Scotland | Barge Trip Coast to Coast

Part 1 of a great vacation in Scotland. Climb aboard!

Our View From Iowa

by Jim and Melanie

Great Glen Fault

The city of Inverness opens to the North Sea via the Beauly and Moray Firths. The city of Fort William opens to the Atlantic Ocean via Loch Linnhe. Three inland lochs (lakes) Ness, Oich, and Lochy are aligned between the two cities along a geological fault called the Great Glen Fault. It was formed about 400 million years ago.

Navigation by ship between regions around Inverness and Fort William was a long and dangerous undertaking over 200 years ago. They had to go around the islands to the west, or around England to the south. Both journeys faced hazards of weather and piracy. The trips took a long time.

A canal was proposed to be built between Inverness and Fort William which would drastically shorten the journey. Much of the 60 miles would utilize the lochs. To raise and lower ships, a system of 29 locks were…

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Mom

Mom’s birthday is today. In honor, I thought I’d re-run this post from two years ago.


This is a portrait of my mom, done in pastels when she was a young mother of five children. Today is Mom’s birthday. She died a few years ago. After my step-dad died, I ended up with the portrait. It hangs now in my quilt studio.

When I am working on projects, I have very little awareness of my surroundings. Unlike some people, who cherish special mementos around them, I don’t see anything except the work in front of me. But now and then I pause. When I look up and see Mom behind my long-arm, I’m surprised every time.

She could make anything. Sewing, tatting, needlepoint, crochet. Our community theatres enjoyed her talents as a costumer for many years. She created emperors and beggars, seven foot tall chickens and a cow, Tony and Maria and Officer Krupke. She remodeled bathrooms and kitchens and refinished furniture.

She didn’t leave a written legacy. No journals, no letters, never a greeting card. However, I do have a few other things from her I cherish.

I have three tangible items she made. One is a small wooden cabinet that hangs in our bathroom. Another is a cradle she made before our son was born. And another is a small standing cabinet, used in my childhood home as an end table in our living room. I won’t get to keep the cradle, ultimately, as it really belongs to our son.

As to intangible gifts, I think there are many. She was not a bigot, but welcomed people of all types into her heart. She gave me the gift of accepting others. She was frugal and ably met the challenges of a small budget with many expenses. She taught me how to be careful with money, too. She was imaginative, both in her ideas and in figuring out how to execute them. I immodestly will say, I think I learned by her example. She didn’t let other people’s ideas of what she should do rule her life, and she taught me that a woman can do whatever she chooses.

I didn’t inherit her Elizabeth Taylor-like beauty. I didn’t inherit her temper, more even than mine. But I still have the best of her in my heart. And every time I see her in my studio, I know my creative talents were nurtured by her example. Looking up, seeing her behind my long-arm, sharing my work with me, is a happy surprise every time.

Body Armor

While touring Edinburgh Castle, Jim and I encountered a man describing medieval arms. He demonstrated the long bow and the crossbow, detailing differences between them. One of the great benefits of these weapons is they could be used from a distance. Closer contact between enemies was dangerous for both.

He showed us a gambeson, or quilted coat. It looked remarkably like the coats worn by many in the audience. Its purpose, though, was not warmth, but protection. It could protect the skin from cuts and tears rendered in close combat.

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Docent with audience volunteer. She is wearing the gambeson, quilted body armor, and a helmet and is holding the crossbow.

The demonstration reminded me of an essay I wrote a few years ago, while at the tail end of recovery from depression and anxiety. Excerpts from it are below.


BODY ARMOR

This morning I awoke thinking of body armor. Imagine the padded chest protectors used by umpires, or those worn by fencers. These carry on a design idea with ancient origins. In the Middle Ages, thickly padded, quilted material was used to make body armor. It protected the warrior from blows of early weaponry.

Body armor, a means to protect oneself from attack.

The quilted armor, torn through all three layers, tattered and frayed. Underneath the skin is mottled, bruised, still tender. It heals, but slowly. My armor, variable in heft, could not protect me. I sit, needle in hand, pondering how to mend it, reinforce it.

I have mended quilts before, but never all the way through. Repairs can be simple enough, depending on the nature of the rip. If threads are loose at a seam, tuck them back in and stitch, following the same line. If the fabric is rent, darning or patching may secure it. These tears, though, and there are many, these will take time.

***

We all carry armor. For some it is thin, easily penetrated. Others have thick, sturdy armor that lets nothing in. And we all have potential sources of attack.

Clubs, chains, arrows and swords, most of the danger came from close combat. It still does.
Usually the risks are emotional rather than physical. Most of us have people in our lives who provide a continuing stream of negative emotion. A co-worker’s tone of voice, gossip, or undermining; a family member’s repeated reminders of mistakes made, or warnings of those yet to be made. Besides things done “to us,” we have loss, worry, hardship. All can take their toll, leaving us damaged and weakened. We are vulnerable and hurt and afraid.

We’ve all been taught to be afraid of strangers, replacing potential trust with suspicion. We’ve all been cautioned about sharing too much personal information, especially in the age of identity theft and cyber-stalking. We hide ourselves from others, careful not to reveal facts or feelings. If they don’t know what hurts us, it’s less likely they will.

***

“God has given you one face and you make yourselves another.” We all obscure ourselves with masks, partly in the roles we play. Mother, spouse, employee, brother. We create contracts with others based on these roles. As a mother, I hesitate to share my personal concerns with my children. As a mother, I should be strong, helpful, wise.

Last year my mother-mask dropped. The year was a journey through dark and uncomfortable places, with an anxiety disorder that came from nowhere and took over my life. Self-criticism replaced self-confidence, tears replaced contentment, withdrawal replaced responsiveness.

My already-thin armor was shredded by a swirl of unceasing questions, by panic that left me gasping for breath. One day in March I entered a campus office to pick up exams. Before I could speak, my emotional strength left, puddling on the floor, leaving me fully exposed. There is no armor, no safety when you are doubled over, panting and helpless. The only defense then is the compassion of others, those who would protect you when you cannot protect yourself.

Characterized by powerlessness, self-doubt, and confusion, my anxiety was evident to those who knew me best. Those, except my children. With none of them at home, it was easy to hide the damage at first. Eventually, they all could sense my unease and unhappiness.

Besides the roles we play, other masks are those of personality: funny, patient, kind, verbose. Some put on a happy mask, or a calm mask, suffering the slings and arrows while pretending they’ve done no harm. We hide the wounds, we hide our true selves by presenting a false persona. If you think I am funny, must I always be funny? Even when I am in pain? Class clowns and comedians have the reputation of hiding their pain, anger, and anxiety with laughter. Surely they are not the only ones.

***

Threading my needle with a sturdy strand, I begin on the outer layer. If I can fix what people will see, the rest will not seem as urgent. First I slide the thread into a hole, leaving a knot within the layer of batting. Out again, I take neat stitches, pulling the fabric taut. As each tear is mended, I bury the knots inside.

Each stitch I take is a breath, each breath a question with no answer. Though I’m accustomed now to the absence of answers, my discomfort is palpable, physical. Each stitch is a small stab that brings both healing and pain.

The smaller rips go easily, receding into the whole. The larger ones leave evidence, with stitches crossing the grain of cloth in multiple directions. The worst area, above my heart, is a mess, still visible to all. Perhaps an appliqué in cheery print will distract from the damage done.

***

Physical barriers can protect us, too. Fences, imposing homes, possessions, excess weight, can be ways to create a moat between us and others, or between us and what else we may fear. Those who overcame poverty may fear returning to hardship. They may calm those fears by owning things, assuring themselves of their relative wealth.

Sweet may be the uses of adversity, but few of us will embrace it gladly. It’s easy to remember Scarlett O’Hara’s triumphant moment, raising her face to the sky, “As God is my witness … I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” Her fear of want overwhelmed her ability to make good judgments. Her armor grew tougher and thicker than ever in her quest for security.

While most of us put up fences, some are open. We are open about our pain and about our joy. We tell people when we care about them; we tell them what we value about them. It is a vulnerable position to take. The risks are even greater pain, both from the actual blows, and also from humiliation. Must everyone know the arrow’s tearing of flesh? Yes. When you are that open, yes, they will know.

***

Early this year, I suffered another heavy blow, this one from outside myself. Tearing out the back of my armor, the knife stabs hit over and over, taking advantage of my weakness. The wounds are deep, their scars still scabbed and stiff. Reminders of the attack come as I move through each day, my routine altered by injury. “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?”

Though I hadn’t finished repairing the previous harm, this new destruction takes precedence. I must decide whether to reinforce the armor, or merely repair it to its earlier strength.

***

My armor has evolved. In my teens and early twenties, I was one of those known as a “good listener.” Others shared their stories with me, but I rarely shared my own. Now I disclose, but I do not burn bridges, I do not name names, what I reveal is about myself, not about others. That is for them to reveal.

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” Trust is my challenge. Part of my anxiety last year centered on how my judgment could be so faulty, my trust so badly placed. The most recent attack showed me again that trust should be carefully allocated. As I rebuild my armor, it is thicker, heavier than I want to wear.

And still I love, and still I trust, though not as readily.

I am open. I see it as a feature, not a flaw. Yes, it has its risks. Still, they are risks I’ll choose to take. I get to choose, and I choose to be open. I get to choose, and I choose love.

Jiggety Jig…

oxford-dairy-pig-drawing

thanks to http://www.reusableart.com/ for the image

To market, to market to buy a fat pig,
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.
To market, to market to buy a fat hog,
Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.
To market, to market to buy a plum bun,
Home again, home again, market is done.

We are home again after almost three weeks in Scotland. After more than 21 hours in transit yesterday, leaving our space in Edinburgh at 5am and arriving home at 7:30pm, we’re a little jet lagged. It will be a few days before either of us is fully functional. In the meantime, we’ll tend to basic household chores, including heading to the market, and will be grateful we have them to do.

It’s good to be home.

Stars for Nora

A nephew and his wife have a new baby, and she is perfectly perfect! Her name is “Nora.”

A few weeks ago I started planning a quilt for her to feature this fabric.

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Well, “planning” is too strong of a word, because as far as I got in the process was pulling other corals and peaches and yellows from my stash. There was no concept to create a plan around.

And then one day, a fellow Stashbuster linked the pattern for this quilt in a comment.

I like quilts with blocks of multiple sizes, one more reason I like medallions. This one is made in a 4 x 5 layout of 21″ blocks, for a total size of 84″ x 105″. It has five stars of four sizes per big block. It’s easier to see when you look at just one block.

Yes! That is one block! And there are 91 patches in it! Though it is complex, it actually isn’t hard. The hardest part was figuring out the sizes of the units. As mentioned, each big block finishes at 21″. Two blocks across is 42″, perfectly sized for a baby quilt. I gleaned enough from cutting instructions to fill in the rest. Here are my notes:

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My original thinking was to use those peaches and yellows, but I decided to broaden the palette some. One of the reasons was this cute fabric with carrots, which I’ve had for years.

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That made adding greens easy. Another small quilt in my past added turquoises, so I tried them and they helped brighten the scheme. Besides the plaid above, you might also notice other gridded fabrics in the mix. The lattices tie the theme together even more. Using the speckled fabric in the background, rather than pale yellow, completed the plan.

Stars

Stars for Nora. 42″ square. August 2016. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

This was the third of four quilts I completed in August. September has other things going on, so it was nice to finish a few things. (And if I am slow in responding to your comments, have patience! I’ll check in as soon as I can!)