Blessed Are Those That Mourn

The thing about saying to someone “I’ll pray for you,” is you’d better do it right away, lest you get busy and forget.  Also, when the tag line for the worship items you make is “Prayerfully Handwoven,”  you’d better do that too.

Before setting down to the loom this morning, I checked Facebook while drinking my coffee.  A friend was asking for good thoughts - tomorrow is the memorial service for her step-mother.  I said “I’ll pray for you and your family.”  

I am weaving a tallit - a prayer shawl.  My task this morning is to pull new warp threads through the heddles and attach them to the back beam.  Because I am using the same threading for this as for my last project, I have tied the new warp threads to the old.  I pray for my friend and her family as I carefully pull the threads through the heddles.  I pray for comfort and peace, and simply the strength to get through the day.  Lord in your mercy, hear my prayer.  

I think of my friends whose father passed away a few weeks ago.  The memorial service is in a couple of weeks.  His passing was not unexpected, he lived a long and full life.  George was a good man, a Godly man.  May his memory be a blessing.  

I think of my niece Diane.  Yesterday we remembered her on the anniversary of her birth.  We remember her for the life she lead, for the lives she touched in special ways.  Her memory is always a blessing.  

I think of a friend, a fellow weaver, a co-worker of my husband.  Yesterday we learned that she is on hospice care, to pass from this life to the next at home.  I pray for her, her husband, and also her friend Debbie, who has been an absolute brick, in spite of her own grief.  Father, into your hands we commend her spirit.  

I think of my Pastor, who lost her uncle unexpectedly this week, and another member of my church family whose young adult daughter died suddenly a few weeks ago.  I think of the lives lost in the Bahamas, and of those who have lost everything except their lives.  Bless those that mourn, and comfort them.

I find the repetitive tasks of weaving lend themselves to prayer time.  There are 532 warp threads in this tallit, each one a prayer.  Each old thread connected to a new.  Like one of the fates, I snip the old thread away (I’m mixing religious metaphors here - better stop that).  The old threads will return to the earth.  In time their carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen may be taken up into another plant and be a living thing once again.  From dust they came, to dust they will return.  

Not all the prayers that go into this tallit will be prayers of mourning.  There will be prayers for healing - both for individuals and the world.  There will be prayers of gratitude and joy.  There will be prayers for - I don’t know yet.  But for today, my prayers are for those that mourn.  


The News

“When wilt thou save the people?
O God of mercy, when?”

I woke up this morning with the song from Godspell in my head.  In hours of wakefulness last night, I had gone online and saw the news.  Yet another shooting yesterday.  Gilroy last week, then El Paso, then Dayton.  

“Shall crime bring crime forever,
Strength aiding still the strong?
Is it thy will, O Father,
That men shall toil
for wrong?”

I prayed this as I drank my morning cocoa.  Sometimes prayers are answered right away:
“I have given you everything you need.”
Okay, then.  

I’ve been reading Rachel Held Evans’ last book, Inspired.  (It makes me sad to write that.)  Yesterday evening I was reading the chapter titled Gospel Stories.  In this chapter she asserts that “every Christian gets a ‘gospel according to…” - there are as many gospels as there are people who interact with Jesus. (Remember that “gospel” simply means “good story.”)

“I have given you everything you need.”

Those angry young men with their body armor and their guns and their high capacity magazines have their stories of hate - manifestos, and Reddit and 8chan.  I cannot match their fire power (nor would I want to).  Our government is unwilling to act to curb them.  But I do have a story, a gospel according to Esther.  

I blame my parents. Because of them, the sound track of my childhood was a constant refrain of Sunday school songs:

"Jesus loves me, this I know.”
"Praise Him! Praise Him! All ye little children. God is love!"
Jesus loves the little children - all the children of the world!”

The next line is not PC by today's standards, but it gets the point across clearly:

"Red, brown, yellow, black and white.
All are precious in His sight."

Jesus said "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”  

My parents taught me this, and I believed them.  I still do - more than ever.  Not with a childlike faith, but with the faithful reasoning of an adult.

I am about to start a Bible study of the book of Acts*.  The consistent message of this book is the sheer power of the story - the good news of Jesus - to change lives and in doing so change the world.  Indeed, it rocked an empire.  

“I have given you everything you need.”

I pass this message along to you.  Share your gospel.  Counter the messages of hate, of racism, of exclusion, of violence, with good news.  It has the power to change the world. 

I am given thread, and sometimes words, to weave the good news.

I am given thread, and sometimes words, to weave the good news.

*Bible study at Ventura First United Methodist Church, Mondays at 6 p.m. starting the Monday after labor day.

Ordinary / Not Ordinary

The calendar tells me that it’s Ordinary Time.  The green of my garden glimpsed through the blinds of my studio window, and my weaving confirm this.  But the time does not feel ordinary.

The news tells us that these times are anything but ordinary.  It tells us that this week, things were said that should not have been - should never be - said.  This is not normal, we are told.  And that is true. But I am determined not to be discouraged.  

So I go to the loom. I put on some vintage Peter, Paul and Mary to weave to.  “No Easy Walk to Freedom,” they sing. Oh so true!

“Keep on walkin' and we shall be free
That's how we're gonna make history”

But then, beautiful voice of Peter Yarrow sadly sings:

“If we don't stop there'll come a time when women
With barren wombs will bitterly rejoice,
With breasts that dry and never fill with promise,
Gladly they'll not suckle one more life.” *

“If we do these things in the greenwood,
What will happen in the dry?”

By coincidence (if you believe in that sort of thing), this was part of the text of my Bible study last Monday night.  This is Jesus’ last prophecy - spoken literally on the way to his death, to the cross.**

It is not hard to imagine what happens in the dry - not when you live in California.  Nor is it hard for a student of history to remember some of the many times in the last 2000 years or so, when things were so bad that childless women were relieved that they had no children to suffer. Starting with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, right up to, well, some places in the world today.  In this way, perhaps, these times are all too ordinary.  

Ordinary / Part II

The iPod moves seamlessly from one album to another.  And the beautiful, hopeful voice of Noel Paul Stokey sings:

“But for the love of it all
I would go anywhere.
To the ends of the earth,
What is it worth if Love would be there?
Walking the thin line between fear and the call
One learns to bend and finally depend
On the Love of it all”

So perhaps the lesson is this: the most ordinary of times are the ones where hope and despair live side by side, moment by moment.  

“For the love of it all
We are gathered by grace.
We have followed our hearts
To take up our parts
In this time and place.
Hands for the harvest,
Hear the centuries call:
It is still not to late to come celebrate
The Love of it all.”


* ”Greenwood” Peter Yarrow, 1972
** Luke 23:28-30
*** ”For the Love of It All” Noel Paul Stookey, 1991

Green on Green

The view from my loom is my small back yard - my cloister garden, I call it. A patch of lawn, vine covered walls, a shade tree. Result is a pallet of layered green in the garden, echoed in the greens in my new project.

Christmas in July

When I was a little girl, in the summer, at Vacation Bible School, we would celebrate “Christmas in July.”  There would be an artificial Christmas tree, and we would make handmade ornaments.  We might even sing some Christmas carols - “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed…”

We would learn about boys and girls in other countries, about orphanages, and schools, and hospitals.  Like the wise men, we would be asked to bring our offerings to help those boys and girls.  A dime a day was the suggested amount - 50 cents for the week.  

Just 169 days until Christmas!

I’ve been thinking about Christmas as I’ve been finishing weaving the fabric for a white and gold stole - just 169 days until Christmas!  Thinking about Christmas in July gives one a chance to separate the real message from the pressure and the hype - the “perfect” gifts, the “perfect” tree, the “Perfect Christmas.”

Thinking about Christmas in July helps me focus on the main thing - that God is revealed to us every day, that Immanuel is with us everyday, that like the wise men we can seek him every day, and like the shepherds we can “go and see” every day.  

White/Gold Star of Bethlehem

White/Gold Star of Bethlehem

Have a blessed Christmas!

Weaving for the Resurrection

I’ve been walking in the wilderness the last couple of weeks.  Like the ancient Israelites, my mood has been alternatively despairing, angry, resolute, back to despairing.  My nights have been sleepless and more than a few tears have been shed.  In the midst of it, I’ve been trying to set a patient, calm, “God will find a way” example for the members of my local United Methodist church.

Amidst it all, I still must weave.  I weave ahead of the season.  So even though my mood has been in lenten purple, my weaving is in Easter white and gold.  I weave, but my heart hasn’t been in it.


Tonight I read a post from a Christian blogger - one with thousands of followers.  She was explaining her recent silence, saying that she lost her son to mental illness in January.  I can only imagine that kind of heartbreak.

And then I thought about the parents who live in fear of that heartbreak.  Parents of gay, lesbian and transgender children - children who live in confusion and despair, because they’ve been told that somehow God does not love them the way they’re made, and if they seek out loving relationships in their lives, then God will condemn them for it. I thought of the parents who have experienced that heartbreak because their children have chosen to live out their lives in fullness and truth - and who have lost their lives to violence because of that.  And I realize I have no time to despair.  I must be about the Father’s business.

Because however the pharisees choose to live according to their interpretation of God’s law and force it on others, Jesus calls us to just two.  Both grounded in love, he lived and died by that example.  And whatever happens to the United Methodist Church, or even in my local church, resurrection is not just possible, it’s inevitable.  Because of all of the infinite things that God is, infinitely persistent is one of them.

So I weave - in hope and certainty of the resurrection.

“For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”

2019 Word for the Year - "Walking"

“Do justice,
love kindness,
walk humbly with your God.”
Show me your ways, oh Lord.

This is my daily, sometimes constant prayer. Doing justice, loving kindness - these are fairly easy to understand, if not always east to put into action. Walking humbly with God - this one I have struggled with.  What does it mean?  How to put it into action?

Last year, while weaving a set of prayer shawls, I had a realization, an epiphany, if you will (it’s coming on to that time of year).  Walking humbly with God - for me anyway - means to walk the path put in front of me.  Not to seek challenge, or greatness, and certainly not glory.  Just to put one foot in front of the other.  

Sometimes walking leads to beautiful places…

Zion - on the river walk.jpg

Sometimes to scary places…

West Rim Trail, below Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah (CC BY-NC 2.0)

West Rim Trail, below Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah (CC BY-NC 2.0)

To places filled with 700,000 new friends….


To places that are lonely or sad…

20130817-FS-UNK-0074 (CC BY 2.0)

20130817-FS-UNK-0074 (CC BY 2.0)

At each step, looking left and right for opportunities to be just and kind.  

And if I get a few more steps on my FitBit, that’s good too.

Confessions of Faith

This story is a month late.  Two days after this event, I came down with the flu.  It’s hard to think, and especially to write, with a head full of, well, never mind.  Here it is now…

It was just 13 days after a gunman had opened fire in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 worshippers and injuring 7 others.  It was 80 years to the day after Kristallnacht.  

We stopped while the security guard apologetically checked our handbags.  We understand, we told him.  Inside, Temple Akiba was packed with members of the congregation and friends and families of six adult people who were celebrating their B’nai Mitzvah.  My husband Bruce and I, along with several of our good friends, were there to celebrate with our friend Laurie and her mother Lillian.

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise.”

Inside, Temple Akiba was a lively and joyful place.  And surprisingly diverse. There were black Jews, and Asian Jews, and non-Jews like me.  They were gay, and straight.  There was singing, and clapping and dancing, and if you don’t know the words, the Cantor told us, you can just sing “la la la.”  

Bruce, who has a good ear for music and languages, sang along from the transliterations in the prayer book.  For me,  it was more meaningful just to listen and read the English translations - strikingly, not surprisingly, familiar.  

The Torah portion for the week was not the most uplifting (in my opinion) - the story of Jacob and Esau.  Each of the B’nai Mitzvah read their portion in Hebrew and later said what about the story they found meaningful.  Me, I’ve always wondered how things might have been different if Rebecca had trusted God to fulfill His promise without resorting to subterfuge.  

At the end, they spread the Rabbi’s tallit over all of them, holding up the corners like a canopy, and danced underneath. His banner over me is love.

“You will be my people, and I will be your God.”

My ultimate take away from the service - the message, the importance of the B’nai Mitzvah, is the confession of faith: “Yes, I am one of your people,  this is my choice.”  Even though it’s not easy.  Even though it’s not safe - and it never has been.

Confessions of faith are never easy - they’re not meant to be.  

Other people won’t understand: “Do you have to go to church?” (“I want to go to church.”)
You will be ridiculed: “But how can you give up bacon?”
You might be threatened: “Towel-head! Terrorist!”
Your people will be persecuted and some will be killed for it - for thousands of years!

Yet every day, all around the world - safely or in danger - Jews, and Christians, and Muslims make their confessions of faith in God with thanksgiving and praise. 

Laurie and Lillian celebrate their B’Nai Mitzvah with new handwoven tallitot.

Laurie and Lillian celebrate their B’Nai Mitzvah with new handwoven tallitot.

On the Fringes

She had no business being there, and she knew it.  By law and custom, she should be at home.  Not just at home - alone.  As she had been for the last 12 years.

He was a famous rabbi.  So popular, large crowds followed him everywhere he went.  He was particularly well known for being a faith healer.  If I can just get near him, she thought…

The Greek New Testament was translated and interpreted by men - that much is obvious.  They argue about the exact nature of the woman’s condition.  One noted Biblical scholar that I recently read referred to it as “internal bleeding.”  Internal, my foot.  It’s not really hard to diagnose, even at a distance of 2,000 years.  Endometriosis, possibly, or uterine fibroids.  Difficult to treat today, except by surgical means.  Impossible then.  

And so she lived her life on the fringes, denied regular human contact, lest she spread her uncleanliness. 

There’s a word for what she did next - chutzpah.  Braving the crowds, pushing to get close to him, trying to touch - not him - but the hem of his garment, but not really the hem (that’s another poor translation), the fringe.  The tzitzit.

And she did.  And he felt it.  He turned around.  “Who touched me?” he demanded.  That was crazy talk!  The crowd was literally pressing in on him on all sides!  But she knew who he meant.  Because she had been healed, and she felt that.  

“Daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.”  Not the tzitzit, not even him.  Her faith.  

Tzitzit are important.  They are a reminder of the Jewish law, and an outward sign of faith and faithfulness.  But they are not the same thing.  Not at all. 

Winding the shammash thread around the tzitzit.

Winding the shammash thread around the tzitzit.

One Foot in Front of the Other

So I’d just finished photographing the tallitot that I've been working on, when Bruce comes in with his iPad in hand to tell me that there's been a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.  I am imagining my beautiful tallitot splattered with blood - an involuntary sacrifice.  As if we needed any more proof that thoughts and prayers don't stop bullets!  People are killed in their various houses of prayer all too often, all around the world.  

My thoughts turn, as they often do, to the words of the prophet Micah, when Jerusalem and Judea were facing certain destruction - I think it was at the hands of the Assyrians that time. 

The people wonder what they can do do avoid their violent fate.  These are the days of temple sacrifices.  They ask: 

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

The prophet’s answer - the one I think about nearly every day:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

This then is the answer - the eternal answer - no more bloodshed this time, more sacrifices are not required.  Just our lives, practicing justice, mercy and putting one foot in front of another.  

A Prayer for Weaving

I sat down to start weaving on the tallit the other night - finally!  What is the appropriate prayer, I wondered, for starting to weave?  Treadle, the shed raises, throw the shuttle in, catch it coming out the other side, close the shed, beat, all that again.  Weaving is this repetitive motion of up and down, in and out.  Coming and going.  

And there it was, my prayer for weaving.  “The Lord bless thy going out and thy coming in.” A prayer for me, for the wearer.  Also a prayer for perfect selvedges.  


This phrase is used several places in the Bible.  First in Deuteronomy, where the Lord promises to bless those who follow His commandments.  It’s also the close of Psalm 121:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

I’m thinking about this while I weave.  A favorite psalm.  A song based in this psalm was sung at my wedding - “A Simple Song” by Steven Schwartz and Leonard Bernstein.

Blessed is the man who loves the Lord,
Blessed is the man who praises Him.
Lauda, Lauda, Laude
And walks in His ways.
I will lift up my eyes
To the hills from whence comes my help.
I will lift up my voice to the Lord
Singing Lauda, Laude.

I sing as I weave (singing badly - it’s a difficult tune).  Bernstein was a brilliant composer.  Brilliant, but challenging.  I’m thinking about Bernstein and Schwartz as I weave.  Two Jewish men writing a musical about a Roman Catholic Mass.  Kind of like a Christian weaving a tallit for a Jewish friend.  

Also wondering about how “the moon shall not smite me by night.”  The sun, I get, but the moon, I don’t know.  I keep weaving.  


Rending of Garments

rend (verb): to tear (the hair or clothing) as a sign of anger, grief, or despair  - The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

It was quite a week.  First a few, then a flood, on our social media feeds.  #metoo #WhyIdidntreport.  Each story unique, and also sickeningly familiar.  

I was a freshman in college.  I was fifteen. I was five. I was twelve the first time I was raped.

I was walking home from a party. He was my boyfriend. My uncle. The father of my friend.

I reported to the police, but they didn’t do anything. I thought it was my fault, My mother didn’t believe me.  I was ashamed - it was 50 years ago, this is the first time I’ve told anyone.

The anger has overcome the grief and despair.  Not seven sisters gathered to expose their hearts, but seventy times seven.

Don’t you dare disbelieve me.  Don’t you dare blame me.  Don’t you dare make excuses for him.  Don’t you dare think any less of me.  And don’t you dare treat me the way you’re treating her.

IMG_8085 (1).jpg

I am preparing to weave a tallit for a friend who will be celebrating her b’nai mitzvah in November.  My usual practice would be to work in prayers of blessing and thanksgiving.  But my heart is heavy.  As I pick up each thread and pull it through the heddle, I think of the women - friends and strangers - whose stories I have read this week. I think of the familiar words of the psalmist: “He restores my soul.”  So many souls to be restored. I say a prayer for restoration, for peace, and - dare I ask it! - justice. 

Weaving is the opposite of rending.  It is making something new and whole from all of the threads that go into it.  And a prayer shawl isn’t made just for the joyful prayers, and the prayers of thanksgiving, but also for the prayers of anguish and “O Lord, from the depths of despair I cry for your help.”

It’s late, and tomorrow is another day.   The psalmist also says “joy comes in the morning.”  Lord, hear our prayer.

Ritual Cleaning

(as opposed to “ritual cleansing” which is usually about one’s body)  
(also, not talking about OCD cleaning compulsions)

Cleaning rituals are found all over the world.  Although many are tied to religious beliefs - Chinese New Year, Persian New Year, Lent, Passover, Imbolc, Diwali - the ubiquity of the rituals suggests an physical, as well as a spiritual, value.  That’s what my anthropology professors who subscribed to the theory of cultural materialism would tell me.  And there’s no doubt that getting rid of germs, and the bits that attract vermin is important.

Not long ago, certain cleaning rituals were popularized by Marie Kondo.  How many of us have held up a piece of clothing - possibly an impulse purchase - and asked “does this still give me joy?” Or let a coffee stained t-shirt go, thanking it for it’s service, before cutting it up to use as a dust rag?

At some point, I realized that I have a weaving-cleaning ritual. 

A project is done - I cut it off the loom.  I usually have another project waiting in the wings, but it must continue to wait.  By now I’ve noticed the dust bunnies under the loom.  That’s not bad housekeeping - it’s a natural part of the weaving process.  The loom gets moved out, so I can vacuum underneath.  Since its out, I clean the window blinds that I can’t normally get to, and the sills, and if I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll clean the blades of the ceiling fan, too.  Before moving the loom back, I dust it - top to bottom, back to front.  


Then I turn to my book cases, my storage shelves, my winding station.  There are many small tools - shuttles, bobbins, threading hooks, lease sticks, scissors, needles - they all need to be put away in their proper places.  Scraps of paper filed or tossed.  Shelves are dusted. Leftover scraps of yarn - enough to save? Or thank it for it’s service, and throw it away?

As I tidy my space, I tidy my mind, putting away one project, clearing space in my head for another.  I feel a sense of release, then calm, then building anticipation.  

Maybe (just maybe) we anthropologists have it backwards - perhaps the highest value of these cleaning rituals is in the mental clarity and the spiritual refreshment they provide, and the physical is just the way we get there. 


Tradition! (Sort of...)

I’m excited to be making tallitot (prayer shawls) for these two lovely ladies for their upcoming B’nai Mitzvah celebration.  It’s always fun to work with clients to design something that incorporates their ideas with my design aesthetic.  



I met with Lillian and Laurie last Saturday to work our our designs.  I’ve known Laurie for - well, more years than I care to think - ok, since the early’s 80’s.  Her mother Lillian I got to know in 2017 when we did the LA Women’s March together - what a great time that was!  Both Lillian and Laurie are artists, so they understand something about the creative process, and that made working together more fun and productive.

Tallitot (that’s the plural - “tallit” is the singular) can be any color, but most often they are white with blue stripes at each end.  Both Laurie and Lillian opted for something traditional - up to a point.  

Laurie opted for an white shawl, with blue stripes a the ends.  But rather than have several separate stripes with white between, she chose to have a gradient stripe - from dark blue at the bottom flowing into light blue at the top.  

Lillian decided to turn tradition upside down, with midnight blue for the main body of the shawl, with white and turquoise blue stripes at each end.  

A few minutes on my computer with my weaving design program, and I have the basics of each design. 

Does this matter?

Sometimes people ask me “why do you weave clergy stoles, or vestments, or paraments?”  But usually, what they really want to know is “do these things really matter to God? Can’t you worship God anywhere, without all these trappings?” 

The answer is “of course, yes you can.” But then I say “have you read Exodus?”  Because there are several chapters there that describe the materials needed for the construction of the tabernacle - so much fabric!  A massive undertaking for the spinners and weavers.  And then the description of the garments that are to be made for Aaron the High Priest, fine linen and wool dyed purple and scarlet, and decorated with gold.  So, yes, these things do matter to God.

But that’s kind of a flippant answer.  The real answer is this: we all have within us a spark of creativity, because we are made in the image of God the creator.  And we can and should use that creativity to the glory of God, according to the gifts given to us.  So the composer writes a beautiful hymn, the wood worker carves the altar, the glazier makes a beautiful window, the vintner brews communion wine.  Me, I’m a weaver.

The question that follows is “but it’s so expensive - wouldn’t it be better to use the money for missions or to help the poor?”  And I answer “One of Jesus disciples asked this same question nearly 2,000 years ago, when Mary poured an entire bottle of expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet.” There are so many things about Jesus that Judas just didn’t understand!

Because God is a God of abundance, and it’s not a question of “either-or” but of “both-and.”  Because God will give us what we need in abundance, not for our own wealth and power, but so we can both glorify Him and carry out His commandments to care for others.  

And so I weave. For the glory of God and, yes, to make money.  And then give a tithe, and a bit more, to care for others.  So if you buy something handwoven by me, whether it’s my line of liturgical weaving, or one of my scarves or shawls, you help me help others. 

This year I am supporting the Mama Lynn Center/Congo Women Arise, to help the women of the east Congo who have been victims of sexual violence to recover physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially.

Cough Suppressant

Ever since I was a kid, I've gotten sick with a bad cold or flu during spring break. That really cuts into your fun, let me tell you. This year was no exception. I woke up on the morning after Easter with a dreadful sore throat.  

After three weeks I have residual congestion and a hacking cough. Nothing - not cough drops, cough syrup, inhaler, or Bruce's special hot toddy - will stop the coughing attacks when they strike. The slightest exertion - and sometimes nothing at all - brings them on.  

In frustration, I dusted off my spinning wheel and dug some fiber out of my stash.  Armed with a box of Kleenex, a few cough drops and a cup of tea, I sat down to some gentle spinning.  Sure enough, as I spin the cough reflex fades away and I experience relief for a time.  It's like some blessed Rumpelstiltskin curse, as long as I spin, I don't cough.  I stop spinning, I start coughing.  But sooner or later, I have to sleep - or try to.

The roses, at least, are blooming and healthy.


The Inevitable - An Editorial

It seems like an appropriate day to write about taxes.  What do taxes have to do with weaving?  Not much, unless you have a weaving business.

As a responsible citizen, I like to pay my taxes.  Well, I don’t like it really, and I’ll take every deduction my amazing tax person Carolyn tells me I can take, but I understand the necessity.  It’s a price I’m willing to pay for paved roads, public schools, and a fire department that comes when I call.  Also National Parks - I really like National Parks.  

Being a law firm administrator, I’ve prepared - or overseen the preparation of - tax returns for income tax, property tax and sales tax.  Also city business licenses, which are a tax, even if they don’t call it that.  It’s a hassle, but part of the cost of doing business.  

When I started my little weaving business, I decided that I was going to be legit - registering a DBA, getting a city business license (which was incredibly frustrating - my city doesn’t seem to want people working from home), registering with the state Board of Equalization.  All this means that, if I sell in California, I charge sales tax.  My business is tiny, so it’s a hassle, but not much of one.

Most of my sales are through Etsy, and outside of the State of California, so that means that most of my customers don’t pay sales tax.  But that’s about to change.  Congress is poised to pass a law that will require online sellers to charge sales tax based on the buyer’s location.  So if I sell to Michigan, I charge Michigan sales tax, if I sell to Oregon, I charge Oregon sales tax.  Except that Oregon doesn’t have sales tax.  

Now I understand that this won’t really be a problem for a giant like Etsy.  They already have the algorithms and charge California sales tax for me.  But what if I were to decide sell directly from my website?  Sure, there’s going to be software that will calculate the taxes for me - but I will have to collect them, prepare returns, and send them to up to 45 different states (I should be so lucky).  And yes, there will be companies that will do that for me for a fee - just another cost of doing business!

But wait - it gets more complicated!  Because state sales tax laws are weird. Some things are taxable, some are not.  For example, if I go to Green Thumb and buy a six pack of flowering plants, I pay tax.  But if I buy a pack of, say, green beans, I don’t pay tax, because green beans are food.  Food in California is not taxable, most everything else is.  

I’m a weaver - I sell scarves, shawls, and ministerial vestments.  In California, you pay sales tax on all of those things.  But there are five states where you don’t pay tax on clothing.  Except certain types of clothing that you do pay tax on.  There are several others where you don't pay tax on clothing, unless it's over a certain amount.  If a minister buys a stole from me, he or she pays sales tax.  But there are several state where, if the church buys it, they may not have to pay sales tax.  

Not taxable in Minnesota - which is a good thing, because they just had a blizzard - in April!

Not taxable in Minnesota - which is a good thing, because they just had a blizzard - in April!

Expecting micro-businesses to keep track of these laws in fifty states is ridiculous.  And expecting us to subscribe to expensive services to be in compliance is an unreasonable burden.

Washed Clean

A couple of weeks ago I drove up out of Santa Paula into Ojai for the first time since the Thomas Fire.  The road roughly follows the path of the start of the fire, past St. Thomas Aquinas College, for which the fire was named. Past the Limoneira Ranch where several families of farm workers lost their homes, but fortunately not their lives, and into the town of Ojai, which, through a miracle and the heroic efforts of firefighters and the residents, did not burn.

There is much heartbreak in the aftermath of the fire, but as humans start to rebuild and replant, so does the natural landscape.

The Limoneira Ranch has been replanted with baby lemon trees, the only evidence of the fire, the remains of a blasted tree.  Along the side of the road, plants come up green through the ashy soil.

The Limoneira Ranch has been replanted with baby lemon trees, the only evidence of the fire, the remains of a blasted tree.  Along the side of the road, plants come up green through the ashy soil.

We had so little rain this winter, that my citrus trees and shrubs still bore traces of ash on their leaves.  But spring brought heavy rains this week, and the plants in the yard have been washed clean in the downpour. Today the sun came out and I was able to enjoy the results.

A humming bird came to feed from the blooming salvia as I swept the patio, but was gone before I could grab the camera.  Fortunately, the rains do not appear to have damaged the orange blossoms, just now getting ready to open.  There will be white roses for Easter.

A humming bird came to feed from the blooming salvia as I swept the patio, but was gone before I could grab the camera.  Fortunately, the rains do not appear to have damaged the orange blossoms, just now getting ready to open.  There will be white roses for Easter.

Inside, I'm working on project for spring:

Christening Shawl.JPG

Testing 1 - 2 - 3

My next projects will be two more wedding shawls.  One with the working title "Something Blue" and the other will be "Blushing Bride."  

The loom is warped, the white shawl is done, and it's time to dye the yarn for the weft.  My dye process starts with my computer - also a cup of tea.  

Dye computations.JPG

Once I have the numbers, I test dye 10 yard skeins, each weighing about 2 grams.  For the darkest shade of pink, the "recipe" called for just .2 milliliter of dye stock solution.  To measure that, I use a little syringe.  The paler shades required me to dilute after measuring.  The palest skein has just .025 ml of dye stock!  

Dye testing.jpg

The lightest skein is still not as pale as I would like, so I'm doing two more test skeins (in the little plastic cups in the photo).  I use a jeweler's gram scale to measure out tiny amounts of the fixative chemicals I need - salt and soda ash.

Side note: Different dyes strike with different intensities.  I got the blue I wanted on the first try.  Looking at the side-by-side comparison on of the blue and the palest pink, you can see that the pink is visually darker than the blue by converting the color photo to black and white.   Yet the pink has just 1/8 the dye concentration as the blue!

Staring into the Abyss

My latest project is a set of wedding shawls.  To set the mood, I put on some appropriate music to weave by - Handel’s “Water Music,”  including my wedding march of choice.


But as I weave, I can’t help but think of the fourteen young people killed last week who will never have a wedding.  I think about how the milestones of our lives are wrapped in white cloth - christening gowns, first communions, weddings, and, yes, shrouds.  

And my thoughts spiral wider.  It’s not just fourteen children killed last week.  It’s 46 children shot with a gun every day in this country - seven of them killed every day.  

Spiral wider - over half a million children dead from violence around the world every year.

Wider still - over 800 thousand children dead from measles, whooping cough and tetanus every year - all deaths preventable with a simple vaccine.  

Soon I am looking into an abyss - so many children dead, all needlessly.  

We are drawn to the edge of this abyss - all of us.  And to stare into it is it’s own form of narcissism.  Because inside each of us is a fragment of the abyss.  Whether you call it original sin or biological imperative, it’s there. The capacity for indifference, selfishness, anger, violence, even absolute evil, exists in all of us.  

But staring into the abyss, as seductive as it is, is not helpful.  It’s simply dangerous, lest we fall in ourselves.  

So we turn back to our jobs, and the tasks in front of us.  We cook our dinners, and make our beds - grateful that we have food and a place to sleep.  We hug our loved ones, grateful that, today at least, they are safe in our arms.  To avoid the sin of indifference, we take the actions we can - writing and calling our representatives, donating what we can, making plans to march.  

I go back to my weaving.  I turn up the music - Suite 2, Allegro in D Major plays. And I think back to a day nearly 36 years ago, with more of my life ahead of me than behind me.  I think of the white dress, and walking down the aisle to meet my beloved waiting at the end of it.  Today my job is to weave a white memory for another woman, a woman I may never know.  As callings go, it’s not a bad one.  

But I will also speak up, and donate, and march, and certainly vote.  And I will do my best to stand well away from the edge of the abyss.