Sunday, March 27, 2016

Memories Made

How little it takes to make good memories...and so I reflect on our Easter Egg dying party...some pizza, a gathering of family, hard boiled eggs, some egg dying kits, and a few treats in Easter bags, and a party was
Nice green!
You are going to do what?
Mmmm? Getting good!!
...another technique--shrink wraps?! Really?
Whoops...the eggs are too big for these wraps!!
Yet another green?!
You know what they say about famous minds think alike?...another green egg!!
Yet another version of green, the IN color this year with a bit of marbleizing!
Kacy is very serious about his egg art!
And this is the work of our serious egg artist!
And it isn't a one-sided work of art!
Cassie, left to hang out in the corner by herself?
...but not forgotten...with a little hug here and there!
The start of Kacy's photo gallery of his and Sarah Kate's egg art!
Egg Art photo by Kacy, so he can eat them this year instead of saving them!
Too beautiful to crack and eat, for sure...Easter eggs by Kacy and Sarah Kate!
Another art photo by Kacy of his and Sarah Kate's egg art!
Kacy's photo of his  Humpty Dumpty egg art!!
 We hope you enjoyed your Easter/ Passover/ Spring celebration as much as we did!!

Friday, March 25, 2016

More Lenten Lessons as Easter Draws Near

My last Lenten tribulation, machine quilting top and batting, a job now done!
Lenten lessons keep coming! I am now learning how annoying people can be when they wish to be kind and helpful! It is true! My husband has recently been temporarily retired and I find he is often "too kind", which can be very dear but sometimes annoying!? Now God seems to have flipped the mirror to its magnified side and, once again, there I am, larger than life! Could it be that my Lenten promise to do an act of kindness each day is really an act of annoyance instead? Are my little self-sacrifices of kindnesses more about making me feel good, without considering what another person really needs? Am I sometimes feeding my own ego and perhaps getting in another's way, or giving them something that they don't want or aren't ready for?
Boiling too few eggs seems to have caused them to crack more?

I add cold water after boiling them to make them peel more easily.

Adding ice, I have heard assures that they will peel more easily!  It is true!

Batch #1 cooked & labeled. It is NOT good to mix raw eggs with cooked ones!
Sometimes kindnesses serves the doer more than the person being helped. Likely a person, in order to be really kind, needs to question "good for who and in what way"? When I took care of my mother, I learned that her increased dependency on me was not good for her self-respect and dignity.  What is most helpful isn't always doing for another but supporting them to do for themselves. This often doesn't mean "taking over", but, rather taking time to share in their journey and allowing them to share in your's.

I never will forget when I had my stroke November 2011. Being on the special protocol I was on, I was warned that permanent damage is most often done to patients by well-meaning medical staff that don't know or understand about the limits of this weird and different protocol.  With this in mind, I checked myself out of intensive care, and pushed to go directly home as soon as my vital signs were stable and my tests completed.

A good night's rest was in order, especially after being uncomfortable trying to sleep on a bed that was intentionally too hard, in case an emergency resuscitation should be necessary! It was "safer" to be at home, I figured, where no one would accidentally give me what might well be harmless for another patient and unintentionally kill me, as I had a long list of commonly used medications that would likely cause a violent and potentially deadly reaction. I went directly home though I couldn't ambulate safely as my entire left side was still mostly paralyzed, my core strength zapped and my balance almost non-existent.

Still it was good to be at home and as I went to sit on my computer desk chair to peck out a one-handed note to my friends about what had happened to me, my chair moved, and losing my balance, I missed my chair and fell to the floor. My husband soon discovered me lying on the floor. Not fully appreciating how dysfunctional I was, he inquired what I was doing there and I started laughing at the thought that he might be thinking I was purposely stretched out on the floor by choice!

I informed him that I missed my chair and fallen.  He of course was all too willing to try to pick me up but I refused his help. It wasn't that I wanted to continue to lay on the floor, but I didn't want him to injure himself with half of my body being dead weight.

I explained my dilemma, and told him that I was trying to figure out how to get up using a sturdy chair  nearby and with the use of only half of my body. With that, he did the kindest thing ever. He laid  down on the floor just on the other side of the doorway facing me and tried to figure out how to get himself up using only one side of his body.

We laughed as we tried to think of what to do. In fact I laughed so hard that I soon had another problem; I had wet my pants on top of it all, and this made us both laugh even harder!  Still my dearly beloved husband was there with me, and our laughing eroded all fear. I would get up when we both figured how I could do so without injuring him or myself. Sharing my limits was the kindest thing he could do and having him join my plight as to how I could help myself was as good as it got!

Dignity?...OK, there was none, but none was needed for I was with someone who understood and loved me enough to share my problem. I did manage to get up, though I don't remember now exactly how, but I do remember that it was enough that I had him there with me for encouragement.  I got better each day, and took my physical challenges one by one, until in time and with the help of out-patient rehab, I grew independent again. Fortunately everyday brought more and more progress and my recovery was nothing short of miraculous!  I have never forgotten that intimate moment when we were both laying on the floor laughing over my helplessness. I don't think that this is how rehab is usually done, but losing my fear was key! I felt that my recovery was then only a matter of time.

As I write this, I am reminded of reading Karen by Maria Killilea.  This is a true story of raising a child born with Cerebral Palsy in the days when such children were typically institutionalized. Written by her mother, Maria freely wrote of all the issues that she and her family faced in keeping Karen at home and raising her in the midst of their family. It is a story of great courage and ingenuity as there were no experts at that time to teach them how to do what their child needed. Supporting Karen to become as independent as possible took creativity, determination, perseverance and love. At one point Karen is so afraid of falling that her fears actually caused her muscles to become so tight, causing them to spasm.  Her mom decided that the only way forward was to help Karen get over the fear of falling by making "falling" a game. She put a mattress on the floor and had everyone fall on it, including Karen. By losing her fear of falling, Karen was then able to progress.

Once again, I see myself mirrored in my husband, who is so kind and supportive to me that he sometimes limits my ability to do for myself. I am learning that another's kindness, however well meaning, may not always consider what is best for another. Kindness of any sort does build a bridge to another's hear and along with honest and tactful communication  helps, though can initially offend someone who has gone out of their way to help. It is needed for the growth for all concerned. I see now that my acts of kindness aren't always what another needs or wants. It is my own lesson to be sure.

I have learned that doing simple acts of kindness isn't always so "simple".  They require consideration and communication as to whether or not such an act is helpful or not and I must admit, I often don't think as much as I should. Acts of kindness should be acts of love. Again lst Corinthians 13:4 on love teaches that love involves patience, mercy, forgiveness and must not be self-serving, arrogant or proud. Offense should not be taken, and often when that happens pride is perhaps the cause. Real acts of love are more difficult than meet the eye. A person must be ready to look at their self as well. "Sweetness" isn't always "sweet", just as apparent "kindness" may not be so "kind".

Lenten lessons and personal growth don't begin and end with Lent, but are year round and always humbling. "Simple, arbitrary and contrite" doesn't cut it!! Jesus's love for us as demonstrated by his passion, death and resurrection was anything but shallow. It was and remains commitment in the extreme, and so our commitments to being loving and kind with each other should reflect the same. Where there is real love there most often real sacrifice.

Clearly Lent is too short a season to properly prepare for the enormity of the messages of Good Friday and Easter. I am realizing again that God's love is unfathomable, and He has set an example for us all. Lent, I think is to remind us how human we are and how big indeed are the lessons that we need to learn to be better people. Even a lifetime is too brief to learn all that God's love teaches us. Lenten lessons are often humble reminders of how human and ungodly we are and that conversion of heart takes a lifetime! Being humbled isn't about making us feel bad, but rather, our humility fills us with the awe of God's love.  He loves us so much that He stretched out his arms as far as they would stretch and submitted to his crucifixion and death.  It is very hard for us to even imagine such a love!

A few different sorts of egg dyes to entertain the many artists dying our eggs!

A few little silly treats and a party is created!
New appreciation of His sacrifice makes me ready to celebrate my life with a renewed freshness. The celebration of Easter is coming and I prepare for our annual egg dying party and gathering of loved ones to celebrate Easter and spring. It takes only a little love, some hard-boiled eggs, some Easter egg dying kits, a few party favors (strictly optional), a pizza and a gathering of loved ones to make the season more special! I embrace various religious celebrations of this season as well.

While I write of  our Easter celebration, others celebrate Passover, and still others simply the coming of Spring. Gathering loved ones to share in your festivities, whatever they may be, adds to the joy of the seasons and it seems that these sorts of simple celebrations have become the very traditions that continue to unite our family. I wish you all a Happy Easter, Passover and Spring!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Machine Quilting Basics

Not getting any younger, I have decided to apply my hand-quilting knowledge to machine quilting. I am having to remind myself that "Rome wasn't built in a day" and you know what they say about "old dogs learning new tricks".  My progress feels a bit like watching grass grow.  My learning is slow and methodical.

First came discovering ways to make my piecing work more accurate using tearing techniques as well as rotary cutting and using guide strips for more accurate and uniform blocks and learning to match seams and avoid thread nests.  I came from the days of old when only scissors were used and they had to be hidden to be sure that they weren't used to cut paper by my kids! (Warning some of these pictures are not new but review what I have learned regarding quilting basics.)
Torn and rotary cut strips and accurately pieced quilt blocks in process.
 Strips pinned ready to stitch to make 9 patch blocks.
Using sewing guides for more accurate piecing.

Again, use of guides to uniformly sew strips.

Pressed alternate strips to be cut using a rotary cutter.

Uniformly stitched 9 patch/ 9 patch quilt blocks.

My first attempt at machine quilting on my old Bernina machine was done using a walking foot with the special Stitch-in-the-Ditch attachment . This is used to move both the top and bottom layer of material with the batting inbetween uniformly. I quilted each block individually and then joined their tops and batting and then finished their back seams by hand (Quilt-as-You-Go Technique*). Despite much care being taken to make my seams as flat as possible on their backside, I was less than pleased with the results.  They didn't look like quilts I had seen in quilt shows!! I am now going to cover them with sashing strips sewed to the back by hand. Is Quilt-as-You-Go machine quilting actually time-saving? I am not sure!
A Stitch-in-the-Ditch quilting foot. The bar in the middle follows the seam.

Hand-sewn seams made for crooked machine quilting done on the back side.

It wasn't my hand-sewn seams that caused the eyesores but rather the machine quilting over these seams. It was very hard to perfectly align front and back seams, so machine quilting them on the front side magnified this mismatch on the back.

Quilt #2--A memory quilt: personal fabrics, clothes and quilt blocks.
My next quilt (number two) is basically the same pieced pattern, but instead of quilting it block by block and then joining them, I decided I would sew the blocks into rows to then machine quilt them. I still ponder how to improve joining the rows in a way that won't involve having to cover my seams on the backside. I am also considering different quilting patterns that won't require quilting on or near the back hand-sewn seams.

My friend's mother's hand-embroidered quilt blocks--too precious to NOT use.

Hand-made baby clothes to be "hung on the clothes line" on back (quilt #2)
On this same quilt (number two) I wanted to do a special hand appliqued dedication. This is a scrap quilt top made from my friend's mother's materials.  With the box of these materials came  tiny baby clothes my mother's friend had made for her girls as well as precious hand-embroidered quilt blocks. I will applique "a clothes line with these specially made clothes and little quilt hanging on the line" to the back and will embroider a dedication to her mother.  I thought this perfect as my friend's mother was a woman that loved washing clothes and hanging them on the line.  She never used a clothes dryer and loved to iron ALL of their clothes even as she aged.  She was indeed a special mother that loved taking care of her family in domestic ways that have been lost in today's world!! Sadly, my creative ideas aren't equally matched to my primitive abilities in the world of machine quilting. This project has grown bigger, and so I have postponed its completion to allow my skills to catch up. My number three quilt will give me more practice so my friend's quilt will turn out better after a bit more practice, or at least that is my plan!

Quilt #3: More practice using Stitch-in-the-Ditch machine quilting.

Quilt #3: Quilting done through pieced edging and batting only.
Quilt number three is a quickly constructed quilt top using a different but equally as simple straight-lined- pieced top whose blocks are joined using "sashing" strips.  I wanted it to be a utility, everyday sort of quilt/comforter for our guest bedroom.  I wanted it to be extra puffy like a comforter but with the texture of quilting as well.  My solution for easier construction and quilting of a large double bed-sized quilt spread with high loft batting on my old basic Bernina was to machine quilt the top with a thin cotton batting and add a polyfill batting and backing to be tied, like I would in making a comforter. I am hoping that it will have a plump, soft comforter look with the look and texture of a true quilt as well. Being the only bedding besides sheets, the extra warmth will be welcome in our chilly or cold Vermont weather.

This third quilt will give me more practice to perfect Stitch-in-the- Ditch style machine quilting, using Quilt-as-You-Go technique similar to what I would use on quilt number two, quilting it in strips. I am hoping that the joining of the strips will go more smoothly as I am not having to quilt through the backing too. The backing will be one whole piece, a technique that would perhaps work better on quilt number two as well. Whoever said quilting doesn't involve brains is quite mistaken and I am working at sharpening my brain and sweeping out any cobwebs from early dementia as I work out how to construct these quilts!
Quilt #3: Machine quilting using Stitch-in-the-Ditch quilting walking foot.

Batting is yet another consideration.  On quilt number three, I am using a low loft cotton batting, ready for quilting (no pre-shrinking needed), and so far it is quilting easily, but is not producing the amount of "puff" texture that I would like.  I did note that there is a thicker cotton pellon batting that would be easy to work with, but would require pre-washing, or so I have been lead to believe. Quilt number two is going to a friend in California. Adding a back and then appliqueing my dedication design on the back, may mean the thin batting will be more than adequate weight and the pellon batting perhaps too heavy for such a warm climate? I will finish quilt number three to see how the quilting looks as well as being sure that the combination of quilting and tying works before I make a final decision as to how I finish quilt number two.

I do remember my other comforters and quilting experience from years ago. I sewed a beautiful comforter for my mother.  We decided that corduroys were especially rich in colors and would be beautiful all sewn together in a very simple multi-colored square patchwork.  It was indeed beautiful, but I tied it with a fluffy high loft batting with a corduroy backing as well.  It made for a sort of "sleigh-bundling quilt", guaranteed to keep you warm in an electrical storm with the furnace out, if not riding for hours in a sleigh on a cold winter day! Fortunately my mother used it on an an extra day bed that was only used by myself once. Its weight should have come with suffocation warnings, but was a definate cure for Restless Leg Syndrome!

The jury is still out as to which machine quilting techniques will work best for quilt number two, except that it will be done in strips and quilted in a Quilt-as-You-Go* fashion.  I am noting that machine quilting, while faster than hand-quilting, is still a lot of work!!  And all of this was to facilitate finishing all my unfinished quilts I have started!! Did I mention (yet again) that I am not getting any younger? My three learning quilts have now been added to the list of quilts to complete!! Carpal tunnel and a painful trigger finger have been added to the equation. This sport of quilting is NOT for sissies!!

(*Quilt-As-You-Go is a technique where you quilt a quilt either block by block or in sections that are then joined by stitching the top seam and batting and then folding under the top seam  which is then sewn by hand using an invisible whip-stitch. It is used as a way of more easily creating smaller portions of the quilt at a time and then stitching them together to make large bed-sized quilts.)

On The Side:  Sewing fleece socks goes on throughout the year so that my inventory of three hundred pairs of socks will be ready for my shows late fall and pre-Christmas season. They help support my material addiction habits!! There is no rest for the wicked...and yet I no idle hands or mind to be wicked now!

Sewing fleece socks--during my breaks from machine quilting.
Stitched one sock at a time, I will sew 100+ pairs to add to my sock inventory.
Pre-cut socks ready for sewing. No idle hands allowed at Little House!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lenten Journey Brings Growth

A local Vermont farm waits for spring and new growth.
Lent is about spiritual renewal and rather than boast and puff up with pride only to set myself up for yet another burst bubble, let me say my Lenten journey has gotten good...not because I am in charge, but precisely because, I am not.

The ice continues on Lake Bomoseen as the die-hard ice fishermen take risks.
My commitment to do a simple act of kindness each day turned out to be anything but simple.  What I had in mind and what God presented were clearly different tasks. My plan was to take a self-chosen path of doing good and instead God seemed to choose another path for me. It was one that required more patience and humility, and less "accomplishments to feel good about" and more sacrifice in terms of dealing with my own personal annoyances and stumbling blocks, after all, spiritual growth and change of heart is the real goal of Lent.

"Walking on water" isn't for sissies, especially as spring approaches!
I recently downloaded a book on kindle, A Love Worth Giving: Living in the Overflow of God's Love by Max Lucado, one of my favorite Christian theologians, preachers and writers.  He truly has a gift for translating "the holy" into everyday language and actions that I can relate to and his humor in doing so makes self-revelations less painful.  It didn't take long to see myself as other's see me, and falling way short of the mark when it comes to loving others as God loves me.

Ice is beginning to melt! We hope late season fishermen are swimmers too!
At the heart, my acts of patience and kindness came with many inward grumbles and silent whines and groans. I found myself a lot like the infamous Grinch, with a heart shrunken from too much focus on myself and not enough on others. I continued my Lenten commitment despite my failings of heart, hoping that if I "faked it" long enough enough, I might "make it". It was not surprising that such an act of conversion first involves self awareness and seeing how I miss the mark! This is likely nothing new to God, but only to myself.  How much I live in Neverland where my dreams and expectations exceed my abilities to make them happen. I live ahead of myself and carelessly skip the needed discipline in most everything I do! It is no wonder that I literally turn my ankles frequently, as my head is in the clouds as I am quite literally trying to fly instead of walk!!

Not many ice shacks left on the lake, a sign of spring coming.
My husband, who knows me too well laughed as I told him of my Lenten commitments and he wisely suggested that I instead attempt to do one real act of kindness during this whole Lenten season versus each day?  He is more realistic to be sure!

Water is flowing here!
Author, Max Lucado suggests that his readers consider the familiar scripture passage from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, where love is defined and suggested we substitute our name in place of the word "love"...Paraphrased for me, it would read: "Jane is patient, kind, non-envious, boastful or proud." I didn't need to go on.  It made me burst out laughing, as it was clear that I did anything but pass the test.

A touch of green as new spring life peeks through.
Still I continued, "Jane is not rude, self-seeking or easily angered"....I had to take another pause.  I had run out of fingers and toes to cross (a secret I learned to do whenever I told a falsehood when I was a child, less I offend God, a way of letting him know)...but I continued on..."and Jane keeps no records of wrongs"...I saw once again why I must burn my journals before I die, as they are records of all the wrongs of others, never minding my own!!...."Jane doesn't delight in evil", even though in my dreams I am taking pleasure in testifying against those that have hurt me, as they are drug off to jail, neglecting the fact that I am forgiven for my own transgressions! " Jane rejoices in the truth?" Now I wondered about the truth as I know it, as clearly I work to avoid to see my jealous and envious spirit!..."Jane always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres", to which I must add "all for the purpose of mostly serving myself".  A saint, I am NOT!

I am so blessed, a quilter with lovely materials, no matter how undeserving.
Without God's grace it is clear that I have no hope for the rewards of heaven, let alone the rewards of earth...AND YET, do I NOT have a loving and forgiving family that is there for me always, and haven't my needs all been met?  Am I not a sewer and quilter with bins and bins of materials, more than what I know what to do with?...And patterns and threads to go with them? I feel comfort in knowing that I am not the only sinner, and therein lies God's mercy, the quest of my Lenten journey to rediscover what I already know!

Disciplined? I have a long way to go! A saint I am NOT!

I have also been shown that what was annoying me most about those that God seemed to send to me that stood in my way of doing the more "lovely acts of kindnesses" during these Lenten days have been people that are most like myself, too talkative, too needy, and whiny and filled with concerns. It was as though God held a mirror up to me, and there I am and as hard as it is for me to be patient and kind, I couldn't help but notice how tolerant are those very same people with me? How much I owe versus deserve!

My prideful "bubble bursts" don't come easy for me and yet how essential they are for trimming my sails and helping to "ground me" regarding my human condition. How easy it is to forget that I stand on no higher ground than anyone else! Everything in life is a gift and how easy it is to forget that. Appreciating that fact is really the center of the Easter message, and if you aren't a Christian, it is also the center of any newness of spirit or life that seems to comes with spring.

My mind suddenly recalled one of my favorite folk songs, though it started out as a Shaker song, and has since been added to our hymnal at church: "Simple Gifts". I recalled its words, as best I could:
"'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free,
'Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be.
And when we've found ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we will not be ashamed.
To turn, to turn, it will be our delight,
'Till by turning and turning, we come 'round right.

I hope you are all rejoicing that Spring is around the corner, and with it, the Easter season of new life!

(Outdoor photos all done by Tom McMillen...Thanks Tom!)