Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?

I know I have used this song title before, but there it is again.  But what I really want to know is: What’s so HARD about peace, love, and understanding? And what’s so hard about being nice?

I understand completely that sometimes if we are having an inordinate amount of frustration or struggle, or if we are sleep-deprived or not feeling well, we can be irritable. Patience wears thin for all of us sometimes. For example, as I type this, I am listening to terrible hold music on speakerphone and seeing from the corner of my eye Intuit tech support people work away on my other computer.

Today I have already spent four hours on the phone with them. Last Thursday I spent five and a half hours on one phone call with them. Friday was another three and half hours. My patience has been threadbare a few times over all those hours. On top of that, I woke up Saturday morning with a severe belly ailment that involved a trip to a walk-in clinic and all the fun that entails. By Saturday afternoon, my patience level was at zero.

Although I was able to stay home most of the weekend so as to avoid interacting with unsuspecting people, I did have to venture out some. At times like this I am acutely aware of how pettily mean and inconsiderate people can be. I am also aware of how I could be just as petty and mean if I failed to make a bit of effort to restrain my not-so-nice urges. So why is it that some people not only seem not to have that restraint, but a few seem to go out of their way to be rude, inconsiderate, or mean?

I believe I am about as average as a person can be. I look around me and I assume that everyone else is busy trying to get their business done just the same as I am. I think, in most cases, anyone who gets in my way probably did it by accident, or ignorance, or confusion. Sometimes I see signs of narcissism in the way people conduct themselves, particularly behind the wheel of a car. Sometimes I see signs of people acting with a constant sorting and ranking process going on in the back of their mind—ranking people according to their worthiness in the world be it their economic resources, their educational attainment, the color of their skin, their gender, and so on—and their treatment of people is related to how they rank.  Occasionally, I see someone who I am sure is being mean or disruptive just because they enjoy it. Perhaps it gives them a sense of power. This is what I think about computer hackers.

Of the people I have spoken with at Intuit, almost all of them have been pleasant. I have been very frustrated at times, but that generally stems from someone who has been given a job to do but has not been given the resources or power to do it correctly. That is the fault of their company, not them, personally. Why should I be rude or mean to them? Oh, I have had to bite my tongue nearly in two to keep from being, as my Granny called it, ugly. The only reason I have spent as much time with the Intuit folks as I have is that my QuickBooks has developed a glitch that has everyone stumped. While it has been frustrating to spend so much time on the phone, whose fault is it? No one’s!!!

This brings me to one explanation as to why people can be so rude, and leads me back to another previously-used song lyric, “It’s nobody’s fault, but we need somebody to burn.” Get out there and spread some Peace, Love, and Understanding—and BE NICE!!! 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Blessed and Highly Favored

Spring has arrived in Spring Creek, leading me to thank God every day that I am a naturalized Texan. Texas is the only place I have ever been that has blankets of wildflowers covering vast expanses of the countryside—and I’ve been all over the continental United States.

In my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, this time of the year brings azalea blooms in almost every front yard, park, and in the famous gardens around the area. In the town of my collegiate alma mater, Knoxville, Tennessee, spring means blooming dogwood trees and redbud trees in every yard and park. In late spring and early summer in Tennessee, there are pockets of old climbing roses, tiger lilies, Queen Anne’s lace, and sweet peas growing and blooming in the wild along the roadsides. A walk through the old neighborhoods near the University of Tennessee campus reward the walker with the sight of tiny wild violets, and bright yellow forsythia.

Still, it is different when flowers are carefully planted and cultivated, or grow wild in small patches and pockets. Texas is known for “bigger and better,” and that is definitely the case with the wildflowers. While I love seeing the roadsides covered in bluebonnets, primroses, and Indian paintbrush, it thrills me to walk out on our ranch and see the flowers in the pasture and on the rocky hillsides where no human has planted them. I’ll take a field of truly wild flowers over any cultivated garden.

One time I personally encountered a huge field covered in wildflowers outside of Texas. I was visiting my aunt, who lived in Gallup, New Mexico at the time, and we had gone for a walk in her neighborhood. We came to the end of the street where it dead-ended into ranchland and there was a field of coral-colored Indian paintbrushes, but they were about three to four feet tall. What was even more remarkable than these giant flowers were the thousands of hummingbirds zipping about that field.

I said “personally” in the previous paragraph because I am sure there are other places besides Texas with wildflowers covering the countryside—I have seen photos and have heard stories, but have not witness many myself. I have a friend from Montana who has told me about the wild lupines that bloom in the mountains. You may know that our beloved bluebonnets are in the lupine family, but the lupines of Rocky Mountains are much taller and bigger than our bluebonnets. Yesterday my husband and I were talking about volcanoes, which led to us looking up a map of all the volcanoes in the United States (the closest potentially active volcano to us is in central New Mexico, FYI), and then led to a discussion of the long-term effects of the Mount Saint Helens eruption back in 1980. Yes, this is seriously the sort of thing we sit around and discuss. I found an article with a fairly detailed account of the biological/ecological progression since the eruption. That was interesting enough, but the photo of the prairie lupines covering the pumice field at the base of the mountain was stunning. (click here to see the article)

Get out and enjoy your blessed Texas spring. Make sure to say a prayer of thanks for the natural beauty that surrounds you and add a request for some quenching rains.
My beautiful sidekick enjoying some of the truly wild wildflowers on the ranch spring of 2012.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

WIP Wednesday

This WIP Wednesday finds me sewing an edge around the Sidekick block I made in Julie Herman's class at the Portland SewDown then trying to finish piecing the You+Me top I started in Portland. My Riley Blake challenge quilt is finished and hanging on my wall in my living room! I'm still on a sewing roll after returning from Portland. I'm sure my knitting needles are feeling very lonely and neglected.
My Riley Blake Challenge project, "Spring Creek Sunrise"
Today's projects

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On the Road Again

Writing this column today poses a special challenge as it's being entirely done on my phone as I sit in the lobby of the beautiful The Nines hotel downtown Portland, Oregon. The trip here was a birthday gift from my family. I arrived Thursday for the Modern Quilt Guild's SewDown. The original plan was to arrive a day and a half ahead of the event so a couple of friends and I could drive out to Astoria, Oregon to see the Columbia River meet the Pacific. 

I have quite a list of things I want to see, such as this particular river/ocean meet-up. Most of the things have no particular reasoning or logic behind them, other than that they have somehow become lodged in my mind as something I need to see/do/experience. The trip to Astoria was not meant to be, however, as the forecast changed drastically in the day or two preceding our flight and we arrived to find a very, very windy, snowy Portland. My friends had plenty of experience driving on snow, so we rented a car and explored the city. 
So excited to see even this little glimpse of Mt. Hood.

We are quilters, so our idea of hitting the hot spots is to find the best fabric stores. I will hold back on the details in this space, but let me say that Modern Domestic was wonderful! The details along with photos will be on my blog if you are interested. 

I need to emphasize that Portland is only slightly more experienced and prepared for snow and ice than are cities in Texas. A day ahead of our arrival, Portland television stations were warning of the impending "Snowmageddon" and people were frantically preparing to bunker in for the duration. 

Portland was beautiful and peaceful in its white blanket. Most of the motorized vehicles stayed home, so people were walking, cycling, and even cross-country-skiing around town. Even on the major thoroughfares and freeways, the vehicles were cautiously creeping along. 

As we ventured out Friday morning, I was able to cross one item off my list as the clouds lifted just enough so that Mount Hood could be seen in the distance. It was beautiful and entirely covered in snow. We drove through one neat, cute, bungalow-filled neighborhood after another until one of my friends asked, "is there an un-cute part of Portland?" We later found the un-cute area, so we know it exists. 

I was impressed by the number and variety of bridges around Portland. The city is bisected by Willamette River and borders the Columbia River, so bridges are very important. Apparently other people have also noted the distinctive bridges as fabric designer Violet Craft, who lives in the area, now has a fabric out with toile-like images of the bridges of Portland (Called "Bridgetown"). I NEED some of this fabric!

I found Portland to have a mellow, creative atmosphere. People have commented that it is much like Austin, and it is in many ways. Perhaps it was because of the snowy weather, but it did seem much calmer--less frenetic than Austin seems to be any more. I would highly recommend Portland as a destination should you have the opportunity to visit this part of the world. Check my blog for the quilty details and some photos then let me know what you think.

The Additional Quilty Details
The shops we visited: 
Modern Domestic: This shop offers a selection of modern-leaning quilt fabrics, interesting garment fabrics (especially knits), notions and tools (including those by Merchant & Mills), and patterns by independent pattern companies such as Collette , Wiksten, Sewn, and Deer and Doe. They also sell Bernina sewing machines and offer a variety of classes and open sew studios. 

Bolt Neighborhood Fabric Boutique: This is a small, but packed shop offering lots of modern quilt fabrics, garment fabrics, patterns from many, many independent companies, classes, a large variety of notions and accessories, and a friendly and helpful staff. 

Fabric Depot: This is kind of a must-see in Portland just because of the sheer size and variety. It is a warehouse-type store and has every kind of sewing-related item imaginable including garment, quilt, upholstery, and specialty fabrics; every sort of tool and notion imaginable, and even a wide selection of imported foods, candies, and snacks. There were signs everywhere declaring "25% Off Everything," but upon close inspection I found that the prices on almost everything were about 25% higher than every other fabric store. For even money, I'd rather shop at the smaller shops with better atmosphere and staff. 

Drygoods Design: This shop is actually in Seattle, but the owner, Kelli, set up a "pop-up" shop at the SewDown. She also made up kits for our classes for which she pre-cut all of our fabric to the instructor specifications--how nice!!! Those of us who elected to buy kits from Kelli could get on with our sewing without having to spend hours with rulers and rotary cutters in hand. Kelli brought a nice selection of fabrics, books, tools, notions, patterns, and other fun things such as notebooks, notecards, pens, and pencils to stock her shop. I ended up with a couple of books, some tools, and enough Liberty lawn to make myself a loop scarf. 
This little pincushion was the first thing I made with fabrics from Bunny's Designs and pattern from Austinite Kim Place
My Liberty loop scarf made with fabric from Drygoods Design

Blocks from Heather Jones' You+Me class in a variety of colors

Yet another Portland must-do: Voodoo Donuts

Blocks from Jaybird Quilts' Sidekick class

Thursday, January 30, 2014

For the Love of Winter

Almost daily now I am getting phone calls and messages from my daughter about her distaste for winter. She thinks it is because she lived in South Texas a little too long--a place where a forecast of temperatures dipping below thirty-two degrees clears the grocery store shelves of bread and milk, and keeps all the schoolchildren inside during recess lest they succumb to hypothermia. When I was her age, I did not love winter as I do now. At that time I was living in a place where winters were perpetually cloudy and dark and that, along with the short days, caused significant depression for me. 

But now I live here in Spring Creek, where we have a good balance of grey, cloudy winter days and sunny, bright winter days. I cannot say winter is my favorite season, because autumn and spring are my favorites also. In one of these conversations with my daughter, I finally had to admit that I loathe summer. I have often said that when I am wealthy (not sure how or when this will occur), I will spend summers somewhere besides Texas. I could be persuaded to spend my summers high in the Davis Mountains, but that would be the only way I would stay in Texas. 

Just as I hit the return key to begin this paragraph, the sun came out from behind a bank of dark blue clouds and is shining brightly right into my eyes. I stood up to adjust the blinds and saw the most beautiful scene of the blue clouds in the background, the sun shining gold on the hayfield, and the light filtering through the mesh of bare tree branches. I love winter. I love the low angle of the light, the sunrises and sunsets with their impressionistic colors and patterns, the sculptural quality of bare trees, the warm colors of the dormant grasses contrasted with the cool colors of the sky and the clouds. I love the way the ice makes everything look like it is coated in glass and makes it sparkle in the sunlight.

My almost complete Kiki Mariko Rug from
 "Mason Dixon Knitting Knitting Outside the Lines"
I am a fiber/textile/sewing/knitting/quilting person, as you may have noticed. I love wool and I love quilts. There are projects that I have to put away when the weather warms up because it gets too hot to have any more fabric touching you that is absolutely necessary to maintain modesty. A few years ago I started knitting a wool rug. It is thick and heavy and quickly became so long that it had to sit on my lap, then it had to trail down my legs, then it hung to the floor. By late in the spring, I had to put it away for the season. As soon as we had that first cold weather in November, I got it back out and finished it. I will post a picture on my blog--it is beautiful. I quickly moved on to wool socks and wool cowls so I can take advantage of of wool-wearing season. This time of the year, I can be found every evening dressed in a flannel nightgown, sitting on my couch with one dog or another right beside me and a quilt over my lap, knitting away on something warm and snuggly. 

Yes, I am aware of the treachery of winter, particularly for people who live in snow country. I lived in South Dakota for awhile. And I am very aware of the disruptions winter weather can cause--my daughter is sending me pictures of the icy conditions through which she is driving to work this morning. But here on the ranch, winter is good. I hope you can find the beauty in it, too.
I love pecan orchards in the winter with their neat rows of trees and green winter grass. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Like a Whole "Nother State

Way down below is the Pruett house where we stayed in the past.
A couple of years ago I wrote about spending some time in the Pruett house on a 90,000-acre ranch in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. We returned to the ranch this year, but this time we stayed in the main lodge as the outfitter and all of his hunters and guides were off for the Christmas and New Year holidays. 

I grew up in the Southeast where most people think that Texas is all hot, dry desert year-round. You cannot blame them for this misconception as that is the way it has been represented in movies and television shows. There is a new show about a female Texas Ranger that has been advertised and guess where it is filmed… Albuquerque. But I have found a remarkable number of people right here in Central Texas that have never been to far West Texas, or have only been along interstate from here to El Paso. If that is you, do yourself a favor and go visit the western part of your state. 

The ranch we visit is in the Davis Mountains. According to geologists, the Davis Mountains were formed by eruptions of the Trans-Pecos volcanic field. Anyone who is even slightly interested in geology—otherwise known as being a rock-hound—would surmise that these mountains are volcanic just from the looks of the landscape, particularly if you get up on top of one of the mountains and look across. Some of the contour looks like waves or ripples on the ocean, while others look as if they were pushed up from below. Many of the taller mountains on the ranch are made up of columns of red stone, which have broken away around the edges and sent house-size boulders tumbling down. The soil in the flats below the mountains is fine and powdery, and is a light grayish color like ash, which it likely is considering it is in a volcanic field. 

My son wishing he could find a way up
to that eagle nest on top of the rock.
Further west from the ranch, northwest of Fort Davis, the mountains are much higher and are bunched up, without the flats below and without the giant mesas that are found in the foothills. These mountains are covered in trees like piñon and ponderosa pines. The average altitude in the Davis Mountains is right at one mile, so the temperatures tend to be a cooler, especially at night. 

Some of the plants are the same as here like juniper (cedar), agarita, whitebrush, prickly pear, and tasajillo. The yuccas that grow wild tend to look like miniature palm trees with long trunks topped by a crown of blades. I found loads of blackfoot daisies in huge clumps all over the ranch. I would love to be there when they are blooming! There is one plant called Allthorn—because that is all it is. Seriously, you look at it and all you see is green thorns. 

Once you are that far west, you are in mule deer country. Once upon a time, you would also be in pronghorn antelope country, but their numbers are diminishing due to a parasite. There is the occasional elk in the area but I have not seen one with my own two eyes. I did see javelinas and aoudad sheep, and, unfortunately, some feral hogs. Near the springs that are on the ranch, we saw a nice flock of Rio Grande turkeys and we saw Blue Quail throughout the ranch. There is a quail feeder in the front yard of the lodge that is frequented by blue quail and a large flock of white-wing doves. I am told that the occasional Montezuma quail shows up so I watched it like a hawk, but never saw one. 

Of course there are lots of things to see and do in the area, such as swim at Balmorrhea, trying to see the Marfa lights, visiting old Fort Davis or the McDonald Observatory, or heading down to Big Bend. It’s enough for me just to get out and “be” in the Davis Mountains. I will post lots of pictures on my blog so you can share a bit of the experience. And if you are interested in booking a hunt on this beautiful place, send me an email and I will share his contact info with you. 
A little mule deer buck and the object of his "affection."

Cholla fruits
The aptly named allthorn

My son, Wade.
Beautiful West Texas sunrise.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Back to the Beginning

When I first started this column, I wanted to write about creativity, art, and aesthetic in everyday life. I have stayed loosely on that central theme, but have been moving too far away from it in recent months. Now it is time to re-focus, to make this a rifle with a fine-tuned scope instead of a shotgun with no choke.

One of the classes I took at the Houston Quilt Festival was on creativity. It makes perfect sense that anyone interested in fiber crafts would find it appealing to enhance or improve their creativity. What I have found, however, is that to improve your creativity is to improve everything about your life. Lately, I have come to know some folks who are members of twelve-step programs. Being an “inquiring mind,” I have asked lots of questions and even read part of AA’s “big book.” What I have found is that twelve-step programs have a couple of major components: One is getting to a place where you can live in the truth about yourself, your thoughts, the way the world works, and about other people; another is learning that you have to rely on a “higher power” in life as no one person has the wherewithal to manage everything alone. The programs tell you to define the higher power in whatever way is comfortable. I recognize that my higher power is God. The ultimate goal of a twelve-step program is to achieve serenity, which my computer defines as “the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.” That sounds pretty good, does it not?

In the interest of carrying on the creativity enhancement I started in Houston, I pulled out a book I bought several years ago, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. As I started reading and working through it, I began to realize that it is very similar to a twelve-step program. She even refers to the process of becoming an unblocked creative as “recovery”. Now, do not allow the word “artist” in the title of the book to throw you. I think most of us think of painters and sculptors and such when we hear the word “artist,” but there are many, many other types of artists in the world. Basically, we all have the opportunity and the capability to be artists…to do things in our lives creatively and artfully. Julia Cameron says that we were created by the Creator to create—creativity is God’s gift to us and using that gift to create is our gift back to God.

One of the keys of the creative life is attention. For example, one the of the greatest hurdles on the way to learning to draw is to learn to turn off what your conscious mind tells you and, instead, learn to draw exactly what your eyes perceive. Most of us go through the motions of life every day all caught up in our own minds and fail to pay attention to the reality around us. One creativity exercise I find helpful is to do some ordinary task, but to make a point of doing it with attention. I sometimes hang my laundry out instead of putting it the dryer. Believe me, this task is much more enjoyable when I am attentive to the sights of the trees and the grass, the sounds of the birds singing and the chickens clucking around me, the smell of the clean laundry and the country air, and the bending and stretching and the feel of the clothespins in my hands just like they felt in my grandmother’s hands a hundred years ago.

The more I am attentive to the details of my life, the better it all looks to me. I find myself saying prayers of gratitude throughout the day for when I am attentive, I see the abundance of good in my life and that puts me further down the road to serenity.  Attentiveness and focus on living life fully in the moment instead of constantly living in my head worrying about the future or rehashing the past helps me realize just how generous God has been to me. I hope you will give it a try, and I hope it leads you to a bit of serenity in your life, as well.