Another sabbatical looms….

Healing is moving right along; one of the hardest parts is not being able to pick up my grandchildren.  The other is….  While my mind is fairly sharp, I’m not in any rush to get much done beyond cooking, minor cleaning, and some game-playing be it on my phone or slightly good old-fashioned Solitaire on my computer.  I am doing some minor edits on The Hawk, about two chapters being reread per day.  But when I’ll get back into writing is unknown.

These are from squares cut for a quilt I was going to make my eldest.  Definitely a project for 2017....

These are from squares cut for a quilt I was going to make this year for my eldest daughter. Definitely a project for 2017….

So with that, I’m taking a break from the blog.  Can’t even say I have much to share with sewing, although yesterday I pulled out some scraps to make a couple of Christmas placemats.  (Or maybe coasters, if sewn together the pieces aren’t big enough.)  This surgery took more from me than I imagined, and I don’t wish to rush my recovery physically or mentally, especially as Advent approaches.

Hopefully by mid-January I’ll be back to my usual self, aching to write fiction as well as blog entries.  In the meantime, enjoy your post-Thanksgiving weekend and may great peace and joy wrap around you in December.  Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all!

Lately it’s been all about healing….

Two weeks ago I had major abdominal surgery; a pesky prolapsed uterus needed to vacate its location along with some other repairs.  I’ve been wanting to get this done for a while now, and my doc had an unexpected cancellation in her busy schedule.  I had about nine days’ notice, and now three weeks on from that, I’m feeling pretty darn well.

Having attached the front of the binding, it was time to complete said task.  And great to snuggle under it as I did so.

Having attached the front of the binding, it was time to complete said task. And great to snuggle under it as I did so.

However, it’s taken a lot from me; no posts since before I went into hospital, as I was too busy getting ready, and afterwards….  Ha ha ha!  That first week I was some other person; debilitated, fuzzy-headed, sore, and wondering what the hell had happened to me.  Now, let me say I chose the abdominal route, but it’s one thing to mentally consider a five-inch incision in one’s gut.  Another thing entirely to experience it.

A nicely mitered corner....

A nicely mitered corner….

However, I am so glad to have had that procedure, especially now that it’s been a fortnight and I’m much improved.  I still can’t lift/carry more than ten pounds, have only drove to the store as of yesterday, and am taking my own sweet time on my daily walks.  But today I was moving around the house at nearly my usual cruising speed, no Tylenol needed.  I even felt like writing, which has fallen way off the charts, not only with this blog.  I haven’t done more on The Hawk than a few minor edits on Part Eight.  I had no idea how healing would impact my mind as well as my body.  It’s been quite a learning curve.

Enjoying it as I sewed....

Enjoying it as I sewed….  The afghan in the top right is one I made for my youngest before she was born!

It’s like stepping into an alternate universe where one’s typical pastimes hold no appeal.  Either I was spent physically or unable to muster the necessary brain cells to do more than play games on my computer or phone.  I did manage some sewing; right before the surgery I attached the binding to the Big Bright Quilt.  I finished that, as well as hand-quilted a December birthday gift project.  It was great to have my huge quilt to snuggle under, I was in dire need of sofa-time.  Also great to have such vivid colours to distract me from the odd sense of not feeling like myself.  For a week, I wasn’t sure who I was….

The final stitch to finish this project, ahhh....

The final stitch to finish this project, ahhh….

It didn’t have to do with a missing internal organ, oddly enough.  That uterus served its purpose well, and am glad to have parted ways with it now while major surgery is still relatively easy to recover from.  What threw me most for a loop was the basic recovery element; managing a thousand steps a day was rough.  Naps were fantastic; usually I wake from them feeling groggy, but when I first got home, I so needed that extra rest.  Taking my first walk, I wondered how I’d ever get back to my average two-mile outing.  I had plenty of in-house help, lots of support from family and friends, and my husband has been an absolute star.  But ultimately, recovery starts and ends with me.  And my goodness, what a couple of weeks it has been.

From last Sunday; coming home from my walk just as the sun was setting.

From last Sunday; coming home from my walk just as the sun was setting.

I’m so blessed to be feeling as well as am, relieved the surgery was a success, and there are still a few weeks until Thanksgiving, not to mention Advent and Christmas.  By mid-December, I’ll have seen my doc for the six-week follow-up, and will hopefully be given the all-clear to pick up a grandchild.  As for writing, we’ll see how that progresses.  I’d had hopes of finishing The Hawk by the end of this year, but I’m so not bothered if that goal slides into 2017.  These past two weeks have taught me a grand lesson in patience with one’s self and gratefulness of good health in general.  I’m not as spry as I used to be, but young enough to return to my usual pace without a prolonged wait.  Healing takes its own road, and I’m glad to be on it, one step at a time….

Reveling in the Moment

Binding is halfway done, waiting for several nights of hand-stitching to call it completed.

Binding is halfway done, waiting for several nights of hand-stitching to call it completed.

So, while I’ve decided to write the rest of The Hawk at my usual wordy pace, managing to find time to get those words onto the document has proved somewhat difficult.  For the last few days, it’s been a third of a chapter here, another half there.  Again today I typed out maybe half, more like a third, and then….

Then life moved another direction.  I heard from my youngest daughter, chatted with The Burrito, ran to the store, ate lunch, and now it’s nearly two thirty PDT, and truthfully my brain has shut itself off for useful prose to be extracted.  Getting older has shown me my limits when it comes to writing; mornings are best, afternoons are iffy.  And writing at night?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!  Evenings are spent with fabrics and sport, which brings me to the B story of today’s post.  A few nights back I finished attaching the binding to the front of the Big Bright Quilt.  That was a chore and a half, but now it’s a matter of hand-sewing the binding to the back of said quilt, washing that baby, then….

But while I bombard this post with shots of a quilt and its binding, I want to return to The Hawk.  Oh good grief, really?  Well yes, but only to say that today, after getting down about a thousand words then pausing, I didn’t feel badly about the output.  If ever a novel was a it is what it is project, this one is it.  And maybe I need to rethink my goals with this story.  Finishing it, yup, that’s the ultimate aim.  But I will never write the first draft for it again (thank you Jesus).  It’s just like sewing the Big Bright Quilt, or truthfully any other project.  You do it once, then move on.

Okay, writing is a little different than quilting in that respect, because you don’t edit a blanket.  Oh you might patch it up some, years down the road, but once I attach the rest of the binding, then throw it in my washer and dryer, I probably won’t sew on it ever again.  I’ll use it certainly, reliving the process as I admire blocks and stitches.  Actually, maybe The Hawk and the Big Bright Quilt are more alike than I’m thinking.  But on this day, which is all I have at the moment, I’m happy to let Chapter 227 simmer until tomorrow.  Because one of these days, I won’t be writing this book anymore.

As I age, I try to stay in the moment; tomorrow will be here soon enough, and if I’m too preoccupied with the future, I am so missing the present.  Most of my previous first drafts were written in a NANO-month here, another NANO-month there.  But physically, mentally, and life-wise I just don’t write that way now.  Accepting that change might be one of the biggest lessons I take from this book, or what I’m learning from it today.  While I am an author, I’m also a wife.  A daughter.  A sister.  A grandmother.  A quilter.  A…. Blogger, lol.  But it’s the afternoon, and best to churn out an entry now, having used many of the upper echelon brain cells to forward the fiction.

I wonder if one hundred years ago, or even fifty years ago, were people more focused in the here and now.  I want to make the concerted effort not to get ahead of myself, be it in writing or sewing or housework, ha ha.  Last night I sat under the Dadland Quilt while football and baseball garnered most of my attention.  But occasionally I’d peer down, fascinated by the diagonal machine quilting and fabric placement of one of my first improv comforters.  That quilt tells its own story, and now a year and a half later, the tales continue as the Chicago Cubs stand within one win from going to the World Series.  Regardless of how the Cubs do, I’ll think back to the even-numbered year that my SF Giants did not play in the Series (ahem….) and how I watched the playoffs under a quilt made after my dad died.  This is why it’s important to let life, books, and blankets proceed at their own pace.  Their true meanings develop day by precious day, no way for us to plot out all of their impending values.

Leaves from the apricot tree are calling my name....

Leaves from the apricot tree are calling my name….

What happens tomorrow in my novel isn’t for me to ponder now, or not in depth.  Ideas are socked away, otherwise I might forget them, ha ha.  But once notes have been made, time to move onto the next task.  Like leaves, for instance, that need to be raked.  Yes, I’m on that as soon as this is uploaded.

Bound by Nature

A quilt back amid the wind; I snapped this on Friday as a few drops fell, but that was all we got until Sunday.

A quilt back amid the wind; I snapped this on Friday as a few drops fell, but that was all we got until Sunday.

We finally received rain this past weekend, a lovely storm providing Silicon Valley with much needed precipitation.  Other parts of the Bay Area were pounded, but I was happy for our soggy Sunday, as my cold abated, hand-sewing keeping me busy.  I didn’t get much writing done, half a chapter that morning, but two other projects are coming along nicely.

The above quilt back goes with this little comforter, a birthday present for someone born in December.

The above quilt back goes with this little comforter, a birthday present for someone born in December.

I’m undergoing a rethink of this last section of The Hawk, both in plot and scope.  The first few chapters I wrote tried to move the story along more rapidly than how it had been meandering, and while I’m not going to change those, I’ve come to realize that this last part is going to be whatever it is meant to be.  It’s like the weather, over which we have no control.  Professionals can forecast to the best of their abilities.  However, the big rain that was supposed to hit us on Friday scooted right over the valley, dumping on the Santa Cruz Mountains.  We got our half an inch or so on Sunday, and now we wait for the next storm.

Gusty winds....

How does that relate to my writing?  I have this last part planned out, give or take a few rumbles of thunder.  And to my pleasant surprise, not only did I come up with an answer to the chocolate cake recipe, but a fine manner in which to explain why Wilma Gordon shares that closely guarded secret.  However, in doing so, more words will be necessary and….  And for as much as I wanted to keep this last section concise, that’s not gonna happen.

For all the rain that didn’t fall our way, it’s coming down as prose in buckets within my novel.

On Sunday morning, the words streamed forth until snot overwhelmed my authorial efforts.  But it was the first writing in several days, and I was happy with it.  Yesterday was the same, minus the mucous, as well as accepting that just as I have been doing for the last three years, I will write and let the rest sort itself out later.  I can’t do anything else and feel comfortable with this story.

It's not a Christmas Quilt, but it is for Christmas nearly halfway hand-quilted.

It’s not a Christmas Quilt, but it is for Christmas nearly halfway hand-quilted.

Whew, I feel better making that confession.  For me, the only answer is to follow one’s heart within the art, regardless of good intentions.  The creative spark is as fickle as rain, no way to harness it.  My husband bought a thirty-gallon trash can to use as a rain barrel, so while I was sewing on Sunday, he popped outside every so often, hauling out a bucket of water, then dousing plants just beyond where rain landed.  My writing is like that, how many paragraphs and scenes waiting to be allocated to either remaining within the manuscript, or destined for another home, ahem.  They won’t do our geraniums any good, but if nothing else, I won’t feel frustrated trying to hold them back.

Nearly snapped this back without any breeze.

Nearly snapped this back without any breeze.

Part of successful writing is striving to improve one’s ability with language through practice.  But another part is less tangible, much like the changing weather.  Writers need to be mindful of the muse which brings them to this craft, fully aware edits can and will sort the wheat from the chaff.  But first, allow those unwieldy elements to blow through, much like Friday’s useless cloudy day.  For on Sunday, water fell from the heavens, filling not only my husband’s makeshift rain barrel, but replenishing dry ground.  I can’t control my writing anymore than I can order the offshore flow.  But when the words are ready, I can be like my hubby, prepared to catch as many of them as fall.  He chooses what to water, while later I can hammer this draft into shape.  Now, if there was just some way to equate all I write into rainfall totals.  But that’s a dream for another day….

The Need to Communicate

A head cold has kept me from The Hawk, and while at first I felt too lousy to care, now I’m getting antsy.  I did manage to read over the last chapter, written on Tuesday just as post-nasal drip was starting to trickle down my throat.  Yesterday I was sneezy, snotty mess, and today my right eyelid is still puffy, although it has nothing to do with the San Fransisco Giants blowing a lead in the top of the ninth or the Los Angeles Dodgers going onto the NLCS.  Really, I’m not bothered by those events at all….

Ahem.  What I am finding is that for as difficult as it’s been getting back into the swing of my writing rhythm, having been knocked completely out of it is making me a bit crazy.  Not like sewing fabric squares into rows nuts; this taps into my need to communicate, even if right now it’s merely for me, myself, and I.  Perhaps it’s exacerbated by the fact that I feel relatively close to the end of this story, but I am dying to return to writing, hoping tomorrow will be the day.

Maybe it sounds strange to place such an emphasis on this element of writing, but for me, it’s a vital piece of the puzzle.  Yes, I write to free myself of a plethora of ideas and characters, but it’s combined with an equal need to reach out, to speak my thoughts, to….  Make myself be heard, which could be viewed as egotistical, but I prefer to think of it as proffering hope and joy as well as other virtuous elements that uplift and inspire.  In an increasingly negative sphere, rays of light are sorely needed.

Two little ones for whom I am exceedingly thankful!

From April, before neither could say Hi, yet they still found ways to get their points across.

Recently my grandchildren have mastered how to say Hi.  It’s absolutely adorable, also an innate instinct.  Humans require companionship, we need contact with our fellow man.  Storytellers have been around forever, both for society’s entertainment as well as to preserve history.  But I imagine what also drove those ancient yarn-spinners was a basic desire to share their viewpoint with others.  My grandkids know very little, well, they’re smarter than I realize, but they say Hi merely for the accompanying reaction.  It’s a new trick to master, one that brings an immediate pleasure when another says Hi back to them.  I’ve played this game with both of them for minutes at a time, greetings exchanged until they grow bored and find something new to study.  Often I’m blessed to have day after day of chapters in the can, and now, with yet one more day passing and no writing happening, I’m feeling trapped.  Or rather, a sinus headache holds the words hostage, oi!  I know this is a short-lived kidnapping; probably tomorrow I’ll sit at this very desk, wondering how to extricate this or that character from this or that drama.  But today all I can manage is this blog post, which perhaps is enough.  I’m saying something, I suppose.

But what I hope I’m communicating is that writing isn’t merely to tell a story.  The layers of why I do this are many, the pleasures just as varied.  And the pitfalls when it falls short, due to illness or writer’s block, can be agonizing.  Maybe this is just so that tomorrow, or whenever I get back to The Hawk, I will better appreciate the process.  It’s not as mundane as sewing squares into rows for a patchwork quilt, but at times it feels difficult.  I think it’s harder not being able to write, for whatever reason.  Something for me to keep in mind as this tale continues to unfold.

Bittersweet Patchwork

I have a confession; to me, few things in this life are more mundane and maddening than sewing squares of fabric into rows.  I’d been quilting for over a year when I realized this, but fortunately I was already considering improv quilting, so instead of losing my mind, I breathed new life into my sewing and lived happily ever after.

Okay, not ever-after, but in the last fifteen months, my adventures in quilting have become less bound by patchwork and far more satisfying.  Having said that, here’s a finished quilt top, basted no less, and yup, it’s patchwork.

Squares that are a Christmas Gift not a Christmas Quilt have been hanging on the wall for a while, then on Sunday I sewed together those fifteen rows, which ironically I love doing.  If someone would sew the squares into rows, I’d gladly do the rest.

I thought about this as I built those rows into a cohesive quilt top; there’s the magic of it coming together of course.  But I love nesting the seams, I like ironing, then observing how many corners are spot-on.  Those that aren’t add their own unique mark, for nothing in this life is perfect, not sewing improv or traditionally.  Both have their merits and niggles.

The back is just half-yard cuts of Kona fabrics with small pieces filling the gaps.  I wanted a contrast to the front, and I plan to hand-quilt diagonally in gray thread.

The back is just half-yard cuts of Kona fabrics with small pieces filling the gaps. I wanted a contrast to the front, and plan to hand-quilt diagonally in gray thread.

I chose patchwork for this gift because it was a simple way to go, and it’s for a child.  My nephew isn’t going to admire fancy techniques; hopefully he’ll like the fabrics, a camping theme roughly explored amid the cottons.  What I learned is how valuable are a variety of skills, even if some drive me a bit batty.

Waiting for me to finish this post....

Waiting for me to finish this post….

The best part about prepping this project for the hand-quilting is that I’ve come down with a slight cold, and there’s little brain power required to sit on the sofa and run a needle through a quilt sandwich.  I didn’t even write today, no intellect to fashion more than letters to loved ones and this post.  However, I’ll spend much of this afternoon on the couch pondering the Snyders and Aherns, Marek, Laurie, and Stanford, giving thanks that I finally figured out what to do with Wilma Gordon’s chocolate cake recipe.  There’s a time for all things, from patchwork to plot twists.  All of matter of appreciating how life shakes out.

Quilting (and other) Ironies

Yesterday might have been the last of the warm days.  It probably was, but let’s hedge it in a more ambiguous manner.  It might have been the last of the warm days.

Summer in much of California lasts nearly forever.  Winter is a blip, autumn and spring slightly longer.  I grew up without summer rain, so I assumed it never rained anywhere in June and July, August and September….  Living for a few years in Colorado was a pleasant surprise, for summer rain was abundant, as were summer hailstorms.  Then there was England and….  And now I’m back to where it doesn’t rain but every once in a while it pours.  Ironic that for eleven years I ached to see blue skies.  Now I’m itching for precipitation.

For a few months I’ve been hand-quilting the Big Bright Quilt.  But over the last two weeks, as cooler temperatures descended, I got busy with it, and last night, on an evening in no need of any sort of comforter, I sewed the final stitches of proper quilting.  Much remains, like fashioning the binding, like even cutting the strips for said binding.  I’m in the process of hand-sewing the perimeter, as the thought of running the edges in my machine makes me a tad dizzy.  I’ll attach the binding that way, but this is a big quilt and the less I have to maneuver it through my Janome the better.

As I made those final stitches, then inspected the quilt, confirming that yes, I’ve done all the necessary quilting, memories of making this piece were rife.  They intersect with the last sections of The Hawk, which is still a day-to-day process in itself, although not this day.  Today I’m trying to complete the quilt top that isn’t a Christmas Quilt but a Christmas Gift.  Too many irons in the fire perhaps, in a place where fires are everywhere and still we pray for rain.

One of the reasons hand-quilting took so long was that I used different colours of thread.  But I like how it looks.

One of the reasons hand-quilting took so long was that I used different colours of thread. But I like how it looks.

But irony isn’t bad, it’s just a different perspective.  Ironic that for three years while I have worked on The Hawk, the words have flown (ha ha) from my fingers with alarming speed, and now that I’m on the last part, it’s like pulling teeth.  Ironic that having lived in a place where weather permeates not only the landscape but conscious thought now I’m back where there is scant alterations in seasons.  Ironic that quilting has come into my life now that I’m a grandmother.  No, wait, that’s typical, except that I’m not making the sorts of quilts typically associated with abuelas.

As a writer, I straddle the line between plot and characters that think out of the box alongside cliches; stereotypes are such simply because in this life, they happen to often be what we see.  But it’s ironic that for how vibrant is the front of this quilt, the back is fairly staid.  And accepting, embracing even, these varying parts of the spectrum is acknowledging that sometimes the familiar reigns.  But sometimes it doesn’t.

Like rain; allegedly we’re supposed to receive some this weekend.  If we do, maybe I’ll feel inclined to sit under a quilt, either finished or in progress.  I’ll be very pleased for rain, but if none falls, that’s all right too.  It’s like how words emerge (or they don’t), how rows fall into line, how every day holds promise and mystery.  I don’t mind a bit of irony, reminding myself it takes all aspects to keep this planet on its axis.  Although I’ll tell you, if damp weather finds its way to Silicon Valley, I’ll be wondering if Earth’s axis took a left turn at Albuquerque….