December 29, 2014

End of Year Accounting

Things Lost in 2014

1. 32 pounds and eight bags of clothes in sizes from XL to OV (Oy Vey).
 2. Eyesight.
3. Hearing in left ear
4. Ambition
5. Clarity.

Things Gained in 2014
1. 21 completely embroidered birds...
... complete with colorful troglydytes...

...three incubating birds...
...and the last nine birds in the hatchery.

2. Two potholders pieced from the scrap box
3.  Three new editions to the Cabinet of Wondertrip journals snug in their new rugs.
4. All 293 octagons for the wedding quilt.
5. 36 completed books, according to my bedside notebook.
6. Treasured new clothes, so for almost the first time in my life, I can wear what I feel, instead of just what I can zip up and/or what camoflages.
7. Copious amounts of facial hair
8. A measured degree of surrender to What Is
9. All you supportive, lively, and lovely folks in my life. And in my heart. The very best of 2015 for you all.

December 10, 2014

Look Ma, I'm Spawning!

I was comin' up kinda empty-handed for a side dish for the roast turkey breast and was just about to resort to Stir-Fried Atomic Fire Balls, when I saw this through the kitchen window:
This was the other piece of white oak that I innoculated with shitake mushroom spawn last February. Miraculously, the spawn have fruited over just the past two months and now my log runneth over.
The real miracle is that the shitake spawn somehow gave birth to oyster mushrooms! They're huge...
The only word to describe them is "voluptuous." 
Especially after a slow saute in grapeseed oil...
This is my kind of farming.

December 3, 2014

The Thing You Fear

A quote that originated in a Virginia school for wayward boys and wound its way through a long chain to Pennsylvania has never left my awareness: "the thing you fear is probably the thing you need to do the most."

Keep that in mind as I tell you the story that begins with this.
 Which goes with this.
Every Monday, both of these go with me to visit the residents of a local nursing home.

No, you are not misremembering. I did say in some spring post that we entered Therapy Dogdom in order to work with young children who were having problems reading. But while we were waiting for local schools to return from summer vacation, I saw that the events of my life had been slowly edging me toward one of my last remaining Zones of Discomfort.

That zone circles inward from the unwell elderly in the institutionalized elderly in particular...and, right at the very core, the demented old person.

I left home for college and really never returned as my grandparents' generation moved from vibrant and Yiddish-accented sparks of life into the frail homebound. I did visit my grandmother. She was once a thriving one-woman black market, who routinely used her "little old Jewish lady with babushka" act at the Detroit-Canada border to smuggle gold, liquor and agricultural sundries past the clueless Customs Agents (sometimes with us kids in tow).

Now, she sat in a fog in a leatherette chair, in a row of women deep in their fogs in their chairs.  She opened her lips for my mother to spoon in strawberry ice cream.

I turned my eyes and refused to open them in that direction again.

But since my parents moved here, I am front and center in their aging. I try to surrender to the cognitive decline in one, the physical decline in the other. I try to understand who they have become, who they are becoming and yet ...I notice that none of us makes jokes about nursing homes anymore.

At the same time, this book crossed my path.

Still Alice
(And in a further demonstration of synchronicity, the movie will be released this Friday!)

Alice is diagnosed in her late 50s with early-onset Alzheimer's and this novel, written by a Harvard neurophysiologist, takes you on the wings of the disease into her mind. I was afraid to read it but found it startling in its tenderness. Then, the incredibly moving film Still Mine mysteriously appeared in our Netflix Watch List and I saw dementia from inside of a marriage in the hands of the lovely, lovely Genevieve Bujold (remember  Anne of a Thousand Days?)

It just seemed I was being invited to jump. Right into the center.

So I called the local nursing home and, in the last days of summer, Clutch and I went for our job interview. The volunteer coordinator walked me through all three units (when you strip away their euphemistic titles, they are assisted living, skilled nursing care, and dementia care) and invited me to drop by any of them on my weekly visit. Yeah, well, I thought, we would just stick with the assisted living residents for now.

Except that when the next Monday rolled around, I remembered the quote. The thing you fear is probably the thing you need to do the most.

I pushed open those big fire doors to the dementia unit... and I haven't looked back.

I wish I could show you pictures of my friends there, and in the other two units as well.  Of course, I cannot. I can tell you stories...of women who used to sew all their childrens' clothes or work for the local IRS, who were married to men who used to train police dogs or farm the land that is now our hospital...who claw through their strokes or their confusion to let Clutch kiss them....who I think are trying to tell me they want to pet Clutch but are actually yelling at me to stop standing in front of the TV!

And yes, many of them are lined up in those rows, those nightmarish rows. But Grace (the virtue, not the blogger) has come into my life in the form of a drooling boxer, who knows how to just be...with any one in any place. And so I follow his lead and I stay with them in their who they are...however they are.

In their stories that involve a father who died in WWII one week but prevented her from getting a dog the Thanksgiving dinners that "were at somebody's house but they wouldn't tell me who" or in agitated recounting of "the really large lady that came in here and scared me." In memories of scoring a dining room table with five leaves at a secondhand shop, of going on Sunday drives so Dad could see how all the other farmers' crops were doing.

This week, I visited a 90-year-old woman who splits her time between sending handwritten advice to the Democratic National Committee and working her way through all the Nancy Drew books she never had time to read in her younger years. We had a spirited discussion about Nancy's beau Ned Nickerson and why they never seem to get it on.

She gives Clutch a fortune cookie before we go. This was his fortune this week:

Of course, the ability to be with residents in who they are is easy for me, because they are strangers and I am not stuck in the memory of What Was.  But it is damn good practice for me, so that perhaps I can stay that place...when it comes time to be with those that I have loved my whole life.

Epilogue: I googled the "thing you fear most quote" and found out that it got pretty mangled on its way to me from Virginia. It actually comes from Mark Twain, who said it better: Do the thing you fear most and death of fear is certain. 

November 17, 2014

A Weekend of Wonder: Part 2

Even as I mercilessly edited the Collection, it became apparent that not everything would fit into the box. Not even everything from this trip, let alone from the 20 or so years since we first began the Project.  I put some of the Collection on loan throughout the house:
I washed and labelled all the bits and pieces of fabric scraps that I've found out west and on my hikes everywhere else...

...and decided they will go in a handmade book. I sought the wise counsel of bookmaker extraordinaire Mo Crow and she's just waiting in the wings (hee hee) as I get this project I mean Project underway.

But the big news is what I found in the corner of my studio. Its kind of hard to miss, and it had been there for years, getting full of stuff.
But this time I saw it for what it really is: a real, live Cabinet of Wonder. Hot Damn! I moved my much beloved Indigo Girl Cloth from Grace to its rightful place next to Saskia's Little Bird...

And I set to work. My successes with the box freed me somehow and I hit another book, this time about my absolute favorite artist:
I love assemblage and have felt the urge to do it bubbling away for years. Why else would I pick up used bingo numbers at the flea market? But, once again, Assemblage intimidated me. (You getting the theme here?) But Cabinet of Wonders? Hah! I am Mighty Curator of my Collection. And so here it goes:

These guys from Deadhorse Bay really want to play, as soon as they are dry.
This weekend, I learned the etymology of two words:
  • Museum: a place of study and sanctuary for the Muses
  • Amateur: one who loves
 I really learned them.

A Weekend of Wonder: Part 1

Cabinets of wonder, that is.

It started with this act of wonder that Himself made for me on our return from Idaho this summer.

The man is a wizard with a woodburner. I would have set it on fire,which is why I am not allowed to play with his toys.
He based it on a chest we saw in a small rural museum in Idaho, one that I thought would be perfect to store the artifacts that seem to follow us home on our Vandalization of the American West Project. (Its a Project. That means its not petty larceny.)

I figured filling the box would be a good Snow Day project and so I just left it alone. But, in truth, it intimidated me. That's because I wanted it to be more than just a shoebox where memories are stored...or a scrapbook where they are arranged creatively.  I wanted the experience of opening this box to transmit the spirit of adventure, the urge to discover, that pushes the two of us to see and touch What Was.

I had no idea of how to do that. I had no idea of how to even think about how to do that. My usual approach to creating pretty much mirrors Clutch's approach to eating food morsels on the floor:  go to it with gusto and decide afterwards whether it was the right strategy. But the difference between the dog and me is that when it doesn't work, he just throws up. Me? I suffer knots of frustration in my gut and usually just abandon ship in defeat. And THEN I throw up.

This time, Himself stepped in and suggested I prepare...prepare myself. He pointed me to a book:

Its an incredibly photographed look at curio collecting from all possible facets. It even had photographs of a thespian ancestor of Saskia's Old Bird King, dressed for his role as Tinkerbell in a Viking production of Peter Pan:
Somewhere in the paragraphs of fancy art theory I picked up exactly what I needed: the act of experiencing means more than just seeing or touching. First, I needed to call it a collection, I mean Collection. That means I became the curator...and my museum of adventure would be a Cabinet of Wonder.

Second, I needed to imbue the Collection itself with a sense of discovery in how you get to see or touch it.  I still wasn't sure how this would happen but somehow, I just believed that it would. From Saturday afternoon through Saturday evening, I sorted every object...touching, grouping, getting to know.

And then I reached for all the old boxes,the cloth scraps, the handmade paper, the strings--everything I could get my hands on that I had collected for years and years without ever knowing why.
You never know when you'll need a troll doll, apparently.
 Sunday began in the early morning and ended when the Hungry Woodburner showed up for dinner. I don't have words to explain what happened but I hope the pictures of my work in its  very early stages do it for me.

First, you open the lid and slide the tray...

And here's what you will find.
Each bears a decorated label, archiving its former home. And,for the most part, you need to do something to access what lies within.
This holds bits of hardware and glass in bag made from one of the first cloths I made for What If Diaries

Holds bits of rocks taken from bottom of hot springs, with rolled up map of how to get there.

Cloth from site sewed into a wrapping...

...that houses a jar found at Deadhorse Bay, which houses glass shards from Idaho. Screw still moves up and down!
I am master of the hot glue gun but Himself still won't let me use the woodburner.

But wait! There's more!

November 10, 2014

Speaking of Old Stuff

My ex-husband used to say that my idea of a large crowd and his idea of a small intimate gathering involved exactly the same number of people. I've been that way about parties from the start.
That's two year old me. In red, naturally.
This weekend, the Divine Ms S hosted a birthday party in honor of my 60th birthday (which is actually this Wednesday, but Himself only socializes on Saturdays between 6:15 and 9:30 pm.) I made the guest list and went crazy:
Six other people!!! My parents, Himself, Mr and Mrs E, and the Divine Ms S. Unfortunately, Dr J (the gynecologist, not the basketball player) couldn't make it.  If I add in Other Julie in Jerusalem, the list of my friends is complete. Actually, if I subtract my mom and dad (I was raised on two refrains, one of which was "we are NOT your friends, we are your parents...")...

...then I have five friends.

Actually, four girlfriends and one husband.

Parts of me really envy people who have housefuls of friends. However, when I actually tiptoe into socializing with that much intensity, my head spins, my throat closes and I feel yanked off my center.  I do know that my friendships are incredibly intimate and since it takes time...real feed and water these intimacies, I think this might be it for my Lifetime Guest List.

The intimacy gives birth to wonders. After a sweet toast, my father stood (that alone borders on wonderous, since he is pretty clumsy to begin with and 87 years haven't helped any) and told us all about the day I was born.  Who gets to be 60 and hears her father talk about the evening Mom's water broke? And even at this age, I felt warmed by my daddy's love for me when he recalled seeing me for the first time and "all I could see was two giant blue eyes."

The Divine Ms S outdid herself on creating  her signature warmth and beauty with color...
Say hello to E's Cheese Cutter Guy on left
 ...and the sweetest of little touches just for me.
The flames are different colors!
I take no issue with turning 60, these days number among the best in my life. But I am overwhelmed by disbelief. Didn't I just have on a little red outfit with a party hat and a chocolate cake with marshmellow bunnies? Didn't I?