Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WIP Wednesday

I'm linking up with Freshly Pieced once again for WIP Wednesday.  This week I got two Farmer's Wife quilt blocks done.  This is block #74, Ribbons.
... and #75, Rosebud.  Not great pictures of either one of them, I'm afraid.

I spent a lot of time this week working on Bonnie Hunter's Orca Bay mystery... here's the one post so far, and I'll post another one tomorrow.  It's a little bit like "if you give a mouse a cookie..." because once I started working on my scraps, I also started wanting to organize my scraps into Bonnie's Scrap User's System, and so I started happily cutting 1.5", 2", 2.5", and 3.5" strips and squares out of all my random scrappiness.  That's a project that's going to take awhile, but it's fun to do in between sewing bursts.  I've really been getting a lot of scraps cleared out with all the tops I've pieced in recent months.
My happy progress came to a screeching halt when I loaded my STARS quilt onto the Mega Quilter and tried to quilt it.  The machine was supposed to be fixed, but there's something wrong with it still, because it can't sew more than 8" in my preferred thread before the thread breaks or forms loopy messes on the back.  I'm disgusted with it and ripping out all the small progress I had made so far.  At the moment it still works semi-well with a plain off-white thread, so I'm going to try again to finish the top using that thread, and then I'll probably lug the thing back to the dealership and demand satisfaction.  There's really no good reason for the machine to be that temperamental.
I don't really have great pictures to share this time.  Oh well, soon I'll be collecting signatures on my Crumbs quilt top and there's still lots more fun to come in Orca Bay. I like piecing so much better than quilting anyway.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the fourth of seven books in J.K. Rowling's epic school story with a twist.  In this book, young Harry, raised by completely unsympathetic, non-magical Muggles, learns more about the civil war that is threatening to burst upon the magical world he now views as his true home.  More than ever before, he feels himself at the center of the action as the evil Lord Voldemort schemes to return to full power... and his plans appear to include Harry.  At the same time, there is plenty of rollicking, lively action to keep any young reader's interest, even though this book is longer than any of the first three in the series.

After a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Quidditch World Cup (Bulgaria vs. Ireland, but it takes place in an undisclosed location in Britain), Harry is back off to Hogwarts, where a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Mad-Eye Moody, encourages the students to take a more serious view of the threats against them.  These include the Unforgivable Curses of torture, mind-control, and murder... which will play an all-too-prominent role in the action of the series from this point onward.  The really big news is that Hogwarts will host the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a year-long competition between the three major European schools of wizardry.  Contestants from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will join a Hogwarts champion... but the goblet of fire that chooses the contestants spits out Harry's name, forcing him to compete against champions older and more experienced than he.  It all seems like a plot to get Harry killed, and to complicate matters, his best mate Ron Weasley is jealous of Harry's chance for glory. 

Many characters from previous books make a return appearance in the course of the book; Dobby the house elf and the ghost Moaning Myrtle give Harry some assistance in the competition.  Memorable new characters include the paranoid Mad-Eye, the poison-quilled tabloid journalist Rita Skeeter, the forlorn house-elf Winky, and the never-serious former athlete Ludo Bagman.  As in other books of the series, the themes of friendship and loyalty are large in this book; Harry as a neglected orphan has a greater apprciation for the value of friendship when he finds it and never undervalues an individual who has shown kindness to him. 

Like Harry himself, this book is in transition between the juvenile and adult world.  If you've followed my previous reviews of the series, you'll know that this is the book I won't let my 9-year-old read yet. (She finished book 3 in less than a day when given the green light, and then read it right through again.)  This book begins with the murder of an innocent man and includes another death of a significant character towards the end.  If your child is bothered by books that do not have completely happy endings and simple solutions, it might be best to hold off on reading this one no matter how appealing the earlier Harry books are.  There is also a very dark scene of ritual bloodletting and mutilation which would disturb just about anyone... although the Death Eaters and Voldemort are not in any way portrayed in a positive light and good eventually triumphs, the potential for bad dreams is significant.  Use good judgment in reading this to children under 10.  If they do read it, they will most likely want to continue the series, which deals with increasingly dark and serious themes and kills off more central characters in each book.  In my experience, some kids handle this better than others, and parents know their own kids best.  But for cultivating a joy in reading, there is still nothing quite like these books.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jazz for Cows, Megaquilter Frustrations

...because it's got to be boring being a cow.  It's nice when they play for you.

My Mega Quilter is giving me no end of frustration as I try to quilt my STARS quilt.  It did Quarta's first quilt fine, after coming back from the servicing.  But as soon as I started on this one, with different thread, it started clicking and making thread nests on the back and breaking thread.  Then it broke a needle, the one that it came back from the repairman with.  I put in a new needle and played with the tension for awhile.  The upshot is, I seem to be able to get it to work with plain white thread from a cone, but the nice Gutermann variegated pink thread just keeps breaking, or making random thread loop nests on the back no matter what tension I have it set to.  Every couple of inches in a simple meander quilting pattern. I tried calling the dealer, which was not helpful at all... no way will I take that puppy off the carriage again anytime soon and bring it across town to get shipped off to Oregon and get charged another $160.  It's only a month since I got it back from the last time. From what I read online, the machine itself is pretty sturdy, so I can't figure out what's up with it.  I've used this thread on this machine before.  I will say that my machine on the frame with the stitch regulator has always been a bit finicky for me, but I can usually "make it work."  I'm frustrated with the dealership because they couldn't give me any tips to try and most of the people I've talked to don't seem very knowledgeable about the machine.  Next step I think is to try buying a smaller size of needle to see if that's causing the problems... they didn't even carry the type of needle I needed... in a Viking dealership!  I think I'll do better with the House of Sewing Machines closer to home.  But tomorrow.  For now I'll work on the Orca Bay mystery and Farmer's Wife blocks, and head out to Knit Night at Starbucks.

Tertia had the quote for the week today.  We've been working with her Life Skills teacher and Learning Support teacher to try to find the middle ground in math for her where she will be challenged and instructed in new concepts but not frustrated.  So I asked her today how that was going and she told me she's working in Ms. W's class (Learning Support) on Order of Operations.  Did she understand it? Yes.  That's good, I said, sometimes I have a hard time with that. "Yes. I know.  Because I love working on Order of Operations in Ms. W.'s classroom."  When you converse with Tertia, you have to embrace the random a little bit.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Busy Season

Tertia was one of many voices in the combined choir of the Vancouver School District singing at the Christmas tree lighting at Esther Short Park yesterday evening.  The Columbian article is here; no pictures of her, unfortunately, even though she was right next to the podium in the front row: she had to stand still while the Mayor spoke right next to her, and was the most excited person on the stage when Santa showed up.  They sang a lot of carols, sacred and secular, and she kept up with the music except when she looked up to see us and got distracted.

Secundus received his letter in Cross Country for Columbia River High School at a banquet this last week.  He had pretty good times, although not quite fast enough for the varsity team, which went on to win eighth in the state.  He made some good friends and seemed to fit in well with the athletic crowd, even though he doesn't study at their school; it's nice that students at private and home schools can caucus with the public schools for sports.  We're hoping he can compete in the Spring Track season as well.

I'm glad not to be driving Secundus to CC practices daily now, but this coming week will be a nightmare of scheduling with late practices for Primigenitus in the Madrigal Feast.  And just about every weekend from here until Christmas, we're double or triple-booked.  I received a scolding call from the dentist's office yesterday and am avoiding the scheduling hassle with various medical specialists the way some people avoid bill-collectors.  And while the pantry moths seem to have been eliminated, the fleas keep coming back and I'm short on the energy and time needed to go after the areas around the cats' bedding and litterboxes.

I miss the idyllic and peaceful lead-up to the holiday that I remember from my childhood... maybe one or two extra events beyond the usual, staying home most evenings and watching TV, one trip to Rolling Acres Mall (back in the 80's before its current notoriety in the Craigslist serial killings, it was actually a pleasant place to shop).  I remember putting up the Christmas tree and staying up late to make presents or cookies, and it was all so fun.  Or maybe my mom just did all the work and never complained about it... probably the most likely.  This year, I'd just like somebody else to do Christmas for me.  I've been feeling like "something's gotta give" since September, and since school is non-negotiable, I guess it will have to be Christmas.  That's okay with everybody, right?  I'll just be hanging out at home, knitting and quilting.  I'll help with cooking, and a little cleaning, but no shopping.  And no scheduling, carpooling, or phone calling.  Now that's an introvert's idea of a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Orca Bay Mystery -- Deal Me In

...because I can never resist a challenge -- especially a challenge that involves insanely high numbers of small precision-pieced units, makes a big mess as I dig through scraps, and will require long hours, late nights and even further neglect of basic housewifely duties like cooking and cleaning -- I jumped into Bonnie K. Hunter's Orca Bay Mystery this week.  This is actually my very first mystery quilt, and it looks like fun.  At 10:30 of Thanksgiving Day evening, I had pieced over half of the 2 1/2" hourglass blocks required in the first clue.  Which is actually pretty good considering I didn't really start until yesterday, and I've got a bunch more triangles cut and pieced into pairs.  Tomorrow should finish it up, especially if I don't have to go shopping and everybody is happy with leftovers.
This clue has you make 224 hourglass units in blacks and neutrals that will finish to 2".  You can use any method that works for you, but she suggests starting with 1 1/2" strips, layering a dark and light right sides together, then using a specialty ruler to cut pairs of QSTs and sew them together, then pair them with different pairs of triangles so your finished units all look different.  I have a Fons and Porter flying geese ruler that works well for cutting the triangles, and this method seems to be a little more precise than the method I used to use, where you draw an X on a square that is cut 1 1/4" bigger than the finished measurement.  There seems to be less pull on the bias this way, though you do have to be careful as you feed the units through that the points don't curve under or to the side.  As you can see, I set up an assembly line when it comes time to press.  I'm taking her at her word that I can use up some of those scraps that I'm not really in love with.  The beauty of these kinds of quilts is that the pieces are small enough that even strange conversational prints blend in with the whole unless you want to look really close.  If you do, you will see some pirate skulls, pretty flowers, dogs, cats, birdhouses, Kermit the Frog, maps, patriotic designs, chili peppers, musical notes, polka dots and plaids.  I absolutely love a quilt where I can use all of those different elements and get away with it.  This is going to be so fun!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

WIP Wednesday: Pre-Thanksgiving edition

This WIP Wednesday, my two lovely assistants are helping to display my finished top for the Happy Quilting STARS quilt-along.  Which was put together except for the borders weeks ago.  Now I need to get it onto the frame and quilt it.  I think it will be another quilt to donate to the Cedar Tree auction, like the Crumb-Along quilt.

Final dimensions on this are about 61"x 85".  Should be good for a twin bed.  Definitely a girl's quilt!

Other WIPs this week: I finished the Crumb-Along top, as mentioned above; I did 5 more Farmer's Wife blocks, I cleaned my sewing area a little, and now I have it messy again thinking about jumping into the Orca Bay mystery with Bonnie Hunter.  That's an awful lot of cutting and sewing, and I need to get some of these tops quilted, so we'll have to see.  But it looks very fun and scrappy, if you can manage all those tiny triangles.

Right now, I'm more concerned with WIPs in the "food for Thanksgiving" medium.
Pies: 1 apple, 1 blueberry, 2 pumpkin and 1 pumpkin custard.  1 bird, presumably defrosted, 18 pounds; a triple batch of cranberry sauce.  Still to do tonight: saute celery and onions for stuffing, put my feet up and knit for a few hours.  Tomorrow I will be peeling potatoes and actually cooking the bird.

Handy Latin saying for tomorrow: "Da mihi, amabo, plus solanorum tuberosorum tunsorum et iuris!" (*Pass me some more mashed potatoes and gravy, please!)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Crumb quilt top complete

I kicked it into high gear over the weekend and the last few days, and I now have a completed quilt top in the Crumb-along hosted by Jo's Country Junction.  I really fell in love with this technique, and had a lot of fun rummaging through my teeniest scraps and seeing what I could do that was crazy, but not too crazy.  I used up a lot of scraps, made a big mess, and have started cleaning it up again and wondering about what the next project will be.  As part of the cleanup I've considered using Bonnie Hunter's scrap user's system, which I also learned about from Jo.  Seems like a neat idea and I certainly have a lot of scraps to organize, but what might keep me from doing it is that secretly, I like to dump all the scraps out and rummage through the mess.  I believe there are scraps from every quilt I've ever made in this top, and that's saying something. 
About half the blocks are free-form log cabin or crazy quilt style, and of the rest I made lots of tree blocks and stars, and 3 little heart blocks.  Dark green was my unifying color, but there's a lot of everything else in there too.

I have big plans for this quilt top.  Since I work at Cedar Tree Classical Christian School, and since we have an auction coming up in the spring, and since I've done two previous tree-themed signature quilts for the auctions in earlier years, I'm going to get every single student at the school to pick a patch on this quilt and sign it.  I think it will be the perfect size for one of our graduating seniors to take off to college.  I hope it's the subject of a bidding war.  It's always fun travelling around to all the classrooms to collect the signatures.  This quilt is much more informal than the others I've done, but I think that makes it even more fun for the kids to find a special spot for their signatures, and then find them again later on.  I think I'll call it "Silva Rhetoricae" (Forest of Rhetoric).  Quilts always sound better with Latin titles!  Maybe I'll even have it quilted and bound by the beginning of 2012.  A big thanks to Jo for hosting the quilt-along and giving me the inspiration to do something with all those scraps!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Friendly Yellow Moth, and a Farmer's Wife Update

Back when we were painting our house Friendly Yellow last summer, we had no idea we would be providing habitat for this little critter, who parked itself against the siding most of the day yesterday.  It's hard to tell from the picture, but it's pretty much a perfect match, better than the first attempt to match the paint chip anyway.  I have no idea of the species, but you've heard of peppered moths?  Maybe this is a butter moth.  Sadly, Secundus swatted it yesterday evening.  He hadn't gotten the memo that moths OUTSIDE the house are okay, it's just the interior ones we worry about.  Somebody tell me it came from one of those big ugly cabbage worms, and then I won't feel so bad.
 But anyway.  I've got a few new Farmer's Wife blocks: this is #69, Practical Orchard. (What's more practical than plaid?)
#70, Prairie Queen. Scraps from little girl sewing projects.
#71, Puss in the Corner.  Wow, I got adventurous putting strange things together.
#72 Railroad.  That green calico is from my very first quilt, circa 1983.
#73, Rainbow Flowers.  More like rainbow sherbet... raspberry, orange, lemon, lime.  Mmm!
I pieced most of those Saturday evening while working on sewing together my Crumbs quilt top.  It's almost done, but I'll wait a day or two for the reveal.  I'm excited about it, though.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

How to Entertain Teenage Boys

When they were babies, it was very simple.  Feed, nap, change, repeat.  Now it's even simpler: set out plenty of food, and let them stay up as late as it takes to watch some epic movie series.  Last night it was Harry Potter 4-7 (both movies of #7).  In the past we've done Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Hogan's Heroes.  They take care of feeding and napping themselves, and cleanup is fairly minimal.  Here's the aftermath as Secundus and friends mellow out to Super Smash Bros.  I think I can say with a fair degree of confidence that I have mastered the art of entertaining teenage boys.  But I'm a little worried that my girls are approaching sleepover age, because I'm just not sure I'll be able to handle the drama.  I really like the low-impact entertaining approach.

Primigenitus recycled some of his college mail yesterday.  Just think of all those trees.  If only we had the equivalent in paper bills, we might be able to afford a semester's tuition!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Katie's Amazing Journey

My sinuses have been swollen and I have had a difficult time teaching the last few days, all because I have spent a great deal of time over at this blog reading and crying about a little girl named Katie.  You would have to have a heart of stone not to cry at her story, but it is even more a testimony to God's grace.

Katie has Down syndrome, which in this country means you have a 10% chance of being born after diagnosis, but once you are born you get the best health care and education there is, and can easily blend into society.  But Katie was not born here; she has lived her entire life in an unnamed Eastern European country, in the upper floor of a remote orphanage, in a crib.  She is 9 1/2 years old.  She weighs less than 11 pounds.  Yes, 11 pounds, 9 years old.  But now, she has a family.  They have just completed the final steps in her adoption and are ready to bring her home, starting tomorrow.  Already there is hope in her eyes and a tiny bit more flesh on her bones. 

Go.  Read the story.  Be moved.  Pray for Katie's journey home with her new family, her medical treatment once she arrives, and her long-term growth and adjustment.  Pray for the other neglected and malnourished children still waiting for families, and for the necessary improvements in the institutions that are caring for them.  And if you are in a position to consider adoption, or donate to those who are adopting, consider Reece's Rainbow, where you can read the stories of other precious children up for adoption.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

WIP Wednesday: A New Quilter

Here's a finish to start off my WIP Wednesday post.  My 9-year old daughter Quarta (her blogname... I don't like to give minor children's real names on the internet) made this quilt all by herself with lessons from me.  Actually, she did most of the work on it when she was still 8, over several Saturday quilting get-togethers at the church, with fabric donated by some of the other quilting ladies.  She had the idea of doing the appliques in the alternate blocks; teapot and teacup and a cupcake.  After she picked up the idea of applique she really took off and designed the table and chair and candle all by herself.
I quilted it for her and showed her how to do the binding and sew on the label, which she did all by herself after that.  It's a great quilt for snuggling under, and the cats are already making themselves at home on it.  She brought it to school with her today for show and tell.
I did 5 Farmer's Wife Quilt blocks this last week.  Here's #64, Peace and Plenty.  Lots of HSTs.
#65, Peaceful Hours.  I had been dreading this one, but after drafting it out on graph paper and paper-piecing it it really was not that time-consuming to do, and I LOVE how it turned out.  The solid gray and yellow were good choices; I would hate to have done all the paper-piecing with busy prints and then not have the design pop.
#66, Periwinkle.  After Peaceful Hours, Periwinkle was a cinch to paper-piece.
#67, Pine Tree.  I've decided I really should make my HSTs slightly larger and trim them to exact size for these small blocks, and that pays off in blocks like this.  I've been making a lot of tree blocks for the Crumb-Along quilt, so it was kind of funny working on this one and being really precise.
#68, Postage Stamp.  Just because I easily could, I chose 36 different fabrics for the squares for this block.

And the Crumb-Along:  I am almost ready to start sewing together.  I have more than 120 blocks and plan to make a twin-sized quilt.  Maybe I'll have something to share on that link soon.   I'm getting really antsy to clean my sewing area and put away all those crumbs soon, but they're still there for now! I admit, it's kind of fun to dig and rummage through the huge pile and just see what I come up with. But seriously, the cat slept there last night. One or two more days should do it, and then we'll get back to just mildly messy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

10 Feet Off the Ground

Saturday we watched part of a documentary about the Sherman Brothers, legendary and longtime songwriters for Disney and other famous movies.  These guys were so prolific: they were responsible for "It's a Small World After All" and the music from Mary Poppins, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  And even the obscure and forgettable movies they wrote for had great songs, like this one sung by Louis Armstrong.  I remember it from a record of Disney hits I had when I was a kid.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

More of Grandma's China

I've written before about how much I love my grandmother's old china pattern and am always on the lookout for it at thrift stores.  Thanks to Ace Hardware having the pantry moth trap I needed yesterday, I had time to swing by Goodwill before picking up Primigenitus from his violin lesson, and here's what I found -- a lovely sugar bowl (no lid) for $2.99.  I think it's probably from Johnson Brothers, "Saxony" because I have a couple other pieces very like it, but all it says on the bottom is "Made in England."  Grandma's original dishes were Wood & Sons "Blue Fjord" but I think the pattern is somewhat generic to many manufacturers.  I always love when I find something in that pattern.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans' Day

This little girl got to sing in the choir at the Veterans' Day assembly at her school yesterday morning.  She was very proud in her new black dress and shoes.  She has worked very hard on blending with the choir and not singing everything at the top of her voice.  I wish I had been able to hear her, but of course that's right during my own teaching time.

We are still trying to sort out her math, though.  She's supposed to be in the Learning Support classroom for math, but that classroom appears to be swamped with a lot of kids needing all the attention of the teacher and aides, and they can only teach the 6th grade curriculum in preparation for the state tests; Tertia is not working at 6th grade level and we couldn't care less about the tests, so she gets packets of worksheets at her grade level from the Life Skills classroom.  But right now, it doesn't appear that she's getting ANY instruction in math, and that's going to have to change, however we address it.  She's established in her schedule and really likes school, especially the classes that she's fully included in.  I'm putting off sending an email to her teachers to try to figure out what to do about math, but it has to happen.

The battle against the pantry moth infestation continues... the big pantry was even worse than the small one I cleaned yesterday, and the worms were in all the little crinkles of the plastic bags and, for some weird reason, even in cardboard boxes used to store appliances we don't use that often.  Steve pulled all the sealed packages and put them on the table this morning while I was at school, and we worked all afternoon, wiping down and vacuuming the shelves.  And then vacuuming up the little escapees every 20 minutes or so.  And to think I've been puzzling over all the moths I've killed in the last several months: I thought they were wool moths and I've been pretty diligent protecting my fiber stash, when all along they were having a party in the far reaches of the pantry.  Well, tomorrow I'm off to hunt for sticky traps with pheromones to attract the male moths... we're going to break this cycle!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pest control

It was going to be a day to catch up.  I got up early and made a batch of steel-cut oats for the kids' breakfast.  And, since everyone likes brown sugar, I figured I'd save a step and add it at the stove.  Then I opened the Tupperware cannister with the brown sugar in it and a couple of little white squashy things fell out onto the stovetop.

Plodia interpunctella, the Indian Meal Moth, in the larval stage.  And no, I hadn't cleaned my pantry thoroughly for a few years.  It was worst on the top shelf, which is above my eye level and where the honey container sat in a puddle of honey (Secundus doesn't clean up after himself) and the chocolate chip cannister had its lid ajar (Secundus again, with some others, not sealing it after grabbing a snack).  I mean, ick.  Even when the containers are sealed, they can crawl up into the crevices of the lids.
We have nice pull-out shelves in our tall pantry cupboard in our kitchen, remodeled 5 years ago.  So I pulled out the shelf boxes and cleaned them out, wincing each time I found a wriggly critter.  I threw away about 3 pounds of chocolate chips, half a pound of brown sugar, a bunch of crackers, nuts, and beef jerky.  Then I vacuumed out the nooks and crannies of the cupboard walls.  You know that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the one where they're in the Well of Souls and the snakes come out of the holes in the wall? Imagine that scene played out in grotesque miniature as the little worms poke their heads out of the pre-drilled holes where they had made their little nests.  Except even when I vacuumed, their webbing held them tight in there.  I had to poke each little hole with a toothpick and then vacuum again, and I'd have to go back every half hour or so to catch another one wriggling away.

I ran a couple dishwasher loads of the storage containers to sterilize them and will think about putting stuff back very carefully after I'm sure the cupboard is completely clean.  And maybe tomorrow or Saturday I can tackle the main pantry, which I'm sure has some issues too.

For some reason, I wasn't very hungry today.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

WIP Wednesday

My various piecing projects are inching along this week.  This is block #62 in the Farmer's Wife Quilt: Old Windmill.  The pink print is from my daughter's quilt, soon to be revealed, and the others are scraps from all over.  Lots of HSTs on this one.
And block #63: Ozark Maple Leaf.  I would never ordinarily have put these two fabrics together: oak leaf print leftover from my Tree of Life quilt and vintage sweet pea fabric from an old nightgown.
I now have a total of 107 blocks for the Crumb Along quilt.  I can't remember exactly how many I need, but I'll start laying it out when I have 25 more.  That could be as early as next week at this rate!

This week I started and finished machine-quilting my daughter's quilt.  She sewed down the binding yesterday and today, and tomorrow maybe we'll get the label on and take some pictures.  Now I need to decide what's next onto the Megaquilter... I have a couple to choose from!

On the knitting front I've started a new pair of socks and a baby item.  No pictures yet.

Linking up to Freshly Pieced, where you'll find lots of other quilty progress to look at.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sweet Tomato, er... Pumpkin Socks

I finished the fourth pair of Stashbuster Spirals socks, and the second using Cat's Sweet Tomato Heel.  Quarta obligingly posed with a little help from the pumpkin we carved with Aunt Beth's pumpkin carving kit.
They fit pretty well across the heel.  Mainly there were three leftover yarns; the orange is my homespun.  She pronounces them "so so comfy." I am now through with the Stashbuster Spirals pattern for awhile and will make a pair of plain socks for Steve.  Ultimately I want to try making argyle socks, but since that will involve intarsia I probably need to work up to it.  Haven't really been clearing much time for knitting recently.
I took Quarta's quilt off the Megaquilter yesterday and here she is sewing a red button/cherry on top of her cupcake.  The binding is attached and she has gotten her lesson in blind hem stitch.  I'm looking forward to sharing it with the blog world when she's finished, but here's a sneak peek.  I'm really proud of the work she did on this, most of it when she was still 8.  Maybe I'll let her read the next Harry Potter book.
Smudge wanted to get in on some of the photo shoot action.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The third book in the phenomenally popular series by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the last one, in my opinion, that should be read by a child under the age of 10 without fairly extensive parental oversight and debriefing.  After this, the books grow progressively darker and Rowling becomes one of those authors who Kill Off Characters.  And while the body count in books 4-7 may be appropriate to the context of the larger story arc, and the context may be appropriate for a Young Adult series, the eager 3rd and 4th graders who devoured the first few books may need to wait a few years for some maturity to set in before their parents let them loose on the last 4 books.  This book, I believe, is the turning point.  In many ways it is still a kids' book, and the mischief and pranks and teenage angst are all what you would expect in a kids' book.  But the larger context is a war amongst wizards and the potential return of a great, powerful Dark Lord.  Children discover they cannot trust everyone, and underlying the whole story is the horrific threat of the soul-sucking Dementors.  Even some kids in the recommended age range (8-9 and up) may find parts of it disturbing.

I admit to being torn on this one: my 9-year old really wants to read it and I will probably let her next time she asks nicely.  Her oldest brother read it before he was 8, and the 4th book before he was 10, but I would probably put her off longer than that on the 4th book.  This third book has a movie counterpart that is one of the better adaptations: they are all good in their ways, but this one successfully tells the story and retains the pacing and characterization of the book in a way that the later films do not.  (The later films tend to show only highlights from the books, leaving out the charming bits that make the books such a joy to the eager reader).  For many of us longtime Potter fans, this was the book that made us fans and ensured we would be staking out the bookstores for the new release of each new sequel.  In many ways, the enduring appeal of this series is for adults even more than children, but we probably shouldn't be greedy with this book.  It belongs to children first and foremost. 

In this book, Harry loses his temper with his dreadful Aunt Marge and finds himself on his own, more isolated that the maltreated orphan has ever been before, and expecting any minute to be expelled from Hogwarts.  There is a terrible criminal on the loose: Sirius Black, an escaped convict from the wizard prison, Azkaban.  Even the Muggle world is on the lookout for him.  Harry's best friends, Ron and Hermione, are at odds because Hermione's pet cat keeps attacking Ron's pet rat.  And Harry is afraid he is hallucinating when he sees a giant black dog -- or is it really the Grim, the ominous portent of death, as described by Sibyl Trelawney, professor of Divination?  Things begin to look up when he seeks special tutoring in how to repel Dementors from Remus Lupin, the shabby and occasionally sickly Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.  Hagrid, his first friend, is tormented by his own worries, and Harry's antagonists, Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape, are just as sneering and nasty as ever.  Harry also begins to uncover troubling information about his late parents and their friendships; he is faced with some ethical choices which will have serious ramifications in the future.  The kindly headmaster Albus Dumbledore keeps a close eye on Harry, but not too close until the end of the story: for the one thing Harry must learn is to face his troubles on his own, and win his way through by his own wit, character, and courage.  This he does, showing that he is ready for even more demanding challenges in the future books.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

End of the First Quarter

I'm surfacing briefly in the midst of the end-of-term grading marathon.  No pictures today, because I like my pictures to be pretty and it's not a pretty picture.  I give a mean, 4-page, brain-dump final exam to all three of my Latin classes, and since it's the first of the year and the first ever for the 6th graders, I need to grade them carefully and thoroughly and get an idea of the kids' strengths and weaknesses.  Each final has a vocab section and at least one grammar section, and I give those two sections of the final as a pretest quiz the week before, so they can either test out or study up on them and ace them on the final.  A surprising number of kids do not take advantage of that opportunity.  In fact, almost all of the kids who got an F on the final exam would have passed if they had mastered the material on the pretest.

Overall, my bell curve looks nice, with a gratifying number of A's and B's.  The tests also have a sentence translation section, a Latin quotes section (e.g., sine qua non, Adhibenda est in jocando moderatio, Gloria in excelsis Deo, etc.), and a matching section on Roman History (6th grade), Roman culture (7th grade) or Greco-Roman mythology (8th grade).  I'm regularly on the lookout for interesting, classically-themed pangrams to spell out secret messages in the matching sections.  I can do it in Latin and feel even cleverer... various abbreviated forms of "Magistra made this," but I don't think the kids get it.

Then in addition to the finals, I have the Lingua Angelica worksheets to grade (Gloria in excelsis for 6th grade, Veni Creator Spiritus for 8th grade) and the final grades to compile by next Wednesday.  And I have to have the syllabi for all three classes to give out Monday morning.  I am so glad I did the whole year's worth of lesson plans in the summer.

Good news: the Megaquilter is working.  I finished reconnecting it today and have done a bit of Quarta's 9-patch/ freeform applique first quilt, and it's humming along nicely.  I was worried because it took a good month to set it up when I first got it and we had a lot of technical problems getting all the pieces to work together.  But a tune-up was what it needed and it's working okay.  Now I need to find the time to use it...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wip Wednesday

I'm in a holding pattern this week - still making a bit of progress on my two most active quilt-alongs, but not much more because last week was parent-teacher conference time and this week is finals week.  There is an insane amount of grading in my immediate future.  I'm not much farther along on my knitting projects, either.
Farmer's Wife Quilt block #59: Night and Day.  This one was definitely only achievable for me by paper piecing.  I chose scraps of a light blue ocean fishing print for the Day (I mostly cut around the fish!) and scraps of a dark blue celestial chart print for Night.
Block # 60: Noon and Light.  This one is a wee bit smaller than 6.5", I've been doing the Crumb-along and wasn't as careful as I should have been with the seam allowance.  But I ripped and resewed three seams and I think it will work.
Block # 61: Northern Lights.  Okay, I guess.  At least I'm past the halfway mark now.  This quilt is going to happen.
Another quilt past the halfway mark is the Crumb-along quilt.  I made a bunch more blocks this week, bringing the total to 71, I think.  I kind of want to finish all the crumb blocks and then have a big cleanup of my sewing area.   But it's fun.

I have the Megaquilter back but still haven't reconnected it.  I need to get busy with that, but it will probably have to be after finals week.  Be sure to check out all the other goings-on at Freshly Pieced, and also take a look at the Bloggers' Quilt Festival if you haven't already.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Quilts of the Past: Tree of Life

I'm taking this opportunity to share a 12-year-old quilt with the Bloggers' Quilt Festival.  I've never blogged about this quilt before, but it was hugely influential in my development as a quilter.  And I love it.  I think I've mentioned before that I love tree quilts.  Ironic that all these years later, I'm teaching at Cedar Tree Classical Christian School and still making tree quilts.

This quilt started back in 1998, I think, when I was living in Colorado and connected with a lovely group of quilting ladies called "Hearts and Hands" (and if any of you read this, friend me on Facebook!)  I grew up in Ohio, and the dryness of the Colorado climate made me homesick for the big beautiful trees on my family's wooded property south of Akron.  So when it was my turn to choose the block of the month, I chose the Tree block, most of them in green but a few in Fall colors.  Since the blocks were slightly different in size, I framed them up with mitered frames and trimmed so they were all the same size before joining them together.  I knew I wanted to complete the quilt with applique leaves of all kinds -- I collected patterns by doing leaf rubbings with my son's crayons.  I made a special point of including some sassafras leaves and several maples, my favorites.  Also some aspen leaves in honor of Colorado.

It took me a few years to design the setting, do all the applique, and finally the machine quilting, which was the most ambitious I had ever attempted (and still is probably the most elaborate machine quilting I've ever done.)  I finished it sometime in 2000, after we had moved to Washington.  It hung in our dining room for a few years, and is now hanging in the fellowship hall of our church.

It's about 60" square.  The block in the center of the bottom row is mine, the rest are from my Colorado quilting buddies.  I did most of the applique leaves using the freezer paper and spray starch method, but a few leaves were done with glue stick where I had to cut through the back to remove the paper.  I quilted it on my Viking 630 with invisible nylon thread; in the ditch around the patches and applique, medium stippling around the borders and close stippling around the trees, with triangular feather motifs in the background setting triangles.