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Saturday, January 26, 2013


4:00 AM
On the border of my consciousness I hear chirp.  Not to worry.  I am able to sink my consciousness back into the black hole of sleep.

4 AM and 30 seconds
chirp  Wumpus, our six-year-old cat, has never, in the six months we’ve had him,  snuggled up in bed.  Wumpus softly leaps onto the mattress, walks over me and walks back.  I ignore the cat.  Oddly, Wumpus settles down and purrs. (Just as you might get a used car, we got ourselves a used cat and so have not been able to train him up to our cuddling standards.)

4:01 AM
chirp    My husband, whose hearing is even worse than mine, is out cold.

4:01 AM and 30 seconds
chirp  I am more or less awake.  This chirp sounds familiar; it is the sound of battery failure in the smoke alarm.  However, when we renovated the master bathroom, I thought the guy -- chirp -- said the new type of alarm didn’t use batteries.  I can drift off if I try.

4:02 AM
chirp  I am damn well going to drift off. 

4:02 AM and 30 seconds
chirp  I am not doing any drifting.  I lay there trying to think. 

4:03 AM
chirp  I will simply go to the other bedroom and close the master bedroom door.  I won’t hear the thing, and, obviously, nothing is going to wake Steve. I tuck my pillow under my arm.

4:03 AM and 30 seconds
I toss all the pillows off the guest room bed.  CHIRP!   Yikes!  That was LOUD!  It’s not the bedroom smoke alarm, it’s the one in the hall.  The old fashioned one.  It will chirp until the battery is replaced.  Which I’ve never done.

chirp  Steve changed the battery last time which was something like ten years ago.  I briefly consider waking him up.  I mentally review the resulting screaming and swearing (not at me, in all fairness, but at the alarm).

chirp  I think about simply making coffee and getting up for the day, but the thought of listening to that sound every 90 seconds for the next three or four hours is too awful.  Not only that, I vaguely recollect that after some time the chirps get closer and closer together until they are a constant screaming.  Not only that, but it’s freaking four o’clock in the morning!

chirp  Wumpus is very excited to see me drag myself out of bed.  He immediately runs to his food bowl.  There’s no way I’m opening his morning can of cat food at, let’s see, 4:10 AM.  Fortunately there are still some crunchies in his bowl from the previous evening. I stand there for a minute and watch him eat because Wumpus does not like to dine alone.

 chirp  I drag the step stool out from behind the laundry room door and open it up under the smoke alarm.  There’s writing on the alarm, but the writing is very small; it is way up on the ceiling, and, for heaven’s sakes, it’s beige on beige.  Or would you call that ecru on ecru?  Ah, there’s a button.  I press it.  Chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp!  The cacophony almost topples me off the stool.  That was the test button.  Has anyone ever tested a smoke alarm?  I thought not.

I twist and turn the alarm but nothing comes down or out or off.  chirp  I climb down and turn the stool to the other side.  Up I go again.  Ah, there’s a nub sticking out of the base.  I run my fingers over it and push.  Yes!  It’s the catch to the battery container!  Ha ha!

chirp   Hey!  I’ve opened the dratted thing which means the battery no longer has contact, so how can it be chirping?  And if it has the electricity to chirp, why does it need a battery?  I try to pry at the nine volt battery.  It won’t come loose.  Chirp  I try again.  What can I use as a fulcrum?  This isn’t fair:  I’m half asleep.  chirp  One last tug, and it comes free.  I’m proud that I remember to notice which way the electrodes are facing.  I step off the ladder almost onto the cat who is watching with great interest. 

Back to the kitchen to the junk drawer where I there's a 9 volt battery among the detritus. chirp  I hold the new battery in my left hand and the old one in my right. I don’t want to confuse them.  Wait?  Aren’t you supposed to dispose of batteries in some special way?  Hey, it’s 4:20 AM; I chuck the darn thing.

chirp  Up the steps.  I press the new battery into the container and wedge it closed and chirp!  No, no, NO!  It is obvious that the battery is not in correctly because the door doesn't want to open.  I again pry out the battery and flip it so the right diode is on the left and vise verse.  Back in. The door won’t close.  chirp!  I force it, well, just a little.  I climb down and sit on the step stool.  chirp!  That battery was just floating in the drawer so maybe it is old. 

There were a couple of more still in their wrapping, so I toss this one and retrieve a new one.  Back up the step stool.  chirp  You think it’s annoying reading all these chirps?  You have no idea.  I slide the new battery into the casing.  Or I don’t.  It won’t go in.  I kid you not. The thing gets wedged at an odd angle.  chirp  Eventually I am able to pry it out and slide it back in.  Nope, the door won’t close.  I briefly consider smashing the works with a sledge hammer, but that would mean going to the garage to GET the sledge hammer which I can’t lift very high anyway.  I plug in the battery again, but now it seems too loose.  I cross my fingers and close the little door.  chirp
Try again.  It slides right in, and the door easily closes.  Huh, what did I do differently?  Who knows?  I climb down the stool and just sit on it for two minutes, my nerves primed to jump at the next chirp.  I realize no chirp has come. 

Too sleepy to feel much triumph, I fold the stool up and put it away. Back I creep, back to my snuggly, soft bed.  It’s 4:45 AM, just early enough that I’m pretty sure I can get back to sleep.  

Steve begins to softly snore.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Music to Keep You Warm

I quilt.  My Mom’s attitude about quilting was, you take fabric, cut it into little pieces and then sew those pieces together.  What’s the point?  I was well into adulthood when I began quilting; she was flummoxed.  I was obsessed. 

I almost always have a quilt going, and if one isn’t going, it’s being planned in my head.  My quilts aren’t intricate geometrical creations made by sewing billions of tiny triangles together.  I don’t have the patience.  Also, when I look too much patterning, it hurts my eyes.  I make relatively plain quilts.  I make a lot of throws and baby quilts.  (Hey, someone’s always having a baby, and if they’re not, well, they will soon).  That way my gratification comes faster.

I should mention, too, that I have a pretty basic sewing machine.  It doesn’t do fancy stitches; it’s lightweight; it doesn’t diaper the baby.  That’s okay because I am a fool for hand quilting.  I jumble up the pieced, pinned quilt in my lap -- if I don’t, Wumpus makes a nest out of it -- and stitch to alleviate my guilt from watching junk TV.  I’ll begin quilting and won’t stop until the skin on my thumb splits or my finger is bleeding from feeling the needle at the bottom of the fabric.  There’s a little blood on every quilt.

I don’t so much plan and execute quilts as I build them.  Like many quilters, I rarely work from a commercial pattern.  Instead, I take graph paper and sketch out a diagram.   I make one basic block.  I look at the block and find out that, much as I planned and measured, one edge is hanging over 1/8”, and has to be squared off.  For anything more than a nine-patch, I simply cannot do the math.  I mean, it all makes sense in my head, and I measure it out, but I still end up just a bit off kilter. 

Once I came across an entire geometry lesson plan based on quilting.  I can quilt, and I can do geometry, pretty much, anyway, but I can’t seem to do them together.  I study my finished block and realize that it will take me longer to figure out the correct measurements than to just make a pile of them as is and trim them.  Next, I sew the blocks together, and then, well, the center of the quilt is done. 

My current work in progress is a music themed quilt for my daughter-in-law who is a sweetie.  The central blocks are simple enough:  three bars sewn to longer rectangle.  I drew it up and measured out 1/4” seam on each side.  I cut some pieces and sewed them together.  Yup, the long rectangle hangs over 1/8”.  Sheesh.

The variety of available music fabric was limited, but, between the store and the internet, I finally found what I liked.  The black blocks you see below are actually black with gray clef signs.) 

The author notices issues with inner-block orientation.
This means picking out the seams, but it is difficult
because Wumpus has taken up tenancy.
(The author hopes that by referring to herself in the third person,
she can distance herself from such a stupid, STUPID mistake.)

 My plan was asymmetrical with a piano keyboard running down the right side, but when I finished with the squares and laid it out, there was too much black and white.  Blah  There are some people -- perhaps most quilters -- who can visualize the entire thing before they begin.  Me, not so much, and when I do “see” the patterns, I can’t, as already established, do the math.  That leaves me here, with part of a quilt and a vague idea of how to brighten it up. 

I have some raucous white fabric with black and red notes.  I was originally going to use it where I put the black blocks, but it is really frenetic, and when I made up the sample, well, it was just too noisy.  I think of it as rock and roll fabric while the rest of the quilt is lyrical composition and nature sounds.  (Hey, this is inside my head.  I can categorize any way I want to.)  There’s that splash of bright red, and that will make a nice 3/4” border between the center and the keyboard, but when I lay it out, GAAA!  The red is a good idea, though, so I thumb through my stash.  Ah, I’ve got some red swirls; I like swirls for music because music swirls.  In we go. Then the quilt needs to be longer, but I’m sick of those blocks.  Should the birds go on the bottom instead of the blue?  No, too dark.  Keep thinking.

When the top is entirely pieced, I’ll buy enough batting plus a bit more because I CANNOT do the math.  I’ll pin it and then agonize over a stitching pattern.  Until I get there, I have no idea what will look best.  I so admire people who plan a quilt, buy the exact amount of fabric and sew it up.  How do they do it?  It’s a mystery. 

Quilting’s like life, though.  (Bear with me for a minute.)  We start with a few pieces, put them together and then build on from there the best we can, trying to make pretty patterns out of what we’ve got.  It’s a construction project, and even if the edges aren’t quite even, with care, we make something that warms us.  With luck, it’s close to a piece of art.  It would be easier, though, if we could do the math.

The finished quilt top.  All the notes at the bottom
are music in the air waiting to come into your head.
The backing is pure rock 'n roll.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Happy Holiday

This is my holiday post.  Not a Christmas post, no.  Over Christmas, my Perfect Grandchildren woke me up at 6:00 AM every day for ten days.  Christmas is pretty much a blur of wrapping paper and cookies.  Also, you have to consider that it takes me a while to process things.  We’re in January now, so that makes it about right to post the long-awaited Thanksgiving Blog, right?  What’s that?  You mean to say you haven’t been long awaiting it?  Well, then, happy surprise! 

Scott picked us up at the airport where I met Steve on Wednesday afternoon, I arriving from Virginia and Steve from Washington state.  The next morning, the younger child was up at 5:30 AM followed shortly thereafter by the elder.  They had been threatened on pain of death not to wake us up that first morning as Papa needs to overcome jet lag, but the excitement of our arrival has overcome any ability to sleep, so a bleary-eyed parent was down in the living room finding appropriate cartoons on the TV. 

Around 7:00, I stumble down the stairs to the joyful cries of “Nana!  Nana!”  (Why isn’t my arrival everywhere greeted with such delight?)  After a half hour of Loony Toons, Papa’s tread on the stairs produces a second round of cheers. 

The house has been cleaned, but after breakfast, we are given a blueprint for further polishing and tasks are distributed.  Children are set to spray and wipe the baseboards in the kitchen, and the floor is mopped by a succession of helpers.  Squabbling, snacks and naps ensue.  Papa vacuums up the last of the dog hair while Scott pops the turkey into the oven and performs other magical acts in the kitchen.

 A second table is moved into the dining room.  The children have never experienced a special children’s table before, and they are thrilled with the idea.  The aroma of the Bird is beginning to make tummies growl. 

Nothing can be tasted, however, until the arrival of the cousins.  Yes, this year there are cousins!  Two cousins of appropriate genders and ages and one baby for additional fun.  Is there anything more entrancing than that?  The pairings soon become clear.  The five- and three-year-old boys became super heroes (of course), attacking Papa in order to save the world.  The eight- and five-and-a-half-year-old girls sit in front of the doll house, assiduously grouping furniture and laying out wardrobes.  The baby sits on the floor spell-bound by the St. Barnard who is mostly restrained from licking her face with a tongue the size of her head.

                  Don’t fight each other:  Papa is the Super-Villain!

The adults are talking, of course.  Gist for the mill includes (small plug here) the book Ben (Winters) is working on, the second in the Last Policeman trilogy.  The family is forming a pool as to whether he’s going to end the world or not.  I say it’s Ben, he’ll save us and give us a happy ending.  Stephanie says he’ll squash us like a bug on the floor.  The Winters family have only recently moved to the area, but the family comfort level hasn’t slipped a millimeter.  We talked and talked, and then we ate.  And ate.  Because that’s what Thanksgiving is all about, right?  We ate turkey with all the fixin’s; we had two kinds of pie; we had happiness; we had love.