Saturday, 25 October 2014

Growing New Eyes

I wrote this blog before the horrors of this week's shootings. Even so, I don't think I could have said anything as well as what my friend Joy wrote in her blog at 
Thanks, Joy, for the reminder, again, that what we do matters, that community matters.
One of the things I like about travel is that you see things – often weird, wild, wonderful, and sometimes profound things. Back home, we’ve grown accustomed to the way things are, but when you’re on the road, it’s like you’ve grown new eyes. On our travelling days, I kept a list of such sights.

Did you realize that God’s House is a blue bungalow? Yes, it is: it’s located on a highway in Arizona. And who could resist a peek at Heaven on Earth, announced on a road sign in Northern California? Well, I looked, and I’m here to tell you that Heaven on Earth is a brown, barn-like structure beside I-5 with a banner announcing that it serves the best cin amon buns in the world. No, that’s not my spelling error; apparently, there’s no spare money or time in heaven on earth to replace the lost N.

Spelling errors abound in road signs, as well: a billboard for the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup welcomes Pilgrams. Nice – in metric, even. We read a billboard for Indan City. A mile later, another billboard welcomes us to Indian City. To be fair, we didn’t see a whole lot of misspelled signs on this journey (at least, not that we noticed!) If you want to see some real doozers, however, just google misspelled road signs. Apparently, road-sign installers are not too picky about details when it comes to Hihgways and Biwaze.

There were incongruities – businesses like Navajo Feed and Pawn; Rocky Mountain Fireworks and Furs; Wildcat Christian Academy (“Snarling for Jesus”?); Warhawk War Museum; and a business that sold Guns and Accessories. What does a well-dressed gun slinger wear to accessorize his recently purchased weapon? Perhaps new boots and a designer bandana?  Speaking of guns, Al was horrified to find himself pumping gas next to one of those well-appointed gun slingers casually sporting a hip rifle. We couldn’t wait to get out of there.

So then we came home. Someone this week reminded me that before I point out the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye, I should check my own for a log. She’s right. It’s one thing to poke fun at things you don’t understand, quite another to realize how much you yourself need to change, as well. I still have my new eyes in place, and I am horrified at what I find, right here in my own home. We are trying to empty our trailer, and we can’t even find space on our library shelves, pantry shelves, garage shelve, etc., to put away the paltry few things we were able to survive on while living in a 250 square foot trailer. My new eyes show me  reality: we have too much stuff.

Really, how many coats can I wear at once? Just how many shoes do I really need? And if the freezer is full, why are we congratulating ourselves on the latest good buy in the frozen food section?

Another eye-opener: I’ve been proclaiming the wonders of Thrift and Free Stores – how we can help the world and support charities by buying other people’s cast-offs, thus fulfilling two of the three R’s of the environmental movement, Reuse and Recycle. But I’ve been neglecting the third R:  Reduce. Also, I’m weak in another R: Resist. How can I resist when I walk into my favourite thrift store and find that a woman just my size (and how rare is that? It’s meant to be), who loves designer clothes in my favourite colours, just dropped off her scarcely-worn wardrobe yesterday? And I’m the lucky woman who saw it first? And so, with the thrill of the hunt in my pounding heart, I bring home the trophies. Which I really didn’t need.

I know a woman who shares my love of thrift stores (she will remain unnamed) who says, “I’m afraid at my eulogy, people will say, ‘She was a great thrift store shopper. Just take a look at the outfit she’s wearing today: a designer Liz Claiborne bought at Sally Ann for only $8.99.’” Ditto. And when my kids have to clean out my closets after I’m gone, they’ll be bringing  truckloads of stuff that they have no interest in back to the thrift stores whence they came. Talk about incongruity!

It took a long trip to grow new eyes. Now I can see a bit more clearly: my life needs a makeover, beginning with a purge of material things. It’s a small start, but it’s a start.

In keeping with this theme, I created the following wall hanging from a UFO languishing in the back of the closet. It was inspired by a small girl we saw down in the river valley where we were walking. We’d barely noticed the newly-arrived salmon in the creek. But her eyes were new to this wonder. She clapped and cheered and chattered and pointed and laughed and jumped up and down when she saw them. To look at the world with childlike wonder: that would be a giant step forward, wouldn’t it? What a world it would be!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Closer Than You Think

Home is where the heart is. Home Sweet Home. East, West, Home is best. Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home. Your home is your castle –  they’d all work as cross-stitched mottoes, wouldn’t they?

I could identify with these sayings when we got close to home after our long trip. Home: it was going to be good to be home. And it was.

I wrote to a friend, “I went out and picked a vase of dahlias and asters, and plunked them on the dining room table. I added some home grown tomatoes, fresh off the vine, and some basil that had survived the fall rains, to the pasta. And I spent a whole day in my studio, just having a ball with my fabrics. It all spells home to me.”

Still life with flowers and garlic.

The homes of Madrid, New Mexico -- my first fabric project after I got back. It's a funky place! Below is a detail, enlarged.

Sleeping in your own bed. Hugging your grandkids. A bookshelf with your favourite books. Cleaning up the yard. Listening to the local radio and reading the local papers. We each have our own measurement of what’s good about being home.

So I thought, well, this will be an easy blog to write. I’ll write about the pleasures of being home versus the pitfalls of traveling.  It’ll be warm and fuzzy, and help me make the transition to staying put for a while.

I did a search for quotes about home, and found those listed above. But I also read one that caught me up short.  “Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door,” wrote Charles Dickens. Hmm. What’s that all about? Worth pondering. Then I picked up a magazine and started reading a story about women who are working for justice. Hmmm. Coincidence? Or a little tap on my shoulder telling me to pay attention?

The article introduced me to Dr. Samantha Nutt, founder of War Child Canada. She told the story of a young woman, Nadine, who lived in the Congo, one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a woman. She’d been twice raped and left for dead by armed thugs employed by mining companies who wished to protect their interests. Nadine’s home is next to a mine producing coltan, a substance you may never have heard of, but an indispensable component of cell phones. Since this small area of the Congo is rich in the substance, and since this mining company is determined to make as big a profit as possible, Nadine’s rape is just fallout – collateral damage, as they say about missile strikes that kill children and innocent bystanders. But doesn’t Nadine, and all the women who live in her village, long for a safe home? Don’t they want to think, as you and I do, “It’s good to be home”?

For some, home is a refugee camp; top, in Somalia; bottom, in Lebanon.
Last week I wrote about the pensive mood I’d found myself in, trying to reconcile the discrepancy of values and pursuits that often rub up against each other in my life: loving nature and travel, yet consuming large amounts of fuel to do so; wanting to support local agriculture, yet availing myself of all the conveniences of retail chains that underpay their workers,  Now, apparently, loving the conveniences of my life at home was going to be added to that list. Can I be happy at home, knowing that I am, however remotely, contributing to the unsafe home conditions of women in the Congo by purchasing a cell phone?

Nutt asked Nadine why she was telling her story so openly. “So you can tell others,” was Nadine’s reply. When we are silent, when we ignore the suffering others are living through, we are surrendering, says Nutt. When we recognize that we are all part of one community, one world, we can begin to act for justice next door, even when that "next door" is half way around the world.

Last week I was pensive. It appears that I’m going to have to move on, beyond pensive, to pondering, considering, evaluating, deciding ... and eventually, to doing. Just writing about this in my blog isn’t easy. Nor, I imagine, is it very popular -- this one won't make you smile. But it is a beginning.

“Charity begins at home.” Yes. “Justice begins next door.” Yes. In this world grown smaller by communications and the development of technology, in this global community, the "next door" in the Congo is very close to home. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014


As we near the end of our trip, I find myself in a mood. The RS is worried...was it something he said or did? True, we’ve been getting on each other’s nerves a bit more, lately...that’s inevitable after almost five weeks on the road: 8,000 kilometers of sitting in the cab of a noisy old diesel truck together, 40+ days of calling a 250 square foot box on wheels home, weeks of only intermittent connections with our friends and family. So, yes, it’s time to go home. We both know that.

But the mood is not anger or irritation or impatience. I’ve been casting around for the just the word, and I think I’ve found it: pensive. I’m feeling pensive.

Lovely word, pensive, probably coming from the French pensée, or thought. There are so many words and expressions  that one can use when one refers to thinking: meditating, ruminating, cogitating, contemplating, working the grey matter, reflecting, gerrymandering, blueskying, reasoning, pondering, wondering, considering, ... but I wasn’t doing any of those things. I was being pensive.

Being pensive is what you do when you have no clear goal to achieve with your thinking. You allow thoughts to flit through your mind like butterflies. Some of them land for a bit, and you can observe  them with interest, but there’s no need to capture them and pin them down. Let them go – they’ll be back eventually. Being pensive means you give yourself permission to live in a different world for a while, a world that sometimes doesn’t make a lot of sense, where the pieces don’t quite fit together.  There’s a tinge of melancholia and nostalgia associated with the word, too, at least in my pensive world. Inevitably, the pensive person is not very responsive to outside stimuli, such as a resident sweetie’s attempts at conversation. Sorry, sweetie.

Traveling as we have done has raised all kinds of things to ponder, which will happen on another day, when I’m in a pondering mood rather than being merely pensive. Instead, without judgement or reason, I’d like to share some of those butterfly thoughts with you here:

We love that at least some of this great continent has been set aside and protected from commercial exploitation such as gas and oil drilling, lumbering and mining in national, state and provincial parks. On the other hand, we love that there are big travel centres where we can easily refuel our gas-loving beast so we can go camping and sightseeing in these self-same parks.

I feel like I could keep traveling forever this way. There’s so much more beauty in this world to explore. On the other hand, I want to go home. I miss our beautiful home and family and friends and community.

I love the farmer’s market and small cheese factory we visited – so delightful to be able to buy fresh food directly from the proud makers and growers. On the other hand, I appreciate that when our shopping list includes groceries, an axe, fabric and wine, we’ll be able to stop at a big Supercenter and know we can get them all in one place.

This world is such a beautiful, beautiful place. Amazing. Fantastic. Awesome... We visited Crater Lake this week, and were gobsmacked by the grandeur.

My postcard didn’t even try to capture the scene ... I just copied an old poster of the scene, instead.

On the other hand, what a mess this world is in: – a billion people around the world living in slums on $1 a day (true statistics); Ebola; wars and rumours of wars; a falling Canadian dollar; poverty; crime; not to mention the little annoyance of  people leaving their dog doo-doo in public places.

I won’t get into my thoughts on the resident sweetie, how much I love him, and how crazy he sometimes makes me...and he'd say the same about me, I’m sure.

Being pensive brings out the inconsistencies and incongruities of life – and that, as they say, is life. Reality. Even on a weekend when we count up all our blessings and give thanks, we can’t help but be aware of the disparity and dichotomy within our world. There are many questions to ponder, many situations that call for our response, many changes we can make in our life so that the inequities are addressed more fully, all of us doing something, anything, to let our lights shine.

On the other hand, on this weekend when we count up all our blessings, we can give thanks for this wonderful, crazy, troubled, happy-sad, world that is our home, and for this wonderful, crazy, troubled, happy-sad life we are privileged to live, truly a gift.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Great Expectations

The day we set out for Canyon de Chelly (pronounced duh shay), I was pretty pumped. The Navajo people, who have a deep respect for the land and for their ancestors, revere it as the birthplace of their people.  For those seeking spiritual enlightenment, it is considered  one of the great sacred places on earth.                               

The NE Arizona canyon has been inhabited by various native peoples for over 5,000 years. Its walls are a deep red, rising up to a thousand feet from the green valley floor, and in these walls are caves holding the the ruins of many small settlements. I had great expectations that I, too, like other pilgrims who’d come before, would experience the mystery and wonder of this special place.

We opted to pay big bucks for a tour with a Navajo guide so we could get down close to the ruins. We were to meet our guide at the Sacred Lodge inside the park, where we were greeted by a clerk in the gift shop. She got a sour look on her face when she realized we weren’t there to buy anything. Oh, well, maybe she was having a bad day. Even people working in sacred lodges can have bad days.

We hopped into a mud-spattered jeep with our guide, a friendly enough chap. But wait, first we had to pay an entrance fee to the sacred canyon. Even sacred canyons need upkeep, I reminded myself. Off we went in the four-wheel drive, with our guide telling us stories of the various peoples who’d lived there – first the Anasazis, then the Hopis, and finally the Navajos ....brrrrrrring.... oh, excuse me. He checked the message. I guess even sacred canyons have cell phone reception.

We stopped here and there to look at the ruins, to listen to the stories, and to ask questions, but somehow, it just wasn’t working for me. (Maybe the guide’s constant checking of his cell phone and watch were part of the problem.) The last straw was a “rest stop” where his aunties and uncle had their jewellery and flutes set up – perhaps we’d like to take home a souvenir of this experience? Mmmm, no thanks. Some spiritual pilgrimage this had turned out to be.

Several days later, we were on the road again. We were not expecting much besides a long trip – certainly we weren’t expecting the horrible smell that filled the truck cab about two hours after we set out. The RS pulled over immediately along the busy Interstate. The heat guage was off the charts, and smoke was seeping out from under the hood. Our hearts sank. This had all the makings of a horrible, no good, very bad, terrible day. We were thirty miles from Holbrook, which looked like a little pimple on the map of Arizona. What kind of help would we find there? We’d been travelling through these decaying small towns with their boarded up shop fronts, their weedy sidewalks, and their faded bill boards, and we weren’t hopeful.

But when we called the emergency road service on our nifty new cell phone, they jumped into action. Within 2 hours, our ailing beast had been towed to a car hospital, and our trailer was sitting at a campground nearby. We began to feel a bit more hopeful. We took a walk into town to check things out. And right here I owe the people of Holbrook a deep and heartfelt apology. Holbrook is not a pimple on Arizona’s face – it is a dimple, a laugh-line, a smiley face. We met wonderful people who cheered us up and made us feel better. The service manager at the well-equipped garage was a friendly fellow who actually showed me the fried parts that needed replacing as though I were an intelligent woman who would be interested in such things. The waitress in the café where we stopped for a cold drink and the saleswoman in the rock shop both listened to our story with great sympathy, offered advice, and wished us the best. And would you believe there was a quilt shop in town? Truly! The owner, Shirley, had just opened Painted Desert Quilts a few days previously, but her bright and cheery work was already hanging on the walls. I found some fabric I just had to have, and then she offered me her scrap basket full of leftover pieces cut from her work. “Take anything you like, or take it all,” she invited me. Shirley, you are my new BFF! I took her scraps back to the trailer and made a new postcard as homage to Holbrook.

We spent our unexpectedly free day in the campground, reading, sleeping, and relaxing (travel can be tiring, you know!). Later in the day the garage sent a car to pick us up so we could retrieve our truck. Yes, our pocketbook is lighter, but so are our hearts for this experience.

Sometimes you set out with great expectations, and come home empty-handed. And sometimes, you set out not expecting much, until the Almighty taps you on the shoulder and suggests, “Hey! Pay attention! You don’t have to look far to experience my spirit at work in this world.”