Friday, April 3, 2009

The Quilt Files, Episode 9

There are times when someone very conveniently announces an engagement months before the wedding, giving you time to plan the quilt. And then there are the times when someone has a whirlwind romance and gets married when six months ago you didn't even know they had a boyfriend. In that case, it's time to dip into the stash.

I don't think I've spoken of the stash before, but most quilters have one. Of course, it contains all the leftover fabric scraps from quilts you have finished; it also contains fabrics you saw in the store that you just had to have, even if you didn't know what to do with them. In any case, to make a quick log cabin quilt, all you need to do is raid your stash for some scrap strips (these were 1½" wide) in a variety of colors, and you're on your way.

I wanted to make this log cabin entirely from batik fabrics, but at the time I started this project, I'd only finished a couple of projects. Luckily, my grandmother and mother lent me some of their own stashes. That gave me most of the color groups I needed, so I only needed to buy a few fat quarters of oranges and pinks to create log cabin blocks that were half cool tones (green, turquoise, blue) and half warm tones (pink, yellow, orange). Of course, the centers were red, according to the tradition that they represent the hearth (or heart) of the home.

There are half a dozen ways to arrange log cabin blocks; after making a few, I tried a couple different arrangements and discovered that for these colors, I preferred the one called "barn-raising." I modified it a bit with some three-quarter/one-quarter light/dark squares, to get better defined corners for the center diamonds. Then I put all my leftover strips together and sliced them smaller to make the borders.

I found some suitable fabrics for backing, and machine quilted some large diamond patterns in each quadrant. For a project that had no real planning beforehand, and which took me three to four months to finish, I thought it came out pretty well. Maybe sometime I'll return to my stash and make a smaller version for myself.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

First quarter book report

At the end of 2008 I saw many bloggers list all the books they had read that year. I read a lot of books, too, but since I didn't write them down I'm not sure how many I actually managed to finish. (With over 200 newspaper and magazine issues that make up most of my reading during the year, I have less time nowadays for books.) I decided that for 2009 I would keep track of all the books I read, and make note of it. So here's my report for the first quarter of 2009; there's a guide to abbreviations below, and the number in parentheses refers to how many times I've read the book.

Key: F: Fantasy; H: Historical; M: Mystery; MG: Middle Grade (ages 8-12); NF: Nonfiction; SF: Science Fiction; YA: Young Adult (age 13+)

01/08/09: Leslie Connor, Waiting for Normal (MG, 1)
01/05/09: Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (1)
01/19/09: Kim Stanley Robinson, Forty Signs of Rain (SF, 1)
01/26/09: Robinson, Fifty Degrees Below (SF, 1)
01/30/09: Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice (10? 15? I've lost count)
02/01/09: Richard Peck, The River between Us (YA, H, 1)
02/08/09: Robinson, Sixty Days and Counting (SF, 1)
02/12/09: Julia Barrett, Presumption (H, 1 or 2)
02/15/09: Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book (MG, F, 1)
02/18/09: Laurie Halse Anderson, Chains (YA, H, 1)
02/20/09: Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones's Diary (3 or 4)
02/22/09: Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now (YA, 1)
02/26/09: Emma Tennant, Pemberley (H, 1)
02/27/09: Tennant, An Unequal Marriage (H, 1)
03/05/09: The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century (SF, 1)
03/07/09: Richard Peck, The Teacher's Funeral (YA, H, 1)
03/10/09: Stephen R. Donaldson, The Mirror of Her Dreams (F, 4-5*)
03/12/09: Donaldson, A Man Rides Through (F, 4-5)
03/14/09: Jane Dawkins, Letters from Pemberley (H, 1)
03/15/09: Stephenie Meyer, Twlight (YA, F, 1)
03/21/09: Carrie Bebris, Pride and Prescience (H, M, 1)
03/24/09: James Kennedy, The Order of Odd-Fish (YA, F, 1)
03/31/09: George Cantor, A Season in the Big House (NF, 1)

*but not in the past 10 years

23 books total
8 middle-grade/young adult
6 Sci-Fi or Fantasy
7 Austen-related

That's actually more books than I thought I'd read, almost two per week. It's because I'm spending at least 30 minutes a day on the exercise bike, which is great reading time. It's also more first-time reads than I usually have; most often I'm re-reading an old favorite, but this year I'm trying to keep up with the children's marketplace. It will be interesting to see if the proportions change next quarter. How many books have you read so far this year, and which was your favorite? I believe of the books I read for the first time this quarter, I would choose either The River between Us or The Graveyard Book as my favorite.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pick my next project!

I'm feeling the need to try something new. I have two fantastic ideas for projects, but I just can't decide which has the better prospects. So I thought, let's see what my readers think (all six of you). Consider these two great ideas and let me know which one you like best.

1) I was browsing the TV the other day and turned to my favorite channel, Lifetime Movie Network. I got caught up in The Loneliest Runner for the fortieth time. I was sobbing (again) as the young protagonist (whom writer Michael Landon based on his childhood self) ran up to his house where his urine-stained sheets hung from his bedroom window. And I thought about all those poor children around the world with bed-wetting problems: there should be a book for them! So I thought I would use my researching skills to create a bibliotherapeutic guide for children dealing with enuresis (bed-wetting). Of course, it will be written in verse. The tentative title? I Wish My Bladder Were Fatter: A Child's Guide to Incontinence.

2) The other day I was driving down Ford Road, the 55-mph route towards Ann Arbor, and I noticed signs of spring: dead raccoon. Dead possum. Dead squirrel. Dead raccoon, dead raccoon, half a dead raccoon. Dead deer. I asked that timeless question all authors use for inspiration: What if? What if I were a little kid riding the bus down Ford Road, so bored that there was nothing to do but look out the window? What might I imagine, gazing down at all those squashed animals? They wouldn't just lay there, that's for sure. They'd get up and play, they'd jump and cavort, ... they'd run away from the bus. And little Bobby would see himself out there with his slightly flat friends, playing tag and chasing them. The tentative title of this one? Road-Kill Rodeo.

So note in the comments which one of these two projects you like best. I can't wait to get started!*

*Or you could take note of the date and suggest your own horrible children's book title.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Janespotting: Bridget Jones's Diary

I'm continuing my romp through Austen-inspired works with this popular book and film. If you're not a huge Austen fan and only casually read this seminal chick lit novel of the '90s, you might not realize that Helen Fielding drew much of her inspiration from Austen's Pride and Prejudice. (Actually, I think the actual quote from her is "I stole Austen's plot.") As you'd expect from the title, the novel recounts one year in the life of British thirtysomething Bridget Jones through her various diary entries. She fights a constant battle against her weight, her cigarette addiction, her desire for a decent boyfriend, and the expectations of her parents and all the Smug Married people around her.

The novel opens in January, with Bridget's parents trying to fix her up at a family party with a divorcee named Mark Darcy. She finds him dreadful and boring at first, but we can tell from his name (Mr. Darcy!) that he'll turn out to be perfect for her. In the meantime, Bridget gets involved with her boss, gets dumped by her boss, switches jobs, and deals with disasters big and small along the way. Her relationship with Mr. Darcy doesn't progress very far, until her mother gets involved with a shady timeshare scheme and Mark steps in to save the day.

With its no-holds-barred, even raunchy, exploration of Bridget's thoughts and feelings—her obsessing over weight and sex and relationships—you wouldn't think this had much to do with Austen besides a few superficial name and plot similarities. But I think it's a very good tribute; a translation, if you will, to modern sensibilities. After all, at heart each book asks its protagonist the same question: when are you going to get married? who will make you happy? In both cases, the answer involves looking past first impressions.

I wanted to add a bit about the 2001 film adaptation, which is one of my favorite film comedies ever. First of all, they managed the delicious irony of getting Colin Firth (see P&P 1995 miniseries) to play Mark Darcy. Then they cast Hugh Grant against type as Bridget's boss Daniel, the caddish Wickham analogue (and he's brilliant). They removed the subplot where Bridget's mother has possibly defrauded her neighbors, so there's no parallel to Lydia's scandal, but in its place they greatly enlarged the Mark Darcy/Daniel Cleaver backstory, making a greater parallel to the Mr. Darcy/Mr. Wickham subplot. Since this gave Colin Firth a great deal more screentime than Mark Darcy got in the book (he appears only briefly until the last two or three chapters), it was an excellent exchange, in my opinion. Add the bonus of actors with posh British accents saying cusswords—something guaranteed to make me giggle—and you've got a film that actually improves on the original book, at least in my opinion. If you're at all a fan of romantic comedies, this one is essential.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Photo of the Week--3/23/09

We made a spring trip to Wales and visited Tintern Abbey, which those English majors among you may remember as the setting for a lengthy poem by Wordsworth ("Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey on revisiting the banks of the Wye Valley during a tour, July 13, 1798"). Strangely enough, the poem never describes the building itself, but contemplates the natural beauty of the river valley. (Or maybe it's not strange, knowing Wordsworth's affinity for the natural world.) In any case, I found the ruins just as beautiful, set against the green green grass (O! for green grass here!) and the misty skies.