Saturday, January 21, 2017

Enchanted by Trees

With our forty fifth president already sitting on his throne, I could throw in my two cents. But enough people will do that. No need to add to the din. Instead I'll  write about something I love - one of Mother Nature's greatest achievements - trees.

Listen to the word - trees. Say it to yourself - slowly. Savor the sound of those esses, how they rustle against each other, leaves whispering secrets.
Maybe even the secrets I've whispered to them. I always loved that whisperng, and I never minded the trees sharing my secrets with each other because, though I may have confided in just one, they were all my friends. 

The  grand old trees behind the Ardhu Hotel saw the passing of many generations. They were already old when my parents got married. They probably saw those trees through the windows as they celebrated at their wedding breakfast with family and friends. 
Had they been able to peek into the future they might have seen a freckled, gangly-limbed girl swinging from one of those trees - me. But they wouldn't have recognised me then. I was no more than a gleam in my dad's eye, and how could my mother know that the cute, dainty little daughter she might have dreamed of dressing in frills and lace would instead be a tomboy with constantly scraped and bleeding knees? One resistant to dance classes but crazy for trees.
Though you'd have to wonder what she expected after marrying a man, six foot two and lean-as-a-racehorse.

There was a special tree in the corner at the end of our garden which was my hideout and haven growing up. It wasn't an oak, or mighty, or majestic, just a nondescript, self effacing little tree
 with a narrow but sturdy trunk and dense foliage. I could climb easily up into the web of branches that formed the nest where I spent many hours reading and dreaming, safe and hidden from pesky siblings and  mother demanding to know had I done my homework.

When friends betrayed and turned cold shoulders, sneering on the playground "Thinks she's Hayley Mills!" I ran to my trees after school and poured out my anger and tears and they were never judgemental, their branches wrapping me in love and security, their leaves whispering comfort to my burning ears.

Except for the pink bloomers debacle. But that, of course, was a tree in a different part of town, a tree I hadn't met before, a tree whose loyalties were with Michael Breen and the Laurel Hill girls, so I didn't blame the tree, I blamed Michael Breen. And my mother for forcing me to wear those god-awful, grandmother-hand-me-down ideas of underwear.

I loved to ride my bike to the other side of town to visit my Auntie Ita. She was not really my aunt, but an elderly friend, who had introduced my parents to one another. She fed me banana and jam sandwiches, and treated me like a grownup and was great fun and I loved her. In Auntie Ita's neighbourhood there were lots of children who went to posher schools than I. I was delighted to be accepted into their group and happily followed them around. One day we ended up in a field where there were lovely, climbable trees. Imagine my surprise when they encouraged me to go first.......what an honour.......until I attained some height, and chortling and guffaws broke out below. Too late I remembered what I was wearing under my billowing skirt.........I still squirm at the humiliation of that day. To think that I trusted them and thought well of them! It didn't scar me for life as I undoubtedly thought at the time that it would. I still trust people, for the most part, and believe the best of them, unless they give me reason to do otherwise. But, as a precaution, whenever someone invites me to climb a tree with them I always insist that they go first.........and I never, ever wear pink bloomers any more.......from a long ago post.

 It was to, and up, a tree I ran when The Great Smoking Experiment blew up in our faces and Mary Grant's mother was on the warpath and lusting (or so I imagined) for my blood. To, and up, the highest tree in Barry's field, the one Mrs.Grant was least likely to be able to climb up after me to haul me down. I can't imagine, from this distance of years, what I thought she'd have done to me. Mary Grant was the ringleader in all our misadventures. I was the one being led by the nose. But there I stayed, shivering as the sun sank, until I figured Mrs.Grant's temper had cooled and the likelihood of her coming after me with a kitchen knife had receded. I'm sure now that she would have been shocked that I imagined her capable of violence against a child, but there's the rub. My imagination wasn't yet encumbered by reality, so it soared.

And wouldn't you know turns out love of trees is genetic. It didn't even skip a generation the way they say twins do. In her searching-for-herself period our California Girl actually lived way up near the top of a giant redwood to protest the logging of majestric old growth forests. Now that she's all grown up and living in a more conventional setting, she says her favorite thing about living at the top of that giant redwood, which itself was on high ground, was waking up in the morning and looking down on the valley enveloped in early morning fog. It took her breath away every time.

Back in the days when I dabbled in it, I did this quote in calligraphy...

.......inspired by the OC who has planted trees at every home we've owned. We usually were not around to enjoy them when they matured but I'm sure faces that he has not seen have blessed him. Since we moved into this house, he and our plant whisperer son, have planted oaks and bamboo, maples and magnolias, walnut and pomegranate trees, to name just a few, and we have been around to see them grow tremendously (I was tempted there by a pun but decided to spare you!) in sixteen years, the longest we've lived anywhere, providing cover and shelter for birds, bugs, spiders, squirrels, frogs, rodents and all manner of creepy crawlies, delighting us daily.
That plant whisperer I mentioned, who is responsible for the variety of trees in our garden, is now involved in arboculture. If you were corny you could even say the apple didn't fall far from the tree! 

And still, trees keep popping up.

A few weeks ago I read a review of the book Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and was intrigued. She's an acclaimed scientist who studies trees, flowers, seeds and soil. While her book is about science and biology, it is also the story of her struggle to be accepted in a field dominated by men. With her down-to-earth style, the science was easy to digest, but she also, by turns, moved me to tears and made me fall off my chair laughing.
"Every single year," she says, "at least one tree is cut down in your name." She urges us to plant trees wherever and whenever we can so that "when we are gone," we don't "leave our heirs stranded in a pile of rubble, just as sick and hungry and war-exhausted as we ever were, bereft  even of the homely comfort of the color green..."

We're on it already!

Now that Mr. Trump is settled in the White House, and given his cavalier attitude towards the environment, it behooves each of us to do what we can to protect what it looks like he will not.
If you have not exhausted all your reserves of energy getting this far, go out and plant something this week. Mother Nature will be appreciate the help

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Wherein I Befriend a Speckled Hen

Fifteen years ago (gasp! How time flies....) we moved to Florida from the midwest. It had been cold in Minnesota but one compensation was that there was a quilt shop on (almost) every corner! At first glance Florida seemed to have none. Fortunately, that is not the case. It just took me a while to find them! 

And so. October found me back in quilt country, the Northwest this time with, you guessed it! A quilt shop on every corner! I had plenty of "explore alone" time on my visit as The Bean and The GF had to work most days. I could have caught up on reading, but really? With the entire Willamette Valley at my doorstep and Fall colors at their peak? 

 Miss Google and I took to the roads.

Chances of getting lost were slim. In college I took a course in orienteering  which did not in any way prevent me from getting lost regularly for the rest of my life --- until now. Now I have an orienteering device in my pocket way better than those wiggley old compasses. I even know how to use it. And it comes with an imperious female voice that instructs me to make a legal u-turn whenever I look like I'm about to go astray.

Three minutes down the highway, three more on leafy country roads ablaze with red and gold, and we were at our first quilt shop.

The sign was hanging in front of what seemed to be a residence, not a shop, but I soon spotted the quilt shop in a separate building back behind the house.

It was a slow day. Most area quilters were preparing for a big quilt show slated for the coming weekend so the owner, Karen, had plenty of time to chat as she invited me to look around.

 Many of the display quilts on the walls were her own designs, and everywhere my eye fell there was something to marvel at including hens everywhere, speckled or not. 

I felt like a kid in a candy store.

The wide variety of fabric included some of her own lines. She prefers more traditional than wild and modern. 

 The antiques in Karen's shop are a carry-over from her original business - antiques. As she gradually added  more and more fabric, her business morphed into a full-blown quilt shop. Her antiques look perfectly happy in their new life displaying quilts, fabrics and notions. Karen's patterns have been featured in several national quilt magazines and also in a French magazine ---- oo, la, la! I was hanging with the big kids now!

 I resisted the temptation to buy any fabric since I have enough already to open my own quilt shop, but I did find a sweet little vintage fabric panel for a baby alphabet book ---  perfect for my new little grandniece.

  Since the weather forecast was for rain, Karen invited me to come back the next day and spend a few hours sewing. No need to ask twice! The sights of the Willamette Valley would still be there when the sun came back.

Shortly after ten the next morning I pulled in at The Speckled Hen. The day was grey and damp, perfect for sitting and stitching. Karen worked on samples for the shop and I set about making the cloth baby book. The Guinness Book should take note: I actually finished it the same day I started it - unprecedented.

It's no surprise that people who love quilting share many of the same interests. We chatted about everything under the sun - families, quilting, children, travel, grandchildren, cooking, quilting, gardening, quilting again and antiques.

Several times the ping of the doorbell announced the arrival of customers most of whom knew Karen and each other. In addition to whatever they'd come in search of, the chat looped around to how families were doing,  who'd gotten married, who'd had a new grandchild and whose son had a wonderful new job. Phones came out and pictures were shared as grandmas have shared them forever, only now they're using fancy new gadgets!

That's Karen on the left with some old friends who used to help out in her shop.

The friends obligingly took a picture of me and my new friend with one of her designs on the wall behind us.
And a chicken.

It seems like all the quilters I know are gardeners too. Before I left I stopped to drool at the flowers on 
Karen's front porch...

The eye for color and design does seem to carry over from quilting to gardening or possibly the other way around.

The moral of my long, meandering story is - if you're feeling lonely go visit a quilt shop. Chances are good you'll make a new friend. 

As I did.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Creativity Manifests in Ways Unexpected

I've been feeling uninspired this past week. Nothing I think of writing seems worth the bother. So, with no creative pistons firing I decided to at least get some drudge work done yesterday. I hemmed a new pair of sports trousers for the OC. They'd only been sitting for three, maybe four, months waiting for me to spend twenty minutes stitching them into wearability. When it was done I felt ridiculously triumphant! Yeah! One tiny space cleared in my sewing room!  

Casting about for the next thing that would jusify the space I occupy on the planet, I decided to bake Irish soda bread. With the bread in the oven and buttermilk to spare, I measured out ingredients for scones. If I couldn't be artistically creative I could at least play house. As soon as the bread was done, and the kitchen smelling divine, I popped the scones into the oven, set the timer and got busy cleaning up my mess.

"Was I born yesterday?" I groaned when the scones had been in the oven at least six minutes. My eyes had just fallen on a small bowl on the counter containing --- you guessed it! --- something that should have been mixed in with the the other scone ingredients --- but wasn't. Because I'm a scatterbrain.

 "Fine waste of one and a half sticks of butter!" I thought, but then --- an idea! Maybe I can salvage them! You know how they say when faced with sudden death your whole life flashes before you? Well, what flashed through my head in a nanosecond was the memory of me and Eve McDonnald baking a cake at her house when her mother wasn't home. We didn't have a recipe but hey! We were ten years old. We knew how to make cakes. Hadn't we seen our mothers do it plenty of times? Flour, sugar, butter, eggs --- we could do this, no problem!

We scooped, we stirred, we whisked, we poured. Feeling very satisfied, we opened the oven and slid our creation in, two uber-chefs in the making.

After what seemed like a reasonable amount of time, the aroma of baking cake sending our salivary glands into overdrive, we decided to have a peek.....


Our batter had turned, not into the delightful spongy confection we were anticipating, but into a swimming lake of liquid, buttery mess. 

What had gone wrong? And then we saw it - the bag of flour, sitting untouched on the kitchen table. We had meant to add some flour, but, obviously had forgotten. All was not lost however. We were creative children. We could do damage control. We took the offending cake pan out of the oven, stirred in a goodly helping of flour and popped it right back in.

When it emerged some twenty minutes later, looking all golden and puffy as a good cake should, we were overjoyed and agreed it was the best cake we'd ever eaten.

With this flashing through my brain I wondered what damage control could be exercised in this situation, and how I had progressed not one inch from when I was ten. The scones were already starting to crisp up on the bottom. Hardly thinking what I was doing, I grabbed each one and tossed it in the bowl of --- sugar, unsure if I had mixed the baking power and baking soda in there too. Working frantically I pummeled each little scone a few times to work in the missing ingredients, plopped them back on the baking sheet, shoved the whole thing back in the oven and, as the last vestiges of my inner domestic goddess evaporated, crossed my fingers that those poor little scones would survive.
When my mother made scones she never let us have one straight from the oven.

"They'll sit like stones in your stomach," she told us. We had to wait until they cooled. And so, dancing with impatience, we waited. Mum's not around anymore R.I.P. I think, with no disrespect, that she was full of what we call here "bokum halah!" I think it was her ploy to protect the scones from the ravages of the savages so there'd be some left for supper. I always eat one straight out of the oven now and it hasn't killed me yet, though this batch might be about to change all that.

So there's my tale. Turned out there was at least a thread of creativity in the whole business 'cause my first reaction was to dump the lot right into the bin. I will admit they're not the tastiest or the fluffiest scones I've ever made, but unless you have a very delicate stomach they're still edible, if a little dense! The OC's stomach is made of cast iron so he had a few with his cuppa last night. He did not however go into raptures, just choked 'em down without comment and I knew better than to ask. 

The Irish soda bread, on the other hand, was delicious!

Lesson learned: I am not genetically wired for multi-tasking. Take note me!

Friday, January 06, 2017

It's the Little Things....

Beautiful day at the nature preserve.

 Blue sky, warm sun --- felt good.

Quiet as we walked.....unless you count

the hum of insects, 

the whir of bird wings,

the lap of lake water,

the rustle of reeds,

the fall of footsteps

the racous cries of cranes,

the splash of fish jumping,

the swish of sand as a tortoise hurries home....

Okay, not quiet,

but the best kind of noisy. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Setting Intentions

At our first yoga class of the new year our instructor mentioned intentions rather than resolutions.  We set an intention at the beginning of each class. Which is nothing new. The nuns always had us praying for some intention or other. If life was hard they told us to offer it up for the intention of --- the holy souls in purgatory, peace on earth, an end to world hunger, nuns and priests in the missions, one of the older nun's recovery from illness, that another would have a happy death, that God would bless the Pope, that we'd all be on our best behaviour, and not disgrace them, when Mother General of the order came to visit from Italy.......

There was no end to the intentions. I guess they were trying to toughen us up --- there was greater suffering in the world than our trivial problems.

Get over yourselves girls.

Pray for those less fortunate.

But, back to yoga. Angie suggested we keep our intentions for the new year positive. Not "I'm going to lose weight," but rather "I'm going to be fit." Not "I'm going to give up eating dessert," but rather "I'm going to eat healthily "...and so on.

My positive intention? Not "Do not darken the door of a quilt shop this year," but rather "Get thee to the sewing room woman and git 'em done!" Every year for at least a decade I've half-heartedly resolved to get a grip and finish all my half-done quilting projects. It never happens. I just end up feeling guilty. And who needs more guilt? The nuns made sure we had enough to last this lifetime and well into the next.

Last year I finished one major quilt that had been on the go for too many years. It felt so good to put in that final stitch.

 I want more of that! So this year I'm doing American Patchwork and Quilting magazine's UFO Challenge for 2017. And harassing all my quilting friends (want to join me?) to sign up too.  For those not familiar, UFOs are Unfinished Objects. In my case -- quilts, or similar sewing projects. Make a list of twelve, no excuses.  Twelve whole months. Fifty two weeks. Three hundred and sixty five days. Roughly eight thousand seven hundred and sixty five hours.

So what has been my problem??

No deadlines, no structure, no-one to answer to, the lure of shiny new projects, no focus.... But the sands of time are not slowing down. Structure! Death to procrastination! Determination! (says she optimistically.) I'm on it already. And you thought I was just blowing hot air. Since Christmas is coming again soon, only three hundred and sixty two days away, I decided to jump right in with a Christmas project that's been languishing for years. It's small, it's applique, it's do-able.....

And then I'll tackle layering, quilting and binding the quilt for my niece's baby (already four months old - Oy!)

And that's just my first intention. There are more --- but, another day. I have a feeling this blog is going to morph into a mostly-quilting blog this year, so --- you have been warned! Of course books, photos and random bits of other stuff will undoubtedly creep in among the stitches....

 I wish you all a very good year and, if the shoe fits, happy stitching!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

I lost my Christmas spirit somewhere along the way this year. It was still missing until last evening. I'm not sure where or how or why I lost it.

It may have decided to disappear when it saw the nonsense that was our election last month.

Or maybe the bizarre juxtaposition of two news items --- one a picture of terrified residents of Aleppo fleeing with the caption "women and children being shot at point blank range," the other a smiling Princess Kate with the caption "Kate's festive Christmas dress," scared it into hiding. How, I wondered, could anyone give two hoots about festive Christmas dresses after seeing the first picture?

And then the grandkids arrived.

Us grownups have lots of advice for each other as we scurry about in our too-busy world.....

Be kind.

Do unto others...

Make eye contact.


Look for the good in everyone.

Listen....really listen, without rushing or interrupting.

Show an interest......

But words are cheap and slide so easily off our tongues.

The real test is putting all that advice into our actions.

Gifts fly back and forth at Christmas. We worry that we can't find the perfect gift for someone. The Grinch sets up house in our heads. Not pointing fingers, I'm as bad as the worst.

But last night I saw an angel in action. He had no wings. He wasn't surrounded by heavenly light. No celestial robes. The teasing about his un-color co-ordinated shorts and T-shirt rolled right off  him. His hair was sticking up in the back.  But I saw this blue-eyed angel, with his wide open, generous heart give someone the best gift of all, the gift everyone longs for --- the gift of his interest, his acceptance, his ears, his love, the gift of  his undivided attention. The gift of his time.

 It restored my faith that peace is still possible for our hurting world, as is an end to poverty and hunger if we could all be a little bit more like that angel......

For all my friends and everyone who ever comes here to read, I wish you the same comfort and joy that I found this Christmas in the the blue eyes of an angel with a boyish grin and a generous heart.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In Praise of Doodling.....

.....and fidgeting, and bouncing, and walking in the park, and getting one's head up in the clouds.....

Remember how a nun's ruler would rap your knuckles if she caught you doodling?

I have news for the good Sister. According to recent studies "doodling has been shown to increase attention in monotonous tasks and to improve recall." So, what was with all the knuckle rapping?

And surely you remember fidgeting in church and getting "the look" from your mother? Now it comes to light that "fidgeting is theorized to modulate focus!" I hope my dear departed mother knows this now and is repenting.

Our creativity workshop on Saturday afternoon touched on the effect of movement on creativity.
Turns out that fidgeting and doodling entertain the part of our brain that is starting to get bored so that, with the rest of it, we can pay better attention to the task at hand. And, right off the bat, I can hear the OC's voice demanding to see the "data."

 I don't have any. I have half-formed, fuzzy ideas. Scientific American is not begging for permission to publish my findings (though, come to think of it, wouldn't that be nice!) Off he goes, no longer interested. He's partial to hard facts verified in a lab setting. Anything less and he starts to fidget and grow restless.

But back to the doodling and the fidgeting. It doesn't take a Department of Education study, at great cost to the taxpayer, to figure out  that people need to move. Especially little people. I was horrified to hear, a few years ago, that some schools were doing away with recess. Someone high up in an administrative ivory tower had obviously lost his mind. Any woman with children could tell you, for free, what an insane idea that was.

Even the nuns knew we had to move.They circled the playground like Border Collies, nipping at the heels of those inclined to clump together for chatting purposes. "Run, girls! Play ball! Jump rope! Play tag.....Move!" They knew our brains would balk at declining Latin verbs, or wrestling with Algebra, if we didn't energetically oxygenate our blood during that brief ten minutes on the playground. Anything to increase the flow to the grey matter. But they seemed to have a blind spot when it came to doodling and fidgeting. Neither, in their books, rated as exercise.

I make no claims to be a scientist. I'm merely reporting random tidbits, bandied about by a bunch of women at the library, some of whom were fidgeting as they spoke.  And nobody rapped their knuckles. All the tidbits related to how movement encourages productivity and creativity. One woman told of taking part in an experiment where, in a set amount of time, participants had to connect two lines on a sheet of paper. She only managed to draw nine connecting lines in the given time. All participants were then asked to stand up and jump around for a few minutes. They then repeated the exercise and everyone drew a significantly higher number of lines after the physical activity. Ergo, as the OC cowers in dismay, whatever about creativity, the activity certainly increased production.

One study done in the UK in 2005 concluded that "kids who are allowed to fidget during class learn more quickly than those who are not." One of our group told of autistic children being allowed to bounce up and down in their seats as they worked because experiments had shown that, when allowed to do so, they would learn more and get better scores.

Interestingly, the effects on the teachers of classrooms full of  bouncing, fidgeting children were not reported.

Curious, I  turned to Google and read the introduction to a paper on this very subject. Thinking I had hit the mother lode, I scrolled down to the meat of the article only to have the writer switch from the English of the introduction to her native Swedish, leaving me up the garden path without a shovel. But from the introduction I had at least gleaned that she believed we fidget the better to focus, relax, explore new ideas and to delay the onset of boredom.

Those are some ideas I could raise a glass to.

Another paper set out to compare highly creative children with those diagnosed as having ADHD. The implication seemed to be that it is sometimes easier, and more convenient, to label an energetic, creative child as hyper active and to medicate him, than to actually provide the level of stimulation that such a child needs.

I'd done nothing more active all day than boil the kettle for tea and drive to the library. The hyperactive child who lives and bounces around in my head had been lacking inspiration lately so, based on what I had so recently heard, I stopped at the park on my way home from the library. It was busy ---  parents pushing toddlers on the swings, hordes of teenagers playing basketball, tennis balls pinging back and forth and kids kicking balls around the soccer fields. I set off at a trot on the walking path....Well, as close to a trot as my aging knees will allow.  The sky overhead was blue. Red leaves shone among the green along a fence, cheeky squirrels squatted in my path, palm trees stood silhouetted against turquoise and peach as the sun started sinking, the scrubby oaks arched over my head and my mental cobwebs got swept away, at least for a while. And here you have the result --- full of the usual half-formed ideas, woefully lacking in hard data.....and not one call yet from Scientific American.

I probably need my knuckles rapped.