Monday, February 25, 2013

A Lenten Interior Housecleaning

Today, seemingly out of the blue, from the deep recesses of my mind came the name of one poem and the first few lines of yet another.  I used to keep a notebook of poems and sayings when I was young. It was part of my apparent “dual personality”, for in addition to this deeper and more serious notebook, I kept diaries of my other side, having to do with the messy business of keeping relationships with family and friends, the significant others in my life. This often included those that I had no real relationship with, but rather secret crushes on, or what I used to call, pedestal friends.

Once I even stuck a piece of chewed gum wrapped in waxed paper into my diary.  It had been given to me by one of my heart throbs. Perhaps I was hoping that our superficial friendship would be forever cemented in the recesses of my diary, marking the beginning of a wonderful and forever romance.  Many of my early diaries were so embarrassingly frivolous that I threw them out, not knowing that teenage diaries are records of such drivel.  Now of course I cannot remember the name of this gum-giving beau, and even if I still had this diary to refer to, I would likely scratch my head and not be able to recall his face.  It would be like reading about someone else’s life and not my own.

So, why is it strange that into my head should pop memories of these favorite poems from my past right now?  Perhaps,I am not really all that different than I was years ago? I still sometimes fret over relationships, only now they are largely over friendships with other women. Could they be as frivolous and immature as my diary entries of years ago? I think so. I am not always a good judge of character and consider some as friends that really aren't. I have recently worked to reconcile a recent misunderstanding with such a "friend" and found instead the harsh reality that she doesn't see the point and would prefer not to associate with me. I feel like a young school girl coming home to cry to my mother about someone at school not wanting to be my friend.

I laid in bed last night re-examining what I said and what she said and how it all broke down. I felt truly sad about the loss of this "friend" and wondered how I had so offended her. I have been told that my over transparency and compulsion to be frank and honest might well be a symptom of my illness that truly affects my brain. My daughter, has more than once let me know that she often sees that I don't have a proper filter when it comes to my tongue.

This friend has my same condition and we have often laughed about this common tendency.  However, as I remembered the fateful conversation from which there seemed to be no recovery, I really had no malicious intent to offend her. I know that my friend is not comfortable with political talk, and my comments regarding my husband's job loss were simply open statements about the economic times that we are living in and that I truly feel that companies of today are burdened by some of the added regulations, creating more lay-offs.  I watch the news, likely too often, and it is no secret that unemployment is high and we are now experiencing it first hand.

My friend does not share my political beliefs, though in that conversation we had little agreement on other issues as well, and she grew more and more upset. I wasn't feeling the support that my friend had openly offered and I decided I had accidentally pushed a button.  She was recalling her family's own decline by such a lay-off and was suggesting that we would also feel this decline.  I don't like to borrow trouble and this certainly wasn't helping me stay positive about our current challenges.  The truth was, her fears were my own, but I was actively choosing to live in faith and not fear and so I let her know. I abruptly ended the conversation, apologizing about having to take a call from my daughter.  I was relieved to do just that.

I don't think that friendship should dissolve by mere differences of opinions though I have learned over the years that some relationships will go by the wayside for reasons that I don't totally understand. I have tried to cultivate sensitivity and tact but sometimes it seems, to no avail. My true self speaks loud and clear, especially about values I hold most dear and what comes out is sometimes not acceptable to another.  I  don't really regret being who and what I am, though it pains me to think that I have offended someone.

Perhaps the fault is not all mine and may in fact, merely be a turning point in a relationship that was supposed to happen? Perhaps this was just an unexpected Lenten interior housecleaning. It seems I am not supposed to be a friend to some. I am a strong person, with strong opinions and am open about expressing them.  Not all appreciate such honesty, and don't feel so comfortable about conflicting views.

So about these poems that spontaneously popped into my mind...I don't believe they were simply serendipitous, but rather a lovely insight into my inner self, like God holding up a mirror and encouraging me to see my own reflection. After looking them up, one, by its name and the other by its first line, I see me in them. One is about what we used to call, "fair weather friends” and the other about standing strong with your convictions. I found myself comforted by them, for they are each strong poems and reflect my values. I realized that I have turned into that person that I wanted to be: courageous enough to be who I am, no matter the cost. but there's the rub.  I also like to be well-liked and can't always have it both ways. As my dad used to say about me, “I want my cake and eat it to”. Indeed I do, though Miss Congeniality I am not,nor is peace so easily won!

Since copying the poems below into my special notebook years ago, I received a forward with the following saying, “There comes a point in our life when you realize: Who matters, Who never did, Who won’t anymore…And who always will.  So don’t worry about the people from your past, there’s a reason why they didn’t make it to your future.” “ Amen” I say. Sometimes God assists me in cleaning out my interior  house and likely it is a good thing, though I still find it a painful process!

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

Solitude by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow it’s mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you’
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure.
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many’
Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline our nectared wine.
But alone, you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live.
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Post Lay-off Status Report

I just wanted to inform my readers as to how we are progressing regarding my husband's lay-off more than a month ago now. It has been a stressful time, but we are working hard to keep a positive attitude. It was good advice to not take the lay-off personally. We are learning that healthy companies are constantly trimming themselves by ten percent to remain vibrant and growing and our oldest daughter learned in college that a person is to expect as many as seven different jobs during their career years!  My husband's job was no longer needed and so for financial reasons, it was cut. It still hurts as it doesn't seem to matter if the intent wasn't personal, the loss is and we are dealing with it.

We are finding that it is easy to fall into the trap of “second guessing” as to why he was one of the few to go after his twenty-two plus years of dedicated service.  It is likely natural to feel sad and “picked on”, and wonder why bad things always happen to us when things don’t go our way but we are learning that this sort of thinking is not productive. We know that bad things happen to good people all of the time. Yes, we are assuming a lot here—this is bad and we are good! It's taken me many years to learn that life isn't always fair and as an ex- military doctor I worked with used to say, “Buck up soldier, take two Tylenol and carry on” and so we are doing just that.

Surviving Survival by Laurence Gonzales was recommended to me by a good friend and has turned out to be a Godsend. I had just finished reading it when my husband called to say he had been laid off  his job and was on his way home. (Thank you S.N.!!) We are learning that “the scars of our lives” that we all carry, act to complete us and become part of our uniqueness”. I thank the author, for this insight. It has become critical to view our life in this manner and not allow this experience to destroy us but instead make us stronger. It truly is an opportunity for new growth and change.  This is easier said than done, to be sure, as change is hard and grieving the loss is all part of this process as we face our new realities.

Life has dealt us a new hand and we have to play it as it is.  Surviving Survival and Deep Survival (both by L. Gonzales) have been so enlightening regarding why some people survive and others don’t. Although the author writes about people who take physical risks that I/we wouldn't dare, his stories apply to any crisis and has been a useful guide to direct our thinking during this time of upheaval. My husband's severance package also provided him with a job counseling service and before they were able to reach him, they accidentally, or perhaps on purpose, reached me first.  This was fortunate as they were able to prepare me for the process we were about to undergo.

I was told that the turn around time before finding new employment would likely be a minimum of three months and could be a bit longer with the economic issues at this time, along with my husband's age of being well over fifty. My husband says he doesn't feel like he looks a day over 45—and who am I to tell him otherwise! The advice has helped me and my husband to be realistic, take a bit of time to absorb the shock and begin to deal with the loss and hopefully make more rational decisions.

My husband losing his job had been one of my greatest fears as I had heard of so many that have lost jobs and are still struggling to find work. We live in a more rural location which limits his chances for finding work locally and we don’t want to move so close to retiring! I am realizing, however, that life often gives us the opportunity to face our greatest fears and so we are doing just that.

My husband is practical and comes with many skills, albeit, mostly self-taught and experience-based but his good work ethic and innate problem-solving abilities and willingness to learn make him more adaptable to this change than I would be.  I am the one with much book learning and creativity with  little common sense. We seem to complement each other well, but in the work world I think that his chances are better than mine when it comes to becoming re-employed! I am sympathetic to his new task at hand, of finding another job and I know that I will play an important part in his recovery from this significant loss. The phone call from the job counseling service confirmed this.

Interestingly enough our primary concern has not been him finding another job, though this is the ultimate solution, but rather finding affordable health insurances. Cobra Insurance, as most know who have gone through this process, is not a viable option unless there is a catastrophic need, as it is too expensive. Fortunately, more affordable insurances have been found, and applications submitted.

The loss of my special doctor occurred at the same time as my husband's job lay-off and has also been an immediate need. After a four state internet search, I have found a new specialist only 120 miles away that will accept all insurances, and then found sources from which to purchase my medications that will be as affordable as before. I am grateful for my internet connections that helped with this search.

My husband is working on all the aspects that go with a lay-off: creating a competitive resume, learning the new ropes of interviewing, creating a list of potential places to apply as well as making new choices regarding life insurance and investments that had been tied to his job. With change comes new opportunities. We remain hopeful that his next job be closer to home and it does seem that our financial needs are less than when we were raising our children and so perhaps he will have a greater range of choices than he would have had a few years ago. Our future, like that of  many others in the world today will likely be filled with work.  This is not sad to either of us as we enjoy learning new skills as well as having that sense of purpose in our lives that comes with work that we enjoy.

We have never counted on fancy trips or riches to complete our “bucket lists”. Love and family is what makes our world go round, excepting for the amount of money it takes to live. We are comfortable enough and our faith has carried us through our needs and we have faith that God will continue to provide. It doesn't take much to look around to see that it could all be worse. Perspective is always helpful!

I have just renewed my RN license in New York State.  My parents always told me it would be a good insurance policy, though right now I am working at Little House and I am preparing new items to be featured on line and at local shows and galleries. In Surviving Survival, I have learned that our bodies and brains can heal best by doing creative activities and sewing is filled with re-patterning exercises, be it cutting, or stitching.  The noted hand detail in my work, is truly my form of relaxation and fun (and healing).

Taking care of others, is also on Gonzales’ list as a healthy way of “getting outside of yourself” during times when it would be too easy to turn inward. Part of “getting out of self” is to either do for others or getting into being creative and “working in the zone”. Keeping busy and functioning keeps us strong as we move forward.“Periods of resting and conserving energy” are also helpful as they diminish “panic, immobilization, fear and dysfunction” according to L. Gonzales. Naps are refreshing and also aids clearness of thinking, which is especially important when solving problems during such times like we are undergoing.

I have also pulled out my gratitude journal to find and record our blessings in the here and now. There are many.  Our faith is sustaining us, as does our humor, which helps to break the inevitable tensions during a time of uncertainty.

Thank you for keeping  us and the many others seeking employment in your prayers!  And when you have a chance, check out our 15% off sale in our ETSY store throughout this month.  Simply add the code: LOVE15 to receive this discount and if you have any difficulty with this process, just send us a comment and know that we will be glad to help you. It is our special Valentine gift to you, our readers!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine’s Day from Our Post Office Box to Your’s

This last week has passed so quickly.  I never stop writing or sewing but  my photography is lagging behind.  Too many gray days lately and as an amateur photographer, I need light to take good pictures.  But I will take some today and perhaps have my husband take a few as well and get caught up.

I wanted to share with you our post office boxes that we stenciled years ago.  The brown one was done before the two white ones for each of my daughter’s.  The idea is not original, but came from a Tasha Tudor  book, A Time to Keep.  

They are easily made using store bought stencils and/or ones that you make yourself using plastic mylar and an Exacto knife.  Simply use a  stencil brush, loaded with inexpensive craft paint.  “Pound” your brush to clear off the excess paint on a piece of scrap paper as you want only a dry dusting of paint on your brush to paint on your stencil.  You might want to try a few on paper first to get the hang of it.  

Of course our post office boxes are strictly amateur.  No professional job here at all, but no matter as we had a good time making them and have since enjoyed using them each year. (Our white boxes were inexpensive cardboard gift boxes that we bought, and the brown one was simply a recycled plain brown box that came with a gift in it.

When I was in elementary school, I always loved decorating shoe boxes each year to hold our Valentines.  Construction paper and plenty of pasty glue was all it took to transform these boxes.  So whether you paint your post office boxes or decorate them using construction paper, tin foil or even doilies, it is a fun activity for all, and make wonderful post office boxes to use for years to come!

We place our Valentines in these boxes each year, other along with other small treats that we either make or purchase.  We also have special hearts that my husband bought for the girls and me when he stopped at the Amana Colonies when he moved out ahead of us on his way to the Vermont.  They are delicate Opelle glass giftware made by Corning and are truly little heirloom treasures .  We carefully store them in our post office boxes and enjoy them year after year. 

This is the season for hearts and love.  Don’t miss taking this opportunity to tell someone just how special they are!

You are very special to us and so we are have a special Valentine Sale through the end of the month.  Check out our Etsy store, if you haven’t already!  And if you purchase something be sure to use the code “LOVE15” to get 15% off the purchase price.  If you have any difficulty with this just let us know and we will be sure that you get your discount. Happy Valentine’s Day from Little House!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Winner of February's Common Thread Give-Away is....

Kristen Lauffer is the winner of this picture of Fran and Meg by Jon Katz! Congratulations Kristen!!

Next Month's Artist of the Month will be Maria Wulf, so do check her blog the first Monday of next month. I will be sure to remind you!!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Check Out Red's Picture Today!

Don't miss seeing Jon Katz's blog today (Bedlam  He has a wonderful picture of his dog, Red working. Red's mindset is so focused and Jon's blog right on! I now plan to be more like Red and Jon today in my work and thank them both for their inspiration!

If you haven't signed up for Jon's free give-away photo of Fran and Meg, don't miss the opportunity.  Simply go to his wife, Maria's website, ( and leave a comment for Jon, and you will be registered to win this print, all ready for framing! Good Luck!

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Valentine for My Readers

I am so excited to announce my first ever Etsy Shop Sale! In honor of Valentine's Day I have added many  new items to my little shop. I invite you to stop by and take a look!  To take advantage of our sale simply click on "Apply Shop Coupon Code" and then type in code "LOVE15" at checkout to receive 15% off any of my in stock items. The coupon code will be valid through the whole month of February.

I must tell you that putting these new pieces together reminded me of when I would prepare my Valentines for my classmates in elementary school.  Each of my items is made with the same love and care and with the intent to delight the receiver. Hand-embroidered stitching, interesting, silly and vintage buttons and/or special embroidered messages are included to help you communicate to your best friends just how special they are to you!

We seem, no matter what age, to be almost too careful about revealing all the love we have for those near and dear to us,  though perhaps I have just revealed my conservative Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.  I used to think it was just my mom’s careful way to keep me humble, but later learned that it is part of a whole culture that comes with showing loyalty and love instead of openly expressing love through words.  I think both are important.

No matter how you tell people you love them, I believe it is so important to let them know that they are special.  The world has become too hard, and too violent these days.  I pray that this Valentine’s Day be a day of peace, gentleness and love.  My wares express the sweetness of home and home-made love, for that is what I think is most needed in this world.

Thank you for visiting me at Little House!  With love, jane

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Another Common-Thread Give-Away!!

February’s featured artist is Jon Katz, a New York Time’s best-selling author and professional photographer as well as husband to my friend, Maria Wulf. I remember first meeting Jon when he and Maria came to my house to photograph some of my pincushions for Maria's Pig Barn Gallery Functional Art Show.  I kenneled my then unruly puppy, as I didn’t want Cassie’s over-exuberance to violate he and Maria.  I hadn’t a clue that it could have been my dog, Cassie’s best experience ever with this gentle dog psychologist, nor did I know that Jon would have been proud of me for taking in this out-of-control bizarre and homeless puppy, and so I locked her up and didn’t let Jon near her. I now know that Jon loves animals, and writes  many stories about these precious and often irregular animals.

When Maria told me that he is a writer, I didn’t understand and thought perhaps he just journals like I do. No, Jon is a professional writer, and not an unpublished or unknown one at that!  He is a New York Times best-selling author, as well as a professional photographer, journalist and blogger.  Shortly after meeting and listening to Jon talk, I couldn’t wait to read about him and started with his autobiographical book, Running to the Mountain:a Midlife Adventure.  The timing was just right, as I was encountering major alterations in my life and my first encounter with him at the gallery show proved to be a meeting that opened up a whole new aspect of myself.  Jon has that affect on people.

Jon captures the hearts of his readers.  His transparency and love benefit all who come to know him. Although his beloved stories about his dogs are likely what he is best known for, his life’s experiences and deep probing nature makes him a truly interesting person and reading his daily blog has become my antidote to the toxic world that can de-rail us all.  Each day brings a refreshing glance into the world of Jon’s Bedlam Farm experiences, which is to encounter what I consider to be the real issues of living and embracing life and love. I encourage all of my readers to get to know Jon as I have through his blog and books.

Don’t miss his featured Common-Threads free Give-Away, a signed print of Fran and Meg, shown above. It is suitable for framing and will bring a touch of Bedlam Farm right into your home. Simply sign up for this free give-away by visiting his wife's website, and leaving a comment for him there anytime Monday through Wednesday of this week. I would encourage you to browse and read Jon's blog, well.

I have written an Ode to Jon, for he has become one of my favorite authors. It falls short when it comes to being lyrical and I will not attempt to sing it, but it is truly a heartfelt praise of this beloved author and friend.

Ode to Jon Katz
He is a kind, gentle, and creative man,
A mesmerizing story teller,
Who puts all at ease.
With a perceptive and artistic eye that
Sees within and captures the good in all he encounters,
With photograph and words he shares all he sees.
Daring to ask the raw and gnawing questions,
While facing life squarely,
He transparently shares with us all,
His yearnings, thoughts and feelings,
His short comings and his fears.
Serious, but humorous as well,
He is a seeker, a lover of life,
Devoted husband to Maria,
And good friend to many.
He is a gentle master of his animals,
Though he might say he is a steward of them instead.
Respecting, and earning their trust and affection.
They know his character and he knows theirs.
Always reaching deep within
To find their hearts and souls,
Just as he does with people,
Drawing out the inner beauty within.
Taking care each day to not neglect
An opportunity to love life,
Jon embraces the world, his animals, and his friends.
It is no secret that he is soft.
He writes of that softness
And all who read Jon’s blog
Or his books will agree
There is no malice, but only love within.
It makes me smile when I think of him.