Passing the Soup: A Metaphor for Being There for Friends

When I write about myself, it’s usually about my relationship with textiles. But today I’m going to share what I think is one of the loveliest and luckiest things about my life, and it’s got to do with soup.

I consider myself a pretty healthy person—I try to eat thoughtfully and moderately. I walk 3-4 miles several times a week, I do pilates twice a week, all last winter I swam between a half-mile and a mile twice a week, etc. etc. Nevertheless, I’ve wound up needing significant medical interventions in four of the last five years. It’s challenging on a number of fronts, not the least of which is because it doesn’t fit with my self-image. But what’s made it all bearable is the passing of the soup.

Pre-Soup Veggies

This past Monday, the day before I was scheduled to have significant surgery on my nose for skin cancer, my friend Emily called and said she wanted to stop by with some soup for me. She did and we chatted and she left a wonderful container of carrot-potato soup and some sweet potato pie. I had to cut our visit short because I was taking soup to my friend Greta, who had just had a baby. It made me realize how lucky I am to live where my community of friends looks out for one another in good times and bad.

This past year I’ve shared wonderful joy and deep sorrow with friends, and as much as possible I’ve tried to “pass the soup.” Often I feel guilty that for one reason or another I’m not able to make someone an entire meal and feel that the little I do is inadequate. But when it’s me on the other side, I’m reminded how there are many ways the “soup” gets passed, and how each one of those acts is meaningful and helpful.

Since my surgery, I’ve had a cadre of volunteers who arrive twice daily to walk Pearl, and who’ve brought dinner and breakfast. I’ve received flowers, take-out Thai food, cards, and phone calls. Greta’s texted me photos of her dear, sweet new baby. Everyone has their own skill set and an amount of time they’re able to give at that moment and each act of kindness adds up to an amazing whole. I’ve felt so loved and cared for during this medical incident (and the others). I hope I remember in a few weeks, when my face isn’t swathed in bandages, that no matter what I do for someone, even if it seems small, it matters. It’s worth doing.

Pass the soup. 

It Never Rains but It Pours

That old saying certainly applies to Iowa City weather just now. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the roses as beautiful as they are this year and it suddenly dawned on me that it’s because the climate is mimicking Portland’s (aka The City of Roses) to a tee—cool temps, cloudy skies, and plenty of moisture. This rose was climbing up a trellis at a friend’s home.

But the phrase also applies to my current forays into sewing. I’m still working to finish a many-pieced quilt, but couldn’t resist taking a pair of Home Ec classes. On Saturday I attended the first session of a quilt class taught by Erick Wolfmeyer, about whom I’ve had the opportunity to write a couple of times (here’s one of them). He taught a pattern by a designer whom I was unfamiliar with, but whose work I’m loving—Pam Rocco.

Erick’s got a terrific color sense and having him help sort through our fabrics was fantastic. I somehow had far more fabric than anyone else…now how could that be possible?

Here’s a shot of each of our first blocks—one person’s working in neutrals, one in all prints, one in batiks. Guess what? I’m working in brights. At one point I said I felt like I was making a quilt for a clown. We’ll see how it shakes out. Session two is next Saturday.

On Thursday I took a class in which we made the Colette Sorbetto top. It’s a free, downloadable pattern, but it’s been so long since I made any clothing (especially any that fit, save the bias skirt I made at Home Ec), that I wanted help with that aspect of things. I’ll post more on that next time, but suffice it to say, I’m loving it. Forget cooking, gardening, exercising, and working…Can I please just sew all the time?

And I Will Make Thee a Bed of Roses…

People who know me hear me complain about not having enough time to sew. “I write about sewing all day, but I hardly ever get to do it!” goes the whine. It’s often true. But last Friday I got together with some friends at Inspirations, a newish quilt shop in Hills, Iowa, to sew. The shop has a sunny classroom space where we gathered, and I managed to make 45 pennants for three more holiday garlands, which I finished up today.

Garlands are one thing, but it takes me an awfully long time to complete a quilt. I’ve slowly come around to the idea that a quilt doesn’t need to be quick and that it’s fine to have more than one project going at a time. So I’ll try not to feel too terrible about showing you something that took me more than a year to complete. It was worth the wait.

The quilt started out in October 2010, when I took a French Roses class at Common Threads. (The pattern is an old one by Heather French—sorry, I can’t find a link to her site.) I was excited about the colors and fabrics, and took the quilt to Lake Tahoe to work on. It was there I realized what a creative bunch I was sewing with. The pattern is traditionally put together without sashing, but someone suggested I add some and someone else brought over some black and white options to audition. Keystones punch it up a bit more (I fussy cut a few of them ato highlight the mushrooms, birds, and chairs). And finally, over the summer, I added the “strata” border (a Mary Lou Weidman term). It is such a great reminder that it’s okay to change up a pattern and to do some things that take a bit of extra time, rather than rush to finish.

Linda Duncan quilted it and I just love what she did. She used a pink thread that really gives the quilt spark, and she tried a new technique on the flowers. Rather than quilting around each layer, as she’s done on French Roses quilts in the past, she stitched “spokes” in hopes that when the quilt was washed it would create “petals.” Indeed, it worked just that way.

I am once again a bit giddy, and I can’t help but pat myself on the back for taking a pattern of long-standing and giving it a different twist. I can’t bring myself to put the quilt away (and it goes with absolutely nothing in my house). So I’ve got it hanging over the stair rail, where I can admire it daily and force unsuspecting visitors to tell me how much they like it, too.

Vacation Round-Up

I mentioned in my previous post that I recently returned from vacation. It was an incredibly relaxing couple of weeks (yes, I said COUPLE). I’m not sure when we last took two actual weeks for R&R, but we did this time.

Friends helped print the signs

The bride’s dress, elegantly simple, suited her perfectly

The first part of the vacation was spent at a wedding in Wisconsin. It was a lovely event during which the bride and groom’s siblings played piano and bass and read poems. Every audience member got a kazoo when walking in, and we all joined in on All You Need is Love as the couple and their families left the auditorium.

Cupcakes rested on hand-dyed, hand-cut papers

 The reception was special in many ways, but I thought you’d especially appreciate that the bride made gazillions of lovely decorations…hand-dyed paper garlands on the walls, “doilies” under the cupcakes, letter press printed programs, place cards, table numbers, etc. She also created some enormous honeycomb structures that held lights for the ceremony, as well smaller ones that adorned the reception tables. It was a joyful event with lots of fun dancing.

Table decor, made by the bride
Loved the stitching on this guest’s jacket

I’ll share a few photos of the next part of the vacation soon. It included sewing and knitting, along with floating in inner tubes and drinking beer. Now there’s no need to wonder why I was so relaxed and suffering from my return to real life. It doesn’t get any more restful than that.

Putzing about

Not a lot of piecing has gone on this past week, but on Memorial Day I did have a chance to sit at my machine and quilt a top I made long ago. I’m having a little fight with myself over whether to stick with the simple outline quilting I’ve already done or to add some free motion quilting. I’ll share it when I’ve got it completed.

This weekend is Arts Fest in Iowa City. Sadly, we’re in for rain today, but last night the weather held and we were treated to a concert featuring Sarah Jarosz and Darrell Scott. Sarah’s a mere 19, but a terrific musician, singer, and songwriter—Darrell’s guitar playing made people shake their heads in awe. He’s also a powerful lyricist with a fabulous voice. The highlight was when they played together at the end of each of their sets.

Finally, I had to share a few photos of my garden. Yes, I really do live in a house with a picket fence (it’s a bit of a fake, however…it just runs along the front, but then peters out on the sides and doesn’t really enclose anything completely). My William Baffin rose and our peonies often bloom on Memorial Day weekend and it always makes me feel as though I live in some kind of fantasyland…the rose (depending on your definition) is totally out of control, or creates a charming bower that people walking by have the pleasure of passing beneath.

New camera and a newly green world

I can’t help myself. I try not to resort to pictures of my garden, but right now it’s impossible to ignore. The daffodils are done and the redbuds are nearly so, but it’s still an amazing sight. I just love early spring, when the plants in their beds are so tidy, compact, and perfectly colored and formed. No insects have had a chance to lay waste to the foliage and even the rabbits have yet to wreak their usual havoc. I decided it was time to move beyond my point and shoot and bought myself a new camera last week, and between that and the scenery, I couldn’t resist. Please forgive me. 

Up Periscope…Full Speed Ahead

Full speed into fall, that is. I’ve been in a bit of a funk of late, and perhaps it’s because of fall…the fewer daylight hours, the impending winter, who knows? So instead of sewing shots, I share with you signs of fall in my backyard.

This dahlia bud does remind me of a cartoon submarine periscope. I fully expect it to start twisting around as it scans the horizon above the water’s surface. In this case, it’s peering above one of the dahlia’s my husband planted. We visited Buchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C. a few years ago and the dahlias were incredible—flowers bearing every permutation of color, size, petal shape, length, and width were staked grandly in a single border. Since then, Paul’s planted dahilas.


This guy was purchased in a small farming town west of here. One year we went to a festival of some sort there and a man was selling the most inventive sculptures from found metal objects. And this one was, quite literally, five dollars. We bought at least three. He, too, reminds me of a cartoon character—the one who practically disappears when he turns sideways because he’s so thin.


Here’s sedum, the go-to guy in fall. We’ve planted them in our front and back yard. The ones in front have gotten a bit leggy and floppy as the shade has increased, but these guys in the back are stubby and stiff and stay nicely upright. Love this new shot of pink in early fall.


Here’s a little stone landing that’s finally coming into its own. This is the first year without our big maple, which used to provide lots of shade before it fell and crushed the garage last summer. The only downside to that big ‘ol 120-year-old oak was that it made it impossible to grow much besides impatiens and hosta. While I love them both (and the hosta are definitely suffering without the shade) I’m thrilled with the purple fountain grass in the planter behind the chairs, which helps soften that big expanse of garage wall, and with the progress the wisteria has made in covering this funky arbor.


Finally, a flower that will last all winter long. A farmer’s market purchase from earlier this summer, when peas and spinach were abundant. Now it’s butternut squash and apple cider, which is a good reminder that fall certainly has its upside.

A spring road trip

It’s almost more like March than April—blustery, cold, and grey. But the daffodils are starting to peek through the leaf mold. Found this little crocus two weekends ago.

We spent last weekend in Kansas City. Drove down with a snowstorm imminent and arrived about a half hour after the roads got bad. It snowed all the rest of the day and into the evening and temps were down in the 20s. So much for going south for warmth! But it melted the next day and despite many large limbs pulled down by ice, most of the pear trees, redbuds, and tulips seemed to hold their blooms.

On the way home we stopped in Stewartsville, Mo, truly in the middle of nowhere, at a wonderful shop, Country Expressions. I got to chat with the owners, one of whom is the mom of Jenny McLean, aka Tula Pink, and Jenny herself, who was working in the shop. Jenny designs fabulous fabric for Moda. They somehow remind me of a painter who intrigued me in college: Giseuppe Archimboldo. Both share illusions of a sort, but his work is bizarre while hers is elegant. I’d hoped to score some blue/green Flutterby, which seems to be unavailable everywhere, and it was all sold out at Country Expressions, as well. But I’m very excited about the three fabrics I snagged from the Neptune collection to make another Birdie Sling.

I miss color in this monchromatic landscape

Outside, all is grey, white, and brown. For a very brief time yesterday the new snow found a contrast in blue sky and sunshine, which reminded even winter-hating me that the season has its charms. But today we’re back to grey sky, white ground, dull tree trunks.

All this is a stark contrast to last week, when we flew to Southern California for my mom’s 80th birthday celebration. The first morning we were there I took a walk down to the beach, about a mile from my parents’ house. I used to take that landscape for granted, but I’ve now lived in the Midwest long enough to be awestruck at the plants that were growing in mid-January; the people wearing down coats, gloves, and Ugg boots because it was in the high-40s that early morning; and the contrast of color: the azure ocean, the red hot poker plants bold against the pelican- and guano-covered rocks.

I think so much of one’s color sense comes from the place from whence you come. Mary Merkel-Hess is a friend of mine and a native Iowan (and one of my very first artist profile subjects) and her early work, in particular, was very neutral and strongly influenced by the colors and shapes of the midwestern landscape. Mary visited her Iowa daughter who was in graduate school in S. California and upon her return said to me, “Now I understand where Linzee-blue comes from,” a reference to my fondness for ocean colors. It made me realize how strongly (and perhaps permanently) my early environment influenced my visual preferences. For example, here’s the bay where I kayaked every morning of my senior year in high school:

After my walk and my musings, we got down to business on the party. My sister, Carolyn, and I went downtown to a lovely little florist and ordered a corsage for my mom.

The bouquets and arrangements were stunning and I couldn’t resist taking a few shots.


In particular, this bouquet reminded me of a quilt, My Garden by Japanese quilter Masako Tanabe, I’d seen in Houston at Market. Although the quilt obviously wasn’t inspired by this particular bouquet of flowers, it did make me think again about drawing inspiration from one’s surroundings.

This blog entry wouldn’t be complete without a shot of the birthday girl herself, along with her nearly three-year-older sister. So here are my mom, Sally, on the right, along with her sister, my Aunt Marcia, on their way to my mom’s 80th birthday bash. The corsage turned out just fine and I think they look pretty fine, too.