A Real Holiday Season

This morning we were treated to a beautiful snow fall. A flake bumped up against the window over the sink to get my attention – saying, “Here we come.” A few minutes later I realized that there were lots of flakes falling – some of them dancing on upward drafts, not ready to fall to the ground where they would soon melt.

Snow and cold seem to be an important part of the Christmas season, at least for those of us who grew up in the northern regions of our country. I remember the excitement of hearing the knock on our door, running to open it to our guests because my childhood anticipation of the forthcoming party had reached its peak. I remember the scent of cold coming in, relatives handing presents to me for under the tree as they stomped the snow off their shoes, took off their boots, unwrapped scarfs, stuffed mittens and hats in sleeves, and handed to outstretched arms piles of coats to put on beds. All completed to chants of Merry Christmas from everyone to everyone. This ritual was also reversed every year as we went to homes of friends and family. The teeth-chattering cold in spite of being bundled up, the snow, the lights of the Christmas tree in the front window welcoming us in even before we got out of our car, and the crunch of snow with each step. Ah, and the foggy eye-glasses as soon as I entered the house. This is what I’m remembering of my Christmas’s past.

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We fly back to Michigan to be with family for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each year on the evening before we leave, we say goodbye to Naples by going for my favorite meal at one of my favorite restaurants, fish and chips at the Old Naples Pub on 3rd Street South in the oldest area of Naples. We went for early supper, as the sun was getting low over the Gulf of Mexico just 4 blocks away, but the temperature was still a balmy 80 f. We ate outdoors, with smiles because it was so perfect.

Christmas decorations had been put up during the previous week so we decided to go for a walk down 3rd Street after we had finished sharing a piece of key lime pie.

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What I see every year is a jolt to my emotional memories. Poinsettias don’t seem to belong with tropical plants – outdoors no less (even though my brain knows they grow into large shrubs in people’s yards). We smiled, enjoyed and laughed as we talked about how different Christmas feels in sub-tropical weather.

Driving home we went down 5th Avenue South just because we could. In high season, when we get back, it takes forever to drive this two-lane, 7 block shopping district because of the cars and people. In November we breezed through, with windows down and sunroof open.

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I hold these memories in my heart and smile, as I am now preparing for a real Christmas with cold and hopefully just a little snow. I have a poinsettia on the kitchen counter and no palm trees with lights wrapped around their trunks. I’ll see the palms in a few weeks.

It is strange how we come to believe that traditions should be the way we have always known them to be. One of the advantages of traveling and spending time in different locations has been learning that even the simplest activities of daily living can be different when people live in different climates, have different faith stories, are a part of a different culture. When I took students abroad to study culture I learned that culture learning requires an open mind, an ability to identify similarities and differences without judgement, an eagerness to explore and understand.

I wish you a holiday season in which you have the opportunity to explore and learn customs that are different than your own and that this experience brings you increased joy. I also hope you find a way to maybe assimilate a little bit of different into what you find familiar and comfortable.

I would love to read your stories if you write them into a blog and leave a link in the comments. Please do!

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.

Dreamed into Being

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The idea that we are dreamed into being by generations past is a common one among Indigenous people around the world. I realize that I hold it so deeply that I am surprised when it is new, and resonates, with others.  Michael Watson – Dreaming the World

I follow Michael on WordPress and many of his posts speak to me about things I know, but know with shadows around the edges. He brings a personal perspective to what I know about being different, having unique needs in a world that very often finds people who are different scary or annoying. And he offers me insight from a world perspective that I’m familiar with only through reading novels or professional literature.

Periodically Michael talks about the role of ancestors from generations past, usually insights on how they influence mental health and relational difficulties. When he talked about being dreamed into the world by ancestors, I had to do a lot of thinking to wrap my mind around it. But I liked the concept. I just wasn’t sure I could believe my ancestors dreamed me into being.

Could I really have been dreamed into being when my being wasn’t planned by my 17 year old second-generation Polish Catholic mother who worked at a soda fountain and my 16 year old Anglo somewhat-Christian father who played football in his junior year of high school. This was in 1943 when out-of-wedlock pregnancies were a disgrace and Catholics weren’t allowed to date Christians. And Christian parents warned their adolescents about marrying a Catholic. I wasn’t planned for – maybe not even wanted. Did my ancestors from generations past on both sides of the Atlantic really dream me into being?

After months of letting this concept percolate through my brain cells I have discovered that I actually find comfort in believing that my ancestors dreamed me into being. I can support this comforting belief because I am dreaming my great-grandchildren into being and even my grandchildren’s great-grandchildren. I also believe in an afterlife and my afterlife wouldn’t be worth looking forward to if I couldn’t continue to care for and guide those who are born long after I have departed.

On this Memorial Day weekend I spent some time thinking about the people who are no longer living but have impacted my life. Because I have been loved and nurtured throughout my life, I feel better equipped to deal with the pressure of living in a world with increasing threats and challenges. Because others felt hope for me, I also have hope for opportunities for self-fulfillment and loving relationships for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as they negotiate creating lives with integrity.

I am also in the process of thinking about how to integrate into my self image those who prepared the way for my birth, loving me long before I was born. “May we remember that we are the prayers of past generations, and their hope for the future, and may we carry those hopes and prayers lightly into the future as we continue to dream future generations into being.” (Michael Watson)

 

Circle of Friends

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This sculpture by Gary Lee Price was a part of last year’s special sculpture display at the Naples Botanical Garden and I was so excited to see it is still on display. I made several attempts to photograph its spirit last year – but deleted most of the photos. On this visit, clouds blew in as I was finishing my photography walk-about so I had ideal conditions for another try. All my previous attempts on sunny days (Florida isn’t named the Sunshine State by accident) resulted in too many highlights that Lightroom couldn’t correct enough. 

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With the currant administration’s nasty rhetoric about how dangerous immigrants are, especially those seeking asylum, this sculpture holds special meaning for me. See that spot on the bottom left where I joined in the circle – leaving enough space for you to join me._DSC0246

 

This sculpture touches my soul and represents so many of the values I have chosen to believe in and build my life upon. 

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I remember when I first experienced someone who was poor face-to-face instead of just hearing about “the poor.” I was in second grade and we were instructed to get in a circle and hold hands. The girl that was next to me, the one I would need to hold hands with, was someone who I had been only vaguely aware of – she was always on the fringes of our class. This wasn’t a “hoity-toity” private school, just a neighborhood school in a working class neighborhood but she was different somehow, maybe her clothes were a little more warn than everyone else’s or her hair never looked clean. I had to take her hand and somewhere within me I was uncomfortable even though I had never thought about her nor understood why she seemed different. Then I took her hand. Her hand was uncomfortable in my hand and I felt repulsion. Her hand was horribly dry and crusty. And in that instant I knew very deeply in my mind and heart what poor was. Poor is being different, poor is being on the margins because poor is not having enough basic needs to be able to put a decent hand forward. Poor is suffering. That was almost 70 years ago and today I am weeping because of her exclusion from our class and because she probably never had access to the simple rights and privileges I would experience.

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“I hope I can assist the world in visualizing a place where fences and boundaries, both real and imagined, are non-existent; a place where bias and prejudice are long forgotten; and finally, a place where acts of kindness, mutual respect, and love are everyday happenings.” – Gary Lee Price (obtained from his website)

I believe that this statement comes from Price’s very soul because it would be impossible to sculpt these figures to depict his message, his goal, without believing in it with all of his mind and heart. His written beliefs shine so brightly through this sculpture that they have lit my soul.

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The artist has maintained the integrity of each animal’s body but in fantasy has illuminated each creatures’ personality. The penguin has a crown and the elephant has a necklace. The fantasy within the sculpture is the depiction of human experience in these animals joined together, this circle of friends. It expresses joy and laughter and movement, the love and respect within relationship, the display of inclusion in spite of differences.

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I think I almost captured the energy this sculpture emits – the movement that can be felt. I think that when we are in troubled times, like the people of all nations and continents are currently experiencing, it is difficult to see how we will work our way out to better times. We can become de-moralized, feel helpless and incapable of making our world a better place. But we can do it, you and I.

We can embrace and shake the dry, cracked and dirty hand of a person we meet and offer some help while respecting the dignity of the person-hood we see in their eyes. Maybe instead of looking at and seeing difference in skin color, hair texture, or clothing styles we can share a space with them, looking for ways to work together, respecting all contributions. Maybe instead of hearing and being frustrated with a difficult to understand accent, we can work to find ways to listen to what is being communicated so we can find commonalities and relationship for a better outcome for all. We can admire them for being smart enough to be bilingual.

Most important, we in the U.S. can be thinking about the election coming up in less than two years. We need to get beyond the noise of empty promises and lies to understanding the candidate’s values. Do they recognize income inequality and have ideas about how to bring about wages that allow all people who work to be able to support their families without living below the poverty line? What do candidates believe are human rights – adequate education to give all people skills to earn a living and critical thinking ability to participate in our democratic system, basic health care for everyone, adequate housing, healthy food, access to infrastructure? Do they believe children should be protected and taken care of – even Black or Jewish or Muslim or Hispanic? Do they embrace “other” and “different” so that social values can continue to change to make room for people who aren’t just like us? What do they believe about our place in the world? Do they believe we should fight only for our interests or do they believe all people should have a share of the world’s resources? Does the candidate recognize the complexity of international relationships and articulate a way of relating to foreign leaders that is respectful of our rights and the rights of the people of foreign countries?

Different does not mean the same as bad, illegal, immoral, or dangerous. My challenge for the coming year is to find ways to respect different while fighting against actions that are really bad, illegal, immoral and dangerous. I need to clarify my values and work to understand whether proposed national policy is consistent with what I believe. I need to continue working to do what I can to make life better for those individual who have been denied basic needs because of their differences and political greed. And of course there is room for you to join me in creating millions of concentric and overlapping Circle(s) of Friends.

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Let’s join hands.