Elsie and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Having re-arranged all the furniture in our house so that the rooms come closer to meeting our needs, it’s about time to move on to a bit of web site re-arranging.

As part of the planning process, I’ve been wandering through some of the dustier corners of what’s already here and pondering what needs to be freshened up a bit.

This particular post seemed almost to be jumping up and down for some attention.

So here, with a surprise twist at the end, is Story of a Quilter:

I must admit, with more than a bit of embarrassment, that I considered her somehow frail as I watched the fingers gnarled with the ravages of “arthur-itis” struggle to thread the slender needle known as a “between” through all those years of my childhood. Tying the knot was still another challenge, generally accomplished with that peculiar, frustrated puff of breath that ruffled the wispy hair on her forehead. And yet, the sacred family mythos holds that Elsie Hannah Royce Boardman, my paternal grandmother, raised six children, two orphaned nephews and countless flocks of turkeys, baked 40 loaves of bread a week on a wood burning stove, and once insisted that my uncle carry her to the Baptist church supper on the back of his motorcycle, lest the people of God be deprived of the pies she clutched in each hand on that long, bumpy trip through the cornfields.

As my cousins and I gathered and traded precious scraps of those myths, gleaned over the years, or perhaps it was only as I raised my own child, I somehow came to believe that Elsie must have taught herself to quilt simply so she’d have an excuse to sit down!

When I was a little girl, I got to help. Gramma would come to visit and she’d sort through my mom’s scrap basket, picking bits that caught her fancy. My job was to draw the pieces on the fabric using a very sharp pencil and a scrap of a Cheerios box, cut precisely to the shape of a hexagon. Then out would come the long, sharp scissors and Gramma would reduce the fabric scraps to a lacy honeycomb of my old dresses and bits of curtains and aprons. I felt important.

Years later, as a young mother myself, I decided to learn to quilt. I picked a pattern from a magazine, bought some fabric I really didn’t like, though it was the “right” colors, and began, laboriously, to cut. After a week or so I had a block done. I was frustrated. My fingers were burned from trying to iron what wouldn’t lay flat. And I still didn’t like the fabric!

I looked at my one tidy, borderline ugly block and realized with a shock that I needed 41 more, exactly like it. I put all the fabric away and went back to finish my Bachelor’s degree.

Graduations happened. Years passed. And then a few more. Eventually we moved back to Atlanta. Atlanta has a lot of used bookstores. One day, with a bit of extra time before an appointment, I stopped into one of those bookstores.

I sniffed deeply, breathing in all the books, wandering here and there, just looking. Then, down on a shelf near the floor, I spotted a book that was somehow calling to me, the way books do to some people.

Liberated Quilt-making by a woman named Gwen Marston. I sat abruptly, right on the floor, and started to read. Soon tears ran down my cheeks. Here was a book that understood!

The book understood how hard it is for some people to work with just three fabrics. And how overwhelming it is to make 42 fussy, perfect blocks, all just alike. It understood why many people think quilting is not for them. And then, as I kept reading, I found another way. Lots and lots of fabrics? No problem! Crooked lines? Sure! Lots of different blocks? Absolutely!

And the tears kept running down my cheeks as I realized that I might be a quilter after all!
It took a while. Several classes. A grasp of the importance of ironing as you go. No rules about color. (Well, only a couple!) What kind of thread. How to use a rotary cutter. (Miraculous!)

Mostly what I’ve learned is that I am an artist. That the colors will all work out if you stare at them long enough and throw a couple of extras in. And, if you like wonky quilts with crooked lines, plan them that way.

It turns out that the same is true for painting. And the journey has been much the same, as well.

I am learning again. And these days I’m even painting quilts!

Beyond the tools and tips and techniques and surprises like warped canvas frames, here’s what I love the most…

The primary benefit of practicing any art, whether well or badly, is that it enables one’s soul to grow. 

–Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

It seems to me that our world could use a whole lot of folks practicing art these days!



Many dreamers dreaming dreams!

I don’t remember my life before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Well, I do. Glimpses of this house or that puppy. Snapshots of my family. But not life as an American. Or life as anything other than a Boardman.

I’ve been sitting, these last few days, in the shadow of a tree and pondering the impact of this man on my life.

Actually, I’ve been sitting under a picture of a tree which is mostly still a sketch and, oddly, a revelation.

My nails are splattered in brown paint and the dogs are beginning to grasp the notion that they need to stay out from under my feet while I paint.

I am still learning.

My Intentional Creativity friends and I are painting trees of life.

Well, we’re painting lots of things but this seems to be where I am just now.

One day, back in December, the notion came to me that my tree would want to be a Banyan tree.

An enormous tree like the ones where I grew up in Florida, systems of branches and roots and trunks, communities of breathing life.

I visited a few of those trees in Key West and they kept whispering to me.

Kelly and I took some pictures. Mine were mostly roots.

Roots that reminded me of the ancient wisdom of elephants.

Then, we came home.

The time to paint came closer and closer, and the Banyan tree kept tugging at me.

Then, I found out why.

In the online newsletter, Aeon, Jonardon Ganeri, a contemporary philosopher whose work draws on a variety of  traditions to construct new positions in the philosophy of mind, metaphysics and epistemology, writes that:

…knowledge should be pictured as a banyan tree, in which a multiplicity of aerial roots sustains a centerless organic system. The tree of knowledge has a plurality of roots, and structures of knowledge are multiply grounded in the earth: the body of knowledge is a single organic whole, no part of which is more or less dispensable than any other.

Dr. King is one of those roots in my Banyan tree. Justice. Equality. Community.

His tree had many roots, as well.

The prophet Isaiah. Abraham Lincoln. A dream of what hadn’t been yet but could be.

And his tree is growing still.

Bernie Sanders, perhaps.

We need all the dreamers we can get!

For today, though, I’m sitting with my tree and recalling a wise old friend named Puddleglum who had a pretty big dream of his own. Taking his leave from the Queen of the underworld to search for Narnia, along with his young friends, the Marsh-wiggle said this:

…All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for the Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think, but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say (C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair in The Chronicles of Narnia).

Many dreamers dreaming dreams. Justice. Equality. Community. Hope. Love.  All of them feeding the branches and leaves still to come.

I suspect Dr. King would approve. Our four-footed Luther does, too!



A Prophet for Then and Now

I cut my preaching teeth in rural Tennessee, the historical home of the KKK. A summer internship after my first year in seminary. It was not an easy time. A young and enthusiastic boss, finding his own voice. Told not, for the first intern, to come back with a student of the female persuasion.

Then there was the whole thing about standing up in front of people who did not know me and doing my best to interpret the word of God. Not the word that seemed easy for that day. The word designated in a fancy calendar called the lectionary, which is a three year plan for reading through the entire bible. A lesson from the Hebrew scriptures. One from wisdom literature, usually the Psalms. A gospel lesson. And one from a New Testament letter.

Read three or four, if you were new-fangled back then, and brave. Focus on one or two in a sermon. Forget Karl Barth, and leave the news entirely out of it, if you’re hoping to survive. Or, pray hard and allow the Word to speak. A big job for a very new professional Christian.

And the vital presence of people of actual faith, opening their arms and their ears to a single mom and a really cute kid, trying to find their place amongst the people of God in an old southern Presbyterian church.

An old southern Presbyterian church in the late 1980’s that was somehow surviving a young pastor. The most liberal preacher they had ever known. Surviving an inter-racial family in the congregation. Surviving conversations they had never had before.

I learned a lot that summer. I am learning, still.

One of the biggest things I learned is that people of faith often confuse beliefs–theology, if you will–with things that feel safe because we’ve always done them that way. Hymns. Neighbors. Marriage. Politics. Neurologically, familiar equals safe.

It doesn’t always work in the Kingdom, here on Earth.

Are you opposed to racism? Get to know some people who don’t look just like you do.

Are you opposed to sexism? Look beyond gender to see new skills and enthusiasm.

Are you opposed to injustice? Feed the poor. House the homeless. Shelter the oppressed. Defend the children. Protect the civil rights of all.

There’s the word that’s hard.


Because “all,” in America, means all.

I remember when Dr. King was killed. We lived in Chicago. Riots rocked the city. Children were afraid. And nobody in my world had answers.

And yet, America was changed.

It is time to hold that change dear. To honor the sacrifice of those who fought for a different future. To act as people who have been changed. To live as those who believe. Perhaps time, now, more than ever before.

The most important message in this moment comes from Dr. King:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

The answer is, now, as it was then, and long before then, the way to change the world.

It’s our turn.

Sue Boardman, Certified Intentional Creativity®
Color of Woman Teacher & Coach