Saturday, February 25, 2012

Some accomplishments over the years

My mother is an artist of the highest order.  She has been sewing since she was a young girl and taught me to sew when I was 8.  I haven't upholstered furniture as she has but I have made drapes, clothes, knit shawls and attempted many, many other crafts.  The following pictures are examples.  Several of them are of quilts I've made.  Many of the ones I made never faced a camera, unfortunately.  Not that they were very good but I would have liked a record!

Made for one of the children I nannied, in my favorite colors.

A faded, very loved quilt I made for my first grandchild, Samuel Austin Bowman.  He has been promised a larger one but it hasn't happened yet.

Made for my daughter, mother of my grandchildren, and a sunflower lover for years and years.  I remember she let an overnight visitor use it.  The gentleman was kind enough to throw it in the washer "on hot"!!!!!  Jen panicked but it worked out alright.

Quilt for grandchild #2, Elizabeth Jayne Bowman.  It, too, has become worn as she is now 8.

A huge work of love.  While I was working as a nanny in Berkeley, I found this pattern.  My Laura was a huge fan of flowers, any flowers, but specifically tulips.  When I got home in September, I couldn't wait to give it to her but she wrapped it up and opened it again on Christmas Day.  Hence, this picture. 

I made several of these fish quilts for sale but this particular one was the first and was made for my brother, Dan, an avid fisherman, particularly off the coast.

This particular quilt was made for a fund raiser at our family church in Redding.  I put it up for bid and the winner chose the colors and pattern.  Easily recognizable as Wedding Rings. 

This is one of my all time favorite projects.  I made my daughter, Nicki's, wedding dress from start to finish (not the veil).  There is hand sewn lace on the train, the front of the gown and just under her bouquet.  She looked positively gorgeous in the dress!  Her sister, Jennifer, produced the wedding which explains the beloved sunflowers.  There were even goldfish in bowls on the tables!

Over the years I have attempted and accomplished countless other projects and crafts.  I was addicted to craft magazines and ate up the ideas I found.  A couple of those crafts follow.

Gourds I opened, cleaned out, sanded, drilled and beaded. 

A rug I hooked 1,000 years ago.  I think my husband married me just to get this on his wall. 

And the rabbits, oh, the rabbits.  I made over 200 of these babies, most of them sold.  This particular one means a lot to me because I made it for my dear, dear friend Christine, who died within a month of being diagnosed with leukemia.  I inherited her and she resides in our barrister's case to make sure she stays fresh.

I guess I need to get back to work considering I have a room-high craft cabinet and numerous vacuum bags full of fabric.

Friday, February 24, 2012

My Very First Passion

I am a reader.  I have been reading since I was 3 years old.  I fell in love with books and have never let go.  My Grandmother Shull gave me Pinocchio and Black Beauty when I was 5-6.  Not picture books but the unabridged editions.  I can still remember the utter wonderment I felt upon reading them.  I can still remember being horrified by the horrible treatment Black Beauty received from several of her owners.  And I remember the relief I felt when she finally found her forever home.  Pinocchio, on the other hand, was a romp, a delight for the imagination and actually very scary in parts but I loved it!  My parents weren't sure that I had actually comprehended what I read so they quizzed me and I passed.  It was on then!  The pictures I have included here aren't the covers I remember and, of course, there was no Kindle.

In the 1950's and 1960's children's literature was not at an all time high.  Good books weren't easy to come by.  However, I would troll the aisles of the libraries at every school I attended.  I am an Air Force brat so there were at least 5 by the time I got to high school. I read every nurse, teacher, stewardess (yep, that's what they were called) book I could find.  I read every biography I could put my hands on.  I read about Tom Dooley.  No, not the one in the song.  The doctor who went, on his own, to the outbacks of Cambodia and Laos to fight disease and help teach the locals about staying well.  And I read To Kill a Mockingbird, to this day one of the most important books I've ever read.  Atticus, Scout and Boo live in my heart.  The book is unsurpassed as far as I am concerned.

After my son went to college I started working at Redding Book Store, a great independent devoured by Barnes and Nobles.  B&N will always be a dirty word to me.  They decimated the world of wonderful independent bookstores.  Nonetheless, the almost two years I spent at RBS were a great time for me.  I was in heaven!  I could touch them and hold them and check them out!  I could answer questions about recommendations.  I hand sold over 100 copies of A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines.  Another book I still chew on in my mind.  And then I became aware of all of the fabulous children books now available.

I had taken two Library Science courses at UNC-Chapel Hill while going for my teaching certificate.  Jeremy was small and we both discovered the wonders of picture books.  I also fell hard for middle readers.  The Caldecott and Newbury awards were beacons.  I had the opportunity at RBS to help manage the children's department.  I even had a story hour on Sundays which usually held 5-6 kids' attention.  One Valentine's Day I read I'll Love You Forever by Robert Munch.  Every mother there was in tears . . . as well as me.  That year I gave my grown children that book for Christmas.  Jeremy's response was, "Mom, I love you but if you ever put a ladder up to my window and peek at me, I will push it over!" 

I started collecting children's books while working at RBS, lots of them.  When I moved to Winston-Salem I had ~25 boxes of books alone.  Not all of them were for children; many were for this big child.  However, I wanted to open a business called The Book Lady.  I saw myself going to day cares, birthday parties, local schools, etc, and reading to the children.  All subjects including first tooth, first little sister, etc, could be covered.  I had fanciful books, history books, holiday books . . . well, you get the picture. 

In Winston I started working at Borders Bookstore.  Borders' philosophy was so far and away from B&N that it almost felt independent.  After working the night shift for a month or so I began managing the children's department.  I climbed ladders to get books down, hauled books all over the place to arrange and rearrange and put up displays.  I hand sold books because I had read so many of them and actually had middle readers come back and ask for more.  I again had a story hour and would theme it each week.  It attracted a lot of repeats and new children who had heard about it.  I loved it. 

Then within short order, I got engaged, blew my ankle out and moved to Roanoke Rapids.  Butch and I have our own library here.  It is the extra bedroom and it is lined with bookshelves.  Oh, there are books in stacks in every room of the house.  But the children's book collection is pretty much contained in the library.  I would estimate that we have ~2,000 books written for children but with such beautiful prose and art that I am immersed from the beginning.  My husband gives me books by Polacco and Brett every year.  I love the If You Give a Mouse . . . .and subsequent books by Laura Numeroff.  I tracked down all of the Betsy, Tacy and Tib books I loved as a girl as well as An All Of A Kind Family.  And I am very fond of Curtis Taylor's book, Pet My Dragon.  I believe it was the first book for children on Kindle.

Now that you know I am absolutely obsessed by the written word and illustrations, I will be writing more about books I love in the time to come.  I hope that if you see a book you aren't familiar with, you will give it a try.  You don't have to like it . . . . Just try it!  One last anecdote:  Jeremy has never been much of a reader.  He always said it made him sleepy.  One day, when he was about 13, he crawled into my lap and said, "Mom, are you sure I am not adopted?"  I said, "Yep, pretty much, I was there.  Why?"  He said, "Because you LOVE to read and I don't really!"  It's okay, Baby, you are brilliant at so many other things beyond my realm!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Family, Part Deux

I am incredibly blessed to have a large family.  Having said that, I don't believe that family is only defined as blood relations.  My family is a bonsai tree that has grown in many directions and I am very proud of that fact!  I want to tell you about several of the most important people in the world to me.

These are, from left to right, Jennifer, Nicki, Jennifer's daughter, Elizabeth and Laura.  Laura is Jennifer and Nicki's mom.  Jennifer and my son, Jeremy, met in sixth grade back in 1988.  They became fast friends.  When they started high school both became involved in a lot of activities so Laura's and my paths crossed repeatedly.  At that time we were acquaintances who really liked each other but we didn't get together. 

Because Laura and the girls' dad divorced and Laura moved to Redding, a good 15-20 minutes away, Jennifer spent a lot of weekend nights at our house because she worked in Anderson on Saturday and Sunday.  We became very close and I referred to her as my daughter.  Jeremy and Jennifer had become as close as any brother and sister could.  I knew Nicki because I began to work at the same flea market as Jenn and ran into Nicki there pretty much every weekend.  She was a cutie with a precious little dog whose name I want to say was "Peter".  Forgive me, darling, if I am wrong. 

Then came the kids' senior year, 1994-95.  At that time both Jeremy and Jennifer were involved with Show Pop, a singing and dancing troupe from the high school.  They had a group of friends known as "The Circle", all very close to each other.  And because I was very involved with the music program, when I was named co-chair of the annual Mardi Gras dinner fund raiser, Laura and I got to know each other somewhat better.  Laura was involved in many ways and we spent a lot of time together organizing and getting that show on the road. 

I raised Jeremy, for the most part, by myself with the help of many angels along the way.  There was serious concern, legitimate if truth be told, about how I would react when he went away to college and I was "on my own".  Sure enough, Jeremy left for Chico State towards the end of August and by Labor Day I had quit my desk job and gotten a job as kitchen help/waitress at the local Win River Casino.  The Casino is owned by the Wynn tribe so it is not an understatement that my red hair and very pale face stood out like a beacon.  Because I was older and "responsible" I was put on night shift in order to keep a couple of hooligans as straight as possible.  No money there and my schedule was blown to smithereens.  On Jeremy's first break home he looked in the fridge and said with horror in his voice, "Mom, there is no food in here!".  I pointed out the yogurt and condiments and he repeated, "No food!".  I had always made sure that the fridge and standup freezer were full, that the shelves were filled with canned goods and that there was always something that the kids could nuke or eat out of hand.  Our house was a frequent stop for the circle and I loved it that way. 

After Christmas I stopped to visit Jennifer at her job at a legal firm.  I asked if she knew of anyone who might need a roommate.  She said, "What about Mom?"  I was stunned.  Turned out Laura was having difficulty managing on her own as well.  The problem was that neither of us really wanted a roommate.  However, on Jennifer's insistent urging, I went to Laura's for dinner.  We talked a long time and came to the conclusion that it just might work.  She had a double-wide mobile home with bedrooms at both ends so we would still have our privacy.  And thus it began.  I put most of my things in storage and took over one of the bedrooms.

It worked!  Not without hitches, of course.  We were both full grown women with our own views and habits and many of them didn't meet up.  But we worked them through.  Jennifer lived there at the time and Jeremy would come home on breaks or for the weekend.  Some of the circle would wander in and Nicki, who was living with her father, began spending more time with us.  Laura got a little overwhelmed by this but adjusted as time went by.  We all became that much closer.  I was Mom #2 to both girls and Laura was Mom #2 to Jeremy (he also has several other moms as we are blessed with very good friends).

Jennifer became engaged to Brandon, someone both kids had known since he was in 7th and also in band.  He and Jeremy had been very good friends for a very long time.  So the Bowmans, Brandon's family blended with ours.  I was blessed to make Jennifer's bridesmaids' dresses and the groomsmens' vests.  It was a joyous wedding!  And that wedding begat:

That is Sam on the left, Jen, Bran and Elizabeth.  By the time Sam was born I had moved to North Carolina and was heartbroken about not being there.  Some very resourceful soul (!) tracked down the fax number at the police department where I was working and faxed the first picture of Sam to me.  When the receptionist called me up to see it I burst into tears right there in the lobby.  The tears recurred every time I showed the picture to someone!  Elizabeth was born several years later but Jeremy kept me posted by phone while we waited and I got pictures very quickly afterward.  My name, by the way, is Grandee and I treasure that.

I was also blessed to make Nicki's wedding dress when she got married.  She is single now but I have a picture of the two of us together.  She was absolutely beautiful and I must say I am very proud of that dress.  And very proud that at both weddings I was in the family pictures, the "Mom" photos.  These girls mean the world to me.

Laura passed several years ago of pancreatic cancer.  It happened very, very quickly.  I lost my Jiminey Cricket, my very best sister/friend, my confidant.  When I moved back home from working in the Bay Area years before, I was working through some very traumatic experiences from down there.  On occasion I would have a "breakdown" of sorts and just cry.  And my Laura would just hold me, hold me until I felt completely loved and okay again.  She had the most glorious smile and the ability to make me laugh by saying "Oh, well!" when something took on unneeded importance.  We traveled together on a couple of occasions and did it well.  We were yin and yang.  And I will never, never stop missing her, ever.  But Laura was also the most spiritual person I have ever met and she loved Jesus.  She would say, "You can't scare me with Heaven."  I cannot hear the song "I Can Only Imagine" by any artist without tearing up because I know that my Laura is dancing in Heaven while Jesus smiles.

These are my girls and my boy.  Tell me they don't look as though they are from the exact same gene pool!  And that is the way they feel about each other.  Oh, they've bickered as have any other siblings but no one has each other's back more with Brandon right there beside them.  Brandon was one of Jeremy's groomsmen at he and Nicole's wedding with Sam and Elizabeth as junior groomsman/ring bearer and flower girl.  And Jennifer surprised Brandon by flying him out to New York City for Jeremy's bachelor weekend.  I not only felt Laura's presence at the wedding in San Diego but her name was spoken during the ceremony.

The newest addition to our family, Nicole, fits like a glove.  She was able to meet Laura a couple of months before Laura passed and for the very first time, the only time, Laura approved of the woman Jeremy had chosen.  It is the same with his siblings.  Nicole is the perfect person for this family tree.  We couldn't be happier to have her!

Bonsai, schmonzi!  This is my family and I adore them!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Magic Miracle Moments; An Ode to My Family

Last August my family celebrated my Daddy's 88th birthday.  Sounds simple enough but don't think that for a moment. 

In our combined family there are 7 siblings.  My brother Steve didn't come into the family until the late '80's.  He had been separated from Daddy since childhood through no fault on either part. My parents married in 1967 bringing together 3 girls and 3 boys but we would all agree that the Brady Bunch was a bunch of . . . well, you get the picture.  It was tough.  Back then combined families were uncharted territory for the most part and there were a lot of obstacles.

Front row from left to right are Pam, Darrell, Daddy, Mom and Dan.  Back row me, Lori and Dennis.
My parents live outside Spokane, Washington.  Last year on 01-11-11 my Daddy became very, very ill for an extremely long time.  He was in the hospital for over a month.  We almost lost him, far too close.  But my mother wouldn't allow that to happen.  She was by his side every moment of every day in and out of the hospital.  She was the mama bear and she was not bucking any interference in making sure that he did not leave us.  My brother Darrell and his wife, Julie, stepped up to the plate countless times but they have a business and 4 children.  My sister, Pam, flew in from Mississippi and spent a month helping as much as she could.  During her stay she, Darrell and Julie came up with a plan.  Darrell contacted all of us and asked if we could come to Spokane to celebrate Daddy's 88th birthday.  We would all camp out and converge at Mom and Daddy's during the day.  It was to be a complete surprise to my father.  It took months and lots and lots of planning and working very hard but, unbelievable to ALL of us, we made it.

By Thursday afternoon, 5 siblings, 5 spouses, my son Jeremy and his wife Nicole, 4 other grandchildren and a spouse and 3 great-grands were at the campground.  We had our own tent city and sat around the campfire every night talking while the great-grands ran around and played.  On Friday morning we loaded up and traveled the 40 minutes or so to Mom and Daddy's house.  We parked next door in a very large field with very dry grass and snuck up on the house.  It was like trekking through the jungle and the desert and we thought we would never traverse the less than 1/4 mile.  It seemed endless.  Mom was standing outside looking 20 years younger than any of us!  She had managed to get the house to her standards as well as the outside without ever letting on to Daddy who was standing inside the door looking stunned.  I asked him later what he was thinking and he said, "I just kept wondering how many more couples were coming through the door."  The joy felt by all of us is unexplainable and impossible to put into words.  We had actually pulled off something that NONE of us had ever thought would happen.

Dennis and Judy and Steve arrived Friday night and on Saturday we were back at the homestead to celebrate.  My uncle Johnny, Daddy's brother, and 6 cousins all arrived.  There were over 30 people there all to celebrate Jack Fifield and the Fifield family.  Jeremy spoke to Grammy at one point and said, "Look around you.  This is all you, Grampy and Uncle Johnny."  And it was glorious!  Mom had made a huge chocolate cake decorated beautifully and there was food for days.  People came and went throughout the house and outside while the great-grand twins stripped to their underwear and danced through the sprinkler with their great-aunt Cindy, as much a child as they are.

On Sunday we were all at the campground including Mom and Daddy.  Unfortunately Dennis and Judy had to leave because of work responsibilities but we spent the day together, had a Chinese auction, a seafood boil, wings on the grill and another huge fire.  Mom and Daddy were very reluctant to leave but it was late and we were all leaving the next morning in shifts.  Goodbyes were hard.

The next morning, Monday, Julie spent hours shuttling all of us to the airport as we departed.  Luckily one of my sisters and her husband and my brother, Steve, were on the same flight as Butch and me so we didn't have to say goodbye yet and Jeremy, who was headed on a business trip, met up with us in Minneapolis where we headed out for Raleigh.

We all made huge efforts to be there and did our  best to kick in when we got there but kudos go to Darrell and Julie and their children for their hard work, nonstop organization and absolute devotion to this project.  I must say that the weeks after coming home were difficult for all of us.  I've heard this from several of my siblings.  It was like 12 Christmas's at once and then the next day.  No one thought it would happen and everyone was a little bit nervous as to how it would go.  I repeat, it was glorious, life-changing and unprecedented.  And my father and mother have come eons since then from the scary times of last year. 

The morning of Daddy's 88th birthday a family portrait was taken.  I am amazed by the picture and when it arrived at Christmas, stared at it for hours.  I still do.  It was a magic miracle moment all of its own.  We are again a family and that will never change.  While Hurricane Irene was raging through the East Coast, those of us from Mississippi, North Carolina, Vermont, California, Washington State and Arizona were safe and together.  Despite the damage to property for several of us I wouldn't change a thing.

Front row, from the left, nieces, Dakota and Mariah, great-niece Abby, nephew Jarrod and great-nephews Elias and Deakon.  Second row, Jeremy, Nicole, me, Butch, Daddy, Mom, niece Kisha, Julie, Darrell and nephew Marcus.  Back row, Steve, Greg and Lori, Dan and Cindy, Judy and Dennis and Pam and Wesley.  My family.