Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Fair

Gen X Quilters Summer Fair

I love the idea of a Summer Fair online for those of us who don't have a county fair to attend.  I hopped on with GenX Quilters, where you can click to see lots more quilts and also some recipes.

I didn't have an original recipe to share, but I will tell you that I've been cooking a lot from Gina's blog, Skinnytaste, and have not had a bad meal yet!  Check her out.

The quilt I'm sharing was made so many years ago, I don't even think I can remember a date.  I have always loved log cabin quilts and the combination of blue, yellow, and white.  I was inspired to make it by the blue and white lighthouse fabric on the back, and determined to make it a sunny, beachy looking quilt.

At the same time, I was working through some of my anxiety about getting pregnant again after several miscarriages, as well as my grief over a friend's loss of a newborn after several early pregnancy losses.  While I was piecing the top to this, I also wrote this poem:

A Subsequent Pregnancy is Like a Week at the Beach...

My love and desire for you are blinding like the flash of the sun off sea and sand
So overwhelming 
That to bask in the warmth of its glow is to risk being burned

Off I go
Full of hope and fantasies
Imagining a perfect experience - just like the ones in books!

Every moment of joy has a mirror image
When I feel I am accomplishing nothing
That this journey will change nothing

Time is warped and strange
One moment I look up to find the trip is half way over
Later I realize that what feels like hours has been mere minutes

I catch myself both dreading and anticipating the ending
"What if" -ing myself to death
Wondering and dreaming

And when the end finally comes
I am exhausted but fulfilled
Flooded with memories

Even thinking about how the next time will be better
While simultaneously vowing
Never to go again

I stagger home
Grateful to be in my own bed

And then, of course, sometimes, it rains.

Jennifer Gillen Greer
In loving memory of Jacob Evan, 3/30/1998, 
who taught me how to do it right and gave me the courage to try again

Friday, July 22, 2011

Quilt Shop Visit - A Scarlet Thread,

For Mother's Day this year I got a gift certificate from my in-laws to A Scarlet Thread.  This is one of my favorite gifts ever because, in this economy, I feel a little guilty about my habit hobby.   I have gotten to be a pro at shopping from my stash, thanks to Bonnie Hunter and the Stashbuster crew. But a gift certificate is free reign.  There's no place else I can spend it.  It would be a waste not to spend it.  And they don't sell groceries or school shoes, so it's not my fault if I come home with more fabric!

This visit has been a long time coming.  The shop is about an hour from home, so not close enough to swing by.  We've driven past it several times on our way to or from a lacrosse or football game, but with a carload of kids and not enough time to stop.

Ironically, my husband is the one who told me that it even existed.  He has a client in the same shopping center, and has been known to text me pictures of the sign with a note that says, "Guess where I am!" or "Sorry you're not with me at the LARGEST QUILT SHOP IN GA!"  Yeah, he's thoughtful like that.

The even-better thing about this shop is that it is just a few minutes from my friend, Pam.  When Mom and I decided to make a run down to McDonough, I sent Pam a message to ask if she had time to meet us.  Her response was, "I will make time!" which only goes to show that some friends are true blue no matter how long it's been since you've seen them.  Or it could have been that she needed a batik infusion.  It's hard to say.

I could show you the backseat load of gorgeous quilts that Pam has finished since I last saw her.  (We had Show and Tell in the parking lot.)   I could show you the One Block Wonders or the Fractions quilts, or Nathan's Arctic Animal quilt with the Northern Lights fabric and the incredible applique.  But I think my favorite picture is this one:

This is Pam's scrappy quilt.  It looks a little like Bonnie's Pineapple Blossom, but I'm not sure.  The funniest part of the whole thing is how Pam kept pulling these stunning quilts out of the back seat and we'd hold them up and oooh and aaah.  But when she got to this quilt, she kept it folded up and walked halfway across the parking lot, explaining that this was a quilt you could only look at from far away.  I love it!  Up close you can see that it is truly scrappy, with jelly bean fabric and all kinds of crazy stuff.  Which just goes to prove what Bonnie always says:  if a fabric is too ugly to use, you just haven't cut it small enough.

Finally we made it inside the shop, which is beyond overwhelming.  I just stood and stared until Angela (the fabric manager) looked up from cutting fabric and asked, "First time?" 

The shop is so light and beautiful and well organized, from the light fixtures to the many, many samples displayed.  We spent over 2 hours just shopping, fondling fabric, discussing patterns, and even pausing in a comfortable pair of club chairs to catch up on the kids/pets/husband news.

This was a unique section of the shop I have never seen anywhere else.  That whole shelving unit is full of "Bundle Paks" on all four sides.  These are five, 1 yard cuts of fabric.  When you buy one, you get to choose a free pattern that will work with any of them.  The samples you see here hanging in the window and around the store are examples of the different patterns.   What a great idea for when you fall in love with one of those little bundles; now you know exactly what to do with it!

Just when you think you can't take in any more, you walk through another set of doors and see this wave of batiks.  This room might be where quilters go when they die if they finish all their UFOs.  There are literally walls of batiks on one side, a swath of 108" fabrics to choose from, shelves of batting and fusible web and Pellon.  Plus a HandiQuilter

Here is the true root of the store; they started out as a small sewing machine shop with no fabric at all.  Now there is an entire room for sewing and embroidery machines, threads, stabilizers, accessories, just goes on.  There are rooms and rooms and rooms.  I told Pam that it felt like Hogwart's, and that I half expected to push through the last set of doors to find yet another room full of fabric and notions and batting.  The woman ringing us up said we were half right - apparently there is empty space in the shopping center that the owner likes to dream about! 

Speaking of the owner, you have to go find her when you visit.  Or call her if you are feeling a little blue.  Karen is hilarious, and had us in hysterics while our fabric was being cut.   We covered everything from hair product to husbands.  I told them they could just set up that last room as a comedy club so they could make money all night as well, and Angela commented that they had thought about it.  Just don't tell her she looks like Paula Deen!

Thanks to Karen, Angela and everyone at A Scarlet Thread who made us feel so welcome and graciously posed for pictures even though they were in the middle of loading a truck for retreat.  You made us feel like old friends.  And you know what they say:  the road to a friend's house is never long.  See you soon!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

20 Years Ago Today

Twenty years ago today I drove home from my best friend's wedding, alone because my now-husband couldn't get off work.  Going to a wedding alone is on my top ten most depressing ways to spend a weekend.

I immediately went to his house to tell him about the beautiful ceremony and reception, about how our mutual friends were doing, and how much I had missed him during all the slow songs.  He doesn't fast dance with anyone - except, as it turns out, Gracie at the Father-Daughter Dance.  But that was light years away in July of 1991. 

We sat on his couch, channel surfing and talking about Tallahassee, where we met and fell in love.  I think wrestling was on when he suddenly turned to me and said, "I wanted this to be more romantic, but I can't wait.  Will you marry me?"

It was a jolt, because our relationship had been tumultuous.  We were young and dramatic and everything was a big deal.  We thought we had been through a lot by then, which I embarrassed myself with when I chose "Here We Are" by Alabama for our wedding video.  "Now we've made it through the hardest part."  Please.

Of course I said yes.  Of course I did.  I couldn't imagine spending my life with anyone else.  And of course we had not even touched the tip of the iceberg when it came to drama.  That was one fire, three miscarriages, a gall bladder attack, viral meningitis, three houses, a business' grand opening and sad closing, three c-sections, pneumonia at Disney World, and two Father-Daughter Dances ago.  With so much more in between. 

"Baby, you and I could write a book about love!"

Maybe it was just a premonition.  Maybe it's the only thing that makes sense.  I mean, how long can you really live with another person without any drama?  We've had a lot less than some people.

"We shared it all, you and I.  
Still together after all this time."

One thing that has gotten us through is the laughter.  No matter how bad my day goes, he still makes me laugh.  I can close my eyes and remember the day when the Bear was about six weeks old with true colic.  He cried incessantly.  Our oldest was 22 months and at that stage when he wanted to be picked up and held, and he wanted to know when that baby was going to go back to the hospital.  I had a gotten a staph infection after my c-section and was under strict orders not to lift him, or anything heavier than a gallon of milk.  At one point all three of us were sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor crying as I tried to balance them both on my tender lap and console the boys and myself.  Suddenly my husband walked in, earlier than normal.  He took one look at us and said, "I just dropped by to tell you I have to work late."  

I laughed.  I laughed so hard that my big boy started laughing, and the Bear didn't laugh but he might have stopped crying for a minute.  The tension was broken, and I knew I was going to make it.  To this day, when I'm not sure how much I can take, it still works.  No matter how dark things look, I know we'll get through it together. 

"We're stronger now than we have ever been.  
We're hand in hand, we're heart to heart. we are."

I love you, Babe.  We'll get through it.  I'd do it all again in a minute.  YES!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Basting the Bear's Quilt

I've mentioned before that basting and marking a quilt isn't my most favorite thing.  I've tried basting with needle and thread (kill me now), spray basting (quick but makes me nervous about gumming up the machine), and pinning.  I've basted on my family room floor, kitchen counters, and dining room table.  There's no way around it - it's a hassle.  That's my excuse for why the Bear is still sleeping under his train quilt.  Oh, it won't kill him!

I was whining about it to discussing this with the WannaBees last week, and Jodi suggested that I try Sharon Schamber's method with two boards.  Jodi even had the boards for me to borrow, so that's hard to turn down.  I'm not going to go into a big discussion of how to do it when the video is a much better tool, except to say that I chose to pin instead of basting with needle and thread.  It still worked great.  I will also say that it is much easier to do with a tiny quilt, like Sharon does in the video, than a twin sized quilt, but it still worked better than the floor or taping the back to my kitchen counters in sections.

Here you can see that this fit on my dining room table.  It was nice, as Jodi mentioned, to be able to sit at the table and pin a section in between other tasks vs. crawling around on the floor begging the dogs to stay off the quilt for just a few minutes. 

Who? Me?
I also realized that this was a perfect time to mark the quilt.  The quilt is laying nice and flat on a large table, so you can see all the points you want to match up and have enough room to lay a long ruler across it.  I used my favorite white pen again and marked the cross hatching in no time at all. 

I hope to start the quilting today, although I definitely need more thread.  I'm not sure what I was thinking when I bought only one spool.  Luckily Mom and I are going on a field trip this week to A Scarlet Thread, the largest quilt shop in Georgia! 

Below are links to the two videos.  Let me know if you've tried this method and liked it, or if I am missing out on something else. 

Thanks so much to Sharon Schamber for sharing this technique, as well as the many free tutorials on her website.  She is a fountain of information!  Also, thanks to Jodi for letting me try out the boards. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Blokjoyelle, My Fairy Quilt Godmother

Here she is!

A few tips:
  1. To generate your own Fairy Quilt Godmother, visit Linda at Paper Panache.  The pattern is free for a limited time, so download yours today!
  2. Read the instructions.  And then read them again.  I thought I had paid attention, but then embarrassed myself by emailing the author about a "glitch" in the pattern.*  Turns out it was right there in black and white on the same sheet as the fabric chart.
  3. Lay out the fabrics and make sure they look good as a whole.  I had a fabric for the hair that I loved, but when I laid it out next to the background and dress fabrics, it was too much.  The fabric chart is worth the time.
  4. Refresh your memory about paper piecing if you haven't done it in awhile...or ever.  I forgot to leave my seam allowance on the outside of the first section and was NOT going to do it over, so I had to fudge that seam a little.  This is not a pattern that allows for a lot of fudging, but I can live with it.
  5. Take your time.  After the second try on section C (the eyes) and the second screw up, I realized that I was tired and cranky and not feeling my best.  I had to put it aside until another time.
  6. SHARE!  These are so fun to look at and see how different each one is.  Please share on Linda's blog, your own blog, flicker, or your favorite message board
Also, I know the system generated the name Blokjoyelle, but I'm already thinking of her as Great-Aunt Sarah.  I can't wait to have her finished and in my studio!

* You have to draw in a couple of lines on two sections.  It tells you how in the instructions on the page where the chart is.  When you think you are missing some lines, this is where they went. 

Thank you, Linda!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Going to Guild - Muriel Pfaff or WWGASD?

Going to guild this month was like waiting for your birthday.  Our speaker was a "mystery guest", and even the WannaBees who were in on the secret wouldn't tell. 

I was extra-excited when Mom, Gracie and I got to the meeting and found the front tables, normally laden with quilts or items for sale by the speaker, dressed up for tea with tablecloths and beautiful trays of dessert.  Who could it be? 

Imagine our surprise when we saw that it was Betsy Ross, in honor of my our nation's birthday!

Our guest's name in real life is Muriel Pfaff.  She impersonates and educates on a variety of famous historical women, dressed in costumes she makes herself, right down to the toe buckles.

I learned a lot about Betsy's life that I had never heard before in 17 years of schooling and 4 years of teaching young children.   My favorite part of the story was about Betsy's Great-Aunt Sarah.  GAS (as I like to call her for short) lived with Betsy, her parents, and their other 16 children.  In her day, GAS had run her own business making corsets and underwear (and a little hard cider...shhh!).  She was an accomplished seamstress who taught Betsy to sew, but also passed down her independent and resilient spirit.  All of these things would be vital to Betsy's survival and success as she buried three husbands and helped birth a nation.  When times got tough and the easy thing would have been to move back home with her parents, Betsy remembered Great-Aunt Sarah and made it on her own. 

Another story I loved, and one more of us have probably heard, was how George Washington initially came to Betsy about a flag.  He had some idea in mind of a square flag with six-pointed stars.  Betsy not only preferred the rectangle shape, but showed him just how much easier and faster five-pointed stars would be when she folded a swatch of fabric and made a perfect star with one snip of the scissors.  He was so impressed that he bowed to her judgement on the design. 

Muriel taught us how to make that perfect five-pointed star with one cut, just the way Betsy did to amaze President Washington.    Here's how you can do it too!

Muriel  performs as several other famous women in history, and has a quilt for each of them. This is the Betsy Ross Quilt.

The Helen Taft quilt...

And here's Jodi examining the beautiful map fabric on the back of the Amelia Earhart quilt.  

But wait, there's more!  Meet Carrie Nation, Dolly Madison, or Martha Washington!  Muriel would be a fantastic speaker for any guild program, school presentation, or holiday event. 

Finally we got to taste the delicious desserts.  They are all made from recipes of Betsy Ross's time, although Muriel says, "If you think Betsy Ross had time to bake cookies you're crazy."  The pecan bars were delicious, and Mom said the macaroons were light and airy. 

What a wonderful way to spend an evening.  What would school be like if history came alive like this instead of boring children with some dry textbook?  The people who dreamed up our country didn't do so by answering the questions at the end of the chapter.  They did and saw and heard...took big risks and leaps of faith. 

In honor of Betsy, next time you have to make a big decision, when you're tempted to take the easy way out, just ask yourself, What Would Great-Aunt Sarah Do?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Rail Fence Challenge/Giveaway

I have always loved the simplicity of a rail fence block, and I find it to be one of the best first blocks for a beginning quilter.  It's a great way to practice a consistent 1/4" seam, requires almost no matching of points, and can be done in a planned palette or completely scrappy.

The rail fence above is Gracie's, all pin basted and ready to quilt.  She started off sewing wavy, wonky seams and, by the end, had improved her straight lines tremendously.  The fabrics are from a guild project to teach kids to quilt.  Several of us did a demonstration at the Gee's Bend exhibit at the High Museum of Art.  I had asked guild members to donate 3 1/2" x 9 1/2" strips, and they overwhelmed me with their generosity. 

I have made several blocks, using them as leader/ender pieces, and Gracie used up her share.  I still have dozens left.  They were donated to be used to teach children to quilt and to donate to charity, but they have been sitting in my sewing room literally for years. 

Would you like a batch?  I'm happy to send you some.  The only thing I request is that a) you use them (at least some of them) for either a charity project of your choice AND/OR teaching a new quilter; and b) that you send me a picture of what you made.  Obviously I can't enforce either of these things, and certainly won't be hunting you down in what would be the height of hypocrisy if they are left to languish.  I'm merely trying to put them to good use.

If you would like a batch, please send me an email to QUILTINJENNY at GMAIL dot COM with your snail mail address and how many you think you'd like.  Anything from 12 strips (a nice 18" pillowcase or doll quilt?) to 144 (a cozy 54" x 72" before borders).  Also, you should feel free to bust some of your own stash by adding strips, borders, or sashing. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Johns Creek Farmer's Market

I am so proud of my new little city!

Just a few years ago, our unincorporated area voted to become an independent city.  Living in one of the largest and most diverse counties anywhere, there were times when we felt that our community's needs were getting lost in the crowd.

Since that time our leaders have had some big ideas.  One of my favorite movements has been to make use of our great park space.  What was once an asphalt track around the recreation department fields and tennis courts has now become a gathering place for all ages. 

Last summer they started a community garden.  Each day as we walked by we would notice the corn growing taller or the beautiful vegetables on the vine.  In late spring, the dog park was completely revamped, thanks to a grant from Beneful.  We haven't been there yet - I'm waiting for the crowds to die down a bit - but it's on the list. 

Today was the first day of the Farmer's Market.  Mom and I were so excited to get up there right when it opened, and we weren't disappointed. 

David's Garden was there with his freshly canned jams, chow-chow, pickles, vegetable soup, and so much more!  Mom bought peach preserves, and David generously promised to send her a recipe for canning her figs.  Her tree is loaded, but she hasn't had much luck finding a recipe online.  Sadly, the one my great-grandmother used to use has apparently been lost.

Wally Bee's was there with local honey, beeswax candles, and other beeswax items.  I had just bought honey last week (doh!) but he is on my list for future purchases. 

Pappardelle's Pasta had a beautiful and intriguing selection of homemade pasta, including ten gluten free flavors.  I bought the garlic fettuccine to play it safe for the first time, but the orzo is definitely on my radar for next time. 

Essential Light Aroma offered a beautiful selection of diffusers, creams, sprays, and other aromatherapy items.  I'm especially intrigued by the flea spray (not for me - for the dogs!).  If anyone knows my husband personally, you could put a bug in his ear that I really really really like the Night Fragrance diffuser.  Also remind him that my birthday is Tuesday. 

There were several produce stands, including The Veggie Patch, Mountain Earth Farms, and Burnell Farms, where I picked up some gorgeous tomatoes. 

Last, I bought some creamy and delicious type of mozzarella, the name of which I should have written down because I can't remember, from CalyRoad Creamery.   I also didn't take a picture of these artisan cheeses because I was too busy sampling them chatting with the owner, Robin.

There were several vendors with bread, including Freshly Milled Breads, who had both healthy Ezekiel bread and yummy cookies and pies, and Belle's Breads, who made theirs with sage honey.  It is supposed to have a lower glycemic index, good for diabetics.  It was also very soft, honey wheat that I think my kids would love. 

It was a wonderful way to spend the morning.  We sipped coffee from CoffeeM, saw several neighbors and friends, pet the many well-behaved dogs, and tasted so many yummy things.  Special thanks to Leslie Guria of Fresh From Your Kitchen who helped organize and make this possible. 

I'm looking forward to next week when Leslie expects additional vendors to join us, including Little Red Hen with fresh eggs and poultry, and Just Butter with shea butter soaps and lotions. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Almost Over It

I haven't been blogging or quilting (or cleaning or cooking) much in the last six weeks because I've been totally wrapped in the Casey Anthony trial.

On Tuesday, when she was found not guilty (which doesn't mean innocent!), I had a little temper tantrum.  I was pissy all day.  My husband poured me a stiff drink, and I drowned my sorrows with ice cream and Fluffernutter.

Of course, on Wednesday, I wasn't feeling so great.  I realized that I owed a penalty FQ for failing to finish a UFO in the 2nd quarter for the Stashbusters Challenge.  I determined to put it behind me and move on to happier and more positive things.  I spent a lot of time online, randomly following links and threads and tweets, looking for my motivation.

This is where the saying, "Be careful what you wish for!" comes from.  I was catching up on Stashbuster messages and came across a link to the Paper Panache Fairy Quilt Godmother pattern.   Now, I have never been a paper piecing fan, but this is just too stinking cute.  You answer some questions and your Fairy Quilt Godmother appears!

Mine is named Blokjoyelle.  She is almost finished.  I have started on the most complicated section several times and decided I needed a good night's sleep and steadier hands before I give it another shot.  Here's what I have so far:

Yep, those are some tee-niny pieces!  I'll admit they give me pause, especially this last section with they eyes, and bring to mind the words of my Stashbusting sister, Quiltabeast

I read patterns the same way I read science fiction. 
I get to the end and think, 'Well, that's not going to happen.'

But I realized that this pattern was just what I needed.  It wasn't mindless strip piecing, or FMQing where it helps to get into the zone.  This pattern required concentration.  It required focus.  It required an entire fabric chart!

In the end it was just what I needed.  I turned off the TV and told twitter to stop texting me.  I put aside my sad, angry, sick thoughts about justice and truth and fairness.  I focused solely on the tiny scraps of fabric and the knowing smile on my Fairy Quilt Godmother's face and once again, let quilting heal me. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

"You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness.  You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism."  

~Erma Bombeck

Flag of Our Heroes Quilt, Jennifer Gillen Greer, 2002

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Summer Speed Bumps

I can't believe it's July already!  Summer is humming along nicely but, sadly, we are about halfway through our break already here in the deep south.   So far I think we've found a nice balance between the lazy days and the busy days, the fun days and the relaxed days.

Last year wasn't quite as tranquil.  We had a jam-packed if too-short summer, and found ourselves in early August with a lot left on the to-do list.  It was hopeless at that point to fix it, but I left myself a note on my June, 2011 calendar to learn from my mistakes.

Summer Reading:  In years past, my oldest son has left his summer assignments until the last minute.  He's a big reader, so in fifth grade he could blast through Dear Mr. Henshaw in a day or so.  But now that he's in high school and taking AP classes, those assignments can't be crammed in anymore.  Last summer, the week before school started was a nightmare of threats, exhortations, and long late nights trying to finish Guns, Germs, and Steel and answer all of the study guide questions so he didn't start the year off with a big fat zero.

For this summer, I took everyone's summer reading assignments, divided them into roughly equal parts, and divided that into the number of weeks of summer.  I then put dates on the calendar for our Summer Reading Speed Bumps.  On that particular day, the assignment must be complete.  If it is not, all electronics become my property.  Play dates, real dates, and parties are cancelled.  No fun will be had by the offender until the work is done.  I'm happy to say that my oldest is the only one to hit a speed bump so far, and he squeaked in at the last minute before I had to cancel a day at Six Flags.  Let's hope the trend continues.

Summer Cleaning:  Before you move on to the next item, take some time each week to do some decluttering.  Make sure the backpacks and PE bags are completely cleaned out.  Nothing ruins the first day of school like finding an old banana or dirty socks.  The empty backpack is a great place to store things you won't need again until school starts, or supplies you find on sale over the summer:  think book sox,  pencil pouches, scissors, or locker accessories

Move on to the closets and drawers.  How can you shop for school clothes until you know what you have?  This one was easy this year, since two of my three kids are moving on to completely different uniforms.  We just had to bag up all the old stuff to hand down to friends, and re-stock.  But my oldest found that all of his uniforms from last year still fit, so we only had to replace his shoes and a few things that aren't in good condition.

We did the same thing with books.  I know that most people probably don't have to buy textbooks until college, but we do for the high school kids.  We pulled out all of the previous year's books, checked to see if The Bear could use any of them, and stored the ones that might be useful later.  Then I made my list of what was still missing, searched online for the best prices, and hit the used book sale.  I was thrilled to find all but seven books, and quickly ordered the rest at rock bottom prices.  I could wait for slow-boat-to-China free shipping because I don't need them for another month.   If you don't buy textbooks, this is still a great time to go through your child's books and donate or store any that they've outgrown.

Last, get your paper system ready.  Paper is the bane of my existence.  The schools are largely to blame.  To help with this dilemma, I found a stackable letter tray and bought 3 tiers.  You can buy more or less depending on how many people you keep up with.  Whenever I get papers home from school that I know I will need again, I stick them in the tray for that child.  I'm not talking about their work; I mean things like the password for the online grade book, the school calendar, the Battle of the Books list, etc.  Of course, if you already have a system like this, now is the time to weed it out in preparation for the annual deluge of unnecessary copies that some people like to call Back-to-School.

School Shopping:  I've also set up some speed bumps of my own to make sure I'm not rushing around at the last minute for books and uniforms.   For instance, the store where I get my kids' uniforms for school has a 20% off sale in June. Can I tell you how many years I've either forgotten or procrastinated and had to shop in July (or even August!)?  Not only is it more expensive, it's more crowded and incredibly stressful when you're trying to special order the one size everyone is out of before the first day of school.  This year I made a point of going in June, and saved over $100.  Only one item had to be ordered, and the actual shopping/trying on/waiting to pay took half as long as last year.  I also was able to find their shoes on sale online for 20% off plus free ground shipping.  They arrived today.  Even if your kids don't wear uniforms, keep an eye on the sales.  Now might be a great time to find a bargain on jeans, a winter coat or rain boots.   One friend, who is completely freaked out by this, argues that the kids outgrow stuff so quickly.  My solution is to keep everything I've bought, tags on and in the bags with the receipts, in my guest room until I would normally shop.  Then make the kids try it all on again before you wash it and put everything away.  Worst case you have to exchange something, but you've still saved all the money and time for the rest.

The financial and psychological stress relieved with these few steps has made this the most relaxing summer in several years.  It was all learned during a few painful lessons, but I share them with you in the hopes that someone might avoid the all-nighters and the credit card bill shock in September.

Enjoy your Independence Day weekend!

Friday, July 1, 2011

June Book List

June has been a great month for reading!  The kids are out of school, Gracie spent a week at camp, and the boys are busy with lacrosse practice and football workouts.  My house is not clean, but I've read some good ones.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier.  As I've mentioned in previous months, I'm a big fan of Tracy Chevalier; however, this book was harder to get into than the others.  I'm not sure if it was the subject of fossils vs. the art that she normally features, or if it was the missing modern perspective.  I truly enjoy the back and forth between the object's origins and how it is viewed in the present.  Nevertheless, it was interesting to read about an uneducated young woman making history in the scientific community.

Outrage:  The Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder by Vincent Bugliosi.  Have I mentioned before that Mr. Bugliosi, while not my first true crime author (Joe McGinnis holds that place in my heart) is the only one who has ever truly scared me?  No matter how many graphic descriptions I've read of smothering, bludgeoning, dismembering, and stabbing, nothing has ever given me nightmares like Helter Skelter!  This book is aptly titled, since Mr. Bugliosi's fury flies off the page, and no one is safe from his scathing ire.  I loved every minute of it, since it dealt with critical legal issues (not guilty vs. innocent is my favorite) and the courtroom drama as it might have unfolded had he been the prosecuting attorney.

Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks.  I was listening to Frances at Off Kilter Quilt talk about books - who knows good writing better than an author? - and she mentioned two books I truly loved by Geraldine Brooks:  March and People of the Book.  I don't know if I never realized that she has written other books or if I merely got sidetracked, but I have remedied that by putting in requests from my local library for the others.  This one is a little different because it is a memoir about Brooks' pen pals from her childhood in Australia, but incorporates the history and graceful writing of her other work.  It's an interesting glimpse into how and why a somewhat average girl from the suburbs of Sydney became a reporter covering war-torn countries I could barely locate on a map with friends on six continents.

Beyond All Reason:  My Life With Susan Smith by David Smith.   I was seven months pregnant with my oldest child when I watched Susan and David Smith's first press conference begging for their children back.  I took one look at the TV and said, "I hope their mother didn't kill them."  My husband was shocked that I could even think such a thing, and even more shocked when it turned out to be true.  I wasn't psychic; I literally held in my hands a copy of Small Sacrifices, the horrific story of Diane Downs, while I watched the press conference.   Even halfway through the book by Ann Rule I recognized that Smith and Downs were sisters from another mother.  David Smith's book is no Ann Rule, but it did provide me with some background to the story that I never knew before. 

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  I have heard about this book, and now the movie, for awhile and never got around to reading it.  I just happened to stumble across it in the library, and then couldn't put it down.  Just the idea of it, wondering what was going to happen next or how events might tie together bothered me when I wasn't reading.  When I read books like this one, I am always in awe of an author's ability to envision these stories and all the little loose threads that weave together in the end.

That makes thirty-two books in twenty-five weeks! I'm more than halfway done.  I know I'll be grateful for this burst of summer reading when the start of school or the holidays roll around.

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