Desert Days

Living in the middle of Los Angles during this coronavirus pandemic has been, for lack of a better word: interesting. We are surrounded by millions of other people, yet our apartment faces a cement wall that abuts the Interstate 5 freeway. Through fences and gates, I can see another road, but it hasn’t been busy in months. Two months ago, hardly anyone crossed in front of our space, but now it’s become a walkway to the climbing gym next door. It’s been lonely, then weirdly busy.

It’s quieter than it was last year at this time, but with the freeway right there and a train yard within throwing distance, there’s always noise. Always. I hadn’t realized how much it was wearing on me until my partner Hawke and I took off for a desert weekend.

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An Imperfect Storm at Sea

A month ago I was in Houston for both Quilt Market and Quilt Festival. Two weeks hanging out in the Shannon Fabrics booths during the day and in the hotel room at night. It was super fun and super duper tiring. My favorite part of these eventsis seeing what is happening out in the quilting world. I don’t get to shops very often and rely on the Internet too much to keep me abreast of what’s new and exciting. So getting out and walking the aisles at Quilt Festival was a real treat.

In one of my quick forays out, I ran across the Flynn Quilt Frame Company booth full of tiny little quilts. Intricately-pieced traditional designs. While I love a good modern quilt, I’m a sucker for the traditional as well. I couldn’t help but swoon over the array and it didn’t take me long to settle on this itty bitty  Storm at Sea kit. (And the fact that it’s been out for 8 years and I’ve never seen it before makes me a little sad, but we’ve remedied that!)

Storm At Sea mini quilt kit

I’m a sucker for a good challenge and this one ranked right up there. I’d brought along my Singer Featherweight so I didn’t have to go weeks without sewing (because you know I’d lose my mind). I pulled the little machine out of the box that night and started piecing the laser-cut square-in-a-square bits. mini square in square blocks

You don’t even have to look that closely to see that most of them aren’t even real squares. The 1/4″ seam allowance wasn’t perfectly straight on each one. Angles ended up being slightly wonky. But that wasn’t the point of this project… I just wanted to make it  for my mom. I could do it perfectly and make it frustrate me. Or I could just sew it up because I love my mom and know that she likes purple and she won’t care that it isn’t perfect because either am I and she still loves me.

sewing my Storm at Sew mini

I sewed after Quilt Festival closed each night and spent a few more days working on it after Festival and before I went back home to Los Angeles. The need for perfection is there, assuredly, and there were a few times I had to take stitches out to get it slightly closer to perfect. But my mom is worth it.

laying out my Storm at Sea mini

I sewed the sections, one bit at a time until I could lay them out on the floor. I was hoping I could get some cool layout with them, but truthfully  Quilt Market Hangover is real and when you add in a little Quilt Festival Hangover, too, my brain was just too too tired to do anything really fun with it. I convinced myself that it was pretty enough as is.

Sewing together Storm at Sea blocks
Each quilt block finishes at 4 1/2″ wide (ish), so room for error was basically nil. Most of these blocks didn’t come anywhere near the perfection that I had wanted and there were a few times I had to talk myself out of simply throwing them all away. Those little overhangs and wonky intersections that don’t match… Even now they kill me a little, but this was an exercise in just letting go. Let it be. Don’t get stressed out about it. Just do it with love and acceptance. This mantra repetition was so hard for me, to be honest, but I knew I needed it. I can be ridiculously hard on myself for no reason.

I’m sure I’m not the only one either. We can all pick on ourselves more than we should and there are so many times where the internal berating has made me do some dumb things (take a rotary cutter to an imperfect quilt block, throw away an unfinished dress, toss out patterns). None of these things make me feel better in the end; they only reinforce my self-bashing. I swore I wouldn’t and I didn’t. Instead I just worked through it, tried my best without getting angry for the mistakes and finished the whole top.
As a whole, I thought it was beautiful and I convinced myself to stop looking at the little bits. Take in the big picture–it’s a lovely little quilt top. But it needed to be quilted and I really, really am not good at that one yet.

I gave it a try on my regular Pfaff 130 with the industrial motor. Great for piecing, not so quilt for quilting this guy. Despite using a walking foot it would get help up on seam intersections. It didn’t stay straight. I quilted about half of it. Had a good cry and picked it all out.

quilting with the Singer FeatherweightI took it to the Featherweight instead and that little beauty did it as well as I could have ever expected. I have a lot to learn on how to make the quilting look good and keep it even, but hey, it turned out. It’s usable. I won’t be humiliated to have my mom hang it in her home.

I’m not perfect. Either are my quilts. I’m learning that that’s okay.

Storm at Sea mini quilt

New Adventures, Coming Right Up

When you love sewing and quilting as much as I do, it can get a little crazy and let me tell you, my storage room was absolutely insane. The amount of fabric, patterns, books, notions, and tools was out of control and when I decided to take a new job in Los Angeles, I knew it was time to finally bring some sanity back to the mayhem.

It took me two full weeks, a yard sale and a massive donation to an art teacher friend of mine before it was brought down to a manageable level. I weeded out at least 2/3 of what I was storing (knowing full well I would never have the time or desire to use it all). It was only mildly painful to watch my fabric go away, but with the cash I earned I was able to justify the extra week off work between jobs. Hearty thanks to everyone from the Portland Modern Quilt Guild who came by, said hello, wished me well and gave my stash a new home. Mwah! 

I left that whole shelf unit in Portland, but then packed up (most of ( my works-in-progress, tools, sewing machine and sole mode of transportation into a UBox. Let me say that was not the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I honestly thought I might actually puke watching it drive away, hoping beyond hope that I’d see it again once I got down to Los Angeles. 

A week later I hugged my kids goodbye and boarded an airplane for L.A. I’ll be staying with my pal, Luke, for a while, getting acclimated to a whole new thing here. I’m incredibly grateful for his kindness and it’s just another example of friends being the ones are there for me.

So here we are…a month since my whole life shifted. I’ve got a lot to figure out still and hoping for the best, but so far any worries I had have been pointless and things are coming together nicely.  I guess it helps that I’m always up for an adventure.

So much writing to do, so little time

Most of you probably know that I spent some time with my kids in Vietnam a few years ago, but if you don’t, you can see the brief recap in this little video (I made for a continuing education course):

I knew I wanted to write about it even before we left the country because what we were doing was different from most families, let alone single-parent families. I blogged it all and took copious notes then started writing the book in 2008.

I went for it with gusto, writing at night, forming a critique group. I really was going to write a book, I thought. Then life got a bit derailed and I  questioned my ability to write, my parenting choices, the audacity (not to mention hubris) to pen a memoir. I gave up completely.

But when I returned to Portland last summer, the writing group I’d started back when I first began writing the book was still plugging along and still encouraging me to get back in the saddle and finish this damn book. Several months later, I gave in and started editing the 60k+ words I’d managed to get onto paper.

I’d originally written it all in present tense and was absolutely sure that’s what I wanted. Then one reader after another mentioned that the tense bothered them, took them out of the story. Instead of making all the changes that would be required to put it in past tense, I simply quit working on it.

Now I’m back at it, spending weeknights at a local pub, making the edits my critique group encourages. Wondering how seven years have passed since I first began.

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This weekend I got the chance to really sink into it at a family friend’s cabin at the beach.  As of this morning, I have 28,662 words written, edited and ready for the To-Print file.  This makes me ridiculously happy. Happy enough to head down to the water, even amid the wind and rain, to catch a little break.

It’s so nice to be excited about the book once more and I’m ever grateful to Michele, Steve, Natalie, Jaymee and Prado for supporting this project since the beginning. XO.

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Sew Expo

I almost forgot to share the pics of Sew Expo–oops! Friday before last I got the chance to head up with the crowd of Fabric Depot customers to visit the Sewing and Stitchery Expo held each year in Puyallup.  The best part was that my mom was already up there and we got to spend most of the day together and I was able to introduce her to some of my industry friends.

I picked up some patterns, too. For only $5 each, I couldn’t pass up these two new dress patterns, especially the top one from Lisette. Liesl Gibson is one of my favorite designers/pattern writers and if you haven’t made up any of her patterns (she also does Oliver + S and Straight Stitch Society patterns), you really should. She knows what she is doing. 20150228-062509-23109505.jpg

I was able to finally meet Marcy Tilton and her sister Katherine Tilton thanks to Pati Palmer. So much design talent all together!

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My mom and I wandered around and happily ran into Luke‘s quilt at the Pendleton booth. Having done work with him, it makes me ridiculously happy and proud to see his quilts out in the wild.

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My friend Cheryl (of Paradiso Designs) was there and we got to catch up, chatting about bags, customers, industry shows and life in the Pacific Northwest. Then Amy Barickman came by and we  chatted more. I love her Indygo Junction patterns, too, and have made a handful of projects from her patterns. They’re well worth making, I promise!

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I picked up a few other things along the way…a little stamp to make 2.5″ pineapple  blocks, acrylic templates for 3.5″ drunkard’s path blocks, a new rotary cutter from Kai Scissors (and a pinking blade!), and the A Place for Everything bag from Patterns by Annie.

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It was a fun little jaunt for the day, but next year I’d really love to take a class or two.  And teach a class or two, as well, if I can convince the right people.

 

Christmas in SoCal

Finished exterior bottome of the bag

This was a weird Christmas for us: the first when our trio wasn’t together and our first as a duo in Southern California. So we did something new and different.

I’m lucky enough to have my sister live just down the street, so on Christmas Eve, we went to her (bigger and nicer) home and made goodies together. I used my trusty old Good Housekeeping cookbook for the ginger snaps and the recipe Grandma Coates used every Christmas to make butterhorns. 20131227-194426.jpg

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Sleeping in Seattle

It was supposed to be a birthday trip, but funds were too tight in November to make it happen, so we waited until we could do it right.  With only a few days notice, we decided to go last weekend for  weekend trip.

We caught the bus early to head to the train station downtown .20130227-194514.jpg

It was the first time we’ve ridden a train together in the States and we couldn’t help but compare it to the trains in Vietnam. I couldn’t help but wish we were paying Viet prices (the same trip there would have cost less than $5/each). 20130227-194742.jpg

Audrey wanted pasta carbonara, but the only Italian place we could find didn’t serve it. Instead she got lasagna that came without noodles. Weird. 20130227-194807.jpg

We took the underground tour, though I was obviously the only one really interested in it. Sigh. It was my second trip through and not nearly as interesting as the first time six years ago. 20130227-194958.jpg

The Gum Wall has been there forever, even in the early ’90s when their father and I used to frequent Seattle, but Audrey had never been. She got her first up-close experience. Ew. 20130227-195050.jpg

The light fixtures at Pike Place were amazing. So was the heavy stench of pot being smoked down below us.20130227-195126.jpg

Audrey and Stuart both got their fortunes over by the Big Wheel on the pier, but hers was mind-blowing in its appropriateness for the moment. 20130227-195159.jpg

Our other splurge was visiting the EMP with its leather jacket displays and video game exhibit. 20130227-193742.jpg

We picked up junk food on our second visit to Pike Place.20130227-193722.jpg

The Seattle Public Library was well worth the visit and I have no idea why it’s taken me two decades to venture inside. 20130227-193657.jpg

It’s an amazing library, really. 20130227-193609.jpg

A little call to home in Oregon from a vintage newspaper. 20130227-193638.jpg

Then a late dinner at Deli No More before catching the Bolt bus home. 20130227-193537.jpg

A happy birthday weekend, even if it was a little late.

Too Close for Comfort

Yes, I’m still plugging along at the memoir. It’s taken forever to get through the second draft, something I was sure would be faster than the first. Unfortunately it took me two months and four workshops to get Chapter One to a place I could call good enough.

Who knew it could be so hard to be truly honest in your writing? Anyone who’s published (or even written good) memoir knows that it’s all about being honest about your shortcomings, your emotional responses, your actions. And that’s hella hard.

The first draft I took readers through a leisurely stroll in Hanoi, around Hoan Kiem Lake, to a local grocery and through a classroom visit at an English school. Not once did I stop and tell (or show!) how overwhelmed I was in this huge metropolis, alone with two kids and a handful of borrowed money. Instead, I gave readers a travelogue, appropriate for their first trip to Vietnam’s capitol. But I am not trying to write a travel guide, I’m writing a family travel memoir. It’s just taking me a while to get it right.

As I struggled through the re-writes and edits of Chapter One and the bi-weekly therapy sessions that our writers’ group was turning into, I was forced to deal with my own actions (and more so my inaction). It was painful and ugly. The fact that this was only the first chapter has made me want to seek a new way to do it. Perhaps one that is a bit less of a time-suck.

Then a few days ago, I stumbled onto Salon’s Guide to Writing Memoir and Darin Strauss (author, Half a Life) gave some brilliant advice:

“[S]ince the details will be so persepective-wreckingly close, work hard to increase that distance. Here’s ho. Change your narrator from “i” to “she” (or “he”). Write the whole thing in that third-person voice, and then — after typing your final period — do a word-replace to get yourself back in there. You’ll be amazed at how freeing that is.”

I think I’m going to give it a try; I find myself bogged down by my own embarrassment at being me. Maybe this will give me an out, a way to talk about how it was that I could be so in love with someone I’d move 7000 miles even though I knew it was unrequited, a way to talk about it without being humiliated in the midst of writing.

 

 

Does the editing ever end?

I am fairly certain that the answer is no.

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It’s amazing how many times I have revised sections of the book. Now, in anticipation of having a professional editor read it, I am petrified that I am doing it all wrong.

The real struggle is keeping the voice, my voice consistent. I fall back into business writing sometimes–cold, but detailed. I can write scenes just fine (even Cheryl Strayed told me that when she read an excerpt) but getting the emotions in there is a different story.

That’s the thing about memoir; it’s all about admitting your weaknesses, your pain, your failings. Without them, it isn’t nearly as enjoyable to read. But putting them in is a constant struggle for me.

Rest assured, dear reader, you’ll know more about me and the things I have done, both right and wrong, by the end. You can thank the myriad writers and friends who have made me promise to edit and add and re-word until the pain shows through. I thank them profusely.

Weekend Away

One of the real perks for being with the GuyFriend is that he forces me to slow down sometimes. I tend to have twenty-plus irons in the fire at all times and rarely feel like I can take a breath, let alone a day off to do nothing. My to-do list isn’t getting any shorter that way, y’know.

But it’s amazing to me how great it is for my body and soul to just not worry about that list for a little while. We got home late Sunday afternoon from a three-day trip to Waldo Lake in central Oregon, a respite I needed.

It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized just how much sitting at a desk all day is impairing my healing from the rear-ending accidents. Despite walking for nearly 7 miles on Saturday, my neck didn’t hurt (though I’ll admit to a slight back ache). Even on Sunday, after two nights on the cold, hard ground, my neck could still move without pain. The two stiff bands of muscles that have failed to stop seizing for months, relaxed. There was none of the non-stop ache I’ve come to expect. There were no painful headaches that are a nearly-daily occurrence during the work-week.

I wanted to stay out there longer, avoid going back to the tasks that make me hurt, ache and rely on pain meds. But here I am, back at a keyboard and already my shoulders have tightened, the right side of my neck is aching and the headache is back. Luckily, I have pictures to remind me of the peace that comes with leaving a to-do list at home.