Friday, October 24, 2014

Happy Birthday!

My mom has always said she doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up.  Today is her 73rd Birthday.  When I was younger I didn't really know what she meant.  I was a neuropsychology major (what the heck do you do with that degree), and then a graduate student in early childhood education, and then a teacher, and now a mom and homemaker.  Now that I am 43, have taken a few years (okay 10) off from working full time, and am trying to decide what direction my life will lead, I get it.  100 %!  I reminded her today through Facebook that her life's work is being a mom and grandma.  Of course she's done many other things.  From a Russian studies major at Middlebury College, a world traveler, a drafting student, an EMC employee, a dog owner (to 3 awesome chocolate labs), a wife, a mother, a grandmother.  But really those last few are the most important.  So happy birthday mom!  We love you!!

I love to get presents for people I love and this year I have to say I rocked it for my mom.  Got her a gorgeous sweater that is purple and brown and green and soooo her!  It's cozy and soft and warm and like a great big hug from us that she can wear.  She's not supposed to get hugged right now.  She broke her rib last week.  We told her so when she came to drop off her dog for the weekend and told us about her fall.  If the red mark didn't give it away the yelp that escaped her mouth when she pushed on it did.  After a weekend away and sleeping on hotel beds she finally decided to follow our first advice and go get an X-ray!  So for the next 8 weeks she's in recovery, no dog walking, no hugs, no crowds.  When I asked her what she would do when we go to NY to see my oldest daughter dance in the Macy's Parade she said "I'm still going, I'll just wear a box to protect myself in the crowd!"  And she would!

Today is also another special little girl's birthday.  One of my best friends in the whole world had her little girl on my mom's birthday.  I think it's a sign!  Last weekend she asked for some ideas of what to get her for her birthday.  A vanity, I suggested.  A picture wall was another idea.  She jumped on the picture wall idea saying how much her daughter would love it.  But then panicked about how to pull it off.  Then I got a smirk on my face and typed, "Want to commission me to make it for her?"  Of course I wasn't really thinking about the fact that this was a busy week with Pumpkin Walk coming up, or that I didn't have another weekend between when I typed that and her birthday, or that I had no idea how much I would hem and haw over someone else's decorations.  For my own kids I spent months grabbing things that reminded me of them, collected frames and sayings and then just put it all together.  I didn't worry much about measuring.  I just layed it out on the rug in their room, moved things around a few times till I liked how it looked and then started hanging it.  Rod would hammer the hangars and I would adjust and readjust as things went up on the wall.  I am very visual so don't need measurements but can eyeball things and be pretty near on every time.  As long as things are level and feel visually pleasing to your eye, I'm good.  So to make a wall for a friend's daughter was different and fun.   Although it also made me stressed.  I wanted to make it perfect.  I wanted other people's opinions.  I wanted feedback.  Was it ok?  Was it enough? Although in the end I loved the process.  It made me realize that when I figure out what I want to do when I grow up, being creative has to be a part of it!  It makes me giddy and excited and happy to be creating again.  Could I do this as a side job?  I don't know.  But while I figure out what I want to be when I grow up I can't say I mind doing it for friends!

I started with what I know she loves:  the beach, her sister, her black lab Cooper, her family, soccer.  And then asked her mom what else she wanted to include:  snowboarding, the fact that she is always smiling, polka dots, blue and white and hot pink.   Then I started searching the web and pinterest for inspiring quotes.  I literally jumped out of bed last Sunday and couldn't wait to get started.  With a cup of coffee steaming next to me I pinned and saved and was feeling inspired to create something special just for this little girl that I have known since she was a baby.   Fun quotes, thoughts and inspirations for this sweet girl!  Of course they had to include all her favorites and be blue or pink or white!

In order to make it all happen you need frames, and letters and ways to  hang it all up.  I wanted it to be bright and fun but cohesive.  I couldn't wait to go shopping on Monday.  But first I had to run around like a chicken with my head cut off getting ready for our Pumpkin Walk.  Stopping at town hall, hanging signs, meeting with the park's superintendent, making calls. It only left me with an hour and a half to shop and get back home for my kids after school activities.  I had 6 stores on my list of places to visit but only made it to 3:  Home Goods, Joanne's and Kohls.  I'm a sucker for a sale and often times I paint, modge podge or mess with the original item so don't need to buy everything perfect or full price.  Of course I also use coupons and shop at places like home goods and tj maxx so things are already heavily discounted.   I actually got the majority of what I needed and then had to rush home.  While the kids did homework I couldn't wait to get started.  I printed quotes, not even concerning myself with sizes, and started laying things out so what I would know what I still needed.  

Not a bad start for one afternoon.  
I had to get my craft on so made this
canvas Monday afternoon with this
print for inspiration, a white small
canvas and two painty pens, one black
and one gold.  So fun to make! And this
quote suits her so well! 

That night I couldn't relax knowing that I hadn't hit three of my other stores and might be missing the key item to make it perfect.  Remember I normally do this over the course of at least a month but with a shorter deadline I was chomping at the bit to get 'er done!   I ran out to Michael's (but spent so long there that I couldn't hit the other two stores) and found a few more things that would work and fit in with the ideas I had.  I knew I needed some different shapes.  It becomes too linear when everything is square and rectangular.  The letter helped with that but I needed some other items too.   I was stressing about the button A and when I found this metal one I snagged it up, just in case.  I also found a cool black canvas.  What?  They sell black canvases now?!  I couldn't wait to get home and get crafty.  Tuesday when the kids were doing homework I was getting my craft on again with a white paint pen and the black canvas.  I love how it looks like a chalkboard print but it's not.  And of course I love the sentiment.  

My friend wondered if I had painted the A.  Turns out she loved
the buttons because they looked like polka dots!  Back to the first one.
On Wednesday I got my glue gun out and worked on a few designs.  I'd originally scattered them on there just to give her the gist of what it would look like.  Then I tried the full on buttons everywhere look which I hated and made me decide I needed something else, thus the metal A.  I thought about painting the dots with an eraser but wasn't sure how it would turn out and didn't want to wreck it.  I liked the brown color peaking through as it coordinated with the burlap on the family frame.  

This looked too busy and some were coming off the
sides but not filling up the A.  I hated it.  More spread out
was a better look and showed off the polka dots.
Thursday I had to finish last minute modge podging and painting so things would dry in time to wrap them and deliver them friday.   I got this box quote at Kohl's on super clearance for less than a dollar with a quote about college and 4 years or something.  I knew I wasn't going to use it for that but wanted a fun and different way to mount this retro snowboarding sticker that was her mom's favorite pick of the bunch.  I didn't want it framed.  So I modge podged the back of the print and then the top and sides of the print and frame.  I love how it turned out.  I have to give props to my husband Rod who prints pictures and quotes out for me at work.  I emailed all my favorites to him with sizes and paper type and he prints them out and brings them home for me.  He has a photoshop background so he can manipulate and change pictures and prints to fit a certain aspect ratio as well.

Thursday I also ran out to A.C. Moore for one final search for the non-square item I'd been looking for and for last minute items for our Pumpkin Walk.  I found a sweet mirror that of course goes perfectly next to the "Be You Tiful" quote.  After a few more turns at moving everything around and asking "this one or this one?" of my friend (and probably driving her crazy with all the texts and pictures!)  I settled on the final design.  (Thanks to KT, Kathy, and Rod and my kids for their input as well!)

Then came the hard part.  I layed it out on paper.   She had given me the measurements for the wall she wanted on.  I cut the paper to size.  Then measured and used a square edge to make sure things were level. Of course I usually eyeball these things so part of me thinks it might be easier in the future to just hang it myself (or truth be told with Rod wielding the hammer).  But since they live so darn far away I wasn't sure when that would happen and I wanted her  to have it hung soon.  So I made a hanging template for them.  I marked the pictures, measured, centered, and measured again for hanging holes.  I hope it makes things easier and not more difficult for them!  

The hanging map...It's a little easier to read in person. 

And yes, Anna, everyone was in on it.  I hear your dad and grandma are good hangers.
They gave your picture wall the thumbs up!  
Happy Birthday sweet Annie!  I hope you like your present.  It was made for you with love and as a collaboration between your mom and myself.  She wanted to "give you something that was special just for you!"  Thanks sweet girl for being our muse!    

She loved it!
Already hanging on her walls!
Said the template made it so easy!
Enjoying her new wall!  Her sister is jealous and already
planning her own!  

Thursday, October 23, 2014


About 10 years ago I used to go to a park in town.  I'd only go with a friend because it was isolated and no one was ever there.  We'd only go every once in a while because there were only a few things for the kids to play on.  But the setting was gorgeous.  The perfect spot for a playground.  Right on a pond with woods surrounding it.  Trails and animals and nature.   I loved the park.   This might be the place where I first discovered as an adult how deeply woods and water touch my soul and bring me peace.  We came here on many days when we were cranky or climbing the walls at home and as soon as we were at the park our spirits and moods were lifted.  I couldn't understand why no one was ever at Choate Park! 

Then one day after work I went to another favorite park with my daughter on our way home from work and daycare.  It was a beautiful warm spring day.  There were probably 50 people at the park.  Moms and dads and babysitters and lots and lots of kids.   A very pretty setting in the woods but not as spectacular as Choate.  As I drove home I wondered if maybe Choate Park was crowded too because it was such a beautiful day.  Same day, same time, same weather.  I stopped by the park just to check.  There was one dad and his daughter.  

Lots of families and kids enjoying the beautiful day!

The comparison just made me sad.  Why didn't this park work?
It really was a diamond in the rough.  But with such potential!
What a shame, I thought.  And then I started comparing the two parks.  One was crowded, the other empty.  Of course the crowded park had more actual playground equipment.  Choate park had a small playground structure, a few swings, and a couple of spring ride toys while the other park had a large climbing structure and a toddler structure, a swing set and a tire swing set, a playhouse, a sandbox and a trike trail.  While watching the kids at the other park I noticed something.  Of course they would climb on the structures and go down the slides but the majority of the time they spent scooping sand in the sandbox, driving trucks around the park, or riding on scooters and big wheels, playing in the house, or running down the hill.   

I took some pictures at both park and when I got home I thought about it, and thought about it, and thought about it.  I went to other playgrounds and did research and took pictures.  What was missing from Choate that other playgrounds had?  I felt that all somebody needed to do was add a little bit to Choate Park and families would start coming.   It wouldn't take much.  Just a bike/trike trail, a sand box and some hand me down toys.  At some point I called the park department.  They said that sounded like a great idea.  Why didn't I come in and talk to the Park's Commissioners about my idea.  Great,  I thought.   I could give them my ideas.  They would fix it up.  And everyone would use the park more.  I put together a slideshow on my husband's laptop of pictures of different parks.  I don't love public speaking but found as a teacher if I had pictures to talk about and something else for people to look at besides me, I did much better.  I showed them pictures of the two parks on the same day.  I gave them examples of small changes we could make to have a big impact.  I told them it wouldn't cost much.  It could be a quick fix. 

A message board for community events.  
A sand box for our littlest children who aren't as steady on
playground structures to play and learn.  

A trike trail and bikes, trikes, scooters, cars for riding fun.  

A play house or building for dramatic play.
I still want to create something like this at Choate with historic Medway
Buildings or local fun stops.  
Maybe for our 10th Anniversary next year? 
Benches for tired parents to sit and watch their kids play.
To not be helicopter parents.  To relax and drink their coffee and
let the playground and the other children be their kids entertainment for awhile. 
Bricks to memorialize loved ones, to thank teachers,
to fundraise and make it a community park. 

A thank you to all that helped improve the park.  
They loved the idea!  Then they told me to start a committee.  Something like a Friends of the Park group, they suggested.   Friends?  But I didn't know anyone in Medway?  I worked in Needham and my daughter went to school in Medfield.  And I literally knew no one in Medway except my 70 year neighbor that I liked to chat with over the fence while we both gardened.  Someone was at the meeting from the paper.  She said she would write up a little blurb in the paper about a new friends of the park group starting and maybe we could get some volunteers that way.  Not what I bargained for when I went to the meeting.  Maybe somebody could do something about this beautiful park that is being underused I had thought.   Apparently that somebody was me.  

It wasn't the ideal time.  I had 3 kids under the age of 5.  None were in full day school.  My kitchen had been under construction for the past 6 months.  I had people in my house every day working while I took care of my three babies.  Perhaps that's why it was a good time.  I needed to get out and do something else.  Our family spent my childhood volunteering.  At our neighbors apple orchard, around town, at the camp we went to family camp.  My parents went off at night to meetings and committees and ran town wide events.  It was in my nature, at the core of who I am, and who my parents raised me to be.  Someone that gives back.  Someone that leaves the world a little better than they found it.  Someone that steps up.  Whether or not I want to.  Sometimes I can't help myself.  

The article came out about a week later.  I was mortified.  The title was "Medway Woman Looking for Friends", I think it even included my picture!  It was like a bad personal ad.  The article went on to describe the fact that I was starting a new friends of the park group to fix up the park.  The mortification had been done in the title.  My close friends laughed.  I'm not someone that's eager to go out and meet everyone.  I'm into the friends I have.  I don't need to know everyone.  So for me, of all people, to be publicly seeking friends in a newspaper article?  Hysterical, or so they thought.   The first meeting was a little nerve racking.  People actually came!  Luckily my friend that used to accompany me to the park all those years when it was so isolated was there, so I wasn't talking to a room of strangers.  I showed the same slideshow as I had showed the parks department.  I had an agenda and a plan.  I was a do-gooder with what I thought was a simple idea.  A lot of the people that showed up were Girl Scout or Boy Scout moms.  Looking for Eagle Scout projects for their sons or Silver Award projects for their troops.  A few others came as well.  I'm pretty sure I remember getting yelled at that first meeting for only thinking about the playground and not the whole park.  I was naive.  I didn't know what I was getting myself into.  

Many people have come and gone since that first meeting.  But a lot of them remain the same.  And the funny thing is that they are my friends.  They are the people I call year round if I need something.  Even if it's just a beer at the local bar and a few laughs.  Who would have thunk!   We have an Earth Day clean up every April that has now gotten roped in with the town wide clean up.  For many years we have also done A Halloween Touch-A Truck, Art in the Park, Easter Egg Hunts, a Summer Concert Series, Concessions for the Santa Parade and Fireworks, Community Playground Builds, Fall Clean Ups, Memorial benches, Tree plantings, Wine Tasting Fundraisers and More. 

At Touch-A-Truck kids come in costumes to climb all over trucks.  

And walk in a Halloween Parade.  
A generous private donation bought us this toddler playground.
We have also had community builds to add new equipment to the park.
We added Choatie the turtle as a sculpture and mascot for kids to climb on. 

Spring Clean Ups are essential for keeping the pond and park clean.  

Easter egg hunts were fun until grandparents started pocketing extra eggs.
We've learned a lot from running events! Some we continue, some we don't!

Jesse the Machine carved this turtle for our park as a donation. 
Memorial benches are placed in the park.
This one was strategically placed to enjoy the view of the waterfall
while enjoying a picnic lunch.

Our favorite all time event. 
Fires in fire pits placed in pond. 
Pumpkins carved and placed around path around pond. 
Every year our group contributes to the Gingerbread House Festival
 at the library that we co-started.  We did not have an indoor space to run the event so
worked with the friends of the library group to run it there.  
We drink gingerbread martinis and get our creative juices flowing.  
Our Friends of Choate Park float in the Christmas Parade.  Driven by
our favorite mason and invaluable member of our group.  
We have taken the park from an isolated empty park to one that is crowded almost every day.  It's sometimes hard to find a parking place.  We have a website and a Facebook page and the park has really become what we thought it would when we started all those years ago.  The heart of Medway.  It is a beautiful spot to go as a family, meet up with friends, take a picnic lunch, go for your senior pictures.  The historic farm  house next door has recently been fixed up and now is a beautiful setting to host weddings, fundraisers, and events while overlooking the pond and the park.  What a gorgeous spot!

This lone adolescent swan has been seen recently at the pond.
Hopefully next year he'll be back with his mate.
Fitting since a wedding venue has just been added overlooking the pond.  
It's been 10 years now.  And yes I'm still president of this small group here in town.  Although I have tried to step back.  No one else will take over.  It seems a shame to disband when we are established as a 501c3 and we all still love the park.  We have gotten smaller over the years but that is by choice.  We don't need to do fundraisers for equipment, the playground is built.  We are now stewards of the park.  We do one event for the public every year.  It is free, it is huge, it makes us happy.  We clean the park every spring and garden here and there.  We don't really meet any more.  Only in the fall around the time of the event.  Sometimes only once.  Much of our communicating happens through email.  We all take on the same roles each year.  Many hands makes light work.  This is our 9th Annual Pumpkin Walk.  It practically runs itself now.  Except for the parking!  Anyone want to come out this Saturday night and wear a neon vest? Yah.  I didn't think so.  Not many people volunteer for that job!