Wednesday, October 29, 2014

For Sale: Tomorrow (As Is, No Guarantees)

About this time five years ago, 25th wedding anniversary looming, I forwarded the husband an email I'd gotten from Icelandair hyping watching the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) in Iceland with the text "25th anniversary?" I was actually a bit surprised when he readily agreed, but then he'd heard many times in the preceding 25 years that seeing the aurora from Iceland was high on my dream list. We did go to Iceland, and we did see the aurora from northern Iceland, which you can see and read about here. The posts before and after describe the rest of the trip.

With our 30th anniversary looming, the husband and I were talking about a return trip possibly with a bit more time in the north. At the same time, I kept seeing ads from Hurtigruten, the company that does the mailboat run up the Norwegian coast. When one of those ads touted a cruise in search of the aurora, I bit. Cruising north from Bergen to Tromso or south from Tromso to Bergen, crossing the Arctic Circle in one direction or the other, all the while with chances to see the aurora every night looked pretty good to me. I also figured that a cruise might offer some of the same feel that riding the Indian Pacific across Australia did. When the husband came back from running errands one Saturday, I asked how he would feel about spending a sum of money somewhat higher than the one we'd talked about spending to go to Iceland.

We discussed it back and forth over the next couple of days, going back and forth. Each trip had its plusses and minuses. I raised the question of the cost given that we did spend three weeks in Australia less than six months ago. The husband countered that Australia was in 2014; Norway could be our big adventure for 2015. In Iceland, we could pick up more yarn for the Icelandic sweaters I made that get complimented whenever we wear them. In Norway, we could make a stop in Trondheim, where the husband's cousin lives. By the end of the week, we'd booked Norway with a scenic train ride from Oslo to Bergen added because why not. The details of the cruise are here.

A bit more than two years ago, the wife of one of the husband's colleagues was diagnosed with a brain tumor. One day she was having trouble reading the crossword puzzles she'd always read easily; the next thing anyone knew it was because of the tumor. She passed away last week. Occasionally over the last two years my husband and hers had talked about the plans they had made for after he retired, the places they would go, the things they would do. They won't take those trips or have those adventures. Even before Scarlett O'Hara went with the wind, we've held that tomorrow is another day. It certainly is, but it comes as is, with no guarantees of what it might hold.

If we don't make it to Norway in February, it won't be for lack of trying.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Some of These Days

The "Which 80's TV Girl Are You" meme popped up in my Facebook feed today. Having nothing better to do in the next five minutes, I took the quiz. I was somewhat surprised both at the result and how much I immediately felt "I needed that."

Holy Invisible Jet, You're Wonder Woman! The quintessential female superhero, you are the embodiment of truth, justice, and above all else - Hope. Life may seem like a struggle between your "real" self and the standards the world holds you to, but if anyone is capable of striking a balance while simultaneously inspiring others to do the same - its you. You are a protector, a guardian, and a respected sentry of empowerment who sets her standards high and expects others to do the same.

Some days are easier than others, and today has been one of the less-than-easy-though-not-totally-devastating ones. I'm still struggling with not being able to do some things myself. I ask the husband each morning to tie my athletic shoes so that I can have a reasonable amount of arch support while walking the dog during the day. At some point though, like now, in the late afternoon, I'd love to slip my shoes off all the better to take a nap, my dear. Alas, if I take them off, I can't get them re-tied when the dog needs her early evening perambulation. Only after that can I release the feet with reasonable certainty that I won't be walking anywhere but around the house. 

The not-so-easy days often follow the nights in which I don't sleep at all well. While I did sleep all right last night, the couple before that were less than restful. I may be hung over from those. Or perhaps it's not being able to do any of the activities with which I would normally fill a free afternoon. I can read, but I'm actually getting somewhat tired of that. It's no longer the treat it used to be when I can pretty much do it any time after I finish any job work I need to do. I'm getting tired, too, of trying to teach myself to write legibly left-handed. The thrill of that faded quite quickly.

The fact that I am filling some time writing this is a positive step. I've thought on more than one day, "Hey, self, that would make a good blog post." And then I start to get the I-shouldn't-be-writing-when-it's-just-a-blog-and-I-have-other-more-important-things-to-do feelings that aren't really valid right now. Or, I start to think of what I would write and, in my less-than-amused state decide I can't write well enough to do it justice. Those feelings are actually funny--at least they've got me smiling right now--since it's not as if I'm writing for a grade or any other type of reward.

Logically, the downside feelings are probably my body's way of telling me not to do too many things or not to do what I do too intensely. Actually being able to nap in the afternoon suggests that my body will do just about anything to get the rest it needs. I think I'll give that a try now even with shoes still on. And having actually written something I shall post suggests I should do this more often now, while the more important other things I could be doing are really only in my imagination.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Random Thoughts, Interrupted

I am not good at asking people for help. I don’t think I ever got or would have gotten a plus, satisfactory, other positive grade in the “works well with others” category. I especially hated group projects, meaning it is a good thing that I aged out of the formal educational system before group projects became all the rage. I often said that Lightner’s First Law is “if you want it done right, do it alone,” an attitude I suspect I inherited from my Dad.

I have at times been encouraged to ask for help when or if I need it. The husband has often so encouraged me. When he does, I remind him of one time when I did ask him to help with something. His brother was there with him, and the two of them laughed at me and made fun of me for wanting help. I’m not sure he remembers doing it, but he does admit that it could have happened.

I have been, since the whole rotator cuff town 80 percent of the way through issue arose, trying to ask for help more. It may be a women from one planet, men from another case, but I somewhat think that if I thank someone for doing something or ask someone to help me with something that the next time I’m doing it, I won’t have to ask for help again. It was hard enough to ask the first time, for pete’s sake; don’t make me do it again.

And so, in the time leading up to Monday’s surgery, I have more than occasionally done something that I probably should not have. But the dishes aren’t going to put themselves away up on the top shelf, and I can do it one-handed with my left hand. Or so I think. I haven’t broken anything yet, but that might be coming. The laundry basket won’t take itself to or from laundry room in the basement. I can drag it down the steps behind me, but that doesn’t work as well on the way back upstairs. Fortunately, nothing I have done in this regard appears to have done more damage to the shoulder. And perhaps when the right arm is locked into place and not to be moved, help might be offered before I need it.

I am also not good at sitting or otherwise not doing anything in terms of a workout. The husband seems to think I should rest one day each week, but even that makes me feel somewhat guilty. Since the surgeon told me that I should not be working out given how little it would take to tear the remaiming 20 percent, I have not worked out other than walking the dog, which I don’t think counts since she’s not a large dog. As a result, I am getting quite cranky.

It also makes me cranky that I can’t seem to get a blog post written in one sitting, meaning that I lose the mood or my train of thought. I think I shall post this now and be done with it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Burdens to (My) Shoulder

In early July, I left a karate class with a slightly sore shoulder. I had been something of a crash test dummy that day in the demonstration of a certain technique (knife defense number 5, to be precise). Said technique involved my right forearm being somewhat immobilized as I fell backwards around to the right with my shoulder acting as something of a pivot point. That's a lousy description, I know, so let's just say that my right shoulder got more of a workout than it usually does. The next day was push-up day at SEAL Team Physical Training, meaning we did 200 push-ups in the course of an hour workout. Everything felt fine during the workout, but my right shoulder remained a bit sore after, a bit more sore than it had been before the workout. The day after that, I again did the full workout including push-ups. Again, everything felt fine as I was doing the exercises, but the shoulder soreness after had increased noticeably.

After workout the next day, I asked a retired orthopedist for a parking lot consult on my shoulder soreness. He had me press against his hands in various directions and had me move it in various directions to the point of pain. He said it seemed like something called impingement. He didn't think it was a rotator cuff problem given the strength I showed pressing against his hands. He said to rest it and if it wasn't better in a week or two, to have it checked further.

As it turned out, I was seeing my own doctor the following week for the old annual physical. By then, my right shoulder was sore all the time with random stabs of sharp pain as something "popped" or seemed to move inside it. My doctor did pretty much the same things the other doctor had done and said I should get an appointment in the sports medicine clinic. She also said it didn't seem to be a rotator cuff issue given my strength. Have you guessed where this is heading yet?

I was lucky enough to get an appointment in sports medicine two days later, at which I saw a physician's assistant and had x-rays done. Nothing looked amiss on those. After pretty much the same exam I'd had twice already, the PA said she didn't think it was a rotator cuff issue but the bursa or a tendon might be inflamed. She gave me a cortisone shot into the bursa and told me that if things didn't feel better in several days to check back about having a cortisone injection done into the joint itself, using imaging to ensure the cortisone went into the proper place.

The first cortisone injection had no effect, and neither did the second one. Several days of doing a series of physical-therapy-like exercises actually made the shoulder feel worse. The next step was an MRI, the results of which showed--you guessed it--that my right rotator cuff is torn. Well, two of the four tendons that make up the rotator cuff are torn about 80 percent through in a tear that is almost an inch long. My labrum is also torn, but I have no idea what the labrum does. What I do know is that it aches more every day and the popping-stabby thing is happening a bit more often. There's a bit of soreness in the shoulder even when it is totally at rest.

So, I'm seeing an orthopedic surgeon this week with the very real possibility that sometime after that I'll be having shoulder surgery that will limit just what I can do for a while. I know three martial arts instructors who have had this surgery, two of them in the past year. I'm probably looking at four to six weeks in a sling with limited movement. Getting back to what passes for normal may take six months. I must not skimp on the physical therapy or take on new things too quickly. As inconvenient as that sounds, I just want to get rid of the pain. It is surprising what movements of one's body are reflected in the shoulders. I can't reach up--or down--without pain.

I obviously have no idea whether the surgeon will suggest fixing it right away or later down the road. Personally, I'd like to start on the fixing and recovery process as soon as possible. Pain is quite tiring. The husband was planning to go to a meeting in Philadelphia next week, meaning there is no way I could have surgery that soon. Instead, I'm going with him so that we get some "couple" time before anything happens.

In the meantime, I think sticking with walking or stationary cycling is the limit. I made it through about 15 minutes of this morning's workout before I stopped and just walked for the rest of the hour. Every little thing was making the ache worse. Walking, I was almost able to keep the shoulder from moving at all, which kept the pain down to a reasonable level.

Stay tuned for details, though if I forget to post an update before any surgery, well, it will be a short update, typed with the fingers on my left hand. Expect typos.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Quilt Lessons for Life

I recently put up a post about the making of a t-shirt quilt. Today I delivered the one I was working on when I published that post. It came from t-shirts from the family camp held at Maine's Winona Camps after its summer camp ends. The client wanted it to take to camp for the bed in their cabin. The mood of this quilt was quite different from what I usually do, but then I wasn't making this for me. Don't they say that the customer, or, here, client is always right. She wanted the shirts to be set on a burgundy, one of the camp's colors, background, and she wanted it to be around full- or double-bed size. Since I only had nine shirts with which to work, that meant lots of "empty" background space. It was a bit disconcerting at first, but by the time I had finished the quilting and was adding the binding around the edges, it hit me how perfectly suited this would be for use in a cabin. What do you think?

If you know me and my quilting, you know that this is a departure from what I usually do. I usually don't think in monochromatic terms, nor do I usually include large areas of "empty," but those are what makes this quilt really work. Different can work, and it sometimes may be the only thing that works. I try to learn something with each quilt I make, and the lesson here is to trust someone else's instinct because, yes, the customer is always right.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Thoughts on the Passing of Another Year

Having a birthday six months away from the start of each year means that I somewhat compulsively look at any New Year's resolutions I made for that year and consider whether I'm doing what I resolved. My resolutions of six months ago were not that specific, as seen here and here.

In terms of the first one of those, have I made some art, dreamed dangerously a time or more, and made some epic mistakes? I'd like to think so. I know I've made some epic mistakes, but who hasn't. I've definitely opened my mouth more than once and inserted my foot, at times both of them. I should perhaps try to live the sentiment I found on a friend's blog a while back: Don't make the same mistake twice or you won't have time to make them all. When it comes right down to it, a perfect life would get boring pretty quickly. I've definitely dreamed some dreams, some bigger than others and some which might be looked at askance by some people. Some might even come true. Finally, I've definitely made some art. Anyone who knows me knows that I do that as often as I can.

In terms of the second one, have I lived the life I imagined? I have, at least in some respects, though the life I imagined has been a different one at different points in that life. As I sat in the husband's arms in an underground bar in Coober Pedy, South Australia, in May, listening to oldies and sipping some local brews, it occurred to me that the life I'm living is probably better than any I have imagined along the way. It was one of those transcendent moments where time almost seemed to stand still and all was right with my world.

My brother turned 60 a month ago and has pointed out that my turn is coming in two years. He lives in Maine, so he marked his 60th by climbing Mt. Katahdin at the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. I suppose I shall have to give thought to how I might mark mine. As for my 58th tomorrow, I have no real plans. There will be birthday push-ups at SEAL Team PT, more than some people might like. I do not expect much hoopla at home given that younger son is coming down on the weekend meaning hoopla may arise then. Older son has suggested that I might want to make a honeyed apple pie in place of a birthday cake given that he is doing a nutrition challenge in which he cannot eat any processed sugar. I think what he meant to say is that if I tell him, his brother, or the husband how to make one, then one of them will make it. I can draw the line at baking my own birthday treat, can't I?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The How and Why of T-Shirt Quilts

After I posted the following status on Facebook, I got several requests for some how-tos of making a quilt out of t-shirts:
I have all the t-shirt emblems for the next t-shirt quilt stabilized and ready for piecing into quilt squares. Given that this is the 6th t-shirt quilt I've done in the last 2.5 years, I'm starting to get a rhythm down.
This post is my attempt at an answer, which is the "how" part of the post. But first, the "why."

A much more experienced quilter, upon hearing that I was making my first t-shirt quilt, informed me that it would also be my last, that no one makes more than one. So what am I doing making my sixth one (none of which have been for me)? I think (and hope) that I'm helping preserve some memories that might otherwise be lost. Someday I do hope to make a couple for the sons from the boxes of old t-shirts I have packed away for just that purpose. If they're not interested in having a quilt made of some of the very special childhood t-shirts, well, their mom the maker of it would appreciate it.

So, on to the "how." Since I didn't start on this post until after I'd done a bit on the latest quilt and I don't want to put the post out bit by bit as I make the latest quilt, the photos will be from several different quilt efforts. Step one should be obvious. Find the t-shirts you want to use. Make sure you notice if there are designs in more than one place.

This shirt, a duplicate of one in the current quilt, has designs on both the back and front. Sometimes there's a design on a sleeve. Wash and dry the shirts without using any form of fabric softener. Yes, there will be some static cling, but that's better than the invisible coating the softener will leave that will complicate a later step.

After assembling or being given the shirts to be used, I measure the designs, noting the height and width of each design.

Use this information to help determine the size of the blocks. I like to leave at least one inch around each side of the design. I also don't mind having blocks of different sizes, though your mileage may vary. Besides doodling designs on graph paper, there's always the cereal box design tool.

You may already know the size the finished quilt will be, or you may be playing it by ear. The measurements of the designs will help determine the size of your blocks. The current quilt (a commission) will be approximately double or full sized or 54 by 75 inches. For the current quilt, I decided to consider large blocks for the large designs as shown above and smaller blocks for the small designs. The large blocks will be 15 by 15 inches finished (as they will appear in the quilt; there will be 1/4 inch on each side that will be sewn into the seam); the small ones will be half that or 7.5 by 7.5 inches finished. If you have too many shirts, you may have to cull them or make more than one quilt. For the current quilt, I had nine shirts, and ended up with the following arrangement.

Using the 15 and 7.5 inch blocks will give a final size of 60 by 75 inches, which is close enough to double size.

While I'm using blocks of two sizes for this quilt, it's certainly possible to have all the blocks the same size as in the most recent quilt made of music festival t-shirts.

It's also possible to have blocks of more than two or even three sizes.

For these two quilts, I wanted to use something from every shirt I had been given. In order to accommodate all the varying sizes of designs, I had to have several different sizes. To keep things a bit simple, each size was a multiple of three in one direction.

You might notice in the above two quilts and the festival quilt, the blocks are oriented differently. I expected that the two quilts above would be used to sit under when reading or thrown on the back of a couch, rather than displayed as in hung on a wall. I oriented the designs so that no matter what side is the "bottom," there's always at least one design that is right-side-up. The person commissioning the festival shirt asked that all the designs be oriented in the same direction.

Once you've figured out how large the blocks will be, it's time to start prepping the t-shirt designs. I start by carefully cutting the t-shirt apart, leaving plenty of plain shirt around the design. Remember the shirt with large and small designs shown above? Here are the pieces I cut from its duplicate.

I left several inches around each design meaning that I can easily cut a one-inch border around the printed design. I can even cut a bit more should I decide that would look better.

The next step is to stabilize the designs. T-shirts are stretchy, and stretchy does not work well in a quilt. Medium-weight fusible interfacing works well for stabilizing the stretch. For the current quilt, I'm using Pellon SF101 Shape-Flex All-Purpose Woven Fusible Interfacing. Just follow the directions in terms of fusing. And remember way back when I mentioned laundering the shirts without using any fabric softener? The fusible interfacing won't fuse as well if there's a coating on fabric softener on the shirts.

With the designs flipped over, it's easy to see just how close to the edges I went with the fusible interfacing.

I am now at the point where I no longer have photos either of the current quilt or past ones in terms of the construction process, so I'll see if I can explain it in words. If you have not yet decided on a fabric to go around the t-shirt designs, you need to choose one now. Whatever you choose, pre-wash it, a step I normally do not do but will for t-shirt quilts. Since the shirts have all been pre-washed, they will no longer shrink when washed. If they're not going to shrink, I don't want the fabric around them to shrink.

Next, I cut each design into what will appear in the quilt. For me, this means cutting a rectangle one inch larger on each side than the shirt design is. I then add borders of a size that will let me cut a square of the size needed. For the current quilt, I will be cutting large squares to 15.5 inches and small ones to 8 inches. If I'm not sure I have enough of the surrounding fabric, I will get compulsive and measure each design piece and then carefully figuring how wide the border strips need to be and leave just a smidgen to be trimmed off when I cut the blocks square. If I know I have plenty of the fabric, I take the easy way out and sew on borders that I know will be too large but that will make it easy to square things up and cut the piece that will be sewn into the quilt top.

Note: When pressing seams or anything else on the quilt, be very careful not to run your iron over the front of a design. You risk gumming up your iron but worse, ruining that block of the quilt.

Once all the designs have been incorporated into blocks, sew those blocks together. Add a border or borders as desired in terms of the final size of the quilt. Small blocks can be incorporated into the border.

I'm going to assume that if you asked me for something resembling directions for a t-shirt quilt, it's the t-shirt part that's of interest. Layer your t-shirt top with a backing fabric and batting. Pin or baste together as you prefer. (If you need an explanation of this, let me know, and I'll send one privately.)

I have read directions for and seen t-shirt quilts that are tied at the corners of each block. I have also seen t-shirt quilts with quilting only on the fabric that lies between and around the t-shirt pieces. I do much more; I machine quilt my t-shirt quilts in between and all over the t-shirt pieces. First, I stabilize things by quilting in the ditch on all the seams holding rows of shirt pieces together. Then I stabilize things further by quilting in the ditch around the outside of each t-shirt piece within each block. The next part is what I find the most fun--making each t-shirt design stand out by how it's quilted. Sometimes I just follow the lines in the t-shirt design.

Here, besides quilting 1/4 on an inch in from the border fabric, I've also sewn on all the lines in the figure's pants and shirt not to mention the detail in his shoes, hands, and head. Sometimes I also quilt around the figure in the design.

Once I've quilted all the t-shirt pieces, I add whatever quilting I like in the borders around each piece and the borders of the quilt itself. Bind the layers together, and you have a treasury of memories to keep you or someone special warm or just to warm your or their heart.

I hope this gives those who asked for more information enough to get started. If you do, I'm open to questions along the way. I am by no means an expert at quilting in general or t-shirt quilts in particular, but I've also only gotten one complaint about one of my quilts and since it was not from the recipient of that quilt, I don't think it matters. What matters is what the recipient thinks. If they love it, well, that's good enough for me.