Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Material Girl

"If I stitch fast enough does it count as aerobic exercise?"

I suppose I should have expected it. I let my guard down. I thought I was stronger than Joanne's siren song. Believing I had tamed my demons, I wandered into Walmart, for a zipper or some thread. I can't remember what it was now, but it seemed important at the time.

Perhaps if I'd just said "NO!" made an abrupt right face and headed for automotives I would have been okay. But I have enough experience with 12-step programs to know that once I stepped foot in the craft section, i.e. yarn, scrap-booking supplies, and fabric, even if it was just for one spool of thread, I was a goner.

When I quit smoking, all those years ago, I was told, and ultimately proved correct, that one is only "a puff away from a pack a day." I was smoke-free for twelve years before that fateful night, around the bridge table, where I was commiserating with fellow Navy wives about our seafaring husbands. "Hmm," I wondered to myself, "how can it hurt to just take one little drag?

Sure, at first I coughed and sputtered like the congested engine on my old VW camper/van. Sure, my first thought was "yuk!" But anyone who has ever crossed into the no-man's land of cigarette addiction knows that the first burning drag, if followed by a quick hit of some kind of alcoholic beverage and shouts of "Mar-Y, Mar-Y"* is just the first of many cough-filled, sleepless nights when the only friend left in the world seems to be the Marlboro Man.

But I digress.

Throwing away my cigarettes was, clearly, a piece of cake compared to my fabric addiction. Three years ago I sold off my fabric stash, quilting books, patterns, threads, half-completed projects and secret longing for a Gammil long arm quilting machine. My desire for acquiring fabric had far surpassed my ability to cut it up into little pieces and sew it back together. The space I had allotted for fabric and quilting in a small apartment was quickly overrun. In my case, "Mary's choice" became not which child to give up but which calicoes to keep and which batiks to kiss goodbye.

It wasn't easy. In fact, my fabric demons might have conspired against such a sale by putting the wrong apartment number on the flyer I sent out to my quilting co-dependents. But the day finally came when the fabric was all but gone. I kept a few sentimental pieces with hopes of one day making a wedding quilt for my granddaughter, who at the time was only ten! Okay, okay, I know ... old habits die hard. However, after rubbing pieces of fabric across my face to feel the luxurious weave and smell the tangy aroma of the formaldehyde used to set the colors, then gently laying my last piece cloth in the hands of a fellow fabric-holic, I thought for sure I was "free at last!"

Another 12-stepping piece of advice is "Change your playmates. Change your playgrounds." In other words don't hang out where you are going to be tempted to fall back into old patterns (Log Cabin? Churn Dash? Lone Star?) of behavior. So I quit going to guild meetings, quilt shows, and fabric stores. I used manufactured spreads to cover my bed. I channel surfed right by Alex Anderson 's quilting room on the TV. I walked through my days quilt-free.

I can't say I was completely happy every day, but the intense desire to sleep under a handmade quilt lessened. Like most addicts in the beginning stages of recovery, I traded one vice for another. I began thinking of myself as a writer instead of a quilter. (It never really dawned on me I could be both - not either or!) I tried to fill the empty spaces where my fabric once lived with journals and writing manuals.

Then it happened, on that fateful day, I walked into Walmart and bought a yard of this and a yard of that before I even realized what I was doing. It was as easy as being in a donut store, pointing to the rows of warm, sugary, mouthwatering delights, telling the woman behind the counter, "I'll have one of those, and one of those." When I got home I assured myself, as I lovingly washed and ironed and folded the cloth, that I would make ONE quilt in honor of Josh and Jessi's wedding and be done with it. How was I to know I'd have two more relatives get engaged in the course of the year? How was I to know there would be babies to sew for?

And so it began. Like other powerful longings that cannot be kept in check, in the last two weeks I've found one reason after another to return to the scene of the crime, not just one Walmart, but every super store on this side of town (not to mention the new black hole for fabric addicts, The Olde Green Cupboard) almost every day for a week. Is it the lure of finding a coordinating piece of fabric in the exact shade of green that drives me? Or is it the smell and feel of the fabric that comforts me? Am I motivated by desire to do good in the world by clearing racks of clearance fabrics to make room for the new? Or am I simply weak willed?

I'm not sure I'll ever know the answer to these questions or the many others that are likely to follow. Right now it doesn't really matter for I know there is one more Walmart out towards the beach, and I'm hoping that I can find what I'm looking for there. It's a maroon/pink/green paisley-ish print with just a hint of gold.

Ahhh ... gold - that's it. My desire for 100% cotton fabric is not unlike a miner's panning for the proverbial "Eureka!" nugget of gold. Even if I find the mother lode, I suspect there will always be one more place to look ... and buy. But for now, with enough yardage for FOUR quilts in my beginner's stash, my "jones-ing" has quieted some.

Sew long, I've got some quiltin' to do!
Merry ME

* I do not mean to infer that my friends encouraged. No doubt they considered me a big enough girl to make my own life-threatening decisions. There is, however, the group mentality, that seems to make a vice okay if doing it enmasse. Perhaps this is why the quilting bee has been a popular form of entertainment for women for centuries.

P.S. Yes, Wendy that is a total of about 3 1/2 yards of Pink Panther fabric!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Same Day ... Different Year

Today, is my sister Linda's birthday. Last year I was able to list the 63 reasons why I love her. I just re-read that post and have to say it pretty well sums up all the reasons she is so special to me. If I had to pick just one more item to add to the list, I'd have to say that when it comes to a home painting project she has got to be the most patient person I know. That's a story she'd have to tell herself. But suffice it to say, if you mention paint to her, she might see any number of colors, the most pedominant, however, would have to be red! I'm hoping that the birthday gift her sweetie gives her this year has to do with a completed project and a free pass when it comes to going to the Lowe's paint department any time in the near future!

Today is also St. Valentine's Day. To others in the world it is a day to talk of love. Good love and being it or bad love and not being in it. Hopeful love and wishing on a star for it or lasting love and not knowing what life would be without it. Ahh, love ... the good, the bad and the ugly!

In her book Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a poem about the number of ways she loved her husband. Not being a poet I don't think I could improve much on her list. However, I think I should try to tell my sweetie how much I love him, so here goes ...

Jack is:
1. The ying to my yang; the bow to my wow - he completes me.
2. The SPF in my sun tan lotion; the floride in my toothpaste - he protects me.
3. The powerball number on my lottery ticket - he is not afraid to take a risk when it comes to love.
4. The fortune in my cookie - he is full of surprises.
5. The ice in my tea; the cream in my coffee - he cools me off.
6. The sour cream and chives on my baked potato; the marshmallows in my cocoa - he enriches me.
7. The bubbles in my bath - he keeps me relaxed.
8. The pepperoni and sausage on my pizza - he adds spice to my life
9. The cotton batting in my quilt - he comforts me.
10. The tylenol in my medicine cabinet - he takes away my pain.
11. The see to my saw - he keeps me balanced.
12. The rose in my garden - he adds color to my world.
13. The tide coming in and the tide going out - he is faithful.
14. The clown in my circus - he makes me laugh.
15. The sun coming up in the East and the setting in the West - I can count on him.
16. The lyrics to my song - he makes me want to sing.
17. The amen to my prayer.

In other words, "I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life ..." *

Wishing you all the same kind of love,
Merry Me

* Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "How Do I Love Thee"

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

An Ode to Brown

"God has a brown voice, as soft and full as beer."
Anne Sexton

In the past Dad has encouraged me to write by doing an exercise his high school English teacher assigned him. The only requirement is to write about what you see outside your window. On any given day, I doubt I'd see more than the oak tree that's been there longer than I can remember, or the weeds in the flower bed or the hand trowel I left on the window sill three months ago when I was in an unaccustomed fit of de-vining whatever it was that was strangling the Holly bushes.
The exercise, like any, is meant to stretch unused muscles. In this case, my imagination and vision, not my biceps or hamstrings. I tend to write more about what I do than what I see. However, if I expand the original directions to describe what I see right outside the garage door, I could tell you about this perfectly lovely orchid plant that amazes me every year.
The plant starts getting buds on it about the time that the Florida weather begins to cool off. In more northern climes, daffodill and tulip buds would be settling in for the long winter's nap that prepares them for Spring blooming. I don't usually think of orchids being a cold weather plant. But then, to be honest, I don't usually think of orchid plants at all, unless I happen to walk past one and stop to admire it's simple beauty.
I believe this particular orchid was sent as a gift several years ago. After it had finished blooming, it was put outside and basically forgotten about. Perhaps some orchids are hot house prima donnas, but not this particular bloom. It soaks up the sun and the rain and the oak blossoms and the acorns - whatever happens to fall on it's unimpressive green leaves. Throughout the year the orchid, in its original plastic pot (we have only transplanted it once which may speak to its heartiness as horticulture is not at the top of my accomplishments), sits inconspicuoulsy among the azaleas, amarylises and day lillies. Its long leaves provide hiding places for the lizards that call our front yard home.

On the rare occasion that a cold frost approaches, and the temperatures threaten to drop below freezing, the pot is heaved up out of its leafy domain and carried into the garage for protection from the frost. Other than that, with the possible exception of a sprinkling of all-purpose fertilzer once a year, the delicate oriental plant is given no special treatment.
Yet, like I said, every year about this time, it produces these exquisite brown flowers. Brown? Whoever heard of a brown flower? Well, maybe it's more of a purplish browny combo. With so many other colors for God to use when creating flowers, one has got to wonder what He was thinking when He made this particular orchid. [Photo L: My photography skills never do the flower justice.]
This got me to contemplating about the color brown. Except for my daughter, I'm not sure if I've ever known anyone who would answer the question, "what is your favorite color?" with an enthusiastic "BROWN!"
According to the sensational color website*, brown says "stability, reliability, and approachability. It is the color of our earth and is associated with all things natural or organic. " The website also tells us that brown "supplies a feeling of wholesomeness, stabilizes, provides a connection with the earth, and gives a sense orderliness. "
Personally, when I think of brown, the first thing I think of is poop. Maybe that says more about me than it does the color! I think I'm going to make a list pretty brown things and see if I can change my brown-challenged world view. Here goes:
1. Well, naturally a seven layer chocolate cake would have to start the list. In fact, chocolate could not only start, but end the list. Need I say more?
2. Well worn, fur lined slippers are brown and make me feel kind of homey
3. As would the worn brown leather binding of a favorite book
4. Brown puppies (actually any kind of puppy, but a chocolate lab is too cute for words)
5. Brown rice
6. Brown wool sweaters
7. Dark brown eyes that speak louder than words
8. The trunks of trees so tall you can't see the leaves
9. Teddy bears
10.Old fashioned flight jackets
11. Fried chicken or Thanksgiving turkey, browned to perfection
12. Peanut butter
13. Mud puddles (see previous post)
14. Baby bunnies, deer and koala bears
15. Snickers, Three Muskateers, Kit Kat bars
16. Gingerbread men
17. Brown quilts [Photo L: Recent quilt I made for Josh and Jessi]
18. A pile of brown, crunchy, loamy smelling Autumn leaves
19. Mike Rowe covered in something dirty and smelly [let's face it, Mike Rowe is the only person I know who can stand inside a sewer covered from head to toe in sewer detritus and still look good!]
20. A big glass of cold iced tea
21. Almonds, walnuts and pecans
22. The smell of nutmeg
[It must be getting close to dinnertime. I see that my list is predominately about brown food!]
Every time I walk past it, I smile at the beauty and tenacity of this orchid. If there is meaning to be found here it has to be along the lines of "Bloom where you are planted" and/or "be all you can be... even if you don't feel like the prettiest color in the Crayola box."
Wishing you all the colors of the rainbow,
Merry ME

P.S. The paragraph spacing on this post is all screwed up and I don't have a clue how to fix it. I've tried the backspace key, deleting spaces, tabbing in and still the new paragraph starts where it feels like it. I give up!


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Puddle Jumping

"Gulp down your fear and jump in the water. You won’t drown."
~Carol D. O'Dell

My last post was on January 21st. I have to be honest, I don't know where the time has gone. It's not that I haven't considered posting a simple thought or two; I've had a few ideas. I have self-diagnosed my problem as not being able to serve two muses at the same time. While I haven't been writing, I have been sewing. Making quilts is all about bits and pieces so it's no surprise that my creative process(s) has been in fits and starts.
My sweetie actually mentioned the other day that he'd like to see a table/sewing area set up in his office space so I wouldn't have to use the dining room table. Reading between his lines I figured he was letting me know the ambience of fabric, thread, pins, ironing board, and sewing machine was less than pleasing. He's right, of course. I had to remind him, however, that the dining room table has been the sewing table of choice in this house since 1962. I'm not sure if I could thread a needle in any other room! He nodded his head like he understood, but I could tell his OCD desire to have everything in its place was in overdrive.

There have been a few things worth writing about in the days since I've last posted. The words just never seemed to materialize. Here's a brief recap:

1. My sister Jean downsized most of her earthly belongings, packed them into her car leaving just barely enough room for driver and passenger to squeeze in. She headed for California with a willingness to go where life might otherwise lead her.

When Jean moved back home last August, she was in need of some TLC. In the six months she was here she seemed to blossom. She gives me credit for "swooping" her up and wrapping her in a blanket of love. I think she just needed breathing time and space.

I was only eight when Jean was born. My mother persona was already well-formed. I was used to playing with my Tiny Tears doll, so think of how thrilled I was to have a real baby in the house. As expected the "real"ness of a baby eventually lost its luster. The years passed and I concentrated on growing up and moving out. I lost interest in my little sister and what made her tick. Sadly, that's a better testiment to my honesty than my sisterhood. As Jean and I shared the living space and a few kitchen duties recently, I learned that I needed the time to get to know my little sister as an adult woman.

Of course it was no surprise that Jean is a bit of a religious zealot. She is not shy about letting the world know exactly what she believes when it comes to being a Christian. She works hard being the person she thinks God would have her be. Her preaching wasn't always easy to take, but it was heartfelt. I've got to give her credit for trying hard to practice what she preached.

I also learned, to my surprise, that she's inherited a goodly amount of Dad's engineering left brain thinking. She reads instruction manuals and measures small spaces for their most efficient holding capacity. Living on a shoestring budget for most of her life has improved her ability to stretch a dollar. She makes a great chicken pot pie, eats lima beans and brussel sprouts ... brussel sprouts?? When she laughs she it's from her gut.

All in all I think it was a successful growing experience for both of us.

2.)Another milestone that occurred since I last posted was Robert Belcher's 12th birthday. I know I've said it more than once before, but it bears repeating. When it comes to loving a little one, why do the days pass by so quickly? In my mind's eye Robert is still the little boy who taught me how to jump in puddles and listen for garbage trucks. I'd never given either their just due. When my children were small, puddles were to be avoided and trucks just made a lot of noise. By not getting too uptight by the sight of a wee lad spashing and kicking in a muddy hole, I learned how to release a few childish squeals of delight myself.

Nannying Robert came much easier for me than mothering my own children. I felt less pressure to do "it" right. The joy came from the doing not the perfection. I wish someone had told me that when my kids were little; and I hope they've learned this life lesson sooner than I did.*

3) I went to a writers' club meeting last month. Not knowing exactly what happens at a writers' club meeting I was tempted to skip it when I saw that the sky was full of dark clouds. That seemed as good a reason to stay home as any I could think of. But my sweetie/coach posed an interesting question. Was I expecting inspiration, he asked, or intimidation? I didn't have a very good answer so I pulled on a rain coat and ventured into the unknown.

I've got to tell you, it was both inspiring and intimidating, but not so bad that I won't consider going back. The cool thing was that a couple of days later, Carol O'Dell , of Mothering Mother fame (see previous post), sent me an email that said: "I’m glad you came to Kalliope. It was so nice to meet you and wrap my arms around you! "

I remember thinking here is a lady who's written a book that speaks to peoples' hearts and she's standing here wearing blue jeans, and hugging me. My inner child wanted to ask Mom if I could ask bring her home for dinner. Funny how making friends brings out the child in me.

4) Jack and his coach friend Dale held a relationship workshop. They'd been putting ideas together for months, but it finally came together and people actually paid to hear what they had to say! Jack arranged for dad to be cared for which was a generous gift from both the asker and the askee. The responsibility of deciding whether to go or stay home was taken out of my hands. Ah, freedom!!!!

There was a lot to process at the workshop. Thoughts about core values, personality types, sacred spaces, communication and relationship "bliss" is pretty heady stuff. Mostly I watched Jack, he was in his element. It's clear that when someone is doing what he/she is called to do, there is a natural ease to the job. He and Dale shared the stage and the mix of their male/female energy was just what the participants needed to feel comfortable.

The hours passed quickly, like watching a good movie. But before the closing prayer, Jack asked that I stand beside him while he explained to the group how we'd met and how our relationship is validation for everything he'd been saying. Then, in front of a room full of perfect strangers, he recited a song to me. He was going to sing it, but couldn't quite get the tune. Tune ...schmune. Who cares? It was a totally blissful moment. And the weird thing, even though it's not really weird at all, is that it felt perfectly natural. I wasn't embarrassed or nervous. My sweetie was saying to the world, the same thing he says to me every day. Woohoo!

When I started writing today, my goal was simply to exercise the discipline of writing. I'd put it off too long. I've sat at the computer much longer than these few words should take. Clearly, exercise of any kind does not comes easily for me. As I near the end of my stamina, I realize I had a message inside me after all. I needed to hear - again - that it's okay to try new things, to put myself "out" there. Life isn't going to come to me. I've got to go to it if I expect to enjoy it to the max. Like jumping in a big muddy puddle or traveling through uncharted emotional territory, I may end up a little wet but I may also receive a hug I hadn't expected.

Can't make any promises about future posts, I've got a quilt to finish!
Merry ME

* I walked into Walmart today, a woman on a mission. Like a horse with blinders on, I went directly to the fabric department. Not looking right or left I headed straight for the thread rack. I picked up the three colors I needed and made for the cashier. I was almost out the door without any extra temptations when I saw a pair of rain boots. "Oh my," my heart sang. Good thing I was in the children's shoe department or I might still be there waying the pros and cons of owning pink plastic boots. Is there a lesson to be learned there?