Friends

I recently read an interesting piece: I Need a New Group of Friends where Janet Torge, the author, laments growing away from friendships that have filled her past life. I’ve been thinking about her realization that she needs actively to search out new friends. 

Because I’ve moved about over the years, grew up in Halifax, lived in Toronto, in Winnipeg, spent a year in Italy, visited Australia, travelled, I’ve had various collection of friends over the years. I’ve learned friends are the people you have meals with, do things that interest you both, with whom you share laughter. Friends are people who help out if you’re in a pinch. Friends are those you stop to talk to regularly in the grocery store – the gal who runs the deli department, that special cashier who kibitzes with you when you’re checking out, the bank teller who takes time to chat. And after these past few years, I’ve come to realize my days are built around the solitary time I spend sewing, knitting, reading and writing and those conversations I pursue each day – the brief text messages, or emails about inconsequential things that may interest someone else. They all contribute to making me feel connected and each day satisfying.

I’ve never had a huge coterie of friends. I got burned in my early teens by a friendship group that turned on me when I defended one of the other girls for some minor “transgression.” It wasn’t until I was much older that I was able to build a broad coalition of friends. In Winnipeg, I learned to reach out to women interested in aspects of the world that interested me and others who expanded my horizons. I had a wonderful collection of friends there. 

When I returned to Halifax four years later, I discovered many friends had moved on and I was in need of new people in my life. I reached out to the gals in the swimming class. As I was singing along to the exercise music one of the women recommended I come along to a chorus rehearsal. That led to many years of singing baritone in a series of women’s barbershop choruses. Great fun that. I was also sewing a lot and reached out to other women who sewed. I started travelling with groups interested in textiles – Bali, Peru, Italy, San Francisco – I made friends all along the way. These days I have swimming friends, and sewing and knitting friends, those who have been friends for a long time, friends I’ve met as I’ve travelled, some more recent friends. 

In 2016 I moved into an apartment building – there were community activities – cribbage on Monday night, coffee Tuesday morning, other card games Thursday nights, knitters congregated on Friday afternoons. There was a core of people who participated in all these activities, others attended one or two. I decided to reach out to these folks, too. 

Even through COVID lockdowns we have managed to get together, both indoors and out. Months ago, when restrictions were lifted, we went  back to meeting regularly (some of us wearing masks, others comfortable without) but all of us enjoying the laughter which is an essential element of whatever’s going on.

As our lives change, our friends also change. Some fall by the wayside, new people come along. It’s important throughout our lives to keep reaching out to people, sustaining old friendships and building new ones.

Last week I had my 80th birthday. My niece and her sons, my nephew and his wife all arrived from Toronto just for the celebration. Seeing them in the doorway of the party room left me speechless. I wasn’t expecting them. It was a wonderful surprise having them there to celebrate with me. It was also terrific watching all of them work the room – walking up to strangers and asking “How do you know my Aunt Judith?” My grandnephews (now 20 and 21) have learned the art of a good opener! They had no difficulty engaging this gathering of mostly elderly women in interesting conversation – interesting for the gals as well as the boys. 

Grandnephews

So many people seem to forget how to start a conversation. Conversation is just storytelling; everybody has a gazillion stories to relate. “How do you know my Aunt Judith?” and another story is shared, building ties between people who moments before were strangers. In the elevator I’m joined by a couple carrying loaded grocery bags. “I see you were shopping!” – an easy conversation starter. The people in my apartment building all talk to one another in the elevator, in the lobby, in the garage. Everybody greets everyone else. It creates a sense of community everyone enjoys. 

Regardless of age, everybody needs friends. You just have to reach out. Noticing something about a stranger can let you ask a question that starts a conversation  – and maybe begins a new friendship!

Just Another Day

Today’s my birthday – 80 years old today.

It’s a milestone of some sort, I guess. Eighty relegates me to that group of people most vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19, or having a serious case of the flu that’s going around, at risk of experiencing a severe cold that could land me in hospital.

In my head, however, I’m feeling none of what seems to be expected of a typical 80 year-old person. I’m still reasonably fit, interested in what’s going on in the world, actively engaged in creative pursuits. Not bored, not lonely, not feeling unproductive, neglected, or useless. In other words, I’m not feeling OLD.

Today, I went to the aquafit class as I have done every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the past 27 years. I worked through the same routine I always do as vigorously as usual. I then spent an hour and a half sharing English with Ahmad and Basira and their boys, recent Afghan refugees to Canada – something I’ve been doing for the past two months. I’ve had a bunch of phone calls with people I haven’t heard from in quite some time wishing me a happy birthday, including my 98 year old Aunt Goldie in Toronto. I have some sewing I intend to resume after I’ve written this. Later, I’m having dinner with some friends in the building – not a birthday party, but leftovers from the holiday season.

My life seems to be continuing as it has for the past couple of decades. Today feels just the same as yesterday.

Instead of slowing down, I lament that there aren’t enough hours in a day to accomplish all the things I want to get done!

Making Kugel With Huxley Before Christmas

Today will come and go. It’s really just another day in this cycle we call a life.

More 6×6

My “Modern Flowers” in the centre of the display

The Ice House Gallery show, in Tatagamouche, went up on Dec 3. All of the wall art conformed to the 6×6 challenge – amazing the diversity of the offerings, the show as a whole was stunning. I didn’t actually get to Tatamagouche but Brandt posted photos of the show and of individual pieces (mine are near the bottom of the posting) – you can get a feeling for what you’d experience were you to walk into the gallery.

The show will get taken down coming week, I imagine. Brandt was pleased with sales in the first couple of days. I have no idea whether any of my work actually sold. Brand will bring my pieces back to town sometime soon.

Taking Off

In the news recently “Parents allege kids isolated, restrained at Whitehorse school“. The headline tells the story. The parents are furious. The Department of Education is investigating. The CBC is making a big deal about it. But nobody is offering the teachers’ experience.

It’s easy to blame the teacher. The parent all say these children, mostly boys I do believe, are “fine” at home. I’m not in such a hurry to believe that. The norms of behaviour at home are likely VERY different from the collective social behaviour teachers work so hard to establish in their classrooms.

Yesterday I was talking to my niece, an experienced teacher in her last year of teaching 5 year olds. She is finding these post-COVID-19 confined children the most difficult she’s ever had to deal with. She has at least 12 children all needing special attention and no way in a class of 29 can she manage that on her own. She has an assistant. Even that help isn’t enough to keep her classroom running smoothly. She’s glad she has just six and a half months to go before it’s over. She’s in survival mode. Forget about teaching much of anything. Although she’s sure at least half her class is progressing she just doesn’t have time to keep a close eye on those children – she’s just barely managing to keep the lid on the group.

I thought back to my own teaching in a special education classroom in 1971 and the piece I’d written many years afterward!

From the teacher’s side of the desk.

Take Off

Judith M. Newman

The intercom buzzed. “Please answer that Anita,” I asked. Anita rose from her seat, skipped across the room and stretched to, press the answer button with her fingertips.

“Hello,” she said.

“Is Miss Newman there?” 

“Yes.”

“Can she come to the intercom?”

“No she can’t. She’s sitting on Gerry,” Anita replied.

A pause. 

“Well, will you tell her to be sure to bring her register to the office as soon as possible. It’s late.” 

“I’ll tell her,” she said. She turned to see if I had heard. I nodded and without saying anything, Anita marched back to her seat and resumed whatever it was she had been doing. 

Sitting on Gerry. 

I seemed to be doing that more and more these days. Gerry was behaving with less control than ever – or maybe it was simply that I had less resilience for handling his unruly behaviour. I was swamped by the work involved in keeping this special ed class afloat. Weak learners all of them, the children were very dependent on my support and direction. They were reluctant to attempt much of anything on their own. I needed to offer individual input and encouragement repeatedly during the day. 

To create that time I had set up an instructional agenda for each child. The preparation was a nightmare. I would spend the entire weekend working up a collection of individual lessons for each of the twelve children for that week. In addition, I had to gather or prepare materials for any group activities I wanted to try. There was no time left over for any relaxation.

Then there was the matter of their behaviour. The children actively avoided engaging in learning activities. They were forever out of their seats, bothering one another. It took an enormous amount of energy to persuade them to just try. The classroom was simply chaotic. 

It was their behaviour that kept them isolated from the rest of the school. Because they were forever fighting with the other children the administration had decided they should spend recess and lunch in the classroom. That meant I had no opportunity to be alone from eight in the morning when I arrived ahead of the bus and four in the afternoon when the last child was picked up. Just getting to the bathroom was a major undertaking since the children couldn’t be left unattended. 

It didn’t take long to realize I had really been hired just to baby-sit these nine to twelve year olds. No one expected me to teach them much of anything. The message was quite clear: just keep them quiet and under control. That was why the class was located where it was, a safe distance away from the other classes. We couldn’t disrupt anyone else at the back of the school next to the janitors. 

What was the problem with Gerry? It wasn’t that his behaviour was so dreadful. He wasn’t overtly malicious towards the other children. He didn’t attack them physically, although he was hitting out at me often.

No, it had more to do with how I was struggling to deal with his Inability to sustain himself at any task for more than a couple of minutes. I understood that he needed more room. But I was trapped. While I wanted to extend him more freedom, if I let him wander, Anita, David and Sharon promptly followed suit and instead of having one unmanageable child in the class, I had four. Four unengaged children were more than I could handle alone. 

So there I was sitting on Gerry again. 

What had he done this time? He’d been away from his seat as usual.  This time, he’d ensconced himself beneath the corner painting table with his old dinky truck and I knew he hadn’t even looked at the reading assignment I’d asked him to try. 

Exasperated, I watched him for a moment. There he sat cross legged, another rip in the left knee of his jeans, probably from a recent fight, running the toy truck across the floor in front of him. “Vroom, vroom,” again and again, oblivious to the goings on elsewhere in the room, or maybe not. As I observed, I caught him glance at me and away again. He was aware I was watching, perhaps challenging me to make him return to his seat.

As I approached the table, I quickly surveyed the room. Half of the children were productively engaged. The rest were watching me, curious, I suspected, about how I was going to handle Gerry this time. 

I reached Gerry and knelt down. I touched his arm to stop the play, then held out my hand, palm upward — a request for the toy. Gerry hesitated.  He positioned the truck in front of his feet, then he snatched it from the floor and hurled it at me. Not hard, but it grazed my leg and flew across the room.

I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him to his feet in front of me. “I’d  like you to pick it up,” I told him firmly. He looked at me defiantly. 

Here we were again. Being drawn into the now familiar battle of wills. I wanted him to extend some small effort on his school work, to try to engage. He consistently balked, challenging me to take charge which provoked further resistance from him. I would insist; he’d hit out then I would be pushed to contain him. 

That’s why I was now sitting on the floor holding an immobilized, yet struggling, child in the middle of the classroom. 

How had we reached this impasse? 

I recalled the day Gerry joined the class. I had been reading to the children when I caught movement out of the  corner of my eye. When I turned, there he was framed in the doorway. 

A smallish boy. Blond, somewhat tousled hair, clear blue eyes. He was just standing there, a red lunch pail in one hand by his side. The scruffy sneakers, his well worn jeans, baggy green cardigan evoked a Rockwell image. It was his guarded expression which caught my attention, though. 

“Can I help you?” I asked. 

“I’m here for school,” he said. 

“Which room are you looking for?

“Twelve.” 

“Well, you’ve come to the right place. C’mon in,” I invited him. 

Slowly dragging his feet, he entered.

I approached him with my hand extended — he didn’t accept my gesture of welcome. “I’m Miss Newman,” I told him, ” Who are you?”

“Gerry.” 

“Do you have a last name?” I asked.

“Rogers.” 

“Welcome, Gerry Rogers,” I said as I steered him toward the coat rack at the side of the room and pointed to the other lunch pails on the shelf above it. Gerry added his bright new pail to the collection then I drew him towards the group of children crowded around a table. 

There had been eleven assorted girls and boys in the class. Gerry made it twelve. 

I offered him a chair. He slumped into the seat, his feet extended under the table, his hands clasped tightly in his lap. Although he didn’t look around,  I was aware of him sizing us up. 

I introduced him to the others and then explained that we were reading a story together. I gave him my copy of the book. He took it, placing it on the table in front of him. He folded his arms across his body, as if to ward off the book. Without raising his head he mumbled, “Can’t read.”

“Everyone’s following along as I read,” I said to him. “Here, I’ll help you.” 

I placed my chair beside his, positioned the book between us and began pointing to the words as I continued reading where I’d left off. Voices chimed in as I read what had become a now familiar story to the other children. 

As I finished the chapter, I glanced at Gerry. He was still firmly slumped in his chair, arms tightly folded across his body, eyes downcast. I was afraid we were going to be in for a difficult time. 

During the following weeks my fears were realized. Gerry engaged me in a standoff. No matter what invitation I offered, he refused to engage. Any reading activity was out of the question. There was no point in asking him to write anything. His math proficiency was minimal. There wasn’t a great deal he could or would attempt on his own. That pushed my ingenuity to the limit.  Whatever I offered him had to have the semblance of school work or I’d face rebellion from the others. So playing with plasticine, or stringing beads was out of the question. Each weekend I’d create a battery of things for Gerry to do, wondering if anything would catch his interest. First thing Monday morning I’d find my work in vain. 

In late September and early October when half of the class was absent for the Jewish holidays Gerry was a different child. With only four others vying for my attention I was able to spend more time by his side. As long as I stayed beside him he remained involved. And in the smaller group his wandering was less disruptive. I could keep the others busy while ignoring what Gerry was doing. But with a full house life was hectic. 

Gerry would be one of the first to arrive in the morning. He’d shuffle his way into the room, drop his lunch pail in the vicinity of the coat rack, and begin wandering aimlessly. As I watched him, I could feel my tension build.  Did I have the energy to make it through the day? 

Then came the day when I pushed Gerry too far. I could tell from the moment he entered the room something was wrong. I tried to settle him down with some work but he was restless. He reluctantly picked up his pencil, quickly tossed it aside and turned away from the notebook. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a small toy truck and began wheeling it across the surface of the table. 

We had one class rule: no toys. I had banned toys because at the first indication of frustration the children would haul out a toy as a way of avoiding the school work. Whether they wanted to or not, I was determined they would engage with learning activities. So no toys. 

But here was Gerry blatantly flaunting the rule. I watched for a moment then went over to him. I asked him to put the truck in his lunch pail.  He ignored me and continued wheeling the toy across the table top. I knelt beside him and asked him to put the toy away. No response. I made a move to take the truck from him. An outburst. Wildly flailing, Gerry hit at me shouting obscenities. I grabbed his wrists in my hands, swung him around so his arms were immobilized across his body and sat us both on the floor. 

Holding him tightly, I tried calming him down. 

“You can’t hit people,” I said to him. “I’ll let go as soon as you’re quiet. We can talk about why you’re so angry.” 

At that moment I saw for the first time the cigarette burn scars on the backs of his hands. 

Gerry wasn’t my only problem. The other children were incredibly demanding and the more my conflict with Gerry escalated, the more demanding they became. I began to feel near the end of my tether. I needed some relief. 

I tried obtaining a little free time for myself each day. I approached the principal with an idea. Would it be possible for someone to stay with the children during lunch? There were no funds in the budget to cover such exigencies, I was told. The children would have to be supervised and I would have to do it. I had another idea. Couldn’t we team up these children with others who lived in the neighbourhood and have them go home for lunch.  Well, the behaviour of these children was unpredictable. It wasn’t a good idea to inflict them on the community. No, I would simply have to stay with them.  Could I, then, contact the Home and School to see if I could interest some of the parents in volunteering in the class. It wasn’t the parents’ responsibility to teach my children. After all I only had twelve of them to work with. Surely  I could manage the class. 

I was no longer so sure I could.

With each passing day my resources were stretched thinner. Without any support, each encounter with Gerry brought me closer to the brink. 

Early in October I had thought the children would enjoy an outing. A trip to the airport seemed like it might be fun so I contacted the school board’s transportation department to schedule a school bus. A week later, however, I received a call informing me that the buses were engaged for the particular day I’d requested — the trip was off and I thought no more about it. I was more than a little surprised, therefore, when on November 23rd there was a knock on the classroom door and the bus driver announced: “Ready to take you to the airport.” 

I considered for a moment and made a rash decision. I would take the class, including Gerry, on the airport trip. I notified the office about our improvised excursion then directed the children to prepare. We grabbed our coats and lunch pails. We marched in some vague semblance of a line out the nearest exit beside the janitors’ room and boarded the waiting bus.

The trip to the airport foreshadowed what was to come. The children were rowdy, bouncing around in their seats, pushing one another, yelling at the top of their voices. It seemed as if, once released from the constraints of the classroom, all self-control evaporated. By the time we reached the airport I knew I’d made a dreadful mistake but it was too late to do anything about it.

When the bus arrangements had fallen through I’d dropped all plans for the trip. There would be no guided tour of the facilities, no other adult on hand to help keep the lid on this rambunctious group. What if one of them became separated in the crowd, how would I locate a missing child and still keep track of the others? And the bathroom. I dreaded to think of Gerry loose on his own in the men’s room without an adult to supervise. 

No sooner had the bus dropped us at the departure level than we were caught up in the bustle of the terminal building. I paraded the children past the ticket counters toward the gate area. Windows lined the large outer circular corridor and planes parked at the various ramps were readily visible.  We gathered to look at one large jet. Passengers were boarding from the adjacent lounge and the cockpit crew could be seen making preparations for their upcoming flight.

The children had loads of questions. 

“Where is this plane going?” 

“Where’s it come from?” 

“Which one is the pilot?” 

“How many people can it take?” 

“How does the food get on?” 

“Where does the luggage go?” 

I was busy with explanations, not watching the children very closely.  Their interest and excitement kept me occupied so it was several moments before I realized, with a sudden sinking feeling, that something was wrong.  Gerry was nowhere in sight. 

It took a while to gain the children’s attention. Had anyone seen Gerry?  Had he told anyone where he was going? 

“No, Miss Newman,” came a unanimous reply. 

Now I was in a panic. What to do? I knew I couldn’t go off to search for Gerry on my own, nor could I disperse the children to look for him for fear I’d lose someone else. I decided the safest course would be to locate the airport police and enlist their help. 

Finding the police was easier said than done, however. I spent a good ten minutes, with the entire troupe in tow, weaving my way through the crowded terminal, trying not to lose anyone else. When we still hadn’t found a policeman, I dragged the children to one of the less busy ticket counters to ask for help. 

“Please, I need the police,” I said to the ticket agent. “I’ve lost a child.  He’s wandered away from the group and I have no idea where he is.” 

The agent contacted the police who immediately appeared. I described Gerry and said I thought it quite likely they might find him in one of the many washrooms. It was not inconceivable that he might even have drifted  into one of the women’s toilets, I told them. 

With the police now tracking him down, I stationed the children in a row of seats to wait and worry. In fifteen minutes Gerry was back. He’d become bored with the plane and had decided to explore on his own. He’d found the escalator in the middle of the terminal and had been riding it between the arrival and departure level. That’s where an officer had found him. 

My resources nearly exhausted, I decided the thing to do was to get the children away from the crowd as quickly as possible. Since none of them had ever flown, I thought they would enjoy watching the planes take off and land.  The best vantage point for such viewing is from the top floor of the parking garage. The open west side of the building faces the runway and you have a clear view of the steady incoming and outgoing air traffic. Besides, I could more easily keep my eye on everyone there. 

So I marched the children, lunch pails in hand, through the crowd to the elevators. I bundled them aboard the first one to arrive, pushed P10 and breathed a sigh of relief. As the elevator rose, I explained to the children  where we were headed and how I expected them to behave. 

“We’re going to the roof of the building,” I said. “You’ll need to be careful near the wall. If you lean too far, you might fall over and it’s a long way down. Be careful!” I shouted as the elevator doors opened and they tore out. I followed behind past the few cars parked on that level toward the  outside wall of the garage to watch the planes. 

Although mid-morning isn’t a terribly busy time at Pearson Airport, there was some traffic. We could see a DC9 readying for take off at the far end of the runway. The children stretched to pull themselves up onto the parapet so they could see more clearly. Bunched together at one location they jostled for position. 

“You can spread out,” I told them. “There’s no need to push.” I moved behind them trying to help them settle down. 

The plane revved its engines and began to taxi down the runway. We watched it slowly gain speed. As it came abreast of us the nose lifted and the plane began a steep ascent. Gerry stood on his lunch pail. 

With the roar of the engines at full throttle I felt Gerry strain to pull himself up and onto the wall to watch the take off. I reached to restrain him and see myself catching one of his legs in my hand and lifting it sharply,  unbalancing him: 

arms fly out feet rise
the soles of his sneakers pass in front of my face
a sky diver, his body hangs suspended 
arms wide
legs spread behind him 
wind flaps at the falling body  
silent screams masked by the engines’ roar 
plane lifting
hung in the overwhelming middle of things 
amazement at the dumbfounding ease of a nightmare unfolding 
heat shimmering from the runway
plane banking left into wisps of low level cloud 
a flock of small birds
swooping over the grassy verge 
miniature cars along the 401 
lunch pail skidding 
thump 
bloody red chin

I turned to see Gerry in a heap on the floor beside me, his moans drowned by the roar of the still climbing jet. 

“I warned you to be careful, didn’t I?” I said shaken. He reached toward his chin, drawing away a bloody hand. I just stood there, watching, making no move to help him. Wiping the blood on his jeans he looked up at me. His clear blue gaze guarded. For a moment he stared, then he quickly scrambled to retrieve his lunch pail from beneath a nearby car. 

I hastily gathered the other children into a group, and oblivious to their protests and complaints I hurried them across the garage and aboard a waiting elevator. When we reached the departure level I herded them toward the car  park and onto the waiting bus.

Once back at school I settled them for lunch and headed for the office. 

“I’ve had it,” I said. “Someone will have to replace me.”

Then I turned and took off. 

_______________________________

This is what it looks like from the other side of the desk!

Quilter’s Block

You know about writer’s block – well, I’m experiencing “quilter’s block”.

I finished my last quilt about a month ago. I would normally start a new quilt right away – with a surfeit of fabric in my stash it usually isn’t hard to pull out a stack and begin something new.

This time there were a couple of subtle pressures interfering with my moving ahead: my reserve of small zippered bags was just about empty, I still have that Kantha jacket to remake for Marlene (that’s been hanging around for months, not quite making it to the top of my list, despite taking some seams apart, basting them together and trying the adjustment for fit – not quite right yet again), two aprons for a friend, and the microwave potato bags I was originally planning as gifts for the Friday knitting gals! (Oh yes, and an heirloom nightgown as a demonstration piece although that weekend workshop didn’t happen.)

In fact, three weeks ago, I bought a collection of new fabric – only because it was on sale at half price – not because I needed more fabric! I chose the central fabric, a William Morris inspired print, then built a collection around it. I felt inspired to work with a “Drunkard’s Path” block again. I cut 6″ strips from each of the new fabrics plus several more that complemented the others, I cut one set of 6″ blocks (two from each fabric), then cut the paired shapes which make up a Drunkard’s Path block.

I laid out contrasting pairs using some William Morris fabric in each block. I moved the elements around but the fabrics didn’t speak to me at all. I turned the photo into a black and white – there lurked a surprise:

The majority of my fabrics read as “medium” with the wrong ones reading “dark” and few “light”. The William Morris fabric was actually one of the “medium” fabrics – not a dark. I tried again with fewer colour elements.

By removing four fabrics the colour values balanced better but I still wasn’t inspired. I realized my problem was with the original focal fabric! While I like the William Morris fabric, it pulled me into a set of rather dull colours. No “pop”. These fabrics would make a nice quilt but not one I was going to enjoy working on.

I walked away from even sewing these Drunkard’s Path blocks – I gathered up the pieces and put them away in one of my scrap boxes.

The “cure” for writer’s block is to write. Write gibberish, free write, keep writing anything whether it comes together or not. Just write.

That’s what I did. I cut the remainder of the 6″ strips of these fabrics into zippered bag rectangles, found a suitable fabric for lining and got to work making zippered bags!

The first batch used the quilt fabrics with a strong accent fabric and contrasting zipper and pull. For the second batch I dug through scraps for bright complementary fabrics. The third batch used up pieces from a sample set of blue.

In two days I made 34 zippered bags.

My Current Stash Of Zippered Bags

With “small zippered bags” off my list, two days ago I turned to microwave potato bags. A microwave potato bag is used to bake potatoes in the microwave – the potatoes come out fluffy rather than gluey. You use two pieces of fabric and some microwaveable batting. Takes 20 minutes to make one.

Wanting to be economical with my fabric, I cut 10″ x 22″ rectangles from two of the duller fabrics I’d originally intended to use with the William Morris fabric. (That’s the equivalent of 4 bags/meter of fabric.) Added some microwaveable “Wrap ‘n Zap” batting (which comes in a 22″ width very convenient – that, as well, gives you 4 bags/metre).

I layered the fabrics right sides together, placed the batting on top, stitched around the outer edges leaving a 4″ opening on one side, pressed the panel, stitched the opening closed. Then I folded the fabric to make a pouch, stitched down the open sides, and there was my finished microwave potato pouch.

Microwave Potato Bag

It took three tries before I streamlined the process – 1. Leave the opening to turn the bag right side out on one of the short sides rather than along one of the long sides; 2. Make the stitch around gap at least 4″ – widen enough to get your hand in so you can turn the pouch right side out easily; 3. Don’t bother stitching around the outside of the finished rectangle, just edge stitch across the end with the opening; 4. Stitch the two side seams 1/4″ from the edge going more slowly where the two ends overlap – it’s thick there, you need to allow the machine time to pierce the overlapped layers.

I’ve got three microwave potato bags done, five more are cut out ready to sew.

When those are finished, I’ll work on the two aprons – I bought a canvas fabric yesterday that should be a good weight for an apron.

Finally, I will take that Kantha jacket completely apart and recut the fronts, back and sleeves so the jacket will hang better. It’s not a humungous job, but it’s one I find myself resisting. But with the other stuff done I will tackle it.

As for a new quilt. I’m looking for something modern and bright to work on. I’ve taken the pressure off myself to be creative, just be productive.

That’s enough for the moment.

The Dilemma

I’ve been working with a new young immigrant family helping the young woman learn English. She speaks no English (although she can read some) so her husband, who does speak some English, is part of our weekly gathering. We’ve been meeting now for 5-6 weeks and we’re getting somewhere.

This week they invited me for lunch on Sunday – today – along with the people who sponsored them and are providing support to help them settle into the community. I asked the typical Canadian question: What would you like me to bring? Ahmad’s face lit up, he dashed to the kitchen, returned with a plate – could you bring 10 plates? 10 forks? 10 spoons? some serving spoons? some cups? some glasses. They have service for 10 but there are going to be 20 guests.

I happen to be custodian of the dishes and cutlery for the “Thursday Night Game” group in my apartment building so bringing the required stuff is no problem. I dug it out of my storage room last evening, put it all in my dishwasher, then packed it up this morning.

I’m delighted to attend a party given by this couple who are attempting to repay the generosity they’ve received. But I do have a dilemma! There are going to be 20 people in a VERY small space. I haven’t had COVID-19 yet. I hope to keep it that way. I don’t want the cold, or flu that are galloping through the community. I’m also in the age group susceptible to RSV – I don’t want to come down with that either.

Do I wear a mask? I can’t wear it while I’m eating! Do I wear it otherwise? If I do, Basira and Ahmad won’t be able to see me speaking and the visual component of speech is critical for both of them at this point. But I’m hesitant about exposing myself to whatever respiratory viruses are certain to be present.

I was at an 80th birthday party last Sunday – there were about 25 people but the room was much larger and the tables were spaced out so I removed my mask after I got there. But this gathering will be different – the space is tiny and not much chance for people to spread out, or windows to open.

I was explaining my dilemma to my sister, one of the sponsors, who will also be at the lunch. Good question, she responds, “I haven’t thought that one through!” Then she sends me a recent New Yorker Cartoon by Liana Finck – The Great Masking Cycle – in the Nov 28 edition of the magazine:

That sums it up succinctly!

White Shoes in Winter?

Growing up, my mother made sure we understood summer clothes were packed away at the end of September and the fall and winter clothes came out. White pants, white shoes – all banished for the season.

Why do I mention this? I wear clog/mule style shoes – shoes that slip on without a back heel – comfortable with my lovely collection of wool socks, easy to wear and actually orderable online because fit is forgiving in this kind of shoe. However, clog/mule shoes are becoming scarce as hen’s teeth – about the only company that seems to continue to make them is a German firm – Finn Comfort. I have several pair of Finn Comfort sandals (for summer) and clogs (for winter) but I didn’t have a black pair (and I need one because my reliable, comfortable Clarks clogs are all wearing out and are irreplaceable).

I had difficulty finding one of the textured black leather clogs in my size when I went looking but I found what I hoped would be “greyish” so I ordered a pair. When they arrived, however, they were definitely white.

So I did what any sensible person who knows they can’t wear white shoes during fall and winter (and even spring) would do – I bought a jumbo black permanent Sharpie to change the colour.

Worked well, wouldn’t you say? It’s interesting that the patterned elements of the white leather have come through in the darkened clogs. If I didn’t tell you what I’d done and you happened to see me wearing the shoes you’d never question their colour (even if you noticed it). The nice thing about the permanent marker is that it is absorbed by the leather and while it might fade a bit over time, all I have to do is colour them again.

The clogs didn’t actually turn out black but rather an interesting dark blue ink shade.

Packing?

Just caught this video on Twitter – had to share it.

She’s gonna overlap three sweatshirts, two pair of jeans, a couple of shirts, some t-shirts, socks and underwear – by wrapping them up in this overlapped bundle. No wrinkles, and the bundle is small enough to fit into a small carry-on bag with room for cosmetics, tablet and even a pair of shoes, I’m guessing!

Why didn’t I think of this myself?

Two Serger Tips

How long have I owned a serger? It’s gotta be close to 25 years. Most of the serger sewing I do works perfectly fine and I’m happy with it. However, when I need to sew in the round (like when attaching the neckband to a t-Shirt, or at the bottom edge of pants), when I stitch past the place where I started, I end up trimming the edge of the beginning stitches. It annoys me – I usually end up zig-zagging across that small part of the edge. The other day, I figured out how to solve that problem (although why it’s taken me 25 years to do that, I don’t know!).

Normal Knife Position

This is the normal cutting position with the knife blade (upper right corner) in the up position beside the presser foot (and the small white knob on the left with no writing).

Knife-down Position

I realized the other day that when I reached the place where I started stitching in the round all I had to do was lower the knife to the down/lock position (below the presser foot, in line with the needle plate, with the small knob on the left showing “lock”), and here’s what I get:

Round Serged Seam Join

No trimmed stitches! I can connect the join and not worry about that centimetre of trimmed stitches in front of where I stopped serging! (The trimming happens because the cutting knife is in front of the needles and trims the seam edge before it gets sewn – in the round it catches and trims the already serged edge.)

I have a second tip. The other day, I was helping a friend set up her new coverstitch machine (that’s a sewing machine that only does a three thread coverstitch – just look at the hem on your t-Shirt – that’s a three thread coverstitch). Threading the needles is straightforward. Threading the looper (on her machine, that’s to the left side) is not intuitive and involves some very awkward threading from back-to-front on the looper itself.

I pointed out to her that she only ever needed to thread the machine once, then she never have to thread that looper again – just cut the thread at the spool, tie on the new coloured thread, make sure she’s raised the presser foot to release the tension on the tension disks, then pull on the old looper thread bringing the new thread through the entire thread path.

It’s the same with a serger – cut the looper threads (on a serger there are two loopers) near the spool, tie on the new colour thread, raise the presser foot, pull the new thread through the machine. I actually do that with all four threads even though I’ve not figured out how to tied a tiny knot that will go through the needle eye – I just cut the needle threads when the new thread reaches the eye and re-thread the needles with the new colour. I use an overhand knot (which I pull snug) – I’ve tried reef knots but they’re no smaller.

Threading the needle paths on a serger or coverstitch machine from spool to needle is easy; it’s the loopers that can be complicated. Tying the new threads on and pulling them through is an easy fix.

The Season Is Changing

Two days ago you could sense the impending change – the air smelled different, the colour softer/less glaring. Here in Nova Scotia there is one day in middle of August where you know autumn is not far off. When we were kids, we attended a six week sleep-over camp and in that last week there’d be a day when you knew summer was coming to a close. You felt the early morning chill, put on a warmer jacket that evening.

Five Islands

Every year on that August day I think of Alistair MacLeod’s short story “The Closing Down Of Summer” (in As Birds Bring Forth The Sun and Other Stories). I’ve mused about that story before. MacLeod begins:

It is August now, towards the end, and the weather can no longer be trusted. All summer it has been very hot. So hot that the gardens have died and the hay has not grown and the surface wells have dried to dampened mud. The brooks that flow to the sea have dried to trickles and the trout that inhabit them and the inland lakes are soft and sluggish and gasping for life. …

At the end of July we said to ourselves and to each other, “The August gale will come and shatter all of this.” The August gale is the traditional storm that comes each August, the forerunner of the hurricanes that will sweep up from the Caribbean and beat and lash this coast in the months of autumn. The August gale with its shrieking winds and crashing muddied waves has generally signalled the unofficial end of summer and it may come in August’s very early days. But this year, as yet, it has not come and there are only a few days left. Still we know that the weather cannot last much longer and in another week … the pace of life will change. 

Alistair MacLeod

Today it’s overcast and cool. The kids have all come through their summer camping experiences safely – they’re home again; sad summer is over, looking ahead to the adventures of a new school year.

My younger sister was moaning the other day about the shortening days. I think about the cosmic realities that govern our seasonal life. The earth’s tilt as it rotates around the sun affects the angle at which the sun’s radiation impacts the planet – the northern hemisphere is now entering the annual period where we’re angled away from the sun. Those shorter days are predetermined – out of our hands – set in motion when our solar system formed five billion years ago. No point in complaining, no point in wishing it were otherwise. The changing seasons bear witness to our connection to the universe.

The chicory/goldenrod/Queen Anne’s lace, are abundant, but coming to an end – in another six weeks we’ll see trees responding to the seasonal change. There are warm days still to come – our Nova Scotia fall is the loveliest of our seasons. I look forward to it every year.