Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Beyond this place of wrath and tears": Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley

Jim and Dan and I went to see "Invictus" yesterday. It's the story of how Nelson Mandela enlisted the Springbok rugby captain François Pienaar to help unite South Africans as the team battled for the Rugby
World Cup. If you have to pick one film to see this holiday season, make it this one. Take your teenagers, too. The rugby players drop the F bomb a few times (really?), but it's not excessive. Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman give strong, understated performances, especially Damon. It's based on a book called Playing the Enemy by John Carlin. I'm off on Saturday to buy it at the bookstore.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Commonplace Book

Since I was in college, I've kept a commonplace book. In those days before photocopying, if one borrowed a book and came across a passage one wanted to remember, it was necessary to write it down. It also contains things I've cut out of magazines or newspapers and fortune cookie fortunes.

"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that 'great wits have short memories:' and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day's reading or conversation. There you enter not only your own original thoughts, (which, a hundred to one, are few and insignificant) but such of other men as you think fit to make your own, by entering them there."
--from "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet" by Jonathan Swift

Periodically, I like to look back through the books (there are two now) and revisit some of the things I've saved. Often the words will connect with an image or a thought I've had floating around in my brain to spark an idea for a quilt. That's exactly what happened when I reread an Andrea Dworkin quote and was thinking about my friend and my mother-in-law suffering from breast cancer. Here's the original post.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cloth shopping bags for gifts

For the last three years, we've celebrated New Year's Day with our friends the Penland sisters, their husbands, and the Mother Penland. We've known the Penlands since before we were married and they are all very dear to us. This year I decided to make some cloth shopping bags for the ladies as gifts.

I reverse engineered a folding bag that one of the major chain stores sells and patterned it on that because I like the fact that it folds up and fits in my purse. The one I made for myself is about six months old and I use it all the time.

Here's one of the finished bags and the other two folded up.

These are the tags I made for them. I've been wanting to use the little rubber stamp of the fox with the typewriter, so I downloaded some fonts that look like typewriting and printed the words on sticker paper. The manila tags come from one of the office supply stores.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fostering a Personal Culture of Innovation

With many thanks to Buffy Hamilton, The Unquiet Librarian, for this link, I wanted to share this fantastic list of 50 ways to foster a culture of innovation. It was designed more for companies, but many of the items on the list can be taken to heart personally. Buffy mentioned the items on the list that spoke to her in terms of her school library in her post. I would like to amplify on some of the items that spoke to me as an artist.

3. Have more fun. If you're not having fun (or at least enjoying the process) something is off.
I really don't think the "fun" factor of imaginative play can be underestimated. There are several big studies now indicating that some children don't know how to engage in imaginative play anymore. Imaginative play is our first creative work as children. Making things has always been fun for me. Even though I work at it very hard, it's the fun that keeps me going.

5. Make new mistakes.
This is something with which I have to challenge myself. I have perfectionist issues so I don't like to make mistakes. I read a wonderful book called Too Perfect:When Being in Control Gets Out of Control. It helped me to realize that I often don't do something because I'm afraid I'll make a mistake. Now I try to look at mistakes as part of the journey and something from which to learn.

7. Increase the visual stimuli of your organization's physical space.
Now that I have a much smaller studio space, I have also lost the space I used to pin up inspirational pictures or fabrics or statements that inform the piece I'm creating. Inspiration or design boards (like the ones interior decorators make) would be a good alternative to pinning things up on a design wall.

9. Ask questions about everything. After asking questions, ask different questions. After asking different questions, ask them in a different way.
While this is another one of those areas that many perfectionists find troublesome, I do not hesitate to ask questions. My challenge will be to keep asking and refining.

14. Embrace and celebrate failure....
See above. This is REALLY difficult for me. I'm also very optimistic, so I'm a lemons/lemonade sort of person. I'm always trying to resuscitate the dead. The challenge here will be to "call it" and move on to the next project.

20. Create a portfolio of opportunities: short-term, long-term, incremental, and discontinuous. Just like an investment portfolio, balance is critical. This is my absolute favorite of the ideas that this list gave me. I have a tendency to do large projects, then to start another large project when I need move in another direction. For me, smaller projects would be a great concept as would keeping track of the larger ones in which I'm loosing interest. Look for more on this soon.

31. Develop a process of trying out new concepts quickly and on the cheap. Learn quickly what's working and what's not.
Again, this is where working on a small project to try something out would make incredible sense. I have the vehicles already--doorknob art, small joys--to try new things without making a huge time commitment.

I would love to hear some of the things that help you readers to be more creative and innovative. Please share in the comments.

Great Joy, Modeling Compassion, and Boxing Day

December the 26th is Boxing Day or St. Stephen's Day. Most sources agree that the names comes from it's being the day the poor boxes were opened and distributed in churches. It is traditionally a day of family and remembering those less fortunate.

Christmas can be such a time of greedy temptation for small children. What's happening in the lives of other, less fortunate, children around them can be all too easily blocked out. When our children were small, we used the time leading up to Christmas to have them cull through bounty in their rooms and pick out toys to take to the fire station or Goodwill. While we encouraged belief in Santa, Santa only filled stockings and decorated the room at our house. All other presents were from family members. As Dickens says, "The poor are always with us," and we should not hide that from our children, but rather model compassion and caring.

Each year since we've had children, I purchase a Christmas book--a tradition that continues to this day. I am always on the lookout for books that have a great message for the season and this year, Kate DiCamillo wrote a fantastic one called Great Joy. Bagram Ibatoulline provided illustrations that will break your heart. Quite simply it's about a little girl called Frances who becomes concerned about the welfare of an organ grinder and his monkey that stand on a street corner across from her building. She discovers that they sleep on the street and wants to invite them home. Frances' mother voices all the practical reasoning against helping the man, but in the end, Frances finds a way to reach out to the man and the monkey.

As a librarian and a parent, I recommend sharing this book with the children in your lives. It will be a great way to begin a conversation about being a compassionate person. And in the spirit of Boxing Day, I encourage you to make at donation to or volunteer for one of the many fantastic non-profit organizations dedicated to helping the poor. I wish you great joy on this second day of the Christmas season.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas to all!

Happy Christmas to all of my readers who celebrate and greetings of the season to those of you who don't. Isn't our little tree beautiful? In Indiana, because our house was large, we had many Christmas trees. These ornaments are from the bird tree. I'm off to put on my Santa hat and fill all the stockings. That always reminds me of a long ago Christmas when a very young Anna looked up at me and asked why Santa never put anything in my stocking! When she and Dan were older, they began filling my stocking.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Matty and Anna

Photo by Danny Fisher 2008

This is Anna and Matty in our backyard (the scene of their wedding in the summer of 2010). Dan took it with his vintage Pentax.

I took this photo in Boston last May when Jim and I flew up to visit the kids.

This was taken when the kids visited us in early December. We managed to get quite a few wedding errands done during their time with us. Happy Christmas to you my darlings. I love you, I miss you, I kiss you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Keeping Christmas in my heart all year: reflections on the day of Dan's homecoming

Portrait by Linda Hayward

Our son Dan is coming home for the holidays tonight. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that Dan is a Buddhist chaplain who blogs at Rev. Danny Fisher. Lately he's added a feature to his blog called the gift of dharma in which he shares a teaching from one of the many wonderful Buddhist teachers. Yesterday's teaching from the radiant Acharya Ani Pema Chödrön struck a strong chord within me.

The basic theme of the teaching, as I interpret it, was that when we are listening to people, particularly people with whom we might have issues, we have a tendency to compartmentalize what they say. If their verbal offering makes us angry, we lay all the blame at their feet or we feel guilty and blame ourselves. Pema Chödrön suggests that there is another alternative:

"Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right and when you start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live."

Reading this teaching immediately brought Dickens' A Christmas Carol to mind. Scrooge pushed people away because it's very difficult and messy and sometimes hurtful to be involved with other people. To experience the joy of others, you also have to buy into the less joyous aspects. When Scrooge says, "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year," it literally means he's choosing compassionate action over suffering. Dickens also said, “Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” Great words to live by in this and every season of the year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Baking Cranberry Bread

We have lovely neighbors and I try to make something nice for them each Christmas. This year I decided on cranberry bread from James Beard's cookbook, Beard on Bread. (Since the recipe is on his website, I've linked to it. I didn't have rosewater so I used lemon extract instead.) Every one of these recipes I've tried is delicious. His banana bread recipe is the only one I use and my children love his oatmeal bread which makes the best toast ever.

The main reason I settled on this recipe was that I found these cunning little loaf pans at Michael's. The diced cranberries and walnuts make the batter look wonderful even before it's baked.

The amount of batter was perfect for the four loaf pans and the loaves crowned beautifully.

Now that they are cooling, I'm taking a well-deserved break to enjoy a cup of tea and some Peanut Blossom cookies.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow angel on request

My childhood friend, Sandy lives in Ohio and she was disappointed that they only got a dusting of snow last night and requested that I make a snow angel on her behalf. With a front and back yard full of snow, I felt it was the least I could do to oblige.

Jim took the photos and asked me if I was planning to fall over backwards like he and his brothers used to do. I declined. I'm laughing in this photo because the snow was very cold.

This is nearly the same view that I posted last night. We definitely got at least 3 or 4 inches of very pretty snow. We went out for breakfast, but the roads were deserted considering it's the last Saturday before Christmas. I'm off to make cranberry bread for my neighbors and then to sew.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter storm: North Carolina

I opened the side door long enough to take this photo. The winter storm is upon us. Thank goodness school was dismissed three hours early today. We are snug and dry inside our wee house so we can enjoy the beauty of the snowfall. I wonder if it will last a week so our Christmas will be white? Happy holidays to all.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Revisiting the importance of titling and tagging

Please forgive me as I fall into instructional librarian mode, here. The confluence of several things has given birth to this little post. Firstly, just a few days ago, someone on the quiltart listserv asked about getting hits on old blog posts. Secondly, Google Reader made a display change some time back that now presents the title of the blog post and the first few lines. One must click on the title to see pictures and click again on this display to go directly to the blogger's post. This change means that more posts can be displayed in a smaller space, but it also means that your titles had better be good enough to get your readers to open your post!

Here's a screen shot of one of the blogs on my reader. As you can see, without titles, it's not very clear what the posts are about.

Back several months ago, I wrote a post on the importance of tracking one's blog. In this post, I stressed the importance of titling and tagging when one is writing blogs posts. Blogging is all about getting your thoughts to an audience, and titling and tagging are two of the best ways I can think of to help readers find your words.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Machine quilting: the maiden voyage

The quilt that I made with the Girl Scouts has been sitting on my work table for several weeks now while I tried to figure out how to quilt it because of the big, painted center. I realized that machine quilting the painting would be bad for the surface, so I carefully hand quilted enough of the (painted) edges to connect all three layers. The girls are coming to our next guild meeting this Thursday and we are going to show the quilt to the rest of the guild, so that meant some form of machine quilting was going to be necessary on the pink ribbon blocks to get it finished by then. I've done several workshops on machine quilting, but this was the maiden voyage in terms of doing an entire quilt.

My old Bernina has a darning foot and when I dropped the feed dogs, it worked really well. The photo above it a close-up of the foot. It takes a little time to get a rhythm and control the flow so that you don't end up with really long stitches. A large stippling pattern seemed to look the best. The thread is an ecru machine quilting thread.

The biggest issue was manipulating the quilt and keeping my feet under the table. A chair on casters isn't the best idea for machine quilting. After about an hour, I felt like I'd been wrestling a bear!

The stippling worked really well to tack the edges of the fused ribbon blocks. The surface turned out fairly well, but my poor Bernina would not run after I cleaned and oiled it, so it is going to the sewing machine doctor tomorrow. The bias binding is all made and I will sew that on tonight.

I don't know if I will ever do this again, but it's nice to have the experience. The surface texture that hand quilting creates is tough to beat and I love the process much more than that of machine quilting.