Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Journey Continues - but in which direction?

I've always considered myself one of the lucky ones. I was baptized into the Roman Catholic church when I was two weeks old. We always went to Mass on the weekend, except when the weather was really bad. I watched my parents' very different reactions to the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council - my father unable to reconcile himself, my mother joyous. I knew from an early age that being part of the Church was not a simple choice, but one that had to be experienced on a deep level and with much reflection. At 8, I read Pearl S. Buck's New Testament for Children and experienced the power of The Story. At about 11, I read Morris L. West's The Shoes of the Fisherman and saw that the Church was a complex organization that had a deep history in Western Civilization, and that the people running it could be deeply flawed, but the Church would muddle through triumphantly. A month before I turned 15, I had a personal and very real encounter with the divine - a moment that still shines brightly in my life as a transformative experience; I have been a different person because of that than I might otherwise have been. As I say, I was one of the lucky ones.

When I got to college, the first week I went to the interdenominational campus ministry program at my small (mostly commuter) college and asked for directions to the nearest Catholic church. I spent my college years helping out with the campus ministry program and working on the student newspaper (and attending enough classes to graduate in three years with a degree in history and a 3.5 cumulative GPA). After college, I got a job on a suburban newspaper and registered in my local parish, agreeing to teach sixth-grade catechism on Saturday mornings. The job didn't last long, but the teaching continued. A year later, having taken a secretarial course and still not finding a job (this was the recession of the early 1980s), I moved to Ann Arbor to share my brother's apartment. Again, I got a job and joined the local parish, where I taught catechism, proclaimed the Word at Mass, and served on various parish committees.

At 28, I went off to the convent. It seemed like the logical thing to do. The ten months I spent there taught me so much about myself, about spirituality, about becoming a fully-realized adult, and about the Church. I came back so disenchanted and so unsure that I wanted to stay in the Church that when the subject of religion would come up, I would declare myself "unsure." I started slipping into back pews in the campus ministry church affiliated with my employer; it was there that the usher found me and start recruiting me regularly to pass collection baskets. At that time, the baskets were on long poles, and there was something about the simple exercise of pushing and pulling those baskets that moved things around inside of me so that I could start seeing the Church in a new way and could find my way back home to it.

In time, I became the usher coordinator, got deeply involved in liturgy, stopped being the usher coordinator, met and married a man who was also deeply involved in liturgy. We took theology classes (he finished the coursework; I did not). At the point where I realized that I would never bear a child, my brother died unexpectedly, and I discovered quilting. I am not trivializing any of these; each had a profound impact on the way that I lived my life and the kinds of relationships I've had.

There have been things shifting around inside of me for a long time. I've been very upset by the changes that are coming in a little over a year. I can feel myself moving in new directions, but I don't know where. The opinions expressed in this essay by Sheila O'Brien speak somewhat to this place I am. I got to this essay via Bryan Cones' essay in US Catholic. Bryan is talking about people like me, people who long ago made a conscious choice to be Catholic. I made that choice when I was a child, when I was a teen, when I was a young adult, when I was fully an adult, when I was in early middle age. I am now in late middle age and looking at this choice and saying, "I'm not sure I can stay." I don't know where this is going. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Work in Progress & What I'm Reading Wednesday - #7!

This is WIPW/WIR#7 - thanks, Tami! (For more great blog posts on these topics, see the links at the bottom of Tami's post.)

Last week I mentioned that I had some cotton yarn on order for a sweater for my great nephew. Here it is all dyed up:
(It's for a baby, but these are seriously his parents' favorite colors.) Here it is "cooking" in the hot sun on top of the garbage can:
I've done enough dyeing to know that heat is my friend. Finally, here is the tangled mess I pulled out of the dryer last evening that I'm winding into a ball. There'll be a few knots in this yarn as I work through it. It was a good evening project after a frustrating day at work.
Now, for Peppermint Candy! Hubby Dearest looked at this and said he thinks the top is done. It's smaller than I want it (by a few inches in each direction), but it does feel done to me. I still think, though, I'm going to swap out those strips of odd fabric (the gray green fabrics that leap out of the quilt).
Next, I wanted to show you that I had helpers when I was setting up the yarn outside:
I also had a guard kitty in the sewing room:
This is the creature who woke me up at 2a this morning by sprawling on my shoulder (I was sleeping on my side) and purring loudly and then grandly accepting petting before leaning over and licking my face - this is why she still has a home despite her bad moods!

In terms of what I'm reading, a couple of weeks ago I mentioned here that I've got a real hole in my knowledge regarding the history of China - of Asia, really. At the big booksale that weekend, I looked for books on the topic and lucked into John King Fairbanks' The Great Chinese Revolution 1800-1985 (published in 1987). I say "lucked into" because it turns out that this man is one of the great American scholars about China. The book is readable, engaging, thought-provoking, and causing my little brain to whir. Here's a tidbit from page 10:

Something over a billion people live in Europe and North and South America.
These billion-odd Europeans and Americans live in about fifty sovereign and independent states,
while the billion-odd people of China live in only one single state.

Okay. In two sentences in the introduction, I was hooked.

I'll be selling raffle tickets for the quilt guild at the American Sewing Expo in Novi, Michigan, this coming Saturday afternoon. If you're at the expo, stop by the booth!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Work in Progress & What I'm Reading Wednesday

Sorry. I forgot to mention that this is part of a group of posts. For the list, check Tami's blog.

I decided that I would catalog every single work in progress, but I chickened out. Here are the projects to which I will admit:

First up: I dyed this messenger bag back in, oh maybe April, and had every intention of decorating it. Pretty impressive decorations, huh?
I cut out these blouses back in May, thinking I'd have some nice summer blouses..... Maybe in time for next year!
I had some "flowers" left over from my Scraptastic quilts in mid summer and have every intention of making a pillow out of these.
As I organized the scraps back in the winter leading up to the Scraptastic projects, there were some scraps that were too big for those projects and too small to put back on the shelves. So, I decided I'd make a couple of quilts inspired by this book:
Aren't these pretty fabrics? I was petting them when I arranged them for this photo:
This past weekend was pretty busy (as will be the next couple of weekends as well), but I was able to get the pink blocks made for Peppermint Candy (these are stacks of blocks):
You can see where they'll fit in:
I have been knitting Abby for myself out of my first handspun yarn.
My next project involves hand-dyed black and red cotton yarn (yarn is on its way from Dharma Trading as we speak) and is for the cutest great nephew in the world, who'll turn one in January.

I finished Hutchinson's book about Thomas Cromwell. Hutchinson writes well, you get a very good sense of the people involved as well as the various issues confronting the country. There is one very tedious chapter where he goes into Cromwell's personal finances in an exhaustive way. Skip that chapter unless you're an accountant. If you are looking for a good introduction to the period, this would be a fine place to start.

Over the weekend, needing some "popcorn" reading, I read Lisa Scottoline's Look Again. This is a fast-paced novel with rounded characters, believable situations, and an intriguing story. I will confess that I figured out the resolution of the book about 50 pages before the end, but that was part of the fun - however will she get there, and how will the characters handle it?

I went to the used booksale run by the local chapter of the American Association of University Women this past weekend. I came home with a paper grocery bag full of books and will be talking about some of those as the weeks roll on.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Reflecting on 9/11/01

I just came home from the Saturday afternoon Mass at my parish. The priest's homily wove together reflections on the readings of the day (which are about ways of responding to injury) and reflections on the events of September 11, 2001, as well as the more recent controversies surrounding these events and their meaning. As he spoke, I was filled with memories of that day, and I would like to offer some reflections of my own.

I was at work when the reports started coming in, and people were huddled around computers, televisions, and radios all day. (I work in a clinical services building, and there are televisions in the waiting rooms - no administrator was admonishing any employees or students who were seen lurking in those rooms that day.) At lunchtime, I knew there were four things I needed to do. I went to my husband's office, interrupted him in mid-conversation, and hugged him really really hard.

Then, I went to St. Mary's and sat in the empty, darkened church for a while. As I sat there thinking about the events of the day, I realized that the mothers of the men who did these things would have to spend the rest of their lives with the knowledge that in their last moments of life their sons looked other people in the eye and did not see people but things. Those young men had lost their humanity, had given it up for a thing - an ideology. I became overwhelmed with the grief that the mothers of these young men would carry for the rest of their lives. As much as I am capable of praying, I prayed for those mothers.

The third thing I did was stop at a popcorn shop and get a large bag of caramel corn. (When life is hard, add sugar.) The fourth thing I did was stop at small Lebanese restaurant and pick up some lunch. I exchanged pleasantries with the folks behind the counter and wished them well. I needed to do this, to ground myself in the humanity of people from the Middle East.

As I sat there this evening, remembering back, I smiled again at the baby who had sat in front of me at the Mass that distant afternoon. Anne and Dan's baby had blown spit bubbles at me throughout the liturgy. Tuesday afternoon Masses usually attract about 20-30 people, but the word had gone out over parish e-mail groups that the Mass that day would be for the victims of the day's events, and over 300 people were there.

I remember being stunned that evening (we had dashed home for a quick dinner before rushing back to campus for a candlelight vigil) when we turned on the television set and realized that people had interpreted these events as an "attack on America." I asked my husband, "What do they mean by an attack? This was a bunch of nutjobs who committed some horrible acts!" As the days, weeks, and months wore on, and the war drums got louder and louder, I remained bewildered. What good could possibly come from our nation inflicting horrors on other people?

I have continued to be bewildered. We have trained our young men and women to do horrible, unspeakable things to other people; we have asked some of our most idealistic and practical young people to give up part of their humanity; we have put them in harm's way and seen their limbs blown off, their brains receive traumatic injuries, and their sleep troubled with nightmares. We have buried way too many of them; and we have caused people in multiple countries to bury many times more of their people. We have turned whole towns-full of people into refugees living in squalid limbo-like conditions.

The Sunday afternoon that we started bombing Afghanistan, I was in the sewing room, working on a quilt and listening to the radio. I heard the news and started crying; not knowing what else to do, I simply kept sewing. In a world full of people intent on destruction, some of us must create. In a world of people willing to blame and hate and shame, some of us must love and grieve and widen the circle. In a world where intolerance of "the other" exists, some of us must remind the world that each of us is an "other" to someone else. The things that are being said about Muslims in America were once said about Catholics, about Jews, about Chinese, about Japanese, about African-Americans - and so many other groups. We look back and say these things were wrong about these other groups; why are we unable to see that they're wrong about the current group?

Nine years ago, I was coming to the realization that I would never be a mother; this was a deep well of grief for me. We can take grief and turn it to anger, or we can take grief and turn it into an energy that enables us to love wider and deeper. We can come to see that we know so little, and that if there are any answers in this world, they may lie beyond us. As the final song we sang this evening said, "We live and journey, journey for home."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Work in Progress & What I'm Reading Wednesday

I want to thank Tami at Tami's Amis and Other Crochet for sponsoring "Work in Progress Wednesday."

First off, I am happy to report that the Helix socks are no longer a work in progress! I finished them on Saturday!! Yay!! (follow the link for pictures)

Over the Labor Day weekend, I did some thinking about the other project I mention in that same posting, and I think I have some ideas. I think I'm going to slice those big hexagons in half, add in some other fabrics cut as trapezoids, and alternate those strips with the striped fabric that is at the far left of the "accompanying fabrics" picture. I have some tan and white striped fabric in my stash I could pull in as well. So, that's the plan I worked out while out walking in the overcast skies of Labor Day.

I spent Sunday and Monday afternoons making Peppermint Candy bigger. I started with making the green blocks:
and then I had to figure out how many yellow blocks to make. Don't laugh, but I have trouble counting. I get distracted part way through, etc. It's a real trial to me. Anyway, I came up with a number and then added a couple for insurance (because I have failed to make enough blocks in the past, hmm??). So, then, I had this set of fabric pieces:
I then chained the middle portion of the blocks:
I pressed those and added the green sides:
Then, I added the yellow sides and sorted into two sets so that both the green and the pink sides would have the same kinds of pale blocks:
I arranged the pale blocks on the green side, made an extra dark green block (I told you I can't count!), and here is where the project stands:
Next, I'll flip this around and start making the dark pink blocks for the other side. I know that a couple of my "pale" green pieces are not pale. I can see that. I may just run to a fabric store and get a quarter yard of whatever and fix that. grrrr

As to what I'm reading: I am deep in the middle of Robert Hutchinson's biography of Thomas Cromwell. I seriously had a nightmare this weekend related to this period. I think I need to step away from the Tudors for a while. I am at the part of the book where he is dismantling the monasteries and nunneries and grabbing all of the valuables for the king. Also, he is trying to find a fourth wife for the king.

When I was a freshman in high school, taking a course in Western Civilization, I realized that for me history was a big scroll with drawings on it. There are parts of history that have the thinnest, most cursory lines - I'm afraid that for me China has a few lines of migration pencilled in, with sketches from the Boxer Rebellion, a water color of the Rape of Nanjing, some drawings of The Long March, and then some detailed paintings of modern-day China where the people actually move around (it helps that I work with so many Chinese, and they have helped fill out the picture of modern China). In other words, though, the more I know about a period, the richer the pictures are on my scroll. Over the course of my life, I've been adding to my knowledge base so that much of 16th- and 17th- century Europe is at least water colors, sometimes oil paintings, and some sections having moving figures. US history between 1770 and 1820 is also that way. Anyway, when I am wondering which part of history to read next, I consult my scroll and try to fill out some of the sketchier areas. I have a book on my stack about European colonialism in Africa in the 1800s. I think it's time that book rose in the queue.

However, my next book will be a book I plucked off the bargain table at Border's. More next week.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Decision Making Help, Please

Before I get to the help request, I want to show off a finished object (or set of objects) - yep, the socks are done!!

Yay!! I've started in on Abby, using the soysilk and bamboo yarn that I finished spinning during the Tour de Fleece this summer. Okay, I'm gauge swatching, but I've got the yarn wound into center-pull cakes, and I have needles going. Basically, I went on Ravelry and searched for patterns that used under 300 yards of mixed-weight yarn. We'll see how this works out.

Now for the help request. I've told you about my friend, Enabler, who is one of the gals in the quilt guild responsible for pulling together kits of donated fabrics and blocks for people to turn into quilts for SAFE House, a wonderful and worthwhile local agency. Well, she gave me a kit a few months back that I rediscovered in my sewing room last month while looking for something else. I pulled the materials out yesterday and here are the blocks:
and the accompanying fabrics:
and the original maker's diagram and notes:
Well, I started auditioning fabrics for that "C" position in the middle. Here is the fabric she had in mind:
Here are some other fabrics I auditioned from my stash:
I showed these pix to hubby, and we both agreed that the etoile (original), the light blue with suns, and the white with tulips should be eliminated. He really likes the orange, but prefers the blue. I really like the burgundy. Anyone out there have an opinion? That's the first request for advice.

He asked me where I was going with this, and I realized that I was getting ready to commit probably two or three weekends, at least, to a project that leaves me feeling "bleah!" After talking things over with him, I put the fabrics back in the bag and worked on the Peppermint Candy quilt that really pleases my eye. So, here's the second question: Should I just make a contribution of the dark blue fabric to the bag and hand it back to my friend at the next guild meeting, suggesting that someone else should have the fun?

I am seriously leaning in this direction. Something about being 50 and finally knowing that the world won't fall apart if I don't do the particular project . . . . In the meantime, Hubby did say something about the orange fabric and the burgundy fabric being in a project together; that thought had not occurred to me, but I'm having some seriously happy thoughts about maybe fussy cutting some blocks with those leaves and framing them with the burgundy and setting them in an off-centered sort of pattern. THAT would be a fun project!

Have to show you why I put up with bad behavior from a certain someone - because little Miss Brat Cat is capable of being SO darned cute! Next week will be the sixth anniversary of our finding kittens under our porch and deciding that the little tortoise-shelled one should stay with us. Gaaadd!! I LOVE this creature!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Fill Ins

Thanks to Janet at Friday Fill-ins for these thought-provokers. 

1. Family is who you choose to live inside your life.

2. Having to feed cats twice a day is enough to keep me going back and forth to work.

3. I love a nice kitty cat who'll sit in my lap and purr while I'm knitting.

4. Peanut butter, honey, and pita bread makes a good meal.

5. I've got the almost-done-with-a-project-could-we-just-get-to-completion 'tude going.

6. The return of Know-Nothingism in this country, especially the horrible things being said about Islam: wth!!!

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to ?finishing the socks?, tomorrow my plans include cleaning house and working on quilts and getting in a nice long walk, Sunday, I want to catch up on podcast listening while working in the sewing room, and Monday, the same!

At the quilt guild's biannual show July 31-August 1, there was a silent auction. I bought two pieces:
Isn't that sweet? It's about 15" on a side (and it's square). I also bought the smaller piece in this picture:
It plays nicely with a piece made by my friend, Fran Dorr, doesn't it? (the smaller piece is about 8" wide)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Work in Progress & What I'm Reading Wednesday

First off, this is my first WIPW! Please check out the other folks who are participating by going to this blog:

My work in progress starts in my garden; well, it's not really "my" garden. I live in a condominium complex, and this is a piece of common ground I said I would care for. A year ago in the spring, I went in and cleared a bunch of weeds and ivy, etc. An old pine tree had been cut down the previous year from this area. I planted an herb garden, and this past spring, I added some more plants. Well, we had a very hot summer, I was serving as volunteer coordinator for the quilt show, and I was pumping out two major quilt projects; I was not out weeding the garden or otherwise tending to it. A lot of plants died (or never quite took), and a lot of weeds sprang up. While I was on vacation, the president of the condo association took it upon herself to weed and yank and otherwise clear out the yucky stuff. I apologized to her for not being more diligent, and she just snorted and said she knew how full my plate had been.

This past Saturday, I went to a local nursery and bought a bunch of hardy perennials that I knew would dig in and spread. I bought Stella d'Oro lilies, coreopsis, phlox, a lilac bush, and something called a "smoke tree." On Sunday, I talked to a friend at church who does landscaping, and she said that I made very good choices. Here is what two hours of work in 90-degree weather looks like. Mind you, the lavender, thyme, sage, and basil were all there before; I also moved the black-eyed Susan plants to new places as they hadn't fully rooted before.
Here's the smoke bush:
Here's a wide-angle shot of the whole garden. My friend suggested getting a soaker hose, and that's the black thing you see snaking through the garden. That was a 20-minute Monday evening project:
I am proud of that. I'm also proud of the bountiful tomato crop we've had this year. Here's one "patio bush" plant. Also, this quince bush was here when we bought the place, and I've made quince preserves each fall. VERY tart!

Finally, here is the current progress on the Helix socks. I'm starting to feel as though they're getting close to being done. Last night I measured, and I'm within 3/4" of the top of the cuff. I really am a slow knitter. It's so sad.

Finally, I wanted to briefly mention what I've been reading. When I posted last Wednesday, I mentioned Guy Consolmagno's book, God's Mechanics. I didn't get my hands on it until Thursday evening, and I was "that close" to being done with "Wolf to the Slaughter" by my "new discovery" Ruth Rendell. I started Guy's book Friday evening, and then on Saturday after I came in from the heat, I took the rest of the afternoon and into the evening to read the entire book. You may recall that we had promised to lend the book to a friend at church.

Without going into a long discussion, let's just say that this born-and-bred Catholic has been struggling with issues of faith and religion for over 40 years (I'm 50, do the math). There have been moments of profound insight, months of crushing doubt, weeks of fierce anger, and years of a sense of being part of something that is still being born. This was a good book for me to read at this moment of anger and doubt (this "moment" that has been going on for a couple of years). He talks about how people with a geeky frame of mind approach religion. At one point, he took a sabbatical from his job as an astronomer at the Vatican observatory to spend several months in Silicon Valley interviewing scientists and engineers about their experience of religion. He does a lot of nice descriptions of the issues for such folks in this area. He ends with reflections on his own life's journey. He never once says, "Here is the answer for you;" rather, he says, "Here are some things that make sense for me; maybe they'll spark something in you." I'm glad I read this book. It's going to continue to percolate in my brain for some time.

Last evening, as sort of an inadvertent companion piece, I read this article in the current issue of the National Catholic Reporter. It's a lifelong journey. I'm not trying to convince anyone else about anything; I'm very much a work in progress myself.