Snow

SleddingThis morning there arose such a clatter....I thought to myself could it be Saint Nick? Oh no, wait! It's the middle of February and the Triangle has braced for the Neptune polar vortex barreling out of the north. Well, not so much.

We woke this morning to an inch or so of snow which has frozen solid. No one is going anywhere. Bible study was cancelled. Our daughter's business flight to Cleveland was cancelled. My dentist appointment has been rescheduled. Robert's lunch meeting has been postponed. A gathering later in the week has been cancelled as well as an outing to Burlington.

The clatter? Some neighbor kids knocked on the front door yesterday. Apparently our driveway is one of the neighborhood snow sledding venues and they were kindly checking to see if we would let them continue to sled as the former owners had. That clatter was a couple of kids happily sledding down our driveway on icy snow quite early this morning. Surprisingly noisy...a noise that made you smile and step outside for the briefest moment to take a photo.

Yesterday, texting this sweet request to the former owner, she alerted me to their tradition of serving the kids hot chocolate and Oreos. Now that's a class act to follow even if snickerdoodles are destined to be a tasty substitute. The house smells wonderful at the moment!

Being a Southern California weather wimp, snow has not played a predominate role in my life. However, there have been a few memorable snowfalls. One, a freak snowfall in my seaside hometown when I was four; a true disaster for the avocado and citrus farmers in the county, but it was one of my earliest remembered childhood "disasters." I was not allowed to play outside in the few cupfuls of snow because I was recovering from a bad cold and wretched cough. All I could do was stare out my bedroom window at the whitish front lawn and feel hopelessly deprived.

One of my fondest snow memories is from our newly-wed years living in Washington, DC. Our third floor walk-up had a needle-thin view of the Washington Monument. One wintry afternoon while making a cherry pie, I turned to look out the slender kitchen window to see large flakes drifting toward the parking lot, the monument obscured by faraway flurries. Snowfall and cherry pies are irrevocably linked in my mind. There are two cans of tart cherries in the pantry awaiting a tomorrow evening dinner party I hope won't be cancelled.

The late 70s found us living in England during two of the worst winters in the century. The bone numbing dampness was difficult to live with, but one storm's supremely perfect snow drew us to the spacious green across the street. The snow's moisture content was such that my son and I managed to roll a snowball so huge we couldn't budge it any further, leaving behind a swath of bare grass where snow had lain just moments ago.

Spring in MarlowFor those of you have lived in England, you know spring is a season of dashed dreams...a longing for the sun...for warmth...for the sun...for blue skies that last longer than fifteen minutes...for the sun...well, yeah, dreams of seeing the sun again before you perish in the pervasive, never ending, all inclusive grey gloom. Finally, spring arrived. The cherry tree and primroses bloomed. Daffodils trumpeted the good news. Lawns perked up all over our Thames-side village...until late April... when we awoke to find our webbed patio furniture covered in late-season snow under the back garden's flowering apple tree!

The snickerdoodles are out of the oven, we've tasted a few to make sure they're not poison, plated and delivered the rest to the garage, the apres sledding chalet for tired sliders. The neighbor kids think I'm wonderful. And The Man says I haven't lost my turn baking cookies. It's good to be snowed in!

What are some of your favorite weather memories?

Threads

ThreadsRecently, a glorious collection of blue wooden-spooled threads came to enliven my sewing stash, the gracious gift of a fellow thinning-the-herd family member. Over the years I've not done a lot of sewing with blues other than denim or navy so my selection of blues was, to say the least, slender. One of my new old threads was the perfect match for sewing the "love my honey" quilt binding. Sweet! Another sweet encounter not long ago lead to an unspooling of memory threads across at least six decades and a few continents.

A new friend was born in Taiwan, raised in New Zealand and came to America as part of a faith-based mission organization. She eventually settled, worked, married and began a family here in the Triangle. We met at church and attend a weekly women's Bible study together. It is our sweet fortune that she frequently brings elegantly handmade cookies and candy for a mid-morning temptation. A recent offering was a perfectly marcelled (sorry, couldn't resist using this word...think Downton Abbey hair styles) chocolate hazelnut square. Unfortunately, hazelnut it not one of my favorite flavors so declining wasn't a deprivation.

But if it had been English toffee...aw, what a hot sugar-boiled thread of memory that aroused. Out the back gate, down the alley, passed the ancient walnut tree lived Grammy Claire, the closest thing I had to a nearby grandma. The Christmas season wasn't complete without an ulterior-motive visit to her tiny kitchen where great slabs of caramelized sugar topped with melting chocolate, dusted with ground walnuts, firmed on long sheets of waxed paper, waiting to be broken apart and packaged as gifts of the season. Every year I fantasized about throwing myself under the bus volunteering to be her official taster, but I was better behaved in those days. Anyway, that job belonged to her stone-deaf husband Maurice who, to my great shuddering amazement, ate ice cream topped with gravy. I mean, who can top that? His credentials were so much better than mine.

Nevertheless, my antique threads of memory remember this unparalleled confection being actually months in the making. Come harvest moons and the good-natured haunting of Halloween, the green hulls of Grammy's walnuts would begin to split, the nuts falling to the ground. On occasion, I'd help gather the fallen nuts, spreading them out on canvas camp cots parked in her drive way. Over time the hulls would wither and pull away from the hard shells. I vividly remember Grammy's hands richly black with walnut oil after husking each year's crop. The cracked shells released their nutmeats; the pristine halves set aside, the fragments ground for various cookie recipes and my beloved English toffee.

Such a tightly wound part of my past, yet once the spool began unwinding, rolling across the grand hall of my memory, it didn't take long to find a recipe on the internet...a soon-to-be, ulterior-motive gift for my friend who has never heard of English toffee. Not being as well behaved these days, I will volunteer to be her taster!

What aromas, tastes, relationships are threaded together in your memory of foods, family and friends? How do those memories occasionally unspool in your current life? If you were to gift a friend with a beloved ulterior-motive recipe, what would it be?

Comfort

Love My Honey QuiltWe're slightly over the sixth month mark in our transition from California to North Carolina. Some of the predictable stressors have come and gone. And we are finding ourselves more comfortable than we imagined at this stage of the game.

In a part of the country where roads wind and wander like a river making its leisurely way to the sea, in a metropolitan area that hasn't considered a grid pattern for laying out roads, our GPS was a daily essential in getting from point A to points B through Z. I considered it a good day when I didn't have to use "my new best friend" to accomplish routine errands. But lately, I realize I'm getting familiar enough with the roads and the accompanying terrain that I find myself occasionally daydreaming about plans and projects while I'm driving. While I don't recommend that as a full time driving strategy, it is a sign that the recently yearned for process of embedding a new routine is taking place.  I'm getting comfortable in my new surroundings.

So comfortable that I negotiated the distance between our house and the monthly Capital Quilt Guild in north Raleigh for the second time with confidence...and comfort! Glad I did. Won a $10 gift certificate to a fabric store and had a winning silent auction bid on some leftover fabric from someone else's completed project. The sweet honey bee themed fabrics were just enough to create the Lil' Twister baby quilt. And there were enough leftover leftovers that a pretty big bee will buzz around on the quilt back.

Bee - Quilt Back

The quilting community has been another amazing arena of comfort. Warm, embracing, enthusiastic, creative, helpful, inspiring, inclusive, friendly, crazy, funny, informative....there just aren't enough adjectives to describe how this group of women have made my transition so comfortable. Especially the local bee Material Girls which meets months very close to home. And a number of them work at local quilt shops so I'm well supplied with hand-holders and advisers. My comfort cup runneth over.

And speaking of a comfort cup running over...we, without looking any further after our first visit, have found an exceedingly comfortable place to worship filled will people comfortable to be with. It's not exactly Cheers yet. Not everybody knows our name, but there is a church-wide ethos of purposefully getting to know one another. Both of us feel comfortably well-connected after such a short period of time. We're both engaged in small group Bible studies, growing ministry opportunities, and fun friendships with other couples.

A collaborative art project I'm participating in at the senior center has also provided the comfort of other artists who often are familiar with the experience of searching out a new art community when they've relocated. Some are newly arrived in the area; others have been here for years. All know the importance of making art in community. I've dusted off some decades old embroidery skills as we currently embellish the clothing collages that will become an April art installation "In Clothing We Remember" at the Cary Art Center. Needle arts allow lots of cross table visiting. We are getting to know one another better while realizing our project is nearing its end...but we don't want to quit meeting together. Ideas are afoot about what we will do next. How comforting!

Oh, and there's the comfort of being rescued in just fifteen minutes after a AAA dead battery roadside assistance call.

Like the Lil' Twister quilt, the seemingly random fragments of life are coming together in some sort of organized, comfortable pattern. And we're like a couple of busy bees buzzing from one sweet adventure to the next. Even while propping up our feet to relax from time to time...as well as taking that occasional, comfortable nap.

If there are places of comfort in your life, what are they? What aspects of your life might you need to remove, move around, or make room for to be more comfortable? How does your comfort influence how you gather with or serve others? When will you put your feet up for a few minutes and think about what makes for comfort in your life?

PS - One of the other comforts I enjoyed last week was giving myself permission not to write a post when nothing came to mind I wanted to write about.

Cement

Cement LeafSomethings are chiseled in stone. Other things are set in cement. Which is intended to mean that somethings never change. But sometimes they do. Like we've been going out for Mexican food most every Tuesday night for over twenty-five years. And although we've found a Mexican restaurant we like here in Cary, it isn't our beloved La Cabaña in Santa Paula. So we've un-cemented ourselves from that tradition and are venturing a little further afield each Tuesday with our coupon book full of cuisine twofers.

This week took us to The Big Easy for some tasty creole choices, but what really fascinated me were the two long tables seemingly set up for a large party. People approached the green tableclothed tables, put drinks down, and then wandered away. Occasionally, someone would walk up to the guy at the end of the table engrossed with his computer, exchanging a few words. They would walk away after he handed them what looked suspiciously like poker chips from the way his hand was a cupped claw. Other guys were shuffling cards. My curiosity had gotten the best of me by the time our bill arrived. Inquiring what was going on "over there," the waitress, thumbing that direction, effused, "Oh, every Tuesday night is poker night. These people are really serious!" Apparently people come for all over as this is one of the local spots in the player elimination process that leads to the World Poker Championship. Who knew... And the flash fried spinach was pretty darn good as well.

And of course, another tradition set in cement is my weekly blog posted on Wednesdays. This week I didn't feel like it. Still on Thursday I didn't feel like it. My ideas were formulating, but I just didn't feel like hitting the self-imposed mark this week. Finishing another unit of a complicated, long-in-the-process wedding quilt for our granddaughter, I needed some instant gratification...a wee Lil' Twister baby quilt full of sweet honey bees, a project that could be pieced in two days. There went Wednesday. There went Thursday.

Cement LeavesBut it was Monday that was all about cement. Cement leaves...an art form that heretofore has escaped my attention. But thanks to my new art buddy Anna, we were gathered around her kitchen table full of boxes of sand covered with plastic, assorted leaves from her winter garden, baskets of paints, and a bucket of dried concrete, courtesy of Home Depot, waiting to be mixed with water to the consistency of a brownie mix...a direction I'm not sure most guys would give to another guy. While the summer garden provides the more spectacular elephant ears and hostas for larger leaf bowls, our smaller magnolia leaves were a great first experiment. The leaves are pressed over the plastic-covered, mounded sand to provide a cup-shaped support. Wet cement is patted in place, the edges smoothed along the leaf edge, and set aside to thoroughly dry...for a few days to a week depending on the thickness of the cement. Acrylic paints were added at our pleasure and the whole leaf sprayed with concrete sealer. Voilá! Garden art. Something new to cement into my arsenal of art activities.

What are some of the cemented routines of your life? What, if anything, prompts you to un-cement yourself from these set-in-cement activities? If you were to step outside a chiseled in stone part of your life, what wet and wonderful thing, mixed to the consistency of a brownie mix, would you like to try?

Throwaways

Fleur de Lis GardenAfter the leftovers, there's the throwaways....this year's extra freebie calendars, expired credit cards, even the drips and drabs of craft paints that have hung around for years in a plastic bin. But as always, I can hardly stand to throw away things that just might be valuable resources for the latest and greatest art project. Especially if you have a new art buddy and a weekly art play date is ruthlessly chiseled in stone on our tablet and iPhone calendars.

This week's art day was at our house. After the well-used plastic table clothes had covered kitchen counters and dining room tables, and all the supplies were distributed among the appropriate "stations," I could stand back with some satisfaction and realize that I hadn't had to hunt for anything. I knew where the necessary art supplies were stored. Perhaps a small step for me, but a giant step for my transition!

Our art project for the afternoon was to create combed painted paper using discarded calendar pages, assorted colors of acrylic paint, and combing tools such as notched credit cards, forks and texturing tools. After the papers were dried, we transitioned to the dining room tables where we used stencils and die cut punches to transform the combed paper into decorative elements for assorted compositions - a drunkard's path/wisdom of Solomon stencil pattern transformed into a formal garden with fleur de lis. I couldn't resist using the throwaway narrow strips cut off the calendar pages or the throwaway background paper after the leaves were punched out. And I'm especially fond of the multi-colored honeycomb composition because I got to try out my new hexagonal die cut punch, this week's tool inspired by last week's art day and purchased with my 50% off coupon. Not gonna throw that opportunity away. Alas, had to throw away the dream that the punch would cut fabric. A sad fail....

Open each photo to read a brief description explaining our step-by-step creative process. 

At the end of a too fast afternoon, Anna and I said goodbye. Her parting comment as she walked out the door was, "My heart is full."

What are the throwaways around your house you're about to dispose of? Are any of them valuable resources for a purposeful re-purposed project? If so, when will you "ruthlessly chisel" in an art date on your calendar? What was the last thing you created, or experienced, that made your heart full?

Leftovers

Card iIt's the first week of the New Year and most of the leftovers are gone. The leftover cookies have been enjoyed. The leftover Chinese Chex mix have been given away to eager grandkids. The leftover peppermint ice cream has been savored down to the last spoonful. The leftover poinsettias are still perking along although all the other Christmas decorations have been put away....except the un-decorated tree which my husband still has to un-fluff and fold up into what he is sure is the too-small box that it came in.

But I spent the morning relishing leftovers. My friend Anna and I had enjoyed a watercolor class together at the senior center this fall, but couldn't find any classes for the winter and spring that fit our mutual schedules. Not to be stymied, we've decided to set aside Monday afternoons for art dates, alternating homes, AND teaching one another very different styles of creativity. This should cost me a lot of money in the long run because she has some seriously good toys...die cut punches, scrapbooking paper, hand cut stamps, and leftover bits and pieces from prior art projects. In essence, stuff I don't have, that I can share...as well as add too!

Gifted with a lovely new package of note cards and envelops to decorate, the art table before me was arrayed with an appealing selection of materials to create with. Those that most struck my fancy were the leftover scraps from punched scrapbook paper and some watercolor flowers. A magnolia stamp here and there, a fleur-de-lis on the back punched from a stamped practice magnolia, die cut leaves further notched with a small portion of another punch, and scalloped flower edges courtesy of yet another floral punch. I loved the organic possibilities of using only small portions of the die cut punches. The leftovers before me on the table at the end of the morning would have filled a thimble. And I had three new charming note cards to take home with me. Plus lots of leftover gratitude for a restful, energizing morning of visiting, making art in community, and discovering new possibilities.

What are the unexpected leftovers from the holidays out of which you'd like to make something new? What ways might these leftovers stretch you in new directions? Is there a new person in you life who can share in that process through mutual learning? What three words would describe your leftover gratitude from the season?

New

Still Life CollageWe're nearly six months into a new life here in North Carolina. Some days it feels like we just got here, but some days now we feel like we've been here forever. The hard work of imprinting a new routine that I fretted about a few months ago seems mostly a distant complaint...with occasional echoes. In the quiet days after the festive, somewhat frantic celebration of Christmas, it's a treat to reflect on the "newness" of our transition...our new life.

We've pretty well adjusted to, and fine-tuned, the new places all our possessions reside. Well, with the exception of some of my art supplies and Robert's stuff in the garage. We're both still occasionally hunting for that one thing we know we saw when we initially unpacked. Sigh...

One of my new big ahas is that we've bought a party house! A cozy living room invites intimate conversations, the open-floor plan of the kitchen, dining and family rooms provides a smooth flow for preparing, serving and enjoying food and fellowship. And a large formal dining room allows us to open our round oak table to seat up to fourteen, with plenty of room to move comfortably back and forth between the kitchen for seconds. That doesn't even include the screen porch which currently serves as a second refrigerator rather than a breezy, warm gathering place, as it did during the summer.

As a result I have a renewed interest in cooking. There's a vast new audience who have not gotten tired of my tried and true recipes. While we routinely explore new restaurants in the area, we are as likely to share a meal around our table with our new friends. And I'm teaching these new old recipes to our grandsons who assist me with some regularity as my sou chef. As you might guess, onions and lemons have played a role in their nouveau cuisine.

Still Life WatercolorI've availed myself of a number of new art adventures including a landscape watercolor class at the senior center. Frustrated with only painting landscapes, one of the other classmates asked if we could paint a still life instead. Working from two paintings by the instructor, rather than an actual still life, the painting at left is what I accomplished. Better than a kick in the chins, but not something I'd frame. But one of the most rewarding aspects of my new life, in this new place, is a willingness to try new things - of doing old things a new way.

As you can tell, the top image is essentially the same still life...with a new twist. Sopping up the leftovers from the grandsons' paint palettes, I repeatedly pressed paint soaked paper towels on a sheet of watercolor paper which I then glazed with a sunset gold Lumiere paint. The background of the still life was torn away and the remaining image glued on the painted background. Added three square collage elements and rescued a frame from someone else's discard pile. Voila! A new piece of art for our home.

However, one of my favorite old routines is decoding the daily cryptogram in our new local newspaper. Today's was especially apt as it invited a transition from reflecting on the new things of the past to a focused intention for the new present.

Attributed to Brad Paisley, a country singer, it goes like this...

"Tomorrow is the first blank page in a three hundred and sixty-five page book. Write a good one."

As we all begin a new year, my wish for each of you is that "you write a good one."

Happy New Year!

Because

Tiny GBHFor years I've had a guiding motto - Just because I can, doesn't mean I should. Those wise words have put a damper on any number of hare-brained schemes. But sometimes, just sometimes, it's fun to do something just because. Especially when your daughter posts a photo on Facebook and basically say, "will ya, will ya, will, Mom?" Pretty much all of my shouldn't self-talk flies out the window then.

The photo? A tiny gingerbread house that fits cozily on the lip of a coffee cup. Piece of cake...or should I say gingerbread. First drafting three wee patterns for the sides and roof, I mooched some dough from the grandsons' Ninja gingerbread kit to create this-makes-me-giggle gingerbread house that fits on my favorite coffee just like the one shown on Facebook. Totally scored. It is destined for the Yankee trader/white elephant gift exchange on Christmas day.

My son married into a large family who have produced enough offspring to fully cast a living nativity every Christmas Eve at his in-laws. One of the granddaughters, Lara, inspired this event and functioned as producer, director and actor as the occasion merited. Parts were typically not open for negotiation. You played the part you were assigned. One year she appointed our youngest grandson Peter to play the role of Joseph. At roughly five, Peter had serious opinions about what he want to do, or not do. And that year, he definitely didn't want to play Joseph. There was no arguing with his older cousin. He was going to be Joseph whether he wanted to or not. His all to obvious sullenness amused his great grandmother and I, most especially during the long, solemn reading of the nativity narrative when he spent the evening thumping Baby Jesus on the head.

Like I said....Just because you can, doesn't mean you should!

But...because I can...I want to wish all of you a very hope-filled, peaceful, joyous, and loving Christmas!

Gifts

Spool NativityGifts come in many forms this time of year. The usual and expected. The random and ridiculous. But one of my favorites recently appeared on Facebook. Posted by a sweet daughter-of-my-heart, it was a photo of the beloved nativity set from her childhood that her mother had recently given her. She explained that it was created when her mom and favorite friend were newlyweds. The scarps of fabric that dressed the wooden spool crèche characters were from memorable sewing projects - the angel's "wings" - tulle from a wedding veil, etc. What a gift of memories flooded into my mind.

The nativity posted on Facebook was the one I'd created in the early 70's for what would be called nowadays my BFF. And while not exactly newlyweds, Norrene and I were thick as thieves playing house and caring for our families. Indeed, the nativity set I gave her as a gift included tulle from my wedding veil. One of the wise men was robed in scraps of green wool with a green and orange floral silk turban from a suit I'd made for Easter when I was in high school. The suit I wore at my bridal shower complete with heel, hose and gloves. We dressed differently in those days! Another wise man wore scraps of orange crepe de chine from an empire dress and coat I made in the late 60's. And on it went. Every memory a gift of some long ago sewing project that hallmarked important events and special occasions. Not to mention the nostalgia of all the colorful wooden spools of thread that are no longer available.

The nativity set pictured above appeared under my Christmas tree the following year. Norrene, in cahoots with my husband, sorted through my fabric stash to create a thread spool nativity for me. Among the bits used were leftovers from the floor-length A-line skirts and full-length hostess dresses that were all the range in the early 70's, at least in our close-knit group of friends. All three of my wise men are garbed in fabrics from outfits sewn for my mom before she passed away, or for another friend whose husband asked me to sew several garments as Christmas gifts.

This year I needed to take the glue gun to the matchstick cradle; the cotton ball sheep look a little dopier year by year. But the gift of memories...of people, places, and parties...is as fresh as ever. Thanks to Norrene who passed the gift on, to Nadean who posted her delight in it, and to all who expressed their warm responses to the details shared about this gift. A gift that just keeps on giving.

The baby Jesus is a small plastic baby about the size of the end of your little finger. From time to time, it's gone missing, but usually resurfaces among other Christmas decoration after a semi-frantic search. Fortunately, the real Jesus can be easily found amid all the holiday trappings and traditions...especially if you've invited Him into your heart.

If you've received the gift of memories, what were they?

Time

TimeTime, especially this time of year, has a paradoxical quality to it. There's never enough of it as we busily shop, bake and decorate for Christmas. There's way too much time as we anxiously anticipate with mixed expectations the gifts, other surprises, and even disappointments, of the season.

As a collage artist, I've been collecting images of watches for several decades. Few of these watches have ever been incorporated into a piece of art, but I ardently keep watch for time pieces in magazine ads. Despite the fact that most would require a significant loan to purchase, they all have a distinctive quality. One that I've come to relish, particularly this time of year. With few exceptions over the years, all time pieces, clocks or watches, are set at the same time.

Ten minutes after ten.

There's nothing magical about that specific time. It's about the position of the hands. It's about the posture of open-armed praise they represent. A posture that watchmakers, and ad execs, hope will say, "Buy me!"

But if you move beyond the cynical marketing techniques intended to manipulate us, what an appropriate posture for a time piece to have during Advent, the season of preparation and waiting. Not for purchasing gifts, baking cookies, or decorating a tree. Nor for the presents we hope are under the tree, the Christmas cards we hope to receive...and often don't, or the time with family and friends we hope for will be more satisfying than it often actually is.

Nope, this time of open-armed praise is in preparation and waiting for the coming King. Everything else is a sluggish second hand in comparison.

May the remainder of this complicated time of year be a 10:10 experience for you and yours. A time of consciously open-armed praise for the real reason for the season.