"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Friday, August 17, 2012

Blank Slate

I've spent a couple of days out in the studio doodling on a whole cloth quilting sampler and found it to be very therapeutic.  There's something to be said for starting out with a blank slate - be it fabric, a canvas, an empty room or an empty life - and spending the time and effort to make it into something fundamentally changed by your touch.  A blank canvas gives you freedom to make your own choices and not be forced to work around the mistakes that came before.  But it also means any mistakes you make can't be hidden.  Glory or shame, it's all yours. 
I was working on muscle memory and plan to use the quilt as a sampler for quilting stitches.  Here are a few photos:

In contrast to a blank slate, starting out with a canvas that is already covered with scars, scribbles, rub marks and tears allows you to use those attributes to make the "finished" result interesting - sometimes even stunning.   In fact, most painters put down a layer or two of gobbly gook to make the painting on top show richness and texture.  For that matter, what is a pieced or appliqued quilt but a bunch of torn up pieces of fabric stitched together so that they are much more interesting than when they started? 

As for a life, what person beyond the age of reason doesn't contain wounds and scars that come from broken hearts, tears of joy and sorrow, rejection, victory, satisfaction and angst?  But how can any stellar life be built on anything but the folds and creases that represent experience, hard work, hard knocks, sacrifice and faith?

I'm toying with the notion of creating a quilt to enter in the IMQA show that is to be held in Wichita, Kansas, next year.  Wichita is only about three hours away so it would be a shame to not attend and I have until nearly May to create an entry.  The theme, this year, is Dreamcatcher  so although it is surely a cliche, I think I will practice making some background fillers in a dreamcatcher design.  The feathers for a dreamcatcher don't really look like the traditional Victorian feathers quilters so often use and certainly don't flow the same way.  But they tend to use circles (pearls or bubbles) and I am a big fan of circles in background fillers. 
I found quite a few designs on a google search and also discovered there are millions of photos of dreamcatcher tats.  Here's an example of a drawing:

I have an idea for the quilt roughly sketched out on my sketchbook but am sure it will go through a zillion morphs while I work with how I want the light to flow and figure out what I can accomplish and what I can't. 

Today, I agreed to work in one of the local quilt shops a couple of days a week and am both excited and nervous about it.  I've been on high center for quite some time on working and haven't wanted to dress up, go to a high pressure interview, get the resume just right, try to wow the interviewers and then worry that if I end up getting the job, I will have to stay there at least five years even if I hate it.  The legal community is a small one and you don't want to be flaky.  

No surprise, I guess, this was a completely different experience from looking for a lawyer job.  Obviously, it doesn't pay anything like a law job but she already knew me, read my cover letter, scanned the application, stuck out her hand and asked me when I could start.  I mean, this was so refreshing.  I've been dreading looking for a job because I am used to interviews lasting over a period of weeks, waiting to hear if they want to interview you, dressing up for several levels of interviews, studying their business and relevant law so I can ask intelligent questions, and then worrying they'll actually offer me the job in case I end up hating it. 

This job is flexible, only 1-2 days a week and I get a discount on fabric, books and patterns.  More importantly, I will get to be around fabric, quilts and other quilters.  I don't have to be there until 10:00 so the typical lawyer job of rolling out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to take a shower and squeeze into hose and heels so I can be out the door within an hour, with or without coffee, won't be part of the equation.  Instead, I'll still be able to guiltlessly stay up late the night before; have my coffee on the patio in the morning with Mr. Wonderful; wear real clothes instead of a court costume; and skip the rush hour traffic.  I actually always really enjoyed working with the law and loved going to court - but I sure like the idea of working in a place where people come to relax instead of places, like court, where people's lives are being torn apart and they are terrified, furious and confused. 

I went to a local quilt show, today, and saw a lot of pretties.  I am always delighted to see local talent and happy that regular people get to strut their stuff:
 This is hand quilted and PERFECT:
 I loved the masculine looking backquilting in the center:
And before my daughter brains me for being a sexist (which, okay, I can be), masculine looking back quilting is just a descriptive term denoting sharp points or quilting that otherwise lacks curves.  I do think the above quilter's decision to combine victorian feathers with the sharp points is unusual. 

The more I looked at this one, the more I found to applaud:
 I really liked this one:
 This was cute:
 This was a kit and I normally am not a big kit fan - but I thought it was gorgeous:
 I think the quilting is beautiful and if you look close, the daisies are covered with cross stitch:
I've said this, before, but I'll repeat myself:  I am not a huge fan of the look of a digitized quilting.  It is "too" perfect.  I realize I may be coming from the direction of a freehand quilter but that is just my reaction.  I suppose when people started machine quilting, a lot of the traditional hand quilters felt much the same way.  And I am well aware that someone can take a so-so quilt top to someone with a computerized quilting machine and for a very reasonable price, get a knock your socks off result.  I certainly understand why they would do that - it makes perfect sense.  And it makes even more sense when you consider that for roughly the same price, you might get a freehand quilter whose skill level is not really all that good so you get a so so quilt top with a so so quilting job. 

But I still find myself glossing over quilts that have been quilted by computer even though I know there is a lot more to it than just turning on the machine.  When I see a custom freehand quilting job that is spectacular, ahhhhhh - that is what rings my bell. 

Beautiful hand quilting just makes me feel inadequate.

Pearly's eyes look great and she feels great but the skin right beneath her eyes, i.e., where the drops drip, smells bad and is starting to act like she has irritated skin beneath the hair.  I've sent photos to the eye doctor and hope they have an idea of how to deal with it, next week.  Through all of this, you wouldn't know she was on so many drops and then, practically overnight, both eyes did this:
Mr. Wonderful treated it with peroxide and did an eye wash so we shall see if that helps over the weekend.

Off to have my nightly glass of wine. 

Happy Quilting, Penny, Evelyn and Pearl

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hot Fun in the Summertime

So, ahem, August is half gone and I've not checked in since May.  Nothing has been keeping me away, unless it is the convenience and mindlessness of posting on Facebook instead of making the effort to create a blog post.  Something sad about that, maybe.  Maybe not.  Maybe spending time on the computer, either way, is a stupid way to spend our limited time on the planet.
Not withstanding the drought that has been so awful for farmers, ranchers and people who survive by working with the earth and sky, it has been a heavenly summer, from my perspective.  To my surprise, the older I get, the less I mind the heat so long as I can come inside from time to time to cool off.  I used to see the baking late July/August heat as something to be endured, avoided, cussed and defeated.  These days, despite the string of particularly hot, dry summers, I find myself outside much more often, marveling at how stupendously our semi-arid acclimated plant life and animal life roll with it.   As I age, the notion of endurance is becoming a much more appealing trait than just being pretty. 
I was reading, recently, about how people managed to survive the awful heat during the dustbowl and it struck me how things have changed.  The practice in sunbelt/snowbelt regions, today, is to create an enclosed, steady temperature, artificial environment so we don't have to adjust to our climate.   In terms of energy use, you can't help but cringe at the gluttony and waste involved but it is so commonplace, most of us don't think in those terms.  I, personally, tend to take it for granted.   The elderly and frail are particularly susceptible to extreme temperatures and thank goodness we have AC for them.  And I am not even going to suggest that we don't need furnaces up north (of course, the wintertime, traditionally, is a period when people retreat indoors, sleep longer, have shorter days, rely on blankets rather than central heat, etc.). But, fact is, for most of human history, we didn't have AC and still managed to adjust, in various climates.  Strong people did, anyway. 
I am beginning to wonder if reliance on AC may be one of the single biggest things that has severed modern man from his previous intimate relationship with the earth and understanding of the rhythms of life (artificial light would be another such contributing invention).   I've read some people - even the nonreligious - claim that man creates his own environment so he is not like other animals.  Candidly, I don't believe that.  I think we are simply taking man away from the natural world, locking him inside buildings away from the natural stimulus and rhythm of life, and that there will be a price paid for that, down the road.

In contrast to modern times, during the scorching thirties, people would often sleep outside on porches, often on the west side of the house so that they could take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures for longer, more restful sleep.   They'd regularly wet down their sheets (and clothes) to cool off.  On the one hand, that strikes me as barbaric.  To be so desperate to be cool that you wet down your sheets seems  nearly unbearable - and pretty gross. 

And yet - on the other hand, it actually seems sort of sensible. 

Why try to create an energy guzzling artificially controlled indoor environment multiplied by millions upon millions of households when you can work with your climate in small ways - like a wet shirt or towel?  It isn't that a wet towel or sheet doesn't work (because it does) that horrifies me.  I think what really is mind bending is that we have become so accustomed to living in controlled environments that we are horrified that perfectly reasonable, environmentally friendly solutions which actually work would be necessary in the first place.  It is telling, to me, that most of us think being hot or cold or uncomfortable is unnatural.  But, actually, it isn't.  It is the opposite of unnatural.  We can rail against it or we can shrug and say, "HEY, it's summer/it's winter."
I'm learning the same thing about my health - sometimes, a cool rag on the forehead is a much better remedy for a headache than popping a pill.  We keep trying to get ahead of, and control, relatively minor discomfort instead of just treating the symptoms or ignoring harmless and minor aches and pains.  And in doing so, I think we are being less and less adaptable and resilient.    It isn't that I am against modern medicine - not by a long shot.  But I am starting to be a bit troubled at the lengths we go to keep from experiencing lowlevel, common effects of life, weather, age, etc.  And at my age, I speak, primarily, for myself.  The new aches and pains seem "wrong" if I decide they are.  But most of the time, they're not.  And there is nothing less conducive to peace of mind than to be of a notion that things are not as they are supposed to be.  Sometimes, the cure is worse than the problem it is supposed to solve.

As an early morning riser who heads straight for the backdoor with my coffee - and straight to bed from sitting on my patio in the evening - I notice there is an enormous difference in rhythm of life when you live outdoors vs. what we typically do, today.  For example, I can set my thermometer to a steady 73 degrees, stay indoors, stay up late reading, squint at the sun from within the house, windows firmly closed, and look forward to the day when the outside temperature drops -  not so much because it will make me more comfortable, but because the electric bill will be lower.   It is as if I am working very hard to shut out the changing seasons of life other than what I see outside my window.  And, frankly, much of the time, the curtains are closed. 
Contrast that to the pre AC days when people often suffered during the day, their misery increasing as the sun rose and positively baking until the sun set.  And they may have been hot but they didn't waste much time worrying about it or thinking it was somehow "wrong."  It's hot in the summer, after all. 

And yet.  I know from staying outdoors in the morning and evening that the moving air from natural breezes is healing.  There is a world of difference, comfort wise, between 72 degrees in the still, indoor air vs. 72 degrees in the living breezes, outside.  

Being outdoors makes us much more aware of creatures that share this earth at a level we would never achieve from television or a book.  Being outside connects us to the earth and nature in a way we simply can't accomplish locked indoors.   And the more I am outdoors, the less it seems uncomfortable, at least in the range of temperature that isn't death defying even when it is far outside the 72 - 73 degrees we've become used to.  I mean, if you have a breeze, it is quite comfortable ten degrees higher.  And if you have a sweater, it is perfectly comfortable fifteen degrees lower.  And yet, in that range, we frequently run our AC full throttle and huddle indoors.
Back in the days of the Great Depression, someone sleeping on the west side porch would surely endure brutally hot summer days, but chances are, as compared to their modern day sisters sleeping under the AC with the windows firmly locked against the oppressive heat, they would actually end up sleeping (for a few hours, anyway) in cooler, often 60 something degree night temperatures with a light breeze and the steady, white noise of the cicadas.  And lack of restful sleep is one of the biggest woes of modern man. 

But let me just say this - I keep on the AC.  I have big fluffy dogs not meant for this climate and a husband who loves the AC.  And just last week, we set an all time high temperature of 113 degrees and it only got down to 82 degrees at night.  That was brutal during the afternoon. 
But if it were just me?  Most of the time, even this time of year, it may not even get to 100 degrees and it frequently dips to the sixties, at night.  As I get older, I can't help but wonder if the millions upon millions of people creating these controlled environments and retreating from the natural world is pure insanity on several levels.  And the really crazy part of it is the mindlessness of it.  I'll find myself still running the AC clear into October when the temperature isn't even getting out of the 80's and it is sometimes in the forties, at night.  It won't run, nonstop, of course, but as long as the AC is on, there is a tendency to stay indoors as if outside is as dangerous as it is in early August, windows shut and and AC making sure we keep at a steady 73 degrees in case it - heaven forbid -  creeps up to 75 at mid day - and even nuttier, we don't open the windows and let in fresh air BECAUSE the AC is on.   
Pearly continues to do well with the auto-immune problem that attacked her eyes.  She is on 5mg of oral prednisone, daily, and 50mg of azathioprine on alternative days.  She also takes several eye drops, twice daily.  She seems to have all her vision back, her eyes are quiet and since we dropped down to the latest prednisone dose, her tail hasn't stopped wagging.  Last month, the eye doctor checked her out and was absolutely delighted.    She goes back to the internist in a couple of weeks and will have more labwork done.  If all goes well, they may reduce her prednisone, further.  I hate prednisone but it is a wonder drug. 

Evelyn has also had some health issues.  About three years ago, her coat started getting brittle and she stopped blowing her coat.  A year or so ago, she developed bald patches on her hips and a nearly bald, dinner plate size spot on her right side. The skin, beneath, turned thick and black. Around Christmas, I took her to the vet and had her thyroid checked but it came back normal. Her skin was not infected, thank goodness. We put her on thyroid medicine, regardless, but after four months saw no improvement so took her off. Then, in June, I took her in for an upset stomach and the substitute vet took one look at her and ordered a Free T-4 test that they sent out to another lab. That does a more thorough job of checking her thyroid function. Sure enough, she had very low thyroid function so they put her on a dosage more than twice what we'd tried, before. In about three weeks, I started seeing dramatic changes in her coat and energy level. She started blowing her coat and the bald spots looked even more bare.

The following photo were taken that shows the dark pigmented spot on her side.  The hips were worse:
Here, you can see the pigmentation getting lighter but she still has sort of nasty, matted hair that just wouldn't let loose.  I couldn't wash it out or brush it out without hurting her - it clung to her like glue:
A week or so, later, I could see the pigmentation lightening up, her hair started blowing out all over her body and she began getting baby guard hairs.  I could finally brush the coat and tease out some of the mats: 
After 8 weeks, I can see baby undercoat coming in and the spots seem to be filling in. These photos were taken a couple of days ago:

The skin has gone from tough, black and thick to pink spotted and thinnish.  The new guard hairs are getting more mature and the undercoat is filling in.  She is blowing out her coat in areas she hasn't, in years, so we are very pleased.  Mr. Wonderful got two full handfuls of hair off her JAWS, earlier this week.   She goes back for a recheck in another month. 

Grandson Charlie and his family braved the record breaking summer heat and visited last weekend:
Okay, is he not a living doll?  He is starting to talk and at one point wanted me to look at something so he shouted with exasperation, "GRANDMA!!"  I thought to myself, "That sounds just like he said Grandma!."  My husband was standing there and, without prompting said, "Well, that was certainly clear."  Since I am a long distance grandma, I think it was all the more thrilling.  My son is such a love - he often facetimes during the week just so I can watch my grandson grow. 

I've been working on a number of quilting projects - some I can show and some are "secret." 
Here are a few I can share:

Here are a couple of wallhangings I'm pretty pleased with:
I wanted to focus on the summer sun in the one, above.

I then made a sister wallhanging for autumn, using the same general design but the tree is bigger because I wanted to focus on that and the fall color.  Here is a photo before I bound it:

My next design in that series - although I haven't started it, yet - is going to be a leafless tree, bent in the winter wind, perhaps at night with stars.  I haven't sketched out my ideas, yet.  Now that I've figured out machine applique and fusing (always felt that was cheating, before), it has opened up a whole new world in art quilting.

I'm planning on doing a few more baby quilts in the next few months.  I'm also just about decided to take in longarm quilting, professionally. 

Stay cool.

Happy Quilting, Penny, Evelyn and Pearly