02/20/14

It’s National Cherry Pie Day!

Who knew? National Cherry Pie Day! I learned about it at 3 pm today. I had already missed the cherry pie for breakfast and cherry pie for lunch part of the celebration. You can be sure I wasn’t going to miss cherry pie for dinner too!

There was once a time, not so very long ago, that there was no way on earth I would have started to bake a pie at 4 in the afternoon. Heck, until 2011 I didn’t even know how to bake a pie, much less whip one out in an hour.

That was before I spent a year teaching myself to make pies. I read old cookbooks, collecting bits of pie baking wisdom. I invited myself into the kitchens of great pie bakers, in three counties, and watched them mix pie dough and roll out crust. I found pie taste testers in my neighborhood and beyond. And I baked, and baked, and baked.

Pie baking with Arlene Lawson

Pie baking with Arlene Lawson

I asked my sister, Dora, how she learned to make good pies. She told me, “I baked a lot of bad pies.  That’s the way to learn.” So I baked more pies. My pie testers ate up every last bit of crust, wiped their mouths and said, “That was good pie, but I think you need more practice.”  So I went home and tried again.

Working my way through a list of fruit pies I tried double crust pies and open faced pies. I tried cooking the filling on the stove top and I tried putting it between the crusts partially frozen. My vintage cook books became tabbed with bright pink sticky notes marking pages of recipes to try. Notes to myself reminded me “if the crust is too crumbly decrease the amount of shortening” and “add two tablespoons of butter to the pie dough for a golden brown finish”.

My friend Kathleen, reigning County Fair winner, Best in Class, Best in Category, Grand Champion Cherry Pie Baker extraordinaire, taught me to make cherry pie. There were other cherry pie recipes before hers and after hers until somewhere along the way it occurred to me that I ought to not mess with something so good. So, when the occasion calls for Cherry Pie it is Kathleen’s recipe that I pull out.

In Kathleen's kitchen making my first latticed top crust.

In Kathleen’s kitchen making my first latticed top Cherry Pie.

Not quite ready for the county fair

Not quite ready for the county fair!

Along the way I burnt cherry pies and I undercooked cherry pies. Fillings boiled over in the oven, and steam vents split open so far that it looked like a gaping wound. I forgot the salt and I forgot the butter.

When your crust looks like this it's a sign to throw it away and start over.

When your crust looks like this it’s a sign to throw it away and start over.

But I never admitted anything to my taste testers. I just served up the pie and watched as they ate every crumb, wiped their mouths and said, “That was good pie, but I think you still need more practice.” I didn’t matter how bad I thought the pie was, it still got eaten. That’s when I learned that the real trick to learning to make pie is this: Get a bunch of taste testers who love pie so much that they don’t tell you the truth for fear the river of pie will go dry.

Boiling over is a sign that the pie is done. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!

Boiling over is a sign that the pie is done. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

May all your cherries be pies today on National Cherry Pie Day!

Kathleen’s Cherry Pie

Pastry for 9″ Two crust pie

2 cans (16 0z each) Tart Pitted Red Cherries, drained

1 1/3 cups sugar

1/3 cup flour

2 T butter

1/4 tsp almond extract

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare pastry.Mix sugar and flour. Stir in drained cherries. Turn into pastry-lined pie plate. Sprinkle with almond extract and dot with butter. Cover with top crust that has slits cut in it. Seal edges and flute. Bake until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through the slits in the crust, 35-45 minutes. For fresh cherry pie, substitute 4 cups fresh red tart cherries for the canned cherries.

02/16/14

A Woodpecker at the Window

We feed the birds. The regulars are the cute little birds – Chickadees, Titmouse, and Goldfinch. Adding a bright splash of color, we see Cardinals, Blue Jays, and House Finch. The Juncos and Mourning Doves clean up the seed on the ground, so who wouldn’t like them? On really cold days, when the ground is snow covered, the country birds come to town and our feeders are filled with swarms of Red Winged Blackbirds and brown Cowbirds. The cats are not particular about which birds are at the feeders, they consider them all good kitty TV. However, I think the woodpeckers are the most fun to watch.

The Red Bellied Woodpecker has been stashing treats in an old hickory tree outside the dining room window. When he comes to the feeders he has to use acrobatics to hold on, tucking his tail under the base of the feeder and arching his back into a C. He holds on and eats while smaller birds dart to and fro grabbing a sunflower seed and flying off with their lunch. A little Downy Woodpecker has been working on a hole on the dogwood tree in front. I watch him tap away while I do the dishes. Twice, in 5 years, I have seen a Red Headed Woodpecker on our property. His brilliant crimson head contrasting with the black and white of his feathers is a stunning study of black, white, and red. And one day last year I saw a Northern Flicker. He was gorgeous. I invited him to stay for the summer. But he flew away in spite of my hospitality.

I’ve thought of that Northern Flicker over the months so was surprised and delighted when he came to call the other day. Bird-watch cat, Finn, alerted me, with a throaty, “Mew”. I watched from my chair as Mr. Flicker flew from the tree, flashing the yellow under his wings, lighting on the feeder. It was empty at the moment, empty of birds and seed. He didn’t waste any time flying from the feeder to the stone window ledge where he landed and pecked at my window. He looked right at me, cocked his head this way and that, fretted a bit, puffed up his chest, rippling the black feathers of his crescent bib, and tapped at the window again. Finn crouched low on the window seat, his ears pointed forward, his head tilting from side to side – in admiration? It was, after all, a sight to see! Or was he wondering what Northern Flicker tastes like?

As quickly as he came the bird was gone, down the road I suppose, to see what the neighbors have in their feeders.

Both of my Northern Flicker sightings left me with a sense of wonderment – so many interesting colors and contrasts in one bird:  A speckled belly, rosy breast and cheeks, yellow beneath his wings, and a splash of red crowning his head. His long pointed beak, good for tapping on trees and rapping on windows.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

I once made a quilt with an appliqued Northern Flicker block but I have a new quilt in mind using the color and texture palate that Mother Nature dropped at my window.

Northern Flicker in applique'

Northern Flicker in applique’

Northern Flicker inspired fabrics

Northern Flicker inspired fabrics

As I pulled on my coat to venture out in the cold afternoon to re-fill the feeders I laughed that a strong willed bird was bossing me around!

 

01/30/14

The Victor Café – Opera Anyone?

If you like Italian cuisine and even think you might like opera you should put the Victor Café on your list of “things to do in Philadelphia”.

Located in a residential neighborhood in South Philly, Victor Café was our destination when my sister, Dora, and I grabbed a cab outside the Philadelphia Convention Center. Peering through the opening in the barrier separating us from the driver, Dora, said, “Victor Café, please” and started to give the address. The taxi driver interrupted, “Don’t need an address, I know where it is.”

Ok then. That’s a good sign, right? The driver went on to tell us he has been there to eat lots of times. His wife likes to go there. He seemed pleased that we even knew about it. He explained, “So often visitors never leave the Center City – get off the beaten track – try to find a place like Victor Café”. He added politely, “We’ll be there in a few minutes”.

And there we were, at Victor Café. It was a Monday night so it wasn’t busy, which was good because we were hungry. We ordered our food, raviolis for Dora, fettuccini for me. (No food pictures, remember, it never looks as good as it tastes – and it was good!) While we were waiting for our food we watched the waitress as she rang a bell, cleared her throat, and treated the dinner guests to an aria – Mozart’s Susanna. Right there in the dining room, seemingly right in the middle of serving a table.  And the sound that filled that room made you want to sing along – I think Dora did, just a little bit! But not me, I don’t sing and I don’t know Italian. So, I just smiled a goofy, “I can’t believe I’m hearing this” sort of grin.

Two arias later (one by our waitress, another by the bartender, who midstream sang out in English, “I forgot the words, da dah” – add your own vibrato) we were finishing off our lemon sorbet (served in a frozen hollowed out lemon skin – gotta try that at home) when the three opera singers (aka wait staff) gathered around a nearby table and treated a guest to an operatic rendition of Happy Birthday. That does it, I’m planning a trip to Philly on my birthday just so I can have Happy Birthday sang to me at Victor Café.

Check out the Victor Cafe’s great website by clicking here.

01/29/14

Philly’s More Fun When You Sleep Over

Several years ago the Philadelphia Visitors Bureau had a series of commercials with a catchy little saying, “Philly’s more fun when you sleep over”. For seven years we lived two hours from Philadelphia, so, although we went to the city, we didn’t sleep over. My son, Eric, graduated from St. Joseph’s University in Philly (go Hawks!). Our trips were quick. Day trips. Campus move in (and move out) days. Parent’s weekend, etc.

My sister, Dora, on the other hand, went to Philly for business. For trade shows. She talked about staying in Center City and the fun she had sleeping over in Philly. So when a chance came for me to meet her in Philly and help her with her booth at the 2014 Made in America Buyer’s Market, I seized the opportunity and tacked a few days onto the beginning of my already planned mid-winter trip.

The weather in Philadelphia in January can be dicey. And icy. And snowy. But 12.5” of snow? Not exactly normal.

Of course, we didn’t know there would be 12.5” of snow on our last day in Philly when we boarded our flights in California (Dora) and Kansas City (me). At last minute I decided to take a larger suitcase making room to throw in a pair of snow boots. If I was going to walk to and from work each day I wanted warm feet if there was snow or not. More about that suitcase later. And more on the warm feet too!

Dora is a pro when it comes to having a booth at a trade show. Me, not so much. But I have been to my fair share of quilt shows and quilt markets and it isn’t all that different. Besides, my role was easy. I was the runner for lunch.Redding Terminal

Each day I walked from the convention center to the Redding Terminal and returned with such delicacies as Corned Beef with Cole Slaw on a hoagie roll, Shredded Pork with Broccoli on a hoagie roll (you have to call it a hoagie when you are in Philly), cookies from the 4th Street Bakery (3/4” thick and 4” across – yum, I bought a different type each trip), and our favorite, pizza. Thin, whole wheat crust, pepperoni or the one with eggplant for Dora, fire roasted peppers, feta cheese and spinach for me. I can almost taste it just writing the words.

I don’t have pictures to share mainly because there was an international soccer convention going on and the place was packed wall to wall with soccer players. Don’t get me wrong, as Dora pointed out, they made for nice eye candy but we were after sustenance and stopping for photos was low on the priority list. Besides, food photos never make the food look as good as it tastes!

Suffice to say a trip to Philly’s Center City is incomplete without a stop (or one stop a day) at Redding Terminal Market.

The Buyer’s Market was filled with fabulous artisans and their wares. Jewelry, glassware, pottery, apparel; items made from wood, metal, clay, and silk; art for the home, garden, body and soul. There is a code of ethics at this market that you just don’t take photos of the artists, their booths or their works. But, with her permission, I snapped a few shots of Dora in her booth.

Dora of Bella Esse Naturals

Dora of Bella Esse Naturals

In order to show you other favorites I have included links to the artist’s websites so you can see the wonderful items I feasted my eyes on for four days. Dora may call the soccer players eye candy, for me, the true eye candy was the artwork at the trade show!

For wonderful recycled glass tableware check out Fire and Light Glass. Made in Arcata, CA from recycled glass, I love the colors and shapes of this fabulous tableware. See for yourself by clicking here.

Clocks, clocks, clocks. Who would’ve thought there could be so many creative, beautiful clocks? Dora carries artist, Duane Scherer’s clocks in her store, poppies Gallery and it turned out that his were my favorite at the show. It was fun meeting the artist (and his twin brother, also a clock maker). I love Duane’s whimsical, bright, unexpected clocks. Take a look by clicking here.

Silk scarves. Woven scarves. Hand painted scarves. Hand dyed scarves. Many beautiful, practical, wonderful scarves but my favorites were made by the lovely Kavita Singh of Kavita’s Silks.

Although called a “buyer’s market”, it’s really a “place your order market”. No cash and carry. Except when a big snowstorm comes to town on the last day and the show closes three hours early. Then there is a chance you can buy a trinket or two. And that is how I came to leave Philly wearing  bright, cheerful, mismatched socks.

My new mismatched socks by Solmates

My new mismatched socks by Solmates

The Socklady of Solmates, claims “life is too short for matching socks”. See more crazy socks by clicking here.

Good thing I had warm socks because the snow was falling at a rate of one inch per hour by the time we left the convention center. I think Dora thought we would take a cab to the hotel but I thought it was safer to walk. It was just one mile.

Dora trudging to the hotel.

Dora trudging to the hotel.

An occasional gleeful squeal from Dora reminded me that she is from  a part of  California where snow is a novelty. For me, it’s winter. I bowed my head to the wind and trudged my way to the hotel throwing out instructions to Dora, “drag your feet a little and take shorter steps so you don’t slip”. It was light, fluffy snow. Perfect for a snow angel. I told Dora, “Rule of thumb for those of us over the age of 40, ‘don’t make a snow angel unless there is someone standing by to help you up’.” No, Dora did not make a snow angel, although I think she wanted to.

As we entered the hotel lobby, shaking snow off our shoulders, Dora said, “Now I can say I actually walked a mile in the snow.”

The airport was closed. The train stopped running. Cars were slipping and sliding. Taxi traffic was light. The foot traffic was little to none. Night fell on a quiet, wintery city. There was just one problem: Dinner. Where would we eat? The front desk checked and discovered that most downtown restaurants were closed because their staff couldn’t get to work. But wait, what’s this? The Midtown Diner was open. “They are open 24 hours and they serve beer and wine.” Just three blocks from our hotel, let’s go.

Ok, so, I lived in Pennsylvania for seven years and I know a little about the regional cuisine, but even I was surprised by the menu.

Midtown Diner sandwich menu.

Midtown Diner sandwich menu.

A can of tuna? Someone asked me later, “What, they really bring you a can of, what, Bumble Bee Tuna?” I replied, “I have no idea, we didn’t order it!”

But I remembered egg salad with green olives from my Carlisle, PA days. I liked it. So I ordered chopped egg and olive. On whole wheat bread.

I have to break my ‘no food photos’ rule to show you what I got:

Chopped egg and olive sandwich.

Chopped egg and olive sandwich.

Sliced egg. Not chopped. No mayo. Maybe I ordered the wrong thing. Maybe I should have ordered deviled egg and olive? I’m so confused!!!

I asked for a little mayo on the side to hold it all together. It tasted good. But then again, it was a snow storm, I was willing to eat what I got. I take that back, I’m not eating scrapple. No way.

Jan 22, 2014

We woke up to a mess of slick roads but Liberty Airport Shuttle was running on time and airplanes were flying. So I said good bye to Dora and left Philly for sunnier skies, Florida bound. See you there!

It was zero degrees (or at least felt like it) when I departed Philly, and a brisk 60 degrees when I arrived in Fort Lauderdale, FL . The poor Floridians were complaining that they just couldn’t get warm. Me? I was shedding layers right and left – first off, fleece lined vest. Next, I swapped out my snow boots for regular shoes (but I kept my cute socks on!). And I smiled. As those around me complained about the cold all I could say was, “It’s all relative!”

01/27/14

Mid-Winter Break

I think the whole concept of talking about the weather started in the mid-west, maybe even in Kansas. That’s because, when it comes to weather, in Kansas, there is actually something to talk about. Sub-zero winters with wind chill factors, turbulent spring air with tornado activity, heat, humidity, drought, and heat index in the summer.

Ok, so I can do spring. Summer is my favorite. The only bad part about fall is that it’s hard for me to relax and enjoy it when I know winter is right around the corner. Winter has its moments but all in all it is something for me to ‘get through’.

At home in Kansas

At home in Kansas

So, three years ago, when my daughter moved to Florida, I announced, “I have dibs on January!” And each year since she moved there I have gone to Florida for a week-long visit mid-winter. 72 degree days. Sunset 30 minutes later than in Kansas. Sunshine. Blue skies. Refreshing rain showers. Ah. That’s what I’m talking about.

But wait! The 2014 iteration of my trip included a stop-over. In Philadelphia. Uh, yea, Philadelphia. Uh, yea, with winter. And Jan 2014 was no ordinary Philadelphia winter. Nothing like 12.5” of snowfall to get you in the mood for Florida!

So, I have stories from my mid-winter trip. Stories about opera during dinner, trudging through snow to the hotel, dinner at the Midtown Diner, when all downtown Philly restaurants closed in the one inch per hour snow storm.

City Hall, Philadelphia, PA

City Hall, Philadelphia, PA

Then it’s on to sunny Florida with an excursion to the South Florida Fair.

South Florida

South Florida

All the while, I’ve had my Star a Day challenge to work on, so look for an update on that project.

Ready? Let’s go!

09/1/13

Quirky Kansas Tour

My husband and I took a little excursion to visit nearby attractions. Before leaving home I nicknamed this our “Quirky Kansas Tour”. We planned to see famous attractions as well as some of the places featured in the “Weird Kansas” book– places we had read about and were curious enough to take a jaunt specifically to see them. I expected it to be fun and I expected it to be a nice departure from our regular routine. I also expected it to be quirky.

Our itinerary was a big loop, starting at home, near Kansas City.

This was our plan:

1. Bentonville, AR to see Crystal Bridges and the Wal-Mart Museum.

2. Then north and west across the Kansas prairie to Hutchinson, KS and the Salt Museum.

3. North, across more prairie to Salina, KS and the Rolling Hills Zoo and nearby Rock City.

4. Then on to Lucas, KS and the Garden of Eden and Florence Deeble’s Rock Garden.

Three days. No advance hotel reservations. No scheduled meals. As we traveled we decided when to stop and what to eat.  We didn’t check e-mail. Phone calls and text messages were limited due to reception, (or lack thereof.)

Ready? Let’s go!065

Our first stop was lunch in Butler, MO at Koehn Bakery.016It’s a cute little deli/bakery: Special features were huge sandwiches and the surprise seating of brightly colored vintage school chairs – they’re not retro, they’re the real deal! 014We were too full for pie but got a sweet little blackberry turnover for later. 015When we ate it I wished I had bought one for each of us instead of planning to share! Mmmm!

Next stop: Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, AR home to an impressive collection of American Art. 017We saw art by Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keefe, Homer, Andy Wharhol, Norman Rockwell – name an American Artist and their work is probably in this collection.  Forget about the French Impressionists and don’t look for Michelangelo – at least not here – this museum houses talent born and bred in America. And most of the subject matter is American:  Portraits of George Washington to Rosie the Riviter to Dolly Parton; Landscapes of Yellowstone, Yosemite, the open plains and waves crashing on the shore; city views and country views; realistic and abstract; paintings and sculptures. The building and its setting is also a work of art with outdoor sculptures dotting the gardens and nature trails. It was about art and culture – and it wasn’t quirky.

The Wal-Mart museum was next. 033Whether you like Wal-Mart or not there is no arguing that Sam Walton was enterprising and passionate and I say if you are going to be anything, be passionate. The Wal-Mart museum was about history – and it wasn’t quirky.

After a little snack at the old fashioned ice cream store we were on our way. 041 037We drove until we were tired then found a hotel and dinner in Joplin, MO. The next day, we crossed back into Kansas and headed west.

It was a great Sunday morning drive through the Kansas countryside with its soft, gently rolling hills, two lane highways and hardly any traffic. The native prairie grass was turning golden under the late summer sun while ripening corn crops provided a dark green backdrop. We passed through small towns with local grocery stores and old style motels, and no chain stores – aside from an occasional Wal-Mart, that is, until Wichita where we grabbed a chain food lunch. A touch of the ordinary wasn’t going to hurt us for one meal!

We arrived at Hutchinson, KS and the Salt Museum where we donned hardhats and emergency respirators (just in case) and took an elevator ride deep into the salt mine – 650 feet. 043My ears popped on the way down as my vision adjusted to the dimly lit interior. Soon we found ourselves in a mysterious, underground world. The salty floor crunched under our shoes. The walls and ceilings were solid salt – not the glistening white salt that we sprinkle on our fries; this salt hasn’t been purified. It’s layered with mud and grit, red salt, grey salt and rarely, crystalline white salt. 044

“Send it to the Salt Mines” – the mine has the perfect underground conditions providing low humidity and even temperatures making the salt mines a suitable storage facility for films, costumes and documents. Somewhere, out of the eyesight of the visitors, are vaults holding our history. It’s a time capsule– deep under the city of Hutchinson, KS. Who knew?048 051

I took a deep breath and tasted salt lingering on my lips. I sort of liked this dust-free, pollen-free environment but after two hours underground my eyes felt strained from the dim lighting. Time to ride the elevator back to ground level. Once our eyes adjusted to the afternoon glare, we hit the road. The mine is one of the 8 geological wonders of KS. It’s educational. Not quirky.

Arriving in Salina, KS we decided to go local and have dinner at an Italian restaurant downtown then catch a movie at the neighborhood movie theater. 

The next morning, our third and final day, we started early.  The Rolling Hills Zoo, tucked into a natural landscape of rolling hills (yes, there are hills in Kansas!) opened at 8 am. The last time we visited a zoo it was the San Diego Zoo and it was crowded.  Would the Rolling Hills Zoo also be crowded? Turning into the visitors parking lot we saw one lone car! We have been alone in a movie theater before, we have been the only people in a restaurant before, we have even been on a Boeing 727 with only 7 total passengers but we have never had a zoo to ourselves before! 055Oh wait! There is someone else – a local who comes here three times a week to walk. Some places have mall walking. Salina, KS has zoo walking!

Lions, tigers and bears – the Rolling Hills Zoo has them all, and more. We got up close and personal with the Rhinos, watched the tall giraffes looming overhead and saw a pair of black swans showing off. 057The African dogs pranced about their cage and the snow leopard paced along the fence, his big, bushy tail swaying from side to side.061 Butterfly gardens of native plants decorated the path – all plantings native to the prairie. What a pleasant zoo tucked in the rolling hills on the plains of Kansas. There is nothing quirky about this zoo!

Next stop: Minneapolis, KS, home to Rock City where strange boulders were deposited millions of years ago, scattered across fields and valleys – over 2000 of them dot the landscape.067 070

Dale standing among the rocks. See? They are huge!

Dale standing among the rocks. See? They are huge!

080 Their edges were worn into ridged spheres when ancient water washed away the silt, sand and soft limestone leaving hard rock. The erosion continues today with the wind and rain washing over the stones. It’s peculiar, maybe even a little bit quirky.

In three days we have gone from a layer of underground salt stratas set down millions of years ago to an outcropping of stones deposited millions of years ago. I feel so young, like a tiny speck of dust in the big picture of the world.

We enjoyed a home-style lunch at a roadside diner in Lucas, KS (with a slice of yucky chocolate peanut butter pie) then it was on to the final two stops of our quirky tour – The Garden of Eden and Florence Deeble’s Rock Garden.

SP Dinsmoor built his garden and house as a tourist attraction showcasing his religious, political and social viewpoints.107  His wife complained that he spent too much time building his garden and she never saw him so he created a sculpture of himself waving to her outside the kitchen window so she could see him any time she wanted.105

It’s a strange and curious place. My favorite part?  The statue of Eve.106 Mr Dinsmoor gave her generous hips. I liked that. But was his garden quirky? Oh yes!

“Weird Kansas” listed Florence Debble’s Garden as one of the state’s weird attractions. During my trip planning I discovered that it was right around the corner from The Garden of Eden so of course I wanted to see it. Part of the Grassroots Art Center, the house and garden is open for tours. It was hot and near the end of the day so we just took a peek around the garden instead of the whole tour.

Got an extra ironing board you don't know what to do with?

Got an extra ironing board you don’t know what to do with?

How about some old LPs and action figures?

How about some old LPs and action figures?

Ceiling fan blades turned 'bad hair day'?

Ceiling fan blades turned ‘bad hair day’?

Quirky? You betcha!

Crystal Bridges is not quirky – it’s a center for serious art lovers in a modern ‘state of the art’ building.

The Walmart Museum is not quirky – it’s a history museum documenting the life and business endeavors of the largest private employer in the country showcasing his vision and passion for helping people live better.

The Salt Museum is not quirky – it’s a working salt mine that produces the rock salt used on our winter roads and houses vaults holding the documents and movies of our life and times.

The Rolling Hills Zoo is not quirky – it’s a perfectly sized zoo and museum tucked among the gently rolling hills of the Great Plains.

Rock City isn’t quirky – but it is peculiar with its strange outcropping of gigantic eroded stones.

The Garden of Eden – is quirky, built as a tourist attraction in the early 1900s it touts political and religious sentiments of one man.  There is no denying that he believed what he believed with a passion.

Then there is Florence Deeble’s Garden – the quirkiest of them all!113

In the end, it was barely “The Quirky Kansas Tour”!  But it sure was fun! Try it for yourself! If you don’t live near enough to follow our tour route I bet you can find some unusual attractions in your own neighborhood to stage your own quirky tour.

08/12/13

Sewing Room on Tour

Last week my local quilt guild had a sewing room tour as our monthly program. I live near our meeting place so the event coordinator asked me to put my room on tour. I immediately told her, “No! That would require cleaning it!”  She persisted so I gave in and agreed. Cleaning my sewing room would be good for me. And I had a month to get it done.

My children had a favorite book when they were growing up:  “Mooch the Messy” by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat  

Mooch is a rat who lives in a hole under Boston, Massachusetts. His father comes to visit and complains that his hole is messy. Mooch says he likes to be able to see all his stuff. His father complains that there are ants in the jam. Mooch says he knows, they like to go in the jam and get all sticky and happy, so he leaves the lid open for them. Eventually Mooch notices how unhappy his father is in his messy hole so he decides to clean it up. And his father is happy for the rest of his stay. Once his father goes home Mooch declares that he hates ‘neat’ and says “Hello shoe! Hello other shoe!” as he messes up his hole again.

My son had a messy room so we called him Mooch the Messy. It’s hardly fair though because he comes by it honestly. Like my son, I am comfortable with a layer of mess, a bit of clutter, a stack here and there. Beneath the surface clutter I am organized. My thread is kept in plastic boxes, organized by color and thread type. My fabrics are folded and stored by color or theme in plastic bins. I can actually close the lids on most of them. The frequently used rulers are on a peg board at the end of my cutting table; those used less often are stored in a drawer. I know the location of each ruler and can find it quickly when needed. Books are over there and quilting magazines here. I don’t go so far as to alphabetize them by title or author but they are loosely categorized with machine quilting books grouped together, applique’ books grouped together, etc. They are organized and they look tidy.

That’s the view behind the scenes. The “scene” itself has another whole personality! When I moved my old sewing table out of the room (3 years ago!)  I lost two large storage cupboards where works in progress were stored. I decided that instead of putting the projects away if I left them out where I could see them I might actually finish a few quilts! And it might have worked – if I hadn’t started anything new. But the quilt shops have so many lovelies. The new projects are stimulating and fun to start. But before finishing it a deadline on another project causes me to prioritize, setting the project aside, adding it to the piles strewn about my sewing room. And the magazine and book shelves filled up – overflow issues ended up on the floor. And thread from a project or two didn’t get put away, there it was weeks later, still next to the sewing machine. And so it went until my sewing room looked like Mooch’s hole under Boston, Massachusetts.

001 003 008 010 011

It was time to clean it up and I had an incentive. My sewing room was going on tour. In just one month.

 My plan was simple. Move the big stuff first. Four large quilts just needed bindings then they could be moved out of the room. One – two – three – four. Done!

 A stack of charity quilts were waiting for machine quilting. I cleared off the machine quilting table (well, okay, I swept the contents to an open place on the floor – for now.) One – two – three – four. Done! I packed them up to send to another guild member who will add the bindings.

 I was pleased. I looked around the room and felt smug. It looked neater already! I had accomplished so much in such a short period of time. I thought I deserved a break from cleaning. So I took a nice long, relaxing  3 1/2 week break.

Time passed until the sewing room tour was only two days away!

What was I to do? I looked around. It was really just the stuff on the floor. I didn’t have to sort and file every single sewing item I owned – just the stuff out in the open. What was on the floor anyway? Works in progress. Piles and piles of projects. Applique’ projects, pieced projects, wool work and embroidery projects. Tedious projects and quick projects. I have them all.004

I knew what I had to do. Pack for my fall retreat! If I packed all those works in progress in tote bags not only would my room get cleaned up but I would be ready to finish those projects while on retreat. I set to work. Thirty some-odd tote bags later I began wondering if the retreat organizers would mind if I stayed a month – or two or three!sewing room 001

I needed another shelf to put stuff on in the closet so at last minute I decided to share some of my novelty prints. I stuffed lunch bags with fat quarters, 1/3 yard cuts, panels – whatever. Goody bags for those who came on the tour. A bag of fabric for charity quilts and another for a friend. There. Done. I filled the now empty shelf with stuff from the floor.

I rearranged a few items, dusted, and vacuumed. Wow! There is so much carpet in a clean room! It was 3 o’clock. I was finished – with 4 hours to spare!

sewing room 002 sewing room 011sewing room 015sewing room 014sewing room 008The members came. They smiled as they studied my storage systems, admired my design wall and enjoyed looking around in my clean sewing room. I smiled and sent them on their way with a goody bag. It was fun. They liked it. I liked it.

The next morning, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I walked down the hall and into my sewing room. The very first thought to enter my groggy mind was, “Someone has stolen all my projects!” I sat on my sewing chair and looked around. It felt like it was someone else’s sewing room. It was too neat. I tentatively reached for a project bin. I shook the contents onto the table and said, “Hello project!” I shook a little more and said, “Hello other project!”

07/21/13

Slow Stitching

My Aunt Jane was a professional dressmaker and alterations instructor. She has excellent hand and machine workmanship but if she could avoid handwork and accomplish a task on the machine, she did. Focusing on her work she found the most efficient way to get the job done without sacrificing quality.

In her later years, retired from teaching and sewing for others, Aunt Jane learned to quilt. She showed me a series of hand appliqued and hand quilted wallhangings that she made in a class. As she held them out for me to see, she groaned and said, “All that handwork!” But she did it. And her quilt work is as beautiful as her dressmaking.

Last month I visited my aunt, now 85 years old. I showed her my new book, “Back Basting Applique, Step by Step”. She looked at every page in the book then closed the cover, handed it back to me and said, “It makes me want to cry.” I asked, “Why?” She smiled and said, “All that applique! It makes me want to cry!” Ah yes, it’s handwork, of course it makes her feel like crying!

As for me, I love applique. I’ve been making appliqued quilts for over 25 years. When I learned to applique in the mid-1980s I stitched entirely by hand. Then I found ways to speed up my sewing – I discovered freezer paper applique and clear nylon thread and was soon making and teaching invisible machine applique. It was fun. It was fast. I was hooked.

With my Bernina sewing machine I got good results but my students were not always successful. Some came to class with old machines prone to tension problems expecting the same results I got with my machine. They were frustrated and so was I. So, I made a decision to quit teaching invisible machine applique, saving us all the aggravation.

But I didn’t stop teaching freezer paper applique – I just switched back to hand sewing. I got nice results. My students got nice results. Everyone was happy.

I wasn’t intentionally setting out on a grand return to hand sewing. I didn’t plan to abandon my sewing machine in exchange for needle and thread.

But something was afoot. Enthusiasm for handwork was spreading. At Quilting Bits and Pieces in Eudora, KS, where I teach appliqué and quilting classes, the customers come from miles around to shop for supplies and inspiration. Known locally for hand work, specifically twilling, embroidery, applique and more recently, Brazilian embroidery and crazy quilting, the shop is a haven for hand stitchers.

When did we slow down? When did I slow down?

I thought back to a visit with my friend Rachel in the summer of 2000. As we chatted I pulled out my handwork and enjoyed her shock when she saw me sewing by hand. When we were neighbors a number of years prior, I was all about doing things fast – and all on the machine, yet there I was doing hand stitching – slow stitching.

Rachel’s amusement at my hand sewing in the summer of 2000 marks a transition in my quilting life. It was the beginning of my return to doing more hand applique. In 2002 I learned about Back Basting Applique – a needle turn, hand applique technique. Now it’s my favorite appliqué technique.

I had no idea that a movement was underway – a slow stitching movement. Just recently I heard the term for the first time, so of course, I did an internet search. I was curious. What is ‘slow stitiching’ anyway?

Slow stitching is embroidery and applique; it is handwork and machine work. It’s stitching – any stitching that is slow, careful and methodical. I found images of hand stitched garments and quilts. I found stories of taking time and developing a relationship with your needle and thread as you sew. You might say that slow stitching is an attitude. Sure, it’s mostly about handwork but it isn’t exclusive to handwork. I think my Aunt Jane’s perfectly machine stitched cuffs and collars and beautifully machine bound button holes are slow stitching too. Aunt Jane didn’t like all the handwork associated with dressmaking; she was focused on the finished product and getting the job done and yet she never lost sight of the importance of working slowly and carefully toward her goal.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving up my sewing machine, but let’s slow down. Let’s get to know the feel of the fibers in our hands as we move the needle and thread through the cloth or as we pass it under the machine needle. Let’s enjoy the journey and do some slow stitching!

06/27/13

Don’t build your nest in a pothole!

When I go back to my girlhood home I find I am amused by the everyday things. Like killdeer birds. Today I’m posting from Northern California where I am visiting my parents for two weeks. In their early 80s they still live on County Road P in the old farmhouse that I was raised in. Each morning I start my day by walking along the country road to their mailbox and back, it’s 1 ½ miles round trip. One morning I found a killdeer nest in a pot hole in the road.

nest in a pothole 4 eggs

The killdeer are as familiar to me as my old bedroom but until this trip I never bothered to pay much attention to them. They are so clever the way they fake a hurt wing or a broken leg trying to distract me from finding their nest. And they get their buddy birds to help. It has become a morning ritual with me and the birds. As I approach, my shoes crunching in the gravel as I walk, they begin their antics – ‘I have a broken wing, help me, help me’ they seem to cry. As I near the nest, which I can’t even see, they become more dramatic and other birds arrive to back them up.  A group of three or four birds will begin to swoop in a large circle overhead. Meanwhile more birds, on the ground, run ahead of me, calling out “twrrreee da da da da da” tapping out the syllables in a clear shrill tone.

What the birds don’t know is that I know right when to start looking for the nest. They tell me when I am very close because the air becomes quiet and the swooping birds drop to the ground.  Are they giving up? Are they so used to their nests being destroyed that they don’t even care?

You may think they are lousy nest builders and bad parents. All they do is scratch a divot into the loose rocks, call it a nest and lay their eggs. It isn’t very cozy.

desserted killdeer nest

My dad told me they build their nests close to the road because they want the heat of the asphalt to keep the eggs warm. Is that selfish – to let the road hatch their eggs so they can be footloose and fancy free? Or is it smart? After all the eggs certainly stay warm while the mama bird is off the nest getting food and water. But 100 degree days are common during summers in the Sacramento Valley, do the eggs ever get too hot?nest

I found the nest in the road when I sidestepped around the pothole to avoid turning my ankle. I almost stepped right in it. The next day as I approached the nest the birds were up to their usual song and dance – except for one lone bird. As she cried out “twweeee da da da” there was a mournful undertone to her song. I peeked into her pothole nest and saw one egg was missing and the other three were smashed, the yolks tinting the stone nest a bright yellow. Looking to the edge of the road I saw her and I asked, “Well, what did you expect? Haven’t you ever heard the old real estate saying – Location, Location, Location!”? She let out one more sad “twreee da da” and flew away.

06/27/13

poppies Gallery

Poppies are the state flower of California. Being a native of California, naturally, they are one of my favorite wild flowers. They bloom along the roadside and in meadows during the spring. They are bright and cheerful, whimsical and unexpected. Fond as I am of poppies it’s no surprise that a new gallery called poppies Gallery would capture my attention.

First Street, Woodland, CA

First Street, Woodland, CA

Tucked between a sign shop and a restaurant in the 400 block of First Street in Woodland, California’s historic downtown district, poppies Gallery opened two weeks ago. My favorite part of this shop is the owner – my youngest sister, Dora Martin.Dora at new store

Dora set out to create a place to showcase handcrafted products made by locals, other Californians, and from places further from home but still made in the good old USA. First and foremost is Dora’s own product line, Belle Esse Naturals– hand crafted soaps and shea butter lotion bars, lip balms, bath salts and more

.more soap bath salts I haven’t used store bought soap in the 7 years since she introduced her shea butter soap. It is divine. And her lip balm is smooth, wonderful, long lasting, adds a splash of shimmer, and best of all, it’s all natural. I love her products.

Dora’s products are my favorites in her store but there is so much more: Jewelry, stained glass flowers and cat tails on metal sticks, painted sunflowers and rusted birds, one of a kind garments, scarves and tote bags, manzanita walking sticks and chocolate truffles, and of course, poppies!

Rusty Birds                scarves and jackets soy candles

The gallery, with its brick wall and buffed hardwood floor lends itself to Dora’s interesting display units, some of which she built with stuff she gathered from the scrap piles on our brothers’ farms.

farm displays

It’s a fun mix of old and new. It’s serious and lighthearted. It’s like the poppies growing along the roadside; bright and cheerful, whimsical and unexpected. It’s poppies Gallery at 418 First Street, Woodland, CA.

poppies Gallery

poppies Gallery