Saturday, 22 February 2014

Leaning on my Angel

Several months ago I presented a talk to the local quilt guild about my quilting journey. In the next few blogs, I’ll be sharing some of this story in the hopes that somewhere in my story you will find bits and pieces of your own. Stories have a way of doing that.

I made my first quilt almost exactly 26 years ago. I worked on it with the Calgary Olympics playing on TV in the background. Both the athletes and I were trying to achieve a goal. They got the medals, but I still think I came out a winner! That’s because I began something that felt very right to me, and it’s become an integral part of who I am.

And who am I? These photos will tell you a little bit about that. The first one shows my father
 holding me on the day of my baptism, when I was exactly 1 week old. It is taken in front of the place where I was born: a tiny houseboat used for housing on the family farm in Holland. In our church tradition, babies were baptized on the first Sunday after birth, even if it meant my mom couldn’t come because she was still on bedrest. The baptism meant God was saying, in effect, “This is my child.” My parents made sure I knew this, and it is as foundational to me as breathing. Into every piece of art I make, I weave a thread of gratitude for the life and the gifts I have been given.

This is a photo of me, a year later. We were on a ship sailing to Canada, where my parents immigrated in 1949. My mom was very seasick, so dad had to take care of me, and he let me run, climbing on the machinery and exploring the nooks and crannies of our ship.

This photo tells a lot about me too: I still love adventure and exploration. I don’t like to be hemmed in, or having people tell me in precise detail how to do things. I’d like to figure it out for myself, thank you very much.

This is very much true of the first quilt I ever made, back there in the basement rec room in Edmonton during the ‘88 Olympics. I’d been sewing since I was a child, but had never made a quilt, and had not taken any quilting courses. I think there are special guardian angels for beginning quilters. Their job is to ensure that the first quilt that anyone makes is enough of a success that they’ll be encouraged to continue. I can imagine the discussion amongst the angels: “She thinks, just because she read something in a book, that she knows it all. Not only that, but she went to the bargain aisle at the fabric store and bought some stripes in red and blue, a patchwork print in dark and light blue, and a green floral print -- and she thinks it’s going to look good together. And get this: some of it is cotton, and some of it is poly-cotton, and I don’t think she preshrunk it. Now she’s beginning to cut out the squares and triangles, and she’s forgotten to add seam allowances to some of the pieces. Who wants to take her on?”

The Guardian Angel of Averting Quilting Disasters. She still watches over me!

I made every mistake in the book, but I must have gotten the guardian angel of averting disaster, because that quilt actually turned out quite well and was used, and used, and used by my son till this is what it looks like now! Much of the fabric has worn away to reveal the innards, and it’s just too old to fix. How delighted I am, however, to know that my son and his family have been sleeping under my blanket of love for so long.

I wonder what would have happened if I’d taken courses first, and quilted later? For sure, I would have made fewer mistakes. My quilts would have looked better: less lumps and bumps, less crooked seams, less puckers and frays. But would I have had as much fun? I don’t think so!

I went merrily, ignorantly on my way, making more and more quilts, never using a pattern, learning as I went, just enjoying myself immensely. I look back at these works, and I think, “Oh my goodness! Oops! Oops! And oops again!” And then I smile. That was fun, wasn’t it? (And I did get better over time, and eventually did take courses, when I was confident enough to know what I could use that worked for me.)

I know some of you seasoned quilters are cringing in your boots as you read this. My way of learning would not work at all for you. That’s because you are you: your story is different than mine. I believe the best work we do, whether it’s quilting or building, homemaking or teaching, or whatever else, comes out of our deepest, truest selves. I’m an adventurer: ergo, that’s what is revealed in my quilts. The work we do may not win prizes, but somehow, it is an expression of us, it has our mark on it.

And it bears the fingerprints of the original Creator who made us the way we are and declared it good. And it was so.

Image of vintage sewing machine taken from, a royalty-free clip art gallery.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Well Connected

A friend sent me a link to a You-tube clip that supposedly explains the difference between men’s and women’s brains. Well! Who could resist that?(You, too, dear reader, can learn the answer to this mystery by going to and getting enlightened.)

It turns out that the featured speaker Mark Gungor is not a psychologist, he’s a comic. So much for that. A TED talk it’s not. Still, it was fun to watch. Men’s brains, he says, are full of boxes, each one with its own contents: a box for work, a box for family, a box for sports (very big, I’m betting), a box for hobbies, etc. If you start talking about family, he’ll take out the family box, but please don’t confuse him by introducing a different topic, for instance work. He’ll have to pack up his family box, tuck it back into his brain, and open up the work box. The boxes don’t even touch each other.

Women’s brains, on the other hand, are a tangled mass of interconnected wires. Everything, EVERYTHING, is connected to everything else. Bzzzzzzzzzzz, bzzzzzzzz, bzzzz – there’s a constant snap, crackle and pop going on in women’s brains as connections upon connections are made every waking moment of every day, and probably in dreamland too.

I’m not a man, so I can’t judge whether there is anything to Gungor’s theory. Science does seem to agree that women’s brains have more connections between the left and right sides than men’s brains do, but science doesn’t mention boxes. It may be a fertile field for exploration.

What I do know, for myself, is that connections are hugely important.  On Valentine’s Day, we are supposed to be honouring our closest connections, our sweethearts and significant others, and that’s all good. I’m the lucky lady who got a dozen red roses, and he’s the lucky guy who got his laundry done on time and delivered with a kiss. Oh, and a steak dinner, to boot.

But I’m thinking that maybe a heart symbol isn’t big enough to hold the people I wish to honour this week. I’d like to draw a big wide circle as well to hold all the important people who have connected to me in some way in the 65 years I’ve been on this earth. We are connected to so many people who have, sometimes unknowingly, sent us on our way better people, warmed by love and encouragement and words of wisdom, better equipped to meet the challenges of life.

Live and learn and pass it on with love: some of my family members gathered round the quilting frame.
I think of family and friends, of organizations and work relationships, of mentors and children and grandchildren. I think of people who are down and out, yet have said something so profound that it leaves us stunned and grateful. I think of authors and thinkers and musicians and poets, of teachers and preachers, and yes, even politicians!  If you follow the connections in your wired-up brain for even 5 minutes, searching for images of people, words they’ve spoken and actions they’ve taken, that have given you a boost in your life, your brain will be abuzz with wonder. There’s no box big enough to hold that.

I know there are also horrible people that can pull us into a vortex of agony and pain. In our heart of hearts, we have to deal with those people and somehow, to achieve a life that is whole, find a way of making peace. But that does not prevent us this week from paying tribute to those who have blessed our days.

I think of all these good connections as strands in a nest that is woven to hold us. That is the image I was working with as I created this piece of textile art. It is inspired by the work of Sue Benner, an artist from Texas. You can check out her work by googling Sue Benner.

This piece includes small nests within the bigger nest, spin-offs woven from the same fibres, for isn’t it true that what goes into our lives will be used to shape and form others’ lives?

The nest has lots of unfinished fibres hanging from it, for there’s never an end to the connections we make and the possibilities of being blessings to others, until the day we’re gone. And even then, our lives reach out, leaving behind legacies we may not even be aware of.

If, as you view them, you are reminded of someone who has made your life richer, whisper (or shout, or sing, or dance) a prayer of thanks for the ties that bind us together.

5 Golden Strands in my Nest. Oma loves you, kids!

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Two Crows Visit a Show

We took a trip to see if we could find spring. 
In old Norse mythology, Huginn and Muninn are two crows who fly around the world every day to see what they can see, then bring the news back to the god Odin at the end of the day. Well, the resident sweetie and I have been doing a little travelling this week, accompanied by Huginn and Muninn, and we’ve seen and experienced a lot to share with you.

Wanting a winter break, we headed Seattle, to experience the buds and blossoms at the Northwest Pacific Flower and Garden Show. It was unseasonably cold. Fortunately, Al had his Montreal Canadiens’ toque with him, which got him a few puzzled looks. It just didn't fit with all the Seahawk paraphernalia we were seeing.

The Seahawks are Seattle’s football team; on Sunday the team won the Superbowl for the first time in its history. They call Seattle fans “the 12th man” – the secret weapon in the stands that pushes its team to victory by its loud energy. All 700,000 of the fans, clad in blue and green winter coats, blankets, hats and mitts and facepaint, were at the parade which passed just down the street from our hotel. Huginn and Muninn saw people who, having pulled their children out of school, lined up and sat in the cold for hours so they could have a split-second to wave and shout at their handsomely paid heroes. I wonder what the two old crows thought of that.

Over breakfast at the hotel, we paged through the free national newspaper, Huginn and Muninn reading over our shoulders about the billionaire who complained to the Wall Street Journal that the 1% of folks who control most of the wealth in America are being persecuted. The birds also read about the Olympics, which are costing billions because of mind-boggling construction projects to make it all possible. So much construction rubble was dumped in one suburb of Sochi that the residents’ drinking water has been polluted and is undrinkable. The problem can't be fixed till after the Olympics, they're told. I’m kind of hoping that the two old crows were just looking at the pictures because they can’t read. We humans can be a little crazy sometimes.

We threw the paper across the room, bundled up, and proceeded to the Convention Center where we thoroughly enjoyed the spring feeling we’d been denied outdoors. We took great pleasure in the colours of spring flowers, the scent of budding bushes, the sound of waters trickling over rocks in recreated landscapes. We attended seminars, picked up information and pamphlets, talked to greenhouse makers, admired yard art and ingenious tools, and occasionally just sat and watched the people walking by. H&M probably noticed and enjoyed what a variety of people there are in this world – or maybe, to them, one human looks very much like any other. When you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

Huginn and Muninn? The show featured lots of yard art. These crows were created by Gunther Reinmitz of Abraxas Crows. We had a wonderful conversation sharing news and views.
We were happy to hear that the trend in gardening is to use natural shrub plantings and fill in the spaces with flowers and vegies. Over and over again we heard about biodiversity – that a garden filled with a big variety of plants will create a healthy ecosystem that supports and corrects itself. Such a garden will provide a refuge for a multitude of critters, so necessary for spreading seeds and pollen and for enriching soil. Such a garden will nurture the world’s need for health, for food and for beauty. There will be bugs and slugs, but a balanced garden can handle the negatives.  I’m guessing that Huginn and Muninn liked that message: it speaks of a world where they can feel at home, not wondering if they are feeding their babies poisons; a world where there are tall trees to nest in, fresh water to drink, and clean air to fly through.

It occurs to me that what is good for Huginn and Muninn, what is good for tiny bugs and colourful blooms, what enriches and nourishes the soil, will be good for all of us, too. We benefit socially, spiritually, physically from tall trees and trickling brooks, from clean air and beauty and fresh food.

And like the organisms in a garden, we are all of us – noisy Seahawk fans and complaining billionaires, cranky retired folks on vacation, Olympians and ordinary people at the garden show, old crows flying around the world and pesky bugs chomping on our greenery -- interconnected. Our world is like a garden filled with a big variety of life. If we work together to create a healthy ecosystem, the world will be a refuge for a multitude of creatures. I’ll use what I’ve learned this week to work for such a world, because I dream of a time when Huginn and Muninn will be able to fly around such a world and bring back good news to the Creator of it all.

Cynthia St. Charles created this lovely piece. Although it's called Winter Birds, it suits my idea of a peaceable kingdom where there is a place for everyone. Check out more of this artist's work at

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Pass the Peace, Please.

Last Sunday morning, I knew I was in trouble when I read the headlines on the Globe and Mail website: “Peace doves set free from Pope’s window attacked by seagull, crow”.

Photo by Gregorio Borgia AP

The story continues: “Two white doves that were released by children standing alongside Pope Francis as a peace gesture [for the Ukrainian conflict] have been attacked by other birds. As tens of thousands of people watched in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, a seagull and a large black crow swept down on the doves right after they were set free from an open window of the Apostolic Palace. One dove lost some feathers as it broke free from the gull. But the crow pecked repeatedly at the other dove.”
Photo by Gregorio Borgia AP
This does not bode well for a blog named after the crow. My 14 readers were a bit dubious about crows, but were tentatively willing to reconsider the crow’s reputation as a bad, bad bird. Now they are going to abandon me in droves, telling each other, “I knew it!”  That leaves only my two  aunties in Ontario to keep on reading Crowdayone out of a sense of loyalty.  Oh, and maybe my sisters and my resident sweetie will stick by me. Please, dear readers, please read on and let me plead the crow’s case once more before you hit the delete button.

I could say that this was an Italian crow, and you know the Italian reputation for fiery and emotional displays. This crow was not attacking the dove, it was showing affection in the only way it knows how, by pecking. (A crow-style kiss for passing the peace, you might say.) Or  I could say that the crow, a great imitator, was only following the lead of the seagull. Not convinced?

Hmm. How about this: the crow is a member of the Swiss Guard that protects the Vatican; it’s a military crow on patrol, driving out invaders. Or, consider this: even a crow can get up on the wrong side of the bed, grumpy and irritated, and swatting at anything that gets in its way before it has had its first espresso. Maybe he had a fight with his wife or kids, and lashed out. The real crow is hiding inside this pugnacious one, the crow with the heart of gold who participates in peace marches all the time.

Nope. These excuses will not do. Actually, the crow was doing what its genes tell it to do: “Take measures to ensure you survive.” The crow is not a malicious, aggressive murderer by nature, but it does hurt and kill other birds at times to feed its babies, to protect its nest, or to make sure that other predators are not attracted to its nest. Crows are territorial animals, especially during nesting season.
Photo by Ron Austing
Crows also have long memories which they pass on to their offspring. Perhaps, long ago, a white bird harassed a baby crow in this particular crow’s family; now all white birds are guilty of harassment, and must be chased off. It may not be necessary, but then again, you never know. Better be safe than sorry. Only about half the nests successfully produce young, so mama and papa will do what they need to do to ward off threats, and to raise their young.

The crow’s bad boy behaviour reminds me again that there are many lessons I can learn from this animal. Friends have commented that I must really love crows. No, actually, I don’t love crows. Nor do I hate them. They just “are”, which is what they’re supposed to be doing in this world. And when I watch them and their behaviour, I see myself in a new light.

This crow’s behaviour reminds me that I too will do nasty things sometimes to protect what is precious to me. I am guilty of creating separations between “us” and “them” – people who look, act, and believe different things from me. I may not attack them physically, but I drive them away with my attitudes. We humans are prone to build fences around our physical, social and spiritual communities to keep out intruders and other “undesirables”. Sometimes, we create walls around our hearts that proclaim, “No Trespassing”, blocking out new ideas and resisting change, not realizing the damage we are inflicting on peace at home, peace between peoples, peace within ourselves. Although we are all one human family, we have a hard time making room for others in our lives.

Pope Francis released two doves as a peace gesture; the crow attacked one of them to ensure peace in its home territory. Ironic, isn’t it? We often work at cross-purposes with each other, each doing what we think is right, not realizing we are treading on someone else’s territory. We're all responsible in some way for peace in our world. As the song says, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."

What I’m hoping and praying for today is peace and harmony around the world, and peace to you, too, dear reader.

Crows at Peace, a piece I created recently while reflecting on the word "Serenity."