Monday, March 31, 2014

one breath

How big is an egg?
I realized after posting my spotted, dotted table runner, that the eggs sprinkled here and there in the pictures could lead you astray.
I must tell you, although you may have guessed, that the white egg is an ostrich egg and the dark green one, an emu's. They truly are a splendid size.
Ostrich eggs are the equivalent of two dozen chicken eggs and generally weigh between three and five pounds. That's a lot of omelet or meringue for that matter. You could really make a sky high lemon meringue pie with an ostrich egg.
Emu eggs are the equivalent of ten to twelve eggs. Chiffon cake comes to mind or super sized scrambled eggs for a family.
The wooden eggs are fairly close to chicken egg size. I love wooden things and wooden eggs feel so wonderful in the hand.
The teeny tiny eggs are.....teeny tiny. I'm not sure who their momma was but they are so perfectly small and speckled. I keep them in a china tea cup that is egg shell thin. Seems appropriate.
I wanted to make a table runner for April that said Spring and Easter all in one breath. Charm sized polka dot fabrics had been multiplying in my stash like rabbits so I counted them up and headed to the sewing machine. I had leftovers so I decided to make the runner reversible. Most of my table runners spend at least half of their lives with the patterned side down and the backing up so I really pulled a fast one on myself this time.
The quilting is meandering lines that remind me of twisting ribbons or long blades of grass.
I had planned to bind it with an aqua dotted fabric but the navy seemed to make more of a statement.

Happy, happy Spring.

polka dots and spots

Saturday, March 22, 2014


“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?’
‘Supposing it didn’t,’ said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie The Pooh

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

keep walking

If Spring Fever ever strikes you while you already have Cabin Fever, you may find yourself taking your frail, elderly mother to the movies.
You may find yourself including an elderly friend to round out the party.

If this ever happens to you, follow these important steps to ensure a successful time.

Look at the clock and count backward. Take the start time of the movie and divide it by the distance from the car multiplied by the time it takes to put on shoes and stock up on Kleenex and then leave a few minutes earlier to be on the safe side. Remember, rushing is not in the vocabulary of women who have passed their 89th birthdays.

Park at the theatre entry.

Walk into the theatre.
Keep walking.
And walking.

Make sure everyone is balanced and propped up adequately while you  pay for tickets.

Inquire needlessly about senior discounts.

Pay 15 dollars for the whole lot of you,
Remember that youthful clerks also work from a mathematical formula.
White hair times canes, divided by the likelihood of everyone living long enough to see the whole movie.

Head for theatre entry number nine.
Walk across lobby.
Keep walking.
And walking.

See movie name over door.
Saving Mr. Banks.

Sit in back row.

Watch movie trailers.
Watch movie trailers.
Tell ladies there are only a few more trailers left.
Watch movie trailers.
Assure ladies the movie won't be as loud.
Watch movie trailers.

Watch movie.
Enjoy movie but hope no one else is shocked, crushed or dismayed.
Note that your companions are stoic in the face of tragedy.
Note that your companions are watching with rapt attention.
Ponder last time mother has been to the theatre.
Consider the 1960's as a possibility but realize that the 1940's may be more accurate.

Sit through the ending of story.
Sit through credits.

Make your way to car.
Keep walking.
And walking.

Drive home older and wiser and amazingly relaxed.

Monday, March 17, 2014


Kiss me, I'm Irish.
My Father's mother, Violet Morris was of Irish descent. My Dad always wished he knew more about her family but he just didn't have any names and dates to work with.
My Mother's side though, has roots and tendrils that twist and wind all the way back to Antrim County in Northern Ireland.
All the way back to 1805.
In that year my great, great, great, great grandparents were born, John Haddock in February and Eleanor McBride in October.
Twenty-four years later, October 1829, John and Eleanor married.
John had a farm about a mile from Muckrim on the road to Grange.
He and Eleanor might have stayed in Antrim County, happily having children if it hadn't been for a greedy landlord who raised their rent.
He raised it because of a new Paisley shawl.
Eleanor had apparently gone to services at the Presbyterian Church wearing a new Paisley shawl.
The landlord was convinced that if they could afford that shawl, they could afford to pay him a higher rent.
The Haddocks emigrated to America in December 1849.
(and took the shawl with them)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

dizzying circle

At just past midnight last night, it occurred to me why Darth Vader never remarried.
That moment of clarity came as my husband slumbered on.
Snored on.
It also occurred to me that the person who falls asleep first wins.
It is a contest that I am destined to lose these days.
The cycle of life has swept we along in a dizzying circle and brought me back to my youthful beginnings as a married woman.
I didn't sleep well then either, not because of Darth, but because my ears were tuned to the slightest stirrings of my children.
To their faltering step, their coughs and squeaks.
I slept in fitful batches then and dreamed in fragments.
The days and years passed by.
My aged mother lives with us now.
She is caught in a cycle of her own.
She has become as vulnerable as a little child.
I lay awake and listen for her faltering step.
I sleep in fitful batches and dream in fragments.
And I listen grimly to Darth.
This morning,  tea in hand, my husband defended himself by reminding me that I too snore.
"I am woman, hear me roar," was my callous response.
Lack of sleep will do that.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

my favourites

I haven't really stopped to think about self-image lately.
About how I see myself.
I did learn how someone else sees me though.
Today, in the library.
Beside the magazine rack.
A very little boy made his way through a forest of legs until he was beside me and called back to his father.
"I want THAT Christmas book. The one by the Grandma."
A question mark formed over my head.
The Christmas book was really a foodie magazine with a frosted Christmas cookie on the cover and the father and son were soon snuggled in an arm chair, 'reading' it together.
The question mark followed me home though, and I have pulled it out and looked it over a few times this evening.
I am a grandma.
A real life grandma.
And I love being a grandma.
Mind you I'm a very, very young one, right?
Now, it's not that I mind aging.
It's just that I saw myself as a person of no particular age.
I think that's it.
I saw myself as me.
The girl who became a woman.
But I guess I am the girl who became a grandmother.
And I celebrate that.
But there is still a feeling there.
An important feeling.
We are much more than how we are perceived by others.
I was never just a child or a teen or a mom or a grandma.
Those names are just titles.
I was who I would become and am who I was all rolled together.
Looks can be deceiving, but in this case the child spoke truth as children do so well, and as titles go, grandma is one of my favourites.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

not bad

If you enjoy thrift shops like I do, I'm betting that you have a route inside the store; a certain path you travel as you forage. It could be traced on a floor plan, so predictable are your steps.
My last stop is usually the 'seasonal' area. It is Christmas all year long there, and Easter and Valentines Day too for that matter. I have pounced on some amazing vintage finds there.
Yesterday as I wandered past ragged wreaths and ceramic villages, I spotted a small bag of figurines.
I picked it up and squinted.
Why do I leave the house without my reading glasses?
Treasures and junk alike are lumped into bags at thrift stores.
It can be hard to tell what you are really getting.
One bag looked like it held a complete nativity.
I peered and pondered.
It looked old.
I like old.
Then I spotted a second bag.
It bulged with sheep and camels.
And underneath that bag was another filled with angels, and another....
Fifty cents is one of my favourite prices.
And nativities are one of my favourite finds.
I hastened to the till.
In the bright light of the parking lot, I could clearly see that the figurines were made in Italy.
A price sticker remaining inside one of the wisemen showed the pieces came from Woolworths.
Not bad for a person shopping by braille.

silent stars

"Do you think it's all there?" I asked, fingering the tattered box.
"Oh, I'm sure it is," she said, nodding decisively.
The box was taped shut with two kinds of tape and had elastic bands securing it too, a sort of thrifter's Fort Knox.
I hesitated and then took a leap of faith.

When I was a little girl we had a wonderful lithographed cardboard nativity. It came folded in a box and could be set up, magically it seemed, into the entire Christmas story. There was a hole in the roof behind the cardboard star for a wandering light bulb from the Christmas tree which worked perfectly because we set our Bethlehem story up under the tree.

I've always wished I had a nativity like that.
I've kept my eye out for one over the years but have never been in the right place at the right time.
Until yesterday.
And there it was.
It seemed too good to be true.
Surely pieces would be missing or damaged.
I hastened home.
I placed the box gently on my dining table.
I unstretched the elastic bands.
I eased off the tape.
Both kinds.
I lifted the lid.
Oh goodness.
There it was.
It looked pristine, the colors fresh and bright.
Reverently, I removed piece after piece after piece after... wait...
Was it possible?
Yes, there were two sets. Two complete sets.
Well, not quite complete. One set was missing the star and one stand-up litho'd piece, a problem easily solved with a color photocopier I bet.
Oh little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Monday, March 10, 2014

how do you know

"If you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?"
 T.S. Eliot

Saturday, March 8, 2014

momentary amnesia

I was tricked. And so were you.
I had planned to confess.
I imagine I would have complained too and told you the nitty gritty details; the whole sorted story, but when I unfurled my freshly finished table runner, and brandished my camera, I was gripped by a momentary amnesia.
I completely forgot how narrow my flying geese had looked without a border.
I hadn't wanted a border.
I added a green plaid one but I forgot to tell you that.
Plaid can be bossy.
You can't run and you can't hide when plaid is involved.
 And I didn't mention that I had planned to quilt the runner with straight lines. A few lovely straight lines.
I can't explain why, instead, it is free motion quilted within an inch of its life.
I know I didn't tell you that I quilted the borders first either.
I heard somewhere that this could be a good thing to do.
Maybe not for me though.
Of course the center puffed up and wavered.
I had read that when the center was quilted, all would be well.
Maybe not for me though.
I quilted feathers on the light green and the dark green puffed and wavered.
I quilted wood grain on the dark green and the light green puffed and wavered.
In a last ditch attempt to smooth things out, I stitched those ditches, every single one of them.
That seemed to do the trick.
More or less.
I sighed and sewed on the binding but when I did, the edges of the quilted runner rippled too.
I have never, ever had the edges of a quilt ripple.
I imagined a giant book with my table runner pressed between its pages like a leaf.
Then I remembered my washing machine.
Water to the rescue.
When the runner emerged from the dryer I was hopeful.

It seems to be lying as flat as a pancake.
For now.

Friday, March 7, 2014

slice of quilt

What are table runners but a slice of quilt. A single row of blocks. A sample size that can be pressed into service.
And so I have made a slice of March. A small flock of spring geese. A sample of feathery quilting.
I'm enjoying the euphoria that accompanies all quilting. The euphoria of The Finished.
Photos are called for at a time like this.
An attempt to capture the happiness.
To preserve the joy of the final stitch.
A record of practice and progress.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

to grapple

What happened to Little Red Riding Hood?
What I mean to ask is what happened to the story?
I remember the plot being pretty straight forward.
Little girl travels alone to visit sick grandmother.
Encounters wolf.
Wolf impersonates grandmother after scaring her away.
Tries to eat Little Red.
Is dispatched by an axe wielding woodsman.summoned by grandmother, who although ill, has managed to keep her cool, keep her wits about her and keep running until she finds help and returns.
Grandma the hero.
What's not to love about that story?
It teaches all kinds of marvelous things to children.
Go ahead and jot down a list.

Last week I checked out several versions of Little Red Riding Hood from the library. My grandchildren and I have been making up epic puppet tales and we have exhausted poor Goldilocks and are moving on to Little Red.
The only version I had in my own library was so watered down and sweetened up that it was barely recognizable.
Sadly, the handful of versions I brought home were no better.
One moralized by admonishing children to do as they were told to prevent trouble. Too preachy.
Another warned of stranger danger and actually scared me.
Another was written in creole slang and would have been almost impossible to read aloud. It did have a wonderful character swap in that the wicked wolf became an alligator, and the woodsman a cat with a bottle of Cajun hot sauce.
The version set in China had the mother depart to visit the grandmother whilst a wolf terrorized the children left home alone. They rose to the challenge literally by climbing a tree.

Death and danger and deceit exist in the world.
Stories are a way to grapple with those realities.
Isn't that a wonder?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

on the way home

"Number 399...." a distant voice said. "Number 399?"
Winning a door prize is exciting stuff.
There had been an endless parade of happy winners clutching their loot.
And now, this one last number.
I hastened forward to claim the goods.

It wasn't a hoodie with a university logo.
It wasn't a coffee mug or a bulging book bag or a framed print or gift certificate to the salon.
It wasn't a potted plant or flowers either.
Those treasures were already being carted off, the spoils of war.

A huge bouquet of helium balloons was thrust into my hands.
Great black and white balloons with Holstein spots.
It felt like I'd been to the circus, or the PNE, or a birthday party at a dairy......
It felt festive and foolish at the same time.
I bopped and joggled them through the doorways and out into the windy courtyard.
The very windy courtyard.
I hunched against the icy stream of air and towed my bouquet along.
And then briefly, it towed me along and I turned and towed and turned again.
I struggled to open the car door, to stuff the bouquet into the back seat. Each balloon seemed determined to make a break for the skies but I manfully subdued them.
I dove behind the steering wheel and glanced into my rear view mirror to back up.
The balloon bouquet had recovered.
It had risen like a Phoenix from the ashes.
Not good.
Out I struggled and out they struggled, back into the wind.
A brief flurry til I opened my trunk and pushed the balloons in.
Helium and gravity were at odds.
It took both hands to beat them into submission.

I was at a writer's festival today.
Somehow those balloons seem the perfect reminder.
They remind me that writing is fun, even a celebration.
That taking things too seriously is a mistake.
And that effort and struggle may be necessary on the way home.

so has love

My grandfather left Norway the moment he reached legal age, the moment he turned sixteen. He had been poised for flight for ten years by then.
His story began a lifetime before though. In fact, the very beginning of the story cannot be told. It is like picking up a book and beginning to read somewhere in the middle. 
There are questions left unanswered that way of course,
mysteries and clues, fragments of story.
This photo is very old, and shows my grandfather’s own father as a young boy. The boy was raised by grandparents. I wonder why? They were said to have been overly indulgent, as were his older sisters.  Perhaps they were trying to give him something that he had lost. 
In the end, he lost his wife and his children, the family farm and his health.
I didn’t know that man, that great grandfather, but I did know his little boy, my wonderfully wise Norwegian grandfather.
My grandfather was six when his mother died. He was eldest of three with a little brother and sister.
His aunt traveled by steam ship across the Atlantic to take them to live with her in America but the grandmother would not let the eldest, my grandfather go. His little brother and sister were torn from his life then.
The pages of his childhood are difficult to read; his father forgetting and drinking to forget, the family farm slipping through his fingers.
Loss has a way of staining ahead, touching one generation and reaching into the next.
But so has love.
And love is not weakened by time or distance.
My grandfather loved his brother and sister. That love was great, even greater than his terrible loss. It gave him a dream; a single-minded purpose. It drew him across the Atlantic, straight and true.
His brother and sister were there.
He got to be with them again, to know them, to love them.
He lost his sister in the flu epidemic too soon, but his brother was a constant in his life for the next sixty years how ere the winds of life blew.
To live is to know loss. It is a part of everyone’s story.
But love is too.
And it has the power to heal and free.
It lets us write the present over the past.