Adventures at the New Quilt Shop: Cuttin’ Up

Three creative women with a dream have created Cuttin’ Up Quilt Studio & More located in downtown Prairie Grove, AR. Bonnie Clark and her two daughters Harmony Strode and Sarea Birmingham have enhanced this downtown street with a renovated building and beautiful entrance to their shop.

Cuttin’Up store front at the Grand opening on October 4, 2019. Even the windows have stitching around the edge!

On a bright June day last year Sarea and Harmony confronted their mother, Bonnie, with the grand idea of opening a multi-purpose quilt shop with additional services offered by hairdesser, Harmony, and massage therapist, Sarea. Bonnie was surprised and delighted. By mid July they had purchased two adjacent buildings located on Buchanan, the main business street in Prairie Grove.
All three women enlisted the aid of extended family and friends to help with the renovation. Lots of “sweat equity” transformed the former grocery into the current bright space.

Browse this corner filled with reproduction fabrics from the 1930’s–a favorite of Sarea.

The three women consider a goal of their shop to be “bridging the gap between the generations” offering fabrics, patterns and tools to please quilters and sewers, whether new or experienced. From batiks to solids to panels and precut collections, the shopper has lots to choose from.

From the first time I visited, I was taken with the building and all they have done to transform the space! The vintage elements which fill every nook made me feel at home. I admired the eye, or rather the three sets of eyes that pulled this collage of elements together. During that visit my quilter friends and I visited with the owners about their adventure in creating this joint project. We got a grand tour of the facility including the back room which is a project still in progress. The classroom is large and bright. The hair salon and the massage facility were both inviting.

Two long arm quilting machines–one available for use by you.

After seeing the long arm quilting machine they use to quilt for the public, we learned of their plans to add a second long arm quilting machine to allow them to rent it out to those who want to quilt their quilts. Bonnie, Harmony, and Sarea are now offering quilt classes and other special events like the Pizza Nights held the first Friday of the month. In our later conversations, we came up with the idea of my doing the free trunk show in January and then a two session class in February.

At this mid-point, you can see the front half of the shop. Draped on the cutting table is my quilt “Indigo Play” the third in my “Mix it Up” series based on the book Circle Play.

Join us at Cuttin’ Up!
“My Passion for Creating with Fabric: Exploring the Options” is the title of my free trunk show at 2:00 Saturday, January 18th. I’ll bring lots of quilt stands so most all the quilts will be visible for a length of time—not whisked away after a one minute glance. You will see early quilts and many of the newer ones of the “Mix It Up” series based on Circle Play. I’ll share some of my ideas about choosing fabrics and how to modify patterns to make them your own.

You’ll have a chance to roam the shop and to see for yourself how these creative women have manifested their dream of “something different”. You will also have the chance to meet and talk to Sarea, Bonnie, and Harmony.

Sisters: Harmony, on the left and Sarea, on the right–Bonnie was not around the day I took these photos.

Contact information for Cuttin’ Up Quilt Studio & More
111 East Buchanan Street
Prairie Grove, AR 72753
Phone: 479-846-2611
Hours: Thursday & Friday 10-6:00
Saturday 10-5:00

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Reflective Surfaces….

Last week I mentioned the use of “reflective surfaces” to add interest to a photograph–that seems a rather obvious action when using a camera. How do we add “reflective surfaces” to our quilts? There are multiple answers with complex variations! Let’s explore some of the the possibilities.

Silk fibers have a natural sheen. Let’s start with my 2015 quilt “Downward Mobility”, 32″ x 32″, which began as a “modern nine-patch” challenge. All these silk fabrics are recycled from thrift shop garments. Notice how the quilting is clearly defined on the pale green. The white silk is dupioni silk which does not have the same reflective sheen as most other silk, but it is washable.

I discovered the second quilt at a flea market. I was drawn to the vivid colors of the silk and the fine hand quilting on this small wall hanging. I’ve named this quilt “Color Study”. The bright colors set against the black background make each square glow like a jewel. However, if you squint, you will see that the lightest rectangle found in the lower right section glows. Can you see the “reflective surface” here? Yes, the lightest section of your quilt will draw the eye–especially if there is a high contrast with the surrounding area!

The value of “value”! Lights stand out, darks recede.
This simple observation has taken me years to really comprehend! “Value” refers to the lightness of darkness of a particular fabric or group of fabrics. The tricky thing about that basic definition is the changing reality of how one pairs that fabric. Its value is strongly influenced by its surroundings! More on this later. Let’s focus on the observation that light areas of your quilt will become a reflective surface and stand out!

“Journey to the New Normal”, 42″ x 42″, 2016

In “Journey to the New Normal” our eye is quickly drawn tho the lighter paths created with the split nine-patch blocks I made. Yes, the strong, rich colors grab their share of attention, but without that strong contrast of the light paths the vivid colors would blend together. This is my original design for the challenge I initiated at the Modern Guild in 2016. Our challenge was this phrase, “Too precious to cut, but we will!” Each of the outer border fabrics was precious–so glad they worked together in this exploration. By modifying the basic construction of the split nine patch block I was able to turn the triangle of that block into the squares that punctuate each block.

“Windfall”, another of my quilts from 2016, resulted from a slightly modified pattern from talented teacher Sujata Shah. You can readily see how the lightest “blades” of this “Windmill” pattern keep your eye moving across the surface of the quit challenging you to find the rhythmn. The color theme is loosely a blue, purple and white grouping. I was not pleased with the color combinations until I added the dashes of deep red. Note that the lights appear in both the blades (foreground) and in the background areas making the rhythm more unpredictable, yet still interesting. 46″ x 58″

Silver Taupe (left) and Copper Rose are part of the series of five quilts I made in 2015 exploring the delight of playing with these low-volume taupe fabrics. Working extensively with medium-range values (the entire family of taupe fabrics), made it obvious how essential the clear light fabrics were to creating any pattern capable of drawing the eye! In Silver Taupe the ombre fabrics of the border demand attention as the value moves from lights to darks in an asymmetrical pattern. You can see how in Copper Rose (right) the light squares draw your eye strategically down each of the diagonal lines from upper right to lower left.

Pumpkin Treat (right) depends on small dashes of white in the plaid background and in the white yarn of the crocheted squares. The vibrant white appears as a reflective surface amid all the deep dark colors. This small wall hanging is composed of a variety of thrift shop finds including the tiny crochet “granny squares” similar to those my mother would make from her leftover yarn. Mother also made delightful Halloween costumes for us, so this quilt is one more tribute to her!

“Color gets the credit, value does the work!”
The unknown quilter who first used this quip was a wise quilter! Life for a quilt comes through the play of one element against another. Color, shape, value, and texture all play a part in the visual impact. Creative use of light is an essential tool for every quilter. The more we play around with the elements, the more fun we can have!

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Artfully Arranged? Compositions?

“Compositions matter. Artfully arranged anything can become a thing of beauty.” Years ago I discovered this quote from the talented designer Barbara Barry in House Beautiful, January 2013. She put into words my own lifelong interest in everyday living. Our surroundings influence us on many levels. Composition just refers to how something is arranged. For example, often we carefully set up a photo to include what we want. We may choose to exclude unsightly overhead wires from our picture–that is composition! Quilts can be seen as fabric compositions too. You can tell a lot about a person by what she surrounds herself with and how she arranges her surroundings. Here is a brief tour of my surroundings. This photo of our mantel needs some explanation.

As you look in the mirror in the foreground, you see the row of bird’s nests under glass arranged on the mantel. In the reflection, the double shades of the light located over the couch catch your eye. This is the middle ground. In the background the antique green enamel breadbox and all the dishes are located twenty feet across from the mirror. That kitchen area extends along the back wall of the 20′ x 40′ house Jeanne and I built in 1988. There is a lot of history stuffed into this photo!

I imported this 100 year old leaded glass window from Kansas City, MO where I’d salvaged it from a thrift store in the 1980s. I was drawn to the unusual heart shaped glass pieces and the series of moon shapes along the top.

All three items in front of the window are leftover decorations from a women’s event we organized last fall. The ornamental kale are from a local nursery. The pumpkin was a volunteer appearing on our compost pile. Every time I approach our deck, I am please to see this simple arrangement. I know that the terracotta pots contribute to my admiration of the grouping since I’m always drawn to terracotta.

“Mix and Match” was a phrase I first heard in junior high school (1950s) as related to our girls’ wardrobe planning. Ever since I’ve used this concept to surround myself with things I like–some match, but most mix-it-up to please my own eye! Here I’ve assembled favorite plants, terracotta pots, seashells. The centerpiece of this grouping is a collection of turquoise Japanese fishing floats corralled in a wire basket. These wondrous glass globes have traveled the sea on their own and then proceeded overland to me as a gift from a dear friend now deceased. Once they were used in Japan as buoys to keep fishing nets afloat.

Our forty acre homestead was owned previously by a group of “hippies” who built a tree house overlooking the creek we call Orchid Creek. The outdoor kitchen, small workshed and the tree house were disintegrating when I bought Cedar Hill in 1982. Left behind in the shed was this ancient Singer cast iron sewing machine. Several years ago I dragged it up hill to our house to become yard art for this avid sewer! Daffodils and ferns surround it in the spring. I see it from my 9′ tall windows every day and never fail to admire the curves and the sturdy frame.

Artfully Arranged. My original quilt pattern “Diagonal Dance” is a carefully composed group of fabrics selected to become a community of fabrics meant to be together. This pattern is like a giant puzzle that will fit together, but only you can decide what colors, what fabrics, what focus should be placed in each spot! The actual sewing is not difficult. Composition is what makes each quilt sewn with this pattern carry a unique visual personality.

Bonus question. In observing the first four photographs, some taken indoors and some outdoors, did you notice that they all have one aspect in common? Each photo contains a reflective surface–one quite effective way to keep the viewer’s eye engaged.

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Speculations Abound

Every time I make a Time Span quilt I speculate about my co-creator. That is, my unknown co-creator. For a reason, unknown to me, she was not able to finish the blocks, the embroidery or the quilt top. How did this particular thing that I find valuable end up in a thrift shop?

This question first occurred to me while roaming through thrift shops and vintage clothes shops in the early 1970s when I lived in Kansas City, MO. I found those outings to be adventures and educational. I learned about antique furniture, vintage textiles, discovered folk art, and generally had a good time shopping within my budget. Often the quality of goods I encountered was superior to what was available at local retail shops. One of my best friends, Kate K. published a guide to local thrift stores emphasizing the myriad reasons for how an attitude of “reduce, reuse and recycle” would benefit us personally and be to the benefit of the planet to sustain human life. We shopped together seeking fantastic finds!

The original creator seemed to have worked from her “scrap bag”. I encountered: seersucker, dotted swiss, ticking, striped flannel, organdy, two sizes of gingham, dots, plaids, strips, solids, shirtings, pajama prints, rayon, bandana print, calico, multiple florals, pique, and a feedsack fabric. These Bear’s Paw blocks were set together with garish, bright polyester double knits popular in the late 1960s and early 1970’s. This fact leads me to believe that the older, duller blocks were pieced earlier, then set together in that time period or later.

In fact, the blocks may have been pieced by one woman and someone else chose what fabrics to use to set them together. Or they may have been found at a thrift store. I’ll never know! But I am sure that whoever made this top would appreciate that an avid quilter found herself attracted enough to her flimsy quilt top to transform it into a sturdy quilt! I’ve named it “Inventive Bear’s Paw”.

Here is a brief accounting of how much time I’ve devoted to sewing “Inventive Bear’s Paw”. Selecting and sewing the fabric for the pieced backing, sleeve, and label: five hours. Selecting, cutting and preparing the bias binding: five hours. Ironing, then spreading out all three layers to pin baste: six hours (it’s a big quilt). Machine quilting on my vintage 1980 Bernina #930: twenty-one hours. Applying the binding using my trusty Singer #221 or “Featherweight”: four hours. Grand total: forty-one hours.

Why would I spend all this time on a quilt of unknown origins and dubious value (in some eyes) when I have lots of other ideas of my own to work on? Here is my list. I was attracted to the enormous energy I saw in the top. I felt a strong respect for the woman who sewed these blocks. I valued her carefree attitude! It made me smile! I found it a challenge to transform the unfinished piece into a whole. I knew I would learn something from working/playing on this project. Or, as I wrote on the label, “Improvisational piecing highlighted by a jumble of fabrics gives this TimeSpan quilt its unique personality.” I always love a quilt with personality! Don’t you?

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Expanding Energy Everywhere!

“The color palette [of polyester double knit fabric in the late 1960s and early 1970s] was eye-popping, gaudy, sometimes bizarre, and unfailingly cheerful,” notes blogger Suzanne Labry. I’m guessing this was the motivation of the quilter who set these vintage Bear’s Paw blocks together with pink and orange double knit fabrics. “Eye-popping, gaudy and cheerful” all describe the color palette of this creation! My guess is that this top was sewn together in the early 1970’s, the same time I was wearing a polyester TWA flight attendant uniform in a plum color polyester. The easy care, long lasting characteristics of polyester made it seem ideal.

I discovered this scramble of a quilt top at a local thrift for twelve dollars. I almost left it behind. As I opened it and considered the possibilities, I was charmed by the energy emanating from those cattywampus blocks! Some of the Bear’s Paws were askew. The jumble of colors and patterns kept me searching for a rythymn. The workpersonship was poor–one of the setting strips even displayed the raw edges of a seam placed on the front! Who would choose a stretchy polyester double knit fabric as setting strips??

Yet, I wanted it! I wanted to take it home and explore the possibilities! The celebrated quilts made by the women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama have helped educate my eye and my mind to an avenue of the quilting world I’d been unaware of until the late 1990s. Even if you are familiar with the Gee’s Bend Quilts, please explore this visual journey through many of their quilts: Wow, what an amazing collection of vibrant quilts!

I’ve not been quilting on large projects recently. This quilt top is 64″ x 88″. To do the pin basting step, which prepares the top for my machine quilting, requires the use of three large tables at the local community center room. The ironing of top and back, then layering of all three layers took five hours of steady work.

For the last week, when time allowed, I have been doing the “free motion” quilting I call my “scribble motif” of swirls and curves and a few flowers all over the top. As I’m scribbling with my fast-moving machine needle, I encounter the duller blocks and then the vivid setting strips. I am amazed by the variety of fabrics gathered into this one top. I am also aware of the turquoise or blue centers of each Bear’s Paw block. She used different fabrics at times, but the repetition of this appealing color is part of what draws me to this unusual quilt.

I’m expecting to finish the machine quilting today or tomorrow. Then another adventure begins as I apply the binding. This quilt has extremely wavy edges, so I’ve cut the binding on the bias and will keep those wavy edges as I bind it.

Because the original quiltmaker seemed to use any fabric she happened to have on hand, I’ve done the same. The expanse of fabric needed for the back was pieced from cloth I had on hand. I’ve cut the dark bias binding from a vintage Ginny Beyer striped border fabric. That long strip of folded bias is carefully folded to prevent any stretching, and is now ready for that almost final step.

By next week I hope to have completed photos and a comprehensive list of all of the types of fabric I’ve encountered in this bold quilt top–from plaids, stripes and ticking, to gingham and organdy. Stay tuned.

Note: The opening quote came from an article “The Return of Double Knits” from this blog,!.html

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Composition, or Setting the Stage….

“Life for a quilt comes through the play of one element against another. Color, shape, value and texture all play a part in the visual impact.” My observations about vibrant quilts can be applied to apply to this photo from Crete, Greece.

Initially you take in the graceful curves of the door, the arch of the brick frame and the overhanging foliage. Your eye is drawn to the lightest part of the photo as if your next step was to enter. “The viewer’s eye will automatically go to the area of your quilt with the greatest contrast”, noted Irene Barry in QNM Dec/Jan 2009. I’ve found this observation extremely useful in designing my quilts.
The rich green color of the door, the lights and shadows of the composition as well as the variety of textures keeps me engaged in viewing this moment in time.

My photo of an arched door in the village of Mochlos, Crete is full of surprises–my own image was reflected in the glass! Roberta Horton in her book, The Fabric Makes the Quilt, offered five valuable ideas for designing your own quilts. One of my favorites of her suggestions is, “Repetition makes things go together.”
Note the strong curved lines of the arch over the door and the graceful palm fronds framing that door. Because your eye has been drawn to those dominant curves you will not immediately notice the square shape of the door itself. The subtle earth tone colors of the building and the entrance bring a calm to the scene. No jarring colors appear to demand attention, until you notice the lavender linen shirt reflected in the photo. Because the proportion of bright color is small, your eye is not overwhelmed but perhaps intrigued.

In both photos the repetition demands your attention.

The play of light and dark is quite different in each photo, setting the stage for your reaction. Whether sun-drenched or shade covered, the viewer will react to the mood portrayed by the light. Or as one wise quilter quipped, “Color gets the credit, but value does the work”. She meant that the contrast between light, medium and dark fabrics will make your composition interesting to the viewer’s eye. I keep practicing all this advice from my contemporary quilters. And it is still fun!

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Everyday Creativity: Available to All of Us!

Loading my car on a sunny afternoon after a recent quilting gathering, I noticed these bright yellow fan-shaped leaves scattered on the ground. Ginkgo leaves! Old friends! I first met this unique tree and its bright leaves when I was a young college student in 1963 at Maryville College, Maryville TN. We all know that familiar smells can retrieve strong memories. What memories are stirred by a few fallen leaves? First, you must know that in 1963 I had not experienced fall and the fallen leaves the cold weather brings! I was born and raised in Miami, Florida where hibiscus, bougainvillea, and poinsettias were the bright year-round companions I knew well.

I first met this unusual tree and its golden leaves when I was a young college student in 1963 at Maryville College, Maryville TN. We learned in biology class that this unique tree is considered a “living fossil”–meaning that fossils recognizably related to the modern ginkgo trees have been found that date back 270 million years.

With leaves on the ground, I thought, there must be a source nearby. I looked up and saw two tall, elegant trees dressed in the same yellow-gold of the leaves on the ground. I admired their splendor, then grabbed my camera.
Savoring the intense yellow of the leaves and in awe of the abundance of those leaves still clinging to their tree, I stopped what I was doing. Paying attention, being in the moment, is a central part of creativity! I admired my surroundings and my good fortune to be alive, and to really see these two particular ginkgo trees. I decided to take a closeup of the leaves before leaving. As I returned to the car, I carefully chose two particular ginkgo leaves from the ground to accompany me home.

More memories followed me that day. As a young woman I had not had much encouragement to explore my own creativity–that would come later. Yet I’ve always had a camera to record events and observations. The four years I spent on that campus allowed me to learn more about the world and to learn about who I was. I do know I was picking up leaves then and taking them with me to admire later.

In 1963 Maryville College was a small, co-ed, liberal arts college of 850 students located in east Tennessee along the foothills of the Smokey Mountains which look much like our Ozark Mountains. I had graduated from Hialeah High School in a class of over 1,000 students. Baldwin Hall, the dorm I lived in the first two years, had been used as a hospital during the civil war–or so we are told. I found the campus lovely. I admired a spreading white dogwood tree outside my dorm window that had a strong branch of pink dogwood blossoms as a result of a careful graft by biology students done years earlier.
Baldwin Hall (upper right corner in the group of campus photos) was razed decades ago. Yet my memories are clear of the relationships, experiences, friendships and even some conflicts with the other young women who lived together. Campus life gave me a “breathing spell” before entering the work world of adults. I’m glad I had those years to start to mature.
Creativity is full of surprises and unexpected paths. Can you locate the ginkgo leaves in this section from a recent quilt of mine? This quilt began a series of quilts which is still unfolding.

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Cedar Trees & the “Lust for Life”

When I first bought this piece of land in Arkansas and dreamed of living in the woods, I named the land Cedar Hill in honor of an ancient cedar tree located near the well and chimney of the 1880s homestead. I imagined that this cedar tree had sheltered the people who built the cabin and dug that well. One of my friends informed me that her father always called cedar trees “trash trees”. That was over thirty years ago. I still remember her dismissive comment. Perhaps I had become tiresome in talking about my desire to move to Cedar Hill.

Even before we built our small deck from the local cedar, we had used standing dead cedar trees as posts inside the house. When we built our 20′ x 40′ house, we left a small volunteer cedar tree in the back yard. That vibrant tree has grown to shade the entire yard. Our outside shower hangs from her branches. Juncos, robins, bluejays and others nest in the branches–we watch them from the kitchen window. Sometimes in midwinter, I bring the evergreen boughs loaded with the plump blue clusters of berries inside to place on the mantel. This tree is our constant companion!

Lust for Life! Cedars grow from the Rocky Mountains across the continent to the ocean. Here in the Ozarks this juniper/cedar thrives! We can see cedar trees popping up along fences as well as large stands of closely spaced specimens. The twigs and foliage are eaten extensively by deer and cattle, but the chief attraction to wildlife is the bluish-black berry-like fruit. The trees offer shelter and safe nesting spots for birds and squirrels.

Juniperus virginiana is the formal Latin name for our cedar. I turned to the USDA website for a little more information( “All of the native junipers are valuable ornamental species, and many horticultural varieties have been developed. Red cedar is widely used in shelterbelts and wildlife plantings. The close-grained, aromatic, and durable wood of junipers is used for furniture, interior paneling, novelties, and fence posts. The fruits and young branches contain aromatic oil that is used in medicines.”

When we built the deck, we had to remove the native Virginia Creeper vine which had climbed the wall over the front door. We did cut apart the upper branches, but carefully preserved the lower section while we worked on the deck. Once the deck was completed, we snaked the stalk of the vine out between the house and the long ramp. The vine appears next to the small ramp leading to the cat/dog door.
New Growth!
In the fall, after a long hot summer, we don’t often look for fresh new growth around us. I was delighted, last week, when I noticed the first hint of a green leaf unfolding on the Virginia Creeper vine we rescued. Today there are thirteen leaves emerging from the lower section of the vine. The base of the plant is tucked under the edge of the deck, but still gets water when it rains. We’ve been providing supplemental water, too, to encourage this new growth. As you can see in the picture to the left, this vigorous vine had traced its own path up the wall. I planted this Virginia Creeper vine well over a decade ago. Now we will see what new path the vines will create along the wall. The dark berries from Virginia Creeper are a favored food for a variety of birds. I find myself thinking that “trash” trees and even “weeds” are designations that tell me more about the speaker than about a plant or tree!
Certainly, I admire the “lust for life” I observe all around me! Even when the “weeds” overwhelm my sense of order, I see the life energy and the creative impulse of those plants. I find I need to absorb some of that energy to enrich my own life, so I keep admiring each example I see of a “lust for life”. Do you have any examples you’d like to share?

Graceful new growth for this Virginia Creeper vine!

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Cedar Deck for Cedar Hill, Built by Women!

“Measure twice, cut once.
Use the right tool for the right job.
Keep the work site tidy to prevent accidents.
Enjoy the process–admire each step of the work.”

These “rules” I learned in 1987-88 as Jeanne and I worked under the instruction of a woman carpenter, Nancy V., to build the small house we designed by reading library books about “owner-built” houses. My dream when we moved to our forty acres of hardwood forest was to be able to garden all summer and quilt all winter. But we needed shelter first! We planned our solar-powered, non-toxic house to be our permanent dwelling. Wood, glass, stone and metal combined with our own “sweat equity” created our 800 square foot home. We called our homestead Cedar Hill in honor of the magnificent cedar tree located beyond the 1880 house foundation behind our house.

It was 1994 before I had the time to pursue my dream of quilting. To my surprise all the carpentry lessons that our mentor, Nancy, had given us directly applied to constructing my first quilt which had lots of diagonal cuts! This year, 2019, marks my 25th year as a quilter and quilt educator, and I am still occasionally involved in a building project involving lumber.

Because I was having difficulty holding open the heavy storm door while on our front steps, Jeanne and I decided to replace the steps with a small deck. That way we would be on a level surface when operating the awkward door. After considering the options, we decided on a deck 10 feet long and 8 feet extending into the yard. Again we called on our carpenter friend, Nancy, who turned our vision into a reality. Nancy took our overall plan and made it a reality with her decades of experience, her tools and her enthusiasm! She became our “crew chief”.

With the high cost of milled and kiln-dried lumber, Nancy suggested using local red cedar (really a juniper). She knew of a local saw mill in our county (Madison) that could provide us with all we need in a matter of days. We liked the idea of locally sourced wood. Both of us enjoy the beautiful rich color of the wood and the strong aroma when it is freshly cut.

Days 1 & 2: Nancy, Jeanne and another strong, younger woman removed the stairs and the wood box from the wall (far left in the photo), placed the posts, and framed the deck.

Day 3: Nancy cuts the boards to length. Jeanne begins screwing down the cedar decking. On the right is the compartment housing all our solar components.

Moving between the deck joists as Jeanne adds boards is tricky business.

Our talented carpenter friend, Nancy, brought her powerful portable saws–each ran off our solar electrical system. Here you can see some of the beautiful colors of the cedar boards.

Day #4 Paula did the boards on the outer edge.

Day: 4 After finishing the decking and railing, we started on installing the stairs which Nancy had put together in her shop.

End of Day #4: The basic bones of the deck are complete here. We installed a temporary ramp for the dogs to use. Chase, our 16 year old rat terrier, adapted readily to this option. The lumber pile to the left holds the remaining cedar boards for the ramp. (see photo below) Due to Nancy’s schedule we would wait a week to build the four feet wide ramp.

This delay allowed me to focus on my current quilt project “Mix It Up: Daffodils and Ginkgo Leaves”. I fell in love with this pattern and the theme fabrics after finding the book Circle Play: Simple Designs for Fabulous Fabrics in the guild store at our April quilt show. I’ll do another blog focused on that quilt (and it’s sisters). Here is the quilt top before I basted it in preparation for quilting it this week.

Finishing the ramp one week later

Jeanne and I find we are choosing to use the wide ramp most often–it is user friendly in a way stairs will never be. Note the dog & cat ramp to their private entrance. We are now wondering why we had not built this deck years ago! We’ve just added 80 square feet of living space to our 800 square foot house! Jeanne takes her yoga mat out most evenings at dusk in this luxurious space.

Here is Zora, our 13 year old rat terrier, standing in front of their tiny private ramp into the house. Each of the animal companions have taken to lounging on the deck as you will see in the photos below.

Catfish, our only youngster, lounges in the sunshine.

Scout, who is also 16, has become a “talker” in his old age. It was not difficult to photograph him as he called for attention.

Shyla, our rescue dog, is quite mellow and likes the other critters. All of us are pleased with our efforts to enjoy our stay here at Cedar Hill.

POSTSCRIPT: I’ve hung an antique leaded glass window above the electronic/solar box adjacent to the deck. Finally I’ve found the perfect spot for this beautiful window I found years ago while living in Kansas City.

We found this highway sign at a flea market decades ago–a reminder of our six months of living on the Kansas side of the Missouri/Kansas border in a tiny owner built house to get a feel for country living.

Located behind the deck chairs, this planter, at the base of the 4’x 9’recycled windows, survived all the rigors of building the deck! I planted dusty miller plants here years ago and they survive the winters because of the heat from the southern sun and the heat escaping through the windows. At the top of the photo is a foxglove plant that surprised me by sprouting here. The large leafed plant is another volunteer–mullein that can grow to be 9 feet tall. None are natives.

This new sign temporarily covers the electrical outlet while we are searching for a new light fixture with a pull cord–not easy to find. We enjoy sitting in the shade, yet find it a luxury, but easier now with this expansive deck and two comfortable chairs.

*Note about Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) This cedar/juniper is a very common native plant in Eastern North America. Note the Latin name–it is not a true cedar but a juniper. These trees have an aromatic wood with red coloring similar to cedars. The non-toxic aromatic berries of Eastern Red Cedar are an important food for a variety of wildlife including wild turkeys who often nest in their branches.

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Picnic in Nonotuk Park,

“Tiny rituals hold together the seams of human life”, by Maggie O’Farrell in The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

When I visited the east coast recently I was able to visit with three different sets of friends. While staying with women in Easthampton, a woman friend who lives over an hour away drove down to meet me. She had a time frame of visiting with me from 10-2:00. Instead of eating lunch at a crowded, impersonal restaurant, I volunteered to bring lunch for us. When I asked if she had any food restrictions she said she didn’t.

I had made a large batch of our Savory Muffins before I arrived in Easthampton to help sustain me during my visit there. These muffins are so nutritious, but low in carbohydrates, that Jeanne and I have been cooking them as a main dish. For this picnic, I put together a salad of dark leafy greens, carrots, red cabbage and a few tomatoes as a side dish to go with our savory muffins.

It was a cool early spring day in Massachusetts–about a month behind our Arkansas spring weather. Earlier in the week, I’d gone to a thrift store to find a light weight coat because I had not packed for cool weather. I needed that extra layer as we explored the park.

Nonotuck Park was just a few blocks from where I was staying. We wandered around relieved to be out of doors and with each other. We had a lot of catching up to do on the events in each of our lives. I carried my camera to photograph anything that caught my eye. The light filtering through the trees continued to capture my attention.

It was cool enough that when it was time to eat lunch we decided to return to the sun-warmed car and to eat together there. We continued our conversation in the warmth of the car–laughing and sympathizing about various challenges in our lives. We talked about mutual friends and shared updates about each. I was also warmed by her nurturing attitude and steady disposition. Later she asked for the savory muffin recipe which I will share at the end of this blog.

After lunch we strolled another section of the park moving across the silent pine needles. This simple bench gave us a chance to be together and enjoy our surroundings–bird voices and little traffic noise.

We were both startled when my friend pointed to a recently chewed-on-by-beaver tree directly in front of us. This was one busy beaver anxious to fell this tree for a new damn. We looked for evidence of the damn, but did not see one in the nearby area.

This beaver-destroyed tree reminded her of a city beaver damn near her home north of here. Late one evening she was returning home and was astonished to see traffic stopped in both directions as a beaver carefully crossed the highway. Her curiosity took her back in daylight and she later sent me these photos of the beaver damn beginning against the concrete support.

She wrote me that the beaver “have built 5 lodges under the interstate. The trouble in Massachusetts is it is illegal to relocate wildlife. So they either have to be trapped and killed or left alone. The idiocy of man made laws…”

Further, she called the Audubon Society and they referred her to the public works department who felt that although the beaver was seen crossing the road if they’ve lived there this long they are probably alright. They were going to “check on them” and get back to her…so she’s just waiting. She concluded, “How amazing the persistence of life.”

My artist friend took this flattering photo of me that early spring day by the lake in Nonotuk Park

That day in the park we were dining on savory muffins and savoring each other’s company while the beaver colony was resting up for their night’s adventure. Tiny rituals do hold together all of life on this amazing mother planet!

Savory Muffin recipe:

1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp gluten powder (needed to hold together)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 cup raw almond four (or blanched almond flour which has more carbs, but okay to use)
1 cup coconut flour (or paleo baking flour for a lighter muffin)
4 eggs
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)
2-3 cups packed baby spinach, roughly chopped (or kale)
3-4 tbsp sun dried tomatoes, soak briefly in hot water, then finely chopped. Save this liquid in case you need more moisture in the batter.
1/2 cut finely crumbled feta cheese
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Step 1
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners; set aside. Assemble all ingredients for easy access!
Step 2
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, gluten, salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano; set aside. In separate bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, and melted butter until blended; stir into dry ingredients just until combined (do not overmix). Fold in spinach, tomato, feta and Parmesan cheese until combined.
Step 3
Spoon into prepared muffin cups. Bake until tester (toothpick) comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes; let cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out muffins. Let the muffins cool completely and store in airtight containers and refrigerate for up to 6 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

To do your own modifications to the original recipe, check here:

POSTSCRIPT: This 1917 photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston relates to Lila’s comment below.

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