Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Native intelligence

We spend every evening after supper sitting on the patio, watering the flowers, filling the bird feeders, and watching the panoply of nature around us. Last night, we got a reminder of just how adaptive that natural life is.

One of the faucets on the back of the house has a slight leak no matter how hard you tighten the shutoff. It hardly drips at all, once every few minutes, if at that. It's the kind of small problem everyone has but doesn't hurry to fix. I didn't know until last night that someone had figured out how to benefit from that drip.

This little fellow sits in the dogwood tree until a large enough drop of water has formed on the end of the quick-connect nozzle. Then he flies over, perches and has a drink! Then it's back to the dogwood tree until another drop has collected. This time of year the water in the birdbath gets pretty hot in the sun. This black-capped chickadee has figured out how to get a nice cold sip.

On another bird front, I wasn't aware that a northern mockingbird had made a nest in one of our japonica bushes in the corner of the yard beside my neighbor's driveway. For one thing, I didn't know they nested this late. And all spring a pair of mockingbirds, probably this pair, harassed me in my side yard, so I thought the mockingbird families were all grown and gone.

Last week, I asked the lawn guy to trim those bushes because they had grown tall enough to block visibility when my neighbor backed out into the street. When I went over to pick up a few clippings after he had left, I found a bird's nest in the bush, now only 4 or 5 inches below the shorn top. I wasn't sure what kind of bird it was but was afraid the sun was too hot on the little downy hatchlings, so I gathered a few long clipped forsythia branch from the brush pile and spread them on the top of the bush to shade the nest.

The next day I visited the nest to make sure the clippings hadn't withered too much to provide shade. Mama mockingbird did not take kindly to my visit and dive-bombed me. She brushed through the top of my hair on her pass, then perched in the maple tree and began to cuss me out in strong mockingbird terms. I beat a hasty retreat from the side yard.

This morning, I was still worrying about the little birds, so I crept out to check the nest, after making sure the parents weren't around. At least I thought they weren't. This time, she whacked me in the back and was circling around for another pass when I hurried back to the house. I don't need to be concerned about the babies - these are diligent parents!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Latest quilts

First, the Quiltville mystery, which is finally bound and will be my mother's birthday present this weekend. I like the blue border and brown binding. It brought some of the less prominent colors out into the edges and balanced the color distribution. Love the quilting. It's a panto design that the longarmer suggested. It's just perfect.
This is one of two little quilts I made from a jelly roll, a charm pack and some neutrals from my stash. Nothing special here - just quilted in the ditch. I'm happy about how it turned out. I'm also happy I have a small quilt on hand if someone I know is having a baby. That's where its' companion went - as a baby gift for my lawn guy's son and daughter-in-law.
This is a copy of a quilt I saw in the local quilt shop, made from a half yard of the red fabric, a jelly roll and neutrals from my stash again. Love the colors and the little blue whirligigs.
This is the back. I bought a length of the orange fabric and forgot that the quilt would come out wider than 42"! So I added the stripe. Very dashing, I think.
This is BlockCentral's 2009 BOM. I reduced the scale by a 1/3, and made a lap quilt. The fabrics reminded me of the colors on my calico cat, so I named the quilt Molly.
And this is what I found for the backing. The little calico cat standing up on its hind feet reminds me of my kitty.
Can you see the cats quilted in the border?
Finally, here's my disappointment quilt. I loved the look of the sample at SuzGuz Designs, bought her pattern (didn't really need it, but want to support independent quilt designers) and hunted down the exact fabric on Ebay. I enlarged it a bit to queen size and it went together like a charm.
Then the problem happened. I took it to a local quilting service I had used in the past and had it done with an allover larger meander pattern. The quality of the quilting is so horrible it broke my heart. The tension is all off, and the stitch lengths aren't anywhere near regular. It looks awful. Here's an example. That's a 4" x 2" patch:
There are 18 stitches in that line from one side of the patch to the other. The stitches are a quarter inch long. That, and the puckering where the machine tension was off (there are several spots where you can see the front thread pulled to the back - it's really bad), ruin the quilt. I went ahead and bound it because it's a nice wide lightweight quilt we can use on our bed, but I loved the fabric and pattern so much, I want to cry when I get it out of the closet.

I want to requilt it so badly, but probably can't find a longarmer to tackle it since it's already bound. I would pick out all the stitches, but it would take weeks. Just chalk it up to experience, I guess, and never darken that shop's door again (and warn others locally about them).

There are two more quilts waiting hand sewing on the bindings - more later, and a picture of my version of "In Lucinda's Garden" when I get further along.

Friday, June 19, 2009

First tomatoes of the year

Here they are, happily esconced on my kitchen windowsill, waiting to become a primary ingredient in tomorrow's BLT's for brunch.

It's never the utility company's fault

Have you seen this news story? Some poor lady in Washington, who normally uses about 3000 gallons of water during a billing cycle, gets charged for 140,000 gallons of water for one month! The water company says there's nothing wrong with their meter and she must pay the $1181.00 bill. Of course, that's completely ridiculous. You could calculate the amount of water that the supply line to her house can discharge in a month at the local water pressure, running 24 hours a day, and it's probably not 140,000 gallons. But the water company will never admit they're wrong.

I had a little run-in with my local water company last year, nothing this dramatic, but it illustrates how stubborn the utilities can be. In one month, my water usage jumped from less than 2500 gallons to 28,500 gallons. I, of course, filed a protest, and the company replaced the meter and sent it off to be tested. You already know what the results of the testing were. Absolutely nothing wrong with the meter. But, coincidentally, the next month's bill after the meter was replaced was back in our normal range.

Like the lady in the news story, I had a plumber look around the house. No leaks were found. He commented that the crawlspace of my house would have looked like a swimming pool if there was a leak that bad. He was also sure that the line between the meter and the house wasn't leaking. It was during the drought last year, and as the plumber put it, if there were any leaks on the supply line, I would have had some grass growing in my yard, which I certainly didn't. As a visualization of just how much 28,500 gallons of water is, I used the water capacity of the jacuzzi I used to own. It was 6 feet square and the water was about 24 inches deep. It held 225 gallons of water. I would have had to completely fill that jacuzzi over 4 times a day, every day of the month, to use 28,500 gallons.

Let's apply the jacuzzi test to the Washington lady's bill. 140,000 gallons would fill that jacuzzi over 20 times a day, every day, for 30 days. Let's assume that the water pressure and supply line to her house aren't much different than my former home. I remember how long it took to refill the jacuzzi after cleaning it. It would have been impossible to run enough water to fill it 20 times in one 24 hour period.

Now, my erroneous bill was nowhere as high as the Washington lady's bill, but it's the principal of the thing. I wrote the check, grumbling all the time, because it was the only thing I could do. I hope the lady can fight it and win.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The subconscious interior designer

I guess sometimes your subconscious has to jump in and save you.

When I went to Hancock's to buy the indoor/outdoor fabric for the patio chair seat covers, I was disappointed than there was nothing with black or gray to coordinate better with my wrought iron furniture. The piece I picked did have that lovely teal-y green stripe, which is one of my favorite colors, but I worried how it would look on the gray/black wrought iron. After they were finished, I was happy with them, both in color and in how the construction turned out. Today, as I stood looking out the sliding door onto the patio, something struck me. Beside me were my tab-top drapes, with the teal and beige and gold and brown checks:Beside the drapes is my beige reading chair with the teal throw:Then I look outside to the chair covers, with teal and beige and gold and brown stripe:And further out in the yard is my teal ceramic birdbath: Perfectly color coordinated, from inside to outside. Everything you see at the window, from the inside decor framing your view to the outside furniture and lawn accessories, matches. This is kind of neat, but definitely wasn't intentional.

Sort of like an idiot savant interior decorator.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The solution to the pinch-y chair

So here's what I did for the chairs that caught and tore your clothes:

It's a seat cover that ties at four corners. It's not padded. It does work well, makes the chair a little more comfortable, and, oh miracle, didn't cost much since the indoor/outdoor fabric was on sale for 50% off.

This stuff is hard to sew. You can't iron it, you can hardly pin it, and it's stiff as a board. Hope it wears as well as it appears it will. After making several of these, I was definitely done with handling this fabric.

I thought I'd show you a picture of my balloon flower, also called Chinese bellflower (scientific name platycodon grandiflorus), which is just starting to bloom. It's just the most alien looking little thing! Below the flowers you can see a developing bud, which as it matures looks exactly like a hot air balloon. They're kind of a pain to grow because the flower stalks get 3 feet tall and must be staked. This plant started out a white flower, but crossed itself with another blue one, I believe, and turned this light purple color. Never had that happen before.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chairs that eat your clothes

I have patio furniture that causes an unusual problem. They chew up the back of your pants. The seats are made of woven 1" wide wrought iron lattice with about 1" between the slats. Something about those woven slats can catch your pants legs as you sit down or get up and make little tears. I have never had this problem before! So I hied myself off to Hancock's today to buy a couple of yards of indoor-outdoor fabric on sale, 40% off, to make chair seat covers. I don't want chair pads with foam inside because it takes them so long to dry after a rain. I'll just make a reversible seat cover with corner ties (not even any piping, not in the mood). I've never worked with this kind of fabric - it looks like it'll be worse than sewing through steel wool. I bought an upholstery needle, just in case.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Today's rant is about privacy. I read a story on Yahoo today that just flabbergasted me. My comments about it may irritate you. I'd love to hear your opinions on it, agree or disagree.

The title of the news article was "Mo. family Christmas photo turns up in Czech ad". I bet you have read it. The gist of it was that this family posted a Christmas card picture of themselves on the mother's blog and on social networking sites, and then seemed amazed that it showed up somewhere not under their control. The fact that it showed up on a Prague storefront adds an amusing twist to the tale but doesn't really contribute to understanding the true moral of the story, as far as I'm concerned. OK, on the face of it, this seems like a disturbing thing. "Your pictures could turn up anywhere! Anyone could use them for any purpose!" Then I visited the mother's website and blog and lost all sympathy.

The site and blog are chock full of photos of her, her children and her life. It's her shtick. It's her business. Look for yourself. Heck, her link was in the Yahoo story. She's already so publicly exposed that one picture in a window in the Czech Republic is nothing.

This is the comment I left:

"My solution to the photo issue is that I never, never use a photo in my blog that shows recognizable people, and I don't put them in Flickr either. If it's an identifiable image, it stays in my external drive on my desk. With the capabilities available for digital photo restoration, I don't think watermarking or lowered resolution is enough - I have seen my husband's old family photo restoration efforts, and even as an amateur it's amazing what he can do. Good luck to anyone if they want to use a photo from my blog - all they'll find are boring snaps of my garden and my hobbies. I also never use any identifying information on my blog, names nor locations.

Moral of the story? If you want privacy, it's your responsibility to see that it happens. Don't put anything out there that you don't want grabbed up out of your control. If you want family to have pictures, mail them a copy. It's unlikely if you send a paper copy to Aunt Maude, it will be hijacked for commercial use.

Am a a grouch? Maybe. Paranoid? Possibly some would think so. But I know that privacy is a slippery slope. I especially wouldn't spread pictures of my kids around on the internet. I'm glad this turned out well for you, but there are dangers here."


About now, I'm sure a lot of you are thinking I'm an idiot. I just know that I have boundaries I don't want to cross. Unlike a lot of people in the world, you can't even Google me (if you know my name) and find anything. Oh, someone with my name is out there, but it's not me. To the Web world, I want to stay "The Calico Quilter", no face attached. I have told my name to some bloggers in emails, but it's rare. I developed an opinion that they were trustworthy from my exchanges with them.

If I had children, I would never leak out any information about them online. If family wanted pictures, I would print and mail them. I know that many of you post pictures of children/grandchildren on your blogs. Many people do. I just don't think I could.

As I said, privacy is a slippery slope.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

One step at a time

I've cut out my version of "In Lucinda's Garden" and have started sewing while my husband and his friend watch depressing movies. Since the thing I hate most in the sewing world is assembling flying geese units, that's what I'm tackling first. If I get that out of the way, everything else is a walk in the park. There's 224 of the things, 1 1/2" x 3" finished size. I've knocked out 80 so far. I don't use any of the fancy assembly techniques - just a rectangle, two squares, sew on the diagonal line. I don't feel guilty cutting off the corners and throwing them away on such small units. If they are larger, I try to make HST's out of them. Besides, this is a stash-buster. I've looked at some of this fabric for far too long. I want it gone!

To make this truly scrappy, I pulled out 23 light fabrics and 23 darks for the flying geese, and sorted out the pairings before commencing sewing so that I don't have any duplicate light/dark combinations. The pattern in the magazine just called for 7 lights and 6 darks. I think mine will be more visually interesting. Or at least I hope so.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In Lucinda's Garden

There's a pattern in a past issue of Fons' and Porter's Love of Quilting magazine called "In Lucinda's Garden". It is constructed around a printed faux applique panel reproducing images from a famous applique quilt called the Reconciliation Quilt. After staring at the pattern a few days I decided to make it, but I had trouble finding the fabrics locally and in the usual web stores I frequent. I did find the printed "applique" panel on Ebay, though.

I put the panel and the pattern away and didn't think about it for a while as I completed other projects. Then, last night as a rummaged through the storage drawer in my bookcase where I keep partially finished projects, I came upon the panel again and started thinking. Serendipitously, the same evening I got an email from Fons's and Porter's magazine webstore and they had a kit for the quilt, on sale no less. I was about to break down and buy the kit but was rescued by the fact that their checkout process was malfunctioning and would not include the discount coupon for the sale price. I shot off an email to their customer support line about the problem and left it at that.

A little later, I started thinking about what was in my stash, and whether I could mimic the look of the quilt using only fabric already in the house. I already had the panel, after all. So into the closet I went, pulling boxes and comparing colors. There's a work table in that room where the cat's bed (actually a cube) sits; someone using that table makes her irritated. You should have seen the looks she gave me as piles of fabrics grew around her doorway.

So, I moved to the floor, laying the panel in the center of an arrangement of possible selections, neutrals on one side, darks on the other, highlighted fabrics on the third. Finally, I had come up with a possible group of fabrics that would give the look of the quilt, if not the exact replication of it. On second thought this morning I need to pull a few more yellows, but I'm almost there.

To think that I almost bought another kit to add to my burgeoning closet. Another stash-buster. Yay!

You know you're old when. . .

Something Tanya said in this blog reminded me of a funny remark my Mom made last year while my brother and I were talking about our annuity/pension checks. She remarked that since all her children were retired, she must really be old. She was 85 at the time. I thought something else might have tipped her off earlier!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Christmas Lights Mystery Quilt, part 1

Does anyone have any guesses? Nope, me neither.

What a way to wake up!

I just got shook out of bed by the sound of a commercial chipper/shredder running on my neighbor's driveway - which, for the record, is on the other side of my fence, 25 feet from my bedroom window - my single-pane, non-noise-blocking bedroom window!

8 o'clock on a Saturday morning. It was closest to my house, but I doubt I'm the only one it woke up.

I had slept really badly and been up several times during the night, so after I fed the cat at 7 a.m. I decided to slip back into bed for a little more rest.

Well, no.

Oh, great, now there's chain saws too. They're cutting down a huge pine tree next door. I'll have to listen to this all day. Whine.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Count me in

I decided to bite and sign on for the Bonnie Hunter "Christmas Lights" mystery quilt. All the fabric is from my stash. It won't cost me any money, but time. . .that's another story. I just finished cutting out 250 2"x2" squares. And I've still got a lot more cutting to do. They very helpfully put the entire cut list in the first installment, which I appreciate. Better to get it over with at the start, so you can see the combination of fabrics, even though you don't know the design yet.

I even had a Christmas print for the largest border. Here's hoping I like the finished design!

Thanks to Quiltmaker magazine's website for the Christmas Lights logo.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What price quilting?

I don't follow the "personalities" in the quilt world. I daresay I wouldn't recognize the names of most of them. So, when an interview with a fabric/pattern designer in my latest quilting magazine mentioned the popularity of one of her applique patterns, I had to go look it up.


They're really nice patterns, sort of traditional with a twist, for an appliqued nine inch block. And the patterns are for sale. For five bucks a block.

You read right. I thought at first it was the cost of a kit. But no. It's just the pattern. For one nine inch applique block. Five dollars each. Let's see - there's 25 blocks in the quilt. That's $125. For the pattern.

She's started to believe her own publicity. At least, that's the only thing I can come up with.

Christmas Lights mystery quilt

Is anyone going to do the Bonnie Hunter Christmas mystery quilt called Christmas Lights that just started in Quiltmaker (July/Aug.2009)? The only thing that's throwing me off is all the black fabric. It's supposed to be a Christmas design but it sounds too dark.

I know I shouldn't doubt so much because all her mystery quilts have been lovely, especially the one from this past January which is going to be my mom's birthday present. It's only that she uses such small patches in her quilts - they're a lot of work. I'd like to be sure it's in agreement with my taste before I spend that much time on it. I guess I should trust.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Of parks and parking permits...

About 7 p.m. last night, after he had listened to the NPR news on the radio and read the local newspaper while sitting out on the patio (I was feeding the mooching birds and watering the flowers), my husband said "Want to go for a drive? I'd like to get out of the house for a while." The temperature, which had reached over 90, was dropping and the evening was pleasant, so I changed clothes and we left. Since we hadn't eaten yet, he suggested we grab a bite and take it to the park.

For dinner we decided to get sandwiches at a local BBQ joint. It's pretty unspectacular to look at, but produces fine barbecue. He got beef, I got pork and we both had side orders of potato salad (mustard type) and sweet tea (it's the South, after all). We drove down the road about two miles and turned into a park by the river. There was an easily accessible picnic table with a nice view of the water, so we settled down and ate while the sun set.

The sandwiches were marvelous, and the potato salad just about the best I've ever had from a restaurant. The tea was a little too sweet but that's to be expected. It seems the further south you go, the sweeter the iced tea is. And the park was perfect. There was a slight cooling breeze off the water, almost all the people had gone and it was quiet, peaceful and green. The perfect ending to a warm early summer day.

I have four great parks just a few miles from my house. Two are state parks, two are city parks, three are on the river and all are well maintained and well equipped. You can picnic at a shelter, swim, play tennis, jog, walk your dog, or just sit and listen to the water lap on the shore. What an improvement - we only knew of one park in the last larger city in the state we lived in and it was scary. If you check the map you'll find more parks now, but I wonder what they're like. The availability of safe, well kept green space in a even a small city is a mark of how community focused the municipal government is.

Now for parking. I need to renew my husband's handicap parking permit next month, and according to the instructions on the application, his doctor has to sign a form certifying his disability every time the placard is renewed. Says so right there on the form. So, I looked up the form online and printed it to take to the doctor. But, before I went further, I called the county office which issues the permits to be sure it was the right form, and as importantly, the right VERSION of the form. Hey, I worked for thirty years in a paperwork-hobbled industry where the revision number of the form was as important as the form number. I know the ropes when it comes to forms.

The phone was answered on the second ring, by an actual human, no less. This call had possibilities of not being too miserable, as calls to government offices go. When I asked to to verify I had the right version of the form, she said "But you don't need to refile the doctor's certification to renew the permit." I was puzzled. I reminded her that the form said differently. She continued to assert that I just needed to bring in the current parking permit and it would be renewed, no other documentation required. But she never actually stated where that interpretation of the law came from, and didn't verify that I had the right form, so does she have a clue?

Okay. . . which is right? I did another web search and am fairly sure the form is current. It's the same form we filed two years ago and says the same thing - new or renew, the doctor had to sign it. So either the lady answering the phone didn't know what she was talking about (gee, thanks state government - I REALLY appreciate the help) or the county office here doesn't enforce the state law. I'll go by the office tomorrow - it's close to my house anyway, so it's not a lot of excess driving around) but I'm betting that they will look at me like I'm an idiot and demand the proper paperwork. I already printed the form and composed a cover letter with an SASE to leave with it at the doctor's office for his certification, because I figure in the end we'll have to have it. This is why I hate dealing with bureaucracies.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


I continue to be amazed at the steps my city is taking to support recycling and trash management. We have monthly curbside pickup of nearly all recyclables except glass (which as of September will become bi-monthly) and can take materials such as glass, aluminum, paper, steel, cardboard, used motor oil, fluorescent bulbs, computer/electronic equipment and batteries to multiple recycling convenience centers throughout the city. There is also a monthly disposal day for chemicals and paint, a burn pit for brush and tree trimmings and a disposal center for trash such as building materials. There is a monthly brush pickup, too, and you can schedule a bulky trash pickup like old appliances with a call or a visit to the city website.

This is only one example of services from city where there are benefits in living inside the city limits, and you feel you get something for your city taxes.

This program seems very forward-thinking for a medium size southern city with a industrial past and reputation for pollution. Add the fact that they employ mentally-challenged adults from the local education and training center for children and adults with mental retardation and mental developmental problems and you get an effort which truly serves all citizens of the city.

Kudos to the city government for their actions (and thanks for the Recycle Right logo). I have lived in several cities and towns in the state and visited many more, and I have to say that this one is the best of the lot. I was a little apprehensive when I moved here, but it has turned out wonderfully. There are so many positive things about the city - services, parks and public areas, a recovering downtown and growing tourist attraction base to support it, decent crime levels, affordable real estate and cost of living.

Of course, there are issues - any place has them - but on the whole I feel that the city government is trying to get it right. Recently, I have been dismayed at the perks and incentives they have showered on a company to entice them to establish a manufacturing center here , but that's not unusual. Most cities anymore practically give away the farm to lure a new employer to town. I'm just hoping that it works out and brings in ancillary companies as forecast. We could use more semi-skilled jobs and it might even raise my property values!