Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hug Quilt


There is an amazing woman named Miriam in our little town. Full of energy, wise-cracking and fun loving, she runs our local breakfast eatery called the Kountry Kitchen. We have been going in there just about every week-end for 7 years for breakfast. We know several of the regular customers by name or enough to wave and say "Good Morning". It is not a fancy place. But as soon as you walk in, you are greeted with the smell of good food and a welcome smile.

Miriam has a couple of other waitresses and several bussers who are usually high school girls. She cracks the whip on her staff and expects them to keep up with the breakneck pace that she sets. If they want to be lazy, they don't have a job for long. "My way or the highway" is Miriam's credo. She has greeted and fed my grand children from the time they were babies. Apple Juice, warm a bottle, finger food when ready, she is a good grandma.

Miriam was just diagnosed with colon cancer. She has not been able to work in over a month. Miriam's daughter, Sarah, bought the restaurant a few years ago with the intention that her mother would run it. Miriam had worked for the previous owner. Food service is a hard task master. Getting up at 4 AM to open the restaurant, on your feet working all day and close after the dinner crowd is gone. This pace burns you up and can burn you out if you do not have good assistants. We noticed that her daughter had put up a sign a few months ago that she is planning to sell it. This is not a great time to sell businesses or homes in this economy. Miriam and Sarah may have made this decision knowing about the health problems and being uncertain of the road ahead.

Those that miss and love Miriam continue our patronage of the restaurant. Miriam has some great assistants at the restaurant and they are keeping the place going until Miriam returns. I wanted Miriam to know how many peoples' lives she has touched while she has been slinging hash for these years. I planned a rail fence quilt using fall colors and a white signature strip for her friends. I put up two baskets at the restaurant; one with blank blocks and one with "Messages for Miriam" on the other so then could write their private messages on the quilt block and place it face down in the basket. I picked up blocks periodically and have assembled the quilt leaving some blank blocks. There are always last minute folks in our small town. I added a blacky-brown inner border and a wide print background outer border. I plan to quilt it this week-end using Leaf Pile panto and Signature gold thread . I'll use Quilter's Dream cotton select or wool batting; I want the batting to breath so either of those will do fine.

My hope is that this quilt will represent dozens of hugs for Miriam. She will be able to read the comments and know that we all miss her and want her to get well.

Christmas Tree Quilt for Cathy's Nephew


The Christmas Tree panel has scottie dogs and gift-wrapped present all around the bottom of hte tree. Cathy added several borders to make it a nie sized lap 54 x 65. I used Quilter's Dream Puff batting and PermaCore Egyptian Topaz thread. The back is pieced.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Caramel Popcorn Balls

I've made these caramel popcorn balls for years as a holiday treat. This year, I had my friend, Ana, help me out since I wanted to double the recipe and give them to friends. We made dozens of balls and I had a huge overflowing bowl left. Now you can see that there are other people who like my popcorn balls since the bowl is looking decidedly empty. Anyway, here is the recipe if you want to give it a try.

I use white popcorn as it seems to have fewer hulls. The popcorn must be popped before you start the aramel mixture. We pop it in a hot-air popper, enough to fill 3 large bowls.

1/2 cup margarine
2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup light Karow (corn) syrup
1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 qts popped corn

In saucepan on medium, combine margarine sugar and corn syrup. Stir well and bring to slight boil. Stir in the Eagle brand milk and continue stirring. When this mixture starts to boil, check it for soft ball stage. (see below). It gets to softball stage quickly. Remove from heat and carefully add in vanilla.

Mixture remains hot for a white and is best used while the caramel is still liquid and hot. Be careful not to touch the caramel with your fingers at this point. Use a long handled spoon to stir the bowls of popcorn as you pour the hot caramel mixture over the popcorn. This is best done in 2 steps using half the caramel mixture each time. Stir up the caramel in one bowl, white popcorn will still be visible, and then do this with the other 2 bowls. Go back to bowl #1 and add more caramel until most of the white popcorn is coated with the gooey caramel. Repeat for bowls 2 and 3. If you have any left over caramel, look for white spots and add caramel.

Spread out two 2-ft pieces of waxed paper on a flat surface. After washing your hands, coat them with margarine. Working quickly, shape caramel popcorn into balls the size of tennis balls (or smaller) and set on the waxed paper. It is not necessary to squeeze the balls tightly, just enough strength to make them stick together. If you did not cook the caramel mixture long enough, the balls will start to separate in 5 or 10 minutes. If that happens, the popcorn is still good to eat in small chunks. The balls can be eaten immediately and will continue to firm up as the hours pass. My popcorn balls are usually gone within 2 days so I'm not certain just how hard they get.

So what is softball stage? Before we had whiz-bang candy thermometers to gauge softball, hardball, soft crack etc stages of candy-making, we used a cup of cold water to tell us what stage our candy making was in. I put a custard cup of cold tap water next to the stove after I add the milk to the caramel mixture. As it starts to boils and I stir, I bring the spoon up out of the hot mixture with just a bit of the caramel hanging on the spoon and carefully let one drop fall into the cold water. Then, using one finger, I try to roll the caramel in the water. If the caramel dissolves and the water gets murky, continue cooking for another minute or two, stirring constantly. Wash the cup and put fresh cold water into the cup and repeat the test. When you are able to roll your finger over the caramel in the water and it has a soft but firm consistency, it has reached soft ball. Remove the pot from the heat immediately. If you cook it too long and do this test, you may end up with a hard ball and caramel balls that are a bit chewy. Still delicious of course, they just may rearrange your dental work.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

eBay Quilts


A friend is always extoling the virtues of "getting it on eBay". She buys and sells things using this online sales venue. I decided to give it a try. You have to be careful, though, it can be somewhat addicting. I found a wonderful appliqued quilt top on eBay and decided to bid on it. I was outbid. Bummer.

So I went looking for other quilt tops using the "shop at my store" option on eBay. I found an interesting online store with queen size quilt tops and machine applique. I found four quilts that I was interested in. There was a Double Wedding Ring with embroidered lilac flowers, an Ohio Star block quilt done with red roses and red swags, a purple flowered applique.The backgrounds on all the quilts was white and described as cotton. Bed sheets are also cotton but I do not want to quilt something with a high thread count. I want to quilt on quilting fabric.

So in eBay-speak, I won the auction. Three out of four of the quilts have scalloped edges. The workmanship is excellent, though the stitch length is somewhat long (probably 6-8 SPI). The "white" background is bleached muslin. It's pretty thin but it will hold up well to quilting. It held up to machine applique and machine embroidery. I'm not sure what I will do with these. Maybe the guild auction next April. Who knows. For $29 each, they are a bargain. If nothing else, they will be good practice quilts.







Facing the Unknown

When I first joined the Navy in 1968, things were a bit different than they are today. There were almost 5,000 women in the Navy then and we were not always welcomed. I was mistaken for a Cub Scout leader and a flight attendant. My mother was not keen on my joining and worried about me. I was 21 years old, headstrong and ready for adventure.

I made it through boot camp and school and checked into my first duty station on a Sunday. I found myself in a semi-dark, quiet barracks. I was so far from home and there was nobody to talk to that first night. The quiet surrounded me and I felt so alone.

I decided to write it all in a letter to my mother. I wrote as if I was talking to her there in my barracks cubicle. Just putting the words down on paper made me feel better. It was OK that I didn’t get a response immediately. The words were out of me and so was some of the fear and anxiety. I didn’t feel alone anymore. Letter-writing became a sanctuary and one of my only good habits. Years later my mother told me how much she cherished those letters.

I eventually made some friends and got past that initial rough spot. But I never forgot it. I made it my mission to knock on the door (plastic shower curtain over a doorway back then) of every newbie to welcome them. We always grabbed up the newbies for meal time and movie nights. As I grew those first few years in the Navy, I learned that there would always be some bad days and quiet nights and that I would get through them just fine.

I pulled this long ago memory out of the archives for my friend in the Pacific Northwest. We love you, Patty Jo. And when the quiet gets too noisy, you know where you will always find friends happy to see you.

Swag-a-Rama Update

Well, I just couldn't let this go out with my name on it. For those of you just joining this rant, a customer brought me an intricately-pieced quilt in which she wants much ruler-work and continuous curves using 3 different blues. Ah, oh yeah, the backing is white. Some of the CC work is in star points which are less than an inch long. And the quilting pattern is for a hand quilter. $%#!@

She is a very nice lady so I eased her into the bad news. I called her and explained that:
-- the dark thread on the white background was pretty "stark".

-- The straight lines were ok but their placement left some border seams with no quilting (thus the dreaded pop-up after washing).

-- the navy blue thread continuous curve "inside" 1-inch long star points and "inside" the 1.5 inch by 2 inch flying geese is cleary visible on the back and shows every wobble and seam crossing as I move from star-to-star or goose-to-goose.

-- the stacked swags in the pillowtuck look like Barnums tent at the end of a season.

She laughed....she hasn't seen it yet. I also told her to bring her nitro-glycerine tablets.

Of course, we will work thru it. It will be on my machine for way too long. I'll go over alternate quilting ideas. I'll be ripping those navy blue stitches out until Valentine's Day. I should just cut my losses and pay her to take it back.

Monday, December 01, 2008

It's not really mail....

Let me just go on record as saying that I hate chain letters. Those nasty things with which friends (now former-friends) fill up your email Inbox. I love to get mail from my friends and relatives. I see the Sender's name in my Inbox folder and click it with some anticipation.

It's a chain letter. These ought to be against the law. It's not mail, it's a promise of sorts. If you [insert gimmick here], then you must send it on to a dozen of your friends who are likewise appalled at finding it in their Inbox. You must also sent it back to the original sender to ensure that you are put on a permament chain-letter mailing list, you big LOSER. Then the power of the chain will reward your devotion with riches, great health, yada, yada. And if you do not follow the rules, egads, break the chain(insert eerie music here), you will be expelled from friendships the world over. Yeah, right..

To a lesser degree, forwards should also be outlawed. You see the "FW:" in the the Subject line and groan "Oh crap, not another (pick one) [political cartoon, photo of an enormous vegetable, funny joke, animated PowerPoint holiday card].

But again you recognize the Sender's name and despite a bizillion warnings "Don't open email's with attachments", you click on it. And there is not a single original thought from the sender. It's just the content of an email that was sent to them. It's like a time bomb . It doesn't have to have a virus or worm hidden in it to be trouble. It has just eaten up your time in opening, reading, deciding whether to bomb them back, deleting the email, emptying your Trash folder and then finally, deciding if you want to add the sender to your Blocked email list.

The worst emails are those unsolicited offers for cheaper medicine (spelled mEd1c!ne so it gets past your email filters), enlarging your penis, refinancing for your house...you get the idea. It makes me wish that stoning was still allowed. I would like to wrap their emails around a stone and heave it at them.

It's not really mail. It's like somebody dropped a flaming bag of dog poop on your front porch, rang the door bell and ran away.

Long weekend - Swags give me a headache

Oldest son and DIL and the grands went to the desert for the long week-end. I have never figuerd out the attraction of breathing dust and riding a big-tired motorcycle up and down dunes. Nope, not for me. Anyway, we had a nice meal just husband and I.

I spent most of Friday marking a custom quilt. The problem is this quilting pattern is for hand quilting. OMG. Another minimum wage quilt, for sure.

6 hours just to mark the swags. It has a pillowtuck and she wanted stacked swags on that. Huh, swags are already stacked semi-circles so stack of semi-circles on top of stack of, huh, where was I? Luckily, she is a pretty good piecer. Actually, she made this quilt from a magazine and brought the page so I can quilt it like the magazine. Mostly ruler work, lots of parallel lines and 90 degree angles. The parallel lines cross 2 borders so SID is out. Some of the straight lines in the magazine, she wants continuous curves on, thank goodness. I thought that I was pretty good at CC until I saw what it looks like from the back with no frame of reference to indicate that you CC'd a star.

For threads, she wants 3 different blues (navy, iced, yale) as well as white on the front. Warms Soft and Brite poly batt. I'm still OK with all this until I realized that she gave me a WHITE backing. Woe is me. I did the stacked swags and every wobble, every stop and start, and every traveling line overstitch shows like a beacon on the back. In one word, it is Horrifying. I already have 13 hours in this quilt and I am not yet to the mid-point.
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My life has changed in the last couple of years - some bumps, I retired from quilting, and then I moved to Texas. I'm anxious to see what new adventures await me in the next phase of my life.

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Ramona, California, United States
I started quilting when a quilt shop opened in our little town in January 2004. I have been hooked ever since.

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Books I"ve read lately

  • The Help (Kindle)
  • The Appeal by John Grisham
  • Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (again) by Harper Lee
  • Bleachers by John Grisham

This is called Fruit Cocktail

This is called Fruit Cocktail
It is all batiks