Monday, May 31, 2010

West Coast Thunder 2010

This Memorial Day we headed out early (9:11 a.m.) to stand on the median of a major street near our home and holler, cheer and wave flags at the hoards (over 4,000 I heard) motorcyclists vrooming up the hill in honor of Vets everywhere.

Later that night we barbecued. See for the menu and recipes.

We hollered and waved our little flags--next year I'll have to find a bigger one, I think, like these riders.

Why do we do this? Well, I remember going to Rolling Thunder in Washington, DC--extending my hand to be "high-fived" by the passing bikers. (Here, they're going too fast, and they're over against the curb.) It was an amazing day--the riders, the visit to the cemetary and the Vietnam Memorial ("The Wall"). I hope to capture a little of that when I stand out on the curb here in Riverside and wave at these bikers. Who knows how many of them are Vets? I can kind of guess at the ones who are--those who flash us the peace sign, are as old as I am, who just "have the look." But I'm also glad that there are others joining them to celebrate this Decoration Day.

I like this motorcycle because of the fiery-looking metal plate just underneath his leg.

We saw our friends, the Greens there, but they took a more relaxed approach to the event.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Quilt at the Cellular Level

The quilt is now at the cellular level, meaning that not only I have ripped the quilt into many blocks, I've now taken the blocks apart into their pieces. Daunting? Oh, yeah. Am I discouraged? Pretty much--but mostly because I can't figure out how to make a quilt out of this fabric that I think I will be happy with.

Traditional French "Indienne" fabric is printed with little designs in an ordered fashion: polka dots, if you will. (Click on the photo above to enlarge to see the designs more clearly.) And if you're going to make a quilt out of polka dots, usually it's the broad strokes of color that will be seen, as in the photo below, where you notice the red squares against the yellow squares.

I was despairing that I didn't have enough red fabric to complete my current idea and Lo and Behold my friend Tracy brought me a fat quarter of some "real French fabric" today from her trip to Spring Quilt Market. What serendipity!

I still like the idea of the zig-zaggy borders being incorporated into the quilt, so that it contains its own border. So I'm kind of hanging onto that idea for now, knowing that whatever I put in the middle with have that as its outer edges. I decided that the color combination of the blue-gray against the yellow (which I personally love) is part of the problem, so in the quilt above, I've covered up some of that blue gray with a deeper contrasting blue, helping the little squares to march across the quilt in a diagonal pattern. I wonder if I should bring in a solid, to help balance the "dottiness."

Frankly, I'm feeling a little dotty. Time to let it rest.

So here's a change of subject. In our arbor out back, where some of the vines have looped down underneath, a hummingbird has built her nest. She's about 8 feet from our family room window and we brought down the binoculars to watch her up close. Riley and Keagan had a fun time seeing her on the nest (although the functional use of the binoculars was a bit out of reach for them). That bird just stayed there and stayed there and stayed there.

Once when she finally flew off (to get some food, we assume) Barbara made the comment that she understood perfectly: even the most diligent mothers need a break now and again.

Well now we think the eggs have hatched for the bird flies away far more often, then dips her beak down into her nest when she returns. No sign of the baby birds, though.

We'll keep watching.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I made this quilt a couple of years ago, cutting and piecing all in a rush to get it done, working with my collection of fabrics from France. That was my self-imposed structure: only fabrics that I had from France, and that limitation shows in this quilt.

I liked the design, but I had to use oranges instead of yellows, greens instead of navy, brown and purples instead of deep blues in the border. I had finished it, but it wasn't working. The contrasts were off somehow, betrayed by the color, for sometimes when person looks at a fabric they think they are seeing something different--for a brown does look different from a green--but the lack of strong contrast can betray a quilt; contrast is needed to strengthen this particular design. Although it was finished, it was weak at the core.

Last year at our local quilt show was a new vendor--one who had bolts and bolts of real French indienne fabrics--those little prints that resemble polka dots or men's ties. I bought two more lengths of yellow, and 8-10 pieces of navy blue, this quilt in the back of my mind.

But who wants to rip up and fix an old quilt? Maybe that's how some of those quilt tops that are present in other booths at the quilt show came to be: lovely tops but just not quite right, as if the maker put it all together then decided to move on to something else, the top folded away to be taken up at another time.

But now I have the fabrics, the time. It's a leap of faith, I think, to un-make a quilt. This stack could easily become a pile of blocks put back into a box to be sold some years hence at a quilt show. Or passed down to grandchildren who are learning to sew. Or given away to the thrift store. Or simply chucked in the trash. I took several deep breaths before giving a satisfying tug, pulling it apart at the seams.

It took me the better part of an evening to do this. I listened to the radio show This American Life, streamed down on my computer, listened to sounds my husband was making as he worked and moved through the house, thought about someone I loved who had just announced he was divorcing. I've been in that situation--divorcing--and that too, is a leap of faith. Only instead of blocks, there are children, houses, cars and sofas. Instead of threads, there are memories. But sometimes a marriage is just not right, and like a quilt, the problems often don't show up until the quilt is complete.

I worked steadily, setting the separated blocks in a growing stack. When I finished that night, I had a soft pile of four-by-four squares, and a mess of thread on the carpet. I turned out the light, and went to bed, offering up extra prayers for those who are un-doing, ripping apart things to set lives finally right.

Un-making, I think, is an act of courage.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Two Quilts

I finished the green quilt top, stitched together the pieces for the back and it's now at the quilter's.

I began this one--Christmas Star--last fall (November? October?) in a clear space in my schedule, but it's taken me until now to finish the top.

Today's goal is to get the back pieced and get that off to the quilter as well.

I've even begun thinking about the other quilts marooned in my quilting closet, those quilts that I bought the fabric for, dreamed up and abandoned for work or family fun. Maybe I can even tackle one or two of those? Don't want to get too giddy, now.

For those of you who asked about the quilt in the background, it was last summer's project.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

UCR Chair

I'd been saving up for a while, so some time ago I purchased a university chair--a look-alike to my father's Harvard chair that I grew up with. Mine is a variation of his and it reminds me of his chair, his accomplishment. . . and him. I contacted our bookstore, as I had to go through an "official channel" in order to use the logo. This chair is more typically an East Coast kind of tradition; our buyer had never heard of it, and it took some time and multiple emails to get the thing ordered.

I chose UCR's symbol because that's my Alma Mater, as well as the place where Dave works currently as Department Chair and Professor. I'm really proud of him and love that he works at a university.

After about two months of waiting, the bookstore called and told me the chair had arrived and I could go and pick it up. When I got there, the buyer told me that she'd opened the box to check for shipping damages--and also because she was curious and wanted to see this chair. So much has changed at UCR since I graduated, but taking that little trip reminded me of all the hours I spent in class, at the computer. It reminded me of the help from my mother, who regularly sent me a check to help cover tuition costs. It reminded me of my sisters who have all graduated from college, and particularly of my sister Susan, when I asked if I should attend a Cal-State or a UC school responded enthusiastically: "University of California, for sure!"

I coaxed them all into a photo shoot one day, all of us wearing clothing related to our university. I was the last to graduate from the University of California. Christine, to the right, graduated first from Stanford. Cynthia, to the left of my mother, graduated from Brigham Young University. My mother, a late graduate from Weber State University is next to my sister Susan, who earned her doctorate from the University of Chicago.

While the college I work at is much smaller and my job description is far less lofty than Dave's, I am also in education. I also like it---most of the time--especially now, in summer, when I can file away last semester's work and take a hiatus before next semester's work arrives (sometime mid-June is when things start to happen).

Fiat Lux was the original wording on the University of California seal, a logo originally designed by Tiffany and Company. Some years ago the Powers That Be changed it to the English version: Let There Be Light.

I don't sit in the chair all that often, but I like looking at it as I pass by. It's a tangible reminder of my education as well as my heritage of university life.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Study is Cleaner

Well, the study is cleaner now--books stashed somewhere else, bins organized for next semester's teaching, new books in a new place, stuff off of the floor, with a trash can's worth of paper gone.

It's a good thing it's done for a while, because right as I was finishing up, I got back an email from the librarian at my school. We're building a new library, or Materials Center, or whatever, and I'd asked if I could reserve one of the study rooms along the outside wall for my office hours. One hour a week. Her first response was, "What if all 80 of the adjuncts wanted to do that? We don't really want to get into scheduling."

I thought, Well, so what if they all 80 of us did? Isn't the main mission of the community college teaching? And shouldn't all the Admin be working to assist us in reaching our students and giving our best? And how hard is it to place a schedule card in the window?
I said, "Oh."

Then she said she'd suggest it and see what happened. Her email today said something to the effect of the Admin has decided that the rooms should be "first-come, first-served."

It was just my straw today.
I've been working for the last couple of weeks on deciding on textbooks, surveying the web for ideas for fall's classes, setting up syllabi, grading and scoring and wrapping up this semester's classes: all the various and sundry items outside of the classroom which keep a class running, for which I am paid not one red cent. Upon reading the response to my query I thought to myself, well, if the Admin doesn't care, why do I care so much? If they don't care to "get our backs" when we're trying to have office hours, then why do I try and keep office hours?

I wrote to my friend Judy, very upset at this whole thing, and she wrote back a confirming and affirming email, with this closing line: "Maybe we should crash graduation. You know, pretend we really work there."

It made me laugh out loud. I have had the attitude that I'm important, that what I do matters, that I help grease the great cogs of education over at my institution. The email shattered that pretense, putting me back in my little old adjunct place. But thanks to Judy, I can laugh about it.

So that's why falling into the pattern of stitching up my little green quilt, fingering the cloth, pressing the seams flat, and having something tangible to show for my labors is so seductive.

It's far away from the ivy towers of adjunct slavery--a place I don't have to visit for a nice, long summery while.

Friday, May 14, 2010

My Study's a Mess

I've got some work to do in here, don't you think?
No blahblahblah today--I'd better get going on this.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Skipping My Way to the End

I'm headed off to give my class their final exam. It's the last day of class, and we'll meet once more at their final exam time so the students can see their exams, check their grades. The trend has been to give the finals early--apparently it's happening in all their classes. I don't know why the math teachers do it, after all they have scantrons, but the Englishy types give the exams earlier because there's just so much to correct and grade. Stacks and stacks. Reams and reams. Tons of stuff.

Last Sunday I pieced 4 blocks for my friend's humanitarian quilt project. I cut out 3 1/2" squares of green fabric, layered two together and stitched two diagonal lines, 1/2" apart. I cut the square apart between the stitched lines making what's known in the trade as "half-square triangles." Here are the squares above.

But I was left with lots of 3 1/2" squares and I was DONE making triangles. So I started sewing them together, putting a white square in the middle, in hopes of making a new twin-sized quilt for the guest bedroom (we already have one twin-sized quilt--just need another). See below for diagram. My inspiration was the bright pink and orange quilt that I made last summer.

After I grade my stacks and stacks and reams and reams, I'll get back to this. A nice little respite from the labor-intensive Christmas Star quilt I've been working on.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Because I had such a lovely Mother's Day with cards from many thoughtful people/children/husband and calls from many thoughtful people/children/husband, I thought I'd make some cookies for you.

Adobe Photoshop Cook from Lait Noir on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

(click to enlarge, then go and thank Your Mother, or whoever else helped raise you)

Thanks, Mom!

Thursday, May 06, 2010


I've been working on my class for next fall, which in some ways, is really dumb.

Who knows if it will carry (it's a mediocre time slot)?
Who knows if the school will survive our continuing massive budget cutbacks?
Who knows if the new chair still thinks a lowly adjunct can manage a "full-timer's" course?
Who knows if I'll be hit by a truck in Canada and all this time will be wasted, when I should have been cleaning out closets, filing negatives and updating my personal history?

Kidding about that last one. Sort of.

But textbook orders were due last week and I've been swimming in the lists of stories, poems, essays, short fiction, reading chapters of (sometimes boring) textbooks that are piled high in the corner of my study. I'm trying to figure out my approach to this class, which frankly, will be from a writer's perspective, rather than a strict pedagogical aspect. And I'll bet you're impressed I knew such a big word, right?

So, in the spirit of figuring out what a poem means, here's Billy Collin's take on this. I'm leading out the Poetry section with this one. For Sure.

"Introduction to Poetry," by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
And watch him probe his way out,

Or walk inside the poem’s room
And feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to water ski
Across the surface of a poem
Waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
Is tie the poem to a chair with rope
And torture a confession out of it

They begin beating it with a hose
To find out what it really means.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Happy, Happy

These two are happy, happy. The one on the left is my sister Christine, who just announced her engagement to the one on the right, Douglass. We've been waiting for photos and they just arrived.

I'm happy, happy, too. I've recently had a vacation from my aches and pains, courtesy of a dose of Prednisone, for the asthma/bronchitis/whatever the Urgent Care doctor found. It's been nice to turn over in bed and not wince in the middle of the night from a sore shoulder. It's been nice to walk up the stairs and my hip not hurt. Like I said, little vacation from myself.

The illness popped up suddenly with a cough cough last week, then moved to full-blown hack hack. Urgent Care told me to follow up with my regular doctor, only she's gone for two months (we believe a huge case of Burn-Out) so I had to see her stand-in. Dr. Frankenstein. No lie. He wouldn't give me the knock-out cough syrup with codeine, but instead some "pearls," a kind of cough suppressent that I can truthfully say didn't work well at all. As a result, I was able to get a lot of research papers graded in the middle of the night and handed them all back on Monday.

Happy, happy that the semester is almost over. Happiness all around.