Tuesday, April 30, 2013

creative mojo

I sometimes get those 'ominous anonymous' emails as a blogger.  I always steel my heart and delete them without opening them. 
Saturday morning, as I was leaning over my husband's shoulder saying, “delete, delete, delete,” in an Off With Their Head kind of voice, we came upon an email with a subject line about an interview and he said, “delete,” for me.  
“Wait, wait," I cried. "What if someone really does want to interview me.”
I couldn't have been more startled to discover that, in fact, someone did. 
I have received an invitation to be interviewed on the air, on the Mark Lipinski show, Creative Mojo. 
Nessa Reifsnyder is the friendly and funny Guest Host while Mr. Lipinskyi is away on medical leave. She saw a quilt I had posted on Quilting Gallery (made using fabric from shirts of my father and father-in-law) and followed the link to my blog. 
She is a memoirist and I have now thought of myself by that same title several times just for practice.
It sounds so good. 
There is a common bond amongst those who live/love to create. We recognize something of our own passion reflected in the work of others.
I will be happily chatting with Nessa on Creative Mojo, tomorrow.

Go to www.toginet.com 
Wednesday, May 1, 3:50-4:13pm EST.( that is 12:50-1:13pm PST)
Pictures and more will be available on Mark Lipinski's blog, Creative Mojo

crash course

I've never taken gymnastic lessons but I thought about perfect landings this past weekend.
Crouching on the stair, I had pressed a little piece of wooden trim firmly into place. Then, slowly straightening, I stepped backward into thin air.
That wasn't part of my plan.
I had been working my way down the staircase, glue and trim in hand.
Down a few stairs and then back up one, and then down another.
My internal count was off.
Being absolutely sure of something doesn't necessarily make it so.
I was absolutely sure I was standing on the landing.
It wasn't so.
Gymnasts know that achieving inadequate height while dismounting results in a hard landing.
I had a hard landing.
In that suspended moment in which gravity gained the shocking upper hand, I was not only able to see where I really was,( two stairs up and ready to drop like a rock) but also where I needed to be,(conscious and upright) and was able to perform an amazing feat of gymnastics. Completely untrained too.
Probably a four out of five.
Well, maybe only a two out of five, but I stayed on my feet.
Mind you, the wall held me up after it broke my fall.
Nothing else broke though.
Can I tell you how grateful I am still feeling days later?
Ahhh, the school of life, rife with pop quizzes and crash courses.

Friday, April 26, 2013

focal points

Focal points are so interesting, and so easily shifted. When I made Self-Made Man, I wanted the focal point to be the lone settler; the weathered, bent figure toiling amidst farrow and fold with his draft horse.

I bundled up the finished quilt and sent it off to McDougall Cottage, and when it returned to me like a homing pigeon several months later, I happily hung it on the wall.
It seemed then that something was missing though.
I had snipped the shape of a dog out of my applique wool when the quilt was being designed but decided that it was a distraction from my focal point. Now, it seemed like a sorry omission. A hanging quilt is like a design wall and so I pressed the dog onto the quilt and stood back.

Ahhhh, that was better.
Yes, the focal point did shift, but I liked the story so much better.
Now, the settler is no longer toiling alone.
Love is there.
His loyal hound is watching.
And not just watching. He is oblivious to everything but his master. Not even the rabbit catches his attention.
I like that my eye goes first to the dog and then follows his gaze; a reminder of the power of love and loyalty.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

the goat who loved CBC

I've written a short story for my grandchildren. I was relieved when they laughed in all the right spots. (My grandson offered editorial advice. See if you can guess what it is.)
The opening sentences make a rather slow beginning, but I was thinking of illustrations as I wrote them.
My grandson has asked if there will be a Season Two.

I know the gratuitous use of CBC in the story may remind you of the Rollings Reliable Baking Powder story in Anne of Green Gables but it just made such an irresistible title.

The Goat Who Loved CBC

Near the ocean is a big city
and near the city is a town.
Near the town are rolling fields and farms
and one of the nicest farms of all belongs to the Nelson family.
They have a tall gray house with a porch on two sides.
They have a garden full of flowers and vegetables and a giant clump of rhubarb.
They have a pond and an apple orchard and a huge green barn.
The Nelson family have lived on this farm since Pops was a baby.
Pops is Matt and Valerie and Katie’s grandpa.
It was his idea to get a goat.
The Nelson farm is famous for its apples but they have animals too.
“That’s what farms need,” Pop said, and so three lambs politely nibble the grass beside the pond.
Two horses wander along the fence and watch the boys and girls riding their bikes on the way to school.
A little crowd of chickens scratch in the dust beside the driveway, and every spring, baby pigs splash in the mud beside the pond and ducklings bob around like corks on the water.
Pops saw a little goat at the auction in town.
He brought it home as a surprise.
Mom was surprised.
“A goat?” she gasped.
“I hope he won’t get into things and make a mess.”
Dad was surprised.
“Hmmmmm,” he said, staring at the little goat.
Matt and Valerie and Katie were surprised.
“Thank you Pops,” cried Matt.
“A friend for the lambs,” squealed the girls.
“Let’s call him Hector,” they chorused.
The goat looked surprised too.
Pops led Hector into the barn and found a spot for him to sleep.
The next morning as Mother stood by the kitchen window stirring pancake batter she saw something that made her gasp.
Hector was in the garden.
He had already gobbled up half a row of radishes.
Dad and Matt rushed outside and encouraged Hector to leave the garden.
“Hmmmmm,” Dad said frowning.
That afternoon, Dad and Pops fixed the fence.
The next morning as Mother stood by the kitchen window mixing up biscuits, she saw something that made her drop her spoon.
Hector was in the garden again.
He had already gobbled up half a row of lettuce and half a row of green beans.
Dad and Matt rushed outside.
The girls followed close behind.
Together they tried to coax Hector to leave the garden.
When Hector ran to the left, the girls followed him.
When Hector ran to the right, Matt was close behind.
When Hector skipped over the carrots and slid past the cucumbers, Dad waved a sack at him and shouted.
Pops brought a pan of apple peelings and called to Hector.
Hector skidded to a stop and walked primly out of the garden with Pops gripping his collar.
“The rodeo is over,” Pops said.
That afternoon Pops and Dad made the fence around the garden higher and added a latch to the gate.
The garden was safe but that week Hector got stuck in the mud beside the pond and caused a big commotion.
The next week, he made the lambs nervous by galloping back and forth and round and round.
The week after that, as Dad was working in the orchard he spotted Hector in the lowest branches of an apple tree crunching on any apple he could reach.
“That goat can climb like a…….like a goat,” sputtered Dad at dinner that night.
When Mother found Hector pulling the sheets off the clothes line the next afternoon, she didn’t laugh like the children.
“That goat,” she said grimly.
But Hector was just practicing. At least that’s what Pops said when he found Hector sitting inside the cab of the farm truck listening to CBC radio.
He had managed to work the latch open with his bony little nose and had nibbled the gear shifts and all of the little knobs on the dashboard. Pops always kept the radio tuned to CBC and Hector seemed to share his taste in music. Almost every day, someone would spot Hector relaxing in the truck, happily listening to the radio.
The locks on the old truck didn’t work so it was hard to keep Hector away from CBC now that he had learned to love it, and Hector didn’t seem to mind being scolded and chased out of the truck. Day after day he sat and listened to CBC as the battery of the old truck wore down.
It was Matt who suggested changing the station. “Maybe he won't like a different kind of music,” Matt suggested.
When Hector scrambled into the truck the next afternoon and nibbled the radio dial on, he was shocked. This was not the music he liked. He showed his displeasure by pressing on the steering wheel with his little hooves. The horn sounded again and again.
After that, Hector seemed to forget about CBC on the truck radio and found other things to do.
The summer days hurried by.
The garden grew lush and green and the children helped to dig up the potatoes and carry in the squash.
The lambs grew thick woolly coats.
The ducklings became big white ducks and flapped their wings in the late summer sun.
The apples grew large and round and sweetly red.
It was harvest time.
It was a lot of work to pick such a large orchard.
The green barn steadily filled with boxes until it could hold no more.
“The apples will be shipped out this weekend,” said Dad.
“We’ve really had a bumper crop,” grinned Pops.
“That barn full of apples is like money in the bank.”
But not quite so safe, as it turned out.
Pops and Dad left to help Uncle Clive. He had sprained his knee just before harvest and needed help to bring in his fruit too.
“Don’t worry,” said Pops. “Tomorrow morning, the buyer will be here with his truck to pick up all of our apples.
That night, as the children slept soundly under their quilts, a truck drove down the country road.
As Mother peacefully dreamed, the truck turned into the lane that led to the Nelson farm. It didn’t take long before it quietly rolled to a stop behind the big green barn.
By the pale light of the moon, two men slid silently out, and quietly closed their doors.
The engine of the truck softly purred.
Soon they were loading box after box of apples into the back of their truck.
These men were not the apples buyers.
They were thieves.
No one in the house had heard the truck.
No one in the house was wondering who had come to the farm in the dark of night.
No one in the house was awake.
But someone in the barn was awake.
Someone in the barn had heard the truck and was wondering who had come.
When the thieves slid the heavy wooden doors open, Hector was watching.
When they began to load the apple boxes, Hector saw.
He hopped sideways twice and was outside in the cool night air.
He sniffed the bumper of the truck.
He wandered to the driver’s side and nudged the door open with his boney nose.
He scrambled into the truck.
Hector felt happy.
It had been a long time since he had relaxed in a soft seat and listened to CBC.
Hector nibbled the dials.
There was a whir and a blip and a beep.
Hector stared at the dials.
He wanted CBC.
He nibbled again.
On came the radio.
The loud music was soon making Hectors ears twitch.
This did not sound like CBC.
Hector was not pleased.
He hurled his pointy hooves onto the steering wheel in displeasure.
Bwonk, BWONK, BWONK!!!!!!!!!
Lights in the house sprang on.
The truck doors flew open.
Hector hammered the horn with his little hooves and threw back his head.
What happened next was hard to sort out later.
Perhaps the thieves thought Hector was dangerous.
Perhaps Hector thought the thieves were going to scold him.
One thing is certain though;
Everyone ran at once.
The thieves were not as familiar with the farm as Hector was.
They were not familiar with goats either.
Hector lowered his head and ran.
“Yow, ow,” yelled the robbers.
They floundered into the mud at the edge of the pond and Hector ran back and forth making a dreadful commotion.
Mother grabbed the phone. Two police cars and a farm truck were soon bouncing up the lane.
The cold, wet thieves went to jail.
The apples were safe and sound.
Hector was a hero.
Pops and Dad were astonished when they heard the whole story a few hours later.
“I knew that goat belonged on our farm,” crowed Pops.
“It’s a good thing after all that he learned how to get into the truck,” smiled Mother.
“It’s a good thing he’s a goat who loves CBC you mean,” laughed Dad.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

spring greetings

l love this part

The story of how a quilt emerges is so fascinating to me. I always wish that this story was included in quilt magazines. There is never enough told to please me. Often, the name of a quilt is so evocative, so mysterious and contains a story just begging to be told, but alas, only photos and directions follow.
In keeping with The Golden Rule, I am going to share a bit about my quilt.
Each fall I await the new theme from McDougall Cottage for their annual Wee Quilt Challenge.
I while away the winter months with thoughts of quilt ideas. I sketch and ponder.
I love this part.
It may well be my favorite part.
Then, as the New Year gets underway, so do I.
The sketch above shows my final idea; my vision of the auld sod.
The theme for 2013 was to be a memory from the auld sod whether real or imagined; Greetings From The Auld Sod.
I chose to remember lambs being greeted by the first song of spring.
In my minds eye, there are always green, green hills dotted with sheep, and hedgerows ringing with bird song in the auld sod; the old country.
I layered the background against a spring blue sky, purple for the distant hills and green for the foreground.
Then I added the lambs and a few branches.
You will notice that my original eggs were tan. I chose the fabric because of the eggish spots but the color just didn't work.
The first bird I made didn't work either. Too skinny and busy.
I began blocking in the main shadow and highlight areas on the lambs.
I added a second bird but it was destined to meet the same fate as the first, but for a very different reason.
I was feeling pretty pleased with my quilt at this point. The new blue eggs echoed the sky and the bird was nice and plump.
Then I realized something and it made my blood run cold.
I realized that I had forgotten something.
Something absolutely vital.
All Wee Quilts sent to McDougall Cottage must contain plaid fabric somewhere.
In past years, it had been all about the plaid to me.
I had even used plaid fabric for the backing.
I remembered a guild challenge and a similarly forgotten element.
This time, I could fix things though.
I could make amends.
I soon had a little plaid bird and my lambs had plaid shadows and plaid leaves fluttered on branches.
I auditioned a variety of border fabrics, dark and light and settled on a wonderful brown homespun. It seemed to accentuate the shadows which I liked and reminded me of linen somehow. That seemed a tribute to my great great great grandparents who worked in the linen textile industry.
I free motion quilted leaves around the border.
I bound it with a basket weave print that I had been hoarding for a special project. It made me think of an antique wicker picture frame.
I had carefully measured my quilt as it developed so that it would fit into the largest express post envelope. It fit like a glove and off Spring Greetings flew to Cambridge, Ontario.
It will return like a homing pigeon in September.
I wish I lived close enough to go to the cottage and see the wee quilts on display but maybe one year.........

a song to sing

Another spring, another Wee Quilt Challenge. This year at McDougall Cottage, the theme was Greetings From The Auld Sod.
That expression, The Auld Sod has been transformed in story and song to The Old Country, not quite as picturesque but just as lovely. 
When I hear that title, I invariably think of green, green hills; those far away hills, the distant purple mist, and always sheep dotting a lonely moor. 
I imagine this because I have never been to the British Isles, but I believe that the green, the lonely and the magic of it all are just the same today as they've always been.
In my wee quilt, lambs have wandered to the hedgerow. They have clearly never heard the song of spring before. A little plaid bird holds their gaze.
The homespun fabric in the border echoes a distant past, a heritage in textile mills near Mukrim.
The little plaid bird is a tribute to the courage and optimism of those who travelled from the Auld Sod. There is always a song to sing.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

eating cake

I've always been fascinated by pictures of cakes in magazines; the tender crumb, the swirls of frosting with coordinating filling separating layer after perfect layer.
Chocolate, carrot, lemon; I love them all with complete impartiality.
I dream of cake.
Somehow though, the reality of cake is usually too sweet for me.
Like being in love with the idea of love, I am in love with the idea of cake.
My husband does not have a sweet tooth either.
Icing is not even on his list of edible things.
Given a choice of all the flavors in the world, he would invariably choose vanilla.
Vanilla ice-cream, plain white cake, simple sugar cookies.
When I was newly married, I was also a new cook.
My husband gamely ate all of my practice desserts.
White cake emerged in time as his favorite and I eventually made every possible variation;
Bonnie Butter Cake, Silver White, Quick White, Dinette, one bowl wonders and complicated foam and chiffon cakes.
Today I was suddenly seized with a desire to make a white cake that had everything good about white cake going for it. I wanted to taste cake and not just sugar. I wanted a tender crumb. But most of all, I wanted to be able to mix it up without searching for my glasses and then for a recipe.
I realized as I measured and mixed, that art and science meet in the kitchen.
Like the simple mathematics of muffins, white cake is also a formula, an equation.

May I share my happy discovery?

Grab a mixing bowl and drop in a half cup of softened butter.
This will make it easier to mix in one cup of sugar.
Blend well, apparently the jagged grains of sugar trap tiny, tiny pockets of air in the butter as you mix, and help to make a fluffy cake.
Then add two eggs and a splash of vanilla.
Vanilla really does enhance sweetness and lets you get away with less sugar.
Mix well.
Then add two cups of flour and two teaspoons of baking powder.
Mix well, although it will be a super stiff dough.
Don't worry if it doesn't completely come together.
Finally, add a cup of milk a few splashes at a time, mixing it in as you go.
Scape batter into a pan.
I used a ten inch glass pie plate which was just the perfect size.
I baked my cake at 350 degrees but it rose up like Mt. Vesuvius and cracked at the peak, so next time I would lower the temperature down to 325 or 330 instead. What's the rush?
When it was golden brown, I plucked it from the oven.
It is everything that a white cake should be;
Moist, tender, delicately sweet and addictive.
Best of all, I now have a formula fixed firmly in mind.
Who cares if my glasses have wafted off into the abyss.

half a cup of butter
one cup of sugar
two eggs
splash of vanilla
two cups of flour
two teaspoons of baking powder
one cup of milk

april woods

Thursday, April 4, 2013

of her hands

Minerva Haddock Ray was my great grandmother.
She never knew me, but I know her.
I know little bits and pieces.
Little snips of stories.
Together they give her to me.
As tangible and loved as these lovely, softly worn quilts.
The works of her hands.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


The rising sun infused a jet vapor trail with color. It became a wavering pink line upon the Etch A Sketch sky.

Monday, April 1, 2013


I'm not sure whether to tell you about the Easter bread or the plate. 
I'll tell you about both.
The plate is an amazing chip carved maple plate that I found at a thrift store for fifty cents. It is as smooth as glass and has ripe wheat heads carved around the edge. It says Bread Plate loud and clear and somehow manages to say Thank You for the Bread too.

The Easter bread upon it is often called Paska and is a part of my husband's heritage and therefore, part of my children's heritage as well. It is strange to think of myself as a guardian of my in-laws traditions. I'm sure that many mother-in-laws have cringed at the thought of their giddy young daughter-in-law stepping to the helm. 
We do it none the less, in our own way, blending both families traditions and somehow finding that the combination is both new and old at the same time; Comfortingly familiar and yet uniquely ours.