Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sewing Log

A quick paragraph about my most recent quilt, a William Morris 9 block done by hand. The squares on this quilt are big, 13 inches plus 2 inch borders. Luckily Maria had a girl, as this quilt is very floral. It is the first time I've ever done the quilting myself, and with NO thimble. I also used canvas for the bias border, just for extra blood and pain. I am a glutton for punishment, but on the plus side I can now sand wood with my fingertips! This is my 9th quilt, but the first time I've done all the quilting myself. The quilt-as-you-go process made it simple and just as enjoyable as embroidery. Plus, think of all the money I'm saving by not paying a quilter $100 a pop. I could have improved the look by using heavier thread or even painting the white of the fabric. Good thing the quilt is scrappy and for a baby to play on as there are holes and measurement mistakes all over the place. I also had to use two different types of batting, so the some squares are flatter than others. Final measurement size: 4.25ft x 4.25ft

2012 Quilt #9 for Maria, Phoenix AZ. William Morris 9 Block. 

2011 Dress #2 for Aubrey. Laundry by Shelli Segal graduation dress upcycle.

2011 Dress #1 for Ana. Silk pillowcase design upcycle.

2011 Quilt #8 for Genevieve, Seattle WA. Vintage Christmas Cranston Works 5 Block
2011 Quilt #7 for Kelly, Chicago, IL.  Michael's embroidered baby iron transfers. 
2010 Quilt #6 for Kathy, Cincinnati OH.  48 Red, White, & Blue Ohio Stars all by hand! 
2010 Quilt #5 for Kristin, Portage MI.  Penny Lane by Abby Lane Quilts 
2009 Quilt #4 for Nolan, Sydney NSW.  Around the World
2009 Quilt #3 for Waneta, South Bend IN. Amish 12 Block
2008 Quilt #2 for Claire, San Fran CA. Embroidered alphabet Ocean Creatures (1 day old!) 
2008 Quilt #1 for Ana, Sydney NSW.  Michael's embroidered alphabet animals

The week after I stopped working at the beginning of my third trimester in 2008, I started quilting. Having never sewn anything more than a friendship bracelet, this was quite an undertaking.  My family has a long history of quilting and thought it was a good idea to bring back an old family tradition.  I started small with an iron-on baby embroidery kit from Michaels. After sifting through the patterns I decided I wanted to use some of my own and turned to the internet.  I went back to Michaels and bought t-shirt transfers which you can print images to from your printer.  I selected the images I wanted in black and white and could now embroider anything from the internet. Since this quilt was to be for my daughter, I decided on an ABC animal theme.  I had plenty of help from my mother and used her sewing machine since I didn't have one yet.

Two weeks before baby was born, my mother threw a huge shower for me and I had all the attendants sign the quilt.  This was very special as a few of the signers are no longer with us.  We bought fabric pens that matched the pastel colors of the animals and had just enough embroidered animals (48 in total). I always prefer that my quilts be used, but my mother insisted this one was special and should be hung so I  made Ana a simple quilt shelf for her room.  It cost about $15 for the supplies from home depot. Since it was my first quilt and I am self taught, I made several mistakes. I didn't pick out a border, or even know what a binding was.  I did the basic block work and sewed the entire 96 blocks together by hand.

Having thoroughly enjoyed making my first quilt I began a second right away. I had plenty of leftover material from Ana's quilt and loved the embroidery alphabet theme.  My good friend was expecting her first daughter and thought it was another good practice opportunity.  I again downloaded and printed 30 clipart images of ABC sea creatures and ironed them to the backs of muslin.  Every night while my husband watched his AMC turner classics or obscure shows on netflix I would embroider away.  Six months later quilt number two was complete AND I got to hand deliver it the same day the baby came home. I'm pretty sure this is the only quilt in history to contain an embroidered Rat-tail fish!

I really enjoyed watching Claire grow and get good use out of her quilt, so how could I stop there? I decided I needed more practice outside of embroidery and simple 4 block patterns. I picked up an old quilt pattern my mother had started and never finished.  Fortunately it didn't require a sewing machine and introduced the art of applique. Hooray for something new - and what a challenge! This 12 block set includes 2 Grandmother's Flower Gardens, 1 Ohio Star, 2 lovely Dutch Girls, and two made-up patterns. The design and material used were close to 25yrs old as you can see it is very traditional.  The applique practice was good and I decided to give this quilt to my grandmother for Christmas.  I have yet to see the finished bound product.

I'm not a personal fan of traditional looking quilts, by my grandmother LOVED it.  Still the Amish do quilts best, so I headed down to Shipshewana after completing my third quilt to look for some more modern and retro patterns.  This is where I found a pattern called "Penny Lane" by Abby Lane Quilts.  How could I resist?! I picked it up along with some fun fabrics.  My fourth quilt was a cooperative 2 year project with my husband. He suggested I quilt every country we had traveled for our second child and helped pick the designs. This turned out to be 60 embroidered blocks in a queen size alphabetical layout that I made a cheat sheet for (just in case).  This quilt took two years of embroidering, but the results paid off.  There are several intricate blocks I am very proud of, including Japan, Russia, Poland.  If ever there was a piece of inheritance, I stand proud in this one.

Quilt 5 was the breaking point for purchasing a sewing machine. I had been working diligently piecing a 50 block red, white, and blue Ohio Star queen size quilt for my mother by hand.  While the end product wasn't perfect, I was proud to have done all 50 stars by hand, and was very ready for my first sewing machine.  My mother bought me a used Jean's Machine for my 30th birthday in exchange for her Ohio Star quilt gift! It was only $50 and works great for what I need.

With a sewing machine I now had the perfect way to try out my Penny Lane pattern! I read it was easy to "rapid" quilt, meaning if you are experience you might be able to finish it in a week for sale.  It took me about a month, which was much much faster than six months per quilt by hand.  I have to admit, Penny Lane is one of my poorer put together quilts.  I put a firm end to paying someone to do my backing and bindings.  I watched a tutorial and decided to whip stitch it myself.  I bought a supper snuggly forest felt backing and some thick muslin for the middle as I knew Penny Lane was going to be a gift for my sister-in-law's baby up in Michigan. The end result was a warm, chunky quilt perfect for daily use in a girls room.
In 2011 I fell slightly behind in my quilting hobby due to another big move.  While this didn't phase me in the past, having two children does.  With Ana now in school I am able to resume my quilt gifting, and my most recent project is a square puffy piece for my friend expecting triplets. I should have made it a bit bigger, but really want to have a go at quilting it myself. It again has 30 embroidered pastel baby blocks from the original Michael's iron-ons I bought in 2008 (I really do use everything). We had to buy a power adapter for my sewing machine, but Jean is still running great here Australia.   More than anything I love seeing my quilts being used and I can't wait to see three babies crawling and drooling all over this thick squishy quilt. I wish more than anything I could hand deliver it as well.

I already have the fabric and design idea for my 8th quilt which will be a navy Christmas piece for my friend Genevieve in Seattle.  I try to keep my costs minimal, using all of my fabric and even old blankets as muslin.  I enjoy browsing so many great pattern ideas on Pinterest and above all love seeing my quilts being used.  I love the accuracy of hand quilting and piecing, but am glad to finally own a sewing machine. My Great Aunt Phyllis owns a quilting machine that is the size of an entire room.  While I'm not ready to take that step in terms of dedication, her quilts are truly an inspiration and have won many awards.  As the Backscheider family grows, I can't wait to gift more quilts or have a go at making clothes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Berry Island & Balls Head Reserve

Berry Island Reserve is the perfect spot for a short hike with two small kids. The 1km track has a few steps and muddy patches, but is overall accessible even to the seniors we passed along the trail.  According to the sign posted at the end of the point, Cammeraygal women here fished from canoes drifting along the bay, taking their children with them. To European observers, the balancing act of tending children, a fire (laid on packed clay in the canoe), and catching fish all in a flimsy bark canoe required great skill. They would spat chewed fish near their shell-made fish hooks as bait. The men used spears and fished from the rocks, also spatting chewed cockle into the water. If you've ever vomited into your scuba regulator (yes, you can safely do this) you would already know first hand that fish love processed foods.

As you plot along through the thick canopy, you feel safe, as if in your private biosphere Berry Island jungle.   This one happened to remind me of my North American home because of the cooler air, giant Aboriginal engraved boulders, and rooty red-mud terrain. Calm water along both sides of the peninsula took me to lake Alitoona and our hikes at Red Top Mountain. With the exception of the  Torben Spirit oil tanker under the Nassau tax free flag being hoisted off to the side, the trip was very quiet and relaxing. The kids loved the fig tree covered playground. Paul and I even tried the chain laden climbing wall.

As we emerged from our little utopia back into the city, I was hit with a life-is-too-short-to-miss great experiences moment. Most days you are pushed through a string of routines so numbing, your best chance at survival is an imaginative escape. Surrounded by a sea of city asphalt, you grasp onto anything intriguing, a secret tunnel, shoes hanging on a wire, a shifty figure crossing the street. You picture your surroundings as a completely different context, another planet, under the ocean, or the road as a giant roller coaster as you travel down a giant esophagus to your home. You search and search for the secret to living (and dying) and eventually come to the conclusion: there is no secret. Just the search. None of this comes with you in the end. Today's search felt like one worth tucking into the corner of my mind. Something not so - fabricated.

On the car ride home through North Sydney, the Orbital Lyrics (The Beach Soundtrack) referring to Richard's experience when traveling to Koh Phi Phi stuck with me:

Trust me, it's a paradise.
This where the hungry come to feed.
For mine is a generation that circles the globe,
in search of something we haven't tried before.

So never refuse an invitation.
Never resist the unfamiliar.
Never fail to be polite,
And never outstay your welcome.

Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience,
And if it hurts, It's probably worth it.

You hope and you dream,
But you never believe
That something is going to happen for you.
Not like it does in the movies.
And when it actually does,
You expect it to feel different.
More visceral, more real.
I was waiting for it to hit me.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Paramatta & Scooby-Doo

Two weeks ago my mother came to visit Sydney for Easter. We arranged for a string of fun activies and places to see, including a tour of the opera house, trip to Hunter Valley, and Scooby-Doo Musical. On the day of the show, Nolan and I tagged along to Paramatta. We had two hours and managed to pack in a dozen stops. First we checked out the free museum where we saw many Aboriginal artifacts, rode a horse, and beached a ship. Then we strolled along the river and down Eat Street. We stopped in Kathmandu for new swimmies for mommy, then hopped over to the Governors mansion.

There is a small playground near the Mansion grounds that is fairly dated, but worth stopping if you have a kid that loves swings. The Mansion is right across the street from Juvi, the West Sydney Children's court. Luckily we were not on the docket that day, and headed to a nearby fabric store. Unfortunately it was for clothesmaking, and not quilting. Soon it was time to wade the sea of scooby light-saber bearing children and retrieve my daughter and head home. I was glad to have explored more of west-sydney and decided to add a few other POI's to the "to visit" map before heading to bed.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Great Barrier Reef

Friday the 13th marked the day of our first dive adventure in five years. In 2007, we had the foresight to grab our Padi certification at the Red Sea in Egypt before child planning. It was a four day excursion with our own instructor and boat and we left feeling ready to conquer the world reef by reef. Five years later our dive book had a grand total of 6, all from our certification course. Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. Two weeks ago we booked 3 dives on the Poisiden, but they canceled at the last minute due to rough seas. That didn't deter us from pursuing another dive company. We had come too far to let a few waves and showers spoil it for us. We had a few novice hiccups on the first dive, including 30 knot winds on the surface and a weight belt more interested in visiting the sea floor than staying on my waist. Our dive master Macca took it all in stride and was very polite about our rudimentary skills. Macca was a very quiet Kiwi who had spent years diving in Asia and I felt nervous about accidentally smashing into the reef in front of him. For the most part we followed him around like a puppy dog and I got the feeling he noticed it.

All in all we completed three 45 minute dives and saw a spectacular array of wildlife. Here is the breakdown:
- Great Barrier Reef Dive 1: The Point. Wildlife Spotted: Gray Reef Shark, Sea cucumber, giant clam
- GBR Dive 2: Agoncourt II or Turtle Bay. Wildlife Spotted: Napoleon Fish, Clownfish, flounder, lobster, stingray, jellyfish, sea turtle
- GBR Dive 3: Stonehenge. Wildlife spotted: Starfish, parrot fish, angel fish, star eyed puffer, more clownfish.

Before and after shot of the day

I found the diversity of coral at the GBR better than the red sea. The visibility, however, was much poorer on the day we went and in order to see the true colors you had to really swim close to everything. The water was warm (22c) which was more relaxing and we were able to wear lycra instead of full wet suits. We could have gone without suits if it weren't for the jellies. Seeing a shark in the wild was worth the whole dive to me. They are completely fearless and terrifying hunters. I looked carefully for some hard to spot scorpion fish and sea slugs, but didn't see any. Paul and I made our future "to-dive" list on the boat ride home under heavy seasickness medication and clogged ears. A sign that it was well worth the $2k+ spent to check that experience off our bucket list.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hunter Valley Resort

 Right: Tasting 101 at Rothvale. Middle: Audrey Wilkinson tasting room. Left: Hunter Resort wine theater.

The day before Easter, my bestie and I paid $60 to ride around the Hunter sucking our tongues and whiffing the finest Ausi smelly cheeses. Our tour included six stops of 4-8 tastings each in a region known for its Semillon, Verdelho, and Shiraz grapes. The wine industry in the Hunter suffered a horrendous year, losing 85% of its crops to excessive rain and cold. To make matters worse, a fall warm spell has caused many vines to begin sprouting grapes before winter arrives. We were told this is a very very bad thing for growers in 2012/13, but no worries mate. The only explanation for this sort of behavior is if you are 1. On drugs. 2. Subsidized by the government. 3. A true worries-free Ausi. I'm going with 2.

Right: Tamburlaine funky wall art. Middle: Audrey Wilkinson winery view. Left: Tempus Two vines.

I have been to wineries in Southern Indiana, New York State Finger Lakes, California Napa, German Rhine, and Italian Tuscany regions. I have to admit, I am not a big fan of white wines but never have I met friendlier owners willing to teach us heaps about the entire process. The owner of Rothvale taught us how to sight, smell, and properly taste a wine at our first stop which was probably the only thing that prevented me from passing out cold before the days end.

Above, Middle, Right: Huntery Valley Resort winery tour and tasting

The Hunter Valley Resort was modest and extremely hospitable, including a library, theater, and sunrise with the cows. The winery was sold to new owners only a week before and they tried hard to accommodate everyone in spite of circumstance.   Everything was extremely laid back for what is stereo typically a 'pretentious' pastime. It also helped that our wine bus was full of Kiwis and the main attraction of the day was a veteran Contiki tour guide with a boatload of entertaining stories. He earned my business! All in all the visit could not have contrasted more from the trip I made six months earlier with Paul. There was plenty to see and do both time, and are still over a dozen wineries left unexplored.  I was glad to have done my part in helping maintain profits.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Daintree Rainforest

This past week my husband and I were lucky enough to have a babysitter to care for our children while taking a three day holiday in Port Douglas. We stayed in an apartment at the Martinique on Mocrossan, just a short walk from the beach and restaurants. On our first day we drove through the Daintree rainforest all the way to Cape Tribulation, as far as you can travel without 4WD vehicle. To get there you must pay $22 for a round trip crossing over the  crock infested Daintree river. There are several family friendly stops along the way, a snack house, bat cave, Daintree Tea company, and a few restaurants. We took the advice of our  hosts and walked the Mardja Boardwalk. We were the only ones on the trail at 8am on a very soggy Thursday which made for a peaceful 1km walk.

The rainforest was amazing and terrifying. It had huge mangroves, endless swampland, stinger treesgigantic spiders, and the biggest thorns you've ever seen on a plant. Not to mention all the crocodiles, casowarries, tiny kangas, stingrays, and jellies. It is no wonder Captain Cook aptly named his landing point Mount Misery. I could not imagine surviving three meters on my own into what I would have called the "jungle of death" instead of the worlds oldest rainforest. Awesome and terrifying! On our drive back down from Cape Tribulation we stopped at Noah's beach for a bite of carrot juice and stinky cheese. The beach was beautiful, unspoiled, and all ours; Paul's favorite find of the day! We enjoyed the tea leave and sugar cain fields, even in the torrential downpour and took video footage for Paul's experience room. We did feel a little slimy after the whole excursion and opted for multiple baths. We were on vacation without kids after all!

Left: Paul at Noah's beach. Middle: Daintree Tea fields. Right: Hotel Martinique salt water garden

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter at Hornsby Lighthouse

Left: trailhead towards Hornsby. Middle: Lady Bay Beach. Right: Camp Cove Beach

Happy Easter Sunday hike! I have been saving a trip to Hornsby Lighthouse and Gap Park for a family visit or holiday and today was it. Slightly overcast but humid, we made our way down the well marked trail past camp cove beach and nudie Lady Bay Beach towards the south head lower light. Hornsby is an active lighthouse, and much of the peninsula is dedicated to the naval HMAS Watson.  The Lightkeeper's cottage c1858 offers stunning 360 views of Sydney Harbor, Manly Head, and the open Tasman ocean. Watson's Bay is the smallest of the three Sydney heads, making the trails more congested even on a holiday. There are public restrooms, and well kept trails, but several sets of steps to take your stroller up and down and no dogs allowed.

 In 1957, the Dunbar en route from England wrecked while attempting to enter Sydney Harbor in foul weather. All 122 people (minus one James Johnson) on board perished, and a lighthouse was planned to prevent future crashes. Construction didn't proceed quickly enough and in October of the same year, the Catherine Anderson also wrecked killing 21 passengers. In a twist of fate, James Johnson became the first lighthouse keeper and in 1945 the land was acquired by the commonwealth to be used for defense by the army. After several years of falling into disrepair, fast forward to 1996 when Hornsby received a much needed face lift bringing you close to the present day picture above.

The entire walk didn't take more than an hour at a very leisurely pace, and we decided to make a pit stop at Gap Park for Grandma. We had a nice seafood dinner at Doyles while watching the lighting roll in over Manly and eventually Watsons Bay.  It's easy to see why a visit to Watson's Bay is always listed as one of the top ten Sydney "must do" day trips. The cliffs, beaches, sand, and seafood are iconic Sydney and what I will always think of when reflecting on our time here.