Tag Archives: geography

My perspective on Modern Quilt Perspectives


This is the first book review I’ve done about a quilt book. It may be the first book review I’ve done about any book. I really don’t remember. Just please note this is an extraordinary circumstance. And it came about because when I commented on an announcement of the book on Facebook, the book’s author asked me to let him know what I thought.

There seems to be something called a blog tour going on about the book, but this is not part of that, I don’t really know how those things work. I’m not (yet) part of the larger quilting community, though I’d like to join. 🙂

I had preordered the book Modern Quilt Perspectives from Amazon based on reading some of the blog posts Thomas Knauer has written over the past couple of years. I first discovered him when I was pondering questions like whether quilts are art or craft, what’s the difference between modern and traditional quilts, etc. If you want to learn a whole lot, start with his post A Brief History of Modern and follow the links to subsequent posts. (But I can’t find the 4th in the series?)

So when I heard he was doing a book about Modern Quilting I knew I had to read it.

Cover of book Modern Quilt Perspectives

Cover of book Modern Quilt Perspectives

Here’s the thing: I think this is the first quilt book I’ve actually read like a book. I mean I own plenty of them, but now I realize I don’t read them, I use them. As one uses recipes from a cookbook. I look at the patterns and figure out which ones I want to make and read the instructions to see if I am patient enough to follow them. Then the real fun begins: what fabrics to choose, how to make it my own. I read a paragraph or page here and there to help with a particular task.

There are some I plan to read like a book, even start at the beginning, but soon I find myself paging through to see what the author’s approach looks like… to look at the quilts, searching for inspiration. If it’s a Kaffe Fassett book, I look at them again and again, trying to discern what makes his fabrics and quilts so appealing, why they make me so happy. But even that isn’t like reading a book, it’s more like devouring it with my eyes.

But Thomas’s book is different. First, it must be said that he is just effing brilliant. I don’t say that often. Hardly ever, in fact. It’s not just that he knows so much about art history and quilt history and puts them in a cultural context. He also thinks about what it all means. And his quilts so simply and beautifully illustrate his insights into those meanings.

Each quilt is accompanied by a short and accessible story or essay explaining how it came about and why it matters. For example, how quilting and community are connected. The role of individuals in a healthy society. What identity means. How babies are made. Social commentary and political expression.

My favorite might be In Defense of Handmade, which uses the bar code of a mass produced quilt as the pattern. How freaking brilliant is that?!? The quilt could serve as the poster child and its essay the manifesto of the maker movement.

At the same time, the book is filled with little gems in boxes…like about using tonal fabrics, aiming for randomness. How to get beyond symmetry. And techniques for achieving quilts I had never imagined, like joining four small quilts into a larger whole with loops and buttons.

He’s also so very observant, of very big and very little things. For example, one of the quilts in the book is made of multiples of the letter H, because when he and his daughter were walking in the sun holding hands, she pointed out that their shadow was an H. The fact that he was attending to her, noticing what she said, being so inspired by it that he designed a quilt and then included her in the making of the quilt shows her that her ideas matter. She matters. Imagine our world if every child grew up with that. When I see and hear this story, the letter H also becomes Hope for Humanity.

Most of all, Thomas encourages readers to use his book as a point of departure in their own quilting journey. It explained a lot of things that made my own progression make more sense and why I’m at a kind of crossroads now. I don’t think I would know I am here if I hadn’t read his book.

When I first started quilting, I was learning techniques. Enough to follow very simple patterns. I even made one from a kit!

I picked fabrics I liked but didn’t know to pay attention to how the fabrics worked with the pattern, or not. Often not in my case.

Once I felt comfortable enough with technique, I focused on fabrics with gorgeous saturated colors, then looked for a pattern that would let it glow. At this point I just wanted to make quilts that were beautiful. Something to eat with my eyes.

After shit happened

After shit happened

Blocks before shit happened

Blocks before shit happened

But then that was no longer enough. One day I made blocks with colors I thought looked great together and were “on trend” but looking at the top laid out on my design wall I was overcome with a feeling of utter boredom. I mean, the colors were pleasing and all, but just. so. boring.

So I timidly slashed some of the blocks and mixed up their order. Making “mistakes” on purpose. Basically trying to deconstruct the boringness by introducing unpredictability. Which is inherently more interesting to me than the blandness of every square the same size, a pattern repeating. A funny footnote on this quilt: Every mistake was on purpose until I got to the very last piece in the very last block in the sequence, the one in the bottom left corner, when I inadvertently sewed the last seam with the wrong side of the fabric facing up. I started to rip it apart to resew then started laughing as I realized it was the perfect period on the quilt that I named Shit Happens. (And I thank Thomas for helping me feel it is okay to use the word shit.)



My next quilt was one I designed to convey differences among settlement patterns. Drawing from my academic background studying geography, I tried to take the concept of differences between gated communities of large private estates and inner cities that are crowded and chaotic and illustrate the different feelings they evoke. That when settlements have too much order and privacy they can lose serendipity and liveliness. And why I would rather set myself up for unexpected discoveries and unforeseen moments even when it means giving up security and control and comfort.

I used a print collection by Malka Dubrawsky (from moda) to help make this point but after reading Modern Quilt Perspectives, I have enough confidence to try expressing myself relying less on the fabric and more on my own design.

While I will still make quilts because they are beautiful (especially as long as there is a Kaffe Fassett Collective!), now I know that I will seek more meaning whenever I start cutting fabric for my next quilt.

Yes, I’m aware that this book review has turned into an examination of my own quilt journey, but it feels like that’s the way Thomas Knauer would want it. And that’s why his book matters so much. And why you should read it.


Reflections on Retirement, Part 2


The first installment in Reflections on Retirement is here.

Given that my childhood did not put me on a path that led directly to the place of wealth and philanthropy, how the heck did I end up there? I guess you could say I sort of fell into it. Come to think of it, when I look back I can see that my life was pretty much unplanned all the way along, I just availed myself of opportunities presented to me and fairly naively took it from there. I’ll show you what I mean.

Take college for example. One day, Miss Rice – my social studies teacher at Cottage Grove High School who also served a kind of career counseling role – handed me an application for a scholarship and said, “Your SAT scores are good, I think you should apply for this.” I looked at it, it was an application for the Grass Roots Talent Search program at the University of Chicago that – if you were accepted – guaranteed complete financial assistance for four years if you kept up your grades and contributed positively to the university community. Early in high school I had my heart set on going to Stanford, I don’t really remember why, probably because I had heard of it. But then in my junior year I read somewhere that 200 valedictorians flunk out of Stanford their first year, so my heart abandoned that plan and I figured I would go to the University of Oregon because it was close by. But I went ahead and filled out the U of Chicago paperwork because it didn’t have a submission fee, even rather enjoyed it because it included a writing assignment, and promptly forgot all about it. I continued to check out colleges in Oregon like Willamette and Pacific Universities.

Imagine my surprise, when in the middle of April 1967, I got a letter in the mail that said I had been accepted into the University of Chicago and had a four year scholarship that covered all expenses (tuition, room and board, books, etc.) I went into shock and had an out of body experience, like I was drifting through the air watching myself drive to the high school to show Miss Rice, then on to my after school job at the Cottage Grove Sentinel. I instantly knew I would say yes. My sister reported that my parents were against me going there, but in my head I was already packing. It was a way of escaping the boundaries that are so easy to get caught in around a small town where everybody knows your business, and you know theirs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just knew I needed more exposure to more differences: different experiences, different points of view, different places, different people, different everything…

Well, that was a rather long detour, was it not. I went there because it shows how I fall into things rather than devise a plan and follow it. My style is more one of discovering the possibility of a plan and giving myself over to it. Fallow, not follow. 🙂 If I had a plan upon leaving high school, it would be that I would become a journalist. I had really found my niche working at my hometown newspaper, over time doing pretty much all the steps required to publish a newspaper, even selling advertising. Once I got to Chicago, I discovered it didn’t have a journalism program. Oopsie! At the U of C, majors weren’t that big a deal, but they did exist. Even ones with names like Philosophical Psychology. My favorite classes in high school had been geography classes (CGHS had a very innovative geography program before the regular school day started). Chicago had some very distinguished geography professors, so I took several classes. Mind you, I took as many art and art history classes, but my declared major was Geography. Now geography as a major doesn’t get all that much respect, but take my word for it, it’s the most interesting thing ever, because it’s about everything. Anything and everything from a spatial perspective. It’s really that great.

So during fourth year of college, when I started thinking of what to do next, and my husband at the time wanted to go to law school, I figured since we will be at a campus, I might as well go to grad school in geography. By the end of the fourth year, Chicago’s physical environment was getting really hard for me to take (I swear the potted cactus on the window sill got cancer from the coal dust in the air) and Oregon was tugging on my heartstrings. And that’s how we ended up at the University of Oregon after college and I became a duck after all.

Beginning in grad school, I taught geography classes at the U of Oregon, and then continued doing so at Portland State University, Willamette University, Lewis and Clark College, etc. after we moved to Portland. Again, just kind of fell into it beginning when a professor at PSU was on sabbatical and they needed someone to teach his classes. I was still teaching and leading field trips through Portland right up until the month before Blaine was born.

And, of course, that day everything changed.

I tried to continue teaching after Blaine was born but my heart wasn’t in it. Child care was an issue, because most people didn’t feel comfortable watching someone with as many complications as Blaine. He went to an early intervention program beginning when he was 18 months old and I found myself spending a lot of time navigating though a tangle of medical systems and social bureaucracies that a family with a child with a disability encounters. And mind you, this was back in the day when families were not considered a very important part of the equation. Given my nature, and my excellent college and grad school education that prized inquiry, I was not one to lie back and be happy with whatever we were told or not told, shown or not shown. For example, in the beginning, it took weeks and weeks and much back and forth communication to even get copies of medical reports. I became a vocal part of the movement toward family-centered care. (And we really changed things. A new day has indeed dawned in medical systems for families of children with disabilities. The tales I could tell!) I began sharing what I learned by publishing a newsletter… well, it was more like a zine but zines hadn’t been invented yet. Maybe we invented them????

Well, advocacy and writing a newsletter didn’t produce income, and after Blaine started first grade, I found myself battling the public education bureaucracy I felt did not serve students with disabilities as well as the law required. I got a paying job as an advocate for families of children with disabilities. Well, the pay wasn’t great, but the job was pretty much right up my alley at the time. And the best part was meeting, working and becoming family with the other mothers from around the state doing the same job in their regions. OMG. I love those women so much. And when we get together it’s like only an hour has passed since we last hugged and talked and laughed for hours on end.

Returning to the actual subject of this post, I had to leave that job and take one that paid a little better when I was going through a divorce. It was with a consulting firm that worked on disability issues, purported to be in support of families of children with disabilities. I thought it would be a continuation of the kind of things I had been doing for the past several years, but I was wrong. They did evaluations of disability programs around the country and I got to see the sausage making that goes on inside consulting firms.

When Blaine was 12, he had the most complex surgeries of his life, which involved putting rods that attached to both the front and the back of his spine to arrest his ever worsening scoliosis (he had two curves in opposite directions that had to be addressed in serial surgeries.) He was in the hospital for more than two months, and encountered one complication after another, including sepsis from an infected Hickman central venous catheter. The very day the doctor had tears in his eyes as he told me how sorry he was about all the things that were going wrong, I got home to find a fed ex envelope in the door with a letter inside terminating me from the firm for my absences. It felt like such a cruel irony because I had been recruited for the job so they could say they had someone on staff with a child with a disability. When, during the interview, I told them they would be crazy to hire me because Blaine was facing the biggest surgeries of his life, and I would need to be with him during that time, they told me it was not a problem because they kept a sick leave pool I could draw from to cover my absence. So having the actual parent of an actual child with an actual disability on their actual staff was more than they could actually handle, I guess.

Blaine was in a full body jacket at home after leaving the hospital, and it was really hard. I remember the time Niki watched me carry Blaine in his body jacket up the stairs to his bedroom. Her eyes widened in horror and she promptly started taking Blaine’s bed apart so we could move it to the first floor and set it up in the dining room. Shit was getting real.

That’s when I faced the reality that I had to get a job I could do from home. One day Abby called to say her friend Sandy had called on behalf of the place she worked, they were looking for someone who could work from home who had a Macintosh. Well, that sure sounded a lot like me so I called and met with the executive director of the Meyer Memorial Trust. He hired me, and I began inputting, reading, analyzing and writing reports on the applications to the Small Grants Program.

That’s how I fell into philanthropy. I blame Blaine. And Abby and Sandy. And Steve Jobs. In that order. 🙂

Next time: What I found inside philanthropy once I got there.


Dreaming of Yakutsk and Prof. Chauncy Harris


I love the weather apps for the iPhone, especially the ones that let you select a place in the world and let you see what the weather conditions are like there right at that moment.

As we’ve had some extra-cold-for-Portland winter weather over the past week or so, I’ve frequently sought comfort by looking at my iPhone to see what the current temperature is in Yakutsk.

Why Yakutsk? Well, let me take you back…190px-lena_watershed

One of my favorite geography classes in college was Geography of the Soviet Union, taught by Professor Chauncy Harris. I took it in Spring of 1971, my last quarter of college before graduating.  Professor Harris – Samuel N. Harper distinguished service professor of geography at the University of Chicago – was an amazing teacher.  He died in 2003 after teaching at U of C for 44 years. I swear I remember more from that class than any other class I took in college. He taught principles and big picture ideas, and provided the kind of deep understanding that comes from learning something from someone who really groks what he is teaching. He was also an amazingly kind and personable human being.  I feel so lucky to have taken his class.

One of the things he taught was a great understanding of the geographic challenges the Soviet Union faced, largely through its northern latitudinal location and its great continental expanse.  It makes for very cold winters in the eastern part.  I remember some of his stories of Yakutsk, a city in Siberia that got so cold in the winter machinery had to be left running all the time in order to not freeze. Some call it “the coldest city on earth.”

The winters in Chicago were astonishing enough for me. I remember walking outside in cold winds so icy and fierce they literally took the breath out of one’s lungs.  One particular night I walked home when it was -20 degrees because the buses couldn’t run.  So a place that was 30 degrees below a Chicago weather extreme every single day for months on end was more than I could imagine.  But that’s Yakutsk.  And more than 200,000 people live there!!

Oyuunsky Square in Yakutsk. Check out how bundled up the people are! Image courtesy wikipedia.

Oyuunsky Square in Yakutsk. Check out how bundled up the people are! Image courtesy wikipedia.

Check out these other photos of Yakutsk on flickr. And a website from Yakutsk translated into English (very charmingly).

And here’s a video taken in 2003 when it was -44 degrees (a heat wave?):

Right now in Yakutsk it is -56 degrees. It’s not been above -50 for days on end. Can you imagine?  Actually, the winter months are some of the best months in Yakutsk, from a practical standpoint.  That’s because one can safely and reliably reach Yakutsk when the Lena River is frozen solid.  There is no bridge across the Lena in this area, because one really can’t be built there. (Something else I learned from Prof. Harris is that because most rivers in Russia flow from south to north, and freeze in winter, the start to thaw in the south and progress north, which causes no end of problems because the meltwater and floating ice has nowhere to drain, because downstream it’s still frozen. A ginormous flooding mess results and bridges can’t survive! Apparently they are working on building a bridge now that’s scheduled to be finished by 2013. Good luck with that!)

In summer months the temperatures can rise into the 90s, making Yakutsk home to some of the greatest temperature fluctuations on the planet.

According to wikipedia, Yakutsk is home to the Institute of Cosmophysical Research, which runs the Yakutsk Extensive Air Shower installation (one of the largest cosmic-ray detector arrays in the world), and the Permafrost Research Institute developed with the aim of solving the serious and costly problems associated with construction of buildings on frozen soil. Good place for it! Please note that they recommend wearing warm clothes for a tour of the Permafrost Museum, which naturally is underground!

I found a very cool article about Yakutsk published earlier this year in The Independent from the viewpoint of an outsider visiting and marveling at the place!  And of course you can buy stuff from Yakutsk on the interwebs!

I’m so happy to be able to share my deep fascination with Yakutsk with you! It’s encouraging me to try to go deeper.  I just found an email address on the Yakutsk website, so I’m going to write them and see if I can get some dialogue going.  I’ll keep you posted here!

Does Oregon (or any state) have a personality?


I love it when my geographic geekiness is simultaneously stimulated and satiated!  Most recently it happened when I read “A Theory of the Emergence, Persistence, and Expression of Geographic Variation in Psychological Characteristics” by Peter J. Rentfrow (University of Cambridge), Samuel D. Gosling (University of Texas at Austin) and Jeff Potter (Atof Inc. of Cambridge MA) in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Takes me back to grad student days at the University of Oregon, where I learned about “environmental determinism” that had once ruled geographic thought.  

See, for example, this description from page 45 of the 1866 textbook Monteith’s Physical and Intermediate Geography:

In the tropical regions, the inhabitants subsist, to a great extent, upon the spontaneous yield of the soil; this, together with the enervating influence of the oppressive heat, causes them to lack energy, industry and patriotism.

In the frozen regions, the inhabitants are dwarfed both in physical stature and mental powers; this is owing to the severity of the climate, with the absence of natural productions and of inducements to labor.

Both of these regions lack that diversity of climate and of other conditions, which is necessary to the promotion of individual and national prosperity.

Uh, can you spell r-a-c-i-s-m? Environmental determinism had long been discredited when I studied geography, so the examples we saw were presented as exotic anachronisms.  The rejection suppressed any consideration of the effect of environment on culture and behavior, so it was interesting to find it has gained new attention, albeit in a VERY different form.

So back to the article.  You can read the article yourself here.  Warning:  it is very academically researchy with citations and jargon everywhere, so I’ve provided a very condensed summary below, with special emphasis on how my home state Oregon did.


New attention is being paid to geographic personality traits, largely because adoption of the Five Factor Model as a “robust and widely accepted framework for conceptualizing the structure of personality.”  The five factors include:  Extraversion [E], Agreeableness [A], Conscientiousness [C], Neuroticism [N] and Openness [O].  According to the authors, “scores of studies indicate that these basic personality dimensions are rooted in biology and are relatively stable throughout life.”

Most of the research has examined these five factors at the national level, but more recently researchers are looking at geographic variation within countries.  For example, a series of studies found that in the U.S., Southerners “place considerably more importance on personal reputation and respect than Northerners do and that this difference leads to higher rates of aggression and homicide in the South.” 

How does geographic variation in personality come about and persist?  Selective migration (people move to places that are a good fit with their personalities), social influence (common personality traits and features of the social environment can mutually reinforce each other), and environmental influence (factors ranging from crowding to climate [e.g. seasonal affective disorder], etc.)

The report includes a graphic of how it all works:











So the authors of the study went about examining if the FFM would apply to states within the U.S. by conducting a survey and correlating with census data. (Read the article for a lot more on methodology and all the associated researchy words.) They also considered what each factor would look like within a state:

  • Extraversion [E] is related to community involvement, preferences for social and entrepreneurial professions and physical health and longevity.
  • Agreeableness [A] relates to community involvement, religious participation, longevity and reduced crime rates.
  • Conscientiousness [C] is associated with religious involvement, health-promoting behavior, and low crime rates.
  • Neuroticism [N]  is linked to criminal behavior, poor coping and morbidity.
  • Openness [O] is expressed by liberal values, creative and intellectual professions, artistic and investigative occupations.

So how does Oregon stack up (based on 10,211 survey responses)?  

Oregon is:

  • among the least extroverted states (44th out of 51; North Dakota is most extroverted, Maryland least)
  • pretty darned agreeable (18th of 51; North Dakota is also most agreeable! Alaska is least agreeable)
  • not so conscientious (31st; New Mexico is most conscientious, Alaska is least conscientious too!)
  • not at all neurotic (48th! West Virginia is most neurotic, Utah is least!)
  • and VERY open-minded (3rd among 51! only Washington DC (#1???) and New York are more so, while agreeable and extroverted North Dakota is least open minded.)

In other words, we are warm and friendly but not as likely to attend club meetings or church or hang out in bars, less dutiful and disciplined, very unlikely to exhibit unsocial behavior, have good coping skills and are psychologically healthy, have very tolerant views and open minds.  That sounds like a place I feel at home in!

The article includes some cool maps as well, including this one depicting “agreeableness” by state:














For our neighbors to the north, Washington is:

  • even less extroverted (48th out of 50!)
  • not quite as agreeable (22nd)
  • somewhat more conscientious (25th)
  • nearly as unneurotic as we are (46th)
  • and almost as open-minded (5th)

And I couldn’t help but notice how off the chart Alaska is, almost the lowest in each and every category:

  • 49th in extraversion
  • dead last in agreeableness
  • dead last in conscientiousness
  • almost last in neuroticism
  • almost last in open-mindedness.

So now we know what Alaska is not, wonder what it IS?  Who wants to weigh in?  Anyone from Wasilla maybe?

So how does this sound?  Do you agree?  Want a report on your state?