Thursday, August 30, 2007

M-1 Dogwood Days

I think this might be my favorite Dear Jane block design yet. Sorry the photo is a little blurry. I did have to rip this one out a couple of times to make it work, and it's still not perfect (notice the two short green 'legs' on the left and the two long green 'legs on the right inside the white square-- a little messy). But I love the design. How great would it be to have a whole quilt of these in different colors? Time-consuming, but definitely great.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ele-thank You

We had a lovely party last weekend. My brothers came to town for the occasion, and it was so great to see them. Twenty minutes before the guests were to arrive, it was literally 100 degrees outside. Then the rain came. All of the tablecloths that I had laid out were whipped about in violent streams of water, and ended up twisted around table legs. The serving dishes sitting on the covered porch filled rapidly with rain. Twenty minutes into the party time it was still raining and dark as I sat in a rocking chair thinking about what to do if all of the guests cancelled.

And then the rain stopped, and the sky began to clear. My friend Gillian told me later that when she looked up and saw that there was enough blue sky to cut a pair of jeans out of, the party would be saved and the rain would move on.

With the rain gone, guests began to arrive, and the temperature was a beautiful (if wet) 70. The party went off without a hitch. At one point, after it got dark, I looked around the well-lit porch at the friends and family who had joined us, all these people framed by the night, and I felt a little like I was on a boat with these people in the middle of the ocean, travelling to some far-off place. And that felt pretty good.

I made these little elephant cards with the Print Gocco to thank a few special people who helped make the party good-- and I'll have about 15 left over for later use. The best part about using a fairly neutral color for printing, like this dark-ish purple/navy, is that you can complement it with almost any color envelope. Just today I sent out envelopes in purple, pink, green and orange.

Until tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Good Desk Chair

This was the sorry state of our office chair last week:

I tell him that I love him all the time, but I definitely do not love his cigar-smoking habit. Plus, that tiny lumbar pillow did not make this chair very comfortable for long stretches of computer time. So I made this:

Not perfect, but oh-so-refreshing. Very girly and more in keeping with the cozy-cute vibe of the office. And definitely more appropriate since I'm the one who actually *works* in this office. This was my first attempt at any kind of box pillow or (loosely) upholstery. I winged it, and was pleasantly surprised when the edging actually worked out. I will have to find a better way to cut 2 inch thick upholstery foam, though (and dang is that stuff expensive!), as this came out a little scraggly and not quite as square as I would have liked. Still it makes me hopeful for future upholstery projects (slipcovers, here I come!).

Note the puppy dog tail at the bottom of the photo. The picture below is actually an old one from his puppy days, but it gives an idea of the cute that I have at my feet as I work at this now more comfortable desk:

Monday, August 27, 2007

Happy Birthday, Ted!

This is Dear Jane block C-3, Rayelle's Fence (kind of looks similar to (an opposite) Granny Weaver, huh?), and I've posted it today because this great fabric reminds me of my brother Ted, who turns 23 today. The fabric is a great dark brown, and I've used it for many different things. I got it from my mom's stash when I first started sewing, and last time I was home she told me that it's a Civil War reproduction fabric. How appropriate for a Baby Jane!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Slow and steady

Earlier this week I read a post from MommyCoddle on Wendell Berry's books, and the world that his characters inhabit, where there is routine and work and quiet, but no real drama.

Her post reminded me of the day early this month when I had to take my Jeep in to get an inspection in one of the small towns near the farm. When my grandparents were children, you could take a train from Washington, DC to this tiny town, which used to boast restaurants and several stores. The train line is gone, and the town is now sandwiched between larger towns in the fat middle of the fastest growing county in the nation.

When I walked into the gas station's office, a middle-aged woman was writing a $50 check to pay part of her gas tab. I sat down on the worn leather sofa up front to wait for my car and settled in with this book, a perfect pace for a small town. Three or four blue hairs came in to ask the college kid (home for the summer) sitting behind the desk to pump their gas. Each one asked after Mike, the station's proprietor, and were told, "he went up to Carlisle for the day," to which they nodded and were on their way. (I had to look it up, but apparently this means a car or truck show in Pennsylvania.)

Throughout the time I was there, different guys from auto parts distributors passed through, leaving various single parts on the chairs in the front room, and getting a signature from College Kid. At one point, the gas truck man came through and shot the breeze with College Kid, and we all remarked at the enormous amount of gas pumped in the Big Town nearby. Apparently the gas truck man stops there at least once every day. I learned a couple of the fine points of demolition derby at the county fair (which had occurred the previous night), and I hope I absorbed some Important Car Facts as the men discussed what might be wrong with the firetruck in for service.

On my way out, I learned that College Kid had worked in the station in high school, and that Mike is holding his job at the station for him until he finishes his time in college. I don't mean to be condescending, but in this world, that kind of steadfastness and loyalty sure feels rare to me.

I had to go back to the station the next week for work on my truck, and things were much the same in the office. Little tiny old ladies, parts men, the College Kid, people coming in to pay for work long ago done. And I was reminded of what I like (and what I seek) in small town, rural America-- routine and steadiness. A definite beginning (sunrise) and a definite end (bedtime), but a gentle undulating rhythm of days in between. Maybe more one day and a little less another, but nothing drastic. Just living.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A-4 Courtney's Stethoscope

Another busy day, another Dear Jane block. This one was kind of tricky, and didn't end up all that square, but I love this print, and the way that the colored portions run into each other. Overall, a nice block. I'm loving the look of all the Dear Jane blocks up together on the wall. I may have to take a photo of all of them together soon. Until tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

K-12 Doris' Dilemma

This photo is less in focus than I would like it to be, and the print of the fabrics in the block don't line up as well as I would like them to line up. And of course this is not the fabulous completed project that I had hoped to post today, but such is life.

This block was fun to make, and I love how all those little corners turned out, pointing so true. Up until and including the photo of this block, the photos are actually bigger than the dainty 4.5" square blocks, but I'll remedy that situation with the next photo. Happy busy Wednesday to you!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Poetry Tuesday: Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?

These are naked or resurrection lillies, in my grandmother's garden, after the rain (thank God for the rain!). Looking a little worse for the wear, but still so beautiful and fragile.

Today's poem is in Mary Oliver's book Why I Wake Early. I don't know a lot about Oliver, except that, like many of my favorite poets, she expresses great joy found in nature. This poem actually reminds me a lot of some of my favorite bloggers, who find inspiration in the day-to-day changing of the world around them and the way that they navigate those changes. Shari at the glass doorknob immediately comes to mind, probably because I love watching her experience a place where I once lived and experienced much joy in the natural (Durham and surrounding counties, NC).

But without further ado, here is this week's poem:


Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?
-Mary Oliver

There are things you can't reach. But
you can reach out to them, and all day long.

The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God.

And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.

The snake slides away; the fish jumps, like a little lily,
out of the water and back in; the goldfinches sing
from the unreachable top of the tree.

I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.

Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
as though with your arms open.

And thinking: maybe something will come, some
shining coil of wind,
or a few leaves from any old tree--
they are all in this too.

And now I will tell you the truth.
Everything in the world

At least, closer.

And, cordially.

Like the nibbling, tinsel-eyed fish; the unlooping snake.
Like goldfinches, little dolls of gold
fluttering around the corner of the sky

of God, the blue air.


I love the idea of starting each day with my arms open, ready to receive what the day (and the world) has to show me. And ready to give with those same open arms.

As an aside, I've been listening to the Bowerbirds' album Hymns For A Dark Horse almost non-stop this week. It's great for a rainy, close summer day. See you tomorrow, hopefully with a project!

Monday, August 20, 2007

J-6 Granny Weaver

A nice cheery, bright Dear Jane block for a rainy Monday. I'm thankful for the rain, but it sure makes the day go slowly.

I spent some time at the beach in Maryland with family this weekend. It was a different kind of beach vacation than I'm used to taking, but there was caramel corn and the boardwalk haunted house (how I wish I had photos of that slice of Americana!), and most importantly, there was time with family. *That* was refreshing.

Happy Monday!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Monkey wrench and a slice of cake

Here's a new card concept I'm working on. Tiny quilt blocks in a cutout. I really like this monkey wrench block card, even though I need to work on making it a little less lumpy where the block lies under the front of the card. The middle of every one of these is a little less than perfect, but again, that fits my aesthetic, so I'll leave it. Definitely handmade! And it's so satisfying to use up all those little scraps.

I'll probably send this as a birthday card. I meant to make an annual birthday card 'edition' (a la disdressed) at the beginning of the year to send out as each birthday rolled around. But I never got around to it, and I've been making them piecemeal throughout the year (with the result that some people never even got a card-- sorry Dad!) So it's always good to add to the 'ready' card pile.

Here's another card, more my usual style, that I sent to a cousin last week. I love working with cut paper on cards. The challenge of making things look iconic and recognizable (and not killing myself with the exacto knife) is always fun. But it's very time-consuming. I'll have to do more work with my Gocco to learn to achieve the kind of detail that I like in a card.

I hope everyone has a great weekend-- see you on Monday.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Let it rain

These poor little zinnias were deceived by the little bit of rain that we got today. All bloomy, and then wilted by the beating sun that dried everything up immediately. Poor scraggly things. We could really use about four days of steady rain. (I could use it, too-- rain days are my best inside crafting days!)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I-8, Pete's Paintbox

My mother is an excellent quilter and applique-er and general needle artist. When my cousin Meredith was born, she drafted and made a Beatrix Potter quilt that included all of the characters, wrought with tiny blind stitches. She has made numerous bed-sized quilts, and each year for Christmas she makes an original ornament for me and one for my husband and each of my brothers-- many of these are quilted also.
I am very interested in quilting. I know the basics of planning and executing a quilt, and my mother even taught me several things about applique and reverse applique and binding, etc. I love the idea of making something that will keep someone warm while also being beautiful. However, I have a lot to learn-- and I'm reluctant to ask for help. I taught myself to knit from books, and I like the rhythm of trial and error.
So, inspired by these folks (and especially swim notes), I have begun a Dear Jane quilt for practice. I love the idea of a sampler quilt, and the inspiration quilt is just magnificent. So far I've only done pretty straightforward blocks (no applique yet, although it will come!), but I have to say, these are like popcorn. Especially the ones that are foundation-piece-able (I'm not sure if some people consider this 'cheating')-- so satisfying, and a great and relaxing way to end the day.
This block is I-8, Pete's Paintbox. I cut off a couple of corners slightly (no excuse for this with paper-piecing, I know), but I still love it. I like quilt blocks a little 'off' and homemade-looking--otherwise I could just buy a quilt from Garnet Hill or something, right?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Poetry Tuesday

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing-- human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

E.E. Cummings, from XAIPE, 1950

This is one of my favorite poems. It goes at least part of the way toward describing the enormity that I feel when I'm faced with the sheer, giant beauty of the natural world. And many of Cummings' poems express the way I see the universal nature of our world, our country, our communities.

It's a little like this: I'm sure there has been a moment in your life when you wished there existed a stronger word for 'love'-- when you had to say to someone, "No, I mean it, I really love you," and then even that sentiment wasn't enough. In my reading, Cummings' unconventional wordings and punctuations try to extend our language, to help the words make the kind of sense that punches you in the gut. (For instance, don't trees "leap... greenly" up to the sky?)

As I stood at the top of the town of Vezelay in France's Burgundy region and prepared to take the photo above, the sun came from behind a cloud and illuminated only part of the valley below. And I could believe that the sun was born again that day and that moment, both through the clouds and around the planet, as it is every day somewhere. We looked at the line where the sky disappears around the curve of the land, and I thought of this poem.

It happens often. I mean, how many leaves are on the tree outside your window? Can you even count them all? At the beach, how many grains of sand do you touch as you build a sandcastle? And how many cells make up your body? It's all around us, and it's infinite. The world. And your life.

As Julia Child said famously, "Life itself is the proper binge." There's too much: too much to see, too much to do, too much to feel on this earth for us to stumble through, unwitting. So open the ears of your ears and the eyes of your eyes to the world all around you.

(I'm not sure I expressed myself as clearly as I would have liked to do-- and this is perhaps where you start making fun of me and my naive optimism and wide-eyed innocence. But, dear Reader, you must forgive me-- I was (clearly!) an English major.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Buzzy bag

Over the weekend, I made the Pleated Beauty bag from Bend-the-Rules Sewing in some Echino wasp fabric from Superbuzzy. I could see myself making this bag over and over again. The color in the photo above is not very representative; it looks over-bright. (It's possible that the bag is acting bright on purpose to try to draw your attention from the *weeds* growing through my fence--please ignore how big they've gotten!)

Nevertheless, I love the waspies, and the weight of the Echino fabric. I might add some extra interfacing to the bag to make it a little less floppy next time, especially if I decide to make it in a more 'serious' color scheme.

The photo below is more representative of the colors of the bag. So much fun!

Also, today is my parents' *thirtieth* anniversary. I'm so fortunate to have such great parents, and I am inspired by their strong marriage. Congratulations, Mom and Dad!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Reality is...

This little quilt, which I intended for the front of a pillow, was the first project that I drafted myself. It was six years ago and I was living in the Little House at the farm, where the rabbit ears on the roof allowed me to get three different public television stations and a public access station that showed local Thai dance troupes on Sundays, but no network tv. It turns out that Thai dance troupes and hand quilting make good company on a dark dark October Sunday night.

My mother had loaned me her Featherweight the previous winter, and I set it up in front of the tiny tv in the cabin's log back room and machine pieced to my exacting measurements (I remember that there were some sixteenths of an inch in my drawing). The building in the quilt is the bank barn at the farm, and I really wanted to capture its essence as a gift for some close friends with whom I rode horses who lived in the barn. I chose the fabrics with a demanding eye, going to two different fabric stores to find the perfect grey for the barn's painted oak sides, and quilting in a bunch of details, from the zig-zag pattern that we raked into the real stone barnyard to the clouds in the sky.

Sometime after attempting my first embroidery on the upstairs windows and before I actually made the cut in what was to be the reverse applique on the first downstairs window (so that tiny appliqued horse heads could hang out, of course!), I got burned out. And then the whole thing started looking wrong and I set it aside and never finished it.

My friends still occasionally ask after their pillow, and I confirm that it's not finished. And the reality is that it will probably never be finished. Because I tried too hard to hold on to reality in this piece. I wish I'd done it with wacky colors and slightly wonky angles, instead of so 'perfectly' that the finished product will never live up to all the work that I put into it, or to the memory of the place.

Last winter, I hung the unfinished barn on the wall in my craft space, along with the bits and pieces of some other patchwork projects that I started and never finished. And there the barn quilt will probably stay, calm and as close to the actual as I could make it (which was not very close), as a reminder to myself to just do it already. And to do it big, do it colorful, do it with gusto. A reminder to get as much feeling in there as possible, and leave the splendor of reality to Nature.

(I always did really like that fabric that I used for the roof-- from my mother's stash.)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Y'all come now!

We try to have a party at the farm each year, an end-of-the-summer barbeque to touch base with all of our friends and neighbors. Last year, somehow, the party slipped away from us, which is why the 'annual' in the invitations is in quotes. But this year we will barbeque!

I wrote an email yesterday to a high school friend who now lives in the area, asking for her address so that I could send an invitation. She wrote back, "yay! a party with a real invitation!"-- that's the way I feel. I love getting mail, and I know everyone else does, too, even if an evite would be easier. (Well, almost everyone else loves real mail. My brother, when he heard that I would be sending an invitation, emailed, "... and by invite, I hope you mean evite - the internet is the wave of the future... get on it." Mostly a joke, T, I know!)

For this invitation I used my Gocco-- so nice just to print, print, print away! I hadn't used the machine in awhile, and I forgot to replace the batteries before burning the screen, so the vertical edges of the image were a little faded. I filled them in with a close-but-not-quite-matching thin Sharpie marker, which I think gives the whole invitation a more arty look when viewed in person. Ditto the Sharpies on filling in the lettering.

And now a nice big stack of grey envelopes is off to the post office-- so satisfying.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Fruits and veggies

Contents of this week's CSA haul: Corn, eggplant, bell pepper, zukes, two kinds of early apples, blue potatoes, peaches, nectarines, basil, beefsteak tomatoes, garlic and half a dozen eggs. Whew! I love summer.

For a while there in the spring, it seemed like all we were getting was potatoes and tomatillos. So on Monday I finally did something with the mountain of tomatillos in the fridge: salsa verde! Although I feel a little cheated-- all that work to can only three half-pints.

But all the seals popped closed, which is a first for me, so I'm happy. Yum. Any ideas for the rest of the bounty? I'm always looking for new veggie ideas. Last week we did summer corn salad, tomatoes and basil, and apple pie. This week maybe zucchini bread?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Three years ago today

Today was hot and muggy, with a haze that settled around the hills like the fog does in fall. God, could we use some rain.

Today was very unlike the beautiful cool day three years ago when we got married. With everyone we love behind us and the whole world ahead of us.

Happy Anniversary, B-- here's to the next three (and thirty!) years. <3

Monday, August 6, 2007

Country time

I like to fancy myself something of a country girl. I wouldn't presume to say that I can do all (or even close to all) of the things that any good farmer does in a given day, but I can ride a horse, drive a tractor, shovel manure in a passable manner. I don't mind swimming in a pond with a little green algae when the day is hot, and I'll help you organize your feed room any day.

But it's not what I can or cannot do on a farm that makes me a country person. It's the way I feel it in my soul. That open, free and grassy space hemmed in by mountains. The round bales dotting a hilly summer field. The fences that stitch the acreage together. And on a smaller scale, the lichen growing on a seasoned locust post. The box turtle that could have been a rock on the gravel road. And the way the dog runs so fast down the winding driveway that he trips on his own flopping ears. All of these help me breathe, fill me up and make me real.

Most days, I'm lucky lucky lucky to get my country fix in the same county where I was born, just a few miles from the stone house where we lived before they named the road. Someday I hope to share this country feeling with my children, the way it was shared with me.

My parents live in North Carolina now, not far from a different kind of country, more sun and red clay. A couple of months ago, they went to a concert put on by the art museum in their city. One of the songs the singer sang was "Shenandoah". My mom told me that they both came out with that song in their hearts, thinking, 'We have to get back there.' That's the way I feel. Got to get back there, to the country, and the open, and the free.

(And finally, let me say that I know you're thinking, 'the dog again?'... but don't we all secretly believe that our dog (kid, mom, etc.) is the cutest one in the world? So hopefully you can forgive me.)

Friday, August 3, 2007

Mail call

As (relatively) new homeowners, my husband and I get a lot of mail. Much of it from creditors eager to take over our loans or bury us under more debt (at a one-time special rate of xx%!, they scream). Our 70-year-old home is a mostly untouched colonial; we are only the second owners, having purchased it from the original owner's daughter, who grew up here.

Not that it's so 'historical', but we are grateful that the house is as it always was, without an addition tacked onto the back haphazardly, racing the arrival of a second child, as is so often the case in our neighborhood. We love the huge trees in the neighborhood, and the small set of shops a half-mile down the road (earlier this week I went to the dry cleaner, the post office, the pharmacy, the hardware store and the grocery all in the space of an hour!).

But I do wish our neighborhood did mailboxes instead of mail slots. I love coming home to mail, but hate the sight of it splayed on the floor of the foyer when I unlock the door. And I like the ritual of the trip, however short, to the self-contained mail unit, so tidy and neighborly, out there facing the road as a representative of our house and our family. Recently I tried to get some mail love back despite the slot, with the lovely pleated pocket front door organizer tutorial from Meg at Montessori by Hand. Very good and straightforward pattern. I decided to forgo the small front key pocket in favor of simplicity-- we're enjoying the results very much!

And just because we all need a little cuteness in our days, a gratuitous puppy pic.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The first post is the hardest

It's hard for me to put myself out there in the world.

I was listening to a podcast of This American Life this morning, the one entitled, "Man vs. History" . Ira & Co. profiled Dal Lamagna, CEO of Tweezerman Corporation, and his trip to Iraq as a citizen diplomat. During the course of the program, he said something to the effect of 'entrepreneurs are used to going out and getting things done.' This was why he felt that he was qualified to 'get something done' about the problems in Iraq.

Although I admire Mr. Lamagna's sheer bravery for going to Iraq and for staring the problems there straight in the face, his personality couldn't be farther from mine. When I was in high school my mother had to force me to make phone calls to doctors and bankers and other adults-- in fact I didn't get over my fear of people judging me over the phone until I got a job where I was shot down over the phone multiple times each day.

But I do have definite opinions about things. And I do want to share. I create things, mostly with fiber and fabric and paper (not all at the same time... usually). So I'm putting myself out there-- open to judgment. This blog will hold farm stories and life stories and a record of my many projects (hopefully it will help me finish some of them!)

The baby hats above are from Susan B. Anderson's book Itty-Bitty Hats, made in cotton for two babies with summer birthdays. Much cuter on baby noggins than on my side table!