Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Don't Worry About Me, I'm Safe in Prison

Here is an actual conversation that has happened more than once between another adult and one of my children:

Other parent: So, [Laurie's Child], where are your mom and dad today?
Child 1, 2 or 3: Oh, they're in prison.

A bit of humor, but on a serious subject. Don't worry about my absence over the next few days. I will be in prison this weekend.

I've been involved in prison ministry off and on for something like fourteen years now. Technically, since this weekend is at one of the men's prisons, as a female I will be spending most of it doing supporting work outside the prison walls while the men are inside. I'll be inside myself for a few hours towards the end of the weekend. (For the weekends in the women's prison, the roles are reversed.)

I do this for several reasons -- personal, spiritual and practical. The personal and spiritual aspects I'll discuss at some other time. The practical reason is simple: Something like 98-99% of people in prison will eventually get out. They'll go back to their families, and their kids, and their neighborhoods. And even the ones who never get out will have some influence over the ones who do. If we, as a society, turn our backs on these people while they're inside, what are the chances that things will be different when they're out? At a cost of perhaps $30,000 per year per inmate to keep people incarcerated, this is not just a personal or spiritual issue, it's a dollars and cents issue. Somebody needs to be there, showing that there are alternatives, or there will be no alternatives. And society will be worse off.

Whenever I'm inside a prison, I'm always intensely aware that I'm a role model. Even when I don't see myself as one or feel like one. Prisons are filled, for the most part, with people raised in dysfunctional environments, surrounded by others raised in dysfunctional environments. There's a high level of fascination when people come in from the outside. You can almost hear people thinking, "Oh, so this is how you behave in these circumstances." We serve meals inside, and beforehand we always have to go over the rules for family-style eating. (No, you don't clean out the bowl of jalapenos just because you got it first. You need to be sure everybody gets some.) Quite frequently this -- eating as a family -- is something they've never experienced. And there are all kinds of situations similar to this one.

The feeling of role modeling is particularly acute when you go in with your spouse. A fair number of inmates have virtually no history of ever witnessing a healthy male-female relationship, and they intently watch and analyze couples who come in. What we say, how we talk to each other, whether we touch, or smile at each other, or stand close together or far apart... It's noticed. You're always thinking about this, and hoping you send the right message.

One things everybody wants to know is if I'm afraid to go into the prisons. No, I'm not, for several reasons. First, I think if I lived my life being afraid of what might happen, I'd never do anything. And also because, as someone once reminded me, prison is about the only place in the US where only the good guys have guns. Additionally, in prison, volunteers are cherished, and female volunteers especially. I shudder to think what would happen to anyone who tried to harm a female prison volunteer.

So, does it work? Will everybody we come in contact with take advantage of the alternatives we're trying to offer? Sadly, of course not. Won't happen. We've all been given free choice in life, and we can't force others to make the choices we would like them to make. Or even the choices they would like to make, but can't seem to act on. But some will. Some do actually pull their lives together, get out, hold jobs, become better parents. It's not me who's responsible for this, but it's what keeps me going back.

We'll talk more when I get released. :-)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Yet Another Excellent Day (Or: The Gray Season Respite)

So first and most important thing first: My soccer team beat the Title IX Girls.*

That's what I've come to call the team of young women in our league. I don't think any one of them is over thirty, and they play a hard, nasty, elbows-out game.

This is, truly, not how most women in their thirties and forties (or at least the women I know) play soccer. We may go hard after the ball, but it's not worth it to damage our opponents in the process. If we knock somebody down, chances are we'll stop and pick them up (and apologize) before we continue play. This is just a part of who we are, and we like it this way. None of us likes to play the Title IX girls.

This particular season there are only four teams, so we play them multiple times. Last time they beat us 4-2. This time we started out down 0-2 after less than five minutes, but then we hit our stride and beat them 7-4. Heh heh heh.

I also got called for what was maybe my second or third foul today. In three years. Tripping, totally accidental, her feet got tangled up in mine -- one of those fouls that could have been either called or not. It gave me the opportunity to give one of those hands out, questioning, dropped jaw, what the heck looks to the ref that I've seen my son do countless times. Hey, this is fun.

And to add delight to the day, we've somehow gotten a week of Gray Season respite. It was sunny and close to 80 today, and I went kayaking with a friend on Lake Washington for almost two hours. We saw a blue heron and a bald eagle, along with a beaver dam and multiple ducks. How cool is this?! Life is good.

*Title IX girls are the girls who grew up after Title IX, the law that, among other things, required sports equity for women in schools. (Granted, I think I was still in elementary school when Title IX passed, but it took some years for it to sink into the culture.) These ladies were raised to see the ability to play sports as a right. For us oldsters, on the other hand, it's not something we take for granted. More power to 'em, truly! But I don't like to play against them. It's an entirely different mindset.

Monday, September 25, 2006

These Total Strangers Whose Blogs I Read

There's a young man who lives in Harlem and writes a soccer blog. He's intelligent and articulate and in his mid-twenties (assuming, as I always do -- because it's easier -- that people write the truth in their blogs.) When I was having trouble understanding all the plot lines of European soccer, he took the time to explain the divergences and intersections of league, cup and continental play. He tends to post regularly, but he's been silent now for a week and a half.

It's funny. I don't know this guy from Adam. I have no idea who he is, what his life is like, or even what his name is. But his going silent has given me that mild, maternal, my-child-is-fifteen-minutes-past-curfew edginess.

So it goes when you start regularly reading the blogs of total strangers.

Who are these people, exactly? I think the English language needs a new word for "This complete stranger whose blog I read." Not friend, exactly, at least not at first, but not unconnected and anonymous stranger, either. Somehow, in some way, we are connected.

Frequently I learn details of lives-that-aren't-mine that fascinate me, make me laugh, cause me to nod in agreement, and occasionally shock me. I've read poetry about a mother's death from cancer, seen a photo of someone else's horrendous leg bruise, crammed my brain full of soccer facts, read details about schools and homes and churches and workplaces that I would never have heard of otherwise, and seen more beautiful quilts than my brain can process. Through comment sections I've traded quilt details and soccer parent details and favorite book names and myriad other facts and minutiae that have enriched my life in some way. These people (you people?) may not be a part of my day-to-day life, but they (you) are not strangers.

I love reading other people's blogs. If you read mine and have posted comments that could lead me back to you, chances are I read your blog on a regular basis. If you disappeared without a trace, know that you would be missed. I would worry.

And Z. in Harlem, set this mother's mind at ease. Add another post to your blog!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Christina's Seattle Streets Quilt

If Google sent you here when you came looking for directions to the Seattle Streets Quilt? You actually want my "pictorial tutorial" page. Click here and have fun.

I wanted to blog a picture of a Seattle Streets quilt top from Christina, who lives right here in Washington State. She'll be quilting it in five sections before putting it together.

She said she's going to call it "Pike Place Market," which for some reason sounds like this quilt looks. (Maybe you have to be from Seattle to for this to make sense, but my daughter agreed that this name fit when she saw the picture.) I just love the bright, vivid colors!

Says Christina: "I used 49 fat
8ths in bright, bright colors and made the blocks 8".
I kept making blocks until I was out of fabric so I
ended up with 108 blocks, I set them 10x10 and had 8
left over."

Gorgeous quilt!

(The pattern for the Seattle Streets quilt is available for free from UFO-rphanage for Quilters.)

My Seattle Sunset quilt (in sunset colors)
My Seattle Streets Christmas Quilt
Quilt Pink Seattle Streets Quilt

Yea! He Can Vote! (Or: Happy Birthday, Child #2)

It hardly seems possible that it's been eighteen years since your dad and I dropped off your sister at a friend's, stopped at McDonald's for an Egg McMuffin, then drove to the hospital for the world's easiest labor -- most of which was spent watching PeeWee's Playhouse and Dodger baseball. (Okay, so maybe the last hour wasn't easy. But the rest was a cakewalk.) Eighteen years it has been, though -- September 24, 1988.

One of the most interesting things about having kids is watching them grow up, seeing all of the individual parts and trying to figure out where they came from and how they combine to make children into themselves. From me you received your wayward curls and cowlick, the crooked smile that lights up half your face at a time, your non-shy introvert personality, and your passion for politics and current events. From your father you received your brown eyes, your love of sci-fi, and your ability to bring a room to its knees with a one-liner. And you have a grace and athleticism and dry, wry humor that is entirely your own.

People ask me if it frightens me that you will be voting in the next election, months before you graduate from high school. I tell them no, that I'd rather have you voting than the vast majority of the population because you understand why it matters. You read, you think, you analyze, and so you know how your vote can affect the world. I wish there were a few million more like you.

And so, Michael, soccer player, track guy, cross country runner, Senior Class President, and decent human being, I just want to say:

Happy Birthday! We love you!

(Now give me back my Newsweek.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Zidane Dilemma (Or: God, You Did Good)

When I began to follow the World Cup run of my beloved French soccer team, Les Bleus, I joined the rest of the world in being fascinated with the soccer skills and life story of Zinedine Zidane, aka Zizou, the graceful, aging, bullet-headed Algerian Frenchman with the dancing feet. And I (along with the rest of the world) watched the headbutt with the same shock and horror I used to feel when my perfect children would do something like bite a playmate. How in the world could this happen?

A French quilting acquaintance told me that Zidane would be on TV offering explanations. Since US TV wouldn't carry it, I turned to that wonderful public service site, YouTube. Sure enough, videos appeared online within a day. (The link is subtitled.) They were all in French, but I'd had five years of French, so I knew that with effort I could figure this out.

I hit Play with my entire brain focused on determining what had brought about The Event. But then something happened. Zidane was still obviously, touchingly uncomfortable in the spotlight, but he had been worked over to prep him for TV. His head was freshly shaved, which put the focus on his face's impossible bone structure. His skin was luminous. His teeth were startlingly white. And somebody had put him in a T-shirt and jacket that precisely matched the color of his eyes. In less than a minute I had entirely lost my train of thought. What language was he speaking again?

I've come to think of it as The Zidane Dilemma. As a happily married, middle-aged Christian mom, I know it's not right for me to notice when a man has eyelashes approximately three miles long and a smile that could melt granite. But occasionally... Well, oops. Darn it. I notice.

It's at these times that I take my cue from a sweet, fifty-something pastor's wife I know. She once told me, "I don't think it's a horrible thing sometimes to let your eyes fall on someone for a moment and then just think, 'God, you did good.'"

I like her approach. (And it definitely beats the alternative -- "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.") She wasn't talking about infidelity, or leering with intent. Just about a quick, honest, visual appreciation, like you'd give a Monet or a Renoir. And after that you turn away, back towards your spouse-and-best-friend. I don't think that's such a horrible thing.

And God? About Zizou?

Well, I just want you to know: You did good.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

But I'm Not Ready Yet!!! (Or: Seattle Turns Gray)

It usually starts here around the end of August, or if you're lucky it's past Labor Day. Never much beyond that. You wake up in the morning to another sunshiny day, pull on your summer standard shorts and tank top, and pad barefoot to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. And somewhere along the way you realize, Brrr. My feet are cold. And you pull on your little footie socks.

Two days later the footie socks aren't enough, and you grab a long-sleeved T-shirt.

A day or two after that, you reluctantly give up your shorts.

And finally, you heave a huge sigh and pull out heavy over-the-ankle socks and a sweatshirt as you watch the rain pour down outside. Fall has begun.

Whenever an out-of-stater says, "Oh, I was in Seattle and it was BEAUTIFUL," I say, "Oh, you must have been here in July or August." Those are our two beautiful months, where the sky stays blue, the Sound and the lakes sparkle in the sunlight, and the temperature rarely gets above 80. Often we'll get three beautiful months as summer stretches into September.

And then Gray Season sets in. Gray Season encompasses the other nine months of the year.

It's a myth that Seattle gets huge amounts of rain. There are plenty of cities that get more, including Miami. But those cities tend to get it over with in big blasts. Ours stretches out. And out. And out some more. Sometime it mists, sometimes it drizzles, sometimes it showers, sometimes it pours, and sometimes it's just plain gray.

Some years, especially years with hot summers, I'm ready for Gray Season. Not this year. I want to kayak. I want to roller blade. I want to take the dog for walks without turning him into a bouncing, frolicking ball of mud. But when you live in Seattle, you have to accept the inevitable:

Gray Season has arrived.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Strip Twist Quilting

I'm not sure if the quilting will come through on these pictures, but this thread is just gorgeous. It's Superior Rainbows, a variegated golden thread that really sparkles. (Click on the photos for a larger version to see the thread.) This is a very fun quilt to work on!!

On a lighter note:
You Are Apple Green

You are almost super-humanly upbeat. You have a very positive energy that surrounds you.
And while you are happy go lucky, you're also charmingly assertive.
You get what you want, even if you have to persuade those against you to see things your way.
Reflective and thoughtful, you know yourself well - and you know what you want out of life.

Anybody who knows me in real life, tell me you didn't burst out laughing at the "super-humanly upbeat" part. Is that me or what? It's funny -- I normally don't put any stock in these things, but this one captured me pretty perfectly. How do they do that with only five questions? Or do you think they randomly assign answers to mess with our minds? :-)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Make My Day

I started running SiteMeter on this blog one month ago at about 12:30 a.m. on 8/19. That means I'll hit one month at 12:30 tonight. I'd love to get to 2000 hits before that happens. Last I checked I was at 1968 -- 32 more to go. Make my day! Help me get to 2000 before 12:30 Pacific time.

The quilt above is the one currently on my bed. It's everything I love in a quilt: Bright with Black!!

Thanks for stopping by. :-)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Chess Season Begins (Or: *sigh*)

Here is the challenging, exhilarating, excruciating thing about chess and kids:

Somebody wins, and somebody loses.

In adult chess, with players who know what they're doing, the chance of a draw is pretty high. With kids, not so much. I'd estimate that at least 95% of elementary chess games end in win/loss. Great! Wonderful! Fantastic! if your child is the one who wins. If your child loses, though? Watching a child walk through that door, fighting tears after a lost game, is one of the most painful things in my life.

It's at those times that I ask myself why I do this. Why do I coach? Why do I encourage kids to compete in an activity that ends in failure 50% of the time (and a lot more for some kids)? And it's not even a team failure, like sports, where other people share the blame. When you lose in chess, it's all you.

When I think these thoughts is when I have to remind myself of kids like S. She's in third grade, she's been playing chess for two years, and she has Asperger's syndrome -- high-functioning autism, generally characterized by difficulty in figuring out interpersonal cues and relationships. For more than a year, I didn't realize this. I just thought she was extremely, painfully shy, because she never met my eyes or interacted with the kids around her. She had a hard time with chess at first, but she hung in there, and last summer at chess camp she picked up her first trophy -- a trophy she won with a teammate. Watching her face, alive and alight as she showed the trophy to her father... Well that made it worth it. And later in the summer, when I saw her in the grocery store and her face lit up at the sight of me? Worth it times a hundred.

But that still doesn't make it any easier to comfort a child who has lost.

I have noticed something, though, and that is that often the best comforters are the other kids themselves. Last year at the State Championships, I allowed my son to be one of our school's voting delegates at the annual meeting. It was an honor. He was proud. But then one of his teammmates came out of the tournament room, devastated after losing a very close game to a high-rated player. My son, who had just turned eleven, turned to me and said, "Mom? Can you get somebody else to do this meeting? I need to go talk to C." I could have given his teammate positive words, but my son has been there. He knows how it feels. And he knew that where he needed to be at that moment was with his teammate. And I think this benefited them both.

The thing about losing is that, with a little help from teammates and parents and coaches, kids do eventually get over it. And they learn that nobody wins all the time, and that hard work does pay off, and that losing a game, or even a bunch of games, doesn't make you a loser. And as much as it hurts me to see my kids lose, I know in my heart that these are the lessons they'll be taking forward, even when they no longer play chess.

(But true confession? Its' still more fun when they win.)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

All Together Now! (Or: Laurie At Last Gets Her White #10 Zidane Away Jersey)

Here it is, at last, in all its glory! Just when you think there's no hope, it arrives: My White #10 Zidane Away Jersey, given to me for my birthday yesterday by my family members. (These jerseys do still exist, praise be to the gods of ebay and Malaysian knockoffs.)

So, yes, maybe I kind of knew it was coming. (Maybe it was kind of, y'know, put on my credit card.) Still. Great joy and excitement.

I had a wonderful birthday, starting with a morning full of soccer, followed by a couple of hours watching "Shirley Valentine" (one of my favorite movies of all time) with my daughter before she goes back to college next week, followed by a Chinese dinner out with the family. And presents which included a sturdy men's watch (dainty women's watches don't stand up to my abuse) "Le Petit Prince" in the original French, the second season of "Lost," the third season of "Arrested Develpment", and :::drum roll::: the Zidane jersey.

Truly, I know it's silly, but I love this thing. For as long as I have it, it will bring back memories of this summer and the joy of watching the World Cup with my kids. I slept in it last night. (No jokes. My family has probably already made them all. Although in my defense, I do believe that in French you can say, "to sleep" and even "to sleep with" in a way that does not have those connotations.)

So here's to Ebay, and to Zizou and my beloved Bleus, and to families who make birthdays much less painful than they might be otherwise.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Quilt Projects for This Weekend


Another quilt "retreat" weekend. I was going to go on an actual retreat this weekend, but the rest of my family got pulled in other directions, so I'm home with my eleven-year-old and I'm going to get in as much quilting as I can! With luck this pile of strips and fabric will be two quilt tops by the end of the weekend.

I'm also going to be squaring up the backing and batting to quilt my Autumn Strip Twist. I HATE squaring up backing, even more than doing borders, but that's what weekends like this are for, right? I'm also a little nervous, because my batting is 90" and my quilt top is 85". Not a lot of margin for error. But I will get it done this weekend.

Happy quilting, fellow Stashbusters! :-) Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sports After Forty (Or: The Agony of Da Feet)

It started with the first soccer class I took, almost three years ago, and continues to this day. The first thing I do to prepare for soccer is shave my legs. Not with the old, hit-or-miss electric razor, but with the good, double-bladed regular one. Fresh blade. The reason being, of course, that when my post-forty body takes the inevitable blow or wrong turn and the paramedics come and start manipulating my shattered limbs, I will be able to relax, accept the inevitable, and not worry about whether or not my legs are fuzzy.

This is how you think when you learn a new sport past the age of forty. After every game, you go through a mental organ recital, double-checking to see which parts of you have survived unscathed. You become an expert on different kinds of pain and what each means. Muscle aches and bruises? No big deal. (Actually, and this will forever reveal me for the warped and sick person I am, there is a part of me that thinks bruises are sort of cool. I have twice taken shots so hard that the next day you could see vague outlines of the soccer ball's pentagon-hexagon pattern in the blue-and-purple of my leg. On both occasions I proudly pointed this out to my family members.)

On the other hand, joint and connective tissue pain? Yellow light, cause for worry.

You always know, at my age, that any game may be your last. One wrong turn, one kick, one tangle with an opponent, and you're down, and done. Sure, most injuries can be rehabilitated, up to a point, but I've discovered that after forty no injury ever really goes away. It just sits on the sidelines of your life, waiting for you to perform the move or action that invites it back into the game. You go down with a serious injury at my age, it's probably best to just not come back.

A few years ago, not long after my fortieth birthday, I went to the doctor because the joint in the ball of my foot kind of hurt and just wouldn't bend the right way any more. Diagnosis: Arthritis. The doctor gravely pointed out shadows on the X-Ray, the bone spurs growing up in place of the destroyed cartilage. Then she sent me to a foot doctor. He gave me that standard prescription for middle age, orthotics, and gave me a long list of things I should give up: Running, roller blading, hiking hills... Fine, just shoot me now and get it over with. Oh, and I was also supposed to give up wearing high heels. Whew! As someone born without the girly-girl gene, there was at least one directive I could comply with!

And so, with typical Baby Boomer pigheadedness and refusal to recognize that the laws of aging do, in fact, apply to me, I started playing soccer. I don't know what this means for my future or that of my feet. I just know I have to do it now, while I can. Yep, it hurts. But I think it would hurt more to miss this final opportunity.

Pain is always described as a physical event, but in my experience much of it is mental. And what I count on is that I will get through the future physical pain I know I'm setting myself up for by holding onto the memories I'm creating now. It's a tradeoff, and a gamble, and I hope I'm making the right choice. I'm making the only choice I can.

And what I hope for, each time I pull out my cleats and shinguards, is just one more game. One more game where it won't matter that I've shaved my legs.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

My Grandmother's Elephant (Or: Addiction is Genetic)

The elephant on the top left was made by my grandmother -- hand-appliqued and embroidered. I used this block to create a template to make blocks like the other two. They're machine-appliqued. I'll eventually hand-embroider eyes and tail.

When I was little and my family would gather for our large holiday dinners, I used to love slipping into my grandmother's spare bedroom and opening the bottom drawer in her old chest of drawers. Inside would be her latest craft project -- usually a large, crocheted tablecloth, but occasionally other things as well.

My grandmother was passionate about creating. I don't think I ever saw her sit down without something craft-y in her hands. It was as much a part of her as her kind eyes and perennially full cookie jar. She created potholders by the score, and tablecloths, and, yes, quilts. She didn't stop until she was in her eighties and a series of small stokes took away her ability to create. She died shortly afterward. I wonder sometimes if losing the creative outlet that had sustained her all of her life didn't sap her will to live.

She also loved to sew and was extremely frugal. When she finished sewing an article of clothing, every spare scrap was cut into pieces for quilts. Larger pieces were cut into things like these elephants, smaller pieces into four-inch squares. And the smallest were cut into teensy bits for double-wedding-ring quilts. The thought of making an actual quilt with these scissor-and-template cut pieces fills me with awe.

Some quilts she made herself, others were boxed up and taken to her church group for use in charity quilts. When she died, she left boxes and boxes of quilt scraps and pieces. Most of these were claimed by her daughters, my aunts. They assumed that my dad, their brother, wouldn't be interested. But I did get a couple of shoeboxes full, and they included a treasure, this elephant. I used it to make a template and create some blocks just like it, but with my own, machine applique twist.

Because more important than the quilt pieces, what I got from her boxes was her passion. This is where I started to see the possibilities of creating art with small pieces of fabric, sewn together. I didn't just inherit her quilt pieces, I inherited her addiction.

And I think that somewhere, she is proud.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The CCCP Jacket, photo #2


And this is the front view of the CCCP jacket. Click on the link for a history lesson. (Isn't it always fun to feel you've touched history, even with just the teensiest tip of your little finger?)

This particular jacket once belonged to one of the Soviet athletes who competed in the Goodwill Games. If I'm not mistaken, this team was the last to wear the letters of the united Soviet Union. After that, their teams and countries shattered into their component parts.

The charming (and reluctant) Spokesmodel is my youngest, last seen in these pages shoving straws up the insides of his lips in a fancy restaurant. (I told him that only quilters would see the pictures, so if you know him, don't let on!) Posted by Picasa

The CCCP Jacket, photo 1


Picasa lets me put in just one photo per post, but this is an improvement over Blogger, which doesn't let me do photos at all!! So here's the first photo of the CCCP Jacket. Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 11, 2006

Eternally Optimistic (Or: In memoriam, 9/11)


On this. the 5th anniversary of September 11, I can't really make myself blog about anything but September 11. But everything I could think of to say has pretty much been said, and probably better, by other people.

So I thought I'd just include this picture, a (somewhat fuzzy) sunset view of Mt. Rainier as seen from a church camp my family helps run every summer. Just a reminder that there is beauty in the world. And you can call me an unrealistic optimist, but even with events like September 11, I will never believe that the world and the vast majority of people in it are not essentially good. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 10, 2006

How to Love With a Quilt (Or: My Very First Bed-sized Quilt Ever)


My daughter, who is now a delightful 19-year-old, had the fourth-grade year from hell. Excuse my language, but that's not too strong a description. We moved from a school where she was loved by all to a school that was...let's see, I'll be nice here...not a nice school. The kids (and, as I would later observe, their parents) enjoyed feeling the power to exclude, and as the new kid my daughter bore the brunt of their behavior.

Her teacher was a burnout case, a male who had been given every "Oh, this child is acting out in ways that show he needs a male role model" child for twenty years and was now just putting in time till the pension kicked in. He didn't give homework all year because he didn't want to grade it. And he certainly didn't see it as part of his job to help a lonely little girl fit in.

And so began a truly hellish year. Tears and door-slamming and "I hate school and I don't want to go and I hate you for making me move here!" (Adolescence was actually easy after this.) As parents we tried everything we could think of -- things like playdates and birthday parties. But nothing did the trick.

There is no more miserable feeling as a parent than being unable to ease your child's misery. I did not know what to do. And so I started a quilt -- a log cabin in blues and purples. I'd done a wall-hanging or two up to that point, but mostly I'd been an imagination quilter. But now I found that quilting gave me something to do when I felt bad. I would sit for hours at night, or while my one-year-old napped, sewing on my temperamental Singer and letting the beautiful colors soothe my heart. I let myself get caught up in each step of the process. First, paper piecing (yes, quilters, that's why it's so perfect for a first quilt -- I had foundation help!) Then sewing the blocks together. Then picking out all those bits of paper, one perforation at a time. Then spray-basting and free-motion quilting. (I think by that point I'd moved on to my lovely Elna.) And finally binding.

I finished the quilt at two in the morning and immediately went upstairs and laid it over my daughter. I wanted it to be the first thing she saw when she woke up in the morning, so that she would know that in the middle of the night she had been wrapped up in my love.

Life did get better after that fourth-grade year. My daughter was put in a split 5th-6th class the following year, where there were only six 5th grade girls. Anybody trying to exclude risked having nobody to play with at recess, so they pretty much all got along, with the help of a wonderful teacher.

And my quilt has gone pretty much everywhere with my daughter since then. To sleepovers, to camp, on picnics with her boyfriend... She still loves this quilt. I have to admit that I was a tiny bit disappointed last year when she decided that her dorm room should be red, black and white and left the quilt at home. But I needn't have worried. It made its way to college by second quarter.

And this is how my addiction began. (Okay, if you're a quilter, you're looking at the variety of fabrics in the quilt and you know that I already had a sizable stash, so technically my addiction was well under way. But this is where the desire to actually DO something with the fabric began.)

Because sometimes making a quilt is all you can do. And sometimes it's enough. Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 08, 2006

An Ode to the Limerick

Okay, this is not really an ode. I wouldn't know an ode if it bit me. But I like the word "ode," so I used it in my title.

You see, there is not a huge amount of room for poetry in my life. I live a delightfully, cheerfully prosaic life. Poetry is too often (but not always!) synonymous with "takes life too seriously," which I'm not capable of doing.

I had a teacher in high school who was a Poet. Capital P. And not just a Poet, a Published Poet. And not just a Published Poet, a Published Seventies Poet, with several books to his credit, each with a misty, pastel cover with pictures of things like butterflies and flowers and women with long, straight hair which covered their faces. (Are you shuddering yet?) His poetry ran along the lines of I Love You/And You Love Me/And Our Love is Beautiful/Together. Well, okay, maybe not that bad. But close. I think it ruined poetry for me for life.

There are two exceptions to my No Poetry existence: First, Garrison Keillor when he reads poetry on The Writer's Almanac on NPR. He reads the poems with just the right amount of gravitas and detachment, and dry humor when called for -- the way I think poetry needs to be read. Check it out if you're a poetry skeptic. Or especially if you're not.

And the second is of course, the lowly limerick. I love limericks. Limericks are the illegitimate children of the poetry world. They are usually written for laughs by people who view the world through a warped lens. People like me. (And no, I will not be discussing the Man From Nantucket. Although Wikipedia says that he is a frequent limerick subject because Nantucket is historically a whaling town and limericks were a a genre popular with whalers. I am certain that this is truly the reason.)

And now, for your reading pleasure, my favorite limerick ever:

The Limerick Packs Laughs Anatomical

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean -
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

Vyvyan Holland

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cool Colors Strip Twist quilt

Picture, at last, of my Cool Colors Strip Twist quilt. Thanks, Leah!!! Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Truly Excellent Day

First off, who says insomnia is necessarily a bad thing? Nothing like a 5:30 start to your day to jumpstart a project -- in this case, another Strip Twist quilt, (thank you, Bonnie!) which is finally bound and done,done! (Blogger is being a pain today -- I'll upload the photo as soon as it starts cooperating.) This is actually the sister quilt to my Autumn Strip Twist. I started this one to get rid of some cool-colored fabric, then liked the pattern so much (very quick and easy!) I had to do another one. The funny thing is, this quilt is full of Wonder Fabrics (as in, I wonder what I was thinking when I bought these), but collectively they made kind of a fun quilt.

Then a friend e-mailed me to let me know she and her husband have just bought two kayaks, and she was wondering if I'd like to join her kayaking this week. It took me approximately .0001 seconds to say yes, since we're in the middle of an unbelievably gorgeous streak of 80 degree days. Tomorrow, I think, kayaking on the slough with the salmon who are returning to spawn. Heaven!!

And then, of course, my beloved Bleus walloped the Italian team 3-1 in their first rematch since the World Cup final, proving that they are the real deal, even post-Zidane. The players said in all the pre-game interviews that it wasn't about revenge, but hey, if it looks and tastes the same, what do we care what they call it? Allez Les Bleus!

(A huge, gigantic Merci to Emma of France, who sent me multiple links to French "football" sites to help me follow Les Bleus. Thanks to you, I was able to follow the game in real time, which is so much more fun than reading about it afterwards!)

Next step, of course, is figuring out how to WATCH the game online. I thought I had it figured out, even filled out a registration (in French), and was told (in French)that a confirmation e-mail was on its way. Never got it, which makes me nervous. I'm having visions of French people showing up on my doorstep, saying, "But you have to give us your firstborn. See? It says right here that you promised her to us in exchange for a lifetime membership in the Jelly-of-the-Month Club!"

Remind me never to fill out anything in a language that's not mine.

Still, a really, really great day!

Monday, September 04, 2006

The CCCP Jacket

My obsession with obtaining the (wait for it, here it comes!) White #10 Zidane Away Jersey does have a precedent. For the past sixteen years, I have been the proud owner of a gray and red warmup jacket emblazoned with the letters CCCP. The previous owner was a Soviet athlete from one of the last teams ever to wear those letters.

For the story of this jacket, journey back in time with me to the summer of 1990. I was a married graduate student and the mom of a 1- and a 3-year-old, taking multiple undergraduate accounting classes in one summer so I could sit the CPA exam. This made me less than thrilled by the longer commutes and added stress that were happening becase of what I thought of as Ted Turner's self-indulgence, the Goodwill Games.

Fences went up. Manhole covers were welded shut. My trek from the parking lot to my classes was changed to a long, meandering route to avoid the fenced-off dorms where the athletes were staying. We were part of an International Sporting Event. Woohoo, yippee, now give me another cup of coffee so I can stay up and study.

On the other hand, politically these were exciting times. Mikhail Gorbachev's new policy of glasnost (openness) was having unintended consequences. The republics were fighting for and winning their independence, and the downfall of the communist Soviet state was within sight. People who didn't live through the duck and cover era, like my kids, have a hard time understanding what this meant.

In theory, communism itself isn't a bad concept. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. (Anybody read the Book of Acts? Sounds a bit like what the apostles and their friends did after the resurrection.) The bad thing about communism is that it is completely contrary to human nature. Because of this, it requires a totalitarian state to enforce it, and totalitarian enforcement generally occurs with guns, bombs and/or gulags. Not so good. But openness and totalitarianism don't go well together, and by 1990 it had become obvious that the Soviet Union would soon be a union no more.

There's no way Ted Turner could have foreseen these events when he came up with the idea for the Goodwill Games in 1984. (The first Games were held in Moscow in 1986.) They were conceived as a way to let athletes bring countries together, specifically the US and the USSR. And now one of the countries he was trying to bring together was...well...falling apart.

I didn't really think about any of this at first as I fumed over the traffic jams outside Husky stadium. But then the Soviet athletes started appearing around campus, wearing their jackets emblazoned with CCCP, speaking in broken English or just silently taking it all in. If I'm not mistaken, this was the first time Soviet athletes had been allowed to roam free in a Western country, without minders and handlers to ensure they didn't defect or absorb dangerous western ideas. Someone told me that each was given $50 in spending money for the two or so weeks they spent here. (And since rubles couldn't be traded for hard currency, any money they brought with them would be essentially worthless.)

I remember walking to The Ave, the main street by the college, behind a Russian athlete, watching his amazement as he entered a standard, basic drugstore. To come from the USSR, where there were shortages of everything, to this, with floor-to-ceiling goods... He was awe-struck. Watching that athlete, seeing his face... Well, it was right about that moment that I became a Goodwill Games believer.

With the Soviet Union falling apart, it was becoming obvious that this would be the final team competing for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR (CCCP in Russian.) These would be the last athletes wearing clothes emblazoned with those letters. I realized that I wanted something tangible, something to remind me of what this had been, and what it had been like to sit here on this campus, on the cusp of a huge world change, and watch this little part of the drama unfold. Wouldn't it be something to come away with a CCCP jacket?

Great goal. But how would I achieve it? Well, never underestimate the power of human ingenuity and pure, unadulterated capitalism. Within days, an unofficial trading post had sprung up outside the entrance to the athlete's village, run by bilingual Seattle-area Russian immigrants. The athletes may not have brought much money, but they had apparently packed their suitcases with anything they thought might have value. Russian nesting dolls, painted wooden spoons, painted china... Anything that might sell, they had brought, with the specific goal of getting money to bring home American goods for themselves and their families.

And, of course, they had their clothes. The athletes were required to hold onto their team uniforms and equipment until their events were over, but immediately afterwards many of them would rush to the selling area to trade them for cash. You could tell which events were ending each day by the clothing and equipment that appeared for sale.

From this informal bazaar, my husband and I scored two CCCP warmup suits. One was from the men's diving team. (The owner was in such a hurry to cash in that he left his Aeroflot boarding pass in the pocket.) We never figured out what sport the other was from. We also picked up a huge CCCP athletic bag directly from the marathon runner who had owned it. I have no memory of what we paid for them, and I don't know how much of that the athletes received. I can only hope that they took home enough of value to make it worth it. Hey, we did our part for world peace and the fall of communism, right?

Hard to believe that all of this occurred sixteen years ago, and to comprehend what has happened to the former USSR since then. Some promises fulfilled, many not. But the world will never be the same.

My daughter commandeered one of the jackets a couple of years ago, for a few months, but I made sure that it didn't go off to college with her. My shoes, my earrings, my T-shirts, my shampoo, those she can have. But for me, that jacket is more than just a fashion statement. It needs to stay here until it can be valued for what it is.

Our CCCP jackets are not so different, I think, from my current heart's desire, a Zidane jersey. Zinedine Zidane, son of Algerian immigrants, living in a society that values what he does but is still in the process of learning to value who he is. (Interesting that the headbutt seemed to advance that process considerably by showing the world that he is human.) What is similar is the feeling that there is possibility of change, very close, the feeling that I am somehow witnessing something larger than just the actions I view. That if I can just reach out far enough I can touch change, can touch what I hope will be the future in its amazing black, blanc, beur rainbow.

Will the success of Zidane and my beloved Bleus carry over into larger society, pulling the disaffected and disenfranchised away from their hopelessness? I have no idea. Societies can be quite resistant to change. (Look at present-day Russia, slipping back towards totalitarianism if not communism.) But what I can feel, wrapped in my CCCP jacket (and, with luck, soon my white #10 Zidane away jersey) is that it is human nature to work for change, and human nature to have hope.

Speaking of hope...I wonder where the young athlete from the drugstore is now.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Parenting and Moral Dilemmas

I wonder how many moral dilemmas start with a post-eleven p.m. phone call.

In this case it was our seventeen-year-old son, and my husband took the call.

"M. got into a fight with her parents and she doesn't feel like she can go home. I told her she could come stay with us. Is that okay?"

My husband's response (and I feel really blessed at how often we're on the same page in these things) was: "We would love to have M. stay with us. But we're not comfortable with her parents not knowing. If she's staying here, somebody needs to let them know."

Our son said he'd check with M. and hung up.

That's when the soul-searching starts. Is this the right answer? Will she still stay with us? If not, will she be somewhere safe? What should we be doing in a situation like this?

As someone who has been both the parent of teens and the teen who, on multiple occasions, didn't feel she could go home, I knew my husband had given the only answer we were capable of giving. I genuinely like this girl (and have spent time during the last two years wishing my son would date her,) but as a parent I can't be responsible for putting other parents through the emotions I know I would be experiencing if one of my children didn't come home some night after we had had a fight. (Fortunately we've never faced that issue. Knock wood. Although we've been close a couple of times, as I think most parents of teens occasionally are.)

Our son called back ten minutes later and said M. didn't feel comfortable calling her parents, so she'd be staying with another (female) friend. Fortunately it was a friend I know well enough that I was comfortable with the choice -- even if I didn't agree with it. My guess is the girls just said, "M is spending the night" and didn't mention that her parents didn't know.

We clarified our position to our son today, and told him that we'd be happy to make the call to her parents if it happens again. He said okay, that he understood, that everything went fine and M. and her parents were okay by today. (They and the rest of the gang are at this moment all out getting ice cream. So all is apparently well.)

But what would we have done if we had been her last safe resort and she wasn't comfortable with our conditions? What if her other options weren't good ones?

Parenting isn't for wimps.


Friday, September 01, 2006

The Woman Dines Alone (Or: No More Stalker Jokes For Me)

Interpretation One: She enters the restaurant, alone, clutching her book of French existentialist short stories. Obviously, an intellectual. She sits alone, reads alone, sips her alcoholic beverage alone... Everything about her screams, "Rescue me! Rescue me from this desperate, lonely existence!!"

Interpretation Two: She dreads the wild, raucous slumber party of eleven-year-old boys. Delightful husband says, "You don't need to be here. This can be a guys' night. Go out! Enjoy yourself! I'll take care of things!" So she grabs a book and heads to the local Mexican restaurant (which is close to the theater) to enjoy chili verde, a margarita and a chick flick. Yes, she loves people, but her non-shy-introvert personality requires occasional time alone to regenerate and recharge, which makes this evening something close to heaven. She decides to use the time to read some French, since the family will be visiting Paris in a few months and she will be The Language Person -- the one in charge of determining everything from the location of all bathrooms to how to find Euro-Disney. (Plus, this trip may give her the chance to obtain her heart's desire, a [all together now!] White #10 Zidane Away Jersey -- and she wants to be prepared.) So she grabs a book of French short stories because it has both French and English translations. And she would giggle at the thought that this makes her an intellectual.

Two alternative interpretations. Of course, the correct one is Interpretation Two. (And isn't my husband a jewel?) But, our society being what it is, I suppose I can't blame someone for thinking it's One. And yet...

So I was out at a Mexican restaurant. I sat down, ordered, and went to the restroom to wash up. When I got back... Well, yes, as I was reading, I eavesdropped a bit on the booth on the other side of the divider. I couldn't help it. They were not quiet. It was a dad and six-year-old daughter, and I noticed a couple of things: First, that he was probably divorced and obviously didn't have full custody, because every time she'd start to whine or throw a tantrum, he'd give her whatever she wanted to make her stop. And second, that he was trying to impress somebody. He kept tossing both French and Spanish phrases into the conversation with his daughter, and he had several loud, notice-me-I'm-a-tech-guy cell-phone conversations. So I figured maybe he had a thing for the waitress.

Then his meal ended, and he stood up and made a beeline for my table, booming, "Bon soir!" at me. Our conversation was probably only a minute long, but it was a long and surreal minute -- him attempting to talk to me in French, which he really didn't speak, and which I probably could speak but not without errors and great embarrassment -- before he explained that his daughter was in a French immersion program and SHE was the one who spoke French. (Yes, she was six.) And I was trying to be polite, blushing bright scarlet as people stared, while subtly flashing my left ring finger and trying to figure out what the heck was going on here and why I was having a conversation with somebody I didn't know in a language neither of us spoke. After drinking a margarita. Plus... Well, honestly, I'm middle-aged! (Or approaching fast.) As I said: surreal.

Eventually, they left. Long sigh.

Now, I have single friends, so I know it's hard to meet people, and I don't blame anyone for making the attempt. But here's the thing that kind of creeps me out: Why did this guy address me in French? I walked in with my little French book in an opaque bag, and I sat by myself tucked away in a corner booth, where I was not in his line of sight. And the book had a textbook cover written in small letters -- not exactly dramatic, or readable across the room. When our guy finished his meal, he didn't get up, then see my book and then decide to address me. He got up and immediately headed toward me, intent on using the French line he'd already decided on. (A man with Morticia Addams issues, perhaps?) The only thing I can figure is he scoped things out when I went to wash up and left my book on my table, and he started laying plans at that point. Am I overreacting, or is this somewhat...well...creepy?

I will no longer make jokes about stalking.