I am the camel

Published January 17, 2018 by livinggraciously

At the very end of 2017, I wrote about my lovely new sewing space and how much more work I’m getting done in there. One of the pictures I did not include was the view into the rest of the family room:


As you can see, there is lots of lovely space in our library.

I want more of it.

Like the camel with its nose in the tent, I look at this and see opportunity. Currently, it’s a bit of a squeeze right behind my sewing machine. And I don’t really have a place for a design wall. So I’d like to move two of the bookcases further down the room and gain that extra three feet of floor space. That doesn’t seem that unreasonable.

But secretly, I covet a long arm frame to really go to town on free motion quilting. That’s another twelve feet (yes, 12 FEET) of floor space. It’s also somewhere north of $5000 to actually get a setup worth having, so I don’t anticipate that happening any time soon. Nevertheless, I daydream about it. In case, you know, I look into the pocket of an old coat and find a young fortune I forgot that I’d stashed there.


All this means that Ferrett sees me eyeing the bookcases and starts getting worried. He loves our library. It’s filled with things that give him comfort. He looks at it and sees happy memory.

I look at it and see real estate.

I am sure that happy compromise can be reached. I will, perhaps, move the bookcases around. I have ideas involving that cedar chest. But they all take time and energy to enact, and right now my time and energy is focused on actually sewing.

I’m still going to make him nervous, though, checking them out….


Get up, get up and get down

Published January 10, 2018 by livinggraciously

I work from home, and the marvelous company for which I work gave me a VariDesk standing desk. I can adjust it to either a standing position or a sitting position, and I do so multiple times per day. Sitting now being the thing that’s going to kill us, I try to make sure I don’t just sit like a lump all day. It’s also better for my back–but I can’t do it nonstop because that is terrible for my back. So it’s good I can go back and forth.

I’ve noticed a weird thing, though: I can read, and I can do basic editing, and I can write simple emails while I’m standing. But as soon as I have to do any serious thinking/writing? I have to sit down. I don’t even think about it; it’s automatic. “Oh, this is a serious thing that needs my attention. Better sit down and take care of it.”

Part of it may be that the standing desk is just a wee bit short for me (which makes me wonder about really tall people; are they just used to working at a bad angle?). But I think a lot of it is just habit: as a student, and up until I got this desk, I had to sit down to handle problems.

My brain apparently thinks with my butt.

This is slowly improving, and I managed to stay on my feet through some minor “thinky” work yesterday. But I have a long way to go before I can truly “think on my feet.”

Eating like a Flintstone

Published January 9, 2018 by livinggraciously

We began this year with a new food plan: paleo. ish.

This is precipitated by the discovery that I am either gluten intolerant, allergic to wheat, or both. Said discovery was made when I gave up gluten for a week just to prove to my personal trainer that she was wrong when she said that it was causing my joint pain.

My joints stopped hurting. Then I ate gluten for a few days. My joints started hurting again.


“Fine,” I thought. “Just on special occasions,” I thought.

Christmas Eve, I ate a cookie. And broke out into an itchy rash.

Double crap.

Yes, dear reader, scroll back through my entries and feast your eyes upon the many beautiful breads I baked in the past! It was kind of my thing. But I can regear, I suppose, for learning to bake without gluten. It may be a whole new set of adventures.

But not right now. Right now, I’m doing a kind of elimination diet: no dairy, no soy, no grains of any kind. One month of eating like a caveman.

But only if that caveman’s meals are being cooked by Wilma Flintstone. Because no actual cave people had access to a grocery store and the wonders of modern innovation. My meals contain things like tapioca flour, almond flour, arrowroot flour. Coconut milk and almond milk. Chia seeds and cacao nibs. My veggies are shipped from mild climes, so that I can eat green and leafy things in the dead of winter, instead of subsisting on meat and root vegetables alone. I chase no woolie mammoths–heck, at this point, I don’t even have to track down a grocery cart; I fill out an order online and drive up to the supermarket, where cheerful young people load my food into my car for me!

And when I get home? I have clever devices that render zucchinis into a substitute for noodles and cauliflower into a substitute for rice. Machines that take disparate ingredients and render them into smooth sauces. I don’t face day after day of meat and plain veggies; hundreds of clever people have come up with thousands of recipes that tempt my taste buds.

So I find the word, “paleo” more than a little ridiculous. But I’m super grateful that so many have gone before me, making this healthy eating more bearable.

A few small things that I have found:

  • The kitchen appliances that languished on my counters for years are now getting a serious workout. There are days when the food processor and the blender have to be hand washed for use in a second meal.
  • My dishwasher is also getting more of a workout. It used to be that I ran it maybe twice a week. Now it’s pretty much daily.
  • I planned a month of meals and made up the shopping lists at the end of December, and knowing what we’re going to eat every day, plus being able to really shop only once a week, has made life so much easier. I don’t feel like cooking is a chore; it’s an adventure.
  • A number of these recipes have made me nervous, but almost everything has been tasty.
  • On the third and fourth days, I felt like I would kill someone for a glass of milk. That’s diminished considerably. I’m not hungry, but there are occasional cravings.

Ferrett has committed to hanging in there with me. I think we are both feeling better because of this. Now excuse me while I go fix a bronto burger.

Can I rise to the occasion?

Published January 4, 2018 by livinggraciously

We started going to a personal trainer at the end of the summer, and it’s been really good–building strength, getting healthier. But the one thing that she badgered me about was bread.

“You have to stop eating bread! Gluten is terrible for you. It’s what’s making your knees hurt. It’s causing inflammation in your finger joints.”

On and on. So I thought, fine. Just to shut her up, I will stop eating bread for a couple days.

My knees stopped hurting. So did my fingers.

Well, that’s just coincidence,  I thought. Then Thanksgiving came along, and getting up from the table I grumbled that my knees hurt.

“You’ve been eating bread,” Ferrett observed.


Oh, no.

So I dropped gluten again, and my knees stopped hurting. Then Christmas Eve came, and we stopped at a pie shop that had gorgeous quiches and “the best chocolate chip cookie in the world.” I thought, Okay, my knees will hurt a little for a couple days, but it will be worth it.” So I ate a few bites of cookie and a slice of quiche.

What I got instead of sore knees was itching and a rash. No respiratory reaction, fortunately, but I went through a lot of benadryl in the next 24 hours. Because when you ingest an allergen, it has to work its way through your whole digestive tract before you stop reacting to it.

So, I’m off wheat. Which irritates and infuriates me. The avid bread baker can no longer eat bread. At Boxing Day, I was the person asking, “is this gluten-free?” When Ferrett ordered burgers, we paid extra for the gluten-free bun. I’ve gone from the person who rolled her eyes at the gluten rage to the person who is embarrassed by the casual privilege she used to flaunt.

It’s a good thing I’m not allergic to crow, because I’m eating a lot of it.

And relearning to cook many, many things. And I’m ever so grateful for those who came before, the pioneers of gluten-free living. Every time I think of something that I will probably never eat again, a quick internet search shows that someone has come up with a substitute. The gluten-free hamburger bun was so light and fluffy that I feared at first that it couldn’t possibly be gluten-free. There are pastas, and cake mixes. I’ve found recipes for naan and crepes and cookies and even bagels. All the people who’ve dealt with irritated restaurateurs have smoothed my path and granted me menus in many places that indicate what items are available gluten-free.

I haven’t experimented much yet. But I’ve been gathering ingredients–substitute flours, special dough conditioners–to start my foray into this new adventure in life. I’ll try to report on what works, and amuse you with what doesn’t. Because it’s always better to laugh at these things.



Slow success, many changes

Published December 31, 2017 by livinggraciously

I feel a bit embarrassed, trying to revitalize this blog. I’ve attempted resuscitation previously and failed. But one last attempt, then I will hang the DNR tag on its dead toe.

What inspired me to try again was coming across my New Years Eve entry from two years ago, in which I said I was going to try and finish off the UFOs (UnFinished Objects) hanging around in my sewing room. A lot has changed in my sewing room since that entry. For one thing, it entirely changed locations, migrating from the unfinished (and frankly depressing, no matter how hard I tried to spruce it up) laundry room to the downstairs family room, a much brighter and more pleasant–and larger, since I get three walls–space.

I am much more inspired to work in this space than I was in the other.


The second big change is my lovely new sewing machine, which is like working on a dream.

This lovely creature makes everything about my life easier. Seriously. I sometimes just go downstairs and pet it.

Anyway, New Years Eve of 2015, I made a resolution to finish off my UFOs. In 2015, I only managed to finish one: this quilt that went to my dear friends Kat and Eric.

It was one of four Lone Star samples that I’d made back when I was teaching a class on it in Fairbanks. In fact, all of my UFOs were the result of samples for classes. I have been known to toss out unsuccessful projects in the past, but these weren’t unsuccessful; just orphaned after I stopped teaching. Like this one, the four Lone Star were nothing but the pieced center, needing a lot of borders to make them work.

The second one just went to my mother-in-law for Christmas.

It’s not in the color palette I usually use, so it was especially challenging. I am really happy with the way it came out.

Number 3, I am finishing as a wall piece, partly because it’s got so much white that I can’t imagine anyone I know every wanting it for their bed, partly because I am now learning to do real surface quilting and want to use it for practice. And I have a perfect wall waiting for it when I finish.

The final one is still just a partial top. It, like the others above, was made with fabric that is LONG out of print, and a color scheme that’s going to be a bit of a challenge. I will have to take it to the quilt shop and work with the lovely ladies there to choose colors and figure out a way to deal with it.

I’m hoping that this year will see it, the last of my very old UFOs finished.

The other UFO was a compilation of the many steps it took to make another kind of block–strips, then squares, then triangles, then actual blocks–for a quick piecing class. These were a scrambled mess and could easily have been tossed, but I decided to lay them out and see if they could become a top. They could. Then it sat around, unfinished, for the better part of a decade. Now, it’s done.

It’s the purple quilt on the left. The one on the right consists of blocks for an idea that I decided was far too white and abandoned. But I’d made this many blocks, and we really needed another quilt. So rather than letting it languish as a UFO, I whipped it together and made a quilt that Amy and Ferrett both LOVE. It only has the barest minimum of in-the-seam stitching to hold it together right now; it’s going to be another practice project before I get to the real project for this year.

I also dyed a lot of fabric and experimented with some of my results. This wall piece went together over a weekend, the first quilt to be completed pieced and quilted on my new machine. It now lives with our friends Laura and Jeremiah.

And I’m practicing making free-motion feathers on a very old and decrepit quilt. After I finish with it, I will move through all the quilts in the house, adding interest and beauty on them while I practice in anticipation of undertaking Erin’s wedding quilt. This is the first picture of the blocks, laid out but not sewn together yet.

It’s called “Let it Snow,” because the swirling reminds me of snow, and snowboarding is deepest passion that Erin and Matty share.

So, this coming year I will concentrate on improving my free motion quilting skills and on paper piecing. And most evenings you will find me at my lovely machine, stitching together tiny pieces of fabric that I made from large pieces of fabric, so that they can be large pieces of fabric once again.

Victory Garden

Published May 6, 2017 by livinggraciously
I think the instructions on seed packets for early spring, cool weather crops are incomplete. They generally say, “Plant as soon as the ground can be worked. When seedlings are approximately 2″ high, thin plants to ___ inches apart.”
They completely leave off the rest of the instructions:
“Watch over your garden beds as your little seed babies make their green appearance. Reflect on the miracle of life. When plants are approximately three inches high, witness them all freeze to death in a late spring snow. Any plants that survive will be shocked into stunted growth and bitter harvest. Reflect now upon how Mother Earth is a harsh mistress. Replant sometime in early May. Watch as the tender new growth is scorched when the temperatures suddenly climb into the 90s. Note: early spring crops can be replanted with more success in September, but by that time you’ll be completely burnt out on this gardening thing.”

Eras ending

Published April 25, 2017 by livinggraciously

I’ve wrapped up the last birthday I’ll ever have for an age that begins with a 5. A year from now, I move on into the 6s.

That’s not weird AT ALL.

Age is an odd thing. I think it was Jim Gaffigan (if not, excuse my senility) who recently said that a generation ago when someone approached 60, people solicitously guided them to a rocking chair; now, they are given a mountain bike and told to get going.

For the most part, I’m all for that mountain bike (crap, I own three bikes; I’d better be enthusiastic). But there are days when I long, a bit, for the solicitous guidance, the gentle pat on the back of my–so far unmarred by age spots–hand, and the voice to tell me to slow the hell down.

It’s not that I want to get old–hell, you line me up a dozen random virgins with the promise that drinking their blood will restore me to my thirties and those bitches are going *down*–but there is a lot of balance to be sought in the reality of this point of life. I spent an hour gardening today. I went to the gym. I am fighting the good fight against the ravages of time and reality.

In the end, ravaging reality will win. Maybe not for another 20, 30 years. But we haven’t found a cure for age yet.

So here I am, dancing on the balance. I can’t get 30 back (for the record, no, I don’t want 20–those years were still WAY too hormonal). I can’t get 40. I can’t even get 58.

What I’ve got is 59, and how to use it best. How to use it smartest. One of the most humbling decisions I ever made was buying myself a walker for Star Wars Celebration. Did I need the walker for support? Not at all. But degenerative disc disease and the inability to stand for long periods of time means that I *did* need that flip-down seat and the ability to plant my ass for the long hours we had to wait in some lines.

As a woman with a walker, I could have cruised right up to the Medical Disability station, gotten myself a special sticker for my badge, and had some advantages as far was getting into lines. I did not do this. I had a walker because I needed a doggone chair whenever I needed a chair. Not because I am disabled. I felt like taking advantage of a visible piece of equipment to get special treatment would have been dishonest.

By Celebration 2019? I might not feel that way. One of the things I did today, my birthday, was take time to get to the gym. It wasn’t a great workout. But I did show up. And it means something to me. Not that I will ever be thin–because I fought for that for decades and fuck it, I end up fatter every damned time–but that I can stay mobile. I can stay able. I can keep walking, and moving, and lifting. And planting, and pulling up the goddamn weeds that will just keep growing no matter how much I loathe them. And harvesting. And reaching for the stars, howling at the moon, bursting warm, ripe tomatoes with my teeth, scrounging the dirt for carrots and onions, swinging a lightsaber in the moonlight, juggling balls my dog can’t believe aren’t for her, swinging on my porch swing, riding my bike through the park, dyeing and sewing fabric into new treasures for the future and just existing. On a thousand levels.

Tomorrow morning, it’s editing books. In the evening, it may be plunging cotton fabric into purples and greens it never knew could exist. Or spying for that first curling sprout that promises a pound of snap peas. Or riding to the river to just listen to it sing. I have a thousand miles of everything, calling to me. Let’s see whose song is sweetest.


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