How About Them Apples?

The quilt in all it's apple-y glory!

The quilt in all it’s apple-y glory!

Okay, I am getting sucked into quilting.  I was warned that it could happen and although I felt that my life was pretty darn full of hobbies already, it has happened swiftly and now I spend my time hunched over a ruler or my sewing machine.

Back in the Fall, I signed up for an Apple Block exchange at the quilt shop.  The swap meant that you picked a color (either green, red or yellow) and crafted 12 blocks.  We then met up for a block exchange and traded them out; you left with an array of blocks in unique fabrics.  It is a great concept: your  own blocks are now out in the universe on someone else’s quilt, a very community oriented way of quilting.

The original pattern called for a wall hanging, but I decided instead to create a lap sized quilt for my mom for Christmas.  I had to create a pattern from almost scratch, using the pea quilt as a template.  Again, thank goodness for the refresher in 6th grade math last year!

As the quilt was a mixture of all sorts of fabrics, I wanted to do a bright border and chose some 1930s reproduction fabrics.  The border fabrics really brightened up the quilt and make it look almost whimsical.  I could have gone kitschy and picked out some apple fabric, but I’m really happy with what the borders showcase on the apples.  For this quilt, I wanted to splurge, and support my local quilt shop, so I had the blanket long-arm quilted.  The pattern was leafy yet subtle and really made the blanket even more special.

An apple up close

An apple up close

The apple quilt now resides at my mom’s house, draped on a quilt rack where I know she admires it every day.

An Ode to Old Pots

My Great-Grandma Johnson's dutch oven with Hungarian Mushroom Soup

My Great-Grandma Johnson’s dutch oven with Hungarian Mushroom Soup

If there is something more comforting a home-cooked meal,  then surely it is preparing it in heirloom pots.  I’ve been converted to the cult of the cast iron cookware; the superiority is edible. So when given the opportunity to bring home my great-grandmother’s Belgian enameled cast iron pot and pan set, I jumped at the opportunity.  A full set of flame orange cookware that has lasted generations now resides in my home.  I cannot tell you how special it is for me to enjoy food prepared in the same pots my great-grandmother used.  When I see soup bubbling away on the stove in her dutch oven, my heart swells a little bit more.

In our disposable culture, food and items for food preparation are discarded thoughtlessly.  Pots and pans are made to last just a few years instead of a lifetime.  When you peruse antique stores, many of the items still remaining (and coveted) are useful food preparation items such as: cast iron pans, Mason jars, enameled coffee pots and non-mechanized implements (i.e. egg beaters).  Often these items are purchased for display and not re-used, although in all likelihood they still have a great deal of life left in them.  I’m grateful that I can continue the cooking traditions with my own family cookware, making memories and meals with the same equipment used to feed previous generations.  The new secret ingredient in all of my food is the love emanating from the family pot.

Hello, Sweet Pea. My First Quilt

I wanted to learn how to quilt for a very long time, but like a lot of things we want to do, we do not always find the opportunity to accomplish them.  When we uprooted our city lives for a stab at a something simpler, I suddenly found myself with oodles of time on my hands needing a means to occupy the void formerly filled with friends, yoga classes and commuting.  It dawned on me, now is the perfect time to learn how to quilt.

The small town I live in has it pretty hard, economically speaking, but it does manage to have viable local coffee shops, a brewery and a quilt shop.  One step inside the door of the shop and I knew this would be my perfect opportunity to learn how to quilt.  The fabrics are intriguing and well-curated, the displays are inspiring and warmth emanates from the owner.  So, I signed up for a beginner’s class and away I went on my quilting journey.

It’s funny how we perceive something before we experience it.  As a knitter, I had this notion that quilting was going to somehow be less time-consuming and that I’d be cranking out baby blankets at a good clip.  Holy cow, was I deluded, and that is not a bad thing.  Remember, I need something to occupy my time (and my mind), and a few projects later, I realize that the time investment of quilting yields incredible results.  Thus, I began my quilting process.  Out of all the fabrics in the store, I selected a bold (see picture below) fabric of lime green and brown snow peas, mixed with gingham.  And the backing is all chicken wire.  The fabrics are an homage to two of my favorite things:  vegetables and our chickens.  In class we learned that quilting involves fractions (thank goodness for my review of 6th grade math last year!), time and patience.  It was really a remarkable process to watch squares become bigger squares, until lo and behold a blanket emerged.  In the class setting, it was also wonderful to see all of the creativity in fabric choices among the group; we learned to use what you love and it will turn out beautiful.  There are no set rules and everyone can do really amazing things.

Back side of the pea quilt

Inside view of the pea quilt

After I finished my quilt top, I decided that in the spirit of learning, I should also learn how to hand quilt the top, too.  A couple of You Tube videos and lessons from hand quilters later, I had myriad thimbles to test out and a lot of work ahead of me.  I used a very basic utility stitch and  just stitched in the ditches of my pieces — a very simple technique that still required some skill to finish.  Hand quilting took time and patience, but it was a worthwhile endeavor.  I feel very connected to the quilt because of the time spent on the top.   And there is a true vintage flair to the quilt because of the simple, obviously handmade, top.

Chicken wire and utility stitching

Chicken wire and utility stitching

Now that the pea quilt is finished, I admit to being quite smitten with it.  It is my go-to cuddle blanket in sickness and in health, in relaxation and in comfort.  It really is my sweet pea blanket that I hope will be around as long as my sentiment lasts.  I will forever cherish my first one.

The pea quilt in use .

The pea quilt in use .

Starting the Morning Off Right

Mornings are rough.  There are commutes, dark mornings, erratic coffee makers, and general grumpiness to contend with.  Recently I have found a way to make my morning just a wee bit easier, and it is becoming my precious wind-up time in the morning.  I start my morning off with a homemade latte, a homemade pastry and some quiet time.

In my current life, one of the perks of my stressful job is that I don’t have to be on duty until 9:15.  Still, I get up between 7 and 7:30 to have some time before I rush out the door.  (Also, it helps that I have a less than 10-minute commute, by car with no traffic.)  Once I get to work, the minutes fly by and I exhale only when I leave the building for the day.  So, this morning ritual really does grant me some peace and quiet before I head off into the wider, wilder world.

The centerpiece of this morning experience is my warm steaming cup of coffee and frothy milk.  I bought an espresso machine for $5 at a thrift store years ago, and amazingly, this thing is still kicking.  To make life even simpler, I load up the machine before bed so that I can just flip a switch through my sleepy eyes.  I rotate between a series of favorite mugs:  the cheesy Colorado mug and the free public radio member mugs.  My coffee fixings depend solely on the quality of coffee on hand, which is completely dependent upon budget restrictions.  One way to easily camouflage substandard java is with a dollop of good honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Voila!  A  latte served in a ceramic cup that can rival anything from a shop — with no waiting in line!

Second, I have a homemade bread or pastry on hand for my first breakfast.  (Yes, I eat two small breakfasts every day.)  A loaf of whole-wheat applesauce bread (from homemade applesauce, naturally) or a pan of cheddar biscuits can last a whole week and is such a welcome alternative from the processed frozen bagels.

Depending on my mood, I will tune in to NPR or read the online news.  Many mornings I just sit and stare out the window, waiting for the sun to come up and the chickens to jump from their coop.

This simple way of waking up can really lay a positive foundation for my day.  What I’m learning, and more importantly practicing, is that it is always the most simple and thoughtful things that create moments of happiness and peace.

A homemade coffee shop experience

A homemade coffee shop experience