Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Next Chapter

Last week I shared my dad’s story of how and why our family immigrated to Canada. Many of you shared how much you enjoyed what he’d written and were wondering if there was more. Well, yes, there is. Today would have been mom and dad’s 70th anniversary, and so to honour them one more time, here’s what happened next...

Mom was pregnant when they arrived in Canada. The baby was due in April. I cannot imagine how anxious she must have been as she approached her due date. She would be giving birth in a hospital  which in her experience was where you went when you were sick. And she’d not had much time to pick up any language skills.

When we were younger, mom made the story of my sister Sue’s birth into a funny story, but I don’t think it was funny at the time. Here’s how she told it: “When I got to the hospital and was on the delivery table I saw that they were going to give me a needle, and I was really worried. I thought something was going wrong. I didn’t know that women in Canada usually got an anaesthetic when they had a baby, and were not awake for the birth. When they brought her to me the next morning, I was woozy and sick from the anaesthetic, and I was sure there was something wrong with the baby because her face was all squished up from the hard delivery. When dad finally came to see me and the baby that evening, I told him, “Don’t be shocked, I think there’s something wrong with the child, she doesn’t look good to me.” He immediately went to the nursery to look at the baby through the nursery window, and came back quickly. “I don’t know who’s got something wrong with her, you or the baby. The baby looks fine to me, she is beautiful.”

When dad told the story years later in his biography, he gave the story a completely different slant. While I’m glad my mom had the pluck to turn an emotional and difficult time into something good, I love dad’s version too.

The first major event in 1950 was the birth of our daughter Susan (Sieuwke) on Thursday, April 13, in St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton, shortly after midnight. Mr. And Mrs. Merritt had taken Mom there on the morning of the 12th. I was waiting anxiously all day for more news about mom, but I heard nothing at all. When I used Mr. Merritt’s phone to contact  the hospital at bedtime (we couldn’t afford to have our own phone yet), the reply was very short: no change. The next day, when we hadn’t heard anything yet by 11 a.m., Froukje [our Dutch neighbour lady who was taking care of me, and whose husband also worked for the Merritts] used the farmer’s phone again to call the doctor’s office. The girl answering the phone told her that the baby had been born the night before, but she didn’t know whether it was a boy or a girl, and the doctor was still asleep, so we should call again in the afternoon. At my request, the farmer did so. That’s how, more than 12 hours after the fact, I finally received news of Sue’s birth.

Of course, then I longed to see mom and our brand new daughter, but the hospital was 35 kilometers away, so I needed a car, which we didn’t have yet. But Jop Swieringa, working on a neighbouring farm, had just bought a 1930 Chevy, a 20 year old car but still good enough to help out for the time being. I don’t think he had yet gotten his driver’s license, but I had my chauffeur’s license – I needed it for the occasional use of Mr. Merritt’s pick-up truck for work purposes. I asked him, “Hey Jop, what about going together to the hospital tonight in your car to see my wife at the hospital?” His reply was, “Well, just take my car and go by yourself.” It wasn’t hard to take that offer.

And it was such a great relief to be together again for a while. For mom it had been an especially difficult 36 hours. Not only was the long delivery very hard on her, but also in all those hours there wasn’t anyone around on whose shoulders she could cry out. Without such support, the whole process had been so much harder. And her knowledge of the English medical language and terms was still very limited, and therefore she didn’t always understand why she would get injections, and what they would do for her. But, when we were together, that was all a thing of the past, and we could be very thankful for a new gift of life, and that everything looked well.

On Sunday, mom and the brand new baby came home again. The boss and his wife went with me to pick her up in their brand new 1950 car. It happened that Father and Mother Hofstra were celebrating their 25th anniversary with a party the day the telegram arrived, so they could share the happy news with the guests. And since my parents were there as well, guests could also congratulate them, especially my mother, after whom our new daughter was named: Sieuwke, which fairly soon became Susan. The anniversary was the first event we had had to miss as a result of our immigration, but mom’s brother thought that we had received a very nice consolation prize, our Susan.

You can talk about romance and roses when it comes to love, but I think this is a pretty good love story, too. Mom and Dad lived to celebrate their 56th anniversary.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Looking back...Canada 1949

I’ve been digging into my dad’s biography as I add pages to my memoir.  It was very meaningful to me, in this week leading up to Canada Day, to read through the pages that led to the decision of my parents to immigrate. They were living on Dad's parents' farm in a closely knit community. Dad was hoping eventually to have a farm of his own. In the meantime, he was working as a hired hand at a neighbour's farm.


 And yet, Mom, 31 and pregnant, dad, 32, and I (15 months) boarded the SS Veendam, crowded with immigrants, in September 1949. We left Rotterdam and sailed into a new life. "...by nightfall the Dutch coastline disappeared. With it a very important chapter of our life, the years living in the country we were born in, had ended. And a future, to a great extent still unknown to us, was laying ahead. But we trusted that in this future, God's grace would remain with us," Dad wrote.


Holland-America Line's SS Veendam was originally built as a cruise ship, and could hold about 600 passengers.  

It was not an easy trip for mom, who was bedridden with seasickness and morning sickness. Dad took care of me and I apparently enjoyed the fun and games.





This morning, Canada 150 Day, I turned the page of Dad's biography, and found the story of their first few months in Canada. Dad would have been 100 years old this year, but I can hear his voice loud and clear in this chapter. So I’ve given today’s CrowDayOne  post to my dad, Foppe Arends (Paul) de Jong. With very few exceptions, I did not edit anything, so you will occasionally hear his accent and Dutchisms. That’s my dad you’re hearing. I hope you enjoy the insights and descriptions as much as I did. Happy birthday Canada: I'm so glad mom and dad took the risk and brought us here.

Canada: The Second Chapter of Our Life Story
Why do people actually immigrate? Many reasons may be given, but the main reasons why post-war immigrants came to Canada [from Holland] was: more space, more opportunities, and less rules and regulations than in our over crowded homeland. They were good reasons, but nevertheless, immigration was a decision that had to be taken very seriously. For we immigrants left so much behind: dear relatives, familiar surroundings, so many friends and acquaintances of long standing. Whereas the land we were traveling to was virtually unknown to us where they spoke a language unfamiliar to the majority of us. All we knew for sure was that it had more and better opportunities for us and our offspring. But farther on, we would have to wait and see!

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, 1949 we arrived in the New York harbour. From there on the hardest part of our journey began; to travel [by train] through New York City and New York State and at Buffalo cross the border into Canada, all with a minimal knowledge of English and hardly any experience to converse in it. Add to this that we had studied UK English with different expressions and pronunciations then used over here! Quite confusing, man! But oh well, we lived through it. And arrived safely the next morning in St. Catherines at the parsonage from Rev. Persenaire, where waited us a hearty welcome. Rev. Persenaire was a first cousin of our brother in law Nick Willemse, who had brought us in contact with them. We stayed there for two weeks, in which I was working at a [gardening] nursery. Then we moved to the farm of Mr. Leslie Merritt in Smithville. Where in the meantime our furniture arrived. We could take very little money (just $275) with us to Canada [by Dutch government law] but all our furniture, clothes and household items. They had to be cleared however for duty-free import at the customs over here which meant: I had to make a trip by bus to Hamilton. When buying the ticket, I was asked, “Single or return?” What could that mean? But quick thinking helped me out; return must mean the same as the French word “retour” which was much used in Holland. The necessity to communicate was at the same time a strong encouragement to use our very limited knowledge of English to the fullest. And at the same time increased our knowledge of it in an amazing fast way!


The old farmhouse near Smithville Ontario where we lived for 3 years when we first arrived in Canada.
Mr. Merritt, our farmer, was a descendant of the United Empire Loyalists, who, after the United States had become independent from the British Empire in the 1780s, moved northward to Ontario and settled in the surroundings of the Niagara Peninsula, beginning a new life over there. Mr. Merritt owned and operated a 216 acre farm. On his farm he had a small dairy, in which his milk was pasteurized and bottled to be peddled out in Smithville and surroundings. He had also a dealership of the DeLaval milking machines. He had two Dutch immigrants working for him; their families living in an old farmer’s house, big enough to divide it in two apartments. [Our family lived in one of those apartments.] Our wages were: free home, free milk, free wood for fuel, and $20 weekly, in due time raising to $25 and $30. Though it doesn’t sound like much compared with today’s wages, we nevertheless were well off, compared by the then-going rate. And were able to save some so we were able to buy a washing machine, a radio, and last but not at all the least, a car! Later on the boss also hired a single man, who too was a Dutch immigrant! So then he had a whole farm staff of Dutchies! It gives a good indication, how great the need of farm workers was in those post war years and why the immigrant farm workers were so welcome in the farmer’s circles.

We also had a good relationship with the farmer and his wife, in spite of language difficulties in the beginning. But that problem got solved very soon. And a great help for us was also the fact that so many Dutch immigrants arrived here in those days. Right away after their arrival, they sought and found contact with each other and in that way helping each other to get acquainted with our new country, its customs and their way of life in general, which in so many ways differed from the customs and rules from our old country. And in emergencies such as sickness, unemployment etc. everyone chipped in to help. We were all short of cash, since due to post-war restrictions the amount of money we were allowed to take along was minimal. Besides that, many of us had to borrow money to immigrate, a loan that had to be paid back in dollars. Which was for us all an additional disadvantage. And could we do without a car, when living on a farm way out in the country?! We also needed appliances because of the different voltages and frequency of hydro over here. Plenty of problems, man! But one good thing we had in common: we all had gone through 5 years of war with untold problems, many of them so much more serious as than the one’s we right now were confronted with. So why not take up this challenge just as well! Old, rundown cars, but still usable, could be bought for prices within reach. Salvation Army stores helped us on clothes for bargain prices. Auction sales became the sources for many so much needed household items. And if we were short of storage space in our houses, orange boxes could be got for nothing from the grocery stores. From which we, with some curtains and wallpaper, made closets, shelves and bookcases. In that way we together succeeded!

And what is even more important, it drew us, while being together in the same boat, very close together. One’s problem was everybody’s problem. And we helped each other to solve them, just as if we were one big family.

Besides that, the Christian Reformed Church has been a tremendous help in those days. And not only for its members; many others have been directly or indirectly helped by it too. The ministers sent by Synod as home missionaries to Canada to care for the spiritual needs of those immigrants, helped them also in many other ways. Since they all could speak Dutch as well as English, they time and time again acted as interpreters. And since they were well acquainted with customs and traditions over here, they could give valid advice to them in so many important matters. And then there were the field men, appointed by the church to find employment for the many boatloads of immigrants arriving here and give them advice, helping them through those first days over here when for some people everything seemed to get haywire.

The Sunday church services became right from the beginning the highlights of the week; spiritual as well as social. The participants, using all kinds of transportation (mainly old cars, some still using their Dutch bikes they’d taken along) coming together in some rented hall or else in an immigrant’s living room, to worship (for the time being, still in the Dutch language). And, though those immigrants were coming quite often from four or five different denominations in Holland, they started over here from the very beginning worshiping together, also in partaking of the sacraments and growing together as a strong spiritual unit, which soon would become a new congregation in a denomination also new to them all, but still caring for and meeting their spiritual needs.

And as I mentioned already, socially they lived as one big family, helping each other whenever they could. Something of the Jerusalem church after Pentecost was really reflecting in their way of life. In such a a family of faith we arrived here in the month of October 1949. Which made for us the period of adjustment so much easier. And when the year 1949 drew to an end, we celebrated the season’s highlights of Christmas and New Years with the members of our new family.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Life Lessons in the Garden

Gardening season is in full swing, and so  I’ve been wondering what the garden might have to tell me. I've been listening carefully, and it seems to me there are lessons in among the dirt, the plants, and the bugs, lessons that apply to life if we just open our hearts and listen.

1. Even ugly things have their uses.


Gardeners know that you need to let the daffodils and tulips die down completely if you want them to bloom again next year. The dying leaves, though not attractive, have a purpose: they store up nutrition for the bulb. If you remove them too early, just so things look nice and tidy, you won’t get much bloom next year.

I think about this as I recover from a time of mild depression and grieving. How tempting it is to censor the sadness, to tidy it up and put it away and move on. But the process takes time and needs to complete its work to be effective. I need to believe that deep down, new life is being prepared, to burst into bloom in the spring.

2. Stuff will fill a vacuum.


Strange as it may seem, gardening is not just about tending the growing things, but also tending the empty spaces.

When we left for our camping trip, the RS cleaned up the garden to within an inch of its life. But when we returned after 10 days, the weeds had sprouted everywhere. It took a few days of hard work to get things back into shape.

Empty spaces in a garden  are important – they allow air to circulate, for instance, and define borders. Empty spaces in our lives are important too, creating areas of rest and peace. But it sure is easy to fill up the empty spaces with junk – meaningless entertainment, mindless distractions and more –  if we are not careful.

3. Not every seed will grow and thrive.


Our green bean plot has been a huge failure this year. We planted lots of seeds, knowing some wouldn’t sprout because they were infertile. But only a very few came up, and the cutworms got those. Many of the failed seeds were eaten by unseen predators of the buggy kind who live underground, doing their nasty work in the dark.

When I look around at my art projects, or any creative work I’ve done, I realize that much that was begun in hope and anticipation never did bear fruit. This is a hard lesson to bear. I wish everything in life had a happy ending. Not so. I do believe that nothing is wasted -- just as in the garden the cutworms and sow bugs grow from our generosity, I too grow and learn from the aborted projects that are in my closet.

There’s still time this summer  to plant a bean patch in a different spot. Perhaps at the end of the summer I’ll be able to post a photo of a pot of beans. Or maybe not. That’s life.

4. Unexpected guests can add a great deal of beauty and delight  to life. (But you have to let them in the door.)
The sunflowers (foreground) and the foxgloves both are uninvited guests in our garlic patch. Both add charm and beauty.
 Foxgloves are unexpected guests in a West Coast garden. They spring up where you never planted. Your garden is all nicely planned, and then, there they are: in the middle of the garlic, on the edge of the fishpond, horning in on the potato patch. So, like the unexpected guests who show up on your doorstep just when you had other plans for the day, you make a choice. Go with the flow, or go with the plan. Each has its benefits. But as for me, I’ll go with the flow – I love these unexpected visitors, who provide beauty and delight,  and as a bonus, a whole lot of nectar for the bees.


5. If you feed them, they will come.

This flicker visits occasionally.
We’ve added a new feeder to our garden this year, with better food and a new design. And of course, the ripening berries are a big attraction too, as well as the water flowing into the pond. The birds that are now filling our yard resemble the landing strip at Pearson International Airport, zooming in, taking off, jockeying for landing rights: chipping and house sparrows, pine siskins, goldfinches, hummingbirds, a blackheaded grosbeak, chickadees, juncos, robins, towhees, a nuthatch, and a flicker; even a pileated woodpecker made a brief stopover.

So if you feed them, they will come. Any parent of grown kids and any party planner knows this is true. Lay on a feast, and they’re there. And that adds a lot of pleasure to life.

There’s one more lesson I learned, by accident, for which I will not share a photo. It’s this: if you accidentally step in dog poop (a grand-dog's unexpected deposit), the stink will follow you around for a long time. No further elaboration needed, methinks.

I posted something similar in an earlier blog (“Crow on the Go in the Garden,” May 10, 2014) .


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Bucket List Musings

No, no, it’s not Saturday.

I know that this post is totally out of whack –normally the crow squawks only on the weekend. And lately, she has grown silent, anyway, so why post this in the middle of the week, and why post at all?

So I’ll explain: it’s my birthday today, and I get to do whatever I want. I sent the RS off to his normal Tuesday activity, the woodcarving group,  even though he offered to stay home and help me celebrate. He started my day right by bringing in the first rose of summer, and I know there's several bottles of wine to choose from when Happy Hour arrives, and then there's tickets to a concert with Murray MacLaughlan, so that's all good. But first, I need some alone time.


He’s perhaps a little hurt that I would choose alone time rather than together time. But I need this morning to sort out a bit of life and to look ahead at the coming year. Besides, we’ve had a lot of together time lately. So thanks, sweetie, for indulging me.

I’m using you, my readers, all 14 of you, in place of my journal today. The inner crow seems to need to do this, and mine is not to question why.

A year from now, I’ll be 70. (“The Lord willing,” I hear my parents whisper in my ear. Never assume anything.) Oh. My! How did that happen? Yes, I know, a day at a time, a year at a time.

Chin hairs, gray hairs, wrinkly skin and all: that's me at 69.
When people mark special days such as this, it’s not uncommon for their thoughts to turn to the things they hope to do yet in the time that is left to them – a bucket list of sorts. The RS and I have created bucket lists from time to time, and whenever we revisit the list, we realize that the dreams that were in the bucket five years ago are no longer dreams we care to pursue. In fact, the bucket list is growing shorter, not because we’ve given up on living a full life, but because we’ve changed, our hopes and dreams have changed, and, I think, we’re appreciating more and more the life we have in the here and now. Where you are, that’s where you’re supposed to be. Appreciate each moment for what it is.

Still, there are a few things left to do. When my dad was in his 70s, he decided it was time to write the story of his life. This was on his bucket list. This is not unusual in our family, by the way. I have manuscripts of various ancestors on my history bookshelf. They are amazing treasures to help me understand who I am and where I came from.

Dad was ever a quester, trying to figure things out, and since his handwriting was nearly indecipherable, he began writing his autobiography using a typewriter. However, when he saw what a computer could do, he was excited. (“look at that, you can cut and paste right on the screen, not with a scissors and scotch tape!”) This was in the dinosaur days of the computer, on a Commodore 64! He set up a table in the guest room, and every day he entered his sanctuary and worked on his labour of love using a painfully slow  hunt-and-peck method to record his memories, beginning with the family history stretching back into the 1800s. There followed the story of his own birth family,  the story of my mom’s family, his memories of the war, their courtship and marriage, and everything that happened after that – children, immigration, community involvement, aging, travels and more.

Dad moved on to an early version of the Windows computer and learned that system (but never learned to type faster!). He only stopped when his vision narrowed to almost nothing because of macular degeneration, in his early 80s. By that time, he had caught up with his life story, but he often said to me, years later, “The story isn’t finished yet. If I wasn’t blind, I would add more.” And I would say, “Don’t worry dad, I will finish it for you.” Thirteen years later, that is still on MY bucket list.

I’ve been thinking how best to do this, and of course, as an oldest eager-to-please child, feeling guilty that I have not fulfilled my promise. Recently, however, I had an aha moment when I realized that if I write my story, I will have finished Dad’s earthly story, too. And telling my story has been in my personal bucket for a number of years. Each time, I think I’ll start, and each time something doesn’t work out for me. Perhaps I wasn’t ready yet.

But if not now, then when? And if now, then  how, and what? I love writing, and I think I could happily spend hours in front of the computer screen, but I also love art, and my family, and friendships, and CrowDayOne, and other wonderful things that make life rich. It’s a wonderful dilemma, isn’t it? So that’s why I needed this morning, to look ahead at the next year and sketch out an idea of how writing and quilting a memoir might happen in the middle of living the life I have. One thing I know, it will have to include quilting too.

Writing all this down and sharing it with you, for some reason, generates creative thoughts, which I hope to put into practice in the next year.

What needs to happen now is this: I need to begin. Stay tuned, and wish me blessings on the endeavor.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

There is a time...

"There’s a time for everything," says the wise writer of Ecclesiastes, "and a season for every activity under the heavens." So true, so wise!

In some cultures, a crow is considered a symbol of wisdom. A crow may have helped the writer of Ecclesiastes formulate this chapter. At least, crows often inspire a blog theme for me. So for the past few days I’ve been watching crows at our campsite. These “wise” crows were pretty wary, staying away from places where they could see people. But the minute we were out of sight, they swooped down, pecked a hole in our garbage bag, and were feasting on scraps. There’s a time to stay out of the way, and a time to jump right in and do your thing, apparently. Should I blog about that? Nah.

When we shooed them away, they made a real racket, indignantly letting us know that we were interfering in their good luck. But later, a crow landed on a picnic table at an empty campsite nearby. She seemed to be quite content to sit there quietly, checki6ng out the neighbourhood. There’s a time to squawk, and there’s a time to be silent.



Hmm. Now there’s a topic with possibilities. If you are a regular follower of CrowDayOne, you may have noticed that lately, the crow has been pretty quiet.

There is a time for everything: a time to speak, and a time to listen. And right now, I’m finding myself doing a lot less squawking, and much more listening.

These past 4 years of writing this blog – starting with my 65th birthday –  have been such a pleasure. For a while, I was just bursting with discoveries I wanted to share with you, and it was so gratifying to have many of you tell me, “Really? That happened to you, too? You’re thinking about that, too?” Apparently, many of us  are living parallel lives, wondering about the same things, pondering the mysteries of life and the spirit, experiencing the same frailties and frustrations. Whether we are younger or older, men or women, dedicated believers or dedicated searchers, we have so much more in common with each other than we perhaps knew. Writing the blog has been an eye-opening experience for me, learning about our interconnectedness. It’s been the best lesson ever!

But lately, as I’m fast approaching my 69th birthday –  I’ve found I haven’t got so much to say. The older you get, I’ve found, the less you know. It’s a very humbling experience.  So, as the wise campsite  crow showed me, it must be time to listen. 

Listening is not just using your ears, I find. You can listen in so many ways. Currently the RS and I  are camping along the banks of the mighty Fraser River, with lots of lovely walking trails. So we are “listening” to nature with all of our senses: sight, smell, touch, and taste as well as with our ears. The listening brings us peace and rest.




And we are listening with our hearts as we attend a play and a concert that feature the three grandgirls who live here. How beautiful children are, and how much hope they give us for the future.

pardon me while I brag a little: Geneva played Charlotte in Charlotte's Web at her school. Here she is posing with her friend Wilbur. Some spider, some pig!

Aerin was "some cow!" in the same production.


And Karina sang her heat out with the Pacific Mennonite Children's Choir Concert. So beautiful!
We listen with our hearts, as well, as we participate in the life of friends and family. Some are sad and grieving as they experience loss, illness, disability and looming death. Some are joyful as they participate fully in the life they are living, enjoying travels, children, making plans. We listen with our hearts, and our hearts grow bigger to encompass it all. Perhaps that’s the way it is with you, too? We’re listening to life: the sadness and sorrow, mixed up with the joy and the gladness. It’s hard to separate the two strands. Right now, words don’t cut it. It is time just to listen and ponder.

I feel the same way as I experience anxiety  for our world, for our nations, for the environment, for the differences that separate people and make enemies of those who are, after all, not so different from us, who have the same hopes and dreams. What to say about that? My listening involves storing these realities in my mind and heart, processing them, waiting until I know it’s time to squawk, know just what words to squawk as well.

I’m finding that this time of listening is not giving me many answers, many formulas to make it all better, not many nuggets of wisdom to pass on to you. But the listening is an experience that is also enriching and a blessing in itself.

Above all, as I commit myself to this time of listening,  my spirit listens for the voice of my Creator, the source of all creation and creativity. I listen, waiting to hear and feel that little thrill of excitement that tells me, “This! Yes, this is something you need to share.”

And when that happens, the crow will squawk again. Maybe sooner, maybe later. After all, there is a time for everything.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

A story about a story

Through all cultures, cloth has long been used as a vehicle to tell stories. For instance, the grave cloths in Ghana were stamped with symbols that told the mourners about the character of the deceased. In Chile, women embroidered small wall hangings as a protest against police brutality and the oppressive dictatorship they lived in. And the Hmong hill people in Laos embroidered story cloths depicting aspects of their life. Those cloths accompanied them to a new land as they fled a repressive regime so they could remember and tell their children about their stories.

I bought this "priceless" piece at a thrift store (where else?). It has some mildew stains on it--but beautiful, nevertheless.

Every quilt tells a story, say quilters. Some quilts tell stories of the maker’s delight in colour and design. Others praise nature. Some quilts, by using scraps of fabrics from old clothes, may tell the stories of a family’s history.

I don’t think every quiltmaker sets out to tell a story. But that’s what happens as they work. And that’s what happened to me, too.

It started with a challenge posed by a member of our Small Worx group: create a piece using a technique that is not part of your culture. The original image in my mind of a clothesline hung with articles of clothing from around the world morphed as I noodled with that idea and it became something else altogether.

What if...? Those two words are a universal kickstarter for creative thinking. What if the clothesline held quilts or blankets from around the world? Like, a Hudson’s Bay blanket, a Haida button blanket,  an Indian coverlet stitched with Kantha embroidery, a cloth of African batiks? What if the clothesline extended across Canada? Over the centuries Canada has welcomed many immigrants, and our population consists not only of many aboriginal cultures, but also of more than 190 people groups that “came from away”, each with their distinctive cultures and crafts. What if...what if I titled this quilt The Great Canadian Clothesline: Canada Airs Its Quilts? What if...what if I let this be my own quiet little political statement about what’s important to me, a thumb of the nose to #45 down south? Ah! Now we’re talking turkey. This was the beginning of a story.

I began. I sorted through my ethnic fabrics, and cut little blankets from them, embroidering and beading them in the evenings while I watched TV. I created a background. What had originally been intended to be a 12 x 12" piece had grown into 10" x 40" so I could accommodate Canada from ocean to ocean, from coast to coast. The green ground, consisting mainly of sari silk remnants, had to be redone several times so it would lay flat. I had to go on a major hunt for a blue sky that wasn’t too distracting. And then, there it hung. Now what? Just add poles and a clothesline, and hang the quilts?

Have you ever noticed that storytellers often embellish their stories? The story evolves from its simple bare-bones plot outline, and with each telling more details are added. That’s what happened to my story quilt, too. What if I added a background of silhouettes in the distance, showing features of the Canadian skyline? This was scary business. “What if?” may kickstart creativity, but “I doubt I’m able” can nip it in the bud. I wasn’t at all sure I had the technical skills to pull it off. What if, when I hung it for display, people said with a tight little smile, “Oh, isn’t that cute?” or even worse, “Interesting!” Who did I think I was, after all? Grandma Moses?

Fortunately, the resident sweetie knows how to give me a kick in the pants when I need it. “Just try it,” he said. So I did. I put a sailboat in the Pacific Ocean, stitched some Snowbirds in the sky, and created the Coastal range of mountains. Next came the totem pole, with one wing shorter than the other. Oh well. Keep moving, you can fix it up later. That was day one. My assessment: maybe. Just maybe it might work. The RS smiled.


Day two: some lower mountains in the interior of BC. The Rockies. Calgary. Hmmm. Okay! Keep moving! It took me all week to finish Canada: an oil well, a wind turbine, a train, grain elevators and many more features, all the way over to a lighthouse on the East coast.



Each day, I looked at the piece with anxiety and dread – was this the day I would mess it up? Was it really any good or was I deluding myself? -- but I did it anyway. I told my story.  These features live in my heart and in my memory. I too was an immigrant once upon a time, albeit a very little one, and grew to love these features. They are probably part of most Canadians’ collective memory, and they will become part of our immigrant newcomers’ story, too. I love that story.


It’s not done yet. I need to put up poles and string a clothesline, to which I will clip my tiny quilts with the cutest little clothespins I found at Michael’s craft store.


I will make many more tiny quilts than will fit on the line, and store them in a tiny laundry basket so I can change the picture from time to time. At any step in the process, I may still find the piece is not going to work, after all. That will be hard. But it will not be the end of the story. I will continue to keep plugging away at it until the story I want to tell is there for all to see. Because it is the viewers' story, too. Since this is Canada’s 150th birthday year, I will put it on display at our Guild’s Quilt Show, and also at the Valley’s Fall Fair.

It’s not perfect, not breathtakingly beautiful, maybe just cute and interesting. I doubt that it will win any ribbons, but that’s not what this was about. This is a story, our story, and we have much to celebrate.

As I worked on this story, I realized that I have left out a big piece of the story. I have not acknowledged that immigrants have a story to tell because they moved onto land that originally belonged to our First Nations. There's another story waiting to be told, if I have it in me. Time, and the design wall will tell.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Designing Ideas


This piece, “Morning Has Broken”, has been sitting on my design wall since mid-January, but this week I took it down and finished it...I think!


I wrote about this piece, my response to grief, in my January 14 post. It's still on my design wall because I'm not sure whether I should add some more sun rays stretching out into the black border. Hmmm.


Since then, the term “design wall”  has been rattling around in my head.In quilter’s terms, design walls are like giant bulletin boards where quilters mount quilt pieces temporarily and move them around till they like what they see. “Just right!” they say, and then proceed to sew them together into a lovely, delightful whole.


The design wall in my studio is totally essential to how I work. I put unfinished pieces up there, and they sometimes stay up for weeks, months, and even years until I figure out what I need to do next. Here's what's on my design wall right now:

This one has already been pulled apart once, and may not have enough life in it to get completed. Time, and the design wall, will tell me.
The idea of a design wall expanded in my head, and I was thinking it was perfect for this week’s blog post. The design wall which is my brain held all the pieces of my blog post, and I thought I could just stitch them together when I sat down to write. Not so. The pieces didn’t mesh, they didn’t look good together, and I had to pull them back and wait. This is when art imitates life. Or is the saying Life imitates art? Whatever. There just seemed to be a synchronicity between what I’d planned to write and what actually happened.

Sometimes ideas are not ready to be born and need more time to gestate; sometimes, our creative thoughts just need to mellow and gel before we put them out there for the world to see. Perhaps we should consider that our life has a design wall, too. Sometimes elements of our life are just not ready to move forward and need more time before we can put them into practice, before we can make decisions about the future. Perhaps we shouldn't be in such a hurry to get through stuff so we can get on with the next big thing. What do you think?

This idea obviously needs fleshing out, a little more depth of thought, some more noodling -- that's why I'm posting it on your brain's design wall today.  If it seems to you there's something here that bears further exploration, you can fiddle around with it till it feels right to you!

I don’t know how my friend Joy does it, getting into my head space and stealing my ideas ... I opened her blog post this morning, and there was the blog I was supposed to write, all done for me. Thanks, Joy! You can read her post by clicking on the link to Life by the Swake to the right of this.