To observe, enjoy and create in everyday life

It's Completed!

When I had last worked on my quilt top for the Hand Pieced Quilt Along, I had discovered that I was going to be just shy of having enough of the white print fabric for the quilt's borders. I had used the same white print all throughout my quilt blocks as well as the sashing strips. But when it came time to cut the border strips, I only had enough left to cut three of the four strips needed. So, I had to come up with a plan. 
I went back to the fabric store where I had originally purchased the white print from (ahem...over a year ago) and of course could not find any more of that particular fabric. While there I bought a 'back up plan' fabric to use if I could not track down the original. I considered changing the borders to a different color, maybe a blue or a gray, but I didn't think I would like the look of that. And so, I began a hunt online trying to find a quarter yard cut of the white print. After an afternoon of searching, I thought I had found the print, and so I ordered it. When it arrived in the mail, it was a similar print...but not the one. I had wasted the better part of April trying to track down a small piece of fabric to finish this quilt. I decided to go ahead with my fabric purchased as a back up. This is the fabric you see in the photo above. I decided that ultimately the scale of the white print and the shade of white was similar enough that it was just going to have to do.

The last week of this month found me hurriedly stitching the border strips to my quilt top. I found time again to stitch the borders on while at the library one evening while my boys were at youth group. I think this has become my favorite public place to work on projects. It's so quiet. I found a cozy little corner and set myself up for an evening of stitching. 

Thankfully, the borders went super quickly. In just a few short evenings, I was finished with the top of the quilt. At one point this month, I thought I would not be able to meet the April 30th deadline for the Hand Pieced Quilt Along. I felt I had wasted time trying to hunt down the matching fabric. But, as usual, it all worked out in the end. I often tell people that the only time quilting mistakes are obvious is when you are working on them and your quilt is eighteen inches from your face. When a quilt is finished and laid out on a bed or hung on a wall, the mistakes we had seen are not as noticeable. This month I needed to listen to my own advice.

So here it is all finished. Well, the quilt top that is. Now to pair it up with some batting and a backing and get to work quilting this little quilt. I think it will make a nice table topper or wall hanging when I am all finished. 
I really enjoyed the process of hand piecing, and I will certainly be looking for other small projects to piece by hand. I liked that this project was transportable and that I could also be working on it alongside my family while we watched a movie or took a car trip. Making this small quilt truly made me appreciate the work that would go into piecing a bed-sized quilt by hand....and probably caused me to love my sewing machine just a little bit more!

Neighborhood Hospitality

We have lived in our current neighborhood for almost 12 years. I can always remember this because our youngest son Alexander celebrated his third birthday in this home. That was the Sunday in December when we came home from church and found the furnace had quit working, and we were expecting a house full of people in just a few short hours. But, I suppose that is a story for another time. 

Over the years we have come to know most of the neighbors surrounding our home. Some we know quite well, such as our next door neighbor who was also Alexander's preschool teacher. And other neighbors we know only as the-owner-of-the-fluffy-dog, or some other such description. Some of neighbors we have known over the years have moved to new homes, and sadly others have passed away. At Christmas time some of us neighbors exchange plates of goodies, and there's always simple "Hellos" when we see each other outside. In the nearly twelve years we have lived here, we have not seemed to dive any deeper with most neighbors than knowing their first name, or in some cases only their dog's name.

And so, we are trying to change that. We want to really know the people who live on our block and surrounding blocks. We want to be better about building relationships with those we live in such close proximity to. But how do you do that when you've been here a decade? It seems so easy when you are new to the neighborhood. That's the time when folks come over to introduce themselves...welcome you to the neighborhood. So how do you take that simple "Hello" only knowing someone by their first name to the next level? Knowing people, truly getting to know them, takes intentionality and time. My husband and I have some ideas of how we can create more of a community among our neighbors over the months and years, and I will be sharing them here as we practice more neighborhood hospitality. One idea to get to know my neighbors better starts with a plate of Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I have begun baking small batches of our family's favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (see below for recipe) and delivering them to our neighbors. It seems so simple, and yet it isn't. People expect cookies at Christmas. People do not expect them on a Friday afternoon in April. Some neighbors will stand at the door and chat with me for a few minutes, but others will invite me in for a visit. 

Last week, when out delivering cookies, our neighbor a few houses down invited me in to sit for a bit. This gentleman and his family have lived in our neighborhood longer than our family has. But we don't know them all that well. I knew his wife had been very ill for the last few years, and on this afternoon visit I learned that she had just passed away a few weeks ago. I was surprised that a neighbor could pass away, and that it wouldn't have been noticed by many in our neighborhood. I want more for our little community than that. I enjoyed hearing about their last few weeks together, and about his intention to volunteer with Hospice because of how significant of an impact they had on his family. I hope to continue learning more about his work with Hospice and other things happening in his life. I hope to be a better neighbor. 

Maybe you want to reach out to a neighbor as well? How about starting with a plate of cookies? I promise that both your family and your neighbors will love these cookies. This recipe was given to me about the same time we moved into this house. It came out of a little church cookbook that my friend's husband had from his childhood church. How's that for a recipe? At any rate, I have tried numerous chocolate chip cookie recipes, and this one is it! Bake up a batch this afternoon, and deliver some to your neighbors (and save some for yourself of course!)

Chocolate Chip Cookies
makes 4 dozen

1 1/2 cups Butter at room temperature
2 cups Brown sugar
1/2 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
3 tablespoons Vanilla
4 1/4 cups All Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 package of Chocolate Chips (12 oz.)

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • Cream butter, sugars, egg and vanilla together
  • In a separate bowl combine dry ingredients
  • Slowly add dry ingredients to mixing bowl and mix until incorporated
  • Drop by Tablespoon-full onto greased baking sheet, two inches apart (you can also line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use a silpat sheet on your baking sheet instead of greasing the pan)
  • Bake at 375 for 10 minutes

** This recipe can easily be cut in half. Or, make a whole batch and freeze some of the cookies. **

Waiting Out the Rain

Spring has begun here in the Pacific Northwest, and with it comes the rain. Many of the days this last week that I had set aside for outside work have ended up being rainy days. I don't mind the rain so much, but I also don't particularly like being outside in it if I don't have to be. I guess I am more of a fair weather gardener. So in an attempt to not waste the days I had planned to work in the garden, I have used the time indoor making seed tape for the vegetable garden.

Making seed tape is a simple process that is perfect for very small seeds. If you have ever fumbled  at the edge of your garden bed with gloved hands trying to tip out just a few carrot seeds for a row, you know how impossible of a task that is! Seed tape is your solution. All you need is newspaper cut into one inch strips, water-based glue (like Elmer's) and your seeds. 

On this particular day, I made seed tape using radish and carrot seeds. When I have helped with the elementary school gardens, we have also made seed tape using lettuce, chard, kale and other small seeds. If you are gardening with kids, seed tape is a tremendous help as it is easier to plant a strip of paper than a nicely lined row of teeny, tiny seeds. 
Simply place small dots of glue at the recommended spacing according to your seed packet. Place your seeds on the glue, and wait for it to dry. You can make up a season's worth of seed tape in very little time. I recommend marking the end of your strips with the particular vegetable you have glued onto the strip. 

Once the glue is dry, and you have a break in the rain, make a dash for your garden beds. Now the work of planting is easy. Create a furrow at the recommended depth for your seeds and then cover up the seed tape with the soil. You can have multiple rows of veggies planted before the next rain shower begins!

Over a number of days, the glue dissolves in the damp soil, the seeds germinate and the newspaper decomposes. That is all it takes. So take advantage of a rainy spring day and prep some seeds for your garden!

Building Community While Crafting

A couple months ago, one of my friends mentioned that I should host a craft night again. She still had the fabric flower we had made a few years ago at a craft night and said that she really enjoyed the time sitting and visiting with other women while making something. I also have been listening to Quilt Fiction's "Friendship Album:1933" and thinking of how fun it would be to have a weekly quilting/making bee. But in truth, a weekly gathering would be too much for my schedule. A monthly gathering sounds more manageable, but in all honesty I know that it could easily become overwhelming. So, I came to the conclusion that I would set a goal to host four craft nights during the remainder of this year, essentially one every other month. 
After picking a date, I sent out invites to various friends and neighbors. I thought it would be fun to get a mix of ladies from different circles. Once the invitations had been issued (by text...I was aiming to keep this simple!), I had to decide what we would make. I wanted an easy craft that could be completed in evening, used items I had on hand, and could be scaled up or down based on how many women were able to attend. After searching online, I came across this cute Easter bunny mason jar craft on Crafts by Amanda . I have dozens of mason jars from canning, so the only craft supply I truly had to buy was the chalk paint. I made use of a couple of 40% off coupons for Joann Fabric and Crafts and chose two spring colors.

I baked a pan of brownies and set out the craft supplies. It really was as simple as that. No, it didn't look like the beautiful set ups I saw on Pinterest for hosting a Ladies Craft Night. I didn't have themed snacks or decorations for the craft supply table. While I am sure that would have looked nice, I didn't want to spend my energy stressing over those sorts of details. That wasn't the point of the evening. My purpose for the evening was one where women could set aside any stresses of the week and just hang out. To relax. A chance to deepen relationships and build community. Making a craft was a bonus. It kept our hands busy while we talked.

And that is exactly what we did. The evening was spent around my dining room table with a lovely group of ladies. We laughed, shared stories about our families, and ate too many jellybeans. We talked way past when we had actually finished our crafts. The craft night was exactly what I had hoped it would be, and I am already looking forward to the next one. 
I'm thankful for the prompting of a friend to host a craft night. It was just the kick I needed to actually write a night in on the calendar and move forward. It seems that too often we don't move past the "we should"...have a craft night, have so-and-so over for dinner, host a game night, or any other number of worthwhile plans. It takes intentionally writing it on the calendar and sending out the invites. From there, keep it simple. If it's another family over for dinner, order pizza. If it's a game night, have everyone invited bring their favorite games and pop some popcorn. Feel like your home is too small to host folks over? Meet up at a nearby park. The point is to build community with those around you, not to have the most Pinterest-worthy snacks and decor. Save your energy for building relationships.

Think through your circles of relationships. Who will you be inviting over next?

Protecting Our Fine Feathered Friends

I love our cats, I love our neighborhood birds, and our kitties apparently love our feathered friends as well. Over the last few years, we have tried many things to discourage our cats from stalking birds. We have put bells on their collars, but then the cats learn how to walk toward the birds without making the bells jingle. We've considered removing the bird feeders from our yard, but the cats can then be found stalking birds next door at the neighbors. And we have attempted to keep the cats as inside pets, but then we were all driven crazy by their meowing and between-the-legs attempts to get outside whenever the door was opened. About a year and a half ago, we hit a peak of bird catching by one of our cats. So I did a little research to see what new thing we could try to discourage the cats or to alert the birds.

I stumbled across an article on the Audobon Society website titled "How to Stop Cats from Killing Birds" and of course had to click and read it. This article led me to a product called the Birds be Safe Collar that was designed by a woman determined to keep her cat from hunting birds. Her theory is that since songbirds can see bright colors, then a brightly colored fabric collar on a cat would alert the birds to a cat's approach. I had plenty of vibrant colored fabric in my stash of quilting fabrics, and so I thought I would attempt to make my own cat collar for our two kitties. 

I simply cut a piece of fabric 7 inches wide and twice the length of their regular collar. Then I hemmed the two short ends of this strip of fabric. And the last step was to fold the strip of fabric in half lengthwise and sew the fabric into a tube (sew with fabric right sides together as above). Then turn your tube right side out. That is really all it takes. Ten minutes tops.

You can now feed your cat's regular collar through your newly made fabric collar. It almost looks like a scrunchy when it's all fed through. By keeping the tube open, you are still allowing the break-away feature on your cat's collar to function. And trust me, our cat Lollipop has tested this, and our neighbors have returned her two collars to us a few times.  

Here it is ready to be placed on Lollipop. Since it is made of cotton, it is easy to throw in the wash when it gets dirty. And since it is made of scrap fabrics, you can certainly make new collars for different seasons. I am the crazy cat lady who had her cats in bright red Christmas collars through the winter. Now, Lolli will be sporting her new spring fashion trends.

So, yes, the cat does look utterly ridiculous. By the look on her face, she knows she looks silly as well. But I swear the collar works! Our cats have been wearing their brightly colored fabric collars for over a year now, and we have only had two birds in all that time brought to our door. Before wearing the collars, a bird at the door had unfortunately become a weekly occurrence.

If you feel handy and have some fabric and a sewing machine, you can whip up a collar for your feline friend. Maybe a nice yellow print with some spring tulips on it? Or, you can purchase one from the Birds be Safe website. I believe they sell their product on Amazon as well. Consider these collars not only a way to keep your neighborhood songbirds safe, but as something that will also provide you with a little chuckle. Because I promise, you will giggle a bit when you put this on your cat.

Yarn Along ~ April

I have been picking my way through quite a few books this last month. I am the type of reader who always has more than one book going at a time. I find that I like to read non-fiction books during the day when I am more awake, and fiction in the evenings before bed. Although with the boys on Spring Break this week, I have had more time to relax and read both fiction and non-fiction during the day. 

I began reading Kay Warren's book "Sacred Privilege" earlier this year for a book study with a few other wives of pastors. It has been a decent read, and honestly many of the topics she covers could apply to any Christian -- Taking Care of Yourself, Helping Your Children Survive and Thrive, Accepting Who You Are, etc. But it is certainly written with a bent toward being a pastor's wife. What I have enjoyed more out of the reading of this book is the discussion that has occurred during our book study. Regardless of these women's time in ministry, size of church congregation, denominational affiliation...we have found a common bond as the wives of pastors. It's been a great time spent with these women, and I will be sad to wrap up our study this next week.

Another book I have been reading this month is Steve Corbett and Brian Fikhert's "When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and yourself." This is a book my husband had read and highly recommended to me. The authors have broken this book up into three parts: foundational concepts about the poor, general principles for helping, and practical strategies for helping without hurting both domestically and internationally. I look forward to talking through this book with my husband while I read it.

Verlyn Klinkenborg's "The Rural Life" was a book I picked up for fifty cents at a library book sale. It is a collection of short writings categorized by the months of the year and focuses on Klinkenborg's observations of the natural world and changing seasons in rural, upstate New York. I have been reading the monthly sections as each new month rolls around. This is one of those books that will stay on my shelf and be picked up many times throughout the years to re-read different sections. I have really enjoyed his writing style.

The book that has taken up residence on my nightstand is Helen Simonson's "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand." I am about a third of the way through this novel, and I am really enjoying the characters. The two main characters are Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali. They begin an unlikely friendship, due to each of them coming from different social circles, stemming from a love of literature and a shared experience of being widowers. Because Major Pettigrew has a long family history of being English and Mrs. Ali is viewed as a 'foreigner' by those in their village, their friendship is not considered acceptable by village society. I have a feeling I will end up liking this book very much. 

My current knitting project is a sweater for myself. It is The Weekender pattern by Drea Renee Knits. I think this will take me most of this year to complete, since I am a very slow knitter. I also will admittedly set a project down for weeks (or months) and start something else. So far it is knitting up very nicely, but I think I am in the 'easy' stage of the pattern! I have yet to hit the sleeves or neckline. This will be the first sweater I have knit for myself, and I am a bit nervous about how it will all turn out. But, it's all about the process...right? Learning as I go along. I have a feeling I will be dropping into my local yarn store for advice when I get to the next stage of the pattern. I will keep you posted on my progress.

What have you been reading this month? Any good titles?

A Quilty Week

This last week, my friend Heather and I went to a local quilt show. There were so many wonderful quilts to view there! Quilters have no end to what they can do with fabric and thread. This wall hanging was very colorful, and I liked how they used fabric to create a realistic picture. It reminded me of my own dog and our kitties always sitting on the fence taunting her. 

There was an entire length of the quilt show devoted to quilts that depicted a fairy tale. These quilts were made by quilters from around the world. Most of the fairy tales were ones I was familiar with, but there were a few I had not heard of before. My favorite was this one of "Little Red Riding Hood." I loved the simplicity of it and that you instantly knew which tale was being told. 

There were also many traditionally pieced quilts at the show. I loved the colors used in this quilt and the bold star shape, which is why I initially took a photo of the quilt. But when I got home and was flipping through the pictures I took, I realized that there was more to the quilt. At first glance, I had not noticed that the quilt pattern starts with a very small star in the upper right and then builds to bigger and bigger stars. How creative! I think this would make a fun baby quilt to try and make in the future. 

This week I also finished my last block for the Hand Pieced Quilt Along hosted by Elm Street Quilts and Simple. Handmade. Everyday.  I am happy with how this one turned out. I will be happier when I dig out my bottle of Best Press and starch this block so it's less wonky! Now it is time to begin adding the sashing to the blocks. Unfortunately while I was cutting the strips for sashing, I found I was two inches short of the white-on-white background print I had used throughout the blocks. So now I am trying to come up with a back up plan. If this week's Quilt Show taught me's that quilters are creative.