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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gotta love Springtime...

It is April 1. There is no mistaking the signs of the season. Spring is here! I suspect it will be worth the wait. 

chmusings: first spring bouquet
My first Spring bouquet. Color, thanks to daffodils and Forsythia; scent thanks to hyacinths.

chmusings: first asparagus
These asparagus, planted from seed two years ago are still too tiny to pick, but not too small to whet my appetite!

chmusings: forsythia in bloom
This is a first for this young forsythia. She's a little leggy, so a nice pruning will help for next year.

chmusings: bleeding heart
There can be no better feeling of expectation than seeing the new growth of a bleeding heart plant.
It looks like Spring 2014 is going to be lovely. It looks like this snowy winter was good for the plants. I can't wait to see what else pops up out of the decaying leaves.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

For the winter weary, Spring is here!

I consider myself among the winter weary. Even here in the Ozarks, this winter was a little too cold, a little too snowy, and a lot too long. Despite it all, the calendar says it is Springtime, and until this weekend, that was good enough for me. I decided to take a walk around the property though, just to check it out--to make sure. I liked what I saw. I did!

The following are just a few of the subjects I had the pleasure to enjoy as I walked. 
I can't wait to enjoy the sweet fragrance and beautiful colors of the lilacs. This particular plant was here when we moved here nine years ago. It was among several bushes planted in the shade of the house. Then never bloomed until one year when we dug them up and moved them. Now, we get a few more flowers each year.

chmusings: lilacs are getting their leaves
These lilacs are getting their leaves

Below is a Bradford Pear, intent on flowering. It won't be long now. We have a pair of them in the yard. I'm sure there will be more in the future as they are just delightful little trees. I always marvel at how early they flower. Often times, these are used by landscapers who use them to line driveways, sidewalks, or to decorate a small suburban front yard. We had no such organizational plan when we planted it, except as an anchor for a small garden. Basically, I just like it. Flowering is a plus on this attractive, perfectly shaped, conical tree that is beautiful in every season.

chmusings: Bradford pear about to bloom
Bradford Pear about to bloom
Oh, the sweet scent of the hyacinth...Is there anything more lovely? I have always loved this sweet staple of the Springtime garden. Rarely do I see the flowering bulbs in a garden center, that I don't go over to take a whiff of its intoxicating fragrance. As one of the earliest flowering bulbs, it remains one of my favorite Springtime garden pleasures.
Soon-to-be white hyacinths
Our property, which sadly doesn't have many wildflowers, is peppered with these lovely little Wild Asters--at least I think that is what they are. They are tiny little lavender clumps and are abundant at this time of year. When I first moved to the Ozarks, I was amazed at the wildflowers that grow in some of the most unusual places. If only people chould be as strong as these tiny woodland flowers. They appear every year, no matter the weather, even if snow is on the ground. They can be found in pathways, in lawns, gardens, and anywhere else they feel like growing. They are tough, little flowers that only make me want more. Their perfect little daisy-like petals are simply lovely. And what a beautiful sight for winter-weary gardeners.
chmusings: Wild asters
Wild asters
It is a ritual of Spring to look for the daffodils. Like clockwork, they bloom each Spring with a satisfying reliability. They too are tough little flowers that have the ability to brighten any Spring day. It won't be long before these turn into that sunshiny, yellow cupped flower, some of which always make it into the house. Often times, they are the first bouquet of the year. These plants were also here when we moved in. We moved here in January, so I had no idea what was planted previously. What a delight it was to see them pop through the layers of dead oak leaves, and then to produce their lovely yellow flowers. I have since planted many more, in different colors and varieties. I love them all.
chmusings: daffodil buds
Daffodil buds
Who doesn't love the look of a Crab apple tree in full bloom? I am still waiting for that lovely view. This young tree, planted a couple years ago to commemorate Earth Day, just one month away, is still young, but I'm hoping it flowers this year. On our woodland, rocky property, I'm just grateful that any tree we plant survives. This one looks to be in good shape, which pleases me greatly. Crab apple trees are a delicacy for deer. I don't now how they missed this one, since they are never too far away. Lucky, I guess. This will be a pink flowering crab, and I can't wait to see it in bloom. Maybe this is the year...For now, I'm just thrilled to call it a sign of Spring.

chmusings: Crab apple tree
Crab apple tree

This is the bud of a magnificent Magnolia tree. I was very worried since just as the buds began to swell, we had a cold, and snowy day, complete with freezing rain. There is a little damage on some of the buds, but overall, it looks like we will have a tree full of flowers very soon. I just love the look of magnolias in bloom.
chmusings: magnolia
Magnificent Magnolia
Yes, there will be strawberries! This year, I will mulch with straw, apply diatomaceous earth, and spray a mix of garlic and peppers to ensure that I will get berries. These plants produced beautifully last year, but I didn't get any of fruit thanks to the slugs and sow bugs that ate them all. My turn this year!

chmusings: strawberries
Strawberry plants
Finally, one of the best signs of Spring in our yard is 'Bout Time Creek. This is actually a dry creek bed, but as you can see, it is now wet. Love Springtime! In fact, it is about time it is wet, thus the name. This runs through the back yard and as the water trickles from the higher ground east of us, it makes the most lovely music. I could listen for hours.
chmusings: 'Bout Time Creek
'Bout Time Creek

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Making progress; quilting feathers

Quilted feathersI've finally mastered free-form free-motion quilting feathers. The word "mastered" may be a bit of an exaggeration, but is pretty descriptive of how I feel about it. 

Suffice it to say I accomplished feathers, at least on this block. I didn't think that would ever happen. To experienced quilters, feathers seem so simple. Yet to those of us that haven't been able to master them, they represent a really difficult skill. 

Joyously, I crossed that line yesterday. There is something so wonderful about the moment when a struggle becomes an accomplishment. It is truly an 'aha' moment. Suffice it to say I am exhilarated. 

To me, feathers on a quilt are elegant. They give it a regal feel. A beautiful quilt needs beautiful feathers.

This marks the latest revelation I've had in what has become an ongoing saga of my going-on-two-years-now quilt project, better known as my aqua and yellow quilt...I must come up with a new name for this; I'm tiring of calling it that. 

When I finally began to free-motion quilt the blocks in this sampler, it was a long time coming. I am really going to love it when it is finished, because it has represented such a remarkable journey. I'm so grateful to Leah Day for her incredible inspiration and the can-do attitude she has communicated to me and thousands of other aspiring quilters. I've been immersed in her videos and that of other quilters who have shared their expertise with the rest of us. There are some amazing online resources available to anyone with an interest. 

I finally got the confidence to design the quilting for these quilt-as-you-go blocks, again, giving credit to Leah Day for the amazing filler designs she has devised. This is the third of 18 blocks in this quilt. The other two are below. I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for this quilt.

When I looked at the stack of completed blocks, cut to size and awaiting their final action--the quilting--I wasn't sure how to proceed. Since I had taken pictures of each of them, I printed out the first one, as a sketch, rather than as a photograph. Google's Picasa, excellent and free software to manage digital pictures, has the ability to turn any photo into a line drawing. 

Just looking at the block, I saw what I wanted to do. They say, let the quilt talk to you--and it did. This is the rough sketch I came up with.
This is how it turned out. I made only one change, the stippling in the corner. I thought it looked better with the more uniform lines. 

I know my quilting is not perfect. In fact, it is far from that, but I also know that once this quilt is done and it is washed, the effect will be like magic. There is nothing better than a just washed quilt. The area that isn't quilted puffs a little which accentuates the stitches even more. Imperfections simply melt into the background. Oh boy, I can't wait.

Anyone who has followed my journey--and I appreciate your interest-- knows that this quilt began in Jan. 2013 as a BOM (Block of the Month) from the Quiltingboard, a wonderful and active quilting site I belong to. This particular BOM was meant to be somewhat of a challenge. It was and continues to be. 

When all the blocks were completed in December 2013, I decided to place them on-point, on the diagonal rather than the vertical, I had to come up with some filler blocks. I agonized for a time about how to quilt those, since there are six of them that are all the same. So, I started with the printout of the line drawing. This is what I came up with for all of them. It is basically all about hearts with some stippling in the open areas. I wanted to showcase the diagonals, since that forms the secondary pattern in the quilt, so I think this will do the trick.

The following articles in CHMusings relate to this quilt
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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New way to mark the quilt

Glad quilting
I have never been a fan of marking the quilt. It is the one aspect of quiltmaking that I find often tedious and sometimes frustrating. 

I've tried different marking pens, pencils, pounces, chalks, and everything else I can think of. 

I'm always looking for new ways to do this task. So, when I learned of this new technique, marking with Glad Press 'n Seal, I thought I would give it a try. 

Glad quilting 2I apologize for not being able to give credit to whoever came up with this rather ingenious idea. Truth is though, I can't remember where I heard about it. I have been doing a great deal of reading on the Internet about marking a quilt.  

Building Blocks Quilt Along

Glad quilting 3In doing Leah Day's Building Blocks Quilt Along, one that combines piecing and free-motion quilting techniques, block by block, I decided this was a perfect time to try marking the quilting pattern using Glad Press'n Seal. 

In the first photo, at left, I placed a piece of the Glad Press'n Seal onto a pre-printed pattern provided in Leah Day's Building Blocks Quilting Project. The paper has a sticky side that adheres perfectly to the pattern. Once smoothed out across the paper, it was easy to trace the lines of the quilting design onto the Glad wrap with a ball point pen. 

Glad quilting 4The pattern requires stitching in the ditch and around the block. I decided to do that first, since although the Glad paper is transparent, stitching in the ditch is hard enough without any obscurity. Besides, I tried it and the lines were awful so I picked out the stitches, ripped off the paper and started again. I put pins into the paper, which probably wasn't necessary, but after lining it up perfectly with the seams, I didn't want it to shift at all.

It was pretty easy to sew through the paper, although I admit it did feel like I was sewing a disposable baby diaper. 

Glad quilting 5The third picture shows the entire block completely quilted. It was easy to follow the lines, or at least as easy as following the lines without the paper would be. That is never an easy task. Truthfully, I much prefer free-motion quilting freehand. I need practice at this however, because I know that isn't always possible. 

Removal of the paper was fairly easy, as shown in the fourth photo. It was just a matter of scratching the paper with a sturdy fingernail or the trusty seam ripper, and then ripping it off. 

The only problem here was that with this pattern, there are lots of tiny quilted areas, so it was a little more tedious than it otherwise might be. Also, the paper remained sticky. It was easily tearable though and it appears that every bit of it was removed. 

The fifth and final picture shows the completed block. There appears to be no remnants of paper left, and the stitches were not harmed in any way by pulling on the paper. 

Even though I can't see any remnants of the paper, I will not press this block on its right side. I will press it from the back just to be sure. I've seen what plastic products do to an iron. It isn't pretty; doesn't smell very well either.

I just might use this technique again, although I am not sure it will be my only marking technique. It is nice to have options. Certain things will work better than others depending on the circumstances. 

I am just glad I found a way to try something new.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ready to quilt

My last update on this project was nearly a month ago, my first blog post of the new year. I had just given up on trying to figure out how to complete this quilt top, daunted by mathematics, colors, and patterns, and style. So, I left it alone for a while. I started working on another project altogether--a new quilt project Leah Day's Free-Motion Quilting Building Blocks Quilt Along. This one will be black and white and pink all over--more on that another time.

It is about time for an update on my complex quilting journey to complete one particular project. I couldn't be more excited. This soap-opera will one day reveal a completed yellow and aqua quilt.

Once I finally quilt obsessing over just how to construct the finishing triangles needed for this on-point quilt, I figured out how to make them. It was so easy. I gave in to the computer software as my friend Jane had suggested. At the time, I had thought of all kinds of reasons why that wouldn't work, but, I was completely over-thinking the problem. Once I realized that, I printed out the templates, added the seam allowance of 1/4-inch and cut out the pieces. I sewed them together, and voila, the perfect setting triangles, as seen below.

There was no figuring. I didn't even need to wrack my brain with some obscure mathematical formula. I made 10 of them along with four smaller triangles for the corners.

I am now ready to come up with a final layout of my squares. I just love the addition of the chain blocks, also Jane's idea, which adds the secondary pattern. I'm thrilled that the triangles continue that pattern to the edges of the quilt. That was what I wanted all along.

Next, I will cut out the backing fabric and squares of batting. I will then begin free-motion quilting the individual squares. The designs for each squares are something I haven't planned for. This will be my final design choice and final challenge with this quilt. I have never been very good at picking quilting designs, but I am in no hurry. I want to examine each block until just the right design comes to me.

I will use yellow and white gingham with alternating white squares for the backing. I already have the batting. While the quilt is large enough to cover the bed, I may just add a couple of borders to finish it off. I can't wait to post a picture of the completed quilt. So, stay tuned!

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Monday, January 27, 2014


I couldn't resist posting this picture. I call it Deerierres

I've seen deer in the backyard all the years we've lived here in the Arkansas Ozarks, 
but I've never seen an entire herd foraging like this backstage view of a line of chorus girls before.

I love living in the woods!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Too much experience with snow makes me love and appreciate Arkansas

Winter Storm Nemo
Winter Storm (Photo credit: jdn)
Despite the biting cold temperatures we've been experiencing here in the Natural State this winter, I am so thrilled to be here.

I know the other side of winter--the one currently being experienced by my friends and family--in the north. I am hearing reports of road closures, hideously long travel times, blizzard-like conditions, plummeting temperatures, and unending snow-shoveling. The pictures are terrible.

I can relate.

It doesn't seem so long ago that I remember my feet being so cold I could barely feel my toes. I recall more than once, stepping off a curb onto the ice only to have it give way beneath me, plunging my feet into an icy abyss. The ice cold slush may have only been a couple inches deep, but it was as shocking to my system as being completely submerged into a frozen sea. Just as bad was the feeling when my skin began to thaw. It was accompanied by intense itching, second only to an infestation of chigger bites.

I remember trying to breathe what little warmth my body possessed into a scarf just to keep my nose from freezing. I remember getting off the train at Union Station only to have to walk to my office across the bridge over the Chicago River, hoping the bitterly cold wind in the aptly-named windy city didn't carry me away or freeze me in place. 

But my worst winter experience was when I was stranded in my car. For nine hours I waited to be rescued, all the while, having  very full bladder, which was the worst part of the entire ordeal.

Toyota Celica GT (TA22) 1972
Toyota Celica 1972 (Photo credit: Toyota UK)
It was April 2, 1975. The day began in the 60's. There were eight days in a row that made it feel like spring would be early that year. I dressed accordingly for work that day.

I lived in Aurora, IL and worked in Downers Grove, IL, western suburbs of Chicago. It was about a 20-mile drive home. It was a crazy day. Seemingly out of the blue, the temperature fell like a rock in the afternoon. It also began to snow, with that wet, heavy, quickly-accumulating snow. It was also very windy, causing white-out conditions.

At the time I had worked at a check-printing plant. I was not alone in thinking we should close early, but the management would have none of that. So, we stayed until 5 p.m. I lived the farthest away.

The snow began to pile up in what would result in the "biggest snow of the 1974-75 snow season that recorded 52.2 inches," according to Chicago Weatherman Tom Skilling.

It wasn't too bad driving, at least for me. I had a Toyota Celica with studded snow tires. It was the last year before they were banned. If I'm not mistaken, I should have already taken them off my car, but just hadn't gotten around to it. I think April 1 was the cut-off date.

Thankfully, I was able to maneuver through the heavy snow, and had relatively little trouble stopping at intersections. I loved those tires.

Then at one point, the traffic just stopped moving. I was in a long line of cars that suddenly were stationary. Fortunately I had gas in the car, and a jacket in the back seat. Most importantly, I had my favorite eight-track tapes with me. There were no cell phones back then. There was no way to get in touch with anyone. So I just listened to my music, wrapped the jacket around my legs, and told myself this wouldn't last very long.

It was starting to get really dark. It started to get cold too, even though the car was running and the heater was on full blast. Finally, some guy appeared on a snowmobile. He stopped at each of the cars, one at a time. When he got to me, he asked if I was alright, if I had any medical conditions. I told him I was fine. He advised me to keep my windows ajar and to turn off the car now and then, so as not to become asphyxiated from carbon monoxide. I asked what was the hold up and how long would we be stuck here. He said two trucks had jack-knifed, one in each direction, unable to climb the incline of a bridge just up ahead. Once they were moved, we could get on our way.

I felt a little better, except that ever since the time I left work, I had to go to the bathroom. It was starting to get serious now. I wondered how much a bladder could hold before bursting.

The wind continued howling and blowing the ever-increasing piles of snow. It was drifting up against my car. I kept opening the door periodically and removing the snow from around it. I realized if I wasn't able to move soon, I'd be really stuck. I observed the people around me. There were two guys in front of me in a pickup; two guys behind me in a car. One by one, guys were getting out of their car and walking toward a billboard just ahead of us. It dawned on me, they were reliving themselves. I wasn't the only one that had to go potty. I thought about traipsing up there myself, but the thought of wading through what was now more than a foot of snow in a short skirt, heels and panty hose was not my idea of a good time. I looked in the back seat for some kind of container. There wasn't any. I was probably more worried about a bathroom than a warming station at this point.

Finally, nine hours into my ordeal, another snowmobiler came by. It was a fireman who said he was going to help me make my way to the fire station, about a quarter of a mile from where we were parked. Our location was also just outside a new shopping center that was in various stages of being built--Fox Valley Center. It was way too far to get to on foot in these conditions. For that matter, so was the fire station, but we were going to try. So we left my car in what I was beginning to think of as its snowy grave. The fireman held me up as I attempted to walk in snow higher than my knees. I'm short--it was very difficult. Without him I couldn't have done it. I clung to him with each step. There were drifts up to my thighs in some places. He helped me navigate them. Finally, we got to the station where there was a bathroom, thank goodness. There was also a phone. I was able to call my roommate and my mother to tell them I was alright. A fire squad ferried several of us to the Sears store. They were already out of food, but had a little coffee left. The store was new and hadn't opened yet, so they didn't have provisions for wayward travelers.

I ended up spending the night at one of the tables in the snack bar at Sears talking with a couple of guys who worked at Fermi-Lab. I think I put my head down and fell asleep for a few hours only to be awakened at dawn by one of the guys who said they were taking us to our cars. When I got there, I noticed I had a flat tire. There was also a local farmer with a front end loader that offered to pull my car out of the snow for a fee. I gave him a few bucks and off I went, flat tire and all. I couldn't wait to go home to my bed. When I got there, I called in to work, telling them I wouldn't be in because I had just gotten home. No sympathy. In fact, they seemed suspicious, as if I was lying. I think they were a little miffed that I wanted to take the day off. I was annoyed, but too tired to think about it. I got regular tires put on the next day and went to work.

This wasn't my only experience being stranded in the snow.

West Lafayette, Indiana
West Lafayette, Indiana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Two years later, when my husband John and I were returning from our honeymoon in Florida, we hit a freak snow storm. It started snowing in Kentucky and by the time we got to Lafayette, Indiana, the traffic was no longer moving. Since we couldn't go any further, and I had been in this play before, I convinced him to turn around like many others were doing. We drove the wrong way on the interstate to get to the last exit where we maneuvered our way into town.

We passed trucks stopped along the way, cars in the ditches, and huge snow drifts that we almost got stuck in ourselves. Finally, we learned that the interstate, I-65, was shut down at West Lafayette. Had we not turned around, we would likely have been stuck in our car. We found a motel with a vacancy and checked in for the night.

The weather was as bad as it could get. It was snowing, blowing, and the temperature hovered around zero. This was way too similar to what I had been through just two years earlier.

Sleeping was out of the question. I don't think either of us had ever been that cold.The wind howled through the night and drove the snow in through the cracks in the walls and windows. There was actually snow inside our room. The heater wasn't great either. We huddled and shivered for hours. Finally, with the light of day, we decided we would do anything to get home. Home was north, but the road was still closed, so we took a different route south, then west, and north again on I-57. We were finally able to make it home after going way out of our way.

The bottom line for me, is, I paid my dues to live in Arkansas. It would be easy to say that I never want to see snow again, but that isn't quite the case. I love the snow, as long as I can stay home and enjoy its beauty. That is what it is all about for me, living in Arkansas. I am drawn to the immense beauty of this place. I love living in a place that only gets a couple inches of snow at a time, it melts quickly, and doesn't happen too often.

I feel sorry for my friends and family, but I wouldn't live up north for anything. I love it here.

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