Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Wonderland, Day Two

It did finally stop snowing last night, and we've probably got around two feet on the ground here. It's deeper in some spots than others, but here's an idea of how deep it was in our backyard. Here's what the front of the house looked like this morning. Here's a look across our back yard and out over the neighboring pasture. And this is from the top of our driveway, looking up the road, which wasn't plowed until just before noon today. Here are a few more random shots I took around here today.

Once the road got plowed, the sons got to work trying to create a monster mountain of snow in which they could excavate tunnels and more. And once the mound of snow was done, what better to do than jump off it?

The sons are hoping that the top and sides of the mound will be frozen over enough tomorrow that they can start tunneling in. They did this more than a few years ago, when they were in elementary school, and have been waiting for a chance to do it again. In that respect, this snow couldn't have come at a better time.

With the road's having been plowed, we should be able to get out and about a bit tomorrow. The dog has an appointment with the vet, and younger son has to drop a writing portfolio off at the university. The gym is supposed to open late tomorrow, so we're hoping to be able to make it to one last kendo class before Christmas. Speaking of Christmas, we could be having more of the white stuff falling then. If that happens, I just hope it's fluffy white stuff as this was and not the wet, slippery white stuff this might have been.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Winter Wanders In

Winter doesn't officially start until tomorrow, but if you've watched the national news today, you've seen that it's already made an entrance here. In fact, CNN was using footage from here, Charlottesville, VA, to accompany one of their stories this morning. I'll spare you the long story of our trip home last night except to say that I had the very good sense to (1) marry a Canadian and (2) have a midlife crisis that involved purchasing a four-wheel drive vehicle (a Honda Element) rather than a sports car. I also had the good sense to heed the forecasts and do my normal Saturday grocery shopping Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. The last semi-official measurement here at my house (using one of my long quilting rulers) was 22 inches; other places in the area have reported over 30 inches. The measurement here was taken about five hours ago and ... drum roll ... it's still snowing. The winter storm warning doesn't end until tomorrow morning. While we made it back last night, late last night, it's not clear when we'll make it out again. The husband tried to get out today to respond to a call for four-wheel-drive vehicles to help get medical personnel to and from the hospitals, but the snow on the subdivision road was too deep. He said the front of the Element just piled it up until he could no longer plow through it. Four-wheel drive or not, it looks as though we're not going anywhere until someone plows the subdivision, which won't happen until the snow stops falling at the earliest.

Here's some shots, most of which I will admit to having taken through windows. I did take a couple shots outside but didn't want the camera to get too wet. Here's a series looking out our back door to the deck. I took the first one last night, around midnight, and the others at various points throughout today. Since I took them through the window on the door, there's a reflection of the living room in the background, especially in the first one.

Some other random shots. See the large rectangular pile of snow here? That's my mom's Saturn station wagon after the snow creeping down along the side met the snow piling up from the driveway. Here's the heat pump masquerading as a conehead, though the costume didn't last for long.
That's older son doing the honors. He also helped keep the front porch stocked with firewood. Older son also saw to it that the resident canine, a German shepherd-corgi-chow mix, got a walk even if it meant blazing a trail for him through the snow. There's a good chance that at least some of the snow will still be around for Christmas. And the long-range forecast has the possibility of more snow coming Christmas Eve into Christmas Day. That would be a major thrill because, needless to say, we don't get many white Christmases here in Central Virginia. Fingers crossed, and I'll try to let you know if we get one.

A Few Creative Bits and Pieces

Time to tie up a couple of loose ends on the creative front. I mentioned a while back making a muff for a friend out of yarn she had spun and dyed using natural dyes. I finished the muff and had so much yarn left that I decided to make a matching hat ... and not just any hat, but an absurdly long hat. I actually still have enough yarn left to do something else but draw the line at knitting mittens or gloves. If there were enough yarn left for leg warmers, I'd probably do those, but I don't think there's quite enough. Here's the muff and hat; the back of the recliner should give a reference for the length of the hat. I can't recall if I mentioned making purses out of bras here; I know I mentioned it in a quilting e-mail group to which I belong. I've made two of these and have the makings for more thanks to a stop at the local SPCA's rummage store. Here are a couple of photos of the first one I made.
I try to use as much of the bra as I can. On this one, the handle is made out of the bra straps. The only things that didn't come from the bra are the flower embellishments and the snaps that hold the top shut. On the other one I made, out of a pink bra, I actually used the hooks and eyes from the back of the bra to hold the top shut. I made that one for the woman I partnered with at the black belt test, finishing it the day before the test, and forgetting to photograph it before I wrapped it.

Finally, I can't recall if I've mentioned my making earrings out of rabies tags here, but I designed a special pair for Christmas--two green bells and one red heart for each ear. They were quite the hit at my office's Christmas party, though no one noticed them at all at the husband's office party. Or perhaps the physicists at the husband's party were just two stunned to ask about them. Here they are, in situ and in a close-up.
The current creative endeavors include a shawl that I'm making out of a yarn I ordered from New Zealand. It's 60 percent wool and 40 percent New Zealand possum. I also hit the Christmas open house at my friendly neighborhood sheep farm last weekend and was drawn to some incredibly bright orange wool. I've started knitting that into a raglan-sleeved sweater that I hope to finish in time to wear this winter. And speaking of winter, the post I'm planning to do tonight will show its rather dramatic entrance just a couple of days ahead of its official Solstice start.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Not to mention, the days! Here it is the middle of December, and my last post was on Halloween. Bad blogger, Jean! Bad!

I at least have good excuses for several of the periods of silence. This time of year, I normally work gainfully for only a few hours each week; however, with the departure of another staff member at my university office, I took on responsibility for responses to surveys from all the various and sundry college guides. As a result, I've worked a bit more than halftime for the last several weeks. The increased paychecks are certainly nice this time of year: Besides Christmas, spring tuition, room, and board are due for younger son in early January, not to mention the annual car insurance premium due at the middle of the month.

In terms of my silence in November, I offer this photo as defense exhibit 1. That's me on the left with the blurred hand. I have a black and white version of this photo but am using the color one so that there's no confusion over the color of the belts these folks are wearing. Yes, they're black. The annual Myo Sim black belt rank exam was on November 21, and I was one of the four people testing for first-degree black belt in Myo Sim kendo. In practical terms, this meant that I spent the fall being in the dojo practicing either kendo or karate for two to three hours every weeknight as well as every Sunday morning for three to four hours. Saturday was my "day off," on which I only did a half hour or so of cardio. This level of training was not a mandated one, but one I chose in order to be as prepared as possible for the test. If you zoom in on the photo and look at the faces, you'll probably notice some wrinkles in my face that aren't there in the faces of the other three people. Their combined ages totaled only about seven years over my own, singular age. I figured that what I lacked in age, I could make up for in preparation. I think it worked.

I have to admit that getting my black belt probably was a bigger accomplishment to me than even getting my PhD; I at least had much more of a rush after the black belt exam than I did after my doctoral orals. I didn't cry tears of sheer happiness then, but I did after I went through the line of master instructors and got my certificate and belt. When I started grad school and throughout it, earning the PhD was something I almost took for granted. I'd always done well at academic work; why wouldn't I finish it? When I started studying kendo almost four years ago, I wasn't even thinking about a black belt someday. Only after I got my brown belt did it really start seeming like a possibility. I did not, however, expect to be invited to test this year after being gone for two months on the Grand Adventure to Hue and back. I came back from the trip thinking that I would not be considered for the black belt exam but that if I was told I would be considered then I would do everything I could to be at the needed level. From the point at which I was told that I was under consideration for the exam, I worked my butt off. I ended up being invited to test, and although all four of us made various mistakes on the exam, I don't think I was by any means the weak link among the four who tested.

I should also note that, at the same black belt rank exam, older son tested for and earned his third-degree black belt in Myo Sim kendo. He's not big on being praised for such things, though, so I won't say too much more here. I will say, though, that I felt much more comfortable with his being "on stage" along with me at the exam. Having been through several black belt exams, he was able to give me the insight scoop on what to expect, which really helped me feel ready when the exam rolled around.

Finally, to catch up on a loose end from my earlier posts, the cabin quilt, Sibling Revelry, made it to Norway via the husband's early November trip to Sweden. I put a note on the outside of the box that held the quilt asking them not to open the box until they were together at the cabin. They did, and sent this photo along with their thank you. They're standing on the porch of the sauna house. In the image I made for the quilt, the white diagonal on the left side of the cabin is actually one side of the roof of the sauna house. The man to the left behind the quilt is one of the brothers for whom the quilt was made. Needless to say, they really loved it and said that they will give it a place of honor in the cabin. It makes me very happy to see my quilt babies go out into the world into good homes, hands, and hearts.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


I just realized that my most recent post was on 1 October, and here we are at Halloween. Time flies, I guess, when one is busy. There was much I could have blogged about in terms of my quilt-making to build on the previous Creative Process posts. If I had, though, the quilt in question, "Sibling Revelry," might not now be in a suitcase on board a plane and bound, eventually, for Lund, Sweden. Younger son pointed out to me about the time of my last post here that it would be far cheaper for the quilt to be mailed from Sweden when the husband was at a meeting there than mailed from here. I don't know how much it will cost to mail if from Sweden, but I imagine it will be cheaper than the $53.80 that a flat rate international box from here would cost. Getting it done was a bit of a challenge, but I did, with time to spare and without cutting too many corners. I might have done more elaborate quilting had I had more time, but I am not at all displeased with the quilting I did have time for. While the husband is gone, I will try to post the finishing steps of the process along with photos.

In the meantime, remember the Amazing Thing I was going to felt? It shrank from something that ran the length of my foyer to something that fits nicely on my couch. It actually ended up being too heavy to use to make a bag for my swords. Also, after napping under it, both the husband and older son urged me to leave it as it is. So I am.

And do you remember the very large jacket I planned to felt? It's shown in this post, though I still despair at how old I look in the photo. And here it is, felted, with buttons added, ready to wear. For those of you who might be wondering about the background, that's older son's wall to wall to ceiling bookcase. Here's a closer-up shot of the jacket. I managed to felt it just enough to fit me nicely. It did shrink a bit more on the length dimension than I expected, so if I make it again I will likely knit the body a few inches longer. I've worn it several times and gotten several compliments on it. It also goes quite nicely with a scarf I knitted as a possible Christmas present, so nicely that the scarf became a present to myself.

Now that the quilt is done, I'm moving on to other creative endeavors. I've pulled from the shelf a quilt sandwich (that's the top, batting, and backing together before the quilting is done) that I think I'm finally ready to quilt. I believe I pieced the top maybe eight years ago but didn't feel ready to quilt it then. Unlike almost every other quilt I've made, I made this one for me. The fabric was hand-dyed by a friend to my requested colors and shades. My brother-in-law has hinted strongly that he wants this one, so I guess I'll add a line to the letter that accompanies our will in regard to select personal belongings. That's right; he'll get it over my dead body. I've got a bag about knitted that will be felted into something about the size of a brown paper grocery bag. It's purple and light blue, in a wool-mohair blend. It will fuzz nicely, I think, when it's felted. I made a hat and muff as Christmas presents; I still need to sew the seam on the hat to finish it. Finally, I'm making a bra purse, which is what it sounds like, a purse made out of a bra. Yes, pictures will be forthcoming when I finish the first one, along with pictures of the other things I just mentioned. More immediately, though, I'm going to go fetch the laundry from the basement and curl up on the couch, perhaps even under the Amazing Thing, and nurse the cold that's claimed my voice and been otherwise vexing me for a couple of days.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

National Book Festival 2009

The National Book Festival was last September 26, and the conscientious bloggers (I won't name names) who were there put their posts up the next day. In the "better late than never" vein, here's my post. Last year was my first National Book Festival trip thanks to older son who wanted to hear and have a book signed by Neil Gaiman. This year's trip was with a friend who lives in Northern Virginia, the delightful young lady who walked across the stage at high school graduation immediately in front of older son. There were a number of authors there this year that sounded interesting: David Baldacci, Judy Blume, Ken Burns, Annette Gordon-Reed, John Grisham, Gwen Ifill, John Irving, Steven Kellogg, Sue Monk Kidd, Mark Kurlansky, Lois Lowry, George Pelecanos, Jon Scieszka, and Daniel Silva. As it turns out, I heard only one of the people listed above speak, but discovered several other authors whose books are winging their way to me even as I type or from whose presentation I garnered an idea worth remembering.

After arriving at the festival, we looked in at several tents. John Grisham was standing room only at the Fiction & Fantasy tent. We didn't stop to hear him. Besides the crowd, he lives here in Charlottesville, so it didn't seem all that much of a novelty to hear him speak. We ended up in the Teens & Children tent, listening to Liz Kessler, the author of the middle-grades Emily Windsnap series. Emily is a girl while she is on land but, in the water, turns into a mermaid. The fourth Emily Windsnap book has already come out in Britain (Kessler is English) and will be out here in the States in March. I thought it nice that all the people who asked Kessler questions after her talk were young girls who had read her books. One asked whether Kessler had patterned the Emily character at all after herself. Kessler answered by saying not intentionally but went on to say that Margaret Atwood once noted that "there's always a drop of blood in the cooking." What an interesting way to express that we, without intending to, reflect something of ourselves in everything we write.

We checked out the Borders booktent (if a bookstore is a store that sells book, then a booktent is a tent that does the same), but the line to pay for the book(s) selected was overwhelmingly long. Last year, the booktent was the only place to buy an advance copy of The Graveyard Book (which has now been on the New York Times bestseller list for 52 weeks, which means pie!) The books we would have purchased were already on the market. It honestly looked as though we could have used my friend's iPhone to locate a nearby bookstore, walk there, any buy the books before we could have made it through the line at the booktent. In my case, Borders's loss was's gain.

As you might imagine, the Festival catered to all ages. Here are a couple of examples. This was one of the many activities inside or around one of the children's tents, though it wasn't just children who were contributing to this mural. There were various costumed characters circulating. I would have gotten my photo taken with Curious George if the line had been shorter. There was a free-range penguin, though.
After a quick lunch from the vegetarian food booth, we found ourselves in the Fiction & Fantasy tent listening to Jeanette Walls, another author with whom I was totally unfamiliar. She spoke about her difficulty in writing pure fiction but her ease in writing memoirs that read like novels. I've ordered Walls's The Glass Castle, her memoir of her painful childhood. During the question period, a librarian related the story of how a teacher at his school had, for three years, read The Glass Castle out loud to her classes over the course of the year, commenting how it had touched the lives of the students, most of whom came from disadvantaged backgrounds similar to that of Walls. Walls was teary as she thanked the man for relating the story. We had actually come to hear Walls only because of the speaker who followed in Fiction & Fantasy, but I was very glad that we heard her.

The speaker we had come to Fiction & Fantasy to hear was Sabiha Al Khemir, a Tunisian-born author. According to the Festival program, "her second novel, The Blue Manuscript (2008), focuses on the interaction of Western and Islamic cultures." My friend is a dual US-Saudi citizen but had never heard of this author. In fact, the book we both put back on the table after seeing the line in the booktent was The Blue Manuscript; I've now got it on order from Al Khemir talked about how her work as an Islamic art historian had influenced her writing. She also touched on the difficulties inherent in translating fiction into another language while retaining the subtleties of the original work. My friend is looking forward to reading The Blue Manuscript in both languages; I'm looking forward to hearing what she has to say about it.

There was no one we really wanted to hear immediately after Al Khemir, and it was raining, so we went across the street to the National Museum of American History for coffee and a bit of indoor sightseeing. In an exhibit case right outside the coffee shop was this interesting item. It's a Torah ark decoration from the late 1800s or early 1900s. Of course, my friend and I, both being a bit geeky, immediately turned to one another, flashed the Vulcan hand sign, and said, "Live long and prosper." Older son did a bit of research after I called him with the news and reported that Leonard Nimoy created the Vulcan hand salute based on a Orthodox Jewish blessing he had seen as a child. You learn something new every day!

We returned to the Festival wanting to hear Ken Burns speak in the History & Biography tent. We arrived in time for the speakers right before Burns, Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson, thinking that we might grab seats in between the speakers. Unfortunately, all the people there to hear Balz and Johnson also wanted to hear Burns and his co-author Dayton Duncan. It didn't matter, though, because even though we could barely see Burns and Duncan, we could hear them just fine. They spoke on their new PBS series on the National Parks. The sound bite I took away from their talk to throw out at cocktail parties or as the need arises concerns their use of music in their documentaries. Burns noted that most films are "locked" or visually finished before any music is recorded for them. For their documentaries, though, Burns and Duncan have all sorts of potentially relevant music recorded ahead of time and often in multiple versions. Later, as they are putting together the visual record, they actively work with the music. If there is a musical piece that merits longer play, then they tailor the visuals around the longer play. Definitely high on the list of neat things to know.

After Burns and Duncan, the Festival was over, so we returned to the car for a rather eventful drive back to the Fairfax area in which my friend lives. By this time, it was raining fairly heavily, making it just the right time for the passenger-side windshield wiper to break free from the arm and dangle, useless, against the windshield. We stopped three times so I could hop out and reset it, after which it held for just a while before it popped loose again. We did make it to Moby Dick's House of Kabob safely, where we had a wonderful chicken dish. (Older son was, I think, a bit disappointed to hear that there was no Call Me Fish Meal at Moby's.) After dinner, and a cup of tea at my friend's apartment, I made the drive home in the dark and rain. It was worth it, though, because it was another wonderful day at the National Book Festival. And now to wait for next year's!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Creative Process, IX

The top of the cabin quilt is done. If that's not enough, the quilt has named itself. I usually find that the name of a quilt comes to me without much conscious thought, and that was the case with this one. I just have to hope that the English language skills of the Norwegian brothers to whom the quilt is going are such that they get the humor. What better name for a quilt destined for a mountain cabin owned by brothers than "Sibling Revelry." That said, I still need to pin the layers of the quilt together, which is not an easy task and, then, quilt it and do the binding. It's not done yet, and it won't be for a while. But here's the top, a bit less than six feet by six feet. If I were making this quilt again, I would make the cabin image smaller and more subtle. I'm not about to change it now, though. Somehow, I find it difficult to imagine that the recipients will look at this and say, "Gee, it would have looked a lot better if the cabin image were smaller."

The creative work isn't over yet, because I still have to quilt this. I'm thinking of doing some black lines on the porch to acentuate the diagonal direction of the boards. The original photo had space between the boards, which I did not show here, and the black lines might serve as a reasonable replacement. I may quilt some detail into the grass at the base of the cabin of the trees to each side. We shall see. When it's done, I'll try to post some close-up shots that show what I did. In the meantime, I need to piece the backing and then do the layering and pinning. I've already cut the binding strips though I have yet to sew them together and press them.

Since it also comes under the creative heading, I have finished working in all the loose yarn ends on what I called "the amazing thing" in an earlier post. Here is it, finished and laid out in my foyer. For reference, it is approximately 9.5 feet long and 3.5 feet wide. Next up is felting/fulling it. If you're not familiar with the process, I'll put it in the washer, with detergent, on a hot temperature but low volume setting, with a couple pairs of old blue jeans and let the heat, soap, and agitation shrink it. I'll stop and restart the process until it has shrunk to an acceptable degree, after which I'll let the wash cycle finish. Then, if it's shrunk to appropriate dimensions, I'll see if I can craft a sword bag out of it. If it's too large, I'll see if I can shrink it some more. If it's too small (which I doubt it will be), I'll use it as a rug or throw. Hey, there's always a use for things like that around here.

My newest project is a muff. Remember muffs? They look like a tube. Your hands go inside and stay warm. My friend the artist and art teacher gave me a rather large bag of yarn she spun and dyed years ago but never used. Because I think the yarn should go back to her, I wanted to make her something that showed off all the different kinds of yarn. Here's the pattern I'm using. It's not going to use up all the yarn, so I may try to make three, one for my friend the artist and art teacher and one for each of her lovely daughters. The muffs are knitted on circular needles, and the first one is knitting up fairly quickly.

Finally, coming up in two weeks is the Fall Fiber Festival at Montpelier, home of James Madison. I'll be working there on Saturday, at the booth of Mangham Manor, my friendly neighborhood sheep farm. I'm not a bad salesperson when it comes to a product I believe in, such as Girl Scout cookies or Mangham Manor yarn. I will take various bags, shawls, and a sweater that I have knitted with their yarn, which reminds me that I really need to felt the jacket I mentioned in the last post, since that's also made from their yarn. The best part? I work for fiber, which means that I may well leave with all the yarn I can handle for the next year if I hadn't just discovered New Zealand possum yarn, which I absolutely must have just for the heck of it. I'm going to order some of that right now, as soon as I proofread this post and publish it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Over the Moat (book review)

If there's any question about whether a book called Over the Moat can count for the "building" category of Annie's What's in a Name - 2 challenge, the subtitle is Love Among the Ruins of Imperial Vietnam. If "moat" doesn't count as a building, then "ruins" does. I actually read The Two Towers with the intention of using it for the building category but could never get motivated to write the review. It was different with this book.

I found this book by accident while searching for books to read before heading to Vietnam. This one especially intrigued me because it was set in Hue, the city in which we would be living for a month. I got about ten pages into it in the weeks before we left on the trip before, in the chaos that was my life, losing it. I searched high and low but could not find it. I finally figured I must have left it somewhere because I remembered that I had been reading it while waiting for a doctor's appointment. Oh well, I thought, **it happens. We went on the trip, came home, settled back in, and then, about two weeks ago, there the book was, on the bottom shelf of the coffee table in the living room, a place I must have looked in my search. As I said, **it happens.

But guess what? Reading this book before we went on the trip would not have been as magical as reading it after the trip was. Having visited and experienced Hue, I could relate to the book in a much more intimate way than I ever would have before going. Before I go into why, though, let me recap the book. In late 1992, the author, James Sullivan, was bicycling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi with a friend in order to write about the trip for a cycling magazine. When all his clothes were drenched in a rainstorm in Hue, he happened into a clothing store in search of replacements. He found the clerk there, Thuy (pronounced Twee) attractive, and ended up getting her address so that he could visit her that evening. He and his friend never did find Thuy's house--there was a mixup with the house number--but Thuy and her sister found them after going out looking for them when they did not appear as promised. Jim did resume the cycling trip as scheduled but could not get Thuy out of his mind as he and his friend took the train from Hanoi back to Ho Chi Minh City and, then, home. Hopping off the train in Hue, he decided to see where things might go. He ended up "competing" with other suitors for Thuy's affection before he returned to the States. Thuy had told him that she would never make a life with him until he had lived in Hue for a year so that she could see his real character. He did return to Vietnam and, despite those other suitors, one of whom was a policeman who handled immigration issues, the story had a happy ending.

There were descriptions of Hue that jumped out at me because I had been there. One example: "Hue inspired that kind of poetry in people. Pedaling north on Highway 1, I'd found that the Vietnameses loved Hue unconditionally. It didn't matter whether you were from the north or the south, a truck driver told me ouside Saigon. "Everybody agree about Hue." It wasn't the guidebook stuff he was talking about, not the Imperial Citadel or the Forbidden Purple City or the pagodas as much as it was something else, less easily defined, qualities better communicated by gesture, by the aroma swirling off a bowl of bun bo Hue soup and a limning of moonlight over the Perfume River, by whispers and by secret. An old woman in Danang had told me that on quiet nights gold seeped out of the ground in Hue: Believe it. Back in Hue now, I was prepared to believe that anything was possible."

And: "If Hue was the most regal city in Vietnam, it could also lay claim--perhaps mroe than any other in the country--to the Vietnamese soul. Its landmark pagodas had turned out Vietnam's most renowned Buddhist monks: Thich Quang Duc, who set himself ablaze in a Saigon intersection in 1963, hailed from Thien Mu Pagoda; and Thich Nhat Hanh, the prolific exile who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King in the 1960s, was reared at Tu Hieu Pagoda."

And remember Mr. Cu, the owner of the Mandarin Cafe and the person who developed a walking tour of Hue that the sons and I took one very, very hot day? He was in here, too, mentioned as having just begun the photography we marveled at in his brochure and on the walls of his cafe. Had I read the book before we went, I doubt I would have remembered the brief mention of Mr. Cu; reading it afterwards, I almost shouted with glee when I saw Mr. Cu's name.

My one complaint about the book was that its proofreading or editing was not very carefully done. I corrected more typos than I usually do in a book. Still, I would highly recommend this to anyone who has visited Hue. If you haven't visited, go first, and read the book after. It will mean much more that way.

The Unofficial End of Summer

Monday was Labor Day, another unofficial end of summer as surely as the start of school is. Labor Day was also when I was supposed to collage a box or two with some of the many random pieces of paper I brought back from the Grand Spring Adventure. Alas, I worked on the proposal for the slightly more certain that it used to be statistics book I'm supposed to be helping to write. With four publishers expecting proposal packets around October 1 and a working title (Methods and Strategies for Sample-Size Analysis: Fables in Statistical Planning), it's all more real than it's been since I was first asked to get involved with it a bit over two years ago.

I am making progress on the cabin quilt as evidenced below. The cabin piece shown most recently has now been surrounded by two rows of blocks, each six inches square. Since the photo above was taken, I've added a 1.5-inch border of black. I've also pieced enough (I hope) sets of 3.5-inch long random strips that, when pieced together will form the final border. I hope to get that added in the next day or two, after which I'll be awaiting the arrival of a new bolt of black cotton from which will spring the quilt back. I also need to check my batting supply and Joann Fabric coupons, because obtaining batting will be the next chore. Will it be done in time to send it across the pond to Norway for Christmas? What's the expression--"God willin' and the creek don't rise"? Yeah, we'll go with that.

And while I'm waiting? Well, at some point, I'll be felting this large brown thing. I almost didn't post this photo because I look like crap in it, old and drawn. It was the end of a long day, and my hair was still pulled back and sweaty from karate. But back to the large brown thing. It's a jacket, knitted incredibly large to be felted or fulled smaller. The pattern came from something called the Twist Collective; you can see what the finished jacket might (if I'm lucky) look like here.

I also have what I'm calling the "amazing thing" to keep me busy. In my downsizing zeal, I decided to use up all sorts of single skeins or leftover bits of wool yarn. I started knitting bits together, with two different colors of yarn doubled together. Some time ago, I knitted a large wool afghan and felted or fulled it, thinking it might end up large enough for me to fashion it into a sword bag. Well, it didn't, so it now serves as a magic carpet on which my four-foot high stuffed orangutan sits each day. The amazing thing was for the same purpose, to be felted or fulled into something out of which I could craft a sword bag. The only problem is that I've gotten a bit carried away, and I'm betting that this one may end up too big. I'm almost out of yarn to be gotten rid of, so I'll be taking a before picture soon. The after picture will come much later since it's going to take me a while to work in all the loose yarn ends. I decided that rather than have large random places of color, I'd have many more smaller areas, so each color gets used for only a couple of rows at most. And I change colors randomly, one at a time rather than changing both colors at the same time.

And that's where things stand on several fronts. There is other news to report. I've been invited to test for my black belt in Myo Sim kendo in November, but I don't want to jinx anything by talking too much about it. I'm going sailing on Saturday. Younger son is back in the dorm and feeling quite at home there. His room here has been declared a disaster area and off limits for now. Life goes on. I need to write a book review now, after which I'll watch Obama's speech on health care, after which I shall take fountain pen in hand and write a letter the old-fashioned way.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Where Has All the Summer Gone?

Happy New Year! Being the child of teachers, I have always thought more in terms of academic years than calendar ones. The start of the new (school) year means the end of summer, which makes me more than a bit wistful. While I fully accomplished one of my summer goals, getting my yellow belt in Myo Sim karate, I have somewhat failed on the others.

I do have four or five boxes packed with things--mostly clothes--to donate, and older son has done some significant work on the junk room over the garage, but my goal to declutter and downsize a bit remains largely unmet. I tell myself that it may be easier to accomplish this, especially in terms of the garage, when the weather cools off, but that may be just another excuse.

I did do some smashing and shaping of some of the rogue spoons and forks I have laying around, and I actually planned a bit on making a bird out of various and sundry items. I also sorted the masses of paper brought back from the Grand Adventure and purchased boxes on which to create collages of that paper. I tell myself that I shall set aside the upcoming Labor Day as the time in which to complete one or more of these enterprises. If I can manage that, that will take care of that summer goal. If I collage a box, I can even count that toward The Fifty, and consider the remaining summer goal to be at least partially met.

All that considered, I guess it hasn't been that bad a summer, except that it has been. I spent much of June and July in something resembling a state of suspended animation, unmotivated. I would start a single game of Spider Solitaire or regular Solitaire to pass the time while something printed and, hours later, still be playing. It did not help that I had little work-for-pay to occupy the time and that the hard disc on Mr. Mac crashed, meaning that the book proposal I should have been working on was unreachable. I know some of the reasons I felt the crappy way I did, and while those reasons still exist and probably will for a while, I'm doing my best to beat the crappy feelings. I haven't played a computer game since July 26, and I've managed to fill in the time with productive endeavors rather than reading blogs or otherwise killing time on the Interwebs. But what might I have accomplished had June and July not been wasted?

Enough idle speculation. Work continues on the cabin quilt I have been documenting. I shall soon finish the 64 6-inch squares I need to put two "borders" around the image as last shown here. I hope any readers aren't offended that I haven't shown you the process of making those squares. It's exactly the same as the process for making the 4-inch squares that I already described, so you aren't missing anything by not seeing it. I'll post another photo when I've added the 6-inch squares. After that, there will be two more borders. One will be a 3-inch strip of black all around. Outside that, I plan to put another 3-inch border made of random strips of the same batiks and hand-dyes that I've used in the squares.

And now I return to the previously scheduled morning, working on the book proposal and awaiting the arrival of FedEx with Snow Leopard for Mr. Mac. Eighty-five days and counting until the 2009 Myo Sim Black Belt Test, but that's fodder for another post.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Happy Feet

I just mentioned driving 55 miles (one way) today to shop for shoes. Lest you think me related to Imelda Marcos, I should explain. On Saturday, the husband drove to Lancaster, PA, to retrieve younger son from his summer job. On the way back, they stopped in Harrisonburg, VA so that younger son could look at a kind of shoe he had heard about. He came home wearing a pair and raved about their comfort level. Older son, who claims to have been the one who told younger son about the shoe, wanted to get his own pair, so off we went to Harrisonburg today. Turns out that they didn't have the right color and size combination that older son wanted, so he has to wait a week for them to be ordered and shipped to him. They did, however, have a pair in a not too outlandish color that fit me, and after trying them on, I couldn't resist. Wondering what this is all about? Well, here, take a look. Those are my feet, very happy in a pair of Vibram FiveFingers(R). I admit to being skeptical, thinking it would be uncomfortable to have something between my toes. (Someone reminded me tonight that they actually sell things to separate your toes to help them relax; this is probably very similar.) It took a few minutes to get used to it, but after that I have to say that my feet have rarely been happier. I wore these all afternoon and occasionally actually forgot I had shoes on. I usually remove my shoes when I sew, the better to use the pedal, but I didn't today.

I showed these to a friend, and together we decided that these are the Honda Element of shoes: pretty darn ugly when you first look at them, but extremely comfortable and fun to drive or walk in. Will I be able to wear them to work or when professional attire is required? No, I'll likely have to stick to my Earth shoes then, but for daily wear, I'll be sticking to these for a while. A couple of folks have asked me how long these might last. I told them I'd let them know. I'll let any readers here know, too. In the meantime, I have very, very happy feet, which is making me very, very happy. :-)

The Creative Process, VIII

I had a bit of time free today in between a shoe shopping trip to Harrisonburg, 55 or so miles away, and kendo, so I ran downstairs and stitched up the row of squares for the bottom of the cabin unit. Here's what it looks like now, graciously held by elder son. The next step is to make enough 6.5 inch squares to go all around this unit, then repeat that step one more time. It was easier to include some of the detail on the cabin by making it large; at the same time, though, I don't want the cabin to be the only thing in the quilt, so I have to make the finished quilt a bit bigger than I might otherwise have done. Will it be done in time to mail it across the pond for Christmas? I hope so!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Creative Process, VII

I actually did what I'm about to describe over a week ago, on July 30. I put the photos on my netbook and had good intentions of getting something posted while I was in Washington, DC for the Joint Statistical Meetings August 1-5, but between not being able to access blogspot from the hotel and being on the go every day between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. or so, well, it never got done. Better late (now) than never.

After several seconds of deep thought, I abandoned all notions of measuring my cabin rectangle and then making blocks all the same size so that they would fit evenly. This is liberated quiltmaking, right? I figured that 4.5-inch blocks (which become 4-inch blocks in the finished quilt thanks to what's taken up in the seams) would come close enough. I'd just make one of the end ones a bit wider or narrower as need be, and it would work.

How to make those blocks? If you're not a quilter, pay attention, because I'm only gonna explain this once. This is liberated quiltmaking, so the first thing I did was go through my drawer of batik and hand-dyed fabric and tore strips off each and every kind of fabric contained therein. I tore one strip off some, two off others, basically going by how long the strips were. This is the pile of strips I ended up with, along with the CD case of the morning's soundtrack. It might be enough for the whole quilt; it might not be. I can always tear off more.

The next step was to take two pieces of farbric and sew them together. This would give me the center of a liberated log cabin block. Here are the four I started with. I cut these in half to get two centers from each piece. I took a center, then pulled a random strip out of my pile. My only requirement here is that if I pull out a strip that's already in the block I'm working on, I put it back. Otherwise, that's the one I use. Forced randomosity. To make sewing things together easier, I cut the strip to be the same length as the piece to which I'll be sewing it. Sew the two pieces together and press the seam, and I get something looking like this. I don't have a photo of it, but the next step is to trim the side to which I'll sew the next piece of fabric. You can see that here, with the next fabric. Sew the new piece on, press, (photo above) and trim the proper side (photo below). Then I'm ready to repeat the process and add the next piece. Cool, eh? Just keep adding pieces to the sides until the block is a suitable size.

Of course, even when it gets to be an appropriate size (photo above), it might look better if you add more and re-center how you cut the final block.

Look at the photo above. Before, I didn't have any leeway over where I cut my final block. Now I do; I can move the 4.5-inch template around and cut the block however I want to. Now is probably a good time to mention that I don't make one block at a time. You saw above that I started with eight centers. I chain piece, which means that I add a piece to the side of the first center, then the second, then the third, and so on. I end up with short bits of thread between the connected blocks. I snip these to separate the blocks, then press, trim, and do it all again. I took the photos above to show how I put together one specific block. If I did each block by itself, it would take a long time to make the eight blocks around the bits with which I started. Eight blocks which, when sewn together and laid out, look like this. The carpet might make it hard to see, but the strip of eight blocks needs another in order to come close to matching the cabin unit. After I make that block and sew it onto the end of the strip but before I attach the strip to the cabin unit, it's clear that I'll have to do some trimming. I'm not going to do the trimming, though, until the strip is sewn on. You get a much nicer, neater trim once it's sewn and pressed. Here's what the finished piece looks like. To take this photo, I taped the unit to the back of my sewing room/office door. I don't have a huge area in which to work, which is one of the main reasons I don't do more of this.

The next step, which might not be taken until next weekend, is to do another strip to put below the cabin unit. Then, I'll make slightly larger blocks--six inches or so--to go around the unit with the cabin and top/bottom strips. My plan, which is subject to change at a moment's notice, is to put two sets of blocks around the unit, then a single border strip of fabric, probably black, and then an outer border of random stripes. If I end up doing as I just described, the finished quilt will be about 72 inches square, which I think will be a good size to leave out on a couch for decoration at the same time it's a good size to stretch out under while reading, relaxing, or whatever. I'll take some photos each work session, but since all the other liberated log cabin blocks will be done just as the one I showed here, I'll dispense with the gory detail.

I also took the first step on a new project today by cutting up some fabric I dyed. Sounds sort of normal, right? Not! The fabric was ten terrycloth hand towels, each dyed to a differect color. Terrycloth may turn out to be a real bear to work with, but I have my reasons for wanting to do so. I don't expect to start sewing on that one until I'm done with this one, but having done the dyeing, I figured I should at least get the cutting done.