07 December 2015

Christmas menu planning

Every year we have the same menu for Christmas Day. We don't always have Christmas on the same day, but we have the same menu. Last year I got organised for this year.

I bought a small plastic sleeve photo album.

I printed out everything I need to get Christmas Day meals on the table:

  • Menu
  • Recipes - for everything, including the cut up vegetables for the dips
  • Shopping list - one for each shop with like shops grouped on one page, so I can send different people in different directions
  • List of dishes required for serving
  • Cut up tags to put in each dish – this way I don't suddenly realise I need particular dish after it's got food in it
  • Timetable for preparing the food

The idea behind the photo album is that it's small enough to take to the shops; I change information if I need to (I may one day find a better recipe for crepes or potato salad. I doubt it, but anything's possible); I can use a whiteboard marker to cross things off, then start again next year.

I printed everything on photo paper, because it's nice and sturdy. If I hand hubby a shopping list, I want to know I'm going to get it back in a decent state.

29 March 2015

By wisdom a quilt is built

A number of years ago I saw a pattern for a quilt that I knew would be perfect for my sister-in-law, except that just about everything was wrong for her. The quilt was a block of the month. Each block featured a house and a scripture verse about homes. My sister-in-law is the original home maker, so I knew she would love the concept, but she wouldn't love the technique or the colours (and they didn't do much for me either). It was shabby/naive design, which  wouldn't appeal. The quilt was dark country colours, which don't appeal to me and would appeal to her even less.  So, I adapted.

Step 1 was to move the blocks about to suit the Australian calendar. Instead of winter blocks at the start and finish I wanted them in the middle. Each block is a different shape so I had to work how to rearrange 'blocks of blocks'. If you look at the original pattern you'll notice there's essentially three large "blocks" - a strip of three on the left, a set of two rows at the top and two rows plus a large double sized block at the bottom. My arrangement ended up with vertical strip on the left and the two others flipped, and then a few rearrangements within each of those three sets.
Blank, sashed blocks finally fitting together (tags to remind me which block was which)

Step 2 took me several years. The original pattern had the background for the appliqué houses appliquéd to a second background. I decided to turn the second, larger background into sashings. Each block of the quilt is a different size with different size sashings. I very carefully put all the measurements through Excel. Centre piece dimensions taken off the outer piece dimensions and divided by two, and add seam allowances.  That is, if the centre piece was 6 inches x 6 inches, and the outer piece was 10 inches by 10 inches the TOTAL sashing width would be 4 inches, each sashing would therefore by 2 inches.

Unfortunately, left/right and top/bottom dimensions for most blocks were different, and I swapped them around in my calculations. After I'd sewn each block I realised my mistake. I had to unpick and reset half the blocks. Totally screwed my head in the process. I wanted all the sashings finished before I started appliquéing so I could use left-over sashings in the houses to create visual ties.

Finally, about two years ago, the blocks were all the right size. For my sister-in-law I chose to use pastel colours in keeping with her tastes. The houses slowly came together. None were particularly onerous, I just had to find time.
Finished blocks

I also changed the stitcheries. The original text looked like it was written by a petulant teenage boy. I chose to use my own handwriting. I matched thread colours to the sashing colours, just not in the same block (i.e. I had green sashings and green thread, but not necessarily together). I simply aimed for a balance of colour across the 12 blocks.
My interpretation

Original block

Finally, I changed the quilting. The original quilting was a single squiggle through the middle of each block. I had originally thought I'd cross hatch each block's background, but I realised that would mean sewing over the stitchery, which I didn't want to do. Instead I decided to simply outline each house and stitch-in-the-ditch each block.

My interpretation

Original block.
I swapped the verse on this block with another, so I could keep this verse with my Christmas/December block.
Instead stitching in the ditch between blocks, I used an 'S' stitch on my machine. I love this stitch for not-quite-stitching-in-the-ditch. When you stitch in the ditch you have to be exact to ensure the stitching doesn't 'slip' and ruin the look. With the 'S' stitch, there's no issue - it's supposed weave across the centre line, not sit perfectly on it.

The quilt was finished late 2014 and delivered to very happy sister-in-law who loves it.
Finished quilt
 My advice if you see a pattern you like, but it doesn't suit your decor or the intended recipient's style, just change it. There is no law that says you have re-create a pattern exactly as the designer imagined it. It's your creativity, your art, your choice.

25 March 2015

Let it go - The story of frozen (or not) food

It's somewhat amazing that certain individuals in our household have survived as long as they have. In fact, it's amazing the rest of us have survived with them.

Last Tuesday the switch to our full-size freezer was accidentally turned off. We left town on Wednesday afternoon and didn't realise until Sunday night. A costly accident, but more annoying than anything. I'd been doing so well with double-batching meals that we were looking forward to a month of minimal cooking :-(

Rubbish collection is Thursday morning, so the decision was made to switch the freezer on until then rather than have the food sitting in the late-summer heat (which is more like mid-summer) in the bin.

Tonight I've been fielding questions:
"What about ...?"
"Can't we keep ...?"
"Some of it should be okay, right?"

NO! NO!! AND AGAIN, NO!!! (I think the extra exclamation marks are warranted.)

Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back any more
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door!

15 March 2015

365 Challenge Rebooted

In the sidebar of my blog there is a "I'm making something 365" badge. Hmmm ... I was. Life happened. Perfectionism happened. Creativity stopped happening. The 365 creative challenge is simply to make something creative every day for a year. To help, Noah put together a book with 365 ideas. The problem was, I started adding rules. Naturally, it all got to hard, so I quit.

This year I rebooted. My 'rules' are simple -
- design a quilt, or other sewing project, every day
- by design I mean - scribble, describe, stick-figure type drawing, full blown pattern. It really doesn't matter - just something on paper. I do not have to intend to ever develop the idea. I do not have to intend to actually make the object. I just have to put something on paper in response to the prompts given in Noah's book
- use the book as an point of inspiration only. If it suggests building something out of clay, I don't have to actually use clay - as in, get my hands dirty sort of clay. I just use the word 'clay' to give my thoughts a direction.

I did really well in January. Then I had to go back to work. Carting my sketch book on the train every day was just that little extra weight I didn't want to carry. I've gotten a little slack and side-tracked.  I'm still working out how to overcome that. And that's okay because life as a recovering perfectionist is about recovery every day.

At the moment, I have nearly 50 designs/scrawls/scribbles. Some of them I know I'll never ever make. Some of them I have made in the past - which was one of my 'rules'. Past creations were allowable. They're my creative effort (I rarely follow someone else's pattern, preferring to make my own glorious mistakes and triumphs). There are few that I really want to make. There are a few that really inspire me.

Just a couple for your amusement:
Day 31: Make a path for people to follow and invite people to try it out.

 One of my more structured designs. I actually was aiming for paths that cross over and under each other. But I got sidetracked by trying to make my blocks simple half-square-triangles. I probably won't be making this one.

Day 21: Write a 10 word love story. Illustrate it.
The Teen wants me to make this one :-) It's a long story, but essentially, not long after we first met, in the midst of any apology that was supposed to involve bunches of flowers, husband-to-be offered to buy me a bunch of carrots instead. Tip for all the males out there: when you're apologising for something - try to keep your mind on the apologies, and not the conversation being conducted by the person sitting next to you! The 10 word love story is, "He asked me out with carrots. I eventually said yes."

Day 18: Work with the things you find in your car
This is an example of my rule to use the book as inspiration only and not the 'rules'. We were road-tripping, so instead of using 'inside the car', I chose to use outside the car.

Day 2: What's your favourite animal? Use it as your inspiration.
I have a number of favourite animals, but I do love fairy wrens. This is planned a set of placemats, which I am thinking of making at some point. The plan would be to deliberately make them all different. There are seven species, so more than enough to do a different one on each placemat.

One of the interesting things I've found about this challenge is the attitude of other people. Although I'm currently struggling to form a habit that sticks, I am determined to complete all 365 designs even if not in a single calendar year.

I happened to mention what I was doing to a quilting storekeeper (thankfully, not a local store). She all but scoffed, "Well, good luck with that!" And let me say - it was not a positive, uplifting wishing of luck! I was a little taken aback. She didn't know me from Adam (or Eve). For all she knew I could have already been a well-established designer. And whether I am or not, and I'm not, that's beside the point. It was pretty flipping rude for her discredit my ambition. I don't care who you are. I don't care what the dream is. Don't allow anyone - ANYONE - to pull it apart. And don't do it to anyone else.

There a great line in M*A*S*H, where Col Potter says, "If I had a horse who thought he was Man O' War, I probably wouldn't want to dissuade him. If you get my drift?" (probably badly paraphrased) His point was - if we dream bigger than we can achieve, we will achieve bigger than if we don't dream. (Of course, Frank Burns didn't get it ;-) )

Dream big, and "phft" to all the naysayers.

03 March 2015

Blog planning

I've been so busy trying to juggle a j-o-b (bit of a dirty word at the moment), commuting (oh to live in a small town), a Year 12 student (I remember how dreadful it was), life, house, blah-blah-blah, that fun things have taken a bit of a back seat. I really want to blog on a regular basis. As an editor, I know that good writing comes with practice, and I'm sadly out of it (practice and good writing).
Last night I was tossing up ideas of what post about this week. I couldn't settle one idea because a) I have a heap of them buzzing around my brain and b) they all seem like hard work right now. I thought I'd cheat and simply list all the things I plan to post about ... soon. That is, I'll list them now, I'll post about them soon ... ish. If you check back occasionally I might have gotten around to which one interests you. I'll try to remember this post is here, and update it as I go with links to the finished post.

Pantry - the new walk-in pantry is progressing. We have shelves on the walls. Last weekend we were slated to build the new internal, divider wall/can rack, but it was postponed. (Previous posts here, and here).
FMQ extravaganza - last year I mentioned to my online quilting group I wanted to improve my free motion quilting. One very proactive lady set up the "FMQ Extravaganza" - a challenge to FMQ something twice a month and post photos. I'm yet to actually start :-( BUT I will.
Zoo - over January, as part of our road trip to Victoria, we spent the night at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. We had the best time and I wanted to share our experiences.
365 Challenge - I've rebooted my 365 challenge efforts. This year I'm aiming for 365 designs or ideas. They don't have to be complete, worked out patterns or designs. I don't have to ever make them. I just have to draw a rough sketch and make a few notes on my thinking and ideas.
Cheryl's quilt - last year I finished my quilt for my SIL. During our holidays, it was on the wall in our room. I kept looking at it, thinking, "Man, that is some quilt!" I was just so impressed, and simply amazed that I'd created something like that.
Wardrobe modifications - I recently spring cleaned my wardrobe. I'm in process of 'renovating' some outfits that never get worn. I thought I might share some of my success stories.
Cooking roster - due to the j-o-b we've implemented a cooking roster in our house, which seems to be working out okay.
Plan to Eat - I love this website/app. 
Bullet journalling (or not) and Toodledo - my latest attempts to be organised, efficient, and get everything done.

I think that's all for the moment. I might add new topics to my list as time goes by. First new post due next week (according to my schedule). Still, not sure what I want to write about yet. Maybe I should just put them all in a hat and pick one out.

01 January 2015


So, this is the New Year. Funny, it doesn't feel all that different to the old one. That's the thing about New Years that I don't get. People pin such high expectations on it, endow it with almost magical abilities to transform their lives. But at the end of the day, it's just day, like every other day. The ability to transform our lives lies within us, not in a day.

Anyway, enough of my New Year's bah-humbugging. What have I got planned for 2015? Oo, lots. I started looking at my goals in November. Looked at the ones I missed in 2014, considered why I missed them. Looked at the ones I hit and gave myself a pat on the back, because I think it's important to see what you've achieved more than seeing what you missed. Considered the year ahead and what I want to achieve, and how I plan to do that.

Goal Types
My goal setting process has multiple methods. It's all very well to say, "You should set SMART goals", but some things I want to achieve don't fit the SMART mould. And some things I want to achieve are not goals as such, they're habits I want to develop. My goal setting methods are:

1. Set a specific SMART goal: run a 5km fun run some time after August (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely). These goals then get broken down into monthly chunks and then weekly chunks and then daily chunks. Every month I look at my yearly goals, consider what I need to achieve in the month. Then each week I look at that monthly chunk and work out what I need to do this week on a day-by-day basis.

2. Set a "list goal". I have a lot of projects I want to finish, for example a dozen or more quilts. A list goal is to focus on one project every month from the list that I keep with my goals. My lists grow as the year progresses, as new projects are added. Each month I choose the focus from my list, and decide how much I want to achieve, which depends on what stage that focus project is at, and what sort of a month I have ahead of me. Project lists include quilts, other sewing, holiday scrap booking, house renos, garden projects. I also have a list of people to write to (the goal being one per week); friends to catch up with (one per month) and similar activities.

3. Set a "percentage" habit. Habits are tricky goals to set, particularly for perfectionists. We feel if don't hit them 100% of time we're failing and (more often than not) might as well quit. This year I've come up with the percentage target. I want to develop a habit of taking my vitamins every day. The perfectionist me would say 365 out of 365 days is goal achieved, anything less is not. Reality me knows that just isn't going happen. I track every day that I take my vitamins. Each week I record how many days I 'hit'. Over three months I calculate my percentage hit. My habit goals are to hit 25% in the first three months, 50% in the second three months, 75% in the third three months, and 90% in the last three months. This gives a stretch goal, it gives me a target, and it keeps me realistic.

Putting it on Paper
I mind-map my goals. This year, I've gone back to Stephen Covey's concept of 'roles'. I have four roles: artist, community, care-taker, worker.
I have the year in the centre and a branch for each role. Each 'sub-role' is on a smaller branch. Under 'caretaker', for example, I have 'finances', 'spirit', 'body', 'house' and 'garden'. At the end of each sub-role I list my goals, whether SMART, list or habit.
I keep this yearly mind-map in my diary. Once it's created, I scan it and remove the goals at the end of the branches and the year from centre. I print out the remaining basic structure and use it each month to set my targets for the month.
Blank mind-map for ready for monthly targets

In addition to setting goals for the year, I picked up an idea from a fellow quilter a couple of years ago, of assigning a word to the year. The word I've chosen for 2015 is "harmony". I want to develop as a musician, I want to find balance with all my pursuits, not focussing on any to the detriment of others, I want to develop strong, healthy relationships with people who are important to me. Using a tool I found on-line (http://www.wordle.net/create) I created a word cloud (also kept in my diary).
Harmony word cloud
That's a basic overview of my goal setting process. Although, at the end of the day (even New Years Day) I think there's just three things that are important for reaching a goal:
1. Write it down. Research shows if you write it down, you're more likely to hit it.
 2. Review it. If you write it down and ignore it, you won't hit it. Review each month and each week, "What do I need to do in order to achieve this goal?"
And then, the third important step is simply "Do it".