Another Finished Quilt

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My last post was about a quilt given to me by my cousin, made by either my grandmother or great-grandmother, and my thoughts about these two people as I was finishing a quilt for a recently acquired granddaughter by marriage. The quilt pictured above was make at the same time for Maggie’s brother, Tika. Jim will be delivering them on Saturday when he goes to Lansing for an outing with our son. Now every child, grandchild, and great-grandchild has at least one of my quilts.

Tika picked this pattern from Janet Goddard’s book “Simply Modern Patchwork Quilts” and it was fun and easy to put together, until….  I was really close to completing the quilting on my machine when I decided that the quilt needed to be longer. It just didn’t look functional for a young man so I decided to add another “sound wave” and after much thought decided on blue-greens. I found the required 8 pieces in my stash, realized I had to buy more background, and took apart the borders on the end. Then I realized that I didn’t have enough backing and couldn’t get more. That’s when I decided to do another sound wave for the back using 24 different fabrics across the spectrum inserting it in the unquilted end. Changing a pattern mid-process creates a lot of work but I am always glad I made the decision when it makes it more aesthetically pleasing and/or more functional.

It feels good having these two committed quilts finish – I enjoyed making them but I am now enjoying being able to focus on other activities, such as writing an occasional post or two and practicing free-style machine quilting. My morning coffee on my purple porch swing today was especially joyous because I used the early morning time to do some weeding and deadheading in my flower garden. Because of a very rainy May and a scorching June, we are just now getting the spring work done in the beds around the house. As I sipped coffee, I took great pleasure in looking at the blooming July garden without the pressure of seeing untended plants. For a day or two it is tidy and neat – I feel in control. Inside, I also have had time and energy to do some long-neglected nest-building and cleaning tasks. I have enjoyed feeling alive and full of energy, until last Wednesday.

Wednesday was one of those days when I couldn’t focus on any project long enough to make progress and I felt the familiar sadness behind my eyes – like the pressure of unshed tears. I was feeling a heavy cloud produced by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before our Congress about the investigation of Russia’s interference in our past two elections and our president’s role in that interference and his obstruction of justice associated with this investigation. The behavior of our president has been a continuing source of stress because so much of his behavior has been either immoral or illegal and anyone ‘behaving badly’ in a way that hurts others troubles me. I also am stressed because I agree with so many professionals who have served in various roles in our justice system, our president’s behavior concerning Russia is a threat to our national security and our democratic form of government. I don’t have a crystal ball and I have heard no one who knows a whole lot more than I predict that justice will prevail and our country will correct course. But I want to hold hope that we can fix the deep seated problems in our government and our society that predate our current president but are getting much worse. I want to live in a country that is true to it’s founding ideals that includes elections that are fair and honest, opportunity for all people and not just for those with privilege, a justice system that treats everyone with equal respect and fairness, and compassion to help all our citizens, not just the ones who look like those in power.

Politics weighs heavy on my heart and I don’t feel like I have much control. My daughter is also in the middle of a divorce from a husband who asked for the divorce and is now making it very difficult – wanting above all else to hurt my daughter. I am feeling helpless as my daughter and granddaughters are being hurt by him and his mean behavior. Consequently I am spending lots of time doing the things that I can control – the things that seem to make my life seem tidy and orderly.

 

A Legacy of Quilts

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The temperature had dropped and I decide to sit on my purple porch swing to finish hand-sewing the last edge of binding on the quilt I’m making for the young woman who became my granddaughter four years ago when my son married her mother. Maggie is an artists so I had her pick a pattern from a couple of books of contemporary quilts. I am excited about getting it to her because I think she will love it. The name of this pattern is ‘Birds Migrating’ and it is from the book is “Quick & Easy Quilts” by Lynne Goldsworthy.

This morning I sit long-wise on the swing and the motion of my body with each stitch (or the slight breeze making a loop through the porch) keeps the swing gently swaying. My sewing is smooth and efficient from decades of hand sewing, automatic – so I have extra brain cells for thinking.

Today my thoughts are about the quilt my cousin gave me. She found it in a closet she was cleaning and she didn’t want it – she thought it was Grandma’s quilt (passed down through her mother) and she knows that Grandma and I had a very close bond during our shared lifetimes. I smile a bit as I think of the symmetry of my motions and Grandma’s as we both work on our quilts, with over 75 years dividing us. I wish that we could sit on a summer’s day and talk and sew and talk and be together. I think she would enjoy the new techniques of rotary cutting and chain piecing. She would marvel at modern sewing machines as she never owned an electric one. And I would ask her all the questions that I have now that I am older, about the same age as she was when she died.

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I have some questions about the quilt – ones I don’t want to ask because I want it to be Grandma’s quilt. On three or four places there is a name stamped with a rubber stamp and the little letters seem to read “Taylor”, the name of my grandfather’s mother’s second husband. She died in 1939 at the age of 90, five years before I was born. I I remember family members talking about her was alive when I was very young but I don’t remember being around her; I only know her from what I overheard the grown ups say about her.

My grandfather was a very impatient, surly sort of guy, not the kind of guy a person would want to cuddle up to, or even hug. But he showed a caring for me by doing things for me or with me. When I was small, he let me ride on the tractor when he cultivated his fields and I helped him plant and harvest potatoes in the muck. He also allowed me to learn to drive on his Cub tractor – big stuff for a thirteen year old. I remember being around him in the summer when we were outdoors doing stuff, but I sat on Grandma’s lap and cuddled into her ample body as she quietly rocked me as the blown glass in the front door made the telephone pole do funny things.

The word was that Grandpa’s mother was a difficult person that people didn’t enjoy interacting with. I’ve never thought much about my lineage coming through my grandpa and his parents. I came through Grandma and her mother Grandma Carry, who lived behind them and died when I was 6.

I’m struggling to get my mind around the fact that something of importance, be it a quilt or a part of who I am as a person, may have also come through that side of my father’s family. It feels strange to me that I struggle because I also treasure the parts of me that come from my mother’s mother and her sisters. I was around my mother’s father but I know very little about him because he only spoke Polish and I don’t remember him ever trying to interact with me. I find it strange that there are people that I have included as parts of my identity and those that I have excluded.

I’m shifting, though. Grandma will always be the central character in my life story but just as I have added important characters throughout the years, I can also go back and redefine the way people from the past fit in. In my world and my story I am in charge of most of what goes on and always how I respond.

Maybe this is a lesson for all of us. Inclusion and exclusion is not cast in steel and rock. We can become more open to people who are different. We can embrace those that other’s have told us are bad. And just maybe these new people, or new understanding of who they are and how they fit into our lives, may bring us increased meaning and joy. I am growing to love my new quilt and want to know more about the woman who pieced together each half-triangle square by hand, with tiny stitches.

A Goodwill Quilt

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I’ve been busy working on multiple throw-sized quilts that I’m making for family members who don’t have one yet and a few just because I wanted to try a pattern. This one I did because I fell in love with this pattern on a web site in flannel plaid. Flannel plaid is easy to find but I’m not fond of working with flannel and quilting broadcloth isn’t easy to find in plaids that would work for the quilt I envisioned. I was trying to find a solution as we were moving to our winter home in Florida last fall, knowing the greater Naples area has a shortage of quilting stores.

And then the fun began. I realized that there are a lot of rich old men living in Naples who die each year, and their clothing is given to resale shops. I’m guessing there are well over 50 resale shops for every shop that sells quilting fabric in this area. I found some resale shops who want $20 for a used man’s shirt but I also found that Goodwill had many high quality shirts for around $3. Over the period of a few weeks I found a big stack of shirts that I cut off seams and collars. I cut 3 x 6 inch blocks from all the shirt plaids and complementary blocks from prints that I had taken to Florida and some I collected there the year before. One of my goals of making throw size quilts is to use up some of the fabric I’ve accumulated over the years.

Our friends who gather at the pool every afternoon were intrigued with my shirt project, especially the two quilters. The men stopped wearing plaid shirts when there was a chance of being around me. I finished this quilt top before we left so everyone could see it because I decided it would be a perfect house warming gift for my grandson who just bought a house in Michigan.

I really like this quilt and wavered a little on giving it away, but knew it was my grandson’s when he and his live together partner both said that one of the red plaids was like the old undershorts he just threw away. I don’t think I’ve given a quilt to anyone that had “built-in” nostalgia.

And I still have a whole box of cut up shirts waiting for another project (and looking forward to getting back to Naples to see if I can find some more). I think I will make one with 6 inch plaid squares and 6 inch Ohio Star squares made from fabric stashed away in drawers. I will just dream of that one until I get the three done that I am currently working on. And just maybe I’ll use up the pile of extra bricks I cut out to make another “Plaid Brick Road” quilt.

 

The Excitement of Learning

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I’ve got that bit of nervousness that comes from taking in a lot of new, exciting information that I haven’t had much chance to practice or apply in my daily living. I think it is my old nemesis whispering in my ear – the one that believes I should be able to learn it well enough by reading to do it perfectly the first time. Time to change that message because I’m doing this for fun – and the pleasure is in the experimentation and the learning.

This new learning started with a book I ordered way back in March, Close Up Photography in Nature, by John and Barbara Gerlach. I had borrow some books from the library and decided that this one would be the one I would want to return to frequently in the future. It isn’t a thick book but I’ve been picking it up ever since and learning something new every time I do.

I love close up work but frequently (usually?) my images become close up when I crop them in post processing – probably something “real” photographers wouldn’t admit to unless their raw files were subpoenaed. I also had been thinking I would like a macro lens but really didn’t know what to buy and when I explored them on-line, they were pretty expensive. So I read my new book, and nodded my head a lot, and went in search of a highlighter, and went back again to reread some sections. Oh, the excitement of being able to do what I love with better results, maybe. And I went out in my garden to try some of the new skills they explain in their book. That was last summer.

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What I learned was that “close up photography” involves making images that fill the entire frame and there is a definite art and science to the process. I also learned what lenses produce the best results (those expensive ones) but they also suggested an alternative for those of us who don’t sell prints so can’t declare a lens as a business expense or take out a small business loan. They discussed a way to practice the science without spending a boatload of money. One suggestion was a magnification lens that screws onto the the front of a lens, like a filter. At less than $100 it was worth a try.

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I am enjoying learning as a long, slow process. When I returned to the Naples Botanical Garden for me weekly photo shoots, I found that I was doing many of the things that I learned from the Gerlachs and the one that I am enjoying the most is using manual focus more.

I probably won’t be doing much macro photography when I am in the Michigan cold for our holiday season but I have a new toy downloaded on my computer and waiting for play time – a new learning curve. I’ll share that fun in another post.

Who Do I Write For?

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Harvested winter wheat field aglow in the morning sun.

I have had a half-baked post in my brain, about summer and time warp, there since Julie and I did a morning meandering down dirt roads a couple of weeks ago. But I haven’t been able to get it beyond the half-baked stage into something worth publishing, even though I jotted down notes in one of the many notebooks I purchased as incubators for those great ideas that aren’t fully developed and to jot down important things I need to remember – if only I could remember in which notebook I committed the ideas that used to be so important.

A few nights ago I lay back on my pillow with Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual and reread a few pages. I was reading from the perspective of writing for my blog and had to stop after he asked who my reader is, as I couldn’t answer. My professional career involved reams of technical writing and I always knew who my reader would be – students, faculty, accreditation personnel, administrators. It was also very clear what my purpose for writing was. But with creative writing I am never sure who would want to read a post about summer and time warp, and even worst I’m not sure why I should even write it – so I fluffed my pillow and decided to sleep on the questions of readers and purpose. But the morning light didn’t bring answers.

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Concord Mill Pond no longer clothed in spring green.

I knew, however, that I wanted to write about how disoriented I felt on a middle of July morning as we stopped to take photos along gravel roads. As I spent time walking around, with camera in hand, I felt the full-summer morning spreading out around me. The trees are a dark green that is vibrant, full of the activity of producing oxygen as it cleans the air of hydrogen. It is quieter on a country mid-summer morning. The birds have finished their noisy mating rituals and now all I hear are a few twitters as birds quietly tell each other the important news of the day. This gentleness is broken by the distant piercing call of a crow, pleasant only because it is familiar and a part of summer landscape. It is my hunch that the crow is calling the corn to grow into harvest time. Occasionally I hear the soft hum or clicking of insects, but when the temp heats up later in the afternoon, summer is filled with the high-pitched buzzing of the cicada. And at each stop we feel the sun a little hotter on our skin, in competition with the cool breeze that is lingering from the nighttime.

When did this summer happen? Why was I experiencing this time warp? My brain holds 70 years of experiences of the joy and freedom of green Julys – against the backdrop of experiencing the exertion and confinement of living in winter. My senses understand the subtle and not so subtle changes that take place as this part of the earth transitions between seasons but this year I missed the transition from spring to summer.

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Blackberries beginning to ripen.

My time-warp was because of a two-week cold with a touch of bronchitis. I felt the cold symptoms disappear on day 14 but the debilitating fibromyalgia fatigue stretched on for another two weeks. I didn’t have symptoms of illness but I would stand up to do something, walk out of the room I was in, and sit down in the next room. As I checked e-mails I would nod off, so I went to bed for a four hour nap in the middle of the day, sometimes almost merging with a late afternoon hour of sleep. I would sit on my purple porch swing, looking over my garden, thinking about the work I didn’t have the energy to do. Maybe it was mental fog that kept me from recognizing the transition between the spring blooms that needed dead-heading and the blossoms of early summer. I was so absorbed by my fatigue that I missed the passing of spring.

I know why summer surprised me, but I am still thinking about why I write and post photographs and who I imagine my reader to be. Sometimes I write something political with the purpose of formulating and expressing my thinking and maybe of influencing my readers’ thinking. It’s the same reason I talk with friends about current events; to validate my perception of what is going on around me, to experience the comradery of having shared beliefs or experiences, or to share alternative ways of thinking and influence others.

Most of the time, however, I write to share my past and present experiences of living, my experiences of pleasure and pain. Kooser writes that people who say that they write for themselves instead of an audience are wrong. I agree somewhat, because if I wrote just for myself I would never post and I would burn all my journals. I do write for the joy I get from finding the words to express what is going on within me, I write for myself to sort out my feelings and to heal. I know that I do it to heal because when I go back to those earlier writings, I recognize that I am reading from a new and healthier perspective. Sometimes I cry as I read the pain and courage of very difficult days in past years. But there is also a joy that comes from finding words written long ago that describe love and friendship, beauty and goodness. I experience a pleasure of recognition and the thrill of enjoying words I carefully selected to express who I was, who I am.

I also write for others. I write because I want someone else to know what I am thinking and who I am. I write so we can connect, so I don’t feel isolated. When you read what I write I am hoping you will recognize a bit of your own experience and we can find a thread of our shared humanity. I feel good when you click the “like” button because it tells me that on some level you enjoyed what I shared or it resonated with you. I feel even better when you write comments about how that thread of shared humanity gently tugged at you, and you share a piece of your story. I look forward to these shared moments after I do a post. It is also why I enjoy reading what others write and post. I especially enjoy responding about a memory your post pulled up in me or the excitement of new thoughts that your words triggered.

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Queen Anne’s Lace whispering to me that it is summer.

Most of us have never met but we can connect through my words so maybe I don’t have to be able to visualize your face for you to be my reader because I know you exist. We have become a web of pen-pals and we need each other to make our world a beautiful place to live.