Saturday, November 29, 2014

Randomday: Clearing the Decks (sort of)

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday.  I cook like a madwoman for a few days and then get to stay in bed until 7:30 the next few days.  Maybe even 8:00.  And there are leftovers, although not so much as you might think of the turkey and mashed potatoes.  I don't do the crazy Black Friday shopping.  In fact, I think that somebody else should produce Christmas this year.  I produced Thanksgiving, and that should really count for something, right?
Tertia did her part to get the Christmas season off to a festive start at the annual Tree-Lighting yesterday.  It went on despite the rain, combined choirs singing several dozen carols at a good clip, proud family members looking on.  There was a romantic proposal of marriage (didn't catch who, but they seemed a nice young couple) after the choir finished singing, then the wait for Santa and Mrs. Claus to show up and throw the switch.  It's the fourth year Tertia has been able to participate.  Getting to be a tradition for her.  Then we went home and had hot cocoa.

Today started off with promise: I spotted a Latin error in the Washington Post.  Nothing makes a grammar geek's day quite like spotting a noun-adjective agreement problem that slipped past the experts.  For the record, the writer chose to say "alumnus non grata."  Now, "persona non grata" is perfectly fine Latin, the feminine adjective agreeing with the feminine noun, and "alumnus non gratus" would have worked although the play on the more familiar "persona" would have been over the heads of the average Post reader, I suppose.  If you ask me, the appropriate quote for the story would have been "corruptio optimi pessima."  But that would have required 8th grade level grammar.

So for the fourth year, I am planning in on joining in on the Bonnie K. Hunter mystery quilt.  This year, it is Grand Illusion, inspired by the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan.  The color scheme has a nice "ladies that lunch" vintage feel about it, and I am eager to dive in.  But since quilting has not been happening that much lately, there was unfinished business to attend to.  Another Bonnie Hunter pattern actually -- the Santa Fe String Star that I have been working on for months.  I dedicated the first part of this holiday weekend to seaming the star medallion together, along with the little stars from the extra diamonds in each color.

I'm pleased that the center of the star lies relatively flat.  I pressed the seams open for all the diamonds but it's still fairly bulky with all the strings.
 I really like all the little stars, and hope I can figure out how to use them in the setting for this beast.
 I went out this afternoon and bought 5 yards of Kona medium gray for the background.  I think it will work well.
 I have the large central star and 8 little stars.
 The scrappy string quilting process is a lot of fun... but it leaves the sewing area incredibly messy.
The stars will stay on the design wall until I figure out how to set them in the gray background fabric.  I think it has great potential to be one of the most artistic quilts I've ever made.  But it's far from finished.
Meanwhile, today I started to pull fabrics for the mystery quilt and make the pink and blue half-square triangles.  I have already made about a third of the umpty-hundred I need.  But I don't think I'll run out of fabric anytime soon.  Too bad, really.  I at least need to cull through my little scraps and clean up my working area a bit more.  I will have to return to school on Monday, so my sewing time will be curtailed once again.

Lots of fun movies have been watched over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Sleepless in Seattle on Thursday, Jack the Giant Killer yesterday, and that great classic, Chicken Run, this evening.  We are a little closer to giving the girls a proper education.  Speaking of which, poor Peter is experiencing the less than joyful process of filling out college applications.  They can put paperwork online and they claim that it makes it more efficient, but it is still destructive of the human soul.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


My Dad shared these pictures of my grandparents at a long ago Thanksgiving.  I remember them, their knotty pine kitchen, and their singleminded intensity about the preparation of good food so well.  On days like yesterday, my big prep day, and today, I feel the presence of a great cloud of witnesses, mainly my female ancestors, as I go about the rituals of preparing and serving the great American feast.  I do it differently, yes.  I throw out the giblets without a second thought; I don't make those noodles in the broth; I make whole-berry sauce rather than the chopped cranberry relish; I don't worry -- too much -- if I have fewer than four desserts; and I do make a double batch of turkey stock with the carcass, to freeze for soups later on.  I don't set the same beautiful table and use all the fine china.  But all the time I am thinking about Thanksgivings past, the story Grandma Maffett used to tell of the bank robbery by an inept branch of the Dillinger gang; the time Grandpa Bogue dropped the pecan pie and then stepped in it; the smells and tastes and memories of a blessed childhood.

 It was a little bit lonely without Daniel.  He's been on the wrong side of the country for three years worth of Thanksgivings now.  We did have a nice Skype session with him after the meal, but it's just not the same.  Tertia is the one who likes to pose for the camera, but she blocked Steve's Mom, so I had to take another one.
Yesterday, Quarta learned how to make cranberry sauce.  This is more or less the traditional whole berry sauce I've been making for years, with orange zest and a little orange juice.
 And the second is a sauce of cranberries and a quart of plums from the freezer, with orange zest, orange juice, ginger, spices and a splash of brandy.  It's a little less sweet but still, I think, quite good.  And for once we have enough leftover cranberry sauce, since we had the mother-daughter cook-off.
The pie-making yesterday was when I was thinking of my grandmothers the most.  I dithered as to whether to make the German Chocolate pie or the Chocolate Bourbon pecan pie, and German Chocolate won, but not before I had braved the morning crowds at Winco and bought a bottle of bourbon for the other.  I could picture my two grandmas up in heaven, one shaking her head about the bourbon, and the other one telling me to make even more desserts.
It's a good thing I didn't.  For one thing, I don't have enough pie plates.  And for another, we were all so stuffed that we have plenty of pies leftover too.

All morning as I worked, I could see the 5-k turkey trotters from the local health club jogging down the street in front of the house.  Justifying their feast later on, I guess.  I'm of the opinion that the women who produce the Thanksgiving feast burn quite enough calories in the production process.  I know it's not the dramatic kind of exercise that all the neighbors can see.  But think about it; it's a long, steady sequence of little tasks that put you under a constant low-level stress, thus building up endurance and all-round muscle tone for anything life might throw at you.  Today alone, I arm-wrestled a nearly 20-pound bird and won.  There was chopping, herb-gathering, pantry-rummaging, lifting, fridge-stacking and re-arranging, mixing, stirring, timing, research into ideal temperature points, whipping of cream, browsing of last-minute recipes, delegating of chores to reluctant pre-teens and teenagers, carving, schlepping, whisking of gravy, and I even opened a champagne bottle for the first time (and ducking the backsplash, but not fast enough).  So, take that, turkey-trotters.  It's a much more enjoyable holiday when you don't fight the feast.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

WIP Wednesday - rainbow diamonds

The eight individual diamonds are done for my String Star quilt.  They have been done for about a week but I've been grading like nothing else matters all this time and have only just come up for air.  There are enough extra little diamonds to make little stars that I hope to use in the setting.

Next will be planning the setting.  I'm thinking solid medium gray background fabric, and somehow I need to work extra stars into it.  At some point I also need to clean up the royal mess I have made in my sewing area.  And hem Tertia's jeans.

It will probably be quite some time before I finish this top, but it was fun pushing through the piecing to get to this point.  At least I have something colorful and pretty to stare at now that the weather has turned gloomy.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Randomday with Boyfriend Jeans

Last week was finals week for all my classes; after spending an insane amount of time grading I declared a moratorium on any further grading until Monday.

In a non-school moment last week it came to my attention that Tertia's wardrobe desperately needed attention.  She had only a few pairs of pants that fit after the mid-teen growth spurt when kids go from size 12 kids to 14, 16, and adult sizes in quick succession, and I culled two full bags to give away.  Which meant that today was designated as a mother-daughter shopping date day.

We hit Cascade Station, which I had never done before, thinking it was just a light rail station by the airport.  I guess I've been a fairly mediocre shopper for the last several years, or I wouldn't have needed someone to tell me it was a good place to shop.  She started giggling immediately after we pulled into the parking lot about the name of the store: Banana Republic.  Then we were looking at jeans and I read one tag that identified the style that fits her best: boyfriend jeans (because they have a cuff rolled up as if borrowed from a taller boyfriend).  We found a petite size that was the perfect length for her.  She hasn't really stopped giggling since.  "Boyfriend!  That's such a funny joke!"
 We bought a few more things at Ross and then hit the new Goodwill Outlet, where you buy by the pound.  We found two pairs of jeans that fit her perfectly, except for the length...
... I will need to hem these before they can be boyfriend style, or maybe just turned under like regular jeans.

Sarah Palin posted this sweet quote from the surgeon who performed her son Trig's eye surgery, and her thoughts after:

 "Compare his eyes to a 'normal' child's. Get a magnifying glass. Look deep. Their eyes are captivating inside! They're different, they're colorful, they sparkle. Surely God made these eyes to reflect what heaven must be." 
If only we all could see into and through the eyes of the innocent! They're God's sons and daughters who may not meet man's standards of perfection but will certainly meet His. Their enduring childlike faith and their patience with the rest of us can teach us what is important. Maybe if we look with those eyes, what a wonderful world we will see. 

It is a never-ending privilege to look into those eyes every day.  If I pay attention, I do learn what is really important.  And sometimes, it's shopping for jeans.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

No Place for An Election

One of my earliest memories is being taken along with my mother to the polling place in Akron, Ohio, an enormous school gym with the smell of polished wood floors mingled with the smoke being puffed by the election workers, and the hum of rustling papers and hushed voices.  I asked who my mother had voted for afterwards, and she said it was not something you told everybody; it was special, something you thought about very carefully before doing.  Voting was obviously a sacred ritual of American civil religion - more important than the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance I would join in later; less noisy but more momentous than the Fourth of July.  It meant something.  I wasn't sure yet what, but it meant something.

A lifetime later, and I am feeling rather disconnected from the physical reality of Election Day.  In Washington State, we no longer go to a polling place to vote.  All elections are conducted by mail-in ballot.  There is no satisfying drop of the heavy paper ballot into the ballot box, no smell of gymnasium floors, no pleasant repartee with the retirees manning the tables for the precincts.  It's virtual voting, if you will, in the comfort of your own home, with only the standard-issue voter's guide, also sent in the mail, and chatting with whoever else in your household wants to share the voting chore with you.  This is all done in the name of making it easier for people to vote, and trying to ensure greater participation.  I'm sure these are all good things, but it feels less exciting, even less important somehow.

Now, it's not a Presidential election year, and Washington State has no Senate race this year.  I maintain that local races are important, of course. I will be interested in watching the results in other states, I suppose.  But I can't help also feeling that we are missing out on something by not going through the shared minor hardship of driving to the local polling place, waiting in line with our fellow-citizens, deciphering the ballot then and there, and seeing our own ballot join the ranks of others.  It gives you just that much more confidence, that we are all citizens of the same country and we all have the same basic concerns no matter what party we favor.  It's not that I'm afraid the ballots won't get counted (although there is always that nagging feeling that they might not be if no one is watching the polls, because there are no polls to watch).  It's not that I don't care about the races I voted for.  But I think that something vital is lost in our common culture when we don't ever learn to do even one thing as a community, at the same time.

When was the last time that everyone in America was doing the same thing at roughly the same time?  September 11 maybe?  Maybe watching Presidential election returns or debates, but more likely a major sporting event.  Mostly, we go our own ways, living lives of personal peace and affluence, skipping the hardship as much as possible.  Sometimes, on an uncomfortable airline flight, I have had the surreal experience of looking around and thinking, "are these the people I'm going to die with?"  But at least there were people there, and most of them were Americans.  It's a little the same with elections; it's a shared experience, and even if a great tragedy occurs, in the air or at the polls, it is our experience as Americans and we will go through it together.  This all-mail balloting tends to lead many people to see elections as major nuisances, and our government as something that is somehow anti-social.  Political ads are increasingly more strident and divisive, and it's a little easier to tune them out or write them off now.  We are more cynical when unsolicited ads, calls, and ballots show up at our residences.  We stop seeing government as something that we change, a series of real tasks facing real people in a real world.  And we tend to care only about the big races, forgetting that every big race started out as a little one, with people in it who were once unknowns.

It is at times like these that I like to think of the time I physically met our Congresswoman, Jamie Herrera Beutler, when she was still a state representative and spoke at the Cedar Tree groundbreaking, and little toddler Tertia tried to climb into her car which was parked right next to ours.  The physicality of it may not take away my nostalgia for the smell of polished wood gymnasium floors, but it tells its own story of connectedness in an increasingly isolated America.

We must hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Design Wall Monday

This is on my design wall this Monday (and you can click on the link to see what others are doing).
I am almost finished with those big diamonds to form my string star.  Three are done, the other five have four rows and are waiting for the fifth, and I have pieced most of the individual small diamonds that I will need.  It just needs about an hour or two of uninterrupted time.  Ha Ha!  I need to start thinking about the background fabric and the design... I'm pretty sure I want to do little stars with some of the extra diamonds, but how I'm going to set them I don't know.

The 9-patches and blocks draped off to the right are for that "low volume" quilt-along I joined yay long time ago... when I sat back down to finally do some quilting back in September after a long hiatus, I thought I would piece a few more of those Burgoyne Surrounded blocks, but I ended up getting drawn into the diamonds instead.  It's always an adventure in the quilting area.  I totally should do this more often.

I also bought four black fat quarters in preparation for the Bonnie Hunter mystery quilt coming up later this month, and because I liked them.  I should technically log them as part of a stash report, but I fell off that bandwagon some time ago -- not because I bought too much fabric, but because I nearly stopped blogging altogether.  I'll just stick to piecing diamonds for awhile yet.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Randomday on Sunday

I have not been random for some time.  Or rather, I have not been random on my blog.  I have been having trouble sticking to any schedule other than the school one.

Peter officially turned 18 today.  We celebrated yesterday since today was the church annual meeting and fellowship dinner.  New York strip steak, mashed potatoes, asparagus, salad and apple pie.  Pretty much the ultimate classic American meal.

Friday was Reformation Day at school and there was also a special party at church.  I didn't have to teach Friday but caught up on my grading, then in the evening I portrayed Marguerite of Navarre in a "Name that Reformer" game show.  She's pretty obscure today, but I enjoyed reading up on her... a Renaissance woman indeed.

Thursday Tertia had a Halloween dance at her school,  On my theory that all the best costumes are made with stuff on hand and at the last minute, I spent an hour or so in the afternoon whipping up this Weeping Angel costume:
Don't blink!  She was the cutest one at the dance, especially when it was time to sing along with "Let it Go."
It has been a difficult couple of weeks.  I had a crown put on my molar that had a crack and had lost some of its filling: the appointment itself went fine and the novocaine went in the right place, but when it wore off the temporary crown was extremely painful to chew on, and even after adjustment has not been pain-free.  Then my sister in Scotland had a nasty fall and broke both bones of her leg at the ankle; she was hospitalized and had surgery to insert pins and a plate and after a week is now housebound in her walk-up flat, unable to do stairs for 4-6 weeks.

Our van had a nail in the tire that damaged the wheel rim, and new tires were ordered but we were given a timeline of 7-10 days and it has been 8 days now of less than ideal transportation arrangements.  Also, the garage door broke, and we are on day 3 of the 7-10 days to order its replacement.  Of course, the garage door is for the other car, and the control for the working garage door is marooned with the van at the shop.  So life is rather inconvenient right now.

Teaching this year is an interesting mix; my students are livelier and have more adolescent energy than I ever remember having before; combined with the fact that I have several students who are new to Latin and have to somehow be integrated into the program while keeping them and their parents happy, and although I personally have good confidence in my own ability as a teacher, I'm never sure how much the people who really matter have in it... and that might explain why I'm perpetually stressed and tired.  It's a little like Rome during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.., the people started to question whether their way of life could really go on forever.  I would be tempted to insert a quote from Ecclesiastes here, but I really must go to bed and prepare for the hard labor at the galley bench.