Monday, July 29, 2013

Recycled Fibers~ A Little Summer Sewing

I haven't had much time for sewing this summer, but I did manage to finish a couple of small recycled fabric projects back in June, before Tayta and I traveled for her surgery. I'd been wanting to try a recycled denim picnic/beach blanket since seeing this one over at Little Birdie Secrets. I thought it would be just the thing to give to Dear Daughter for a hostess gift when we visited her in Evanston.

I've been collecting our cast-off jeans for awhile and had enough for this blanket. I used about eight pairs of jeans. I think mixing the different shades of denim makes it look interesting, as do the the contrasting pockets, cut from the original pair of jeans and then re-sewn on the legs before assembling the blanket. The tutorial linked above was helpful for showing how to cut the legs of the jeans apart.

As for the seams, I sewed them differently than the tutorial: I sewed a regular half inch seam, pressed it open, and then zig-zagged  the pressed seam allowance down onto the blanket. Here is what the seams look like on top of the blanket:

And here is what they look like on the backside of the blanket:

I used collar scraps from mens' corduroy shirts for the binding. Next time I will make a wider binding.

A table mat/runner was the other scrappy project I finished in June. This small piece has more mistakes in it than I care to mention, but the good thing about it is it is the project which helped me decided that I needed to invest in a walking foot for my sewing machine if I planned to do more machine quilting. I spent my birthday money on a walking foot, purchasing it just before Active Son traveled to Jordan, and I was able to finish quilting this without further frustration. Good investment. This mat was made from scraps of mens' dress shirts, mostly leftovers from Artist Son's quilt. The pattern inspiration comes, again, from Victoria Gertenbach.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Garden Journal~July 2013

Life has been full and the weather has been warm, so I'm spending little time in the garden these days. I'm very grateful to Dear Husband, who keeps the water flowing as best he can in this desert land; water management is a significant job in Mafraq during the summer months. Dear Husband waters the garden twice, maybe three times a week, in the early morning or evening hours, when the garden is out of the heat. Though it is hot during the daytime hours, the garden has been a welcome refuge for Dear Husband in the early morning hours and for both of us in the evening.

I've done just a bit if dead heading, fertilizing, and I've had the joy of harvesting basil on a daily basis. It's basil in sandwiches, salads, pesto, and our favorite summer recipe,  Basil  Balsamic Chicken.

Fresh Basil-a-Plenty

We have begun a daily harvest of tomatoes. They're not as sweet as I had hoped they would be. Some in our family say they enjoy the tart flavor, but I'm already exploring strategies to grow sweeter tomatoes.

The first summer bloom of my new-this-year coneflowers, begun from seed this winter. I think this is the Mama Mia variety, which I expected to be a darker pink, but as it has bloomed it looks pretty much like my other standard variety coneflowers.

The lily border blooms are brightening our front walkway.

My flower beds are still  sparse, but the perennials I started from seed are starting to take off. The Jupiter's Beards bloomed for the first time last week.

I think that Verbena Bonariensis will win the award for the Best New Perennial. It is easily and quickly grown from seed, enjoys full sun, and is relatively drought tolerant once established. These plants are already mature even though I began them from seed this winter. I've heard they re-seed themselves, offering many new starts each season, so I plan to share this one with other gardening friends..

Our little fig tree, planted by Dear Husband in the fall, has already begun bearing fruit. I enjoyed the first ripe black fig from the tree at breakfast this morning. It was delicious. It looks like we'll get about twenty more figs this summer.

One of my two Agapanthus plants is blooming steadily, offering me a cheery greeting when I walk out the front door.

It doesn't look like much yet, but I am hopeful that this perennial sage bush will amount to more by next spring. Begun from seed this winter, it is on it's second summer bloom. It's another hardy, sun loving, drought resistant plant.

We've enjoyed moderate summer weather this far, but the temperatures are heating up. August and September are the months the garden usually goes into survival-mode. It will be interesting to see how things fare this next month.

Edit: I just noticed that I missed making a Garden Journal entry for June.  That must have been due to traveling.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


How can it be so difficult for a married couple with no small children to get away for a couple of days together? Perhaps we make it difficult for ourselves. Better, perhaps I make it difficult for us. I am the one who finds it difficult to disengage for all the physical and emotional needs of our home and family, even when I am looking forward to spending time alone with Dear Husband, talking, reading, and relaxing. We had a small window of opportunity during the week after my return from the States and the arrival of houseguests, and later, more home-coming children. and wee took it.

The typical getaway for our area is a Dead Sea resort hotel, which has it charms: pool, sun, nice hotel rooms, wonderful breakfast buffet, but it is also expensive, crowded in the summer, and local color is limited to pool attire of Jordan's upper-crust. We did stay in such a Dead Sea hotel the second night of our getaway, but for the first night we chose Madaba, a small Jordanian city with a long history, dating from the Middle Bronze age and mentioned in the Old Testament as a Moabite border city. It was later ruled by the Roman, Byzantine, and Ummayad empires, and is now most famous for its mosaics dating back to those times. Ninety Arab Christian families from Kerak (south of Madaba) re-settled Madaba in 1880 under the leadership of two Italian priests, and it was at that point that archaeological endeavors commenced.

Though Dear Husband and I have visited Madaba before, this was our first time to sleep there and to visit sites other than the famous Church of Saint George. We arrived in the afternoon and checked into our hotel, the Mosaic City. The most important ammenities of any Jordanian hotel in the summer-time are air conditioning and cleanliness, and I rate this hotel fives stars for both. It was tastefully decorated, offered a satisfying buffet breakfast, and was less than half the price of the Movenpick at the Dead Sea. I'd highly recommend this hotel, which is run by members of the Sawalha family.

After some rest and reading (Tim Keller's "The Meaning of Marriage"--excellent!) we walked through town to have dinner at our favorite Madaba restaurant, Haret Jdoudna.  On our way to dinner, we stopped in a local rug store and had a nice visit with the owner. He was sure that he knew Dear Husband; interestingly, this sort of  recognition happened at least three other times during the weekend. We are trying to figure out which foreigner who looks like Dear Husband has visited Madaba and the Dead Sea so many times! The shopkeeper was a member of the well-known Maiah family, and so, of course, knew our language teacher of many years ago, who is also a member of that clan.

This picture doesn't quite capture the charm of our courtyard surroundings, but if you can imagine fragrant jasmine winding its way around stair-rails and balconies, and a fig tree growing in the corner, you'll have a better idea of what we enjoyed.

On Friday morning, we did a walk-about of Madaba and all the sites that we wanted to see. This was easily done on foot and Friday morning is the perfect time for walking around: it is the day off, the day for sleeping in and staying home, and so the streets were mostly empty, except for other tourist-types. Though we avoided the regular hustle and bustle of a work-day, we enjoyed stopping by a few shops which were open along the way. Cooking-for-a-crowd is a major theme of my summer, so I thought it might be nice to have one of these beyond-large cooking pots. Dear Husband pointed out that they wouldn't fit on our standard size burners so I passed them by.

Fresh bread was being taken out of the oven on wooden paddles as we passed by this makhbaz (place of baking).

An interesting juxtaposition of signage and religious architecture:

This church was built on what looked to be the highest point of the city. Dear Husband  spotted this ancient ashlar stone next to the stairway leading to the church.

 Our first stop was the Church of the Apostles, 578 AD, to view some mosaics floors:.

This is a partial view of "Personification of the Sea". The church is open and so all the mosaics had a layer of Jordanian dust, i.e. fine dirt over them. The size of the mosaic floors in this church was impressive.

A few more walk-about views as we made our way to the other sites:

Sounds like a good idea to me

We stopped next at the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, built over the Byzantine church and which houses the famous Madaba Map, a mosaic map of the Palestine, including the Holy Land and Jerusalem, dated 542 AD.

Saint George and the dragon

The remains of the Madaba Map

A pictorial key of the map

Modern mosaic of Elijah and the ravens

Walking a couple blocks to the Archeological Park, we were able to view more ancient mosaics, outside and inside the church of the Virgin Mary.

The church of the Virgin Mary was built over a Roman monument in the 6th or 7th century.

I've no pictures from our time at the Dead Sea--recall my previous comment about local color. 

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Paris Beauty

I'm a reluctant tourist and thought nothing of hanging out in the Charles de Gualle airport during our eight-hour layover in Paris. I had my Kindle and they have good coffee. Tayta had other ideas, which she put into action via some internet searching and Facebook messaging the morning that we traveled. Dear Husband encouraged these plans by going to the money-changer and buying enough Euros to get us into Paris by train.
And so we enjoyed a Paris morning full of beauty.

We arrived at the airport at about 5 o'clock am after a red-eye flight from Amman, and arrived in Paris, the city, at about 7:30 am. The weather was beautiful: sunny and not too warm, and we were traveling light--no carry-ons to contend with. This is notable for us. Tayta even thought ahead for breakfast and so we enjoyed her homemade banana-walnut-chocolate-chip muffins in front of Notre Dame cathedral. And for the next three hours we enjoyed as much enduring Parisian beauty as we could.

We enjoyed Notre Dame from every angle, taking in its complete form.

And then we enjoyed the details...

We found more enduring beauty inside the cathedral. I had so many ponderings about the role of beauty in our places of worship as I enjoyed the magnificence of the cathedral's interior.

On our flight from Paris to Chicago, Tayta chose to watch a documentary on the Georgian-born French sculptor Goudji, who, it turns out, created a baptismal found and a candlestick which now reside in the Notre Dame cathedral. The theme of beauty continued and Tayta recorded this quote from one of the commentators in the documentary:

The basis of the Christian liturgy, and not only the Catholic liturgy, is beauty. we approach the Lord through beauty; not just the beauty of the text, but the beauty of gestures, the beauty of the objects we use. Of course there are the people who say, "but that money could have been used to do this...why Lord, waste this perfume on your feet?" It's Judas who says that. It's always the same question: Why? But nothing is too beautiful for God.

Happy and content to be surrounded by so much beauty, and looking forward to this:

We emptied our pockets of our last euros to buy a cappuccino for me and a hot chocolate for Tayta. 

The hot chocolate was served as a layer of  melted chocolate, decoratively arranged in the cup into which Tayta poured hot milk.

We had a little more time to walk-about after coffee, so we ambled slowly along the river Seine.

Art quilt inspiration?

With just about 30 minutes until we needed to head for the train station to catch our train back to the airport, we explored a few nearby blocks and marveled at the beautiful architecture on every corner. I've not yet had time to investigate as to what famous (I assume as other tourist-types were taking pictures) buildings we had the privilege of beholding.

Tayta has decided she would like to return to Paris. We'd both like to visit the Louvre, but that will require a planned, longer layover.  Another encouragement to return was the opportunity Tayta had to use her French. At one Parisian information center the woman spoke no English and so Tayta was had to ask for and receive directions in French. She understood and was understood. I was just impressed (Thank you, Carol!)