Friday, April 30, 2010

Lyceum's Self-Publishing Panel Recap

It was a very good night at the library's Lyceum last night. I didn't count but there must have been at least 30 people in attendance which was great and there were lots and lots of questions. I had never met Gunilla Caulfield, author of Murder on Bearskin Neck, before nor Thomas A. Hauck, author of Pistonhead. Susan Oleksiw is, of course, a friend and it is always great to see her. So, I thought I would post a little recap of some of the topics covered and questions asked.

  1. What is self-publishing and how does it work? Because of advances in digital technology and because so many commercial publishers are reluctant to sign new, unpublished authors, many authors are choosing to publish their own books through contemporary digital technology. There are numerous “author houses” all offering varying levels of services for a broad range of fees. All three of the panelists own their own ISBNs, retain full rights to their books, have their books available through major online outlets (Amaazon, B&N, etc.), and have books available for distribution through Ingram.

  2. Choosing the method that is right for you requires research. Gunilla, who publishes through Book Surge, said that she chose them because they offered professional editing services as well as complete design for the cover and the page layout. Tom chose to publish with a company (I forget the name but will ask him) that allowed him to choose fewer services. He had his books edited on his own and designed his own covers. All he needed was page layout, printing and distribution. Because I was already in the book business with Parlez-Moi Press before I published my own first book, I work directly with Lightning Source for printing and distribution. All supply all my own pre-press, from editing to design and layout, because this is a service I provide for other authors professionally.

  3. Independent authors are responsible for their own marketing. This is probably the toughest part of self- or indie-publishing. We talked about the methods that have worked for us, the difficulties of getting our books into brick and mortar stores vs. the ease of offering our books online. We touched on marketing tools from postcards, to blogs and online discussion groups.

  4. The advantages of self-publishing vs. the disadvantages. The disadvantages are that it requires up-front costs, promotion/marketing is challenging, and the unit cost for POD books is higher than for mass market books. The advantages are that the author retains all the rights to their book, they can keep their books in print as long as they want to and never have to worry about being “remaindered” and their profit margin is much higher per unit.

  5. Maintaining standards of quality. This is a critical issue for many self-publishers. There is a lot of junk being printed by authors who do not have their books well-edited for either content or for copy. How do those of us committed to quality and integrity promote our books as being different from poor quality book? This is an ongoing challenge that the market has yet to answer. For the present we have chosen to adhere to our standards anyway in the belief that the market will sort it out.
  6. What about the big “author houses”? Author houses have become a huge industry. Most of them offer a broad range of service “packages” ranging from basic to premium --- usually for big bucks. Some authors have chosen packages costing thousands of dollars in the hopes that this will better market their books but often this is not the case. Some of the big author houses require that your book carry their logo/name on the cover. This is something to be wary of because often those author house logos have stigmas attached to them which will do your book more harm than good with bookstores and reviewers.

That's just a quick summary. There was a lot more information covered. If anyone wants to contact me, please feel free to do so at kathleen at parlezmoipress dot com (you know how to format it for email but I'm trying to avoid spam by spelling it out.

Thanks to all who attended and thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Silk, silk, silk..........

I've been reading sewing blogs all over the internet and am amazed by how beautiful some of the things being posted are. It seems there are a lot of young women who are collecting vintage sewing patterns from the forties, fifties and sixties and sewing them into the most adorable dresses, blouses, pajamas, etc. Aprons, it seems, have become incredibly popular.

My sister Anne called me yesterday because she wanted some tips on buying silk over the internet. Her son Adam is marrying his girlfriend Rene this summer and Anne, who is a remarkable seamstress, has offered to make Rene's gown. I gave her my favorite  sites for buying silk ( and and then I started looking at sewing blogs showing wedding wear.

I've made a few wedding gowns in my life. Probably the prettiest thing I ever made  was my sister Beth's veil for her wedding (above). It is made of a fine cream-colored tulle with fishing line sewn into the hem to give it that loopy, frothy look. I trimmed the headpiece with tiny cream-colored satin roses and pearls. Getting to make stuff like that is fun.

Which brings me to my latest silk purchases on eBay. This has got to stop, folks. I now have more silk than I will ever need but I could not pass these two bargains up. The first (below) is a piece of 100% silk in an iridescent pink/lilac with silver trim. I got 2 yards x 56” for $15 with shipping. I have no idea what I will do with it but isn't it gorgeous?

The other piece is something I just cannot believe. I spotted it a week ago and have been holding my breath ever since. I think because it was on a site that had no other fabric for sale it got overlooked but it is a 15 yard bolt of 42” wide 100% pure silk charmeuse in silver for $22.50 with shipping!!! I don't need it, I don't know what I'll do with it but, oh my God, how could I pass that up. I emailed Anne and told her if she wants to make herself a dress for the wedding I'll give her some of it.

Okay, I am swearing off eBay for awhile. I've been buying all kinds of sewing notions --- fine rayon seam bindings and interfacing and 2 batches of gorgeous mother-of-pearl estate-sale buttons. Tonight I did some cleaning in my sewing room to make room. Who knows what will happen in there with all this yummy stuff?

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The New Face of Publishing

I got a phone call recently from a woman who wanted to talk about publishing. She, like thousands of other folks, has written a book and wanted to talk to me about getting published. She saw my name in the ad for the Lyceum presentation of self-publishing at the library this coming Thursday night. We are living in interesting times as far as publishing is concerned. New digital technology has made it possible for anyone to publish a book if they can come up with the fees asked for by the dozens of author-houses that have sprung up. The big publishers now pretty much reserve their services for proven authors and you can't blame them. The cost of publishing is one thing but the cost of promoting books is quite another --- these days the rule is: Publishing is easy, promoting is hard.

The caller had already signed a contract with an author house that has long had a reputation as a “vanity press”. I was dumbfounded at the price she was paying to have her book published. I wish her well with ever making that back! But the desire to publish is very strong in many people and I am certainly supportive of giving it a go. Just be prepared for an uphill slog when it comes to selling those books.

I feel confident in saying these things because I've been at this boo writing/publishing business for 5 years now and have five books on the market. So far the only ones that have paid their own way are my first novel, The Old Mermaid's Tale, and the knitting book, The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties, which has actually done amazingly well. I am in the fortunate position now of having a regular income, though far from enough to live on, from my books. The cookbook, Fry Bacon. Add Onions” is showing signs of doing pretty well, too. Which brings me to a new development...

On Saturday I had a meeting with a woman who has my cookbook and has decided to do something similar. She asked me to help her with it and I'm excited about this. Her great-grandmother and grandmother were both incredible cooks who ran some inns and restaurants in the courses of their lives. She has all their recipes as well as wonderful photographs, recipe books, recipe cards, menus, newspaper clippings, labels, postcards, etc. from their various enterprises. I am working at collecting the images and recipes and putting them together in a book that I think is going to be gorgeous. I'm as pleased to be working on this as I was to work on my own cookbook. I think the concept of cookbooks as memoir is a winning combination.

I recently found the picture above in a book that belonged to another friend's grand father. He lived in New York, just outside NYC and was a grocer. She has a book that belonged to him, a grocer's reference book printed in 1911. The picture above was featured in the section on fish. She let me scan it to post. We've talked about her collection of family photos, articles, certificates, etc. and the idea of putting them together in a book for her nieces and nephews. I hope she does it, I think all that stuff is so important to families.

So Thursday night at the Sawyer Free Library I will be part of a panel talking about the new face of publishing. We'll be downstairs in the Friends Room beginning at 7:00. Please come if you are interested in publishing. There are lots of options on how to do it but there are also lots of businesses out there ready to take your money – lots of your money – for not much in return. We'll be talking about it Thursday night. Hope to see you there.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pirates! Oooo yea, baby!

Someone created this "fanvid" and posted it to you tube. I think it is great. It is from the Masterpiece Theater production of Daphne DuMaurier's Frenchman's Creek, quite possibly my favorite movie of all times for pure, adulterous romance. Bon appetit!

The "bold marauder" is yummy Anthony Delon. Swash those buckles!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Icons by Lynn Runnells

Much to my astonishment, my blog has been getting hundreds of hits ever since I posted about the kerfuffle in Oklahoma over iconographer Janet Jaime's interpretation of the San Damiano crucifix. I had no idea that many people were interested in it. Let me quickly point out that my observations were not intended to be critical of either Ms. Jaime's talent nor of the upset people are feeling about it. In all honesty I sincerely believe Ms. Jaime never intended for her painting to be seen the way it has been seen but I also think she might offer to do a bit of “touching up” to lessen the impression it creates.

Since I grew up Catholic and studied art in college I've had a long history of looking at, studying and thinking about icons. When I was at Penn State I took an art history course in Byzantine Art which includes much iconography. The artists of that period, from Eastern Europe, Western Asia to the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Venice created a highly stylized, two-dimensional technique that was used in creating paintings, mosaics, stained glass, and the ubiquitous triptychs seen predominantly in Eastern Orthodox churches.

In contemporary society icons have become popular in recent years and there are a number of iconographers doing lovely work. I was delighted when I was asked to create a web site for local iconographer Lynn Runnells a few years ago. I've written about her work here before but invite readers who want to know more to visit her web site.

One of the things I love most about Lynn's work is her depictions of Christ in Gloucester. This is quite customary in iconography, to take a sacred theme and frame it in a setting that tells a story to those who view it. In the picture below Lynn depicts Jesus, holding a Bible and standing in front of Gloucester harbor with the city in the background. You can see the blue towers of Our Lady of Good Voyage Church on the right and a fish poking its head out of the water.

The picture below is titled “Christ on the Beach” and, again we see Gloucester Harbor with fishermen, presumably St. Peter and Andrew, hauling in their catch. The order of the icon is decorated with honey bees, mussel shells, more fish and Christ has what looks like a nice lunch of bread, fruit, and wine while he waits for his fish to cook over the fire.

I love the simplicity of these paintings and the depictions of Jesus in scenes we can all relate to. The message seems to be “He is with us always”. Creating the web site was easy because Lynn's paintings are so live and vibrant they needed nothing more than a black background and the elegant little gold ornaments used to frame each painting.

So, I hope you'll visit Lynn's site and spend some time with her icons. Their messages are simple and beautiful. Enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Meet Scrimshander Linda Karst Stone

One of the things I love the most about designing web sites is that I get to work with some of the most talented people in the country. Linda Karst Stone is a perfect example. She contacted me a couple months ago about designing a web site to show her work as a scrimshaw artist and it just went live today. Linda lives in Kerrville, Texas and had seen my work online. When she started sending me images for the web site we were working on I was blown away by their beauty.

I had always thought of scrimshaw as a New England art form based on the pieces I saw in the Peabody-Essex and New Bedford Whaling Museums but Linda's work is far more diverse than anything I had ever seen. She scrimshaws wild animals, people, fantastical creatures, flowers and, of course, maritime art on all sorts of natural materials including tusks, bone, ivory. She even has scrimshawed bookmarks made from old piano keys and scrimshawed globes made from old cue balls. Her creativity is incredible.

On the site she has a history of scrimshaw with information on the materials used. She has a page of items for sale and a beautiful gallery of her various pieces. Most of her scrimshaw is commissioned by manufacturers of high-end knives and weaponry that has been custom ordered. The weapons are brutal-looking but the artwork is dazzling. She recently scrimshawed the handle of a knife that Brad Pitt commissioned to present to Quentin Tarantino after filming “Inglorious Bastards”.

So please visit Linda's new web site. She is headed off to a show in California but you can contact her through her web site. And, if you have been thinking about a web site, drop me a note. I love working with talented people!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Two beautiful blue-eyed boys

My brother Jack often commented on the fact that he, with his big brown eyes, hd fathered two children with pretty blue eyes. His daughter Amy's eyes turned green as she grew up but his son Mark is still blue-eyed, like our father was. Mark's wife Jenn sent this picture yesterday with their son Jack. I love it. My niece Alicia commented that if my Dad, her grandfather, was in the picture they would be triplets. Love those pretty blue eyes.....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Joy of Being Outbid

As most of my readers know I'm sort of an eBay junkie. What I love the most aabout eBay is having access to cool stuff from all over the world that I would not have were it not fot the internet. In my early days as an eBayer I didn't really understand how things worked and wound up buying some stuff I really didn't want. But, now with some experience behind me, I've learned to communicate with the vendor and apply some bidding strategies.

Recently I blogged about buying 2 silk saris on eBay but I had my eye on a third one and didn't want to mention it until I knew whether or not it was going to be mine. The truth is I was guilty of premature bidding, something I've done before, and I had to wait to see if I was going to win that bid before bidding on the one I really wanted. Luckily, I got outbid a few days ago so felt justified in putting in a bid on a sari I felt was much more lovely. Last night it closed and I "won" it for $9.98, less than half of what I would have been willing to pay for it.

The sari is 100% pure silk and the design just takes my breath away, graceful ladies in saris feeding little fawns. These are a few of the pictures (click to enlarge):

I absolutely love the pattern and it is trimmed in metallic gold thread.

So now the wait begins for my package to arrive from India. My intention, at the moment, is to use them to make soft, floating summer shirts using the cool shirt-making techniques from David Page Coffin's books. The last several evenings I have been in my sewing room making pretty things while listening to Eric Jackson's jazz program. So pleasant. I often wonder what do people who don't sew do?

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Fine Art of Shirt Making

A few years ago I purchased a copy of David Page Coffin's Shirtmaking, probably the best book I've ever read on sewing techniques for making beautiful shirts. I've used his techniques a few times and always love the results. Right after I got the book I made a shirt in black sand-washed silk using black abalone buttons and I still wear it and feel fabulous in it when I do.

This shirt is made of silk dupioni in a gorgeous, rich magenta color. I sewed the last of the buttons on last night and can't wait to wear it. The cuffed sleeves are 3/4 length.   

Making a collar with collar stand is always tricky but Coffin's technique of rolling the shirt front and stitching a few stitches in to the neck seam gives a beautiful, crisp finish. 
I decided to make 2 large pockets on the front of the shirt and to use some pretty carnival glass buttons. Since the shirt will be either dry cleaned or washed by hand I wasn't afraid they would get damaged. I used 12 buttons and placed sets of 2 at 1" apart, with 4" spaces between each set.
The back is especially beautiful with a deep yoke and a pleat/vent down the center back.
I'm so pleased with it I plan to make another one in some periwinkle silk dupioni I have from the same eBay vendor. Wearing silk always makes me feel special and with a few book-related events coming up they will be a nice thing to have.

So I'm off to my sewing room --- it is gray and rainy outside but very silky inside.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The San Damiano Crucifix is, um, hung.....

There's a big controversy raging in St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Warr Acres, Oklahoma right now over a local iconographer's interpretation of the San Damiano Cross that was commissioned for that parish's nave. The cross, which is 10 feet tall and hangs over the altar, was painted by iconography artist Janet Jaime. It is based on one of the most popular icons in Christianity, the San Damiano Cross which hangs in the Basilica of St. Clare of Assisi in Italy (below).

Traditionally icons are artistic interpretations of sacred events which are painted in a stylized manner and involve elements which are not true to actual events but rather tell a story that pertains to that event. I've written about this before in my blog about the icons of Lynn Runnells, one of my favorite iconography artists, who often paints scenes depicting Christ and the Blessed Mother in Gloucester.

In the San Damiano Cross the main figure is Christ crucified. The New Catholic Encyclopedia adds: Behind and around Christ, are depictions of people who participated in the Passion. To Jesus' right side, are Mary, His mother, and John, the beloved disciple who He entrusted to care for Mary. The colors of their garments are significant as well; Mary is clothed in an inner purple dress to represent the Ark of the Covenant, and John is clothed in a white tunic for purity and a rose mantel for eternal wisdom. To Jesus' left side are Mary Magdalen, her hand on her chin to signify the secret she shared, He is Risen, Mary Cleopas, and the centurion of Capernaum. The two smaller figures, one next to the centurion and the other by the Blessed Virgin, represent two Roman soldiers: Longinus, who pierced Jesus' side with a Lance, and Stephen, who offered a wine-soaked sponge to Jesus on the cross. Across the bottom of the crucifix are six unknown saints; scholars speculate on who they may be but the damage to that area of the crucifix is too great for a definitive identification to be made. The calligraphic scrolls that border the cross may signify the mystical vine of John 15:5, where Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches..." and the base of the cross seems to be a section of rock, the symbol of the Church.

The San Damiano Cross has been interpreted by other iconographers such as Susan Wagner (above) and Delphia Dirks (below):

 So what makes Janet Jaime's San Damiano Cross so shocking. Well, take a look:
 Uh, yeah. Those stomach muscles seem to be getting increasingly stylized with each interpretation. Or do I just have a naughty mind? 

When I was writing Each Angel Burns I did a lot of research on religious art, statuary, etc. When I knew that I was going to tell the story of a statue of the Archangel Gabriel by Giovanni Dupre that mysteriously disappears, I set about reading everything I could about mysteries surrounding religious art. Of course the tales abound --- weeping statues, bleeding statues, images that disappear, etc. The stories are endless. But this crucifix in Oklahoma, well, it certainly does invite imagining a story. I'd be interested to know what yours is. All I can say is if both Dan Brown and Janet Jaime are correct, Mary Magdalene was a very luck girl.

Thanks for reading. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Little by little progress happens...

I got an email from Susan Oleksiw complimenting me on Each Angel Burns which she had just read. Susan is the author of the Mellingham mystery series and a terrific writer. She is the founder of Larcom Review and one of the founders of the Level Best Books, which publishes an annual crime anthology. I am flattered that she likes my writing. She wrote: I finished your book this weekend and have to say I'm very impressed with the whole story, especially the way you pull the mystery together at the end. Wonderfully done. Good characters, good planting of clues, great setting, great tie-in with the two periods of the setting and the young virginal women who occupy the place. Well done!!

It is always a thrill to have your writing appreciated by a writer whose work you respect.

Because Susan's Level Best Books has been so successful and people want to know how she did it she has organized a forum on self-publishing to be presented on April 29 at the Sawyer Free Library's Lyceum. I have been invited to be on the panel. I am delighted by this and will be there with copies of all five of my books. Now that I have five books in print I receive a check every month from the printer/distributor for books sold and, I've got to say, it is exciting. It is exciting because that money comes to me because I am a writer. That just thrills me. Sometimes the checks are modest but they still pay a couple bills. Sometimes they are impressive. I'm not at the point where I can live on them yet but whenever there is enough to pay the rent I have hopes.

So, I am inviting everyone to come to the Sawyer Free Library in Gloucester on April 29th. I'll be there with Susan, Gunilla Caulfield author of Murder on Bearskin Neck, and Thomas A. Hauck author of Pistonhead. Please join us!

On Sunday I will be doing an interview with the local paper for an article on the new cookbook/memoir, Fry Bacon. Add Onions. I don't know what the publication date will be but I'm looking forward to that, too. Little by little progress happens.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thacher Island

I haven't been out there in a few years but this video is a lovely reminder:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Sari State of Things...

When I lived in Houston and was taking dance classes at a belly dance studio, I got completely obsessed with making beautiful veils and costumes for our dance programs. My favorite places to shop were two sari shops in an Indian neighborhood. They were absolutely beautiful shops filled with all kinds of fabric in the most delicious colors, fibers, and patterns. One shop suspended big wooden hoops from the ceiling and looped lengths of fabric through them so the tumbled down and swayed in the breeze like air-borne dancers of astonishing gracefulness.

Saris are the oldest, continually fashionable garments on earth. The saris worn in India today are often similar to those worn 2 thousand years ago. They are just lengths of fabric,usually a little over a yard wide and 5 to 9 yards in length. The wearer ties a sash around her waist and wraps the sari around her hips then creates pleats in the front that are tucked into the sash. Then the long end, often heavily patterned or embroidered and called the pallu, is tossed over the shoulder. Saris are usually worn over a short, tight bodice called a choli, and sometimes over a petticoat as well. There are many variations on how the sari is worn often indicting the region of the family the wearer is from.

I personally think that saris are the most graceful of garments but I've long thought that Indian women are among the most beautiful on the planet. I'm not the sari-type but I loved the fabric in them and used saris I had purchased to make summer dresses and blouses as well as dance costumes.

What made me think of this was discovering a number of vendors on eBay who sell vintage silk saris in gorgeous patterns. I put a bid on a pure gaji silk sari with a pattern of elephants on it (above) that I loved and got it. I was so happy I started looking at other saris and found another one that is listed as art silk. Art silk, for those who don't know, is usually a blend of silk and rayon but in recent years can also be any type of artificial silk. I wrote to the seller in India and they wrote back assuring me it is a silk/rayon blend so I bid on and got that one too (below).

I seem to be collecting a lot of fabric lately but it is so beautiful I can't resist it and, when you think about it, fabric collecting is one of the most harmless and useful things a sewer can collect. It can be used for clothes, quilts, decorating, covering or just draping.

Seems a lot of women are in love with beautiful fabrics. Why not? They appeal to the senses in many ways --- the look beautiful, feel lovely, often make delightful swishing sounds when you move in them. Fabric is potential. It can be so many things.

So I am waiting for my package to arrive from India. I have ideas about what I want to do with the saris but I may just wind up collecting them. They remind me of those beautiful shops in Houston which smelled of spices and incense and were zitar music played and beautiful people with dark, liquid eyes unfolded lengths of shimmering fibers to show them to me. “Look, missy,” they would say, “fine silk from India.” So evocative and romantic.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dainty, Pretty Things (plus free pattern)

Sometimes it's fun to just knit cute, quick, useful projects. I had this ball of rayon bouclé in pretty shades of violet and blue from Yarntopia Treasures. So I knit this little change purse. It took two evenings and is a really nice little bag. It couldn't be easier. You'll need:

5 #1 double-pointed needles
about 150 yds. of a pretty, fingering or sport weight yarn
a pretty button (mine is Czech glass)

Bottom gusset: Cast on 10 stitches on one needle and knit back and forth for a total of forty rows. Knit every row (garter stitch).

Body: leave 10 stitches on first needle, pick up 30 stitches along one long side with second needle, pick up 10 stitches on the opposite end with third needle, pick up 31 stitches on remaining side with fourth needle. Using the fifth needle knit in the round in seed stitch (k1, P1) for 1½”. Continue to work in pattern but taper sides by (K2tog) 2x at the center point of each end (needles with 10 stitches on them). Do this on every other round until only 2 stitches remain on each of the needles. 

Redistribute stitches as follows:
Leave 31 stitches on fourth needle. Move 15 stitches from the second needle onto the first needle (which now has 2 stitches on it) for a total of 17 stitches. Move the 2 stitches from the third needle onto the second for a total of 17 stitches. Set the third needle aside.
Work four more rounds in pattern. Bind off the 31 stitches on the fourth needle and set that needle aside. Move all remaining stitches on to one needle.

Flap: With two needles work back and forth as follows:
RS: (K1,P1) 2x, continue working in seed stitch up to last 4 stitches, (P1,K1) 2x
WS: (P1,K1) 2x, continue working in seed stitch up to last 4 stitches, (K1,P1) 2x

Work in pattern for 1”. Begin to taper as follows:
RS: K1,P1,K1, P2tog, continue working in seed stitch up to last 4 stitches, P2 tog, K1,P1,K1
WS: (P1,K1) 2x, continue working in seed stitch up to last 4 stitches, (K1,P1) 2x

When there are 22 stitches left on the needle work as follows:
RS: K1,P1,K1, P2tog, work 4 stitches in pattern, bind off 6 stitches, work 4 stitches in pattern, P2 tog, K1,P1,K1
WS: (P1,K1) 2x, work 4 stitches in pattern, cast on 6 stitches, work 4 stitches in pattern, (K1,P1) 2x
Continue to work in pattern until there are 8 stitches left on the needle.
Bind off and sew on button.

Rayon and silk are good choices for this as it is sturdy and lustrous.

Happy knitting and thanks for reading!

Friday, April 09, 2010

My New Cashmere Sweater & Strawberry Sangria

Just in time for our recent heat wave I finished a new sweater in a wonderfully soft cashmere bouclé from Colourmart UK. Now that the weather has cooled back down I may get to wear it for a bit too.

The style is just a basic cardigan from the same layout as my Forest of Ferns Sweater. The lace pattern is the same Lacy Braid pattern that I gave the diagram for on page 38 of my knitting book.

This is a beautiful lace and very, very easy to learn. The yarn is just wonderful to work with --- light and fluffy with a slightly silky feel to it.
I made knitted-in buttonhole. The four buttons are from my button box. I have to say, it knitted up really fast even though I was working on #4 needles. The color is a deep, rich dark black --- much darker than the pictures seem to show.

I've really developed a love of cashmere --- it is so lovely to handle and to wear. I've started work on another sweater in the soft blue cashmere chenille I bought from Spindlecraft last year. I'm working on #1 needles so it is going to be awhile until it is finished but the feel of this fiber is so delicious I don't mind.

And, since it is nearly strawberry season, it might be a good time to mix up a batch of Strawberry Sangria to enjoy while wearing it. This is from the Sangria section of Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook:

My Strawberry Sangria
In a large pitcher place:
½ lb. fresh strawberries, cut in half
2 tangerines, peeled, sectioned and
broken in half
1 cup Hiram Walker Tangerine Schnapps
Fill with burgundy and let chill overnight

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Nun Stories

I came across this picture on the internet of St. Joseph's Monastery in my home town recently. I was looking for the convent's address because I needed to mail a package to my cousin who is a Benedictine nun there. I love this picture because it brought back so many memories. From the time I was in first grade (Sister Amelia) to the time I graduated from high school I had nuns as teachers and most of them were wonderful, kind, intelligent women. Actually, in all those years I only encountered two “bad” nuns. One was just humorless though not particularly mean and one was a miserable old shrew but I figure that wherever you go to school for 12 years you are bound to encounter one nasty teacher, so I don't take it personally.

I received a letter from my cousin, Sister Mary James, O.S.B. thanking me for the copy of my cookbook that I sent her. Her mother is my Great-aunt Mary that I talk about in the book. Sister was so happy to see all the pictures of her mother and her recipes in the book. She also asked about my other writing so, after some consideration, I decided to mail her copies of my other books. The two novels have spicy parts in them so I warned her of that and told her she had to close her eyes when she read those parts. I'm sure she will.

Actually, my knitting book, The Mermaid Shawl & other beauties, is dedicated to Sister Imelda who was one of the nuns in St. Joseph's Monastery. She was a brilliant and wonderful woman. When I was in high school I decided that I wanted to take mechanical drawing which Sister Imelda taught but which was restricted to boys only. When I asked Father Martin if I could take the class he said I should ask Sister Imelda and if it was okay with her I could. Sister told me something I never forgot when I asked her. She said that if I took the class I had to work hard and get good grades because, if I didn't, it would make it that much harder for girls who wanted to take the class in the future. I got all A's and, within a couple years, there were as many girls as boys in the class.

Of course, much of Each Angel Burns is set in a convent and a good many readers have emailed to say how much they wish the convent I describe in the book existed because they would love to go there. Well, the closest thing to it is St. Joseph's Monastery. When we were little we used to love to go to visit the nuns there. It was a special place, secluded and quiet with beautiful outdoor shrines and a little lake that some of the nuns went rowing on.

One of the shrines was to Saint Walburga and my mother used to got here to get the holy oil that was sent from Germany. It was said to have marvelous healing properties though I'm not sure why or how she used it. But the nuns were always sweet to us and gave us holy cards and cookies.

In its early days there was a private boarding school within the convent but that had been closed years before I could remember. When I was a kid there were over a hundred nuns living there. Most of them were teachers in St. Marys' three parochial grade schools and one Catholic high school. Some nuns worked at the hospital, too. Generating the income to support such a large convent was, no doubt, a challenge. There was a beautiful ceramic shop where one nun, Sister Augusta, made the loveliest things. I still have several ceramic angels and an extensive nativity set that she made. It has many pieces including lambs, shepherds, wisemen, and a camel.

One of the most interesting enterprises the nuns had was a backhoe service. One of the younger nuns grew up in a family that ran a backhoe business and she had learned to use one to dig ditches and foundations early in life. With income dwindling and the need to generate funds, the nuns held a can drive and for ages my mother made us all save cans which we would haul to the convent by the trash bag full. Many people did and, eventually, they saved enough money through can collection to buy a backhoe. Both of my brothers, who were carpenters, would call the convent when they needed a ditch or foundation dug and schedule an appointment. And on the specified day here would come Sister on her backhoe, her little black veil pinned on top of her head, and she'd dig their hole for them.

So I am happy to have this picture. And it was wonderful to hear from Sister Mary James. I hope she likes her package and that she reads my books without getting any bright ideas. Afterall, nuns are only human.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 02, 2010

A To-Die For Recipe for Easter!

Okay, I totally stole this from Saveur but it is soooo awesome:

Chocolate Spice-Cake Pudding

We created this intense "bread pudding" using chocolate spice cake instead of bread and baked it in a Charlotte mold with a custard adapted from a recipe in Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts (Random House, 1991). We like to cover this cake with rich, dark chocolate sauce. This recipe accompanied Elizabeth Schneider's September/October 1995 feature, "Where the Chocolate Tree Blooms," about cacao in Venezuela.
Source: Saveur
Chocolate Spice-Cake Pudding View Gallery Photo: Guy Kloppenburg
10 tbsp. butter
2 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1⁄2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp. ground cloves
1⁄2 tsp. dry mustard
1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup dark or light molasses
1 cup strong coffee, cooled
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
6 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1. For the cake: Preheat oven to 375°. Grease a jelly roll pan with 1 tbsp. of the butter; set aside. Sift flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt, cloves, mustard, and pepper together into a medium bowl. Beat sugar and remaining 9 tbsp. butter together in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then molasses. Mix in one-third of the flour mixture, then one-third of the coffee; repeat process twice. Beat in chocolate. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until top springs back when touched, about 15 minutes. Set aside to let cool.
2. For the custard: Melt chocolate with milk and cream in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Set aside to let cool. Whisk eggs and vanilla together in a small bowl, whisk into milk mixture, and set aside.
3. Cut parchment paper to fit sides and bottom of a 13-cup charlotte mold. Grease mold with half the remaining butter, line with paper, and grease with remaining butter. Cut a circle of cake to fit bottom of mold and press into bottom. Cut 7 more pieces into flared "planks", about 1" × 2" × 3 1⁄2". Place in mold wide end up, leaving 3⁄4" spaces in between, as if making a crown. Cut remaining cake into irregular squares and place inside crown. Pour custard over cake pieces. Bake for 70 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 45–60 minutes.
4. To serve: Invert cake onto a plate and unmold. Pour half the chocolate sauce over cake and serve the remaining sauce on the side.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

How I Saved $750 I Wouldn't Have Spent In The First Place

Last week I was browsing through a catalog from Neiman-Marcus (discarded by a friend, Neiman-Marcus doesn't send me catalogs) when I came across something fascinating, a pair of black velvet jeans listed at $265 slashed to the very reasonable price of $175. Now who could resist that? Ye gods and little fishes! But it gave me an idea. During the endless sorting-through going on in my sewing room I came across a very, very large length of black velvet, no doubt an eBay bargain I failed to resist.

So Sunday I decided to make a pair of black velvet jeans. I have a pattern for jeans I've used before and, since I was cutting them out I decided to double the fabric and cut out 2 pair. This necessitated a certain amount of fuddling around because, as seamstresses know, velvet has a nap and you have to get all the pieces in a garment napped in the same direction if you want it to look consistent. So during the long rainy evenings earlier this week I stitched up the jeans. I will confess that sewing velvet is a little bit of a challenge. The pile makes the fabric shift around and it takes a whole lot of straight pins to keep it in place but I managed. This velvet is rayon, not cotton like Neiman-Marcus's but the results are beautiful and I now have two really good looking pairs of black velvet jeans (though not as good looking as Billy Chenowith's black leather jeans below, heaven knows). Lord only knows what I'll wear them for.

So, while I was looking through my stash, I noticed a gorgeous, generous length of 100% silk dupioni in the most delicious shade of magenta that I purchased (an eBay STEAL for $15!) not long ago. The same Neiman-Marcus catalog had a shirt with ¾ length sleeves and big pockets in silk dupioni for $220. So I decided to make a copy in my silk. It is on the cutting table now.

Now, I don't need to tell you that I would never, under and circumstances, pay $265 for a pair of velvet jeans or $220 for a silk shirt. I mean just think of all the fabric that would buy! But there is something really satisfying in being able to make comparable items, tailor them to my preferences, and know that each garment cost me less than the shipping for the catalog versions. Plus there is the added bonus of the time spent making them. For some reason being at my sewing machine is the most satisfying way I can think of to spend time. I've been sewing for over 50 years and I often think of projects I made when my grandmother or my first 4-H leader were first teaching me to sew.

My grandmother had one of the old black Singer sewing machines in her bedroom and she could whip up a garment in no time. She wasn't as detail oriented as I am --- I love to fuss with edging stitches, pin-tucks, pleats, funky little details --- but she supplied my mother with housedresses, aprons, play clothes for an ever growing family, and, of course, dozens of quilts.

Mary Seelye, my first 4-H leader, was a sweet, warm, lovely woman who guided me through the making of my first skirts and blouses to be shown off at 4-H Roundup. I still remember my first skirt. I bought the fabric, a butter-yellow cotton, at Kantar's Department Store in St. Marys. I loved that skirt and still have a photo of myself wearing it sitting on the fence that surrounded our front yard.

In high school I had Sister Claudia for Home Ec. We had an uneven relationship mostly because she wanted me to sew her way but, by the time I took Home Ec, I was an experienced seamstress and had a hard time unlearning my own way. But I thank Sister Claudia for something I still remember. One time, when she had made me rip out a seam to re-sew it, I was being bull-headed and petulant. Sister watched me for a minute and then said, “Remember, Kathleen, every stitch is a prayer.”

I remind myself of that when I sew now. Every stitch is a prayer. Tomorrow is Good Friday and I'll probably knock off work early and go in my sewing room and pray over my new silk shirt. Praying is good --- almost s good as saving $750, even if I wouldn't have spent it in the first place.

Thanks for reading.