Monday, December 21, 2015

Crazy Crafty: A Sock Monkey's "Tail"

Hand-me-downs work in mysterious ways.

Despite his protestations to the contrary, my older brother is kind of a hip artist; professionally, he works as a graphic artist and screen printer but his passions are illustration, lowbrow culture, and motorcycles.  Being well-connected in the action sportswear industry and motorcycle/chopper scene means that he often gets insider hook-ups.  Fortunately for me, the trickle-down effect applies even when it comes to such pedestrian things as socks!  Recently, I procured from him a few pairs of brand-spanking-new Stance Socks.  In all honesty, I was a little concerned by the obsession my bearded brother and his tough-looking biker friends have with the preciously-patterned, often intentionally-mismated socks (designed and worn by the likes of Rihanna).  One wear of the socks, however, was enough to change my derisive tune.  Without sounding like a paid testimonial, all I will say is that the cushioned sole, the downy-soft yarns, and the comforting compression of the elastic fibers, are total game-changers.  If socks were hugs, then Stance would be my large-bosomed grandma.  This is why, with only three sets to my name, I was reticent to destroy even one pair of these footwear phenoms.  But given the color story and pattern of this particular pair, I was left with no choice but to turn to one of the Depression-era's most popular crafts.

It's nearly impossible to believe that the designers at Stance intended these to be anything but a sock monkey!

In the 1930s, the "Rockford Red Heel," a sock manufactured by the Nelson Knitting Company, became the standard for creating the iconic sock monkey.  With their heathery field punctuated by  "Rockford Red" heels and toes, these socks were practicaly foreordained to become my nephew's refashioned Christmas present.


Every year I make my nephew some kind of stuffed animal as part of Christmas/Birthday/Easter present.  With the socks burning a hole in my creative pocket and the years waning in which he will still be able to appreciate "Pirelephant", Pinkeroni the pink easter bunny, or Egghead the clown, this year was my last chance to be the (sock) monkey's uncle!

"Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle!"
It's a bit creepy but aren't all sock monkeys?

I considered making an apr├Ęs-ski ensemble but with the striped toe of the sock automatically becoming
the sock monkey's permanent knitted cap; the only thing I needed to add was a red pompom on top.

I wish I could say that it was a conscious design choice, but the fact is that I didn't consider a tail when portioning out the precious knitted real estate of these hand-me-down, high-style socks.  Icould tell you that "I'm mad about about [this] chimpanzee" but...

One look at his bright-red hind quarters reveals that he is much more likely a sock baboon (and even
they have tails).  Please excuse me while I go fashion a tail out of sock scraps before Christmas Eve!

Sometimes I think just pretend to make these things for my nephew when I really kind of make them for myself.  Lucky for him, I do hand over custody but I have been granted frequent visitation.  I'm pleased that he continues to enjoy his growing menagerie of stuffed animals because I definitely get a kick out of making them.  Truth be told, if he didn't like them, I probably would continue to make them and keep them for myself.

I hope a new simian styling and a ride in a vintage Hy-Speed wagon do not undermine the street cred
of these super-hip superstar socks.  In fact, I hope that Stance hires me for their new craft division (with
Martha Stewart as the face of the brand, probably).

I even left the branding intact just so that Stance knew I was
serious about collaborating with Rihanna on her next line of socks.

I don't know that it strikes the same cool chord as an internationally-known pop star (or even a group of miscreant bikers), but I think I have a slogan for Stance's as yet untapped market; "Stance: the heart & sole of crafting!"

"The Monkey's Uncle" - Annette Funicello & The Beach Boys


Cheers!

Mr. Tiny

Friday, December 18, 2015

My Father, My Buddy, My Baby

For those who don't follow along on Instagram, I suppose that I should explain our recent radio silence.  Last week, following a terrible accident while under the care of "medical professionals," my father passed away.  Last night we held a memorial service celebrating a brilliant man and a life well-lived.  He deserved so much better from life and from me, but these are the words I could string together in an attempt to honor the bottomless source of creativity, service, and joy that is my hero - my dear father.


Being your father’s favorite child isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be.  Actually, it is fraught with anxiety.  There are the front row views of him playing human Plinko while falling out of the neighbor’s tree (and hitting every branch on the way down), the worry of wondering whether or not he has gone permanently blind after performing a "quick weld" without the benefit of a welding mask.  There is the embarrassment of the long series of notes excusing my junior-high absences that chronicled my diplomatic endeavors in South Africa and the crippling nature of the subsequent traveler’s diarrhea.  In going through his papers, we actually found a rough draft of one such excuse note:

"[Mr. Tiny] hurt his ankle when he kicked his brother.
After severely disabling his brother he turned criminal, 
going on the 'run' and robbing a liquor store.  After the 
ensuing gun battle with police, he fled to Mexico where 
he is hiding out.  And this is why he can't run in P.E." 

There is also a lot of activity directing – the hallway wheelchair races, the sing-a-longs, and the impromptu living room dance parties (some that continued into our final days at the ICU).  But these examples are pretty universal among every “favorite child.”  Am I right?


I love hearing the memories of my dad that keep pouring in from friends and family.  The common themes among these stories are how talented, cheerful, funny, and helpful my dad was.  These remembrances are particularly valuable to me because my own memory is total rubbish.  They remind me of the brilliant, beautiful man who let me walk on his back when he needed a massage (a practice that ended many years ago - I promise you that it was not a contributing factor to his current condition).  They tell me more about the man who taught me how to draw a duck and a horse and a dog as we half-listened to the messages delivered in church.  They tell me about a life lived in service to his fellow man.  This isn’t to say that he was perfect; one memory that I do recall from our early years together features me as a petulant 4-year-old who refused to eat his portion of scalloped potatoes.   This act of defiance quickly became a battle of wills between father and son.  At first, I was handed the fairly-pedestrian threats of not getting dessert, not leaving the table, and not “passing Go” until my plate was cleaned.  Things escalated when neither threats nor bribery were working.  At one point, my mom gathered the other kids from the table and bundled them into their winter coats.  Sitting resolutely at the head of the table, my dad declared that if I didn’t eat the quickly-congealing potatoes, everyone was going to Disneyland without me.  Unmoved, I settled in for a long night at the dining table.  Even as the taillights of our Honda disappeared down the street, it occurred to me what a cruel joke this was to play on my siblings who were headed anywhere that night…but certainly not The Magic Kingdom.  After several trips around the block, my bitter band of brothers and sisters stumbled through the front door to a scene identical to the one they had left before.  With pursed lips, I continued my hunger strike, haughtily ignoring the desperate bargaining and berating.  I could feel the balance of power shifting to my side of the table.  It was at the precise moment when I was sure that I had won when an exasperated, young father unloaded the entire contents of a water pitcher over the head of his “favorite child.”  I think my obstinacy and my flair for the dramatic are genetic.  In the end, the joke is on you, Dad.  Now I can’t stop eating potatoes…it’s like I’m perpetually carb-loading for a marathon that I will never run!


For those who aren’t totally familiar with my dad’s recent history, I’ll give you my version of events.  Eight years ago, just shy of his 54th birthday, my dad suffered a massive stroke that left him totally incapacitated.  We put his life, and ours, into the hands of medical professionals and held vigil night and day.  After a couple of months, our biggest celebration came when he was able to reach up and scratch his nose.  Two very trying years passed, both highlighted by successes and riddled with setbacks.  We were finally hitting our stride when he suffered yet another stroke that seemed to erase the progress he made and left us all wondering if there were to be any more birthdays for him.

Our inclination has always been to avoid reliving those tension-filled days because of the physical response we had to his prognosis.  Unable to train my mind to focus on anything other than overwhelming sadness, I resisted sleep and ached night and day.  For several days, we waited to see if the emergency procedures that were being performed on his behalf would have any positive impact.  Instructed to make peace and say our goodbyes, our family came together to face the most devastating outcome possible.  Then, sustained by IVs, a feeding tube, a ventilator, an arsenal of the latest in chemical engineering, prayers, faith, and the love of our family, he began to rally!

In recent years, it was obvious that many effects of his strokes were lasting- some seemed like cruel jokes.  My dad was a talker; like Will Rogers, my dad never met a man he didn't like and with whom he didn't have at least 5,972 things in common over which he could engage in a lengthy discourse (much to the chagrin of our mother...and the people waiting behind us in line at the grocery store checkout).  After the strokes, his speech became impacted by a syndrome common among stroke victims called aphasia; this made communication a major challenge, particularly with people outside of our family.  My dad was doer; as we dragged our feet behind him, he used every minute of his "free time" to improve our family home and to help neighbors, friends, church members, and extended family.  My dad was a Renaissance man; after replacing the brakes on my car, you would be just as likely to find him painting, cooking, or writing a poem as you would to find him installing a dishwasher or laying tile.  Confined to a wheelchair, he became unable to perform some of the simplest functions of personal care.  As a young man, my dad was an adventurer; he rode motorcycles and raced cars.  And as a father, he made time to take us out of school for a day of fun at museums and parks.  He had the ability to make interminably long road trips to visit family seem like Sunday joy rides.  It then became our responsibility to convey him using “Old Blue,” a specialty van with wheelchair accessibility.

In the wake of his illness and recovery, the biggest surprise was how little about him had changed.  Yes, he had become a little more fragile and a little more tender, but his brilliant mind was intact.  His sense of humor still had us rolling on the floor.  His passion for his wife was abiding.  His love for his children and grandson was abounding.  His concern for others was unwavering.  His faith was steadfast.  His desire to be of service was unyielding, his appreciation for beauty more profound, his courage undefeated.


It is interesting to see how his life was an amazing lesson, one to which I should have been taking more thorough and much more copious notes.  Since his illness, however, the lessons became more obvious.  I have had to learn to be of greater service to others.  I have had to try to be more loving.  I have had to embrace adventure and uncertainty.  I have had to rely on faith.  I've always been hilarious so that was not a problem.  Given the impossibly-big shoes to fill, I have felt utterly inept on the best of days.  Nevertheless, it has been my great honor to serve my father in a way that transformed the tumultuous early years of our relationship into something so pure, so simple, and so loving.  I am not a touchy-feely kind of guy but not a day passed when I didn’t hug the life out him, hold his big meat hook of a hand, and tell him that I loved him.  Even though his language was affected, he had many standard phrases that left our hearts soaring and let us know how deeply he appreciated us, including “I love you,” “Wow,” “Thank you,” “I do,” “Si” (he was bilingual), and “I think you’re beautiful/terrible/wonderful/bloody spectacular/fill in the blank.”   One time, he even told me that he thought I was sexy; I mean, this guy had some serious range.  Being a bit of a rabble-rouser, I always encouraged him to broaden his vocabulary.  Every day when I picked him up from “The Club,” I would buckle him in and ask him if he was ready to go.  When I received an answer in the affirmative, I would shout, “Then let’s…”  and at this point it was his job to fill in the blank with, “GOOOOOO, dammit!”  Just for the record, my mom told me it was okay to say dammit in church – but just today.


He was hilarious.  I honestly don’t know why it is that I spent the first part of my life vowing to be nothing like my father and the most recent part of my life trying so desperately to be half the man that he was.  My efforts to officially canonize him are still under review by the Pope but I just can’t help but remember him as a wonderful disciple of Christ.  He was a stellar example of walking the walk, talking the talk, and being of service to everyone around him.


If you ask my mom, she will tell you that he has become the perfect husband.  He eats what she wants him to eat.  He goes where she wants him to go.  He wears what she wants him to wear.  She is completely in charge of the finances.  And she always knows where he is.  I thought of him as the perfect baby.  With nothing but respect, I began to think of him as my child…my enormous, beautiful, bouncing baby boy.  The correlation works rather literally so you'll have to go with me on this; I changed him, I fed him, I buckled him into a special seat so that we could run errands and get to doctors appointments.  I tucked him in.  I even mashed up his medicine and mixed it with applesauce.  The tenderness I have felt for and from him was probably as parental as anything I will ever experience in this life.  There was genuine beauty in his gentle willingness to submit to us…as we maintained our reverence for his dignity.


My father was there when I took my very first breaths; I was there when he drew his very last.  I suppose that this is what we call the “circle of life,” but I am not ready.  I want a few more chances to scratch him behind the ear, to pluck his errant nose hairs, to rub his back, to hold his hand, to hear him say, “Wow!”  I want to hear him tell me again that I am "pretty special."  Everybody frowned on the idea, but my plan was to "Notebook" my way right along with him.  If you’ve seen that corny movie, then you know what I’m talking about.  In doing so, we would have tested not only God’s plan for us but also the weight capacity of a standard-issue hospital bed.  Yes, my dad left me, but he left me prepared for what lies ahead. 

The greatest gifts my dad has given me are purpose, an understanding of service, and a mother who exemplifies the true meaning of devotion.  No tribute to my father would be complete without acknowledging my beautiful mother.  My dad didn’t just love my mom; he had a passion for her.  That passion was expressed in quiet, simple gestures, in rip-roaring "discussions," and in public displays of affection.  It was intense.  Growing up in a house filled with humor, excitement, strong opinions, and passion, it is no wonder that our life has been, shall we say, colorful.  Through it all, my mom has been the most humble, steadfast, hard-working person I have ever known.  What can I say?  My parents chose the best of the best.  But besides her winning streak on PASSWORD and his regular first-place ribbons at chili cook-offs, my parents have lived a life free from major acclaim and a lot of high-profile credits to their names.  Together they built a life that was rich in ways that were not always obvious to the outside world. 


If you’ll indulge me, I’m going to "pull a Pat" and read you a poem I wrote.  Everyone in my family accuses me of being my mother’s son but writing poems is pure Dad.


THERE’S A LITTLE BROWN HOUSE
WITH A LITTLE BLUE DOOR
WHERE THE PEOPLE INSIDE 
ARE BITTERLY POOR.

THEIR SHABBY, OLD CLOTHES
AREN’T MEANT TO BE FUNNY.
THEY RECYCLE CANS
JUST FOR THE GAS MONEY.

THE CAR THAT THEY DRIVE
HAS TIRES THAT ARE WORN,
HAS BRAKES THAT ARE SQUEALING,
AND AN IMPOTENT HORN.

THE CHILDREN KEEP MOM 
IN A PERMANENT PANIC,
WHILE DAD JUST KEEPS BUSY 
AS HEAD CHEF AND MECHANIC.

THERE ARE SO MANY KIDS
WITH SO MANY NAMES
THAT WHEN ONE GETS IN TROUBLE 
EVERYONE’S BLAMED.

SOME PEOPLE WILL SCOFF
AT THE REDUCED CIRCUMSTANCES
BUT THE FAMILY’S QUITE USED
TO THE GIGGLES AND GLANCES.

DESPITE HOW THINGS SEEM
FROM OUTSIDE THE DOOR,
THE PEOPLE INSIDE 
DON’T KNOW THAT THEY’RE POOR.

THE RAMSHACKLE STRUCTURE
TO THEM IS A COTTAGE.
AND THEY PLAN ON STAYING 
WELL INTO THEIR DOTAGE.

THEIR CLOTHES MAY BE CLASSED 
AS OLD HAND-ME-DOWNS,
BUT COME HALLOWEEN
THEY ARE PIRATES AND CLOWNS.

THEIR CAR IS A CHARIOT
THAT CARRIES THE LOAD
WHEN HUNTING DOWN PALM FRONDS
O’ER THE BUMPS IN THE ROAD.

CHEERFULNESS REIGNS 
AT THIS HUMBLE DWELLING
BUT THERE’S STILL TIME FOR FIGHTS,
CALLING NAMES, AND SOME YELLING.

THE CHARM OF THIS TRIBE
MAY BE LOST ON OTHERS,
BUT TO PEER THROUGH THE WINDOW
ONE QUICKLY DISCOVERS - 

THAT HIDDEN INSIDE,
THEY’VE COLLECTED A TREASURE
THAT CANNOT BE COUNTED
FOR IT’S FAR BEYOND MEASURE.

THIS FORTUNE THEY PRIZE
ALL OTHERS ABOVE
IS GOD’S GREATEST GIFT…
A FAMILY’S LOVE.


In his very last hours with us, I think my dad was just waiting for me to ask him one more time, “Are you ready?  Then let’s go, dammit!”  Instead, as his breathing slowed, I told him how proud I was of him.  I asked him to watch over us.  I thanked him for being an incredible father.  I told him how much I loved him.  

It was never a question whether my dad loved me or not but he gave me plenty of opportunities to wonder if, given the choice, we would ever be friends in "real life."  On the last day I shared with him before he entered the hospital, he gave me one final gift.  In between the Christmas carols and dance routines, he traded in his typical loving refrain for something much more precious to me.  Whenever I entered or left the room, instead of offering me his usual “I love you,” he looked me in the eye and repeated “I like you.  I like you.  I like you.”  I like you too, Pop.

My Father • My Buddy • My Baby
November 2, 1953 - December 11, 2015

"Dear Father" - Colin Hay
Cheers!

Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Crazy Crafty: The ADVENT of the Dollar Store ADVENT!!!

The dollar store is the only retail environment in which I can afford to browse.  Typically, I am the type of shopper who treats a trip to the store like a combination obstacle course/scavenger hunt, jumping hurdles and ferreting out the necessary items in record time; seriously, I can do a full Costco run in under twenty minutes!  But the dollar store is a different story.  It's the one place where I don't have to casually turn items over, discretely checking for a price before gingerly setting them down, trying desperately to quell an acute onset of the vapors.  At the dollar store, I am Oprah.  It takes all of my limited will-power not to extend my beneficence to every other cost-conscious consumer, shouting, "You get some corn picks!  You get some cough drops!  You get a coloring book!" - especially at Christmastime.

Strutting the holiday aisles of the dollar store in a lordly manner, I am supremely confident in the knowledge that I can buy anything in sight - often in multiples - and still remain solvent.  It is here that I look for inspiration for Christmas crafts as there are at least 1,225 things one can do with a spray of pine cones covered in gold glitter and styrofoam snow.  This year, however, nothing intrinsically holiday-related was speaking to me.  This year, I had to search further afield; I had to hunt in the "Health & Beauty" aisle.

It occurred to me several years ago that these ordinary, weekly pill organizers made perfect sense as the foundation
of an advent calendar.  My nephew's obsession with the disposable advent calendar I sent him last year was the only motivation I needed to finally turn this dollar store bargain into a Crazy Crafty Christmas Miracle!

With some adhesive-backed craft paper from the stash and a sheet of dollar-
store stickers, we transformed the pill cases from utilitarian to beau-tilitarian.

As with all of my experiments in Crazy Crafty, I tend to go off half-cocked.  With absolutely no plan and no instructions to follow, I have to make things up as I go along (and disaster often ensues).

My original thought was just to simply glue each pill case together.
Unfortunately, that would have prohibited the proper function of those little hinged doors.

Instead, I punched a hole in the top and bottom of every Saturday and Sunday, stringing
the cases together with a double-thickness of baker's twine and bead spacers in between.

Fully-functioning advent doors reveal mini chocolate balls, holiday
stickers, money, and a few toys/trinkets that I had lying around.

wacky tacky advent calendar
Sure, it's a little cutesy for my usual taste, but I know one five-year-old who will love it!

Lest that same five-year-old think that it's all about him, I got weird and found a plastic baby at the cake-supply store, wrapping Him in bias-tape swaddling clothes and giving Him a grommet halo.

"Go, Shawty.  It's Thine birthday.
We're gonna party like it's Thine birthday!!!"

Do you have any new holiday crafting ideas for this year?  Will you too find your supplies next to the stool softeners and pregnancy tests at your local dollar store?  Whatever you've got planned for the holiday season, we hope that your days may be Merry & Bright!

"White Christmas" - The Drifters


 Cheers!

Mr. Tiny