Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My brain break is over

Coming back from a two week visit with my family in Connecticut involved five airports, four planes and a big bump – the kind that left me with a hefty travel voucher. I came back with a cold too, but a NyQuil induced coma of 24 hours cured that up real quick.

As is typical on any vacation I take, my intentions of working on my Romanian were lofty. Reading aloud, some intense study sessions, new vocabulary words, nailing down those pesky grammar issues that have plagued me for years – the plans were set. But any really good plan has some wiggle room, and I was in the mood to wiggle. There were gab sessions to enjoy, mountains to climb (OK it was just a hill) and thrift stores to explore.

I believe that Connecticut has the very best thrift stores in the country, if not the planet. Picture Talbots sweaters with original price tags and buttons still attached, as far as the arm can stretch. My sister Joanne and I went four times to the same Savers and I now have enough sweaters to get me through the next Ice Age. Which by the way has not hit the East Coast yet, some days it was just sweater weather. I’ll blame my lack of Romanian lessons on global warming.

One of my first days back home I read a passage of Romanian out loud to my husband, who by the way stayed home in California where it was cold. It was rough, my reading that is. My short two weeks away did a number on my Romanian pronunciation, that was apparent. It had nothing at all to do with the amount of chocolate consumed or all the Hallmark movies I watched. Time away and global warming, they are language killers of the worst kind.

So my first Romanian meeting back after the NyQuil induced coma was a bit nerve wracking. Everyone was happy to see me, and I stumbled through my story about my family being fine and the weather in New York being so warm. I've found it’s just easier to tell a person from Eastern Europe that my family lives in New York. They don’t know about Connecticut and its thrift stores full of never worn cardigans.

To my pleasant surprise it was the most I ever understood in my history of attending Romanian meetings in Sacramento. I got most of it, or at least I think I got most of it, which is a victory. There was even a video played that had Romanian dubbed over English, and I didn’t have my typical scenario of the English voices trying to drown out the Romanian. I heard the Romanian and I got it. And the last talk was by our dear Grigor, who talks at the speed of those people at the end of an infomercial. You know, those guys who read 10 minutes of material in 5.7 seconds. 

I’m chalking this language victory up to two things - giving my brain a rest from Romanian, and my new hearing aid! Yes, my dear Mom insisted I see her “hearing aid guy" in Brookfield Connecticut, right down the street from Savers. He was great to work with, and he set me up with a fancy new hearing aid to combat the hearing loss I have from Meniere's Disease.

Frank the hearing aid guy says my situation of really good hearing in one ear and horrible in the other is frustrating to my brain and emotionally draining, like having my brain cut in two. Yep, I would say so. It was wonderful from the moment I tried the loaner on, I danced around the office and hugged Frank and his assistant. I absolutely love it. I hope my brain can forgive me for putting it off so long. Romanian grammar, I’ve got my whole brain back and I’m coming at you.

Loved it from the second it went in my ear.

Me and my brother Jeff on the Walk Over the Hudson.
It wasn't cold, the hat was for a bad hair day.

My friend Sara's feet and my feet with a sign.
It's what people do now.

Me in Warwick NY
December 2015, no coat!
My Mom and I took a little drive down to see my friend Sara in Warwick NY. She and her family moved there to help with the new headquarters for jw.org. Besides getting to chat with someone who always helps me put my head back on straight, I got to see a bit of Sara's lovely home and new town. Charming. Simply oozing with it. I can't wait to go back and spend some more time in Warwick in the coming years. Because everyone needs a brain break now and then.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

I think, therefore I yam

Or is it "I think, therefore I sweet potato?"

Turns out it's the second one. I finally got it straight. All those ugly looking tubers in your neighborhood grocery store, the ones hanging out near the potatoes and the onions, are sweet potatoes. Apparently, we've been lied to all these years. Every last one is a sweet potato. 

But the deception continues because a sweet potato isn't really a potato. More lies! They're not in the potato family, but rather the Convolvulaceae, or morning glory family. True yams are something completely different, way more dry and starchy and have scaly skins. But the moniker has stuck here and you'll find them named whatever makes them sell. Because their looks are not their best asset. Raw or baked, these guys are pretty ugly.

This was labeled Asian sweet potato.

These lovelies were called Beauregard yams.

The lighter skinned ones are usually labeled sweet potatoes.

The checker told me the insides of the purple ones would be white.

Two by two, they went into the oven for the ultimate taste test!

We don't smother our sweet potatoes in marshmallows or brown sugar or butter. We just bake them and eat them plain. They are really hard to mess up. Scrub them gently under water. Put them on some parchment paper, foil or Silpat, and then on a baking sheet. Put them in the oven at 350 - 400 degrees and let them bake until they're done. When are they done? Hmm, how do I put this delicately...

Cook them until they poop.

Cook the c€@p out of them.

Cook them until they're even uglier than when you put them in. 

That purple sweet potato is the one the checker said would be white on the inside.
What is it with the lies?

My verdict in the ultimate taste test? This particular purple one was a bit dry, but I've had others that were moist, so I'm not writing off the purples ones yet. The white one (labeled sweet potato) was really delicious, with a mild flavor. The Beuregard yam and the regular old yam on the far right had the softest texture and the "yammiest" flavor. They are so full of color,  I bet nutrition-wise maybe the yams have one up on the lighter fleshed sweet potatoes.

If I could find one that has the skin of a sweet potato and the flesh of a "yam" that would be my dream tuber. But they are all terrific and yummy, so flavorful I don't want to put one thing on them. And since there are nearly 400 varieties grown, I see more yam poop in our future. Excuse me, sweet potato poop.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hats off to The Honest Dog

I don't need a pattern to sew a quilt. In fact, the less "patterny" they look the better, in my opinion. I'm not a fan of the type of rag quilts that look like a checkerboard, nor the ones that have a repeating diamond pattern. While I strive for my quilts to be balanced, the matchy matchy look isn't for me. This is probably a good thing, because working with upcycled fabrics - a little of this, a bit of that - means I go with the flow and many times the fabric decides how the quilt will turn out, not I.

But, do I ever need a pattern when it comes to crocheting. I can whip out a dish cloth on the fly, but something that must conform to a human body part? I need a really well written pattern, hopefully with good closeups and a video or two. And then I hope it doesn't turn out gargantuan. Through the years I have attempted countless baby booties to go with crocheted baby blankets. I have yet to give a pair as a gift, because these booties are large enough to grace the feet of a nine month old baby gorilla. On steroids. 

I've had great success with the hat patterns from Repeat Crafter Me though, if I use a size smaller crochet hook than the instructions call for. What can I say, I crochet big. I've made many hats from these designs by Sarah Zimmerman, and I tip my crochet hook to her greatness. They are all super adorable, and as soon as the cooler weather hits I start crocheting up a storm. My current project is a newborn size (OK maybe a bit bigger than newborn) little piggy hat to match one of my little piggy blankets on Etsy. I had to crochet four ears because they kept coming out different sizes, but I think I have two reasonably matching ears and the piggy hat will come together soon.

This little (OK not so little) dog hat has been sitting around for a while, and in my attempts to clear out my sewing closet from too much excess, I came up with a win win way to send the puppy hat on its way. One of my favorite stores in all of Sacramento, The Honest Dog (formerly Launder Dog) is putting on a raffle with all proceeds going to a dog rescue organization. A dog store in need of dog themed items to help dogs in need? So long puppy hat, you've got a new mission in life. 

For a grown up. With a large head. Preferably on steroids.

There are so many great hat patterns on Repeat Crafter Me, I've never had to resort to buying a pattern. But so far RCM only designs animal hats for humans, not hats for animals. Last winter I saw a photo of two really cute dogs in the snow, wearing crocheted hats. These were happy dogs. They were smiling and looked to enjoy their hats. They appreciated their warmth, and the love and care that their owners put into making them a personalized, just-to-their-size adorable hat that would make all the dogs in the neighborhood howl with jealousy. I was convinced that people would want to buy dog hats from me, not for themselves, but for their dogs. So I made my first and only purchase on Etsy. I bought the PDF pattern to crochet a dog hat. Because I love my dog. Because I love to make hats. Because our Molly is so photogenic. Because the photos would be so cute that strangers would beat down my door and shove money into my pockets, begging me to make their dog a crocheted dog hat too.

Granted it was a bit small, but honestly!
So much for the dog hat idea. Both hats are officially donated to the charity giveaway. Hats off to whoever wins them.

My new and improved, less is more, squaredup on Etsy supply closet.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Scrapping the craft faire

It turned out the Holiday Craft Faire was starting to look a bit too much like Christmas for my sensibilities, so I bowed out. And that meant I had to go into full-on Etsy posting mode.

Making quilts to sell in-person is like a real date. Person sees quilt. Person likes quilt. Person buys quilt. Everyone is happy.

Selling quilts on Etsy is like Internet dating, or so I imagine. An entire personna must be developed. Some grab-in-a-second first impression one-liners need to be tweaked. And photos, it's all about the photos. I'm still working on my Quilt Glamour Shot techniques. Morning light is good, it hides the wrinkles. Some props always help, takes the eyes off the imperfections. And then comes the uploading of photos, price decisions, measuring, figuring out worth verses effort. Then the sinking realization that you're competing with 13.7 million other Etsy sellers rears its ego-crushing head. Oh bother, give me a craft faire any day.

In addition to the quilts I had made, I decided to try to clean out my stock by posting some vintage fabric. A few short descriptions, some quick photos, a half-hearted paragraph or two. Bam! Two Disney vintage fabrics sold within an hour of posting. While my quilts were still getting ready for the ball, those bratty little pieces of vintage material were off to LA, tossing their hems with unbelievable self-confidence. Some fabric has all the fun!

Herb, the Decaf Tea Quilt is on his way to the East Coast.

Spot, the Dalmatian Quilt is wagging its tail

Autumn Rose, Pretty in Peach

The Hamlet Piggy Quilts are squealing to get off the farm

Dillon, Beachy Chic for Shore already jumped ship. He sold!

Pippa, the Apple a Day Quilt is ready to fall far from the tree.

Lady, the Bug Quilt hasn't made it past the cutting board. I may wait for spring with this one. I'll use this little break to clean out my fabric, sell some of the hot-to-trot vintage stuff and start hitting the Goodwill for some more fabric - the older the better.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Square by square

When I start a quilt, I'm in it to the finish. No half starts for me, or works-in-progress. I march into my fabric stash, pick out the material, cut it out, lay it out, start sewing, and don't come gasping up for air until my fingers look like eagle claws and my back is in the shape of the letter C. Balance is not one of my strong suits. 

In getting ready for my second craft faire, I tried a new approach. I cut out several quilts at once. It felt like I was cheating on the first one, but after that it got easier. I got on a roll. I only sliced my finger on the rotary cutter once, while cutting out four quilts in a short time span, while still having an unfinished project in my sewing closet. It was like I was running some sort of business or something. Unprecedented.

Dillon, Beachy Chic for Shore

A Futon Full of Future Fluff

Herb, the Decaf Tea Quilt

Spot, a Dalmatian Quilt

Pippen, the Apple a Day Quilt

Or some other apple name, I'm not sold on Pippen.

Lady, the Baby Buggy Quilt.

Cleaning up as I go along has never been one of my strong suits.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Village People

"There is more happiness in giving
than there is in receiving."
Acts 20:35

What happens when in life, a person gives and gives and gives and gives and gives?

When that person most needs it, they receive and receive and receive and receive.

This past weekend we heard some sad news about a dear friend, our precious Peggy in Davis. I have known her as long as I have known my husband and he knew her before we met. How can I describe this amazing person? She is full of life and spunk and humor and spark and has a twinkle in her eye that makes every minute with her memorable. She is more interested in experiences than things, she puts people ahead of possessions. Because of this, she has built up a group of friends, young and old, that cherish her. We were saddened to hear she had a massive stroke, that her brain was basically gone and according to her wishes, she would not be provided any measures to prolong her life, including water. Ernst went to see her, said his goodbyes through tears and sobs. I was going to say my goodbyes yesterday, if she was still with us.

Peggy had other plans. She woke up yesterday in the hospital and greeted the nurse who came in to care for the patient on "Comfort Care." She is awake, and while weak, is the same hilarious Peggy she has always been. I told her Ernst and his buddy Dan drank a shot of vodka in her honor the night before, she complained that she didn't get any! She told Dan he should shave off his mustache so the nurses would think he was even cuter. She is 89, in the hospital after a massive brain bleed and she is amazing us all.

We don't have kids, our family all lives in distant places. I see the work that my sister Joanne puts into taking wonderful care of our mother. My brother Jeff and his wife Chris left Bethel last year to help out. We tease that "it takes a village" just to do my Mom's hair. She has five kids and two of them are there doing what it takes to help a person age with dignity. But if/when I need it, who will be my village? These questions start to come up and they are disconcerting. No kids, no village?

When I saw Peggy in the hospital yesterday, my worries were calmed. Peggy has no family left, save for one grandson in another state. But she has a village, and it is huge. The nurse who showed me her room commented on how many friends she has. She has no idea! She's just seeing the ones from Davis. Peggy's friends span from Mexico to China to Vietnam to Warwick. She is reaping the rewards of giving what people need most in life - love and acknowledgment and approval. We don't know what the outcome will be for our dear Peggy, but her village is ready. And my worries have been calmed. Life gives us what we put into it. As we navigate through our health issues and medical scares, I know the very best choice is always to keep giving. Live like Peggy. Give like Peggy. That is a pretty decent way to live my life.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Last Garage Sale Ever...for now

Finally, after putting off our second garage sale of the season because of busy schedules, heart surgery, heat waves, smoky air from wild fires and a nasty virus of mine that just would not go away, we did it. We shed the stuff. We trashed the trinkets. We moved the mess. We finally managed to get all the KonMaried garbage, um, er, items out of the garage, onto tables, priced and sort of sorted to sell. It was warm but not hot, I was between antibiotics and drum roll please...it also happened to be right after payday. Which for getting people to buy your garbage, um, er, items, was the perfect weekend.

The goal was to get all this stuff out of the garage and out of our life, with some money to show for it. Where did all this stuff come from? From inside our house. Yikes. The garage became our "staging ground" for the entire decluttering process. That term "staging ground" made it all seem so civilized. The movers, the shakers, the beautiful people - if you listen closely, their conversations are peppered with the phrase "staging ground".

We had not one, not two, but three staging grounds. Here is what the room off the kitchen looked like while we were moving and shaking. It was a sea of big blue Ikea bags. How did I ever get through one day of life on this planet before big blue Ikea bags were invented? Ikea bags spark joy. They also hold laundry and ironing, but I don't hold it against them. And they are perfect at garage sales when someone buys a particularly large amount of your stuff, hands you their hard earned money and you get to put what they bought in a big blue Ikea bag to make them not feel like a sucker when they get home and look at the items they purchased. It's all about the whole experience, that's the joy of garage sales.

And at this point I need to bring up hard cider. We opened our sale, as is our custom, on a Friday night and got the items sorted. I normally don't drink hard cider at any garage sale, mine especially. But this night was different. Because I did a very bad thing. I sold all our crystal to a hoarder. I did. I knew he was a hoarder, and I shamelessly sold him an Ikea bag sized amount of crystal. He came back and bought more, And then he came back with his wife and got even more. When he was wondering what he would do with some glass punch cups my neighbor was selling, I reminded him eggnog season was quickly approaching. Shame on me. Then as he and his wife were discussing where they would put the glass punch cups in their already too full china hutch, I suggested installing cup hooks. Double shame on me. I even went to look for some cup hooks for him in our newly organized garage, but I think I KonMaried them. He bought every last glass punch cup and most all the crystal I was selling. He paid full price, because it was the perfect weekend for a garage sale, being held just after payday. Triple shame. Hence the hard cider.

After the sale was over, the money counted and the garage sale signs ripped down, it was time to deal with all the items people didn't buy. (How dare they.) Ernst piled up the back of the car and took trip after trip to our local Goodwill. No regrets, that stuff is gone and gone for good. I swept out the garage, and for the first time in months parked the car back inside. I danced in the garage. There was room, even with the car.

The remaining Ikea bags are all neatly rolled up in the newly improved place for rags and bags. Now the question is, how many Ikea bags makes one a hoarder? Maybe I should ask the guy with the eggnog cups, he should know.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Growing boys and trees

The most important thing by far when it comes to growing boys and trees is location. There has to be room to grow, spread those limbs, put down roots and really settle in. They'll need lots of attention and care, so putting them where all can keep a close eye is usually best.

Boys and trees take work. This isn't for sissies. Be prepared to put some effort in. You'll need the right tools, and you'll have to keep those tools in good working order. When one tool stops working, grab another until you find the perfect one for that moment.

This takes backbreaking effort. Use your legs. Put in your all, and then some.

When you think you can't do anymore, you'll have to do more. Put your heart into it. Somehow it will all work out. Have faith.

But when you honestly feel like you can't do anymore, accept help from others. They want to help. Future shade trees and solid men are at stake here, this is important stuff.

Watch those fingers and toes, avoid trips to the ER as much as possible. But keep band-aids on hand. Lots of band-aids. Preferably with super heroes on them. No princesses, those are for girls.

Take the time to look closely and see how things are going. Is there enough room to grow and thrive? Nice rich soil? Any obstacles? Good, let's keep up the hard work.

You're going to get down and get dirty, just face it. There will be dirt in the car, dirty clothes, dirty shoes, dirt dirt and more dirt. But dirt is good. Boys and trees need dirt. The more the better. Buy good detergent and hope for the best.

Once in a while take a step back and access the situation. Is everything going according to plan? Time to take a breather? Make some small adjustments? Nothing wrong with some mid-planting think sessions to make sure all goes well.

Sometimes you have to dig even deeper than you thought possible. But it's worth it. You're doing great.

After the hard work, comes the nitty gritty details. Making sure nothing is overlooked, all the potential pests and problems are under control. It's not such backbreaking work as before, but it's just as important. Trees and little boys need to be staked securely while given room to blow a bit in the wind, developing strength and character and deep roots. It takes time. It takes care. It takes love.

But just watch them grow!
Thank you sweet little man, we love you.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Three Quilt Summer

When it's shorts and swimsuit season, no sane person wants to touch a quilt. Summer is time for the heavy blankets and comforters to be put away and the lightest covers to come out. When I Summer-ize our house, all things related to the fireplace and couch potatoing are banished.

But what's a quilter to do when she gets four orders for custom quilts in the summer months? Crank up that air conditioner and get over it, it's snuggle time. The first order came the week before we went to Chicago. A friend called and said she needed a baby quilt and she needed it fast. Cindy came over, sat on the futon in my newly Kon-Maried sewing room and I brought out some pinky girl fabric. Cindy is not one to fuss or agonize over choices. We banged this quilt fabric out in a few minutes. She said perfect and that was that. If they were only all so easy.

Most of this fabric came from old clothes of mine. The core piece was a sundress, in a print with purses all over it. I wore it a lot when I could get away with a sundress with purses all over it, but the fabric on most of it was still in pristine condition. Two other prints were skirts that I wore when I could get away with them, one black and white checks (always a wee bit too short) and another a gorgeous pink flowered skirt from Talbots (with flowers a wee bit too big.) With some other prints from Goodwill and a lovely dress shirt from my husband's coworker, we had ourselves a wee little baby quilt in no time.

Greta, the Grab and Go Girly Quilt

Next up it was time to finish a quilt that was mentally in the works for a very long time. One of my most loyal Etsy customers gave me a wonderful donation of fabric and asked that I make her a quilt from it, using whatever I thought would look good. Well, it all looked so adorable together, the choice was easy. I did add one project piece from Goodwill, it was some sort of easy quilt pattern preprinted. I cut that up in no time and repurposed it into this really sweet bear themed quilt. It's not a wee quilt, it's a whopper. The library bear, tea cup fabric and the calicoes say "Snuggle up on the couch with a good book and some honey sweetened Earl Grey". But not quite yet, because it's still "Stop touching me you hot fabric" season here in California.

Leslie, the Li-Bear-y Quilt

As for the third quilt - I think I made this during the time I got a wee bit better from my Virus From Venus, Plague From Pluto summer sickness, but before it became Brontosaurus Bronchitis. That crud stole five weeks of my summer and it's all a bit of a blur, but somehow I managed to sew up this bright and fresh colorful bear quilt in the middle of it all. I love the colors in this, fresh and cute but not overly babyish. My neighbor and friend Rosie, the Great Grandma, reported it was big hit at the baby shower.

The Great Bear Quilt

I've got one more baby quilt to finish for Cindy. The fabric is picked out and ready to get going on. I have a wee bit of a cold, but this seems like just an Easy Earthly one, so I should be able to sew it up before the baby's high school graduation. And then...I get to start on the quilts for the Curtis Park Craft Faire on December 4th. It's never too early to start thinking of Snuggle Season.