April 24, 2009

Four Star Hotel

I've just spent all evening looking up hotels on the web, instead of writing pithy, illuminating prose. Please forgive. But just so I can keep up my linked chain of blog posting days, I offer a great evaluation of hotel by a traveler:

"Four star hotel, however 2 stars are currently not working very well."

April 14, 2009

Went Down

I, like many others, have been watching Little Dorrit on PBS, a series that originally aired in England last fall. I first saw Little Dorrit, a tale written by Charles Dickens, when I was dating my husband, some twenty years ago. The movie, in black and white (I think), was in two parts and we went to the Berkeley theater for two successive Saturdays to catch the whole thing. Like any Dickens tale, character is king. And multiple characters, for Dickens, are needed to populate his fictional kingdoms. I was very interested in Little Dorrit for her quiet ways, a life I felt like I lived as wife, mother and silent partner. And now, ready to marry again for a second time, I was putting away any visions of earthly fame and grandeur (really quite unrealistic, truthfully, given my four children) and again took on another man's name. What struck me about the movie, other than it's sheer length, were the final narrated comments, seemingly so parallel to the life I was choosing: "Little Dorrit and her husband walked out of the church alone. They paused for a moment on the steps of the portico, looking at the fresh perspective of the street in the autumn morning sun's bright rays, and then went down. Went down into a modest life of usefulness and happiness. Went down to give a mother's care. . . Went down to [be] a tender nurse and friend. . . . They went quietly down into the roaring streets, inseparable and blessed; and as they passed along in sunshine and in shade, the noisy and the eager, and the arrogant, and the froward and the vain, fretted and chafed, and made their usual uproar." I was reminded of this from another post on Junkfood Science (another fav) about a woman named Susan Boyles from Britain. In her interview, she says she lives with her parents, never been kissed, and you can tell she has had a life much like Little Dorrit's in many ways--living quietly. If you haven't caught the video of her yet on YouTube, you must, but first--read what was said about her in The Herald: "Susan is a reminder that it's time we all looked a little deeper. She has lived an obscure but important life. She has been a companionable and caring daughter. It's people like her who are the unseen glue in society; the ones who day in and day out put themselves last. They make this country civilised and they deserve acknowledgement and respect. Susan has been forgiven her looks and been given respect because of her talent. She should always have received it because of the calibre of her character."-- The Herald, April 14, 2009.

April 12, 2009

Finding that Whatever

Since I prepared my Sunday School lesson on Saturday, for a change, I had some extra Google Reader time this morning. My sister showed me how you can zip through lots of blogs, quickly, yet still reading them all, as the time you save is in the click-clicking. Fine by me. Mimi Kirchner, whose blog is called Doll, was a potter in a full-fledged studio when it all burned down. As she says on her blog:

The fire has been one of those markers in my life- before the fire when I did pottery, and after the fire. Right after the fire was a very difficult time for me- no surprise. It happened right in the midst of my art midlife crisis. Losing my studio and community, my sketchbooks, photos and notebooks, changed where I even considered going next. I have thought a lot about how the loss propelled me into new directions in a way that might have never happened otherwise.  It was after the fire that I got onto the internet. That’s right- before mid-1999, I was a computer illiterate. And why did I get onto the internet? I wanted to replace the books I’d lost. And I found Ebay- which turned out to be the gateway drug to the wide world of the internet for me! Wow- and did that ever start me off on an interesting path.

What would I do, if the passion I was following, suddenly and horrifically disappeared. (Not that I haven't thought about that--I could become blind, or unable to hear, and how would I read or write?) She has found a new bliss, a enchanting bliss that has introduced her and her dolls to one of the most widely read blogs in the craft world: PurlBee, an offshoot of the New York shop PurlSoho. From a fire, a lot of hard work, a creative vision, a willingness to put herself out there, more hard work, participating in the community she's a part of, and poof! an overnight (ha!) success.

One thing I learned quite profoundly when I was participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge was how much I missed being part of a community. I hadn't done much writing since graduating and being dumped as a new teacher in a subject with which I wasn't familiar. Every day was plan lessons, make up material, figure out the book, teach, grade and then that year I did summer school as well. I was also involved in my church in a huge service responsibility, which I did willingly and learned and grew, but was growing away from where I was, or thought I should be. Mostly I ended up exhausted. I feel lately like I'm standing in front of a burned out building, watching the fire crew hose down my dreams, melting my ambitions, washing away Whatever It Was I Thought I Had. I write here every day. It's my challenge. And it's my teensiest of threads that I hope will bind me to my eventual Whatever. . . as soon as I find it.

April 11, 2009

Amplifier Tubes

My father used to have this large stereo amplifier when we were growing up and if we wanted to listen to our record player, we also had to switch on the amplifier. We'd watch the tubes until they started to glow, then we knew it was ready. Sometimes it seemed forever until they warmed up; we were anxious to listen to the Beatles, or something equally ancient.

My morning walks are parallel to this concept. I drag myself out the door (I'm not a natural born exerciser) and it isn't until I turn the corner at Tom and Dee's house that I think I won't go back and crawl under the covers. By the time I get to the house with the barking dog and really good smelling ornamental onion plants, I'm in the groove and striding along.

April 5, 2009

Album Quilt

Toni and I lived on the same cul-de-sac in Arlington, Texas and our children--of similar ages--traipsed back and forth between our two houses, as did we. While we only lived near each other for about six months, we corresponded after I moved on to California. That much-used word for exchanging letters is an interesting one, for she was one of those friends to whom much of my life corresponded in terms of depth of understanding, trials and joys. As young mothers we always seemed to be looking for that place where we felt peace, a place where we felt like ourselves, like the women we were on the inside while grappling with large changes, children, husbands, challenges on the outside. It was continually elusive, this seeking happiness business, but she sent me a lovely letter one day, saying she'd finally found it. She felt at peace with her life, her place in it and her contributions

 About two weeks later, I received a letter in her husband's handwriting. He detailed her accident: a driver swerving across a lane on a curve. Toni and her mother were immediately killed. Her death hit me hard--a cliché if there ever was one--but its spareness is descriptive. Toni was the first friend I had ever lost to death and although my grandmothers had passed away, I determined then to somehow "capture" my other friends--people that had meant a lot to me, who had impacted my life. I decided to do an old fashioned album quilt. I sent out close to 45 letters, in each a small paper-backed piece of fabric and a short letter explaining what I was doing. I also enclosed an envelope. My friends signed their names in pencil, and when the square returned to me I went over that signature in an indelible ink pen. (I wasn't going to embroider them all.) 

 I began work on this quilt shortly after my second marriage and took my bag of squares to family reunions both on his side and mine to gather more signatures. I finished sewing up these squares on Friday, pressed and trimmed them on Saturday. On the left is my daughter's adolescent scrawl. She's married now, with three children. On the lower right is my Aunt Jean's signature. She passed away last month after a nine-year affliction of Alzheimer's Disease. On the upper right is my mother-in-law's name in neat and even cursive, written before the Parkinson's Disease shrunk that writing, and then her in turn. She's been gone several years now, leaving us in May--the month of flowers and late springtime. These blocks are a snapshot in time. Some are friends: women I worked with in church jobs, women from the quilt group, a therapist, a friend who had been recently widowed and in whose classroom I found myself most afternoons, helping her put together her centers, building her visual aids for her bulletin boards. I have my relatives: my sisters and sisters-in-law, mother, aunts, and a mother-in-law. A teacher who encouraged me my first year back to school is there, as is the only male signature: a friend who repaired everything that broke and challenged me intellectually and took my boys camping when their absentee father would not. I have added a few since then: daughters-in-law, a favorite professor from the end of my undergrad education. But generally it will remain with these names, with a few notable exceptions: space for a future daughter-in-law. And the signatures of my granddaughters--just as soon as they're ready to write.

April 4, 2009

Get to Work

Last night's gathering of quilters has been a regular feature of my life for the past nine or ten years. The group varies: last night we were fairly lean in numbers with only three of us gathered around the table. In February, twelve came, but it was a block exchange and the quilters wanted to get their blocks. That was the same night I'd just received my daughter's diagnosis (PPCM--a form of heart disease) and I felt like I was among sympathetic friends, buoying me up. We had a chocolate fountain, snacks, pink soda (which I spilled all over the counter--I wasn't too stable that night), two ironing boards, two cutting stations and a room full of whirring sewing machines.

Is the creative process something that can be done in a group? Even though I value this monthly get-together (I don't make it every time, and and obviously many others are flexible in their attendance as well), it's more of a time to Show and Tell, catch up on the our children, work situations, schooling, exchange recipes, and socialize. It's kind of a writers group for quilters. If you try to be too creative, there are pieces sewn on backwards, missing strips of fabric, skewed block layouts. The distractions are too many, but certainly pleasant.

As in most creative ventures, the artist/writer/poet/quilter needs time alone. Too many irons in the fire puts out the fire, was a phrase I used to chant, reminding myself to leave some space. Another aphorism that I toted around was from Thoreau: I like a wide margin to my life.

However, I find I tend to thrust in one more iron (oh sure, my mouth says) and scribble in my margins too many times. I fill my life to the edges, and crowd out the spaces needed to maintain creativity. This post is beginning to sound like a Natalie Goldberg sort of wah-wah, and although her writings can be helpful, truthfully it all comes down to work. So I'll close with this from Annie Dillard:

Every morning you climb several flights or stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air. The desk and chair float thirty feet from the ground, between the crowns of maple trees. The furniture is in place; you go back for your thermos of coffee. Then, wincing, you step out again through the French doors and sit down on the chair and look over the desktop. You can see clear to the river from here in the winter. You pour yourself a cup of coffee.

Birds fly under your chair. In spring, when the leaves open in the maple's crown, your view stops in the treetops just beyond the desk; yellow warblers hiss and whisper on the high twigs, and catch flies. Get to work. You work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.

March 16, 2009

Thank You For Shopping

 Our local grocery store is undergoing a renovation which translates to moving all the grocery items around so you can't find them, ripping up the floors every night so we walk on scraped concrete in the day, and filling one-third of the parking lot with fenced-in equipment, supplies, boxes and trash. It's a slight pain, nothing big, really. Until I saw that they planned to get rid of three of the regular checkstands and put in those annoying self-help checkstands. Okay, okay for those of you who love them, let me guess why: no waiting in line, can control the pace, you love the annoying voice that narrates your entire transaction and you enjoy the game of Where Do We Put The Money, along with Where Does The Money Come Out. I use these at Home Depot. A can of paint is not a big deal and the weigh machine is NOT confused that there is an item that has been moved to the bag. It doesn't ask you to place the item in the bag over and over. But how is this good in a grocery store, where a jalapeno chili requires three screens of look-up and when all's said and done probably the bag it's in weighs more than the chili? Or if one of the PLU stickers is off of the zucchini (you get extra points if you know what PLU stands for, or even what it is when the annoying digital lady voice tells you to look for it) that you have to know to hit the pumpkin screen because it is, after all, a squash and then hit the squash screen again and then don't hit the cucumber screen but instead the zucchini screen and there's no way to fix your dumb error and you're really hungry and all you wanted was some vegetables (you lose extra points if you use the word "veggie" around me) to go in your salad and where's the REAL person? She arrives and you just know she worked in a dental office before she came to work at the Grocer's and is firm, but pleasant and no nonsense and you wish you had gone through the checkstand with the tall lady with the hair that's upswept platinum and takes a half of a can of hairspray to keep it balanced while she enters your PLU codes and smiles the whole time even though her lipstick is outside her lip line and bright pinky-red, she's infinitely better than the digital lady voice saying for the third time, THANK YOU LOYAL CUSTOMER PLEASE TAKE YOUR CHANGE, and you would if you could only figure out where it is.

March 13, 2009

Homage to Barbara

(Barbara plays with her new daughter.)
Today is the day I leave my daughter's and head home. Last night after we said our good-nights, I went to my room and wept. She is my only daughter, named for my mother. I know some of that emotion is simply coming to the end of a busy and long week, but some of it is also saying good-bye to someone I love more than my own life. I admire so much about her. She, even with her heart disease, runs a tight ship--although it feels less so to her currently. The kindergartner nearly always has her clothes chosen for school the night before. The backpack has already been gone through, the papers to come home swapped out for the papers to go back. My daughter, raised in a "we'll be there just in time" household has an iron-clad rule that everyone should be anywhere on time, and ten minutes early is even better. So her child is never late for school and we were there early for pick-ups. Her laugh is contagious and she ministers well and faithfully to her coterie of friends, many who have returned the favors since her diagnosis with picking up children, play dates, meals brought in and going the extra mile for her. When she was first diagnosed, I wanted to bring her home with me, put her to bed and take care of her children--a mother's impulse that soon gave way to more rational thinking. She has a good man for a husband, and he is good to her. I realized that she had to, in essence, put in motion a giant machine to help her in getting better. But she also had to build that machine, one cog at a time: getting the day care or friends to help with their two-year old son, finding someone to help with housecleaning, finding doctors, and being willing to accept meals and help--a difficulty for a woman who has always taken the meals to others. But the cruelest cut of all--the realities that this condition imposes on abilities, expectations, and her joie de vivre--has been deep and swift. In this, we both suffer, kicking against these deep pricks of the soul. Yet, she is radiant and beautiful and so full of love for her children. In short, she is amazing. I'll think of her as I drive home across another desert--the Mohave with its grand sloping from high to low desert--the vista stunning, spare and humbling. I'll think of our busy week, sewing skirts for her two daughters, running errands, our talks throughout the day. When she was born, I began embroidering her birth sampler, but set the crewelwork aside after a few months, dissatisfied. I started another, a clean-looking cross-stitched design depicting a little pink baby swinging from a pink safety pin. The caption was simple and succinct.
Thank Heaven for Barbara. 
Update: I later found this comment on my blog:


March 7, 2009


 I'm posting this very early Phoenix time, as I'm on the next leg of my trip: to my aunt's funeral in a neighboring state. The drive out here was brain-clearing. Compared to the lush eastern coasts of this country, the deserts seem harsh, barren and unwelcoming. But I found abundance today in the wildflowers blooming all along the highway: sage-colored bushes that look like they have heads of hair standing on end, and at the end of each strand of hair is a golden-yellow blossom. The spiky lavender flowers, low to the ground, edge the asphalt, followed by carpets of neon-yellow blossoms. I tried to take pictures as I zipped along at 75 mph, but none of them were worthy photos for a Slice of Life post. However, I do have a photo that is worthy: my granddaughter Brooke and me.
And a photo I take with every child of mine: their hands intertwined with their newborn's.
Abundance, indeed.