The Route Less Traveled

I grew up in the age when directions were scrawled on hand-written slips of paper or consisted of “when you get to the stop sign, turn right at the old barn and continue until you reach the wooden bridge over the creek.” Before GPS systems were the directional methods of choice (Note: I am not THAT old…GPS systems haven’t been at our beck-and-call for too long).

I learned to read maps at an early age. My mom wasn’t much of a navigator, so as the eldest child, the role fell to me, and before TomTom and Garmin and built-in factory-installed fancy-pants systems, I was the voice in the car saying, “Take the next exit and keep right.”

Map reading is a good skill to have, and it’s a shame that soon we’ll be so reliant on the GPS on our phones and in our cars that we won’t really know where anything is. It’s a different kind of being lost…knowing exactly where you are by the little dot on the screen, but having no idea where you are at the same time.

I’m still a big fan of physical maps. Poring over streets and roads and landmarks, plotting out the best route to take: not based on traffic or time or distance, but the experience that’ll get you from Point A to Point Z, and all the points in between. I’ll admit sometimes I get a bit overzealous with the route (just ask my husband about that one time in Paris), but it’s comforting to me to be able to hold the map in my hands –not worried about cell signals or satellite feeds or punching into into a screen that only accepts 1 in 3 pokes of the finger (I’m looking at you crappy Chrysler navigation system). Reading maps and plotting my own course has worked great for me 99.9% of the time. Until yesterday. Yesterday, I succumbed to what can only be called Super Crappy Printed Map Rendering.

There were many problems with this particular map I was using: 1) it’s not to scale but doesn’t indicate that anywhere; 2) certain areas of the map are conveniently cut-and-spliced out of correct orientation to fit on the page, but which direction is north is indicated; 3) roads are mis-labelled (or completely missing). Basically, it’s a disaster of black ink on white paper.

Being relatively new to the area, I didn’t catch issues 2 or 3, and 1 didn’t seem like that big a deal. So, I glanced at the parks and rec provided map, found the field where my son will have his first soccer practice in a few weeks, and decided to scope it out on the way back from the grocery store. What a mistake!

I took the streets labelled on the map and ended up in the urban home development version of the Hotel California. I’ve never seen so many unmarked dead-end roads and cul-de-sacs in my life. It made me wonder if the street planners and map makers had an inside joke going on: let’s not mark anything and see how people fare.

Eventually we found our way out of the subdivision corn maze without ever finding a park of any kind. Since I wasn’t aware of map issues 2 & 3, I couldn’t get over just how badly my navigation skills were slipping. Had I lost my sense of direction? My memory?

I might have tried using my in-car navigation system to find it, but I hadn’t written the exact address down, and as it was, I wasn’t in the mood to spend the time trying to key it into the unit. Plus, I had frozen food in my trunk and it was hot out. All good reasons to head home and pull up Google maps.

Turns out, I needed to drive down a street that wasn’t even on the Super Crappy Printed Map Rendering and take a right to turn onto a road that actually goes East-West (not North-South!). Though I admit to feeling vindicated that I haven’t lost my map reading abilities, it made me wonder if anyone else has noticed the issues with the map I used or if they even care. Am I the last of a dying breed of people who prefer holding a map to a computerized voice who spouts “recalculating…recalculating…” when you don’t follow the programmed route?


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Embroidered Baby Quilt

I started working on a 12-panel embroidered quilt project (my very first quilt project!) in 2012, and I finally finished it up last night! It only took 4 years! The theme of the quilt is what I like to refer to as “Bugs in Ball Jars,” though the official Jack Dempsey Needle Art name is “Creatures in Jars.”

I loved the stamped block designs, but wasn’t wild about the colors suggested. They seemed too drab for a baby blanket, so except for the floss I used for the jars (pewter grey and turquoise), I used scrap floss I’d saved from previous projects. In spite of a three-year delay from start-to-finish on the embroidery, it didn’t actually take that long for me to finish all the panels since I worked most of it in a simple outline stitch, with the occasional satin stitch added in for parts I wanted filled in. Instead of cutting each block out of the larger fabric first, I kept them in 4-by-4 panels to make it easier to work with a hoop. Once the embroidery was complete, I used a rotary cutter to trim the panels to size.


Cutting the Blocks

The original quilt pattern used two tones of dark green material for the backing and stripping around the blocks, but I wanted to liven it up a bit and give it a bit more color. I chose to go with a nature-inspired color palette, with pale green, blue, brown, and yellow stripping, and a complimentary paler yellow backing. I wasn’t entirely confident my fabric selections would work since I was going “rogue” with the pattern, but I went with my gut.

After cutting the stripping to the appropriate lengths, I did a test lay-out to see how everything would look when positioned in the proper place.


Test Layout

Once I was happy with the layout, I pinned and stitched the panels into columns. I then sewed the green stripping to the central column before sewing the outer columns into place.


Making Sure the Panels Align

The next step was to sew on the outer stripping border to complete the quilt top. Once that was done, I started tracing my quilting pattern onto the stripping with a washable fabric marker. I used two different templates: one that I cut out of a cardboard piece for the smaller stripping pieces to use as a stencil; and another that I placed under the material and traced through on the outer borders. I wanted to go with a vine design to stick with the quilt theme, which in hindsight wasn’t the best idea since this was my first attempt at quilting and swirls aren’t the easiest pattern to deal with.


Quilt Pattern Transfer

I did do a quick test block on scrap fabric, with some batting, to make sure I had the tension set up okay and practice with the swirly vine pattern. NOTE: Machine quilting a small scrap is A LOT easier than working with a toddler-sized quilt.


Pattern Test Scrap

The next step was to lay the backing material wrong side up, place the batting on it, and then lay the quilt top down. I hand-basted the pieces together so they wouldn’t shift, working from the center out. And then, I started quilting my design, starting from the middle and working my way out.

I wish I could say things went smoothly, but they didn’t. The bobbin tension kept going wonky on me, the basting didn’t entirely stop the fabric from shifting, and the machine ceased up and needed some TLC.

Once the quilting was complete, I decided to bind the edges by folding the backing to the front to give it a bit more dimension. I used a 3/4″ double-fold that I stitched to the top using a blanket stitch on my machine. About halfway around, my needle broke. I replaced the needle and finished up, and I’m mostly pleased with the end result (as long as I don’t look at the back).


Final Quilt after Washing

I’m thankful I got some good advice from my mom on pulling this together, and I can’t wait to start my next quilting project. Thanks to Aunt Becky, I know exactly where to look for fabric deals, and with the project books Aunt Pat gave me, I’ll have plenty of ideas to get my creative juices flowing.


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DIY: Converting a Shoe Rack to a Bookcase

I’ve been having the hardest time finding bookcases to organize the mountains of books in our house. Most of the ones I find are either cheaply constructed and likely to sag under the weight of our tomes, or are priced far more than I want to spend. I’ve taken to scouring resale shops, hoping to find something magical and reasonably priced that will fit the bill.

This past Tuesday, my 4-year-0old and I stopped into the local Goodwill, and came across an old wooden shoe rack that was in dusty, but good condition. I thought maybe, maybe it could be a bookcase, but I wasn’t sure. I wandered around the rest of the furniture section, while I thought about whether or not it was worth the $19 price tag. It was sturdy. Unfinished. It had potential. And it would be perfect for storing my son’s board books. I drifted back and gave it another look.


The Unfinished Shoe Rack

“Do you think it would make you a good bookcase?” I asked my son.

He grinned. “Can we paint it purple?”

I was sold.

We bought the shoe rack, and stopped by the arts and crafts store on the way home to pick up supplies. Spray paint would have been easier, but my son wanted to help, so I picked up some acrylic hobby paint, foam brushes, and a clear, non-yellowing varnish to give it some durability. With some coupons, it cost us just under $10 for supplies.

My son helped me apply two coats of the DecoArt Americana Dioxazine Purple paint he selected, and then I applied two coats of gloss varnish.

The paint job wasn’t perfect since it was his first time trying to paint furniture, but it didn’t matter. The minute he saw the finished result, he gave me a huge hug. “I love it, Mom!”


It took about 12 hours to dry completely, and then we moved it to his room to load it up with books. The shelves aren’t large enough to handle the tall books, but they’re perfect for board books and anything around the size of a Little Golden Book. As he gets older, it should work great for paperbacks and some hardcovers.


Shoe rack bookcase


It turns out Pinterest has a ton of ideas on how to turn a bookcase into a shoe rack, but nothing about converting a shoe rack to a bookcase. The good news is that it’s easy enough to do, though, with a little paint and time (and help, if you can get it). And for less than $30…I think it’s great.

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Stop, Drop & Roll

Yesterday, I blogged about some of my new writing projects (a contemporary baseball romance and a Regency romance), and shared Burn Story #1: The Incredible Hulk Burn. Today, I have another memorable burn story to share with you, but first, I’d like to present some statistics so we can all be in the right frame of mind for my tale.

  • Odds of being struck by lightning in your life-time: 1 in 3,000*
  • Odds of becoming President of the United States: 1 in 10,000,000*
  • Odds of winning the Powerball jackpot: 1 in 175,000,000*
  • Odds of being badly burned by a rogue popcorn kernel: 1 in 1,000,000,000 (<-I made this up, but it has to be somewhere around there)

And now, I share with you another memorable burn story.

Burn Story #2: The Unfortunate Popcorn Kernel Incident of 2010

It was a Tuesday night in September. I was ready to settle in to watch NCIS, and what better to go with my favorite Naval team of investigators than a nice bowl of fresh-popped popcorn? Exactly.

So, I pulled out my trusty electric popcorn popper–an old model that once belonged to my grandmother, and got to work.


The Infamous Popcorn Popper


The batch started out like any other. I got a bowl. I poured in the kernels. I flipped the switch to ON. There was a whirring noise and things started to happen. Popcorn started popping. But I found out the hard way: snacks can be dangerous.

And then, in the midst of puffy, white clouds, a rogue kernel took flight. It flew out of the popper, bounced off the counter, and landed in a very uncomfortable location under my shirt. Ladies (and maybe some men): I think you know the spot I’m talking about. That V where things tend to fall and get stuck.

This kernel was hot! Piping hot! Skin sizzling hot!

I did one heck of a I-have-a-hot-popcorn-kernel-trapped-in-my-bosom dance. I let out a horror-movie yelp. And I got that bugger out of there as fast as I could..but it was too late. The damage was already done.

And let’s just say it was bad. Not only is that location tricky to bandage, but for those of you who have ever sunburned your chest, you can probably imagine the discomfort. Especially if you’ve blistered.

I’ll be honest, I stuck with microwave popcorn for a long time after that. But there’s just something about fresh popped corn that I love, so I’ve plugged the popper back in, poured in some kernels, and flipped the switch. But these days,  I make sure to wear high-necked shirts and safety goggles, just in case.**

I can laugh about it now. And maybe you will, too.

*Google search results

**Serious about the shirt. Kidding about the safety goggles, but they probably aren’t a bad idea.

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Ooooh, burn!

If you’re here to read about snarky, witty retorts, than I apologize. I’m not about to write about that kind of burn, though I’ll admit there’s nothing quite like snappy banter. I’m going to talk about the painful kind of burn that occurs when heat meets skin.

I’m currently working on drafting two new stories: one is a contemporary romance involving a baseball player; the other is a Regency romance that includes an unfortunate fire that wounds both the hero and heroine. Lately, my Google search terms have been pretty wide-ranging, and include:

  • issues with batting stance
  • dangerous animals in Britain (there was a man-eating hedgehog!!! Say it ain’t so, Sonic!)
  • minor league baseball team front office staff
  • burn treatment in the Regency Era
  • Giggle Noodle Soup (Why, Lipton, why did you stop making this fantastic piece of my childhood?)

Anyhow, back to the subject at hand: burns. I’ve been doing some reading about burns, burn treatment, and how medicine has advanced over the past 300 years. It’s pretty amazing how treatment has gone from dousing the burns with turpentine to doctors being able to use living skin grafts. Go, modern medicine, go!

All this reading about burns got me thinking about some of the more memorable burns I’ve had over the years. I’m pretty sure everyone who’s been around a stove (or at the very least, hot cocoa) has experienced the discomfort of a burn. Mine have ranged from singed hair minor (the worst smell ever) to oopsy-glue gun moderate (yowch) to I probably should have gone to the ER but broke and in grad school major (also a really bad smell). I promise not to get into too much detail here, for those of you who are squeamish, but I thought I’d share two little stories with you.

Burn Story #1: The Incredible Hulk Burn

Grad school. Tiny apartment on the wrong side of town.

There I was, baking chicken parmesan for some friends. I was about to take the casserole dish out of the oven when I was startled by a HUGE bang against the door. Arm met heating coil. Skin sizzled. My dinner guests were right on time.

I didn’t have great insurance, and the local hospital wasn’t exactly known to be a pillar of excellent healthcare. I was subsisting on Ramen and Easy Mac, and frankly, chicken parm was a splurge. The thought of an unexpected co-pay was enough for me to grind my teeth together, open the door, and pretend I hadn’t just branded myself on the oven. It was bad enough that I forced myself not to look until I was sitting down. Retrospectively, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I didn’t drop dinner.

I quickly treated the burn with some Aloe Vera gel and a non-stick gauze bandage I had on hand, and ate dinner. No big deal. Until the next day, when I went to redress my burn.

It was bright green. Incredible hulk green. I was morphing into a super hero!

*sound of a record scratching*

Sadly, no super hero abilities for me. Turns out, wounds in the epidermis and dermis soak up color like a sponge! Which is why it’s important to buy 100% Aloe Vera gel without added color if you plan on treating an open burn. Unless you want to be part Incredible Hulk.

I now have a 2-inch scar on my forearm, which has started to fade *cough, cough* years later. And enough common sense now to advise anyone who gets a burn that’s deep enough to see things that shouldn’t ever see the light of day to seek professional treatment.

Tune back in tomorrow for Burn Story #2: The Unfortunate Popcorn Kernel Incident of 2010.

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