In Oregon in January there’s mostly just rain and varying layers of clouds. But at the end of the month Florence Oregon will flood with musical sunshine. Bluegrass music is coming to town.
Hand embroiderers call this thread painting. I’ve been playing around with it for a couple of years. While I’ve done some experimenting with my own designs, there are some amazing embroiderers out there who sell designs, even kits including fabric and thread. I’ve done a few of those and quite enjoyed them, but there’s a kind of paint-by-numbers feeling to them, so this year I’ll play with my own designs. This is my first project of 2023 (begun in December). I started by looking at many photos of chickadees and a particular image of the bird, body facing the camera but head turned, caught my eye.
Here’s what I learned doing this project:
- There’s a reason the professional artists use as many as 30 or 40 colors even for something simple like this. I started this project with just 10 colors and had to go back and add in more tans and grays.
- Adding in colors after the piece is finished makes the surface lumpy. The colors need to be worked in during the work because the threads are snugged so close together.
- Good lighting is essential. The light I used made it hard to see my guide marks and the thread direction suffered.
- Drawing on fabric has some challenges. I’ve tried different pencils and pens with ink that washes out and am still trying to find a good balance between a fine line and a temporary one.
- Pencil graphite smudges the white thread, but it does wash out.
- Organizing thread during the project is essential.
- Mary Corbet’s web site is a life saver. I’ve become a patreon, because she deserves support.
- Long and short stitching is deceptive. You watch a few how-to videos or step-by-step instructions and you think easy-peasy. But no.
I thought this would be a one-and-done and I’d move on to a different project. But this turned out to be a study. I’ll do another chickadee and incorporate what I learned.
Studying for months: Done
Taking practice tests: Done
Showing up for an actual test: Done
Getting a 94% passing grade: Done
Now I have an FCC-issued technician level license and a call sign: KK7JQN.
Things people do with their ham radios: volunteer on emergency neighborhood response teams, provide communications at long-distance running events. Lots of other things get done of course, as the ARRL, the national amateur association notes.
This month, two days after passing the license test and two days before getting my license, I helped out as a scribe at our neighborhood’s monthly communications practice session. It’s a couple of hours of folks ensuring their gear is working and that they can be heard by each other. I won’t say it was the most fun two hours I’ve ever spent. Three of us set up radio and antennas at a high point in the neighborhood under a tent on a rainy chilly night and proceeded to do check-ins with emergency volunteers. By the time we were done, we were cold. By the time we had loaded out afterward, we were soaked. But we added one more layer of radio experience and practice to a group of folk who are prepared to be helpful should a massive disruption, like a subduction zone earthquake or a power outage hit our region.
More fun last summer was supporting the runners at the Waldo 100K Ultramarathon. Of course, back then, I had just begun my studies, and I didn’t really know what I was doing aside from noting runner times at the aid station we supported about half-way into the grueling race. But I got to see how ham operations work, how moving an antenna just a few feet can make a big difference, how seriously hams take transmitting information exactly as they receive it, and how careful those receiving the information are in confirming what they hear.
When I started down this road, I was only doing it because my wonderful partner asked me to. Now I’m excited to begin being a participant in this community.
What’s next? Bring on the actual radio gear.
It’s hard to guess which of us was more surprised. In our most recent book group, Irene Palmer asked me if I had read “House Made of Dawn” by N. Scott Momaday. Happens I had, thanks to a literature professor committed to diversity in the literary canon she taught.
But hold on there, Irene. How did you happen on this literary treasure, published back in 1969 that won a Pulitzer Prize and established Momaday on the literary scene. A Kiowa who grew up in New Mexico among the Pueblo and Navajo, Momaday is credited with nudging Native American literature into the mainstream.
Irene discovered Momaday, when he was mentioned in a Ken Burns documentary on World War II. It turns out that Momaday, among many awards, received the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize in 2019, which honors an individual whose body of work has advanced our collective understanding of the indomitable American spirit. That’s Irene, she takes notes and searches things out.
I haven’t read Momaday since my college days, but I kept my paperback of “House Made of Dawn” among the books I couldn’t part with (Terry Tempest Williams, Willa Cather, John Nichols, Wallace Stegner, Tony Morrison, Edward Abbey…). But unlike the books from those other authors, I didn’t go back and reread House Made of Dawn.
Thanks to my mother whose curiosity — always far-ranging — has lately pulled her into the realm of fiction. Previously, she has preferred nonfiction — biographies, history, philosophy, religion.
What we are remarking on, as we read Momaday, is the poetic cadence of his story-telling. It should be no surprise that this well-regarded author has several volumes of poetry. I expect we’ll go there next. Unless my curious mother finds some other path to wander.
Amateur radio, AKA ham radio, never caught my interest. People fussing with complicated gadgets, raising odd antennas on the roof — someone in Antarctica talking to someone in Alaska — I mean, get a cell phone for heck’s sake.
It might as well be magic for all I understood it.
But I have this amazing partner, Craig Cherry, who likes tinkering with gadgets and who is involved in our neighborhood’s emergency preparedness group. Ham radio, it turns out, is integral to that effort. Last winter he suggested that I get my ham radio license, a process that requires some study and taking a test to show you know your amperes from your ohms and your farads from your henrys.
I dismissed the idea right out of the gate. I couldn’t even tell the difference between watts and volts. And up until a few months ago, I did not care. When Craig asked a second and then a third time, I saw that it was important to him, and since he has been known to visit Canada in the freaking winter with me just because I ask, well, quid pro quo. Also: We live on a river held back by 13 aging earthen dams, the next subduction zone earthquake and accompanying tsunami are overdue, and wildfires have ramped up in recent years. Semper paratus as the Coast Guard says.
So I said, OK.
Then I began reading the study guide. It kicked me back to junior high school days when I was wrapping my head around algebra, the first stumbling block being that letters had, through some strange metaphysical process, become stand-ins for numbers. Frankly, it pissed me off. Learning that doesn’t emerge from one’s own native curiosity and that requires time and effort to absorb, that’s hard.
Learning about electricity, radio frequencies, bandwidths, transmitting, receiving, amateur radio etiquette, FCC regulations, has brought the adolescent me back in spades. I get cranky. I storm around and yell. Then Craig explains a thing. Then I settle down and read some more and another little piece of knowledge embeds in my brain.
One slow step at a time, I am making progress. I do know the difference between current, volts and watts. I do know that farads are a unit of measure of capacitance and that henrys are a unit of measure of inductance and that capacitors and inductors store energy differently. I know enough to pass practice tests about half the time. That is 100 percent more than I knew last April.
Perhaps I will end the year viewing radio as technology, something in my wheelhouse.
When I began hand-stitching this quilt last January, I discovered that sewing spirals took a lot longer than sewing straight lines. As I went along, I realized it would be months, not weeks, of work. Then I learned about temptation bundling, the pairing of enjoyable activities with tedious ones, and began listening to plot-heavy audio books that enticed me back to needle and thread.
These authors attracted me for two reasons. The first: the narrators of the audiobooks had voices that I wanted to listen to. Secondly the authors wrote series, books with repeating characters or themes or locations — the Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters, the Night Soldiers by Alan Furst, and, of course Patrick O’Brian’s masterful Master and Commander collection).
Nine days ago I finished the quilt stitching. Two days ago I finished the binding.
I counted the stitches in an 8″ x 14″ section of the quilt to extrapolate the total stitches and that came out to 71,364. It took me roughly an hour to do about 350 stitches. That’s 198 hours of sewing.
It was interesting to notice that even though I only used one color of thread — a light teal — it looked white on the dark portions of the quilt and almost black on the light portions.
I think I may now be completely done with the whole quilting thing.
My grandmother, Maydell Cazier Palmer, had a way with a needle. I was reminded of this on my recent visit with my mother, Irene Palmer, who gave me Maydell’s pincushion, an item I recall from childhood visits to Grandma’s house, but hadn’t seen in decades.
Maydell’s needlework is inspiring, the tidy satin stitching in the middle, the intricate crocheting on the surround, and the blue ribbon holding it all together.
This is a sampler designed by Corbet that I enjoyed working on. Its graceful form obscures its sampler nature, which is how sewists learn new stitches.
Our generational connection is a tiny trickle in a flow of history. Textile art is one of humanity’s oldest art forms. I love dabbling in it, knowing how far back it goes.
Cameron Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada
The air is still, so windless that the water itself hardly moves, reflecting sky and Rocky Mountains. Not so many people know about Cameron Lake, one of many tucked among the stunning peaks of Waterton Lakes National Park in western Alberta. The much better known Glacier National Park just south of the Canadian border gets a lot more press. To say nothing of the press of visitors.
My family visits Waterton often, and my first visit there predates my active memory. But there are pictures of little-kid me alongside Linnet Lake, pre-adolescent me at an uncle’s cabin in the tiny town of Waterton nestled among the lakes and peaks, teenage me on the trail to Bertha Lake. And there are dozens of adult me kayaking on Cameron.
Cameron Lake is famous for its winds. Smart boaters get an early start because the wind checks in late morning and gets rip roaring by late afternoon. Of course it’s almost always blowing away from the boat dock. And this lake only permits human-powered rigs. Muscle up and paddle hard. A float on Cameron is a workout.
But not on an early October visit in 2022. This year, the weather gods offered a boon, a perfect sun-drenched autumn morning and no wind. Also. a deep deep quiet. No sighing of the trees, no chatter from other boaters. And, for a short time, no jets overhead. Then a brief chitter of magpies. Then the world in stillness.
I like to say I know this place well. The lake, this day, said otherwise.
I’ve had these director’s chairs for 32 years and the original white canvas finally failed on one of them. Since I’d taken them apart a few times over the years to clean the canvas, I knew replacing the old canvas wouldn’t be too difficult.
In the realm of projects, this was a short one and satisfying not the least because it’s simple and in the summer these chairs get daily use on the patio. A medium-term effort, bug screens for the van windows, took a few months. My long-term sewing project (a hand-stitched quilt begun in January) is two-thirds complete.
The varying length of these projects matters. Conceiving of, working on and finishing a creative task in a few days while other projects perk along at their own plodding pace, offers the reward inherent in finishing. Things that take longer — these middling length things that spin out of control because they involve unexpected problem-solving — provide the satisfaction of the ah-hah! moment when a solution presents itself and the making can continue.
They are like way-points, reminders that the long-term project, the 70,000 word book, just needs its own daily infusion of effort — solutions to thorny plot problems, taming of characters threatening to kick the book to pieces (a line I borrowed from E.M Forster’s “Aspects of the Novel”), releasing of the shy folk of the story who will unexpectedly step up to fix that plot issue. But it can only happen in the daily tedium of words going down on the page. Thinking of it in smaller chunks — this scene, that chapter, etc. — is useful.
And that is today’s little pre-writing pep rally.