Saturday, 25 January 2014

Hoping for Change

This is the month when I look back and say Thank you! and I look forward and say Yes! (That's not original: UN Secretary General Dag Harmerskjold said it first.) I made this piece, part of my "Year of being 60" quilt, in January 2009.
Even when the weather is grim and grey, I believe more in the possibilities of the future in January than at any other time of the year. It’s like I’ve been given a gift of a new year, and it is my sacred task to open the gift, one little bit at a time, to see what’s inside.

I’m pretty sure that the gift of this new year will contain hope, love, and joy...they’ve been part of my past, and I am trusting for that in the future. Realistically, of course, I also know there will be tears, anger, frustration, and anxiety. But in January the year is still bright and shiny with potential. What the year will look like in November, when the shine has worn off, is anybody’s guess. For now, I live in hope.

January is also the month when I read "self-help" books and scour the internet for good stuff that might help me move on in my life journey. My annual January cold bug has finally arrived, so I’ve got lots of time to troll through the resources as I sniffle and cough in my Lazy-Boy. Crow Girl looks on, and makes sure I keep my (runny) nose to the grindstone. She’s an old pro at learning from mistakes and taking lessons to heart – that’s why she’s survived so long. Here are some thoughts she and I both think are worth pondering ... (and acting on, of course, although that’s the tough part.)

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. What are you hanging on to, and why are you hanging on to it? Katrina Keniston asks this as she blogs about writing a will (  She has a bottle of expensive perfume she loves but rarely uses, a drawerful of fancy lingerie that stays pristine and unworn while she pulls on her ratty bloomers for “everyday”, and a couple of bottles of old expensive wine that are waiting for the perfect occasion. Writing a will brings this to her attention. When we go, she suggests, as all we must, we won’t be able to take any of it with us. Why not start using it up and wearing it out and just savoring each thing as a gift? This advice hits me in the gut: I have closets and shelves full of fabric. Since I will have to live to be 841 years old to use it all up, I know what I need to be doing. Use it or lose it. Yes, crow, soon –  as soon as this cold is over.

Which brings me to more wisdom: Do not procrastinate. Procrastination adds unnecessary stress to our lives. The quilt square included here was created 5 years ago, and here I am, still looking through my overstuffed closets. If I’d gotten rid of the excess, I could have lived a stress-free life. Who knew? Actually,  I have cleaned out my shelves every January (sort of.) Last year, the resident sweetie even built me new shelves in the guest room closet, since the studio closet was stuffed to the max. Now those new shelves are full and overflowing. I apologize to the guests who have little space left to hang their clothes. I tell them fabric is like bunnies – it multiplies in the dark behind closed doors. I’m not sure what kind of canoodling goes on there while nobody is looking.

A friend who knows me well gave this to me years ago. It has hung in my studio ever since. She's acquired her own fabric habit now -- maybe I should give it back.

Stop right there! Stop avoiding the truth, the expert in another book tells me, shaking a finger in my face. Okay, okay, I admit it. The truth is, the fabric is not canoodling and multiplying. The bald fact is, I am buying more. Sometimes, the local quilt store has wonderful sales. Sometimes, I "rescue" gorgeous pieces, like a pure silk sari, from thrift stores, even if I don’t know how I’ll use it. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?  But even fabric collectors eventually have to discriminate and discard.

I find the solution to my dilemma in psychologist Richard Wiseman’s book 59 Seconds. His advice for happiness: Be a Giver. Studies have shown that fabric does not buy happiness, but giving it away does. Okay, he used the word money, but it’s the same thing. Participants in many studies have shown that people who give gifts or money to others are happier than those who indulge in retail therapy for themselves. Well then, giving my stuff away should solve the problem. Who wouldn’t be happy to have some of my beautiful stash? Anyone? Anyone?

I may be naive in thinking that anything will change dramatically because of all my reading, pondering and resolving.

Still, it’s January, and I live in hope.

PS: Here’s an open invitation to all of you who live nearby: come and raid my stash. What’s that you say? You’ll take some of mine, if I’ll take some of yours? Hmm...that should work, too. I’ll be happier, and you’ll be happier, if we each give some away.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Let Me Make Your Day!

January can be grim and grey, so I was glad when someone brightened up my day last week by posting a link to a site that listed the National Days of the Year. I should have realized what was coming when I saw the website: on the World Weird Web. But it was a fun distraction and it sparked ideas that made me giggle. Anything that can make you giggle at this time of year is a good thing.

For instance, did you know that today was National Popcorn Day? Kind of boring, unless you love popcorn. But I was sorry to have missed Festival of Sleep Day (Jan. 3); I must have slept through it. And I’m looking forward to celebrating National Hugging Day– mark it on your calendar: Jan. 21. (If you miss it, you get another chance June 11 on National Hug Holiday. Wait, if it’s a holiday, does that mean you don’t hug that day? I’m confused, and if there isn’t a day for that, there should be.) I’ve already marked some other days on my calendar: National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day (Nov. 15 – never a pleasant task, so I’m glad that’s a long way off); Be Humble Day (Feb. 22 – it’s a hard job, but someone has to do it); Kiss Your Mate Day (April 28 – you’ve been warned, resident sweetie.)

As I perused the list, I had a few questions, however. Why isn’t Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbour’s Porch Night (August 8) followed by National Zucchini Bread Day? That occurs in April, which means you have to grate it and save it in your freezer for 8 months. Why is there only one National Thriftshop Day (August 17)? Only one? And what happens when someone born on World Sauntering Day (June 19) dates someone born on Take a Hike Day (Nov. 17)? It would probably lead to Have a Bad Day Day (Nov. 19).

Now it occurs to me that this National Register of Days is a US creation. But wait, there’s a day for us Canadians, too. On first reading, I thought it might be Dec. 17: National Underdog Day and Maple Syrup Day – take your pick. I was also looking for Be Nice Day, but then I realized that for Canadians, that’s every day. Fortunately, I finally found July 15's listing: National Respect Canada Day! Not bad, eh?

When I googled Canada’s register of National Days, it was what you might expect: very serious and sedate.  National Literacy Day, National Day to End Violence Against Women, Family Day, National Child Day, National Senior’s Day. We have most of the social issues covered. We’ll leave the funny stuff to our neighbours to the South. Because we’re nice, eh? And you need to respect that, especially on July 15.

As I’m writing this, my friend the Crow is looking over my shoulder. “When is it National Love a Crow Day?” she asks. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing on any of my lists. Mule Day (Oct. 26), Donald Duck Day (June 9) even a day for the Souls of Dead Whales (Dec. 10) but no day for crows.  However, I’m beginning to suspect that you can make up your days any way you wish. If you decide that today is not National Popcorn Day, but a day to love, honour and respect crows, well, then, that’s what it is. So I tell my friend that all the folks who read my blog, all 14 of you, will be celebrating a Crow Day on January 19. She hops off my shoulder and says, “I’d better get a move on, then. I’ll need to organize the parade, print up some awareness-raising brochures, create some posters and pickets, and book the dump for a picnic.” And she’s off, doing her thing, glad that crows are finally getting some respect.

What I don’t tell her is that today (Jan. 14) is National Dress Up Your Pet Day. She would be totally offended and squawk loudly if I presumed that she was my pet, so I won’t do that. Besides, I’m no good at sewing Crow Clothes, and she is quite well dressed as she is, “au naturel” you might say. 

Instead, I decided that today is  Make a Silly Quilt Day. So I do.
A poster to advertise the 1st annual Wholly Crow Day, January 19. Celebrate!

I wonder what you’ll be naming your days this year. Whatever they are, I hope they are good ones.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

More Crow Lessons

It’s time to share some more crow stories, this time about crow communication.

A friend was telling me that one day they lost power at their house. When they checked outside, they found one very dead, very fried crow lying on the ground beneath the transformer box. Within moments, a flock of crows flew overhead, dipping and wheeling and squawking loudly. In the next five minutes, several more waves of crows did the same thing. Our friends had just witnessed a crow funeral, a not-uncommon occurrence in the corvid world. Perhaps their raucous squawking is equivalent to a tearful human farewell, but scientists are sceptical. They suggest that crow families are visiting the scene of such events so the older crows can warn youngsters, “See that, Junior? That’s what happens if you don’t watch where you’re going.” Or perhaps, they’re trying to identify the dead crow so they can be the first to take advantage of its death: “Look! It’s George. Hey, didn’t he just get married last year? Here’s your chance, Joe. His woman’s going to be on the lookout for a new mate.”

Whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that crows vocalize loudly and often, and for very many reasons. A study identified 23 different kinds of crow calls, among them the assembly call (“Hey everyone, come here!”), the dispersal call (“Let’s get out of here,”) the scolding call (“You shouldn’t have done that, you’re going to be sorry,”) and the squalling call (“Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”). There were many other call, not yet identified. Add to that various dialects, regional expressions, and family codewords, and a person could probably spend a lifetime researching and writing up a Crow Dictionary.

Crows also love to mimic. One story in Gifts of the Crow by researcher John Martzluff tells of a crow, probably one which had spent some time with humans. This crow flew about the neighbourhood calling, “Here boy! Here boy!”, accompanied by a piercing whistle.  Dogs came running from all around and gathered at the base of a tree on a college campus where the crow perched and lectured the dogs until the bell rang. At that point, the crow began flying, with the dogs in hot pursuit, amongst the students who were changing classes, Students tripped over running dogs, books and papers went flying, and mayhem spread all around. When the dust settled, the cycle repeated itself. This crow was using his communication skills to enhance his fun and games.

The crow will never be accused of timidity, nor will she be silent when she sees something that needs noticing. Her vocalizations save crow lives, teach crow lessons, spread joy, call for help, give warnings, enhance play, to name just a few.

My crow, like the American Crow, has a blue tongue. Her beak is wide open, and she has lots to say.             

Now the crow, so to speak, comes home to roost in my own life. The crow illustrating the title of this blog has a stream of beads coming out of her beak. When I created her, I wrote, “She is a symbol of my desire to have something to say as I grow older, and the courage to say it.”

What, in practical ways, does this mean for me? My words – and yours too – can, like the crow, give warnings that may save lives, or the planet; words can teach lessons and spread joy. Words can be used to gather like-minded people together and to call them to action. When I see a wrong that needs to be righted, when I become aware of injustice, bigotry, and reckless destruction of our world, can my words make a difference? The crow does not hide behind timidity or lethargy. Do I?

I do know that to speak up is not always comfortable or easy, especially for women who for much of their lives have been told, “Nice women don’t make waves, don’t stir the pot, don’t raise issues that are controversial.” But as I was thinking about all this, I came across the poet Mary Oliver’s words in her piece “What I have learned thus far.” She says,

“...Can one be passionate about the just,
the ideal,
the sublime, and the holy,
and yet commit to no labor in its cause?
I don’t think so.
...all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance.
The gospel of light is the crossroads of –
indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.”

Powerful words, indeed. For now, I pour my words into this blog every week, believing that it’s the best way for me to labour at my passion.

But is there more? Perhaps the crow has more lessons to teach. I am listening.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Washing Windows -- Take Three

How many brains does it take to wash windows successfully? Apparently more than the resident sweetie and I have in our two heads put together.

We knew the windows needed washing – they had, over a few months, gotten embellished with little children’s handprints, big dogs’ paw prints, fly spots, and a few wing smudges from bird collisions. We usually love looking out at our back yard, but now its beauty was obscured.

The yard looks grey and smudgy through our dirty windows. 
Still, we procrastinated. Our track record with windows is not good. In our previous home, with old windows that had to be lifted out, by the end of the ordeal, your shoulders were sore, you had tennis elbow, and the windows were ... still dirty. We eventually hired someone to do it. In this home, window washing is easier, and we have been doing it ourselves, but the results have been mixed. We tell ourselves we are still learning.

But now, with Christmas on the horizon, we knew we’d be having people in. There is absolutely no better motivation for house-cleaning than knowing that you will be having guests. Besides, we’d heard of a secret weapon for easily cleaning windows: Jet Dry. Apparently, if you added dishwasher rinse aid to your final rinse water, then hosed it down, the windows would dry clean, streakless and spotless. At least, that was the theory.

This sounded too good to be true, but we’re suckers for a good story. We psyched ourselves up and launched a full frontal assault on the dirt. The result was disaster – all we’d done was rearrange the dirt. Maybe the resident sweetie hadn’t scrubbed hard enough? Maybe I’d used the wrong cloth for rinsing?  Fortunately our first guests were spared the sorry sight because they visited in the evening when it was dark.

A week later, after gathering up the remnants of our courage, it was time for Take Two. I mean, really, two competent adults with university degrees ... surely they could wash a few windows successfully? Apparently not. I began to feel like Winnie the Pooh, who said, “I am a Bear of very Little Brain ...  When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.” In our case the “Thing” was clean windows; it was a good Thingish inside of me, but the end result was quite different when our daytime guests looked at it – or, more accurately, through it. They were polite, and never mentioned the streaks, spots, and smudges. But I was mortified.

A few days ago, we couldn’t take the dirt anymore. Out came the buckets, the soap, the sponges and cloths and everything else we thought might work, even a whole new bottle of rinse-aid. It was desperation time. And Hallelujah! Voila! Take Three: Clean windows. It’s amazing how clean windows can change your perspective on life. Nonchalantly we lead our guests over to the windows to check out the backyard view, no longer feeling the need to draw the curtains. Our windows are clean – we may even have enough brains between us to keep them that way.

Much better!
As you are reading this on the first Sunday in January, I’ll be busy doing “window washing” of a different type. It’s been my custom for the last ten years or so to take the first Sunday of the New Year as a personal silent retreat day. I hole up in my studio and take time to review the past year. I journal, pray, and ponder, trying to get a clear picture of what’s been happening in my life. Sometimes, I find a mess to clean up that’s preventing me from moving forward into the future. Sometimes I realize it’s my own attitudes that blind me to the good things I could be seeing and doing. Sometimes I find that I’ve been procrastinating – I could have been enjoying the view, instead of being annoyed by it, if only I’d tackled a problem much earlier. There could be sunshine and beauty on the other side of the glass if only I will deal with the dirt that obscures it.

Just like in real life, I have also learned that sometimes it takes quite a few tries before I get my interior life cleaned up. And just when I think it’s okay, new dirt shows up. Sigh.

That’s life. Cleaning is a never-ending story. But it’s definitely worth it.