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  • Cathy Stenquist

My story on World Mental Health Day.



During my journey caring for my mother, who suffered from malnutrition, I learned a lot about the brain. This magnificent organ is the conductor in the symphony we call our body. All functions are connected to it. How we see, taste, feel, hear, smell, maneuver around our environment, digest our food, grow our cells… everything. The brain beautifully knows each instrument’s part and just the right flick of the baton that is required to initiate something the body needs. And if that was not enough, it also cares for our thoughts and emotions. What a miracle!


Your brain is no different than any other organ in your body. Your kidneys, lungs and heart need good nutrition, exercise, and hydration to serve you well and occasionally, a checkup to help make them healthy again. Why would your brain and mental health be any different?


Today, I ask you to take a closer look at your brain and how you are feeling.


Several years ago, I knew I was feeling overwhelmed after a long string of losses. Much like I could not just “suck it up” and get over a strep throat, I knew I could not feel better emotionally on my own. My brain was asking for additional support, and I am so grateful I listened. For some reason society sees needing mental health help as a weakness. This is wrong. I would say it's just the opposite; by acknowledging my need and seeking help, I was being brave. Reaching out to get a referral was one of the single best and bravest things I have done in my life for my own self-care.



I want to remove the stigma around seeking help.

My dream is to make mental health self-care

as common, comfortable and accepted

as calling your primary care when you have a strep throat.


I have learned so much through my conversations with my therapist, and have a deeper understanding now of situations, people, myself and my approach to life. Honestly, I think everyone can benefit from therapy at one time or another. When I felt I was stronger and healthier, I extended the time between our chats a bit further. Finally, I took some time off - knowing that my therapist, like my primary care, would be there when I needed them.


And so today, it I with pride in myself that I say, #iwasbrave and I am better for it. Let’s talk about mental health self-care and our own experiences and make seeking help as comfortable as booking your yearly physical. And if life is making you feel overwhelmed, there is help, I promise! Call your PCP, a friend, or this number. Go ahead, BE BRAVE.



Author Cathy Stenquist filling her cup in a New England sunflower field.

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  • Cathy Stenquist

Updated: Aug 18

Sunday Evening:

I browse through old pictures. My little girl, adorned in her tutus, is all grown up now, and getting married next summer. I am feeling a bit nostalgic. She is due over to my house at 11:00 am tomorrow, to begin the search for her wedding dress. How has the time passed so quickly?


Erica Leigh and her friend, Greg, "getting married."


Monday morning:

Standing in front of my dresser, I linger indecisively wondering what should I wear. The everyday leggings and comfy shirt I have worn the past year and a half during the pandemic just will not do. Opening my closet door, I slide each long forgotten dress and skirt slowly and thoughtfully to the left. One by one, they audition for a scene that I had imagined for thirty-two years since Erica Leigh was born.


The bride and I.

I hold several options up to my chest, analyzing them in detail in the mirror and scrunching up my nose to many, finally settling on a blue sleeveless dress. Yes, cool, comfortable. And if I am very lucky, the busy blue design along with the Spanx might just disguise the"covid-15"that I have gained. Laying the dress on the bed, I slide the closet doors shut and open my jewelry box.

My mother-in-law June and I on her last birthday.


On special occasions like this, my heart is feeling heavy, yearning for all the ladies in my life that I have loved and some I have lost; my sisters, my mother, my grandmothers and mother-in-law. My way of holding them close, bringing them along for the ride is to wear something of theirs. It somehow helps me feel like they are a part of it.


Immediately I know what I want to do.


My old wooden jewelry box safely cradles a variety of metal, beads and pearls lovingly passed down. Lifting the lid, I scan the velvet compartments - occasionally picking up a trinket, considering it, then dropping it back in the box. The sparkle of ocean blue catches my eye. I slide my mother-in-law June's ring slowly onto my finger. "Hi Junie," I say outloud to her sweet soul.


June's blue ring.


Next, a gleam of gold. The textured oval earrings inherited only months ago when my mom passed, will add just the right sparkle. Tilting my head to each side I place the gold posts in each ear and secure them with a rubber backing. I imagine my beautiful mother in front of her mirror with these same earrings many years ago, and I smile.


Hanging on the wall, I spy a long gold necklace with turquoise beads. I had mailed them to her in 2015 with a sweater dress as a surprise, simply because being a caregiver had taken its toll on her and clothes and jewelry always made her smile. Putting it around my neck and laying it close to my heart feels right. I love you, Mom...thanks.


L-R: My sister Diane, Me, my Mom and my sister Sandy on my mother's 70th birthday trip.


After putting on my makeup I reach toward the bathroom cabinet shelf where I keep items belonging to my ladies: a mostly empty jar of "Here's My Heart" perfumed cream that belonged to June; the bottle holding the last bits of my mother's perfume,"Jontue,"; the bar of "Sweetheart" soap whose smell brings back memories of my grandmother. I dab and spray a little on each arm and breathe in their presence.


My memory shelf.


I am now the matriarch of my family, though I still feel like the innocent little bride from forty years ago picking out my own dress. Crazy at it seems, in the middle a pandemic, world upheaval and global warming... Today I will take my ladies with me, and know we will all shed a few tears watching Erica emerge from the curtain, adorned in lace and satin. A little bit of hope, joy and connection as she thinks about saying yes.


Nancy and I waiting to see the next dress.


Post Script:

Sharing this moment with my best friend Nancy, helped to fill a bit of the hole left by the absence of my beloved ladies. For Nancy has shared the journey with me for over 32 years, watching Erica Leigh grow into the amazing young woman that she is. With the smallest of glances, Nancy tells me with out words that she knows how I am feeling. While we waited, we reminisced, laughed and welled up. The hour we spent together was lovely and it is a wonderful start to saying,"Yes!"


Mom, June, Gram, Nana, Sandy and Diane-

I am so very grateful that I got to share this moment with you, my dear sweet ladies.

We'll be together again next summer when the 'I do's' fill the air.

I'll love you forever,

Cathy


My precious Erica Leigh.







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  • Cathy Stenquist

Shhhh! Don't tell anyone. Really...


OK, here goes.

I am a closet fabric hoarder.


I'll admit it. Browsing through Joanne Fabrics almost always leads to purchasing a yard or two, just because - with no idea of how I will use it. Once I see a pattern or feel the soft weave of the fabric, I fall in love. It's over. It has to be mine.


A few months ago, I finally decided, at the very least, to organize my yardage by color. This way I could see what I already had and maybe, just maybe... not buy another yard of blue fabric. This worked fine, till I discovered 'fat quarters.'


Ok, seriously.... Can you blame me for collecting these?


The best way to explain fat quarters is going to a dim sum restaurant and seeing all the little plates tempting your eyes and stomach and reaching for just one more. And heaven forbid if they are on sale!


So, over the past year and a half, I have been a "lean mean quilting machine," making 8 quilts and giving them away for various occasions. I definitely have the pandemic to thank for my new hobby. Covid forced many creatives like myself, to find new ways to make art at home. For me? I decided to build off my basic sewing knowledge and teach myself to quilt. I watched 'how to' videos and scoured Pinterest. What did we ever do with out them? I picked up all sorts of short cuts (like using a rotary cutter and mat instead of scissors for those straight cuts and chain stitching) that have made all the difference. I also learned to weave into my quilts, vintage hankies, napkins and tablecloths, clothing from grandparents long since gone, old denim jeans and so much more.


L-R: A quilt made of my grandmothers hankies and lace,

one for my new grandson with bits of his great grandparent's shirt and robe, and two colorful ones for each of my granddaughters.


The process of cutting out the right sizes and shapes of fabric, often leads to "crumbs"- small insignificant pieces which normally would be thrown out. As I grabbed a fistful of the scraps near my sewing machine and reached for the wastebasket, something about the glorious colors made me stop. (Insert angels singing "Alleluia!")


"I think I'll just hang onto them," I mumbled and put them in a box. Reassuring myself that they would eventually find a purpose in a collage or art project with my granddaughter.


The other day, I needed to take a day off from all things writing and publishing and refill my creative well. I scanned my art supply shelves and saw the box,"Quilting Scraps" and gently took it down. I poured the contents out onto my kitchen table and began sorting them by color.


Soon I had a expansive rainbow of inspiration.

Each piece reminding me of a past gift made for someone I love.


I recalled seeing a video somewhere on making a quilt from your scraps and quickly searched and found it. "I can do this!" I told myself, and set the sewing machine up. Find two flat edges and sew them together, it said. Bit by precious bit, the "crumbs" were sewing together into a brand new piece of fabric.


As the machine hummed for hours, I thought to myself that crumb quilting is much like writing a story. You get the crumb of an idea... maybe a few crumbs. Often they need to sit on the shelf awhile till you one day find inspiration form their frayed pieces. Then bit by bit, the writer lays down these crumbs sewing them together into words, which turn into sentences, which turn into a paragraph, which turns into a story.


I have many stories that have been basted together and they, like this new piece of fabric I created, now need some space to sit, to marinate a bit. But in time, like this newly created piece of fabric, I will take it off the shelf and cut it up, discarding the 'little darlings' that don't belong, add a few fresh crumbs here and there, and turn it into something extraordinary.


















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A little bit of this & that