting sick to my stomach.”

“What? Why?” I asked.  “I always said I wanted my wedding here.”

“Yeah, but now that it’s a real possibility, it’s making me sick.”

As requested, we changed the subject.  My mother got up, poured herself a glass of wine, and returned to the table.  A few sips of wine later, her nerves were calmed enough that she permitted us to again talk about a wedding at the house.

Eight months later, the planning for my youngest sister’s wedding is in full swing.  The reception will not be in the front yard. But I still like the idea myself.

Serendipity and Collages

I got an e-mail that the local library was doing a class on collages.  Yes, collages.  Remember those?  Tearing images out of magazines, arranging them somehow, gluing it all together?  Well, adults do it too…and sell them for quite a bit of money.  (Well, our teacher does at least!)  Realizing I hadn’t been on an Artist Date in a while, I decided to attend the class.

The only problem was that we were told to bring images with us.  I don’t subscribe to any magazines.  And I wasn’t about to go spend a bunch of money buying new ones just to tear them apart.  The whole idea is to use old ones – reuse, recycle.  So, as usual when I need something I don’t have, I figured I’d just go to Mom and Dad’s for it.  I swear they must get twenty magazines a month – at least.

I was in Rhode Island when I got the info about the class, so figured I’d take care of getting my images when I got home.  But God had other plans.

As it turns out, I was in Rhode Island helping a couple of friends declutter – and was actually getting paid for it!  Guess what one of my clients was getting rid of?  Yup.  Old magazines.  She was thrilled to give them to me to use for my upcoming craft project.  I took about ten of them, and put the other hundred in her recycling bin.

The class was yesterday.  I still had the magazines in my trunk.  So I grabbed some scissors, got in my car a half hour before I was due to leave and started cutting.  There’s something meditative to me about cutting out things.  I was responsible for the coupons growing up – dad had no patience for going through the sale papers and cutting them, but he had no problem using the ones I diligently found and presented as we entered the baking aisle for brownie mix.  I was into scherenschnitte for a while – using very tiny scissors to cut beautiful designs.  And now here I was cutting images from magazines.  In my car.  At 10 AM on a Saturday.  And really wishing I had another hour to do it.

Turns out I did: we spent most of the class looking through more magazines and getting more images – the library had plenty to recycle.  With only 20 minutes left of the class, I had yet to find a suitable theme or arrangement.  As a student who always wanted to get the assignment “right” I was tempted to call the teacher over for some advice.  But instead decided to just keep plugging along.  And of course, it came to me.  I had been attracted not to images of “things” in particular, but colors.  Lots of blues, in fact.  I had four different size rectangles of shades of blue which I layered on top of each other biggest to smallest, then made it “pop” with an image in the middle of a white vase with a red design on it.  I loved it.

The lady next to me said, “It looks very geometric and orderly.  Are you like that otherwise?”  I looked at the rectangles, at the splash of color in the middle.  “Well, I am a math tutor, so maybe that’s where the geometric thing comes in.  But I do a bunch of other random creative things, so that’s maybe what the color in the middle is all about.”  And it all made sense.  Our teacher had said collage was very reflective and how it was interesting to see what patterns emerged.  Here, with just five images from the forty I cut out, I had made an abstract image of me.