McWhat?!?

Faced with the daunting task of raising thousands of dollars to take five kids to the Forensics National Tournament in Indianapolis this summer, I have spent the last several weeks enconsced in fundraising activities such as sending kids out in their professional business attire to solicit (beg) for donations, running concession stands, and supporting parents who held a giant yard sale – all typical fundraising activities.

Then I got a phone call and found out my team and I had been volunteered to join forces with another team and head up the first ever McTeacher’s night in our town.

“You signed us up for what?!? I asked.

“Working at McDonalds!!” my former friend answered a little too gleefully. “We make 20% of all total sales for the time we work. It’s a great fundraiser!”

I spent my entire day yesterday dreading my shift. I put myself through college waiting tables, and to be totally honest, I was NOT looking forward to returning to the food service industry. But I gotta tell you, working the drive thru is fun despite the fact that I kept getting in trouble because I slowed down the line.  I ended up knowing way too many drive thru customers and I had to at least say hi! It’s a small town.

Did you know drive thru’s have a timer that tracks the average number of seconds it takes to get a vehicle through? I had no idea.  I didn’t do much to help the crew’s averages, in fact, I probably would have gotten fired for being a bit too chatty.

But I did get to say hi to our vet, a gal from my husband’s office, a teacher I used to work with, two teachers I currently work with, former and current students, you get the picture. I even handed one of them my phone to take this shot which severely impacted our times, but we had a good laugh – people were not expecting to see me in the drive thru!

I finally got banned from hitting the little button that said we were done with an order because I hit it too early one time and deleted the order before it was served – oops! Thankfully the customer had her receipt, so the non-McTeachers could still fill her order.

I did some fascinating people watching which is a fun exercise in terms of character development. I never would have considered the drive thru as a good people watching place – who knew? You get to see inside people’s cars which is like a little window into their world.  The best (or worst) was the lady (thankfully in the passenger seat) who had clearly just left a casino and had her cigarette and cocktail in hand.  Apparently she needed some nuggets to go with her drink. I think I’d agree that a drink could definitely make them go down a little easier.

There was the angry grandma who was not so happy to get her “happy” meals for the also not so happy grandkids in the back seat. Another family had their dog in the bed of their truck. It was his first time ever to experience a drive thru, so we had to share a moment together. He was pretty excited about the whole experience.

You could also tell the weather has been nice by the somewhat shocking number of men who were beet red sunburned.  Apparently they don’t keep sun screen in their trucks, but I was surprised to find that a ton of people keep cigarettes in their vehicles! I clearly live in a secluded tobacco-free high school world because I had no idea how many people smoke in their cars. My 17 year old supervisor assured me that actually most people do in fact smoke in their cars and her wealth of experience in drive thru’s has provided solid evidence for reaching that conclusion.

The only bad part of the experience was that it reminded me of my age. The drive thru people are in charge of filling the drinks.  This is fine but the screen that shows all the drinks is way up high which means we had to crank our necks all the way back to see it. Then, being just a wee bit competitive I kept having to look at the little second counter to see how we were doing which seriously crinked my neck.

Unfortunately, McTeacher Night might end up with McChiropractor afternoon.

Seven Questions You Should Never Ask a Quilter

If you have a friend or loved one who quilts, and you would one day like to be the recipient of a lovely cherished heirloom, don’t ever ask them any of the following questions.  You may never get a quilt.

1.  “Why would you want to cut up perfectly good fabric just so you can sew it all back together again in another big piece?  What was wrong with it to begin with?”

 My dear husband asked me this when I first started quilting.  At the time, I didn’t really have a good answer for him because in some sense, his logical engineering brain came up with a good point.  If I recall correctly, I just stared him down.  He hasn’t asked that again.  Apparently he likes all the quilts around the house.

 2.   “You know that quilt you gave me? The cats love it.  I can’t get them off of it!  It’s their favorite place to sleep.”

The person who says this gets permanently removed from your quilting gift list.

 3.  “Is that supposed to look like that?”

This is a question that has different responses depending on who asks it.  If it’s a really good quilting buddy who asks it, you can safely assume whatever “it” is, looks like crap and needs fixing.  If it’s a non-quilter, you can safely assume they are lame and have no idea what they are looking at/talking about anyway.  You’re quilt is fine. Nod your head, smile, say “yes, it is supposed to look like that, thanks.”  Move ahead and consider scratching them from your quilting gift list as well.

 4.  “I needed to wrap a package and couldn’t find any scissors so I just grabbed those ones out of your sewing room to cut all the wrapping paper. Don’t my presents look great?”

This generally comes from a loved one who must be temporarily (or possibly permanently) banned from the sewing area.  See my post “Scissor Slut” for more on the sacred status of scissors.

 5.  “Did you ever finish that one quilt you started a long time ago that you were telling me about?”

I work on quilts based on whatever I feel like working on; hence, my giant pile of unfinished projects.  As a result, this is another one with two potential responses.  If it’s done, you say, “Yes, I did.  I gave it to _____________.  If I’d have known you loved it so much, I would have given it to you!  Bummer.”  Or, if it’s not done, you say, “Nope.  I got sick of it.  Hope you weren’t planning on snuggling up in it anytime soon.”

 6.  “Why do you need more fabric? Don’t you have enough?”

Only husbands (or at least the person you share a checking account with) asks this question.  It is not worthy of an answer, merely another stare down.  If my husband asks twice, I just have to ask if he really needs another gun. He’s an avid hunter, and I think one or two guns would kill whatever he’s hunting just fine, but what do I know? Since this question generally silences him on the amount of fabric I need, I would say that I clearly don’t know much about guns or hunting.  In fact, I know guns like he knows fabric.  ‘Nuff said.  

 7.  “How long are you going to take at the quilt shop?”

Another question from the love of my life.  My answer?  It could be hours buddy.  You better just drop me off and leave. . . . Love you!

Scissor Slut

Yes, they actually come in a velvet lined box. Diamonds do too.

I’m a little bit crazy about my good fabric scissors. In fact, I guard them kind of like how Rumpelstiltskin guarded his name, and like good old Rump, I get a little crazy when somebody steals my scissors and potentially ruins their magic.

There are paper scissors all over the house, but for some reason, occasionally one of my kids will grab a pair of my good fabric scissors to cut wrapping paper or some chunk of cardboard they need to decorate their science fair board.  They don’t quite understand the ensuing meltdown.  “Geez mom, they’re scissors,” they’ll say as I snatch my prized scissors from their hands while screeching, “Oh my God!  You didn’t actually cut paper with these did you?”  I clutch them to my breast as if I have just rescued a child from an oncoming semi-truck or a princess has just guessed my name, while they stare at me like I’ve completely lost my mind.

What they don’t understand is that my quilting scissors are sacred.  They really are just scissors, but there’s something about cutting fabric with a really sharp pair of shears that just . . . satisfies.  It has a certain sound and feel that dull paper scissors could never hope to replicate.

I have all kinds of fabric scissors, probably far more than are actually necessary, but I love all of them.  There are the little scissors that look like a bird with a long beak for snipping threads, rag quilt pruning shears, small ones, pinking shears, and classic fabric scissors.  This doesn’t even begin to touch the variety of rotary cutters sitting in a basket on my cutting table. I have every size available, and in some sizes I have a choice between regular and ergonomic handles.  I need every single pair. Really, I do.

Delicate applique pieces require my super sharp small pair that easily cut around tiny flower petals.  This task cannot, under any circumstances, be completed with a rotary cutter or , God forbid, regular, dull paper scissors.  Well, maybe it can, but I’m not trying it.

I choose which rotary cutter to use depending on a variety of factors.  If the fabric is thick, I need the big ones.  If I’m going around a curve, the little tiny one is absolutely necessary.

My shiny silver Gingher scissors are a must have for larger applique shapes.  I also need them just in case I ever decide to sew an actual piece of clothing ever again.  They are absolutely required for cutting out patterns.

I actually saved money from my food budget in college to buy these scissors.  I needed a dress for some event that I can no longer recall.  The only way to afford the dress was to sew it, so I borrowed a sewing machine and saved for the fabric and pattern, only to realize that I had no way to cut it all out.  I vividly remember riding my bike to the fabric shop and investing in my still favorite pair of scissors.  I think they cost $35, which was roughly half my food budget for the month and a significant investment at the time, but since I still have and love them, I feel like I’ve gotten money’s worth.

As I think about my scissors, I wonder if it’s not the scissors that I love so much, but the beginning stages of a project that the scissors represent.  The cutting stage of a quilt is the beginning, creative part, the playful part, my favorite part.

Funny that I also “cut” when I write, but that kind of cutting comes at the end of the process.  Sadly, the delete button on my keyboard doesn’t quite give me the same excited feeling as when I’m cutting fabric for a project. In fact, I kind of hate cutting my writing, but I think that’s another post.

Tree Trash

My Daughter’s “Trashless” Dream Tree

Despite the fact that my fourteen year old daughter never stepped a foot out of the truck to participate in our annual tree hunt this year as it was “way too cold,” she still managed to give us quite a few instructions on the size and shape of the tree we should get.  It needed to be tall and narrow, not “bushy.”  Living in Northern Nevada, we get pinion pines and finding a tall narrow one can be harder said than done, but we managed.  She approved of our find and then asked if she could please be in charge of the Christmas decorations this year. “Really,” I said.  “Why?”

“Because last year it looked like Santa puked Christmas all over the house, and this year, I want it to look pretty,” she replied.  Hmmm, Santa puke? She followed this with, “Why can’t we have a pretty tree with ornaments that match? Do you have to cover it with all your ‘tree trash’?”

Yep, tree trash.  That’s what my kids call the treasured ornaments and decorations that they spent countless hours creating.  The tongue depressor reindeer, the glitter and glue angels, the red and green chains to count down the days until Christmas, it has all been reduced to “tree trash,” and much to their dismay, I saved it all. Every single bit of it. They’re my favorite decorations, but apparently their dad and I are the only ones in this family who consider them decorations and not . . . trash.

Which begs the question, what is a holiday decoration? A box of fancy matchy bulbs from a store or a pile of faded construction paper, glitter and glue? My teenagers would choose the former; I’ll take the latter every time, but what are they decorating for?  I would say that at fourteen and sixteen, they’re still overly concerned with appearances, and they don’t really want all their friends to see the lovely ornaments they made in preschool despite the fact that most of their friends made the same exact things they did.  They’ll figure it out someday.

We spent one evening this week dragging out all the holiday decorations, but a full two-thirds of them went back into the garage as I decided to go ahead and let my daughter be in charge of the decorating.  I’ve always thought of myself as something of a minimalist in that I don’t like clutter, but when it came to decorating this season, she put me to shame.

She surveyed every decoration and decided what could come out and what had to stay put.  I did insist on most of the handmade ornaments for the tree, but none of the handmade pictures, cards, or large creations made the cut unless they went in my bedroom.  She informed me I could decorate my bedroom however I wanted it, and since my husband and I are the only people who like all that stuff anyway we could put it in there with us.  “That’s awfully generous of you,” I said.  She didn’t answer.  Sadly, her brother agreed with her.

I have to say that she did an impressive job, and now I know I have prepared her to handle the Christmas decorating responsibilities as an adult.  It was also a good compromise.  I have enough tree trash to make me happy, and she doesn’t feel like Santa puked on us . . .  though I do miss the reindeer one of them made out of a hanger and pantyhose that I usually hang on the door to the office.  I might just have to sneak that one in.

Fly Season

Every fall, fly season opens.  Unlike hunting season or the holiday season, it is not a season I look forward to.  The nasty pests congregate in groups,  slow, disgusting and fat, and then they magically multiply.  How do they get into my home in such droves?  I have screens on all the windows; I don’t leave the doors open all day.  I clean my house, and I do not live next to the dump like the Ewell’s in To Kill a Mockingbird.  I can only imagine poor Mayella’s fly problem.

Last week, I left a spoon on the counter that I had been using to stir some soup on the stove.  When my husband went into the kitchen, no less than six flies were on that spoon.  Eeeeewwwwhhh!    Even he was disgusted.

This is a problem that happens every fall.  Starting around the beginning of September through the first or second week of October, the flies come in.  At no other time of year do they behave like this.

Several years ago, my son went on a fishing trip with my Dad.  For the trip, my son used my husband’s fishing creel to store his daily catch.   Each evening, they would take their catch and clean it, except for one lone fish.  Somehow my son, who was around ten at the time, didn’t reach all the way to the bottom of his creel to collect all the fish on the last day of the trip.  Instead, he packed to go and shoved his fish filled creel into his duffle bag, with his clothes.  When he got home, he unpacked and set the creel, with the now rotting fish inside, onto a shelf in the garage.  When I started his laundry, his clothes smelled especially fishy, but I just figured it was because he was ten and had been wiping his fishy hands on them all weekend.  I washed them in hot water.  Problem solved, or so I thought until something began to smell in the garage.

This was the middle of July, and the stench kept getting worse.  Finally, we had a family “search the garage for the stink” party.  Lucky me, I was the one to find the creel.  I opened it up and peeked in only to be assaulted by a sight from a horror movie and an even worse stench.  Flies had found the fish before I did, and maggots covered it; they crawled up the sides of the creel, in and out of the half rotted trout.

I, of course, did what any self-respecting woman would do:  screamed, threw the creel on the ground, and ran.  Then, I got to be a mean mom and make my son go take care of it.  This only entailed picking it up with a shovel and depositing it into the garbage as we decided that we would rather get another creel than try to clean that one out.  (I guess that makes us typical Americans living in a consumable society, but that’s another post.)  I wasn’t touching the maggots filled creel regardless of how wasteful throwing it away was.

That’s the only time in my life I’ve seen maggots up close and personal.  For that I am thankful, but that leads to the question of all the flies.  Maggots are fly babies.  If I never see the babies, where do the adults come from?  In truth, I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that question.  I do know, that this is the only time that I can’t wait for really cold weather to get here, decimate the fly population, and put a solid end to fly season.

What the hell is a table runner for anyway?

Every quilter has made a table runner. I admit it. I have too. In fact, I’ll even admit I have no less than six that are done and just need binding. It is the ubiquitous quilting gift – fast, easy, good use for leftover blocks. But what is it? Have you ever heard somebody say, “All my table runners are worn out. I really need to get some new ones”? Have you ever even seen any body actually use a table runner for anything functional?

Me either.

I’ve never used one, other than to decorate at Christmas because I made myself one when I made a batch of them for Christmas gifts, but that’s not really using it. Is it? I started thinking about this because the last quilt I made came from a pattern book that actually had table runner patterns in it for leftover blocks which I found curious on a number of levels.

If you’re writing a quilt book and offering instruction on how to make a quilt, why would your patterns require so much extra fabric that you can make extra blocks? Or require cutting so much extra fabric that you ended up with enough random strips and triangles to make some ever useful table runners?

Table runners were invented because of guys like this.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the history of the table runner. Apparently, back in medieval times, people would wipe their faces on the table cloth. Eventually, thank God, this became unacceptable and somebody invented napkins, but people still ate like pigs and spilled their food and drinks all over the tablecloths which then had to be laundered, so some wise woman invented the table runner to protect the table cloth.

As I can imagine, doing laundry in the 15th century would be pure hell, especially a giant greasy, wine-stained piece of table linen. I’m not sure who invented the first table runner, but my guess is that it was the poor peasant woman who had to do the castle’s laundry.

I struggle to get the clothes out of the dryer and folded. Usually by the time a load has been folded, I’ve “reheated” it in the dryer 4-5 times to get out all the wrinkles because God forbid I might have to iron something. I can only imagine the hell of having to go the river to drag buckets of water back to the fire to heat in order to wash the table cloth and then burning your hands in some sort of soap that you had to make by hand the day before. And you still had to rinse the damn thing. The table runner was clearly invented out of necessity.

But I digress. In order to avoid having to repeatedly wash the entire table cloth, the table runner was invented. Apparently, they were easier to clean than an entire table cloth which actually makes sense. For some reason, they stuck around, and now we quilters can make them when we want an easy fast project.

Thankfully, we don’t require the use of them anymore. Quilted table runners are somewhat useless when it comes to protecting anything precious. If you’ve ever set a glass of wine on top of a quilted table runner, you know what I’m talking about. The sometimes poofy quilting can make the glasses a little bit tipsy (doesn’t have anything to do with drinking any of the wine) and causes them to tip right over, staining the table cloth and the table runner.

My table runner conclusion? In a functional sense, table runners are . . . completely dysfunctional. But when it comes to quilting, who really needs function?

Want to people watch? Hold a yard sale.

Last weekend, a friend and I got inspired to clean out our closets and garages and hold a yard sale.  We set up some tables on the driveway, loaded them up, priced all our goodies with little round neon stickers and were ready to go.

The morning was a study in people watching, not quite as good as a Nascar race (the ultimate place to people watch) but still pretty good, especially for a writer.

The first observation I made is that yard-salers drive like crap.  They’d fly up the road, slam on their brakes to drive by really slowly craning their necks out the window to check everything out from their car as if they could really see the cool fish shaped shower curtain rings all the way from the street.  This is worse than texting while driving.  They were not watching where they were going, and those who chose not to park missed out on some truly cool stuff.

Those who deemed the tables of treasures adequate for further perusal fell into five clear cut categories.

  • The Discerning Shopper – this person would question us on every item.  They would pick each treasure up, turn it over, and completely check it out.  One woman undressed every one of our daughters’ old baby dolls to make sure . . . well, I’m not sure what she was checking, but she didn’t dress the dolls that she didn’t buy back up.  We had to.  That was annoying.  Another guy opened up every single CD to make sure he wasn’t purchasing an empty case.  I wanted to tell him just to get an ipod but then I would’ve lost the sale, so I kept my mouth shut.
  • The Haggler – This person refused to pay full price, even on items marked .25¢.  One woman actually asked if I’d take a dime instead of a quarter.  I get that people are looking for bargains at yard sales but really?!?
  • The Browser – This person would circle the entire driveway checking out every item on every table.  Then they’d do it again . . . and again.  I’d ask if they were looking for something in particular.  They never were, but they’d usually circle one last time before leaving empty handed.
  • The Talker – The talkers came incognito as shoppers.  They acted like they wanted to shop, browsing away and slowing down when they got near our chairs.  As soon as one of us said, “good morning” their true nature emerged.  They were really there to talk.  Total strangers told us their life stories.  One man talked for over twenty minutes.  I can tell you his kids’ names, the breeds of each of his eight dogs, which ones are nice and which ones fight, why he needs a lawnmower, his job (he was a truck driver) etc. You get the idea.  Thankfully, we only had a handful of talkers.  They were the most exhausting of the bunch.
  • The Boss – These are the laziest of the yard sale people.  They sit in their air conditioned car and send out scouts, either their spouses or their kids.  The scouts then report back either by cell phone (even though the car would be parked, maybe, 30 feet away) or by actually walking all they way back to the car to let the Boss know what they had scouted out and if the sale was worthy of their presence.

Since I’ve started writing, I’ve found that I tend to people watch with a more discerning eye.  I’m not sure if this is a good thing.  For my writer self, it’s good for character development, but then I also find myself highly entertained by random details which makes me wonder if I’m being an “observant writer” or if I’m actually just overly judgmental and bitchy.

I think I’ll go with “observant writer.”

I’m worried, and it sucks.

I am leaving shortly to take my baby to the DMV to take his driver’s test.  He will walk away with his first official ID, and the ability to take a vehicle, a large moving projectile, on the road all by himself without me stomping on the highly effective passenger side brake.  I’m scared to death.

I’m not normally a worrier.  Worrying is a waste of time and energy, and who wants to spend time thinking about all the bad things that might happen?  Not me, especially when 99.9% of the time whatever horrible scenario I have dreamed up would be as likely to happen as California falling off.  Surprisingly, this actually did come up when I was a kid.

I had a crazy great uncle who lived on a secluded compound with his cult somewhere in Montana.  Occasionally, he would call my parents with dire warnings that they must flee the Bay Area as California was destined to fall off into the sea, drowning us all.  I’m not sure if it was going to be a clean cut along state lines or if it would follow a fault line in which case only half of the state would fall.  In any case, my parents moved us to the safety of Nevada when I was seven, so I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.

Thankfully, I’ve never worried about such dramatic events as the end of California like my great uncle did; however, I’ve never had a son get a license before either, and I’m finding that on a worry scale, its about as high for me as California falling off was for my uncle.

Two weeks ago, my son bought a truck, a little 2001 Ford Ranger.  It’s a great little truck, and we probably could have got a slightly better deal on it but the lady who sold it to us had no teeth and was on oxygen, so my husband felt guilty chewing down her price too much.  Happily, the truck has a 3 liter V6 engine which translates into relatively “gutless.”  Despite that fact, I have had visions of it rolling, bursting into flames, the tires falling off on the freeway, any variety of disasters all of which end with my baby horribly injured.

I would love to say that my son is a responsible, extremely mature 16 year old who always considers the consequences of his actions, but he’s not.  He’s typical.  Two nights ago he took me for a drive to a nearly gravel pit to show me how he figured out how to pop the clutch and make it fish tail all over the place.  Oh God.  I just grabbed the “oh shit” handle above the window and shut my eyes, fondly remembering how he used to show me safe things, like how high he could jump.

When we got home, my husband asked where we had gone, and I could only glare at him.  Our son has learned his love of crazy driving from his father.  I would never make a vehicle go sideways on purpose.  My husband lives for snowy days when each corner becomes an opportunity to go sideways; empty intersections become perfect places for brodies.  For him, driving is much more fun in the snow when the truck is not in 4 wheel drive.

Apparently, he’s taught our son well, and it scares the crap out of me.  I’ve been praying for weeks, worrying about this impending day.  Feel free to pray with me.  Or just pray for yourself as you drive down our roads and highways that are littered with 16 year old drivers.  We’re adding one more today.  Lord help us all.

The Piss Plant – Once Again Life Proves Stranger than Fiction

The Accused

This spring, starting about mid-April, each evening, when my husband I would sit in our favorite chairs to read, write or watch baseball, we could smell cat piss.  It is not a pleasant smell.  Some days it was strong, others, we could barely smell it at all.  In any case, the cat, Blackberry, was in big trouble.  We banned him from the house.

My daughter had strict orders to make sure the cat was in the garage or outside before we all left for work and school.  She spent an entire afternoon, moving furniture in the family room and spraying each and every spot she could find with carpet cleaner. It didn’t help.  In fact, it got worse.

I called the carpet guy. “Yep, I smell it.  Definitely a cat,” he said as soon as he entered my house, sniffing repeatedly.  He then went on to explain that in order to locate the exact spot that had been sprayed, he needed to use a black light.  Apparently, cat piss has crystals in it that light up underneath a black light.

This is one of those tidbits that writers file away.  What if someday I decide to write a horror piece with a rabid cat in a disco?  I could use that information!

In any case, we now had to make my house dark enough for a black light. It was noon.  I don’t live in a disco.  I have windows, and since we aren’t currently under any threat of nighttime bombing raids, I don’t have black out curtains.  I did, however, have three teenagers at home and a stack of quilts.  We proceeded to hold up these in front of the windows until all the blood ran out of our hands while we watched the carpet guy crawl around on the floor shining the black light.

Anytime anything lit up, he’d put his nose right next to the carpet and take a long sniff.  “Is that it? Are you finding it?” I kept asking.

“Nope, not it,” he kept replying.  This was getting annoying.  My arms hurt holding up the heavy quilt, and he just kept crawling and shining.  I learned that my carpet looks disgusting under a black light.

Even though he never found the spot, he went ahead and treated the entire carpet with some sort of special really expensive pet piss stuff, and then he cleaned my carpet.

The Culprit Piss Plant

The next day, carpets dry, we moved the furniture back.  I sat in my chair and smelled . . . cat piss.  What the hell?

My husband then decided the cat must have pissed on the plant that sits behind my chair and that’s what smelled.  He moved my lone indoor plant outside to the front porch and guess what? The smell vanished.

I decided to scrub the pot and perhaps clean off the pee.  I heaved the plant up, my face buried in its leaves (it’s actually a dwarf tree) and carried it to the sink.  By the time I got it across the kitchen, I was gagging.  The pot was not the culprit.  It was the plant itself.  My dwarf fig tree’s leaves smell like cat piss.

It has now been outside for two weeks, and it’s sucking up enough water that I would think it needs to take its own piss.  It doesn’t, it just smells like it did already.  My kids christened it “the piss plant” and let the cat back in the house.

In fiction, cause and effect are crucial.  Events must lead to, well, something, or why have them?  Likewise,  any effect or event, must have some sort of cause.  In this case, the cause of the cat piss smell in my home is . . . not a cat!  Of  course its not.  That would be so . . . predictable.  Instead its the lovely leaves on my dwarf fig tree proving, yet again, that life is often stranger than fiction.