Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Spinning Wheels

Ever since the Great Push to complete gifts in time for the holidays, I have been spinning my wheels.  At first I recognized it as the let down after a keeping a frenetic pace, and I allowed myself to sink into a mild lethargy.  However, it doesn't really seem to be lifting. 
Each day I manage to do something: a bit of housework, cooking, half an hour to an hour of crazy quilting, reading, a bit of wool work, very non-intense sewing (don't even ask how many pillowcases I've made!), painting, drawing.  Nothing seems to attract my attention or energy for very long.  Are you familiar with this malaise?
I have been thinking about it for the last few days, and I think I know one reason for this slow-motion mood.  My "sewing room" is a complete disaster.  Oh, I know, most of the time it may look disastrous to an "outsider", but I know where things are even if there are a few projects piled on top of each other.  I can navigate around the room, do what I need to do, and find what I'm looking for.  But now?  The piles seem to have exploded.  The floor is cluttered.  It's untidy and uncomfortable.  So who would want to spend time in there?  And who knows where to start?
I do.  So even though this is not the best time to do it, I'm going to begin getting that room (and maybe me, too) under control again.  One piece at a time.  One hour at a time.  One wheel at a time.
Then maybe those wheels will stop spinning!

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Treasure of Family Photographs

Esther has been sending me such a wealth of photographs that I have been rendered speechless.  Well, almost.  First she sent me photos of two of her recent watercolors.  I neglected to ask for permission to show them to you, but I do wish you could see them.  I think I've mentioned that watercolors are something with which I am very uneasy and believe that I have no talent for them at all.  Esther on the other hand is quite gifted.
Then she sent me a re-mastering (I'm not sure if that is the term for taking an old movie and copying it or fixing it or making it viewable) of her wedding day.  Oh my, I do have hazy memories of that day, but since I don't think I ever saw any photographs of it, I had forgotten almost everything.  What a lovely bride she was and my brother so handsome.  And they are both so young!  Of course, they aren't that old now, but looking back at the two of them in their early twenties was quite a treat.  And Esther's sister (who was her attendant) looks as I always think of her as looking - tall, dark, and pretty.  How willowy they looked (and still do, rats!).
I do remember my brother Daniel as best man giving the toast although I don't remember how we got from the church to the reception.   I remember the dress I wore.  It was a gift from the bride and groom and was by far the prettiest dress I'd ever worn.  I don't remember the young girl who was me at that time.  It must have been me because she was wearing the dress I remember as mine, and her expression is familiar. 
Then to top it all off, I was able to view photographs from my brother Davis' recent birthday dinner.  The only two in this group of pictures from the family home movie were Davis and Esther, and if anything they are an even better looking couple now than they were then.  And still so happy!  They had several members of their family with them, and it must have been quite the occasion. 
All this is to remind myself how very important family history and photographs to go with it are.  Davis has worked wonders with the family genealogy started by our mother and has it on on-line.  Looking at it today, I enjoyed looking at all the photographs he has uploaded of family and lament the empty photo slots by ancestors for whom there are no photos and may never have been any.  Then I notice once again that there are no photographs by my name, or D's, or our daughter. 
Maybe I'd better learn how to upload some!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Weekends are for -

Don't you think that weekends are wonderful?  Even when retired they maintain some of the characteristics they had when we were working.  There's a sense of both relaxation and hurry.  Even at this stage the relaxed atmosphere is still there.  After all, very few appointments are scheduled for a Saturday or a Sunday!  The hurry is there, also, though.  For some reason I've kept traditional weekend chores on the weekend like the laundry.  If we have to go out to do grocery shopping (something we have always tried to keep to a week day), we feel that we have to get there early to avoid the crowds.  Certain things seem to need to be completed before the week begins.
For that reason, I feel good about completing an unfinished project this weekend.  I had taken Mardi's class on turning a photo cube into a charming sewing box complete with pincushion on top and pieced quilt blocks in the windows.  Okay, not everything is finished.  The blocks still need to be made, but they aren't even started yet.  Today I did finish the pincushion; it's supposed to sit on the top of a 4" cube.  Don't laugh!

It really is true that college graduates rarely read directions!  My pincushion is huge; it is a Pincushion on Steroids!  I decided that since I have made several pincushions, I'd simply make this one as I thought it would be made.  Did I listen to Mardi?  Probably with one ear and a fraction of a brain.  Did I read her directions?  Of course not!  Before the class was over, I knew I was in trouble.

Just to give you an idea of where I went wrong.  I added a second circular piece made using the same template as the one used for the top instead of the much smaller one designed for the bottom.  Merrily, I started stitching but very soon saw that instead of a pincushion, I had a chair cushion (well, almost).
Today, I completed it and feel that it's quite attractive.  It can be used in a variety of ways.  Use your imagination!

At least the button on the top is perfect!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Ice Crystals

We've all been muttering about the cold, and I don't want to seem like a Pollyanna, but when I returned from getting the mail the other day, I found something quite beautiful.  I had walked through the garage and glanced out the back door.  I didn't see the view because my attention was riveted by the ice crystals that had formed on the glass panes.  Think embroidery or quilting (or any other kind of work you do) as you scroll through these photos.
What's outside and what's on the inside?




View through the window.  I allowed the camera to focus on the arbor.  In so doing the rime on the window made the view appear to have soft edges.

In this one, I focused on the frost.  It didn't work quite as well, but you can see that this is the so-called "first" window pane.  I think.

Beautiful, aren't they?  And they don't last long so I'm glad I took these as soon as I noticed them. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Road to the Lake

Are you ready for something scary?  Or at least something that will make you say, "What's that?", or more likely, "Has she finally lost it?"  Remember when I talked about trying a new technique for starting a painting?  Well, I did it today, and here it* is:

Most of the underpaintings I've actually seen (obviously one doesn't see many because the artist paints over them) are painted in burnt sienna (reddish brown) or a similar color.  Whatever color is chosen, they are usually monochromatic - just a thin wash of color with turpentine which dries quickly.  Generally the purpose is to lay out the composition in broad strokes and also to indicate values (darks - lights) both of which I did. 
My reason for doing an underpainting is to experiment with the idea for both of the reasons artists usually do but also for one other reason.  Painting with a palette knife has really worked for me, but it does have a drawback.  As you can imagine, one does not have the suppleness with a knife that one would with a brush.  A painter can push paint into corners and onto edges by manipulating a brush quite easily.  It isn't that simple when using a knife even though it does have some suppleness.  As a result, I find that my paintings when held up to the light have very small areas where there is little to no paint.  Most of the time, the viewer can't tell unless looking very carefully, and up until the Boat House painting, I've found and painted over such spots.  With that last painting, I was concerned about getting the right colors and the right texture so I left it alone. 
But it nagged at me.  Even though people don't hang paintings in front of a direct source of light, a close inspection would show places where the paint is not evenly applied.  Does it matter?  I don't know what the experts would say, but it matters to me.
So . . . by employing an underpainting technique, I have ensured that I have a layer of paint that covers the canvas.  My subsequent layers will cover most of what you see above, but should there be a spot where the additional layers don't cover completely?  The underpainting will show through, and that's all right with my style of painting. 
Remember this entry because in future weeks when I do post an entry on this painting, you'll be able to scroll back and check how (or if) the underpainting is working for me.
*To see the subject of this painting more clearly, go back to:
Thursday, November 8, 2012, "Pen and Ink Study #2"

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Drawing Snow

Not so long ago, I wrote about a snowfall and the photographs I took then (see Wednesday, January 2, 2013: "Snow: Birds and Landscape").  I wondered how one goes about drawing snow.  It occurred to me that I had never tried to draw snow - a white (snow) on white (paper) project.  Today I tried it.
Here's the photograph from which I worked:

A small bush near the corner of our house is loaded with the newly fallen snow, but one can clearly see both snow and branches.  To compound the problem presented in capturing the look of this bush is the unrelieved snowy background.
First, I had problems trying to get my pens to work (you'll see a black blob of ink in the upper right hand side of the drawing below).  Second, I then tried to use some of that ink for my background by pulling it with a brush across the top of the paper.  Neither of those two attempts were wholly successful.  My pens did a start and stop throughout this exercise and by employing the same strokes I used for drawing water, my background failed (also the way I unthinkingly drew the snow on the branches before reworking them to what you'll see now).
Third, I had figured that my best bet was to draw some of the branches to give me the shape I wanted and the character I see in this bush.  After that I would use the ink of the branches to draw the snow with a wet brush.  Later I could go back in and draw some more of the branches - not all of them!  Just enough to hint at the tangle within the bush that actually supported a lot of the snow.  Class was over before the later happened, and this is what I have.
I think that since you know what I tried to draw you'll be able to see it in the sketch above.  But what if you didn't know?  My teacher did give me advice that changed the snow I had and made my subsequent work on it much better.  She also suggested going back in to add more branches and lighten the overly heavy main branch on the right (created while still trying to get my pen to work as I wished and expected it to!).
My plan is to do another study of this bush taking in her advice, my own experience with the study you see, and new tools!  Sharon has lent me two dip pens (the kind you dip in a bottle of ink - hence their name) and some ink. I'm looking forward to trying them out; they are what I used in the distant past when I first did pen and ink drawings. 
I hope my next experiment results in a better drawing of snow.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Spot of Warmth Lifts My Spirits

This week we are told the temperatures will dip quite low (although still within winter reason - is there such a phrase?).  Part of me, the part that is retired, has little problem with that forecast.  It is a rare occasion that finds me having to spend time outdoors if I don't want to be there.  No longer do I have to take students out and away from the building for a fire drill and stand there for the requisite amount of time.  Nor am I sensitive to cold like my sister-in-law who still lives in this climate.  For her I do feel sorry; it is hard for her to get warm.  But that is not the way my body works so cold weather for me is merely a fact of life in the northeast.
Yet, today, I was especially aware of the numerous pots and vases of budding paper whites that we have scattered around our home.  As I walked through the living room this morning, I noticed the way the sunlight (weak as it might be) picked up the lovely green of the stems and lit the rounding buds as they plump up while getting ready to burst open.  Kitchen and family room also have several almost-there plants.  Tonight the paper whites in our bedroom (no, the fragrance does not bother either of us - there is sufficient room and air circulation so it is not a problem) have gone from looking rather scrawny and floppy to standing very straight and tall with their white blossoms showing.
To me, this is an advantage of winter.  The more inclement it is outdoors, the more I appreciate the incidental notes and reminders of softer days and warmer sunshine.  I hope that in some corner of your home, you have something that will lift the winter blues for you, too.  If there isn't such a place, try to make one.  Pull out that small wall hanging you did with the spring colors or frame that wonderful photo you took of your garden.  Splurge on a flowering plant for your desk.  And put on that lovely, bright, and warm sweater even if it isn't this year's style or color.  Make yourself happy however you can! 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Weekend Doings

Another wonderful weekend; I spent time with my husband and with my dear friends.  What could be better?

What did I accomplish?  Another pair of pillowcases:

Here they are on top of the flannel sheets for which I made them.  I wish I had a photo of the very special pillowcase made specifically for me by my dear friend ME (she made them for all of our group and nailed each one of us - what a shame I didn't think to take out my camera and capture the moment!).  My pillowcase has a body with fabric that has writing on it and a cuff with books as though they are on a book shelf.  Perfect for me (and far more interesting and meaningful than the ones above)!
My new wool work project also received some attention, but there's not enough to show you, yet.  I embroidered some stems and that's about it.
Not much to report, but a good weekend none the less. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Daily Inconsequentials

Thank you for your kind words on "Boathouse".  By now I think everyone is so tired of it that no one dared say something particular needed attention.  Before the weekend is over I hope to begin work on another painting.  This one I plan to start differently; I'll experiment with a new-to-me technique.  I may show you the start, but then I plan not to give you my weekly report on the painting.  I think you may be suffering from over-exposure. Certainly "Boathouse" took a very long time, and you probably got to the point where you were being asked to look at infinitesimal advances.  So since both my Crazy Quilt block and my wool work are starting up again, I may switch to being tedious about those activities.
There's really nothing to report today.  After my hair cut this morning, I spent most of my time working about the house.  I prepared a little for a class that I'm taking Monday which I really should not take at all.  I seem to be sliding back into taking class after class without having time to complete the projects.  The one on Monday is an art quilt class that features some techniques I want to learn which is why I signed up for it.  Ah well, I'm sure I'll enjoy it.
The rest of the day was spent cutting fabrics which gave me a chance to think about my next hand-piecing project.  I now have the fabric choices made and an idea for the applique block, but I haven't sketched that yet.  It needs a little more time to "cook" in my brain.
Tonight I couldn't find anything on television to watch, my book didn't interest me, and I wasn't in the right frame of mind for hand work.  So I worked on a jigsaw puzzle.  How's that for avoidance?
I hope your day was both more enjoyable and productive!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Boathouse" Painting Finished

There's really not a great to say except that I finished the Boathouse painting this morning.  It pleases me, and I hope you like it, too.  If you look back to the beginning, you'll see how the painting has evolved from what I thought I wanted (a misty morning in a very subdued palette) to a quiet day on the lake.  A boathouse but no boats.

Do let me know what you think - what you like and what you don't understand.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

$$$ Drug Prescriptions $$$ Woes

How on earth do people manage who do not have good health coverage that includes some help on prescriptions?  Today I had to sit back and take a deep breath when I was told the prescription I wanted to have filled would cost me $801.82!!!
Okay.  Let me step back a piece and give you a bit more information.  The prescription was written by my doctor for a ninety day supply of two doses a day.  So that's 180 doses at $4.85 a dose or $8.91 a day.  That doesn't seem too terribly bad in the grand scheme of things, but a one year supply would cost me $3207.28! Ouch.
This prescription is not for some life saving drug or something that will alleviate great pain or make me a better person.  This is for eye drops to solve my dry eye problem.  Dry eyes.  They are painful and make bright lights no fun at all but really?  After the third person to whom I spoke told me that it didn't matter that I'd never had to pay that much for any drug ever and I was going to have to cough up the shekels, I told her to cancel the order.
Then I called my insurance company.  She barely let me finish telling her my problem before she told me she couldn't help me.  My prescription insurance is handled by the company who fills my prescriptions (to whom I had just had several conversations and who denied knowing anything about anything). 
So I called the company-who-fills-my-prescriptions-and-who-handles-my-Rx-insurance-but-doesn't-know-anything-about-it.  Again.  Finally I got lucky and was connected a woman who had worked for the company for 25 years and didn't care if she was not supposed to stay on the phone with one customer for 2.37 minutes (yes, I made that number up, but you know what I mean).  She listened to my tale, took one look at my file, told me I was being asked to pay 100% of the cost and that it was ridiculous, and said she was going to get to the bottom of the issue.
Right now my case is in the hands of the Customer Service Team, and I should have an outcome tomorrow.
What did I learn?
  1. just because you've never had problems with a company doesn't mean you never will
  2. mergers of one company with another can cause those problems
  3. when companies merge they merge their computer files which may create those problems
  4. customer service representatives are only supposed to stay on the phone with one customer for a very short time - even if they haven't solved a problem
  5. drugs are even more expensive than I thought possible
  6. silly ailments can be costly
  7. if you have a problem, do your due diligence
  8. be persistent
  9. don't accept "I don't know" as an answer - ask for someone who does
  10. keep your humor and your temper but let people know you mean business and they should, too
But can you imagine if I accepted their initial statements as accurate?  So what so people do if they don't know how to advocate for themselves (and, trust me, I'm not a shining example- you should meet Esther!)?  What do they do if they need a drug that they can't afford?  I know there are people out there to help, but what if I didn't know how to help myself and also didn't know how to get help? 
Here's my bottom line.  I won't give up and I won't pay that absurd amount.  There are other drugs that should take care of my problem without costing me over $3000 a year!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Making Room for the Important

Today the class in Young Adult Literature met, but I had to miss it.  Disappointing but necessary.   As executor of his dad's estate, D had to meet with the lawyer today, take care of some loose ends, and meet with the former housekeeper.  He asked me to go with him, and I decided that request was more important than my class.
The situation made me think of a decision I think I've made about the piano.  If you've been reading this blog for a while you may have noticed that I haven't mentioned the piano since last spring/early summer.  That's when the pace of our lives truly began to pick up just with normal activities (only more of them).  Then D's dad began to fail, and the snowball syndrome became the order of the day. 
In November when things began to settle down with the estate, I picked up the pace with my painting, my quilting activities, and my determination to be sure certain quilts and other homemade gifts were completed in time for the holidays.  Now January is well under way, and life is pretty much back to normal.
However, everyday I walk past my piano and give it a speculative eye.  Sometimes I even sit down and play a little.  Somewhere along the way, I had become aware that the absence of my Friday piano lessons from our calendar freed up time for other activities and possibilities.  It was a day without having to be somewhere at a particular time.  The morning was more relaxed.  We didn't have to negotiate the use of our one car or construct how we could handle being in different places at the same time and who would wait for whom.  Then there is the extra hour everyday that had been piano practice time that is now - whatever we want it to be.
As much as I enjoyed the piano and being involved in music, I think I am going to give it up.  I don't play well and never will but the lessons made me improve.  It's a hard thing to do - giving up something you love.  But sometimes something just has to go to make room for other pleasures.  More time to paint.  More time to sew. 
More time to be with D and go with him when he wants my company.  It's really all about what is important, isn't it.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Too Much

Have you ever scheduled things without looking carefully at your calendar?Oh, wait a second; I know to whom I'm writing so of course you do! If the day on the calendar is blank, you cheerfully write down whatever it is you need to schedule.  If you are like me, you do NOT look carefully at the days around the blank one.  You do NOT look to see if you've scheduled 15 three hour sessions with your personal trainer in a row (not happening on my calendar).  You just book another because, hey, the day is available.
Today is Friday and for most of the day I thought it was Monday (which is why I'm writing an entry on a day there's usually no entry).  Today was my third day this week at the same quilt shop, and I will be there on Sunday, too.  Who did this to me?  Little old me.  Two of the three classes/clubs I participat in are monthly occurrences (which don't always happen in the same week - figure that out!).  The third was a class I'd been closed out of at least twice so I wanted to grab it while I could.  Sunday is the once a month class I teach/facilitate. 
Monday I got all my materials ready for painting in the morning and CZQ in the afternoon.  That means that in both classes I neglected to pack something I could have used during the class.  Naturally I tried to create what I needed and was marginally successful.  Oh, and I forgot to pack a lunch.  But Tuesday I did accomplish quite a bit. 
All day last Wednesday (except for the running errands time) I prepared for Thursday's class.  Fortunately D was out of the house so he wasn't able to object that I spent at least eight hour preparing for a 4-hour class.  Okay, it wasn't the instructor's fault.  I actually prepared for the entire project instead of the tiny bit that would be the focus of the class.  Hey, you never know when you might be asked to get something out, and you wouldn't want to be embarrassed now, would you?  The class on Thursday was a success, and I was able to complete all the steps the instructor had planned for us to do.  Now I feel confident about continuing on my own without making avoidable mistakes - at least not all of them!
Thursday night I gathered my wool, found a new project to work on, did the requisite tracing of pattern, tracked down my collection of Valdani Perle cotton embroidery thread, and packed a bag.  I was too tired to cut out all the pieces of wool, but I was able to spend time doing that during class.  Since I'd had a good night's sleep, I didn't have to re-cut anything!
Tonight I started stamping fabric for my new hand-piecing project that I will need to have with me for Sunday's hand-piecing club.  It wouldn't do for the teacher to show up with no hand work to do!  Some time tomorrow, I hope to sew on the borders of the completed project so I can take it in to show, but maybe I'll let myself have a day off.
If I take a day off, does that mean I'll have an empty calendar day that has to be filled?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Crazy Quilt Block and Painting

Well, after some lack of ambition, I finally took some photographs.  And the first ones to show you are of the crazy quilt.  The inner portion of that quilt will be made up of blocks with photographs of women in my family who have passed on their knowledge (especially of sewing and embroidery) and love to me.  The block below is intended to be in one of the outer rows/areas of the whole; it's to be the "here's what you have given me" proof. 

The "whimsy" you see on the right hand side - the carrots and  radish (tomato?) - was a purchased item.  Although I can't remember when or why I bought it, I like it for its unexpected and homely appearance in a crazy quilt. 

This fireworks fabric is one I chose from which I had a bow tie made for D.  I have started embellishing it with french knots and fireworks.  More will be done with that.  At the left hand edge of this particular bit of fabric you can see the multicolored stitches joining it to the next piece of fabric.  The stitches are supposed to look like fireworks, too.

In my stash of odd things, I found a card wrapped with silver rick rack.  It must have come packaged in with something else I bought at some time for some project.  Until recently I never used rick rack.  I liked it all right, but didn't have the right use for it.  This seems to be the perfect place!  The orange Perle cotton (and pale yellow which you can hardly see on the rickrack) serves both to keep the edges secure but to bridge the exuberant orange peony above to the sedate silver silky material below.
That's all I managed to accomplish Tuesday, but I also decided what my major embroidered element will be on this block.  You'll have to wait to see it because it will take time!
And here's the Boat House painting.
This was worked on on Tuesday also (painting in the morning, CZQ in the afternoon).  As I think I said recently, this is close to being finished.  I have some minor work to do here and there and a more lengthy job to do to finish up the trees.   I am feeling happy about this painting now maybe happier than you might feel is warranted.  But you see, I know what I plan to do.  You have to take it at face value, and that's hard.
So that's what has been happening in these areas of my life.  What's happening in yours?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Using my Indoor Voice

Today was a busy day.  Haven't slept well for the last two nights - probably because of too much sleep during my cold.  Up at 5:30 a.m. to drive D to the train station for a NYC business trip.  Errands and work on getting ready for taking a quilt class tomorrow.  Now I'm too tired to write a coherent entry.  I will really try to make up for it tomorrow.
The above was said in my sleepy, slightly ashamed, indoor voice.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Painting and Crazy Quilting

Great day in my world; how was yours?  Were you able to do something that makes your heart sing?  Something that makes you relax?  I hope so because I was able to do two things that make me happy. 
First, it's Tuesday.  That means it's painting day at the studio,  and the painting went well.  Finally, the sun (just coming over the horizon in the painting) is gone.  If I had kept it, the shadows would have destroyed my composition, and the colors would have had to be changed.  Of course, I intensified the colors, anyway, but no one said creativity should be completely logical.  While the painting remains close to being finished there are still things that need to be done.  You'll see.
One valuable lesson learned today?  If you need a new palette, prepare it the night before class.  Otherwise you lose almost half an hour (tubes don't always open easily and one has to use pliers very cautiously so the tube isn't twisted or broken which results in loss of expensive paint and/or holes in tube leading to hardening of paint aka loss of expensive paint).  Once it's set up, the colors one intends to use have to be mixed.  Oops, didn't bring that color?  Too bad.  What else might work?  How about this?  Ugh, no.  That?  Well, in a pinch.  This one?  Okay . . .  It takes time.  I'll make sure to check my palette Monday nights from now on. 
The second great event of the day was the Crazy Quilt Club/Class.  It's been a very long time since I touched this project.  My eyesight and the holidays were my excuses, but there was also the reality that inertia had set in.  I would look at a block and think, "Hmm.  Don't know what to do.  Don't know where to start.  Better find something else to work on."  It's an easy way out.
Today I looked at the block, picked up my needle and thread, and began.  It was wonderful!  Not what I did, but the doing of it.  One of these days I'll follow my own advice and do some kind of hand-sewing every day.  It is such a restful, soothing occupation!
P.S.  Let me apologize for having no photographs to show you today. I simply forgot to take any. Check in tomorrow to see photos of today's activities.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Importance of a Thank You

The quilts that were made this year for the children of a niece and a nephew have been the subjects of several entries, and they are present, albeit indirectly, yet again in this entry. 
Many of you will recognize the feeling of anxiety that accompanies the sending of a precious package.  First, there is the expected sense of loss.  Something that has been worked on for a long time is being almost literally flung to the four winds.  Where exactly is it at any given moment?  Is it lying, neglected, in a corner?  Has it bounced out of a truck and landed at the feet of a hungry omnivore?  Was it sent to the correct address?  Next, there is the fear that it might not be welcomed.  What if they were merely being polite, and they hate whatever art form you have sent?  What if the colors/shapes were all wrong? 
Then the days may pass without a word, and the fears become almost visible and audible.  You picture the gift lying amid crumbled tissue paper still in its box at the back of the junk closet.  You can hear the polite argument, "It's your relative.  You figure out what to write.  Heaven knows, I can't!" 
Then the mailman comes, and there is an envelope with familiar handwriting and/or a familiar return address.  You may hesitate to open it because maybe your fears were right and it's one of those, "Umm, ahh, thank you, mumble mumble" ones.  Open it!  There is nothing as sweet as a well written thank you note.  Unless they are thank you "notes" like the two I received.
First one to arrive was from my niece.  H and her husband own a catamaran and teach people how to dive and take them out on diving adventures in the beautiful waters around Florida.  For their son I made Liquid Assets on the Loose.  When the mailman dropped off a package from H, I was a little confused; it wasn't quite what I expected, and I had a moment of panic.  Did she think she had to send me a gift?
Upon opening the package, I found a cigar box.  A beautiful wooden cigar box complete with real hinges and clasp!  First, I have to explain that my grandfather always had cigar boxes around his work area.  For one of my birthdays, he painted a cigar box with a picture of a rose.  For me, an awkward, chubby, buck-toothed kid.  Then, this year in my painting class, we noticed that our teacher had a number of gorgeous cigar boxes.  Each one held neatly organized art supplies - pastels or fountain pens or water colors in tubes.  For a gift, she gave us each one.  Cigar boxes are awesome.
Anyway, I opened the cigar box from H and found it packed tightly with red tissue paper.  Knowing that meant I should take care, I gently removed layer after layer.  Here's what I found:
The note you see is from H and it's a lovely thank you note.  Behind that note is a another one in which H wrote that the shells were some favorites from her son.  Wow, what a treasure!  Thank you, H, C, and G!
Now I have to admit that I did what I consider a terrible thing.  It seemed as though a lot of time had passed, and I hadn't heard from my nephew's family so I e-mailed him (gasp!) to inquire if they had indeed received the package (yes, UPS had delivered it, but maybe a passer-by thought, "Hey, Christmas goodies!" and had absconded with it).  Poor A emailed me very quickly to reassure me.  The package made it (even though I think I had the wrong address after all).
Not too long afterward, I received an envelope from K, his wife.  In it were two photos, one of each little girl on her own quilt (one had both girls) and a DVD disk with a brief thank you written on one side and instructions on the other side.  Bless their hearts, they had filmed their older daughter unwrapping her quilt.  What a delight!!!  The part I liked best was when she dragged the quilt off to her room at the end.  Everyone in the family was there as this was filmed, and we could hear them all and their comments very clearly.  Whew, how original and how very meaningful to us! 
It makes me sad to think that many people today think an e-mail thank you is enough or a card with one or two sentences (sometimes without specifically mentioning the gift!) will do the job.  Those people don't realize the gifts my family sent me.  Those people should see how many times I have looked at those special seashells that my great nephew probably picked up on the beach himself and chose to send to me.  Or how many times I have smiled at and touched the two photographs of my great nieces.  Or read H's note.  Or watched the DVD.  Or smiled at the cigar box. 
Now those were genuine thank you notes! 

Sunday, January 6, 2013


It's funny how things turn out sometimes, isn't it?  Here I was all set to write a blog on a totally different subject, but on my way upstairs, all I could think about was the pillowcases I made today.

After feeling like wet mud for the last six days, today I felt like myself (and nothing like mud at all!).  It may not seem like a very big thing, and indeed, it isn't in the grand scheme of things, but in the small everyday scheme of my things?  It was large.   It's a good thing that I did feel well as today is laundry day, and it did get done, hallelujah.  Even though I painted yesterday (more on that in another entry), that was only 2 - 3 hours, and after that I was feeling quite run down. 

Today, I had energy all day and that meant tackling a new sewing project.  I knew enough to take on a very do-able, small project and not thwart my ambitions with a king-sized quilt or something similarly grandiose.  Pillowcases, especially sewing them in the new tube way (I hope you've tried that; it's incredible!), are fast, easy, and almost fool-proof.  Thanks to Mardi who shared a little about the pillowcases we all made for the Newtown survivors, that activity was in the forefront of my brain.  Also, having made a pair for our bed for Christmas helped.

My plan was to make a pair of winter cases, but the fabric for the second pair of holiday-themed ones was on top of the pile so that's what I made.
Here is the first set I made before Christmas:

The print for the body of the pillowcase is the addresses for envelopes with stamps and the cuff is a gathering of writing materials for the holidays.

The second pair I made today are these:

The body for this pair is white (not cream) percale which has such a lovely hand.  Since the cuff fabric was not as wide as I like, I added the same red I used for the piping ( Fusion fabric for these cases) to the bottom of the cuff.  It looks quite festive, don't you think?
So, okay, what's the big deal?  If you are currently feeling under the weather with the kind of cold I (and ME) had, you may feel that you will never get your stamina back.  Or, even worse, you may feel it's age that is making you so unable to do even the simplest task.  Well, okay, so maybe age does have something, a very small something, to do with it.  But the point is, you will be feeling better soon.  You will be able to get your "groove" back.  Illness does not last forever for the majority of us.  So sit back, relax, let family and friends do for you what you usually do for them.  Enjoy it as much as you can.  Soon enough you will be doing what you love best just as I painted and sewed.  Sometimes we lose sight of that while in the throes of illness, sorrow, pain, job, worries . . .
You will find your zest for life as big and wonderful as it ever was eventually.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Left-over Chocolate

Sounds impossible, doesn't it?  Left-over chocolate?  Like that's possible?
Believe it or not, after my chocolate candy making frenzy just before Christmas, I wound up with two small Pyrex bowls of melted chocolate.  Into the refrigerator they went with a "think about you later" kiss.  Today turned out to be the "later" when D turned to me and asked if I was going to do something with that chocolate.
"Oh yes," I replied.  "Indeed, I planned to take care of that today."  Okay, so it was a little white lie.  I had planned to do something with the chocolate, and I did plan to do something today.  I just hadn't put those two thoughts into the same sentence at the same time in the same breath.  Until he asked, of course.
So I turned on the oven, gathered my baking tools, and searched for all the ingredients I thought I might use.  Then I stood and stared at those two Pyrex bowls of solid chocolate lakes.  Have you ever tried to remove re-solidified chocolate from a container without breaking the container?  I wouldn't have minded losing a Pyrex bowl or two (they don't fit in our new dishwasher and 9 times out of 10 they roll onto their backs and collect twice their capacity in water which I invariably spill down my front when I unload said dishwasher), but D likes those bowls.  Anyway, there are easier ways to do it, but I did get the chocolate out with even a crack in either bowl.  I added the Toll House morsels that were still in recognizable state and went on from there.
Cutting this story short, we wound up with tasty chocolate cranberry cookies.  They are chewy the way we like cookies and the taste is quite nice.  Their appearance, however, leaves something to be desired.  First the chocolate.  The cookies look more chocolate streaked than your typical chocolate chip cookies.  Second, I had softened the dried cranberries with hot water (I hate dried fruit - don't even think about raisins! - in cookies because it simply gets harder during the baking).  While that made the cranberries soft, it took away their recognizable shape (raisins do hold on to their wrinkled shape even after my hot water treatment though they do lose their teeth-breaking edge, thank goodness).  Cranberries are by nature a more yielding fruit, I guess.
Anyway, the cookies are tasty but not pretty.  There is a use for left-over melted chocolate, after all - but you knew that all the time, didn't you!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Snow: Birds and Landscapes

This morning I managed to do some de-cluttering in the vicinity of my desk.  That led to going through more magazines and tearing out what I thought was promising and throwing away the rest.  And that led to cutting old computer print-outs (printed on one side only) into quarters for our home-made notepads (bound with rubber bands - some recycled from vegetables).  I don't win any stars for recycling as much as I should, but I do try to do as much as we can tolerate.  That little bit tired me out; it's terrible how much a simple cold can lay one flat!  If I were still working, of course I would be going in to school (and spreading germs all over with abandon), but since I don't have to, I find myself giving in and allowing myself to take it easy.
As I was occupied with taking it easy, I thought of the many things I had planned to do these first few weeks of January.  My hand-pieced churn dash sampler blocks have been machine sewn together and are waiting for a few simple borders.  They continue to wait.  A project started aeons ago that I call Beach Cabanas needs only one more simple block before it can be sewn together.  It continues to wait.  Four new pillowcases for which the material has been washed are waiting to be made.  We will continue to live without them.  My pen and ink snow sketches that I wanted to work on and possibly learn how to draw snow?  They sit idly in my mind.
But I do have a few photos to share from the heavy snow we had last week.

Looking into the woods past a birdhouse and D's hop poles (on the right).

Looking at how the snow covers the tops of the branches pulling them down and how the needle fan out like a tapestry.  Against a white background of more snow, how do you draw that?

Such graceful branches with whippets of branches leaping back as if to avoid the cold or show off their youthful suppleness.  See how the snow covers some parts of the branches while leaving some other sections bare?  Again, how can I portray the weight of the snow that bows some branches while showing the dusting on the facing edge of the upright twiglets?

This is a photo I love although I know it's not very good; a professional would have know how to capture this scene of cardinal on the ground and the squirrel on the park bench.  If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you'll see the gleam in the squirrel's eye that shows where he is.

Cardinal, house finch, and two squirrels looking for dropped seeds beneath the bird feeders.

Cardinal in the forsythia bush; who can resist that splash of color in a winter landscape?

Red-tailed hawk on the ground under the spruce trees at the back of our property.  He caught some little critter and was enjoying his meal.  It's his nature so I didn't disturb him (the critter was already dead) and took this picture from inside the house through the window.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy 2013!

I said I would return with the new year, and although I am writing, it won't be a long entry.  With the new year came a new cold, and I am feeling logy and stuffed up.

So as a lift to my spirits, I am going to post a catalogue of the gifts I made for this Christmas - some of which I could not show you.

First the quilts:
Night in the Fairy Garden

Day in the Fairy Garden
Liquid Assets on the Loose

Rebecca's "Josephine's Knot" (which was a total surprise - she had no idea she would receive a quilt;  I talked so much about all the others I was making and she just thought - "Oh well, not this year!)
Then the "smalls" with pillows first:
Nancy's "Naples Tea Party"

Alice's "Park Bench" (she told me she'd like a pillow with one of my winter photographs)
And finally, the garments:

David's flannel nightshirt

Jean's holiday apron
Next year?  Will I be making gifts for Christmas?  No, absolutely none, nada, zilch.
Well . . .