Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Occasionally lovely packages arrive in the mail ... sometimes it's a matter of having considerable patience and sometimes, it's just a nice surprise. The picture here of various Mary Kay, and some Avon, cosmetics was a promise waited for until I'd nearly given up believing in the goodness of the human heart. But I hadn't -- quite -- given up. I'd seen a note by a woman who said she wanted a quilt, reallly wanted a quilt! She offered to trade the cosmetics, since she's been selling both Mary Kay and Avon products, for not one but two quilts. I agreed. I have [still] too many quilts crowding the shelves of my few closets. So there were two relatively dramatic twin size quilts I was not unhappy to send to a loving home. And the woman promised a shipment of cosmetics, creams, lotions, fondations, etc. But it didn't come and didn't come and didn't come. And I thought ... umm, have I been taken? But I didn't write a nasty email. So one day, there came a package will all sorts of wonderful stuff to make me -- if not beautiul, to feel beautiful Faith restored in people's honesty!
The way I got interested in the Swap-bot site was reading a note on a quilter's blog. I've since semi-remembered it was Helen Conway's bog and I've wound up corresponding with her. In which she wrote glowingly about the wondeful package of quilting fabrics she received in a swap. I thought, I'd love some of that! And I've received several nice fabric swaps but this is the nicest yet -- the theme was green [could you have guessed?] and she was a bit late in sending it so she added some wonderful varigated thread and the [green handled] sewing machine lint brush, a delightful gadget! Plus a bunch of lovely green fat quarters -- one piece of which went into the quilt I showed in the last post. How lovely to receive such generosity on a sweaty summer day!

And not to forget a favorite friend, Lynn from Boca Raton. We have nearby birthdays and I always forget hers and she mine but then she sends me things I do not deserve. Recently it was the American Quilter's Society desk calender. I've been using this annual publication for 10 or maybe 15 years, keeping it on my desk at work so that I can study a different quilt every week -- some are very inspiring, some I dislike, narturally. But now I won't find myself scrounging for a copy of the calendar at the lsat minute in November/December as usual. I have it for 2008, thanks to Lynn. How wonderful!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Starting a new quilt

It was the worst of summer days with both temperature and humidity index in the high 80s. Without air conditioning, how to be comfortable? Move as little as possible and have a fan aimed at you. That can be accomplished by reading -- and I did read the Sunday Times a bit more conscientiouisly and thoroughly than usual and am still puzzling over parts of the crossword puzzle. Some activity was necessary, laundry, shopping. Then is decided to make a start at the "chicken quilt" about which I have been mumbling. This is some of the fabrics I had gathered to think about using. I was not certain what kind of background patchwork I wanted to make.
Many people, often those who are truly artists, do a lot of drawing and thinking and planning and then know what they'are aiming at doing. I can't work that way. Which is a bit stupid and has been known to produce ugly results. I work spur-of-the-moment and so I decided the chickens [roosters, really] need a background that is not too distracting. Could have been black, as in the fabric they are printed on, but I chose red. A variety of reds. And then what? I wanted another color or two or three to tone down the red. So I chose several fabrics including lots of deep greens and began sewing. I'm not even going to try to describe what I'm doing beyond that much. I'm not sure it will work. But I spent a good part of the afternoon sewing squares, cutting fabric as I went along. I know how they'll be put together -- in theory, but they'll have to be laid out for me to make choices because there's a scrappy varaibility in the blocks. When I have 35 blocks together, I'll fuse the roosters on. This is the rooster fabric. They are truly grand birds!
When the rooster fabric has had fusable backing applied they will be fussy cut ... THAT is going to take a good bit of time. I have a fuzzy picture in my mind what the quilt will look like. I won't be coming back to this topic for about two months because it is going to be at least that long before I make any picture-able progress, I think.

This is not entirely a spur of the moment quilt, it's one of the mental USOs [Un-started objects] I've had in mind quite a while. Over a year ago a vender at an Empire Quilters meeting had the rooster fabric and I purchased a yard of it. I was drawn to it because the farm I grew up on had chickens but of the most utiilitarian type -- Plymouths which were white and Rhode Island Reds, which were redish brown. The former laid white eggs and were fairly sizable birds with good sized eggs; the latter had brown eggs, also at least medium size. Both were edible birds and eat them we did when the abundance of males grew to frier size or when the layers [hens] were getting old and were good for stewing. It was all very practical and they were not particularly pretty -- certainly not like those on the fabric. The first time I saw beautifully plumed chickens was in Nepal where the hens produced eggs and at least some roosters must have been eaten. They were so lovely I photographed them which caused the locals some amusement since they took their chickens for granted. So, as usual, this "chicken quilt" has personal meaning to me and I'll be especially pleased if it should turn out well. For now, who knows? I'm hoping and making choices really by the seat of my pants.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Small quilt, quick and easy

Many months ago I found this tapestry -- a tourtist trade item, obviously -- in a thrift shop for a couple dollars. It is Mt. Kailash, the holy mountain in Western Tibet that both Hindus and Buddhists consider the center of the world. Including being Lord Krishna's birthplace. Many pigrims of both religions journey on foot there to walk the kora -- the path around the mountain. This path is at 13, to 15,000 feet altitude and is not easy but literally thousands do it every year. Some people prostrate all the way around it. The lake in front of the mountain is Mansowar and is likewise revered. I have not been there and don't ever expect to be but I'm sure it is very beautiful. [Apologies, abject apologies, as usualy, for the horrid photo. Lack of decent light is the problem.]

So I had the tapestry, which is about 14x18 and I had added borders and chosen a backing fabric and folded it into a little plastic bag to await being quilted. Yesterday I decided on a different backing and then set to work giving texture to the lake and mountains and sky with very simple quilting. Today I quilted the borders and then added the red/gold print binding -- a design that reminds me of the brocades used lavishly in Tibetan monasteries. And it is now finished except for tacking down the hanging sleeve in back which I will do as soon as I stop writing this since my radio has begun playing Beethovan's magnificent violin concerto and I want to give it the attention it deserves..

One last thing about Mt. Kailash -- I have recently read that the Chinese government wants to build a highway around the mountain to make it easy for tourists to visit. After building the railroad to Lhasa, clearly they have the engineers who can do it but it makes my heart sink. The market economy has gone as hogwild and utterly, greedily mad in China as it is in the good old US of A and they will Disney-ize anything no matter how holy to whoever. It makes me feel sick. I was totally delighted to read in today's newspaper that plans to build a highway to the base camp to Everest, on the Tibet side, so that they can have the Olympic tourch carried to the top of Everest before the games for which they are in such a fever about has been suspended. Obviously they want to claim Everest as theirs, although it is mostly in Nepal and the approach from theTibet side, which it has been successfully climbed, is much more difficult than from the Nepal side -- although many people do it these days it's definitely not a Sunday afternoon walk in the park. Many people die!! Every year!! I sincerely hope they give up this wild and hubristic idea. And I hope they give up the idea of a highway around Mt. Kailash Yes, I saw some tourist sites that were done very tastefully in southern China last fall. But the horrible disrespect for Tibetan religion from the 1950s on has been so egregious it is utterly sickening. ... Working on Mt.Kailash has been as close as I'll get to the meditative experience of walking the kora. The only question now is where to hang it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Travel excitement

For me the excitement of a group trip, i.e., the kind of I've been taking with groups arranged by a tour operator, which is to say I'll be with people I've never met, begins when I get the list of names and cities they are from. Today I got the list for the upcoming central Europe trip -- besides me, 7 women and one man -- and a male tour guide. Three Canadian women, the rest from the US. Just names. It always starts that way. Soon each name will be a person! It's the simplest thing possible but a wonder nevertheless. I have a single room being the late comer so this time there is no roommate compatibility question -- I've never had an uncompatible roommate, but some have been especially good to room with and I've stayed in touch with some of them. The people are important, people always are important!

And then there's the brochure with all the pictures of castles and scenic vistas. It could be anywhere, soon it will be something I saw and have stored in my memory. On some trips I've almost ODed on Greek and Roman ruins, and I suspect that on this I'll come near to OD-ing on baroque and renaissance architecture. But it's not all towns with oxymoranic "rectangular squares" in the center, there are forests and rivers, there are castles. And there is history. Some I know, but it's sketchy. I'll know a lot more soon -- that's fun. So I'm getting excited, anticipating that first diinner together in Prague when we'll assess each other, probably introduce ourselves with a little information and begin to sort out who has common interests. I love the anticipation -- tho' not as much as actually being somewhere new. But for me almost everything about traveling [once beyond the neo-nazis at the security check-in x-ray machines and once the plane is actually airborne], it's all cake and ice cream.
I had a postcard from someone recently showing the redwood forest in northern California. The woman mentioned it was the 30th World Heritage site she had visited. As I read escriptions of towns and castles I'll see on this trip, 5 or 6 are World Heritage sites. I think there are about 850 total. So now I'm wondering about getting a list and seeing how many I have seen. It's got to approach, or maybe top 100. I'm not especially interested in keeping that kind of record but my curiosity is piqued.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Taste of Retirement

My job usually goes through a slow spell in the summer. It's happening again. I knew there was no work for today so I woke up bright eyed and bushtailed [as is appropriate for this posting]. Up and eager to treat the day like a day in retirement doing the things I want to do, just for me. Breakfast, reading while I eat, a little housekeeping, a few hours of writing. Bagel and coffee late morning sitting in the park. Then back to the house, piano playing for a while. More writing, then some sewing, then a short walk, more writing, dinner, blogging, surfing and there'll be a nice evening reading, and a bit of yoga before more reading in bed. What could be nicer?
When I went to the park with my coffee and bagel my favorite benches were behind barriers while some repaving was being done. So I went to the area that is usually filled with kids but which was empty just then except for a woman photographing pigeons. There is a single picnic table so I sat down to read and to first draft a poem I had been thinking about. I saw a squirel come check me out when I first sat down. Then he went away. Then he came back and jumped up on the table and definitely gave me a 'aren't you going to share?" stare. What kind of selfish boob do you think I am. Of course I'll share. I tore off a piece of bagel and laid it on the table. He grabbed it. I expected him to run off with it but, no. He settled back with it firmly between his front paws and set to nibbling... so very, very intently I took out my camera and he didn't even care as I took his picture a couple of times.
I tried watching him with the kind of attention Mary Oliver speaks of in her poem "A Summer's Day" about the grasshopper. He finished the first piece and clearly wanted another. I held it out, a little warily but he took it neatly from my fingers. And began eating it. His method was this. He nibbled in fast, rather furious, continuous, voracious way, chewing very briefly between nibbles. No slow meditative chewing for this guy. He would do well in any eating contest. He was concentrated and efficient and spilled very few crumbs. He manouvered the piece of bagel around to the best angle with his grasping little paws holding it firmly and neatly. His paws,f front and backhave long final segments which are very adaptable, which is why they are so good a climbling.

He was a chubby fellow. I think he's a pernnial beggar and probably has had lots of pototo chips, Cheeze Doodles and whatever snacks people bring. I don't believe bits of bagel are an ideal squirrel diet either. But he certainly was busy eating them. After the third bite, which it seemed to me was about the equivalent, proportionately, for him as the whole bagel, minus his portion, was for me, he seemed sated and hopped off the table and disappeared. I wrote the poem I meant to write and wondered about writing a poem about him ... nothing came quickly to mind. Maybe it will later. Apparently what I get for sitting in a new spot was a new companion. There may be a moral in this little story.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Stack and Whack" quilt

I've writen about what fun it is for me to use Bethany Reynold's "Stack and Whack" piecing method and watch patterns appear as I sew. In this case it was especially fun to put together the blocks, 35 of them, some with gray-green and some a green/white patterned background, and find to my delighted surprise that I really like the outcome. Something about the designs can become too self-conscious but in this not quite subtle checkerboard background they seem to work in a folksier way. I wish I had the art and design words to explain why the top pleases me. The back is a slightly electric shock with lots of hot pink and strips of the base pattern fabric. I think it's a nice contrast -- I like the backs of quilts to have an element of surprise while not clashing. Obviously it does not yet have a batting and isn't quilted. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do about it. It almost asks to be sent to a long-arm machine quilter but I resist because I resist the trendiness of that overall patterned look. Still, I think it might be okay. I'm contemplating the matter.
Serendipity played a role in this quilt. I pulled the green background fabrics and the third green of the outermost border, from my stash. And the hot pink is a fabric I purchased in Ohio just a couple weeks ago. As it happens, I had almost exactly the amount of greens and pink that I needed for this quilt -- the scraps I have left over are minimal. The pink, in fact, was on sale as the end of a roll and I simply asked for "the rest of that piece." I don't even remember the amount. And the main patterned fabric, I have used up almost entirely since I put it in the back. Thus without purchasing specific amounts, I nevertheless had what I needed.

I find green a strange color to work with in this quantity. Like most peole I love green as the color of abundant nature. I love leaving the city and finding myself on roads surrounded by trees or hills and fields that are many shades of green. Yet green is a color that fashion designers know does not do well. Go to any big season end sale and you'll find an abundance of green that was not purchased, did not sell well. Few women wear much green. And I find sewing green except when it refers to grass or trees in a quilt a somewhat disconcerting thing to do, as it was with this quilt. But, strangely, as I said, I like the quilt. But will I want to see it lying on my bed? I'm not sure I will. Somehow green doesn't seem to want to be domesticated in an abstract way. it wants to refer to nature, or I want it to and kind of want to keep it in it's place, as it were. I have no idea if anybody else has these feelings about green. Hmmm...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Clara Weick Shumann

Every so often one reads about Asian parents who make their musically talented children practice hours and hours and enter this competition and that, study with this teacher and that ... and lo! and behold! the have prodigy careers and sometimes lifelong careers. Today that is frowned on by we enlightened Amercians who say we cherish childhood for it's carefree spirit and so on. Some parents [big city ones, it seems] push their children into top schools, urge top grades, want them to go to top colleges and become outstanding bankers, lawyers, doctors -- rarely musicians or artists. While other parents urge childen into athletics or generally ignore them as long as they're quiet at the TV or computer.

Once upon a time prodigies were very much shaped by their parents. We know that Leopold Mozart was a very heavy handed father. We're not so sure about Bach, maybe he just had so many children the only way they could get attention was by producing music also [I haven't read a biography]. Now I'm reading a biography of Clara Weick Schumann. I knew the outline and that Papa Weick was an orge ... indeed that's a kind word for a man who viewed his talented child as property [as every slave owner did] while battering her brothers, literally, and kicking them out of the house at ages15 and 16, while being only marginally kinder to her half-brothers. Clara was a docile slave for many years, earning a great deal of money for Papa and practicing the piano endlessly. She became a truly brilliant performer. She did not rebel until Weick refused to allow her to marry Robert Schumann who he, himself, had brought into the household [as a paying piano sudent]. I was aware of this part of the story although not of the absolute selfishness of Papa. And that's as far as I've come in the book so far.

Finally Clara broke with Papa, and in her twenties was able to establish a relationship with her own mother who Weick had divorced when she was small. She married Robert, concertized, continued composing herself, bore 7 or 8 children [I'll find out], and cared for Robert when he sank beyond depression in dementia. [How might their lives have turned out if Prozac had existed?] After Robert's death, Clara was on her own -- with chlidren to care but her prodigious talent intact -- with all the difficulties of a woman in a man's world. She befriended the morose [homosexual ?] Brahms ... all this part I want to know more about. So I'm going on through the very stodgily written book.

The first picture is of Clara at 18, the second at 57 ... the painter is more talented in the second picture, of course, but here we see a woman who has not had an easy time of it. There is not much character in the teenage portrait, but great character in the older one. I wonder, can anyone today actually prefer that insipid girl to the woman who knows what life is all about?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Spur of the Moment Decision

There was the late '60s slogan, "When life gives your lemons, make lemonade." If I internalized it, I'm really not aware of having done so. But ... yesterday came the phone call that said the October trip across Argentina that I had been looking forward to for many months now, has been cancelled. I've paid for it so the only thing to do is choose another trip from the same company that costs approximately the same amount and substitute. Hmm, what to do? The sales lady, of course, offered several trips that are a couple thousand dollars more and offered me a small compensation monetary discount. Suddenly I felt like the kld who thought she was going to get a pony for her birthday but found out, No pony. But you can chose any one of these other boxes ... but only one. But which one? I was mentally set for an October vacation.

I went through the tour company's catalog and semi narrowed the choice to Ladakh or Madagascar. I had considered the Ladakh trip before because I love the Himalayas and have read much about the monasteries in Ladakh, and it included a day or two in Darmsala with a vague possibility of an audience with the Dalai Lama ... very appealling. And Madagascar-- exotic, unlike almost any place on earth. Wonderful flora and fauna -- especially lemurs, those enchanting animals. So I called Rachel and got the whole family and they all voted for Madagascar. Hmm ... okay. Same time period, nearly the same price. I was 90% decided.

So I sat on the subway coming home from work and looked again through the catalog ... I had looked at some East European trips but all I think of is quaint-ish towns, good beer, and residue of Communism. Then a line hit my eye -- nine hikes -- nine hikes in the forests and mountains of Eastern Europe, nine days in bucollic settings ... in the middle of August when it's likely to be hot and humid in NYC. Nine day beneath old growth trees instead of on heat collecting cement sidewalks. Really excellent beer to refresh a thirst, and paprika flavored food. Also a couple days in Prague, which is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, which I've never seen. Hmm.. But it's only three weeks away. Probably sold out, probably impossible but if so, there's Madagascar in October.

Ah-ha -- not sold out, I can go! Yes, I said, make that a definite! So my thoughts of Cape Cod in August, pfft, out the window. Cape Cod is beautiful in September ... and October -- even if the family is working. And no doubt Eastern Europe is a much better place to be for two weeks of August than New York City. So that's what it is. I'll start mentally packing my suitcas. Which comfortable walking shoes? I feel the excitement building. As the saleswoman said, when I expressed my disappointment yesterday, "sometimes the unexpected things turn out to be quite wonderful." True. We will see, indeed, without the charming villages and the hasenfeffer and good beer [and wine "?] the forests and mountains ...nine out of 14 days ... sure sounds wonderful. I'm getting psyched.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

'Stack and Whack"

I love, love, love Bethany Reynold's "Stack and Whack" idea and books. [There shoud be copywrite signs by the term but my keyboard dosen't have one so I used quotes]. I've made several mostly using this design or the hexagonal design.

I keep my eye open for prints that I think my make interesting designs. This print as you can guess was large tropical flowers. I've made 37 blocks which I'll put together in a 5x7 size top with the darker green and lighter green backgrounds alternating. Using two different backgrounds was a wild guess but I think it's going to work. The previous quilt of this sort was all the same background and, despite the difference in each block, I felt it was too static. I think this will work better.
Meanwhile, I get the greatest delight -- it's truly a child-like glee as I watch each new pattern forming -- akin, of couse, to looking at a kaliadoscope. Except someone else make the kalaidoscope and I made these blocks all by myself. The next step is to square up the blocks and then sew them together. Add at least two borders and see if I want more than two. Pick out a backing, add batting, quilt, bind and viola!! Another quilt I don't need -- but it will have given me much pleasuer in the making. It will reappear here when the top is done.

Is it silly to simpl make quilts I don't need because I love the method and the color surprises that arise? I don't think so. I am not an artists, but this is, I think a paled down version of what real fine artists do -- then the thoughtful ones comes up with erudite explanatons of what they've just done. I could mumble around and sound artistic too, I've got the vocabulary ... but not the pretension -- or is it seriousness?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bodies in Motion and at Rest

I have been reading a book of thoughtful, graceful and insightful essays by Thoimas Lynch who is also a poet. It is called BODIES IN MOTION AND AT REST and the subtitle is "On Metaphor and Mortality". Mr. Lynch lives in a small town in Michigan and earns his living, not as an academic, but in the family business. He is a funeral director. It gives him a perspective on life and death that is straightforward but respectful and very human and humane. I strongly recommeend this book.

I have not finished the book but I felt like writing about it just now after opening two emails. One tells me of the memorial services for a woman who I went to school with for 12 years [actually 16 but the last four in college I did not see her]. She disappeared from the lives of all her class and was living in Florida when she died last week. Most of us knew almost nothing about what happened to her; she cut off all communications with people she knew in her younger years. I remember her as a lively first and second grader who was one of my first school friends. As time went on we each had other best friends and, in fact, I did not know her very well; but took her presence for granted. She was a part of school life. Later many years passed when I didn't think of her once. I'm sure she didn't think of me in all those years either. And yet, it is sad to hear of her death. Every passing of someone from our youngest memories is a memento mori.

The second email was from a co-worker who passed on an email for another past co-worker telling us that yet a third ex-co-worker had died. This woman was my age. We shared several interests but were office friends. We did not socialize or visit one another and did not keep in touch when she took a job elsewhere. Still, being another contemporary, this too is a memento mori. It can happen ... yes, indeed. I've nearly always had this awareness because I attended funerals as a child, I was not shielded from the universality of death. But there is sadness that somehow my world has been eroded away a little bit.
However, reading Thomas Lynch is a very settling experience. As you see in the picture, he LOOKs like a small town undertaker ... but he doesn't write like your local undertaker -- he's far more thoughtful and skilled. I don't know why I began reading this book. I found it as a bargain and liked the blurbs on the back. I do find that often there is an aptness or synchronicity in the things that come into my life. This is superstition, really, but it provides a peaceful feeling of being somehow centered. Yes, I know it's superstition, we'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Butterfly quilted postcard

Quilt postcard with butterflies on them has been a recurring theme in this blog. I think I started making postcards using Bea Oglsby's Butterfly Album early in 2006. It was a bit labor intensive [isn't all quilting?] but I got hooked on the possible color combinations, background and butterflies. By February of 2007, I had made over 50. I haven't made any since then, I've been sending them out, giving them away and contemplating doing more.
A Swap-bot swap for "textile postcards" came up and I thought, ah-ha, I can send out some more! Which I just did today with the three pictured here. One is going as far as Australia and I must admit, it being the one embellished with beads and sequins I put it in an envelope. I'm actually posting these pictures because the swap hostess suggested people share their postcads with others via flickr or whatever .. this is whatever. People in tthe swap can find my blog.
So my supply of post cards is dwindling -- which is nice, that's the intention. And I'll feel free to make more. BUT ... I made a list of summer projects some weeks ago and that wasn't part of it -- nor was making a larger quilt with moths [I have patterns now and "intentions"] It might be as big as the monarch quilt which I've posted a time or three before and it will be decidedly labor intensive. The imagination outruns the free time constantly ... would I like it any other way? Of course not.
As for a brief progress report on that to-do list: The blue/white quilt is on the bed. The little dog and the starry sky is coming along. I spent all of Saturday afternoon while listening to Rene Fleming sing La Traviata putting on stars -- about three hours. I probably have another 12 or 15 hours of star application to do. It's one star at a time -- well, hey! the Big Bang was a long time ago and the physicists say things are slowing down ... it's slow here at any rate adding new stars in the sky.

I'll have pictures and comments about a "Stack & whack" quilt that is coming along apace. That leaves me thinking a lot about the chickens ... if that sound enigmatic it is slightly -- I still don't know how I'll use those fabrics. But I WILL. And then .. maybe a few more butterfly post cards. We'll see.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Visiting family usually means getting in touch with history also -- at least when one has reached our age and when the visits are mostly once a year. Joan has done geneology, mostly on her family but some of the Calender family too. I think I may have once before asked her to clarify why both my mother and my father were cousins to a batch of people name Boyd. And this time she explained which aunt married a Boyd and which Boyd was my grandmother's father. I don't think, I can repeat it or write it down but it was quite clear ... if only for about fifteen miinutes. And it IS in writing in Joan's geneology notebook. Enough. Family arcana like that doesn't not need to stay in the head any more than does the formula for finding the area of a rhomboid. It's not something one needs on a daily basis.

Photos also surface at such visits and this time the grainy old photo of my maternal grandmother as a young woman came to light and Joan made a copy for me. I have never seen any picture of her younger than the one when I was a newborn and she a new grandmother. Here, in the photo above, she looks to be in her late twenties. I only had that same picture of newborn me with the maternal grand and great-grand parents and it was far from clear. This one isn't either but I get a feeling of such hard working people from the picture. I wonder what Walker Evans could have done if he had found them to photograph.

The other picture is one I've seen all my life, my paternal grandparents' wedding picture. What a tiny waist she has! And he has the same ears all his sons had. They haven't yet set out on the hard slog of farming but are about to. These two grandparents' farms were very near one another. I suppose I should have scanned my parents' wedding picture just to complete the story. Perhaps I will tomorrow. it's very hot and muggy and my computer is not a happy camper in this weather, it keeps freezing up. I'm hoping for a thunderstorm soon that will cool the air a bit.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Short Stories

The truth is I don't like short stories very much. The only place i regularaly see good short stories is in The New Yorker, but I never read them. I don't purchase books of short stories even by writers whose fictioin I like. I'm not sure how this came about, but mostly I feel there's just not enough substance to most short stories and that my time is better spent reading nonfiction articles. But a strange thing has happened.

As I've mentioned a few times I've been going to a site called Swap-bot where people post "swaps" that are exercises or challenges or pen pal type letters. Quite a few have been writing exercises and I have been taking part to push myself to write both fiction and autobiographical nonfiction. A current one was that each person involved would be given a partner to whom they would email a photo, then the recipient would write about whatever the photo inspired, poem, essay, short story, anything. A young woman in England send me something very abstract and when I asked what it was, she sent me three other photos, one of which seemed definitely to be from Venice.

As I thought about Venice I remembered being there with my ex-neighbor, Pat, and that we got lost on a rainy night on our way from a restaurant to our hotel. So very shortly I had written a first paragraph about getting lost and the next evening I wrote the rest of a short story. This is the fourth short story I've written in about two months. None of them have anything in common except a first person narrator but I don't think any one would think they were all written by the same person. And yet each one has delighted me as I wrote it and finished it. All are unlike anything I've written before. I do not believe they fall into the serious literature category; they are not deeply felt from my experience or observation ... or maybe they are from my observatioins and certainly I have a point of view in each that is my own. They've been seen only by strangers in this swap community. I think I will print them out and put them into a note book of their own. There is yet one more challenge I've signed up for that asks for a short story. It supplies a title I think is icky, "Cranberry Cove Cottage," but I'm already thinking of ways to subvert the Thomas Kincaid-ish picture those words bring to mind. I don't have a story yet but I might in a day or two.

There is a tap in my brain somewhere. When left dripping overnight a basin fills with unexpected associations and a situation arises, a story comes. I've always been good at doing assignments. A playwrighting group I belonged to for some time did, occasionally, 2 or 3 page challenges on a single word or phrase and I never failed to find something ... not brilliant but something. And so it's going with the short stories. Once a story has been put on the computer I have a refreshed feeling somewhat like a lovely coolish shower these hot muggy days. It may not be good literature but it's good mental exercise. I'm enjoying using those story telling muscles.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Quilt National

Printer and scanner are back in business -- truly hot, humid weather makes me unable to do the simplest things, like fix a paper jam. Today the humidity is lower and temperature summertime pleasant and the job was a snap. SO.... a few remarks, not a review or critique. Above is the odd-ball quilt of the year. Every year there is one: One year it was a stick bed with a quilt on it, another yeat it was magnificent wooden squares, another year it was a quilt made of matchsticks. This year it is Julie John Upshaw's Ironing Board with the female figure drawn and quilted on it. It's as if every year the judges have to include one far out "quilt" -- this is a quilt, there are the requisite three layers, etc. {not always true}

Quilts I really liked: many of the ones that depended on color and quilting to make their statements: quilts by Kent Williams, Regina V. Benson, Sharon Bell (three long strips of simply quilted, dyed blue fabrics), Mary E. Stoudt (remaniscent of Klimt, Charlotte Patera, Marie Jensen. I have a great weakness for beautiful color beautifully quilted and simply presented. Nancy Erickson's animal quilts are always very powerful and ring primitive chords, her wolf was no exception. Of the pictoral quilts, I was struck by Carol Elrod's "Table for Two" [below} for both the humor and the verisimilitude.

There are so many other wonderful quilts. One must either see the show or purchase the catalog which uses Susan Shie's "The Tower" [of pressure cookers] as it's cover design. her godesses not only have the traditional third eye above the nose but a fourth eye in the hollow of the throat! and it is, as always heavily covered with the diary of a the month in which it was made. There are familiar and well known artists and a few unknown names, humor and deep seriousness. Finally there is a laugh out loud quilt, a large one in tones of gray/black and white, a portrait of George W. Bush -- entirely of fabric yoyos!!! This is subversive art at its very best.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


I can't write about Quilt National with pictures because I have jammed my printer/scanner and haven't the patience to find the manual and see how to get in it to unjam it. Anyway, it is a birthday -- this lovely young lady ... so she's not as young as, say her daughter who just graduated from high school -- to a mother's eyes, she IS certainly young. And lovely, of cousre. I will not get sentimental but being inclined to note calendric reoccurences, birthday always are noticed.

To change the subject: it is sixteen months until the next presidential election but the newspapers are full of stories about how the announced candidates are raising money -- there's not much about what anyone stands for it's all about who can raise the biggest "war chest." I find this "news" repulsive -- not as repulsive as the daily tolls of deaths in Iraq, Americans, other soldiers and most of all Iraqi citizens of whatever persuasion. But the emphasis on money is so disgustingly American I really cannot read those articles and try to skip over the headlines.

A few minutes ago I had a phone call -- another of those sales around dinner time calls, I assumed ... yes and no. It WAS a recorded message. It was Hilary Clinton -- a well scripted and delivered message, especially for females and I totally agreed with everything she said, but I never took the invitation to "press one now". There will be many more such calls I'm sure. I am not going to contribute my few bucks to her "war chest" nor to anyone else's.

On the subject of money -- a friend recently forwarded a piece about a super deluxe RV -- so deluxe it had echos of an Onasis yacht. My reaction was horror -- could anyone be so selfish as to buy such a thing when every city and most towns have homeless people living in cardboard boxes? Why have we become a society in which such a vehicle could be constructed? Why have we become a society that seems to judge our political candidates by their fund raising power? Maybe we don't want to read about it, maybe journalists are forcing us to read the crap so they don't ever have to ask real questions -- certainly they've got out of the habit of really questioning those in power and the extent to which our Constitution is being disregarded or even walked on with boots -- Texas style boots in many cases,

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Quilt National [Ohio} and Indiana

I'm actually not going to write about Quilt National until tomorrow in the belief that my scanner which is being stubborj today will work like a dream tomorrow and then I'll be able to show one or two quilts of the 83 fantastic ones -- well, I didn't think all 83 were fantastic because a few were the sort that one says "How did that make the cut? Must have been a misleading slide set." But that's a matter of my taste. This picture, above is the Dairy Barn, home of QN as well as other art events during the rest of the time -- Athens is not a town one thinks of when one thinks of Ohio, but it is a very happening place -- an Ohio Univ. branch is there and so, it seems, is a thriving art community. It's in a lovely part of the state -- beautiful rolling hills, as is true mostly along the Ohio River where the most recent ice age ended, having pushed a lot of debris down this far and that debris has weathered to gentle hills and valleys.

I had a mostly beautiful drive on Rt. 32 which is otherwise known as the Appalachain Highway. From my "home" [i.e, where I grew up although the house I grew up in is not longer where it was -- purchased and moved when the road was widened -- so it is to my brother's home that I go] -- I had about 50 miles of driving around Cincinnati on busy highway, but once off it and beyond the suburban sprawl area, the highway opened out into those green, green wooded hills and some picturesque farm land. The road was not heavily trafficed so I could just drive along enjoying the rare opportunity to drive a car and be out in the country. The following pictture is a rest area with beds of day lilies.

Altogether my trip was green -- a wonderful break from the gray of concrete. I especially enjoy sitting on the patio at Joan and J.B.'s house; there are potted flowers and cacti, a huge maple tree that seems to be owned by one particulary vocal red bird, and surrounding the yard abundant woods with a variety of animals they see, but I haven't ... but okay, I know the deer, and raccoons, possums and maybe coyotes are there. I wish I had brought back a picture of the raccoon they photographed during an ice storm last winter. It stared in their windows, looking for food. "He ate with the cats," I was assured. So tomorrow, I'll write about Quilt National and I'll try not to harp on my usual theme -- that the photos and the real things are very different ... BUT IT'S SO TRUE. I have the catalog and have been through it 4 or 5 times since the show. It's published by Lark and is worth purchasing ... but it can't compare, finally to the real thing.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Off to Quilt National

To my great delight, I am off to the Midwest this afternoon -- visiting family in Indiana and then driving east to Athens, Ohio to the Dairy Barn to see Quilt National. I'm very excited about seeing 80-some of the most interesting new quilts from quilters all around the world. This is a biennial show which I've managed to attend twice. And it was a wonderful experience. I did not see the 2005 show but bought the catalog, and then was able to see a portion of it on display in Lowell, Massachussets -- oh, how different the quilts are "for real"! I spend a lot of time looking at pictures of quilts but the real experience is so much richer, so much more interesting ... it's the difference of seeing a picture of a person and then actually meeting that person, hearing his or her voice, watching the face change during a conversation, seeing the changing postures and gestures. Yes, people are more complicated than quilts but the analog holds. It'll be a week before I can add comments and some pictures. I'm off.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

SICKO (the movie)

This is a movie for anyone who's paying too much of their paycheck for medical insurance, anyone who has to go through a book to find what doctor they're permitted to see, who can't get a second opinion without asking permission, can't see a specialist without asking permission, has to pay a large co-pay for care or for drugs, doesn't have insurance, knows people who don't have insurance and are not getting adequate treatment because they can't afford it, has no dental coverage, has to wait weeks for an appointment, or simply cares about their fellow Americans who are sicker or poorer than they are. That's just about everone I know.

This is not a movie to see if you're an insurance executive, an HMO administrator who is eager to advance in your "career" or are George Bush or Richard Nixon. Lots of people think they don't like Michael Moore's movies because they didn't like his politics in Fahrenheit 9/11 -- well the only thing I don't like about Michael Moore is that I wish he'd lose 50 or 60 pounds and learn to shave and maybe trash the baseball cap. I've always liked his politics. But the healthcare issue and the underlying capitalist/lobbying/insurance/drug company problem is one I've felt strongly about since I had a one-day temp job a long, long time ago in an insurance company's dental coverage division where three dentists were paid to do nothing but comb carefully through policies and dental records to find reasons to reject claims. It was one of the angriest days of my life.

I had no health insurance for neaerly 25 years. I made a careful calculation and judgement approximately every 3 or 4 years during that period. I worked then, as now, as an independent contractor. I looked into health insurance plans I could get through organizations to which I belonged. The rates, of course were higher and higher each time I looked. I decided to be prudent in all the things I could control; I saw an internist regularly, had mammograms and pap smears, I ate well, exercised, did not have a lot of stress and when the familial hypertension was high for the second year in a row I asked for the most basic medications which were the least expensive -- and am still on the same ones, at higher doses nowadays but my blood pressure is under control. I was aware that I could fall and break something, could be hit by a car or have some other accident but the odds were in my favor. As a result for those years, including dental [with a couple of expensive root canals thrown in] my health care -- paying for doctor's visits and tests and for all drugs out of pocket -- I spent about a tenth what the insurnace would have cost -- and that insurnace cost would have been ON TOP of the out of pocket because that wasn't even up the total deductible I'd have had to pay. So I made a calculated choice and thumbed my nose at the insurance world.

Moore speaks to a British peer who says the reason poor people in countries without universal health coverage do not rise up and demand it is fear and ignorance. We Americans are being made the most fearful people on earth -- this is me ranting, not Michael Moore -- Ads tell us we must disinfect everything we touch or the Big Bad Germs will get us, ads tell us must take pills for every sniffle and ache and that our kids are hyperactive and we are bipolar or at least depressed and there's a pill for everything and several expensive tests we must all have with regularity. People are especially afraid that if they don't have health insurance they will go broke if they get in an accideent or have a disease -- well, many people with insurance indeed DO go broke because every insurance company has a batch of guys like those dentists I spent a day with and they're busy looking for ways not to pay for your treatment.

See the movie-- see what happens in Canada, France, England, Cuba and even -- get this, Guantanamo Bay were we've locked up the men we most want to hate ... and give them far better care than you're likely to have ever had. Never mind you have to look at a guy who needs a shave ... look at people like yourselves and your neighbors who need care and drugs and can't afford them.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I Love the Parks

So far, summer has been blessedly wonderful. I'm enjoying it as completely as possible finding time to walk in Riverside Park or along the walk right by the Hudson. Last weekend I did a meditational exercise which was to take a pad of paper, sit myself down and note what I observed for an hour -- physically observed with very little opinion or commentary beyond what things look like -- I admit I couldn't help throwing in notes that I wished I could identify birds by their song, and such like. It was a plesant exercise. I've certainly watched the way my mind loves to revert to reverie mode with the slightest lapse of physical attention. I think I may do the exercise again tomorrow which, being a holiday, counts as a weekend. The picture here is my favorite set of benches in Riverside Park which are at the north end of a large community flower garden, it's a horseshoe shaped row of benches with the west end usually in shade and the east end rarely in shade so one can choose depending on the weather.

When I sat there a few people were grubbing around in the garden and many people were passing by, only a few stopped and spend time on the benches. I became a bit interested in this sort of hunky guy -- he was approximately a contemporary of mine and far better preserved than most of this age. I just watched and enjoyed the his pecs, had no serious urge to go strike up a conversation.

WQXR, the classical music radio station has given bulletins about Beverly Sills' illness and I awoke this morning to hear she had died. They always play music by a person who's died, so before I got out of bed the morning host played an exerpt from the middle of the 3rd act of La Traviata where Violetta write a note to break off with Alfredo [having given in to the demands of horrible Papa Germond], the exerpt ended with "Adio" -- that section has Verdi's usual weeping violin notes and always brings tears to my eyes. So I was in tears to start the day. Berverly Sills was a fine soprano and a wonderful person in the NYC musical scene and, from all the anecdotes I've heard, a really wonderful woman. She deserved my tears this time, not Violetta.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Dog They Call Spot quilt

I listed quilts to make this summer a week or two ago. The first, easiest, smallest is my 'Dog They Call Spot quilt. It's together, it's machine quilted with free form stars at the top and wavy lines of the back ground of the dog and the poem is on a square that blends decently. The spotty background has a free form strip of star fabric with an extra piece in the corner. This will be the "Starfields" in the poem and it will be heavily embellished with shiny stars. That will get done rather slowly over the summer. I like to have a hand sewing job by my reading chair so that at night when I'm reading and have the radio on to a classical music station and something I especially love is played, I can put down my book, pick up some sewing that is virtually mindless, and listen to the music. So that's when the stars will be added. And I can now go on to another project. Which one I'm not sure, we'll see what the impulse will be.

Now I am aware that this is not a stunningly wonderful quilt. I probably will hang in in my bathroom when done so that I can reread the little poem I love so much when I have some contemplation time in there. I could say it is subtle with little differentiation between the starfield fabric and background, with the unimaginative addition of dog and poem in their places at the bottom. And the pedestrian quilting. In this case I don't care. For a reason I cannot explain, I am besotted with the "dog they call Spot" I've quoted the poem here before. As far as I'm concerned it can be quoted again: It's actually an exerpt from a longer poem by Mark Strand:

And I stood in the moonlight valley
watching the great starfields
flash and flower in the wished for
reaches of heaven.
That is when I, the dog the call Spot,
began to sing.,