Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Tree that Tells Our Story

Christmas is over, and we're in that lovely, quiet week between Christmas and New Year's where I like to just relax and take pleasure in that "everything's-been-done-and-there-is-nothing-to-do-but-relax" feeling. Now really, there is plenty to do besides relax. But this week, I ignore it and just enjoy the decorated house and the fridge full of leftovers. I'll worry about life again next week.

I hope your Christmas was lovely. Here, it was a bit odd, what with Mom in the rehab facility and brother too ill to travel that day. But we made the best of things, enjoyed a portable holiday dinner with mom, and made it through with more gratitude than ever for family. It sounds corny, I know, but I feel like this year's holiday was a big lesson in finding the spirit within oneself regardless of what is going on.

This morning, I was sitting in the living room, gazing at the tree and thinking about how every ornament tells part of our family story.  Is your tree like that too? I know some people who decorate their tree on a theme, changing colors and ornaments each year to suit the theme -- but me, I like the tradition and comfort of bringing out the same ornaments each year, remembering where they came from and what they represent, and adding a few new ones that add more to our story.

I have my favorites, of course. Miss C's first Christmas -- that always hangs right in front, toward the top, as it's tiny-- but adorable.

When C was little, I started buying an ornament each year to commemorate something special about the year.  Guess who started ballet lessons that year?!

This year's commemorative ornament was this beautiful zebra, to mark the mini-vacation C and I took to the B Bryan Preserve in Point Arena, California and where we were able to see zebras and giraffes up close.  (I just realized that I drafted a blog post about our visit but never posted it! I'll post that soon!)

This new lamp ornament marked another wonderful memory this year, when my friend Carol and I went to see the musical Aladdin in San Francisco. It was a wonderful show and just the best day. I smile every time I see this on the tree, and it makes me doubly happy to know that Carol has this ornament on her tree, too.

I have ornaments that celebrate things that are important to me -- this glittery camera given to me by a friend when I was working hard on improving my photography, for example. And see those little snow shoes back there? Those are very old beloved ornaments from when I lived in New Hampshire and spent a gorgeous New Year's Day snow-shoeing after a heavy, fresh snow. It was a remarkable experience for this California-born kid.

And paints and palette-- another gift from a painting friend. I should focus on this a bit more before I take the tree down, as my goal for the coming year is to get back to sketching and painting more.

Speaking of New Hampshire, these ceramic ice skates are among my all-time favorite ornaments. I'd never skated outdoors on a real frozen pond before I moved there, so being able to skate outside was a true thrill for me. I never got tired of that. This ornaments brings those memories back -- as well as the time I was skating and pulling 1-year-old Miss C on a sled, and I fell and broke my wrist. Oh well. It was a fun day before that.

My sister painted a little wooden ornament of the old house I lived in in Hopkinton, New Hampshire. The whole top floor was my apartment, and it was a cozy place lined with built-in bookshelves.  It makes me so happy to put this on the tree every year.

Every year, my friend Beth and I meet for a Christmas shopping day together, and when we saw this blueberry waffle ornament at Sur La Table a few years ago, we just had to buy one for each other. Years (and years!) ago, in our college years, Beth and I shared an apartment together, and one summer my mom sent us a big box of fresh blueberries she'd picked. It seemed like an awful lot of blueberries for two girls to consume (I'm not sure why it didn't occur to us to freeze some) so we used them up by making blueberry waffles for quite a few meals. I look at this ornament and feel like I'm 20 again. Sorta.

There are special ornaments that represent childhood memories, too. Some years back, my sister gave me this Barbie case ornament. We spent hours and hours playing Barbies together on our bedroom floor when we were kids.  Look, the case even opens, and there's Barbie inside. Did you have a case like this? I remember that little drawer to hold shoes and accessories -- boy, it was easy to lose those tiny shoes.

My grandmother had a box with two viewmasters and a whole bunch of viewmaster reels of places she and my grandfather had visited in their travels. Oh, how we loved to sit and play with the viewmasters! (Did you have one? And bonus points if you remember that funny Mary Tyler Moore episode where she meets her boyfriend's parents and they have to sit and do coordinated viewmaster viewing!) 

And of course there are various ornaments representing our pets. Here's one to represent our old crazy black lab, Gemma.

We have a lot of at ornaments, both to mark the various cats we've had and because Miss C is a true cat person. Here's our newest one, a delightful felted wool cat with glittery antlers. 

My sister, a professional needlework designer, stitched this little beaded dog for me this year -- and it's all the more special knowing she was stitching it at my mom's hospital bedside.

Gosh, looking at and photographing and thinking of where each ornament came from makes me think that this would be a lovely family heirloom book, wouldn't it? A photo and the story of each ornament? I guess that's what we do when we put up the tree -- tell the stories, remember the moments, appreciate where our family story has brought us so far.

For some people, a Christmas tree is just a tree with lights. But not for me.  How about for you? And if you have a favorite ornament on your tree, post a photo in a comment. I'd love to see!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Haul out the Holly...

It's December... have you noticed?! Which means it's time to get out the holiday decorations.

Normally I love this time of year, and I love getting the tree up early and putting bits of Christmas all over the house. This year, though, things have been rather distracting. My mom is in a rehab facility after having broken her shoulder and her hip, and while she's doing great, it's just thrown all of us into a sort of strange place.  Of course, because life just seems to happen this way, work has suddenly gotten crazy so I've had a ton to do. And, frankly, the weird state of US politics and the feeling of dire bad things emerging from the White House every day has not helped to put me in a festive mood. 

Still, I know that having the tree up and decorations around always cheers me up no matter what.  So after a friend and I had a lovely shopping day on Friday, she came to spend the night and we had a fun decorating day.

 So -- the tree is up!  The festive pillows are scattered about!  
 This White Christmas pillow was when I first got a machine with an embroidery function. I love bringing it out every year.. and think I need to make a few more, after I remember how to use that embroidery module again.

Yes, Bing, Danny and Rosemary are back in the family room.

They look a little freaky in this shot, but trust me, they're kind of wonderful in person.

My favorite bird is dressed for the holiday. 

Speaking of birds, I decided to use an old birdcage I found at a yard sale this past summer. I have a few of these crowned silver birds which I just love -- and somehow it seemed to go with the glittery brush trees. But I'm not sure if it's festive or vaguely threatening. I mean, Prisoner Holiday decor?  Hmmm, maybe opening the door will fix that. Not sure. What do you think, is it weird?!

Here's another past holiday project now adorning a narrow wall in my dining room:

Shhh, don't tell... there are still some boxes on the dining room table to put away. But I've decorated as much as I'm going to this year, and I'm pooped. So I'm done for the day --  and now I'm just going to sit here by the fireplace and enjoy it. 

Have you decorated yet? And do you have a favorite decoration?

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Wait, what did I do today?

 Every morning when I get up, I make myself a cup of coffee, feed the dog while the coffee brews, and I settle down to read email and make some regular internet stops while I sip my coffee. I may scroll through Facebook for a bit to see what friends are up to, look at the NY Times app to see the latest news, or open the Feedly app to read some of my favorite blogs.  I might open Pinterest to see if there are any interesting things I need to save, or go look a bit through the visual feast that is Instagram.

I love the inspiration I get from seeing what friends are doing and creative strangers are making. I come away with new ideas every single day. But I started realizing that it was making me feel -- well, unproductive, at least, and even rather sluggish in my creative life.  I'd see a sketch by a friend or favorite artist and think, "Oh! I must get out my watercolors, I haven't sketched anything in forever." I'd see a gorgeous finished quilt and think, "Oh my, that's so pretty, I'd better get finishing those quilt tops I've got stacked up." I'd pin a recipe or two on Pinterest, thinking "I'd like to try that for dinner this week -- better add those ingredients to the shopping list."  In a blog or on Instagram, I'd see some new thing that I'd love to try -- just this morning, I pinned a few images of art books made by folding the pages -- and think, "wow, that'd be so fun to try.... when I have time." 

And somehow, the process of enjoying the visual inspiration became one of making me focus on everything I was NOT doing. And it occurred to me that I was starting the day by reminding myself of all of the things I didn't have time to do that day, which was not exactly a great feeling.  What to do?

Well, my solution thus far has been helpful. I keep a bullet journal or BuJo, If you're not familiar with the BuJo process, it's fairly a simple process of goal setting and planning that is simple but lends itself to creative variation in a zillion ways. (You can learn about Bullet Journaling here, and here, and here, and see lots of images of BuJo pages here. Be warned - it's kind of a wonderful rabbit hole if you are into paper and journals and goal setting and organizing.)

But back to the problem. Because I was feeling like I just never get anything done, I started adding  accomplishments to my BuJo daily page -- either at the end of the day, or adding it to that day's page the next morning. I list what I actually did and/or got done -- and it has really helped.

For example, yesterday was one of those days where I was feeling like I wasn't getting much done.  But then I made my "accomplishments" list:
   * Took Starlie to the dog park for a good romp
   * Visited mom at the rehab facility [she fell and broke her shoulder AND her hip!  So mobility recovery and rehab required but she's doing great]
   * Went to the grocery store for a big stock-up shopping trip
   * Sewed 8 quilt blocks on a newish quilt project
   * Wrote a (polite) complaint letter to a local restaurant place after they messed up my take out order for the second time in a row
   * Made a new recipe in the Instapot (this french onion soup, and it turned out rather well, I'm glad to report)
   * Researched wifi/bluetooth speakers 
  * Caught up with a friend on the phone
  * watched an hour of a tv show I've been recording (The Curse of Oak Island - nothing like a good old fashioned treasure hunt) 

So, it wasn't an earth-shatteringly productive day -- but I actually got a lot done, and more importantly, I reminded myself that I did valuable family things, household things, connected with a friend, and got some creative activity in there too. 

I'm liking this "accomplishments" aspect of the daily Bujo.
Do you track what you've done? Do you need to remind yourself of what you've accomplished?

Friday, November 24, 2017

Need a good fabric sale?

I have been sewing long enough to remember when the precut fat quarter was a brand new idea. And it was such an appealing way to sell (or more importantly, BUY) fabric... No waiting in line to have a piece cut from a bolt, no big expense, no decision on how much to buy. You found a little precut fat quarter -- that little bit of fabric that fit so neatly in your hand, to tuck right into a purse, and $2 later it was yours. What a brilliant idea. They always tempted me. A fat quarter didn't require you to know what you intended to make with it. You'd spot one of some fabric that just drew you to it, and it was already a tidy little piece to pick up and take home.

And then precuts came along. Jelly rolls and layer cakes and charm packs! (For my non-quilting readers, those are bundled 2.5" strips, 10" squares, and 5"inch squares.)  Oh, how I love precut bundles. Even while I know that what makes a quilt truly unique is the quiltmaker's selection of fabrics -- that completely personal decision about what looks good with what -- there is something so delightful about a neat bundle of coordinated fabrics, tied up with a little bow. They are just so appealing!  I've made a lot of quilts from precut fabrics, and they make quilting so easy. Pieces are cut! It looks great together! And it's easy to add in a few more personal selections to create that unique fabric combination even when I start with a precut assortment.

I have a hard time resisting when there are precut fabrics on sale. This weekend there are some great deals out there. So in case you feel about precuts the way I do, and you need to add to your fabric stash, maybe for some holiday gift making, here are some links to some great sales this weekend:

Fat Quarter Shop

20% off everything friday and saturday! I love this online shop -- great fabric assortment, wonderful precuts, and Kim Jolly does great videos on Youtube, too.

Fabric Worm 

25% off everything -- not just precuts -- until 11 pm PST on Monday 11/27.

Lady Belle Fabric   

Lots of great sale prices, through midnight on Monday, 11/27.

Pink Castle Fabrics 

30% off everything! Ends midnight Monday, 11/27.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Approaching Thanksgiving

Here in Northern California, it's finally feeling like autumn. Quite a few trees on my street have turned gorgeous shades of yellow, orange and red. We've had a few gray, rainy days, which makes a nice change from the all-too-hot weather we've add through September and October. It occurred to me this morning, while I was out walking Starlie in between drizzle-bursts, that usually at this time of year I'd be thinking about Thanksgiving and coordinating with sister and brother and parents about who will be where. I'd have ordered my turkey from the local butcher.

But this year, things are just... up in the air. Everything feels unpredictable. My brother, a few years younger than me, has been battling a pernicious type of colon cancer and has started another round of chemotherapy. It's been worrisome, to say the least. Last week, my 87 year old mom fell and broke both her shoulder and her hip. So the past week has involved frequent trips to the hospital and talks with doctors and calls with family members to keep everyone up to date. Mom is doing amazingly well, all things considered. She's had two surgeries, her bones are now stable, and all that's left to do is heal and get back to normal movement. Easy-peasy, right? 

Not all that long ago, a dear friend posted about her brush with lung cancer. I'd emailed her to comment on the way she'd kept her situation to herself even while posting online about her son's wedding and lots of happy times spent with her grandson and other family members. I wrote this to her: “I suppose it is another humbling reminder that pain and joy, fear and hope, lively exuberance and physical ailments can all exist in the same space and time. It's mysterious and inexplicable and ... we'll, just LIFE.” When I wrote that, I was mulling over her situation, and my brother's, and thinking about how this is what life is -- good news and bad news and getting through hard things and just celebrating every single moment we can as it comes.

And then my mom fell, and I've spent a lot of the past week hanging around the local hospital holding her hand and watching nurses and seeing patients roll in and out. It's the kind of setting that brings things down to a fundamental, simple level. It's the littlest things that matter so much. Being able to stand up. Sitting up in bed to sip water. A caring smile from a nurse, or a gentle touch to straighten a blanket. Coming home to hug my daughter and snuggle with a happy dog.

So, that's my mindset as Thanksgiving approaches. I try to be grateful every day for all sorts of things, big and small. I generally do view Thanksgiving as a celebration of gratitude.  But this year, it feels somehow bigger and smaller at the same time.  The life-and-death things feel more immediate than they ever have. And, at the same time, those little moments of pleasure and joy and surprise and appreciation feel more frequent and more vital, too. 

I haven't reserved a turkey. I have no idea who will be where. I'm not sure there will be a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with the good china on the table and the requisite traditional side dishes. But it'll be okay. Where ever we are, we'll have moments to be together, and hold a hand or give a hug and that's what counts.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Snowball Stars

I was thinking recently  that it'll soon be time to bring out the holiday quilts, and that made me think about this quilt, which I made last year before Christmas.  I think I whipped up this quilt top on the day after Thanksgiving, in fact.  And, I realized, I never posted it here.

For Christmas quilts in my home, I prefer fabrics that aren't in-your-face Christmasy so I tend to choose geometric or wintery prints. I think this batch of fabrics was from a layer cake that I couldn't resist somewhere. This quilt looks great draped over the back of the red couch in my family room and makes a good holiday snuggle quilt.

The pattern is called Lollies and is by Camille Roskelly, aka Thimbleblossoms. She is the Camille of Bonnie & Camille, who design such happy fabrics. I'm always drawn to their fabric and their patterns. 

The blocks were fun and easy to sew. As I said, the print fabrics were from a layer cake and I added white. Piece of cake! Super easy. I skipped the fancy border on the pattern -- I just wanted simple.  And I had a good old time machine quilting it -- you can see that I did special patterns in the stars and in the snowballs with an overall pattern in the background.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

More fun sewing books

Since I had such a lapse in blogging, there's a bunch of stuff that I've been doing that I've not shown you!  It's making me realize that I've accomplished things in my absence from the blogosphere!

I've mentioned before how much I love Mary Ann Moss and her blog, Dispatch from LA. Mary Ann has a distinctive and whimsical approach to art - I love her loose and fun style.  She's got a bunch of online classes available, which I can highly recommend. A few months ago, she opened up a new one called Stitch-bookery, involving my favorite things: books! Sewing! paper!  I had a great old time, made some fun books and came away with a ton of ideas.

So here's one of the books I made. It was an accordion style book, made from folding a large sheet of paper for the base. 

I started without any purpose or theme. As I started assembling bits for the pages, I found an old calendar page with a bunch of different shapes of eyeglasses on it and I figured it'd be fun to feature them as the unifying page theme.  So, glasses it was. Other than that, I just assembled bits that made me happy and sewed them down.

Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy sewing on paper? That pucketa-pucketa sound is so satisfying.

I use leftover pieces of scrapbook paper, vintage items from thrift stores, images cut out of battered old books and magazines, parts of tourist pamphlets...

The way the accordion folded created some hidden pockets, just perfect for sliding in a secret page.   

This sort of collage has the same pleasures and dangers of scrap-quilting. Using the scraps is so satisfying -- but it makes you want to save every little thing, and next thing you know you're just a few piles away from an episode of Hoarders.

I'm a sucker for anything with old handwriting. And there sure were some strange images on vintage postcards. That old guy scolding those young folks was a postcard about getting married.  Hmm.

I really like to use old music, too.

It made me happy to use some bits from an old shorthand text book. I used to know a bit, from playing with my mom's old shorthand textbooks from her secretarial days, and I even used some shorthand in my law school note-taking days. So it's a pleasant memory -- probably like secret code to most people nowadays.  And note that bizarre postcard on the bottom right, "keep this under your hat." See what I mean about odd postcards?

This book didn't serve any purpose besides being really fun to make -- and I guess that's purpose enough.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Busy Binge-Watching

I have found myself wanting deeply engrossing tv lately, so I have been on a run of watching intense foreign mystery series on tv over recent weeks. It's funny -- often my preferred escapist viewing involves lighter fare, but lately I've loved the feeling of getting lost in serious, intense mysteries. Here are ones I've watched and can recommend highly:

Broadchurch -- David Tennant (you might recognize him from Dr. Who) stars in this series about a cynical, exhausted detective arriving in a small English coastal town just as a young boy's body is discovered. The search for the boy's killer, and its effect on the close-knit village, is riveting. Seasons 1& 2 are on Netflix, and Seasons 1, 2 and 3 (which picks up with the same people 3 years later) are available on Amazon Prime. I didn't want to leave this village or these characters.

Shetland - Another gorgeous coastal British setting, another complicated detective - recently widowed, trying to sort out his newly single life and an independent teen daughter -- and more grisly crimes to solve. I found the depiction of Shetland life fascinating, but I'll admit that I had to turn on the Close Captioning to subtitle the heavy scottish accents!  There are 3 seasons (all available on Netflix), plus one currently airing in the UK. I loved that season 3 involved a significant subplot involving one of the regular detectives and how crime affects women. Now I've added Shetland to my "Travel Someday" list.

Marcella -  A detective returns to work after taking time off to have her children, only to have her husband leave her -- and to discover that her husband's mistress has been murdered around the same time that Marcella had a depressed, drunken black-out episode. So there's a lot going on -- woman coping with family upheaval, re-asserting herself as a detective, and worrying about the niggling question -- could SHE had committed the murder? I loved this. All 10 episodes are on Netflix.

Bordertown - I started watching this after seeing this billed as a "Netflix original" and was surprised to find that it was totally in Finnish ,with English subtitles of course. Turns out it's a Finnish series imported to US by Netflix -- and I loved it. Another intense, quirky detective, having moved to a small town after his wife has survived surgery for a brain tumor, so the family goal is for him to start over in a job which will give him more family time.  The crimes in this series are kind of creepy -- sexual overtones, young girls -- but it was worth it to get past that to this intriguing combination crime/family drama.  I really enjoyed the sound of Finnish being spoken, too.  The "border town" aspect is that the town is across the water from St Petersburg, Russia, so the stories involve Russion influences too. Fascinating.

Doctor Foster -  This wasn't a murder mystery miniseries but it was an engrossing thriller. Dr. Gemma Foster begins to suspect that her husband is having an affair, which he convincingly denies. Is Doctor Foster paranoid? Crazy? or Perceptive and angrier by the minute? Who is lying to her, and whom can she trust? This series features a strong woman taking strong action -- sometimes bizarre but weirdly understandable, too. Definitely gripping.

Wallander - I'm currently watching this one. Moody, troubled Swedish detective Kurt Wallander is played by Kenneth Branaugh -- looking distractingly slovenly in the first episodes when his life is really a mess.  This series is a British remake of an original Swedish series, and thankfully it's in English. Moody Swedish scenery, cool to see the Swedish home decor, good mysteries and solid acting. Did I say moody? It's very moody.  And a few hints:  someone riding a motorcycle is a bad guy. And the sound of flies buzzing? Dead body. Walking alone in the Swedish woods? Soon to be followed by sound of buzzing flies. You're welcome.

Oh, and there's a young and very curly Tom Hiddleston (from the Night Manager) in the earlier series!

 I'm not tired of these serious mysteries yet, so I've got a few more lined up on my Netflix list:

And I may go crazy and veer off to a legal series --

I'll let you know how they go.  Have you watched anything great lately? What are your binge-watching pleasures?