Progress... 2004 Shop Hop quilt

It's been nearly ten years since my first Western Washington Quilt Shop Hop, and the quilt is still unfinished. So I made myself a promise: to finish this quilt top before this year's Shop Hop in June.

Shop Hop is an annual event each June, hosted by the quilt shops in Western Washington. It's essentially a block exchange with a twist: each shop designs a quilt block using fabrics designed by two local fabric manufacturers. The quilt shop organization publishes a map to all the shops, and designs the sampler quilt. With map in hand, you visit each shop and pick up a free kit to make each of the blocks.

Since my first in 2004, I've done five Shop Hop events. And I still think 2004 had the prettiest fabrics and colors. Deep rich reds and golds and sage greens to go with a yummy floral in jewel tones. This quilt will eventually hang on the wall in my living room, and it will go perfectly with the rest of the decor.

I did the 2004 Shop Hop on my own, and knew I wouldn't be able to make it to all the shops (I think there were 56 that year). So I cooked up a strategy: a week before Shop Hop I bought the poster of the finished quilt, then figured out which blocks I could make without the free kit. I just bought enough of the different fabrics to make the blocks on my own.

A few years ago I drafted patterns for all the missing blocks, and discovered that I really enjoy drafting patterns (in spite of the math involved). And choosing fabrics is downright fun, one of the best parts of quilting. After I picked out fabrics to go with the Shop Hop fabrics, I cut out the pieces, and put each block in a ziplok bag. This way I'd be all ready to work on the quilt... whenever I found the time.

In February, I started piecing the blocks, and by the middle of March all but 13 of the blocks were finished. As I finished each one, I put it up on the wall in my sewing room in the correct spot, matching the poster of the finished quilt. It was so nice to see the quilt take shape, see how the blocks looked alongside the others, and how the color choices worked out. The final quilt will have a narrow strip of green sashing fabric between all the blocks, and a wide border around the outside.

So far, these are my favorite quilt block designs:

More to come...


Evening Grosbeak... new bird at the farm

About a week ago I spotted a newcomer among the birds returning for the nesting season: a pair of Evening Grosbeaks. And in less than a week we've gone from hosting a single pair, to a flock too numerous to count.

More than a dozen Grosbeaks clamored around the feeders in the orchard this afternoon, joined by house finches (who are moving into the nesting box on a nearby telephone pole), gold-crowned sparrows (who have claimed the barn nesting boxes), and a red-winged blackbird that flew up from the pond.


Blue skies and dirt...

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.  Margaret Atwood

It was one of those picture-perfect spring days,
and all I wanted to do was get outside and be part of it.
Kneel in the dirt, and get my hands dirty.
Fill up the wheelbarrow with weeds.
Prune back the ferns and peonies.
Make room for this year's growth.

The big perennial border doesn't quite know
what to do now that the huge fir tree is gone,
and the ground is flooded with light.

Shade-loving plants like ferns and Hellebores
have doubled in size, seemingly happy with more light.
The forget-me-nots that last year provided a thick
carpet of blue, have all but disappeared.

My winter-hardy rosemary made it through winter
then promptly died as soon as the warm days arrived.


Just two years ago, I would have stressed about
finishing this flowerbed in a single weekend,
working through aches and pains in the single-minded
need to get it done. No longer. I take things in small
chunks, with more care, and with stops to take photographs
and imagine what plants would go best in the empty places.

So I stopped after three hours of weeding and digging
and pruning. And the next warm day, I'll finish it up.


Simple (TT)

When I saw Kim's theme for this week, I knew immediately which photo I wanted to use... this picture of my mother holding me, with such joy on her face, and my own uninhibited laugh. It was taken in the front yard of my childhood home, but I don't know anything else about it. With my matching bonnet and coat, we were probably headed to church.

My dad was an amateur photographer, and there are hundreds (if not thousands) of pictures of his three daughters. I love that you can see a bit of each of us in this photograph: Kathie has our mom's smile (and nose), Laurie has the straight brows, and I got the square hairline.  

Textured with Kim's Paper & Paste texture using the Vivid blending mode and 47% opacity


Earth day

It's been a typical April day in the Northwest...  brilliant sunshine and blue skies this morning, while I cleaned the kitchen and started the laundry, stripped the bed and made it up with fresh linens, then settled down for an hour (or three) of re-scaling photos for my blog. I went out to do a bit of blackberry whacking and bird watching, and just after I walked back inside, the sky fell... in the form of hail from black clouds, followed by torrential rainfall. And repeat, the rest of the day.

And here I was thinking of spending Earth Day with my hands in the dirt, as it should be. Dirt yes, mud no thank you.

So instead, I searched for a photograph that showed my patio gardens in full bloom, and found this picture of me with my Thoroughbred mare, Fallon. It was taken in 1987 on a much nicer spring day, right after her first bath of the year.


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In bloom...

The flu kept me home this Easter Sunday. Dave headed off to his sister's house for the family gathering, and I settled down with my hand quilting. The sun came out, the birds were singing, and I was restless. So I took my camera out for one last look at the late winter blooms.

The bird feeders were crowded, including a pair of Evening Grosbeaks who showed up on Friday and must have liked what they saw. We've never seen this bird on the farm before... maybe it was the black oil sunflower seeds I put out on Friday morning. It's reportedly their favorite. If you've never seen them before either, you can see photographs here. I've not been able to get a shot yet, but if they stick around to raise babies, I may get my chance.

On a photography blog I saw a great idea for photographing Hellebore plants:  cut the blooms and float them in a bowl of water. I pulled out one of my yellow ware bowls and gave it a try. Love the look. Next year I'll do this again when they first bloom. I have one plant that starts out pale greenish lavender, and ends up dark purple, and the two stages together would be beautiful.

One of our oldest shrubs, hidden behind the rhododendrons for years, is a Valley Rose (Pieris japonica). The soft rose pink blooms are turning white and brown and are definitely on their last legs, but they're still beautiful.

I hope your Sunday was wonderful.


Spring rain again...

We lazed around most of the day, through the rainy morning and noon-time bowl of homemade soup, through mugs of tea and surfing the internet and watching Dr. Who.

My inside projects are coming along...  a new design for padded inserts for my Nikon, to replace the set I made last year. Finished the latest set of hexagons for a someday Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt (the perfect project to work on while watching a movie). Tried on my fishing shirts, and they hang on me now. They'll need tailoring before fishing season, or maybe I can pass them on to Dave. The blue shirt is the exact color of his eyes.

Around 3:00 it cleared up and the sun even came out briefly... the birds hit the feeders, but their chirping stopped abruptly when it suddenly got dark and started to pour down rain again.

I'm losing hope that I can work in the yard again tomorrow, but it's OK... I've got plenty of time.


Rain + dirt...

In my book, rain + dirt = mud. I'm more of a fair weather gardener, so no gardening for me today.

What shall I do instead? Write, or play with my camera, or cut more fabric for my Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt? Or maybe write some letters, real letters with envelopes and stamps.

Or maybe I'll curl up on the sofa with a mug of hot tea, cuddle with my orange kittie, and watch it rain.

That sounds like the perfect choice for today. Hope you stay warm and dry on this soggy day.


Texture Tuesday | Perfectly imperfect

Continuing on with the theme of spring and tulips... my contribution to Texture Tuesday this week is my own take on Kim's theme for the week, Perfectly Imperfect.

There's nothing quite as perfect as a field of tulips in full bloom, a mass of blooms in a single color... except for the one volunteer bloom in a completely different color. I love the juxtaposition of color and texture in these two scenes.

Each photograph is textured with Kim's waterfront 18, using color burn at about 10%.

The photographs are two of many taken yesterday in the Skagit Valley tulip fields.


Skagit Valley tulips

Tulips rise on narrow green stalks, opening a single brilliant cup of color, reaching to the sun, standing proud. To see a few is delightful, to come around a corner and see a vast carpet of them, spreading to the horizon... it simply takes my breath away.

It's been years since we came to the Skagit Valley to enjoy the annual tulip festival, and with our good spring weather holding for a few more days, we decided to take the MX-5 and spend the day. I'm so glad we can do this sort of thing on a weekday now... one more reason to retire! There were lots of other folks like us, plus families with young children, people exploring the back roads on bicycles, and everyone seemed eager to get out among the flowers and walk. We had a great day.

We found two different fields of flowers to explore, both with plenty of off-road parking along the shoulder. The two big festival areas are great, but they're demonstration gardens with other things to amuse kids... not what we were looking for. We wanted to see the real tulip farms, where they grow tulips for the bulbs (and for cut flowers, while they last).

The fields where we spent the most time were especially beautiful, and not just because they had my favorite reds and pinks and purples. The gently rolling terrain was so much more interesting to photograph, with rows upon rows of color bands stretching out toward the Cascade foothills.

I kept an eye out for the strays that add their own pop of color to a field. At the first field, there were bright yellow tulips in a sea of red as bright as my sports car, and also some yellow tulips that wanted to be red, with color-blocked petals.

I love these white tulips with pink stripes and a faint yellow tinge, standing out in a sea of pink. The buds start out yellow, and open up to pure pink.

If I'm ever brave enough to plant tulips again, I'll intermingle bright red and purple, like these. It is such a gorgeous color combination.

These purple striped tulips were overshadowed when surrounded by bright red, but they more than held their own in a close up.

There were some gorgeous experimental blooms, like this ruffled yellow and red.

Dave in a sea of bright red. Both the dSLR and the Android phone had trouble with this field; the color was so bright it overwhelmed the sensor... and the senses. These tulips are exactly the color of my MX-5.

The permanent outhouses (for field workers) were decorated with clumps of bright pink tulips, especially beautiful against the rough dark green wood.

There is unexpected beauty in looking down.

And there were tulips for sale.

In The Language of Flowers, tulips mean "A Declaration of Love." But I've decided that tulips mean "Joy." Just look at a child's face when they run into a field of tulips, holding their arms open wide, and laughing for sheer joy... and you'll see what I mean.

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival runs the whole month of April, and the tulips are at their peak of perfection right now. Remember that Mother Nature dictates the state of the tulip fields, so come soon. You can see the complete festival schedule here.


Feel free to weed...

On our way to breakfast at the Fall City Roadhouse this morning, we spotted a wine tasting sign just up the road. So after breakfast we invited our friends to come along and check it out.

William Grassie Wine Estates is a one-man operation, with a beautiful setting on a hillside above the river. When we drove in, the owner was doing yardwork and invited us to join him... or come up to the deck to sample some wine. We laughed and chose the wine. He settled us down on the deck and brought Riedel glasses and bottles of wine, and shared his story with us.

The sunshine made the wine bloom in the glass, with each variety of wine spilling a unique colored refraction onto the tiles.

Two women wandered down toward the Pinot Noir vineyard, wineglasses in hand, and Bill invited them to feel free to weed. He was the perfect host: inviting all newcomers to come sample wine, or work in the yard if they preferred.

The MX-5 shared honors for the brightest spot in the yard with this gorgeous clump of sun-kissed tulips.


First bath...

My wee red roadster got a wash and a polish on this beautiful spring day. Tomorrow we're meeting friends for breakfast, and TrueRed will be taking us out for the day.

Three hours (and a bunch of burned calories) later, it looked way too wonderful to just park it in the garage again. So I moved it to the lawn and took a few pictures.

Eight years old, and I love it just as much as the day I drove it home.


A year ago... my first dSLR camera

It's been exactly a year since my first dSLR camera arrived on my front porch, the result of hours of research and reading reviews, asking friends for their recommendations, and finally making the decision. And I've never regretted it. I love my camera, a Nikon d5200 with two lenses:  a Sigma 18-250 OS macro zoom, and a Nikon 35mm prime.

In the past year, I've had so much fun focusing my camera on my favorite subject: landscapes. Road trips and landscapes are just perfectly in synch for me.

Besides lots of road trips, my camera has gone on hikes and picnics, cross-country skiing and fly fishing. It goes to wineries with us, and goes to parties and family gatherings.

At home, my camera is always close at hand, and when I leave the house, I feel naked if my camera doesn't come with me.

Looking at the world through the lens has become a habit now. Things look different through the lens, and you may discover that whatever view you chose first just might change once you look through the viewfinder. For me, it's especially true when it comes to photographing the small details around me. Like plants and flowers... when I spotted these ferns uncurling in the spring, I had a completely different photograph in mind. But when I checked all the curls through the viewfinder, this one looked the best through the lens.

Having a really great camera has made such a difference to my photography this year. I've learned so much more about digital photography, and re-learned a lot of techniques and skills from my old 35mm days. This year I hope to take a few online classes and keep stretching as a photographer.

That's my goal... to keep learning.


Empty feeder

This feeder came with the cabin, and we don't use it. There's no point setting up expectations in the bird population, when we're not there often enough to keep it filled. It's very picturesque, hanging from a big fir just off the deck, but I should probably take it down and bring it home, where it can be used as its builder intended.


Peaceful mornings...

I love the early hours at our lakeside cabin. For sixteen years now, my routine has been the same: wake up with the sun, and carry my mug down to the water's edge to see what the morning has to share.

This morning these ducks weren't the only early risers. Our small lake got a big stock of fish last fall, and another stock of jumbo rainbows just a week ago. So there were also a few fishing boats out already, with anglers hoping to catch the big ones.

Just after these ducks swam past, an eagle swooped down and did a dozen fly-by's around these poor ducks. The ducks circled and squawked, and the eagle beat his wings and kept darting at the ducks, over and over. When he'd lost altitude and was in danger of a dunk in the lake, he flew back to his perch in a nearby tree. He took another run at some tiny bufflehead ducks later in the day, and when he did the same thing, I was pretty sure the eagle was just messing with them.



These steps are sadly neglected. They're beautiful, with rustic timbers and lichen and moss, dappled with sunlight.

These steps lead from the firepit to the dock on our lakefront property.  I used to walk down the hill each morning and sit on the dock in the sun, and watch the bass swim underneath along the shore.

Steps should go somewhere, or to somewhere, and they should be used. When the lake level drops this summer, maybe we'll clear out the brush so we can use this beach for swimming access. It would give new life to these steps.


One drawer at a time

I love the local car dealer's commercial: "Planting a forest, one test drive at a time." You see, they plant a tree every time someone comes in to test drive one of their cars. Well, they don't run out and stick a tree in the ground just anywere, right after the potential customer heads out the lot. But they keep track, and once a year they gather up the employees and owners and volunteers, and they plant trees in one designated place. It's pretty cool, actually.

I've been de-cluttering my house by going through cupboards and closets and drawers, and weeding out the worn out, the not needed, the don't fit anymore, and the haven't been used in years. It's kind of liberating, actually. It's easier to find the clothes that do fit, the socks that are free from holes, and the kitchen containers that have lids. My house has already thanked me. My husband has yet to notice. But he will.


New roots....

The crown of one of my baby African violets broke off in my hands a couple of weeks ago, and I was horrified. I waited and waited for this baby to grow from a leaf cutting, then carefully tended it. And I broke it.

So to Google I went, looking for the best way to salvage the crown. One gardening website said you could put the crown in water and it would grow roots. Just make a paper collar to support the plant, and make sure to keep the water topped off. This method would also work on leaf cuttings. There's no need to go through the usual process of dipping the leaf stem in rootone, planting it in vermiculite and potting soil, then putting a bag over pot and plant to keep it moist.

I'm willing to try most things once, so I pulled out a beer tasting glass and a couple of shot glasses, cut paper collars, cut an "X" slit in each, and slipped the crown through one and two leaf cuttings through the others, and set the glasses in the kitchen window.

The best thing about this method is that everything is visible. You can see the stem and know immediately when it starts to sprout roots. Just keep the water level near the rim of the glass, and let them be. You don't have to worry whether the leaf is staying moist, or wonder what's going on under the soil. The crown sprouted roots from the original crown. I expected the leaves to form roots just where the leaf and stem joined, but the roots sprouted right where I cut the stem.

Within a couple of weeks the crown was sprouting roots, and within a month, the leaves also had roots. Soon I'll transplant the leaves and crown into pots.

Plus they look really pretty on my windowsill.