February 23, 2017

Just another day of sun...



Hello! I was going to write about our grand adventures in the Caribbean as soon as we arrived home, but an annoying cough turned into bronchitis which then turned into walking pneumonia, and now here I am, weeks after vacation and nary a post or picture in sight!

Yesterday's weather was so gosh-darn beautiful that I was content to live in the moment - windows down, moon roof open and music blaring as I drove through brilliant sunshine on my way to work.  In February. In Wisconsin.  Today, however, clouds, gray skies and the promise of rain and/or snow are all making me long for the Dominican Republic again!  I hope all of my South Dakota, Minnesota and northern Wisconsin friends don't get the snowfall amounts that are being predicted, but just in case here are a few pictures that you can use to escape the coming storm.  Close your eyes, add a little background music and daydream about white sand beaches, ocean waves and pina coladas served on the beach!


Here are "our" beach chairs.  Phil walked down to the beach early every morning to claim the perfect chairs, which offered a restorative view of the white sand beach and the ocean!  Mp3 players, headphones, books, towels, sunscreen, and my camera...perfect companions for relaxing days.  I kept hitting the repeat button for Another day of sun from the LaLa Land soundtrack over and over and over again!

 
And while we lounged all day by the beach, here was our view...


Ah yes, our Born Free kite!  It goes where we go, this time tucked safely in Phil's golf bag.  It makes my heart soar to see it flying high, bringing back such great memories of my Dad, who designed this one as a special gift to us. Can you spot my intrepid kite flyer on the beach?!  He drew quite a crowd before the wind died down and he had to pack it up.


 Meanwhile, back on the lounge chair, important decisions awaited - which book to tackle first?!  Did I want to hang out with CIA spies, an intrepid private investigator or Jesus?  (Answer: always Jesus, of course, but this was actually Phil's book so he read Roman and Jewish history while I hung out with the spies)


 And even though Vince Flynn has sadly passed, his carefully chose successor writes a very believable Mitch Rapp story!


 Ok, truly, you'll have to believe me on this.  The book title below is only a title - it had nothing to do with whether I might have become best friends with the friendly bartenders at the beach bar right behind us, and since this was an all-inclusive resort, might have enjoyed all the lovely free pina coladas a sun-starved Wisconsin girl could ask for...


Hmm...well, there is this photo that might tell a different story...


More to come in my next post, but in the meantime stay warm!  Here is a great poem by Joyce Sutphen - being alive does indeed have its attractions. And oh yes, I most definitely want to sit in the sun and rub my toes in the sand at the beach again!


The Idea of Living

It has its attractions,
chiefly visual: all those
shapes and lines, hunks
of color and light (the way
the gold light falls across
the lawn in early summer,
the iridescent blue floating
on the lake at sunset),
and being alive seems
to be a necessity if you want
to sit in the sun or rub your
toes in the sand at the beach.
You need to be breathing
in order to eat paella and
drink sangria, and making love
is quite impossible without
a body, unless you are one
of those, given - like gold -
to spin in airy thinness forever.

"The Idea of Living" by Joyce Sutphen from Modern Love & Other Myths.  
Red Dragonfly Press, 2015.

January 16, 2017

My fireplace mantel is now sporting vintage Valentines and my china cabinet banner now reads LOVE, but I'm still just a wee bit in holiday mode, as I get ready to share the rest of my "Grandma projects" with you.  I had so much fun creating these special gifts, and of course with every stitch went a prayer for my darling granddaughters.  

First up were the girls' Christmas ornaments.  I had made this little ornament when their daddy was born in 1984, and stitched it again for Miss Lily two years ago.  This year it was Madison's turn...
 


Last year I started a series of ornaments for Lily based on The Twelve Days of Christmas. That way I don't have to think about what each year's ornament will be...I just follow the song!  Last year, of course, was the partridge...

 
which made this  a turtle dove year...


During the fall I had started a little name sampler for Lily, which I think turned out so cute, with little bears spelling out her name.  Thank heavens she has a short first name, and not something like Francesca or Seraphina!


I had wanted to make something similar for Madison, but by the time I finished Lily's project, I didn't think I had time for another seven letters, so I opted for her initial instead.  In order to make it a little extra special I wrapped the mat in a fun baby print I had discovered - the fabric colors matched perfectly with the embroidery floss.


I loved the fabric so much, with its sweet little forest animals, that I decided to make my first little vintage stuffed bear to match.  When my son was born, my sister made a little bear that he literally loved to pieces - I only have one little eye left! I thought perhaps Miss Madison might enjoy having a bear to love as well.

I found this pattern online, and figured since it was so basic perhaps I could manage it...

 You can find the instructions for your own bear here.

 Stitching her sweet little face was a little intimidating, but don't you love her smile?  Her
eyes and nose called for a LOT of satin stitching, which I hadn't really done before. 

 
And here she is, all gussied up with a frothy white lace bow, ready for all sorts of hugs and Christopher-Robin type adventures!


Since Lily loves books so much, I thought a "dress-up trunk" would give her a scope for imagination, as Anne (of Green Gables) was fond of saying.  I chose Fancy Nancy, Ladybug Girl and Cinderella and had such fun choosing items for her dress-up box.  Feather boas, tutus, jewelry, glass slippers and tiaras all made an appearance, plus, as you can see below, ladybug wings and antenna!



My most ambitious project was her Cinderella dress.  Earlier this fall I was cleaning out my closet, and came across my blue bridesmaid's dress from my sister's wedding twenty-five years ago.  I realized the color and fabric would be perfect for a Cinderella dress!  It even had the lace appliques that matched the beautiful lace we all lovingly stitched and trimmed with pearls on my sister's wedding dress.  I thought it would be a loving way to recycle the dress and include all the happy memories of that special day. 


I set out with far more optimism than expertise, and soon discovered that cutting an adult dress down to toddler size was way more difficult than starting from scratch, but many late nights (and I do mean late!) and a dogged determination to not give up finally yielded the perfect princess dress for Lily...


And there, my friends, are the projects that kept me busy all fall and away from my blog.  But I wouldn't trade a second at the sewing machine when I saw all their smiles on Christmas Day, and hopefully years from now the girls will have fond memories and keepsakes of all the love their Grandmother stitched into their gifts.  

But now, just when I've returned to blogging more steadily - it's time to announce I'll be taking a break the next couple of weeks! Santa said I was very, very good this last year and deserved a small respite from work and winter and snow and ice and gray, gloomy days.  Therefore, Santa and I are off to the Dominican Republic for some much needed relaxation and sunshine, and I can't wait to share our adventures with you on my return!  Until then, please remember that

Today is a good day for a good day!


January 14, 2017

I've finally given in and have started taking down all the holiday decor.  Fortunately, several of my decorated areas are more seasonal that Christmas specific, so I can enjoy my snowmen and the Dickens Village a while longer.  The Village itself doesn't usually get packed away until the snow has melted, since it is such a huge undertaking.  I think I am reluctant to say goodbye to the holidays this year because I had so much fun making them extra special this year with homemade gifts.  Many of you had commented on the scarcity of my posts this fall (thank you for missing them!) but between other writing that I was committed to and Christmas crafting my time was stretched pretty thin.  Now that all the gifts have been opened, I thought you might enjoy seeing what all my Grandma crafting time was spent on, plus a few fall projects.

New fall pillow covers for my family room sofa and loveseat...I made four of them.  Now I need to make spring ones!

I had such fun finding just the right volleyball fabric for this sweet little mug rug!  I sent this to my niece during her first semester of college.  Sometimes a warm cup of tea or cocoa can help with those first pangs of homesickness!

 

I couldn't wait to knit this sweet little giraffe cap for Madison!  Paired with a giraffe book, it was such a fun gift to give!


When my husband and I visited Iowa in August I found this cute Advent calendar panel at a fabric store.  November found me frantically trying to finish it up before December 1st so that Lily could have fun hanging an ornament each day leading up to Christmas.



 
And once the fall projects and Advent calendar were finished, Thanksgiving dinner cooked, and the house and tree decorated for the holidays, it was time to start the Grandma gifts with a Dec. 25 deadline looming!!  

First up...knowing that Miss Lily loves to dance along to Step in Time from Mary Poppins, a MP pillow seemed in order.  I found the MP fabric online, and then centered it on a pillow cover I made from musical fabric.  I kept humming the lines from Feed the Birds, picturing Mary Poppins singing it while putting the children to bed, and I hope that  Lily can drift off to sleep just as sweetly with this pillow.


I forgot to take a picture when the pillow was completely finished - I used purple felt flower "buttons" at each corner of the ribbon square to finish off the pillow.  I loved how soft the felt buttons were and knew they wouldn't create a choking hazard.  Also, purple is Lily's favorite color.  At least it was, things change so fast when you are two!

That's enough show and tell for today.  I'll be back on Monday with, as Paul Harvey was fond of saying, the rest of the story!  Or more correctly, the rest of the Grandma gifts.  I'm sure the elves were busy at the North Pole, but honestly, some nights I think I matched them in my zeal to finish before Christmas Eve!  

Have a lovely weekend!

January 11, 2017

Dickens ala Downton Abbey

For the past few years, I always had Downton Abbey in January to help with my post-holiday blahs. But what to do now that it is finished and all of January stretches before me - no Earl of Grantham roaming around his estate, no pithy Lady Violet remarks to chuckle over, no downstairs shenanigans for Mr. Carson to control? Fortunately, my husband had the cure for my DA withdrawal pangs.


For the holidays, I decorated my dining room buffet using the lovely stained glass window in my childhood church as inspiration...

I used my antique kerosene lamp, stained glass panels my sister made me years ago, and a beautiful Johnson Brothers winter plate that I found at Home Goods and couldn't resist.  I also proudly displayed the small ceramic nativity set that a cousin made and gave me years ago and that I have displayed every year in every home that I've decorated for Christmas for over fifty years.  And, of course, my family Bible was open to the nativity story in Luke, the same passages my mother would read to us every Christmas Eve.


But I opened a special gift from my husband on Christmas morning, and honestly, I think he was as excited to watch me open the box as I was to receive such an amazing and thoughtful gift!  Oh, he knows me so well...I fell head over heels in love with this new Dickens Village piece, and this is what is now gracing my dining room buffet...

So even though I no longer can curl up on my couch with a cup of tea and watch Masterpiece Theater on Sunday evenings for further drama and nefarious plots and improbable love stories I can now sit at my dining table and gaze into the lit windows of the Abbey and wonder what the lords and ladies and downstairs servants are up to.  Is Mrs. Patmore still turning out multi-course dinners while bossing Daisy around?  Has Thomas reformed, or is he still a black-hearted nave?  How are Anna and Mr. Bates adjusting to parenthood?  

The lovely white tea pot is from the Downton Abbey collection at World Market last year and I like to think that my Johnson plate depicts the nearby village in winter.  Perhaps Edith and Marigold have strolled down to the village to have tea with Lady Violet, enjoying the feel of soft snowflakes brushing against their cheeks as they stroll the country lanes?


I love this picture from a couple of seasons ago...I was rooting for Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes from the beginning.  And while dreaming of snowy country lanes is all well and good, right now a beach and a water view sounds mighty appealing.  Stay tuned, as I just might have more to say on that subject soon!  In the meantime, English poet Alexander Pope captures how I feel when I gaze on my Downton Abbey tableau and day-dream of strolling along the gravel path that leads up to the Abbey. The Quiet Life- in health of body, peace of mind - sound sleep by night - study and ease...now that is truly my cup of tea!

The Quiet Life
Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breath his native air
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Blest who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mixt; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please
With meditation.
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown,
Thus unlamented let me die,
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

January 9, 2017

God Bless Us, Every One!


Back by request, here is this year's Dickens Village!  Each year I arrange the town differently, although I always try to maintain the proper geographical layout of landmarks - The Tower of London must be next to the Thames River, for example...


while the Globe Theatre must be on the other side of the Thames.

If I messed those up, I fear the Ghost of Christmas Past might pay me a visit, instead of Ebenezer Scrooge!  Although, of course, Ebenezer at first had other ideas about the origination of his ghostly visitors...

You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!

~~Ebenezer Scrooge
All three ghosts chase Ebenezer endlessly around his dismal bedroom all night long!

"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time."

~~Fred Holywell (Ebenezer's nephew)


"...the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely."

~~Fred Holywell 


As I arrange my Village, I think about what shops I would enjoy visiting if I could magically shrink myself and roam the snow drifted streets of Dickens' London.  I am pretty sure I would love browsing through the Antiques shop, while Phil would be next door checking out the stringed instruments!


Or perhaps we would stop by a friend's house for a warm cup of tea and a plate of scones and crumpets?


Lily and I curled up on the couch over the weekend and enjoyed watching the Paddington Bear movie.  Of course we were delighted to see one of the palace guards treating Paddington to a hot cup of tea and a marmalade sandwich!  We checked the guards at my Buckingham Palace after the movie, but alas, not a sticky drop of marmalade jam in sight.

Yes, I do know that Fezziwig's Warehouse would not have been next door to Scrooge and Marley's counting house, but I'm running out of room and sometimes have to bend the story line just a little. 
"Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” 




“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”



The large house on the right is Gad's Hill, Dickens home.  I imagine Mr. Dickens, resplendent in his top hat, is leaving his home arm in arm with his wife to do a reading of A Christmas Carol, while his children enjoy the ice on the nearby pond.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” 


“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! 

And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”