Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of Year Activity

Today is New Year's Eve. I spent most of the day doing what is fun: sewing. But I also spent a little time trying to clean up my pile of clean-but-still-in-piles laundry. It's crazy that I don't just put stuff away. It would help my life be so much better organized. I'm going to work on that (being better organized) in 2012.

My sewing for the day started out with some sewing room organizing. (Getting this stashy-mess under control is another of my organizing goals for 2012.) I have been sewing from scraps!! It feels like I've made zero progress. So I offered some scraps to people on one of my online groups. I just want to get most of them out of my house!

Then as I tried organizing my fabrics and pieces that I am keeping, I realized I should attack my piles of Leftover Blocks. I have some of my own, and some were given to me by Sally. I like playing with leftovers, but it's another area where I can start to feel overwhelmed. So I started sewing like crazy. I put together these six small quilts.

These quilts are made for a sad reason, but it's something I can do that hopefully is helpful to some grieving parents. I donate these to Rosebud Reservation where, sad to say, they experience a high infant mortality rate. (Indian Health care in general is sorely lacking and minimal, at best.) At the time of burial, babies are wrapped in these little quilts, and they ask that a star be on each one, in the middle - either a pieced or an applied star or stars in the fabric. Some of my stars are huge, and some are tiny. The red/black quiltie has stars in its fabric.

These are the six I have halfway finished. Only one is completely done. All I do is back them with soft flannel, but I ran out of flannel, so that'll come this next week when I get a chance to go shopping.

As I look back at 2011 there are some not-so-great events such as Charles getting laid off and Son getting a divorce. Son tells me that he is happy and that staying married would have been worse than divorcing. So I try to be comforted in his happiness. I grieved deeply over the dissolution of the marriage, but I am doing better now. Charles is working at a contract position and hoping it will become permanent, but for now it's very unsure. We have our fingers crossed.

The good parts of 2012 include my mom turning 90. We had a great party, and she is still relatively healthy and spunky. I found a fabulous part-time job that perfectly suits my needs, and the extra income is very helpful. I started a fun crafting group at church which I am really enjoying (we mostly knit prayer shawls and other things such as hats and baby booties). I read 53 books! (I reported 52 in my last blog post, but finished another one since that was written.) In 2012 I intend to tackle the piles of books I have at home and in my Kindle. I have enough for 2-3 years of busy reading! I have started a travel fund and hope that Charles and I can make it to Europe or Panama one of these years. (Maybe both!)

Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope you continue visiting in 2012!

Friday, December 30, 2011

End of Year Book Report

This year I participated in an A to Z challenge, reading one book by an author from each letter of the alphabet.

I ended up reading 52 books! That's an average of one per week, and two for each letter of the alphabet. However, my list is not that neatly organized. I read six books written by C- authors, four by T- authors, and two of many of the letters, with only one in a few letters. I am going to list the best from each letter of the alphabet. Here goes:

Applegate, Katherine - Home of the Brave (children's book but I loved it far more than the other A book for adults that I read)
Bailey, Elisabeth Tova - The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. A very short, quick read that captivated me. You can read this one in a day.
Carter, Mary - My Sister's Voice. A deaf woman discovers she has a twin who is hearing.
DeWolf, Thomas - Inheriting the Trade. Fascinating book about the history and current ramifications of the slave trade.
Eggers, Dave - Zeitoun. - I love love this book! I read it in 2010 also, but read it again in 2011 when I asked my book club to read it.
Fitch, Sheree - The Gravesavers. Nothing special, but interesting.. and far better than the other F book I read which was a waste of paper.
Garvin, Ann Wertz - On Maggie's Watch. Interesting story in a small town. Some aspects were disappointing but overall a decent read.
Haien, Jeannette - The All of It. Short and fascinating story of a man who gives a partial death bed confession and leaves his wife to finish the rest of the story - the all of it.
Ilibagiza, Immaculee - Left to Tell; Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. Fascinating and moving story of the author and her family and their ordeal during the genocide in Rwanda.
Jin, Ha - Waiting. Changing culture in China, the lives of a few people (esp women) who are stuck between the old and new.
Kristof and WuDunn - Half the Sky. Excellent book about the lives of women around the globe. Everyone should read this book (adults and mature teens only, please. It's a hard and gorey read at times.)
Lamott, Anne - Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. I love Anne Lamott. She's open, free, and honest.
Murray, Liz - Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival and My Journey from Homelessness to Harvard. I love memoirs, and this one was fascinating. Similar to The Glass Castle in some ways.
Naslund, Sena Jeter - Ahab's Wife. Entertaining. Long.
Ollestad, Norman - Crazy For the Storm. Not the best of the year, but an interesting memoir.
Patchett, Ann - State of Wonder. Loved it! Fabulous writing, very subtle transformations of characters that bring them to completely changed own attitudes changed while reading this book. Awesome.
Quick, Matthew - The Silver Linings Playbook. A good story about a couple of misfits who find eachother and find comfort and meaning and I think there is some drama to it... I can't really remember the details.
Rosenblatt, Roger - Making Toast. Not great, but better than the other R book I read.
Skloot, Rebecca - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. A well researched and well told story of something I knew nothing about. Who knew science and medicine would interest me so much?! Great story.
Thompson, Jean - The Year We Left Home. Family relationships over a number of years. True to life family angst and love.
Umrigar, Thrity - The Space Between Us. Loved this book! Questions of power and friendship and "class" in India.
Verghese, Abraham - Cutting For Stone. Great story. Interesting plot, location, characters. Many people feel this is a fabulous book, but I was a tad disappointed. Good enough for 4 stars out of 5.
White, Susan R. - A Soft Place to Land. Started out good and went downhill. I would not recommend spending time on it, but it was the only W book I read.
Xiajing, Gao - Soul Mountain. I must confess I did not finish this book, but I gave it a good try. Read about 120 of over 500 pages, and just grew tired of it and couldn't push myself to complete it. Since I read 52 books I gave myself permission not to push through and complete this one.
Young, Louisa - My Dear I Wanted to Tell You. Book about relationships during the Civil War. Surprised me in being quite different from what I expected, but it was a worthwhile read.
Zuckoff, Mitchell - Lost in Shangri-La. True story of a plane crash that happened near the end of WWII. The lives of the survivors, what they went through, and the unknown and primitive workd they found themselves in. I quite liked learning this interesting story.

Best 5 of the Year not in order. These 5 all won First Place in my opinion:
Bailey, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
Patchett, State of Wonder
Umrigar, The Space Between Us
Kristoff and WuDunn, Half the Sky
and one that's not on the above list: Parkin - Baking Cakes in Kigali (loved it).

This completes my second year of an A-Z challenge. Last year I did titles, this year authors. I plan not to participate in the A-Z challenge again at least for a while. It was fun to find books I would not have otherwise found, but in the next couple of years I am challenging myself to read the books that are piled up at home in my shelves, under tables, by my bedside, and waiting patiently in my e-Reader. That should keep me quite busy for a good, long time.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Books

Last week I mentioned the book I was trying to read, Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian and Mabel Lee. I valiantly tried to continue reading the book. Supposedly it's a good one - it's a Pulitzer Prize winner! After pushing through the equivalence of about 100+ pages in a 500+ page book, I decided I'd given it a proper trial and gave myself permission to stop. I couldn't quite get this book.. a guy is trying to find himself, or find his country, or figure out the soul of his country or something. Each chapter is a different vignette of him along this vague journey, trying to find some elusive village that no one will speak of openly. He sometimes refers to himself as he, but sometimes it's you and she (as two people). Just too weird and disjointed for my taste; I gave it the old college try and feel I deserve the right to set this book aside. And it was so.

Next I started on Dangerous Ambition: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson, New Women in Search of Love and Power by Susan Hertog. Reviewed by Laurie Hertzel in the "St Paul Pioneer Press" (she is the Books Editor), it sounds like a book that I will enjoy. I started it and got a respectable start on it, when I received a notice that the book I had requested at the library was in.

Off I went to the library, then stopped for lunch with only the library book in my hands. I had to start reading it while eating my lunch. This one is The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers by Harry Bernstein. It's an attention grabber right from the start. Reminds me of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes so far.

I hate to start a book and interrupt it with another one, unless I've decided to give up on the first book. (Well, for goodness sake, who believes this? I do it all the time!) I think I'll fly through The Invisible Wall and then get back to Dangerous Ambition which has no due date. It's in my Kindle. The Invisible Wall is a book chosen by my online book club. Hopefully I'll get it read before the due date and be well prepared for our book discussion when it comes up.

More on Dangerous Ambition at some future point... for now I'm absorbed in The Wall. Happy reading, everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Celebrating 100 Followers!

I recently acquired my 100th follower! Thanks, everyone! What a nice compliment! In celebration of you all, I am paying 50 cents per member to my favorite local charity, Ampersand Families. I will send them $50 today!

Ampersand Families recruits and supports permanent families for older youth, and champions practices in adoption and permanency that restore belonging, dignity and hope.

Thanks for reading my blog!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Minnesota Safari

Last summer I went on a Minnesota safari (OK, I was driving along the freeway, on my way to visit my mom). I stopped in at Aunt Annie's Quilts in Avon, Minnesota... a tiny town with the best-ever quilt shop. The owner, Lucy, is a gifted artist. She had some samples for sale, and I decided to splurge and buy one for myself.

All I did to this beautiful quilt was add the outside, black border. Then I took it to my favorite machine quilter, Diane S., and she did a fabulous job of quilting it. I just picked it up this afternoon. It is now an even more gorgeous quilt than ever! Don't you agree??

I call it Minnesota Safari for the animal- and safari-related fabrics, and due to my traveling the roads of Minnesota which resulted in me obtaining this wonderful quilt. I feel so lucky to own this.. it's beautifully pieced by Lucy and beautifully quilted by Diane (both superb artists), so I'm very pleased that this quilt is mine. It's truly a work of art!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Plays Well With Others

I finished my Legos top! I'm thrilled to have it done, and I love how it turned out. I call it "Plays Well With Others" for these reasons: we were calling the strips Legos, and with this many Legos, players and blocks would have to cooperate, which they did, to a beautiful end. Also, Plays Well With Others is a sort of a theme at my new job. The theory is, if one plays well with others, she/he will do well at this job. Since I seem to be doing well, I guess I play well with others.

some close-up looks at the "Legos"

It took a bunch of hours to make this top, miles of thread, umpteen bobbins, and of course all the cutting and the strips. I figure there are about 1450 pieces in this quilt -- 48 blocks at about 30 pieces each (average), plus the solid bits that I had to piece, so there are about 12 of those. I round it to 1450. It would be fun to know the exact number of pieces in this quilt, but I am NOT going to count them.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mulitiplying Legos

Legos are everywhere! I have been in the Legos Trance, churning out the blocks, until last night when I hit the wall and could not do one more stitch. You can see that my blocks are growing so fast that they no longer fit my design wall. I have only four blocks left, then I can sew the blocks together. It'll be 60"x80" when done. I am debating whether or not to put a solid border (thin) between the main Legos and the border Legos. That would give the eyes a break, but do I want an eye-break or don't I? Must decide soon.

this row is on the bench as I ran out of room on the wall

I've managed to do a bit of other sewing, too. I made this small wall hanging and installed it above the fireplace. You can see, if you look carefully, that I have my mantle filled with manger scenes. One set glows in the dark! I have a larger set that is on another cabinet top.

These are blocks I made for the December lotto (Sunshine). I wanted to make more and make at least one paper pieced block, but I ran out of time and paper-piecing-inspiration. I can't force it... paper-piecing-inspiration only comes along on its own terms.

We had a fun Christmas party at quilt guild this week. I won a door prize which was a beautiful table runner. I neglected to take a picture of it! I gave it to my daughter, and she seemed to like it.

Today I'm hoping to get some housework done. My least favorite chore, but it's gotta be done!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Books

Not much to report this week... I am reading Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian and Mabel Lee. I hear it is a 600-page book, but I am reading it on my Kindle, so I can't see how long it is. I am only 10% into it, but I have not made a serious effort with it yet. I am reading it because the author's last name begins with an X. I needed an X book to complete my 2011 challenge to read a book by authors of every letter of the alphabet. Many of the letters I read multiples and had almost decided to skip the X, but I had it in my Kindle, so why not give it a go?

Maybe I'll have more to say about it next week.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Adjusting to My Life

me with my friend, L., from way back.. see previous post

December has been a busy month. I found that I gave myself too many work hours. Managing my new job is still a work in progress. I really love my new job!! But I need to figure out what will work best for me in my semi-retired life. It is still, and may always be, a high-intensity job. I have found that I can work four straight hours, but anything more than that is too strenuous for my brain and my body. Also, I don't like going in every day. So I'm making some alterations in the hours I request for future weeks and months.

Charles is working hard at his two contract jobs. He feels that his job at one of them is to do the best he can so that they love his work and want him to stay on permanently. So far they love his work, but he doesn't know if the wheels are in motion to keep him on. We sure hope so!

His paychecks are on a super-lag basis, so he has some good income stored up somewhere, just not yet in our bank. It's tough waiting, especially at this time of year! Eventually we'll catch up.

Last Sunday I went to a concert of the Twin Cities Womens Choir. It was beautiful! I know several people in the choir, including my ex-DIL. I thought I'd be OK, but the minute I saw her walk in I started to cry! I guess my wound is still too raw. I'll have to take care not to put myself in that sort of situation for a while, 'til I know I'm better healed.

Son's divorce was final in mid-November. Sad, sad, sad. I still feel like it's not real and is unbelievable. He's content so I use that to help me feel OK about it all.

Are you done Christmas shopping? I am! Just waiting for a couple of items to arrive in the mail, and then I'll be ready to get everything wrapped and under the tree. Happy Holidays, everyone!

at my crafting group gathering.. sorting through a bunch of yarn that was donated

cuties at our church Christmas pageant

Saturday, December 10, 2011


my family in 1960; I'm in the front row on the right

Recently I reconnected with my best friend from elementary school. Over the years we have heard bits and pieces of each other's lives. Sometimes our family members would see one or the other of us and pass along some information. But for the most part, for over 45 years, we have been mostly out of touch.

L. was the first girl I met when we moved to A-town. It was her birthday, and Mom sent me to her house for her birthday party, even though I didn't know a single person there! I was 5 years old, L was turning 6, which I did in another three months. We were best buds from then on, until my family moved away when L. and I were 12.

We enjoyed many hours of fun, creative, crazy, and sometimes naughty play. We were peas in a pod! We played Barbies, house, ran around outside, and once I remember we were "inventors" in her basement, pouring all kinds of kitchen liquids into jars in various mixtures and storing them on shelves. I was disgusted to see that they had all grown moldy after not too long a time! (I wonder what her mother thought of our experiments. Ha!) The movie, "Miracle Worker," came out during those years. L and I played Helen Keller, walking around as if we were blind and saying "wa-wa." We sat together in church and shook the church pews when we got the giggles over something crazy and then couldn't stop laughing. I was on my own, because Dad was the minister, and Mom sang in the choir. (She perfected the don't-be-naughtly glare from the choir loft, but I chose to ignore it.)

As we grew into pre-teens we were both totally boy-crazy, which we both maintained all through high school -- and both did no dating!

Fast forward to 2011. L's sister recently started attending my church, and we finally managed to get back in touch and to meet again. What fun! It was a real stitch going over our old memories and laughing about how we were still so much alike as adults. (We both are undiagnosed but both feel sure we have ADD.) We both ended up working in Special Ed in middle school and high schools. We both recently retired.

L. let me borrow several quilts and quilt pieces that she and her sister found in their mother's house. Their mother died not too long ago, just a few months shy of 100 years old. They have found quilts they don't remember ever seeing, and quilt parts that never got done, along with knitting projects and many other hand-made items. Sadly, they don't know the stories of most of the pieces they found. Some of them are obviously quite old, yellowed with age and fabrics are falling apart. Some are still in excellent condition.

It has been fun for me to see these creations of L's mother, but, of course, the most fun part has been re-connecting with L. Once one reaches our age (late 50s), the old memories are fun to re-hash and compare. I sent L. a picture of my Christmas ornament from 1959 which I remember getting in Sunday School. She said it looks familiar! She is expecting to find one just like it somewhere in her mother's house as they continue going through loads of stuff. (Her mother kept everything!)

My dad was a special person to L. and her family for a few reasons which I won't go into here.... suffice it to say, it is fun for me to hear L. speak of my dad in glowing terms. Next month it'll be ten years ago that my dad died! Hard to believe. He's still alive in my memories, and it's fun to hear others express warm memories of him, too.

It has been a fun reunion which has jogged my memory of many people and events in my young years that I had forgotten about. It almost seems like looking back into someone else's life. They are distant memories and yet seem like not so long ago, too. Was that little girl of so long ago really me??

It'll be fun for L. and me to continue our new/old friendship. Our lives cross paths in some interesting ways. I'm looking ahead to forming some new and fun memories to add to the old.

the ornament (left) from 1959

Friday, December 09, 2011

Friday Books

My most recent finish is The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson. I enjoyed this book. The writing was very good... the kind where I would go back and re-read a sentence because the word combinations were beautiful. I had to return the book to the library, so I can't look up an exact quote to give you an example. But one that I sort of remember was something like this: 'she was the kind of person who left stunned space where she had been.' I know that's not exact, but it was just a great image, and a cool way to describe a person like that... we've all known such people, I think.

It was the story of a family over a 30 year period (approximately). I wish I had kept a family tree in a list I could refer to as I read. Each chapter was a different person, in a different place, and a different year. Most chapters ended with a surprising event, after which you wonder, "well what happened next??" The answer would come a few chapters later, and sometimes only implied with the new activities of ensuing years.

I kind of liked that style, but at the same time it threw me off a tad, as I tried to keep up with who was who. I would have done better reading this book on a vacation, I think, when I could give it my full attention for longer periods of time and not forget who was who.

A good story, well told, beautiful language, interesting and engaging storyline of family relationships. 4 stars out of 5.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Quilt Distributions

Victoria and Bumble Beans BASICS distributed quilts to people transitioning out of homelessness. It took place this morning in New York City! She didn't reach the goal of 400 quilts by Thanksgiving, but got about 200 which is wonderful... and so she is still asking for completed quilts.

Here are a couple pictures from today's distribution. Don't the people look so happy?? You could make someone happy, too, by donating a completed quilt to someone in celebration of their new home. Just check out the Bumble Beans website, here. You'll get the info you need AND will see more of the distribution pictures.

all these beauties were donated!

proof that quilts = love!

this picture is just the BEST! Too cute.

A couple of quilts were distributed to me recently! Well.. I am borrowing them ever so briefly. A friend of mine let me take them so I can show them at my guild and perhaps get some info and/or advice on getting the first one completed. Her mother died recently, and my friend has been finding treasures as she goes through the house. I fell in love with these!

Which of you clever readers can tell me your estimate of the age of these quilts, judging by the fabric? The one with green I guessed is from the 30s and the other from the 40s, but I don't feel confident in this arena. Are you an expert? Tell me what you think!