Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Living in the Short Rows

When she travels, my friend Peg always takes a knitting project with her for the airplane trip. For her holiday travel this Christmas season she was working on a lace project which was an especially complex pattern that incorporated a technique called short rows.  Short rows are Satan’s handiwork, designed to confound the best of knitters and keep us humble. (Not really but it feels that way sometimes.)

Wrap and turn, knit back, wrap and turn, knit back…and so on and so on. 

 Short rows never seem to end and you never seem to get anywhere…but somehow you plod through them and if you don’t scrap the whole project in total frustration, at some point sometime you finish strong, hopefully with your sanity in tact. 

Sounds somewhat like life, at times? Aside from the normal ups and downs and twists and turns of life, we all have periods of living in the “Short Rows”. Perhaps our plans took a slight unexpected detour, onto a road filled with potholes and sharp turns. We brave the challenge with aplomb, recalling all those wise words from our mothers who probably faced more adversity than we ever will… we steel our face in a smile, we grab our faith and try like hell not to go backwards.

Wrap and turn, knit back…

Perhaps the most difficult of all of life’s ups and downs is change itself. We all want to grow emotionally and spiritually. We call it maturity.  To stay in the same groove of life is stagnating…a broken record of sorts. But when life's changes take us places that are unpleasant or even frightening, our steely smiles dissipates. We gird our loins, so to speak and opt for the “just get me through this” approach.

Wrap and turn, knit back…

The goal in knitting short rows it to not leave “holes” in your pattern by carefully wrapping a strand of yarn around the last stitch in the row and turning the piece around to knit back to the beginning. An experienced knitter can easily spot the short rows in a garment, even if they are expertly executed. There may be a subtle change in the pattern or the colors of the yarn, but the rows are artfully secured with each wrap and turn.  No holes. 

We too can easily spot the beautiful unevenness in the pattern of our own lives, knowing that the turns and twists did not defeat us.  We were made stronger just by the journey itself.  No holes. Life’s short rows are inevitable.  I think that it’s how we “wrap and turn” that determines the ultimate outcome of our daily struggles. Making the effort to view each challenge as a personal growth opportunity rather than a crisis waiting to happen is what makes us stronger in the end. 

In knitting. we can choose not to do the patterns with the horrid "wrap and turn" short rows...but in life, not so much. If we could "pick" what happens to us, heck yeah, we would! But it doesn't work that way and we know it.  So, with every period of growth and every painful wrap and turn, we get a little better at living. In the end, we become deliciously complex...unplanned holes and all.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Fixer Upper heaven...

Another Shop I Adore...

In this day of extreme social media and technology overload it’s easy to develop an obsession about celebrity. We see their every move and quickly become acquainted with their daily lives. Each and every aspect of their fame is chronicled for our enjoyment in excruciating detail. I personally am not one to get wrapped up in celebrity (?), although I do remember once being obsessed with Bette Midler some years ago after seeing her perform – I was sure that she and I would be close friends in another universe and time, if she only knew me.

Even though I am world away from Waco, Texas living in California, I am pretty confident that Joanna Gaines and I would be girlfriends if I lived nearby. From the first episode of Fixer Upper that I watched, I sensed that she is genuine.  And you only have to watch a couple of episodes with she and her soul mate Chip to wish they were your friends living down the road.

So it should have come as no surprise to my Texas native/hubby Dave that one of my coveted destinations during our recent trip was a stop at Magnolia Market in Waco. Joanna’s new storefront at the Silos had not yet celebrated their grand opening, but it was hosting a soft opening nevertheless, much to my delight. In fact, the very next day, all of Texas was hit with a major storm, so our timing for our brief visit was fortuitous.

Naturally I secretly hoped to meet Joanna and Chip there, but it was not to be - get real, Laurel..they were out filming the new season episodes! Their absence didn’t hamper my enjoyment of my shopping experience, as I could sense their love and energy following me around the tables and shelves of beautiful and unique home decor.

I remember the episode where these were placed in a craft room for kids..

The Sales staff were trained well...or were they just naturally nice like their bosses?

These stems were my favorite item...
Although the store did not ship (you can of course order online and they will ship) I was bound and determine to bring something from the actual store home in my carry-on. I would have loved to bring home their classic magnolia wreath as a momento, but I was pretty sure the overhead bins would not be kind to it. I will have to be content to order it online.

Dave couldn't resist documenting my visit - he knew how excited I was to be there!

So what did I come home with, you ask?

Only a few more days and the new season of Fixer Upper will start. Dave and I can't wait to watch Chip and Joanne make another dream home out of nothing!

Laurel. And they make me laugh.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Gift of Life

As I sit in front of an immense pile of Black Friday ads from the newspaper, the front page peaked out from under the stack. Under all that wasted paper,  a small photo gut-wrenched my heart right out of the holiday hustle/bliss anticipation that I was feeling and right into the “OMG, this time of year sucks” feeling that rears it’s ugly head.

The photo was of a hand holding a picture of a beautiful young woman with the byline “Out of tragedy, a life is saved.” I knew immediately what the story line was – a young woman unexpectedly died and her family donated her organs to help save the lives of others. I have read this story before many times…different people, same outcomes. And I have the same reaction every time – a flood of regret.

Jon was a beautiful, generous young man. He had checked that box on your driver’s license that allows for organ donation. In my shock that fateful morning, I couldn’t figure out why they worked so hard to keep him alive with such a fatal head trauma injury...why the Life-Flight…why all the tubes and injections? All I could see was that my beautiful boy was gone, so “No, you can not take any piece of him…why are you asking me that?” In my profound grief, I did not consent to his wishes. I never gave it another thought for years.

A few years ago, a dear friend lost her husband because there was no spare kidney to save his life.  And that’s when it hit me. Hard. All I could think of was Jon’s perfect 18 year old kidneys, his strong heart, his healthy lungs, his beautiful brown eyes…all lost. A decision I made in agonizing grief, but in the clear light of day and 20/20 hindsight became my life’s biggest regret.

I immediately changed my own drivers license to allow for organ donation, but as the years click by, I’m not too sure what they will be able to use. They can have whatever they want. Organ donation often gets a bad rap these days, especially with all the negative press over fetal tissue donation, stem cell research, cloning, etc. My brain can’t even wrap itself around the morality or otherwise of these issues. My personal decision in 1991 was not one of politics or religion - it was one of a mother who wanted to hang onto what was my son. 

Grief is strange...I love that it often moves to laughter in time. I confess that I secretly waited for some young woman to knock on my door with a baby in her arms telling me that it was Jon's.  Can you imagine? Crazy dreams of grieving..all those what ifs. But how nice it would be to know, right now, this morning, that his heart was beating in another young man with his sense of humor and zeal for life? It would be beyond nice.

So go ahead.. check that box yourself. Give your consent. Give life.


Monday, October 12, 2015

My "LBD" - Fit for Audrey herself...

I am always blasting the contestants of Project Runway ("PR")for their apparent lack of sewing skills, even though I myself have never designed a dress from the ground up. Granted, I have made a lot of patterns from other garments and certainly altered hundreds of patterns to make them my own.  I totally understand garment construction after sewing for 50 years, but my mini-me Colette and I have never started from scratch - sans pattern.

As Dave's 50th class reunion in Dallas Texas approached, I began to feel a little guilty about ragging on the PR guys (even though this year's crop are pretty untalented) without ever having tried to design a dress myself. For his reunion, I knew that I wanted to wear a classic "little black dress" to the event - it's not too dressy (but it can be) nor is it too casual. 

There's just something about a simple silhouette for evening. Trust me, I scoured the stores before I decided to go out on this limb and I saw nothing that remotely looked like a designer dress.  I was looking for the ultimate Audrey Hepburn dress....simple, good lines, black.

Colette:  "You can do this Laurel. I'll be with you all the way!"

Me: "I'm a little nervous...what if I'm a dismal failure at designing, and I'm destined to only be a seamstress. Ugh."

I had picked up some yardage from Stonemountain and Daughter Fabrics a couple of months ago in anticipation of finding the perfect LBD pattern similar to the design I wanted to wear. (Obviously, I never found that pattern and that's why I set about designing and draping a dress myself). So in true PR style, I set about making a sketch of the design I wanted...my Audrey vision clear.

I used some cool little narrow tape to outline the design details on Colette. I wanted a short dress with a trapeze-like fullness at the hem.  I wanted the back to be dramatic (translation: Low) and the front to be high at the neckline with princess seams.

Once Colette was decked out in marking tape, I started creating the "pattern" pieces using inexpensive muslin fabric.  "So far so good.  I don't know what the heck is wrong with those PR dummies...this is a snap!"


"And hey, Laurel...why not make the muslin (the test dress) out of a fabric that in case it works out, you could have two dresses?"  I found some bright red fabric in my stash and used the pattern pieces that I had just created to start a little red dress.

The Little Red Dress was easy to sew together, and that's just about where things starting going haywire. Though the test dress looked like it was going to be adorable, evidently either Colette went on a diet or I got fat...it looked great on her...but...

Me: "Colette, why didn't you tell me that I have back fat?"

Colette: "I told you not to take out that extra padding. You're going to have to change the back of this cute little red dress to hide your second set of cleavage."

So, back to the drawing board after two sleepless nights trying to figure out what to do next. I took my original muslin pattern pieces and altered them to adjust for the sizing issues: I cut the back panel higher, made the front princess seams larger at the bust and cut the armholes a little bigger.

On to the final layout on my black fabric: the fabric is a very tight knit with Lycra added.  It's almost crisp like taffeta or peau de soie , but it stretched in one direction.  Choosing which direction to lay out the pieces took a little forethought.

After sewing the red dress so quickly I was anticipating the same ease of construction with my black fabric. Wrong!!!!!!!! The fabric had a right and wrong side but it was barely distinguishable to the naked eye.  However, when I sewed no less than three or four seems together, you could easily see the difference in the sheen of the fabric.

Me and my seam ripper became friends. My eyes are not what they used to be, but sewing on black fabric is virtually impossible unless you have a 500 megawatt light bulb over your shoulder. Sew. Rip. Sew some more. Whoops...rip.

 "WTF, Laurel!! Do you NOT know how to sew?" Rip.

Sunday came and the dress still had little construction issues that bothered me. I was so discouraged and announced to Dave I was off to Macy's to find a dress.  And like all other shopping trips to Macy's, every dress was so ho-hum, so cheap looking, so ordinary.  Penny's - ditto. After two hours, I sat in my car in the parking lot and lectured myself: 

"Just pull up your big girl panties, go home and fix the stupid thing, Laurel.  You KNOW HOW TO SEW!"

And that's how the LBD came into being...Me and Colette...start to finish - a one of a kind design by yours truly. Audrey would be proud...

Laurel. Ready for Project Runway.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Taken Aback...way back.

Fear: (noun). An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

It is amazing to me that so much of women's lives is grounded in fear. We are taught to "overcome it", "control it", and basically "just get over it". It's not that most of us live our lives looking around the corner for the boogy-man or that credible threats haunt us, but more that memories of painful experiences creep into our lives, reminding us of our vulnerability and overall fragility. Nor is it to say that we are somehow immobilized (though some women are), but more that we are subtly impacted by small fears that color our way of thinking and our actions.

Most of us would prefer not to think of ourselves as fearful - it goes against the "strong woman" complex that we covet and try to maintain. But if we examine our reactions to certain life situations that trigger unexplainable anxiety or tension, we can probably, at the very least, acknowledge an old underlying fear, irrational as it may be.

Some things we never really overcome: divorce, abandonment, extreme poverty, death of a child. These life experiences color our lives for years later, after their last tears dried on our cheeks. Other smaller fears today are rooted in our childhood, adolescence and teen years - fears of rejection, not being liked or loved, not being enough, fears of being alone.  These are the ones we try to "get over" as adults and are especially annoyed when they occasionally creep back into our lives. 

But because we are "strong women", we are usually able to squash the petty adolescent notion that we were never pretty enough, never smart enough or basically a "loser".  We assure ourselves, and rightfully so, that we are none of those things any more.  Today we are, after all, "ALL THAT and a bag of chips"! 

Until we dream...

Leave it to our brains to bring out the worse in us: old anxieties and fears come back like a freight train in our dream world.  Though laughable in the clear daylight, we are taken aback by the momentary unpleasant emotion we feel upon waking, Dang! Are we NOT over THAT yet...really??!!

So, about that dream I had last night of my upcoming high school reunion...50 years is a long time to get over it, and in my conscious, rational,  totally together life today, I am. Some say that there's a smidgen of truth in dreams and if that's so, then I am deluded still and could use a few more bars of I am woman, hear me roar. I tend to believe that dreams remind us of who we were and where we've been. So when we wake, the old emotion wakes with us, if only for a moment.

So I'm in line to go into the party. Dave is suited up in a tux, but he's forgotten the tickets.  He leaves to go back home and I take matters into my own hands and buy another ticket at the door.  I wander in and I'm immediately distressed about my lipstick (I'm having a hard time finding a lipstick that will stay on these days). I see some popular girls and I wander over. They disappear into thin air.  I don't seem to recognize anyone there...faces look familiar, but somehow old and changed. So I keep wandering. They are having a shoe sale on the dance floor, but I can't buy any because I can't wear high heels any more. I see Joe (not his real name) and he's wearing a grotesque cable knit sweater that's too small (I knit, so I don't know what that was all about) Some faceless guy leads me over to a group of other low-life guys that are selling drugs and I am barely able to escape without getting stoned. I meet Sally (not her real name) in a tiny stairwell and she has shown up with her grand kids in tow. One of them sticks her tongue out at me as I pass. I find table and a woman takes my little flask of hooch (Crown Royal - which makes me immensely popular at that moment) that I've been swigging out of and she proceeds to pass it around to everyone at the table and they drink it all.  I'm now sober. I wander again and see my husband (with a mohawk, no less, and sporting a football jersey) flirting with some chick. I give him the stink eye, but keep wandering around...looking...wandering.  Somewhere, somehow I have lost my shoes. I spill my hooch on my bridal gown and it rots the fabric and now I have a big hole in my dress, which I try to cover up with my over sized cheap vinyl purse.  I still can't find the popular table. Or my shoes. I pass by a mirror and see that my makeup is totally thrashed. I'm a mess.

I wake. Momentary fear. Relief. Then I bust up. Anyone who knows me, knows that I would never wear a bridal gown to my reunion, much less be caught dead toting a cheap plastic purse.

 Laurel. Where are my shoes? 

Dave: "Honey, let's go down to the Mall and we'll compare - I will show you how beautiful you still are."

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Joys of the Web...

This morning I got a notice from Fat Cow (a website provider) that my domain name will expire in September.  In case you didn't know it, I DO have a website for Laurel's Quill in addition to the blog that you all read when you've a mind to.  I reserved the domain name a couple of years ago because it was available.  I was thinking that someday I would transfer my blog from Google's Blogger hosting to Fat Cow. Or use it to sell stuff.  Most of all, I loved the idea that I owned "laurelsquill.com".

Well it's been a a couple of years and I still haven't done anything with the website, but I am unwilling to give up the domain name, so I renewed it for another two years this morning.  I'm still not sure if or when I might try to tackle developing another site, but at least it's mine.

When I first reserved the domain, I added a nondescript header for Laurel's Quill, using the tag line "writing about stuff I like to do", just like my blog that you are currently reading.  There are no posts, no photos, no Twitter links, no "subscribe" links, no nothing..nada..ningun...zero content.

To my utter amazement, I have logged over 840 comments on my non-content web page. People have really rallied around me on cyberspace, and I am humbled. People like:

Cheap Jordan's
Cheap louis vuitton
Cheap Gucci
Free Piano

Just read some of the exciting, heartwarming accolades I have gotten so far:

"Howdy! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I truly enjoy reading your blog posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics? Thanks a lot!"

You may want to try one that ACTUALLY has content, Bozo.

Check this comment:

"I wanted to send you one bit of remark to finally give thanks yet again relating to the breathtaking thoughts you’ve featured above. It is simply unbelievably open-handed of you giving openly what exactly a few individuals might have distributed as an…"

Breathtaking?? What part of my no-content post are you talking about, Bro?

I loved this one:

"I have read your blog and really like the content, keep up the posts as I will be back."

Don't hold your breath, buddy.

This guy's not sure if Laurel is a girl or a guy:

"Oh my goodness! an incredible article dude. Thanks Nevertheless I am experiencing concern with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting similar rss downside? Anyone who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx"

Or this:

"Spot on with this write-up, I really think this website needs much more consideration. I’ll most likely be once more to learn way more, thanks for that info."

And my personal favorite:

"There are actually a number of details like that to take into consideration. That could be a great level to carry up. I supply the thoughts above as basic inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up the place a very powerful factor will likely be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if finest practices have emerged round issues like that, however I am positive that your job is clearly recognized as a fair game. Each boys and girls really feel the impact of only a second’s pleasure, for the remainder of their lives.ncommon study will give you the important points for bags which just one or two customers are conscious of."

WTF is he talking about?

Perhaps "Betty" is the only one who tried to be constructive...

"I discovered your page and noticed you could have a lot more visitors. I have found that the key to running a popular website is making sure the visitors you are getting are interested in your niche."

Thanks Betty, but I have over 800 comments...people ARE interested in what I have to say.

Needless to say, I haven't figured out how to block all the spam on my non/no content web page, but since I'm never on it, I guess I don't care that all these spammers keep trying to get me to link up to their websites so I can buy a Louis Vitton bag to wear with my Air Jordan sneakers.

But I do want to take the time to say thank you to all of you who read my (real) blog.  I love to write and take photos and even though I don't post very often, please know that I appreciate your readership. I also appreciate that many of you tune into FabricLady to follow my sewing exploits with Suzan Steinberg of Stonemountain and Daughter Fabrics in Berkeley, CA.

And just in case you tuned in for a photo or two, here are a few of my recent weekly photos from My Four Hens Photography's year long photography challenge...it's currently in week 34 of 2015.







 Laurel. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Another birthday looms on the horizon
forgetting the wrinkles staring back
hiding the scales that tipped long ago
and ignoring the "I had 2 kids" waistline...
all I want is to be stronger.

Polyvore Art by laurel, August 1, 2015

Friday, July 3, 2015

Not always perfect...

Even expert sewists can throw together a spur of the moment garment, giving little heed to straight seams, even hems, or perfect facings. Sometimes, you just want something to wear to celebrate the moment.

The Fourth of July is tomorrow, and we always have a BBQ pool party and Fireworks with friends and family. It's probably one of the few times that I feel like wearing red, white and blue...(not exactly great colors for an Autumn).


1.) By a cheap patriotic T-shirt at Michael's, styled for a man. (yuk...so unflattering) $3.99.

2.) Cut the heck out of it.

3.) Buy some cheap fabric at the local chain store. $2.50.

4.) Add some side inserts and face the neck and armholes. 


Probably won't hold up in the wash, but who cares...it only has to last through the day:)


 Laurel. Feeling Patriotic.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Scarves of Pride

A graduation sash/stole has a important role played in a graduation ceremony. The sashes, stoles and scarves are meant to depict various forms of meanings such as being a member of a specific organization in school, to honor accomplishments or to show gratitude. They are considered to be a way for the graduating students to reveal their gratitude and appreciation of the ones who have assisted with their needs during their educational life: " Thanks for helping me make it through. Thanks for making it possible for me to succeed. I didn't do this alone."

Each graduating class of Women's Empowerment chooses a  signature color for the scarves they are to wear during the ceremony. The scarves are passed on from sister to sister as they enter the stage. I have been privileged to make two sessions' scarves.  It's another way for me to give back to this wonderful organization for homeless women who are striving to better themselves technically, emotionally and spiritually.

Here's the "How-to"...

This session my dear friend and collaborator Suzan, aka Fabriclady from Stonemoutain and Daughter Fabrics donated a lovely stretch lace fabric in "Magenta", the chosen color for Session 59 grads. There was about 8 or 9 yards on the bolt, so I hoped there would be enough for the 24 scarves.

I used my entryway floor tiles as a way to size and cut the fabric...

 I used purple thread to serge the edges - purple is Women's Empowerment's logo color.

Once the scarves were cut and serged, I embellished one side with jewels to add some sparkle. Some jewels needed adhesive and other were supposed to be self adhesive.  (I use the term loosely as I saw several ladies with little jewels stuck on their cheeks...must have fallen off during the ceremony) So use the glue!

The embellishments were only added to one side of the scarf, to give meaning to the notion that the ladies change during the 8 week program...

And here's the story..

Graduation ceremonies at Women's Empowerment are a three hankie morning. Listening to the personal stories of overcoming adversity and fighting through struggles is a sort of "rising out of the ashes" triumph for many of these women. They emerge from the intense 8 week program with a new hope for the future, literally "empowered" to change their destiny. In the words of one graduate, "I am no longer defined by my past".

The success of Women's Empowerment is well established in the community, and they take notice of the accomplishments of these women in the public media, noting that many of them find housing and jobs as well as reestablish broken relationships with their children and families.

I often wonder what separates me from many of these women when I hear their stories.  Why did their lives take such a hard turn from the dreams that they must have had as children? We "can't know", as my daughter would say...we can only smile at the way they determined to take a new path toward a self-worth they never had, an inner strength they found and a budding confidence that developed in just a short eight weeks.

And the scarves? It's just a small thing for me, but I am honored to have served this awesome organization. And thanks, FabricLady, for being a part of something that's special to me.

Laurel. Because I can...

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