Saturday, 31 August 2013

Ap-pear-ently ... it’s September.

I was visiting my friend the other day. She had bowls of pears sitting on her counter, ready for canning. Immediately, I was carried back in memory to my childhood.

As soon as I began writing about pears, I just had to create an appropriate image in cloth.

I grew up as a child of immigrants. Money was always tight, but hearts were generous. Many of the folks in our community lived on farms and gladly shared excess produce with each other. When Mrs. V.phoned in September, it could only mean one thing: the pears were ready. These were special pears – probably an heirloom variety that we never see anymore. They were ugly, hard and tasteless, but when stewed for hours, they turned a delicate pink and tasted delicious. In a 4 star restaurant these days, a bowl of those \pears would probably cost a mint. Imagine the menu description: compote de anciennes poires rose – “succulent heritage pears slowly simmered to a rosy hue, glazed with a reduction of its own flavourful juices”. You take a bite, and yes, it’s yummy. It tastes just like mom used to make.

Pears also remind me of the very first day of school. The school was a one-room schoolhouse accommodating 30 or 40 children in grades one through eight. I was so excited finally to be going to that wonderful place! My mom had knit me a brand new sweater, and even though it was warm that day, I insisted on wearing it. I felt beautiful.

My most vivid memory of that first day is of recess. A large fenced-in yard ringed with old trees – maples, firs, and a loaded pear tree – was our playground.  Of course, the older boys were up that pear tree in a shot (no such thing as playground supervision back then) and began lobbing pears at random, hoping to hit someone. Of course, they hit me, and rotten pear mush splattered my brand-new sweater. Of course, I cried. And of course, the older kids gathered round and told me to quit being a baby and not to tattle. This was the first lesson I learned at school: big kids rule.

Fast forward to another first day of school. Now I am going into 9th grade in high school. I’m going from a 3 room school with about 100 kids to a mega-school. There are seven sections of 9th grade alone. And lockers!!!! I’d never before had a locker, and had no idea about the protocol. Lockers 101 was not offered. So, dressed in my very best home-made back-to-school outfit, I walked into those hallowed halls swarming with kids, every last one of them way cooler than me. I was carrying a bulky 3 ring zippered binder, topped with every text book I’d brought along for the 7 or 8 classes I would take that day, and perched on top of that, my lunch in a brown paper sack. (Backpacks had not been invented yet back in those dark days of pre-history.) I lugged my burden from class to class, the paper sack squished between my chest and the books every time we moved down the halls to another class. Mom had packed a  pear in my lunch – not the heritage kind, but soft and ripe -- and again, I was wearing eau-de-pear before lunch time arrived. That day, thanks to a kindly older student, I learned another lesson: that lockers were for keeping extra textbooks and lunches safe until you needed them. Duh.


Fortunately, not every memory of the first day of school is a bad one tinged with pear juice. We were visiting our son and family when our oldest grand-daughter Karina began Kindergarten.  I had the great privilege of taking her to school for her first ‘meet the teacher” date. It was all good for her: riding in Opa’s truck, being by herself with Oma, going to school to meet her teacher. “This is fun,” she chattered. “You should come back next year and I will go with you again for my first day of school.” I made a little square to commemorate that day, and when I look at it now, I feel nostalgic. (I also feel embarrassed, realizing how I much I still had to learn about quilting!)

Sadly, five years have gone by since then. Happily, we
will be visiting with Karina and her family for the first day of school this year. Maybe the kids will be carrying pears ... in their backpacks.

When we arrived at her house, Karina was wearing a T-shirt that proclaims "Oui! Oui! J'aime Pearis!"

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Take a Break

When I turned 65 in June, I declared that I was taking a year’s sabbatical. Now two months along, I’m taking stock, poking around in my life, seeing what’s there. Has the sabbatical unearthed any major insights?

The idea of sabbatical has its origins in the Bible where it is called schmita, meaning “release”. Every 7th year, the land was to be left fallow and all agricultural activity was forbidden. The time of rest also applied to people. Only the necessary chores were to be done: no improvements, no implementing of grand schemes, just rest. It would have been a time of moodling, I’m guessing, and a chance to think about life, a chance to repair relationships that had become frayed with the press of work. Chapter 25 of the Book of Leviticus promised bountiful harvests to those who observed the shmita.

Today, people usually associate sabbaticals with careers; professionals take an intentional break from their work in order to learn a new skill, or to fulfill some goal, e.g., writing a book or travelling for research. But I have no demanding career – in fact, my boss, the Canadian goverment which is providing my pay cheque these days, doesn’t care at all what I do with my time. And yet, I am taking a sabbatical.

I’ve believed in the value of sabbaticals for a while now. Rest from growth and vigour is part of every natural cycle, and  human beings are no different. About 20 years ago, when I woke up one morning so exhausted I didn’t know which end was up, I took my first sabbatical from every group/church/committee/volunteer work I was involved in. That year, as I gave myself permission to say no to requests for help, I took more time to pray, to think, to read, journal and create, and at the end of it, I was ready to go again. Since then, I have made a point of taking a sabbatical about every 7 years to regroup.

So I’m poking around in my life. No, I have no demanding career, but gradually, over the seven years we’ve lived in the Comox Valley, our commitments and involvements have increased. Are they all good commitments and involvements? Am I doing what I should be doing, or am I just travelling in a rut? And yes, we are retired and we should have all the time in the world to rest – at least, you’d think so, but as those who are retired mostly say, “I really don’t know how I ever found time to work.” Still, as I poke around, I realize it’s not a rest from busy-ness I need. I need a rest from myself – at least the bits of myself that aren’t true or good.

Mandala Woman

About 4 years ago I began making a mandala to express what I believe many women go through as they enter the last third of life. My woman figure sits on a landscape of flowers. Buried beneath her are the many experiences that have gone into her life – success and failure, motherhood, education, family relationships, friendships, and so much more. All have left their mark on her spiritual and emotional health. Now she sits in contemplation. In her hands she holds a black stone, standing for painful burdens, and a white one which portrays the good and the joyful. What will she do with these? As she enters this last stage of her life, can she release the bad and embrace the good? Can she move forward in peace? My mandala is not finished, although I’ve had it pinned to my design wall many times over the years. Sometimes, a new insight becomes clear, and I add something to the montage.

What insights will occur this year? Perhaps I can come to grips with my need for control – the resident sweetie would like that. Perhaps I will be able to ditch this pervasive feeling of being responsible for the happiness of all the people I love – that would make our children happy. Perhaps I can learn to let go of old resentments, not listen to negative voices, be content with less. It would all be good.

And perhaps, this sabbatical year is the year I will finish mandala woman. I’ll keep you posted.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Joy of Puttering (and other assorted pleasures)

Today’s entry in my book of inspiring words and pictures Daily Joy starts with the word “puttering” What a delightful word! Immediately, I began puttering around in my imagination. Just the idea of puttering can have that effect on you.

When I first get up in the morning, I need to putter around in the kitchen, just to get my engine warmed up. When I get into my studio to do a bit of quilting, I need to putter, touching fabric that catches my eye, brushing away stray wisps of thread. Al putters in the garden first thing every morning, checking out the plants, the fish, the weather. No purpose, really, but important, nonetheless.
Puttering in my studio (a square from 2008)

The dictionary tells me that to putter is “to busy or occupy oneself in a casual or ineffective manner, with little action, energy or purpose.” Other not very complimentary words are used for puttering: dawdling, frittering away, unproductive wasting of time. Bah humbug.

Ignore the dictionary. The quote in Daily Joy has a more positive spin. “Puttering is really a time to be alone, to dream and to get in touch with yourself...To putter is to discover.” (Alexandra Stoddard).  Much better.

“Puttering” has a cousin: “poking around”. Poking around happens when you go somewhere you’ve never been before to see what you can see. The “somewhere” could be just about anywhere: a shop, a town, or even a place in your mind which you’ve never explored. I had a lovely poking around experience this week when my friend Trudy and I decided to exercise our newly acquired senior privileges. (BC residents who are 65 or older get to ride the ferries for free Sunday through Thursday.) We hopped a ferry and crossed the salt chuck to Powell River to see what we could see. We called it a cruise. We poked around in art shops, a used bookstore, a yarn place called “Great Balls of Yarn.” We had lunch, and then we hopped the ferry and came home again. It was a lovely poking around day.

When I was exploring the idea of “puttering” I poked around on the Internet. You never know what you’ll find there. I found out that some people just don’t get the idea of puttering – 90% of the quotes on the word “putter” revolved around – would you believe it? – certain clubs you use when playing golf! My mind would never have gone there. See what happens when you poke around? (My apologies to those people who think that golf is a great puttering activity. You could be right.)

My best find of the day came when I ran across this quote by writer Brenda Ueland: “So you see, imagination needs moodling - long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” Moodling?! That word sent me on another poke around. Moodle, of uncertain etymology, means to dawdle aimlessly, to idle time away. Playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote admiringly in favour of it. “Napoleon often moodled about for a week at a time doing nothing but play with his children or read trash or waste his time helplessly,” he wrote in  Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism. Apparently, moodling and accomplishments are not mutually exclusive.

Adirondack chairs are great places to moodle in the summertime.

I know there’s a time for everything. There is a time to concentrate, get down to work, be disciplined (or I’d never get this blog written). But there certainly also needs to be a time for moodling (or I would never have gotten this blog written.) I’m wondering if anyone else wants to join the SPCM  (Society for the Promotion of Carefree Moodling) that I’m thinking of forming. It would be a very loose, unstructured organization, you understand. No meetings, bylaws, rules or regs.

But when someone catches you doing nothing with a dreamy look on your face, you could say, “Oh, I’m just doing some research for the SPCM.” Doesn’t that sound good?

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Something More

We’ve hauled the trailer back from our ocean-side retreat, and it’s back to the sweat-shop here for us in the Comox Valley. In the middle of this steamy-hot weather, we are tending the garden, reaping what we sowed back in the early spring.

The garden angel has been busy! This is a small piece of a crazy quilt I'm working on.
True Confession Time: In spite of having a beautiful garden we planned and planted intentionally, in spite of singing its praises to the 350 people who walked through it on the Horticultural Garden Tour this spring, in spite of considering gardening one of my spiritual practices ... in spite of all that important stuff, there are times I don’t like my garden at all. And earlier this week was one of those times.

Comox means “land of plenty” and we’re experiencing it in spades. Grrr. The beans have taken  fertility drugs and are multiplying faster than we can eat them. The cabbages are splitting at the seams. The zucchinis look like baseball bats. If I don’t harvest the beets soon, they will be too woody to eat. We’ve shared with our neighbours and friends, but there’s more. More. More. It’s hot. I’m crabby.

This is a square from a quilt I made 5 years ago, celebrating the bounty of blackberries and Oregon grapes that grow free for the picking here in the land of plenty. I turned them into jam and jelly. 

All of this was going through my mind yesterday, as I hauled our camp stove and canning equipment to the patio, my makeshift summer kitchen. The thermometer hovered around the 30C (86F) mark. Who in their right mind wants to can dilled beans, pickled beets, and zucchini salsa? Clearly, something needed to change if I was to get the job done.

And so I dig deep and remember what’s important to me.

I remember my dad’s garden – how every evening after a long day of work he would tend it with love. I remember the bare root roses he bought at a winter fund-raiser -- how against all odds, they survived till spring and graced our front yard for years to come. The practical business of growing food for the family and the aesthetic principles of beauty were equally important to him. Although he’s been gone many years, now, I feel as though he’s looking over my shoulder and smiling as I work the soil and plant the seeds every spring.

I remember my mom’s role in gardening. She was the preserver of bounty. After picking those prolific beans, mom and whoever she could rope in (often us kids, but also sometimes friends and aunties who shared the chores) would spend the afternoon in the backyard tipping them. Later, sweating in the kitchen over a hot stove, she canned or blanched them, probably feeling just like I do now. She’s probably also looking over my shoulder and smiling knowingly.

I remember meal preparation on dark winter days, when I’d be sent down to the cellar to fetch the jar of beets or the bowl of sauerkraut that became an important part of our meals, adding flavour and zest to the conversations that circulated around the dinner table.

Yes, I know: that was then, and this is now. Growing your own food and preserving it today really doesn’t pay, financially, not when big trucks haul in tons of veggies from California and Florida and sell them for practically nothing. But I also think about our increasingly urban world, where people are more and more disconnected from their food sources. I know how much I will enjoy the hard-earned fruits of my labour when the winter rains come.

As I reflect, I realize I am harvesting and preserving something more than vegetables. I realize again that when I work in the garden I am connected – connected to the earth, to the cycles of the seasons, to the mysteries of growth and regeneration, to the community I live in, to the community that raised me, and ultimately to the Creator who is the source of it all.

Preserving the plenty comes with the territory. And so I begin.

Job done!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Why We Do the Things We Do.

When our guild found out earlier this year that we had been awarded a highly-coveted table at the juried Filberg Festival, I signed up to contribute some pieces. Three days before I had to deliver my pieces to the coordinator, I was in a frenzy.

Why am I doing this? I asked myself, as the deadline moved ever closer, with nothing to show for my fretting. Why, when there are so many other things I could be doing instead –  things that don’t cause me restless nights and anxious days until the job gets done? I could be painting my toenails, lying out in the sunshine getting a tan. I could be eating bonbons while watching DVDs of all the movies I missed seeing because I was busy trying to meet my commitments.

What was I thinking when I signed up? I was beset by doubts. Is this worth it? It’s going to rain and nobody will come to the show. And if they do, people will hate my stuff.  Chances are, nothing I make will sell. Who do I think I am, entering my art into a juried show? Maybe I should just quietly withdraw.

Why do we do the things we do? The avid cyclist who thinks it would be a great idea to bike to the top of the mountain before breakfast...why? The folks who have full time jobs and still sign up for online courses that will lead to an advanced degree...why? Why does the gardener open her garden to the garden tour and allow 350 people to traipse through her yard?  What possessed the fellow who woke up one morning with an idea to build the Taj Mahal?

Halfway through any ambitious enterprise, my guess is everyone questions their own sanity. Life would be much simpler if we didn’t say yes to these “good ideas.” We all know that nothing is as simple as it seems. Who needs the hassle?

While I was noodling about this question, I snipped and sewed, then unpicked and sewed again, tried this, tried that, tossing discarded fabrics to the floor and pulling more off the shelf. The studio looked like a disaster zone.

But a funny thing happened in the middle of the chaos. I was having fun. I was no longer trying to finish pieces for the show, I was creating pieces that made me smile. The adrenaline flowed, the ideas kept coming, my eyes glazed over as I lived inside myself, and Al lost his spouse for a few days. Here's two of the results.

A Special Place.

Happy BC Day to the Comox Valley.

Aha! I get it! For this feeling, I do the things I do.

Now I must admit that not all the "good ideas" have turned out well. Sometimes, I quit when I realize that this is an "oopsie" -- I said yes for the wrong reasons. But even those experiences tell me something about myself and are not a total waste of time.

In Daily Joy: 365 Days of Inspiration, the photos and quotes for July focus on Adventure. “Make voyages! Attempt them! There is nothing else,” advises Tennessee Williams. A more sedate T.S. Eliot intones wisely, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

One thing I know for sure: you don’t go far by painting your toenails or eating bonbons. They’re nice, temporary pleasures, but they don’t set my heart a-singing. And so I "make voyages" to find out how far I can go. Sometimes, we do the things we do because they take us to a place we've never been before.

Now, if could figure out why I wait till the last minute to give myself such a high, we’d really be in business!

PS: I was wrong: somebody did buy something of mine. "A Special Place" has a new home.