A Still Life – A Story Being Written

Patti gave us the wonderful challenge of “Still Life” for this week’s Lens-Artist Challenge. I know what a still life is, a picture of an apple and a pear and a vase with some dried flowers and maybe a book or two. I’ve seen lots of still life paintings in museums and even tried my hand at one or two with my camera. And of course I’ve moved an inanimate object or two to make a better composition.

Since Patti’s post I’ve been thinking about still life, still living, stilled lives and of course, my life. I’ve been thinking about our Florida rebuild project that feels like a “still life” from where I am sitting 2,000 miles north. And Spring in Michigan that is anything but “still” this April, having had about 6 different kinds of snow in three days. I’ve also been thinking about the quilt that my neighbor Chrissy showed me when I was at her house showing her how to thread her new sewing machine.

She gently unfolded it. It smelled, the batting had wadded and was falling out through holes and tears in the top layer, it was frayed and faded and looked very, very fragile. But it had a story. Chrissy’s grandmother and great-grandmother had made it. Chrissy’s father had grown up using it on his bed and gave it to her after they found it while cleaning out her grandfather’s home after he passed away. I was hooked. I told her I thought I could stabilize it and make it whole again so she could use it in her home. Daughter Bri has already said that she would like it someday.

Truth admission – I’ve never done this before, even though I’ve made many, many quilts. I follow blogger Rhonda Dort who loves to save old quilts she rescues from antique shops and other places so I’ve learned a thing or two from her; I feel confident I can do it. As we were talking I told her about how Ronda covers torn places with lace and asked if she had any old lace from her mom. She said no… but ran upstairs and returned with a bag containing pieces of her mother’s wedding dress and round lace flowers that had adorned it. I told her that they would be perfect if she wanted to integrate this important piece of her mother’s (and father’s) lives with her father’s treasured quilt. Both of us had tears in our eyes at this point, and we were also getting very excited.

It was a tied quilt so I showed Chrissy how to cut the ties off and take out stitching along the edges, take the backing off (it wasn’t bound) so we could save that and told her to clean out all the old stuffing (nasty job). I explained that I would stabilize it so she and her adult daughter could hand sew the lace flowers on and then we would tie it back on it’s backing with new batting.

It didn’t take Chrissy long to complete her work. When she brought it to my home we talked about how fragile it felt. The white muslin squares and some of the print strips were so thin from use and age that we were cautious when we moved it. It is literally falling apart.

The quilt lay on our living room carpet for many days as I thought about it. I knew I needed to stabilize the top and mulled over several options. My first thought was to stabilize it with the iron-on stabilizer used with machine embroidery but that would be horribly time consuming and from experience inconsistent in its adhesion. Besides I was afraid it would effect the softness and drape of the quilt. I also thought about using lawn because it is so light and thin but I don’t think it comes in wide widths so there would be a seam that would show through the very thin quilt top. I finally decided on unbleached muslin with a high thread count and in quilt backing width.

I’m currently hand basting the layers together as I am stabilizing some long seams for delicate machine stitching and securing the edges of holes and tears to the muslin. This has become an act of love as I am becoming acquainted with the quilt’s history. It is no longer a “still life,” but a living breathing entity telling its story, the history of its connections with the people it has shared a life with – also now including me. I have been listening to it and it is telling me what it needs.

Chrissy and I strongly agree that I should maintain the integrity of the quilt except when I need to add something to strengthen and preserve it. There are fabrics that faded to varying degrees and they will stay.

There are two strips that Chrissy and I thought might be plain muslin and wondered why they weren’t colored like the rest. When I explored the seam on the back I discovered they had been blue but faded into cream. There is even a little hole in the top fabric over the seam that allows a little of the original color to show through.

I also notice black dots and wondered what that story was about. They look like splattered ink so I would guess that Chrissy’s father was practicing penmanship or working on the final draft of an essay while sitting on his bed. Chrissy thinks this story fits as she remembers him telling her that his widowed father pushed the kids hard to do well in school.

Those blemishes will all stay as they are, they will not be hidden or taken out because that would silence the story the quilt is telling. This story is also about the people who cared about this quilt and the boy that it kept warm. I can see evidence that it was mended multiple times with different techniques. In some places the colored/printed strips are narrowed a bit and the fabric is drawn up just a little telling me that someone very carefully and neatly mended the seam that had torn along the stitch line. I will be doing the same but because the fabric has thinned so much and has unraveled I will be using a delicate decorative machine stitch that will catch and secure some fabric on each side of the seam and secure it to the unbleached muslin that I am using to stabilize it. These steps using modern techniques will now become a part of this quilt’s history/story.

Most of the quilt is made from grain or flour sacks with very low thread count. This bright floral print, however, is seersucker so maybe a sister had a beautiful summer dress of this fabric and there was a strip left for the quilt. I wonder if any of the other pieces were from clothing fabric.

As I am gently touching this quilt to press, mend and repair, as I am smoothing and shaping it to fit the new muslin, it is also touching me. I am relishing how it is sharing it’s secrets and triggering thoughts of my own grandmother and great-grandmother who made quilts that I now have.

I am thinking of the quilts I have made grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Sometimes family members say they want to put my quilts away to keep forever and I urge them to use the quilts. I hope that some of my quilts will be “loved to pieces” as this quilt has been. I hope that someday someone will mend one of my quilts so that it can continue to give the love that I sewed into it as I chose the perfect fabrics, pieced and quilted it. No quilt should be a “still life.”

I Feel the Seasons Changing

Early last week I stepped out on my front porch before the sun was up over the trees of the hedgerow and I felt late summer. The air was cool and dry on my skin and I heard the silence of the morning that seems to come when summer has spent most of her energy and nature is slowing down. I smiled because I welcome this slowing down but it lasted only that one day – then we went into a stretch of the dog-days of August with high heat and humidity.

I’ve noticed that my garden is also starting to take on the late summer look. My attention has shifted from fighting weeds to dead-heading in the hopes that the plants, mainly daisies, will send out some more buds. There is still a lot of color with black-eyed susans, echinacea, zinnias, a few late-blooming day lilies, a bright pink hibiscus, and a few other flowers of various colors sprinkled in. I like what I’m seeing in my garden but I am also thinking about some changes I want to make for next year.

I came across the photo below taken nine years ago and I smiled because I love the goose neck that is featured center front. I believe that was its last year because I realized that it was spreading way to fast and I dug it all out. Well almost – it is still growing in the daisies. And every time I find a plant I think I might let it settle in my garden because I love it so much, and then I remember how fast it takes over – so I pull it out. It will be back next year.

Garden, Early July, 2013

As I look at this photo I realize that the only plant that is still growing (with my consent) in this area is the daisy. The shrubs have been removed, and the cat mint (purple) was transplanted when the stone walls were rebuilt a few years ago. And the lilies are struggling in other places, they just aren’t happy in my garden soil. During the past 14 years my garden has been evolving; and my life seems to be on the same trajectory. Neither me nor my garden are what we used to be.

I know that the aging process involved losses and a lot of change; I developed courses on aging. A life-span development course I developed and taught helped students learn that every phase of life involves some loses that are replaced by new ways of being in our world. Each phase of life has developmental tasks that need to be accomplished in order to be physically, spiritually, and emotionally healthy. As we transition from phase to phase some familiar and comfortable ways of being are either taken away or we let go of them. These are frequently treasured privileges, what we have thus far built our identities on. As we approach the end of each phase we need to recognize what we need to give up, what we no longer have, what is no longer useful and then to have the courage to step into an unknown future and learn new ways of thinking and behaving. Have you noticed that what happens to one person in a family or friendship community, impacts the other people, frequently with overlapping demands for developmental change? A fun example to think about is how the developmental tasks of adolescents mesh with the developmental tasks of parents.

Jim and I (and most of our friends) are transitioning into old age. We have retired from paid employment with a mixed bag of sorrows and joys. I miss the status it brought me and the joy of meaningful work that was recognized by colleagues. Jim was overjoyed to leave a job that had become difficult for him to do while maintaining his integrity. He took a part-time job that brought him great joy – can’t wait to get to work joy. He had to leave that so we could spend winters in Florida and travel while spending summers in Michigan. Both of us have been robbed of energy through chronic health issues and normal aging. At core we are struggling to know who we are now that we have moved beyond being productive in our culturally salient way of making money. We both like to help people, but are struggling to know how to help others when we have just about enough energy to take care of ourselves. What seems to have surprised me most is that I am struggling to know how my religious faith can be relevant in my old age. I am in the middle of working through this and will share my doubts, my struggles and new insights in another post.

This link will lead you to an earlier post, from 6 years ago, that is a perfect companion to my thoughts today. https://imissmetoo.me/2016/07/13/memory-of-a-childs-summer/

Time Hasn’t Quite Stopped Here


We pulled off the highway in western Montana, on our way to Glacier. I had seen some promising signs of fresh cherries and peaches along the side of the road and directions to this town with a name I don’t remember. I expected a fruit stand – but the only promising place was a general store/antique store at the end of the road in the opposite direction. We appeared to be the only ones in town, although they seemed to believe there would be more by the looks of the flags and the for sale sign.


I kept thinking I was missing something but this is all there was, because the mountain raising up precluded any side streets. Just the highway, the mountain, and two people trying to sell something.

When I entered the store, a bell clanged loudly to announce my arrival and a woman appeared. No, she didn’t have any fresh cherries but she had fresh, pitted, frozen cherries.

“No, thank you.” It was a dark place, like the mountains and time had shut out all light entering. There was the usual merchandise a small general store would have – one or two containers of one choice of a wide variety of packaged food and toiletries. A few hardware items and some postcards. And interspersed were antiques and second-hand articles, seemingly placed where they would fit more than according to any grand plan.

I wish I hadn’t had cherries as my only goal. I wish I hadn’t been tired from hearing train horns blaring 50 yards from my bedroom for the past 4 nights. I wish we hadn’t felt the pull of having to be somewhere down the road that night and the bigger pull of starting towards home. I wish Jim hadn’t felt the misery of having a new cold set in.

I wish I would have chatted with the woman who came from somewhere in the back to help us. I wish I would have asked her questions that, even now, I can’t seem to formulate. I would have liked to know about her and the town and the other people who must live there, somewhere along the only street through town. But this is the knowledge that is gained from staying around a while, caring enough to put off doing what was already in the plans. You learn these stories by building trust that only comes from making a commitment.

Quest for the Perfect Tree

Waiting for lights, ornaments, and drape around the bottom.

In that first December of our married life, fifty-four years ago, we bundled up warm and set out on a quest for the perfect Christmas tree. A tree that would become a part of our life story that we were writing together, in one voice. It must be that our “one voice” has diverged over the years because our current memories are quite different. Sometimes I wonder if we lived different lives together – which I guess we did.

I remember the laughter of trudging through the snow in that first season together (or was that a few years later when we had small children?), finding a perfect tree and then seeing a more perfect tree twenty five feet further away – only to discover it had a very crocked trunk. I remember the excitement of finding the most beautiful tree that was just tall enough for the 10-foot ceilings of our apartment, but not too big.

Jim remembers being out in the cold, cutting a good bit off the bottom and trimming away branches. His story includes a way-too-thick trunk needing a lot of whittling to fit in the standard and us heaving and tugging to get the too-big tree through the front door. And his telling includes how long it took as he lifted and shifted and I twisted and tightened to get it perfectly straight in the stand after years of wind and sun sculpting it to nature’s specifications – only to discover as we viewed from another angle that it wasn’t so straight.

I remember the joy and excitement of having that perfect Christmas tree – the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. And I remember how that tree, on Monday morning as I was decorating it, started to fall towards me. And the panic of wondering if I was going to have to stand there and hold that monster of a tree until Jim returned from work after 5:00. I was able to push it back into the corner and I believe we put screws in the wall to tie it in place. But it was a beautiful tree.

There was a challenge and excitement inherent in getting a live Christmas tree because every one was different, due to each one’s unique imperfections. My fondest memories of those childhood and young adult live-tree-Christmases were outings to visit parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends during this season to see their trees. And after echos of “Merry Christmas” and hugs, stomping snow off boots, and shedding coats, scarves, hats and mittens, there were many exclamations of admiration and joy over their tree. And of course it was expected that everyone come to see our tree and for all to agree that it was the most beautiful tree ever.

Our Christmas tree traditions have evolved as our bodies and lifestyles changed. After several years, Jim tired of the cutting and hauling, the sculpting and straightening that went into getting the live tree in place and standing straight, while listening to the Messiah words about “the crooked made straight.”  He also grew to dread dragging the dying tree out of the house leaving puddles of stagnant water and prickly pine needles on the carpet.

I remember when I assembled our first artificial tree, branch by branch as I strung each one with lights. After spending hours putting it up, Jim ascended from the basement and proclaimed how much easier it was putting up the tree that year. I would have given a snarky response if I hadn’t been gazing at our most beautiful tree ever. It was straight and perfectly formed. The branches extended at perfect angles so ornaments hung and nestled in exactly the right place. Visitors had to touch it to believe that it wasn’t a live tree.

We have changed and morphed the artificial trees we have had over the years, especially since chronic pain and aging have limited my energy. Even though I like the benefits of an artificial tree, I am feeling nostalgic for the unique imperfection and beauty of a live tree. I can be fairly certain what my tree will look like each year even though I pick and choose different ornaments for decoration. There is a sense of boredom that comes with the perfection of my artificial trees. But I also bristle at the thought of buying multiple trees to choose among and filling the landfill with artificial trees as I crave new and different. 

I am sitting looking at this year’s tree. It is the same one we had last year, and that one was the same as the year before but without the bottom section, and that one was the same as the five years before but with the pre-strung lights cut off. With all of these modifications it is still a beautiful tree – except for the half string of dark bulbs about two-thirds of the way up.

Aah, the quest and the work continues to have the most beautiful tree ever.  

Sometimes Life is Messy


Sometimes life feels really messy and I become overwhelmed, over-stressed. I want to fight for human rights, equality of opportunity, a healthier planet, kindness and generosity. I see problems that need solutions and solutions proposed that are purposely designed to take from those with the least to give to those who already have more than they need. I see hatred, corruption, sexual harassment, self-interest over caring for those in need and a planet in distress. My heart hurts at constant examples of people who value obtaining great wealth over doing what is right.


I work hard to take care of myself so I have adequate energy for living life on my terms. Over the past two and half years I have periodically realized that politics and the meanness in the world was going to bed with me, interrupting my sleep, and sapping my energy. During those times I would decrease my internet and television political time and would focus on all that is beautiful as an antidote for the messiness of life.


For some reason this strategy stopped working for me during the first part of October. I could feel myself slipping into a mild depression and frequently said to friends that I wanted to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. The problem was that I knew how not to be part of the problem – by not making derogatory comments about people who express support for incompetent politicians. I know I can maybe be a part of the solution by having the integrity of living a life that is consistent with my values of honesty, truth, compassion, inclusiveness, equality and living simply. But I didn’t know how to be part of the big picture solution. It sounds grandiose but I wanted to be able to do something that would fix Washington, to fix the injustices that were happening, overrule the harmful policies that hurt those without power. I wanted the power to do right but was realizing that I might belong to the group that is without power. Ouch!

My solution: for the past 40-some days I have been knitting hats. Lots of hats with more yarn being shipped for even more hats. I have been knitting almost a hat a day and hope to be able to make them available to low- and no-income people who visit a pantry that gives out personal care items and cleaning products in my community in Michigan. I have knit little hats and big hats, hats with stripes and hats with cables, and hats with fancy stitches. I have knit hot pink hats and blue hats and green hats and grey hats. I just finished a “roy g b” hat with red, orange, yellow, green and blue stripes (I don’t have indigo and violet).

Most important, I knitted every hat thinking about some child, some teenager, some parent, some homeless person who will be a little warmer during the cold Michigan winter. I knitted in a little joy and goodwill into every stitch, hoping that the people who get them will feel it. By knitting hats, I also knitted my soul back together (with a help of a couple of good sermons that were relevant).