Category Archives: Articles

Q is for Quilts

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It’s been a long time since I’ve posted about quilts I’ve made, but I wanted to actually finish them first. <sighs dramatically> I sometimes take a long time to get them completely done.

Here’s one I made for the quilt ministry at my former church (and this one got finished reasonably quickly):

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I’ve made one like this before, but with an additional border. This will be used as a baptism quilt for a baby. The sheep block is a design from Farm Girl Vintage by Lori Holt.

I confess this next one is almost done. It’s a comfort quilt for the same church ministry, usually given to a senior citizen facing a challenge. I’ve been working on it about a year. It’s been way more tedious than I ever expected. I saw a video on YouTube that showed how to put a Dresden plate together easily by cutting the pieces with a special ruler. I went out and bought the ruler and couldn’t wait to try it. The plates went together easily as advertised.

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One block done!

But I hand-appliquéd them onto the background. Next time I’m going to learn how to use the appliqué stitch on my sewing machine.

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Top done!

Then I figured out a way to stitch-in-the-ditch machine-quilt the plates. If it makes any sense, I planned to outline every other blade and travel to the next blade a short distance around the center so that I could do each block in one long continue path with only one beginning and end. However, when I started to sew, I zoned out and quilted all the way around the outside of the first plate. Now, I should have just pulled it out and started over, but I couldn’t bear to do that. So I decided to quilt around every other blade and stop when I got back to the edge. I did it the same way for each of the four large blocks. That mean that I had 10 extra beginnings and 10 extra ends–20 extra ends of thread to bury–for each block. It’s not hard, it’s just time consuming, and my arthritic fingers are not so nimble knotting thread and re-threading needles any more.

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Done! (Well, almost.)

The final quilt took the longest time to finish. I completed the top at least ten years ago. Then we upgraded from a full bed to a queen, so I redid the borders. Then it sat while I watched many videos about how to quilt a large quilt on a conventional sewing machine. They say it can be done, but I didn’t know where I was even going to lay out the quilt to sandwich the layers. I don’t have any big tables, and besides, I don’t have the floor space.

 

Finally I decided to treat myself to a professional quilting job. Through the Arizona Quilt Guild website, I found local quilter Cindy Stohn. Working with her was a dream come true.

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Cindy sent me this photo of the quilt on the frame.

She asked me what I had in mind for this quilt, sort of a scrappy Irish chain. I knew I wanted an overall pattern, but exactly what I had no clue. Instead of overwhelming me with everything her long-arm machine was capable of, she showed me maybe half a dozen designs she thought would complement the quilt. I chose this swirly design, but really, any of the ones she showed me would have been awesome.

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Photo by Cindy Stohn

Then she asked me my preference of thread color. I wanted a blue that would be visible but not detract from the beautiful fabrics. I didn’t want it to contrast sharply. She nodded and grabbed a box of thread cones that must have had 50 different shades of blue. She suggested using a different shade for the backside (a small blue and black checked flannel). Instead of making me pick, she pulled out several shades she thought would work, and honestly, every one gave it a totally different feel. She kept substituting and refining the choices, and I really think she came up with the perfect colors.

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Cindy’s quilting really enhanced my quilt. What a wonderful job she did!

Next up: a three-dimensional pinwheel quilt for the Choices Pregnancy Center, through the church’s quilt ministry:

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I’ll post more pictures when it’s done. Don’t hold your breath.

P is for Poetry Slam

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I am obsessed with the concept of poetry slams. Don’t know what a poetry slam is? Watch this for a little taste:

Doesn’t that seem awesome? I really would like to go and observe one. There’s a bar in Phoenix that had poetry slams. I even got free tickets for one. But when the time came to go, I balked. It’s hard to park in the art district at night. I could take the light rail, but it’s an hour to get there and an hour back, double the travel time if I drove. Plus I don’t drink and I haven’t been in a bar for forty years. Yep, I talked myself out of it. And now that people don’t gather any more, the bar in question isn’t sure they’ll even still be in business by the time restrictions are lifted. I lost my chance. Maybe I’ll try again when the pandemic is over.

In the meantime, virtual poetry slams are an option. Thank you, YouTube. Grand Slam Poetry Champion Harry Baker recites three of his poems. I’m glad it is closed captioned. (You’ll see why when he gets to the second poem.)

Maybe someday I’ll actually read one of my poems. . .

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O is for Organ

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The earliest pipe organ originated in Greece in the third century BC. Called a hydraulis, it was powered by air compressed by water pressure.

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This photo of the Zliten mosaic is attributed to Nacéra Benseddik and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license.

Bellows were added to organ design by the sixth or seventh century AD.

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St. Cecilia playing a portable organ; her left hand operates the bellows. By “The Master of the St. Bartholomew altarpiece.”

Charlemagne was the first to request a pipe organ in his chapel in Aachen in 812, which established the organ as the premier instrument in Western European church music for many centuries.

In the 12th century, the organ began to evolve into a complex instrument capable of producing different timbres.

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Typical modern pipe organ console; located in St. Patrick’s cathedral, Dublin.

My favorite organ piece is the Toccata and Fugue by J.S. Bach:

And my second favorite has got to be this one:

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M is for Masks and Marsalis

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Joann’s Fabrics has sent links for mask-making directions to all its email subscribers, so sewers can make protective masks for hospitals and for their families and friends. Unfortuantely, the directions I like best (see video below) call for 1/4″ elastic. There is no 1/4″ elastic to be found anywhere. (Amazon had no-name spools of elastic from 3rd-party sellers, but the comments indicated the quality was disappointing.)

So I opted to try this design with ties. I like it, but it took me an hour and a half to make one.

face mask; Covid-19

After making three of these, I thought, there’s got to be a quicker way. So I watched lots of YouTube videos, and decided to try this one:

I bought 4 packages of hair elastics at the dollar store. (I was very optimistic.) It took me 30 minutes to make one. (I guess I’m a slow sewer.) However, it’s very uncomfortable to wear; the ponytail holders keep slipping off my ears. So don’t set up an assembly line until you’ve made one and tried it out. (The purple and green one below.)

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My original plan was to make a bazillion of these, first for my husband and me, then for our kids, and finally for our neighbors. Now I’ll be happy if I can just get a few more done before the pandemic is over (and I’m praying for it to be over soon).

I made one more mask last night. This time I used 1/4″ bias binding for the ties so I wouldn’t have to make them. It didn’t save me any time, since it was very hard to sew neatly on the skinny binding:

If you don’t like the masks I made, maybe you’ll like some of these.

The news program I watch has a segment about the remarkable people whose lives have been taken by this virus. Ordinary people who were loved by their families, communities, and coworkers, distinguished by accomplishments of excellence and kindness. Most were relatively unknown outside their own circles, but one hit me especially hard.

Ellis Marsalis, Jr. was born November 14, 1934. During high school, he played saxophone, but switched to piano while majoring in music at Dillard University. During the 1950s and 60s, he played professionally with jazz greats like Al Hirt and Cannonball Adderly. He was a greatly respected teacher at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (where one of his students was Harry Connick, Jr.), University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana. He recorded 20 albums, and was the patriarch of a great musical family. You may have heard of some of his sons, including trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and saxophonist Branford Marsalis (who was the bandleader for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno for a time).

On April 1, 2020, Ellis Marsalis, Jr. succumbed to pneumonia brought on by the Covid-19 virus. Rest in peace. You are so missed.

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J is for Scott Joplin

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J is for Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin was born on November 24, 1868 into a musical African-American family of railway laborers in Texarkana, Arkansas. Studious and ambitious, he received most of his music education from Julius Weiss, a German-born American Jewish music professor who immigrated to Texas in the late 1860s and was employed as music tutor to a prominent local business family. Impressed by Joplin’s talent, and realizing his family’s dire straits, Weiss taught him from ages 11 to 16, pro bono. Weiss introduced him to folk and classical music, including opera, and helped his mother acquire a used piano. According to Weiss’ wife, Lottie, Joplin never forgot Weiss. In his later years, after achieving fame as a composer, Joplin sent his former teacher “…gifts of money when he was old and ill.”

While in Texarkana, Texas, Joplin formed a vocal quartet and taught mandolin and guitar. During the late 1880s he left his job as a railroad laborer and travelled the American South as an itinerant musician. He soon discovered that there were few opportunities for black pianists. Churches and brothels were among the few options for steady work.

He journeyed to Chicago for the World’s Fair of 1893, which played a major part in making ragtime a national craze.

Joplin moved to Sedalia, Missouri, in 1894 and earned a living there as a piano teacher. Two businessmen from New York published Joplin’s first two works, the songs “Please Say You Will”, and “A Picture of her Face” in 1895. On a visit to Temple, Texas in 1896, three of his pieces were published, including the “Great Crush Collision March”, which commemorated a planned train crash on the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad on September 15 that he may have witnessed. The March was described as an “early essay in ragtime.”

Publication of his “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899 made him well-known. This piece had a enormous influence on writers of ragtime, a unique style marked by syncopation. It also brought Joplin a steady income for life, though he did not reach this level of success again and frequently had financial problems.

In 1901 Joplin moved to St. Louis, where he continued to compose and regularly performed. He created an opera company of 30 people and produced his first opera, A Guest of Honor, for a national tour. It is not known how many productions were staged, or if this was an all-black production. During the tour, either in Springfield, Illinois, or Pittsburg, Kansas, someone associated with the company stole the box office receipts. Joplin could not meet the company’s payroll or pay for its lodgings at a boarding house.

In 1907, Joplin moved to New York City to find a producer for a new opera. His second opera, Treemonisha, was never fully staged during his lifetime.  In 1911, unable to find a publisher, Joplin undertook the financial burden of publishing Treemonisha himself in piano-vocal format. In 1915, as a last-ditch effort to see it performed, he invited a small audience to hear it at a rehearsal hall in Harlem. Poorly staged and with only Joplin on piano as accompaniment, it was a dismal failure to a public expecting the grand opera popular at that time. The audience, including potential backers, walked out. Afterward, Joplin suffered a breakdown. He was bankrupt, discouraged, and exhausted. Treemonisha went unnoticed and unreviewed.

By 1916, Joplin was suffering from syphilis. In January 1917, he was admitted to Manhattan State Hospital, a mental institution. He died there on April 1 of syphilitic dementia at the age of 48 and was buried in a pauper’s grave that remained unmarked for 57 years.

Joplin’s death marked the end of ragtime per se; over the next several years, it evolved with other styles into jazz and swing.

Joplin first entered my notice when The Sting came out. The movie starred Robert Redford and Paul Newman, and featured Joplin’s rag, “The Entertainer.” His grave at Saint Michaels Cemetery in East Elmhurst was finally given a marker in 1974, the year The Sting won the Oscar for Best Picture.

In 1976, Joplin was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his contributions to American music.

Scott Joplin earned the title of the King of Ragtime. During his brief career, he wrote over 100 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas.

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Information for this article came from Wikipedia.

Creative Juice #181

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Creative Juice #181

Yeah, lots of art.

I’d Rather be Dancing African Folk Dances

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I’d Rather be Dancing African Folk Dances

At Phoenix International Folk Dancers, we only have two African dances in our repertoire. The first is Bela Kawe, a dance that originated from West African and Caribbean culture. The dance tells a story of two women who are having a friendly competition for a man’s attention. The first part of the dance represents the women trying to get the man’s attention, while the last part represents the warding off of any bad spirits that may be standing in the woman’s way. There are many different versions of Bele Kawe. This video is the closest to the way we dance it, but in our (Phyllis Weikert’s) choreography, the handwork is different; the women flourish their skirts, and the men place their hands on their own back pockets. They all clap on the fourth beat of each of the turns.

The other dance we do is Pata Pata, from South Africa. If you are as old as I am, you may remember when Miriam Makeba introduced the song and the dance in the mid 1960s.

Pata Pata means “touch, touch.” If you watch the backup dancers, at one point they pat various parts of their bodies. The version that PIFD does is decidedly less sensuous. Our version is often taught to school children, and it looks like this:

The only problem with the way we do Bele Kawe and Pata Pata is that they are white-people versions of African dances. What do African dances look like when they are danced by real African dancers?

Watch this performance by the Ama-Zebra Folk Dance Ensemble from South Africa:

African dances for the most part are vigorous and athletic. But some are graceful. Drums figure big in African dance music. Here are ten more dances:

The Tucson Folk Dance Club does an authentic Ghanaese dance, Pondogo:

Now it’s your turn. International folk dancers out there, does your group do any African dances? Do you have any African dances on YouTube? Please share in the comments below.

Top 5 Writing Distractions—Part Two  

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Top 5 Writing Distractions—Part Two  

On Wednesday I posted about three of the top five distractions writers are likely to face. I’ll review those briefly and continue the discussion with two more barriers to writing focus.

  1. You love them dearly, but they don’t respect your need for solitude when you’re writing. You need to fulfill your duties to them, but just not during your writing time. Negotiating some boundaries is key to balancing family and writing.
  2. The phone. Turn off the ringer while you’re writing and check your voicemail and texts after you’re done for the day.
  3. Household tasks. This takes willpower, especially if the words aren’t flowing. Shut yourself away, or go to an out-of-the-house location where you aren’t tempted to do chores just to feel productive. Counter-corollary: sometimes doing something mindless (like ironing, or polishing windows) allows you to daydream and frees your imagination, giving you new ideas to add to your work-in-progress. Be ready to abandon your task and go back to writing while the idea is fresh.chores, distractions
  4. Writing tasks. We all know that writing isn’t just churning out manuscripts. There’s brainstorming, researching, outlining, rewriting, editing, marketing. And you want to network with other writers, with agents, editors, beta readers, and reviewers. You also need to maintain a vibrant presence on social media and grow your email newsletter list. It almost seems that in order to do all these things well, you pretty much do them instead of writing. But you can’t. So you have to schedule them. It’s the only way to balance your time. Prioritize what you need to do. You must write every day. Some days you can’t get started writing until you do some research, so go research—but beware of chasing tangents. Sometimes your research will uncover interesting information that may have no bearing whatsoever on what you’re writing, but you feel compelled to go deeper. Sometimes there may be a payoff in a brilliant plot twist or an entirely new direction, but usually getting off track will just waste time that you could have been spending more productively. Put a limit on how much time you devote to those other writing-related tasks, and then write.

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    Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

  5. Dissatisfaction with the way your project is going. Your first draft is not going to be brilliant. That’s okay—first drafts are about getting ideas down; you develop them in more detail in the subsequent drafts. But when your third or fourth draft still seems rough, it’s easy to feel discouraged and focus instead on disappointment and dreams unmet. How do you satisfy your inner critic and get back to work again? It helps to have an insightful critique partner, someone who will read your essay or chapter and act as a sounding board for your concerns. (How do you find a critique partner?) He can make suggestions about changes or additions or rephrasing that will help you take your manuscript to the next level.

Now it’s your turn. What are your biggest distractions when you’re writing? How do you counteract them? Share in the comments below.

Top 5 Writing Distractions–Part One

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Top 5 Writing Distractions–Part One

In the YouTube ad for her writing MasterClass, Joyce Carol Oates says, “The great enemy of writing isn’t your own lack of talent; it’s being interrupted by other people. Constant interruptions are the destruction of the imagination.” Yeah, that’s true, but if you’ve ever struggled to find a block of time to devote to your writing, or if while you’re working you can’t maintain your focus, then you know people aren’t the only problem. In this article I enumerate what I consider to be the top 5 writing distractions, and how to defeat them.

Top 5 Writing Distractions

  1. Family. Members of your immediate and extended family are undeniably the biggest source of interruption of creative flow. While you can’t shouldn’t disown your spouse or your children, with communication you may be able to negotiate some undisturbed time. Your family’s needs come first, but under certain circumstances their requirements may need to be delayed, such as when you’re under a deadline, or you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, or you must get down a critical wording before it escapes your memory. Your family deserves your undivided attention, so be sure you’re providing at least some on a daily basis. But, realistically, as an artistic person, even if you’re not earning money at it yet, your craft also needs focused, undisturbed time. Perhaps you can schedule writing hours (or minutes) during which you post a sign that says, “Writer at work. Do not disturb until 4:00 PM.” You’re still available for emergencies, but spell out what constitutes an emergency: blood, flames, etc. “I’m bored” is not an emergency and will result in extra assigned chores. Ditto for “I can’t find my purple socks,” “He’s breathing on me,” or “How soon is dinner?” Come on, people, be reasonable. (If your beloved family members are behaving like jerks, you have my permission to read them this paragraph in an authoritative voice.)Writer at work.
  2. The phone. If you can, turn your ringer off during writing time and let your calls go to voice mail. Why lose your train of thought to someone who wants to buy your house for cheap, or someone pretending to be the government wanting to suspend your social security number as soon as you tell them what it is? Don’t stop writing to listen to a robocall about a time share or a presidential candidate. Don’t squander your writing time catching up with the friend who hasn’t called you in two years.
  3. Household tasks. If you’re lucky enough to have private work space in your home, sometimes it’s a mixed blessing, because during lulls you remember the piles of unwashed laundry and the dirty floors and the unfiled tax return just around the corner. If your work space has a door, close it. Commit to working your allotted time; the chores will still be there when you’re done writing for the day. That’s easy enough when the words are flowing, but as soon as you hit a dry patch, you think about all the other things you could be accomplishing. So, from time to time, shake things up by going somewhere else to write. If the weather is nice, try writing in the backyard or at the park. Or bow to the cliché and go to a coffee shop or to the library. Just don’t get caught up in people-watching.

Come back on Saturday for Part Two of this article and learn how to combat two more top writing distractions.

Franz Schubert

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Franz Schubert

Franz Peter Schubert (January 31, 1797 –November 19, 1828) was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras.

Schubert’s gift for music was evident from an early age. His father gave him his first violin lessons and his older brother gave him piano lessons, but Schubert soon exceeded their abilities. In 1808, at the age of eleven, he became a pupil at the Stadtkonvikt school, where he became acquainted with the orchestral music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. He left the Stadtkonvikt at the end of 1813, and returned home to live with his father, where he began studying to become a schoolteacher; despite this, he continued his studies in composition with Antonio Salieri.

One of Schubert’s most famous lieder (art songs), Der Erlkönig, as a shadow puppet animation, with English translation:

In 1814, Schubert met a young soprano named Therese Grob, daughter of a local silk manufacturer, and wrote several of his liturgical works (including a “Salve Regina” and a “Tantum Ergo”) for her; she was also a soloist in the premiere of his Mass No. 1 (D. 105) in September 1814. Schubert wanted to marry her, but was hindered by the harsh marriage-consent law of 1815 requiring an aspiring bridegroom to show he had the means to support a family.

During the early 1820s, Schubert was part of a close-knit circle of artists and students who had social gatherings together that became known as Schubertiads.

Four of Schubert’s brilliant piano impromptus, opus 90, played by Alfred Brendel:

In 1821, Schubert was granted admission to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde as a performing member, which helped establish his reputation in Vienna. He gave a concert of his own works to critical acclaim in March 1828, his only such concert in his lifetime. He died eight months later at the age of 31, the cause officially attributed to typhoid fever, but believed by some historians to be syphilis.

Schubert was remarkably prolific, writing over 1,500 works in his short career. The largest number of his compositions are songs for solo voice and piano (roughly 630). He completed seven symphonies, and a large body of music for solo piano.

One of Schubert’s most famous symphonies is No. 8, known as The Unfinished Symphony:

Information for this article came from Wikipedia.