Staying Afloat – Kinda

We are staying afloat, kinda, as we attempt to stay safe while maintaining relationships with friends and family. Yesterday was a blaa day – grey skies, rain all afternoon, cold. Today is forcasted to be the same but with 2 minutes and 43 seconds less daylight. This time of year the daily loss of daylight is about the same over two or three months and adds up quickly. I don’t do well with less daylight, especially when the daylight is filtered through dark clouds.

But I am keeping my commitment to identify something each day that brought joy. It was difficult finding a bright point of joy yesterday – in fact I don’t remember how I filled most of the day. Funny how there can be a time of joy nestled in a grey, curl-up-in-a-blanket kind of day. There was a joyful period when I felt nurtured by an activity that by design will nurture one of my children.

I am making a throw size quilt for each of my adult children (and a spouse) for Christmas and yesterday I cut the extra backing and batting of the quilt I’m making for our son. It is so exciting to clean up the quilt that is now ready for the binding – the very last step of completion. I nurtured this quilt into existence, using a pattern for inspiration but designing the quilt around the idea in my head of what Mike would like, laying the pieces out and changing them until every piece fit within the whole I was working towards. And then sewing them together and watching in amazement as they came together almost perfectly – then taking out the offending pieces and replacing them with the perfect ones. Yes, it was a labor of love and joy – with a peak of joy when I cut off that extraneous fabric and could see what it would look like finished. But it isn’t quite finished so today I will start sewing on the binding. Will that be my experience of joy today?

Living in the Age of COVID-19: The President Should Sew Masks

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I finished 60 masks and took them to the Jackson Friendly Home last week. This was a fun project and one that I have an emotional motivation for. First, I believe that having cloth masks will become increasingly important as people start moving and mingling more. Second, I have warm memories of the Friendly Home and an appreciation for its heritage.

When our children were young we picked up a lady who lived at the Friendly Home and took her to church every Sunday. We became friends and our daughter shared a memory of Miss Thatcher when I told her where I took the masks. Sharon visited Miss Thatcher and when they went to her room, she brought out a “big” box of greeting cards she had received over the years, gave Sharon some scissors and paste and told her to have fun. Sharon says she was so excited and was contently busy for a looooong time – and then they went around to visit Miss Thatcher’s friends. Sharon loved seeing what each woman had in her room, walking around looking at everything as the friends chatted a bit.

The Friendly Home is a low-cost housing for women over 65 with meals and some assistance with tasks of daily living. My husband says it was started for widows of the Civil War. I’m going to have to research more of its history.

I still have some masks in various stages of development for the local Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. I’ve set them aside for a little while so I can focus on a wall hanging I’m making for our Florida residence. Piecing quilt tops provides me with the delusion that I am in control – I become obsessed with getting colors and composition and construction perfect.

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This is when I had 3 1/2 inch blocks laid out on a felt board – when I was studying it and changing blocks, then studying it a little longer. I slept on it and changed a couple more in the morning. When I thought I was satisfied (it was perfect) I started sewing the blocks together in rows, making it a little closer to being whole. With the sewn rows back on the felt board I sat and looked some more and added another row of pieces to the top and side so the pattern created a balanced composition. Adding new blocks to the pattern resulted in some small pieces that were no longer working in the already finished parts. Some of the blocks that weren’t working were already sewn in a row. Sometimes making things right means that I have to take apart a section and rearrange it.

I wish I had the same power over my country as I have over my quilt projects. This virus seems to making the broken parts more glaring. I see reports of how society isn’t working, and I feel the pain and fear over and over as new populations are impacted and ill informed people in power are making really stupid decisions and doing really stupid things.

My disdain for the parts of our country that values greed is growing. My disdain for people who are self-centered and mean is growing. I long for a world that works for all people. This pandemic hits everyone so some people believe it is a leveler. They believe that with the covid virus no one is special and privileged. Look, it has even struck the White House.

But this isn’t what I am seeing. As I am making sense of the carnage of the virus I see the disproportionate number of people who are afflicted both medically and economically are those who have always lived on the way outer edge of privilege. They are the people who the government feels may need to die for our economy to be healthy. These are the people who serve others, who take care of the privileged. These are the people least likely to have health care, or trust the system enough to go for help. These people are considered ‘those people’ over there, on the edge, not worth helping because they can be replaced.

Yes, the president says that some people may need to die for us to rebuild a strong economy before the next election. That’s what he needs, and he needs it fast. Maybe he needs to learn how to quilt, or sew masks for the people who work in the White House.

Artificial Change of Seasons

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We finished our fall clean-up so we could leave for our 5-6 week fall stay in Florida. We do it every year so I would think I would easily adjust but this year we were cleaning out the flower bed before we got much of a taste of fall in Michigan. The trees were just beginning to change and we experienced only one week of the glorious cooler days with lots of sunshine and low humidity that lets us know the season has changed. I went to the farmer’s market for vegetables to made salsa for canning. I experienced the bliss of pealing and chopping tomatoes, dicing peppers and onions, adding spices and vinegar, and then having the smell waif through the house as it boiled down before putting it in jars and processing it. I also canned a few jars of tomatoes for pasta, chili and soups throughout the year. I used roma tomatoes this year and the filled and processed jars were so beautiful. Apples were being picked so I bought some of my favorite varieties to make mixed apple applesauce to freeze for quick and easy side dishes. These are my normal routines that have been consistent for over 50 years. But this moving from north to south doesn’t seem normal (in spite of doing it for nine years) – it feels like we are messing with Mother Nature.

We returned from our 5-week trip to the west coast to a mostly spent flower garden. When I saw it I was ready to have the dying stems cut down, to clean up and make everything tidy for the long dormant season. I advocated for Jim to spare the coriopsis and sedum because the bees and butterflies were so busy around them – but then was so distracted by the discomfort of a molar I had removed on Tuesday of that last week that I don’t know if or when he cut them down. One ritual that we never miss is our annual discussion about when to take down the purple porch swing to transfer from the front porch to the back of the garage. How silly it is, but important, that I want to have the swing there for each and every beautiful fall morning when I feel compelled to soak up as much sun as I can; protection from the long, grey, frigid winter – that I escape for the sunshine state.

Florida is hot and steamy this October. I don’t think the weather here has made the transition to fall – but only full-time residents seem to know when fall begins and ends. Maybe they mark this change of season by the fall merchandise that shows up in the big-box stores. It sure looks like summer outside, but I bought a wreath for the front door with fall flowers and brightly colored leaves. The only leaves that drop here are the bald cypress and I don’t think they turn to a bright color. Southern Florida is evergreen and ever-growing. Any celebration of the change in season feels vicarious to me. Fall is that hurricane season when the temperature is lower than summer and before the season when hoards of snow-birds and tourists arrive. Maybe the snow-birds bring down the concept of a fall season with colorful leaves, orchards with red apples being picked and hayrides on very cold nights – much colder than the 78 degrees F. we had last night.

And I’m out of sorts either because my mouth isn’t normal or I’ve crossed Mother Nature – nothing serious but just uneasy. I’m doing the tasks that need doing but doing them with a heaviness of spirit. I’m piecing cheerful throws, or quilts, for the guest bedroom – a project that I started several years ago. I’m undecided whether they will be throws folded at the end to be opened for more warmth on cooler nights or whether I will make them twin size to use as the main cover. It will probably depend on when I get tired of piecing and whether I want to pay to have the twin size long-arm machine quilted.

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I think I will use the piecing of this quilt as a time of contemplation. I have withdrawn socially in the past few months but this quilt pattern suggest how we are all braided together, our lives are intertwined. I need to think about this as every day seems to bring news of the death of someone in my past – so many deaths creating voids. But that’s another blog.

 

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.