The Cutting Table

IMG_0773This post is more for quilters or quilters-to-be.

I have a quilting room.  At times, it’s the designated second guest room, but most of the time, it’s just for quilting and it’s mine.

Among the quilting bloggers, the where and how to manage the fabric storage and cutting of said fabric seems to be a topic of much discussion and consternation. 

I thought men stressed over their garage workrooms. They have nothing on quilters.

Given that I was a novice, I read quite a bit about how others set up their rooms, especially as I had never sewn before, much less quilted.  I needed to learn from others who were more experience than I.  That meant I read a lot.

My quilting room, an office in a previous life, came with a closet that is actually a wall of built-in shelves hidden behind folding doors.  Not so good as a bedroom closet, but perfect for fabric storage.  A match made in quilting heaven!

Finding the perfect cutting table was a different story.  Dining room tables apparently have a corner on fabric cutting.  It seems no one eats in dining rooms any longer and, as they’re a wasted room, why not turn them into cutting rooms?

My dining room was once a family room/kitchen.  It’s now a dining room/kitchen, not that it makes any difference.  I seldom eat in there.  But, as it’s in the heart of the house, I didn’t want it cluttered with fabric, scraps and threads.

Besides, the table height would break my back bending over to cut, and my back is already old and broken.

Scratch the dining room.  And find a designated cutting table.

I first looked at the standard cutting tables made for home use and quickly discovered that they are (1) not that stable, (2) relatively expensive for what you get, and (3), being perfectly candid, ugly.  Not as in ugly like a lovable ugly dog contest ugly, but ugly as in old Formica white ugly.  Scratch them.

Then I looked at the hacks. Ikea has the market on cutting table hacks, with hollow core doors balanced on cubed bookcases a close second. All workable and all solid and presentable, but the cost for delivery far outweighed any potential benefits. I needed a truck to make that one work. The hacks hit the dust.

That left me searching for a reasonably priced counter height dining table, preferably in a dark wood that would blend with the rest of the furniture in my quilting room.  Yep, picky, but it’s a room that needed “sing” to set the stage for comfort and creativity. 

It was an adventure, so to speak, searching for the perfect cutting table that was really a counter height dining table.  Months passed, and then finally, there it was:  a 36″ deep X 60″ long x 36″ tall counter height table.  Dark wood.  Solid wood.  Free delivery and a very reasonable price. A steal when compared to the advertised cutting tables, even if those do fold up when not being used.

The box holding the table top and four legs arrived at my front door, free shipping included, and it took me all of ten minutes to drag it inside and attach the legs.  My neighbor helped me turn the table right side up. It took longer to cut the box into pieces for recycling.

The quilting room is finished. I’m happy, my back is happy and my quilts are happy…it’s all good! 


Hot, Hotter, Hottest

It’s about the heat.  Oppressive heat.  Unbearable Heat.

I know the Sierra foothills are toasty.  Some, like me, might even call it hot. When I moved here, I was mentally prepared for hot.

Not this.

Even my friends in the cooler, temperate San Francisco Bay Area are complaining about the heat.  They should try here.

The local weathermen and women have been struggling to come up with different adjectives to describe what’s in store for the upcoming days.

Scorching, searing, blistering, burning, roasting, sweltering. Hot. Very Hot.

Day after day of unrelenting 100 plus weather has been challenging, not just in surviving, but in keeping any semblance of normal daily activities.

Household chores? Too hot.

Golf?  Are you kidding?

Quilting?  ah geez.

Even the lake activities are minimal.  It’s simply too hot.

So I read. And read some more.  Mediocre books, good books, almost great books. Books re-read. I feel like I’m back in the classroom as a student of English Lit,  except, to be honest, more often than not these are brain-candy books.

It’s just too hot to read anything else.

My neighbors, longtime lake residents, escaped last week to the northern California coast. They kept extending their stay, enjoying the warm, clear, sunny weather — typically the north coast is cool and foggy all summer, which in turn, keeps all of California tolerable. We’re all wondering if this, like other things, is going to become the New Normal. 

I want to know how to contact the  clowns that deny global warming.  I’d like to invite them here for a prolonged stay. And pay my electric bill.

In the midst of this relentless heat wave, I am searching for ways to keep the house relatively cool without breaking the bank over air conditioning. Windows open at night; closed before the morning sun intensifies. Shades drawn and lifted. Fans on.  A bit monotonous, but it helps mitigate things.

IMG_0758This morning I eyed the two large skylights which are fantastic for letting in the winter sun, not so great in the midst of a never-ending heat wave.  What to do?  While I had a couple ideas, I thought it best to at least venture onto Pinterest to see what others had done.

Quite a bit, evidently.  Everything from old blankets — functional, but not the most attractive — to high end blinds with remote controls.

I settled on re-purposing some old Ikea full length curtains, first used for screening a covered deck from the late afternoon summer sun, then reinvented as curtains to cover garage windows from the morning sun and help keep my previous home cool, and now, well, a new life beckons.

A little measuring, cutting, sewing and three curtain tension rods later, voilá!  A new skylight covering.  Not the sexiest, but not the tackiest either. 

The easiest one is done; the other, in the vaulted ceiling over the gas range, is going to have to wait until one of my tall, taller, tallest grandsons shows up. 

In the meantime, let the sun shine in…I’ve begun viewing the heat as just another excuse not to cook or do housework…now, where did I put my book?








3 Teens, 2 Fish & 1 Grandma

bassThe house was clean.  Spring cleaned.

Then three teenage grandsons arrived.

The cat dove under a bed.

When the boys were toddlers, I used to say that a whirlwind had gotten into the house; now, that they’re all taller than I, it’s a full fledged tornado.

hey, Grandma, hi, where’s the drinks, homemade cookies, wow! we’re going fishing, ok?

Then they phoned; they had caught a fish.  Quite a large fish, to be exact. 

Now what?

Their mom/aunt and I walked over to the lake.  It was a very, very large fish with quite a large mouth. It was a fish that looked very intent on living.  Currently, the fish was held captive in a large bucket and not at all happy.

We could take it home and cook it, the boys said in unison.

oh yeah. and just who do you think is going to kill the fish? IMG_3043 (1)

The boys looked at each other. That fact has not been factored in.  The boys looked at the fish that was looking very mean, sort of in a Jaws-like way.

And, who is going to clean and fillet this dinner item?

My daughter and I looked at one another.  She’s the daughter, the only daughter, who is just now learning the fundamentals of cooking. She shrugged and looked at me.

Not going to happen.  Toss it back.  Besides, it’s a bass and they’re lousy to eat. It’s better off living. 

I had no idea what I was talking about, but I used to teach high school and the kids usually believed me. These were two fifteen year olds and an up and coming preteen brother.  They believed me.

The fish went back into the lake to live another day.

Then, the darn kids turned around and caught another large fish. This time, two serious fishermen in a boat on the lake gave them the thumbs up (at least, there was a digit that went skywards), shook their heads and headed home. 

The boys knew better than to ask a second time, and another fish was granted a stay of execution.

Thank goodness.

All that fishing left the boys inhaling food.  My mother used to wonder if my brothers had hollow legs; the same thought crossed my mind.

Where do they put all that food? A second batch of cookies was well on the way to being devoured as well. Ditto lasagna, salad, veggies and a loaf of French bread before trying their hand, and their grandmother’s clubs, on the green just beyond my deck, coming back for some gin rummy and more food.

Two of the three –IMG_0371– the teens — were up before dawn, hauling a kayak to the lake along with the fishing gear.  Something about the early bird…

They returned a couple hours later to inhale Dutch Babies and a large bowl of fresh fruit before heading back again to hunt down yet another monster fish.  I can only hope the fish stays well out of reach.

Who knew that one lake, a 6th green, a deck of cards and a mountain of food could keep teenagers entertained?


The Perfect Gift

Back gift Awhen Christmas shopping meant heading downtown to wander in and out of neighborhood shops and window shopping meant peering through glass at wonderfully imaginative scenes, Christmas shopping was almost fun. There was feeling of anticipation, even with having to brave December weather, slippery sidewalks and little ones whining, crying or wanting to see Santa. It was just all part of Christmas shopping adventure. After I finished, there was exhaustion, but a good exhaustion, knowing I had found and chosen a special gift for each person on my list.

Those days gave way to shopping centers and mega-stores and then mega-shopping centers, with temperature controlled environments, carpeted walkways and imitation nostalgia.  The entire experience became a bit surreal, like being plopped into the middle of a movie set. I knew exactly what was around the corner of any walkway.  More of the same.

I felt trapped in some enormous maze without any exit in sight…all of which was a bit ironic, given that I had fought so hard and so long for an actual parking place, which in itself was the equivalent to an E ticket admission. 

I think that just gave away my age.

More than a few years ago, I recall sitting at my computer, phone on speaker, listening to my daughter, then daughter-in-law on the other end and sitting in front of her computer screen. It took under an hour to get through all five grandkids’ wish lists, moms directing me to websites and the perfectly desired item and grandma pushing the BUY and SEND buttons.  Efficient, yes. And the kids got what they wanted. But not a whole lot of fun.

Today, regardless of the time of day or night, I simply wandered up and down my laptop, ipad or smart phone screen, looking pictures, descriptions and reviews of special gifts for special someones, all while I sit cozy at home in my robe with a mug of hot coffee. Christmas will arrive at someone’s doorstep, professionally wrapped with a generic holiday tag of well wishes. 

I love Small Business Saturdays. It reminds me of times past, and even though the grandkids now just want cash, easier yet, I can still wander in and out of the local shops in search of a small item or two that may make Christmas just a wee bit more special.

This Thanksgiving, my eldest grandson sat down to catch me up on his university studies.  He shared that he was so very excited about math — Advanced Calculus — and had set the curve on the midterm.  He has found his passion in a subject area I avoid like the plague.  He obviously got that gene from the other end of his DNA pool.

Eldest grandson had learned that he transferred in sufficient credits so he could easily obtain a minor or double major; his counselor suggested something in Engineering, perhaps Software Engineering.  His aunt jumped into the mix, asking if he wanted an internship with her large company that is working on the next generation of satellite and space exploration.

I’ve seldom seen my grandson so excited as he explained the future possibilities of space exploration.

When he paused to catch his breath, I asked, do you have any idea what your great-grandfather did?


It was my opening to share about his grandfather’s father, who was systems manager for the Pioneer satellite probes to a number of planets and then, into deep space.  Evidently, this young apple didn’t fall far from the family tree. 

Eldest grandson was amazed. He wanted to see the binder of all of his great-grandfather’s achievements, which has sat safe in a binder in my bookcase for years, and is making a special trip up to see the binder (and, of course, me) after finals.

It’s not quite time yet, but I do know of a very special future Christmas gift that already has Eldest Grandson’s name on it.



Spanish Roscos

roscosChristmas is one season that is filled with traditions.

My dad’s family had a tradition that was handed down from one generation to the next for oh, maybe a few hundred years, give or take.  It was a recipe is for small round donut-shaped cookies called Roscos (with long “o’s”) that are the traditional Spanish cookie for Christmas.

While other Spanish families have similar recipes, even calling them by the same name, our recipe is special and, as I’ve mentioned, a closely guarded secret. 

You could have asked my mother.  Mom begged for the recipe for over 25 years, but all she could get were the cookies.  She finally put her foot down and demanded the family recipe.

oh, but of course you can have the recipe.

Sometimes you just have to shake your head at family dynamics.

Mom promptly tweaked the recipe just a bit, making the cookies oh so incredibly light, flaky and delicate. The rest of Dad’s family begged for her recipe.  Uh huh. I was the only one who got her recipe, although she delighted in giving the rest of the family buckets of her cookies.

Handing out boatloads of cookies was actually fairly easy.  One batch makes about 400 cookies.  Mom and I both used turkey roasters to knead the mountains of warm dough, while the aroma of sweet wine and anise seed filled the air.

It used to be a family event, waiting for the warm dough to chill overnight before my brothers and I got to help mom roll out the dough and form them into rings to be baked. We were serious about ten minutes.

oh look at mine.  It has to go on a diet.

oh no, this one has been sick.

this one has eyes!

And so it went, with mom rolling the vast majority of the cookies while trying to keep some semblance of order, and my dad sitting nearby, pretending to read his paper but smiling all the time.

I realized much, much later, as my two young children cracked the same jokes that my brothers and I had, Dad must have been thinking back to his mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens and the bantering between he and his sister as they rolled out the dough into the Christmas Roscos.

Later, my brothers and I would wait for the golden cookies to come out of the oven and be immediately plunged into cinnamon and sugar until each cookie was fully covered in the rich mixture. Then, the sweet torture of waiting a few days for the cookies to season before they were ready to be gobbled down or given to friends.

When I was teaching, I used to have my students write about a holiday tradition, and then tell them the story of our tradition before letting them take a Rosco or two as they walked out the door to the Christmas holidays.

Even though the cookies take two afternoons to make, and admittedly leave the kitchen in sugared chaos, I had hoped the tradition might take hold with my children. 

My son and his children are the only ones that occasionally do still make the delicate cookies. I like to think that Dad is still watching over them and smiling at the bantering, joking and memories.

It’s a funny thing about traditions, even at Christmastime.  Skip a generation, maybe two, and those traditions and memories are so quickly lost forever to the ages.




Riding the Rails

trainWhen my grandsons, now in their teens and twenties, were around two or three years old, they were enthralled with trains.  When any one of them visited, I could count on train tracks and trains snaking around the living room like a giant obstacle course.

There were hills and curves and bridges and turn-abouts.  Houses, trees and cars dotted the countryside and make-believe was in full swing on Grandma’s oriental rug. 

The first grandson was still in a stroller but just beyond toddler stage when I took him on his first real train ride during the Christmas season.  He was beyond excited as the two of us drove into the main train station, parked the car, got him out of his car seat (a major challenge), hauled out his rather large stroller and headed in to purchase our tickets.

The entire time, he stared wide-eyed at the trains coming in and going out of the station, not quite sure what to make of it all. The only thing he was sure of was that he was not going to let go of Grandma’s hand.

We got the diaper bag, stroller, my purse, grandson and me into the station.  We then managed to balance everything and buy the tickets for the half hour trip up the peninsula to the next major town. This was becoming more of an adventure for me than I expected.  I need at least three more hands. 

I was not quite sure how I was going to actually get us on the train, but managed to get things better consolidated before our train arrived. Grandson was being the perfect grandson, which was admittedly not how he usually behaved, but he was so excited he was more than willing to follow directions.

When our train arrived, I lifted him up onto the bottom step. He scampered up the stairs and sprinted into the car while the conductor  laughed and gave me a hand with the stroller.  The car was virtually empty and my young grandson had chosen two double seats facing each other.  He was already kneeling on one seat, with face pressed up against the window and excitedly watching and waving at a passing train. I sat down in the seat facing him.

The train started and the two of us just looked at each other with wide eyes and grins.  We were on such a special adventure, without mom, without dad, without big sister — just the two of us riding the rails.

We went by one decorated town, then another, watching cars and people and construction.  Such wonder and excitement!

When we reached our destination, we sort of tumbled out, got re-organized and headed into town to have lunch and do some window shopping. I was a little surprised that grandson had become a little quiet and pensive, even with all the Christmas decorations. But, he perked up over his favorite lunch, and then in a toy store where, of course, he got to chose a small pre-Christmas gift.

Then, the reverse trip back, marveling again at all the wonders of the train ride, but the whole time grandson was a bit more quiet and thoughtful than usual.

Later, when reunited with mom and dad, I realized what had happened as, with great excitement, my young grandson relived his day.

Mom, Dad!!  We went on the train! A real train! And then we got out and Grandma lost her car so we had to go have lunch and get me a toy and then get back on another train.  When we got off, we found her car so we could drive home!




The Christmas Village

Homes speak to me, especially older homes. They call out with all kinds of ideas, usually excellent, about decorating or renovating. Problem is, they keep badgering me to make the changes.  At times I think I could end up with something akin to the Winchester Mystery House.

Long time past, I moved into a new-older home one February.  There was an enormous bay window in the dining room, with a built in shelf across its base.  It called out to me. 

I need a Christmas Village.

That was all that was needed. I pretty much did the rest on my own. 

Because I had never even seen a Christmas Village, other than a group of Victorian homes sitting on a blanket of snow, it seemed that a bit of  research was in order. I wanted a village that would fit on that very large window shelf.

Like Christmas trees, there are all kinds of Christmas Villages on the internet and YouTube but, unlike trees, not a lot of practical information — more in the neighborhood of Show and Tell.  

It didn’t really matter; I had my own personal bay window with its own personal plan:  it wanted a downtown area with a Christmas carousel as well as a mountain area for winter sports and an outlying home area.  oh, as there was a bit of an ocean view from that very large bay window, of course the village needed some water, a shore, a lighthouse and a couple of sailboats.

This had all the makings of a Winchester Mystery Christmas Village, which meant that the next step was pricing said village.  Holy Mackerel, after looking at the retail prices, I could purchase a real village with its own mountain and ocean front resorts. 

Then I remembered Ebay.  March and April are not particularly high demand months for Christmas villages and I got some very good deals.  The village just sort of grew and grew.  I was fast becoming the Christmas Village mogul or sucker, depending on your point of view.

As the boxes arrived, one after another, the postman began looking at me like I was nuts.  Perhaps he was correct.  He finally asked if he could see this village once it was finished.  I invited him back for a December show. Now, I was committed. 

I realized I had no idea, and the internet was of no help, as to how to actually build the village.  The pieces were all sitting on the dining room table, ready to go but the questions were Where? How?

I knew the mountain area had to have height, so I pulled out the grandkids’ old wooden block set and built a mountain.  In time, the framework actually stayed upright and held a village piece, then a second piece and a third.  Whoo Hoo! 

Next came the town and outlying areas.  As I had purchased everything piecemeal, not everything matched, but oh well, that’s the way it goes. Few people even noticed.

The electrical was interesting which is another way of saying it’s an electrical nightmare. It still is. I have visions of my dad, an electrical contractor, sitting on a cloud, shaking his head and keeping watch over the maze of wires and extension cords that worm their way through the wooden block formations.  It all works, thank you, Dad.

The last part was putting on the snow, ice and small pieces that make the whole visual move and dance.  People walking, kids building a snowman, well, you get the idea. This was getting more and more complicated.  I wondered if I would soon need a script.

Finally, everything got packed away until December, when I discovered that the trial runs were time well spent.  The village went up reasonably easily for a two day project and ran all through December. 

My four young grandsons delighted in it and wanted to visit often over the years.  I learned about the current superhero by who was left on the ski slopes to prank me.  I’ve entertained Superman, Spiderman and Darth Vader among others. 

What I didn’t expect was that grown up boys — aka, men, including Mr. Postman — also took as much delight in the village as my grandsons and would spend great amounts of time reminiscing over the village as well as wondering how a mere woman could build such a monster.

It’s been a number of homes since the home of the original large bay window, which is no doubt very sad and empty this December, and I realize that this will be the last year of my hosting the Christmas Village; the grandkids are growing up and superheroes, Santa and family Christmases at Grandma’s are fading into warm memories. 

It’s no doubt time the village gets divided among the boys so that they’ll be ready to entertain their children and grandchildren in future Christmases that I suspect will come all too quickly…