December 31, 2014

2015

     

      It's the future. It must be because I never imagined I'd be saying that it is the year 2015. I have lived right into the future. Imagine that. Once the future was a time, sometime far away, that all those coins I threw into fountains and wished upon stars would fulfill. I am a person caught somewhere between being a realist and a dreamer. I don't believe in superstitions except that if you should open an umbrella indoors you would certainly have bad luck when you put someone's eye out. And of course we all can imagine what might happen when you walk under a ladder. So when I made those wishes did I expect the first star I saw tonight would make me happy and bring me the love of my life? I did. Not because the star would find happiness for me but because what I really was wishing for was to find the path that would bring me what I needed in life. For me that was always love. For another it might be something else. Maybe it is a talent or just a feeling of an accomplishment that has been well earned.
      I am quoted as saying, "If, when you read the fairy tale you say that you don’t believe, then I ask you, if you do not believe in something, how can you expect to find it?” (It's true, you can find it online, really! Google it.)  I guess I always felt that way about the future as well. My future. A future I worked for, cried for, wished for, earned and dreamed about. A future where I felt happy and content with my life and, more than anything, at peace. And so I welcome 2015 with open arms. I embrace the opportunity to have another year where I can love and learn and grow and watch my life really pass before me. Not however in the throes of death where I wonder where it all went, but in real-time where it unfolds moment by moment. A year, a little unpredictable, a little as expected and always precious. If, at the end of it all, someone asked me what I did with that brief, precious moment I was given that is called a lifetime, I can say that I did all I wanted and all I could. When I wished upon a star for a future it was another step towards a goal. But I never relied upon the wish to earn anything for me. That was always up to me and usually took some hard work and dedication.
      So, if I were to have a resolution for 2015 it would be that. The same one I have always had. It won't be about chocolate or diets or smoking but about everything that brings peace in my life. I resolve to find and keep happiness and wish that for you as well, dear reader. May you find those things that go far beyond diets and abstinence. May you find peace and the strength and determination to do everything in your power to reach that goal. Therein lies a happy new year. Right there. I wish for you to take each moment to see that wish, to wish it, earn it and make it yours. Next year, when we are facing 2016 may it be with peace and a true sense of accomplishment in all of our hearts and lives. Happy New Year.

December 27, 2014

Bar Wars

      

      Every lifetime is a chain of events. Bar Wars, as it came to be known in my neighborhood, spanned over a year and is one of the more amazing stories in my chain. I have changed some of the names here, but the story is true.
       We moved into our current home in 2000. It's in a quiet neighborhood located in the suburbs of Philadelphia with homes that were built in the late 1700s, the 1920s, like my house, and during a building boom in the 1950s. I love the history of the place. In fact, my house is the home I used in my book The Matter with Margaret. Behind me and my neighbors is a strip of wooded land and then a row of small businesses. There's a little deli, a bakery and other shops that change hands with some frequency, all with apartments above. Back in 1920 parking was not an issue for these shops, but it is now. In this row of stores is a neighborhood bar. When we moved in it was a favorite meeting place of the locals. People met there between weddings and receptions, for birthdays and for that cold brew at the end of a long day. The couple that owned the pub was known to everyone in the neighborhood and there never was a problem. But alas the old man died several years ago, and his Mrs. eventually had to sell. In Pennsylvania there are a limited number of liquor licenses available and there were plenty of folks in line to buy the place.
      A younger man bought the bar, put his name on the sign and opened his doors.  Let's call it Ernie's. At first we didn't notice much but then one day things began to change.
     While out front raking up bits of twigs in the very early spring, I noticed a car at the curb filled with about six young people. They had the radio rocking and were shouting to one another over the bass, laughing and texting. It was about 11:30 AM on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning. As they got louder and louder I saw other neighbors taking notice of them too. When they began getting in and out of the car rambunctiously I walked over and asked them if they were waiting for someone.
      They told me they were waiting for the bar to open. It was pretty obvious to me these kids were not drinking age, so I asked, "Are you guys all old enough to drink?" One of them, a pretty blond, rolled her eyes at me and replied, "Geez, haven’t you ever heard of fake IDs?"
    This made the fellow behind the wheel a little nervous and they pulled away.

     The next weekend was Saint Paddy’s Day. In our town they have a pub crawl which means school buses drive the drinking patrons from bar to bar all day long. It begins at noon and lasts until late evening. Ernie’s was a stop on the route. Because Ernie’s is located on a very busy street with limited parking, the bus can’t stop there. Instead, the driver was dropping off the drinkers around the corner from the bar in my driveway. They all looked very similar in green hats and green t-shirts. They were mostly male. They were all falling down drunk and, as they exited the bus, they all had to pee. My driveway got very wet that day. Soon they were coming out of the bar as well and using my driveway as a toilet. I was a little angry. Alright I was really angry. When my husband got home he was angry too. We were both telling these guys to shove off while dialing the police. As the day went on the drunks got more belligerent and I figured the police got busier because we did not see a cop for about three hours. By the time they arrived the guys who were beating up our fences and gates and tossing our garbage cans into moving traffic had moved on. When the police asked what the guys were wearing all I could say was "Green hats with green shirts". Seriously?

      On Memorial Day weekend they were not provided with buses but apparently hired their own because, at about 3:00 AM, one pulled up to our driveway filled with very intoxicated fellows. They were glassy eyed and loud and a few of them had thrown up on themselves. They were armed with tall cans of beers and ready to take on the world. They were friendly fellows we found, when we walked out to see what all the noise was about in our driveway in the middle of the night. They posed handsomely while we took their pictures, beers in hand, asking if we were going to make them famous. They were at a bachelor party in the city and were now returning to  Ernie’s to finish their night, even though bars are required by law to close at 2 AM. 

The Bus Boys



      And so went the summer. Ernie’s started a ladies night. No females needed to pay for liquor at Ernie’s. They got you plastered for free and Sunday morning every lady could stagger out of some guy’s pick-up and into her own car with her hair tussled and her five inch heels slung from her trembling fingers. I imagine they had their panties in their purses. Ah, youth. 
     Then another event happened in July. I had come home from shopping on a hot summer afternoon. It was Saturday and my husband was at work. I unlocked my front door, tossed in my purse and bags and then went up the side of the house. I wanted to set the hose on my tomato plants before going inside. As I stepped from the narrow path that leads along the side of my house into my yard I came within eight feet of a man who was laying on my wooden garden bench with his arm across his face in the hot sun. I was surprised and at first I thought he was passed out. He stirred and sat up and I asked him what he was doing in my fenced-in yard. He started to argue with me about whether or not I own the place. He was very drunk and very angry. I did not back away. Where we were standing was somewhat visible from the side street. Had I gone back up the side of the house, and he had followed me, we would have been totally out of sight to everyone. While I stood there trying to decide what to do he panicked and ran towards me. He gave me a good shove and I fell back onto the ground. He ran up the side of the house. As soon as I saw he was gone I went back inside. The thought occurred to me he might have been a look-out for someone in the house, so I grabbed the phone and called 911 from the front yard.
      The police arrived quickly but were disinterested and did nothing to find this guy. Though I gave them a good description they never called it in while we talked. It was upsetting but  I was not hurt and they see things far worse than what had happened in my little yard. But I really felt that if no one does something when the problems are small, how can we hope to resolve them when they are really out of hand? 
      From there the situation escalated. I saw young girls get beaten by drunk guys. I began finding drug paraphernalia in the driveway. By Labor Day I had had enough and I got serious. Constant calls to the police made no difference and the situation was worsening.    
      I began to organize everything, like the pictures from the bachelor bus and all my calls to the police station, sometimes two and three a night. I took more photos. Tons of photos. Soon I had daytime incidences to document as well. It seemed that Ernie's was open from about 11 AM until about 5 AM. After two in the morning drunks would knock on the back door good and loud and they were let in. I called and wrote to the LCB (Liquor Control Board) and placed calls to the State Representative’s office. Although he was away for the budget crisis, his secretaries agreed to meet with me.
      I took my calendar of events and, in Arlo Guthrie's words, “twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one.” My photos however were not of garbage heaps like Arlo's. Mine featured body parts from the exposed patrons using the neighborhood for their potty. One of my favorites was taken at three in the afternoon of a man who actually dropped his drawers to his ankles and then staggered up the street like a half-naked penguin.


Watering the neighbor's tree



      The lovely ladies of the State Rep’s offices were aghast. They blushed, looked closer at the pictures and blushed some more. Then they told me that they would talk to someone and get back to me and that I had to be patient and that they would make sure someone looked into things… and so it went. I left that meeting even more determined.
      Now I have to say that I called Ernie’s and tried to talk to him. He didn't want to hear it and said he was not responsible for what people did when they left his bar. If you called at 3 AM to ask them to turn down the music they told you that they couldn't hear you because the music was too loud and then hung up on you. He was running a frat party and laughing all the way to the bank with a pretty and inebriated girl on each arm. He did not want to hear from me. I was the crazy woman with no life who was becoming a thorn in everyone’s side. However, I did have a life before he opened his bar.

      I began talking to neighbors. I started with the folks next door, and then the lovely woman on the other side of them. I went across the street and up the other way. Nearly every door opened wide when I explained who I was and why I had come. I was often invited in for coffee. Many of my neighbors have lovely homes. Mostly they kept to themselves but over this they started talking and what I learned was frightening. One man said he checked his fenced yard every morning that summer for used condoms before his five year old could go outside to play. Another neighbor, a retired nurse, was too afraid to leave her lights on inside at night lest a drunk see her walking around alone in the house. One night she had watched a young woman peel off her pantyhose and urinate into the street while her boyfriend yelled at her that she was a pig and drove off, leaving her to stagger home alone. She watched the paper for days, worried that the girl could have fallen into the nearby river, or worse. No one could park in front of their own house and everyone was up late at night investigating someone in their yard. Ernie's was a nuisance bar. I decided what I needed was a petition.
      That is how I found my local councilman. He was the best. I did not want to close Ernie’s business. I only wanted Ernie to meet his responsibilities as a neighborhood business owner. The petition had to be worded correctly and Mr. Bonnett helped me to do precisely that. Every afternoon I would let my husband know exactly which houses I planned to visit that day and I spent the weekend revisiting my neighbors. Nearly everyone signed and I had three pages of signatures. I faxed them to Mr. Bonnett and he called me back immediately. Although he never said it to me, I think he was shocked that there were so many names. He took responsibility and set up a meeting between the local police chief, the mayor, a handful of other local authorities and all us neighbors. It was set for a Wednesday night at the town hall. I made up a small flyer with the meeting information and went again to every house. I asked all of the neighbors to come. Where no one was home I stuck it in the door.

      On Monday I got a call from the Chief of Patrol for the local police. He wanted to meet with me privately but I took my husband. It was a good idea. I’ll call this man "Officer Stone". We were directed to Officer Stone’s office and I began to relate the problems we had been having in the neighborhood. I told him about the man on the bench in my yard. I was very nervous. He said he had the report from that day and he was irritated. His report said that I had “confronted” a drunk in my yard. He emphasized the word “confronted”. I tried to explain to him that the man was inside my fenced yard, in broad daylight, very drunk and belligerent. I had spoken to him, but not "confronted" him. He said the report said I had “confronted” him and that I had "escalated" the situation. I felt that Officer Stone was being obstinate and didn't understand what I was trying to explain. I started to feel frustrated and defensive. I could feel my face turning red and I was rising up out of the chair. My husband reached over calmly, touched my shoulder and said, “Relax. He’s saying that you are the one who was wrong.” He did it in such a matter-of-fact way I just sat down stunned. It all became perfectly clear. What Officer Stone wanted was to stop the meeting and me. He even went so far as to say that he had checked the call records and that they had very few calls from our area. He did not want to see my personal log of the calls. I told him I would not cancel the meeting. I had asked my neighbors for their support and I was not going to drop it. We left. It is a horrible feeling when you turn to someone you think might help and they treat you like you’re a troublemaker. I was very glad I had taken my husband with me. I don't do well when when I'm angry.
      My neighbors did not call the police as often as I had. They had many reasons. The nurse said she had been calling. After several times the police showed up, usually long after she had called and they had made her feel like a nuisance. Like she ought to get a life. Others, being nice people, thought it rude to call the police over disturbances. They only wanted to mind their own business. They said they had all called at some point but not every night. Others were concerned about retaliation from the bar owner or his customers. This was common. They saw the drunks as belligerent extensions of Ernie and were overall afraid. Which posed a question. Would Ernie be at the meeting?
      I called the concilman and asked. He told me no. That might come later, but for now, no. To this day I think he believed that statement at the time.

      On the night of the meeting I dressed professionally, in a suit, picked up one neighbor who had asked for a ride and we went to the meeting. I was very nervous. In the township building, a lovely old stone structure, we climbed the stairs to the council conference room. In the hall, in the doorway of another room, was Officer Stone and Ernie, talking and laughing as though they were old friends. I was disappointed. We went into the council room. It was a large room, not dissimilar to a court room. It was carpeted, with a door towards the front and another at the back of the room. It was filled with benches, about thirty as I recall. There was a bar railing and in a raised area several tall, tufted chairs facing the audience in a semi-circle around a podium. Because I was the one who had started it all, I sat right in front. The neighbor who lives right next to us arrived, as well as another couple who lived across from the bar. We were scheduled to start at 7:30 PM and it was close to that time but so far we did not have a good turnout. Ernie and his younger brother came in and sat behind us and the few neighbors in the first two rows.
      The councilman stepped up to the podium and said we would begin shortly. The Chief of Police was there, as well as the Mayor and a handful of other local politicians. They took the tufted chairs, as did Officer Stone, and faced us. I tried to breathe. A man with a stack of folders entered and sat to my left. He nodded to me seriously.

      The councilman announced that we could begin and suggested that we start with an overview of why we were meeting. Then we would listen to anyone who was moved to speak. I summed up the situation, reading from my prepared list of the problems we were facing: noise, intoxicated patrons, bar trash, fighting and public urination, etc.
      Then my neighbor from two doors away told them the amazing story she had told me. In her soft, ladylike voice she looked around the room and pointed out that all of the men present knew her husband, especially indicating the police and the politicians. She went on to say that he spent his last days at home on oxygen as he lay dying from cancer. As late as three in the morning the music from the digital jukebox in Ernie’s was so loud that she could not hear if he was still breathing or not. This continued all summer up until his death. It was heart wrenching.
      Another person told of how he watched one man slamming his girlfriend’s head onto his driveway. They told of how they saw men carrying women out to their cars and trucks that looked as if they were lifeless. As the stories continued I had to turn in my seat to see the speakers. On the soft carpeting I had never heard the footsteps of all of the people who had arrived after us and discreetly entered through the rear door. The room was filled to capacity with my neighbors. In the center of the hall, in the middle of the crowd that had filled in behind them, sat Ernie and his younger brother and they were not happy.
      The stories ended and the councilman asked Ernie if he'd like to come up to the podium and address all of our concerns. Ernie and his brother walked up, both very red in the face. I knew what they were feeling. We had all been feeling it since before the summer started. He suggested he could put up some lights around his place and a Be Quiet sign and would try to keep the doors closed more. My husband raised his hand and asked about one of the concerns on my list: the bar trash. He asked if Ernie used plastic beer cups. Ernie said no. What about glass mugs? No, Ernie said. Brown beer bottles? No. People started asking specific questions and Ernie grew angry, denying any of the trash or noise came from his place. He insisted he was not responsible for what the customers said or did after they left his bar. 

      The man to my left spoke up.

      He was from the LCB and he knew the laws. In a calm manner and even voice he put Ernie in his place. He spoke to him about the responsibilities of bar owners. Ernie argued. "In a neighborhood setting, if I walk by the front door and I can hear the music, the music is too loud," the LCB man explained. The bar patrons have to be out of the place by 2 AM. Ernie protested that sometimes the cabs didn't come until really late. The LCB man said, "Then call them earlier." Ernie said he could not make a drunk leave the bar if he didn't want to go. The LCB man made it clear that Ernie was responsible to stop serving anyone who was that drunk. He warned Ernie that if he was not able to assume the responsibility for running his business he would lose his liquor license. He pointed out that, since Ernie was in a residential setting he had an obligation to the neighbors to run his business accordingly. The councilman recommended that Ernie make the appropriate changes and the Mayor promised a beefed-up police presence for the next three months. At that time we could call another meeting if it was necessary. With that, the meeting was over.

      Life in our little neighborhood changed quickly. After that, if you stumbled out of Ernie’s there was likely a cop there. If there wasn't one right there, there was one around the corner. If you parked across the corner or blocked someone’s driveway you got a ticket. The police checked IDs regularly. It did not take many weekends before all the under-aged kids found another watering hole that would give them what they wanted.

      The following Saint Paddy’s Day, bar patrons did not bus to or from Ernie’s. I suspect that whatever bond there was between Officer Stone and Ernie turned sour in those days. If you ask my neighbors today what they think of me, some might tell you I’m a savior, others will say I'm a troublemaker. We continue trying to figure out exactly how one drinks at Ernie’s without using a plastic cup, a glass mug or a beer bottle. The theories range from hamster bottles, direct tap swigging and just putting out your cupped hands for a shot and a beer. At any rate, there is no more bar trash in the street and the drug paraphernalia has disappeared too. There are no more drunks yelling and fighting at 3 in the morning either. We did not need a follow-up meeting. Ernie is still in business and I’m actually glad for that. I wish him much responsible success. I see and hear from my councilman now and again and I'm grateful that he listened and helped us make a difference in our neighborhood. And I am thankful that I could now get back to my life.

     
      Please visit again. You never know what I might post next!


December 24, 2014

'Twas the Night Before

      

      It is the night before Christmas. What memories that stirs. I recall my childhood when we visited my Uncle Leo and Aunt Margie at their beautiful Malibu home. They had, over the years, taken a small house and expanded it as their children multiplied. In the little original living room they had a sparkling Christmas tree and the room was filled with gifts. I never wanted to leave there. My maternal grandparents had new pajamas for all of the hordes of grandchildren and my grandmother made flannel nightgowns and matching pajamas for her sons and daughter and their spouses. We would run through the rumpus room and outside around the house in the warm green of the southern California winter.

My maternal grandmother


      When my own children were growing up they would become more excited and thus increasingly impossible as the holiday approached. Long before today's pressure of being under the watchful eye of an elf on a shelf, they could barely contain themselves trying to behave before Santa arrived. Even after I learned the secrets of the jolly old elf I still loved the magic of the tales and still today will find something special under the tree from “Santa”.


      For a few years after my youngest daughter had moved out of the house she still came home early Christmas morning with her husband in tow. She wore her pajamas under her coat to travel through the bit of snow we often get around late December to be a little girl again on Christmas morning. One last year, after her first son, Michael was born, she came again with him in the baby carrier. After that we moved the operation, and the mess, to her home. Now my husband and I rise early, I am often up at 5 a.m. that day. I still crank up Nat King Cole crooning The Christmas Song and plug in the tree while I dress warmly and we haul out the big basket and boxes filled with gifts. The streets of town are mostly quiet, except for the local coffee shop, and we drive the several blocks to her home, hoping to be there before the grandchildren arise. We settle in with juice and coffee, sticky buns and fruit. We have elected a Santa to pass out the gifts ahead of time. This year it will be my grandson, Michael. He reads now. He’ll be schooled on how to know the difference between To and From on the gift tags so we can avoid confusion and learn how to mix up the gifts so we all take turns unwrapping. He’ll wait until each gift is opened before selecting the next. By midday the house will be filled with empty boxes and neat stacks of each person’s treasures and we will be bleary eyed and tired. We’ll build a Ninja Turtle house or scratch our heads through the workings of a microscope and the children will have an emotional crash and one of them will get cranky and need a good hug. It is tradition full blown and it is a gift we give ourselves once a year. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Baskets of gifts


Michael and Grandpa playing Smoke on the Water


Michael and Thomas - Christmas morning 2013


Love Park Christmas Village 2014 

      May your own holiday celebration be the very best, no matter how you make merry. Happy holidays readers. Each and every one.  


December 20, 2014

Twice Warmed

     Henry Ford was quoted as saying, “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice”. I feel the same way about quilting. With a quilt stretched on a hoop in the winter months you can tuck your legs underneath and feel the warmth growing. At first it is simply layers of fabric, the quilt top and backing with a fluffy or dense batting sandwiched in between. That can certainly be warm, but when all of the layers are joined together with tiny stitches, all of that fabric and fiber blends into something even warmer. I have to think that some of that warmth comes from the love a quilter puts inside.
      There are as many ways of creating these coverlets as there are talented quilters. Often pieced quilt patterns have very traditional names, such as the Log Cabin or Geese in Flight. Some quilters love piecing. They gather their fabrics, old or new, washing, pressing and then carefully cutting them into shapes and stitching them together until they have created a geometric collage made entirely from fabric. For the most well-made quilts, each piece must be cut perfectly and then assembled precisely. One askew triangle can  throw off an entire quilt top. Piecing can be tedious but the results can be astounding. In this Log Cabin quilt I made for my husband, even though the fabrics are very bold, the subtle shades of the piecing show light and dark. 



      Some pieced quilts use cut bits of fabric to create a picture. In this quilt, fabric arrangement makes a collection of tulips and leaves.




On this quilt, in my front hall, soft colors illustrate the play of pastels.



The same for this quilt upstairs:



This quilt, in my guestroom, is a collage of lively colors, perfect to brighten up a sedate space.



On yet another quilt I have made, the pieces of fabric are intentionally cut and sewed, or appliqued as it is called, to background blocks. Each block is appliqued and then the blocks are assembled. It is an exciting moment when all of the blocks are completed and then laid out on the floor to decide placement.




      In this whole-cloth quilt, there are no pieces. There is only the front, batting and back. Except for the edging it is all one piece. It is one of my favorites and one of my proudest accomplishments.


      Quilting can take up room. Some are made on huge floor frames, many large enough to be shared by several quilters. They meet and quilt together in what is called a Quilting Bee. It is a great way to learn or improve your quilting skills. There are smaller frames as well, all designed to stretch the layers of the quilt top, batting and backing to keep them smooth to be quilted together. My favorite is a big hoop. Most quilts are sewn together by either hand or machine. In the hands of a quilt artist I have seen both methods create magnificent pieces.


      For myself, I love the handwork. Hand quilted pieces like the whole-cloth, the tulip and the pastel quilts, join the three layers of the pieces together with precise stitches, done through all layers with a very tiny needle. I have found that the smaller the needle the more perfect my stitching becomes. A talented quilting artisan can take that needle and run it through all of those layers and pick up several tiny stitches at once. I have learned that it is truly an art. Of course a needle that is that small and sharp is not kind to tender fingers and in the hand quilting world there are a myriad of thimbles and other such things to try to save the quilter's fingers from the inevitable. A good quilter will usually build up some pretty tough areas on thumbs and fingers but sooner or later that little stinging needle finds its way in. I have seen quilters, including me, use spoons and band-aids and bits of leather and every kind of thimble imaginable while quilting.


      Whenever I look at a handmade quilt, whether stitched entirely by hand or lovingly managed through a sewing machine, I know that inside it is stuffed with more than cotton and thread. Inside are the echoes of pricked fingers and determination. Of all the needle arts and crafts I have done I believe that the gift of a handmade quilt may be the most valuable. If you have such a piece, take a moment and try to imagine what the artist has put into it. Not just the precious hours of their lives but so much more. If you stop and look and feel it in your hand maybe you can feel the love inside.

Have an amazing day and please come next week back for another visit!
        

December 13, 2014

Better Early than Never



 Hello and thanks for visiting!

    Santa, (alright, my darling husband) paid me an early visit this year. He does that sometimes. Last year he came before I began my holiday baking and brought me a really nice butcher's table that was quite handy for all of those cookies I made. This year he brought me a wonderful camera. I hope that by Christmas, and through the pre-holiday celebrations, I figure out how to use it well.
    It's not the most expensive camera, but I think it's just my speed. I have the phone camera and the iPad camera and I had a sweet point-and-shoot little darling that I used until its two rechargeable batteries weren't rechargeable any longer. This camera is certainly a step up from all of those and it seems to fit the bill for what I hoped to get in a camera. It is a good size and that helps since I have terrible focus problems. It's fast so I can capture pictures of my cat, Secret, who rarely stops moving and my grandsons who can be wiggly as well. It's heavy and bulky enough to get a nice grip and thus a clear shot. I have found it has some nice easy settings. So far my favorite is the soft photo setting. People like me, with a wrinkle or two, might like that. 
      It also has two other features I really like. It takes regular AA batteries. No recharging, love that, and it has to be off-loaded. To me that means my pictures don't have to be sent into cyberspace without a good look-see first. Before I embarrass someone with an unflattering shot or show the world where they are and what they are doing, I can sit down in front of my PC and look at what I'm posting. People, especially people with wrinkles really appreciate that, I'm sure.

      Of course anything new I carry simply MUST have a bag and I plan to carry my new camera everywhere. But finding the right bag has been daunting. I carry a big purse. Inside are the regular things one carries in a purse: a wallet and keys and lipstick and phones and such. I also knit and I bring my knitting many places. I usually have a small project that fits into a smaller bag and then into the big purse. Now I have the camera. This demands planning.


      I could carry my purse, and a big knitting bag and one of many lovely camera bags I found, but this creates a fashion statement that says human coat rack. This is not a good look for me and spoils my other accessory choices. The best way to solve this quandary is to get everything into one bag. Since I already have a set-up like that with my knitting and purse contents organized into smaller containers, I figured it would work for my new camera. I began a mental list of the requirements.

      First, the camera has to fit into its own bag, with a couple of accessories like batteries and a USB cord. The camera bag also has to have some padding. Not as much as a full camera bag since the bag will be inside another bag and I tend to be watchful of my purse. It has to close. It will do no good to have camera and batteries spilling around. It should be sturdy and of course it has to go with everything. I'm weird that way.
      I surfed the net for inspiration, visiting Pinterest and Etsy, and found some rather clever ideas. I discovered some adorable re-purposing of old handbags. These clever folks made foam filled inserts that fit into regular purses and created some rather adorable camera bags. One guy did it like a man and used a  plastic food container:


   After considering the food container briefly, I looked through my handbag collection. I don't tend to use many mid-sized bags so right there the choice was limited. I did take a look at the coconut purse my daughter gave me a few years ago. It certainly is interesting and pretty indestructible, since it is a real coconut, but alas the camera did not fit inside. 


    Since I have no plans to hunt the earth for an even larger coconut I looked through my knitting bags. 

    Then it happened. While I was going through my bags, in my bedroom, I got a great idea. I have, over the years, collected a few canvas tool bags. It started with the one my husband refereed to as The Feed Bag. It's a canvas tool bucket I found at a flea market filled with old celluloid knitting needles. Oh, and a silver dollar. I paid 25 cents for it. Best bargain EVER! I took the bag, scrubbed the heck out of it, bleached it and hosed it down and then it evolved. I made a big lace ruffle for it and then put in a drawstring closure and lining and added a few embellishments. For a while I carried it as a purse and always got compliments, which never failed to make my husband shake his head. Later it was delegated to my bedroom and now holds curling and flat irons. A few years later I got another canvas bag. This one is tall and narrow and I think was designed to be a giveaway wine holder. Mine holds hairbrushes now. A Klein tool bag might be perfect!





I found just what I was looking for and cheap too. I ordered the bag and set to making a padded lining. I measured the bag and cut out two sides, a bottom piece and a piece for the pocket:



I took the fabric I had cut for the pocket, which was double the size I wanted, folded it in half and stitched along the fold and then 1/2 inch below that to make a casing:



Then I pulled a piece of elastic through the casing:



I used fusible batting (that means you iron it on and it sticks) to the back of both side pieces and the bottom piece leaving an edge for seams: 


I sewed the pocket to one side of the inside pieces:


Then I sewed the sides together and sewed in the bottom easing in (aka fudging) the bottom corners:


Here is the lining with the camera and fixings inside:


I sewed the lining into the bag with a sturdy thimble on my finger and added a bit of sparkle. 


 The finished camera bag!



All of these pictures were taken with my new camera! (Except the ones that have the new camera in them of course.) Tada!


Please come back again!


      

December 6, 2014

The Cat is Out of the Bag

     

      Hello folks! This week I have been busy. The cat box episode, as I am coming to call it now, has almost come to an end. I never would have imagined it would involve so much drama. What seemed like a good idea at the time was looked upon less than favorably by the cats and for two days they avoided the box entirely. I did joke that I had come up with the perfect way to have a clean cat box but deep inside I was worried. Where were they going? And if they weren't, do cats explode? I'm surprised I didn't have nightmares. To avoid "accidents" in new places I kept many of the doors in the house closed. After only one incident, outside in the screened porch, the cats have surrendered to the new cat box. I did have to move it back inside the cabinet first, but I'm hoping in a couple of weeks I can sneak it out, close up the cabinet once again and move on with my life. I'm over this now.
      I did get a wonderful surprise from my lovely daughter, Jessica, my very handsome grandson, Thomas and completely thoughtful neighbor, Fay. Jessica came to pick me up early one day to go  shopping and said she needed to stop in and ask Fay about babysitting on the weekend. Instead I was treated to morning tea and a lovely birthday cake. Fay made homemade fudge and gave me a gorgeous silk scarf. I was so touched. My darling husband had taken me out for the weekend and we had a great Sunday together sharing our birthdays that are one week apart. It all made my birthday very special.
      Also this week, while looking for a way to camouflage my sofa, I ran across an interesting t-shirt up-cycle tutorial that cleverly turned a tee into a handy bag. I had to take a few minutes for a bit of sewing. The design was so simple and perfect I definitely plan to go through all my t-shirts to see if I have a few that would make better bags than shirts. As soon as I saw the design the first shirt that came to mind was a shirt from a musician friend. I love the design on the shirt, and the lovely colors. I got out my Orion Freeman t-shirt.
     The plan is easy. Lay the shirt flat. Draw around the neckline to make it much more open (a dinner plate makes a good template).  Cut out the neckline and cut off the sleeves. The shoulders will become the bag handles. Using the neckline as the top, figure out how long you want your bag to be and put in a pin near the bottom. I went short since I plan to use it to carry my smaller sock knitting projects. Turn the t-shirt inside out and sew across where you marked with your pin. Cut off the excess.
      My t-shirt was long so I kept the fabric I had cut from the bottom and made it into a notions bag to match. It took about ten minutes to do the shirt bag and another fifteen for the pouch. I'm still planning the sofa makeover.
The completed bag:

The bag laid flat:



The notions bag from the extra material from the lower part of the shirt:


The bag stuffed:


With my sock-in-progress:


    Check your t-shirts, you might have one that would look better with something other than you inside it. In the meantime I am working on my next book, Selective Service, which will be out next year. It's almost entirely love letters written by a young doctor and his wife while he is away in France during the First World War. The research I put into my historical novels takes me many places. This Veteran's Day has been particularly moving and I'm enjoying writing the novel. It's a bit of a departure from my usual writing style. I'm looking forward to beginning the next mail-order-bride saga soon.

Thanks for stopping by!  

 


Update: Here is a lovely picture sent to me by a young woman and her mother who took their bag making seriously. Not only did they make a mess of T-shirt bags but they made a reversible version and took the remnants and turned them into infinity scarves. Great job ladies! I love to hear from all of you and to see what you are making!


December 3, 2014

The Year of the Catbox



  Today I'm adding a special post on a subject that I have been asked about several times. Interestingly, cat boxes.
     I love the information you can get on practically any topic while perusing the internet. I was not disappointed in the gushing fire hose of material I found when I went looking for the scoop on cat litter boxes.
      I did not go hunting simply for the entertainment value one might find when researching cat boxes, but entertainment is exactly what I found. First, allow me to explain how this all began. My cat boxes have run their course. I have had a vast array of different boxes over the years. They have ranged from a cardboard beer flat covered with a plastic bag for those emergency strays to the rather elaborate and somewhat expensive, self-cleaning, electric kitty boxes. I thought I had tried them all. It is apparent that I was wrong. There are far fancier boxes and set-ups for cat litter than I ever imagined.
      The question of the best way to deal with the crap-a-la-cat is much more daunting than one would think. I feel I might be an expert now. This is what I have learned.
      I have, for the last several years, been using the Breeze cat box. It has a diabolical setup where the litter, which looks like concrete rabbit pellets, sits on a grate of sorts. Underneath is a flat drawer that holds something like a puppy pad. When the kitty piddles in the box it drains through the grate. You scoop the poop and change out the wet pad. For a while it was the best setup I had found. However, as my older Siamese ages, the puppy pad isn't enough and the litter for this system is becoming very difficult to find. Although the box uses just a few pellets, they are heavy to ship and most grocery stores do not carry them any longer. A trip to the pet shop often leaves me finding an empty spot where the litter ought to be or no one knows what it is at all. This is a problem. The boxes have gotten rather tattered and it's time for new ones. I'm moving on from the Breeze.
      I did the Litter Maid electric cat box before. It's an ordinary box that has a big rake that runs across the litter once the cat has left the box and it dumps everything into an enclosed receptacle at the front of the box. Seems like a great idea, but it doesn't work for several reasons. First, that my kitty potty is located in the mud room. In the winter it can be freezing out there and the electric rake can't move frozen kitty clumps. That means I need to turn it off in the colder months. When I first got the electric box the plastic container units were sturdy and kept the crap in nicely. Then the manufacturer got cheap and suddenly the receptacle became flimsy. When you went to remove it, things got ugly fast. That box is history.
      If you want to go really high-end you can actually purchase and install (that means hire a plumber) a real fancy box that flushes. It actually scrubs the litter with suds and water and runs a scoop through to wash down the sides and flushes all the yuck away. Then, because no fancy feline wants to step into wet litter, it dries everything for you. How quaint. Anna Nicole Smith's weird little spoiled dog comes to mind. Litter boxes of this caliber are not in my budget.
      There's a kitty box that looks like a big drum that you roll to clean. You tumble the sucker over and the litter filters through a grate which separates everything. You pull out a little drawer and, voila, crap! It's like magic. However, according to reviews, you have to turn it often, it is suggested three to four times a day. One informational litter site suggests you learn your kitty's schedule and essentially follow them into the box and clean up right away. Okay. That kinda defeats the fact that I have a great away-from-the-middle-of-the-house location for my cat boxes.
      This also brings up the disguised cat box dilemma, especially popular with apartment dwellers. There are oodles of sites with fancy DIY or buyable camouflage solutions to hide that pesky, unsightly box. One of the cleverest I have found is the converted steamer trunk. Buy one at the flea market, cut a hole in the back for the cat and pop the box inside. How delightfully Victorian. It gets stanky in there I'm sure, unless of course the aroma of cat has to override the smell of generations of mothballs, then you might be okay. I even read a blog where this guy built a kitty box solution into his bathroom remodeling project. The cabinet drops open and inside is the secret, hidden cat box and supplies and a dryer tube that runs outside with a little fan in it that runs 24/7. His bathroom is gorgeous and it sounds damn near perfect, but one fact remains. That one fact seems to hold true in every cat box situation, except maybe the self-flushing box. You have to clean the box.
      No matter how fancy or expensive the set-up, it still comes down to cleaning the box. In every setup except the expensive plumbing potty, you scoop. You can hide your cat box, like I did, inside a nice cabinet in my closed mud room, but sooner or later you gotta scoop. If you want to leave no clue that there's a crapping cat in the house you have to clean the box. You have to clean it well and you have to clean it often.
      After two days of reading, and now writing more than I ever wanted about cat boxes, I bought a cute $16 box. Period. I hope this sheds light on any worries you may have had about cat boxes. I know you were dying to know.


$16 cat box, visible and out of the cabinet where cat boxes once hid:


The little buggers:

Banjo


And the famous Miss Secret (from the cover of The Matter with Margaret)


Have a great day!