Category Archives: Personal

time, timing, chance, and preparation

Chance favors the prepared mind.
Louis Pasteur

Jim and I have been talking about how a moment in time can change the course of one’s life. A single decision, even if it doesn’t seem momentous when made, can alter the path taken. But often that single decision is preceded by a long set of circumstances. Often that moment is not in isolation.

On May 18, 1980, an earthquake triggered the collapse of the north face of Mount St. Helens, in Washington state. Along with the avalanche, the volcano exploded with magma and poisonous gas. Fifty-seven people died; homes, bridges, and highways were destroyed. In a moment, life changed irretrievably. But that moment was hundreds of millions of years in the making. And though the general public did not receive enough warning to keep hikers off the mountain, residents began preparing to evacuate weeks ahead.

At Mount St. Helens recently. You can see the north slopes of the volcano behind us, still mostly bare of growth, 38 years after the blast.

A few weeks after the volcano erupted, Jim and I met in a university cafeteria. Far from inevitable, our meeting can be traced to a specific decision I made on a specific day two years before. Meeting Jim changed my life forever, as did the accumulation of choices I made leading to that day.

Similarly, when our son was in college, a chance encounter with the campus AFROTC commander led to his joining the Air Force, and ultimately to meeting his new bride. But neither of these “moments in time” were only a matter of chance. For our son, his decisions were bolstered by a lifelong interest in flying, as well as opportunities to investigate the options.

Long ago, a university student accused me of putting her on academic probation, based on the “D” she earned in my class. I reminded her that a single grade did not do that, and her grades were her responsibility. While the change in status may have happened at a moment in time, there was plenty of tectonic shift leading to that eruption!

Examples like these are easy, aren’t they? Some catalyst flips a switch, but the conditions for change were already in place. I’ll bet you can come up with some from your own life.

In our creative lives, some of us find our niche and continue to create similar work. Others can point to a change in circumstance, an event, or a decision, that leads to metamorphosis. Henri Matisse suffered from abdominal cancer late in his life, leading to the paper cutouts for which some of us know him best. The cancer was the catalyst, but the collage art he made was only possible because of his prior work. “Only what I created after the illness constitutes my real self: free, liberated,” Matisse said of his later work.

“The Horse, the Rider, and the Clown 1943-4.” Maquette for plate V of the illustrated book “Jazz.” Art by Henri Matisse/Image by Centre Pompidou

In my quilting experience, there was a moment five years ago when I decided to focus on medallion quilts. I’d made medallions before then, but I’ve made scores of them since then. Each one teaches me something new. And now I’m shifting in a direction I’ve long wanted to take, towards quilts that tell a story. The shift intensified when my friend Janet asked me to make her a Green Man quilt, a project that includes story as well as extensive appliqué.

The quilts of Mary Lou Weidman, Roberta Horton, and Faith Ringgold — storytellers I’ve long admired — inspire me, but they will not define me. My quilts cannot be like theirs; they can only be mine. The expertise in medallion quilts is not for naught. It is part of me, of my preparation.

Two of my quilts you may have seen, which I consider story quilts, are below.

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I Found the Housework Fairy But She’s Not Coming Back. 35″ square. Finished June 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Garden Party. 62" x 68". Center panel by Julie Paschkis for In the Beginning Fabrics. Finished March 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Garden Party. 62″ x 68″. Center panel by Julie Paschkis for In the Beginning Fabrics. Finished March 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

I love both of these quilts, but I see them as antecedents, as preparation for what is to come. And what is to come, today I can’t fully imagine, anymore than I could imagine, 38 years ago, what my life would be like now.

Time, timing, chance, and preparation. Chance events, decisions, or circumstances can change our lives, our work, and our relationships. Everything we do helps prepare us for everything ahead.

What “moment in time” stories do you have? Has your artistic work changed because of a single event, class, or inspiration? Share in comments below. 

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Just Wanna Quilt

Have you heard about Just Wanna Quilt? It is a research project on quilting, with the ultimate focus on copyright and intellectual property issues of the quilting industryElizabeth Townsend Gard, the lead researcher, law professor, and a quilter herself, is going full-immersion into quilting to understand the subject better.

The long-term goal for the project, as summarized by Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps,

is to create two bodies of work about intellectual property as it relates to quilting … The first will be intended for the hobby quilter. It will include “everything you need to know about copyright and intellectual property when it comes to quilting. Just simple. So that we can get everyone on the same page on things they don’t understand.” The other will be a more in-depth work for people in the quilting industry. “Every single person in this field is using materials and you should feel confident in what you do with them so that you don’t get in trouble, or if you get in trouble you do it deliberately,” she says.

In a lot of academic research, the initial stage is a review of the existing literature. In quilting, there is very little formal (academic) research existing, outside of quilting history. Elizabeth’s project includes surveying the whole landscape to create a basis for the research product. To do so, she’s initiated a series of podcasts, interviewing dozens of participants in the quilting industry, from corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, fabric and pattern designers, and hobby quilters.

You can find those interviews here. I’ve barely scratched the surface listening to them — there are dozens, and more being added all the time. Most of them run between about 30 and 60 minutes. They’re the perfect thing to listen to while you’re working on a project. Elizabeth’s interview style is very conversational. She comes across as charming and funny, and the focus is always on the interview subject and their part of the quilting world. It’s so interesting and I’ve already learned so much.

And here is a fun thing — she’s just posted a podcast interviewing ME! Click on this link to find the recording. It’s 52 minutes, on the long side. We talk about how and why I started quilting, what medallion quilts are, how I see green quilting and our responsibility as quilters to make the Earth a better place, and more.

In truth I’m not sure how this helps the research, but I had so much fun sharing my quilting world. 🙂 Thanks in advance if you choose to listen. Either way, check out the long list of podcasts available. If you love quilting, you’re sure to find this fascinating, as I do.

I Am The Mountain

I wrote this four years ago as a message to myself. When I stumble across it again, as I did today, I find it a good reminder to keep focus on what’s important. You’re welcome to take a look. 


Power bestowed on you by others can be taken away. Whether it is power by position or popularity, if the cool kids don’t like you anymore, that power is gone.

The real power, the kind no one can take from you, comes from within. It comes from understanding your priorities. It comes from balancing your time and energy on those priorities. It comes from calling on courage when confidence is weak. From trying new things, perhaps small things at first. When nothing bad happens, and when sometimes good results occur, confidence builds. With greater confidence comes greater courage. The two feed each other.

Power is in the present, always in the present. It comes from what you do, not what you did or what you might do. To be powerful, you must be in the present with it. That means not indulging in what-ifs. That’s just making up stories. If you want to make up stories about what should have happened or what might happen in the future, do it right. Write them down. Call them what they are, fiction.

Power can be used to create or destroy. (I choose to create.)

Some of the greatest power is in how you react. If someone pushes you down, stand up again. That is powerful.

I am powerful. I am the mountain.

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The Mountain. 60″ square. November 2015. Made from stash. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

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Still Climbing Mountains. 57″ x 64″. August 2016. Made from stash. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Fun!

I’ve seen a lot of great “words of the year” again, ranging from “Originality” to “Less” to “Joy.” Those of us who use this strategy (more than once) find it useful for focusing our attention, or for framing our experiences within a year. In 2017 I chose two words, “Challenge” and “Opportunity” to remind myself that they go hand in hand. (I’m a retired investment manager. Challenge and opportunity go together like risk and return.) While that was a useful exercise, it didn’t affect my choices or even much how I thought about them. For 2018 I will change my approach.

Yesterday I posted an overview of my 2017, primarily in quilting and related activities. Ideally the photos and memories there would spark some deep pleasure, even pride, at my accomplishments. Instead as I built the blog post, I found myself feeling gloomy and frustrated. I felt like something was missing. My quilts were missing something — spontaneity, quirkiness, whimsy. And when I made them, the feeling of enjoyment was too often missing, too. The red and white quilts were made specifically for the guild quilt show, and then the controversy about whether they were red and white enough created bad feelings around them. Dizzy was made specifically as a class sample, and though I like it, the process of making it felt rote and not spontaneous. Union turned out beautifully, but I really had to gut out the design of the last borders, and the quilting process was laborious.

Early in December I folded a piece of paper, drew a few lines, and cut.

When I opened that piece of paper and saw the image above, I literally jumped up and down. I was SO excited! It was SO MUCH FUN!

Of course, part of the fun and excitement was simply because it was a different way to create. I didn’t know what would happen, and there was no risk in finding out. And part of the fun was in the outcome, because the rabbits and squirrels chasing around the cutting are a whimsical image.

Take a look at Quilty Folk, a blog I just stumbled upon. (How did I never see this before?) Her year-end review shows two medallion quilts she worked on in 2017. They are whimsical and fun. Fun to look at, and I will guess fun to make, as well. I want that sense of enjoyment again!

I take my quilting seriously. But it would help my quilts to have a bit more fun, to introduce a playful or fanciful feel to some of them, the kind of feeling that Audrey at Quilty Folk brings to her quilts. Most of all, it would help my quilts, and help me to enjoy myself more. Given that,

my word for 2018 is FUN!

I don’t know what affect that will have on what or how I’ll make. I do believe, if I can keep it in mind, I will make better choices in both. As Groucho Marx said, “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some quilting to do!

Stripes Two Ways

When my son was very little, most shirts I bought for him were striped. Soft knit, pullover shirts, their stripes were horizontally arrayed in reds and blues and greens. In summer they were “muscle shirts,” sleeveless Ts, and in winter they were turtlenecks. But almost all of them were striped.

This photo is of Son when he was two. On that day he was covered in stripes and spots.

OHmygosh, wasn’t he cute??

But when he was a little older, he called a moratorium on stripes. No more stripes. The declaration created some conflict as he was growing out of his striped shirts, but he was a boy who knew his own mind. There was no use buying shirts he’d never wear. I asked why stripes were not acceptable.

“Grown-ups wear stripes, and I am not a grown-up,” he told me.

“What about plaids? Will you wear plaids?” I asked.

“No. Plaids are just stripes two ways.”

Then one Christmas when he was about six, his beloved grandparents gave him a flannel shirt. Soft and nappy, it had stripes, two ways.

He wore it to please them. Once. Maybe twice. And then it hung in his closet for twenty-some years.

If you know me, you know I easily get rid of things that are no longer needed. But I never could get rid of this little shirt. For a long time I imagined making a pillow out of it, as my sister had done with his Dan Marino sweatshirt. (When he opened the Dan Marino pillow, he exclaimed, “I have a sweatshirt JUST LIKE THIS!”)

Still, the shirt hung in his closet. Until this week. After washing it, I cut it apart, front from back, sleeves from body, cuffs from sleeves. There was surprisingly little useful fabric in it. But with piecing, there was enough to cover a 12″ x 16″ pillow form.

The button placket serves as the closure for the cover. I’ll tuck a note in the chest pocket to tell him the pillow’s story, with the memory of his grandparents and his firm declaration that plaids are just stripes two ways.