Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gingerbread Villages

This is the time of year when typically, our Christmas shopping is done (yes, really. Don't hate me - I like to get it out of the way so we can enjoy the season) and we turn our attention to holiday fun. One of our favorite holiday traditions is to make gingerbread houses with our godkids. We started this a number of years ago, and discovered that this is an activity that everyone can participate in, regardless of age. We also have amazing conversations as the six of us sit around the table for several hours.

We do quite a bit of preparation for this extravaganza, usually starting a week ahead of time, but you can start even earlier if you freeze the dough. Bruce and I make the dough and use templates to create the pieces of the houses. I created templates using 3" x 5" file cards which turns out to be an ideal size. We can get 6 individual houses from a double batch of gingerbread dough, and the finished house size fits on a bread board with enough room to still have a yard to decorate.

Here's Bruce cutting dough to templates:

Once baked, we store the pieces in zip lock bags for up to a week.

On decorating day, we set up work stations at the expanded table. Everybody works on a cookie sheet with a lip (to keep stray decorations from landing on the 1970's shag carpeting in our dining room. Oy vey.) We have a long shopping list of "construction candies" and I open everything and put it out in bowls for easy access. I make a huge batch of royal icing, and fill 6 icing bags which we stand up in heavy coffee mugs for easy access. Everyone also has a flat spreading spatula. Here's the "before" shot of the work table:

Here's an action shot of the "during"! Evan and Mary are consulting on Evan's liberal use of sprinkles. Caitlin is deep in thought (this is the day she got icing on her back...we still don't know how) and Bruce is in the throws of creating a groovy jalopy out of pretzles and life savers. Sarah is just off camera to the right. My work station is in the bottom middle of the photo.

Graham crackers as interior walls help support heavily decorated exterior walls. We've also used big marshmallows inside to help prop things up. This is Sarah's pretzel log cabin, with assembly in progress. Note her cool fruit roll-up roofing with candy cane beams...

The finished village...

Happy Frosting to all, and to all a good night.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kira and her Quilt

Kira gets acquainted with her new quilt - dressed to match!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I don’t remember the first time I ever heard a cello. I do know that my first musical exposure was listening to Aaron Copland’s “Billy the Kid” on the stereo as a newborn. Because my parents are musicians, I was immersed in music early and often, and by the time I was in 4th grade, my instrument of choice was the violin. The reason for this choice was youthfully simple. My next-door neighbor, 4 years older than me, played the violin. Somehow I missed the significance when in junior high he switched to the double bass. Regardless, the violin was the center of my life for 25 years.

And then I changed careers. Forgive me if I don’t recount the whole event here. It makes me tired. I will share a regret from my career change: the selling of my teaching cello when I moved to CT in 1995. It was a good, solid student cello and a pleasure to play. But when I moved to a studio apartment in Greenwich, I didn’t have space for it. In 2009, As Bruce’s birthday approached, I hatched a plan to get him a C-flute as the yang to his Celtic flute’s yin. He was overwhelmed with this gift and immediately wanted me to accompany him on my Celtic harp. I was not so enthusiastic about this idea. The harp is pretty, but hard to play and limited in range.

Somehow, in the wake of Bruce’s Flute Birthday, the idea of replacing my cello was surfaced. With some advice from Mary, the new cello arrived. I haven’t shared too much about it since, mostly because, well, I’ve been practicing it instead of writing about it.

In fact, there is quite a lot of practicing going on at our house. We’ve both found teachers, we’re both working on technique, and we’ve both slipped into a regular practice rhythm that makes our evenings quite pleasant. Jack has made his peace with the flute, and with the cello itself, although he is not too keen about the cello case…

It has been a long, long while since making music was something enjoyable. But now, the cello, along with the quilt projects, my riding lessons, the summer cooking and baking, the lampworking, my godkids, friends and family, are all serving as counterbalance to the stress and strain of feels like achieving balance might, might just be a possibility.

Welcome Kira Helen!

As I was posting the last entry on July 11, Kira Helen was arriving in the world! Here are a few photos of the quilt, with the binding on, and both sides showing. Hopefully, there will eventually be pictures of Kira *with* her quilt. :)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Great Cousinly Quilt Adventure

When last we left our two intrepid cousinly quilters, they were feverishly piecing quilt blocks in hopes of finishing said quilt in time for the arrival of baby Andrews. Today, we pick up our tale...

The blocks are pieced, the sides are assembled, and the quilt is quilted!

Here is Kris's side, all blues and greens and perfect triangle points. Please note the high-tech quilt stand (Bruce).

And here is Tobi's side, all yellows and oranges and limes, and not a right angle to be found.

Kris's blocks with quilting:

Tobi's blocks with quilting:

Next up - the binding, and hand finishing, and we're done!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Annual Glass Class with Caitlin

For the past 4 or 5 years, Caitlin, my eldest godchild, and I have celebrated her birthday by taking a lampworking class together. We really enjoy Stephanie's classes, and we've followed her to a couple different venues. We like the set up at Hudson Beach Glass best of all the places we've been. The 2-day format gives us 10 hours of torch time.

Here's my work station. Safety glasses, matches and shaping paddle in upper left. Torch, unlit, in the center. More shaping tools to the right of the torch. Glass rods to the right.

Stephanie doing a demonstration during class. Please ignore the "pooh" tshirt.

Caitlin at the torch. She's using the shaping paddle to steady the mandrel while she works the glass in the torch.
Caitlin's finished beads at the end of the first day.

A really blurry picture of my beads at the end of the first day. The two beads in the foreground have jellyfish designs encased in clear glass. I really need a better photo of these.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Advanced Improvisation with Denyse Schmidt

Yesterday, I spent the day in the Bridgeport, CT studios of Denyse Schmidt where she and her assistant Richard taught their new course in Advanced Improvisation. Part retrospective of Denyse's quilting evolution, part design concepts, this was a low-key, hands-on, personal exploration of design. There were two participants besides myself, so the teacher-student ratio was exceptional, and the high point of the 5 hour session was having both Denyse and Richard pulling fabric and ping-ponging ideas with me at the design wall.

Here's where the day started:

Sketching potential design ideas:

First-pass fabric choices, pulled by Richard, with greens added by Denyse:

Bringing in the berry colors:

Ending up with a rugby-striped theme and the pieced blocks in stripes:

Denyse in action with another student's blocks:

Denyse and Richard have a similar asethetic, but different approaches and they play well off each other. It was an interesting and engaging day, and I finished the day in a completely different place from where I started, and landed in an unexpected place, with an unexpected palette, and an unexpected layout. And, pretty much, that was the point.

The Great Cousinly Quilt Project

On Bruce's side of our family, there are 6 cousins. All but one are boys. Bruce was the first of the cousins to tie the knot (to me, obviously), making me the first "Mrs. Andrews" of this generation. The second "Mrs. Andrews" is Kris who is married to Chris. Kris is a professional embroiderer and quilter, and is one of the artists working on the Plimouth Plantation project of recreating a 17th century embroidered jacket. It's quite an interesting project. The third "Mrs. Andrews" is Esther who is married to Steven. Steve and Esther are expecting their first child, who will also be the first baby born into the Andrews family in about 30 years.

Kris and I have been looking for a project to work on together - and we've decided to do a baby quilt for Steve & Esther. Kris will make one side, I'll make the other, while swapping fabrics so that some of each ends up on both sides of the quilt. Here's how things are progressing so far:

Kris's perfect star with my Denyse-Schmidt-esque quasi-log cabin piecing.

Concept blocks with fabric palette.

Blocks in progress.

Blocks on the wall.

More to come...the baby is due in July.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lampworked Lumps

Several years ago, when my eldest godchild, Caitlin, was thinking about pursuing an art career, I made the offer of a lampworking class together as a birthday gift. Although she is pursuing other career aspirations, the annual lampworking class tradition continues and we both enjoy these weekend workshops over the torch. This will be our 5th year - and we're both looking forward to it. We take our classes with Stephanie Maddelena who teaches in lots of places, but we really like the set up at Hudson Beach Glass.

Lampworking, however, is a lot harder than I ever imagined. Here's Caits, hard at work at one of our early sessions.

The thing about working with glass is that it's hot. And pretty frickin unpredictable. And you can't use your hands to shape it, except with other tools. So getting things round, square, even, flat, symmetrical, etc is really, really hard. Hence, the lumps. The other thing about glass is that when it's hot, it's orange. So you really don't have a good idea of what color you're going to end up with (although the color rod you start with is a pretty good indicator), especially since some colors react with other colors, and some colors change depending on the temperature of your flame. So after all the classes we've taken, I can say with some assurance, that I'm pretty good at creating lumps of various colors.

Last year, I spent lots of time encasing beads, which means that you start with colors and then add clear glass on top of the colors to make it look like its underwater, or something. Notice that none of these are perfectly round, flat, square, cylindrical, or symmetrical in any way. But the colors are pretty. The next step, which I am very, very far from mastering is to actually use these pretty colored lumps. This is my first unedited and very juvenile attempt at stringing. This necklace is too long, too heavy, and has terrible wirework, but I do like the combination of the silver findings, the various silver beads and bits, and the addition of some purchased small boring beads in the same palette as my lampworked beads.

To see some REAL work in this area, visit my sister's Etsy site, Nancy's Ear Candy. She actually knows what she's doing, whereas I'm just playing around.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


It is unusual for me to start a project and not finish it. In the first place, I live in a little house with no storage space. In the second place, I usually get so excited about whatever the project is that I just have to finish it - even if I have to stay up all night. (That strategy sent me to the emergency room once with a needle through my finger from the sewing machine - but you get the idea - I was excited to get it done...)

At the moment, however, I find myself with some UFOs (Unfinished Objects...). Here's the first.

Summer House Wallpaper
This palette and these fabrics are a far cry from my usual jubilant explosions of color. But each and every of these fabrics reminds me of the layers of faded flowery wallpaper in the 200 year old house in Maine where my family vacationed during my childhood summers. The blocks are cut, and as you can see, up on the design wall. All that's left is the sewing.

This is my favorite fabric of the bunch - look at the kitchen things on the bottom block.

I'll likely stipple this quilt to give it an older feeling, and right now, I'm seeing it backed and bound with a solid pale sage fabric - but who knows how many times I'll change my mind between now and then.

Orange Jacket
My sister has the original orange jacket. I liked it so much I cut enough blocks for two but I haven't had time to assemble mine yet.

The Wool Quilt

This is what happens when you mistakenly felt your favorite sweater without meaning to. The centers of each of these blocks started life as a sweater. A handknit-by-me-with-expensive-yarn sweater. And boy, was I cranky when it came out of the dryer.

However, at about the same time, I acquired a box of solid wool fabrics. And my fabric stash had a ton of plaid flannels. So this is what happened when it all came together. Except it isn't done - this is only half of this quilt. When I get this top pieced, I'm going to have to hire someone to quilt it for me because no joke, it will weigh about 8 pounds. It's really, really, really heavy. And once we put it on the bed we will 1. never get out from under it and 2. always know where the cat is.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why I'm not ready for spring, and knitting is a good thing

Two years ago, I made a New Years Resolution to try things I never did before. Skiing was on the list. I really did want to try, but I never expected to actually like it. I don’t like to be cold, and I really don’t like to fall down, and skiing involves both. I knew Bruce wanted to snowboard, and I figured that I could go with him, take a skiing lesson, say I’d tried it and then make excuses to do something else when he wanted to go off and snowboard. A win-win situation – he could snowboard, and I could be warm and unscathed.

I’m not going to bore you with any smarmy descriptions about the feeling of freedom, or the wind rushing past, or the crisp clean first run on an untouched freshly groomed slope. But I’ve discovered that it’s fun. And hard. And it takes a lot of concentration. And if I concentrate, I can do it.

We're on our third season as pass-holders at a little family-owned ski area 30 minutes from us. It’s small, but big enough to have a good ski school, a decent lodge, plenty of parking, and friendly employees. If we get up at 6, we can be the first ones on the lift in the morning. And we have been – every weekend since the first flakes hit the ground. I usually have the green slopes completely to myself for a lovely, untouched 20 minutes or so, before anyone else rides the chair lift at all. I even beat the ski patrol up the mountain on some mornings. Bruce disappears to the black slopes – the difficult runs – and shows up an hour or so later, sweaty and disheveled and grinning like the Cheshire cat.

I’m no ball of fire, but I'm pretty good with my parallel turns and getting better at carving. My instructor commented at how much progress I’ve made like he was surprised. But I know the truth – and that is that I know how to practice. All those years of violin practice prepared me for skiing. A whole new world has opened for us – one that involves watching the weather, checking the ski reports, and a ski rack on the Subaru.

This year, my New Year's Resolution was to ski a blue slope. And I have - checked that off the list two weeks ago during a 4 day expedition to Stratton. I enjoy knowing that, 3 years before age 50, I can ski an intermediate slope, grinning ear to ear.

Here we are on the summit at Stratton, just off from the gondola. Do I have the coolest ski jacket or what?

For the record, it's not that I don't like spring. Really, I do. Just not yet, ok? I'm not done with the ski season. If you're chilly, put on a nice warm sweater (if you can get it out from under the cat...)

Knitting for the Gauge-Challenged

I have a love-hate relationship with knitting. I love yarn. I love the feeling of it, the colors, the texture and all things knitted. What I hate is measuring. And figuring out the rassafrassing gauge for knitting patterns drives me absolutely to distraction.

Then I discovered Lopi yarn. Ahhhh. These are the big chunky yarns that icelandic knitters use in greys and browns to make the traditional icelandic knit sweaters. You know, these. This yarn is easy to work with, and that pesky gauge - easy peasy when it's 3 stitches to the inch.

But those earth tone colors are not for me. I've made this sweater several times. The pink is mine, the blue is Bruce's. And I have a yellow one that I'm thinking of passing on to my sister because the sleeves are too short for me...

My current knitting project is to resolve an argument. You see, my mother made this wonderful tweed knit sweater for Bruce last year for Christmas. But it's too heavy to wear in the house, so whenever he takes it off and lays it down somewhere, this is what happens:

Clearly, Jack needs his own "sweater" so that Bruce can have his back. So I'm using the leftover yarn from this one, and a few others, and making the cat his own blanket. Problem solved.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Improvisational Quilting

A number of years ago, I took a quilting class with Denyse Schmidt. You can read all about Denyse and her fiber career on her website - she's a talented designer and she's managed to assemble an awesome quilting business. She teaches classes in what she calls improvisational quilting. You take a big old bag of scraps, reach into it without looking, and use whatever you pull out of it.

It's an interesting approach, and after taking her class, I played around with the concept and did some strip quilts using this technique. This one is my favorite - and although this photo is poorly lit, I fell in love with the color Cheddar because of it. We have this quilt displayed in our living room today.

This year, Denyse is teaching a course in Advanced Improvisational Quilting. Again, you can read all about it on her site, but in the meantime, I'm working on my pre-class homework. We have to come prepared with a set of improvised blocks - so here's what's currently in the works.

Obviously, I'm all about the reds.