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Decorated for Christmas

Today I want to show off the creativity and handwork of some of my friends. This is the sanctuary of our church:

I love our church. I love that it is so bright and airy. All that wood makes for phenomenal acoustics. When that church is filled with singers belting out hymns in four parts, the sound almost brings me to tears. 

We are facing north in this picture, and on each side of the church are large windows. Sitting at the piano, I have the most stunning panoramic view of the mountain range. I get to see it change with the seasons. 

The baby grand—a Bosendorfer that is over 100 years old—belongs to my friend Susan. It was her mother's piano, and after her mother died, Susan went to California and drove it back in a moving van. She doesn't have room for it at her house, so she asked if the church would like to use it. Susan's mother, Nancy, used to come up and spend summers here in Montana and I got to know her well. She was very particular about music and about her piano. I think it's interesting how instruments reflect the personalities of their owners. Nancy could be kind of prickly at times and it took a few years for her piano to settle down and adjust to being in Montana instead of California. Our piano tech says that it is in very good shape for its age. I have the privilege of playing it every Sunday and I played it when Susan's daughter, Rosemary, got married a few years ago in our church.

[My baby grand is a Yamaha, and it's solid mahogany instead of lacquered black. I chose it because I wanted a baby grand with a bright sound, not the sonorous plodding sound of the baby grands at the music school where I took lessons growing up. If you ever want to read a (rather bizarre) story about a musician choosing an instrument, get a copy of A Grand Obsession by Perri Knize. It's the tale of a woman who fell in love with a very specific piano in New York City and had it shipped to Montana, only to discover that it no longer sounded like it did when she first played it in New York. She spent an inordinate amount of time—and went through a number of piano techs—trying to recapture the sound she had fallen in love with. Frank, the guy who used to tune our pianos before he died, knew one of the techs who had worked on that woman's piano. I understand her obsession—I tried out about 20 pianos before I found the one that spoke to me—but I am not sure I would have gone to the lengths she did.]

Ginger is in charge of the visuals at our church. She really should have been an interior designer. She does a great job at interpreting themes for each season and turning them into reality. This year, she asked the ladies of the church to make new cross-stitched Chrismon ornaments to decorate the tree. From the United Methodist Church website:

Chrismons, a contraction for 'Christ monograms', were first developed by Frances Spencer and the women of the Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, VA. Many churches display a Chrismon tree during the Advent and Christmas season decorated with handmade ornaments.

We had Chrismons on the tree in our Lutheran church when I was growing up. The Lutheran church I play for during Advent also has Chrismons on their tree. These are some of the ornaments our ladies stitched this year:

Pat assembled all of the ornaments and put the trim on them (in addition to stitching many herself):

And that "Peace" table runner in the first picture? Pat embroidered, that, too. I aspire to this kind of handwork:

So detailed. 

The Christmas decorations at our church are simple and understated, but truly beautiful. I found myself comparing our church to the Lutheran church when I played there this past Wednesday night. Their sanctuary is decorated in sumptuous blues and golds and they tend to keep the lights down during Advent. I don't think it's necessarily better or worse than the way our church is decorated, just that I noticed the contrast between the two. 


I got an e-mail yesterday from my supervisor at my old transcription job asking me if I wanted to pick up some overflow work. One of the women who still works on that account was off this week and they needed help. I told her that I had an appointment in the afternoon but that I would put in 4-5 hours in the morning. I said to the husband that I don't miss my job as much as I thought I did. It's now two months after the conversion to the EMR system and some of the problems they had at the beginning still haven't been fixed. I am not sure what I will do about picking up overflow work in the future as I plan to take down the PC—which I only ever used for transcription—and put the Mac tower in its place. I suppose I could keep all three computers up and running but my office will be more crowded. 

The bottle of Juki Defrix oil that I ordered was delivered. Getting that industrial serger up and running is on the list for next week. Greg has my new computer and is configuring it for me this weekend. I've got one more costume to make and a goodly supply of Ritzville quilt blocks to work on. I need to make myself a winter purse. I've got a piece of lovely rose gold vinyl that might make the perfect Bramble Bag but it depends on how ambitious I am feeling. I haven't worked with vinyl before. 


Let It Sew, Let It Sew, Let It Sew

(Sing that in your head.)

I am having more fun making costumes than one person ought to be having. Costumes are a great way to learn to sew—I got the bulk of my sewing experience making Halloween costumes for my kids. The patterns are usually easy and forgiving of rookie mistakes. Vittorio, the Necchi BF, has been working overtime. He let me know Wednesday afternoon that he needed a good oiling because he started growling. (He had been sewing for several hours at a time, two days straight.) I am very attuned to how he sounds when he's running. If I hear anything amiss, I stop and figure out what's going on. A good drink of some Bluecreeper sewing oil and a new needle and he was ready to go back to work.  

The costumes for this Sunday and next are done. The new iMac arrived Wednesday and I have an appointment to drop it off at Greg's office this afternoon and then I'll stop at Jo-Anns and pick up some fabric for the other costume I need. I am going to time my trip into town so I can stop and pick up Chinese food for dinner. I am tired of cooking and the husband and I have not had date night in a while. We can have date night at home. 

Alas, I did not get to sew with the ladies at church yesterday because sewing was canceled. One woman was sick, another was out of town, and it's close to Christmas and everyone is busy. It was sunny but cold—5 degrees when I woke up—and the dogs prefer napping on their poufs to being outside. I finished making a batch of chicken stock and worked on cleaning up the sewing rooms. We will have a full house for Christmas and I need to start putting things away. I put the WIPs (works in progress) into one bin for easy access and everything else got filed. 

And then it was mostly slicing and dicing fabric to make more Ritzville quilt blocks:

That top fabric on the white pile is not as dark as it appears. There is some contrast among the whites/creams, but not that much. I'll pair up the squares in these two piles and make more Magic 8 blocks and then reassess where I'm at with the total number of blocks and decide whether I need to get more fabric or not. 

I am now on my sixth brand of rotary cutting blades in an attempt to find some that don't wear out so quickly. I am convinced that companies see these blades as a cash cow and thus make them out of inferior metal so they have to be replaced frequently. It's so wasteful. I have a couple of sharpening tools but they only get me a limited amount of additional use from each blade. These are the blades I have tried:

Fiskars: I think these are probably the best value. They are $32 for a five-pack, although you often can get them on sale for 50% off. (Amazon has a five-pack for $9.) At our store, they are kept under lock and key. Getting someone to unlock the cabinet can be a trial.  

Gingher: ONE blade costs $17. Even on sale at 50% off, $8.50 per blade is too rich for my blood. If I could see a significant difference, I'd spend the money. I haven't. I used the ones that came with my Gingher rotary cutter—which is hefty and nice to use—but now I put cheaper replacement blades in it. 

Olfa: Also under lock and key at Jo-Anns and also pricey. A five-pack of these is $43, or $21.50 during a really good sale. (Usually they are only 30% off.) I was disappointed to discover that in a batch of five blades, I got one that cut wonky right out of the gate. 

Omnigrid: These are new and Jo-Anns just started carrying them. I found them in the quilting notions aisle, which doesn't require unlocking and where stuff often goes on sale. They are priced about the same as the Fiskars blades, at $30 for a five-pack. I have high hopes.

Improved Cut: I believed the glowing description on Amazon and ordered a bunch of these. Eh. I went through them much faster than I anticipated considering that their claim to fame was that they would last significantly longer than other blades. 

Sewology: When Hobby Lobby has their Sewology house brand of sewing notions on sale for 50% off, I use it as an opportunity to stock up or try something new. They were out of these during the last sale, but I grabbed a pack during this week's sale and just put a new one into my cutter. 

There are a few other brands out there yet to try. When I find something I like, I would love to order them in packs of 50. I am seeing some titanium coated ones, too, which are worth testing. I might also ask at the quilt stores in town and see which brands they're using. 


We have had a string of very cold but brilliantly sunny days. The view looking south down our road is picture-worthy:

Whenever I look at that speed limit sign, I think of the the accident that happened in our front yard around this time eight years ago. DD#1 was a freshman in college and had just come home for Christmas break. We had painted her room while she was gone and were in there one evening putting things back together when I heard what sounded like thunder. I looked out the window and saw a tire rolling into the front yard. The husband—being an EMT—ran out to see who was injured and I called 911. Our neighbor across the street came out to help the husband. The victim had been heading north when he went off the road, sheared off the speed limit sign, then hit a tree in our yard that caused the truck to spin 180 degrees. He was flung from the truck and died of his injuries. It was a sad event. 

On a happier note, I am just about to write the last college tuition check. DD#2 graduates in May and is off to bigger and better things. The husband and I are quite used to our empty nest now, but it will be nice to have a bit of extra disposable income. We've kicked around the idea of doing some traveling. He would like to go to Iceland. I would love to go back to Germany. I've enjoyed both my visits there and I think he'd like it too. 

I got an e-mail yesterday morning that Heartbeat Quilting and The Quilting Bee in Spokane are co-sponsoring a visit from Angela Walters in April. She's a fairly well-known longarm quilter but she's also teaching a couple of classes on quilting with domestic machines. I got into the beginning class called "Mastering the Meander"! (I do loops really well but meandering is a lot tougher for me.) I forwarded the information to my friend Tera, too, to see if she wanted to take a class with me. It would be fun to spend some time with her doing something we both love and now I have the time to take some of these classes. 


The woman who is the admin of our Necchi Facebook group mentioned in passing that she had bought one of these:

It's an Addi Express sock knitting machine. I just about fell over when I found out about this. I'm not going to rush out and buy one, but Paradise Fibers in Spokane carries them (they did a YouTube video) and I might have to stop in and check it out the next time I am there. Socks are my least favorite thing to knit. (I feel like I should say that in a whisper so the knitting police do not come and take away my master knitter certification.) And this reminds me very much of my Barbie Knitting Machine. I still have it, tucked away in a cabinet. 


Stars Aligned

It's been a long time since I've had a day in town when everything went according to plan. I was pleasantly surprised yesterday. The sun was shining, everyone was cheerful, and I found all the items on my shopping list and then some. I stopped by the home of one of our church members to have him try on the costume for this Sunday's service. It fit him perfectly and needs no alterations. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and in absolutely no hurry to get home, which is completely the opposite of how I usually feel when I am in town. 

Let's hope that wasn't an anomaly. 

This makes me particularly happy:

I have several of this style of drinking glass that I think came from my grandmother's ice cream parlor back in Ohio. Her ice cream parlor closed in 1983, so I've had them for almost 36 years. They are my favorite drinking glasses. I like the size. I've tried to locate additional ones in retail stores and even in restaurant supply stores with no luck. They are made by Libbey and known as "Governor Clinton Iced Tea Glasses," but they are only available in case quantities. I don't need 48 of them. One of our thrift stores must have had a donation from a hotel or restaurant, because when I walked in, I found several boxes full. I bought 15 of them at $0.25 apiece and now I am set for a while. 


I've got the new blog set up on Squarespace 7. It's considered "live," although it's currently password protected to keep it from being indexed by search engines. The posts from this blog have been duplicated on the new one to allow me to play with formatting and additional features. Some time in the next few weeks, I may invite three or four people to take a look and make suggestions. I chose a hosting plan that gives me room to grow in case I want to expand into some e-commerce with my sewing projects. I promise to keep the blog ad-free, however

The new computer is supposed to arrive today; once Greg gets it configured for me and fixes that printer, I'll really be able to move forward. I feel like I am getting all the scaffolding in place to launch a lot of projects in the new year and that is so satisfying. I also appreciate not feeling like I am trying to stay ahead of a whole lot of new technology, like I did 10 years ago during the transition from print to digital. Evaluating various e-commerce platforms now is easier. Many features have been integrated into website hosting platforms and don't need to be cobbled together from third-party providers. It all feels much more settled now. I'm still not a big fan of Instagram but I am making an effort. 


We haven't caught any mice in a few days now. Hopefully that onslaught was the result of the temps dropping and a good snowfall, which always drives the wildlife inside. Winter is officially here. 

Our ladies sewing group meets on the first Thursday of every month at church, and it occurred to me that I can join them tomorrow! I'll probably just work on tying comforters as my hand-quilting skills are nonexistent, but it will be fun to be able to spend a few hours there. I'll take the camera and get some pictures so you can see what they are working on now.  


Creative Brain Versus Practical Brain

I went to town after church on Sunday. By the time I get to church, I’m halfway to town anyway and sometimes it’s just easier to run errands afterward than make a special trip the next day. We had gotten about 6” of snow since Friday night. The county road department doesn’t work on weekends. (When it gets really bad, people with plows go out and plow the roads themselves.) The roads were slushy, but they were slushy with a layer of ice underneath that made them deceptively slick. As I left church and headed toward town, someone in a minivan came roaring up behind me and got right on my bumper. I don’t have time for idiots like that. I get out of their way and let them go on to become an accident without me. I pulled into the elementary school parking lot and let the minivan pass, noting that the fire department was cleaning up an MVA just a bit further up the road caused by someone who had misjudged the road conditions and put his truck into the ditch. (That was followed about an hour later by another MVA in the exact same spot because you can’t fix stupid.)

Once I got down to the highway, the road conditions were much better. The state road department had been out plowing and salting. I ran my errands and picked up a length of clearance fabric at Jo-Anns for making a costume. 

I sometimes suffer from the curse of knowing too much. A background in handspinning comes with a fair bit of knowledge about the historical use of fibers. I am aware, for example, what fibers, dyes, and construction methods are appropriate for particular periods in history. However, that knowledge can get in the way of common sense. I stood in front of bolts of fabric at Jo-Anns on Sunday having a silent argument with myself:

Creative Brain: You know that 100% linen fabric would be most appropriate for making a tunic worn by someone in the New Testament era.

Practical Brain: Linen is $21 a yard!

Creative Brain: Yes, but you should be historically accurate. And you have a coupon.

Practical Brain: A coupon is not magically going to make the price of that linen $6 a yard, which is my budget for this project.

Creative Brain: Christ didn’t wear polyester.

Practical Brain: No one is going to know.

Creative Brain: I’ll know.

The struggle is real. And then there is the issue of color. Peacock blue is pretty, but probably not a color in the Israelite wardrobe. A brown poly blend fabric caught my eye; however, there were only two yards left on the bolt. I settled on a beige rayon/linen blend from the clearance rack and everybody was (mostly) happy.

The Sewing Out Loud podcast did a great series of episodes a few months ago on costuming. Zede, one of the hosts, has 30+ years of experience costuming plays and show choirs. She noted that costumes should be constructed so that they are alterable. However—and this is key—the alterations should never be permanent. If you have to take in a garment, you never cut off the excess seam allowance. No one in the audience will know if the garment has a 1-1/2” seam allowance instead of the standard 5/8”. Or if you hem something, you don’t cut off the excess fabric in case the hem needs to be lowered for another performer. If you’re really on top of your game, you’ll remember to use a different color bobbin thread so that the next person making alterations can easily find and remove the changes you made.

It took me about six hours yesterday to make a long-sleeved tunic. Part of that was me being OCD and tracing the size that I needed rather than cutting it out. Patterns are not cheap. Even at $1.99 apiece on sale, if we needed a separate pattern in each size, that would quickly add up. Part of it was also my insistence on finishing all the seams on the serger. (I really need to get that industrial serger up and running as it would have done the seams and the finishing in the same step. Hopefully that oil will show up this week.) Linen and linen blends fray if you look at them the wrong way, and I want this costume to last for a while. I was also wrangling a 4-1/2 yard piece of fabric. Thank goodness I have a long upstairs hallway:

This tunic will be suitable for a man to wear. Three of our characters are male and all the actors are of a size, so only the accessories need to be changed each Sunday. I think I’ll have to make a woman’s costume, too, for the other two characters, one of whom just happens to be pregnant. Thankfully, I am not costuming an entire Christmas pageant this year.


I ran across a piece on the Sewcialists website about sewing sustainably, and I love some of the ideas the author, Sarah C, included. Specifically, she notes that she has four trash cans in her sewing space. One is for recyclable materials like paper and notions packaging. A second is for recycling scrap fabrics that are too small to reuse or save (and, when full, gets taken to clothing retailer H&M for their recycling program). A third—the smallest, she notes—is for things that cannot be recycled. The fourth is for clipped threads and serger trimmings that will be repurposed into pillow stuffing.

And in keeping with the idea of not letting perfect be the enemy of the good, Sarah notes that the important thing is to do what you can and not try to do it all. Her trash can idea is one that would be easy to implement. It’s on my list for 2019.

I found out yesterday that Amanda Jean Nyberg, whose book Sunday Morning Quilts changed my scrap-quilting life, has decided to retire from the professional quilt design world. That makes me sad, but I completely understand that she wants to spend time with her kids while they are still at home. Been there, done that. I think it’s good and healthy that she is retiring before she gets burned out. I don’t knit much anymore, although I noted on Sunday that both Elaine—who is a retired minister—and Valeri—who was our song leader that day—were knitting during the sermon. I haven’t brought any knitting to church because I sit in the front pew. However, I decided that because they were up at the front knitting, it was okay for me to bring something small to work on. I could knock out some dishcloths for the church kitchen. Our pastor doesn’t care that people knit during the sermon. He says it’s better to look out and see that than to see people sleeping.


This is at once horrifying and oddly comforting:

I made up a score sheet and hung it on the refrigerator. Every time we catch a mouse in a trap, I cross one off and write the date underneath. We caught four on Sunday. Since last Thursday night, the grand total is 10. At this rate, we won’t have to buy chicken feed for the clucks; they can subsist on a diet of dead mice.

The traps are effective, at least. I need to stock up on cheese. The husband is optimistic that perhaps we have stemmed the tide.

When ecosystems get out of whack, bad things happen, and ours seems to have tilted in favor of rodents in the past several years. We never used to have these kinds of problems with ground squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. Where are the predators? I haven’t seen that weasel for almost a week.


Costumes and Community

The approaching Christmas season has thus far been less stressful than in years past, but things are starting to ramp up. I am playing for the Lutheran church's midweek Advent services on the next three Wednesday nights. Fortunately, they tend to keep these services simple and the order of service and the hymns are the same for all three nights. I just have to prepare different prelude and postlude music for each service. I'll likely just use what I've prepared for Sunday services at our church. I was a bit worried that they had written me off as their backup pianist because I was unavailable last spring. I was supposed to play for their midweek Lenten services but I got the flu the week of Ash Wednesday and then ended up in the ICU on a ventilator and that left them scrambling for a pianist to replace me. I was well enough by Good Friday to play for that service, though. They were very gracious about the whole situation and the congregation sent me a huge fruit basket when I got home from the hospital. 

I have been part of the Advent planning team at our church. As the pianist, I am usually part of the planning anyway so that I'll know what's happening in each service, but this time, my friend Elaine and I have been working on some surprises for each of the services throughout the Advent and Christmas season. We got together a few weeks ago to brainstorm. My part involves some creative writing and that has been fun. We're also in need of a few costumes. Our church used to put on fairly elaborate Easter and Christmas pageants every year (complete with a real donkey for Christmas), but it's been years since that's happened. My plan was to get out the collection of costumes we used for the pageants, sort through them, and wash and mend whatever needed washing and mending. They are stored in the church basement, though, in an area we all refer to as "the dungeon" for the obvious reason that it's exactly what you would imagine a dungeon to look like. I have been less than excited about venturing in there. (I suspect there are mice and I have had quite enough of mice at my own house.) I decided that the path of lesser resistance involved making up some new costumes and starting a new collection in a plastic storage bin that could be kept somewhere more accessible. I have the time right now and it's sewing. Simplicity also has these great patterns available, like this one for Christmas:

And this one for Easter:

So we'll see how this pans out. It might be one of those brilliant ideas of mine that blows up in my face but hopefully not. 


When people ask where I live, I tell them "Kalispell, Montana." That is followed by the inevitable question, "Where is that?" I usually respond with "About 25 miles from Glacier National Park." In truth, though, where I live is a little community called Mountain Brook, east of Kalispell proper. Mountain Brook is what I think of as my home. The bulk of Mountain Brook lies along Foothill Road, which runs north to south along the foothills of the Swan Range (the mountains that I see when I look out my windows). The community has been here since the early 1900s, back when people settled here to log the vast forests and a "trip to town" was a huge undertaking as the only way to get across the river was by ferry. The women of that time formed the Mountain Brook Ladies Club—a group that is still in existence today. I belonged to Ladies Club when I first moved here. Ladies Club was responsible for a much of the entertainment that happened in Mountain Brook over the years, especially during the long, cold winter months. I remember hearing stories of elaborate plays complete with costumes cobbled together from fabric stashes and old clothes, sledding parties, pinochle parties (those lasted well into the 1990s) and other social events. Ladies Club still gets together every Thursday to quilt. They provide scholarships each year to graduating high school students from the community (both my girls were beneficiaries of this generosity). 

The Mountain Brook community had its own school district. In 1927, one of the residents donated a piece of land on which a school was built by the community members. In the 1950s, a second structure was added as the gym and the library. The land was donated with the provision that if it ever stopped being used as a school, it would revert back to the family of the man who had donated it. I don't think anyone foresaw that those two buildings would be used as a school for the next 70+ years. The year before DD#1 entered kindergarten was the last time classes were held there. By that time, it had been annexed to the Cayuse Prairie school district. Cayuse is another five miles or so closer to town and is where both my kids were enrolled K-8. 

When all the classes were moved from Mountain Brook to Cayuse, my friend Susan—my kids' other mother—came up with the brilliant plan to turn the school into a community gathering place. The family who had donated the land gave their permission and the non-profit Mountain Brook Homestead Foundation was formed. The Homestead Foundation created a free community library there and made computers with internet access available for familes who didn't yet have it in their own houses. The organization has been supported by donations/memberships and holds a twice-yearly pie social to raise money, some of which has been used to renovate the original schoolhouse. The Cayuse Prairie school district, however, and not the Homestead Foundation, is ultimately responsible for the property. 

[Our friend Bill, whose memorial service we were attending when we were involved in the deck collapse in June 2017, had been responsible for coordinating much of the old schoolhouse renovation. Without his leadership, that project has ground to a halt.]

Sadly, it looks like Mountain Brook School's days as a community gathering place are numbered. Cayuse Prairie's insurance company has been putting pressure on them to remove the old playground equipment as they view it as a liability. The Cayuse school district has decided that it no longer wants to have responsibility for the campus. It's unclear which descendants of the man who originally donated the land are still alive and may be interested in claiming the property. A whole string of legal events have been triggered and if no one comes forth with a verifiable right to the property, the school district will attempt to sell it at current market value. I am not sure what that market value will be—it's a tiny and odd-shaped piece of property, mostly rock, with two old buildings on it. The Homestead Foundation is not in a position to purchase it, though. Things are in limbo and likely will be for a while. 

Nothing lasts forever, but this is a piece of our community history and the thought of it disappearing makes me sad. There has been a lot of brainstorming of possible solutions, but in the end, it's going to come down to money—money that isn't available. If I were a gambling person, I'd think about buying lottery tickets.