Passing the Soup: A Metaphor for Being There for Friends

When I write about myself, it’s usually about my relationship with textiles. But today I’m going to share what I think is one of the loveliest and luckiest things about my life, and it’s got to do with soup.

I consider myself a pretty healthy person—I try to eat thoughtfully and moderately. I walk 3-4 miles several times a week, I do pilates twice a week, all last winter I swam between a half-mile and a mile twice a week, etc. etc. Nevertheless, I’ve wound up needing significant medical interventions in four of the last five years. It’s challenging on a number of fronts, not the least of which is because it doesn’t fit with my self-image. But what’s made it all bearable is the passing of the soup.

Pre-Soup Veggies

This past Monday, the day before I was scheduled to have significant surgery on my nose for skin cancer, my friend Emily called and said she wanted to stop by with some soup for me. She did and we chatted and she left a wonderful container of carrot-potato soup and some sweet potato pie. I had to cut our visit short because I was taking soup to my friend Greta, who had just had a baby. It made me realize how lucky I am to live where my community of friends looks out for one another in good times and bad.

This past year I’ve shared wonderful joy and deep sorrow with friends, and as much as possible I’ve tried to “pass the soup.” Often I feel guilty that for one reason or another I’m not able to make someone an entire meal and feel that the little I do is inadequate. But when it’s me on the other side, I’m reminded how there are many ways the “soup” gets passed, and how each one of those acts is meaningful and helpful.

Since my surgery, I’ve had a cadre of volunteers who arrive twice daily to walk Pearl, and who’ve brought dinner and breakfast. I’ve received flowers, take-out Thai food, cards, and phone calls. Greta’s texted me photos of her dear, sweet new baby. Everyone has their own skill set and an amount of time they’re able to give at that moment and each act of kindness adds up to an amazing whole. I’ve felt so loved and cared for during this medical incident (and the others). I hope I remember in a few weeks, when my face isn’t swathed in bandages, that no matter what I do for someone, even if it seems small, it matters. It’s worth doing.

Pass the soup. 

Resolved: To Share the Holiday Glow

The month before Christmas had more than its fair share of deadlines, and Pearl the Squirrel suffered serious neglect. My Thanksgiving knitting frenzy came to an end and I spent most of my days trying to keep up with the work, while still enjoying a bit of the holidays. I did manage to see friends and host some holiday get togethers including a craft party, birthday gathering for two Scrabble friends, and a knitting night with rowing buddies. I remind myself when things are especially crazy that in a year I won’t remember how nuts I felt, but I will remember having my friends come by for food and fun.

The culminating event to all this was our family’s Christmas in Oaxaca. After our trip there last February, we decided it would be an interesting place to spend the holidays. The time crunch became even crazier as we had to leave one day early due to an airline screw-up, and then another day earlier to foil an incoming blizzard.

Thankfully all four of us managed to arrive in Oaxaca from three different parts of the country and the subsequent days were incredible—the perfect mix of sightseeing, eating and drinking, walking through town, meeting wonderful folks, and never ceasing to be surprised by the brass band or fireworks or choir concert that seemed to be taking place around every corner. (There was also an amazing line-up of brides at every church—getting married around Christmas seems highly desirable.)

We spent an especially wonderful day at Seasons of My Heart cooking school, which included a tour of the Etla Market in the morning and the opportunity to make (among other things) mole and cook on a outdoor comal in the afternoon.

And we met other wonderful tourists, as well as enjoying time with Luis, our fantastic driver and guide, and spending a bit of time with alebrije-carvers Saul and Alma Arragon.

The colors and sun of Mexico never fail to make me feel like a new woman this time of year and I feel so fortunate to have traveled there. I hope you, too, enjoyed the holidays, wherever they found you, and are feeling refreshed and ready to take on 2013.

To some, sewing is “just” housework (but not to Natalie Chanin)

In a Dec. 14 essay in the New York Times food section, writer Jennifer Steinhauer bemoaned people who buy store-bought goods and pass them off as homemade at bake sales and potlucks. She acknowledged that there are many reasons why someone might do this, including the fact that some people think cooking is boring. And it was that paragraph that struck a chord with me. She says:

“I do not have anything against people who do not bake. The culinary arts, for those with no interest in them, are nothing more than housework. While some of us hammer out life’s frustrations with a whisk to batter or sharp knife to shallots, others prefer to take a toothbrush to the sink. Or they ride a bike or something.”

That second sentence is the one the got to me, on many levels. First, of course, is that it’s easy to replace “the culinary arts” with “the textile arts” and the fact that people who have no interest in sewing think it “is nothing more than housework.” The idea that a person can take pleasure and exert creativity while stitching isn’t on the radar for these folks, and that gets back to my observation that when you tell someone at a party that you’re a quilter, they assume you’re a boring old woman and quickly find someone else to talk with.

Of course the other problem I have with all of this is that sewing and cooking and housework are all traditionally “women’s work,” not valued or worthy of consideration in the greater world of commerce and industry. So silly.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Natalie Chanin. This film about her and her work appeared earlier this week on Etsy’s blog and is such a fine example of women who understand the pleasure and power of sewing. And the way Chanin provides people with a satisfying and creative way to make a living is an example of industry and commerce at its best. 

Visit Mexico!

I’ve got a poster in my house that belonged to my grandparents. In it, a robust and smiling young maiden with long black braids and (yes) nipples erect under her shirt holds a basket of fruit with her impossibly long arms and beckons you to “Visit Mexico.” I’ve always loved doing just that, although most of my visits have been confined to Baja or the Yucatan.

IMG_7096 Handwoven bracelets (pulsers)

But last week I went to Oaxaca. We were lucky enough to have friends who had been multiple times and so were taken to see all the “best” places. In addition, they are friends with a number of wood carvers and we spent several days visiting carvers’ homes and shops (which were typically just a shelf or two in their house). We helped one carver, Saul Aragon, set up an Etsy shop. Be sure to check it out.

IMG_7438 Maria with her carving

Here’s a smattering of my photos, including some that may appear in a story I’ll be writing for Etsy on the wood carvers and for Magic Patch on Oaxacan textile traditions. Iowa looks pretty monochromatic after a week in Oaxaca.

IMG_7611 Etla Market

IMG_7131 Car at night

IMG_7622 Embroidered table cloth
IMG_7504 Lunch-stuffed squash blossom
IMG_7754 Santo Domingo library
IMG_7762 Textiles in shop
IMG_7018 Basket weaver at Bautista   <a href=IMG_7494
IMG_7773 La Morena

Seed Savers

In my previous post I mentioned a three-hour drive to Decorah, and it was to visit Seed Savers for today’s post on Etsy. I’d been to Seed Savers once before, but it was autumn and after a hard frost. It was lovely, but not quite like going this time of year, when the urge to garden is strong (in late October, my gardening instincts are usually ready to be rested and revived by several months indoors).

At any rate, my friend Anne (see post below) and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Decorah and especially appreciated John Torgrimson, the Seed Saver executive director who showed us around. The work they’re doing there is nothing short of amazing. If you haven’t read the Etsy story, please do, because it explains some of what Seed Savers is about. If you’re really interested, make sure to visit their extensive website, because I could only fit so much into an 800-word post.

One of my favorite facts that didn’t make it into the story is that while at the grocery store you might be able to buy 4 kinds of potatoes, Seed Savers has 800 kinds. And they have more than 4,500 varieties of tomato seeds! Their seeds are available online and at 500 seed racks around the country. And if you’re in Iowa, make sure and plan an afternoon at Seed Savers—nearly 900 acres, with hiking trails and gardens.

A Chip Off the Old Sock: The Road Trip

It was back in December that I learned that the official socks for creating sock monkeys are made in Iowa. The Etsy story that appeared today has been planned since then, but it wasn’t until three weeks ago that Emily Martin and I took a road trip to Osage and Fox River Mills. Of course we felt it was necessary to take a sock monkey along for the ride and so my orthopedically challenged monkey, Jockoline, rode safely in the back seat.

 We stopped along the way to see Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan (in Brandon), to gas up, and for lunch at the Teluwat restaurant (seriously good pork products).

Gassing up in Floyd

Emily shares the menu with Jockoline (she can’t read)

After dining, we found Fox River Mills. You’d think that given it’s the largest employer (around 200 employees) in the county that wouldn’t have been hard, but somehow we got lost and had to ask people who were outside raking their lawns for directions. Once there, I made Emily leave Jockoline in the car (Emily is shameless, but I had to remind her I was there for professional reasons and walking in with a sock monkey might have clued them in to my true nature).

Sock critters from the Fox River Mills collection

We were greeted by Mike (PR) and Rebecca (who self-identified as the VP for Monkey Business) and taken to a conference room where they’d laid out sock monkey photos from their history files, along with examples of socks and monkeys they had in their collection. It was a fascinating tale (see Etsy story for background) and I loved the way they embraced the tradition.

 Along the wall of the conference room was sock after sock…Fox River produces 140 styles, but the original Rockford Red-Heels are one of the best sellers (Rebecca said some people even wear them).

After our history lesson, Mike took Emily and me on a factory tour. There is something so magical about a the interwoven nature of machinery and workers on a factory floor (The lede I wrote for this Etsy post is about what I saw at Fox River Mills.) The factory was huge and spotlessly clean. (Emily noted later that she’d just been reading about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and that one of the things that made it so flammable was that everything, including the workers, was covered with lint. At Fox River each knitting machine had a suction tube that was collecting lint and moving it overhead to an area where it was recycled for stuffing. Green technology and recycling efforts are a big part of the philosophy of the mill.)

Newly knitted sock before it’s sucked into a pneumatic tube

Socks await toe-sewing

Hundreds of knitting machines turned out sock after sock, and these were sucked overhead in pneumatic tubes, inspected and sorted. Stacks awaited the workers who readied the socks for the machines that stitched the toes. Enormous laundry facilities took care of the washing and drying and then socks were stretched on sock-shaped forms and put through an iron/steamer to make them flat and tidy. Finally they were folded and fed into a machine that labeled them and inserted the plastic loop on which they hang on store walls. Throughout, giant, wheeled bins held socks awaiting the next step of the process. We also got to see the warehouse and area where they sell socks directly to the public (via their online store). A totally fascinating afternoon.

Emily inspects an older knitting machine

Sock monkey swag

I am a major fan of cozy socks and was fortunate to be given a sample of one of Fox River’s light hiking socks and I’m a convert. Not only am I so happy to be able to support an Iowa business, but I’m thrilled that I’ll be so very comfortable doing so. I also got a copy of their pattern book and plan to make a sock critter one of these days. I’m thinking a dachshund might be just the thing.

Next post, I’ll share some photos of Todd Thelen’s sock monkey collection that I photographed for the Etsy post. Lots more good monkeys!

The sweetness of summer


[We interrupt this textile blog for some important announcements about food.]

Between the Farmer’s Market and grocery store’s fresh offerings, I always become a little unhinged at this time of year. I buy tons of fresh produce and then my week becomes a mad meal-planning and cooking scramble to use up everything before the next market, when the cycle repeats itself all over again. If I were really brave I’d opt for a CSA, but I’m not really brave.

This Saturday’s market resulted in a fridge full of broccoli (for steaming), cauliflower (which will be the basis of a long-time favorite: Mollie Katzen’s Cauliflower with Cumin and Cheese), green beans (to accompany a Sumer Barley Salad from Cooking Light ), the first-of-the-season sweet corn, and beets (roasted an hour in the oven…I used to steam them, but no more).

After the market I came home and got Paul and we drove out to pick blueberries.

I grew up picking gajillions of blueberries each summer during out vacations in northern Minnesota—the tiny kind of berry on tiny bushes. As I’ve gotten older I confess that these high bushes with larger blueberries appeal to me much more—and they were just loaded and will be for weeks to come.

Paul and I picked more than 8 pounds (here you see the owner weighing our two buckets).

(Blueberry pie is also on the menu this week, along with blueberries on cereal and handfuls of berries every time the fridge is open.)

Then, it was on to Wilson’s orchard, where they had fresh Michigan cherries and where I saw this lovely Queen Anne’s lace overlooking the apple trees.

We got two pounds of each type of cherry…does anyone see a pattern here? Like, I’m nuts? Still, there’s something about getting things so close to their growing location and season that makes me a little giddy…it’s an impulse I can’t seem to control.

…and did I mention I’ve got half a watermelon in the fridge, too? It’s leftover from making a salad, the recipe from an Austin Farmer’s Market last summer while visiting my eldest daughter—there are a number of variations floating around—here’s one. The remaining half melon is going to become watermelon sorbet…following in the footsteps of my rhubarb sorbet of earlier in the summer.

Happy New Year!

Okay, so the photo is from Christmas, rather than a reflection of the new year. Pearl was smitten with the tree and gifts, but only when we were in the room, so it was easy to prevent any true mayhem. It seemed to have to do with gifts that fit easily in her mouth (although she was quite taken with a wrapped package of lotion—the fragrance seemed to draw her attention, though I’m sure it smelled nothing like the aromas that typically interest her on our walks).

The holidays were grand—family, candy, wine, friends, games, snow, travels, birthday parties, saris, champagne, ginger snaps…I did little writing, no blogging, and just a snippet of photography. So sadly, I can’t show you the flannel pajama bottoms that I made for my daughters and son-in-law: one plaid, one polka-dotted, and one Amy Butler’s new Love (I ended up with both the Paradise wine and the periwinkle when I cut the wine pair too short for my nearly six-foot daughter…guess I’ll just have to make a pair for lil’ ‘ol me.)

So, that’s it for now. I’m working on a fun story about another blogger and she had this Blogging Without Obligation logo attached to her site and so I decided I’d add it to mine…but of course it’s not currently working. So check out the link: I like in particular the part that says that you shouldn’t feel about your blog like you feel about your treadmill.

Happy Holidays!

Just a quick note to say I hope you all have a great holiday season. I can hardly wait for things to kick into gear. Most of my sewing projects are wrapping up (although I’m guessing there will be some alterations to come). My big worry is the weather: ice and snow is predicted for Christmas Eve, when the relatives are flying in. Keep your fingers crossed for clear skies, or we’ll be eating an awful lot of cookies on our own.

May you enjoy the company of friends and loved ones, warmth, peace, and time for sewing.

And if you are looking for some great holiday tunes, check out this NPR link: Jingle Jams.

On the road…to neglect

Between pre-holiday travels and the holidays themselves, Pearl the Squirrel has been sorely neglected. I’ve been doing a bit of holiday sewing as well, but revelation of those projects will have to wait until the gifts are given. I’ve also managed to miss my one-year blog-iversary, which happened last month. Perhaps after the holidays I’ll have a giveaway to celebrate.

But here are a few shots of my travels…well, actually there are just shots of my travels to one quilt shop in particular. I was in Sonoma, California (where, for some reason, I took NO photos). After visiting a friend and his two llamas, two sheep, three dogs, and multiple cats (I know, NO pictures), I just took off driving. The weather was cool, but sunny and crisp and the grapes were turning golden (you’ll just have too imagine this…NO pictures) and I headed out from Sonoma toward Petaluma, a town I’d especially loved when I lived in Berkeley. It’s definitely not the sleepy little place it was 18 years ago, but it did hold a treasure: The Quilted Angel.

The owner, Barbara, was sitting in a wing chair by the door, finishing up a project and chatting with customers. The classroom was abuzz with quilters working on charity projects.

The shop had tons of fabric, lots of brights and new lines and more traditional stuff, as well.

White-painted branches decorated with lights hung from the ceiling and the shop just seemed to go on and on. Old-fashioned pot holders hung over the entry. (The cloth elves below were sewn by Northern Californian Jan Cochrane.) There was an entire back room with wools and lots of notions that I couldn’t even tell was there until I wended my way to the back of the shop.

Barbara said she’d worked at the shop and when the original owner decided to sell, her husband surprised her and bought it for her! Wow! There’s a man who knows how to give gifts.

At any rate, I visited a few other shops, but this one is definitely worth a stop if you’re in Northern Calif., a place I hope to be more often.

Between visiting our favorite haunts (including The Cheese Board for pizza and our old neighborhood Peet’s for coffee in Berkeley) and seeing some of our favorite friends, Paul and I were both reminded how much we enjoyed our years in California.

And I was reminded that despite my many years in the Midwest, California really does feel like home—there’s something about the landscape of one’s youth that, all these years later, still evokes a visceral response.