Monday, March 31, 2014

Book #2: Palisades Park

Before the days of Disney World and Disney Land, before the days of Kings Dominion and Sea World and Cedar Point, there was Palisades Amusement Park.  It was just a few minutes from my childhood home on the top of a cliff on the Hudson River in New Jersey.  They had rides and carnival games, shows and a salt water pool that made waves.  This book, Palisades Park by Alan Brennert tells all about it.
The book starts way back in the 1920's and takes the reader through the entire life of the park until it closed in the 1970's.  I remember the closing of the park very well.  I don't think anyone ever thought the park would close.  There was actually a bit of community grieving over the closing.  The story is told through the eyes of the Stopka family.  They grew up as part of the family of amusement park workers.  The book mentions towns and streets very familiar to me from years ago.  Even many of the family names are historically accurate to that area.  Stores and hospitals are mentioned that I grew up around.  Telling the history of the park through the personal story of the family keeps the book from reading like a history book.
So, would I recommend it?  If you have any ties to this area - a definite YES.  If you like carnival stories or historical fiction - yes.  Otherwise....maybe.  I enjoyed it a lot, but I don't know if the fictional story would hold enough interest if one isn't particularly interested in the history of the park itself or the history of that area of New Jersey.  I thought my sister would also enjoy the book and indeed she did!  She had already finished it before I had the chance to share my discovery of it with her.  It's a fun historical look at local culture and the influences of more national issues (such as wars, integration, and local small town politics) on the everyday lives of Palisades Amusement Park.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Whisper Block #4

I guess I just have trouble thinking abstractly.  Because this month I received a block for our guild Whisper Challenge that looked like...well, like nothing.  I stared at it for a long time:
Then I turned it upside down (or maybe right side up?) and stared at it some more:
It looked like a rib cage with a lot of tumors and then it looked like an oak leaf with acorns, but mostly like those alien things from the TV show "Falling Skies" that were placed on the back of the kids to allow the aliens to control them.  But finally I saw a Christmas tree with candles and I just ran with that idea.  Here's the result:
I tried to keep the colors and the swirly nature of the design and the glitter.  I don't how the previous sewist accomplished the glitter but I went with metallic thread.  This was my first time using metallic thread and I was expecting it to be a bit of a challenge to sew with.  I was surprised at both how smoothly it sewed and how nice it looked!  I'm anxious to use it somewhere again.

Although it was never said, I sort of expected these blocks to become more abstract as the weeks went on.  But somehow I made this one less abstract I think.

So, next month we will get back the blocks created from the picture we provided and will have the challenge of combining them into one. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Country Threads Block of the Month 2013: The Big Reveal!

Last year I participated in two "Block of the Month" projects.  One of them was organized by Country Threads.  I posted pictures each month of the finished blocks along with my ponderings on how to construct the finished top.  The original layout had the blocks next to each other but I decided on a bit of sashing to calm things down a bit. it is:
I really like the sashing.  It also helped to even out my uneven block sizes.  Over the year my attention to detail improved and my block sizes became truer, but I still had a wide difference in the sizes of the blocks made at the start of the year.  The quilting is free motion on my home sewing machine and Sashiko around the borders.  This was only my second Sashiko project so my learning curve is still pretty broad.  I noticed that the stitching showed up nicely on the more solid border but was sort of lost on the border with more print.  Of course I decided to Sashiko after I had already chosen the fabrics and added the borders.  (And, to think that my boys  accused me of being an over-planner when they were younger!) Here are some close-ups to show you what I mean:

I used black thread for the quilting following a suggestion I read somewhere that using the same color as the sashing helps to reinforce the contrast.  It would not have been my first choice on some of the lighter areas, but overall, I'm pretty pleased with the result.  The backing (which I forgot to take a picture of) is a linen small scale plaid with one corner of black print because someone might have measured for the backing, bought the fabric and THEN decided to add the wide border leaving the yardage just a tiny bit short.

Here's a picture of the original layout.  You can see that I also changed up the border and a few of the filler blocks:
I also did the binding the traditional way: machine sew it to the front and then hand sew it onto the back.  I've always hated how long binding takes to put on, but this time I just planned for several evenings in front of the TV.  I had to learn the thread lesson yet again, though.  I thought that this hand sewing project would be a good time to use up some of my old thread.  But, alas, it isn't even good for sewing on binding by hand.  After becoming totally frustrated with thread tangles I went upstairs and came down with my good thread and the sewing went much smoother.
It really feels good to finally be able to say that I've finished a large project this year!!

Friday, March 21, 2014

2014: Book #1 - Proof of Heaven

I've gotten a good start on my 2014 books.  In fact I'm almost done with the second, so I need to catch up and report on the first.  It seems like each year I read a book that has something to do with the afterlife.  One year it was about dogs and heaven, last year I read about a young boy who had a near death experience and this year I read about a neurosurgeon who experienced heaven during a serious illness.  Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander MD adds a very interesting view to previous near death stories.  He is a practicing neurosurgeon, so his depth of knowledge about such things as thoughts, dreams, knowledge and memory is vast.  Prior to his own experience he rationalized stories about near death as occurring in various parts of the brain and didn't believe that the person actually had an encounter with anything divine.
But, the particular type of illness Dr. Alexander suffered rendered the parts of his brain that he previously believed created these near death experiences in others, useless.  So in addition to personally having such an experience he couldn't explain it away. 

The book is a bit medical at times - a characteristic that appealed to me, but could be a negative if medical information isn't something you want to read about.  The medical parts are not the yucky type details, just more the technical side of the workings of our brains.  The story is definitely thought provoking.  This is perhaps the most convincing book about an afterlife experience that I've read.  And, one of the very, very few books that I would give a second read.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

2013: Book #6: Duck - an Outer Banks Village

Hopefully this is my last "look back" into 2013 and will bring me up to date on "things I sort of try to keep track of on my blog".   For the past two years I've set out to read six books/year.  I honestly do love to read and six sounds like such a pathetic number, but I seem to get sidetracked usually with other interests and six has become an attainable goal.

So for my last book of 2013 I choose an historical account of the little town in North Carolina where we like to vacation.  Duck - An Outer Banks Village by Judith D. Mercier.  This area grew from a small duck hunting location with a few local people and hunting clubs to a popular vacation spot in the 1980s (1980 seems like yesterday to me, but apparently it is now "history" and items from 1980 , being 25+ years old are vintage!!).  It is just north of the more frequented towns of Kitty Hawk (site of the Wright Brothers first flight) and Nags Head.  The barrier island is narrow at Duck with the main road, Route 12, running close to the Currituck sound side and about a mile from the Atlantic ocean.  We like it because it is much quieter and less commercial than Nags Head and their beach is 100% dog friendly.  Dogs can be off lead as long as you have verbal control of them.  This allows Seamus to frolic in the surf to his heart's content and roll in all those "yummy" smells in the sand. (I don't want to think about what created those great smells.)

I really feel like I have a better appreciation of the history of the place now.  It was much more isolated and quiet before all of us tourists found it.  I feel a bit sad for the people who enjoyed being away from everything.  But, I'm sure many, many people made a killing on real estate when the area started to become developed.  And the duck hunting was starting to become constrained by laws to protect the species from become hunted out about the time as tourism increased.  So the tourist trade has both hurt and helped this little area.

Wrapping up 2013- book reading goal: met!  On to 2014.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Quilts of 2013: A Tribute

For the past few  years I've made a small wall hanging to sort of commemorate the quilts that I made throughout the year using scraps from each of the projects.  I have the ones from 2012 and 2011 hanging in my sewing room.  This year I decided to go a slightly different route.  One of my Christmas presents was a Sashiko sewing machine.   The machine didn't come with a cover so using scraps from my projects in 2013 I created a cover and quilted it with the Sashiko itself:

 It was a great opportunity to practice using the machine.  It makes this great stitch that looks like hand sewing.  You can vary the length of the stitch and/or the spacing between the stitches.  Amazingly those two little changes really give a different look to the final piece.
 It uses only one thread - in the bobbin and the threading process is unlike any machine I've ever used. I will say, it can be a persnickety little thing.  It likes things to be the same, so the settings that worked on fabric and batting didn't like sewing on the bottom finished edge which required going through multiple layers. 
Next I'm going to try it on the border of the quilt I'm presently working on.  And I have a few decorative pillow ideas in mind, too, whenever I get through my backlog of projects.  I keep reminding myself that it's about the journey, not the destination.  It's important to enjoy the process, not just try to cross another thing off the list. 

Hmmm.....that would make a good wall hanging.  Oh, but that's another project, isn't it?


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Whisper Block #3

I've finished the next whisper block for my local quilt guild.  In this project the first person chooses a picture and passes it to the second person who interprets it into a block and passes that block onto the third person who interprets the block into another block and so on.  Any technique can be used to interpret the block. In the end each person receives back four blocks related to the picture they provided.  They then incorporate these four blocks (made by four different people) into a wall hanging quilt.  This has been quite a challenge.  You can see the first two blocks here and here.

This month I received this block:
And I created this:
After I took this picture I did some trapunto on the outside picture frame which gave it a bit more perspective.  If it looks like the border is uneven that's because it is.  Again, I was going for perspective, but apparently you need to have a greater difference in the size of the borders to get the effect I was going for.  I didn't have enough of that border fabric to have another go at it.  Also, my block may come up a bit small because I didn't account for losing a little to the puffiness of the trapunto.
So, one more to go.  I'm anxious to see the blocks created from my picture and I'm already planning on how to put them together.  They will all be displayed at our quilt show in June.  


Friday, March 14, 2014

Kevin's Quilts of Valor Block Drive!

I find myself playing blog catch up once again.   I can't seem to keep up lately with all of my hobbies.  I feel like I'm getting a lot done it's just difficult to get a lot done AND record all that I get done.  A long time ago someone in my life stood on the principle that "The unexamined life is not worth living".  This is a famous quote by.......well, you'll just have to Google it because I can't remember at the moment.  My version of this is that "Sometimes examining your life takes away from the time you have to LIVE your life".

But some things need to be recorded and shared and Kevin the Quilter's block drive is one of them!  Kevin is collecting blocks to make into quilts for donation to the Quilts of Valor program.  You can read about the specifics on his blog at the link above.  The blog drive continues until June 1, 2014.  So far I've made these:
I'm not going to mail them in right away, Kevin, because I'm hoping to make some more before the deadline.  They are super easy to make.  And there will be some prizes.  For every 5 blocks you send to Kevin you will have one entry into the prize giveaway.  One of the prizes is a gift certificate to Missouri Star Quilt Company! But, everyone really wins because having a way to show our thankfulness to those who protect us, sometimes literally with their very lives is a great, great, great privilege. 


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Celtic Solstice Progress

Before I left for our travels I managed to finish all of my Celtic Solstice blocks and get them up on my design wall.  I took one vertical row off to create a rectangular quilt instead of a square.  So, just to show that I am indeed still sewing I thought I'd share a picture:

Monday, March 3, 2014

Yes, Winkie DID travel to Florida Too....and My Pants Bag

When I started to write posts about traveling I mentioned that we usually take a little stuffed pig with us.  It's just one of those quirky things we do.  We like to take pictures of the pig in different places.  I forgot to mention him in my travel post, so not wanting to leave him out let me assure you that we were not pigless for our travels south.
 And, my pants bag - an "original Jen" came with me, too:


Sunday, March 2, 2014

UFO Welcome Center

On our recent trip we relied on a navigation system to help us find our way to our destinations.  Our navigation system monitors traffic and occasionally will re-route us to avoid congestion.  This can result in some interesting side trips.  On the final leg our trip we had one such re-route that took us past an all-American roadside oddity.  You know what I mean...."World's Largest Ball of String" or a giant cowboy statue or a the big Longaberger basket in Ohio.  This time we went by the "UFO Welcome Center".  At the time we wondered if it was a center to welcome aliens or if it was meant for earthlings to be welcomed BY aliens and several miles down the road we wished that we had stopped and taken a picture.  But......thanks to the wonders of the internet I can show you:

It even has it's own Wikipedia page.  It is located in Bowman, South Carolina.  We learned after we came home that we could have even taken a tour of this place.  And it IS meant to welcome aliens.  You can read all about it and it's creator on Wikipedia.  There are also several You-tube videos devoted to the place. I mentioned to son #3 that I thought South Carolina was a strange place to welcome aliens.  After all, wouldn't New Mexico (a la Roswell) make more sense.  But he pointed out to me that aliens coming to earth for the first time would probably just use Google to find a Welcome Center so location wouldn't really matter.  Of course.  Why didn't I think of that?