Saturday, October 31, 2015

Trick or Treat!

As a kid, I loved Halloween. Back then we used to write Hallowe'en. That seems to have fallen out of favor.

Anyway, I would start planning my costume very early, and usually my father was the one who would help me. One year we had a Howdy Doody facemark, and Daddy cut a couple of holes in a big brown box so I could be Howdy Doody on TV.

I enjoyed helping my kids plan their costumes and often Joe was the one who made them happen. I was okay with making the bunny-out-of-a-pillowcase costume for two-year-old Andrew, but it took Dad's expertise the year Sherry was the bag of groceries.

We moved into our current home back in 1999 and the first year we had approximately three callers on Halloween before the big, uncostumed teenagers showed up. There just weren't little ones on our block. The next year, and a few years after that, we went to the Philadelphia Orchestra Halloween performances, and when those ended, we just started going to the movies.

A couple of years ago we noticed that the neighborhood was changing. There were young families moving in, and they were reproducing! So for the past couple of years, I would pick up treats and stop at their homes to deliver them on Halloween afternoon, and then we would go to the movies. This year, for the first time in so long, we're staying home and open for business! I can think of twelve potential guests from our very own block, and I imagine there will be more. We have a big bowl of Snickers, a couple pair of strategically placed mustache glasses, and Joe outdid himself carving perhaps the finest punkin ever. Bring 'em on!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Kaffe-ish Baskets

More baskets have been born to join the first two that I made at Black Rock.

I don't know how many more there will be. Enough so that it isn't immediately apparent that there are two of each. But not so many that it turns into a great, big bed-size quilt.

I love basket blocks. The first two are my favorite from this batch. But more will come.

As I think about these baskets, it occurs to me that I really like the "base" -- what the basket sits on -- for the first two baskets (the ones at the very bottom of the photo) and I believe I'm going to remove the other six bases and make the base consistent throughout the quilt.

I've got an amazing leader-ender at present, too. The Queen Bee for November designs paper-piecing patterns, and when she gave us the papers to piece the blocks for her, she generously gave us extras plus the recipe for completing the blocks.  So I'm trying this as a L-E for a while. It is an easy paper-piecing pattern, otherwise, well, you know how I feel about that technique. I'd rather give a cat a bath.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Black Rock, October, 2015

I spent the weekend in Quarryville at the Black Rock Retreat Center with seven other women. Each of us worked on her own project(s), and most of us accomplished quite a bit.

Not long before we went away I discovered a bunch of CW F'sW blocks that I had made during my Civil War phase. I'd even begun to set them, but then the war ended and the blocks got packed away. I finished setting them and arranged them in rows and columns earlier in the week, and even got a couple of rows assembled.

So the first thing I did after setting up was to finish this quilt. It will measure about 60x60 (there will be no borders but just a nice brown binding) and will go to a friend who is going through a tough time and needs a reminder to take naps!

After getting that top completed, I pieced a couple of backs and made four bindings. These are tasks I'm not crazy about and never get around to doing at home. Being in a group of chattery colleagues means I need some projects that don't require intense concentration, and backs and bindings certainly meet that requirement.

Last autumn when I was Queen Bee I requested red, orange and yellow CDs on black-on-white fabric and just the opposite. Most of the participants followed directions. On a sewing Saturday a few weeks ago, I managed to get the sides on these blocks and was so exasperated at the completion of that step that I could go no farther. I laid the blocks all out in our work room at the retreat, and it didn't take any time at all for me to turn them into a quilt. This happy project doesn't have a designated recipient as yet.

Someone did me a big favor by purchasing something for me that I couldn't get locally. She wouldn't let me reimburse her, so I decided she should be compensated with a nice, large, shopping bag.

Actually, I made two bags almost identical. The other is a dark gray fabric with a limey lining. I have one more pay-it-forward to complete for 2015 and this is going to be it.

Sometime in the next couple of weeks these bags will be in the mail on the way to their recipients.

Having accomplished everything on my list by the start of day on Sunday, I decided to play! My friend Julie had sent me a collection of gorgeous cool-colored hand-dyes, and I knew they would make superb backgrounds for these baskets that had been whirling around in my head. I was right.

You all know that I never met a basket block that I didn't like, and these are no exception. This is going to be a very, very fun project.

It was wonderful to be away with girlfriends. In the workroom next door to us were a group of scrapbookers; one of them came over to tell us they had booked a massage therapist and were any of us interested in a session? Half of us responded in the affirmative and the masseuse gave us her card for future getaways. Honna and I stopped at a diner on the way home for a light lunch. Joe and Blackberry were both happy to see me return.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Ohio Weekend

We spent the past weekend visiting people we hadn't seen in a long, long time. On Thursday afternoon we left Blackberry at the kennel and drove to University Park, Pennsylvania, where my brother-in-law is a professor at Penn State and his wife has just retired from a demanding job in social work. We were greeted by their whacko golden retriever, Myka, who entertained us by discovering again and again and yet AGAIN her own tail which was of the utmost fascination to her. Bob served us a delicious dinner that included a grown up version of the old favorite green bean casserole; his featured fresh beans from his garden, cremini mushrooms, and goat cheese, topped with the famous french fried onion rings. Golly, it was delicious! The meal was topped off by Pat's yummy chocolate chip cookies.

After breakfast on Friday we continued on our way to Kent, Ohio, our destination. We'd lived there from August of 1971 until July of 1975 and again just two towns further east, Cuyahoga Falls, from July of 1980 until September of 1982. We stayed with our dear friend Roberta, and spent time both with her and with her sweet husband Lloyd, who is presently residing in a residential care facility following a mysterious febrile seizure several months ago that left him weak and debilitated. Lloyd has been an important figure in my life, and not only because he baptized all of our children. It was hard to see him so weak, but the essential parts of the man -- the terrific smile, the captivating laugh, the reflective mind, all are still functioning just fine, and we spent several hours together during the two days we were in Kent.

On Saturday evening, we went out to dinner with our friend Guenveur; I first met her when we were in a training class to serve as volunteers at a help line/suicide prevention center, and she proved to be a dear friend and role model over many years. Guenveur's an artist, and a couple of years ago she did a series of paintings about the Amish area of Ohio. When she posted them on her blog, I was just smitten. I especially liked the one of the Amish people gathered under a tree and was delighted when she said I could have it and I might also choose another from the series. I picked the group of Amish men at the auction. When we got together this weekend, I got to see the entire series up close and personal, and brought home my two. Guenveur's the kind of person that even when several years have passed between visits, you just pick up right where you left off. We had a nice meal together and when we took her home, her son was there and we spent time with him. I hadn't known her husband who had died too young, and hadn't seen son John in decades. We visited for a while and I had the distinct feeling that John is much like his father: thoughtful, calm, committed, reflective, inquisitive. It was hard to say good night, but we had to because . . . 

. . . we got up at 4:30 on Sunday morning!

Another friend, Bob, serves a congregation in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, not terribly far out of our way traveling home. We wanted to attend his church and we arrived just in time. After the service Bob, his wife Dawn (a spectacular quilter and all-round good person) and their youngest daughter went out to lunch with us. It was wonderful to spend time catching up and learning about each others' families.

We got home late in the afternoon and picked up one very enthusiastic springer spaniel who hasn't left Joe's side since.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Birthday Party

Birthday Party. Made by Nancy. Named by Janet. Quilted by Mary Ellen. Finished yesterday. Could not wait for a more formal portrait (which will happen later on, I imagine). Had to get it On The Bed.

Each block was designed separately. The center square for each block came from a piece of Kaffe's "Plink" fabric with white background (apparently no longer available). The colors for the rest of the block were determined from the colors in the center motif, and arranged sequentially around, if that makes sense. For example, if the center color in the motif was orange, and the colors around that were green, purple and blue, then the four squares around the motif would be orange, the triangles green, the next squares purple, and the next triangles blue; the outer small triangles were sometimes from the next colors around the motif, sometimes just what I liked there. I used lots of fabric from scrap bags sold by Glorious Color and FQs from my stash. The sashing is grey Guinea Flowers (Guinea Flowers show up in the blocks in a couple of other colors -- it's a favorite of mine) and the outer triangles and cornerstones are shot cottons.

I loved making this quilt and can't wait to sleep under it!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Baby Blues

Someone I know is expecting a baby boy any day now. 
Blue batiks and polka dots. 
Baby Blues.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Autumn Clean-Out

Here's the responsible landlord hard at work. Finally.

We have been terrible landlords. It has been two years -- possibly three? -- since we cleaned out the birdhouses.

Each autumn, by the time we think of it, some of our sparrows have begun using the houses for winter shelter. And we never have been able to tell exactly when that phase ends and the nesting phase begins.

So today was the day. We have a generous half-dozen residences hanging under our deck, visible from the broad window in the lower level. The red house, in particular, is near to the window where I sew, and I monitor the comings and goings all through the nesting season. We get either three or four sets of baby sparrows from that house each year. And there's no reason to think the occupants of the other houses are any less prolific.
Prime real estate: The Red House.

Here's what we cleaned out of the houses.
Here's a close-up from the red house nest debris

Some of the nest builders used feathers from blue jays and from cardinals to feather their nests. There was a lot of clear cellophane mixed in with each nest. We have a place where we hang yarn and some very small fabric scraps, and most of the builders went for the navy blue yarn. Only one had any fabric scraps.

When each house was cleaned out, I put some batting scraps in the bottom, thinking the sparrows might like the softness and warmth it would provide in the coming winter.

Some of the other residences

Such a satisfying afternoon! I know His eye is on these sparrows, and it's great to help Him out!

Thursday, October 01, 2015

On to Iceland!

Of all the places on this earth, Iceland was never on my list of ones I wanted to visit. I'm not talking about the Short List; I mean the Big List. There are places I know I do not want to go to: Russia, for example. But Iceland? It never occurred to me that I would go there.

When he heard about our plans to travel to Scandinavia, Mr. Bodine, Joe's friend, insisted that we spend at least a night in Iceland. And Joe was persuaded.

From the minute the bus left the airport and I saw the terrain, I knew I was someplace unique (and Honna can tell you how picky I am about the use of that word) and amazing (and that word, too). I'd never seen anything like it. The ground looked like I would imagine the ground on the moon would look. Lava fields everywhere. This is hardened molten rock with anemic-looking moss trying to grow on it.

Our hotel was located not far from Reykjavik's city center, and directly across the street from the opera house next to the sea. By now you know how we are about opera houses. A perfect location. A nice hotel, too. By the time we'd settled in, we were hungry and ready to walk after having been cooped up in a smallish plane and then on the crowded bus for 45 minutes. Most of the shops had closed for the day, but there were all kinds of restaurants open and we found a cute, cosy French cafe that produced a delicious dinner.

We got up early on Wednesday because we'd booked the Golden Circle Tour; it would start by 9:00 and last all day. This turned out to be one of the best experiences of our entire trip! Who knew? The bus took us to the three locations on the schedule plus one more. Turns out that due to laws of science and physics that are beyond my comprehension, tomatoes can be grown year-round in Iceland! We visited a tomato farm that also grew cucumbers. They were offering tomato soup, crusty bread, and, if one desired, a Bloody Mary.

Back on the bus, we were off to see geysers. And see them, we did. There was one that erupted every seven minutes, and I was fascinated to watch the pattern the water made and was able to predict when the next eruption was about to happen. 

Next we visited the Golden Falls Waterfall, which was gorgeous.

The final stop was at Thingvellir National Park; here we could actually see the American and European tectonic plates, and we learned that they are pulling apart at the rate of 2 centimeters per year. The landscape was like something prehistoric. We walked and walked and walked.

This might look like mud, but again it is hardened molten lava-into-rock.

Back at the hotel, we had a nap and around nine o'clock we were picked up for our evening adventure. We boarded a whale-watching vessel and were taken out into the water beyond Reykjavik where it was dark, and even though it was early in the season, we could see Northern Lights. We'd love to return in the winter -- brrrrr! -- to see them in their full glory.

On Thursday, we had just a couple of hours before the bus would take us to in the direction of the airport. We'd seen a picture of Hallgr√≠mskirkja Church when doing our research, and knew we had to visit it. It was simply stunning in its grandeur. Inside was very plain, with an immense pipe organ. We were both annoyed that a travel group was wandering around noisily and, in our opinions, disrespectfully, but we stayed as long as we could and then walked back to the hotel to prepare for our departure.

We'd been told by our cousin/travel agent that we needed to visit the Blue Lagoon, I told her we didn't need to do that. It sounded very touristy, and very strange. But she insisted, and -- well, you already have figured it out -- I'm so glad she did. Again, a place unlike anything else I've ever experienced: We rented "bathing costumes" and entered the geothermal spa uncertain what to expect. The bathing costumes came in two sizes: too small and too large. I opted for the latter and wondered if I might have a wardrobe malfunction. I don't think I did.

It was relaxing, it was fun, it was other-worldly. There is a place you walk up to in the water where sea algae is available. You smear it on your face and wait ten minutes until it forms a masque, then you remove it, all of this while standing in the geothermal spa water or relaxing spa-side. There is a waterfall of hot, salty, water that you stand under as it beats down on your back and shoulders, chasing away any tension or discomfort. (This is where the possible wardrobe malfunction might occur.) You wander over to the bar and receive a complimentary beverage. You grin in astonishment that you actually love this place. 

And then it's time to go home.