Tag: altar cloth (Page 2 of 3)

brooms, and zen some


i don’t remember my grandmother ever sweeping. i’m sure she did, i just don’t remember ever seeing her doing it. my granddaddy, on the other hand, loved nothing better than cutting branches off a bush and stringing them together to make a broom then putting that broom in my hands and telling me to sweep the front yard.

yes, the front yard.

they had grass – a lot of grass – and matching lawnmowers to cut it because my grandmother loved cutting grass. but the front yard was bare, hard red dirt. and we swept it.

i’d sweep pretty designs into the dirt while granddaddy sat in the glider on the front porch and watched me. he never criticized or made me do it over, which makes me think he was just wanting a break and couldn’t think of a better way to take one than to sit and watch me work.

only now, as these words fall out of my fingertips do i think of zen gardens and, depending on how imaginative you want to go, similarities. that kind of “well, shoot” moment and the “well, shoot” realization that i never saw grandmother sweeping are precisely why i encourage people to commit their personal histories to paper, digital or otherwise.

still pondering women’s work, for reasons i can’t explain, and to tell you the truth: i’ve not even asked myself that particular why even once. but if i did venture out and ask “why on earth are you thinking about so-called women’s work?” i know what the answer would be: “just because.”


i’m sure you’ve picked up on the fact that today i’ve got brooms on my mind, which brings to mind this poem that my beloved friend and writing partner, julie daley, sent me on my birthday. speaking of julie, have you signed up for her newsletter (see the box in the right sidebar)? for her Leap Day Call to Discover? read the poem, then scoot on over and get yourself all signed up.


by Lisa Citore

Every woman keeps a secret broom in her closet.
Not the broom she sweeps the kitchen floor with,
the one handed to her by her husband
to keep her from thinking too much.
But the broom made by the first mother,
passed down to the first daughter,
who rode off into the night against her father’s wishes
and became the moon.
The broom that delivered Lilith from the Garden of Eden
when there wasn’t room for more than one god,
that has been a symbol of woman’s power and will,
her ability to fly in between the worlds
as messenger, midwife, mystic, priestess,
manifesting thought into physical form.

Every woman keeps a secret broom in her closet.
Not the one she pulls out when company is coming over,
the one that makes her look good in front of the in-laws.
But the broom that shakes her
from the shackles of her pretending,
that whispers “Now!” when the moon is full,
that calls her deeper into the forest,
that still smells like trees in Avalon.
The broom once held sacred,
long since kept out of sight…
like the signs of menstrual blood,
the questions we were told never to ask,
the places on our bodies
we were punished for touching too much,
the screams we swallowed as little girls
when our mothers warned us, “That’s enough.”

I remember before being able to speak,
desperate to get my mother’s attention,
peeing my bed, burning with 105 degree temperatures,
crying, “This is your pain too!“
“Come hold me and we will heal together.”
Instead she drove us from one doctor to another,
trying to outrun, numb truth with stronger antibiotics,
hoping she could save me
from the dis-ease of being born a woman
by removing the tonsils.
Not unlike the circumcism of young girls in Asia and Africa,
whose clitorises are considered to be
as dangerous as a woman’s voice.

I remember my mother feeding me ice cream,
coating the wound with milk
until it fell asleep inside of me,
sticking a pad in my underwear years later
when it started to bleed again,
diminishing those first drops of reclaimed wisdom
to a stain on the back of my dress.

I remember throwing the soiled garments into the garbage,
wanting to bury myself along with them,
wanting to push the blood back up inside of me.
Frightened of its loud, red color,
singing of young girls running in fields smelling flowers,
of greedy gods, lost children and weeping mothers,
of eating one too many pomegranate seeds
to ever be innocent again…

Every woman keeps a secret broom in her closet.
Not the one that’s been domesticated,
that discreetly sweeps things under the rug.
But the broom that knocks at the door of her soul
every time she smiles to avoid feeling what she knows.
The broom that throws the dirt up in our faces
until we choke on the dust of our unliving,
that remembers the temples we used to dance in,
the stars and galaxies we used to spin
from our joy.

isn’t that a beaut? now scoot on over to julie’s place cause i sure wouldn’t want you to miss out on something this good.

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some things never change, others will by golly


As they left the church, the preacher shook their hands and surprised them by announcing his decision to join them at their house for lunch. Said he’d change clothes and be right over. The mother hadn’t prepared enough food for an extra hungry mouth, and of course there was no time to increase the quantities, so when the preacher arrived, threw back his shoulders, patted his paunch, and announced how very hungry he was, the three girls did the only thing they knew to do. They passed the platter of fried chicken to him, and when he asked “Aren’t you having some?” as he heaped three pieces on his own plate, they said “We don’t eat chicken on Sunday.” And when they passed the peas without taking any for themselves, they said “We don’t eat peas on Sunday.” And there was enough for him to have three refills of sweet tea because – you guessed it – they professed to not drinking tea on Sunday.

These were my great aunts, and my heart cries a little bit every time I think about this true story, and whether it’s slaving over a hot stove then heaping the food onto the plates of men waiting at the table with napkins tied around their necks or insisting that men ride in the front seat of the car they bought and paid for, or any number of other things that my tired brain can’t think of right now, I realize how many women have taught me well when it comes to handing over my power.

Why beat a dead horse, you might ask. This is old news. Can’t we move on?

Where’s the line between good manners and handing over your power, anyway? How can you tell the difference between the two?

Then comes my personal favorite, always asked with eyes closed to the point of slits: Are you trying to make all these women be like you instead of allowing them to be themselves?

Good questions that I ask myself (frequently) along with a side of these:

Where did this come from, this handing over of our female power? Was it after World War II when the women stepped aside from the jobs they did so well to let the resume working? Was when the men returned after the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States when woman after woman not only increased the income from the farms but found new crops and markets for those new crops?

More than anything (except for world peace, of course) I want to move past this, but obviously it’s something that remains stuck in my craw. For the record, no, I absolutely am not trying to change women who defer to men. That’s their choice to do or stop doing as they see fit. I recognize the deep and constant conditioning and imprinting on me, and I know that I’m an adult woman, perfectly capable of making my own decisions, cognitively aware of what’s going on. But regardless of years gone under my bridge, regardless of what my brain knows, I still feel the imprinting, and I feel it strongly . . . usually in the form of guilt for refusing to give my food to any man who is rude enough and pompous enough to expect me to; shame that I can’t be as nice and as generous as the women who preceded me in this family; and concern that I embarrass them with my repeated outbursts about handing over our power in ways large and small.

Two days ago, Angela Kelsey wrote about provenance – such a lovely word referring to the chain of ownership of a work of art. She notes her own provenance (because let’s face it: life is art) and closes with her hope that the final entry of her provenance will be herself. Her own name. Her post is the spark that got me pondering this . . . again . . . but this time by stitching the two plates of peas, I stayed with this agitation long enough to realize that at the heart of my continued agitation is the aforementioned guilt and shame and embarrassment. I, too, want to add my name to my life’s provenance, and I want to do it resolutely without a trace of doubt or sticky residue. Now I know what to work on, that I’m certain that I’m really not continuing to flog a dead horse, I’ll set about plucking out the guilt, embarrassment, and shame – and I will do it, too, then I’ll complete my provenance by adding my own name: Wholly Jeanne.

And frame it. The whole damn thing.

emptying is readying, and vice versa


lately i’ve been thinking a lot about women’s work, how even being the feminist-of-the-old-and-original-order that i am, i still have always enjoyed cleaning, sweeping, doing laundry. which is not to say that when my husband is home full-time, i don’t divide the duties, feeling it only fair that he contribute. just last week my husband put a load of clothes on to wash (unbidden, i hasten to add), and it surprised me when it made me mad. what kind of woman gets mad when her husband, who’s now home all the time, does the laundry without being asked? and i do appreciate it very, very, very much. after a bit of pondering, though, i realized that it felt insulting – not to me, personally. it was much bigger than that – more like a ping against women. he didn’t mean it this way, of course, but i felt a sense of women being dismissed (again), overlooked (again), under’ed (again). it brought up a host of old stuff, junk having to do with other people overlooking women because of things like humor, Southern accents, curves, long hair, and a beautiful countenance. i remembered how some women i admire and adore beyond measure were often overlooked because of their bad teeth or their run-down-looking house or their catywompus glasses or the trash they carted around in their car. i thought about all the women i know or know about who kept and continue to keep this town running, offices running, businesses running but because they are quiet and unassuming, because they don’t seek the limelight at ever possible turn, because they just go about their lives quietly, doing what they need to do, they are overlooked.

yes, really, something as simple as my husband doing a load of laundry without being asked brought all this up.

and let me tell you something: doing laundry is not necessarily a simple thing. how, for example, do you get blood out of cloth? ink? cat pee? how do you keep a down comforter from clumping up when you put it in the dryer? what to do about lipstick stains? dirty collars? towels that smell sour?



you know, back in the day, women would set aside specific days as wash days because doing the laundry was such a chore. they’d have to take clothes down to the creek or river to wash them, laying them on rocks to dry. imagine the upper arm strength it required to dunk all that fabric in the water, then pull it out, scrub it around, dunk it again, wring it out, and lay it out to dry. i’m exhausted just thinking about it. especially since clothes involved a great amount of fabric in those days, if the history books are to be believed.

in post river-as-washing-machine days, the women would have to fetch water from a rain barrel or creek, then heat the water in big ole’ galvanized tubs. they’d use old broomsticks to lift the wet clothes from the wash tub to the rinse tub. and they washed the clothes using soap they made themselves, usually from old rancid bacon or sausage grease and lye. speaks to their creative recyclist nature, doesn’t it?

and today washboard are sold as musical instruments. rhythm boards, they call them.


when my children were younger, i’d occasionally go on strike and refuse to do their laundry because they, like so many other people, don’t notice something, don’t appreciate something, until it’s gone. not available. missing.



sometimes you have to
empty a bowl
and wash it
to see
its beauty,
its blooms,
its patina.

having been an end-of-life doula many times over, today’s altar is dedicated to karen mead as she releases, reviews, revises.

More about 365 Altars

the storytelling chair


In parts of Ireland, a chair is kept at the back door to invite storytellers, to welcome them in to take a place at the hearth. Because I need more time and because I do my best pondering and churning with cloth, needle, and thread in my hand, I’m stitching. And because storytelling is on my list of things I enjoy and things I do well, today I stitch a chair as another piece of altar cloth. And as I sit in a chair in the thicket, I continue to thank you for your support and hospitality.

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altar cloth: and underneath it all was love





they treated us to a trip on saturday, my son and his girlfriend, the gondola dropping us off at the tiptop of keystone in colorado right as the sun retired for the day. it was magnificent – the togetherness, the thoughtfulness, the planning that went into it, the fondue dinner we enjoyed there, singing edelweiss, doing the chicken dance (timed perfectly to occur between the main course fondue and chocolate fondue dessert), and the ride back down the mountain in darkness.
moments in time,
certainly worthy of
a block in my ongoing altar cloth
(not that i’ll ever forget it, mind you.)
because this kind of day
is nothing short of


~~~ and underneath it all was love ~~~

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after spending a day (a day that seemed more like a decade) of paperwork (thus the decade) (and i’m not finished yet, i have hours to go before i sleep), i crave the life of a simple 9-square, though i can’t help but wonder if less paperwork really does equal simple or if it just seems that way because i hate paperwork more and more every month. wait . . . does living the simple life mean doing less of things i despise and more of things i enjoy? could it really be that simple or is that kinda’ like thinking living life on the prairie in a dugout was simple? either way, today’s altar cloth is a simple 9-square. (a.k.a. wishful thinking.)

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a dove is born


Talk about living in the realm of unknowing, that’s where I seemed to have pitched my tent today. This piece of my altar cloth started out as the image that appeared as a response to Pablo Nerusda’s poem called An Ode to Ironing:

Poetry is white
it comes dripping out of the water,
it gets wrinkled and piles up.
We have to stretch out the skin of this planet.
We have to iron the sea in its whiteness.
The hands go on and on
and so things are made
the hands make the world every day,
fire units with steel
linen, canvas and calico come back
from combat in the laundry
and from the light a dove is born
purity comes back from the soap suds.

I saw a sky filled with clothes (probably dirty) falling to earth, forming a dove. But somehow in the stitching, my hands created this, and because I have no idea what my hands are trying to tell me, what they wish to convey, I will leave you with this:

Creating art is like dreaming; there are a multitude of layers that can’t be exhausted with just one sitting.

and this:

In creating altars, we fill a personal space with the power of our own intentions and longings. We take seriously the deep desires of our hearts.

both from the pen of Christine Valters Paintner.

More about 365 Altars

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Allow me to introduce myself . . .

Hey, Sugar! I'm Jeanne Hewell-Chambers: writer ~ stitcher ~ storyteller ~ one-woman performer ~ creator & founder of The 70273 Project, and I'm mighty glad you're here. Make yourself at home, and if you have any questions, just holler.

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