Thursday, May 07, 2015

A Blue Teddy Bear

A few months ago I got a message on Etsy from someone who was looking for a blue teddy bear. Alyssa said she worked for an online retailer that likes to go above and beyond for their customers. She and her team had searched for months trying to find a very special blue teddy bear like the one that had been lost by a little boy with autism. The boy's mother had tried to replace it with something similar but it just wasn't quite the same. They hadn't been able to locate it anywhere and now Alyssa wondered if I could make one like it.

I could tell from the photo she sent that it was very different from the teddy bears I make but I said I wanted to help and I'd be glad to look around and see if I could find another Etsy artist who could make one. I started right away and after finding some similar handmade bears I remembered I'd seen many of the toys my daughters grew up with listed on eBay so I decided to look there. I thought I might at least find a similar one that would tell me what company had made it.

After some searching... there it was. It looked exactly like the bear in the photo. Same blue fur, same floppy look, same pink nose... it was the same bear.

I sent the link to the teddy bear to Alyssa and she was ecstatic! She said, "You have my entire team in awe! We have been searching for at least two months! Thank you for the bottom of my heart! Can I please have your email address I would love to send you and your family some Zappos.com friends and family coupons. Thank you, thank you, thank you, a million times more!!!"

Oh, that online retailer!


What they didn't know was that I'd just begun searching for a job for the first time in decades and had been feeling pretty down about my prospects. It made me feel really good to know that I had made a difference for Alyssa and her team and especially for that little boy.


A few days later I heard from Alyssa again. The blue teddy bear had arrived and it was perfect! They had decided to tell the story of how this had all come together for their customer and since I was a big part of it, they wanted to include me. Would I be interested in allowing someone to come to my home for a video interview?

Well, why not?

So, besides my new friend, Alyssa, I now have a new friend, Sara, who came to my home to ask about what I do and how I ended up finding a very special blue teddy bear for a very special boy.


I guess Zappos.com knows what I know from selling on Etsy. It's not just Customer Service. It's a relationship.






Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sheeba

Sheeba, the Office CatI first met Sheeba when I stopped by the office at the SPCA of Anne Arundel County. Sheeba was Rita Melvin’s office cat for the day and she greeted me with joyous meows at the safety gate in the door. As I stepped back to let Rita move the gate, Sheeba protested loudly and took a flying leap up to my shoulder as if to say, “Oh, no! You’re not leaving yet! You just got here!”


I spent the next hour or so talking over volunteer possibilities with Rita while Sheeba did figure eights in my lap so I could do a thorough job of petting her on all sides. Sheeba was as busy and playful as a kitten so I was surprised to hear that she is over ten years old . She purred and meowed and made little noises of satisfaction and I’m pretty sure she thought I had come just to see her.

Shelter cats get as much loving as our cat caretakers and volunteers can give them but it’s never as much as if they had their own family in a forever home.

Sheeba was recently moved to a foster home from the shelter, where she's been since May of last year. Foster families provide a place for animals who need a quiet place to recover from illness or surgery or who just need a little extra attention and a break from shelter life.

I went to see Sheeba recently in her foster home so I could take a few photos and share her story. When I first arrived she came running to see who had come to visit. I think she remembered me, but she was a little shy at first, probably wondering what I was doing there. She is definitely a curious cat.


Sheeba at the sewing machine

It didn't take her long to get used to the sound of my camera's shutter and relax. (I think she was trying to figure out why my hands were busy with that clicking box I was holding instead of busy petting her!)


Sheeba watches me


Sheeba loves that big bay window at her foster home, running to see what's up when she hears a car go by then staying just to soak up the sun.



Sheeba loves her window


Sheeba at the front window


She has her own special perch in front of another window that lets her keep watch over the squirrels in the backyard, too.


Sheeba at the back window


By now, Sheeba is accustomed to having me follow her around and point my funny little clicking black box at her. Maybe she realizes I'm taking her picture because it seems like she's started posing for me.


Sheeba on her perch


Sheeba posing




When she's had enough of solitary posing, Sheeba decides it's time to jump into her foster mom's lap for some hands on attention in a cozy chair. That means a lot to a cat at any age but especially to an older cat like Sheeba. 


Sheeba needs a home



I hope this lady with the heart of a kitten finds her forever home soon. If you're interested in adopting Sheeba or becoming a foster family, please call the SPCA of Anne Arundel County at 410-268-4388 or check out our website. So many like Sheeba would love to hear from you.

You can see more photos of Sheeba in my Flickr album.





Friday, February 20, 2015

Wellness

I haven’t written much for this blog lately. The fact is that for the past few months I’ve been in an emotional (and sometimes spiritual) survival mode.

It was almost a year ago that my husband’s car was totaled by a loose highway reflector bracket that flew up into his front grill and spiraled it’s way through the length of the car, flattening a tire and popping open the trunk as it exited out the back. It was only a 1997 Skylark, but it had belonged to his mother, then came to us when she died a few years ago. After a few months and lots of red tape we did get a settlement from the state highway department but it wasn’t enough to replace it. Thankfully, some very generous friends gave us the key to an extra car of theirs and said, “Keep it as long as you need it.” There is a God.

Last fall we hit a crisis point with our bank and are still scrambling to make arrangements to pay what we owe so we can keep our house and deal with other creditors, too. That’s what happens when you spend a few years losing a job or two and your insurance premiums keep going up until they drop you and the “good” car needs repairing and you have to have glasses so you can see to do your job and… well, I’ll spare you the details.

Last fall I also had to have eye surgery. It was just a routine exam for new glasses when the problem was discovered. Mine was not the kind of laser surgery that fixes you up good as new in a day or two, this was the kind that takes a few months to heal, limiting your ability to function well in the meantime. I’m grateful I had wonderful doctors and other medical professionals and insurance to pay for them, plus a husband and daughter at home to look after me.

I was almost back to normal when I got sick on Christmas Day. It started with a cough and quickly went into a sinus infection, as little sniffles tend to do with me. From the description of other friends who got the flu and were left with a lingering cough, I’m guessing that’s what started it all. And just to remind me that I’m only a frail little human, bronchitis set in for another week or two for the big finish.

Today, I’m feeling like myself again. Finally.

Mind you, I’m well aware that these challenges we’ve been facing are a drop in the bucket compared to a cancer diagnosis or the death of a spouse. But I confess that as these issues piled up I waffled from a fierce determination to overcome them all to facing my own helplessness and just trying to hang on for another day.

If I have spoken to you at all during the past few months, please know that every smile, every friendly wave, every “I’m praying for you” - whether in person or over the internet - has been tucked away in my back pocket and carefully saved, to be taken out again and again as needed to shed a little light on a particularly dark day.

Thank you.


In October of last year, when I was feeling especially powerless to change my situation, I decided to volunteer at the the Anne Arundel County SPCA. I needed to spend a little time with animals who have always calmed and comforted me. During a time when I felt like nothing I did was making a difference I thought I could at least make the day a little better for the homeless animals cared for by the SPCA by giving them a little time and attention. It’s amazing how a few purrs and tail wags can change your whole perspective on life and teach you something about God and Grace.

A couple of weeks ago I took pictures of an Animal Wellness Event at the SPCA where several volunteers use their skills and training in Reiki, massage and other healing touch modalities to benefit the animals who may be stressed or having trouble adjusting to shelter life. It was the first time in quite a while that I’d covered an event, though I used to do it frequently years ago. It felt good to get back into the groove and stretch those old muscles of observation and storytelling. At the end of the evening when I started to gather my things and drive home I found Pebbles Cuddles, our official office cat, curled up for a nap on my coat. I think I’ve been accepted into the family.


Thank you, God, for your grace.

Thank you, family and friends, for your love and support.

And a special thank you to Pebbles Cuddles and the Anne Arundel County SPCA.



Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Teddy Bears For Mike


Mike's Teddy Bears photo MikeBearsGif50percent_zps387dca82.gif


This is the story of some very special custom handmade teddy bears that I made for my friend, Lori. When Lori's brother passed away suddenly last year she asked if I could make some of my custom teddy bears out of his old t-shirts as memorial gifts to all of his siblings, nieces and nephews. I told her I would be honored. 

It took me about six months to make fourteen teddy bears. It's a big family. Fortunately, I had a few months to get them all done.

Lori lives in Alberta, Canada and I live in Maryland, so we had to do all this long distance. Lori picked out the first t-shirt I would use and mailed it to me. It had a big beautiful dragon on it and I saw lots of possibilites for the bears. We met via Skype so I could show her how my pattern pieces could be placed so that different parts of the design ended up on different parts of the bears. A few hours later I had a pile of tiny t-shirt scraps and nine stacks of teddy-bears-to-be and I got busy sewing.










I took photos of each teddy bear in progress and shared them on Instagram and Twitter so my friends could keep track of the story of this family of bears as I went along. 

Hint: If you're planning to do a lot of hand sewing, take care of your hands. Keep your favorite lotion nearby. And I highly recommend leather thimbles.







When I was close to finishing the first nine bears Lori sent me another shirt for the remaining five bears, a white shirt with an argyle pattern and an interesting texture. Again, I had fun choosing which parts of the design would end up on what parts of the bears. 






All fourteen teddy bears were completed and delivered in time for Lori to distribute them at the Brown Family Reunion last month. She lined them all up on a bed and brought everyone in to see them and choose the one they wanted to keep. Lori says, "Losing Mike was devastating to our family, and missing him is part of every day. Having a small piece of him to hold onto, with these beautiful bears, is a comfort.... The bears are another way to heal our broken hearts." 




You can go to my Flickr gallery of Mike's Teddy Bears and see a photo journal of this project with views of the teddy bears in progress and all four sides of each finished bear. 


and let me know if you have a special project you'd like me to make for you.




Saturday, June 28, 2014

I Need More Practice



My sister and I have a challenge going to write something, every day, for ten minutes. Here's mine from yesterday....


Since I have only ten minutes left in the day, I guess I’ll do my daily ten minutes of writing now.

Last night was the wrong night to have a bad case of insomnia as I had to roll out of bed and get to the church on time this morning to set up audio and video for the closing program of Vacation Bible School. It was also the wrong week for my bad back to flare up but fortunately, I took my daughter with me to help with any heavy lifting and/or fetch me my ice pack, whichever came first. During a break in the action we enjoyed visiting with a young man who had grown up with my daughter in our church and is now a student at Baylor and member of the Baylor Religious Hour Choir. That prompted me to tell him a few of my dad’s favorite stories of his student days at Baylor and impress on him the need to take that little drive from Waco to Belton to meet my father who would be delighted to meet one of the the current generation of Baylor ministerial students and share more memories with him.

The VBS program went off without a hitch. The ibuprofen kicked in about halfway through the morning and exercise seemed to help loosen up my stiff back.

I made it to 5pm before I fizzled, gave up the fight, and took a little nap before supper. That reminded me of the way my mother used to take naps. She’d come in from work and say, “I’m going to just lie down for ten minutes before I start cooking supper.” I used to wonder how much good ten minutes could really do. After all, it usually took me at least a half hour just to fall asleep. But she would fall asleep, sometimes not even disturbed by the phone ringing next to her bed. Then exactly ten minutes later she would emerge, fresh as a daisy, and dive into dinner preparations.

My mother… the original power napper.

Before I got to my power nap today I had edited video of the VBS program so it could be uploaded to youtube later… added a few rows of knots to my current macrame project… did a little computer research during lunch… and scanned an estimate of car repairs to be submitted to the state in hopes they might still decide to help with the costs incurred when one of their highway reflectors took a flying leap into the grill of my husband’s car and traveled through the air conditioner, transmission and oil pan, taking out a tire and popping open the trunk as it exited out the back.

My power nap took an hour. 

That’s almost as much sleep as I got last night. 

I think I need more practice.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How Much Do You Know?


I was once asked, “Do you know a lot about computers?”

I didn’t know how to answer that question. I know what I know, but I’ve just picked up my knowledge little by little as I was faced with particular situations. I never took a course in Computer Science or Information Technology. When I was in school those subjects were part of the Math Department which I avoided like the plague because, really, Math and I don’t get along very well.

So the best answer to that question is, “I know enough to know that there’s a lot I don’t know.”

Each time I’m faced with a new computer mystery I search online for an answer but a part of me is always wondering if there’s one thing I left out. Just one little thing about that component or software glitch that I didn’t realize might come into play so I didn’t bother combing online forums to see if anybody else had been tripped up by that, too, when they tried to fix this one little thing that’s gone wrong with my computer.

That kind of thinking can lead to a Technology-Paranoia-induced paralysis which results in multiple Windows computers in varying stages of assembly filling up the floor of my living room while I use the one Mac in the room to continue with my usual work as a writer/photographer/artist or whatever I’m calling myself this week.


These techno-DIY projects have taught me some lessons about life and God....


1. I know enough to know that there’s a lot I don’t know.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist home and most of my life has been spent around people who were very sure of their beliefs and their particular interpretation of Scripture. The more time I’ve spent around people whose beliefs differed from mine, the more I could see God relating to people in different ways. I could not deny the Fruits of the Spirit I saw in their lives but I knew they’d never walked down the aisle of a Baptist church or been baptized by immersion as I was. I know it’s possible to share my interpretation of Scripture with them and listen to theirs without either of us feeling threatened or judged. How about that? I don’t know why God relates to each of us the way he does. That’s just one of the things I don’t know yet.


2. You get what you pay for… or … You get out of it what you put into it.

The more time I spend reading about computers, taking them apart and putting them back together, talking to other people who know about computers, the more confident I am in my knowledge of them. The more time I spend focusing on the spiritual side of life, listening for a word from God, looking for Him in others, the more aware I am of my place in the universe and of God’s love for me.

I used to work with a young man in the seminary Print Shop and now and then forgetful professors would come to him with a big rush job, begging him to run copies immediately. He’d look at them with a slow smile and say, “How much is it worth to you?”

So, how much is it worth to you to really know what you want to know?


3. Stick with what works best for you.

My husband and I bought the original Macintosh when it came out in 1984 and used it for years until an upgrade was needed and it was clear that we would not be able to afford Apple’s pricey machines, even if they were worth every penny. We’ve been PC users, exclusively, until my daughter gave me her old iMac. I’ve only been using this  iMac for a few months but I have to admit, I do love it. I’m sure I’ll always keep a PC around for things I have to do with PC-only apps but I’m hoping to stay with Macs from now on.

The lesson I take from this is that it’s important to know what works for you and go with that, whether it’s what you expected or not. 

When I was growing up I expected that I would remain Southern Baptist all my life but things changed. The denomination took a definite turn to the right just as my personal beliefs were becoming more clear to me and I could easily see that we were no longer a good match for each other. Some of my old Southern Baptist friends may be praying for my salvation now when they read certain posts on my Facebook page but I don’t mind. I know what makes sense for me and I’m sticking with that, regardless of what others may do or think or even what my own opinions may have been in the past.

It’s amazing what you can learn from technology, isn’t it?



Thursday, June 05, 2014

For Maya



I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts and write something about Maya Angelou but I’m stuck on the first sentence.

“Maya Angelou died last week —“
No, that’s not right. 
Her spirit will never die. 
“Maya Angelou is no longer with us —“ 
No, that’s not right, either. 
She is still with us in every word she ever wrote, spoke, or sang. 
So instead of writing…
I’ve been listening.

I’ve listened to news reports and talk show hosts,
to celebrities and people on the street,
all talking about what she taught them about life and love. 
Just the way she spoke taught us something
about the power of words, 
about the value of thoughtfully considering what it is that we really want to say, 
and about the joy of letting words spring from a hopeful heart without hesitation.

The many roads she traveled taught us 
that what we have been is
not necessarily
what we always will be...
that life brings changes...
that we can do better when we know better...
and that forgiveness brings freedom.

We learned from her because
she was always learning. 
She shared what she learned the way a toddler comes running
with eyes shining bright
shouting with joy,
“Look what I found!”
The lesson… the joy… cannot be contained. 
It is given to us to be shared.
And share it, she did. 
Faithfully.
Frequently.
Fearlessly.

It’s the “Fearlessly” part that often stops us in our tracks.
To share what you’ve been learning you must first admit that there’s something you didn’t know.
It calls attention to parts of ourselves that we don’t like to look at…
That we hope the rest of the world doesn’t see.

Maya Angelou wasn’t afraid to take us with her on her journey of learning,
To show us all the paths she had taken...
The lessons she had learned...
The things she had released in order to take hold of something better.

She showed us the hope in her heart,
The good in us that we did not see in ourselves,
The heights we could reach when we felt mired in the depths.

I pray that, like her, we will see…

In our weaknesses 
opportunities for growth, 
In our discouragement 
a spark of hope,
And in each other,
our best selves instead of our worst.

She said,
“I’ve had a lot of rainbows in my clouds. 
I’ve had a lot of clouds. 
But I’ve had a lot of rainbows in my clouds.”


Which will you remember best…


The rainbow or the clouds?