Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's a Real Book!

Exciting news!  My friend and fellow Twelve Brenda received the very first advance copy of our Twelve by Twelve book (due out in March, 2011).  She has held it in her hands, flipped the pages, and even filmed a reenactment of herself opening the package! (You can see it here.)  So it's coming! It's real!

Can you hear the champagne corks popping?!  You can preorder a copy from Amazon or Barnes and Noble (which has such a ridiculously low price that I can't figure how they do it, but in any event, it's a great deal).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Just because Christmas is over doesn't mean the crafts have to stop...

It happens every year.  A few days before Christmas, I stumble onto some delightful hand-crafted item and I suddenly wish I had a lot more time to enjoy the process of making more gifts and decorations.  Of course, by that time it's far too late to start any new projects (which, at times hasn't stopped me -- just this year I made four gifts after December 21st that I hadn't planned on making but couldn't resist).  And every year I vow that I'll spend some time in January having fun with some new crafty projects.

Here are a few of the things I'd like to try before next Christmas:

This felted ball garland, courtesy of Liz at "Say YES! to Hoboken" (and yes, she shows how to make the felted balls themselves).

Felt snowflake pillows, with tutorial by Anna at Noodlehead

NOEL Wall art, thanks to Jessica at Craftily Ever After -- perfect for my font/letter/type obsession.

Ribbon Christmas trees (to add to my Christmast tree collection), from Jamie at Whipperberry.

This elegant coffee filter wreath, from The Nesting Place.

And this paper leaf wreath, courtesy of  Because we all need more than one wreath!

These cupcake paper carnations, for gift wrapping decorations, courtesy of Martha Stewart.

Gosh.  I'd better get busy!

Monday, December 27, 2010

I'm Dreaming ...

Seeing as how I worked up the nerve to set up the embroidery part of my new sewing machine (and then felt silly at having to work up nerve in the first place, it was all so easy) ... I couldn't resist making a few embroidered Christmas presents.  I fell in love with this design, from Embroidery Library, and it seemed perfect for my sister and my friend Beth since we're all die-hard lovers of the movie White Christmas.  So, I went off to my local shop for some cozy red fleece, and away I went.  The pillows were a big hit, and it was fun to make something fast and perfect for the situation.  Of course, I had to make one for me, too.

Oh, and on the back:

I vow that I am not going to become one of those people embroidering duckies and violets on vests and bathroom hand towels.  But suddenly I understand how that could happen.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Keep Calm

The charming slogan on this print (a free online printable from Jessica at Craftily Ever After) has been my mantra over the last busy but fun days.  Those last few days before Christmas are always a rush, no matter how prepared I think I am.  But I am learning to roll with it, and I found myself humming and singing to myself as I baked and cleaned and wrapped and got everything ready for the festive onslaught.  And it call came off beautifully, a lovely Christmas with friends and family and good food and much laughter.

We have spent all day today in our jammies, reading, napping, playing new games, nibbling on leftovers. Perfect and relaxing.  Tomorrow, my objective is to get dressed.   Maybe I'll summon the energy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ho ho ho

Making a list (of things to do before the 25th)
Checking it twice (because I don't want to have to go back to the grocery store AGAIN)
Gonna find out who's naughty and nice (and boy, are they driving me crazy around here)
Santa Claus is coming to town (except Santa is a sore subject now that a certain teen has decided to be mad at us that we lied to her about Santa all those years)

But I'm taking a deep breath, gazing at the twinkly lights that make me feel happy and holidayish, and I'll keep moving.  As soon as we get to Dec. 24, the relaxing and fun REALLY starts.

Ho ho ho.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ticket to Ride, um, I mean, Embroider

I have a whole list of things I was supposed to be doing this morning.  But Roger, who was totally supportive of my getting the Bernina 830, happened to mention that he'd love a Beatles baseball cap, and I decided that was more important.  So I detoured for a while to investigate Beatles-related embroidery designs, and then figured out how to use the hat-hoop for the machine, and voila.... A Beatles baseball cap! I was going to save it and tuck it into Roger's Christmas stocking, but then I got so excited watching it stitch that I had to bring him in to show him -- and this way, he can wear it to show it off to his brother when we see him for dinner tomorrow night.  We both sat there grinning while it stitched out.  We are easily entertained, I guess.

He doesn't know that I have another Beatles image already in my files, and I'm waiting for the arrival of a blank black cap ... so maybe I'll be able to produce another surprise Beatles cap by Christmas.

Meanwhile, he hasn't taken if off since it came off of the machine!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Worth A Thousand Words

Christmas, in a nutshell.  May yours be filled with twinkling lights, and delicious food, and sweet music, and happy memories, and loving friends and family.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Conquering My Fear of Embroidery

Although I got my Bernina 830 at the end of this past summer, I have been extremely intimidated by the embroidery part of it.  I've never used an embroidery machine before, and it all seemed so complicated.  It requires a special needle, special thread, and special stabilizers, after all.

But I've been reading the manual and perusing all sorts of internet sites for tips and lessons, and today I decided to try my first design.  And look! It worked!

This was just a test, trying basic settings on white cotton.  Now I can embroider this everywhere!  Note the irony: California girl embroidering Let it Snow" while my friends in far flung places are bemoaning the piles of snow in their yards.

But hey, I'm happy.  And it was easy, once I got all the supplies.  I just sat there watching it embroider away -- my husband and daughter came into the office to watch a bit, too.  Gosh, what shall I embroider now?

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Sound of Music

My first season singing with the Healdsburg Chorus has just come to an end, and I have been thinking about how to sum up this amazing experience.  And it has been a delightful experience, in ways that have nothing to do with the actual singing.

* I set out looking for a community chorus after being so inspired by watching Gareth Malone's "The Choir" on BBC America.  I don't think I've even done anything because of a reality tv show (which is a good thing, don't you think?) but this turned out to be a wonderful inspiration.

* I originally thought it would be something R and I could do together, seeing how R has a wonderful voice and used to sing in coffee houses for actual money.  But he wasn't up for group singing and I went ahead anyway.  Something that started out as being for him turned out to be an amazing gift to myself.  Marriage is funny that way.

* I'm not a great singer, and I certainly don't have the "performer" urge.  But standing among a group of other people and adding my little voice to theirs seemed do-able.  This has been a great lesson in how doing my own little part along with others doing their parts adds up to something BIG and wonderful.

* On the first day of chorus, the director sat me down next to Paula, and we started talking and we felt like we have known each other all of our lives.  Her husband Jim is just as easy and great to talk to.  I have another very great friend whose acquaintance I owe to some random person sitting me next to her at a quilt guild meeting  -- so maybe there is a cosmic thing about being put next to the people you are meant to know.  How wonderful to make a new friend when I least expected it!

* It's impossible to be cranky when you're singing.  There were evenings when I wasn't in the mood to leave the house after dinner for practice, but once I got there and started singing, I felt wonderful and was so happy to be there.  One fellow theorized that the vibration through your body does some adrenaline thing.  Who knows -- but I'm thinking that maybe singing along to the radio or a cd is a good way to keep pushing through those chores.

* Putting a bunch of women, most of whom are over 40, into skirts and blouses and requiring them to TUCK IN THEIR BLOUSES is an instant bonding experience, because they will all hate having to tuck in their blouses.  Not a good look for women in a certain age category with certain midriff issues.   I won't even mention bonding issue #2, the collar ruffle thingies we were all required to wear. (See picture above.  I rest my case.)

* I didn't know anything about singing.  I still know very, very little.  But hey, an old(ish) dog can learn some new tricks!  I have learned that I can sing better and higher if I open my mouth wider.  And I'm learning how to breathe properly.  And how warming up makes a difference.  The feeling of being way out of my comfort zone has been balanced by the fun of learning something totally new.

* It is really, really satisfying to watch the audience as you sing and see eager, accepting smiles on their faces, or tears in their eyes, or feet tapping along.  And best is that moment when we'd finish a really beautiful song and there would be this momentary hush, then an audible sigh of satisfaction, before the applause started.  Wow.  I can see how performers get addicted to that response.

So, all in all, it has been terrific. I'm signing on for the spring season, and am already eager to see what we'll be singing.  Who knew I'd like this so much?!

Singing really is an uplifting thing.  So while you're rushing about doing your holiday chores, SING! Jingle Bells!  Hark the Herald Angels Sing!  Mele Kalikimaka!

My advice for 2011?  Try something really new.  You'll never know where it might take you.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Waxing Nostalgic

Last week I spent a lovely day learning about Encaustic Collage from my friend and amazing artist Lisa Thorpe.  Lisa is the artist in residence out at Bishop's  Ranch, the retreat center where I go for my quilt retreats each year, and during every retreat we ooh and aah over the artwork Lisa has hanging in the retreat center's dining room.  I've loved seeing how Lisa has worked with encaustic collage, so when she offered to to teach a class, a bunch of us jumped on it.

So, 6 of us (including Miss C, my daughter) found ourselves in the ranch's art studio on a cold windy day, surrounded by scraps of paper and old photos and the warm smell of melting wax.  Lisa walked us through the process, and we had a very fun day of creating and exploring a new art process.

Basically, the process involved starting with a plywood base, building a collage with paper elements, painting a wax mixture over the top, then adding texture by pressing objects into the surface and rubbing pigment into the lines to emphasize them.  Sounds easy, but it's clear that it takes some practice to work with the wax so it comes out the way you want it to.  There's also the totally unpredictable effect of the papers blending into each other, so what you see when it's dry is not necessarily what you'll see when the wax is applied.

I made several small pieces that day, but my favorite is the one above which features an old photograph of my grandmother, grandfather, and my dad as a little boy.  It sits on a page from an old Italian grammar book that I inherited from my grandmother, so there are some lovely memories in here for me.  I realized, after the fact, that I have a heavy hand with the wax and that I applied it too thickly on all of my pieces so part of what I liked about the collage was obscured.  It's too foggy and blurry.  I'll know better for next time.

It was so fun to see what everyone made, and how we approached our collages so differently.  Miss C worked away happily (an art field trip to break up the homeschool week) and produced some amazing collages.  It's good to learn something new with friends.

Lisa's a great teacher, by the way, as well as a talented artist.  If you are in Sonoma County, you can see her artwork currently hanging in Ravenous, a wonderful restaurant in Healdsburg.  (Two reasons to go: great food and great art!)

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Faces of Facebook

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook.  I like the idea of it, generally speaking, and I must admit that I've been contacted by friends I've not seen in ages.  The concept of sending and receiving short, instant thoughts is fun, and in practice it's sometimes entertaining.  But what constantly amazes me is how those one or two sentences can really reveal a lot.

Now, maybe this says more about me than about the status-updaters.  I'll admit that I'm having my own quiet mid-life crisis here, working on adjusting to a teenage daughter and homeschooling and remembering who I am when I'm not a mom, that sort of thing.  And I've been working on my own little Happiness Project, loosely inspired by Gretchen Rubin's daily musings about how finding happiness is up to each of us.  I've been paying close attention to the people and things in my life that are positive, and I'm working on minimizing my exposure to the negative, draining stuff.  

And with that in mind, what strikes me almost every time I log on to Facebook is how many people use it to say negative things.  (By the way, you are a friend of mine and you use Facebook, believe me when I say I'm not writing this about you.  Really, I'm not.)

Here's an example.  I am Facebook friends with a woman in my community who is, in my real life, more of an acquaintance than friend.  Her daughter used to be in school with my daughter.  We were on school committees together.  My daughter always used to tell me that her daughter -- who seemed like a  perfectly nice preteen girl -- was one of the "mean girls" in school who could smile and look sweet but was actually pretty nasty to and about other girls when a teacher wasn't around.  And here's the thing: from seeing the mom's Facebook updates scroll past on my home page, I see her making snarky comments about everyone and every thing.  How there was a heavy lady at the grocery store who shouldn't have left the house wearing those jeans.  How the girls on the other team looked trampy.  That sort of thing.  Seeing her updates, I keep thinking a) I don't know this woman much but I sure don't want to know her better; and b) if this is the sort of talk the daughter hears around the house, then no wonder she acts like a "mean girl" at school.

It has made me think.  I get that Facebook is a way for some people to let off steam and get empathy when they're having a bad day, or something dumb happens.  But the flow of those little blurbs has made me see that there are some people whose comments have a consistent negative energy to them, even while they are full of "LOLs" and "just kiddings."  And it's the ones targeted at other people ("Could that guy have picked an UGLIER shirt to wear?") that especially bother me.  I've realized that I don't want to be Facebook friends with people who use Facebook to make fun of others.

I'm learning to use the "hide" button a bit more liberally than I used to.  And I have to say that this realization made me go back through my own Facebook comments, to see what sort of tone I found there and whether I was using it to spread snark in the guise of humor too.

Not surprisingly, there are some folks whose Facebook blurbs are genuinely entertaining.  Some people manage to let you know they're having an off day without sounding whiny, and some just have a sense of humor that carries through every time.  Some folks use Facebook so well to make a thoughtful or funny observation.  It is those friends whose comments keep me logging in to Facebook.  

Maybe it's part of the attraction and genius of Facebook that these comments can be so revealing. There's a true sense of personality that comes through these short comments.   I guess the thing for each of us to pay atttention to is what we are revealing about ourselves.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas Spirit

Book Review: The Ultimate Applique Guidebook

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to make friends with Annie Smith. Some of you know Annie for her wonderful Quilting Stash podcast.  Annie is just a delight -- she's fun and funny and she has a lovely enthusiasm for all things Quilty.  She also has the perfect voice for a podcast host, so listening to Annie makes you feel like you've had a chat with a dear friend about what she saw at the latest quilt shop or show.

Annie has a lot of quilting talents, but her love of applique is highlighted in her brand new book, The Ultimate Applique Guidebook  (C&T Publishing 2010).  I was lucky enough to get a pre-release copy when I ran into Annie at PIQF, and I've been savoring it since.

I'm the first one to admit that I don't do a lot of applique, unless you call Wonder Under an applique method.  But I have to confess that this makes me feel like it's do-able.  Annie covers both machine and hand techniques, all of which are illustrated with charming abstract flowers designed by Annie.  I really like reading through this book -- it has Annie's voice throughout, giving you tips and tricks on both machine and hand applique to make things go more smoothly. 

You can listen to Annie's podcast on how she wrote the book, her submission process with C&T Publishing, and more here.

This book seems most appropriate to me for a beginner to intermediate quilter who hasn't done much applique.  Or someone like me who has quilted a lot but is reluctant and/or mildly intimidated about getting into that much handwork.  Annie's book will make you want to give it a try.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reflections on City and Guilds (or how I discover why it is I'm doing this)

I've mentioned here before that I've been plugging away for some time now in an online City and Guilds course with Linda and Laura Kemshall.(What's pictured above is an exercise I did for it.) At the time I signed up for it, I did so because I admire the Kemshalls' work tremendously and hoped to learn a bit more about how they achieved the effects they do.  And I figured that it would be good for me to focus more on design.

So, I've intermittently worked away at the exercises, trying techniques and making samples and playing with various new supplies.  It's all been fun and it's showed me some new things, and even made me appreciate some things I already knew in a new way, in a sense of realizing that I could use them in different ways.  Still, there have been moments when I've wondered why I'm doing this, why I'm taking my time to fuss around with little samples when I have ideas in my head for bigger projects that I haven't made yet.  And I think, maybe I should just stop.

But recently I had an epiphany about why this is good for me.  When Helen was here from England  in October and we attended PIQF together, we talked about how PIQF was different from the big quilt show she attends each year, Festival of Quilts in Birmingham.  Helen commented how she saw so many more patterns at the US vendor booths, and how there were far fewer art supplies on offer. 

And that got me thinking.  In the City and Guilds course, each section links design and technique together.  From the very first lesson, a patchwork technique is shown along with exercises designed to get you thinking about how to create designs that might use that technique.  The idea that you can create your own designs from the outset, even with the most basic techniques, is built into the program from day one.

And that strikes me as quite different from how most of us learn to quilt here in the US. I know this is not universal, but I think it's typical that people generally learn quilting here by taking a class in which the focus is making a sampler quilt or some traditional block, and the goal is to make the quilt the way it is shown at the beginning of the class.  You learn technique by making pre-designed projects, and while you might advance into more complicated projects involving more complex techniques, the goal is still to make your version of that particular project.  The idea that you design your own isn't typically introduced in the "typical" quilting path until later down the road, and it seems to me that here in the US, most quilters never move to that stage.  Designing their own quilts is not something they envision doing or want to do, and quilting is all about sewing quilt patterns and taking classes to learn someone else's quilt.  Design is considered either a) very advanced, or b) something only the "artsy" people do.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this, if indeed if my distinction is even accurate.  (I think it is, but I'm sure many others have had different paths or leapt into making their own designs from Day One.) 

But thinking about this has confirmed for me why I'm doing C&G and why it's good for me.  It reminds me over and over that the design is up to me, and I can find inspiration everywhere.  At the moment, I'm working on an assessment piece for which I'm pulling inspiration from one of my favorite places ever (Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire) and translating some aspects into fabric.  It's been fun and exciting in a whole new way. 

So, I'm realizing that this C&G course has shown me a different approach to quilting, and I like the switch.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blog Exploring

I seem to have been struck by one of those not-quite-the-flu crud illnesses in which you are not full out feverish and retching sick, but where you feel like that might be just around the corner. So I have been coddling myself with lots of sleep and reading and hot tea and vegetable soup, and now that I'm feeling an eensy bit better I thought I'd share some of the blogs I read that make me happy every day, no matter how I feel.  A lot of you probably know the art quilty ones, so I thought I'd share some of the not-so-fabric related ones:

Vivian Swift: How I Make Moutains Out of My Molehill Life:  How could you not love a blog with a subtitle like that?  Vivian is 1) a very funny woman, and 2) a talented watercolor painter who shares painting tips, and 3) an author who talks about her writing experiences and 4) someone I'd just love to hang out with.

Hooked on Houses:  This is the best house porn ever. Julia writes about celebrity houses.  She tracks down the houses that we see on TV shows and in movies, gives close looks at beautiful sets (I was drooling over the house in the Meryl Streep movie It's Complicated -- there it all is, for endless scrutiny.)  She features bad MLS listing photos (go on, you KNOW you want to look...) 

Tiny Red:  Thereza is an illustrator and graphic designer in London who does the most wonderful art.  Go look.   It'll make you smile.

That is Priceless:  Old master paintings with truly funny captions by comedy writer Steve Melcher. 

Color Me Katie:  Katie is a photographer and artist in NYC who loves color and fun and photographs what she does with both. 

Confessions of a Pioneer Woman:  If you haven't discovered Ree Drummond's blog about life and motherhood on a cattle ranch, you should go look.  It'll make you smile.

Daisy Yellow:  Great art journaling inspiration here!

Feel free to mention some of your favorite blog destinations in the comments!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Wings of Night

Last week, I had a window of time with nothing pressing.  No work, no deadlines, no projects that had to be finished.  So I gave myself the time to just play, and ended up making this quilt.

I started with some of the prints from my first screen printing experience this summer.  I have a thing for spanish lavender and so made a whole batch of prints with spanish lavender blossoms on them.  I love how they looked against this hand-dyed fabric. So away I went.

It felt so fun to just play, move things around, test the "what if I try this" sort of thing.  I'm happy with the result, but even happier with how fun and free the process was.  I also had a great time machine quilting (on the new Bernina 830) and I couldn't believe that I was able to do all of the vermicelli quilting with ONE bobbin.  I love that enlarged bobbin.

Here's a detail.  Yep, I couldn't resist breaking out the Neocolor crayons, and adding some hand stitching.


"Wings of Night" is a variety of spanish lavender -- isn't that a gorgeous name for a flower?  So that seemed perfect for the name of this quilt.

I'm hoping to get some more play time this week, but a work project landed in my email inbox this morning.  So we'll see.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Book Review: Collage + Cloth = Quilt

I haven't posted a book review here for a long time -- did you think that meant that I wasn't looking at (or buying) new books?!  Au contraire!  I continue my love affair with books and even when I'm not spending much time with fabric or my sewing machine, I'm always looking and reading and gathering inspiration.

So here's a book I've added to my collection recently. It's Collage+Cloth=Quilt: Create Innovative Quilts from Photo Inspirations by Judi Warren Blaydon (C&T Pub. 2010).  Because of the subtitle, I wondered when I first picked this book up whether it'd be another book on using photos transferred to fabrics.  But no, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed.  The main idea of the book involves choosing a few photographs, cutting them up to assemble a pleasing collage, and then using the collage as the basis for a quilt.

It's a great concept, and I'm impressed at how beautifully this book works through the process.  It makes the process of moving from images to collage to quilt very accessible and quite do-able.  There's a good discussion about choosing photographs for scale and composition.  There is a very useful connection shown between various collage arrangements and quilt formats.  The brilliance of this concept, of course, is that cutting up photos and arranging elements for a collage feels much less intimidating than cutting fabric and designing an art quilt.  So really, once you've got your collage set up in a way that excites and interests you, translating that into fabric feels like an easy jump.  You've already designed your quilt.

As is often the case with me, my favorite part of the book is the gallery at the back, which shows photo collages by various people (the author's students) and the quilts that resulted.  It's a very inspirational set of work.  I'm all set now to scour my photos to play with this idea. 

If you're looking for a new way to jump start your art quilting, this could be a fun new approach.

Monday, November 01, 2010

October's End

Today is the reveal day for our Twelve by Twelve colorplay challenge.  Terri chose our "rusty" color palette which she defined with rusty oranges, peaches, and the blues and greens of patina'd copper.  This is my response, called "October's End."

My process?  I started with a stunning piece of fabric dyed by Just Imagination's Judy Robertson.  I cut some strips, and spent a lot of time moving them around.  No meaning, no attempt to make them an abstraction of a particular image -- just moving and looking and aiming for something that I liked. Same with the circles.  Moving shapes, playing. Some people work this away all the time.  For me, it feels ... unfocused?  Unsure?  It was enjoyable, but my mind keeps trying to overlay an image or meaning onto what I'm doing.  

Goodness, I'm having a challenge with using a color palette as a starting point.  That's the idea, of course, a challenge.  But it makes me realize how strongly I connect words to images, and how I immediately move toward a specific image to translate into fabric.  I go back and forth, too, with whether that's a good thing (moving toward one's natural inclination) or whether I should push myself in the opposite direction.  For now, I'm trying to get away from the literal, and I'm making myself play with abstraction.  It's a stretch, and sometimes it's uncomfortable, but it feels like a good thing.

All this creative angst, eh?  Maybe I've been watching too much Project Runway.

I actually made two pieces this round, which I've never done before.  This was actually the first piece I started with, inspired by an amazing piece of batiked fabric made by my friend Judy Bianchi. It's called "Make Your Own Way."

To be honest, I'm not crazy about it.  But it was time to stop and move on.  I think this reflects that I WAS trying to say something in this piece in an abstract way (about being different in a field of similar things) and then it moved away from that idea in a way that is visually confusing.  Still, the exercise was fun and I still have a hunk of that lovely fabric for more exploration.

And here's my goal for the fabric work I'm doing now:  Lighten Up!  Stop Analyzing!  Just Play!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Discomfort of Learning Something New

If you'd have told me a year ago that I'd be singing in a choir, and contemplating taking private voice lessons, I'd have said you were crazy.

But here I am, doing just those things.  It happened in such a round-about way, my stumbling onto the Healdsburg Community Chorus and deciding to give it a try.  It started as a seed of enthusiasm planted after watching "The Choir" on BBC America (have I raved enough about that show?!), and it really took root as an idea for something for my husband and me to do together -- he's got a lovely voice and we're in that awkward stage of parenting teens where it'd be good for us to get out of the house together.  But he wasn't enthusiastic about the idea of group singing, and to my surprise I realized that I WAS.  Hey, I liked glee club in 7th grade -- how different could it be?

So every Monday night after dinner I've trotted off to the junior high band room, to sing with fellow Healdsburg residents.  I love that it's a true community choir-- members include a guy from my local grocery store, a downtown gift store owner, the pastry chef at a local bakery, a retired police officer... lots of folks I've seen around town over the years and now run into all the time.  I love that we're singing holiday songs in preparation for holiday concerts in December.  I love practicing my soprano part, and then showing up to have everyone put their parts together to make a totally new sound. 

But I keep noticing that there are things that make me distinctly uncomfortable.  I'm not a "performing" person -- I feel most comfortable in the back of a room, or on the sidelines in a group of people.  (Luckily because I'm tall, I was placed in the back row of the choir and feel quite comfy there.)  A choir is a good fit for me in that respect -- I want my voice to blend in with the crowd's.  But learning HOW that happens is turning out to be more complex than I thought.

It's learning about how to sing properly, I guess.  How to breathe.  How to control your breathing so you can sing a line and breathe in the right places.  How to place the sound in your body to make the singing easy, rather than a strain.  How to relax your jaw and let your vocal chords reach the high notes.  How to get the right tone.  How to listen to your fellow singers so you are blending your voice appropriately.

I've never done any of this before.  (I guess 7th grade glee club was about wrangling a bunch of pre-teen kids and trying to get them all singing on key so they didn't giggle and blush when they sang about Abraham's bosom.)  Sometimes I come out of the choir feeling like my voice felt good, it flowed, I liked the sounds I made.  Other times I come out feeling frustrated, as if I squeaked my way through and didn't know why I couldn't get that flow feeling going.  Which explains the voice lessons -- a few sessions with the chorus director, really, to just help me make sure I'm doing the right things and not making it harder on myself.

It's been a long time since I was confronted with trying to learn something so different from what I ordinarily do.  This is out of my comfort zones in so many ways, but I know it's a good stretch for me.  I keep telling myself that these feelings of awkwardness and confusion are good things.  And when Miss C asks me how it went when I come home from a choir practice, I tell her the truth:  sometimes it's really fun. Sometimes it feels hard and confusing and I feel like I didn't do as well as I would like.  But I'm proud of myself for trying something new and sticking with it even though parts of it feel uncomfortable.  At dinner the other night, she said "I'm proud of you too, Mom.  I never thought my mom would be a singer!"

So, I'm modeling good things, and I'm learning new things, and I'm reminding myself that occasional discomfort is a sign of growth.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Still Growing!

I was doing some long overdue maintenance on the Artful Quilters Blog Ring this morning, and saw that we now have


in the ring!  Go ahead, check out a few!  Find the AQBR box on your page, hit "random" and see where it takes you!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Happiness with Helen

I have had the loveliest week!  I told you that my good friend Helen was coming to visit all the way from the UK, didn't I?  We had a nonstop week of quilt and art-filled fun.  So, what did we do, you ask?

Well, I greeted Helen at the airport and welcomed her to San Francisco by accidentally subjecting her to a 3-hour-and-45-minute stop in the middle of a massive traffic jam (Welcome to California!) on our way home.  I had somehow managed to forget that it was the start of Fleet Week, the Blue Angels were flying over SF that afternoon, there was a breast cancer awareness marathon taking place in Golden Gate Park... the result of which was traffic stopped dead as we tried to cross the city to get over the Golden Gate Bridge.  Helen did get to stand up in the car, upper body half out of the sunroof, to take pictures of the  Blue Angels.  And of course we chatted nonstop.  Here's one of Helen's Blue Angels shots:

We headed out to Bishop's Ranch for the twice-yearly quilting retreat I attend with a wonderful group of friends.  I was not surprised that Helen was very well liked -- she fit right in.  I have to confess that I didn't get any pictures of Helen actually sewing, but I can attest to the fact that she got an amazing number of things done.  She also took time to enjoy lounging on the pavilion's porch, enjoying magazines and soaking up the vineyard views that are so wonderful there.  ("I'm not just at a great retreat," she said at one point, "I'm at a great retreat IN CALIFORNIA!")

(Note the stunning green shoes....)   Helen was inspirational to be with -- she saw quilting ideas everywhere.  On the way to the ranch one morning, we stopped so Helen could photograph a local barn for the quilting line possibilities.

The weather was warm enough to eat dinner outside most nights, which seem quintessentially wine country:

(Oops, didn't realize when I took this that the camera was set for artfully shallow depth of field.)  That's Pat M, Eleanor hiding behind her, Helen, Pam M, and Mary Lou. 

From the ranch, we headed down the peninsula to see Pacific International Quilt Festival.  It was interesting to get Helen's take on an American quilt show -- she was surprised at how the vendor booths had so many little bundles of fat quarters and patterns.  But we spent a day and a half cruising the booths, admiring the quilts, and generally having a grand time.  Helen was quite pleased that we continued to run into people she knew from the ranch retreat, so she felt like she kept bumping into friends.  
And from there, we headed to San Francisco for a day of relaxing.  From her last visit to California, Helen had fond memories of visiting the National Park Service's Warming Hut, a small bookshop and cafe located almost under the Golden Gate Bridge.  Since it was a gray, drizzly day, we returned there loaded up with our books and magazines and journals and spent several wonderfully peaceful hours sitting there sipping hot beverages, watching the people, and staring into space.  

After a typically San Francisco dinner at an old restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf (cioppino for me, petrale sole for Helen), Helen retreated to her hotel and I headed home to Sonoma County.  Helen had a shopping day planned before she flew out, and it was time for me to resume my Mom and Wife duties back at home.  

But what a delightful time we had!  If this is how much fun 2 "Twelves" can have together, imagine when more of us get together! 

So now it's back to real life -- but with some delightful new fabrics (I got some new Kaffe Fassett prints for a new quilt for our bed) and other goodies.... I'll do show and tell soon! 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fun, fun, fun...

Thank you SO much to everyone who commented and emailed me about my recent post.  I was reminded yet again how wonderful of a place the Internet can be, and I appreciated your support so much.

But I am glad to report that I've had a "reset" of my emotional and creative energy button!  I've been off that my usual retreat at the Bishop's Ranch with a wonderful and fun bunch of women.  And the exciting part of this retreat is that Helen -- my dear friend and talented artist and a fellow Twelve -- crossed the Atlantic Ocean to join me at the retreat! 

It was no surprise that Helen fit right in, chatting and sewing and wandering to see what other people were making, and oohing and aahing with the rest of the group.  Helen says that she now has mastered the American inflections on the squeals and gasps when a new quilt or an assortment of new fabric is revealed!  She also displayed her American accent by pointing out the "to-may-does" on the buffet table.  I also had the opportunity to see Helen conceive of and complete the next Twelve by Twelve quilt!

I haven't taken the photos out of the camera yet, but we have had a grand time.  The retreat ended today, and we will unpack, rest, repack, and then head to PIQF tomorrow for more quilty fun.  Can there be anything better than sharing quilts with a good friend?!

Friday, October 08, 2010

It just has to get better

I am in a place of despair these days, and I can't seem to get myself out of it.

It started, I think, when I read "House Rules" by Jodi Picoult. She's one of my favorite authors and I usually leap on each new book of hers as it comes out. But this one I delayed, because I knew that it was the story of a young man with Aspergers who is accused of a crime... and there are times when I just can't read any more Aspergers stuff. We LIVE Aspergers stuff, and sometimes I just don't need more. Anyway, I read it, finally ... and while the writing was up to Picoult's usual excellence and the story was engrossing, I just found it a bit too gut-wrenching to read a novel with example after example of how that character's Asperger's traits were misunderstood with dramatic consequences. It got me spinning around the usual cycle of doubts and anxieties I carry as the mom of a teen with Aspergers -- are we doing enough? Would additional interventions help? Are we doing so much that the number of people she sees in a month make her feel like there is something wrong with her? I usually keep these worries in check, and feel confident that we're doing the right things, but sometimes the doubts are worse than others.

I've also been reading Aspergers in Pink by Julie Clark, an excellent look at how Aspergers presents so differently in girls and why it is so frequently misdiagnosed or undiagnosed in girls. The book is written by a parent who details her Aspie daughter's experiences through 6th grade, which were largely characterized by school officials and teachers who refused to accept the careful diagnosis of medical professionals and instead chose to believe that the child's behaviors were the result of "spoiling" and bad parenting, and who simply weren't able or willing to provide the careful support that the child needed. It didn't exactly mirror our experiences with our daughter, but it was similar enough to cause more stomach-twisting.  It reminded me of  how it felt to be treated as the problem parent, asking for more help for a child who felt lost and unsupported at school, and how often I went in for meetings or to check in with teachers after school try to help them understand what my daughter faced in school each day. The book ends with the daughter in 6th grade, with an unusually good teacher and some helpful support people -- but I had this sense the whole time of "just wait until middle school."  Classes get bigger.  Teachers get, I think, less connected to the kids.  The social world gets far more complicated, and some kids get so much meaner.  I worry about that little girl, and I've never even seen her.

And then there was the horror of Tyler Clemente's suicide, after being cyberbullied and outed as gay by college peers. Fortunately, the swell of support and concern and awareness-raising going on has provided a positive response to an intolerable situation (not the least of which is the wonderful "It Gets Better" campaign started on YouTube by writer Dan Savage).  Still, each time I hear a reference to this poor young man, or to any of the other teens and young adults who have struggled with (or succumbed to) suicide because they were taunted about their differences, I want to cry. 

So I am feeling just heartsick these days.  I read blogs from parents of kids with Aspergers, and by teens and adults who have Aspergers or other autism spectrum issues, and I follow forum discussions that address how to help kids, how to get them through school, and more.  I am looking for support, I know, and hope, and a sense that things will get better.

But you know?   Lately all I seem to read are message from parents struggling to get teachers to understand, fighting to get special ed services for their kids, even litigating in some situations to have their children provided appropriate educational services.  I've read horror stories -- more than you can imagine -- of elementary school teachers calling the police when an 8 or 9 year old boy is having a meltdown -- which meltdown often resulted because the staff didn't understand how overwhelmed and mishandled the poor kid was in the first place. Sure, I'm finding stories of wonderful occupational therapists and amazingly sensitive teachers, and miraculously kind peers who accept kids no matter what.  But I tell you, lately those good stories seem few and far between.  I've had to back away from those lists and websites for a bit,  because I just can't take any more right now.   

Just this past week, my daughter revealed some bullying incidents that happened two years ago.  We've suspected that some of that had been taking place, but it's only now, two years later, that she could bear to talk about it.   She's held those in all this time, and she's internalized some of the mean and hurtful things that were said to her, in ways that will take a long time to heal.  It's why, she's revealed, there are kids she doesn't want to see around town, why she doesn't want to go to the barn on Saturdays to groom horses with girls who used to be in her class, and why she refuses to even consider taking a class at the local high school.

My daughter is doing pretty darn great, all things considered.  But the whole situation makes me so angry, especially when I think of all of the times I sat down with a certain 7th grade teacher to talk about how unhappy my daughter was, how she said repeatedly that she didn't feel safe in class, and how the teacher didn't intervene when the kids treated each other badly.  I think about how surprised the principal was when I went in to complain about things I'd personally witnessed -- kids throwing pencils at each other in class, one kid wrestling another kid to the ground to get a paper away from him -- in the classroom, in front of the teacher -- And all of that was in a theoretically exclusive private school where there were TWELVE kids in the class. Twelve -- that's all that teacher had to keep her eye on.  Lord, it makes me want to spit.  Or vomit. Or something.  We took our daughter out of there midyear, by the way. 

So I have found myself feeling just sick over the last few days. Why do the so-called professionals we trust with our children's formative years have so little understanding of how important it is to honor the differences in every child?   What is it about the way our society is raising children, that so many of them learn that differences are to be mocked and excluded and demeaned?  Why are our schools so entrenched in doing things the way they have always been done, even when it's clear that those patterns don't work for so many kids?  Why are parents who go into schools with concern about their child and asking for help from teachers and staff, treated with suspicion and disregard? 

I know I will feel differently in a few days, more hopeful, more positive about any new awareness helps, and how many bright, caring, tuned-in people there are who are trying to make changes.   I know that our daughter is doing beautifully these days, and she's blossoming and becoming more independent and capable every day.

But I tell you, it all makes me feel very sad.  Kids are so precious -- we not only need to take care of them, but we also need to teach them to take care of each other.

Let's All Take Today to Accept Who We Are

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Then and now

I was thinking recently about how my life as a single working woman was so different from my life now.  There are moments when I miss little things about that lifestyle -- the wardrobe! the shopping! -- but gee, things have vastly improved.

Then:  6:15 am meant the alarm went off and I dragged myself out of bed to start the day.
Now:  6:15 am comes and goes and I'm still asleep.

Then: Getting dressed in the morning meant suits or dresses, panty hose, pumps
Now: getting dressed means jeans or linen pants, a comfy cotton shirt... "Panty hose?"  What are those?

Then:  Morning coffee was consumed at my desk, while I was surrounded by files and papers -- and it was bad office coffee, too. 
Now:  Morning coffee means a thermal mug full of Starbuck's Verona coffee, sipped while I sit in a patch of sunshine on the living room couch to read my novel for a bit... or while I'm upstairs at the computer reading emails and blogs.

Then:  10:00 am on a weekday meant I was in the office, hard at work, or in court dealing with litigation matters, or in a meeting... I remember driving between the courthouse and the office and seeing casually dressed people strolling down the street, shopping, or just hanging out in a coffee place, and I'd think, "How do they get to do that?" 
Now: 10:00 am might find me at home working on household stuff, or out running errands (out in the world!  on a weekday!) or at the library returning books, or at the health club for Pilates... There's a whole WORLD out there on weekdays between 8am and 5pm. 

Then:  Grocery shopping meant rushing to the store after work, when every other working person was there trying to figure out what to have for dinner, too
Now: Grocery shopping means going whenever I want, or even ordering online and having Safeway deliver while I'm upstairs sewing.

Then:  Weekends meant trying to do all the housework and laundry for the week, plus make some food to freeze in advance, plus getting into the office to catch up on work, plus wondering if I'd have a date with anyone interesting.
Now:  Weekends mean family time, time to putter around the house, work in the yard, visit my sister, or go wandering in search of something going on in the area.

Then:  My days were filled with men in suits -- all those lawyers, you know.
Now:  I never see men in suits.  Except on Mad Men and The West Wing (yep, I still watch the reruns.)

Then:  I never thought about kids.  Except when the guy down the hall would have his wife and their 3 toddlers come to visit the office, at which point everyone knew to shut their doors.  They were a chaotic, noisy group and the highlight of their visits was the time the boy got himself stuck behind the copy machine.  Don't even ask what he was doing back there.  He was one of those kids who'd find those sorts of places and get stuck in them.
Now:  Life is all about kids.  Or one kid in particular.  Okay, TEEN.  (I keep forgetting.)  But mine never got stuck behind any office machines, I'm proud to say.

Then: The "school" I thought about was the law school where I taught legal writing part-time, trying to fit in grading papers with my other legal work
Now: The "school" on my mind is Caroline's homeschooling, and I think about how to make what she's learning fun and flexible and interesting.

Then: fabric was something I occasionally thought about -- as in trying to identify the contents of a bathrobe fabric that had caught fire and was the subject of personal injury litigation.
Now:  fabric is my art medium!  My love!  My passion!   

I liked my life a lot back then, and I sure learned a lot.  But now?  Now is great, and I'm so grateful to be where I am! 

I'd love to hear your "thens and nows!"

Sunday, October 03, 2010


 I've not blogged in a bit because I've been off wandering -- mentally -- in the Land of Too Many Distractions.  Family life, home-schooling (all GOOD distractions, of course) ... I've not just been able to focus.  I've picked up books and magazines with beautiful fiber art, and I've thought "how wonderful" and them put them down and have not felt the urge to move into the sewing room.

I've been picking up my camera, instead, and taking pictures on my daily wanderings. That has felt manageable time-wise, and has satisfied my creativity.  I seem to be in the throes of another severely insomniac phase, so playing with Photoshop is a good, peaceful activity for the middle of the night.  The photo above is from a recent vineyard walk. We're approaching harvest time here, so the vines are laden with grapes and look so lovely right now.

I've had some fabric moments, lest you think I've totally abandoned all things fabric.  I've been making progress on my City and Guilds activities, so I thought I'd share a recent project.  The assignment was to select a photo of an architectural element, then to design a paper-pieced block and sew it.  As usual, I made it harder on myself by hunting for photos and taking pictures and drawing block designs repeatedly, striving to find one that I fell in love with.  I wanted to create a block that made me itch to sew it, that made me gasp with delight.

 It didn't happen.  And somewhere, after slaving over graph paper and designing things on Electric Quilt 6 (that sure does make seeing the results of designs easy), I realized that I just needed to do the dang assignment and move on.  If I didn't love it, fine.  The point, of course, was to show I knew how to design and sew a paper-pieced block.  Which I'd done umpteen times over, on my quest to find The Perfect Design.

So, here's where I ended up.  I started with this photo, liking the detail in that four-square motif there in the center: 

That led to this block, which I liked for its birdish design:

And here's how it look with four together:

Phew.  Assignment done.  But I sure did make it harder than it needed to be.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Scenes from a craft fair

On Saturday I headed out to go to an arts and crafts fair on the plaza here in town. Despite the heat, it was a wonderful day to stroll and look at beautiful creations. I had my camera with me and had a good time taking pictures (a good way to bring home so many of the lovely things I saw!)

Look at the beautiful colors and textures on this pottery:

And more from the same artist:


(You can see more of this potter's work here.)  
The potter's chair was as colorful and graphic as her pottery.

At a different pottery booth, I saw these wonderful little hands.  I'd love a grouping of these!

There was an occasional breeze, bringing attention to this wonderful booth full of scarves:

And of course there were dogs.

The face painting booth was a magnet for all ages.

No, I didn't get my face painted.  But I had a very fun time nonetheless.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Making a Joyful Noise

I have mentioned here before that I am smitten with Gareth Malone, the choir master and presenter of the BBC series "The Choir" which BBC America has started airing here in the US this summer.  Apparently, I am not alone.  He's a charming fellow, that Gareth.  He's determined to get real people -- kids in school, communities -- singing together, and he speaks energetically and inspiringly about the important positive effects of sharing music.  (I can't recommend these shows highly enough -- they are, I think, the most uplifting things I've ever seen on TV.)

I've been thinking about how I used to love Glee Club back in middle school -- which was the last time I sung in a group, aside from Christmas caroling parties over the years.  I really did love it -- especially the feeling of adding my thin little voice in with a bunch of others to create a really beautiful sound.  And that memory got me looking on the web to see if there were any singing groups in my area for rank amateurs for people like me -- and lo and behold, my very town has a community choir!

So, for the last several Monday nights I have trotted off to sing along with a group of 50 or so other adults who find singing fun.  It was daunting at first -- I feared an audition, which I would surely fail -- but I was reassured to learn that if I could carry a tune, I'd be in.  I spent five minutes alone in a room with the choir leader Betty, who showed me how much better I could sing if I'd just open my mouth widely -- and I found myself hitting notes I didn't know I could hit.  So I now know I'm a soprano (la la la!) and I am seated toward the back of the group (by height and I am tall) next to a lovely woman named Paula who has a beautiful clear and strong voice for me to follow.  

We are preparing for a set of holiday concerts in December, so I am now singing holiday songs all day long.  We've been given CDs with our specific parts on them -- which makes practicing quite easy, really, and I'm finding it especially nice for driving around in the car.  Yep, that's me going by, singing with my mouth wide open but the windows closed so my shrieks don't alarm others AND the bugs don't fly in! 

I have no illusions about being a great singer -- but I am having fun and I come away from each practice feeling very happy and energized.  Thank you, Gareth!

Oh -- and if you don't get the Choir, here's a video of Gareth leading a group of boys (very, very reluctant choir members at the outset of the series).  Watch this and see if it doesn't make you happy!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Meerkat Monday

There is no reason for the meerkat picture, other than I wanted to open with a photo and this was in my photo archives.  I snapped this fellow at the SF Zoo. There is something so appealing about meerkats.

I've not had much to say lately (as you may have noticed) and it occurred to me it's partly because I'm tense.  Yes, tense.  And I think it's related to the start of the school year.  If our history with Miss C has shown anything, it's that things don't seem to go the way we plan.  Which is not a bad thing, although it's unsettling if, like me, you find security in having plans.  Over recent years, September has found us launching into a new school situation, and we've tried all sorts of alternatives in an effort to find a good-fitting academic hole for our square peg child.  That has led us to home-schooling, as I've described here, and things are going just fine.

But I have this sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop... As in, this is going well but what could go wrong?  And no wonder, as in recent years we've started off great and then have watched as things slid slowly and painfully and inexorably downhill.   No wonder I'm a bit nervous.

Parenting teaches all sorts of lessons.  Patience, for one,  Finding resources in yourself you didn't know were there, for another.  And the current lesson that keeps whacking me in the head?  Just enjoy the moment.  Take where we are right now and go with that.  I'm  really trying to just relax and enjoy where we are RIGHT NOW.  But for a person who likes to plan ahead, and sort things out and then sit back and relax, it's strangely difficult.  I remind myself (even while I'm mapping out lesson plans for the next several months) that all that matters is what happens today, and tomorrow will be another day.  If things need to change, we'll change them.  If not, we'll keep going. It's that simple.

The only part that is not simple is me, resisting and trying to anticipate Plan B, Plan C and Plan D.

Here is another thing I'm thinking a lot about.  It's typical of moms, I think, to feel unsettled and a bit distressed when their kids aren't happy.  That mother thing kicks in and we do what we can to make things better.  And here's a big challenge I keep bumping up against as the mom of a child with Aspergers:  I can't make it better.  I can't fix it.  Miss C is struggling with things I can only glimpse, and I can't change that.  I can try to understand her needs, and I can try to help her cope, but there are certain things she faces that I can't change.  When Miss C is overwhelmed or struggling with life as she sees it through her particular lens, I can't reason her through it.

When I talk to friends who ask about how our homeschool routine is going, I can honestly say it's going great.  We're feeling our way, but things are going smoothly.  I just need to relax and accept that it IS going smoothly.

I think I need a massage and some chocolate.  All this peaceful living in the moment has me stressed out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Music Around Us

A musician saw birds on telephone wires and translated them into musical notes...

Now, when you see birds on wires overhead, won't you wonder what tune they're playing?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Ta dah!

Coming soon to a bookstore near you!  Well, March, 2011.  Six months.  Not like I'm counting days or anything...

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Labikeet Colors

We are revealing our newest round of 12x12 inch quilts over on Twelve by 12 today!  This time, our color theme was "Lorikeet colors."  Brenda, who lives in Australia, sees these bright birds in her yard all of the time (I've only seen them at the zoo!) and was inspired by their lively colors to choose this palette and see what we'd all do with it.  I love that this challenge involves all of us sharing some of the color in her daily life.    If you've not seen a lorikeet, here's what one looks like.  Imagine, having these fly about your backyard!

I love bright fabrics, and I have lots of brights in my fabric stash.  So my difficulty in approaching the challenge wasn't the color palette, but how to use them.  I have such a literal brain that I kept getting stuck on lorikeets!  I sure looked at a lot of pictures of them!

Coincidentally, I had just gotten Susan Carlson's new book Serendipity Quilts.  In this new book, she's refined the free cutting fabric collage technique from her earlier book (remember all those great fish?) and I was eager to work a bit with that technique.

At some point as I was looking at lorikeets and their colors for inspiration, I started thinking about how funny it would look if other ordinary animals had these flashy markings.  That thought amused me and it was an easy jump to imagine my lab/weimaraner mix Gemma as a "labikeet"!

To accomplish that, I started with a photo of Gemma that I thought had enough profile to allow me to show the colorful markings.  Using that as my guide, I made a muslin base which I marked up with sharpie markers to show where I wanted the colors to go.

Using that as the base, I placed fabric pieces almost mosaic-style to create her markings and (trying to) create the shadows and highlights.  Carlson's technique involves gluing the pieces down loosely using a glue stick or other flexible glue, and then trapping everything under a layer of tulle before stitching.  To be honest, I found that sort of fiddly, as the little bits wanted to move around.  I guess I was too light-handed with the glue!  I'd be inclined to work with fusible next time -- although fusing the WonderUnder to the fabric is a step that takes some time, and this process allows you to jump right in with even tiny scraps that you happen to have lying around, the ease of working with un-adhered bits vs ones you can fuse in place makes the advance work worth it in the end, I think.

I made a heck of a mess while I was doing this -- fabric everywhere!  The quilting was great fun at the end, and then I finished this with a simple facing.

Gemma is now "Labikeet!"

Be sure to hop over to the Twelve by 12 blog to see what the other 11 in the group did!  You won't be disappointed!