Saturday, 26 July 2014

Still Standing after all these Years

It’s been an eventful week. The resident sweetie and I moved our trailer to our favourite campsite beside the ocean. It’s a new-to-us trailer, and this is its maiden voyage, so that’s exciting. As I sit here writing, my morning coffee by my side, I’m looking out the window at a family of 9 loons peacefully paddling on the calm water. An eagle is having breakfast at the water’s edge, and the fish are jumping. The RS is sitting by the window, doing his own thing. It doesn’t get much better than this, I think. Such are the joys of camping.

Maybe camping purists will disagree, telling me that camping in a trailer with a flush toilet, coffee maker, sofa and furnace is not camping. Camping, they’ll tell me, involves warming your hands around a campfire where the morning coffee is perking, the toilet is an outhouse down the path, and sleeping involves cold nights on the hard ground. If you’ve survived that, you can survive anything.  

Well, I’ve done all that and more. We camped on our honeymoon in a green canvas 9x9 tent and air mattresses that wouldn’t stay filled. We’ve camped with babies, washing out diapers under cold water pumps; we’ve camped in the rain and in the burning sun (without an air conditioner, I’ll have you know); we’ve camped with a dog and four kids in a leaky tent trailer. Doing the calculations, we figure we’ve camped more than 2 of the 43 years we’ve been together! And we’ve  survived.

But camping isn’t, for us, a matter of survival, it’s about enjoyment. It’s about sharing time and experiences, about building memories together, about making time to concentrate on each other. It’s much like marriage – I mention that, because camping and marriage are inextricably intertwined in my mind, and because we celebrated another anniversary this week. (Nice segue, eh?)

so young!

We decided to celebrate the day by doing what we love to do, exploring some new venue and seeing what there is to see.  Eventually we found ourselves on a trail that led to a scenic waterfall. Immediately we noticed the huge trees. Before we moved to this province, we didn’t know the expression “old growth” from Old Spice –and no, it’s not the stuff that grows in the back of your refrigerator. An “old growth forest” is a forest that has never been logged, so that the trees are huge and old. Some reach upwards of 70 meters, 9 meters in diameter, and, here on the island, a thousand years old. Such stands of trees are becoming more and more rare. In a mixed forest, one still occasionally finds some old growth trees, trees that have been spared the logger’s axe.

Of course we had to take a “selfie”. The selfie doesn’t do us justice, in my opinion, but I’m sharing it here because it occurs to me that we have something in common with those big old trees in the background. The trees and us: we’re still both standing after all these years. We’re old growth!

Old growth trees show the ravages of time – and so do we. They have scars and bumps and burn marks where they’ve been hurt. Some of the bumps grow over with scar tissue that weeps resin tears. Sounds like old growth people to me.

These old trees didn’t come from nowhere – they had their beginnings in the rich humus that was built up, layer by layer, as old trees died and fell to the floor and decomposed, releasing warmth that created an incubator for baby trees. The trees were sheltered from storms by a community of other trees. Nobody grows up in isolation – and neither did we. In our life together, we’ve drawn strength from the ground where we were planted, and we’ve been nurtured and encouraged by the communities of which we’ve been a part.
In any relationship – friendship, parenting, marriage, community groups, church family – old growth doesn’t just happen. It develops over time, as experiences pile up and create a rich history of disagreements and resolutions, honest talk, adventures shared, stories told, laughter and tears, sickness and health, and so much more. Like our camping history, relationships are stories not only about survival, but also about enjoyment and sharing and savouring good things together, about gratitude for the shelter of others and for the roots from which we spring, and for the Creator who is the source of it all.

For these 43 years with my resident sweetie, for old growth, for children and grandchildren, for family and friends, and for so much more, I give thanks today.

You may be wondering about The Flowers of the Summer Garden which I’ve been writing about for the past two weeks. Well, they’re still marinating in creative juices. I’ll share some ideas about them next week.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Best Laid Plans

“This blog has gotten long enough. Next week, I’ll continue, showing you how I created my version of the flowers and what I did with them...”

That’s how I ended last week’s blog. But before you scroll down to the bottom of this post to see my art piece "Flowers of a summer garden", I confess it’s still not done.

Oh, I had great ideas. But the piece had other ideas. Art work is like a child, I’m finding – you tell it what to do, but the child twists your ideas around and often – always? – turns out way different than what you’d dreamed about. Good – sometimes even better – but definitely different.

So here’s what happened with The Flowers of the Summer Garden piece. First, I created the backgrounds, using all the bright greens that felt like summer, with a touch of darker greens to imply depth and shadow.
I like using fabric like a painter would use paint, building my backgrounds, and later the flowers, layer by layer, adding bits here and there. I like laying the fabric down and stitching on the raw adds texture, much like a painter adds texture by using a palette knife instead of a brush sometimes. (But honestly? Well, laziness has something to do with it, too – tucking in all those raw edges in and stitching them neatly down by hand would have taken forever.)

So here are the results of the flowers.


coreopsis -- this one doesn't lay flat, and there's too much red. I may have to redo it.
And at this point in the process, I thought all I needed to do was square them up and arrange them on a background, so I began to audition them on fabrics I had on hand.

too much white

Too blah--not enough contrast

kind of funky ... it has possibilities.
That’s when the art muse spoke up. “Hey!” she said. “What would happen if ...?”

Here’s my advice to you if you have a project with a definite deadline and your inner muse whispers those words. Ignore her. Finish your project. Done is done. It is what it is.

But if you want to do your best work, then listen up, because those words may start all your cylinders firing, and you could be on the edge of something great – either a great success, or a great failure. (Great failures can be best work, too, if you learn from them.) Why not take a chance, and go for it?

The words I heard were, “ What happens if you take your scissors and cut the flowers apart and rearrange them?”

Don’t worry – I hedged my bets. I photocopied my fabric flowers and used those paper art pieces to play with various ideas. Cut them into quarters. Cut them into wedges. Cut them into one-inch squares. Arrange the pieces on polka dots. Arrange them on batik. Go for abstract. Hey, I could even create a 3-D mobile with them. The variations were endless.

How to choose which idea would be the best one? Creativity experts almost all agree: there comes a time in your project when you need to walk away...for a while. Your brain needs a rest, your eyes need a fresh perspective, and your project needs to go to that mysterious place where ideas marinate. It’s not only creative projects that benefit from this time of rest. "Should I buy this car?" "Should I tell Mary what I really think?" "Who should I invite to the party?" "Oh, I guess I’ll sleep on it before I make that decision." Who knows how this works? I don’t, but I know it does.

So that’s where my project is at. I'm waiting until I have some clarity on this project. In the meantime, it’s been hot for the last two weeks here in the Comox Valley – hot enough to make you think it’s actually summer time, and it’s okay to be lazy; hot enough to enjoy "wasting" a little time, waiting.

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. - Bertrand Russell

(Actually, Bertrand Russell did not coin that phrase. Those words cannot be found in his writings. But eveyone thought he might have said it, because he is considered so brilliant. The phrase comes from a long-forgotten novel “Phrynette Married” by Marthe Troly-Curtin, J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and London. 1912. Just goes to show that you may be a forgotten nobody, but your legacy could live on in unexpected ways. That's my woo-woo thought for the day.)

Saturday, 12 July 2014

How-to and Woo-Woo

June was a busy month. I loved it all, but I’m a person who needs to bookend busy times with sufficient downtime, so I was looking forward to the first two weeks of July. No blog to write. No visitors. No parties or commitments.

Funny thing, though. After two days, I was already schlepping around the house, restless and antsy. Even at night, I was tossing and turning. Couldn’t sit still in our lovely garden; couldn’t read a novel from start to finish. What was going on? “Ah,” said the wise one, my resident sweetie. “You are missing your writing.”

Hmm. If I were to be marooned on a desert island, and could only take two things with me, what would they be? Duh! My computer and my sewing machine, of course. And if my desert island had no power, I’d take the equivalent in unplugged equipment: my sewing basket and paper and pens. With these basics, I could write my own books, construct my own fig-leaf clothes and fool around with decorative art. My family and those two things: that’s a quality life. And here I was, poking around the house trying to avoid the studio because I thought I needed a break from it. Nobody needs a break from quality of life.

So off I hied to the studio and began with a few stressless projects – pulling scraps together to make baby quilt tops for our guild’s Community Quilts project. Ah, that felt better. Soon I had two “flimsies” sewed up (for the quilting-impaired, flimsies are pieced quilt tops that have not been layered and quilted.) A quilter with a few flimsies in her closet is a happy woman – she’ll always have something to work on.

Then one morning I woke up and thought, it’s time to play in the studio. I will stitch up something without resorting to rules, colour wheels, patterns or even pictures to copy. It may be a big failure, but that is okay.

And as to writing – yup, that’s why there’s another blog in your mailbox. But not a deep-insightful-oh-so-serious piece of writing. Instead, I will document how I go about such a project. A blog I read occasionally,, sports this theme: “gardening how-to and gardening woo-woo.” Well, this blog is not a woo-woo piece! This is quilting how-to. It satisfies my need to write, and is, in part, a reply to a friend who said she’d love it if I took her through the process of making an art quilt.

It started that morning with a cup of coffee in the garden, feasting my eyes on the loveliness.

The colours of summer-flowering perennials are brilliant: fuschia, yellow, orange, purple, red, and all kinds of green. Some folks think a garden should be a haven of peace. They say people who put all those clashing colours into their garden are gauche. So call me gauche. In our garden, like in the world, all colours live happily together, and I find it beautiful. 

I took that mental image with me into the studio with a vague idea of capturing the beauty of our garden in a quilted piece of art. I began pulling out fabrics from my stash, laying them out like a deck of cards. As you can see, pastels and greyed hues need not apply for this job.

I decide to create four different flowers on green backgrounds. The calendula is my first choice – every year, the calendulas spring up, willy-nilly, all through the garden. Self-seeded, they’re equally happy in the midst of the garlic and blueberries or poking through a border of rocks. They remind me to just go do my thing, as they do, brightening people’s lives with colour. Next, I choose a rose because roses remind me of my dad, who bought a box of dead-looking roots at a fund-raising bazaar in November, and coaxed them into an amazing rose border that beautified our yard for years and years.  Don’t judge based on appearances, the rose tells me – dead-looking things may hold the beginnings of something beautiful.

From bottom left, clockwise: rose, coreopsis, clematis, cosmos, and gazania.
And then there’s the jackmani clematis. Every spring, we chop it down to practically nothing, and every spring we wonder if this is the year we’ve killed it. And so far, every spring it sprouts and grows and blooms prolifically, covering our garden shed with a deep purple robe. The clematis is about resilience and determination, I think. And lastly, a coreopsis – the dictionary tells me that its name means “having the appearance of bugs” because of the shape of its seeds.  I prefer its alternative name: calliopsis, “having the appearance of beauty.” The sunny rays of this flower look lovely in a bouquet. Sometimes, we don’t need to have a message – sometimes, we just need to let our beauty shine through.

After I’d worked all day in my studio, I had the best sleep I’ve had for weeks, and I no longer prowl the house restlessly. If there’s a woo-woo lesson in that, I’ll let you figure it out, dear reader.

This blog has gotten long enough. Next week, I’ll continue, showing you how I created my version of the flowers and what I did with them. And yes, I'm having fun.