Friday, May 19, 2017

In Stitches

I've dreamed of being able to sew quilts my whole life. The closest I've come is painting a quilt block. After a disasterous and stressful summer spent behind a sewing machine in tears trying to prepare a quilted pillow for a 4-H project when I was 10, I've steered clear of sewing. Except for the home economics class in junior high (see how old I am? We still had home ec and junior high!) when I brought my "D" in sewing up to a "B" with an "A+" in cooking. I've simply admired folks who could seemingly "whip" up creations out of yards of fabric and thread. All I had to offer them was a cookie.

My dear friend Bobbi is a quilting artist extraodinaire.

I admit to an envy of her considerable talents. Bobbi has a bold sense of color.  She's not making your grandmother's quilts.

Like the art she collects

Bobbi has a bold sense of design

And a love of saturated color

Many of her friends have been beneficiaries of her talents as she gives away quilts as baby shower, wedding and birthday gifts. 

This lovely "I Spy" quilt is it's three-year-old owner's favorite.

And her golfing friends and book club friends love the bags, aprons and table runners we've been gifted with over the years.

Bobbi's burst of creativity was born out of a profound loss, the death of her beloved husband, Greg. Trying to find her way out of grief into a new life, sewing gave her a sense of purpose. The crisp edges, the tidiness of creating order out of fabric scraps, the beauty of creating a picture and story from disparate pieces appealed to Bobbi. Sewing gave her mind a place to rest and recover.

Bobbi's family left to right: sisters
Debby, Kathy, mother-Delores, sister Terri and Bobbi.

She stumbled into sewing when her sisters and mother talked her into going to a quilting convention.  All of her sisters and mother sewed and quilted. "I never thought I was interested in sewing," Bobbi says. But all the fabric choices at the convention convinced her to take the quilting plunge. "I love fabric, man it's fun!"

"I had an old, old sewing machine that kept jamming up," Bobbi says. "It didn't take long and I had to buy a better machine.

Pretty soon Bobbi filled her walls with quilts

Even one of her ceilings has a quilt

What started as a way out of grief, now expanded into giving gifts to celebrate life's joys: the birth of new babies, weddings, birthdays, friendship.

"It really helps to make things to feel a purpose.  It gives me purpose," she says.

I was eager to hear what Bobbi has learned about life as she quilted her way through her loss.
Felecia: Each of us has an inner compass that tells us when we're on the right path. How do you know when your compass points True North?
Bobbi: "Making a gift, a hand-made gift for someone that they will love and treasure. To think of a person and pick the fabrics to suit their personality and what they are all about."

Felecia: Wendell Berry writes often that we are "given" our lives; meaning "we ourselves did not make these things, although by birth we are made responsible for them; second that the world and our lives lives do not come from chance." What are you given?

Bobbi: "Right now, I was given the gift of being a good friend, sister, daughter and mother. What I treasured the most was being a good wife."

Felecia: "How do you care for what you are given?"

Bobbi: "I try to be there for my friends.  I try to look for the good in every person I know."

Felecia: "What sustains you and gives you hope?"

Bobbi: "Making things."

Bobbi has taken thread, fabric, time, creativity to stitch together a life full of beauty, love, friendship and family. One stitch at a time.

She's created a home where love lives.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Finding Spring

It was off to the Mennonite Greenhouses in Chickasaw County this week.

Getting there is half the fun. 

 The rolling Iowa country side looks so beautiful this time of year. (Your can read about our trip to the greenhouses last year here.)

Mom went with me to ooh and ahhh over all the pretty choices.

So much color

So many varieties

Such vast greenhouses.

We only made it to two farms before my car was full, my pocketbook was empty and I needed lunch.

First we stopped by KR Greenhouses, 1505 170th St., Ionia. Kenneth and Rachel Martin and their nine children run this greenhouse, farm 160 acres and raise 300 head of fatted cattle.  

The day we stopped Justin, 12, on the left and Vernon, 15, were taking payments and helping us out to the car.

The Martins started as a wholesale greenhouse, but decided running a retail greenhouse was "easier", according to Kenneth. "It's easier than loading everything up to take to auction," he says.

The day we went skies were gray

and the radio kept predicting snow.

But it smelled and felt like spring in the greenhouse.

"When we started this, it was a winter thing.  But now it's kind of taken over," Kenneth says. The greenhouses are open Monday through Friday 8 to 8 and Saturday 8-5, closed on Sundays through June 15th.

KR Greenhouses sell strawberries on the farm in June and reopen the greenhouses August to October to sell mums, grasses and pumpkins.  Though last year Kenneth says, "We'll probably try pumpkins again. Last year, they didn't do for us."

A short hop down the road and around the corner we found

Hoover's Greenhouse 1680 Cheyenne Ave., Ionia.  

More stunners

And lots of garden gig-gaws.

I think Hoover's baskets are the biggest and best.  Elizabeth Hoover who owns and runs the greenhouse for the past 16 years also makes sure they have special plants that I find are hard to find other places.

I'm especially partial to the Prince Tut, seen here in my pots from last year.  I've only found these at Hoovers.

The flowers and varieties are just as stunning here.

So many choices! Hoover's, on fact all of the greenhouses in Chickasaw County run on the same M-F, 8-8; Saturday 8-5 and closed Sunday schedule until mid-June.  Hoovers is also open in the fall starting Aug. 15th. selling mums, pumpkins and other fall plants.

I'm trying out a new container pot "recipe". When it's had a few weeks of warm weather to fill out a little, I'll show it to you and you can help me decide how we like it.

Add caption
In the meantime, get yourself to the Hearst Garden. The flowering crabs are unbelievable this year.

You don't want to miss out on the show!

The daffodils are mostly gone this week, but I had to share these pictures from last week in case you missed them. They don't give a hoot if snow is in the forecast!

Don't make the same mistake!  Go see the crab apples.

May your walk this week be carpeted with crab apple petals!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Tea Time

My sweet friend, Eliz Guyer, owner of Laughing Tree Cafe and Laughing Tree Teas invited me to the cafe to blend a special spring tea.

Eliz's got a million different flavors to choose from.

Eliz suggested we brew up a spring time detox tea. "Let's use Nettles and dandelions,' she said.  

Laughing Tree Tea, Fruit Tea
Ummm weeds, I ask? "These are so nutritious! They have nutrients you don't get during the winter. It's a way to get the nutrition of spring," Eliz tells me with her customary laugh at the silliness of life and in this case, me.

Turns out stinging nettle tea is good for allergy relief and is good for your skin, bones and urinary health. Dandelions reportedly help detox the body.  While you can grow both of these in the Cedar Valley, Eliz depends on an organic, fair trade supplier to supplement her 2 acre herb patch.

First she put a teaspoon of the nettles in one cup and a teaspoon of dandelions in another cup.

Eliz adds about 6 ounces of hot water and let's the dried leaves steep for about 7 minutes.  

We smell our steaming cups. Eliz says the nettles cup has a "grassy smell" and the dandelion cup smells like spring. Next we taste each of the teas to get the flavor profile.  I'm no help, the teas taste pleasant, if a little one dimensional.  Eliz, with an educated palate pronounces the teas complimentary.  We both agree they need some zip.

So she pulls out a bag of dried lemon peel from her cupboard of flavors.

Now we repeat the hot water, brew, wait, smell and taste.

Ah, now that's lovely. I can definitely taste spring. But still just a wee bit flat, we agree.

Now Eliz pulls out the big guns....Stevia.  At first I think she means the stuff in little packets.  But she's talking about a dried version of the plant.

She adds a half a teaspoon to our mixture. We brew, wait, smell and taste.  At first I'm in love.  Eliz however wrinkles her nose. "Too sweet," she says.

 "No, wait! I love it," I beg.  

Laughing Tree Tea's official Tea Log

"Take another sip," Eliz says.  When I do and then another, I agree too sweet.  "You have to be careful with the Stevia. It doesn't take very much. A lot of people don't like the annise after-taste of the Stevia sweetners, but you don't get that with the plants. This is natural, it doesn't have the after taste," she says.

After each blending session, Eliz records the combinations so that she can replicate them

So back we go to the mixing pot.  Eliz mixes one part Nettles,one part dandelion, one part lemon peel and just a pinch of stevia. Hot water, wait, sniff, taste.....ah perfection!

Laughing Tree Tea's newest tea Clari-Tea is crafted. 

Everytime I drink one of Laughing Tree Teas now I'll think of how Eliz thinks about her work "I joyfully hand blend loose leaf teas to enhance life's everyday moments."

You can find Laughing Tree Teas at the Laughing Tree Cafe in the Waterloo Center for the Arts, 225 Commercial Street, Waterloo, or The Markit in Grundy Center or brewed daily at Cottonwood Canyon in Waterloo or Cedar Falls

Eliz does custom blends for customers to address health issues or because they have favorite flavor combinations.  Call her to order your custom blend at 319. 610. 7252 or email Eliz at  

As we settled into the cafe's beautiful chairs to sip our tea, 
looking out over the beautiful Cedar River, I asked Eliz why 
she does what she does.

Each of us has an inner compass that tells us when we’re on

 the right path. How do you know when your inner compass

 points True North?

I don't know if there is a "true north." That's too goal 

oriented.  You've got to have goals, but you need to say, 'I'll 

try this path and we'll see how it goes.  You know when you're

 on the right path when you smile and laugh and you attract 

people you want to be around and people who build you up.

Wendell Berry writes often that we are “given” our lives; 

meaning “we ourselves did not make these things, although 

by birth we are made responsible for them; second, that the 

world and our lives do not come to us by chance.”

What are you given?

"What I choose to suck out of life! I've been given a little bit 

of sass and sweetness. Enough sass that if someone says,

 'You can't do it!'; I'm going to do it. Enough sweetness that

 I'm going to enjoy what I'm doing."

How do you care for what you are given?

I choose to cultivate joy. I laugh a lot. I make stupid, stupid

 jokes. We often associate that you can't laugh and be

 responsible adult.  But you can!

What sustains you and gives you hope?

Every time I hit a low I learned that if I just give it another day or two, or just take another step, it works out. I found people to help me celebrate failure. It's OK to not be perfect and make mistakes, as long as I rebound and keep working on it.

Want your own special tea, or the newest Clari-Tea?  Just give Eliz a call, 319. 610.7525 or stop by Laughing Tree Cafe.

Wishing you a lovely weekend!