The Gifts Your Character Receives

December 10, 2018

My mother sent me some Christmas ornaments that she inherited from a friend. Although I did not know this friend, Mom knew I would appreciate her workmanship, and wanted to make sure her legacy survived a little while longer. I appreciate the gift, not only because the ornaments are beautiful, but also because my mother trusts me to cherish them,and pass them on to someone else who will love them.

This got me thinking about character development. What is your protagonist trusted with, aside from carrying the plot? Is she the cousin who gets all of the batty uncle’s books because only she will take the time to catalog them? Is she the gardener who ends up with dying houseplants because her friends know she’ll nurse them back to health? Is she the keeper of the calendar for herself, her family, her church study group, and the neighborhood babysitting co-op? Whatever gifts she receives tells something about her (even more if she keeps them).

Luck and wisdom!

Can I Have Enough Bling?

December 5, 2018

I have a reputation for embellishing a project to within an inch of its life. While I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, I do love bling on my art quilts. The quilt I’m working on now, however, may shake my style.

This is a block in my Progressive Party project on the theme of The Mummy (1932, starring Boris Karloff). The quilt is gorgeous, but I’ve found that beads (or sequins) can enhance almost anything. It appears I’ve met the exception to that rule. I put a row of sequins on the eyelid of this block and thought, “Self, that’s enough.”

I went to another block, one with lots of empty space, and started beading. Now this block is whispering that I should stop. So far I’m listening, but it is rather a shock to think I’ve got a quilt with enough bling.

Luck and wisdom!

What Your Tools Say About You

December 3, 2018

I have collected cookie cutters most of my adult life, although I rarely use them outside of the Christmas baking season. They’ve come in handy for quilting designs, so I don’t feel too guilty about the number of cutters I’ve acquired. Still, your tools tell people something about you. My husband and I have been writing family biographies, and we’ve been amazed and amused at the tools our relatives collected, kept, and used.

As a novelist, I have given my characters something interesting to use in order to give the reader a better understanding of who these people are. Once I’ve decided what I want the reader to know, I insert the proper tool. My quilting heroines, for instance, use fabric, thread, and scissors in various scenes. As a biographer, I have to work backwards. I need to tease out what the tool meant to my relative based on what I remember and the stories told to me so I can better understand who this person was.

So here’s the deal, should anyone want to write my biography through the lens of my cookie cutters. I like bright, shiny things. I like tiny, cute things. I like cookies. And that’s really all these tools say about me.

Luck and wisdom!

My Seasonal Snoot

November 28, 2018

The seasons around here don’t exactly line up with the calendar, but we do have them. The closest we come is autumn, when our trees turn color (not always as vibrantly as the gingko this year, and only roughly between the fall equinox and winter solstice). The rest of the year once could be divided between the wet, the hot, and fire. Now fire season is all year long, which is a bummer. However, I can add another season to my personal calendar, and it’s all about my snoot.

A couple of years ago I was having the worst problem with a stuffy nose. I thought it was allergies, what with leaf detritus and pollen floating in the air. I took antihistamines, got no relief, so I went to the doctor and discovered that I’m not allergic to anything. My problem was the change in air temperature, and maybe barometric pressure. For some reason, my sinuses go into full guard dog mode when the weather changes, which made me miserable. Although the symptoms occurred during an allergy season, I made the classic mistake of assuming correlation meant causality. Sure enough, I was visiting another state in another season when a cold rain swept through and my snoot went wild.

The good news is I know the proper medicine to take if I need it. Also, I was given a gentle reminder of the value of re-examining one’s assumptions. Best of all, I can now enjoy our wacky autumn, when leaves fall but flowers still bloom.

Luck and wisdom!

Jolabokaflod – An Icelandic Christmas Treat

November 26, 2018

Giving books at Christmas is an Icelandic tradition that goes back to World War II. It’s called Jolabokaflod (Christmas Book Flood). It helps that Iceland’s literary history goes back to the medieval era, and that every Icelander gets a book catalog sometime in November from the Iceland Publishers Association. As an independently published author I would love to see a Christmas Book Flood start in this country, so I have to wonder why most Icelanders buy books and most Americans don’t (or at least that’s what I’ve been told).

I am on the far edge of the book-buying curve. My one regret is I buy books by the pound and read by the page, so I’ve got stacks of unread books around the house. They go nicely with my stacks of unfinished quilt projects because if push comes to shove I can throw some fabric over the books and call them end tables.

One of the reasons I don’t read as much as I would like is that reading is a treat for me. It’s my reward for getting all the chores finished and my deadlines met. Since I acquire obligations at the same rate I acquire books (and fabric), you can see my problem. Even if the chores are done, there is always some deadline or other hanging over my head.

I suspect that is true for many Americans. Reading for pleasure is treated as an indulgence. I think the Icelanders have a better idea – reading is a treat, yes, but a vital one, like making time for family or enjoying the outdoors. I say it is time to be nicer to ourselves, and revel in the joy of reading. If that encourages you to buy more books for Christmas presents this year, so much the better.

Luck and wisdom!

The 3 Laws of Scrap Dynamics

November 21, 2018

I have completed twenty (20!) projects since beginning the Unfinished Quilt Challenge, with no real increase in storage space apparent in my sewing room. It seems that there are laws of scrap dynamics at play here.

Law 1

Scraps are the logical and inevitable result of creativity. No matter how tidy your original stack of fabrics, it will always result in an unruly collection of leftover pieces (even if the project is completed). Since this is going to be your fate, embrace the mess.

Law 2

You can’t get rid of scraps on your own. The picture above is the fourth top to come out of a collection of pink and brown fabrics that I figured would be used up in one quilt. The key here is to find someone or something to help. The Unfinished Quilt Challenge has encouraged me to use any and all leftovers in donation quilts. That has given me the courage to continue piecing tops and backs from collections that by all rights should be used up by now, and to tell the committee that distributes donation quilts that I will have several ready for them after the first of the year.

Law 3

Scraps and creativity exist in equilibrium. The more creative you are, the more scraps you have, or find. I thought I would be clever and use some scraps from other projects in this top. I thought I would clear out one scrap bag (I used maybe a quarter of a yard), and I found a forgotten bag of scraps tucked behind the one I was raiding.

For me, the moral of the story is unclear. Perhaps one of you has a sure-fire way of getting rid of scraps?

Luck and wisdom!

Vegan Cream of Whatever Soup

November 19, 2018

Got this? You’ve got soup.

My husband and I love to experiment with cooking. The other day he suggested we make a cream of cauliflower and broccoli soup. I made the base with the cauliflower, pureed it, added chopped broccoli and cooked until tender. It was delicious, and reproducible (not all of our experiments are). I made butternut squash soup this week with the same base, adding the squash with the cauliflower and whizzing the whole thing up with my stick blender. It was wonderfully creamy without a hint of dairy. So, if you are counting calories, entertaining a vegan, need to watch your cholesterol levels, or just want to have a delicious soup ready in about 30 minutes, here’s a quick base that is versatile, nutritious, and inexpensive.

1 onion, chopped

½ head of cauliflower, chopped

olive oil (I use 2 teaspoons, but you can get away with 1 teaspoon)

salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion with the olive oil, salt, and pepper in a large pot. When soft, but not browned, add cauliflower. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook until soft. Puree.

Seriously, that’s it. Now add whatever other ingredients you wish, with enough water to make the soup as thick or thin as you wish.

Luck and wisdom!

Improv Art

November 14, 2018

The improvisational piecing panels swam to the top of the nearest pile in the sewing room, so I finished the quilt.

I knew I wanted to do something with the raw edges of the panels, so in the true spirit of improvisational art I used what was at hand. Some thick embroidery thread and beads left from another project either had to go in the very next project or be put away. You don’t need to be psychic to guess what I did.

I’m pleased with the quilt, but I do wish I knew why this one worked and other improv pieces I’ve tried didn’t. Perhaps the stars were in alignment, perhaps I’m honing in my signature color palette, perhaps I like it because people I’ve shown it to like it. Fortunately, I have lots more scraps for more experiments.

Luck and wisdom!

Why Novelists Need Research

November 12, 2018

I still use my Encyclopaedia Britannica for quick research. Although I write science fiction, I want my human characters to be grounded in reality. Even my alien worlds and characters benefit from references to what we know (or think we know). Then an on-going project showed me just how valuable research is for novelists.

My husband and I are writing biographies of our families. Since just about everyone was a tinkerer or maker, he thought including a section on tools would be useful. Last week he started cataloging all the cameras we had inherited, and he decided to research each model. He wanted to know when it was produced (to narrow down when our family member might have bought it), how popular it was, what special features it had, anything that would help him understand why the camera was prized enough to make its way to us.

While doing this research, he remembered a narrow, pocket-size camera his father once owned. He discovered that it was marketed as a compact, convenient camera for families to use, but it was picked up by both the U.S. and Soviet spy community because it was easy to conceal and the optics were superb.

When I heard this story, I thought of building a story on the undiscovered spy in an otherwise normal family. Yes, the story has been told before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use the plot, and now I have a tool – Ian’s camera – to use as a prompt.

That is the fun of research. You never know where it could lead you, what story it could inspire, or where that story could take you.

Me and my camera, a long time ago

Luck and wisdom!

A Journey With Embroidery

November 7, 2018

There is something about embroidery that turns my fingers into a (nearly) perpetual motion machine. The top for On To Africa needed more embellishment, so I started adding a few lines of embroidery here and there. Before I knew it, the journey to a quilting-ready top was finished.

One side of the top is more heavily embroidered than the rest, but I’m okay with that. Most of this work was done by another artist (and I still don’t know who – none of my friends remember where I got the blocks either), and I’m perfectly content to let her work get all the attention.

I first thought I would leave the center appliqued panel alone, and fill in the open space with quilting. Then I realized the jacquard will absorb all the quilting, so I might as well embroider the living daylights out of it.

Shameless self-promotion alert, embroidery on the journey into space is a pivotal plot point in The Chenille Ultimatum. If you need a good giggle, give the book a try.

Luck and wisdom!