“The Language of Flowers” by Diffenbaugh Mini Review

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     A unique read given the curious pairing of a foster care experience with floral meanings.  The author’s engaging writing style zips the reader through this fictional tale of broken lives, fear of commitment, and the will to persevere.  The last sentence in the novel’s Acknowledgments section will leave the reader curious to know even more about the author:  “Finally, I would like to thank my children, for teaching me to be a mother and loving me through my  mistakes:  Tre’von, Chela, Miles, Donavan, Sharon, Krystal, Wayneshia, Inifinity, and Hope.  And Megan, wherever you are. “

Book Review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

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     The place:  a Police Precinct located on the Lower East Side of New York City.  The time:  mid 1920’s.  The main character:  a self-described plain, unassuming, and straitlaced young woman who works as a typist in the police precinct.  It is her job to sit alongside a police officer during the interrogation of a suspect in order to document any and all statements.

      This particular setting for “The Other Typist” occurs at a time when New York City is riddled with conflicts unlike any before and on a grand scale.   Speakeasies during Prohibition, cronyism and corruption,  exploitation of workers in the booming garment & construction industries, organized labor strikes, unionization,  a massive immigrant population living in squalor-like conditions,   and tense race relations escalating with the performance of Eugene O’Neill’s “All God’s Chillun Got Wings” – to name a few.  

     Yet the narrator centers the story specifically on the unraveling of the typist, Rose, who is seemingly unaffected by her job or the multiple events unfolding in the city around her.  Until an increase in crime leads to the hiring of a new typist whose personality and demeanor are the exact opposite of Rose’s. The downward spiral for Rose begins as she cultivates an unlikely close relationship with this new co-worker.  Rose is then swept into an underground world and one which completely captivates her.  When a chain of events leads to a possible homicide, Rose becomes the main suspect.  It is then that Rose finds herself sitting in an interrogation room — opposite a police officer and typist.

     “The Other Typist” is a psychological thriller with a rather myopic story line.  This can be frustrating at times since the narrator only hints at the historical events of the time, save the Speakeasies.  Yet the reader is swept into the suspense in much the same manner that Rose is taken in by a woman who is her antithesis.  By the time the reader gains a sense of what makes Rose tick, the very last page of the novel will bring into question any assessments made. 

     This work of fiction makes for a great read and one that is hard to put down.  I highly recommend this novel if nothing else, to develop your own theories about a complicated main character,  the significance of the other characters, consider how the dynamic historical events surrounding the story line are represented, and to make sense of its ending.  It also makes for a great book club read since it would no doubt yield some lively discussions.

Next read:  “Half Broke Horses” by Jeannette Walls

A Native American Prayer

Thanksgiving

“We return thanks to our mother, the earth,
which sustains us.
We return thanks to the rivers and streams,
which supply us with water.
We return thanks to all herbs,
which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases.
We return thanks to the moon and stars,
which have given to us their light when the sun was gone.
We return thanks to the sun,
that has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye.
Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit,
in Whom is embodied all goodness,
and Who directs all things for the good of Her children.”

Iroquois

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SAFE TRAVELS

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING

*Pictures taken at the Duck Pond in Demarest, New Jersey

And Sew, This Is Christmas… November, 2013

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In denial that Christmas is just around the corner?  Trying to figure out how to avoid the shopping madness this time of year?  Not  your holiday but still, you join in on the frenzy anyway?  {lol}  

However you refer to Christmas – Happy Holidays, Feliz Navidad, Merry Stressmas – there is no escaping this major holiday.  For many, Christmas is obviously a religious observance.  For some, the holiday is more of a tradition where friends & family gather for good cheer.  And for a small minority, it’s bonus time at work.  That can certainly put the Merry in anyone’s Christmas, no religious adherence necessary.  

But how to get creative with gifts and without busting the bank?   The fact remains that whether or not you celebrate Christmas, this is still the time of year when gift giving is customary, especially for certain people in your life.  The crossing guard at your child’s school, the guy who consistently pumps your gasoline (if you live in either New Jersey or Oregon),  your mail carrier, etc.  And if you do celebrate Christmas, maybe you’re scratching your head as to what kind of gift would be suitable – and affordable – for a number of people on your list.  A sewing machine, or even hand sewing, and access to the internet can give you some nifty ideas.   My focus here is on home-made gifts that offer a lot of warmth.  

Heating pads, therapy pads, neck warmers, hand/pocket warmers, sachets – whatever those scented rice-filled wonders are called – they make great gifts.  And you do not need to be a gifted artist or sewing wizard to make these.  I kid you not since I learned how to make different kinds by watching YouTube tutorials.  It was that simple.  

Some samples:   

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The above is a neck warmer with pockets; filled with lavender oil scented white rice.  The neck warmer is heated in the microwave for about 2 minutes (I also place a cup of water inside the microwave as well).  This heating pad helps to relieve neck pain or to provide some stress relief.  The lavender scent has a soothing, calming effect.  

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These are hand or pocket warmers.  Great if you need to be outside for a while.  Also filled with lavender oil scented rice.

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Use your imagination in gift wrapping (beyond my limited skills) and voila!

The internet offers a variety of tutorials and blogs on how to make all kinds of scented heating pads.  Note that they also double up as freezing pads which provides relief for headaches as well.  Here’s a link to the YouTube video that I found to be very helpful:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1sAMOC9CfE

Google your way around the internet for even more tutorials and blogs on how to put together these items.  It’s not just the sewing piece of it but mixing just the right amount of filler material might take some trial and error.  Hint, if you’d like to use crushed cloves as the scent for your filler, a little goes a long way.  Too much of the cloves and the scent is over powering!  No doubt, the more you view, listen, and read up on sewing different types of heating pads, the more tips you’ll gather.  And if you’re not an expert at sewing – as is the case for me – then I highly suggest trying your first heating pad on a piece of fabric that you won’t mind messing up.  You’ll see where your mistakes are once you’re done and learn what not to do for the ones you’d like to give as gifts.  Keep that first heating pad for yourself.  No matter what it looks like, you’ll use it over and over.  

Lastly, If you can make these types of heating pads as holiday gifts but have a lot on your plate, start now.  Not because they take a long time to make but because the process itself is quite relaxing.  A nice twist on the usual holiday stress.  But if you can’t make them yet like the idea, they are readily found in novelty and department stores.   Either way, they make great gifts that keep on giving.  People love them!

Enjoy the season of gift giving that is soon upon us.   In the words of John Lennon’s song – “So This is Christmas” – I hope you have fun.

Quilt Cheats from a Beginner

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Sunday, October 20th

     Quilting can be a relaxing hobby so long as the understanding that mistakes while sewing, or dealing with fabric snafus, will indeed happen.   However frustrating these elements may be, they are inevitable for the novice quilter inasmuch as for the professional one.  This makes the seam ripper the one must-have tool for either type of quilter.  The mistake of sewing the wrong side of one patch to another is probably the most common blunder for quilters, never mind sewing an entire row of blocks to the wrong row.  At which point it is best to just walk away from the project and return to it on another day when the frustration level has subsided.  This is probably the best piece of advice for quilters to follow since using a seam ripper when calm – rather than when irate –  would undoubtedly yield a better result.    

     There’s other advice to be offered as well for the novice quilter.  Before I took up this hobby (only about two months ago), I conducted some basic research to see if quilting would be a good fit for me.  Not only was I looking for something new to learn, but something that would help me unwind after work.  I was assured by friends and colleagues who also quilt, that quilting would exceed my needs since it is such a fulfilling hobby.  There’s definitely a plus in being able to show something tangible – and quite visually appealing – for your efforts.

     But I can barely sew on a button let alone hem (I’ve stuck pins in fallen hems and have gone to work this way hoping no one would notice).   Still, I listened to every quilter I know, watched quilting tutorials on YouTube (which are extremely helpful), and spoke with teachers at fabric and sewing machine shops where quilting classes are offered.   They all echoed the same sentiment:  “anyone, even people who don’t know how to sew, can learn how to quilt.”  So I signed up for a Beginner’s Quilting class at a nearby fabric store.  

     Here are some tips that I’ve learned since then and that might be helpful if you too are interested in taking up this hobby:

–  Start small.  If your first course is being taught at a fabric shop and they are teaching a basic quilt that is rather large, such as twenty-five 8×8 squares (or patches), I suggest informing the instructor/store owner that you want to reduce the total amount of squares to just nine (three squares across by three squares down).  Then purchase the necessary fabric accordingly.  Not only will this make the stage of sewing the front, batting, & back of the quilt easier when you’re ready to do so, but it will be less costly for you.  Keep in mind that a fabric store’s objective is to sell as much fabric as possible.   Yet to sew  25 large patches together as a beginner and then continue with the quilting process, can be a daunting endeavor.  So much so that it can lead to quitting on quilting.  

–  The sewing machine pitch.  Shops that teach quilting often provide sewing machines during class for their students.   If the shops are also certified dealers for a particular brand of sewing machine, the shop owner will of course try and sell that brand to the students.  Unless you’re in the market for a sewing machine and know exactly which type & model you want and that is within your budget, steer clear of persuasive selling.  Today’s pricey sewing machines are not your mother’s Singer.  The brands that I have found to be popular with quilters – because of their ease when sewing as well as their designer stitches and embroidery capabilities – are as follows:  Bernina, Pfaff, Baby Lock, and Janome to name a few.  Each brand offers models that range from basic to complex and priced at anywhere from $300 to $8,000 (if not more).   Based on the sewing machine’s bells & whistles, so goes the price tag.  

 –  Purchasing a sewing machine.  If you are indeed in the market for one and have decided to shop around, do find a sewing machine shop that you can easily access and establish a relationship with the owner.  My husband & children gave me a Janome DC1050 as a birthday gift and from a shop that’s only about a 20 minute drive away.  The purchase price also included a one-hour lesson in how to use the machine.  Not only did I learn how to actually sew on my new machine, but I also learned that the shop owner teaches quilting and participates in Quilting Conventions (yes, there are Quilting Conventions!).  I now have another great resource for quilting.  Not to mention that my Janome DC1050 was highly recommended to my husband by an expert quilter and is reasonably priced.

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–  Sewing machine pitfalls.  Chances are that you’ll prefer to bring your own sewing machine to your quilting class.  If it’s not the same brand that your instructor is familiar with and you come across a problem, your instructor may not be able to help you fix the problem right there on the spot.  This is not because it’s a competitive brand but because he or she may not be familiar with the operation of your sewing machine.  Not the end of the world if you can then borrow one of the machines in the class, yet knowing that something’s wrong with your machine and that it could not be fixed right then and there, adds to the frustration.  So the advantage in purchasing a sewing machine from a certified dealer who is also your instructor, is that he or she knows, or should know, how to repair most problems in order for you to easily continue with your project. 

–  Carve out a quilting work space for yourself at home.  Mine is tucked into a corner with all supplies sitting on a folding table that is big (or small) enough for 4 people.  Be aware however that once you start quilting, you will need to spread out throughout other rooms in your home, including available floor space.  Laying out your patches in rows is necessary not only for assembling your quilt, but in changing up the order of patches until you are happy with a final look or design.  I highly recommend that you take a photo of the final layout and before you sew all of the rows together. And then either take a close look at that photo a day or so later or show it to a friend for feedback.  You might be surprised that a change here or there can make a nice difference.  Even after doing so, don’t be frustrated if you realize too late that you’ve sewn wrong rows together.  Take note of the beige color patches sewn together in the following picture.  The green patch all the way on the bottom left, actually needed to be placed on the right.  Since this quilt is for one of my sons who wouldn’t even notice the error, I’ve decided to just leave it as is (I hope he’s not reading this):

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–  Be prepared for an initial layout of funds for items such as quilting tools, fabric, classes, instruction books, and sewing machine (if applicable).  Other than the fabric and cost of classes, these items are for the most part, a one-time hit.

–  Classes.  If you are a first time quilter, do take classes instead of relying on a book or YouTube videos to learn how to quilt.  The YouTube videos I’ve seen are phenomenal but they will be less intimidating after taking at least a few classes.  You’ll then be able to better understand the lingo, how to use the necessary tools, and the various techniques used for quilting.  Don’t forget that your instructor is there in real time to help you get through any snarls you come across when first quilting – and you will come across snarls!        

–  As time permits, stay involved with other quilters, go to craft events, and gather as many quilting tips as you can.  Be prepared that different quilters use different methods throughout the entire quilting process — including hand stitching versus machine stitching.  I say leave the arguing of which method is best to the professionals and simply work with the method that suits you.  Unless you’re planning on making a living as a quilter, this should be a relaxing and fruitful experience for you.

– Be patient when first learning how to quilt.  I have cut pieces of fabric to precise measurements only to end up with sewn patches that were off by at least 1/4 of an inch.  Incorrect stitching happens.  Don’t sweat it because you’ll probably be able to make the entire quilt work in the end since fabric gives.  And it’s okay if your first or tenth quilt is not perfect.  Expert quilters have pointed out to me the mistakes in their quilts and quite frankly, they are naked to the untrained eye.  Just have fun.  

–  The task at hand.  For beginners, quilting requires focusing on nothing else but quilting itself.  Maybe when you’re really good at it, you can quilt and listen to music at the same time.  I’m not there yet.  However, if you have a job that keeps you away from home for a good portion of the day (and weekends) or if your job consists of running after small children 24/7, then I suggest that you take up quilting at another time.  I cannot imagine learning how to quilt for the first time after working all day then spending an evening fixing dinner and changing diapers.  To throw quilting into that mix, would understandably end with a Quilting Quitter.  

     How far am I along with my quilt?  I’ve only sewn the front – yes 25 large blocks made up of 5 rows – together.  I will sandwich the front, batting, and back at my next class by pinning these 3 pieces together.  I then have the option of attempting to sew this gigantic quilt on my new Janome or, sending it out to be sewn for the final quilting stage.  I may very well exercise the “Quilt Cheat” option given the enormous size of this first quilt.  There are other reasons too for cheating.  Since taking my first class, I have been given some beautiful pieces of fabric as gifts.  I’d like to finally start small with these pieces of fabric and work my way through the final stages of quilting with my machine.  I feel confident, even after only 2 months of quilting, to begin a new quilt that will end up worthy of a wall hanging.  One of the fabrics in particular is a seasonal print so I’d like to start soon.

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     So yes, quilting can be a relaxing hobby to learn, especially if you’re looking to unwind with a new creative outlet (or so I’d like to think) and the timing is right for you.   I now view quilting just as relaxing after work as reading a novel.  Sometimes I fall asleep while reading and have to re-read a good 3 pages the next time I pick up the book.  Who hasn’t?  And sometimes I get distracted while quilting and make a mistake.  I then walk away from the project and simply put the seam ripper to good use the next time I work on the quilt.  Just like in novels, plot twists also occur when quilting.  

     To be quilt-tinued…

Murphy’s Law Haunts a Day Off

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Suburbs of New York City

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     It was a bright and cheery day.  And a gorgeous morning on a Fall Friday in the New York City Metro area to boot.  Hands down, the perfect combination to take the edge off the proverbial rat-race.   At least until I got stuck driving behind a commuter bus with the advertisement “Eat, Play, Love:  In the Hudson Valley” centered across my windshield.  The effect was hypnotic.  

     I decided then and there to take some much needed time off from work and visit several of the charmed Halloween favorites in the nearby Hudson Valley.  With long days followed by logging in to work on evenings and weekends, it was time to disconnect.  But first, there was that Friday to deal with.  No sooner had I swiped my security card at the front desk, than I submitted my request for some time off.  Staycation granted.  Visions of touring Washington Irving’s “Sunnyside” in Tarrytown, NY where he penned “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” or attending The Pumpkin Blaze where 5,000 carved & lit pumpkins form serpentine routes along the Hudson River had me as giddy as an 8 year old Trick or Treating.  

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     However, with some time off, I needed to fit in an overdue eye doctor’s appointment.  I was able to schedule a mid-morning spot on the same day I planned on visiting these Hudson Valley sights.  That became questionable after the routine part of the exam when the eyes are dilated (which I had completely forgotten about).  If you’ve ever had this procedure done, the pupils take over your eyeballs and you can’t see straight for hours.  Fortunately, I could see clearly enough after the eye exam to go online and jot down the details & directions to both Sunnyside and The Pumpkin Blaze (or so I thought).   As luck would have it, the Pumpkin Blaze was sold out.  But the last tour at Sunnyside was scheduled for 4:00.  No problem.  I was finally ready to head on out the door by 2:00 with my vision restored for the 45 minute drive.  

     And then the phone rang.  My husband called in a panic from his friend’s cell phone to say that he had lost his.  Could I call the provider right away and disable his phone.   No worries.   After about 30 minutes of  “please hold,” I was finally able to speak with the right person who could  disable a number that did not belong to me.  With confirmation in hand that my husband’s cell phone was no longer usable, I finally got in my car, hooked up my own cell phone to the charger, and put the car in reverse to back out of the driveway.  

     And then my cell phone rang.  The number that  appeared on the screen was from my husband’s disabled cell phone.  “Hello???”  Three seconds of silence on the other end.   Then click.  Now I am haunted-house scared and have yet to leave my driveway.  Back into the house I go to call the provider again and give someone, anyone an earful.  After about 10 minutes of not being able to reach a single soul, I get another call from my husband’s cell.  This time it was him.  He  found his phone tucked into his bicycle gear, mistakenly “pocket dialed” me, then quickly hung up and called the provider to undo what I did.  All’s well and finally, again, I could head on out for some “Eat, Play, Love:  In The Hudson Valley” fun.  

     And I arrive at Sunnyside just as they close for the day.  I knew I was running late and that I would probably miss the 4:00 tour but did not see on their website that they shut down right after what must be a half hour tour.  So much for being able to see clearly after the eye exam.  Fortunately, the Gate Keeper was still there and he suggested that I visit the Lyndhurst Castle in Tarrytown, NY; a place I had never heard of yet only a stone’s throw away from Washington Irving’s place.  If ever the expression “everything happens for a reason” were applicable, it would have been on that zany day.    Here are some pictures of the Lyndhurst Castle, its grounds which includes a serene River Walk along the Hudson, and a creepy Scarecrow Exhibit.  

The Lyndhurst Castle

Greeter inside the Lyndhurst Castle, a Gothic Revival River Walk on the grounds of the Lyndhurst Castle Scarecrow Exhibit

    Thankfully, I still have a few more days off and do plan on visiting several of the local Hudson Valley sights, including Sunnyside.  I would have gone today but they’re closed on Mondays.   Coincidentally, the entire state of New Jersey was under a Tornado Watch with heavy winds & rains predicted throughout the day.  The 5:00 evening news reported downed trees, power outages, and a messy ride for commuters.  Glad I did not get stuck behind any commuter bus today.  As they say, everything happens for a reason.  Off to check my work email…