Wednesday, January 31, 2007

O frabjous day!

A slight paraphrase: Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I chortled in my joy!

I did. Indeed I did! No killing of the frumious Bandersnatch, no vorpal blade went snicker-snack. No. I am a peaceful person. I finally knew in my bones -- i.e., my new titanium and chrome hip -- that the day had come when I could get into -- and out of, which was the greater challenge -- my bathtub. As the hot water poured I added a large -- quite a large -- pour of bubble bath and when it was full I sunk down, deep into the lovely water and meringue-y bubbles. Heaven! I have never been a shower person ... showers are utilitarian. Baths are volluptarian. For three months I've been clean enough for the sake of hygiene and utilty but I can't say I've greatly enjoyed it.

For some 35 years I have been blessed with living in homes with old fashioned, BIG bathtubs, the kind I can lie in, my feet on one end, my head and shoulders just above the bubble level at the other end. I even thought of setting the camera on automatic camera -- but really there's nothing at all interesting, except maybe my blissed out expression, in a white expanse of bubbles. Those bubble baths in '40s and '50s movies had great peaked merigues of sparking [even in b lack and white] bubbles, but they had special effects. My real bubbles are luxurious enough but really not that visually aesthetic. So, no picture.

I'm told American home builders have surveys that tell them Americans prefer showers and so they are, at most, putting a mini-tub into a secondary bathroom of new homes -- you know, one of those skimpy little tubs that you find in hotels/motels -- where you have to sit doubled up with youre knees up to your nose and the water can be no more than four inches deep. Okay for bathing a two-year old, or the poodle but hardly for enjoying a real bath. No wonder unsurveyed people are putting jaccuzis in special "spa" rooms. Truth is, Mr. Home Builder, people love to be in hot water up to their chins. It's great for the muscles and for the nerves and just plain makes people happy.

I admit I don't yet have the strength in my hip to gracefully lift my body out of the tub ... but I managed, no matter how ungracefully. After all, no one was watching. I love the handheld shower Leslie installed for me, especially for washing my hair -- and it's been great all these weeks of necessity. But now that I can relax once more amid the snap, crackle and scrunch of the little bubbles a couple inches below my ears, it will be less used. Callooh, Callay! I feel like a beamish boy!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

One of Life's Great Pleasures

There comes a time when reading a sizable novel -- if it's a good one -- when the characters are people you know and whose company you enjoy. Their story, whether an adventure of an inner journey, has become fascinating. You hold the book in your hand and see you are a smallish portion from the end, maybe 75, or 80 pages. You look at the clock and it's late, you have to get up early tomorrow ... so, being a relatively slow reader, you put the bookmark in its place and set it aside. The the next evening, assuming you are an evening reader as I am, you know that you are going to finish the novel. You are going to find out what finally happens to those people, how they manage to overcome the complications or obstacles or if they face tragedy ... in short, what will happen?

Such was last night. I finished Jean-Christophe Rufin's THE ABYSSINIAN, which is an adventure story with bold and slightly unbelievably noble and brilliant characters along with a whole plot-full of shallow and greedy, narrow minded, sometimes sly, wily and sinister characters. I don't often read such novels so I was putty in Rufin's hands. I sat and read and read and finished it and went to bed and then could not fall asleep, being caught up in the final scenes on storied Mt. Sinai and the monastery of St. Catherine, of which I have read in travel literature. How intelligently the author turned these subjects of Louis XIV into modern people -- bold and moral and brave in the face of a greedy and ignorant world! I had such difficulty turning my mind off ,,, this is the magic of literature. All my life I have admired -- deeply and profoundly admired -- those who can create such stories ... and now I admire even more those who not only can write so well but managed to get through the forbidding obstacles of modern publishing to actually have their work in print and widely available.

The only question is what I'll read this evening -- I think I'll get on with the biography of Frederick Law Olmstead, a poly-genius with a fascinatingly complex life who accomplished so much despite failing at many undertakings and going through several periods of serious depression. I love Central Park, which is mostly his creation, but that is an early example -- he designed so much more. I don't read a lot of biographies but it's good to know about the viscitudes of extraordinary people -- the course to greatness and to major contribution to the world around you is extremely various and by no means consistently satisfying or easy. The title of the book is A CLEARING IN THE DISTANCE by Withold Rybczynski. I admire the title because is refers to one of Olmstead's landscape tenets but also to the life of many such a genius -- life is often fraught but the trust in the "clearing in the distance," that is their vision of how a life well lived ... they do not expect it to be without the tangle and difficulty of the moment, but they see afar the peaceful scene they hope to achieve.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Craft and Life in the North

Some time ago I promised myself that when I travel I will purchase only "useful things" -- I count jewelry like earrings, necklaces and rings as being useful and rarely wear a piece of jewelry that doesn't have a story. Although it may have very little monetary value, it has intense memory value ... the store, the bargaining ... the whole trip. However, the "useful" category often means boxes.

These three birch bark boxes are an example. One day when sitting at my work table my eye fell on the small round one, which holds my sewing machine bobbins, threaded and empty. The small oval one holds safety pines which I use for "basting" quilts before quilting them. The larger one holds my postage labels and a few pads of sticky notes. I use all of them nearly every day.

The intersting thing is that the smaller ones were an impulse buy when the group I was with stopped at a tiny village among the vast forests of northern Finland, just before I saw my first group of reindeer wandering through the forest. In the small town a shop catered to tourists. Finland is not a place to bargain, and I didn't feel a need. They were less than a dollar each. LIttle did I know how much I would use them -- I have worn off the little leather loops that were tiny handles on the tops.

The larger box came from an area on about the same latitude but thousands of miles to the east. On the shores of Lake Khosovo on the border of Mongolia and Siberia where the birch trees stood in clumps along the crystal clear lake. One day we went to visit the nomadic reindeer people who come down to the lake in the summer with their tents -- almost exactly like the teepees of the Plains Indians. At the ger camp a group of young women came from the nearest town with the camel hair sweaters, mittens and scarves they knitted during the winter, with carvings and a board game that the locals played during the long winter. One lovely young woman spoke good English which she said he had learned from watching television -- I suspect she studied a bit more seriously than that.

This box,, similar to the Finnish one, has a Buddhist eternal knot carved on the lid. There bargaining was a part of the interchange. The three boxes, so simple, so similar, made from the same materials, are priceless to me because they hold useful items and they hold a sunny day in Finland, a couple of gray days with some sun, in Mongolia ... and those brief memories open out into a whole knitted fabric of memories.

I must relate one mixed memory. At Lake Khosovo we stayed in a ger camp; as always it was run by a group of efficient young women. Each morning, very early a woman slipped into our ger to light a fire in the small wood-hurning store in the middle of the big round room. We had been told not to light a fire ourselves because is sacred and to be respected. Mornings were chilly that far north so the fire was needed, but within fifteen I and the two women sharing the ger were forced out of bed -- or at least from under out blankets -- the ger became more than very warm that quickly. We gathered out towels and toiletries and crossed the grounds to the wash room, glad for the morning chill. It reminded me that in Finland, I shared a sauna with a group of women until we could stand the heat no longer. Those who were brave enough ran across the grassy lawn and jumped into a chilly lake. [I toddled into the shower room, I must admit -- just as I did in Mongolia].

These and a great many more happy memories were triggered by less than $3 worth of little birch bark boxes....

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Butterflies all day ...

A good day to be at home making butterflies! So I did. I worked on four more to be matted like these two and the two shown a few days ago. The new ones are not quit done. It was cold and gray out so I truly enjoyed making colorful butterflies. You know when people say, "enjoy you day"? Some days you are aware that you really are enjoying.

I'm preparing these butterflies for the members' boutique at the Empire Quilters Guild show two months from now. it's big and compliccated and committees are working very hard. I hauled down my series of "attic window" quilts that I hope to sell at the boutique. I've made 13 in the series, one I gave away and another maybe, or it may be misplaced. I'll make another so I have an even dozen. These, like the stars and butterflies were made for pure pleasure. The delight of seeing how they turn out, and what colors and espeically what borders work. The job is the joy. I'm ready to part with them and have a couple more square feet of space in the closet. The same is true with the butterflies. It's been a lovely day of creating, now I'll be happy for them to move to a new home. Gee, I hope they'll sell, it'll be money for the guild and for me. If we get some bright sunny days I'll take digital pictures of them and show a few or several.

By the way, this is true, I swear, I'm not inventing it: the Met. opera broadcast today was Puccini's Madame Butterfly!!!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Too Much Inspiration

The other day I went into Barnes & Noble to get the current Fiber Arts Magazine -- but it was the wrong B&N. There are three stores that are on my usual routes around town but it seems only the one closest to me ever has Fiber Arts. That doesn't make sense but .... when I can't find one magazine, I can usually find three others. Which is what happened. There's a series published, I think by McCalls with interviews with well known quilters-teachers. I really love interviews so, when I saw the latest I bought it. They also had the New Zealand Quilter, which I find only rarely. A rare find demands to be pounced on. Right? The third? Shambala, a Buddhist magazine that often features writing by the wonderful Pema Chodron, a nun who lives on Cape Breton Island, a wise woman with several books in print, any of which I'd recommend to anyone looking for perspective on life's problems.

Three magazines to read and during the course of this week, the quarterlies arrived, along with Quilters Newsletter. Quarterlies being from American Quilter's Society and the National Quilt Association. All full of beautiful stuff, articles, some interesting, some not -- as usual -- I'm overwhelmed with sparks of inspiration. This idea, that idea -- that would be interesting for a certain piece of fabric I've been wondering how to use ... etc. Too much inspiration. Too little time.

I have a certain disdain for the 'Quilt in a weekend' idea. I don't need quilts for their own sake. I want to explore new ways to put together patterns or colors, new things to try. It's okay if a quilt is labor intensive, I'll learn while I labor and I'll have peaceful moments while I work. Happily I have a weekend that I can choose to spend quilting -- although some basics have to be attended to -- you know, laundry and vacuuming, etc.

We'll see what wins ... there's also a fascinating novel -- the hero is back from Abyssinia alive but the next half of the book is bound to be full of more complications and adventures before he can win the lovely girl from the clutches of her awful family. Reading a book set in the early 1600s but written by a man of modern sensibility has a nice piquancy -- looking at people of a past time with the same personality flaws we see today, but showing them with wonderful irony and humor. Contemporary writers were just learning to compose novels and were more heavy handed ... except perhaps for wonderful Cervantes, oh, and there was Shakespeare who showed us a few fools along with the heroes -- but, of course, WS.wrote plays, not novels.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Butterflies in January

Before it's light, before I open my eyes, a few minutes of music wake me and then I hear the news [horrible way to start a day. So many dead in Iraq, Americans, Iraqis] then the weather prediction. Today: 1 to 3 inches of snow. Cold, windy. BRRR. The snow didn't happen. Cold and wind did. But I braved both to go again to Bed. Bath and Beyond for more bargain mats for framing some yet to be made butterflies. I just cannot stop making them. I want to have between 6 and 10 matted; plus I've got at least 20 sell-able butterfly postcards.

Butterflies are truly wonderful in January. The matted ones are going to be, I hope, special. The four are done so far and each has some beading to add sparkle. The others may sparkle as well. We'll see.

Why this obsession? I've thought about it as I worked. I'm not prone to introspection about this. I'll take the Freudian way out of a possibly sticky situation and say, if sometimes a cigar is a cigar, sometimes a butterfly is not a metaphor. A very large part of the fasciantion is how I can use various colors, even clashing prints for the wings, put it on top of some other print and wind up with a unified whole. Truth to tell, this is the major fascination of all quilting for me. Combining fabrics that seem unlikely and making it work. It's like life -- the most unlikely people get together, often by accident but they work or play or even have romances together ... so here I go being metaphoric. Oops. I'll be back with more butterflies in the next two or three weeks. Isn't it just nice to look at the colorful little flutterers in the middle of the winter?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Tis the season -- i.e., the gray, chill days of winter when gardeners pour over seed catalogs and dream of flowers and garden veggies. Not me. I am not, never have been, don't ever expect to be a gardener. When seed catalogs fill others] mailboxes mine is full of 2007 catalogs of adventures and foreign trips of all sorts ... and my little heart goes pitty-pat as I look at the mountains and rivers, the llamas and camels, elephants and koalas. When gardeners are reading about planting times, I am reading daily itineraries ... dreaming, dreaming.

So many places I haven't seen ... I'm not thinking much about cities, rather wide countryside,l natural places with animals and vistas. I've seen a lot of cities and they are not all alike, of causer, but they are now all dense. While there is beautiful art yet to see, I am not very interested in luxury eating or staying in another hotel that looks like every other international hotel. I have not seen any of Australia or New Zealand. I've seen very little of South America and nothing of sub-Saharan Africa. Three large, large continents yet to explore. I'm content to let Antarctica keep it's white secrets but the other, and then the many islands: Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Iceland, Tasmania and all of Indonesia ... ah ... so many trips offered ...

At the moment I'm reading a book called THE ABYSSINIAN by a Frenchman, Jean-Christophe Rufin. It's set in the 17th century and, of course Abyssinia is today's Ethiopia ... one of the catalogs has a trip to Ethiopia -- a rarely offered destination --and I've spoken to people who have been there who say it's fascinating. So many places really ARE exotic. meaning nothing at all like the tame, green towns I've lived in or the busy cities I know well.

Okay, I admit I'm still limping from the results of my fall during my last trip ... not a deterrent to dreaming. Not at all. Does a gardener stop smellng imaginary roses because she has arthritis and it hurts to kneel and plant? No way. Life is short and the world is big and, unfortunately, finances are limited so I have to be very choosy ... thus, weeks of pondering ...

Shopping today for mats in which to put butterfly postcard size quilts, I found the bargains were in mats that already had pictures in them -- but removable. This is one I may keep as is. The Zen saying, like others that are not unanswerable paradoxes, says a lot in a few words. For those who have trouble reading the picture is says: The quieter you are the more you hear. ... On the same note, I'm reading a magazine with interviews with well known quilters, Ruth McDonald said something very similar that I will paraphrase as The more you pay attention, the more you see. And, says Ms. McDonald, seeing is what every artist must be good at doing. I agree with the Zen master and with the Quilt masterpiece maker.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Next in the Series

I LOVE pulling out stuff from my stash -- I keep various colors in those zippered plastic bags that linens come in -- and choosing what I think is going to work for a new star quartet. This is what I decided on. Nice strong reds and purples against lighter colors, in this case, close to what Carol Doak used in her example.

This is the first full square I finished -- pinned to my "design wall" i.e., the black slip covered sofa across the from from my easy chair where I can contemplate it.-- Hey, in a two room apartment you do what you can, right? -- That background fabric is little dots or circles with minature flowers in the middle of them. It's not actually ugly but it is something I wanted to use up. HOWEVER, in this context it becomes downright ugly. And why should I do ugly? This series of quilts is not about ugly, it's about learning to use colors that work together. I blush to admit it took a couple of days to say "Out, out damned dots" ,.. [sorry about that, I DO love puns].

Anyway I chose a new background fabric, a light raspberry calico print that I'm very happy to use up and that works here even if it's a little on the sweetzie-poo-pretty side.

So this quartet is coming along apace. It's a pleasure to do one that feels cheery and nice after the dark one that I agonzied over and that is still hanging, accusingly, on the living room wall, simply because I haven't felt like putting it away with its predecessors and rehanging one of the other quilts that work better there. This is number 16 and there are still several stars that attract me and offer interesting challenges.

I was thinking earlier today about the many, many books about various technique that are published, written by individual quilters who show 15, 20 or so quilts in a certain style using their special technique. I used to think, goodness, don't those women get tired of making one after another quilt of the same sort? But I realized, thinking about my severals series, that when you find something that delights you, it's wonderful to go with it and see what variations you come up with. After all, we quilters are making something that is, if we're quite honest, really not needed ['tho it may be useful and used] and could be replaced more inexpensively with a blanket or mass market comforter -- if this is how we choose to spend our precious creative hours, it MUST give us delight ... otherwise we should be eating chocolates while we take a rose scented bubble bath.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Nostalgia Rampant

Saturday ... winter ... chill seeping in around the windows ... Metropolitan Opera Radio broadcast ... Maria Callas singing Lucia di Lammamor ... Over fifty years I have listened on winter Saturday afternoons to the Met opera broadcasts. A teenager, I wrapped myself in a blanket sitting in my chilly bedroom -- the heat came up the stairwell and through one vent from the kitchen but I needed the blanket. I listened, and learned and loved the Saturday operas ... another world ... far off in New York City ... I couldn't imagine ... just the "great gold curtain," that came down. The grand singers in their splendid gowns of crimson and gold and Lucia's blood-stained white gown after her mad scene. All sound and imagination ... applause.

When I finally saw an opera I was so overwhelmed by seeing as well as hearing I could barely understand what was happening. Today, for the first time since 1932 when it began. The Saturday matinee broadcast was not live. It was an historic broadcast of Maria Callas singing "Lucia", recorded in December 1956. I probably heard it. then. Today I listened with different ears and imagination ... but it was a cold winter day with chilly air seeping in around the window frame. Time stopped as Lucia and Edgardo sang their first duet ... when the septet began ... surely the most beautiful in all opera.

Early this week the Met sent a DVD from an interview with Callas by Edward Downs, a long time Met broadcast voice; I transcribed it. I remembered the names Callas mentioned. I remembered their voices. I loved Callas' attitude about acting and singing. A true actress, she went on stage and listened to others as if she were hearing their arias for the first time, and responded in character spontaneously -- with, of course, the skill of bel canto that she revived by example. She spoke of learning to be still -- to listen and not draw attention to herself unnecessarily. A grand woman with a voice of her own -- not so much beautiful and wonderful because of where it came from. These things I know now ... and remember from fifty years ago. an accumlulation of memories is a wonderful thing. What a lovely winter afternoon!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Briefly - a thought ...

A quote from Amy Bloom writing in O Magazine: The things that happen to us {even major, terrible, life-altering things: birth, death, prison, abandonment, illness) do not determine who we are; they reveal who we are.

I've been referring to Buddhist things lately, I believe I once read that Ms. Bloom is a Buddhist. At any rate her point of view seems Buddhist when she does not accept time wasting, self-centered delving into "why?" Instead she proclaims acceptance of what is. This is a "get on with it" attitude. We are as we are, we cannot blame one thing or another. The responsibility is ours. It's a comment one can think about a long time ...

The pictures are mandalas I purchased in Kathmandu a long time ago. They are not the Tibetan Buddhist mandalas which generally have pictures. They were sold, a far as I could discover, only at the gift shop at the Vajra Hotel. Many times I've looked at these mandalas and thought I should make a quilt or series of quilts inspired by them ... but I am daunted by the intricacy ... but perhaps one day I'll try ...

Lastly is a Native American "mandala" - a Navajo sand painting with corn god figures purchased in Tucson. Many people have remarked about the many similarities of the cultures of the American Southwest and that of Tibet. People have even remarked on the physical appearance of Tibetans and such Native Americans as the Navajos. I don't know where that kind of thinking can lead, probably to wild and wooly speculations that are mostly a mind game.
II deeply regret the quality of these pictures -- I have the most abysmal light and am almost never home during the 10 minutes when I actually get true sunlight in my apartment at all. A situation that causes me much despair.]

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Prairie Points Pillow

I've been philosophizing and attitudinizing and writing about myself. A glance through the photo screen reminded me that I've been meaning to show this pillow which is all covered in what we quilters call prairie points. Looks like a pillow from a maiden aunt's house somewhere out in the sticks, doesn't it? Very old fashioned to my eyes. Well, somehow prairie points have become very popular in Asia. This pillow was in a Taoist grotto-shrine in the hills west of Kunming, China. I saw a very similar one but didn't photograph it, in a Buddhist shrine in Karakoram, Mongolia as well. Isn't that amazing? They are new looking, not faded or wrinkled ... someone made them in the recent past. I won't say it boggles my mind -- more it addles my brain. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it.

Even more amazing to me, on my second trip to Tibet there was a canopy in a shrine room in Sera Monastery --which was my favorite, so pretty and serene -- which was made of quilts in traditional 19th century American quilt patterns. They were all sepia-ish which may have been from hanging above where yak butter candles were burned many hours of the day. I pointed the quilts out to Ruth, who was my roommate that trip. She agreed I was not imagining things. They looked like American quilts, all squares and little diamonds in traditional patterns.

I have no explanation for why East and West have melded in that way in Tibet [it is NOT China to me], China and Mongolia. But here's a pillow and I have seen other quilts in all three places also. It's a small world and the geometric patterns have common appeal, that's all I can conclude.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Fellowship of the Halt and Lame

We go through life blind to much. Then something happens, a window opens. For a couple months now, I've been aware of being part of the fellowship -- or company if we're going to be "politically correct" -- of the halt and the lame. What a lot of us there are! The people with the canes, the people who grasp the rail of the stairs out of the subway and haul themselves up, step by step ... yes, I'm among them. One with the slow "old" people -- they're obviously old, I'm obviously just timeless me. No, I'm not one of the obese who have loaded their poor knees and ankles with too much work, but, for them stair climbing is the same as it is for me, slow and difficult.

A homeless man, one of several I see regularly near where I work, who walks with a cane -- a man of indeterminate age, I'd guess about 55, but could be wrong by ten either direction -- seems to be on "our" corner 9:30 or so in the mornings when I go to the deli for coffee. The other day, making my way across the street with my trekking pole [no cane, I refuse to be part of THAT fellowship, I'm a trekker!! Once upon a time anyway], the homeless man, crossing toward me said, "It's tough isn't it? I mean to get ..." he paused hoping to be flattering, I think "... past fifty." "It sure is." I said. "Watch out for traffic," he warned.

In Buddhism meditators learn to feel empathy for all sensate beings ... I'm not a meditator, not in the Buddhist sense ... but for the time being, I feel exactly what the other lame and halt feel when I watch them maneuver through the city as I am doing. Perhaps this is a perk of living in a big city ... we mingle on the streets together. People are considerate in public places, they do not hurry or push the lame and halt, sometimes they hold doors. We are not made to feel our difference. We are not different, we of course are among the sensate beings. Some of use are only termporarily lame .. we hope.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Rainy Day Reverie

Take one chilly, rainy day, make it a holiday, add a bit of boredom -- do not microwave. This is a recipe for quiet and reverie. I've been indoors most of the day, sewing most of that time so that I don't really have to look at the dimness outside and the godawful brick wall of the new building blocking my view -- mostly it's not rented yet so I can't even be a perverted voyeur and watching other people in their apartments -- it's all dark little windows. What to think about? Other than sewing straight llines and matching the thread, etc.?

Travel, of course. Places I've been -- I've shown this picture of prayer flags at a Tibetan Buddhist shrine in Yunnan before but I've been thinking about the book I mentioned yesterday, Re-Enchantment by Jeffery Paine which openned up a -- which is the word? -- plethora or myriad? -- Or I could say, a whole jumbled batch of wonderful memories of traveling in Tibet and Nepal where I saw lots of Buddhist shrines and monasteries, and prayer flags everywhere -- mountain passes, river crossings, house tops. trees by the side of the road.

When the chair i was sitting on got hard and I got tired, I took a break and sat in my comfy leather chair with a footstool and surfed the Artful Quilters Web Ring. I noticed that a bunch of new blogs have been added in the last couple of days. So I checked them out as well as several others on the next to last page. I LOVE that there are so many Aussie and Kiwi quilter-bloggers!! This is better -- much better -- than going to travel sites or travel blogs. I can see their quilts and craft work, AND I can read about the summer heat, the dreadful wildfires [Alas] and see their piectures of summer at the beach, the bountiful backyard orchards and the magnificent abundance of flowers ... so much better than travel writers tellikng me about cheap dig where I'll neve stay. These are real people living busy lives, creating things and sharing the bounty of their lives. I REALLY love the international flavor of this Web Ring. It's wonderful to feel liike a citizen off the world touching base, at least virtually, with people from many places. Ususally I'm so busy I can only read a blog or two when I sit down at the computer so Hurray for Rainy Holidays. ... Now when will people move into that new building and do scandalous and kinky things in front of open windows? ... I don't mind waiting for that day to come.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Excuse me, are you Helen?'

The woman on the subway got up when the train stopped but then seemed to realize it was not her stop. She saw down beside me. "Excuse me," she said, "Are you Helen?" "No." I thought she would say I looked like someone she knew slightly. "Helen Miran?" she said. "No, I wish I were. She's very talented." "You look like her," she said. "Did you see the movie?" I asked -- meaning THE QUEEN. "She was wonderful," the woman said. I agreed. The train slowed for the next stop and the woman got off. "Nice to meet you," she said.

I suspect I looked not so much like Helen MIran as Queen Elizabeth as played by Miran. [I.e., a bit dowdy and dissatisfied -- I was, in fact tired.] For a long time I've believed that a number of facial templates exist. It's not unusual for someone to say, "you remind me of ..." "Do you know you look at a lot like ...?" it's usually a secondary actress -- Miran is probably the star-iest ... but I suspect, as I said it's QE-2 she meant who is not exactly a glamorous woman people aspire to look like. I'm never told I look like the sexy blond. No one ever said, "You look a lot like Sharon Stone." Until I let my hair go white it was usually the brunette 'best friend." character. ... Well, it could be worse, it could be Phyllis Diller or Lucille Ball.

What I've been reading:

I've just finished reading Jeffrey Paine's RE-ENCHANTMENT, which is a breezy, quick read that covers the history of America's awareness of Tibetan Buddhism, and of Tibet. I've researched the subject on my own over at least the last ten years, since I went to Tibet in 1995. I actually bought the book, which I found at the Metropolitan Museum's shop because is has a chapter [only 4 pages] on Theos Bernard, the Tibetan traveler who inspired my interest in the first place. No other book I've come across even mentioned him. Various facts were wrong -- but, I think because the information was not available. At times I was put off by the cursory way Paine described people [other than Bernard, I know a lot about David-Neel and about Tenzin Palmo and am generally conversant on the subject]. But Paine seems to have a grasp of what Buddhism actually is beneath the layers of Tibetan ritual and he takes seriously this form of Buddhism's contribution to American society and to world politics.

Besides Paine, I'm reading the biography of Frederick Law Olmstead who I admire enormously for planning that jewel in the heart of Manhattan that I love very much, Central Park. The man is fascinating; the book reads easily even though there are a lot of facts thrown in we really don't need [the families of many young woman Olmstead might have but didn't marry. The researcher hates to waste the notes he took.] Olmstead designed many, many other wonderful public spaces, I'm fascinated to find out just how much his ideas -- i.e., British ideas -- of natural beauty have affected and infected American life.

Finally, I'm back to Bea Ogelby's book of butterflies. I used it for the 35 or 40 post cards I made and for the "Migrating Monarchs"wall quilt, and I thought I was entirely finished with the book. But after a meeting yesterday at the guild about selling items at a members' boutique at the upcoming [March] show, I suddenly thought I'd like to make more butterfly items, post card size but matted so they can be framed and used as occasional pieces in decor. Because I am so attracted to butterflies right now, I can't help thinking others will be too. Of course, that could be entirely wrong. In a way it doesn't matter because I feel like continuing to make butterflies. It's not out of my system. Something about them nags at my psyche right now. Why not give in? I might make a little money; and I'll enjoy making them, in any case.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Guild Meeting

A couple of refreshing speakers made today's guild meeting more satisfying than is often the case. I wish I had pictures but some can be seen at -- pictures from today's meeting will be up in a day or two -- it is, in fact, a fantastic website maintained by a brilliant webmaster who also takes the photographs at the meetings and posts them PDQ. By the way this website is more than about the guild, it has a large list of links to other organizations and quilt related sites.

The speaker was CasandaraThorenson who is a collector of Welsh whole cloth quilts -- also a quilter and teacher. What was refreshing about her presentation, along with showing us some gorgeous quilts with wonderful colors and quilting, was that she emphasized the ad lib quality of the quilting. Because wool filling was used, the stitches were, necessarily, not close and even, but the attractive effect came through nevertheless. Also the patterns of quilting had a wonderful uneveness -- very personal, nothing perfect about them. None of the fussy-fussy perfection people strive for in order to please the quilt police [i.e., appraisers and judges]. She also pointed out that none of the Welsh quilts had binding, all simply had turned end edges which were not even whipped closed but simply held with two rows of quilting -- something I've thought of doing but never did because it's just "not done." Will be done sometimes in the near future. It was a pleasure to hear a speaker who knew her subject well and showed us a group of quilts she had collected the likes of which most of us had never seen before.

The quilter of the month was a long, long time Empire Guild member, Sylvia Zeveloff, who is also a painter. She showed many of the quilts she has designed herself, some pictorial, most abstract, some almost traditional, using many different techniques. She explained that she had made a serious study of color in her art training but when she sits down to quilt her choices are spontaneous and very rarely follow "rules" of any sort whether about what colors go together or how to create pattern and rhythm and design. She can be called a "free spirit." Her quilts have wonderful vivacity and excitement. It was a pleasure to she what she has created.

I must say I get very impatient with the speakers who tell us how they created prize winning quilts, all according to the current rules. Sometimes they are very beautiful quilts, but often there the quilts seem to me precious and static and the maker seem like engineers, not women creating beauty. Let's hear it for rule breaking and personal expression!!!!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

More Thoughts on the Exhibition ...

This picture somehow didn't get printed yesterday. It is Diane Gaulston Robinson's quilt, Vacant Lots, Brooklyn Waterfront. The photo is inadequate -- Robinson needed every inch of her 36x36 to show the images that are extremely reduced here. But it was a beautifully balanced quilt with fascinating images.

I keep thinking about the exhibit. I'm a muller -- things keep working in my mind. That's okay about these experiences but very frustrating when it's a matter of realizing, hours later, the perfect riposte in a contretemps, or what I should have said in a difficult emotional situation.

The size problem keeps nagging at me. Would exhibitors of most art shows impose such rules? Even, say, for a showing of student art work at the end of a semester. I don't think so. I don't think any group of artists would bow to such limitations ... although, I think of the many, many 10 minute play competitions in the country. An equally ridiculous restriction. There are even calls for one-page short stories. Really! As a playwright who's done her share of ten minute plays, I can tell you it's desperation that make one do it -- only so many venues exist at all. But a ten minute play is almost never really a play, it's a skit, a slightly fleshed out anecdote, usually a joke -- not a full expression of what a playwright has to say, It's a matter of skill at dialog and incident, not the construction of a vision of life.

The same desperation probably is at the root of quilt shows that restrict size -- usually the rules have a maximum but don't insist all be the very same size. Venues, whether exhibition spaces or theatres, haven't the space, or money -- or nerve -- to commit to being open to all comers in whatever size or genre. Presenters feel a bit self-righteous that they take a chance with what is relatively unknown, may be less than familiar to their audience, but, hey, it's only 10 minutes, hey, there are only 21 quilts and they're only 36x36 -- nothing overwhelming or demanding, really. Nothing will jump off the wall and bite you.

Parallels can be found in other arts. Poets and novelists know almost no publisher will take a chance on a vast saga of a literary work. So, what to do? Either find a place within the restrictions or be a hard headed idealist and simply do your art. If the latter, be sure you have a day job or a reliable source of income or a taste for poverty and obscurity. It's helpful to have enough "religion" [however you define it] to believe that the reward is in the creation and not in appreciation of that creation. You need an ego big enough to insist on doing what you need to do, and secure enough not to need reward, verbal or monetary. And let's hope that person has both skill and something to say -- both are in short supply.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Manhattan Quilters Guild Exhibition

Twenty-one New York themed quilts by members of the Manhattan Quilters Guild are on exhibit in the lobby of 1155 Avenue of the Americas [Wall Street Journal building]. This is a small guild of full time professional quilt artists; their work is always interesting, they are very skilled and dedicated artists.

The introduction by the curator, L.L.Powers is short but makes a distinction that I think is extremely important in this day when the Gees Bend quilts have become postage stamps. When Gees Bend quilts are what many people think art quilts are -- since the Gees Bend quilts certainly aren't what their Grammas used to make. After a couple of sentences about the history of utility quilting, Powers writes ..."these quilts were not estheticallydriven art projects, but rather art embellished homee products whose primary function was still warmth." [Which is true of the Gees Bend quilts, no matter how jazzy they are on our envelope].

Power's last two sentences are: "The creativity of a new generation has lifted the form into the pantheon of fine art. Liberated from physical need, the quilt has achieved aesthetic independence." These quilts, to paraphrase Powers, belong on walls of museums, or private collectors.

Above top right: Adrienne Yorinks, Metro Babel; below it, leflt: Diane Goulston Robinson, Vacant Lots, Broklyn Waterfront
Below top right Robin Schwab, New York, Noo Yawk; bottom left Sandra Sider, New York Colors

All the quilts are 36x36, and the show will travel to seven more venues in the next two years. The pictures here are scanned from the brochure and do not do justice to the quilts. These works rely heavily on surface interest, both fabric choice, it's manipulation and the various kinds of quilting and some restrained embellishment. Sandra Sider's essay in the brochure emphasizes the effect of quilting on each quilt which I find a very narrow window through which to look at them. Obviously the uniform size was chosen with an eye to exhibition harmony but it seems to have restricted imaginations and possibilities. True the city has grid features and visual perspectives are restricted but I've seen other work by most of these women and I believe they would have produced a more varied and interesting show without size and shape restrictions.

Individually, I enjoyed the pieces, with favorites, of course, but the walls of same sized quilts looked as if spontaneity had been effectively stamped out. Perhaps this was partly because of the venue which is a very cold, dark marble lobby space. The sameness of size, and the prevalence of grid in approximately half thee quilts made me wonder if choosing NYC as a theme had been a bad idea. But, since these women are called "Manhattan Quilters Guild" although not all [probably most] do not live in Manhattan, perhaps what they are showing is a true reflection of Manhattan after all.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bad Pun, Good Poem

I was just reading news feeds. California is about to start an earthquake preparedness campaign called "Shift Happens." Sorry -- I know puns are the lowest form of humor; but I'm a sucker for them.

Lilacs in September

Shocked to the root
like the lilac bush
in the vacant lot
by the hurricane --

whose black branch split
by wind or rain
has broken out

into those scant ash-
colored blossoms
lifted high
as if to say

to passersby
What will unleash
itself in you
when your storm comes?

This is by Katha Pollitt

I went looking for this poem after thinking last week about the subway hero about whom I wrote [and the papers have given him the full 15 minutes of fame -- deservedly]. Today a columnist in the Times is asking people to be "heroic" and tell people on the street to pick up trash they don't put in wastebasket and pick up their dog's poop. I nix that whole thing -- we inspire more than enough petty tyrants and self-righteous nags with the smoking ban, the crazy paranoia we allow airport security people and, I suppose now, we'll have all sorts of public finger waggers when someone orders fries with their hamburgers.

Instead of nags and scolds, let's pick up the gum wrapper that misses the trash basket [and for godsakes, you don't need to be wearing plastic gloves to do it!] Let's smile occasionally and sometimes compliment someone on a great necktie or a pretty scarf. Maybe one can give a seat on public transportation to an older person or a pregnant woman or even someone burdened with lots of packages. And we can remember those word Mamas try to teach kids: please and thank you -- which true adults offer when looking into the eyes of the other person ... the latter to be accompanied by a sincere smile.

Monday, January 08, 2007

It's a Toss-Up --

-- where it's more satisfying to finish something that's taken a good bit of time -- "Ah, done at last!" -- or to begin something new -- "okay, let's see what this is going to be." Being greedy for nice experiences and good at tending to my desires, I often make both happen almost simultaneously. The dark quartet of Carol Doak paper-pieced stars that I've been writing about for some time is now finished. It's even got a name.

"PLUTO, no star or planet, Dim object in the far darkness. Star Quartet #14" That's how I feel about it so that's what I'll call it. I think the green binding adds some oomph. Hanging on my wall it's not actually ugly or even out of place in my living room with my dark furniture. But I am SO happy it's done.

I've decided on the next quartet, have a drawing of the paper pattern ready to take to the Xerox place with my easy tear paper. I think I've decided on the background and tomorrow, likely, I'll start pulling fabrics from my stash for the star -- love that part. Then make a first quarter star and see how it goes together. If that's good, do the first star over a week's time and decided whether that works ... I've got some "Orphan squares" from stars that didn't work. This is the true surprise stage because I can imagine how the fabric, colors, their tones will look together, but I simply don't really KNOW until I see them.

Of course I have other projects to work on -- some big writing projects, and a couple of bed or at least lap size quilts that just called to me -- one when I saw a piece of fabric I thought would be really neat and fun for a "Stack and Whack" quilt -- the process totally delights me as I sew! And another paper pieced project that looks intriguing. Oh, there's no end of things to do. I need more time and a long, long life. I'm working on how to achieve both.

To change the subject: two contrasting things I've heard in the last 24 hours: As I came in from seeing a new Turkish film yesterday afternoon I met someone in the elevator who asked where I was coming from. His response to my answer was, "I'm not interested in Turkish movies." The poorer he, I thought; it was not a great movie but lovely to look at and fascinating as a study in romance in a culture I know little about.

In contrast one of my jobs today was to transcribe an interview with the musician Bela Fleck about his musical experiences in Uganda and Tanzania. He was entirely open to learning music when playing with local musicians in an idiom that was new to him. He admitted his preconceived ideas about African villages and actual fear driving through a chaotic marketplace. Then he considered his own presumptuousness for assuming that his musical skill would be immediately adaptable and probably superior to the skill of African musicians. In fact, he found himself at a loss how to hold his own with one musician in particular. It was a startling experience but one that, in retrospect, was exciting.

A short elevator ride was plenty of time to spend with the first man. I spent five hours today listening to and transcribing the Fleck interview. I will probably spend about six hours tomorrow "with" him. It's a pleasure ... I'm only sorry that this set of interviews contain no music except his occasional meditative strumming on the banjo as he waits for the technicians to do their work. I look forward to it. Thoughtful people like Fleck, whatever their field, make my job fascinating ... unfortunately many people on tapes are as narrow and dull as the man who is uninterested in Turkish movies.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Winter, Wherefort Art Thou?

[Here are some of my favorite flowers, cyclemen. [I wish they were real. They look real enough to fool visitors.]

Thinking about forest flowers is not so odd this January, at least not in NYC. Yesterday when I went out it was over 70 degrees. A few minutes ago when I came in the sun was bright, the breeze very light. I think it's about 50 outdoors -- very lovely. So far we have had no winter. I think a few furtive flake drifted down one day ... could have been feathers from someone's ruined pillow.

I've been trying to find the poem that contains the line, "in the cyclemen woods" -- which may be the title of the poem. I understand one can find anything on the Internet ... if one knows how and where to look. Well, I can't find the poem!!! [grumble, mutter, fuss, cuss] ... I would love to see a cyclemen filled wood. Once I was lucky enough to be in London at daffodil time and went to Hampton Court where a wood behind the palace was full of glowing gold daffodils. Very beautiful. Once, in Brooklyn Botanical Garden I saw a wooded area covered in bell hyacinths, very delicate and ethereal. Once upstate in New York I walked through a wood with many, although not a carpeting, of trilliums -- which are an endangered plant, but there were abundant there, at least that spring.

Well, I cannot find the poem no matter what I type into the search column. But I don't have to do anything mechanical to make those memories surface among the how-many-gazillion memories in my brain, the association works. The pictures pop up and with them the feelings of pleasure that accompanied those visions .. and in the case of sitting in St. James Park in London one spring on a bench beside an enormous bed of fragrant hyacinth, the scent returns too -- so much more beautiful than that scent one gets occasionally in an elevator with a woman too liberally doused herself in perfume de jour.

Yes, the internet and the world wide web are wonders. I'm such a late adapter I barely begin to grasp, let alone use, their potential. But I do when quietly doing hand sewing, or taking a walk, or doing the dishes watch the memories flow through my mind. I don't have to scroll down 54 pages of stuff that doesn't relate, I don't have to click here and click there ... Those memories are ALL mine ... I can, Buddhist-like, simply watch them flow. Or I can, Freudian-like analyze why this led to that and what further personal insight I might gain if I follow the associations with X and Y and Z. It's wonderful that we are equipped with all those storage cells and the incredible complexity of synapses that make them available without a mechanical click or having to find the right words to type in. I hope they'll keep on working 'til the end of my days. And I wouldn't mind if this became "The Winter it Didn't Snow in NYC."

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Second Time, some improvement

This is a second attempt about 11 months later at making this small art quilt to make a statement about women and heart disease -- inspired by having a stent placed in my heart almost exactly a year ago. Here I've tried to show the "Hallmark valentine" idea of a woman's heart that most of us grew up with and that I think remains pervasive. I want to contrast it with an actual, anatomical heart -- in a real woman's body. The head is covered with the EKG diagram but a head, i.e., peresonality exists along with the abstracts. I'm very disapointed that the light, and perhaps my handling of the camera, doesn't show the hand stitching and that the colors are somewhat bleached. I simply have terrible light in my apartment!

Nearly all the surface work on the new one is hand quilting/applique, even on top of the printed diagram and head. It seemed appropriate for something very personal to have hand sewing instead of machine as in the earlier version. I must admit I am less than enchanted with my efforts even yet but I think it's an improvement.

I had shown the first version to the quilters at a March SAQA meeting and Lisa, the NYC rep, asked, in the summer for it for this year's trunk show from NYC. I was hesitant but flattered. At the December meeting, in the classrooom at City Quilter, this year's pieces were displayed and I disliked my piece. I expected to have time to try to do better over the holidays, and, that was what happened. I've been working on it for a couple of weeks, knowing I wanted to keep the diagram image and the EKG element and that I still like the layering of sheer fabrics since our hearts, both real and metaphoric are usually hidden behind some kinds of layers. I thought a great deal about whether to use any other embellishments, like beads or sequins on the hearts but decided against it. The background fabric which is veined with gold seems to suggest the preciousness of the work the heart does keeping all the arteries and veins of our body supplied with blood.

I'm almost hesitant to show version #1, but I think it's obvious the new one is somewhat better. I think it's also very, very obvious that I am a beginner, a learner and, ah, yes, obviously, a blunderer, that my judgement is not brilliant. An element is possibly that this was a very meaningful event for me -- heart problems run in the family and I fully expect some day to die of heart failure -- but hope to delay that day for a long, long time. Still, so many women worry about cancer and rarely think about heart diseaese although it is the number one cause of death in the US. And women's symptoms are often not taken as seriously as men's, nor are women as likely to have EKGs during general exams as are men. So I very much want to make a statement. I'm just very disappointed that I am very clumsy in what I'm doing. I doubt there'll be a verision #3, but won't rule it out if some other idea/vision comes to me.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Life is Just ...

... a bowl of Queen Anne cherries. Ahhh!! last week my favorite fruit and veggie store had beautiful red Bing cherries and they were SO good. So are the Queen Anne's, though subtler, as always, in flavor. I'm not sure it's green-ly politically correct or not to rejoice in these wonderful treats. You can see not many are left. I suppose they come from some place like Chile, I hope they're grown without taking undo advantage of local people. Frankly at $3.99 a pound, when I'm eating them I don't care -- they're better than chocolate. Really!

This is the Carol Doak paper-pieced star "quartet" that I wrote about some weeks, maybe months, ago that I was uncertain about. Something made me stick to it and finish -- well, it's not finished, not quilted or bound or labeled; but the piecing is done and I used the purple-ish fabrice for a border. I'll probably use the green that is the outermost little triangle in the design for a binding, simply because that's the only color of which I have enough fabric. I think it'll give the whole thing a snap -- good, or maybe bad. Frankly, I wish I hadn't spent my time on this although sometimes from across the room, I kind of like it. I've been constantly conflicted about this because of the background busy-iness and because I feel that the bits of color are too small to have a sufficient impact, exceptt for the yellow which, in effect, is doubled at the "turn" of each design element.

My instinct said, no, it doesn't real work. But I've seen many such busy quilts and such busy designs in other modern art and design, so I thought making it and forcing myself to look at it as I worked and once it could be put into stars, I would learn something ... I did. That my own taste is for more immediately comprehensible patterns and design. That the busy-ness of the background makes me acutely uneasy. So I persevered and I learned I don't want to do it again. Of course I'll finsish this, maybe this coming weekend and then put it away --- to be offered for sale at the upcoming quilt show in March. And I will hope someone likes it much more than I do. I want it done and then out of my life. Saying ta-ta to something that makes you uncomfortable is a form of wisdom.

Another form of wisdom, I would suggest, is being spontaneous enough to see the cherries displayed, stop at the store, although it was not on the day's plan, get them, and unapologetically eat them all with sincere relish. We have to do tha because there are few fruits we can get these days that actually have their full natural flavor and sweetnes wherever they are grown.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Some Things Have Changed For the Better

I'm going to print a couple of China pictures just to attract the eye of the casual blog browser. Who wouldn't like to visit or live in a house where one enters a doorways into a courtyard like this? Can the inhabitants be less than graceful and tasteful with those beautiful potted plants? By the way, the Chinese seem to prefer potted plants to flower beds.

I was going to take pictures of current projects but the light was gone by the time I got home and I had a different subject on my mind -- one of the things that has changed in my lifetime of which I reap the rewards. I believe it's a direct result of the women's movement of the mid-20th century, although there are those who would argue that society was changing in an inevitable way, at least in the US. I'm thinking specifically about the larger numbers of women a generation younger than myself who are professionals, especially, those I deal with in the medical professions.

Today I saw my ophthomologist [I CAN spell it, can you?], Viola Kanevsky. I've been seeing her for some years and she keeps me in appropriate contact lenses and glasses. She's gone into business on her own, instead of as an independent contractor in a chain. We have a strictly professional relationship but I feel I can trust her judgment and continued knowledge of my needs. I feel the same trust in my internist, Nina Previn, who follows my ongoing high blood pressure and refers me to the specialists I need. Both are no nonsense women, we don't get into personalities, and yet they have definite personalities that suggest trustworthiness and, best of all, intelligence. This is very different from the White Knights who were the doctors of an earlier generation. There's not a lot of time to talk, but I feel I am heard as an individual -- I'm rarely sure of that with a male doctor. So I rejoice that the last 50 years has produced a crop of women in the medical professions, intelligent, competent and able to relate to patients as people who also are intelligent and involved in their health care.

So just to pique your curiosity [yes, that's right, "pique" not peak or peek -- this is the sort of thing you have to know if you do transcription for pay] here are some Chinese veggies. On the left are chives, I believe, in the middle, who knows? Something in the cucumber family? They're pretty, aren't they? I think on the right are hearts of palm. I could be wrong all around. Because I cannot respond to comments directly, I want to say thank you to the reader who, a couple weeks ago, identified a fruit in a picture as a duran. If anyone knows these veggies, please leave a comment. By the way, comments are always welcomed.

I rejoice, too, that the newspaper [I suppose the TV too, although I wouldn't know, not having a TV] tell us good news now and then. Today it was a wonderful man who unhesitantly saved the life of a stranger who was having a seizure on the subway platform, fell onto the track before an oncoming train. The hero,jumped onto the track, protected the ill man with his body as the train -- five cars -- passed over them grazing and bruising but not otherwise harming them. Not only was the hero spontaneous in his decision to protect a stranger, he had two small daughters with him on the platform who will forever, the rest of their lives, carry in their memories of their father leaping, apparently to suicide, in order to save a person he did not know. And he came out alive -- to go home with them. What an incredible legacy for one's children! To me the wonderful thing is the spontaneity -- this was not someone sitting at home thinking, shall I write a check for a charity? Should I take a second job to pay for my kid's education? No, this was utter, almost in the blink of an eye, decision to care for a stranger. Most of us will never have that opportunity. But we can be grateful that some people have that capacity and hope that if such an event happened before our eyes we might be able to rise to the occasion and never be one of those abject cowards such as hide behind their curtains when someone is being attacked on the street in front of their houses. If we can sometimes see real heroism lauded in the media, maybe more of us will believe we too have the ability to care about others.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Start the year thinking about this:

We shall not cease from exploration
And in the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
a excerpt from T.S. Eliot

Working hard, staying in out of the rain. Tomorrow I hope to take some pictures of what I've been working on.

I have what the Victorians called "an occasional book" where they jotted down things they wanted to remember, bits of poetry, etc. Mine is mostly poetry and has grown to two little books now. Each thing sets the thoughts in motion ... I hope this Eliot piece does the same for others.