Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Needlework Tuesday: Babies, Blocks and Headaches

Tuesday came and went last week without so much as a thought of posting for Needlework Tuesday.  Don't know where my brain was, but it left me with a lot to share this week.  

1.  The baby blanket is done!  It's not perfect, but it's done - and done with love.

And just in time. My great-nephew, Ruger, arrived 7/18/2014 and I will get to see him for the first time tomorrow.  

2.  Grandma's Quilt Blocks - I have posted before about the jackpot of Kansas City Star quilt patterns I discovered in a trunk in my dad's basement.  My grandmother had clipped and saved during the 1930's-1950's.  She passed away in 1954, before I was born, so this small connection to her was special to me.  I set out to make a quilt using a variety of patterns from Grandma's collection - all cut to the original specs in the pattern, and all sewn by hand.  I gave up after 6 blocks.  Those six blocks of varying sizes have been in a drawer waiting for me to get inspired to do something with them.  I finally got sashes added to make them all finish the same size (17 1/2 inches), and put them together.  

I'm not sure what's next for this odd assortment.  Do I add more blocks?  Add borders?  Finish it the size it is (51x34)?  Do I quilt by hand or machine?  Hopefully it won't take another 15 years to figure it out.  

3.  I shared a couple weeks ago about my new obsession with "hexies".  I've made dozens and dozens of 1" hexagons and sewn some of them into flowers which are destined to become a table runner, but I hadn't found a layout that really struck me until I visited my favorite antique store the other day.  Two fun finds will combine to become a runner for the antique buffet in my living room.  Find #1 is a vintage white table runner - very simple, with lace edging.  Find #2 was a plastic bag of fabric scraps already cut to just the right size for 1" hexies.  I love the delicate colors so I have started a whole new batch of hexagons which will be made into flowers and appliqued to the vintage runner.

4.  While pondering the 1" hexies, I also made some 1 1/2" hexies out of leftover Christmas prints.  They, too, will be made into a table runner, and this one is already coming together.

There are rows one and two of eight.  Each flower contains the same six prints plus a black center.  They are joined by the dark green hexies to represent leaves.  This part is all done by hand, but will be machine sewn to a backing when complete.

5.  And finally - what do you do when you are awake at 4:30 a.m. with a killer headache?  Make a random quilt block, of course.  Dave had to be on the road by 5:00 Monday morning to help our daughter move out of her apartment, so I got up to make the coffee and see him off.  Like a total idiot, I forgot to take my medicine the night before, so I awoke with a throbbing head - not much chance of going back to sleep.  To distract myself while waiting for the after-headache medicine to kick in, I started perusing pattern books and was struck with brilliance - or what passes for brilliance at 5:00 a.m. when your head is pounding.  I will work myself through my pattern books making random "practice blocks" out of scraps as practice on cutting and assembling with precision.  

Ta-da---- Block #1 is called Attic Window and, as you can see, was made from scraps from Grandma's quilt blocks (above) which were still laying on the cutting table.  

What are you sewing, knitting, crocheting or otherwise stitching this week?  Visit our hostess, Heather, at Books and Quilts and link up to share all your projects.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Jennifer Wixson: Author Interview and Give-Away

In conjunction with the release of her latest book, The Songbird of Sovereign (Book #3 in the Sovereign Series), author Jennifer Wixson has graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions.  She's also giving you the chance to win copies of her books and a set of these beautiful Sovereign Series Notecards.  (details below) 

But first, find out a little more about Jennifer and The Sovereign Series.

1,  Why did you choose tuberculosis and, more specifically, a sanatorium as part of Miss Hasting's story? 

My father's cousin, Leverett Wixson, met his wife at the Central Maine Sanatorium in the 40s or 50s when they were both being treated for TB.  When I was a child I always thought theirs was a romantic story.  Also, Leverett was one of my favorite people (he lived into his 80s) and, because of him, I became aware of this largely forgotten time period in Maine history.  I knew that Miss Hastings needed to undergo a dramatic, life-altering experience in her youth to make her the special person she is and so I thought that sending her to a sanatorium would allow me to weave some Maine history into her very special story.  In addition, I wanted to dwell on the importance of loving someone while we have them with us because we never know when the hand of fate might intervene and snatch them away. I also wanted to touch on the power of unconditional love, which allows us to love beyond the grave.

2,  The Sovereign Series was originally slated to be a trilogy, but a fourth book, Miss Hastings' story, was added due to reader requests.  Are there other Sovereign characters who may have a story to tell?

 Most of the characters in Sovereign are secondary characters and their personalities are pretty much fixed.  We feel as though we know them well, which is part of the series' appeal.  I do try to interject some secondary story lines for some of them in each book.  For example, in Songbird we come to know Leland Gorse quite a bit better, and in Peas, Beans & Corn Trudy Gorse (and outsider Ryan MacDonald) share the stage with our hero and heroine, Bruce and Amber.  Gray Gilpin will play a bigger role in Book 4, and so will Dr. Bart (he's the leading man).  But I do not expect any of the rest of the folks in Sovereign to get their own book like Miss Hastings has.  That is, not unless I get a hundred emails or tweets from readers who want to know more about a particular character! 

3.  I'm looking forward to the Sovereign Cookbook coming out next year.  How do you use food in your stories?  What do you think food adds to the reader's experience?  Are you creating the recipes for the cookbook yourself?  

 Food plays a big role in my novels because I love to eat and I love Maine food(s).  I come from a family of GREAT Maine cooks, and traditional dishes and recipes have been handed down from mother to daughter (and often granddaughter, in my instance) for a generations.  Some of my favorite memories with those I've loved and lost are the meals I've shared with them.  For example, I remember picking raspberries at my grandmother's house, a brick homestead in Norway (Maine) that has been in the family nearly 200 years.  I'd pick the raspberries that grew in the old barn cellar and then my grandmother and I would make raspberry jelly. And then she'd whip up a batch of Bakewell Cream biscuits and perk some hot coffee on the woodstove and we'd sit down at the oak table (upon which she was born) and stuff our faces with hot biscuits and raspberry jelly and wash it all down with fresh coffee and cream.  Just thinking of that makes me salivate now! It also makes my heart filled with love for my grandmother.  Memories like that have shown me that people we love never die, they are always with us, for whenever I eat biscuits or raspberry jelly my grandmother is always right there beside me, telling me to pass the jelly! 

The recipes I use in the books (and which will be in the cookbook) are mostly old family recipes. I also use a couple of old family cookbooks, and regularly "mine" other Maine and New England cookbooks looking  for ideas and interesting recipes, particularly old church cookbooks.  My sister, Cheryl Wixson, is the cook in our generation and her style is a fabulous mix of old and new.  Cheryl's daughter, Laurel (my oldest niece) is in charge of putting the cookbook together. 

4.  If The Minister's Daughter (book 4 in the series - due out in 2015) is truly the end of our time in Sovereign, what's next?  Do you anticipate continuing your writing career?  Do you have new projects in mind?. 

The Sovereign Series will end (for the time being) next year with the advent of Book 4, The Minister's Daughter, and The Sovereign Series Cookbook.  This is mostly because I want to move on to work on other projects.  About 10 years ago I started an historical series of novels that centered around the life of Hannah Chase Bartlett, who with her Quaker family, were the first white people to settle in the late 19th century in the wilderness of what later became Unity, Maine.  Hannah was 16 when they settled 25-Mile-Pond.  She married one of the two brothers that arrived in the area not long after the Chases, for which she was excommunicated by the Religious Society of Friends because her husband was not a Quaker.  Others settled the area and Hannah and Lemuel and their families became leading members of the community.  Lots of interesting stuff happens, and Hannah eventually rejoins the Friends and becomes a noted travelling minister.  Anyway, I had the first book in that trilogy nearly written a decade ago when my life was interrupted by a personal crisis.  I've never been able to get back to it since, and I kind of feel as though I left Hannah standing at the alter.  When I leave Sovereign, Maine now I'm going next to 25-Mile-Pond where I've got a date with a very remarkable young woman. 

Will I ever return to Sovereign?  Well, I can't say for sure, but I can see myself returning to town in, say, about ten years or so, if only to find out what's going on with everyone.  Of course, something could happen to SOMEONE there before that that would make me want to return earlier.  Time will tell!

5.  And the real question on everyone's mind - Is the Annual Goldenrod Run a real-life event?  Come on, we promise not to tell a soul! 

The goldenrod run WAS real until reality stepped in and put the kabosh to it.  I used to take a run through the glorious golden spikes in the field next to my house every August when I thought that the goldenrod was tall enough to cover most of my, uh, particulars.  But one year my stepmother snapped a photo of me running buff as a baby through the flowers and the pic revealed just HOW MUCH of me was showing above the goldenrod! (Too much.) Ouch, ouch.  So I stopped my annual naked run.

The fund raiser I mention in Songbird is wishful thinking.  I'd like to do something like that.  Unfortunately my field of goldenrod is now one of our hay fields that we use to feed our Scottish Highlands.  I wonder -- How many of my readers would be interested in participating in something like that?  I would be interested in knowing.  My hunch is that it's pretty high!

To find out more about the Goldenrod Run, you'll have to read Songbird of Sovereign

For a chance to win one of our fantastic prizes, just leave a comment by midnight, July 31st.  Five winners will be chosen by random drawing and notified on August 2nd.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Virtual Book Tour: The Songbird of Sovereign by Jennifer Wixson

She's the most popular resident of Sovereign, Maine yet no one in this rural farming community of 1,048 souls has ever known the story behind Miss Hastings' seven decades of dedication to schoolchildren. Now Maggie, the town's minister, sets out on a quest to plumb the mystery of Miss Hastings' past before the retired music teacher -- nearing her 89th birthday and in failing health -- departs this world forever.  (from publisher's blurb)

Mayberry, Walnut Grove and ... Sovereign, Maine.  Sometimes the setting of a story becomes a character of it's own.  The third book ofJennifer Wixson's Sovereign Series welcomes fans back to the friendly village they have come to love.  

When I reviewed the first two installments of this series, I praised Jennifer's blend of old and new. This story takes that blend to a new level, alternating between present day and the early 1940's.  Since I am not normally a fan of historical fiction, I appreciate an author who weaves historical fact into a fictional story and teaches me something as I read.  Ms. Wixson managed to educate me painlessly.   I had no idea that sanatoriums for the treatment and isolation of tuberculosis, like the fictional Windmere, actually existed.  I was fascinated by the inside look at the life of patients who were confined there, separated from family and friends and, in some cases, with no hope of leaving.

The "thing" - for lack of a better word - that made this story so touching, to me, was watching the characters discover the "real" Miss Hastings.  How often do we, like the citizens of Sovereign, think that our surface acquaintance with someone means that we "know" them?  I loved watching the story evolve and the depiction of Miss Hastings evolve along with it.  

Once again, Jennifer has given us a story about time and place and connections that makes you want to pull up a chair on the front porch and just listen awhile.

Check out all the stops on this virtual tour and come back here next Sunday - July 27th - for an interview with the author and a chance to win the first three books of this wonderful series, as well as some other goodies.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tangled Thursday" Zeta Challenge

It's my turn to select the challenge for Tangled Thursday, so I'm choosing "Zeta" as the feature pattern.  Zeta is a new-to-me pattern that I'm anxious to work on. It can be used in any manner you choose in your drawing.  Post your Zeta Tangles on Thursday, July 24th and link up at Tangled Thursday headquarters:  Books & Quilts.

Detailed instructions can be found here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Who's on First? And Why Do They Have My Cell Phone?

I feel like I'm stuck inside Abbott and Costello's Whose on First? routine.  Our daughter's iPhone fell out of the golf cart and landed on concrete.  No more screen - not just cracked glass - the screen no longer functions.  Insurance had a new one overnighted and Amanda left on vacation.  I agreed to return the broken phone for her.  All I have to do is mail it in the provided envelope, right?
In order to secure your private information, you must perform a factory reset on any iPhone device you send back.
That seems reasonable.  What do I do?
Reset your device by selecting "Settings" - "General" . . .
Hmmm.  With no screen, that's not going to work.  What is option 2?
Connect your device to any computer running the iTunes program.
My office computer has iTunes (who knows why).  An all-office email located an iPhone cord that I could borrow.  This should only take a few minutes.
iTunes does not recognize this device.  Please sync device with this computer.  
The phone is synced with Amanda's laptop, which is 120 miles away, so I guess I'll have to start over on this computer.  Since we're wiping out the phone anyway, it won't hurt a thing.
To sync the device to this computer, please sign into your iTunes account.
That would be AMANDA'S account - Amanda, who is on vacation.  A couple texts to Amanda provided the associated email account and five potential passwords (who remembers these things?) Number 3 did the trick - Finally, I'm in!  
iTunes can not connect with this iPhone because the phone is locked.  Please enter the lock pass code.
Pay attention, Apple!  I don't have a screen and I can't enter the code without a screen! Now what?
While connected to iTunes, press and hold wake/sleep button and home button until screen goes black . . . iTunes will recognize that you have a phone in recovery mode and allow you to restore the phone.
Let's review:  iTunes won't access phone (even in recovery mode) until it is synced to the computer, can't sync without unlocking the phone, can't unlock because I have no screen!!

Time to call in the experts.  I'm contacting Apple support.  
Choose a product and we'll connect you with an expert.
[Select "iPhone"]
What's happening with your iPhone?  Choose a topic and we'll find you the best support option. 
[Select "Using iPhone with iTunes"]
Please select a more specific topic from this list . . .
[Select "Restore or Update"]
How would you like to get help?
I don't have time for e-mail  [Select "Chat"]
We need your serial number for this solution.  To find your serial number, tap Settings - General . . .
Haven't we been here before?  I DON'T HAVE A SCREEN!  
See more ways to find your serial number.
Get the information from your computer.  Connect your device and open iTunes....

At this point, I'm taking matters into my own hands.  I can delete all personal information in six easy steps.
  1. Place phone in provided mailer.
  2. Carefully align mailer with tires of SUV.
  3. Back over phone
  4. Pull forward over phone.  
  5. Wipe off tire tracks.
  6. Drop in mailbox.
Take that, Apple!  

Now, who's on first?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Needlework Tuesday: Hexed!

Image from "We All Sew"
Geometry was not my favorite subject, but when I saw this picture, I was immediately sucked into the "hexie" craze.   Doesn't  that make you want to sew hundreds of hexagons just for the fun of it?  Ok, maybe it's just me.  

If you are drawn in, this article from We All Sew includes links to several tutorials and project ideas.   I decided on 1" hexagons (meaning each side measures 1"), so I needed 2 1/2" squares of fabric.   

I won't go into the process of making hexies, since it's covered so well by others, but I will add a couple of my own discoveries.

1.  The best place I find for printing paper templates is at Love Patchwork and Quilting.  They offer free downloads of multiple sizes of hexagons.  I printed 10 sheets and spent a couple hours at my "ultra-busy" job cutting them out.  However, the paper hexagons can be reused multiple times, so I didn't need as many to get started as I thought.

2.  I wasted a ridiculous amount of time and brain power figuring the size of fabric scrap needed, and the fastest/easiest way to cut multiple hexagons.  Then a friend pointed out that the fabric doesn't have to be a perfect hexagon.  Cut 2 1/2" squares, pin on the 1" hexagon template, then snip off corners before you start stitching.  OR, my preference, is to just leave he corners on.  It actually makes it easier to fold around the paper piece and when the final product is pressed, does not add enough bulk to matter.

3.  Don't skip the pinning step.  Whether you use a straight pin, paper clip, glue stick, butcher paper or any of the other methods listed in the article, don't skip this step.  I thought I could just hold the paper in place well enough.  WRONG!  No matter how well I thought I was holding, the paper shifted and I had uneven hexagons.

Now that I have a small stash of hexies made up, I am assembling them into flowers - 1 hexie in the center, surrounded by 6 "petals"  There are dozens and dozens of project ideas on Pinterest, so everyone on my Christmas list can expect hexies in their stocking.  

A sampling of my hexagon flowers on my design board.
For starters, and practice, I'm making a table runner - white background with hexie flowers scattered down the center and machine appliqued.  I practiced on one flower, using a blanket-style stitch.  You can see that I experimented with the number of stitches/inch until I found what I liked. And, of course, on the final project I will use white thread.  I am going for a "scrappy" look, rather than color coordinating each flower (as you'll see in many projects) - the better to use that large plastic tote of scraps I have collected.

I also made progress on the baby quilt.  My great-nephew is due on the 19th, but the doctor says "any minute", so I'm trying to get it complete and ready to go for our first visit. The tying is done and the binding is sewn on.  All that's left is the hand sewing - my favorite part. 

 Someone asked for more details about the machine-tying method I used.  The corner of each block is tacked with a tight zig-zag stitch.  It makes a cleaner look than hand tying - no lose ends - but it was more difficult to keep from bunching up.  Even with pins every 4", the backing shifted a little.  I didn't bother to clip threads between corners, I pulled out enough thread to get to the next corner without pulling in between, and made the next stitches.  I clipped all threads after I was finished.  

Hopefully, there will be pictures of the finished quilt next week.  Maybe even one with the new arrival.

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather @ Books & Quilts.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Simple Hearted

The Lord protects the simple hearted.
Psalm 116:6 (NIV)

I read this verse a few weeks ago, and it has been on my mind.  What does it mean to be simple hearted?  I have thought myself to be simple minded at times, but am I simple hearted?  My first response was to look to other Bible translations for clarification.

King James:  The Lord preserveth the simple.
The Living Bible:  The Lord protects the simple and the childlike.
Good News Translation:  The Lord protects the helpless.
God's Word Translation:  The Lord protects defenseless people.
Holman Christian Standard:  The Lord guards the inexperienced.
The New Living Translation:  The Lord protects those of childlike faith.

"Simple" - lacking in knowledge; not hard to understand; not special or unusual.  I am definitely all of those things, but somehow I don't think that's the meaning the Psalmist is trying to convey.

"Helpless" or "defenseless" - I am often in over my head, or outnumbered, or caught off guard and find myself helpless and/or defenseless.  But those are circumstances.  I think being simple hearted is a deliberate choice of attitude.

"Inexperienced" - Well that can apply in so many areas!

"Childlike" - That's not the same as childish, right?  Childlike faith conjures pictures of innocence; accepting the care of the Heavenly Father in the same unquestioning way a child knows that his parents will provide for him.  But that is a child's character, not his choice. 

None of these words defined simple hearted for me, so next I went to Bible dictionaries and commentaries.  The best definition I found is: 

Simple hearted:  Free from deceit; sincere; not artificial; humble; honest.

That's better.  Those are concepts that fit with the Psalm and with my outlook.  A simple heart does not harbor deceit or schemes, but is openly and honestly devoted to God in all company.  Not just in church or with Christian friends,  but in ALL company.

I have written previously about my goals for the "second half" of life (on my 50th birthday, and on my 51st birthday). 

Live Simply - Weed out those possessions, relationships, commitments  and attitudes that cause stress or take more time to maintain than they are worth.  Live better with less.

Be Gracious - pleasantly kind, benevolent, courteous, merciful, compassionate - at all times.  

For my 54th year, I am adding another goal:

Be Simple Hearted