Seize The Day

This is the third or fourth post I’ve written, but not published, trying to illustrate some aspect of my life that is NOT about being a grandmother. For one thing, I can only describe that giant comfy chenille pastel cloud of a world so many times, and for another, there IS some aspect of my life that not about grandmothering, right? Right, I ask you? In other words, if a woman becomes a grandmother out in the woods and drops all her other creative pursuits, can anyone hear it?

And while I ponder this oh so first world dilemma of mine, life is moving on. Mornings which used to be for quiet reflection are now for face timing with an exuberant two year old.  Days off, when I used to fool around with my camera and cook a couple of new recipes at once are now for going to The Children’s Museum with another little darling. The Memphis darling’s parents are both in school so naturally when I return from the Children’s Museum I do a couple of loads of laundry, not mine, and do a few dishes, also not mine. And pick up 4,000 toys. Also not mine.

Bliss. Except that on the inside there’s been this slow inner burn  to paint, to get my hands in something and become gloriously lost and found in the process. With the wisdom that comes with being almost sixty years old I realized I would have to do something different or nothing different would happen. It felt similar of course to my years of raising children, during which I clumsily, erratically and guiltily tried to steal moments for myself while at the same time wondering why and how all these other mothers seemed so serene and content. Or why their children would agree to quietly color for hours while their Mommy painted or sewed. Sigh.

Without further ado I made plans to paint. First I needed some inspiration. For that I chose to visit The Dixon Gallery two weeks ago with some friends. We wanted to see the exhibit Fold by local artist  Mary Jo Karimnia. This artists’s work is largely in fabrics and beads, juxtaposing domestic arts with that of costumes, largely influenced by her work in Bolivia.  Surely Ms.Karimnia’s work

Summer 2016-3.jpg would have something to say to a grandmother, who while scraping dried oatmeal off her travertine floor, longs to experiment with extravagant color.

I was not disappointed, except when telling myself I could probably never afford any of her work. To make it easier on myself I relied just on my phone for a few snaps.

 

Ah, the shiny beads. Ah, the lovely stitches, the printed fabric. I think we all kept our hands behind our backs like second graders, lest we run our hands all over the work in a state of sensory bliss. I nearly swooned with a combination of adulation and regret that I did not own any of her work. Because we all need to be able to admire these in the privacy of our own homes.

Upon leaving that exhibit we went to the other current exhibit, Henri Guérard and the Phenomenon of the Artist’s Fan in France, 1875 –1900.  During these years, Japanese art and decor were very popular in France. Artists painted on actual fans but also on fan shaped paper.

Having seen beaded finery in the first exhibit and artful fans in the second, we felt obliged to model some ourselves.

I know what you’re thinking: they were born too late. It’s true. I can really rock a white wig.

No visit to the Dixon is complete without a stroll through the lovely grounds.

On this day, in addition the blooming seasonal flowers, there was an exhibit of cotton plants. Our male companion grew up on a farm, so we two city girls were able to learn a bit about the cultivation of cotton from him. The pink bud in the pictures above is actually cotton. Who knew?

My mind swirled with colorful images as I left the museum on Sunday. On Monday morning I ran up the stairs in my pajamas, clutching my first cup of coffee, ready to seize the day. Before long I was making marks on an old canvas, thinking of orange flowers, blue beads, and golden shiny things. Then came a familiar trilling ring. It was time for my daily face time with Cameron and Micah.

 

Angling my laptop so that they could see, I went right on painting. I pretended I had my own painting show, which allowed me to entertain Micah the whole time his Mommy was preparing  his breakfast. You just never know what you will see when you call your Mimi first thing in the morning.

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Micah watched intently, but I’m not sure he knew what to make of my show. But no matter. After our phone call I mucked around a little more in the paint, and decided that was enough for the day. I was so pleased to get to scratch the ” HAVE TO PAINT” itch, and even more pleased that I didn’t have to paint all day long in order to have a pleasurable experience. As I washed my paint brushes and put them  away, I marveled that it was still only 10:00 A.M. There would be lots of time to accomplish other things. “See?” I said to myself. “I’m a grandmother, but not ONLY a grandmother.”

And just then my phone rang. It was Lily’s Dad. “Mom, Lily’s school called me to come get her. She has pink eye. Can you keep her after I take her to the Doctor? I really need to do some school work.”

“Certainly. I’ll be right there!”

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Mimi and Lily holding hands on the porch swing.

It’s All For You

I often miss out on time limited events. I am either out of town or have  just breezed into another town a day or two too late to take advantage of something. Missing out on things I would have liked to attend brings out a separate category of chagrin. And powerlessness. Missing the event means missing the experience as well as the memories I would have made, along the feelings I imagine I would have had about both. Woe is me!

But this summer fortune and opportunity finally aligned in my life.  My husband and I took a road trip to North Carolina. He is partial to the Asheville area because he went to Montreal every summer as a child. And the area is so beautiful that even though I had recently been to Asheville with my girls, I didn’t mind going back with him. After all we wouldn’t be doing the same things.

As a special treat we decided to start off our trip with a weekend in Winston Salem to visit my sister. While on the way I heard on NPR that  the last day of Maya Angelou’s estate sale would be held….would be held….  did I dare hope… could it be….. THE SAME DAY I WAS ARRIVING IN WINSTON-SALEM!!!!!!!!untitled-325

Have mercy. All I had to do was get from Knoxville to Winston-Salem and join in line in time and I would be allowed to enter her home free of charge. Sadly, my sister had to work at the library that day, so I would have to do my best to represent without her. My husband and I  left Knoxville that  Saturday morning, heading toward Winston Salem at a disconcerting 65 miles per hour. My stomach churned with anxiety as I wondered if my husband knew what a risk he was taking by doing something as absurd as trying to stick so close to the speed limit. This was an eighty mile an hour journey if I ever saw one.  Did I want to stop for lunch? No. Did I need to stop to go to the bathroom. No. Did I want anything to drink? No, because then I might need to go to the bathroom. And I was not going to stop.

Eventually we did have to stop for gas and crawl through a traffic jam after a wreck on the interstate before heading straight to Ms. Angelou’s home. Because we were in a tiny Fiat we found a parking space in front of the house. My husband pulled up to the house and I leaped out of the car like a stunt car driver and into the line in her front yard. By the time he parked the car twenty more folks were behind me. Two hours remained of the sale.

For me, part one of the sale was the festive air outside the sale. This was no ordinary estate sale crowd, full of whiskered old men looking for yard tools, or bargain savvy couples looking for a good deal on a barely used mattress. No, we were all pilgrims who had come for the experience more than for whatever artifact might still be available at the end of the sale. Word passed down through the line that there was nothing left but books. Ah, we all nodded, pleased. To leave with a book would suit all of us just fine. About twenty minutes after I joined the line, a policeman walked to the back of the line and closed it. No more pilgrims would be admitted.

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A kinder, gentler estate sale crowd.

Ever so slowly we inched toward the house, chatting with one another to pass the time.  Two sisters had driven in from Raleigh for the sale. The couple in front of us had left their baby with a sitter to attend. Bottled water was for sale from several vendors. And this police lady wanted to make friends with my husband.untitled-117 I wonder if Ms. Angelou had found the city as welcoming? I hope so.

And then I was in! The instant camaraderie with my fellow estate sellers was somewhat dampened by the crush of all the seekers who had already gained entrance to the home. I admit that I briefly visualized myself shoving through the crowds, flinging aside fellow book lovers who formed inconvenient bottlenecks in the hallways. But then, there was Dr. Angelou’s gaze upon me almost everywhere I went. In my mind I could hear her say, “Slow down, young lady. we’re civilized in this house.”untitled-336

Don't you run in my house!

Don’t you run in my house!

Suitably chastened, I made my way through the crowded, overheated rooms.

At least SHE wasn't bothered by the heat!

At least SHE wasn’t bothered by the heat!

There really was nothing left except books and expensive art. But mostly books. And oh, what a wonderland of books. This woman was interested in EVERYTHING: poetry, history, fiction, publisher’s proofs, cookbooks, gardening, – heck, she had the entire Dewey Decimal system represented. The senses of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual richness struck me wherever I turned. Why, I lamented, oh why had I not offered  my services as a menial helper in order in exchange  for access to her books, or even to have had a chance to meet her, while she was still alive? Finally I descended into to her book packed basement which was full of even more seekers avidly browsing the shelves.untitled-118

I conducted a random poll of facial expressions in the basement and quickly determined that every person there wished the same things I did. It was too late now in this life to meet Dr. Angelou, so we would have to do the next best thing. We would all leave with a book she had owned. If we were fortunate, maybe we would happen upon  a book she loved, a book she had held in her hands while her brain arranged some fresh new wisdom to share with the world.

I flipped through book after book but not in the leisurely fashion I would have hoped. Should I purchase books I had already read but loved, knowing that the fact that It had belonged to Dr. Angelou would add an extra level of specialness? Or should I look for something new? And how many books did I need anyway? Shouldn’t I be choosing books for those folks not fortunate enough to be here today?

Everybody was choosing something!

Everybody was choosing something!

In the end I think Maya guided my choices. I paid for an armload of books, each of which had Dr. Angelou’s nameplate or signature inside. The sale was arranged so that after one paid, one exited through the house’s lovely grounds. I poked my head into the guest house and lingered on the patio. Each step brought me closer to the gate and the end of my personal glimpse into the life of a remarkable woman.untitled-351

untitled-341Once I left her home the experience lived on. My sister Ellen was the first to choose from the books I had purchased, opting for a book about the Harlem Renaissance. The next to choose were my daughter and son in law, who selected The Remains Of The Day and a volume by Thomas Merton. I set aside a book about Scott Joplin for one of my sons. I happily took the remaining book, a biography of a female painter unknown to me. As enjoyable as it had been to briefly own all the books, giving them away was even more so.

As a final unexpected surprise, and I can barely believe this is true, my daughter found an original, hand written poem by Dr. Angelou inside Thomas Merton on Saint Bernard.  I realize that I did not find the poem so it’s not really my tale to tell, but I choose to think the poem could have just as well been meant for me. After all, Dr. Angelou, who once thought Shakespeare was a little black girl,  did say, “The poetry was written for you. It’s all for you.”

We do all share in the beauty and wisdom of the written word. Such treasures are meant to be shared. If a little black girl in Stamps, Arkansas can feel that Shakespeare spoke to her, I can believe that Maya’s words and her world could be meant for me, a white middle class grandmother whose forebears wouldn’t have let her walk through their front doors. Even if I didn’t get to read the poem, which has been sent to her archives, I feel certain that she would have wanted to speak to me. She would have wanted to share her home, her work, her library and her legacy freely with people who would then pass the gift on to others. May we all be so generous.untitled-337

The Return of the Whiteway Girls

Long ago when I was a child I used to play with the other girls on Whiteway Drive, where I lived.  When we got together, big plans ensued, because someone would  always  have an inspiration. Why don’t we all get our Barbie stuff and play on Jane’s patio? Why don’t we get umbrellas and pretend we’re on The Avengers? Why don’t we play Miss America, or gin rummy? Why don’t we play hide and seek after dark? Often my younger sister Ellen hoped  to be included in our pursuits but as I recall, in my rarified spot as the oldest sister, I forbade her from coming any closer than three sidewalk squares of any spot occupied by my friends or myself.  In time we all grew up. Some of us lost touch. Three of us moved away.

In all, five of us stayed in touch in various combinations, but we were never together at the same time. We were adults now and life was happening to us: careers, relationships, children. Also children, children, and children. In the last few years I found myself saying what fun it would be to rent a house somewhere and have us all come. No kids. No spouses, no responsibilities.

I don’t want to admit  that it took one of us becoming  gravely  ill to force us out of just SAYING  we should get together to YES. WE WILL GET TOGETHER. But it’s true. This spring, after our friend Jane  was well on the way to recovery, we began to plan in earnest. Texts and emails flew back and forth. Our eyes burned from scrolling through VRBO listings. But we did choose a place: Asheville, North Carolina, and booked the dates.

Five of us were to attend: Mary, Jane, Mary Beth – that’s me, Gayle, and Ellen. Mary and Jane are sisters. Ellen and I are sisters. On the appointed day I flew into Greensboro and was met by my trusty companion, Ellen. Luckily for me, Ellen nursed no grudge about having NEVER been included in our games as a child- oh, come on, she had kids her own age to play with- but she shared a little trepidation about this inaugural trip. Her concern was that she had never spent much time with Mary while growing up, because Mary is  like, even two more years older than I am. She hoped they would hit it off. I too had a valid concern. What if these girls were  drinkers of CHEAP WINE??? That would be INTOLERABLE!girls trip 2015-59

Despite these small worries, we made it to Asheville in good spirits, and as it happened, with several bottles of wine, chosen by moi, to share. Jane and Mary had  arrived first, and no doubt emboldened by imbibing some of their own wine, had boldly chosen the main bedroom for themselves. Was that OK with us, they asked. Certainly, the other three of us replied. We had carefully chosen a house with three private bedrooms and three private baths. There would be no turf wars here!girls trip 2015-2

girls trip 2015-3After deciding upon our sleeping arrangements we ventured down our mountain into downtown Asheville. Parking took awhile because each one of us had her own ideas about how and where to park, but eventually we were prowling the downtown streets with the efficiency of five disinterested cats. We approached restaurant after restaurant, read their menus and at least one of us would say, “Let’s keep walking.” “Let’s go here,” I suggested finally, winning the prize for having the first inspiration of the evening. We ducked into Zambra, which was reputed to have good tapas and drinks.

While waiting for a table, we gathered at the “confessional”. Enough said.girls trip 2015-82We each picked something to drink, I don’t recall what, and had a merry time until we were escorted to our lovely romantic table in the courtyard. girls trip 2015-87Dinner was a series of small plates. Everyone seemed satisfied  with their choices. We were a perfectly happy group of old ladies. Our trip was off to a capital start.

The next day we attended the The Big Crafty Fair, followed by dinner at the Tupelo Honey Cafe.

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They had me at AC!

girls trip 2015-85Or maybe not, because at some point we stopped in at the Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. Surveying the many nooks and crannies of the store I  could not help but wish my companions would indulge me in just one more game of hide and seek.

You know you could hide behind those chairs. And beyond them, a bookcase to the second floor!

You know you could hide behind those chairs. And beyond them, a bookcase to the second floor!

Oh well. I amused myself by taking pictures of my companions for a fictional dossier. I had to make use of all the scoop I’d had on these girls all these years!

Fact: They had more Barbie stuff than I did.

Fact: They had more Barbie stuff than I did. And they still wear matching outfits.

Fact: Her Mother used to buy Coke AND Koolaid! Lucky duck!

Fact: Her Mother used to buy Coke AND Koolaid! Lucky duck!

And our bill came in a Dr. Seuss book!

And our bill came in a Dr. Seuss book!

Monday we hit the River Arts District, where a couple of us found things we just had to have.

These ladies wanted to go home with Ellen.

These ladies wanted to go home with Ellen.

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Should we tell this man to use the inside facilities?

Should we tell this man to use the inside facilities?

We agreed.

We agreed.

This I found beautiful, but it was not for sale.

This I found beautiful, but it was not for sale.

The dossier continues. Fact: This little lady and her friend Sandra ate All the candy I had planned to serve at my slumber party, and had NO REMORSE!

The dossier continues. Fact: This little lady and her friend Sandra ate All the candy I had planned to serve at my slumber party, and had NO REMORSE!

Fact: I never even TOLD the other ladies that Ellen hung her footies to dry on the light fixture. That's loyalty.

Fact: I never even TOLD the other ladies that Ellen hung her footies to dry on the light fixture. That’s loyalty.

I’m thinking we stayed home that night and enjoyed some delicious vegetables from Ellen’s garden. girls trip 2015-51What was our dinner conversation? It was about how powerful we all are! We added up the combined years of our marriages, and of our motherhood. I can’t remember the numbers, but they were large! We marveled at how once upon a time we made pretend Barbie families, but now our lives were  completely real. Each one of us had buried a parent, tended sick family members, and faced personal disappointments. But dang it, here we were watching the sun set over the mountains, happy to be supporting one another.girls trip 2015-92girls trip 2015-57

Our feelings of power led to a rollicking game of “Catch Phrase” and I confess I have no pictures of that. Early Tuesday Gayle had to leave us because her mom was being released from the hospital. We were sad to see her go, but glad that she, as  the main caretaker of her elderly mother, had been able to join us at all. We knew how lucky we were.

After she left, Ellen tried to cheer us all up by suggesting we work a  “very easy” 250 piece  puzzle. Like the Little Red Hen, she started on it by herself and soon had it worked mostly all wrong. She thought maybe some puzzle pieces were missing, or that two puzzles were mixed up in the same box, but no..she had just done it wrong. It seemed that all the puzzle pieces were the same size and the same shape. Each piece held a word or a definition, and the two had to match correctly. Let me tell you, even the librarian among us did not know most of these vocabulary words. Eventually we all joined in the puzzle, each in our own way denouncing the mean spirited folks who could have invented such a deceptive device.

After a time we left the puzzle and went into town for some shopping and a Mediterranean lunch.girls trip 2015-89

But when we returned, there was the puzzle, mocking us silently. Thankfully Mary took the lead, gently insisting that Ellen move connected sections one piece at a time instead of brazenly shoving them across the table. I think the two of them made a good connection indeed.

Fact: I wouldn't have had the patience for this in 1968.

Fact: I wouldn’t have had the patience for this in 1968.

Finally, the thing was complete, and we could hit our normal old lady bedtimes with a sense of accomplishment. But first, a little more relaxing on the porch.girls trip 2015-96 The next morning we parted ways: Mary and Jane to Charlotte, Ellen and I to Winston Salem, where I would spend the night before returning  to Memphis.girls trip 2015-67Ellen’s husband had a lovely al fresco dinner waiting for us, and as we ate we reviewed the success of the first getaway of the Whiteway girls. We dreamed it, and we did it. All the coming year no matter what happens, we will savor our new memories. Any thoughts on where we should go next year?

A sad goodbye at the airport.

A sad goodbye at the airport.

Green Acres

I’m a  city girl. I come from a line of merchants and skilled workers. I don’t know how many generations I would have to go back to find an ancestor who lived off the land. I grew up in a subdivision which, though made from drained bottomland from Nonconnah Creek, gave no hint it had ever been connected to a rural landscape. The lawns were manicured by the Dads of the neighborhood. Plants other than grass were kept in flowerbeds where children were not allowed.

We knew that “the country” existed, because when we went to pick up the maids who worked for us from their sharecropper cabins we had to drive past fields of cotton. But food came from the store. There was no need to know how to grow it, thanks to advances in modern science.  Despite having no close family connection to farming, I always longed for the grounding feeling produced by growing  things. I remember once as a small child having a packet of morning glory seeds and planting them against my neighbor’s brick fence. I don’t even remember if they grew.

I have stayed a city girl, but I’ve tried to do my own bit of farming, with limited success. But guess what? A few years ago my daughter married someone who grew up on a real farm!  How exotic is that? I groaned with envy every time my daughter described her visits to the farm: so peaceful, so practical. And this year, thanks to the birth of my grandson, I too was invited to the B.’s ( the in-laws’) farm!

The farm is only a few hours’ drive from here, so when my daughter, son in law and grandson came to the farm from California, we made plans to horn in on their visit a little bit. My husband and I made reservations to stay at a cabin at a nearby winery where we hopefully would not be too much in the way. I knew I would get my hands on my precious grandson by hook or by crook but secretly I hoped also to see the farm.

When we arrived late on a Thursday, I was tired out from my previous adventure of keeping my five month old grand daughter for the past four nights. I suppose I didn’t feel like the best of sports when I realized our “cabin” was actually a duded up mobile home. untitled-146Luckily, a night’s uninterrupted sleep helped me appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. The little cabin turned out to meet our needs perfectly and the air-conditioning was SUPERB.

Evening at Shale Lake Winery

Evening at Shale Lake Winery

After exploring the winery grounds that morning farm 2015we headed to the farm with plans to see the baby. I didn’t get a lot of pictures, as he tends to be a moving target, but I did manage a few of my cutie:

With his

With his “practice” birthday cake

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Playing the piano after his bath

Playing the piano after his bath

On the swing with Mommy

On the swing with Mommy

On the Fourth of July I learned that my husband had boldly asked for  a tour of the farm.. How do I describe the farm? First of all, imagine a driveway that is one mile long!!!! The B.’s could never have unexpected human company; they could probably vacuum the whole house from the time they saw a car turning onto their property until it reached the house! The farm has been in the B. family for generations, and the current farmhouse was built in the 1960s. It is a working house, built with farm life in mind, with a  generous kitchen, a mudroom and a working shower in the basement for when you just shouldn’t be tramping up to the upstairs bathrooms. The dining room window frames the backyard pond. I love the idea of a home built to fit a lifestyle rather than having to make the home fit the people.

The old farmhouse which was later converted to a barn.

The old farmhouse which was later converted to a barn.

The B.s’ were ready to show us the farm, but first, they needed to fulfill the family tradition of taking their picture in the fields. We were delighted to tag  along, especially since that meant getting to sit on the back of a pickup truck and zoom around the farm! Yee hah! Fast times for a city girl!untitled-219

Next, we got a tour of the farm machinery. My husband was eager to know how everything worked. farm 2015-6Farmer B., it seems, is somewhat of a mechanical genius, able to keep old machines running, thereby keeping costs down.

In the combine!

In the combine!

But while my husband appreciated Farmer B.’s mechanical talents, I was busy admiring the shapes and textures in the barn.untitled-232

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Somehow the B.s are able to get their work accomplished despite all the intriguing shapes and colors. They are respectful stewards of the land and of all the creatures who live there.

Baby birds

Baby birds

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Hard working hands. Farmer B. doesn't sit still any more than  his grandson does.

Hard working hands. Farmer B. doesn’t sit still any more than his grandson does.

At lunchtime we returned to the house for what I am told is a typical farm lunch: roast, two kinds of potatoes, mixed vegetables, salad, berries, nuts, jello, mousse, and several kinds of cookies. Somehow Farmerette B. had whipped up this lunch in the middle of taking family pictures and keeping up with her grandson. And by the way she has no dishwasher!!!!  I already knew Farmerette B. to be a  human dynamo, but seeing the way she so effortlessly managed the household while at the same time  doing more than a fair share of the farm work gave me a new appreciation. These B.s are a very effective team!

After lunch it was time for a real farm experience: shooting a gun! Other than going with a high school boyfriend somewhere and trying to shoot at tin cans, I had never had the opportunity or reason to use a gun.  Farmer B. was a patient teacher, emphasizing the gun safety rules that all farm children are taught at an early age. Because guns are sometimes used on farms, he wanted us to know that our grandson would eventually have the opportunity to learn to shoot, and that it would be handled in a safe manner. He may not have realized he did not need to earn my trust; he already had it.untitled-195-2

And now there there was one more big fat farm treat! Tractor driving! Farmer B. revved up a big green tractor, and all of us city kids lined up for a chance to drive it. Before I knew it I was heading down a field with Farmer B. as my co-pilot, belting out the lyrics to “Green Acres.” When we had all driven the tractor, Farmer B. put it in reverse to return it to the barn. Next time I”M putting it in reverse. That looked and sounded awesome!farm 2015-19 All too soon it was time to return to our winery/mobile home. As an added bonus our daughter, son in law and grandson joined us for the night. Micah enjoyed taking a thorough turn through the accommodations.farm 2015-3

Here I am sporting my Walmart pajamas on my mobile home porch. I'm starting to acclimate to country life.

Here I am sporting my Walmart pajamas on my mobile home porch. I’m starting to acclimate to country life.

As always, travel, especially to a new place, causes me to reflect on the beautiful diversity of life. What must it feel like to pass each day overlooking the same fields my parents looked at each day? What must it be like to be able to walk right outside my door and know that all the richness of the surrounding land is mine to tend? How must it feel to spend my days connected to the land, attuned to every small change in the atmosphere, and to be able to watch the sun, unobstructed by buildings, set each evening as though it were performing just for me?

I am sure out of ignorance I am leaving out many hard parts of farming, but to me the way of life seems authentic, sacred even. No wonder the B.s are such peaceful folk. I wonder about myself. Am I a city girl simply because that is where I was born? Could I adapt to a life like the B.s? It’s fun to dream, even though I would probably be no more effective as a farmer than Oliver Wendell Douglas on Green Acres. But I can tell you one thing: I can already drive a tractor!untitled-190

Museums In Progress

There she was, approaching my gate in the Atlanta airport, a stylish vision, decked out in a turquoise top, carrying a pumpkin colored purse, wearing red shoes and lugging a heavy purple carryon. She was on her way to Europe for the first time, and neutral was nowhere in her color scheme. One could say she was an exhibit of a colorful, exuberant traveler. Finally, after much planning and scheming, my sister Ellen was going to accompany me to Amsterdam.

Two intrepid travelers

Two intrepid travelers

Because my husband has business in Amsterdam, I have been fortunate enough to accompany him to that lovely city many times. Amsterdam May 2015-58Typically we travel there on a Friday, arrive Saturday and have the weekend to explore before he goes to work Monday through Wednesday. I have never had any trouble amusing myself while he worked, but I often thought how wonderful it would be to show someone around the city, someone who would love it as much as I did. Someone like my sister.Amsterdam May 2015-3

We had no reservations about whether we would travel well together,  meaning we knew we would not interfere with one another’s reading, nor would either of suggest tacky tourist activities.  Ellen did later voice a secret fear that I might rush her through the museums, as I had been to them before. Although to me museums are there to be visited over and over again, I also secretly feared I might experience a feeling of let down if I did not also find something to do that was new to me. I decided to take my role as a tour guide one day at a time, and adjust our plans as needed so that we both felt satisfied.

And lo, with a sidekick to amuse me while my husband worked, all became new in Amsterdam. To my delight, every single place I took my sister had changed to some degree since last I went. What bliss  it was to spend my days with someone who “museums” the way I do. I would call my museum style slow and careful, yet humane, meaning that I read everything I want to read but I don’t overwhelm myself. I’m happy to immerse myself in exhibits and lose all track of time, but I’m not compulsive about seeing everything the museum may have on offer.

In five days we girls museumed ourselves through the Anne Frank House, The Dutch Resistance Museum, the Amsterdam Museum, The Church of Our Lord In The Attic, The Van Gogh Museum, The Stejdelik, and the Rijksmuseum.

The Rijksmuseum. Don't even try to see it in one day. Even with the audio tour, you'll get lost.

The Rijksmuseum. Don’t even try to see it in one day. Even with the audio tour, you’ll get lost.

The Stedeljik had a lovely Matisse exhibit.

The Stedelijk had a lovely Matisse exhibit.

We were fortunate enough to avoid long lines at the Anne Frank House, as we went late in the day, after being the last people out of the Amsterdam Museum.

She took her time in the museum.

She took her time in the museum.

My fears of feeling bored or let down proved groundless, as did Ellen’s fears of being rushed. I was just as riveted by the exhibits as she was. Here we were, two ladies who try to live meaningful lives, reading about how others had spent theirs. Our daytime hours were spent touring carefully curated rooms, and our evenings were spent  gloriously debriefing. Over dinner we would pose question after question to one another about the city’s history and its development, for each of us is endlessly interested in the daily lives of others. Our questions really had no answers, but we just loved to share  ideas.

Deep, philosophical discussions after a day at the museums.

Deep, philosophical discussions after a day at the museums.

Of all we discussed what we kept coming back to was the value of self expression.  Again and again we had seen and read about examples of how ordinary people dealt with extraordinary conditions using what they could, never knowing how their works would one day inspire others. Some, wrote, some painted, some made needlework,some designed fashions, some composed music, but no matter the medium, they all used art to try to make meaning out of their lives. We marveled at how creativity was used to resist tyranny, to celebrate life, to save lives, or simply to endure.

Protesting Hitler and The Third Reich

Protesting Hitler and The Third Reich

A journal of the Occupation

A journal of the Occupation

A church built in an attic...that's creative!

A church built in an attic…that’s creative!

Sewing in an Indonesian prisoner of war camp.

Sewing in an Indonesian prisoner of war camp.

And of course, Van Gogh had his struggles.

And of course, Van Gogh had his struggles.

And sometimes it's just fun to make things!

And sometimes it’s just fun to make things!

Most of us will never have articles from our lives on display behind a glass case at a museum, but what if we knew they were going to be? What creation of mine would I donate as representative of the way I have lived my life? What would I write on the little placard beside my exhibit about how writing this, or painting that, or capturing an image  with a camera helped me deal with problems unique to my time of life?

I am sure that my sister and I would qualify for some sort of nerd exhibit, in that we spent most of our waking hours poring over artifacts inside museums, while outside the most liberal city in the world was vibrating with life.

Plus, my sister was the only bare legged woman in Amsterdam, a museum worthy contribution.

Plus, my sister was the only bare legged woman in Amsterdam, a museum worthy contribution.

But aren’t we all, as we make our way through life, cataloguing and curating our own little museums, filled with our own memories and hopefully, our creative efforts? In my own collection of life memories, I am so pleased to be able to add my experiences with my  sister, the colorful traveler, in Amsterdam, to see the city through her eyes, to revisit old haunts, and to enjoy being together.  Luckily, my museum is open at all hours, and I have a lifetime membership.

It's always beautiful, and always thought provoking.

It’s always beautiful, and always thought provoking.

Knitting Dreams

Have you ever looked closely at that sweater you’re wearing, into the weave of stitches? Your sweater used to be skeins of yarn, which used to be bundles of roving, and before that, used to warm the backs of sheep grazing on a hill somewhere. A sweater is knit one stitch at a time. Loops of yarn form interlocking stitches. Stitches make rows, and in time those rows take on the shape of a garment.

I don’t know if yarn can talk, but I like to imagine that as it is knit together, each loop encourages the others to stay connected, but to flex when necessary, because in the end they must all work together to form something that has never been made before.

And then  there are the humans who knit the yarn. To envision a finished project,  to choose or design a pattern, to  be willing to join thousands of loops of yarn together into stitches and eventually into a garment takes a certain amount of risk. Knowing what the proper materials are is a job in itself. What if one chooses the wrong yarn, and one’s garment has the drape of a cement block? What if one does not adequately understand the directions, and one’s project resembles a long sleeved bra more than the sweater it was supposed to be? What if it is expensive? What if no one appreciates the hours of work and attention that went into the scarves one gave for Christmas gifts? Knitters perservere despite the risks, for the rewards are great.

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Dreams come to life in much the same way. All our lives we entertain mental pictures of what  we would like to do or make. So many times we have ideas, but get stuck in the wishing- we could- do- something- but- unfortunately- we- just- can’t- stage. But then there are those of us  who know what we want and are willing to gather the materials and to do  the work one single task at a time, investing emotionally and financially in an uncertain outcome.

Thanks to several stellar Memphis  knitters doing just that, I had the opportunity  this past weekend to participate in the inaugural annual Tenntucky Knitting Retreat at Lake Barkley, Kentucky. Three  remarkable people,  Ann, Joseph, and Rachel, saw a a creative black hole in our community and worked for a year to fill it.

I know this story because once upon a time I took a risk and showed up for a weekly knitting night, organized by the three above mentioned knitters, at a local restaurant. Let me say right now that although my knitting skills are literally laughable, I wanted to know other knitters. I wanted to feel the sense of community that comes from a gathering of folks looping yarn together one stitch at a time.

Despite my lack of skills, I was welcomed by a small group of knitters: older, younger, all more experienced then I was.  No matter what silly mistakes I had made, I knew I could ask someone at the table for help. Though I could not help anyone in return, I satisfied myself that at least my knitting foibles added some humor to the gathering. Over time I came to feel accepted for who I was, not for what I knew how to do.

With my clever listening skills  I learned that the organizers of the knit night had bigger goals in mind. They were going to organize an area  knitting retreat ALL BY THEMSELVES, and they had never done it before. Since this  Magpie is especially interested in big ideas and in what people can accomplish as a team, I was vicariously thrilled each time the Tenntucky Board accomplished another milestone in project planning.

Spots were filling quickly for the retreat. Surely I was coming,  the organizers said. Moi?asked I. I can barely knit! But as I was assured that all levels were welcomed I decided to take the plunge, and invited my sister to accompany me. Maybe, I pondered shrewdly,  HER knitting skills would prove as backward as mine, and I would not be the anomaly at the retreat.

This past Friday evening approximately fifty knitters from several states checked in to the lovely Lake Barkley Lodge.

Source: KentuckyLake.com

Source: KentuckyLake.com

And so began a magical weekend which  included restful views, pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-30  opportunities to commune with nature,pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-7

time to reflect,

One with nature, even in windy weather.

One with nature, even in windy weather.

plentiful food, friendly staff, informative classes, and color, color, color.pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-34

How delightful it was that our organizers  had thought of everything! All of their advance  planning, networking and plain old elbow grease came together just like a well knit sweater. I remembered snippets of conversation about vendors, goodie bags and the like. Now I would  benefit from the fruits of their labor.

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And the knitters? If you did not already know this, knitters are special people. They’re friendly and welcoming. They want you to sit for a spell and knit up a few stitches and share a story or two, or even sit in companionable silence.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-39 Having never been to a knitting retreat I was unprepared for the exquisite l hand knit items worn by my fellow retreatants.  I asked if I could take pictures of their stunning work and they all said yes.That’s how special knitters are! Take a look:

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pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-19pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-21pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-2pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-4I CAN’T STOP!!!
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pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-20pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-11Whom did we meet? Why we met Kelly, who makes her own earrings out of knitting needles. And her brother, who surprised her with the gift of this retreat! We met Jo, who is studying to become a master knitter. We met Charlotte who didn’t learn to knit until after the age of 60. Charlotte wore a skirt she had knitted herself, by the way. We met the Haus of Yarn vendor who stayed up late Saturday night to felt our knitted slippers. No comment on mine, bet here are my sister’s:

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)I didn’t get a chance to meet everyone but I feel as though I did; that’s just the community vibe that exists among knitters.

On Saturday my sister and I took a gauge class and a crochet class.

Sadly I did not have the prerequisite skill  for the  crochet class, which was knowing how to crochet. Oops! Someone helped me anyway!

Sadly I did not have the prerequisite for the class, which was knowing how to crochet. Oops! Someone helped me anyway!

One of the teachers evidently knew  me, for she used phrases such as “the difference between homemade and handmade’, and mentioned how it feels to give disclaimers along with our knitted gifts. Here is  your sweater, Uncle Alvin. Just don’t turn around while wearing it.

After the classes were over we met for a rousing game of Last Knitter Standing.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-24Full disclosure compels me to say that my sister’s and my singing during timed knitting contests did not help anyone at our table to win. Anyone for a couple of verses of “Twist and Shout?”

Lake Barkley is one of those places where the whole time you are there you are planning your return visit, for there is more to do there than can be done in one weekend.  Every chance we got we sat in rockers on our balcony, gazing at the water and taking in the deep calming sounds of the natural world.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-28pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-32We just didn’t have time to do everything Lake Barkley  has to offer.  But we did manage to fit in some ping pong and pinball down in the rec room.

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Too soon it was Sunday and time to go. But not before we shopped with the vendors who had kindly visited us. Knitters patiently waited their chance to run their hands over luscious hanks of yarn and choose their own patterns.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-35pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-36As we drove away we exulted in the success of the weekend. From door prizes to pencils on the tables to write down gauge measurements, our organizers gave great attention to detail and it showed. Packed in the back of the car were our goodie bags full of free patterns, needles, and yarn. Some participants went home with stunning door prizes.We were inspired by what we had seen other knitters doing, and eager to improve our own knitting. pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-37

Our hearts were full of gratitude to the organizers  for having the wherewithal to do what many may dream about but never accomplish. How did this trio manage to put on this amazing weekend? I don’t have the slightest idea, but I suspect they did it together, one painstaking step at a time, connecting and bending as necessary, to form something that had never been done before.

P. S. : They’ve set the date for next year. Interested? Check out Tenntucky on Ravelry or contact Joseph at ACallToYarns. I don’t think he’ll mind my giving out his contact info. Knitters are neighborly like that.

Memphis Is More

To hear some Memphians talk, our city has already arrived via hand basket at a very hot place. Whenever  a violent  or undesirable event takes place, the hand basket crowd sees nothing good about our  community. It’s THOSE  people, they say. Those all- bad people who  make Memphis a hopelessly inferior all- crime- all -the -time- place where no citizen can ever be safe.  Make sweeping generalizations much?

Recently there was another deplorable incident  in Memphis. A large group of teens attacked some people at random in a grocery store parking lot. Of course this is bad news. The behavior of the teens was unacceptable. Eleven persons were arrested, and will hopefully make appropriate amends for their crimes.

In the wake of such an occurrence, what is a person to do? A  first impulse may be to harden one’s heart, and to add to the suffering with pejorative remarks about our citizens and city administration. But  negative talk does not solve problems. The social ills which contribute to violent crimes are way too complex for simple solutions. I do not claim to have the answers, but I know  Memphis is more than crime,  hatred, and judgement. I know that Memphis is also friendly, kind, and quirky, just like that relative you all have that everyone agrees is a “character”.

As an individual I try not to harden my heart against the perpetrators, their families, and the trash talkers, and ponder what more I  can do to make Memphis a better place. I am not the only one to take this stance, as evidenced by the “Love Mob” that gathered a few days after the incident in the grocery parking lot. The “Mob’s” purpose was to express their support for the victims but also to display their love for Memphis, most of whose citizens are hard working law abiding people.

I had all this in my mind last weekend when I set out for the annual Cooper Young Festival. After all the negative press and hateful talk around the city, how would Memphis rebound? Would this last round of senseless violence render us unable to come together, unable to mourn our losses and heal our wounds?

I set out early Saturday morning for the one day neighborhood festival. The weather had become cool, causing me to walk briskly from my condo to the festival to warm up, as I had worn a thin shirt with no jacket.DSC_0037

And there was the festival, my old friend, with its music, food, and family activities, just getting underway. I was glad to know Memphis had such a welcoming event planned.

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Here was my favorite junk shopping booth. I  bought two items here which I cannot show because they are gifts. May I leave my items here and pick them up on my way out, I asked the saleslady. In typical Memphis fashion, the answer was of course you may. We’ll remember you.

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Next was the vintage clothing booth. I needed to stop  in there to buy something to wear because I was cold! After I picked out this highly appropriate sweater, I stayed to help two young African American ladies pick out a jacket.

DSC_1731I think they appreciated my taste.

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And speaking of cold, these two young men were freezing over their water bottle concession stand.  For the price of a bottle of water, they agreed to pose. And since there has been a lot of talk about poorly behaved youth, let me say that giving them the price of a bottle of water was my idea. I am sure they would have posed without it, but they were here to make money.

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In just a few minutes I fell into a comfortable stride at the festival. With my companion I wandered in and out of booths, shopping, listening, and feeling the vibe of my fellow festival goers.  I didn’t always buy, but maybe I should have.

Why did I pass you up?

Why did I pass you up?

 

Do you need your own original poem?

Do you need your own original poem?

And here was The House of Mews, Cat rescue organization, where a volunteer induced Spice to pose for me.DSC_0051

Then the Choose 901 booth, full of Memphis-proud items.

DSC_0052I paused at one booth and renewed my membership to the Memphis Heritage  Society, where the director took the time to speak with me about some ongoing projects. After all this meandering, I found I needed to stop for refreshment at Growler’s, a beer tasting garden that was not open this time last year.

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From our spot at the window we could watch the crowds which were now streaming in – folks in costumes, families, couples, all mingling and having fun. Yes, this is Memphis.

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DSC_0072Next we stopped into Celtic Crossing for some lunch. The hostess showed us to a table beside a loud beer truck, but cheerfully moved us when we objected. We sat on a back patio, enjoying a sandwich while people watching. Across from me several young woman were lunching. I approached their table. “Excuse me dear, but your purse is on the ground behind you; I didn’t think you would want it there.” Grateful, she scooped her purse up. It felt good to be helpful to someone.

I must share that if I drink beer it is best for me to have food with it. Since Growler has no food, I was in just the right shape to accidentally call our male server “ma’am.” But he let it roll off his back, even as he was run right off his feet serving the patio crowd.

Back on the street, I  was able to resist the enticing aromas of the food trucks, as I had already had a sandwich.

DSC_0055 The crowds were gathering to listen to the music on several stages. I heard the Memphis Brass Band playing, but couldn’t get very close through the dense thicket of people. Taking pictures was becoming more  difficult, so for some time I gave that up and simply flowed on with everyone else.

DSC_0059Spying Goner Records, I made a beeline to their one dollar album display. Guess what I found? YEEEES!  Jeanne C. Riley’s Harper Valley P.T.A. !  I was thrilled because one of my biggest problems when I was taking care of my new grandson was that I couldn’t remember the words to this priceless tune. What kind of grandmother can’t sing “Harper Valley P.T.A.? But… oh no, there was no record inside the sleeve. I  marched right  inside the store and explained my whole sad predicament to a very nice clerk who came out from around the counter and found me a copy of Jeanne C. Reilly’s Greatest Hits. Crisis averted. And he threw in the empty album cover for free.IMG_3017

Having come early, we were ready to make our exit. We would have stayed longer but we had a commitment for later in the day. We won’t make that mistake next year. On the way out we stopped for my two gifts, still safely held by the ladies at the booth. They were a little thrown off by my new sweater, but they remembered my  red hair.

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Turning off Central onto Cox, I heard someone call my name. Oh, what delight for my feet! It was a neighbor from a zero lot line close to our condo, offering us a ride home. We squooshed ourselves straight into her back seat. Could she come in and see our condo? Well, not today because her husband was waiting on her, but on another day, certainly.

We got upstairs and I put up my poor little feet. I mused upon how almost every single person I had come across had been welcoming and willing to go beyond just the basics in service or compassion. Memphis has social problems, no doubt. I would never be so naive as to try to sweep poverty, crime, and an uneducated populace under the rug. But I felt encouraged by what I had seen and felt at the Cooper Young. Just as I thought, Memphis is more. More friendliness, more diversity, more hospitality, more hope.

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Optimistic much?