Saturday, September 13, 2003

Things That Go Bump In The Night

I’ve always been a pretty light sleeper. At University, that came in handy as a monitor in an all girls residence. We had a “no guys overnight during weeknights” policy and I could usually hear attempts to sneak them in. It also made falling asleep during weekends a bit hard since the music could blare until 2 am.

Bethany and Erin are both capable of yelling, screaming or speaking in full sentences while deeply asleep... any one of which usually sends me flying from bed on a Mom’s adrenaline rush to see if they are OK. Often, they don’t even wake up... but I head back to bed with my heart pounding.

Bethany, at four, seems more prone to bad dreams and even night terrors, many of which occur between 3 and 5 am. The closer to 5 am they fall, the harder it is to get back to sleep before our alarm goes off at 6:15. It is both heart wrenching and incredibly annoying. As a parent, I hate to think of my children feeling scared by their dreams. I still hate nightmares myself because they can seem so real and I also cherish the regular dreams I have. As an adult who often pulls nights on the computer until midnight, I sometimes resent having the sleep I do get interrupted... especially when getting back to sleep is tricky.

In those wee hours of the morning, I often find myself thinking of new designs or stories. At first, I would try to hold onto them until morning... but after a few frustrating times of not being able to remember a really good verse that I had worked out, I started to keep a little black sketchbook and pen near my bedside table so that I could capture enough of the idea or words to keep until morning.

I scribble stuff down in the dark, so as not to wake Nick, and sometimes the results are pretty hilarious to look at in the light of day, but the basis for what I need is there, captured on paper. Nick has teased me before that it is a bit like living with a gerbil. He sometimes hears this little “scritch, scritch” noise in the dark (anyone who has ever heard a gerbil gnaw a toilet paper tube at night will know what he means) which he has learned to just ignore and go back to sleep!

The saying “things that go bump in the night” always makes me smile... because usually, that refers to ME!

Friday, September 12, 2003

The Balancing Act...

“Ahhh! It’s Friday! “

I could hear the joy in my kids voices this morning when they struggled to get out of bed so early. The fact that it is getting darker and colder only makes those cases of “Toasty Warm Bed Syndrome” more acute... but already they have “learned” to look forward to the weekend.

The reality of working from home, and for myself, is that those boundaries so often blur. There is the temptation, or sometimes the need, to spend hours at “the office” because it is right here in my own home. In some ways, you never really have the sense of getting away from it all unless you leave home. I am learning, slowly but surely, how to find that balance - how to book off certain nights to spend time with my best friend (who just happens to be my husband) or to indulge in hobbies ( I want to start sewing clothes for the girls since so much of what they can wear being tall is not age-appropriate) or just to recharge those inner batteries.

It never ceases to amaze me that a hobby I picked up to relax with after stress-filled days in advertising before my children were born grew to be a large part of what I do for a living. As an illustrator, I am always looking for ways to make images.. and cross stitch just became a wonderful way to share those images when my other illustrations never seemed to make it past the publishers. I still hope to illustrate children’s books someday when both girls are in school, but cross stitch added a whole way for me to imagine images coming to life.

Even though this has become a business, I have never lost the joy of playing with the materials.. the fabrics and fibers. We crafters are such “touchey-feely” people aren’t we? I was playing with Kreinik #4 braid this morning and watching it sparkle beneath the light as I tried to figure out just which wonderful colour blend I was going to use.

Sometimes, when you love what you do, it can be hard to find that balance... to separate work from who you are. On some level, I am always aware of images, colours, half formed ideas that swirl like mists when I am waking from sleep. Do I want to be able to just shut that off for the weekend?

I think that the trick is learning to leave the work behind... and just keep the creativity.... ahhhh! It’s such a balancing act!

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Memories of 2 years ago...

The awful, horrible events of September 11th were half a lifetime ago for my youngest daughter, Bethany. She is four now and cannot really remember what happened back then. It was the day after my birthday.... a crisp, sunny fall day just like the one outside right now. Like so many others around the world, I watched in horror as the television played and replayed the footage of the planes hitting the towers and the horrifying sight of them falling to the ground.

Nick , as a teacher who was aware of what had happened but trying not to let the kids know until events unfolded more, was on duty outside when he suddenly noticed how many huge planes were coming in for a landing across the river at the airport. We don’t normally get the larger 747 planes, but so many of the flights crossing the ocean needed to get out of the sky as quickly as possible. Flights from Canada, the US and overseas were being diverted to airports like ours.

By the early afternoon, our city had been transformed. Knowing that travelers would want to see what had happened and keep up on events as they unfolded, one local electronics store had huge screen televisions set up at both the airport and at our city coliseum, which had been turned into an emergency shelter to hold the passengers from the 18 planes that were forced to land in Moncton. Calls for volunteers and food had gone out on the radio stations and in the first few hours, while many flights were still being checked to be sure there were no security risks on board, there were more volunteers at the Coliseum than stranded passengers. In true Maritime fashion, quilts and pots of chili or chowder were being donated before there were enough people to take comfort from them. A loving touch amid all the shock and horror.

The next day, the skies were eerily quiet. Volunteers to billet families were needed and we put our names down, especially since we had all the “baby stuff” that some stranded International family might need. We did indeed get a family with 2 daughters, but when we went to pick them up, we discovered that the girls were teenagers and the family was from Toronto. It didn’t matter one bit!! We could offer them more quiet and comfort than the noise and bustle of the emergency shelter.... and their story was no less heart wrenching because they were Canadians. The family had been en route to Newfoundland for a funeral, but when air traffic controllers began to add up the number of International planes bound for North American destinations that wouldn’t have enough fuel to reach larger centers like Toronto, Halifax or even Moncton, they diverted the flight from Toronto to Moncton. We had to watch and try to offer what comfort we could as the day and hour of the funeral for Art’s father passed and the ceremony went on without them there to say goodbye.

From those horrible events, so much good emerged in our city. Lifelong friendships were forged that are still kept up to this day. One family moved in with neighbours so that a Dutch couple on their honeymoon could have a bit of romantic privacy in their host’s house. Two teachers that Nick works with took a day without pay to load up their vans and drive a convoy of Americans to Bangor, Maine, about 5 hours away. Many of them were eager to get back into their own country. International flights had been told that when the skies opened again, they would have to return to their starting point rather than go on to their destinations. American passengers heading home from Europe just wanted to get Home. We couldn’t know what it meant to have our country attacked... we only knew how to meet horror with kindness and try to offer comfort to those who were stranded. It was a wonderful example to my older daughter that while you many not be able to stop something horrible from happening, you can do what you can to help in the aftermath.

My birthday on September 10th will always be followed by memories of that September 11th, even as time goes by. In many ways, it is hard to believe that it has been 2 years. In other ways, it seems like just yesterday. I choose to take the best of what I learned, to always be ready to help those who need it more than I, into each day since then as my own memorial.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

A Special Pincushion

It’s not really stitched very well now that I look at it closely. The Xs in the pattern certainly aren’t neat and even enough for me to consider if I were looking at a sample from someone wanting to be a model stitcher... but this tiny cross stitched pincushion made me cry when I unpacked it from the parcel my Mom sent me this morning.... because it used to belong to my grandmother.

I can remember watching her stick her pins and needles into it long before I even knew what cross stitch was. I’d forgotten all about it by the time I grew to be an adult and took up both stitching and designing. By then, I had married and settled in Moncton, so I didn’t sit on the edge of her bed of the couch to watch her mend things anymore. I’d completely forgotten the pincushion until I visited my Grandfather this summer and needed a darning needle to finish off the yellow dishcloth I’d knit for him on the way up to Montreal from Mom & John’s in Sherbrooke. “I’m sure her sewing things are still up in the cupboard” my grandfather said a bit gruffly. The pain of losing her seemed suddenly fresh even though it has been almost 3 years. Her sewing things still smelled of “Nanny” and I put my head against the wooden door frame until the lump in my throat abated.

Today, when I unpacked the box of bits and ends and birthday wishes... I found the pincushion. Mom had removed all the the pins that cluttered it all its life and I could suddenly see the stitched geometric pattern. I wish that I had had the chance to ask her if she had been the one to stitch it and make it into a tiny pillow. It looks as if it was stitched on canvas and stuffed with sand or sawdust... but I am just guessing. I put the tiny pillow up to my nose to take a deep sniff. Suddenly, I am a young girl again, with long, blond hair, hiding in my grandmother’s closet while my Grampy does his best Papa Bear voice... I am a small girl pressed against my Nanny’s nightgown as she assures me that the boom of thunder is just giants bowling.... I am a grown woman trying to capture all the rush of emotions that one small, cross stitch pincushion has thrown into this day for my blog entry.... This pillow will someday absorb the smells of MY house, but even then, it will still be a stitched treasure in this dragon’s hoard.

Jen at Dragon Dreams

Monday, September 08, 2003


Have you ever noticed that time can move differently? Some minutes seem to drag along while other hours shoot by like a comet. One of my favourite authors, Madeleine L'Engle, uses the Greek words CHRONOS (that time which can be measured in minutes... hence the root for the word Chronometer or watch) and KAIROS (that time "outside of time").

There are many ways we experience KAIROS. Spending time with someone we love or in the company of good friends, the warm dreaminess of a good nap or sleep, a day of vacation, time doing something you love like stitching, cooking or reading a captivating book that you can't put down, prayer and of course, for me, creating images.

Some designs and illustrations are just pure work. Other than the moment of inspiration, they are like pulling teeth. They need to be wrestled with and coaxed and fixed until I am happy with them. Others spring forth like a magical gift and the time spent designing them is truly "outside of time". I surface from moments like that only out of sheer hunger or the jarring sound of a phone call. Perhaps that is where the "flaky artist" stereotype comes from... always late, marching to a different clock. I am sure that musicians and writers face that same wrench of trying to pull out of that magical creative zone where time has no limits to the world where time is so carefully measured and controlled.

Perhaps we creative types do spend more time in KAIROS than others... but I think that everyone could use a little more of getting lost in those magical moments each day. Don't you??

Treasure those moments when they happen... for they really do rest the soul!

Jen at Dragon Dreams

Sunday, September 07, 2003

I'd rather be designing!

Friday morning I got to voice 3 radio commercials that were zany and a lot of fun, but then just before the end of the day, one of my graphic design clients dropped a rush project in my lap that took up most of my weekend.

Since I am in the midst of finishing up a design that has me absolutely captivated, I would much rather have put in those hours designing... but the reality of what I do means that I still need my other sources of income.

I can still remember some of the e-mails I received when speaking out against copyright violations. One person actually told me that I shouldn't be greedy since I receive "endorsements" from floss and fabric companies just like those athletes do! If they could only see that I buy most of my floss RETAIL (though my local shop does give me a discount!)

There are many wonderful things about being a designer. The most satisfying one is that, as an artist, one of my life-long dreams has already been achieved. I have created images that have touched others whom I many never get the chance to meet. That is an honour indeed. I love to meet and hear from stitchers as well. I love the materials that I work with... the sheer range of colours to play with or how the #4 Kreinik braid sparkles in the light when I am stitching late at night. I love the chances to travel to trade shows or shows like the Creative Sewing and Needlework Festival in Toronto next month... and yes, it is VERY cool when someone asks me to autograph a chart.... but I don't know of ANY designer out there, or shop owner for that matter, that went into this business just to make a lot of money.

I love what I do and am so blessed to be able to earn a living with the range of talents given to me... but oh... I would SO much rather have spent today designing!

Jen at Dragon Dreams