Friday, September 21, 2007


Revgalblogpals ask this week:
1. Are you a hoarder or a minimalist?
I have a 3,000 square foot house that i share with 3 cats and a dog (actually only 2 cats, since Buster lives outside). The house is full. That answers the question. My hoarding is selective, though; yarn, fabric and books are my vices of choice.

2. Name one important object (could be an heirloom) that you will never part with.
First choice would be my teddy bear. He was the first toy my dad bought me when I went to live with him, and he's been all around the world with me. He's pretty much hairless at this point, and has been retired to his own personal rocking chair on top of a bookcase (out of reach of the dog, who loves stuffies). But the fact that he's survived this long, including through a flood and a fire, means I hope he'll last as long as I do. If the nursing home has to put him in a biohazard bag for him to be in my room, then do it.

3. What is the oldest item in your closet? Does it still fit???
I don't keep clothes much. If I can't use them I pass them on to someone else who can. So the oldest things in my closet are costume items left from when I sang with Sweet Adelines. I have a mandarin-style red satin jacket that I made from an evening coat; I never wear it, but looking at it makes me happy, so I keep it. And I have a pair of fuschia snakeskin high heels that I will also never wear again, but they have happy memories of days when I could wear high heels. Other than that and an old tatty bathrobe (we all have one of those, don't we), the rest is relatively new.

4.Yard sales- love 'em or hate 'em ?
Despise yard sales. Refuse to ever have another one. And only go to them when I'm with someone else and then under mild protest. I don't need kid's stuff or more old paperbacks. On the other hand, I have a friend who loves yard sales and finds amazing things in them, some of which she has given to me, and I love every bit of it. She has a gift for sorting through to find treasure; I didn't get that gene.

5. Name a recycling habit you really want to get into.
I wish we had recycling here in my community. But the fact is, I don't have that much trash that could be recycled. I don't buy pop or beer, so no cans. I have pickle jars from time to time, but they would fill maybe one bin a year. I don't subscribe to newspapers except the local weekly. Plastic bags get used for kitty litter.
When I do get into a sorting and sifting mode, I box up everything that I think someone could possibly use and carry it to Goodwill or some other mission organization with a thrift store. The stuff goes to good use, and doesn't end up as trash. Books that I don't want to keep go to the local library for their collection or their fundraising sale.

There's something about hitting the 50th birthday. I became acutely aware in new ways that my lifespan was finite and that the time would come when I would have no need for most of the stuff I spent the first 50 years of my life accumulating. Putting my dad in a nursing home and seeing his needs whittle down to a few sets of clothes and a telephone made me first aware of that. And while I could take care of disposing of the rest for him, I will have no one to do that for me. So I want to be sure that I don't leave a mess behind me, assuming that I have the capacity to make my own decisions for a while to come. So I've stopped buying the kinds of bright shiny things that attracted me when I was younger. Yarn and fabric get made into things for others; books feed my soul. I buy clothes to feed my fabric addiction and to look acceptably "chic" in the world. I replace needed things that wear out or get broken. The rest is up for grabs. I look forward to passing it all on to someone else who will love and enjoy it as much as I have. Except for Teddy; he's gonna have to go to the crematorium with me.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Sometimes you need a friend to give you a nudge toward getting something done that you've been putting off for a long time. This morning my friend Amy, who meets me every weekday morning for coffee, Literati, and knitting, challenged me to sew together two baby sweaters that had been languishing in the bottom of my "finishing basket" for about a year. The reason they were there was that they needed to be sewn. I've more recently been using a pattern that is all one piece and just needs the ends tucked in and ties put on at the end for finishing. So these two poor orphans sat at the bottom of the basket.

So, because Amy challenged me, I declared today to be Finish It Up Day. And the results have surpassed even what I imagined I would have to show.

First the baby sweaters. I had the two that needed sewing, two that needed ties, and one that needed sleeves. Here are the five of them, all finished and tied and ready for Church World Service layette kits. This finishes my 20 for the year. But I still have partial skeins in my knitting bag, so I will probably go ahead and knit them up before I quit doing baby sweaters for the season. So I should have 22 in the drawer at the end.

The biggest project in the basket was a prayer shawl that just needed fringe. I think I started this shawl when I was on retreat last fall, so it was high time to finish it and have it available for donation. It too, left the basket for good today.
And then, there were the hats. I knew there were a few hats in there, but I had no idea there were nine of them. I also had one on the needles, with just the bottom ribbing to finish. Having ten to show seemed like a good idea, and here they all are, with all their tops sewn up and their ends buried. I haven't counted these yet, as the season on these is picking up again. Arkansas Children's Hospital is looking for 30,000 hats in their Knitting for Noggins program this year; I'm sure they'll be able to use whatever I give them.
So my basket is a good deal emptier than it was at the start of the day, and my finished project drawers are a good deal fuller. There are still a few odds and ends in the basket - a couple pairs of mittens that need thumbs that will have to wait until their pattern surfaces again. And then there's the striped prayer shawl that has endless ends to be worked in. And I've lost my place to hide leftover yarn that I want to keep out for the present; balls of yarn have to be kept away from my black yarn thief. He got a small ball away from me in mid-afternoon, so I let him have it. But then he got a big ball out of my bag, and that was one I wasn't willing to give up. So before I go to bed tonight I have to rewind the tangle he left strewn across the bedroom floor.

So tomorrow it will be back to the two projects still left on the needles - the Tofutsie socks and the EZ square baby blanket. I will need to start another hat before Thursday, so I can work on the easy part while I wait for a meeting to start. And there are the remnants of the baby sweater yarn to work up. I think the socks in the morning. I'm in danger of an outbreak of Second Sock Syndrome, and I need to nip it in the bud.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


This has been a busy week, so knitting has taken something of a back seat. I did finish the hand-dyed silk shawl, and I'm very pleased with the result:
Because of the pattern, the shawl is very soft and drapable. It makes a nice covering for the shoulders for the summertime, but will also draw up and make a lovely accent scarf with a winter coat. I don't keep many of the things I make, but I'm keeping this. I want it as a memento of my Alberta trip. If you want to see what this artist has to offer, check out her website at

On the needles at the moment are the EZ square baby blanket, now approaching the half-way point, the Tofutsie sock, and 2 baby sweaters. I have meetings coming up this weekend, so I have 2 sweaters worked past the armpits, so all I have is mindless knitting to finish the bodies. Besides not having to count, I've also discovered that doing this partial start lets me get past the starting of the new skein of yarn, which sometimes results in a wad of yarn that has to be knit up before it becomes a tangled mess.

For those that like novels that have a knitting theme, I have a new one to recommend. Ann Hood's new book is The Knitting Circle, and I found myself moved by this book beyond all expectation. Those who have recently experienced profound loss might want to wait on this one; what unites the main characters is their separate losses. As I read I was reminded of my own losses, which brought new feelings of grief and loneliness I would rather have kept safely hidden away. But the book promises from the very beginning that all will end well, and it does, although not always in predictable ways. The book will never make it to anyone's list of great literature, but it was profoundly moving in its own way.

But having finished that - and then sat up half the night knitting on the baby blanket so that I could just sit with the feelings for a while and not be overwhelmed by them - I needed something light-hearted. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off has not disappointed. I recognized myself in this book as well, but in ways that I could laugh at, even though laughing out loud when I read distresses Calico and Bart, who think beds are for silent snuggling.
The only other accomplishment this week was to finish the quilt from the Strip Mine class. I needed it for the start of a new tv series, so that meant it had to be quilted quickly. I ended up doing stitch-in-the-ditch around the stars, then a kind of meandering through the scrappy parts; I used a variegated thread in autumn colors that blended well with both the top and the back. As I kind of warm up after being away from the studio so long, I made a few stretched star blocks and a couple of blocks for the Celestial Migraine block-of-the-month. I'm trying to spend a few minutes every day in there, even if all I do is pick up pins off the floor.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


This week's preaching from Judges takes the downward turn we've been expecting from the beginning of the book. Last week's narrative of Gideon left possibilities open; Gideon's turn toward idolatry at the end of his career could have been nothing more than a temporary setback. But this week we're looking at his son, Abimelech, and there's nothing good to say about him.

His very name suggests that there is trouble afoot. "Abimelech" can be translated as "my father, the king." But Gideon refused to be called king. So Abimelech's name suggests that he is trying to legitimize his own claim to power by piggybacking on his dad, but without true foundation. He's the son of a concubine who lives at Shechem, making his position within the family a bit dubious. And the first thing he does is have his brothers killed - all seventy of them! One escapes, named Jothan. He won't go away quietly. In fact he knows a great deal about the reality of the situation, which he outlines in a parable.

It's significant that Abimelech seized power for himself; The narrative does not follow the established pattern here. The people of Israel do indeed "do evil in the sight of the Lord" after the death of Gideon, and a leader arises, but not by God's doing. There is no spiritual anointing for Abimelech. His entire career is marked by violence. In the end he will destroy Shechem, the very people who had accepted him at the beginning of his reign; the city will be razed, the inhabitants all killed and the land sowed with salt.

Filled with his success at Shechem, Abimelech moved on to Thebez, with the intent of doing the same thing there. In terms of the strengths of the cities, if Shechem were comparable to Chicago, Thebez would be comparable to Oquawka. It should have been an easy victory. But "a certain woman" threw a millstone down from the tower, and it crushed Abimelech's skull. True to form, he didn't want it to be said that a woman had killed him, so he had his armorbearer thrust a sword through him. The story ends: "Thus God repaid Abimelech for the crime he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers."

That has to be the preaching point in the story. Otherwise it's just a story about a wicked king and the people who were stupid enough to make him king. The people figure into the story too - that's part of what Jotham's parable is about - but the hero of the story is God, of course. God working through events that appear to have no connection to God whatsoever. Just when you think God isn't paying attention.

It's Labor Day weekend here in the United States, also known as Summer's Last Hurrah. So let's say goodbye to summer and hello to the autumn. (People in other climes, feel free to adapt as needed.)
1. Share a highlight from this summer. (If you please, don't just say "our vacation to the Canadian Rockies." Give us a little detail or image. Help us live vicariously through you!)
The highlight of my summer is without a doubt my trip to Alberta. Being able to spend time away from home with two wonderful friends, and be as gloriously lazy as I wanted to be - who wouldn't go for that. More than anything else I loved being able to sit outdoors and be able to breathe the air and not get eaten alive by mosquitos or other insects. It was like summers when I was a child when by midmorning I had my stuff outdoors under a tree and stayed there until suppertime. Mary Jane has a vegetable garden that produced raspberries while I was there; I can't remember another time when I could eat my fill of raspberries. And there was Eddie, the golden retriever puppy, who loved balls and sticks and being with his people. It was the most relaxing vacation I've had in years. And every time I pick up my knitting these days I can enjoy it some more as I work my way through the yarns I bought there.

2. Are you glad to see this summer end? Why or why not?
Summers here can be pretty brutal. It's been near or over 100 here every day since I've been home, and the only rain we've had was a few showers the day before yesterday. I don't like being cooped up in the house, but I just can't handle the heat and humidity here where summer is at full bore. So I'm always glad to see September come. I know there's still a month of heat, but usually it slacks off at bit. And by October I can work in the yard a bit and enjoy being outdoors again.

3. Name one or two things you're looking forward to this fall.
This fall will have a pretty busy work schedule, so the things I'm looking forward to are work related. I have a couple of retreats coming up. My personal fall retreat will be sometime before Thanksgiving; I'm thinking sometime in November to get ready for Advent. The other is our Presbytery retreat at Lake DeGray; Don Postma is coming to talk about Sabbath, which is a topic close to my heart, so I'm really looking forward to that one. There's a quilter's gathering in October, that I'd love to go to if schedule permits. Otherwise, just lots of classes and projects starting up in the next couple weeks, so work will be back to full speed.

4. Do you have any special preparations or activities to mark the transition from one season to another? (Cleaning of house, putting away summer clothes, one last trip to the beach)
My transition to fall won't come until October. There's a week in there somewhere where I put the electric mattress pad and a quilt on the bed. I won't really need either for a while, but it's a convenient time to do it, and then they're there when I want them. At the same time I do the wardrobe shift from warm season to cool season, leaving some things behind for the warm days that invariably come as soon as I pull sweaters out.

5. I'll know that fall is really here when __________________________________.
a. The cotton is defoliated. That's early fall, but it's the beginning. When I lived up north, leaves would turn in September, and the first of this year's apple crop would start coming in. Here those things don't happen until later, but the cotton comes at that time of year when I'm thinking fall, so it's a marker for me.
b. I put the dog out in the morning and think "it's chilly today." I'm looking forward to that first morning when the temperature is in the 50's and I'm glad to come back in the house for warmth.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


No new projects this week, but progress on the ones I started last week. First, there's another baby sweater sitting in the basket waiting for blocking and ties; that's #16 for the year. It's getting time for me to call the newspaper lady that wanted to do a photo shoot last year but waited until everything was off to its donation site. In another month or so I'll be done with this year's charity knitting, so time to make a nice display.

I finished the first sock in the Tofutsie, and it actually fits my foot. Today I cast on the second one and got it far enough along that I can knit while i play computer games. I also did a swatch in the Sock It To Me to check gauge. I have another pattern I want to try, but will have to adapt the pattern.

The EZ square blanket turned out to be more of a saga than I had planned. I decided on Tuesday afternoon to drive to Monroe to see what Hobby Lobby had for Wool Ease in colors that would coordinate with the white sparkle. It was a wasted trip; HL no longer carries Wool Ease in worsted weight. I got a few skeins of Red Heart worsted off the sale rack for mittens, and came home. A whole afternoon on the road for nothing.

Next I checked Ebay and found 7 skeins of the white sparkle, so bought them. But when they came, the dye lots were so far different I could tell them apart in dim light; combining them was not an option. So I finally decided, after knitting a whole quarter of the blanket, to tear it out and start over on a smaller scale. This is coming along fine. It's taking me just slightly less than a skein to make an 8th of the square, and I have 8 skeins in the same dye lot. I started on the second quarter today, so I'm making good progress on that. It's a good tv project.

I've also done a little on the silk shawl, and contemplated pi shawls. The skein of blue merino lace weight has enough yardage for a pi shawl, so I'm going to get out some of my old lace books and see what looks appealing to me. But I'm not going to do anything with that until I'm done with hats, mittens, and baby sweaters for the year. Arkansas Children's Hospital is looking for 30,000 hats this year in their Knitting for Noggins project, so I know they'll be able to use anything I can whip up.

Meanwhile the quilting studio sits idle. I can't concentrate on too many projects at one time. And knitting lets me sit like a slug indoors in front of the tv through these sweltering hot days. This week I've been enjoying The Simpsons Season 10 dvds; they are the perfect accompaniment to mindless knitting.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


RevGalBlogPals do what they call "The Friday Five," a series of questions on a topic that invite discussion. I haven't played for a while, but happened to look in on their site yesterday and decided the topic was interesting enough to play along late.

This week's topic:
Name a 1) book, 2) piece of music, 3) work of art, 4) film, 5) unusual engagement with popular culture that have helped/challenged you on your spiritual journey.

1) Book: The one that comes immediately to mind is Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard. This book found me one of the first years I went to Music and Worship Conference at Montreat, and so was early in my spiritual journey. I'm still learning from this book. It's one of my favorite types of books, one that has an intensely spiritual message without being "Christian lit." The essay "An Expedition to the Pole" is one that grabbed me immediately, especially the idea that we ought to come to church in crash helmets, prepared to be lashed to our pews, because of the danger inherent in seeking an encounter with the divine.

2) Piece of Music: The first piece of sacred music I had the privilege to perform was the Faure Requiem. It was in Florida, with a community choir, very soon after I discovered that I had a singing voice and determined to use it. There's something about this particular combination of text and music that works for me. Maybe it's the sense of joy that it communicates, in contrast to some of the older settings of the Mass that are more about penitence and judgment. I particularly like hearing the Sanctus sung by a youth choir; their young voices make this light setting soar.

3) Work of Art: In Fredrick Buechner's book The Faces of Jesus there is a photograph of a wooden bust of Jesus carved by an unknown African carver. It's a Good Friday bust, with a crown of thorns, a sorrowing Jesus, contemplating the pain of the world. There's something about the way the carver has allowed the grain of the wood to carry the weight of the emotion in the face; it's as though the carver recognized that the art ultimately was God's, not his. It moves me to tears every time I look at it. I paid a very large sum for a used copy of this book so that I could look at this photograph when I need to.

4) Film: "What Dreams May Come." I love nearly everything that Robin Williams has done, but I would love this film even if Robin weren't in it. What draws me into this movie is it's rendering of heaven. First the parts that are created by the wife's paint; the idea that we participate in the creation of whatever heaven may mean as the place we go to after this life is over. Then the city, as the place populated by people with a common vision. I'm always taken aback by the Revelation texts that talk about heaven as a city; somehow we tend to think of heaven more in pastoral terms, as the kind of place where the good shepherd leads us in green pastures and beside still waters. But a place filled with people with a common vision - that sounds a lot like heaven to me.

5) Unusual engagement with popular culture: I'm not sure what counts as "unusual" here. Since I've discovered podcasts, I'm able to listen to Krista Tippet's NPR program "Speaking of Faith"; it's radio, but I depend on a new medium to be able to hear it. There's the audio book by a Buddhist teacher I listened to recently - Getting Unstuck by Pema Chodron; this turned out to be one of the best books on dealing with addictions I've encountered lately. There are the good friends I've met while playing computer games online. Any or all of those might qualify.

Tomorrow is Sabbath for me. Tonight I will light the candles and begin the Sabbath with a simple ritual. I plan to spend the bulk of the day in my quilt studio, a place that I've neglected lately, but that usually releases my inner child. I found a turkey breast in the back of the freezer, so I'll cook that for supper, and see if I can round up some friends to help me eat it. I've dealt with the kitty litter and the dirty dishes, so I can start the Sabbath with a clean slate. The rest is in God's hands.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Our "hero" this week is Gideon. He's like so many of us; he starts strong and with a lot of promise, and by the end of the story he's a mess. His story takes three chapters in Judges to tell, so he's clearly an important character. But what I see as I look at other sermons about him is that they tend to tell the first part of the story, the good and strong part, but they ignore the last part, the part about him making a golden ephod and worshipping it.

Gideon's consistent problem seems to be that he doesn't trust God to be God. He's constantly asking for signs, even after God's Spirit takes possession of him. First he wants dew on the fleece and not on the ground, then he wants dew on the ground and not on the fleece. When it's time for him to attack the Midianites, God tells him "if you have any doubts, take Purah your armor bearer with you." He can't quite get it together.

And then, when he has the opportunity to bring his career to a glorious finish, he blows it. After telling the people that he refuses to be king, saying "God will reign over you," he says, "but if you don't mind, each of you could give me an earring out of the plunder you took." And with the 43 pounds of gold he makes an ephod - a sacred garment - and puts it on display. The text says "All Israel prostituted itself there. Gideon and his family, too, were seduced by it."

The analogy with Aaron is unmistakable. The ephod was to be worn only by the priests, priests who followed in the footsteps of Aaron. And like Aaron he makes a golden image - an ephod instead of a calf - but an image nonetheless, and it takes the place of God. The man who had been clothed in the Holy Spirit is seduced by a golden garment that he doesn't have the right to wear.

What happened between Gideon's call and his retirement is not clear. But it seems that from the beginning God was not enough for him. He always needed more. Apparently, what he needed was 43 pounds of gold, because the only thing he accomplished after making the ephod was to sire 71 sons.

Yes, he led Israel in defeating the Midianites. Yes, the land had rest for 40 years, the last time it will have rest in the book of Judges. But it's hard not to think about what he could have been if he had trusted God from the beginning.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Since I came back from Canada I've been knitting up a storm. It's been too hot to do much else, frankly. So long as the projects are small, knitting is a good thing to work on indoors when it's too hot to breathe outdoors.

I have to show you the yarns I brought back from Canada. I knew I would find yummy stuff, and I was not disappointed. The first shop we went to in Edmonton was Ewe Asked for it.

I was completely overwhelmed when I walked in the shop and I realized that I hadn't the foggiest idea what I wanted to buy and that if I wasn't careful I would just grab one of everything and come home with nothing useful. So I settled on yarn to make a pair of socks. I hadn't made socks in a long time, but all the bloggers and podcasts talk about making socks, so I decided that would make a good small project. Also I love wool socks in the winter, and they're impossible to find here except the kind that
will fit into hunting boots. That's where I bought the Tofutsies, which, as you can see, is making a lovely sock. It's only part wool; the rest is acrylic made from soybeans, a little bit of cotton, and chitin from shrimp and crab shells to give it antibacterial qualities. It's the fiber combination that intrigued me, as well as the fun and funky colors it comes in. And I've successfully navigated my way past one heel turn, so now it's just straight on to the toe.
Yarn shops were a new experience for Mary Jane. She just walked around in a kind of daze patting things and saying "Oooh." Even Randy got into the act, I think just taking in this environment where things exist that he had no knowledge of.

The other store in Edmonton we went to was River City Yarns. They had more of the lace weight yarns that I was hoping to bring home for shawls. The green in the center is the silk yarn that Bart and I played with yesterday; as you can see I've already wound it (twice) and started knitting a simple shawl from it. The yarn is nubbly, and the shawl/scarf drapes beautifully. It was hand painted in Nova Scotia, so it's truly a Canadian souvenir.

In the back is some Sock It To Me, another wool yarn that will make my feet happy come January. And on the left is some merino wool lace weight that will make a shawl for somebody special.
My big knitting accomplishment for the week was to block and put ties on 6 baby sweaters This brings to 15 the total for the year so far, with plenty of year left to make my goal of 20. In fact there is one in the finishing basket right now waiting for blocking and ties, so I only need to make 4 more to have those done. They are a great travel project because the directions are very simple, and there's not a lot of counting and thinking that has to go on. Plus, I really like the n0-seams part. I'm anxious to try the Elizabeth Zimmermann baby sweater, but that does have sewing, so I think this will still be my favorite for charity sweaters.

So right now I have 3 projects on the needles: the socks made from the Tofutsies, the shawl from the hand-painted silk, and the EZ square blanket. I finished the first skein on that this morning and now realize I don't have enough to make the whole blanket in the white Wool-Ease, so will have to decide how I want to introduce the second color. That will be the challenge for this coming week.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Monday is my Sabbath, and I try to make it a day of renewal and not just a day off. I didn't do anything special today, but it was still a good day.

Yesterday I wound the silk yarn I bought in Alberta and started knitting a shawl from it. During the night my #1 yarn thief, pictured left, got hold of the ball and completely unwound it all around the living room. I was strongly tempted to commit mayhem upon him, but instead I just quietly rewound the yarn while he did his best to be invisible sitting on a white dining room chair. There's one section that will have to be discarded, but most of it came through unscathed except for dust and cat hair. I'm not sure which Bart enjoyed more, the unwinding of the ball or watching me crawling around under all the chair legs to rewind it. And the little snot had the audacity to snuggle up in the bed with me after doing his dastardly deed.

As much as I try not to do housework (or any other kind of work) on my Sabbath, some things are just necessary. I started the morning by dumping grits all over the kitched floor when the box slipped out of my hands while I was reaching for the measuring cup. Then the grits boiled out of their bowl in the microwave, so there was another mess to clean up. Since I was already in cleaning mode, I did a few things toward getting my bedroom back to the tidy space I like it to be. And there were dishes to wash and litterboxes to tend. I also moved some side tables around to move one that has closed storage into the den from the music room. It seems hiding balls of yarn in my knitting basket is no longer adequate protection from the Yarn Thief. The silk was pretty sturdy and took his abuse pretty well. I'd hate to think what he would have accomplished if it had been the merino wool he'd stolen.

In the early afternoon the mailman brought a delivery from which included two of the Elizabeth Zimmermann knitting books I ordered last week, and the 10th season DVD's of The Simpsons. I was waiting for the EZ books because one of the groups I belong to has been talking a lot lately about both pi shawls and her square baby blanket. I browsed through both books for a while, then got out some white Wool-Ease I'd been saving for something special and started a blanket. I had to learn how to do provisional casting on, which was another thing I've been hearing about but had never actually done.

Part of Sabbath for me is to cook meals that are special in some way, so for supper I cooked some fish I found in the freezer and put it with some Tater Tots and green beans. The fish was some seasoned tilapia, and was actually quite good. I felt good that I had put a balanced plate together. After supper I sat with the Simpsons and knitted on the blanket for a while. And I ended the day by starting the new Diane Mott Davidson novel I had bought for my trip to Canada then decided not to pack.

It was a good Sabbath. There were new treats to enjoy, and good food. Except for rewinding Bart's mess, I did nothing that was stressful or that could be in any way construed as work. It wasn't a particularly spiritual day, but it was still a good Sabbath.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


I'm preaching on Deborah and Jael this Sunday, the second installment in my series from Judges. There are so many ways to go with these chapters; both Deborah and Jael are rich characters, and even the minor characters offer preaching possibilities. Choosing a focus was the first hard decision to make.

I'm following one of the leads suggested by Joseph Jeter in his book Preaching Judges. He looks at Jael and the treatment her character has gotten over the years. There are some who think that she acted treacherously toward Sisera, offering him hospitality and then driving a tent peg into his head. There are others, including the biblical text itself, that consider her a hero for destroying Israel's enemy. I think it's that very ambiguity that is worth exploring.

Put it into contemporary terms. Suppose Osama Bin-Laden had reason to believe he could find sanctuary at my house, and showed up on my doorstep. Sisera was a Canaanite general and Jael was a Kenite; there was an understanding between the two peoples because the Canaanites wanted iron chariots and the Kenites were metalsmiths. So imagine that Osama's family and my family had connections, and he showed up. I give him a good meal, and he falls asleep in my bed. Partly I'm honoring the family code of honor, and partly I'm afraid of what he might do if I try to call authorities. But then the opportunity presents itself, and I take advantage of it. When I call the police to come, he's dead, with a bullet hole in his temple.

That's one way the story is told. The older version of the story, chapter 5, is much richer in sexual innuendo than that. In that version Sisera falls between Jael's feet; it's not clear whether he was trying to rape her or whether she was taking hospitality to a new level to let him think he was completely out of danger. So in this version of the story Osama's in bed with me, and when he is sufficiently "distracted" I pull out the gun and take care of a national enemy.

And that ambiguity seems to be the issue when it comes to deciding whether Jael is a harlot or a hero. Did she lure him to bed, or did she kill him in his sleep? And was she justified in killing him if he was merely sleeping, but not if she used her sexuality to trap him? These are the kinds of issues that we are still confronted with. A cop uses brutality to force a confession from a murder suspect; is his action justified by the fact that he removes a killer from the streets? Is a man who steals food for his hungry children justified? Is continued U.S. involvement in Iraq justified because of the fear that the situation will only get worse if we leave?
Dana Nolan Fewell suggests an even more intriguing possibility in her commentary on Judges in The Women's Bible Commentary. She believes Jael simply did what had to be done in order to save herself and her family. She says "Perhaps Yahweh too does what must be done in order to save the family of Israel." That's certainly one way to understand God's insistence that the Canaanites had to be exterminated in the first place; God was simply doing what had to be done for the survival of the family. Or does that let God off the hook too easily. It seems like an excuse that could be abused; Hitler had 6 million Jews killed because it was what had to be done. But she opens up the intriguing possibility that even for God the choices are not always between "good" and "bad"; perhaps the only available choices are between "bad" and "even worse."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I just figured out how to get the pictures out of my new camera, so I can finally show you the pictures from my latest trip to Alberta. Can you imagine having something this beautiful to look at every day? I had planned to take more pictures of this amazing place, but there was a storm the last night I was there and the light was too flat to get good pictures. I guess I'll just have to go back again.

One of the things we did was go to the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, where there is an amazing collection of dinosaur bones and fossils. I've been to museums that had a dinosaur and fossil room, but never one that was all relics like these.

(For those who are interested, I'm the short relic on the left; my friend Mary Jane, who lets me come play at her house in Alberta, is on the right). This place even has a dinosaur named for it - Albertosaurus. That's the one racing to get out of the picture in the background.

I can't imagine how people ever looked at this place and thought "This looks like home." I guess the availability of water had something to do with it, but it's still a formidable place. And I can't imagine people living through a Canadian winter in a soddy, much less deciding to stay and do it again another year. I can't imagine living in a place where you can't even see your nearest neighbors in the days before electricity or telephone. I can't imagine having to make everything by hand - socks, soap, bread, butter - and having to have enough food in the cellar to last until spring. I love the idea of doing all those things, so long as I can run to the store and buy it when I get tired of making it myself.

But here I've been home a week and the temperature has been over 100 every day, and I'm sure most Albertans think I'm nuts to live in a place like this. They don't care if it's 50 degrees outside on a summer evening; they just pull up closer to the fire pit and go on with their picnic. I guess it's what lets them live through winter. Meanwhile I'm trying to stay indoors through the heat of the day and only venture out early in the morning and in the evening. Good weather for knitting small projects and making quilt blocks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I need to be finishing the class work I need to have prepared for next week, and instead I am madly trying to finish projects around the house and in the studio. This top was the result of a Quilt University class in strip piecing. It started as a pile of scraps and a yellow fabric I had bought for another project:

But after I had a few blocks done with the yellow, the star shape started to speak to me, and needed to set them in a darker background. This meant a trip to the quilt shop (an hour and a half's drive away) to find the perfect dark brown. And then I had to learn how to make half blocks, to accomplish the on-point setting. But it was worth it, I think. This will look lovely as a backdrop when I start taping a new Bible study series in the fall.

By then I hope to have it quilted. I'm taking a class in machine embroidery which I hope will teach me how to digitize shapes that I can use for quilting. Maybe then I can make a dent in the pile of tops that need quilting.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I'm trying to practice the discipline of spending 15 minutes a day at a task, even on the days when there is no time. I'm spending my 15 minutes redeveloping my hand quilting skills. I used to love to quilt by hand; in fact I started quilting on "cheater quilts" where there was no piecing, just the quilting. But then I made some quilts that really needed to be machine quilted; at the same time I got drawn into the thinking "faster must be better." Before long I had quit hand stitching anything.

But I've also come to realize that I prefer sitting quietly with my feet up on the sofa working with my hands. So I'm working toward getting my hand stitching back to where it used to be. It takes time to build up the callous on the finger underneath, and to remember all the little tricks that made the stitches small and even. But 15 minutes at a time it's coming back.

As something to practice on I'm working on some double pinwheel blocks I acquired in a swap from the Frenz group. Adding the corner triangles makes a block big enough to hoop. The quilting pattern is a kind of snowflake design that I found in an issue of Quiltmaker. Here's a finished block.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I finally have some new pictures to show what I've been up to. I seem to have broken through whatever it was that was blocking my desire to work on quilts, and I've been sewing up a storm. I finished the quillow top, although as soon as I took the picture I found a wonky leg on one of the blocks that will need to be fixed before I mark and baste it for quilting. I haven't decided whether to quilt it by machine or by hand yet. Always decisions to be made.

This weekend has been a sort of stay at home retreat, inspired the the Stashbusters group. I decided to cut some 5" squares from some of my scraps and use a pattern I found in the Nickel Quilts book. The stretched stars pattern is as easy as it gets, and looks lovely done up with the darker centers and the yellow points. The corners I cut off are being sewn up for another project, so there will be a bonus somewhere down the road.

One of the things I've done in the past couple of weeks is tidy up the studio so it's a more pleasant place to work. I cleared off the loveseat and all the counters except for the current project. I cleared away a bunch of cobwebs and put the old exercise bicycle out for the trash (20 minutes later someone asked if they could have it so it didn't end up in the landfill). And I finally strung up the party lights along the storage wall to add just a bit more light and a touch of whimsy to this very utilitarian space. I love looking at them while I sew; they inspire me somehow.

I want to get myself organized to where I have sewing time early in the morning again. I used to be able to do this, but somehow lately it hasn't worked. I also want to get to the place where the sewing table is set up ready to go if I can find even 15 minutes. If I can do it for knitting I should be able to do it for sewing too.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, which means we are officially in the season of Lent. Here in my corner of Arkansas it's also looking a whole lot like spring; at least we're getting a break from the cold and damp of the last month or so. It's hard to feel penitent when it's 70 degrees outside with a warm sun. But I'm doing my best.

I've been reading blogs this morning and realizing how out of fashion "giving things up for Lent" has become. Instead I read about people who are already overscheduled and overworked taking on "something more," whether it's reading or meditation or whatever. It seems to be part and parcel of our American thinking that refuses to acknowledge limits or that we cannot have everything. I hope these people will be able to carry through what they resolve, and that it's not just another attempt at "New Year's resolutions" in February, with predictable results.

As for me and my small flocks, we are actually fasting this year. I have had the audacity to suggest to them that doing without might be a good thing, that recognizing limits may have spiritual benefits. So I have given them a program to follow, with guidelines for choosing what they will abstain from for the next 6+ weeks. I will be interested to see how they fare with it.

I myself have given up two things, one of which is far more significant than the other. The foods that I have chosen are bottled water and shellfish. Part of the goal for our Lenten fast is to learn a bit about how poor people live by living with their kind of limitations. Bottled water is expensive, not to mention the waste of plastic. So I've given it up. Since I don't drink sodas, dealing with road trips will require some preplanning in order to have something to drink that is even more expensive and less healthy. Shellfish are a regular part of my diet, since I limit meat consumption to one day a week, but they are a luxury. So I will stick to fish, being careful about the kinds that have unhealthy things in them like mercury.

The more significant abstinance is not a food, but an activity, but one that can take away a large portion of the day if I'm not careful. That is computer games. I love them, of all kinds. The online ones are the most fun, but I have several others that I've bought and downloaded for those times when I can't get on the net. I've given them up until after Easter. And this one is going to be tough. I eat my meals while playing games. I get my brain going in the morning with games. When I need a break I play games. When I'm bored I play games. This is not going to be easy.

But I guess that's what it's all about. If it were easy, there would be no point in doing it. But when our lives are full, there's no room for God. It's only by emptying our hands, our bellies, our time, our selves that we make room for God to work in and through us.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I finally found a project that I think I can actually finish, and not just add one more UFO to the absurd pile already cluttering up the studio. I signed up for a Quillow class at Quilt University. I've never made one of these before, but it's a fairly small project, and not too complicated. I decided one of the kids at Vera Lloyd Home would probably love it; each kid that comes there gets a quilt that they keep when they leave. So I chose kid-friendly colors, and I'm off and running with it. I even got a picture made of the first 4 blocks.

This morning I decided to try out my old routine of sewing for an hour or so before breakfast, so I went down to the studio early. Buster was looking to come in out of the cold, so I got out his favorite napping quilt and spread it out on the sewing table. He was most grateful and even let me take his picture:
Usually as soon as I get the camera all lined up he starts examining his less photogenic parts.

The other delight of today was the arrival of some fabrics I have ordered for a Block of the Month quilt. I won't start on that one until I at least have the piecing done for this one, since it's currently spread all over the cutting and the ironing tables. But I'm happy with the color choices, and I'm looking forward to starting on it.

Otherwise, the day was spent trying to make room for the yarn stash that exploded over the Christmas holidays. What was I thinking when I bid on 3 lots of 100 skeins each on ebay!. Today I bundled up a bunch of clothes that don't fit, a few things I've had in the back of the closet for years that still have the tags on, and some things I just don't need any more and got them ready to take to Goodwill the next time I head toward Bastrop. That let me consolidate 2 closets down to 1, so the empty one can be used for yarn. Now I have to clean up the plastic drawers that are in the storeroom and move them in, then resort the lot so it will all fit and make some sort of sense. I may actually be able to see the top of the bed before the month is over.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

One of my New Year's resolutions was to put more effort into this blog and post at least once a week. Of course it has taken me three weeks to get around to the resolution. That's my life. Those who know me are not surprised.

So far this year has been all about weather. I got home from a Christmas vacation trip just in time for a funeral on a day when it stormed so bad we had to revise all our normal entrance and exit plans to try to keep people dry. Since then the storms have come about every 3-4 days, keeping us all damp and wishing we could trade winter for the summer we complained about six months ago.

On Monday I drove down to Austin, TX to be here for the next class in my doctoral program. I got here just ahead of a record-breaking storm. Yesterday we had rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow - sometimes all at once. Needless to say, class was cancelled. I did manage to get to the grocery store in the late afternoon, after spending 30 minutes clearing the ice from my car. When I went in the store things were in good shape. When I came out it was raining and sleeting, and the parking lot was crunchy with sleet. It makes you believe the saying "if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes."

The good news is that I've had time to catch up on some of the preparation work that I didn't get done before I got here. I'm still behind, but not quite as far. I'll spend today reading and working on my project proposal. And of course I have my knitting with me, and a nice supply of fun yarns to make into caps. And if I'm very lucky, I'll have time for a nap.