Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sorting, Donating & Remembering

 

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Robert in healthier days, working in Peru (2016)

I have been putting this off. Not that I needed to do it in a hurry. Today I spent some time sorting through my husband’s jeans and shirts. He had a stash of jeans in large sizes – he used to be a big guy. Cancer diminished his body, but not his spirit. He had given away most every piece of clothing to a local shelter where he volunteered. The only clothing left in his closet were two pair of jeans, one pair dress pants, a sport coat and 3 shirts. Then I found the stack of jeans. I’m sure he planned to take the bag to the same shelter. I will do so this week, along with some sweatshirts and PJs that I found.

Robert was a bicyclist and loved riding the trails on his mountain bike up in Memphis and in Jackson. But here in New Orleans the terrain is flat. He loved riding these streets as well. Most days he would ride ten miles. He did that until earlier this year, until his energy was zapped by chemo. All the memories fill my heart as I sort through his old biking clothes – he was serious – he had all the gear of a racer. The elastic in his biking shorts has dry rot now. Ditching those.  One thing I know, is that my husband’s life is so much more than all these things.

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Biking along the Natchez Trace

As I sort and pack up his clothing, my very heart hurts with pain. Until I pull out his favorite biking shirt. Neon reflective green, with black stripes. I can see him now, soaring over the hills and through the sand, never stopping, breathing deep, sweat dripping, blowing hot breath as he pedals up a hill. He is strong. He is muscular. He is healed.

As I will be one of these days. But until then, my heart still hurts.

Mardi Gras and “Coat of Many Colors” that we made; Riding the streets of New Orleans.
~~~~~

 

First Fruits.

401668_441891082489033_1446753152_nThe thought of leaving our home – this little blue shotgun house with the white picket fence – generates pain so visceral that my very nerves ache. My heart hurts. My toes want to curl up and hide. This was our plan for so many years. The grapefruits are beginning to ripen, as are the lemons. This will be our first year for grapefruits. Robert and I have always made preserved (salted) lemons to use in cooking and as salad dressing. Insects got the lime blossoms this year, so we only harvested one lime. The okra is about done for – I will pull up those 7′ tall plants soon. We need rain. It is coming.

557880_4836025583421_495101029_nSo what will keep me here? I have friends here, and a daughter and her family. I walk around the city. Nothing is the same. This house is not the same without Robert. This was our dream our entire marriage, to retire in our favorite city and live out our days eating muffalettas in Jackson Square and walking our dog on the streets of New Orleans. Meandering through the French Quarter and through the cemeteries. Trying out new restaurants and watching the boats navigate the Mississippi. Feeling the warm breezes in Audubon Park. Listening to good music and enjoying friends.

Robert loved the heat and humidity. Riding his bike and returning home soaked with sweat was his idea of a good time. But even the heat causes tears these days.

IMG_5860I have decisions to make. Should I leave, should I stay, should I try to make my roots deeper without the one that planned to be here beside me planting his own roots deep? Where is the joy in doing this alone? There is sweetness, surely, in the memories we made during the brief two and a half years we had here. I have a ton of memories (21 year’s worth) to go through and sort. Clothing, books, papers, artifacts from our travels. That chore alone will take me many months. Nothing will be done hurriedly.

grapefrI will harvest the lemons and preserve them in salt. Sometime in October or November, I will taste those first grapefruits by myself and relish the sweet labor that went into planting that tree years ago.

But tasting them without Robert will not be the same. Nothing will ever be the same again

                                                                           ***

The Moment of Departure

Friday, September 13, 2019
IMG_6761It is 3:00am on Friday morning. I am remembering. The coffee maker beeps and I go to the kitchen and make my first coffee in my cup from Elizabeth’s Restaurant – one of our favorite places for breakfast. My first memories of R’s and my time together are of our times on the phone on early mornings as we have first coffee in separate cities – I am in Jackson, MS and he is in Delhi, LA, back in 1998.  Nothing tastes quite like that first sip of Community Coffee as we look toward the rising sun.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019…(continued from last week)
I ask R. again if he is certain he is ready for Hospice. He nods. I call the doc and everything is set up before the sun goes down. R signs all the papers with the nurse and he is at ease over the decision. At last, I think.

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Over the next 2 days R. is getting weaker and weaker, more pain. Several visits from loving friends from Rayne Methodist. He loves them as well. Afterwards, as he sleeps, I play Simon & Garfunkel. Silence like a cancer grows.

He can no longer swallow pills so I call hospice and they send out liquid morphine and Ativan. They say give him .5 ml morphine every hour. That’s not enough. He cries out in pain. Esophagus is inflamed and painful. Difficult to swallow, so I drip .75ml morphine into the side of his mouth as I gently hold his head. No sleep for either of us. He rests for about 10-15 minutes, then is in pain again.

I continue to get him up and on the walker from bed to sofa. Calls me every minute it seems. We say prayer together and he reads to me from the Upper Room meditation, then puts the booklet on the bedside table. “My greatest fear is that I will die mean & nasty  –  I want you to call me on it if i get that way.” I assured him I would. He has never been mean and nasty and I tell him I do not think he will start now.

Sunday August 18, 2019
I lie with him on the guest bed. He wakes – I mindlessly move something from one place to another on the bedside table. He is lucid. “Can you explain to me the logic behind what you just did.”  “There is none,” I smile and answer. “I am merely being here with you.”

I call hospice on Sunday morning and request a hospital bed, as he can no longer get up without help and I’m concerned he could fall.  I go to a local store to purchase single bed sheets. These are the sheets that my husband will die on, I think, and I weep as I make the purchase. Afternoon, aide comes and gives R. a bath in bed, then sits him up in the wheelchair. Hospital bed is delivered. While they set it up with much clanging, I wheel R. back to our bedroom. My son John, friend Carol Spencer and Pastor Jay Hogewood follow. Carol gives us communion, Jay anoints R. with oil. R. is looking for the W.H. Auden poem The Wave, his favorite line of which is I inhabited the wake of a long wave. He speaks with Jay about what he wants in his memorial service. Come thou fount of every blessing.

I tiptoe in to give him his meds tonight, “What’s going on”. I’m here to give you Morphine and Ativan. He pulls the sheet over his head like a little kid and says No.  I wait, then drip the meds under his tongue.

Monday August 19, 2019
Nurse is here and I assist her in changing the dressing on his pressure sore. I hold his frail body on his side so that he sits up a bit. He tries to focus on what we are doing as I hold him and the nurse replaces the bandage. His eyes open wide. “Is this it? Is this it?” No, this is not it R. This is not the moment of leaving this life to the next. “Are we in New Orleans?” Yes, we are in New Orleans. “Good,”, he says as I lay him gently back on the pillow. My husband is ever the curious.

Daughter Jennifer is here and she plays Bob Dylan, R’s favorite. We watch as his hands tap to the beat of Dylan’s tunes in his sleep.

Friends Kelcy and Jim Patterson stop by in late afternoon. Kelcy says she is staying the night and I am grateful. Jim is a physician and takes R’s pulse and listens to his heart. Later we tell all good night. We do not sleep. R is calling out for me all night; intense pain. More morphine and Ativan, not working; he calls me to help him, concerned that he might soil the bed. I struggle to get him up and on the bedside commode, then back in bed, and he is using all his strength to help. I ask Kelcy to help get him back in bed. “Put your hands around my neck” I say and he does.

I lift him up into bed and Kelcy lifts his feet , then with his arms still around me I pull him up so that his head is at the top of the bed. He hugs me tightly, and I have pleasure in that. “I think this bed is just for one person,” he says, “I don’t think you can get in here with me.” I agreed with him and pried his arms from around my shoulders and he immediately rested on the pillow. More morphine. .75ml. He sleeps for a few moments. Then he calls out all night in pain. I give him as much morphine and ativan as I can but he does not rest.

Tuesday August 20, 2019
Morning and R. struggles to breathe. Daughter Jennifer is here. About 10 am R. tries to sit up in bed, gargling acid reflux, “Not working, not working”. I call Dr. Jim back, as he and Kelcy had left a few moments prior, and he returns. He suctions out about a cup of brown acid from Robert’s throat. R. is still restless, but less pain. I give Jim the bottle of morphine and I cradle R’s head. We drip the liquid into his cheek. I watch R take two breaths, then no more.  The point of departure is here. “He’s stopped breathing,” I whisper. “Faint heartbeat. No pulse. Heart stopped. He is gone,” Jim says. I feel great relief for my husband. The pain has ended. I watch his face and for the first time in over two years there is no sign of pain, no sign of struggle, no sign of worry.

I kiss him goodbye.

Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lane Cotton Mill

Cotton fabrics from my closed storefront shop are now stored in a former mill that manufactured cotton fabric in the 1800s on Tchoupitoulas Street. The mill first opened in 1852 and operated until 1950 – today it has been reconfigured (adaptive re-use) into storage units. The history of Lane Cotton Mill is fascinating to me. But what I really found most interesting is this photograph of Lane Mill workers taken in the late 1800s, early 1900s.

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Lewis Hines, “Group of workers in Lane Cotton Mill, New Orleans,” The Historic New Orleans Collection

What’s the first thing you notice? The boy speaking to his buddy behind him. “Stop poking me.” Or the one directly behind him with that lock of hair and impish grin? The one beside him, on the right, standing proud, hat in hand? Every person had/has a story.

What I also notice is the worn-out knees of those pants, the youth who were expected to help support the family at 10-12 years of age. Child labor was a necessary thing at that time. Perhaps those are sisters, brothers, in the background.

Our house on Laurel Street here in New Orleans is located about three blocks from this mill complex. Built originally as a “double shotgun” with two apartments, each side of the house had a living room, middle bedroom and a kitchen in the back, with no indoor plumbing (more history about shotgun houses here). I don’t know if our house was built originally by manufacturers for their workers or not – probably not – but it was converted years ago into a “single” with three small bedrooms and 2 baths.

The evidence of streetcar rails can be found in certain spots along Laurel St, so the location was convenient for workers to travel to and from their jobs. Or walk to Lane Cotton Mills.

In my imagination, people were packed into these little houses. Living rooms doubled as bedrooms. High ceilings (ours is 11-12′) and numerous windows allowed for air flow and the closeness of these houses allowed for little privacy. Noise travels. Young women probably worked until they married and had children, usually very young. Here’s a pic of some of those young women, with their tin lunch buckets.lane+cotton+mill

I now work out of that same cotton mill, only now I’m set up in the wide hall and I cut fabric for my online shop while imagining those voices and noises from the past as those loud machines processed cotton from upriver and made it into cloth. During the Civil War the mill was commandeered by Union forces to stop the manufacture of Confederate uniforms, to destroy morale. This photo shows those oil-stained floors (where I set up to cut fabric) and some of the machinery that wove cotton cloth, now replaced with metal storage units.

img_4538Are those boys and girls longing to have their stories told? I think they are.
***

The photographs here are from the archives of Store-All, the current owners of these fabulous brick buildings.

 

lanemill letterhead

Letterhead from Lane Cotton Mills. The large building at the left of this photo is currently occupied by Rouse’s supermarket. The remainder of the complex has been adapted for storage. Cotton fabrics and all that we materialistic people hold onto.

P.S.: Just listened to archived interview of Charles Neville prior to his death. He grew up on Valence St., with no electricity and an outdoor toilet – when they moved to the Calliope Projects he said that was a ‘step up’. He said his mom, Amelia Landry Neville, had worked at Lane Cotton Mills where my fabrics are currently at home – right at the end of Valence St! This is the only person whose name I’ve heard who has worked there – I wonder if she is in the photo above. Charles Neville passed away on Thursday, April 26, 2018 at 79 years old. Click here for an archived interview: https://www.wwno.org/post/music-inside-out-remembering-charles-neville

Re-Blog from SewCanShe.com

I love seeing how others deal with fabric scraps!

What does the fashion industry do with their TONS of scraps?

Five things to know if you want to learn to sew …

UggjqRsn3MRl-1See this dress? Does it look easy to sew/make?

Every day in the shop a few people walk in and ask about sewing lessons. We get phone calls every day asking the same. I always like to get to know them, what their goals are, whether or not they have a sewing machine and we talk about their experience with mother, grandmother or aunts who may have sewn. Most students enjoy the conversation and can’t wait to dive into sewing. They realize that learning to sew is a process that takes time.

About once or twice a month someone walks in and asks to learn to sew because they have one thing they want to make. And they want to make it by next week. And all they have is a photo on their cell phone.  This ambitious project is usually (but not always) something made from lycra and lace and very stretchy. Definitely not something a beginner will tackle in their first lesson.

When I tell these ambitious potential students about the learning curve involved in sewing, that they must learn how a sewing machine operates, how to thread it, and how to sew a straight line before they make their first item – a simple project like a pillow or tote bag – some decide they do not have the patience for all that. Some become intrigued and decide to undertake a series of classes regardless of the time it takes to learn. Sewing is not for everyone.

Five Things You Need to Know if You Want to Learn to Sew:
1. Take sewing classes. Sewing may or may not be something you enjoy. Start simple, and if you enjoy the process think about buying a machine.
2. Do not rush to buy a machine. I know several people who decided they were going to learn to sew and bought a machine that just sits in their closet. They did not enjoy sewing as much as they had hoped. Before you purchase a sewing machine, ask your friends that sew what type machine they use. Test out different brands of machines when you take lessons. Choose a machine that you are comfortable using. Never order a machine online unless you are familiar with the brand name and model and have some experience with that type machine. You may luck out and find one for sale on Craigslist or an estate sale. The more you know about how a machine operates and how to use it the more qualified you are to purchase your machine.
3. Gather the proper and necessary tools and have a box or tote to store them all in. Basic supplies can be purchased at reasonable prices. What do you need? Good shears in two or three sizes; thread in various colors; seam ripper; measuring tape; seam gauge or small ruler; iron and ironing board; straight pins; disappearing or erasable fabric marking pen/pencils; safety pins; sewing clips; thimble; hand-sewing needles; pincushion. There are many other supplies to consider later on.
4. Learn to do basic hand-sewing. Sewing on buttons, hemming a skirt, mending a pair of pants – all this will build your hand-sewing skills. All machine sewing involves hand-sewing in the finish work. YouTube has wonderful tutorials in just about any area of sewing.
5. Go easy on yourself. Take your time in learning to read and understand a pattern. Choose patterns for beginners or purchase a beginner sewing book that includes patterns.

CLASS6Sewing is mostly a solitary process, but it doesn’t have to be. To really enjoy sewing, find a sewing community where you can learn tips and tricks of long-time sewists and quilters. Sewists love to gather and share projects and ideas. Sew social!

Call our shop if you’re ready!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything Grows

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Lemons still on our tree

The best thing about New Orleans is that everything grows. The worst thing about New Orleans is that everything grows. Given time, a tiny cat’s claw vine will take over anything in it’s way. It will even invade an attic if there is a crack in a window. It will grow underneath siding and emerge through a hundred-year-old wooden shutter, clinging to rusty hinges and reaching towards the sunlight.

Every year Robert makes preserved (salted) lemons. He squeezes the lemons, cuts them up, adds Kosher salt and seals this up in jars. After about ten days or so, the lemon juice becomes syrupy and the lemons become soft enough to mash. The juice has a distinctive rich lemony taste that adds deep flavor to anything – guacamole, soup, salads. We have several citrus trees in our yard. Our semi-tropical climate is conducive to thousands of plant species. Many we don’t want. Many we do.  Our grapefruit tree has its first 3 fruits that we are waiting to pick, as soon as the green disappears.

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Grapefruit, almost ready

There is an old storage shed in our backyard made from the original slabs of bargeboard in the walls of our house. Beside the shed grow invasive elephant ears and Mexican petunias. We dig them up month after month and they keep coming back. On the walls of this shed, the cat’s claw vine creeps up. At one time it covered the roof but we hired someone to pull it all down and dispose of it. But it comes back. Always. In dry climates I hear that the plant is propagated because it is drought tolerant and has pretty yellow flowers. Well, yes, it does. But it grows maybe a half-foot per day here in NOLA.

So how do we co-exist with things that grow and are valued elsewhere, but are hated here in our own back yard? I think of the cat’s claw vine like I do my husband’s cancer cells.

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Cat’s claw vine trying to take over our backyard shed

We tolerate them, but we try to live as if they are not there. We try to do what we can to eliminate them, and we hope what we do is good for us and for the “good” plants (and “good” cells). All we can do is try to keep these things under control so they do not smother out the good things in life.

We enjoy our fruits, and keep planting good things – like more orange trees, more herbs and veggies – the “good stuff”. Maybe the good stuff will outgrow the bad. We can only do what we can. We can only hope.

That’s what this Christmas season brings to me. Hope. Hope in the future. Hope in good health, good energy, good friends and

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Cat’s claw vine growing through our neighbor’s historic shutters. There’s no apparent origin – unless the vine is growing under the siding.

good fruits.