Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Quilting Together Our Lives

I honestly can't tell you when I learned to quilt.  The first real quilt I remember making was in college, but it couldn't have been the first, as I knew what I was doing by then.  Maybe my mother taught me, maybe my grandmother.  It might have even been a friend's mother. It is odd, but I honestly don't know.

I think life can be a lot like quilting.  We each strive to create something of beauty.  We want our lives to have a design, and we want the finished product to show the care and love that went into it.  While many aspects of our lives can be derived from the opprotunities and supplies on hand, much like the fabrics used in a quilt, it is how we choose to use those supplies that determines the outcome of the project.

Bright, bold, striped, spotted, muted, pastel, faded, patterned and solid fabrics are all combined into the mosaic that forms the finished design.  Just like in life, we pick these fabrics of experience from different places.  The joys of childhood may be bright and bold, while the pain of lost love may be muted and faded.  These fabrics will come in different sizes and shapes, and we will never have the same amount of any of them.  As we continue to add each fabric and experience to our overall design, it really doesn't matter how they go together, only that we make the most of each piece. 

The difference between a quilt and a plain blanket is the interwoven fabrics that create the design.  Each of us has a cornucopia of experiences and fabrics.  When we fail to connect them we miss out on the beauty inside each of us.  Like quilting, it takes experience and practice to artfully piece our lives together.  We will not always have neat corners.  We will not always sew a straight line.  But the art is in the creation.

While I sometimes wish my entire quilt was filled with fanciful florals and whimsical prints, it is the dark solid colors that ground it and give it substance.  The times in our lives that are heavy and dark create the perfect visual companions for the light and airy joys we also experience.  One, without the other, would leave the quilt, and our lives, feeling flat.

As I age, my quilting skills improve.  I learn a little more each day about selecting the right experiences to add to my design.  I appreciate the light and the dark, and I even chose a few daring fabrics here and there.

It is my hope that each of us step back to examine the beauty of our individual quilts.  I hope we appreciate each fabric and experience we see there.  It is amazing to know that with the billions of people who have walked this planet, we each carry with us a unique piece of art.

Once again I mention that I don't remember who taught me to quilt.  Then again, maybe no one did.  Maybe it is just human nature to piece together the fabrics of our lives.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be...

I never wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up.  I knew I was far too clumsy to dance on my toes.  In fact, when I was 4 or 5 the dance and gymnastics teacher asked my grandmother not to bring me back to class because I kept running into the other girls and squashing them.  Coordination is not one of my stronger talents.

Honestly I don't remember having a lot of "when I grow up" dreams. Don't get me wrong, I dreamed about being older, but I never made it past "graduate from college and get a job."  I really had no idea what that job was supposed to be.  In fact, I remember graduating from college with an engineering degree, landing my first job, and then realizing I had no idea what was supposed to happen next.  I had checked all the boxes I could think of.  I figured I would get married some day, and I suspected I would have children, but I really had no good idea what was supposed to happen next.

After many years of being "grown up," (My father probably laughed really hard at that statement, potentially hard enough to spit milk out his nose.) I have determined that growing up isn't a destination, but a journey.  I don't think you reach any finish line, or cross any threshold that determines you have arrived in a magical land called "grown up."  There is no bouquet of flowers or trophy sitting on a stage waiting for you. Sad, but true...

Growing up is something that happens one experience, one heartache, and one victory at a time.  It is the state we find ourselves in after we have accomplished something we didn't think we could do, or failed in a way we never thought possible.  It is what happens when we sacrifice something of ourselves for the benefit of someone else.  Growing up can be painful, but it can also be exhilarating.

The important part is taking the lessons you learned and choosing how to let them change you. There are many bitter people in this world who have let their life experiences change them into unhappy, miserable people.  Others seem to ignore their experiences and continually repeat the same mistakes.  Still others spend a little too much time dwelling in the past and forget to move forward.

I may never perform on stage in well worn toe shoes, but I can and will use the talents I have learned to present my best self to the world.  I will continue to volunteer at the school, cook dinner for my family, make beds, help friends and neighbors, contribute to my community and give back to those around me.  What I have learned while "growing up" is that none of us do this alone.  There is a long cast list of characters, with parts both large and small, that assist us in our journey, just as we assist in the journey of others.

When I grow up, I want to be...well, there isn't just one answer.  It changes every day, but for now I will settle for being a little bit better than I was yesterday.  How about you?  What do you want to be?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Motivational Monday #79 - Time For A Tune Up

This week has been brutal, well, at least for my car.  Last week I took it in to get a second opinion on some mechanical work that needed to be done.  While a few of the first mechanic's recommendations turned out to be unwarranted, others popped up at an alarming rate.  After everything was said and done, I shelled out a lot of cash and made my local mechanic a very happy camper.

You may all be wondering how exactly I got into such a mess.  There was no accident, no earth shattering moment for which my engine dropped on the ground, just a funny feeling when the car came to a stop and started going again.  Honestly, I thought I was imagining it for a few weeks, but nope, I was the proud owner of a very sick car.

I think many of us are in the same boat.  We may not have car troubles, but when going through life, something just doesn't feel right.  It might be a nagging feeling that you have forgotten something, or maybe that creepy little foreboding that something unpleasant is on the way.  It is very rarely a big issue, right up until the moment it is a HUGE issue.

So how do we give ourselves a regular tune up?  How do we keep on top of standard maintenance and preventative care?  I will tell you I have my oil changed and the car inspected at the appropriate intervals, but maybe I wasn't paying attention to the full report.  Maybe, just maybe, I thought I could wait a little longer to deal with some small issues.

Here are a few ideas:
  1. Visit your health care professional to get regular check-ups and physicals.  Sometimes we get used to small changes and never really notice the problems that have developed.  Having a doc you trust take a look under the hood is a great way to make sure you are on the right track.
  2. Take a new look at your old bills.  I think sometimes we get so used to paying our monthly bills that we don't even question them anymore.  Taking the time to compare rates, analyze offers, and review terms can save you a lot of cash.  In our family, we noticed we used the internet more than the TV, and dropped our cable subscription.  While this wouldn't work for everyone, it has been great for our family.  We spend more time together, and a lot less time sitting on the couch glued to a screen.  As a nice side bonus, we saved $600 a year. Sweet!
  3. Organize your closets.  Yep, I just uttered some of the scariest words on the planet, but take a deep breath and follow me for a moment.  Closets collect the things we think we need, and the things we used to need, but have no idea what to do with anymore.  Taking a look at what is inside can give us some startling evidence about the priorities in our lives.  If you have 200 pairs of shoes stashed in the closet, most of which are unused and forgotten, then maybe you like to buy things you don't need. (Don't worry, I know every woman needs at least 100 pairs of heels...but beyond that, maybe you overdid it? ~eye roll~) Anyway, looking at what we purchased, what we actually use, and what we store because we can't part with it, tells us a lot about our priorities.  If what you see doesn't make you happy, clean it out and start filling it with object that reflect your personality.  Better yet, let your closet be half empty.  No one has died from having too little junk in their closets!
  4. Purchase things intentionally.  This may come as a surprise (to no one at all) but stores put things you didn't even know you needed right by the register.  They call these impulse purchases.  The economy is greatly boosted every year by these overpriced and under-needed items.  Chances are, if you didn't come into the store looking for a furry cat faced pencil warmer, you don't really need one.  By choosing to only purchase things you have an identified need for, you will limit your outgoing expenses and use more of the things you already own.  You may ask why I include this in my tune-up post, but for many of us, that nagging feeling that we are forgetting something drives our need to purchase things we may or may not need, hoping to fill the gap.  Intentional purchases give you back the power over your spending, and make you take responsibility for your money.  It is hard to have a nagging feeling when you are energetically involved with your money.
  5. Evaluate your involvement.  As any good charity will know, the strength of its organization is directly related to the volunteers who make it run.  We live in a day and age where social services are being more and more driven by the non-profits that champion those causes.  Everything from the local PTOs to cancer research are powered by local citizens donating their time and talents to the causes they believe in.  What do you believe in?  The options are endless, but can include education, religion, medical research, civic issues, legal issues, animal causes, athletic pursuits, or any other number of things.  Is it possible the nagging feeling you have is a problem in your community that you have the ability to solve?  Could your time and talents be the difference between moving your cause forward, or not?  Maybe you just want to help someone or something beyond your own four walls.  Service in our communities is a wonderful way to express our priorities and become involved in causes bigger than ourselves.  On the flip side, they are also ways to divert us from our real priorities, which may be as basic as family and work.  By evaluating how much time you spend in the community and the ways you give of yourself, you are more able to identify a balance and seek to reach it.  While I am a strong advocate for volunteerism, I truly believe you must start at home.
Okay, there is a solid list of ways to give your life a tune up.  Of course there are many others.  I have left religion and politics off this list intentionally, as those are polarizing and touchy subjects. If they are important to you, go out and do something about it.  If not, don't.  I think that about covers it.

Now here is the trick...keep doing these things on a regular basis.  Don't wait until small imbalances keep your car in the shop for days and come with a huge price.  Evaluate, adjust, and readjust as needed to keep yourself tuned up, in great working order, and ready to go!