Haunted by Fish and Former Lives

Lately my dreams have been vivid and profuse. I dream not of knitting or other crafts, my children, husband or home. Not of the impending school year, my oldest going to kindergarten, or the countless hours I will be spending in the car once classes begin. I dream of  nothing from my current life. Instead my sleep is consumed by my past. Every morning I wake wondering how the life I once led, the one that seems so long ago, is connected with today.

For those readers who don’t know, I was, once upon a time, a biologist. I worked for the State of Michigan’s wetland program, first reviewing permits and then heading up preservation and monitoring programs for Great Lakes costal wetlands. People said I was good at what I did, although I never felt that was true. Most of the time I was going through the motions of my job, trying to be innovative, but rarely coming up with any new ideas or truly advancing our program.

So anyway, in my dream I’m back at work at a national conference. I’m there to discuss the coastal wetlands of Lake Huron. I have a PowerPoint presentation prepared with photos I took during field days in Port Huron, Les Cheneaux, Caseville and the Mackinaw Straits. Somehow I’ve even made it to Georgian Bay and brought back water sample data, fish species lists and a binder full of pressed plant specimen. Amid all this data I seem to have discovered something important (exactly what has not yet been revealed in my dream) and I am eager to share the new information. After all, as a young person interested in science, discovery was my goal. I wanted to contribute to the science of the lakes, to make a difference, to be known for advancing our ability to protect and restore one of the Earth’s greatest resources.

But something goes wrong when I make my way to the podium. I am introduced by a former colleague who mispronounces my name. The audience looks confused as I adjust the microphone and thank them for coming to my lecture. I notice my graduate school advisor in the front row, next to three of my former bosses- all people I admired when I worked with them and continue to look up to today. Two of the great scientists I worked with at the Field Museum of Chicago are there too, along with rows of old coworkers. I recognize them all as acquaintances and friends, as people I respected whether or not I agreed with their opinions.They are all wearing looks of annoyance- scowling and crossing their arms.

Before I can even begin, my former professor raises his hand and asks loudly, “Excuse me, but who the bloody hell are you? We didn’t come here to listen to some amateur naturalist blaze on about all the pretty fishies she’s seen during her travels.”

Something isn’t right. If anyone enjoyed the simplicity of pretty fish, particularly minnows and chubs, it was my exuberant British professor. And while I think he once jokingly told me to “sod off” when I’d been in the lab too long, I can only think of him smiling and he certainly was never hostile.

Then my boss chimes in, “Yes, we have the opportunity to see many great lecturers at this conference, so could you please tell us why we need to waste our time looking at this meaningless data?”

No, no… this isn’t right. My boss loved to talk about data. She was thrilled when any of us wanted to present at a conference, and kind even when I said something stupid.

At that, the presentation screen behind me shrivels and becomes a mass of construction paper and Elmers glue. My plant samples are crayon scribbles in a Sponge Bob coloring book and my fish data is a bowl of water with one decaying, bloated goldfish floating at the top. These people are right. Who in their right mind would want to sit through this train wreck of a lecture?

When I wake I feel lonely and a little useless. But the kids are up and ready for their breakfast. My husband is looking for a clean shirt. The landscapers are here waiting for my instruction. I make lists of the things I need to complete before the day is over, and not one of my tasks involves science.

At this point, my reader, you might feel a little like the colleagues of my dream, wondering what the hell any of this has to do with the “subject” of this blog, which is supposed to be crafting and knitting and creativity… or something. Well, over the past weeks as this dream has revisited me and become more vivid, I’ve been wondering whether it’s a sign that I regret my decision to leave my career behind to focus on my family, or if it is telling me I need to begin breaking back into the field. But, similar to the feeling I have at the end of my dream, these real life thoughts fill me with dread. While I would love to put on my waders and go trekking through the marshes of Lake Huron, I realize that i have no desire to go back to the life of conference calls, meetings, data entry and lectures. While I want to catch up on Great Lakes news and read great articles about wetlands in National Geographic, the thought of processing data or reviewing a construction site plan gives me an uncomfortable feeling in my gut. I’m pretty sure it’s heart burn.

There is a distinct contrast between my dream self-  who feels like a fake who is constantly striving to be more than just sub par- and my real living self- who just might actually be doing a good job taking care of this family, and who feels genuinely excited and accomplished when I finish a creative project. While I cared deeply about my job as a biologist, somehow the life I’m living now is more fulfilling. I think what the dream is really telling me is that I don’t belong in my past any more. The important relationships I formed during my 15 year trek through college, grad school and career are still influential, but rather than focusing on the science they taught me, I think I need to remember what they taught me about how to live my life. Does the memory of Dr. W– inviting us to a holiday dinner and letting us share in the laughter between him and his wife mean more than hours he spent critiquing my thesis? Does the compassion my boss P– showed me when returned from maternity leave and cried at my desk all day deserve have more influence on me today than the many meetings we held, awake only because of the coffee? Should I recall the times A– told me hilarious stories about his kids and gave me wedding advice with more reverence than the times we stood up to endless criticism at public hearings?

No, I am not squandering my education or failing to live up to my potential. I’m growing into the person I was always meant to be. And that person has more use for construction paper than power point.

What’s more, the strangest thing has happened as I’ve let go of work deadlines and started to focus on my kids, my husband, my home and my own creativity. Suddenly…

I am happy.

It seems only fitting that this is what I'm working on today. Square number 4 of The Great American Afghan, complete with pretty fishies. My instructor's square is in blue. She is an expert knitter and another person from whom I hope to learn many lessons!

It seems only fitting that this is what I’m working on today. Square number 4 of The Great American Afghan, complete with pretty fishies. My instructor’s square is in blue. She is an expert knitter and another person from whom I hope to learn many lessons!

My progress thus far.

My progress thus far.

 

Subscription Addiction

I think it’s time to admit that I am addicted to subscription craft boxes. When they come in the mail I am positively giddy. My favorite box for the past five months has been from For the Makers. Each box has a theme and includes four projects. Usually, three of the projects are fairly simple (taking 10 to 30 minutes) and one requires a bit more commitment. Since I started my subscription I have been introduced to so many new techniques and crafts that I never would have picked up on my own, including jewelry making, dyeing with kool-aid and macrame. At this point I have a bit of project backup (I also subscribe to Darby Box and Whimsey Box), but I’m hoping to start plowing through the projects so I can review the boxes on a monthly basis. 

This month’s box was inspired by beautiful African beaches, bright clothing an spice markets. The projects have been very fun and I’m so happy with how everything turned out! It is so satisfying to actually complete several projects from start to finish over the weekend.

I started with the Zozo eye pillow, 

Infused with chamomile and lavender, this eye pillow provides instant stress relief.

Infused with chamomile and lavender, this eye pillow provides instant stress relief.

and added some cute embroidery to make it a little more personalized. This project took me most of the day, since i am continuously interrupted during my crafting sessions, but it was well worth the time. The lavender and chamomile smell absolutely divine. Aside from the embroidery, the only detour I took from the tutorial was to use a ladder stitch to finish the edges and add the pom poms. 

This morning I tackled the jewelry, creating adorable West Cape hoop earrings and the Sapeurs fabric wrapped bangle. Both were simple and fun projects that I completed in about

Makena cloth wrapped bracelet and tassel earrings.

Makena cloth wrapped bracelet and tassel earrings.

15 minutes.

I love that the For the Makers curators pick up on trends before I even know about them. Just after I finished my little eye pillow I saw these adorable blue pom pom shoes featured on etsy. Later, I was perusing the July issue of Martha Stewart and saw that she included a tutorial for fabric wrapped bangles. Normally I am challenged when it comes to fashion and trends (I pretty much live in black t-shirts and jeans) but every once in a while it’s nice to fool people into thinking I  know what’s in style. In fact, while I usually stick to simple silver studs, today you will actually see me wearing my tassel earrings, and feeling pretty good about it too. 

Thanks to For the Makers for helping me be just a little bit trendy.

Thanks to For the Makers for helping me be just a little bit trendy.

Road Trip Frenzy

Several hectic weeks kept me away from my computer, but didn’t stop me from starting new projects. This past week we drove to Niagara Falls- our first ever long road trip with the kids. I was nervous about how things might go and, thus, went straight to Pinterest for all that essential parenting advice on how to keep kids occupied. (How did our parents take us anywhere before Pinterest? Oh yeah, they set us loose in the “way back” of the van with a carton of gummy worms.)

I Spy Jars

I Spy Jars made with brightly colored rice, buttons, tiny cars, legos and other found objects. Hint: Use Wilton oil based candy dye for beautiful colored rice.

I’ve been wanting to make some I Spy Jars for a while now and figured this was the perfect time. I found a fantastic recipe for dying rice on the Happy Hooligans blog. Jackie suggests using vinegar instead of alcohol and Wilton brand candy dye for extra vivid color. I was so happy with the results! The rice dried quickly on cookie trays and was ready to put in jars in no time. I realize that using glass mason jars was probably not the best choice, but it was what I had on hand and I’m just hoped my kids wouldn’t try to launch them out the window. They didn’t, so I am going to call this project a success. Now, you know you’re a stressed out and somewhat crazed traveler when you decide to fit in that one extra activity you just know your kids will love. Take my advice. Spend your time going through your packing list instead. I forgot my kids’ shoes, but spent all kinds of time that day before we left trying to make them a magnetic dinosaur play set. I had seen a couple of cute ideas for magnet boards and thought something like this would be quick and easy. But if you’re a slob and in a huge hurry, then nothing involving mod podge is going to be quick and easy. I am most definitely not Martha. So, here’s what I ended up with.

Dinosaur project fail

Do you know how hard it is to glue little magnets to their tiny little dinosaur feet? And the mere use of scrap book paper does not make a dollar store cookie sheet interesting to play with.

Anyway, we left this one at home. Who’s interested in a slightly used cookie tray? I’ll sell it to you cheap!

For me, the car ride was pretty much pure bliss because in addition to my love of Canadian Highways (No billboards! So peaceful!) I had about 3 hours each way of relatively uninterrupted knitting time- enough to complete two pieces of a lovely baby blanket that I cannot wait to give to my friend for her little girl. This yarn is so soft that my kids wanted to cuddle with the skein and each of them asked me to please make them a blankie when I am done with this one. I’m pretty sure that once I attach the hood and ears, this little piece is going to be one of the cutest things I’ve made in a long time. Both the pattern and the yarn are by James C Brett. Get them at your local independent knitting store buy them online if you don’t have one near you. The main square of the blanket is an easy double seed stitch, but I do recommend a stitch counter to keep track of rows. The individual stitches are a little tricky to see with this fuzzy yarn. Stay tuned because I hope to have a completed blanket to show you this weekend! (Can it really be done??? If this isn’t suspense, I don’t know what is.)

Sweet and soft chunky knit baby blanket.

Sweet and soft chunky knit baby blanket.

 

Is that John Travolta in Your Bed Room?

Watching to much HDTV and following about 100 upcycle boards on Pinterest has given me a passion for sorting through other people’s junk. You never know what you’ll find in someone else’s garage, and the hunt for something unique just thrills me. While I have dreams of someday discovering an unused collection of my favorite depression glass pattern or a stash of pyrex that looks just like my Nana’s, more often I gather up simple things that may inspire me to create something new.

At a local rummage sale last week I came across a basket of old knitting and needlework patterns that really intrigued me and bought a big stack of them for $1.00. I wasn’t disappointed when I found the March 1978 issue of “Family Circle” stuck in among the fisherman’s sweaters and McCall’s cross stitch books.

Among the typical women’s magazine articles  (“How to Lose Weight Without Really Trying,” “Are You Smarter Than Your Husband?” and “The Secret to Beautiful Skin”) were several craft tutorials and an abundance of decorating suggestions. I am inspired by the embroidery below. The thread was brushed after completion to make the color burst. I’d love to lean this technique to bring my own embroidery to life. I love how the technique allows the colors to felt and blend.

1978 needlework

1978 3D needlework- a unique way to enhance embroidery.

While the furniture in this room needs some updating, I actually love the geometric floor created from a hand cut stencil. It would be even better if limited to a smaller section of flooring to highlight the windows or seating area. And see the coffee table with the plant in it? A little weird, but it’s made from a chicken coop which automatically makes it ten times more fantastic, right? Upcycling was a thing before we even knew it was a thing.

Geometric Sunroom

Still, let’s be honest. Some vintage trends should stay buried in the pages of “Family Circle” back issues.  I will continue to look to the back for ideas and inspiration while simultaneously cringing at the bedrooms of our pasts.

Just looking at this room makes me uneasy.

Just looking at this room makes me uneasy. All those patterns mixed together! Let’s leave this trend in the past.

Vintage floral bedroom

Should the pattern on your wallpaper ever match the pattern on your bed spread?

The (kinda) Big Reveal

I’ve been hard at work trying to get my craft room in order and it has been a huge DIY project in itself. I’m so excited to finally have a space of my own where I can be inspired, get some work done, and possibly even have a little quiet time. So far I’m finding that the layout works perfectly and it really functional.  My goal was to design a space with lots of room to work, storage for large and small supplies, and lots of personality. I also wanted to somehow break up the large finished area of our basement so I could retreat into my nook without feeling like I had to go on a massive cleaning and organization rampage before I started my work.

So far, it seems the space is going to work out perfectly. I love being secluded from the explosion of toys that takes over our house on a daily basis. And as much as I might like to be able to shut a door and block out all the noise that comes with those toys, it’s awfully convenient to be able to hear and see the kids as they play next to my work space.

I wish I was better at taking photos (another thing to learn!) but for now, this is what I have.

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The Kallax 4×4 shelving system works great as a room divider.

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My computer used to be in the kitchen. Now it’s hidden from view and little fingers.

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I chose the Tornlinden table top and Olov legs to create and elevated and comfortable work table that is large enough for two people.

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Lots of bars and jars for sorting and organizing buttons, beads, pins and other small items.

And immediately adjacent to my crafting space we have a lego building center- perfect for keeping the kiddos busy while I do my thing (unless we have a missing piece, of course, in which case I am forced to get involved in the building process).

 

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Twice the Love, Twice the Friends

When I found out early in my second pregnancy that we were expecting twins, I was beyond shocked. The thought of having two babies at once had never crossed my mind and I didn’t know how to process the information. While I was happy and excited, I was also scared to death and I found that my pregnancy was profoundly different from my first. It was hard to communicate to friends and family how exhausted I was, how sick I felt, and how nervous I was about my birth plan.

Thankfully, I found an unexpected support system online with about 150 other women all pregnant with twins and due during the summer of 2011. I’d previously shied away from online parenting forums because they inevitably become snarky and judgmental, which I absolutely did not need when I was already feeling like a depressed whale with a brain injury. 

I don’t know what happened to be different about this group of mothers. We all had very different opinions about parenting and came from very different backgrounds, belief systems and even countries. Yet there was an element of respect between us, a desire to support other moms who were going through the same process, whether they felt like depressed whales or not.

Today our twins (or more!) are all around 3 years old and we don’t spend as much time posting questions for each other at 3AM. At times some of us take breaks and don’t check in for a month or two. But there is a draw and a friendship that exists even though many of us have never met face to face, and I honestly can’t imagine how lonely I would feel without this group of wonderful women in my life.

One thing that is particularly amazing about these women is the amount of creativity and artistry in the group. We have women who sew, bake, write, draw, make jewelry, and even a tattoo artist. I am inspired by their businesses and their beautiful creations, and by their ability to make time for their art even with two (or more!) 3 year olds vying for attention. 

So when I decided to start writing a blog I also decided I wanted to touch on the ideas and talents of these women whom I find so inspiring!

The first way I thought of to do that was to contact Tiffany Petty of Clever Fox Creative to design a logo for my site. Did you notice it? I am so incredibly happy with the design! All I had to do was explain to her my inspiration for my blog title (O, A and K for the names of my boys and Ooak for One of a Kind. Solid for family unity and for the firm place arts and crafts hold in my heart). I think she captured my thoughts beautifully. Also, now that I have a logo I feel that I’m more obligated to write because it makes me kind of, sort of official.

Last Christmas Tiffany also designed our Christmas card, which I just have to show off here:

The Collin Christmas Card by cleverfoxcreative.com

 

Clearly she is an expert at capturing the personalities of her clients. I am so lucky to know her and am excited to see her creative business grow and thrive!

 

Overcoming Barriers

Like many people who are beginning any artistic journey I am struggling with three barriers. Time, Confidence and Space. I’ve decided to take an hour and tackle all three of these issues this morning.

Time        Don’t we all wish we had more of it? Every morning I wake hoping to set aside an hour or so to work on a project, but then life happens. Laundry, meals, errands, exercise, birthday parties, Candy Land and Legos. Boo boos, riding bikes, chatting with mom, going to the park and more laundry. All worthy and necessary tasks that must be completed to keep my family functioning and my sanity intact.  Today I am working on making my time expectations more realistic. Every day I will devote a minimum of 10 minutes to one of my projects. This may mean my cedar chest will sit unfinished in my garage for another month until I can set aside several hours, but at least I will add several rows of knitting to my afghan or a few stitches to my embroidery sampler (more on those projects later).

Confidence        I feel a pit in my stomach every time I hit “Publish Post” on this blog. Sometimes it seems most of my brain cells went the way of sleeping in on Sunday mornings and draft beers with my husband on Friday nights. My writing is not what it used to be, and neither is my artistic intuition. Fear of saying something ridiculous or creating something that’s garbage prevents me from creating. What a ridiculous excuse. One way I plan to conquer this barrier is to laugh at my fear and to force myself to write or work when my brain is at its soggiest. What do I have to lose? I’ve already shown everyone my first knitting project, and I’m pretty sure even an poorly written blog post won’t top that project failure. In fact, I might even post a project failure every week just to relieve myself from that burden of embarrassment. After all- if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’ll spend your whole life crying your eyes out!

Space        Although we moved almost a year ago, I still feel I haven’t finished unpacking. Despite an abundance of storage space, there is still clutter everywhere.  My knitting is in a storage bin in my son’s closet. My embroidery is shoved in a corner in the laundry room. Someone stole my colored pencils, I left the cap off my mod podge and I’m pretty sure I vacuumed up that 1/16th inch drill bit I haven’t seen in a week. In short, I need to get organized. It’s been my plan since we moved in to create a little crafting corner for myself in our basement. So despite the mess that has taken over the rest of the house, I went to Ikea earlier this week and purchased everything I’ll need to make a functional workspace. I have been super inspired by Angie’s craft room tours at The Country Chic Cottage. I am determined to create a space of my own! As part of that fear defiance thing I mentioned, I will shamelessly show you my “before” photo.

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Yep. Not very conducive to crafting. Or anything really. Who would want to jump on that stationary bike or relax with a book in this mess??

Check back this weekend and I will show you my progress. In the mean time, tell me what your workspace looks like. How do you gain time, confidence and space to create what you love?

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Here’s what happens when three little boys help you out with Ikea furniture. Instant fort!