Whistle of Home

train jg photoSome part of my soul goes home every time I hear a train whistle.

I grew up near a railroad track parallel to US highway 41 in south Georgia.  I now live near a railroad track near US highway 41 in middle Georgia.  A lot has changed about me, the highway, and the sound of the trains.  But the constant is that the rumble of a train on the tracks, the predictable ‘two longs, short, long’ blast of the horn brings a smile to my face.  Every time.

My parents brought me home from the hospital and put me in a crib less than fifty yards from the railroad track.  Yes, I’m still a sound sleeper.  I grew up waving to engineers as the train came by, counting cars, learning something about motion and direction and the hauling of goods and people.

There were passenger cars, flatbeds hauling pulpwood and granite headed south, tanker cars, box cars with freight and hobos, and stacks of automobiles headed north.  Occasionally the train stopped in front of our house.  Occasionally a hobo would come to the door looking for work, or food, or both.  Once the engineer came to the door and borrowed some of my mother’s clothesline to make a repair.  A coupling had come uncoupled, so that train pulled away with two cars attached with a makeshift linkage.  My mother often wondered how far her clothesline traveled.  And, forever after, we made do with two rows of clothes drying instead of three.

And, cabooses.  There were really red cabooses at the end of every train.  With a conductor who wore a striped cap and sometimes stood on the porch and waved.  Recently, we have begun stopping at every retired caboose we see and Jim snaps a photo of me onboard (or trying to get onboard if there are “crazy women should not climb on the train” signs).

My nephew Woody explored the inside of a caboose when he was about six years old.  He was visiting with us and announced over the suppertable that “there’s a lot of room in those little cars.”  My mother was horrified, my Daddy tried to hide his smirk, as we learned that the train had stopped and Woody had climbed aboard for a look-see.

As I recounted yesterday’s trip to the JugFest in Knoxville, GA, I realized there was a train theme.  We collect southern folk pottery, and seeing all the new work was certainly a thrill, especially that of Shelby West.  But the non-clay purchases I made seem to all be related.  There is the crow, Heckle, made from a gear, a pair of pliers, and a railroad spike.  There are earrings which are hammered, fold-formed, and enameled pewter.  The artist’s anvil is made from a piece of rail from a train track.  And, we shot the requisite photo on the retired caboose in downtown Roberta.

During the forty-something years I lived out of earshot of a train, I never lost my love of their sounds.  Thankfully, I’m married to a man who loves them too.  Though I do recall on the first night he spent at my parents’ house (in the same bedroom I first slept), he woke me at 3:00 a.m., sitting straight up in bed and exclaiming, “what is THAT?”  My reply, “what is what?” revealed that I heard nothing out of the ordinary.  Once awake, I realized the shaking of the house, and in fact, the very earth beneath, was nothing but the train.

Over the years, we have both delighted in finding a B & B near the railroad tracks.  When weather conditions were right, we could hear a distant train when living in our first home together. The sound of the whistle at night came to mean peace to Jim, as it always had to me.

The proximity of the railroad was a plus for us when deciding to buy this house.  Shortly after moving here, we were returning home from a trip with friends and we stopped to get lunch in a small town. Jim and I heard a faraway whistle and shared a smile across the group, knowing only we appreciated the sound – and realizing how we had missed hearing that during the week away from home.

Photos:  Jim Gilreath’s photo of the Nancy Hanks steam locomotive in Gordon, Ga. Fall, 2015.

train play paducahSandra Dee playing on the caboose in Paducah, Ky. Spring, 2016.

Tidying Up

Kaffe baskets in basketFriends and I were discussing the Tidying Up bestseller at dinner last night.  I’ve not read the entire book, but I have read a lot of it.  First, let me say that this woman’s definition of tidying up is different from mine.  My idea of tidying up means someone is coming over and it’s time to run the sweeper and stash some items in the closet.  (I will admit that I later straighten the closet and periodically purge it of unused items, but not on a rigid schedule and not enough to invite visitors to admire.)

Though I agree that “stuff” can get in the way of living your life, I’m here to tell you that cleaning can do the same thing.  Balance, people, balance.  Don’t be a hoarder, don’t live in squalor.  But, then again, don’t obsess over everything being perfect.

I wonder how many people on their deathbeds wish they had taken one more load of unworn clothing to the Salvation Army.  Can you tell that I spent yesterday cleaning and wished I were sewing?

When it comes to my quilting stash, I do sometimes find the need to straighten it to see what I have.  Sometimes I share remnants with other quilters.  It is fun to see their faces light up when they find a fabric I’ve used in a quilt they like and now they get to play with it, too.

My working style is that I have several quilt projects in progress at one time.  I sometimes get bored with one technique or another, but often the reason is location.  I always need a project that is portable – to stitch while watching tv or sitting on the porch, or recently, while riding in the car.  Once that phase of the stitching is done, that piece might get set aside until I have time to prepare it for the next level.

I do keep the fabrics that I’ve selected for a given project together until it’s completed.  I use baskets to contain them.  Sometimes there are lists in the baskets telling me what is  cut, how many are remaining to be stitched; maybe a sketch of the layout possibilities.  I will confess that there are a couple of projects that I like seeing the blocks in a basket – so I’m not anxious about assembling those at all.  Alma Allen and Barb Adams depict vignettes of such collections in their books and on their website.  They inspire me to enjoy all phases of the quiltmaking experience.

Susan Lenz explains that the beginning phase and the finishing phase of projects are exciting.  But one doesn’t need to be excited all the time.  The stitching phase is relaxing – so psychologically, I’m centering myself with my working style.

I have come to realize that sometimes I slow down on a project before it’s finished, not wanting to finish until another is at its relaxing stage.

Jude Hill says of one of her magic feather posts, “And yet there is still stitching.  Maybe I have slowed down even more.  Just to make it last.”

Oh, yes, I’m in good company if my working style bears any resemblance to Alma Allen, Barb Adams, Susan Lenz, and Jude Hill.  But it may not look tidy.

Not Perfect, but….

front porch in summerThere is a phrase buzzing around on Facebook these days when people describe their husbands, “not perfect, but perfect for me.”  Well, that is certainly true of my husband, but I recently thought of the phrase with respect to houses.  I was cleaning out some old file folders filled with inspirational ideas for decorating, sewing, and gardening.  Along with those, I have kept a folder filled with house plans. For many years,  I thought my dream house was in there somewhere.

I threw the contents of the folder away without even riffling through it.  Not because the dream is dead, but because I am living it.  Our house is not new, and it’s not what I once would have thought I dreamed of.  It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for us.

We bought this one several years ago and the minute the former occupant was out, it felt like home to us.  Even with painters and workers tromping through for a few weeks to spruce things up, Jim and I knew we were home.  There were nearly thirty years of memories in our former home – memories of our little girls and then their little boys, but this was the setting our souls desired.

What we had come to realize is that we were looking for was a few acres in the woods that had a house we could live in.  That’s what we found.

Home:  a front porch with swings.  A screened back porch which was the favorite room of a little Corgi we loved.  Rooms inside big enough to move around and house all our stuff.  A kitchen where we can eat and feed friends.  A house for us needs books, so we built bookshelves.  A place to compute, to read, to sew, to store a few cameras.  We are good.  We are home.

Some people who read this are looking for words related to quilting.  As I proofread this, the title resonates with recent advice I’ve been reading related to creativity.  The pursuit of perfection is the enemy of creativity.  So, my quilts are “not perfect, but….” But I still love to make them.  I once strived for near perfect execution of the details.  Now I’m more excited about playing with new color combinations or layout or techniques.  It’s all about the fun I’m having!

3-2-1, UP!

cow churn crossstitchI sometimes have sleepless nights.

Maybe because deer walking around (snacking on our flowers) set off the driveway alarm.  Maybe because I’m in pain from overworking some muscle group.  Maybe because of that aging thing.  It’s probably not this last one, because I’ve been dealing with this for a LONG time.

Sometimes I become productive.  Sometimes I lie there and wish I could go back to sleep.  Sometimes I make alphabetical lists in my mind.  Angie, April, Anita; Barbara,  Brenda, Bethany,….another time Destin, Denver, Dothan; Springfield, San Francisco, Sugar Hill.  The categories change, but I almost always look for three words beginning with each letter of the alphabet.  And I always start with A.  I rarely make it through M or N before falling asleep.  But I have made it to Z a few times.

Oops, I forgot the spoiler alert.  I told my husband about this strategy one day while we were riding (I had attempted cities in Georgia the night before and was having trouble with a couple of letters).  He couldn’t stop thinking about it and threatened things if I ever suggested the idea again.  I got the same reaction from a daughter and grandson.  So, I’m alone in this.  Unless you like it.

Maggie Bonanomi has done something similar on her facebook page with photos of pears, peapods, pots, puzzle balls,…Of course, her vignettes are amazingly breathtaking!

Lately, in preparation for our quilt show, I have awakened thinking of things I needed to do.  A few mornings the clock, aka phone, read 3:21 when I checked it.  I thought, “ 3…2…1…UP!”  A few nights respite, and then…..last night it was 3:27.