Friday, December 28, 2007

Catching Up -- Part Three, Secret Santas

When Donna decided to be an elf and run an international Secret Santa swap, I just knew I wanted to participate! It turned out that the woman who had received my name was not someone I was familiar with. Nemo was so thoughtful in her package! First, she made me the most adorable blue stitchery quiltlet and even put in a picture of the inspiration for the colors she chose. She sent along postcards of her area of Norway, and some fantastic Norwegian cooky cutters, too! She also sent two candy bars. You may notice that there is just one candy bar in the picture. My dear friend Carol who is Scandinavian was here when I opened Nemo's package, and I felt compelled to share one of the candy bars with her. I was and am totally delighted with Nemo's package and her generosity and lovely stitching.

I also enjoyed tracking down her blog and getting to know this wonderful gal who was so kind to me.

I was given the name of Little Mysteries to be a Secret Santa for. This, too, was a blog that I wasn't familiar with, so I went to her site and went back to the very beginning and read every post she had done so I could get to know her. It was apparent that both owls and violets were important to her, and I went out to the fabric shop in search of one or the other. I didn't find anything that I liked there, but did find some Alexander Henry owl fabric on line. As time passed and the deadline for mailing approached and the owl fabric did not arrive, I learned that Little Mysteries is a William Morris aficianado! Such luck! I dug into my considerable WM stash and picked pieces to make her a tote bag. I also sent her a pin of a U.S. postage stamp with a basket quilt block on it that my friend Emily made. The owl fabric ultimately came, after I'd mailed off the package, and I plan to send it on to Little Mysteries after the first of the year.

It was a lovely experience participating in this swap.

Catching Up -- Part Two, Christmas Gifts

I have two dear, close girlfriends who both like chickens. Well, actually, all of the Good Guys like chickens, but Carol and Elaine are my particularly close friends from that group, ones I generally have a Christmas gift for. This year I found some great big, oversized linen dish towels with enormous chickens stamped on them to embroider. And so I did.

Carol's kitchen has blue in it, so I embroidered her two chicken towels in two shades of blue. It was amazing how quickly the project was completed.

Elaine has a little weekend place down in Chestertown, Maryland, and her kitchen motif is roosters. Over the years I've provided her with some rooster pottery to use there, and this year I decided she should have a couple of the towels, too. I embroidered Elaine's in red and black.

I gave Carol hers on Christmas Eve, but haven't seen Elaine yet. That will happen on January 2, when three couples get together for dinner and a celebration of Carol's birthday.

The Stack and Whack quilt that I made and Kat quilted for me can at last be revealed! Andrew has a passion for pirates and about a year ago when a couple of manufacturers came out with new lines of pirate fabric, I couldn't resist.

I bought the fabric up at Heartbeat Quilts in Hyannis in August and started working soon after that. I thought it turned out well, and I really like the quilting that Kat did.

Andrew was quite surprised and he also seemed pleased. Amy told me that the quilt I had made for him when he was a little boy had begun to show wear and had been retired from use, so she believed he was happy to have the new one.

This is the pirate fabric that I cut up to make the diamonds for the kaleidescope blocks.

My belief is that if you click on it you can enlarge it so that you can see how cute it actually is!

Catching Up -- Part One, Christmas

Thanks to so many for your prayers and good wishes for Bodacious, who is once again acting almost normal. He's well enough now to bite the hand that pills him (is there, she asked rhetorically, any less gratifying task than pilling a cat?). During the holiday period, with a visiting dog and a visiting toddler, we thought it best to keep him confined to our bedroom. We used the carry-case to make a little nest for him and put it in my closet. He seemed very comfortable. Now that everyone is gone, we've moved the nest into the kitchen (love that radiant heat floor!) where Bo still spends much of his time. Last night, however, he saw fit to wander into the living room to entertain my visiting cousins. Tomorrow morning he goes to board at the vet's for a few days while we are away (more about which later on). Bo has now apparently used up two of his nine lives. Let's hope he slows down in this regard!

We talked about not getting a Christma tree this year, but of course we did. I like a skinny sort of a tree, and was pleased to find one at Whole Foods. The angel at the top was made by Andrew or Sherry during 4-year-old nursery school. I've never been able to bring myself to put anything else up there.

If you look down at the base of the tree, you can see a wonderful gift I received! For 40 years we had draped a piece of red fuzzy fabric around the base of the tree, frequently vowing to get a tree skirt. We don't have to do that any more! Bonnie made me a beautiful hand appliqued skirt with a hand-embroidered Dickens quote on it. I'm so pleased to have it. I noticed this year that the tree photographs better without the lights on!

The table set for dinner on the Friday before Christmas. We'd invited two couples from church to come over, and I was so happy when the head of school gave my a Christmas gift of a cyclamen! It makes, I think, a very pretty centerpiece.

In the background are my little Swedish Christmas people and straw bucks.

I collect glassware with twisted stems and have put wine glasses from that collection on the table along with some candlesticks that also have twisted stems.

Another, closer look at the cyclamen. In this picture you can see the table runner Bonnie made for me several years ago. I think she meant it to be for Christmas use, but the purple fabric goes so nicely with my dishes and my candlesticks that I leave it on the table most of the time. I'm lucky to have a sister who makes me beautiful things. She made me a mantel scarf for Christmas a few years ago, too.

Our dinner party was a success, and was the start of much entertaining. We had a crowd of people in for brunch on Sunday, and the seven of us for Christmas dinner, and then last night my local cousins all came to dinner and to laugh. We have one more dinner to do, and that one will be on January 2, when we return from the trip alluded to in the first paragraph. We'll be spending New Year's with Tom and Anastasia in Richmond.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Christmas Eve service at church was very lovely, and we enjoyed spending time at Carol's afterwards. We came home close to midnight, to find Bodacious still in the nest we'd made for him in the kitchen (the warmest room in the house and a favorite of all furry friends because of the radiant heat in the floor). He hadn't touched his water or his food. But he looked at us a little more brightly and wasn't crying.

On Christmas morning we saw the light at the end of the tunnel. He'd roused himself enough to use his box, and by later in the morning he was drinking a little water. The drugs that we were giving him were beginning to work. Expecting a full and busy day, complete with a toddler and a dog, we moved Bo and his nest, box, and dishes into our bedroom.

We so appreciate the prayers of so many readers on behalf of our kitty. He is doing well! Still isn't eating, but is drinking water and wandering around more. We are confident that he is going to recover from his pancreatitis. The challenge now, of course, that he is feeling better, is completing the course of antibiotic pills that must go down his froat a couple of times each day. While we don't really appreciate the hissing, scratching, and biting that accompany the administration of same, we are thankful that he is doing all of these things. Because on Tuesday, he was not.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bless the Beasts and the Children

A picture of Bo taken last Christmas. He was a proud and happy cat that day.

He started being a little sick a few days ago. We thought perhaps it was the ever popular hairball. We thought it would go away.

Yesterday afternoon, however, it became clear that it wasn't going away. It was, in fact, getting worse. Much worse. We went to bed last night knowing our kitty was pretty sick. This morning, we couldn't find him for quite a while. Eventually we discovered him hiding under the extra refrigerator downstairs. His eyes looked sunken, his nose was messy, he was ungroomed and ill kempt and listless. We phoned the vet right away.

A good bit of time today, time that was intended for last minute baking, was spent supporting Bodacious, taking him to the vet, and treating him. Far from a hairball, Bo has pancreatitis. "Many cats recover," said the vet cautiously. She gave him some subcutaneous hydration, a shot of antibiotic, a pain medication. She provided three drugs for us to bring home. He's in a sort of a nest in the kitchen now, the warmest room in the house. And a little while ago Joe got him to eat a little catfood from his finger. He doesn't look quite as bad. It is touch and go. Probably by Wednesday or Thursday we'll know if he's going to make it.

Somehow the last minute baking doesn't seem so important. We're leaving in a few minutes for church, where our prayers will include this little member of our household, who seems littler than before.

Bless the Beasts and the Children.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

What's Left?

Some people we know have caused me to ponder, to wonder about something. They aren't Christians; they are very clear about that. They don't attend church and their children were not baptized. So there is consistency, and I applaud that. Neither are they Jewish, nor Muslim, nor Wiccan, Hindu, Sikh, Baha'i or any other form of religion.

During the years that I was in seminary, they were visibly uncomfortable when we got together, as though they thought I might engage in prosletyzing. They never inquired about my studies and changed the subject whenever I spoke about what I was up to. Church, religion of any kind, is something they want no part of. Again, consistency.

We've exchanged Christmas gifts with them for some time and have always felt that they put a lot of thought into the gifts they chose for us.

They've announced, however, that they will no longer be giving us Christmas gifts. The reason? "We want to take the commercialism out of Christmas."

So what remains? I mean, if there is no theological underpinning to the holiday (which I completely understand), and the giving and receiving of gifts is ended, what is Christmas about for them? Take the Christ child out of Christmas. Take away the consumerism. What's left?

Thursday, December 20, 2007


. . . A person knows she has reached a new level of Tired when she gets slightly sick and doesn't even mind because it means she can have a night at home! Bonnie and I went to the cemetery today for the annual meeting of the AFTBOTGOOGD. But first we had a delicious lunch at the new Asian Fusion (whatever that means) restaurant in town. We were nearly to her house on the way home when I realized that I really was not feeling well at all. I was supposed to go to the book club tonight where some new form of amazing beverage was to take a higher priority than the book. I had the good sense to phone the hostess and tell her I did not think that I should attend. I like the women in the book club very much, but tonight it was not the worst possible thing to have to be home.

. . .The book to be discussed, River, Cross My Heart by Breena Clarke was an easy read and I'd give it about a C+. An Oprah pick, it is yet another about Black oppression. Recent reads for the book club have been less than totally cheerful, centering on the life of women in Afghanistan, life in Iraq, etc., and I guess I was just ready for something a little more upbeat.

. . . My girlfriends, the Good Guys, a group that has been together for more than 25 years, gathered one night last week to have dinner and exchange gifties. We don't get together as often as we used to, and this particular night was so comfortable and nice. I made a lasagne and everyone brought something to contribute. The gifties were varied and delightful. I had bought everyone an olive wood spatula when I was in Greece this summer. My favorite of the gifties I received was Kathy's, a pair of the softest imaginable socks by Life Is Good. Made me think of You Know Who!

. . . A nice surprise this week was the receipt of a Barnes & Noble gift card from the Upper School Director. She was appreciative of the things I do to help keep her division running smoothly. For once, I know exactly how to use the gift card! About fifteen years ago my friend Bill gave us a copy of Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It was a wonderful book -- if you read Rutherfurd at all, you'll understand when I tell you this book is like one of his. It is about the building of a cathedral over many, many years and generations. Now I have learned that Ken Follett has written a "sequel" to Pillars. I'm going to get it -- yes, in hardback even -- and put it on the nightstand. Then in January I'm going to re-read Pillars with the hope of getting to World beginning in February! What a delightful thing to look forward to for one of the hardest months of the year!

. . . The purses that I'd placed in the school store back when school started did not sell. So I retrieved them earlier this week. One of them is the popular chocolate and aqua combination that Vera Bradley is showing. I'm going to give it as a Christmas gift to a young woman from our church. I've long enjoyed her sweet nature, her pretty smile, her charming demeanor, and was just tickled when her name was the one I drew for an Advent prayer partner. We are supposed to tell our partner who we are close to Christmas, and I have decided to give Sarah the chocolate mint purse as a little gift.

. . . The Christmas shopping is finished, the wrapping nearly so. The cards are in the mail. Now comes the baking and cooking and entertaining. Which starts tomorrow. It will all get done. It will.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

God in the Midst

God in the Midst

In the somewhat
frenzied aspects of
the season,
and wars and
rumours of wars
and pestilence and
hope and despair
and engaging
the powers
I keep a supporting
image of God
coming to us
as individuals,
or stepping into the
midst of conflict,
holding out a
swaddled infant
to us and saying
"Here, hold this
for me,
will you?"

~Cam Watts, pastor, Aylmer Baptist Church in Aylmer, Ontario.
Taken from Baptist Peacemaker, Vol. 27 No. 4, pg 1

This lovely poem was borrowed from my friend Greg's blog. Sounds to me like something Frank would have written.

Monday, December 17, 2007

"Are You the One?"

I'd received word from Penny's mom that there were other girls at the eating disorder center who wanted Communion on Sunday. Penny, it seems, has not been at all timid about sharing her faith with her peers. I arrived on time, with abundant wine and bread. Communed five young women who looked healthier than those I'd glimpsed the week before. As we shared the Peace, a Chinese girl who appeared to be in her mid-twenties clung to me; she was so appreciative that I'd come.

Penny is doing well enough that she's being discharged this coming Friday rather than the anticipated discharge date of 12/27.

When I was leaving, we were standing in front of the reception desk saying goodbye and it was taking a while because Penny is such a chatterbox.

Out of the corner of my eye I see that the person at the reception desk is irritated at us and I can't think why. Penny talks on, the reception person glowers, and finally interrupts to say, "I'm sorry. You can't be here. Visiting hours are not until 3:30. I just had to chase a father away." I quickly apologized, saying I didn't know the rules, that I'd just come to bring Communion and I would leave immediately.

"Communion?" she interrupts. "Are you the one?"

The day's Gospel lesson somehow echoing in my head, I affirm that I am, indeed, "the one."

With that the tears form in her eyes. "Can I have some?" she asks and then goes on, "My father is dying and I have been so busy trying to do Christmas for my kids and I wanted to go to 7:00 Mass this morning and couldn't. Oh, can I have some?"

I tell her, of course she can, but she needs to know I am Lutheran, not Catholic.

"Oh, I don't care!" she exclaims. "Just let me have it."

And so I do.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jim Purton's Wassail Recipe

When we lived in Ohio, we enjoyed a friendship with Jim and Michele Purton. They were originally from North Dakota (the first people we'd ever met from North Dakota), and eventually moved to Missouri. We lost track of them when they left Redstart. A loss, as they were such delightful people. Michele worked in management at the post office, and Jim was a police officer.

At Christmas time, Jim made and served a mean wassail. Last week I served it to a group of friends, and they asked for the recipe. So here it is. And if any reader knows Jim and Michele Purton, please direct them to this blog so we can reconnect!

Jim Purton's Wassail

1 gallon of cider
1 cup of brown sugar
1 can 6 ounces frozen lemonade
1 can 6 ounces frozen orange juice
1 tablespoon cloves
1 tablespoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Tie the cloves and allspice in cheesecloth. Put everything else in a great big pot. Simmer 20 minutes. Discard spices. Add rum to taste when serving.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Birds

As I go through my daily blog reads, I find that many of us are feeling the pressure that the holiday season brings as we try to Do It All (and Do It All right). It occurs to me that I, personally, need to focus on what Christmas is all about, and why we are doing all of the things we do to make it special, make it right.

Many years ago, my dear friend Frank shared this poem with me, a poem I love more than any of his other works. It has become an important part of Christmas for me. Last year I shared a link to it, but this year, I want to reprint (with Frank's generous permission) and share the entire poem with you. It helps me to focus on the mystery that is the Incarnation.











(a twice told tale)


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Treading Water

It's a busy time, of course. Everyone knows that.

A busy time at school, where in addition to all of the seasonal celebratory festivities, we're launching a capital campaign and running a search for a division director. I love it, of course, as I'd much rather have too much to do than not enough to do. Last week I was out for two days attending a professional development workshop, so this week there is all the more to do.

A busy time at home. Nearly all of the gifts are purchased (and about 90 percent were done on-line since even under the best of circumstances I prefer not to go to the mall, and certainly not ever during November and December) and those purchased are wrapped. The cards have been ordered (but the labels aren't printed and the letter isn't composed). The tree has been purchased and the lights are on (thank you, Joe!), but not the ornaments. The baking is an idea that flies in and out of my brain, but hasn't been planned yet. The entertaining has been figured out and commitments made and received, but menus still are up in the air.

So, while much is done, there is much to do. And although the transcription work that I took on a couple of months ago is going far more smoothly than I'd dared to hope, it is still another ten hours out of each busy, full week.

I want to write about the prize I won from Amy's give-away. I want to tell about the international Secret Santa Swap that Donna organized. I want to revisit a lovely evening with the Good Guys. I want to show the Coffee and Cream blocks that are on the wall, the rearranged Jacob's Ladder blocks that are on the floor, and the go-withs for the Hot Summer Hearts.

But right now I'm treading water.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Take and Eat"

Even though it isn't her real name, let's call her Penny. And the picture to the left isn't a picture of her either. Unfortunately, that is a photograph of a professional model.

Yesterday I visited a place I'd heard of but never been to before. It is the Renfrew Center, near Philadelphia, a treatment center for people with eating disorders.

A young friend of mine has been an inpatient there since just before Thanksgiving. I went after church as a Eucharistic Minister, to bring bread and wine to Penny.

Bulimia and anorexia are incomprehensible to me. My own issues with weight are far to the opposite end of the spectrum. I'd been worriedly watching Penny as she became thinner and thinner, and then for a while she was looking better, healthier, and I stopped being concerned about her. Then all at once the process reversed and Penny began looking gaunt. When something went wrong with the family's furnace, Penny's mom phoned to see if she could come stay with me after school that day instead of going home -- Penny simply didn't have enough natural insulation to protect her in the unheated house.

When I saw Penny yesterday, she was talkative and open about her illness. She showed insight into what was happening to her. She spoke of being goal-and-accomplishment oriented and how this had played into her weight loss; she is learning how to handle this facet of her personality in a healthy way. She's progressing well enough to have earned passes to spend some hours at home each weekend. If she was being honest with me (and I realize that this is a very big if), with the proper support after her discharge in a couple of weeks, she's going to be fine. Penny is a lovely young girl, and yesterday I could see her natural beauty returning to her face, which had looked so gaunt the last time I had seen her.

Being at the Center was an eye-opener for me. Everywhere were young girls, incomprehensibly thin, with sunken eyes and many with angry expressions. It was apparent that some of them did not want to be in treatment, that they were there against their will. Most of them had long, dull-looking hair, and were walking around wrapped in a blanket to keep warm. Worried-looking (oh, what is a stronger word than "worried" -- for it just doesn't do the job here), heartsick moms and dads were there, too, since it was visiting hour.

I was there to bring Food: Bread and Wine, Body and Blood. Spiritual Food that Penny asked for, Food that she knows she needs as much as she does the meals that are served in the cafeteria. She asked me to come back next Sunday, and indicated that another young woman might want to join us, asking if that would be okay. Of course it is. There is plenty for all.

Take and eat, Penny. Jesus said, "This is my body, given for you." And for every one of those young girls.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I'm Back

I'm back. It's far too long since I've posted, this admitted despite my "Blogging Without Obligation" banner.

I've got some catching up to do. I could tell you about the wonderful prize I won from the give-away that generous Amy ran a few weeks ago. I could write about the truly worthwhile two-day professional development seminar that I attended, the outcome of which was that I agreed to co-organize the next annual meeting of the group. I could review the book that I managed to get read in my down-time this week. I could even show an picture of where I am with the Jacob's Ladder blocks (where I am is quite the windblown look -- I lined them up on the rug in the lower level, and Bodacious apparently did not care for the arrangement, and has strewn them all over). And at some point, hopefully before too long, I'm going to catch up on all of that.

But what is on my mind today is something I've not read about anywhere else (granted, I am not that well read), nor have I heard anyone talk about it. I was sure my buddy Chez would take this issue on and perhaps with a bit of nagging he will.

Does anyone have any opinions about Oprah and Obama? And their new relationship? I need to tell you that it worries me.

It isn't that I don't like Obama. I do. He strikes me as a decent human being (probably an outright contraindication to White House occupancy). I've not decided who my particular candidate is (although when Andrew was home at Thanksgiving I asked him to spend a little time giving me some things about Hillary to feel good about since it looks as though she has it pretty well wrapped up -- or at least at that point that was my impression).

My problem is Oprah's endorsement. I don't have any feelings one way or another about Oprah as a person. Frankly, I've never even once watched her program. But I know that a lot of people -- even supposedly intelligent and supposedly sophisticated ones -- do watch it. And I know that any book that she endorses skyrockets to the Best Seller List within a week, be it decent writing or tripe.

Oprah is a powerful and influential person, the likes of which I've no recollection of, apart from folks like Jim Jones. My belief is that she has a huge piece of the Black community in her pocket. Similarly the afternoon TV watchers.

Barak Obama may not be the best candidate for President. Then again, he may well be. As I said, I'm undecided at this point.

But if he gets the nomination, if he wins the election, don't you think it should be because he is the best person for the job? And not because "Oprah said so"? Is anyone else at all concerned about this?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Two Recent Reads

I haven't written about a book for a little while. Last Night at the Lobster, by Stuart O'Nan, was a quick, easy, enjoyable read. In it, Manny, our "hero," who is the manager of a Red Lobster restaurant has learned that his particular branch isn't doing well. Actually, it's doing so badly that it has to close, and he and five employees of his choosing will be offered positions at a nearby Olive Garden. The book takes place on the last afternoon/evening that the restaurant is open, beginning with Manny's arrival shortly before noon and ending with his departure a little after ten o'clock at night.

Not only do we get to meet and know and even like this earnest dweeb of a guy, but we learn a few things about the operation of a restaurant. There's a scene involving a family and their utterly impossible child that is so memorable. Meet Manny, see how he juggles his relationships with his on-the-job girlfriend as well as his pregnant at-home girlfriend; see how he does whatever it takes to make the restaurant function smoothly, even on its last day when a lesser man wouldn't give a damn. Read the book, already. It's a scant 200 pages, large print, generous margins, you can polish it off in an evening when what's on the television isn't worth watching. A surprising B+.

Amy Bloom is a new author to me, though obviously not to all. Her book, Away, is about a young woman who has been through a terrible ordeal and becomes a survivor at all cost. Not the least bit credible, but oh-so-readable!
Lillian arrives in New York City with only the meagerest of possessions, rents half a bed in her cousin's apartment, and sets out to make a new life for herself. Not unlike Manny above, "whatever it takes" is Lillian's motto, and -- quite frankly -- sometimes it takes a lot. Watch Lillian jockey to get a job that rightfully should have gone to her friend. Marvel as Lillian becomes mistress to her boss -- and his father, at the same time! Follow Lillian as she makes her way across the country, heading to Alaska where she hopes to somehow get back to Russia where, she has learned, her little daughter whom she'd believed killed is actually alive. I don't do books on tape (my commute is 7 minutes, 8 when the traffic is bad), but if I did, this would be an ideal choice. A solid B, perhaps even a B+.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

3 and 6 for the Captain

December's monthly block is for Captain Nancy in California. I've "known" her for five or six years through our Fat Quarters group, and at one time knew why she is called Captain. That time has passed . . . .

She sent the most wonderful indigo and a lovely WOW and asked us to make a 3 and 6 block (or two) for her for December. I made two this evening and if I had more fabric, I prolly could have kept on going for quite a while! It was a fun and easy block to make.

Tomorrow I'll be heading to the post office to send off:
(a) 3 and 6 for the Captain
(b) My Secret Santa package from the swap that Donna organized
(c) The components for my March blocks for the Birthday Runaways group

I've been working on the Jacob's Ladder again, deciding to go from dark in one corner to light in the diagonal corner and getting better results. These blocks are on the floor downstairs. The Hot Summer Hearts are piled on the cutting table next to some delectable hot summer batiks that Bonnie picked up for me yesterday at Sauder's. Have decided to do log cabins as the alternate blocks. The thirteenth block that I need for this project is bonded and will be hand stitched tonight. I also have the Coffee with Cream Churn Dash blocks up on the wall. Peculiarly, I seem to actually get more done when I have several things in the works at one time!