Thursday, September 29, 2011

Arizona in Autumn (Part 1)

It's 10:00 p.m. and 98 degrees!  Welcome to autumn in Arizona.  While most of the country is unpacking their sweatshirts and warming up the cider, we're thrilled the high temperature next week might be as low as 86 degrees.  We're thinking about putting away the flip flops while other folks are getting out the boots.  Don't get me wrong - I'm really not gloating.  Yes, we are on the verge of the best time of year in Phoenix, but I definitely miss some aspects of autumn.  We have no fall foliage, just the same color scheme we have all year - sandy browns and verde greens.  I would include a photo, but you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between autumn, summer, winter or spring.  Having said that, I did take this picture tonight at sunset (see the moon on the left?)

While I may be a little wistful about autumn in colder climates, I do love some aspects about fall in the desert.  In many ways it's like spring in other places.  We buy lots of flowers to plant, cut back the heat whipped roses so they can bloom on Thanksgiving and reseed our lawns to have a different kind of grass for the winter.  We do eventually break out the sweatshirts and jeans.  In fact, we are so excited about wearing "winter" clothes that we put them on when the weather is in the 60s.

By now many of you are cursing me and thinking this entire post is a joke.  Not true.  I love autumn, whether it's in Arizona or the Midwest.  I love them for different reasons.  Right now I'm looking forward to cooler temperatures and planting flowers.  I'm looking forward to taking my dog for a walk during daylight hours.

Stay tuned - autumn's just getting started.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011


O.K., I'll admit it.  I'm a soap opera junkie.  I come by it honestly.  I can remember being 4 years old watching Vicki on "One Life to Live" changing personalities like some people change their mind.  My grandmother and brother were to blame for that addiction.  In 1970, I can remember "All My Children" and "Young and the Restless" starting.  My sister was addicted to both initially, but by the time I was in my early teens, I was hooked.  I remember Phil and Tara, Greg & Jenny and Jesse & Angie (the first time when they were in high school).  I remember Nina and Palmer Cortland and his big Doberman Pinschers that he let loose on Nina's mother Daisy. 

Best of all, I remember Tad.  Tad the gorgeous cad.  He was a force of nature.  You didn't know whether to love him because he was so adorable or hate him because he was such a jerk.  Mostly he was outrageous - like when he slept with his girlfriend's mother!  And Erica - what can I say?  No tough issues were taboo - abortion, rape, homosexuality, minority couples, interracial dating, miscarriage, HIV/AIDs, adoption and suicide.

For those who don't watch soap operas (or specifically AMC), Friday was just another day.  For those of you who have been watching soap operas over the years (especially AMC), last Friday was a day of mourning.  All My Children is no more.  All those wonderful characters we loved to watch for over 40 years - gone.  It feels like I've lost a whole town of dear friends. 

Daytime soap operas are a breed on the verge of extinction - "Search for Tomorrow," "Ryan's Hope," "As the World Turns," "Santa Barbara," "Guiding Light" and now "All My Children."  By the beginning of next year, my Grandma's favorite "story," "One Life to Live" will be history too.  I know many people ridicule soap operas as bad story lines or bad actors, but those same people are more than happy to watch "Desperate Housewives" or "Glee".  Daytime soap operas are so much better - a new show everyday, no reruns and no 13 episode seasons.

For me, those shows represent memories.  My grandmother and I had nothing in common, but when she came to visit, I could always watch One Life to Live with her.  My sister and I laid out in the sun over the summer with a tiny black and white TV watching Luke and Laura get married on General Hospital.  When I was in college, you could go into any dorm lounge or the student union and watch All My Children with a group of complete strangers who laughed, cried and heckled the show with you.  I made some great friends in law school over chicken salad sandwiches and All My Children in the small lounge next to the cafe.  Even my husband watched AMC for a while in the Kent Bogart days.

If AMC reappears online, I will be there.  Heck, I may even be able to watch it at work.  If not, it was great to live in Pine Valley, even if it was only for an hour a day.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

I LOVE Craftsy!

I recently saw the funniest (yet very accurate) saying on Pinterest:

I definitely agree with this, but perhaps a place that makes me feel even more creative (and gives me directions on how to do it) is Craftsy.  It's like an online craft class where all the best crafters are playing Show and Tell.  Craftsy has experts who will teach you how to do pretty much any craft through a video class.  There is a fee involved, but the videos are on demand and very detailed.  You can watch them repeatedly too.  I haven't taken any classes, but there are several that look very interesting.

For me the more interesting part of Craftsy is under the Projects tab.  There you will find crafts (sewing, knitting, crochet, jewelry, gardening, embroidery, quilting, paper crafts, cake decorating and home decor) submitted by other users, frequently with free patterns or tutorials.  There are over 9,500 projects to see!  I get lost and could spend hours looking at all the beautiful creative things other people are making all over the country.  Although I love to see handmade things on selling sites such as Etsy, I prefer looking at Craftsy projects because in many cases the artist is telling me how to make it myself.  You also have the opportunity to post your own projects.  I have posted less than 10 projects, but have been able to drive great traffic back to this blog with tutorial links.  It's also nice to get encouragement and compliments from other crafters.

Craftsy also features its own blog which has tips for using Craftsy, descriptions of new class offerings, instructions on particular techniques and projects for charity.  One great charitable project they are doing right now is to collect and donate 1000 blankets to Project Linus and 1000 hats to Kaps for Kendall by December 15, 2011.  To see more about this project, check it out here.  They're getting a nice response so far and it's a great outlet for people like me who love to make things and just don't have any siblings, parents, children, aunts & uncles, cousins, close friends to give them to :)  (Plus these are awesome charities)

Just for the record, like my post about Pinterest, I was not asked, nor will I receive any renumeration/credit/acknowledgement from Craftsy for the contents of this blog post.  I just genuinely like the site.  If you would like to see my projects or follow me on Craftsy, my crafter name is ccisme.

Happy crafting!


Saturday, September 24, 2011

DIY - Rag Quilt

I've wanted to learn to quilt for a while, so when I found rag quilts I knew this was something I could teach myself.  Rag quilts are so soft and cuddly, especially when they are made from flannel.  The beauty of rag quilts is that the seam allowances are on the outside and you don't have to worry so much about the squares matching up perfectly.  The quilting part is easy too.
First, pick out your fabrics.  I'm going to give instructions based on flannel.  Flannel is not fleece.  Snuggle flannels are thin, fleece is that thick blanket stuff.  On traditional quilts, you usually have multi-design fabrics on one side and a single design/single fabric used on the other side.  You can do the single fabric design on one site, but on a rag quilt each square is quilted through as opposed to making a “quilt top” of multiple fabrics pieced together and quilting it to a single piece of fabric on the back.  In addition to your flannel fabrics, you need batting for the middle.  This is easy for a flannel rag quilt too, as you can use a thin muslin (or even another piece of flannel) instead of that white fluffy stuff.
I've seen debates online about whether to wash the flannel before you quilt.  I was taught to always wash fabrics before sewing and I have noticed that some flannels come with lots of sizing (think starch).  I wash mine first, but I'm sure it's not fatal whether you wash or not.

Cut your fabrics into squares.  I cut mine approximately 5” square.  That allows for 1” seam allowances on each side.  You can cut your muslin batting about 4" square, especially if you don't want the muslin fabric to show in your "rags".  Create a "sandwich" with three fabrics - the back, the batting and the top.

I think it's easier if you just assemble all of the "sandwiches" for your quilt all at once.  Now you're ready to quilt.  You are going to sew an X across each sandwich.  I recently saw a quilt where the quilter used one of the decorative stitches on her sewing machine.  She used the "leaf" stitch which is probably on even the most basic sewing machine.  Make sure you are using a heavier needle for this project, because as you start sewing the squares together, it can be tough on your machine if you aren't using a heavy needle by then.

Here's a great trick I picked up online.  As you are sewing one side of the X, take the opportunity to sew more than one square.  As you sew from corner to corner, have the next sandwich ready to pick up a corner as you finish the diagonal on the other.  This will make a "flag" or "banner" effect where your squares are linked together.  That way, you don't have to stop and cut the thread every time you sew a single square.

If you're using this "flag" technique to sew, you will do one half of the X on all the squares.  Cut the threads between the squares and repeat the process to stitch the other diagonal making the X.

Once all of your squares with Xs are made, you are ready to sew them together.  This is the fun part.  In rag quilting, the seam allowance is toward the "right" side of the fabric.  If you are using a single design of fabric on one side of your quilt, the seam allowance would go to the side with the multiple fabric designs.  Use a 5/8" or 1" seam allowance between the squares (the deeper the seam, the more "ragging" effect you will have).

See now why you need a heavy needle sewing these together?  You are sewing through six layers of flannel.  Watch for lint buildup in your sewing machine, as flannel does shed lots of lint.  Once you sew the squares together, sew a 1" seam all the way around the quilt.  Now it's time to "rag".  This is where I highly recommend you invest in a snipper.  It's not like scissors because it is spring loaded and very sharp on the point and blade.  You will thank me because ragging goes a lot quicker and your hands won't permanently cramp (although they will hurt).

Ragging is the kind of thing you want to do on the couch in front of the TV.  You just cut little slits into the seam allowance, being careful not to cut the seam itself.  The thinner you cut, the fuzzier it will be after washing.  Make sure to rag around the outside edges of the quilt too.  To get the rag effect, wash and wash.  The more it gets washed, the softer and fluffier it gets.  (Watch out for that lint in your washing machine).

There you have it!  You can make these quilts in "lovey" size, baby or even full size quilts.  They are easy and fun too!  I made a bunch for Christmas presents last year, so now's a great time to get started.  You can also join Craftsy in a project to collect 1000 blankets and hats for winter by making a few quilts for them.  Have a great time!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Quality of Life

The other day I heard a radio interview with Roger Ebert.  I remember Roger Ebert as the other half of the famous movie critics Siskel & Ebert.  Gene Siskel died about 7 years ago, but Roger was still working as a film critic with the Chicago Sun Times and on TV after Gene's death.  In 2006, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which subsequently became cancer of the salivary glands and then cancer of the jaw.  He had many treatments and surgeries to rebuild his face which was ravaged by cancer.  Today, the entire bottom of his face is gone and he can't speak because of a tracheotomy.  He uses a computer to speak for him. 

As I listened to the radio interview, I thought it was so sad that his life was basically over because so much had been taken from him.  I caught myself and realized - hey, the guy isn't dead yet.  Actually, he attended the Toronto Film Festival and still writes a regular movie column and well known blog.

While I was looking for pictures of iron lungs for my post about vaccines, I found this story about a 61 year old woman who has lived her entire life in an iron lung.

She lives alone in her house but has plenty of friends and family who visit.  She's very cheerful and satisfied even though she has spent most of her life in a tank.  Again, I found myself thinking her life was so tragic and wasted.

I've had some time to think about my reactions to both of these stories.  How dare I judge the quality of anyone's life?  I just assume that someone who suffers or is disabled can't be happy living through that.  My faith immediately tells me that is wrong, but I'm still struggling with it.

Tonight I read a reflection on Jesus' words to his disciples:  "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you."  How much better can life get than to have your Savior and friend look you in the eye and tell you He loves you as much as God loves Him?  Yet each of these disciples Jesus spoke to would go on to suffer fear, deprivation, doubt and horrendous painful deaths.  God's love doesn't guarantee a "happy" life, at least not by the standards I've been using.

Upon further reflection, I think I'm beginning to understand that suffering can be a gift.  It provides a person the opportunity to witness to God's goodness and mercy in the midst of pain.  Jesus tells us not to be afraid, but to rejoice in the times of trial.  It's not so easy to live life for God's glory when you're living it for your own comfort and enjoyment.  A person who is suffering can give a powerful testimony to God's love and mercy, and show the rest of us that the value of life isn't measured by what we consider health and wealth.  Just look to one of the best examples of this testimony:

A "quality life" is not a life of good health, wealth and worldly happiness.  It comes from the knowledge that life, no matter what the circumstances, is a precious gift from God that is meant to be lived for His glory.


Monday, September 19, 2011

DIY - Scrap Fall Wreath

I saw this on Pinterest and wanted to try one myself.  This project is a real scrap bag buster!  I wanted a fall theme so I looked for darker colors and prints.  If you want a specific color palette, pick about 8 colors. It's a very easy project, but beware, your fingers will get cramped!

First, buy a wire wreath form.  Mine had four wire rows and was 18-20" in diameter.  The rest is pretty easy.  Cut strips of fabric (about 8" long x 2" wide).  You can use pinking shears to look extra fancy.  You can also use sharp clippers (like you might use for ragging quilts) to make the wreath look "fluffier".

Start tying the strips around the four rows of wire.  Use simple knots, but make sure you do them twice (DOUBLE).  You need to use A LOT of strips.  Here's what it looks like when you are about 50% through.  It looks done, but you really need to fill in the strips until it is very tight. 

The strips will start to stick straight out as you get the fabric strips closer and closer together.  This provides the fullness for the wreath.

Here's the finished product:

Happy Fall!


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vaccines: We're in this Together

When he was five, my oldest brother spent a month in an iron lung in a hospital 45 minutes from my parents' home.  Have you ever seen an iron lung?

An iron lung is a negative pressure chamber that literally pushed air in and out of my brother's body.  Why?  Because the alternative was paralysis and maybe death from polio.  In the 1950s polio was the disease that made every mother terrified because it could strike without warning and spread like wildfire with no explanation or cure.  When the Salk vaccine was initially developed, my mom couldn't wait to get my then three year sister vaccinated.

When I was little, most kids suffered with measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox.  In fact, there was a significant outbreak of rubella around the time I was born that resulted in an estimated 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome, with an additional 2,100 neonatal deaths and 11,250 miscarriages. Of the 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome, 11,600 were deaf, 3,580 were blind and 1,800 were mentally retarded.  Can you imagine how scared my mom was, especially when my brother contracted rubella when I was 6 weeks old?

People like me who had mumps, rubella and chicken pox as kids without complications were the lucky ones.  Adult men who get mumps frequently get testicular infections and adult women who contract chicken pox during pregnancy (because they weren't immunized or didn't have the disease) can have a child with birth defects.

So what's my point?  Vaccines have resulted in significant improvements in the quality of life throughout the world.  The risk of many significant and widespread diseases has all but disappeared.  In fact, we no longer vaccinate for smallpox because the disease has been eradicated.  Unfortunately there are many diseases that are virtually gone in the U.S. but still exist in the world:  polio, pertussis (whooping cough), diphtheria, chicken pox, mumps, measles, rubella and so many others.  These diseases are just an international flight away.

There is a movement to "exempt" children from routine childhood vaccines.  Here's the thing - if you choose not to vaccinate your child, I have no problem with you taking that risk with your child.  The problem is that there are others - people in my generation who don't have immunity because vaccines weren't available, infants who haven't been vaccinated, people with suppressed immune systems and more.  There have been specific examples of diseases returning when vaccinations were suspended - mumps on an Iowa college campus, pertussis in Sweden and the United Kingdom and various measles outbreaks.  Funny thing - of all of the arguments I've heard or read about the "risks" of vaccinations, I haven't seen one that disputes the fact that vaccines save hundreds of thousands of lives.  It's one thing to expose your children to diseases that may not be common today, but another to subject others to those diseases. Why do we want to bring back the fear our mothers and grandmothers experienced with their children?

Please - when you think about whether to vaccinate or not to vaccinate your child, please think about all of our children.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Girl Scout Camp

Last weekend my daughter and I joined some other Brownies in a Fall Encampment at Willow Springs in Prescott, Arizona.  It's a beautiful camp with mountains, pines and gorgeous weather.  We had about 12 moms and daughters in our troop, and even though it was only 24 hours, we had the best time.

This was only our troop's second camping experience, the first being at the Phoenix Zoo where we slept on a concrete slab and listened to lions roaring all night :(  This time we had dorms with real bunk beds (a real hit with the girls) and mattresses (a real hit with the moms).  The theme was "Mind and Body" and the activities included making your own lip gloss, soap, lotion and glitter lotion.

The girls also enjoyed yoga!  Ladies, this ain't your old Girl Scouts!

All the girls had hats with "swaps" on them.  I'm going to write another blog on swaps, but the idea is like pin trading with different little items made by the girls.  This was definitely a new concept to me, and   the girls' first experience.  One of our girls proved to be a shrewd businesswoman!

Mostly it was a wonderful bonding experience for moms and daughters.

On Saturday night the moms had a glimpse into the future when the rumor around the dorm was that "somebody" was having a party. All the girls wanted to rush out to find the "party" without knowing where or who was having a party.  (Doesn't that remind you of some 15 year olds?)  One little girl and her mom were bunking next to me and I overheard this exchange:

Mom: Why are you wanting to go to a party when you don't even know if there is a party?  Would you jump off a bridge just because someone told you to?

Girl: But Mama, it's not a bridge, it's a party!

I thought I was going to fall off the bunk laughing!  When it was over we couldn't believe we were there just 24 hours.  We packed so much into one day and we were beat!

Too bad they won't be this age forever {sigh}


Monday, September 5, 2011

DIY - Yarn Mache

I've seen several blogs with demonstrations of yarn bowls.  I call it yarn mache because it is the same technique and same paste you use with paper mache.  My craft diva is in full swing this holiday weekend and has been wanting to make paper mache.  We don't have any newspaper, so I thought it would be easy to try this.

First, you need the paste.  I've always used glue watered down, but after trying this recipe for paste, I like it much better.  I must give credit to carolynshomework for this recipe:

Combine 1/2 c. flour with 2 cups water
Boil 2 c. of water and add flour/water mixture to pan
Bring total mixture to boil (watch so it doesn't boil over)
Let mixture cool and then add 3 tablespoons sugar
Paste will thicken as it cools completely

You can use balloons to make paper mache or yarn mache, but I like to use a bowl to make a bowl.  Cover the bottom of the bowl in clear plastic wrap, so you protect your bowl.
 Pick your yarn.  I like a regular worsted weight, although a cotton would probably work very well.  I used a "homestyle" yarn, which wasn't the best choice because it started to unravel.

Cut the yarn in the lengths you want and dip each piece in to coat completely.  I wouldn't recommend immersing the yarn in the paste too much as it makes it harder to remove the paste.  As you take out each piece, strip the wet paste off and wrap the yarn around the bowl in any pattern you choose.

Use as much (or as little) yarn as you would like.  We tended to use a little more to make the bowl more substantial.

Once you have finished, allow the bowl to dry COMPLETELY, at least overnight.  If you live in a high humidity area, it may take longer.  Slowly remove the plastic wrap from the bowl and then carefully peel the plastic wrap off the yarn bowl.

We also tried a slightly bigger one in multiple colors:

This is a great activity for kids.  It's so easy and I think it's cleaner than paper mache.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Twitter Twerp

O.K., I've been testing Twitter (@straddlinggap) for some time now, and I must be tweet challenged, because it's a trial.  I'm following some Tweeters and some Tweeters are following me, but where are we traveling??  I need a Twitter tutor to think of what anyone is trying to utter.  I see some posts that begin with "RT" and I've been twisting my brain to think of what that means.  I've also realized that Twitter Tweeters don't talk to each other.  They tease their blog, and tantalize with giveaways, twitter event, etc.  It's tiring to watch the solitary who tweet on Twitter to TELL something.

I'm troubled by the use of @ and #.  These twins of tweets test my patience.  Tell me, what do they entail?  I would be traumatized to trip up and try the wrong type.  It's tiring to try to tweet when your trilling isn't thrilling.

There have been some timely things about Twitter.  We're traveling to a gratis movie tomorrow at the AMC Esplanade theater (and the public hasn't been treated yet!).  I'm testing samples, and tragically, I "liked" so many Tweeters on Facebook, they are taking up my time (and space!). 

This twit will keep training on Twitter in anticipation of teriffic tweets.  If any of my peeps have some positive problem-solving possibilities for me, it would please me to peruse them.