Sunday, March 29, 2009

"When a Tree Falls in the City"

Our niece, Emma, was home alone asleep when a giant red oak crashed through her home and served as an unexpected alarm. She was not hurt, thank God, but I can only imagine her fear upon hearing the noise, and then opening the front door and finding this enormous pile of debris trapping her exit.

When her mom and dad pulled up to their stately Atlanta home, they could see the full picture, and the extensive damage caused by this tree. It was on their neighbor’s property and they’d been worried about it for quite some time because it was weakened by extensive ivy coverage. Days of rain in Atlanta after a long drought loosened the root structure and it was the recipe for disaster.

“There is structural damage to the beams, but they can be replaced,” said my sister-in-law. “We are getting a tarp on now because more rain is expected.”

Grateful no one was hurt and that the house can and will be repaired, she said even though they won’t be able to sleep in their bedrooms for weeks, “the back of the house is fine.”

The fact that it’s the neighbors’ tree brings up all kinds of questions, which I’m sure they’ll be dealing with during the repairs; however, my brother-in-law the brain surgeon asked his sister a question that hadn’t occurred to me. He wanted to know who gets to keep the firewood.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Scattering Cats: The Nature of Team Sports

Last night’s basketball blowout, the worst tournament loss in the history of U of A men’s basketball (103-64 vs. top ranked Louisville) is front page news this morning in Tucson. We all know what happened. Did we really need to see it as a 72 pt. headline?

The truth is, about halfway through the second half, I could no longer watch. When you’re attached to a team, particularly a team that has faced a lot of obstacles and has continued to work hard, it’s simply too hard to watch them go down in a humiliating defeat. No one but their fans can appreciate the entire story.

Most teams have a core—a group of players who’ve been together for a year or so—who comprise the talent and make-up the heart of the team. Revolving door rosters, however, are the name of the game. Each passing year offers new opportunities to players who both stay in the game or opt out for other adventures. Coaches, on the other hand, are the true soul of the team. They tend to stick around and give players and fans someone with whom to identify.

The Wildcats lost their long-term coach, Lute Olson, to sudden retirement and then faced the season with an interim coach, Russ Pennell. Turmoil in the recruitment department ensued, and the team was given up for dead. Then they unexpectedly made it into the NCAA tournament. Even more unexpected was their rise to the Sweet 16. Praise was heaped upon the players and Pennel, and letters to the editor suggested hiring him permanently.

After this loss, who knows what will happen, but I can feel the jockeying for position for next year all the way on the far northeast side. And I’m hardly paying attention.

I feel the turmoil because a similar thing has happened to my daughter’s beleaguered soccer team, which ended its season last Sunday. Their last game wasn’t a blowout, but it was certainly a humiliating defeat that guaranteed this team would disintegrate. And all week, we’ve watched the players run off in different directions. Some are quitting soccer all together, some are testing the waters of other clubs, and some are going to a different age group. They are scattering like flies in a harsh desert wind.

No one really seems to care, except for their fans. We’d love to see the core—the group of players who’ve been together for four or more years—stay together but that’s not going to happen. Such is the nature of team sports.

It’s about time I learned this once and for all.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It’s Not Your Mother’s Typewriter

Sitting on top of a high bookcase in my modern desert office—the place where about five years ago I made the statement, “here’s where I will write my novel”—sits a relic from a writer’s days gone by. It’s an Underwood No. 5, a model dating back to 1927. And yes, it WAS my mother’s typewriter.

I’m not sure how she got this thirty-pound beast from Boston to Chicago but it must have helped make for a very heavy hope chest. It was the first typewriter I ever set fingers upon and the tool I used to learn terms such as “carriage,” “platen,” “backspace,” and “shift key.” I also used it to create my first formal essays.

Back in Wisconsin, there’s a black and white photo of me as a very young child using this typewriter. My mother sent it when I first began work as a professional journalist with a caption on the back. “Was there ever a question of this girl’s future career?”

Today the Underwood No. 5 collects dust while I wear away the keys on my third in series of laptop computers. I’ve been a “Mac girl” since 1986 and have experienced every generation of state-of-the-art improvements with a vast collection of computers. Most have been donated to local schools and churches, but I’ve held onto the laptops and still use all three for various purposes.

The primary one I use now, the MacBook Pro, may be responsible for holding up the production of my third novel. It’s so filled with fun software like iMovie and Photo Booth—just to name two—that sitting in front of it each day is like raiding the candy store. Add this blog to the mix and a little thing called Facebook (which a good friend of mine refers to as Face Crack), and my novel is collecting as much dust as the Underwood.

I’m writing the story, Irish Twins, from what is essentially my mother’s perspective. Since she didn’t leave a legacy of storytelling or written essays, I’ve relied on my imagination to fictionalize her life. Each day I try to imagine the world in the days before laptop computers and the World Wide Web. It’s a heavy mental workout—as heavy as the typewriter she left behind.

Today I thought about tuning up the old Underwood and using the method approach to creating my story, but I nearly injured myself trying to lift it off its aerie perch. Standing on that swivel chair was NOT a good idea. And besides, who needs yet another distraction?

If my mother were here, she’d tell me to get to work.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Chemtrail Followup. Are We Being Poisoned?

Willow had an eight am soccer game yesterday at the fields nearest to our home in Tucson. There was a perfectly blue sky and it was a glorious backdrop to the opening game of their tournament. Our younger daughter, however, who has chosen volleyball over soccer, also had a tournament and it was not near to home. It was in Phoenix.

The sports schedules of our daughters often cause a split-duty scenario between mom and dad. Dad took last week's long haul commute, so this week it was mom's turn. (Good thing we have two cars.) So, with the assistant volleyball coach as our third passenger, Camille and I took off for Phoenix at noon, to a venue two hours north up Hwy. 10.

The tournament took place at the lovely Salvation Army gym (a venue that looks exactly how you might think it would look) and I was a dutiful parent cheering in the stands through the first two matches. During her team's required referee period, I stepped outside to get away from the clamor of a hundred screaming twelve year-olds, the mixed stench of sweaty knee pads and a second shift public bathroom. I walked to my car to get a sandwich and a Perrier from our cooler.

There's a LOT of sky in this part of South Phoenix, and much of it is the background for commercial airliners taking off and landing at Sky Harbor International Airport. One can consistently see and hear multi-colored passenger jets up close and personally, and they were definitely filling the sky with color and sound. But in addition, there was a whole different set of jets filling the sky—not with color and sound—but with . . . CHEMTRAILS.

The initially clear-blue sky had become a grid-pattern of chemtrails clouds.

As I snapped photos and recorded 360° video records of what was going on around me, my throat started to ache and my eyes watered. I wondered if it was my imagination.

I also wondered if I would be more comfortable, not to mention SAFER, inside the Salvation Army gym—a place that smelled like butt and assaulted my ears with referee whistles and the screams of children.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Chemtrails: Reading Between the Lines in the Sky

Lately we’ve noticed a significant number of what I thought were called “jet streams” crisscrossing the normally flawlessly blue skies of Tucson. It wasn’t until a YouTube user and local filmmaker by the name of Chris Haskell, commented on a video we posted about the local girl’s basketball team that we learned there’s a different name for these long lasting grid patterns in the sky.

“I hope they don't practice outside lately in Tucson!” he wrote. “The sky's have been filled with Chemtrails! Check it out! Google Chemtrails Tucson!”

We took Haskell’s suggestion and googled chemtrails, and at first I couldn’t stop reading. Now I can’t stop looking up at the sky.

First of all, there’s a difference between chemtrails, and “contrails,” referred to above as jet streams. Contrails are produced by high-flying jets and are made by water vapor during specific atmospheric conditions or when it’s cold enough to turn water vapor to ice. They last from a few seconds to a minute and then dissolve.

Chemtrails, on the other hand, occur during all weather conditions and are at varying altitudes. Like contrails, they are released from jets and start out as white lines. Soon, however, they plump up to look like clouds and they don’t evaporate. They can turn a cloudless Tucson day into a hazy, overcast day within hours.

Another feature of chemtrails is that they're often seen in “X”, “S”, or “tic-tac-toe” patterns.

So what is it that’s coming out of the back of these jets? Analysis has shown that chemtrail sprays include “powdered aluminum, barium, pathogens and even dried human blood cells.” They have been reported to contain chemicals for crop dusting and mosquito control. Some say it’s airplane fuel dumping in order to reduce weight before landing.

After reading dozens of articles on many of the countless websites dedicated to chemtrail awareness, I can’t seem to find one, definitive answer about what makes up a chemtrail and, more importantly, WHO is doing the spraying. There has been denial from government authorities, a failure to cover the topic by the mainstream media, a pattern of discrediting researchers, and a whole group of people labeled as crackpots and conspiracy theorists for simply trying to get information.

Because of the questioning public’s inability to get direct answers, many theories have arisen about the purpose of chemtrails. Are they about weather modification? Population control? Are they part of an inoculation program? Are they indeed harmful to our environment and our health?

Chris Haskell is currently filming a documentary about chemtrails over Tucson and is seeking individuals, particularly outdoor workers, who may have been affected by the hazardous elements released in chemtrail sprays. He claims the toxin barium is part of the chemical mix and barium “is known to cause multiple horrible effects on the human body.” Barium poisoning can cause muscle weakness, stomach irritation, kidney damage, and nervous system problems. Haskell further indicates that “the bodies of water all around Arizona have been tested and every one show extremely high levels of Barrium, aluminum, and many other dangerous items.”

People living in spray areas, which are worldwide, have reported unusual smells and tastes in the air on spray days, along with increased illnesses—or “chem-illnesses”—with flu-like symptoms. “Itchy eyes, abdominal pain, joint aches and pain, headaches, fatigue and respiratory illnesses; upper respiratory and blood infections, severe asthma attacks, dizziness, and an inability to get a deep breath,” have all been attributed to chemtrail spraying.

Now I’m no hypochondriac, nor am I, my husband or my children ever too sick to get out of bed and have a normal day. We have our share of allergies and tension headaches, and don’t attribute them to much more than seasonal growth or periodic professional/educational stress factors.

But for the past two days I haven’t stopped sneezing or feeling the urge to rub my eyes. And guess what? For the past two days, Tucson’s skies have been sprayed and sprayed and sprayed. (I’ve got the pictures to prove it. All photos published here were taken from my driveway yesterday, March 19, between noon and 6pm.)

Call me a crackpot, and excuse me while I look for a tissue to blow my nose, but now I want some answers about these lines in the sky.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Party Pooping on the Loop

There’s a mile stretch of rural road here in the Valley that serves as a scenic alternative artery from our place in the desert to the places where we shop for groceries and do things like banking and mailing. We also use it to commute to volleyball and soccer venues. Not a week goes by when we don’t travel both south and north down this road about a half dozen times.

It’s called the Tanque Verde Loop. And it’s currently under siege.

We moved to the Valley 12 years ago and started using this route to avoid extra stoplights and traffic. Coming from the REALLY rural Wisconsin Northwoods, I’d grown accustomed to a twenty-minute highway drive to the nearest grocery store with nary a stoplight in sight. And aside from the pastoral tranquility of the Loop, the wash that runs through it is lined with deciduous cottonwoods trees, which have the power to make any displaced Midwesterner looking for seasons feel at home.

Driving through the loop now, the cottonwoods are in the deep background of the multitude of protest signs that have sprung up ever since a “fat cat” named John Fazio purchased three acres smack dab in the middle of this mile at 1902 N. Tanque Verde Loop. According to neighborhood activists, Fazio has designated this property as a non-profit church, but at the same time intends to follow a practiced business plan of also using it for a full-service wedding operation. He’s named it “Mesquite Grove Chapel,” and has claimed the site is capable of holding 70 weddings per year.

Fazio and his wife, Debi, own two additional church-slash-wedding businesses, Reflections at the Buttes, a church and event hall in Oro Valley, and the Saguaro Buttes Community Church on Old Spanish Trail. Currently Reflections at the Buttes has so many requests for weddings that they hold them not only on weekends but on Wednesdays and Thursdays as well. Since 2001, it has hosted over 2500 weddings. Saguaro Buttes, on the other hand, holds “several weddings per month,” and claims they account for 12 percent of the church’s use.

According to a July/August 2008 magazine article in Millionaire Blueprints, “the Fazios pull in more than $2.7 million in gross sales” from their wedding operation. They claim all profits go into non-profit organizations “including local churches,” and that they take only a “modest salary.”

Regardless of what Fazio makes, donates or keeps, and whether or not he is gaming the zoning system, at the heart of the issue for Loop residents is not the church part of Fazio’s operation. Instead it’s his wedding operation. They simply don’t want 70 wedding receptions per year in their quiet neighborhood. Just read the signs wallpapering the fences and gates along the road and the sentiment is quite clear.

Since the opposition from the Save Tanque Verde Valley Group and the Tanque Verde Valley Association has come to light, Fazio seems to be backpedaling a bit with his statements, advertisements and his intentions; however in Millionaire Blueprints, he exposed his plans for Mesquite Grove as a wedding/reception operation for couples “who don’t want any sense of the desert” as their venue. “Nevertheless,” he said referring to his other wedding operations, “the programs are identical.”

This means he’s calling it a church to achieve the non-profit tax status and obtain the zoning permit, but using it as a wedding reception venue to make money. 

How does that smell from where you’re sitting?

It’s no wonder the neighborhood calls him a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

And one more thing: In spite of the neighborhood groups’ valid concerns, in an October 30, 2008 article in the AZ Daily Star, “Fazio calls neighborhood opposition to his church a sad misunderstanding.” He says “it’s reflective of the gap between people of faith who attend a church on a regular basis and the general populace.”

Good God! And this man calls himself a minister? I believe a statement like that makes Fazio far more than a mere wolf.

It makes him an asshole.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Is It Time for a Rent Party?

The origin of the rent party dates back to 1920s Harlem, a corner of Manhattan approximately fifty blocks long and eight blocks wide. During this period in our nation’s history some 200,000 people of color migrated to Harlem from the West Indies, Africa and the southern United States. Some reports indicate that as many as 7,000 people lived in a single block.

One can imagine the living conditions were far from ideal. In a word, Harlem was a slum. But the difference between Harlem and say, a typical tenement area of that era, was that because of the high demand, rents were excessively high.

Tenants found two basic solutions to keep the roofs over their heads. The first was to take in boarders or “roomers,” packing the apartments with two and even three families. Often they slept in shifts.

The second was to have a rent party. Also known as a house party, someone had the idea to throw a party just before the rent was due and invite paying guests to enjoy food and music, and dance the night away. Parties were so crowded and the dancing so intense, these parties also became known as “shindigs.”

For an admission price of ten cents to a dollar, plus the cost of food and drink, the parties were an easy, inexpensive way to help out friends and have a good time to boot. Soon bands were hired and rent parties became the backbone of Harlem nightlife through the 1930s and into the 1940s.

Today we’re living through our nation’s biggest economic downturn since the Harlem Rent Party era. The Tanque Verde Valley doesn’t physically resemble Harlem in any way, however, the current socio-economic climate has some similarities.

An article in today’s paper with the subhead, “It was great while it lasted,” suggests Arizona’s economy needs a detox. “Population growth put thousands of Tucsonans to work this decade, building for actual or expected new residents. But now many of those workers are facing the downside of depending on growth.”

According to the foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac, some 96,000 properties in Arizona, mostly homes, are either scheduled for auction or are now bank-owned. This service also reports that Pima County has 7,137 properties that are either in the foreclosure process or have gone back to banks.

I’m witnessing friends lose their homes for a variety of reasons and silently pray each night that we won’t be next. We’ve been very lucky to have this desert oasis home, a refuge from the harsh winters of Northern Wisconsin and an escape from the business that runs us ragged. It’s been a wonderful place to raise our children. As far as they’re concerned, it’s their only home. Losing this place and moving back to Wisconsin for the remainder of their middle and high school years is simply unfathomable.

What’s our solution? Take in a boarder? Possibly. But then my husband wouldn’t have a place from which to operate the business that’s been getting the mortgage paid.

So, how about taking a page out of Harlem history. How about a rent party?

I’m not musically talented enough to entertain my friends at the piano, and most of my musician friends from the days of yore (days of the Dead?) live in other states. But there’s one talent I do possess and that’s jewelry. I design it, I make it, I sell it.

Our store is back in Wisconsin and our wayward webmaster has officially given up on getting our online shop to function properly, so I need to arrange a date and a display, and invite friends over to hopefully fulfill their jewelry wishes.

People still need birthday presents, anniversary gifts, mother’s day trinkets and just the right accompaniment for that special outfit, right?

To preview some of my newest work go to: Dream Life Designs Jewelry. Priced at the 1920s equivalent of ten cents to a dollar, you’ll have a good time looking and there won’t be any sore feet . . . or hangovers.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

If The Walls Could Talk

How do you say good-bye to a house? How do you say good-bye to a place that is not only the home of a dear friend, but also the setting for so many memories that define life in a certain town at a certain stage of your life?

First of all, it’s far more than a house. It’s a landmark. From our valley there are very few spots from which it can’t be seen. It’s like true north on a compass—as true north as the Catalina foothills. And the woman who built it is as one-of-a-kind as the innovative design.

Sadly, today it must go on the market. I never thought I’d believe a house listed at $1.75 million was a bargain, but there are many things I find hard to stomach in today’s economy.

A genuine showcase with unrivaled views, I have faith that the right eye with the right checkbook will climb that hill, walk in and say “Wow,” just the way everyone who enters those doors has done for the past several years.

A group of women gathered today for what may be our last happy hour at this amazing house. Together we shared endless, unforgettable stories of the people we met there, the people with whom we laughed there, and the people who had close encounters with the cacti. We reminisced about white elephant gifts hurled down the driveway, high heels threatening to poke through leather cushions, hors d’oeurvres and fruit fights, boob flashes and a few rousing rounds of Chicken Shit Bingo (or was it bunko?)

Many of us watched this dwelling go from a plan in a challenging, raw desert setting to the work of art—the dream house—it became. We grew to count on it as the setting for our annual events, the house of all our best social memories. But alas, time passes, things change. Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end.

No one can say we didn’t appreciate it while it lasted. Now, however, it’s time to bury the saint, remove the black cock above the kitchen door and start a new chapter.

 Today may have been the last happy hour, but we foresee a  true last hurrah—perhaps a slumber party in the near future to  celebrate the accepted offer. It will be one last chance to admire  the view of our past. And our future.

 Buenos suerte Bonita.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Sable Lit Reviews Gives It's Not Your Mother's Bridge Club 5/5 Sable Seals

Sable Lit Reviews is a website focusing on "all things multicultural in lit, media and history. A review of It's Not Your Mother's Bridge Club posted today with five of five "Sable Seals." Here is the review:

In Michele Van Ort Cozzens’ It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club, we meet eight amazing women who live, love and laugh in the heart of southern Arizona over monthly games of Bunko. At first, you wonder if you’ll spend the entire read flipping back to the first chapter where Van Ort Cozzens first introduces us to these complex women, but before long the reader will recognize the distinct personalities of these women. While I didn’t have a favorite Bunko babe, I really grew to appreciate these women as a whole unit. As the book progresses, these women do become more of a unit each filling in for the short-comings and complimenting the strengths of the others—sometimes unconsciously. This story doesn’t just weave the story of a series of monthly women’s nights out and their Bunko blow-outs. We get a snapshot of each woman’s life leading up to the well-deserved Bunko nights with the girls where the strictest rules are “No men. No kids. And No drink counters”.

The author flawlessly gives Blanca—the Hispanic and African-American model, art saleswoman and single mom, Shonah—the newspaper columnist, Tara—the pottery artist, Tootsie—the former golf pro, Chloe—the former nurse and full-time mom, Amanda—the paralegal, Sylvia—the kind yet pampered lawyer’s wife, and Brandy—the physical therapist and mother of five, her own voice. These women fight, love, drink and laugh like a real group of woman friends do. Not just a chick novel, Van Ort Cozzens’ introduces great conflict and suspense-building making this woman’s fiction novel an enjoyable journey. It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club earns five out of five Sable Seals.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Listening for the Whispers

Karen was here today. She doesn’t like to be called “neighbor” so I’ll call her my friend who lives nearby. Karen has such big eyes, you can get lost in them. She’s soft-spoken and wise, polite and at the same time, not afraid to let her freak flag fly. Today, however, she was as pulled together as Audrey Hepburn. And during her visit, she rearranged my unruly hair three times. From hippie to Hepburn, I’ve sported a classy French twist all day.

We talked for hours. We talked about jewelry—often a topic under my roof where we’re surrounded by gemstones, sparkling crystals and mixed metals. We talked about our kids. What mothers don’t talk about their kids? We talked about the school, the teachers, the administrators. We talked about the economy and the flailing stock market with which both our husbands are involved. We brought up the neighbors—current and former—and on all subjects we had both negative and positive things to share.

Was it gossip? Nah. Everything out of my friend’s mouth is uttered with grace.

Karen and I talk on the phone weekly but today it was nice to sit across the table from her and share steamed-milk lattes. I’ve been thinking lately about how much I could really benefit from a girl’s night out but I found a girl’s day in on this warm Sonoran day was more stimulating than the latte. Thanks be to Karen.

In addition to the topics noted above, my conversations with Karen often turn toward faith. Karen is a minister with the Methodist church, but more than that, she’s a minister of motherhood, research, logic, love and good will. She NEVER preaches or sermonizes. On the contrary, she’s best at sharing and reflecting.

She’s a gifted listener. And when I shut up and listened to her today, she said something I thought about for the rest of the day. On the topic of prayer and how we define it, she said one method of praying for her is to remain quiet and “listen for God’s whisper.”

Hours after I waved goodbye to Karen, I heard those whispers. It may have been from God, but I think more likely it was from my husband’s dead Aunt Ellen, a woman I loved.

Ellen took pride in being the “oldest living member of the Cozzens family.” She was kind to me from the minute Mike brought me home. I used to seek her out for many reasons, but what I loved most was our shared interest in books (she was a librarian) and crossword puzzles, and her love for the man who would become my husband.

Mike once thought of himself as the black sheep of the family. It wasn’t because he was a bad kid—on the contrary. It’s just that his siblings have had enormous achievements in the academic, professional and business worlds. Is it brain surgery? As a matter of fact, it is. One of his brothers is a brain surgeon, and whom doesn’t that impress?

Well, Ellen wasn’t overly impressed. Of course she was proud of her nephew and recognized his talents and accomplishments; however, when pointing out Mike’s talents and accomplishments (particularly when he felt lowly compared to his sibs), Aunt Ellen likened being a brain surgeon to being a plumber. “It’s a trade,” she said. For whatever reason, that made Mike feel better about himself.

These days with the stock market bringing consistently bad news and our portfolio shot to shit, many of my husband’s talents and accomplishments have turned to on-paper losses. We still have the business we built together and he’s working very hard with his cottage industry disc golf sales to pay the mortgage, but I know he’s fearful about keeping this lifestyle together for our family.

Alone in my car, I worried too, and I wished someone like Aunt Ellen were around to remind us of all the positives. And this is when I heard the whisper.

Because my golf disc salesman was so busy organizing his new shipment for a pro tournament vending opportunity tomorrow, I handled both ends of the afternoon kid shuffling. While on my way to hip hop pickup, I listened to a story on NPR about a 54 year-old unemployed worker in Rhode Island’s jewelry industry named Harold Shippy. After losing his job, a job for which he only needed a high school diploma, he’s hunting for a new job in a state competing with Michigan for the highest jobless rate in the country.

Shippy said if he could do it all over again, he would have become a brain surgeon; however, at his age and with his lack of higher education and a family to support, “he says he’ll probably become a plumber.”

When I heard this I spoke the name “Ellen” right out loud and looked up at the beautiful mountains surrounding our home. Then I thought of my friend Karen and I knew everything was going to be okay.

Listening to the whispers brought me out of my worry and back to the most important thing. And that’s love. As long as you have love in your life, it’s the biggest talent and accomplishment you need to get you through the tough times.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Only God is Perfect

Amish quilters are known to occasionally slip a stitch in their beautiful patchwork creations, citing "only God is perfect." As I made this necklace it occurred to me that it was simply too pretty. So I decided to slip a stitch--so-to-speak--by stringing a barely detectable design alteration. Hard to call it a "flaw." The design idea, by the way, didn't come from the Amish. It came from my friend Robin Meloy Goldsby, talented pianist and author. Additional photos available at: