Tuesday (Magpie) Tale . . .



Yes, I won
but often winning
is an empty cup
two handles
but nothing in it
no one to hold
the other side
keep it from tilting
when you try
to lift it and celebrate
your victory


This poem is a Magpie Tale. 
There are no prizes, of course, 
but if you like to have a little fun with words, 
write your own and add it to the collection --

Ta ta!



glut-ton-y, noun: Habitual greed or excess in eating . . . (see also: voracity)

Things got a little ugly in my closet this morning when I went to get dressed.  My jeans were angry, my friends.  Very angry.

Further proof that there's nothing new under the sun:  in 1936, women were worried about
pretty much the same things we are.  I'm not sure whether that's sad or comforting . . .

I guess there was just a little too much feasting over the holiday weekend.  But I wouldn't say I really have any regrets.  Given the chance, I'd probably eat it all again.  Today, in fact.

That's why I was relieved to find these helpful hints 
in a 1939 Ladies' Home Journal:

Of course, the obvious thing to do if a dress is too tight is put on one of the more tent-like selections in your closet.  I keep a variety of sizes on hand at all times, in case I encounter just such a post-Thanksgiving emergency.  

And although it probably goes without saying, sweat pants are always your friends. But if you need to look like you still have a bit of self esteem, it would probably be wiser to try some tricks like these:


Since I'm not too good with a sewing machine, I'm going to need something even simpler that I can accomplish with a needle and thread, like this:

A simple running stitch around the perimeter 
that I can cinch up nice and tight should do the trick . . . 
but then again, I am pretty good at unpicking . . .

 Happy Back-to-Reality Monday!



Thursday means . . . Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving already?
It must be time for a look back at the year

 to see if there's anything to be thankful for . . .

Food to eat?


A home?


That's warm?


Luxury items?


All my favorite people?


An opportunity to do what I love 
(every day)?


Wow -- those are just some basics. 
This could take awhile . . .

Small Works wishes you 
a wonderful holiday

filled with peace and plenty,  
and the ability to recognize all the things
you have (whatever they are!)
to be grateful for.



Tuesday Tada!

Here's a story that I may have already told you.  But we're a family here at Small Works, and don't family stories just get better and better the more they are retold?  That's part of what makes family gatherings so fun, after all.  So if I have already told you this story, please enjoy hearing it again (or at least be polite and pretend you haven't heard it).

One of the things that sticks out in my mind about living in Florida is that the entire state is ALIVE.  Every time you take a step, something scuttles away into the bushes or grass or anything it's possible to scuttle under.  And although I'm prone to hyperbole, there's no exaggeration in this memory.  

To me, Florida will always = scuttling sound.

In our neighborhood, there was a drainage pond on one end.  One night Russ and I were out walking after dark and we noticed as we approached the bend in the road closest to the drainage pond that in the pool of light under the streetlamp, the sidewalk seemed to be moving.  We advanced with caution, wondering what on earth we were seeing and hoping it was an optical illusion of some kind.  When we got into enough light to be able to see the ground, we could see that it was INDEED moving.
And it was moving with FROGS.

A veritable plague of tiny frogs.  Biblical. So many tiny frogs that as a car suddenly came around the corner, it sounded like it was driving through slush.

Which meant that we'd been stepping on tiny frogs by the thousands . . . and worse than that, every step we took to get away would mean that we were stepping on thousands more.


I tell you that story as a bizarre and entertaining 
-- but mostly unrelated --
introduction to my latest piece:

Mind Your Step, Susan M. Hinckley, 2010

I love this piece!  
It may actually be my favorite piece that I've ever made.  

Often I'm not so delighted when they get finished, and I stash them away in my storage box hoping that we've just spent too much time together and I'm sick of looking at the thing, so perhaps a little space will help me like it more the next time we meet.

But not so with this piece.  Every now and then I make something that I regret selling because it continues to call to me after it is gone, and I believe this will be one of those things.  I'm fond of the image AND the border, as well as the saying . . . rare indeed.

Because we have plenty of scientific evidence that my taste almost never coincides with the taste of the general public, this is probably not your favorite piece.  

But I don't mind.  I smiled all the time I was stitching it.
And that in itself is something to be truly grateful for --
no swear words were invoked during the making of this piece.
Doesn't that feel good?



Oh. My. Goodness.

Yes, I'm a little slow on the post this icy Monday, but it's because I was hoping to be able to show you my finished piece, and unfortunately it ISN'T FINISHED.  I always underestimate the amount of time needed for the pesky little final details, like finding the words, figuring out where to put them, figuring out how to do it, and mounting.  So I've decided to face reality and move on to another topic.

Which brings me to the "Oh my goodness . . ."

Remember when I told you I had a new friend I didn't even know about that was sending me something splendid from a garage sale?  Turns out I didn't gush enough at the time (about the friend OR the something she was sending) because the parcel arrived on Saturday and I haven't stopped making delighted noises since.

Being the horoscope/fortune-cookie-fortune, all things vintage, and all things black-and-white junkie that I am, I could not have predicted the spectacular-ness of what appeared in my mailbox:

There are 50 of them, all different, and all equally COOL.  The 1920's illustrations are just fantastic, as are the words, and my brain churned all weekend about just what I could possibly create that would do them justice.

Needless to say, I'm absolutely tickled.

Thank you, new friend Julie!  This ranks in my top 5 favorite gifts I've ever received.  If they chopped me up, put me in a blender and made a deck of cards with the pulp, this is what it would look like.  I'm flummoxed and flabbergasted.  And FOREVER in your debt.  I'm going to have to work pretty hard to find an appropriate "thank you."

As for using the cards, I believe I have the idea . . . we'll see about whether or not I do them justice.

Right now I'm just keeping them within arm's reach where I can pick them up and look at them about once per hour and make "ooohhhhing" noises.

It would be completely accurate to say
that I'm thankful.  

Which is a pretty good way to start this week, even if my piece isn't quite finished. 



Finger-lickin' Friday Fare . . .

One of the perks of my new studio space 
that I underestimated is this one:

Yes, that's Hoss on my TV.  You may have thought I only joked about watching Bonanza . . . well.

It's only November, but since it turned cold I've turned on the gas fire every afternoon and it not only looks lovely, it heats the entire space, making it a truly cozy nest.

I only wish you could all come over for a little get-together . . . you could bring whatever you happen to be working on, I'd keep stitching away on the border that is driving me crazy. I'd even turn off Bonanza so we could have a real visit.

There's no snow expected until Sunday, so getting here shouldn't be a problem for you.  I've already stocked up on hot cocoa (and diet coke, of course) and I'd be happy to bake for you, if you'd like.

My latest recipe obsession would be perfect for just such a party:

Gingerbread (from the Santa Fe Cookbook!)
with Orange Cream-Cheese Frosting

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350.  Mix sugar, oil, butter, molasses and egg.  Add salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and flour and mix well.  Add boiling water and stir.  Pour into well-greased loaf pan.  Bake 35 minutes. Cool 10  minutes before removing from pan.


1 (8oz.) pkg. softened cream cheese
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. orange extract
2-1/2 cups powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese until fluffy.  Beat in vanilla and orange.  Slowly beat in powdered sugar.  Seem like too much frosting?  It's not. Slather frosting on top of cooled cake, allowing it to ooze down the sides.  Store tightly covered  in refrigerator.

I could eat this frosting with a spoon (and have).  It's something about the orange, I think.  I've always made my orange frosting with orange juice, which is good, but not the same as this.  WOW.

Just right for a freezing Friday . . . if you're lucky enough to NOT be freezing just now, tuck it away because it will surely come in handy sometime.

If you can't sit in front of my fire, 
I wish you a cozy weekend 
in front of your own  --

(or your fan, if you live in a different hemisphere . . . happy weekend wishes to all!)



The truth about Kids and Dogs.

"Kids:  they dance before they learn there is 
anything that isn't music."

--William Stafford

And after spending the past two mornings traipsing around the dog park in the snow (because Russ has been unavailable) --

I'd say the same about dogs . . .


In fact, both kids and dogs have it right 
in a lot of their thinking.  

They both see snow and think, "Woohoo!", for instance.  "More opportunities for play!"

They rarely worry that it's too cold.  They never wonder, "do these snowpants make me look fat?"  And they don't seem at all concerned when the first flakes fly that the snow may be around for a LONG LONG time.

They also have it right about food.  They eat when they're hungry.  In fact, sometimes kids FORCE themselves to eat just so they can have a cookie.  I'm much more likely to wonder, after I've eaten myself sick, if I can possibly squeeze another cookie in on top of it all, and perhaps a little ice cream?

Dogs accept their fate of only being able to eat what is offered them with admirable grace.  Although sometimes I wish someone else would control my diet, I feel certain that I'd probably accept most of their offerings with more of a snarl than a wag.

Kids and dogs usually tell you exactly what they think.  Cooper, for instance, is always perfectly honest about his needs and how well I'm doing at meeting them.  He has no compunction about letting out a sigh of disgust when I've been a little selfish about sitting at my desk.

And then he's greets any activity offered with an enthusiasm that suggests our 500th walk around the block is just what he's always wanted.  Likewise, my children seemed equally entertained with the 33rd viewing of their favorite Disney video as with the first, and playing Candyland EVERY DAY after lunch was a-okay with them.

They're both quick to forgive.  A nap, a little treat or a snuggle will usually erase any offense or neglect they may have suffered. Kids and dogs seem to know instinctively that nurturing a grudge would only get in the way of their own fun. Much better to just move on and look for some excitement in whatever is happening NOW.  

Perhaps it's because they know it's nearly impossible not to like them, so why worry?  A dog is only concerned with being a dog, just as a three-year-old's only purpose is to be three.  They don't really care about impressing people.  In fact, when you try to get them to perform their tricks so you can impress your friends, they rarely cooperate.  And they are equally pleased by an empty refrigerator box as by a fancy house built just for them.

In fact, kids and dogs, it seems, 
require very little in order to find much. 

My kids have grown and gone, but Cooper's demands seem to have expanded to fill all available space.  That's okay, because with kids or dogs, I think Robert Brault had it right:

"If you haven't time to respond to a tug 
at your pants leg, your schedule is too crowded."


Time for a walk. 




"True friends stab you in the front." -- Oscar Wilde

I was reading an interview with 
the amazing Nora Ephron
the other day in which she mentioned something about "bloggers who write earnestly about their lives for their 42 readers" . . .  and it made me say "ouch."

Then about a second later it made me think, hey -- who doesn't want 42 additional people to complain to when it snows ELEVEN INCHES a full two weeks before Thanksgiving?  

(It's hard to be thankful for November snow in Minnesota, because November snow can so easily hang around to become April snow, but I digress . . .)

I've heard all the brouhaha about online friends not being the same as "real friends" and about the social isolation people are suffering and blah blah blah, but I got a lovely note over the weekend from a reader I didn't know I had in San Diego, who offered to send me an incredible garage sale find she had come across that made her think of me.

Not real friends?!   I don't think so.
I have plenty of real friends who don't feel compelled to offer me their fabulous shopping finds.

I was grateful, and humbled, to realize I have more friends than I can count (simply because I don't know about them -- not because I can't count to 42).  

It made my snowy mood a little less . . . snowy.

I also had a phone call over the weekend from a very old friend  -- the kind you meet when they sit next to you in 2nd grade.  Friends who knew you before you lost all your baby teeth are truly old friends by the time you begin to lose your hair, and they are the rarest and best kind.

We only speak once a year or so, and after asking me how the family was and such, he said, "I thought you'd be living in New Mexico by now.  What are you doing toward that goal?"  

I laughed and said, "I hoped I'd be living there by now too, and we're not any closer to that goal than we were last time I talked to you."

And he said, "Well, Susan, I wouldn't say this to just anyone, but you're a very old friend so I feel I can say it to you -- you're not getting any, well, you know . . . younger."

After thanking him for pointing that out, I reminded him that he is getting older at an even faster rate than I am (being almost a full year older) and then countered with, "And I thought you'd be married by now."

It probably wasn't a very nice thing to say,
even to a very very old friend, but then it isn't nice
to point out to a Minnesotan that they still don't
live in New Mexico on the very weekend that they're
digging out from the first big snowstorm.

At any rate, thank goodness for old friends that you can have those kinds of conversations with.  And thank goodness for new friends that you may not even know you have yet.

But most especially, thank goodness 
for all 42 of your blog friends -- 

for whom you can write about it later,
making your snowy Monday just a little bit less . . . snowy.

(You know who you are.)  




On the one hand . . . 

Sometimes I think I work way too hard.  For instance, I read a newspaper story about a MN man who has a blog completely devoted to tracking which McDonald's restaurants are selling the McRib sandwich on any given day.  He used to only get around 1500 hits per day (WHAT?!) but since he was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal (WHY?!) he has been getting about 75,000 hits per day.

Yes, you read that right.
There are infinitely more people interested in the McRib sandwich than in fiber art or, in particular, my musings about it.  If it had been the Red Robin Guacamole Burger, I might have been able to understand it.  But the McRib Sandwich?! Seriously.


So all of my efforts to dig through my trove of old magazines searching for just the right illustration, to mine my library of quotes to find just the right tidbit of wisdom, or even to put thousands of hand stitches into silly little pictures is much more effort than one needs to expend to find an appreciative audience in today's world.

On the other hand . . . 

Mimi Kirchner said something on her blog, Doll, the other day that really made me pause.  She said:
"I need to think more and rely on old habits less."  

Or something like that.  She was talking about stitching and re-stitching a face on a doll that she just couldn't get right, even though she'd stitched similar faces a thousand times.

And I am OH SO GUILTY of thinking less and relying on old habits more.  It becomes particularly difficult for me the further along I get on this journey of fabric storytelling.  It's hard to see all the same old things with new eyes.  It's hard to think of new ways to do those same old things.

All that thinking 
is truly hard work.

I'm sure ruts are the plague of all artists. 
But wouldn't it be nice to be able to put on 
someone else's glasses every now and then, 
and see the world the way they see it?

For instance, once a woman who was looking at my work commented that 
there seemed to be a strong Egyptian influence in my birds . . .

REALLY?  Cool.  I've never had an Egyptian thought in my life. 

Isn't it wonderful how everyone carries their own pair of eyes and their own set of experiences with them wherever they go?  It makes the world so much more interesting.

Even the McRib might fascinate me, if I tried looking at it through a kaleidoscope.

Now I'm wracking my brain trying to come up with a concept for a new blog that could have more mass appeal . . . but I'm having a hard time coming up with anything as completely random or disgustingly processed as the McRib sandwich.  And maybe that's part of the appeal.

In fact, it's probably a brilliant blog concept, just because of its utterly banal subject matter.  Deceptively simple.  (I wouldn't begin to know how or where to gather specific and reliable McDonald's menu data on any given day.) 

Simplicity is sometimes the hardest work of all.

"Personally, I have nothing against work, 
particularly when performed quietly and 
unobtrusively by someone else."  

-- Barbara Ehrenreich

Maybe I'll head over to the McRib site 
and see what all the fuss is about.

(Happy Friday!)



Mid-week Pictures and Poesy . . .

I love Wednesday's Small Words quote* because I think it applies to any piece of art -- the container into which we fit our story.

* "A novel, in the end, is a container, a shape 
which you are trying to pour your story into." -- Helen Dunmore

Here's a quick snapshot of my new piece -- 
the latest sentence in my own story, I suppose:

The Sun Laughs in Bluebirds, Susan M. Hinckley, 2010

I don't do pieces very often with no words at all on them, but I like to throw one into the mix now and then.

Actually, I've been mulling a nagging desire to do pieces that would illustrate entire poems and not just words or phrases, a more complete melding of story and image.  I started thinking about what type of poem would work best, and I'm still not sure I have an answer.

But I did a piece earlier this year (of which I never had a decent photograph taken and which sold immediately for exactly that reason, I'm sure) that carried the first line of an unwritten poem that had been bumping around in my head for some time.

Now the piece is gone, but the poem has come:


She dreamed her hands 
could hold water and sunlight --
a photosynthesis of self
soul seeds fed and fully sown
growing into something green
quick just beneath the bark, ready
to root deep in dark places
stretch forward and stay
singing every drop 
face up and soaking in
warmth and light
a search for her creation
a reach to unfold the bud
just formed and blinking 
in the bright sustainable day 


Well isn't that just 
the way it goes --

Next time perhaps I'll try to get them 
in the same month 
(if not in the same frame!) 

Until then, I'll just keep 
trying new containers . . .



Excuses, excuses . . . apologies and explanations . . .

If you were here on Friday, you may remember that I was struggling with a certain stubborn piece that refused to be finished, and which I vowed to show in this space on Monday.  Well, it's not the first promise I've broken in my life . . . my path is littered with resolutions to eat less, spend less, and clean more, for instance.

But it pains me to have to break a promise to you, Dear Reader.

However, I can happily (and honestly!) report that:

The Beast has been Tamed.

Yes, the piece is finished, but due to some time constraints (laundry, vacuuming, groceries and other Monday-ness) I was unable to complete the mounting process and therefore unable to take a photograph for you.  So I'll have to offer proof of my success at our next meeting.

I'd like to also report -- a serendipitous twist! --  that immediately after Friday's post I went to bake the chocolate chip cookies that were supposed to help guide me on my creative journey, and I opened the newspaper while the first batch was in the oven. My eye immediately fell on this:

It was as if Ms. Universe were speaking just to me, and somehow the magic alchemy of spot-on-horoscope-wisdom and hit-the-spot-chocolate-chip-cookies turned the trick and I was able to finish with little additional angst.

It's rare when I wish to thank the Minneapolis Star Tribune's near-useless horoscope writer, so I felt I should take this opportunity to do so now.

And speaking of words of wisdom, I've added a new featurette to my sidebar starting today in which I offer nuggets of quote-y goodness just to reassure all of us that there are still a lot of people operating in this world at an above-8th-grade level.

I'm a quote junkie and there are far more good ones than I will ever have occasion to include in blog posts, so I decided to provide an overflow of sorts.  Which will have the additional benefit of giving you a little bonus on the days when you click on Small Works only to find the same post you read last time and think, "Rats.  Susan's probably doing laundry. I'D LIKE MY TWO SECONDS BACK, PLEASE."

Hopefully, your eye will now travel to the right 

and pick up a little bon mot 
that will make your trouble worthwhile.


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