The art of quilting

I’m always fascinated by the creativity and history of a quilt. Because quilt shows are in full swing this summer (one is occurring in my home town this weekend!), I chose quilter Cindy Bacon as this week’s Friend with *Finesse.

Cindy’s journey as a quilter began nine years ago while moving her grandmother into an assisted living facility. Amongst her grandmother’s belongings was a treasure trove of shoe boxes filled with tiny quilt blocks (97 4X4 blocks to be exact). According to Cindy, these blocks were pieced together with the very fabric of her family’s life.

“The love in those blocks is what made me decide my grandmother’s quilt needed to be completed.”

Cindy’s learning curve was steep, but quilting has become her passion. She continues to learn because, “every quilt tells a story and quilting creates smiles, friendships and fond memories.”

Q: What’s the best thing about quilting?

A: Quilting provides a sense of pride and relaxation. That feeling of pride is increased if the quilts are made as gifts.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake quilters make?

A: One of the biggest mistakes in quilting is not being kind enough to yourself. The learning curve, which is LARGE, requires a lot of patience and practice. It also helps to receive assistance from new friendships formed through quilting.

Q: What’s the biggest misconception about quilting?

A: Most people believe quilting is an easy art to learn. The truth is a quilter never stops learning or teaching others the art.
Q: What are your top three tips for those interested in the hobby?

1) A ¼-inch seam is an absolute must.
2) Have sharp rotor blades.
3) Read, take a few classes and then apply the knowledge.

In addition to quilting, Cindy’s diverse hobbies include scrapbooking, RV camping, fishing, and hunting. She also admits to like “puttering” on the two acres where she and her husband of 21 years reside, as well as some garden endeavors.   They have a blended family of four children, four grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. (She’s too young be a great-grandmother, but that’s one of the benefits of a blended family.)

My quilting  finesse level:
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert

What’s your quilting finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Pulling the plug on cable

A little more than a year ago we decided to cancel our subscription to cable television. The price kept increasing and we just couldn’t see the value in the service. We were spending $60 a month, and mainly watching the local news and reruns on WGN, TBS or TNT, so we decided to pull the plug.

Before we cancelled we needed to invest in some antennas. The husband did some research and chose two that would work in our attic. The price was equivalent to our cable bill for one year, so we decided we needed to commit to being cable-free for at least that long to break even. We figured after that time we could always go back to cable, or look into satellite service if we missed having a wider selection of channels.

We’re six months past the one year mark and we aren’t even close to considering going back to cable. Every once in a while we think about satellite service when we see an advertisement, but the more we consider it, the less appealing it becomes. I miss HGTV and the husband misses his favorite news channel, but we can always catch up online if we’re having withdrawals.

An extra $60 a month may not sound like a lot of savings, but when you think of it as $720 a year it sounds more impressive. What are we doing with that extra cash, you ask? We’re livin’ life with a little more *finesse!

My saving finesse level: 
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert      

What’s your saving finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Are gray skies making me fat?

I heard a report on the news last night about a study linking insufficient levels of vitamin D to weight gain. I have to admit that my ears perk up anytime I hear of anything that might cause weight gain other than poor choices. Hey, it’s not the chocolate and lack of exercise – it’s the lack of sunshine!

The study, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, found those with insufficient levels of vitamin D in their blood gained about two pounds more than those with adequate levels of the vitamin. Two pounds?  At this point I’m thinking this isn’t really news. I can fluctuate up and down two pounds in a week easily.

According to an online article, the study involved more than 4,600 women age 65 over nearly five years. “In the group of 571 women who gained weight, those with insufficient vitamin D levels gained more — 18.5 pounds over five years — than women who had sufficient vitamin D,” said study author Dr. Erin LeBlanc, an endocrinologist at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore. “The latter group gained 16.4 pounds over the same period.” LeBlanc went on to say that although it was only 2 pounds, over time that can add up.

I’m always skeptical of studies, so I did a little math. According to the article, 78 percent (or 3588) of the 4600 study participants had a vitamin D deficiency, yet only 571 (or 12.4 percent) gained weight. If a lack of vitamin D is the reason for weight gain, then why didn’t a higher percentage of those with the deficiency gain weight? And why did a percentage of the 571 who gained weight do so in spite of having sufficient levels of vitamin D?

I’m the first to admit that I’m not a researcher, doctor or scientist, but this study doesn’t appear to prove any solid link between vitamin D deficiency and weight gain. Am I missing something? I don’t think so, but just in case I am, I think I’ll go outside and enjoy some natural vitamin D!

My wellness *finesse level: 
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert             

What’s your wellness finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

“Where did the day go” syndrome

Early to bed and early to rise may make you healthy, wealthy and wise, but it won’t necessarily make you organized. I head to bed at 8:30 p.m. and have a 5 a.m. wake up call, which most people would consider early. The simple truth is I can be distracted and procrastinate regardless of the hour. The days I’m most organized and productive occur when I follow a set schedule. Deviation from the schedule results in what I like to call “where did the day go” syndrome.

I’m not scheduled down to the minute, but I do set the following general agenda:

  • Nourishing my inner-self
    Some people call it meditation, others call it quiet time or devotions. For me it’s personal time with my God, which helps me focus on what is truly important and sets the tone for my day.
  • Exercise
    Whether it be the treadmill or Yoga and Zumba on the Wii, I feel better when I get in at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.
  • Personal care
    I try to make myself presentable for the day as if I were commuting to a place of employment. Even though I’m creating from home, I feel more professional and polished when I’ve fixed my hair, put on make-up and dressed.
    My goal is to have all this accomplished by 8:30 a.m. Some days I meet that goal, other days, well…
  • Writing
    This is my profession and my talent. I continue to write even though I’m no longer doing it to earn a paycheck. Writing keeps me creative and gives purpose to my days. My goal is to have by blog written and posted before noon.

The rest of my day is devoted to the everyday tasks such as paying bills, grocery shopping, cleaning, etc. The fact is, if I fail to follow my schedule, I can get to the end of the day and be scrambling to get even the least amount accomplished. I’m admittedly a disorganized procrastinator by nature. However, that doesn’t mean I have to live a disorganized life. I just need a little structure to help me stay on task and be productive.

My organization *finesse level: 
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert      

What’s your organization finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Including the introvert

A lot of people who know me would laugh at the thought that I can be somewhat shy, but it’s true. In unfamiliar settings with people I don’t know well (or know at all for that matter), I can be extremely shy and uncomfortable. That uneasiness has sometimes been misinterpreted as snobbery, which makes me wince because nothing could be further from the truth.

I was in one of those unfamiliar settings this past weekend when we joined the husband’s former co-workers for dinner. The majority of these people have worked for the same employer for 25-plus years, and the husband was still considered one of the newbies when he resigned after 14 years.  They frequently spend time outside of work together, so their wives are all acquainted, as well. It appears to be a very tightly knit group. Don’t get me wrong; everyone is polite, but it’s understandable that I feel a little introverted.

While I’m quite outgoing within my comfort-zone, I have a glimpse of what it feels like to be an outsider. That insight has caused me to empathize with those who tend to be shy in social settings.

I remember a classmate walking into our 20th reunion and scanning the tables for a familiar face. If I had only attended high school with her, it’s doubtful I would have remembered her. In fact, I don’t think I have a memory of her from high school at all. I don’t think we had a single class together, and I’m pretty sure we weren’t involved in any of the same activities. However, we had attended the same church for a few years. To the best of my recollection, she was the only one in her family who attended church. Her neighbors brought her to Sunday School and church every week for a number of years, although I can’t recall when she started coming or when she stopped.

I watched her for a few moments expecting she was meeting some friends, but after a while it became apparent that was not the case. I approached her and asked if I could help her find someone, but she said she wasn’t really looking for anyone in particular. She explained that she’d been living out of the area for some time and just decided to come at the last minute. I knew my group of friends wouldn’t mind, so I invited her to join us at our table, which she did.

I think this is why I still keep in contact with that group of friends from high school. They weren’t and aren’t self-absorbed. They each introduced themselves to the classmate and tried to include her in the conversations. After dinner, I lost track of her as the rest of us mingled with friends at other tables, danced, took pictures, etc. I don’t remember her saying goodbye or leaving – perhaps she found her group of friends.

Whether at school or church, my only recollection of this classmate is that she was present. It must have taken a great amount of courage to attend the reunion alone with no guarantee that her friends from decades ago would be there. It’s not important whether she remembers me or the invitation to sit at our table, but I do hope she remembers feeling included.

Using music to educate

It’s summer and many parents wonder how to keep their children engaged in learning during the school break. One answer is simple and fun – Music! This week’s Friend with *Finesse is a music teacher, musician, wife, mother, grandmother to Sienna (7), Hannah (5), Marissa (3), Jacob (almost 3) and Micah (1 ½), and my sister, Nancy Ridgeway.

Q: Why is it important for children to appreciate music?

A: Music is a universal language that relates to all subject matter, including math, science, literature, dance and visual art. For example, rhythm relates to math as each note has a value and assists children in addition, subtraction and even fractions. Additionally, some studies have shown that music may build connections between the right and left brain.

Q: What’s the biggest misconception about music education?

A: Many people believe music is a frill, and although some students may learn to appreciate music, it’s not a necessary part of the education or development of children. However, music engages children in subject matter they may otherwise find difficult or uninteresting. While students may not be interested in history, they many times are receptive to songs about history. I created an entire program on the three branches of government, which included songs like The Ride of Paul Revere. I doubt any of those students will forget that musical history lesson. While I haven’t used it in the classroom, Schoolhouse Rock is an example of using music to learn concepts in various subjects.

Q: What are your top three tips parents (or grandparents) can use to enhance their children’s musical appreciation?


1) Summer is a great time to take your children to concerts in the park or parades that include marching bands.
2) Purchase music you can listen to and sing with your children.
3) A small set of rhythm instruments should be included in toddlers toys. They will naturally make a drum out of anything available, so why not introduce them to the real thing!

My musical finesse level: 
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert   

What’s your musical finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Vacation souvenirs – a love/hate relationship

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I LOVE to travel. I love exploring new places, spending time with friends and family who live far away, and just plain getting away from the ordinary day-to-day stuff. I like remembering the places we’ve been with souvenirs, but as much as I love souvenirs, I also hate them.

My first recollection of purchasing souvenirs was when we went on a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park (one of my favorite places on earth!). I was 8 years old and with the help of my mother, picked up a jewelry box, coin purse and pennant all emblazoned with the image of Old Faithful. That vacation started a long tradition of purchasing souvenirs that now clutter my house. And it’s not just souvenirs I’ve purchased, but souvenirs my parents and grandparents brought back from their travels.

When I finally realized this needed to stop, I migrated to purchasing and requesting T-shirts. This is a better solution than storing or dusting less practical souvenirs, but they eventually wear out so the entire purpose of a souvenir is lost.

The perfect solution appeared as I was perusing the gift shop at Mt. Rushmore and came across a Christmas ornament depicting the famous monument. It hit me that Christmas ornaments are the perfect souvenir! You take them out once a year, relive fond memories as you place them on the tree and then store them away neatly with the other ornaments a few weeks later. Perfect!

Since that epiphany, I’ve purchased ornaments on our trips to Disneyland, Seattle, Seaside, the Oregon Caves, the Grand Canyon and most recently Cape Disappointment. They don’t take up much space in the suitcase, which is a plus, and they don’t clutter my house. They are the perfect souvenir and sparkling reminders of the fun places we’ve enjoyed visiting.

My souvenir *finesse level: 
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert             

What’s your souvenir finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)



Savoring summer

Maybe it’s because I live in a place that rains a lot or maybe it’s just my personality, but I LOVE the warm sunshine of summer! We’ve been especially damp this year and didn’t have much of a summer last year, so I am more than ready to embrace this change of season.

While celebrating our anniversary last weekend in Long Beach, Wash, it was a little soggy off and on, but that didn’t stop us from getting outside and doing a little sightseeing. With *finesse, we pushed on in spite of the “spittle” to explore Cape Disappointment State Park.

Our first stop was at the gun batteries and remains of Fort Canby.  Cape Disappointment was armed with smoothbore cannons in 1862 to protect the mouth of the Columbia River and was expanded to become Fort Canby in 1875. Named after General Edward Canby (killed in the Modoc Indian War), the fort continued to be improved until the end of World War II.

The fog was pretty soupy as we entered the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which is situated 200 feet above the Pacific Ocean. I’m sure the view is magnificent when the weather is clear. Large graphics and a short film allowed us to follow the journey of Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery. Overall, the center offers a good timeline of the expedition with a lot of interesting visuals and artifacts. However, it might have been helpful to have overlay maps in some exhibits, as it was a little difficult to pinpoint different events to present day locations.

Dead Man’s Cove

As we left the Interpretive Center, the weather was somewhat improved, so we decided to hike to the Cape Disappointment Light House. The trail is just that; a trail, so I’m glad we were both wearing good shoes. The old growth fir trees along the path were enormous and the mosquitos were plentiful. Along the way we passed by Dead Man’s Cove. I can’t seem to find any documented reason for the name, except that bodies of drowned sailors washed into the cove like the drift wood. 

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

The trail improves to a paved path just past the entrance to the Coast Guard station. It’s a lot of uphill walking, but pretty easy. We reached the lighthouse and the weather improved enough for us to see the ocean more clearly. We could even make out Astoria in the distance!

The day would have been more picturesque if the skies had been blue instead of gray, but at least the rain wasn’t coming down in buckets. However, I’m tired of making the best of the weather and am so glad it’s the first day of summer. Now if the weather would only pay attention to the calendar – C’mon summer!

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Vacation Dining

As part of the anniversary trip planning, the husband made dinner reservations for Friday and Saturday evening at two rather spendy restaurants by our standards.

On Friday evening we ate at Pelicano. Located on the Port of Ilwaco, the setting is very pretty. I love the water and boats (must come from spending so much time water skiing on the Columbia as a kid), so the ambiance was almost perfect. The weather was nice enough for al fresco dining and that would have made it perfect.

The husband started with the spring greens with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and sherry vinaigrette and I had the Caesar salad with garlic croutons and shaved Pecorino-Romano. Both were quite good. We ordered the Spring Chinook salmon with grilled asparagus, quinoa and lemon yogurt sauce. I’m not a big fan of asparagus, but this was delicious, and the salmon was incredible! I didn’t have room for dessert, but the husband enjoyed the Maker’s Mark Cheesecake with cherry sauce.

 We had reservations on Saturday evening at The Depot, which was offering two dinner specials; a 14 oz. rib-eye steak and a salmon fillet. We chose to order one of each and split them for a little DIY surf and turf. Both were exceptional, but the best part of the meal was the “Clamshell Railroad Clam Chowder” the husband ordered. AMAZING!

I don’t claim to be a foodie by any stretch of the imagination, but both meals were outstanding.

I was a little concerned about dining at these pricier restaurants. Normally, I’d rather enjoy one dinner and not care about the bill, then eat a much cheaper meal the second evening. However, since our breakfast was included in the price of our lodging and was so enormous that we didn’t need to eat lunch, I’m O.K. with the indulgence. I need to remember that the husband planned the entire weekend with the intent that it be special for me. And that’s what really matters!

My vacation dining *finesse level: 
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert   

What’s your vacation dining finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Memorable anniversary weekend

While planning with a limited budget isn’t the husband’s forte, he did pretty well organizing our annual anniversary trip. He was able to keep the location a surprise until we had to turn off I-205 North and head toward the coast. He’d arranged a weekend in Long Beach, Wash at Boreas Bed and Breakfast Inn.

I was somewhat surprised that he’d chosen the coast, since we’re always trying to escape the grey, cloudy, drizzle we experience too often (in our opinion) in the Pacific NW. However, when he explained his thought process it made sense. He was searching the internet for romantic hotels and resorts and then narrowed them down to those in locations we’d not been. When Boreas popped up, he was intrigued.

We’d been to a bed and breakfast inn previously and had a good time, although we did not like sharing a bathroom with other guests. Our room at Boreas, and in fact all the rooms, had a private bathroom.  We stayed in the Dunes Suite, which featured a feather-topped king bed, sky-lit private bath with a jetted tub and shower. French doors that open onto the patio, a wall of windows and skylight, made the room feel bright and airy. A hand-painted mural of the North Head lighthouse, the cliffs and the dunes of Long Beach gave it the proper “beach-y” feel without going overboard.  

The 3-course breakfasts were amazing and the portions generous. The first morning’s menu started with Pineapple Dream Coffee Cake with Toasted Macs and Boreas Berry Fruit Soup. I would have been satisfied if the meal had ended at that point, but we were also served ginger pancakes with chicken sausage. Oh, so good, but too much! The second morning we enjoyed Puff Pastry Cheesecake Tarts and cooked pineapple followed by Smoked Salmon Frittata and pan-fried potatoes.

At breakfast we had the opportunity to talk with other guests, which was interesting. The first morning we met two couples from the east coast who travel together to National Parks.  The second morning was made up of repeat visitors to the inn. Each live within a 2-3 hour drive, and have made Boreas their getaway of choice.

If I have any complaint about the inn, it was that breakfast was at 9:30 a.m., which is really late for us. We’re very early risers even on weekends and vacations and rarely sleep past 6:30 a.m., so waiting to eat for three hours was a little difficult. Because we were so full from breakfast, and our dinner reservations were at 5 p.m., we didn’t eat lunch either day. We began to get a little hungry around 3 p.m., but since we’d be eating in 2 hours, we chose to wait.

We had a lovely time, and the hosts were warm and welcoming. However, it is doubtful we’d return since we have so many other locations yet to explore. It’s my turn to plan our anniversary trip and I’ve already got a destination in mind. It’s only a year away, so I’d better get on it!