Why I Want a Coloring Book for Christmas

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 8.46.13 AM  I can’t pinpoint what makes visual pursuits like paper projects, quilting, and flower gardening so refreshing to a bizzy dizzy mind, but I have a few theories.

One is that I read and write words all day, so shifting to nothing but color, shape, and design relaxes me. I engage a different, less used part of my mind. With visual pursuits, I’m not explaining, persuading, or struggling to find meaning, as I must when I’m writing.

It’s also playful.

As a writer, I need to do a respectable job with whatever I write. But with visual pursuits, nobody but me cares how well I do. If I make holiday cards, I’m strictly pleasing myself. For me, fooling around with bits of paper is fun. I never get bored with the possibilities for color and texture: ridged green paper, lime checkerboard tissue, bronze matte vellum.card

I have to concentrate hard enough that everything else gets crowded out.

Because I’m not as visually talented as my graphic designer friends, I have to try out the combinations to see what works and what doesn’t. When quilting, what happens if I put this red fabric next to the gold? Repeat that color and create a pattern? Does this fabric work or is it too busy?quilt

 

 

Designing flowerpots and gardens also involves color and design, but now the shapes are 3D, so I have to think how tall and wide each plant variety will get. This leads to a lot of standing around thinking at the garden store and again in my yard. What if I put a lot of shades of purple with white? I shuffle bedding plants around until I have an arrangement that seems to works. Even so, after a few days, I may uproot and relocate a zinnia or geranium if it doesn’t look right.

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While I’m solving a visual puzzle, I can’t think or worry about anything else. I’m completely absorbed. So often our days call for doing things to meet other people’s specifications, so there is real pleasure in envisioning something and then creating it to my specs.

 

I suspect that’s one of the reasons why adult coloring books are popular now. What colors you select are up to you. Only you. I imagine it’s soothing. Filling in a little section is completely under your control, unlike so many things in life. Plus coloring is mindless. No big commitment of time, materials, or brainpower is required. Coloring isn’t earthshattering or important, but it looks like fun and fun is good. I intend to find out.

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Stuffed

Unlike Elizabeth (I’ve Never Had Something Not Burn), I have lots of stuff—a houseful of it! More than I need. But I have trouble parting with it.

I really like my stuff and so much of it has a story.

I got the 1930’s wrought iron floor lamp from my parent’s basement. Now it’s painted blue, but before that it was red, and at one time it was black. I made the small nine-patch quilt because I loved the 1940’s retro print fabric. My bookcases are filled with books that mean a lot to me. I like the mission style desk I bought and refinished years ago.  I still like this stuff.  It makes me happy to have it around. I feel at home because it’s here. And that’s just my office. Lamp & quilt

Lurking in my office closet are piles of old writing samples and presentation supplies related the freelance writing business . . . that I gave up a year ago. I also have paper, clay, jewelry, knitting and craft supplies that I rarely use.  But I might.

Just a few of my bowls . . .

Just a few of my bowls . . .

Or what about all of the bowls I own? Bowls I made years ago when I had access to a pottery studio. Bowls I bought at art fairs. Bowls I picked up in antique stores. I could dirty bowls for several weeks before I’d run out of clean bowls.

And mugs! That collection is even bigger. I could tell you where each one came from—Spain, the North shore, a friend, and on and on. I love them all, but really, how many mugs does a person need?!? Occasionally I give some away when the cupboard gets too full, but there’s still a box of mugs on a basement shelf (don’t tell my husband).

These are just my favorites . . . I have more!

These are just my favorites . . . I have more!

The stuff I’m keeping is still good. I might need it someday.

The classy interview suit I don’t wear—the pants are kinda tight and I’m not looking for a job right now. Will it be hopelessly out of style the next time I’m interviewing or have a funeral to go to?

My box collection. I save shoes boxes and Amazon boxes so I can send cookies and presents to my family in Toledo.  Really, three or four would suffice, but I’m sure I have at least a dozen. My husband has learned to nest them so they take up less room and he weeds them out carefully so I won’t notice and squawk.

Lately, I’ve realized that having a lot of stuff can be oppressive.

I have to dust it, protect it from breaking, or store it.  Managing my stuff takes time and thought. Not just the housekeeping, but also the emotional upkeep of caring about my stuff—remembering the person who gave it to me and feeling torn when I want give it away. Deciding what to keep and what to give away is hard, so I don’t do it very often.

Even divesting myself of all this stuff will be hard. 

I’ve visited too many estate sales in which old hot water bottles, empty picture frames, spare light bulbs, rusty garden tools and other stuff nobody wants was lined up for sale next to kitschy-enough-to-be-cool Christmas decorations. But the sad useless stuff tainted my pleasure in getting a deal on some cookie sheets or a pie plate that my sons actually needed.

Recently, my sister spent hours cleaning and pricing stuff for a garage sale. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but in the end, she didn’t sell that much, so a lot that stuff went to Goodwill anyhow.

A good friend just pitched 19 years’ worth of teaching materials—all those lesson plans, readings, exercises, student samples—that treasure is irrelevant now that she’s retired. But I know she was sad to say goodbye to several decades of a profession she was passionate about.

My husband and I talk about moving to a smaller house someday. If we do, we’ll have to shed a lot of our stuff. I wish I could give it directly to someone who needs it—somebody just starting out who wants a lamp . . . or some bowls. I’d like to give my still-good stuff in a more personal way than just having Goodwill or the Vietnam Vets collect it. I wish I could hand it to somebody who will actually like it and enjoy it the way I have.  I daydream about placing an ad that says, “Come get some great, well-loved stuff—FREE!”

No doubt I’ll be sad when the time comes to move, because I’ll be shucking off an identity and lots of memories. But I hope my life will feel a lot lighter and simpler—more carefree.

Labor of Love

Last September, my oldest son carried the last of his boxes to his car, hugged me goodbye and drove off to greet his future. He was moving across town, not across the country, but I was not fooled into thinking it was a minor move. He was launched and not likely to live with us again. I was proud, happy, and sad.

My husband, in a fit of cleaning and reorganizing our now-empty nest, brought a box of fabric down from the attic. Inside were remnants from the baby quilt I made our oldest along with the design I drew, and the calculations I made before cutting out the pieces. The pattern was simple: soft periwinkle blue and white cotton triangles joined to make rectangles with dark red grosgrain ribbon running diagonally along the seams where the triangles joined. The rectangles were set in a butter yellow border. I’d never made a quilt before and I didn’t know what I was doing—the top of the quilt turned out narrower than the bottom—but it didn’t matter. I did the best I could and learned as I went—like so much of mothering.

Three days before he was born, I was still stitching it. My back ached that dark winter morning, and every time I stood up and stretched over the dining room table to pin a piece, my water leaked a little but I didn’t recognize the signs of his impending arrival.Mike Quilt

Twenty-three years later, I’m well aware of the signs of his arrival at adulthood, and I see the symmetry in the beginning and ending of this phase of active motherhood.

Fabric scraps and design notes from our youngest son’s baby quilt were also in the box. He had recently returned to college, a less permanent departure. One side of his quilt has pink, blue, lavender and gold birds flying across a field of aqua. I was immediately drawn to the fabric I found in Victoria, British Columbia while I lumbered around seven months pregnant during our last family vacation before my youngest arrived. Greg Quilt

The other side of his quilt has a white center that’s bordered by strips of lavender and pink. I hand stitched the outlines of the imaginary birds and butterflies in colored threads against the white. I indulged in this artistic moment during a garage sale we held before moving to a house roomy enough for two boys—by then, I’d learned to enjoy the moments of grace that occasionally occur during the mundane—the essence of motherhood.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mommas out there.