do interesting things

July 31, 2010

It was while I was in the process of moving into a house two blocks away from where I was living that I had long conversations with every neighbor who I’d often briefly encountered during the year when I had lived right next to them.

The quirky man who lives next to my garage heard me sanding an old table and brought over about twenty different electric sanders to see what worked the fastest. The plant man whose garden I had an impressive view of from the roof where I grew my plants saw the sad little pine tree my roommate had thrown away and carried it into his house with confidence there was still some life left in it. The small old woman who lives across the alley happily, and extremely slowly, carried our unwanted kitchen supplies into her house. “I used to do things like move a street over from where I lived,” she said on her way. “That was when I was young and ambitious. My parents thought I was crazy.” My parents, overhearing, smiled and nodded. These are the ways that life changes with age.

And yet, throughout the process of wheeling my container garden up the street to my new house on an old Radio Flyer wagon I’d received from a lovely woman on Freecycle, and while disbursing all our unwanted belongings to the neighbors, and as I restored my trash-picked furniture, I was convinced again and again of the notion that the key to life is to do interesting things. Things that spark up conversations with people you would never meet otherwise. Things that remind strangers of what they haven’t considered doing since they were young. Things that raise eyebrows and elicit questions because they aren’t typical. Collecting conversations and interactions with people in every which way.


I remember one year on our dad’s-birthday-eve, I stumbled upon my sister in the garage hammering nails into a long board on which she had painted tye-dye colors and written some generic message like “Dad, you’re a pal!” with big sloppy letters. It was a coat rack, she said.

I must have been about 7 years old or so, and at the time it was a favorite pastime of mine to hammer nails into boards. Unable to let my sister one-up me at my own specialty, I spent quite some time thinking how I could turn one of my nail-and-hammer projects into a birthday gift for my dad. Finally, I had it! My grand idea was to hammer different size nails into a block, tie on an extra nail as a mallet, and there you had the perfect musical instrument birthday gift.

When my dad opened his gift after kindly admiring Krisha’s coat rack, he sort of smirked in my directions and said knowingly, “Kayla, you just wanted to hammer nails into a board, didn’t you?” Having been raised to be proud of my creative efforts, I was pretty hurt by my dad’s failure to appreciate his new musical instrument. But I also remember acknowledging in my upset 7-year-old mind that he was right. I did just want to hammer nails into a board.

Last night I sat in my room hammering nails into a board, and I remembered my unappreciated birthday gift that was now turning into something more innovative than even I had expected. After years of disentangling spools of thread regardless of how many times I try to gently organize them in a box or nicely stack them in a window sill, I stumbled upon the realization that they would hang wonderfully from nails hammered in a board.

After a trip to the wonderful Construction Junction to acquire an old piece of crown molding, a cut and paint job, and an evening spent hammering nails into a board, I have discovered the way to keep my spools untangled and looking nice:

stripped naked tree

A person lived under a tree in a lot around the corner from my house.

It was a giant pine tree with bushy branches that stretched all the way down to the ground and formed thick walls around its base.

We only saw signs of someone living there because a shopping cart filled with odds and ends rested outside the enclosed area. There was something scandalous about it—a person using branches as a house right on the corner of a heavily trafficked street. Average people have houses built with so-altered nature that it’s no longer recognizable, but here a man had altered himself to coexist with a tree’s needs instead of the other way around. Then there was something majestic about it—breaking conventional boundaries blatantly and romantically before our eyes.

It didn’t last long. People talked. City organizations were contacted. People with power waltzed under the tree and took pictures which displayed makeshift walls and roof shielding the treed space from rain, clothes hanging neatly from branches, cushioned chairs seated gently inside, belongings arranged around the bark’s base.

Yesterday as I passed the tree, some people with power had trimmed the branches up to at least my height. All the contents of the occupant’s stay stood exposed. The temporary house was violated and cheapened into the neatly defined purpose that we make for trees in empty lots: decoration, perhaps. Oxygen only an excuse.

This deconstruction stated that we disproved of this person’s submitted housing purpose of an otherwise unused tree. Branches were judged insufficient at their attempted task of hiding the homeless from our sight as well as we’re accustomed. When we saw the cart parked outside the tree perimeters, it forced contemplation of the circumstances of someone who lives that way, and those seconds of thought intrude too greatly on some’s comfort.

Today all the belongings are gone. The evidence of human life is cleared away and the tree looks as though it stood in that lot by itself indefinately.

The only reminder of the person who lived there is an empty shopping cart resting near the curb.

I’ve discovered that sewing together pieces of scrap paper has an unavoidable attraction. Here is the culmination of my evening spent therapeutically attempting to recreate my jumbled life of paper clippings by sewing it into a somewhat cohesive refurbished whole:


I made it with the intention of writing a letter on it. But I’m still trying to figure out how to place the words.

nothing so small

January 22, 2009


I’ve fallen in love with scraps.

I recently decided to make a quilt, and the hefty task has left me scouring the earth to compile the scraps of other people’s lifestyles. With my recently acquired best friend freecycle, I’ve found myself traveling to various porches and doors of strangers where fabricked surprises like portions of a grandma’s old clothes and patterned remnants of childhood fetishes have been bagged and discarded into my hands.

I must admit that I acquired a lot of junk in my fabric scrap collection endeavors. It’s inevitable to encounter actual garbage inside of piles that other people consider garbage enough to get rid of. But I’ve also collected millions of mismatched pieces that I suspect, if combined in exactly the right way, might actually create something almost good.

I recently accompanied a friend on a trip to the fabric store to acquire large sheets of fabric for the quilt she’s planning. It was great to have endless options before our eyes, but it was also terrifying. New things generally make me a little nervous. Those dumb dollar signs have a way of amplifying mistakes. And there’s such great potential for mistakes in quilting and in life.wasted1

I’ll stick with scraps.

So now I have piles of various shapes and styles of fabric scattered about my floor waiting to be endlessly ironed, monotonously sorted, tediously combined, and slowly transformed into something beautiful with endless histories residing inside.

have less, live more

January 12, 2009

Lasposter-tv-sm4t year I got really interested in the idea of a buy nothing Christmas, so this past Christmas I found myself scrambling for thrify and creative ideas that would result in me having nice and at least somewhat desirable gifts to give to each of my family members.

This is what my efforts led me to discover:

I rediscovered that the idea of gift-giving is quite a beautiful thing. When making all of my gifts, I found myself still dwelling in the stress of time limitation. But it seemed like the hours I spent working on someone’s gifts sort of forced me to keep that person in my mind: what they like, what they need, how they’re doing, etc. These things became more important than how much money I had left in my Christmas budget.

So now that Christmas is over, I thought I’d post some of the creations I gave as gifts that took a good amount of thought and time and improved my whole Christmas experience (and hopefully that of those who received them).

I did a screenprinted-like shirt for my brother-in-law:


It just takes making a stencil with freezer paper, ironing it to a plain shirt, and then painting over it with acrylic paint and a sponge paintbrush. It makes for a nice screenprint look minus the costly materials and the ability to make multiple copies of it without making the stencil all over again.

For my sister I made a sketchbook out of recycled paper and fabric:


I pieced together fabric scraps to make the design on the cover then I collected lots of nicely-colored used paper and sewed designs on the pages and bound them with a sweet criss-cross binding design.

I also knitted her some glittens or mloves or whatever you call the combination fingerless gloves with mitten cap things:


For these I used the fluffiest and warmest yarn I could find and combined a couple patterns and made some of it up. Here’s a good pattern for some similar gloves.

I also quilted some pot holders for my mom. And for my dad I made handmade paper by creating pulp from old paper scraps. Then I used my ancient typewriter to fill the pages with my poetry.

I can’t remember the last time before this past Christmas that I was more excited to give gifts than get them.