Saturday, 22 November 2014

Welcome to the World, Baby Girl

On Thursday evening, we got the eagerly awaited phone call: we have a new grandchild to crow about. We rushed to the hospital to meet the newest member of the family, and I got to hold her for a precious few moments. What a beauty she is! Welcome to the world, baby girl!

This baby has strong roots. She is blessed by a loving web of family and friends. Together, we’ll all be teaching her something about the world. As an Oma who is becoming more aware of the important role of “elder”, I’ve been wondering what messages I will be giving her as I rock her and sing to her, as I read her stories and spend time with her.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit because of my latest quilting project. Yes, of course, I’m making a baby quilt which will be stitched together with love, but that’s not the project that’s been teasing my mind. Instead, it’s an assignment from my Small Worx quilt group: name 5 things you like about yourself, then create a self-portrait based on that. I realize that how I feel about myself will have an impact on this new little life, and indeed on all the lives I touch.

Quick, now: can you name 5 things you like about yourself? Sure, we could ask our friends what they like about us, but what about the things WE like about ourselves?

All the women who participated in this challenge found it hard. Perhaps our first reaction was based on a message many have heard since childhood:  Pride goes before a fall, so don't get uppity about yourself. Some of us have also heard that it’s only by the grace of God that there’s anything good about us, because we are all broken creatures. You don’t brag about yourself.

And the fact is, it doesn’t take long for innocent newborns to get messed up. We’ve all been  bruised and bent out of shape by painful words, unkind actions, rejection and anger directed at us by others, even those we love who had good intentions at heart. If we believe the negatives, it shapes how we see ourselves.

In the hierarchy that was my high school society, if you didn’t wear the right clothes, have the right WASP background, were a little too smart or a little too slow, it was a smart survival tactic to keep your head down and hope nobody noticed you. This too is not conducive to a good self-image.

And even now, as mature adults, we are getting messages that diminish us: ads about beautiful women and beautiful clothes set an impossible target, and the workplace can be a harsh teacher about power and equality. The final indignity for me now is  the unspoken assumption that people of our age are on our way out the door, so not very valuable members of society.

It’s so much easier to tally up the traits we don’t like about ourselves. “Well, my dear,” I could say to my new grandbaby, (and to all my grandchildren), “I’m not much, but I’ll do my best for you.” Is this the message I want to send to a little girl who’s just entered the world? No!

And so I got to work, looking at the other side of life. What do I know and like about myself? It turned out that once I got the wheels rolling under the Appreciation Train, it was hard to stop. What do I like about myself? I like my hair – I used to hate it, because it would never conform to the “in” look. Now I realize it is unique, like me. I like that I’m a quester, always eager to learn more about life. I like that I’m creative, and that I inherited some of my mom’s aura of warmth. I like that I am vulnerable, and that I belong to a whole network of communities that support me. I don’t have to go striding down life’s trail strong but alone.

I chose to portray myself from the back, facing into the future, with a limitless horizon.The green leaves on the tree are indications of growth and change.

The beaded and stitched circles in my self-portrait symbolize the circles of support for which I am so thankful.

I am purple, the colours of imagination and spirituality. 

And I can say all this because I believe I am a child of God, deeply loved. Even though sometimes, because of life’s stormy weather,  I don’t see or feel it, I believe that the Creator of all is smiling upon me – and all of you too.

I hope, dear Grace Lydia, if you learn nothing else from me, you will feel and learn that message. I hope and pray that  this too will be your truth. You are deeply loved. Welcome to the world, baby girl.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Do the Math

The other day, I had a hissy fit. I’d just finished writing a blog about the monster in my inner closet, and Whoosh! It made an appearance. And it was all because I can’t do math, especially when math relates to time management.

A friend posted on Facebook a while ago that being creative is like being a computer with 2, 349 windows open ALL THE TIME. Every little stimulus could lead to another window opening up, with vast potential. I’m not as creative as Pippa, so maybe I have only 124 windows open, but boy, do those windows call out to me. Hey! Look! Cool! You can do this! Try it! And when I do listen and follow the call, time often disappears. I don’t know where it goes – maybe to Ottawa? Maybe they have a time bank there where Daylight Savings Hours go to wait for a recall. But I digress... (see what I mean? Another window opened up. I can just picture those hours having a good time, swapping stories about how they trip people up.)

Back to my hissy fit. We were having good friends over for supper, and I was keeping it simple. Lasagna – make it once, and you can have four dinner parties in the freezer. And gluten-free foccacia bread, also a simple recipe. Key word: simple. It never is...but I digress.

I was late getting started, because the blog that I wrote on Tuesday didn’t work out, and I had to do another one. That window refused to open till Saturday morning, but it looked like it might work, and if I started at 9 I might be done in an hour, and still make it to the fabulous annual fabric sale at St. George’s church. Ha, ha. Time management 101: everything takes longer than you think it will. Unfortunately I have lived for 66 years and still think I can beat the odds.

A few hours later, I was done, did some housecleaning which the resident sweetie had already started.  Sometimes (not this time) we invite company only so we’ll be motivated to clean the house – but again, I digress. Another window.

Time to do the prep work for the dinner. But I was short some ingredients, so that meant a shopping trip. Shouldn’t take long, and it was awfully early to start cooking.  (Time management 101? PHHHHT).

I got back. The RS had cut the grass while I was gone, and was back to cleaning. The monster stirred a little, attacking me in my weak spot: the one that grows guilt like leftovers in the fridge grow mould.  I pushed away the monster. I had work to do, and time was no longer on my side, in fact it was speeding up alarmingly. Then the wheels fell off. Couldn’t find the recipe for the focaccia bread. Couldn’t find the recipe for the lasagna. Couldn’t remember the proportions. The noodles didn’t cook right. There wasn’t enough sauce. And when would I bake the bread, if in fact I could find the recipe book? Theoretically, there was still time to do it all, and wash the floor beside. But all the possibilities of what could go wrong flooded my imagination. My friends would reject me if dinner wasn’t perfect, don’t you know?  The monster saw an opening. Hissy Fit of major proportions. Even a few tears. Ridiculous, but that’s the way it was.

Well, the RS talked me down. He dropped the vacuum cleaner and began chopping vegies while we discussed options. I found the recipe book for the bread. I began to feel some optimism that it would work out. “Look, take it easy on yourself,” he said. “I’ll go buy some bread.”  Great suggestion, but really, our favourite gluten-free foccacia doesn’t take that long to make. (By now you must be thinking, she is way out in la-la land, this lady is.)

“How long?” he asked.

“20 minutes,” I answered.

“Half hour,” he countered. True.

That’s how long it took. And the lasagna got done, and the house was clean, and the table set and the appies on the counter AND we had a half hour to spare, so that we greeted our friends with a smile and had a lovely evening.

But. I need to face the fact that I don’t do the math well when it comes to time management. In the last week or so, I’ve had the uneasy feeling that I have said YES to many windows that are all open and calling to me. Most of them I don’t have an option of closing. And there’s always the possibility that more will come up. With Christmas approaching (less than 50 days away) I reluctantly tell myself  – again – I can’t do it all.

A few of the projects piling up and needing completion.
If, in the next few weeks, the blogs come out only sporadically, you will know why. I am busy taming the anger monster in my inner closet by releasing some pressure in my life, and giving the resident sweetie a bit of a respite. He deserves it.

The studio where I'll be spending a lot of time in the next few weeks. I hope!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Just Junk?

There's lots of junk in this world: junk mail, junk heaps, junk bonds, junk food. Originally, junk was a nautical term for a piece of old cable; then it became a synonym for unwanted or poor quality items. Lately, it’s also been a “euphemism” for male genitalia – see the things you learn when you read CrowDayOne? But we won’t go there in this blog, I promise; how the family jewels became junk is a mystery I’m not interested in exploring.

Junk is another word for mess, and that’s what we found when we got home from our trip: our garden was a mess. Overgrown perennials, dead sunflowers, long snaggy grass, tomatoes sliming on the vine. “We’ve got to get out there and clean up that junk,” said the RS, gazing mournfully out the window,  and I agreed. But it rained. Then it rained. And it rained some more.

While we were waiting for a sunny day, I spent time cleaning out my closets and  shelves  – three garbage bags full for the thrift store. One woman’s junk is another woman’s treasure.

I also checked my e-mail and began unsubscribing to junk-mail posts. One regular posting I didn’t delete, however, was the blog post I receive from Margaret at – lots of useful information, including a post on cleaning up your garden. Well, that’s timely, I thought. Except that her message was: DON”T. Don’t clean up your garden – at least not to the point that it’s what my mom would have called “nettjes” – a Dutch word meaning neat and tidy, proper and orderly. Nettjes is good; slordig – sloppy, messy, junky –  is not. But Margaret was telling me that slordig might be fine. Hmm.

What we think of as junk is a treasure to others of God’s creatures. Apparently, birds, bees, bugs and other small wildlife such as toads and salamanders love slordig, which is the natural state of nature – seeds to peck at, leaf piles to keep them warm and to hide them from their enemies. And we saw the evidence in our backyard. We’d never seen so many birds flitting about and feasting on our junk. We’re cleaning out the garden, but we’re being a little more thoughtful about it. How can we continue to share it with other forms of life?

It’s made me think about junk with different eyes. Yesterday, while carving up the Halloween pumpkin, I cut open the top and began scooping out the junk. But the innards weren’t junk, I realized – they were actually what the pumpkin was supposed to produce, each seed a jewel that could, if given the right conditions, produce many more pumpkins. (Sorry to say, my pumpkins’ seeds were consigned to the compost heap,  but still...)

I thought about the potential that might be hidden within so many other things that we call junk...including people. In the quilt I made to celebrate the year I turned 60, I created a square that looks like junk. It’s a self-portrait, actually – I was feeling very angry that week, and so I portrayed the monster that was living inside my inner closet. Maybe you have one of those too, that comes out of nowhere to sandbag you and turn you into a raving Frankenstein, practically foaming at the mouth? Not a pretty picture.

I did a lot of journaling and exploring that week, and realized that the anger monster just might be my best friend, telling me that there’s something wrong in my life, telling me to pay attention. Sooner would have been better, before the lid blew off and spattered the RS, but later is better than never. So I made friends with my inner monster, fixed up some things that needed fixing, and that was a good thing.

I belong to a group of fiber artists that challenges itself to create works on specific themes. The Small Worx sisters this month are working on self-portraits to show what we like about ourselves. When we first heard the assignment, some of us had that “deer-in-the-headlights” look, paralyzed by doubt. It would be so easy to portray the junk within, the things we don’t like about ourselves, the monsters in our closets. But this assignment asks us to come home to ourselves and recognize ourselves for who we are: not junk, but created masterpieces.

This week, poet Galway Kinnell died. His poem St. Francis and the Sow is such a lovely reminder that God doesn’t make junk, although "sometimes it is necessary to re-teach a thing its loveliness".
We may be kind to ourselves, blessing the “us-ness” within.

Saint Francis And The Sow

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

--Galway Kinnell