Saturday, January 30, 2016

Building Blocks

In reviewing some of my 2015 photos I came across this one of the glass entrance pyramid at the Louvre. It makes me think of quilts made with a grid of blocks, as opposed to say whole cloth quilts or medallion quilts. 

At the moment I have four sets of blocks, all of which I made in 2015. By the end of 2016 I hope to have built them into four complete quilts.

I made the pile on the top left entirely on the go. I carry in my purse a little zippered bag with needle, thread, scissors and a stack of two inch square scraps. Whenever I have a few minutes of spare time I pull it out and stitch up a few seams. And voila!

A few more blocks and I will have enough to make a twin size quilt, assuming I set them with a sashing or alternating blocks of different fabrics, rather than just stitching them all together.

I made this set, in a pattern called "broken dishes," to use up scraps while I was working on another quilt. I never sit down at the sewing machine to sew just one thing. When I prepare something for my "main project" I always grab one or two extra items to sew together. I figure so much sewing time is actually taken up by switching between tasks, that the more I can cram into a session at the sewing machine or cutting table or ironing board, the more total work I can accomplish. Plus, it keeps things interesting.

I have lots of options for how to arrange these, but have at least decided against combining them into larger blocks since that just makes a larger star and loses the broken dishes pattern. The remaining decisions are whether the blocks should be placed randomly or by hue and intensity, and what color and pattern the alternating blocks should be.

The bow tie blocks are from Barb Vedder's block swap last fall. I made eighty blocks, shipped them off to Barb, and got in return a new set of 80 blocks. All these bright colors will be a real treat to sew together.

My last pile of blocks, which are probably more aptly called strings, also grew out of my scrap bag. I used many of these kinds of pieces in a medallion quilt, now nearly complete,

and find that I now have a substantial stack of leftovers. Maybe I will combine them in an entirely different way. I could turn them into a sort of super log cabin block and have almost a Gee's Bend style quilt,

or, for a more orderly and controlled look, I could put them into individual large blocks separated by sashing.

I hope your 2016 is starting off as creatively as mine and that you will share your ideas for building with these blocks in the comments section.

Monday, December 28, 2015


Although Marseille is the second largest city in France, it is not nearly as popular a tourist destination as Paris. I felt as though I was seeing a more authentic version of France than Paris. We saw only a small part of Marseille: the old part of town which surrounds the old port, and some of the waterfront which includes old fortifications and churches with newly built museums and pedestrian malls.

I enjoyed wandering the narrow streets of the old part of town, trying to capture the character of the place with my camera.

Typical old Marseille architecture

I found the MuCem (the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations) building itself fascinating without seeing its exhibits. The building, designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti and opened in 2013, is most notable, at least from a distance, for its latticework exterior. Here is a sunset view across the top.

Sunset over the MuCem

The interior is equally interesting with ramps that seem to float in space and spiral around from level to level, offering bay views through the latticework on one side, and peeks into offices on another side.

MuCem walkway

The rooftop deck, restaurant and bar can be reached via the interior ramp or by the even more dramatic concrete ramp that connects the MuCem to neighboring Fort St. Jean. This view of part of the ramp just captures a Lilliputian-looking Notre-Dame de la Garde on the opposite side of the port.

Notre-Dame de la Garde seen from MuCem deck

Here you can see part of the MuCem site - on the pedestrian mall and adjacent to the Villa Mediterranee, another dramatic public building which houses an amphitheater, exhibition space and offices.

Marseille Waterfront

This image at Fort St-Jean shows how the 17th century fort has been combined with modern pathways and art.

At Fort St-Jean

And here you see part of the the Villa Mediterranee overhang and the 19th century Byzantine-Roman style Marseille Cathedral reflected in the MuCem windows.

Marseille Cathedral - times two

Finally, here is a view of the old port with its thousands of sailboats, and Notre-Dame de la Garde dominating the hillside.

The Old Port

In the harbor we hopped on a small boat for a short excursion to the Chateau d'If, most famous as the site of Edmond Dantes' imprisonment in Alexandre Dumas' story "The Count of Monte Cristo."

Chateau D'If

Dumas certainly took some liberties in his portrayal. For example, the cells were not so deep and dark as he described.

View from a Chateau D'If cell

Still, it was thrilling to walk around the chateau and imagine the characters and events he so compellingly wrote about.

Chateau D'If courtyard

The only shopping we did in Marseille was for soap. On the advice of one of Steve's colleagues at the Aix-Marseille University, we made our way to a little shop tucked away beneath a bakery, and loaded up on several kilos of Marseille's famous olive-oil rich soap. For Christmas gifts I knit up some cotton washcloths to go with the luscious soap.

Marseille Soap

This turned out to be my favorite pattern. Using variegated Lily Sugar'n Cream cotton yarn I cast on 40 stitches, then alternated two rows of knit 2, purl 2 with two rows of purl 2, knit 2 until I had a square, then cast off.

 I hope everyone has been having a wonderful holiday season!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Paris: In Sympathy, In Solidarity

This post, which I have been meaning to write since my visit earlier this fall, is not much changed from my original conception of it, except that last Friday's events have made me focus more on its people and less on its places.

Even before last Friday, I was struck by the openness with which Parisians live their lives. Cafes, which seem to institutionalize this openness, are busy throughout the day. It might be for a croissant at breakfast, taking in the sun at mid-day, watching passersby from an outdoor table, or meeting friends for a drink after work. It is no wonder that earlier this week Parisians made a concerted effort to repopulate their cafes. It affirmed their way of life and demonstrated that their attackers have not won.

Another important element of life in Paris is fashion. As one of the world's capitals of fashion, it was exciting to see a fashion photo shoot in progress. Many other people had also stopped to watch, but did so from a distance and angle that didn't interfere with the photographer.

Place des Vosages

One of the liveliest places we visited was Montmartre, clearly a tourist mecca, but interesting nonetheless for the grand, domed Basilica de Sacre-Coeur,

Carousel and Basilica de Sacre-Coeur

narrow streets, bustling cafes, 

La Boheme Cafe

and artists at work.

I snapped a photo of this gentleman talking on his phone in the courtyard of L'Hotel de Bethune-Sully because of his elegance and his adorable dog. They appear so companionable! And unguarded. I wonder if after last Friday he can still be at ease in such a public place. I hope so.

In the courtyard of L'Hotel de Bethune-Sully

I will end with this image of the Eiffel Tower, a structure which is both open and soaring. The statue appears to be holding the tower in a protective embrace, as though to demonstrate that we cannot take for granted our open society, nor our right to have soaring aspirations. We must cherish them. We must protect them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Apple Season

Ah, fall! Fresh apples and comforting spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.

During last Friday's huge storm - over eight inches of rain in less than six hours at my house - I whipped up a batch of apple walnut muffins for an afternoon snack. I used unpeeled apple chunks to add both flavor and texture.

Cream together
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine dry ingredients
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Add dry ingredients, in two increments, to sugar and butter, alternating with 
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 apples, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (enough for about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Spoon into prepared muffin tins and top with combined
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in pre-heated 400° oven. If you haven't used cupcake foils, let cool for half an hour before removing from tins.

Besides crispy apples and cooler weather, for us fall brings visits to our daughters in New England. This year peak colors coincided with our trip and we were treated to splendid displays of foliage. The Northfield Mount Hermon campus was positively glowing.

NMH fall colors

Sugar Maple leaves at NMH

For the long weekend break we headed to New Hampshire's White Mountains yet again for some hiking. This time we stayed at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Joe Dodge Lodge at Pinkham Notch, right at the Tuckerman Ravine trailhead. Given the White Mountains' reputation for bad weather, we were thrilled to step out into a day of blue skies, warm temperatures and moderate winds.

Getting ready to head up the trail

We pretty quickly diverted off Tuckerman's, one of the busiest trails in the White Mountains,

Fall color on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail

to Huntington Ravine, a trail that is definitely less taken. We saw only three other people, two climbers and one hiker, along the entire route. Once above tree-line the trail becomes a scramble, up and around boulders, and over bare rock slabs, requiring care to follow the trail blazes marking the route. I wouldn't want to descend this way, nor try it on a rainy or icy day, but in the warm sunshine it was great fun.

Resting along the Huntington Ravine Trail

Being up high I could fully appreciate the land's contours, ridge after ridge marching off towards the horizon.

I marveled at the effort that has gone into making and marking these trails.

Descending the Boott Spur Trail

Much as I enjoyed the exhilaration of the high, rocky terrain, as my energy waned towards the end of the day, I welcomed our return to the forest, finding comfort in its protective and colorful embrace.

Nearing the junction to Tuckerman's Ravine trail, we had one final jolt of excitement: a moose on the trail! This was a first for us in the White Mountains and therefore truly memorable.

Moose on the Boott Spur Trail

Fortunately she was intent on eating and merely looked at us and twitched her ears. We couldn't have scripted a better end to the day. I'll leave you with one parting shot of color, this from along the Dolly Copp Road as we departed the White Mountains.

The Dolly Copp Road