The Singing Boat

I think about going home sometimes. Not the going home at the end of a day of work and errands, but the eternal kind. I’m not trying to be morbid, nor is it a fear-filled thing…just curious. What will it be like? None of us knows the particulars of our exit from this world into the next. My friend Marion, though she knew her life would be shortened by cancer, did not know that it would be lung issues, complications of cancer drugs, that would take her in the end. I wish I had had more conversations with her about end of life questions. I wish a lot of things about her home-going. Especially a wish that I had been there. I would have liked to sing to her…to sing her home.

In the week following my friend’s home-going, I kept envisioning this  sweet little boat carrying my dear friend to the shores of heaven. In this vision, I, along with many others, was singing songs of hope and love, as if the swell of music was the wind filling her sail, guiding her to where rest and wholeness would be hers forever. A cadence of words came spilling out in my mind and a desire to stitch them into a fragment.

Somewhere in the sadness and wishing that I’d been able to sing her home, I realized that this may not have been Marion’s desire, though I don’t think she would have minded at all. I realized that this is my desire, at least here on this side of heaven, where I sit healthy and whole. Who knows how I’d feel after years of battling cancer, struggling for my breath, lying in a hospital bed. When I posted thoughts on the day my friend died, another friend recounted in the comments, a time when she was able to do just this… stand around a dear one’s hospital bed with other friends singing hymns and songs of hope. It is possible. Yet I have no way of knowing how my final days will play out. None of us do.

What we can do is listen for the song of heaven right now, right where we are, where we walk and drive and work and play. We can slow down or stop our blistering pace long enough to hear the strains of music lapping on the shore of our earthbound lives. We can sing along, to ourselves and to each other, making music in our hearts and throughout our days. I’m still playing Christmas music. I think I will for quite a while. The hymns and choral tunes of Christmastide are some of the most hope filled and heartening music I know. And I will continue stitching threads of color and texture in and through found fabrics, like moments and pieces of my life.

Let us sing on, dear friends, as pilgrims in a weary land, keeping our eyes on that distant shore.

The Singing Boat

I’d like to go in a singing boat

Carried along by voices that float

And harmonies pure ringing me home

To that distant shore…no more to roam.

***

My earthbound boat is a Mazda today

Winging me to and fro in the fray.

I’ll trade it in on a ship so yar

It’s lines like music to all near and far.

***

The way now is choppy, a blustery gale,

A tempest enough to make any heart fail.

Yet I am bound for a glassy sea

That sings sweet notes lovely and free.

***

Some days, those notes, I can hear at my feet

Little waves lapping, tapping a beat.

A rhythm of joy! It’s faint but true –

Music from a land awaiting me and you.

***

For now I will strain to hear above the crashing

Of highways and byways and sentiments lashing,

The melody that calls and sweetly swells

Til my boat sings me home with glorious bells.

— Jennifer Edwards

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A Stitching Story

It’s Christmas Eve night, 3 am, and I’m wakened by an alarm that our T1D daughter’s blood sugars have plummeted. Blearily, I enter her room, test her blood sugar. 46. I give her juice boxes. Two of them. And I wait downstairs in my studio for a half hour in order to test her again to make sure the number comes up.

As I sit, waiting and trying not to fall asleep, a desire to stitch something rises in me. This desire had been floating around for a while, in and around all the holiday preparations, the gifting, the cleaning, the cooking. All was ready now. Stockings were hung, gifts were wrapped. I needed a needle and thread, stitches to mend what was frayed. I test her again and the number has only crept up to 55. I give her more juice. And I decide to wait an hour to test her again. Downstairs I enter my studio with an exhaled prayer…I need to stitch…I need fabric. I keep all of my fabric pieces in a cabinet up in our bedroom and I did not want to waken husband. The first place I look in my studio, in my beloved embroidery box, a lovely leftover piece of linen sits untouched, waiting for me. On my drawing table are small scraps leftover from having collaged another fragment I had begun the day before. For this linen piece, I just wanted to stitch, sashiko style, random, all over, abstract, choosing threads, a few fabrics, and stitches as I go, responding to what has come before, unplanned, with no pre-designed image.

An hour is a long time to stitch. For me anyway. At 4:30, I set down the fragment to go test our daughter, whose blood sugars, thankfully had risen to a much better number. I could rest now. Or at least try to, as I sometimes am unable to get back to sleep after these events. But I did fall back asleep, surely helped by the rhythmic stitches I had long been desiring to begin. Just starting a creative project releases a sense of calm and assurance that all will be well, one stitch at a time.

Christmas Day, after a merry morning of gifting around our glowing tree, I gathered my clothespinned threads, scissors and linen fragment to take on the trip to visit my family. Just the thing for travel…filling a “page” of fabric with lines of stitches in, around, and over bits of found fabric scraps. At some point, with these abstract pieces, I start to look at them for composition, for what I might “see” in them, for pattern and repetition and what I might want to add for cohesion to the overall pictorial space. I see a need for a shape in that corner, a dark value of thread along that side, a textural element, such as a button, over there, and perhaps a word or two, something that speaks to me.

Holding the fragment in one direction I saw a sliver of a moon hovering in an abstracted sky. In another direction, a small boat in a river or ocean. The latter was stronger to me, and I began to work toward bringing out the story within the stitches. I add blanket stitches, a small girl holding an oar, starry buttons in the magical sky. The linen fragment becomes part of a gauzy background, continuing the use of “found” pieces of fabric. The boat theme is showing up in several of these fragments lately. I know why. It’s the larger one I’m working on, which I will share with you soon, that is influencing this basic shape of a boat in water. The recent loss of a beloved friend, and my thoughts surrounding her homegoing, have me thinking of this iconic symbol of our passage from this life to the next. Art helps me work through these things. Stitching provides a similar work to “rowing”…moving me along one stitch after another, slowly, deliberately to a joyful end. Most of the time we have no clue what is being wrought in and through our daily comings and goings. The important thing is to keep on stitching, working in, around and over the bits we are given. There will be a beautiful story in the end.

For now…we row our boats, stitch our days, offering gratitude along the way.

💗

Ocean Observations :: Home

When I was a little girl I remember my dad coaching me as to how to get through the breakers at the Ocean’s Edge beyond to where the water wasn’t so choppy. I was told to dive right into the wave and swim through it to the other side. The trick was to get just beyond the breakers, but not go too far out. If a wave was coming toward me, and I wasn’t too far away from it, I could swim toward it as it crested and just float on the swell and over the back side of it.

OceanFragmentalmostdone

At home now from a lovely week of sun, sand, and ocean, I’m considering how this might translate to everyday life. Is it possible to ride the swell of the waves? Today being a Saturday, I’m easing back into things. Monday I might need to just take a deep breath and dive right into and under the wave and start swimming. It will certainly not be as crazy as letting the breakers crash into me. Something to consider as I move forward into July.

I’m also thinking of this stitching practice as a tether from me (or my surfboard or boat) to the shore. Drawing lines, knitting yarn, and stitching thread has that wonderful imagery inherent in the mediums…a lifeline to hang onto as we walk through our lives. July is sure to be a jolly month and one filled with travel and celebrations! I’m looking forward to drawing my everyday, knitting up pretties, and stitching through it all. Thank you for joining me here for my week of Ocean Observations!

Ocean Observations :: Day Six

I woke this morning thinking about Rock Tumblers. I haven’t thought about Rock Tumblers since our oldest was a young girl. We bought her one so she could learn the science of how rocks are smoothed. It was an exercise in patience as the small gadget churned and tumbled the rocks for days on end before any evidence of smoothing was apparent.

I didn’t know why I was remembering all this until I walked along the Ocean’s Edge this morning, bent over in search of just the right shells to stitch onto my ocean fragment. I realized that out there in the ocean, and especially where the Breakers are, the shells are, in essence, in one big Rock Tumbler. I recalled the churning quality of the waves, having first hand knowledge of this as well as the refining and smoothing (or skinning!) nature of sand on shells over time.

This too is Breaker Living. Our everyday lives are like Rock Tumblers. A regular and ceaseless churching and turning which can refine our rough edges, smooth out creases, soften crusty exteriors.

This all sounds good in theory. For me, I seem to grow barnacles even in the tumble of everyday life. I need the Ocean’s Edge to dry out my waterlogged limbs. Swimming against the current is trying. Getting out of the tumbler for a week resets my batteries, unravels knots and stitches up frayed edges.


Am I ready to dive back in? To run with the race horses, mane flying in the wind? To enter the crucible of day in and day out? Ready or not, I’m carrying the memory of Ocean’s Edge with me. As I tumble and churn each day I’ll strive to keep my eyes on the horizon as a steadying device. I’ll ask for Grace to slow the pace, joy to smooth the path, love to light the way through the frothy foam. As I leave the peace of this week and begin to hear again the roar of the everyday tumbler, I am grateful for the Ocean, for sand and salty air, for sea gulls and oats, for shells and waves, for breakers and boats, for family and good food. I’ve been given a gift to stitch into the fiber of my being.

Ocean Observations :: Day Five


I walked to the end of the island and on around the point to where the breakers can be seen from behind. I can’t recall having ever seen waves from any other vantage point other than straight on. They looked like horses racing toward an unseen finish line, their white manes flying in the wind of their speed, sweat spewing off their heads as they lunged toward the finish.

What delight there is in gaining a new perspective. Not that this alters the realities of Breaker Living, for truly this too is an apt depiction of our daily lives. Galloping at top speeds, nostrils flared, hair and sweat flying as we dash toward invisible goals, pushing through neck deep waters…yes this is everyday life. At least it is for me.


But it is not so onerous as I describe. Maybe it’s the perspective of a few days at Oceans Edge that has me seeing a beauty to all of it, a glory in the pursuit, in all the hard work, in the high speed pursuit of living, working, loving others and maintaining a rich, full and blessed life. Yes, perspective is what I’ve needed. An ability to get out of the Breakers and view them from the Ocean’s Edge as well as from behind. Its like seeing the forest instead of being lost in the trees. Though I’d still like to stay here at the edge a while longer, I’m grateful for the break from the Breakers.


Note 1: These Sketchbook entries are abstractions based on the Breakers.

Note 2: Knitting in the sand, purchasing  groceries to feed the family, and other simple pursuits prevented me from posting this yesterday.😃

Ocean Observations :: Day Four

I’d like to be a sea oat stalk. It grows tall and proud by the Ocean’s Edge despite dry, sandy soil. They lean and bend with the whim of the weather. In certain lights their wheat-like hair glows. They appear to thrive on very little attention, content to face the ocean or the sun, bowed slightly as in prayer or worship. Their root system must be intricate and strong to stand firm in shifting sands and ruthless ocean storms.

It would be a simple life, but for the storms. And though they appear very singular in their comportment, they are always surrounded by friends and family, swaying together in a beautifully choreographed dance. This morning in particular they seem delighted with the abnormally cool temperature and easy breeze as they bob and nod, swaying side to side.

I’ve been watching them for half an hour now, mesmerized by their tai-chi-like moves…a perfect meditation for mid-week at Ocean’s Edge. I’ve also begun to stitch them into the Ocean Fragment. I am not quite capturing their delicate yet strong essence. There seems to be a bit of magic holding that tall skinny stalk straight while bearing the weight of the fringe at the top. I will likely stitch more sea oats in other fragments when I return home.


The crazy thing about these slender flagpoles is that they are crucial to the stability of the dunes. I like that. Could it be that we, living our ordinary lives, facing the Sun, rooted to one place and bending with grace to the winds of change; could it be that we, you and I, are essential to the stability of the environment in which we live?

Perhaps I make too much of this. But it is good to be reminded that I matter in the grand scheme of the cosmos. Facing the vastness of ocean and sky, getting lost in the churning breakers, one can feel quite small and insignificant. If our Maker deems it necessary that sea oats help maintain stability and hold back erosion, does it not follow that we too are important to the stability of our families, our friends and communities in which we live? You and I are stitched into the dunes of our lives for a reason. How wonderful to find sea oats an unlikely testament to this truth!

Ocean Observations :: Day Three

Being at the Ocean’s Edge is like having a figure drawing session available at any time of the day. Morning runners and walkers, ambling shell seekers, strike poses perfect for gesture drawing. Afternoon sun bathers sitting and lying down on bath towels provide more interesting angles to draw the human body. And evening sunset seekers standing around casually or walking in the direction of a fiery glow offer yet more shapes for quick sketches of movement, form, and energy. One could draw people full time here and not exhaust the many poses the human figure is capable of.


I love trying to capture a few of them, and I’m certainly going to include one or two stitched into my Ocean’s Edge Fragment. These sketches, as nearly all gesture drawings, are worked fast, catching only the tilt of the body, the movement or energy  therein. One fella in a red shirt kept changing his position over and over as he sought the perfect shells. I have four different poses sketched quickly so as not to get my brain too involved. It actually helps to draw fast…your analytical brain can’t keep criticizing and correcting you and your intuitive brain can take over. I’d love to live there all the time!


The beauty of gesture drawing is that you tune into the energy in everything! I’ve been fascinated by the sea grasses this year and will certainly stitch them into the fragment with their flowing lines of wheat-like hair bent in the sea breezes. Clouds have a gesture of such breathtaking beauty I never feel I capture them adequately. And even the breakers…yes, the churning frothing waves have gestures ranging from ferocious to lilting and everything in-between.


I doubt I’ll be able to include all of these in my stitched fragment, but it is worth recording in some fashion the dynamic energy in all that surrounds me. Perhaps I can carry it back home to Life in the Breakers. But I shan’t think of that now. I am here!! And there are several more delicious days ahead of people watching and sketching and stitching.

Ocean Observations :: Day Two

All is calm at the end of Oak Island today. I have walked here this morning, noticing that the breakers are quiet and petite. I’m thinking “breakers” is not the word for these gentle rolls of frilly lace. I sit here listening and longing to be lapped up in them, a coverlet of lace flowing over me.

It is all due to the wind and rains we had yesterday evening. Perhaps worn out from the ordeal, these breakers no longer roar, but rather gurgle at Ocean’s Edge. I too feel this within me on our second full day of vacation. It takes me a day, when I first go to a new place, to feel settled. Breaker living gets ratcheted up a notch in unfamiliar surroundings and a bustling house of dear folks with whom I am unaccustomed to living. Upon waking that first morning it seemed the best thing would be to just draw, just make some lines on a page. Pencil felt like a good choice as there were no hard lines anywhere in my view from the deck. Today I’m thinking only watercolor will do it justice.


Sketching, knitting, and stitching throughout the day serves to anchor me. The winds die down a bit and give way to peaceful rivulets of gurgling joy.

This is the way of living it seems. Storms giving way to quiet inlets. Making things serves as a boat for me to ride out all of it, make sense of it, even find beauty amongst this ocean landscape. Along with daily sketches, I’m stitching a pre-collaged fragment of the ocean. It feels like the perfect way to stitch down thoughts, images, and experiences of a week lived at Ocean’s Edge.


Walking back to the beach house, I notice the breakers are starting to roar again. The day is waking up. The ebb and flow of life goes on and cannot be stopped, try as I might. I can only ride in my boat, observing the days, drawcumenting them in a sketchbook, and stitching them together.

Ocean Observations :: Day One

There is an expansiveness here where big skies meet water that unfurls to its sandy edge. A soul can breathe easier here. Lungs get to expand further than daily living allows. The expansiveness seems to occupy three areas – the sandy beach, the watery depths, and the huge panorama of clouds meandering across an azure backdrop. I however, live in the breakers.

Being here heightens this sense that life back home, though it is a lovely life, is nevertheless the frothy foamy churn of daily to-do’s, worries and concerns, work and endless errands, anxiety about the future and all manner of emotions. There, in my waves and breakers life, I work diligently to stand, as the paddle boarders and surfers do. Here, I don’t have to work so hard…the breakers dissolve into a gentle, clear water with just a hint of foam along the edge. Here I get to lift my head and take in the 180 degree view.

It may be more like a 220 degree view. This year we are very near the end of Oak Island and from the deck of the beach house we can see for miles down and around the tip. I walked there this morning, taking into my cramped heart the delicious space all around me, breathing in the quiet, broken only by gulls and the occasional jet ski.

We do not have great wi-fi service here. But I’m thinking I’ll write each day Observations from the ocean’s edge. The thing about expansiveness is that it releases worries and anxiety, the grief of holding on so tight, and gives way to ponderous thought and an effervescence of mind and heart. I will not send out alerts as to having written. If you, dear reader, receive this, then I am glad of your company here at  Ocean’s Edge for the week. Perhaps we’ll both expand and release, lifting our eyes from the churning breakers to the incredible skies all around.

Slow Is As Slow Does

From the beginning of the year I’ve been searching high and low for ways to live Slow & Simple. I have not achieved this lofty ideal. And perhaps it is unattainable as an ongoing,  moment by moment reality. I have had, thankfully, some hours, minutes, perhaps even a day here and there where Slow and Simple were tangible states of being. I am ever so grateful for these moments, places to breathe into and gain a sense of equilibrium, even if it is fleeting.

I had no idea at the beginning of this year that I would be delving back into a medium that is even slower in its approach and process than any of my previous ways of creating art. Drawing and painting can be everything from painstaking to dashed off. I seem to like the fairly free and loose approach which is somewhat quick yet thoughtful too. Knitting is always a time-consuming work, but it can also be mindless, fast knit & purl, or a slowed chart-reading affair. But embroidery seems even slower, if that is possible. Needle up through the fabric, needle down through the fabric, pull up, pull down. There are times when I can work down & up in the same motion, thus speeding things up a smidge. But not always. The pre-work (or post, in this case) of creating a collaged fabric upon which to stitch, drawing, tracing, transferring, any machine embroidery, etc…this all adds to a slower method of working. It is one I am currently relishing in all its facets and phases.

The thing about Slow, whether in life or in art, is in the doing of a thing. It’s a matter of doing each task slowly, thoughtfully, mindfully. I sometimes daydream about a monastic life of stitching, knitting, crocheting and artful work. I read somewhere that if you want to live a kind of monastic life right where you are, you must slow down and do one thing at a time. You must eat lunch and only eat lunch. Not eat lunch while working, or while checking Instagram, or while making a grocery list. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

This one-thing-at-a-time way of living would really slow me down. Yet I need very much to obey that inner voice, to actually attend to one thing at a time, to do slow so that I can live slow. It shouldn’t have to require me moving into a monastery. I should be able to live this slower and simplified life right here. Right? But it will cost. It will actually cost me not accomplishing as much as I want and feel I should. Slow will only BE in my life if I am willing to DO slow. Just like my stitches. Down, Up, down, up. One stitch at a time.