Friday, April 29, 2005

Missing time

Where did the week go? I know I was here. But what did I do?

Funny, how some days (and weeks!) are like that...I can pass the time doing all sorts of things and feeling busy, but at the end of it I'm not sure what I've accomplished. So, here's a shot at a list of what I've done this week:

1. Recovered from 5 hours of dental work (fixing everything on one side of my mouth and extracting a tooth, in preparation for braces) (Hmm, now that I think about it, the 36+ hours on pain medication probably explain my feeling of fuzziness about what I was doing earlier in the week...)

2. Planted rose bushes in the garden

3. Made a start on researching a memo to suppress evidence in a criminal case, and on researching statute of limitations issues in an appropriation of trade secrets case

4. Figured out why the chapters Roger sent to his editor kept coming out on her computer with strange characters, and fixed that nasty problem (for which I was rewarded with Haagen-Daas chocolate peanut butter ice cream, my favorite)

5. Sorted out the clothes in Caroline's dresser to pull out the ones that are too small

6. Attended my art quilt group, The Pointless Sisters, got the new challenge underway, and came away inspired

7. Had lunch out with buddies Janet, Gerrie and Pat

8. Went to my book club dinner (known as "The No Guilt Book Club" because we refuse to feel guilty if we don't get around to discussing the book or even reading the month's selection in the first place)

9. Took Caroline to the new park in our neighborhood numerous times

10. Tried a new recipe: boneless chicken breasts stuffed with green chiles and jack cheese and baked in enchilada sauce... A keeper.

11. Cut out pieces of Guatemalan and American striped fabrics for a Kaffe Fassett style quilt to send to my friend Silvia in Guatemala (photos to come when it's together)

12. Sandwiched my contemporary double wedding ring quilt and decided on the quilting design (I'm hoping I'll start on the actual quilting tomorrow).

13. Enjoyed a "family movie night" with Caroline and Roger as we ate chinese food and watched "A Series of Unfortunate Events" (which we all really liked).

14. Did a bazillion loads of laundry.

There. I feel better... I did do something!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Colors of the Mind

The other morning, I was laying in bed listening to NPR's "Morning Edition" before I had to get up, and a particular story caught my attention. It was about a condition called "synesthesia," an apparently rare condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as an additional sense, such as sight. The story featured a female musician who hears colors, in that to her every note has a particular color associated with it.

The reporter went on to interview a researcher at Vanderbilt University, whose specialty is studying people who perceive distinct colors associated with numbers, letters, and words.

And here's what startled me about this story: I didn't know that everyone DIDN'T do that. All my life, I've seen particular colors associated with numbers, letters of the alphabet, days of the week, names, etc. It's totally involuntary and unconscious. It's never been a matter of my deciding what color a word or letter reminds me just "is" the color in my mind. For example, Monday is a reddish burgundy. Tuesday is green. Wednesday is yellow. One is white, two is get the idea.

It never occurred to me that this is unusual. I can't even imagine having a black and white alphabet.

I polled my family. My sister does this as well (although she has different colors for things) but my parents don't. I haven't yet encountered a friend who does this, although one friend says that she "feels" colors when she gets a massage. I think that may be a variety of synesthesia.

Here's an article explaining synesthesia, basically. Fascinating, isn't it?

Do you have involuntary color associations? Or other cross-sense perceptions that may be synesthesia?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

More quilt studios

In case you haven't seen enough of other quilters' studios, here's a link where you can see more:

Online Studio Tour

Friday, April 22, 2005

Don’t you just love quilting retreats?

In my town of Healdsburg, there’s an amazing retreat center owned and run by an Episcopal diocese called Bishop’s Ranch. It’s out on a vineyard road, next to a big dairy farm dotted with black and white cows, and it’s one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been to in my life. It has gorgeous views of vineyards and farms, and wide vistas of blue sky... It’s really lovely.

Anyway, a bunch of fun and talented quilters have run a twice-a-year quilt retreat up there for some years, and I first went last October, which was wonderful fun. Many of the same women were there for the April retreat last week (including Gerrie, in hiding after publishing her incendiary political statement) and although I wasn’t doing the retreat, I did go up on Wednesday to visit and have fun and be inspired. It worked! I had a really lovely, relaxing afternoon hanging out with them. While they slaved away at their machines (if you can call it slaving with all that laughter) I sat and hand-sewed the hanging sleeve onto a friend’s quilt for her.

So here are the pictures: happy women, hard at work doing what they love, in the company of people they enjoy:

Rita, making crazy log cabin blocks in her new Janome Gem

Pam, constructing crazy log cabin blocks which have the most charming dog fabric centers

Sidney, making a ballerina quilt for a child-friend (I couldn't figure why she was making fabric panty shields -- turned out they were the bases of ballet slippers!)

Janet, tracing a pattern (and looking happy that I was doing her hand-sewing for her)

Gerrie, quilting away on her "I've Got Your Number" quilt. I love the masking tape exclamation point over her head! Aren't I a talented photographer to get that in there?

There'd be a picture of my friend Pat here, but she was off getting a massage at the time. A quilting retreat with on-site masseuses...decadent, yes? I'm counting the days until October!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Studios for real people

We all know that making art is not a tidy business. Still, some of us continue to labor under the delusion that our art-making spaces should be neat and clean. Personally, I love it when my studio/office is tidy and well-organized...and for those rare few minutes, I feel so smug virtuous. But most of the time, when work is in progress, it’s pretty much of a mess. And, really, that's okay with me. As I used to say to my mom when I was a teenager (quoting a poster I saw once), "A creative mess is better than idle neatness."

I love seeing pictures of other quilters’ studio spaces. I’m fascinated to see how they organize their supplies, how they set up their ironing stations, what machines they have, what their design walls look like. And, thanks to the wonder of the internet, there are lots of places to see pictures of people’s sewing and art studios. Many books offer glimpses of quilt artists’ sewing spaces, too... always beautifully decorated and looking wonderfully clean and uncluttered. Those studios always look so appealing (Freddie Moran’s comes to mind – oh, the time I’ve spent pouring over the photos of her amazing, colorful house!) But c’mon, let’s get honest here. How often does a studio look that clean? Where are the scraps on the floor? The piles of fabric heaped on the table? The half-empty soda cans, water bottles, and coffee cups? The spools of threads and bobbins that have rolled off in every direction?

I want to see REAL sewing rooms! So, I admit that when I look at photos of other quilters’ sewing rooms, the photos I absolutely love to see are the ones showing them in their full messy glory. It makes me feel like a member of THAT club... Look, I think to myself, her pile of fabric is as messy as mine! Or, even better... Her pile is MESSIER than mine! She has MORE stuff on the floor than I do! Seeing the real-life, every day messy studios makes me feel like I’m in good company.

As a public interest, I offer the following list of links you can follow to see other people’s less-than-pristine studio spaces. (You can find the clean ones yourself, but trust me, they're not as interesting.) If you’re not on the list but want to share how your studio looks in real life, feel free to email me a link or include it in a comment! It’ll cheer me up no end to see your mess, really! In fact, I'm liking this idea so much that I think I'll collect these and make a sidebar of these links! C'mon, show us your creative clutter!

(By the way, while I think that the mess is a sign of active creativity, if you're offended that I've listed your studio picture here in the messy category and want the link removed, please let me know and I'll remove it post haste!)

My mess (here and here)
Gerrie's studio
Melody's mess
Alison's studio (but she needs more clutter)
Carol's studio
Cathy's studio
Claire's sewing area (a bit too neat, but I'll include it anyway)
Deborah's studio
Dijanne's studio
Debra's studio
Deborah L.'s sewing table
Elle's workspace
Jenni's studio (dangerously tidy)
Jo's work area
Kimberly's studio area (not only mostly tidy, but she posted this at 5:24 AM!)
Laura's studio
Liz's studio (here and here)
Liz B's studio
Lynne's work area
Mandi's studio
Melanie's studio
Teri's work area


Well, I tried a whole host of different backgrounds for this butterfly wing. Who knew it'd look so different, with different fabrics behind it? I finally settled on this mottled green hand-dyed fabric. Photoshop has been a big help on this project...I was able to import fabric swatches copied from online fabric stores, and then super-impose the wing over them to test them as backgrounds... I've also been able to play with cropping to try different effects, such as this:

A great tool for trying out different looks. Hopefully, tomorrow I'll find time to layer the quilt and maybe even start quilting!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Are you lovin' it?

If you want a good laugh, take a look at this!

My favorite room

When I decided it was time to throw out another question into blog-land, the question "what is your favorite room in your house" popped into my mind. Just like that. But I myself haven't been able to answer it, because I'm not sure.

I'm tempted to say my office/studio. I've posted pictures of it before (here and here and here). It's a good haven in the house, where I can come and shut the door and retreat to sewing or computer or work. The shelves are crammed with my favorite quilt and art and writing books. I can always find something to do in here! But because it's my work space, it's not a stress free place... always, lurking near the computer, there is a stack of files pertaining to the current assignment. Some days, that stack rests happily, snoozing and letting me play. But other days, it whimpers and casts a black cloud into the room, warning me that I'd best attend to it before it gets seriously cranky.

The bedroom is another great place, really. In the corner of the room, right next to a window that looks out to the front of the house, is an antique wicker chair that I found years ago at the Canterbury Antique Fair in Canterbury, New Hampshire. I spruced it up with fresh paint and adorned it with comfy cushions, and it's a favorite spot to sit and read or leaf through magazines.

At a certain point in the middle of the morning, the living room is wonderfully peaceful. We have a tall living room -- two rooms high, really, with windows up above that we can't reach to put coverings on... and we wouldn't want to, because we always have a view of the sky, even when the roman shades on the lower windows are closed for privacy. The sun streams through and leaves patches of sunlight on the couch and loveseat, creating wonderful warm spots for cats to curl up in (as they do) and for people to sit in and read, if so inclined.

But my favorite room is the back end of the house, where the kitchen and eating area and family room all link together into one long room. It's where our family hangs out most of the time. I have a lot of bright quilts in the family room (and am planning to paint a few walls red and/or cheddar yellow), and we have a wonderful bay window that looks out on the backyard where right now everything is starting to bloom. It feels like the center of our home and family: Caroline hangs out in the family room watching tv and drawing and building with legos, or at the kitchen table painting or doing homework... I can be cooking in the kitchen or fiddling in the family room, and Roger will sit and read the paper. Our two cats keep watch from the top of the couch, and we're also accompanied by the Breyer horses and plastic dinosaurs that live in the doll house in the corner. It's a happy, lively area.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A Safe Place

This morning I woke up to find Caroline sitting in the family room, counting her money. She has quite a stash of bills, which she keeps in a red velvet-covered box. She is hoarding saving her money to buy a horse, which she plans to keep in the backyard. I remind her that the city would not allow us to have horses in the backyard ("Not even a miniature one?" she asked, wistfully) but she is undaunted. She saves every penny.

I reminded her that Grandma and Grandpa, Uncle Gregg and his fiancee Kitt are coming over this afternoon for a visit so she needed to pick up her toys and put away her money. "Why? It's not like it's the mayor coming, or anything." For this retort, Miss Smart-Aleck was given a talk on a) the appropriate tone for talking to one's mother; b) the appropriate response if one wanted to receive one's allowance and c) the appropriate tone if one ever had a hope of getting within 15 feet of a live horse until she is 21. I ended by adding "and you better put your money in a safe place."

This caught her interest (as my other comments may not have). "But this is our HOUSE," she replied, "Isn't it safe HERE?'

"Well, sure, our house is safe," I back-tracked, "You just want to put your money away where it won't be around for people to take or anything."

"Grandma and Grandpa would steal my money?" She looked truly alarmed.

Geez, I'm not making things better here. "No, of course not, they'd never steal your money."

Caroline was still alarmed. "Uncle Gregg wouldn't either, right? Or Kitt?"

"No. I just mean that you don't want to leave it lying around. It's safe, but you just want to be careful." Caroline scooped up her money, acting with a speed tinged with desperation, and headed up to her room.

"Where are you going to put it?" I called after her.

"I'm not telling you," she answered, "I want it to be SAFE!"

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Life timelines

I’ve had an odd week. Actually, it’s been a typical week, in the sense that family life has been rolling along and I’ve been doing what I usually do: a bit of legal work, lots of family stuff, playing with Caroline, ferrying her to and from various activities, hanging out with Roger at home, trying to find time to get to my studio for art time...that sort of thing.

But this week, a particular confluence of events has caused me to think about life schedules and where my life is, right now. And, I have to say, it’s sort of comical.

First, I’ll admit to you all that I’m beginning to feel signs of menopause...or, as my doctor friend Laura (who is the same age, and feeling the same symptoms, always reminds, me) PERI-menopause. That sounds nicer, somehow. So, although I’m generally a non-sweaty, person, I’m suddenly finding myself waking up at night with a wave of heat washing over me, feeling quite sweaty. This has caused me to abandon the stack of blankets I usually favor, and replace it with a poofy and light down comforter. It’s an odd thing, this feeling of heat just rolling over me so suddenly. Some of you know what I mean, I’m sure.

Second, over the past year or more I’ve been on a program with my dentist to do some major restoration with my teeth...It’s sort of a long story, but I’ve had a rather extreme phobia of dentists for many years. That, plus the fact that in my full-time trial lawyer days, I clenched my jaw and ground my teeth constantly all night from the stress, and that caused my teeth to move around a lot in my mouth and put a lot of stress on old fillings, etc. I’ve come a HUGE way in conquering the fear of dentistry (thanks to a great dentist and his use of drugs to keep me relaxed and happy in the dentist chair). But last weekend, I bit into a raw carrot and managed to crack off the side of a tooth, where the old filling had given way. Yuck. I rushed into the dentist, and found myself having to make all sort of decisions about options to deal with this broken tooth. That situation has resulted in my shifting the overall plan of attack on my teeth around, so that within the next week or two I’ll be getting braces on my teeth. Strangely enough, I’m feeling like that’s a very good thing.

Third, I’ve talked about my daughter Caroline on this blog, and some of you know that Caroline is from China. We traveled to China to adopt her when she was 6 months old. In the past, Roger and I have wavered a bit about whether to adopt a second child from China, but we decided a while ago that we’re definitely going ahead... so we’ve been working diligently on preparing our paperwork to go to China, so that our agency can process them and we can have a child assigned to us. It’s nerve-wracking, now that Caroline is old enough and independent enough to allow Roger and me a bit more of our "own" time... we know adding a toddler to the mix at this stage will change our lives pretty significantly. But we really want to do it.

So, there I was, lying in the chair at the orthodontist’s office, gazing up at the kid-friendly decorations, and thinking how weird it is that I’m starting menopause with braces on my teeth and a new baby in the house. I was joking with my friend Rita that they ought to make braces impregnated with hormones for us menopausal orthodontic patients.

The unexpected turns in life are amazing, aren’t they?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

In search of the right background

I'm still playing with backgrounds...Here's one possibility...

I like this multi-colored one, but this is only a swatch blown up from an online fabric site, so it's hard to guess what it will look like in reality:

This is too pale.

I may just have to take the wing to my local shop and wander around...

Monday, April 11, 2005

Butterfly wing, in progress

I really enjoy seeing the steps of work in progress, so I thought I'd share what I'm working on currently.

A few months ago, I made this block for my art quilt group's exchange block project.

It's about 10 inches square. I liked it so much that I wanted to try making something like it only really big. So, I found a photo of a butterfly to work with. Here it is:

I adjusted it with Photoshop by cropping it and tilting it, just to make it easier to work with:

Then, still using Photoshop, I used a filter to find the edges of the shapes and came up with this:

I made this the large size I wanted (about 45 inches square), then printed it out on separate pages. When I taped them together, this is what it looked like:

From this point on, I used a technique I learned from Julie Hirota. (She describes this technique in detail in her new book, Art Glass Quilts.) Basically, I taped pieces of freezer paper together to make a large solid piece this size, and then traced the shape onto freezer paper. Then, I ironed the freezer paper onto Pellon ShirtTailor fusible interfacing, and cut out the white spaces, leaving just the part that shows as black here. I ended up with a lacy piece of interfacing to use as the template for the black wing structure. (Sorry, I got involved in these steps and didn't take pictures.)

Then, I fused the ShirtTailor "lace" onto black fabric, so the result looked like this:

Then, I was ready to reverse-applique the colors into the blobs that show here as black. You can see that in the upper left corner of the wing, I've already appliqued some of the white dots. I used the applique technique from Julie too. I cut away the center of the splotch, leaving about a quarter-inch around. I clipped the curves, dabbed spray starch onto then, and then pressed the edges open...Here's where the ShirtTailor does its best work, because the stiff edge of the interfacing supports the edge as it folds back, and creates a nice clean edge. Then, using Roxane's Glue-Baste glue (you can also use a glue stick) I laid the white fabric over the black outline (on the backside) to hold for later machine applique stitching.

Here's what the back looked like after I did a lot of the white pieces. I decided to do all of the white (which was tedious) and then reward myself with the large areas of bright colors.

And here's what it looked like from the front at that point:

And here's the finished wing, with the colors filled in with fabric I dyed myself! This is the first time I've used something I've dyed, so it was rather exciting to cut into it and apply it.

Looks cool, huh? Now I just have to attach it to a background. I'm undecided. I wanted to use a sky-ish blue, as I did in the small block. I tried dyeing a piece, but it's too turquoise:

Plus, the background is too flat...not enough texture. I tried another piece ---

But it's too dark. So it's sitting on the design wall, waiting for the right background. Maybe green, to look like background foliage? Maybe something pieced? Or a fused collage look? I'm not sure and will mull it over.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A few words about wine

Roger and I finally saw "Sideways" last night. Have you seen it? It's a wonderful movie--a quirky plot, beautiful scenery, much humor, and the feeling of REAL characters. Plus lots of wine stuff.

Although the movie takes place in the Santa Barbara area, which is the central coastal region of California, the vineyard views look very much like what I see every day. It's breath-takingly gorgeous. In fact, even as I watched the movie and felt an instant recognition of the vineyard scenes, I also found myself thinking about what an amazing thing it is to live in wine country.

You see, we live in Sonoma County, California. Major wine country. Our town, Healdsburg, has 53 wineries in it. (I kid you can check them out here.) And that's just the town...Sonoma County has many more. Among our friends, we have winemakers, grape growers, grape buyers, restaurant sommeliers, tasting room employees, wine salesman, winery owners, and even a few "wine lawyers." ("Wine law" sounds pretty exciting until you discover that it involves contracts for buying/selling grapes, labor law, and compliance with the vast array of regulations involving alcohol. ZZZZZzzzzzz.) When we first moved to Healdsburg and rented a house, we discovered that we had several winery owners around door, across the street, up the block... Since our little tract house had a concrete foundation and no cellar, Roger declared that if we didn't have a wine cellar, perhaps we could just refer to our "wine crawlspace."

In any event, wine is a big part of life around here. So all the dialog in "Sideways" about wines and tasting sounded quite familiar. Yep, people we know really do swirl the wine around, stick their noses in their classes and sniff loudly, and say things like "chewy" "licorice essence" and "heady" to describe wine.

It seemed odd to me when we first moved here, and sort of pretentious. Within our first month here, one of Roger's faculty colleagues invited us to a benefit wine caution and we just about fell off our chairs to see the prices people were bidding for bottles of wine.

But now... well, the more good wine you drink, the more you become accustomed to good wine! Our tastes have grown more sophisticated, in spite of ourselves. One of our favorite annual outings is the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, where you can taste wines from Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties under one roof...We usually go around and use our tasting tickets to taste the gold medal winners and stuff we could never afford. We still drink wine that is around $10 or under a bottle, but we make sure it's GOOD wine in that price range, usually something more expensive on sale. (Tonight's wine was chardonnay from Hop Kiln Winery, in case you're wondering...)

Anyway. It's funny to me that "Sideways" presented a small slice of our Sonoma County life. Think of me (and Gerrie Congdon, another Sonoma County art quilt blogger) when you see it!

By the way, you can join the "Sideways Wine Club" and have the wines referred to in the movie delivered TO YOUR HOME. How funny is that?!

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Guilty Pleasures

I'm so enjoying getting to know other members of the Artful Quilters Web Ring, and I thought it might be fun to throw out a question to ring members from time to time to see how folks answer it. It's totally optional, of course. But today I'm thinking of "guilty pleasures" so that's the question I threw out to the membership: "what's your favorite guilty pleasure?"

This is on my mind because my copy of People magazine arrived in yesterday's mail. Yep, that's one of mine...sitting down (or preferably, lying on the couch) to read People. It's totally devoid of any value but it's relaxing and fun. I read it in about 20 minutes and then pass it along to my friend Jenny, who reads it and passes it on to her friend Sue. So, we get good use out of each magazine! I should mention that if I can nibble at a piece of milk chocolate while perusing said People magazine, I'm in heaven. Cheap thrills, I know, but it makes me happy.

Actually, reading in the middle of the day is general guilty pleasure. I guess I have this inner voice (sounding suspiciously like my mother) that daytime is for cleaning, working, cleaning, cooking, cleaning, shopping, finishing more work, and other productive and exhausting chores. So, sitting around reading a novel during daylight hours is indulgence indeed.

Happy Saturday, y'all!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Bees' Secret Details

Several people asked for detail shots from my "The Bees' Secret" quilt, so here are two.

I'm rather proud of the quilting on this piece, as it adds to the bark-like look a lot. You can see some here. I even quilted in knot-holes and irregularities, which was very fun. This was also a stretch because I had almost NO brown fabric in my stash, and had to search out browns for the tree. Once I started looking at brown fabrics, I was surprised to find that I really liked some of them, especially the rich, earthy batiks. I really enjoyed working with the variety of browns in this, which makes me think that I should explore brown a bit further.

Here's a close-up of the edge. As I really wanted to keep the irregular edge, I had to figure out how to do this. Melody, if I'd known about the satin-stitch edging technique, I might have tried that, but to be honest I'm not wild about how that looks. It's too unfinished looking for my taste. (But I don't like clothes where they do those sort of seams on the outside, either...just one of those things.) So I did my own pillow-case method, with lots of careful trimming and clipping to get the corners. When ever I do this sort of thing, I realize that my high school sewing and tailoring classes paid off. It was fiddly -- required time and care and patience -- but it came out looking the way I wanted to, so I was pleased. I fused the "turning" hole on the back closed and covered it with the hanging sleeve.

This year's challenge is "The Sound of Quilting", with the idea to make a small quilt that illustrates or is inspired by a sound or noise. I'm mulling that over... What would YOU do?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Bees' Secret

Today was the deadline for entering our local quilt show. I only remembered this late in the afternoon, and as a result I had to scurry around to get photos of the quilts I wanted to enter and fill out the form so I could deliver them to one of the sponsoring guild's meetings tonight. Last year I managed to miss the deadline entirely, distracted as I was by a massive work I was determined to put a few things in it this year.

Which brings me to this quilt, which I've not shown here before. It's one of the ones I'm entering, so it's a new photo. Last year, our guild's challenge was to make a quilt inspired by or illustrating a book. I'd just read "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd... a truly wonderful, thought-provoking, and charming book. I did this with a freezer paper applique type method and rubber stamped the was a fun project that stretched me as I'd not done anything like it before. I love the irregular shape of it.

I had a marvelous time today, working all day planting new plants in the front yard. I added two plants which will hopefully grow up and hide an expanse of fence: a lilac hibiscus that has the most mesmerizing, spiral-unfolding flowers...and a bright pink climbing rose bush called "social climber." And I planted a tiny, red-leafed japanese maple at the corner of the house... I love japanese maples, and they're SO expensive. This was the largest one I could justify buying, so it's pretty small...but still elegant. Our soil is clay, studded with rocks and nails and concrete bits from the not-so-tidy construction crew when they built the house, so digging is downright nasty. I can't even tell you how many trowels I've bent. But I'm persevering and our formerly bare, new, blank yard is starting to look almost lush with flowers and shrubs.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Here are the results of the rainbow dyeing experiment. We mixed Dharma's fuschia, turquoise and bright yellow to get this luscious range of colors!

Oh--and here's an assortment of fabrics that Silvia brought me from Guatemala! I'm going to mix these with other domestic stripes for something fun. I'm thinking an experiment with Tumbling Blocks, but who knows...

The DaVinci Code as Sin and other Reflections

I was talking recently with a friend about the death of the Pope. We were talking about the process for selecting a new Pope, and the subject of the novel The DaVinci Code came up. I asked her if she'd read it. "No," she replied, "The church says it's a sin to read it." Clearly, my friend was familiar with the concepts in the book and our discussion continued, but her comment stayed with me and I've been pondering it ever since.

How can reading a work of fiction be a sin? How can exposure to an imagined idea be a bad thing? Does the church not believe that its followers can think independently about the ideas in a novel?

I guess I understand the concept, generally: if you start from the proposition that the ideas are the work of Satan, then turning away from them and not letting them into your head (and not exposing yourself to the temptation to believe them) is the preferred course. I guess. You can see I'm not convinced.

I consider myself a spiritual person, although I prefer to keep my beliefs about God to myself. They feel very private to me. I'm not a church-goer. I was raised Episcopalian. I've also had lots of exposure to the Catholic church, as my father's family is Catholic and we frequently attended ceremonies and masses for various purposes. I've also attended other churches in my explorations...but to my mind, the organization of religion is a separate matter from inner spirituality. I understand the importance for many people of the church community, and I deeply admire the people I know who are truly and positively guided by their religion. But I have not had an easy relationship with the group experiences of religion I've explored.

So, the flurry of news stories about the Pope has got me thinking again. I know some people who believe in the precepts of the Catholic church, and follow what the Pope says, as a matter of faith that as the leader of the Church he knows what's right. Like my friend who didn't read The DaVinci Code... She was told not to, and she won't. I couldn't do that -- I don't believe that any one person has a direct line to God which is superior to anyone else's -- but I have deep respect for the faith that guides them when they choose to follow what the leader of their religion tells them.

But I know lots of other Catholics who simply disregard the Church's precepts when they disagree with them. And that puzzles me. If the Church is based on the foundational concept that one person is the leader of the church and sets its dictates for the entire religion, and you choose to be a member of that religion, how can you reject some ideas and accept others and still consider yourself a faithful follower of the religion? Doesn't that mean that you ulimately don't trust the judgment of your church's leader? Honestly, I don't understand.

I don't mean any disrespect to anyone by these questions. I truly don't understand how people can consider themselves Catholic while disregarding basic tenets of the Catholic faith. Is it the belief that what the Pope says about birth control, for example, or abortion, or homosexuality, or the role of women in the church, isn't considered applicable in American culture? Is it the inner belief that one has to find one's own direction from God, regardless of the Pope's instruction? But doesn't that conflict with the idea that as a Catholic, you're bound to follow the Pope as the leader of the Church?

It's hard to raise these questions with my Catholic friends without sounding like I'm accusing them of hypocrisy, however subtly. And I don't mean to do that. I just don't get it. How do they reconcile their beliefs when they contradict the church's, when the church itself says you're not permitted to pick and choose?

Regardless of my own beliefs and disagreements with the Catholic church about a whole host of issues, it's difficult not to react to the Pope's death and solemnity of the occasion as Catholics mourn and prepare to elect another Pope. It's amazing drama.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

What I did on Spring Vacation

Spring vacation week is ending well for all of us in the family. Here are Caroline and her favorite pony, Chips, at the end of pony camp week. Notice that Chips looks sleepy but Caroline does not! The riders performed an end-of-the-week horse show, the highlight of which was the girls going over small double jumps. Very impressive! Caroline's already looking forward to pony camp during the summer.

And in between ferrying to and from the stable, and between dyeing fabric and sewing with Silvia, Roger and I have been test driving cars. I think we've narrowed our choices down to two vehicles: The Mercury Mountaineer (which is sort of a comfier version of the Ford Explorer) and the Honda Pilot. Here's the Mountaineer.

And here's the Pilot:

They each have pros and cons. We driven each car twice and I'm thinking I need to drive the Pilot again as my main feeling last time was that the driver's seat was really UNcomfortable for me. Not a good thing. Sigh. Car shopping is not a fun thing. I think the Ford/Mercury salesman (who seems like a lot-key guy on the lot) has left about 3 messages on our answering machine each day. Perhaps just to torture him I'll call him back and say we're test-driving VW Bugs, too. That ought to confuse him.