Monday, 28 June 2010


Today, I taught my first-ever voice lesson.  The student is a girl from my home church, whom I've known since she was five.  Her goals are modest; to be able to better sing the hymns at church, to be able to sing along with the radio.  She's only just 15.  This should have been a piece of cake.

But I've never taught before.

Oh, I was a nervous wreck!  She was a bit late arriving (but called ahead to let me know; it wasn't her fault) and I spent the extra time just stewing.  I'd never taught before.  I know how to sing myself, of course -- but how on earth to convey that knowledge to a rank beginner?  I was sure it would be a flop.

Well, we both survived ;-)  And actually I think it went fairly well, once I relaxed a little.  My student is bright, intelligent, and wants to learn.  She can also match pitch.  So we talked about breathing and proper placement and tone, and discussed confidence issues, and sang a little, and I did my warm-up sirens and lip trills that make me look idiotic, but I think it makes students feel better if their teacher looks a little idiotic once in a while, so that was all right.  She asked good questions, and I gave muddled answers, but she was patient with me, and she said I was helpful.  (I hope she wasn't just being kind.)

We're going to have weekly lessons for the remainder of the summer, until I go back to school.  Our goal is for her to be confidently singing hymns by August, with "Rock of Ages" the one she particularly wants.  It's got some tricky intervals in it, so it'll be a challenge, but I'm confident she'll get there.

And I'll be learning right along with her - not how to sing, but how to teach.  I'm pretty sure I'll end up getting more benefit out of the experience than she does!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Strange Weather

We have had the most interesting weather lately -- beginning with last Friday when the oppressive mid-90-degree heat was interrupted by intense thunderstorms which caused our power to go down.  They didn't break the heat, though; I think I can safely say I have never missed having my ceiling fan working as much as I did that night!  Fortunately it was on again by mid-afternoon on Saturday.  In the meantime we lit the house with candles and a couple of oil lamps, and I felt pleasantly old-fashioned (though unpleasantly sweaty.)

This week has alternated between days of intense heat and high humidity -- only somewhat mitigated by the occasional lovely breeze -- and days (usually evenings) of fierce storms, high winds, and sheeting rain.  We are fortunate that the power has not been out again!  And yesterday, not only did we have severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings, but apparently our area felt the side-shocks of an earthquake in Ontario.  My brother noticed it, but I feel somewhat cheated in having felt nothing.  This may have something to do with the fact that I was sitting in the rocking recliner at the time.... but nevertheless I wish I had noticed.  It would be a conversation piece at parties! ;-)

This heat is not best for quilting.  I nearly stifled after working on it for about an hour last night and I think in future I'll have to confine my quilting to the basement, where it's usually at least 10 degrees cooler.  But the garden loves it!  The daylilies are starting to bloom this week, the tomato plants are more than doubled in size since I planted them, and I've grown a bumper crop of little green weeds with stubborn roots.  At least all the rain has made them easier to pull out!

Monday, 21 June 2010

"Gardening with Gillian"

I've been quite busy lately, with little to show for it; but it's been a good week anyway.

This past week I was asked to clear out and plant the garden of a family with five children, the youngest of whom (2 years old, I think) they just brought home from Korea.  The mother is (of course) swamped, and wanted someone with more time and knowledge to tidy up the garden; could I do it?  Well, I thought, I did work at a sort of garden nursery last year, I suppose I can handle that.

The catch was, her six-year-old daughter is very interested in gardening and she asked if I could work along with her and teach her as I went.  I was skeptical; I love kids, and I love gardening, but I wasn't sure if I'd be any good at teaching a six-year-old how to garden.  But I said yes, a little warily.

Well, it has been just the most fun!  The family is delightful, and the little girls - I've ended up having the nine-year-old as well - are too precious.  They're intelligent, sweet, willing to work - and the little one is a huge ham and drama queen, so there is never a dull moment.  It's been surprisingly easy both to keep them on task and to teach as I go; and they are both quick learners and really good at things like actually asking whether or not a plant is a weed, which makes my task so much easier!

And then the little one (who has a definite flair for the dramatic) has decided that we are actually a TV show, of which I am the star: this show is called "Gardening with Gillian", and she has taken to announcing the beginning of it dramatically when I show up in the morning, and periodically throughout the day she puts on her announcer voice and talks about what we've been doing, pointing out the different tools and plants, "interviewing" me on what our plans are for the day, or "interviewing" her big sister, who plays along nicely.  She even has a little jingle to begin the "show", complete with a little dance.

I have so many funny stories and sayings  - the Little One announcing to her mother last Friday that we needed lunch, that we were starving, that, in fact, "I'm suffering!" - with a dramatic sigh:  Little One again, when I proposed bringing a bucket of compost from my heap to enrich a sad section of their garden, reacting with an overblown "You would do that?  For us?" and then pretending to swoon in my arms.  Or this afternoon, as we were clearing up, when she produced a small log which they called their "gun stick" and pretended to shoot me with it, afterwards instructing me to "be dead"; when I obliged and "died" theatrically in a heap in the backyard, their mother, who had been watching from the window, called out in alarm to know what was the matter.  Apparently I play dead very effectively!

In other news, I started stripping the small cabinet which has been functioning as a jam cupboard for the last 5 years or so.  It has at least 4 distinct coats of paint, and has been a pain to strip, but I think I'm going to like the wood when I finally get it clean.  I plan to strip it perfectly clean, then just give it a coat of clear varnish, to protect it but still show the bare wood.  I've also been painting an old wooden chair which had had paint spilled on it; it's sitting in the garage with two coats of primer, waiting for me to produce the white top-coat and finish the job.
The inside of the cabinet - probably the best-looking part of it.  Someone apparently spilled paint stripper on the top a while ago and didn't clean it, so that was an unsightly mess.  It looks a whole lot worse right now, though, halfway through the cleaning process!

I did finish a stash project this past week; a shawl I began (and mostly completed) for a lady at church last summer.  When I finally got it too her it proved to be far too long for her (though I followed the pattern exactly; I'm not sure what happened!), so I had to shorten it.  That done, it's finally off my hands.

My other projects have been rather more long-term; I'm close to completion on a lace Mo√ębius strip head-scarf I started several years ago.  Midnight-blue lace-weight yarn; it'll be practically weightless, but warm.

And I'm making my first quilt.  I did simple 4-inch squares, put them together in nine-patch blocks (though in no particular order, so the finished top is completely random looking) and pieced the top together.  I finished the piecing last week, and made a sandwich with an old sheet and most of a blanket, both of which I picked up at the Salvation Army store.  I'm in the midst of quilting it; since my machine won't handle the size or thickness, I'm hand-quilting, and it's going to take me about an age and a half, but I think I'll like the result.  I'll report back next year or whenever I get finished! ;-)  This photo is a small section - most of what I've actually finished quilting so far.

This has turned into a truly massive post - and it doesn't even have many photos to break it up and make it look pretty ;-)  I hope I'll have more time to blog this week so that I can spread out my news.  I'm sure there will be more funny stories on Friday from the next installment of Gardening with Gillian!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Inappropriate for the Weather

This week I finished up an afghan which I began knitting probably 7 or 8 years ago.  I think I purchased the yarn, a wool/acrylic blend, using some birthday money.  I promptly knit half the afghan, and then - perhaps I started another project, or perhaps I just lost interest.  Whatever the cause, this poor blanket has sat half-finished in its basket for many years.

So I finished it.  Just in time for the arrival of summer, with the hottest, muggiest weather we've had so far.  I have such good timing.

In another display of impeccable timing, I also finished up knitting the (wool) hot water bottle cover, which I began a good 11 years ago, before we moved to Michigan.  (Are you noticing a trend yet?)  

I can't believe I put this off for so long - to knit the second half of it was the work of an evening, and the crochet border which holds it together took maybe 15 minutes.  The colour is no longer one I would choose for myself, but even so I think it's cute!

A friend from church gave me another tomato plant and a bunch of leek seedlings this week, so this afternoon I went out and dug a trench for the leeks in the middle of my tomato patch.  I realise this looks more like the beginnings of some bizarre building project than a vegetable garden, but I promise it's not so!  The gaping hole in the middle (which caused my dad to inquire whether I thought I was in Panama) is the trench for the leeks; as they grow I'll slowly pull the piles of dirt into the trenches to produce the long white stem of the leeks.  At least in theory!  I've never grown them before, so we'll see how it goes. And the boards are my pathways; this garden is a very awkward size and shape, and I hate the way I'm always compacting and pressing down the earth when I move around in it.  I'm hoping the boardwalks will help counteract that!

I had a dog-sitting "gig" last weekend and did some babysitting this week, so I didn't get as much done on some of my other projects as I'd hoped.  This coming week I've got some painting and refinishing jobs I plan to do, and maybe I'll have some progress to show on the scrap quilt I've started!

In parting, I just had to share a photo of some of my mother's climbing roses (we gave her the plant for Mother's Day a few years ago).  Aren't they lovely?

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Garden, part 1, and the "Kumo" Sweater

When it began to pour rain this morning shortly after my morning run with Kate, I have to admit I was dismayed.  I'd wanted to photograph David's new sweater; I'd wanted to weed my woefully neglected garden and dig it over and (maybe) get things planted.  I thought the weather would ruin all those plans.

Fortunately, by the time I got back from my appointment at the dentist and from running a few errands, the rain had more or less cleared up, so I went out to dig anyway.  I was probably out there for 5 hours.  I was unbelievably hot, sweaty, filthy, and exhausted by the end of that time.  But I got the vegetable garden cleared!

So here's a "before and after" - weeds on the left, cleared and turned over on the right.

Tomorrow I hope to spread it with compost, turn that over, and then plant!  I've got three sorts of tomatoes, sweet red peppers, hot peppers, and zucchini, and I'll make it pretty -- since this bed is in the front of the house, I like to try to make it look nice! -- with morning-glories climbing a string in the back corner, and nasturtiums in the front.  The flower bed on the other side of the front door still looks as bad as this one did, so if I have time and energy I'll tackle that as well.

As a break from digging, mid-afternoon, I took photos of David's new sweater.  He chose the design, and I started knitting it, back in the summer before my freshman year of college - so it has been three years now, and I figured it was time to finish!  So this past week I dug it out, knit up the front piece which was the only thing remaining, and put it together.

It's a very "David" sweater: the pattern is "Kumo" from, kimono-inspired.  The original has a design of clouds on the back (hence the name: "kumo" means "cloud" in Japanese) but David wanted a dragon instead, so he designed and charted one for me to substitute.  It came out a little stretched-looking, but pretty good, and he's pleased with it, so I won't argue!

The designs front and back were supposed to be knitted in but they kept coming out looking warped, so I ended up duplicate-stitching them on after the main pieces had been finished and blocked.  The sweater is pure wool, so it's warm, but the kimono styling has "vents" under the arms, so it sort of works as a summer wrap too.  And when David likes something he wears it in all weathers, anyway; I expect this will get a lot of use.  (I'm not really sure why he added the tie from his bathrobe to the red one I knitted to go with the sweater, but whatever makes him happy, I guess!)

(A rare shot of him smiling!)

It feels so good to be finishing things again!  When I am at school I do a lot of alterations and hemming, but rarely get the time to sit down and make myself a dress, or knit anything - even though I can read and knit simultaneously, if you throw note-taking into the mix it becomes impossible.  So this summer has been very fulfilling, as I've finished a couple projects already and removed some long-standing "UFOs" from my stash.  Of course if I'd been able to find a job I would not have all this time for knitting and sewing - there are upsides to even the most unfortunate of situations!

P.S.  I'm sorry the font is two different sizes - I've tried to fix it three times and it's not cooperating.  Sorry!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010


I made it through the 5K - coached my little sister through it in fact - in nothing like record time, but with considerably less difficulty than I had anticipated.  I thank everyone for praying!

We had a lovely Memorial Day with a family of some of our best friends from the area.  I made Ree Drummond's chocolate sheet cake recipe (she's also known as The Pioneer Woman, and I love both her recipes and her writing style!) but unfortunately I forgot to take a photo.  It got rave reviews, though, so I recommend it!  It made enough for both our families -- 12 people, and 5 of them were teen-age/early 20s boys -- so this is great for parties, picnics, or someplace where you won't have to eat half the cake yourself. Not that this would be unpleasant -- but it might give you a heart attack!

I also finished a sweater I've been knitting for my brother for the last three years.  I'm so relieved to have it finished!  I'll try to get him to stand still long enough to be photographed tomorrow, and get you up a more detailed post about that very soon.  Although since I have to weed, turn over, dig compost into, and plant my garden tomorrow, I'm not entirely sure how much energy I'll have left for blogging!