Coffee Break

Smiley from the sMirC-series. taking a coffee ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes, containers don’t have to be large to be effective. A coffee break only needs a mug or other container with coffee in it and some measure of time. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but sometimes the break becomes essential. It’s been a rough week, and it’s only Tuesday. So the blog is taking a coffee break.

It’s late here, but no decaf needed. My blog doesn’t sleep. So maybe a double espresso. Or at least a mocha.

Look for a return to a more “regular” blog post on Friday.

Have a good week.

Running on Empty?

English: A really cool picture of random things.

A really cool picture of random things. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tonight, I am doing something I told myself I wasn’t going to do. I am working on a blog post  for tonight that I didn’t start until late afternoon. I know I should be getting more posts done ahead or at least have some shorter posts ready in the event life gets in the way of my posting schedule. I know this, and yet when I started this draft, I had five hours to midnight. 

It’s not really news that life has been getting in my way lately, but today was a little crazier than usual. Usually on Friday, I can work at home on the textbook project and other tasks, but today was different. I had an extra class to teach this morning and two meetings to attend this afternoon. When I left this morning, I wasn’t done with tonight’s post, but I had a fair idea what I was doing and was well on my way. Unfortunately, I got some rather disturbing news at one of the meetings, and it kind of put me in a bit of a tailspin. Things are going to be fine, but with the stress I’ve been under as of late, today was more than a little overwhelming. 

So at 7:00, I was sitting at the keyboard with no desire or focus to finish the post I had planned for tonight, and I wasn’t really interested in working on any of the other posts in my draft queue. The problem, however, was I didn’t feel like starting anything new either. Well, that last part isn’t exactly true; what I mean is that I felt like I had no footing to decide on a topic and go. With almost four months of blogging under my belt, I was feeling like maybe I could just let it go. But of course, that’s not what I’m going to do.

Luckily, I’m determined not to let these setbacks interfere with my blog. If you’re a regular reader, you know that I am in the early stages of digging myself out of the responsibilities I’ve taken on. I’ve accepted the fact that my quilting and other hobbies have to wait for several months for the sake of the textbook project. But I am not willing to give up on the one thing I do for me: the blog will continue. 

So as I sat at the keyboard at 7:00, there weren’t many keys being touched. My husband suggested that I just start righting anything. What a great idea. Because it was only a few sentences in when I typed, “I feel emotionally drained.” 

emotion icon

emotion icon (Photo credit: Łukasz Strachanowski)

Hmmmm. Emotionally drained. What does that mean exactly. When I’m drained, I feel like I can’t go on. Everything is way too much effort. Emotionally drained–drained of emotion. Am I really drained of emotion? Am I a container for emotions? It got me thinking.

It seems that occasionally being drained wouldn’t be all bad. Kind of like an oil change for your car. Drain out the old; replace it with new. Make a fresh start. Keep the engine running smoothly.

Or it could be like a root-bound houseplant. When the supply of nutrients has been exhausted, re-pot the plant into a larger pot, give it fresh soil. Room to stretch and grow.

So maybe being emotionally drained isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a kind of maintenance that needs to be done occasionally when life gets overwhelming. If heeded, it becomes an opportunity to renew, regroup, and start again refreshed. Even if rough spots get resolved, as mine did today, I have to allow for the energy levels to be replenished. Fortunately, the weekend is here. Time to re-pot some plants, stretch, breathe, and begin again.

Invitations: My Path to Taiwan (Part 2)

A Recap Of Part 1 Invitations

Map of Taiwan

Map of Taiwan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m back for the second installment of how my responses to a series of invitations led me to Taiwan. If I had declined any of those invitations, I would not be here. Other invitations would have led me down other roads. Of course, when an invitation comes along, there is no way to know where it leads. One opportunity presents itself, and a decision is made based on its own merits. It’s part of the adventure. To be honest, I only became gradually able to accept the fact of moving halfway around the world. If I had known at the beginning of this path where it was actually leading, I may have talked myself out of accepting invitations that put me in line for something I didn’t feel ready for. But more about that when we get to the next invitation. For now, I think it’s good to only see one part of the path at the time. Taking on each of these experiences was done without knowing what the results or consequences would be. It is only in retrospect that I can see the path. In a way, I suppose it was more like trailblazing, if trailblazing can be considered an unintentional activity.

The first seven invitations on the path are listed below. The details can be found here.

  • Invitation 1: New Job Position
  • Invitation 2: Entering a Master’s Program
  • Consequence: Decision to Complete BA
  • Invitation 3: A Marriage Proposal
  • Invitation 4: Joining the Honors Program
  • Invitation 5: Becoming a Writing Center Mentor
  • Invitation 6: Taking a Second Major
  • Invitation 7: Considering Graduate School

 Invitations 8 and 9: Apply to the Roberts Fellowship Program

These were technically more college invitations, but the consequences were significant. An invitation to apply for the Roberts Fellowship comes in the form of a letter. I was not successful in my bid for the program when I responded to Invitation 8. It wasn’t until 9 that I was even called in for an interview. In 2003-04 I was accepted into the program as part of the Roberts Fellows as part of the 5th year’s group. The link above provides information about this program if you’d like to know more.

I can’t begin to tell you how transforming that first year is. Friday morning seminars and a variety of activities, meetings with leaders, cultural experiences, and bonding with the others in the group as we explored our potential as individuals and as a group.

Friday morning seminar of Roberts Fellows, Year 5.

Friday morning seminar of Roberts Fellows, Year 5.

As an aside, my fellowship experiences enhanced my coursework in ways I could not have imagined. As part of a sociology class project, I had the honor of interviewing the benefactor of the Roberts Fellowship, Donna Roberts. That led to an idea of creating a memory book of the first five years of the program. It included her biography, as well as reflections from key people in the university. The President, the Director of the Program, and the Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Robert Yien. (Remember that name. He issues an invitation later.) I sent emails to the all the Roberts Fellows from all five years inviting them to offer written reflections for the book. Many responded, and I edited the volume, while another Fellow from an earlier class took care of the graphics and cover layout. At that spring’s banquet to welcome Year 6 Fellows, we presented the book to Donna Roberts (as a surprise!), and every one of the Fellows also received a copy. (The tradition was continued when the Year 10 class also put another book together in 2009.)

In October of 2003, as I was experiencing everything that being a Roberts Fellow meant, my husband and I were married. His love, devotion, and support helped me through all of the work involved with the extra activities that had come into my life. I have never doubted for a minute that he wants what’s best for me and for us. When I doubt myself (which I am prone to do from time to time) he is there to remind me that I can do whatever I put my mind to. With him by my side, I finished the activities of the Fellowship year and prepared for the culmination of that year–a trip to Asia.

Consequences: Travel to Asia

English: Great Wall of China near Jinshanling ...

Great Wall of China near Jinshanling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t begin to cover everything we did in two weeks. Our May 2004 trip included stops in Taiwan, Beijing (where we climbed the Great Wall), Hong Kong, as well as three cities in Japan: Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Tokushima. Maybe in a future post, I can give more details about some of these stops, but for now I’ll briefly review our time in Taiwan, because it affects the final invitation and acceptance that brought me to teach here. While in Taiwan, we stayed at the Grand Hotel and spent most of our time in Taipei, with visits to the Taipei 101 building, the  Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, and the campus of Shih Hsin University before heading to the Taoyuan campus of Ming Chuan University.

During our time in Taiwan, Dr. Robert Yien joined us there to guide us around Taiwan and share his knowledge with us. On a bus ride after we had visited Shih Hsin University, I asked him about starting an English Corner for international students at our university, similar to what we had seen at the Taiwanese university. He was receptive and the following semester, he funded the start-up costs for our own English Corner.

Consequence: Shift in self-perceptions

The best way to demonstrate the shift that happened to me as a result of being a Roberts Fellow can be demonstrated in my entry in the memory book:

This program has challenged me to reconsider many of the ideas and believes I’ve carried with me all my life–especially the ones about myself and what I can hope to accomplish. I found myself believing in possibilities that used to seem out of the question. I have taken advantage of opportunities I might have passed up even a year or two ago. The best part is that it hasn’t just affected my life: it affects the lives of my children and those with whom I interact. I have always encouraged people to reach for whatever they wanted in life and to embrace their talents and gifts, but I have a new sense of urgency and excitement whenever these gifts and dreams come up in conversation. I actively encourage everyone within my circle of influence to think differently and to believe in themselves and in the power of what they can accomplish, both individually and as part of the groups to which they belong. I am excited about this new vision of the world.

Competing Possibilities: A Fork in the Road

While in Japan in 2004, our group also visited Tokushima University in Japan. While there, I felt an urge to consider teaching English there for a year. I did some checking and came home and discussed it with my husband. He was willing to join me in such an endeavor. But there were many challenges. My youngest child was still in high school, my parents were recovering from a major car accident, and my age put me in a situation of having to choose between two competing goals–teaching overseas or going to grad school. At that time, it didn’t seem I could do both, so I went to graduate school.

Invitation 10: “Come to Taiwan to Teach!”

When I emailed Dr. Robert Yien (I told you he’d be back), to ask him for a letter of recommendation, I discovered that he, too had accepted an invitation. While I had been in graduate school, he had accepted he not only agreed, but he suggested that I come to Ming Chuan University and teach for a year or two. I took a few weeks to think about it. I knew I would like spending time in Taiwan, but it was a long way from my family and friends. On the other hand, I already had a few contacts and would certainly make more. With SKYPE, I could talk with my parents and my four children. In the end, my husband and I decided that I would go alone, and that if it turned out to be longer than a year or two, he would join me. In the meantime, he kept things going in the US. When things extended to a third year, he did the major work of dismantling our household and joining me in Taiwan. When I flew back for year three, he was with me. I am now in the middle of year four, and we are planning to be here at least through year 5.

Christmas Day my first year in Taiwan

Christmas Day my first year in Taiwan

And now our home is in Taiwan. The invitations converged, resulting in an unexpected opportunity that went far beyond teaching. I’ve been involved in writing and editing projects involving accreditation, academic journal articles, and historical documents for groups and individuals. I am involved in research about teaching writing and the writing process to English language learners.  I’m even coordinating the development of a new in-house textbook project, which involves eight new books for the new curriculum of our University’s English language program.

I had no idea that any of these invitations would bring about such a major factor in my career trajectory. These years in Taiwan will forever change my life. For me, that’s the gift of this experience–making a difference in the lives of my students while doing the work I love. I have found a home half-way across the world, a place where I can flourish in spite of the physical distance between me and my loved ones in the US.

Related articles

Invitations: My Path to Taiwan (Part 1)

Happy Chinese New Year!

New Year's items being sold at Dihua Market, T...

New Year’s items being sold at Dihua Market, Taipei, Taiwan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If someone had told me four years ago that I’d be seeing spectacular Chinese New Year’s fireworks from my 4th floor apartment in Taiwan, I wouldn’t have believed it. But here I am. I am often asked why I came to Taiwan to teach. The short answer is that I was invited, but in reality, it was the culmination of a series of invitations. Even though I didn’t always understand where the invitations would lead, I embarked on several extra adventures that eventually led me here. This post traces those invitations and the resulting events that brought me to Taiwan.

Invitation 1: New Job Position

In my previous life, I worked in church music. I planned the music for services, played the organ and piano, rehearsed and directed choirs, trained and scheduled people who were interested in serving in various liturgical ministries, and “other duties as requested.” In the late 90’s, after many years in liturgical music, I received an unusual invitation to try my hand at directing the religious education program for our parish. At first, I wasn’t sure about this unexpected opportunity, but with some encouragement from the retiring Director of Religious Education and the pastor, I decided to give it a go. Turns out I loved it, and it gave me my first experience in curriculum design for a multi-year program.

Invitation 2: Entering a Master’s Program

While I was exploring my new position at the parish level, I received a call from the director at the diocesan level, inviting me to participate in a master’s level theology program through Loyola University. Initially, I hesitated because I hadn’t finished my BA, but he assured me that I would receive funding for the program and a certificate upon completion. I took the plunge. I attended weekly meetings, requiring substantial reading and assignments in preparation for each session. Our group of ten completed the 30 credit hours over three years.

Consequence: Decision to Complete BA

By the time I completed the certificate program in theology, it was clear that I could handled the routine of going to class and completing assignments, while still working full-time. So although it had been 30 years since I started my BA, I returned in 2000 to complete it. At six hours a semester, it would take a while (I went in with 38 hours  completed during my freshman year back in the 70s), but it would add up in time. A happy coincidence during my first semester back led to my decision to major in sociology and minor in English.

Invitation 3: A Marriage Proposal

What is a marriage proposal if not an invitation to share your life with another? I had been married before, and it hadn’t been the best of experiences. This invitation took a lot more consideration, weighing pros and cons, and deciding whether I was willing to make such a risk again. In the end, I accepted his invitation, and our lives have been blessed in many ways because of it. More about the details as this list continues.

Invitations at College (#4, 5, 6, 7)

#4 Join the Honors Program:  It required taking honors courses or creating an honors version of a few courses and completing a research thesis, but an invitation to return to the Honors Program I had left 30 years ago seemed a worthwhile endeavor.

#5 Become a Writing Center Mentor: A friend invited me to apply to become a mentor in the Writing Center. I’d always loved writing, and even the application process led me through a process of assembling a writing portfolio and reflecting on my own writing process. The number of “mini-invitations” that resulted from joining the Writing Center was totally unexpected. Conference presentations, starting an English Corner for international students, and coordinating the Writing Center’s English 111 course presentations were just some of the experiences that resulted from accepting this invitation. Little did I know that it would be instrumental in my later certification in Taiwan, particularly my extensive work with international students.

#6 Take a Second Major: I enjoyed the classes I took for my English minor, but the only writing major at the time was Professional/Technical Writing. I didn’t think I was interested in it, but at one of my conferences about a writing project, the professor made a case for turning my minor into another major. At that point, it would only add one year to my time in school, and as will be seen later, there were lots of other things going on that made it hard to argue his point. When I asked whether the courses I needed would be offered in the following year, he offered to do an independent study with me if needed.

#7 Consider Graduate School: Another professor asked to see me as a result of some peer review activity we had done in class. A student I had worked with made significant progress in a rewrite. The professor asked about the techniques I had used and then asked if I was considering graduate school. She encouraged me to pursue teaching, particularly in writing. This suggestion, along with the other three “college invitations” resulted in an honors thesis that combined sociology, teaching, and writing, a trend that would follow me to Taiwan, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

to be continued . . .

English: Chinese dragons at LongyinTemple in C...

Chinese dragons at LongyinTemple in Chukou, Taiwan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who knew that invitations held so much possibility? I used to think about invitations as social obligations to be included in one’s calendar, but the question about how I’ve gotten to this part of my life got me thinking about all the choices we make when it comes to all kinds of invitations.

In Part 2, I will share the final invitations that brought me to Taiwan. It involves an invitation that led to admission to a fellowship program and a trip to Asia. Stay tuned for the details.

Also, if you have any specific questions about the journey to Taiwan, feel free to add them to the comments. 

Happy Chinese New Year!

Containers of Surprise (and Delight)

Invitations: Potential “Surprise” Holders


invitation (Photo credit: Theis Kofoed Hjorth)

This blog post was not planned. The photos and words are the result of a day of surprises. They arrived in an invitation, in a new day, in a museum, and in the art it held. The surprises actually began yesterday. My husband and I were already out on an outing with our friend, Steve–an outing of “Western” proportions, involving Costco, Starbucks, and IKEA. Luckily, Steve and Dave were going to hang out at Steve’s apartment between Costco and IKEA, which gave me time to get some work done at Starbucks. That was my compromise for taking an afternoon away, to get a couple hours of work done sometime during the day, and the guys didn’t mind.

While I was sipping my iced latte and working on a literature review, my cell phone rang. I was surprised to see it was my regular taxi driver, Mac, calling. Surprised because classes don’t start until next week, and I didn’t really expect to hear from him until then. But as he’s done in the past, he and his wife wanted to take Dave and me on an outing the next morning. The connection was awful and I couldn’t make out everything Mac was saying, but I did get that they would pick us up at 9:00 and something about the afternoon. If he gave me specifics about where we were going, I didn’t make them out.

A New Day: More Surprises

English: Taipei County Yingge Ceramics Museum ...

Taipei County Yingge Ceramics Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I woke up thinking I probably should have declined the invitation and stayed home to get more work done, but the one thing my moratorium allows for is social events. The reason is I tend to hole up too often and not get out and do fun things. So I got ready, but wasn’t really looking forward to it. But my reluctance changed quickly to excitement when Mac greeted us with the plan for the morning. We got into his SUV (not the taxi) and headed to Yingge Ceramics Museum in New Taipei City. Dave did a lot of ceramics in college and I love anything in arts and crafts. In fact, this was a place on my “wish” list, and we were on our way! I was glad that I had not talked myself out of going.

Museums: Another Kind of “Surprise” Container

Three floors of exhibits and more out in the back of the main building. We did not get through everything in the 2 1/2 hours we spent there. Here’s a view of the open space from the third floor.


Beyond the amazing exhibits, there were loads of other surprises in this museum. For starters, admission is free! Not just on special days or at the holiday time, but always. Even the audio tour players and head sets were free. You left your ID card with them; you could punch in numbers at various exhibits to hear lots of details. They had the audio sets available in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, English, and one especially for children. There may have been others, but you get the idea.

Some of the exhibits were so delicate, I had to remind myself that they were ceramic. For example, this piece, Unread Books, looked so real that I could almost picture the pages turning.


Another piece I really enjoyed. The English title is something like, Look Up and See the Blue Sky.


And the kitty lover in me couldn’t resist the whimsical rendering of cats in the afternoon sun.



Surprises in Art

A huge kimono type garment hung in the museum. It was exquisite. It was clearly, decorative only. It’s hard to get a sense of the scale from this picture, but let’s just say that it was too large for any one to wear. The real surprise of this piece though are the thousands of ceramic butterflies sewn (or clipped) to the cloth. (No clear indication of how they are attached.)


Prepare to be amazed!


The sheer volume of these butterflies and the size of this piece of art are just breathtaking. The museum makes great use of lighting to highlight many of these pieces.

Another surprise was a piece with an English title, Sad Child with Short Wings. I’m not going to try to figure it out. But it was cool looking. Stands about 15 inches high. (In this photo, it appears a little bigger than life.)  hehe


My Personal Art Surprise

This piece had an English name of Dilemma. As I looked at it, I was baffled. People kneeling in a circle facing one another, holding their dismembered heads in their hands. Two of them had empty hands and one head was on the ground. I thought the dilemma pertained to some sick game of “Musical Heads” in which a head is taken away before they start the music back up, and that the dilemma was how to decide who leaves the game, or who no longer has a head. Like I say, I was baffled. You take a look! (The lighting for this piece makes it hard to get a good picture, but I think you get the idea.)


I turned to my husband and told him my insane “theory,” and he asked me if I had listened to the audio for it. I didn’t realize that one had an audio, so I was excited. He told me the number of that entry, #94. I don’t think I’ll ever forget. When you enter 9-4-Enter, you hear the story of this ceramic piece. Here’s the English version.

With no more strength to move forward, those people melt down. Each looked around and found that the others were in distress as well. They had no one to help them. When looking forward, they only saw a pitch black road that led to uncertainty. When looking backward, they found the road they just took had disappeared. So where to go and what to be? “That’s too painful. Could I not think about that?” they cried out! And they pulled off their heads.

WOW! And I thought MY interpretation was a little odd. I think desperation of that sort would go beyond “dilemma” to something more, well, desperate. I thought about the times I get frustrated and don’t know what to do next, but pulling my head off isn’t usually in the list of options. The words of the people, “That’s too painful. Could I not think about that?” was done with such a whiny tone, too. Once I heard this interpretation, I knew that I had to include it in tonight’s post. So let me know what you think about it in the comments below.

So that was our unplanned trip to the ceramics museum. Our hosts only had the morning for the outing, but Dave and I could have spent the day. We didn’t even get through all the exhibits and demonstrations. We are already looking forward to a trip back when we can spend the whole day. Dave already found out the museum is a ten-minute walk from the train station. I’m sure I’ll have more things to share. Until then, look up and enjoy the blue sky!  :

Independently Wealthy, Right?

Community: A Source of Blessing

This is the first time I’ve actually re-posted from another blog, so if it doesn’t go the way it should, please bear with me. I am re-posting because it has touched me profoundly at a time when I am struggling to accept my own situation and choices. And it reminds me of the power of community. Such a concept is not new, but her blog post (and the comments that followed it) show that community often transcends geographical boundaries and time zones.

Lesley’s story and her request have rallied a large online community that comes from all over the world. And while there may be some who have not understood her vision, or who think her quest to win a contest is self-centered, they are definitely in the minority. Lesley has already done some pretty awesome things in her life, through her hard work and sacrifice. Her desire to experience life fully isn’t just about her, but it motivates each of us to be true to our own visions and to do what we can to bring them to reality. In doing so, we also help others see that their own visions are possible. I voted for Lesley in as many ways as I could, and then decided that I needed to do more.

So I decided to re-blog Lesley’s post to share how she has affected me and in the hopes of getting her a few more votes. A win for her is a win for the community. There is a link to vote within her post. You could also look at the sheer number of people who have responded with their support for her story (but you probably won’t have time to read all of them–it’s a LOT!). She is in the top three for this contest, so anything any of us can do really can make a difference for her. Several other people have re-blogged her, but I probably was one of the most verbose about it. (But that’s probably not a surprise if you’re a regular reader of my blog.)  

Her story has touched a chord with me personally because it reconnected me with my own journey and has helped me see my current path in a new light. I have only recently come to terms with the fact that the only way the textbook project will be completed successfully is if I accept that it requires all of the attention and effort I have. There is no point in bemoaning it or wishing it could be otherwise or trying to find a way to wiggle out of it or make it less than it is. What that means is that the next ten months are going to be extremely taxing—brutal even. But what it doesn’t mean is that I need to give in to feeling deprived or discouraged when I have to pass up other opportunities temporarily in order to accomplish this project that I chose and that I believe in. A project that will benefit a community that I am now part of.

Lesley’s story reminds me that the ups and downs are part of the ongoing cycles that are involved in a life worth living. Her post coincided with my struggle to “make room” for other things I thought were important. And maybe they are–but not NOW! I want to–need to–complete the textbook project in a way that is satisfactory to me. Is it going to be easy? Obviously not! But that’s the reality. I need to create a map, a path to the clearing that focused on the textbooks, in spite of the obstacles and red tape that sometimes threaten to rob the project of its meaning. Focus and sacrifice are what this project require, and I choose to bring it to completion.

The response to Lesley’s story also helped me finally understand why people are so interested in my story: how I came to be living in Taiwan and what I have encountered here. I forgot that the things that have become routine for me still make for interesting reading for people who have not made this kind of choice. In fact, my next post is going to answer the question that I have answered many times from people I meet online and from my students. “What brought you to Taiwan?”  Other stories of my experiences will follow. Stories contain truths; they contain hope; they contain magic.

When Lesley shared her story, she enlarged the influence she already had. Her spirit and determination is an inspiration to many. Being part of a community that supports one another in their quests to become visionaries of their own lives enriches all of us. The fact that our paths can now cross virtually as well as in real time provides a new kind of energy that can be a powerful influence. Sharing our dreams and our stories connects all of us. Thank you, Lesley!

Independently Wealthy, Right?.

Keyword: Fun (Compliments of my daughter, Kate)

The Non-Quilting Retreat

study time

(Photo credit: calebcherry)

Instead of a quilting retreat last Thursday and Friday, I reframed it into a textbook retreat, which took place Sunday and yesterday. You can read about what led to that decision in the posts listed below, but as a result of that shift, I rediscovered that it wasn’t actually quilting that was missing from my life as much as the experiences of play and fun, regardless of the forms they take. My life has become so crowded with tasks that I forgot to just enjoy the small moments of life. In fact, I didn’t seem to recognize small moments anymore.

Luckily, January was the beginning of my intention to set aside ten small moments a day to work with the exercises of Farther to Go! One day, in my writing, I remembered how I used to make “play” a daily practice, and even kept a journal to track the fun things I did. This memory helped me let go of the need to quilt “no matter what” and just open myself to the experience of quilting as an enjoyable hobby. If Farther to Go! can make a difference in ten minutes a day, so can ten minutes of opening myself to even small pockets of fun. But I didn’t make that connection until I packed away the sewing machine and let the small moments just be. I needed to stop planning everything.

Pinwheel Quilt

Pinwheel Quilt (Photo credit: jenniferworthen)

By letting go of the need to quilt no matter what, I reopened myself to experience the fun and exploration that intrigued me when I first became interested in the craft. So when I needed a little break on the second day of my textbook retreat, I knew instinctively what I wanted to do. I sent my daughter a Facebook message with a few quilt designs to get her opinion of them. She and I are halfway around the world from each other, but we have conversations on Facebook. Sometimes, the conversations aren’t continuous. One or the other of us puts something out there, and then the other answers the next time she is online.

For those of you who don’t know, my daughter, Kate is the youngest of my four children and she is the mother of Mr. Logan, the “not so little” guy you see at the top of the blog. When I gave Logan his quilt last summer, Kate asked me when she would be getting hers. Funny story!

The Little Quilt that Could

Several years ago, Kate showed some interest in having me make her a quilt. She had colors in mind, and I began collecting fabrics in pinks, greens, blues, and purples. Occasionally, I would see a possible pattern. But then, as now, I never had much time for quilting. In fact, when I was making Logan’s quilt two years ago, I actually found myself wondering whether Kate was still interested in having me make her a quilt. If so, would she even want the fabrics I had started collecting.

Well, last night happened to be one of those times when Kate and I were able to carry on a conversation for a bit. It was–dare I say it–FUN! She didn’t really care for the first images I sent her, but she gave me some good clues. For example, while I knew she didn’t want a pattern that was as “random” as the one I used for Logan’s quilt, one of the images I sent her was “too” traditional. That helped narrow the field.

Something with structure, but not too traditional. And something that when I get to it, I would enjoy making it. I’ve been wanting to play around with log cabin blocks. Maybe that would work. So I sent her some in pink blocks–not exactly like the ones shown here. Actually, I didn’t ask her about the “wonky” aspect, but my sense is she would like the straight line kind. Here is some of the conversation that followed:

wonky log cabin

wonky log cabin (Photo credit: MissMessie)

ME: ok, here’s another. If I did this log cabin pattern, I would incorporate purple, green, and blue as well, unless you want just pinks.

K: If you want to roll with that you can. And if you do, you should do each block a separate color.

ME: ok 🙂

K: or whatever you want 😛

ME: When I start playing with some blocks, I’ll send you pictures and you can tell me which you like best 🙂  It will be a while, but I like to at least think about quilting, and yours is the next big project I want to do

K: Do an all blue one, and one that includes all four colors.

ME: ok 🙂 that will be fun:

K: keyword: fun. don’t make it a job! if it’s a present for my 30th birthday so be it.

ME: 30th birthday present! Crap! I only have 4 years! LOL

Full Circle

Kate’s quilt won’t happen soon, but now when I do have some time for quilting, I have a pattern and a motivation. Even though I have to wait to cut and sew, I’m excited about it. Obviously, the colors are still a go. Best of all, I’m already having fun: the chat with my daughter, thinking about variations on the log cabin theme, and looking at the colors in my fabric stash. It feels so much better than those days when I was planning to quilt no matter what. And she’s got me focusing on the right keywords.

Thanks, Kate! And maybe you won’t have to wait until your 30th birthday for the quilt. But no promises. The keyword is fun!

Reframe, Retreat, Renew

A Change of Plans

Packing away the sewing machine into its prote...

Packing away the sewing machine (Photo credit: Miia Ranta)

It’s Friday and no quilting took place yesterday or today. No quilting will take place next week either. In fact, I packed up my sewing machine and cutting boards. They are tucked away in a corner of my closet. I know I kept saying I needed a break. I know that I need some time for me.

Unfortunately, as a couple people pointed out in my last post, I had unintentionally attached too many expectations to this retreat. Worse, I had–dare I say it–turned it into one more job with its own set of pressures. I didn’t want to admit it at first, but thinking back on Logan’s quilt made it pretty clear. Two years ago, I had the fabric for his quilt, I found the pattern I wanted to adapt, and I had motivation. With those things in place, it worked. This time, although I was motivated, it wasn’t for the right reason. And I had no pattern in mind, no fabrics calling to me. I ended up trying to create an agenda for the retreat, a sure sign that I had lost sight of the purpose of the retreat. In fact, I had lost sight of my keyword for winter–clearing. 



Frames (Photo credit: Editor B)

Frames can contain many different items: pictures, mementos, diplomas, and other markers of significant events. Not everything that is framed is tangible. We also capture ideas, expectations, plans, and hopes for the future in frames that can’t be seen, but that can be quite powerful. I think that’s what happened to me with my quilting retreat. I got an idea in my head about how I could get back to quilting and give myself a break from the stress, and that frame was pretty set in my mind. It wasn’t until after I made the decision to NOT quilt, that I began to reframe my thoughts about what was really going on.

I began by reframing my week. After accepting the fact I wasn’t going to do the quilting retreat, trickles (read floods) from my current commitments went up. Four new ones on Thursday, what would have been the first day of the quilting retreat. A real verification that I made the right decision. However, my stress level still went up. It took me a couple hours to wrap my head around what was happening with the projects, but then I did make some progress toward regaining control of the day. I spent the rest of Thursday patching things together, just nothing that involved bright colors and fabric.


3186629203_bfcf404f50_mThe next thing I needed to reframe was my idea about retreats. This part is kind of crazy since I have lots of experience with retreats. A retreat is a good container, a dedicated time and place to explore art, personal growth, creativity, spirituality, journaling, or quilting. I’ve had good experiences with retreats, but something wasn’t right this time. Maybe it was just the timing, but I was beginning to think I had the wrong focus for what is going on in my life right now.

I reviewed the purpose of retreat for me:

  1. To get away from everything and focus on what’s important; a time to renew, explore, refresh.
  2. Get away from stress; a break from routine and habits; a chance to look inward and reassess; to rediscover my path..
  3. Get away from distractions; a chance to focus and move forward on what is important. Set a course for the next steps.

A quilting retreat, in my current circumstances, would not have satisfied any of these for me. The results would have been a different kind of stress because I wasn’t focusing on what was important, and had made “relaxation” a job. Further, what I really need to focus on–away from distractions–is my my largest work project: the textbooks.

The Textbook Project

Disclaimer: Feel free to skip the next two paragraphs if you’d like. It would take away from the point of this post. However, I thought that since I keep mentioning it, I should give a little basic information about it for those who are curious.

One of the projects that moved up the list of priorities on Thursday involved the textbook project. I haven’t given many specifics here, so let me give you just a brief picture of what’s going on. I helped with a proposal to revamp our curriculum, which also meant producing 8 new textbooks (1 per semester for four years). The proposal also had other components, but the textbooks are the most demanding in terms of time and ongoing effort. I proposed a three-year timeline for implementation. The powers that be liked the ideas of the curriculum reform, but not the timeline. They want to implement this coming fall. So four books need to be to the printer at the beginning of the summer to be used in Fall 2013 and the others have to be done by December to be used in Spring 2014. I am the coordinator of this project which involves many things, including developing budgets and timelines.

I’ve completed two textbooks in the past, but only working on one at a time. Juggling the production schedule for the first four has been challenging, to say the least. It has taken a lot of adjustment and rethinking and revising to finally get the production timeline figured out. In the past, I only worked on one book at a time, so juggling the production schedule for 4 books at first and now 8 books has been challenging and stressful. I had to re-do the timeline for the first four books, to make some adjustments. Then I had to do another timeline for the second semester books. Suddenly, the project became more manageable. I could see that once I work through a few of the remaining snags for the first set, the second set will be much easier. All the set-up and planning activities will already be done. Having the layout and the basic plans set up frees up a lot of time

Reframing – Part II

So I will have a retreat next week, but it will be a retreat that focuses on the textbook project. This time I have the materials, I have the tasks, I have the motivation. Not quite a quilt, but a project that will benefit from the dedicated time and place to work on it. The textbook retreat idea finally takes away a lot of the stress and focuses my energy on moving forward rather than putting it off while I quilt without passion. Because my passion is tied up in moving these books forward. If I spend two days with the books as my focus, I can really make some significant progress, and move more toward the clearing that is really what my intention is.

Renewing the Moratorium

My 30 day moratorium on new work responsibilities ended on the 28th of January. Today is February 1, and I am renewing the moratorium for the rest of the month. I hope to make it a monthly commitment, but I will do it one month at a time. I have to say that I was surprised how full my days and weeks have been in spite of the moratorium. Even though I added nothing new, the obligations already in place continue to fill up my time. I am making some progress toward finishing a few things, and that will continue. The textbook retreat will also help..

Although I’m renewing the moratorium in terms of new responsibilities, I am instituting a daily “play” requirement. Before you think that I’m turning play into another responsibility, let me assure you that this is merely a mindfulness technique. In the past I had a play journal to remind myself to do something fun, something playful, even if it was just for five or ten minutes a day. I think part of the mistake of the quilting retreat was that I was forgetting that I don’t need a huge chunk of time to feel renewed. I can incorporate smaller quilting activities until a project actually grabs me.A regular infusion of playfulness, even small ones, can go a long way.

For me, play can be as simple as looking at quilting patterns, looking at pictures of quilts others have made, taking a puzzle book to a coffee shop, watching something on TV, or doing pleasure reading. Sad as it is to say, most of these things have vanished from my life lately. Rather than try to grab a two-day chunk of time, I will make a habit of noticing the small moments that bring me joy and kindle the sparks that could lead to a creative project that will tell me when it’s time to make a retreat.