Feeding at the Feeder

feeding2feeding1feeding3My favorite moments are when the parent birds bring their babies to our feeders and show them how to eat.  I don’t know why but it stops me in my tracks every time.  The natural and spontaneous affection between Mama Cardinal and Baby is both endearing and instructive.  The baby is trusting.  The parent is protective and gentle.

It scares me when I watch the animals for any length of time.  It scares me because they behave just like we do in so many ways.

They are us.   We are them.

And I wonder if, just because we can agonize over every move, (Am I at the right feeder?  Will this feeder always be there for my baby? Is the food here healthy?  Am I teaching my baby the right things?) does that make us any different than the birds?  When all is said and done, we may be a little more complex and wonder about a few more things.

But it’s all a matter of degree isn’t it.  I can question more, care about more, work more, worry about more, suffer more.  But do I enjoy more?

The animals in our yard seem blissfully content with their lives.

Every day they teach me something new.

World's Most Relaxed Squirrel

World’s Most Relaxed Squirrel

Chicago Botanic Garden

flowers1This week I went to Chicago Botanic Gardens.  It was on my list of things to do this summer and I’m just squeezing it in under the wire before school starts.  I went alone.

And what a joy.

Can you find the hummingbird?

Can you see the hummingbird?


How did I live here all my life and not spend time in these gardens?  Actually, I was here  once before about 20 years ago.  I was managing a photo shoot and was overwhelmed by the work.  Were the models on time?  Was the photographer happy?  (Because there’s nothing like a photo shoot with an unhappy, temperamental, egocentric photographer.)  Was the merchandise correctly displayed?  Were we on time and on budget? Would the weather hold? I can barely remember the scenery.

But this time was a different story.  I strolled.  I took pictures.  I contemplated. I noticed.

It was lovely.

A few pictures to share.

I Should Be Quilting

Yes. I should be quilting.  I should be quilting because my nephew and his wife are going to have a baby that’s due in November and I am making them a quilt to match the baby’s room. (I’ll be posting that as soon as I actually begin.)

But the midwestern harvest is coming in and I spent the morning gathering radishes, onions, shallots, zucchini, and cabbage.  The local farm tells me tomatoes are still 2 weeks away here.  I am excited because for the first year in a long time, my tomatoes (knock on wood) are looking good.  Last year I had thousands of cherry tomatoes, but not much luck with heirlooms and plum tomatoes.  This year, all seem to be thriving– God willing, the critters stay away and the creek don’t rise.

So instead of quilting I have been sucked into a cookbook by Ina Garten that I got at Costco.

The book is called “Fooproof.”

IMG_1635Now, let’s be honest, we’re all friends here.  This woman, with her “traditional build,” as Alexander McCall Smith would call it, has got to be a good cook.

I bought a box of her brownie mix once and I remember the instructions (and I’m paraphrasing/recalling):

Take the brownies out of the oven when I tell you. Do not wait until they appear to be done.  By then it’s too late. Just DO WHAT I TELL YOU.

I like her.

Needless to say, they were about the best brownies out of a box that I ever tasted. Ever.

So I went ahead and made the crostini which you can see on the cover of her book.

IMG_1638 Here’s what’s left by the time I got my camera.  My husband is a big fan of bruschetta, but this was more of an elegant appetizer…and between the two of us we polished it off quick.

I was using tomatoes from the French Market in Geneva and some golden cherry tomatoes from HPM Farm in St. Charles. Picked some shallots from my garden with fresh basil and a few other local ingredients.  Can’t say this was the easiest appetizer I ever made, but hands down one of the tastiest.

Please don’t nag. I know I should be sewing.  But it’s mid-July and the veggies are so fresh, and the eating is so good. And thunderstorms at night mean it’s not a good idea to plug in the sewing machine.

Hey-there’s a sewing tip for the day!   Unplug your machine when you’re not using it. You will save yourself a whole lot of heartache if you have a power surge or brown out.  In fact, even when you are using it, you should have it at least plugged into a surge protector, or even better, an uninterruptable power supply.  Either one will sacrifice itself to save your machine.

Think I’ll go bring in my onions which are out drying in the sun.  And prune the roses. Weed the garden.  Fill the bird feeders and go for a little walk.

I KNOW.  I’ll get to the sewing room soon.

I promise.







Bloom Where You’re Planted

IMG_1487[1]Most everything is planted in the garden now.  My job going forward will be mostly to weed and to water and to wait.  Some of the seeds will not sprout.  Some of the plants will whither and fade.  (This is the last year I’m trying rhubarb. For 3 years now, I have planted and watered and not had anything come back the next year.  Might have to do some reading about that.)

Bugs will eat the cucumber leaves to within an inch of survival.  Japanese beetles will descend on the raspberries mid-summer and I will spend hours picking them off and dropping them into soapy water.  Rain will not fall enough.  Rain will flood.  White butterflies will lay eggs that turn into worms that will eat the cabbage and cauliflower.  And the weeds will take every opportunity to hog the nutrients from the soil and suffocate the vegetables and fruits.


Still, I cannot walk away.  It’s hard for me to imagine an act more basic than growing my own food.  In the early morning the birds chirp overhead.  The air is fresh.  Dew on the grass seems like a twinkle of paradise.

One morning a red-tailed hawk perched so close to me, I could almost hear her breathe.  She glanced casually at me and hopped over to the ground squirrel hole.  She cocked her head comically and peered inside.  Squirrels are hiding deep today.  With a final glance at me, she lifted herself back off the ground and flew back to her nest.  Maybe later.

Another evening, no one was around, as I puttered and weeded.  The skies were a heavy gray and the air was thick.  Silence enveloped me.  The raspberry branches reached for me in the breeze.  I stood upright and  looked to the skies.  At that very moment a lone sandhill crane flew overhead.  As it passed directly over me it made several warning cries.  “Storm!! Seek shelter!!”  was what I heard from the crane, though at the time, no words formed in my head.  It was simple instinct. A moment later I saw the lightening in the distance.  By that time I was already packed to go back home. Minutes after arriving a storm blew in that knocked down trees and cut electricity, causing hail and torrents of wind and rain.

I have no doubt the crane was communicating.  I have no doubt I got the message.

Maybe nature communicates with us all the time.  Maybe we’re not always listening.  Maybe listening to the birds is good for us.


Special thanks to my nephew for helping me to till this year.

Special thanks to my nephew for helping me to till this year.

Couldn't do it without you kiddo...thanks!!

Couldn’t do it without you kiddo…thanks!!

Needle Punch Peonies


As I wait for this years’ peonies to find the courage to rise and bloom, I am inspired by a picture of last years’, and so I pulled out some wool, some roving and decided to needle punch a bouquet of peonies.  If you are not familiar with needle punch, it is the process of using needles to insert colored fabric into another fabric.  The process of punching the roving into the wool actually creates a whole new fabric because both fabrics become one.

Here’s an example of some roving, which is essentially semi-processed wool or cotton fibers.

Samples of dyed roving.

Samples of dyed roving.

Needle Punching on my sewing machine.

Needle punching on the sewing machine.

Using special needles on a machine and a needle punch foot, you can use your sewing machine to “punch ” the roving down into the wool fabric below. You’re not using any thread, and if you have thread sensors on your machine, you’ll want to turn them off.  After that, the process is a lot like painting with watercolor, or more precisely, like charcoal drawing, using the different colors of the roving to create shading, shapes and color.

My intent was to capture the carefree way the flowers moved and “relaxed” into the group.  I always want to loosen my style.  Sometimes my art is uptight.  One of the reasons I enjoy working with fiber over paint is the amount of control that one must give up to the medium.  That’s exciting and unpredictable.  (Some people love precision and this may be frustrating for you.)

After punching out the basic shapes, just add some background texture.

Adding texture through small quilting patterns. I added some batting to the back for stability.

Adding texture through small quilting patterns. Add batting to the back for stability.

What it looked like before I added the topstitching.

What it looked like before topstitching.

As the final touch, add topstitching to the whole arrangement. This brings a bit of dimension, with a “pen and ink” feel.  All of this is very textural. Interesting to look at, interesting to touch.

Anyone can do this with a little inspiration, some wool, and some roving.  You can purchase hand needle punch kits at any craft store and I’m sure most sewing machine manufacturers have some form of needle punch accessory.  (Bernina does, for certain!)  After that, the sky’s the limit.

Machine tip:  Be sure to clean out your sewing machine really well after doing needle punch.

Now get out there and have fun!!

Final piece.

Final piece.  Not sure if I’ll turn it into a pillow cover or garment or something else entirely!