Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Worst Christmas Gift Ever???

As I was listening to a radio show, the commentators were asking listeners to call in with their "worst Christmas gift ever" memories. Of course the usual "wrong size", "ugly fabric or color", "not-my-style", and "various items termed useless junk" gifts were frequently mentioned. The conversation immediately took me to our annual Christmas party and gift exchange at our grade school, reminding me of what I had thought was "the worst gift I had ever received".

Students were asked to spend fifty cents on a gift which would be anonymously given to a fellow student. Keep in mind that this was the early 60's and you could actually find a great gift for fifty cents. The gift needed to be generically neutral - something that would be appropriate for either a boy or a girl. My mom and I shopped for my gift and settled on a "Book of Lifesavers". Ten rolls of assorted flavors of Lifesavers tucked away in a festive holiday gift book. It even contained an entire roll of Cherry Lifesavers - my absolute favorite! I was so thrilled with our purchase that if I could have chosen my own gift, I would have. But, I knew that instead, one of my classmates would hit the jackpot when they opened my gift at our party. We played games and ate treats and then when the time came, our teacher handed each of us one of the wrapped gifts from under our class Christmas tree. When we were finally given permission to open our gifts, the wrapping paper began to fly as each of us literally tore into our gift. When I opened my package, I remember my heart sinking as I discovered 3 pieces of white chalk. That was my gift. That was what I received in exchange for 10 rolls of delicious Lifesavers in a beautiful holiday book. And now - the most difficult part - how could I possibly show genuine gratitude for such a gift, knowing it was the worst gift given to anyone in the class? Well, my mom always insisted that we be thankful for whatever we received no matter what. So, that's what I did. I pretended to be happy for my gift of three pieces of chalk - even though I wasn't. I pretended that I actually needed my gift of three pieces of chalk - even though I didn't. I pretended not to mind that my beautiful holiday book of Lifesavers was going to someone else - even though I did mind. It probably took about 2 1/2 minutes for the gifts to be opened and the festivities to end - but it was actually 2 1/2 minutes of my life that I will never forget. While I was "in the moment" of opening my gift, I didn't realize that someone was watching me. Actually two people were watching me. My teacher approached me after the party and thanked me for accepting my gift graciously - even though she knew that my gift was a bit disappointing to me. That made me feel better. Later I found out that my gift came from a girl in my class who had several brothers and sisters. They were a poor family and purchasing a fifty cent gift for each of their children to take to school was nearly an impossible task. Dividing up a box of chalk between their children who would then take 3 pieces each and give them as their gift to their classmates was a true sacrifice. That little girl was watching me as well as I opened her gift. Fortunately, my mom taught me well and I passed the "how to express your gratitude no matter what you receive" test. I can now only imagine what it would have done to her, had I not been gracious. I guess that deep down, I knew that the gift that I was given was just that - a gift. A potentially negative situation actually created a good memory that I'll never forget. I have come to realize that my gift of chalk really wasn't my worst gift ever...in fact I don't believe I ever have had a "worst gift". Why? Because the words "worst" and "gift" just don't go together in my book.

Now, what does this memory have to do with Project Linus? We have had over 44,000 blankets donated to our Project Linus Chapter over the past 10 years. 44,000+ children have been blessed by the kindness and generosity of strangers. 44,000+ blanketeers have painstakingly created beautiful gifts of love that have been donated to a child with no strings attached. Each time someone donates a blanket to Project Linus and that blanket is donated to a child - an unconditional gift exchange occurs. Occasionally blanketeers are able to show their blankets to family and friends before they are given away, resulting in oohs and aahs of admiration. That feels good. Occasionally a thank you note may come our way from a blanket recipient as well. That warms our hearts. But for the most part our "gift exchange" may actually appear to be one-sided. Yet, as we all know, a very special gift exchange actually does occurs. There are always some who say that the LACK of accolades resulting from a beautiful handmade gift anonymously donated to a Project Linus blanket recipient should be termed "the worst gift ever" in this "gift exchange"? I guess they just don't understand where we're coming from...because to each of us as blanketeers, we know that our gift is not only appreciated for its beauty but also for it's healing properties, its comfort, its warmth and the love that is passed on with every stitch. Also, there's something special that touches the heart of a parent when a gift is donated to their child, anonymously. In return, the feelings of goodness, warmth and love that we feel in our hearts when our gift of a blanket begins its journey from our hands to the hands of a child makes the gift exchange complete...creating the BEST gift ever. For this, we say "thank you"!

Merry, merry Christmas and Happy Blanketmaking!
Mary

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La-La-La!

I cannot believe it! I’m so excited! It’s here – it’s FINALLY here! The Christmas season has begun! If I could pick one word to describe my elation, it would be “Hallelujah”! Now, you may wonder how I know that the opening of the Christmas season is upon us? What has made me privy to this valuable information? In fact a spark of jealousy may be ignited in you as you wonder “Why does Mary Balagna get first dibs on making this long-awaited and anticipated announcement?” Well – the reason is that I am very diligent about checking the music channel line-up on our cable television. There is a station (Channel 882) called “Sounds of the Season”. As of this weekend, the sounds of the current season were eerie Halloween tunes BUT – when I checked the line-up this morning I was thrilled to hear Karen and Richard Carpenter serenading me with “It’s Christmas Time” from their 1978 Christmas Portrait Album. And THAT'S when I came to the realization that – The Christmas Season is Here and it’s up to me to spread the word!

Now, there are those naysayers who insist that it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. Well, DUH! I KNOW that it’s not Thanksgiving yet. In fact, I’m grateful that it’s NOT Thanksgiving yet, because that would mean that the Christmas season is half over. In addition, I am so grateful for Thanksgiving - a holiday that gives me permission to offer thanks for the all of my blessings – blessings which include the Christmas season.

I often wonder how I can possibly get so excited about Christmas year after year after year. What is it that causes me to simply explode when I think about all of the upcoming celebrations, traditions, music, movies, TV shows, gatherings, etc.? I guess it’s just in my blood. I was raised with it and I raised my family with it. As a child, I loved watching “White Christmas” each Christmas eve with my Dad. I loved when my grandmother came over for Christmas Eve dinner. I loved when I sang with the grade school choir at Midnight Mass. Even today, I love reading the Christmas Story from the Book of Luke in the Bible. I love watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. I love decorating each of our 14+ Christmas trees – displayed throughout the house. I love hanging our Christmas stockings in the entry. I love my Nativity collection – each celebrating the birth of our Savior in its own special way. I love, love, LOVE the music (except for “Blue Christmas”). I love our church’s annual cookie exchange. I love holiday parties. I love Christmas sweaters and Christmas shoes. I love Linus’ soliloquy as he shares what Christmas is all about with Charlie Brown. I love the scent of Christmas Candles and Christmas Cookies and Cinnamon Rolls. I love Christmas movies and I truly believe that "It IS A Wonderful Life"! I love peace on earth and I love to offer goodwill toward all men, women and children. I really believe that most people share those same sentiments - although, I wish peace on earth and goodwill toward men would radiate from each person throughout the year, rather than simply during this season. But... we can always hope for that someday... I do know that you, our blanketeers, DO offer goodwill toward all men, women and children throughout the year. Your gifts of handmade blankets offer peace to those experiencing turmoil and crisis - and this, in turn, gives ME peace and hope. In a nutshell, this is why I love Christmas.

We still have some tickets available for our Appreciation Breakfast on December 3rd. This is a great way to become acquainted with Project Linus or introduce your friends to our organization. It’s also a wonderful way to usher in the holiday season. We hope you’ll join us as we celebrate the end to a tremendous 2009 and look forward to a banner 2010! Please e-mail mary@projectlinus.org for details on purchasing tickets.

Happy Blanketmaking!
Mary

FYI – I start listening to Christmas music on September 1.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On being grateful for the birthday rainbow!

As many of you know – October is my birthday month and on October 15th I celebrated the 13th anniversary of my 40th birthday. I always talk to my parents at 2:25pm – and thank them for welcoming me into the world during this most beautiful season of the year. I love when everyone calls, e-mails and sends me cards. I love to go out to lunch or to dinner in my own honor. I believe that the colors of autumn make it easy for everyone to remember my special day. When they see the leaves on the trees beginning to change – they know it’s Mary’s birthday month – and the fun begins! I look at the changing leaves as my own personal birthday rainbow, giving me a fresh start to each new year.

This year was a little different for me because the International Quilt Festival in Houston was held 2 weeks earlier than usual and the dates included my birthday. Project Linus was invited to host a booth during The Festival and Carol, Jane, Cheryl and I planned to be in Houston from October 12th – 18th. I have only celebrated one birthday (my 27th) without Terry since I turned 19 so I was a little sad that we would be apart. BUT – since I DO celebrate the entire month – we decided that our celebration would simply be postponed.

This year my “birthday week” was a little stressful, to say the least. Here is a brief (well, actually a detailed) rundown of the happenings. Our flight to Houston was scheduled to leave at 12:27pm from Bloomington on Monday. It was difficult to sleep on Sunday night because I was so excited about the week ahead. The Houston Quilt Festival is not only a huge and elaborate display of the most beautiful quilts that I have ever seen but it is also graced by aisles and aisles of vendors. There are so many patterns, books, tools and ideas available for sale that it’s difficult to choose where to go first and what to purchase. I could just feel my credit card jumping out of my wallet as I packed my suitcases, brief case and backpack. When we arrived at the airport, Cheryl graciously let me off at the door with the luggage while she parked the car. As I placed our suitcases near a row of chairs, I noticed that my backpack felt rather light. My purse is very small but I knew it wasn’t THAT small. When I unzipped the backpack, to my horror I discovered that my purse was not there. Panic swept over my entire body and I immediately proceeded to unbuckle and unzip each piece of luggage as I frantically searched for my purse. I then realized that while printing our boarding passes from my home computer that morning, I had taken my purse out of my backpack to make a credit card payment for the luggage we would be checking. When I zipped my backpack closed, I never put my purse back inside. As I was standing in the airport I realized that I had no ID, no credit cards, no money, no cell phone and it was 1 hour before our flight was to depart. I felt like my head was going to explode. Cheryl was still parking the car so I ran up to an innocent bystander and blurted out a request to please use her cell phone to call my husband. It was obvious to her that I was in major distress and she quickly handed me her phone. I prayed that Terry would answer the phone since the call was coming from a number he didn’t recognize – and he did. Without hesitation he said he was in the car and on his way to Bloomington (one hour away) with my purse. Cheryl and Jane soon joined me and although they were so kind and so patient – I just knew that in their minds they were probably making a mental note to NEVER travel with me again. To our good fortune, the Departure screen indicated that our flight would be 1 hour late. Phew! Terry, my husband and hero, made it in time and handed me my purse. I couldn’t have been more grateful and more relieved.

We arrived in Houston safely, had a nice dinner and went to bed. Since Carol is still on IV antibiotics for the bone infection in her shoulder, she and Kirk drove to Houston and met us on Tuesday. Kirk tirelessly unloaded the trailer which included our 200 pound Linus and all of our booth supplies for the week. After making sure all was well, he flew home a few hours later. We worked all afternoon setting up most of our booth and then decided to go to dinner. We found a wonderful Greek restaurant near our hotel in a beautiful area of Houston. Since the restaurant was across a busy thoroughfare, we decided to drive our rental car over and park in their well-lit parking garage which was patrolled by a security guard. Our dinner was scrumptious and it was so much fun dining with my good friends for a pre-birthday dinner celebration. That celebration ended on a sour note when we returned to our car to discover that the passenger window had been smashed, the car ransacked and my GPS, Carol's GPS and Carol’s purse had been stolen. We immediately called the police and Jane went back into the restaurant to notify the manager. Workers were sent out to help clean-up the glassy mess but we cautioned them not to get near the car until the police had a chance to check out the crime scene. As they were sweeping, they told us that this “happens all the time” and when questioned, the security guard said he “didn’t hear or see anything”. What an interesting observation, since he was standing in the same place he was when we arrived at the garage, in plain sight of our car.

The officer who arrived at the scene asked us all the usual questions as he wrote out his report. When we asked him if he wanted to “check out the crime scene” he casually said “No – these are professionals.” Professional what? Professional thugs? Did they attend “thugery school”? Were they awarded a diploma which graduated them from being a petty thief to a professional thief? Did this certificate of achievement give them the privilege of no longer being pursued by the authorities when they commit a crime? Good grief!

My birthday-eve, Wednesday, was basically uneventful and I was sure that since it was my birthday week, we would not have any more distractions that would take away from the celebratory spirit of the week. I was wrong. On my actual birthday, Thursday, I received a call from the mission nurse in California who told me that Alex was scheduled for surgery at 10:30am that morning. She said he had been ill and they were going to do an appendectomy. He was in a small area with an even smaller hospital and when I asked her if she knew that he had Long QT and a defibrillator she seemed surprised. Needless to say, her reaction caused me to panic and I called Terry to relay the message. He spoke with the physician and found out that they really weren't sure if he indeed did have an inflamed appendix. After several tests and a CAT scan, they decided that they would wait to see if Alex got better rather than do surgery without a definitive diagnosis. Fortunately, he did steadily improve. What a relief! (On a positive note – Alex was able to wish me a Happy Birthday!)

The rest of the week went swimmingly! We met many wonderful people from near and far and were able to spread the Project Linus word to young and old. Although some just came to take a piece or two (or 5) of candy from our candy bowl, most were very interested in our organization and how they could get involved. In spite of the difficult start to the week the finish was perfect and we were so grateful to be given the opportunity to share our message of comfort through service to so many people.

We all know that life is never perfect, but we do manage to get through our trials one way or another. When you look outside and see the beautiful fall rainbow of colors, I hope that it will remind you that no matter what trials face us throughout the year, the good times will follow and we are never alone.

Happy Blanketmaking,
Mary

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Holding on to the things we love!

I’m fascinated by the Food Network Show – "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives". If you haven’t seen it – Guy Fieri travels around the country visiting local restaurants and sampling their specialties. Now, I’m not talking about the 5 Star restaurants that we read about in Gourmet Magazine or the fashionable eating establishments across the United States frequented by celebrities. I’m talking about the Mom and Pop restaurants – those “greasy spoons” that are locally known for their mouthwatering entrees and side dishes. They are a place where, I believe, the phrase “comfort food” was coined. Guy observes as the cook (usually the owner) whips up his or her famous house specialty for him to sample. After he oohs and aahs over the delectable creation that has been prepared, he meanders through the restaurant interviewing “the regulars” as they sing the praises of the restaurant and its owner(s). The restaurant may be small, simply decorated and old-fashioned or outdated in décor yet the patrons seem to relish the fact that they always feel welcome and that they look forward to ordering their favorites from a menu that never changes.

I’m not sure why I love this show. Maybe it’s because it takes me back to some special eating establishments from my childhood. The “B&K Restaurant” on 7th Street was a favorite restaurant of our family. I always ordered the Meatloaf Dinner – and it was DELICIOUS. While we were waiting for the waitress to bring our meal, my dad would let us put a quarter in the tableside jukebox and we could pick three songs. I’m not sure if the B&K would qualify as a diner or a dive – but either way we loved it and when I think about it, it always brings back fond memories.

As for drive-ins, we loved to frequent the “Dog ‘N Suds”. On a hot summer evening my parents would load us up in the station wagon and head to the drive-in on West State Street. My mom, dad and three brothers ordered a root beer and I ordered an orange drink (I didn’t like root beer). We just loved the way the carhop delivered our order right to our car and hooked the heavy tray to the car window. Amazingly, it NEVER fell off and the window stayed intact! Somehow the sweltering heat of an August night just didn’t seem as stifling when we were sitting in the car at the Dog ‘n Suds drinking a root beer or an orange drink!

OR – maybe it could be that “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” takes me back to a place where I could basically eat anything I wanted – and I never worried about the calories or the cholesterol or the fat content or the sodium content or the carbohydrates or the sugar content. If I liked it – I ate it. If I wanted more – I ate more. (That philosophy eventually did catch up with me in a negative way as the years passed…but I’ll postpone that for another blog entry.)

Even more, however, I think the show rekindles memories of such simple yet special times in my life. When I watch Guy visit the “Big Star Diner” and eat their “Big Star Meatloaf” or hear the patrons of Ruth’s Diner sing praises about “Grandma Claire’s Macaroni and Cheese” it just makes me happy (and hungry). It’s always fun to go back in time and reminisce. The ability to recall helps us realize that things that didn’t really seem to matter at the time, do indeed matter. I think this quote from a favorite TV show says it all: “Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” (…from the television show The Wonder Years)

As for our involvement with Project Linus, when we make a blanket for a child we offer that child a good memory to physically "hold on to" in spite of the negative circumstances which surround him or her at the time. We know that Illness or trauma in the life of a child can be devastating, but the hug of a blanket can somehow buffer the agony. Eventually, the hug of that blanket can actually rekindle a positive remembrance which somehow softens the details of a nightmarish experience. Thank you for your help in making these good memories!

Well, I'm ready for dinner...meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans sure sound good! But I think I'll go with the broiled cod - that sounds good too!

Happy Blanketmaking!
Mary

Friday, September 18, 2009

Old memories creating new memories

The weather was gorgeous - not too hot - not too cold. While the sun was shining outside, the blanketeers inside were hard at work. The blue, cloudless sky and the warm balmy breezes certainly didn't give any indication as to what had just happened to our country. On 9-11-2001, we all remember that the USA was attacked in a way which was somehow very confusing and very foreign to us. Nothing like this had ever happened before and we certainly didn't ever expect it. We were pierced to our cores and each of us was scrambling to somehow do something...to somehow be of service to those in the immediate area of the attack. Our Project Linus chapter was almost 2 years old and we had a core group of volunteers numbering less than 100. Of course, when tragedy strikes, Project Linus volunteers immediately start thinking "blankets". We decided to hold a special Make A Blanket Day and were offered the gymnasium at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to hold our event. In less than a week, the newspapers had been notified, the TV station held a "pre-event" interview and advertised our event for us and over 500 volunteers attended. Local businesses paid for postage to ship the blankets to NYC and the Pentagon, school children had "fleece drives", blanketeers came with their friends and family, some donated money, some donated materials, some donated their time and we worked together, side by side, to try to bring some sense of comfort to those tragically affected. How? By doing what we do best - giving them a gift of a handmade blanket. We were all focused and we made hundreds and hundreds of blankets. It was an amazing day. We had a purpose and our purpose was accomplished.

As the sun came out on Thursday, September 17th, 2009, I couldn't help but be reminded of that MABD event in 2001. We have continued to host this Community Day of Service each fall ever since and this was our 9th Fall Make a Blanket Day. This year, we also had a focus - we made weighted blankets for children with autism. I've discussed autism and the weighted blankets on our blog previously, so I won't get into the details. What I will share with you is what I observed.
  • Almost half of our 120 volunteers were newcomers to Make a Blanket Day. What a PLEASURE it was to meet each new blanketeer! We hope you'll come back!
  • Many of our preconceived notions about what autism is and how it manifests itself in those affected were dispelled by Ashley Whittington - a representative from "The Autism Place" who gave us some background information on the children we were preparing to serve. What a wonderful and enlightening presentation. It gave each of us the boost of energy we needed to spend the day making weighted blankets.
  • Each year, Carol and Jane from National HQ always attend - bringing food, organizing the lunch buffet, cleaning up and attaching the charms everyone earned in the previous 6 months to our bracelets. This year Carol has been experiencing some set-backs following her shoulder surgery and was unable to attend. We missed her and so many of you asked me to send her your good wishes. Thank you!
  • Being the simply amazing person she is...it's not at all surprising that Jane managed to organize a meal for 120 people - single handedly. With help from the church Relief Society and our attendees - we all had an absolutely delicious meal and we are so grateful for Jane. She's always behind the scenes - and we didn't even have a chance to give her a round of applause - so this is as good of a time as any. Applause! Applause! Applause!
  • Thank you to Gayla Clawson and Elizabeth Gauthier for taking over the "charm table" and updating your jewelry. So many of you wear your beautiful Project Linus charm bracelets and necklaces to our events and it is so heartwarming to actually be able to equate your service with all of the charms you have earned! You are all amazing!
  • What would we do without such a great work area! At no cost to us, we are able to use the entire church building for our event and although there are occasions where the quarters are tight, we have such a wonderful time together - we don't even notice! When the Young Men youth group dedicates their Wednesday evening to help us set up, it warms our hearts and souls to see them offering service to us! Thank you!
  • When we decided to make the weighted blankets, Cheryl created the perfect pattern for us. It's simple - goes together quickly - and makes an adorable blanket! To see each of you attempting a new pattern and working so hard to make a beautiful blanket for a very special child is more than heartwarming. Thank you!
  • Sheets, sheets and more sheets were donated to fill the weighted blankets. Our local hospitals (DMH and St. Mary's) were so generous - giving us hundreds of sheets for our event. We saw boxes that our volunteers displayed at their churches, their work places and their schools - filled with sheets for us to use. Many of our blanketeers brought sheets they collected or purchased and other members of the community stopped by with sheets they wanted to donate. Each blanket took 12-14 sheets. When you're talking about 150 blankets - that's a LOT of laundry! In addition, if you talk to any of the ladies today who worked on the stage sorting and preparing sheets under the direction of Caroline Embleton - I know they will tell you that they never worked so hard. Imagine how you feel after you wash your bed sheets and then fold them. They folded HUNDREDS of sheets. I hope their arms are "usable" today! I'm sure they developed some muscles after yesterday's event.
  • Thank you to each of you who helped with set-up and clean-up. We couldn't do it without you. Thank you to your husbands for helping as well. Isn't it amazingly wonderful to have a spouse who is such a support! Whenever we have a Project Linus event, my wonderful husband faithfully dedicates every minute of time to help make sure everything runs smoothly. Even when the stress tends to get the best of me, his words of encouragement and love keep me keepin' on! Thank you dear!
  • Thank you to the Golden K's and the LDS missionaries for their continued support of our events. Each year they not only help set up and take down, but they carry in our heavy supplies so that we don't have to! THANK YOU!!!
  • I was so touched by stories shared by many of our attendees who have friends or family with autistic children. With the tremendous cost of purchasing a weighted blanket keeping many from reaping their benefits, we hope that our blankets will give them some comfort. Thank you to each of you who donated fabric to make a blanket - and to each of you who donated your precious time to come and help!
  • Did you read the article in the Herald and Review newspaper? What would we do without the support of reporter Theresa Churchill? The pre-blanket day news posting brought several inquiries this year. The beautiful article written by Theresa in today's paper was such a pleasure to wake up to! There is even a beautiful picture of a new blanketeer, Elizabeth Michael. Here's the link if you'd like to take a look: http://herald-review.com/news/local/article_18fa937c-3e43-5a7c-8cbe-456b4c7dca9c.html Thank you so much Theresa!

To those who were unable to attend - we missed you and hope to see you in February at the Hickory Point Mall in Forsyth (details TBA).

Thank you again to each of you for supporting Cheryl and me. We will be continuing to make weighted blankets on occasion - as they are needed. We hope to make some at our February 2010 event as well.

Our next event is our Appreciation Breakfast on December 3rd. No work - just food and inspiration as we welcome in the holiday season and thank each of you for your service to our Project Linus chapter! :-)

Happy Blanketmaking!

Mary

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Are you ready for some blanketmaking????

After a 6 week hiatus, I thought it was about time for me to update the blog. As Charlie Brown would say "Good Grief!". It certainly has been a busy summer - and I'm sure you're all asking the same question as I am - where did it go???

Well - here's a brief rundown. Following our Project Linus National Institute in June I had surgery on my feet. I was blessed with my Grandma's feet - the feet that horrified me as a child - and now have become a visual "gift" I am passing along to my own grandchildren. After nursing the aches and pains that have plagued me for about 13 years - it finally got to the point that I was unable to finish my daily run - or take a long walk - without quite a bit of pain. So - after being encouraged by a friend - I scheduled the surgery and fixed my left foot and part of my right one. Hallelujah! I'm so happy that I did it! It's been 9 weeks and although it's not perfect yet - it's MUCH better than it was 9 weeks ago and it should be in great shape by October 26th when I finish up my "lower extremity maintenance work" and repair my right foot! My wonderful daughters and grandchildren took care of me for the first week - pulling me around on my office chair from here to there, cooking for me and keeping me company. When they left, my sweet hubby took over and friends kept me company as I recovered in my chair. All in all, I have been treated like a queen. It just doesn't get any better than that! :-)

At the end of July, we had a wonderful family reunion in Wisconsin followed by a VERY brief trip to Utah to meet Jonathan's fiancee Erin. What a wonderful girl - and they make the perfect couple. We're so happy for them. (A July 10, 2010 wedding is being planned.) Then, we packed Jonathan up and helped him move to Carbondale where he began his first year of Medical School. I just returned from a trip to Ohio to visit Cari and family and here it is - the end of August already.

Which leads me to the title of today's entry: "Are you ready for some blanketmaking?" September 17th is Make a Blanket Day and it is right around the corner. We only have 70 people pre-registered (about 50 less than usual). We also have had no response to our plea for set-up and take-down help. If you are able to help us set up tables and chairs on Wednesday evening or take down on Thursday at 3:00pm - please e-mail Cheryl cherahugs@comcast.net Our Fall Make A Blanket Day is held in the gymnasium of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Decatur. We absolutely LOVE make a blanket day and are so excited to make our Weighted Blankets for children with autism this year. If you have not yet pre-registered, please do so right away by e-mailing mary@projectlinus.org We would hate to set up for 70 work stations, have food for 70 people and find that we actually have 120 people attending. Of course, you are always welcome to bring a friend. It will be a wonderful day of service for some very special children and their families. You can set-up your work area between 8:30 and 9:00 and our program from "The Autism Place" will begin at 9:00am in the chapel. A copy of the most recent newsletter is available on our google groups list with all of the details. Click here if you haven't read it yet: http://groups.google.com/group/project-linus-central-il

What to bring:
1. We are in need of twin sized sheets (any color - no jersey knit or flannel) that we will be using to "weight" the blankets. They can be used or new but must be clean. If you have larger sheets (double, queen or king) we will "serge them" to size. If you have fitted sheets, please cut off the elastic. We are also in need of 1 1/2 yard pieces of coordinating fabrics (one solid color - one kids print). The velcro will be supplied. Please make sure that your print is not "too busy" - as that can be irritating to an autistic child.
2. Please bring a dish to pass. Carol and Jane always orchestrate a beautiful luncheon for us. A few weeks ago Carol had shoulder surgery and although she still plans to be in attendance - she is unable to use her left arm and will need our help cleaning up following lunch. If we all clean up our little corner - that will be a huge help.
3. We will have charms (puzzle piece charms - the symbol for Autism awareness) for everyone in attendance. Although Carol will not be able to attach your charms - we will still have our charm forms for you to complete and charms for you to take home.
4. If you would like to attend our Appreciation Breakfast on December 3rd, we will be selling tickets. They are $10 each and space is limited.
5. Although our focus for MABD will be our weighted blankets, we will still be accepting and labeling blankets. As winter approaches our need always increases.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend as we celebrate a wonderful summer.

We'll see you at Make a Blanket Day!

Happy Blanketmaking!
Mary and Cheryl

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Let's Bring Out The Sun!

"I feel life is a journey and we all have to learn to ride the storm. For some of us it can seem more like a tidal wave, but with every storm the sun eventually comes back out." -Alyson Bradley

This is a quote from Alyson Bradley - a woman diagnosed with Asperger's Disorder. If you are not familiar with Asperger's it is a milder variant of Autistic Disorder (which is a brain development disorder). Autism is not a new term - but the questions, research and discoveries associated with autism have recently been brought to the forefront.

This year at our Project Linus National Conference, we were privileged to hear from Illinois State University Psychology Department Faculty Member Karla Doepke and Marty - an autistic young woman. Karla and Marty gave us an overview of autism and touched on the difficulties that those with this disorder experience in the "real world". Most of us found that we knew very little about autism. We also didn't know that as Project Linus volunteers, we could be of service to the children and families in our area who are dealing with autism. Karla and Marty focused their remarks on the use of a weighted blanket as a calming and comforting influence on an autistic child. Although there is no single option that is effective for every autistic child, weighted blankets are being used with very positive results. It has been shown to be very effective in giving some individuals with autism a much needed hug of comfort and in many cases a much needed restful night's sleep. Even as an adult, Marty showed us her weighted blanket that she treasures and uses regularly.

Now - when the words "blanket" and "child" and "comfort" and "hug" are connected with a child in need, our Project Linus hearts are touched and our desire to serve kicks into high gear. We just can't help ourselves. That's what we're here for...to comfort...to help...to hug...to serve. Weighted blankets are VERY expensive and most are not covered by insurance. When families are dealing with a special needs child, the costs of care, therapy and treatment can be financially devastating. So - here's our plan:

On Thursday, September 17th, 2009 Project Linus Central IL will have our Fall Make a Blanket Day at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This will not be our "traditional" Make a Blanket Day. We will begin with a program by Karla and individuals affiliated with "The Autism Place". Following their remarks we will be instructed as to how to make "weighted blankets". Then, we will go to our work stations and make weighted blankets for autistic children in Central IL. We do have some fabric specifications which I will detail in our next newsletter.

What can you do?
1. Pre-register for Fall Make a Blanket Day by e-mailing mary@projectlinus.org
2. Arrive around 8:30am to set up your work area in the gym, as usual.
3. Be in place by 9:00am to listen to our guest speakers
4. Listen to the demo on how to make a Project Linus weighted blanket
5. Help out as needed (sewing, cutting, stuffing, labeling)
6. Bring bed sheets (new or used). These will be folded and stuffed into the pockets sewn into each blanket.
7. Join us as we serve, side by side!
8. We will still have lunch, door prizes, special drawings and LOTS OF BLANKETMAKING FUN! You won't want to miss it! :-)

NOTE: With regard to the sheets, used sheets must be freshly laundered, free of any smells (musty, febreeze or similar, dryer sheets, smoke) and must be stain-free. They can be any color. Ask your friends, family, anyone you can think of to help us. Each weighted blanket needs 12 sheets (twin, double or queen sized) - if you have king size we ask that they be cut in half and hemmed. If the sheets are fitted sheets, we will need to cut off the elastic and hem the edges. We can make these alterations at MABD. If you don't have any used sheets - we found sheets at Wal-Mart for $4.00 each last February. Maybe you have a friend that doesn't sew but would like to help Project Linus - here is a perfect opportunity. Also garage sales can be a great place to find inexpensive sheets.

If we do not have enough sheets we can give the parents a blanket without sheets and ask them to purchase their own - but we would rather give them a completed blanket if possible. At this point we would like to fill an order of 300 blankets. I know it's a LARGE order, but I also know that we can do it! We don't have to make them all at our Make a Blanket Day - but we can make a great start.

Usually, by the end of the summer, Cheryl and I are very low on blankets and need to have a Fall MABD in order to replenish our supply. For some reason, this year that is not the case. Our blanket supply is very abundant and we know that it is because we have another special mission for our fall MABD.

We hope that you will plan to attend. We hope that you will ask friends and family to donate clean laundered sheets (without holes or stains or smells) for you to bring with you.
We need volunteers who would be willing to be "sheet storage and drop-off locations" for us. With all of the blankets that Cheryl and I have, we just don't have room for any more. If you may be able to help us in that area, please let us know.

Cheryl and I are VERY excited about this project. We hope you will be too. Let's see if we can "bring out the sun" in the lives of some very special children and families.

Thanks so much for your help and your support!
Happy blanketmaking!
Mary and Cheryl


Sunday, June 28, 2009

What's our secret?

As of June 21, 2009 it's officially summer and we just completed our National Project Linus Institute in Bloomington IL. What an amazing weekend! We had Project Linus Chapter Coordinators and their assistants attend from across the country for 4 days of instruction, inspiration and fellowship. It is always amazing to me to be a part of the excitement as we gather together to share our passion for Project Linus.

When I am speaking or answering questions in a break-out session, I often share information about our local chapter and volunteers with our national audience. In addition, our attendees actually have been able to meet some of our chapter volunteers at our Expo on Thursday. During Institute, I enjoy relating stories of the tremendous volunteer spirit in our Central IL chapter. On many occasions I have coordinators tell me how impressed they are with our Central IL volunteers and ask me what our secret is. From my perspective, I see each of us with the same desire to serve others, standing side by side - anxious and able to respond to a need when it arises. But I know that it's more than that. Is it the friendships we have created as a result of our dedication to Project Linus? Is it because Project Linus gives us a reason to get behind a sewing machine or pick up our knittning needles/crochet hooks or rotary cutters? Is it because we feel the need to serve others and Project Linus fills that need? What is it?

So - I would like to know what it is that keeps you coming to our Make a Blanket Days, our Appreciation Breakfasts, participating in our special projects such as Camp Coco or TAPS, helping out at conference or just making blankets? Why do you do it? Please leave a comment by e-mailing me. Let me know what keeps you interested and motivated so that I can pass that information along to our chapters?

I know my posting is short. I'm exhausted and ready for my post-conference (institute) nap.

Have a wonderful week and happy blanketmaking!

Mary

Sunday, June 14, 2009

10 Blanketmaking Tips

June is an EXTREMELY busy time of year for me with Project Linus Conference (now called Project Linus Institute) right around the corner. Project Linus Institute is an event for our Project Linus Chapter Coordinators from across the country to gather together for blanketmaking inspiration, chapter training and fellowship with other coordinators. The coordinators then take what they have learned and share it with their local chapter volunteers. In just over a week, we will be in Bloomington setting up for our 4 day event. On Wednesday June 24th we will have classes and our opening reception. Thursday is our EXPO, Friday is our business meeting and Saturday is our Symposium. As we come into the home stretch of our preparations, I have been gathering some blanketmaking tips for my presentation for Friday. Here are a few things that I've learned:

1. Bath Scrunches: These wonderful little items are great to clean off your rotary cutting
mat. After many uses a cutting mat tends to collect tiny bits of thread. Rubbing a bath scrunchy over it will pick up a lot of these loose threads.

2. Scrappy Binding: Save the leftover strips from your quilt bindings and join them together until you have enough to bind another quilt. Using them on a Project Linus Quilt enhances the fun "kid-friendly" look of the finished project.
3. Quick and Easy Tying Solution: When tying a quilt, thread the needle with yarn or crochet thread and then, rather than cutting and recutting yarn from the spool or skein, simply pull the yarn through as you make your stitches at 6” increments across the quilt. You can easily stitch across the quilt - then cut your yarn half way between each "tie", tie them off and begin a new row. This eliminates the constant stopping to cut more yarn and makes this step much faster and easier.
4. Wind several bobbins before going to a class or Make a Blanket Day. You may want to consider purchasing pre-wound bobbins. This saves a lot of time and you don't need to continually thread and re-thread your machine when you run out of bobbin thread. I purchase my pre-wound bobbins at http://www.superiorthreads.com/ They last much longer than the bobbins I wind myself, the thread is of excellent quality and I think they're worth the price.
5. Stay Put Rag Squares: If you like to make rag quilts you may have found that you keep getting uneven seams on the squares. Part of the problem may be the need to regulate the pressure foot - but many machines will not allow you to do this. If you are sewing from corner-to-corner (on the bias) you may have discovered that pins just won't hold. Try using the quilter's basting spray. Spray both sides of the batting before making your "sandwich". This will keep the fabric from slipping and you will end up with even seams on all of your squares.
6. How to Sew a Straight Line on your fabric: Use painters purple tape. Just place the tape where you want your sewing line to be, then place the edge of the presser foot beside it and away you go. The tape can be replaced several times before losing it's tackiness, but it will leave nothing behind on the fabric.
7. Stray threads: Keep a piece of flannel or a small square of leftover fleece by your machine. When you snip the threads, put them on the flannel. They will stick to the flannel and not fly all over.
8. Easy roll binding: When binding a quilt, often times the binding starts to get tangled (or even caught under the wheels of your sewing chair when you're not looking). Try rolling the binding around your finger and when completely rolled up place it into a sealable plastic sandwich baggie. Seal the baggie and put a slit in the bag just under the seal ,(just large enough for the binding to fit through easily). Then put the baggie in your lap. As you sew and need more binding it automatically just slides right out... no twisting or catching.
9. www.Youtube.com and blanketmaking: Did you know you can get some great quilting, crochet and knitting videos online at YouTube.com? Check it out by going to www.youtube.com and doing a video search for "quilt" or "crocheting" or "knitting" to get all the current instructional videos. You can get more specific in your search by typing in "foundation piecing tips" or "how to double crochet" or "how to machine applique". Just ask your question and see what comes up!
10. Crocheting Chain Three Alternative: Crochet patterns always say "Chain Three" when you begin a row. Many crocheters do not like the look of that chain so here's an alternative: Yarn over twice then go through the intended space and work it like a double crochet. It works great and no one can tell where you began.

There are many more great tips out there - but here's 10 to get started!

Have a wonderful week and Happy Blanketmaking!
Mary

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Scheduling our priorities

I love the quote by Steven R. Covey: "The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities."

It's hard to believe that it's already June and the first day of summer is right around the corner. Since Project Linus ranks very high on my priorities list, I try to make sure that all of our major events are on my calendar early in the year.

January - February is always reserved for National Make a Blanket Day and its preparations. For those of you who are new to our chapter - this is an event at the Hickory Point Mall in Forsyth - held on a Saturday in February - where approximately 200 of our chapter volunteers gather together to make blankets. It's a lot of fun and a great way to meet new friends with similar interests while serving the children of our community. We have door prizes and lunch and new ideas and new patterns and a whole host of blanketmaking inspiration throughout the day.

Once Make a Blanket Day is over, I focus most of my attention on our National Project Linus Institute. This is a four day event that is held in June, in Bloomington IL for our chapter coordinators from across the country. Many of our Central IL volunteers help with this event and it seems like each year it gets bigger and better.

Then, I try to take a bit of a break in July, followed by August which brings about preparations for our Fall Make a Blanket Day. On a smaller scale, this event is held during the week - usually a Thursday - at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Decatur. We have about 120 volunteers and share a day together making blankets, listening to blanketmaking demos, door prizes and sharing lunch together.

In October I assume my National responsibilities and travel with Carol to the Houston International Quilt Show and Market for just over a week of general networking for our National organization.

November is reserved for Thanksgiving which is immediately followed by our Chapter Appreciation Breakfast the first week in December. Of course, birthdays, anniversaries, church responsibilities and family vacations are intermingled between the Project Linus events for the year. In addition, I always make sure that there's some time set aside for quilting! When the new year arrives, I find that I have basically the same agenda!

So, here's our Project Linus schedule for the rest of 2009 if you'd like to schedule these events as a priority on your calendar:

September 17th: Make a Blanket Day (pre-registration requested)
December 3rd: Appreciation Breakfast ($10.00) Pre-paid reservations required

We are pleased to announce that in the summer of 2010 we will be once again, making quilts for Camp Coco. We took some time off to re-group and hope that you will help us with this wonderful cause once again. In 2008 we had a very difficult time gathering enough quilts needed for all the kids at camp - which is why decided that our blanketeers were sending us a message that they needed a break. We hope that there is a renewed interest in helping out at Camp Coco and that we can get many of you interested in making a quilt for these great kids. For those of you who are not familiar with Camp Coco, it is a camp held each year near Bloomington IL for children who either have cancer or have a sibling with cancer. Here is the link to their website: http://www.siumed.edu/foundation/campcoco.htm Camp Coco has expanded its focus for 2010 and will be needing 160 quilts (quilts only - no fleece, crocheted or knitted blankets) by mid June, 2010. We ask that the quilts be no smaller than 40" x 55" - 60" and up to 72" in length. There are older teens who attend camp and they will need the larger blankets. Camp Coco prefers quilts with a outdoor or camp theme that would be appropriate for either a boy or a girl. If you make a quilt for Camp Coco you are welcome to take it to a drop-off location any time prior to mid June 2010. It needs to be bagged separately and labeled "Camp Coco" on the outside of the bag. For those of you who work on a camp quilt, you are eligible for a "campfire charm" as well. THANK YOU for your help!

I hope that you will take some time, not only to schedule your Project Linus priorities, but to schedule some time for your family as well as some time for you.

Happy Blanketmaking!
Mary

Friday, May 22, 2009

Measure twice...cut once! Measure TWICE...cut ONCE!

Although measuring twice and cutting once is excellent advice, for some reason I have always gravitated more toward: "Measure once, cut once, check size of piece that has been cut, realize it's wrong, throw it away, measure again, cut again, re-check size and hope it's right. Repeat as needed." Now, I must admit that I have wasted a lot of fabric and time with my "do-over" method and I often wonder why, after 30 years, I still tend to balk at the "measure twice" method. I'm not sure if I think that I'm perfect and don't NEED to measure twice - or if I'm actually lazy and don't want to take the time to measure twice - or if I'm always in a hurry and just don't have the time to measure twice. Whatever the reason - I just wanted to share with you that, unfortunately, "I did it again!"

I have been working on a Block of the Month quilt that has been designed and presented by the Decatur Quilter's Guild evening group this year. The block for this month was a bit complex and we received excellent instruction at our last meeting. Mary T., one of our guild members and an excellent quilter, demonstrated how to make and sew together 45 degree diamonds. She has stressed precision piecing and each month encourages us to try something new. I have truly enjoyed learning new cutting and piecing methods and the hands-on experience that comes with making the block. Mary showed us how to cut the diamonds, mark them with pencil, pin them along the sewing line (rather than perpendicular to it) and then she demonstrated how to carefully stitch the pieces together while gently slipping the pin out of the fabric as the needle approached it. I wanted to give it a try! Now, you would think that since I can be very fanatical about my points matching and my blocks laying flat, I would ALWAYS measure twice before I actually cut my beautiful fabrics...

Well, once again, I only measured once and here's what happened:

I had been asked by one of the leaders of our church women's group to design and make a quilt block for a special quilt that was being made. Since the backing fabric was given to us, the square either had to be embroidered (don't know how...don't want to learn); written on with fabric markers (I have TERRIBLE handwriting - in fact I got a well-deserved C- in handwriting in the 3rd grade and my writing has never improved.); or applique. Applique is artwork - it is more than just making a precision-cut quilt block - and just not my forte. BUT - it was really my only choice.

I decided to make a Tree of Life block. I found a beautiful pattern in a book called "Big Block Quilts by Magic" that used 45 degree diamonds to make the tree. Lo and behold - I just LEARNED how to make PERFECT 45 degree diamonds! I was very anxious to give it a try. The block dimensions in the book made a tree that was larger than the piece of background fabric that I was given, so I needed to scale it down. In addition the block was pieced and really didn't lend itself well to applique. BUT - I was feeling pretty ambitious and decided to use the new method I learned at my guild meeting and then applique the finished tree to the background fabric square. How hard could it be??? I measured the size of the background fabric, measured the size of the tree I needed, divided out the measurements and came up with the size of the diamond that I needed. I cut out 34 diamonds and a tree trunk - and sewed them all together. It was PERFECT! When I placed the tree on the background fabric I was simply devastated to see that my tree was about 3 inches larger than the background square. ARGHH!!!!! An entire morning spent on making my beautiful tree of life, and NOTHING to show for it.

So, as per "Mary B.'s do-over Method" I measured again, cut again, re-checked size and - yes - it was right. Whew! I stitched each diamond together, then cut little diamonds of freezer paper and ironed them to the inside of the points. I turned under the edges of each "tree point", basted the raw edges down, sprayed the tree with sizing, removed the basting stitches and papers, and machine appliqued it down.

Here's a picture of the finished block.
I think there are many times that we're happy with the status quo. We use our old methods because they're tried and true - even though there may be other methods out there that are easier, more accurate and fun. I could have cut templates for my diamonds and stitched them together, but with Mary T.'s encouragement at guild meeting, I tried something new and guess what? It worked!

In revisiting my reasons for not measuring twice and cutting once...I really don't think I think I'm perfect (I KNOW I'm not), I don't believe I'm lazy (although I have my moments), and I would never try to hurry up on a quilting project. I think that the reason I don't remember to measure twice is that I just get so excited to try something new, that I simply forget. After this most recent fiasco, will I remember to measure twice and cut once next time? Hmmmm....I'll certainly try, but there are no guarantees.

On a side note - my mom and dad were married on May 30th (Memorial Day), 1953. They will be celebrating 56 years of marriage on Saturday. Congratulations Mom and Dad!

Happy Blanketmaking and Happy Memorial Day!

Mary

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Our Spark Has Been Rekindled!

I'm a little late writing my blog entry for this week. Carol and I have been at Quilt Market in Pittsburgh PA, helping to introduce a new Project Linus fabric line to the quilting world! What a marvelous experience it has been. We are so grateful to Richard Gross, the president of Avlyn Fabrics and Patrick Lose, a well know fabric designer, for taking a leap of faith and creating a fabric line for Project Linus called Komfort Kids. As we watched the Avlyn sales representatives as well as the fabric distributors from around the country write order after order for our beautiful fabric, we couldn't have been more excited to see how successful this venture is proving to be! We cannot wait to get our hands on the fabric (probably in July), and actually make some quilts! We hope you feel the same. In addition, Fons and Porter Magazine will have a Project Linus "Komfort Kids" spread in their next issue. There is a contest that will be introduced and the prizes are absolutely phenomenal. You can work as an individual or as a group and I'll post again as soon as I am able to send you all of the details.

Please click on this link to view Avlyn's Komfort Kids promotional video: http://avlyn.com/gallery/video/7/

Please click on this link to view Patrick Lose's blog and then click on New Fabrics to see Komfort Kids: http://www.patricklose.net/

Komfort Kids is such an appropriate name for a line of Project Linus fabric. We know that the gift of a handmade blanket offers comfort to children going through a difficult time and this new fabric has truly captured the essence of what we're all about. What an honor it continues to be as we work with these kind, extremely talented and generous individuals!

Not only does a child receive comfort from a Project Linus blanket, but the family members benefit as well. The following thank you note was sent to Project Linus by a mom whose child received one of our blankets. She writes: “The other day my son was hospitalized due to his cancer returning. He is three years old, and has been fighting cancer since December of 2007. This time was a lot harder on him as they found it in his spinal fluid and brain this time. At the hospital he was given a quilt made by one of your angels. He has not let it out of his sight. I cannot thank you enough for the work you do. Just know this is one mom that will spread the same love. I would like to donate once I can, and I have asked others.”

The beauty of this note is that in spite of the heartache and difficulties that are currently enveloping this family, the mom still felt the need to take the time to write us a personal note. Not only did she thank us for the Project Linus blanket that is now offering comfort to her little boy but she also to offer to help us in the future. Her beautiful expression of gratitude not only warms our hearts, but touches our souls and as Project Linus blanketeers we are inspired by the sincerity of her words.

Albert Schweitzer said: “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within each of us.” The touching words of gratitude that are passed along to us through a simple thank you note, rekindles OUR light and inspires us to make yet another blanket for yet another child in crisis. For the mom, the blanket has been the “spark” sent out from a stranger to rekindle her flame – giving her family hope and a reason to forge on. What an inspirational cycle of hope – and each of us can participate!

There are many times in our daily lives that we may feel as if our light is going dim. We may be overwhelmed with tasks and responsibilities; we may have health problems that are getting us down; we may be dealing with difficult family issues or we may simply be losing our way. An expression of gratitude offered to us can quickly and easily rekindle our flame, enabling us to extend the same act of love to someone else.

It is my hope that your blanketmaking light will be rekindled by the illuminating spark offered by those individuals mentioned above. I offer you my sincere thanks for your continued support of our Project Linus Chapter. Each blanket you make keeps my light bright – and each delivery that I make does the same for a very special child and his or her family.

Happy Blanketmaking,
Mary


Friday, May 8, 2009

Dreams do come true!

When I was in grade school, one of my dreams was to purchase a sewing machine. My grandmother had a beautiful sewing machine in a brown wooden cabinet and on one occasion she opened it up and let me look at it. That’s all it took - I knew that I wanted my own. I had a paper route and although I didn’t make much money, I knew that if I saved every penny I made, I could eventually purchase my very own sewing machine. When I had saved $100 I visited the local Bernina dealer - ready to make a purchase. I very quickly learned that I couldn’t even afford the foot pedal of a Bernina. In fact, the cheapest machine they had was a used Kenmore sewing machine in a cabinet for $150.00 and I was still $50.00 short. I was devastated. I talked to my grandmother about it, and she agreed to advance me the additional money I needed to purchase the machine. It was blue and it was BEAUTIFUL and I was ready to make something. My mom, on the other hand, thought that sewing was a waste of time and money, and refused to let me waste my time or my money on my new found hobby. That didn’t stop me. At night, when everyone was either watching TV or sleeping, I would quietly retreat to my bedroom and secretly practice my sewing. (Yep - I was a rebellious, out-of-control teen - that's for sure!) I was sure that I could finish a project, present it to my Mom, and she would applaud my hidden talent and encourage me to make more! But, realistically speaking, most (in fact all) of my secret sewing projects didn't quite come out the way I had hoped. Why? I needed to take sewing lessons. Convincing my mom was not easy, but eventually she relented and allowed me to take a summer school sewing class at the local junior high school where I made a simple blue dress. In the end, somehow one armhole came out smaller than the other and the finished dress was a disaster that I never wore. I almost accepted the fact that Mom was right - sewing was indeed a waste of time and a waste of money.

When I became interested in quilting, it wasn’t as popular as it is today – in fact it wasn’t popular at all. My quilting curiosity was born when I came across a book with black and white pictures of quilts – no instructions on how to make one – just pictures and historical descriptions. I thought they were just beautiful and wanted to give quilting a try. I bought the book and planned my quilt. With 3 pieces of fabric I was ready to create my masterpiece. I cut the fabric into hundreds of little pieces – squares, triangles, rectangles – not even realizing that I needed to have a seam allowance added to each piece in order to sew them together. When I tried to sew the first two pieces together my sewing machine literally devoured the tiny pieces and hid them somewhere under the throat plate. I was so discouraged and so disappointed. I packed up all my fabric shapes and put them in a shoe box. I hid the box in my closet and decided to give up quilting “for a time”.


Then, in the late 70’s I bought a Good Housekeeping Magazine that had a log cabin quilt on the front of it, with “quilt as you go” instructions. EUREKA!!! It was at that moment that I knew I could make a quilt. My confidence was restored and I approached quilting with a new vigor! The Good Housekeeping instructions were very easy to follow and I made 2 twin sized log cabin quilts out of red, blue, green and yellow calico fabrics, with a solid red backing. I thought they were BEAUTIFUL and I gave them to my mom. She loved them and used them for years until they literally fell apart.

Since then, I have made quilts for my children, my relatives, my friends; for raffles, for auctions, for contests and now for Project Linus. I’ve had many, many sewing machines since my first Kenmore, including a Bernina! I have a treadle machine, a Featherweight, an embroidery machine, a Janome that automatically cuts the thread and my dream of all dreams - a long arm machine! It’s my philosophy that you just can’t have too many sewing machines.

My mom is now very supportive of my quilting. Since I REALLY never was a rebellious child or teenager – she says that the fact that she did all she could to discourage me from sewing is what led to my obsession with quilting! I agree and give her full credit! I also thank her from the bottom of my heart! I have found a hobby that takes me to a very special place each time I sit down at my machine. Quilting gives me a way to offer comfort to those in need, a way to express myself and a way to let my family and friends know how much I love them. How many hobbies can cover that many bases?

On this Mother’s Day, I am reminded that I have the most wonderful mom in the whole world, the best children and sons-in-law and grandchildren anyone could ask for, as well as a loving husband who literally supports me and all that comes with my “quilting habit”. This special day dedicated to mothers reminds me that I am blessed in more ways than I can count. I love each one of them with all my heart. Because of each of them, my dreams have come true! It just doesn’t get any better than that!


Happy Blanketmaking!
Mary

Friday, May 1, 2009

Twittering Away – As Time Goes By…

Twitter, Twittering, Tweet, Tweets and followers...are we talking about bird noises and bird watchers? No – believe it or not, we’re talking about a 21st century method of human communication. As we all know, each new bit of technology brings about a whole new lingo that accompanies it and I’m DETERMINED to keep up with it all. IMing, facebook friends, chats, blogs, iPods, cell phones, and even e-mail were words with definitions that were non-existent 20 years ago and now are common terms that have been added to our vocabulary. Then, in 2006 another new term entered the English Language: Twitter.

For those of you who may not know, twittering is an instant messaging service that allows you to communicate with the world by typing a message on your cell phone or computer using 140 characters or less.

Here’s how it works: The “twitterer” (you) answers the following question: What are you doing right now? Your answer to this question is called a “tweet” which you send as an instant message once you subscribe to the free twitter service. When someone either reads or replies to one of your “tweets” – they are one of your “followers”. According to published reports, everyone who is anyone twitters. Clergy are twittering their church services; health officials are twittering about the swine flu; experts are twittering about their areas of expertise; philanthropists are twittering about their causes; and politicians even twittered during the president’s speech.

So far, I don’t have a twitter account and I don’t tweet but with all the hoopla going on about it, I thought I should check it out.

Here’s what I found out: The twitter.com website says that “with Twitter, you can stay hyper–connected to your friends and always know what they’re doing.” This posed a couple of questions in my mind: Do I REALLY want to be hyperconnected to my friends and always know what they’re doing? Do I really want to have “followers” who are hyperconnected to me and always know what I’m doing??? Now, I admit that there may be people out there who would like access to "what I'm doing right now." I could tell them when I took my vitamins this morning or how empty my gas tank was when I filled it up. They may even be interested in the fact that I beat my high score on Brick Breaker while I was waiting for my flight in the airport on Sunday. OR – better yet – I’m sure everyone would like to know that I bought new ruler, some fabric, a few patterns and a pattern book when I visited “Quilt Country” while in Dallas last week! Of course, the escapades and accomplishments of my adorable grandchildren are fodder for a plethera of tweets, and news of the next quilt I plan to make is always a highlight. Yes – I do live a very exciting life and I probably should tweet on occasion to let the whole world in on all the excitement instantaneously. Why make anyone wait for an e-mail or a new weekly blog posting? What else do I have to do? I mean...I could spend all my leisure time twittering away…as time goes by…


On second thought, maybe I’ll put “twittering” on hold for now and put my new ruler to good use. I think I’d rather be quilting away…as time goes by.
Happy Blanketmaking!
Mary

PS - We got a new kitty this week! Her name is Sadie and she is a rescued cat who started her life 6 months ago in a shed. When she was found she was in very bad shape and her foster mom nursed her back to health. She’s very sweet, very loving and we are already crazy about her - and she did a great job posing for her photo!


Friday, April 24, 2009

There is "Good Grief"!

Grief is defined as "keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret." If you've experienced any type of grief in your life, I'm sure you will agree that experiencing grief is something that we do not welcome nor do we embrace. We would never consider looking forward to it, we would not wish it upon anyone else and if it does grace our doorsteps, this unwanted guest is never warmly received or welcomed into our lives.

Charlie Brown, however, is famous for his exclamation "Good Grief!" which prompts the question - how could grief possibly be good? Well TAPS (the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) has given us a special opportunity to help attach "good" to "grief". We as Project Linus blanketeers, are able to touch the lives of children who have lost a parent while serving in the military by making blankets to be given to children attending "Camp Good Grief". Bonnie Carroll, founder and chairman of TAPS quotes the organization's motto: "Remember the love, celebrate the life, and share the journey." She states that "TAPS provides a place for understanding, sharing, and comfort for the families experiencing the traumatic and sudden loss of a loved one serving in the military. We honor the sacrifice of those we have lost, by caring for those left behind."

This is the third year that Project Linus Central IL will be sending patriotic-themed blankets to Camp Good Grief. We thank you and the children who receive your blankets thank you! At camp, the children will gain their own age-appropriate peer support network and learn coping strategies for dealing with loss through educational activities. As part of the five-day camp, they are allowed to choose a Project Linus blanket. It's a wonderful way for us to offer a huge thank you to these children and their families for the service rendered by their loved one as they cope with the grief they're experiencing.

We also want you to know that you can earn a charm (American flag) if you participate in making a blanket for Camp Good Grief. Whether you make a blanket on your own or participate in a group TAPS effort, you can still earn a flag charm!

We are not looking for hundreds of blankets to be sent to Camp Good Grief from Central IL. Chapters across the country will be participating and our chapter has committed to sending 15-30 blankets. We really want to stress "quality" blankets rather than a huge "quantity" of blankets and ask that the blankets are made with patriotic colors and patterns. Blankets can be delivered to Cheryl between now and May 10th. Blankets will be shipped on May 11th. Blankets received after May 11th will not be shipped to the camp, but will be given to children locally.

My son-in-law, James, is a Captain in the U.S. Air Force. We are so proud of him and his service to our country. We know the tremendous sacrifice he and his family give to each of us, each day. Many of you either have served, or have family members who have or are currently serving our country. Some of you have experienced the grief that accompanies the loss of your family member - and can truly empathize with the children who attend Camp Good Grief. Our hope is that there will come a time that Camp Good Grief will no longer be needed. Until that moment, Project Linus blanketeers are here to do what we do best - comfort and support those who are grieving by giving them a little "good" to accompany that grief. Thank you for your kind hearts and giving spirits.

Have a wonderful week and happy blanketmaking!

Mary

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I LOVE Project Linus...for many reasons.

Yes, I do! I love Project Linus. The secret is out! There's no doubt about it. I do. I LOVE it! I really couldn't list every reason why I love Project Linus in this tiny space, but the following are just a few of the many reasons why I LOVE Project Linus!

First of all, I LOVED being able to construct the mystery quilt with you! After 5 weeks, the mystery has been revealed (the finished quilt is pictured below) and the name of the quilt is “I Love Project Linus”. After all that you’ve accomplished on the mystery quilt (or HOPE to eventually accomplish), I hope you agree! In the process, I hope you’ve challenged yourself. If you’ve never matched the corners of a nine-patch, if you’ve never attempted appliqué or even if you’ve never made a quilt before – I hope this has inspired you to at least try. Before I continue with my litany of Project Linus Loves, let's finish up the Mystery Quilt. As you know, this is the final week of construction. You will be assembling the blocks and adding your border.

STEP 1

As you sew the blocks together, make sure that you match up the point of the corner of your snowball block (1/4" from the edge) with the blue-white or green-white corner of your 9-patch block (1/4" from the edge). I find that placing a pin straight through these points secures the corners and matches the points. (Click on picture to make it larger.)

STEP #2

I know that a first look at this step appears to takes you back to High School Algebra Class but if you read it slowly and carefully - you'll see that these equations actually CAN be applied and used in the real world. (No offense to my Algebra teacher Sister Delores.)
Here we go: Assemble blocks by fours and sixes (Row 1 Block 1 plus Row 1 Block 2) + (Row 2 Block 1 plus Row 2 Block 2); followed by (Row 1 Block 3 plus Row 1 Block 4 plus Row 1 Block 5) + (Row 2 Block 3 plus Row 2 Block 4 plus Row 2 Block 5).

OR - a picture can be worth a thousand words... (Click on picture to make it larger.)

STEP #3 and STEP #4

Connect the two sections that you made in Step #2 together and continue on to Rows 3 and 4, 5 and 6 and end with Row 7. Add the side borders first and then the top and bottom borders – and your quilt top is done! (Click on picture to make it larger.)

STEP #4

In order to finish your quilt, you will need five – 2 ½” strips of fabric to make the binding and 1 ½ yards of backing and batting. If you're not familiar with "mitering corners" when you bind your quilt, please check out the following set of instructions. It walks you right through a simple six step process, and you will end up with clean, crisp mitered corners.

Click here: http://quilting.about.com/od/bindingaquilt/ss/mitered_binding.htm


STEP #5

When you’re finished with your quilt, please e-mail me a picture (mary@projectlinus.org) and I will post all of the finished Mystery Quilt photos in our Chapter Pictures flickr site and we’ll let the world know (or at least our part of the world) that there are many people who are happy to advertise “We Love Project Linus!” I decided to challenge myself by using some new quilting patterns, rather than my usual overall-meandering. I found myself "frogging" (rip-it; rip-it; rip-it) SEVERAL times, but eventually I finished the quilt and I think it came out o.k.

Here it is:The Litany of Project Linus Loves continues...

Here’s another reason I LOVE Project Linus! I hope you all received the chapter newsletter with information on the new fabric line “Komfort Kids” made especially for Project Linus. Fabric designer Patrick Lose and Avlyn Fabrics worked with Project Linus to create these absolutely beautiful fabrics! The fabrics are not available in the retail stores yet –first we need to let our local fabric stores know that if THEY purchase it for their shops, WE will buy it!

Here’s a link to view the fabric line: http://avlyn.com/collections/komfort-kids_latest/ You can look at the fabrics on the Avlyn website (www.avlyn.com) but only fabric shops can order from this site.

Carol and I attended Quilt Market in Houston last October and met Patrick Lose. As soon as he saw us, he said that he and his co-workers are avid supporters of Project Linus on a local level and would love to do more for us. We had already been meeting with Avlyn fabrics about a Project Linus fabric line. Patrick created the absolutely adorable designs and Avlyn fabrics is putting these designs on fabric. We hope that you will all encourage your favorite fabric shops to order the Project Linus “Komfort Kids” fabric line and that you will purchase it when it arrives! The fabrics will be available for purchase by August 2009 – maybe sooner! Patrick Lose and Avlyn fabrics LOVE Project Linus!

In addition - a challenge quilt contest with GREAT prizes will be announced by Fons and Porter in an upcoming issue of their magazine as well! Why? Because Fons and Porter LOVES Project Linus too!

I also LOVE all of our Project Linus volunteers. We have 301 people on our Project Linus e-mail list and 176 on our snail mail list. I hope that each person on our list also LOVES Project Linus and wants to remain on our list. Unfortunately – when I have recently tried to e-mail our newsletter or blog updates to our e-mail list, I have been labeled as a spammer by many of your servers. I have had to separate e-mails by servers (AOL, Comcast, etc.), send multiple e-mails (with 50 or less in each mailing) or simply send e-mails “one at a time”. In the process I know I have missed some of you and some of you are unable to receive my messages altogether plus it takes a lot of extra time to do this. I decided to try a “google groups” message service.

Everyone on our Project Linus e-mail list has been sent an invitation to receive e-mails from me through a google list address. If you would like to continue to receive e-mail messages from me and our chapter, you will need to reply to the invitation and then you will be added to the list. So far, I sent 301 invitations and only have 68 replies. I hope that doesn’t mean that 233 of those on my e-mail address list are no longer interested in Project Linus. If you have not replied to the invitation, please do so right away. You will be automatically added to the list.

There are many advantages to being a part of the Google List. I already have downloaded a copy of the most recent chapter newsletter. That way, if you are unable to receive attachments to your home or work e-mail addresses, you can go to this site and view the newsletter. I will also download all the steps for the mystery quilt and post them as well. Some of you receive the e-mail newsletter as well as a newsletter by mail. If you would consider giving up the snail mail newsletter and simply get the e-mail newsletter, please let me know via e-mail. Technology is wonderful as it continues to evolve but in order to take advantage of the current technology we need to keep up. If you have not received an invitation to the google list or if you deleted your invitation, please let me know and I’ll be happy to send you another one! Thanks!

In summary – I LOVE the Mystery Quilt, I LOVED your e-mails of support when we lost our kitty, I LOVE the new Project Linus fabric line, I LOVE the new google groups list which will make my life much easier, I LOVE each of you – our Project Linus volunteers and I truly do LOVE PROJECT LINUS!

Have a wonderful week and Happy Blanketmaking!

Mary

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We thought we just really weren't "cat people"...

19+ years ago, a 6 month old Tabby cat was dropped off in our neighborhood. Since the person who had her didn’t want her, she was left on her own to find herself another home. She worked her way from house to house trying to coax someone along the way to take her in. No luck. Finally, she found shelter under our backyard deck - but we didn’t want a cat, because we just weren’t “cat people”. She really seemed to be a sweet kitty – she greeted us when we opened the back door and she loved to sit on the deck post outside our dining room window, hoping to be invited inside. It was a nice try, but we didn’t invite her in because we just weren’t “cat people”. She was great with the kids and they loved playing with her in the yard. When we whistled for her, she always came running – almost like a dog and she purred constantly. We thought she was really cute - but we really didn’t want a cat because we just weren’t “cat people”.
One rainy day, I had been out shopping and when I returned I found this little tabby cat sitting on a towel in Terry’s favorite chair in our family room. I was shocked – because we really weren’t “cat people”. I couldn’t imagine how she made her way into our home. Well, it just so happened that during the rainstorm, she positioned herself in her usual spot on the deck post and with her ears dripping with water managed to get Terry’s attention as he walked through the kitchen. He said that she looked so pathetic that he just had to let her inside. He dried her off and let her sit in his chair until the rain stopped. It was the “humane” thing to do…just until the rain stopped.
I have a wonderful aunt who loves animals. She and my uncle live in the country and they always offer shelter to an animal in need. We decided to ask Janice if she would take in this sweet little kitten. We knew she needed a home, but we couldn’t offer that to her because we just really weren’t “cat people”. Of course Janice agreed so I bought a pet carrier and we made plans to drive her to her new home in Rockford (about 3 hours away). As I was preparing to leave Terry said “Are you sure you want to do this?” We discussed it and decided that we would take her to the vet to see if she was healthy and if she was we would offer her a home. She was healthy so we kept her. We decided to name her Purdy because she was always purring. We weren’t sure it would work out, however, because we just really weren’t “cat people”.
That was 19+ years ago. In those 19 years we discovered that a rescued cat becomes a life-long loyal and faithful companion. We discovered that cats smile by squinting their eyes while they’re purring, they express affection by “kneading” you with their paws, they always “greet” you with a meow when you enter a room and expect a reply, they love to snuggle, they love to be petted and scratched and brushed, they get excited about a “Fancy Feast” meal as special treat every once in a while, they bring you presents (dead birds, rabbits, mice, etc.) and leave them by the back door and they really do have nine lives. Purdy was an inside-outside cat. We tried to make her an inside cat, but it just didn’t work out. She HAD to go outside. In the process, she used up several of her nine lives – but each time she made her way home and back to Terry’s favorite chair to heal her wounds. According to the Internet, Purdy was 98 years old in human years but you’d never know it. I only hope that when I’m 98 years old I can still climb up a post to our second story deck and back down again!
On Easter Sunday Purdy died. She hadn’t been doing well for about a week and we knew she wouldn’t be getting better. Finally she decided she didn’t want to eat or drink any more – a sign that she had given up. We kept a vigil beside her – trying to offer her just a tiny bit of the loyalty and friendship she had given us for the past 19+ years. We just had no idea how much we would miss her – because you see – I guess we really are “cat people” after all.