Scrap-Happy July: Cards and Letters Come Full Circle

I’m joining Kate, of Tall Tales from Chiconia, for her monthly scrap-happy blog post. The challenge is to create something made entirely of scraps.

Here is the inspiration for this month’s scrappy project.

I’ve been friends with Carrielin for nearly forty years. We met doing theatre at San Jose State in 1980. After she left the area, we stayed in touch the old-fashioned way: through cards and letters. Recently Carrielin came across a box of correspondence from me, mailed between 1989 and 1994. She re-read the letters, then offered to send them my way.  My dear friend mailed the cards with little notes attached letting me know what she had liked about certain cards. Isn’t that the sweetest?

Assorted cards sent to Carrielin in the early 90’s

It took some emotional preparation to re-read what I had written nearly three decades ago. When the time felt right, I read each one. Then I hatched a plan.

Now parts of those cards are heading her way once again, but this time as slivers of the past.

I decided to try a paper-piecing pattern shared by Kate on her blog. Kate is collecting gorgeous quilt squares to include in an ovarian cancer fundraising quilt. She’s done several over the years, with blocks she and other quilters create based on a theme and the color teal. You can read more about her efforts here.

One of Kate’s squares for the theme Scinteallation is called Basketweave Braid Star, a paper piecing pattern by Nydia Kehnle. You can have a look at Kate’s gorgeous paper-piecing star on her blog.

Using her design, I cut strips from several of the cards using blues and creams. I chose bits of the cards that represented our interests, including theater and dance, whimsy, art, flowers, cats (of course) and the Victorian era. I used card backings which are generally white, and I even included her name from one of my letters.

Carrielin loves dance and teddy bears
Strips of original cards featuring interesting details

There was only one blue envelope in the batch, so I carefully cut triangles to create the star effect.

Pale blue envelope postmarked 1989.

Here is the finished card with the envelope border.

Finished card using strips of greeting cards with a recycled envelope border
The finished card

Do you like crafting from scraps? Why not join us for the next round.

From Kate’s blog:

“ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? You can email Kate at the address on her Contact Me page. You can also contact Gun, via her blog, to join. We welcome new members. You don’t have to worry about making a long-term commitment or even join in every month, just let either of us know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so we can add your link. Regular contributors will receive an email reminder three days before the event.”

Temporarily Sidelined From the Garden

Campanula Serbian bellflower Campanula (Serbian bellflower) and hydrangea hugging the fountain

It feels good to be back in the garden. I did something to my back a few weeks ago and for a few days the pain was unbearable. It subsided and then my neck went out. Good grief, I am so over it! It’s spring for gosh sakes. This is no time to be sidelined from the garden.

I pulled a few weeds sitting in a folding chair, making it official: I’m an “old woman gardener.”

Last weekend, in between back pain and neck pain, we got things done. Mike hung the shade sails on both patios which we leave up for six months of the year. Shade sails make the San Jose sun bearable, while at the same time creating “rooms” in the garden. Once our shade sails are up we spend more time outdoors.

I repurposed a decorative shower curtain once again to cover the swing cushions. After sewing two or three replacement covers over the years, only to see them in ruin, I no longer dedicate any sewing time to a swing cover that is generally faded by the sun and gnawed on by squirrels at season’s end. It’s a decent compromise.

I hung a few mirrors from a local shop called Not Too Shabby along the back fence. I’ve always wanted to do something like this. It creates a focal point while covering up the boring fence. The mirrors are in the shade of the fruit tree and reflect different plants in the garden, depending on where you sit.

mirrors arranged on fence Patio and garden with mirrors on the back fence. (Pictured: Mouse and Lindy)
four mirrors on garden fence Your’s truly holding the camera for a closeup view of the garden mirrors

I planted tomatoes in my EarthBoxes® this year. Last summer’s crop was a bust, so I’ve moved the boxes into a more open space. Wind is more important for pollination than bees, so I’m hoping the new location on the gravel path pays off in delicious summer tomatoes.

pair of Earthboxes planted with tomatoes Pair of Earthboxes with tomatoes and red mulch

Astoundingly, this is the first time in ages that I don’t have any self-seeded pumpkins. That said, as the garden fills in, there is less and less room for the seedlings to take hold.  I’m going to plant pumpkin seeds in the front garden this year, so as the sweet peas die back in June, the pumpkins can fill in the space. It just doesn’t feel like a garden without pumpkins.

We had above-average rain this year, so everything looks healthy and refreshed.

My favorite, self-seeding flowers are back this year including Nigella (love-in-a-mist),

sweet peas,

nasturtiums,

and our state flower, the California poppy.  I liberally scattered poppy seeds at the end of last summer and it paid off.

Front garden Front garden natives mix with annual self-seeded cornflower, California golden poppies, & sweet peas

For any of you royal watchers, here’s a bit of California poppy trivia:

To commemorate Meghan Markle’s Californian origins, Clare Waight Keller included the golden poppy in the coat of arms.
Source: Wikipedia

Perhaps the most important plant in the garden each spring is the Nepeta. Nepeta, also known as cat nip or cat mint is briefly intoxicating to cats. Lindy likes to eat it, Tessa dives in head first and all three cats take turns using the plant as a lounge.

cat sleeping near cat nip Lindy snoozing between the Nepeta and the violets
native garde Back garden and patio. Lindy standing near the Nepeta
cat with nose in nepeta plant Tessa dips her nose in the Nepeta
two faced Tessa Tessa enjoying the garden

Spring. There’s a little something for everyone.

Lifted Spirits: Remodeling the Boutique

I’ve been volunteering for over a year at Lifted Spirits, a drop-in center for unhoused women in downtown San Jose.

Lifted Spirits took a brief hiatus in late April, giving us time to catch our breath and to make improvements to the program. One of the major changes included remodeling the boutique.

Lifted Spirits clothing boutique starting point

Before: Lifted Spirits Clothing Boutique starting point

As with most non-profits, we survive on a shoestring. The budget for the remodel: zero. You make do with what you have, take advantage of sales, and employ the “let’s build a fort!” sensibilities from one’s youth.

We welcomed back the women we serve on Monday and the boutique is a hit.

After: Remodeled Lifted Spirits Boutique

For a bit of background, the boutique is a free clothes closet where unhoused women access gently used clothing and travel-sized toiletries via our drop-in center. The program also provides a hot lunch, access to a shower-van two days a week, a sleeping room, a lovely patio garden and Friday Bingo. Serving women in a pleasant environment lifts spirits and that’s what we’re all about.

The original boutique layout included assorted clothing racks, shelves for shoes, a few cubicle-style storage bins and a wall divider originally used in an office setting. Two sets of file drawers doubled as storage for underwear and assorted toiletries. A counter sat on the file cabinets with two overhanging bins, and a salvaged piece of counter top sat on a series of plastic drawers used for toiletries.

The narrow space created by the cubicle wall meant that only one volunteer could comfortably fit back there at a time. You had to turn sidewise to bend over and open a drawer. Further, women had the sense that we were “hiding the good stuff” behind the counter. As volunteers, we felt cut off from parts of the boutique and the women we serve. The high wall and overhanging cabinets blocked the natural light.

On our first closed Friday, our group of five women volunteers dismantled the cubicle wall, removed the counter and relocated the filing cabinets. We repurposed one cabinet in the conference room, and free-cycled the second one. A hauler took away the metal walls for recycling, and we retained the two counter tops which you’ll see in use, below.

With that, the space opened up considerably. It felt lighter and brighter and more spacious, simply by removing the portable wall. I had a few goals in mind after reading articles on the design of small boutiques.  They suggest an open space at the entrance to give the sense of having stepped into something special. Women in the US enter and automatically turn to their right. A check-out counter should be located near the exit and to the left. And finally, you want a sense of flow throughout the shopping experience.

Open space at the entrance, “shopping” on the right, new counter on the left. Several mirrors help visually expand the space.

If you are operating a boutique to make money, you want several ways to slow your shoppers down. In our case, we wanted the opposite. There are days when nearly 40 women access the boutique, so they don’t have time to linger. I designed the space so that women enter to their right and then shop in a circular fashion, finishing at the counter to pick up a pair of socks, new underwear and toiletries before exiting. There is one table in the center as a focal point and as a place to put out extras such as hand lotion and sample hair product, but otherwise the space flows.

My husband Mike enjoyed the chance to use his power tools to build a check-out counter. We set up a folding table outside, and he cut the two counter top remnants mentioned above, down to a useable size. They don’t completely match, but once cut and arranged in an L you don’t really notice. They weren’t completely level, but I fixed that problem with two packs of dental floss! I stacked the bins we use for sorting and storing bras along the shorter side of the L to form part of the counter.

The one splurge: four sets of Elfa drawers. I bought the drawers on sale, with an additional 10% off using my professional discount and donated them to the cause. The longer side of the L sits on the Elfa drawers. We regained the lost storage from the two filing cabinets and the stacking plastic drawers with the Elfa units. Small toiletries are now located under the counter for easy access.  I created enough space for two volunteers to work behind the counter.

Elfa brand drawers. Three sets open on the inside of the counter, the fourth set opens out and stores sanitary and incontinence products

I masked the drawers with three pieces of foam core board and a stripe of purple duct tape I found in a cabinet. The foam core is a snug fit under the counter, with some white duct tape on the end to hold it in place.

While in my heart of hearts I wish I could provide housing for all the women we serve, I am glad to be a part of something that helps lift spirits and fills some of the needs for women living un-housed on the urban streets of San Jose.

Boutique Before:

Boutique During the Remodel:

Boutique After:

A welcome new space

Lifted Spirits drop in center boutique

A group of volunteers sorting donated hygiene items

Treasured Photographs Give Way to Grief

It’s been a long wait.

My namesake Aunt Alys died in London in August of 2008. It’s taken a decade to receive the promised copies of her photographs, reminders of her enchanted youth.

As years go, 2008 was one of my worst. My younger sister fell early that year and broke her hip, further complicated by her MS. She was in rehab for a month. My mother also had a series of falls in what was the beginning of her decline. She died that year three days after Christmas. My father-in-law died of a heart attack that June and my mother-in-law passed later the same month.

The following months were a blur dealing with attorneys (solicitors) from two countries, sorting through possessions, attending funerals, and tending to a multitude of tasks, while continuing to raise my boys. It was hard.

My aunt’s executor delayed her London funeral for a month so that I could settle my boys in school before flying to England.  I looked through her albums while in London, but on the day of her funeral, her solicitor took me aside and said I would have to wait before claiming them. Things got messy from there.

Though my aunt left us a generous financial legacy, it was the photos I craved. Initially they said “it takes time”. Later they said that her friend and executor would copy the photos to CDs. I left voice mail messages, sent unanswered emails, and appealed to their sense of decency. Her friend and the beneficiary of part of her estate stopped returning my emails. Periodically, I conducted internet searches to see if her name surfaced. If you Google “Alys Milner” it turns up searches for me or my aunt.

Alys Milner (later Lancaster) posing in a Windsor Wooley bathing costume

Alys Milner (later Lancaster) posing in a Windsor Woolly bathing costume

Through a search I learned that her friend donated her albums to the Victoria and Albert Museum. I contacted the museum by email, waited weeks for a reply, and was finally contacted with apologies and assured that the photo albums were in their care.

Aunt Alys’ photos were not on display, but instead stored in the museum’s archives. I can’t imagine she would have wanted this, but her friend seemed to think it was more important to store them in a museum than to send them to her niece.

I asked the museum’s archive department if they would send me copies, but they said they were not available in digital form. I was welcome to come to the museum and make my own copies, no easy task when you live across the pond.

Last month, eleven years after my initial request, I received a letter from her solicitor asking me to confirm my address. A CD with a few copies of her photos and scrapbooks would soon be on their way.

Aunt Alys didn’t have children, and she didn’t think anyone would want her photos. I assured her that we would treasure all of them and she verbally agreed nearly twenty years before her death.

At long last, the CD’s arrived. It’s been a thrill seeing her photos once again but how I wish she were here to fill-in the details of her interesting life.

Newspaper clippings from her scrapbook.

Sharing these photos evokes a mixture of nostalgia and loss. Aunt Alys married in 1937 and two years later, England was at war with Germany. My aunt took part in the war effort, bringing clothing to bombing victims after the air raids, while my father served as a translator in India. 

My delight at finally receiving copies of these photos, gave way to an unexpected sorrow. Grief travels its own path. For now I’ll just let it be.

 

Scrap-Happy March: Paper Greens

I’m joining Kate, of Tall Tales from Chiconia, for her monthly scrap-happy blog post. The challenge is to use scraps from other projects to make something useful, beautiful, or both. Several bloggers post once a month showcasing a project made entirely from scraps.

This month I’m using green paper scraps and pages from an old wall calendar.

I started with this pile of paper scraps…

green scrap paper

Green just happens to be my favorite color

Assorted pages from an old gardening calendar

Old Farmer's Almanac Calendar

The Old Farmer’s Almanac Gardening Calendar

And a green Christmas tin.

Swiss Miss chocolate tin

Swiss Miss chocolate tin

I made three greeting cards…

Green strip quilt card

Card made from scraps of green paper and a calendar cut-out

calendar page card with vintage ribbon

Calendar page card with vintage ribbon rests near deep purple hyacinth

Tri-fold card

Tri-fold card

…and about 30 bookmarks. Here’s one made from the center of a calendar page.

calendar page bookmark

Calendar page bookmark with vintage seam binding

I also made a sign for our Little Free Library in honor of St. Patrick’s Day this coming Monday, and I covered a hot chocolate tin to hold the bookmarks.

four leaf clover lore

A bit of four-leaf clover lore in our LFL

Little Free Library with green books

Books with green spines and a covered Christmas tin full of bookmarks

All three cards incorporated bits of the calendar and paper scraps. I like creating like this, with a small pile of bits and bobs and no real plan.

I used a small bird drawing from the calendar for the first card

The trifold card incorporates the center panel from one of the calendar pages on the cover and on the inside of the card.

The third card is simply a photograph from a Nature Conservancy calendar, tied with vintage seam binding. I used a die to cut a note of thanks from a green paper scrap.

The bookmarks are an eclectic bunch. I used several scraps of green paper, bits of vintage seam binding, Washi tape, and again, parts of my Old Farmer’s Almanac calendar. Lexi, my artistic friend, designed her own Washi tape. You can see it here along with several of her other creations.

The green theme won’t last long in the Little Free Library as books come and go, but it has been fun playing with paper and ideas. Thanks for inspiring me to slow down, Kate, and to take some time to play.

Do you like crafting from scraps? Why not join us for the next round.

Little Free Library with green books and bookmarks

Little Free Library filled with green books, bookmarks and a note about four-leaf clover lore.

It *is* easy being green! (Sorry, Kermit).

From Kate’s blog:

“ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? You can email Kate at the address on her  Contact Me page. You can also contact Gun, via her blog, to join. We welcome new members. You don’t have to worry about making a long-term commitment or even join in every month, just let either of us know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so we can add your link. Regular contributors will receive an email reminder three days before the event.”

An (Almost Spring) Garden Posy

Ahhhhh…

It’s been raining off and on for several weeks, leaving the air fresh and clear. I managed some garden time between storms, pulling together a spring garden posy. I love this time of year.

Spring bulb posy

Spring posy nestled in the planting bed. The wind kept tipping it over, but I finally got this shot

cat vase with spring bulbs

Hyacinth, Daffodil, Nigella, and Freesia in a tiny vase

It’s cheering seeing bulbs emerge from the dark, wet soil. Most are brightly colored and in some cases scented, too. They’re an intoxicating mix and a harbinger of things to come.

The hyacinth come up first…

Pink striped hyacinth

Pink candy-cane striped hyacinth

pink hyacinth

Fragrant and lovely hyacinth

followed by narcissus (daffodils)…

Daffodil and hyacinth

Garden posy: daffodil, hyacinth and Nigella greens

white freesia

White freesia

and then freesia.

The freesia are the garden darlings these days, growing larger and spreading farther year after year. They pop up in whites, reds, yellows and pinks, and seem to last for weeks.

“Spring drew on…and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that hope traversed them at night and left each morning brighter traces of her steps.”

–Charlotte Brontë

As I said earlier, “Ahhhhh….”

Lifted Spirits: My Personal Journey

For close to a year now I’ve been volunteering at Lifted Spirits, a drop in center for homeless women in downtown San Jose. It feels like home.

Back patio: a sanctuary for the women we serve

There was a time in my life when this work would have overwhelmed me. I started out on the fringes, dropping off donations of needed clothing or making contributions from a “safe” distance. Eventually my friend Mary invited me downtown for a tour. They were looking for additional volunteers to work in the clothing boutique.

Social Hall for meals and Friday bingo

I took a breath and jumped in. What scared me? That I would be emotionally unable to work closely with such a vulnerable group of women without falling apart myself. To the contrary, the work continues to be rewarding and engaging. This is not to say it’s always easy. Some of the women we serve are living with mental illness. Many are abused. Toss in addiction to drugs or alcohol, jail time, and mind-numbing poverty and it adds up to a group of women in crisis.

How do I make a difference? I’m a professional organizer who put myself through college working retail jobs. In my early career I worked as a theater costumer, so I’ve measured a number of actors in my time. I’ve put these skills to work offering bra fittings for the women we serve in the boutique, a complete reorganization of the physical space, and regularly re-working the boutique to keep it looking fresh and inviting. We’re there to lift spirits after all.

 

It’s the skills I didn’t know I had that surprised me. I’ve been able to remain present for women in crisis without losing myself. I can offer a hug to anyone, recognizing the restorative value of human connection when it’s warm, sincere and sustained. I’ve earned the trust of women who’ve been let down by others, probably for a lifetime. And for the most part, I’ve lost that fear.

I also have a lot to learn. A few of the women we serve push all my buttons. They’re rude, demanding and aggressive. It’s a challenge facing them on a regular basis. I want to be as understanding and compassionate with them as I am with the women who arrive emotionally overwrought or with a blackened eye. That’s the real work.

This Friday I begin a free, five-week course offered by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). It’s a targeted provider education course recommended for people who work or volunteer with individuals living with mental illness. In the end we’re all people needing love, support and understanding.

Special thank you to Mary, Stephanie, and Bonnie for helping show me the way.

How about you? Have you faced a fear head on with positive results? Please share your thoughts below.