Sunday, October 31, 2010


I don't think we come to understand the true value of friendships (or who is truly a good friend) until we've hit the 40s. I just turned 49 and realize that, while I have a lot of acquaintances, I can count my closest friends with one hand and still have fingers left.

Friendships and birthdays are related for me because, since I was young, my parents would have me invite my friends so they could join us for pizza on my day of celebration. My best friend in high school, a friend of 30+ years now, would joke that he was always the one constant every year at those dinners. On my 15th birthday, my father said I could invite 15 friends to a nice restaurant, and the menu, signed by all those who attended, is stashed in a memory box somewhere in my basement. The following year, only my one friend was a repeat among the smaller group I invited to celebrate then.

His friendship always meant a lot to me and it survived my going away to college and medical school for him and graduate school for me again and again. But when we both got involved with our life partners, it gradually stopped being what it had been and became more a lovely memory of how close two people can be even when they are "just friends."

These days, I am still blessed with good friends, but unlike when I was in high school and hung out mostly with a pack of boys, I have mostly women friends now (except for my beloved husband). Of course, these relationships aren't the same as those I had when I was younger, especially because each of us has very busy lives or we live miles and miles apart so it's hard to find and make the time to connect. But they are just as treasured, if not more so.

Last night, a couple of friends invited us to their house for a lovely dinner and they surprised me with this coat for Chiquita, which is just what I was looking for but hadn't found. It was my birthday present from them and it was perfect. It should help Chiquita better handle the upcoming winter, which is just around the corner.

What I know now, which I didn't know so much when I was younger (perhaps even into my early 40s), is that it's not important to have many friends or even a constant group of friends. What is so important is to have a few friends, as I do now, who are loving and appreciative and make me feel that I matter to them and who give friendship in equal measure to the one they receive from me. That is a blessing to be deeply thankful for, as this year begins my journey toward the half century of life.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Little daily blessings

The ability to find the little daily blessings is a skill that I try to work on a lot these days, even while I deal with the eternal crabbiness of impending menopause. I've never been a patient person, but at this age, as I near 49, patience is a highly priced commodity in my life. That's why I love quilting, because it forces me to be patient.

Having five animals, while not generally contributing to the patience department since they all have their quirks and needs and decidedly maddening traits, also forces me to try to be more patient since animals, especially dogs, are keenly attuned to non-verbal cues, and Chiquita, as a Chihuahua, is extremely sensitive to any cross look or pose or tone.

Hamlet, on the other hand, is pretty much inured and immune to anything that doesn't suit his mood. These days, he's mostly going out the back door to come around to the front of the house, looking for the raccoon that he tousled with a few weeks' back, and then begging to be let in so he can repeat the routine again. Talk about cultivating patience when you become a door-woman for a cat.

More recently, he's decided that if he hides below the bird bath, perhaps a clueless bird will miss his girth and blackness and his very loud bell (his collar snaps off so that he can't get in trouble if it gets caught), and actually become his prey. We could think of Hamlet as hopeful, but I prefer to suggest that his IQ isn't very impressive in cat (or any other) terms.

My husband often says: "I had a fish," when we begin conversations about how frustrating (and expensive!!) life with five animals can be. And he's right. When I met him, my husband had a goldfish named Aureliano, who eventually died. When I suggested I'd replace the fish, my then-husband-to-be adamantly refused.

In marrying me, his life got a lot more complicated, first with two cats, then one dog, then another cat who adopted us, then another dog who adopted us, then only two dogs when the two old cats died, but then there was a new cat and then another when we moved to Ohio and then the two old dogs died and there was one new dog and then Hamlet and then Chiquita.

But, as challenging as it can be, I guess that "raising" five creatures is a lot like motherhood. There are many difficulties and low points and times when I wish I'd never had any of them, or that I could give them back, but, ultimately, the devotion they offer and the laughs they give are part of those little blessings of life that sometimes make a hard day more bearable and a good day even better.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Neatly Poe-esque

(The bright moon tonight shining behind the dark battlements of a quirky college building made for a perfect pre-Halloween and nicely Poe-esque shot, and I was glad to have my camera with me for a change. The crows are actually statues? sculptures? on top of the building named after a famous poet and literary theorist.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Piecing ends

Last Thursday, I sewed the inner border of the quilt (the black border) during class time and the homework was to sew, at home, the outer border (the fall print fabric I picked out first when I initially conceived of what will soon become a wall hanging).

Earlier today, I finished my homework and am pleased with the results. This coming week, we'll do the binding and maybe the actual quilting (today I also bought my "walking foot" for that purpose -- I have to say I love these quilting terms!).

When I did my first outer border strip, I somehow didn't piece it right and ended up having to do the "frog stitch" (as the Mom of Dr. S, an accomplished quilter, told me it's called): rip it, rip it rip it! It's amazing what an exercise in patience it is to rip the tiny seams of a quilted piece. But I need to cultivate that virtue so I just did it and paid more attention the second time around.

Not only is my small quilt coming along, but yesterday I also placed my pre-tenure review materials on reserve in the library and in a box (with color-coded folders!) in my department's secure closet. While my actual review doesn't start until January (since I'm on leave this fall), I wanted my colleagues to have access to the materials earlier, rather than later, so that those who want to work ahead of the deadline can do so.

This is also the completion of my 49th year, which I will celebrate on October 29th, with my mami (who arrives tomorrow!!) and my husband. I have decided that for my 50th birthday I will come up with some big shindig (perhaps even a restorative trip to the Red Mountain Spa, where I've been wanting to go for years). We'll see.

For now, I'm thankful for the way that endings become beginnings and beginnings signal endings. As my favorite month, October, comes to a close, along with these other projects, different ones await (perhaps even a winter quilt?).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Blessed with fall beauty

On a recent fall walk, my husband took these lovely photos. It is a blessing to live in a such a beautiful place.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The most beautiful day of fall

My husband went out on the bike and took these pictures this afternoon. This was, without a doubt, the most beautiful day around here this fall.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Finished with blocks

Finishing the first stage of the quilted wall hanging, after doing all the cutting and piecing, and most of the pinning, and all the sewing myself on my abuela's rusty-but-still-trusty old Singer gives me a wonderful sense of accomplishment, even when (and probably because) the quilt is full of imperfections.

Quilting is an exercise in patience, something I've always been short on. But having to pin precisely and then, often, having to rip seams apart because I've made a mistake definitely cultivates focus and a commitment to do the best job possible without allowing my compulsively perfectionist side to take over.

Today, I went to a make-up class since I'll be missing one session while my mami is here visiting in a few weeks, so I was able to catch up with all the sewing. However, once I finished the face of the quilt, so to speak, my teacher and I noticed that I'd sewn the upper right hand larger block of four squares the wrong way. The purple was supposed to be where it is now, in the uppermost right-hand corner, and the block with black squares was supposed to be next to the red friendship star. The teacher said I could leave it the way it was but I decided that, when I got home, I would rip the seams (something I've gotten really good at), pin it very carefully, and sew it again the right way.

That's what I just did tonight and the face of the wall hanging quilt we're making is now done. Next Thursday, we'll move on to the borders and the quilt will be nearly completed, to be finished probably on the day before my 49th birthday.

Getting this done, and having it look not half bad, has given me great encouragement to pursue the bedspread quilt that I've made a deposit to purchase the kit for. Once I'm done with this project, and before the semester begins in January, I'm going to start my larger quilt and see how that does.

I really enjoy quilting, even more than I imagined I would when I decided I wanted to give it a try two years ago. I think I can sense my abuela smiling because, while she was not a quilter, she always wanted me to have her sewing machine, even when I hadn't sewn a thing since she had put me through sewing classes when I was a little girl. She must have known that I had it in me all along.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Coming along

There has not been much time for the past week to do much quilting (what with my sister and niece visiting so we could all go see "Legally Blond - The Musical" and then having to take Magellan back to the vet and then going in to Columbus today for several errands and then returning for meetings led by Dr. S about how to better teach writing) but this was the status of the fall quilt project last Thursday, before we learned to make "flying geese." (I don't have those finished so there's no update on those yet.)

The "friendship star" to the far right corner didn't pass muster with my demanding quilting teachers, so that's going to get scrapped for a better star that I plan to finish tomorrow. I'll also have to finish my two "flying geese" so that the blocks for the quilt will be completed and I can learn how to put these together and then frame the blocks with my chosen background fabric.

From this perspective, the quilt looks a lot less fall-ish (read: less burnt oranges, reds and yellows) than I'd envisioned but we'll just have to see what emerges once the blocks sit against their background (the fabric that frames the purple friendship star). I'm looking forward to seeing it all finished in the next few weeks, and I plan to register for a second beginner's quilting class although I doubt that I'll have any time for quilting next semester since I'll be fully back on the job AND being reviewed for pre-tenure purposes. (Plus, I'll be teaching on the day and time that this semester's quilting class has been offered.)

For now, I'm really glad I'm taking the class and the patience that I have to exercise each time I have to rip apart a seam (and it is very often in my case!) is truly surprising and gives me hope that I'm not hopelessly impatient and short-tempered.

As an early birthday present (I turn 49 years old before this month is over), Dr. S gave me an online "course" to develop courage and gratitude, and to learn to "consume hope." It sounds intriguing and today's message was: "No One Belongs Here More Than You. Take Your Place Now," which seemed eerie given that, after my father's death this summer and after a few frustrating developments both personal and professional, I've started wondering where I belong, exactly.

I look forward to doing the course and seeing where that road of discovery takes me, and, in a similar way, I look forward to discovering the quilt that will emerge from my efforts this semester, before my life is, once again, taken over by that other kind of work, the one that gives me a living.