Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Don't go to the danger zone empty-handed

Dieters stay out of cupcake shops. Recovering alcoholics wouldn't set foot in a tavern. Joan Rivers can't go into her attic, lest the sight of her aging portrait frighten her to death.

There's always a place we should avoid because that's where we get into trouble.

You know where I'm going with this, right?

On Friday, I have the great pleasure of fabric shopping with a friend for whom I will be making a queen-size version of the Kona and batik quilt.

So not only will I be exposed to bolts and bolts of fabric, I will get to purchase a quarter-yard of this and a half-yard of that. With someone else's money. It can't possibly get better than that. 

I am trying to steel myself against the excitement, which could otherwise result in a spending frenzy all my own. Like Rocky in training, I've cut out caffeine, loaded up on cough syrup to steady my nerves and am thinking of asking the butcher at Kroger to let me punch a side of beef in the meat locker just to release some of this excess energy (presumably, icy numb knuckles can prevent one from extracting her credit card from her wallet). I plan to head to Quiltworks with my resolve intact.

I don't want to come in empty-handed, however. As I've mentioned before, Quiltworks is the sewing and drop-off location for a number of organizations that accept quilts and spare fabric, including Project Linus. So I sewed two simple baby blankets to bring with me. Each is a manageable 24 X 24, flannel on one side and cotton on the other. I hope they'll comfort the baby and family who get them. If you sew, I encourage you to participate in Project Linus. For just a little bit of fabric and not much time, you get a big reward.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Very Pinteresting

I resisted getting a Facebook account because I figured it was only for college and high school students, not for sophisticated women of substance like me.  But then a friend told me she had it and thought I would have fun on it. I said if she took a photo of me that I could use for my profile, I'd join in. She did, I did and you can see by my timeline (which I hate) that I have been quite an active participant over the last two years.

When my account went live, or whatever it's called, I immediately was "friended" (not befriended because, of course, befriend is an actual transitive verb, not a noun made into a verb, so we must ignore it) by a man I know from church who said, accurately and presciently, "Welcome to the greatest time suck in the history of humankind." (Thanks to the heinous timeline, you should be able to find this reference quite easily.)

Well, it's possible that Pinterest has got Facebook beat.

For the unitiated, Pinterest is an online service that allows the user to create virtual bulletin boards on which he or she can pin things of  interest. Copyright laws not withstanding, this is a way to mine the Internet and share with others recipes you like, decor you desire to emulate, clothing you wish you owned, etc. Other users can follow you and comment on or repin your pins.

I have several bulletin boards -- they're simply called boards, actually -- and the one filling up the fastest is called Creative Inspiration. Mostly, it comprises photos of quilts I'd like to make or wish I had. And it really has inspired me: the Kona and batik quilt is the result of seeing a similar one pinned by someone I follow (cuz I'm a creepster like that. OK, I realize to follow isn't just used in the physical sense, but can't they come up with something a little more benign?). Because I've been quilting for a couple of decades, I often don't need a pattern. In this case, I just studied the photo and made my own design.

I've also pinned the quilts I have listed on my etsy shop on one of my boards. The quilts are often repinned, but it appears the repinners are, like me,  looking for inspiration rather than interested in buying.

I see that several Pinteresters (that can't be right) write blogs about the DIY projects they've done from pins they've seen. It's a vicious-yet-cute-and-fluffy cycle.

I'm about to start a few more Pinterest-inspired quilts. If you follow me on Pinterest, look for one I refer to as reminding me of Juicy Fruit gum -- Blogger won't let me copy the link, which is probably for the better because I don't want to go to copyright jail, having been sentenced to copywriter prison years ago.

And if you're interested in seeing my etsy shop, it's right here:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Just do it

I am not a waffler. (If I lived in Brussels, I would not be a Belgian waffler.) As I've said before, I tend to make decisions fairly easily and quickly because I rely on my instincts and my gut, which is why I have to keep my weight up. Certainly there are times when I'm more deliberate, but my feeling is that unless the decision will affect my or my family's health, wealth or well-being in some way, or cause harm to society or something of that caliber, life is too short to sweat stuff.

And then a day like last Thursday comes around, where I can't decide if I should quilt a quilt myself or send it to a pro.

So I asked my husband. I could see the thought bubble fill in over his head: "I really don't care. You decide." But he provided a more magnanimous response: "You can spend the money if you want. You decide." (Then he returned to thinking about electronically traded funds or President Grant or whatever was on his mind that moment. When people talk about the Cloud now, I say that's where husband has been all along.)

So I did decide, and I quilted it myself.

I still need to iron it, but I took it outside after laundering to make sure I could see all the loose threads and such I needed to pick off, and here's what it looked like.

Not bad, right? I actually like the wrinkled, homespun appearance, but I'm afraid that suggests overall quilting, which is misleading. So before I put it on my etsy (again, I'll accept advance orders), I'll flatten it out.

I also sewed the binding onto the table runner that I had quilted with machine embroidered suns.
I'm going to keep this one, because I'm hosting a sunny beach-themed wedding shower and I think it will look great as a focal point.

I also binded (not bound) the Kona and batik quilt, and put the borders on the whimsical animal quilt. All this while watching 5.6 million hours of college hoops during which time I was, thankfully, not blinded by the Baylor team's uniforms.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


It was a long shot, but I did it anyway.

Last fall, I sent a couple of pitch letters to magazines hoping to get someone to publish the story of my son's battle against Langerhans cell histiocytosis.

Today, I received a very pleasant rejection letter from the editor of Texas Monthly, who said that despite the fact he can't publish me, I had written a very compelling proposal and he hoped I would continue to shop the story. He felt it would land somewhere.

Maybe that's a form response, or maybe I had piqued his interest somehow. Or maybe he just felt guilty that I have a son who was so sick for so long. But if you have to be rejected, you want it to be like that. Ol' Jake Silverstein did a nice job not only softening the blow but actually encouraging me.

All in all, though, acceptance is better.

I've spent part of the day planning and working on the quilting of the first Kona quilt (the one with the increasingly larger squares) and auditioning fabrics for the border of the quilt I posted the other day with the fussy-cut animal squares. My idea is to put them in my etsy shop. If they don't sell there, I'll donate them.

Not selling is, of course, a form of rejection. As I was pinning the Kona layers in preparation for machine quilting, I wondered if I should instead have the piece professionally longarm quilted in the hopes that would increase the likelihood of a sale. The problem with that is that I would have to charge more for it  -- it would add at least $50 and that's not counting the travel time from my studio to the quilter's, or the time I spend consulting with her. On the other hand, my machine quilting, even though it's just stitching-in-the-ditch, has some value, too. Pricing is tricky to begin with. Charge too little and people think the quality isn't there, yet it's easy to outprice the market. I have a couple of friends who have mentioned more than once that they don't think I ask enough for my work. Well, maybe that's true ... but asking and getting are two different things. Whether I charge $100 or $1000, if no one's buying, my profit is the same. Zip.

So I'm looking at the Kona quilt and I start thinking, What if all the great quilting in the world doesn't make a difference because no one will like the color or the design? Or what if in this economy a geometric Kona wallhanging is an indulgence no one will pay for? Then I turn my attention to the animal quilt. I think it's adorable, but what if I "ruin" it by putting on a border no one likes? I can just hear the esty visitor thinking, It would have been so cute if she hadn't used that fabric. I'm as paralyzed by the fear of rejection as my dog-phobic client standing frozen at the top of the stairs.

Readers: what do you think?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Test pattern

A recent incident got me thinking about fear.

Last week I was working with a graphic designer whose office is attached to her home. It's a funky little adobe space on the second floor of what must be her garage (it's difficult to tell because of the way the building is situated). The designer has two rather undisciplined dogs who can be heard barking in the background whenever we're on the phone together.

Anyway, we were meeting with three clients, and canines Luna and Einstein were happily playing outside in the courtyard between the house and the office.

When the meeting concluded, the designer went down the stairs to let the dogs in (cue Baha Men chorus. You know you want to.) They ran up the stairs where they greeted one of the clients who, in turn, froze in fear. She was literally paralyzed, her hand on the rail and her feet fixed on the top step. I tried to corral the dogs but I could only distract them momentarily. The designer whistled and the dogs raced down the stairs. But the client remained stone still in place, whimpering, "I think I'll just stay up here with Barb."

I offered to descend the staircase first, thus guarding her from the dogs if they decided to run up again. She finally mustered all her courage and told me to just watch her from the top.

I have never witnessed anyone with a phobia before, but -- like pornography -- I knew it when I saw it.

I was telling this story to my daughter, who's working on an advanced degree in clinical psychology, and she mentioned that she had spent some time in the phobia lab at school last week. Apparently this would be a keen place to raid before Halloween, supplied as it is with fake vomit, fake rats, fake cockroaches and so on. She said that one of her colleagues threw a fake roach at her and even though she expected any vermin tossed at her would not be real, she screamed anyway. Fear is fear.

I have what could be considered some strange fears. I have absolutely no qualms about speaking in front of a crowd, but I get so worked up before I have to make a phone call that a boss once sent me to a workshop on call reluctance. There I was given a thick rubberband to wear on my wrist; when I started to feel nervous about getting on the phone, I was supposed to snap the rubberband to remind me that there was nothing to be afraid of. In fact, the nearly constant snapping only served to bruise my wrist. (If I had only thought of embossing something like LIVESTRONG on it, I would be writing this from my home in St. Lucia or Monte Carlo instead of suburban Houston.)

I'm also not a fan of loud noises, particularly fireworks, champagne corks popping (and you know, with my lifestyle, that happens all the time) and -- the worst -- balloons breaking. Actually, I have a very specific balloon fear. When I was perhaps three, I saw a balloon with a ghoulish, evil-grinned face on it, attached by the knot to a pair of oversized cardstock shoes. As if the balloon wasn't freaky enough, somehow the image became conflated in my mind with Edvard Grieg's orchestral piece,"In the Hall of the Mountain King," which was written for Henrik Ibsen's play, Peer Gynt. Apparently the scene in which the music is featured is populated by trolls, gnomes and goblins (ok, only flying monkeys could make it creepier), but I have never seen Peer Gynt, and can't imagine how the balloon and music conjoined. To this day, however, even a few bars of it frighten me. If my son wants to really get to me, he starts playing it on the piano. My reaction is not pretty.

I remember also being afraid of the test pattern that the local television stations would broadcast before they signed off each night. (If anyone under, say, 35 would like me to decipher that sentence, I can.) I think our test pattern showed the profile of a smiling Native American. That seems awfully incorrect politically and is probably not correct in any way, but that's what's stuck in my mind.

One thing I'm not afraid of is color. My quilts abound with it. But maybe instead of being a reflection of bravery, it actually means I'm phobic about NOT using color. I talk a lot about contrast and "sparkle," but perhaps I'm covering up a (perceived or real) lack of technical skill with a lot of color bravado? Last fall, I made two quilts for my etsy shop that sold quite quickly. Each was intended to represent the stillness and solitude of a winter dawn. As a result, the palette is quite narrow.

As soon as I complete the few items I'm working on, I'm challenging myself to make another quilt that is limited in color. I want to see if I can do monotone without monotony.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

More show, less tell redux

Because I have a Board meeting this evening, I don't have the usual amount of time to regale you with witty repartee and/or inanities.

I do, however, have a few items to show off.

First is the Kona and batik wallhanging, back already from the quilter. (I love my quilter but it was only today that I thought about the significance of her name, which is Cheri Blocker. She's a quilter and her name is Blocker! Ok. That amused me.) Cheri owned Time Treasured Quilts, which was the most amazing quilt shop. When she closed her doors, I was about as sad as any fabric addict could be. Fortunately, she had staged an incredible going out of business sale and I was able to acquire some marvelous prints (and the regrettable cow and bull flannel) at a significant discount. The last time I was in the store, the woman checking out in front of me was buying $400 worth of fabric... all at $3/yard. It took a team to get her purchases to her car. We other shoppers gave her a bit of a hard time about where she'd store her bounty, but I think she did more to assuage our guilt than a therapist could ever manage.

Cheri suggested I go with a whimsical loop-and-daisy pattern for this quilt. I think she has an unerring eye.

The back of the quilt looks great, too, I think. She used a variegated thread that draws just the right amount of attention to the quilting.

I've also finished piecing the animal quilt I started last week using one of my "uglies." I love the featured fabric and plan to use it as the backing. Still need to come up with the right print for the borders.
I'll try to do some close-ups of the squares for tomorrow.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Every dog has his day

I don't really care for Christina Aguilera, and I am sick to death of her breasts, which she insists upon nearly shoving in my face on The Voice (I swear, they alone are the reason I tremble in fear at the idea of 3D television). My husband, remember, is very nearly a Victorian throwback who rarely says anything untoward toward anyone, and even he made a choice remark about her (and them) the other day.

Now, here's where things get a little complicated, though. I really like the Grammy-winning song You Are Beautiful, which was an Aguilera hit and has become a GLBT anthem, although its message of empowerment is appropriate for anyone who's ever fought insecurity and low self-esteem.

That song came to mind as I was looking in my stash for companion fabrics to go with this fanciful Alexander Henry print of animals in trees. I had decided to fussy-cut the main animal motifs to use as center squares, then surround them with other bright prints.

And what should rear its ugly head? One of my least favorite fabrics, that I well and fully dissed here less than a month ago. I thought it might have the right jungle/forest vibe, and it certainly picked up the eyes of the ring-tailed lemur (or whatever it is) that I put it with.

And you know what? Cut into 2.5 inch strips, it's not that bad at all, no matter what I say. In fact, I used it in a second block, one that features a lion.

Here's another block from the series. I actually have nine of them sewn together -- they're offset with white sashing -- but my camera's battery pack is dead again (!) so I couldn't take another photo.
I think this will be a really cute kid's quilt. I plan to put it on etsy some time next week.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Full disclosure

One of my friends works in student services for a major university. Her stories of hapless college kids and their hovering parents are a source of great amusement, and I suspect that the only way she can get through some days is with either (1) prayer or (2) a bottom drawer that houses a flask.

On the topic of bottom drawers, today she reported that a female faculty member asked her if she thought another female faculty member wore panties under her knit dresses. Apparently the first professor didn't notice any panty lines and figured that my friend had spent an equal amount of time looking (bad enough) and caring (even worse), or perhaps even had some inside information, if you'll pardon the pun.

When I first moved to Houston from Minnesota, I couldn't believe how many times I was asked what seemed to me an inappropriate question or how often I was privvy to a conversation I imagined would never occur in the North. In the Midwest, where folks are more reserved (ok, aloof), 'How are you' is considered on the cusp of being overly personal. My experience there was that women didn't discuss their baby's bowel movements at the school bus stop, as they did in my neighborhood here. And it never occured to me that the first question I'd hear from a co-worker when I returned from maternity leave would be, 'Did you have an episiotomy?'

Granted, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I'll tell you more than you probably want to know about almost any topic that springs into my head. (And I know I ask a lot of questions, but that's my training as a print journalist. When my daughter was younger, she complained that I interview everyone. I can't help it and I am truly interested.) On the other hand, I will respect your privacy and honor your secrets.

But there's something I haven't been completely forthcoming about. Sure, you've seen a bin of Kona cottons and maybe a stack of plaids. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, here are some shots from my fabric closet.

The top photo is my plaids, stripes and batiks. The second is assorted juvenile prints; the pink bucket barely visible underneath them is filled with flannels cut into 5" squares. The third shot is inside my closet. The three baskets contain prints, organized by color. There's one shelf of flannels, one shelf of larger, assorted prints, one shelf of miscellaneous fabrics. The bottom bin is stuffed with yardage -- at least one yard of each of wonderful, glorious prints.

My goal was to sew through all of this by the end of 2012. Unlike the knit dress-wearing prof, I don't think we'll be reaching this bottom any time soon.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

No tools

Rick Santorum would like my fabric closet. The material in it seems to reproduce at will.

I start with a bin full of Kona cottons. I cut strips to make a small quilt. Now I have a bin nearly full of Kona cottons, plus a big pile of leftover strips. I know that the total isn't more than what I had when I started, but still it seems that way. (This reminds me of the time I asked my father-in-law, who knows just about everything -- and I mean that sincerely -- whether the earth weighs more than it did a million years ago because we've built so much stuff on it.)

Anway, these are good scraps. Certainly too precious to throw away. Yet the idea of restashing them seems foolish and counter to my plan to sew through it all. So I start another small quilt, one that will use up the strips. Except that it needs more than the strips I've got. So I have to cut more strips. And I will probably have some left over .... Clearly, I'm Sisyphus with a scissors.

Except that I don't use a scissors much anymore. When I first started quilting, the tools of preference were cardboard to make a template, a pencil to trace the template shape onto the fabric, and a scissors to cut out the fabric shape.

Shortly thereafter, though, someone transported the idea of the rotary cutter from industry to the sewing room. Along with the rotary cutting mat and the rotary cutting ruler, this device revolutionized my quilting by allowing me to speed through the formerly tedious cutting process, increasing my productivity.

Now, I'm not going back to the old way of doing things. But I wondered what would happen if I took those strips and trimmed them to different sizes without the aid of the rotary ruler to keep them straight. As I mentioned yesterday, I wanted to replicate a striped rug as a quilt and I thought adding a little organic wonkiness might be a nice touch.

I've found that even without the ruler, I can cut pretty (almost disappointingly) straight. But here's what's happening so far.

Of course, I did straighten the top and bottom of the completed blocks (there are two of them there) using the rotary ruler (old habits die hard). I also decided not to pay too much attention to the order in which I'm sewing on the strips. By being a little less deliberate, I hope to add some variety to my "high fiber" diet.

Speaking of diets and fewer tools, here's Thor. He ate a hole into the bag of cat food, then helped himself. I call this photo, Well, that's one way of doing it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

More show, less tell

The little wallhanging I was working on last week is finished, no thanks to my cats.

I have a lot of cats -- six at last count, but we have to be careful not to count too often -- and although they are as well-behaved as you might expect them to be (sleeping most of the day, how much trouble can they get into?), last week one, two or possibly all of them jumped onto the dining room table where the quilt pieces were laid out.

Let's just say, I have a better sense of where blocks should go than they do.

Fortunately, I had photographed the layout so I could show it here. As a result, I was able to pick up the pieces and put them back where they belonged without too much difficulty. All cats remain at the life tally they had prior to their miscreancy.

Here's the finished top. I'm going to take it to the quilter for longarm quilting; she has the perfect circular design that will offset the very geometric pattern.
Now I'm trying something completely different for me: I'm cutting strips freehand. I have relied on the rotary cutter and ruler for years, but I want to see if I can replicate a rug I saw in the Crate and Barrel catalog so I'm going rogue.

I'll report on the progress tomorrow.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Perfection not required

A friend who has purchased a new house and is debating paint colors posted on FB the other day what a difficulty the selection process is.

A commiserating woman commented that she had tried 14 different shades before finding the perfect one for her kitchen.

As you can see from my quilts, I love color. I can also be a bit of a perfectionist in that I strive for perfection, although I seldom reach it. (Did you know that's the definition of a perfectionist? One who wants to achieve it, not one who necessarily does achieve it?) But 14 shades seems obsessive to me. Overly controlling. Preternaturally afraid of making a mistake. Crazy, even. (Or perhaps she's worried that paint -- all of it, everywhere -- will be discontinued according to the Mayan calendar, and this was her last shot?)

I had to leave a snarky remark myself, something to the effect that I limit myself to three choices in order to facilitate decision-making, and that I feel there is more than one perfect color for everything.

And yet, I'm looking at the quilt I posted last night -- which did prompt a pre-order and a lighthearted discussion of whether the term "organic" can be used as a definition for willful or accidental imperfection (yes, it can) -- and I can't decide what fabric to use to make the missing block. It's one of the tiny horizontal blocks. It takes two pieces of fabric -- three cuts of solid and two of batik.

I'm stumped. Sure, I have enough fabric to make several blocks to audition, as they say. But isn't it funny how something so small has become (pun ahead) a roadblock?

I intend to have the answer by Monday.

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bright spots

I have an interesting relationship with the postal workers at the Bear Creek station.

Because one of them asked when I applied for a passport if I knew what a bubbler was, I was inspired to write a humorous essay about Wisconsin code that was published in On Wisconsin magazine.

Yesterday, I was in line to mail two quilts I'd sold when the woman about to wait on me said to her co-worker, "Oh, this is one of my favorite customers. She always has a smile on her face. She's one of the bright spots in my day."

Truthfully, I don't recall her ever helping me before, and I'm usually pretty good with that. But I do smile a lot (hence the charming 'expression lines' like tiger stripes from my eyes to my mouth). And I am frequently mistaken for someone else.

For years, people have asked me if I'm a teacher. It seems to go in streaks -- I won't hear anything for a while, then the question will arise three or four times in one week. I was in the grocery store once when a bunch of kids hugged me, crying out Miss Someone's name. I corrected them, but that was kind of nice. Random hugs from children should not be discouraged.

I'm a little perplexed by the notion that I have the face of a teacher, however. (I've thought about responding to "Are you a teacher?" with "No, I'm an international supermodel." I always have had a rich, full fantasy life.)  It's not a bad thing to be accused of, but what exactly does it mean? Recently, someone said it's because I look welcoming and kind, which is a nice thing to say about me and about teachers.

All I know is, I can accept the question better when it's a younger person who's asking. The day some 60-year-old inquires if I was his fifth grade teacher is the day I go for Botox and the Lifestyle Lift. And, possibly, my gun.

Anyway, bright spots are populating the Kona and batik quilt. I think they're adding a little sparkle and excitement. I may keep this one to hang in my dining room. (Although I would happily accept an off-the-books preorder if anyone wants to buy it!) I'm sure I'll move around some of the horizontal pieces that separate the main blocks, I'm not crazy about the green next to the green in the middle, and I have to fill in a blank spot -- but overall, I like it. Any suggestions, color lovers?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Process vs. project

I had an incident with a cotton boll last summer that changed who I am, if just a little bit.

In the midst of helping her set up her new apartment in Baton Rouge, my daughter and I took a two-day trip to Natchez, Mississippi. This is a quintessential small southern town where the "War of Northern Aggression" is still being fought. It is, of course, historic and also quite beautiful. Because it was high summer and there weren't many other tourists visiting, we were rewarded with a few perks. For example, we paid for a bus tour but were actually squired about town in a limo with only two other passengers. During our stay, we visited antebellum homes, walked the charming downtown area and learned that they mean it when they say the restaurants are closed from 2pm until 5pm. (The entire town actually rolls up its rugs by about 7:45; fortunately, a Dairy Queen on the outskirts was still open at 9pm.)

Not far from Natchez, on the other side of the River, is Frogmore Plantation. Composed of 19 slave dependencies, it is one of the most fascinating glimpses into the 'peculiar institution' that one could imagine. The property also houses a cotton gin that surpassed Eli Whitney's original in technology and power, but isn't that much newer. (Do you know why they call it a "gin?" We asked and were suprised at how simple the answer is.)

I cannot recommend Frogmore enough.

One of the things you get to do when you visit is pick cotton. If you have never held a cotton boll, you might be amazed at what a tenacious grip the tiny, tangled ball of fluff maintains on its seeds. It took me at least 10 minutes to pry one out.

Holding that white wisp made me think about cotton fabric the way I never had before. In my mind, it is generated at the store, where I buy it in obscene quantities. (I went into Quiltworks on Saturday to deliver a Project Linus quilt and some large scraps for Quilts of Valor. And although I fondled several great new prints, I left without a purchase. Proud of me?) Not only have I not spent much time considering what happens in a textile mill (I've never even seen Norma Rae), I had really never thought about the raw material. This stunned me: it is the progenitor of my favorite hobby, which has given so much joy to my life, and somehow it had escaped my notice.

My friend -- she of the giant black garbage bags filled with her unwanted fabric that were stuffed into my car and still stock my closet -- was the first to tell me of the concept of Process versus Project people. Process people like the doing, regardless of whether they ever finish. I'm clearly a Project person. I like to get something done, then move onto the next challenge.

But holding that cotton boll made me think that I should slow down and enjoy the journey a little more.

Which I have been doing on the batik and Kona quilt. In fact, I thought I was done with the main blocks, but decided to make more -- I'm not making the overall quilt larger, so I'll pick and choose -- because I was having so much fun combining fabrics and cutting as carefully as I could.

I made a bit of progress over the weekend. What do you think?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Should I stay or should I sew?

Yiddish is a wonderful language. It has a unique ability to take a concept, a phrase, a paragraph of thought, and distill it into a single word. And then, from that single word, a wealth of connotations derives. It's a marvelous, cyclical affair.

(For example, Oy is not a word but a vocabulary with 29 distinct variations -- including sighed, cried, howled or moaned -- that express everything from ecstasy to horor. So it's fair to say that in the right copywriter's hands, ABC Sports' long-lived slogan might have been, The Oy of Victory, the Oy of Defeat.)

Now approaching the 44th anniversary of its printing, Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish remains the masterwork on the subject, blending scholarship with humor. Even if you're not Jewish, it's a great read. And you'd be surprised how many Yiddish expressions have crept into English. You like to shmooze? Yiddish, originally from the Hebrew word meaning rumors or idle talk. Your boyfriend's a shmuck? He's a dope, a jerk, a detestable fellow. (In the old days, shmuck was considered so obscene --  its first definition being penis -- that it was not to be repeated around women or children. The word shmo developed as a more polite alternative.) Something's a mish-mash? Trace the word, meaning mix-up or mess, to the Danes and the Germans, fine, but it came to English through Yiddish speakers.

I grew up around Yiddish. My grandmother's favorite Yiddish expression, which I can no long recall in the original, translated roughly to "A carrot should grow in his stomach upside down." It's not bad enough a carrot is GROWING in someone's stomach, it has to be upside-down, too? I do still remember the Yiddish for another of Grandma's key phrases. I won't try to write it here, but it means "My enemies should live so long." My parents used to speak Yiddish to each other and their siblings so I wouldn't know what they were saying. Although my husband was raised Congregationalist, he knows more than a few good words. And you'll remember that Brent and his Spanish-speaking friends made a mother tongue mish-mash during 5th grade lunch hours.

One useful word is shpilkes, which was used to full effect and made even more popular by Mike Myers in the Saturday Night Live sketches in which he played the character Linda Richman, hostess of Coffee Talk. Shpilkes literally means nervous energy.

It seems like every time I sit at the sewing machine lately, I've got shpilkes. I sew a seam or two, cut a few strips, then get up and do something else, occasionally something useful. (I find this totally ironic: when I'm away from home and not sewing, I can't wait to get back to the machine. Yet I can't stay put when I'm there.)

Sure, sewing what seem like endless straight seams can be a little mind-numbing (not to mention what it does to my carpal tunnel). But combining fabrics and playing with colors truly makes me happy.

Sadly, the result of my inability to focus is that I don't get enough done in a day. I've been inspired by a quilt on Pinterest, but in two days of working on it (admittedly not for a lot of time either day), I've completed exactly 10 blocks.

I had intended to complete about 30 and show them here. Will you be back next week to look at them?

In the meantime, I'll be on pins and needles -- another definition of shpilkes.