Thursday, December 3, 2015

Gifts from Rosie

In a late-fall funk, I'm finding I have to make a major effort to reach my spirit out to something larger than myself.  I've been reaching for The Soul's Companion.

I've been using it every day as a way of focusing on issues outside the mundane.  The other day, whn I was roiling with an exquisitely bad mixture of fatigue and anxiety, the day's reading happened to give me an insight that was breathtakingly applicable to the emotional desert of the moment. The reading ended up reframing my day and transforming it into one of deep spiritual enrichment. I'll tell you about that later if you really want to know, but now, I need to say that this book, and the sustenance it provides, are a gift from my friend Rosie, who died in 2010.

Rosie was a quilting companion, and an art companion, and a sojourner along The Artist's Way.

It was in the context of The Artist's Way, a class based on the book by Julia Cameron and offered at the Unitarian Society of Hartford,, that Rosie mentioned The Soul's Companion, saying that she read it every day.  I bought the book on her recommendation, and so the spiritual skyrocket it gave me the other day was a gift from Rosie.  This extension of her influence beyond her death gives her a type of immortality.

Another gift from Rosie:  this apron.

The apron was pristine when I got it, stiff red cotton duck.  I received it when Rosie's husband handed off Rosie's sewing equipment and supplies after her death. 
Rosie had christened it with a stylized graphic of her initials, RWR.  But she kept it pristine, and even though I'd never seen the apron before, I knew why she kept it that way:  It was a hard-won apron.

She got it at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, establishment in Maine to which she had applied multiple times before being accepted into one of their summer programs.  It was an accomplishment that made her proud, and the apron was her emblematic souvenir.

But it wasn't MY emblematic souvenir.  To me it was an artist apron, and I needed one, so when it came to me, I used it. 

 And I know Rosie would be okay with that, because a few months before she died, I had a first: one of my art quilts was accepted into a juried show.  When Rosie learned this, she told me, "You're the real deal." Her statement warmed me, and her confidence in me boosted my own.  I think of this, and of Rosie, and Haystack, whenever I put the apron on, and again, it warms me, every time.

 The Soul's Companion, another Rosie bequest, gave me a bespoke gift of courage and grace the other day, tailor-made to the spiritual and emotional exhaustion I felt at the time.  

I'd just been to the Chrysalis Center, a Hartford nonprofit serving folks with mental illness, substance abuse, and a number of other needs.  I've been teaching fiber arts there once a week, and the experience gets my adrenaline going far in advance and leaves me drained and useless in the aftermath. 

This adrenaline rush makes me feel something like the way I did when my girls were young and I was about to host one of their birthday parties.  I switched myself on to become a fountain of fun and activator of activities.  As activator of activities, I was responsible for all materials and instructions, and as fountain of fun, I was responsible for the having of all fun.  

I would get the same adrenaline buzz before going to the Chrysalis.  And the same drained aftermath.

It was in that post-teaching drainage mode the other day when I read the day's entry in The Soul's Companion, which stated that receiving is a form of giving and advised me to open myself to the gifts of others.  

Then I was able to see my work at Chrysalis as not only an act of giving on my part, but one of receiving, too, when I see folks' reaction to my offerings.  Yes, I'm giving, but look at the results, and those results are my gift in return.

I wouldn't have been able to reframe the day in such a soul-satisfying turn if I hadn't read the November 30 entry in The Soul's Companion, and I wouldn't have read it if not for Rosie.

Rosie, thanks for the book, the apron, and the inspiration.  In those objects and their recurring effects, you live on.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sisters, Daughters, and Repairing the Ragged Places

I'm missing my sister Jerol this Thanksgiving.  Just over a year ago, in mid-November 2014, she fell and hit her head, sustaining serious injuries and eventually dying about two months later as a result.

I miss her for so many reasons.   She and her husband Larry were always there when I needed them.  Like here, December 2012, helping me hang a show at the Farmington Public Library.

And besides that, Jerol was my home dec guru, and not only did she help me paint my dining room and bedroom, she also helped me paint and stencil a beguiling leaf and vine pattern on my stairs.  Then, when the leaf and vine pattern chipped, as it inevitably would, she coached me on mending it.

So  I know how to mend those raggedy places, but of course my efforts would never be official until I had her approval. Now, she's gone.  But the lovely vine and leaf pattern is chipped.

Repairing the stairs is fraught for me now, without Jerol's oversight and approval.

I so miss her.

But it's Thanksgiving, and guests are coming, and the raggedy chipped stairs are not aesthetically pleasing, and they had to be mended. 

It's sad, using these materials without Jerol.  These are the same ones we used when we originally painted the steps, and I can't believe I still have them, each and every one.

And it's not just the steps that need fixing.  It's the raggedy places on the dining room wall that Jerol originally helped me to paint a lovely Benjamin Moore color called Sea Star.  Because my work is constantly being switched on and off the wall,  there were places where the plaster was marred by nails.  Jerol told me how to fix those places and made me see that they weren't a big deal. 

I bought the paint and spackle months ago, when Jerol was still on earth.  I wanted her to coach me as I repaired the wall, but it was not to be.

I decided to start on the steps, so I gritted my teeth and sat down to fix them.

Meanwhile, my daughter Leah, home for the holiday, volunteered to make the apple cranberry crisp for Thanksgiving dinner, so that I could take the time to do what I had to do on the steps and the wall.

But guess what?  Leah had an abrasion injury on the palm of her hand, caused by--get this--doing pullups at CrossFit.  When she used the knife to cut apples, it hurt her hand.

So we switched jobs.  Leah sanded the steps and applied two coats of a taupe color called Ashley Gray.

When it was dry, she took a fine paintbrush and repaired the leaves.

She's the only righty among my children.  Julia and Lucia, her older and younger sisters, are both lefties like me.

Then, God bless her, she got up on the ladder and spackled the dining room wall and painted it with Sea Star.  I felt so blessed that there was someone there to do that sad job for me.

Meanwhile, I made the cranberry apple crisp for Thanksgiving dinner,

Not only that, but she helped me add new photos to the slideshow on this blog.  Unsuccessfully, as it turns out, but she spent hours on it.  Meanwhile, she spent a certain amount of time on the phone, both for work and with her partner Lindsey.  She was heard to utter the phrase "power lesbians."

I do miss Jerol so much, but I'm so glad I have Leah to help me smooth over the ragged places.

And I have to admit, I have taken advantage of Jerol's absence to shake up the Thanksgiving menu.  Jerol always insisted on certain dishes, like our Grandmother's French-Canadian stuffing, rich with salt pork and the alluring flavor of whole allspice.  She also insisted on nectar mince pie for dessert.

But the old fashioned turkey dinner had its inconveniences, such as the last half hour, when turkey was being sliced, gravy was being made, and fresh green vegetables were being steamed...while the hungry rest of the family sat at the table and asked what was taking so long.

This year, no last-minute food except the mashed potatoes and the steamed asparagus.  Everything else is made ahead and if necessary heated up before serving.

Smoked Salmon
Smoked Turkey Breast 
Caramelized Butternut Squash with Sherry, Maple and Bleu Cheese
Shaved Butternut Squash with Craisins
Nutted Wild Rice 
Steamed Asparagus
Cranberry Orange Dressing
Apple Cranberry Crisp

Jerol might not like it.  But she's not here to complain about  it.