Sunday, May 31, 2009

The double wedding ring quilt at home

Since I didn't think to photograph it before it was wrapped and mailed, I thought I'd show a picture of the completed double wedding ring quilt that was a wedding gift for my brother-in-law T. and his new wife L. They brought us some photos when they visited us last weekend. I'm thrilled with the way it turned out and hope they enjoy it for many years to come. Here's to you, T. and L.: we hope your life together is long and happy.

I'm not good at waiting

Remember this quilt? It's still only blocks stuck to my design wall. Why, you ask? I wanted to see what SuzGuz Designs' full quilt layout looked like before I committed to using my own heart and swag border (already designed and ready to go). The company said they were going to sell a center medallion pattern, which would make the quilt both bigger and more interesting than just an appliqued border, so I decided to wait.

And wait. And wait.

The last BOM block was released in December 2008. It's been five months and the completion pattern isn't published yet. This is a little irritating.

The company has released several new patterns since the first of the year and had quilt designs published in major magazines, so they're definitely out there working. So, why not throw a bone to those people who followed your BOM? It's not like they were going to give it out free, they were going to sell it. As in "revenue production" for the business. There's probably more people than only me waiting to see how they finished the quilt.

It's kind of a good-will killer. And it's a shame, because after I found the website, I, wonder of wonders, bought a pattern to make one of her quilt designs (binding currently being applied - photos to follow). Long time readers should know that I don't buy patterns. So, they actually made money from me, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. In truth, I bought it, even though I could have figured it out myself, as a gesture of support for small quilt-related businesses.

Yoo hoo, SuzGuz Designs, where are you?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Yellow Japanese Iris

These are the yellow irises that my sister-in-law gave me in March. The gentleman that lives across the street from my mother was digging and thinning an iris patch and knew that my sister-in-law loved gardening, so he gave her a heaping paper grocery bag of plants. She couldn't use all of them so she gave me five. I had just straightened out my side yard flower bed, so I planted them between the roses where they would get sun.

When she said yellow irises, I was thinking about the pale yellow bearded irises I had seen. I didn't know they were these vibrantly colored Japanese iris. The shade of yellow is quite spectactular, a bright lemon color. Here's a close up of a bloom showing the color to best advantage. I hope these multiply and spread, because they are quite showy.And here's a couple of pictures of the strange mushrooms which have sprouted near my oak tree during this wet weather. This one looks like something from an old B science fiction movie. And this one is the most beautiful orange color. Notice the nibble marks on the edge. I'm sure it would be poisonous to people, and now I'm worrying about the squirrels and chipmunks. No bodies have shown up yet, so hopefully they weren't harmed.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Do you sleep under the quilts you make?

I've been noticing an interesting thing about patterns in my quilt magazines. Fewer and fewer of them are actually bed size. I was thinking about this while machine sewing bindings today. The binding process has gotten away from me and I'm trying to catch up this weekend, so I'm doing the machine part today. Three down, four to go. Two queen size, one full size, one crib, one lap quilt, two wall quilts. In the past, the whole pile would have been queen size quilts, because I felt that if it was worth making, it was worth making large enough to sleep under. That was before the closet exploded from overload.

So now I do make smaller quilts, but I still produce bed-size designs - and by bed-size, I mean large enough for me, my husband and the cat. It's amazing how much the addition of that twelve pound cat changes things.

But, I digress. I pulled out four recent quilt magazines that I like and tallied up the quilt designs which were obviously not table mats or crib quilts - my criterion was to toss any quilt narrower than a width of fabric out of the count. Then I tallied the size distributions. If a quilt was larger than the top of a queen size mattress, 60 x 80, I begrudgingly considered it a bed size quilt although it would hardly be adequate for the average two adults, never mind any companion animal presences.

The results? 21 small quilts, 14 bed quilts. And the bed quilts were often pretty small - 81 x 89, 74 x 92, 65 x 91, 76 x 88, 73 x 82. Why so small? What are these quilts used for? Are they used at all?

My paternal grandmother pieced quilt tops, although she was not a domestic sort of person. I guess it was just a way to pass the time. During her life, I think she hired the hand quilting done. She left a drawer of quilt tops which Mom sent to a lady named Mrs. Abshire to machine quilt around 1960. These were the quilts the family slept under, although "under" might be an overstatement. She made her bed quilts barely bigger than the top of a full size bed. Mom always marveled at the size of the quilts since neither my grandmother or grandfather were short or narrow people.

But many old quilts are small. Perhaps it was because of the scarcity of fabric, or the lack of time, or just because many people in the past were smaller than we are now. But that doesn't explain why new designs are 55 inches square or 60 inches square or 54 x 62 inches. These are obviously never intended to grace a bed. Are they all for wall hangings? To drape over couch backs? To cover up while watching TV?

The practical person inside me wants them to be at least big enough to use on a full size bed. I've never been the art quilt type. Quilts were the perfect merging of beauty and function, and without the function intrinsically lost in their worth. I still make some wall quilts, but the word quilt conjures up a patchwork bed covering.

So, do you make your quilts large enough to sleep under? Do you make small quilts? What are your criteria for a quilt?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

More storms in the Southeast - hm, that would be my fault

It rained last night - rained buckets in fact, with wind and lightning too. And it did it again today. I figure it was because I watered the new bushes yesterday. Forget the tired old saw about rain after you wash your car. If you really need precipitation, send me out in the yard with the garden hose. In 24 hours you'll be treading water.

I'm just sayin. . .

What's so hard about cooking?

I admit to being a little perplexed about the mere existence of the Food Network on cable. In an age where almost no one seems to actually cook dinner and sit down together as a family to eat, why a whole network about food? When did cooking become a spectator sport?

Perplexed, and then completely exasperated, about the way cooking has become a hobby. It's not a hobby, for pity's sake, it's a survival skill. The same way as sewing on a button, washing and ironing a shirt, taking care of your own house and car are survival skills - not that anyone much does any of those things anymore.

(Oh, a little sideline rant - have you seen the commercial for a cleaning firm called "The Maids", where the smug lady of the house says of cleaning her kitchen "Better them than me". Yeah, because you're, like, so important that scouring a cooktop is such a waste of your talents. I don't think so.)

Anyway. . .I was thinking about the dearth of home cooking while making dinner this evening. As I do almost every single evening. Unless we're having a roast chicken or pot roast or something where I had to start the main course earlier, I usually wander into the kitchen about 5 or 5:15 p.m., start making stuff, we eat around 6 p.m. and by 7 the kitchen is washed up and I turn off the light for the night (well, not tonight because there's brownies in the oven. That recipe from the newspaper was so terrible that we had to perform a do-over with a recipe that works.) I could probably get the meal on the table faster (my mom could make any weekday dinner in 30 minutes flat - everything from scratch - but she knew, trusted and used a pressure cooker, and they scare me silly) but I don't like to rush. Is that such a terrible investment of your time to get a fresh home-cooked scratch meal?

Take tonight for instance: mushroom stuffed chicken breasts, sauteed carrots and mashed potatoes. Add iced tea and it was pretty good. The only other thing my husband could have wanted (besides the brownies he requested for dessert) was a good piece of Italian bread and we were out of it.

It doesn't take a genius to make this kind of dinner, and I think it's pretty representative of the sort of weekday cooking that anyone could do. Get out the cutting board and peel a few potatoes, cut them in half and put them in a pan of water to boil. (Oh, and what about the commercial for the bagged peeled and diced potatoes you microwave and mash? I HATE that commercial. The idiocy of it. Implying peeling a few potatoes is such a Herculean effort.) Peel and slice 2 or 3 good size carrots. Throw the sliced carrots into a skillet with a dab of butter and some water. Cover and start them cooking.

I've written about the mushroom stuffed chicken before.

Keep an eye on the carrots and when they're almost done toss in some dill. When the potatoes are cooked, fish them out and put them through a ricer, add salt, pepper, butter and milk and make mashed potatoes. Use a pyrex bowl. When they're ready, put the pan back on the burner and perch the bowl on the top, covered with the saucepan lid. The potatoes will wait for a while, kept warm by the steam from the boiling pan of water.

Your chicken should be just about ready. You could also make a salad while the potatoes and chicken are cooking, if you have the notion and the ingredients.

Now, that wasn't so hard, was it?

This is by no means "gourmet" food. But it's all fresh, home-made and easy. No MSG, no preservatives, and pretty cheap, too. I would much rather have this than a Lean Cuisine or something from the drive-through. Am I weird?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Heat, humidity, gnats - and brownies

I spend about 2 1/2 hours outside this morning, weeding and watering, and came in so tired my knees were shaking. It's in the mid-eighties with the humidity pegging the meter (ah, summer in the southeast - and it isn't even summer yet) and it's hard to describe how a temperature in the mid-eighties can be so oppressive.

By the time I finished I looked like someone dipped me in a bucket of water. No wind and high humidity so nothing ever evaporates and you get hotter and hotter. By next month it will be really ugly, and will stay that way until September.

Oh, and let's not forget the gnats. My lawn guy calls them the East Brainerd gnats, because he swears where he lives north of the city he doesn't have them. Don't stand around with your mouth open in my yard, or something will fly in. So you're walking around in sodden clothes, scratched up by the roses from trying to weed around them, lugging a heavy garden hose, surrounded by a flying cloud of devil-bugs. Oh, yeah, gardening's fun.

My husband asks why I do it. Well, I like to see flowers growing and I don't want the yard to look like an abandoned lot. Since the lawn guy mows, I get out of the worst of it, so I try to keep everything else in shape. And my latest landscaping additions look pretty heartening so far. The new bushes are putting out lots of growth, the new azaleas are blooming, and my tomato plants are setting fruit. I may be a little miserable out there while I'm working but once I come in and shower, everything looks a lot better.

Now to the brownies. My husband tore a recipe out of the newspaper yesterday: "Best-ever Brownies". With a name like that, they must know they're setting themselves up for a fall. Wait - it gets better - with: Nancy Reagan's Frosting. First off, nothing against the lady but Nancy Reagan is about a size minus 2 and probably never weighed more than 80 pounds in her life. You KNOW she doesn't eat frosting, much less cook it.

So, how were they? The brownies were appropriately fudge-y and rich, but a little thin. The recipe specified a 9 inch pan, but I think using an 8 inch pan would be better. The frosting is a cooked type and was very rich but a little grainy, and really more like a glaze. The recipe made twice as much as needed, so I put the rest in a Tupperware bowl in the refrigerator. I just checked, and I now have a chocolate brick. I have no idea how to make it smooth enough to use. I just checked the newspaper's website and the recipes aren't available. If they are added to the archives, I will post a link so you can try them too.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

This and that

Tanya blogged about a home-built ironing board her husband made for her here and it got me to thinking about ironing boards. First, they are getting pretty expensive. Tanya said that a good ironing board costs the equivalent of $130 in Japan. Amazing! Bed Bath and Beyond sells a good Rowenta board for $99, and even that still seems too much. I have a 18 inch wide ironing board my mom bought me for Christmas several year ago at Walmart. If she paid more than $35, I would be very surprised. So, why are they so much now? Does nobody iron anymore? Is permanent press and casual clothing the death knell for ironing? As long as there are quilters, there will be ironing boards sold, I guess. This is mine. As you can see, it sort of takes up the room in the kitchen where I sew, so I usually use my tabletop board, and save this one for pressing borders and full quilt tops. Secondly, I want to recruit the help of gardening quilters to identify this plant. A landscaper told me it was an amaryllis but didn't know the variety. Maybe he was right, maybe not, but I would surely like to know what kind it is. As you can see, the stalk has 5 or 6 blooms that develop sequentially, each lagging the previous by a few days. The blooms are 4 to 4.5 inches wide.
Can anyone tell me what variety this is? Or, maybe I'm wrong and it's not an amaryllis at all!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Whatever happened to movies on film?

Well, this old fogey has found something else to complain about. Have you been to a movie lately? At a big cinema chain? Then you probably watched it on a DLP digital projection system. No clickety projector, no light bulb, no big metal reels. Bye bye, film.

I went to see the new Star Trek movie today (I won't comment because it just came out, and many have not seen it yet. But I wasn't impressed.). The Wynnsong theater puts a big blurb up on the screen just before the moving trumpeting their DLP digital projection. If I were them, I wouldn't brag about it.

Movies on film were crisp and clean, with beautiful Technicolor, bright whites and true blacks. Digital images on DLP? Well, no. The colors are muddy, blacks are more dark gray than black, and the action is blurry. Really fast motion seems to turn images into a smear. This is particularly a problem with the current penchant for fast cut/cut/cut editing. This movie didn't come off as badly as some, though. We went to the Harry Potter movie last summer and between the murky lighting, the terrible jerky editing and the pitiful DLP digital projection, I'm not exactly sure what I watched - I felt like I could only see about half of it.

It might be that this theater is cheap and hasn't upgraded their equipment. Maybe there have been vast improvements I'm not seeing because Wynnsong doesn't want to spend the money. Or maybe it all looks this bad. My whole "movie-going experience" wasn't enhanced by the fact that the sound was turned up so loud that my ears were ringing when I left the theater.

And the big dirty blotch in the center of the screen didn't help either. It looked like someone threw their Coke at it. Everybody's a critic.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Back yard idyll

Between the rain storms I have been able to enjoy the back yard only sporadically, so I took a minute to do a few outdoor chores before it rains on me again. There were branches to put on the curb for pickup and roses to deadhead. The branch pickup is an especially nice benefit of living inside city limits. If you have any trees or bushes at all, there is always something to dispose of, and having one day a month where any lawn waste put at the curb will be whisked away is a big help.

This is my favorite corner of the back yard. There is a small peony which has unfortunately been beaten up by the rainstorms, three Gumpo azaleas just starting to bloom, a lantern, a bird feeder, a birdbath and a lovely mature crape myrtle that blooms the most gorgeous hot pink in July. There was a robin enjoying this corner earlier too. He took a bath and had a bite to eat. Scaevola is one of the most dependable hanging plants I use here. It seems to love the heat, the hotter the better, and as long as you water regularly it will bloom through October. I like the purple variety especially.
Here is an amarylis starting to bud. I have no idea what variety they are- they were here when I moved in. The bloom is large and slightly varigated pink clustered five or six on the stem. I've never even had to dig them up. They winter over in the ground here very happily.
And here are my red old-fashioned roses among the reworked fence border in the side yard. I have been waiting for them to bloom with anticipation. These are another flower I inherited, and I have no idea what variety they are. They are vigorous climbers and would scamper up a trellis (or even the fence) if I didn't keep them in line. The blooms are rather flat when opened fully and have yellow stamens. The japanese beetles don't seem to like them nearly as much as the white rosebush in the back yard, which is almost identical except for color but gets bugs and diseases much more readily.
And finally, a peek at things to come. . .
the tomatoes are beginning to set fruit. Yum!

Friday, May 8, 2009

A slight design flaw

I bought this bird feeder to replace one that had been chewed apart by the squirrels. It is a supposedly squirrel-proof model. The outer cage is atttached by two springs and "floats" over the inner tube. The cage has metal leaf shapes and it can be pushed down by extending the springs until the openings are covered by the leaves. If a lightweight bird lands on the perches, nothing happens, but if a heavier squirrel hangs on the outer cage, its weight is supposed to stretch the springs and pull the cage down to block access to the seeds. Well, that's how it's supposed to work. The problem is, the springs are so stiff and strong that my squirrels don't weigh enough to activate the squirrel-proof function. Maybe if they steal enough seeds, they will gain weight, and then. . .

EQ part 2

Here's another one: Like the first, the fabrics aren't the actual ones, and the colors aren't exactly right, but it gives you an idea what the quilt will look like. The prints will be toiles from the Michael Miller "Kid Toile"line, with this one for the large print: Ooh, the color's a little off there, but the background is sage and the toile is chocolate and cream. The borders will be a sage/chocolate check, the background of the blocks a cream/chocolate open toile, and the points of the stars a brown marble and a sage/cream dot.

I bought that toile a while ago because I fell in love with it but couldn't figure out what to do with it. I saw a few designs that set me in this direction, and now it has a purpose and will work out quite well. I know you all do this too: buy a fabric because you HAVE to have it, but then it sits there on the shelf, mocking you, because it won't fit in any designs. Well, if you don't do it you're a better person than I.

I can see right now that EQ6 is going to be very dangerous. I can already think of ten times more quilts than I have time to sew, but now I can draw them, in color no less, and taunt myself with them.

Woo Hoo, it's EQ!

OK, I'm embarrassed. I got EQ6 for Christmas, but with all the gift quilt sewing, wedding attending, doctor's appointments, etc. that was going on, I never loaded it on the computer. Until yesterday. And once I got past the Vista crankiness, it went well.

Now comes the learning curve. You see, I had Electric Quilt back in, oh, 1989, when it was still DOS based. I used it some, but it had quirks and was not easy to use without a mouse, so I just let it slide when we upgraded computers and never thought about it again.

Last Christmas, while casting around for gift ideas to fulfill my husband's requested "What I would like" list, I thought about the new EQ and that maybe it would be good for auditioning ideas. (I was using the draw function on Word, which is surprisingly effective, but not optimal.)

So, I asked, he bought, and it went on my desk to be installed. Then life intervened. So, yesterday I looked at the box (again) and said "Let's get this thing on the computer while the laundry is being done."

To put it mildly, it's improved. I made up a few designs without ever looking at the manual. I wouldn't call it intuitive, but once you wrap your brain around its world-view (which, I admit, is hard if you've been using drafting or other drawing programs, because it doesn't work AT ALL like those) you can whip out stuff in the blink of an eye.

Take this little example:
This is the "Raspberry Truffle" pattern from the May/June issue of Quiltmaker. Now, they made it in pink and brown, but I've made enough pink and brown quilts for a lifetime and I wanted to see what it would look like in another colorway. They also made a variation in the French Farmhouse line by Renee Nanneman for Andover Fabrics. It was love at first sight.

Cool, huh?

I'm going to call it "Blueberry Pie with a Lime Twist".

That little mock-up only took me about an hour, and that includes poking the wrong buttons and fussing.

I'm going to enjoy this. (But I gotta read the manual.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fighting the poison ivy

After the worst of the rain had stopped I took a walk around the yard and realized I had three poison ivy vines starting to infiltrate the landscaping. This is bad, very very bad.

I first found out I could catch poison ivy in the fifth grade, when my science class went on an insect collecting expedition in the hills behind the elementary school. My best friend Judy and I emerged from the woods with an impressive butterfly collection and an even more impressive poison ivy rash. We spent several weeks carrying a small bottle of calamine lotion everywhere we went, daubing pink blotches on the rash and trying not to scratch. The only consolidation was that we weren't the only ones.

I now have a pathological fear of poison ivy, oak, sumac and such. If any of these get a foothold on me they are not easily evicted. I have blessedly never developed a systemic case, but isolated patches are bad enough. Needless to say, whenever I see a vine starting on the property I get a) panicky and b) creative on how to uproot the thing without dire consequences to myself.

Today, I armed myself with long pants, a long sleeved shirt (and it was a HUMID morning - miserable), heavy socks and leather shoes, my old safety glasses from the plant with the side shields attached, a scarf tying up my hair, plastic gloves AND cotton gardening gloves. These were an old pair that were about to bite the dust anyway, so I was willing to sacrifice them to the gardening gods.

I gathered up my long-handled pointy cultivator and plastic bags. At each location I performed the following dance:
1. Open the plastic bag, roll the top slightly and lay it out open on the grass.
2. Carefully untangle the poison ivy vine with the cultivator and dig out as much of the roots as possible.
3. Using the pointy tip of the cultivator, gather up the vines and roots and deposit them in the plastic bag.
4. Still using the pointy tip, snag the edges of the bag closed and carry it impaled on the tool, as far from the body as possible, over to the garbage can. Deposit bag in garbage can.
5. Repeat at each location.

We have the kind of garbage mini-dumpsters which are emptied using a remote arm on the garbage truck, so this was the only way I could think to get rid of the stuff without endangering other people. I will need to wash out the garbage can Thursday with bleach.

After I was finished, I peeled off the cotton and plastic gloves as one, carefully not touching the outside surface of the gloves with bare skin, and deposited them in the trash can too. My nuclear industry dress-out training came in handy here - we are taught how to remove multiple layers of potentially contaminated coveralls, shoe covers and gloves without contacting any of the outer surfaces of the garments. Then I stood the end of the cultivator in a bucket containing a strong bleach solution, where it will sit for a couple of days before it is rinsed.

I am going to stick a bamboo garden stake at each location where the poison ivy was removed so I can monitor for recurrence. I know this has a real "Andromeda Strain" flavor to it, but I was being as careful as humanly possible. It must have worked - as my husband said, I would know by now if it didn't.

By the way, it's universally acknowleged on the internet that Zanfel is the best treatment for poison ivy. Pricey, but it works. I bought some the day before yesterday in case there was a breakdown in my process.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Backyard garden or protected wetlands?

We've had nearly 4 inches of rain in the last three days alone. All my newly planted annuals are prostrate on the sodden ground - the angelonia look particularly beaten up. Maple seedlings are sprouting even as I type. The poison ivy I'm trying to eradicate under the nandina has doubled in size since Friday. The rain is off-and-on, but every time I step outside the house, even to get the newspaper, the downpour starts again. And my whole yard is one huge green sponge that goes glurp-glurp-glurp with each step.

Don't say that we need the rain. I know the southeast is in a drought, but enough, already.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

I love the Kentucky Derby

I admit it, I'm a sucker for the Derby. I'm a Kentucky girl, born, raised and educated there. I spent the first 24 years of my life in Kentucky, the last six of those in Lexington, the epicenter of the whole horse-crazy state. They may hold the race in Louisville, but they breed the horses, train them, buy and sell them, and generally go ga-ga over them in Lexington. Lexington is where you can find free copies of "The Blood-Horse", a racing industry weekly magazine, in the lobby of the Holiday Inn.

My six years in Lexington solidified a mania for the Derby fostered in childhood by the ritual of watching the Derby on television every year, madly rooting for your favorite. I may not be a horsewoman (heck, I think I've only ridden a horse twice in my life) but that's not a requirement to be completely, ridiculously sappy about the Kentucky Derby. Everything about the race brings a big ol' lump to my throat. The beautiful twin spires of the Downs, the elegant, high-strung horses, the traditions, the crazy crowd in the infield, the hats - oh, the hats!

(This lady tried to get the whole of the Downs on one chapeau. I'm betting she had a neck-ache all day.)

I still get teary-eyed when they sing "My Old Kentucky Home". It's a song that's fused into my bones. We sang it every school year at the Spring Song Festival. I will know the words to my dying day. And even though the crowd at Churchill Downs is a bit snarky and less than respectful during the rendition before the race, it gets me every time. You know the point when the University of Louisville band crescendos and the melody swells at "Weep no more, my lady"? Yep, that's me, snuffling over in the corner of the couch.

The finish this year reduced me to a wreck, watching in a nail-biting frenzy as jockey Calvin Borel slid Mine that Bird through impossibly narrow gaps by the rail and then accelerated on the stretch, leaving the other high-priced wanna-be's in the dust (or, rather, mud).
All the world loves an upset win by a longshot, and Borel and trainer Chip Woolley gave them one this year.

But, as much as the spectacle, and the sport, and the sheer raucous party, it's the tradition behind it all that's the real draw. They've been doing this for 135 years. There are minor changes every year, to be sure, personalities come and go, corporate sponsorships become ever more intrusive (anybody else think that putting "VISA"on the back of the track personnel's jackets is tacky in the extreme?) but you can bet that the first Saturday in May all of the racing industry is in Louisville, sipping on a julep. And anyone who is anyone will be with them. Along with about a million college students in the infield, acting absolutely insane.

And, as a University of Kentucky alumna, along with all those college kids in the infield I can categorically tell you that the Derby isn't on the first Saturday in May, it's on the last weekend before finals.

Double wedding ring quilt is delivered!

Finally, finally, the gift quilt made its way to its recipients. I got a call last night that it was delivered and signed for, and they loved it. What a relief!

I asked them to make a photo of it for my records - since I was so scatterbrained that I didn't!