A mouse for Murphy

Cats get all the cool toys...  our friends' cat, Murphy, got the cutest mouse for Christmas. It has catnip, and has an internal electronic mouse squeak that's completely realistic. Murphy pretends to be above it all, but set the mouse down anywhere nearby, and he's all ears.

He was tolerant of the New Year's crown,
perhaps thinking we'd finally recognized his royal status.

He was less than thrilled about the princess hat.
Perhaps he thought we'd misread his masculinity.

He'd had enough when the funny glasses came out and left the room,
but we all thought Dave looked pretty good in them!

December reads


Derrick Story | Digital Photography Companion.  I've checked this book out before; will it give me new insight?

Michael Freeman | Perfect Exposure. I love this book, and may have to buy my own copy.

Michael Freeman | Complete Guide to Digital Photography. A complete guide to be sure, but as much about using a point-and-shoot camera as it is for the dSLR user.

Michael Freeman | The Photographer's Eye Field Guide. Looks like a good (and handy) guide. Plan on tucking reading glasses into your camera bag along with the book, though... even if you have a 20-year-old's eyes.

Ben Long | Complete Digital Photography. 

Tom Ang | Digital Photography Through the Year. This is a very cool book, which has detailed information for getting the best photographs during different seasons, when the light changes, the colors change, and you have to deal with exposure issues caused by snow. A very comprehensive and useful book.

Tom Ang | Digital Photography Masterclass. I'm on my second renewal of this book.

Elsie Larson | A Beautiful Mess Photo Idea Book. Fun to read, but not very applicable to my photography. I did like the instructions for making personal refrigerator magnets; I just might make some for Christmas gifts next year.

I haven't even started these: Brenda Tharp | Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography, and
Bruce Bambaum | The Art of Photography

The novels

Julia Spencer-Fleming | Through the Evil Days
Dan Brown | Inferno
Janet Evanovich | Wicked Business
Dan Brown | The Lost Symbol

Anxiously awaiting

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child | White Fire
Michael Connelly | The Gods of Guilt
John Sandford | Storm Front
Nelson DeMille | The Quest
Janet Evanovich | Takedown Twenty


Quilted coasters... and a box to keep them in

This was a last-minute gift for my sister, made especially to complement the colors in her farmhouse living room, with sage green and dark red and gold and navy blue. And like the other gifts I made this year for Christmas, it was totally fun to do!

The coasters were easy: fabric scraps foundation pieced to 5-in. square pieces of muslin, backed with fusible fleece, matched up with coordinating fabric, stitched and turned and topstitched. Then I quilted them using a simple stitch-in-the-ditch technique.

The fabric box was also easy, once I figured out the best way to cut the corners off square pieces of fabric to make a plus shape, which is then stitched together, turned, and top-stitched. I made the box deep enough to hold many more coasters, and it's the perfect size to hold other types of coasters, too. Like my favorite distressed marble coasters from wineries.

I found inspiration from a few blogs, but in the end made my own version, which has inserts of soft needlepoint canvas to help the sides hold their shape, and beads on the embroidery floss that tie the sides into a box shape. I plan to do a tutorial for this project in the new year.

Like the sewing kits and notebook covers I made for Christmas gifts, this fun little quilting project let me use some of my favorite things: mismatched buttons (which I buy at yard sales and thrift shops), and beads.


Quilted journal covers | Hand-made Christmas

I've kept a journal since I was about 21, in many versions. Notes on a calendar, in a spiral-bound notebook, in the daybooks we used at Battelle, and for most of my jounal-keeping life, in a dark green leather Daytimer binder. I loved that binder, and took it with me everywhere. But when I went to work as a technical writer and had access to desktop publishing software, I began keeping an electronic journal.

I still keep a notebook handy, in my tote bag or by my bed, as you never know when inspiration will hit (usually when the laptop is out of reach or inconvenient to use, like at 2:00 in the morning). But notebooks are boring, so I decided to see what I could do to spruce up my spiral notebook.

Sewing (like writing) is in my DNA, so making a fabric cover was the natural thing to do. And designing my own unique cover was so much fun... I just might have to make more of these.

I chose a simple composition book. They're inexpensive, have nice stiff covers, and you can find them just about anywhere.

My cover design has three fabric panels, so I could use three different fabrics. But I chose to use the same fabric for the two wider panels. It's this gorgeous deep purple print with red, green, and gold accents.

The middle accent strip is foundation pieced in a crazy quilt design, a technique I learned when making these cute travel sewing kits. I love the purples and greens and golds together, and I love to piece fabrics (the best part of quilting), so it was especially fun.

Best of all, finding scraps to use was easy. Whenever I sew, I keep my scraps, everything down to about 2 in square. I sort them by color into a tall tower of plastic drawers, which makes it easy to find just the right color or pattern to use in a  quilt. It's long past time to find projects to use my scraps; if I start another quilt (shoot me now) I'll be in real trouble: the bins are nearly full.

The lining fabric is a yummy yellow-green with a swirly pattern, and the pockets are a muted purple print that goes well with the cover.

I found a couple of tutorials to help me out with measurements to fit a composition book, but the final design is all my own. Here are my basic design elements:

Cover | made in three sections, with the accent strip foundation pieced onto a strip of muslin. Rather than having the pieced strip only on the front (running vertically), I thought it was more interesting to have all three fabrics run horizontally. Since the lining fabric doesn't show when the book is inserted, I went a bit wild with the fabric, just for fun. The pocket pieces coordinate with the cover fabric, as they will definitely show. I included a narrow piece of ribbon for a marker, and for my first cover, designed a fun closure: a long piece of embroidery floss in a coordinating color, which wraps around the book and a button, and is finished off with a few beads.

This is such a fun and useful project! It uses fabric scraps (you could easily foundation piece the entire cover), and I got to use interesting buttons (another of my favorite things), and make beaded "pulls" for the closure.

Because I was making a lot of these for Christmas gifts, I didn't take time to write up a tutorial for this project, but I definitely plan to do this in the new year.


Quilted sewing kits | Hand-made Christmas

This was one of my sewing projects this past fall, but since they were destined for Christmas gifts, I couldn't post anything about them until now.

The concept: a small book to hold needles and embroidery scissors, to tuck inside a larger sewing tote for quilting classes, or to take along with a project on a weekend trip to the lake. I'd make several of them: for my mending basket (sharps), for my quilting tote (betweens), for hand work (embroidery, crewel). Each would have a place for a needle packet, small scissors, and a needle threader.

The design: This is a pretty simple thing to make. Just choose an outside fabric, a contrasting lining, and a third fabric for the pocket. Then figure out what size you want the case to be, and add a seam allowance. I wanted the finished book to be tall enough to hold my embroidery scissors, so used those to measure the fabric pieces.

The fabrics: This is the perfect project to use up fabric scraps, which were over-flowing their small drawers, and learn how to do foundation piecing at the same time. I played with a lot of ideas for color, starting with my favorite pink & green. Then I made one that paired yellow and lavender, opposites on the color wheel. Then bright red, then all shades of blue. One of my favorites is from yellow reproduction prints, all yellow, bright and easy to find in the pocket of a tote bag.

The design details:
Each needle book has a pocket band on the inside to tuck in a needle packet, a seam ripper, a little ziplok bag of buttons, and maybe even a Guterman-style spool of thread.

A folded piece of felt in the middle holds needles and pins, and there's a felt sleeve to hold a needle threader.

I added a length of ribbon sewn in with a button to tie around the handle of scissors (I also made scissor protectors from clear plastic). Just tuck the scissors into the pocket, and tie in place with the ribbons.

To hold the book closed, I chose to use a long piece of embroidery floss wrapped around the book a couple of times, then wrapped around a button, finished with a few beads. Like the fabric, it was a great way to use up some favorite lone buttons. I love to stack buttons for some extra color.

The first sample was my first attempt at foundation piecing, and I immediately learned that this is harder than it looks! But I persevered, and found a really good online tutorial for how to start (which seems to be the key). So my first one ended up being strips of fabrics, each one top stitched., with the edges bound with a favorite narrow striped fabric. All the other books were made by stitching lining and covers, turning them right side out and pressing them, then topstitching about 1/8-in. from the edge. In all, I made three different sizes, depending on the size of scissors I bought to include with them.

The books are perfect for some hand embroidery embellishments. I kept it simple, just a running stitch to attach the felt pieces, with a different color threaded through, and a line of stitching along the top of the folded pocket pieces, which helped to stiffen up the top edge.

These little sewing cases are quick to made, and a lot of fun. You don't have to foundation piece the cover; you could add just a pieced strip, or just use a solid piece of fabric. If you do choose to piece the cover, it's a great way to use up even very small scraps.

I don't have a tutorial, because it was so easy to design a sewing kit that was perfect for me. But I do hope to write up a tutorial for foundation piecing for those who struggled with it like I did.

If you have questions, I'd be happy to help. There are some tips and tricks I learned through experience that I'd be happy to share with you.


House and home (TT)

The weather's turned cold again, and this guy (and his friends) are cleaning out my sister's feeders. Good thing it's so much fun watching them doing it.

Textured with Kim Klassen's Stay texture (overlay @ 62%)


Christmas Day plus 1

We have a 25-year Christmas tradition, gathering together with my sister's family on Vashon Island, sharing this special day. We've watched the kids grow from babies to graduates, and now we get to enjoy the next generation of her family.

This year we stayed over, to have some extra time with my sister and brother-in-law (and avoid that long ferry line on Christmas night). It's been way too long since we've had this much time together, just the four of us, and we stayed up until after midnight, talking and laughing together. It was wonderful. And this morning we celebrated my sister's birthday with her, and got to see her open her gift. That was very cool!

Many people say that Christmas is for kids, and it's so much fun to watch the little ones enjoy their presents and the tree and all the sparkling lights. This little sweetheart had her second Christmas yesterday, and it may be the first she'll remember. I hope so. It was a wonderful day!


Christmas long ago

Frosty days and ice-still nights,
Fir trees trimmed with tiny lights,
Sound of sleigh bells in the snow,
That was Christmas long ago.

Tykes on sleds and shouts of glee,
Icy-window filigree,
Sugarplums and candle glow,
Part of Christmas long ago.

Footsteps stealthy on the stair,
Sweet-voiced carols in the air,
Stockings hanging in a row,
Tell of Christmas long ago.

Starry nights so still and blue,
Good friends calling out to you,
Life, so fast, will always slow...
For dreams of Christmas long ago.

Jo Geis, Christmas Long Ago

How are you spending Christmas Day? I hope yours is wonderful!


The night before

It was such a relaxing day, this day before Christmas.
The sun shone through the windows, light dancing on the floors.
Everything is ready for tomorrow, so there was plenty of time today.
Time to read and think about the next sewing project.
Time to cuddle with Phoebe, our old cat who is failing.
We met Dave's mom for dinner, along with his sister and her family.
Then we all went to the candlelight service at her church.
Their 20-member bell choir is amazing and always wonderful to hear.
I love to sing Christmas carols in a crowd of other voices,
Even though my voice isn't as strong as it used to be.
We walked out to a sea of bright stars
If we can't have snow for Christmas, that's the next best thing.


Guarding Christmas

It's all in there, the end product of my projects the past couple of months. Everything, in that big canvas bag on the floor of my closet. And standing guard is this little guy, the first teddy bear I ever made. He's only got a few days left, then he'll deliver Christmas to my family, and can drop his guard.



Yesterday at first light I opened the blinds, then walked outside on the porch. Because of the snow it seemed so light, but it was just an illusion made of contrast, of  snow and shadows.

Mid-morning I took a walk around the yard and orchard, marveling at the beauty snow brings to everything it touches. Summer's flowerheads were bowed down with the weight, and the birds argued over the feeders. The snow has stopped falling, and I felt a brief shower of sleet, then nothing more.

On snowy days I am especially grateful to be at home, to walk through life  with my camera in hand, instead of speeding through it behind the wheel of my car. I would have completely missed this snowfall... by dark the snow was nearly gone.


In the bleak midwinter

When the days turn cold and dark and icy, I always think of this Christmas song. It is, and always has been, my favorite. The melody is haunting, and the lyrics are perfect for the season. I think the prettiest version of the song is the one on Windham Hill's Winter Solstice III, sung by Pierce Pettis. It's absolutely beautiful.

The lyrics come from a poem by English poet Christina Rossetti, written prior to 1872. It was set to music by Gustav Holst, and became part of the English hymnal in 1906.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.
In the bleak mid-winter, long ago.


What then can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
And if I were a wise man, I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give him, I will give my heart.


Winter magic

The first snowfall yesterday, beautiful but brief.
Dinner at a Georgetown bar with friends.
Jupiter keeping the moon company as it rose in the eastern sky.
The frosty pasture lit up by the moon at 3 a.m., so bright it looked covered in snow.
The peace of a silent house before dawn.
Flames from the woodstove flickering on the hardwood floors.
A black & red caterpillar crawling across the floor, looking for freedom.
Frozen water drops at the tips of the camelia leaves, tinged pink in the sunrise.
The birds lined up on the orchard prunings, waiting their turn at the feeders.


Pine needles

OK, like I need a new hobby. But I got interested in basket making through my sister, and I had the chance to spend a few days in Eastern Washington, so it seemed like a good time to gather some raw materials.

The Ponderosa Pine grows freely on the eastern slopes of the Cascades and throughout Eastern Washington, and just down the hill from our friends' place was a timber sale area, with dozens of huge trees already cut and on the ground. I hopped out with my Trader Joe's 99 cent shopping bag, and started collecting. The trees had been down long enough that the big bundles of needles were perfectly dried, and it only took a few minutes to fill up my bag. So I filled another one. And another. In half an hour I had four Trader Joe's bags, stuffed to the brim. Sixteen pounds of needles. Cool.

Once we got home a few days later, I stuck the four overstuffed bags in the freezer for a few days (this kills any little hitchhikers that may have come home with the needles), then sorted out the broken needles and packaged up the rest. I plan to share them with my sister; she's wanted to add pine needle basketry to her basket-making skills.

You can see a few of my sister's baskets here.


The road to serendipity (TT)

This huge maple is my favorite tree, on the site of an old homestead that dates back to the turn of the last century. I wish it was on my property. It has a perfect shape, and it turns the most gorgeous colors in the autumn. The two-rut road is the original driveway, which leads to the ramshackle house that's sheltered under the branches of the tree.

I've photographed the tree and its pasture in every season but one: under winter's snow. Perhaps this winter will bring us snow to play in and ice to skate on.

Textured with Kim's kk_0212 texture

Texture Tuesday is the weekly brainchild of Kim Klassen. Check out her website for all the textured photograph that are linked there.


Birds outside my window

The Flickers and Towees and Stellar jays have finally cleaned up the rest of the deadfalls in the orchard, and today I moved the feeders to new spots and filled them up. The birds are very happy.

The old gazebo feeder is under the smoke tree on one of the granite boulders, where we can see it from the living room. I love this feeder, and always thought it would be fun to make another just like it.

The feeder my sister and brother-in-law gave us years ago now hangs from the pear tree, and the feeder Jeromy and Ella made us for Christmas last year is in the plum tree. Since we pruned back the orchard trees last month, we have a clear view of both feeders from the kitchen and bathroom.

The small birds are thick in the front pasture, and they fly in and out and around the house all day long. Still, it took them a while to find the new feeders in the orchard, and even longer to find the courage to stick around when someone is watching them from the bathroom window.

This will be a fun winter for the birds and for me... they'll get free food, and I'll get to point my lens their way as often as I wish.


Feeding time (TT)

This woodpecker wouldn't leave the feeder on a cold snowy day, not even when a squirrel was hovering on a nearby railing, waiting for his turn. The squirrel finally gave up, and headed to the feeder on the patio next door, hoping (I'm guessing) for a little less competition.

Textured with Kim's Paper & Paste texture, at 55% overlay


A hint of winter

The frost on the ground and the soft rich colors of autumn both caught my eye this morning. It's probably the last photographs I'll take of fallen leaves; there isn't much color left, and the leaves are quickly disappearing.

Our weather is improving, warming into the mid-30's today. I think it's the warmest it's been for a week or more, all those days of temperatures in the teens, and even plunging nearly to single digits. Way too cold for the west side; is this a hint of what winter will bring?


Sharing the kitchen

We made a chef salad tonight, standing side-by-side at the kitchen counter, chopping lettuce and carrots, tomatoes and celery and zucchini, slowing filling up my big Polish pottery salad bowl. "How much of this do you want?" he asked. And "should I include the celery leaves?" I added leftover chicken from last night's dinner, and a can of Albacore tuna, and set the bowl aside while his garlic bread heats in the oven.

He's doing more of the cooking now, fixing breakfast on the days we don't have cereal, and wandering out to the kitchen when it's time to think about dinner, interested in the process. We talk about menus and grocery lists, and he does some of the shopping. He loves Trader Joe's, and I can always count on a phone call (or two) when he's there. At first he just bought the list I sent with him. Now he browses the shelves on his own, reads the labels, finds yummy (and healthy) food to bring home.

I'm happy about his new-found interest in cooking and food, and I love that after nearly 39 years of marriage, we've managed to find something else to share.


Fall color and frosty pastures

It's the end of fall, and winter is breathing down hard, impatient with waiting in the wings. In the early morning, the sun rose over the valley and highlighted the frost in the pasture, the golden grass, the red twigs, and the last few cottonwood leaves on the trees by the pond.

Just a few days later, winter had its way and the fall colors were gone, the grass laid flat by heavy frost, the wind bringing the last leaves silently falling to the ground.


Texture Tuesday | Snow berries

When we pruned the young orchard a couple of weeks ago, this sprig of winter berries came to light. Duplicating the layer brings out the handwriting, which is such a beautiful part of the texture. I love the way it makes the photograph look like an oil painting.

Kim Klassen's December textures | two layers of kk_0212 @ soft light

The next morning I took another photograph of the same sprig of berries, as the sun rose over the hill and lit up the heavy frost on the pasture. I love the touch of ice crystals lining the branch, and the cold blue light.

Kim Klassen's Quest texture | 15% hard light

Texture Tuesday is the creation of Kim Klassen (dot) com. Check out the link to see this week's linked photographs.


Bare branches

Have you ever noticed a tree standing naked against the sky, 
How beautiful it is?  

All its branches are outlined, and in its nakedness 
There is a poem, there is a song.  
Every leaf is gone and it is waiting for the spring.  
When the spring comes, it again fills the tree with 
The music of many leaves, 
Which in due season fall and are blown away. 
And this is the way of life.

- Krishnamurti 


Morning light

This morning the sun rose slow and cold over the frosty pasture, and there was no warmth in the light. Yet that same light brought the faded colors of autumn back to life in vivid reds and yellows and golds, framed by cool blue shadows.


Oh, boy...

Sickness has moved into this house of two cats, a bathroom-remodeling spouse, and me, the lucky recipient.

I'd rather be sewing or writing or outside on this beautiful clear day. Instead, I'm lying on the living room sofa, alternating between searching the internet and napping. And wishing the *#@% sore throat and achy body would hurry up and move out.

The cats are joyful, as there's a body on the living room sofa for them to curl up with. I am not so joyful. There's a sewing project waiting for me, and another one in the design stages. I would rather be downstairs in my sewing room than upstairs huddled under a blanket. (I'm whining, I know.)

Davey is happily working on his project (while I snooze on the sofa, listening to the racket). The bathroom heater arrived at 7:30 am (thanks to the Christmas season, UPS is working all hours), and Dave installed the box in the outside wall. Then he went in search of the source of the bathroom wiring. Oh boy...  the things done wrong in this farmhouse. Tomorrow he'll install a junction box in the basement to correctly connect to existing wiring, and run the wire upstairs to the bathroom. And we'll have heat: just in time for some seriously cold weather that's heading our way.


November Reads

David DuChemin | Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look At Creating Stronger Images. I loved this book for so many reasons. It's way beyond a technical book about exposure or aperture or shutter speed. It's much more about seeing through the lens, and it was a great read.

Bryan Peterson | I always enjoy reading (and re-reading) his books. This month I checked out two from the library: Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera (a new title for me), and Understanding Shutter Speed: Creative Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 Second.


Jeff Hertzberg | Artisan pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes A Day. I have his artisan bread book, and love it. We're not eating pizza these days, but flatbread? Absolutely!

Peter Reinhart | Artisan Breads Every Day.  Love the stepped approach to making sourdough starter, and keeping it healthy. Plus recipes for my favorite breads, including swirled rye. 


Natalie Goldberg | Writing Down the Bones. I read this book ages ago, when I'd been journaling for several years. When I set off to college for the second time and had finished my journalism and technical writing curriculum and had time for a few fun classes, I took a creative writing course. This book was one that my professor recommended. Twenty plus years later, it was fun to read it once again.

The novels

Lee Child | Never Go Back (Jack Reacher). The latest in the series, and one of my favorites. I just learned that every title has been optioned for a motion picture.

Sewing inspiration

Cynthia Treen | Last-Minute Fabric Gifts. I love reading through the newest books about sewing for the home and sewing accessories of all kinds; great inspiration for Christmas gifts.

Sarah Phillips | Quilt Block Leftovers. There are some really fun ideas in this book. It's easy to make up a few blocks just for small projects, if you don't have leftovers from quilting. Potholders, decorating an apron, pillows. And what about this clever idea: take a canvas shopping bag (like the ones Safeway used to sell), and use fabric to cover up the advertising.


Welcome December

When I give thanks on the last Thursday of November,
I can't help but wonder what the first day of December will bring.

Will the frost lie thick in the pastures, 
turning blades of grass to ice?
Or will the first snows fly, 
and turn the farm to icy white?

For today I hoped for a sun that shines cold and brilliant, 
a long walk on the trail with my camera, 
and a fire in the woodstove to keep the house warm.

But this morning at six the rain was falling, and the 
wind was howling through the cedars and swirling the fallen leaves.
Snow is predicted for the midnight hour; what will the morning bring? 

I used to worry about waking up to snow,
but these days I'm easy with what nature offers.
Now the only commute in my morning routine is
the journey to the kitchen to start water for tea.



November comes 
And November goes, 
With the last red berries 
And the first white snows.
With night coming early, 
And dawn coming late, 
And ice in the bucket 
And frost by the gate.
The fires burn 
And the kettles sing, 
And earth sinks to rest 
Until next spring.

  - Elizabeth Coatsworth


A place I know by heart

I walked today with my camera, on this trail I've walked and loved for almost 30 years, before there was even an official trail.

When we first bought our place, I'd ride my horse down the road to the trail crossing, where the county piled brush to block sight of the sturdy bridges they'd just finished building. There were no trail access parking lots, no signs, no official trail. In the early days, there was only a wide gravel easement that ran north, which the power company used to get to their power lines. It was a great place for a gallop, and it became our favorite place to ride.

It's such a familiar place now. In winter, there's the rare sight of ice fringing the creek, snow falling, and the herons returning to their nests. There are bitterly cold mornings where I bundle up in fleece and down, pull on a wool cap and warm gloves, and jog instead of walk. With spring comes skunk cabbage in the spring-fed creeks that run downhill to the big creek, and a carpet of snowdrops, legacy of an old homestead that once stood here, in the flood plain of the creek. The farm is long gone, but the flowers live on.

Summer's heat brings the chatter of young moms pushing baby strollers and the sight of berries bursting into bloom. The air is still, and the hillside springs dry up (and so does the horse trail, my favorite place to walk).

Autumn is my favorite time to walk, scuffing my feet through fallen maple leaves, looking for the rare salmon in the creek, listening to the wind in the trees and the rush of small spring-fed streams, tumbling down the hillsides to reclaim the horse trail.

It's a magical place. It's my place.


Hide and seek

Every afternoon a red-breasted sapsucker flies into the orchard and settles down to graze on my favorite apple tree.

He's quite the brave little bird, determined to stick around and do his job, even if someone was nearby. Saturday Dave was actually in the apple tree with the chain saw, cutting limbs, sawdust raining down, and the sapsucker stayed put.

Today he played a game of hide and seek with me, letting me get quite close before ducking back around the tree. I'd sit tight, and he'd scoot back around. He completely charmed me.