Saturday, 27 December 2014

Let the Love Light Glow

The fourth candle of advent is the candle of love.  And when the waiting is over, we light the Christ candle.

My previous blogs on these candles, the candles of hope, peace, and joy,  have had a bit of darkness in them, but love? Well, love is what the Christ candle is all about.

All week long, as we celebrated Christmas amidst the hustle and bustle of plans and food and gifts and comings and goings of children and friends and family -- and yes, also amidst the weariness and frustrations -- this poem by Christina Rosetti, put to music and sung by Shawn Colvin,  has been playing in the background of my mind:

Love came down at Christmas
Love all lovely, love divine
Love was born at Christmas
Star and angels gave the sign.
Love shall be our token
Love be yours and love be mine
Love to God and neighbour
Love our plea and gift and sign...

If you do not know this lovely carol, there are numerous versions on YouTube, but this is my favourite:

It’s all about love. Passing on the message of Christmas, symbolized by the white Christ candle, is acting on it: giving it away, letting it be our token, our gift, our sign.

And I’ve experienced that this week. Love is two 80+-year-old women watching two very active pre-school brothers in the church nursery, passing up the Christmas eve service so that the boys' mom could experience an hour of peace. Love is watching my son and daughter-in-law cradling their month old baby. Love is watching people throw money in the Sally Ann kettles, and love is joining one of the bell ringers in a slightly off-key version of The First Noel outside the doors of the local grocers. Love is doctors, nurses, gas station attendants, pharmacists, pastors, policemen, waitresses, cooks and so many more folks working to keep us healthy, safe, nurtured and well-fed while we enjoyed our holiday. Love is homemade Christmas gifts. Love is walking with your loved ones and finding a token of love on the trail: a heart-shaped stone.

Love is a tiny fir tree in our woods, carefully, beautifully, and anonymously  decorated to give walkers in the woods a moment of surprise and joy.

 Love is writing your worries on a slip of paper and tossing them into the God-box, saying, “They’re all yours, now,” and knowing it to be true. Love is the resident sweetie, who hates performing or speaking in public, joining the Dutch folk at church to sing  “Ere Zij God” (a Dutch carol, much loved by his wife); and love is the Scots Presbyterians saying, “Beautiful!”   Love is a moment of quietness. Love is serving a simple meal of meatballs and mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner and not having anyone whine, “Where’s the turkey and the stuffing and the cranberry sauce?” Love is being able to do what you love and giving it away as a personal gift to the world. And love is having a friend send you a quote that fits in perfectly with this blog: “Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love." (Hamilton Wright Mabie)

It’s all about love. Pass it on, eh?

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Third Candle

The third candle on the advent wreath is the candle of joy.

Oh, goody! I’ve been looking forward to writing about this. Joy is such a contagious, happy-sounding word. Writing about it will be a joyful pleasure, right? Um ... maybe not.

The dictionary says that synonyms for joy are  “delight, great pleasure, happiness ... ”  But a friend reminds me of a quote by Thomas Merton. “If you do not know the difference between joy and pleasure, than you have not yet begun to live.”

Joy is serious business, apparently.  I decide to explore some more before I write (always a good idea; careless, thoughtless writing is joyless for both the writer and reader.)

If you google joy quotes, you will get an eyeful of them. For instance: Joy is inside of you and doesn’t depend on outward circumstances. Joy is the simplest form of gratitude. Joy is a net that catches souls (that one came from Mother Theresa). Joy wipes away pain. Joy is a sign of God’s presence. If you are attentive, you will find joy in the present moment. Music will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.  Joy is a choice. Joy is easily transported: bring it with you. And I love this one: In times of joy, all of us wish we had a tail we could wag. (WH Auden).

After I’m finished smiling about this image, I notice something. It’s the words “In times of joy...” that stops me. In times of joy...we are almost always reminded that there’s another side of life, that is, times of sorrow. Times of blues. Times of unhappiness.

I’ve just come back from sharing a lovely evening with a group of good friends. We laughed as we told stories and shared memories of Christmases past. We were warmed by fellowship, and  were feeling the joy of community. And then the door opened and pain walked in. It’s not all good news out there; we all struggle with issues; we all have friends and relatives with serious emotional and medical  problems, and we feel so helpless. We’d like to fix it, but we can’t. Is there room for joy in that scenario?

I haven’t found any great treatise on joy that will give me and you the definitive answer. But here’s how I see it. It seems to me that in the range of feelings from sorrow to joy, there are many different shades, and they mingle together: happy-clappy joy with deep sorrow, quiet joy with winter blues, ecstatic joy with black despair. Like streams of water coming from many sources, they mingle and merge to form a river – the river of life that carries us on. We can’t undo those mingled currents and travel always on the river of joy; but we can look for joy in our darkest moments, because it is there. This I believe.

The candle of joy is pink. That’s because, way back when Advent and Lent were established in the church calendar, both were somber times of penance and reflection, a time of mourning for our sins. One of the popes, however, was wise enough to know that people can break under the yoke of unrelieved sadness, so in the middle of Lent, he gave out roses to the priests, to remind folks of the joy that was coming. Pink became the colour to symbolize that joy, and so a pink candle was also inserted into the advent wreath.

I added a river of various coloured threads to the rose on this candle
It seems to me that God is handing us roses at Christmas time. Joy came down to live with us. Light the candle of joy, and let the flame spread light in the darkness. And go ahead: wag that figurative tail!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Second Candle

The candle we lit last week Sunday on our advent wreath was the candle of peace.

I’m sorry, dear readers. For once, I am stumped. I have nothing to share with you. Peace on earth, the song the angels sang to the shepherds, is a mystery. God knows how much we all desire to have peace on our earth today. What a wonderful world it would be! Instead...well, you know the instead:  War. Violence. Hatred. Crime. Greed....

What was all that singing and rejoicing by the angels all about then? Jesus himself was a lightning rod of divisiveness, and his life was marked not only with good, but also attracted enemies, who waged acts of violence, anger and hatred. Now, centuries later, religion still causes wars. Peace on earth? Really?

I am at my wit's end and have decided to skip writing a blog this week when I read something that makes me sit up.

Marian Wright Edelman, a children’s advocate, quotes Edmond McDonald: “When God wants an important thing done in this world or a wrong righted, He goes about it in a very singular way. He doesn’t release thunderbolts or stir up earthquakes. God simply has a tiny baby born, perhaps of a very humble home, perhaps of a very humble mother. And God puts an idea or purpose into the mother’s heart. And she puts it in the baby’s mind, and then—God waits. The great events of this world are not battles and elections and earthquakes and thunderbolts. The great events are babies, for each child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged with humanity, but is still expecting goodwill to become incarnate in each human life.” Those babies, says Edelman, grow up to be Gandhis and Mandelas and Mother Theresas – and you and me, all charged with the mission to guide the earth toward peace, rather than conflict.  Each of us is a possibility, another channel through which peace could come to earth.

The dove with an olive branch is a universal symbol of peace.
I need to change the way I think of peace. I need to turn conventional thinking upside down. I’d like to stamp my foot and shout, “I want peace on earth, and I want it now!” But that’s not the message of the peace candle. Peace does not come about through a show of power, or forcing others to our wills. It does not come with rules and laws and treaties.  It comes as a child, vulnerable and helpless. At Christmas, we are reminded of the child in the manger, who grew up to spread a counter-cultural message, the only message that will bring about lasting peace: “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

Each of us is bound by invisible threads to every other person on the planet, and we all are bound to the earth that we walk on. The peace we’re looking for begins not with the end of wars, but much closer to home: it begins with me and you.

PS: I couldn't resist showing off the little wall hanging I wrote about last week. My grandson Solay (aged 6) designed and drew the tree, chose the fabrics and beads, and helped me sew the decorations to the tree. It was fun!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The First Candle

Last Sunday morning, we lit the first candle in the advent wreath at church: the candle of hope. It’s become a ritual, both at church and at home, where our advent wreath sits on the dining room table, and where we sing the candle song every time we light it. “Light the advent candle one, now the waiting has begun...”

Our old advent wreath: I made it in the early 80s. It's pretty beat up, but very precious.

I know the meaning behind the ritual. We are waiting to celebrate the birth of the Christ child who brought hope to the world.  The candles help us mark time. I know the symbolism: that Jesus came as the light of the world. My head knows it all. My heart? Not so much.

Hope:  “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,” as poet Emily Dickinson wrote. Hope: the expectation of good. Hope: believing in spite of the evidence.

The truth is, so often the Christmas season is just a jumble of traditions and practices that I observe half-heartedly – the other half of my heart is ticking off the list of stuff that needs to be done, calculating how long each task will take, wondering whether I’ll survive the season intact, or come down with another cold (a Christmas tradition I’d love to skip.)

“A candle of hope, eh?” I think pessimistically. Fine. I’m hoping that everything will get done and that somewhere in the midst of it all, the Christmas spirit will touch me.  My candle of hope is only flickering faintly in the breezes of busyness.

I’m not alone with this feeling. All the newspapers are filled with stories of doom: climate change, wars, abuse of power, economies failing , ebola ... Truly, we wonder, is there any hope for this world, or are we teetering on the edge of disaster? Mostly, we are afraid to hope – isn’t “dwelling in hope” just the action of a romantic idealist, reaching for pie in the sky?

But a funny thing happened as I began my annual  trip to the Bethlehem manger last Sunday. Hope  ambushed my grinchy Christmas spirit and gently showed me a thing or two.

My personal candle of hope
It started that evening, when, on impulse, we invited our in-town family to help us decorate the tree. When the kids were children this had been a ritual on the evening of the first Sunday of Advent; supper was always finger foods and fizzy drinks. Now, 20 years later, once again on the first Sunday of Advent, the tree got decorated. We shared stories about the homemade ornaments with the grandchildren; lots of pizza was eaten and beer consumed; we lit the first advent candle, and sang our song. When the crew left and we were cleaning up, the resident sweetie and I counted our blessings. Against all reason, we realize that some traditions are continuing, and love for each other surrounds us.  Counting your blessings: a way to nourish hope.

Then I picked up my latest good read, The Impossible Will Take a Little While, a book of essays with the  subtitle  “a citizen’s guide to hope in a time of fear,”  written by people who have experienced hope in a myriad of ways. All are sharing their  insights on hope so as to encourage and enlighten the most jaded of readers. Each essay I read kick-started my hope-meter.  Leaning on others when our own hope is weak: a way to nourish hope.

The week unfolded with new opportunities to live in hope. I sat with my grandson while he picked out fabric and beads, and designed a little wall hanging, which I helped him make. Sharing your passion and nurturing it in another person: a way to grow hope. The RS and I walked in the woods together, and saw an eagle perched in a tree nearby – “the thing with feathers”. We sensed our connections with the natural world: a link in the chain of hope. I participated in potlucks with quilting friends: a circle of friends to support you breeds hope. And then we attended a performance of The Messiah. The orchestra, the voices, and the audience were united in this awesome experience. Hope swells and grows when we are with other people and are carried away outside ourselves, remembering something much bigger than ourselves.

In the previously mentioned book, African-American singer and songwriter Sonja Tinsley says, “You have to pick your team.” One team dwells on cynicism – nothing you do will make a difference, they say. The other team “admits that they don’t know how things will turn out, but have decided to work for change.” She includes people like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela on that team. “If I’m going to stick with somebody, I’d rather stick with people who have a sense of possibility and hope. I just know that’s the side I want to be on.”  Me too.

The candle of hope and "the thing with feathers that perches in the soul" were stitched on a repurposed Thai silk scarf.

The full text of the poem about Hope (#314) by Emily Dickinson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

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

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Growing New Eyes

I wrote this blog before the horrors of this week's shootings. Even so, I don't think I could have said anything as well as what my friend Joy wrote in her blog at 
Thanks, Joy, for the reminder, again, that what we do matters, that community matters.
One of the things I like about travel is that you see things – often weird, wild, wonderful, and sometimes profound things. Back home, we’ve grown accustomed to the way things are, but when you’re on the road, it’s like you’ve grown new eyes. On our travelling days, I kept a list of such sights.

Did you realize that God’s House is a blue bungalow? Yes, it is: it’s located on a highway in Arizona. And who could resist a peek at Heaven on Earth, announced on a road sign in Northern California? Well, I looked, and I’m here to tell you that Heaven on Earth is a brown, barn-like structure beside I-5 with a banner announcing that it serves the best cin amon buns in the world. No, that’s not my spelling error; apparently, there’s no spare money or time in heaven on earth to replace the lost N.

Spelling errors abound in road signs, as well: a billboard for the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup welcomes Pilgrams. Nice – in metric, even. We read a billboard for Indan City. A mile later, another billboard welcomes us to Indian City. To be fair, we didn’t see a whole lot of misspelled signs on this journey (at least, not that we noticed!) If you want to see some real doozers, however, just google misspelled road signs. Apparently, road-sign installers are not too picky about details when it comes to Hihgways and Biwaze.

There were incongruities – businesses like Navajo Feed and Pawn; Rocky Mountain Fireworks and Furs; Wildcat Christian Academy (“Snarling for Jesus”?); Warhawk War Museum; and a business that sold Guns and Accessories. What does a well-dressed gun slinger wear to accessorize his recently purchased weapon? Perhaps new boots and a designer bandana?  Speaking of guns, Al was horrified to find himself pumping gas next to one of those well-appointed gun slingers casually sporting a hip rifle. We couldn’t wait to get out of there.

So then we came home. Someone this week reminded me that before I point out the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye, I should check my own for a log. She’s right. It’s one thing to poke fun at things you don’t understand, quite another to realize how much you yourself need to change, as well. I still have my new eyes in place, and I am horrified at what I find, right here in my own home. We are trying to empty our trailer, and we can’t even find space on our library shelves, pantry shelves, garage shelve, etc., to put away the paltry few things we were able to survive on while living in a 250 square foot trailer. My new eyes show me  reality: we have too much stuff.

Really, how many coats can I wear at once? Just how many shoes do I really need? And if the freezer is full, why are we congratulating ourselves on the latest good buy in the frozen food section?

Another eye-opener: I’ve been proclaiming the wonders of Thrift and Free Stores – how we can help the world and support charities by buying other people’s cast-offs, thus fulfilling two of the three R’s of the environmental movement, Reuse and Recycle. But I’ve been neglecting the third R:  Reduce. Also, I’m weak in another R: Resist. How can I resist when I walk into my favourite thrift store and find that a woman just my size (and how rare is that? It’s meant to be), who loves designer clothes in my favourite colours, just dropped off her scarcely-worn wardrobe yesterday? And I’m the lucky woman who saw it first? And so, with the thrill of the hunt in my pounding heart, I bring home the trophies. Which I really didn’t need.

I know a woman who shares my love of thrift stores (she will remain unnamed) who says, “I’m afraid at my eulogy, people will say, ‘She was a great thrift store shopper. Just take a look at the outfit she’s wearing today: a designer Liz Claiborne bought at Sally Ann for only $8.99.’” Ditto. And when my kids have to clean out my closets after I’m gone, they’ll be bringing  truckloads of stuff that they have no interest in back to the thrift stores whence they came. Talk about incongruity!

It took a long trip to grow new eyes. Now I can see a bit more clearly: my life needs a makeover, beginning with a purge of material things. It’s a small start, but it’s a start.

In keeping with this theme, I created the following wall hanging from a UFO languishing in the back of the closet. It was inspired by a small girl we saw down in the river valley where we were walking. We’d barely noticed the newly-arrived salmon in the creek. But her eyes were new to this wonder. She clapped and cheered and chattered and pointed and laughed and jumped up and down when she saw them. To look at the world with childlike wonder: that would be a giant step forward, wouldn’t it? What a world it would be!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Closer Than You Think

Home is where the heart is. Home Sweet Home. East, West, Home is best. Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home. Your home is your castle –  they’d all work as cross-stitched mottoes, wouldn’t they?

I could identify with these sayings when we got close to home after our long trip. Home: it was going to be good to be home. And it was.

I wrote to a friend, “I went out and picked a vase of dahlias and asters, and plunked them on the dining room table. I added some home grown tomatoes, fresh off the vine, and some basil that had survived the fall rains, to the pasta. And I spent a whole day in my studio, just having a ball with my fabrics. It all spells home to me.”

Still life with flowers and garlic.

The homes of Madrid, New Mexico -- my first fabric project after I got back. It's a funky place! Below is a detail, enlarged.

Sleeping in your own bed. Hugging your grandkids. A bookshelf with your favourite books. Cleaning up the yard. Listening to the local radio and reading the local papers. We each have our own measurement of what’s good about being home.

So I thought, well, this will be an easy blog to write. I’ll write about the pleasures of being home versus the pitfalls of traveling.  It’ll be warm and fuzzy, and help me make the transition to staying put for a while.

I did a search for quotes about home, and found those listed above. But I also read one that caught me up short.  “Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door,” wrote Charles Dickens. Hmm. What’s that all about? Worth pondering. Then I picked up a magazine and started reading a story about women who are working for justice. Hmmm. Coincidence? Or a little tap on my shoulder telling me to pay attention?

The article introduced me to Dr. Samantha Nutt, founder of War Child Canada. She told the story of a young woman, Nadine, who lived in the Congo, one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a woman. She’d been twice raped and left for dead by armed thugs employed by mining companies who wished to protect their interests. Nadine’s home is next to a mine producing coltan, a substance you may never have heard of, but an indispensable component of cell phones. Since this small area of the Congo is rich in the substance, and since this mining company is determined to make as big a profit as possible, Nadine’s rape is just fallout – collateral damage, as they say about missile strikes that kill children and innocent bystanders. But doesn’t Nadine, and all the women who live in her village, long for a safe home? Don’t they want to think, as you and I do, “It’s good to be home”?

For some, home is a refugee camp; top, in Somalia; bottom, in Lebanon.
Last week I wrote about the pensive mood I’d found myself in, trying to reconcile the discrepancy of values and pursuits that often rub up against each other in my life: loving nature and travel, yet consuming large amounts of fuel to do so; wanting to support local agriculture, yet availing myself of all the conveniences of retail chains that underpay their workers,  Now, apparently, loving the conveniences of my life at home was going to be added to that list. Can I be happy at home, knowing that I am, however remotely, contributing to the unsafe home conditions of women in the Congo by purchasing a cell phone?

Nutt asked Nadine why she was telling her story so openly. “So you can tell others,” was Nadine’s reply. When we are silent, when we ignore the suffering others are living through, we are surrendering, says Nutt. When we recognize that we are all part of one community, one world, we can begin to act for justice next door, even when that "next door" is half way around the world.

Last week I was pensive. It appears that I’m going to have to move on, beyond pensive, to pondering, considering, evaluating, deciding ... and eventually, to doing. Just writing about this in my blog isn’t easy. Nor, I imagine, is it very popular -- this one won't make you smile. But it is a beginning.

“Charity begins at home.” Yes. “Justice begins next door.” Yes. In this world grown smaller by communications and the development of technology, in this global community, the "next door" in the Congo is very close to home. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014


As we near the end of our trip, I find myself in a mood. The RS is worried...was it something he said or did? True, we’ve been getting on each other’s nerves a bit more, lately...that’s inevitable after almost five weeks on the road: 8,000 kilometers of sitting in the cab of a noisy old diesel truck together, 40+ days of calling a 250 square foot box on wheels home, weeks of only intermittent connections with our friends and family. So, yes, it’s time to go home. We both know that.

But the mood is not anger or irritation or impatience. I’ve been casting around for the just the word, and I think I’ve found it: pensive. I’m feeling pensive.

Lovely word, pensive, probably coming from the French pensée, or thought. There are so many words and expressions  that one can use when one refers to thinking: meditating, ruminating, cogitating, contemplating, working the grey matter, reflecting, gerrymandering, blueskying, reasoning, pondering, wondering, considering, ... but I wasn’t doing any of those things. I was being pensive.

Being pensive is what you do when you have no clear goal to achieve with your thinking. You allow thoughts to flit through your mind like butterflies. Some of them land for a bit, and you can observe  them with interest, but there’s no need to capture them and pin them down. Let them go – they’ll be back eventually. Being pensive means you give yourself permission to live in a different world for a while, a world that sometimes doesn’t make a lot of sense, where the pieces don’t quite fit together.  There’s a tinge of melancholia and nostalgia associated with the word, too, at least in my pensive world. Inevitably, the pensive person is not very responsive to outside stimuli, such as a resident sweetie’s attempts at conversation. Sorry, sweetie.

Traveling as we have done has raised all kinds of things to ponder, which will happen on another day, when I’m in a pondering mood rather than being merely pensive. Instead, without judgement or reason, I’d like to share some of those butterfly thoughts with you here:

We love that at least some of this great continent has been set aside and protected from commercial exploitation such as gas and oil drilling, lumbering and mining in national, state and provincial parks. On the other hand, we love that there are big travel centres where we can easily refuel our gas-loving beast so we can go camping and sightseeing in these self-same parks.

I feel like I could keep traveling forever this way. There’s so much more beauty in this world to explore. On the other hand, I want to go home. I miss our beautiful home and family and friends and community.

I love the farmer’s market and small cheese factory we visited – so delightful to be able to buy fresh food directly from the proud makers and growers. On the other hand, I appreciate that when our shopping list includes groceries, an axe, fabric and wine, we’ll be able to stop at a big Supercenter and know we can get them all in one place.

This world is such a beautiful, beautiful place. Amazing. Fantastic. Awesome... We visited Crater Lake this week, and were gobsmacked by the grandeur.

My postcard didn’t even try to capture the scene ... I just copied an old poster of the scene, instead.

On the other hand, what a mess this world is in: – a billion people around the world living in slums on $1 a day (true statistics); Ebola; wars and rumours of wars; a falling Canadian dollar; poverty; crime; not to mention the little annoyance of  people leaving their dog doo-doo in public places.

I won’t get into my thoughts on the resident sweetie, how much I love him, and how crazy he sometimes makes me...and he'd say the same about me, I’m sure.

Being pensive brings out the inconsistencies and incongruities of life – and that, as they say, is life. Reality. Even on a weekend when we count up all our blessings and give thanks, we can’t help but be aware of the disparity and dichotomy within our world. There are many questions to ponder, many situations that call for our response, many changes we can make in our life so that the inequities are addressed more fully, all of us doing something, anything, to let our lights shine.

On the other hand, on this weekend when we count up all our blessings, we can give thanks for this wonderful, crazy, troubled, happy-sad, world that is our home, and for this wonderful, crazy, troubled, happy-sad life we are privileged to live, truly a gift.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Great Expectations

The day we set out for Canyon de Chelly (pronounced duh shay), I was pretty pumped. The Navajo people, who have a deep respect for the land and for their ancestors, revere it as the birthplace of their people.  For those seeking spiritual enlightenment, it is considered  one of the great sacred places on earth.                               

The NE Arizona canyon has been inhabited by various native peoples for over 5,000 years. Its walls are a deep red, rising up to a thousand feet from the green valley floor, and in these walls are caves holding the the ruins of many small settlements. I had great expectations that I, too, like other pilgrims who’d come before, would experience the mystery and wonder of this special place.

We opted to pay big bucks for a tour with a Navajo guide so we could get down close to the ruins. We were to meet our guide at the Sacred Lodge inside the park, where we were greeted by a clerk in the gift shop. She got a sour look on her face when she realized we weren’t there to buy anything. Oh, well, maybe she was having a bad day. Even people working in sacred lodges can have bad days.

We hopped into a mud-spattered jeep with our guide, a friendly enough chap. But wait, first we had to pay an entrance fee to the sacred canyon. Even sacred canyons need upkeep, I reminded myself. Off we went in the four-wheel drive, with our guide telling us stories of the various peoples who’d lived there – first the Anasazis, then the Hopis, and finally the Navajos ....brrrrrrring.... oh, excuse me. He checked the message. I guess even sacred canyons have cell phone reception.

We stopped here and there to look at the ruins, to listen to the stories, and to ask questions, but somehow, it just wasn’t working for me. (Maybe the guide’s constant checking of his cell phone and watch were part of the problem.) The last straw was a “rest stop” where his aunties and uncle had their jewellery and flutes set up – perhaps we’d like to take home a souvenir of this experience? Mmmm, no thanks. Some spiritual pilgrimage this had turned out to be.

Several days later, we were on the road again. We were not expecting much besides a long trip – certainly we weren’t expecting the horrible smell that filled the truck cab about two hours after we set out. The RS pulled over immediately along the busy Interstate. The heat guage was off the charts, and smoke was seeping out from under the hood. Our hearts sank. This had all the makings of a horrible, no good, very bad, terrible day. We were thirty miles from Holbrook, which looked like a little pimple on the map of Arizona. What kind of help would we find there? We’d been travelling through these decaying small towns with their boarded up shop fronts, their weedy sidewalks, and their faded bill boards, and we weren’t hopeful.

But when we called the emergency road service on our nifty new cell phone, they jumped into action. Within 2 hours, our ailing beast had been towed to a car hospital, and our trailer was sitting at a campground nearby. We began to feel a bit more hopeful. We took a walk into town to check things out. And right here I owe the people of Holbrook a deep and heartfelt apology. Holbrook is not a pimple on Arizona’s face – it is a dimple, a laugh-line, a smiley face. We met wonderful people who cheered us up and made us feel better. The service manager at the well-equipped garage was a friendly fellow who actually showed me the fried parts that needed replacing as though I were an intelligent woman who would be interested in such things. The waitress in the café where we stopped for a cold drink and the saleswoman in the rock shop both listened to our story with great sympathy, offered advice, and wished us the best. And would you believe there was a quilt shop in town? Truly! The owner, Shirley, had just opened Painted Desert Quilts a few days previously, but her bright and cheery work was already hanging on the walls. I found some fabric I just had to have, and then she offered me her scrap basket full of leftover pieces cut from her work. “Take anything you like, or take it all,” she invited me. Shirley, you are my new BFF! I took her scraps back to the trailer and made a new postcard as homage to Holbrook.

We spent our unexpectedly free day in the campground, reading, sleeping, and relaxing (travel can be tiring, you know!). Later in the day the garage sent a car to pick us up so we could retrieve our truck. Yes, our pocketbook is lighter, but so are our hearts for this experience.

Sometimes you set out with great expectations, and come home empty-handed. And sometimes, you set out not expecting much, until the Almighty taps you on the shoulder and suggests, “Hey! Pay attention! You don’t have to look far to experience my spirit at work in this world.”


Friday, 26 September 2014

Colouring my world

I’ve been thinking about color this week. It started out with an overdose of brown.

We’ve been camping close to Santa Fe in New Mexico. If that state has an official colour, I think it would be brown. The desert is brown. The dry stream beds are brown. If water does run in the stream, it’s brown, too. The unpaved roads – and there are many of them – are a sandy brown. And the architecture in downtown Santa Fe is brown, dictated through a  by-law that says all public buildings in the historic centre must be built in the old style adobe. When people buy a home here, I think that they’re told, “You can have any colour you like, as long as it is brown.” Sandstone, tan, beige, light ocher, cinnamon, copper, off name it. It’s here.
And it’s brown.

I’m not saying brown is bad – after all, chocolate and coffee are brown, and they’re good, very good. The interior walls of our home are a warm shade of tan. Colour theory says that brown is the colour of security and protection. “It is sensual, sensitive and warm, engulfing one in a feeling of calmness and comfort,” proclaims one website. “It is quietly confident but never the life of the party! Brown does not seek attention - it prefers to stay in the background, allowing other colors around it to shine.”

Other colours ... yes, for sure. All of us need a healthy dose of colour in our lives. All brown is a yawn, but splashes of colour stimulate and arouse the senses, and make you feel like you’re alive. New Mexicans know it: I saw doors, window frames and eaves painted turquoise, purple, red, cobalt blue, orange. Sunny yellow marigolds, lavender Russian sage, red trumpet vine, and multicoloured gaillardias flourished in huge pottery planters. A turquoise coyote wearing a red bandana stands sentinel at our campground entrance. Mailboxes come in every colour except brown.

And so, we fell under New Mexico’s spell – its motto is “Land of Enchantment”. We’ve been here for 10 days, and haven’t grown tired of all that brown after all.

I decided to play with colour this week. We’d been on an art tour, following high desert roads through tiny villages where the locals had hung out their welcome flags and opened their studios. The art was wonderful and colourful, but what stopped us in our tracks when we got close to Taos was a field of purple asters.

The scene became the subject of another postcard. Three of them, actually, in three different colourways: the first is pretty close to the original photo, the second uses more intense and saturated shades in the sky, mountains, and trees, and the third goes a little wild. But not too wild, because it is me, after all, that’s making it.
I took one of those colour quizzes you find on the web. It turns out I am violet. Really? I am violet? I look into it a little further. Violet, says the pop-site, is the colour of imagination and spirituality. Well, okay then. Yes! I am violet.

How about you?

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Two postcards and a prayer

We have arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We saw so much spectacular scenery the first week of travel, including Bryce Canyon and Arches National Park. Last week I sent you a postcard from Bryce. Here’s my version of Arches: it was amazing, fantastic, awesome...well, after a while you run out of superlatives and just gaze silently...which is maybe as it should be.

These two window arches were formed out of enormous rocks worn down by weathering. Arches National Park has more than 2,000 of these structures, big and small.
We also took a scenic drive along the Colorado River and were enchanted by the red cliffs, scrubby pines, and the lengendary river that supplies so much of the Southwest with water for crops, animals, recreation and so much more.

I had high hopes for Santa Fe, the city of “holy faith”, as the first missionaries named it  back in the 1500s. I’d  been  here years ago on my own, but the trip was a short one. I loved what I saw, and kept bugging the Resident Sweetie to go back there with me. Now, 13 years later, we’d finally made it.

But as we drove through Northern New Mexico, I realized it was not spectacular, awesome, amazing– all those superlatives I’d hoped for. It was dry, barren, desolate, grey and scrubby. Would the RS, who’d done all the driving to get here, be disappointed, or wish he were elsewhere?

Well, we’ve been here 4 days, have another 4 scheduled, and are considering an extension. This land is beautiful in its own way, but you have to look a little harder for the beauty. There are purple asters and sunny yellow shrubs in the ditches, and the scrub juniper and pinon pines dot the high desert. The sky is a brilliant blue, and we are falling under its fascinating spell.

But the land is in trouble. The sign on the bathroom door here at the campground tells it like it is. “Santa Fe gets 9.47 inches of rainfall per year. Please don’t waste water.” The newspapers print stories about an 11 year drought, and the fear that there’s not enough water in the reservoirs to service the farmers. The snow pack on the mountains is depleted. The Santa Fe River is one of the top ten endangered rivers in the US– its stream bed is dry and rocky. The Rio Grande (literally, Big River) often does not reach the ocean, its waters siphoned off by a thirsty world.

Climate change, most scientists agree, is happening. People -- you, me, everybody -- are not the whole problem, but we are part of it.

The world is a beautiful place. The world is in big trouble. Both true. We are all connected – this I feel strongly as we travel through this land and meet its people. Could it be that the more we feel connected to the land and to the people we meet, both while traveling and at home, the more we will be motivated to do our part to keep our world beautiful – to work for peace, for a healthy environment, for justice for the downtrodden, whatever it is that we are called to do?

A prayer printed in a local tourist paper caught my eye, and I wanted to share it with you. Although the prayer is for Santa Fe, with just a few word and image changes, it could be for your home town, too.

O Dios, El Senor, Great Spirit,
El Shaddai, Adonai, Creator God, creating still,
By whatever name we know you, hear our prayers this day.
We thank you for the courage and the the Holy Faith
of those who founded this city so many years ago.
And we thank you, too, for the native people
who prayed in this land for centuries before
and for all who have come in the centuries since.
For all, be they native or newcomers
whose prayers continue to bless this city,
we thank you this day.
Hear too our prayers for guidance and wisdom.
Help us to learn from this good land
and the beauty of creation all around us.
In this land of endless sky
teach us the boundlessness of your beauty and love.
In this land of little rain,
teach us to share and to bless what you have given us.
In this land of brilliant sunrise and golden sunset,
teach us to use each day to bless the lives of others.
In this land of many cultures and colors,
give us your infinite imagination and
teach us to respect and value all your children.
O God, our help in ages past,
be our hope and the hope of our home in all the years to come.
Help us all to build on the foundation of faith, hope and love
that others have laid here,
so that all your people in this city might do justice,
love mercy and walk humbly with You,
 now and always,

Prayer by Rev. Talitha Arnold, pastor at United Church of Santa Fe.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The View from the Passenger Seat.

When we go on long trips, we have a rule of thumb : one day of travel, one day of staying put. But we were already behind schedule, so we spent four straight 10 hour days on the road.

Day one is always a shake-down day, when we adjust to how travelling works, and what our respective jobs are. For the resident sweetie, that's a given: he's the driver. End of story. I've never wanted to drive a big diesel truck pulling a 5th wheel, so he gets the job by default. My job is being the good supportive little wife, and I'll admit it is not my best role. After spending a second day in the passenger seat watching him compulsively check oil and fuel gages, furrow his brow, cock his ear to listen for any noises that shouldn’t be there,  purse his lips and spout raspberries to relieve his tension, I was just a mite titchy.

Clearly, I needed an attitude adjustment. I would find things to do that enhanced the journey, or we would become road warriors in the real sense. In a spirit of generosity, I hereby share my list of top 10 things to do when you’re the one in the passenger seat.

1. Listen to the radio. Except, in our beast of a diesel truck, the volume would have had to be so cranked, the RS wouldn’t have been able to hear any of those supposed noises he was listening for. Ditch that.

2. Read the newspaper. We often buy a newspaper on our first stop of the day so I can read it aloud to Al. The miles zoom by, and there are lots of conversation starters, ranging from the deep issues (“Will wars ever end?) to frothy stories about movie stars that make us shake our heads. After that, we work on the crossword. A good newspaper can give us about 150 miles worth of entertainment. But on day 3, when I walked into one of the big truck stops, it turned out that they don’t sell newspapers. Not even News of the World. You can buy 32 oz. Slurpees and corn dogs galore, but not a stitch of news. What is this world coming to? Hey, there’s a conversation starter!

3. Well, okay then. No newspapers? Read billboards. May the floss be with you (dental clinics); Buy Used Without Feeling that Way (car sales); Our Kool-aid is better than your Kool-aid (???); Fat City fireworks – bottle rockets and mortars, open 24 hours a day (yeah, I hate it when I run out of bottle rockets and mortars at 11 o’clock at night; so glad someone has that covered.) On the side of grain elevator: Desert Mill Grains and Pasta Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. In front of an abandoned church: Living Waters...For Sale. After passing an area with lots of wind turbines on rocky ridges, this one caught our eye: Caution – Red Light District. Wind Development, not the world’s oldest profession, but the results are the same.

4. Get Creative. “40 Miles to Boise,” said the RS, and I thought that sounded like the beginning of a good song or poem. So when I saw a sign that read “Stinker’s Truck Stop,” I couldn’t resist.

The Stinker’s Truck Stop close to Nampa,
Is just the ticket for gran and grampa.
They fuel up their bellies,
Get rid of their smellies,
Without setting foot in the campah. 

Al was tickled by a billboard that read Report Wildlife Crime. His poem: “If a bear steals bread, he’s dead.” Short, funny, gets the point across. Perhaps I should get him to guest for me on this blog.

5. Count Fed-Ex and UPS trucks. There were so many on the road, we were sad we hadn't bought stock in courier companies about 10 years ago.

6. Play word games. We decided to see how many words we could make out of the letters in  the word “frontage.” We got 110, including 5 six-letter words and 13 five-letter words. We welcome challenges to that.

7. Check the map. Check the GPS. Check the map again. No, we’re not there yet. Sigh.

8. Visit rest areas. Take pit stops. Did you know that in Canada, we call those biffies pit toilets, and in the US they seem to go by the name of vault toilets. Hmmm.

9. Do housecleaning. I took along a rag and some cleaners and wiped down all the vinyl surfaces I could reach. That took care of 10 minutes. But it made me feel better for a long time.

10. Engage in gas wars. Okay, not those kinds of gas wars, although the RS did have some good lines which he declared off the record. However, he said I could use “Well, I never have run out of gas yet.” (So true.) This was said in response to my expressed exasperation  that his idea of when to refuel is vastly different than mine. His is when the low fuel light comes on. Mine is when the gage says there’s 1/3 of a tank left. I don’t think there will be a winner in these gas wars, since we are both stubborn.

However, we have arrived here in Southern Utah, and we are still talking to each other. So far, the trip is a success!
Bryce Canyon was gorgeous. We were happy. What more can you want?

Yes, I did take my sewing machine and a small stash of fabrics along. Here's my attempt at a postcard-sized piece depicting Bryce Canyon, which goes to show that you really can't improve on nature. But it was fun trying. I hope to produce a few more "postcards" and send them to you on this blog in the next few weeks.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The View from the Nest

I thought I was pretty well done with writing about crows, but I was wrong. It’s not the first time I’ve been wrong, of course. Just last week, I wrote in my blog that I might install “I just called to say I love you” by Jim Croce on my cell phone as a ringtone for the RS. Oops! One of the first rules of writing is to check your facts. My dear cuz reminded me that Stevie Wonder sang that song. Jim Croce sang “Operator.” So please, don’t believe everything you read here. This is for you, RS: (deep breath) I am sometimes wrong.

Anyway, about my latest crowlogue – I’ve been thinking of nests. I don’t know about you, but the word “nest” to me feels warm and cozy and all about home. My friend Jennifer quilted this robin and nest, and the piece seems to embody that message.

Piece created by Jennifer Harrison.
 I’m not sure, however, that warm and cozy describe crow nests. When a crow couple decides to raise babies, old nests are rarely re-used.  Crows like their nests high up in fir or spruce trees – often 60 or more feet in the air, and close to the trunk of the tree. The nest is a big jumbled affair, often 2-3 feet in diameter, and roughly built with big sticks and twigs. Within that outer structure, however, it creates a much smaller nursery, lined with feathers, grasses and whatever it can find. Ah, warm and cozy after all.

photo by Bob Armstrong (

By the way, some quilters think they’re doing birds a favour by leaving  nice soft scraps of cotton on fences and branches so the birds can use pick them up and use them to line the nest. But that’s not a good idea: cotton absorbs moisture, and is slow to dry, so the baby birds are being raised in a cold, wet, home. That’s equivalent to leaving your children in wet diapers all the time.

I tried to make a crow nest of my own. Believe me, it is not as easy as I thought it would be. I have more respect for those master builders now.

We often have an idyllic image in our minds of nests as bird bedrooms: the birds return to the nest at night to rest. Not so, especially with crows. A nest is a nursery for babies. Once the brood is raised and the nest empties out, that’s it! The world becomes the bird’s home. Once their job is done, adult crows are free to hang out with other crows, including their juvenile kids. This gives rise to the roosting phenomenon, which I wrote about in Meet You at the Roost, November, 2013.

Crow observers tell us the success of a crow’s nesting efforts relates, among other things, to the distance of the nest from the trunk. Young crows who are making their first nests may decide to be a little different from mom and dad – “Hey, the view’s so much better out here,” says would-be-papa crow to his lovebird as they move out on a limb. They build their nest there, then learn the hard way it is now much less stable, and more visible to predators. As a result, they loose more of their children to storms, hawks and owls. The parental units weren’t so dumb after all.

Sometimes, however, young crows also have something to teach old crows. One day, a crow, lured by bright city lights, must have decided to leave the old folks behind on the farm. I’m guessing it must have been a youngster. Now more crows live in town than in rural areas. Perhaps the old folks moved into the city, too, to be closer to the grandies. And it might have been a youngster, as well, who invented a new kind of nest when there was a shortage of twigs and branches in an urban area.

Tokyo crow nest (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
As you may have guessed, all these observations could be applied to us. Build your nest. Build it well, and make it as safe as you can. Do everything you can to raise a successful brood. And then let your babies fly away. The next generation will do things their own way, and they’ll make their own mistakes, and that’s the way it is. Often, they’ll return with a new appreciation for your efforts. Sometimes, they may teach you a thing or two. The bonus is that now you can begin to hang out with them and share in their lives. And you realize that an empty nest is not the only home you have: the world is out there, and with your job done, you can go ahead and move in new directions.

This week, we’re doing just that. The view from our empty nest is good, but there's more to see. We are taking the trailer for a 5-6 week trip down to the southern states to visit canyons and ruins and deserts. Thanks to our new cell phones, we’ll be able to caw-ll home and stay in touch, perhaps even with a blog or two. There’s much to be seen and I hope to share that here, so stay tuned: you may hear me squawking again soon.

I call this piece Leaving the Nest. I have entered it into a Comox Valley Art Gallery show of fibre art called Hanging by a Thread. The show begins September 27, so if you are live in the Comox Valley, I invite you to check it out.