Saturday, 30 August 2014

Evolution of a dummy

See that photo of me illustrating this blog? That’s me before I got smart. As the sayings go: “We get too soon old and too late smart” and its corollary, “Better late than never,” I have seen the light, and I am dumb no more.  I have stepped into the world of smart – the world of smart phones, that is.

Yes, now I have joined the hordes of people who walk down crowded sidewalks with their eyes focused on their hands, rudely bumping into people because the message they’re getting from their friend who’s waiting for them in the coffee shop (“I C U!”) is more important than anything else in the universe. I could become one of those nasty folks who conduct business discussions on a park bench right next to you (“Well sir, we’ll match Joe’s price on that flooring, no problem.”) Worse, the RS and I could become one of those sad couples who sit across from each other in a lovely restaurant, texting each other about the menu offerings or checking our e-mail while we’re waiting for the prime rib.

Can you tell that I am not wholly convinced about how smart it was to get ourselves one of these phones? Culture watchers tell us that in every crowd there are early adopters (EAs) of technology – the ones who are first with all the newest doodads and gimcracks. I, on the other hand, am a late adopter (LA). Very late (VLA). I remember when the RS had received a windfall around Christmas time back in 1984, and he decided we needed a computer. I decided we did not. I had a typewriter to write with, and lots of board games to play with, so why did we need a computer? He bought the computer. I was mad. I bought a microwave in retaliation. Oh, let’s not get into that. He was right. I was right. (Actually, the Quasar microwave lasted way longer than the Commodore 64, but that’s another story.)

So with my mixed feelings about this technology, why do it? We already have cell phones. True, they don’t dance and sing, allow for texting, take pictures, or even flip open. They are what one patronizing salesman called  “mercy phones” – we bought them for distressing situations, such as calling home from the grocery store to find out if we need mushrooms (the RS) or (me) calling home to say I’ll be late – again, sighs the RS.

But we know that the times, they are a-changing. I remember the first phone our family had: a box on the wall with crank, which you turned when you wanted to make a call; you spoke into the receiver on the box, and held the ear piece to your ear. You told the operator who you wanted to talk to. And no, I am not 100 years old. We shared the phone with about 4 other families on our party line, who often knew more about us than we did, because they listened in on every conversation, and sometimes interrupted to give advice. Phones back then were often lifelines in isolated situations. They let people know they could reach out to others.

When we moved from the farm to an apartment in town, we had no phone for a few years, but in special situations we were allowed to use one that belonged to kindly old folks downstairs. Then, in 1956, we moved into our own home, and shortly thereafter we got our own phone, too. I can still remember the excitement of memorizing my phone number (Lennox 7-7778). The phone was a big deal because now we could call our family in Holland, but only for 3 minutes at a time, since it was so expensive. The date and time of the impending call was set up ahead of time through letters, and my two aunties and families came to share in the chat, which hardly gave anyone any time at all to say anything more than hello, but hey! For an hour afterwards my two aunts and mom would sit around deconstructing the conversation: – Moeke sounds tired. Vader says the weather is rainy. Didn’t the twins sound grown up? It was really about hearing their voices, and about staying in touch. Gathering around the phone was an opportunity to strengthen family and community bonds, and rightly used, it still is.

The precipitating cause of our buying smart phones is an upcoming trip to the southern states which will allow us to text or call our family more often. The RS and I are having fun: which ring tone will I install so I’ll know it’s the RS calling – how about Jim Croce’s tune  “I just called to say I love you”? Which photo of my dear man will I put into the address book –  a cartoon of Goofy? I ditched that idea quickly when he caught me in the buff scrubbing the toilet and ran for his cell phone/camera. We called a truce. Don't press, tap. Don't tap when the phone rings -- swipe. Sigh. I have so much to learn. But really, whether it’s letters, e-mail, facebook, Twitter, dumb phones or smart phones and even blogging, it’s all about keeping in touch with each other. It’s a brave new world out there, but to live is to learn. So I will raise a toast to life and move on.

Why not pick up the phone – smart or dumb, who cares? – talk to someone, and say, “I just called to say I love you”?
As usual, I turned to my fabric to help me make peace with my new phone, and this is the result. I dipped into my collection of buttons and fibres to connect the dots – buttons and fibres are used to hold things together, and as this art piece illustrates, when we all reach out to each other we create wonderful webs of relationships. We are not alone!    

Saturday, 23 August 2014

In Praise of Back Sides

I’m sitting here in the trailer, looking out at the ocean on the last day of our camping sojourn at Seaview. It seems like yesterday that we were setting up camp. The view was to the future. Now, these four weeks belong to the past.

And so I’m thinking of back sides. Let me reassure you I’m not thinking of anatomical back sides, although we did do plenty of sitting on them – it’s one of the benefits of vacations. What I’m ruminating on is the fact that sometimes, when one is in the middle of a busy, eventful time, it is hard to really appreciate the good stuff as it is happening. That’s what back sides are for.

In the middle of the  hubbubzzlam of our recent family campout, I was carried along on a rushing current, moving from outing to outing, crisis to crisis, decision to decision, mealtime to mealtime. It was great, but phew! I was sad/happy when it was over: sad because I knew I’d miss the family, happy because this tumbling whirlpool of activity had finally spit me out the back side, and I was once again in calm water. In the quietness, I could say with heartfelt honesty, “That was good, very, very good.”

After everyone had left, and I’d gotten accustomed to the stillness, I pulled out my unfinished “Flowers of my Summer Garden” piece and puttered about with it, adding something called a flange (a narrow inner border) and a border. It was done!

The flowers are hanging on the design wall in my studio. The piece still needs to layered and quilted.

But it needed a back side. I joked to the resident sweetie that this might be an excuse for another fabric shopping trip. He sniffed but he knows enough by now to not say a whole lot about that. Then I realized I had a lot of leftovers from the front side –  perhaps I could create something with those bits and pieces: a designer back side. (Stop giggling and get that image out of your mind. I’m serious.) The picnic table became my work table once again, and off I went into creativity mode. Oh, it was fun! This was turning out to be another arty piece. When I was finished, this is what it looked like:

This experience has given me a new appreciation for back sides. Back sides come in many shapes (really – my tongue is not in my cheek): a back side could be the bookend to the main event, the reverse side of the coin or the quilt, the afterglow of a great get-together, the debriefing after a finished project, the memoir writing of a life. The back side can be as good and as interesting as the view from up front.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago, when I wrote a piece about my dad for the writing group I belong to. My dad and I had long period in our lives when we did not see eye-to-eye. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to write about that. And besides, my dad had written his own memoir, giving his version of his life. But when I began writing about him, as I remembered him, it didn’t look a lot like his memoir at all. I had a different perspective. The pieces were there, but I rearranged them, and in so doing I caught a new glimpse of my dad. Looking through the back side of our relationship gave me a new appreciation of what a good father he’d been to us.

Back sides give us a new view – turn it over, turn it around,  look through the wrong end of the binoculars, and you will see something different than what you saw before.  And as I discovered with “Flowers of the Summer Garden”, you really don’t need new fabric to create a back side. What you have in your life already is great raw material for your needs. The back side has bits and pieces of the experience, rearranged for a new enriched viewing pleasure.

And there's one more thing about back sides: they are already present in the seeds and raw material of the here and now that you are living through. We were more than reminded of that when we got back home and saw the state of our garden. All those little seeds we planted in the bare earth last spring have grown up and are giving us a totally different view in the yard. We had to do a bunch of chopping, pruning, and harvesting before we could see the beauty, but it was there. It's something to think about as we live our lives, planting seeds of joy or anger, love or indifference, care or thoughtlessness in our daily relationships. When we reach the back side of our life, what picture will we see?

I’ve come to the back side of the blog. When I told the resident sweetie  I was writing about  “In praise of back sides,” he observed,  “Well, as we get older, there’s a lot more to praise.” (Okay, now you can laugh!)

Saturday, 16 August 2014

View from the Back Seat

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we took camping vacations with the kids when they really were kids, not adults: Ma and Pa in the front seats, kids tumbling about in the back (this was in the dark ages, when mandatory car seats for children had not been invented, and seat belt laws were oh-so-lax.) I remember one memorable cross-country trip when the three boys lolled about on the bed in the back of the van, reading comics, while their baby sister slept on the floor under the bed with the dog so she was safe from her brothers’ trampling feet. Guardian angels must have been working overtime to ensure our safe travels.

Well, times have changed along with seat-belt laws. Earlier this week, we were spending a vacation day on the road with the kids, only this time ma and pa were in the back seat while son #2 was at the wheel and his sister was in the passenger seat. “Everybody buckled in?” asked the driver solicitously, glancing back before he pulled out. Oh, yes, times have marched on, and we are gradually finding ourselves more and more often traveling in the back seat, not only on the road, but also in life.

The resident sweetie and I have been commenting to each other that  we are in danger of  becoming the old people we used to joke about (gently, of course): the folks whose meal times are regulated by their meds schedule; the ones who enjoy giving “organ recitals” when asked how they’re doing; (“well, the gall bladder’s been acting up again, but the bowels are doing well, thanks for asking.”); the folks who enjoy a little naptime after their lunch, and pull on a jacket and toque as they’re sitting around the campfire with their shorts-clad barefooted grandkids.

Oh, yes, we’re guilty of some of these foibles – perhaps not all the time, but too often.  Where did the time go, and how did we get like this?

On the other hand, there are some wonderful things about being in the back seat, if only we can let go of the things we used to be responsible for. For me, that's a big if, but I'm learning. We’ve just finished ten days of camping and rumbling about with our children and grandchildren – at one point there were four tents and one trailer at the campsite, and often 14 diners were seated around the picnic table. I tried to think of a word that would describe the sometimes confusing, often funny , totally haphazard, mostly impromptu and unplanned time we had together, and came up with “hubbubzzlam” – a hybrid of hubub, buzz, and bedlam, but bathed in warmth and grace.

More and more, the RS and I let it all happen; trying to organize and plan our time is only an exercise in frustration with so many variables to include. We’re not driving this vehicle anymore; our adult kids are taking the wheel, and they are doing a great job. We won’t get to drink our morning coffee in peace, but we will have the pleasure of five granchildren straggling one by one into the trailer and having a little visit with Oma and Opa. They eat their “first breakfast” with us, perhaps play a board game, then head off for a beach ramble while the adults cook a bigger second breakfast (which they also are happy to consume.)

 And if we don’t get an after-lunch nap, it’s because we are standing by the river cheering on our youngest grandboy while he pulls in a nice-sized salmon.

We sit around the campfire for a while with everyone, then yawn and head for bed while plans are being made for a board game which will be played into the wee hours of the morning. We are tuckered out – but it is a good tuckered.

But you can be an active participant in life even if you are moving into the backseat, I’ve discovered. You don’t have to just sit and watch the world go by. When we take the children mini-golfing, we realize the outing is not about keeping score, but about the afterglow party at the end, where we sit together and joke and share stories. (When her daddy asks 4 year old Aerin whether she enjoyed golfing, she says, “Oh, yes, I just love the mint and chocolate chip ice cream. It is the best!”)

Later, eavesdropping on their conversation, we hear what they like about being with Oma and Opa:  Opa makes them laugh and Oma spoils them and snuggles with them. You can’t get much higher praise then that, in my opinion. We aren’t taking the business world by storm, nor writing an award-winning novel, but we have our own spot in the universe that is making a difference for someone, and isn’t that where we’d all like to be?

Letting go and accepting our new roles is a balancing act. Yes, we’re finding that more and more, we’re in the cheering section rather than on the stage, but we’re still finding new challenges. For years and years I have protested that I hate canoeing, that my balance is bad and I feel too wobbly. But, this past week, we both got into a kayak for the first time. True, it’s a granny-kayak with a wide bottom (sort of like me), and a big entry portal to accommodate stiff knees. But we did it! And we liked it!

We’re heading off in a new direction, and there’s a bonus: in our kayaks, we still get to be in the drivers’ seats.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sew? So What?

So. I sew. It’s who I am. Thus, before I write more about my summer flowers wall hanging, I have a little rant to get off my chest. Just skip to the next paragraph if you don’t like reading rants. What happened was, I went to the hairdresser to get my hair cut, and we started chatting about camping. I told her I’d brought my sewing machine to the campsite. She started laughing. “I’ve never heard about anyone bringing a sewing machine to their campsite,” implying that I was a bit strange. Well, I’ll admit to being a bit strange,, but not when it comes to sewing at a picnic table. If you are a cycling enthusiast, you’d bring along your bike on a camping trip; if you were a reader, you’d bring lots of books; fishing fanatics wouldn’t forget their rods, and I’ve seen lots of campsites decorated with pots of flowers, which presumably were carted from home by gardening afficionados. So I take along my sewing machine and a nice stash of fabrics. Doesn’t that make sense? It does to me. And if you had a view like this from your sewing table, you might, also. So there. End of rant. (She’s a great hairdresser, and I don’t want to jeopardize this relationship, so you are getting the brunt of my feelings. Thanks for listening.)

Last blog, I wrote that I’d share progress on my Flowers of my Summer Garden piece. This post is more how-to than woo-woo – but who knows, there may be some deep metaphysical lesson embedded in here somewhere by the time I get done!

In my second blog about this subject, I’d suggested that my coreopsis wasn’t laying flat, and I needed to do it over. In the meantime, the sunflowers began blooming in our garden. I couldn’t resist, so I made a new square featuring the sunflower instead. I cut a sunflower head from its stalk and looked at it very carefully. Did you know that at the center of the sunflower head, there are hundreds of tiny, tiny flowers; the big yellow petals that we consider the flower are actually only decorative bracts.
There were over 50 bracts on one smallish head. Although I don’t  want to create a replica of a sunflower, it is important for an artist to get a sense of the subject, to look at its essence. I am more in awe than ever of the amazing complexity and beauty of creation when I look more closely at my subject, and I think that comes through in the final result.

I chose a green background, then began by laying out a circle that would represent the flower’s centre. I picked out three or four of my brightest gold fabrics, and cut out dozens of petals freehand.  Then, I began sewing, adding petals one at a time. I stitched them down with my free=motion foot, trying to make sure that this time the flower would lay flat. When I’d finished circling the head, I added more and more until it looked right to me.
Now it was time to create the centre, the real flower. I saw green, brown, gold, yellow and even black. To make my centre,  I used a technique taught by teacher extraordinaire Lorraine Roy, the “snippet technique”. Tree foliage and backgrounds are created when she cuts up fabric and other fibres into tiny confetti-like pieces, then blends the colours to get the effect she wants. Check out her website at

I laid out yellow fabric bits and yarns and went to town with my rotary cutter. Later, I added some greens and browns and sprinkled them throughout. It’s like mixing paints – so cool!

I arranged the snippets at the centre of the flower, then covered it with a fine-meshed tulle and stitched it down with my free-motion foot. Voila! A sunflower. Not as beautiful and vibrant as the Creator’s version, but then, I’m not The Creator –I am a creator, tapping into the vast well of Creativity with gratitude for such a fine gift.

Now it is time to make a decision. How do I create a wall-hanging with my four finished flowers? Well, yes, I have a wonderful stash of possible fabrics, but of course, being the fabric collector that I am, I had to see if there was something out there that was not just good enough, but closer to perfect. It had to be something that captured the riot of colour in our garden, yet didn’t overwhelm the piece. The polka-dots called out to me, and I said, “Yes!”

I still have some work to do on this: framing it, quilting it, binding it. Each one of those steps will take time. Because the kids and grandkids are coming to visit for a week, it will take longer than usual, I’m thinking. But that is part of the balance of life.

As I write this, it is BC Day weekend. We live in a beautiful province, and we have much to celebrate. Yes, I sew when I am camping, but there is also time to visit with the children and with friends, to sit and enjoy the world at the water’s edge. Wherever you are, I hope you, too, are able to take time to enjoy ...
Of course, the resident sweetie has to make an appearance somewhere in this blog. Here he is, checking out what there is to see at the water's edge.