Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Duvet Covers Project

I thought I had finished the top of the first duvet cover, but wait....

If you are missing the duvet cover finale, know that I am too.  A few days before Christmas I was removing some of the blocks from my oldest daughter's cover, after all the patchwork was sewn together. I noted that the blocks that were more solidly black in color detracted from the center block that is also bordered in solid black.  I picked them out and then replaced them with other blocks.  This was quite a feat considering that I needed to sew them back together in the same order that they had been originally sewn: sewing first the seams that would connect the block to the original row of blocks and then to the side seams as pictured below. By the last one, I had this technique down pat.  I am purposely taking time to learn on these pieces.  They are forerunners to what is ahead, and mastery of skills is key before advancing to other projects!
....then I picked out the five blocks that had strong black in them.  

I sewed new blocks by sewing the seams in the order they were sewn before.

Note that I am resewing this block into the row first.

I then sewed the side seams, just as I would have sewed the rows together.
I hope you can see that the pastel colored blocks don't detract from the center.
I started sewing rows of blocks together on the second duvet cover next, and then took time out for Christmas. I was grateful that my girls are being so patient about me finishing them, though I hope to complete them in the next week or so and will photograph the steps and their completion. I am planning the details as I go.  2015 is calling me to push forward and get these finished as I have many quilts to finish this year, all in various states of completion!
Blocks stacked and ready for stitching, carefully marked in rows as laid out.

The center block all pieced together for the top of #2 duvet cover.

Back side of block to show appliqued center block to checkered fabric.

Wrong side of center block with muslin back stitched front side to front side.

The block backed with muslin now has finished side seams ready for applique.
I hope you are like me, and are looking forward to the year ahead with many creative endeavors calling you as well!  Life never seems to lack purpose when you are driven to create! I even have a new TV to keep me company as I stitch away.  And check out this little ironing board that I found in our garage. It was one bought cheaply at a garage sale by my daughter when she was in an apartment and was getting ready to be thrown out. I cleaned it up and used one of the ironing board covers that didn't seem to fit my larger ironing board to make its own cover! What a handy little table ironing board. I am learning that when doing patchwork taking time to press as you go along is key, and since my room was a bit too full with the Christmas tree still up, I decided to try this little one out. I  try to do my projects in steps and pressing strips before pairing them to another strip, will make the seams lay flatter and this little table top board seemed to be just what I needed to do that!
My garage-sale table top board works well to clip and press rows of blocks.

My "new" old used sewing table, better sized than my first little fold up table.
My sewing table was recently purchased and is one that my daughter and I found at a thrift store for $40. It was solid and bigger than the one that I had been working on, while still being small enough to move around in my living room. Fortunately my decor is shabby chic and so it fit right in. We think it had been a table in an old science lab, and would tolerate the abuse I would give it. I gave it a good clean so that none of its marks would rub off on any of my work and checked it for any roughness that might snag material.  My husband sawed the legs to make it the right height for me.

So far the most comfortable chair to sit in for periods of time is an old chair of my mother's that is padded, but firm, to which I have added a high density foam block to sit upon.  I simply stuck it in a pillow case for now and then added a chair pad to the top. Perhaps I will create a fancier cover to it sometime to make it a bit more attractive, but for now it makes me comfortable and elevates me to sew which is a high priority.  I tried elevating the chair first which wasn't so comfortable.  Taking time to be sure that the ergonomics of your space are right for you will save you time and energy in the long run!!
My improvised sewing chair...not pretty but it works!

I am thinking that I may make some of my quilts as my mother did, quilting them in blocks or strips in a quilt-as-you-go fashion as working on big quilts is very awkward.  These covers will remain awkward to finish up, as they are to be king-sized patchwork covers to cover equal size duvets.  One is a feather duvet and the other a polyfil duvet according to my daughter's preferences.  I found them to be less expensive than purchasing extra thick comforter batting. These will not be quilted or tied which made them perfect pieces to practice sewing patchwork, and each is designed and constructed a bit differently. They will be very practical bed covers as they will be easier to launder by simply washing the covers and won't require taking them to a commercial washer, though their duvets may need washing occasionally in an oversize machine. I have learned on these projects that indeed, "mistakes do create other ways of doing things"!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Miracle at Little House

The tree is decorated with ornaments of the past making it unique to us.
I am sure that you have likely heard of the Orson Wells' radio production of The War of the Worlds that aired in the 1930s? It was simply a radio drama featuring H.G. Wells fictional story about Martians invading the United States. Many tuned into this program late and since it was a special production that did not have any commercial breaks, many believed that the reports of the Martian invasion were actually happening and it sent a panic through populations everywhere! Well, a similar sort of thing happened to me. Though I risk being committed to my local hospital's psychiatric ward, I must tell you that just like Scrooge visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past in Dicken's, Christmas Carol, I too experienced quite a miraculous conversion!

The center block, ready to be appliqued to my youngest daughter's duvet cover.
Perhaps I have been going a bit too hard trying to finish two patchwork duvet covers right before Christmas? Getting such a late start on them, I have told myself that it is OK if they are NOT finished by Christmas.The more I worked on them, the more I deluded myself that perhaps I could get them done if I just pushed myself a little harder. I have them in different states of completion, but it was in the middle of this project, working long hours and literally lost in a mire of patchwork that I surfed my TV options looking for a program that would be interesting and entertaining, to keep me to task and found just the one.
Center block pieced and ready for the four-square blocks to be sewn to it.

4-square blocks sewn into strips for daughter #1's cover. Center block above.
It featured a story about an investigation regarding Christmas miracles.  The reporter was none that I knew but seemed intent in following some rather astounding stories that happened to some children that wrote to Santa expressing their deepest wishes and mailed them to a special Letters for Santa Volunteer Program in various areas of the United States. It seemed that this organization was in charge of granting wishes to children through the work of volunteers who would find various resources and "make them happen".

As the investigation proceeded, the reporter was realizing that one man in particular seemed to always be in the vicinity where miraculous sorts of wishes had been fulfilled and her goal was to find this man.

This was easier said than done and her investigation took her to many sites where he had worked as a volunteer and so she included many interviews with people who had known and worked with him. Though all her reports his kindness and generosity were clear to all. In fact, he seemed to be more than an ordinary man. He seemed to know what were in peoples' hearts without them even putting them into words. Unexplained mysteries surrounded this extraordinary philanthropist and his ability to make even the most difficult and seemingly impossible things to happen.

I am a Catholic convert and for many years went on annual religious retreats. These retreats often involved individuals from the entire state that would re-gather each year to visit the Catholic Shrines in Canada.  Good friends were made and every year those that attended would tell some wonderful stories of things that had happened to them and or their friends that were also too strange and bizarre to be fiction. I am a believer that where God is concerned truly anything is possible!!

I told my husband to come and see what I was watching. These reports were very interesting and I thought we were watching some sort of documentary. I started to take notes, as I often forget the essential details when I repeat a story I have seen, making me a less than credible witness. I got so involved in this program that had I not been double checking myself, I would have missed that I needed to rip out two seams sewed in the wrong order.

The program continued with this reporter trying to track down this special person that volunteered all over the United States in this Letters to Santa program. This was just the sort of program that I literally "eat up".  People doing random acts of kindness and the love that was coming back to the volunteers was just as astounding as their acts of kindness. I grew more excited as the program continued and gave a shout out to my husband who had returned to his "man cave" to continue watching the program, as he wanted to get some wiring done on his tech system while he watched it. His response shocked me.  Instead of being astounded and amazed like me, he said, "It IS a very CUTE program!"

"CUTE?" isn't how I would describe this remarkable program. A man who could bi-locate.  There were only a couple of saints that could do that?...And being able to connect with people and their deepest needs! He was indeed more than CUTE!! This man seemed to indeed be some sort of modern-day saint.

My husband wasn't named Thomas by chance.  He is often the biggest skeptic ever, a real live doubting Thomas.  He was just being his skeptical self, I thought, as I continued to watch...

Suddenly the program finale came and along with it, the credits...and then I realized that I had been watching a Christmas fairy tale movie, and it had hooked me completely thinking that it was a real reporter reporting on true life remarkable events.  The laugh was on me, or was it?  Momentarily, I had believed in the magic of Christmas!

Being a Christian, there is no greater story than the scripture story of Jesus' birth. I happened to be a newborn nurse once in my day and just the story of Mary, a Virgin, giving birth to Jesus in a stable or cave is miracle enough!! His significance to me of being a baby savior is quite amazing too; a Lord no less, coming in the humbleness of a simple baby.  What is not to love about this story, and its celebration?

I love the Christmas season, but somehow for the past couple of years, it seems that Christmas has become a "grown-up" event.  No small children believing in Santa at my house, and in fact my daughters have wonderfully turned into real life Santas, surprising us each year with some wonderfully fun gifts!  It is a season of family traditions and a coming together of our family that has grown up and spread out, being only loosely connected, except for the holiday season.  So I wasn't looking for any more miracles than what this holiday already brings.

I am a Christian and Christmas' significance is NOT to be surpassed ever, and each year, I try to focus on the rebirth of Jesus in my heart. But for one short afternoon, I was caught up in believing in yet more miraculous stories that happened around the Christmas season when hearts are open and love is being shared so generously.

Santa came alive again to me!!! Dementia?  Time to be committed?  Absolutely, and isn't it wonderful that I could be a child again and ready to run and tell my children that there really is a Santa!!  Days have passed and I am still chuckling about it, but the "high" hasn't left!! I excitedly told my oldest daughter about that wonderful moment when I believed again, just like I had when I was a young child.  I am now anxious to gather with my daughter's friend's little children, for I have a special bond with them, and my husband, daughter and the friends that I have told or written to about my experience are chuckling about it as well!!...There is a crazy believer in their midst!! And that crazy believer is me!!

Lewis Carroll once wrote in Alice in Wonderland:
   "There is no use trying," said Alice'; "one can't believe impossible things."
   "I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen.  " When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.  Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

I believe all adults should practice this!. Impossible things happen everyday.  I call them miracles, and they do exist.  Just the fact that I stumbled on this program when I needed my brain and heart stretched is miracle enough for one day and believing in all the miracles of this season is another. Jesus once said that we need to be as children when we seek God, and I believe that he is right on!  I am wishing that all hearts, young and old alike be stretched this Christmas and that we always might see as children see the many wonders that surround us every day!! May you, my readers, have a truly joyous holiday season!!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Simple Lessons in Basic Patchwork

They say old dogs can't learn new tricks.  Well I am here to say that it can be done and to prove it! Just check out the little tricks I am learning in doing a simple four-square block. First I have pulled my ironing board right next to my sewing table.  Why didn't I think of this before? DUH!  But then once my nursing school buddy found me helping a patient bathe himself by me standing between the sink and the patient and passing him his rinsed out or soaped up wash rag..."Just push him up to the sink, silly!!"  Brilliant, I thought, thinking her so clever!  I have since realized that "common sense" isn't always common for some of us!! My ironing board makes the perfect L-shaped sewing set-up for lay out or pressing...I haven't quite figured out the iron cord that stretches across the room but that will come later, after I break my foot from a falling iron, flattening it perfectly as well as my quilt blocks?!

I am learning too that when sewing blocks together right-side to right-side DON'T back-stitch at either end of the square. Sometimes more secure doesn't make for smooth seams that press flat as you will see later.
My ironing board makes a perfect L-shaped sewing table! How perfect is this?

I have also learned to press a seam just as you sewed it to "set the seam".  Not sure why ironing it flat as you sewed it makes a difference but it does. It will lay flatter then when you press it to either side as most quilters do. I was also reminded to press the seam toward the darkest block of fabric, making it less visible to the other side, though later this didn't always work out when I pressed my four-square block. I am learning that there are many other secrets to pressing, but just like other rules, one learns them only to unlearn them in other circumstances. Again common sense prevails (if you have any!). Perhaps I will learn some "common sense" before I am finished?

When you sew the pressed-open two-block pieces together you can feel the seams butting against the other. I have unsuccessfully tried to rely on sight versus "feel" and didn't always have my seams butted closely together.  This fixes that and I'd like to think that I have developed a rather magical sense like I developed when tying fishing leaders. Touch replaces vision in many circumstances and this is one of them.  I pin to secure my blocks for sewing, as I am an insecure sewer, and sadly I sew right over them.  This is a confession, as all sewers know it isn't good for your machine to sew over pins! My machine seems to be indestructible, though I wouldn't trust all to be as sturdy as mine and I do occasionally break needles doing this! Perhaps I will soon feel more secure about pulling them out as I sew close to them?
Blocks joined by butting their seams together by feel. Thanks tablet teacher!

After sewing seams, always "set the seam" as I have mentioned above and then press the seams of your four-square block going in opposite directions (see below), picking out the few stitches in the middle of your four square block so that it can lay flat and form and inner tiny four-square block. This is the reason that you didn't back stitch at the ends of your blocks. This mini-four-square block in the middle isn't just cute, but lets you know that it will lay flat. When you press it put the iron directly on it and press it without stretching your block. Well, OK, sometimes "old dogs" forget and work too hard to be sure their seams are flat and stretch their block!  I am hoping that when sewn altogether I can square these blocks up again in their final sewing.
See my tiny four square that presses out flat (almost).

More tiny four squares (find 3)! I can do it and it isn't so slow after a couple!

And real quilters save thread by sewing their blocks one right after the other without stopping...check this out...and it is fast too! I am feeling more professional as I go!!!
Check how much thread I am saving!

I hope my pictures will help you.  Know that there are many good instruction videos on line! Thus begins my home quilting sewing course (check Pinterest).  My formal sewing instruction has been limited since high school and sadly, while my high school home economics teacher, Mrs. New, was an excellent tailor and knew everything, I wasn't smart enough to take all she said seriously when I should have.  I thought myself so smart to learn every shortcut to avoid the techniques of fine sewers.

I had a younger "more hip" sewing idol who didn't use patterns and knew all the short cuts. She truly had a talent that I did not, though I tried to take every short cut that I imagined she took for many disastrous results?! As I have said, common sense isn't so common!  I am now determined to learn the correct ways of sewing, for I am sure they were done for a reason. I have learned much of life's lessons in exactly this same style, always testing to be sure that there isn't a short cut to better living and finally returning to the source of all guidelines to find that He had a reason for issuing commandments and NOT suggestions! I am experiencing a full conversion in more ways than one!

I have always said that "the good" die young and I think I have had my days extended to "get it right". I hope to disprove this theory if an when I perfect my quilting skills, though I have much to correct yet before I reach any state of perfection. I have learned, however, that the expert Amish quilters intentionally make a block that isn't in keeping with their quilts for only God creates perfection, so perhaps I will just adopt their practice and God need not "beam me up"* early when my sewing improves?

*It was my good friend, Veronica (Hallissey), who wrote to me saying that she had tripped over her night stand in the middle of the night and figured that "God had beamed her up"....Now I shall envision the grim reaper as merely an episode of Star Trek and hope to get beamed up instead?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Gathering of Kindred Spirits

I have encountered many people in my life that I call "kindred spirits".  It is as though the same blood flows through their veins and they look at life in a similar way.  I have learned to treasure them. Growing up in my family of origin, I seemed to be surrounded by a rather unique collection of individuals that were largely unmatched. It was then that I was first drawn to special aunts or teachers that became my first kindred spirits. It seemed that when I felt most alone there would be a special person planted in my life, that became like a lifeline to my heart and one that would value me in such a way, to enhance my well-being and to be exactly who and what I needed to keep true to my course. When you meet such people they are like angels that are heaven sent.

One such kindred person in my life right now, is Veronica Hallissey. We met on line as she was one of our Common Thread guest give-away artists, and initially our correspondence was brief.  I enjoyed her poetry and writings and began writing brief notes to her...Soon our friendship blossomed and I now count her as one of my kindred friends, no matter that we have never met in person.

Being "a kindred spirit", it was not surprising that she "coincidentally" mentioned a favorite author that she feels a special kinship to, Ralph Waldo Emerson, right before I was to travel to Concord, Massachusetts for a doctor's appointment.  I also have a favorite author that I have a special kinship with, Louisa May Alcott. Every time we go to Concord, Massachusetts, I stop and visit Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Louisa is buried.

Only days after Veronica's note to me about her being drawn to Emerson, I knew that I would not only pay a special visit to Louisa, but also to Louisa's dear friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson while I was in Concord. I would tell Emerson, that I was there to say "hello" to him in person for my dear friend, Veronica. This visit, blog and pictures are for Veronica and Mr. Emerson! My kindred friend is a kindred friend to Ralph Waldo Emerson who is in turn a kindred friend to my kindred spirit friend and favorite author, Louisa May Alcott. So my visit there became a gathering of kindred spirits, all linked to one another.The world is indeed a small world when kindred spirits gather!

Visit Veronica's website and read some of her poetry.  Perhaps you are a kindred spirit to R.W. Emerson or L. M. Alcott and might be a kindred spirit to Veronica or even myself? Kindred spirits are lovely and they can be all around us and they are so nice as they cross all generations and walks of life and we can relate to them right where we are.

This is not about seances or anything of that nature, but simply hearts that bond to one another, to lighten our way and give us courage in our own life's journey. Sometimes we know them personally and sometimes we know them by their writings or their life stories that have touched ours and made us feel more connected to our own life.  I believe that they are gifts to us and make us realize that we are never alone.  They enrich our lives and make us feel related.

Thank you Veronica for your lovely spirit and while this blog is dedicated to you and the lovely reunion we all had in Concord, Massachusetts, I am so grateful for all the kindred spirits that surround us all, in friendships and family, and favorite people. Holiday seasons can be lonely times and it is important that we take time to honor those that are connected to us in special ways, past and present, and know that we can unite with them in spirit at any time we most feel a need. Who are your kindred spirits and how have they enriched your life? I believe that it is good to be "in touch" with them and feel gratitude for these God-sent spirits in our lives that have made our life so richly blessed!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas Sale in my Etsy Shop Plus Sewing Projects with a New Emphasis

I am offering 10% off all items in my Etsy Shop as a way of wishing you all a Happy Holiday Season! Enter coupon code WINTER at checkout to receive your discount! I hope a special new pincushion or needlebook added to your sewing space might be just what you need to re-motivate yourself to getting back to stitching! Please see my upcoming blogs as I plan to share new quilting techniques to make my quilts look more like the ones that I see in quilt shows!

Fleece socks and a fleece robe, so turn down the heat and stay warm!
I am doing Christmas sewing including fleece socks, a fleece robe and two patchwork duvet covers that are to be "warm-up exercises" (excuse the pun) to what is going to be a year of quilt making in 2015. This does not mean that I will stop making wool pincushions, penny rugs, lap throws,or other wool work or fleece socks, but I am going to dust off my traditional quilting skills and recommit myself to finishing some of the quilts that I have not completed.  I am also going to learn new machine quilting skills.
Adding a bit of humor to my sister's socks!

Patchwork blocks + extra materials for this duvet cover. When is Christmas?
And more materials for another duvet cover. What about next Christmas?
Shortly after graduating as a nurse in the early 1970's, I took a pause from nursing to work in a Montessori pre-school which wasn't far from a well-known quilt store in Colorado.  Health-wise, I wasn't tolerating rotating shift work, a routine part of life for hospital nurses that I had failed to consider when I chose this profession.

This reprieve did more than provide day-work, it brought me into the world of quilting at Quilts and Other Comfort's, a quilt store owned and run by Bonnie Lehman, a well-known quilter, quilt collector, and author of several quilting books.  Bonnie and her daughter later became well known for the popular quilting publication, Quilter's Newsletter. Bonnie's daughter, though but a young woman at the time, became the graphic artist of this popular quilting magazine and Bonnie's store provided instruction, materials, quilting equipment and patterns.

My job at the Montessori preschool did not last long. It seemed that setting up this business was more expensive than the owners counted on and having an aide that was an RN was a luxury they couldn't afford. I had just taken a Sampler Quilt Class at Quilts and Other Comforts and had gotten to know the manager of the store when a sales position opened. My mom was as excited as I was about quilting and she encouraged me to take this once-in-a-life-time job until my health issues regarding rotating shifts passed (or so we hoped it would at that time)!. My employee discount made it such that my mother and I could invest in quilting patterns, needles, hoops, frames and materials all at discounted prices, an advantage that neither of us could pass up, though we both were clueless that our lives would never be the same!

I later returned to nursing and not long after, graduate school for special education, but my mother's and my interest in quilting became life-long.  I was her quilting buddy and we conferred about our creations. Being retired, she often hand-quilted my quilts while I helped her to lay hers out or make decisions regarding her design work.

I have decided that it is well past time that I finish what I have started. I have several quilts in various states of completion as well as my mother's last quilt to finish. It is the most beautiful of all of her quilts and I have to work up to feeling confident enough to be worthy of this task.

All in all, I have seven quilts to finish.This seemed to be an overwhelming and daunting number, until I read and studied quilter, Teresa Rawson (www.fabrictherapy.blogspot.com). I have mentioned this quilter before in some of my other blogs.  She is a prolific quilter who does very intricate hand-appliqued quilts much like my mother did. She, along with Bonnie K. Hunter, another prolific scrap quilter have inspired me to take-on my unfinished quilts as well as dream of doing many more. Teresa's blog has many tutorials, including one on organizing materials and projects to make the most of your sewing time.

In Bonnie's book, Scraps & Shirttails II, Continuing the Art of Quilting Green, she shares her methods of organizing her scraps to make the most of her time and space as well as using every bit of material that happens to be lying around. Now my family closely watches their laundry and doesn't leave it lying around! Favorite shirts are just the thing for a quilter! Don't miss her website and blog (www.quiltville.com or www.quiltville.blogspot.com) to consider inexpensive ways to obtain quilting materials as well as getting hints as to how you can organize and store your scraps and materials and start thinking big enough to dare yourself to finish your UFO's (unfinished objects)--don't we all have them as sewers and quilters?

As I prefer short-term projects, I have decided that if I break down the tasks involved in finishing my quilts and move from one to another, I will be able to maintain my interest, re-develop skills not used in some time and develop the new ones I need to accomplish these long-term projects step by step.

I think I have mentioned that in order to alleviate any guilt and worry that I have about finishing what I have started, I have decided that I will keep a running log in a plastic sleeve with each quilt project, enabling me to move more smoothly from one project to another, incrementally working on them as I hop between projects (thank you Teresa Rawson for this idea). I no longer have to worry about having things unfinished now or worrying about leaving them in different states of completion should I not live long enough to finish them. Any quilter, if interested could pick them up where I leave off, although I am planning to live to be 104 and hope by then to have all my material cut into projects for my girls to finish! This might be the way they inherit their future quilts (all in do-it-yourself kits!)

It is rare when I simply start a project and work on it start to finish.  Likely it has something to do with some ADHD related to my Chronic Lyme.  I simply work with it now and as long as I am stitching, someday a multitude of projects will reach completion.  I have seen it work on smaller projects and now I am going to try it with my quilts. How fortunate I am to have a retirement filled with sewing and quilting!

I have been building a fine collection of quilt books, hard plastic cutting stencils, quilting stencils for hand or machine quilting, along with various materials. Many items have been purchased used and discounted through Sewitsforsale, a yahoo group on line. I am sure that my organization systems will continue to change as I  take on this quilting challenge.

I hope that you, my readers will enjoy reading about my journey and might even care to join me. I will pass on tricks I learn and hope you will offer me tips and suggestions too. I am already learning skills that I had either forgotten or missed years ago when I first started quilting.  I am intentionally starting with simple projects, warming up to those that are more involved. Although I am not a beginner quilter, I am going to focus on details that years ago, I thought I might skip in the interest of saving time. Now I want my quilts to look as good as those I see at quilt shows!
No hurry on this one, but another simple comforter to practice simple skills!

Zeldie, my new quilting buddy says, "You woke me to show me what?"

Friday, December 5, 2014


Little House is offering 10% off all items in our Etsy Shop as a way of wishing you all a Happy Holiday Season. Enter coupon code WINTER at checkout to receive your discount!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Winner of December's Common Thread Give-Away is...

Sara Garza!  Congratulations and for those of you that didn't win, please return at the beginning of January when I will be the Give-Away Artist!  Thank you for keeping us on your favorites list!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

See December's Free Give-Away Gift and Sign up to Win

This month's Common Thread Give-Away artist is Jon Katz. He will be giving away a packet of of his Peaceable Bedlam Farm Notecards.  These include four  5 x 7 inch notecards and each is personally signed by Jon. These would make a cherished personal holiday gift, or enjoy them by framing them and decorating your walls with these wonderful country critters or delight your friends and family by sending them a personal note.

Each month we feature one of the artists in our Common Thread group and as a thank you to our readers, the artist of the month offers a free sample of their work to the lucky winner of our monthly drawing.  To enter all you need to do is leave a message for the artist, and this month, Jon requests that all comments be left on his wife, Maria's website at www.FullMoonFiberArt.com. Be sure to sign up any time between Monday and Wednesday and the drawing will be held at the end of the week and the winner announced.

Don't forget to visit Jon's Bedlam Farm website to check out his writings and photography. I start each and everyday with  a bit of good news and a wonderful view into his wholesome country life!

Our Common Thread Give-Away Artist Group consists of Jon Katz, New York Times Bestselling Author, blogger, photographer and leader of many well-loved groups on facebook; Maria Katz, his wife, blogger, multi-media and fabric artist; Kim Gifford, writer, blogger, photographer, and multimedia collage artist; Rachel Barlow, blogger and artist; and myself, Jane McMillen, blogger, soft sculpturer and sewing artist. Websites are located to the right of this website and can be visited by merely clicking on each artist's site.  My Little House Etsy Shop can be accessed by clicking beneath the small pictures featuring my work in the right upper corner. Thank you so much for your interest in our blogs and artwork.

Good luck in winning these handsome cards, and know that each first Monday of the month we feature a different Common Thread Give-Away artist who donates a free sample of their work to the lucky winner of our drawing!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Over the River and Through the Woods

"Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go.  The horse  knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted sno--ow..."

I always loved this song though we were often packed in a car when we sang it and didn't have rivers or woods to travel over or through. It was always nice to think about traveling through white drifts of snow. BUT this year we are to have a nor-easter and I became a grandmother of sorts, to potential step grandchildren, and I am really too tired to think about baking pies and having company.  Everyone will soon be on their way however to my house, and between now and then there will be a turkey all roasted, and mashed potatoes and stuffing and vegetables and pies and even a birthday cake, though my daughter seems to be the one that has offered to martyr herself at the hot stove altar!!!....

It is that time of year again! Unlike Martha Stewart, with every gourmet ingredient all bought and prepared, I am just now thinking of Thanksgiving, though we do have a turkey thawing.  Just thinking of all that needs to happen, I must return for a long winter's nap before such an undertaking, and perhaps I will take my phone directory with me and see if it is too late to book myself for a reservation at a nearby Bed-and-Breakfast!

We are becoming a modern-day family, blending families together. I am sure it will all be very nice, but I forever wonder how to blend the oil and water opposites that our family seems to be blessed with.We have one that frets and fumes and has pre-worried about everything, and another that will arrive late, to be the house guest and enjoy whatever is set before her. My house has suddenly been child-proofed by my daughter and I have graciously or ungraciously taken a step back, and decided to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head to see if I can wish the holiday away! I have suddenly become the perfect Scrooge, sour and grumpy!  I remember now that I had a cousin that preferred peanut butter sandwiches to the typical turkey feast, and I have grown to be like her in my old age and I think that if I was doing all the cooking that is just what I would serve!

One year my husband was to be in China over Thanksgiving and my eldest was away from home and my youngest got an exciting offer to have Thanksgiving near Niagra Falls and who should say "no" to that invitation? I felt sorry for myself for about a day and was well on my way to overcoming my feelings of total isolation. I didn't have to struggle long! Finding a good book and pulling out my most toasty PJ's to dress for the occasion, I quickly overcame my misfortune and began to count my blessings, only to find myself being pushed into another family's festivities. Lest I become suicidal, though those thoughts never occurred to me, my family's concern for my well being made me consider at least taking "dessert" at one of my children's friend's houses. I reluctantly went at everyone's insistence!!

It was a large Italian family, complete with black sheep and all...One even brought his wife and his girlfriend. Clearly this was not a cohesive family nor did they see eye to eye or get along the rest of the year!! They played games of all sorts, and without reservation, their competitive spirit was fierce enough that I thought there might be a stabbing or throat slitting before the games began.  I was assigned to a team, for no quiet buy-out was considered an option...blood was needed for each team and the competition began. There was yelling and screaming and pats on my back for the lucky answer I was able to suddenly pull from the recesses of a mind too long not used.  I felt like I was part of their family before I was done, though I still didn't know most of them by name.

The dessert was delicious, though I can't remember what it was now, but I still remember the hurling of insults and jabs and rowdy laughing!! No delicate politeness here, though their family was no more unified than mine where water and oil forever don't really blend and rankled irritation makes for wrinkles that can fester for the entire year!

I have since learned that no family is "normal" or a blend of perfect sweetness! And here we are again, in time for another round of holidays. I think I will get out the spoons this year and insist that we all consider a round or two of my favorite game.  No brain needed at my table--just the sheer gall of being grabby and reaching for a spoon, even if eye gouging might be needed to get one! This dear granny hopes to get all that out of her system in a good old-fashioned cut-throat game or two!

Now back to bed to rest up before a last minute run to the store where I will warm up to the festivities ahead as I fight over who gets the last jar of pickled beets or the last can of whipped cream topping and Sarah Lee's heat-and-eat pumpkin pie!!

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and don't forget our craft show on Friday and Saturday at the Poultney High School Gymnasium in Poultney, Vermont!  It is guaranteed to be a big one!  Our sleighs are packed and ready to go...as it may take them to get us there this year!!....and quite literally you will find this sweet Vermont town over the river and through the woods!! Don't miss it!!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Another Week, Another Sale...

Another week at Little House, and another sale.  Our holiday shows are coming fast and furiously now, one every two weeks and in December one a week for the first two weeks and then we will slide the slippery slope to Christmas. With any luck my personal Christmas sewing projects will be completed before Christmas. At this point, I am beginning to bite my nails.

I used to work in the public school system and used to have my Christmas sewing, shopping, wrapping, and cards done before I returned to school in the fall. I love the holidays and they are even more fun when all is done and ready to go, and I can focus on the holiness of the holidays, taking time to enjoy advent and the Holiday Season's festivities. It is really fun to open packages, when they are prepped far enough ahead of time that they become as real gifts from Santa, not remembering what is in any of them!!

With peace and serenity frayed, I will definitely welcome the advent season, as I grow eager again to celebrate anew the birth of Jesus at Christmas!!

Take a peak at our displays and if you see anything you are interested in and just leave me a note and I will be more than glad to get back in touch with you with detailed information.  Sadly my Etsy Shop listings have taken a second seat to my local shows.  Our next sale will be at the Poultney High School Gymnasium in Poutlney, Vermont on Black Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving. We will be including special cards handmade by my talented photographer friend, Kathryn Crockett.  They are not to be missed!

My personal Christmas sewing includes still more fleece socks, a fleece robe and two patchwork duvet covers. No problem about keeping secrets as those to get these gifts have been included in the process, down to picking the colors or specific fabrics and even doing a bit of their own design work. Be sure to visit my blog often for updated photos of my Christmas sewings and then onto my new winter sport of quilting! I hope you are all getting ready to celebrate the holidays in whatever ways you hold dear, as family traditions make for memories and bonds that carry us through the rest of the year!


Monday, November 10, 2014

About Ebola, Lyme and the CDC....

I want to express some of my opinions regarding Ebola and the CDC's plans to contain it. Fortunately, it seems that the immediate threats have passed and all has turned out well. It is, however, an issue that touches my heart.  I am a graduate nurse and have practiced my profession for many years, long enough to know that medicine is not an exact science. No matter how knowledgeable those in the medical field claim to be, there is always more to learn.

I learned when attending a national diabetes conference and sat in on presentations about new cutting-edge medications, that it take years for the latest treatments to be researched sufficiently and pass grueling safety tests before being released for practical public use. This means that the practice of medicine is often behind their body of knowledge by as much as several decades. Sadly this can mean that even when medicine is on the "cutting edge", its practice often is not.

The CDC (Center of Disease Control), in my opinion seems to be a medical organization that is the slowest to catch on to what seems to be a common body of medical knowledge regarding various communicable or infectious diseases. It seems that it is the government agency that is to deem fact what the public already knows. They seem to truly "lead from behind" and I have personally experienced the negative effects of this organization in regards to their guidelines for diagnosing and treating Lyme Disease.

I suffer from Chronic Lyme Disease myself as a consequence of not being diagnosed early. Due to the CDC guidelines, I and a good many other were not diagnosed for a very long time. In my case it took three and a half decades, though I actively sought answers to my growing medical issues long before a Lyme-Literate doctor finally diagnosed my illness as Lyme Disease.

Since then, I have more than once considered going to my local veterinarian for more up-to-date treatment of my Chronic Lyme, for their practices are not hindered by the CDC.  Fortunately there are many doctors who have stepped away from the CDC's guidelines in recognizing and treating Lyme, though if caught doing so, they may well run the risk of having their medical licenses revoked or made to dump out their Lyme patients, or be "run out of town",  all devastating not only to the doctors but to those afflicted with this illness that seek care from doctors that are more enlightened than those that follow the archaic medical protocols prescribed by the CDC!

Why did two of the nurses who treated the first man to come down with Ebola in the US, contract the illness?  They were careful to gown and glove per typical standards used for isolation procedures. Why does it take an extreme haz-mat suit to keep a person safe from this illness, and just how far do our bodily fluids extend?  If this disease isn't airborne, can it still be transmitted by sneeze which carries bodily fluids to a distant radius around the person and when those contaminated particles land, how long can those germs survive, especially if not contained in an area that will be sufficiently treated to eliminate them?

I don't believe in cutting individual freedoms, but erring on the on the side of caution seems more appropriate to me than risking the spread of a disease that is too often fatal? Before I left nursing I tested positive for lots of illnesses that I never had full blown symptoms for, but had been exposed to in my work.  I eventually switched my profession to decrease my exposure,when I kept getting ill, as I didn't seem to have the same resistance to infection that my peers did.

When I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, my doctors, with good reason, questioned if all my symptoms of thirty plus years prior were caused by Lyme, or a result of having Lyme that perhaps made me more susceptible to other acute illnesses? I was treated for co-infections that typically accompany Lyme as treatment rendered me only temporarily better. Despite negative tests for many of these co-infections, I learned that there are different strains of most infections that tests, if available are not always sensitive enough to screen for, though treatment for them did improve my health.

While giving flu shots one season, I learned that a patient's great grandfather lived through such a severe flu epidemic in the United States that being a medical student, he was taken out of school along with his peers and given shovels to bury the dead, as there were not enough people to bury them fast enough to contain the disease. I also learned that their remains would still be considered contagious if exhumed today.  Read about Plum Island and the experiments that went on there that involved animals with open pens and about the bird estuaries nearby, and the big outbreak of what has now been named Lyme Disease that broke out across the water in Lyme, Connecticut (hence its name). Medical science is smart about containing disease, OR IS IT?

I side with those that dare to err on the side of caution. I live with a disease that the CDC considers to be rather rare, though recently they have had to admit that its incidence is higher than they thought. I am one of the patients that wasn't diagnosed properly for too many years due to the CDC's guidelines, and the CDC doesn't currently even recognize that Chronic Lyme Disease exists though to be sure insurance companies do?  The CDC also believes that if you tested positive for Lyme and were treated and still have symptoms, that your illness would not benefit from on-going antibiotic treatment though vets and lyme-literate doctors believe that if Lyme symptoms persist, then active infection is still present and will and does respond to treatment. The CDC leading from behind means that many of us with either Lyme or Chronic Lyme are left undiagnosed and untreated!

From my experience, I wouldn't believe that the CDC has all the facts regarding Ebola, even though Ebola has existed and been treated for many decades.  Call me "a right-winged nut", I am not afraid of names, but I am afraid of illnesses that are hard to cure! Interestingly, I never remember having a tick bite or a bull's eye rash despite that being part of the criteria for diagnosis of Lyme per the CDC guidelines.

I don't believe that the CDC is informed that Lyme can be transmitted sexually or in utero, though both of my children tested positive for it with no history of any tick bites, and my symptoms dated back to before I was pregnant and my children's symptoms from the time they were newborns. Years later they both tested positive for Lyme after a Lyme-literate doctor diagnosed me and I described years of my kids being ill. Lyme mimics other illnesses and many doctors did not even think to test them or myself for Lyme disease, believing what they had learned through the CDC that Lyme is a very rare disease.

When it comes to contracting infections, it is common medical knowledge that some people are more susceptible than others.  A person's immunity to diseases varies greatly according to their own health as well as age. I know that my immune system has been weakened by my illness and many seniors and young also have less immunity to contagious illnesses and may also have more difficulty fighting off infections when contracted. This should be common knowledge for all nurses and doctors and most especially if they work for the CDC, such as Kerry Hickox does? Why was she so resistive to being quarantined? Perhaps she was more interested in keeping her employment by the CDC and pushing its political agenda instead of respecting that all caution be employed to prevent risk to anyone else just in case she had contracted the illness and did not yet exhibit overt symptoms?

They say that doctors practice medicine...and they have used their words correctly for that is is exactly what they do and nurses do likewise! They practice what they know, and their body of knowledge expands daily and is never an exact science, not even for diseases that they have treated for decades! Mandated quarantine for a limited amount of time to be sure that a person exposed to the illness doesn't have the illness and will not spread infection is really not that hard!

I refrain from wishing that Kerry Hickox experience a difficult-to-treat disease herself and then view this demand with a new perspective. Can it really be asking that much of her or anyone else that has had direct contact with Ebola patients to sacrifice their time and limit their exposure to the world for a short time to be in quarantine for the safety of others? She seems pretty selfish to me and no hero at all, to not be willing to sacrifice a few weeks of her life in the world at large. She might even gain some appreciation of what it is like to be sick and shut in for a while, making her an even more compassionate care-giver who better understands what life is like for her patients!

Again, I am glad that so many that had to watch for symptoms have NOT manifested Ebola, but I believe that it is when we let down our guard and vigilance that such an epidemic could happen. With all those that have been sent to help with this horrible outbreak in Africa, I think it will be in everyone's best interest to let those that govern us know that you appreciate their vigilance in exercising strict caution. What is at risk could well be my health or yours!.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Winner is....

The winner of this month's drawing is Mary Ann Cauthen.  Thank you all for your interest! Next month we will have another Common-Thread Give-Away, so don't forget to come visit us all again!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Another Free Give- Away Drawing--Register to Win Now!

It is already November and time for another free Common-Thread Artist to be featured who will give away a sample of her artwork. Kim Gifford is our Artist for November and will be giving away a package of eight note cards featuring her artwork. These blank notecards are perfect for wishing those you love a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

To know Kim is to know that she is a fun-loving, sensitive and deeply spiritual person who is kind and loving to her family, her pugs and her friends.  Her joy for life is reflective in all of her work. Do check out her website at Pugs and Pics.  For those who know Kim and have experienced her artwork before, you may be as surprised as I was as to see how her artwork continues to evolve.

Kim's big news is that she has a show that is exclusively featuring her work at the Radio Bean in Burlington, Vermont November 7th through December 3rd!  Her exhibit is entitled Once and Future Things and is a study on girlhood, in the form of her digital collage art which incorporates different mediums and textures to create one-of-a-kind artwork unique to Kim.

Don't forget to register to win her cards by simply leaving a comment along with your name, now through Wednesday and perhaps you will be the lucky winner of this month's Common-Thread Give-Away Drawing held at the end of this week.

For those that are new to our group's free monthly give-away, know that this is our way of thanking you for visiting our Common Thread Give-Away Artist's websites.  You will find them and the links to their websites listed on the right hand side of my blog.  To visit them, simply click on their names and don't forget that we do this every first Monday of the month! Our group is in process of expanding and we are excited to bring you new and diverse artists and their work very soon, so do keep checking our websites and good luck on winning these great cards!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Therapy for our Nation or Turn Away from Evil...and have fun besides!

My daughter's pumpkin art this year...from evil to fun!*
As I sew, I often sit in front of the TV and turn on either CNN or Fox News and simply leave it on that channel for hours at a time.  I only half listen to it as I sew. I have however had to turn away from doing this recently with all the scary news: serial killer confessing all with subsequent findings of women's bodies; the lack of containment of ebola; ISIS and their recruitment of terrorists from western countries; Ottowa, Canada on lock-down for all day to assure that there were no other terrorists on the loose; Ferguson and more racial unrest....Nothing seems to be positive.

For a change of programming I turned on Jon Stewart.  I needed to laugh, if even at my own political party.  Why not, I thought, this sorry world is in need of laughter and Jon didn't let me down.  He addressed what the politicians are all screaming about, "keeping America safe no matter what" and brought up the litany of things that we have to fear, and putting them all together I found myself giggling. ISIS terrorists with ebola on their backs making their way through our too porous borders, and then clips from news programs of politicians in arms about protecting America, unless it costs money, or time or effort or involves changing their carefully guarded ideology...always blaming the other party.

There is much to fear in today's world though I believe that focusing on the positive would take a giant step to abolishing the need for youth to run to ISIS for a need to belong. My daughter shared a program with me that does just that, though at first I couldn't imagine any theme less likely to spark my interest.  It is called Kim of Queens.  It features Kim, who is a beauty pageant coach, and features her working with young girls.  Mind you I have seen Toddlers and Tiaras and think putting kids into beauty pageants should be considered a form of child abuse. 

Kim's program is quite different.  She finds kids that are anything but beauty pageant sorts and teaches them to be comfortable with who and what they are, no matter how different and non mainstream they might be.  Her instruction is about building her girls into being complete and confident young women with emphasis on inner character and overcoming their fears and demons. She even emphasizes that their personal problems and imperfections may be their greatest asset for it is their connection to real people everywhere as well as community action. There is no harsh criticism for their less than perfect performances, but rather much praise when they simply do their best!

Another program I discovered that was also refreshing was the new program Somebody Has to Do It. This is a new version of the previous program, Dirty Jobs. This week a marching band was featured, and I am sorry that I didn't take notes as to its name.  It took black kids from an area known for high delinquency and gave them not only an activity that took them off the street, but gave them structure, fun and challenge and lifetime pride in themselves.  Their marching is no ordinary marching, but rather complex precision work. They have been invited to several presidential inaugurations and have traveled in Europe as well.  Their training is no less than a ballet dancer's would be with many different positions and steps that are then put together and done amazingly fast and in time with their marching drummers and majorettes! And once a member always a member!  Again, what a neat way for kids to build confidence and pride in themselves and their community!

"Small things done with great love" was Mother Teresa's motto and the above sorts of activities are just that....therapy for our nation to bind up its wounds and rebuild the nation that we love.

I fell asleep dreaming of such things and then awoke with an even better idea...picture ISIS marching like this marching band.  They might get into it so much that they would forget about their knives and beheadings and taking over the world, and decide to compete with other marching troops, and take pride in their precision moves and marching to a rhythm all their own, and then allowing their women to be coached by Kim to become as beautiful as they can be inside and out, and overcome their fears and demons, and compete in international competitions bringing pride to themselves and their country...I know it is only a fantasy, but what a wonderful world it would be...Nations full of people taking pride in themselves and their communities all working together to make the world a better place...It is a wonderful dream!

Somebody has to do it and why not us in our own ways, with our own talents right in our own communities right now...and about curing ebola?  Likely it will be done the same way, saving one life at a time and caring enough to not take any chances of spreading it to another.  That too is a dream, but I do think that we can make it happen if we try!

(*Thank you Sarah Kate for your lovely pumpkin art--another example of taking pride in small achievements...and The Joker, no less...Perfect for this blog about transforming the world...from evil to fun and pride in doing small things with great love!)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Quilting, A New Winter Sport?

I hate to see the leaves falling from the trees.  It has been so beautiful here in Vermont.  We are quickly moving into late fall, and of course, what comes next is winter.  I often think that Christmas should come at the end of winter instead of the beginning.  It is wonderful to anticipate and prepare for the holidays, but once they are over it seems that the winter season is like the one in C.S. Lewis's book, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, "always winter and never Christmas". So why did we move to the north?  I am still wondering, though the spring, summer and falls here could not be more beautiful! Winter is pretty too, at least the first month of it, but after that I am ready for spring, months before the white season disappears!

Though I think that winter will be a great time to work on quilts, I do wish we could have the sun shine outside as well. I am in a Vitamin D-free treatment.  Yes, a person can live without vitamin D, at least for some of us that have a dis-regulation of it, though it is still nice to see sunshine outside! I feel a bit glum when the skies are gray! Although I have fond memories of ice skating, sledding, and skiing, this year quilting will be my new winter sport.

Small acorn pincushions in process.
Not only is the season changing but our household is too. As I continue to prepare for my holiday shows and will soon start sewing on some personal projects for Christmas, I am finding myself in the midst of big changes here at home. My oldest daughter that is still living with us, is quickly becoming attached to a very nice young man.  Although I have a tendency to count my chickens before they hatch, it is not hard to see that if this relationship becomes permanent, I may gain a son-in-law AND step-grandchildren for her friend is a widower with three children.  I will not rush the process but rather concentrate on the changes that this brings to our own household right now.  My daughter, spending more time with him and his family, is around less to cook dinner and this means that I need to re-cultivate my long-lost cooking skills.
Big acorn pincushions

I have just written about how difficult it was to think of preparing a meal for company, and returning to cooking every day also seems overwhelming.  I have been too happy to step out of the kitchen and into a life a sewing.  Quilting is my winter agenda, and so I am scouting on pinterest to get new ideas of making meals ahead of time and/or finding easy crock pot recipes, like I used to do when I was working full time. It has been so nice to have a daughter who loves to cook and try new recipes.  Our styles are different as I require quick and easy-to-fix meals that conserve my energies for what I enjoy most, which is NOT cooking.
Cactus pincushions, ready for market. Cheerful and bright for the winter!

We have acquired a used chest freezer in our newly cleaned garage and my daughter and I are scheming and dreaming of doing cook-a-thons to prep meals to freeze ahead so we can heat and eat them with little to distract us from our goals. Yesterday I tried a very easy casserole that was delicious. It was a buffalo chicken tater-tot casserole, not exactly health food but oh so delicious!! I do love Pinterest for all of their ideas and am building a file of quick and easy recipes--all gluten free! Some of my readers have heard of my plight and sent me some of their easy to fix recipes as well! I appreciate them all and meanwhile my husband is stocking up on Sriracha Sauce and ketchup, his favorite condiments to doctor my cooking!

(If you are interested in purchasing any of the items shown before they go to market, just contact me at jmcvermont@comcast.net and I will be happy to provide you with detailed information and prices. Do see my last blog for my show schedule and hopefully you can make it to one of these shows. There will be many great artists and craftspeople and I love to see what they have been busy creating. They are great places to purchase unique and different gifts for your holiday giving!)