Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Report


I'll start with the sad news. I would be surprised if you remember this, but many years ago, I wrote about our friend David, who had been diagnosed with leukemia, and asked for your prayers. He quickly went into remission, but his doctors predicted that if the leukemia came back, which it most likely would, the second time around it would be virtually untreatable. They advised he have a bone marrow transplant, which he did.

In the four years since then, David's health has been spotty. He had some good months, but they always seemed to be followed by bad months. He spent a lot of time in the hospital. He went on disability because he could no longer work. And through it all, he remained his cheerful, witty, generous self. 

David died on Tuesday. He was home, in hospice care, surrounded by loved ones. The day before, the Man delivered the quilt pictured above. I'd hurried to make it and hoped against hope that it would get months, if not years. of use. It got a day.

We are heartbroken at the loss of our dear friend. David was one of the Man's best friends. They met their first day of college, back in 1984. They traveled together, drank together, played music together, philosophized together, and mostly laughed together. I met David in 1991; he was one of the first of his friends the Man introduced me to. We hit it off immediately and have been friends ever since.

Here's one thing I know for sure: "why" is not a very useful question at times like these. David was among the best of men. He was beloved wherever he went, because he always saw the best in people, always made you feel special, smart, better than you actually were. We need more Davids, not fewer. 

***

Now, onto happier tales ...


Here's Will on the first day of school. He's so big! He started 7th grade on Tuesday and seems happy with everything so far. This morning when I dropped him off, I saw a group of his friends--Ashaank and Henry, Win, Jackson and Jack--all these boys who are in the process of morphing into men. They're stretching out. Their faces are a little strange. They have acne and hair on their legs and it won't be long until they get little wispy moustaches.  I'm not sure I'm ready, although I've been through it once with Jack. 

Jack is at an age where his face is settling into place. He looks good. He and his long distance girlfriend are persevering. The Man and I have been good about not saying, "It probably won't last." It probably won't, but why spoil it? 

***

It's been nice have long stretches to myself every day. I've been writing and getting organized, taking advantage of all this back-to-school energy. It won't last, but while it does, I'll work on updating my calendar and putting things into folders and making appointments, etc. etc. 

This weekend I hope to get back to my book on architecture. I have two other books on the pile about houses and architecture--A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander and The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. "I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming," Bachelard wrote, "the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” 

Alexander wrote, "To work our way towards a shared language once again, we must first learn how to discover patterns, which are deep, and capable of generating life."

I love looking for patterns. I think our brains are designed to seek patterns and to find them hugely satisfying.

***

Will and I have been watching "Love It or List It" on HGTV. Have you ever watched this? People who are unsatisfied their houses get them renovated while at the same time looking for a new house. At the end of each episode, they decide whether they want to stay in their newly renovated home or buy one of the new homes they've been shown (and therefore list their old home). They almost always want to stay in their renovated home, even when they've been shown a house that's superior in every way. This doesn't surprise me, but often the shows end with me and Will moaning and groaning at their decision. It's fun.

***

It's Friday night. I'm going to sleep in until 7:30 tomorrow! I can't wait. Have a good weekend!

Monday, August 24, 2015

In Which I Try to Form New Habits

Artsy picture of the quilt I made for my mom's birthday

It's 10:11 on Monday night, and I'm tired and ready to go to bed. But I'm trying to form a new habit--to blog on Mondays and Fridays. Now this has been a particularly busy Monday--tomorrow is the first day of school, so we've been going to back-to-school open houses and putting together binders and buying shin guards for soccer and baking pumpkin muffins and mixing up french toast batter for the morning. So you can see why I haven't had a second till now to write.

I've been reading about habits lately; in particular, I've been reading Gretchen Rubn's Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. I love Gretchen Rubin's books (The Happiness Project, etc.). They are sensible and orderly and offer helpful advice. She's the one who suggested you have one empty shelf in your house. I love that suggestion! I think everyone should follow it.

Anyway, I started reading Better than Before because I want to give up eating goldfish cheese crackers, and I find it so awfully hard to do so. As it turns out, the book is more about adopting good habits than getting rid of bad ones, but it still fills you with a can-do spirit. And there is one bit of good advice about habits that applies to eating and imbibing--one should decide if one is an abstainer or a moderater. I think most of us are both, it just depends. For instance, I have no problem moderating my consumption of alcoholic beverages, but if there is a single potato chip in my house I will track it down and eat it, even if it's dusty and stale (okay, not really--or at least not always). Over the last few years, I've cut down my sugar consumption drastically and as long as the cookies are behind the cupboard door, I don't think twice about them. Pumpkin muffins? I must abstain entirely or grow another dress size.

In terms of developing good habits, sometimes it's better to do something every day, like exercise, than to say you'll do it three times a week. And I've decided that if I'm going to stay current with my blog, I need to come up with a schedule. I'm not convinced I can do every day, so Mondays and Fridays it is. Now I know. Now I can commit.

I would also like to develop the habit of sitting down for fifteen minutes every evening with a glass of tea and commenting on all my favorite blogs. Maybe I need to put that on my calendar. It helps for me to see stuff written down. In neat letters and bright colors. Large print.

***

Tomorrow Will starts 7th grade and Jack starts 11th. I think they're both excited. I'm excited--I love going back to school. I think I'll get up in the morning and organize my desk and sharpen some pencils.

***

I'm reading a wonderful book I want to tell you about at some point. It's called The Architecture of Happiness by Alain De Botton. It is a book about buildings and houses (which are of course buildings) and beauty. And desire. And how lovely, tidy room can make us feel as though life were indeed good and worthy of leaning into.

But I'm too tired to write about it now. Maybe Friday. I'll just say that I'm enjoying thinking about houses and what makes a house a good, comfortable place to be. But enough. To bed!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Summer Updates

My dream house: please note the white picket fence
 and turquoise shutters!

Lately I've been having dreams where I find new rooms in my house. I think these are dreams about creativity and possibility more than actual houses. But might they also be dreams about finding unexpected riches in my very real house that seems to me without surprise or enough light?

This summer we've been working on a big decluttering project. I feel like I'm always working on a big decluttering project, but this one has had some real muscle behind it. The Man decluttered his study, and we completely emptied out Will's room to paint it and refurnish it. It's now a whole new room, with a futon couch and orange chevron curtains. Will went through boxes of stuff and threw a lot of it away or sent it to Good Will or the recycling bin.

As a result of the decluttering project, I now have an empty wicker trunk in my front room. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, writes about the importance of having one empty shelf in your house. The wicker trunk is my empty shelf. It feels so good to have a box of empty air where a bunch of papers and old videotapes used to be stored.

The quilt I just finished for my mom--she turns 80 this month!

We are not that far from the end of the summer. The boys start back to school on the 25th. Jack is eager, Will is not. Same old story. I think they've both had good summers. Jack went to an academic camp at Georgia Tech and got himself a (long distance) girlfriend, his first. I'm excited that he gets to be sixteen and in love. And I'm proud of him for not being afraid to fall in love. It's a scary thing, but worth the risk.

Will has been lazy, lazy, lazy. No camps at all. But he has been working on a big multimedia project about college football, which has included keeping a blog. He's done a ton of work on it, and I can't help but wish he'd work this hard for school. But frankly I was the same way. I fed my passions, ignored the rest. It's amazing I ever graduated from any institution of learning, given that I only learned what I wanted to.

One of the best things I've done this summer is go to the Quilt Alliance conference in northern Virginia. Two days of talking about quilts--heaven! The Quilt Alliance has some quilt documentation projects that I hope to contribute to some day. Go here if you want to find out more: http://www.allianceforamericanquilts.org/projects/

The garden is wild and overgrown. The house is decluttered and still messy. I'm dreaming about houses and trying to make mine loveable and liveable. I'm dreaming about fall. What are you dreaming about these days?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Squash Season

Travis in the Garden

Question asked in late May: Would four yellow squash plants be enough? Would I regret not planting more come July?

July's answer: Four yellow squash plants is three plants too many. We will never run out of yellow squash. Not ever. So what to do with all this squash? As far as I can tell there are only three existing yellow squash recipes in the world. Sauteed squash. Squash gratin. Squash in spaghetti sauce. That's it.

Now zucchini recipes are everywhere. Stuff your zucchini! Julienne your zucchini! Make some delicious zucchini bread. And don't forget to roast it, bake it, and/or cover it in breadcrumbs and fry it! Zucchini is fabulous with mozzarella. Yellow squash? Not so much.



Well, let me add a fourth yellow squash recipe, one that I came up with by accident. I caramelized some onions the other night for a dinner of sirloin steak tips, broccoli and--you guessed it--sauted squash. What I discovered is that if you mix up your sauted squash with your caramelized onions, you've got quite a taste treat on your hands.

You're welcome.

The rest of the garden is coming along. The blueberry bushes are three years old this summer and finally bearing fruit--one berry at a time. We have twelve bushes, and every day I pick twelve berries. Aren't they supposed to all turn blue at the same time? How am I ever going to make jam?

We have three sections of corn this year. This is the Man's doing. He is going to be the Corn King of the Suburbs. If you would like me to mail you a few ears, just leave your address in the comments section. We will have plenty to share.

 A Kingdom of Corn
 

The summer is coming along. We spent last week on Ocracoke Island, frolicking in the exact same spot where a man was bit by a shark yesterday. We're having a bit of a shark problem in general on the NC coast. The Man has decided that next summer we'll take our vacation at a lakeside resort. In the mountains. He saw Jaws at an impressionable age. We'll never go to the beach again.

I'm trying to do some writing and some quilting. I'm reading Seamus Heaney's selected poems, Opened Ground. A poetry teacher I had once said you should adopt a poet every season. I do this periodically. I've done it with William Carlos Williams and Philip Levine. It's quite a wonderful project. You go deep. Usually I go wide.

That's it for now. Hope to see you again soon! Do let me know if you'd like me to mail you some corn.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Remember that video I was telling you about?

The one about Uncle Eli's Quilting Party? Well, here it is! I hope you like it! By the way, if you've ever what I sounded like, well, I'm the narrator (but not the first person speaking).

https://vimeo.com/129402836

More soon!

P.S. Here's the quilt I'm working on now. It's a Dresden Plate, so what I've been making are the plates, which I will late applique to blocks. I can't decide what the background color should be. My mom says I should consider navy blue. Any thoughts?


Friday, May 15, 2015

Various and Sundry

The Big Star Quilt

If you scroll down to the bottom of my blog list, you'll see the names of the disappeared. These are bloggers who blogged for a time, whose blogs I loved, and who one day stopped blogging. It happens, but sometimes it feels like you've lost a friend. I feel especially this way about Dulce Domum at Bread and Roses. Fortunately, she's left her blog up, though she stopped blogging over two years ago, so I can go back and re-read from time to time. I know several of you who regularly read this blog once read Bread and Roses, too. Does anyone keep in touch with Dulce? Have an email for her? I keep hoping she'll come back. I wonder how she's doing.

***

I myself have not been a constant presence this year. I think the more invested I am in home and hearth, the more time I spend blogging. This has not been my most domestic year so far, though I'm hoping that will change.

We're finally getting the garden put in. Of course, the can't-live-without tomatoes went in at the proper time, because we don't mess around with tomatoes. But I'm just getting around to the zucchini and butternut squash and the herbs. I bought a few new perennials for the flower garden--phlox and coneflowers--and today I picked up the bedding plants, mostly my beloved marigolds, but a Dianthus plant and some portulaca as well.

What I have been doing that has kept me from gardening? Writing mostly. I finished a draft of a novel and a big grant proposal for the nonprofit I volunteer with. I made the quilt pictured above. The piecing took a weekend; the quilting took forever. I've been reading lots of books about quilt history, which I grow increasingly more interested in.

I'm taking a break from the writing and the grants to try to gain some control over the house. I have plans to spend a lot of time this summer painting. Paint is relatively cheap and covers a lot of ills. I have a long list of big projects I want done, but can't afford this very minute, and probably won't be able to afford for awhile. But I can afford paint, and I can afford to make curtains for the upstairs bathroom. That will have to do for the time being.

***

I'm reading a couple of books right now that touch on fasting. One is Thoughts Matter by Mary Margaret Funk, a Benedictine nun, and the other is Awakening to Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith by Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove, one of the founders of the New Monastics movement. Funk writes that fasting isn't necessarily going without food, but eating in a way that is ordered and mindful. Gluttony, she writes, "is the pattern of of eating indiscriminately with no thought of how this food is feedingi [one's] spiritual life." She writes about the "original order" of things as being "friendly, natural, organic, relational, whole and simple." I like that very much.

Hartgrove lives with his family and others in a impoverished neighborhood about five miles from my house. One day a week, the members of his household fast until dinnertime. Fasting, he writes, "is not a denial of food's goodness, but rather a joining of ourselves with God's longing that there might be food enough for everyone in a world that's been redeemed." Later, he says, "By way of fasting you come face-to-face with the truth that eating points to: you are a dependent creature, and you do well to remember it."

This week I've been trying to be ordered in my eating. This is hard for me in the late afternoon, when I'm tired and bored. I've been eating a piece of fruit and a couple of Wasa Crisps with Laughing Cow cheese spread on them. That's it until dinner. It's hard for me, but I like Funk's idea of food taking its rightful place in the order of things. I like the idea that there is an order of things.

***

A busy weekend ahead. Will has a baseball game tonight, and tomorrow I've got a haircut and Jack has a dinner party (!). One of his friends is turning sixteen, and she and her family have invited a group of friends to have dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Jack turned sixteen himself recently. We bought him and two of his friends tickets to see some bands in Raleigh, and apparently they had a big time. Now Jack has started playing electric guitar. I don't think he knows it's my electric guitar (I don't play it much) that he's playing. That would drain the cool out of things pretty quick, don't you think?

Then on Sunday, Will is going to a birthday party at a laser tag site about twenty-five minutes away from here. I'm looking forward to the end of birthday parties, at least the kind that involve me spending my afternoons driving back and forth all over town.

I'm going to work in the garden this weekend, do some cleaning in the garage and maybe even wash my car. Good times, ladies, good times!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Happy Belated Mother's Day!

We don't make a huge, big deal about Mother's Day around here--no Sunday brunch at a fancy restaurant, no profusions of flowers. Usually Mother's Day consists of me taking a day off from chores and the boys being extra sweet. The Man makes dinner, the boys give me some presents, and it's all good.

Yesterday was different, because I had signed up to help with Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) at church. IHN is a program that helps homeless family transition into jobs and housing. These families aren't chronically homeless--typically, the head of the family (almost always a single mother) has been laid off from her job or has recently moved into the area and hasn't been able to find a job. She has skills, she has the will, she's just had some bad luck. IHN helps by offering temporary housing in churches and synagogues with sleeping facilities and providing meals, transportation and job training.


My co-host at last night's dinner was Amie, a woman who attends our IHN partner church and had her 5 year-old daughter Jane with her. Amie, like the women we would be hosting that evening, is a single mom. She has a good job and good support systems in place, but even so, single parenting isn't easy under the best of circumstances, and she felt a strong connection to the moms we ate with last night.

It felt good to take care of moms who don't get a lot of love. Amie, bless her heart, brought each of the three mothers big, sparkly  Mother's Day cards and gift bags. We watched the kids, served up ham and mac and cheese and banana pudding, and did the dishes. The moms, who have been traveling together from church to church for several weeks now and have bonded, sat back and relaxed or took naps.

When Amie and I were cleaning up, we talked about how for so many mothers, Mother's Day isn't a happy occasion. This led to a conversation about families in commercials, especially around the holidays. For a single parent, it's painful to watch image after image of traditional families gathering together. But what surprised Amie is when I said I thought those commercials were painful for a lot of people, just not single mothers. Our families, being human, are flawed. We all think we're doing this parenting thing wrong--and then sure enough, there's that perfect TV family proving our point.

Our discussion made me think that maybe what mothers should do on Mother's Day is gather with other mothers and tell our stories. Talk about the good stuff and the bad stuff. No bragging, just truth-telling. We can drink champagne and wear tee shirts that say "Every Day is Mother's Day" and give each other flowers. We can take care of each other, like good mothers do.