Friday, December 31, 2010

One More Homemade Gift or My Oldest UFO

My big accomplishment in the gift department this year has been a long time coming.

Back in 1998, when I was still a very new quilter, I fell in love with a Thimbleberries block of the month pattern.  My local quilt shop, sadly long gone now, had kits you could buy each month.  I quickly pieced the first few blocks before realizing that I had nowhere for this quilt to go.  It was a twin size but, although my boys were in twin beds, it was not boyish or juvenile at all - totally inappropriate for either of their rooms.

My mom also loved the pattern, and suggested that I could make two of them and give them to her for my brother's old room.  She said she'd even redecorate the room around the quilts.  Silly me, so young and vain and naive!  I hadn't learned the danger of "Twin Quilt Syndrome" (closely related to, but much more expensive than "Second Sock Syndrome").   Which is to say that making the same thing twice is boring. 

The blocks were pieced in no time - probably no later than early 1999 - and the tops finished and sandwiched by the end of that year.  But then I was pregnant with Gracie and making two quilts for her (that's another post), and got distracted. 

I started hand quilting the first quilt, only to realize within a short while (okay, a few years!) that machine quilting was not only possible but faster and...well, faster.  If you think hand quilting a bed sized quilt takes a long time, you should try it when you aren't enjoying the process at all.  By this time it was a chore hanging over my head.  Every Christmas, Mother's Day, birthday, or anniversary, my mother would hold the gift in her hands for a moment and mournfully observe, "It's not big enough to be my quilt."

I finally got the first quilt done and wrapped it up for Christmas in, I think, 2006.  It's kind of a blur at this point.  I was so excited, but also dreading finishing the other one.  Now the pressure was really on.

Luckily I had cut all of the pieces, including the binding, at one time and actually managed to keep up with them.  Aren't you impressed?  I sandwiched the second quilt, moaning and groaning the whole way.  I got the blocks quilted, and then decided to go ahead and bind it. 

Marking the quilting in the border is always my least favorite part. It had taken numerous tries to find a suitable marking utensil that would show up on this deep red and still wash out, but about halfway through the first quilt I had discovered the Clover white pen.  I don't know if they don't hold much ink or if they dry out easily, but I went through three of them marking these quilts!
I got about half of the border quilted by last Christmas, but then got stuck trying to work out how the ends would come together.  I finally bought yet another white pen around Thanksgiving and decided to suck it up and finish the darn thing.

On Christmas Eve I ran out of thread with about 18" of quilting left to go.  I didn't even know where to get more of this particular brand of thread, so I just said, "the heck with it!" and finished with a slightly lighter color.  I'm so glad I didn't make myself crazy over that because, now that it's washed and dried, you can't even tell where that spot is. 

I held my breath and washed and dried it.  I was so relieved and excited that there were no loose spots in the binding or repairs to be made, simply snipping some threads and taking pictures.

Of course, after all those years of listening to my mom, I couldn't bring myself to put a big box under the tree.  She'd know what it was in a heartbeat!  So I wrapped up a new cookbook and, as always, she sighed before unwrapping it and said, "Still not big enough to be my quilt."  The kids and I swallowed our giggles.

Gift giving was over and it was time for dessert and dishes.  My parents and in-laws were lingering over coffee while DH and I started washing pots.  I tsked myself and said, "Darnit!"  And then, "Hey, Mom.  Can you do me a favor?  I just washed a load of dish towels so I'd have a bunch, but I never got them out of the dryer.  Can you run and get them for me?"

At this point, a couple of people were suspicious.  I'm a big believer in kids doing manual labor, and all three of mine were standing right there.  I know my mother-in-law wondered why I hadn't sent Gracie up those stairs instead of asking my mother to go.  I know Cousin Judy was silently disapproving of my blatant disrespect for my elders.  But my mom didn't bat an eye.

When she opened the dryer, she saw a sign that said, "Merry Christmas, Mom!" and her quilt.  We all waited quietly at the bottom of the stairs until we heard her yelp with delight.  The first thing she said was, "Honey!  We have to paint the guest room!"

And that's the story of my oldest UFO.  Started almost 13 years ago in January of 1998.  Finished on Christmas Eve, 2010. 

What's your oldest UFO?  Fess up!

Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Few Homemade Gifts - Part I

I didn't get too carried away with the homemade gifts this year, but I did manage two new Kindle covers. One was for my mother-in-law, who bought one for her own birthday,  and featured photos from our trip out west this summer.

To make this, I put a collage of photos into a Word/Pages document and printed it out onto my favorite photo transfer fabric.   Then I added about an inch border on each side, two inches at the top, and another six at the bottom, and followed my easy version of the pattern.  For the record, she loved it.  My in-laws also got a photo book of the trip that turned out better than I could have hoped. 

Then there was cousin Judy.  She got a Kindle for Christmas.  I wanted to do something truly unique for this well-read book lover.  I decided to use classic book covers.  Instead of making a collage in Pages, like the one above, I printed out the covers in various sizes on the photo fabric. 

...and found a cute bunch of black and white fat quarters to set them off.  I cut assorted strips of each, ranging from 2" - 3 1/2" and bordered each book cover.

Then I cut them slightly askew...

...and sewed them together to get a 10" x 18" top, before assembling like the others.

This is the front...

...and the back...

...and what it looks like open.

What did you make this year?  Was it stressful or fun?  Successful or a headache?  Share!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

White Christmas

You may have heard that Atlanta had a white Christmas for the first time in over a hundred years. It was big news; honestly, the president could have decided "Who needs balmy Hawaii? Let's go to Atlanta!" and the news would STILL have been all about the snow and how deep (1/4 inch all the way to 3 or 4 inches!) it was where.
It was a perfect snow. It started around noon, right as our family arrived for Christmas dinner. It didn't start to stick until about 4:00, just as we had finished presents and dessert, so that they all looked outside and said, "We'd better go before the roads get bad."
And then we left the rest of the dishes and wrapping paper and boxes and sat wrapped in our quilts with our new books or electronic gadgets for the rest of a perfectly lovely evening.
It was the best Christmas present of the year! I hope you had a peaceful and relaxing day as well.

Monday, December 27, 2010

16 Years Ago Today

Sixteen years ago right about now, I was in recovery from a c-section that was a little scary and fast when someone brought me this picture.

It was my first real look at my baby boy, my oldest child, of whom I'd only gotten a quick glimpse when they whisked him away from me to the NICU.  I didn't actually get to see him in person until he was 18 hours old.  I was scared out of my mind.

Luckily he had only a minor issue that needed to be observed for a few hours before he was fine.  I can barely imagine how parents cope with a baby who is actually really sick.  

Now he is 16.  He is officially taller than his dad.

He is a musician and artist.

He loves kids and they love him.  Especially my nephew.

He should get his driver's license sometime next month if all goes well.  The thought of sending him out alone to drive around in the world has me scared out of my mind.

Honestly, why doesn't anyone tell you this part of parenthood?  There are so many emotions that people share - the overwhelming love, the frustration, the bone numbing fatigue, the laughter.  They even talk about the worry.  But no one really tells you that, in between the joy and the exhaustion you spend the vast majority of your time as parents just plain terrified.

I love this kid like crazy.  And he's a good kid - he rarely, if ever, gives me a moment's trouble.  I'm not that worried about him; I'm worried about all the other nutty people in the world and my boy without me there to protect him. 

So lookout, World.  I'm going to try to let him go, little by little.  But if you hurt him, I'm comin' for you. 

Happy birthday, my boy.  I am proud to be your mom and love you so much!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holiday Grand Plan Week 18 - New Year's Week

We're done! We made it! We survived!

Now it's New Year's Week, and time to look ahead to 2011.

First, the debriefing. What worked? What would you like to change? What wasn't worth the trouble? Write yourself a note and put it in your brand new calendar for next year, right around Labor Day when the Holiday Grand Plan will begin again.

Second, write your thank you notes and help the kids do the same. Gratitude is good for your mood. Thank you notes may seem like a chore, but the recipient feels very appreciated when the note arrives.

Last, take down the tree and swap out your decorations for New Year's Eve. Here's a question: when do you normally take down the tree? I think I'll make a poll. My husband was raised in the south, and his family always took the tree down before midnight on New Year's Eve for good luck.

I remember the year our oldest was born on December 27.  I came home from the hospital after my c-section on December 30.  My husband and his mom took down the ornaments, and then he dragged the tree outside and even vacuumed up the needles himself.  He was not having any bad luck with his new baby son around! 

My mom was raised to keep the tree up through the Epiphany, when the Wise Men arrived with the gifts.  My informal research shows this to be prevalent throughout the northeast.

I know others who keep their (artificial) tree up for months.  Lazy as I am, I don't think I could do it.

What's your style? 

Have a great week!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

QOV Update - Heroes

I have just arrived home from presenting our first two Quilts of Valor from the guild challenge, and I'm not even sure how to share it all with you.  It was more than I could have hoped for.

Once we decided to donate the quilts locally instead of sending them off somewhere, I stalled a little bit.  I wasn't sure how to start or how to explain or how these heroes would react to my approach.  My only real contact with a war hero is with my father-in-law, who so adamantly wants to ignore his service that he had my mother-in-law remove his medals from the memory quilt I made him. 

But my friend, Melissa, has a brother whom we prayed for a LOT while he was twice deployed to Iraq.  I approached Melissa, explained the project, and let her pave the way.  I then realized that her father, Donn Fryman, was also a veteran, and I could possibly ease some of the nervousness by presenting them together.  In addition to his service for our country, Donn is now fighting another battle - against liver cancer. 

Melissa's brother, Marc, arrived home for a Christmas visit, and the family graciously invited me to interrupt their precious time together.  I wasn't sure exactly what to say or do, but was immediately put at ease when Donn got up from where he was resting on the couch to wrap me in a big welcoming hug.

I had brought six of the quilts with me so that they would have a choice without being too overwhelmed.  As we started to unfold them, Donn said, "I like that blue one."  He was only looking at the back  - it hadn't even been opened yet!  I told him he could have whichever one he wanted, but to look at them all. 
Decisions decisions!
All of the family came into the room to look as we spread the quilts on the furniture and floors.  Marc's wife, Kristin, held each one up for him to see.  But Donn still wanted "that blue one."  He said, "I can see me wrapped up in that."  And then hesitantly, "Do I get to choose?   I don't have to have that one."

I told him that he got to pick first, and "that blue one" was his.  As I laid it across him, I realized that it already had a label.  (It's the only one that does - I need to add those!)  Donn had picked Janie's quilt, and I knew it wasn't just the color that made Donn choose this quilt.

You see, Janie is a cancer survivor.  She's gone a few rounds with the beast and is still standing - and quilting.  She's also a prolific quilter who donates virtually all of her current work to charity.  She's one of the most generous and optimistic people I know, and I feel certain that Donn felt the energy and love in that blue quilt radiating out to him.
Donn and his wife, Kitty, reading the label and message from Janie
I told the family about Janie and her story of survival.  They were all equally touched and amazed at the "coincidence" of Donn choosing her quilt.  Donn asked me to tell Janie how much he loved and appreciated the quilt, and that "she's my special angel."  Which I did, as soon as I got home.  But then I had to tell you.
LCDR Donn Fryman with his Quilt of Valor
 After his dad chose the blue quilt, Marc and his wife Kristin examined each of the remaining quilts.  They loved them all and went around about which one to take.  Marc wanted Kristin to decide which one went in the house best because he wanted it "out."  I pointed out that they were meant to be used, washed, and loved, so Kristin's comments about how each one felt were important, too.  

Kristin picked up another blue one, but realized that Marc had his eye on Jane's yellow quilt.  She told him to take the one he loved, not to worry about how it looked with the house.  She said, "This is about you, not me."  And right in that sentence I heard the sacrifice of every military family.  I cannot imagine the anguish she's been through as he's flown over Iraq and Bosnia, following his dream of being a pilot.  Melissa put her arm around Kristin and said, "No, you're just the one who gets left behind."  The ripples of pride mixed with fear around every brave service member spread far and wide, and you could feel it right there in that room.

Marc got his yellow quilt.  I thanked them all for letting me take pictures, but it wasn't until I got home that I realized, in my nervousness, I had forgotten the one thing I knew I had to say.  "Thank you for your service!"  So I had to send an email.  How embarrassing!
LCDR Marc Fryman and Kristin Fryman with their Quilt of Valor
I hope you are reading Alycia's blog - especially today's post about her own delivery of a LOT of these quilts.  She hasn't revealed how many yet, so go take a guess and maybe you'll win a pattern and strips to make your own Quilt of Valor.  Alycia is the one who encouraged me to donate these quilts locally, and I can't thank her enough for this experience.

I hope you feel the joy of giving this week.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Snips from a Snow Day

All that rain and sleet from Wednesday evening resulted in school being canceled on Thursday.  The roads that were disastrous at 5:30 AM were fine by 10, so I ran to the grocery store for cookie makings.  Some people were irritated and angry about the change, but that's just life in the south.  We get so few days of wintry weather that the snowplows and salt trucks are simply not worth it.  We prefer to close everything down and have a pajama day.  By the next morning, all will be right with the world.

The trick to keeping your sanity when this happens, even on the last possible day to get things done while the kids are in school, is to look at it as a happy surprise day together with no obligations instead of an interruption.  The roads that were disastrous at 5:30 AM were fine by 10, so I ran to the grocery store for cookie makings.  I can't think of a more wonderful way to spend the day than with all my chicks under my roof, happily working and chatting together. 

We had such a lovely day!  First we made pistachio brittle, and showed Gracie how a candy thermometer works.

Then we made RPM's, those Rolo/pretzel, m&m thingys that apparently have no real name.

Last we made Russian tea cakes and robin's nest cookies, both of which required the kids to work together, rolling the cookie dough and the blue fondant icing.  As they reached across one another, I couldn't believe the size of my kids' hands!  I know they are big, but I remember so vividly each of those tiny hands grasping mine when they were infants.  Where has the time gone?  When did they become so capable?  They hardly needed me there at all, except to ask "Did you set the timer?" [Yes.] 

I'm not done with my Christmas preparation, but I'm feeling so calm.  So NOT stressed.  Where does that come from?  How can I duplicate it next Christmas or at other busy times of the year?  I think I've managed, somehow, to let it go.  Maybe knowing that this Christmas is not going to be a WOW! year for two totally separate reasons has helped me lower expectations and enjoy the season.

Financially it isn't going to be an over-the-top holiday.  Somehow instead of making me anxious, that has given me some freedom to relax.  There is simply nothing I can do about it.  Don't get me wrong, we're not hungry and I can put gas in the car and there will be Christmas; it just won't be a TV sitcom Christmas.

And the other reason, which is on the other end of the spectrum, is that my kids haven't asked for much.  The boys both want some music equipment, but instead of asking for it they both asked for gift cards to help them save up for it.  Gracie wants a flatiron.  Yes, for her hair.  I have no idea.

My oldest, who will be 16 on December 27th, made me so proud and baffled at the same time the other day.  I asked what he'd like to do to celebrate.  He thought for a moment and said, "Chinese would be good."

Me:  "Okay.  Do you want to go to PF Chang's or Lin's or try someplace new?"

Him:  "We could just get takeout."

Me:  "Chinese takeout?  For your 16th birthday?  You can have what you want, but your dad and I thought it would be fun to go someplace special.  Chinese takeout is like...Thursday."

Him:  "It's all fun to me."

How can you not love that boy?  I am so proud that they are not super materialistic (and don't get me wrong, they have plenty of cool stuff).  At the same time, it makes them tricky to shop for!  It's hard to get all excited when he says, "I could use a new pair of jeans."  Like clothing him isn't already my parental obligation!

I hope you are all having a serene Advent season, free of the worries of our materialistic society.  I have no idea what I did to deserve it, but I'm loving every second. 

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