Saturday, 31 May 2014

Blog #49

This is blog number 49, and I have nothing to write about. So write about nothing, says the muse.

Well. Nothing is the absence of something. If I had something to write about, I wouldn’t be fretting about nothing, would I? But I dutifully troll the internet to see if I can find out something about nothing. Surprise! Google has lots of information about nothing, and it turns out that nothing is a very valuable thing to meditate on. Many people have, and have shared their thoughts with us. For instance...

"Nothing works unless you do." Maya Angleou.
From what I can gather, there are two schools of thought about nothing. Either nothing is very bad, or it is very good.

First, the bad news. The very sound of the word is empty. Nothing – literally, “no thing” – is a negative way of looking at things. The word doesn’t carry the rich sensory stimulation of words like chocolate, symphony, or lilac. “Nothing” doesn’t make your heart dance with delight.

And apparently, the worst thing you can do in a crisis is nothing, said Theodore Roosevelt. Making the wrong decision is better than making no decision. Personally, I’m not so sure of that. A lot of well-intentioned people run wildly off in all directions during a crisis, creating more problems. But I’m not Teddy Roosevelt, so what do I know? Nothing.

C.S. Lewis said that when “nothing” is equated with meaninglessness, the devil is at work. “Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man's best years, not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like ...” You get the picture. That kind of nothing is very bad, indeed. Avoid it like the plague.

But on the other side of the coin, there are others who praise “nothing”. Philosophers like Plato, Socrates, and writer Leo Tolstoy say that when we finally begin to understand that we know nothing, we begin to be wise. The older I get, the more I have to agree with these old guys. When I was younger, I thought I had all the answers. Now, I realize how wrong I was. Eventually, who knows, I may not know anything at all and then finally be considered very wise.

Back in the 50s, a wise man named Robert Smith wrote a great little book called “Where did you go? Out. What did you do? Nothing.” In it, he recounts the unstructured, undemanding days of his childhood in the 20s, when he could leave the house in the morning, play immies and mumbly-peg all day with kids on the street, and come home when the streetlights came on. It is a book in praise of nothing: no expectations, no grand goals like winning the soccer tournament, no parents supervising play dates, no hovering. I know, I know, times have changed (that’s a blog for another day), but the idea of having vast stretches of unstructured time is a valuable one, not only for children, but for adults as well. (And, by the way, the book is so beloved by boomers who read it when they were younger, it’s recently been reprinted. They want to give it to their overscheduled kids, I’m guessing.)

Anyone who has ever created anything knows how valuable “nothing” is. We need time to do nothing, so that inspiration can speak to us when we are finally listening. Ironically, this blog which I love to do so much, often fills my days with something, which when added to the anything and everything of every day life, leaves little time for nothing. That’s why, as you’re reading this, I will be sitting in our trailer at a campground at the ocean, doing nothing, all by myself.

Because this is blog 49, I only have three more blogs left to write to fulfill my commitment to write a blog a week that combines quilting and musings on life. Do I continue? Do I move on to something else? Some days I think I know the answer to that, but there are other days when I know nothing. And so my retreat will be a time to do nothing, to just be open, to listen. “What, you’re going to wait for the Almighty to tell you what to do?” asks a friend. Well, yes, I guess so, but since the Almighty isn’t a cosmic bellhop who you can order around, I am ready for the possibility of “hearing” nothing. The experience in itself will be good;  time, space, and freedom –  the by-products of nothing – are wonderful gifts for the questing soul.

I wrote about this mandala woman in my August 24 blog. She is coming along with me to my retreat. Perhaps I will finally finish her after 4 years of pondering! I hope so.
“Nothing, Everything, Anything, Something: If you have nothing, then you have everything, because you have the freedom to do anything, without the fear of losing something.” Jarod Kintz

Saturday, 24 May 2014

RX for Tired

This is the week after the month that was. And I am tired. It was a good month, full of good things like a trip, grandkids, quilt projects, the garden, social engagements, and everyday stuff. But now I find myself, temporarily, on a downslide. I am tired.

The resident sweetie has heard me whining about this all week long. Wisely he says, “You’ve been working hard on your quilts. Give yourself a break. Take it easy.” Then, whistling, he takes up his hoe and goes to the garden for his walkabout and his daily hoe-hoe-hoe exercise. He gets great pleasure out of decapitating those pesky weeds.

The garden in April, neat and tidy because you-know-who is taking good care of it.

I think he’s on to something. For him, this gardening work is mostly fun. He loses himself in the greenery, checking out his mason bee houses, the latest growth spurt of the potatoes, the taste of that one lonely asparagus spear waiting to be eaten. “Come on out,” he invites me. But when I go out, I only see seed packets waiting, tulips that are ready to be lifted, dahlias that are sprouting in the garage, crying out to be planted. There was a time when these tasks would make my heart sing, but the time is not now.

As I’m noodling my way through this downer, I think of something I’ve just watched on my computer, a live-streamed seminar on crows. Trust the crows to give me a message that I’m needing right now.  (You can watch it too, if you log onto

In this seminar, Dr. Kevin Mc Gowan, a Cornell University researcher, talks about basic crow personality. He says lots of people hate crows, citing what they believe to be true: crows eat baby birds, they destroy crops, they’re mean. He tells the true facts about each of these ‘myths’ – and then he says, “What’s not to love about these birds? They’re real party animals – they love beer and pizza! And have you ever watched them play?”

Ah, yes, play! Play is an important part of a crow’s life. Crows wind-surf in rising air currents, they play tug of war with each other, they slide down snowbanks on bottle lids, mischievously pull a dog’s tail and then run like mad just out of reach of his chain; they pull underwear off clotheslines, take sunbaths, swing upside down from a tree branch. They gather for parties, band together as a flash mob, and lure unwary dogs with fake whistles. All of these
 ways of playing and more have been documented on video or in scientific journals. (See, for instance, this 40 second clip of a crow in the snow: Crows also build nests, raise families, chase off predators, go grocery shopping, etc. – the normal stuff of a life –  but when they have an opportunity to play, they go for it.

And I realize that this joyful, carefree way of living is lacking in my life right now. We adults take life so seriously, don’t we? And that’s not always good. When we do play, it’s often planned: a fully booked holiday, an organized potluck, a competitive game of some kind that we hope we’ll win. Whatever happened to that inner child that used to laugh out loud at the craziest things, who went zooming down the hill on her bike with her heart in her throat, who played hide-and-go-seek in long grass, or danced with abandon?

Hmm. Speaking of dancing, there’s a family dance on Saturday afternoon sponsored by the school my grandchildren attend. Maybe I should go. The outer, responsible adult says to the inner child, “Oh, but, first you should do your gardening, and bake a cake for the potluck, and sweep the floor.” My inner child almost caves. And then she stamps her foot and says, “You’re not going to be the boss of me. I’m going!”
And I did -- that's me in the blue shirt, doing my do-si-do while the RS was doing his hoe-hoe-hoe.
“The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper,” said that cynic Bertrand Russell. My wits have grown dull and tired from too much should and ought. It is playtime. Will it matter so much if the flowers get planted on Monday instead of Saturday? Will someone trip over the dustbunnies gathering under the sofa? And if my cake comes from Superstore instead of my oven, will I die of shame? No, no, and yet again no.

One of the things I love about writing this blog is that I learn much that helps me work out a few kinks in my life. I figure if I have the kinks, somebody out there amongst my 14 readers must be afflicted too. And will my 14 readers be terribly disappointed if I don’t create a piece of art to illustrate this blog, just because I was busy playing?

I don’t think so!

In the interests of full disclosure, I must confess that I baked the cake, instead of buying it at Superstore. What can I say? The protestant work ethic ingrained within me doesn’t die easily. But the good news is, I licked the beaters and the bowl till my face was covered with the yummy batter. It’s progress, agreed?

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Anatomy of a Quilt

Almost any quilter will tell you that one of the pleasures of travel is exploring new quilt shops – checking out fabrics, new ideas and techniques, and samples other quilters have made.

But therein lies a problem. Most travelers have a partner, and often the partner doesn’t share their interest in poking around quilt shops. They’ll let you have the time it takes to drink a coffee and read the paper, but after that they get a little ... well, antsy is a euphemism for what I’d like to say. (Very few quilt shops are located beside a woodworking emporium, which could solve the problem, but did they ask me? No, they didn’t.)

So earlier this spring, when we visited Seattle, I found out that Pike’s Place Market in Seattle had a quilt shop. And Pike’s Place Market was just down the street from our hotel, and we had plans to visit it. Well now. I began to plot how I could visit it without breaching the peace with the resident sweetie.

“Oh, look,” I exclaimed as I innocently (to him) and purposefully (to me) led him through the halls. “A quilt shop! Wow! Who knew?” Actually, that’s not really what happened. The resident sweetie, I’m sure, knew what I was up to, and went along with it anyway. As I’ve said before, he is a keeper.

Undercover Quilts, the shop at Pike’s Place, knows about impatient travel partners. There’s a chair set up outside the door, just for such situations. Unfortunately it’s not very comfortable looking, nor does it come equipped with a TV tuned to a sports channel, with perhaps a beer on the side.

Sign says: Undercover Quilts Husband's Chair -- or disinterested Friend's or Family member's chair. We understand.

 So I went to Plan B: “Why don’t you come in for a minute with me? If you see a quilt you really, really like, I’ll make it for you.”

And that’s how I came to make my latest creation.

This is what Al saw, almost immediately. It's a quilt called Glacier, designed by Lisa Moore of Alaska.

I admitted it was beautiful. I did like it. And there was a pattern available that I could buy. But there were a few problems. First, it was the wrong size for any wall in our house. Second, the fabrics used in the original quilt were no longer available. And third, and most important, I don’t do patterns. I have never made a quilt from a pattern. I seem to be genetically incapable of following orders when it comes to quilt instructions. When I see something I like in a quilt shop, my first instinct is to make changes to it so it will become my own: change the colours, change the size, change the setting, add a few do-dads, and presto-changeo, it’s not a quilt you would recognize from the pattern you bought.

In case you think I’m dissing people who follow patterns, that is not the case. On the contrary: I admire them, and wish I had that ability. It would make life so much easier. But no, I need to do it the hard way. And so we bought the pattern (and a “few other things” while the RS occupied the husband’s chair, antsily.)

When I got home, I found out that a friend had actually made that very same pattern AND won a Viewer’s Choice award at the Victoria guild show. Big boots to fill, for sure. “The hardest part was attaching 300 Swarovski crystals to the quilt,” Joyanne admitted. 300 crystals? I hadn’t noticed that in the pattern. What had I gotten into?

I will spare  you many details of how the present quilt came to be. “Laws are like sausages,” said Otto Von Bismark. “You’re better off not watching them getting made.” Same goes for quilts. It’s not pretty: lots of trial and error. The mock-up hung on the design wall for weeks while I tried to figure out if I liked it or not. Then I began sewing, which meant lots of “unsewing” after I’d made big mistakes. Lots of asking friends for advice. Lots of hand-wringing and despair and crying on the RS’s shoulder when I was sure this was never going to work. But, hallelujah, it came together! Here are some photos of the process.

This is the mock-up that hung on my design wall for weeks, while I decided what needed to change before I sewed it together.   

After it was sewed together it needed a backing before I could quilt it. 

Then I had to sew on a facing and tack it down by hand.
Finally, I added a glacier -- somewhat like our beloved Comox Glacier -- between two peaks. It is finally finito!

This weekend, “Glacier View” has its big unveiling. It is hanging at the Schoolhouse Quilter’s Quilt Show. Viewers will see both my quilt and Joyanne’s made from the same pattern. The same pattern, different look and results. Just like people!

And that’s the way it should be, shouldn’t it?

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Crow on the Go in the Garden

The crow that lives in my garden has been pestering me lately to let her write another column. It's true that her last column, Crow in the Snow, was popular with the masses, and so I decided to take a break and play with my grandkids while she sweats it out at the computer. Here's what she has to say:

I've been out in the spring garden thinking about life. You may think I'm just a birdbrain, but listen up. There may be some good lessons to be learned in a spring garden.

1.  There's nothing like a little shake-up to beat the "same-old same-old blues" Last fall the Mr. and Mrs. that live here divided this pink bleeding heart in half, and now it's twice as big as it was last year. Shake-ups promote growth. That's worth singing about, I say.

By the way, I read in one of the Mrs.' posts that she wasn't sure that crows sing. Well! I'm insulted. Give a listen to this:
Not only do we sing, but we compose our own music. So there.

2. Don't hang on to dead stuff for old time's sake. It doesn't look pretty. Dead is dead -- plants, ideas, attitudes, even sometimes long-cherished pet beliefs. If it's not working for you, ditch it and start again.

3. Beauty in before beauty out. Basking in beauty will fill you up with good things -- then, you can give stuff away to the world.

4. The dining table may be the most important piece of furniture you have. (My friends and family agree.)

 5. Independence is good, but we all need something to cling to for support at some times in our lives. And when we're young, we're especially vulnerable. So take good care of the little things, and you'll be feasting on the fruits of your care (in this case, peas) before you know it.

6. Speaking of fruit, all the fruit of tomorrow is in the flowers of today.

7. If it comes from your own garden, almost anything tastes good. Even kale.

8. Everyone needs hydration, both physically and spiritually. ( I know I've said that before, but I think it's important enough to say again.)

9. Life's too short to fold lingerie. I didn't learn that lesson in the garden, however. One day I was whining to my partner Bub that I had more important things to do than fold his skivvies. He looked at me like I was a few feathers short of a wing, and said, "Then don't! Throw 'em in the drawer and be done with it." Well! That was easy. I figure I've saved myself dozens of hours of pointless work since then. If you like folding underwear, be my guest. But if not, take a cue from Bub.

10. I know life for you humans is busy, but you need to play every day. We crows do. Right now I'm playing hide and seek in the garden. Can you find me? (See, I tricked you into playing Where's Crowdo, just like that. It's easy to play...try it, you'll like it.)

 Over to you, Mrs.

Good job, Crow!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

What's Your Sign?

These days, signs are sprouting up all around town, almost as thick as the dandelions and just as bright and cheerful. “Pack a lunch for the homeless” says one that’s tacked up on a post on the main street. “Be kind!” says another. And all along the estuary, the intertidal area that connects the Courtenay River to the ocean, about 10 child-made signs are tacked to telephone poles, urging us to work together to protect this precious and vulnerable piece of our environment. The last three signs show that these kids know their manners: "The fish and animals thank you"; "Mother Earth thanks you"; and "We thank you."

The signs remind me of the song “Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs” which was popularized by Canadian rock group Five Man Electrical Band in 1970. It was a protest song against the power of the Establishment, an anthem for the counter-cultural hippie movement, which sprouted numerous signs of its own to protest the powers that be. (You can listen to the song, which features a slide show of interesting signs, at

Young people of that day, and some older ones too, cared deeply about what was happening to their world, and they often marched with signs as a way of raising awareness of big issues: the war in Vietnam, feminism, racial equality, and  materialism to name just a few.

The sixties and seventies were turbulent eras which saw tremendous social change. It wasn’t just the signs that brought about changes however. St. Francis once said,  “It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless your preaching is your walking.” People who matched their words with actions worked hard, and we benefit from some of those changes today. (Not all the changes were good, of course, but that’s a story for another day.)

Today, it appears, a new generation of young folk are trying to raise awareness of  issues in a gentler, kinder way. Every Sunday, when we drive along the estuary to church, we’re reminded by those signs (placed there by our grandson’s class at Saltwater School, it turns out) of the need to care for our environment. Almost invariably it leads to a continuation of the conversation we’ve been having lately.

This conversation revolves around the question, “What should WE be doing?” The resident sweetie just celebrated another birthday. Birthdays are reminders – big time, at our age – of how the clock of life is ticking and running down. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. We won’t have a chance to rewind that clock either. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock....

Are there still some tasks left to do that are marked with our names? In our younger years, we set out with great gusto to conquer the world, or at least establish careers, raise families, establish financial security for old age. We had our marching orders. But now, we’ve been cut loose. So what are we doing? Just putting in time till the last tick-tock? I don’t think so – I hope not!

I love this quote by Ray Bradbury from his book Fahrenheit 451: “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

The signs along the estuary are good: our grandson’s class is urging us to follow our hearts and leave this world a better place for those who come after us. I hope the children are also walking their talk, putting actions to their words. And I hope we can walk alongside of them, working together for change.

We can’t change the whole world, but we can change one little thing, and then another, and another... Whatever it is that we think may be worth carrying a sign for – attitude changes, the homeless, the marginalized poor, the environment, clean water, politics, whatever it is that may have your name on it – we can post our own signs which the next generation can read in the things we left behind.

The clock is ticking. What's your sign?