Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Miniseries Review: World Without End

Do you remember how much I love historical fiction?  It's my favorite genre and the longer the novel, the more I love it!  It's getting lost in a whole sweeping world, getting to know the characters so very well, the opportunity to learn about another time.  It's just everything that does it for me, and once I get hooked....well, then there's no hope for me!

All that does is lead to the big questions: Have you been watching the Reelz miniseries World Without End?  Did you watch the first miniseries based on the Ken Follett novels, Pillars of the Earth?  Because if you did, you have to be watching the sequel as it would be almost impossible to let it get past you.

I had the pleasure of reading both novels a few years ago after my daughter-in-law, Meggan, recommended and gave them to me.  Although I read them in the wrong order, it didn't matter so much.  In fact, just a few days of pleasurable, magnificent reading had me hooked on these rather long novels.    
Add to that wonderful week of reading the weekend discussion with Meggan, who happens to also be an English teacher, and I was a happy woman.  

Ah, but the best was yet to come!  The miniseries, which we recorded on the DVR and watched at our leisure, was stunning and, I'm thrilled to add, followed Pillars quite closely.  Rory and Meggan came for a couple of weekends and we watched the miniseries again with them.  Our discussions so intrigued Adam and Jenny that they joined the party.  

Queen Isabella

Now we're recording and watching World Without End, which is the second novel in the series.  It also follows the novel closely, but just as important is that the miniseries is so well done.  The costumes, the sets and the headpieces are just stunning.  

It's obvious that the researchers did their jobs, as did the many designers and artists.

To view more of these photos from the miniseries, visit the Reelz website.  And absolutely, if you have the opportunity to enjoy the books, grab them up.  They are well worth the hours (and days) of reading that you'll enjoy.

And because he's such a good writer, here's one more plug for Ken Follett's website.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Review: The Commoner

John Burnham Schwartz's novel, The Commoner, is masterfully written.  I picked it up after a friend, who shares my literary tastes, recommended the book.  Although I couldn't read it in one sitting--my favorite way to read is to devour--I managed to complete it in three days, very long days of waiting to get back to the book!

The commoner of the novel is Haruko, a young woman in 1950's Japan who marries the Crown Prince.  

Photo of my hardback copy
As the first non-aristocratic Crown Princess, she is met with cruelty at every turn and is handled by those who are in the hand of the Empress.  Years of cruelty and suspicion wreck havoc on young Haruko and she suffers a nervous breakdown, unable to speak.  Over time, Haruko learns how to hold on to her private self and manage her public life.  

"When thirty years later--now Empress herself--she plays a crucial role in persuading another young woman--Keiko, a brilliant foreign servant who dreams of having a career--to accept the marriage proposal of Haruko's son, the Crown Prince, the consequences are tragic and dramatic" (John Burnham Schwartz website)

I highly recommend The Commoner and add that I can barely wait to purchase Reservation Road and it's sequel, Northwest Corner.  

If you've read any of Schwartz's books, leave a note letting us know how you liked it.  I'd certainly like to hear other points of view on these novels.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Praline or Pie?

There's very little that's better than a delicious Louisiana pecan.  That means someone has to go out and pick pecans and yesterday that someone was ME. 

I am sore from bending, squatting, and kneeling.  Rich and I decided that we'd go to my parents' old place and pick a few.  

We stopped on our way home from the cemetery last week and noticed that there were many small pecans on the ground.  One tree in particular has tiny pecans that are full, oily and delicious.  We started picking under that tree.

Unfortunately, when the pecans are so small, it takes many, many pecans to fill a bucket.  We filled a five-gallon bucket!  But these little nuts are going to make a wonderful pie around Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Of course, to get them into a pie, someone has to shell them.  That's been Richard's job so far.  He began shelling pecans last week and after three nights of shelling, he has enough for perhaps three pies.  Since I generally make three pies for each holiday, we'll need more if we hope to have pralines.  And, let's not forget pecan cake.....that is a pretty good treat, too.

I suppose I'll have to find some time to pitch in and help with the shelling.  At least Richard does the cracking.  He has a handy little gadget that makes it easy enough.  It can be adjusted for the different sizes of nuts so that the big ones are squashed to crumbs and the small pecans break.  Imagine trying to crack those little ones with your hands...not easy.

I wanted to add a tip for cleaning the pecans.  If you don't pick out the small pieces of  hull from the meat, it gives your dish a bitter taste.  Although you can use a toothpick or small knife, I just put the shelled pecans in a zip-top baggie and shake it hard.  

The hull pieces fall off the pecan meat and sink to the bottom of the baggie.  I transfer the pecans to a clean baggie before putting them in the freezer; just be careful separating the small pieces from the hull pieces.   

For recipes for an easy pecan pie and one for pralines, click on the recipes tab above or here.  I hope you have ample opportunity to taste Louisiana pecans and to use them in your favorite recipe.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

One loud afternoon

I managed a few minutes in the studio this afternoon to do a little cleaning.  Sweeping, picking up and and displaying a few quilts really made a difference!

Of course that didn't last very long because I had also promised to babysit one very active three-year-old.  She ran, jumped, climbed, screamed and almost every other verb that I can imagine inside of four hours, and the only minute that any of that looked a bit normal was while she was in the bathroom and the two minutes that she "read" a book.

Even a game of hide-and-seek is noisy and boisterous and active.  She hid behind the sofa cushion with arms and legs sticking out, very convinced that she could not be seen, "at all."

When I didn't find her right away (I was taking advantage of the momentary quiet) she quickly called, "You can't find me.  

You can't find me.  I hiding." Imagine those words in a high-pitched, shrill, LOUD voice.  I am amazed how loud such a tiny little person can be! 

Deciding to test her limits, I waited another moment before searching the living area.  Finding her requires several minutes of tickling, laughing and, surely you've guessed, screaming at pitches that had all the puppies yapping and adding to the clamor.

 Speaking of pups, my little ones are learning a new trick: sitting!  They actually do this better than the three-year-old, but they have been training for a few days.  And they have less energy! 

They tried keeping up with the rowdy one, but that didn't last very long.  After a while, they crawled into a bed and napped, but she found them and shouted, "get up puppies" until they had to choose between going deaf and moving.  They moved.  They are such sweet little things and so innocent.

When she discovered that they do what they are told, she thought it would be great fun to talk to them.  She must have screamed sit a hundred times, which confused the puppies terribly.  However, they are following that order much better now, so maybe she's on to something.  

The puppies were looking at me when I'd tell them to sit, but for a while they were confused enough that they didn't know which way to look.  They did sit, though, and stayed.  Now that the big girl has gone home, they have passed out in the closest bed without supper.  I feel pretty badly about that, but what can I do? I feel exactly the same way.

And on that note, I'll go crash, too.  I should sleep almost as well.

Happy Quilting,

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Quick and easy goes it

Things have been a little quiet around here.  After the whirlwind of rushing through the last quilt project, I wanted to rest.  Not that any of the last three or four quilts have been difficult, of course; they were just rushed.  

Add to that the stress of working full time, trying to learn several computer programs for school, and keeping up with a library, and I just needed some down time.  

To that end, I found two simple, easy little projects.  The pincushion I saw on Pinterest some time ago.  I didn't have a pattern, but that was easy enough.  I simply cut out a heart shape!  I wanted to make this pincushion only because I had this cute heart fabric.  

 The little bag I made with Dusti in mind.  It turns out that she really doesn't want it.  She doesn't carry a bag or purse and felt that it would just be something else cluttering up her room.  Imagine a 13-year-old saying that!  

I was surprised but not terribly.  Still, the bag is really cute, so I think I'll give it to someone else around Christmas.  Surely at a school of 400+ I can find someone who would like it.

I made the bag, like the pincushion, because of the  fabric.  While digging around in my stash, I discovered the pink flamingos, then found a solid pink to coordinate, and zipped up the bag in about two minutes.  Those flamingos were wiggling and dancing in an effort to get my attention and convince me to do something with them!
The bag is small and the handle is short so that it fits close to the body when worn on the shoulder or can be worn on the arm.

I put in a small Velcro closure for the top.  I think it will work well for carrying around small electronics and such, though I didn't intend it for that.

What are yo working on?  Any small projects on your "to do" list?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Another Finish!

Last night I called a client to say, "I'm done!"  Her daughter is moving to Houston in a few days and she wanted a memory quilt zipped up from old photographs.  

In typical Patty style, she wanted the quilt now.  I, of course, wanted a few days more than she had, so we compromised and got the quilt out in just under two weeks.  Because Amelia is still at home in Louisiana, the timing was pretty good.    

Getting from photograph to fabric is a fairly easy concept, given the right materials.  I simply scanned the photos, resized or cropped as necessary, then printed them on photo transfer fabric.  

Although all the photos were originally in color, Patty wanted them printed in black and white or sepia.  I chose to print the majority in b&w, but I also printed about 6 or so in sepia so that there would be a touch of color, although that color is rather neutral.  

She also wanted the quilt to have a grown-up feel to it, since Amelia is definitely a young woman ready to get out on her own.  To that end we framed the photos in black and used a taupe-like beige fabric for the background.  

A simple stipple on the background and picture frames finishes off the quilt.  I was nervous about trying to quilt on the photographs since I'm sure the needle punctures would appear tacky and large.  

The photo transfer fabric on which on which the pics are printed is heavy and thick.  I could hear the needle punching through on the edges as I sewed the fabrics together to form the frames.  Since the long-arm machine needles are even larger than the Bernina needles, I didn't want to even try my hand at outlining faces or bodies.  So I left those alone and let them stand out, pillowing, inside their frames.  I'm fairly certain that I made the right choice.  

What do you think?  Don't the simple design and monochromatic coloring make for a beautiful memory quilt?  Leave a message and let me know how you feel.  You can also give suggestions or tips for making memory quilts.

Happy Quilting,

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jambalaya Recipe

As Louisianans we are lucky to have a few "home-grown" products that are easily purchased.  Many of them are a vital part of our Cajun culture.   

Because we love our Cajun foods and traditions, we tend to build product lines around them.  It would be difficult to name all the Cajun food product lines, but there are a few that I especially enjoy:  Richard's meats, Tony Chachere's seasonings, Community coffee, Savoie's roux, Steen's syrup, Tobasco hot sauces, and Zatarain's seafood boil.

While I've mentioned some specific items, the businesses sell many, many different items in addition to these.  Plus, for every business there's a whole line of tee shirts, caps, bumper stickers and other items that cater to our huge tourism market. 

Louisiana Jambalaya
1/4 pound each--smoked sausage, tasso, bacon, smoked ham cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 pound chicken, deboned and cut into bite-size
               pieces(may substitute with pork or beef)
Slap Ya Mama seasoning
2 tablespoons Savoie's roux
1/4 cup each--onions, bell pepper, celery
1 clove garlic
3 cups rice
3 tablespoons oil
6 cups water

Heat oil in deep Dutch oven, add chicken and brown, remove chicken to platter.  Cook bacon in Dutch oven until crispy, and remove to meat platter. Pour out excess fat reserving 2 tablespoons, add sausage and brown lightly, add vegetables and saute until onions are clear.  Return meat to pot, adding remaining meats, stir.  Add 1/2 water and heat to boiling.  Stir in roux, rice, seasoning, and remaining water.  Mix well and bring to boil.  Cover with lid and lower heat to slow simmer.  Cook 30-45 minutes until rice is completely cooked.  Serve while hot.

Serves 8.  Freezes well in zip-top bags and can be reheated in microwave.

Monday, October 15, 2012

News Release from AAQI

The Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative is offering more than 2,100 Priority: Alzheimer's Quilts for sale at International Quilt Festival in Houston. 

Please head over to the front of the Exhibit Hall, Row S and buy a few quilts (Oct 31-Nov 4). All profits fund Alzheimer's research.

If you would like to help sell quilts, rope people into the booth (it is Texas after all) or generally lend a hand, they need you. Sign up for a 2-3 hour time slots (and get free admission on the days you volunteer) or join their Text Brigade and help "as needed." 

Learn more and sign up here:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Vintage Baby Quilt

Not so long ago a colleague brought a darling little baby quilt to me at the request of his mom.  During the summer we discussed the possibility of my repairing it for her.  After determining that her main  goal is to salvage it so that it can be used when her grandchildren visit, I suggested that we add a new backing and stipple the entire quilt on the long arm.  

I was concerned that doing so would devalue the vintage quilt, which her grandmother-in-law made many years ago.  She assured me that the important thing is that the grandchildren be able to nap under the quilt and that it last as long as possible.  She's a true believer that using quilts is a way of honoring the maker.

I agree with her, but I also like to preserve quilts for future generations and for study.  This cute quilt had been hand appliqued and hand quilted, so I wanted very much to allow the hand work to show despite the machine quilting.  

I chose to use Superior Threads' Bottom Line in light gray for both the bobbin thread and the top thread because it blends so beautifully with the off-white aged top and barely shows on the gingham appliques even though they are different pastel colors.

Unfortunately, some of the appliques are quite tattered.  I decided not to replace them because I want this to still be the grandmother's quilt and, especially, her handwork.  To compensate for these appliques, I  stippled all the appliques in a small stipple design after going around the outside edges.

The tattered appliques I treated exactly the same as those in good condition except that I was extra careful in working a tiny stipple design in the areas that are already torn and frayed.  My hope is that the extra stitches will hold the applique pieces in place for a few years longer than if they were just stitched down normally.

The only problem that this may have caused is that the quilt is a bit more stiff than I had hoped it would be, but once it's been washed a few times, it should be soft and cuddly again.

The appliques are stitched down in a blanket stitch with black embroidery thread.  Some of the details of the little animals are also embroidered with the black thread.  

Using a stipple stitch allowed me to ignore the details of the embroidery and just tack the layers together.  This leaves the embroidery floss to do its intended job and highlight the animals.

Now that the quilt is complete, I am satisfied that it will last for several more years.  The new backing and extra layer of batting helped to stabilize the top and applique.  But most importantly, the grandmother's work shines through and her entire quilt is still intact. 

The maker turned the backing to the front for her binding, which means it's only one layer of fabric and had small holes in a few spots.  To resolve this problem, I decided to use her method but instead of turning the new backing to the front of the quilt where it would show, I turned it to the middle tucked it behind the original binding.  

I stitched very close to the edge then stippled the binding on my Bernina using the BSR (stitch regulator).  This way I could add extra stitches where the holes are, the stippling matches throughout the quilt, and the binding still shows on the top of the quilt.  That the binding shows is extra important since the yellow fabric for the binding is also the fabric in the sashing.  

I don't have photos of the whole quilt because it won't be delivered till Monday and I don't want to show it until then.  But I think there are enough photos here for you to see how darling the little quilt is.  

I've decided not to put a label on this one.  It's not my quilt and while I had a part in helping the family to make sure it will be around for a while longer, I want my part to be forgotten.  Would you include a label or leave that to the family?  

Did you notice the mistake in the last photo?  Look at the whale.  It's making a flip, I guess, because it's upside down!  How wonderful is that?  To have a vintage quilt from their grandmother and for it to be so personal, handmade, and yes, signed in her hand.  Unfortunately, her signature had to be covered since it's on the back, but I will tell the owner where it is, in case she wants to include that info with the quilt.