Wednesday, December 31, 2014

At the Gate of the New Year

Greetings as we await the New Year.
Calendars set off time like fences define space…

and New Year’s Eve sits on the line a bit like a gate. 

I find gates fascinating in their ability to invite or repel.

A friend reflecting on how "as we enter a New Year we do not know what lies ahead," posted a few lines from a poem. Of course we don’t know what's ahead, we never really do, and that can strike one alternately as both exciting and at times repellent. 

And as I experience that it is often easy for me to overlook the obvious, I found myself grateful for her flatly stating that we do not know what lies ahead....and for the lines of poetry she shared; a poem, she says, she likes to read each new year.

At the Gate of the Year
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.
'And he replied,'Go into the darkness and put your hand
into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'
 by Minnie Louise Haskins (1908) *

At the gate of this new year, I wish much for others and 

for myself … may it be a gentle year, healthy, productive, 

joyous and full of step by step 


  Happy New Year to You

*This is actually quite a famous poem and if you would like to know more about it and the poet who lived from 1875 to 1957 and had a very varied and interesting career,  there is an excellent brief on her life 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Three Memoirs of Improbable Life Paths

None of the three autobiographical books I've read of late are hot off the press, but they were all new to me. And oddly, these three very different lives have a lot in common.

Late summer a friend gave me a copy of the 2011 New York Times Bestseller, Kisses from Katie.  I confess that I took it home and set it on a shelf.  It didn't look like "my kind of book."  I found the title to be cloying.  However, I trust my friend and wanted to be able to respond when asked if I had read the book, so I carried it on a road trip to Idaho and brought it home again, no more familiar with the story of the young woman on the cover than I was before my journey.

Once I finally began reading, I found a rather amazing tale of a girl who, based on a three week mission trip to Uganda during her senior year in high school, asked her parents for permission to postpone college for a year so she could return to Uganda and teach little children there.  Katie Davis was born in 1989 making her now twenty-five years old  in 2014.   That is especially important for her because Ugandan laws require residents to be twenty-five years old to adopt children and she has been the foster parent to thirteen little girls!  ***Yes, I know that exclamation points are best used sparingly.  I think I have have restrained myself greatly using only one; considering the  information contained in my last sentence, perhaps there should have been  thirteen of them.***

Next the 1990 Ben Carson story  Gifted Hands  fell into mine.  While Katie Davis is a daughter of privilege, her school's homecoming queen and class valedictorian,
Dr. Carson, born in 1951, was one of two sons of a working mother in inner-city Detroit.  The book opens with a letter to the reader from Sonya Carson who writes:
Dear Reader, As the mother of Ben and his brother, Curtis, I had a lot of challenges.  Being one of twenty-four children, married at age thirteen, and later having to get a divorce after finding out my husband was a bigamist were just a few of them....

Ben Carson begins his story sharing his childhood  struggles with a convincing vulnerability.  I had read on the back jacket that he became  director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Medical Institutions at age thirty-three, but I found little hint of that possibility as I read the chapters about his young life. I also had no idea how much brain surgery explanation I was getting myself into, but once I began this book there was no way I going to skip over any of it. In addition to his passion as a surgeon, Dr. Carson offers himself as a motivational speaker for young people.  He believes that "With the right help and the right incentive, many disadvantaged kids could achieve outstanding results."   He certainly has.

Son of Hamas...This incredible chronicle was published in 2010.  Mosab Hassan Yousef was born in the West Bank city of Ramallah "to one of the most religious Islamic families of the Middle East."  It was the same year I was giving birth to my first child in California so I have a very real sense of how long he has been on the planet; he is now thirty-seven years old, but he has lived in an utterly different world than the one I know. He is currently living under political asylum somewhere in America.   He didn't set out to write a New York Times bestseller, but he has.  He didn't set out to do many of the things he has done.

I am recommending these books to you.  I am  reticent to tell you much about their journeys as they are so personal and I want to neither add nor take away from the narrative of these brave souls.  Each one of them hopes to make the world a safer and better realm for others and to tell their respective stories they have to trust the reader to look beyond cultural or emotive differences.  These three lives with not a word written of them already represent tremendous  giving and impact in the world. Sharing one's story is an additional gift, a tremendous vulnerability and I am glad to have been a recipient.

I 'll be interested if you have read any of these books.

If you haven't read Mr. Yousef's book, start there, it's truly a challenging and powerful story and ever so pertinent to trouble stalking our globe.  I am already thinking of rereading it.

By the way, each of these books had an acknowledged co-writer:
Katie Davis with Beth Clark
Ben Carson with Cecil Murphy
Mosab Hassan Yousef with Ron Bracken

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Painting and Praying

Thinking of dear ones....

For Herb M. I am so glad you have been part of my life, with prayers and tears and hope brighter than any colors we can see or share...

For Susan H. as she mends in the hospital tonight.

For my traveling darlings ...

For Bill M. and his dear GJM.

For a sweet foot that has walked ever so many miles for me and mine.

*** *** **** **** ** *******

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

One of A Kind Mandolin Gig Bag ... A Justification for that Stash Pile

I had eyed my husband's mandolin for a long time. It was a gift years ago from his only sibling, his brother Jim, now gone; I knew it was precious to him. I had thought a number of times about making a soft case for it, but the instrument  was either hanging safely on the wall or being played so it was fairly  easy to talk myself out of  making a project for myself.

But lately he had begun taking it out and about with him, propping it in the back of his van or leaving it on the back seat of my car and October is his birthday month, so I decided to get serious.

It would take quite a bit of material for the case and the lining.  I would need a long zipper and  binding for the edges. If I ran out and bought all the materials, it might make more sense monetarily to just go buy a mandolin case.  I poured through my stashed  fabrics. I had several yards of soft small wale brown cotton corduroy I'd found in the free box at The Legacy, the senior center support store that receives all things arts and crafty that need a new home. The fabric was deemed unsalable due to a streak of fading on it.  I found a piece of padded cotton bathrobe the kind of cloth I save to stuff potholders and a piece of padded corduroy I had thought to make into a cat bed.  Why I would make a cat bed, I don't know, given that the cats would perhaps rather sleep anywhere but in a cat bed, except on occasion.

In fact, the reason I am still up and puttering around tonight is because I am waiting for a cat to come home and find a bed of her choosing

I finally stopped thinking about whether or not I could make a decent gig bag, as such soft instrument cases are often called, and took the first step. I laid the mandolin down on a piece of cloth and drew around it and then I cut.   I dug out my zipper collection. The only zipper long enough to let  the mandolin in and out of the opening turned out to be turquoise.  It's teeth will provide a little grin of color every time the bag is opened.

The tear drop shaped  body of the instrument is like cake with a smaller second layer on top so I knew the sides of the case would have to be accommodating.  I wound up making the sides too big and had to cut them down as I assembled.  The first piece of the side that I made was the part with the flashy zipper.
                                            Inside the case is another little flash of cheerful color. It might have been nice to have enough of the quilted brown, but then again, this case is one of kind.

I basted around the curves with pins and then stitched leaving the seams on the outside of the bag. 

The inside is the finished side of the seam.  

Not having to go out and buy expensive fabric helped me to cut and improvise without worrying my prototype would be a costly experiment.  I have never made a "gig bag" before.

I was getting a good guitar concert during this pinning session.

 Dusty rose binding out of my stash  finished off the top seam and the bottom seam is enclosed in a binding  made of the thinner selvedge edge of the corduroy, enough for one side of the case.  Now all I have to do is put the straps on.

At each stage I debated about driving into town and buying matching colors of things, but Mr. Mandolin kept giving me his approval to use the materials I had.  In the week before I started the case I had made a child size tote from scraps and that turned out to be a good warm up for this bigger project. 
 When you have stashed fabrics and ribbons and long turquoise zippers and have moved them down to Carmel and then back up the coast, it is a pretty good feeling to use up some of those items.

Down at The Legacy I bought the one color strap they had for 60 cents a yard. I  wasn't sure how that would look and worried the bag was  getting too crazy.  Mr. Mandolin had to go to the hardware store and there I saw and splurged on  black strap and paid 70 cents a foot, $2.10 per yard.
Now I am not sure which one I like the best. 

Well, I have burgundy strap and black. Which color would you choose?
Which ever one I don't use is going into my stash...never know what I might make next.

Ah, that cat in question just came to the door.  I better put this cozy little bag away or some kitty might think it's just right for a good night's, it's not a cat bed! 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Broken Plate Mosaic Bird Bath ...A Garden Project in the Last Rays of Summer

Back in August we laid out our broken dishes on the garden table and began a repair on the bird bath that had both a big edge chip and a crack.  It  would no longer hold water. With summer heat and drought, I like having bird baths for our feathered friends to perch on, drink from and splash in. 

Despite our August intentions, a number of intervening realities left those dishes  spread out for several weeks, waiting on the garden picnic table like a Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
Then on the last Saturday of summer, I saw the was a day of gentle September sun and we were unscheduled. A small backyard project was just the rest we needed.

It was calming, in our somewhat fractured world, to take disparate pieces and fit them into a new coherence, to bring new purpose to objects too damaged for their original purpose, yet too pretty to just throw away.

Thinset is smeared into the bottom of the bowl.  the broken cherub
 was tried out and removed.
Thinset is nice that can pull things off even after they have dried.
Mark taught me how to use his wet saw and I made some of the pieces smaller.  I plopped some thinset on the back of each piece, fitted them as shape and color seemed to suggest (and hopefully in a way the birds would like) and smooshed them into place.  

Here is my first  broken plate mosaic ready for the Thinset to dry which took over night.

It was fun. You can see we have broken a lot of dishes over the years.  I am glad I saved them. As I wiggled pieces around I remembered where or who the plates were from.  One was Mark's grandmother's and one was from my grandma.  My dad gave me some of the plates.  A few I had bought at garage sales to sit under potted plants and two of them were gifts many years ago from a boyfriend; dear people each one and I believe they all felt kindly towards birds as well.  

I  did the mosaic by myself, but when it was time to do the grout, Mark helped me...which really means, he did all the work, but it allowed me both to learn and take pictures of the process.

He had white grout, but the bird bath was terra cotta, so we added a little red to match it up better.  You pour the grout into the water in the bucket and mix it up so it is smooth and sticky.  

The goal is to spread the grout into all the empty spaces between the broken plates.

The grout tool he had was designed for larger flat surfaces, so I got one of my kitchen spatulas which worked pretty well. 

 Next step is to sponge the tile or in this case plate surfaces clean with gentle wipings with a very soft wet sponge that you keep rinsing out.

 Eventually the grout is confined to the spaces between your pieces and it is time to let it dry and cure.

 The test now was to be sure it would hold water.  It does.

So back it goes on its be filled it up for the birds...

And then you step back in hopes that the birds might come and use it. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

California Fire ...a Happy Update

Happy Update on California Fires

Some much-needed rain stormed into Northern California on Friday complete with super loud thunder and bright lightning strikes.

The first rain drops out on the street!

 It was a gift out of the Pacific Northwest and has helped Northern California firefighters on both the Happy Camp  and  July Complex fires,  as well as the 97,099 acre King Fire in the El Dorado National Forest which is now 78% contained.  

 I was outside on a covered deck, saw lightning and heard hugh cracking reports of thunder very proximate.  It took me by surprise and so did the scream I cut loose.  When I got back up the stairs and inside during a lull I found my kitties hiding under the bed. I didn't feel so silly then, they were scared too. 

I am so grateful for this rain. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

California Fires and a Little Town Called Weed

Oh my dear California, so dry you have been and beset by fires.

Cal Fire says they have answered at least 1000 more fire calls than usual by this time of year.  The KING fire, that is believed to be arson, started east of Sacramento on September 13th and is only 35 % contained as of today.  It has already hit over 90,000 acres.  Some news reports compare it to cities - it's said to be a wildfire bigger than the entire city of Las Vegas - to help us get a sense of how much terrain that is. There are fires near Yosemite too.  Another dear town that has suffered is Oakhurst.

On August 9th we set out to drive up into northern Idaho to a family wedding and a visit in the new home family had recently made there.  Our planned route to Idaho was up in the air for a few days as the most direct way via Highway 97, off Highway 5 at the town of Weed, was closed for while due to fire.  Fire was already on our minds as my brother's northern California ranch had a front row seat for the "Log Fire,"  one of the several blazes that got started from the July 29th dry lightening strikes.  It came very close, but the ranch itself is unscathed.

Out on Highway 97, the firefighters contained the flames and reopened the road, so we stuck to our original plan to go north to Weed and over on 97 instead of getting ourselves to Reno and then north into Idaho.
 That afternoon we stopped to rest and eat a bit in the shade of a tree outside the log cabin

that serves as the Weed, California visitor center.

A small part of a welcome sign mural

We had driven past Weed on Highway 5 many times, but never stopped before  We were charmed and heartened by our brief visit.

Our view from the town of Weed as we ate our carrot sticks and almond butter sandwiches.

Then we drove on out of Weed, but not without noticing what a fine little town it was. I wish I had taken more pictures.

 And as we headed out highway 97 we saw that fire had indeed swept through on both sides of the road.

Unfortunately little more than a month later, fire raged through the town of Weed on September 15th and the  town of 3000 took a very large hit.  They called it the Boles Fire.
News Photo

The people of Weed lost around 150 homes, their community center, their library, and several churches. The town mill was damaged, as was the elementary school.

You can imagine all  the efforts that are being made to rally round those burnt out of their homes...blankets and meals and money and somewhere to stay and the coming alongside with friendship, hope and energy.  It will be a long haul and hard.

  Life is full of reminders to count our blessings and check our priorities, isn't it?

I watched a video today on Cal Fire which first began serving in 1885.  I sure feel grateful for those who serve from Oregon to the southern border.  Thank you.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Backyard Food, Flowers and Fun...Pluck the Day

In the last week of August,  the pears on the tree sing "carpe diem."  I have read that a more literal  translation of  "carpe" than the imperative  "to seize" is "to pluck."  
"Pluck the day"... it is ripe.

Our very old pear tree is still putting forth

Early Girl lived up to her name

Tomatoes ripening on the vine is something I had nearly forgotten about the last seven summers on the coast.  We had a few red tomatoes in time for Christmas in Carmel but Sebastopol sunshine has brought forth an abundance.

The strawberries have been providing
 a daily treasure hunt opportunity.  

The Golden Delicious tree was cut in half last year by a neighbor's falling  Incense Cedar tree.  The clean up crew phoned us down in Carmel and wanted to cut the  remaining half apple tree down.  I'm so glad I didn't take their advice.  Our half-a-tree is bearing beautiful apples who sing a saucier song...and sometimes call for pie.

 and flowers...the roses are still blooming...

And all that broken pottery I saved in Mark's shop...we hauled out the box and we've begun to fix a bird bath that was broken in our absence.  This is a very experimental repair and as it's for the birds I'm hoping they they won't mind if it's more goofy than artistic.   

May we pluck the day and give thanks, while it still yet August.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Story Quilt

Sometimes I have to make quite a mess to get the creative juices flowing.  Phoebe the cat wanted to be right in the middle of it all.  She is usually more help than not, except for when she wants to get right on top of projects to see if she really likes them. She thinks all little blankets must be for her, right?  Not this one, Phoebe.  So first I cut a pile of little squares, each centered on a picture.

I played around with various arrangements of the pictures I'd  cut out, and then I photographed them to use as a map for putting them together.

This is truly a scrap quilt, other people's scraps. I  bought the fabrics at a store that supports the local senior center by selling donated craft items.  You never know what or how much  you'll find. There were several times I wished I had just one more little piece of  this or that color or pattern but scraps force one to improvise.

One click makes these photos bigger then the back button returns you to the text.

Perhaps there is another name for this type of patchwork, but I call this a story quilt.  I hope the pictures of trees and whales and teddy bears, villages, churches, lighthouses and ducks, strawberries and polka dots inspire the imagination of the two little guys at the home where this quilt now flops around.  See the yellow squares that each depict a raccoon on either side of the watery blue?

I know that real raccoons aren't pink.  The same week in June that I  was stitching these fabric pictures together I met some real baby raccoons who were born in a box in a crawl space under my brother's house.  We were cleaning and packing for his upcoming move  when one of the boxes wiggled a bit... Hello! 

Patchwork top ready for the next step...that's when I slow down.
I think it might help me to dive into the messy process more often if I  keep a little log of the things I make.  I like the idea part of the process a lot.  I have fun pushing the elements into different patterns and then at a certain part of the actual construction I start to lose it.  It is a good thing babies are small and  that they aren't likely to complain that their blanket mixes pretend pinkish raccoons with giant strawberries and whales leaping in the waves.  

All freshened up and ready to mail...

I might have taken a better picture of it but I was just so happy it was now filled with 100 % cotton and machine quilted, stitched in the ditched style.  It was ready to go so I popped it in the mail.

My favorite picture of this quilt is actually the one I got back with a certain young fellow making use of it.

So that's the story of the little bears who one day visited the ocean but there's no need to stick to it.. we can make up a new one for nap time tomorrow.

Did you ever see that old 1948 movie "The Naked City"?  It ended with the line,  "There are eight million stories in the naked city, this has been one of them."  I suspect my little story quilt won't have quite that generative effect, but I do hope it will inspire some fun and wonder and maybe help me remember how much I enjoy ( most aspects of ) a sewing project.