Monday, May 30, 2011

I love cinnamon crunch bagels at Panera

I am rewarding myself with one of life's little pleasures--cinnamon crunch bagel with hazelnut cream cheese and coffee at Panera. I am also soaking up their wi-fi, since for some unknown reason my service at home is not working today. It stopped about 6AM during a thunderstorm, but has not returned. We have been in the process of changing our service provider in order to benefit from some price breaks for bundling together cell phone, TV and internet, and awaiting a new modem so that could have something to do with it. I do have to say that this has been a very dissatisfying experience, even though they (the companies in this case are Qwest, Earthlink, Verizon and Direct TV)) say they are all about customer service, this has been anything but positive. And Bob has born the bulk of the hassle, he has spent HOURS on the phone over the past 10 days, and it still is not right. Hence my trip to Panera! He really has been so patient with the assorted people from the assorted companies, I can only take it myself for about 30 seconds before I am ready to strangle the person on the other end of the line! So I kind of stay in the background, making encouraging noises and bringing him the adult beverage of his choice. We intended to discontinue our landline and go the way of the cellular generation. So far I still have a dial tone at home, so that clearly has not happened.

Since I can't get my pictures to upload, you will have to use your imagination to picture the beautiful quilt that I finished working on this afternoon. It has large blocks of machine embroidered designs amidst pieced fabrics, stitched on one of the Berninas by Barb. Once it is bound, it is planned to be on display during the upcoming Minnesota Quilters' annual show.

It is beginning to look stormy here again, with a tornado watch in effect, so I should probably cut this short and get on home. Maybe another thunderstorm will bring back my internet! I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Yummo brownies!

I baked up a nearly perfect batch of brownies this morning, and for once they baked evenly and didn't collapse to half their size while cooling off. I seem to have had a bad run on brownies, and hadn't made any for quite awhile because they just weren't cooking up well. Hopefully I have that monkey off my back now!
These were made from a recipe from the Olive Grove Olive Oil Company using their blood orange olive oil. The pan is one of those fancy-dancy convoluted all crust pans that is supposed to make them cook more evenly and gives a crust edge on every piece. Right now I am thinking it was worth the investment!

It is beautiful outside today, so I took my newly completed quilt top out for some fresh air! After I get it quilted it gets a binding of that blue check. I really like those check prints! Bob and I had quite a session trying to get these blocks arranged, yet I can see that some things are not in the best places. Too much red stars over on the left, for sure. But it's done for now, so those blocks will just have to stay where they are! It is depicted as a tablecloth on the pattern cover, so I am thinking I will not use regular batting when I quilt it. Instead, I will either use some thermore (very thin poly batting from Pellon) or a heavyweight flannel.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

spring things

Yesterday the baby robins left the nest! They were getting way too big to co-exist in that little space. There were 3 babies, and this one is that child that always gets left behind--

It took him several hours to leave the safety of home after the others were out exploring the world.
Finally we have lots of things blooming, later than usual this year. The apple trees and lilacs are in good shape, and the violets are all decked out in purple. The bleeding hearts are looking fine, I love the little details in each tiny blossom.
The next one is called bergenia, I think, and is a sturdy perennial here. It gets these flower stalks sprouting out of broad dark green clumps of leaves. The leaves stay green under the snow instead of just disappearing like so many perennials. That makes them easy for me to find in the spring! I can never pull very many weeds in my flower beds until after the first of June, since sometimes I'm not sure if it is a weed or something I want to keep!
We have had lots of rain here and bad storms in the area, thankfully not right on top of us. The water level on lakes and creeks is above normal, with some standing water in fields. The ground was nice when I was planting tomatoes, peppers and cilantro yesterday.

I have spent a good deal of time on this double wedding ring quilt for a customer, and finished it last night!
It is pretty big and is to be a wedding gift, with the colors chosen by the bride-to-be. I like the combinations, kind of a contemporary twist on a vintage design. Hearts were requested for the centers, and that was the hardest part for me. It had me looking at the price of a computerized module to add to my machine, but the $16,000 price tag seems a little out of reach at the moment! So back to the drawing board to find something suitable and 'heartsy'. The rest of the quilting (scrolls, loops, vines, etc.) was all done freehand, but my freehand hearts always come out looking drunken--very tipsy and smashed! So I resorted to drawing up a design that I could use as a template. Once I decided on the design, which is a process in itself, I had to carefully draw it out in actual size on paper. Measure each block to find and mark the center. Move the machine to thatcenter and make 3 tiny stitches to anchor, then hand tie the thread tails and bury the ends with a needle. Put the machine needle down into the center spot to hold it in place. Walk around the table to the other side, put the paper design on the table top with the laser light in the center of the design. Make sure the design is square with the table (and therefore square with the quilt) and carefully stitch the design. Walk back around the table to the other side where I can make 3 tiny stitches to knot off the threads, cut the threads and knot and bury the ends. 42 times. Amen!

I had planned to listen to some of my podcasts to help pass the time since I was out of books on tape. But I was having trouble getting my ipod hooked up with the stereo and ended up listening to TV for awhile. My eyes are too occupied with other things, but listening works if it is something like Dr. Phil or Oprah, which is the time of day I had for quilting yesterday. Those are shows that don't require visual contact, unlike a mystery or comedy. So I got to see the goodbye Oprah extravaganza (part 2) which had some good in it, but came across as very over-the-top. I do like Oprah, by and large, and credit her with changing the scope of daytime talk shows from shocking to uplifting. But I read Kitty Kelly's unauthorized biography (yes, somewhat suspect as entirely factual, but based on a lot of research) and I came away with a bit more skepticism of the Oprah machine. I do admire her accomplishments and the benevolent work that she does. And I hope that she finds plenty more good works to do now that she can focus on something other than her talk show. I have watched some things on her OWN network, and I hope that develops into more.

There has still been some squirrel wrangling going on here. We thought we had the problem licked when we trapped a juvenile and an adult and got the hole outside plugged. But then we heard some more suspicious noises, and ended up trapping 2 more younguns. Hopefully that is the end of it, aside from repairing the damage done. Although now I hear any little creak or random noise in the house, I think I hear another squirrel scurrying around the attic!

I put together a little video tutorial for Bear Patch, you might like to visit the store's blog for a good example of amateur videography!

Enough jibber jabber for now! Profound thought for the day:

What you will do matters. All you need is to do it. ---Judy Grahn

Thursday, May 19, 2011

it's a zoo here

Mama robin is tending to her 3 hungry beaks in a corner of our front porch. Not such a good picture because it is taken through the window in order to not scare her away. Good thing we don't have very much traffic to our front door!

And the squirrel wars have escalated and we now have captured the enemy! No matter that the enemy is a little baby squirrel, unable to fend for itself out in the world. But it's time to get these critters out in the open, not tucked away in a nice cozy corner of our attic!

Bob found a hole chewed under the eaves that was the front door for our squirrel family, and was able to figure out sort of where the activity was happening in the attic by following the noises we could hear upstairs. The live trap placed in the attic near our little trapdoor was unsuccessful. He had to resort to cutting a hole into the sheetrock, and after getting some insulation out of the way he spied one or two little squirrels hiding from him. We baited the live trap (peanuts and peanut butter), barricaded the opening, and this morning had a little squirrel trapped. We put the trap outside and waited for an adult to come around before opening the trap.

Run, little squirrel, run!

The saga is not over, we have to set the trap again to find out if there is another baby, then make sure the adults are out, then repair the damage outside the house and the sheetrock inside. The outside hole is in the very peak of the roof, 2 stories high, and not a place I can climb to alone. Heights are not for me. Doing heights alone is definitely not for me! Heights alone while trying to cover a hole is like a disaster waiting to happen!

On a much more pleasant topic, I have been piecing together some blocks that will make a table cover that is part of the Clothesline Club at Bear Patch. This group focuses on patterns and fabrics from Darlene Zimmerman, and the prints are all reproductions of the 30's era. There are 30 of these blocks and a border to finish it off.

During some evening TV watching, I have started stitching together some of my hexagons, assorted colors and shapes. This is what I have so far--
and I'm not sure where it's headed! These are English paper pieced shapes, which is why you can see my basting threads on some of the blocks. I remove the basting and papers from the center blocks as more are added.

I tried a new ruler that Debbie ordered for the store and it is very timely because it fits right in with the 9-patch blocks I made for an upcoming class. So nice when things work like that!
This ruler is used for the technique that uses squares instead of strips for piecing the blocks, something I learned about in January from a Primitive Gatherings book. That technique does work best with a block size that is easily divisible by 3, but this ruler makes it possible to get around that. I tried it out this morning with squares that started at 4 7/8", and it worked!

I used my new stockpot (thanks B&B) to cook up a batch of a good soup, the recipe is here on a good website for vegetarian recipes. Several more things on their recipe list that I want to try, I need to keep working on variety and protein to keep this vegie plan going. I am mostly very happy that I have made the switch, but I do find that eating out is challenging. Next time you look at a restaurant menu, try eliminating everything that has meat and/or cheese in the description, and you will find that you are not left with much to choose from! I did splurge last weekend when I was enjoying a dinner out with Bob to mark our anniversary. I ordered a chicken breast and it was yummy, but I deeply regretted that choice at 1:00 in the morning! If/when I decide to return to my carnivorous state, it will be a gradual change!

Such is life here on this pleasant spring day!

Monday, May 16, 2011

it's rhubarb time!

I have had 2 pickings of my rhubarb and will probably bring in some more tomorrow. I only have one plant, I would like to have more just to make sure that I am never caught short. I gaze longingly at gardens that have several clumps of rhubarb, I bet those people don't know how lucky they are!

My favorite thing to make with rhubarb is just plain and simple rhubarb crunch, probably because I always have the ingredients on hand. You probably have your own version, but this is what I do:

Gather ingredients--several stalks of rhubarb, fresh from the garden. Oatmeal, either kind will do or mix both. Brown sugar. Flour. Butter or margarine.

Cut off the leaves and toss them on the compost heap. I always pull the stalks from the clump so I have that odd little husk thing on the bottom of the stem so that needs to be sliced off and the whole stalk washed. I make a small batch that fits in a baking dish that is 6 or 7" square, and use about 10-12 stalks. This is kind of a small batch by some standards, but since I am the only person in our house eating this, I don't make very much at once. Bob is a pretty normal guy in every other way and if you met him you would never guess that he is a rhubarb hater. We all have our flaws, I guess. Cut the stems into little chunks about 1/2" size, but perfection is not key here. The rhubarb shrinks a lot with cooking, so cut plenty.
Now put together the topping:

Melt 1/2 cup of butter or margarine, or even use Smart Balance like I had to do this time because there was only a little bit of butter in the fridge. We use Smart Balance for just about everything since Bob has a tendency towards too much cholesterol, and this seems to be helping. I keep waiting for it to balance our smartness, too. But I digress. To the melted shortening add: 3/4 cup brown sugar, 3/4 cup oatmeal (I use roughly equal portions of the chunkier old-fashioned oats and quick oats to get the perfect consistency), 1/2 cup flour. These amounts are approximate and can be altered as you prefer. The flour is what makes it really crumbly, the way I like it.

Sprinkle some sugar, maybe 1/4 cup, over the chopped rhubarb in the baking dish. Spread the crumbled topping over it, trying to cover all the rhubarb. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until the juices are bubbling around the edges.

Do you like my vintage baking dish? It is a classic and was a wedding or shower gift. Today happens to be our 36th anniversary--Wow! Last week I was cleaning out a junk drawer in the kitchen, and found many interesting things, among them a little notebook containing a record of our honeymoon trip! Yes, I keep all my most important documents in the junk drawer, don't you?! Anyway, it was fun to read and reminisce. We took about 2 weeks to drive to our destination of Tom's Place, California, and back to Minnesota, camping along the way. We had very little spending money, so we watched every penny and most of my little journal was a record of what we spent! Primarily gas, which was averaging about 56 cents/gallon so we could fill up the pickup for $10 or less! Tom's Place is a little resort in the Sierra Nevada mountains and the home of Bob's aunt and uncle, who hosted us for a few days. It was a memorable trip, we had a great time. When we returned home, we moved into a little ghetto apartment (complete with cockroaches) in downtown Minneapolis and started our summer jobs as nursing assistants at a nursing home. I think we probably used our wedding money to help pay the rent and expenses, although we did splurge on a new TV--a black and white set from JC Penney! We were living the high life! It's amazing to see where life has taken us.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

any recommendations?

I have been sewing up some more hourglass blocks (that's the name given to these blocks that are made up of 4 equal triangles), aka quarter square triangle blocks, for my newest rendition of my Hocus Pocus quilt. I wrote about this not long ago and realized after getting a few of the pieces up on my design wall that the dark brown sashing strips that I had planned (and cut a heap of) were too strong for the look I was hoping for. So now I have auditioned some other choices and have moved closer to what I want, and wanted to share the process with you a bit.

Looking through my stash, I found 2 solids that might work. The first one is that first strip that runs from top left to lower right, it is kind of a muddy goldish color up close. When I saw this on the shelf I immediately thought it would be just the ticket, but up on the wall I am not loving it. Then just to the right of that is a brighter yellow strip. When I saw this on the shelf I thought it was way too bright, but when I see it with the blocks I like it. On the right is the dark brown that is getting the axe. And even though I hadn't really considered it at first, there is the option of going with the white that is the design wall showing up between blocks. A viable option, but I am leaning towards the yellow.

I share this with you because I know that picking out colors to put into a quilt is a big road block for many of the people that I meet at the store. They don't feel they have the confidence or the skill to pick anything that goes well together. Well, I have never had an actual art class, never dabbled in paints, never studied color theory. I do own a color wheel, but it is pretty dusty, which shows how often it gets used! Most of what I do is trial-and-error, just like the process I described above. Some of it is intuition, some luck, partly kismet, and mostly practice. What I choose also reflects my personality and mood. How do you choose? If you have any advice, please feel free to share!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

on a yarn break

Have you noticed that I haven't said much here lately about my knitting? We have been on a break, I guess-- sort of like Ross & Rachel!
I have written previously about this scarf and finally finished it off. And today it's about 80 degrees! The effect of ruffles on each side is achieved by using short rows, which is a great knitting technique mainly used for creating sculpted shapes that make sweaters fit bodies. Here is a close-up view down the length as it was blocked and drying.

and below curled around my neck, little ruffle looking like a victorian costume! I think I now understand the reason they used to wear collars like that--it hides any extra chins!

Oh yeah, I cut all my hair off! I wore my hair like this for a long time, starting in 1996 when I was glued to my bike seat and needed something convenient to go under my helmet. Then about 2 years ago I decided that the mother of the bride should maybe have some hair to style into a lovely "do". That was good for a while, but my hair is very thick and gets kind of 'fluffy' from time to time which drives me crazy. So I am reverting back to my old ways, and liking it.

I have been thinking about putting together a new small tote bag, using some inspiration from some Japanese design books, and came up with this--

The handles were purchased and the rest of the bag is just some coarsely woven plain cloth with 3 little hexagons added. It's just the right size for a magazine or notebook.

My Mother's Day was graced with a pretty bouquet from Dan, and this rose is so beautiful I just had to try to capture it and share with you--

Now off to a nursery to pick up some annuals for flower boxes and pots. Time to get my hands dirty!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

a day for mums (moms)

This has been a great day for mothers, don't you think? And for all those other ladies out there that don't fall into the biological mother category, but have someone that they help or protect or nurture, this is for you, too. I found some interesting facts about the day:

Mother's Day History

Contrary to popular belief, Mother's Day was not conceived and fine-tuned in the boardroom of Hallmark. The earliest tributes to mothers date back to the annual spring festival the Greeks dedicated to Rhea, the mother of many deities, and to the offerings ancient Romans made to their Great Mother of Gods, Cybele. Christians celebrated this festival on the fourth Sunday in Lent in honor of Mary, mother of Christ. In England this holiday was expanded to include all mothers and was called Mothering Sunday.

In the United States, Mother's Day started nearly 150 years ago, when Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, organized a day to raise awareness of poor health conditions in her community, a cause she believed would be best advocated by mothers. She called it "Mother's Work Day."

Fifteen years later, Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, pacifist, suffragist, and author of the lyrics to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," organized a day encouraging mothers to rally for peace, since she believed they bore the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else.

In 1905 when Anna Jarvis died, her daughter, also named Anna, began a campaign to memorialize the life work of her mother. Legend has it that young Anna remembered a Sunday school lesson that her mother gave in which she said, "I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother's day. There are many days for men, but none for mothers."

Anna began to lobby prominent businessmen like John Wannamaker, and politicians including Presidents Taft and Roosevelt to support her campaign to create a special day to honor mothers. At one of the first services organized to celebrate Anna's mother in 1908, at her church in West Virginia, Anna handed out her mother's favorite flower, the white carnation. Five years later, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for officials of the federal government to wear white carnations on Mother's Day. In 1914 Anna's hard work paid off when Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother's Day as a national holiday.

At first, people observed Mother's Day by attending church, writing letters to their mothers, and eventually, by sending cards, presents, and flowers. With the increasing gift-giving activity associated with Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis became enraged. She believed that the day's sentiment was being sacrificed at the expense of greed and profit. In 1923 she filed a lawsuit to stop a Mother's Day festival, and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a convention selling carnations for a war mother's group. Before her death in 1948, Jarvis is said to have confessed that she regretted ever starting the mother's day tradition.

Despite Jarvis's misgivings, Mother's Day has flourished in the United States. In fact, the second Sunday of May has become the most popular day of the year to dine out, and telephone lines record their highest traffic, as sons and daughters everywhere take advantage of this day to honor and to express appreciation of their mothers.

So Anna Jarvis may not have enjoyed this day of mothers, but I think she did a good thing that lives on far beyond what she probably imagined. Phone calls and hugs have made the day special for me, and I thank Anna for that!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

a rainy day at home

Today is my work-at-home day, starting out with some quilting on a t-shirt quilt for a customer. These are very popular for graduates to showcase their collected shirts. It turns into a personal history, and even though I don't know this recipient, I can see that there is some TLC going into putting this all together for her.

I have been on what I call a 'fabric diet' here lately, following my sewing room clean-up and reorganization. I self-diagnosed a fabric collecting disorder, and went through a period of purging before I settled down into a healthier fabric lifestyle of controlled accumulation. Only bringing home the necessities to complete what I had already committed to. Ignoring those Joann's coupons. Resisting temptation each time I went into Bear Patch. This has been going on 4 months now, and I am pleased that my shelves have stayed neat and orderly and still have a few empty spaces. But there is one group of fabric that I have been lusting for and I capitulated last week. I brought home this:

A neat, tidy bundle of Denyse Schmidt's Hope Valley fabric! No immediate plans for it, other than relishing in the look and feel. I'm halfway glad that I held off on buying these prints, because sometimes the restraint makes the end game more sweet, don't you think?

Speaking of end game, let's talk sports! Not my strong suit, but I have been enjoying Bob's participation in a Family Fantasy Baseball League. Dads, sons, cousins, uncles, etc., have been reviewing stats, trading players, and pouring over every baseball game result. Bob used to do this back in the stone age, before the dawning of the world of personal home computers. The weekly results were actually typed or written on paper and circulated by the group leader! Imagine that! Now they all log onto the internet and statistics, points, rankings, details, etc. are all automatically tabulated. The first couple weeks Bob has been struggling to gain some ground amidst some stiff competition. Garnering a point here and there for some player's good performance. Not one to quietly slip into the night, I wanted to stand by my man and get him into the World Series. So I have developed a new points category that supersedes all those RBI, HR, DH, and PBR statistics. (That's Pabst Blue Ribbon, for all you non-baseball people!) Two of Bob's players are Morneau and Mauer. Because they have more vowels than consonants in their names, I am petitioning The League for bonus points for Bob. Sounds reasonable to me!

While I am waiting to hear back from the Commissioner, I have started this book:
I have not been successful in finding much reading time lately, although I do listen to books every time I am driving, so that counts for something.

I did find time to start a new quilt just for my own purposes. We badly need a makeover of our bedroom, and this is the start. I am going for something totally different with this quirky, fun, colorful hedgehog fabric--

I'm calling it the Not So Nermal quilt (named after Dan's pet hedgehog). I put together a bundle of coordinating fabric, using prints, solids, stripes and dots. This is a small sample of what I hope to do:

I'm wondering if that dark brown sashing is too stark, I may have to audition something else. Walls will need to be repainted, I am thinking grey. Window coverings are also needed, no decision on that yet. I don't think Bob knows what he is in for! Well, he's usually a very good sport about my home dec projects so I'm not too worried.

I better wrap this up, I need to check on our birdfeeder in the backyard. We are having squirrel wars. Amazingly, the squirrel barrier that has worked for about 10 years to keep the little critters at bay has been surmounted by a rogue squirrel. I have spotted him twice on top of the pole, helping himself to seed from the 3 feeders suspended there. Do you think this is an example of evolution of the species?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Our little church, Cedar United Methodist, has an Easter tradition of displaying lilies in remembrance of deceased loved ones. This year, the lilies were a beautiful yellow instead of the typical white, and I think they are gorgeous. We brought home the 2 that were dedicated to Bob's father and brother, and now I can admire them each day. And remember the good times we had with those 2 wonderful men. We miss them. I will try to transplant these outdoors when it is a little warmer. Yesterday morning brought a dusting of snow again, I hope that is the last of it. This seems to be the never-ending winter!

Another sign of spring is the appearance of the Better Homes & Gardens Quilt Shop Sampler, with 10 stores highlighted. I have a good collection of these magazines, they are very useful when it comes time for a trip or excursion. There is a shop in this issue that is located in NW Illinois, not such a long drive from here so maybe a destination for an overnight. But I was also pleased to see a store in New Hampshire that I have already visited--Quilted Threads in Henniker. In August, 2007, I travelled with Nancy, Leisl and Maggie to Boston. From there we rented a car and cruised around New Hampshire and Maine for a week, stopping at every quilt shop, yarn shop, antique shop, lighthouse and seafood place that we could possibly fit into those few days. It was an excellent adventure!

This is part of the photo spread and story in the new magazine:

This is my scrapbook picture of the 4 of us outside Quilted Threads and my journal notes about it:
Monday, August 20, 2007
We left the hotel in time to get to Henniker (20 miles away), at 9 am to meet Mary at Quilted Threads. It is usually closed on Monday, but she arranged to meet us and we are really glad she did! Quilted Threads was a beautiful shop, neat and clean. They had Daiwabo fabrics, batiks, good samples, Moda and Lakehouse fabrics, and Block of the Month projects by From My Heart to Your Hands. They have drawn up plans to expand and we met the owner as we were leaving.

Our impression of the store has been verified by the powers that be at BH&G! I think they should just send us around the country to find the best shops!