Friday, 28 December 2012

Awakening. Blog 9.

Winter Feelings

Happy cooking for the family.
Holidays and memories of my mother smiling, laughing, cooking. A dove of peace atop our tree, it must still be in a box somewhere underneath my father’s house. Looking through what I have written here, however, I feel a little bit like I have blogged my mother into angel-hood or dove-dom. To clarify, my mother was not all goodness and smiles. She had a ferocious temper, an unreasonable impatience with imperfection, and an aggressive and often biting fierceness to her. She was friend to many, deeply and passionately, but also, to some, a famous enemy. Outspoken, passionate, and often temperamental, she mellowed some with age, learned patience and, when faced with death, spoke with pride and great courage.

Upon learning of her terminal cancer, she decisively asked for all her grandchildren, our two and my brother’s two, to come to her before she was too sick to really be with them. We came first with Rachel, 20, and David, 16, in March. My brother followed in April with Will, also 20, and Sophie, 17. In the evening of our first night, she sat with me and the kids, I was incredibly impressed with her ability to confront her illness and speak openly. I was unable to sleep that night until I wrote some of it down:

“Tekla speaks to her grandchildren with an honesty and integrity and courage that amazes me. She tells them clearly about her illness, how quickly it has come on, how virulent the cancer is and her choice not to have chemotherapy. She explains that is hard and painful for her not to see them grow up, talks about how special they are to her: Rachel as the first grandchild and their very close and special relationship. David and their special relationship... She tells them how she is not afraid and how she goes away from life with no regrets. We list her accomplishments and she speaks of them with pride. And I am so, so proud. We all weep a little and laugh a little.”

Of course, the following day, when my daughter and I discussed how both hard and  special it was to have her grandmother be able to say good-bye as she had done, I mentioned to my daughter how I couldn’t sleep until I wrote some of it down. My daughter’s response?  “Ma, I recorded it on my iPhone”. Technology... sigh... at it’s best. 

My mother made a dying gift to us all of her openness, strength, and eloquence. 

Tekla's grandchildren, a collage through time.

Mother Bear

After the building of the new Pender Island Community Hall, my mother was part of a group who carved the “mother bear” and other totem poles which now stand at the front of the Hall. I remember her proudly telling me about the carving, a special time in her life. My mama bear, the totem climber and carver....

This was one of my favorite t-shirts. For the block, I only used one choice of the quilting fabrics which I initially chose: the fern pattern. Ferns in B.C. and in Costa Rica, both her homes, were what prompted me to choose this fabric. I especially like the bleach stain spot and the faded worn and warm essence of this shirt.

The Totem Carvers

Block from T-shirt to raise funds for Community Hall Totem.



Proud to Farm


Tekla at the Farmer's Market in her "Proud to Farm" tee.
From the wide stretches of Saskatchewan prairie farmland to the city and then to her country garden on the Gulf Islands, my mother always had the heart and head of a farmer. She knew the soil, understood the timing of growth and the goodness of rain. A bad grub would be swiftly executed, earthworms would be praised, watering would be root deep, composting clippings would rustle as they transformed into fine rich dirt. Fat peas were grown to be stolen from the vine when we visited her garden. Her flowers almost embarrassed and overwhelmed us with their beauty. 

This block will have some leaves stitched on, they are currently pinned. I was going to cover the corporate “American Eagle” logo with a leaf and then I saw the t-shirt had some fame as a retro tee being sold on eBay for an inflated price... this gave me a chuckle, so I left the "ae".

Proud to Farm t-shirt block.

Definitely the Opera

A late addition to the dwindling t-shirt pile, this one from CBC’s “Definitely not the Opera” weekend radio show. When I realized I might run out of t-shirts enough to make a queen sized quilt, my father brought this back from their other home in Costa Rica. So worn, it was almost falling apart in my hands as I ironed and sewed it... the tropical climate of Costa Rica makes everything so transient, moisture and weather taking back all our fragile man made goods. Return to the earth says the rain forest, return and renew.

Threadbare tee made into thread-rich block.

In the garden, my mother would consistently have the CBC playing on her battery powered radio, she would listen to most anything that they put on, but it was “Saturday Afternoon at the Met", the formidable force of those operatic voices, that she enjoyed the most. Pavarotti was her most beloved opera singer and he joined us at her “good-bye” just as she had planned. Listen.


Celebrating the summer solstice of 1984 in the winter solstice of 2012.
Winter solstice (Dec. 21st) now passed and I am walking since that solstice day for the first time after almost four months. The foot aches, the ankle, the knee, the hip, but to move is a gift and I am grinning and bearing (and sometimes crying) with these new pains and the effort of walking again. I crawl out of my 2012 cocoon of injury and grief moving slowly towards a new year, 2013. And I hear my mother’s words... “take care of each other, take care of the earth”.

My Tekla memory quilt layout updated, six more blocks to go.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Good Medicine. Blog 8.

Medicine Beach

Great Blue Heron
For Tekla

We search the hours for solitude,
the quiet of herons in their sleep,
a fisher on the wing who falls
into the waves in search of silver
or a woman making her way through mist
in early morning, delicate as water.
We search for this, a small stone
in the tide, a broken shell, a crab
so still we think it prays, its claws
raised to our hands as if
what we wait for is return.
What do we do with our hours?
We reach for what comes to us
in quiet. There is in us a need
for silence. Look at the woman
who is heron in her mind.
She has made of life a silence.
See how she holds all her life
in her eyes. She walks among stones.
Far from her in the tidal reach
birds rise into the light.
Who goes to her but herself?
What she has held is hers and hers
alone: to watch the quiet of herons,
a kingfisher falling from all the sky
there is upon this quiet
she gives only to herself, a beach
whose medicine is hers and hers alone.

Of Songs and Birds


Tekla and her birder friends.
My mother was an ardent environmentalist and occasional birder. The proceeding poem was written by Patrick Lane, poet and friend, in support of Medicine Beach, a fragile beach adjoining a unique salt water wetland area on one of B.C.'s gulf Islands, Pender, where my mother spent the last 30 years of her life. This poem is published in my father’s book “The Laughing Falcon” in honour of his wife and “tireless” editor.  In the poem, my mother, to whom it was dedicated, is both woman and heron.

The Medicine Beach/ Pender Chorus fundraising t-shirt became two blocks: the frog like creature drawing on one, almost complete, and the words: “Join the Chorus” on the other block. Good Medicine, singing and saving the beach... good medicine, sewing and writing... good medicine, healing my broken foot and heart... good medicine, celebrating my mother’s uniquely rich life. Good medicine indeed.

The medicine frog

Chorus sings to support Medicine Beach

The Point of Brooks Point


I struggled with this t-shirt. It’s thick plastic-y screened image, bright and beautifully executed by Pender Island artist Frank Ducote was difficult to work with, apologies to Frank. I originally had intended to make it into 3” squares but accidentally cut them much smaller at 2”. The image is in extremely vivid colours on black, I was hoping that breaking it up it would blend into the other colours and layouts of the other blocks. I’m not sure that it’s working. 

My inner dialogue with my mother, which I often have while sewing the quilt blocks, “this is my difficult child, unruly and awkward and contrary”... she would laugh at my minor frustrations and then encourage me, as she always did, to work it through. The block is uneven, some of the plastic image is melted, everything is crooked and puckered, my iron has a gummy melted mess on it. Like all difficult children, it should not be neglected.

Silhouetted at Brooks Point
Brooks Point was one of our favorite walks. There was always a special trip out to Brooks Point on South Pender for beach combing, whale watching, barking at the seals and balancing along the driftwood when we would visit. The children would build forts from the bleached wood and there would be a simple picnic of cheese and crackers and my mother’s pickles on logs near the water’s edge. Through the efforts of people like my mother in the Pender Island community, the Capital Regional District in Victoria completed the purchase of Brooks Point in 2010 making it a regional park for all to enjoy in perpetuity. I do not believe in heaven and yet, there, amongst the wet pebbles, the wind, the gulls, and the salt water is a heavenly place where I will always find her.

An unruly block

Browning Bombers

Climbing the Totem
At the local Pender Island Browning Harbour pub, where many, many years ago I saw an unknown band called “Spirit of the West” (link to song, have a listen), it was there that music, guffaws and spilled beer was, and still is, shared by the locals and intermittent weekenders and tourists with great gusto, merriment, and small town friendliness. Local legend has it that my mother was the first to climb the totem pole which stands in the middle of the bar room holding up the roof. Not sure where the fine folks who made up the Browning Bombers Blues Band have gone but, I imagine, a few of them might still be found picking out some blues on a wet coast night just below that famous totem pole.

Browning Pub Blues

Just Mom and Me


Mom and me through the years.


Last photo together, love delivered.
It’s funny the small moments one remembers, the almost insignificant beats of a too-busy life that can wake you from a fitful sleep. When I first learned about my mother’s terminal cancer I struggled like a drowning person, gasping and grasping for all the moments I had had with her, worried that I would lose all memory of them... all those everyday moments, not the special holidays or birthdays that were made famous through photographs and family lore. One morning I woke with great clarity and I remembered with vividness how we would walk, my mother and I, holding hands and making small farting noises by suctioning our hands together. A silly thing that we did from the time I was a little girl until we were both way too old to know better or even care... our little secret. I remembered us walking through a West Vancouver shopping mall and making little farts behind a very uptight and proper ‘blue rinse’ lady, acting shocked, and then suppressing our giggles like the naughty little girls that we were.

Just a thing that we did, holding hands. 

Anticipation and Progress


A few days away from walking without crutches on my once broken, now fixed, foot. My left foot, at least it almost feels like my foot again, goes by the nickname: Liz Frank. Tingling with anticipation and the ever-so-slight feeling of a plate and a few screws inside it... I am trying to get as many quilt blocks done as I can before I will busy myself with the effort of learning to walk again. Although, I am sure a ten minute walk seem like a marathon and the comfort of sewing will draw me back to the smaller yet impressive stack of remaining t-shirts. And, yes, I am still saving my favorite t-shirts for last. 

With such an eclectic mix of blocks and images, I became worried at how it would all work. I set up a template in Adobe Illustrator to contemplate the potential final look, the simple solid colours and borders that I may use to pull all these disparate blocks together. I am pretty happy with the result. No idea how it will all fit, but pretty happy nonetheless.

The queen-sized quilt layout, a loving work in progress.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Movement. Blog 7.

A broken block.



It was with great verve and anger that I attacked the t-shirt that advertised: “Don’t Play With Your Health”  Indeed!... 'playing' with my health, going up an unsafe ladder, (one that I, myself, had set) and falling to my own broken state has left me with three and half months of crutchdom, crawling up stairs on my knees in utter humiliation, suffering through painful surgery, and fractured bones that may, someday, heal. With less than three weeks until I get the okay to slowly start weight bearing and walking, I am anxious, a little terrified, and completely and utterly fed up. I am headstrong, too fast to judge, and always think I know best... all qualities that I inherited from my mother... in both their good and bad affiliations. 
This “Parkdale Occupational Health and Safety Committee” t-shirt was comprised of a series of comic-like drawings of work and home accidents. It was the one word “CRASH” in cartoon lettering that spoke to me the most. That sound of a ladder falling haunts me forever. I wasn’t sure where I was going when I started this quilt block, but, as I kept cutting and sewing, I realized I wanted to make it feel ‘broken’, like shattered glass or bones...  off-balance and sharp. 

Anger to Sadness... if I could just call my mother and have her admonish me for my stupidity. Sigh.

Note to all: always have a ladder buddy below.

Fish and leaves to be embroidered on at a later date.

Fish and Foliage


I started swimming as part of my physio: moving through watery space with some speed, heart beating, ankle loosening, body thanking me... underwater: I want to be a fish, or a dolphin, an orca whale. (Word of advice to anyone who suffers an injury similar to mine: swim as soon and as often as you can.) I dedicate this block to my harsh but true mantra of late: “move or die”. Swim, hike, bike... move. A family of walkers, my father hikes his way to a renewed life and love through the jungles and beaches of Costa Rica. My husband waits impatiently for our long walks, future travels, hiking new trails and old paths. Our old dog still jumps up when I move from room to room, ‘will she finally walk me?... it is time?’. Soon, dog, soon.

Hiking is healing. As family and friends gathered for my mother’s funeral, we went on a few group hikes to some of her favorite spots. It was a great time to walk together, be together with or without words, share our sorrow and heal.

Some family gathering at the bluffs, remembering.

The freedom shirt.

Liberté, Freiheit, Libertad, Freedom

A road to travel, a desert to walk.
Those words in many languages were spelled on the t-shirt used in this block. I reflect for a moment on my mother as a feminist. Remember the early days of feminism? There was a time when all that I know, and all that my daughter takes for granted, was simply not there for women in this country. Needless to say, in so many other countries and nations, women have no where near our rights and freedoms. The struggle does continue. But in honour of my mother, I harken back to the sixties and seventies when feminism first grew strong as a movement and then as a way of life. She marched and rallied and held her head high as a vocal woman, an educated woman, and a fearless woman. I winced as a young teenager at her diatribes on the importance of the feminist movement, embarrassed at her passionate and opinionated voice in front of my shy and wordless adolescent friends. I struggled with her formidable presence... I just wanted to blend in with the latest fashions, peer pressures, and mindless attitudes. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized how the gift that she gave me, that very same strong voice and feminist attitude, has formed me. A favorite song from those pioneering days of the feminist movement:  Give us bread, but give us roses.

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: Bread and Roses! Bread and Roses!
As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women's children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.
As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.
As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; bread and roses, bread and roses.