We've had one heck of a day here weather-wise--torrential rain, a possible tornado, and widespread flooding. Thunderstorms have been churning around and around all day long, and it was the perfect weather for a bit of crocheting.
I don't know why I always associate rainy, inclement weather with handwork, but I think it goes back to my days in theatre. On rainy, horrible summer days in the wardrobe workshop we would put on old jazz cds to drown out the driving beat of rain on the corrugated tin roof above our heads. We listened to everything from Cole Porter to John Coltraine while we stitched away, and to this day I think of a rainy day as an 'old jazz day'.
Today I took up my crochet hook and some pretty yarn left over from my Happy Flowered Garland
project and set out to make a cat toy mouse. I looked online for a bit of inspiration, but in the end I just made it up out of my head. There's my continuity issue popping up again. Oh well...
Pussito is inside due to inhospitable weather conditions so I decided to treat him with the catnip-laced toy. He was so sleepy that he bit and kicked it for about a minute and fell back asleep with his paws resting against it. I guess that's his half-hearted seal of approval.
I think he's annoyed with me that he is wearing a girly pink and brown collar (I used one that I already had on hand until I can go pick up a suitably manly replacement for the one he lost earlier this week), but with Oliver, who can ever tell? At least he got the blue catnip mouse... I'm going to make a pink one now for Sophie Puss.
If anyone is interested in crocheting a cute mousie toy for their feline companion, here is a whole page of links
to free patterns.
I'm almost there! After much relocation and rearranging of my many stashes (fabric, beads, yarn, paper.....) I am almost settled into my new sewing/work room! I really have to get everything into its proper place and then take a few decent photos--the above pic was snapped with my cellphone, so forgive the quality. Better to come!
See the panel on the worktable? I was completely inspired by a quilt I saw online
and decided that my next pillow cover (to cover the world's ugliest cushion #2, brother to the world's ugliest cushion #1
) would be birdhouses. I sat down, drafted a pattern, tweaked it, added inlays, and broke out my fabric scrap stash. Have I mentioned recently how much I love my fabric scrap stash?
Notice the stepladder that I'm currently using as a stool? Yup. A stepladder. I have to find a stool that is just the right height for the worktable, so I'm improvising for the moment. As I said, this is a work in progress... but I love it!
My worktable was just over 8' long and flooded with natural light from the big windows. My sewing machine and serger had a permanent home at one end and I used the other to do everything from cut out patterns to wrap Christmas gifts.
The beautiful windows were bigger than they appear in these photos, and my kitty girl Bingy could usually be found lounging on the wide window ledge of the left hand window--her blanket stayed there permanently. The squirrels in the overhanging trees were constant entertainment for all four kitties!
Many of you will remember me talking longingly about my sewing room in my home back in Canada. Sadly, my house was contaminated with furnace fuel in a flood a year ago and the beautiful old lady who was built well over 150 years ago had to be demolished.
It broke my heart.
When I think about that house my eyes well up and I feel a heaviness in my chest. It's something I work on every single day.
The above photos were taken after everything was cleaned out of the house shortly before it was demolished. I had the room custom-built into an existing attic space above the kitchen, and my carpenter worked with me tirelessly to create a workspace exactly as I wanted it. There were custom storage cabinets built into the space under the eaves where the ceiling sloped down to almost meet the floor. The space under the eaves of the opposite wall was empty... waiting for cabinets that would never be built.
My carpenter's name was Jim and he was the most marvelous man--a tireless worker who carefully and quietly constructed amazingly beautiful pieces with his calloused hands. His father had been a builder as well, and he took after him in his ability to take rough wood and nails and create spectacular pieces of furniture and cabinetry constructed from the blueprints in his mind. His talent was astrounding and yet he was humble. Such great ability in such an unassuming individual. If anyone asked Jim how he was doing on a particular day, he would smile and say, 'The very best!' His love for his wife, children, and grandchildren was as well-known as his love of Pepsi and Worther's Originals candies. He was truly a lovely human being.
Sadly, we lost Jim to a tragic hunting accident in late September, 2010. The loss was shocking and the event sent a ripple through the whole community. Everyone knew and loved Jim, and his death made us all stop and evaluate our lives. Our reality can completely change in a split-second, and that is a frightening realization.
On a sun-drenched Friday afternoon I spoke with him for a few minutes before he walked out to meet the weekend head-on. He was looking forward to heading out with his wife and friends for a weekend spent in the woods--hunting season had just opened. I wished him a happy weekend and we said we would see each-other on Monday. The next morning a friend's truck pulled into my driveway, and he came walking up the pathway with tears in his eyes. The unthinkable had happened... Jim was gone.
I honestly think that everyone in our circle was in shock. I walked through the house, touching the cabinets made lovingly by his hands just months before, feeling the cool tile of the bathroom that he had laid just that past month. I stood in my almost-finished sewing room and looked around me, pictured him standing by the window painting the woodwork carefully, his hat casting a shadow down over his face as he concentrated on his work.
I cried uncontrollably and wondered why...
There was a box sitting in the corner where the last set of cabinets should have been until the day more than two years after his death when I cleaned out that room before demolition. Jim had left the paint for the room in a box with other odds and ends that he would use later to finish and touch-up everything. I couldn't bring myself to move it. Silly, but somehow with that box still sitting there Jim wasn't really gone--he would be back to finish my room.
The box contained half a can of pale yellow wall paint, a container of ceiling paint, woodscrews, a paintbrush, a cloth rag... and an empty Pepsi can as well as an assortment of shiny golden candy wrappers. Simple little reminders of the man he was, and the legacy he left behind.
The very best, Jim... you'll always be the very best.
"I have always looked upon decay
as being just as wonderful and rich
an expression of life as growth."
A note about my photograph: I took this shot in June last year while wandering the streets of a little beach town in Choroni, Venezuela. We arrived in the midst of an amazing religious festival complete with a procession through streets draped with colorful bunting and lined with chanting, jubilant locals. The buildings were all old and Spanish-style with huge front doors tall enough for a rider on horseback to enter into the central courtyards. This particular building stood between two splendid neighbors and was in a state of semi-demolition with not much other than this door and surrounding frame still standing. I love how the wall opens up for a peek at the metal and wood structure beneath the plaster...
I was reminded today of one of my all-time favorite photos--and memories--from my old house back in Canada. Those of you who have been with me for a while will remember that my hometown flooded last year
, destroying pretty much all of the properties adjacent to the beautiful river flowing through the center of the village. My mid--1800s home was one of them.The kitty in the photo is my girl Bella... aka 'Bingy'. I rescued her when she was a 6 week-old kitten living rough behind someone's woodpile with her Mum, Aunt, and three siblings. Sadly, one of the kittens died before the rescue, but the rest of her furry family all went to good, loving homes. Miss Bella is one of the nicest kitties I've ever met--always loving and playful, never a scratch or hiss... an absolute sweetheart. She was always a household favorite, and every time my Mum came over, she would call her 'Bella Wella Bing Bang'. With time her nickname became 'Bingy', and the name stuck--somehow it suits her.
Each year a groundhog family used to take up residence underneath the porch of my house. Groundhogs are rather curious creatures I always found, and they would come up onto the big brick porch steps for a spot of sun and a nose around. At some point they came to realize that there were other furry creatures inside the house... and they were as intrigued by the cats as the kitties were by them.
This particularly handsome little fellow was a young one, and after he and Bingy caught sight of each-other, it was fascination at first sight. Each day, Bingy would roam the porch and spend long periods of time staring out the glass door, waiting for her furry little friend to appear. A few times I was fortunate enough to capture their 'through the glass' interaction, and every time I see this shot, I can't help but smile all day long!
The groundhog came to be called 'Edward'', and I wonder what has become of that family of subterranean dwellers... My beautiful house was contaminated with fuel in last March's flood and sadly it had to be demolished last August as it was no longer safe. So many wonderful memories were made in that house, and so much of myself went into renovating it. I swear, I touched every square inch of it during the years I called it mine, and it's loss was a terrible blow. The basement was filled in, along with their burrows. I hope they managed to rebuild their underground empire...
I am so thankful to be able to look at photos like this one and remember the happy days spent by the river.
Happy memories and definitely one of my favorite things :-)
Confession: I am a fabric hoarder.
Well, not technically a 'hoarder' because I have no problem entering and walking through my house... but I have a massive fabric stash (a situation which I'm sure more than a few of you have in common with me?).
I have fabric from all sorts of sewing endeavours that I put away to do something with later... and some pieces are so very special to me. There are certain favorite pieces that I periodically take out and look at, wondering how I should use them. Then after much deliberation I end up putting them away because I like them too much to put them into just a 'so-so' project.
So, the other day I took out my pieces again... and decided to make something pretty that I could look at and enjoy all the time!
I started out with 1 inch strips like these, and started adding them onto a 'base' block measuring 4.2cm x 4.8cm.
(...yes, that is a kitty ball-in-a-donught toy in the background... that's how we roll here!)
And before long I had 12cm x 12cm squares. See that dark brown and blue paisley print fabric? It's my all time favorite!
I assembled three color themes: pinks, blues, and greens.
I had three RIBBA frames from IKEA kicking around, so I added strips to the top and bottom of my modified log cabin blocks to allow them to (kind of) fit into the matted openings.
Overall I'm delighted with the results. There is left-over fabric in these from everything from clothing for myself to shirts for my husband, and even Sophie's little kitty hidey hole.
And some much-coveted fabric that I saved from my sewing room in Canada after the flood. The darker greens in the above shot are a couple of those pieces.
I love the fact that I can look at these and recognize all of the different patterns and it brings back memories of many happy projects, and the happy times associated with them. They are now living in the downstairs bathroom (which accounts for the weird lighting in the above photo), and I smile every time I look at them.
As Martha would say... these are a 'favorite thing'!
There are 'movie moments' in all of our lives when the wide shot pans in to close-up focus... when the world around us goes fuzzy, sounds become muted, and everything seems to happen in slow motion.
I had one of those moments this weekend.
Time seemed to stop, all of the ambient energy around me seemed to be drawn to my head and it washed down over me in a wave of prickling electricity.
It was Art Deco Weekend
here in Miami and we gathered up our houseguests and headed down to South Beach to spend a few hours of salt water and sun worship before wandering Ocean Drive to take in all of the incredible talent and interesting vedors' wares lining the blocked-off street.
With so much activity and so many beautiful colors, smells, and sounds swirling all around me, I have no idea what drew my attention to a whole table full of vintage post cards, other than the fact that the vendor next to the table had a really cute dog (named Winston--yes, we made friends). I drifted over to take a look through the interesting selection and in amongst the perfunctory Yosemite National Park and NYC postcards, there was a tiny 'Canadian' section. I thought I might find a souvenir to remind me of our journey to Niagra Falls last autumn... or maybe even something from my old university town of Halifax, NS.
Never did I imagine what was waiting for me.
I pulled out the postcard and thought that the yellowed black and white image looked vaguely familiar. My gaze dropped to the caption, and my knees almost gave way when I read the name.
It was my own home town circa 1930s.
To explain why this is such a rare scenario, remember that it would be quite normal for someone from NYC or Chicago to randomly find a vintage postcard of their home town in a city thousands of miles away. Big cities always have souvenirs that travel far and wide, and those vintage postcards are generally quite plentiful. My town, however, is home to only several thousand souls, and is quite small and insignificant to the rest of the world apart from its scattering of proud inhabitants.
The buildings you see in the image mostly no longer exist--thanks in part to a fire in 1976 that swept through Main Street and took half of the buildings to the right, and the river that took all of the buildings on the left during various bouts of flooding. My town currently is desperately trying to regain some sense of normality after the worst flood on record last March, which completely destroyed not only my own 1850s house but countless other historic homes and businesses in my area.
The shock of seeing the history that was lost, and the beauty it once held was overwhelming, and I confess it brought tears to my eyes. Such an amazing gift, and at a time when the area is in such turmoil... I am so thankful.
I really enjoyed the day out and the 36th annual Art Deco Weekend, but the best part of the entire experience for me was finding that little rectangle of paper. It is now framed and will hold a place of honor here in my Miami home, far from the mountains and river of my childhood world that will always hold such a special place in my heart.
Gracias a Dios.
Mural from Hotel Dieu St Joseph, painted by artist Bernice Beaulieu-Michaud
This week has been a bit crazy--my husband's relatives are here visiting so projects have been pushed to the side in favor of sharing coffees, stories, meals, and time together. It's always fun when they come as their English is limited--so I get to break out my Rosetta Stone Spanish (mixed with what I've picked up 'en la caille'). We talk and laugh and make fun of ourselves, and generally enjoy the time spent together.
I'm working on several half-finished projects that I have no time to photograph or otherwise document, so it's pretty quiet on the creativity front this week. I do, however, have a wonderful mural to share.
When I was young I took art lessons from a wonderful lady named Bernice Beaulieu McLaughlin. She was a very versatile artist who always had paint on her jeans and time to sit and talk about whatever her juvenile pupils found interesting. I loved my lessons in her drafty turn-of-the-century house, and marvelled at the beautiful colors she had painted her porch, the shelves full of antique books, the paintings leaning against the walls of our makeshift 'classroom' in the front room of her home, and all of the other curiosities that were always to be discovered within those four walls.
Sadly, Bernice left us way too early. She fell ill and was taken from us long before her time. Her art, however, lives on, and one particular piece was in a very unexpected location--in the basement of our local hospital.
Many of you will remember that my hometown was horribly flooded last March. It is still trying to rebuild, and many buildings (my home included) were completely destroyed. One of the worst-affected structures was the local hospital. The worst off were the offices and storage rooms in the basement of the original building, which laid completely submerged in water for three days last year.
Many years ago as a student I worked in the hospital laboratory--it was a magic summer job filled with interesting days learning much more than I ever did from textbooks in hematology courses, and I got to know quite a few of the medical personnel in that area of the building, as the lab back then was also in the basement. X-Ray was just down the hall, and there was a gentleman named Tony who was the nicest X-Ray Tech that I ever met. He always had a smile and a kind word, and was wonderful with children and adults alike.
Tony had an office in the basement that was little more than a broom closet, and it was a lifeless space without any window or natural light. He came up with a wonderful idea and asked if a mural could be painted on his outside wall... the powers-that-be agreed and Bernice came in and created the wonderful mural you see above. Simply the illusion of the outdoors and a wonderfully fluffy kitty to keep him company must have put an even bigger smile on his face!
Tony and Bernice are both gone now, and the hospital is only working at half-capacity post-flood. The area where that mural rests is no longer in use (in fact, it was probably ripped out after the waters subsided), and there is a new hospital in the works with construction scheduled to begin in 2015. I believe that anyone who went through the disaster could write a whole volume entitled 'The Things we Lost in the Flood', and this is certainly a loss for both the hospital and the town.
Today I am remembering Bernice... the wonderful person she was, the talent she shared with the world, and the many lessons she taught me.
You will never be forgotten, dear lady.
Are ye the ghosts of fallen leaves, O flakes of snow,
For which, through naked trees, the winds A-mourning go?
~John Banister Tabb~
My Eternal Snowflake
It's a funny thing, winter. I grew up in eastern Canada, where the winters were long and blisteringly cold. The month of January seemed to linger on forever, a frigid expanse of snowy white hills rolling toward the horizon in all directions. With the flurry of the Christmas holidays behind us, spring was the next thing to look forward to, and those months in between stretched endlessly in a sea of snowstorms, toboggans, hot chocolate, and wooly socks.
Print from Katherine Ivey on Etsy
LL Bean--identical to my childhood sled!
The hot chocolate in my house was always made from a packet with hot water and a splash of milk... and a few mini marshmallows thrown in for good measure!
Dream wooly socks from Grieta at Etsy!
As an adult, obviously my perspective has changed on winter. Playing outside in the warm air is not high on my list of priorities (although maybe it should be...), so January's childhood connotations are no longer relevant.
Now I find myself in a place where snow is non-existent. Southern Florida isn't exactly prone to snowstorms, ergo toboggans and wooly socks are of little use here. The hot chocolate isn't really de rigeur either, except on the odd visit to Godiva
when I feel the need for a bit of decadent indulgence. (Is anyone else in love with their dark chocolate drink? Wow.)
The strange thing? I miss winter. It is so easy to look back through memory and fantasize about cold winter mornings waking up to a foot of snow blanketing the landscape in a sparkling, tinkling calm. Days when huge fluffy flakes would fall gently past the big window in the living room of my old house and my kitties would sit in the window for hours, fascinated by the moving white landscape.
Of course, in all of these amplified memories I omit the fact that in order to be able to leave the house I had to put on three layers of clothing, a huge down-filled coat, double-knitted mittens, a wool hat, heavy boots, wool socks (over my other socks) and a scarf wrapped around my neck enough times to break the cutting wind. The walkway had to be shovelled in order to get to the garage (luckily my 'winter guy' would have already gotten up at 4am to plough out the main driveway), and then there was the difficult manoeuvering out of the end of the driveway over the mess that the plough had made when it went by and cleared the road in front of the house. The car had to be started and allowed to run for 15 minutes to warm up the engine because running it cold would destroy it. At least half an hour extra (sometimes more) had to be allowed in the morning to be able to get to work on time, over roads that were slick with black ice and snow. The power bills in the winter would be at least $300 more than they were during the other months, and I had to invest in a heated mattress pad and turn it on to maximum power every night before going to bed--old houses are beautiful but not particularly energy-efficient.
But, having said all that, I still miss winter. All the negative things recede to the back of my memory and I find myself longing for a few days of glorious winter. And that being the case, I find myself fixating on snowflakes and incorporating them into a variety of projects.
My Christmas cards this year
I learned a beading technique many years ago to make an adorable little snowflake--and I find myself returning to it again and again. It can be made into such a variety of items that are both beautiful and useful. I used to sell them as keychains, necklaces, and bracelets both on my Etsy shop and at local craft markets. They were a huge hit, and I really enjoyed making them.
They can be done with any color combination, and are very beautiful when there is a color variation to create a unique design within the snowflake. In the past I have done a few with hearts worked into the center, and I think I may try to do a few again this year with Valentine's Day coming right up!
If anyone is interested in trying the beading pattern, this one
is somewhat similar to mine, and there are great step-by-step instructions with diagrams to help you figure out the technique and bead placement. It may take a few attempts to become familiar with the technique, but once you get the tension right, you will get the hang of it pretty quickly!
My Eternal Snowflake keychain
A midnight web version of the pattern.
I have also crocheted so many snowflakes in my lifetime--they are a great project and also make quick, lovely gifts!
Crocheted snowflake framed--now I can have my winter in Florida!
These hooked snowflakes are so easy to make!
I made a series of three of the above framed snowflakes and they were wonderful Christmas decor. I used this pattern from Red Heart Yarn
and substituted crochet cotton for the thicker yarn.
A set of these little guys has graced my tree for the past 18 years! They went through the flood, but I salvaged them--I couldn't lose them, we had been through too many Christmases together!
Here we are--ten days into January.
In Canada my family has experienced two snowstorms in the last ten days. My Dad was out snowblowing the driveway this morning and Mum was telling me how cold it's been for the past several weeks as she has been trying to recuperate from a persistent winter virus.
Guess what I did this morning? I put on jeans and a camisole, slid my feet into sandals, donned a pair of sunglasses, and went on a neighborhood stroll with myfaithful companion Charlie Rose. The birds were singing, the sun was hot on my shoulders, and the wind was flowing around us, rustling the heady fuschia blooms of the bougainvillea that grows in profusion everywhere in our neighborhood.
The lesson? Be thankful for the memories of winters past... and enjoy my current lush, green, vibrant January.
And keep making those snowflakes :-)
What's your current theme? Please share it, I love inspiration!
Mr Charlie Rose resting after his first bath with us!
It was on the night of January 6th 2011 that my husband and I made an evening run to the mall for frozen yogurt. We never did get that yogurt, but instead found a dirty, starving little dog running around desperately in the parking lot. It took us a full hour to get him to trust us (we went to the food court and bought meat... that helped), but eventually he calmed down and sat down on the sidewalk with his head in my lap, looking up at me with huge brown eyes. I swear he was asking for help...
We brought him home, cleaned him up, took him to the vet for his shots... and he wasn't chipped. It's very unusual to find a Schnauzer running around as a stray, so we assume that he either got lost and kept on running, or someone abandoned him. I suspect that he was abandoned, because for the first year of his time with us he would whine and draw away from me if I picked up the broom in his presence. The suggestion of past abuse brought me to tears, and he got lots of extra reassurance and love.
Now here we are two years later, and it's hard to remember a time when Charlie Rose (yes, I have many nicknames for my furry boy) wasn't with us.
We never did get our frozen yogurt, but we found a wonderful companion that night.
~A person who has never owned a dog has missed a wonderful part of life~
My hometown during the holidays--a Winter Wonderland!
Happy New Year to you all!
Hard to believe that we are at the start of a brand new year--but I welcome the fresh energy that 2013 brings. Last year was a difficult one in so many ways... from the natural disaster that devastated my hometown in Canada and completely destroyed my house there, to a number of very special people and furry ones who are no longer with us. Putting up the new calendar at midnight was like taking a deep breath and letting go of all of the trials and tests of 2012.
It has been very hard not to focus on the negative aspects of 2012 when thinking back over the year--loss does that, it makes you dwell on what might have happened, on the things you should have done or said, on the phone calls you put off that now won't ever have the opportunity to make.
But, it's time to let it all go and appreciate the present while looking toward tomorrow. I am so thankful for so many things, despite all of last year's challenges.
The flood that devastated my hometown could have been worse--I lost my house, my parents lost a house, many of the neighbors' homes were also destroyed. However, everyone survived. It could have been so much worse... thank God everyone is still with us. Although it didn't seem as if it could possibly go on as the village was lying under 8+ feet of freezing water from March 23-25th, the town is slowly rebuilding and life has continued. A new normal has slowly been created, and we all learned the incredible value of people--family, friends, and strangers alike--and the transience of material posessions. If you can, give to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or any other organization that helps the victims of natural disasters--as I learned from experience this year, you never know when you may yourself become a victim. They were a lifeline and a Godsend--many thanks to them all!
Health is one of the most important things in life--put its value high on your list, and be thankful if you are hale and hearty! Several of my close family members have had major health issues during the past year, and I am so thankful that they are still with us, relatively unscathed. Sadly, I also lost close family members as well--all of them sudden and completely unexpected. Their loss cuts, taking away a bit of myself and completely rearranging the landscape of my life. The lesson learned is an old one--never take anything for granted. Enjoy people, pets, and places and focus on the time you have with them in your life, because time truly is precious.
In October my husband and I rescued a kitty that we named Ella. She had been abandoned in our neighborhood when her family lost their home to foreclosure, and had been living rough for some time. It is a long and sad story, but we discovered that she had become unable to walk, and took her for veterinary care. We hoped and prayed that she had only been hit by a car and would be mobile again once the inflammation subsided, but sadly that was not to be. In retrospect (and after taking her to a veterinary Neurologist) she probably had cancer in her paw that spread to her spinal column, causing progressive degeneration. We tried so hard to help her, but in the end she passed away at home with us comforting her, telling her it was okay to go. That was my first personal experience with death, and in a strange way it has removed a lot of my fear of the transition from this plane to the next. For a while I kept going over everything in my mind, thinking that if only we had realized that she needed help sooner, then we could have maybe helped her and she would not have suffered. But that thinking is not productive, and what we have to focus on is that in the end, Ella kitty was loved and cared for. She had the best medical care and she left this life held by hands that soothed and stroked her, surrounded by loving words and energy. She knew, in her own way, that there were people who loved her, who cared what happened to her, and who will always remember her.
In a happy contrast to Ella's story, there is Sophie. While out for a walk one night in mid-October, I was surprised to hear a rusty little meow and to see a little black ball of fluff running after me. She was painfully thin and I knew that she wouldn't last long without help, so I took her bony little body in my arms and we went home. She was so malnourished that I could feel all of her ribs and vertebrae, which broke my heart, and when we got to the vet I cried when he told me that she was about 3 months old... and only weighed 1.6 pounds. She was dehydrated and had diarrhea that was due to coccidiosis, so we began a long journey of medication, special diet, and lots of love. I am so thankful to report that Sophie now weighs 5 pounds, has beautiful sleek and healthy fur, and is playful and loving. She is one of the nicest little kitties I have had the priviledge to know, and has become a permanent member of the household. The moral of the story? Do what you can, and although the outcome may not be what you had hoped, at least you tried. It means the world to a little creature in need, and you can save a life--or at least lessen the suffering and make a difference.
So, this year's resolutions? Be grateful. Be thankful. Spend important time with family and friends. Volunteer. Donate. Focus on the good in life, and learn to negotiate the difficult times without letting them destroy you.
Hello January... let's be friends.