Saturday, June 30, 2007

Welcome, Noah

I love this arrangement Dean created from three softies I've made for him this year; every time I walk by it, it seems to me to be our own little Musicians of Bremen tower. I offer it today in honor of Noah Austin Russell, my very first great nephew (that is to say he is the son of my nephew). Noah arrived late yesterday afternoon, and checked in at 7 lbs., 3 oz. and 21 inches. I hear that mama and baby and proud father are all doing well and hope I'll have a picture or two to share before long (they live in Chicago or I'd just hop on over to the hospital myself for a few pictures and precious baby snugs). Noah is the first member of this next generation (making my mother a great-grandmother) and he's the newest member of a very special club -- all the men in my family, coming down from my father's side, bear "Austin" as their middle name. My father's grandfather was Frank Austin, my dad was Denis Austin (yes, spelled the French way), my brothers are Anthony Austin and Christopher Austin, of course I've got Dean Austin and his cousins are Nicholas Austin (Nick is the new dad), Alexander Austin, and Joshua Austin. In a family with few traditions, this one is precious beyond words and it is with a huge sigh of a relief and a little smile to the spirit of my dad (who would have been delighted) that I see it carried on.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Goods

After several attempts, this appears to be my best scanning ability to show a taste, just a taste, of the riches Linda sent me for our scrap swap. Rick-rack wrapped riches (say THAT ten times fast!), and the most wonderful little Tasmanian Devil toy for Dean (who refuses to let me even attempt to scan it, lest Tazie be hurt or frightened by the process), and Tasmanian fudge, and a lovely set of picture postcards, and a beautiful notecard. As I've said to her, I just keep sitting with the fabric on my lap, touching it, smelling it, dreaming about what I'll do with it. Don't you just get an image of a person with a wonderful warm, sunny disposition when you see her collection of scraps? Fairies and Hello Kitties and hats and purses and flowers and all the great girly colors I love but never seem to buy for myself. Something special will come from this all -- something special that is beyond the already incredibly special experience of the exchange itself.

And then Helen's mom, if you can even believe it, sent me special mint cakes from Penrith at Helen's request as I'd mentioned how very much I love mint. Special cakes eaten particularly by the hikers and climbers attempting Scafell. For some reason I keep connecting the receipt of these cakes with the incredible quotation from Megan's blog: "It is ourselves we conquer, not the mountains." Sir Edmund Hillary. And that I just did some good hiking last week -- it just all feels connected and wonderful.

And then finally Susan, whom I'm not sure yet has a blog, was my partner in Helen's Swap-a-goat scheme and made a donation to Alternative Gifts International in my name and I'm delighted both by the gift and the chance to learn about this organization. It all conspires to making me feel just deeply and completely happy right now -- connected, energized, positive.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Home again, home again, jigitty jig!

It is just heavenly to travel, to relax, to enjoy a vacation and to return, safe and sound, home again (with stories to tell and chocolates to eat and a healthy glow from time in the sun to remind you of it all). We hiked several amazing trails at Acadia National Park, explored all over Mount Desert Island including the very touristy Bar Harbor, then spent restful days at Crescent Beach.

I've got, of course, mountains of laundry to do and loads of film to develop; I'll attempt to get to the film quickly so that I can show a few of our own photos of the trip. I don't know if it's the timing of the trip (we always go somewhere in Maine during the third week of June once school is out), or all the sunshine and sea air, or all the food or the ability to sleep in, but Dean seems to go through a growth spurt every year on the trip. This year he was more adventurous about what he ate, he was amazing on the hiking trails (some were really difficult but worth it for the view at 900 feet or so), he was flexible as plans changed, and he slept like nobody's business (a major, major coup for the Boy Who Does Not Sleep In and *Never* Takes Naps).

I did get some quilting done, but was put off the project by a seagull who carefully took aim and landed its droppings on my quilt-covered lap -- I rinsed it best I could and now need to finish it off quickly so I can get it into the wash for real. Oh well. I'm ready to get my summer projects underway in any case.

I'll also have to post scans of the riches -- riches, I tell you -- that I received from Linda in our scrap swap. If I ever needed any inspiration, she sent it (along with a lot else as well). I feel very out of touch with the blog world and need to get reacquainted, and give you all the the other updates that I owe.

I think the home was the best thing ever invented in the world.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Happy Trails

If by any chance you are casting about for summer reading material, I cannot more highly recommend this book -- Heidi's Alp. It's non-fiction -- an account of a family's summer travels across Europe in search of locations mentioned in or that inspired some classic fairy tales. I re-read this regularly. If you happen to live in or near Europe, all the more reason to read it since you have a very real opportunity to then check out some of these places yourself. The link that I made on the book's title, above, takes you to an Amazon page where this book is currently available used for as little as one penny. A penny! Give yourself or a dear friend a real treat.

Speaking of travel, this is likely to be my last post for a little while as we pack up for our own little summer vacation. Oh, I'll be back before you know it, before June is out. We head out bright and early tomorrow morning, assuming I get everything packed up this afternoon. We'll be calling each other by our Hobbit names, or maybe by our elven names, the whole time.

If you're looking for some quilt project ideas, I'd like to share a site that's new to me: Quilter's Home magazine. I was impressed by the quality of their free patterns -- not the usual stuff. I've never seen this magazine on the stands but will keep an eye open for it -- it seems pretty fresh.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Camp Juniper Knoll

Every year at this time, I get an almost uncontrollable urge to order up some name tapes and sew them into all my t-shirts and shorts so I can pack up my trunk and head off to summer camp. I spent the central seven years of my childhood (ages 8 to 14) at sleep-over camp in Wisconsin. I'd go for the entire summer. People (especially if they don't know me well) sometimes laugh at me when I say that Girl Scout summer camp is largely responsible for making me what I am today, but that's true. And I miss it. I miss going off into the beautiful forest and lakeside and being entirely my own person -- away from family and friends and home to forge new friendships, to find a new temporary but real home, to find and explore and develop parts of myself that are outside of my everyday life. I grew up in Chicago, so spending the summers outdoors was a HUGE change and learning experience. And I loved it.

I'll add quickly here that I've given some of you the impression that, because I work in an elementary school, I have the entire summer off. Oh, if only! I do have some vacation time, but I will also still be working this summer -- it's not all fun and games (and crafts!).

Anyway, I have mixed feelings about the fact that Dean has NO interest in sleep-over camp. None. He'll do some day-camp stuff this summer (he is most looking forward to the two weeks at our local zoo's camp) but that's it. It's difficult when you feel you'd like to share important things from your childhood and your child has no interest at all. I know that there are plenty of good, healthy reasons for Dean's lack of interest. First off, we live in a very rural area already and spend a lot of time outdoors as a family, and we even camp together (my dad was scarred for life by having to camp his way through his Army service during the Korean Conflict and simply refused to set foot near a tent again). Next, Ken and I are not struggling to keep our marriage together nor hurtling toward divorce (as far as I know) -- there aren't angry battles and dinners of stony silence for him to escape. And as an only child (and not the youngest of four) he doesn't lack for attention or our time. I know these challenges in my own childhood were part of why getting away was so important to me. Perhaps someday, when he's ready, on his own terms, Dean will seek the kind of independence that comes from time spent away from your family. And I hope I'll be ready to let him go.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Another year

It seems as though it happens daily now -- I stop by a favorite blog, only to find its creator has signed off for the summer. It's not that I don't understand their good reasons, it's just that I'll miss their voices and hope they remember, come September, to return. We all have our own pattern to our year, to our seasons, our own energy levels associated with the weather and the quality of light and our social and growing and crafting seasons. I love all the different ways to count a 'year' -- as the school year winds down and finishes up this Friday it feels as though I've got a whole new chance at a fresh start. I love a fresh start.

Three packages, maybe even four, I've sent should arrive at their destinations this week; I'm always on pins and needles while waiting to hear that the post office has done it's job. I've just realized that if I don't get my film developed and my tie one on apron photo posted on flickr this week I'll miss the deadline since we head off on vacation this Saturday. So if I can, I'll get that done; I'm just delighted to have finished my apron. It reminds me that I had another epiphany last night -- it's either a digital camera or furniture to re-make my craft room this year but not both. I'm leaning toward the camera.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Goats, ducks, and friends

Yesterday Swap-bot assigned me my partner for Helen's Swap-a-goat scheme; I sat right down and ordered up a flock of ducks in my partner's name from Heifer International. Now I'll put together a little envelope to send off to her. The purpose of the swap was to make a donation in your partner's name to an organization that helps those most in need in the world by providing something (mosquito netting where malaria kills, ducks where a family can raise them both for the eggs and for market income, etc.) that will make a meaningful difference in people's lives. Sending along a little something extra to your partner is optional, and of course I can't resist.

Helen herself sent me a real, live letter that she wrote while in Marrakesh -- now that's a real treasure.

Friday, June 8, 2007


Happy Friday, everyone!

I'd like to urge all quilting and sewing enthusiasts to check out this doll quilt tutorial; this project (and the tutorial) by 'Lady Harvatine' was so well conceived and produced. I can imagine all kinds of possibilities from this beginning. For me, it's the kind of project I just keep thinking about during the day (this is probably where I get myself into trouble, but so be it).

And this little card will go off today or tomorrow in a package to a new friend. I still would like to spend some dedicated time to card making so that I had a handy supply to pull from -- or, at least, solid starts that I could embellish with particular recipients in mind. I did decide that this summer I will take my entire craft room apart, clean it ruthlessly, organize it, and invest in some storage/display/organization solutions so that it's a workable space that's inspiring to be in and that does NOT make me feel as though I need to keep the door closed if anyone comes 'round to visit. Anyway, being able to do things like make cards should be an easy thing, and should not require the rebalancing of several towers of 'stuff' just to be able to clear about a 5 inch workspace on the table....

A parent at our school submitted an article for this week's newsletter about how his family took the Food Stamp Challenge. The issue is that the food stamp program in the US (giving vouchers to low income families that they can use to buy groceries) has been grossly underfunded for years and is facing further cuts under the current administration. The program "allows" $1.00 per person per meal. Members of our congress undertook the challenge -- to feed themselves and their families on that budget for a week -- held press conferences offering lunches based on that budget -- and inspired the family at our school to try it. The result of course is that (1) you can only afford to buy processed, high-calorie, low-nutritional foods because (2) that's your only hope of filling yourself up so that you aren't constantly hungry. And the "option" of buying a lot of healthy, bulk foods to cook up yourself generally isn't a choice for these families, because the hours they need to spend working/commuting etc. don't leave the kind of time it takes to cook that way. And like so many other programs, this one has a vicious cycle built into it -- your income has to be really low to qualify, so you have no incentive to try to earn more because that will take you out of the program but still won't leave you with enough $ to feed your family. I don't know how much of my grocery bill I should subtract out to account for non-food items, but I'm calculating that we easily spend between $3 and $5 per person, per meal -- perhaps sometimes even more. And that includes snacks and drinks and things outside of "meal" time, which of course is a luxury that food stamp families don't have. I can't imagine living on $3 a day for food. Can you?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Help yourself

Some chipmunk (not this one), I think, was responsible for coming up on our back deck and biting the heads off the sunflowers we'd started. He or she also managed to pull out a couple of the seeds that hadn't sprouted yet and ate them (after taking off the shells and leaving them there for me to find). The reason I'd started the seeds in pots on the porch rather than directly in the garden is because the birds tend to pull up the seeds in the garden. I try to take a peaceful approach to all of this -- oh, there's some great line of folk wisdom from some culture (yeah, my memory is razor sharp) about how you plant some percentage of your garden for the little creatures of the world. And we often watch rabbits munching away at our flowerbeds (guess all the clover in the lawn isn't good enough for them?) and just love them all up and don't worry about what it means for the flowers. (We figure the poop they leave behind works as fertilizer.) We've pretty much stopped trying to grow vegetables because we lack the space to plant enough to get our own share after feeding all the little creatures of the world, and the little fenced-in plot is now Dean's butterfly garden. I'll attempt cherry tomatoes and basil in pots on the deck (so far, no one has chewed off the heads of the tomato plants) knowing that we usually come out all right there. Now that I think on it, our little creatures make out pretty well here, given that we also provide a veritable free market in the compost piles where they can (and do) help themselves to all manner of local and exotic produce bits. I just wish the birds wouldn't poop so much on the swingset.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

What were you thinking?

Wednesdays are my long-haul days. A full day of work and then a 2-hour staff meeting at the end of the day. But every week I am buffeted by the image of making my way up this mid-week hill so that I can ride -- wheeeee! -- the downhill slide toward the weekend.

I am from time to time compelled by some mysterious, inner force to do things (projects) that really aren't my style. I don't know where this comes from. This little beach cutie comes from a small book of embroidery patterns called At the Seashore, and it is still available if you are so inclined. The twelve patterns are equally divided between images of girls and boys. I've gotten through a couple (sigh, yes, another project started eons ago that's recently resurfaced) and I know I'd envisioned a small beach-themed quilt, but I don't know why. I recall buying the booklet when Dean was a baby; maybe I was just in that new-mother mode of finding all things baby-like to be precious. Or maybe just temporarily off my nut. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this, just that I wouldn't say it's the 'real me,' but I keep plugging away at it just in case. I had this same feeling while putting together a couple of fabric scrap swaps recently -- finding all kinds of bits and pieces of fabrics that I know I bought, but can't for the life of me imagine why. It occurs to me that more than once in my life I have stopped to consider that perhaps I have no style, and I don't mean that in a good way.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ahoy there, matey!

In case you need a reason to be tempted, Keepsake Quilting is having a sale. If you're not familiar with them, they are one of the largest independent quilt shops in the US and provide excellent customer service (internationally).

Another quilting resource I'll mention while I'm at it is All People Quilt. Now, I think this is a very odd name, since it isn't true. I'm funny that way. But it's worth stopping by for a look as it's sponsored by Meredith Corporation, which produces a number of the top US quilting magazines.

True story: we're all sitting on the sofa the other evening, and I notice Ken looks a little odd so I ask, "what's wrong?" Ken says, "Um, I don't know." And Dean pipes up: "Short-term memory loss?" No, we could not stop laughing....

Monday, June 4, 2007

Fruit stripe

Do you remember Fruit Stripe gum? I don't chew gum anymore -- haven't for years -- but today I am thinking about the distinctive flavor and smell of Fruit Stripe and it is reminding me of elementary school. All started by this fruity little dress.

The dress template came in the Somerset Life magazine and I've been playing around with the shape. All kinds of possibilities.

I'm feel better today, which makes me laugh at myself; it is a rainy, gloomy Monday morning and I'm dressed for work (I *usually* have Mondays off but have to work today). Not exactly "woo-hoo" ingredients. But the weird fog of hopelessness/frustration seems lifted and I'm starting to see solutions (read the manual and adjust the tension and clean the machine before just bringing the sewing machine in for service; look for a wall unit that could go above my "paper crafts" table to help organize things; keep weeding through old magazines and consolidating, etc.). I do sometimes let myself be "reverse inspired" by some of the incredible studio/craft spaces I see on other blogs -- that is, I think only that it's what I want but will never have and give up, rather than appreciating that I do have space available to me and that I just have to put it to better use and invest some time and effort (and maybe a little money) to make it work for me. I'll get there.

OK -- no joke -- here's the back of the fruit dress:
So I'll laugh when I say it -- I've got my work cut out for me.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Whose memory....

Another calendar page in the works. This one doesn't feel finished yet, but I'm happy with the way it's coming along. It's helping me to end the day by doing something productive that comes out the way I'd like it to -- it's been a very weird weekend of fits and starts. (For the record, I scan in and print out copies of my old photos to play with -- I never use the originals. I feel I should be careful to keep all these 'purchased ancestors' aside and clearly marked, lest Dean or anyone else someday be confused about exactly how we're related to these people....)

Anyway, I also basted the Broken Dishes quilt (which I just may title "Too much going on") with the idea of starting it now and finishing it by the time we're back from our Maine vacation later this month (it's small -- a wall hanging or if Dean has his way, a blanket for a stuffed animal). I've never been good at getting projects done while I'm on vacation, but I'm inspired by Helen who seems to accomplish more on the road than I do at home. Oh, and I finally finished my pocket apron for the current tie one on challenge; just have to get photos taken of me wearing it and then get the filmed developed and then get a flickr account so I can post it. Before the end of the month. With the end of school and a vacation thrown in for good measure. I also scrubbed the upstairs bathroom today; that should count for something, right? and did dishes and helped Dean with a craft project he's giving as a gift this week and read him the last few chapters of Order of the Phoenix. [Apparently there is some magic protecting it; no matter what I do, I cannot get a link to connect to the book title. Harry Potter, in any case, you know.]

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Yes, ma'am

What went right today was my trip with a friend to an antiques mall, and a stack of old photos from one estate that had been carefully taken care of and were reasonably priced. I cannot walk past a collection of old photos and the mysterious stories they tell; this one says "To Cousin Lizzie from Minnie Trennam" on the back -- isn't she grand?

What didn't go well was attempting machine quilting for the first time -- just a mess. And the knowledge that my machine really is overdue for a cleaning/service doesn't help. And no where to go to put away the mess in the craft room here -- I don't even know where to begin. Maybe it's the blast of heat and humidity that's making me feel a little hopeless. But the cherry tomato seeds did germinate and Dean had fun (and didn't pass out from the heat) at his last soccer game of the season, and maybe tomorrow I can get my sewing machine back to at least working for regular stuff.

Friday, June 1, 2007

What is so rare...

Wow. My scanner really doesn't do well with deep pinks! The colors of the fabric are much more dusty rose than you'd ever guess from seeing this. Anyway, it's a portion of a block done years ago as part of an international round robin that went horribly wrong (one person kept someone else's stuff and dropped from sight, which prompted certain other people to also keep what they had rather than send it on to the rightful owner -- of course I returned everything and ended up with nothing of my own coming back to me so I never received the companion blocks meant to go with this). Water under the bridge. But I'm thinking of what it might be fun to do with this; I'll keep you posted.

Despite an overall break from the world o' swapping, I couldn't resist the siren call from Melly and Me, and invite you to check out my swap partner Linda's great blog (I've added her to my standing list as well). This is already shaping up as a wonderful experience.

And, June? June!? How on earth did that happen? It's hot and humid and yet "June" seems an impossibility.

Is ours the only household delighted by the Harry Potter Park news? We finally have reason to tear ourselves away from Walt Disney World on a future Orlando trip and hasten over Universal-way to check this out. Not until 2010, but still. We were disappointed to read that plans for the park do not include having characters from the book walking around; we were looking forward to a whole new autograph/photo scene....