Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rainy Leap Day...

Just because it's February 29th, and someday I will be looking back on my blog and reminiscing, I wanted to post today. After all, it only comes around every four years.  I first learned about Leap Year at an early age.  My Dad had two uncles who helped raise him, as his own father died when he was just a child.  These two men lived on the ranch where Dad was born, served in the military in first "big one" (WWI) and never married. Bachelors, I guess?

Uncle Arthur was born on Leap Year Day, which as a young girl, explained to me why he might be so weird.  He had a huge wart (or some kind of obnoxious, bulby growth) on his index finger and he would shake it in my face every time I saw him, pretending to squeeze it like it might explode...and every time, it would scare the crap out of me. Then he'd laugh and remind me that he was only 15 or something, because he only had a birthday every four years, and wasn't that special? Creeped me out. He had weird yellow teeth too...shiver...

So today is Uncle Aurthur's birthday (he was 18 when he died), and rather than examine my own moles and freckles in his honor, I thought of others things to do in honor of Leap Year Day. Truthfully, it's our first rainy day here in the Valley for quite some time. Forgetting the Leap Year Day thing, what kinds of things make a rainy day special?

Well, first I'd crank up the Keurig...

Start a pot of pinto beans (come to think of it, Uncle Arthur did make a mean pot of beans)

Maybe finish a yummy warm scarf?

You could lay on the couch with your Nook, Laurel...

Or start the new quilt you've been thinking about...

If you could figure out where to go from here, you could work on this stupid bracelet...

Or practice your Sonata in G...

So many things, so little time. I better get busy doing something before Leap Year Day is over! I wonder if the hubby wants to go for a drive in the rain? Lemme check...whoops...he's in his "chair", snoring on this lazy morning...wait...what's that? That's NOT a wart is it???

  What are you doing on Leap Year Day??


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Quest for readers...

Okay, I lied. This post isn't about anything in fact it's not about anything, period.  I am so totally frustrated with "feeds" that I don't understand, "URLs" that go to places I don't want, "gadgets" that don't work and "HTML" jargon I don't get at all.  So this post is just to test what I think I've done, connecting it to a new Facebook page...My fear is that it will post to my personal FB instead of my Laurel's Quill page.

QUIZ for the DAY:

Am I 

1) too old to be doing this?

2) too stupid to be doing this?

3) missing some marbles?

Pick one. And wish me luck.

Oh, just for the photographers out there, here's a pic for ya.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's not always about me...

It's church day again, and I am hoping to be inspired.  Aren't we all so self-centered, like it's about us instead of God! I'm afraid to say that it's a consistent wish of mine as I drive to the edifice that has occupied my spare time for over 9 months. You see, I volunteer there.  It's what I do. Open mouth, insert foot. "No" is not a word that I am intimately familiar with, especially looking into the doe eyes of the women's pastor. Not saying no was certainly the cause of a major breakdown some years back when my limited "irons" were in one too many fires. But time healed that crisis of faith after several years of hiding from pastors, committee chairs, and other movers and shakers in the church body. My own personal sabbatical, I guess.

So nine months ago when our congregation started building an expansion to our Worship Center AND decided to act as it's own "General" contractor, I volunteered to be the project manager's administrative support for the duration. Why? Because I can do that sort of thing...I am thinking to myself. And doesn't God want you to DO for Him, you slacker?

Let me start by saying that though I was once a semi financial executive (I use the term loosely) of sorts in a multi million dollar corporation, creating budgets and managing health and welfare plans, etc., I had not one drop of experience in the construction industry. Nope, never built anything, never filed a permit, never dealt with an inspector. Who cares what OSHA stands for, anyway?

In the most dismal of economic downturns since the depression, we started a capital campaign and amazingly (miraculously!) God blessed our efforts.  People gave from their hearts and their pocketbooks, and we were able to finish it debt free, mostly under budget and generally on-time. We had a joke in the office about "the Schedule"...

"Are we on schedule?"

"Whose schedule? Yours or God's?"  We were always ON SCHEDULE.

I learned a lot about building that I never knew, and some things that I don't ever want to know or do again. When I was growing up, my Dad was good with his hands, a builder of sorts, and I was fascinated with how he made things fit together.  He also operated heavy equipment, so naturally I was transfixed with all the giant earth moving equipment that crawled around our campus, pushing piles of dirt and making giant holes. And who can fathom 60 foot steel beams fitting together like the pieces of a giant puzzle.  I was fascinated.

I also learned a lot about the people who work in the trade industries - the electricians, the plumbers, the drywall and cement guys. They work hard and for the most part, take immense pride in their finished products. And of course they like to be paid, and that's where I shined..sort of. Funny that when I had a whole bunch of accountants reporting to me, I didn't have much appreciation for the day to day stuff that it takes to keep a company working. So, big shot, let's see how you do creating your own vouchers, assigning account codes, keeping your own sub ledger, fetching proper approvals, filing, copying and all that other stuff you watched others do! After nine months of being a grunt, I bow down and cheer the clerks and administrative professionals of the world, for it would never run smoothly without you!!

As I worshipped this particular Sunday morning, I was humbled that God was able to use me. I prayed constantly throughout the project that it would not be about me or my giftedness, but about Him.  I wasn't always successful, to be honest, but I love that I kept trying to keep my focus on the One who made all of it happen. He deserves all the credit.

Thank you, Lord.

It is finished
 John 19:30


Friday, February 24, 2012

Diagnosis: Acute Idiopathic Bloggeria

I awoke this morning after another restless leg night, tired and irritable. I brewed a cup of strong coffee to face the nemesis of my frequent bouts of sleep deprivation these days...this computer...this blog thing. I must be truthful: I think my blog is sick. I arrived at this conclusion at about 2:30 a.m. when visions of off-white things would not give way to much needed rest.  My brain was high-centered on Artful Blogging overload. I am officially OCD and need help.

I found a Blogger MD listed on the Help for Neurological Disorders page on the Internet, once again proving how dire my computer addiction has become of late. He was a odd looking old man whose beside manner equaled that of the late Sam Kinison..a screamer of sorts.

"I read your blog," he screamed. He reached into the drawer and pulled out an extra large blogoscope about the size of a Louisville Slugger, a ghoulish smile creeping out.  Oh God, he's actually Dennis Wolfberg! He got right to the point.

"It kinda sucks," waving the blogoscope near my left ear.

"What's wrong with it?" I asked incredulously. I didn't think it was that bad. Schizoid, maybe, but definitely not sucky.

"Well, it has no point," he screeched.  "It's totally random. You jump all over the place. One day you're totally sarcastic (that post about bra-shopping ) and irreverent, the next minute you're all schmaltzy (Traveling with God? what's up with that?) and dare I mention that you don't even have any shabby chic photos of roses or picket fences. And nobody follows you...what do you have...maybe six people who read it??"

"But that's not the point, Dr.__," I paused, forgetting the old geezer's last name.

"That's the way I am," I burst out. "I have too many hobbies that I love, too many projects to start, too many thoughts I need to express, too head is too full, spinning all the time. And yes, I can be irreverent occasionally...what wrong with a little humor now and then!" He was starting to get on my nerves and I started doing the same thing I always do when dealing with rejection...get defensive.

"I can do shabby-chic if that's what it's all about...I can do pretty." I wiped away a slowly growing cache of snot accumulating on my upper lip.

He scratched his chin thoughtfully. His face softened.

"Sweetie, there has to be a reason WHY you have a blog. Everybody knows that."

I considered that bit of wisdom for a minute...before I got mad.

"Well, Dr. whatever your name is, I blog for the same reason everyone else does.  They have things to say and they want someone to listen. It's a simple concept!"

I can't believe I actually paid for this appointment with my Pay Pal account. My followers would be outraged.

"And, Dr. Bozo, I can do pretty," I repeated, as I waltzed toward the door.  "Sometimes I just don't want to."

And there ya have it... Happy Blogging!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Traveling with God

Perched on a tiny pedestal near the cash register at Starbuck’s Kenneth/Madison store sits Stan.  Stan is a homely little man/doll with a bare chest and a big nose. Customers of the local coffee shop sign up on a schedule to take Stan on vacation with them.  Across the room is a bulletin board covered with pictures of Stan taken around the world – Stan on an elephant in India, Stan in Ireland, Stan swimming with Dolphins, etc.

Dave and I signed up to take Stan to Europe in May.  He probably had been there before but we hoped to show him new sights and experience new adventures together.  Three days before our scheduled departure, I went to pick Stan up, as he was supposed to be arriving back from a two week junket to the nation’s capital.  Alas, Stan had not returned to his perch by the cash register…sorry Stan…no Europe for you.

It would make a great story if I told you that I decided to take God with me to Europe instead of Stan.  You know…like I was immediately overcome with a sense of godly purpose, spreading the Gospel to strangers I’d meet in every sidewalk cafĂ©.  Honestly though, I wasn’t thinking of God much during my packing and planning, like so many days that manage to slip through my fingers without so much as a passing thought of Him.

We left for Europe, full of excitement and anticipation, and though I didn’t put God in my plans, He showed up anyway. As we rounded the corner of a darkened Paris street, I caught my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower - twinkling, majestic and reaching for Heaven. I was overcome with thankfulness – many never see such beauty.  I felt the same way as I entered the room where the lovely Mona Lisa sat in gracious repose for the curious throngs – what incredible gift from God was given to the man who captured her likeness?

God was everywhere, every day. In a single twenty-four hour period I was awestruck by miles and miles of yellow flowered hillsides that graced the road to Berlin, only to be brought to tears by the letters and photographs displayed in the Jewish Holocast Memorial.  That same quietness marked our visit to Omaha Beach, where surely God must have cried on that windy June day in 1944.

For every day that we were humbled by the history of Europe, there were no less than four or five that were marked by magnificent beauty, joyful sharing and adventure that surely rivaled our best attempts to conjure up Heaven! 

Just take a drive through the vine covered hills of Tuscany, swim in the crystal blueness of the Adriatic, loose your purse with passports and credit cards only to have them returned safely into your hands by two strangers and tell me there’s not a loving, gracious, generous and merciful God who NEVER leaves your side. 

 And Stan…well, he’s just a doll.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Charmed life...

I'm thinking that I live a charmed life...not because I'm rich or have a lot of stuff. I get to do things that many in the world only dream of doing.  Again, we're not talking about traveling the world, staying in five star hotels, eating truffles or wearing Versace. It's just life in my little corner of the world.

It's about a cappuccino in the morning...

Wine tasting in the foothills on a Saturday afternoon...

Or just contemplating what to plant in my summer garden...

or being grateful for the freedoms we enjoy every day...

and just feeling...well.......blessed, today!

What are you grateful for???

Laurel, God Bless!!!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Here I am...

Oh the things we do to get noticed....Just getting your blog registered with the various search engines can be a daunting task. I feel like a wanna be Sally Field ("You like REALLY like me!)

And here's just another technicality:


What's that you say??? It's my claim token for Technorati. So in case you are bored with this post (which I don't blame you) here's some nice photos for you to muse over...

Anybody like to travel?


Happy Blogging!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

California Harvest - an art quilt...

I had a whole list of things I was going to do when I retired: travel, read, sew, make jewelry, paint, etc. Upon retirement, I purchased two things that I had coveted for years - an 6' ebony grand piano and a Viking sewing machine that all but talks back to you. My goals were to take lessons on the piano and make an art quilt.  I had visited a fiber artist's studio loft downtown and was impressed by the creative way she worked with patterns, textures and colors. Her pieces were huge and in demand in commercial office spaces and hotels all over the world.  I wanted to try my hand at making a large "quilt", as is my style - to jump in way over my head when trying something new.

My hubby had planted sunflowers several years ago in our back yard, and together with some heirloom tomatoes, I created the prettiest still life on my kitchen counter one summer evening.  I wanted to capture the beauty so snapped a couple of pictures. Just for fun I started messing with the image in Photoshop, blurring the background. I loved the result and I decided that this photo would be the subject of my first art quilt.

Hurdle No. 1)  Create a pattern.

I took the digital file of the photo and entered it into a cross stitch pattern maker called PC Stitch.  The computer program converts a photo into a mass of tiny pixels and if you had every DMC floss color in the world (which I do), it would take you a year to stitch it.  So I simplified the color palette and created white borders around the shapes that I wanted to eventually convert into fabric. When I printed out the pattern sheets for the whole picture, I had twenty-five 8 1/2" X 11" pages.

Hurdle No. 2) Matching the pattern pieces

Because I decided to do this quilt in squares (not sure that was the wisest of decisions) the individual elements of the bouquet and background overlapped into multiple squares.  So each fabric piece, each petal, each leaf had to be matched with it's adjoining sections.  What a pain.

I decided that I wasn't going to use the traditional applique technique, but just pin the pieces on a white backing and use a machined blanket stitch.  That's actually a slight fib - I didn't know how to do the traditional applique techniques.  But it all worked out.  I started on one row and quickly discovered that I probably should have gone left to right and top to bottom.  It was difficult and time consuming to match the elements, especially with the detailed flowers. I changed threads on each element to match each new color of fabric. Lot's of tag ends to clip!!

Hurdle No. 3) Every quilt needs a back!

Choosing the batting was easy.  Since my squares were rather weighty and thick in some areas, I wanted the batting to be light weight.  Someone recommended a natural cotton.  The fabric for the back of the quilt was a little harder to pick.  I thought perhaps a batik with a pattern might camouflage my irregular and erratic machine quilting.  I used a multi color cotton thread for the bobbin, so the stitching on back would be somewhat uniform.

Hurdle No.4) The quilting

I knew that someday I was going to have to face the actual quilting of my project.  My new Viking was capable of free motion quilting. but I had never done it before.  The Answer - take a class! I practiced and practiced to get a good rhythm and learn how to work the fabric through the feeder foot, but I was totally stymied by the many patterns within the project.  I wanted it to look like a painting with thread, but didn't know how to get there.  I had a friend who is an excellent quilter come over and give me some ideas of stitching patterns, and after quite some time (I must have just stared it for over a month), I decided to dive in and just start sewing.  The more I stitched, the easier it became, and the farther I got, the more fun and intricate my patterns became.

Almost one year from the start, I finished my quilt, and dubbed it California Harvest. It measures 38" X 48" and hangs in my dining room. I still enjoy looking at it.

It's been a couple of years since I completed California Harvest.  A quilting friend of mine sponsored my work in a regional quilt show, and it was so gratifying to watch the  seasoned quilters gaze and admire it. It's not perfect by any real quilter's standards, but it was an accomplishment for me just to actually finish it! Amazingly, I am just about ready to try another one. I rather doubt I will use the same technique - there's got be an easier way:)

Happy quilting!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Beyond Basic Needs...

Some behavioral experts say that we operate out of one or two "basic" needs.  These needs go beyond the overarching human needs for survival, like food, clothing and shelter - we all need those.  According to one such expert, our one true "basic need" impacts the way we interact with other people, colors our perceptions of life and affects how we interpret the world around us and our circumstances. We act the way we do because it makes us feel good. It's a gut level response to everything and everyone, and though all four of the following basic needs apply to us personally, our inner being and resulting behavior is a result of our attempts to satisfy one or two of these needs:

1) The need to love and be loved, to cooperate, to be around other people,  for friendship
2) The need for control, to influence, to win, to impact others in some way
3) The need to be explore, to be ourselves, to choose, to express ourselves
4) The need for laugh and play, to learn, to be entertained

This theory promulgated by one such expert, Dr. William Glasser, is centered on the lengths we will go to drive beyond these basic needs to achieve something he calls our "quality world". In his book The Quality School,  Glasser says our quality world contains "the very best or highest quality pictures or perceptions of the people, places, things or situations that we have learned feel especially good in the real world."

My quality world consists of people, places, things, and activities that are unique and special to me. Some are "wants", but most are what I would call "major needs":

Like the need to create beauty...

Or just appreciate it...

To be outdoors...

To Write...yes. And Make music in my heart...

And Enjoy food and wine...

To Give of my time in service...

Travel everywhere...all the time...

Or just rest...

To be around family and friends...

But most all, to Believe...

I find that most of what I do and appreciate in this life is centered around desire for my often elusive quality world. I see this as a yearning for some tiny replication of what Heaven might be like. Whether you "believe" or not, we are all born with this desire...God made us that way. Meanwhile, isn't life a great adventure?


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Making Wedding Cake is not for Sissies...

I used to make wedding cakes.  I say that like people say "I used to be a ballerina" or "I used to be third baseman for the Yankees", meaning that's something I'll never be able to do again. The conversation always started "Back when I..." and finished with some pleasant memory of their exploits and accomplishments. So, back when I made wedding cakes, it was just one of the many things that I did to put food on the table.  In the 60's - 80's I designed hippie dresses and sold them in a little boutique on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, I sold oil paintings at street fairs, I wallpapered rolls and rolls of ugly grass cloth and I designed and made wedding gowns. I batiked, I potted, I catered and I helped people with their interior design.

By far the most challenging of these exploits was making wedding cakes.  A gown is one thing - all those beads and satin - but you have lots of time, lots of fittings to perfect it.  A wedding cake is a three day marathon where there can only be one outcome - it must be beautiful, taste scrumptious, hold together and it must be delivered.  No do-overs. Therein lies the evil behind making a wedding cake - you have to get it to the venue on time and in tact.

I stopped making wedding cakes after what I will call the "pink cake disaster".  I lived in a tiny apartment with my two young children, baking in an oven barely big enough to fit my biggest cake pan. The bride wanted pale pink frosting with white "pearl" dots and pink frosting flowers. Okay, I said confidently, thinking in the back of my mind that I would make pink fondant to cover the butter cream.  This was in the days before you could buy Wilson's rolled fondant in a bag in Michael's and I had never tried it before. But I was arrogant about my talents back then, so no problem.

I always put the final layer of butter cream on my cakes on the morning of the wedding so that it was fresh - no five day old shortening frosting for my cakes. Real butter, real vanilla. Somehow on this particular wedding morning, I ran out of time. Poor planning on my part, because I forgot that fondant is BOILED to get the sugar just right, and DUH, it has to be COOLED before you can work with it. Needless to say, it was not cooling fast enough, the clock was ticking, and I was officially in panic mode. I finally watered down the warm pink sticky mixture and literally poured it over the butter cream layers.  And you guessed it, the warm fondant melted the butter cream and it all started falling off the cake.  I'm madly frosting and crying hysterically and Amy comes in to report that Jon just threw up in the bathroom. In my worst Mommy moment I get mad at her, she starts crying, Jon's crying "cause he's sick" and the cake looks like ^()@*&^%!  By some grace of God, I get the thing presentable, throw the layers into the trunk of my car and with my two kids in tow, I pray the whole way that the tiny little pearls don't slide off.  I make it to the reception venue and walk in before anyone is there but the staff, and in another show of God's grace, I see that the room is very poorly lit.  Thank you Jesus!  I set up the cake and get out as fast as I can.

Even though the bride called several days later to tell me how beautiful the cake was, the whole experience was so traumatic that I vowed it was my last wedding cake. I have made one or two for special friends over the years, but as a rule, I'm done.  So it was a big surprise to me that when my old friend's son announced he was getting married sometime in the next year, I heard my one-too-many-glasses-of-wine mouth say "OH, I'LL MAKE YOUR WEDDING CAKE!" And though I may not have remembered that incident, they did. Imagine my surprise to learn a year later that I was making their cake for 125 people. Okie Dokie, then.  Let's do it! The cake would be our gift to the bride and groom.

Preparation for the cake layers begins on T-Minus 3 days. The bride wanted real lavender roses on her cake, so I made some butter cream accent roses just in case I needed a tiny pop of color. Lavender roses are hard to find and a little pricey.
(the Seagram's was on standby in case of a repeat "pink disaster":)

I started with a Pillsbury white cake mix, but I used sour cream instead of the water, added more vanilla, and used the whole eggs.  The bottom layers are 16".  The sour cream makes the cake a little more dense for ease of cutting ans has a richer taste.

T-Minus 2 days
I filled the layers with strawberries and cream cheese.  You have to be careful when you add the fresh chopped berries to the frosting for the filling, as it can get runny.  I divided each of the layers into halves, making a four layer cake.  I made a frosting "rim" around each layer to hold in the filling, then assembled the four layers and crumb coated each of the cakes - the 16", the 12" and a 6" layer for the top.  I put several bowls of baking soda in my cleaned garage refrigerator to make sure the cake stays fresh.

T Minus 1 Day
I made the butter cream frosting and slapped it on the cake.  I use two cubes of butter, 1/4 cup shortening, two boxes of XXX sugar, 1 tablespoon vanilla and enough milk ( about 1/2 cup) to get the proper consistency.  You need lots of tips and pastry bags, dowels for reinforcement and a steady hand. Finished layers go back in the fridge overnight.  I wanted the cake to be very cold for the drive up to the wedding - the couple live in the country and the mile and a half dirt road was filled with potholes.  A wedding cake maker's worst nightmare. I assembled the cake at the venue.

T Minus 0 - Wedding Day!!

A work of Love for a dear couple. And it was yummy.

Laurel - Happy Baking!!

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