Betsy True, Quilt Artist and KB Global Moderator

I have the pleasure of hosting Betsy the Quilter, artist, professional quilter, and Global Moderator at KindleBoards. Betsy is always there for us (i.e., the kindle gang) with a piece of advice, helpful ideas and a charming way of enforcing the rules.  I am delighted to find out more about her artistic endeavors with patterns, shapes and colors here on SoupAndNuts.  So, Betsy, here is the first question: Why quilt?

Gabriela, thanks for asking me to be on your blog!  Quilting, for me, fulfills a creative need.  And unlike other needlecraft, I find an infinite variety of pattern, design and technique.  I’m never bored!

Plus, we have a family tradition of quilting.  My grandmother (my dad’s mother) was a quilter, as was her daughter, my aunt.  They were both very prolific quilters.  One of my treasures is a bed quilt that my aunt pieced and my grandmother quilted.

Quilting has always fascinated me, even though my grandfather thought it was pointless–cutting up pieces of fabric and sewing them back together again!  It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to quilt.

When did you start quilting, and how?

We were driving home from work (I was a statistician and a computer tech) in 1985 and went by a quilt shop.  Since it was something I’d always wanted to do, I went in to inquire about lessons and never looked back.  I took lessons from the shop and progressed to the point that I started creating my own designs and teaching at the shop.  I started doing very traditional quilts with a goal of making a bed quilt and eventually started doing art quilts for the wall.  I decided I wanted to learn as much as possible about the craft of quilting, so I took (and continue to take) lessons in a lot of different techniques.

How long does it take you to nail the design?

I would guess that this is a place where writing and and the quilt design experience are similar.  Sometimes, a design comes out almost fully formed; other times it’s a bit of trial and error.  I often start from a photograph or several photographs, selecting elements to use.  I either use my own photographs or the clients.  I do a lot of design in my head before my pen ever touches the paper.  For a commission or for a specific exhibition, design would take at least a week, perhaps more if it’s a struggle.  However, usually, I’m working at bits and pieces, so it could be a month from the start of a design to a finish.  I do a lot of work on paper, but I also will work on the computer for some designs.

What about the execution of the entire piece?

That depends on the size.  For one of my small art pieces, once the design is done, I can get the major design sewn in a week, quilted in another 2-5 days and another 2-3 days for finishing.  I’ve been known to pull an all-nighter when trying to meet a deadline.  I call it “sweatshop mode.”  The reality is that the work on most pieces is spread out over a few months.  I set things aside frequently to let them perk for making final decisions.

Can you take us through the process of making a quilt?

Once I’ve created the design, I begin auditioning fabric.  I use commercially available fabric from my collection as opposed to dying my own.  It’s one of the constraints I set myself.  My collection does include hand dyed fabrics that others create.  Fabric choice is important and it’s one of the things that sets quilting apart for me from other art forms such as paint.  The fabric patterns provide visual texture; and of course, the kind of fabric and the technique used adds a physical texture.

As I’m pulling fabrics, I also am thinking about construction.  There are a lot of different techniques available.  The effect I want to achieve and the fabric I’m using affect the choice of technique.

The fabric auditions continue throughout the construction process.  As the quilt comes together, I may discard some initial choices and add others.  I may also tweak the actual design.  I like to say “the quilt decides what it wants to be.”  Very few of my quilts end up exactly like the original drawing.

Please tell us about the exhibitions where you presented your work?

Woodlawn Plantation Needlework Exhibition (Alexandria, VA), Houston International Quilt Show (Houston, Texas ), Chicago International Quilt Show (Chicago, Illinois), Patchwork & Quilt Expo (Lyon, France), New England Quilt Museum (Lowell, MA).

Your job as moderator @ KindleBoards entails a lot of patience, pretty much like quilting…do the two activities complement each other?

Well, we used to say in the quilt shop that “not everyone is there for the fabric.”  I think about that sometimes when moderating.  People join forums for all kinds of reasons.  I think my experience as an artist helps me understand the Writers’ Café part of the forum, as there really are a lot of parallels. And my teaching experience is definitely a help in answering the “how do I” questions.

And finally…if  you were to create a quilt that represented the KindleBoards, how would it look like? 

The flip answer is “A Crazy Quilt!”  But I’d really have to say it would be a charm quilt, which is one made of a lot of different fabrics, no two pieces the same.  As in quilting, the joy in working and being a part of a large forum is the endless variety one finds.  And at KindleBoards, we have the best members on the Internet.  I’ve met so many great people there!

Thank you, Betsy, for sharing with us your passion and your gift for beauty!

 Betsy has posted on her site, http://www.betsytruedesigns.com/  a number of lovely original designs, check them out!

by André Jute

This is the main street of my town, Bandon in Co Cork, Ireland, on the day we entered the Guinness Book of Records for having the most “leprechauns” gathered together in one place, handsomely beating out the pretenders, 1263 handcounted leprechauns for Bandon to only 1100 (a suspiciously round number, if you ask me) leprechauns for Glenties in Donegal.

But I worried that quibblers, hairsplitters and the terminally skeptical would say, “That’s a streetful of aBandonites dressed in green for some purpose that would shame Sodom and Gomorrah, not leprechauns.” Can’t be denied the record for a quibble! 

Reckoning that, since no one produced a single real leprechaun, even one real leprechaun would do the business of putting us into the Guinness Book of Records, I set out to find a real leprechaun.

Now, the laws of physics being what they are, and leprechauns being thought by most authoritative sources to exist only beyond the spectrum of wavelengths visible to the the human eye — in short, leprechauns being invisible — I decided to box clever and start my leprechaun hunt not with any intention to capture the leprechaun in a box, physically, or on film, visually, but electrically, in its native wavelength. And, since you ask, no, I never believed leprechauns dress in green. That’s an Irish old wives’ tale. So it was no hardship to give up the spectrum of the human eye for another dimension.

I won’t bore you with the failure of my experiments to use electric cattle fencing to herd leprechauns together into a critical mass that would, perhaps, make them visible through reducing their vibrational frequency. Let’s just say that, when I catch up with the leprechaun who reverse-rigged my experimental apparatus to give me a stiff shock, there will be strong words.

Eventually, in the interstices between these technologies and the test equipment available within them, and strictly within the confines of Einsteinian physics, it came to me one day when I was tearing out so much of my hair I went quite light on top, that the bloody leprechauns weren’t appearing in the mirrors in which I was attempting to capture them — leprechauns being invisible in the normal spectrum, remember — because they were disappearing, somehow, crafty little buggers, into the modulus of frustration between the front of the glass and the silver backing that makes a mirror a mirror.

But there are mirrors that deceptively have no depth, made of polished metal. With my huge insight into the nature and behavior of leprechauns, and a few polished stainless steel mirrors, and even stronger (elephant quality) electrical fencing to gently guide the leprechauns (plural — I hoped to capture a breeding family, now that I was on the right track!) towards my clever device for transliterating leprechauns into our dimension, bingo!


Okay, the leprechaun I transported into our dimension vanished in the burst of light expanding from the mysterious crystal in its palm, but nobody can say that Bandon’s place in the Guinness Book of Records was attained by dressing up in green, or indeed anything but the highest level of scientific endeavor.

Donations to this great scientific adventure are welcome. Only $5 million will carry this exciting work forward another two years.

*******************************************

Andre Jute is a writer and teacher, a psychologist, an economist, an engineer, a graphic designer, and a cyclist. The next thing for which he will be notorious famous is being Dakota Franklin’s creative writing guru.

Books: http://www.amazon.com/André-Jute/e/B001K1KSHI

Blog: http://coolmainpress.com/ajwriting/

Bio & hobbies: http://coolmainpress.com/andrejute.html

 Text and illustrations copyright © 2012 André Jute. Bandon leprechaun parade photo courtesy Journal.ie/Declan Fitzgerald.

My cat is a dog

Posted: March 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

by Rachel Forde

I had a scare a couple of weeks ago.  One of my two cats, Isabella (“Izzy”) got very ill, and had to go to the vet.  Two hectic bus rides, six hours, and $600 later, Izzy was back home and recovering, aided by the skilled vets who treated her, but also by the 15mgs of Buprenex they sent her home with.

Those of you who came over from Kindle boards might recognize Izzy.

“I don't care that you rescued me from freezing to death. I own this chair.”

Of the many cat avatars, she is the one trying to steal a pinecone from my Christmas tree.  She originally belonged to my sister, who was given a sickly, ginger-colored barn kitten by her delightfully rural in-laws, with assurances of “hell yeah, she’s six weeks old.”  After about five minutes of observation, we thought it best to get a second opinion, and the vet informed us that she was half that age.  My sister attempted to bring Izzy back to the mother, only to learn that the litter had been rejected and all of Izzy’s brothers and sisters had frozen to death in the cold, November night.  Thus, we stocked up on canned kitten milk and eyedroppers, and Izzy became a part of our family.

Regarding her sickness, as it turns out, she had something called cystitis, which is something cats get when they’re anxious or depressed.  I had no idea she was depressed—it’s not like she was spending her days sitting around in skinny jeans and black eyeliner and listening to the Cure, after all.

One of the ways to reduce stress in cats is regular play and stimulation, but toys cost money, and I’ve never been able to keep Izzy’s interest in any toy, paper bag or cardboard box beyond three days.  So what do I do?  I’m both a starving artist and a poor college student—that’s, like, double poverty points.  And let’s not forget I just threw down $600 on a cat who couldn’t pee.  Izzy was a fat little thing and needed exercise beyond chasing a feather on a stick.

After some scrounging, I came up with a novel solution:

“I am a cat, and you just put a walking harness on me. Just how do you expect to be taken seriously?”

She took to it rather well, actually.  Clearly she enjoys the exercise, and since I’m there to keep her away from cars, and fight off any dogs, dive-bombing blue jays, or sociopathic children, she can get all the benefits of being an outside cat without the risks.  Of course, Izzy is a weird cat who does dog-like things.  She’s the eighth cat I’ve owned, and the only one who ever seemed to grasped the concept of “walkies.”

“Yeah, I probably shouldn't have sniffed that. Uffda!”


There are many resources online for learning how to leash-train your cat.  I can’t help you myself; Izzy never needed leash-trained, because she’s awesome.  In summary of this very long blog post, here are pictures of my cat on a leash, because we all know that the internet needs more pictures of cats.

by Ras Ashcroft

Outside of writing, I love trying out new entrepreneurial ideas.
About two years ago, I graduated from University and had a couple of months to spare before starting a job in the family business. Having read about a young man from Scotland called Fraser Doherty who had made a fortune in selling healthier jams, I decided to set up and run a part-time food business project of my own. My cooking prowess didn’t extend beyond ‘making burnt toast and dry oatmeal’ but a foray into the food industry sounded like fun!

I started with a trip to the local supermarket to pick an ideal product. Inspired by Fraser, my plan was to choose one food item and make the recipe healthier. After an hour of wandering through the aisles without a shopping cart and attracting a few quizzical glances from the security guard, I left with a small list of candidates. This was my list:

Smoothies
Pasta Sauces
Cookies

Yeah I told you it was a small list.

I initially tried making banana smoothies and using whey protein powders to make a nutritionally packed drink, but I could tell from the look on my sister’s face when she tried a sip that I would have to go back to the drawing board. I picked cookies next, quite simply because we didn’t have any snacks lying about the house at the time. I quickly tinkered with a standard Oatmeal Raisin recipe to use Honey and Canola & Palm Fruit Oil instead of sugar and butter, and stuck the first batch in the oven.

The result wasn’t perfect, but there was definitely something there! I spent the next two weeks working on my baking skills and the end result was a soft, golden brown cookie that tasted pretty damn good (I’m a modest person, I swear). It didn’t have the thick quality of traditional cookies because of the lack of butter and sugar, but I was planning to use the ‘healthier’ aspect to sell them. I ran a taste test at the town community centre and was delighted with the response, with some people comparing them to ‘Christmas Cookies’.

It was time to start selling.

After food safety training and paperwork, I baked a large batch and set up shop one Saturday at a local street market. Christ it was disastrous. Cookies with uneven ingredients in cheap plastic Tupperware, hand-written pricing signs and a crude stand – it’s no surprise that I only sold a total of 4 cookies for 50p each.
Luckily, my dejection only lasted a day. Over the next 2 months, I worked on the business while continuing to sell at street markets. I created two new recipes for ‘Dark Chocolate Melt’ and ‘Sweet Almond’ Cookies and made a system for efficiently churning them out with perfectly measured ingredients. I also created a brand name called ‘Wild Oven’ and applied it to my clothing, the stall, a banner, food-safe packaging and all my carefully designed pricing material. I used samples and a tiny oven at the stall to create an aroma and lure customers in.

The final result? On my last market day, I sold out my entire stock! I was exhausted from baking all night and selling all day, but also ecstatic. I wanted to start introducing my cookies to local shops and cafes and even got an interested party, but my job was starting soon and I had to put the project aside. Still, it was a memorable couple of months and it only increased my love for trying out new and interesting business projects. In fact, I have recently started a money transfer business, so let’s see how that goes!

***

Ras Ashcroft has released ‘Supervillain: The Concise Guide’ which is a humorous parody guide on world domination. Please note that during the course of this particular venture, he didn’t use any of the seedier advice given in this book to try and make it to the top of the cookie pile.

Supervillain: The Concise Guide
http://www.amazon.com/Supervillain-The-Concise-Guide-ebook/dp/B0076ZZCIC

Cooking Lesson #1: Stock, Witchy

Posted: February 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

by Phyllis Lily Jules 

Well, I was never much of a cook. I had one of those mothers who never thought to teach me. Shooed me out of the way if I tried to look over her shoulder. There were no grandmothers hovering over me, preparing me for that strange world out there. I had an aunt who taught me piano, but nothing more. I could fix myself a bowl of cereal, then play music for hours, at least able to do something. And then later I had a husband who hogged the kitchen, only wanting his hot chicken sandwiches, done just so. You could make the salad, he offered. Or not, it didn’t matter. Just keep out of the kitchen, he firmly requested. After a couple of decades he was gone. I had sole run of the kitchen and didn’t know how to cook anything. Until the witchy women showed up.

They had started out as three witches, looking like the horrid witch in The Wizard of Oz, absconding with Toto, the poor dear thing. That face of hers, times three, looking intently at me when I was just a little girl and caught in nightmares. But over the years, the witches mellowed out into just quirky old ladies, a bit cranky and somewhat imperious. The witchy women. They saw I needed to eat decently, so stepped up to the plate, teaching me how to make magical, nourishing soup.

For this first lesson, great stock is the key to it all. No store-bought allowed. So make the stock the day before, use a nice whole chicken for it. Get yourself a crockpot, none of that stirring at a stockpot for hours. Crisscross some carrots at the bottom of the crockpot, no need to peel, then add a few stalks of celery. You’re making a nice grid to rest that chicken on so it will plump up nicely. Put the chicken in, breast side up, and toss in three bay leaves and a handful of parsley and ten whole peppercorns. Tuck in some onion wedges. Pour in cold water to cover, almost to the top, and put on low for overnight or so. No lifting the lid for smelling. Sorry, I know it’s tempting.

Now the witchy women will add their two cents in if they’re in the mood. They’ll toss in whatever herbs catch their fancy. Fresh if possible. Rosemary usually, and lots of it. Thyme is lovely. Herbes de Provence is one of their favorite blends. They’ll add olive oil, and a splash of apple cider vinegar to pull out the minerals. They might add lemon wedges, tuck a few into the cavity, and maybe garlic. Sometimes they’ll insist on two strips of bacon lying across the chicken, or some pats of butter. But mostly they keep this part simple because the chicken is the thing. Don’t do salt here, it goes in the soup, not the stock. Good rich stock will be the soul of the soup, then you add other bits and pieces later.

When it’s done cooking, let it cool a bit, then ladle it out through a strainer, pressing the juices out of the veggies. Those spent veggies go to any hounds you have around, with any of the chicken discards you care to toss their way. No bones or onions, though. You know that, right? Keep the tender chicken aside for adding to the soup later, or for a nice chicken salad. It will be plump and silky. Poached chicken, in essence.

Store your stock in the fridge for half a day so that the fat rises to the top and solidifies. Take off most of the fat, but not all. You need some for that incredible flavor. Leave that nice gelatinous mass under the fat. That’s protein and is a nutritious wallop, what you’ve been trying to extract. Store the stock in the fridge for up to three days or so, until you’re ready for the soup or anything else that calls for delicious stock. You can even have a cup of it zapped in the microwave, add some crunchy sea salt, maybe with some shredded greens floating on top or a green onion sliced nicely. Lots of things will do. A scrumptious treat while you curl up with that nice book.

You can do the same for beef stock. The difference is that you want to get some nice bones, baste them with tomato paste, then roast them in the oven. Throw the bones in the crockpot along with maybe a few beefy ribs, something with a bit of meat hanging off it. Then follow the same rules.

Vegetable stock is a bit different. Here’s the routine: While cooking, take any parts of the vegetable you normally toss, and store them in a big container in the freezer. You know, ends of tomatoes, onions and celery, herb and mushroom stems, ribs from greens, that sort of thing. Even veggies almost past their prime but still good enough. You’ll be extracting their nutrients and flavor, so you don’t care if the leaf isn’t perfect. Just don’t save obvious icky stuff, we all know that. And not much strong stuff, like kale and cabbage. When you need stock, take those frozen frosty bits and pieces, cover them all with cold water, add some herbs, bring to a boil, then shut off and let stand, covered for half an hour or so. Even better, do it in a pressure cooker, bring up to pressure, then cool down after fifteen minutes. Strain, and there you have it, perfectly infused vegetable stock.

You now have homemade stock, the vital ingredient for good witchy meals. It won’t taste rich yet, but wait until you see how it changes your meals. I’ll drop by another time for lesson #2, glorious soup.

In the meantime, look for your inner cook. We all have them, but maybe haven’t noticed or welcomed them. A Julia Child maybe? Alice looking after her Brady Bunch? Donna Reed with her pearls and pot roast? A bossy teen who seems to know it all? A fancy chef who demands all the latest kitchen gadgets and an extensive herb garden? When your cooking seems to run along its own path, unthinking yet seems to know just where to go, then I think you might have found your inner cook. Give them room, use them wisely, trust the results. In fact, I don’t even taste their meal until everyone else does. Then I agree with them that it’s absolutely fabulous.

You can hear more about the witchy women and others like them in my book, ‘Turning Inside Out’. But be forewarned: They have far more serious jobs there than cooking soup.

http://www.amazon.com/Turning-Inside-Out-ebook/dp/B006SMD0OC/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1325550421&sr=1-2

       by Lisa Scott

Writing is one of the easiest things to try; writing well is another story and an entirely different blog post.  But anyone who wants to write can sit down at a computer or grab a pen and pad and give it a go.  And if you have a natural talent for it, you might not realize how hard writing can be. I’ve always loved writing, and it’s always come easily to me. It’s hard for me to believe there are people who would rather visit the dentist sans Novocain than sit down to pen a story.

I wonder if this leads writers to be overconfident in trying other new endeavors.  If I can imagine it, I can do it!  I can create fantastic worlds with my pen, break hearts and put them back together again with my laptop. So of course I can learn how to weld metal sculptures for my garden.  That can’t be too hard.  (Haven’t tried it yet, but would love to.  How hard could it be?)  Let’s just say I totally understand why Stephanie Plum thought it would be so easy to be a bounty hunter in Janet Evanovich’s best-selling series.  Luckily, my endeavors have been less dangerous than chasing crafty killers and hot cops.

When I heard about people making money selling stock photos, I thought, “I snap a nice photo now and then.  Think of all the residual income I could make.”  (Stock photos are sold for small amounts, but are available to anyone in the world who can download them on a computer.)  Once I upload them for sale, I thought, the work is done and the money will roll in forever.  (Insert laughter here.)

So, I upgraded my camera and took hundreds of photos.  I had a few gems here and there.  However, I don’t know much on the technical side.  Artificats?

Saturation?  Only a few of my photos were accepted by the stock photo site I targeted.  Many were rejected for technical reasons I just didn’t understand or know how to correct.  (This lovely picture of my daughter is my best seller. It’s been downloaded 12 times in 3 years.  Not exactly flying off the shelf.)  So, this endeavor was quickly abandoned.  The learning curve for success was just too high, despite my initial confidence at snapping off a few photos and raking in the bucks.

This same overconfidence led to my certainty that I could build a water garden in my backyard.  By myself.  Easily.  Three months, a sprained wrist, two bouts of poison ivy and many tears later I did it, but it wasn’t as easy as I’d imagined.

First we dismantled an above ground pool that was always cold and dirty.  We never could get it that crystal clear blue.  I’d fallen in love with the koi ponds I’d seen during our honeymoon in Hawaii.  Why not make one of our own?  So I made several trips to the scrap metal yard with the old pool parts in my mini SUV.  Then there were plants to be moved, stones to be transferred and a giant hole to be dug.

Luckily, my brother told me I was a fool when he found me trying to dig a 20x20x2 foot hole and we rented a backhoe to dig it out.  But then there was dirt to be moved, concrete blocks to be laid down for the river and waterfalls.  Tons—literally tons of stones—to be laid out.  Yes, there were days I worked in the rain and nights I cried, wondering what I’d done by starting this project.

But now that it’s complete, it’s one of my proudest accomplishments.  Perhaps overconfidence isn’t always a bad thing. The only cure for this will be if my writing becomes wildly successful some day and I smarten up and hire people to do all these things I assume I can easily do.

Now excuse me while I look for a local welding class.

 ***

Lisa Scott is a former TV news anchor who now works as a voice actor and writer.  She writes collections of sweet, funny romantic short stories called Flirts!

http://www.amazon.com/Flirts-Romantic-Stories-Collection-ebook/dp/B0056VBOCQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1329490390&sr=1-1  (Beach Flirts, Holiday Flirts! and Fairy Tale Flirts!  Look for Wedding Flirts! this spring.)  Her first romance novel, No Foolin’, will be published Fall 2012 by Bell Books. Find her at ReadLisaScott.com or her author page on Facebook, Read Lisa Scott.

Get Smart

Posted: February 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

by K.T. Hall

I’m slightly fortunate in the fact that I have very few “bad dates” under my belt. That said, unfortunately, there’s one poor sucker who will probably forever be known, at least in my mind, as my worst date: “The guy who kissed like a salamander.”

When I tell this story, people start asking questions. “What do you mean he kissed like a salamander? Do you kiss salamanders often?” Well, no. Have you ever seen a salamander, or any reptile? They stick their tongues out every so often, but they also use them when catching prey. When you put that in context, the entire “date” seems like an anomaly.

Due to time constraints, rather than the normal “dinner and a movie”, we opted for just a movie. We opted to go see “Get Smart”, and considering I enjoy Steve Carrell, I was actually looking forward to this movie. And rather than one of us picking up the other, we opted to simply meet at the movie theater.

I waited half an hour for him to arrive, sitting in my car, looking out for him. And when he finally arrived, he did not park his car and step out like one would expect; no, he was dropped off, by his mom. His mom dropped him off so that he could go out on a date. Of course at this point, he had already seen me waiting for him, so I couldn’t exactly back out unless I was prepared with an excuse, which unfortunately, I was not.

Once inside the movie theater, things progressed as normal. I found myself enjoying the movie while we sat in silence. Or at least, we sat in silence for a while, until he started poking me. It became somewhat of a game, actually, where I would poke him back. This continued for a lot of the movie. “Poke.” “Poke.” “Poke.” It seemed like a friendly game; I wasn’t even thinking about the possibility of there being “other intentions”. I did not think he was brave enough to “go in for the kill”.

Boy, was I wrong.

The movie was probably about 3/4ths of the way through when he kissed me. Granted, I use the word “kiss” loosely here, because there was too much tongue for this to truly be classified as a “kiss”. This kiss, what eventually became an awkward make-out session, was like making out with a salamander, because his movements mimicked that of the reptile – in, out, in, out. To make matters worse, he was wearing the type of cologne you’d expect to find in your grandfather’s bathroom. Yet to this day, the most bothersome part of the entire experience was not the guy’s obvious lack of experience in the tango of the lips, but the fact that I completely missed the end of the movie.

To this day, more than three years after the fact, I still don’t know how the movie “Get Smart” ended.