Friday, December 30, 2011

Answering questions the fun way...

Sometimes I get in an impish mood (okay--pretty much most of the time).

It's fun to answer someone's question, and only the question they ask--not the one they meant to ask.

For example:
When someone I don't know calls me on the phone and says, "Is Dave there?"
I say, "Yes."
Then I hang up the phone.

Tonight someone said, "Could you give these people directions to the hotel?"
I said, "Sure! I could..."

The other day a lady asked me: "Do you know where the bathrooms are?'
"Yes, ma'am. I do."

I'm small, but I know when to run!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quilt Completed! We'll enjoy it for years.

 I thought I'd share a few photos of the quilt I made my wife for Christmas. The quilt is actually for a queen size bed, but I put it on the twin bed in our guest room because the lighting was better for photos. Trust me...this bad boy will be on our bed for years. Under it will be other quilts I've made, but this one will be on top unless it's in the washing machine or dryer, or I feel like seeing some other quilt when I open my eyes in the morning.
I started making quilts years ago, after getting bored at my mother-in-law's house. My mother-in-law taught me some of the basics of quilting, and I put the lessons to use shortly after that.

This quilt is made from one big hunk of fabric, and the lines you see are created by small stitches. A good quilter makes small, even stitches. I'm pleased to say I manage 7-8 stitches to the inch, and they're uniform in size. Most quilters will tell you that even stitches are the goal and that the number per inch doesn't matter much. I'd agree, but only in part. I like the way small stitches make the detail "pop."
Every line on this quilt is made by hand-stitching. My hands hurt a bit from all the stitching. A month and a half ago I got the idea that I would finish this quilt in time for Christmas. I did, but it involved a Herculean effort of 4-6 hours a day of stitching by hand. I used sports cream when my hands got sore, and it'll be a while before I can shake hands without pain.
It was worth the effort when she opened it and we put it on our bed.
Here's the story behind the quilt: 
When I took a job in Cleveland in 2003, my wife stayed behind in Wisconsin to finish out the school year. She's a teacher and we always said that if we moved during a school year, she would stay behind to finish it. I admire that, and that's what we did when I moved to Cleveland.  I lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment for a couple of months, and I got bored. I ordered a kit that included a top with blue lines (they washed out) and was intimidated when I saw how many blue lines I would have to quilt over to make this thing. I started it, got the center medallion done, and shoved it in a closed after my wife joined me.

I got sick in 2005, and if you've read much in this blog, you already know I was sick with Wernicke Encephalopathy. I recovered, which is a story of it's own. I used to drink while I was quilting, and I wasn't sure I would ever be able to quilt again. I was afraid I'd want to drink when I quilted. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to quilt as well sober as I did when I was drinking. Seriously! I have hand tremors. Drinking steadied my hands until sobriety slipped into drunkenness. 
When I was trying to decide what to give my wife for Christmas this year, I pulled the quilt out of the closet, looked at it and thought, "I have the middle done. Won't take much time to do that last four feet around." 
I should've known better. This isn't my first quilt. It's my fifteenth or sixteenth quilt. The center of the quilt is the easiest part--the smallest hunk. Each time around the center gets exponentially bigger, as anyone better than me at geometry can tell you. That's just about anyone, by the way. I'm a mathemagical moron.

Dogged determination is how one makes a big quilt when the only design is created by stitching. Quilting, (to steal a phrase and warp it a bit) is 10% skill and 90% persistence. I think I almost made up for the years it sat in a closet by finishing this thing in 6 weeks.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A serious car accident, and we were able to help along with a lot of good people

It's a dark night tonight with no moon, icy roads, and a thin sheen of snow on the roads her in Michigan.

My wife and I were on our way home, driving North on I-75 through Flint, MI. I was at the wheel, and the road conditions had me driving well under the speed limit. My wife was sleeping in the passenger seat.

There are four lanes of traffic on that part of I-75. There was an accident. I saw two cars on the right side of the road, one on the shoulder, and pulled over to the far left lane. I was looking at the wreckage to see if others had stopped and if anyone was calling for assistance. There were other cars stopped, so I decided to keep moving rather than risk blocking traffic. I think I was moving at about 20 mph at that point.

On my right another car barreled by. I don't know how fast that driver was going. I can tell you she didn't hit the brakes.

She rammed one of the cars on the right, about twenty feet in front of our car. Sparks flew. It was horrific. I parked our car, no longer questioning whether or not we should stop. My wife woke up and I said, "There's been a bad accident and we're stopping to help." She agreed immediately.

I got out of the car and started walking toward the vehicle that was hit. It was now on my left, on its wheels, but sideways across the lanes. As I approached it, I saw a man bent over something in the road.

The something wasn't a thing at all, it was a someone. His girlfriend, as it turned out. She was lying facedown on the pavement.

I had a sinking feeling that she was dead. How could she not be?

She's not dead. I thought traffic was still coming at us, so I looked at the other man and said, "Let's get her out of the road before someone hits her."

We touched her and a woman behind me said, "Do not move her!" I didn't argue with her. I looked at the oncoming traffic and saw that my wife and another man--bravely--had stopped all other traffic. Several others were already on cell phones, speaking to 911 operators.

My wife (who has better and more up-to-date first aid training than I do) was at the woman's side, on the ground in the middle of I-75, along with several others. I went to the car that had been hit and flung, and looked inside to see if there were any other victims. The car was empty.

Then I went to the car that hit that one. The driver was a young woman, maybe 20-25 years old. She was shaken. A man had just finished speaking to her and he passed by me and said, "She thinks she killed that lady in the road. I told her she didn't."

The driver of that car, that young woman, was hysterical. I got her to calm down enough to be able to tell me if she was okay or not. She got the message that she hadn't killed anyone, and wanted to know about damage to her car. I don't blame her much for that. She was desperately trying to wrap her brain around something, anything, and she settled on asking about her car.

I took a look at the hood and said, "Your car is totaled, but I want you to look out the windshield at the woman on the ground. She's not dead, but she's not okay. Your car? It's the least of your worries. Are you okay? Are you hurt?"

"I'm okay."
"She's not dead. Breathe. Stay here. Don't get out of the car until EMT's check you out. Got it?"
She did.

Fortunately (and by that I mean the Hand of God was all over the place and quite present tonight), the accidents happened not far from a Michigan State Police post. Within just a few minutes, ambulances and police were on their way.

According to the boyfriend of the woman in the road, they were involved in an accident, and he got out of the car to check on the other driver. His girlfriend was driving their car, and she was about to get out and offer assistance as well. She unfastened her seatbelt...his door, the passenger door was open...

I went back to the woman in the road, and a man was saying a prayer of thanks over her, and I thought that was appropriate and a good thing to do. He said he's a doctor, and that she's lucky. He couldn't check her out thoroughly, but said her arm was broken and her shoulder was dislocated, but she wasn't paralyzed. I knew she wasn't paralyzed because I put a blanket over her feet (her shoes flew off when she was thrown from the car), and she moved her legs when I did that. Others had already covered her with coats and blankets from their cars.

It was about an hour between when we came upon the accident and when we were turned around and allowed to proceed, slowly, home.

I'll probably never know the names of anyone involved in that terrible thing, but I know this: there are a lot of good people on this beautiful world of ours. We all make mistakes and accidents happen, but it helps a little to know that there are a lot of good people who will do a lot, risk a lot, to help their fellow human beings when they're in trouble.

Merry Christmas! Drive safely.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I'm making something that could last 100 years. What's a Quilt?

A quilt is a quilt. A blanket isn't a quilt unless it's quilted. A comforter isn't a quilt. A knitted or crocheted blanket isn't a quilt. Only a quilt is a quilt.

What makes a quilt a quilt? Trust me--you want to know this unless you want to offend someone who has a bevy of little needles and isn't afraid to stick them into soft parts that bleed. They stick their own fingers frequently, so don't assume they won't stick you if you offend their over-declicate though deservedly delicate sensibilities.

A quilt is three layers, sewn together. A quilt consists of a top, batting, and back, stitched together.

If it's knit, it's not a quilt. It's a blanket, it's an afghan, but it's not a quilt. If the top and back are tied together with bits of's not a quilt. It's a comforter.

I'm making a quilt for my wife for Christmas. It's a beautiful thing already, and I'm only in the quilting stage. It's not my first quilt. I think it's my fourteenth or fifteenth. I've been a quilter for almost twenty years now, and I'll admit I'm pretty good. Okay, false modesty aside, I'm very good.

Quilts tend to last a very long time because people treasure them. They should treasure them. I make mine by hand. Every bit by hand. Takes a long time to stitch the design through all three layers, and the stitching comes at a price. Hand damage is one price, if I quilt too long. You can see burst blood vessels on the back of my needling hand, and callouses develop on the tips of my fingers. I use the nerves in my fingers to tell whether my stitches have gone all the way through, which means I don't use a thimble. Wakes me up a bit when I stick myself, but it's worth it.

The quilt I'm making my wife for Christmas it a white on white quilt. The top and back are each made from one very large piece of cloth (nearly 10 feet by 10 feet), and the stitching--called quilting--makes the design. It can be washed in the washing machine and dried in the dryer and will be stronger for it, for the first forty or fifty years or so. That's part of what makes quilts durable.

Like vampires, quilts don't hold up well to sunshine. This quilt is white, so sunlight won't fade the colors. It's still going to be vulnerable to sunlight because direct sunlight dries the cotton and that makes the fibers weak. If you have a quilt, please don't let sunlight fall on it on a regular basis. Eventually it will fade and fall apart. If you have to let sunlight fall on it, rotate it from time to time and keep the fading--which gives it an antique look--as uniform as you can throughout. Take it off the bed every once in a while and use something else as a bedspread.

If you're lucky enough to have someone make you a quilt, please don't ask them to make it large enough to cover your pillows and go all the way to the floor all the way around. I've stopped making quilts for most people because of requests like that. If you want a bedspread that covers the entire bed, frame, and pillows, get thee to a Walmart and buy a bedspread. Adding a foot or two on all sides increases the area of the quilt by a lot (simple mathematics), and offends the quilter. Quilters, by the way, who are people who make projects intended to span generations, have long memories.

Darn. Can't get started yet. I'm waiting for the recipient of the quilt I'm working on to go to bed. This huge white on white quilt, the one that takes me four hours to quilt a single square foot, is a surprise Christmas gift for my wife. I'm on a deadline. Soon I will start humming a lullaby...and I hope it puts her to sleep, and not me.