Saturday, 29 March 2014

Finished? Not Yet...

I was surfing through the web when a blog title caught my eye: The Unfinished Project Project. The writer intended to blog about finishing up her UFOs (unfinished objects). However, she hadn’t posted since 2013, so I’m thinking that she now has another UFO to add to her Unfinished Project Project.

And who am I to scoff at that? Not me. I’m the queen of UFOs. A quick check of my cabinets shows quite a number of antique quilt tops that I rescued at thrift stores. “Come with me, you beautiful things,” I tell them, “I’ll take you home and finish you.” I will finish them...some day.

And then there’s the half-done crazy quilt I started in 2011. My intention was to do one block a month to document the year. I have six blocks done. (I have all the journalling notes, so I do intend to finish it. Some day.)

I have clothes I bought that just need the hemline changed. Cookbooks I bought because I want to try those wonderful new dishes. Boxes of dishes and knicknacks wrapped in newspaper, put down in the crawl space after our move in 2007, just waiting till I get around to sorting them out and deciding what’s worth keeping.

And more. Lately, I’ve been so beseiged by anxiety about all the half-done stuff cluttering up my psyche, that I decided to get professional help. I paid a visit to trusty Dr. Google. “Why do I have so many unfinished projects?” I asked.

“Mmm,” said Dr. G. “I have the same problem. Maybe it’s because ...” 

Well, thanks a lot for that.

Some experts suggest we start things but never finish them because we have Attention Deficit Disorder, which seems to escalate as we age. For instance, we’re doing dishes, but need a tea towel. We go to pull one out of the dryer, then notice the clean sheets in there and remember that the bed needs to be made. So we make the bed, and it looks so nice and cozy, maybe we’ll lay down on it for just a little rest. When we awake hours later, we discover the sink full of dirty dishes. Oh, but we need a clean tea towel for that...

Some folks suggest we don’t finish things because we’re afraid of failure. Or we bite off more than we can chew, so we quit when we see the impossibility of the task. Or we get too fussy and it’s never good enough to meet our criteria. All good reasons, but not the cause of my unfinished projects.

I think I found the cause of my problem in a recent post by a Facebook friend. The graphic says, “Having a creative mind is like having a computer with 2,345 tabs open All The Time.” There are many days when all those tabs are blinking and waving to get my attention. So I plunge right in, but suddenly, a new creative idea appears, and it’s too good to turn down. Strike while the iron’s hot, I say, and off I go madly in all directions. And the UFOs pile up.

Apparently, I’m not the only one. Michelangelo, Donatello, and other artists who chipped heads out of blocks of marble but didn’t get around to carving the body before rushing away to follow the next big idea, came up with a novel name for a whole category of their projects: “non finito” – literally meaning that the work is unfinished. It’s like they’re saying, “It’s the way it’s supposed to be for now. It’s not unfinished, it’s non finito. I’ll get around to finishing it... some day.”

I guess if I wanted to get rid of my creative brain, I could stock up on Valium. But that would sure take the fun out of life, and take the “me” out of me. I realize I am a reflection of the original Creator, who is still working at finishing Creation.

I am, and you are, the Creator’s original Unfinished Project Project. We’re works in progress: non finito, the way we’re supposed to be. For now.

PS: On further reflection I realize that I get my projects done when I set myself a deadline. I know I must post a blog every Sunday, and I do. This week, our Small Worx art quilt group was meeting to show our personal version of a pear, based on the style of another artist or art style. Although I’ve known about this for several months, I didn’t get started till Monday. I am happy to say it was “finito” by Thursday. Here’s my version of a pear, based on the black velvet painting style, with a tip of the hat to pop art.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

California Dreaming

It started rather innocently. I hung up the phone after chatting with a friend, which led to the following conversation with the resident sweetie:
Me:  They’ve sure been doing a lot of traveling. Why are we just sitting here? We should be up and outing, too.
RS: Hmpf. I’m happy at home.
Brooding silence.
Me: Well, I’m ready for a winter break. I should just go with Jonathan (#3 son, who was planning on going to San Francisco to take a 5 day course in a few weeks.) He’s still looking for a driving partner. I could go with him and find lots to do for 5 days in San Francisco by myself.
RS: Well, yes, I guess you could do that...
Brooding silence.
RS: But then when you were gone, I’d be wondering why I hadn’t gone, too.
Me: Well, okay, if you want, you can come too.

Jonathan thought it was a great idea, and before we knew it, we were committed. (Maybe some people were thinking we should have been committed: “Four days of driving for 5 days of vacation? With your son? Are you crazy?”) But we did it anyway. The drive was long, but interesting.  After a day spent exploring the city of San Francisco together, we dropped off Jono at his course, and we set out on our own Excellent Adventure.

We’d been to California before, back in 1972. On that trip, we were as naive as a pair of freshly hatched ducklings who escaped the nest. We set out to see what we could see, no reservations anywhere, no guidebook, no plans. It was a wonderful trip, in spite of running out of money and having to go home early. The joy of the journey made up for the realities that limited our experiences.

You’d think after 42 years of marriage, we would know each other well enough to plan a seamless trip this time around. But we’re still learning things about each other...and that’s another journey. On this trip, I realized again that I am an adventurer who is always eager to see what is around the next corner. On my trips, both physical and mental, I need to leave room for the unexpected. The resident sweetie, on the other hand, has the instincts of a homing pigeon: he enjoys the journey, but he wants to plot things out and know the end point. This, as you can imagine, sometimes leads to “interesting” conversations which I will not share here. (A new phrase in our relationship, now that I sometimes write about him in the blog, is: “This is off the record.”)

Suffice it to say, we decided that each of us would get alternate days to choose itineraries. His included Point Reyes National Seashore and Point Lobos Marine Reserve. Mine included art galleries, historic sites, and impromptu stops at thrift stores. (I’ve decided that thrift stores feed my need for adventure: you never know what treasures you’ll find.) In the interests of marital harmony, I omitted quilt shops ... well, mostly, anyway!
We had a wonderful time! I saw some things I wouldn’t have seen if he’d not been along to show them to me.

Elephant seals and their pups on the beach at Point Reyes National Seashore
 And vice versa.

"Entangled", a piece of work by Elizabeth Dekker exhibited at the Repo Show put on by the Art Guild of Sonoma. All work in the show was constructed from recycled items. Of course, the crow caught my eye.
When others enrich our lives by sharing what's important to them, everyone wins.

We decided that in some ways we hadn’t changed much since that first California trip. We still like to find picnic sites just off the road and share deli food for lunch. We’re still a little naive and simple in our expectations, and hope we always will be. We still are excited when serendipity happens: monarch butterflies flutter under the trees around our cabin, or sea otters appear in the water, or a local art gallery features work that makes us smile. In other ways, we are very different from those naive ducklings 41 years ago. This time we planned ahead, came equipped with GPS and a guidebook, and booked our lodgings. And we both agreed we’re much more comfortable in our own skins, have grown up a little – but have a ways to go! – and realize how incredibly grateful we are to have these times together.

So, as I’m writing this, we are at our last stop before we head back home. It’s a small complex called Bide-A-Wee Inn and Cottages just a block away from the ocean in Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula. It looks just like it sounds – a cute set-up with little cabins, trees, picnic tables, flowers and sitting areas. Not at all Hollywood hype. We pulled up to our cabin, and, true to form, I was in a rush to check out what kind of room was behind this new door. But Al wasn’t with me.  I looked out the window, and there sat my resident sweetie, already very comfortable in an Adirondack chair under the trees.

“Hey,” he said when I joined him. “I like it here. This is the best place we’ve been. It feels like home.”

Friday, 14 March 2014

As the Crow Flies

What are you afraid of?

That’s the question I asked myself when I was invited to take a flight in a small –  in fact, minuscule  –  airplane recently. Or maybe it would be a helicopter. My initial reaction was, “Aghghg!”

It got me thinking about my fears, and checking out fear in general. There are the common, garden-variety fears: spiders, snakes, and thunderstorms, for instance. There are others that people may not be aware of, but which impact their lives anyway: fear of commitment, intimacy, and rejection. There are very strange and particular fears, with their own strange and particular names: trypanophobia (fear of needles), mysophobia (fear of germs) and – don’t read this if you are afraid of long words –  hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (yes, you guessed it, that’s fear of long words.)

It’s hard to believe, but some people, thanks to Alfred Hitchcock,  are afraid of crows. That’s called corvophobia. And what are crows afraid of? Since they are so sassy and brash, you might be tempted to say that crows are afraid of nothing, but that may not be true. The Great Horned Owl is Enemy #1 on the corvid Most Wanted List. And crow just may be Choice #1 on the Great Horned Owl’s Most Wanted for Supper List. If I were a crow, I’d be scared silly of the owl, constantly looking over my wing to make sure no owl was following me. I’d have fear of owls: oclophobia.

Great Horned Owl Quilt by Barbara Strobel Lardon
So how do crows handle this fear? Fortunately, crows do not have ligyrophobia – fear of loud noises. Nor do they have enochlophobia – fear of crowds. In other posts, I’ve written about the many ways crows can communicate with each other, and also about how they band together in family groupings. When a crow spots danger in the area, she calls for help, and responders add their voices to the call. Soon the air is filled with raucous distress signals. Then, together, they go on the attack. This behaviour is called mobbing. They gang up and bully that poor old owl until it gives up and flees the ‘hood. It turns out that owls have ligyrophobia, enochlophobia, and corvophobia, especially in the daytime when their sight is very poor. One crow versus a Great Horned Owl = disaster. Many crows versus the owl = OwlBGon. And a good by-product of mobbing is that you can safely teach your crow babies to face their fears. Calling for help, knowing your family has your back covered, and acting as a group are  strong weapons to combat oclophobia.
So how did I cope with my pteromerhanophobia, otherwise known as a fear of flying? I took a lesson from the crows. (I do not have sophophobia – fear of learning.) The invitation for taking a flight came from my grandchildren – they’d heard about an organization, Women of Aviation, that was offering free flights to girls and women on the weekend I would be visiting. Would I like to sign up with them? I took a deep breath and said yes. It helped to know that I would be part of a group that including three beautiful grandgirls, as well as my beautiful daughter and daughter-in-law. My daughter-in-law confessed that she too was scared. Both of us, however, talked a good line about going on an awesome adventure just in case the girls got cold feet (ha! as if!). Share the fear and talk big – not a bad way to cope.

We got to the Langley airfield and found hundreds of girls and women lining up for this awesome adventure. We were – tee-hee – mobbing the airfield. I’m guessing that there were many others there who were being brave in the face of pteromerhanophobia, but there’s strength in numbers. Many of the women wanted to show their girl children that the world was a grand place to experience adventure.

Here we are, walking towards our helicopter. Daughter Danielle was sick and missed the adventure.

There were five tiny airplanes and five helicopters lined up on the runway. We ended up in a big black helicopter that seated 6. It WAS the awesomest adventure, as you can see by our facial expressions. Wow!! Wow! And WOW again!

My granddaughter Karina is sitting in the co-pilot's seat behind me. Lucky girl even got to push some buttons.

"Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts...."
-- Marianne Williamson

For more information about this experience, and about Women of Aviation, check out

These 2 links have interesting real-life reports and pictures of crows mobbing an owl:

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Who we were, who we are

Oh, the 60s! Remember?
For more vintage ads, check out
I entered high school in 1961, a naive, eager-to-please girl. When I graduated from grade 13 five years later, I was a naive, eager-to-please girl, only 5 years older. When I saw ads like this, I didn’t bat an eye – of course, some day, I wanted my husband to adore me and admire my homemaking skills. Who wouldn’t?

We’ve come a long way, baby, but it wasn’t because of me. I continued my After high school, I continued my education in Michigan. American colleges in the 60s were hotbeds of cultural revolution, but I missed it all – the peace marches, the burn-your-bra rallies, the consciousness-raising discussion groups. When I graduated in ‘69, I was still naive and eager-to-please, only a few years older. Perhaps a little more aware that I had choices that a previous generation of women may not have had. But radical? No way – you could bet your sweet bippie on that.

"Anxiety Won" by Ginny Smith, a quilt artist who says, "I draw upon the natural world and the myths, legends and folktales we have devised to explain that world. I especially like to make use of birds, appointing them the representatives of the natural world."
I like this piece of quilt art by Ginny Smith. “Teetering on the edge of chaos, the anxious flock seeks refuge in traditional values” it says. When society goes through enormous changes, as it did in the 60's, our tendency may be to “take refuge” in the certainty of the status quo – anything is better than not knowing what is going to happen next. While I was aware of the changes, I only took a few baby steps into this new world of equality, then hurried back to safety.

And then there was Ana. Two more different women than Ana Miriam Leigh and I you would have had a hard time finding. If I was a mousy grey crow, she was a flaming red one.

Ana grew up on in Virginia, and she was a firecracker. She embraced change passionately; she marched, she burned bras, she protested, and when things got dicey she and her husband escaped to Canada, settling in a hippy colony on Denman Island. Ana married twice, had three children, danced and sang and tied herself to trees during the Clayocquot protests against logging, and in general made a great nuisance of herself to the powers that be, especially if it involved an underdog. She was constantly questioning, constantly rebelling, always stretching to figure out what would be the next big thing she could get into.

I met Ana at a week-long memoir-writing workshop. She entered late, trailing scarves and other bits of wardrobe, her greyed curly hair flying all over. The room felt more vibrant with her arrival. We read pieces of our writing aloud to each other. My  memoir centred on my early childhood in an immigrant family and the religious traditions that were important to us. She wrote about her Southern Episcopalian upper middle class home, and how she couldn’t wait to get away. After the workshop, some of us, including Ana, decided to stick together as a writing group. I wondered if we could last – after all, what did we have in common?

I sure had a lot to learn, and Ana taught me well. What we had in common was that we were women, struggling with many of the same issues: aging, choosing priorities, being at peace with ourselves and the world, finding a way to contribute our hard-won wisdom in a society that practices ageism. Ana listened as I read aloud my pieces about trying to shed my ‘need to please’ skin, and she cheered me on. I listened as she wrote about the steep price she paid for being such a rebel – and I affirmed her wonderful gifts. I learned that our differing responses to the changes in our world back in the 60s  had both good and bad consequences for each of us. Now here we were together, bravely forging on.

Ana died one year ago on International Woman’s Day, March 8. We think she was determined to make it to that day. A month before she died, terminally ill with cancer, she still decided to march in an Idle No More parade to promote aboriginal causes. Her memorial gathering became a celebration of a life that had ended too soon, yet impacted so many people. We danced, we ate, we drank, we laughed and cried, and we were thankful.

The writing group she left behind decided to write a tribute to Ana as a way of healing. Because I express myself not only through words, but also through quilting, I created ... what else? ... a red crow. We love and miss you, Ana, but your voice and your message continue in our lives and in our writing.
I've embellished this piece with many symbols of Ana's interests and contributions: dancing slippers and musical notes, flowers and trees, gardening, a fairy (she believed in them!), a wheel of life, and the words "Be Here Now." The crows at the bottom of the picture represent us, and Ana would tell us: "Don't just sit there, do something. Be here! Now!"

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Of Dreams and Dormancy

This is the second part of the story of my quilting journey.
The snowdrops were blooming, the daffodils were peeking out of the dirt, and we were all geared up for spring. Then it snowed for three solid days. Our yard is back to being white and lifeless, and we’ll have to wait a little longer before we can celebrate.

This waiting is hard. It reminds me a little of life, and the false starts, the stops and pauses, the delays we experience in our pursuit of dreams.

Last week I began the story of my quilting journey. At age 40, I made my first quilt. Life was filled with good things: career, children, marriage, an interesting community life and various involvements. Quilting was one of those good things. I loved creating bed quilts, banners for church seasons, small wall hangings and gifts.

But there came a time when I realized that while I’d been busy, life had gone ahead and shifted beneath my feet. The kids left home, my career was winding down, and the resident sweetie decided to take early retirement. My inner life was shifting too: at a time when I thought I should have accumulated a store of life wisdom, I was left with more questions than ever. Life was changing like the seasons; while I wasn’t looking, summer had turned to autumn.

It was time to refocus, to figure out the answer to “what’s next?” In my first post on this blog (June 30, 2013), I wrote about that – how Al and I set off on a camping trip down the West coast, which I decided would also be a “vision quest” of sorts. I would  journal, read, pray, think, ask big questions, and keep my ears and my heart open as I set off in search of a new dream. Almost immediately, in a small art gallery, I found a painting of a woman who was me! (She even had my lumpy, bumpy back and big bottom.) I bought it and set it up in the trailer. She appeared to be, like me, gazing into an unknown future.

Untitled watercolour by Cheryl Ruehl, purchased at the Yakima Bay Art Association gallery in Newport Oregon.
Weeks went by, but no answers came. Waiting is hard. Dormancy is hard. It looks like nothing is happening. Like my back yard, the beginnings of new growth are buried and all appears dead.

On that trip, I resolved some important issues, but I couldn’t find the answer to “what’s next?” Just when I’d decided my vision quest was fruitless, the answer was given to me. (I can’t explain this, I just accept it gratefully.) I would devote my energies to a project that combined my loves of writing and quilting to communicate my passion for personal and spiritual growth. What would that project would look like? A book? A stunning quilt? A book with quilted pictures illustrating my thoughts on important issues for women? I didn’t know the specifics, but I knew with deep certainty that somehow, somewhere, this would happen. This is how dreams are born.

When I look back, I am astonished by the audacity of this dream. I was a woman who had never taken a quilting course, who had no degree in women’s studies, who wasn’t well connected in either the writing or quilting world. There was no leg-up or tie in with my career.  What possesses such a woman to believe she can do such a thing? And yet, there it was: a vision of a better future that I believed would be mine some day.

Between the time that a dream is born, and the time that it comes to reality, there may be a long time, again, of dormancy and waiting, with just a few glimpses of the future glimmering on the horizon.  One of those glimpses came almost immediately when we visited a quilt museum in La Conner, Washington, where I saw my first issue of a magazine called Quilting Arts. It was as though a thousand volts of electricity zapped my circuits: wow! Wow! WOW! This was quilting of a whole different kind, using fabrics and fibres to make beautiful pieces of art. “I want to do that!” I breathed. It was a prayer as much as a wish. Here was the next step I would have to take in my quilting journey to make my dream come true.

I didn’t know then how much more waiting I would have to do before I finally began working on my dream – 7 years of stops and starts and pauses, of dormancy, and a winter storm or two, but you are reading the fruition of a dream right now. To you, it may be just another blog; to me, it is the fulfillment of a dream. And it fills me with joy to be able to do this.

In the meantime, I’m aware that my life is moving on from autumn into winter. I do not know about the “what’s next?” after this. But I trust that there are more seeds planted in my life garden, probably hiding under the snow, but ready to burst into life when the time comes.

Who knows what the Creator of Life Gardens has in store for us?

I have chosen a piece of fibre art by Lorraine Roy to illustrate my thoughts. Lorraine has created this piece in support of A Rocha, a Christian environmental organization. 10 artists will be displaying works in support of A Rocha at Carnegie Gallery in Dundas Ontario March 7-30. For more information see "Upcoming Events" on Lorraine's web page at

Fencerow #1 by Lorraine Roy.