Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sample Blocks

In my quilting, I'm particularly drawn to the old-fashioned, traditional blocks that have been used for years and years. I think I could spend all the rest of my quilting days working with these old patterns and never get bored.

I get teased about the "fancy-schmancy" potholders I make. "Why do you spend so much time making pieced blocks just for potholders?" For one thing, I simply enjoy looking at the potholders when I use them. But most of all, it gives me a chance to "test drive" different blocks to see if I might like to use them in a quilt.

I recently started these small sample blocks to hang as decoration on the pegs of a drying rack in our bathroom.

The little baskets hanging on the pegs right now will come down as soon as I get my sample blocks finished and choose my favorite four of the six to use.

Experimenting with the six different pattern blocks taught me how they actually look when constructed out of fabric, and how easy (or not) they are to piece.

The above block fell into the category of "or not." I fought with that center diagonal strip of pieced triangles longer than I should have and the (supposed to be) matching points are still pret-ty bad. What if I had cut out all the fabric to make a baby quilt out of this particular block before doing a sample? I'd have either gone crazy, committed hari kari, or wasted a lot of fabric. No way I would have struggled through the construction of forty or fifty of those little recalcitrant buggers.

I may never actually use any of the above block patterns in a quilt, but who cares? I still get a lot of enjoyment in playing with the samples. And I'll definitely keep making "fancy-schmancy" potholders!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why Is It So Bright Outside?

Landogoshen! We had sunshine all day today. Can you believe it? The weather forecasters said it was going to happen, and it did. The day dawned bright and sunny so it didn't take us long to look at each other and say, "Let's go!”

We drove to one of our favorite hiking trails and were a little surprised to find ourselves the only car in the large parking lot. Well, it was a smidge on the cool side (mid 40s) and there was a breeze . . . but the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and we were rarin' to go for our first hike of the spring.

We had expected the hike to be muddy and wet but . . . this much snow? It was a surprise to find so much of it still on the trail.

There are several gorgeous overlooks as one climbs higher and higher on the trail. This looks down on a little lake far below. (You can see it to the right middle of the picture.)

Another shot of the lake, still frozen.

There were spots where the snow was actually still three feet deep. Yikes! And let me tell you, it made for some tough hiking! (Anybody got snowshoes?)

"The sun, the sun, it's blinding me!" Another overlook we came upon was a large outcropping of south-facing rock. After taking this picture, Roy stretched out next to me and we both took a 30-minute snooze in the sun. Decadent, huh? Yeah, and it felt soooo good.

As soon as we roused ourselves and started hiking again, we rounded a curve and there was this beautiful deer in the middle of the trail. Not the greatest picture but considering I had to get my camera out of my pocket and then put on my glasses so I could see well enough to take the picture . . . I think it's amazing I got the shot.

Can a cairn contain material other than stones and still technically be called a cairn? By the side of the trail, we found (what I'll take the liberty of calling) a cairn carefully constructed of stones, birch bark, pine cones, twigs, cedar branches and dried weeds. Somebody else had enjoyed hiking this beautiful trail and left a thank you to Nature in the form of this memento.

Great sun, great company, great exercise, great trail . . . and only two sets of wet boots and socks.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I'm Lovely To Look At . . .

. . . delightful to see. (Snort, chortle, giggle, tee-hee!) But, seriously, I did get several compliments when I was out and about today. Sadly, they weren't related to my personal good looks. (Sigh . . . another blow to the ol' ego.) Rather, the earrings I wore garnered all kinds of oohs and aahs.

These earrings were a Christmas present this year from my talented daughter. Yes, she's getting into jewelry making in a big way. Confidentially, she drives me nuts . . . and makes me very jealous. How so, you ask?

Well, her father is what could be called an "idea man." His mind goes at about 100 mph, he can come up with more new concepts and ideas than ten people working full time could implement. Her mother (moi) has trouble forming an original thought but is very dexterous and can copy most anything she sees with little or no trouble. So this child of ours ended up being a true combination of us both. She has a million ideas for things she wants to do PLUS the intelligence, talent and ability to do them. If she had a way of finding extra hours in the day for herself, she might be dangerous . . . and/or rich which would be wonderful because then she could support her parents in their decrepitude.

Interested in beautiful photographic notecards? She does those, too.

But, hey, I'm good at helping her to make the cards . . . you know, assembly line stuff like cutting, pasting, stuffing in a protective sleeve. And I wear her earrings well, don'tcha think? I'm lovely to look at . . .

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Close Doesn't Count

Dang! I came this close to having a great picture to post tonight.

Today's been another one of those sunless, rainy, cold spring days we can't seem to get away from. But a great day, nonetheless, for putzing around inside, leisurely working on whatever task felt right. Even though Sunday is "every man for himself" as far as meals go in our house, I was hit by an overwhelming urge (what is wrong with me?!) to put a meat loaf in the oven this afternoon which we had for dinner with baked yams and Creamy Cucumber Salad. Good meal for a day like today.

We had just finished eating, and Roy was helping me clear the table when he glanced out the front window and announced calmly, "You know it's wet outside when you've got a seagull at your bird feeder." For those of you who have had the chance to see one up close, you know they are huge birds. Sure enough, I looked out and there was the big guy perched on top of the feeder on a post right off our front deck, just looking around, checking things out.

I ran to get my camera hoping he would stay put for another couple of minutes. Got back to the front of the house. He was still here. I knew I'd never get the front door open to take a picture without scaring him off because the dang door sticks so badly that I have to give it a yank with both hands. So I went into the bathroom and slowly, slowly inch by inch pushed up the bottom half of the window. He was still there. Then I carefully knelt down so my movements didn't startle him. He was still there. Then I aimed the camera, brought him into focus . . . and he flew off.

Sure would have been a neat picture to post. But, as they say (sigh), "Close doesn't count except in horseshoes." Rats.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

To Hike or Not To Hike

We had planned to spend the day today out in the fresh, spring air hiking. A mid-day break and a nice little lunch in the tiny dining room of a grocery store/restaurant down in the end of the county where we planned to go exploring. Stretch those leg muscles to get them in shape for the upcoming work-outside season.

The day dawned damp, gray, and heavily overcast. The temperature was in the 40s with 25-30 mph winds. Go ahead. Call us wimps. We caved. Decided to change our plans. Just couldn't screw up the gumption to brave the dampness accompanied by the high winds since the area we wanted to hike included one of the highest elevations in our area. If only the sun had been shining, I'm sure we would have gone 'cause we'd been planning on this all week and were really looking forward to it.

Plan B: Home day. So I tackled a little task that I've put off longer than my conscience feels comfortable about. We've got a fantastic whole foods co-op in our little town. It's staffed by a few paid employees but member volunteers keep the larger-than-you-might-expect operation going. Members can pick from a huge variety of jobs and accrue credit hours that go toward percentage discounts on purchases. A highly technical job that requires scads of training, expertise, and talent (I can hear several people laughing hysterically right now) is hemming towels for use in the co-op deli, general cleaning, and such. I seem to have earned the title of Rag Lady. Sort of like Bag Lady except with much more lint.

The co-op receives towels donated by our municipal swimming pool and many of the motels in town. Older towels that may be less than pristine white any longer or have begun to ravel. They're plenty good for recycling and we're glad to get them at the co-op. Because of their size, they need to be cut into smaller pieces and then hemmed so they don't unravel in the laundry. The batch I have to do this time is small, only two shopping bags full. Last time I had two big, black garbage bags to work through. Now THAT was a lot of cutting and stitching. And, oh yeah, a lotta lint to clean out of my sewing machine.

Roy decided to cut our small hay field he had let go to seed last fall. I told him he'd better take his snow shovel with because there was one corner that would need the snow removed before he could cut it! But he was anxious to get started on the job before the little green shoots grew too high among the old, dead, standing stuff so he said he'd work around that spot for now. First he had to take the snow blower off the Gravely garden tractor and mount the rotary mower.

Here he's just attacking the removal of the snow blower. (Sure hope we're not tempting the fates to dump another 6-8" of snow on us now. The way this spring has been going, it could happen.)

Of course, wouldn't ya know it, the sun came out bright and beautiful about 2 o'clock this afternoon. But it was too late to revert back to "Plan A: Hiking." We've got a date to go to a play at our local Playhouse tonight and it would have been too much of a rush to get gone, have a nice hike and get back in time.

Besides, the wind is still blowing and it's only up to 44.5 degrees now at 3:30. I think I'd better go put another small log on the fire. Br-r-r-r!

Friday, April 24, 2009

When Harry Met Sally

No, wait. I can't use that as a title for this post. His name isn't Harry, and mine isn't Sally. But it is about a meeting that changed two people's lives.

My daughter knows the story of how her parents met but has been after me for years to write it down. So, as they say, here goes.

I was in my sophomore year at Northern Illinois University. Because I was a member of a sorority (give me a break, it was the 1960s, okay?), I was required to be at a meeting being held in the Student Union on campus one night. After the meeting broke up and we headed back to the sorority house, some of my sorority sisters suggested we stop long enough to check out what was going on at a big dance that was currently in progress in the Student Union ballroom. Heee-uuuge room, there must have been several hundred (hot and sweaty) kids in there. Reluctantly, I was dragged along and as I stood at the edge of the crowd watching some dancers on the floor, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

There stood a tall, skinny guy with glasses who asked me to dance. I had no idea who he was, but it was a fast dance so I figured, why not? We introduced ourselves to each other but having any kind of a real conversation was impossible because the music was so loud, the room was very crowded and quite dark with lights flashing on and off casting all kinds of weird shadows. He asked me if I would like to go somewhere to get some coffee and talk. I told him I couldn't because I was due back at the sorority house in twenty minutes. (I truly was.) He then asked what sorority I belonged to, I told him, and he said a couple of years previously he had dated a girl from the same sorority. I knew her from the year before which had been her senior year. She was really nice, intelligent and I figured if she had dated this guy, he couldn't be all bad. When I refused to go have coffee with him that night, he asked if he could call me some time. I said sure thinking I'd never hear from him again.

And I didn't hear from him . . . until two weeks later. During that phone call, we made plans to meet and go for that coffee date after one of my classes in the Fine Arts Building a couple of days later that week. The Fine Arts Building was good-sized, a sprawling two-story affair with a huge central lobby where we had planned to meet. As I descended the stairs from the second floor after my class that day, I looked down upon the open lobby area with people flowing up and down both stairways, pushing in and out of the two sets of double doors, and milling about everywhere, it dawned on me that I really didn't remember just what this guy I was supposed to meet looked like. I mean it had been very dark in the ballroom when we met, and frankly, I wasn't paying a lot of attention to him thinking I'd most likely never see him again. After a few moments of mild panic, I thought okay, he's tall and thin, wears glasses, I remember that, this shouldn't be too difficult. Shortly I spotted a guy standing over near a wall, kind of looking like he was looking for someone. Tall and thin, but . . . uh-oh, no glasses. Oh, well. I took a deep breath, smiled, walked up to him and said hi.

Was it love at first sight when we finally got a good look at each other in daylight? I don't know if I'd say that for certain, but there definitely was a lot of interest on both our parts. Actually, it probably didn't take more than two more dates before we both knew this was it. The funny thing was we were both in relationships at the time that weren't going well. He was involved with a hometown girl he had dated since high school, she was ready to get serious, but it didn't feel right to him. I was dating a guy at college, he was Jewish, I wasn't, and his family had made it abundantly clear that anyone outside of the Jewish faith would not be welcomed into their family. Roy (the tall, thin guy, sometimes glasses, sometimes not) had shared his situation with me, and I told him about the guy I'd been dating. A couple of weeks after we met, Roy called and told me he'd completely broken off his relationship with the hometown gal the night before. How 'bout that? I had done exactly the same thing with my Jewish friend the very same night.

And the rest, dear readers, is history. We were married eleven months after the night he tapped me on the shoulder in the crowded ballroom and asked me to dance. I once asked him what made him notice me that night with all those people milling around. He said he was attracted to my nice legs . . . which blew me away because I've always disliked my short, little legs that barely reach the floor. Just shows to go ya, ladies, wear short skirts and keep your legs shaved. (Oh, my gosh, how politically incorrect of me! I can't believe I said that. Did I say that?)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Got Milk?

I went out to buy milk today. My trip to "the store" was most likely a little different than most people's would be.

This ain't farmin' country up here, folks. (Heck, there are some who would say it's not even gardening country!) The county is heavily forested, and any parcels of land boasting something that resembles actual soil (as opposed to rock, gravel, shale, or granite) are few and far between. In the whole county, in the past 35-40 years, there have been only three bona fide farms. All three raising beef cattle. Two of the farms were owned by brothers who are basically retired now. The son of one of them had a dream all of his life of operating a dairy farm, and this he has done for the past couple of years. It's been an uphill battle but he's doing his best . . . and producing wonderful, raw milk products that we purchase at the farm. We regularly get whole milk, butter, cream for my coffee lovin' husband's coffee, and skim milk for my morning latte. The milk house on the farm is open 24/7. Anyone can come and purchase what they need any time day or night and payment is on the honor system. I can't fully express how lucky we are and grateful we feel to have this hard-working family providing their healthy, nutritious products for us.

My drive to the farm is about nine miles one way. The above picture shows the approach to the farm which is way, way, way down at the end of the road with the Big Lake on the horizon. It's a totally gorgeous place, and my little camera doesn't do it justice.

Coming home today I did a little dawdling. There is a bridge going over a small river that I cross. On the return trip I had to stop to take this shot of the water that is nearly bursting its banks with the current snow melt. So beautiful.

Farther on down the road, on a little side shoot off the main road, is a secluded cemetery containing the graves of many of the very first settlers of the county, along with graves filled as recently as . . . well, apparently very soon to come now as witnessed by the mound of earth and newly dug hole I saw when I was there today. I went thinking I could get a picture or two of the grounds to put in this post. The area is surrounded by and dotted with tall evergreens and maple trees. I know of very few places that exude such a sense of absolute peace and calm. Beautiful at any time of year, in the autumn with the maple leaves carpeting the whole area it is a sight to behold. But today, and I shouldn't have been surprised, all but the tippy-tops of monuments and grave stones were still covered solidly with snow. So I'll save trying to capture the unique charm of this cemetery to put in a blog at a later date.

Yup, I went out to buy milk today . . . and my trip to "the store" was enjoyed and appreciated to the hilt. Now I'm going to go enjoy some chocolate chip cookies and a glass of ice cold, fresh milk!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stromboli Sandwiches

Our current cold, damp, wet, snowy, rainy, drippy (shall I go on?) days with temperatures hovering in the 30s have made me hungry for oven meals. Might as well enjoy them now as, believe it or not, this summer there will be stretches of weeks at a time when I avoid lighting the oven because of the heat it throws into the kitchen.

Although I truly do try to avoid eating too much bread because of the carbohydrates (our American diet contains too, too many carbos for good health), I have to confess that I love sandwiches. (Shhhh, don't tell anyone but bread tends to make me . . . how shall I put this? . . . a mite bloated in the intestinal region. Sorry, but it does. And that, in truth, is probably the only thing that keeps me from gorging on it. Oh, toast, toast, heavenly toast!)

Okay, back to the oven and a good sandwich. This is a recipe my mom sent me many years back. I especially like it because you can make the six large sandwiches and freeze them all or any portion of them you don't use immediately. When you want to use the frozen ones, just let them thaw on the counter and bake as directed in the recipe.


In large skillet, brown one pound ground beef with 1 cup diced onions.

Then add 1/2 cup tomato sauce, 1/2 cup catsup, 1/8 teaspoon oregano, 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/4 teaspoon fennel seed. (Love that fennel!) I think sliced black olives are a nice addition to the skillet mixture also, but I don't add them all of the time because I realize there are people out there (yes, there are) who don't like black olives. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Split six kaiser rolls (or hamburger buns or hoagie buns) and spread one half of each bun with butter. Sprinkle a little garlic salt over butter. Divide the ground beef mixture evenly onto the six buttered bun halves.

Then put a layer of sliced mozzarella cheese over meat mixture on each bun. (The amount of cheese here isn't critical but please don't be stingy, because the mozzarella makes the sandwich ooey, gooey, and yummy.)

Put the top half on each bun, wrap in aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Serve immediately.

My mom told me she would frequently make the Stromboli meat mixture and freeze it in six small, individual containers. Then when she and Dad wanted an open-faced sandwich, she would defrost two portions of meat mixture, spread each on half a bun, top with cheese and broil for a light meal. I've never tried it this way but it sounds quick and easy . . . and uses half the bread!