Quilt Along or Quilt Alone?

Interestingly, the quilt along group is posting pictures of their blocks this week, as most people are making the last of their blocks this week. While I’ve made good progress, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve fallen off the pace. I can no longer say that I’m really keeping up with the group.

But it doesn’t bother me. My reason for joining the quilt-along has been fulfilled. What I wanted was to quilt. Before signing up for it, I had a project that I was moving toward, but no real work had begun. Signing up for the quilt along changed all that, and I started moving along. Selecting fabric from the stash, cutting the pieces, and starting to piece. The last time, I left off with this step, in which two four-patches are assembled with two solid squares. The one in the bottom right corner is an example of a completed one. And if you look at the next picture, you can see examples of completed blocks in all four colors.


Next, I took two of those completed blocks and alternated them with two larger solid squares, as shown below.


Now it’s time to repeat the process by taking two of these larger blocks and alternating them with larger solid pieces of fabric as shown below.



I have most of the rest of this size block set up to sew the final seams. So a pieced block is joined to a solid block. The next sewing involves taking those two halves and putting them together into blocks like the purple ones above. The halves are stacked with their partners in a neat pile next to the sewing machine so I can finish that step next. Then it will be time to play on the design wall to plan the next move.

What I’ve Learned

2.  I don’t need to have a dedicated quilting area. By setting up a spot for my sewing machine and being willing to do cutting and pressing on the kitchen counter (and sharing that counter with food prep), I am able to use smaller chunks of time to keep the forward moving momentum.

3. It’s good to have a plan, but it helps to be flexible about adjustments. Maybe that one isn’t just about the quilting.  😉

4. Even though I don’t feel like I’m really part of the quilt along group anymore, I still feel like this project is a huge success. Those who stay with it will have a finished quilt by Christmas. That’s great, but even if I have my quilt top half finished by Christmas, that’s half a quilt more than I would have had if I had not signed up for the quilt along. The directions, suggestions, and timetable for getting started got me moving and kept me from stalling or putting it off (again) indefinitely.

5. While I still need to work on the staging of photos, at least there is a record of this project. That’s significant, since it hasn’t happened before. In addition, knowing that photos are going to be taken keeps me focused on the process itself, so that I am more likely to finish all pieces of one step before moving on.

6. Unlike my last attempt at bringing quilting back into my life, I am having a lot of fun.

Stay tuned for the next update!

Musical Animals (Musical Themes) and Unintended Consequences


I’m back with another group of songs based on a theme. This time the theme is animals, selected by Willow. You can check out her blog here. Others who are participating in this thematic scheme include Johnny, Bear, and Eva. Check out their selections about animals and their other themes.

There are many mentions of animals of all kinds in music, and it took me a while to think of how I wanted to approach this theme. After a little thinking and exploration, I decided to go for a variety of critters. So I have two mammals as well as one bird, one amphibian, one reptile, and one fish (although the fish might be pushing it). I even have insects, a whole swarm of them.

As I was putting the final post together, I noticed that the majority of the songs had such high energy. Not all animal songs have such high energy; many of them are more mellow, much like Wildfire below, but I gravitated toward high energy. Also, I’ve had some very interesting insights while working on this post, which I’ve written about after the links to the songs. I hope you have as much fun listening to these selections as I had putting them together.

I’ll start with the mammals

Uganda Kob (male) in the Queen Elisabeth Natio...

Uganda Kob (male) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lion Sleeps Tonight (The Tokens)

Wildfire  (Michael Martin Murphy)

The Insects

DirkvdM orange insect 2

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flight of the Bumblebee

A Bird

Bird - Duck - Mallard

Mallard Duck (Photo credit: blmiers2)

Mocking bird (Carly Simon, James Taylor)

An Amphibian

Description: Golden Toad (Bufo periglenes) †. ...

Golden Toad (Bufo periglenes) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joy to the World (Three Dog Night)

A Reptile

English: White-headed dwarf gecko in Dar es Sa...

White-headed dwarf gecko, Tanzania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Crocodile Rock (Elton John)

A Fish

A Giant grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus) take...

A Giant grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barracuda (Heart)

The fish also get an honorable mention above in Joy to the World above:  “Joy to the fishies in the deep blue sea.”


When I started this blog, I never thought I’d be posting about music. These thematic challenges intrigued me, and I started participating, not realizing that there was something more basic going on. This activity was calling to me at a deeper level. With this second of my musical posts, I think I understand this tug a little better.

For many years, the piano was a major part of my life and my career. Now, between graduate school and my time here in Taiwan, I have been away from the piano for nearly ten years. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve sat down at a piano since coming to Taiwan. Two of those times were last summer when I spent time at the home of my brother’s family. They have my piano there for my nephew to use, so it will be there for me someday when I return. I was rusty sitting down to play, but even in those two sessions, I could tell that it would come back with a little work.

I’ve been aware of missing music in my life. I’ve tried a few things, like online radio, reminding myself to turn on music, finding a few songs I like to sing along with, but somehow it doesn’t fill the void. There are moments when it feels like I’m almost there, but it doesn’t last. Maybe it was that I wasn’t really engaged with the music the way I have been in the past. But this activity of finding songs and building a narrative for them around an assigned theme is different. It engages me on many levels, and the deadline keeps me from putting it off.  If I put it on the back burner, I lose out on the opportunity. Until I can spend regular time at the piano again, exploring music in this way and posting the results is helping me reconnect with music, to be surrounded by it again, in a new and powerful way.

Mr. Logan’s Quilt

1278316_10201658315880667_1692301913_nAs I get ready to embark on a new quilting project next weekend, I thought I would share the last quilting project I did. It was a farm-inspired quilt for my grandson, Logan.  His father, Gabe, is a farmer, and tractors and cows and other farm themes are part of this kid’s life, as well as the theme for his bedroom. You can see Logan with the quilt in the picture to the right of this paragraph.

I had photos of the fabric (which I admit I had collected before Logan was even born). The John Deere fabrics were a no-brainer. Since my daughter, Kate, had collected many different cow-themed items during her teens, it seemed only fitting to get a print with lots of cows on it.In fact, for her baby shower, I sent Kate a quilt IOU along with a photo of the John Deere (and cow) fabrics that would be featured in the quilt.

My original plan had been to get it to him the summer after he was born. Except he was born in January of 2011, just a couple of weeks after I had knee replacement surgery. I moved to my new apartment shortly after that, so quilting just wasn’t happening at that time. It would be another year before I would piece his quilt top during the semester break of 2012, at which time Logan would turn a year old. I finished the piecing during break, and then took the quilt top to the US on my summer visit, where I did the quilting and gave the finished quilt to Logan.

I don’t have many pictures of the quilt-making process, but I have pictures that illustrate the things that held me back from starting. Because, truth be told, I had a very hard time actually starting this quilt. I was plagued by indecision, doubt, and a fear that it won’t turn out the way I planned.  Anyway, I got stuck. Yet, I knew as Logan’s first birthday approached that I needed to get a move on, or the crib size quilt would be a relic before he even got it. But there were a few problems beyond the practicalities, ones that I created in my own mind. Here are four:


camera fun 033I guess if the truth be told, I don’t trust myself in choosing fabrics that go together. It’s not just about color, it’s about the way the fabrics work (or don’t work) together. My fascination with quilt shows, quilting books, and any artistic use of color is how wonderfully it all seems to fit together. And while I’m happy with the fabrics that finally ended up in Logan’s quilt, it took me a long time to find the other pieces I wanted to include with these basic fabrics. I second and third guessed myself and asked my husband’s opinion every step of the way. In the end, I finally selected from the stash and hoped for the best.


For Logan’s quilt, it was difficult to imagine how to do traditional style blocks with the variety of scale that the John Deere fabrics had. In a ways, this was a much bigger problem for me than becoming comfortable with the fabric. Finding a pattern I felt I could manage and that would accommodate the fabrics was a decision I wasn’t sure I could do.I look at patterns on several sites on the internet. One site sends a series of patterns periodically, with links to instructions. Even though I have very few Japanese prints in my fabric stash, this Japanese Afternoon quilt really caught my attention. Using the fabrics I had, the end result would be much more abstract, but it freed me from trying to figure out how to do a series of traditional blocks with fabrics I wasn’t initially sure about. I knew that I wanted to incorporate a barn and some trees into the quilt, which meant finding a block that would have those items, a task that wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. But I adapted a barn from a house block I found and then found some trees, and made a custom block that worked into one of the various block sizes in the pattern.


Japanese-Afternoon-Quilt-DiagramThis part of the process was fun, because I could decide where to put the barn and the trees, where to position cows throughout the quilt, and then take each lettered section and use a single fabric or piece something together. The more I experimented with the placement of the fabrics, the more the quilt began to take shape. I was able to stay pretty true to the original measurements of each section, but it was also possible to adjust things as needed. I liked the structured flexibility of this pattern. No one looking at the two quilts would initially see that their patterns are related, but to me, that’s part of the fun of it. There weren’t many of them, but it still made things interesting. During the piecing process, I would often stop and look at the calculations again to make sure I was on track. But overall, the pattern was quite forgiving as long as the overall measurements for each section lined up with the others..

4. Accuracy and Paranoia

1079160_10201658316000670_1993188545_nFrom the first cut to the final seam, I often have trouble just enjoying the process. Although I’m not a perfectionist, I have this feeling that I should be more accurate and precise than I seem able to be. I’m not sure where this stuff comes from because the reality is that when I’m working, I’m very good at working out solutions to any kind of inaccuracy that shows up. In a quilt like the one I made for Logan, there is lots of room for error and correction, but not to the point where I want to become careless and sloppy. However, it is clear that when I adjusted the pattern for the barn, I didn’t get all the calculations quite right and I had to keep adjusting, trimming, and doing other attempts at making it look right. It’s not perfect, but Mr. Logan* is an appreciative audience in spite of my miscalculations.

Looking Ahead

On Friday, I will start the coffee mug wall hanging. I put that out there kind of publicly so that I won’t chicken out. I won’t get paranoid about not “getting it right.”  I have the pattern, I have the fabrics. I just have to start the process. I also intend to document this process, as I’ve never really done that with any of my projects before. I have put David on call for a few photos along the way.

The most important thing about thinking about Logan’s quilt is that by being aware of what got me tangled up along the way, I am now able to think differently about this next project and the projects to follow. I can beat my quilt inertia now that I know what could be behind it.

There are so many things that I think about differently now, and because of it, my life is getting more and more satisfying, even when things don’t go as planned. Adding quilting to the list of things I think differently about makes this next quilt particularly enticing.

*Mr. Logan is a nickname that Logan’s parents, particularly his father, started when Logan was still a small baby.

How Big is Your Suitcase?

Packing for a Trip

Brown & Red Duffel Bag

Brown & Red Duffel Bag (Photo credit: rebecca)

I do my fair share of traveling. Not as much as others, I’m sure, but over time, I’ve gotten lighter and lighter about the way I pack. I have special things I like to bring, like things to read, and journals to write in, but when it comes to clothing, I pack easy wash-and-wear items that mix and match. I can fit enough of these items in a duffle bag to last 5-7 days. Doing laundry once during a week-long trip is not a big deal to me. If it’s a longer trip, I just do laundry more often. Personal care items are kept to a minimum. I make sure hostess gifts and souvenirs on the return trip are lightweight and sturdy. In recent years, even the “project” items has become almost as easy as packing my netbook and an electronic reader. OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it does make life simpler when so much of what I’m working on and reading can be carried with those two items.

Sometimes, when I have packed and unpacked for trips of 7-14 days to Philadelphia or Albuquerque, I felt like I was re-enacting the scene from Mary Poppins where Julie Andrews was pulling out all kinds of impossible things from her carpet bag. But this method of traveling served me well, and I was doing it long before the airlines started charging for checked luggage.

96 Leather Passport Airline Ticket Holder

(Photo credit: ExecGifts)

It’s only been in the last eight years that I started travelling internationally. Four years ago, when I came to Taiwan, I could bring two checked bags and a carry-on as part of the ticket. This was especially important when I first moved here. With two suitcases, I could bring enough things to get me started in my new home. When I travel to the US to visit in the summer, I sometimes packed my smaller carry-on in the larger one, and then had the second one to bring things back from the US, like my quilting fabric that was stored there.

Last summer things changed, and  I had a ticket that only allowed for one checked piece of luggage. Going from Taiwan to the US wasn’t too difficult, since I was already accustomed to going back with one bag, but it wasn’t as easy on the return trip to Taiwan when I wanted to bring a few things that I bought in the US. In the end, I paid for the second suitcase because there were specific things we had planned for me to bring back. But this year, I will plan my trip accordingly.

Making Connections

My duffle bag served me well for many years, but eventually it just got too tired to make the treks through those airports. But roller bags are great, and I love mine with its brown, pink, and white stripes. I didn’t think ahead, so I don’t have a picture to post of it, but it may show up some time. My roller bag is truly a carry-on size, so in some planes, it actually fits under the seat. But it holds a lot, and I almost can get that Mary Poppins feeling when I use it. Plus, she didn’t have wheels on hers, although she did have that great umbrella that made going through security a non-issue.

As I travel, I’ve noticed that some people seem to think the size restrictions for carry-on luggage don’t apply to them. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has boarded a plane to find that the overhead bins are inefficiently utilized because someone’s roller bag is too large to fit front-to-back in the bin. But then, I have traveled with groups and seen people whose suitcases overflow with things that take extra attention and maintenance. When I travel, I don’t want to have to worry about stuff. I like the freedom of having less stuff to worry about. That’s why I was particularly fascinated by my daughter-in-law’s blog post about the preparations she and my son were making for their trip to Europe last September. She has gorgeous photos of the trip, but I was also impressed with the preparations she made for the trip. Talk about traveling light!

Speaking of Connections

Yup, it's February - How you doin'?

(Photo credit: Esther17)

You may wonder why I’m writing about travel and suitcases. I think about scheduling time the same way I think about packing a suitcase. And while I might say things about people who can’t seem to pack light, I’m totally guilty of overpacking my calendar.I want to somehow take what I know about traveling and bring it to my daily life. I’m sure some of the people who frustrate me with the over-sized bags are probably great with managing their time and packing their calendars effectively.

That’s actually why I’m writing about suitcases tonight. I was working on a post about my new work on scheduling as I focus on my keyword of clearing (see previous post). I discovered that my system was flawed in that it didn’t give me breathing room for a few major surprises that came along Tuesday night. I’m working through those now, with a planning system that uses index cards in a new way (at least for me). A post explaining this system is forthcoming–just not tonight. Stay tuned! I’m hopeful that the new system will be better suited for my journey to the clearing.

Getting a Jump on 2013

Resolution - better time management

(Photo credit: vpickering)

New Year’s Day conjures the tradition of resolutions and starting over. Changing our lives and becoming better people. Grandiose ideas of how we can break habits, institute a shiny list of things we will accomplish, and generally make the world a better place for all. Well, I’m going to do something different this year. Something that challenges my most troublesome trait while giving myself a gift of time in the coming year.

As my regular followers know, I post on Tuesdays and Fridays, which meant posting on two holidays. On Christmas Day, I posted (A Gift of Time), and I will also be posting on New Year’s Day. The plan was to post my New Year’s Resolutions on January 1, but I have decided to do that today instead and offer another surprise for New Year’s Day. Besides, if my post about resolutions happens today, it will be one of the few times this year that I’ve actually finished something EARLY!

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve accomplished a lot this year, much of it on schedule. In fact, I’ve accomplished more than I thought was possible. Largely, it’s because of my juggling skills. I’m a master of several tricks that allow me to appear that I have things together, even when I’m wondering how I’m really going to pull it all off. Usually, I do, but not without a lot of unnecessary stress. And for all I’ve accomplished in the past year, there were others that didn’t get done. Some of them were things that were more important to me than the ones that did get completed, but I didn’t always look before I jumped. The reality is that I have way too much going on and that most of my days are at the mercy of my schedules and deadlines–of my own choosing in many cases. I have such a strong sense of responsibility that I get done what has to be done, but I drive myself crazy in the process. So I have to consider why I end up in the same situation over and over again. And resolve to change it.

But when it comes to frustrations associated with the making and breaking of New Year’s resolutions, apparently I’m not alone. According to Psychology Today (see link below) British psychologist Richard Wiseman found that 88% of all resolutions end in failure. We all know the rules: make them doable, make them measurable, take small steps, and keep an element of positive motivation in them.

I hadn’t really thought too much about that last one, but it seems pretty true for many of my own resolutions as well as for the resolutions I’ve heard and read about. Why is it that most of my resolutions have been filled with SHOULD’s instead of WANT’s? This isn’t actually the time or the place (YET) to explore what I have trouble figuring out what it is I want, but that is one of my problems, maybe one that explains why the should’s win out for me most of the time. But as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this year will be different. First I have to avoid the typical resolution traps.

So that brings me to my alternatives for resolutions for the new year. I can:

1. Do the usual, and end up as part of that 88% statistic. (Obviously, this is the easiest habit to fall into. Just say no.)

2. Make things more measurable, and build in a better system of accountability. (Damn! it looks like that one involves multiple resolutions to implement make a list of resolutions about how I will manage time better.)

3. Skip the resolutions all together this year. (Tempting, but not effective in really changing things.)

English: Danboard holding a Christmas gift.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I may not yet be sure about what I want to do with the gift of time I want to give myself, but I do know I need to do less this year. But that is not a solid enough resolution to make a difference. I’ve known for many years that I don’t know how to say no. I even got hired for a job many years ago based on giving my inability to say no as a “weakness.” And I have resolved from time to time to change my activity-collecting ways, but without much success. If I do nothing but make another vague and impossible resolution for January 1, 2013, the results will almost certainly be the same. So, my fourth option will be:

4. Do something dramatically different. (This seems to be the path to a different outcome, and I certainly want a different outcome.)

What about giving myself 24 hours to consider a request on my time? I could just tell the requester that I need to sleep on it, and I’ll get back to them. Maybe if I took the time to STOP AND THINK, I might not simply jump on every opportunity that sounds remotely interesting. The problem is that without knowing what I ultimately want to do, I have no way of evaluating whether an opportunity furthers my overall life vision or just fills up more time containers. Unfortunately, without some kind of evaluation system, I would have to hope that my enthusiasm for a new project would wane to some degree in my allotted time frame and that I could be strong if the person or people involved tried to play on my sympathies (and my difficulty with saying no). That seems to be another recipe for ending up in the 88%. This is another situation where I would need to implement another system (evaluating and deciding) in order to follow through. No,  I need a stronger defense against my tendency to over-commit. And then it hit me. I knew what I needed.


a 30-day container in which I say “no” to every new demand on my time.

  • Social events are exempt.
  • I get one “get out of jail free” card in the event the opportunity of a lifetime really does come along.
  • The moratorium is renewable at the end of 30 days.

A moratorium gives me the tools to say no without having to deal with my typical loopholes. I don’t have to go through a decision-making process. It becomes a non-issue. I don’t have to second-guess myself. For the next 30 days, I can work on digging out from under the commitments I have and know that nothing new will be added. Hence, the renewable aspect of the plan. Eventually, I will see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, I can use a few moments here and there to gain a better sense of what I would rather be doing with my time. Then I can put on the training wheels and begin to consider requests again, once I have a basis for making such decisions.

In the meantime, I have hope that I may make it into the 12% this year. Wish me luck!

How about you? Are you making any resolutions this year?

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Cocoons: Then and Now

On cold winter days, I like to curl up with a journal and a steaming cup of tea, to sort through the mental keepsakes I have collected over the years. Even though I can indulge in this pursuit anytime, there is something about an overcast sky that brings out my tendency to turn inward and begin the act I call cocoon building.

Like the caterpillar that spins his cocoon in a particular season, certain events and situations often precipitate my inner work. It could be something specific, like a job loss or leaving grad school; or it could be something more nebulous, like the feeling of losing direction or recovering from a period of depression. Sometimes, I thrash around–literally and figuratively–for quite a while before I begin the cocoon-building process. But it is when I take that step that the healing taking place. Within my cocoon, I can explore the ins and outs of my pain. I emerge stronger, willing to take risks that lead me in new directions, often beyond what I thought possible.

cacoon拷貝The first time I consciously explored the cocoon idea, as I wrote in Cocoons and Coffee Houses, the process moved me across the country from Seattle back to Michigan. Twenty years later, another cocoon experience would lead me halfway around the world. This time, I was exploring options after leaving graduate school. A ready-made cocoon came in the form of a three month house-sitting stint. With many of our things in storage, I focused my creative energy on cooking and crocheting as I explored job possibilities, while preparing applications, teaching demos, and lesson plans.

While lining up my references, one of them suggested I come to Taiwan to teach for a year or two. While I appreciated the idea, I was quick to discount it, at least in my own mind. It was too crazy. It was too far away. I was too old to live in a foreign country. I had lots of reasons why it couldn’t work. I thanked him and told him I’d think about it.

I had been to Taiwan before, so it wasn’t totally unknown to me, but the idea of leaving my family, my friends, my country–seemed to be overwhelming. Eventually, the moment came when the only thing keeping me from this opportunity was my desire–a STRONG desire–for certainty. I agreed to a phone interview. And then a second one with several committee members. I talked to my family. I updated my passport. My husband and I made plans for me to go for a year to test the waters. I prepared for my new adventure.

Well, this is year four for me, and it’s the second year for my husband. Now it’s time to build a new cocoon. My time here has been filled with projects and activities that I never could have imagined. And while I love many of them, I now fly from one thing to another, with little time to think or create or just be. I need to slow down and think about what I really want; how I want to live my life in the next few years. Become intentional about what I’d like to have happen next in my life, rather than getting up each day and going from one deadline to the next.

This time, my cocoon holds new ideas about how to organize my time, ideas, and space. I feel a pull to move inside, an invitation to stay indoors, think about a way to channel my creative energy into my quilting, and work on a new cocoon. And fix myself a cup of tea.

The drawings in this post are done by Rena Chen. She has a BA in Applied English from Ming Chuan University in Taiwan. She enjoys arts, crafts, movies, and surfing the Internet. She is currently preparing for the government exam for cultural administration and hopes to one day work either in a museum or in a county cultural affairs bureau.