It’s a small, small world.

The quilting world sometimes feels like a secret favorite child of one of society’s mistresses. The world at large doesn’t seem to be too aware of us, and yet we toddle around the globe via the internet, and even cruise ships having the time of our lives. We chatter amongst ourselves about fabric lines and manufacturers and the latest shake-up in the industry. We gently stalk our favorite designers, and hoard fat quarters like they’re Beanie Babies. And how about shop hop events, guild meetings, friendly sew-ins, retreats, quilt shows and conferences? Over 50,000 people attend the International Quilt Festival in Houston, TX each fall. Over 30,000 descend on the tiny town of Paducah, KY each spring for AQS Quilt Week. And while it’s tough to find the exact numbers, about 2,500 attend QuiltCon each February as it moves back and forth across the United States.

Depending on one’s perspective, those are big numbers or small numbers. Some are surprised there’s that much interest in what the world at large thinks is a “dying art.” Others are so immersed in the quilting world that they might think that number would be larger, and are shocked no one else in the grocery store is creeping up on Anna Maria Horner or Angela Walters for their autographs.

And then one enters the longarm quilting community. If people think the quilting community is relatively small, they should meet the longarm crew. Hello. We haven’t even been able to get the word “longarm” as one of Webster’s new words, and we’ve been using it for years, mildly annoyed by that red underline every time we type it. Never mind that autocorrect insists that we are seeing rather than sewing. And sewist needs to be a new word, too!!!!! But I have digressed.

When Juan was first delivered and set up in my studio, I found myself incredibly overwhelmed. I felt like my dealer was speaking another language. She spoke quickly and used terms I was completely unfamiliar with, and quite honestly seemed to assume that I knew a lot more than I did. When she left I cried. It was about as bad as bringing home my first child. I had that hard, tight feeling in my chest warning me that I had made a decision that I could not take back, and that I’d better grab my bootstraps and get it figured out. Fast.

I hardly spoke a word about how I was really feeling, and I spent a lot of time telling everyone how excited I was. And a part of me was excited, but it was a very small voice, and it took some work for that voice to grow in strength and confidence. Especially when it was mixed with voices from others, and even from myself, degrading computerized work, the brand of machine I bought and longarming in general.

I started to hear of online support groups. Then about magazines devoted to longarm machine quilting. Then longarm quilting support meetings. Then quilt shows focusing specifically on longarm quilting. Then retreats. And even cruises. Who knew?!?

In the last couple of years, I’ve narrowed the groups I participate in as I have found some work for me and some don’t, for a number of reasons. I’ve attended two retreats, Statler Southern Belles, both being hosted by Joan Knight and Anita Shackelford in the spring at DeGray State Park in Arkansas.

While the lodge accommodations are average and the food is meh, the scenery is incredible. It is a beautiful location for a gathering, and the staff are friendly and kind. But the location is not why we are here.

These retreats are the only quilting related event I’ve ever been to that we don’t touch a piece of fabric or a machine pretty much the entire time. Ninety or so of us pack into a darkened conference room for 2 1/2 days looking at projected computer screens and furiously taking notes.

Joan and Anita are remarkably professional, and are incredible educators. They know the software and the machine inside and out, and break down every topic to its bare essentials and then build it back up again. I could not do what I do without their leadership and tutoring. Attending these events has made all the difference in the world to my work. I’m very grateful, and would recommend this retreat to every Statler owner- it’s totally worth it.

Just like every educational event, not everyone has the same experience. Some have a-ha moments. Some get more confused than they were before they got there. Some get frustrated because they already know this stuff. Some get frustrated because they are lost just trying to keep up with the lingo.

There are shenanigans. Door prizes. Lots of candy and Diet Coke. Laughter. Groans. People who break the rules. People who are annoyed with those breaking the rules. Applause. Guest speakers. Show and tell. Cake. And inside jokes.

There are evening gatherings that include comparing notes on everything from running a longarm business to what to do with grandkids over the summer. We pick the brains of our patient hosts and guest designers, as well as each other.

Some stay up late, but my brain is so tired at the end of the day, and quite honestly I’ve hit my social wall, that I’m grateful to make my way to my room. I also head there at lunchtime so that I can quickly work up some of what I just learned on my laptop before I forget it.

It is nothing like what I expected it to be. It’s a whole different world that I was never aware of in my 20+ years of quilting. And I still feel like I’ve only skimmed the top of it. There is SO much to learn- so many ways to progress, develop and grow.

And so many people to meet and learn with in this small, small world.

Gifts

Months ago one of our children sent me a message asking if I would give her a gift list for Christmas.  She wanted to know what to get for not only me, but also other members of our family.

My immediate reaction was slight annoyance.  First, while I know it is somewhat unreasonable, I really love for people to know me well enough that if they want to give me a gift, that it be one that made them think of me.  A gift that is personal means so much to me, and I don’t like making lists of things I want.  Mostly because if I know I want it, quite honestly, I’ll usually get it myself.  Second, I have all of those people and more to think of gifts for that are from me, and considering how I feel about gift giving, it’s a lot of work.  I don’t really want to do that work twice.  I already have enough of a list myself.

I didn’t answer the message immediately because something in me was giving me a warning that I was wrong, and so I wasn’t quite sure how to answer.  I was contemplating the message while I was working out one morning, and the thought came to me, “I have a big list, too, and you still ask me what you should do for other people.”

I almost fell off of the treadmill.

Oh boy.  Okay then.  I love how my Father knows me.  I love how he knows that all he has to do is give me one little key and it opens the gate to a new perspective.  A window appears and I can see a little bit more.

I started to think about the perspective God has of us and our requests.  And our choices.  We aren’t wrong to ask for his guidance in sharing our gifts with those around us.  After all, he knows the full picture, including all of our needs and wants.  Who better to direct our efforts to truly be a blessing to each other, and to genuinely show love and meet needs?

I started to think about what I’d been asked.  Do I know the needs and wants of the people in my own family well enough to even answer the request I was asked?

And we aren’t wrong in taking some initiative from time to time either.  After all, his list is pretty long, and intense, and we are capable of coming up with a few good gifts of our own.  We are his children.  We do have in us the capacity for knowing and loving our fellow man on a very personal level.  It also seems to me that if we are striving to be more like him, to follow his lead and example, then perhaps we shouldn’t need to be directed in every action.  What would he give?  What would he do?

Had I really set a good example of what it meant to give a good gift?

Then the first part of my complaint, and let’s face it, it was a complaint, hit me.  I expect other people to know me well enough to give me a gift that matters to me.  That is personal.  That is special.  Really?  Okay.  Let’s break this down.  First of all, the keyword here is expect.  Does he expect us to know what to give him without ever giving any kind of a clue?  Ummm, no.  He is pretty clear about what he wants from us.  In fact, he’s had several prophets and apostles jot it down for him.  Or rather, for us.

Have I been clear about what I want?

Of course that doesn’t mean that we have to stop there.  Certainly we can get to know him better.  Certainly we can refine the gifts we give him as we come to know him better.  Certainly he smiles when we do.

I responded to her message with a message of reassurance that she always gives good gifts, and that I felt confident that she would do well.  I also reminded her of things that I enjoy and that might inspire her.  I didn’t give her a lot to go on for the rest of her list because, to be honest, I realized I didn’t really know.  I hadn’t really taken the time to understand the needs and wants of the people on the list as well as I should have.  I was concentrating so hard on what I thought I should give them that I was caught up in the “I” way more than the “them.” But I am working on it, and I am grateful for all that he teaches me.  I just hope one day I’ll actually learn it.

In the end, our daughter gave beautiful, thoughtful gifts, as she always does. And she’s probably none the wiser for all that this little interaction taught me, but I am aware, and I am grateful.

10 Donuts and a Wedding

I recently traveled to Galveston, Texas to meet up with a few gal pals for our friend Safieh’s wedding. I flew into Hobby for the weekend and met up with Nisha and Marcia, then later caught up with Mari.

I was really looking forward to seeing my friends as we don’t all live near one another and maybe see each other in real life about once a year. But even though I was looking forward to the visit and the wedding, I had some anxiety about it. Not to get too tied up in the details, but I often struggle in tight social situations- the smaller the group, the more I struggle. And a wedding. Another trigger as I am terrified of missing social cues. It’s not usually visible to others. It’s just me making myself crazy.

But as soon as Nisha and I settled in near baggage claim with our hand sewing while waiting for Marcia to arrive, I started to relax. There were hugs and discussions about yogurt and the quilting industry. Then Marcia came and there were more hugs and smiles and, “Oh, I like your top! Did you make it?” In no time we were in a weekend groove, and I felt myself relax.

We had a rental car and an afternoon to kill, so of course we began the hunt for donuts and yarn. And this is how I knew I was with my people.

We stopped at a most delightful yarn shop- Park Avenue Yarns. I behaved and didn’t buy anything since carrying around my UFO list has been keeping me in check these days. But I wanted to. Oh how I wanted to!

Through the weekend we managed to hit five donut shops. Yup. Five. And we didn’t just get donuts. We got kolaches. Good kolaches. It is just wrong to go to the Houston area and not eat my weight in kolaches. Hey, Google- are donuts and kolaches Whole 30 compliant?

That evening we headed over to the first of the weekend’s events and finally got to see the bride. Safieh is always gorgeous, but wow, she rocked that red dress! It was good to see Ross, and his parents hosted such a great party at the Bryan Museum in Galveston. I loved meeting everyone, and I loved the artwork. (Can you see the three Andy Warhol paintings hanging behind Safieh?) But the highlight of the evening for me was the toast offered by Ross’s dad. Marcia and I bawled like babies.

The next morning we headed to the bride’s hotel room with donuts and Starbucks in hand. (We would have had kolaches, but I think I ate them all.) We chatted about everything from tinted lip gloss to the dress while the bride’s soon-to-be sister-in-law nimbly moved around Safieh like a hair and makeup fairy. A fairy with arms and legs for days, but at the same time kind of wispy. Safieh was cool as a cucumber, as they say. People came and went. Pictures were taken. Laughter. Jewelry. The bouquet arrived. Add something blue. Safieh was light and smiling, and so was I.

After a while we left her to the business of getting ready for the photographer and gathering everyone at the church. We headed to lunch, an afternoon walk on the beach and some hand sewing and knitting at our Airbnb.

The wedding was just lovely. Safieh looked absolutely stunning, and my favorite part was watching Ross watch her come down the aisle. Just the sweetest moment. After the ceremony, we headed over to Ross’s parents home for the reception. I think Safieh must have put in a special order for the weather because it was beautiful. Perfectly comfortable temperature. And that sunset.

The next morning was brunch, and some more time to kill before our flights. We headed to the last of the donut shops for the weekend, then caught an afternoon movie. Once back at Hobby, we sat once again with fabric and thread and yarn in hand, all the while surrounded by luggage and sad that it was coming to an end.

I didn’t catch a pic of Nisha working, and I stole this pic from IG, but here is the latest pattern release from Brimfield Awakening- a quilting venture she and Kim started together. Learn more by clicking here.

This was Marcia’s project- a lovely sofa blanket made from locally dyed yarn from Park Avenue Yarns.

And here’s my project- just a little something for Safieh and Ross. I knew I wanted to stitch an ampersand as a wedding announcement, but had trouble finding one I liked until I found this one. I modified the colors to ones that reminded me of Safieh. I loved making it and want to do something similar again, but it was a hard lesson in getting older. It is so much harder to see these days, and when I held the piece in more light, I realized I should have been stitching with more light! Next time.

I left Houston relaxed and filled with happy memories. I’m so very grateful for my life. For every single minute of it.

The Beauty of a Ballgame

I love baseball. I don’t really know why. I don’t follow it closely. I don’t know the names of all the teams, much less all the players. I don’t even know all the rules and ins and outs of it. But I LOVE going to a game. I sometimes like watching it on television, but never more than in October. I even like listening to Braves games on the radio in the car, but that’s another story for another day.

I love that things like this happen at a baseball game. I love how it feels on Memorial Day and Independence Day when they bring out a ginormous American flag that covers almost the entire field. It makes me cry every single time. I love the respect that is shown to my country and to its heroes. I love baseball.

I love that so many memories with this man are tied up in baseball. “Hey! We have kids here. Clean up your mouths!” “Did she just barf?!?” “Knock a homer, Chpper!” “I think we are in the old people section. Again.” “Can we borrow some sunscreen?” “That is one happy and agile old usher.” “Let’s try staggering the grandkids between us.” “Hey. The Wrigley Field usher just gave me a Reds baseball card!” “Beer.” (I suppose you don’t have to be too enthused when selling certain products at a game as they tend to sell themselves.) But I think my favorites are the trips to watch the Cubs on the 4th of July. Again, another story for another day.

Attending a Cubs v. Braves game at Suntrust Field brings up so many conflicting feelings.

First, there’s the teams. Here’s the thing. I’m first a Braves fan. Second a Cubs fan. Third a fan of whichever team is playing against the Cubs on the 4th of July. I was worried at this May Braves home game that I wouldn’t know who to cheer for, but throughout the game it was clear that the Braves will always be my favorite team. Conflict resolved.

Second, while I love going to Braves games, I go begrudgingly to Suntrust Park. The deal that was struck to get that ballpark built where it was built still stinks, and there just isn’t enough about the park to love in order to squelch the stench. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad ballpark, but it’s not great either. Unless you’re loaded. In which case it’s a great park with tons of perks. But that’s not what baseball is about. That’s what Cobb County is about. Conflict definitely not resolved.

Back to happy thoughts. I love food. I love food at a baseball game. Especially hot dogs. With lots of mustard. Or Italian beef sandwiches at Wrigley. But just say no to the nachos. And does any ballpark anywhere sell boiled peanuts as well as roasted?!? I mean we have a Waffle House and Chikfila at Suntrust, so why not boiled peanuts?!? Popcorn is always good, but really, too expensive considering you can bring some from home. I almost made my own, but this tempted me at the store before the game, so I grabbed a bag. Pretty good, but seriously, nothing tops fresh Garrett’s.

The moral of the story? There is none. Just that to me, a night at the ballgame is beautiful.

Pickled

About a year ago my husband and I discovered shrubs- a.k.a. drinking vinegar. Shrubs are often used in mixed alcoholic drinks, but we like to mix them with seltzer water. Jeff makes his way to the kitchen every evening about an hour before bed and concocts our evening soft drink.

There’s been a lot of chatter about the benefits of having a dose or so of vinegar every day. There’s discussions on what kind of vinegar, how much is a dose, and just what exactly are the benefits of swigging something that tastes that bad?

I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that we like it. We’ve found a way to drink it that is actually enjoyable. And we have seen benefits, the most pronounced being a lot less acid reflux in the night, and that alone is enough of a reason to keep going.

We first learned of shrubs when I found McClary Bros Old Timey Drinking Vinegars at Your Dekalb Farmers Market. They were pricey, but considering that the only other beverage we normally drink besides water is ginger ale, our budget had room to give it a try. We tried every flavor, and really loved the Michigan Apple Pie flavor the best. We even took it with us when we traveled.

This went on for several months, then suddenly I noticed that the quantity on the shelf at the market was getting smaller and smaller until it went out of stock. I checked into ordering it online, but the price doubled, and that was unacceptable. About this same time, I saw someone post about making their own shrubs, and I was intrigued. I tried to replicate the apple pie flavor, but it just wasn’t working. Then I read about making berry shrubs, and that opened a new window.

As many already know, Braggs has been considered the top dog in the healthy vinegar world, and I started out using it as my base for the shrubs. But, as many also already know, it’s also very expensive. So, I was pretty excited to find that White House has jumped on the organic, raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar bandwagon, and it’s considerably cheaper than its Braggs counterpart.

The berry shrubs recipes I found online had a huge amount of sugar in them, which is a part of what it means to make shrubs, but I was deterred by the volume of it. I have not cut sugar completely out of my life, (hello, donuts), but I do look for ways to cut back on it.

So, here’s my recipe, and even the hubs who doesn’t believe in cutting back on sugar ever, likes it!

Berry Shrubs (makes about 1 1/2 gallons)

  • 16 cups cut/whole berries
  • 8 cups sugar
  • 16 cups raw organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar

Clean, cut and prepare fresh fruit. The fresher, the better!

Sugar the berries in a large bowl. This quantity requires a really big bowl! Leave in the fridge for about 24 hours to allow the berries to sweat.

Add the vinegar to the sugared berries. Put back into the fridge for another 24 hours.

Remove the fruit from the mixture. I freeze this fruit and use it in my morning protein shake. Definitely adds some spark to my morning as those berries hold onto the vinegar!

Pour vinegar into containers (I literally reused the gallon bottles the apple cider vinegar came in). Leave in the fridge for several more days- about a week- to allow the sugar to completely dissolve.

When ready to serve, just pour about 1/2″ of vinegar into a juice glass, then fill the rest of the way with seltzer water. Obviously one can play around with the combo to get the taste you like, but this is how we do it. Or at least I think so, since Jeffrey is the mixologist at our house!

Enjoy!

Pay for it now, or pay for it later.

It seems we live in a world of borrowing on the future. We borrow money from our future selves in the form of financial debt. We borrow time from our future selves in the form of procrastination. We even borrow health from our future selves in the form of instant gratification.

I should know. I’m guilty of all three.

While I’ll never be ultra responsible in any of those areas, I can work on being a little better. I’m okay with who I am, but I also believe in self-discipline and development. Progress is the name of the game.

So recently I decided to get on the Whole 30 bandwagon for a few weeks. Here’s what I found out. You have to be rich to eat healthy.

This jar of almond butter was almost $8. Are you kidding me?!? And do you know how much almond butter is involved in eating healthy? Apparently tons of it. Like a small fortune’s worth.

I was so floored by the cost of this stuff that I started looking more seriously at recipes and wondering if I really could do it myself. I was skeptical as it seemed too easy, but maybe Pinterest and Google wouldn’t let me down?

And what about cost effectiveness? It turns out that a 3 lb bag of almonds at my local Sam’s club runs about $13, which would make a whole lot more almond butter than what was in that 12 oz jar.

I wasn’t ready to invest. I wasn’t sold. So, I looked in my pantry and low and behold I had a bag of raw cashews. Cashew butter is a thing, isn’t it? Not sure if it’s very healthy, but that wasn’t really the goal here. More like an experiment of sorts.

Sure enough, it is. Lots of recipes available, and really very simple.

Phase 1- toast the cashews! 375 degrees for five minutes. I was curious what they’d be like roasted a little longer, so I turned off the oven and left them in for a little longer.

Phase 2- blend the cashews! I got no photos of this in action as I was too enamored with the process to stop for pics. At first I thought it wasn’t working because it looked like coarse flour. Then, following the recipe (loosely), I added 1 1/2 tablespoons of coconut oil and a bit of salt- neither of which are very healthy or needful, but I care not. Suddenly cashew butter started forming in the bottom of the blender, and sure enough in just a couple of minutes I had a blender full of nut butter.

Phase 3- eat the cashew butter! I wasn’t sure about all of this in the beginning, but it really did turn out delightful. I then immediately used some to make this chocolate banana fudgy kind of stuff that was also delightful. But I’ll save that one for another post.

As for having to be rich to eat healthy, it may be more true in this day and age that you have to be rich to survive being sick. And to avoid being sick, you have to invest in eating healthy. But that investment doesn’t have to be made with a lot of cash. Maybe just a little, mixed with time. As I always say, it just depends on your resources. If you are going to spend it, spend what you have more of.

Something old. Something new.

I love this little quilt. I love the colors. I love the fabric. I love the maker. And I love what I got to learn from it.

Several years ago- more than I can remember- I participated in a quilt guild’s brown bag challenge. If I remember correctly, each member of the guild put 5 fat quarters in a brown bag and turned them in to a coordinator. The coordinator then redistributed the brown bags, and each maker had a few mo this to make a quilt top from the contents of the bag.

My brown bag ended up in the hands of a sweet friend and meticulous quilter, and I was thrilled with what she did with my fabric selections. Her curved piecing was impeccable, and I thought it was great use of the prints.

Like so many of my own projects, it got packed away and added to a long list of UFOs. A few months ago I actually went through all of my “stuff” and took an inventory of all of my UnFinished Objects and was horrified and embarrassed, so I’ve been pretty committed to finishing things off. The added benefit is that one of my major motivations is a sense of accomplishment, and as I finish each project my spirits are lifted and creativity is free to flow.

Another benefit is that I find that I’ve learned a lot since the project before me was first made, and I love applying new skills to those older projects. This time it just so happened that I had just learned a new-to-me binding technique, and this quilt was small enough that I was willing to try it without it being a huge commitment.

For years I thought that continuous double-fold binding was the only way to bind a quilt without folding the backing to the front. I’ve learned that is not at all true, and there are several more options. It really just depends on the end goal on which one works best, although most people pick one way of doing it and just stick to it. Me? Not so much. I like variety, and understand that I may not want the same finish on every quilt.

I recently attended the Southern Belle retreat for owners of Statler machines and hosted by Joan Knight and Anita Shackelford. We learned tons about our machine software, but there were also demos and discussions on other aspects of quilting. One of those was a lecture and demonstration of binding presented by Anita. During this, I learned about continuous single-fold binding, which I’ve never seen done before.

Two of the major differences from the continuous double- fold binding in familiar with are that continuous single-fold is cut at just 1 1/4″, and the length of the binding is not pressed in half. The binding is machine seamed on the diagonal, and machine attached (right sides together) to the front of the quilt.

The binding is then flipped to the back, and the raw edge is folded halfway down with a hard finger press as it is hand stitched to the back of the quilt. I found that it worked best to work about 2-3″ out from my needle and press towards where I was working. Otherwise the binding can start to warp.

Stitching is standard 1/4″ blind stitch with a single thread. Corners are also standard 90 degree with flaps sewn down both on front and back.

What I loved about it is that the binding, and especially the corners, are remarkably flat and tight. It was a relaxing process to me, but I happen to LOVE binding quilts. The negative was that quite honestly, it took me twice as long to do because of having to stop to finger press every couple of inches. I may see if I can tweak that process next time.

And so, there it is. Something old- a marinated UFO, and something new- a fabulous technique!