Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Discomfort of Learning Something New

If you'd have told me a year ago that I'd be singing in a choir, and contemplating taking private voice lessons, I'd have said you were crazy.

But here I am, doing just those things.  It happened in such a round-about way, my stumbling onto the Healdsburg Community Chorus and deciding to give it a try.  It started as a seed of enthusiasm planted after watching "The Choir" on BBC America (have I raved enough about that show?!), and it really took root as an idea for something for my husband and me to do together -- he's got a lovely voice and we're in that awkward stage of parenting teens where it'd be good for us to get out of the house together.  But he wasn't enthusiastic about the idea of group singing, and to my surprise I realized that I WAS.  Hey, I liked glee club in 7th grade -- how different could it be?

So every Monday night after dinner I've trotted off to the junior high band room, to sing with fellow Healdsburg residents.  I love that it's a true community choir-- members include a guy from my local grocery store, a downtown gift store owner, the pastry chef at a local bakery, a retired police officer... lots of folks I've seen around town over the years and now run into all the time.  I love that we're singing holiday songs in preparation for holiday concerts in December.  I love practicing my soprano part, and then showing up to have everyone put their parts together to make a totally new sound. 

But I keep noticing that there are things that make me distinctly uncomfortable.  I'm not a "performing" person -- I feel most comfortable in the back of a room, or on the sidelines in a group of people.  (Luckily because I'm tall, I was placed in the back row of the choir and feel quite comfy there.)  A choir is a good fit for me in that respect -- I want my voice to blend in with the crowd's.  But learning HOW that happens is turning out to be more complex than I thought.

It's learning about how to sing properly, I guess.  How to breathe.  How to control your breathing so you can sing a line and breathe in the right places.  How to place the sound in your body to make the singing easy, rather than a strain.  How to relax your jaw and let your vocal chords reach the high notes.  How to get the right tone.  How to listen to your fellow singers so you are blending your voice appropriately.

I've never done any of this before.  (I guess 7th grade glee club was about wrangling a bunch of pre-teen kids and trying to get them all singing on key so they didn't giggle and blush when they sang about Abraham's bosom.)  Sometimes I come out of the choir feeling like my voice felt good, it flowed, I liked the sounds I made.  Other times I come out feeling frustrated, as if I squeaked my way through and didn't know why I couldn't get that flow feeling going.  Which explains the voice lessons -- a few sessions with the chorus director, really, to just help me make sure I'm doing the right things and not making it harder on myself.

It's been a long time since I was confronted with trying to learn something so different from what I ordinarily do.  This is out of my comfort zones in so many ways, but I know it's a good stretch for me.  I keep telling myself that these feelings of awkwardness and confusion are good things.  And when Miss C asks me how it went when I come home from a choir practice, I tell her the truth:  sometimes it's really fun. Sometimes it feels hard and confusing and I feel like I didn't do as well as I would like.  But I'm proud of myself for trying something new and sticking with it even though parts of it feel uncomfortable.  At dinner the other night, she said "I'm proud of you too, Mom.  I never thought my mom would be a singer!"

So, I'm modeling good things, and I'm learning new things, and I'm reminding myself that occasional discomfort is a sign of growth.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Still Growing!

I was doing some long overdue maintenance on the Artful Quilters Blog Ring this morning, and saw that we now have


in the ring!  Go ahead, check out a few!  Find the AQBR box on your page, hit "random" and see where it takes you!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Happiness with Helen

I have had the loveliest week!  I told you that my good friend Helen was coming to visit all the way from the UK, didn't I?  We had a nonstop week of quilt and art-filled fun.  So, what did we do, you ask?

Well, I greeted Helen at the airport and welcomed her to San Francisco by accidentally subjecting her to a 3-hour-and-45-minute stop in the middle of a massive traffic jam (Welcome to California!) on our way home.  I had somehow managed to forget that it was the start of Fleet Week, the Blue Angels were flying over SF that afternoon, there was a breast cancer awareness marathon taking place in Golden Gate Park... the result of which was traffic stopped dead as we tried to cross the city to get over the Golden Gate Bridge.  Helen did get to stand up in the car, upper body half out of the sunroof, to take pictures of the  Blue Angels.  And of course we chatted nonstop.  Here's one of Helen's Blue Angels shots:

We headed out to Bishop's Ranch for the twice-yearly quilting retreat I attend with a wonderful group of friends.  I was not surprised that Helen was very well liked -- she fit right in.  I have to confess that I didn't get any pictures of Helen actually sewing, but I can attest to the fact that she got an amazing number of things done.  She also took time to enjoy lounging on the pavilion's porch, enjoying magazines and soaking up the vineyard views that are so wonderful there.  ("I'm not just at a great retreat," she said at one point, "I'm at a great retreat IN CALIFORNIA!")

(Note the stunning green shoes....)   Helen was inspirational to be with -- she saw quilting ideas everywhere.  On the way to the ranch one morning, we stopped so Helen could photograph a local barn for the quilting line possibilities.

The weather was warm enough to eat dinner outside most nights, which seem quintessentially wine country:

(Oops, didn't realize when I took this that the camera was set for artfully shallow depth of field.)  That's Pat M, Eleanor hiding behind her, Helen, Pam M, and Mary Lou. 

From the ranch, we headed down the peninsula to see Pacific International Quilt Festival.  It was interesting to get Helen's take on an American quilt show -- she was surprised at how the vendor booths had so many little bundles of fat quarters and patterns.  But we spent a day and a half cruising the booths, admiring the quilts, and generally having a grand time.  Helen was quite pleased that we continued to run into people she knew from the ranch retreat, so she felt like she kept bumping into friends.  
And from there, we headed to San Francisco for a day of relaxing.  From her last visit to California, Helen had fond memories of visiting the National Park Service's Warming Hut, a small bookshop and cafe located almost under the Golden Gate Bridge.  Since it was a gray, drizzly day, we returned there loaded up with our books and magazines and journals and spent several wonderfully peaceful hours sitting there sipping hot beverages, watching the people, and staring into space.  

After a typically San Francisco dinner at an old restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf (cioppino for me, petrale sole for Helen), Helen retreated to her hotel and I headed home to Sonoma County.  Helen had a shopping day planned before she flew out, and it was time for me to resume my Mom and Wife duties back at home.  

But what a delightful time we had!  If this is how much fun 2 "Twelves" can have together, imagine when more of us get together! 

So now it's back to real life -- but with some delightful new fabrics (I got some new Kaffe Fassett prints for a new quilt for our bed) and other goodies.... I'll do show and tell soon! 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fun, fun, fun...

Thank you SO much to everyone who commented and emailed me about my recent post.  I was reminded yet again how wonderful of a place the Internet can be, and I appreciated your support so much.

But I am glad to report that I've had a "reset" of my emotional and creative energy button!  I've been off that my usual retreat at the Bishop's Ranch with a wonderful and fun bunch of women.  And the exciting part of this retreat is that Helen -- my dear friend and talented artist and a fellow Twelve -- crossed the Atlantic Ocean to join me at the retreat! 

It was no surprise that Helen fit right in, chatting and sewing and wandering to see what other people were making, and oohing and aahing with the rest of the group.  Helen says that she now has mastered the American inflections on the squeals and gasps when a new quilt or an assortment of new fabric is revealed!  She also displayed her American accent by pointing out the "to-may-does" on the buffet table.  I also had the opportunity to see Helen conceive of and complete the next Twelve by Twelve quilt!

I haven't taken the photos out of the camera yet, but we have had a grand time.  The retreat ended today, and we will unpack, rest, repack, and then head to PIQF tomorrow for more quilty fun.  Can there be anything better than sharing quilts with a good friend?!

Friday, October 08, 2010

It just has to get better

I am in a place of despair these days, and I can't seem to get myself out of it.

It started, I think, when I read "House Rules" by Jodi Picoult. She's one of my favorite authors and I usually leap on each new book of hers as it comes out. But this one I delayed, because I knew that it was the story of a young man with Aspergers who is accused of a crime... and there are times when I just can't read any more Aspergers stuff. We LIVE Aspergers stuff, and sometimes I just don't need more. Anyway, I read it, finally ... and while the writing was up to Picoult's usual excellence and the story was engrossing, I just found it a bit too gut-wrenching to read a novel with example after example of how that character's Asperger's traits were misunderstood with dramatic consequences. It got me spinning around the usual cycle of doubts and anxieties I carry as the mom of a teen with Aspergers -- are we doing enough? Would additional interventions help? Are we doing so much that the number of people she sees in a month make her feel like there is something wrong with her? I usually keep these worries in check, and feel confident that we're doing the right things, but sometimes the doubts are worse than others.

I've also been reading Aspergers in Pink by Julie Clark, an excellent look at how Aspergers presents so differently in girls and why it is so frequently misdiagnosed or undiagnosed in girls. The book is written by a parent who details her Aspie daughter's experiences through 6th grade, which were largely characterized by school officials and teachers who refused to accept the careful diagnosis of medical professionals and instead chose to believe that the child's behaviors were the result of "spoiling" and bad parenting, and who simply weren't able or willing to provide the careful support that the child needed. It didn't exactly mirror our experiences with our daughter, but it was similar enough to cause more stomach-twisting.  It reminded me of  how it felt to be treated as the problem parent, asking for more help for a child who felt lost and unsupported at school, and how often I went in for meetings or to check in with teachers after school try to help them understand what my daughter faced in school each day. The book ends with the daughter in 6th grade, with an unusually good teacher and some helpful support people -- but I had this sense the whole time of "just wait until middle school."  Classes get bigger.  Teachers get, I think, less connected to the kids.  The social world gets far more complicated, and some kids get so much meaner.  I worry about that little girl, and I've never even seen her.

And then there was the horror of Tyler Clemente's suicide, after being cyberbullied and outed as gay by college peers. Fortunately, the swell of support and concern and awareness-raising going on has provided a positive response to an intolerable situation (not the least of which is the wonderful "It Gets Better" campaign started on YouTube by writer Dan Savage).  Still, each time I hear a reference to this poor young man, or to any of the other teens and young adults who have struggled with (or succumbed to) suicide because they were taunted about their differences, I want to cry. 

So I am feeling just heartsick these days.  I read blogs from parents of kids with Aspergers, and by teens and adults who have Aspergers or other autism spectrum issues, and I follow forum discussions that address how to help kids, how to get them through school, and more.  I am looking for support, I know, and hope, and a sense that things will get better.

But you know?   Lately all I seem to read are message from parents struggling to get teachers to understand, fighting to get special ed services for their kids, even litigating in some situations to have their children provided appropriate educational services.  I've read horror stories -- more than you can imagine -- of elementary school teachers calling the police when an 8 or 9 year old boy is having a meltdown -- which meltdown often resulted because the staff didn't understand how overwhelmed and mishandled the poor kid was in the first place. Sure, I'm finding stories of wonderful occupational therapists and amazingly sensitive teachers, and miraculously kind peers who accept kids no matter what.  But I tell you, lately those good stories seem few and far between.  I've had to back away from those lists and websites for a bit,  because I just can't take any more right now.   

Just this past week, my daughter revealed some bullying incidents that happened two years ago.  We've suspected that some of that had been taking place, but it's only now, two years later, that she could bear to talk about it.   She's held those in all this time, and she's internalized some of the mean and hurtful things that were said to her, in ways that will take a long time to heal.  It's why, she's revealed, there are kids she doesn't want to see around town, why she doesn't want to go to the barn on Saturdays to groom horses with girls who used to be in her class, and why she refuses to even consider taking a class at the local high school.

My daughter is doing pretty darn great, all things considered.  But the whole situation makes me so angry, especially when I think of all of the times I sat down with a certain 7th grade teacher to talk about how unhappy my daughter was, how she said repeatedly that she didn't feel safe in class, and how the teacher didn't intervene when the kids treated each other badly.  I think about how surprised the principal was when I went in to complain about things I'd personally witnessed -- kids throwing pencils at each other in class, one kid wrestling another kid to the ground to get a paper away from him -- in the classroom, in front of the teacher -- And all of that was in a theoretically exclusive private school where there were TWELVE kids in the class. Twelve -- that's all that teacher had to keep her eye on.  Lord, it makes me want to spit.  Or vomit. Or something.  We took our daughter out of there midyear, by the way. 

So I have found myself feeling just sick over the last few days. Why do the so-called professionals we trust with our children's formative years have so little understanding of how important it is to honor the differences in every child?   What is it about the way our society is raising children, that so many of them learn that differences are to be mocked and excluded and demeaned?  Why are our schools so entrenched in doing things the way they have always been done, even when it's clear that those patterns don't work for so many kids?  Why are parents who go into schools with concern about their child and asking for help from teachers and staff, treated with suspicion and disregard? 

I know I will feel differently in a few days, more hopeful, more positive about any new awareness helps, and how many bright, caring, tuned-in people there are who are trying to make changes.   I know that our daughter is doing beautifully these days, and she's blossoming and becoming more independent and capable every day.

But I tell you, it all makes me feel very sad.  Kids are so precious -- we not only need to take care of them, but we also need to teach them to take care of each other.

Let's All Take Today to Accept Who We Are

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Then and now

I was thinking recently about how my life as a single working woman was so different from my life now.  There are moments when I miss little things about that lifestyle -- the wardrobe! the shopping! -- but gee, things have vastly improved.

Then:  6:15 am meant the alarm went off and I dragged myself out of bed to start the day.
Now:  6:15 am comes and goes and I'm still asleep.

Then: Getting dressed in the morning meant suits or dresses, panty hose, pumps
Now: getting dressed means jeans or linen pants, a comfy cotton shirt... "Panty hose?"  What are those?

Then:  Morning coffee was consumed at my desk, while I was surrounded by files and papers -- and it was bad office coffee, too. 
Now:  Morning coffee means a thermal mug full of Starbuck's Verona coffee, sipped while I sit in a patch of sunshine on the living room couch to read my novel for a bit... or while I'm upstairs at the computer reading emails and blogs.

Then:  10:00 am on a weekday meant I was in the office, hard at work, or in court dealing with litigation matters, or in a meeting... I remember driving between the courthouse and the office and seeing casually dressed people strolling down the street, shopping, or just hanging out in a coffee place, and I'd think, "How do they get to do that?" 
Now: 10:00 am might find me at home working on household stuff, or out running errands (out in the world!  on a weekday!) or at the library returning books, or at the health club for Pilates... There's a whole WORLD out there on weekdays between 8am and 5pm. 

Then:  Grocery shopping meant rushing to the store after work, when every other working person was there trying to figure out what to have for dinner, too
Now: Grocery shopping means going whenever I want, or even ordering online and having Safeway deliver while I'm upstairs sewing.

Then:  Weekends meant trying to do all the housework and laundry for the week, plus make some food to freeze in advance, plus getting into the office to catch up on work, plus wondering if I'd have a date with anyone interesting.
Now:  Weekends mean family time, time to putter around the house, work in the yard, visit my sister, or go wandering in search of something going on in the area.

Then:  My days were filled with men in suits -- all those lawyers, you know.
Now:  I never see men in suits.  Except on Mad Men and The West Wing (yep, I still watch the reruns.)

Then:  I never thought about kids.  Except when the guy down the hall would have his wife and their 3 toddlers come to visit the office, at which point everyone knew to shut their doors.  They were a chaotic, noisy group and the highlight of their visits was the time the boy got himself stuck behind the copy machine.  Don't even ask what he was doing back there.  He was one of those kids who'd find those sorts of places and get stuck in them.
Now:  Life is all about kids.  Or one kid in particular.  Okay, TEEN.  (I keep forgetting.)  But mine never got stuck behind any office machines, I'm proud to say.

Then: The "school" I thought about was the law school where I taught legal writing part-time, trying to fit in grading papers with my other legal work
Now: The "school" on my mind is Caroline's homeschooling, and I think about how to make what she's learning fun and flexible and interesting.

Then: fabric was something I occasionally thought about -- as in trying to identify the contents of a bathrobe fabric that had caught fire and was the subject of personal injury litigation.
Now:  fabric is my art medium!  My love!  My passion!   

I liked my life a lot back then, and I sure learned a lot.  But now?  Now is great, and I'm so grateful to be where I am! 

I'd love to hear your "thens and nows!"

Sunday, October 03, 2010


 I've not blogged in a bit because I've been off wandering -- mentally -- in the Land of Too Many Distractions.  Family life, home-schooling (all GOOD distractions, of course) ... I've not just been able to focus.  I've picked up books and magazines with beautiful fiber art, and I've thought "how wonderful" and them put them down and have not felt the urge to move into the sewing room.

I've been picking up my camera, instead, and taking pictures on my daily wanderings. That has felt manageable time-wise, and has satisfied my creativity.  I seem to be in the throes of another severely insomniac phase, so playing with Photoshop is a good, peaceful activity for the middle of the night.  The photo above is from a recent vineyard walk. We're approaching harvest time here, so the vines are laden with grapes and look so lovely right now.

I've had some fabric moments, lest you think I've totally abandoned all things fabric.  I've been making progress on my City and Guilds activities, so I thought I'd share a recent project.  The assignment was to select a photo of an architectural element, then to design a paper-pieced block and sew it.  As usual, I made it harder on myself by hunting for photos and taking pictures and drawing block designs repeatedly, striving to find one that I fell in love with.  I wanted to create a block that made me itch to sew it, that made me gasp with delight.

 It didn't happen.  And somewhere, after slaving over graph paper and designing things on Electric Quilt 6 (that sure does make seeing the results of designs easy), I realized that I just needed to do the dang assignment and move on.  If I didn't love it, fine.  The point, of course, was to show I knew how to design and sew a paper-pieced block.  Which I'd done umpteen times over, on my quest to find The Perfect Design.

So, here's where I ended up.  I started with this photo, liking the detail in that four-square motif there in the center: 

That led to this block, which I liked for its birdish design:

And here's how it look with four together:

Phew.  Assignment done.  But I sure did make it harder than it needed to be.