Saturday, October 25, 2008

How I Spent My Saturday

Look what I did! Fondling, folding, sorting... A day well spent.

So Many Books, So Little Time

Yesterday, I had one of those days where I had a list of errands and appointments, and I knew I was going to have gaps of time in between to fill. I usually take whatever I'm currently reading for such times ... I can have an embarrassingly good time just sitting in the car in some pleasantly shady spot, reading quietly. But yesterday, I didn't have anything to take along. I'd finished my pile of library books, and hadn't started anything new.
Before I headed out the door, I grabbed something out of the "haven't read yet" section of my bookshelf. I grabbed "So Many Books, So Little Time" by Sara Nelson, a book reviewer for Publisher's Weekly magazine. Subtitled "A year of passionate reading," the book is Nelson's account of a year where she determined to read a book a week and write about it. It may not sound that fascinating to you, but as a hard-core book lover, this is the sort of thing I love. Reading a book about reading books! Perfect.
I loved Nelson's chatty style, which turned out to the perfect thing for my reading in fits and starts yesterday. And I was so struck by how similar her attitudes toward reading are to my own. She talks about needing to be in the right sort of mood or setting to read a certain book, and how re-reading favorites is, for her, a way of linking back to where she was and who she was with when she read a book for the first time. She talks about the delicate awkwardness of getting book recommendations from friends ("You'll just LOVE 'The Bridges of Madison County,' I promise!!") and how a shared taste in reading can be the basis for a friendship. She talks about the "coming of age" moment when she decided that she didn't have to finish every single book she started (for me it was in law school, when reading time was too precious to waste on a crummy novel), and how the more certain books are hyped, the less she wants to read them.
It was as if she was looking into my head.
As one of my errands was a library visit, I came home with a big stack of books and, based on Nelson's commentary, an even bigger list of things to check out next. My random grab from the bookshelf turned out to be the perfect thing for the day.
In case you're interested, here are the books she talks about that made me want to add them to my "must read" list:
Breakfast at Tiffany's 'by Truman Capote (well, yes, I've seen the movie, but never read the book...)
FLOATERby Calvin Trillin
Slammerkinby Emma Donoghue
Kitchen Confidential Updated Ed: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.)by Anthony Bourdain (am I the only one who hasn't read this yet?)
How To Lose Friends And Alienate Peopleby Tony Young
Love Junkieby Robert Plunket
A Child Out of Alcatrazby Tara Ison
Whitegirlby Kate Manning
So now I will go forth and read. (Or stay in and read, I mean.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Autumn in California

This is the time of year when I really start missing New Hampshire. Even though I'm a 3rd generation Californian, there was something about New England that just felt like home to me. The architecture, the landscape, the weather -- it just felt RIGHT in a way that an 80 degree day toward the end of October just feels WRONG.
So here it is, October 24, and it is over 80 today. It's been annoyingly hot all week. It's just so hard to get in the mood for Halloween when people are still wearing shorts and tank tops, you know?
Yesterday, I spotted my neighbor (we'll call him Tom) outside blowing leaves around his front yard. He has a big, New England style house with has two big maple trees in the front yard that turn a glorious red each fall. They're past the red stage, and are starting to fall down in a very (to my mind) satisfying and autumnal way. I've watched as, Tom and family have decorated their house with an amazing array of Halloween decorations, including corn stalks tied to the columns along their porch, and even on the basketball hoop stand that is parked in the street in front of their house. They come from the East themselves, so I figured that their decor reflects their missing fall, too.
So, there was Tom, wielding his leaf blower, when I realized that he was blowing the thing UP into the tree to create a lovely and festive swirl of autumn leaves in the air. The ground was covered with leaves, which I thought provided a wonderful complement to the corn stalks and pumpkins on the porch and skeletons dangling from the porch roof.
"What a great way to get more fall decor," I yelled with a big approving smile.
Dave paused and turned off the blower. "I'm getting as many of these suckers down as I can," he pretty much growled, "I'm only raking ONCE."
With that, he resumed blowing with what I realized was a determined vigorousness to remove as many of them as he could.

Oh well. So much for celebrating the beauty of autumn.

Meanwhile, I'll go have a summery glass of iced tea.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Making more mess by cleaning...

This is another "one thing leads to another" post. Does this happen to you, too? You set out to accomplish one chore, which creates another, and then leaves you with another... and suddenly you got one thing done and have 7 more to do.

Returning from PIQF with a bit (ahem) of fabric meant that, in order to put it away, I really had to deal with the Fabric Closet. This is a regular bedroom style closet (not, alas, a walk-in) in my small office/studio, and it had reached the point where something fell out at me every time I slid open a door.

So, I spent Monday folding and straightening and sorting and weeding out stuff I don't want any more. That picture up there is the CLEANED UP version. Don't snicker. It's about as good as it gets. And to make room and make it all accessible, I took out my Big Bin of Scraps and have yet to find another home for it.

I moved on to other pressing business, but meanwhile, the bin of scraps is sitting here on my office floor, looking like this:

Those blue plastic bags are those giant hefty bag things in which I have sorted dark strips, light strips, and blacks. It was a handy sort for one project at some point. Anyway, so every time I walk into my office -- about 20 times a day -- I see the Big Bin of Scraps and think, "I should do something with those."

I've been in a finishing mood (two old projects finished in the last two weeks! Yee haw! Pictures to appear when I figure out where to photograph the big beasties) and getting rid of scraps will feel good. (Is it possible to get rid of scraps in any way other than simply giving or throwing them away???) Last night I pulled out the wonderful book by Freddy Moran and Gwen Marston, and decided I'd make a bunch of "art parts" for assembly into something colorful and fun.

That's the plan for later today, after I put dinner in the crockpot, deal with another load of laundry, and take the dog for a walk. But in my morning blog-reading, I popped into Exuberant Color, to see that Wanda has been playing with her strippy scraps, too. Great inspiration to get moving!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

PIQF, 2008

This delightful quilt is "Pup Art" by Nancy S. Brown, and it won the Viewers' Choice award at the recent Pacific International Quilt Festival. I was there last Friday and Saturday, and my head is still spinning from all the great stuff I saw. This quilt was one of my very favorites (as Nancy Brown's always are -- her animal portraits are so fun and so detailed.)

I'm lucky that I grew up about 20 minutes away from the show venue in Santa Clara, California, so I take the opportunity to spend a few nights with my parents and have two days to see the show. It is simply too huge for one day's worth of viewing. I get sort of glazed over, seeing so many stunning quilts all in a row, so it's good for me to break up my quilt-viewing with some time strolling through the vendor booths.
This year, my friend Pat was going to be in the area staying at her son's house (under a similar arrangement to mine) so I picked her up at her son's new house bright and early friday morning, and we were at the door when the show opened. We immediately made our way to the furthest place, so we could view quilts unimpeded by the crowds starting near the door. That put us in the international room, where we saw some stunning quilts from Japan and Australia and special exhibits (Priscilla Bianchi's comes to mind -- I love her happy quilts with bold Guatemalan fabrics).
And then there were the vendors! Pat and I made good show companions, as we tend to like the same types of stuff -- which can be a problem when you're counting on a buddy to help you restrain yourself! We tended to just help justify more purchases! Still, we each got a few nice pieces of fabric -- some unusual japanese wrapping cloths, some good pale batiks (have you noticed how hard it is to find batiks in good pale browns and yellows?) and the odd fat quarter that we couldn't resist.

I came armed with a list of the King Tut thread (from Superior) that I already have -- I love it for machine quilting and tend to just buy the same colors over and over. So I filled in some gaps, checking them off neatly on my thread chart. (A tiny bit of organization in my otherwise chaotic supply system ... but it's a start!) I also came away with a spool of fusible thread to play with -- seems useful, yes?

I resisted all books but the new Kaffe Fassett one (yep, the one I just reviewed). When I got home, I discovered that I had bought a fair amount of pinks and greens and browns. They seem to coordinate rather nicely, actually, even though I wasn't buying with anything in mind. But you should have seen what I DIDN'T buy! I am getting better at catch-and-release shopping (that is, putting stuff BACK and walking away.)
As always, the quilts were inspirational. You can see the big prizewinners here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Review: Kaffe Fassett's Country Garden Quilts

You know I love quilt books. But you know whose books I love more than any others? Kaffe Fassett's. Yep, I have every one. And I will probably buy every one that comes out until the day I die. I love how he uses pretty simple quilt patterns to make unusual quilts that just sing with his personality and vision. I love how his fabric choices create a riot of color and pattern. I love how he photographs the quilts, so that each quilt is styled in a perfectly accompanying setting.
So imagine my extreme delight when I spotted Kaffe Fassett's Country Garden Quilts this weekend at the Pacific International Quilt Festival, in the Stitchin' Post booth. I lunged straight for it with a big gasp (to the lady with the blue quilted tote bag: Sorry!) and pretty much dashed for the register. I didn't need to pre-view it. I knew I'd want it. And the whole rest of the afternoon, even while viewing amazing quilts and fondling beautiful fabric, I was looking forward to getting to my parents' house (conveniently located within 20 minutes of the show site), parking myself in the comfy blue recliner, and having a good look.
I was not disappointed. I like this assortment of quilts better than the ones in the last book, for some reason. This book (like the last few) feature quilts by some other designers (using Kaffe's fabric) -- Pauline Smith, Roberta Horton, Mary Mashuta, even english crafty blogger Jane Brocket. The Pauline Smith called "Blooms" just makes my heart sing -- reds and lavenders and blues and happy flowers... A wonderful medallion one by Kaffe called "Knot Garden" that I want to make... An intricate nine-patch wonder that has all sorts of sub-patterns going on... I pretty much want to make every quilt in the book.
I have to say that it surprises me that the techniques they teach for making these quilts involves tracing the templates at the back of the quick cutting or strip techniques here, even though I think they're easily usable on these quilts. Maybe because he and Liza Lucy fussy cut every piece? It seems sort of outdated. And, as much as I like Kaffe's fabrics, I would like to see him include a few others in the book. I like them, but the quilts would be just as stunning with other fabrics and pattern options.
I'll report in the quilt show later, when I'm rested. I'm still in a visual daze, after all of those impressive quilts!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fall Fling, Spring Fling

I apologize for the recent silence -- I have been off having fun at my twice-yearly quilting retreat at the Bishop's Ranch. Clearing the decks so I could take those days away meant a flurry of work, but I promptly but all things practical out of my head as I drove out to the ranch. As usual, it was 4 days of fun and laughter and friends and great food and, of course, quilting.
This time, I packed up my trusty Juki and took only two big quilts that were sandwiched and ready to be quilted. The first one I finished was the "one block wonder" quilt above, which I've named Spring Fling (because of those springy colors, of course). Several retreats ago, a couple of ladies were making one block wonder quilts, and as the book was new to most of us, we were enthralled with the concept. That led to a shopping trip where a bunch of us wandered around the shop using mirrors to see the kaleidoscopic effects of various fabrics, and then a bunch of us started making these quilts. This October retreat was the designated time for completion, so our show-and-tell included a whole "one block wonder" segment where we shared our finished quilts.
I enjoyed making mine, basically -- sewing the blocks was especially fun, as every block is a new, surprising kaleidoscope. Designing the overall look on a wall was fun too. But sewing them together became tedious, and I wasn't thrilled with the process of finishing the quilt. I ended up floating the quilt top on top of the borders... a rather slapdash process that isn't the tidiest up close but did the job to my satisfaction.
This shot is from show and tell and doesn't show the quilting, but I had a fun time following the kaleidoscope patterns in the blocks and quilting big, lose flowery shapes in the border.

So now, I have a mess of stuff to put away, tons of laundry to do, and a pile of legal work to address before I can get away to the Pacific International Quilt Festival next weekend! Another quilting excursion -- October is a fun month!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

13 Years Ago

Where were you 13 years ago? Until I saw on the news last night that OJ Simpson has just been convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping, I hadn't realized that yesterday was 13 years to the day since Simpson was acquitted of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Isn't it bizarrely coincidental that this new jury verdict should come in on that anniversary?
13 years ago, I was newly married, practicing law in Concord, New Hampshire, and teaching in the legal writing program for first year students at the Franklin Pierce Law Center. Of course, the Simpson trial was capturing the attention of everyone around the country, but the trial created special interest among lawyers and at the law school. The first year students -- so recently admitted to the world of legal jargon, procedural rules, and constitutional concepts -- talked and argued about it all the time. When the verdict came in, pretty much everyone at the law school clumped together in the school's big lobby to watch. Even after the broadcast ended, I remember, law students stood around debating and questioning. The moment the jury returned that acquittal was one of those defining moments of the 1990's, I think. If you ask folks where they were when the Simpson verdict came down, they know.
Last night's verdict is such an odd end to this tale. Or maybe it's not the end. (I would be surprised if Simpson's lawyers are NOT drafting appeal papers based on the strange and potentially prejudicial matter of a jury being asked to render judgment against Simpson on the exact anniversary of the very controversial acquittal.) It's hard not to view the episodes -- the Brown/Goldman deaths and the more recent effort of Simpson to "get his stuff back" by hiring thugs and waving guns around -- as reflecting something pretty fundamental about his personality.

During and after the murder trial, there was so much press and speculation about Simpson's kids ... I find myself worrying about them now.
If you read this all in a novel, you'd think the coincidence is just too tidy to be believable. Real life truly is stranger than fiction, you know?

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Mergen of Naadam

About a month ago, I was invited to participate in an exciting international challenge project with 29 other American fiber artists. 30 artists from the US, Japan, and France are to make small (50 cm by 50 cm, or about 20" square) pieces on various world festivals, with one artist from each country making pieces of the same festival.
Luckily for me, an American artist had to drop out because of other obligations, and a friend of mine called me to ask if I could jump in with weeks to go before the deadline. Hey, I work well under deadlines! So I said yes, and you see the result above.
I was given the Mongolian festival called "Naadam." It's sort of the Mongolian Olympics, really. Each July, people come from all over the country to compete in the "three manly games" of horse racing, wrestling, and archery. These three sports reflect the essential skills for survival in the nomadic life of long-ago Mongolia. Nowadays, small children ride in the horse races, on the theory that it is not the skill of the jockey but the speed of the horse that matters, and the lighter and smaller the rider, the better. Even if the rider falls off, the horse can win if it keeps going! Women participate in archery, using bows made from the traditional wood and bark. Unlike modern archery bows, the ones used in Naamad don't have sights for aiming, and are reputed to require great strength, clear eyesight, and a steady hand to shoot well.
I decided to depict the combination of ancient tradition and modern culture that is represented at Naadam today. I have pictured a female champion archer, or "Mergen" as she aims at a distant target. Her attire is the traditional Mongolian garb.
At some point in my research, I came upon a piece of Mongolian script which comes from the oldest monument found with Mongolian writing on it. It has been translated to tell that Ghengis Khan awarded a prize to an archer to had shot the longest distance. The lovely calligraphy seemed fitting here.
Here's a close-up of my Mergen.

I took this opportunity to try a fusing technique developed and used masterfully by my friend and fellow blogger Terry Grant. She posted the directions here some time ago, and I've had the print-out of her clear directions at the front of my "future projects" binder, just waiting for the right project. I enjoyed giving it a try and am very happy with the result. Thanks, Terry!!
My quilt now goes off to Oregon, and then to Japan where all 90 of the quilts will be on display at the Quilt Japan show in Tokyo! I'm told the group will travel around for 2 years, so I hope I'll get to see them at some point! (After all, one's quilts shouldn't be better travelled than oneself, don't you think?!)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Here's to you, Sarah

Roger and I have been looking forward to tonight for weeks. It's the long awaited debate between the vice-presidential candidates, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. Call me an optimist, but I expect that the evening will finally and fully reveal Sarah Palin to be severely underqualified for the VP job, and demonstrate just how poor McCain's judgment has been in choosing her. We have a video for Caroline to watch upstairs, we're doing take out pizza and a bottle of a favorite red, and we're eating in front of the TV. I don't want to miss a moment.

Of course, I can't help but see any thing that comes out of Sarah Palin's mouth these days as more comedic fodder for Tina Fey and SNL. As if Palin weren't funny (in a depressing sort of way) enough all by herself.

In law school, the popular drinking game was watching reruns of the Bob Newhart show, and swigging a gulp of beer anytime anyone said "Bob!" And I was thinking -- the appropriate game for tonight, I think, would be taking a swallow every time Sarah says "maverick." I'm guessing that'll be her "safety" word.

Wanna bet how many times she says it?!?!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

First Shelter

Today is the day that our quilts on the theme of "Shelter" are revealed in my Twelve by 12 challenge group. Go on over to the Twelve by 12 blog to see what everyone has done! As usual, the responses to the challenge theme are amazingly varied and beautifully done. I'm so honored to be a part of this group of talented artists.
In case you're wishing that you could do something like that too, let me tell you how easy it was to start! I was wishing I had a journal quilt group with artist whose work inspired and stimulated me and would push me to make my own work better, and I started cruising blogs via the Artful Quilters blog ring, noticing whose work I just adored. I summoned up a bit of courage and emailed the artists whose work I admired, and proposed a group challenge. Once I had some willing participants, we agreed on a format, set up a group blog so we could chat together and post our thoughts, and voila. Look what happened! So if you're thinking that you'd like to give something like this a try, I'd encourage you to think about what sort of challenge you'd like to be in, and then just invite others to join you.
I have to confess that my long blogging silence has been due, in part, to the various deadlines I have pressing me right now. Work deadlines, project deadlines (of which this was one) and the need to get various life things under control before I can escape to my twice-yearly quilting retreat at Bishop's Ranch. I can hardly wait!