Monday, March 30, 2015

Winter's Reflections; Mud Season in Vermont and the Hope of Spring

Where our driveway meets our road, squishy Vermont mud!
When I first moved to the East, a new friend of mine told me about having five seasons here.  We have the basic four: winter, spring, summer and fall, but we also have mud season.  I had to see it to believe it, but it only took seeing a friend's friends push her car out of the mud to realize that it is a very real season to be sure.  

While they pushed her car and rocked it back and forth until it was free they all got covered in mud.  It took such an experience to realize that people here are made of different stuff...inside and out. They are unafraid of mud and dirt and are loyal to their friends such that they know their duty and do it. I have found in the years that follow, Vermonters are truly courageous in other ways as well.
Our castle has a moat too...only in mud season in Vermont!

I don't make a good Vermonter to be sure! You have only to read my last blog to know that inside, I am a wimp at heart and easily scared of anything, mud and dirt included! Mud season isn't my favorite, though I still live here and mud season is again starting, though  I prefer to call it Sugaring Season. The days grow warmer while the nights are still cold, though with global warming it seems that our days are still very cold and the nights colder still. Our roads are getting squishy however and this is why we all have mud rooms in our take off our boots and disrobe.

I focus on making quilt blocks instead of the weather outside!

This same friend told me that seasons were created to make us balanced. "Winter is a time of reflection, and is good for the soul", he said.  I found this a credible statement coming from a friend who was both priest and monk, though I have reflected on his comment regarding the seasons for years. Not skiing and skating like I used to and growing ever more thin skinned as I age, I have to think that winter is a good for something, and besides reflecting, I have found it good for Christmas as well as quilting or stitching comforters that keep you warm as you work on them!

We have all had plenty of time for reflection this year and I am going to share some of my own reflections, though I must warn you that they are not as deep as my priest friend might have had in mind when he made his comment. For example, I have recently thought that I would like to be one of Maria Katz's chickens.  I think their gourmet menu appealing. Only recently they received fresh strawberries all diced into chicken sized bites. Maria is also generous to sprinkle their main entrees with tuna oil.  I have been laughing about Maria's realization that her chickens prefer cracked corn and bugs to her gourmet left-over scrap meals that she only imagined they preferred.

Reflecting on this, made me think about how I treat my dog to snacks: a potato chip, a bite of cookie or cheese, or a cracker, though I know that my dog doesn't have the same taste buds that I do, besides which she takes whatever I give her in one gulp and it is gone...and then I realized that perhaps I eat in much the same way? I can only imagine what it would be like to put out on the table what I consume each week without the awareness I am doing so.

How momentary the pleasure and I am reflecting on just how thin I could be. My dog and I like to eat as as way to break the monotony of our activities or simply as an activity for its own sake. It was a good realization, though it hasn't changed my diet in any way as yet. I have put it on the top of my personal reflections list.  Perhaps one day I may benefit from if I only apply what I know?
 My fruit pincushions are delicious, but I envy Maria's chickens' gourmet diet.

A tomato pincushion filled with walnut shell is a squirrel's and sewer's delight!

My strawberry needlebooks/earring holders are a treat many like.

I have also realized that I might have been more foolish had I the means to be so.  One of my friends wrote that he is getting a "turkey neck" and is shocked that living near Beverly Hills may be causing thoughts of him getting plastic surgery.  I wrote back and listed all the work that I would have done to re-vamp my body if only I had the means!  I could see right then and there just how superficial I really am! Perhaps God has protected me from myself by keeping our income low enough as to not allow me to be the foolish person I really am!... Oh, whoops, what about this year's find of E-bay?  I reflect now that a woman and her meager earnings are soon parted...but the wonderful bargains and materials I have found!! Perhaps to one so foolish, more is NOT given? Mmmm.

Now and forever my insensitive brother and me with a line drawn between us!

Another realization hit when I was telling my daughter about my brother candidly admitting to me about how he had failed to raise his child to be sensitive to others. It was not hard for me to see that this might be the case, as my insensitive brother and I have been warring since childhood.   I remember too well the time that I locked myself in my bedroom for protection, and he simply took the doorknob off, leaving me imprisoned until I took the screen off my window to escape (no, my mother wasn't home). But it was that same day that he confessed this to me, that my youngest daughter recalled the mean things that I have said to her that hurt her tender heart? "Could that have really been me?" I wondered?  I had look-alike parents that would occasionally substitute for my real ones, that were mean to me as well. Perhaps this could have been a substitute look-alike of myself saying such horrible things to my dear daughter or perhaps there is a mean gene that manifests itself from time to time using my tongue to express itself and then another gene that is causing me to forget that it was me? Surely that couldn't be, but rather that my daughter is manifesting a paranoid gene that runs in our family and she has taken my well-meaning comments and twisted them as only overly sensitive, paranoid children can?

Winter is a good thing, for how else would I have wanted to stay indoors with such inner thoughts to ramble 'round my brain? The truth be known that my present treatment of eliminating Vit D from my body makes me live indoors all the time, with little exposure to sunlight no matter what season of the year, causing me to moodle in my brain too much of the time...doing what people do in winter, year round?

Reflecting is no doubt a good thing to do in moderation, but year-round might be considered morose and down-right depressing. Seasonal Affective Disorder? Perhaps people like me really need light therapy lest they stay submerged in the dark and gloomy inner sanctum that resides within each of us. And what was that my friend had said about their being five seasons of the year to keep us well-balanced? is time to think about experiencing the other three seasons of the year? We have had enough winter and with mud season being a dirty time of year, I am ready for spring, summer and fall! Now that is a pleasant thought! Spring is beautiful here, with the ground greening all around us and the peepers singing! It is hard to imagine just yet, but definitely a bright and cheery thought!
Just imagining the glories of spring and summer!

Happy Spring and Easter/Passover Season to you all!
My felted wool Easter eggs. May be special ordered.
(Please visit my Etsy shop or drop me an email at if you are interested in purchasing any of my hand-made items.)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Tax Season, Dark Nights of the Soul and Quilt Making

I was listening to some pre-election speeches and heard a conservative presidential candidate voice his concern that resonated with my own. He spoke about how many are losing the dream that was the hallmark of America: to work hard at what you most love and to see your inspiration, passion and efforts turn into financial success.

My youngest daughter had come to visit me while my oldest daughter and husband were at a trade show this weekend.  In conversing with her, her eyes welled with tears that she struggled to hold back. She graduated from college with honors and is currently cleaning houses for a living. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with any honest work, though this isn't what she had in mind when she completed her degree.

She thought working for herself was a better option than working for minimum wages at a part-time job. At least she could schedule herself and continue to seek more customers and book herself as full as she could. Good job opportunities in our rural state aren't exactly plentiful, and her education wasn't exactly a shoe-in to a great career, but some lessons must be learned the hard way, and dreams have a way of dying hard!

House-cleaning is a luxury not afforded by as many as she had thought and building a reputation takes time and her college debts loom heavy, despite her many grants and scholarships as well as working all the way through school and choosing a less costly college located near home. It could be worse, though it doesn't feel that way to her right now.

Another presidential hopeful spoke about our present culture changing so rapidly as to be like an industrial revolution happening every five years. Technical changes are coming quicker than ever before. Even in my day, it wasn't enough to have one career, I had several and of the most stable sort: nursing, teaching and even home-industry, when my husband and I tied fishing leaders in the evenings to supplement our duel professional incomes as we raised our girls. We had made the choice to put city life behind us to live in a beautiful rural environment and had to work harder than ever to do so. We are pleased that our children, like us, have grown into well educated, hard-working adults. We are not new to financial challenges, nor are they.

Being an optimistic Pollyanna, I did what I could to encourage my daughter to stay positive and continue to explore other work options. I reminded her of someone that we know in our community who continued to try one creative venture after another until she began catering and baking and suddenly developed her own cracker company in her own kitchen.  Perhaps some of you have tried Whitney's Castleton Crackers, from Castleton, Vermont?  We knew her when she was designing scratch-and-sniff souvenir cards.  "Whitney deserved to succeed", I told my daughter, "as she never gave up trying!"

Although I have heard it said that if the only problems you have are financial ones, you really don't have any problems at all, financial concerns can be "taxing" (pun intended). I laid awake all night thinking about my daughter and what options she might consider. My attempt to assuage my worry didn't work though at least it produced a few pages of thoughts that might be helpful to her, no matter that it wasn't likely worth depleting my energy for the following day. That is always the price I pay when I entertain worries.

As I was growing up, I heard my parents talk about The Great Depression, and they forever lived in fear of inflation and I think my dad saved every penny he could.  I didn't know that their fears would become my own and that fear itself would become such a frequent visitor. I have learned that if I hope for the best and prepare for the worst, I can put my fears to bed, sleep peacefully, keep calm and carry on.

Knowledge obtained from an in-service I had in my younger years has provided me with insight into my own thinking and work style. Our special education team was given individual tests that helped us analyze ourselves and there it was, my style described to a tee: try harder doing the same thing rather than to consider tackling the problem differently. This can indeed be an exercise in futility, though habits are not easily changed. Working hard, but not smart, I have heard some call it. It was my father's way, and I learned it well.  "You don't have to be smart," he would say. "You just have to work hard!" This implied that our gene pool wasn't blessed with much in the way of brain power, but with sheer determination, added energy and perseverance we would succeed.

I must confess that my father didn't let worry rob him from any sleep however. He had been orphaned at an early age and seemed to have pulled his boot-straps up to his ears.  He was self-reliant and confident almost to the point of arrogant. I am not and it seems my boots are often ill-fitted, impossible to pull on and I seem to excel in choosing paths that are anything but smooth!

It remained a dark and sleepless night and my mind jumped to an article in our local paper about a civic organization addressing the needs of the homeless in our area! Really? Homeless in Vermont, in the winter cold that penetrates deep enough into the ground to make huge frost heaves? Surely they must be housed somewhere for how else could they survive? My thinking plunged into deeper and darker places!  I imagined the worst: my girls moving back in with their significant others, and their rambunctious families and/or pets. My house and brain were getting more crowded by the minute! My Depression Day thinking, I realized resembles my mother's; move the children in and everyone together will pool their incomes to live and eat. I will make Stone Soup and cat food casseroles. Thank goodness I have many recipes! Wait!!...While it is a reality for some today is not for us, not yet or potentially ever, though I love my adult children dearly!

My concerns regarding our futures aren't new, but they do hit me in a new ways. Banning together to eek out a living.... all to pay for taxes that are higher than we expected and hardships that my children must live and grow through, just like we did? Yes, the fear mongering news networks have finally pushed me over the edge and my rational thinking has jumped off the cliff, being frightened of an obviously bleak and dangerous future! Clearly the government is coming for any monies we have left over to redistribute our wealth?... What wealth?

Thank goodness, morning has finally arrived when I can at last fall asleep and dream dreams that are full of light and vision.  The world isn't really so awful, and I have many new ideas for my daughter to try, and my children and their boyfriends with their children haven't all moved in, and as soon and I get my rest, I think I will resume my wonderful retirement work of sewing on quilts and enjoying a program or two on TV.

This time I think I will watch "Say Yes to the Dress"....which will be full of big decisions of which beautiful, expensive wedding dress, dripping with lace, satin, and brocade will be chosen for the bride's special day and then I will turn to the food network and sample a few mouth-watering recipes. I will avoid the news and the weather channels...and climb back into what I do--making the world a more beautiful place by sewing on quilts and crafts...after all you never know when the power grid may fail us and we will at least be warmly wrapped in comforting quilts, wear warm fleece socks and be cheered by our home brightly decorated with felted tomatoes and potted plant pincushions!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Last Gray Days of Winter or Pollyanna Meets Reality

A sad snowman sculpture, wrapped for the cold, and melting. (Woodstock, Vt.)
I used to post my writing only when I was able to take a positive view of whatever situation I might find myself in, but no longer! My standards are changing. I am a very real and honest person and this means that I have gray days, especially during our Vermont winters when my Pollyanna optimism meets realities and my chin hits the road. Tired of the endless white and gray days, and uninspired to finish my UFO's, I ask, "Don't we all have these sorts of times?"

A sad swan sculpture with heads missing!  No loss as almost melted,
My name is Jane and besides being a "fabric-a-holic", I am also a "control freak".  I am the sort of person that needs to feel like I am in control.  There are many days when I have to give this desire over to God and accept that I am not in control of my life, the day or even the moment. Even my body seems to be ruled by someone other than me!  It is a hard lesson to be sure, especially for someone that likes to see order in the universe and wants to believe on good authority that mind over matter can fix anything.

A snow frog prince melting down vs. melting my heart! (Woodstock, Vt.)
Although I have much faith in God and in what cannot be seen, there are days that are gray, the snow too deep to shovel out and it seems that spring will never come. Marilla Cusper's comment to Anne of Green Gables, when she says, "to despair is to turn away from God" is all too true, but how easy it is to "go there".

Pin strips, cut strips, pin blocks and stitch-- the makings of a quilt.
I used to work a suicide prevention line at a mental hospital.  Suicide is truly "a permanent solution to a temporary problem".  All of our problems are temporary, and no matter how steady our stream of problems can be, I do believe that with perseverance, prayer, and a bit of "therapy of one sort or another", a different perspective will come and solutions surface to whatever might be ailing us.  I do, however, have to remind myself that the world works in God's time and not my own.

From Scraps to quilt blocks.
I used to go on  religious retreats every year and during one, I started by confessing that I was experiencing a "desert time" faith-wise. The wise priest hearing my whine, reminded me that "desert times force our roots to grow deeper", but also added, "there is beauty in the desert" and to look for it when I am there!

When I was a psychiatric nurse in the days-of-old, a treatment for a depressed patient was a box of tangled yarn.  This box was given to the patient with the directions to untangle the yarn and wind it into balls. It is just the sort of task that I love, but when a person is really depressed, more challenge and aggravation heaped on them makes such a task nearly impossible!  We knew that the patient was better when they would get angry and throw it back to us with a strong message, "to shove it!!"

Cutting squares, counting blocks. Mundane, but therapeutic, activities!
Such sorts of therapy were common when behavioral therapy was key, in the days before there was a pill to alter any psychiatric state. It was thought that depression was anger turned inward and activities to facilitate turning a patient's anger outward would be helpful, hence the "tangled yarn therapy".

It is interesting to note that research has since shown that working with our hands can help us re-wire our brains, and so while my sewing may seem a "frivolous" activity, for me it is no less than essential. When creativity doesn't spark, doing the mundane, repetitive sorts of tasks seem to be just the thing. Cutting and pinning, doing the boring and never-ending stitching required in sewing crafts or quilts, knitting or even simply doing the prep work for future days can truly soothe what needs to heal.

Physical activity can have a similar effect. House-cleaning-sorts-of-tasks can be a great way to work out frustrations and can prove to enhance a person's feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction as well. What better way to put order to an unsettled mind then forcing yourself to deal with a big disorganized mess!

A bit of cutting and organizing. Some serious quilting prep work.
I wonder if my Pollyanna optimism wasn't born doing this sort of work when negativity needed to be "teased out" and replaced with hope and positive thinking? A nap can also be a great way to lift mind fog and be a pleasant escape-sort-of-reward for accomplishing such mundane tasks. Sometimes simply "hanging-in by stepping-out" with a nice movie or book can provide needed distraction from pressures that are best solved with a break or a mini-vacation. Whatever your method for lifting the blues, some days remain gray, even if I have untangled the yarn, or cleaned up the mess. Simply waiting for the sun to shine, no matter how long I have to wait, reminds me that it always does come out again.
Enough yet for this quilt top, or shall I make two or three?
(Snow sculpture pictures taken in Woodstock, Vermont.  They were part of a Special Olympics celebration on the village green, now white and brown with snow and slush.  I first saw them almost a week prior and decided I would bring my camera and photograph them, but they weren't so pristine a week later, and I forgot my camera's card! Cell phones can come in handy!)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What Would Jane Do?

A few nights ago, as I crawled into bed I reached for a small book I received for Christmas entitled, What Would Jane Do?.  It is a book of quotes from Jane Austen's best known books. She is one of my favorite authors. Like many of her readers, I have fallen in love with Mr. Darcy! I had gone to bed early, exhausted from a day that was too short.  I was grumpy and knew that it was best to retire early.

I had just had an argument with my husband about world affairs and so looking at my book just before falling asleep, I pondered more than read, What Would Jane Do? It was clear, I thought that Jane (McMillen) should have married the fictional character Mr. Darcy instead of her husband, but then my mind wandered to thoughts of what I would do if I was in charge of the world. My thoughts weren't unlike Doctor Zuess's thoughts in his book, If I Ran the ZooI was again annoyed with being a mere mortal and I wished at that moment to have great powers to alter what is happening in the world.

I laughed as I thought of Jane Austen's words coming out of the mouth of her character, Catherine DeBourgh when she snidely remarked to Lizzie's mother, "You have a very small garden, Madame!" My world is indeed very small and no matter the world's problems, I can't even seem to fix my own!

It didn't take but a few minutes for me to be in a deep dream state, and I dreamt that I appliqued pieces of fabric over the countries that are literally torn apart with war, torture and unrest and made it beautiful again!  I used the new-to-me "freezer paper technique" to get great detail of the Mid-Eastern countries' borders and simply glued the edges of fabric under using an Elmer's Disappearing Purple School Glue Stick and appliqued them back in place with perfect precision! It was a big contribution to world peace and I was deeply satisfied!

I am sure that this solution came to my brain, as I am in the middle of making a wall hanging for a friend of mine and I am using a new technique I learned on-line from Teresa Rawson's  She has marvelous tutorials on applique and it was only that afternoon I had learned that, even I can applique with precision using her method.

My friend who wanted a quilted wall hanging, is an old high school acquaintance from a half a century ago now.  We became reacquainted over the internet, exchanging superficial greetings through a mutual friend of ours, and found that we both had "health issues" in common.  His wife was sick with Chronic Fatigue/ Fibromyalgia and I had similar symptoms with Chronic Lyme Disease.  We compared notes and offered each other sympathy. Soon after that, his wife developed Stage Four Lung Cancer and died less than a year later. I supported my friend as best as I could through emails during his tragic loss.

He asked that I make him a wall hanging and found a picture in one of my Japanese quilt books when he and his friend were visiting me this summer. It was a picture of a  quilted border of a Japanese quilt, and was anything but inspiring to me until I noted that it appeared to be a mountain with a sun, albeit turned sideways and so dark and dreary that it was anything but recognizable.  My friend is more complex than me and appreciated the abstract, whereas I am more concrete and simple.  His world is full of sadness and loss, where I seem to live in an unreal Pollyanna world where my delusions seem to keep me falsely and nauseatingly too optimistic!

My Japanese Daiwabo taupe materials aren't bright and cheery but are very rich and appealing, and it was from this stash that my friend picked out some fat quarters to make his wall hanging. He chose a dull yellow-gold/orange-ish colored print, a deep burgundy print and a dull green-brown nubby material along with a similar dark brown nubby fabric.  His choices were too dark for me and it took me quite a while to warm up to this project. Fortunately he was in no hurry.  I had warned him that I had to finish my year of craft sales and that I would likely start it in January.

What would Jane do with the pattern and material that my friend had chosen, I ask? She would embrace the task at hand and do the best she could, I resoundly answered.... And that is what I am in the process of doing. True to my Pollyanna self, however, I needed to brighten the mountain and add the sun's reflection on it, just as I wanted to brighten my friend's life. Suffering from the loss of his wife who was truly the sunshine of his life, I added, with his permission, a variety of other taupe fabrics in hopes of adding more color, texture and interest to this work. As I did, I reflected how I had wanted to encourage him to open himself up to new people and life following his wife's death.

As my friend placed a serious confidence in me when I was supporting him, I felt it now my turn to stitch this piece for him with equal seriousness. It was with my delusional Pollyanna-Jane thoughts that I am stitching his own  personal mountain (though it looks more like a house), and adding sunshine. That is after all "what (Pollyanna) Jane would do" to brighten his life?

It is a good thing my other projects are less serious, or are they?  I am stitching whimsical patchwork duvet covers for my girls, reminding them to stay young at heart and take life a little less seriously, and making covers instead of comforters, so as to make it easier for them to keep them clean and washed? I remain their mother, after all! And the Nine Patch blocks I am piecing for my friend are made from fabrics that she sent to me after her mother had passed away. I had instantly seen them as a quilt to wrap about and comfort my friend,  who is now having to bravely carry on as the sole survivor of her family.

And my other quilted works?  Are they an extension of this noble, Pollyanna-Jane thinking as well? Making a crazy quilt to preserve the beautiful clothes that my mother had so wonderfully made or purchased for me? And my wool penny rug sampler quilt that had seemed to create itself? Bright flowers, and animals all appliqued on my penny rugs, using the very patterns my mother had used in many of her quilts, and adding animals much like she had grown up with on or near the farm in Nebraska where she was raised? Stitched by hand, as I sat with my mother in her final days, I then embroidered a dedication block on the back of it to her. Wasn't it all done so that Pollyanna Jane could recreate a symbol of my mother who would remain with me forever?
And what about My Comfort Her, a quilt with all my favorite songs, hymns, quotes and scripture verses, using pen, ink and caligraphy; my humor and values illustrated with pictures sketched from my favorite children's books in what I hope is truly permanent quilter's ink? Isn't it another sample of  "what Jane would do and be" and will God-willing, finish!

 And....I am still hoping and planning, if I have my way, to finish my mother's most beautiful candle-wicking quilt. It's theme is hearts and flowers. I assured her that I would finish it for her when she wore out before completing it. I only hope that I have the days and the expertise to finish it properly for her. My other work is but practice to sharpen my sewing skills before trying to match her's, though I mustn't wait too long...

I may live in my own delusional world but it comes out in my work, and little did I know then that it all is in answer to the question of  "what would Jane do". But isn't this the life of every quilter, taking the scraps of her life and creating her own beautiful world with them?

The Winner of March's Common-Thread Give-Away

The winner of March's Common-Thread Give-Away is Elaine. Please be in touch with Maria Wulf to claim your blanket. Congratulations!

Again we thank our readers for your support and hopefully you will continue to follow us.  Every month we offer a free give-away made by one of our artists or a guest artist to show-case their work.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March's Common-Thread Give-Away Artist

This month's Common-Thread Give-Away Artist is Maria Wulf.  Most who have frequented my blog know Maria Wulf and her husband, Jon Katz.  Both are "the hub" of our Common-Thread Art Group. We are all bloggers and artists, that have banded together to support each other on line and all of our websites can be accessed on the right hand side of my blog simply by clicking on them.

I have done many blogs about Maria and never tire of telling others of the various things I know about her. She never fails to amaze me!! She knows that I both admire her work as well as her life. She is a "hardy farm woman" which is a great compliment to her. Few have the courage, grit and determination that hallmarks Maria's character.  She is a very strong person, in every sense of the word.

Despite weathering some difficult events this last year, as her husband's urgent heart surgery, the loss of her beloved dog, Freida, as well as Simon, their cherished donkey, and Lenore, Jon's sweet black lab, Maria continues to make her Gee-Bend style quilts, special one-of-a-kind quilted potholders and her "free-streaming quilted art" as well as her creative sketches.  All her work tells the story of what goes on in her busy life and complex mind. Her writings reveal even more.

Maria's love of animals is manifested in this 50" by 60" fleece blanket that she is giving away to the lucky winner of this month's Common-Thread drawing.  It is the replica of the banner she made for Blue Star Equiculture, The Working Horse Sanctuary.  She has described it as a symbol of the ancient bond between people and horses and the importance of keeping that relationship alive.  The proceeds of the sales of these "Restore-the-Bond" blankets were given to support the horses at the Blue Star Sanctuary and horses around the country, and this month the lucky winner of the Common-Thread Give-Away Drawing will receive one of these special blankets!

All you need to do to register for this drawing is to go to her website at Full Moon Fiber Arts and leave a comment for her anytime Monday through Wednesday and the winner will be announced at the end of this week! There is nothing better than a fleece blanket to keep you warm in these final weeks of winter, and this is one that will warm your heart as well.

Our monthly free Common-Thread Give-Away drawings are our way of saying, "thank you" to our readers.  We appreciate you frequenting our websites and exploring our special hand-made artwork. Register now and do stop and see what she still has available on her Art for Sale Page or simply browse through her website and blog for other items that she has recently posted. It is always fun to see what she creates as well as read about her rural life and community that inspires her work.

Don't miss our other Common-Thread Artist's websites as well! We hope that you will enjoy our blogs and between all of us, we have a wide variation of art work and gift items for sale. Thank you again, and don't forget to register to win by going to Maria's website and simply leave a comment for her.