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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Autumn reflections

CHMusings: bucksDays are getting shorter. All the windows in the house are open and gentle breezes are wafting through the house. I feel like I can breathe once again. I love the fresh air. The air conditioner is getting a needed break.

The hot, humid weather of summer has given way to Autumn's cooler temperatures and low humidity. It is positively beautiful outside.

It is time to reflect on the summer.

We've had plenty of visitors this year. It is always a thrill to enjoy the wildlife.

After all, we recognize that we moved into their habitat.
We are honored to share with them, although I do believe they took a little unfair advantage this year, resulting in our dismal gardening feats. In fact, chalk up the summer of 2014 as a total bust.

While these young bucks were just passing through, it was the  rest of the family that seemingly caused all the problems. 

CHMusings: Fawns 1
These resident fawns, and their mother, who didn't accompany them on this particular jaunt, were the real culprits in our garden failure.

CHMusings: Fawns 2They had a voracious appetite and ate everything in sight. Sometimes I caught them and could scold them until they moved away, but sometimes I didn't. From the Mimosa sapling to the cone flowers, petunias, geraniums, and everything else we planted, it was open season on greenery at our house.

My vegetable garden didn't fare much better, as we had planned to install a new picket fence around the raised beds, but never got around to it. In addition to the deer, the squirrels picked the tomatoes clean long before they ripened. Even the plants in containers on the deck didn't have a chance. The total lack of rain didn't help things either.

When all is said and done, it was not a good year.

Just the other day I went out to plant some fall perennials only to be eaten alive by chiggers. This is never a pleasant experience! I spent an entire week of absolute misery with all the home remedies I could find. The only thing that really works is Benadryl and time, and scratching. 

I'm happy to report that indoors life was so much better. In addition to revamping the sun porch, as previously mentioned, I also finished a quilt I've been working on for more than two years.

The entire year is rapidly coming to a close. It goes without saying that time is moving way to swiftly these days.

Sadly, some of our best friends--the hummingbirds--will probably be moving on soon. This little guy is likely one of the last hummingbirds we'll see for a while. Looks like it is time to make more food; now is not the time to run out since they will need all the energy they can get before their long journey southward.

We've already seen some migratory activity as the Starlings from the north stopped at our bird feeders.

Twice every year, we see an abundance of these. They are very animated and make their appearance obvious. Their  chatter is so loud in the woods that it is as if the trees are talking to one another. The first time I experienced their 'landing' I was amazed, by the shear number of them.

I dread the winter coming, but anticipate a beautiful Autumn. There really is no time like Autumn in the Ozarks. It is almost as exciting as the Spring.
Oh, I think I feel a little Spring Fever coming on!


Friday, August 8, 2014

Color is motivating; my personal story of color choice

Color makes me happy. I love surrounding myself with my favorite colors, except that lately, it is getting more difficult to decide just which color is now my favorite. I lean toward the pinks and purples, but lately, I'm drawn to yellows and greens. And even more recently, I'm taken with blue tones.

When my husband and I decided to rejuvenate our sun porch, I had just figured we would paint the walls pink. That room has been pink since we moved here. It is based on a pink flamingos theme, which we both love. We had a couple strings of pink flamingo lights we bought years ago. They added warmth at night, with a festive touch. We also had several candle holders and other little items that we have collected over the years. I always loved the color, so pink in that room was a no-brainer. Or so I thought. 

Initially we were just going to paint just the walls. But my husband's sister decided to replace the flooring in her new house. The laminate flooring she was replacing was in like new condition, so we took it for our back room. 

We had never done a floor before. Suffice it to say, it was a little more challenging with so many of the pieces cut. We had to sort through them to determine what went where. We were a little worried there would be enough uncut pieces to finish. As it turned out, there was one full piece left over. And the most astounding thing to me, was that on the last course, the fit was perfect, including the last piece. No cutting necessary. 

Once we ripped out the carpeting, I sat in the room and looked around. I noticed some of the paintings John and I had done when we took a painting class a few years ago. His girl with the pearl earring just happened to have an aqua scarf. The water in my girl on the beach was so turquoise. Then I noticed the base of my pink flamingo candle holders--were aqua and white. It became clear that I could keep my pink flamingo theme but with the walls turquoise, it would work out great. 

I am learning more about color through my experience with quilting. I opened up my monochromatic preference in color with a two-color quilt-- turquoise and yellow.-- (Now I wish I would have made it turquoise and pink.) I googled the color combination and loved the examples I saw. 

So hubby and I took our little pet flamingo to Home Depot and picked out a color paint to match the base of the flamingo. We also got a nice white tone for the accent wall and door. 

I started thinking about this color. I've never painted a room this color before, and I have painted many, many rooms in my life. Still, turquoise is no stranger to me. It was the color of the dress I wore to both my eight grade and high school graduations. One of my favorite spring jackets, made of looped mohair, was turquoise. A sweater I knitted for my mother-in-law was turquoise. I'm sure there are lots more examples of how my entire life has had this color in it. I never would have thought of pairing it with pink. But now, I love the colors of this room. Apparently, so do its occupants.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I may be a quilter, but I knit and crochet too

I may be spending lots of time quilting these days, but it wasn't always that way. I have been knitting and crocheting for years; decades; hmm--half a century--even.

This is my latest project, a knitted baby afghan. I really enjoyed making this. 
knitted baby afghan
Knitted baby afghan

I first learned to knit when I was in fifth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Angela Amorosi, was my inspiration. I was so impressed by her. During our reading and study time, she would usually work on her knitting. She made the most beautiful sweaters, some of which she wore. I remember once asking her about a project she was working on. She said it was a sweater for her daughter. Iwas a large piece, the back of the sweater. They are made much like other garments in pieces that are then sewn together. Hers was almost finished because it was huge. I loved watching her as she moved the needles back and forth and wrapped the yarn around them with the precision of a military drill team. She worked so quickly that it was hard to keep up with just exactly which needle went where. 

During that school year, way back in the early 60's, I asked Mrs. Amorosi plenty of questions. She was always patient with her answers. I think she liked teaching knitting as well as any subject she taught. I did well in her class. She was a good teacher.

By the time I had gotten to her class, I had already known a little about knitting. My father knew how to knit. He was in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He took up knitting when he was on a ship for months at a time. He started a blue sampler afghan way back before I knew him, but he never finished it. I wanted to finish it for him. While he gave me some instruction, I never saw him pick up knitting needles. My mother could crochet, but she didn't knit. During the summer between my fifth and sixth grades, using all the tips I'd picked up along the way, I taught myself to knit. There were no You Tube videos back then. Learning is so much easier these days. 

I never did finish that sampler afghan, and don't really know what ever happened to it. Several years later, I found an updated pattern book with sample stitches just like the ones my father had. I bought the book along with all the yarn I needed to make an entire afghan. I selected three different colors: yellow-orange, red-orange, and dark brown. Those were really hot colors back then. I alternated the colors of each sampler square, and then crocheted around each of them with the brown yarn. The effect was like the sashing on a patchwork quilt. It really turned out nice. I gave it to my dad when it was finished. That afghan was never far from his chair. My mother tells me that up until the day he went in the hospital the final time, he covered up with that afghan. My mother is 85 now, and she is using it. Talk about getting the good out of a project...

Suffice it to say I have been doing needlework for a very long time.

Crocheted baby blanket
Baby afghan
Baby afghan
Jenny's afghan
Adult afghan
More than a year ago, I decided it would be worthwhile to make something while I watched TV in the evenings. I made a few baby blankets for friends, those shown on the left. Then my daughter decided she loved one of them, so requested I make her an adult-sized one with the same pattern. She picked out the variegated green yarn. I believe I made it about three times the width as the baby afghan and as long as she is tall. 

When that was finished I decided to make more baby items, so just in case I ever needed them, I would have them all ready-made. Perhaps I would even sell them one day. 

Up until that time, all the things I was making were crocheted. Crocheting is easier, and goes faster. But there is something about knitting that I have always loved. So, I found a pattern that was perfect. It had a cable stitch in it and a filigree-like stripe. It was beautiful. I had some extra yarn left from my other projects, so I set out to make a knitted cable baby afghan. It was done on double pointed needles. I happened to have a pair of those in just the right size. I have a wide variety of knitting needles and crochet hooks in just about every size. 

I'm really pleased with how the above blanket turned out, as well as all the other items too. 

purple and white striped baby blanket
A purple striped baby blanket

Crocheted baby outfit
Matching sweater, hat, and contrasting blanket
I just made the lavender and white striped blanket to keep me occupied during commercials. It was the only one in the book of patterns that I hadn't made already. It is an old book and I've been using it for years. 

The blue and white outfit is one of my favorite patterns. It uses more yarn than most because of the stitch, but I love the look of it. I love making it. I have done several. In fact, I made one for my son, about 33 years ago. It remains my favorite pattern. 

If I don't have babies to give them to, or I don't sell them, they will always make nice lap warmers or cat blankets.

Friday, July 11, 2014

How I came to love cats

Happy Birthday to my girls.

my cats
My four kittens have grown up
Seven years ago, was a day I will always remember--such a happy event--the birth of five kittens on the front porch. One of them, the runt of the litter and last one born didn't make it. Rusty, is buried in the cedar grove just west of the house along with my most beloved feline companion ever, Emily. Ironically, she died just three years ago on this very day, one of the worst days I've ever experienced. There was no celebration for the girls that year--just tears.

But today is about them. 

My love of cats started long ago, despite my family always having dogs; not cats.

When I was a youngster living on a dead-end street in a Chicago neighborhood, there was a lady down the street who we kids in the neighborhood mockingly called Crazy Annie.

Everyone knows someone like her, the quintessential old spinster who always had lots of cats and kittens. Annie was certainly a little quirky. I laugh a little, because I think I have become her.

My memories of Annie are pretty vague. The one thing I remember about her, other than the cats that followed her everywhere, was that Annie used to reward us neighborhood kids for retrieving seeds from her Four O’Clock plants. I suppose she saved them to plant the following year.

When we followed her inside to collect our pay--pennies for whole jars of seeds, her house was always dark – blinds were always drawn. There was a kind of glow in her living room as the sunshine tried to blaze its way through her heavy velvet drapes.

As an adult, I've almost always had a cat. My first experience was an old tom cat that wandered into the courtyard of my apartment complex. I used to put milk in a saucer for him, so he kept coming back. I was smitten with him. 

There have been many subsequent trips to the humane society.

About 8 years ago, it was a stray cat that appeared--my husband John and I named her Timi. 

Timi, who was a small, obviously young Calico with muted colors. She seemingly appeared out of nowhere one night. Apparently she chose us. It was almost like she was stalking us. She knew which room we occupied because she peered in the window at us, pacing back and forth on the brick ledge just outside the glass, always meowing. When we were outside, she followed us and was always affectionate. She showed up in the morning at whatever door we opened to let out our dog Sam. It was almost as if she knew. And, Timi was very vocal about her desire to become friends.

We put food out for her. It wasn’t long before she won our hearts. She never went too far from the house. Finally, it started getting colder outside, so we decided to let her come into the house. She even made friends with Emily, who was about 10 at the time.

In the spring, we noticed a change in Timi. She became restless, and wanted to go outside. While we debated about what to do, Timi made the decision for us. We awoke one morning to find the screen broken out of a back porch window. Timi was gone.

But she soon reappeared. Only this time, she wasn’t exactly alone. It was apparent that Timi was pregnant. She was always very affectionate, especially toward John. But he wasn’t as quick to embrace the idea of little kittens as I was. I couldn’t wait. Timi must have sensed that too, so during her pregnancy it was my lap she wanted to claim. I was more than happy to oblige. I can’t resist baby animals, but I am most fond of kittens.

I read all I could on the Internet about the feline birthing process. Timi was a very young cat and I hoped her instincts would guide her. But if not, I was ready to help. I sensed when she was very close to giving birth. I was afraid she might want to have her kittens in private, which is customary for cats. But, she actually came to get me when the time had come. I was at my computer when she jumped up high latching her claws into the window screen. She seemed frantic.

I played midwife to Timi’s five kittens who were born in a newspaper-lined box next to the swing on the front porch.

John wanted no part of this process, but was just inside the house. 

I was in awe as Timi knew exactly what to do. I gingerly moved the first kitten to another box, while Timi gave birth to the next one. This went on until there were finally five in the litter. I put them back into the box with their mother. I didn't know what I would do with seven cats in the house but I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to part with any of them.

Since John and I had difficulty agreeing on the names for our own two children, I figured it would be really hard to come up with five more names. So, we decided to name them for NASCAR drivers.

The first born was Ryan, named for Ryan Newman, our favorite driver. The others were Kenni (Kenny Wallace); Junior, (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.); Kasey, (Kasey Kahne); and Rusty (Rusty Wallace).

The birth went well, taking about three hours. Timi did great. She was very attentive and caring – showing signs of being an excellent mother.

We were not without issues, however, as Junior was born with a deformed right front paw. Turns out, that although she is smaller than the others,
she is also the toughest. Rusty, was probably the prettiest one--with markings not unlike her mother--lived only 11 days. The others are all variations of grey and white.

We guessed that Ryan was the only male in the bunch, but were surprised to learn that she too was a female. All of our NASCAR-named kittens are girls! Too late now, they know their names.

It has been an absolute joy to experience the development of these little critters. Kittens seem to develop on an accelerated schedule, with visible changes almost daily.

Each has a personality all her own. Ryan has stayed true to her early beginnings, as the sweet, cuddly one. She is also similar to her namesake, known as the Rocketman. Ryan is happiest when she is 'flying' around the house. She loves to roost in high places, like the top of the entertainment center, on top of the book case, or perched on the top of the bedroom door. Kasey is the scaredy-cat, who jumps at any unfamiliar sound, though jumps first and with all four feet. She seems to be taking on the characteristic of alpha cat, or top dog, which to me, is just another word for trouble-maker. Junior is the tough one, a fierce competitor with her siblings. She isn’t afraid of anything, despite her disability. Early on, she worked hard at keeping up with the others, doing what they did, even if it wasn’t always graceful. Kenni is the biggest cat who loves mealtime. She is the most mellow one, who goes along with whatever the others do, but would never consider doing it first.

It has been such a joy to watch these siblings interact with their mother and each other. Timi, who started this as a youngster herself, has grown into a mature and protective mother, using her instincts to teach. For a time, she played with them. Timi is content to stay outside now, except to eat. She is definitely an outside cat. The others are inside cats. 

She is friends with raccoons, runs with the deer and is a good mouse and snake hunter. 

We are comforted to know she won’t have more kittens, despite the affection we have for these. It just wouldn't be responsible to allow her to be outside without having first been spayed. They all went to the vet together to get spayed.

Because Timi was a stray cat, our local Humane Society helped with the cost of spaying. We will support them in the future, any way we can.

Had we not given Timi a home, she might be having a second litter. And since her four kittens are females, they would likely have had kittens of their own as well, had we not intervened. And on and on it goes. It is hard to imagine that so many unwanted cats are born each year. It is even harder to imagine how many of them have to be killed because there is no one to take them all in.

As I look around the house, a cat in nearly every view, I think back to my younger days, and of Annie, the neighbor with lots of cats.

This was a woman who was kind to young children. She paid us pennies to collect seeds from her perennials that would probably have reseeded themselves anyway. Her action taught us that work paid rewards and that we should be diligent in our endeavors. I remember carefully picking only the ripe, plump, black seeds and leaving the rest for another time.

Annie befriended us. She brought us into her home. Those were days of innocence when neighbors were not to be feared. And, she let us pet her cats. In doing so, she showed us she trusted us. They were obviously very important to her. That first feeling of silky fur on my hands must have made an impression.

I’ve thought of Annie from time to time, wondering what ever became of her. I never even knew her last name. Sadly, there was much I didn’t know about her. I think if I knew her now, I would like her. There is one thing I know for sure; Annie wasn’t crazy.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It's the little things

new ceiling fan
What a difference it makes to have a new ceiling fan just off the kitchen.

When we downsized from a five-bedroom house in the Chicago suburbs to our Ozarks country ranch house, I had no place for a sewing room. So, I claimed this little breakfast nook in our little house, as my sewing area. 

Its prominent feature is a huge window that faces south. Not only does it offer wonderful natural light, but has a great view of the backyard and a busy bird feeder right off the deck. The sunshine though, does make that space pretty warm. 

Yesterday, my husband and I installed a new ceiling fan. 

What a difference. I'd say this is our best and easiest home improvement fix in a long time. 

Not only will it enhance my sewing experience, but cooking should be greatly improved as well. There are no windows near the business-end of our galley-like kitchen. I think about those Christmas dinners when the turkey roasts in the oven for hours. Or there is the prep for Thanksgiving when non-stop cooking fills a holiday table with plenty of good food. 
Installing a ceiling fan was such an easy, inexpensive solution. I am all about problem-solving. This little solution really fills the bill. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

New quilting blog

chmusings: Periwinkle quilt blocks
My interest in quilting continues to grow. I made my first quilt about 15 years ago. I've learned so much, but realize there are still so many things to learn related to quiltmaking. Come along with me as I continue to discover the untapped pleasures that abound in the world of quilting. 

I'm also a writer, so I've decided to combine the two to create a blog devoted solely to writing about my passion for quilting. Follow my new blog--CHQuilts--at as I hope to post frequently. I hope others will join me in this new endeavor.

To me, quilting is a learning experience. I hope to share what I've learned and hope input from others will join in. I love quilting. I told myself a long time ago that I would be always be a quilter.

So please join me on my continuing journey. Follow CHQuilts at Let's walk this path together.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

My miracle butterfly

I knew yesterday was going to be a good day because of how it started; the word miraculous comes to mind.

I had been feeling a bit sluggish lately, void of my normal Springtime fervor to clean up and air out the house, get the garden planted, and bring new life to my houseplants by finding them a new, albeit temporary home outdoors. I suppose I had fallen victim to the less than perfect seasonal weather that is not conductive to my desired tasks. My moods are definitely inspired by outside forces, like the weather, especially the older I get. So here it is May already and I haven't washed a single window.

When I got up in the morning, about 6:30, it had all changed. The birds woke me, as did the sun shining in the bedroom window. It was chilly outside, but there was promise in the air. Forecasts were predicting a beautiful weekend. I didn't need prognosticators though; my psyche seemed to sense it.

CHMusings: black swallowtailSo I bounded out of bed, fed the cats, filled the bird feeders, made a new batch of hummingbird nectar, and satisfyingly reached for that first cup of coffee. I got dressed and started putsing around in the back room of our house, the room with windows on all three sides overlooking the backyard and the woods. It is from here that I like to watch deer and birds or settle in to read a book, or enjoy a rainy day. It is my favorite place in the house. 

I had already taken some plants outside, but there was more to do. Some required additional care. For example, I had a Mother-In-Law's Tongue that clearly needed to be re-potted. I took it onto the deck where there was a partially used bag of potting soil. I left it there a couple days ago after re-potting some tomato seedlings for a container garden on the deck.

When I opened the bag, I noticed movement. That always freaks me out, as I've heard about snakes hiding in bags of potting soil. I was not in the mood for that! But upon closer inspection, I noticed a Black Swallowtail butterfly. It must have metamorphosed inside the bag.

Clearly, this butterfly wasn't well. Its wings had lost their luster, and some of their shape. It wasn't moving very much. It must have tried to fly, judging by the condition of its wings, but it had nowhere to go. I carefully let it climb onto my finger. I brought it to an azalea blooming in the front yard. I placed it onto the flower. At first it looked like it held on for dear life. I left it alone there. 

CHMusings: Mother-In-Law's Tongue plants
8 plants separated from one plant
As I went about my other tasks, such as planting what had now grown into eight Mother-In-Law's Tongues, I made an excuse to check on Madame Butterfly. Each time, she was still alive and close to the same spot where I left her. At one point she was on the ground seemingly trying to climb up an iris plant, her feet making tiny, barely visible white marks in the green of the leaf. I picked her up and attempted to put her back on the flower. She hopped onto the back of my leg. Then she disappeared. I looked all around and saw no sign of her on the ground or in the flowers. I can only assume she flew away. 

Later that afternoon, while sipping tea on the front porch, I noticed a swallowtail flitting across the yard. I have no way of knowing if it was the same one, but I hope it was. While I'm hoping, I'm also counting on her living a healthy, productive life in the fresh air surrounded by an abundance of food sources. Perhaps she will be able to lay lots of eggs that can get a much better start to their life cycles.