Saturday, December 31, 2005

Diane's best books of 2005

Inspired by DebR, I thought I’d list the best books I’ve read this year. I read incessantly, and in fact am downright uncomfortable when I’m between books. When I was in elementary school, my sister (also book-obsessed) and I started a system where we logged our books by noting the title, author, date finished, and rating on a scale of 1 to 10. Sounds silly now, I guess, but I’ve kept it up my whole life. I like to look back at those notebooks from time to time as a walk through my personal literary history. Remembering a particular book will remind me of the time in my life when I read it and where I was.

So, from my notebook from 2005, here are my favorites (these got a rating of 9 or 10):

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
It took me a while to get around to reading this novel, as I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a novel told from the perspective of a murdered child. But I did, and I loved it. It’s haunting and beautiful and funny at times.

The Married Man by Catherine Alliott
I have a thing for British novels, and this light romp about single mum offered the opportunity to live in her dream house by the sea was fun and entertaining and charming. Perfect escapist fiction.

The Incumbent by Brian McGrory
This engrossing political thriller was written by a former White House correspondent, and it combines a clever and suspenseful plot with good writing. The story follows a White House reporter who is drawn into a mystery involving the president’s pardon of a felon... drama and excitement ensue, of course. Lots of twists and turns.

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
This unusual novel tells the story of a recently widowed linguistics professor who becomes obsessed with teaching his dog – the only witness to his wife’s death – to talk and reveal what happened to her. Odd, quirky, but compelling.

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult
I have loved everything I’ve read by this author. In this story, a woman discovers a past she didn’t know she had. She is forced to re-examine everything about her life and her relationships with her family. Lovely, lovely story.

The Wilder Sisters by Joann Mapson
Another light but enjoyable story of two sisters whose lives come together after they’ve been estranged. It’s about family, men, horses, ranch life... a satisfying read.

gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
This phenomenal novel sucked me in from the first paragraph. It’s funny and warm and deep and mysterious, all at the same time. Go read this book.

Sudden Death by David Rosenfelt
I can’t resist a good legal thriller, and I’m picky about the legal technicalities. I can’t stand a book where the legal stuff is wrong. Rosenfelt manages to write good thrillers while keeping his hero likable and believable AND the law and trial details are credible. In this story, the criminal defense lawyer goes to LA to defend a sports superstar accused of murder. It’s entertaining...and the lawyer’s golden retriever has a huge supporting role. What’s not to love?!

Three Junes by Julia Glass
This novel follows three people: a father, his gay son, and a young woman whose life is connected up with theirs, ultimately. I love how this explores love and relationships and family and expectations and finding true family around us. I was reluctant to let these characters go when I finished this novel.

Happy Slugs at Home

Sorry for the long silence, friends... We've had visitors since Christmas day and there've been whole DAYS where I didn't even turn on my computer. It's been a lovely break from reality.

But here's the recap of the past week:

Christmas day: We entertained my parents, my sister and her funny dog Katie, my brother Gregg and his wife Kitt, Kitt's mom Gloria...that's our usual immediate family holiday crowd. But this holiday was made especially special by the arrival of our dear friends Eric, Diane and Abby all the way from Bermuda!

We met Eric and Diane in China, where we were on the same trip to meet our daughters. We clicked instantly and have wonderful memories of meeting our daughters together and spending our two weeks in China traveling and coping with sudden parentage with them. Abby is about 8 months older than Caroline. They have always gotten along famously. Up until 6 months ago, they all lived in Maine (and when we lived in New Hampshire, 2 hours away from them, we saw them quite often). But they moved to Bermuda so Eric could take a pilot job for a charter airline there, and they have been having amazing adventures there.

Anyway. Their arrival was the best present Roger and I and Caroline could ever have gotten.

The Turducken: Ah, here's what you've all been wanting to know, right? Well, it cooked beautifully, right on schedule (a 15 pounder, 5 hours in the oven at 325). It smelled heavenly. Sliced, it didn't look like the picture. We weren't able to discern the three separate layers of turkey, duck, and chicken. And it was sort of hard to tell what portion you were eating until you actually tasted it. The duck flavor stood out, the turkey and chicken seemed fairly similar. I had ordered the cajun sausage and cornbread stuffing (reading that the plain cornbread one was too bland and the seafood jambalaya one was too rich) and most folks liked it. It was a bit spicy for those folks who don't like spicy food...But for those of us who do, it was fine. So, it was a qualified success. It was fun and entertaining and there was much joking around the table about the name, and it was all eaten and declared delicious and we didn't have to break out the emergency ham...But Roger and I agreed we wouldn't bother to do it again. One turducken is, apparently, enough.

We joked that for dessert we were having a cake stuffed with a pie stuffed with a cupcake.... And we were greatly amused in the following days as we found ourselves saying things like "Want turducken sandwiches for lunch?" or "wonder what a turducken burrito would taste like?"

As a side note, Roger and I have this ongoing game where we invent new names for cars. Our favorites thus far are the Cadillac Sinatra, the Homeo Pathfinder and the Honda Jalapeno. But this event led to another: The Toyota Turducken. You can stuff a whole family inside! (Harharhar.)

Scooby Dooby Doo: This has become our family name for Soduku, to which both Eric and I became severely addicted, despite our inability to remember the actual name of these puzzles. On Christmas Eve, the grown-ups in Roger's family do a gift exchange, one of those games where you bring gifts, draw numbers to choose, and you can choose what someone has or something new. Our rule is that the gifts have to be "consumable," something that gets used up, and under $20. I had selected several Soduku books and bundled them up mysteriously and attractively, but I was worried that they'd bomb and no one would want them. To my delight, they were the gift that people fought over and repeatedly stole from each other!

Well, Santa had put a Soduku book in my stocking, and when Eric arrived he confessed that he had done them on the plane all the way west. So, much of our week involved all four of us adults sitting around the family room, with Eric and me engrossed in our "scooby doo's", Diane reading (a Carl Hiasson novel) and Roger doing line edits on his textbook manuscript. Very companionable.

Here is Eric in his "Scooby Doo" position, looking sleepy very relaxed.

And here is Roger, similarly sluggish but happy:

Oh, the rain, rain, rain came down, down down... Perhaps you've heard on the news that northern California is getting torrential rains. The past week or so has been really unusual for all of the rain, with something like 4 inches of rain in a 24 hour period. This Winnie the Pooh song keeps running through my head as a result! But it's made for great cozy inside enjoyment, with rain splattering against the windows and the wind howling. Good reading and scooby doo weather!

It did mean that some of the outings we might have taken with guests were abandoned in favor of indoor comfort. We always love going to SF's Chinatown for shopping and dim sum, but that's constant walking in and outside. We considered going to SF to see the new Harry Potter film at the Imax theatre, but the weather (for the 90 minute trip south) and Abby's vertigo nixed that option.

Kids? What kids? I mentioned that Abby and Caroline play amazingly well together. Basically, from the moment Abby arrived, the girls settled into Caroline's room playing and chattering together constantly, appearing from time to time for meals and snacks. Each time we went to check on them, they were totally engrossed and happy, playing with horses or legos or computer games. Abby brought along a computer game called the Age of Mythology, where (as far as I can tell) you create simulated worlds with mythological creatures. Eric and Roger figured out how to link the girls' computers together so they could be allies and help each other. These kids aren't "Barbie" girls (although they did watch with me and Diane as we viewed the Project Runway episode where they designed for Barbie and they enjoyed that)...they're more like Titan/Gaia/Hydra loving kids. I THINK that's a good thing...

Snoopy Lives! We did get out to visit the Charles Schultz museum in Santa Rosa, and that was a very fun visit. (If you're ever in this area, be sure to do that!) It's a very fun place, and we were instantly charmed by the tiny, real Charlie Brown Christmas tree at the entrance.... like the TV one, it had a few twig-like branches, a few sparse needles, and one red ornament. It was very fun to see Schultz's original drawings and storyboards for the animated shows. We also saw the exhibit of Japanese Peanuts-themed quilts that were very fun. (I was also excited to learn that they have a great Education Room where they teach cartooning! I have to investigate and consider that for Caroline...and me, too! )

Circus Magic: My brother's gift to all of us was tickets to see Cirque du Soleil's new show, Corteo, in San Francisco on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, my sister was not able to come so we bought her ticket for Abby, and Roger and I took Caroline and Abby while Eric and Diane enjoyed an evening to themselves in Healdsburg. We had dinner on the way down to the city (California Pizza Kitchen) and then had a fantastic time at the show. This show was funny and amazing and always surprising. With Cirque du Soleil, it is hard to know where to look -- there are interesting and amazing things happening in the air, on the stage, all over the place. But I was just as enthralled watching the girls' faces as they looked surprised and excited and amused and awed. It was a very, very fun evening. (Watch the clip at the link above!)

Unfortunately, the Harrisons had to leave this morning so we are in that post-holiday, post-company let-down/get-back-to-reality mood. But we have had an absolutely wonderful week with great friends.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas dinner surprise

Have you ever had that experience where you've never in your life heard a word, and then all of a sudden you're hearing it everywhere? (It's like the "baguette" thing, if you remember Don Hollinger on "That Girl.")

Well, I had that experience with "Turducken." My good friend Pat casually dropped it into conversation one day, as in "They're having a turducken for Thanksgiving." On further inquiry, I learned that it's a turkey, stuffed with a duck, which is stuffed with a chicken. Get it? Tur-duck-hen. The name just cries out for a good limericks, doesn't it?

Weird concept, huh? I found it highly amusing and then forgot all about it. But around Thanksgiving, I was watching the Food Channel to see Paula what's-her-name, the smiley southern cook, and what was she cooking? Turducken! She raved and raved and I was further intrigued.

Then, while sewing one day, I was watching the family soap opera (my mom and sister and I all watch and it feels weirdly like extended family), and one guy went into this whole thing about turduckens.

Clearly, the universe was thrusting turduckens in my face. So, I got online and learned that the concept was invented by Paul Prudhomme, who actually got people to do all that deboning and cramming of one fowl into another, in their own kitchens. If you have the urge to read about it, check this out. It conjures up some very funny images (for me, anyway) and makes cooking a plain old turkey seem so EASY.

So. Guess what we're having for Christmas dinner?


How could I not? Fortunately for me, Roger was as amused and intrigued by the idea as I am. We ordered one (pre-stuffed) from, which research revealed is the source raved about by various reviewers. It's been sitting in the fridge for a few days now, thawing. It looks pretty normal, sort of like a slightly squashed turkey.

When cooked and sliced, it's supposed to look like this:

That's stuffing between the fowl layers, by the way.

Out of an abundance of caution, we have a precooked ham sitting in the fridge to heat fast just in case the thing is too awful to serve to our guests. But I'm hopeful.

It's the Year of the Turducken at our house. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Merry Christmas, every one!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Where's the Camera?

Apparently I need to hang my little digital camera around my neck, where I will always have it handy and will, thereby, remember to use it.

Yesterday was cookie-baking day at our house. I vowed I was going to keep my camera handy, record the day and then have actual photos to post on the blog about it all.

But I got into the mixing and flour was flying and the dog was prancing around, leaving muddy footprints everywhere due to the constant downpour outside... and I never did make it up to my office to fetch the camera.

Still, we had fun...Christmas carols playing nonstop in the background (I am becoming increasingly fond of cable tv's music channels), Caroline and pressing and cutting and sprinkling cookies. Roger did what he often does during holiday preparations...he figured out an urgent reason to leave. So he reappeared around dinner time, hungry and smiling and glad to have missed all the mess.

Today is more errands... shopping for one last Christmas present, the final grocery store run, and maybe a stop for a gingerbread latte as a reward for me! When I return, I'll need to clean the bathroom and Caroline's room and the guest room in preparation for guests arriving on Christmas day, then bake another batch of cookies (dough is chilling as we speak), and wrap presents. My tradition is to watch White Christmas while wrapping ("Snow, snow....SNOW!") and if I even get in a few minutes of Bing, Rosemary, Danny and Vera, it'll really feel like Christmas to me!

Hope all of you are enjoying the holiday...whether it's the fun of preparing, or the peace of sitting back and enjoying the calm...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Capitol Cookie Experience

How time flies when you're doing Christmas activities! Things have been busy around here, what with shopping and wrapping packages and other holiday-related events. The blog has suffered, and my sewing machine is languishing from the lack of attention. Ah, well. It's that time of year, and other fun things are going on.

This past weekend found Caroline and me in Sacramento, to attend the annual cookie-making party of my best friend, Beth. (Roger usually attends, but this year he was tired and overworked and craving a day at home to veg...a feeling I understand and accomodate.) Beth and I have been friends since college, where we roomed together, saw each other through disastrous dating choices, strange jobs, law school applications...Then we went off to different law schools during the same 3-year period, and started our law careers at the same time, albeit on different routes. She is the funnest person I know, and I never, ever tire of being with her. We pay each other the highest of compliments: being together is as easy and as enjoyable as being alone! We both love to do "nothing" together.

Anyway. This cookie-making fest has actually been honed in recent years to a very nice routine: various regular attendees have the task of rolling out the cookie dough, and then the kids -- mainly Caroline and another young girl, Kendall, cut out shapes. The baking proceeds until there are enough cooled cookies to decorate, at which point Caroline and Kendall usually produce the ugliest, gloppiest cookies imaginable. (This has the advantage of making them not at all tempting to eat.) However, the girls have a good time and are happily occupied while the adults can drink wine and eat snacks and have much fun.

My part (aside from providing Caroline to achieve her share of decorated cookies and to consume my share of wine) is in the apricot-pastry assembly line. Kevin rolls and cuts the dough into squares. Cindy, Kendall's mom, plops neat circles of jam into the dough, and I fold them into neat little triangle packages for baking. And we all consume more wine to keep the production line going.

When it's all over, we clean up and then lie around, exhausted and tipsy and content while Caroline and Kendall act out elaborate shows for us, which usually involve a kung-fu type fight scene, cartwheels, and much hilarity as two big dogs always get into the act at unplanned moments.

We stayed over night (I got to sleep on the couch in front of the fireplace...heavenly!) and because it was storming so severely on Sunday (with lightening! and thunder! and downpours!) we decided to avoid the undoubtedly heinous drive home and stay another night. So, Caroline and I had a leisurely day on Sunday visiting with Beth and sitting in front of the fire and talking incessantly.

Caroline loved the cookie making, and playing with Kendall, and hanging out with Auntie Beth. But most of all, she loved the thrill of having Krystal sleep on the bed with her all night long! Don't they look happy?!

It was a lovely bit of time away...both festive and relaxing. And I am reminded, once again, that there is nothing as wonderful as quality time with a dear friend.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Random Monday Thoughts

I'm at my desk, procrastinating the start of a new work project. And what better way to do that than add a blog entry? As always, I've been circling the AQ web ring and thought I'd take this opportunity to respond to a few entries that have struck me.

Gabrielle bravely asked why people make those quilt post cards. Good for you for throwing the question out there, Gabrielle! And I confess that it's not a fad that appeals to me, either. I see the attraction: small format, very fast result, instant gratification. As exercises in fast creative composition, they're probably excellent. I see the fun of sharing them, too. I love the ones I've received from friends. But those things don't make me want to do them. I've done the mail art thing in my book arts phase, and I'm too protective of my creative time now. I want to spend my time on things with more significance to me. (Not that my work is of any significance to anyone else, of course...but they're projects that make me want to invest my time and that's enough for me.) Maybe, for my own process, they'd be useful as small studies for something bigger. Still, I'm just not going to do the 4x6 thing.

I've been reading Melody's blog with some amount of envy at her ability to spend so much time every day developing an idea and applying such intensity to her art and working so quickly to produce such stunning results. (I'm talking about the red and green quilt entries of late.) I react similarly to Pam's and Gabrielle's and Lisa's and Liz's blogs, and those of other professional artists and teachers. Then I remember that art is their full time job and livelihood, and that requires their full-time energy and attention and their lives are structured to provide that. My life just isn't like that. I love my life and my family and even, most of the time, my work. I'm an art quilt dilletante, I guess. But that doesn't stop me from envying the time and ability to focus for days on end on creating something exciting.

I am tempted to jump into the small group of AQ ring members starting to work through Katie Pasquini's Color and Composition exercises. I got excited at seeing what folks posted for their first exercises, and went and pulled out the book and heck, maybe I will even jump in at some point. But I remembered the stuff I have in my mind I want to make, and the unfinished assignments due in January for my Practical Design workshop, and I know I need to focus on those things first. So I'm trying to show some restraint.

I've got an urge to finish some of the unfinished things hanging around my studio. The dotty circles quilt is still up on my design wall, with the pieced border in progress. I have a second Christmas-y top done, yet to be sandwiched and quilted. I have a project I started two years ago in a workshop with Jane Sassaman that has started calling to me again. And it's time to make another donation quilt for the children's center, I think. When Caroline is home for Christmas vacation, we'll work on donation quilts for kids in need.

But none of this will get done unless I finish my work, so I'd best get to it. Thank goodness for these blogs to keep me thinking and feeling inspired!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Weekend Warrior

You have no idea what a huge task I have accomplished this weekend.

I have cleaned our garage.

This is no small feat. The last time I attempted this herculean task, I tripped (over the leg of an exercise machine, ironically) and broke my kneecap. This taught me several lessons (aside from the wonder of how nice it was to HAVE to sit on the bed and be waited on for 2 weeks), of which the primarly lesson was how dangerous cleaning really is.

But since we moved into our house several years ago, the garage has been the repository for all sorts of stuff. Boxes and boxes and boxes and garbage bags full of baby clothes that no longer fit our "baby," discarded kids' toys and baby furniture, miscellaneous chairs that we no longer use, etc. I'd have taken a picture, but I didn't want to memorialize it. The only good part of the mess was that it provided our two cats with a cardboard jungle they loved to prowl through and hide in.

Anyway, Roger headed out yesterday morning to take Caroline to her riding lesson, and I decided to surprise him with enough space to park a car in. (He is new-car shopping, so having space in the garage to park it in is the ultimate Christmas present.)

I'm very proud of myself for discarding so liberally. All those lawyer clothes I haven't worn in years and will never wear again? Off to Salvation Army, along with belts and shoes and working-woman-accessories like clunky gold jewelry and power scarves and such. And the size 8 jeans that, at this rate, my daughter would fit into before I would again. And old dishes we don't use, and a bookshelf we always disliked because it was wobbly, and books and old albums and all sorts of stuff.

By the time Roger returned, there was space for a car (with visible garage floor!) and a small pile of boxes yet to be looked through.

Although my muscles are sore, I feel psychologically lighter from having discarded all that junk! Last night, we celebrated with tamales for dinner, then I took a long soak in the tub while looking through Quilting Arts magazine.

Today is another load to Salvation Army and a load to the dump. Merry Christmas, husband!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Christmas is coming...

We're getting in the spirit around here. The floor may be messy, the bedrooms may be cluttered...but signs of Christmas have appeared.

The bannister is decorated with faux (ahem) pine and snowflakes, and the stockings are hung in their traditional place above the winerack. (Hey, that way those heavy stocking holders can't fall off the mantle and conk some little kid on the head...they'll just smash a few wine bottles. And we do move them to the mantle for Christmas Eve.)

The new Christmas Candy quilt is on the couch in the family room, making things look cheery. (Note Bing, Rosemary, and Danny in their traditional places on the mantle in the background.)

And we even got the tree up, very early for us.

Caroline is excited because when she stands on the small step-ladder we have, she can almost put the star on the top of the tree. Well, not really...but it seemed that way to her. She IS growing way too fast.

Geez, these walls look so white! That's my project for 2006, getting these pale walls painted with some color!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Christmas Candy

I'm not sure why, but I'm in that mood again where I want to sew but don't want to think about it. And making art quilts is, for me, a thoughtful process. It requires looking and deciding what comes next and evaluating every step of the way. I love that process, but sometimes I'm just not in the mood.

And, since that's where I am now, I jumped in and started with my red/green Christmas-colors-but-not-Christmas-print fabrics. I settled on a block that just looked happy and fun to me, like a piece of candy. So I made this:

And next thing you know, there was this:

And pretty soon, I got all the way to this:

It's a happy holiday quilt for the couch in the family room. So today I'm piecing the back and hopefully will get it sandwiched so I can start quilting.

Not surprisingly, due to my tendency to buy more fabric than I need for any one project, I had leftovers of all of these fabrics...So different blocks are under way for another one. Very fun, very happy, and very mindless.

Fa la la la la...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Our baby is growing

I'm proud to announce that the Artful Quilters Web Ring hit 110 members today! The ring is approaching its FIRST BIRTHDAY (Jan. 5), can you believe it?

As always, it's so fun to read through the ring and see what others are doing. When I'm in a non-art-quilting slump (like now) it's encouraging and inspiring to see what others are doing. And I love hearing about everyone's lives, how we all share the jumble of trying to create and take care of families and deal with houses and work and animals and fun adventures and holidays. So, before too long, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea and take the time to look through the ring. Start at the bottom of the list and check out our newest members!

And put yourself on our frappr map by clicking on the frappr box to the right!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I'd rather be reading...

Life has not been about quilting lately, to my disappointment.

Nor have I been able to just curl up with a good book and lose the afternoon to reading. Isn't pleasure reading in the daytime one of the ultimate luxuries of adult life? (And check out this site of gorgeous art featuring women reading!)

Instead, life has been about legal research (whether adult parents are liable when their adult son accidentally shoots someone while target practicing at his parents' home), housework (you don't want to know details, do you?), school stuff (planning the holiday party, and coordinating PTO events), bathroom repairs (discovering that the well-timed temper tantrum can be effective in yanking reluctant contractors into line), holiday preparations (the UPS guy is stopping daily to deliver online-ordered gift items), and dog-romping (a tired puppy is a happy puppy with a happy owner).

Really, I'd rather be reading. Or reading and sipping a Starbuck's gingerbread latte.

Maybe quilting tomorrow?

Oh, and by the way, if you haven't already done so and are a member of the Artful Quilters Web Ring, put yourself on our map by clicking here:
It's fun to see where we all are!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Off to Hogwarts

Today was all about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. And for us, this was a big deal.

Caroline has been Harry Potter-obsessed since the original book and movie came out. Since that time, when she plays with her friend Christopher, I bring out a lip liner pencil to make Harry-esqe scars on their foreheads. They've had elaborate Harry Potter games, which have transferred from stuffed animals and plastic action figures to legos. So we live with Harro Potter on a day to day basis. And Caroline regularly beats me on the Harry Potter trivia game we have, but I must admit that I hold my own.

In an effort to avoid the crowds, we went to the 11:15 am show. (Who knew there WAS A Sunday morning show? It's a great movie time, though.) And it was perfect.

We loved the movie. I loved seeing Harry and Ron and Hermione move awkardly into adolescence. Caroline doesn't get why my favorite scene was the winter ball scene, but (aside from the gorgeous magical indoor snowfall which I wish I could have in my living room) I think it was because it captured that funny teenage awkwardness so well.

And oh my gosh, there was Cedric Diggory...or Robert Patkinson, I think his name is. What a gorgeous young actor. See?

He's supposed to be around 17 here. Sigh. And he even looks good bloodied-up.

Caroline was greatly amused when I referred to him as "a hunk."

So, a fun day was had by all. And now we all have that Harry Potter theme music in our heads...

Friday, November 25, 2005

Post Thanksgiving Food

We're all in that post-Thanksgiving state of relaxed stuffed-ness that makes us want to sit around, watch movies, and take naps.

However, we've had to interrupt our sitting-around-in-a-stupor to visit with Roger's Aunt Donna and cousin Jeanne who came for a visit this morning. They're both lovely, delightful women, and I was very happy to hear that Jeanne is planning to move up here from southern California. I'll enjoy getting to know her better.

Their visit meant that Roger and I spent the morning tidying. And I baked muffins to serve with coffee...and they were a big hit. Quite delicious.

If you want to give them a try, here they are:

Sour Cream Orange Muffins with Poppy Seed Streusel

3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon poppy seeds

2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup fat-free buttermilk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 (8-ounce) container reduced-fat sour cream
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375°.

To prepare streusel, combine first 4 ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.

To prepare muffins, lightly spoon 2 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Make a well in center of mixture. Combine buttermilk and remaining ingredients except cooking spray in a small bowl; add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Spoon batter into 15 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle streusel evenly over batter. Bake at 375° for 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove muffins from pans immediately; place on a wire rack. Yield: 15 servings (serving size: 1 muffin)

CALORIES 180(32% from fat); FAT 6.3g (sat 3.2g,mono 2.3g,poly 0.4g); PROTEIN 3.3g; CHOLESTEROL 31mg; CALCIUM 77mg; SODIUM 277mg; FIBER 0.5g; IRON 1mg; CARBOHYDRATE 27.8g


Our company has now left, Caroline is cleaning her room in anticipation of her friend Simone coming for a sleep-over tonight, and Roger is napping. I'd like to be too...but instead I'll read a new file and do a bit of research for a new case. Work first, then naps...Sigh.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving Notes

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! We have a family day ahead, which will be lovely and relaxing and entertaining and comfortaing....and food filled. Everything Thanksgiving should be!

And of course I'm thinking of the many, many things I'm thankful for. I know it's corny, but I talk with Caroline about this all the time and we try to take time to tell each other and we enjoy making our "gratitude" lists together.

Of course, my list always includes my family and friends and our animals... they are a given. But there are other things, big and small, I've been thinking about lately:

Our county library system, for keeping me in books to feed my voracious reading appetite (and for putting the catalog online so I can order books from other libraries and get almost anything I want! It's fabulous! And FREE!)

My Bernina and Juki sewing machines, for being so reliable and easy to use and for always just working right. The errors are always mine.

The Thanksgiving Day parade, because I've watched it almost every year since I was a tiny and it's how Thanksgiving should start. (One year my mom suggested to my sister and me that we draw pictures of our favorite things in the parade. So of course, that became part of the annual parade-watching tradition. Laura always drew the horses. Me, I varied but often honed in one of the big balloons. ) Any day that starts with a parade is a good day, don't you think?

Good coffee in the morning, from my Starbuck's metal car mug that keeps it hot forever and allows me to sip leisurely all morning long.

Great fabric. Aren't the fabric manufacturers making great stuff? Great patterns, wonderful colors, and always new and inspiring designs. It just keeps coming.

My mail lady, who is so nice about bring all the catalogs and packages and magazines to us, every day. It's not HER fault thatI don't get my Quilting Arts magazine for MONTHS AND MONTHS after everyone else in the universe has theirs.

Martha Stewart, for making the housey, foody, crafty stuff I do seem interesting and creative and worthy of time and attention, and for doing it gracefully. She's an odd duck, Martha, but she's an inspiration. And even inspirations make mistakes.

Our big bathtub... and being able to use it again, FINALLY, after a bathroom remodel forced by a building defect. It's deep and perfect for a long, reflective soak.

Kathy Alexander, Caroline's teacher--she's experienced, enthusiastic, wonderful with the kids, energetic, firm, and genuinely excited to see them learn. She's everything you'd want for your child in 4th grade. I truly don't know how she does it...and then how she come back the next day and does it again.

My Ipod. I LOVE my Ipod. Have I mentioned that before?

And This American Life, my favorite thing to listen to on the radio. (And you can stream it over your computer, for FREE. Anytime!) It's alternately funny, poignant, deep, silly, thought-provoking... This and "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" are my weekly listening "musts." And I can download them to the Ipod!

The blogs I read and the blogging friends I've made--you give me a glimpe into your life and keep me smiling and thinking and learning. Thanks for sharing who you are and what you do!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It's about family...and the food, too

Today was Thanksgiving preparation day...and I'm not even hosting everyone at my house. Tomorrow we're headed down to San Rafael to have Thanksgiving with my family at my brother's house. Gregg and Kitt are newlyweds, and this is their first family holiday dinner. I bet they're breaking out the wedding presents for fancing serving stuff!

In my family, Thanksgiving is a time to get together, of course....but really, it's all about the food. My contribution this year is dessert, so I've spent the day baking. I'm being daring and trying a new (but not too far from traditional) "Cream Cheese Pumpkin-Pecan pie. This is just in case we're not all totally stuffed with turkey and stuffing and other goodies! But it sounded so good that I had to try it. (And it uses reduced fat cream cheese, so it's HEALTHY.) Look, see?

Cream Cheese Pumpkin Pecan Pie

3/4 cup flour
6 Tblsp. light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tblsp. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1 Tblsp. cold water
3/4 cup chopped pecans

8 oz. reduced fat cream cheese
6 Tblsp. reduced fat sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves

For crust, place flour, brown sgar and salt in food processor with metal blade. Pulse several times to blend. Add butter and process until dough resembles coarse meal. With motor running, add water through feed tube, a little at a time, until dough is moist, not wet. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add pecans. Knead until a ball of dough forms and pecans are thoroughly incorporated. Flatten into disk, press into tart pan, and chill for at least 30 minutes. Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes and then cool slightly.

To prepare filling: Place cream cheese and sour cream in a bowl and mix with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Gradually add sugar and beat until well-blended. Add eggs one at a time and mix well. Remove 1/3 cup filling and set aside.

Add pumpkin puree and spices to cream cheese mixture, mixing until blended. Pour mixture into prebaked pie shell. Gently drop teaspoonfuls of reserved cream cheese mixture onto pumpkin filling, then swirl lightly with a knife to produce marbled effect. (Do not over-swirl or cream-cheese mixture will blend in.)

Bake until firm, about 35 minutes. Cool on rack for at least an hour. Serve cold or at room temperature.


Doesn't sound that yummy and holiday-ish?

I also baked another traditional pumpkin pie (Martha Stewart's recipe actually, because I LOVE Martha and it's my own little act of solidarity) because Roger's aunt and cousin are coming over on Friday and I'll need something to serve. I'm actually going to roast a turkey breast that day, since it's not Thanksgiving unless you have all that left over turkey for turkey sandwiches. Or tamales, if you must.

And, because it is all about the food, for the non-pumpkin pie eaters, I'm making mini cream puffs. They're super easy to make and always wildly impress people.

Here's what you do:

Pate au choux ("pat-ay oh shoe" to sound very gourmet-ish.)

Put 1 cup water in a sauce pan with 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter. Bring to a rolling boil, melting butter completely. Reduce the heat to low, then add 1 cup flour all of a sudden (just dump it in there!) and stir vigorously. The dough will clump together and get glossy as it sort of "dries" and goes from a batter consistency to a dough-ball consistency.

Take it off of the heat, let it cool for about 5 minutes. Then, one at a time, add 4 eggs, stirring vigorously after each addition so dough is glossy and smooth. (You can do this part in a food processor if you want.)

Drop the dough by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. (You can make them long in shape, for eclairs, or roundish, for cream puffs...or large or tiny, as you prefer.) Then bake at 400 for 30 minutes. When the time is up, turn the oven off but leave them in the oven with the door cracked open for about an hour. Zee franche alvayss de zees step but I do not know vhy.

When they're cool, you slice them open, and voila, there's a lovely empty center (you may have to pull out a few strands of dough with your fingers) for you to fill. You can use whipped cream. My secret filling? Instant vanilla pudding (the kind you make in 5 minute with cold milk, not that horrid stuff you buy pre-made). Then drizzle melted chocolate over the top and people will swoon.

Ooh la la.

Happy baking, everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Something to read when you're not quilting

I have this thing about quilt books: It's hard for me not to buy them.

When I walk into a quilt shop, I can have a grand time looking at fabric. But it's the book shelf (or rack, or wall) that draws me like a magnet. I can stand and look at quilt books for a long time.

It's not that I'm looking for anything in particular. There are occasions where I want to see something specific or find information about a technique, but those are rare. Usually, it's just that a new quilt book promises beauty and color and inspiration. And who wouldn't want more of that?

I have a healthy number of books in my collection. And, for the most part, they're all books that I am happy to return to over and over again. In a certain mood, I'll pull 5 or 6 of them and sit on the chair in the corner of the bedroom to just look through them, remembering what I liked about them and finding new discoveries (recently I discovered a Mrs. Mel quilt in a book I'd owned for some years...but now that she's a friend it jumped off the page right at me). I love how what I'm drawn to in a book changes over time, as my interests and abilities have changed. It's like sitting down for a talk with an old friend and learning something new. There's the familiar, but the surprise, too.

Some people understand and share this book addiction. My friend Janet Shore has the best library of quilt books of anyone I know, only rivalled by my quilt guild's massive collection. Janet has been collecting books since the 1970's, I think. She has two big walls of shelves in her living room just full of art and quilt books, and every time I'm there I find time to pull a book or two from a shelf and look a bit. Some of her books from the late 70's and early 80's flash me back to when I worked at The Quilting Bee (when it was tiny, in Los Altos, owned by Diana Leone) and I either owned them or pored over them on the shop's shelves when the store wasn't busy. Janet has books she bought on quilt trips in Japan some years back -- amazing books with gorgeous and innovative quilts. (That's how I learned about Ayako Miyawaki...from some books on Janet's shelves.) I always ask Janet if I can come and spend a weekend at her house, just soaking up the peace and no-kids-in-the-house neatness and lovely colors and beautiful quilts and endless books. She thinks I'm joking. I'm not.

My acquisition of books used to puzzle my husband. "You'll never make all these quilts," he'd say, "Doesn't it stress you out to just add to the things you want to make?" I shouldn't have been surprised...Roger gets worried when we've taped a few TV shows and haven't watched them yet. "They're piling up! We're falling behind!" (I remind him that the VCR is for OUR convenience and we can watch them -- or not -- was we damn well please.) But I've told him over and over that I don't buy books because I want to make something in them. In fact, owning a book with a picture of a beautiful quilt takes the pressure off of me: I can enjoy looking at the quilt as often as I like without ever having to make it! Best of both worlds! I buy the books because I just like to look the quilts in them.

I have a Japanese friend, Noriko, who is greatly amused that I have subscriptions to two Japanese quilt magazines, Patchwork Quilt Tsushin and Quilts Japan. (You can subscribe through Born to Quilt, here.) A non-quilter, she thinks it's very funny that I get magazines I can't read. I've shown her how I can read the numeric measurements, if I wanted to know that exact information, and I've reminded her that I can have her translate for me if I'm desperate to know what the text says. But I love these magazines because the quilts are so different from American quilts, and in part because I can't read them. I pore over the pictures because I can't read them. I look closely at the women's faces, to see if I recognize anyone. (There are Japanese quilters whose faces I recognize now, even though I don't know their names.)

I'm not indiscriminate. But I love books of quilt exhibits (and am eager to see the I Remember Mama book and the book of the most recent Viking exhibit from Houston), and books that focus on art and creativity. I don't buy "how to make THIS quilt" type books, unless the quilts are gorgeous and the pictures are great. Most recently, Katie Pasquini Masopust's new book "Color and Composition for the Creative Quilter" landed on my's a great addition to the collection. I can look at Sandi Cummings' book "Thinking Outside the Block" and Dianne Hire's "Quilter's Playtime" over and over, too.

And there'll be another great book just around the corner, I know.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Fast food, slow quilts

Have you ever heard of the Slow Food movement? You can read more about it here, but basicaly it's a movement to appreciate the process of growing, making and eating food. It's about taking the time to enjoy food, especially with friends.

Well, I adore food -- fast or slow. But I've been thinking about the concept of "slow food" as I've been working on my dotty circles quilt. You all know that my usual and favorite method of quilting is what I call "slapdash." That's when I get to work on something that is pure fun and fast sewing--no careful measuring, just quick and creative assembly.

Well, I don't know why, but lately I've been unusually contented to just sew, calmly and slowly and without rushing to finish. I had fun sewing the arcs on my dotty circles -- still no big thought required, except to alternate a light fabric with a dark fabric -- but I just worked along, having a good time making arcs. Anyway, yesterday, I spent a happy few hours assembling blocks, and now here's where I am:

I've decided that this needs a pieced border, which I'm working on happily at the moment. With all the polka dots and circles, I decided it needed something zig-zaggy. Stay tuned.

I decided a while ago that I wanted to make some sort of Christmasy quilt to throw over the couch for the holidays. At PIQF in early October, I looked at every piece of Christmas fabric I could find...and I didn't like any of them. I didn't want any cute Christmas scene, or gold-embossed stuff, or goofy looking snowmen and Santas. But I had a stroke of inspiration and decided to do something funky with red and green geometrics. Today, I pulled my assortment out, and got them all washed and folded. Here they are, ready for cutting when I figure out what I'm going to do:

See that one in the top row, second from the left? A white background with red and green and yellow funky square shapes? I LOVE that one and bought a huge hunk. It's my inspiration fabric. La di da. (Or should I say "fa la la"?)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Crazy, Lazy, Day

I've not got much to say for myself today.

I took the day off, as a reward to myself for getting through an interesting yet stressful local school board matter. I learned some about school board politics (in a good way, actually), I learned a lot about the hot issues in my district facing the elementary schools, I stuck up for what I believed in, I affected the outcome to some extent, and I've made some friends. Plus, after the very long school board meeting last night, 2 other involved moms and I went out for a drink at a local spot and got HIT ON! We're all over 40 and each of us hasn't had that happen in...well, longer than we can remember. The guy was balding and portly and rather odd (and, amusingly, it turned out that he was the dad of a 2nd grader at the very elementary school where our kids all are), but still... The memory of that guy looking from one of us to the next and saying eagerly "Are any of you single?" will keep me chuckling for a while.

I'd planned to go to my guild meeting and have lunch with my buddies afterwards...But first thing this morning brought a call from a friend with a babysitter problem. So that meant that my morning was spent with my 3 1/2 year old friend Molly. We played and had fun.

I digress for a moment to note that Molly's dad, my good friend's ex-husband, basically abandoned the family when Molly was not even one year old. It's a horrible story for all concerned. But Molly, now very aware of other kids' daddies, has decided that her daddy died from being eaten by a snake. She's in a phase where she says this rather frequently, looking dramatically tragic. She know that's not the case, but it's how she's processing not having a daddy right now. And Molly's mom and I are enjoying the image of the horrible daddy meeting his well-deserved demise this way. In some situations, you must take your humor where you can find it.

Anyway, afterwards, I indulged myself with a bit of sewing, machine appliqueing my wild dotty circles to the background pieces. Then my sister stopped by so that her new dog Katie (a newly rescued wire-haired pointer, pictures soon) could romp with Gemma. Doggie cousins! We sat outside on the adirondack chairs on a gorgeous, warm fall day...Laura stitched (she's a needlework designer and always stitching! See her designs here) and I leafed through the ever-growing pile of catalogs, looking for Christmas gift ideas. I think we're getting about 5 catalogs a day, so it's work to keep them from piling up!

After they left, Gemma plopped down in the shade to recover from all the excitement, and I returned to sewing until it was time to pick up Caroline from after school day camp. Then she and I played a game together until Roger came home and we dug out Chinese food left-overs for dinner so I didn't even have to cook.

Now that's what I call a day off of work! Very restful.

Although I've nothing else to report, I do want recognize my friend Gerrie for the amazing quilty accomplishments coming her way lately! She's talked about them on her blog, so you can read the details there... But I mention it here because Gerrie is one of the most adventurous quilters I know. She's not afraid to try new things and she dives in with great enthusiasm. She's always willing to share what she's doing and learning. She's amazingly prolific. I'm very pleased to see her work being discovered by others, and in such an exciting flurry of events too! Good work, Gerrie!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

On the design wall

So, here's what I'm working on these days. Remember this? I started this paper-pieced quilt last May, out of Becky Goldsmith's and Linda Jenkins' book Quilts with a Spin. I've been working on it on and off since then, and finally got to the point of putting it all together. This is one 16" block out of 9. It's fun and happy, which makes me happy. And it's been fun working on a project that doesn't require a design decision every other minute.

I'm gonna do some sort of pieced border, but I'm still working on that. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

My mother, my self

One of the Blogging 4 Books themes this month is to write about "going home again." This is my entry (my very first one!) about how "home" is in you whether you realize it or not.

"Sit straight," my mom used to say to me at dinner time. I’d have perched myself on a kitchen chair, one leg tucked comfortably under me as I sat at the table. It drove my mom nuts when I didn’t sit squarely facing the table. Apparently good manners required that I sit squarely, with both feet on the floor. But I just wasn’t comfortable, and eventually, without thinking, I’d slide around into another position that broke the rules and provoked another rebuke from my mother.

I hadn’t thought about this in years, until I heard myself say to my wiggly daughter Caroline at dinner one night, "Turn around and sit straight!" Caroline stopped squirming, but I froze more quickly at the shock of hearing myself: I’d sounded just like my mother.

It’s disconcerting, how motherhood calls up such an odd mix of feelings sometimes. There are moments when I’m in full mother mode, helping Caroline with homework or playing a card game or picking up clothes from her bedroom floor, and I have a sudden flash to an intense childhood memory of my mother doing those things with me. I remember the amazement I felt at how easy it was for me to remember where the three of clubs was hidden among the cards in a game of "Concentration"; now, I watch as Caroline’s hand goes unerringly to the right card when I’ve not been able to keep a single card in my head beyond the next turn. I remember how my mom muttered and gently scolded me about leaving my wet towel on the bathroom floor after my bath. Now, I mutter and scold and realize how tired my mom must have been as she picked up after me.

And all those things I swore to myself that I’d never say to MY children when I grew up? Yep, I’m saying them...more regularly than I’d like to admit. When we moved into a rental house with a new paint job over which our new landlords had made a big fuss, I found myself chiding Caroline over and over again to not run her hands along the walls each time she went down the hallway. I couldn’t keep the words from escaping my mouth, even as I remembered the feel of smooth wallboard under my fingers as I skipped to my bedroom.

The moments where I unexpectedly find myself being my mother aren’t all discipline-related ones. Whenever Caroline is sick, I find myself doing and saying the comforting things my mom did for me. A damp washcloth, folded a special way, as a compress for a fevered forehead, a crisp clean pillowcase to make getting to sleep easier, even the stories I tell and the songs I sing come straight from my mom, through my heart, to my daughter.

So, yes, it’s disconcerting to find myself becoming my mom as I mother my daughter. But it makes me happy, too.
So you wanna know what I did yesterday? THIS.

Yep, some mysterious cold or flu bug caused me to cancel my meeting thursday afternoon and put me in bed all day friday. And, strangely enough, this is the first time in years that I've caught something that didn't start with Caroline bringing it home from school.

Thank goodness for Just's Eucasol Spray. Just is this Swiss company that makes herbal products (and I think they sell them through in-home parties -- that's how I discovered them years ago). They make a little spray that smells like herbs and eucalyptus and mint, sort of like Vick's Vapor-rub, but you don't have to apply that sticky ointment anywhere to get the wonderful smell effect. I spray it on a tissue and put it next to my nose when I'm going to sleep and I swear it helps clear up my stuffiness and relaxes me. So I love the stuff and have been spraying it willy-nilly lately.

So, no sewing going on here. I've been living vicariously through Melody and Gerrie and Kristin (new member to the AQ web ring!) and their adventures at Art Quilt Tahoe.

And I've been reading a lot, in between naps. Finished "Saving Fish from Drowning" (isn't that the best title?) by Amy Tan, and I would highly recommend it. Very thought provoking. I blew through a chick lit book, "Time Off for Good Behavior" which was mildly entertaining, although I found the narrator/heroine irritating and not likeable. I'm now into a dense legal thriller, "The Will," which seems interesting but keeps causing me to drift off. We'll see if that's the cold medicine or bad writing. It's too soon to tell.

By the way, if you're a member of the ring, put yourself on our map by clicking here:

It's fun to see where we all are!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Where are we?

There are just so many fun things on the internet. And I've added one of them to my blog. See that new box over there (there, on the right) just below the AQ web ring box? It's a link to "Frapper," a site which creates a map showing where everyone is.

Here's the official link:

So, if you're a member of the AQ web ring, go add yourself to the map...and maybe eventually we'll see where our members are!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Someone Else Will Do It

It's ironic to me that my last post was about my involvement with this big school board issue. I can't even begin to tell you my list of frustrations with the whole situation.

But on Friday, I learned that one of the big quilt guilds in Northern California, the Marin Quilt Guild, is disbanding because there aren't people willing to step into the officer roles and run the guild. I was surprised, and actually rather impressed, at the boldness of the undoubtedly tired and overworked former guild officers. They've run the guild for years longer than their terms required, under the group's by-laws. They've put on a large, well-attended, well-respected juried quilt show every Labor Day weekend for many years.

Perhaps some new members will step forward to carry on the work and resurrect the guild, and that panic over not having the guild that they took for granted will propel people into action. Or perhaps not...maybe the failure of members to recognize that members in a group need to share the work means that the group just isn't a big enough priority to them.

There's not only the personal parallel for me as I struggle with this school stuff. Also, in my art quilt group, it's time for me to hand over the reins of being the "coordinator" to someone else. And so far no one is willing to step up and do it. I've been worrying about it, because I need to step out of the role for a number of reasons, but what do I do if no one will step in? Now I think "maybe that means that the group isn't important enough to anyone to share the work." And perhaps recognizing that and walking away from a group that isn't willing to share the workload of making it all happen isn't a bad thing. We'll see how that goes.

This sort of event and the aftermath of shock has lessons for us all, don't you think? From the littlest quilt group to the biggest of government...If we don't pay attention and do our part, maybe it'll change into something we don't recognize or like or want at all...And maybe it'll just go away.

These are my lofty thoughts on this Sunday morning. But now it's time to put in another load of laundry.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Ups and Downs of Getting INVOLVED

You'll have to excuse my lack of fun and exciting stuff here. And, I warn you, it might be this way for a few days.

I blame it all on the School Board. A big issue has suddenly arisen regarding our district's elementary schools: whether our two schools should each be Kindergarten through 5th grade, or whether we should have one Kinder through 2nd grade school and another third through 5th grade school. The decision impacts virtually every elementary school kid in the district and their families, not to mention the city over all has it has implications for traffic issues and real estate values and such.

I've been hovering on the edge of the issue, trying to avoid jumping into it. But it's hard to resist. It's an important issue. And partly it's out of frustration with the Board, because the district actually had a huge review process and vote on this VERY SAME ISSUE just 18 months ago. So it's dismaying and confusing to have it all brought up again...and for no clear reason.

So, I finally decided that I need to get more information and find out what is REALLY driving this. Is it money? Is it some view of educational benefit that I'm missing? Is it just the personal preference of the board members who voted the other way on the issue last time, and don't want to let it rest?

Well, suffice it to say that I'm going to be having a lot of meetings in the coming week. I've already gotten my dander up, when I asked a secretary if I could have a copy of a particular report (which a school board member had referred to in a conversation) and the secretary replied, suspiciously, "How did YOU find out about that report?" Like it's a state secret, and not a public record. Sheesh.

You can bet I'm gonna get that report come hell or high water, now.

Anyway. That's what I'm doing right now. So if you don't hear from me for a few days, you'll know why.

And by the way, if any of you reading this have experience with either elementary school configuration (K-5 or K-6, or the "grade span" thing where your child changes school every few years), I'd love to hear from you about your experiences.

I guess I can't sit back and do nothing, as much as I'd rather, some times.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Halloween Hangover

You know, it occurs to me that the reason God invented Halloween candy isn't for the kids -- it's so that the grown-ups orchestrating Halloween can get and maintain a sugar high to get them through the Halloween festivities.

It's been a long few days, folks. But fun. Very fun.

As I mentioned, Saturday was spent sewing the horse's costume for the EPS pony show. Sunday was the big horse show. The whole horse show experience isn't strange to me-- my sister rode in shows when we were in high school, so many of my high school weekends were spent hanging around barns, watching events, handing out ribbons, etc. And Caroline's been riding for about 3 years now, so by now the pony show isn't new either. And I KNOW that each class drags on interminably and the whole thing moves slowly. Like a tired pony trudging away from its stall.

Still, we leave the house early enough to be sure we're not late...only to arrive and discover that Caroline's first class won't be for about 2 hours. This leaves plenty of time to wander around, pet all the ponies, get all of our shoes really muddy, and accumulate enough liquid in our bladders that we all need to use the rather rustic (ahem) facilities there. And I'd really rather not use them.

But I digress. It was a lovely October day, sunny and over 70, with a touch of crispness in the air. The scent of hay and pony and manure (which from a distance is actually sort of pleasant) was in the air...and of course, there were scads of little girls skittering around, wearing their tan breeches and black boots and looking so sophisticated with their hair in neat buns...until, out of boredom, they start the wild cartwheeling that inevitably occurs when you get a bunch of 9 year olds together.

But I digress again. The costume event was very fun, with wildly inventive costumes for ponies and riders. Caroline and her pony, Bartles, turned out well:

They took 7th place, which thrilled Caroline as many kids didn't get a ribbon at all and she didn't have one of that purple color yet for her collection. Here's another view of them:

Caroline's good friend Lani, riding Rose, was a Pony Express aviator. Rose wasn't too thrilled about being the airplane and she kept rolling her eyes suspiciously at the cardboard wings, but they made it through the class and Lani took 8th place.

The overall winner was a boy (the only boy there all day, I think) who had an elaborate pirate costume and had turned the saddle into a huge treasure chest with overflowing treasure. I didn't get a good picture, so you'll just have to imagine that yourself.

Yesterday was the Halloween parade at school... I just love watching the kindergarteners trail around in their costumes! And then Caroline's class had its party. The 4th graders planned it themselves, and came up with inventive things. Caroline's contribution was to bring our steam vaporizer, for a mist effect in the classroom. Spooky!

Then, of course, came the trick-or-treating. Caroline's friend Dabria, AKA Wednesday Adams (of the Adams Family) went together, chattering excitedly the whole way. Dabria is a cute little girl, the spitting image of the TV Adams Family Wednesday (with slightly lighter hair. She has a high, happy voice and just chatters, chatters, chatters. "I'm having a BLAST!" she said to me, then she immediately turned to Caroline with a sigh. "I wish we could go with my brother. He knows the houses that give MONEY."

Oh well. No cash handouts in our neighborhood, but they did come home with a significant amount of candy, plus one toothrbrush each from the dentist up the street, AND a little pamphlet with Spiderman on the front about how God is a superhero and you can read about his adventures in the Bible. Seriously.

So, today we rest. And try to avoid the left-over hershey bars.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Unexpected Talents

I think from time to time of one of the interviews Roger and I had with the social worker before we adopted Caroline. (By way of explanation, when you adopt you have to have a home study by a state-authorized agency, which means that a social worker gets assigned to you and comes out and interviews you a bunch of times both before and after the adoption. ) Our social worker was a down-to-earth, friendly woman named Judith who was herself the mom of two adopted kids. She took all the anxiety out of the home study process for us.

Anyway, early on she asked "So, what sorts of activities to you envision doing with your daughter?" In retrospect, the question seems ridiculously broad and even silly. But back then, as a mom-in-waiting, I answered eagerly to describe my idyllic view of motherhood: I'd read to her, play games and cards and dolls with her, we'd bake cookies together and lie on the grass and stare at bugs together...i went on and on. I had quite a vision.

And now, some 9 years into our life with Caroline, I think back to the conversation and think about the things I simply couldn't imagine myself doing. Not because they were bad, or things I didn't want to do -- but because it just never occurred to me that I'd be doing them. And that's not to say that we haven't done the stuff I described to Judith, many times over: we read a ton and play games and dolls (although I didn't know that Caroline's doll play most often involves some form of tying the doll up in odd bondage style and then having horses come to the rescue. Finding Barbies staked to the furniture legs around Caroline's room does make me wonder about her impending adolescence... Hmm, the bondage thing didn't come up in the home study.)

But there are just things I couldn't have imagined myself doing. One of the big lessons of motherhood, for me, is the well of resources you discover you have... patience, humor, inventiveness, and sheer tolerance for little sleep and child wailing. And drool...tolerance of drool is another. I actually stunned myself once, when we were at my folks' house and Caroline (at about 1) suddenly started to vomit and I held out my hand to catch the vomit so it wouldn't hit the couch. Did you get that? I HELD OUT MY HAND TO CATCH THE VOMIT. As an impulse. (Hmm, is that a good mom impulse, or a good daughter impulse, protecting my parents' couch? Or both? Until now, it didn't occur to me to think about that angle.)

I didn't know that, when Caroline was a baby, I'd regularly sit her in the kitchen sink with the water fawcet on to let just a small stream of water fall out. That water mesmerized her, and she'd sit, transfixed, moving her chubbing fingers in and out of it. It was the only thing that would quiet her after a vaccination or when she was really cranky with teething.

I didn't know that I'd become an expert at building under-the-dining-room-table forts with blankets and pillows and upturned chairs, to transform our small living space into something new and exciting on a cold snowy day where we were housebound.

I didn't know I'd be peering into buckets of snails (EUUUUU) after Caroline had painstakingly collected them from the agapantha bushes to make the snail families she adored. (My second quilt for her was a Snail's Trail block quilt. No surprise there.)

And I didn't know I'd be sewing Halloween costumes for horses. Yes, you read that right. FOR HORSES. That's what I was doing yesterday. Uh huh. Read that again. FOR HORSES. The woman at the fabric store looked at me like I was crazy. "Well, that's a new one on me," she said, shaking her head.

Caroline rides (rode, rides, will ride -- all tenses, with great enthusiasm) at a riding school that puts on a kids' horse show every October. The show features a costume class -- actually, usually two or three as there are so many kids who want to participate they have to double up on the ponies -- where the kids and the ponies dress up. Last year was Caroline's first year...She was a Pony Ninja Princess, a role of her own invention. She was quite specific about the costume requirements. My part involved making a red silk-like (or, a hunk of silkish polyester from the bargain bin at Joann's Fabrics) blanket with gold tassels and fringe, rein and bridle decorations (gold fringe and tassels), and a gold organza veil for Her Highness the princess. Caroline won 3rd place and I was inordinately proud. I mean, that fringe on the bridle looked AWESOME.

This year, Caroline has opted to be an EPS (that's European Pony School) cheerleader. So we found her an inexpensive red cheerleading costume and I applied EPS to the front in white felt letters (We LOVE Wonder Under)...and with red felt and white bias tape, I've made a blanket to cover the pony's flanks and say "GO EPS!" on either side....And a red breast-plate thingy that will attach to the saddle and say EPS. (Who do we love? WONDER UNDER! Give me a W! Give me an O! Give me an N!) And Caroline and I spent last evening dismantling actual pom pons (did you know it's pom PON and not pom POM? According to the package it is, anyway) to take smaller clumps of pom pon strands, attach them to those little claw-like hair clippy things which we will then attach to the pony's mane and tail. I even have more red and white bias tape (a very cheap way to get colored trim) which we will wind around the reins for more spirited color.

Everyone will look stunning and festive and spilled with Pony School Spirit. Of course, Caroline has been strictly lectured several times to NOT wave her pom pons too aggressively, for fear of scaring the ponies and causing a stampede.

This will be an interesting afternoon. Pictures to follow.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Going Inside the Block

It amuses me that, when so many artists talk about working 'outside of the block' to stretch themselves and open their minds to new ideas, my Practical Design workshop is asking me to use a traditional block as the starting point for creativity. Hence the "inside the block." I'd guess that for many art quilters, using traditional block structure is a new, if not scary, approach. You all can work through the inside/outside the block analogies yourselves.

Anyway. Here's the starting point block, known generally as the "Star of Bethlehem" or "Dutch Puzzle."

And here's the block's grid structure:

Notice all of those triangles?! We're not allowed to change the direction of any triangle lines but can combine them to form squares and parallelograms.

I digress to say I LOVE Electric Quilt 5. Do you have this software? If not, ask someone to give it to you for Christmas or your birthday, or treat yourself to it. (It's pricey. Around $100. But very fun and actually useful in all sorts of ways.) EQ allows you to use traditional blocks, or draw your own. You're not limited to blocks, either. You can draw any shapes you want, in any kind of setting or on any background you choose. You can set up blocks or chunks to form a background for an art quilt, or work with any shapes you want. (Strangely, one of the things I especially like it for is deciding on proportions...without endless and repeated sketching, I can fiddle with a diagram to test out different proportions of shapes before I move to fabric.) And it has "stashes" of fabric swatches so you can color designs with fabric colors and textures and even import REAL on-the-market fabrics. Very fun and cool. I've actually designed quilts on EQ and then decided, for the moment, that designing them and seeing them laid out there was enough for me at that stage so I could move on to something else. I've also used EQ to memorialize something I want to make in the future. Some time ago, I saw a tv show setting where a quilt hung on the wall in the background. I loved the quilt, and drew a hasty sketch as I was watching tv, then I designed it on EQ while it was fresh in my memory. Now I don't even remember what the TV show was, but I have the quilt all designed to remind me of what I want to do.

But anyway. As it happens, EQ is perfect for this sort of exercise. I was able to find the block in EQ's block library, then reduce it to the grid above. And rather than spend a lot of time trying out colors and layouts by hand-coloring (which has its own appeal for those of us who miss coloring with crayons but is a bit time-consuming and slow), I'm able to fill areas with color as I choose. Here's one variation:

You can see from the blank grid how many possibilities there are for design with this structure. I've decided to give myself two goals in this task: One is to use more muted colors for my final block, to force myself away from the brights I always head towards instinctively; and two, to play with the notion of transparency.

I've been fascinated by transparency in quilts since I stumbled onto Ruth McDowell's book "Pattern on Pattern." Simply put, that's where you use color to create the illusion of overlapping shapes. Here's an absolutely awe-inspiring example by Priscilla Bianchi:

So, I've started fiddling with EQ to see what transparency effects I can create in this block. Here's a first example:

You'll notice that I'm playing with bright colors, but for now I'm just finding the overlapping shapes in the block to get the transparent effect. I'll figure out the fabric later.

Here's another try:

So, that's how I'm approaching this exercise. It's very fun. I've got Itunes playing in the background and I'll just click-and-color.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Work? What work?

I have been shamelessly celebrating my lack of work. (To be honest, although my biggest case settled and eliminated the nastiest projects on my to-do list, I still have work on the list. Just nothing pressing. So I can pretend like it's not there, for the moment. You know how that lawyerly procrastination thing works. If I ignore it, it really might go away.)

Anyway. Yesterday, I had my art group meeting, followed by the second "Practical Design" workshop with Marilyn Felber. At the art group, we revealed the "brown bag" challenge quilts we've been working on for the past 6 months. The assortment of small quilts was wonderful to see. You can see them all here, on Gerrie's blog.

The design workshop with Marilyn was thought-provoking and very interesting. Marilyn has such a calm, careful presence about her. One of the big themes I'm taking away so far is the sense of doing whatever it is I do in my quilt art with deliberation. Why am I doing this? Why am I choosing this technique? Marilyn throws out a lot of questions to think about, with the basic premise that usually it's the process of asking the question that is more useful than actually answering it. So, for example, we talked a bit about the skill and craft that goes into making an art quilt, and learning the techniques (and confronting one's fear of what one cannot do) so that the inability to do some aspect of the craft won't impede your progress on a partular piece of art.

Many in the group were startled, to say the least, when Marilyn presented us with the next challenge: to use a particular complex traditional block (the Star of Bethlehem), reduce it to its basic structure, and then redesign a block that is true to the structure of the original but different in appearance from it. The diagram of the block flat out stunned some folks. All those triangles! All those points! (The group did not call itself "the Pointless Sisters" for nothing.) But many of us are enthusiastic about the process of taking an existing structure and making it our own.

And today? My sister and I tried out a new hamburger stand in town (with gourmet hamburgers and serving sweet potato fries...this IS Healdsburg, after all, where gourmet food rules and wine is served with everything) and then went home to watch a fluffy movie and happily tear inspirational pictures out of our old magazines. I"ll tell you about my inspiration notebooks another day. Now, all this leisure activity has worn me out and I'm headed to bed with a good novel.

Ooh--bathroom report-- the painters finished today, the toilet is now reinstalled (and not perching along side the bed, which is a refreshing improvement in the bedroom) and there are only a few minor things to be fixed before the master bathroom is ours again. I see a long bubble bath in my future...

Monday, October 24, 2005

In which I get good news

I am LEAPING around my office with glee.

I sat down at my computer this morning with dread, not to mention a queasy stomach and throbbing head. The queasiness was both literal and figurative: literal because we've all had some mild stomach thing this weekend where we don't want to eat and if we do we feel nauseated, and figurative because despite said literal queasiness I needed to make SERIOUS progress on a big old fat motion to scare the pants off the other side in a case I'm working on so we could get them thrown right out of court. And the throbbing head thing is because Caroline was up and down from bed all last night, complaining of various maladies (including itchy bumps, a stomach ache, wrinkly sheets, and other night-time disasters) so I didn't get much sleep.

Nevertheless, I poured myself a large cup of coffee, read my email, then figured I'd better call Bob the Wonder Boss before I dug in to see if there was anything vital I needed to know before I launched into work.

And LO, the angels are smiling on me because THE CASE SETTLED on Friday afternoon!

Hah! I'm happy, happy, HAPPY! Now I can go back to feeling queasy and sleepy with impunity. And with a child home sick from school, which means that the day won't exactly be fun and easy...but heck, at least I won't be trying to write the most brilliant and convincing summary judgment motion in the universe.

Things are looking up around here.

I love it when icky cases settle. And I'm not even the one getting the settlement cash.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

A Cottony Way to Die

Hey, you friends of mine:

You guys who are with me when we end up in fabric stores? And you guys who run into me at quilt shows? You all know who you are.

I have an order a request for you: If you see me holding fabric and standing near a cash register, DO NOT let me buy it! Rip it out of my hands! Push me away from the register! Yank my wallet away from me! Shove me to the floor, if need be...but do not let me come home with more fabric.

It's not a money issue...although I don't even want to try to estimate the value of the fabric crammed into my closet.

It's a space thing. I have fabric in every nook and cranny in my office, and I've used up the under-the-bed space, and I've got some on a closet shelf in the bedroom, and I've use the drawers in the hallway....

Simply put, it is TOO MUCH.

"Woman Dies After Fabric-Stuffed Shelves Collapse" is not a headline I want my family to have to see. (Although suffociation by fabric wouldn't be a totally horrid way to go...My last thought would probably be something like "I love that Kaffe Fassett print too much to cut into it" or "I forgot I had that piece that Melody Johnson dyed!")

This is a cry for help! Stop me before I buy again!

(Can you tell I'm putting away my stuff from PIQF?!)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Hi, Pod

Here's my pod, finished. I decided to crop it and add the border to bring the focus back to the pod.

You know how much I love my Ipod? That's why I named this "Hi, Pod."

Hey, I'm tired. But it's a challenge finished.

Retreating and Returning

There's nothing like a mini-vacation in your own home town. I spent the last few days enjoying a quilting retreat at The Bishop's Ranch right here in Healdsburg. It's probably less than 15 miles from my house, but I feel like I'm hundreds of miles away when I'm there.

The ranch is a retreat and conference center owned by the Episcopal Diocese of California. There are lovely old buildings like this one, which is the main house:

There are other buildings... some woodsy cabins, some more modern meeting rooms, a lovely chapel with the most beautiful and artistic stained (or painted?) glass windows I've ever seen. But it's the setting that is truly magnificent... It's all nestled in the hills, with views of vineyards and rolling hills, oak trees clustered around the property, and wildlife (besides the quilters, I mean) strolling through from time to time. The essence of peace just floats through the air there.

There were about 40 women at this retreat, I'm guessing. We were divided among three different buildings: the main house (where there were 21 people), St. John's Room, where I was with 5 others, and Harrison House, where there was a group of perhaps 8 quilters of the more traditional persuasian. We visited each other frequently (to see what everyone was working on, to share snacks and wine, and to otherwise tease and joke and be silly) and we share meals together in a common dining room.

My sewing crowd consisted of my buddies Rita, Janet, Pat (all of whom you've seen here before -- they're members of my art group and my guild, as well as especially wonderful friends)...and Pat's sister Mary Lou who comes out from Massachusetts to include this retreat in her annual California vacation. This year, we had a "newbie" in the room, a pleasant woman who came from several hours away for a quilting get-away. She kept strolling off to read, take naps, and check out movie times...I suspect that when she signed up for a quilting retreat, she didn't realize she'd be in with a bunch of loonies who were happy to hang out in the sewing room, talking incessantly, from morning until as late at night as we could manage.

Fellow blogger, AQ ring member and buddy Gerrie was there, although she wasn't in our room... She's enough of an old-timer at that particular retreat that she has a guaranteed spot in the main house. So, we visited often and saw each other at meals. Here she is, looking happy and busy.

Down in our room, we did a lot of sewing, although you wouldn't know it from my complete lack of sewing action pictures. Janet and Pat worked on challenge projects for our art group. We cheered Mary Lou on as she moved from using her subdued New Englander fabrics into wild brights and high contrast fabrics... She knows she'll get a shocked reaction when she shows her work to her local guild back there. She's had a hard time finding contemporary quilters in her area.

We laughed and joked almost incessantly. And we listened to good music, too. Oddly enough, when we pooled our CDs we found that we had quite the international assortment... Gypsy Kings, Beau Soleil, Andrea Boccelli, a singer from Brazil whose name I can't remember but whose voice was very nice) and more. Indeed, spontaneous outbursts of dancing occurred from time to time. Here's Pat:

And Mary Lou and Rita demonstrated proper ballroom dancing technique (although I never did see a dip):

Yes, I did get sewing done! I decided to use the time to work on my Karen Stone "Cinco de Mayo" blocks. These are the complex New York Beauty style blocks with something like 11 different fabrics in each block and lord knows how many points. They're fun, but slow going. I figured having a hunk of time to just plug away on them would be good. And it was, although I was a bit frustrated as the quilters around me were whipping out a quilt top a day while I was proudly announcing the completion of ONE block every 5 hours or so. Still, I was happy to get seven of them done at the retreat. Here they are, with the two I'd done before (in no particular arrangement):

I'm not sure how big I'm going to make the quilt. I'd envisioned something rather large, but geez, these blocks take a lot of time. I'm going to take a break for a while, then make a few more and then see how it goes. I'm thinking I want at least 16 blocks and probably more.

The other thing I accomplished at the ranch was that I did most of my "Brown Bag Challenge" quilt. Remember that challenge? About 6 months ago, everyone in our art group brought a brown paper sack with an unidentied object in it, and we put them on the table and each picked a bag. The challenge is to make an 18" square quilt inspired by the what's in your bag.

Here's what I got:

In case you can't recognize it, it's a seed pod from a Liquidambar tree. (I never knew until I went to link the tree name that it's all one word. Hmmm.)

As I was sewing on my Cinco de Mayo blocks, I was complaining outloud to my sewing roommates at the retreat that I didn't know what I was going to do for the challenge.

Pat gave me a bemused look. "A rounded shape? With points? Whatever could you do?"

I looked down at my blocks. Oh yeah. Round. Pointy points. Well, duh. So, I thought about doing another block and making it the center of an 18" square quilt.

But those blocks take so dang long! I opted for the fusing method (or, as we started to call it, the "slap and glue" approach). Here's where I am so far:

I'm gonna crop this way down so only the edges of the leaves show. And I'm thinking of doing some Gabrielle-type shading. We'll see.

I love how the pod turned out, especially the weird curly points. Here's a close-up:

So, now it's back to home and real life and work and laundry and such. But it's also back to husband and daughter and puppy and cats, so life is good.

It wouldn't be a retreat if you didn't have home to retreat from and return to, eh?!