Monday, December 30, 2013

A Family Christmas

A week or so before Christmas, Apple aired a commercial that caught my eye and tugged at my heart.  The narrative begins with family unfolding from a car while greeted and welcomed by other family members, clearly celebrating Christmas together.  The scene cuts from activity to activity of family togetherness; yet, in the midst of all these Christmas card moments, there repeats a constant image of the teenage son occupied with his phone.  From the outside looking in, he appears disengaged from all the tender telling moments of building family memories.   However, at the end, he connects his phone to the big screen television, and plays a montage of the family moments his has recorded on his phone--his gift, a filmic homage to his family.  The ad, titled by Apple as "Misunderstood," serves to reminds us that from the outside looking in, things often are not as they seem. 

And so it is with most holidays and most families.  As our family spilled and piled in differing permutations into our daughter's country home, it was a bit wild and sometimes boisterous and always busy.  There were tumbles, spills, broken tree ornaments, stomach aches, and tired toddlers. There were mounds of dishes, piles of laundry, and scattered toys abounding.  But there were also the sounds of a Christmas Eve choir

and the taste of Aunt Margie's famous (and family favorite) Christmas cookies.

There were stockings hanging on the fireplace

and Alex's paper snowflakes decorating the windows.

There was the traditional giving and receiving of gifts (finally my knits and quilts can be shown on this page!)

and serendipitous gatherings around the tree

or in the kitchen
 or on the couch.

There was time for Alex to perfect flying his new remote controlled helicopter

and for him to build Legos with his Uncle Rob.

And was there time for this

and this

and this

and this

Christmas is never quite as idyllic as Apple or Hallmark may portray it, but fleeting moments sprinkled throughout our time together ultimately capture and represent the love, constancy and bonds of our family at its core.  Upon returning home yesterday, our son Rob pronounced it best, "..and my heart is full."  So full indeed.

p.s.  A few weeks before Christmas Alexis sent me this link, a gift suggestion for Rosie.  The day I finished knitting this "Baby Love Sling," Matt came home with a bear he had made for Rosie at Stuffing Town. Perfect!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Nears

Tomorrow is the fourth Sunday in Advent. Three days after is Christmas! The big day comes, and we are almost ready.  Only a few more gifts to deliver, a few more to wrap, and only two yet to finish.  I might even have time to knit one more hat for a gift that would be nice to give (there is always one more knit that would nice to give).

This week was warmed by connecting with friends and neighbors.  We gathered at church for the annual Christmas dinner, I partook of an elegant Christmas buffet at Centre Hills with sweet teacher friends, I sat to knit with needle friends, and I rocked Patty's new grandbaby after a delicious bowl of her chicken noodle soup. I always like this week, this cadre of calm celebrations before the big event.  We are so blessed to have so many wonderful people in our lives, our friends, church family, and neighbors who make our life here so rich by grounding, supporting, and loving us. 

Today, I plan to make up a yoga class, bake some cookies, and finish wrapping the gifts. The biggest challenge may at last be Jim's--how to squeeze all the gifts, luggage and us into our car so we can drive Christmas to North Carolina where our daughter's family will host us all. I remember my mother and father arriving bringing Christmas stacked and packed to overflowing in their car.  Now we are the ones traveling to children and grandchildren with gifts and food in tow.  Another woman, my mother's beloved granddaughter and my amazing daughter, now directs the family show. The torch passes from my mother to me and now to Barbara.  It feels so good.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Quilt Story

Two months ago when our sewing circle was preparing to display our mission quilts, we discovered two folded quilts stacked on a rear church pew. Two quilts of vibrant beauty, both works of art by a skilled designer and stitcher.  I was mesmerized and fascinated.

No one knew who made them or how they ended up in the church sanctuary.  After asking a dozen individuals, I finally uncovered one clue--our custodian said she recalled seeing a man come in holding them.  She remembered asking him who made the quilts and he replied that he did.   She didn't know him and couldn't provide much more information than that.

Rarely, have I been so captivated by a quilt; the last time was when I first saw the quilts made by the women of Gee's Bend.  These quilts spoke to me through the fabrics selected, the way the pieces were cut and arranged, the colors, and the manner of assembly.  The artistry of them both was riveting.  I kept asking around, ticking off a mental list of people in the church who quilted.  No one admitted to their making.

Last week when downtown on a mission to buy a tea set for Rosie, I walked by the Senior Center, housed in the heart of our little burg.  Prominently displayed in the window was a holiday quilt for auction.  I recognized the artistry immediately…our mystery quilter appeared again.  I had to find out and I did.  The elusive (and apparently reclusive) quilter does the same thing he did for us for the benefit of the Senior Center, quietly donating his art to help others. Here is the story I uncovered, along with the quilt I bought (at a bargain price, I must say).

The artist who makes these glorious fabric tapestries is a retired professor of theater.  His specialty, of course, costume design.  When he retired, he was caring for an aging and ill mother who herself was once a quilter.  Together they cut squares, patches, and strips of fabric to assemble their  common quilts.  Apparently, he pieced and she tied.  When his mother died, he abandoned quilting only to discover that he missed it.

So he returned to his craft and his art, cutting up her clothes to incorporate into his quilts.  He continues today, using discarded clothing.  It is easy to see what was clearly shirt fabric of all ilk included--prints, oxford stripes, wild Hawaiians, as well as a multitude of sparkly, shiny, and plush pieces.  He even includes the button holes! Putting things together I would never think to do, it all works and works so majestically.

 Even the backs manifest his artistry.

Relatively new to this craft, I am still coming to uncover who I am as a quilter.  I have taken classes and followed patterns to create some quilts.  I have appliquéd and hand quilted.  But perhaps the practice that resonates most with me is the work we do in sewing circle, creating quilts out of donated fabrics and thrifted sheets.  I never tire of looking at these beautiful quilts made in the same manner of reusing, repurposing and rearranging.  His work inspires me--this is exactly the kind of quilter I aspire to be…even just a little.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Sunday marked the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of the official church year calendar, signal of the coming Christmas, the birth of the Christ Child.  We lit our first advent candle both in the sanctuary of Grace Lutheran and here at home. The annual mitten tree appeared, and I clothes-pinned a set of mittens, hat, and cowl on a bough of the mitten tree standing in the narthex.  Destined to go to the local Youth Service Bureau, they will help keep someone warm.

Advent, a quiet season of watching and waiting, contrasts starkly with a consumer-driven season of shopping and indulging.  Online discussions abound on this tension, as caring and searching people seek to live meaningful lives.

Although I am not Catholic, I am captivated by Pope Francis and his endeavor to change the status quo within the body of the Catholic church.  He chooses to live simply, touches the "unclean," eschews the trappings of his position, and uses words that edify rather than disenfranchise. Last week, I read an article describing the church office of the "almoner," the Vatican almsgiver.  Traditionally, a rather benign job held by aging senior clergy, Francis has reconfigured the position from a desk job to an active presence in the world, responding to those in need.  The current almoner simply describes the job: "Be with people. Share their lives, even for 15, 30 minutes, or an hour."

Last week and this week, our church is hosting our community's Out of the Cold Program, a coordinated effort by local faith groups to provide shelter and food for those who live on the streets of our town.  I thought of Francis last week when Jim and I took our turn with countless others who open church doors, set up cots, welcome guests,  prepare food, chat and sit to simply "be" together.  

Isn't that what the incarnation means?  Christ coming to "be" with us, to share our live.  And isn't that what we to ought to be about as well?  Leaving our homes to go out and "be" with people, the people who need us, even for just a brief time.  This season of light and waiting and watching surely is more than the daily flyers stuffed inside the newspaper and the lists of promotional emails crowding my inbox.  Truly, it must be more quiet, more thoughtful, more meditative, more  contemplative and the same time...more intentional and more active.  A hurting world needs it to be.

Friday, November 29, 2013


It was an odd juxtaposition, two memorials to two lives occurring concurrently. One sung and spoken within the doors of this stately historical church centered right in the heart of town.  The other played out and celebrated on the high school football field directly across the street. 

Two men, one the father of a high school friend, the other a former student of mine who both died this past week, one day apart.  One man lived well into the fullness of time, leaving a legacy of a long and lettered life in academia, church service, and family devotion.  The other, a man still living the fullness of life, not yet 30, who leaves behind tales from varied fields, courage against insurmountable odds, and the abiding love of family and friends.  The contrast appeared dramatic as I walked the street between the two this morning, quietly praying goodbye blessings for Brandon as I climbed the steps to recite the same for Ann's beloved dad.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Looking back & moving forward

I returned to my former classroom this week, stepped back into that space of life where once I lived and breathed.  Best of all,  I saw two of my most beloved professional friends and proteges. It was oh-so-good to see these sweet women with their dual growing mama bellies. Whenever I worry about the future of public education, these are two of the teacher faces I summon to assuage those fears.  

As is often done, we gathered, we teachers retired and in active service, to toast, feast, and celebrate the upcoming birth of baby Dinsmore.  It was a glorious gala!

I loved being there for just those moments--quietly taking in my past, scanning the classroom to notice old familiar patterns with new twists. It is good to observe generations as they continue and unfold.   

p.s.  My gift for baby D was this soft pink sweater (knit from this old favorite pattern) and one more bedtime bag.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013


I consider myself a planner, someone who, still after two years of retirement, begins Monday morning by sketching out a weekly agenda, complete with daily tasks and weekly goals.  I keep both a handwritten and computer-based calendar.  I  assemble folders for all the projects and volunteer commitments in my life.  Simply put, I feel better and more secure assured that my life has a concrete system of organization. 

But I have not always been like this; in fact, my parents would chuckle to read the previous paragraph.  The second-born child, I was the random romantic to my extremely disciplined concrete-sequential, over-acheiveing elder brother. (Even today my best attempts at structure and organization pale in comparison to Dick's!).  My bedroom was more than frequently in a state of disarray, my school assignments were typically completed "just-in-time," and my social life swirled in spur-of-the-moment bursts of energy.  Serendipity seemed just right in my younger days.

This week, I hearkened back to my former self, the more freestylin' one.  Sunday night, my youngest son called to ask me to make some props for the show his theater students are mounting.  He needs six, roughly three feet by six feet, panels of fabric to be used in a variety of ways in choreographed movement pieces.  When my son asks, I rarely say no. So even though I already had my week planned with commitments and projects, I said yes and started sewing…and sewing…and sewing.  Housework, and plans and commitments were stuffed into that same box of time, and miraculously, they fit just fine.

Thursday night, I took a sewing class titled "15 Minutes of Play," based on the ideas found in the book of the same name.  Our task was to make fabric, stitching together with neither plan nor design leftover scraps of material.  It was liberating to approach a project without rules or pattern.  I made two swatches of fabric. Still unsure of what I will do with these swatches, I am certain that someday I will do something--sometime, when the muse appears to move me.

I have a friend who says that perhaps the interruptions in our days are, in truth, God's plans for us.  I spend a lot of time organizing my life, following comfortable routines and patterns, and for the most part, such practice helps me focus and be productive; however, it is good and important and perhaps even essential to allow oneself interruptions, improvisations, permission to color outside the lines, and the wisdom to listen to the beat of another drummer.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

O Brother

Listening to a child learn language is one of life's true treasures.  To witness a little person journey from using words for simple identification to connecting words and meanings into communication is magical indeed.  Our Jamie is doing that now, and thus a window into his personality unshutters.

Jamie, like all younger brothers, looks up to his older brother Alex.  He wants to be able to do what his brother does, and truth be told, his attempts are quite credible.  He rides his tricycle rather skillfully for a two year old, he assembles legos with the patience, dexterity, and the eye of an older boy. He can match his bigger brother admirably in their frequent and frequently rowdy wrestling matches.

Jamie defiantly stakes his claims with loud pronouncements of "mine!"  Yet, forming the multisyllabic, multi-consanant "Alexander" is challenging for his little two year old tongue, so Jamie calls Alex "brother," which is just so darn cute (and inventive!).

Having family nine hours away makes for carefully planned visits that sometimes have a few months in between.  It has been three months since last we saw these boys, and the changes are dramatic.  Alex received his first report card with grade letters instead of global descriptors. He is more confident, more measured, and more insightful--he is more mature.

Jamie is stronger willed (he needs to be as the youngest of two boys!), more independent, more observant, and more articulate.  He still possesses a heck of a sense of humor and a grand unfettered joy about life and people.

I wish we didn't live so far away. I wish we could hop in a car and in a mere hour or two we could pop into their lives.  But life in this postmodern world doesn't often gather families in the same community anymore, so we do what we need to do--we drive and drive and drive.  But it is always worth those hours on the roads of Virginia. It was so very very good to hang out and catch up with these boys, our dear grandsons and two devoted brothers.