Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I grew up in a family of puzzlers.Wherever two or three are gathered during the Christmas holidays you will likely see a jigsaw puzzle in progress. Hours are spent assembling the picture and bonus points are given for complexity.

My Aunt Becky is the Master Puzzler, picking out the most intricate, detailed pictures with the most and often oddly shaped pieces, accumulating a great collection of her own over the years. She has now begun to pass along the best of these to the rest of us to enjoy. The most challenging one I recall was a transparent lucite puzzle that included straight pieces in the middle, not just on the edges. You didn't know if a piece was part of the edge or the middle or even if it was upside down or right side up.

This year my family received from Aunt Becky a 1,000 piece puzzle with a picture of a giant, multi-layered hamburger. It looked delicious, but we soon discovered its particular challenges. Did that green piece belong to the lettuce on the bottom layer or the third layer? Was that red one part of the tomato on the second layer or the slice of bacon on the top? That yellowish brown piece might be part of the bun but was it the top, middle or bottom – or maybe a piece of cheese. It didn't help that the missing piece often turned out to be two or three oddly shaped pieces instead. It took about 4 days but we got it done.

As I spent hours pouring over the pile of pieces, making myself take time out from the usual routine, a few life lessons began to surface. I'm listing them here, in no particular order.

It takes many pieces to make the whole picture. And it wouldn't be complete if even a single one was missing.

Whether you're talking about an extended family or about the larger picture of your life, every piece has it's place. The shadows help us appreciate the highlights.

Small things can make a big difference.

Subtle color shadings or contours determine whether a piece is the one you need or just another one on the pile. Similarities in color or shape do not always guarantee a good fit.

Get help when you need it.

In life, as in jigsaw puzzles, we need each other. We can do more together than we can separately. Even when the progress seems slow, the journey is better because we're not alone.

Proximity can lead to unexpected conversations.

Just by being there, bending over the table, scrutinizing the pile of puzzle pieces, we may find ourselves talking about things we might never have brought up in the usual hustle and bustle of the holidays. Family memories are shared, details filled in about stories we thought we already knew, words of encouragement shared that we never realized were needed. Relationships can be reinforced in these “Oh, by the way...” moments, just because we were there.

Be patient.

Piece by piece, the picture becomes clear. Don't give up or you might miss it. When the picture begins to appear we can become too eager. But if we rush to fill in all the blanks too quickly something vital may be overlooked.

Last, but by no means least....

You know the missing piece is right in front of you. It just doesn't look the way you expected.

Let's hope we keep our minds and hearts open so we may find our missing pieces this new year, even when they come in unexpected ways.

Friday, November 22, 2013

That Day in Dallas

I was five years old, watching As the World Turns with my mother the way we always did during lunch, when Walter Cronkite broke in to announce that President Kennedy had been shot.

I lived in Oak Cliff, the south part of Dallas, a few miles from where Lee Harvey Oswald was captured later that day at the Texas theater. My family was acquainted with the police officer who was shot and killed when he confronted Oswald on an Oak Cliff street.

I remember my mother crying. It was probably the first time I saw her cry. As she made up the beds after we'd gotten the news she punched the pillows harder than usual, as she said "Why would anyone want to do that to that man?!"

I went outside and climbed up to the top of our swing set in the backyard. From my perch I could look to the north and see the skyline of downtown Dallas on the horizon. I have a very strong memory of thinking how strange it was that the things they were talking about on TV were really happening, right over there.

For the next several days there was nothing but news coverage about the assassination on TV, including the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald and then the President's funeral. The images stay with me - Caroline kneeling with her mother beside the flag draped coffin in the rotunda, the caisson carrying the coffin, the grief-stricken faces of Mrs. Kennedy and the President's brothers, the horse with the backward boots, John John's salute and the eternal flame.

When I was a teenager I went on trips with my church's youth choir. Sometimes, after singing at a church in another city, we would stay in the home of the church's members. Once, I recall our host making comments about us being from Dallas, the "city that killed the president."

As I grew up in Dallas , I went to movies at the Texas Theater, worked a couple of summer jobs near where Officer Tippett was shot, and often drove along Stemmons Freeway overlooking Dealy Plaza and the Texas Schoolbook Depository.

But never without thinking of that awful day.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Rainy Day Memories

The SD card in my phone died a couple of days ago. Fortunately, I've got photos backed up on Google+, Facebook, and Flickr with my best photos on 500px. But while checking to make sure I hadn't lost anything I really wanted to keep I ran across this one and I just had to stop and look at it again.

I took it while spending the weekend in New York City with some very special friends in July, 2012, when we were surprised by a summer shower. Ducking into a doorway to get out of the rain and wait until the storm had passed, I snapped this photo. I'm not even sure why but it's become one of my all time favorites. 

Maybe it's because I've always loved rain and it takes me back to playing in puddles when I was a kid. Maybe it helps me remember to stop and look for the beauty and serenity that might be right in front of us when we're surprised by life's little inconveniences. 

Or maybe it just reminds me of the company I was keeping that day.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Word Games

It's not that the words won't come.
It's that they won't stop.

They chase each other around in my head
like kittens around a couch.
I never know when one will pounce
demanding my full attention
only to be nudged aside by another
squirming to take its place.

I see each newborn idea
take its first steps
standing tall
stretching out
reaching wide
gathering others in to join the party.

And there they go around the couch again
inviting me to come and play.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

When Irish Bears Are Smiling

I think my friend, Ali, is the most Irish friend I know so I wasn't at all surprised when she asked me about a special teddy bear project. Ali has ordered several of my handmade teddy bears before so she was familiar with my work. She also knows I enjoy a challenge.

Ali sent me her favorite old hoodie and ordered two teddy bears to be made with it. She's lost a lot of weight during the past year and can't wear the hoodie anymore, but she hated to just get rid of it. Turning it into teddy bears seemed to be a good way of keeping the old favorite around. The extra challenge was that she wanted me to take the shamrock off the hoodie and put it on one of the bears.

The soft green knit of the hoodie was easy to work with. I trimmed the fabric close to the shamrock and appliqued it to the back of the bear. Since the shamrock was so large it fit better on the back, which is flatter, rather than sewing it to the more rounded belly of the bear, which might pucker or distort the shape. For the second bear, I found a small gold shamrock patch and ironed it on the front. The finishing touch for each bear was blue eyes, just like Ali's.

So, Happy St. Patrick's Day! Enjoy the pictures!

If you'd like me to make keepsake teddy bears for you
 leave a comment here, find me on Twitter
or check out my Etsy shop: 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Two Special Bears

This is the story of two very special bears. They were born the day my Twitter friend, Linda, asked if I could make teddy bears from an old bathrobe. I'd been making bears for years with recycled clothing so I said, "Sure, I can do that!" Then she told me what she wanted to do.

Linda and her sister lost their father about a year ago. I remember how we had talked on Twitter about the loss of a parent and our group of friends gathered around to encourage and uplift her.

Linda told me that she had her father's favorite robe with his initials on it and she wondered if I could use it to sew two teddy bears, one for her and one for her sister, and put one initial "L" on each bear. She even emailed me a photo of her father so the blue eyes of the bears would match his. I told her I would be honored to do a project like that. 

I decided to complete the construction of both bears before trimming the initials close and turning the edges under to sew them on. I saved the faces for last, as I always do, and added ribbons around the neck matching the color of the initials. 

When Linda received the completed teddy bears she tweeted me and said, "All I can say is...wow...amazing...speechless...they are just beautiful bears!" She also said her mother was "blown away". I do love a happy customer!

You can click on these photos to see them full size:

If you'd like me to make custom teddy bears for you
leave a comment and tell me what you have in mind
or you can find them in my Etsy shop.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sparks of Life

My mother often sewed clothes for me when I was a little girl. The hum of that old black, cast iron Singer sewing machine was the sound of comfort, security and love to me. It was an exercise in necessity for her as homemade dresses were cheaper than store bought ones. But it was also a creative outlet that taught me about the importance of planning, persistence and attention to detail.

I watched my mother put her imagination to work at the little fabric shop near our house. It was a cozy place filled with the fragrance of new fabrics, old dust and the talcum powder and perfume of the smiling salesladies who seemed to know my mother well from her frequent visits. Together they would spread out fabrics, compare trims and buttons, finding colors and textures that would, in a few days, become my new Sunday dress. I wandered among the bolts of fabrics while they talked and I might have crawled around on the low shelves under them a time or two when it seemed they were taking too long.

To begin a new project, my mother removed the tablecloth from our kitchen table and carefully spread the fabric to lay out the pattern for a new dress. With intense concentration on her face she took pins from her red tomato pincushion and pinned it in place, referring often to the pattern instructions, cutting around corners and curves with her heavy black handled scissors which were never used for any other purpose so they might be kept sharp and ready at all times. I still smile when I hear the rhythmic, crunching sound of scissors against a table top because it reminds me of the way my mother painstakingly cut around the lines and notches of a pattern, stacking each piece to the side and moving on to the next. This part of the process was fascinating to watch. I lost interest later, struggling to stand still, as she pinned up the hem while the voices of my brother and friends playing ball in the backyard drifted through the open window on the breeze.

I recall one visit to that little fabric shop when my mother took her black handled scissors with her to be sharpened. A little old man with a grinding wheel made occasional visits to local fabric stores to sharpen everyone’s scissors and I watched him sharpen ours. I’m pretty sure I held my hands over my ears because of the loud, screeching sound it made but the sparks that flew were beautiful, like fireworks.

I thought of that many years later when I came across this verse in the Bible:

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Some people have a gift for causing sparks. No matter how hard you try to understand them and get along sparks will fly. Whether you’re dealing with a contentious co-worker or your best friend, conflict is a part of life. 

But every conflict brings an opportunity to learn and grow,

if we’re paying attention.

My mother and I certainly kicked up a few sparks from time to time. I’m still learning lessons from her and she’s been gone from this world for almost seven years now. Boxes full of her old patterns, buttons, trims are piled up in my house. I use them from time to time, finding just the right button or color of thread when I need it. Or the patience to help me finish a project.

As I thought about sparks today I recalled a scene in the TV movie, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Cicely Tyson plays a 110 year old woman, recounting the story of her life to young reporter during the early days of the civil rights movement of the ‘60s. She begins her story by telling him about “two old rocks”, as the reporter calls them. Her story revealed that they were iron and flint she carried as a child on a journey to a new life, using them to light camp fires at night when she was freed from slavery.

For her, the sparks they produced meant




I haven't even mentioned the sparks that fly between two people when they're falling in love. 

The next time sparks fly in your life, 

for whatever reason,

pay attention.

Look for the lessons.

May those sparks lead to