Archive for the ‘Hobbies’ Category

I found my roses!

June 3, 2011

Happy day.  After almost two weeks of work in the garden, I can see my roses again!  Whew! Just in time, before we head out on tour again!

I took a few pictures, because it’s not going to look like this when we get home.

There ARE rose bushes! And the roses will be there when we return.


When we get home, this will all be edible.


These artichokes are almost ready now.

Big negative, though: the strawberries are very plentiful this year, but they’re not QUITE ready yet…. *sigh* They’ll be gone by the time we get back…

We are on our way to Port Coquitlam tomorrow, then on to the Panguitch quilt walk festival, where I’ll sing my new song “Panguitch” for them.  La Habra California and Flagstaff Arizona are also on the list of concerts.  And – the best part – I’ll be teaching a class (or two) in each and every place we’re going!  Look forward to some new Mock Mola creations.  I can’t wait!


A New Year, a New Decade

January 3, 2010

There’s something about the turning of the years. I get all sentimental and thoughtful.  Even when I was in my younger years, I would always set aside time to write in my journal, trying to make sense of the year past and make plans for the year ahead.

It seems even more vital to do these things when it is a turning of a decade.  The last ten years for me have been absolutely amazing.  Rather than sinking into folk music oblivion, wishing I’d done something different (like have a hit album…), I re-invented myself (with John’s help), stopped trying to get through a wall that kept hitting me in the head, and took a new path.

Ten years ago we were in Darwin Australia, living for 8 months there while John worked on a planning contract. I was taking quilting classes, meeting some amazing new friends, and discovering stories to write into songs about quilting. It was hot, but I sat under the ceiling fan every day, making quilts and trying to come up with songs.  I had no idea at that time how it would change my life.

So, what will the next decade bring?  I have no idea.  There will be at least one new CD recorded (I’ve already booked the studio time for this coming August). There will be more quilts made (I still have lots of fabric in my stash). There will be many more miles driven (we have a huge spring tour throughout America all ready to go). There will be new faces, new friends, and maybe even I’ll get started on a book I’ve been thinking about.

How about you? Will your resolutions lead you into new areas?  My main resolution this year is to stay focused on the important stuff.  I haven’t yet decided on how to tell if something IS important, but I think I always know, in my heart of hearts. There are two new quilts in my head that I’ve been waiting to start. I have all the fabric, and the main designs, but I have let other projects get in the way.  They are important quilts for me to make, for various reasons, and they will be challenging, and my job this year is to DO THEM!

For those of you who have been following the saga of the carved sign: it was delivered at Christmas, and they loved it.  Here they are, opening it, on Christmas Day.

They will do the finishing on the bear before he goes outside.  I’m hoping for a brownish stain that will bring out the texture of the fur.

We had a great Christmas in Oliver, BC – a perfect Canadian Christmas, I think. We had snow, a fire in the fireplace, family, wood-splitting chores, sushi, gingerbread houses, turkey, and magnificent skating on Vaseau Lake.

I hope you and your family enjoyed a wonderful holiday season.  Now the Big Question: what are your plans for the next decade? How will you make a positive difference in this world? I read something in the Globe and Mail paper today suggesting that we all write our own epitaphs, as a way of helping us focus on what change we would like to bring into our lives (rather than just making New Year’s Resolutions).  How would you like to be remembered, and how will you get there?

Okay: let’s get going!

Of singing and carving and quilting

December 4, 2009

We just got home from our quick visit to Sammamish Washington to the Block Party Quilters’ Club meeting, and our last performance of the year.  This was an unusual gig, in that we donated it to the Association of Pacific Northwest Quilters show last year for a silent auction.  The person who “bought” us was Barbara Magill, a longarmer from that guild, and, it turns out, a huge fan.  She was there, of course.

Barbara Magill and I at the Block Party Quilters Club

Barbara reminded me that she and I go back a long way: she was also one of the quilters who contributed her experiences when I was writing “You Can Quilt That Out”, my song about longarmers.  It was delightful to watch her singing along with great enthusiasm as we did the show.

It’s always wonderful to help the celebration of a special event at a guild meeting. In this case, it was their last meeting before Christmas, and there was a huge spread of delicious goodies that people brought.  We were enthusiastically received and ended the year’s touring on a very high note.

Home again, with three weeks to the day before Christmas.  I am still carving, and am about halfway there to completing the wooden sign for John’s daughter.  It’s a lot of work!!!  If this was a quilt, I’d be doing the binding by now…..  I think I’ll return to quilting after it’s done. This is what it looks like now:

And yes, I’m doing it in the kitchen – it’s warm, the counter is the right height, and the light is good. My kitchen floor has NEVER been swept so often!

I have been quilting a bit, too, though.  I can’t carve for more than a couple of hours a day — too hard on my hands.  So, in the other hours, I’ve been working on a kaleidoscope quilt, a la Ricky Tims’ instructions.  I attended his Super Seminar in August, and am finally getting around to working on some of the things I learned there.  Here’s my kaleidoscope quilt so far – it still needs some borders, quilting, etc.  The colours are based on the amazing jacaranda and bouganvilia trees that were in full blossom when we were last in Australia – a year ago!

J & B Kaleidoscope

Creativity and Simon Cowell

August 17, 2009

I’ve had a lot of people say to me after hearing the performances: “You are so creative”!!! because I sing, write and quilt too.  As if they are not creative themselves.

One of the things I’m happiest about in my life is that I’ve had the luxury of being able to indulge myself with my creative whims. It hasn’t always been the easiest of choices, in terms of financial security or being able to do things I wanted to do, but I’ve always made the decision to follow my creativity, where it leads. I guess it all boils down to: when I’m 95 years of age, will I look back and say “I wish I’d done……”? I always ask myself that when I’m faced with a big decision.

Anyway, following your creativity is like stepping off a cliff sometimes, and sometimes it’s like wrapping yourself up in a favourite blanket (or quilt). It just fits. Or it’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done. Usually, I don’t get nervous anymore, except when I’m premiering a new song on stage. In front of an audence of more than 50… But long ago, I learned that being scared or nervous isn’t a bad thing. Ask any performer about adrenaline and they will say it’s there to help their performance. To give them the energy they need to do what they have to do. Yes, it can be crippling on occasion, but usually it is your friend.

So stepping off a cliff, so to speak, as a creative person, isn’t such a bad thing. In my classes (both teaching singing for 25 years and teaching quilting just recently), I’ve encountered many people who say they just can’t do something. Their minds get in the way. Their inner judges line up and scream at them that they are not allowed to do it. It’s like having Simon Cowell living inside your head all the time. My job, as the teacher, is to figure out how to get him to leave, and let us get back to work. To give permission to my student to be creative, to play, to loosen up. I think this is very healthy, and I believe this approach has helped me deal with lots of things in my life.

It’s what keeps me going, trying new things, learning more about the things I already do.  Sometimes you can’t do it all yourself.  I’ve joined a songwriting group here in Victoria. Every two weeks we get together to talk about writing songs, discuss what makes a song work, critique and challenge each other.  Quilters do the same thing – quilting challenges have stretched many quilters to do outstanding work.   Deadlines are good too, I find.  Usually I book my time in the recording studio BEFORE I’ve finished writing all the songs I want to record.  It helps keep me focused.

When I lived in Calgary in the 1990s, I bought the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. I did her exercises over a period of 12 weeks, and at the end of it, I had written more songs in that period than I ever had in my life before.  I had also worked my way through lots of garbage that kept getting in the way of my creative expression. It really worked. I should do it again.

She suggested two very important things:  first, keep a daily journal. She calls them “morning pages” and they are to get rid of all the mundane things that are life, but don’t always make great art.  Three pages, that’s all. Every day.

The second things she suggests is to take your “Artist” out for a date every week. A museum, a walk in the woods, a coffee at the corner cafe, where you let yourself see the world as a creative person. Listen to the conversations around you, notice the interactions, the colour of the floor, the design on the ceiling. Smell the coffee. And the roses, if there are roses.  Re-awaken your senses.  They will lead you to creativity.

What about you? How does creativity fit into your life? And how do you keep it flowing, amid all the rest of the things going on?

High Relief Carving and Going to Nebraska

July 14, 2009

I want to show you how the wood carving I’ve been doing is turning out.  I’ve removed much more of the background with this version (still the same piece of wood), which gives the bear a much more lifelike look.  It’s still not finished, but it’s much closer than it was.


And what fun!  I’ve ordered the “real” piece of wood for the sign I’m going to make for John’s daughter, and it should be awaiting our return from our 2-week tour we’re about to embark on.

We’re on our way to Eugene Oregon, Coupeville Washington, and Lincoln Nebraska for their state quilt show.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the new Quilt Museum in Lincoln Nebraska, the new home of the American Quilt Study Group collection.  I’ve heard great things about the new building.

So I’ve been practicing up my songs, and emptying out the fridge for another (short) foray.  It’s the height of summer, so our travels should be wonderful, even if the roads are full of tourists…. We don’t consider ourselves tourists, of course! But we might slip in one or two touristy things as we go.

Carving Wood

June 25, 2009

I think I’ve taken up a new hobby (like I needed one!).  I’ve promised a wooden sign to John’s daughter and her partner, an outdoor sign to hang on the fence at the entrance of the new house they built themselves a couple of years ago.  It’s actually the height of cheekiness, to offer a hand-carved sign to a couple who are far more capable in the realm of wood than I’ll ever be.  But it’s cheaper than buying one, and they don’t have the time to do it themselves. When we were last in Australia, a carving friend in Merimbula encouraged me to try it myself. He said it would be easy and fun.

So, I have to figure out how to carve it.  It will be what is called a “relief carving”: you pare down the background to “reveal” what you want to stand out.  It took me a while to even figure out that was what it was called! There are lots of different kinds of carving: a lot of decoys, 3-D figures, furniture.  I thought relief carvings were how you felt after they were complete!

I think wood carvers are a secretive bunch, actually – far moreso than quilters.  Knowing you want to carve something doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to access the knowledge.  Try to find a wood carver in Victoria who can teach you.  There are LOTS of carvers around, I know.  But they don’t always do QUITE what I want to learn. And I couldn’t find a class being offered in anything close to what I wanted to learn.  I called a gal someone at a Christmas party recommended — a carving teacher, I was told.  We spoke for about 15 minutes, most of which time she told me how HARD it was to carve a sign!!! (it’s not what she specializes in)  At the very end, she said – I hope I haven’t dissuaded you. She obviously doesn’t know me.

Undaunted, I took her advice to contact Lee Valley Tools for perhaps a book on relief carving, and I got the perfect book.  It’s called “Relief Carving in Wood – A Practical Introduction” by Chris Pye. It tells you what tools you need, how to sharpen the tools (vital, if you’re going to carve), even how to hold them as you use them. It talks about wood, and takes you step by step through the carving of two fish: one low-relief, and one high-relief.  Great!

Of course, I’m going to work on a brown bear, since that will be the main motif on the final sign.  That’s the name of their property. So no fish for me.

So: now to find the wood.  For my practice carving, I’m working on a piece of basswood, which I’m told is easy to carve.  I called or visited about 10 stores that carry lumber before I found a great shop up near Sidney on Vancouver Island that will also supply the yellow cedar I propose to use for the final sign. I’m told it’s very good for use out of doors, and easy enough to carve. 

Okay, I’ve got the wood. I’ve got the instructions.  For my birthday, John bought me an inexpensive set of carving tools for practice.  Alas, they were not at all sharp.  So I have to figure out how to sharpen them.  Aha! A local garage sale had a few sharpening stones.  Between them and the stone John uses to sharpen our knives at home, I figured I was in business.  But I still need a strop for the final stage… a piece of leather which is coated with “strop dressing”.  I’m learning a whole new language here! I’ve ordered it from Lee Valley. It’ll come next week, I hope.

Sharpening carving tools is an art, I think, and now I hear that beginner carvers are best using pre-sharpened tools. The tools I have tried to sharpen were tearing the wood, rather than cutting. I gave up and  finally bought a very sharp flat gouge from Lee Valley (they were sold out of everything else last weekend, thanks to Father’s Day), and, in a couple of days, this is where I’ve got to on the project.

My first carving - not finished yet.

My first carving - not finished yet.

I love this!  I’ve been having a great time, making little curls of wood as I work away at the background.  My compost is going to love it too. It’s very satisfying to see the figure emerge from the background. It’s taken me over six months from my first idea to do this myself, to be able to find everything I needed to make it happen.

Next? I’m awaiting my shipment from Lee Valley of another (deeper gouge) for the next stage – the high relief project – as well as the sharpening kit which includes stropping equipment. Hopefully I can get my little set of tools sharp enough so they’ll cut the wood without tearing it.

Was quilting like this for me at the beginning?  I don’t think so.  My recollection is that I just KNEW how to do things, knew all the terminology, knew where to get the stuff I needed, and knew who to ask for help.  Of course, it was a few years ago, and perhaps my memory isn’t what it used to be…

I’m glad that I’ve finally started on this, and I’m looking forward to doing the real sign.  Maybe another hobby is evolving?   Hey, I like to be useful…. and it beats SAWING wood! lol

Still awake in Victoria.


July 19, 2008

Hi from Victoria! We’ve been home for a couple of weeks, and have been very busy with gardening, quilting, catching up on business, and entertaining.  I’ve updated my website at, learning how to write some HTML code at the same time — wow, what a steep learning curve! Let me know how you like the new look, or if there are any glitches I should know about.

My garden is coming along beautifully.  Last winter, we decided to get rid of almost all the grass and plant with drought-resistant shrubs and flowers. We are on tour so much, grass became too much of a challenge to take care of.  So we hired a friend to design a new look for our front and back yards.  She suggested we lay down cardboard and arranged for a huge pile of leaf mulch to be delivered.  Then John and I moved the leaves around so that we got about one foot of leaves over all the damp cardboard. 

The pile of leaves.

The pile of leaves.

Cardboard and Leaves

Cardboard and Leaves

Then, we waited.  I planted some things before we left on tour, and while we were gone, our garden designer filled in some more.  When we returned from our two months of touring, this is what we found: a GARDEN!!!

Things are starting to grow!

Things are starting to grow!

Okay, maybe it doesn’t look too exciting yet – but it will!  Promise! I’ll show you how it looks NEXT year!

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