June 30, 2007

Can a young dog learn new tricks?

So, it's good to try new things, get out of your comfort zone, stretch yourself... right? 'Cause I'm doing a lot of that right now and it's frustrating. I know this comes as no surprise, but I do not like to feel like I'm not good at what I'm doing. (Shaddup, I admitted it.)

I took my first stab at machine quilting last night. The picnic quilt is done, and I decided it would be a good quilt to learn on. Its for us, not a gift. And it's meant to be tossed on the ground, spilled on, yada yada yada. The pattern is straight lines, so I can do this on my humble Brother. Right? Wrong! The first line - border to first row of squares went just fine. I flipped it over and thought, yeah. I can live with this. But the second line of stitching? The one that actually went between two rows of patches? Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! I spent an hour last night carefully ripping that line out. Apparently, when your squares don't quite match up, (as is always true of mine) hand quilting is much more likely to look good... But, I don't want to spend weeks hand quilting my picnic quilt. I'm going to be much less likely to be willing to toss it on the ground if I do that!

So, re-grouping. I decided to machine quilt the outer box on the machine. (Between the border and the center patches.) I've just finished, and it came out looking just fine. Now I'm going to go back in and embroider asterisks where blocks join, a modification of a tied quilt. I am really not a fan of tied quilts, but I think the embroidery will look good. On the back, it will be sprinkled with little stars. And it will take a couple of hours, at most. Growing, stretching, learning...

What? That doesn't sound like stepping very far outside my comfort zone? Yeah, you're right. The rest of it is work stuff, though, and we don't talk about that on the weekend.

June 21, 2007

Asked and Answered

Apparently we weren't the only ones who wondered when we heard the news. They had a big banner on the front of the building that said the same thing, too. (I couldn't get a photo of that without standing in the middle of a six lane road.) Just how many times do you think they were asked before they decided to put up the signs?
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Incentive to Get to the Gym

Last weekend I decided I needed a more summer-y yarn project. It's Florida in June, over 90 degrees and 90% humidity. I've lost just a bit of enthusiasm for working on my magic scarf, and even the socks feel wrong. Who wears socks in this weather? Certainly not me. So, I got out Sexy Little Knits and picked out the bandeau bikini. (Far right on the third row of pictures, if you follow that link.) It is a little daring, but not so outrageous that I didn't think I could wear it.

It's crochet rather than knit, and I've enjoyed going back to my roots for a bit. The Cascade Fixation yarn is pleasant to work with, the speed of crochet is fun, and quite frankly it seems I was really ready to start a new project. I've been cruising along and making significant progress. And then I got far enough along that I could see the lines of the bottom. Uhm... This might not be something I could be comfortable wearing after all. So, I got out my current bikini bottom to compare...

It's not the height that matters; I'm not done with the rows or the waistband yet. But, look at how much more dramatic the cut is. I know it's less than half an inch or so, but when you consider how much of my rear already shows in a bikini - the droopy part... And what you can't see in the photo is that there is alot more give in the commercial bottom than in the one I'm crocheting. So, it actually covers alot more on my body than this one will...

I don't know about this. I'm fairly comfortable in my body, but my toosh is one area that I wish would improve. And my time at the Y doesn't seem to do all that much for my glutes. They just don't want to cooperate. Do I finish it and see? Or do I rip it back, save the yarn for the socks I originally intended them for and avoid wasting hours more of my life? Crochet may be faster, but it's not that fast. (And this does require a tiny little hook. The one I use with thread for making doilies!)

Or maybe I come up with a back up plan. Finish it, try it on, and then decide whether to add edging that would expand the coverage a bit. Maybe I could modify the pattern that will be used in the waist band to get myself a bit more yarn on the sides...

June 19, 2007

My Family Tree

This is a Loquat (aka Japanese Plum) tree that grows in the front yard at my in-laws. I've decided this is our family tree. Symbolically speaking, of course.

Several years ago, Alex took his Dad to my parents' home. I don't know where I was, but I wasn't there. I don't remember why they decided to go to see my parents, but I know it was primarily just to visit and show his Dad their home and my hometown. I find that important. Alex's relationship with my parents is strong enough that he would choose to go visit them, even when I'm not around. That visiting my parents (nearly an hour away) is high enough on his list of things to do that it beat out all the other ways of entertaining his father during a brief visit. And I. was. not. there. This is a relationship, a friendship, that doesn't depend entirely on me. Oh, I know it is inextricably tied to his relationship with me, but it is clearly not just about me.

And my parents were people his Dad liked enough that he wanted to spend part of his precious time with his son, a son he doesn't see often enough, visiting with them. They have a friendship independent of the marriage of their children. When Alex's parents came to visit in May, my parents came to our house to see them. (And to party with them. The police were called... I wish I was kidding.) By the end of the night, they were making plans to celebrate Alex's birthday down at his parents. And the fourth of July. Alex and I hadn't even thought yet about what we'd be doing for his birthday. But, let us be clear, that was as much about an excuse for them to hang out as it was about us.

So, the weekend after Alex's birthday, we found ourselves and my parents at his parent's house. (No cops this time. But only because their neighbors are more understanding.) And at some point during that weekend I walked outside and saw the Loquat tree. This tree grew from a seed Alex's Dad brought back with him from my parents' house. During that first visit several years back, my Dad gave him some fruit off their tree to try. He kept the seed and planted it - and it has clearly thrived.

I stood there, looking at the healthy, growing tree and listening to our family on the back deck. Our parents who have come together to form a unified family around us, laughing together because they genuinely enjoy each other. A young couple where each already loves and values the parents of the other. Already a family full of sharing and connections. And I marveled at how very, very lucky I am to have such a great family tree.

And then I spent some time envying his Dad his green thumb. Really, who can just wrap up a seed from a fruit, bring it home days later, and grow a tree?

June 18, 2007

A Ritzy Weekend

We were puttin' on airs this weekend. Alex's firm held its Spring Retreat at the Ritz Carlton in Naples. I learned why "the Ritz" is an adjective, as well as a noun. It was beautiful, even by ritzy hotel standards. We had a view of the beach and grounds that got your attention. (And so did almost every other room in the hotel.)

I was also incredibly impressed by how they designed the grounds. Rather than putting in a bunch of plants that happened to be flowering, without regard to how they'd survive the weather, and then pulling them out in a few weeks to be replaced with something else, they'd planted drought-resistant, sun loving plants that could live there for years. And some of them clearly had. (You don't get Plumeria this big overnight!)

However, what really set it apart was the service. Every single staff person I interacted with was unfailingly friendly. Not just courteous or helpful, though they were that too, but friendly. They made small talk, met your eyes, talked and acted like they had absolutely nothing else to do but visit with you. They asked about our last name, and then told us who the Bulgarians were that worked there and how we could find them. They carried our bags and introduced us to the next person who would help us, but then paused a second to say a genuine goodbye and make sure we had what we needed. And they weren't looking for a tip - the firm took care of that in advance, and the bell boy assured Alex "oh no, we're taken care of" when he reached for his wallet. The rooms and grounds were gorgeous, and we definitely felt the luxury. But, the hotel wouldn't have been so clearly set apart without the service... Not that they could command the prices they charge without the luxury, too. (I am really glad we didn't have to pay for this trip, despite being assured that the firm got a "great deal.")

Of course, being who we are, we didn't aspire to any great pretensions. We are who we are. And that means taking on the beer run for all the guys (and many of the girls) hanging out in the ocean. Yep - he walked from the hospitality suite, through two floors of the Ritz Carlton, past the pools, down the boardwalk and across the beach with his shirt full of beer without any self-consciousness at all. That's my boy.

And that's how we spent our weekend, toes in the sand and in the water. Plenty of time to enjoy nature.

And an early morning walk on the beach just to see what I could see.

It was lovely. Our first real beach excursion of the year and more than a bit of pampering. And that being said, it was awfully nice to come home.

June 11, 2007

Shoes for My Elf

Friday was a huge clean up day at work, preparing for a site visit from one of our major funders. As I sorted and purged, my intern followed me about whisking away whatever I decided was staying. Can you imagine how great that was? I go through a box of inherited paperwork, bagging up what needs to be destroying and tossing what needs to be filed in to a pile. And as I do that, the pile disappears as my intern files it. I clean off an bookshelf housing miscellaneous junk from as far back as the 80s, and then she goes behind me dusting and organizing what I have decreed we will keep.

When my boss stopped by my office and saw our system she said, "I want an elf, too!" We all cracked up and for the rest of the day my assistant, my intern and myself enjoyed the joke that she was my elf. By the end of the day, I decided I need to have a gag gift to follow that up. My colleague, hearing about this, says "elf shoes," and I knew she was right on. A quick google search and I found this oh-so-easy pattern. They came out really cute and were a hit with the recipient when I delivered them this morning.

It was a great outcome for very little effort. We were down in Boca Raton this weekend, so I made them completely by hand. I didn't even have a copier to make the pattern adult size and so just faked it. Still, it only took about three hours total. And keep in mind I was sitting out on the lanai with the family, talking, drinking coffee and generally not focused on my handwork. I swear it would only take minutes if you were at home with your sewing machine.
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June 10, 2007

Simply Perfect

This water lily opened just in time for the birthday weekend at my in-laws, a lovely and most welcome guest for the festivities.
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June 05, 2007

More Than You Care About

I decided to come home for lunch today, something I seem to be doing more often. (I either don't take any lunch, grabbing bites when I can, or I take a long lunch and come home.) Today I decided to stop at a Middle Eastern deli that I've been eyeing on my way to and from work. It turned out to be a great little place, with what was essentially home made food. I bought little deli containers of hoummus and baba ghanoush, and what I swear are pitas they made there. So, yummy and perfect for a picnic in the yard. (They had fattoush there, too. I think I'll get that and the baba ghanoush next time. The hoummus was good, but not great. And something fresher would be good. They were out of Taboule, but that would work for the next time, too.)

And, in the grocery section, I spotted this! Bulgarian feta cheese, something we find only rarely in Orlando. (We usually get ours from Alex's parents who can buy it in south Florida.) The nice kid behind the counter told me that the French feta they have is "truly excellent", extolling it as a vintner might tell you the qualities of a fine wine. But I explained to him that only the Bulgarian feta would do. Today is Alex's birthday, and this is seriously going to beat out the not-so-exciting gift I gave him this morning. I am so gettin' brownie points for finding this!

On a completely unrelated note, but following our theme of stuff you don't really care about, I think I have found the biggest clue for when you really need to go clothes shopping. While looking for a birthday gift for Alex, I made myself go in to some clothes stores for myself. (Yes, made. I hate clothes shopping. Hate. Hate. Hate.) I found no work pants, but I did buy two tops appropriate for non-court days. I am wearing one today and every person who sticks their head in my office this morning has stopped mid-sentence to say something about it. Two I can recall were "Ooh, where did you get that shirt? It looks good on you." and "Aren't you trendy today? That's a great shirt." But everyone has said something. To the point that my assistant finally stuck her head in saying "I want to see this shirt everyone keeps talking about." This is the shirt, folks. I like the drape of it and that it is sooo soft, but I didn't expect it to cause people to interrupt themselves. I don't think that's the shirt; I think its seeing me in something that is newer and fits properly. (And isn't a suit. I have bought suits recently, and they've commented on those the same way. But a new suit tends to bring that out. This is Just A Shirt, for heaven's sake!)

June 03, 2007

Communing with Nature

We took the kayak out on the lake today. It was windy enough to give us a real work out and some waves to slap up against. I love how close to everything we are in the kayak. I saw papyrus growing on the bank and got up close and personal with multiple species of aquatic vegetation that caught on my oar.

An anhinga soared over and landed a couple dozen feet from us, but a few minutes later we were able to watch him swimming and diving. Anhinga's swim with their body underwater and just their head and neck above, and then dive under so they are completely submerged. You don't see much of that in a motor boat. As we kayaked on, we saw his partner resting on a log by the bank, spreading her wings to dry so she can fly. A little piece of prehistoric nature - birds with no oil in their wings - just waiting for us to cruise by.

Through a canal and in to the next lake, and we hear a bird cry that sounds much like a cat. I know I know that call, but I can't place it. Is that the cat bird? We do have those, but that doesn't seem right. A few minutes and several calls later I realize - Peacock. That's a peacock. Or a peahen, I never learned the difference. These beautiful birds were often imported to grace the estates of wealthy Floridians in the 1900s, and they served the dual purpose of guard animals as their distinctive call would alert the homeowners to any disturbance. It's not something that is encouraged or done often now, but we were over near the islands that housed the old Winter Park estates. The wealthy northerners of the 1900s that lived there would almost certainly have had peacocks, and they most certainly are there now.

Perfect. A perfect touch of nature on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
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Crazy Quilt

Mom also finished a quilt last week, this gorgeous crazy quilt that she gave to my sister. The cranberry velvet is from her Christmas dress. (My sister and I finally convinced her to retire it a few years ago. It was incredibly out of date.) The silk - blue, pink or lavender depending on how the light hits it - is left over from the chairs Sister made us. She says she bought the black velvet with pink flowers new, but both Sister and I remember a dress made out of that so it still has memory to us. The rest are from thrift store finds, with a bit of new fabric thrown in for the brighter colors. She also did the traditional embroidery. Plenty of herringbone stitch, a spider for good luck (top left), the symbol from her Women's Retreat (bottom centerish)... I'm very impressed, to say the least. Its breathtaking and so very soft.

Her time to completion was significantly better than mine... sort of. She collected the fabric several years ago, intending to make this quilt as a Christmas gift for Sister. However, neither of us actually knew how a crazy quilt was made and she was not happy with her original attempts at the squares. She abandoned the project for years, but never got rid of the scraps either. We each found a description of how to make a crazy quilt that made sense (using foundation blocks) and she thought about it again, but still didn't break it out.

But then we went to see the Gee's Bend Quilts exhibit at the Orlando Museum of Art. The quilts were beautiful and amazing, but far from perfect. They had wonky seams and sides that went beyond wavy to oceanic. Where they'd run out of fabric, they just threw something else in. Lots of feeling, but not much consistency. And we loved them. We left talking about working less for perfection in our quilts and focusing on the movement and color.

So, when Mom went on vacation a month ago, she broke the velvet and silk back out to try again. Ironically, she still wasn't happy with the first squares that she made. She even thought about putting it away again. However, Sister stopped by the house and looked at the squares. Her artist's eye saw what it would become and convinced Mom to keep going, swearing that it was all going to come together. (My favorite part of this little wrinkle is that she had no idea the quilt was intended for her!) So, the Gee's Bend quilts firmly in mind, Mom kept going.

It's apparently addictive, because she went three weeks from start to finish. Yes, three weeks from getting the scraps back out to having a bound and ready to use quilt. And don't forget that she embroidered it. I told you it was an impressive time to completion! So, on her birthday, she showed it to me and Sister was there admiring it - again. She oohed and aahed over it each time she saw it. Mom says "Well, if you love it that much, it should probably be for you." And chaos ensued.

It was the perfect set up for giving her the quilt I'd made for her.

(Mom will be so thrilled that a posted a photo of her in her circa 1980 gardening/house dress. Twice. It was a hot day, she was working in her yard and she wasn't expecting a series of photo ops.)