Earthly Goods

There are quilts in the post. I promise. But, first.

I found this photo of my mother while I was hunting for something else. As most of you know, she passed away mid-November [obituary], and yes, my brain is sort of strange right now. This photo was in a grouping of three of my mother and her two siblings:

And tucked underneath each of these was a photo of young baby, about 10 months old. I assume it was my mom’s sister Martha, who died of whooping cough when she was a baby, but I can’t ask my mother now (one of the things that happens when your mother dies, is that I go to call her up and ask her a question, but…). We are big on vaccines in our family, given that my father had polio and my mother’s sister died of pertussis.

Perhaps because my mother was a depression baby, she hung onto things. She was neat, tidy, not a hoarder at all, but she hung onto things. When my children were younger, I asked for books from my childhood. Later, much later — after all my children were grown — she gave me two of my books. I think she kept them around, first for my younger brother and then for grandchildren and then I think my Dad just schlepped them off to the thrift store in the end. And there are other stories, of earthly goods long-wanted, but now only after her death coming forward to be distributed. And some of her things won’t be given away until much later, which makes closure more difficult.

My earthly possessions, such as these quilts in a closet, just sort of stack up. Last year when we were all doing Zoom calls together, I promised my children I’d get together a list and let them pick what they wanted. Ooops. Inspired by recent personal events I finally put one together today. I’ll send it out to them, with some guidelines, and see what happens. (Hopefully, shipping will happen.)

I’ve long kept an online Quilt Index, as well as a digital version in my numbers-type software. I uploaded a version of it into Google Docs. Then I went through and tried to identify where all my quilts had gone: gifted, given, lost, tossed…the usual categories. NFD means Not For Distribution, and those are the quilts that I rotate up on my walls or use on our bed. Turns out I have about 78 quilts that can go now, with more to come. I’ll offer it first to the children and their spouses, and then to the grandchildren. And then I’ll decide what to do with the rest after they choose. (My husband went through the list and approved.)

What do you do with your creations?

  • Give them away as you make them?
  • Keep them around until you then give them away?
  • Build another closet?

Hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving–


Butternut Crunch Toffee

My daughter Barbara, of SweetMacShop, recently held a class at a Cooking Store in Salt Lake City, teaching people how to make my Butternut Crunch Toffee recipe. Then she linked it on her Stories, and now I’m putting it here so all those searching can find it too. It’s also on my Recipe Blog at ElizabethCooks.com, if you need other delicious treats like Lemon-Butter Sauce for your holiday baking.

I found this in our local newspaper, back in the day when newspapers had full-fledged cooking sections.  In the olden days, back when newspapers were read every day around the breakfast/dinner table, there were many pages devoted to Christmas cookies, delectable sweets, ways to manage the Big Day’s meal, and lots of other columns imported from other news services.  I cut it out and tried it, because it had the promise “Master this and you will rule the world.”  My husband, whose favorite candy at the time was Almond Roca, declared this recipe A Hit.  I’ve made it just about every Christmas since.  According to the article, it came from Ann Hodgman’s Beat This! Cookbook, published in 1993.  Now you know really how old this clipping is.  I’ve made some changes: the recipe as listed below includes these changes.

1 cup (2 sticks) lightly salted butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup, dissolved in 2 tablespoons warm water
1 cup whole almonds
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Scatter the whole almonds over a cookie sheet and place under the broiler until lightly toasted–don’t burn!  Let cool, then chop them up in a food processor, but don’t chop them into dust. Leave some chunks.  Scatter half of the almonds over a cookie sheet; reserve the rest for later.  [Note: I’ve always used a cookie sheet, but the recipe calls for a 9 x 13 inch pan.  Your pick.]

In a medium heavy saucepan, over medium to medium-low heat, melt the butter.  With a spatula kind of scoot some up on the sides so as to “butter the pan.”  As soon as the butter is melted, stir in the sugar. Continue to stir constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture comes to a rolling boil (a boil that can not be stirred away).  Add the corn-syrup-water mixture and stir well; the mixture will hiss for a few seconds, but that’s all right.

With the pan still on the heat, cover the saucepan and leave it covered for 3 minutes (use a timer).  Then uncover it and stick in a candy thermometer.  Keeping the heat at medium-low, and stirring once in a while, heat the mixture to 300 degrees.  (My sister Christine also uses the paper bag test: she holds up a brown paper sack and when the toffee is that color, it’s time to yank it. *Note: for higher altitudes, for every 1000 feet above sea level, subtract 2 degrees.*)

When the candy finally reaches 300 degrees (it seems to get stuck at 220 and stays there for a long time), remove the candy from the heat immediately and pour it onto the chopped nuts, tilting the pan back and forth to cover it evenly.  The recipe says not to scrape the pan or the candy might crystallize, but I’ve been known to help down the last little ribbon of toffee mixture from the side with my spatula.  Other than that, I obey, and generally don’t scrape the pan.

Let it cool for a few minutes, then scatter chocolate chips over the surface (another trick from my sister).  The heat from the cooling toffee will melt the chips.

When they are melted, take a spatula and smooth out the chocolate.

Scatter the reserved nuts over the surface.

Let it really cool down.  A lot.  When the chocolate is set (about 2 hours or so), break up the toffee into pieces by “stabbing” straight down into the toffee with a paring knife until you hear it break. More stabs equals smaller pieces.  I put it into a dish, then pour the extra bits of nuts and toffee over that.  Makes about 1 pound of candy.

Now you really will rule the world.

Something to Think About

Her Day is Done

After 94 years, my mother went Home.

I heeded all your messages and got in the car that afternoon. I made it in time to see her before she lapsed into unconsciousness, then, by a quirk of timing, Dad alone was with her when she died. Thank you for writing. You all made a difference.

I promise we’ll get back to quilting, so no — this blog has not changed into something else. But I might be a bit more erratic in my posting for a minute, as I navigate Thanksgiving, the funeral services and any partly-sunny-with-patches-of-tears moments. (But you weren’t going to read over Thanksgiving, anyway, were you?)

My heart is full, and I’m filled with gratitude for a wonderful mother.

See you on the other side, Mom.

Something to Think About

It Takes Time

It takes time to stare out the window at the welcomed rain, the summer dust washing off, leaving the leaves glistening.

It takes time for my sister Susan to call all seven of us children — the task divided up with my brother David — to tell them that at breakfast that Friday morning mother had a stroke, was rushed to the hospital where she remains in critical care.

It takes time to not sew. Or sew, then un-stitch. Wonder if this was the right set of fabrics where not just four days ago you were certain of it. You were certain of everything: your plans for Thanksgiving, the trip to Utah for your father’s 97th birthday, the relationships you had with your brothers and sisters. Which now, after Mom’s stroke, all looks very uncertain.

It takes time to make contact with all your brothers and sisters, now that you realize that taking time is what you want to do. Some welcome the contact. Others seem to think you are nuts, that Mom will recover, that they were just fine with a little distance. It’s a common refrain in families, this push-pull, in-out, close-far, and we are no exception.

At the end of the time at my friend Joan’s funeral — well, after the funeral — after the family members left who kept you on edge, after the clean-up of the meal and the sweeping of the floor, we took a little time to say our good-byes. I looked at Joan’s daughter and husband, their five daughters and realized that I’d been given a gift by taking this time to serve them. I said as much to them, then added that while I would miss Joan terribly, she was in bits and pieces in all of them: her love of literature, travel, adventure, kindness, curiosity and love for those around her. A moment of final emotion and then having taken the time, we all left.

It takes time to not plan out a Christmas quilt, especially now, when time has to be taken for talking on the phone, reading letters full of treatment details for mother’s care. Photos are texted and I don’t really recognize her, but I recognize her, the strange yin-yang of illness. Her bed is surrounded by upright sentinels: oxygen readers, heart monitors, IV drips, and other machines I can’t even imagine.

It takes quite a few whiles to realize that you don’t have it in you to write back to kind notes on the blog, to talk to people on the phone, to do the grocery shopping. I take time to watch the rain, the hummingbird at my window.

It takes time to scroll and scroll on my phone, eyes glazed over while my heart and mind are focused on a slight elderly woman in a hospital bed far away. She’s 94. When I ask my doctor friend about strokes, I can hardly talk. “But she’s 94,” he said. “It’s not unexpected.” Yes. Right. Until it is. Then an uptick and life is almost normal for a few minutes. I forget that I am keeping company with the unthinkable thought, that my mother got “caught in the door” as my kind friend said, both of us thinking of the door out of this world.

I take the time to talk briefly with Dad; a nurse comes in and he is gone off to be beside my mother, leaving me wanting more time with him.

It took time last night, when talking to my sister, to tell her the story of saying good-bye to Joan’s family. And we are like that, too, I said. All seven of us have bits and splinters of our mother: the woman who loved to read, the 1940s glamour girl, the woman who was smart but stayed home to raise her children, the woman who went back to school in her fifties to earn her college degree, the good cook, the hostess, the loving mother and grandmother, the sharp wit and sometimes sharp tongue — it’s all there in all of us.

It takes time to recognize that you need to plan for an uncertain future. It takes time to wonder if she’ll have another stroke and I take time to do frantic research on the web. It takes time to wander around the house, to talk on the phone, to make and un-make plans. One late night I ask if I should come up. Oh, there’s plenty of time, came the reply.

We always think there is.


And this week…

I don’t know…just working hard on a new pattern. Here I’m using the Curves Tool in Affinity Photo (Command + M) to lighten up the image. I think images look better in print if they are a little lighter, and a touch more contrast. My new pattern has (so far) about 50 images in it, mostly photographs, as I try to explain it well.

I’m excited about it.

It took me several whiles to figure out what the heck an Artboard was, but now I love them. This is my Warehouse Artboard. Artboards are like grabbing another sheet of paper while you are thinking about something. This pattern currently has about 10 artboards, with different ideas on each one. And yes, a place where I park the ideas that didn’t quite work out, like that border idea at the top. I didn’t know A THING about digitally designing when I purchased the Affinity Designer, about three (?) years ago? But they have books, and tutorials and nice guys on YouTube, so I’m figuring out things as I go. And one of my favs is the Curves (shown in the video).

Thank you, Covid, for not terrorizing me this month. But judging from the Stories on Instagram, more flu, gunk, covid, disease, pestilence is coming our way here in California. I made plane reservations to see my Dad on his 97th birthday in December and I figure I’ll just come home and quarantine as it’s pretty much a sure bet that I’ll catch something up there in the snowy climate.

I put this up on Instagram (whatever happened to that program?) and took my ballot out to the mailbox. We have BallotTrax and it’s already been received, and since I live in a non-hysterical-about-mail-in-ballots state, it’s been counted, too. So cool.

And then the next day I got another ballot in the mail. What?? Yes, now I’m one of *those* voters. If I chose to use it. I had recently renewed my driver’s license online and must have checked the wrong box somewhere. I called the Voting People, and he said just destroy it. Or write VOID across it and mail it back. I can also drop it by, if I wanted to. (I’ll just destroy it.)

I’ve been saving these for a while:

Yes, mine is next week, thank you very much. Right before Joan’s funeral, where I’ll be helping with the family meal afterward. Life just kind of rolls on and on, doesn’t it?

This was in the New York Times. I love this. Every once in a while, my mother will hand me a file she has on me. Now that she can’t see anymore, they don’t come my way, but her handwriting looks so much like Eliza’s grandmother’s handwriting.

Lastly, GREAT NEWS!! I found a source for the 17-lb. vellum I use when I do Foundation Paper Piecing. It’s from JAM Paper and Envelope. It comes in 100-sheet packs and 500-sheet reams. I purchased the ream I have many ages ago and it is still providing me with many happy moments of foundation paper piecing.

So, Happy Halloween, Happy Voting, Happy End Of Political Mailers, Happy Life–

300 Quilts · Christmas Quilts · Quilt Finish

Jingle Bells • Quilt Finish

We recently took a small road trip up to see the Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains. Pine trees = Christmas, right? And while we were up there at 10,000 feet at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center at Schulman Grove, we took some pictures with those old pines of my latest Christmas quilt, Jingle Bells.

The song “Jingle Bells” is actually a Thanksgiving song, what with the sleigh and all that, and since these circles make me think of those jingley bells — not during November — but in December, that became its name.

However, that’s not the name of the block. Jack’s Chain is the name it’s most commonly known by. The earliest mention of this block is around 1939 and it’s called Rosalia Flower Garden, but the name Jack’s Chain comes into play in 1978. For not knowing about this, all of a sudden the name Jack’s Chain was everywhere. I ordered another early quilt book and it’s in there, too. It’s in Brackman. In fact, for being such a well-recognized pattern, the origins seem to be shrouded in mystery. To see how the current version relates to the old one, take a look at this video:

After the Jack’s Chain is exploded, with the rings set beside each other, it morphs into another well-known, more contemporary version of this block (center construction shown below).

My good friend Dot sent me this photo of her Jack’s chain from 1999. She writes: “The quilt was made for a 1999 South Bay Quilters Guild challenge: to make a quilt using the guild’s logo, which is the traditional Mayflower Block. It’s not that exciting a block, so I found a fun way to set it. I drafted my own pattern from a little sketch in a quilt-block book.” [corrected 10/23/22]

The backing, and fussy-cut centers of the circles were cut from this Jane Sassaman fabric.

Yes, I really liked those old Bristlecone Pines, and liked the fact that we were walking around among these giants, both in age, wisdom, adaptability and scarcity. If you watched the Highlight reel (above), some of the wood looks fluid, as if it were poured into place. A good lesson for me, for this quilt has been a struggle.

After I put up this earlier post on Instagram, and then wrote about it on this blog, I was blasted by those who police the Other Well-known Name of this design. The origins, of course, were Jack’s Chain, but morphed. That morphing was lovely and allows the viewer to see giant circles, a secondary pattern. After I was castigated for calling it Jack’s Chain (seven pages worth!), I started doing research and found multiple places where this pattern resides. One of the places even offers acrylic templates for sale (do your own search, if you are interested). There are two basic sizes, 3″ nine-patch blocks, and 6″ nine-patch blocks. Sometimes there are diamonds in the center, and sometimes not. Sometimes the center is done with English Paper Piecing, then the nine-patches added on via machine. Sometimes the version is a table-runner (and there is a YouTube video for that one). There are as many variations of this block as there are blocks in this quilt; something for everyone — plenty to share. There is however, only one “official” pattern of that contemporary version smaller nine-patch, so if you want the complete how-to, it’s best to make sure your nickels and dimes get to her.

I originally obtained my pattern from a very fine and brilliant quilter, who no longer sells her pattern online. So when it came time to figure out how to put the sides on the center, I was stuck. So I drafted my own. The quilting on this quilt was done by Jen of Sew-Mazing Quilting.

In the Quilt Index, this is Quilt #270 and my second Christmas quilt finish for 2022 (the first). As the label notes, it’s 66″ wide and 78″ tall.

At the midpoint of this quilt, after being harangued and scolded, I wanted to wad it all up and throw it away. Our quilts often carry our hopes, dreams and emotions and I felt like this quilt had been dumped on. Maybe it was just me. Could be. I always consider my own foibles first, but in the end? I kept going. And now that I’ve taken it to 10,000 feet and let those Bristlecone Pines shed their magic on it, it’s a keeper.

Be as kind as you can, in all the ways that you can–

We also headed up Bishop Creek to get these shots, as we don’t really have many pines around here:

If you go to Bishop, I can recommend Great Basin Bakery for lunch. And breakfast! If you are down in Lone Pine, the Alabama Hills Cafe & Bakery is also really good (named for the hills at the base of Mt. Whitney).