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A Barn Dance, Kinda’

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Barn1

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Today The Engineer took me out behind the barn -
Okay, he took me over TO the barn,
where we hung In Our Own Language #1

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and In Our Own Language #2.

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It is the first time I’ve seen
all three panels of
In Our Own Language #1 hung together,
and it is the first time I’ve seen
In Our Own Language #2 at all
because our ceilings are quite low
and we don’t even have enough floor space
for me to spread it out on the floor and
climb in a chair for a look.

A neighbor came by to see what we were doing
and declared the cloths “pretty”.
It was obvious he was eager
to get back to playing on
his new toy: the cutest little backhoe you ever saw.

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In Our Own Language #1 is Nancy’s first set of drawings.

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She drew them in June 2012.

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There are 167 drawings in set 1.

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In Our Own Language #2 is her second set of drawings

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created in August 2012.

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There are 454 drawings in set 2.

It was quite thrilling, really.

From Cover to Cover (Which is Not to be Confused with From Sea to Shining Sea)

My souvenir from The Grassroots Art Gallery in Lucas, Kansas (I’ll tell you more about that another day) was this altered book created by Luanne Howell.

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I have long loved altered books . . . and never given myself time, space, or permission to create one.

Until now.

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This morning was the annual library used book sale where you fill boxes, bags, buckets with books then just make a donation on your way out. I caught myself reading book flaps to see what I thought about the book, then I wondered why it mattered, given that it’s all donation-based.

Oh, all these aren’t mine, silly. There were four of us, and this is our collective loot.

These are the jewels I adopted:

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Some I’ll read; others I’ll alter while The Engineer (who filled three boxes) is busy reading. My selection criteria for books to alter was (1) hardback and (2) fetching book covers. I only picked up hardback books with fetching covers, and the kinda’ amazing thing? The books with the interesting covers were all fiction books about Southern women. Ha.

It feels rather sacrilegious to alter books. And I also hear the stern voice on my committee scoffing at how I can’t stick to one thing and how I should be stitching and asking what I’m going to do with them anyway. You know the kind of stuff he barks at me. I think it’s time to stop that nonsense voice, so I choose to follow the soft whisper of my wise woman who says simply “Do it.”

And I’ll no doubt be inspired by Susan Lenz’s altered books.

I even have an idea for a way to alter the perennially popular Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Hint: The title will become “Gift from Nancy.” Gift from the Sea . . . Gift from Nancy . . . Get it? Maybe you have to say it aloud. Or just stay tuned cause you know I’ll keep you posted.

communion 10

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today, while the engineer tied knots
(i’m always impressed with all the things he learned
while under the tutelage of the Boy Scouts and his dad)
so our daughter and her friend could do this:

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and i could ride around and feast on this:

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and, this,

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(which is an art installation, if you ask me
’cause i just have a thing for fabric
fluttering in the breeze)
i tied my own knot.
well, knots, actually
several of them,
taking Communion 10 from this:

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to this:

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when lisa call saw the “before”,
she said she kept wanting to
pull the blue swath down.
rather than remove all those french knots,
i decided to add a piece of blue,
and now it feels more balanced.
anchored.
complete.

~~~~~~~

the Communion series
is a selection of
non-representational representations
of conversations with my
developmentally disabled
sister-in-law, nancy.

It’s Not That They’re Not Cute, but . . .

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I’d just never make a good hamster, running around on that same wheel day in and day out. Living in that well-lit but tiny little castle. No lists of things to mark through to make me feel productive, like I’ve accomplished something. I’d be cranky, real, real cranky.

So when I’m stitching one of the In Our Own Language pieces – the series in which I stitch every single one of Nancy’s drawings* – I create a system or risk shopping for sales of bales of cedar shavings to stuff in my pillowcase and socks.

There were 167 drawings in In Our Own Language 1; 454 in In Our Own Language 2; and 271 in In Our Own Language 3 (I’m currently working on IOOL 3). Now it’s true that 271 sounds like not so much after stitching 454, but I get discouraged rather quickly. I need traction, so here’s what I do:

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I divided the drawings into groups of 50, putting each group into a separate envelope. Manageable milestones, you know. Markers. Attainable bites of the elephant. Then I set a goal of stitching a minimum of 25 drawings each week**, and I track my progress by logging the date and the numbers on the envelope. I also note the time spent stitching so I can estimate how long it takes me to stitch each drawing – that’s just for my own interest. And to maybe offer as bonus points on any pop quiz I toss out. I’m bad to do pop quizzes.

So now you have it: Jeanne’s Anti-Hamster System. Maybe tomorrow I’ll tell you a bedtime story about the actual stitching. Or maybe I’ll just bring you a glass of warm milk. We’ll see.

~~~~~~~

* Nancy is my 54 year old developmentally disabled sister-in-law. Every time we visit Nancy, she draws, and I bring home those drawings and stitch each drawing in the set, then each set becomes a cloth in the In Our Own Language series. Said another way: she draws, I stitch, we collaborate.

** I can usually stitch more than 25 in a week (even when traveling), but I don’t want to set myself up to fail, so I shoot in the medium range and treat it like I do my walking: my official goal is 10k steps a day, but my actual, unpublished (till now, anyway) goal is 12,500 steps/day. Why don’t I change the goal to 12,500, you might ask. Because I’m a sucker for the “You’re such an overachiever, Jeanne” messages my fitbit sends when I get over 10k steps.

communion #13 takes the stage

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according to merriam-webster.com, communion means:

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. . . a close relationship with someone or something

. . . an act of sharing

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. . . intimate fellowship and rapport

. . . a friendly relationship marked by harmony

this is the 13th in a series i dubbed Communion.
each piece is a visual non-representational representation of what a conversation with nancy is like.

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“accord” is a synonym for “communion”, and it means to give to someone or something.
It is a middle english word that found its way into being from the latin word for heart.

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this series keeps me sane because i can start and finish in less than one week (i’m the poster girl for accomplishment-oriented folk) and because i get to grapple. trust me when i tell you that every conversation with nancy involves grappling.
grappling is good for the soul.

Coloring My World (Outside the Lines) With Brilliant and Vibrant Goodness for Forty-one Years (And Counting)

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(Andy, less than a month after we met. I asked him to hold my birthday cake so I could take a picture of it.)
(Honestly, it’s a wonder the cake even made it in the photo
cause all I really wanted was a picture of HIM.
I’d known him 18 days at this point in time,
and already I knew I loved him with my whole heart.)
(And then some.)

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(Alison, Andy, and Kipp)

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(Kipp, Andy, and Alison at Sliding Rock in NC.)
(He told them about sliding down the wet boulders, but he kinda’ “forgot” to mention how cold the water is in the pool at the bottom.)

Dear Andy,
For the way you . . .

  • continue to hold my hand after 42 years
  • drive me to workshops
  • never fuss (at least not on the outside) about how much something costs if it makes me smile
  • laugh at things I say
  • sing along with me (this is not a metaphor)
  • walk closest to the street on sidewalks
  • open doors for me as an act of consideration and respect, not from a place of condescension
  • find us the most remarkable places to live
  • continue to rouse and rally the butterflies in my stomach with your kiss
  • see my strengths and abilities when I can’t or don’t
  • sharing my love of quirky and odd. (It makes life so much easier.)
  • encourage and support me towards self-determined life (even though so many times it would undoubtedly be easier not to)
  • love Nancy so openly and tenderly and share her with me so willingly
  • never had a business meeting more important than your child’s soccer game
  • never once were too tired to attend a performance
  • gave piggyback rides till they were tired instead of till you were tired
  • worked two and sometimes three jobs so I could stay home as a full-time mother and find outlets for the kids to explore their varied interests and become their best, most creative selves
  • drove home from the office, picked us up, then drove us back to wherever the kids needed to go just so we could have extra together time in the car
  • use your creativity so brilliantly and profitably, always crafting situations where everybody is satisfied
  • continue to show our children what a real, honorable, good man looks like, sounds like, acts like – not just occasionally or when things are going swell, but every minute of every day through every smile and tear . . .

Thank you.

I couldn’t’ve found a better husband
or a better dad for our children
if I’d had a million years to look.

Happy Father’s Day.

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(Kipp, Andy, Alison)

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(Nancy and Andy, 1999)

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(Andy, Alison, and Kipp)

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(Andy at the Grand Canyon.)
(Let it not escape your notice that I stopped him before he backed out over the edge.)

The Same . . . But Different

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(Above photos of kantha stitching by Dorothy Caldwell herself, used here with permission)

Dorothy told us about the women of Bihar, India and how they were under cultural house arrest until one day they decided to go outside and talk to each other about their stitching. The men were nervous – very nervous – until they began to hear the whispers of ka-ching, ka-ching. Once the women huddled-up, they set about changing their lives, their families’ lives, their future’s lives.

For example, knowing that the dwindling profits from fishing were dwindling, they came up with a solution and every day for three months, the women entered the river and pulled the overgrown plants by hand, allowing the fish room to grow and multiply. They tell this story and many, many other stories in stitch using the basic running stitch – in and out, up and down. The kantha stitch they call it, and they use it brilliantly to record their history artfully.

After hearing about these women and seeing examples of their glorious quilts, I set about using the kantha stitch for one of Nancy’s drawings from In Our Own Language 3. I usually use, well, I’m not sure what it’s called, but it’s a basic stitch that I use to trace each drawing, to recreate Nancy’s drawing as a line drawing in stitch. I found using the kantha stitch with colored thread a playful way to stitch Nancy’s drawings, and I ‘spect you’ll see more of the colorful kantha pieces in the future.

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Presented here, separately then side by side, are two stitched versions of the same drawing. Same drawing, different looks. The plant? It’s a moon flower, a little something my husband surprised me with from this morning’s pre-workshop romp through the New Albany Farmer’s Market.

Before we thread our needles this morning, Dorothy invited me to talk about Nancy and how she draws and I stitch. I showed them In Our Own Language 3 which is not even half finished yet, and let me tell you: the open, loving reception and the ensuing stories they sprinkled on me throughout the day will warm my heart for a long, long time.

The women of Louisville Area Fabric and Textile Artists (LAFTA), who made this workshop happen, are some of the most hospitable, engaging, talented, interesting, supportive women I’ve happened upon in a long, long time. Mega, uber thanks to Kathy Loomis, Dorothy Caldwell, MJ Kinman (who will soon have a blog for me to direct you to), Rosemary Claus-Gray, Joanne Weis, Linda Henke, Linda Fuchs, Sue Yung, Marti Plager, Linda Theede, and Debby Levine for making this such a marvelous, magical time. And, as I told Dorothy as I hugged her ‘bye, I’m not much of one for sheri worship, but if I was, she’d be The One.

look closely and you just might catch a glyphs of it

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Judaculla Rock, a boulder covered with petroglyphs is not far from where we live.

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We had trouble finding it . . . probably because it is right out in the middle of a field. Hidden in plain view.

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Archaeologists estimate that most of these glyphs are between 300 and 1500 years old. It is thought that this petroglyph is on the site of a council house mound and served as a boundary marker for Cherokee hunting grounds which were closely guarded by the legendary giant and master of animals, Judaculla.

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(In Our Own Language 3.79)

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(In Our Own Language 2.2)

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(In Our Own Language 3.102)

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(In Our Own Language 2.2)

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(In Our Own Language 3.56)

As we walked around the rock, I was taken with the similarity between these drawings and Nancy’s drawings, finding both evocative and an invitation to introspection and wonder.

I am tickled beyond description to be participating in a two-day workshop with Dorothy Caldwell exploring human marks and expressive stitching. I’ve long admired her work and though our work varies in its theme, focus, and purpose, I am hoping to conjure ideas (as in be inspired) for faster and creatively intriguing ways to present Nancy’s work. In her talk tonight, Dorothy showed photos of petroglyphs she saw while working in the Outback of Australia, many bearing a striking resemblance to those on the Judaculla Rock.

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(In Our Own Language 3.260)

Most petroglyphs tells the story of the people who lived there; some offer directions, warnings, or blessings. often wonder what Nancy is saying with her drawings, with her marks. My theory is that she’s expressing her emotional response to what’s happening around her.

In Our Own Language, indeed.

tears (as in drops from the eyes) and tears (as in rips of the heart)

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you met my mother here and here and here, now i know good and well that it’s mother’s day, but it’s not my mother i want to tell you about today.

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and it’s not my niece who had her baby boy last night at 10:49, even though you can bet your sweet patootie you’ll be hearing about him soon. isn’t he a beautiful baby?

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today it’s my cousin mary (the one who always makes sure we take plenty of pictures at every family gathering) i want to tell you about. that’s her there on the left. (then there’s my mother in the center. then there’s me on the right.)

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if you pay attention to my facebook feed, you know that 14 months ago mary’s oldest boy (that’s him – billy – there with the blue oval around his handsome face and that’s mary there on the left with the pink oval around her) was diagnosed with cancer. you know that he endured everything science has in its arsenal to throw at cancer, and you know that it wasn’t enough. mary buried her oldest son today – on mother’s day.

at first i thought that was an awful, horrendous, unimaginable thing to do – i initially felt physically sick for mary. but as i talked with her over the past few days, i tell you what: i’ve never loved her more or been more proud of her. that cousin o’mine really knows how to throw a good funeral.

she didn’t opt to have billy’s funeral on mother’s day to cast herself as a martyr. she didn’t want pity or attention or people fawning over her. you see, this wasn’t about mary at all. this funeral was a tribute to billy, and mary made sure of it in every way large and small.

friends were important to billy, so mary and her husband danny decided to have the funeral today because they knew a lot of billy’s friends would be in town visiting their mothers and could attend the funeral.

during the visitation that preceded the funeral when mary spied somebody she didn’t know, she walked right up to them and introduced herself and thanked them for coming then listened to their stories about billy.

she was right there every minute. she was so present.

she made sure people had plenty to eat. she asked if they had moved their car to the line that would go to the cemetery. she thanked people. she fed people. she hugged people. she listened to people. you might think she was distracting herself with busy work, and you’d be wrong. mary was there, she didn’t shy away from the reality of the occasion, she cried – she cried plenty – she just never lost sight of the fact that today was about honoring and memorializing billy.

when danny (billy’s daddy) cried, mary put her arm around him and patted him. when the preacher came to clarify what song would be sung, she directed him to danny because danny had selected the song. when the pall bearers (some of billy’s friends from college) arrived, she took them all into her house, and when they got upset, she comforted them.

she told the preacher story after story after story to make sure it was a fitting, story-filled tribute to the multi-faceted, multi-talented young man billy is . . . was (it’s hard to use past tense). in the past few weeks and especially today, mary exhibited every trait and characteristic that made billy the fine and good young man we know him to be.

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(that’s billy there with the orange oval with his hand on mary’s shoulder.)

as an actor and a managing director of a theatre, i see my fair share of drama queens, and as a woman of that certain age, i’ve dealt with a lot of women who desperately want to be seen, and i want to tell you one very important thing: mary focused that spotlight on her son billy, and she made sure it didn’t stray, not one little bit. and in her unfaltering selfless mother love, i saw her more clearly than i’ve ever seen her before.

i love her so much.

the janus approach

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we trekked to the cemetery, that stormy morning in april, in search of tombstones to rub, transferring their images to our cloths. as we pulled away from art camp with susan lenz two days later – i mean, we were literally about to back out of the parking lot – i got a call that my friend valerie along with her husband and their daughter had died when their house burned.

who knew cloth could commit foreshadowing . . .

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right on the heels of that, another call that my 32 year old cousin billy – who, over the past 14 months had endured everything science had to throw at his cancer and was waiting for tests in june that would determine the success of those treatments – was not doing well. in less than 2 weeks, he went from eating a bowl of grits at the kitchen table to back in the hospital for more tests. that was saturday, 4/26. on monday (4/28) came the news that the cancer had spread to his brain. on tuesday (4/29) came the news the cancer had spread to his spine. a week later on sunday (5/4), billy was moved to hospice. last night he took his last earthly breath.

“come make him laugh,” his mother mary said when she called me. my husband, mother, and i spent that wednesday afternoon at his bedside telling the old familiar family stories. legends, really. i told the same ole’ stories – even used the same ole’ words – and we still laughed till our sides split. stories are like that.

days later, his mother pulled her chair up close to billy’s bed and let the memories spill right out of her heart. for more than two hours, she told billy good memories she has of him. “i just wanted him to go out with lots of good memories,” she told me. i don’t know about you, but i can’t think of a finer send-off.

he’s only 32. billy is only 32 years old, and i just want to go on record saying that i find it especially cruel that a mother has to bury a child (especially so close to mother’s day) and that a 32 year old as good and fine as billy should die in the spring.

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today we bury another cousin, a quiet man who served in the vietnam war. he didn’t raise his hand to go, but when he was called, he went. my last memory of theron is of him telling stories about our grandparents. i was throwing a family reunion in my backyard, and i’d asked everybody to jot down their memories of grandmother and granddaddy so i could include them with the cookbook of grandmother’s recipes i’d created. not much of a writer, theron called me and talked for more than 3 hours, spilling one precious memory after another. to this day, i cherish those hours spent sitting on the back deck, looking around at all that needed to be done in preparation for the reunion, but not even really seeing it as i trekked down memory lane with theron.

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it’s been an emotionally rough spring.

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that’s not the whole story, though . . .

i just got a text message from my sister-in-law, carole, that her daughter/my niece will not be having her baby today – her labor will not be induced, anyway. we’ll just have to see what mother nature has to say about things.

tomorrow we celebrate the anniversary of my beautiful, precious daughter’s birth. on March 19 of this year, she had a partial thyroidectomy. she’s an actor and a singer, so of course we were on pins and needles about someone cutting on her throat. but my brother-in-law donn steered us to a surgeon who did an outstanding job as you can very well hear for yourself.

later this month we’ll join in merriment and shenanigans when my son kipp married the lovely and long-necked marnie. you’ll surely be hearing more about this as the days roll on. (i’m “foreshadowing” over on facebook, if you’d like to connect there. you’ll need to be logged in for the link to work.)

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we have memories. oh good lord, do we have memories – and that’s something you just can’t buy, regardless of how much money you have. memories . . . stories . . . those are treasures far greater than any amount of gold or silver or real estate. greater than any fleet of planes or drawers of diamonds or walls filled with paintings.

stories are art. so let’s get on out there and make some art today, why don’t we.

(but maybe forego the tombstone rubbings.)

(just sayin’.)