I’ve spent my whole life sneaking into fabric shops. Normally the type of person who makes her presence known, I tiptoed through the entrances, wanting to stay under the radar of the well-meaning shop ladies. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk to them (in my experience, they’re almost all tooth-achingly sweet), it’s just that I didn’t know how to answer their questions, what to say when they asked what I was making…because until very recently, I wasn’t making a damn thing.

For many years, it was enough just to look at the fabric, to buy a little bit if it really spoke to me, and to stack it neatly on the bookcase in my studio (ahem, guest room). I love fabric. Love. The colors, the textures, the tiny repeated elements, the striking large-scale designs….love.

A week ago, though, I took my first quilting class, and suddenly (imagine one of those technicolor-cinematic-sunray-angel-singing moments here), I wanted—and knew how to—make stuff.

My newly acquired skills have done nothing to diminish my indecent fabric-store-lurking, but they have ensured the future integrity of my bookcase, now groaning under the weight of the fat quarters and the “two, no, make that three yards” of randomly selected textiles.

Ok…I should back up. “Skills” might be too strong a word for learning to learning to place one strip of fabric near another to create a visually pleasing display. It’s simple stuff I’m doing. Basic. Beginner. Nothing wild and crazy and Amish or anything like that.

But despite, or maybe because of, the tactile simplicity of my new hobby, I adore it. I chose a basic 16-patch quilt to start with (they’re similar to—just a little bigger than—the blocks shown here), and have made eight blocks so far. Each is different and each is so inordinately pleasing to me that I can’t believe I done it sooner.

I promise I’ll take snaps tonight, at quilting class #2. I'm so excited I've been watching the clock all day, not getting a damn thing done at work, just looking at quilting sites online. What is it with these sites, anyway? Why do so many of them look like they were designed on Commodore 64s?


West by Northeast

When you fly out of the Pittsburgh International Airport, the plane sweeps over the surrounding countryside, offering postcard-worthy views of the rolling hills and farms—all idyllic green pastures and fallow fields.

Leaving it seems wrong.

When I graduated from college, I only had eyes for Colorado. With no plan beyond working at a climbing shop and being part of the community that so appealed to me, I made idle promises to my parents that after my "gap year,” I'd go to grad school.

That never happened. I fell into event planning and then into PR. A couple stints of copywriting for ad agencies bring us to the present, where I successfully play the role of the disoriented thirty-something.

I've made escapism a lifelong habit. I’ve always sidestepped confrontation, opting for my imagination over anything potentially hurtful. I think it’s because of this that now, five years after moving to Utah, 10 years after moving out West, I’m looking around and asking, “What the hell am I doing?”

It’s not that I don’t want to be here, it’s just that I feel like here just happened and suddenly I’m looking around and wondering how. I’d say I’ve fallen off course, but I’m beginning to realize that until now, I’ve never really had much interest in a course.

Of course, that twirling mindset has allowed me to do some amazing things, and for a long time, my faith in the universe ensured that things would just work out—and they did.

Now, though—possibly because I was just home in Pennsylvania for a week—I’m looking around and realizing that most of the people I know seem to have identified and stuck to their plans. My best friend from childhood—a sweet and kind woman I just adore—married the fellow who took her to the 9th grade Christmas dance. They dated throughout high school and college; he proposed on the day they graduated from Penn State. Married with two adorable little girls, they live in the town where we grew up, just a couple miles from their childhood homes. It’s what they always wanted, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

I just don’t understand them. Or maybe I envy them. I imagine their lives as idyllic and peaceful as those picture-perfect farms outside the plane window. I tell myself that they aren’t tormented by the sense of not being enough, doing enough, seeing enough. They don’t wonder what else is out there, because everything they need is right there.

I know I’m romanticizing, but that’s what I do. Especially this time of year, when a dash of cinnamon in a cup of milky tea is enough make me imagine an entire life for myself in, say, Keene Valley or Burlington. Wool sweaters, wellies, wood floors, old stone houses.

In the fall, I gravitate toward the known and the comfortable, just as in the spring I want open oceans and new territory. Maybe that’s why I migrated West after my June graduation from college, and why it feels wrong to leave Pennsylvania in the fall…maybe I do have a course, albeit a subtle one, and I’m just not paying enough attention to it.


Let's Laugh at Others Now

Possibly because I'm from Pennsylvania, I love to hear about Amish people. I remember driving past buggies on narrow farm roads, turning to see whether the man with the reins was bearded (married) or bare-faced (swinging bachelor) and always receiving a pleasant wave and kind smile in return for my curious ogling.

They're nice people, which is why this is so funny to me (from the Onion):

Amish Woman Knew She Had Quilt Sale The Moment She Laid Eyes On Chicago Couple

LANCASTER, PA—Repeatedly referring to them as "easy money," Amish quilt shop proprietor Mary Stolzfus, 43, said Monday that as soon as she noticed Tom and Helen Foreman's matching Chicago Cubs baseball hats, she knew she'd be able to move three, possibly four quilts. "One look and it was 'Choo choo! Here comes the money train, right on schedule,'" said Stolzfus, adding that she ordered her daughters to "put on a little dog and pony show" for the easy marks by having them sing the traditional Amish song "In Der Stillen Einsamkeit." "These rubes are all the same: give 'em a little 'no electricity' this, and some 'butter churn' that, and cha-ching, you've got enough barn-raising money to last you a month."


A Bit of Everything

Oh, it was a fun weekend.

First, we journeyed with a troupe of friends and dogs to Indian Creek, a climbing area outside Canyonlands National Park.

Like a couple of teenagers, when Arnie and Cortez are ready to sleep, nothing can stop them. What you don’t see in this picture is the flurry of activity—two climbers, two belayers, some hooting and hollering, a stick-gnawing Red Dog, a roast beef sandwich—that is a day at the crag. None of that matters to these sleepy canines; after a morning of their two favorite games (“Chase me!” and “Now I’ll chase you!”), these two sacked out so hard we had to keep eying their ribs for movement.

Arnie was temporarily rousted by the emergence of goat cheese from a pack, but even that wasn’t enough to make him open his eyes.

We don’t have any weekend photos of Red, because he takes his role as head of security very seriously, and spent most of his time perched on a rock, checking the perimeter for interlopers. Poor guy; he definitely gets less attention than Arnie these days, mostly because Arnie situates himself on my person as often as possible.

(Red, I owe you a post soon.)

So that was the first part of the long weekend. After a couple days of climbing, we drove home and spent a wonderful day puttering around the house. We worked in the yard, washed mountains of laundry, cleaned around the dogs (they were too tired to move, even for the vacuum). Brad, who has become our home’s official Breadster, made the perfect loaf of bread, which took less than 12 hours to eat, and I hovered over the bread machine shouting, “only 54 minutes left!” and “get the butter out, there are only 9 minutes left!”

I’m almost done with my Subversive Cross Stitch pattern (I’ll take a snap of the finished product), and started a sewing project from Heather Ross’s delightful Weekend Sewing book.

I decided to make the Yard Sale Skirt (pictured on the cover), which will take me a bit longer than a weekend to finish, but regardless, it’ll be adorable in all its swingy, hippy glory.

I used a lightweight, flower-printed corduroy fabric, because I like how the weight of it swings the skirt around. Also, we have lots of days that are sort of in between summer and fall, in between winter and spring. They’re cool days with bright sun, the kind that beg for cozy-but-not-too-cozy clothing. I anticipate wearing it with wool tights and birks, or no tights and clogs. And, of course, some sort of top, too.

I love Weekend Sewing. It’s a thoroughly delightful book, complete with little recipes and inspiring photos and suggested playlists. It offers very helpful diagrams and clear directions, and a range of projects so that even a total sewing neophyte like me can leap right in and start making things. That said, there are a couple errors in the book (no big deal, because Heather has an on-line errata linked to her website), one of which occurs in the directions for the Yard Sale Skirt. Rather than six panels, it requires the joining of 8 or more (depending on size), so I found myself short on fabric and forced to improvise with a matching broadcloth for the inside panels.

I’ll post photos as the thing starts to take shape. In the meantime, though, I’m leaving on a jet plane in a few short hours, and have yet to meet the daily quote of Arnie and Red cuddles. Better hop to it.

One more, though:


Tastes Like Home

I just bit into the first Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey granola bar I’ve eaten in years, and was at once at home in Pennsylvania, in Shingletown Gap, at the cabin maintained by Penn State’s Outing Club, on a rainy Saturday, surrounded by a dozen friends.

As an instructor for the Outing Club, I went to the cabin often—to run groups through the ropes course, facilitate teambuilding activities, or just sleep on the porch in my sleeping bag. With only a primitive kitchen, a great room, and a sleeping loft, the place was neither luxurious nor, well, comfortable, but I loved it. It removed me from my thesis and deadlines and the stress of the deciding what to do after college, and planted me in the middle of impromptu music sessions, spaghetti dinners for 60, and hours-long conversations about someday plans. It was a place to feel ok about dreaming big, unconventional dreams, like moving out west and climbing all the time.

Funny how things work out.

Today, though, following my nostalgic granola bar moment, one day stood out in my mind.

It was just before Thanksgiving, cold and drizzly. Ben, Bethany and I drove to the cabin and left Ben’s old Cavalier in the driveway. After stashing his key under the rock on the porch, we started jogging up the road toward the trail. For almost three hours we ran the ridges and valleys around State College, our four-year home. The only time we knew exactly where we were was at the trailhead. The rest of the time, we just explored. We chose our direction by feel, content to observe and wander. We were in tune and unafraid, despite carrying no food, no water, and being (at times) completely lost.

We stumbled soaked and exhausted into India Pavilion right before it closed. The proprietors, who had come to know us after years of weekly feasts, fed us anyway, refilling our tall glasses of chai and knowing, without asking, how spicy each of us liked our daal.

A week from now I’ll be back there, enjoying the rolling hills, the long early-evening light, the sweetgrass and wild onion on the air.

This morning, as Brad and I walked the dogs, I exclaimed, “I’m so excited to go home!”

“Well good,” he responded, nodding in the direction of our house. “You’ll be there in five minutes.”

“Yes,” I missed his meaning, “It feels really soon. I have a lot to do before….oh. Right. THIS is my home. I get it.”

And I do get it. I know that the house I share with Brad, in Utah, is my home. He and the boys make me feel safe and happy. Content. Comfortable. And that, more than anything else, is home.

Still, though, there’s nothing like State College in autumn (except, of course, State College in spring and summer), and I cannot wait to see it, to breathe it in, to smell that homey scent of foliage and woodsmoke and grass and leaves, and to stand in Shingletown Gap and remember eating granola bars and running like a maniac and dreaming without fear.


Hey, Look Over There!

I'll have a longer post for you tomorrow, but for now, check out all the blogs over there! Some are new additions, some have been there for years. All are delightful.