Thursday, April 30, 2009

Quilt Retreat! (part two)

Most of us worked on our own projects all weekend, but the committee did provide a project for Friday night...coloring with crayons on fabric. They provided each person with a piece of pre-washed plain cotton, a piece of freezer paper to iron on the back for stability, some photocopied patterns from a copyright free design book, and a box of crayons. I wasn't too excited with the designs i had, but in hindsight the one i colored came out pretty interesting (i don't know if i'll ever finish it or do anything else with it, but it was fun.)

The two projects i worked on were 1) completing a tote bag that i started some months ago and never had time to finish. It went together quite well. Interestingly, the designer, Penny Sturges, seems to be very retreat i learned that this month's McCall's Quilting has a bigger version of the tote bag that she designed, and several of the people in my quilt group have made or are planning on making it. My bag is made with a charm pack of Amy Butler fabrics...every square on the outside, plus two inside pockets inside made from 4 squares each, is different. The bag has very attractive long handles which didn't stand up for this picture (i'll have to take another picture later of the bag laying down, so the handles can show).

The other project was the chuppah i began more than a year ago for Rose, my congregation's lay leader. Last year at retreat i finished piecing the top and basted it to the batting and backing. I've been working on the machine quilting off and on all year. At retreat, i finished the machine quilting, made the binding and hanging sleeve, applied them by machine, and got about 2/3 of the binding sewed down by hand. It's a bit bigger than the top of a double bed. (I'm surprised no cats leaped into the middle of it when i laid it on the bed to photograph it!)
The cats were certainly glad to see me when i got home....and vice versa! Here's a lovely little furball i found under my desk when i sat down at the computer.

Quilt Retreat! (part one)

Every year at this time my quilt group goes on retreat for an extended weekend. We go to Massanetta Springs, which is a church camp/conference center about two hours' drive from here, in beautiful country between the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains. (The drive usually takes considerably longer, because part of the charm of going on retreat is stopping at quilt shops on the way to go shopping!)
This year was our 11th retreat! In early years, activities were planned for Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning. More and more, each of us brings our own UFOs (unfinished objects) or WIPs (works in process) to work on, but the committee that plans the retreat usually comes up with projects related to the retreat's theme, which they announce several months in advance. (Also, most of us now elect to arrive on more day of quilting!)

The theme this year was "A New Box of Crayons." Each of us was provided with a colorful folder listing all the things that we would need to bring, meal schedules, maps to nearby quilt shops, etc., plus directions on how to make the exchange block. Each person who wanted to made one (or more) of the exchange blocks, and then one lucky person's name was drawn on Sunday and she won them all! The exchange blocks this year were "chubby crayons"--the committee provided a paper foundation, a small amount of white fabric for the background, and two strips of black fabric for the stripes on the crayon wrapper. We provided the fabric for the "crayon" and the "wrapper." I made two (doubled my chances of winning!) but sadly didn't win them. (Of course you can't tell that i love cats and that purple is one of my favorite colors....) Here's a little quilt the committee made to show how a few crayon blocks could be set together very nicely into a quilt. And here are all of the wonderful colorful blocks that everyone made, laid out to be admired and signed with a Pigma pen, so that the winner will be able to remember in future years which of her friends made which blocks.

The committee also provided a crayon-shaped blank that we were supposed to use to make a name tag, giving ourselves a color name that in some way went with our real name (like Lime Green Lynn or Amethyst April, for example). Here's mine:

One of the things that sets our retreats apart is an innovation introduced by the organizer of our first retreat..."meal treats." At each meal, a different team provides special handmade treats at each person's place in the communal dining room. And individuals have been known to put a treat on each person's sewing machine in the wee hours of the night or morning. The committee also provides each person with goodies donated by merchants and every half hour throughout retreat there's a drawing for door prizes, with each person eventually winning something, usually a bag full of donated goodies such as beautiful pieces of fabric, patterns, threads, rulers, and if you're really really lucky, a gift certificate to a local restaurant.

The purple bag in the background holds the goodies from the committee. The meal treats included (left to right, back to front) a mug with an "apron" on it to hold sewing tools (and it came with wrapped mints inside); a fabric basket containing a box of crayons; a Stampin' Up! bag containing a stamped piece of fabric to use as a quilt label; a Stampin' Up! box containing three pieces of Ghiradelli chocolate (this was the treat my friends April, Jen, and i made...instead of wrapping the boxes with a strip of designer paper, we wrapped them with a strip of quilting fabric. We made 30 boxes and no two were alike!); a fabric-wrapped medicine bottle to use for holding broken needles and pins; a fabric rose; a box of crayons with tightly rolled pieces of fabric instead of crayons; and a pretty little mirror with a lovely sentiment.
And a cute scissors-holder to wear around the neck...the team who made these carefully made two with cats with me in mind; both got snaffled up before i got to the table but my sweet friend Gail had one of the kitties and offered to trade with me.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Before Leaving for Retreat

I need to backtrack to include some Spring flower pictures from weekend before last. Saturday April 18 our Farmer's Market opened (yay!) so i got some spinach, green onions, cilantro, perennials to plant, biscotti, etc. as well as hugs from the vendors who i haven't seen since November when the market closed for the winter. It was great catching up with them. Then i dashed off to volunteer at the Audubon Society.

The next day, Sunday, i did a massive amount of outdoors work since it really and truly felt like Spring. I mowed for the first time (the grass really needed it!), trimmed some trees, weeded the perennial bed in the front a bit, and assembled my new garden bench! The old one managed to last for 14 years while exposed to all sorts of weather, but the wood started rotting (it's cedar, not as durable as teak but not nearly as endangered or as expensive, either) and the bench began falling apart, especially after getting flipped over by the wind several times. Here's the pristine new one, which includes a lovely little brass plaque that says "Paula's Garden." (Thanks, Daddy!) The styling is a little different. Unfortunately one of the screws that holds the back in place split the wood so this one may not last 14 years....but i plan to enjoy it for as long as i can!
The dogwood by the house is blooming nicely.
The old apple tree next to my shed is in full abundant bloom. It blooms early, sometimes getting zapped by frost, and produces deliciously tart apples in late June and early July. It's way too big to be a good orchard tree and has had a lot of problems with tent caterpillar infestations over the years. There's a lot of dead wood, and many sapsucker holes that indicate there are bugs in the trunk, but the tree carries on. All sorts of birds love the apples, as do the woodchucks and squirrels. Little birds like the bugs they find amongst the blossoms...and when i was working out there, the whole tree was humming, it was that full of wild bees who were happy to find an abundant source of nectar.

The bleeding heart is now in full bloom, with the freshest bright pink color.
This little cat statue guards my dear Babka cat's regal tomb, and the violets just appeared by themselves.
I started getting ready for retreat, assembling all the materials for the projects i wanted to work on. Louie and Gingy both kept me company at the same time for a while...this picture of Louie is a view from the other direction of him looking out the sewing room window, while Gingy was perched over the sewing machine.
The evening cooled down and my assistant wandered off to do his impression of a ball!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What i'm looking forward to

I am leaving momentarily for quilt extended weekend of quilting, laughing, and eating with friends old and new from my quilt guild. We go to a church camp about two hours' drive from here in the hills near the Shenandoah valley and the Blue Ridge mountains. I have some unfinished projects i hope to make progress on! There's a new exhibit of floral applique at the Virginia Quilt Museum that we're hoping to visit. And there will be the requisite stops at a couple of quilt shops on the way down, to be tempted by new fabric and patterns and notions for more projects!

And when i come home, i look forward to seeing this sleepy little boy kitty perched on a pillow on top of a bookcase in the sewing room, looking out at the driveway, knowing that i'm coming home:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Boogie Mat Matter

I had stopped at Petco on Friday night to see if i could get another Boogie Mat for a certain sweet cat whose bruvfur won't share with him and they actually had two in stock. My quilt group will be making items to sell at a craft fair in November and i thought some sort of "cat mats" might be a good item to sell, so i bought one Boogie Mat for my guys, which i figure they can enjoy and i can reverse engineer!

Sylvie smelled the catnip and kept looking up at the table and meowing to let me know it was there and she wanted it. Finally on Sunday evening i put the mat on the nest box in front of the fridge and Sylvie instantly appeared and took it over. She rolled on it, she chomped on it, she licked it...she was loving it!

And then her dear sweet "brother" Louie appeared. Louie leaned in close to Sylvie, he squeezed between her and the fridge, he started vigorously washing her ears, all the way wedging himself onto the mat! Finally she gave him an annoyed chomp on the ears and left...leaving the mat to Louie!
They've been pretty good sports about taking turns...but mostly it seems that Sylvie claims it and then Louie "steals" it. Interestingly, neither Gingy nor Fuzzy has tried it yet, but then again, neither of them have been that interested in this nest box before either...

Easter Flowers

Saturday i drove out towards the mountains to a new Gardener's Market set up on the front green of a gourmet food market. It was a bitterly cold, breezy, wet day, but there were at least four vendors there selling native shrubs as well as perennials and herbs. I could have dropped a bundle but kept tight rein on the pocketbook...bought 3 perennials in 1 quart pots, two for my shady backyard and one for my sunny front yard.

Next i went to Laughing Duck Gardens to pick up the Jerusalem artichokes that i won on her blog! It was really nice to look at a big, soon-to-be productive kitchen garden, sit down for a sociable cup of coffee and conversation, and spend some quality time with a couple of very excellent cats.

Sunday was almost as cold as Saturday had been, but at least the sun was out. I did a little bit of weeding and took some pictures of Spring's progress.
My bleeding hearts dicentra spectabilis are just popping up leaves and starting to unfurl a couple of pink flowers:
The viburnum, which is now showing LOTS of color in the buds and a few flowers are even opening:
A few flowerheads forming on "my" lilac. (This bush used to be in my former neighbor's back yard, but he kept piling up lumber and firewood along the fence, so the bush squeezed through the fence and now is growing entirely on my side.) Behind the lilacs you can see the plum trees blooming. I think these might be Damson plums. The fruit usually is full of bugs by the time it falls, but the birds and squirrels love them.
Lovely little wild violets everywhere. Most of them are the regular dark purple, but there are a few almost-white ones with purple stripes mixed in.
My hardy pansies, looking much happier now that they've gotten some rain and sun.
A few tulips blooming just in time for my across the street neighbor to look out her window and enjoy them for Easter
A really healthy clump of daffodils (with vinca behind them) in the front perennial bed.

My friend April invited me over to dinner at her house. It was her, her husband, her teen-age son, her grown-up daughter and daughter's boyfriend who were visiting from New York, and me. It was a huge spread...a ham, lasagna, green bean casserole, creamed spinach, asparagus, Greek salad, rolls...and about four or five kinds of dessert! With all that wonderfulness, the only picture i seem to have taken was of "Paul," April's son's female (!) hamster, stuffing a cracker into her cheek pouches!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Spring kitties and flowers

Too many words below, we need a few kitty pics!

First, Louie in a new kitchen nest box. I picked this box up at Costco when i bought stuff for the book club dinner a couple of weeks ago, and it's just the right size to contain the old kitchen nest box!

Fuzzy kept me company while i was making the bat mitzvah cards.

Sylvie was there too, laying in the cat bed that she and Lesley both used to like when it was in the living room. I had to move it to the basement because there wasn't any room for it anymore, and i never saw any of the cats using it. Of course, when i went to take Sylvie's picture she woke up and hopped out of the nest!
Gingy helped snoopervise the making of the matzo cover.
I've been wanting to post pictures of my cheerful little anemone blanda (i think they're also called "Grecian windflowers") that are naturalizing themselves like crazy in my lawn, but each time i've been outside with the camera, they've been sulking because it's been too cloudy for them. Finally Wednesday morning it was sunny and they were happily open.
My purple hyacinths were even more open. Would be nice if i had smell-o-vision so i could share their wonderful perfume!

Happy Passover!

Passover began after sundown on Wednesday, April 8. It's an 8-day holiday celebrating our freedom from slavery in ancient Egypt, and is usually begun with a ritual meal called the Seder. Symbolic foods are placed on the Seder table, prayers are recited, songs are sung, and the story of the Exodus is told. This is a holiday that's celebrated in the home, not the temple, but many congregations, mine included, have community Seders. We've progressed in 10 years from doing all the cooking ourselves to having a fantastic gourmet buffet at a country inn. This year we numbered 70...members, family, friends, and members of the larger community who saw our ad in the paper and wanted to join with us.

In an exchange of emails about what we needed to bring, the rabbi asked me if we had a matzo cover (a stack of matzo, unleavened bread, is at the center of the Seder table and should be covered until time to say the blessing over it. Matzo covers are one of those utilitarian linens that can be turned into works of art.)

Um, no, we don't have a matzo cover but i could make one.... So Wednesday morning i made a quick but functional matzo cover, from a fancy (prewashed, unused) cotton dish towel trimmed into a square and hemmed, with the Hebrew letters for Pesach (Passover) cut out of gold dupioni silk and fused on, then stitched down, the Seven Species of plants stamped in gold on a piece of blue fabric and sewn to the middle, plus a group of three pomegranates stamped in gold on a piece of gold for each corner.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

One weekend, three hats

I wear a lot of different "hats" with all the interests i've got. Some circles of my life intersect in interesting ways and others don't overlap at all.

Saturday morning we had the bat mitzvah of one of the very talented young ladies in our congregation. She rides horses competitively (a typical hobby for many out here in "horse country" although not what i would consider a typically Jewish sport!), sings beautifully, is very smart, and also very sweet. Her parents asked me to take an aliyah, which was quite an be called to the bimah and recite the blessing before the Torah was read and then to recite the blessing afterwards. The bat mitzvah girl chanted all six aliyot directly from the Torah, which is a mind boggling achievement (in my opinion) because the Hebrew letters in the Torah don't have vowels, so you really have to know/remember what the words are, as well as what the chanted melody is.

I also served my usual role as our lay leader/rabbi's moral support, as well as undressing and dressing the Torah (taking the covering off and then towards the end of the service, putting the covering back on). And i presented the congregation's gift to A, the bat mitzvah girl, since our congregation president was out of town.
Here are two cards that i made. The first was to go with the congregation's gift and the second was for mine:

After the ceremony, a sit down lunch was served. Each table had the cutest centerpiece...a "corral" with a floral arrangement in the center, with a little hobby horse head sticking out of it, and all of A's many prize ribbons draped over the corral. (There were enough ribbons to have them on every table!) I ate the salad and most of the main course and then had to dash off, first dropping off the chuppah (that i've been making for over a year! for our Rabbi) so that she could use it for a babynaming ceremony the next day...our newest member, a healthy baby girl born to 40-year old parents who had tried everything for years and years to have a second child and finally a miracle happened.

I drove home, changed from my dress-up clothes into jeans and headed off to a county park for Frontier Days. I had signed my quilt group up to have a display there before i knew that a bat mitzvah was scheduled for the same day. I felt obligated to do both!

Luckily, my friend April and another friend from quilting had set up the booth and ran things just fine for a couple of hours until i got there. We were demonstrating hand quilting and hand sewing...a fair number of people came by with memories of grandmothers who quilted as well as youngsters (boys as well as girls) who wanted to try their hand at sewing. And we handed out flyers about our quilt group to anyone who might have been interested in joining. It was a lovely sunny day, and this year, our second, we were given a big open sided tent right in the middle of things. April strung up a clothesline and put up a lot of my quilt tops and wall hangings and as they flapped colorfully in the breeze, they acted as a great draw to our booth.

That breeze was a real pest because things kept blowing off the picnic tables and trying to blow away! Plus it suddenly made it feel about 15 degrees colder than it actually was.

Sunday i put on my third hat...i finally got out in the yard and did a bunch of garden clean up, cutting back last year's peony stalks where i could see this year's coming up, pulling lots of honeysuckle and vinca from around iris, daylily, and peony plants, picking up sticks off the lawn because i'll need to be mowing soon, and so on.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

O.k., it's really Spring now!

Last Friday, it was chilly and rainy, but i got a few pictures of my early Spring bulbs starting to bloom (unfortunately most of the pictures were out of focus). I did get a nice picture of my hyacinths. And here they are a week later, on another drizzly day, much more open and showing their nice dark purple color.
They are what happens to hyacinth when they are allowed to come back year after year instead of being pulled up and thrown away--the flowers seem to revert to a more wild, open type. These plants are probably 15 years old. My friend Gloria happened to come along at the right time one day, when the gardeners for the Smithsonian were pulling up the spent bulbs and getting ready to throw them away. Over the years she and i have both had this discussion, that it seems so very wasteful, but the gardeners say that there's no place to store the bulbs from season to season, and they (the gardeners) are expected to provide constant blooms all season and the only way to do that is pull out the bulbs when the flowers go by and plop something else in their place. For some reason they can't sell the bulbs either, something about them having been bought with government funds? (of course, that was 15 years ago...maybe now they'd be happy to raise some revenue!)
Anyhow, Gloria came along as the guys were pulling the hyacinths and tossing them aside. She got 6 bulbs for herself and 6 for me. Each of the bulbs has made 3 or 4 new plants. I suppose i should divide them but i like the clumpy look and i haven't really had place for more hyacinths.
The little grape hyacinths have suddenly popped up and are blooming.
The viburnum buds are showing lots more color.
And this week is the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC! It was grey and misty this morning and this picture was taken from a moving car (i wasn't driving this time!). It's of the reflecting pool in front of the Jefferson Memorial and all around it are Yoshino cherry trees in full bloom (sorry that the guardrail takes up the whole foreground of the picture). Even at 7 this morning there were tourists walking around under the trees, striving to get the best picture of the lovely blossoms close up or far away. Lots and lots of big cameras and tripods!
The National Park Service has an excellent site all about the cherry trees, including an illustrated history of how they originated in 1912 as a gift of friendship from the people of Japan. Some of the trees are descendents of trees in Japan that are said to be 1500 years old!

Cooking for the Book Club

This last month my book club read The Girl From Foreign by Sadia Shephard. It's the true story of a young woman who grew up in the US with a Christian American father, a Muslim Pakistani mother, and her Muslim Pakistani grandmother...except that towards the end of her grandmother's life, Sadia learned that her grandmother was actually originally from an ancient Jewish community in India and had converted to Islam when she married. Sadia set off for India, fuelled by a Fulbright scholarship, to learn more about the Jews of India, and her grandmother in particular.

Each month a member hosts the book club meeting at their house, and usually the host provides a light supper or heavy snacks or even a nice sit-down dinner. I don't have seating in my house for 12 people nor a flat surface large enough (or clear enough of clutter) to put out a buffet for that many people. So for this meeting, Sharon and Peter hosted it at their house, and i brought the food. I did a bunch of research online and realized that one of the cookbooks that i lost either to the flooding of my basement 10 years ago or subsequent spraying by Gingy would have been perfect...The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York by Claudia Roden...but i don't have it anymore and didn't have enough time to get a replacement copy.

So i made recipes that i found online...Chittarnee, which is sweet and sour chicken in an onion sauce; a cauliflower, potato, and pea curry; and a carrot, potato, and chickpea curry. Amusingly (and to my surprise), each dish had a crushed tomato base, so all three dishes were reddish in color, but each was spiced differently, so at least their flavors contrasted. I made cucumber-dill raita as an accompaniment, brown Basmati rice to go under everything, and put out little bowls of sliced bananas, grated unsweetened coconut, cashews, raisins, fresh cilantro, and plain yogurt for garnish. If i'd cooked it just for myself, i would have greatly increased the heat quotient but since i was cooking for a dozen people with tolerance for very different levels of heat, i made all three dishes fairly mild. (The spiciest, the cauliflower dish, was hands-down the best.)

For appetizers i heated up a dozen veggie samosas from Trader Joe's, which turned out to be a challenge because Sharon almost never bakes, so her oven was quite cranky. For dessert, i brought these scrumptious frozen desserts from Island Way (had to go to Costco to get them)...they are halves of real fruit filled with a creamy (low-fat, mostly natural flavor) fruit sorbet in interesting flavors like orange-mango, coconut, and lemon.

I spent over an hour Friday evening shopping, almost all day Saturday cooking, with a quick trip up to Trader Joe's for the samosas, a fruit nut mix for appetizers, and a couple of items it turns out they don't carry anymore, and then on Sunday i loaded everything into my vehicle...three Pyrex bowls of food, the frozen desserts and appetizer, all the condiments, bowls for the condiments, pot holders, cooking timer, etc. I didn't bring a cookie sheet, but i should have...Sharon had to hunt to find one in her cabinets (but she did find one).

All in all, the book discussion was great with all of us learning a lot about each other, the dinner was tasty and well-received, and i've had yummy leftovers for dinner all week.