Tag Archives: mental health


July Sugar Block

July Sugar Block

Here’s this month’s block that Amy Gibson calls “serve.” It was an interesting combination of techniques: quarter square triangles, paper foundation piecing, and the basic nine patch assembly. It was a fun task to grab some stripes and make them line up the way I wanted them to. I’ve always had an irrational fear of stripes in my quilting–probably because they never lined up in one direction, like when my grand mother used to force me to wear striped pants when I was a kid! But they worked great this time around and I’m so happy!

Anyway, Amy put it to us to “serve.” She quoted the Bible and seemed to find some solace there, and that’s cool. I liked her bullet list at the end of the entry that was a bunch of down to earth methods to be a better person. Like patience in line, giving people your seat, doing others favours when they ask you to (ie getting them a drink from the fridge while you’re on your way over; there’s a common request in our house!) etc. Just being good. I’d like to think I follow those tenets of living. Although depression makes it very hard sometimes.

For those who’ve lived with a person who is depressed they probably think it’s a selfish disease. It looks like that on the outside. But it’s not. It’s an exhausting disease. And any medications don’t help. And for the same reason depressives often fall on depressant drugs like alcohol and pain killers, the pharmaceutical companies produce meds that have the same sedating effects. It’s a drag, quite literally.

Bronwen's tomato sprouting seeds

Bronwen’s tomato sprouting seeds

One thing that’s been inspirational lately is watching Bronwen grow up. She has developed interests that I never had at her age, like nature. This girl is a whiz at sprouting seeds and keeping plants alive.  Her father and I are terrible at it, but she’s got a green thumb. She also remembers factoids about certain trees, plants, and animals. She makes sure our fish and invertebrates are doing well each day. It’s so refreshing to hear her spout off about that stuff. Don’t get me wrong–she’s a normal kid, too. She loves video games, cartoons, Disney princesses, and being colour coordinated.

When she was a baby she felt like a small animal that was constantly unhappy. My husband and I were fighting day and night to keep her and ourselves alive. It was a strange feeling. I didn’t feel love for her at that point and I’m not proud of that. But in “service” of this person that I wasn’t particularly fond of yet, I did all the laundry, diaper prep for the diaper service, bathing (in between my own mandatory sitz baths), and bottle cleaning. Now she’s school age and we can talk things through. We are happy we served her well and she is a happy, thriving child about to enter kindergarten.

an earring bundle!

an earring bundle!

I just sold these earrings yesterday. It was so awesome to see a happy lady take some merchandise off my hands. Some of you may not know this, but I actually make jewelry too! I just haven’t made any lately because I have a full inventory! So there you have it: another facet of me. It’s a lot of fun meeting people who will be wearing my goodies.

This lady who came to my home had two very gregarious young boys. The oldest told me he was five and by the looks of his brother (who was dressed in a super hero costume) he was likely around three. They immediately spotted the trappings of another kid’s house: building blocks laying around, balloons, and of course they couldn’t resist the keyboard at full blast. Now the old me (especially prior to motherhood) would have dwelled on those kids making such noise. But in service to my client I talked to the kids about kid stuff and talked with their mom about mom stuff. It was fun, really. And it was all following the basic tenets of being a good person, I think. And I think that’s what I read into Amy Gibson’ s blog post about service. Give it a read. See what you think.

mighty bail of batiks

mighty bail of batiks

These are just some wicked awesome batiks that I wanted to show off! They’re for my next quilt! I never used to think much of batiks but I’m starting to really like them.

Have a fun week everyone!


Forgiving your Mengele

Forgiving your Mengele

Don’t get me wrong–I’m no revisionist claiming that the atrocious acts that this notorious doctor perpetrated didn’t happen or were less disgusting and assaulting to the human beings it was done to. No. I watched a film on Youtube called Forgiving Mengele. At first I thought that this incredibly noble woman was alone with her plight, as are all Holocaust survivors. But then I got to thinking all survivors of any abuse have our own suffering, often inflicted by a kind of Mengele in our lives. For me that’s the hardest aspect of living now–finding ways to stop hurting.

According to Eva Kor (the focus of the film) the only way to heal one’s self is to forgive your worst enemy. In her experience, carrying all that hate was toxic and making the rest of her life excruciatingly difficult.

What blew me away was that other survivors in this film disagreed with her concept of forgiveness, saying that to simply say she forgave Mengele for the murder of her twin sister (he conducted unconscionable experiments on twin children, often dissecting them alive after injecting chemicals just to see how they affected the body) was hollow and impossible for them. Some of the victims even raised their voices to her saying that she was wrong to feel the way she felt! It was very powerful.

As a youngster when I was being sexually abused it was so easy to hate. Therefore I thought it was the correct way of feeling! I hated everything and everyone, reserving my most acerbic disposition for men. I hated my father, male teachers, even any male friends I had in school. They were all evil. That is until I felt the security of a man who got in my corner and said “If I ever find that guy, I’m going to nail his nuts to a post and kick him over.”  That’s a direct quote from my very first boyfriend. He loved me and was appalled at how nothing was truly done to mitigate all of the insidious abuses done.

See, it didn’t start out with a full on sexual assault. No no. It was much sneakier than that. Much more devious. I was in the kitchen in one of our family homes that we had over the years. He had asked me for a drink of Coke. Being a nice little Italian girl hostess I jumped up to get it. I got a glass for myself as well. He drank his fast. It was a hot day. I drank mine as well. The glasses were sweaty. So was he. I kept moving away from him on the couch, but he kept squeezing closer. He said that my bum was big enough and I didn’t need more pop as I got up to get more. He forced me to sit back down because he was so close to me now. He kept telling me to sit. Bear in mind that I was 13 years old, maybe 120 pounds and he was the same age but well over 200 pounds. He easily intimidated and kept me sitting, sweating. I remember needing to go to the bathroom so bad. I waited until he was gone before I got up. That was the first time I ever felt so trapped and afraid. It would become familiar for two years while the violence and intimidation escalated.

After everything came out–all the gruesome details about what happened to me and I was still reeling from how to deal with what happened, I found out another interesting piece of the puzzle. My abuser had been forced to watch pornography and the actual sex act between his parents. This had been going on since he was about five years old. Knowing that, it made it a little easier to understand why he might choose to act the way he did. Don’t misunderstand–it was his choice to do what he did. He didn’t have to. He could have chosen to find out that what had been done to him by his father was also wrong. But for whatever reason, he didn’t. It just passed through him onto me like an electrical current.

Of course, I’m at that point in my life where I’m interminably frustrated, even tormented with the concept of forgiveness. I’d love to forgive. But knowing something intellectually is not the same as knowing it emotionally. I tell this to my psychiatrist every time I see him. “How’s it going?” “Intellectually? Fine. Emotionally? Shit.”

I think that’s why I love hand quilting so much. Every stitch, especially in an echo pattern around a Dresden plate, gets you further and further away from the centre. It’s like drinking scotch. “Forget the pain for now.” I want the pain to be forever gone, but this is all I have for now. I do believe that forgiveness can help someone’s recovery, but so far I’m just not that noble. I would, if called upon, go to court and testify against this guy with a vengeance. They’d have to pry me off of the witness stand. I can only hope that he gets caught taking his violence too far. I believe it will happen. I hate knowing it but it seems likely. He’s a Mengele. He seems possessed by his need to hurt women.

They say Mengele used to shout for twins when cattle cars were unloaded at Auschwitz. Every train load “Zwillinge! Zwillinge!” Only my Mengele didn’t shout for me or for any other victims. He simply found us and used us up.

Stitches are steps

Stitches are steps

Music and Meaning

Concert Tee!

Concert Tee!


Fess up–as quilters we are natural hoarders. It begins with fabrics and thread, different needles, pins, machines, thimbles, interfacing, machine feet, you get the idea. I have another collection that my husband hates anew every time we move house: my records and record players.

just some of the records

just some of the records

This is not all of the albums. I have other nooks and crannies and boxes with albums. I started collecting when I was 15. Nobody thought it was cool then. People ask me “why are you a collector of a dead format like vinyl?” My answer: economics. I used to come across the odd $20 spending money at that age. One CD used to cost about $25 in those days. So I could scrape together the money for sales tax and get one CD, or I could be smart and get almost 20 records–they averaged about $1 apiece at the flea market! I also got records for free at the market because I was a good customer.

The habit starter

  The habit starter

This is the lovely Philips HiFi that I got from my Gramps in 1996. Today it serves as an aquarium stand. Our reef tank sits up there–30 gallons! This machine is an interesting piece and I’m so glad I still have it. It started out as a stereo in 1946–the year Gramps went into the Royal Navy. Of course, it was oak covered in a mahogany veneer. Can you believe they covered actual hard wood with plastic veneer?!

Anyway, by the time I got it the veneer was crumbling and making a huge mess. When I stripped off the veneer with a heat gun (truly toxic work and I should have worn a mask, but hey, I was a kid) the wood was revealed and was nice but only in places, so I decided to paint the piece. I used lead based white house primer and mallard green paint that was so old it didn’t stir properly, so it was streaky. I coated it with about three coats of high gloss polyurethane.

It stayed green for years until I met my husband and we moved into our first home that we bought together. The green didn’t go with our furniture. So I brought out the red! So it’s been red for the past decade or so.

Another question I get about it: Does it work? Answer: it needs new tubes and the turn table needs a new belt. The AM radio does work–picks up stations as far away as Seattle, which is quite a distance from here. But with the aquarium on top, the lid obviously stays closed and it serves as a stand.

I used to sit in front of this hifi where those circles are (the spots where the speakers are covered by rough fabric) with my open bottle of vodka and I’d line up my codeine tablets on the salmon coloured carpet. I used to play songs like “I can’t make music” “My little town” and anything by Art Garfunkel, James Taylor or Carole King and cry. There was a great deal of sadness in life back then.

I had developed borderline personality disorder but it was completely unnoticed, not monitored, and I was twisting in the wind. I had tried to seek help for myself but everywhere I sought it followed the belief system that because I was still in active addiction I was unable to be helped. I would have to quit drinking, which would be the easy bit, and quit those pain killers. Not so easy. I still have to make a conscious decision every day to not allow any minor discomfort to be an excuse to take pain killers of any sort. But regardless of the latter, there is something condemning about telling someone in dire straits that they are, essentially, unhelpable. It makes the addiction take an even firmer grip–at least, it did for me. I wouldn’t quit opiate pain killers until 2004, when my choices were to move on to heroin because of my high tolerance, or death.

I started hearing the same music differently after I was released from the detox facility in August, 2004. I found that my entire music collection was vinyl– a very physical format. One has to remove the disc from several layers of plastic and paper and then place a needle on it. And then you have to be careful around the stereo because you don’t want any skipping. Also you can’t go too far away because the record only plays for about 17 minutes on one side. I used to stack my albums on one of those steel spindles that drops the records down. Kind of like an in-home juke box set up. But I put too many on there once and broke the spindle! 😦 Big sad emoticon!

I still love records as a mom, wife, quilter, etc. And I love having my collection swaddling me in my home along with all my other stuff–mounds of fabric, threads, journals, books of poetry, CDs, paints, canvas, beads….But I’m so glad that they have more meaning now. It’s kind of like whenever I hear the lines at the end of “A Song For You” which was written by Leon Russell but made famous by the Carpenters in 1972: “And when my life is over, remember when we were together/we were alone and I was singing this song for you/we were alone and I was singing this song for you.” Karen Carpenter died at 32 in 1983, and this is why many fans listen to this song and wonder over it’s prophetic meaning. But I hear it and think about my old life and am glad that it’s dead.

Now the trick is keeping myself alive–and keeping the desire to stay alive. I’m older than Karen was, and most people in highschool thought I’d be the first to die, and I’m not. Katherine passed away from cancer. I need to reconcile the old labels I got: “crazy” “reckless” “dangerous” “unhelpable.”

Wish me luck.




Explore with me

Explore with me





explore sugar block

I think it’s very interesting that this month’s Sugar block (a fun BOM over on Amy Gibson’s sweet little blog) was an elaborate pinwheel which even included some paper piecing.  She called the block “explore.”

Now in her post about this theme she mentions how we all tend to be creatures of habit and want to do the same things. I’m so there! Like she said, I like to eat the same foods, watch the same tv shows, pick Bronwen up, or conversely drop her off at her scheduled places (I am the proud owner of a solar powered key chain that flashes “Mom’s Taxi.”) I just generally go about my day and do the same things.

Yesterday was my birthday. This year was that fun year where I got the terrific birthday gift of needing to renew my driver’s license. That was amusing. But I got a lovely ice cream cake and an enthusiastic daughter who insisted on putting all the candles around it. We had to convince her that daddy would light them, though.

Ice cream cake!!


Just to save you the trouble of counting the candles, I am 33 years old now. I have lived longer than many friends ever thought possible. This is one of the things me and the psych talk about all the time–living as long as I have is an accomplishment.  At least, to him it is. For me, not really. Like eating the same foods or taking the same route home from work, I’ve tried to get people to understand how it bothers me that life is so much like one of those punch card machines in a workplace. Wake up. Punch in. Have lunch. Punch out. Back to work. Punch in. Go to bed. Punch out. What’s truly depressing about this analogy is that even my doctor who sits and listens to this often agrees with me. He’s admitted to me that he feels like that a lot too. Well that’s no good! It feels like I’m preaching to the choir!

So okay. I keep myself busy. But I try to find different ways of quilting that teach me new techniques and keep my hands busy. Just last week I finished a mystery quilt that was a terrific Kimberly Einmo design called chain of stars:

Chain of stars quilt top


I did it all in batik fabrics that were on sale at the Cloth Castle. I’ve never worked solely with batiks like this before. I consider this a bit of a stretch for me–it’s a traditional, yet modified block placement of a Jacob’s ladder quilt. I don’t do a ton of traditional stuff, so making this was interesting. (Although I did end up ordering her flying geese ruler and jelly roll ruler because they look like they’re pretty awesome and I think I will be making more flying geese.) Now to do this quilt required some planning. I had to number the fabrics and make sure they all coordinated just so. I think it turned out great!

But sometimes it’s just as fun and gives the same feeling of accomplishment when one gets to just play at the machine. So I found another pattern I liked that was in Jenny Doan’s “Quilting Quickly 2” class on Craftsy that was a prism quilt made of two jelly rolls (I used one jelly roll called “flirt” and extra yardage but you get the idea). Straight line sewing, and minimal crucial match points. I even had enough left over to make an oversized saw tooth border:

Flirt prism quilt


The next truly traditional quilt I’m going to tackle (after I’m done all the other things I long to make, haha!) is the double wedding ring. The class is available finally on Craftsy. If you’re an addict like me, it is a very helpful class. But I digress.

Quilting makes me feel warm, both literally and figuratively. The iron and sitting under a quilt sandwich while stitching it does work up a sweat on hot days. Figuratively it makes my heart feel like I’m connected to my Auntie (in Italian, Zia) over in Italy who had to be the best with an iron that I’ve ever seen. She introduced me to the power of a pressure steam iron. I have a Rowenta just like her old one now and I wouldn’t trade it for any other wimpy iron! I think of her all the time when I’m pressing.

I think of my grand mother (in Italian, Nonna) who lives in Canada but in the Kootenays, which is far enough away from me that I only see her once or twice a year. She is an avid crocheter, knitter, and can make her 1960s Singer, well, sing! She’s one of those lucky people who can see an image on a pattern or walk up to any doily and figure out how it was made and replicate it. She and I are quite alike. She has always lived her life on her terms (although we suspect that she and my grand father, who is almost 11 years older, were arranged to be married. She won’t admit to this.) and I think she’s fairly satisfied with what she was delivered. She’s recently suffered a stroke which has shaken her sense of mortality loose a bit.

I remember when she had her first mastectomy about 12 years ago. We went to visit because we were worried for her and wanted to be there. I remember leaning in to give her a hug and kind of making it a side-lean so that I wouldn’t brush up against her prosthetic. I was afraid of it. A part of my unbreakable Nonna had been cut away, just like any other mortal. But she took my other side and pulled it in tightly, saying “You’re not going to break me!” in her typical irreverent tone. She had kicked cancer’s ass by going full boar and having the breast removed when she didn’t have to. Removal of the tumor and radiation was an option but she didn’t want the suffering just to save her boob. I admired that then and still do.

My iron wielding Zia in Italy passed away from cancer about three years ago. I saw her last in 1995. She too lived as she wanted, but within the parameters of her generation’s tolerance. Meaning, she had an elementary school education only; she was a wife and mother. That was her lot and she accepted that. However she had the loudest voice at the table and was large and in charge. Man she fought her illness. But I never had the money to get over to her in time before it killed her. Something invisible to the naked eye killed her. It was an impossibility to me. I was in the hospital after a suicide attempt when she died. I had to borrow the common area phone and talk with Nonna, numb the both of us, saying how hard she fought.

And that’s what life seems to be for people like me. Sure, I am not ill with cancer or some other horrible affliction. But I do have a host of psychiatric problems that date back almost 20 years. Just like me, each morning they’re there to greet me. Punch in. Punch out. The best I can do is keep stitching and keep one foot in front of the other, just like everyone else.

Brownen's embroidered feet


Gratitude is abundant


Not to sound like I’m having a cheesy Oprah moment where I’m “making the connection” or generally having a eureka moment, but I thought I’d post about gratitude being around me.

I’m on a bit of a philosophical kick right now because it’s just the sewing machine and me all day while my family is out at school and work. And lately I’m doing a TON of strip piecing, which is just like sewing down an Alberta highway–a zillion kilometers of 1/4″ straight seam allowance at a zillion kilometers an hour. Not that I’m complaining. It’s just that one gets to thinking about other stuff while doing that.

I’ve gotten to the issue of gratitude. Initially when I started quilting (when I was pregnant with Bronwen, so about 5 years ago) I relied a lot on my basic sewing knowledge that I’d gotten through formal lessons as a kid. Yep–my parents put me in proper garment sewing lessons at the age of about 9. They let me use mom’s 1960s era made-of-Detroit-steel Singer at home to finish my projects. I made a shirt, some neon pink sweat pants (complete with elastic waist), a neon green draw string gym bag, you get the idea. It was the early 1990s and all things neon ruled my world!

Fast forward to 2008: I had a new (plastic housing) Singer sewing machine (I still have that very basic machine and would like a new one, hint hint to my husband!) and a book of baby quilt patterns. I was feeling, well, maternal. I was just about to be pregnant and wanted to get into a domestic, yet creative and artistic hobby that could benefit my new family. So quilting made sense. And I thought I felt great!

I made the cutest cloud quilt that was the best introduction to piecing because it called for only two fabrics and was made mostly with strip sets. Great! Of course, not too many points matched up because I didn’t have proper cutting technique (I didn’t realize there was this nifty tool called a rotary cutter) and I had no idea about how to get 1/4″ seam allowances. They were closer to 1/2″. And that’s when I was consistent.

baby cloud quilt

baby cloud quilt

And then the part I looked forward to most–hand quilting! I have been a cross stitcher and embroider-er for enough time to know how to make pretty stitches. But I didn’t know one needed batting with NO scrim. Nor did I even think about basting. So my hands were pretty torn up and the quilt has virtually no quilting on it. But it still works. I am also proud of the fact that I mitred my binding!

mitred on my first try!

mitred on my first try!

Anyway, why this foray into quilting history? Well, my local quilt shop, http://clothcastle.com handed out a form to say they were holding a quilt show for log cabin quilts. There was a small entry fee and whomever won the contest got to keep half the pot and donate the rest to a cause of their choice. I like a challenge and I did have a hankering to make a new quilt. I knew I wouldn’t win (and I didn’t) because I didn’t even know about rotary cutters, come on!

But one thing they did was to say that we were to make these log cabins our own. Well, I made a ridiculously bold quilt, that’s for sure. It had needle turned applique, embroidery and hand quilting.

I finished it in the hospital. I managed to get the machine piecing finished at home but felt it was still lacking something despite its alternating blue and orange palette. (Both fabrics were prints too, so it was super busy already.)

I wish I could tell you that I was in the hospital for something easy like my gallbladder, which happened about a year later, but one morning when Bronwen was four months old, after I finished the bottle ritual that had worn me thin, I opened the cabinet to take my now large cocktail of anti psychotics, SSRIs, and anti anxiety drugs. The bottles were very delightful looking plastic vessels that shone in the sunlight. I had amassed many pills. I had amassed many horrific thoughts. I knew I was about to do something very wrong but felt my body acting in spite of any rational thoughts that were trying to break through. I swallowed every pill I had, excepting the Prozac. It was meant to make me happy and I didn’t feel like that drug would help my cause of death.

I went upstairs and wrote a lengthy letter to my husband and daughter outlining my reasons for leaving them. I tried, most of all, to address my daughter to tell her that in no way was this her fault and she should never feel like that.

I closed the letter, getting very groggy and clumsy with the pen now, with the final lines from Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”: “And miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep.” The doubled line really drove home the length of my sadness, I felt. It didn’t matter that I needed to quote someone else to express it.

I woke up several days later in an emergency ward and was shipped off to a mental hospital after being deemed “stable” in the medical sense. While convalescing on ward 4A I had managed to bring in some fabric and had gotten my portable sewing kit out of lockup. But what to do? Embroider! But what? All the names of the patients on the fourth floor with me that I knew. So I set to work.

The result was a crib sized quilt with tons of names on it.

craaaazy busy quilt!

craaaazy busy quilt!

When the quilt show finally came, I’d finished the quilt. I went and saw just how amazing some people with more experience were. It was great! At the end of the show, after the winner was announced, we were to collect our entries. I’d written a blurb to go with my quilt, explaining this story that you just read. And when everyone saw that I was the maker of this bizarre and busy quilt, I got so many hugs. Total strangers were lining up to hug me and wish me the best through my journey of a mixture of post partum depression, existing depression, and a rough personality disorder. They all saw my baby in the stroller and adored her.

This post is for them. They shared a wealth of knowledge in that quilt show–not just of technique and possibilities, but that it’s not always necessary, even in our crazy stiff-upper-lip culture, to keep even our most deepest sorrows to ourselves. Just go to the quilt shop. Hugs abound!

The art of Waiting

The art of Waiting
chain piecing zen

chain piecing zen

As a bead weaver, sometimes poet, sort of singer and drummer and often quilter, people always say I must be so patient.

Right now I am sitting in the parking lot at Wilkinson Prison (wilkey, as we locals call it) waiting for my husband to finish up with a client. (He’s an articled student, not on the wrong side of the bars!)

It has taken a lot of waiting to get here, to this parking lot. I would have called you crazy if you told me 10 years ago I’d have an articling student for a husband and I would be alive.

I didn’t take good care of myself back then. I lived in a condo with my future husband and our cat, who we still have. I’d been in and out of hospital twice. But the worst was yet to come.

It takes a lot of effort and waiting to figure out what we think should be obvious: ourselves. When I was 23 I knew I was living on borrowed time–taking over the counter codeine in prescription quantity to feel high.

I thought it was because I’d gotten physiologically hooked as a teenager. But then the question was asked of me: why did I start taking them in the first place? Answer: suppression.

I had no patience to wait out the bad.

I had no idea that patience could come from within. It can be cultivated. The last time I was hospitalized was in May, 2012. I spent a week intubated in the ICU in a level 1 (no response to stimuli) coma from an overdose. Then I spent another 3 weeks upstairs stabilizing. I endured pneumonia and had pulmonary embolisms. I was alive and hated it.

My body was like one raw nerve ending. I couldn’t even sleep. Neither, I found out, could a woman next door named Sharon. (The only reason I know her name is because the nurses and on call psychiatrists used it often and sternly, as though she were a 2-year-old sitting in time out.) They had her restrained on all 4 limbs. I could hear the harnesses squeaking as she thrashed and screamed “I am being harassed! I want a lawyer!” Repeatedly through the wee hours I would wake to this. Just as I was falling asleep, it seemed, there would be Sharon’s irrational screams.

The night nurse came and stuck a container of hand sanitizer in my room. “What are you doing?” I asked, both exhausted and restless from withdrawal.

“We need to keep this here.”
“She swallows this for the alcohol. Now get to sleep.”

I soon made the connection in my head: this is like labour and delivery. When the anaesthesia was working, (that’s a whole other story!) I could still feel the contractions and would pull on the bed rail. There was no pain, though. In between there was suspended animation as we waited for that disagreeable organ, the cervix, to do its thing.

Sharon’s screams were the contractions. The quiet was the waiting for the contractions.

Like delivering a child, the waiting would end. And in the meantime a new skill would be earned.

I think of this often as I am chain piecing multiple blocks that are the same. Or hand quilting the same blocks–there is peace in repetition and in waiting. Let’s make an art of it and out of it.

I made 40 star blocks!

I made 40 star blocks!