Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Buoyed by my successful completion of a quilt last week, I bought some more batting and set about finishing the shark quilt top I had made for Harper over a year ago.

As I was pin basting it, I stabbed my thumb with one of the safety pins, not realizing that I had drawn blood until I saw a spot of red on one of the white strips of the quilt. Naturally, I said something unrepeatable and Harper wanted to know what had happened. I showed her my thumb and pointed to the blood spot on the quilt, and in typical Harper fashion, she raised her arms as if in victory and said, "You got BLOOD? On my SHARK QUILT? That is SO AWESOME!"

So I've decided to let the blood smear that I got on it when I let the sewing machine needle gouge another finger while I was quilting it be a surprise. 'Cause you know me. I'm a giver.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Red light! Green light!

Merry Two Days After Christmas!

As I mentioned on Facebook, a few weeks ago, just a couple days after I broke my toe, I woke up with a shoulder muscle completely seized up. It was clenched so tight, I couldn't lower it to a normal position and it hurt like a motherfucker so I had to keep my left arm curled up against my chest to keep the weight of it from pulling on the injured muscle. Thus, for several days, I was a limping hunchback, gallumping around the house muttering, "Yes, master...."

I lived with it for almost two weeks and then finally broke down and went to see my doctor about it. She put me on steroids and muscle relaxers and said if I wasn't seeing improvement in 3 or 4 days then we would talk about physical therapy or chiropractic.

I'm sure many of you have been or are currently under the care of a chiropractor and think they are wonderful, and I am honestly glad that you have found relief in their care, but I have yet to meet one that did me any good. On the advice of real, seemingly competent medical professionals, I have sought the help of chiropractors three times and all three times I ended up no better than when I started and in one case probably worse.

My favorite of the three was Dr. Wagner, a youngish, Jon Denver-y looking man, who was very earnest and enthusiastic about all the money he was about to get out of me, and he tried hard to be the kind of practitioner who would educate his patients as well as treat them. Except he didn't take into account that one of those patients might be an over-educated skeptic who requires peer-reviewed articles from major medical journals and years-long, double-blind studies before she might be convinced of anything.

So on my second visit—the one where he showed me the results of my x-rays—he wanted to explain all about "subluxation" and had a small model of a spinal column as a visual aid. The model had not only the vertebrae but also the spinal cord within it and nerves branching out from that. The nerves ended in tiny LEDs. So as he spoke about "displacement" and "dysfunctional segments," he surreptitiously pressed a button to make all the little LEDs flash red, indicating, I assumed, pain and general Bad Feelings. Then, as he extolled the wonders of cracking my neck repeatedly, he secretly pushed another button, which made all the little lights glow green. Green for Go! Green for Yay, Spine! He then sat back, looking rather satisfied with himself, and awaited my response to his elegant proof. Which was essentially, "You're shitting me, right?"

Despite this, I let him crack my neck and other parts of my spine many times over the next several months, and while I kind of liked how my back felt immediately afterwards, it did nothing to improve my chronic back pain or my migraines and I eventually stopped going, indicating to him, I suppose, that the Red Lights of Evil had won. Several years later I went to another quack - I mean chiropractor (I know they prefer Doctor of Chiropractic, but they can bite me) - when I was pregnant with Devon. My hip joints were so loose that they would often collapse as I walked, which was extremely painful. It was bad enough that I left my job a few months before I intended to, because the office was up a long flight of steps and we had no parking nearby. I even bought a cane. The doctors I consulted all insisted that a chiropractor was my only option, so I went and this one was a lovely young woman who happened to be pregnant and was due around the same time as me. She proceeded to take some medeval looking device and hammer my hip with it, then some electrical doohickey, and by the time she was done, I was in a hell of a lot more pain than when I started. And I went back! More than once. Not because I believed she could do anything for me, but because I wanted to at least be able to say that I had tried it when I decided to make someone listen to my complaints about how goddamn much my hips hurt.

So, suffice to say I wasn't keen on pursuing that option. I have become even more blunt from years of self-employment and the consequent lack of socializing, and I'd probably get myself kicked out. AREA WOMAN ARRESTED IN CHIROPRACTIC MELEE. "She kept screaming something about green and red lights," said terrified onlookers.

So, after 3 or 4 days, it wasn't much better, but I decided to wait until after Christmas to do anything about it. The things that hurt most were working at the computer, driving, and pushing a shopping cart. Naturally, I spend most of my time typing and driving, with occasional pauses to pick up stuff at the grocery store. Thus, my lack of posting and the sorry state of the snack shelf in our pantry.

Then - a Christmas miracle! Saturday morning was the first time I awoke without having to immediately take a megadose of Advil and apply alternate rounds of heat and cold. As suddenly as it had come, it went away. There's still a bit of stiffness, and a twinge now and then, but otherwise it's all better. Chiropractors across the Maryland capital area can all breathe easier now.

Strangely, the one thing that didn't hurt was quilting. Which I suppose I should take as some sign that I should just be sewing instead of writing, but no one's gonna pay me to make crappy quilts (at least no one's offered to - yet). I finished the table runner and got that mailed off, so I got the crazy idea that I might try to complete one of the quilt tops stacked up in my closet. Back in 2009, I made this for my youngest child:

Sometime after I finished it, I added a dark purple border and made my first attempt at free motion quilting an entire quilt. I bought the gloves and the silicone thingy and made a good effort, but only got about a quarter of the way done before I gave up.

What I was missing was a table to the left of my sewing table to hold up the weight of the quilt. I got my husband to help with a wee bit of furniture rearranging last week, and I dragged out the quarter-done quilt and gave it a go.

It took me several days to complete the work I had done on it back in 2009. I finished the rest of it in one afternoon.

I used a lavender thread and stippled the living crap out of it. Found a slightly different purple fabric for the binding, and by Christmas Eve, my youngest daughter had a new quilt, one that her mother made entirely herself, without having to resort to paying someone else to quilt it. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that I was able to do that, when so many other tasks were incredibly painful, but I'm sure someone could make a model with red and green lights to help explain it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Monogram Project

One evening last week, the new neighbors' kids were over at our house and the eldest, a girl who is turning 9 soon, eventually decided to hang out with me rather than the other kids. At some point, the answer to one of her many, many questions contained the words "sewing room" and she wanted to know what kinds of things I sew. So I showed her a couple quilts, and she was duly impressed. That's why I love making quilts for kids - they think its so awesome that you can do something like that and haven't quite yet developed the "so you didn't have enough money to buy one at the store" mentality that older kids and many grown-ups have. I also showed her a purse I had made and that's when her face really lit up. "Wow! I could sure use something like that,"she said. "I have a wallet but I don't have a purse and my mom always has to carry it in hers." Knowing that her birthday was coming up in just over a week, I asked what her favorite colors were, and she said blue, green, and orange. And was very emphatic about the orange.

I scoured the internet and tapped into the Facebook hive mind, and finally ended up buying this pattern. I used fusible fleece instead of interfacing and used solid fabric instead of jelly roll strips. I actually had an orange fabric with green and blue stripes in my stash and paired it with an old Erin McMorris fabric I bought a couple years ago.

But now that I've made it, I'm wondering if she's allowed to have a purse. She's always telling me what her mom won't allow her to do, and of course they are all things I totally let my kids do. I will leave it to your imagination as to what those things actually are.

So, I might get in trouble, but I've decided I don't care. That seems to be my general attitude these days. I might get in trouble, but I don't care.

I've been thinking about the new year coming up, and I will be glad when this one is over. There have been some good things about it, certainly, but 2010 will forever be the year my brother got brain cancer. And, as I say, good things have come even from that, but even so, I am anxious to leave 2010 behind me.

I started thinking about all the quilting projects I would like to do in the next year, and many of those will be given away. I've also been thinking about wall hangings and about pushing my nascent applique skills further in 2011. I've been focussing on hand applique but I also want to learn to do it by machine, and while I was thinking about this, I just decided - out of nowhere, really - to take a couple of the fabrics from my Christmas quilt and make a big M. Like a monogram. Then it occurred to me that this would be a neat ongoing project throughout the year, or maybe even longer.

So I have decided that for every project I complete, I will take some of the leftover fabric and create an M applique, each with a different font. I may quilt and bind each piece separately, or I may even frame them. Or perhaps they will end up in one quilted piece to be hung on the wall. Whatever the final product, I think it will be a neat way to commemorate all my projects and keep a piece of them with me.

Now I just have to figure out what the hell I'm doing.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Or should I say, "TOE-rture"? No, probably not.

Um, have you noticed that Christmas is looming? Every year I have panic attacks starting December 1, because every year I find myself in a situation where there will be no Christmas unless certain parties who owe me money cough it up in a timely fashion. This situation was aggravated four years ago, when my chosen method of birth control failed around tax time and our second daughter was born 6 days before Christmas. Even though we had David neutered a couple years ago, I still won't let him near me in April. Or May, just to be safe.

So, once again, I am biting my nails and hoping for the best.

In between working on the next articles, I have been staring at the dresden plate table runner and wondering how the hell to quilt it. I have done nothing beyond stippling yet, and I really wanted something different, so I went back to my Virtual Quilting Mentor, Leah Day, and let her words of wisdom convince me to try a paisley design in the area surrounding the dresden plates.

Here is what I did, on a practice panel:

Not great. But not so bad that I'd have to wad it up and use it to scrub toilets. So I was all ready to start in on the real thing when WHAM. I smashed my right foot against the leg of a chaise in our (to quote Git Down Kitty) "fo-yay."

This was not an unusual occurrence. I smash my toes on furniture legs all the time, and so when I hobbled into the kitchen and announced what I had just done, pretty much everyone just rolled their eyes and went, "Again?" But I knew something was different about this time because usually I'm in blinding pain for about a minute and I say lots of bad words and then it goes away. This time it was oddly numb, but I still felt panicky and I wanted to say lots of bad words, but I didn't need to. Harper helpfully reminded me, after noting my unprecedented restraint, that I could say the word Ramona came up with in "Ramona and Beezus": guts. So I sat in the kitchen with ice on my foot shouting, "GUTS, GUTS, GUTS!"

Then the pain set in. And the swelling. And the colors! Such pretty colors. 

I suppose I could have gone to a clinic or the emergency room, but since the toe wasn't pointing in an unnatural direction and the pain wasn't more than I could bear (as long as I didn't actually, you know, move it or walk on it), I elected to just buddy tape it and stay off of it for a day or two. This of course meant that I got to read all day yesterday, and that meant I plowed through the last book in the Outlander series in record time. And of course she leaves you with the most tantalizing cliff-hangers in this one, when I have to wait for her to FINISH WRITING BOOK EIGHT. I suppose I should be glad I have something to look forward to, but WHAT IS JAMIE GOING TO DO TO LORD JOHN? Or Claire, for that matter? And God only knows what will happen to Roger. He'll probably end up blinded and castrated. 

Or forced to wait years for book eight, because that, my friends, is torture.

Monday, November 29, 2010

You can dress her up, but you can't take her out

Ah, home.

Last Sunday, we piled the kids in the car and drove south to my ancestral state of Tennessee where we stayed at my parents' home for just under a week. Nearly every time we have done this in the past, someone has been ill, either succumbing just prior to departure or shortly thereafter. Last year, David was recovering from pneumonia and Devon had an ear infection. Devon was also sick the year before that, as was David. In fact, it's almost always a small child or David or both, but never me. This time, miraculously, no one had even a sniffle and Devon, bless her heart, was sunny, sweet, and pleasant almost the entire time.

But it was still incredibly stressful, as family visits always are.

Arrangements had been made for us to drive on Thursday to Franklin, where my brother lives, to meet up at his house for a couple hours with my sister and her family and then go to a restaurant that they recommended for Thanksgiving dinner. Sparta, where my parents live, is about 2 hours away from Franklin, and there is nothing in between the two. NOTHING. Miles and miles and miles of NOTHING. And while getting there was long and boring, coming back was worse because you know what's out your window when you drive through nothing at night? INFINITE, IMPENETRABLE BLACKNESS. Driving down windy, two-lane highways in a thick, dense shroud of negative nothing is not exactly boring. IT'S TERRIFYING. I was absolutely sure that either a huge, 20-point deer was going to leap out of the void and impale us all or some crazy redneck, blurry-eyed from a case of Bud Light and too much family togetherness, would cross the median and we'd all be obliterated in a greasy smear on the pavement in the middle of NOWHERE. As it was, we nearly hit a dog and an albino skunk. Seriously. It probably plays banjo and owns a still.

As I have done all my life, and will probably continue to do even after I am dead, I overdressed myself and my family for the occasion. For me, that is still not saying much, since I don't own any decent clothes, but I did wear real shoes with heels (stacked heels, but still) and the girls had on dresses. David was going to wear a tie, but I actually managed to think clearly just long enough to tell him to just bring it and put it on if he felt he needed it. Naturally, everyone else was in jeans and t-shirts. I do this all the time. I always assume that if I go casual, no one else will, and I'll look like the idiot who has no respect for others and can't dress properly. But instead, I always look like the idiot who dresses like a grandma: pearls and pumps just to buy a can of tuna.

Dinner itself was pretty sad, at least for me. I have a...ahem...condition, resulting from having my gall bladder removed about 10 years ago. Most people live without a gall bladder just fine, but others - five percent, maybe - can't tolerate the bile just being dumped into their intestines constantly. I won't go into all the details, but I will say that it is rather painful. How painful? People wonder why I was willing to give birth twice without pain medication, and it is because, even though labor lasts longer and is certainly more exhausting, it doesn't actually hurt as much as the cramps this condition produces.

Naturally, it happened on the way to Franklin, and though it eased up a bit throughout the visit and dinner, I knew it wasn't over (and hoo, boy it wasn't - at certain points on the ride home I was hoping that deer would show up and put me out of my misery). So I wasn't too willing to stuff my face at dinner. Not that I would have anyway, probably, since it was all buffet style and I have a deep-seated dislike of buffets. Besides the fact that you just have no clue what some of the dishes actually are (Oh, that's undercooked possum with jellied phlegm and mule hoof gravy! Specialty of the house!) there's also the bacteria-loving semi-warm temperature and the blatant lack of even a sneeze guard (at least there wasn't one at this joint, and I don't believe they help anyway). You just know people are picking up every roll and individual pecan pie and setting it back down, even though they pulled something long and green out of their nose only moments before. Gaaack.

But even if it had been made by my own hands and served on bone china, I couldn't have eaten it. The trip back was bad enough, and if I had stuffed myself on top of it, we would have had to pull over somewhere in the pitch black and I would have taken my chances in the dark with the albino vermin.

I did not sew a stitch while I was there, mainly because it was time to upgrade my phone and I got a good deal on a refurbished Droid X, so I spent a lot of time just playing with that. I do love a new gadget. When I wasn't doing that, I was reading. I'm on the fifth book of the Outlander series, and oh, poor Roger! I honestly don't know what I'm going to do when I am through with the last book. Probably start all over and read them again. Or die. That seems not unlikely, considering the depth of my addiction and the potential withdrawal symptoms an end to the series will no doubt cause.

So I have nothing stitchy to show you, but I will show you a few photos I managed to take while we were there. Sadly, there were no albinos willing to pause long enough to be photographed.

My parents' house.

The view from the back.

Happy to be out of the car.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hint: it involves haggis

Sigh. This morning I got one of those "Are you alive?" emails from a concerned reader who feared I might have keeled over in the last couple of weeks and was up in my sewing room slowly decomposing. But, no. I am alive and well and just...distracted? We are heading to Tennessee for Thanksgiving on Sunday so I have that to prepare for. I was dealing with a minor dispute with a corporate conglom-co legal department who thinks its okay to screw writers up the ass. I'm still trying to get my BP meds settled and I am either feeling like death from the side effects of one drug or I'm headachy and unfocussed from not taking any.

And I've been reading.

There. I said it.

Okay, well. There's more to it than that. See, I am what you might call an enthusiastic reader. I used to read several books a week, but that number was greatly reduced when the kids came along, and for a while there, I was lucky to get in one every couple of months. Now that the girls are bigger and more independent, and I have may own sanctuary, and I have my handy dandy Kindle which allows me to carry around several books at once, I've been making up for lost time. The one BP medication I've taken so far that doesn't make me incredibly tired gives me insomnia, so I am up til 1 or 2 or later every night reading.

And because I have been reading so much, or perhaps due to the brain damage that affects the parents of difficult toddlers, I have been reading a lot of things that I normally wouldn't look twice at, and enjoying them thoroughly. I don't think I am a literature snob, but my personal taste tends to run toward the clever and quirky, satirical novels and comic novels and non-fiction about such things as how prostitutes and drug dealers created modern democracy. But then I found some mysteries I actually liked, ones that came in a series. Mysteries! I hate mysteries, usually, especially the ones with titles like  "Death On A Stick: A Sicky McSickerson Mystery." But then I started reading Charlaine Harris, and I plowed through the Southern Vampire series (on which True Blood is based) and then the Shakespeare series and then the Harper Connelly series (of which there are only four, dammit).

After those were all gone, I tried to find others, but with no luck. I went back to downloading endless samples of books, trying to find anything that would keep me company in the wee hours.

And then I found it.

I'm not even going to admit out loud what it is, just that the first book in the series was free, so I figured what the hell. Then I started reading, and now I pretty much don't give a shit about anything else. These are not mysteries but rather...hmmm...historical fiction? Well, frankly, I think a reasonable person would classify them as Utterly Absurd. An educated person with a modicum of taste would just clout me on the noggin with one of them. But, oh God they are so good. There's fighting and romance and torture and adventure and anguish and swooning. And all I want to do is find out what happens next and lose myself in the ridiculous plot. Fuck Twilight. Edward's got nothin' on this guy. (Update: read the comments to find out what it is!)

So when I sit in front of the computer and try to write something semi-amusing about quilting, I'm really thinking about the next chapter and wondering what unbelievable imbroglio the characters are going to get into next. It's very distracting.

But I swore I would manage a post today and that I wouldn't stop writing to go indulge my literary sweet tooth until I had written something - anything - about stitchy things. And so because I care about you all so very, very much, I am absolutely not moving from this spot until I tell you all about my exciting new project which invol

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

But I aspire to be an above average moron.

Ah, the vicissitudes of the freelance writing life. Getting paid is often the hardest part, after the carpal tunnel from excessive typing and the vitamin D deficiency from never leaving the house. And for me, there's also the part where I get to tell people what I do for a "living," and they're impressed until I tell them I write about quilting. And it gets even better when I tell them I write humor about quilting. They cannot back away fast enough. 

So when the new neighbors across the street moved in this past weekend, I was hoping to put off the "humor writing is TOO a legitimate career" talk as long as possible, but my fool husband is too proud of me to let that happen. As we were chatting with the mom of the family, she asked if I happened to have a needle and thread she could borrow to repair a Halloween costume, and as I went to retrieve it, not mentioning that I have thread and needles coming out my ass, I heard my husband say, "So did Megan tell you all about her quilting?" By the time I returned, she had been primed by his blabbing to ask me the usual polite questions, but she didn't have that same "oh, so you make a little money but you don't do anything important" attitude that most people around here seem to have. Maybe it's because they're from Florida. And later, as we were going trick-or-treating with our kids, we actually had a real conversation about it, and when I told her that my first article for QH was called the Zen of Crappy Quilting, she laughed out loud and said, "Now that sounds like my kind of quilting!"

AND - they have a son my daughter's age and a little girl my younger daughter's age, plus a bonus nine-year-old daughter. That almost makes up for not being paid and not being able to feel my fingertips.

Over the past week, I managed to finish the top for the table runner. I suppose I should know this by now, but I really should beware of patterns that I get free off the internet. They are not always written with the average moron in mind, though they are often written by an average moron. If I were a more experienced sewist (and I love that new word I keep seeing: sewist;  it sounds so prissy)  I would have remembered that applique can cause some shrinkage of the background fabric. As it was, I did not remember that, and as a result, my sashing was all way too big. In most instances, I was able to make it work, but one panel was just too small, so it had to be left out, making this a four-panel table runner instead of a five-panel. 

Now I am attempting to quilt it, which basically means I am teetering on the edge of ruining it completely. I'm starting by stitching in the ditch around all the squares, and it already looks like someone kept bumping into me while I was sewing. I'm not sure what else I can do beyond that which won't look messy and stupid. I truly hope that someday I can approach the quilting of even a small project like this without so much nail biting.


Harper just wanted to use the computer, so I took the opportunity to finish the last few in-the-ditch lines I had to do. I managed to fuck up all four lines in exactly the same way, without ever noticing what was happening. 

This is why I have to write humor instead of "important" stuff. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Bitchy Baker: A Pie Crust Tutorial

Yesterday on Facebook I posted a picture of some individual apple pies I had made with the statement, "Fun fact: I make a killer pie crust." Several people asked for a recipe (read: told me to put my money where my mouth is), and because I live to serve, I have created, for your edification, a Pie Crust Tutorial.

First, a word about pie crusts. Nearly everyone I know relies upon the store-bought, pre-made versions, and these are, in my opinion, a waste of money. And they taste horrible. At least they did when they first came on the market, back when I was a teenager - those Pillsbury ones you can get next to the canned biscuits and cookie dough. My mother had always made her own pie crust and the first time she used one of those, I could immediately tell the difference. It tasted like chemicals. They may have improved since then, but I have precious little in my life to be sanctimonious about, so there will be no pre-made, factory-processed pie crusts in this house.

The reason, it seems, that people don't make their own is that it tends to turn out like cardboard. But with a little understanding of how the ingredients work, you can avoid this quite easily. There are two main mistakes that people make that result in cardboard pie crust: overworking the dough, and using ingredients that are too warm.

Pie crust is essentially flour, butter, salt, and water. Some people add a bit of sugar, but I don't. Flour, as we know, contains gluten, which is a type of protein. When flour is mixed with a liquid to form a dough, and that dough is stirred or kneaded, those proteins form long chains, which are what gives the dough structure and allows it to hold together. You want to develop these chains when you make bread, so you get a nice chewy crust and the loaf doesn't fall in the oven. But with pie crust, not so much. Pie crust needs to be more tender than strong, so you have to be cautious about how you mix it.

Unlike with cookies, cakes, and other baked goods that involve butter, you do not want to soften the butter or bring it to room temperature before adding it to the flour. In fact, you want it as cold as you can get it and still be able to cut through it. This is because you want to end up with discrete bits of butter distributed throughout the dough. These bits will expand when they bake, making the crust flaky. To help keep the butter from melting, the water you use should be ice cold as well. In fact, if it's a hot day, I'll chill all the ingredients and the workbowl before I start.

Killer Pie Crust (makes enough for a double crust pie or two single crust pies. Recipe can be exactly halved to make one single crust):


2 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour. Make sure it is all-purpose and not bread flour. Or pastry flour is good too. Just not bread flour.

2 sticks of unsalted butter...

...cut into pat-sized pieces:

1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt, depending on how salty you like it. I tend to eyeball it:


 You won't use nearly this much water, but I like to use an easy-pour container and lots of ice to get it nice and chilly.

Now, for the way I do this, you will need a food processor. This makes the whole process easier and faster, but it can be done manually and I'll include instructions in parentheses for that.

1. Place your flour, salt, and butter in the work bowl of the food processor:

 2. Secure the lid and PULSE (do not just let it run - use the pulse and do very quick, short pulses) until the butter has broken up into bits the size of small peas. A few may be larger, a few smaller, but for the most part, you want to still be able to see the bits of butter. This was about 13 pulses, but your processor may take more or less, so stop and check every few pulses:

(To do this by hand, use a pastry cutter or two knives to chop up the butter until you have the right size pieces. If it takes too long, or you need to stop for a fortifying cocktail, put the bowl in the fridge or freezer while you rejuvenate.)

3. Using the feed tube of the processor, pour in about a tablespoon of ice water. Pulse once or twice.

Now comes the tricky part. The amount of water you use will vary, depending on various factors, so it can end up being anywhere from a few tablespoons to a half cup or more. You have to test it. Here's how:

4. After adding the water and pulsing, open the lid and grab a small handful of the mixture and squeeze it in your hand. Does it come together into a little doughy ball, or does it crumble? If it crumbles, you need to replace the lid, add some more water, pulse a couple more times, and re-test it. As soon as you can get it to hold together in your hand, STOP! You are done!

(By hand, get a nice big fork and put your ice water into a clean spray bottle. Spray the ice water over the flour/butter mixture several times and then quickly and lightly mix, like you were fluffing a bowl of rice. Don't stir like you're trying to mix cake batter. Fluff. Fold. Imagine sprightly fairies dancing upon the dew-sparkled daisies or something. Now do the squeeze test, and repeat until you get the dough to hold together as above. At this point, the directions are the same, so no more parenthetical hand-holding for you!)

5. To keep from overworking the dough at this point, take two longish pieces of plastic wrap and lay them across each  other perpendicularly, like so:

Dump the contents of the work bowl onto the middle of the wrap. Don't freak because it still looks crumbly. If you start to freak, go see your buddy who's doing it by hand. She made cocktails.

Using the sides of the pastic wrap, bring the dough together into a rough disc shape and press together to form your dough. You can use your bare hands, but using the wrap kind of like a barrier just keeps you cleaner. You are not kneading it, just pressing the moist bits together. Seriously. Don't go all apeshit now, when you're almost done:

 6. Once it's fairly even, cover it all with the wrap and refrigerate for at least 1/2 an hour before rolling. If you refrigerate it longer, you may have to let it warm up jut a bit before you can roll it out. But keep an eye on it and start rolling as soon as you can, so that it doesn't warm up too much. Also, watch out for dough bandits:

My mom always rolled hers out between two pieces of waxed paper, but that never worked well for me. I use a big pastry board and a flour shaker that gives me a good, but light, coating of flour, and as long as I work pretty fast, I never have trouble with sticking, but that may be from 20-plus years of practice.

It may take a few tries to get right, because you kind of have to learn to recognize the look and feel you are going for. But if you keep in mind that you are trying to avoid overworking it, and you keep your butter and water nice and cold, you'll be well on your way.

If you make it through the process successfully and sober enough to take a picture, send me a photo of what you make and I'll post it on Facebook. We'll make a Pie Crust Hall of Fame. It'll be just like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but with less Bono.

Monday, October 25, 2010

9 out of 10 zombies prefer mismatched bedding

So, I have three out of five Dresden plates finished for the table runner:

I consider this a huge victory in my quest to Never, Ever, EVER Take a Class, because even though I have had technical problems, I still think they are turning out damn fine. Originally, the center circle was to be the same as the background fabric, but I discovered that the other materials showed through too much, and it looked sloppy. So I ripped that out and tried to put a little circle of batting under it, but that didn't go well either, and ultimately I went for the dark circle and I think I like it.

I have been using Roxanne's Glue Baste-It to hold the pieces on so they won't shift around while I am sewing, and this was the product recommended by my sister and by this Goddess of Applique, and I like it, except that it splooges out of the needle applicator whether I want it to or not. Lots of people on Facebook said that they have trouble with the needle clogging, but I haven't had that trouble at all. I make sure to pull that squeeze bottle open to suck the glue back down inside, and then quickly cap it before I let go, and so far that has kept my needle from clogging.

I tend to look at my own work with such a critical eye, it's hard to step back and really see what I've done. I was working on one of these yesterday when our next door neighbor's little boy came over to look at the pumpkins on our front stoop. She quickly followed because she's always worried that he's bothering us (which he never is) and I ran out to tell her that he could come look at our Halloween decorations anytime he wanted. I still had the project in my hand, and she spotted it. Her eyes got all big and she went. "OH MY GOD THAT IS AMAZING." Now, of course, she doesn't sew or do anything creative or crafty—not even cooking—and so it will look better to her than to, say, one of you. But isn't that why I started quilting in the first place? To make stuff for people who don't know any better and will be impressed no matter what lousy shit I give them?

I have been enjoying my new bed, but it is rather firm. Not like sleeping on the pavement firm, but like doctor's waiting room chair firm. If you push down hard enough, you can make a depression, but a supine individual, even one my size, doesn't create enough weight at any one point to make a dent. I even have a foam pillowtop AND a featherbed on top of the foundation cushions/mattress, and I still feel like I'm on a slightly cushy board. I have been sleeping much better and I wake up very alert, so it must have advantages, but I haven't been able to get the pillows just right, so I bought a new pillow this weekend and decided that it needed a custom pillowcase, one that matches NOTHING. Nothing in the room, nothing on the bed. Nothing.

I've had that Riley Blake fabric for a while and finally decided to rip into it. It might have looked better if I had used the fabric with the white background as the main fabric, but I like it this way, too. Now I have to make an orange quilt to go with it. because it looks kinda stupid with the blue quilt my sister made. Not that anyone's looking at my bed and thinking, "She put THAT quilt with THAT pillowcase? Was she high? Or was she forced to do it at knifepoint?" Only I'm thinking that.

Oh, and Princess Devon is thinking that, too. She's very particular about bedding. The Horrifying Zombie, however, doesn't give a fuck.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Another annoying, non-quilty post

I have not been quilting or sewing at all in the past week or so because I am on deadline and have two articles for QH to complete. But I can't sit at the computer all day (well, I can, and I often do, but I really shouldn't), so I try to distract myself and move around a bit by  cleaning something. Our laundry room and a storage area in the basement tend to get piled up with junk that needs to be sorted and thrown out or donated, so I headed there yesterday. In rifling through several boxes, I discovered all my letters from my college boyfriend. I didn't think I had kept them, assumed I had tossed them out at some point, but there they all were, tied together with a red ribbon that had once adorned a small bouquet of flowers he had given me.

Naturally, I sat down and read them all, and cried so much that I was unable and unwilling to watch any of the Chilean mine rescue later that day. Emotions were too close to the surface, and each miner that arose from the depths would have sent me into more convulsive tears. I do go on sometimes.

Reading them and remembering him made me sorry that we lost touch so long ago, though I know we really needed to in order to completely let go of each other. It would be nice to know how he's doing, where he's working, if he has kids now. It made me wonder what would happen if I were to discover him on Facebook one day, an utter impossibility since he - and I am still certain of this aspect of his personality even 20 years later - would never spend a moment of time on a computer that wasn't required of his work or in some other way vital to his physical survival.

And, I'm glad of that, because were he to somehow appear there, I would be helpless against my own compulsion to do the Facebook Apology/Confessional thing. I'm sure there's a common name for it. Where you discover someone from long ago on FB and you have some unresolved thing in your past with them and you can't be content to just friend them and read the occasional status update. No, you have to do the private message, "Hey, remember when I totally dicked you around that one time? Boy was I a bitch, or what? So sorry! Forgivsies?" I have been on both ends of this, so I understand the compulsion to do it, and I also understand how uncomfortable it can make the person on the other end. It's truly just as well that he's a techno-phobe.

Naturally, a walk down College Boyfriend Memory Lane led to walks along High School Boyfriend Boulevard and the Incidental Boyfriend Pathway. My romantic history can be divided into three main relationships and about five minor ones. The main ones are predictable:

1. The High School Boyfriend. He was an aspiring poet, and used to bind all his poetry in his dad's print shop and leave it in the school library for anyone who was so inclined to read. He was tall and really skinny and had terrible acne and ended up on Accutane to control it. He took me to prom, and then he attended the Pennsylvania Governor's School of the Arts that following summer. He wasn't much interested in me after he returned - it was apparently one of those "you just can't understand me anymore; I'VE CHANGED - CAN'T YOU SEE I'VE CHANGED" kind of experiences. Naturally, I was bereft.

2. The College Boyfriend. Sweet, unassuming boy meets tries-to-look-and-act-intimidating-but-is-really-insecure girl and they fall in love. They are totally wrong for each other and break up a lot, but they both mean well. Remind me to someday tell you the story of our Camping Trip From Hell. It's very funny and involves cops.

3. The "Adult" Boyfriend. I say "adult" in quotation marks, because I was still little more than a kid when I started dating him. I broke up with him once because he was such an annoying, self-involved little turd. Then, several months later, after I had returned to and broken up with the College Boyfriend one last time, he confessed his love for me and his sincere desire to no longer be an annoying, self-involved little turd. And he meant it. Three years later, I married him.

Then there were the Incidentals, who were, sadly, just kind of little stops in between the Big Three. Some of them I wish I had stayed with longer. One of them I always felt should have been The College Boyfriend, but he had a girlfriend Back Home, to whom he was devoted, and despite the depths of his affections for me, he was unswervingly loyal to her. We tried hard to be friends for many years, but it turns out to be incredibly difficult to be friends with someone you are in love with and whom you cannot have. Ever. Stupid loyalty.

Oh! And then there was the in-between-breaking-up-with-College-Boyfriend-and-starting-to-date-the-Adult-Boyfriend-boyfriend. Except I didn't want him to be my boyfriend. I wanted him to get in my bed and shut up. And one day, as we were walking back from a party (that was at my future Adult Boyfriend's house!), he decided we needed to have A Talk, and he told me he didn't want to be my boyfriend (because, apparently, our walk indicated to him that I was Looking for a Relationship, when in reality it indicated that I Wanted to Get Laid) and I responded that, dude, I don't want you to be my boyfriend, and then he got all upset because I didn't want him to be my boyfriend, and I finally just threw up my hands and went home alone. Never saw him again.

He's on Facebook. He and David went to graduate school together. I have not friended him. (And remind me to tell you the story of how my future husband crashed my first date with him. It is very funny, and involves beer.)

So, yeah. that's what happens when you are 41 and you stumble across a ribbon-festooned packet of old love letters. Lots of silly navel-gazing. But I think it's fun to go back over all those old loves and lovers, just because I'm so happy about where I ended up, and even though I have regrets about certain events, I kind of have to believe that everything went the way it was supposed to because it led me here. I'm glad I have a romantic history, however limited, to sit back and remember. And I'm glad that remembering doesn't make me wistful or wish that I was back there with one of them instead of here, now.

In fact, it just makes me look forward to seeing David when he comes home tonight.






Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Brief History of Quilting

My article from the April/May issue of Quilter's Home, "A Brief History of Quilting," is now available for viewing or downloading here. This is one of my favorite pieces, so if you haven't been reading QH, check it out and see what you're missing!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Nocturnal admissions

This morning I should have been driving across the Chesapeake Bay bridge to see Kelley at Sunporch Quilts about quilting George. I met up with Kelley at the Annapolis Quilt Guild show back in June and I got to see some of her work on display there (one quilt ribboned, I believe). But instead I am sitting around and waiting for the Ikea delivery truck to show up with my new sofa bed, which will be installed in my sewing room. Because, you see, I need a place to sleep. Alone. That's right, alone. I realize I am about to tread into some very dangerous waters here, but I might as well get it over with.

I do not sleep with my husband.

I can already hear a certain number of people gasping in horror, and another percentage of those are already clutching their pearls and priming their index fingers to start typing a very sanctimonious comment about how they have not slept apart from their beloveds a single night in their entire marriage (except for that time he got busted for pot in Japan) and how happy they have been to not have a decent night's sleep in thirty years because what's a little rest compared to the contentment engendered by spending the night with your face lodged in someone's hairy armpit? Granted, that's hard to argue with; nevertheless I learned after many years of terrible sleep and increasing crankiness that sleeping apart was better for our marriage than sleeping together.

I never liked sharing a bed with another person; I don't even like sleeping in the same room with someone else. I am so particular about how I sleep, that someone else's movements and noises just drive me batshit insane. David went through a period of time in the year before I got pregnant with Harper where he would kick his leg in this convulsive way every 2 minutes or so throughout the night. It was so startling each time, and so disruptive, that eventually I ended up on sleeping medication in order to get through it. The leg kicking thing went away as mysteriously as it had appeared, but since then his snoring has gotten worse as well as his very animated nighttime conversations. He's such a taciturn man in the daytime - I guess he gets it all out of his system while he's sleeping.

For a while we solved the problem by taking turns sleeping on the couch, but then Harper graduated to a big bed and was constitutionally incapable of sleeping on her own. And here is another of those issues that gets people all ready to hop up on their high horse and tell me either that they are STILL sleeping with their children (who are now in college) and that it has made their precious pumpkins secure and loving individuals who will never, ever get laid, or that their children have always slept alone, in a pit, chained to the wall and this has made them secure and fiercely independent individuals who now use fantasies of matricide to lull themselves to sleep.

 I have slept with my kids since Harper was 2 years old, so for about 5 years now.

Believe it or not, my marriage is solid, and my kids are awesome, and despite the musical beds, everyone is pretty content. Except me. I had just managed to get Harper to start sleeping in her own bed, by herself, with her sister in the crib next to her, when Devon graduated to a big bed. She proved just as incapable of sleeping on her own as Harper, and when Harper saw the concessions I was willing to make to help Devon get to sleep, she knew she had me back in her clutches. Their bedroom was moved to the playroom, which has a couch, and I brought peace to the household by sleeping on that couch every night, while David slept in the bed in the master bedroom upstairs. On Friday and Saturday nights, when he doesn't have to go to work the next day and the kids don't have to get ready for school, we switch.

My BP meds have been causing sleep problems, among other things, and so I have been longing to have my own room to sleep in. My sewing/writing room is big enough, and with just a bit of furniture rearranging we could fit a bed or a daybed or, as we finally decided on, a sofa bed. Devon is getting older and less dependent on me to be there all night. We received a small windfall recently and decided that a place for me to sleep was at the top of the list of things to spend it on. Thus Ikea, and today's delivery.

In quilting news, I am making pointy Dresden plates:

This is one of five that will go on a table runner for my sister-in-law. The fabric is from the Aster Manor FQ bundle that my QH editors gave me, and the pattern comes from the Moda bakeshop. I found the instructions less than stellar, but it appears that I did everything right despite that. I actually kept the girls up a wee bit past their bedtime so that I could finish this one, and when I showed it to them they burst into applause. Even David was impressed and usually anything with a flower print makes him squirmy and uncomfortable.

So now that I'm essentially moving into my office, I wonder how long it will be before I decide to install a kitchenette and just live in here full time. Will sleeping in my sewing room make me dream of quilts? Will I post more? Will there be late night Twitter updates? And how long will it be before somebody tries to shove in the bed next to me?

And will my marriage and my children survive the trauma? 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Oh, and yodeling. Forgot the yodeling.

Those of you on Facebook already know about this to some degree, but remember how just yesterday I was saying that I had that big knot showing on my Kindle cover where I had to move the button, and that maybe I'd try to hide it with some applique, but that we all know how that went before so I probably better not?

I went ahead and did it.

I thought a red heart would look kind of cool on all the black and cream fabrics, but I was pretty sure there was no way I was going to be able to make a heart that didn't end up looking like...well, a heart. A squishy organ yanked from the chest cavity of some small, innocent creature. No way could I make an actual, symmetrical valentine-type heart. That's obviously for the advanced only, veteran stitchers with their years of elf-organ hearts long behind them. I mean, hearts have curves and points, and all I've managed are some blobby circles.

But I am nothing if not reckless when it comes to sewing, so I got out my starch and my little iron and prepared for the mayhem.

Only there wasn't any.

It came out beautifully. Curves all curvy. Points all pointy. Sewed it right on. It looks awesome.

So, if I can do that, I'm pretty sure that tomorrow I can paper piece a king size quilt with my eyes closed while hopping on one foot and dodging mudballs being flung at me by a horde of angry flamenco dancers. Because that is the next step, right?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A ham? For me?

I am such a sucker for a gift. I just always feel so amazed whenever somebody gives me something, and I tend to go a little overboard in my reactions. It's not like I was deprived as a child or anything. But something about it always makes me cry and get all sentimental, and then I have to spend weeks proving that I'm not really like that all the time.

This weekend I got a big box in the mail with the name of one of my QH editors on the return address, and I thought maybe I was getting some comp issues of the latest magazine. But when I opened the box, I found these:

Three fat quarter bundles, and a little note that read, "Because we love you! Melissa and Jake."

I mean I'm nuts enough that I would get weepy if somebody gave me, I don't know, a ham or a slide ruler. But fabric? This much fabric? The children were concerned, and David said, "What? Is there something wrong with it?"

So of course, I emailed them a long, gushy note with lots of "you've done so much for me" and "I'll never be able to thank you enough," and they were all, "Dude. Shut up. It's fabric." But that's okay. Because it's important for the people I work with and for to know that I am mentally and emotionally defective. It will give them a head start in fending me off when I try to come after them with homemade cakes and pot pies.

In other news, I finished George's backing, but somehow took both it and my design wall down before I photographed it, and I am way too lazy to put it all back up. I finished the Kindle cover my friend commissioned for her sister's birthday, but managed to fuck up the placement of the button. Because the stitching for the button is hidden between layers, I had to cut it off and sew it back on through the layers, leaving a big knot of stitches now exposed on the inside cover. I'm going to try to cover it up with applique, maybe a heart, but remember the last time I tried to cover up a mistake with some applique?

It was not good. So maybe I should just save us all the anguish and start over.