Thursday, April 26, 2012

{a thought for Thursday} A fine line

There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line. ― Oscar Levant

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

{read: murder and PIs, Chicago-style} We All Fall Down by Michael Kelly

This is the fourth in the series featuring Chicago private investigator Michael Kelly, a former cop. (Start with The Chicago Way if you're new to the series. It will be confusing to jump in mid-stream.) This is another great Michael Harvey read with short chapters and a fast-moving plot. A lightbulb that could be filled with anthrax falls in the subway, and the city and feds move quickly to contain any possible threat. Yet people with mysterious symptoms start showing up in the hospitals and dying. As the death tolls mount, the scientists try to uncover the threat and discover a vaccine, yet everything is not quite as it seems. Harvey does a good job of explaining the bioterroristic aspects of the plot in a way that's easy for regular people to understand, and, as always, he has a tight handle on the culture of Chicago and its seamier underside. 

I enjoy Harvey because his writing style is clean and tight and reminds me of Dennis Lehane, who as careful readers will know, is one of my favorite authors. (I'm excited to see what he does next now that Patrick and Angie seem to be retired from the PI biz. But I digress.) Harvey does for Chicago what Lehane did for Boston, although I confess that I got a bit lost on some of the political twists and turns. I guess that's Chicago.

We All Fall Down by Michael Harvey (Knopf Doubleday, 2011)
My rating: 4 stars

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

{read: Medical drama} Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

*spoiler alert* I used to love Jodi Picoult's books, but her more recent ones seem to have fallen into a pattern. While the elements of her storytelling style remain the same (multiple POV, ethical dilemma ending in legal battle), her prose in her recent novels seems too pat and cliched. I miss the more creative Jodi of Perfect Match, Salem Falls, Keeping Faith, and Plain Truth.

This is yet another medical drama, although it is an adult and not a child with the medical crisis. Luke, a man made famous because he lived with wolves for two years in the wild, has a severe brain injury from a car crash. His estranged son comes home from Thailand to decide what to do, but his 17-year-old daughter, who has been living with him, disagrees with the decision to end life support. (He is divorced, but of course his ex-wife married a lawyer who ends up representing the son in the legal drama.) This is typical Picoult fare. While I was disappointed in its lack of creativity, it is very readable and I had a hard time putting it down. It has an epilogue that at first confused me until I realized it was from the POV of one of the people who received an organ donation from Luke. I liked that unexpected twist for a few minutes, until I realized that if this newly saved 19-year-old kid follows the wolf into the woods when he's already lost (it just feels right, he says, and the wolf somehow seems to recognize him), he's going to die because he won't have his meds and he'll reject the kidney. Perhaps this is what Picoult intended, but it seems a little too dark to go with the rest of this book.

Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult (Atria, 2012)
My rating: 3 stars

Monday, April 16, 2012

{crafts} Memorial Day Decorations

Time to start thinking about summer! Here is a great craft idea from Martha Stewart. The firework decorations would look great hanging outside on the porch. They would add a little fun to a holiday barbecue.


Fabric star medallions will brighten up your party like daytime fireworks. 
Use standard cotton prints for this project -- nothing too heavy or light. Spray starch helps the creases keep their shape.

Step 1

Cut a length of fabric: The width will be the diameter of the medallion; the length should be 1.6 times the width (for example, for a 15 1/2-inch medallion, cut about 25 inches of fabric).
Step 2

Fold fabric accordion-style in 1 1/2-inch sections (A). After each fold, spray with starch, and iron. Continue up length of fabric. Make sure your first and last folds are in the same direction.

Step 3

Stitch along the middle of the folded rectangle to create a pivot point (F).
Step 4

Trim both ends of the pleated rectangle at a 45-degree angle, so the angles slope toward the raw edge of the fabric (F) -- these cuts create the medallion's starlike points (G).
Step 5

Connect sides of the rectangle by fanning out fabric from center stitch and adhering with fusible webbing; iron. Sandwich a piece of ribbon (it should be long enough to hang the medallion) between the fusible webbing and the fabric. Connect remaining sides with fusible webbing, or tape for easy disassembly and storage. Stitch monofilament through the fused edge in the back, and hang.

Read more at Star Medallion - Martha Stewart Crafts 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

{a thought for Thursday} God

You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. ― Anne Lamott

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

{read: WWII love story} Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

I read Moon Tiger for a book discussion and am so glad I did. I loved Claudia's voice and her irreverent point of view. Some book club members found her unlikeable, but she is just as harsh on herself as she is on others and doesn't hesitate to point out her own shortcomings as a person and especially as a mother. The writing in this short novel is crisp and tight but contains many big ideas as she writes her circular history of time, combining history of the world with her own personal story.

Another thing I loved about this book is the multiple perspectives, which reinforces the maxim that truth is different for all of us, although no less true for the differences. We see different events in her life from her perspective and then from the point of view of the other person, and of course they see things quite differently.

The characters were well developed, and I wanted to spend more time with them. I thought the ending, which loops back to her love affair during World War II (what Claudia calls 'the core' of her life), was an unexpected touch that helped make the story feel complete. While I think I would have been intimidated by Claudia in person, I loved spying on her from the safe remove of a book. This one goes on my all-time favorites list.

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively (Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 1987)
My rating: 5 stars

Monday, April 9, 2012

{crafts} Quilted Cushion from

Here is a great tutorial that explains how to make a quilted cushion. I am sure my kitty cats would love one of their own! Original tutorial can be found at

How-Tuesday: Quilted Cushion

Pops of joyful color, beautiful photos for inspiration, and fun, quirky how-to projects and recipes dance across the pages of Make Hey! While the Sun Shines, Pip Lincolne’s forthcoming book. Pip is an Australia-based maker and author of the blog, Meet Me at Mike’sFor this week’s How-Tuesday post, she’ll guide us through the process of making a quilted cushion for you or a furry friend.
I find inspiration in the work of Maria Holmer Dahlgren and the amazing teensy-squared quilts of the Quakers. Once you have made this cushion, you might even want to make your very own Quaker quilt. (I probably won’t, as it might take a very long time.) If you want to make a cushion, but not a patchwork one, skip to the end of this project to learn how to make a simple cushion cover.
Let’s get started!
Fabric Details
Finished size: Approximately 86 cm (34″) square. The patchwork piece will measure about 90 cm (35″) square before you sew it to the backing fabric.
Seam allowance: Important! When sewing this project, always use metric or imperial measures; don’t mix the two systems in the same project or you will end up with inaccurate seams. Seam allowance is 5 mm (¼”). You need to stick to this religiously so that your squares will match up. Or you can use the lines marked on your sewing machine, or measure 5 mm (¼”) out from the needle of your machine and stick down a line of masking tape across the free arm of your machine to mark a guideline.
Before you sew: Fabric should be washed, dried and pressed before cutting and sewing. This will prevent shrinkage and dyes running.
  • Cotton patchwork fabric in various prints and colors. We need to cut 140 or so squares, each measuring 10 cm (4″) square. If you’re using fat quarters, buy 10 of them for extra mix and matchability.
  • Denim for cushion back: Two pieces each measuring 45 cm x 90 cm (18″ x 35″).
  • Cushion insert, approximately 90 cm (35″) square.
  • Optional: 47 cm (18½”) square piece of unbleached calico or quilter’s muslin to back your patchwork piece.
  • Sewing machine and thread to match your fabric
  • Scissors
  • Straight pins
  • Rotary cutter, 10 cm (4″)
  • Measuring tape
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Unpicker (a.k.a. seam ripper)
  • Square plastic quilter’s template and self-healing cutting mat
Cutting it out.
First, you need to cut out the pieces that make up the patchwork front of the cushion. Using your rotary cutter and template, cut out 10 cm (4″) squares. You will need about 140 (our panel is 10 squares by 10 squares; the remaining 40 squares are folded to give other shapes that are sewn onto the base squares). It’s best to fold or stack your fabric into layers, so that you can cut several squares at a time. Make sure it’s pressed neatly and each layer is smooth. Use a firm hand to hold your template in place and cut your squares with the rotary cutter using even, firm pressure. The rotary cutter does not work as well when only cutting one or two layers, so use that to your advantage and cut many squares at once! Speedy, no?!
1. Make up your squares.
The triangles shown are made by folding a square on the diagonal and pressing it flat. Then you pin and top-stitch it into place on the diagonal on top of the square you want underneath it, being sure that your raw edges match up neatly. Both right sides should be facing up, and the folded diagonal edge should be sitting along the diagonal of the base square. You can machine top-stitch the triangles onto the squares for a speedy finish, or top-stitch them by hand if you want a portable project.
The larger rectangle ones are made by folding a square in half (edge to edge, not diagonally) and pressing it, then placing it on top of the base square and pinning, being sure that your raw edges match up neatly. Then top-stitch it to the base square. Both right sides should be facing up and the folded strip should run down the middle of the base square. Also sew along the raw edges to keep both patches together for when you sew them all up later.
The smaller rectangles are made by folding a square into thirds, with the raw edges concealed underneath, and pressing. Next, place the small rectangle on top of the base square, being sure that your raw edges match up neatly. Pin and top-stitch into place near to the folded edges and along the raw edges too, to keep them together.
2. Plan your rows.
Planning and careful sewing are the cornerstone of patchwork. So let’s work row by row, and make sure each row is correct before moving on to the next. We need to be sewing ninjas now, taking our time, trying our best, sipping cool drinks and eating sandwiches. And we just need to try and sew a bit more slowly than usual for the best results. So, ninja, lay out your first row of 10 squares in a sequence that you like. Maybe you don’t want the same prints next to each other? Maybe you do? Make those kinds of decisions as you go. If you’re not going to sew them all together in one session, pin them to a sheet or towel so you don’t lose the sequence when you come back to it later.
3. Start sewing your first row together.
Now take the first two squares of the row and put them right sides together. Pop a pin or two in to keep the edges lined up. Now sew a 5 mm (¼”) seam along the right-hand-side edge. Make sure the right sides of the fabric are facing each other, go slowly and keep that seam at 5 mm (¼”). Open up the pair and snip the threads at each end. Take your next square and place it on top of the square on the right. Make sure the raw edges match on the right-hand side. Pin and stitch a careful 5 mm (¼”) seam again. Snip your threads again and continue on like this adding, pinning and sewing your squares with a 5 mm (¼”) seam. Check your seams. If any are a bit skinny, then re-stitch them a titch over so that they DO measure 5 mm (¼”). When you have 10 nice squares all sewn neatly together, press the seams flat. Bravo!
4. Make your second patchwork row.
You need to make your next strip now! Repeat the process above: arrange, match, pin, sew a 5 mm (¼”) seam until you have 10 squares. Now you have two completed rows (or strips!) Place the two rows right sides together and match up all your seams. If we just go slowly, row by row, we can fix any mistakes as we go. (That said, mine certainly did not measure up super-perfectly, so don’t beat yourself up.) If things aren’t matching up, work out why. Maybe you made your seam the wrong width? You can easily correct any seams that are too wide or too narrow with an unpicker and a quick re-sew. Then things should be a bit better matched. And you will be more careful as you go along, because unpicking is a great deterrent!
5. Sew these two rows together.
Pin at each square’s seam, and at the beginning and end of the row to secure. Now sew 5 mm (¼”) seam all the way along to join the two rows. Snip all loose threads and press seams nice and flat to reduce bulk.
6. Make a third row.
Construct your next row. Take the next 10 squares, then arrange, match, pin and sew them into a row. Join this row to the previous row as we did before, correcting any too-big or too-small seams.
7. Keep going, row by row.
Continue on making and stitching each row, one by one, until you have a square that is 10 rows by 10 rows. Trim, press and marvel at your work. Wowee! Have a break. At this point you can square up your patchwork piece so that all the edges are even. Your finished patchwork piece should measure 90 cm (35″) square.
Optional: You can also cut a piece of calico or quilter’s muslin the exact same size as the patchwork piece and top-stitch it to the back of the patchwork. This will protect the back of your work and keep things neater.
8. Make a simple cushion cover.
We are using the patchwork piece, but you could use any fabric for the cushion front! You can vary the size of the cushion too, once you are confident with this easy technique. Your back pieces need to overlap at least 12 cm (5″).
Take your two backing pieces and hem them like this: With wrong side up, fold the top edge down 1 cm (⅜”). Press. Fold this edge down once more, this time by 2 cm (¾”). Press and pin into place. Stitch a seam 1 cm (⅜”) from the folded edge to secure, removing the pins as you sew. Stitch a second line of stitching 5 mm (¼”) from the first line. Remove any stray pins, trim loose threads and press. Repeat with the other backing piece. Bravo!
Lay your cushion front piece (the patchwork piece!) right side up. Now lay one hemmed cushion back piece on top of it, right side down, with the raw edges lining up as shown.
Lay the other cushion back on top of that, again with the right side down and the raw edges matching. The two back pieces will overlap a bit in the middle.
Pin into place around all the edges, using plenty of pins so things stay put. Stitch all the way around the square 1 cm (⅜”) from the raw edges. Stitch the same seam again for extra strength. Now trim your corners back and snip loose threads.
You can finish up here with a perfectly gorgeous cushion, or you can square the corners off. To square off your corners, your cushion cover needs to be the wrong way out. Flatten each corner out as shown in the diagram to form a triangular shape or point. Your seam will run down the middle of this point. Being sure that the seam on the bottom of your cushion is matching the seam on the top of your cushion, pin into place and carefully stitch a line 5 cm (2″) from the point as shown.
Turn your cover out the right way. Press it and squish your cushion inside. Now throw it on the floor and plant yourself on it, with something nice on the telly – maybe Downton Abbey?
You don’t have to make the patchwork version – you can use a plain fabric panel for the front, a cute print, embroider a panel, or go for a speedy large-scale patchwork. You could take the patchwork panel and use it as the basis for a quilt, too.
Thank you to Pip Lincolne and Hardie Grant Books for sharing this project with us. For more tutorials like this one, check out Make Hey! available from Amazon or an independent bookstore near you.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

{a thought for Thursday} Sun

When it was dark, you always carried the sun in your hand for me. — Sean O'Casey

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

{read: YA bestseller} The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I stayed up too late last night to finish The Fault in Our Stars because I couldn't put it down. Yes, the plot was in some cases predictable, but the voices and personalities of 16-year-old Hazel Grace and her boyfriend, Augustus, are so honest, raw, and true that I couldn't pull myself away.

Hazel and Augustus meet in a support group for Cancer Kids. After a bout with osteosarcoma that cost him his leg, Augustus is NEC (no evidence of cancer), but Hazel's cancer (thyroid with mets in her lungs) isn't curable even though a new drug has so far stopped the growth of new tumors. Despite Hazel's misgivings about leaving more people to grieve when she dies, she and Augustus find common ground by sharing their favorite books and end up on a quest to Amsterdam that doesn't go quite as planned.

This is a book about the harsh realities of life, the joy that can be found nevertheless, and the courage it takes to be human. Sad, yes, but also funny and uplifting.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton, 2012)
My rating: 5 stars