Saturday, March 29, 2014

What would Vincent do?

I have a limited attention span when it comes to ART that hangs on a wall.  I just don't get it.  I am not not-human, I have favorites like any one else.  As a child I liked to go to art museums (further proof I was not like the others, although at least one of my brothers did as there).  As an adult I cannot help but wonder if my outstandingly poor vision might be part of my lack of appreciation.  & then I move on.  One of my favorites then & now was...

But I digress, lets talk about Vincent.  He was born into what I understand was a loving, caring financially stable home.  His family was religious (his father was a minister), but even they were alarmed by his growing zealotry.  Still, they did their best to understand & were, to varying degrees, as successful & unsuccessful as any modern family might be.  Religious fervor aside, his behavior was erratic.  It probably didn't help that what we think of as binge drinking today was a widely accepted normal social behavior in his. 

& I cannot help it, whenever someone uses mental illness as an excuse or a reason or a cause for doing something that is completely repellant to everything that is humane, I still think of Vincent van Gogh.

There is no question that Vincent was in pain.  The cause is something for discussion & likely a combination of many things, including the alcoholism we think of as being at least a bit in his own control.  Yes an argument could be made that he was self medicating...& he almost certainly was but I digress.  The point I am trying to make is that when the noises inside got too loud, he didn't go on a killing spree, he cut off is own ear.  He argued with his father something awful, but is brother loved him enough to support him.  I am going out on a limb here, but in my view when a sibling takes the side of a parent against a sibling that is a normal-ish, or at least common scenario.  When a sibling sides with the very difficult sibling....that parent is probably more difficult than most can imagine.

I have spent enough time looking at the "after" picture of a family that experiences tremendous violence within itself to see that the Van Goghs are ticking all the right...all the wrong boxes.  But Vincent never killed anyone except himself,  Yes I know other family members claimed he killed his father by arguing with him but ONE: it takes two tango & TWO: if extreme arguing was an actual cause of death, almost everyone who ever did anything great would be a murderer.  Shaking off arguments is a kind of learned immunity.

Which brings us back to Vincent.  If he did kill his father....when my father dies his near-&-dear could say I killed him; our last argument was decades ago & I said good riddance.  Last I heard he was still pissed.  If whether or not Vincent did kill his father was one of those discussions, there was little dispute that he killed himself.  But it turns out we might have been wrong about that, too.  There is reason to believe he did not kill himself, was wounded as the result of an accident & did not want the person who shot him to have his own life ruined over something Vincent thought about doing anyhow.

You can see my quandary.  Mental illness is used to excuse every sort of heinous behavior, but then there is Vincent who may have waded through that fog to make a compassionate decision it would be almost impossible for a sane person to make. 

Happy birthday Vincent.  A day early.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Rip it

The week before last, I was minding my own business, trying to wrap up the knot garden quilt I had no business working on (because I have actual deadlines this month, some of them are even quilt deadlines so who knows what my problem was) & I was about to put the two large pieces together to make the top....or that center of the top (I might add a border.  I almost never do but apparently I am really avoiding something else.  I wish I knew what).    &  that's when I spotted it, right there in that corner block. 

It takes a minute (it took me months, as I obviously sewed it into the quilt like this & never noticed). 

As it happens, this was one of the swapped blocks & I even remember who sent it (I rarely do, especially with the big swaps) because she is a quilter whose work is far above mine, quality-wise.  everything of hers I have ever seen is lovely.  Which just goes to show this can happen to anyone.  Including me. 

It is an unhappy truth that it is easier to rip out the work of an experienced sewer, the person less likely to make a mistake.  It is not fair, but there it is.  This is because it is easier to rip even, smooth, straight stitches.  Stiches that bump & bubble & get really small because they are hung up on a seam are the absolute worst to rip.  Pulling this block out of the quilt top (thankfully it was in a corner, but I would not have let it stop me if it wasn't) was a piece of cake.  Ripping & rotating the flipped four square went quick.  The whole process took maybe an hour, maybe a bit more but as I did it in pieces (ripping while watching tv, sewing the straight seams in the middle of chain piecing something completely different).  The top is assembled & now I am rolling around a border idea that may or may not work out.  You'll know when I know.

Several months ago I finished a quilt top that I had made for myself, was really looking forward to having completed & using when all of a sudden, the steam just went out of it for me.  I could not figure out why. I would look at it & be unable to decide how to quilt it.  Then I worried about the white not really suiting me....  I am not suggesting my sub-conscious was at work here or my private eye or whatever it is.  All too often I get all fired up & stall.  So often that -unless there is a paycheck involved- "fire up & stall, repeat as necessary" is pretty much how I get things done (or not) on large & small scales.

The stall turned out to be helpful, because after a while gazing at the quilt top & then pictures of the quilt top, I spotted an error that would have made me nuts if it was already quilted (the before picture is here if you feel like checking it out). 

The oranges were not in the right places; the dark orange was where the light orange should be, etc.  It did not help that the dark & the light were more like a dark medium & a light medium.  I could have left them, yes, but why?  Once I saw it...& it's not like it was already quilted.  So out came both offending blocks, I reversed them & dropped each back in where the other had been, borders & all.

Let me say again, it is much easier to rip out what is well stitched.  Let me add that it is easier to rearrange blocks that are exactly the same size...which is really just another way of saying that first thing.   I think I can safely say I have ripped at least one major seam in every quilt I have ever made.  I have never regretted ripping what didn't make me happy; I have wished I could go back & rip out now what I should have ripped out then.  Yes, very philosophical, but still.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

52 Photos Project: An Old Film Photo

Not that this has much to do with anything, but today is my almost fiftieth birthday (I am not a big birthday person, I usually have to do the math to remember what year; I have been rounding up for a couple years).   My companion in this photo will be almost fifty minus one year in one month minus one day.  Which makes this slide at least 40 years old. 

I am not sure where it was taken, exactly, either.  My best guess is somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean (I am actually sure of that) between Long Island & Acadia Island.  Given that I am wearing shorts, it may very well have been the height of summer.  My companion in jeans never wore shorts.

//interesting sidebar- he & our other brother once got reprimanded for showing up for a hike wearing jeans & not "appropriate hiking shorts".  My mother, who dropped them off, also got chewed on for this "parental oversight".  If memory serves, the rest of the troop got poison ivy. 

The 52 Photos Project prompt this week is An Old Photo, which this mostly is (like I said, it is a slide).  It is a bit damaged as you can see, but the colors are as bright as they were the very day. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Let's blog about spring

Spring is really more of a moment here than a season.  Okay a series of non-consecutive moments.  I live in north Florida, not the panhandle.  We are equidistant from the Atlantic Ocean & the Gulf of Mexico & while we cannot see either of them, we still enjoy a temperate climate.  A shocking number of people here think the weather is extreme, but once I listen to them a bit more it turns out they are not insane, they have just mostly never lived anywhere else.  Or they have been here for a really long time & other weather has lost its bite.

I am not saying it is always lovely & never dramatic, just that while 30F is chilly, especially if you don't own a heavy coat because why spend the money on a coat you might wear less than seven times a year (seven is my go to number- if I won't do it for a week a year, it is hard to plan for allocate funds, etc.)...  So yes, it IS cold, made colder by choice but that doesn't make it not cold.  & while the thermometers might have the a bit of overlap, 30s F here is NOT the same as 30s F in a place where the snow drifts so high you can only see the street from a second story window. 

Sure you could say that summer's here are harder than in colder places.  But they are not.  I have spent some miserable drought-amplified summers here.  I would still rather be here.  The Midwest summer are baking & they have not built to deal with it (yes, I mean air conditioning, but I also mean houses to catch the breeze, with interior windows so it can move right through).  I have spent many summers in CT, NJ & TX for the summer; it is generally more comfortable here.

But I miss Spring.  Every seasonal misfire everywhere else (cherry blossoms that bloom early & get caught by a freeze) is the norm here.  Every year Spring starts & stops & starts & stops & starts & then it's Summer.  & I like Summer just fine.  Still it would be nice to have a gathered Spring.  Instead I have learned to look for the redbud tree, the return of the birds, the Chickasaw plum tree.

& brightest of all, the indian azaleas. 

Spring is not so much a season, but a series of bursts between winter & summer.  Even with all that color (winter being mostly a drab green & summer being a vibrant green) it can be easy to miss.

Friday, March 21, 2014

52 Photos Project: A present someone gave you, meaning me

In one of those "small world" things, 52 Photos Project this week is A Present Someone Gave Me & this month is our house birthday.  As in all the humans in the house have a birthday in March.  So we have been talking presents, new & old.  for the most part, we are ungiftable; we have what we want.  A few years ago A was anxious to upgrade my camera; he had given me one a year or three before & wanted to get he latest version.  It was lighter, more bells & whistles, etc.  But I liked this one & wouldn't give it up.   OKay, the real story is I started to cry when he tried to take it & I made the poor man eel terrible about trying to do something nice.  Also, there is no pleasing me. 
So this is the present someone gave me, that I am still using.  Weekly if not daily.  & I still don't want to upgrade.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A saint for Monty Python fans

Yes, yes I know what day it is, I know tis the season of green beer & drunken debauchery in the name of an Italian driving the snakes out of Ireland.  Not that he was definitely Italian.  Because that is the important point.  But here at Useless Ranch we like to offer alternatives.  Preferably alternatives with something quirky going for them.

& so I offer you Joseph of Arimathea.  First of all, you're welcome. 

Secondly, no really, it was no trouble at all. 

Thirdly, yes, I guess everything & everywhere & everyone has some quirk if you look hard enough.  Considering how wildly popular Monty Python remain, I guess you could argue that being named in a Monty Python movie barely rises to the level.  But Joseph of Arimethea is all I've got right now.

Let's get to the man.  He is the one who asked Pilate if they could take Jesus's body away (Pilate said go for it, just so you know).  It seems like a big middle management step for a guy who was a secret disciple of Jesus (apparently he kept a low profile because he was afraid of Jews...?  Maybe I read that wrong, but that's what the saint-blurb seems to say).  I like to imagine how mundane task are done (this is not a joke actually) so last night, after I found this guy, I imagined his pitches.  Did he offer to take away ALL the crucified as maybe a beautification program? Or just the jewish ones because they might lower property values? Or just that one there because no one wants his followers hanging around under his cross?  Let me assure you, these were the least offensive persuasions I thought of. 

So Joseph of Arimathea takes the body & puts it in his own already prepared tomb.  He also bought the linen etc. & generally did all that funeral grunt work & picked up the tab, which is not nothing.  If you were already looking for him, you could say he fulfilled part of Isaiah's prophecy in the Songs of the Suffering Servant, specifically & literally about the servant lying in the tomb of a rich man (& people do say that).  What happens next is better covered elsewhere, so lets stick with Joseph. 

After the main event, Joseph went walkabout, bringing the word as far away as the British Isles.  & apparently brought a famous cup with him which brings us to Monty Python.  Because that cup was (or was not) the Holy Grail.  Once he had done that, he was apparently finished

Lastly, Old Joe here is the patron saint of funeral directors & what's not fun about that?  So drink your green beer & toast the man:  Joseph of Arimathea.  & you can toast him again later this year because he was actually moved off of March 17th & on to several different days, depending on which calendar you went with way back when. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Knot garden from last summer for this spring

I am up to my eyeballs in pending projects, some of them quilting projects, some of them farm projects, some of them tied to the end of the semester & naturally I am attracted to those projects with no discernible deadline.    Or those I can do nothing about.

Earlier this month I was obsessing on the next stage of the Cotton Robin, which is absurd as I will not even know what I am working on until the next part arrives & the deadline for that is a week away.  I needed to stop looking at what I had done before & what I had made for my own centerpiece (I was inspired to make two exact centers & I am working along on my own & am looking forward to seeing what happens when two quilts jump off at the same point & one travels & the other stays home). 

What I am not doing is double checking the Facebook Quilt Block Swap block directions for AUG, OCT & DEC (yes, blocks are planned that far out).  I have also not finished my own block swap commitments due at the end of this month.

Instead, I pulled out blocks from a swap-gone-by & have been working steadily on a quilt for no one in particular, no deadline in sight & no reason I could not table it until I was way less busy.  But it is SPRING!  Almost.  & I want to do something with flowers & gardens & it is still too sketchy outside (80s F last week, below freezing last night) to do much other than knock down old dead vines & think about where to put those rose bushed currently residing (by nigh) in my bathroom.

So to the Knot Garden I went.  The block pattern was put forward by S***, another block swapper who made the mistake of competently answering questions on the board so I made her co-admin (HA!).  I made a ton of these for the swap , but was not even in the top five swappers; it was wildly popular & I can see why.  Among many other good qualities, it is easy to chain piece & uses scraps wonderfully. 

I decided on a 7 by 7 block layout which meant I needed to make quite a few more blocks & have been making one or two or three whenever I have suitable fabric out.  I wish I had made them way-back-when because it would be a lot easier to make several of the same & swap them around than to make one or two like I am now.  I also plan to put a border on it (right now I am leaning towards pieced corners, & maybe a center side medallion, but nothing too snazzy).

My hope it to have my spring quilt finished (or the top, anyhow) in time for Spring.  Because Spring springs early in central Fladidah, kinda.  It coils up a few times & fools you & then BOING!  it's summer. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

52 Photos Project: Where I Would Take You

When 52 Photos Project put up "Where I Would Take You" I confess, I thought of one particular spot.  I pass it every time I go to the Union Street Farmer's Market (which has not been in Union Street for years now, feel free to interpret that as you will), because I cannot parallel park, I just cannot do it & so I park in the little metered lot at the west end of SE 1st Avenue.  & someday I ill take you there, but this morning I revised to a place I actually have taken people, if they have showed the slightest bit of interest or they are my mother:  The University of Florida Herbarium.

A herbarium, in broad strokes, is to plant specimens what a library is to books.  That's it really, the basic definition of an herbarium. 

I began by helping catalog already existing specimen for the synoptic collection.  Sometimes this cataloging meant removing the plants, roots, dirt & all from the newspaper the collector had placed them in, mounting them on cardstock with label (provided label-I never do identification).  Later, I would take all the mounted specimens & enter them into a very basic database.  The end result as a simple collection that could be used to train anyone on how to handle specimens (me included) & what to expect in general. 

Nowadays I log wood.  It is more exciting than you might think (it would have to be, I know).  But there isn't much to say about it really.  I pull out index cards (yes, index cards) double check the specimen (usually a block of wood) is there. If it is, I enter it into a database file (from which a searchable data base will be built....later) & go to the next card.  At the end of my shift, or whenever I start to feel cramped, I take the pile of cards with MIA specimens & go a-hunting.  The detail details are here, if you are really curious. 

As I do this, I am merging -in a data sort of way- several collections together.  They already co-exist in the room, but now it is possible to look at a list of all the specimens in a single searchable place.  This is a first for many of these, which include, among other things, woods from pre-Hiroshima Japan.  I have also been given general access to a lot of other material, & used them as quilt subjects.  Don't worry, the wood quilt is still on the drawing board but you can see the little gem magnolia, the Victoria water lily & a sampling from the Floristic Inventory of the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, if you wish.

This is my (shared) work space at the herbarium.  It is very cramped but it turns out I am the opposite of claustrophobic.  No, not agoraphobic but I prefer close quarters.  High walls, narrow channels & the smell of old paper do not bother me one bit.  I wasn't kidding about the index cards, there is an hours worth of work sitting right there.  The mirror is so I can check drawers overhead without pulling them all the way out.  With a flashlight in my teeth, I can bounce light into the back of a cabinet another handy technique.  Drawers of wood specimens are very heavy & can be unwieldy & confirming the presence of a specimen without pulling everything over on myself is the best way (but not alas the only way).

Last of all, here are the cabinets themselves.  You can see the weight of the wood in them pulling them slowly apart. 

If you came here & wanted to see something you could not see anywhere else in the world (almost), this is where I would take you.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Ides of March cannot come soon enough

I don't know if there is such a thing, but I think March 10th should officially be called The End of My Rope Day.  We can make it collective: The End of Our Rope(s) Day.  First because everyone I know except for me is sick of winter (ours has been rather mild so I could do this all year).  & a good chunk of people I know are really ready for the semester to end (again not me, I don't begin my Spring semester duties until this Thursday-long story about fumigating & my natural & sublime skills in inertia), 

But March 10th has a long history of "I have HAD IT".  Let me expand...expound....who cares:

In 1629, Charles I told parliament to suck it & ruled solo for eleven years.  This was not even the first time he turned his back on parliament, it was the third.  What happened next was called either Eleven Years of Tyranny or The Period of Great Reform, depending on who you were.  It is all very interesting actually, but not what I want to talk about now.  Right now I want to talk about today & today Charles I said "I have really had it with you people" although probably not in those exact words.  I like to imagine him saying "Get thee to a nunnery" while wearing those snazzy shoes he has on in his portrait by Van Dyck (hey, is that where the Van Dyck facial hair got named? It is! Marvelous).  & I mean the one with the cape, not the one with the horse.

So Charles I says sayonara to parliament, what else?  There is the Louisiana Purchase in 1804.  If this doesn't seem like a hand washing moment, think about it from Napoleon's perspective:  influx of cash for a very prickly bit of real estate acquired less than five years before.  I have no idea why he bought it, but after he did the natives started getting very restless worrying about the little Corsican banning slavery while other French territories started balking at the idea of slavery being reinstated & after a few short years of this, Napoleon was happy to flip it. 

A bit further on, also in France (1831) that last bastion of last resorts- the French Foreign Legion -was founded.  It doesn't get much press nowadays but once upon a time, the French Foreign Legion was where you went when you had nothing to live for.  Also, it makes a great opener for mummy movies.

In 1922, they arrested Ghandi.  It didn't go over quite as intended, but on the day I imagine the British were happy to check that little agitator off their list & get on with the business of the empire.

In 1945 the US firebombed Tokyo.  They had been trying to negotiate an unconditional surrender from a culture that barely understood survivable surrender & things really just went to hell from there. 

I think I will end this little review in 1980 when Jean Harris shot Hy Tarnower, the Scarsdale Diet Doctor after years of a strange relationship & days before the pills she was detoxing from arrived by mail...from the doctor himself.

So here we are:  Monday morning right after the clocks lose an hour.  Seems like the perfect day to mutter darkly into our coffee about how we are really sick of this shit.  I say we make it a DAY. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

52 Photos Project: How I Start My Day

How I start my day has gone through a few changes in the past day or so (& will change back in another cycle, I hope).   It is Spring Break here, which makes no difference really except that A can travel without classes being disrupted.  Last night was the first night he was gone & I tried to have a normal evening, but the dogs kept getting up & barking every time a car drove by & around 3am I moved back out to the couch (A usually gets up around 4:30/5 so they would have been going nuts for breakfast soon enough). 
When I woke back up this morning, this was what greeted me.  Also my neck hurt, mostly because in addition to moving out to the couch, I put on headphones to listen to a book which I had found very funny before but it deals with what happens after a much loved wife dies unexpectedly in a plane crash.  & there you have the other reason I wasn't sleeping so well.  What was witty & heartfelt before my husband got on a plane has lost some of its humor.  The book is How To Talk To A Widower so it is not like I had any excuse for not knowing what it was about. 

In the old days, I did not exactly look forward to his leaving, I did enjoy thing that would make him crazy.  Cereal for dinner, late night quilting, hat kind of thing.  Now I want him to come home & not just so I can get some sleep. 
This photo is a bit deceptive.  It was taken with no flash & a long-ish exposure.  Lilly didn't move, I didn't move; it looks like a bright sunny day but it was really quite dark.  The sun was up & we were in a room with windows across three walls but the rain was pounding down.  She was not any more anxious to get out there than I was, but it had to be done.  This how we both started our day: completely frozen hoping no one else noticed we were awake & then racing to make it out into the yard to pee before the other dogs jumped on us.  Her, not me; peeing in the yard is not one of the things I enjoy when my husband goes out of town.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The color & the shape, revisited for April 2014

I have been having some troubles getting older photos on to Facebook & in the end I took a new set of photos & I am putting up some different looking blocks for our April 2014 Quilt Block Swap block.  There has not been much interest in this block; yes, I realize it is hard to get interested in a block with no pictures in the group but I am also not expecting much because...

This is our first ever applique-mandatory block.  In the past, once a year or so, we have made blocks that could be appliqued but they could also be pieced.  Almost no one ever does applique instead of piecing despite more applique being one of the more frequent wishes from group members.   Yes, I realize the subjects up for applique (boats, "joy"funky town, flower baskets, etc.) are certainly a factor.  Some of these swaps were big, some were small, but either way the applique blocks were in the minimum.  That it is a raw edged applique may also make it less attractive; it has certainly been the reason the people who like applique have given for not participating.

But I think mostly people are having trouble visualizing the blocks (yes, yes, pictures would help), but more what would anyone do with the blocks once they made them.  I think the answer is simple, but that's me.  Also I have had a lot more time to think about it, since blocks get planned not less than three months & sometimes more like a couple years before the group ever sees them.  I plan to make a fabric book with my six blocks (I make six keep one, swap five just like everybody else).

I have also suggested a baby quilt to other people who ask.  Think about it:  those fluffy edges will be nice & touchable but there is no way little hands could rip the whole thing apart & swallow any small bits (not that there are any small bits, there really isn't).

The directions are simple (& can be found in the link: ).  Begin with a 10.5" square of a solid (not read as solid, not mostly solid, an actual single color, no shading SOLID fabric).  Unlike most of our blocks, this fabric can be any 100% cotton fabric (of quilting weight-no denim please).  In the photos above the blue square is an old sheet; in other examples it has been flannel.   Stitch a shape (I used mostly squares, you don't have to but if you start with a triangle, you will fins things get tight quickly) using another cotton fabric.  Stitch down a third shape.  They can be on stacked or overlap or just side by side. 

& that is the bare minimum.  In one of the blocks above, I added yet another square, just for fun.  I also used the decorative stitches that came with my sewing machine.  You do not have to do either of these things.

The block are due in-house the last Saturday of April (more information about how many & where to send can be found in the Facebook Quilt Block Swap Group).