Sick Leave

There are times when the universe brings you all the gifts you could ever wish. There are times when the universe decides you need to be taken down a peg or two. This week was both of those times.

 

First, the take down. I planned to spend the last few days writing and quilting, maybe baking, maybe even organizing. My schedule was clear, my deadlines met, and I was feeling good. For awhile.

 

My new best friend
My new best friend

 

For two days I insisted that my tight throat and stuffy nose were allergy symptoms. I muscled through the mornings, fell apart in the afternoons, but rallied in the evenings. It wasn’t until my daughter said she also had a tight throat and stuffy nose (and chided me for passing my cold on to her) that I had to admit the truth. I was not well, and worse, I was not creative. Worse still, my symptoms were mild enough that I imagined I could be creative if only I would tough it out.

 

Oh, stop laughing.

 

The illusion of competence finally died when I unloaded the clothes from the dryer and put them in a basket with dirty clothes instead of the basket for clean clothes. I bowed to reality, and parked myself on the couch with tissues and buckets of hot tea.

 

On the plus side, I did manage to finish beading and embroidering a small piece for me before the cold virus made my brain fuzzy.

 

Another in my tree series
Another in my tree series

 

This piece is made from leftover strips, orphan beads, and the remaining three strands of embroidery floss from a workshop project. I have no idea what I’ll do with it and I don’t care because it is for me. The proper finishing technique will reveal itself in its own time.

 

The best gift the universe gave me this week, however, came in the December/January 2014 issue of Quilters Newsletter. Gigi Khalsa wrote a terrific article about quilting in fiction, and included me and my co-author, Ann Anastasio. Writers and artists are advised to tell anyone who will listen about their work, and I certainly take every opportunity to promote Death By Chenille and When Chenille Is Not Enough, so to have someone ask me about my books is a rare joy. To find my picture and book covers along side those of the biggest names in quilting fiction – priceless. Worth a cold any day.

 

Death by Chenille - 600 x 900

 

WHEN CHENILLE IS NOT ENOUGH - 2000

 

The Great Sort-Out

You know the warning about making a new pillow for the couch and the curtains look dingy, so you clean the curtains and the walls look dated, so you paint the walls and the rug looks horrible . . . and eventually you’ve redecorated the whole house? That’s where I am. I started a sort-out of the sewing room, and now all the other piles that need organizing are calling my name.

 

This is where it all started.

 

Abby the dog and the bins
Abby the dog and the bins

 

The last of the supplies for the prison quilting program went to their new home. I had a plan for using that new-found space, but I made the mistake of looking in the bins.

 

Part of my collection of reusable stuff
Part of my collection of reusable stuff

 

This is one of two bins that hold my mint tin collection. The Trader Joe’s mints (which are delicious) come in a cute square tin with a clear panel in the lid, perfect for holding beads. I’ve been collecting them for quite a while. Usually I open the bin and toss the tin inside without looking at how many are in there. Now I’m looking. Oy.

Then I went into the kitchen and really looked at the overflow spice stash.

 

The overflow spice site
The overflow spice site

 

I love having herbs and spices on hand, but when the kids moved back home with their spice collections things spiraled out of control. No matter how much cooking and baking I do, the spice stash seems to grow, not contract. Woe to me.

 

As a final exercise in self-punishment, I scanned my collection of notes for books and stories I want to write (or have started writing but put aside for one reason or another).

 

Secret burial ground of many Great American Novels
Secret burial ground of many Great American Novels

 

Attending to these piles will take a lot of time and energy. It isn’t enough to organize the stacks of stuff, I have to do something with them. Organizing – for me, anyway – works really well when I rarely touch the pile again; attending, not so much.

 

Filed and forgotten
Filed and forgotten

 

I organized this small shelf months ago and it is still tidy. Of course, the fact that I haven’t been able to reach it for months might have a lot to do with it being orderly.

 

Perhaps, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I should be grateful for the Great Sort-Out. If I turn this into an early New Year’s resolution, then I can check something off the 2014 to-do list right now. We take our victories where we can.

 

 

Transitions

The prison quilting class began a new phase this week. I conducted my last class as leader and passed the program on to new teachers.

 

My last load of kits and class projects
My last load of kits and class projects

 

Whenever I let go of one project – rare times, but they do happen – I imagine all the new projects I’ll tackle with the extra time in my schedule. One would think by now I’d have accepted the reality of transition time. One would think.

 

This is the notebook I re-purposed for the FCI quilters manual.

 

Lani Longshore notebook

 

Since I had been a committee of one, the manual was in my head. Part of my transition time was occupied by writing down the things in my head, which is always a scary business.

 

Lani Longshore title page

 

There is also the scary business of transferring all the stuff I still have for the program to the new teachers.

 

Stuff that must leave my house
Stuff that must leave my house

 

Admittedly, it will be scarier for them.

 

More stuff that must leave my house
More stuff that must leave my house

 

When all that is finished, I need to finish up my Christmas projects. Mom and I bought the fabric for her gifts together. Here is the block for one of the three dresser scarves I’m making for her.

 

One block, just one little block
One block, just one little block

 

This is what all three look like on my design wall.

 

What do the blocks say to you?
What do the blocks say to you?

 

I think there is some kimono work in my future, when I really do have that extra time I’m imagining.

 

 

Spumoni Day

On my calendar of made-up food holidays, today is Spumoni Day.

 

My lunch!
My lunch!

 

Currently, this is my favorite ice cream. It’s a combination of chocolate, cherry and pistachio so really, what’s not to love? There were years when I preferred mint chip, and before that butter pecan. I have no idea why my ice cream tastes change, but there it is.

 

Spumoni features prominently in my latest novel (with Ann Anastasio), When Chenille Is Not Enough.

 

WHEN CHENILLE IS NOT ENOUGH - 2000

 

Authors are told to write what we know – or love – and we were already writing about quilting so Ann and I included ice cream. We have our space aliens adore ice cream. Our quilting heroines bond with them over the special flavor of their clan, which happens to be butter pecan. Then one of the quilters brings out spumoni, only to discover it is the flavor of the emperors. That gets the quilters invited to the alien planet, where one of them is crowned ruler and they sort of start a war.

 

As you might guess, I am using Spumoni Day to treat myself on many levels, including not starting the next project in the sewing room. Now it is time for lunch. Yes, I’m going to have dessert first.

 

The Idea Warehouse

I’m going to my first Studio Art Quilt Associates meeting this weekend. We’re supposed to bring something – one thing – that illustrates our quilting style. That is a more complicated assignment than you might realize.

 

I could bring a work-in-progress, such as this vase I’m making from some fabric my friend Margaret Misegades gave me.

 

Lani Longshore vase pieces

 

I could bring a work-currently-abandoned-but-not-forgotten, such as the quilt book my friend Ann Anastasio and I started to write.

 

Lani Longshore face designs

 

I could also bring one of the many storage units tucked around my studio holding notes and ideas for future projects.

 

Lani Longshore shelf

 

You get the idea. As prolific a quilter as I like to believe I am, there are stacks of books, fabrics, notions and sketches all around my studio. It is a the place ideas go to hide, to party, to have a mid-life crisis and emerge as something entirely new. Define my style? Wait, I’ve got some notes on that –

 

Lani Longshore file

 

 

 

 

Starting Stories

It’s been a busy week, even in the sewing room, but nothing to photograph. My quilting efforts resulted in getting three quilt tops basted. One is the next Challenge project, two are baby quilts. With any luck (and a little work), I’ll have them ready to share next week. So this week I thought I would talk about beginnings.

My first finished quilt
My first finished quilt

This is the first quilt I finished. The label says it is my second project, but since I can’t remember what the first was I’m guessing it was a potholder, or something that would only require one block. Ann Anastasio was my first quilt teacher. She had been teaching long enough that she thought she had seen it all. She hadn’t, and she’ll still tell you stories about my ugly fabric collection. That didn’t stop us from collaborating on quilts, novels (Death by Chenille, When Chenille Is Not Enough), entertainment (Broken Dishes Repertory Theatre), and non-profits. Ann and I served together on the boards of several non-profits, including Amador Valley Quilters (AVQ).

AVQ sponsors a number of outreach programs, including the quilting class I teach at the nearby federal prison for women. The class was originally taught by Thea McCurry. I inherited the class when she moved, and have kept with it for nearly twenty years. Over that time it has transformed as the policies, budgets and demographics at the prison have changed. When I turn over the reins to new teachers later this year, some of the students will have progressed to the point where they can teach their own quilting classes.

The moral of the story is you never know what a beginning will bring. Ann could have thrown up her hands with my lack of skills (ask her about teaching me to iron properly) and fondness for odd color schemes. She didn’t, and we went on to be invited to Road to California, the annual Tennessee quilters conference, the recent SAQA conference – and we’re working on our third novel. I could have dropped the FCI quilting class when the prison made changes. I didn’t, and the program was featured on Alex Anderson‘s HGTV show Simply Quilts, has inspired other quilters to start their own outreach classes, and offers a unique opportunity for AVQ members. So – what are you going to start today?

When Chenille Is Not Enough

I’m in Santa Fe right now, first for the Studio Art Quilt Association conference and then for the third Art Quilt Santa Fe. I don’t usually do the conference circuit, but this year I have something to promote:

Our new book!
Our new book!

Yes, the sequel to Deathy By Chenille is now available! When Chenille Is Not Enough can be found as an ebook on Smashwords.com, and is also available in paperback from B&N.com and Amazon.com.

Ann and I are over the moon about getting this book finished, especially since the first book took us fifteen years to write, and this one only took fifteen months. The final book in the series, The Chenille Ultimatum, will be available soon(ish).

When Chenille Is Not Enough is another sci fi adventure of quilters saving the world from space aliens. This time, Susan and her family and friends have to make an alliance with the cousin of the shape-shifting creatures they defeated in Death By Chenille. By a delicious happenstance, they discover they can bond over ice cream. Need I say more?

Empty Boxes

For the first time since September, I have empty boxes. No, not here:

sewing room

The empty boxes are on my calendar.

calendar

Of course, that won’t last. Just yesterday I agreed to take the lead on writing a grant proposal. It’s due March 1. Nevertheless, I have no pressing deadlines this week.

The reason I have a few free days is that I am finished with the manuscript for When Chenille Is Not Enough, the sequel to Death By Chenille.

The manuscript is finished!
The manuscript is finished!

I vowed to have it finished by January so we could get it to the printers in time for its unveiling in April at theĀ SAQA conference in Santa Fe, which is the weekend before Art Quilt Santa Fe. Until my co-author Ann Anastasio gets back to me with her edits, I can focus on other things.

Yesterday, I focused on the sewing room. I cut kits, cut scraps, and put fabric away. This morning I consolidated two boxes, freeing up one whole cubby for embroidery projects. I’d sing about how great I feel, but I don’t want the efficiency gods to think I’m getting uppity. They can be so petty. Still, I’m going to relish the joy for as long as I can.

I might even have time to bake some cookies to celebrate Ground Hog Day.

 

Dasher, Dancer, Discipline

I was all set to start my annual December whine about being too busy to enjoy the holidays. Then my friend Maya Madhavan asked if I would bring her projects to the Progressive Party. Yes, that’s projects, as in plural. She won’t be able to attend for three months and she got them all done ahead of time. While she’s working. And taking care of her young family. And fitting in the holidays. I have no excuse.

Maya’s projects – done ahead of time!

Instead of whining I remembered “The Night Before Christmas” – especially the line about dash away, dash away, dash away all. Dashing about without a plan is as useful as those nutrition panels on the back of candy bar wrappers (you can only read them after you’ve opened the wrapper, and once the wrapper is open you know you’re going to eat the candy, so why bother reading how bad it is for you?), but I have lots of to-do lists, which can fill in for a plan until something more reasonable comes along. Similarly, dancing is best when done with joy, even if your feet are hurting. Joy comes from within, which leads me to discipline. That also comes from within.

So, I found myself a new mascot:

My new mascot

Crows are clever and observant – and I just happened to have this one left from the Halloween decorations. My little crow will remind me to plan.

Next, I found something that represents holiday cheer:

This is the one time of year I can indulge in my love of all things shiny. If that isn’t enough joy, I’ve got a recipe for killer gingerbread cookies.

Finally, I will remember that creativity requires a certain level of discipline:

I bought these badges with small gift ideas in mind. I didn’t make any notes, so those ideas are gone. I can whine and moan, or I can pull out my graph paper and come up with a new idea. For now, I’m going to pull out the graph paper (the whining will come later when I design something I can’t sew).

Before I forget once again, Julie Royce wrote about her crime novel in progress – PILZ – last week. You can read it here. Julie’s blog alternates between her novel and her travels. Check out her stories about her recent trip to Europe with her husband.

A Sense of Place

The Challenge project for December is to represent a real place in fabric – city, country, whatever. I thought I would use the assignment to finally make a quilt about our family reunion in Alaska. I brought out the fabrics:

and the embellishments:

Then I found the notes I made from the book Maphead by Ken Jennings. The book is great, with lovely maps that could become quilts, and terms that could become quilt titles (“wanderwhim” as opposed to “wanderlust” – is that great or what). I stared at the first strip of my Alaska quilt –

– and realized that I have no sense of place (or direction – I still get lost in Livermore, and I’ve lived here almost thirty years). Home is where I am, wherever that may be. I’ve moved around enough that I don’t get attached to any particular location. So I sliced up the strip and will make small projects.

These small projects will represent my approach to place. I look for one familiar thing to make sense of all the unfamiliar things. If I’m very lucky, I’ll interpret my environment correctly, although I have been known to find the worst part of any town purely by accident when left to my own wanderings.

These projects will also give me a chance to play with embellishments:

Those are fireflies on the ribbon – they glow in the dark

and technique:

Step 1
Step 2
Step 3

Although I don’t have a sense of place, I do have a good sense of where I like to be, and right now, that’s my studio.