Monday, July 18, 2016

Remembering Joan

In late May we lost a very dear member of our family.

Joan was a cousin to my father-in-law, Carl. They have a long history growing up together and traveling and they exemplify the delightful McMillin trait of treating friends and extended family like next of kin. My first introduction to Joan was only a day or so before Brian and I were married. There was no doubt in Brian's mind that Joan would be the one to marry us and since she and Ross had to travel from New York to Minnesota, that was to be the first time we would meet.

I knew right away that Joan would always have a special place in our hearts and over the years as we got to know each other better, this feeling was only magnified.

Joan went on to marry both of Brian's siblings, Keith (and Liz) and then Heather (and Aaron).

Joan was an infinitely interesting woman having worn many hats over the years. At various stages she was a geologist, archaeologist, priest, artist and designer. We particularly enjoyed sharing stories of our winding career paths and even found an intersection in sustainability issues. Joan represented the Episcopal church at the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and also the UN Commission on the Status of Women. She cared deeply about social issues and was a trusted guide and mentor for so many people who were fortunate enough to cross her path. 

My fondest memories of Joan are in conversations we shared about current events and books worth reading. From poverty and social injustices to women's issues and environmental topics, we had much in common. I shall miss our conversations on the horrors of fracking from a geological perspective and her many tales from travels near and far. I'll miss the way she always saw the best in my children even when they were being difficult or precocious. And the many times that she saw me nearing the end of my parenting rope and knew to offer the perfect amount of encouragement or just a shoulder on which to cry. 

Joan shared a love of gems and rocks and beading and on our annual summer holiday, she always came equipped with many boxes of beading supplies to share with Heather and Liz and I. All of us thoroughly enjoyed the conversations we were able to have while the dads watched the kids so that we could arrange beads, crimp wires and share stories. None of us will soon forget the time last summer when Liz had arranged a perfectly lovely selection of colorful beads on her felt board and Joan looked over to make a comment about those beads not going together at all. We looked at one another puzzled because the color combination seemed just fine, but Joan the geologist couldn't fathom putting those particular stones together as never ever would they be found next to one another underground!

I've spent some time collecting photos over the weeks since her passing and as there were far too many to post individually, I've created the slideshow below as a McMillin tribute to our dear Joan.

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Also worth sharing is this beautiful compilation of Joan's words of relationship wisdom, edited by Brian with excerpts from Heather and Aaron's wedding in 2012. Fetch some tissues and listen HERE.

A few others have written so eloquently about their relationship with Joan and her impact on them and others, that I've requested permission to include their remarks here.

From Peter DeBartolo, cousin once removed:

This past week, a dear family member and friend of mine passed away. Her name was Joan Grimm Fraser, and she was one of the most kindred spirits I've had the privilege of knowing in my adult life. She was an amazing woman who led a trail-blazing life, and I will miss her deeply.
She was one of the first women ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church and dedicated her entire professional life to making the church, society, and our world more inclusive places, especially for those from communities that have been historically marginalized, dispossessed, and oppressed. She represented the International Atlantic Province of the Episcopal Church at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women – the principal global intergovernmental body that is “instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.” She was a life-long advocate of human rights and social justice for all people, even during times when it was unpopular and dangerous, and she never let others' inability to see the value of others prevent her from appreciating and affirming the intrinsic worth and potential of all members of the human family. Her mind was intricate and complex, as she often saw things others didn't, and had the foresight and vision to see beyond current horizons into what things could be; her heart contained multitudes and held both the pain and promise of many. As one speaker at her funeral put it, “she was possibility...and she made others possible.”
Throughout her life, she was a world traveler, teacher, priest, geologist, archaeologist, adjunct university professor, storyteller, and friend and mentor to many. She was an insightful and wise soul who always understood the need for continual progress and improvement on the social and human levels, and was adamant that we need not continue to participate in unjust or unsustainable traditions or systems just because those before us always have. She believed in the power of people, especially women, to change the world for the better, and she lived a life of humble firmness, thoughtfulness, and dignity in the pursuit of opening new doors for those to come after her.
I don't believe that a life or legacy like Joan's ever really ends. Rather, it is carried on in the lives, hearts, and memories of all those whom she touched, loved, fought for, and taught. As it said in yesterday's funeral liturgy, perhaps our physical death is not actually so final; maybe it's just our next transformation – a time when “life is changed, not ended.”

From Lynne Wilson Christman, cousin:

Remembering my dearest cousin, Joan, who went home to The Lord this morning. It is rare in life that we are privileged to grow up with, and retain a relationship with someone like Joan. She had a strong connection with, and love of family. Her superior intellect, keen sense of humor, love of story telling, insightful, and sage advice on most any situation, and her genuine love of children, though she hadn't any if her own, were cornerstones of her personality. She was an archaeologist, a geologist, and an Episcopal priest. She had recently worked with a group at the United Nations, on behalf of women. She enjoyed jewelry making, and taught my daughter, Lilly, and my granddaughter, Allison to do beading jewelry on a visit, several years ago. She went out of her way to come to Carnegie Hall just to see Lilly perform with the Children's Festival Choir in NYC, a couple of years ago. To have an almost 70 year history with someone is remarkable by any standard, but to have that relationship affect you, and your family in so many ways, both light-hearted, and profound, is truly amazing, in retrospect. Today I grieve for my own loss, but I rejoice to know that we will spend time together with The Lord in eternity. Thank you Joan, for your love, care, support, and loyalty, all these years.

Joan was one of those wise and feisty women who showed the rest of us how to live authentically and with a giant dose of compassion. A change maker, a prolific storyteller and a compassionate listener, she leaves a legacy that will carry on in those whose lives she touched. While our time together was far too short, I should hope that all of us can carry the light and the kindness and the devotion that she modeled and spread her goodness and love far and wide.

You are forever in our hearts dearest Joan.


Lastly, I'm pasting in a copy of her obituary (originally posted here) because I think it so beautifully captures so many of her accomplishments and I'd like to have it saved for posterity.

RIP: Joan P. Grimm Fraser, pioneering Episcopal priest

May 25, 2016

[Episcopal Diocese of Long Island] The Rev. Joan P. Grimm Fraser, an Episcopal priest and leading spokesperson on women’s issues in church and society has died.
The province includes six dioceses in New York, two dioceses in New Jersey and the off-shore dioceses of Haiti, the Virgin Islands and the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. About the UNCSW she had said, “It is an opportunity to give a voice to women here and abroad who don’t have a voice” about health, poverty and justice.
The Rt. Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano, bishop of Long Island, said, “Each of us will miss Joan’s great spirit and faithful, thoughtful counsel. She was a pioneer in our church and one of the wisest, most faithful priests I have ever known.”
There will be a Requiem Eucharist May 27 at 11 am, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City, New York. Provenzano will preside.
The Fraser family has provided the following biographical details.
The Rev. Joan P. Grimm Fraser, one of the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church, and a geologist, has died at the age of 68. Mother Joan, as she was known to parishioners at Holy Trinity Parish in Hicksville, New York where she served as rector since 2004, was admired throughout the church as a kind and loving priest who blazed a trail for other women.
Born in Berea, Ohio in 1947, Fraser graduated from Allegheny College in 1969 with a B.S. Later that same year she entered the Episcopal Theological Seminary (ETS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as the only woman in her class. She graduated with a Master’s of Divinity in 1973, and was the first woman ordained a transitional deacon in the Diocese of Ohio in 1973. She was the 33rd woman ordained a transitional deacon in the nation.
Mother Joan had been invited to be one of the women who came to be known as the “Philadelphia Eleven,” who were ordained in 1974 in “irregular” fashion prior to authorization by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church for the ordination of women to the priesthood. However, continuing her lifelong practice of abiding faithfully by the decisions of her church, and obeying her bishop, Fraser declined to be one of the very first women ordained priest, and chose instead to serve as deacon at that historic mass.
She served as the associate chaplain at Kenyon College in Ohio from 1974-1976. She was the first woman formally approved by the Diocese of Ohio to be “regularly” ordained priest in 1977. Her deliberate care and intentionality led to her being the second woman ordained to the priesthood in Ohio. Many women throughout the U.S. were ordained in January of 1977, as soon as it was permitted within the Episcopal Church. Fraser had committed to being ordained priest in the chapel at Kenyon at a time when the students could participate. That delay meant being ordained priest in March of 1977. Mother Joan was thus one of the first 50 women regularly ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. The Rt. Rev. John Burt ordained her both deacon and priest.
Following her ordination, it was nearly impossible for a woman priest to obtain paying work, let alone full-time paying work. After her ordination, at her bishop’s urging, and with financial support from the Diocese of Ohio, Fraser obtained an M.S. in Geology from the University of Arizona in 1978.
She served full-time as a petroleum geologist for Amoco Production Co. from 1978-1985. Throughout her long and varied life in the church, Mother Joan frequently took lower paying, part-time or even non-paying jobs so as to be able to serve the church in an environment where women were not always considered desirable candidates for clergy positions. She was known for her cheerful disposition and her wise acceptance of the role she played as a trailblazer for others. She told many younger clergy she mentored that it was her delight to serve as a “doorknob” for other women participating in the life and ministry of the church.
Throughout her long career Fraser served parishes in Ohio, Colorado (where she was the first full-time, fully-stipended female priest), North Carolina, Western Massachusetts (where she served as Canon at Christ Cathedral), New York City, and Long Island. She was appointed by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church to be the 2015 Anglican Delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Mother Joan married Ross Fraser, director of planning at the Nassau University Medical Center, in 1979. He survives her, along with six godchildren, countless cousins, and many other family and friends. Among her friends and family, she was known as a gracious, wonderful hostess, cook and artist. At the time of her death, complex negotiations were being carried out for the sharing of her secret chocolate sauce recipe. In addition to her many other accomplishments she obtained a BFA in Design from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1999.
Memorial gifts may be sent to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society for the benefit of the Joan Grimm Fraser UNCSW Legacy Fund, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the year of the Philadelphia Eleven ordinations. It was 1974, not 1976.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Moments Noticed: Friends

So the other day I realized that I have a GIANT collection of reasonably awesome photos and a pretty decent sized collection of quotes that I adore. I've also noticed that putting quotes on photos on the internet happens to be a thing, so I've decided to add some beauty to the world with a new series of posts called Moments Noticed.

I hope some of these messages brighten your day, remind you of your best self, instill gratitude or just offer a moment of reflection.

Kicking off this series with an image taken in the Cleveland Metroparks last fall paired with a quote I found scribbled on a scrap of paper in a box of college stuff I was sorting through recently.

A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.

Shout out to those of you who so readily and joyfully offer listening ears, supportive shoulders and words of encouragement. You make the world a better place. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

From Flooring, A Bed is Born

Hey remember my awesome mahogany floor that we crafted from rough lumber?

We had some floor boards left over so Brian decided that he'd like to make our king size bed out of them. He asked me to find something to model it after and that he'd do his best to recreate it.

So I found this. It looked relatively uncomplicated and had a mosaic look to the wood which would be easy to replicate given our supply of very short floor board pieces.

And this is what he manged to create!

Not bad, eh?

Here are some detail shots of the headboard. It was constructed by gluing the tongue and groove flooring together before passing it through the planer and finishing with the side and top pieces.

Same detail and construction on the foot board.

In order to maintain the already beautiful color of the Santos Mahogany, I opted to simply finish the piece with three coats of a wipe on polyurethane.

It's a platform or European style bed frame which means it uses slat boards for support underneath the mattress. It's a beautifully simple design and eliminates the need for purchasing and then discarding and replacing a box spring.

I spent ages researching non-toxic mattresses and I'm now somewhat of an expert so if you're in the market for a mattress made of natural materials that won't off-gas into your sleeping space, let me know! I settled on a 100% natural latex mattress from Sleeping Organic.

And another overview photo, so you can see how awesome it is one more time!

Thanks Brian for your hard work on this! I think it just might be an heirloom piece. 

Now it just needs a set of dresser drawers and a couple of matching nightstands to complete the ensemble, don't you think? 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Boy's Super Awesome Bedrooms

Leading up to the big move in, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would make each individual room special for the boys. They'd never had their own rooms because either we didn't have the space or because it was easier to get both of them to sleep in the same room. But we knew that once we got our own home, they would really appreciate their own personal space. And I wanted them to love the new house!

So, knowing Ari's favorite colors are blue and yellow and that he adores maps and that Riker loves red and rainbows, I set to work.

One of the things I wanted for their rooms was a way to display their artwork that wouldn't damage the walls and that would look relatively organized. I found these really cool decorative art cables from Pottery Barn Kids but at $39.00 each, my crafty mama gears started turning.

I poked around internet land for inspiration and saw people like Sue at Home using the Dignitet cable systems from Ikea. I thought that hack was clever but wanted something cuter and warmer feeling. Then I found a tutorial at Positively Splendid using wooden shapes as the anchor points and I knew that was the way I wanted to go.

So I gathered my supplies.

And painted Ari's stars blue and yellow.

Along with his hand painted wooden name, the art display wire looks awesome!

Here's an overview of his whole room including the feature piece, a giant map of the world, which thanks to Auntie Heather's help, only took an entire day to hang!

The view from the other direction.

This super cool globe light fixture with space rocket ceiling fan was a gift from Auntie Heather after the addition of a loft bed to Cael's room made it unsafe to have a fan anymore.

For a long time, Ari's favorite animals have been crabs and chickens. So I found this adorable family of crab decals to live under the window.

And lastly, you'll notice the blue and yellow bunting flags hanging around the walls.

These were the result of one my many moments as of late that start with the phrase, "I'll just....." In this case, "I'll just get some fabric and cut up some triangles and sew them onto some ribbon and make some colorful flags." As you can imagine, this was immensely more time consuming than anticipated!

But I think the results are pretty awesome! 


Then of course, I had to make pendant flags for Riker's room too!

And an art wire or three...

Riker really wanted his walls to be painted red with one wall done in rainbow stripes. I vetoed that idea and said he was getting gray walls but the decorations could be rainbow colors. Then I thought, hey, I could just get a giant canvas and paint some rainbow stripes on that! So I did! And guess what? It took way longer than I could have ever imagined! But it sure does look cool!

Here's the overview of his room from a few angles....

I actually considered painting a tree mural for a split second but then came to my senses and just bought this giant decal. Which, you might have guessed, took an entire afternoon to hang!

When we were last to Minnesota for a visit, we brought back this desk that was mine when I was little. I must have been about six when my dad got it for me at an auction from the old Manannah school house. I was tickled that Riker liked it so much and insisted that it live in his new room.

You may have noticed that in the photos above the boy's mattresses were both on the floor. I'm pleased to report that since I took those photos, we've managed to remedy that situation!

Brian grew up sleeping on a waterbed with a thick pine bed frame. He recently found it in the attic of his parent's house and not being one to let anything go to waste, he dug it out and decided to make the boy's beds out of it. He planed the wood and cut the big side pieces in half the long way and was able to make two bed frames out of one!

Once the headboard and foot end were constructed and all the pocket holes for assembly were drilled, the project was handed over to me for finishing. It might seem like a simple task to stain and finish a twin bed frame but I can assure you that the world of wood conditioners, stains and dyes, and finishes and top coats is a vast sea of products, techniques and opinions. I now know just enough about it to be acutely aware of how little I actually know about it all! In the end I decided to go for dark and masculine and I'm pleased enough with the results.

And for one final finishing touch, I put up this gorgeous photo and quote between their rooms to remind the boys of just how lucky they are to have each other. 

"Because I have a brother I will always have a friend."

As you can tell it's been very pleasing to finally have a space of our own and to be able to put some energy into making it uniquely ours. Now on to the rest of the house!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Love, Mem Fox

We've just had a very special delivery arrive from Mem Fox!

Many readers will already know this household name, but for those who don't, Mem Fox is one of the most well-known and well-loved authors of children's books in all of Australia. She's been publishing a steady stream of books since 1983 when the classic Possum Magic was released.

Now let me share the delightful story of how we were lucky enough to receive a parcel from Mem Fox herself!

Riker was recently the student of the week at his elementary school. One of his tasks was to put together a poster about himself and his interests. We devoted a section of it to his Australian heritage and included several photos of kangaroos, koalas and iconic Aussie sites.

As part of his student of the week experience I was invited to come in to read to the children. I chose Possum Magic thinking that his classmates would enjoy the Australian animal characters. The next day Riker's teacher emailed me to say he had found several Mem Fox books on his bookshelf, left there from the previous first grade teacher. Apparently Mem Fox was at the school for a workshop and assembly in the early nineties. He showed them all to Riker and let him pick one to borrow for the evening. He selected Night Noises and it just so happens that this was a signed copy! The lovely message (from 1992) said, "With lots of love from Australia and me!"

You can imagine how tickled I was to open this book for the first time and see this greeting from so long ago, reaching me here on a wintry Ohio evening!

I was so moved in fact, that I wrote to Mem Fox via email and shared the story above. I explained how we miss Australia dearly and have adored her books for years. Riker was just days old when we were gifted Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes and it's worn ragged from years of love as is Where is the Green Sheep? and others. I tried to express how delighted I was by the way in which her message had reached me all these years later.

Her response indicated that she was as tickled about the whole thing as I was and she was very grateful that I took the time to write to her. A day later I received another message saying her husband had kindly suggested that she send us a couple of autographed books and could I please send an address.

Just the other day, signed copies of Possum Magic, The Goblin and the Empty Chair and Whoever You Are arrived from South Australia. We were all pretty chuffed about this extra special delivery as you can tell. 

And best of all, Possum Magic is signed with the same greeting as the one that reached out in time to find us here. "With love to Riker and Ari from Australia and me!"

What a joy it is to be able to reach out to someone on the opposite side of the world and find connections through stories and places!

A big thank you to Mem Fox for touching our lives in so many ways over the years and for all the ongoing work in literacy and bringing the joy of reading to children the world over. Without a doubt, these books will be family treasures for years to come.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Hello 2016

I enter this year with a long to-do list. I don't make new year resolutions but I've got a whole lot of work to do ranging from my own personal and professional goals to the big picture global stuff I wrap my heart up in. I know most of it won't get done in the next few weeks so I'll try to plug away, a little bit at a time.

There's one thing we can all get started on right away though.

Let's agree to go about this year with more love and more compassion. With less hate and less fear.

What does that mean in practice? I think that can be as small as offering a smile as you hand your credit card to the grocery store cashier. It's remembering that everyone is fighting some sort of battle that the rest of us know nothing about and choosing kindness. It's choosing to think of our neighbors in other parts of the world with compassion rather than disdain and dismissal. It's remembering that our children are people to be nurtured, not problems to be fixed. It's being gentle with our ourselves when we fail to live up to our own ideals. Go about it however you like, but whenever possible, choose love over fear and all of its ugly derivatives.

How will you add more love and compassion to the world this year?