First Firefly

With so much happening in the garden, I can’t resist looking out any window as I pass during the day.  This probably ranks as a 0 on the Efficient Time Manager’s checklist, but it’s great for my blood pressure.

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I paid $5 for this fragrant yellow rose about 10 years ago.  It grows like it is on steroids and smells like heaven.  I gave one to my daughter and every year, it threatens to totally devour her mailbox.

Last night, in those last minutes of light, when the color has already leached out of the landscape and you can just barely tell where the flowers are, I was taking a final look when suddenly there was a spark.  I blinked and looked harder.  Yes, there it was again.  And another one.

Fireflies!  Or lightning bugs as we used to call them when I was a child.  Seeing them is so magical, even from this adult vantage point.  I can remember those slow evenings with a peanut butter jar in hand, with holes punched in the lid and a few strands of grass inside.  We would stand perfectly still until we saw the telltale glow, then run over, trying to catch the light in our jars.

My parents always made us turn them loose before coming in for the night.  Just as well.  I have seen them in the daylight and they are just bugs.  But in the dark, they were like capturing fairy dust.

Have you found any magic lately?

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No one is perfect

I hate to admit it but I am addicted to HGTV.   I used to watch the quilting show with Alex Anderson, but there wasn’t much else on at the time that interested me.  They went to a kind of frenetic format and I totally stopped watching.

Time passed and every once in a while, I would be flipping around some evening when I didn’t feel like doing anything and there would be people looking at houses.  That was pretty interesting, even if most of them seemed kind of spoiled.

Two years ago, I had some vision problems and it was hard to read.  I started watching almost everything.  It was company when I couldn’t do anything else.  And then I found I actually LIKED watching them prep houses for sale or redoing the kitchen.  Some of those guys are very easy on your eyes, if you know what I mean.

I like the shows where there is a team of people and you begin to feel you know them. I especially like Curb Appeal with John Gidding and his team.  It puts me in a good mood to spend time with them.  I used to feel that way about the Ace of Cakes on the Food Network.  Those people were crazy but they all liked each other and the work they did was amazing.  No one pretended they were trying to teach us how to do anything, so I felt no responsibility to go in the kitchen and bake anything.  Of course, since I liked it, they took that show off the air.

(On the other hand, I do NOT like shows where the regulars scream at their workers and snipe at each other.   Why would anyone thing that was entertaining?)

I told my husband I watched all the real estate shows as research for when I would eventually have to do something with my mother’s house.  It gave me an idea of what people want these days when it comes to houses – and yards.  I certainly can’t go by my own experience since we have been in our house for almost 34 years and the only people we have had to please for the last 20 years is the two of us.

Well, we auctioned off her house this spring without doing any remodeling at all, and I am still watching.  Tonight, I had Income Property on while I was trying to put a tricky quilt block together and they really cheered me up!  I was having a hard time and thinking how pathetic I am after all the years I have been doing this.  Guess what?  Those professionals made mistakes, too.  Things don’t always turn out the way they expect and they are always getting surprised by what they find when they start working.  It’s not just me!  What a relief!

Can we talk?

Somewhere around 1990, I got online for the first time.  We got a free disk from CompuServe and using our trusty dial up connection, I found the quilting forum.

I got addicted in a hurry.  It was so much fun to post a message and get a response.  After a while, the names began to look familiar and then they became people.  There was one young lady named Jan who was just starting out.  I was happy to answer her questions, and our posts grew from there.  Since we had gotten off topic rather completely, we named our messages Jan-Carol Chat.

Periodically, someone else would chime into the conversation, which was fine.  We weren’t under the delusion that we were having a private chat, but on the other hand, I was not prepared to find out that many people routinely read our posts with their breakfast cereal!

I tell you this because that is the kind of background I brought to blogging.  I thought of it as a conversation, whether I would be talking to one person at a time or a slew of you.  Having a conversation is fun – you say something and the other person says something.  That takes the conversation in new directions.

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Two people talking is sociable

One person talking alone is a monologue.   A little talking to yourself is okay, but   sitting and talking endlessly all alone usually gets you locked up in a padded room.   Without any feedback, blogging is no fun.

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Talking to yourself puts you in a padded room

I’ve told you about some of my passions.  What are yours?

Short attention span

Intellectually, I know that you get more done when you set a goal and stay on task.  There are days when I can do that and days when it is only a joke.

Recently, every time I go out in the garden, I am like a two-year-old – easily distracted by bright shiny objects – or in my case, every blooming weed practically screams up at me from the grass.  Both hands can be full and I still stop to pull up weeds with blooms.  The one thing I know is that blooms make more weeds!

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Lady Banksia rose and Columbine are just beautiful memories now

What I have never understood is why weed seeds almost certainly take root and grow while flower seeds are prima donnas.  I have to hold my mouth just right to get them to grow where I want them.

This has led to a gardening philosophy in which I have learned to recognize the baby leaves of most of my plants and I just let those babies grow wherever they pop up.  Silly, I know, but in the past I have had Campion growing in the walkway and grape tomatoes overrunning the perennial garden.

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Part of this year’s Campion

Eventually, it occurred to me that these sturdy survivors would survive being transplanted.  Still, having plants that overrun their boundaries and grow wherever nature plants them is kind of fun.

mystery_plantThe plant (right) is something I planted over a decade ago.  The sign disappeared a long time ago so I have no idea what it is.  It gets to be about 2’ tall.  The new growth starts in February and comes in almost purple, then it moves slowly to green.  When it blooms, it is covered in tiny yellow upside down umbrellas!  Do you happen to know what it is?

 verbena bonariensis
Verbena bonariensis, the wonder plant with the square stem

I adore this verbena which towers over everything else in a garden of tall flowers.  I only planted one about 5 years ago and it thrills me that they have decided they like it there after several very tentative seasons.  The clusters of tiny purple flowers wave in every passing breeze.

Last fall, I suddenly spotted a blue bloom hiding among the fading Black-eyed Susans.  It was a volunteer butterfly bush!  It was already more than 3 feet tall, although the pushy Susans had caused it to grow mostly sideways.  This one must be courtesy of the birds because I don’t have a blue butterfly bush.

First thing this spring, I was out there on my hands and knees getting rid of the pushy Susans and trimming that brave little bush into a nice shape.  It’s more than waist high now and you can expect to see pictures of it blooming in the very near future.

Short attention span has struck again.  I wandered off topic.  Oh, well, at least I was still talking about the garden.

Getting things done

There’s an old saying – if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.  I’m willing to bet if you ask any productive person how they get so many things done, the one thing you will find they all have in common is lists.

Yes, lists!  You know that boring old joke – the To Do list.  I can tell you that, at least for me, it is the only way to untangle a life full of too many things to do.

When my kids were little, I made miniatures and dollhouses to sell at art fairs.  I loved making tiny things and it kept me sane in the preschool years.  Still, little children take a lot of time.

I made a standing list and a daily list.  The standing list was major chores that I had to do over and over, like laundry or grocery shopping.  It included small but easily forgettable things like watering the house plants.

Thirty years later, I am still making lists.  They give me a feeling of accomplishment.  I love crossing things off when I get them done.  Since I tend to lose focus and often end up doing something that is not on the list, I am not above writing it down just so I can cross a line through it!

List making is an art.  Never, ever write down something huge and amorphous like “clean the kitchen.”  Are you kidding? The very size of the job will keep me from starting it.

My lists are granular, as my husband likes to say.  Each little task is listed.  How hard is it to throw a load of towels in the washer? Tick.  One thing done. Take out the trash in the bedroom.  Tick.  Another thing done.

A really big chore that simply can’t be done in one day gets added to the list a bit at a time.  Think of it as nibbling the chore to death.  I give it an hour each day for a week and then reassess.  The trick to that is to make it a specific hour.  If I know I must quilt from 10-11 each morning, then that’s what I do.  (Okay, I’m lying here but play along.  I do try to stick to the list and the more I try, the better I do.)

As with anything else, it takes a while to get used to any schedule and it is easy to find reasons NOT to do things.  Like going to the gym.  It is SO easy to find reasons not to go that I can’t remember the last time I was there.

malvaMy rationalization is that I’m working in the garden nearly every day – for hours at a time.  That’s exercise, right?  Honesty compels me to say no, not most of the time.  Deadheading spent blossoms is not the same as working out.  But as long as I am not trying on clothes, it still seems like a better way to spend my time.

Look at that gorgeous malva – wouldn’t you rather spend time with her than in some sweaty old gym?

So how do YOU get things done?  And how often do you rationalize so you can do what you want, instead of what you ought to be doing?  I am a world champion rationalizer but there are no awards for that, sad to say.

Mother’s Day is more than cards

Everybody liked my mother.  Seriously.  Not only they all told me in person after she died, people never missed a chance to tell me what a nice person she was while she was living.

Dorothy grew up in the Depression and that made her a little strange about money.  She never wasted any even after she could have.  For example, every cotton ball that came out of a bottle went into service to remove nail polish.  Why buy a bag when she got perfectly good cotton for free?

As a mother, I give her an A+.  That ability to make $1 do the work of $3 meant that we never went without anything important.  I knew we weren’t rich when I was growing up but I had no idea we could have been considered poor.  She made our clothes, clipped coupons and did whatever else it took to meet our material needs.

More importantly, she was a real mother.  There is never a time I can remember her being too busy to listen to me talk her ears off, drill me for a test or sit patiently while I read her my terrible short stories.  As a I grew up, she adjusted to the adult me, still treating me as a daughter, but no longer as a child.   I have children of my own and believe me, I know how tough it is to do that.

dorothy_weddingWe shared every kind of confidence and she let me know her as a woman and a friend.  This picture was one of her favorites of herself, but my personal favorites were the casual snapshots of her over the years.  There was a whole album of her with dozens of different boys she met at the USO during the war.  There were tons of photos of her with my father, the undisputed love of her life, laughing, hugging, sharing 60 years together.  My sisters and I were so lucky and, I’m happy to say, we knew it and told our parents how much we appreciated them and the life they had given us.

Dorothy loved any kind of holiday or celebration.  Nothing made her happier than a house full of family and friends. She stayed in touch with everyone.  When family or friends moved away, other people might lose touch.  Not my mother.  She was still corresponding with the wives of the men who served with my father in WWII when she died last fall.

She loved to give presents and not just for the big events that everyone remembers.  She bought us candy for Valentine’s Day and, after I started my own family, gave me a something for my anniversary and Mother’s Day.  In the last decade or so, she gave me money so I could buy something I liked.

garden_pinwheelI put my birthday money last year in a drawer the way I always did, waiting to find something special.  I still had it almost a year later when I fell in love with a giant metal pinwheel that just cried out to be put in my garden.  So I took my birthday money and got my last Mother’s Day gift from my mom.

I can see it from every window on the back of my house, spinning around and catching the light.  She would have loved it.  I think of her while I look at it – not that I need any reminders to think about her.

I hope you don’t mind my personal spin on Mother’s Day.  Think of it as an introduction.  I am sure she and my dad will pop up in the conversation a lot.

My Passion for Color

I love color but I didn’t always know how to get where I wanted to go.  As a beginning quilter, I would choose two fabrics and muslin for the background.  All that work and the results were just BORING.

Having absolutely no art classes in my background, it never occurred to me to research color in the art books at the library.   In the mid-80’s, quilt fabric began to change from tiny, multi-colored prints to larger prints, more saturated with color.  I was still just buying enough fabric for a single quilt and working through it until I finished.  A 2-day class with Doreen Speckmann changed the way I bought fabric and my stash was born!  Doreen taught me to think of each piece of fabric as a dab of paint on my palette.

radiationEventually, the marketplace included wonderful books on color from authors like Mary Coyne Penders, Jinny Beyers and Joen Wolfrom.   They became my teachers.  I devoted the next year to working through all kinds of color exercises from their books.  I learned to speak the language of color.

As my quilts changed to richer, deeper, more nuanced colors, so did my choices in the garden.  Where I used to just buy whatever struck my eyes and plop all the colors together, I learned to make a bigger splash by grouping like plants or colors and introducing a spark of the complementary color.  Nature gives me green as the background color but it is never boring because there are so many tints, tones and shades.  Even the time of day will make the colors look different.

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Mother Nature makes the best selection of greens

I learned to put artemisia, Dusty Miller and lavender in the garden to separate the greens and add light.  Look how the blue leaved hosta stands out above.  I want fabric in all those colors!

The more I studied, the more strongly I felt about sharing what I was learning.  I did workshops in my guild and eventually wrote a series of articles on color for The Quilter magazine.  That series became the basis for my Color Companions class at Quilt University.

Requests from my students and my own ongoing desire to dig deeper into the mysteries of color led me to develop a class called Gradations and Transparencies.  I sewed and wrote for a year!  The class focuses on using many  gradated values a color together in a quilt.  Sometimes, as with We are Insignificant (below), the palette is very restricted but the use of value results in a big impact.

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  We are Insignificant

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In the kaleidoscope quilt at right, the palette is analogous, meaning all the colors used are in a row on the color wheel.  The values go from light to dark and alternate in each block to create the design.  The corner pieces create the illusion of transparency, as if you are looking through one color to another.  I struck it lucky when I looking for backing fabric and found a piece that picked up many of the colors used on the front.  This quilt was made for my daughter, Jennifer.  Her favorite color is purple and the walls of her bedroom are sage green.  This combination gave her everything she needed.

The problem with learning a lot of about color – at least for me – is that I want to correct people when they do it wrong, much as I feel the overwhelming urge to correct their grammar.  I try to resist the impulse.  Unsolicited advice is hardly ever welcome.  But sometimes a student picture will cross my screen and it is such a wonderful example of good color use, that I just want to stand up and cheer.  That happened this afternoon as I was thinking about this post.  The blocks made by Barbara La Belle are an outstanding example of using complementary colors.

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Barbara La Belle from Ripless Paper Piecing

I still study color every chance I get.  Often, that just means keeping my eyes open to the world around me.  Other times, a new book will come along to teach me a new way to look at things.

P.S. Gradations and Transparencies starts this weekend at www.QuiltUniversity.com.  Come join me!