Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Professional Totes

I had this terrific idea for Christmas presents this year, the Professional Tote, a pattern by the Creative Thimble. I had purchased the pattern a couple of years ago because I saw a completed bag and I just knew it would be the perfect "personal item" for my airline travel. I am happy to tell you that the pattern works perfectly! It looked really confusing at first, but as I progressed through, each new step made perfect sense -- almost.
The bag has just about every type of pocket imaginable: a zipper pocket, water bottle pockets with cord stops, magnetic snap pockets, a key fob, and
a very handsome inner zipper compartment that is the exact right size to hold my laptop. I carried mine on the airplane over the holidays, and it was just right! The down side, I suppose, is all the interfacing that makes the bag so sturdy. I recommend this well thought out pattern to everyone. Just be prepared to have it take a while to complete, and don't start three bags on Thanksgiving weekend hoping to have them all done before Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

More Christmas Cheer

Sun, Moon and Flying Geese by Gail

My quilting group, Designing Women, has a holiday party gift exchange each year at this time. The 'rules' are that the gift must be handmade (not necessarily by you) and must be smaller than 14". What fun I had making this little quilt that went home with Pat. Lime green is simply the most wonderful color!!!

A Little Christmas Cheer

Porter Family Feet (and socks)

Can you imagine anything more fun than giving away 48 or so pairs of hand-dyed socks! When I had lunch with my friend, Chellye, I surprised her with three pairs, one for her, another for daughter, Lindsey, and a pair for hubby Jeff. Imagine my surprise when this photo showed up in my e-mail. Guess which feet belong to Jeff!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Bosque Morning

Great Blue Heron. Photo by Doug Brown.
Five thirty a.m. on Saturday morning. Do I snuggle in for a little more shut-eye, or arise and head out to the bosque to complete the surveys that I missed on Thursday due to weather. It was brisk out there, but oh, my: What a glorious morning it was. My first treat was a Great Blue Heron that appeared in the mist of the riverside drain, taking flight at my approach. Followed by two muskrats, foraging. One of them looked like it had a mouthful of french fries -- Not!

Wood Duck. Photo by Doug Brown.
Next up were four Wood Ducks amidst the 2 dozen mallards. I expected it to be quiet in the interior sections of the forest, but the songbirds were up and at em. There would be nothing for a while, and then a whole flock of mixed species that needed to be sorted out.
Bald Eagle. Photo by Doug Brown.
An eagle called from its perch along the Rio Grande.
Coyote. Photo by Doug Brown.
As I was standing near the end of my second transect, not moving, I heard a rustling in the woods. A coyote, oblivious to my presence was running full speed, straight at me. It's expression when he/she realized we were on a collision course, was priceless, just like the rest of my morning.

Much better than a few extra winks.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kool Shoes

Aieee! Surely, it cannot have been three months since my last post! What can I say, except that life got in the way! At first I was just overwhelmed by finishing the manuscript for my third book, and then I kept thinking, "Tomorrow! Tomorrow, I'll get that posted.

One the the fun things that happened was a visit to the Rio Grande Arts and Crafts show during the Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. I rounded the corner of an aisle, and before my eyes were floor to ceiling hand-crafted shoes, made by Kool Shoes. It only took about 1.25 seconds for me to decide that a pair of these needed to wrap around my feet for those special times when I am teaching quilting. They are made by a couple in Prescott, Arizona. She does the custom painting on the toes of the shoes and he cobbles them. Simply fabulous. They feel like wearing bedroom slippers, or going barefoot.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Just an Average Day

For me personally, almost every day in June was a survey day, beginning at dawn. The sunrises were glorious! I was able to watch ‘my’ Cooper's Hawk nests evolve from an incubating female to a little ball of white fluff, to a full-fledged teen-aged bird. Although June is our most intense month it also is the most rewarding. Here are just a few of the wonders that I witnessed.

Photo by Doug Brown

I was actually fortunate enough to see a prey delivery to the cavity in a large snag that held a Rio Rancho American Kestrel family. Most often, all we can verify is that there is a territory because the cavities are so well concealed. When I returned last week, all five of the newly fledged youngsters were learning to fly under the watchful eyes of their parents. At this point, you’d have to be deaf to miss them, for they shrieked with every wingbeat, although it is unclear if they were shrieks of sheer terror or sheer joy. One of the little fellows even had the audacity to stoop on me, and then rise up and hover on the gentle breeze. I called David Powell, our favorite volunteer photographer, who hastened out the following morning, but for naught. By then, the young birds were confident in their day-old skills, and no more hilarity ensued.

Out at one of the Neutron Energy sites, a Loggerhead Shrike announced its presence as I approached, seeming more distressed than normal. So, I watched and waited. Shortly, another shrike flew from one of the dozens of juniper trees there, issuing warning calls as it made a hasty departure. A quick walk over to look revealed seven naked shrike babies all huddled together in their nest. A return trip two weeks later found the shrike family out and about with the young practicing landings and take-offs; however, without all the shrieking.

Loggerhead Shrike. Photo by Dave Herr.

Also at the Neutron Energy site, a female Cooper’s Hawk fiercely defended her nest. It should have contained hatched young, but none could be seen above the nest rim. We walked around and around but no little, white, fuzzy heads were visible. Of course, when the parents begin cacking and calling, the young flatten out in the nest and become virtually invisible. However, beneath the nest were the telltale white specks of white-wash that confirmed hatch. Eventually, we saw the barest movement of one white cottonball head. At least one in that nest. I can’t wait to get back.

Adult Cooper's Hawk. Photo by David Powell.

A Great Horned Owl sailed down a deep drainage in pinyon-juniper country, spied by my colleague, Jenny Lisignoli. Further searching revealed a mother and child combo with fluffy down on the ‘ears’ the only clue as to the age of the young one.

Great Horned Owl Fledgling. Photo by Jenny Lisignoli.

Not all of my observations were of the avian sort, though. As I pulled up to begin my survey at another of the Neutron Energy sites, I spied what looked like a very large cat in the distance, just sitting on the dirt road that divides the site. Just a little too far away to determine its species, I was hoping it wasn’t a mountain lion since I’d be walking a fair distance and would be alone for the duration. The cat didn’t seem to be too worried about me, but sank down onto its haunches to have a good look. Out came the scope and tripod, so I could return the scrutiny. The magnificent bobcat and I held each other’s gaze for what seemed like an eternity, but I figured I’d watch as long as the cat did. Then, a coyote appeared in the distance, creeping up ever-so-slowly on the cat as if it were going to strike. The coyote approached within a few feet before the cat turned on it and the coyote backed off, but not very far. Perhaps there had been a kill and leftovers remained. Eventually, the cat sauntered off, unconcerned about the two of us, the coyote and me. The coyote immediately checked out the area where the cat had been sitting, and I did too, but much later, after surveys were done for the day. No evidence remained.

And then there were the tires! The first one blew out on Santa Ana going around a corner in soft sand. Triple A to the rescue, and I considered myself very lucky. The second tire blew on the way back from the Neutron Energy site, opposite the driveway of the first house in the village of Seboyeta. We pulled into the driveway, the most level spot, to change it, and as luck would have it, my new friend, Rich, with the dream garage from heaven, offered to help. I couldn’t believe my luck this time – and, you know the rest of this story! I did go home with dirty fingers at least from lowering the spare to the floor of the garage.

Just a day in the field - many of them! Sometimes, I have to pinch myself just to make sure that my real life isn’t just a fantasy!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Two Snakes a Day

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. Photo by Sandy Skeba

I hadn't seen a snake in a long time, except for the couple of little bullsnakes encountered on the levee, warming up in the morning sun. In New Mexico, on coolish mornings, these guys sometimes crawl onto the road to soak up some rays and warm up their blood. A longtime resident, I am accustomed to keeping an eye out for this particular road hazard. I had just finished with a long bird survey in pinyon-juniper country one day last week, and was looking forward to getting home and moving along with my day. The road was poor and travel slow, so I picked up the speed a little when it improved to something more than a two-track but still less than a graded dirt road, perhaps 10 miles an hour. As I rounded the corner of a pinyon tree, there he was, stretched out across the road, a bullsnake about 5 feet long. I tried, but failed, to stop in time. It's heartbreaking to strike a probably lethal blow to an innocent animal that does a good job of keeping rodent populations in check. I can only hope that the very soft sand helped to cushion the blow.

So, moving on and closer to home on a paved road, I was startled to see yet another snake in the road, obviously injured but still alive. My conscience was already berating me for my prior mistake and, without thinking, I pulled over to assess the situation. This time it was a little snake, a little western diamondback to be exact. He had a head injury but was very much alive. Hmmm! To leave him would mean certain death and I couldn't have two lives on my checklist in one day. But, being of the poisonous variety, caution was essential. I got out the very long pole that allows my spare tire to drop, one that has a sort of hook on the end. Little snake lunged, but I was well out of his way. I scooted him/her to the side of the road, but was still concerned about the odds for survival.

Now, in Albuquerque there is a wonderful organization that rescues and rehabilitates snakes, the International American Rattlesnake Museum in Old Town. So, I knew that if I could capture little snake, I could take it there and they would take care of it. But, how to catch a poisonous snake - albeit an injured one.

We 'green' sort of people have taken to carrying our own totes to the grocery store so as to not waste more petroleum products. And, being of a quilterly teaching sort, my extra room is chock full of totes. A bunch were in the back of the car including one of my favorites that was especially roomy. The big bag, tipped on its side with the opening toward little snake, seemed to be perfect. The long, hooked pole once again did the job and scooted little snake into the bag. Quite proud now, I picked up the bag and tied the handles together. Little snake rattled. The tied handles left open the ends and little snake could have escaped if it so desired. Bag one went into bag two with more ties. We drove home and I wondered if little snake had succumbed already. But, while carrying the bag into the house, I heard the tiniest of rattles. This time, a pillowcase did the trick. No accidental release of a rattler in the house!

Later, the Rattlesnake Museum let me know that little snake had NOT been hit by a car but more likely had been struck in the head by a rock thrown by some inconsiderate human with a distaste for all things reptile. He was off to get X-rays last I heard, with a moderate prognosis for survival. I hope that I don't ever get to have that sort of a day again!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Valley Quilters, Palmer, AK

A tiny tree in progress with the brilliant light of the Alaskan summer in the background. I found the Valley Quilters of Palmer and Wasilla to be very enthusiastic and remarkably cheerful. The good will was positively infectious. Each night, a large group dined with me, and the stories I heard! It was a blast. They're a hardy, plucky bunch too.
During class introductions, I asked each student to tell how it was that she came to be living in Alaska. I heard lots of "I came here with my husband to stay for -- months (insert 3, 6, 9, or 18). Well, that was -- (insert 10, 12, 24 or 36) years ago. It is blissfully clear that the women of the far north appreciate the uniqueness of their home state. I was privileged to share it for a few days.
Ah, the Goose is Loose, my favorite class! The ladies created their own designs, and began stitching them in less than 6 hours.
A lot was accomplished amid laughter, shared potluck lunch, and friendly camaraderie. We thank Sylvia, of Sylvia's Quilt Depot for allowing us the use of her classroom. BTW, should you ever find yourself in Wasilla, be sure to check out Sylvia's. She has an awesome selection of specialty Alaska and northern fabrics, some of which are created locally.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Reflections of a Spill: 20 Years Later

Reflections of a Spill: 20 Years After the Exxon Valdez
Image from Exhibit Postcard by Douglas Yates

One of the most memorable and emotionally impressive art exhibits that I have seen anywhere will be at the Pratt Museum in Homer, Alaska through June 28, 2009. In somber tones of black and gray, reflecting the viscous color of oil contamination in formerly pristine waters, the exhibit evoked raw emotion and brought tears to my eyes.

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground off the shores of Alaska, darkening pristine waters. The largest spill in the history of North America left a lasting mark on the coastal communities of Alaska. The exhibit features both art and science by Alaskan artists and scientists as they reflect on the impact of the spill. For more information about the exhibit visit the Homer News

In the Marine Gallery of the Museum is a display of carved wooden seabirds called "Water's Memory". Carved by Alan Bennett, the birds are representative of the tribe Mergini (sea ducks), heavily impacted by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Some populations not yet fully recovered.

The first floor of the Pratt Museum features "Darkened Waters: Profile of an Oil Spill". This exhibit has been on display since 1993, five years after the spill. It graphically and scientifically presents the effects of the spill on the wildlife, habitats, and waters affected by the spill.

This is a must see exhibit if you are fortunate enough to be visiting the charming community of Homer.

Katchemak Bay Birding

Homer and Katchemak Bay specialize in scenery. Mary arranged for a boat and bird tour of the bay with Bay Excursions. And birds we did see! This birder type opted to leave the camera at home so as to better focus on the watching part of birding. We saw three species of loons, cute little Tufted Puffins, rafts of thousands of Common Murres, Red-faced and Pelagic Cormorants, Harlequin Duck, Marbled Murrelet, and Barrow's Goldeneye, among others.

We also saw the ubuquitous Bald Eagles of Katchemak Bay. For many years, a woman that lived on Homer Spit had fed the eagles that gathered each winter, feasting on the natural and human-made food supply. The woman, whose name I did not learn, passed away during the winter of 2008-09, but her supporters continued to feed the wintering population of eagles. With only good intentions, some locals believed it necessary to continue the food source until the natural supply increased in the spring. The eagles thrived. Unfortunately, these same predatory birds that were being nurtured had a devastating effect on populations of other species that nested in the bay, including Arctic Tern, Black-legged Kittiwakes, and many others. Next winter, there will be no deliberate feeding of eagles in the hopes to return Katchemak Bay avifauna to a more natural balance.

Throughout our stay, the weather was perfect in every way and the waters calm.
We also had great views of Grewingk Glacier. The unseasonably warm and dry weather did have its drawbacks, however.
We witnessed the start of this wildfire about 10 miles east of the main village. By the next day, it had grown to over 500 acres, and folks were being evacuated. Three days later, I learned that it had reached 5,000 acres and some homes had been lost. This area had been hard hit by spruce beetles, leaving dead standing trees as a reminder of the infestation. Unfortunately, the combination of the diseased or dead trees and glorious weather had a devastating effect.

Welcome to Homer, Alaska

The sign boasts of the great fishing, and indeed the halibut skewers we would eat the next day were superb! Actually, ALL the food in Homer was just topnotch! But, fishing was not part of my agenda for this trip; it was the quest for rare birds of the pelagic and shorebird type. Fishing is really popular in Alaska, moreso than birding. I bought the ABA Birdfinding Guide to Alaska, and for every birding stop near water, which is most of them, it talked about the types of fish that would be found there. Hmm! Is this a bird finding guide or a fish finder? The woodwork on this bench was spectacular.
My other travel companion, Jane Ferguson, lassoed a big one!
Our accomodations were on the shore of Katchemak Bay, a little rental house called Norma's Cove. Shortly after arrival, Mary started hollering, "Look out the window!".
We saw several moose on the way down, but certainly didn't expect this sort of up close encounter. Stay tuned . . .

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Road to Homer

Mt Redoubt sleeps fitfully, small burps of steam betraying her unrest. Partially obscured by smoke, this was the best view on the way down to Homer. The smoke was a from a fire in Siberia.
The sign is out of date. New Eagle Scout project?
We stopped at Portage Glacier for the standard tourist photo, as well as a delicious bowl of chile, the standard American type with hamburger, beans and tomatoes.
My hostess was Mary Gerken, who I met in Paducah, KY a few years ago when I was teaching at the AQS show. Mary and her friend Jean were the two quilters who made this amazing trip possible. I was set to share my passion for birding with Mary and Jane, our other travel mate.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Perfectly Framed

Candy Bergeron, of Baton Rouge, sent this charming photo of a perfectly framed Barred Owl. Barred Owls often are more cooperative and visible during the daylight hours than other owl species. This was a great sighting. Way to go, Candy!

A Room with a View - Florence, MS

The view from my cabin at Whitetail's Lodge, just south of Florence, MS. The Swamp Quilters, of the Baton Rouge, LA area, hold 2-3 retreats each year at this privately owned property. I was the lucky teacher for a three-day, Goose is Loose workshop.

Swamp Quilters, Florence, MS

Whoa! This post is out of order in more ways than one. In my quest to catch up on a month of things that should have been posted, I put up some of the Alaska photos before sharing these with you! The Swamp Quilters, from the Baton Rouge area, hold their quilting retreats at Whitetails Lodge, just south of Florence, MS. This gorgeous property, ~700 acres, was established as a hunting facility. However, they also are home to a number of exotics, such as this zebra. He was right outside the door of the lodge.
This guinea and his mate had decided to make the lodge area their home in the past month,
wherre he spent much of his time fighting with his reflection in the glass.
Just one of the many animals on the property.
Carolyn Bacile had been collecting Elvis fabrics for years, and this was the inspiration for her design. We had three wonderful days together, and students accomplished a lot. While class lasted 6-7 hours each day, they continued to sew into the evening.

Noreen Mazzaroppi combined a traditional four-patch with free-form geese.
Debbie Bowman had a sleep-deprived night, second night of our weekend, and she took advantage of the sleeplessness to stitch all night long! What a great design!
Kay Olinde created this terrific design. I can't wait to see the finished project.
Forrest Gump and Friends.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Anchorage Log Cabin Quilters

Teaching for the Anchorage Log Cabin Quilters was a real treat. They opted to take the two-day Goose is Loose Class, which exposes students to a wider array of design techniques, and information is presented at a more leisurely pace so it can be more easily absorbed and retained. Also, students are able to achieve much more because of the additional class time, giving them time to practice what they learned. Here, Janet Santek, designed tiny trees, perhaps the ubiquitous black spruce found throughout Alaska.
Here's another design in progress, by Pam Ventgen. The original drawing is evident beneath the quilt parts.
This was a wonderful design by Ruthe Rasmussen. It was inspired by some existing photo transfers of taken in Ireland of she and her daughter. She set the photos into a Celtic knot design in another class.
Glenda Burk was inspired by the impending eruption of Mt. Redoubt, 130 miles to the west of Anchorage. As of this writing, it still sleeps fitfully.

Yin & Yang was the brainchild of Kate McIntyre. There is more to this design and it will be exciting to see the finished quilt.
The other class was Scrumptious Stars. In this class, students learn the basics of paper foundation piecing by making one of my star patterns. Although they didn't finish their entire star, they were comfortable with the technique by the end of the day. The focus of most of my classes is technique rather than projects. So, I am always happy to see them learning new methods and gaining inspiration to help them grow as artists.