Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

When I was little and we had just arrived in the U.S. from Holland, I used to hear things on the radio or from other kids about various holiday traditions. I would pass this important information along to my mother. I remember telling her that she had to get us some Easter bonnets, even though I wasn't quite sure what a "bonnet" was. We didn't go to church, she said, so we didn't really need new clothes, and especially not hats. I did enjoy my Easter basket and coloring eggs, even though I didn't like hard-boiled eggs at all (I still don't much).

My mother used to say I could eat more candy than any kid without getting sick, but today I feel like I have OD'd on sugar. I made a key lime pie for dessert, and it was great! It followed a brunch casserole with sausage, eggs, and cheese along with watermelon and OJ. I'm not sure I'm going to eat much more today... except perhaps another slice of pie?

Growing up in Maryland, it was always hot on Easter, and we would wear sandals sometimes for the first time in the year. Here in Vermont, it is often quite chilly on Easter, and yesterday it even snowed a little. Today it's in the 50s, but in the holiday spirit, I did put my Birkenstocks on with socks. Spring's got to be just around the corner!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Caught by the Civil War bug

Since February, I've been volunteering at the Vermont Historical Society once a week, helping to sew hanging sleeves onto quilts to be exhibited for the first time at this year's Vermont Quilt Festival. These quilts are amazing! When one considers that many of the seams were done by hand, probably in the evenings or late in the day when chores were done, the quilts are indeed labors of love. I can't imagine how they could see to make such small stitches! This week I worked on a very heavy red and black wool quilt that has lots of little rips in it. The VHS curator told me that it will be hung only during show hours because of its fragility and weight. She is hoping a slant board can be used to display it instead. While we have been exploring conservation of the quilts, covering all the holes in this quilt with tulle or silk might detract from its amazing appearance.

Handling these quilts has caused almost everyone in our small group of "Secret Stitchers" (for the stitch some previous quilters used to affix the sleeves to some of the quilts) to try reproducing our favorites. Sandra is testing templates for a Crossed Canoes quilt, while Nancy is making various Uneven Nine Patches in Civil War reproduction prints. Even though my favorite has been a Log Cabin, with 1/2" logs surrounding 2 1/2" red "chimneys," I have been working on a sampler of 9" squares using fabrics from a collection by Barbara Brackman, along with tea-dyed muslin and some other Civil War era reproductions. So far, I've made about a dozen blocks, and here's what's on my design wall today.

The Civil War repros are a little outside my comfort zone since I tend to like working in brighter colors. But there is something very homey about them, too, and they remind me of the women who worked so hard back home to keep their farms, families, and homes together during the war. I'm not sure how big this quilt is going to be yet. Guess I'll keep making 9" blocks until I get tired. I'm also expecting 8 more blocks when my Tuesday night guild's "square robin" bag returns in June. With sashing (tea-dyed muslin? shirting?) or alternating solid blocks, this should be a very nice quilt.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Recent reading

I haven't posted about books I've read in a long time, but I have read some unforgettable ones lately:

- Most recently, I finished The Devil's Food Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke. It was definitely light and fluffy, but the recipes throughout are to die for. Hannah owns a cookie shop and has an assortment of friends and family who help her solve murders in her little Minnesota town. I am going to write down a few of the recipes before I return the book to the library, and I anxiously await Fluke's cookbook, Murder She Baked, coming soon.

- Before that, I finished All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy for our book group this coming Wed. night. I had read it before but realized while reading that I had forgotten almost everything. It's a western set in 1949 when 16-year-old John Grady Cole leaves his Texas ranch with a friend and heads into Mexico. He encounters quite a bit of violence, hard work, many horses, and love along the way. Even though all the dialog lacks punctuation, there's lots of untranslated Spanish, and it is fairly depressing, the language is quite poetic and the mood sticks.

- My favorite new-found author is Erin Hart, whose three mysteries are mostly set in Ireland. In the first novel, Haunted Ground, pathologist Nora Gavin and anthropologist Cormac Maguire investigate the discovery of a Centuries-old severed head in the peat bogs. Romance and intrigue ensue, and I'm already looking forward to the next book.

- Because so many others have raved, I finally got around to reading The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo by Stieg Larson last week. It was slow going at first and I almost set it aside a few times. But it really got going toward the middle. I was dismayed at the violence toward women, however, and don't plan to read the other two books in the series.

- But another book that "everyone" has been reading, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, turned out to be great. It has been marketed for young adults but adults will like it, too, as it is told from the point of view of Death and a young girl during the Holocaust. The author has an unusual way of telling the story we are fairly familiar with.

- The Union Quilters by Jennifer Chiaverini was pretty good, not literary, but interesting Civil War fiction about what women were doing in the north while the men were at war or captured in prison. Since I've been handling antique quilts at the Vermont Historical Society every week, I have a greater appreciation for the women who made quilts to send to the front and to raffle off to raise funds for needed items to send the soldiers. This book also deals with the frustration black men felt when they were not allowed to serve in the Union army until late in the war.

- Finally, I plugged along with The Tea Lords by Halle Haase because it felt as if I was reading Roots. Haase based her novel on diaries and letters of Dutch tea planters in Indonesia and it could have been more gracefully written. Still, this story of one such plantation owner from youth to death mirrors the lives of many of my forebears.

Friday, April 15, 2011

May "Basket" Arrives

The "Friendship Block Swap" group I belong to organized a secret May swap. Rather than filling a basket, each of us filled a small flat rate postal box with a handmade item as well as other goodies. I sent a box to Debbie last week and thoroughly enjoyed filling it. Today's mail brought my "basket" and it was from... Debbie! Since the assignments were made randomly, it was a great surprise to us both.

My package included a sweet wallhanging with appliqued and embroidered pansies, six coasters in my favorite color (purple), some chocolates in an organdy bag, and a little book of tips for quilters. I think I'm going to hang the pansies on our front door because the wallhanging that's there now is very faded from the sun at our old house. It is nice to start the season with a "fresh" door hanging! I'm going to put the coasters in the living room away and put Debbie's out in the purple basket I have from a past secret pal.

Today I shopped for fabric for some of my ongoing projects - more pink, some Civil War prints, and more blues for my Little Amsterdam table runners. My sister, Jenny, was here last week and took one of the table runners home with her to give to Mom for Mother's Day. I was glad she could squeeze it into her suitcase, although I need to mail Jenny a package anyway. I have a pair of sturdy shoes for walking in the woods that fit her better than they do me. We had a nice visit with her last week although it was much too short.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What I'm working on

Last night Polly asked me what I've been working on, and the number of works in progress I have is staggering!
* pink and brown 6" block a week "virtual bee" with Friendship Swap group
* black, white, and a hint of color 6" block quilt (including swap blocks with Friendship Swap group to arrive mid-summer)
* green and floral Friendship Swap blocks - 20 made so far and due at end of summer
* "Little Amsterdam" table runners - 1 made, 1 put together, a few more to go
* Civil War 9" squares, including those in guild "square robin"
* Friendship swap group row robin - a new one comes every 6 weeks until next January

Several of these WIPs are in large pizza boxes which I shuffle around as the mood strikes. The pink and brown is in a small plastic tub, and the Friendship Swap blocks are in a large plastic bag. Polly limits herself to one project at a time, but I obviously like a little variety in my life.

I also have to hand sew a binding down on my "Candy Land" wallhanging and a hanging sleeve on "Asian Jane" for the May 6 Central Vermont Quilt Show. I also need to create a "Bra Bag for Cancer" for the show. Have an idea for one with very traditional quilt blocks but need to find a sports bra to start.

Today I pulled a 14" batik appliqued block with flowers in a vase out of the closet. Future tote bag?