Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I have blogged about this subject before, a few years ago on Veteran's Day. However, it is something that is very dear to my heart and considering some of the disturbing comments I have seen around cyberspace these last few days, I'm really feeling the need to repeat it somewhat.

This photograph has been circulating on Facebook recently, and as with most of the people commenting on it, I'm incensed when I see it. You can "blame" this picture for fueling my ire and prompting this blog post.
We are a patriotic family--I make no apologies for this. Our first and primary allegiance is to the Almighty God that our very beings belong to, but we are also very aware and proud of our great nation's Christian heritage and the service our family has given to this country throughout its existence is a source of heart-swelling reverence to God for the blessing of our liberties. Our patriotism stems out of our faith--they are intertwined.

In the last three years, I have had a son join the Army, a husband retire from the Army, and a son-in-law join the Army. Many of our friends and loved ones have been affected by deployments to one region of the world or another. My own son spent a year in Afghanistan. We have had several opportunities to witness parades, ceremonies, and other "patriotic" functions. Lord willing, my husband and I will be able to attend the Veteran's Day Parade here in town next month. The last one we had the privilege of attending, Pete "marched" in. Well, no ... more accurately, he rode in it atop the HIMARS launcher that he trained other soldiers to repair. Pete has had several odd-feeling moments as he has experienced the military pomp and circumstance more from the audience since our son enlisted--and especially since he retired. In fact, when we attended our son-in-law's basic training graduation at Fort Jackson this past April, it got REALLY weird. Pete's father had marched across that same field both as a basic training graduate and for his own retirement ceremony before Pete even graduated from high school, and they both stood there welcoming yet another generation of our family's soldiers into the ranks as retired soldiers.

One thing I'm really not fond of seeing again at this year's parade is something we have experienced at every single one of the 'patriotic' events we've attended these last few years--the lack of respect for our flag and those who defend it. People, it's not just a piece of fabric on a pole. It represents the blood that was shed to unite this country in solidarity against outside forces that sought to abolish freedoms that our founding fathers believed in enough to sacrifice life and limb for! It stands for FREEDOM. It is identified worldwide with a nation that seeks to liberate people from tyrannical rule.

At least it used to be.

Nowadays our own people are bringing disrespect to our own flag. Many Americans are more concerned with preserving the heritage of nations they came FROM and showing how proud they are of THAT culture. We find people who are offended by the display of our OWN FLAG!!?? We have church groups (I refuse to even identify these people as "lowercase" christians ... anyone who uses the name of God to promote hatred doesn't deserve to wear His name, in my opinion, and if I'm wrong on that, I'll answer to God, thankyouverymuch!) who are making a mockery of funerals, bringing pain to people mourning the loss of soldiers while preaching anti-American false doctrine with very little regard to those men and women who have died to allow them the freedom to spew such vitrol. We have a generation who do not instinctively stand out of respect of our flag and what it stands for.

Look at that picture at the top of this post again. Look at all of those people sitting on the curb, and the handicapped veteran who is standing. He's not forcing their respect; he's not making a scene. He isn't belittling them for their lack of patriotism. He's just doing what comes naturally. And so are the ones who give no respect to the flag. Why the difference? Training.

"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." --John Fitzgerald Kennedy

What does this nation "owe" anyone? Not a thing, save the billions of dollars we borrow to keep hundreds of meaningless programs running to super-regulate things that probably shouldn't be regulated in the first place. (woah ... soapbox. Stepping down ... )

What do we OWE our country? Respect.

Train your children to understand WHY this country exists. Train them to understand HOW it came to be. Train them to show respect. Train them to do for OTHERS and not expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. Train them to honor their elders. Train them to appreciate. Train them to show gratitude. Train their hearts to hurt when they see others hurting, and to look for ways to help. That's what makes this country great--its foundation in the principles of the Bible. It's what will return this great nation to her roots. It's what will preserve our freedoms. It's what will ensure that those veterans who stand to honor the flag they fought for will not stand alone.

UNITED we stand.

Stand up, America. For heaven's sake, get off your butts and STAND.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Country Porch Friends Blog Party

I love getting to "know" other bloggers. The internet is a really interesting community and it's so much fun to just browse and read about others' lives! I was out of the blogosphere for a little while at the beginning of the year, and lost some of my bloggy buddies as a result. I was really excited to hear that there was a blog party going on so I could "meet" some new friends! So ... here we go!!

For those of you who already know me, most of this is probably going to be boring. Sorry. This isn't really for my tried-and-true buds, but more for my newish friends. I still love you, I'm just gonna bore you for a few minutes ... that is, unless I share something about myself you don't already know. :)

The short story--I'm Kris, married to a retired soldier-turned-world-traveler. We have seven children--our oldest two are married--one IS a soldier, one is married TO a soldier. Yep, big-time Army family. Four generations of soldiers have worn the name tag my son's uniform bears. And I am unabashedly proud of every minute of their service. We have homeschooled for the last fourteen years and will continue to educate our younger five girls at home as long as the Lord allows!

There isn't really a short story when it comes to me and who *I* am. My brain, although it only might have 6 cylinders, runs on about 8-10 on any given day. I'm not sure how that works. I have more ideas than hands, more responsibilities than hours in the day, more projects than half an army could keep track of. I'm a chronic planner but only an acute getter-done-er. My inability to focus in ONE direction at a time is my kryptonite. I am incessantly hard on myself, I fight depression and self-loathing every minute of every day (but most of the time, with God, I stay on the winning side of the battles), and most of the time I feel like a complete failure in every aspect of my life.

There's the 'tragedy' portion of my story. I bet you repeat readers didn't expect to read THAT, now didja? The other side of it is that God has blessed me immensely to be able to deal with everything that my "demons" can throw at me. I've been confronted with things that I never would have dreamed of dealing with, and God's grace and strength have pulled me through (sometimes kicking and screaming) every time!

The other little details about me are kind of what I've been blogging about these last .... uh ... four years? Yeah. Four. I started blogging to give my brain an outlet when I didn't normally have much of anyone to talk to. It morphed over the years as I started realizing that people were actually somewhat interested in reading some of what I had to say! (That still shocks me, I'd like to add.) I blog about some of my spiritual epiphanies, I blog about my kiddos, I blog about my struggles with life, I blog about practicalities. I blog about silly stuff, I blog about serious stuff. Kind of like my real life, actually. On any given day, I'll have a mountain of laundry, a major catastrophe brought about by a dangerously smart 2-year-old, an adorable moment worth sharing with the entire world and that I have caught on camera to scrapbook (later), and a dinner plan to share with people begging me for a recipe. Nothing really special. I'm a wanna-be Laura Ingalls living in a Stephen King world. One of these days, I'll have a beautiful garden, chickens, and a sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle. Right now, I have a half-deconstructed bathroom, windows that are falling apart, and a garden completely engulfed by weeds.

Yep, I'm normal! :) HI! Nice to have met you! :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Beautiful cast iron skillets!

"It sure ain't pretty, but I hope it at least tastes good."

I can still hear Mamaw's sweet voice uttering some of the most hysterical words I'd ever heard from her mouth. She had just served up some of her famous (at least with me, it was!) cherry pie to my brand-new husband while he was home on leave for Christmas. Poor Pete hadn't been raised with a Southern grandmother like I had, but he certainly married into an eatin' family! Fried chicken, sausage gravy, greens, and homemade biscuits were foreign to him, as was the staple sweet tea that came alongside every meal. But that one particular day, Mamaw's cherry pie had been just a tad "off". Something happened to the crust on top, and it became a very ugly pie, in her expert (don't you DARE say that a Southern cook isn't an expert!) opinion. She even contemplated not serving it, but there was no WAY I was going to let that pie go to waste.

It was the last of her pies we ever tasted. In my memory, that cherry pie was just as sweet, just as delicious as any gourmet restaurant pie, and even though it wasn't pristine, it was still wonderful. I can't imagine not being afforded the opportunity to eat that pie just because it didn't meet up to Mamaw's strict standards. What a loss it would have been!!

I spent many a day learning to cook alongside my Mamaw, and I have such sweet memories of those days. She was always making something special, but usually not for herself. I remember distinctly wondering what it was SHE liked to eat--because aside from fried shrimp at Morrison's Cafeteria, I really don't remember one meal that was just for her. In fact, I remember very little that Mamaw did for herself. I also vividly remember helping her prepare those meals and the dishes she used both to prepare and serve them in. I remember being embarrassed by the dishes. It's not something I'm proud of now, but I used to imagine those meals being served on my mother's fine china or a beautiful set of Pfaltzgraff dishes on a well-pressed tablecloth. As I stood on that little stepstool next to Mamaw washing up after she'd just served another masterpiece to me, I made mental notes to myself that one day, when I had a kitchen of my own, I'd make SURE to have better things in my cabinets. I remember thinking that heavy, black cast iron skillet was the most disgusting piece of cookery I had ever laid eyes on and that Mamaw's food would just be so much BETTER if it had been prepared in a shiny, new nonstick pan instead of that thing that was probably older than my mother, rough around the edges, and covered in years of grease that I was absolutely SURE was poisoning us. How on EARTH could a skillet be cleaned with nothing but hot water??? The grease didn't fully come OFF!!!!

What I didn't realize was that Mamaw was giving me one of the most profound, most beautiful object lessons I would ever receive in that tiny little kitchen. And that I would long to grace my own "pretty" (haha ...) kitchen with those mismatched, cracked and chipped, and "ugly" dishes--and especially that beautiful cast iron skillet I detested so much!

Mamaw's cherry pie wasn't the most delicious thing in the world because it was a world-class beauty of a pie. Mrs. Smith made much better looking frozen pies. But Mamaw's pies (along with every thing else she made) were delicious because of a single ingredient--LOVE. Everything she made was made with love, and as cliche as it sounds, you could taste it. No recipe could replicate it in someone else's kitchen. And that cast iron skillet? Well guess what--it was the ULTIMATE kitchen tool. Nothing stuck to that thing!!!! Mamaw used to make the most delicate fried eggs in that skillet, and not ONCE do I remember her doing what I do at least once a week--scraping and scrubbing burnt, stuck egg off of the bottom of yet another "nonstick" pan. Fried chicken, grilled cheese, eggs, everything was cooked in that skillet. And whaddaya know ... my expensive hard-anodized steel pans don't do what Mamaw's cast iron skillet did--that skillet was fortifying every meal prepared in it with just a little bit of iron. Wow.

We live in a society that devalues things that aren't "pretty", and that's really a shame, because in many cases, the hardworking, practical things far outshine the "pretties". Mamaw probably could have bought twenty cast iron skillets for what my one (now useless, considering how badly everything sticks to it after just a year of use) "good quality" Calphalon skillet cost. In my quest to "have the best", I overlooked one huge fact--the "best" sometimes can't even begin to compare with a well-seasoned, old and ugly pan that gets the job done with no frills.

Guess what? The church is NO DIFFERENT. We surround ourselves with beautiful furnishings, the "best" curriculum for our Bible classes, and make sure that all of our menfolk are dressed well when they are scheduled to serve communion. We are quick to welcome the beautiful new families who are such an encouragement to us and enjoy their pretty, well-behaved children.

But what about the chipped plates among us? What about the old cast iron skillets with years of grease build-up? What about the cracked pots in our number who have "seen some stuff" in their day? What about the recovering alcoholic? The repented adulterer? The woman who had an abortion in her younger years? The former gang member? The homosexual? Ooooh, ouch. Do we actually have homosexuals in the church???? Ahem ... do we have promiscuous teenagers in the church? Do we have pornography addicts in the church? Is it any different? How about the guy who was converted to Christ in prison and is now coming to worship faithfully now that he's been released?

What does God do with those people? Does God put the cracked, chipped, greasy pots in the back of the cabinet and only use the best, prettiest, and pristine Christians to do His work?

Ask Rahab the harlot. Ask King David the adulterer and murderer. Ask Saul-Paul, the Christian-hunter. Ask the smelly fishermen following Jesus around.

While you're at it, ask Judas what happens when someone never makes it out of the pit of sin that they're stuck in. But you might not understand him very well, he can't get too many words out with that noose so tight around his neck. The noose he put there himself.

We do well to teach about the dangers of sin, sure. But what do we do with people once we pull them out of it? Do we add them to the attendance roster and then step away for fear of being contaminated with their past? Or do we ENCOURAGE them to use the "grease" that coats their lives to serve others with? It's one thing to teach people to live righteous lives; it's another entirely to presume to know we have it all together just because we aren't the ones with chips and cracks in our lives. The beauty is in how God can mend those cracks, not in how He avoids them!!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Denim Quilt Tutorial

**DISCLAIMER**If you are either my eldest daughter or my daughter-in-law and it is before Christmas of 2011, BEGONE. You do not have my permission to view this blog entry. Go away! For any of you who KNOW my daughter or daughter-in-law, I'm swearing you to secrecy, ok? This is a Christmas gift and I'm only posting this because I'm fairly certain that neither one of them have any interest in reading my blog. Okay, on to the upcycling! :)

It's no secret that I have a longstanding affection for blue jeans. I LOOOOVE a well-worn pair of jeans; there is nothing more comfy in all this world to be wearing, in my humble opinion. It's also no secret that I am a tightwad cheapskate fan of all things frugal. I love quilts, but I do NOT love the price of buying yards and yards of pretty fabric to chop up in teeny tiny pieces. It quite literally causes me pain to do that. I also do not have the patience for piecing small bits of fabric together in intricate patterns. Sorry. I just glaze over. Oh, I love quilts--just not the work it takes to get the gorgeous finished product! Besides, have you noticed how many little people live at my house? We're rough on things. Any quilt I make has to be able to withstand the roughness that a family of our size and activity level is capable of dishing out.

Enter the "upcycled" (I've learned this is the new, politically-correct word for what we used to call something that is recycled to make something new, back in the dark ages) blue jean quilt. I saw the idea fifteen years ago in a Country Woman magazine for a simple, boyish quilt made from squares of old jeans and plaid flannel, constructed with exposed seams so the edges would fray in the wash. I made one for my son to put on his bed, and I was instantly hooked. That quilt has been wonderful! He took it with him when he moved into the barracks once he joined the Army, because it was the warmest blanket we own, bar none! It accompanied our family on camping trips, beach outings, picnics, it went with my husband when he was deployed to Kuwait, and it is just as good now as it was when I made it! I have since made two more--one was a simple one with baby fabrics for one of our girls (we will be keeping it to use for grandbabies!) and another was a rather tedious and time-consuming (but absolutely BEAUTIFUL) cathedral windows quilt, made of a bunch of circles that were sewn together in squares. Even the description makes my head hurt. I actually killed a sewing machine making that quilt!

Anyhoo, considering I have two adult children who are beginning their married lives this year, what better Christmas gift to the new couples than a handcrafted denim quilt of their very own, made lovingly by Mom!? Thing is, I don't really want these quilts to be run-of-the-mill, boring and unattractive jean quilts. Let's face it--if you Google "jean quilt", you'll come up with some pretty bland and *ahem* ugly images. I want them to be something that my kids will be proud to take on a picnic with their families for years to come, not something they hide in a closet just to bring out when it's frigid! So off I went in search of some pretty flannels to back my squares of chopped-up old jeans with.

This is a truly "beginner" quilt--no turning, topstitching, binding, batting, Nothing but simple straight lines! For anyone interested in re-creating my project, here is a step-by-step look at the process.

The first thing you need to do (I did this while washing and drying my flannel yardage) is get your jeans cut up. I'm too lazy to do seam-ripping, so I just cut along the leg seams to get a long, flat segment to work with. I then cut the plastic cover of a Five Star spiral notebook into an 8" square to use as my template. I traced around the template with a ball-point pen (shoot, you could even use permanent marker; the edges are going to fray in the wash anyway, you won't ever see that ink again!) and then cut the squares out of the denim. I was able to get three squares from each leg segment (a total of 12 squares per pair, give or take for extra-low pockets or skinny jeans). Apologies for the lint all over my carpet. Jeans make a big mess when you cut them up!

You will then repeat the process (minus the old jean-ripping-up) for the flannel. Trace, cut. For this particular quilt, I needed 63 squares of denim, and 63 squares of flannel. (note the big pile of jean shards in the background--this is a very messy project!) 

The next step is to marry up your flannel and denim, wrong sides together. Yes, it helps to enlist the services of your resident black ragdoll cat to "assist" in this task, but I do advise against partaking in the buttered popcorn until you are finished. It will make your squares greasy! I did this while watching a movie with the hubs. Kept my hands busy. The reason I've got them alternated on the stack is to make it easy to grab a 'set' when you go to do your stitching.

Once you have all of your fronts and backs aligned, run a stitch around all four sides, with a "just a hair bigger than" 1/4-inch seam allowance. I've made quilts with a 1/4" allowance and they just didn't have enough space to fray well enough for my tastes. Mine was almost 1/2"; it doesn't have to be a specific measurement, just be sure you use the same seam allowance for each seam. Don't worry that every teeny little edge doesn't meet up perfectly; denim quilts are very forgiving, and the beauty really is in the imperfections. That fraying will hide any cutting inconsistencies. 

A bit out of sequence picture-wise, but very important to the process--determining HOW you will piece your quilt together. I knew I wanted the quilt 9-squares long by 7-squares wide, which is how I came up with the total of 63 squares. I quick-sketched a few possibilities for how I'd put it together just so I could get a quick glimpse of what it would look like, roughly. I think for this particular quilt, I'm going to use the far right sketch. The flannel print I chose is a bit more elegant and begs more of a formal-ish pattern. When you do your sketch, bear in mind that what is on the back will be the reverse of what is on the front! In my sketch, the colored blocks represent denim, while the white squares represent the flannel. When I get the other quilt finished (I'm pretty sure I'm using the middle sketch for that one), I'll show you what it looks like, but I won't repeat the entire process.

When you have all of your squares stitched you need to lay them out (you'll need a LARGE surface for this) in the pattern you plan on using. Mind your fronts and backs; make sure you have your darks and lights in a pattern that pleases you and that your prints are aligned in a way that you can live with. You will have the opportunity to change it slightly while you're sewing your strips, but this is your only opportunity to see how it all works before it's stuck! You'll notice that in my pre-stitching layout, I deviated slightly from the sketches. What is laid out in this picture will be the front of the quilt.

When you are satisfied with your layout, you will need to get the squares picked up in sequence so your strips fit together in this same pattern. Start from one end, place the first square on top of the next, then the next, then the next, and so on to the end of that line. Do the same with each line, and then stagger-stack them so you have (in my case) 7 stacks of 9 squares, all lined up ready to be sewed. When you piece them together, it'll all fit together nicely! Stitch one strip at a time (back sides together), sewing just to the inside of your original stitch. If you stitch on top of or to the outside of that stitch, the stitching will show on the backside. Not the end of the world, but not exactly desirable either. Remember, you want all of your exposed seams on the FRONT of the quilt. You will eventually end up with a stack of strips:

To stitch the strips together, you will HAVE TO pin. Do NOT try it without pinning. You will be doing a lot of seam ripping, I assure you. Match up your intersections and open the seams up. An opened seam, two strips together, will look like this (only less blurry!):

Pin through that seam intersection in such a way to hold it open so you can stitch straight across it.

As you stitch across the opened seam, double-back and reinforce the center. If you don't, you will increase the likelihood that the stress of the heavy fabric will open that seam back up. Get all of your strips pieced together (and in doing so you will find out just how HEAVY and WARM this quilt is!!!), and you will have something that looks like this:

Not so pretty just now, but it will get better, I promise. You'll need to wash and dry it three or four times for it to fray and fluff properly. FIRST, though ... you've got to get through what I think is the most tedious detail--snipping the edges. Take a GOOD pair of fabric scissors (not pinking shears) and make perpendicular snips every inch or so along every single exposed edge. Don't go through to the stitch line, because that stitch is going to give the fraying a stopping point. A bit of warning about this step--you are going to have to be snipping for a LONG time. It's maddening. Resign yourself to the fact that you are going to HATE this quilt by the time you get all that snipping done. You *can* skip this step, but you'll end up going back to do it anyway because your edges won't fray well unless you do this. It will also take you several more washes (and a lot of cutting of long, stuck-together strings) to get it right. It's worth the effort, I promise. Snipping it like this BEFORE it's washed the first time will give the frayed edges a "ruffly" look to them that you will not get if you skip it and go back and do the snipping later after it has started fraying. I can't quite explain why that happens, but it just does.

Done? Good. Dress your blisters with band-aids and get that quilt to the washer! You won't need a long wash cycle, and you don't need to wash it on hot, but you do need a good amount of agitation. I do not recommend washing it with anything except maybe jeans. This thing is going to SHED!!!! Whatever you do, make sure you NEVER wash it with a towel--you will have fuzzies and denim shrapnel on your towels forever. This is the ball of lint that I scraped out of my washer after just the first wash cycle--this does NOT count what is stuck on the quilt going into the dryer! You can't quite grasp the scale, but I'll tell you this--it took TWO hands to hold this wad 'o' fluff.

Dry it (no need for fabric softener), being SURE to clean out the lint filter at least once DURING every drying cycle, and then again afterward. This thing makes a LOT of lint. After you dry it, snip off the strings so all the seams are even again (leave the fraying, just even up the edges!), then wash and dry again. And again. And again. I usually repeat the wash/dry/snip cycle about four times. It's worth it. Really. See?

Here's the view of the back side--not as pretty as the front, but still kinda cool looking (at least I think it is):

Best part? I paid about $20 per quilt, for the flannel (5 yards per quilt) and thread. The jeans were either leftovers from our this-doesn't-fit stash, or throwaways from others. I have purchased old jean castoffs from the clearance racks at thrift shops for a dollar a piece, but it's much easier just to keep a running pile in the corner of your closet as you get rid of them yourself!

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