When I spotted this whimsical travel-themed fabric at a quilt shop in central Oregon last year, the first person I thought of was my friend Anna. Anna loves animals (especially dogs), France, and world travel — probably in that order.
Several years ago Anna sold her home in Portland and moved to Paris to live. Imagine that! It was a dream she had had for many years. I knew her through a mutual friend but had not seen her for some time when we ran into each other on the street just weeks before her departure. We stayed in touch after this chance meeting and a few years later, when Anna proposed a short-term house swap, my husband and I jumped at the chance.
In 2015 Charlie and I spent three weeks at Anna’s apartment in Paris taking care of her sweet cat Buddy . . .
. . . while Anna stayed at our home in Portland taking care of Empress Theodora:
The arrangement worked out splendidly. And I was lucky enough to go back to Paris in the fall of the same year with my twin sister, petsitting for Anna while she went to the United Kingdom to visit her beau, an American who had spent his professional life working in Europe.
Anna subsequently married her beau and they bought a house in France’s Loire Valley which they share with Buddy and two rescue dogs. So you can see how this fabric seems to have Anna’s name written all over it. (In fact, the travel documents on the fabric are in the name of Jane S. Doe but we can use our imaginations.)
I decided to make a pair of pillowcases with the fabric and send them to Anna in France. Months came and went while the fabric stayed in my stash. Then I learned Anna was coming to Oregon this summer for her 50th high school reunion. In no time at all I had made a pair of pillowcases, which were waiting for Anna when she arrived last week:
I tried to tone down the cuteness factor by choosing a rather masculine batik for the cuffs of the cases. After all, husband Joe has to sleep on them too!
(For those who might be interested, the fabric is from the line “Jetset Europe” by Anne Bollman for Clothworks Fabrics. I used my own tutorial to make the pillowcases.)
April is my favorite month of the year. It’s the month when the promise of spring in Portland is fully realized. Lawns are emerald green, and the profusion of colorful azaleas, tulips, and other blooming things makes my heart sing. Today is a gloriously sunny day, one of the first of the year warm enough for Portlanders to open all their windows and let the fresh air in. I can hear the sound of a lawnmower starting up and if I’m lucky it will be followed by the scent of new-mown grass.
In honor of spring I hung Under Paris Skies in the master bathroom:
This is the springtime version of my pattern Season to Taste, designed and made four years ago as part of a series based on the four seasons. The summer and fall versions are done but I must confess the one for winter hasn’t been made yet, though I do have the perfect fabric for it in my stash.
This is the first time Under Paris Skies has been on display in my house. All this time it’s been hanging in the Pine Needle, the quilt shop in Lake Oswego where I’ve been teaching the last eight years.
After 25 years running the Pine Needle, owner Geri retired and closed the shop at the end of March. Several of my quilts had been hanging in the shop, and all of them got to come home with me. (Happily, Geri is still involved in the quilt industry and the Pine Needle location is being taken over by a local family-owned sewing business. More on that in a future post after an official announcement has been made.)
Back to Under Paris Skies for a moment. First you have to imagine April in Paris. Think of Ella Fitzgerald singing “April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom, holiday tables under the trees . . .”
Those are real chestnuts in blossom, taken on my trip to Paris three years ago this month. If you look carefully you can see the Seine in the background. Now imagine clusters of people sitting outside at cafe tables, taking in the fresh air while sipping a citron presse or café crème, like the two below (apparently still waiting for their order to be taken):
All three blocks in this kaleidoscope quilt contain two different images of outdoor Parisian life, carefully fussy cut to fit in the confines of the triangles. Here’s another scene that always makes me smile:
When the rains return (which they will, because it wouldn’t be spring in Portland without them), I’ll look at these bright and cheerful scenes of Paris in anticipation of the next sunny day right here at home.
Here’s a look back at a quilt I made six years ago. At the time I had two Lil’ Twister templates (by CS Designs) that make interlocking pinwheels. The larger template made pinwheels much bigger than I wanted so I figured out how to mark a 6½” square ruler to make my own template. Some time later I discovered a template that size was actually available.
The smaller template made 3″ blocks, creating a perfect little shelf for my heart to sit on. I used several Paris-themed fabrics, which helped me choose a name for the quilt.
My initial post about I Love Paris can be found here.
A tutorial to make the quilt shown can be found here.
I hope you have a lovely Valentine’s Day. If the hints I dropped are successful, my valentine will give me a (small) box of chocolate covered caramels. They go very well with champagne.
It’s been a very busy winter and spring for me. Between preparing for and teaching two new classes at the Pine Needle (one at the shop and the other at the quilt retreat I wrote about in my last two posts) and serving as an officer on a local board, something has been neglected. No, not my husband! My house. Despite my best efforts to keep up, the Portland White House has not undergone really deep cleaning since . . . well, let’s just say it’s been a while. More than a winter and a spring, to be sure.
To the rescue: my twin sister Diane. At the end of June she flew out from her home in Georgia to spend a week helping me with my long deferred spring cleaning. What a gal! We spent four days on the kitchen alone, emptying out every cupboard and drawer, recycling duplicate tools and items I haven’t used in years, tossing rusty implements, and basically reorganizing the kitchen for efficiency. Every single surface in the kitchen has been wiped down and everything sparkles. Including the floor behind the refrigerator.
How to thank her? Besides wining and dining her, I made her a gift she always loves to receive: pillowcases.
This pair of of king-size pillowcases was made using my favorite roll-it-up method with no exposed seams (see my tutorial here.) Diane put them in her large guest room, the one we call the Swankienda. She loves how well the fabrics in the cases go with the coverlet:
The fabrics are the same as the ones I made for the Portland White House in May except in those I didn’t add the band of gold scrolled fabric in mine — only because I had overlooked it in my stash:
I sure love that Paris print in the band!
Here’s a look from the foot of the bed at Diane’s new pillowcases:
The pillowcases will actually go behind the shams I made for her several years ago when she was first decorating the Swankienda. I made the pleated bedskirt, too:
My house will never be as spotless as hers but it’s looking pretty darn good right now. (Thanks, Nubs — you are the best!!)
Here’s hoping you have a wonderful weekend doing what you love best. What should I be doing? Sewing or cleaning? Hmmm . . . .
My little cat Theodora – Theo for short – was put to sleep on Sunday.
Anyone who has ever had to say goodbye to a beloved pet knows how I am feeling right now. Pretty low. A wise friend, knowing that Theo’s days were numbered, told me last week, “We don’t own pets. They own us, and they own our hearts.” That has brought me comfort in the last few days, as Charlie and I adjust to life without Theo.
Theo has been part of our lives since the day in May 1998 we found her behind a cyclone fence at an abandoned electric station a few blocks from our home. She was so small we thought she was a kitten. She was cold, dirty, and hungry. Miraculously, she was also purring, riding high on my shoulder as I carried her home. She was coal black, with yellow eyes. She had no tail, just a little stub at the end of her rump.
With two cats at home, we weren’t looking for another cat. But that’s how it goes. We weren’t sure how Elfie and Isabelle would react. Elfie took to Theo right away; Belle simply ignored her.
We took the little black cat to our vet the next day for a checkup. He estimated she was about eight months old and thought she might be a Manx, as she had other characteristics of the breed besides the lack of a tail.
In keeping with our custom of naming our cats after royalty, we named this one Theodora after Empress Theodora, wife of Justinian, who ruled the Byzantine Empire from 527 to 565 AD. (One learns a bit of history being married to a history professor.)
Like her namesake, Theodora was imperious. She regularly demanded – and received — attention. She loved keeping company with Charlie in the study, curled up in the upholstered chair a few feet from his computer. She loved hanging out with me in my sewing room, often usurping my chair when I got up to use the iron:
One of my favorite photos of Theo is this one, peering at me through my sewing machine, willing me to stop sewing and pay attention to her:
In her later years, she liked to crawl under the covers at night and snuggle with us, and she would purr for the longest time before finally drifting off to sleep. The last couple of years she launched a nightly yowling campaign to coax us to bed, usually way before bedtime.
Theo’s coat remained a glossy black as she got older, although late in her life there were a few white hairs among all the black ones. And there was that one white whisker. One time it fell out, and the new whisker that grew in was also white:
As the years passed, we continued to refer to Theo as “the kitten” because she was so petite. At her peak she weighed 7½ pounds. At the end she was a little over 4 pounds. Despite a voracious appetite, she had been steadily losing weight over the last couple of years. She was being treated for thyroid disease and incipient kidney failure. By now she was also completely deaf.
A few weeks ago problems associated with kidney disease began to surface. We could tell she was in some distress. After multiple trips to the vet, we had to face the fact that, while we might try different treatments that would prolong Theo’s life, she was never going to get better. We didn’t want to wait until she was suffering greatly to make the decision about euthanasia.
My twin sister Diane (whose cat Alex lived to be 23) told me the other day, “In my next life I want to come back as a cat and live at the Portland White House.” I know Theo had a good life, and I am glad Charlie and I were able to provide that for her. But it doesn’t lessen the profound sadness we feel at her absence.
Even now, I expect to see her demanding to be fed or given treats every time I walk into the kitchen. I catch myself looking for her in her favored napping spots: the chair in the study, the top of the clothes dryer, the rug on the heated bathroom floor, the mantel in the living room when the sun was just right, and yes, the chair in my sewing room.
When I was in Paris a year ago at this time, I bought a souvenir mug that featured a chat noir (black cat en francais), partly because the cat reminded me of Theo (minus the tail). Theo wasn’t terribly photogenic. Even though she was a happy cat, in photos she always looked like she was scowling. Take a look at the cat on the mug. Doesn’t it look a lot like Theodora?
She was with us for exactly 18 years. RIP, kitten.
One of the high points of my recent trip to Paris with my sister Diane was the cooking class we took at Cook’n With Class, a Parisian cooking school offering classes in English to locals and tourists. Diane and I chose the Morning Market Class, in which students shop with the chef for fresh ingredients and then prepare a four-course meal back at the school.
We met Chef Patrick Hebert and four other students on a very cold morning at a Métro stop near Montmartre. Chef Patrick led us to the markets, where we inspected the meat at a boucherie:
. . . the fish at a poissonier:
. . . and the cheese at a fromagerie:
Chef Patrick gave us pointers on choosing the freshest fish:
Guided by the chef’s suggestions and the food preferences of the students, the group mutually decided on this menu:
Scallops and Mussels in Saffron Sauce on a Bed of Caramelized Fennel
Duck Magret with Figs Haricots Vert (Green Beans) Celeriac au Gratin
Talk about fresh fish! We watched the fishmonger shuck and clean the scallops we ate later that day:
After shopping for fruit and vegetables, we headed to the cooking school to prepare our feast. The classroom was all set up, with a station for each student:
We got right to work, separating eggs for the soufflé . . .
. . . chopping fresh tarragon . . .
. . . measuring Grand Marnier for the chocolate soufflé . . .
. . . sautéing the fennel as Chef Patrick looked on . . .
. . . buttering ramekins for the soufflé . . .
Chef Patrick showed us the correct way to sharpen knives . . .
. . . and how to keep our fingers out of the way when chopping vegetables. Here he is slicing celeriac:
Dinner is coming together! Here is the celeriac au gratin bubbling in the oven . . .
. . . mussels cooking in cream . . .
. . . scallops sizzling in the pan . . .
. . . and the duck magret resting in a bowl . . .
Dinner is ready.
The first course: mussels and scallops in saffron sauce on a bed of caramelized fennel:
The main course: duck magret served with figs sautéed in butter and port, haricots vert, and celeriac au gratin:
While the chocolate soufflé was in the oven, we enjoyed a cheese course:
Chef Patrick showed us how to slice the variously shaped cheeses so that the last person wasn’t left with all the rind:
Now, ready for dessert. Ah, the first bite of chocolate soufflé:
Here we are at the end of the day with Chef Patrick:
In a few short hours, my twin and I will be winging our way back to America, our two-week sojourn to Paris at an end. And what a wonderful sojourn it has been! I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate turning 65.
The big day is actually next month, but every time Diane and I lifted a glass of wine or champagne, we smiled at each other and said, “Happy birthday!”
In a few days, when I’ve had a chance to sort and edit my pictures, I’ll post my favorite ones. I hope you’ll come back to see the highlights of our trip.
The late great Yogi Berra supposedly said that. Even if he never spoke those words, I know what he meant. I’m having a very déjà vu moment. I am in Paris, in the same apartment (Chez Anna) where my husband and I spent three weeks in the spring. This time my twin sister Diane is with me, and we are here for two weeks.
How did this stroke of good fortune come about? Well, Diane was supposed to join my husband and me for several days during our earlier stay. A family emergency (since resolved) kept her from coming. Her ticket was good for a year. Through a combination of luck and good timing, we were able to arrange this visit to coincide with a trip my friend Anna and her beau had scheduled to the United Kingdom.
Part of the deal is that we take care of her cat Buddy, whom I already adore:
Diane and I have a Big Birthday coming up next month (think Medicare). Is this not the perfect way to celebrate turning 65?