Swan Songs

“Have we told you about the time a swan came to our front door?”

That’s a question we’ve asked birding friends recently.

There’s been a lot of chatter about rare birds, trumpeter swans, in our area.  These birds normally live in western Canada and Alaska.  They don’t like the South.  In fact, the pair now visiting Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge near Juliette, GA, are believed to be the first ones to ever visit GA.

Our Minnesota friends recently posted photos of a huge flock of swans near them.  I was enthralled and obtained permission to use their images in art quilts, thinking I’d not be likely to see any of these birds.   Then, we heard there were some swans near us!  (More of Mary Ellen’s Minnesota stories are here.) This photo by Bruce Lundstrom.

On Saturday, Jim and I drove to Piedmont and were fortunate to find the pair close to shore at a pond.  We quietly approached the group watching, visited with old friends and made a couple of new friends.  Then everyone else left and we slowly walked out on the deck and got even closer to the beauties.

We had heard that the two stayed on the far side of another pond, so Jim took his big lens.  The birds were so close to us that he couldn’t get the whole bird in a shot.  I had carried my camera thinking, “this is a waste, I can’t see them well enough to photograph.”  Wrong.  I could, I did.  Jim went back to the truck (walking ever so slowly and quietly) to get a smaller lens.

I was thrilled to capture a few images, but I was so mesmerized by the glassy surface of the water, by the reflections of the trees and the birds, and by what I saw as parallel behavior of the swans, that I would forget to put down the binoculars and pick up the camera.

But snap the shutter, we did.  Jim got great detailed shots of the birds, I got some surprisingly nice images, too.  I love the two birds with the loose feather floating on the water!



I was thrilled when I realized I had captured a heart in one shot!



Their balancing acts as they preen, stretching that long graceful neck into Mobieus-like positions, that one big black foot in the air, the thrill of them when they unfurl those huge, huge wings – all formed   indelible moments in my mind.

I knew standing on the dock on Saturday that   this elegant swan would be the subject of my next drawing in Mark Ballard’s class..  From the moment I snapped the shutter, I said, “that’s the pose.”

Oh, and the earlier encounter with a swan was on Mother’s Day, 2004.   Our Welsh Corgi, Dixie, greeted a mute swan at our front door.  We lived a couple of blocks from the nearest lake, so our photos of her are not surrounded by reflections or ripples of water.  But the visit was memorable.

That swan twisted her long neck into crazy positions, too.


Next project:  stitching some swans!

70 and Still Wearing Jeans

The world’s greatest husband had a birthday.  To celebrate this milestone, I completed a project for him that I had started several years ago.  Yes, it was a project in progress for a while.

I had collected some novelty fabrics and made 9” Ohio Star blocks.  The working title for this project was Things Jim Likes.  Construction stalled when there were some categories that had to be included but were difficult to find.  Fabric with cameras, birds, maps, were some of the most elusive.  I put everything in a box and put it on a shelf until I could collect more fabrics.  By everything, I mean a diagram of the quilt I had designed in EQ7, notes to myself about the possible sashing and setting triangle fabrics, and a list of themes I had and wanted to add.

When I would find fabrics that were appropriate, I added them to the box, and time marched on.





As this birthday approached, I decided that this would be his “three score and ten” gift .  Yes, he walked in the sewing room several times while the blocks were on the design wall.  And, no, he didn’t realize what was there.  I worked as quickly as I could with them on the wall, and I lied a bit (ok, a lot) about what I was doing upstairs in the weeks before Christmas.  (His birthday is December 26 – the design wall photo was taken Sept 23.)

Once assembled, I knew I couldn’t hide it long enough to quilt it myself.  And, it’s big and would take me a long time.  So Dewey Godwin became my partner in secrecy and did the quilting in record time.  Knowing the theme and seeing the trains, Dewey incorporated a railroad track into the border.  Perfect!

While I was working on this, Jim was playing Amanda by Waylon Jennings with a line  “finally made 40 and still wearing jeans.”  There’s where the title came from.  Not 40, but still wearing jeans.



My partner, my assistant, my musician, my photographer, my soulmate now has a new quilt of his own.  And, just in time for the coldest weather in a very long time.  It works at nap time in front of the tv.



Some of the things represented are cameras, lighthouses, scientific instruments, football, windmills, Christmas lights, birds, travel, the great outdoors, banjos, guitars, railroads, geology, the US Army, and even  sharks (those represent the years he taught Oceanography and dissected sharks in his lab, gaining notoriety for the smelliest classroom at school).

The patchwork back is made of fabrics whose motifs wouldn’t fit in the star design, but fit the theme.





For email subscribers, here is a photo of the whole quilt.  It measures 65″ x 80″ .  For more detail, go to the website and click on any photo to enlarge.

Soup and Cornbread

Today was a snow day, a sew day, followed by a cold, cold night.  Our supper was one we have frequently in this weather – vegetable soup and bread.  Sometimes the bread is a crusty loaf we can dip in olive oil, sometimes it’s soft yeast rolls with butter.  This night it was a southern favorite, cornbread.


Cornbread baked in my mother’s  cast iron skillet.  That skillet holds more memories than grease molecules.  My mother baked cornbread in it every single weekday of my memory.  No matter what the menu, no matter how hot the kitchen would be in the summertime, the oven and pan were preheated to 400℉.  Meanwhile, a simple mixture of self-rising cornmeal, egg, and whole milk was stirred together.  When the pan was hot, bacon drippings were poured in, then the batter, then it cooked until done.

The round pone was always inverted on a plate, cut into eight wedges, and set on the corner of the table next to Daddy’s plate.  I don’t recall Mama ever eating any, but Daddy ate it at lunchtime, and again sometimes at supper.  Sometimes his supper was simply a wedge of cornbread (room temperature, never reheated) and a glass of milk.

Aunt Nellie, my mother’s maternal aunt, preferred hoecakes; thin cornmeal cakes cooked on top of the stove. From her comments, I inferred that Mama’s recipe was one from Daddy’s family and that she adopted it for our meals.

We ate plenty of leftovers at our house, but never leftover cornbread.  Even if only one wedge was eaten at lunchtime, the remainder was discarded and a new pone cooked the next day.  I don’t know why.

In my adult life, I’ve tried many cornbread recipes, many pans, and many other options.  The alternatives are all good; we enjoy jalapeño cheddar cornbread occasionally, hoecakes are served at our favorite local restaurant, and once I discovered Tasha Tudor’s cornbread recipe, that complex sweet concoction sometimes finds its way to our table.  Tasha advised that hot cornbread is better with a bit of butter and honey or blackberry jam on it.  I agree!

I’ve baked cornbread in square pans, long pans, muffin pans; some glass, some stainless steel, some cast iron.  But nothing gives the crust like Mama’s old cast iron skillet.  But the cornbread will stick to that pan if I use any lubricant other than bacon grease.  So I’ve learned to cook bacon for breakfast if I’m planning to cook cornbread later in the day.

A nice rubdown afterwards with a paper towel is the only cleaning my skillet gets.  No water, no soap.  A childhood memory more than 50 years ago is of Mama and Aunt Nellie building a fire outside and “burning off” their cast iron cookware.  Then they seasoned them with grease of some kind and put them in the oven.  This skillet was one of those.

Mama’s Cornbread Recipe was: 1 cup self-rising cornmeal, 1 egg, 2/3 cup whole milk.  Mix ingredients.  Preheat oven to 400℉ with iron skillet inside.  Pour 1 tablespoon bacon drippings into pan, swirl around bottom and sides of pan, then pour in batter.  Bake 20 minutes. (All quantities are my approximations, she didn’t measure anything.)

As for the vegetable soup recipe, it varies depending on what’s on hand.  Tonight’s version started with a leftover rump roast, potatoes, carrots, onions, portobello mushrooms, corn, some frozen butterbeans, diced tomatoes.  Cooked slowly, tasted, seasoned, simmered some more…

Bonnie’s Baskets

A dear friend whose new favorite color is purple needed a quilt.  She didn’t know she needed a quilt, but I did.  Rather, I knew I needed to make Bonnie a quilt.

You see, Bonnie is having a rough time health-wise.  She’s going for chemo treatments every couple of weeks, and in between those she’s having to rest more than she likes to let her body heal.

I don’t live close enough to go with Bonnie to her treatments or to help with cooking and housework.  Nor am I close enough for frequent hugs of support.  But, as most people know, a quilt is an endless supply of hugs from the maker to the recipient.

I like all traditional quilt blocks (well, ok, most traditional quilt blocks).  Four-patches, nine-patches, stars, waves, crowns, all have their appeal.  But my go-to quilt block is the basket.  I was once part of a mini-group that called ourselves the Basket Cases. The name was probably more appropriate for me than for the others – but you get the idea.  We all loved making basket blocks.

So for Bonnie’s quilt, I put together a few purple baskets, one overflowing with flowers and leaves and such.  The assembly was quite improvisational, simply baskets on white with white open spaces.

I have a reputation for quilting pieces that are bulletproof because I do like dense quilting.  But in this case, I stitched a meandering vine rather sparsely, leaving space for the quilt and batting to breathe, making it more cuddly to wrap oneself in.

The label is a remnant of a vintage doily with a basket embroidered by someone’s loving hand.



As I worked, my whole being was thinking of Bonnie and her treatments.  “Every stitch a prayer” kept echoing in my mind.  And there are many, many stitches.

Now Bonnie knows that I love her and am mentally traveling with her through her treatments.  And I know that she knows.