Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Birthday Quilt for an Overachieving Angel

How do you celebrate your birthday?  Here's my approach:

(1) Approximately 11 months in advance, I begin a disciplined program of progressively increased  self-pity,

 (2) On the actual day, I make my family take me to my favorite ice cream place, Fosselman's, in Alhambra, CA, where I order a hot fudge sundae.

That's pretty much it, for about a month, when I start feeling sorry for myself about the next  birthday. (It's annoying being the oldest person in the house - that's what I get for marrying a younger man.)

Other people handle birthdays better, such as my friend Margaret. Her whole life is helping people - as a parent, a professor, a friend, a Girl Scout leader and mentor to my daughter. She is also a great baker and a hilarious blogger/novelist; if you buy her book about life in New Age Los Angeles, you will laugh a lot.
(Unpaid Endorsement, I am not an Amazon or Finnegan financial affiliate)
So Margaret's 50th birthday was coming up this past February, and, speaking of Goddesses, she astonished all her friends by setting out to do 50 good deeds in her birthday month, which is also my birthday month (except I'm older, but not bitter.)

I should say, 50 MORE good deeds than usual, since as far as I can tell, 98% of what she does benefits others. She documented each as it took place on her blog. You will get a sense of the fun and toil in her retrospective post here. Some were astonishing! My 15 favorites:
#2. Picked-up and threw away scary razor blade found while walking. 
#3."Dropped" five dollars in park. 
#6. Bought coffee for the person in line behind me.
#7. Brought homemade soup to a neighbor who has been ill. 
#8. Brought a head of lettuce from my garden to a neighbor who just had a baby. 
#12. Super courteous driving day (If you needed to merge or turn left, I was there for you). 
#18. Donated books to the Friends of Cal State LA library. 
#21. Dropped off blankets for a dog rescue organization. 
#22. Gave $5 to a musician in front of the bookstore. (Thank you universe!) 
#24. Paid for the donut order of the guy behind me at the donut shop. 
#27. "Hid" eight one dollar bills among the toys at the 99 cent store.  
#29. Put some succulents (cut from some in my garden) in a pot I wasn't using and dropped it off at a friend's house. 
#33. Notes to family members telling them the top ten things I love about each of them. 
#36. Threw wildflowers seeds on open area reserved for electrical towers. 
#46. Put a great book on an empty table in the school library saying, "This is a great book! Enjoy!"
When she initially announced the idea, I knew I had to make a quilt from it. which would be less strenuous than actually doing my own 50 good deeds.

At the time, I happened to be in the midst of an improvisational batik weaving streak, which I showed here a few weeks ago (1, 2, 3). One of my weavings had about 60 rectangles on it. Very peaceful.
Through the magic of time-lapse photography, here's the same quilt, a month later, embellished with symbols of Margaret's half-a-hundred adventures: 
The first thing I did, with inspiration from Leah Day, was to freemotion quilt the blue background: 
(Don't wait until after embellishment, when the quilt will be much harder to manipulate in the machine). I added a headline, Fifty Fifty: 
Words are fused and zig-zag appliquéd. 
The tiny round alphabet beads in next horizontal row say "A busy month"
Then I went to my crow boxes, my four wackiest boxes of doodads and detritus - belly-dancer coins, rabies vaccine tags from my late dog (she died years ago of old age, not rabies), 20th century shrinky-dinks, cake decorations, toy soldiers, novelty buttons, and on and on.

One by one, I added to the quilt. It starts out with a red aluminum wine lid with white star (picking up trash), a novelty button shaped like a pencil sharpener (good deed #2, above), another shaped like a dollar sign (#3), a pencil (for a letter she wrote)...
Below, a plastic Christmas candy (to represent donuts given), a cup and saucer (#6), a soup-like mottled shiny button (a stretch of a metaphor for the homemade soup? I was desperate),..
Below is the middle third. Details include more a car (#12), donuts (I ran out of plastic Christmas candy and switched to tiny brass washers), a gold plastic guitar cut from a Mardi Gras necklace (#22),  a cactus button cover (#29):
Faux tiny books (#18). I made them by decoupaging rectangles of thin cardboard with Japanese paper and machine-stitching pages inside;
...A dog charm on a minky blanket (#21)
There's a tiny plastic 100 dollar bill to symbolize the bills Margaret and her daughter hid in the 99 Cent Store kids' section. 
Here's one more decoupaged faux book. It has "This is a great book! Enjoy!" pasted onto the front of it  ( #46).
I glued a tiny toy wooden rolling pin to a brown button, plus more buttons, to represent the many cookies she baked for deserving people. 
The two labels on the left, "Ceylon" and "Earl Grey," are cut from foil tea bag wrappers, to symbolize tea she brought sick people. 
The last square on the lower right, glass sneaker beads, represent a charity walk that was her final 
good deed. 
Are you exhausted just reading this? And there are dozens more! It was hard enough (actually, superfun) selecting and stitching them. Imagine actually DOING them! In the shortest month of the year! Talk about overachiever? 

On the back of the quilt, I stitched a hanging sleeve and a fabric envelope in which I put a printout of her blog post summarizing the deeds. (The white button is the envelope flap.)
There's also a label, a hanging sleeve, and a dowel cut to fit.

I have to say that Margaret inspired me so much that I actually became a better person. I started leaving bigger tips in the coffee house jars, for one thing. I clicked through more emails and Facebook posts demanding money for good causes. I must have done well over three good deeds inspired by Margaret.

Doesn't she deserve a Nobel Prize? At the very least, she should spend her newfound leisure time launching a nonprofit organization devoted to urging everyone to spend to their birthday month doing their age in good deeds. Enjoy the whole story at her blog

P.S. She liked the quilt.


  1. Cathy, you are amazing! I posted previously, but it may be lost in cyberspace. Belated birthday wishes.

    1. Thanks Roberta. It's my friend Margaret who is amazing, but I had a lot of fun documenting her amazingness! And thanks for the birthday wishes!

  2. I'm amazed by Margaret all over again. And you!

    1. Thanks, Petrea. Do you know anyone on the Nobel nominating committee? We could all fly to Sweden with her. Or is it Norway?

  3. I don't know anyone on the committee. However, I actually know a scientist who was in a group that received the prize. I'll give him a call and ask him to put in a good word.

    Oh, wait. That was physics.

    1. That counts, too. Margaret should get a Peace Prize, an Altruism Prize, and/or a Goddess Prize. Up to 50 of 'em.

  4. Cathy, you are as inspiring as your friend Margaret. Happy belated birthday.

    1. Thank you so much, Maggie! I had a delightful ice cream sundae on my birthday!

  5. BOTH of you are amazing women. Belated happy birthday. At my age, I don't have the energy to mitzvah my age! I, too, married a younger man. When he is complaining about how old he is getting to be I answer, "I already did that! Suck it up!)

    1. Marla, thank you, I tell my husband the same sort of thing! How dare he complain!!!! Hugs!!!

  6. What a wonderful gift! And what an incredible fiber artist you are! I've enjoyed reading Margaret's "side of the story" ; fun to hear your side.