Friday, December 31, 2010

Mug Shots ...

...because it's easier than writing about my resolutions for 2011 before it is here.

The coffee cups in the cupboards, like the t-shirts in the t-shirt drawer, seem to multiply and resist all attempts to be weeded. Still, when I reach into the cupboard, I tend to instinctively reach for one of five mugs, each of which probably says more about me than I might like to think.

Magic Kitties I got this mug from a quilting friend from upstate New York. She carried it to a quilting gathering in New Mexico to give to me, and I carried it back to Virginia. That's the sort of thing friends do. It's colorful and jazzy and tends to make me smile if I'm not smiling already or, if I'm already smiling, smile a bit more.


This is one of the Demotivator designs from It reminds me somewhat quirkily that the only thing separating most of us from doing jobs that challenge us and asking "Would you like fries with that?" is a bit of work and a spot of luck. I've been fortunate enough to have had only one job that really depressed me, and taking it was by choice not necessity. It was a fairly well-paying job, too, but the mindlessness of it would have crushed my soul had I stayed in it longer than I did.

This is another classic Demotivator that helps keep me humble. This is often the mug I choose the morning after I have a karate class because I often feel as if I am the student most likely to be used to illustrate how not to do a technique. Of course, working through how to do something is one of the challenges that keeps me going back to karate. If it came too easily, it wouldn't be as satisfying.

Funky It's hard to do better than a mug with a monkey on it. I had a gift certificate to a local boutique, and this is what I chose after an arduous search. Like the Magic Kitties, Funky makes me smile. He also holds a sizable amount of coffee, a fact for which I am usually grateful first thing in the morning.

Journeys I saw this saying on a plaque at the local Hallmark Store and thought it the perfect Christmas present for a dear friend of long standing (some might say that we are old friends, but I prefer to think of us as friends of long standing). When I saw the same saying on a mug, I thought it the perfect Christmas present for myself. I usually initially jump at the chance to travel, then hesitate out of fear of leaving my comfort zone. The hesitations are lessening as I get older, because I look back and see how previous trips have changed me, usually for the better. The woman who returned in August 1975 from a summer studying in Spain and traveling in Western Europe was a stronger person than the girl who left on the trip in June 1975. The Jean who came back from 2009's Grand Adventure was an improvement over the Jean who started out. Journeys not only reminds me of the transformative power of travel but also usually brings back a memory or two.

Morning coffee or evening tea...they're both better with old friends.

The resolutions will come; in the meantime, Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking Back

I mentioned a couple of posts back that my dad died this past fall. Most of the people who read this blog never met Dad. The people who have read this blog since its inception, or who went back to see what they missed in the early days of this blog, met Dad through this post. I can't really describe Dad any better now than I did then.

My dad fought and, for the most part, beat prostate cancer for the last two decades. He fought, but in the end lost to, multiple myeloma for the last five years. Given his age--he was 81 when he died--that his battle lasted five years is noteworthy. When the end came, it came somewhat suddenly. Early in his second round of chemotherapy (the first one had bought him another two years), he developed abdominal pain severe enough that he was sent from his doctor's office straight to the ICU. A few days later, my stepmother's report was that it didn't look good. I flew to Florida two days after that, planning to stay for five days. My brother was able to get time off from his job; he and his wife arrived in Orlando the same morning I did. Dad's sister had arrived the day before.

Our first full day there, Dad wanted to make sure my brother and I knew all the details of his estate, the location of the obituary he'd written, and the things he'd done to try to make the logistics of his death easier for our stepmother. He also wanted to talk about our childhood, how he worried that he had been absent for too many important moments in our lives after he and our mother divorced and his work took him to another city. We shared our side of that story with him, that while he had certainly missed some things, he had been there for the ones that counted most. High school graduation. Weddings. His grandsons. We laughed a bit together, and we cried a bit together.

The second full day, Dad asked for time alone with my brother's wife. He also made the decision to stop all treatments which were, his doctor admitted, only buying him time. The pain that caused his ICU admission had been traced to a clot that was blocking any blood flow between his kidneys and his liver. Dad said that the time he'd been bought had let him see his kids and his sister, and that he was done fighting. I can't say that I blamed him. The treatment buying him time was heparin, which required that his blood be tested every four hours. The night before, it had taken 11 needle sticks to find a vein from which enough blood could be drawn. They moved Dad from the ICU to a private room and began arrangements to admit him to a hospice the next day, the day before my and my brother's flights to our respective homes. Thanks to a relatively low-pressure, part-time job and a wonderful boss, I was able to cancel my flight and stay on. My heart almost broke watching my brother say good-bye to Dad. I felt a bit bad that I was able to stay when he had to go. Two days later, my aunt returned to her home in Nebraska.

Dad was in the hospice for six days before he died. He and I had several more talks from the heart. Among other things, he told me how proud he'd been that I had insisted on keeping my maiden name in addition to the husband's surname and using both though without a connecting hyphen. He also told me, not for the first time, how much he appreciated the decision the husband and I had made to have me stay at home with the sons when they were little. I was able to tell him how much that support had meant to me. Dad had always loved Frank Sinatra. I had my Mac along and set iTunes to shuffle through the four Frank Sinatra CDs I'd stored. Sometimes Dad and I just sat there holding hands and mouthing the words along with Old Blue Eyes. We needed no words of our own. My stepmother and I made sure Dad always had someone there, and we gave each other private time with him.

Dad was pretty much out of it the two days before he died, but we took turns sitting with him, talking with him, and just being there. The hospice nurses and aides were absolutely incredible. I cannot praise them enough for the care they gave Dad and for the care they gave my stepmother and me. I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I knew of hospice in only general terms before all this. It was just amazing.

I put in my Christmas letter that as deaths go, Dad's was a good one. It was. He could have been hit by a truck or had a heart attack and gone without warning, with no chance for the goodbyes my brother and I got to share with him. I might not have been able to read him the e-mails I got from the sons, each sharing the memories of him that they will cherish. He went out on his own terms, with dignity, sharing one last lesson, setting one last example for me.

Finally, I must admit that my father was an atheist of long standing. The only times I ever saw Dad in church were during my appearances in Sunday School Christmas pageants, one reason that this year's Christmas Eve service left me in tears when the candles were passed, and at my wedding. A hospital chaplain visited Dad after he had left the ICU and was in the private hospital room for one night. They evidently had quite the discussion of faith or lack thereof. Dad told me after he'd moved to the hospice that he hoped the chaplain might come visit him so that they could continue their discussion; he said the chaplain had told him that he was the first atheist he'd met who clearly articulated why he chose not to believe. The chaplain did visit Dad in the hospice, but not until Dad was basically continually sedated. He confirmed Dad's account of their initial conversation and said he, too, had looked forward to continuing their discussion.

My post of two years ago referenced above alludes to Dad's somewhat daring nature, his willingness to bluff his way through certain situations. He was a lucky fellow when it came right down to it. And even at the end, Lady Luck smiled on him. Atheist though Dad was, one of his tennis buddies was a retired Catholic priest. I'm blanking on his name as I write this, but I'll call him Father Mike. Father Mike and some of Dad's other tennis buddies came to visit during the time near the end, when Dad was out of it. As they were getting ready to leave, Father Mike asked if he could offer a prayer. I told him that I thought that would be nice. I told Father Mike that my aunt is Catholic and Dad's atheism was very painful for her, and that I knew it would give her comfort to know that a priest had offered a prayer for Dad near the end. Father Mike pulled out his pocket prayer guide, we all bowed our heads, and he read what essentially amounted to an absolution of all Dad's sins. I'm more "spiritual" these days than I am into any organized church faith, but I figure that Dad left this world with all his bases covered. If he was right, and there's no God and nothing to come after death, cool. If he was wrong, well, he certainly didn't have the chance to commit any sins after all his previous ones were absolved.

For Dad's 80th birthday, in 2009, I gave him a copy of Showing up for Life: Thoughts on the Gifts of a Lifetime by Bill Gates, Sr. In one of those last talks with Dad, when he apologized for missing so much of my childhood, I reminded him of the inscription I'd written in that book. "It wasn't always easy for you to show up, but you always managed to be there when it mattered most. Love, Jean"

He was always there when it mattered most, and I wouldn't be who I am today without that. I miss you, Dad, and always will.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas...

I'm still struggling a bit with really feeling Christmasy. I mailed my cards today, with the traditional Christmas letter for those who aren't up on some of the latest family news. The cards we've gotten are hanging above the fireplace, making a banner between the stockings hung to each side. Various handmade Christmas things I've been given as gifts over the years sit on various surfaces around the living room. And, with less than a week to spare before the arrival of the Big Day, we did put up a Christmas tree following the traditional argument between the sons over which one to choose at the tree place.

Decorating the tree has become less of a big deal over the years, as the sons have grown. This year, the husband was jet-lagged and slept soundly on the couch while I strung the lights on the tree. He did wake up when I yelled to the sons who were upstairs that I was starting to hang the ornaments just in case they wanted to help. They did, and each hung some ornaments that are special to them. These included two that they each made in the first grade they attended at a local religiously affiliated school. (You'd never see Christmas-themed costumes in a public school around here.) Younger son is no longer the angel he once was, though older son is still known to wield a stick from time to time. When the husband and I first got married, he started stitching a star on plastic needlepoint canvas for the top of our family tree. His mother came to visit, saw it lying there, and finished it for him. He was a bit perturbed about it at the time, but I don't think it bothers him now. At some point when the sons were little, older son realized that one of their stuffed primates could sit atop the tree thanks to a zippered opening on its back. To this day, each year, the Christmas ape sits atop the tree and wears the star as a hat. As for the tree in all its glory, it's far from a designer tree given that most of the ornaments are handmade, many by small children. There's a story behind almost every one. I'm embarrassed to say that the pile of presents under the tree does not constitute all that we have. Some of the sons' presents to their father are too large to put in the small corner allotted to the tree, so they're sitting in the foyer. We'll pull them into the living room to be opened on Christmas morning.

Other Christmas traditions here include the Christmas Eve service at the church some friends attend. That comes after the Christmas Eve dinner that I have do nothing for. Some years, it's take-out Chinese; other years, the husband and sons cook. Before we leave for church, I'll make a double batch of dough for cinnamon rolls. The dough will do its first rising overnight in the refrigerator. On Christmas morning, the sons will sleep in while I get the rolls rolled, sugared, cinnamoned, and otherwise ready for the second rising. We'll open presents while the rolls rise and bake. The rolls will have to last everyone until dinner, though I typically serve Christmas dinner in the late afternoon. Most years, I manage to fit in a soak in a bubble bath with one of the books I get as gifts. The other tradition is the male-oriented movie that I annually present to "the testosterone trio." They already know that this year it's the remake of "The A Team." The sons and I saw it in the theater; now it's the husband's turn to experience the mayhem. How can you not like a movie that contains the line "overkill is under-rated"?

After Christmas Day, the tree stays up until New Year's Day. I'm usually the one taking the ornaments and lights off it and packing them up for next year. The husband cleans up the needles the tree leaves where it stood and on its way out the door. The sons are all too happy each year to hack the tree apart with whatever sharp implements they fancy at the time. Some of our traditions are a bit far up on the banks of the mainstream, but they're just that--our traditions--and what makes this holiday one I genuinely treasure year after year after year. If you celebrate it, Merry Christmas! If you observe another winter holiday, Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Mom Moment

I took younger son to the local airport this morning. I asked him if I should just drop him off or go into the terminal with him. Noting that the short-term parking lot was not too crowded, he said why not come in with him. I did, and watched him confidently present his government-issued ID and obtain his boarding passes. I accepted the hug he offered, wished him luck, and told him I'd see him on Wednesday. We shared "love yous" as I felt tears start to roll down my cheeks. "Just a Mom moment," I told him. Having seen them before, he nodded, turned, and headed for the security checkpoint. I turned for the door to the parking lot, not trusting myself to watch him walk away.

Younger son is 20 though within spitting distance of being legal to imbibe. Five months from college graduation, he's sitting comfortably on one good offer of a good job. He's flying to Seattle today, picking up a rental car, and driving to Redmond, where tomorrow he will interview with Microsoft. Tomorrow night, he will red-eye back east, for two class presentations on Wednesday. Thursday, he will apparently (details still being arranged) fly to Mountain View, California for a Friday interview with Google. He'll get home Saturday, to the break he says he's looking forward to more than he has any other.

When did my kid grow up and get so confident and self-assured? I tell myself one moment that I must have done something right along his path through childhood and adolescence and the next moment tell myself that it must have been all his father's doing. I tell myself one moment that I could never have done what he's doing and the next moment remind myself that I did do similar things at a similar age though in a different world and time. One moment I want to hold him close and never let him go or go too far away, and the next moment I can't wait to see what he accomplishes next.

Being a Mom is like that, I guess.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A is for Anniversary; B is for Bras

It is December 12, one month since my last post to this blog and two months since my father died, a subject I will write about here once I feel ready. So much for the Anniversary side of this post. As for Bras, they can be made into great purses, as I have blogged before, here. The purse shown in that post went to my stepmother. I made another one for the woman with whom I partnered when I earned my black belt in Myo Sim kendo; unfortunately, I forgot to photograph that one before I presented it. I have since made three more, and after being asked on Facebook about photos, decided to post photos and the story behind them here.

Several years, ago my dad and stepmom relocated to DeLand, Florida. As the years went by, a social group evolved of my dad, my stepmom, and three of her friends, all widows. They dined out together most Friday nights, saying that it was "Jerry and his harem." During the last week of Dad's life, when he was in the hospice, two of these friends saved me from having to make early (as in 4:00 a.m.) trips to the airport shuttle, first with my brother and sister-in-law and later with my aunt. They were at the house the day after Dad died, with dinner, wine, and empathy when all were needed most. They had previously admired the bra purse I'd sent my stepmom, so I thought bra purses would be one way to thank them for their love and attention, then to both of us and now, to my stepmom.

As it happened, I already had three bras in my stash of fun things, in ivory, purple, and black. The purple and black ones might better be termed "luggage" than "purses" being 46 C or D, a size I have never known not even when pregnant or nursing. I wanted each purse to be different, but I also wanted them to share something. For this, I chose one set of three embellishments--purple and green flowers with black stems--that actually reminded me very much of tattoos. I put one of these on each purse. Not looking ahead, I took no photos as I made the purses, but I did photograph them in their finished state, hanging from a hook on my porch. As I said, I wanted each one to be unique. The ivory one actually got nipples thanks to a pair of thrift-shop earrings I knew I could use for something somewhere sometime. The embellishment shared between the three purses provided really the only color against the ivory. While the ivory purse had nipples, the black purse had fringe. The shared embellishment can be seen at the top. Finally, I ended up putting, quite unknowingly, a face on one side of the purple purse. The "mouth" is the shared embellishment.

One fun thing about making purses out of bras is trying to use different parts of the bras in the construction of the purses or, to put it another way, limiting the non-bra used. Although it can't be seen in the photo, for example, the hooks and eyes that hold the purse closed are actually the pieces that would ordinarily hold the back of the bra closed. The bow on the side, which was put there to hide where the two halves did not meet exactly, was crafted from the side panels of the bra. The bow at the top of the ivory bra was made from the back straps of the bra.

Did the recipients like their gifts? Well, it certainly looked that way to me in the e-mail and photos they sent.

Friday, November 12, 2010

To Every Place There Is a Season

Or, as I've been thinking lately, to every season there is a place. It is fall in the northern hemisphere now, and I can honestly think of no place I'd rather be than at home in Virginia. The air is so crisp in the morning you can almost hear it snap in time with the crunching of the leaves under your feet. What leaves are still left on the trees blaze with color, mocking the monotonous green they bore all summer. I was in Florida for almost two weeks of October (possibly the subject of another post here, when I'm ready to write it), and I worried that I might miss the best part of fall. I did not, and am reveling in it now. I would offer photographic evidence if it weren't for the large bandage on my right hand, from which only my fingertips emerge for typing. Another possible blog post, but not today's.

Fall will segue into winter before I know it, and I shall dream of being in northern Iceland, looking out on a sea of white. There was something so magical about northern Iceland in the winter last year that I would not have been surprised had an elf or troll made an appearance however brief. The cold solitude inspired a feeling of strength, of survival, of possibilities. To be complacent would be to freeze and die. The shortness of daylight is more than offset by the night's auroral possibilities, a ceiling of color over the white floor.

In a world of wealth, spring would call me to Asia, to the streets of Hue or the temples of Angkor. I would doff the cold of the north and don the heated blanket of the south. I would trade the movement required to keep warm for the stillness required to endure the heat. I would savor the smells and sounds of the market even if not enamored of the excessive attention given to a Western visitor. I would try to draw the rooftops of the city as the clouds rolled above them before a rain and find music in the cacophony of car horns.

What does it say that my summer place sits at almost the same latitude as my winter one? I would love to spend a summer in Norway, making the most of some of the best Mother Nature has to offer without the hot flashes she offers places such as Virginia. My energy would stretch with the daylight, and I could forego my usual inclination to want to go to sleep the day before I must awaken. I would love to hike through some of the mountains while leaving the hang-gliding off them to younger son. I would love to dabble my toes in the cold of a mountain stream or wash my face in a waterfall.

Awakening from daydreams now and returning to the mundanities of the day. At least it is fall and I am where my soul needs to be in that season. Yes, life is good.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

National Book Festival 2010

I never seem to be able to put up a post about the National Book Festival anywhere near the time it actually happens. It's been more than a month now, but at least we're still in the month immediately following the one in which the festival happened. This year's was the tenth National Book Festival, and my third. I went to my first one two years ago, with older son, and it rained. I went to my second one last year, with a friend, and it rained. This year, I went with older son and the friend from last year, and it did not rain. It was, however, unseasonably hot, close to the 90s(F) if not in them. The Washington Post, one of the main sponsors of the event, estimated that there would be 130,000 people at the Festival (compared to the 30,000 at the first one, in 2001). I would not be at all surprised to hear that they were right. This one definitely seemed more crowded than the last two. I'm sure the lack of precipitation helped. One tent at the book festival always serves as the Pavilion of the States. You can get a map that serves as a passport and then circulate among tables representing the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories or other possessions. Each table has various swag--bookmarks, posters, stickers, maps, tourist pamphlets, rulers, toys--to pop into the free festival bag. If you get a stamp/sticker from all the places, there's even a prize, which this year was a memo pad complete with pen. As for all the swag, it's great if you're a teacher or know teachers. I sent mine to my cousin-in-law who homeschools one of her children and whose family members are all very prolific readers.

In terms of speakers, we caught several authors with whom at least one of us was familiar. One of my choices was Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian and The Swan Thieves. One questioner began by telling Kostova that Kostova's grandmother was the librarian who has planted and nourished her love of reading. Kostova noted that the same grandmother had read all of Jane Austen aloud to her by the time she turned 16. One question concerned the writing process Kostova used. In fact, Kostova noted, her writing process was very different for each of her two books. She wrote The Historian as you would read it, in order, with no deviations. She wrote The Swan Thieves, a more psychological novel, in sections, which then took her a year to stitch together.

Older son suggested that we check out Jonathan Safran Foer, whose latest book, Eating Animals, concerns vegetarianism. He wrote the book to try to explain to his children where meat comes from. In this regard, I couldn't help but think of one rental property in which I lived as a grad student. It was a cottage on a farm and the landlord's young daughters eagerly gave me a tour of the farm shortly after I moved in. Upon coming to the rabbit hutches, they eagerly introduced the rabbits by name; the only name I remember was Napoleon, not surprising since their mom was French. I asked if all the rabbits were pets. "Oh no," they assured me, "we eat them!" While I do eat things with faces, I'm not sure I would want to eat something I had named. Finally, among the facts Foer noted was that 18 percent of college students describe themselves as vegetarian, meaning that there are more vegetarians than Catholics on college campuses.

Older son also suggested we hear Peter Straub, an author about whom I knew nothing. I loved hearing Straub describe his "hunger to read" as a small child. He noted that he was really bummed that there was no reading in kindergarten, just cutting out animals with baby scissors. Even in first grade, what reading there was, was Dick and Jane. He said he "spent a lot of time being really angry as a kid" until he discovered the school library, a situation to which I could personally relate. One of the questions asked Straub concerned the two books he had co-authored with Stephen King. The question was whether it was possible to tell who had written what parts. Straub noted that he and King had played tricks such as attempting to write in the style of the other, and that only one person had demonstrated to him a consistent ability to tell which author wrote which passage. I'll put the name of that person--it's another author--at the end of this post in case you want to try to guess who it is.

Finally, as with previous festivals, there were a number of costumed characters. If you're still working on a guess as to the author who could distinguish between Straub's and King's sections of their books, don't start scrolling yet, because I'm putting the answer right after the last of three photos.

Ready for the answer? The one person who can consistently distinguish between Peter Straub's and Stephen King's contributions to their collaborations is Neil Gaiman.

Is there a fourth National Book Festival in my future? Probably! It's an event not to be missed if you're in the area on the right day. I am still amazed that there is no cost with any of the activities. Yes, you can purchase books by the festival authors, but you can also bring your own copies for signing. Or you can just go and enjoy the experience, which is how we did it this year and may very well do it again next year.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Falling Up and into the Studio

There's a crispness about the mornings, and last night I put on a sweatshirt over a long-sleeved polo shirt (a real, for-true polo shirt, with a logo of horses, riders with mallets, and the name of a polo club) upon leaving the gym. Yes, it is almost fall and as the child of teachers, I view these few weeks as the start of a new year.

Even apart from the feeling of a new year, having my own, dedicated studio space is like turning over a new leaf. I can run in and do little things, big things, just about anything I want to do. I recently pulled boxes of batik strips, cut years ago, off shelves and whipped up this little quilt top hanging on the closet door. It still needs a narrow strip of black around what you see here, and then a border which will, I think, be strips of the blues, greens, and purples but not the oranges and yellows. I'll get to that when I finish the current quilting project, which is quilting the top you could see hanging, again, on the closet door in one of the studio shots in my most recent post here.

I took a break from that quilting this past week to make a new sword bag. For years, I've wanted to have a different sort of bag for my swords. I tried knitting and felting large pieces but never came up with anything even close to an appropriate size to use. Some months ago, I purchased some Japanese fabrics from my favorite online merchant for such things, planning to try to use them for a sword bag at some point. When I set up the studio, they went into a plastic bin labeled, what else, "SWORD BAG." Last Sunday, the zipper on the bag I've been using, a real, designed-for-swords, bag purchased from a martial arts supply house broke beyond repair after years of use by three different people. The need for a new bag trumped the usual "I'm working on other things and can't do that now" argument, and between Sunday and Wednesday I managed to craft a sword bag that was quite commented upon at Thursday night's class. I couldn't have done it without the studio space in which I could work in a flurry.

If you've seen the fabric rolls in which chefs carry knives, or knitters carry needles, that's what I was aiming for as a sword bag--a fabric case that held swords in pockets and could be rolled up for carrying. For fabric, I had a dark blue Japanese canvas with ivory logos printed on it. This became the outside of the bag. For a lining, I used an ivory Japanese lightweight cotton fabric that had dark blue dragons printed on it. Here they both are, sewn together, and laid out so that I could figure out how to configure the pockets. Here it is after I've pinned some pockets into it. Before I sewed the pockets I'd pinned, I came up with a plan for buckled straps to hold the roll shut as well as a strap for carrying. My plans had to be modified a bit by not being able to obtain as much of one kind of strapping as I planned to use and only being ably to find one kind of buckle of which I could buy four. Even given all that, I managed to come up with something that seemed as if it would work. Lots of pinning, sewing, unpinning, and sewing later, I had a finished bag with four buckles into which I could put all my various swords as well as a jo staff, roll up, buckle, and be ready to go using the handy shoulder strap. The small bag you might notice hanging from the outside of the sword roll holds my black belt. It's now residing in the kit bag in which I carry my gi, tape, notebook, and other necessities.

I must admit that I do like the new bag or roll better than the bag I had been using. Several people in class Thursday night suggested I should make more and try to sell them. I pointed out that the market for sword rolls is likely a very limited one. I did admit that were I to make another, there were some things I'd do differently to make it even better. Upon hearing this, younger son suggested I should make another, new and improved one and then give the first one to him. He also suggested that I could make the second one using the raw silk he got me as a Mother's Day gift in Vietnam in 2009. I have to admit that it's an idea worthy of consideration. First, though, I have that other quilt to finish...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Where Has All the Summer Gone?

So much for the New Year's resolution to blog more or blog more regularly. Here it is August 21, and my last post was on July 9. What's happened since then? Just a few things. Here, in a whirlwind, with photos, is a summary.

It being summer in Central Virginia, we've had storms, some of which have taken trees down. We tried to save the beehive in this tree that came down on the edge of our yard, but were unsuccessful. We couldn't get the tree far enough off the ground, and it didn't take long for ants to invade and take over the hive. If you've never visited us, here's our house, from the rear, in a photo taken from where the tree came down. We've done some cooking out on the deck you can see on the left, which lets us get up close and personal with the regular visitors to the hummingbird feeder there.
Sadly, we said good-bye to our 17-year-old cat, Maxwell II, and to our 14-year-old dog, Marburg. They said good-bye to us within two days of each other and are buried together in the woods beside the house. I miss both of them deeply.

The husband and I went to a wedding in Chicago. Guests were asked to wear festive summer clothing that was pink and/or orange. The husband got by with a tie that had some pink in the paisleys. I used it as an excuse to buy new shoes and a purse handcrafted by a friend in Australia. The shoes are Vibram Five Fingers. I now own three pairs and basically live, including running, in them.

Younger son worked in Pennsylvania for six weeks, but his return brought such exciting things as life imitating art, well, advertising, in seeing if it were possible to cook a frozen waffle using an iron. Guess what ... it is.

Much of my time has been spent re-arranging rooms in our basement. For the six years my mom lived with us, we used one basement room as a combined sewing room and study/office. When the stairs got too much for my mom and she moved into a condo, we got the chance to reconfigure the space. While the basement as a whole remains a work in progress, the first new room, a studio in which I can pursue my creative urges, is done. Here's the view from the door, and here's what it looks like from the back wall. The room outside the studio door, where the empty bookcase is, will be the new study/office. After that will come a guestroom in what used to be the sewing room/office, a library/reading room in what used to be a family room, and a workout room (including the 70-pound hanging bag I got for Mother's Day) in what used to be a sun room. Getting all those configured should see me into fall. Speaking of fall, if you looked closely in the first photo of the studio, you can see the top of one of my "quilts of summer" hanging on the rear wall. The bins of fabric around the sewing machine are contributing to another one. With luck, the next time I post will not be when both of those are finished and ready to be presented.

The husband just reviewed this post and said that I had to explain the fluffy white dog sitting atop the bins to the left of the first studio photo. His high-faluting name, were he real and registered, would be Gruffles Guardian of the Green, though he goes quite nicely by just Gruffles. Fluffy white dogs have been firmly embedded in the family history ever since a Cambodian one bit me. This past week, I tested for and earned my green belt in Myo Sim karate. Rather than just present me with the "legacy" green belt he once wore, elder son handed me said green belt tied around Gruffles and told me I'd have to fight him for it. I did, and Gruffles is now wearing a blue collar in recognition of the blue belt I'm now working toward. In an interesting footnote, while one of the two remaining family cats views Gruffles as just another one of her humans' stuffed animals, the other cat is quite convinced that Gruffles is real to the point that she arches her back and hisses at him before running for cover. Just one more surreal thing that passes for life around here.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The First Quilt of Summer (Though Started in the Spring)

Since my latest quilt made its debut on Facebook last night, it seems appropriate to highlight it here rather than wait until the post I usually do in the fall on my "quilts of summer." This one was a wedding present that I mailed to the recipients ahead of time so that I wouldn't have to pack it in my luggage when I go to Chicago for the wedding in two weeks. Laura was one of my Girl Scouts a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. No, wait, it just seems that way. Seriously, I was very happy to reconnect with Laura at the wedding of another Scout two years ago. Laura is a wonderful young woman who seems to run at life with a smile on her face. When I heard she was getting married, I knew I had to make her and her intended a quilt, and what kind of quilt to make shaped up fairly easily. The blocks in the center of the quilt pay tribute to the colors that Laura and George chose for their wedding. Guests were asked to wear festive attire in pink and/or orange, so I chose 12 fabrics that seemed to "cry out" with each color. Through a neat mathematical trick, each set of 12 fabrics yielded 12 blocks, each of which had nine different fabrics in it.

The borders also somewhat designed themselves. The shoe border was for Laura, whose middle name perhaps should have been "Imelda." The train border was for George, whose passion for trains rivals Laura's for shoes. In a further stroke of "it was meant to be," the train fabric is for the Union Pacific, which I think is the railway for which George once worked.

As often happens, the quilt basically named itself. Besides the shoe and train fabrics on the front, you can see on the photo of the label that I used beer fabric for the backing. Hence, the name "Chugga Chugga, Chugga Chugga, Shoe Shoe." One "chugga chugga" for George's train obsession, one "chugga chugga" for the beer that brought Laura and George together, and one "shoe shoe" for Laura's footwear fetish.

I sometimes think of the quilts I make as babies that I send out for adoption to people who will love them and give them a good home. I know that Laura and George will cherish Chugga Chugga, Chugga Chugga, Shoe Shoe and give it a wonderful, loving home. They can also share it with their canine and feline children. Unless I'm doing something special, as in the quilt I made from silk ties, the quilts I make are fully machine washable and dryable. They are designed to be used, and I'm betting that Laura and George will put Chugga Chugga, Chugga Chugga, Shoe Shoe to very good use over the years to come.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Birthday Musings

I share a birthday with Canada, though I am 89 years her junior. Having a birthday that falls halfway through the year makes it all too easy to reflect on those resolutions I made half a year ago to see how I'm doing on them. Here goes.

In terms of the omnipresent exercise resolution, yes, I am well on track to exceed it once again. On the martial arts front, I didn't resolve anything about Myo Sim karate, though I noted that I was still wrestling with vertigo on tumble falls as 2010 dawned. I'm proud and pleased to say that although I occasionally have a hint of vertigo, I can now do a very respectable tumble fall, the first successful one of which actually drew applause in the dojo. In terms of Myo Sim kendo, I resolved to learn all the material required for second degree black belt so that I could practice, practice, practice. I have learned 19 of the 20 forms required, meaning I am practicing, practicing, practicing. Unfortunately, I need a partner for half of the forms, so those don't get practiced quite as often as the others. I'm working hard, though, on the forms as well as on using two swords, another requirement. Finally on the martial arts front, it seems that I resolved to improve my kendo notes in 2010. While I have not quite done this, I have been pretty meticulous about making notes and recording comments on the new material I have learned.

In terms of my 2010 resolution to "create more," I probably haven't but it hasn't been for lack of trying. I've made a couple of sweaters, a quilt, some bags, and am currently in the process of setting up a dedicated studio as part of our basement reorganization. Things are percolating mentally, though, and once the space is ready, I think the soul will be, too. I have a list of blog posts I'd like to write, and will try to be more regular about those.

Finally, it appears that I resolved to finish my list of 50 things to do in my fiftieth year. Yes, I know that was a while ago. I need to update The Fifty blog, but it appears I have four or five left to do. I think I'll make that a priority in the upcoming months of summer.

As birthdays go, this one is still up in the air. I asked the resident menfolk (younger son is away at a summer job) last night if I would be making my own birthday cake, and they got quite embarrassed since they'd totally forgotten about cake. I told them it could wait until the weekend. The folks at the vet's office gave me the wrong time for the dog's blood test, so I had to kill time for an hour and then take him home on my own. Since he doesn't get into and out of the car easily, it helps to have older son along. And when I tried to kill some of the time by getting the free birthday coffee Starbucks e-mailed me that I would get, I couldn't get it without the postcard Starbucks has yet to mail me. On the plus side, the bread I made this afternoon turned out okay, the sun is shining but not too hotly, I've been getting tons of warm birthday wishes via e-mail and Facebook, and the 17-year-old cat must still have a life or two left in him since he's still moving around. I have people who love me and people whom I love. I have things I love to do and the time in which to do them and the energy with which to do them. All in all, life is pretty good as I enter my 55th year.

Monday, June 21, 2010


If my blog had deadlines, I would probably be much better about posting things. If I had faithful readers and paid ads down the side instead of a list of the other blogs I read and the Daily Puppy, I would feel more of an obligation, I'm sure, and make the time for it. As it is, I put items I want to blog about on a list which then carries over to the daily list of things to do not all of which ever get done.

The day after tomorrow, though, is the deadline to enter photos in the photo contest being held by the Charlottesville Photography Meetup Group, which I recently joined. Each paid member can enter up to three photos. The top 10 photos will be mounted as 20 x 24 prints for the fancy reception on July 23, and the people who took the top three photos will win prizes that I imagine will be awesome. I'll actually be at a wedding in Chicago that weekend so will miss the party and the announcement of the winners. That's okay, because I don't really expect to win anything. I don't consider myself a serious photographer; I have enough other time- and money-consuming hobbies already to start taking photography as seriously as most of the other meetup group members do. The photos I entered, for example, have not been post-processed or put through software such as Adobe Photoshop or Gimp. They are as they were taken; I haven't tweaked anything. There are people in the group who will not show other people even one photo that has not been post-processed and who would likely be appalled that I am about to post three here. I just like these pictures and hope that other people might, too. Taking them made me happy, and sharing them with other people makes me happy. Would I be happier if I put in the time tweaking and fine-tuning them? Maybe, but I doubt the difference in happiness would be enough to justify the time it would take, especially on the up-side of the learning curve.

All that said, here are the photos I entered. The first comes from our month in Hue and actually made its debut on my trip blog accompanying some musings about how I used to be a better photographer than I am now. I like the depth of field in this shot, though I achieved it only by accident. Having just gotten a basic lesson in digital photography from the same friend who introduced me to the CPMG, I could probably do this shot now intending for it to come out as it did, but that doesn't mean I like this accidental shot less.

The second photo is from our hotel in Reykjavik, Iceland, in February. It was one of those quickie things as I walked up to the room and looked down at the spiral the stairs were making. Somewhere, I have a film print of the spiral stairs at the Vatican, and they're much more glamorous. What can I say? These stairs may not be glamorous, but they're fun to me.

The final photo I entered is one that appears in this blog just a post or two back, when I wrote about my trip to New Mexico in April. The hand sits on a shelf in one of the huge prop rooms maintained for In Plain Sight. I took several shots of the hand, but this is my favorite. It's a simple shot, not much color and not many things to see save for the hand and the rolls of paper beside it. Simple but somewhat elegant? Maybe that's what drew me to it.

If you want to check out the competition, all the photos entered can be seen here. I think mine are photos 61-63. Younger son will probably add three of his to the collection tonight or tomorrow; I expect they'll be better than mine. Still, you never win if you don't play the game, so I might as well play. Stay tuned for a month, and I'll post the outcome sometime after July 23.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Taste of Adventure

Travel is always an adventure, one aspect of which is trying new food and drink. When I spent a summer in Spain during my college days, I set the challenge of trying at least a taste of everything new that I was served. I ended up trying--and liking--some things I probably never would have tried at home, octopus and squid among them. When I went to Vietnam last year, I was not quite so open, vowing not to even taste dog or cat were I offered them. Different spices on meat that I consider fit to eat, fine, but meat from an animal I consider to be pet material? No way!

Meeting up with the Aussies in New Mexico gave me the chance to try something I'd only heard of and not necessarily in complimentary terms, Vegemite. For those who may not know much about Vegemite, here's the Wikipedia summary: "Vegemite is made from used brewers' yeast extract, a by-product of beer manufacturing, and various vegetable and spice additives. It is salty, slightly bitter, and umami or malty — similar to beef bouillon. The texture is smooth and sticky. It is not as intensely flavoured as British Marmite and it is less sweet than the New Zealand version of Marmite." The Aussies had some along and were all too willing to share, so I had to give it a go. They warned me that the other Americans with whom they'd spent time had not liked it, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. Diane from Canada didn't let it stop her either, and here's her reaction. She went straight for the milk, which seemed to help. I didn't have quite that reaction, though I can't say I'll be seeking out a jar here so as to have my own supply. As Wikipedia says, it's salty, and I didn't find the taste to be one I'd like first thing in the morning, for breakfast. I tend to like salty foods later in the day, occasionally or often with a beer. I think I'd like Vegemite better under those circumstances than for breakfast.

Speaking of salt, Sarah makes a mean margarita, from scratch, no margarita mixer allowed. I even helped squeeze the limes. Margaritas were new for the Aussies, and Gilly's reaction to hers was even better than Diane's Vegemite face. Here it is, in sequence. First, the preparation ... then, a sip ... then the reaction ... followed by ... and ... and then ... and finally ... I think that's relief that the first taste is over. Not to worry. Gilly survived her first margarita, just as Diane and I survived our first tastes of Vegemite. We all had a taste of adventure and lived to tell and laugh about it. Plus, the Aussies ended up with more Vegemite left than they might have had Diane and I really taken a liking to it, and some of us ended up with seconds and more on the margaritas.

And just in case any reader is wondering, both Diane and Gilly agreed to my posting their photos here. Yes, I asked them since they, after all, have much they could tell on me should I inadvertently tick them off.