Monday, December 29, 2014

Toirneach

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Around here, it is all about the tartan right now.  The doctor is these days fully embracing his ancestral heritage, and as Americans, we have a lot to choose from, but in among the mixed multitude of mostly European DNA, we are Scottish--he is clan Morrison, and I (by a sliver) am clan Murray.  Along those lines, he lately found himself in the position of needing some kilt hose.  Say no more, I thought, and spent a few sly pre-holiday hours knitting these while he was at work. 

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His mother gave him her gorgeous calves, and what better to show them off?  It was this or superhero tights, I can tell you.  It’s only the elastic on the flashes (is that the right term?  Flashes?  Oy, I’m still learning) that keeps the hose up at all, and it’s a true miracle that they fit him.  Knitting a secret pair of kilt hose for someone with eccentric calves is a leap of faith, people. 

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Winter is long in these parts.  The hours must be filled.  We have watched Braveheart, and discussed the historical inaccuracies therein.  There is a ceremonial dagger in progress, and a sporran.  He has, in half-seriousness, considered DIY-ing some bagpipes, which I frankly would adore, but I do have a doubt or two.  We, obviously, don’t play the pipes.  How would anybody know whether they sounded right?  I think what stops him is the poor state of his wood lathe, or else it would be happening.  He gets an idea, it happens.  Stay tuned. 

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The lovely free pattern is called Toirneach and I used worsted weight KnitPicks Wool of the Andes in “Down Heather” on US 4 dpns.  I managed to finish these and block them with time to spare, whew. 

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We will be at the Irish Festival this year (yes, he’s Irish, too,) kitted and fully kilted, and dreaming of the thistle and heather. 

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Fierce!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Comfort and gratitude

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As ever, knitting is a balm to my aching soul, and this hat, with its traditional snowflake motifs and fluffy-hairdo-retention beret shaping, fell from the needles almost automatically.  I used one stray skein of KnitPicks Wool of the Andes in “Down Heather” and some of a partial skein of Patons Classic Wool in the wonderfully grayed-navy “Mercury”.  As I worked, feeling very gray indeed, I wondered if it would’ve been more fun in zippier colors.  Maybe next time.  I’ll probably do another, probably involving--heaven help me--“Lemongrass”.  I don’t know what it is about that yarn, but it compels me.  It is the perfect foil for the stormy-looking everywhere gray of early winter.  The free pattern for the hat is here

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I can’t thank you all enough for your kind words and thoughts about the loss of my lovely old dog.  She came into our lives when I was kinda down and out, and with a most generous spirit she schooled me in play and laughing and running free in the fresh air, and in being fully your own self.  She was better than good, she was the very best, and I feel so lucky.  And I’m lucky to have all of you here, too.  Thank you, thank you.  Thank you. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Good, good dog.

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There is so much in my heart, and my words are too small for it.  Goodbye, old girl. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Stockings

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I am in a very plaid mood right now.  I made these stockings the other day, because in spite of us all being grownups around here, Santa is still coming to my house (if he doesn’t look like Tim Allen, I don’t want to know about it, ya’ll) and also because honestly, the attic is so full of stuff that it was frankly easier to make new ones than to find the old ones.  I’m not even kidding.  Besides, these are plaid, and it was fun.  I also threw all caution to the wind and decided, finally, to go ahead and hammer some nails right into the mantel so they could hang properly.  Why not?  It’s my mantel, and nobody will mind but me, and I don’t mind. 

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I drew a vaguely stocking-ish shape on a big piece of paper, cut it out and pinned it to a thrifted wool plaid skirt (avoiding the seams) attached a little piece of (also thrifted) handmade lace (I know, right? ) and a gingham lining, and stitched it all together.  It took hardly any time at all, and now my mantelpiece looks like Christmas at Balmoral, if I squint a lot and use my imagination.  Since Tim Allen Santa will be filling these, I made them wide and useful, but I think they’d be great all long and skinny and elf-shoe-shaped, too, with a pointy toe and a jingle bell on the end.  Maybe I’ll make some more. 

In news from the Cheer Up department, looky:

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That there is my Mother’s Day orchid, getting ready to bloom again.  You know what?  I can’t even.  It is like a hug from the universe. The halls are decked; the gifts, in an unprecedented feat of efficiency, are finished and wrapped, and I have made Ina’s Pot Roast, which smells so good it makes me swoon.  In a week or two, there will be flowers, which seems like the work of fairies right now, in the middle of the dark side of the year.  Pretty nice.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Season

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We got some good old-fashioned christmastime snow, and the whole world looks like a birthday cake, and Andy Williams songs play on an endless loop in my head (and everywhere else, too, now that I come to think of it.)  It is quiet here, muffled in snow.  The house feels like it is sleeping.  We [try to] play cribbage, which we don’t really know how to play, and watch birds outside the window.  I bake things.  The last load of laundry tumbles in the dryer.  He chooses a book he thinks I might like, and reads it to me while I wash dishes in the sink, or soak in the bathtub, or knit a sock.  I am forced to admit there is some melancholy in this season now, with the little children all grown up and gone away to their own lives, taking their happy noise and their midnight pans of nachos and their friends with them, and I try to fill the gaping holes left behind with knitting and books and chicken noodle soup, and I cry now and then, sitting in the car wash with holiday songs playing on the radio, or in the evenings with a grown-up eggnog or steaming hot toddy.  I look for new ways to make the season bright.  I hang a silk scarf in the window, which casts color beams like stained glass.  I make things for people, late late into the night, and I light candles, and walk in the snow. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Reusable cloth gift bags

 

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I love gifting things, and I love crafting things to give people, but manoman, I hate wrapping stuff.  I don’t know why I find it so complicated—maybe just finding one empty flat surface big enough to roll out that huge and flimsy paper is too hard, but I also can’t find the tape and the hunt for the right size box usually ends in frustration, and then buying paper just so I can throw it away later is hard to swallow, too.  Amanda’s reusable gift bags is the answer!  No scissors, no tape, no hunting around for a ribbon.  I love this idea so much (did it involve a little bit of sewing?  And scraps?  And finally finding a use for my stashed hoard of the fabric handles from Anthropologie shopping bags?  Yes, yes, and yes!) 

Monday, December 1, 2014

It’s not easy being green

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Finally, I have reached the Second Color phase of the (at least for now) Extremely Green Blanket.  That’s Debbie Bliss Cashmerino in the lyrically named color 300502, which I will translate to “Grassy Green”.  On Friday, I braved the hordes (I’m so glad they don’t sell yarn at Best Buy) and went on a hunt for the third color and failed.  Maybe I want thisThis?  I don’t know, I can’t tell.  It looks like this project will be slow going, which is fine, because:

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there’s this, which still needs sleeves (and which, I found out, matches my pajamas perfectly, which tells you just about how often I got dressed this weekend) and:

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this, which isn’t even the only stranded knitting with a steek that’s happening around here at the moment, wow, I really feel like stranded knitting right now, and there’s also something else in dark brown, the photographs of which look like a—well, like a brown sweater with the lights off, because this is December in the North, and there is no light anywhere.  Gloom.  It is downright dim.  Cozy.  Hygge.

I made Leftover Mashed Potato Soup this morning, in about five minutes flat.  It’s so good I want to eat it for breakfast. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Leather flowers, part two: necklace

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Leather crafts, continued.  Among Grandma’s things, lying folded amidst the yards of eyelet and flannel and poinsettia print quilting cotton, there was a big buckskin, soft and floppy, tagged by the preparer, bullet holes still apparent.  I don’t know where she got it, but Grandma was an old school country girl, and also a crack shot, and she saved anything that might come in handy in the event of a craft inspiration.  I’ll never know what she had in mind for the buckskin--I am imagining something fringed and hand-tooled--but I thought of flowers.  These are pretty easy:  cut out two flower-ish shapes, poke a couple holes in them with a nail, run a length of leather lacing through the holes, tying them together.  I put the knots in the front.  Get the whole thing wet, and then scrunch and squeeze and stretch it, pulling and twisting the petals, until it looks sufficiently flowery.  The softer your leather is, the better it will sculpt.  Prop it in a little glass to help it keep its shape, and let it dry completely.  Then use your crafty skills to finagle it into a necklace, or whatever else you like.  A lovely tutorial is here

Monday, November 24, 2014

Leather flowers, part one: earrings

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I’ve been playing with leather lately.  These little flower earrings have been sitting here, almost finished, for about a month.  I finally got it together to poke a little hole in them so an earring wire could go through, and now they’re done.  Ten seconds of work.  Why is it so easy to get 90 percent done with something and then just let it park there on the work table for four weeks?  I’ve been moving these around to make room for something else for ages.  I don’t know what that’s about. 

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These are small, maybe an inch across.  In my head, leather jewelry is so 1970’s, and there is almost nothing I love more than that.  These are begging for a long patchwork skirt and maybe a big bracelet made of cowrie shells.  Boots, for sure. I’m thinking of my second grade teacher, Mrs. Lorenz, who was a beautiful hippie with fringed vests and long red hair and dangly earrings that looked like tiger teeth or maybe bear claws or something.  She made a pillow out of an entire pair of old jeans (I mean it; she just sewed up the cuffs and stuffed them) and she let me borrow her Monkees records.  Her class is where I first heard The Lovin’ Spoonful.  Awesome.  She potted up twenty spider plants in recycled peanut butter jars and gave them to us for Christmas.  She’d totally wear these.  Anyway, I used tiny scraps of leather from my stash of somebody else’s leftovers, purchased twenty years ago for another purpose.  Save everything, people!  The lovely tutorial is here

I am also illuminating the Great Lakes and most of the Eastern Seaboard with work on the granny blanket, which is still frustratingly in the Lemongrass Phase of construction.  This yarn badly needs the tempering of a neighboring hue. 

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It looks so innocent there in the sunlight.  Do not be fooled. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Flurry

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I am working on so many different things that I almost feel a need to make an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of it all.  Socks, a striped scarf, garden marigolds for dyeing the freshly spun wool, leather flowers.  And everything here, along with a few other things still undocumented, and the spinning, and the new blanket, stubbornly still stuck in the Lemongrass phase --which is all frivolously for meeee—remains unfinished and is on pause while I spend a minute or two thinking about someone besides myself and tackle the holiday gifts.  I can’t show you any of it yet.  The finished objects are piling up nicely, though. 

I also made soup, which is my favorite thing to cook and to eat.  I have got soup figured out.   A nice beef and barley, full of potatoes and pepper.  Yum.   I also went to Philadelphia where, you will recall, my girl has taken up residence, and where there is the culinarily adventuresome “cheese steak”.  (It is nice.  There are art murals everywhere, signs that say “Come In, We’re Awesome” and a cafe advertising “Vinyl Night—BYO Records”.  Cheese Steak is a bit of all right.  My girl is happy.  LOVE.)  I also finally got some bifocals, so maybe I’ll be able to read in the bathtub again, and I am spending every single free moment at the knitting needles.  Oh, and it is snowing. 

In case I’ve made you hungry for Beef and Barley soup, here’s my recipe:

Snow Day Beef Barley Soup

1 pound chopped up beef—I don’t know from cuts of meat, so use whatever you like. 

1 medium onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, diced

2-3 Tablespoons olive oil

6-8 cups beef broth

2 large potatoes, peeled and diced

1/2 cup pearl barley

2 bay leaves

3 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Splash of vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

In a big pot or Dutch oven, saute the onions and celery in the olive oil until they are soft.  Add the beef, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until fully browned.  Add the broth, potatoes, barley, and bay leaves.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste, and simmer until the potatoes and barley are soft, maybe about 30 minutes.  Add parsley and vinegar and simmer 3-5 minutes more.  Add more liquid if needed, and remove the bay leaves before serving. 

I know, vinegar sounds strange, but trust me.  Soup begs for a little vinegar.  Okay, back to the yarn.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Neon and buttermilk

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It has been a craft tornado around here.  A craftnado.  I have got a major case of starting stuff, and I have started about ten new things and there is still a list of things to start that haven’t even been started yet.  Fabric is stacked for auditioning, and there are some knee socks I want, and I think a knit fair isle cape would be so great, must make a few notes on that...  There has been felting and embroidery and painting and metalsmithing (I am not even kidding) and a whole big mess of knitting and crocheting, and the house looks ransacked but I am having a wonderful time.  I seem to be conducting an experiment to find out exactly how many different crafts one middle-aged woman can carry out in one week.  There is a new blanket on my hook, too, the beginning of which is nothing but four skeins of Paton’s Classic in the neon, the glowing, the astoundingly technicolored Lemongrass.  Friends, that much Lemongrass all at once looks kind of terrifying.  Lemongrass can be used in the even of a power outage as an auxiliary light source, did you know that?  I think it will be okay in the end, but Must Get to the Next Color, aaaargh!  It’s melting my eyeballs right now.  Also, My friend Debbie has given me another fleece, and oh mercy me it is so lovely.  Soft and fluffy and the color of buttermilk.  It looks like Santa’s beard.  I was invited to spin some of it at a local fiber festival and church bazaar last weekend, and Ethel took this photo—with her phone--of me in the demonstration room, spinning and yammering away.

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My wheel—an Ashford Kiwi—is a blur!  That fiber is completely delicious.  Nobody, not even Debbie, knows what kind it is.  It is sheep’s wool, and that’s all we know, because her sheep are all rescue animals.  Well this fleece is made of buttercups and moonbeams.  It spins effortlessly, and it made me look like a spinning genius, which, I assure you, I am not.  Everyone, everyone, said “That looks so soothing.  Is it soothing?” and it is, completely.  It is like listening to your mother’s heartbeat while sipping chamomile tea in a warm bubble bath, but then I think knitting is soothing too, and this is so interesting to me, because when I am spotted knitting in public, people always say they think it looks difficult, and that it must be frustrating.  Hmm.  There’s a study in there somewhere.

We are barreling headlong towards the holidays now, which sets my crafty cogs to turning.  I feel bursting with creative energy.  In fact, the yarn is calling to me right now.  See ya!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Color Block Crochet Scarf

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I made a scarf, and now it is freakishly warm outside, not that I’m complaining about that for even one microsecond. The sky looks like it wants to dump buckets and leaves are flying all over the place but it’s kind of warm enough for shorts.  I want to open a window, but leave the fireplace burning…odd.   I do not understand this season, nope, I do not.  I don’t know what to do with warm and gloomy.  Anyway.  I got a little bit temporarily fed up with knitting the other day, and I just felt like I wanted to crochet something, so I scrounged up five skeins of worsted weight wool and made this scarf (the recipe is here).  I used a US G hook and Ella Rae Classic in 101 (heathery denim) and 124 (squirrel brown), Jo Sharp Classic in 911 (lovely olive) Patons Classic in Winter White, dyed by me with avocado pits to be sort of a pale sienna, and Berroco Vintage in some kind of navy heather—the ball band for that one is lost.  I’m sorry, I can hardly keep track of those things even when I’m trying really hard.  I don’t know what that’s about.  I think you could make this scarf in a day if you didn’t get too interrupted by life.  With life-related interruptions, give yourself three days, no problem. 

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It kind of made itself, while I was busy having a flashback nostalgia freakout watching a whole bunch of episodes of Welcome Back, Kotter.  (The theme song from that show!  Right?  Or is it just me?) 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Things about fall

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Oh, fall.  I am just not sure about you.  Why does it have to be so dark and gloomy?  Why all the pumpkin spice everything everywhere?   How many minutes until I can go to the beach again?  Are we almost there?  I made caramel apples the other day, which is one of the five or so things I do like about fall, and I ate them so fast I bruised my gums a little bit.  Caramel and apples go together like caramel and apples, don’t they?  Here’s my recipe:  Buy some crispy, crunchy apples at the perfect peak of their apple perfection.  Then also (here’s my secret ingredient) buy this kit.  Presto, instant gratification is yours.  Making caramel apples like that is the only way I’ve ever done it, and they are perfectly good, although they always make me think of this:  once when I was young, my friend Richie’s mom made caramel apples the other way, in a saucepan on the stove using butter and sugar and cream and vanilla, and stirring it forever and ever, and then spearing an apple with a fork and dipping it in there, ohmygoodness.  The buttery golden caramel coating was an inch think, and so soft and gorgeous, and the pan on the stove was so coated in candy that it looked like she might as well just throw it away afterwards.  She casually plonked the dripping apples to cool right on the countertop, and we all hovered there, on a cold Friday night in October in Michigan, after the football game, maybe still in our marching band uniforms, suspenders up over white t-shirts, dark green wool pants, jackets discarded on a chair by the fireplace, plumes and spats and saxophones and drumsticks in a pile somewhere, wondering at this crazy level of love that makes a person use a candy thermometer and ruin a pan to making a treat that will stay in a person’s memory for thirty years.  I think of that every year, when the leaves start to litter the yard and the air in this farm town smells spicy and smoky; Richie’s mom making caramel apples from scratch, using the forks from her drawer to dip them, and then saying, “Who needs some cider?  How about a doughnut?”  and the bunch of us standing wide-eyed in her old kitchen, waiting for them to cool, the Tigers on their way to win the World Series on the TV in the other room. There was a bonfire later, a 20-foot high pile of brush from their farm, and we were sugared up and warm, warm, warm.  Golden. 

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In other, non-caramel  news, I have stitched up a cozy for my wonderfully fluffy but sorta silly-looking down-filled throw.  It is the softest thing ever, but it is, for some reason, covered in penguin-print fabric, and the penguins are holding up signs that say “Candy Canes: 5 cents.”  I love this thing so much I want to drag it everywhere I go, but the penguins…well, that problem was solved in an afternoon, with a stack of gray-toned and wintery-looking fabrics, cut in 10 1/2” squares and seamed together on the machine.  I backed it with a soft gray cotton sheet, and made an envelope closure on the patchwork side, secured with buttons and loops of ribbon.  The silly penguins with their candy cane marketing signs are safely tucked inside.

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There, caramel apples and down duvets; that’s two good things about fall.  I can’t think of a third right now. 

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Friday, October 24, 2014

What the?

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I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking What the heck is that thing?  It looks like a puppet, but I know it can’t be a puppet because puppets have googly eyes.

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Nope, it’s not a puppet.

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Well then—you’re thinking—is it a pair of slippers for an elf? 

Nope.

Witch socks?

Golf club cozies?  Oven mitts?  Something to do with the Red Hot Chili Peppers that we’d rather not discuss right now???

Ha!  Nope.  Friends, this is a mitten.  A mitten Without A Thumb. 

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I can hear you saying (you’re not thinking it anymore, you’re saying it out loud now) that there’s no way this is a mitten, because the thumb is the thing that makes a mitten a mitten, and this doesn’t look like any mitten you’ve ever seen, but LO!  I am here to bring you tidings of great joy, especially if you live in the Northern Hemisphere where it is beginning to get a little bit COLD outside right now.  Friends, coming to you straight from the brilliant and twisted imagination of the great Elizabeth Zimmermann, this is the Thumbless Mitten.  If you’ve ever made mittens you know how it goes; you cast on merrily, thinking cozy thoughts, and you go whistling along through the cuff and the increases for the gusset, and past the hand and the lovely little decreases at the top, and you cut the yarn and weave in the ends and then the crushing realization dawns that you still have to make the thumb, which will only take like ten minutes, but which is no end of fiddly and which is somehow just deeply aggravating.  And then, like a bad rash, it comes up again on the second mitten, and knitting two thumbs is two thumbs too many!  That’s twenty minutes you’ll never get back, people!  Enter the Thumbless Mitten.  Also, let’s face it, when you’re wearing mittens, you know your thumb is freezing, all isolated over there away from it’s brethren, am I right?  You know you’re tucking your cold little thumb up into the cozy hand part of the mitten anyway. 

I just think these things are the greatest.  They are everything there is to love about a mitten—that little gathered-in ribbing section at the middle to keep out the drafts, the dearth of ribbing, the inneresting decreases at the top to make them curved, you know, just like your hand is curved?  Dang.  Fantastic.  Also, they are fully lined, which you achieve by picking up stitches along the cast on edge and just knitting another mitten onto the first one.  Which means you’re really knitting four mittens here, but you know what?  You’re not knitting any thumbs.  None!  EZ, you never fail to amaze. 

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This pattern can be found in the book “Knitting Around” by Elizabeth Zimmermann.  I used one skein each of Patons Classic Wool in Orchid (the lining) and Cascade 220 in some kind of purple heather (the outside side) knitted on US 4 double pointed needles.  The doctor wanted to know one thing:  without a thumb, how are you going to put on the second mitten?   I did wonder, but I managed it in the end.  Knitters, go forth and make these.  If you’re not on board with the lack of thumbs, you can add one later.  She thought of that too. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

October quilt

 

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The doctor is trying really hard to keep me busy, probably so I won’t sit around and mope too much about how I don’t have to get up at six in the morning anymore to pack lunches, or spend three evenings a week sitting in a school auditorium somewhere, or stand in the rain watching one kid or the other run around in circles or march down the street carrying a trombone--how I actually do miss those things, though, oh my goodness, I can’t even describe it.  So in order to keep me from bringing home a puppy or something, he makes plans.  We went out for coffee twice yesterday.  We went to Bed Bath and Beyond.  We went to the post office, also twice.  Between trips to the hardware store, I managed to finish this quilt, and right before it started to pour with gusty rain, I hung it up outside to admire it.

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I machine-pieced the top a long time ago, got around to basting the layers after awhile, folded it up and left it to sit there for a month, then finally hand quilted it in one long day while listening to thirteen Zilch podcast episodes in a row.  I discovered recently that the real name for my huge, hurried quilt stitches is “utility quilting” which seems right.  There’s nothing fancy about them at all, but they look fine to me, and they get the job done.  The finished dimensions of this quilt are 72” x 81”.  

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After our extremely busy day of leafing through magazines and buying squirrel deterrent, we put on our clean shirts and went into the city to see this, and I laughed so hard I couldn’t see straight, which was the best medicine ever, though I warn you it is not for the faint of heart nor the easily offended.  Back in our quiet midnight kitchen, we shared the last of an apple pie, still laughing.  It was a really good day.  I don’t know how he’s going to keep up this pace, but I’m looking forward to it.