Beginnings… again

Ok, so this blog has gotten backburnered, and I think I know why. For reasons I don’t really understand, I had decided that I should only share long posts about finished projects and triumphs, which was placing pressure on me. This pressure came from me, which is dumb, because then I rebelled by not writing anything at all. Perfectionism paralysis. So here we are.


When I started this blog years ago it was a personal blog and then a mommy blog, which is where the name came from. That’s a story for another time, but I’ll tell it–it’s quite cute, really. It’s not that I love goats.

When my kids were old enough to be aware that what I posted online was about them, I adjusted my content and started posting more about my artistic endeavors. Scrapbooking was the star for a while, and then I realized that I’m much more successful as an artist with fabric. So for the past long while it’s been a quilting blog.

For two years, my Muse has been quiet, I guess because of the emotional drought caused by my dad’s death. But yesterday I think I got my Next Big Idea.

I am a compulsive doodler, keeping my hands busy and my mind clear when I sit in meetings. I love repetitive geometric shapes within organic curves that happen when I draw Zentangle doodles, like this one from January:

It’s 2.5″x3.5″– an artist trading card, and I have a stack of them with me at all times. During a meeting I allow myself only one card, so you can tell how long the meeting goes by how many details get added to it.

For a while I’ve wanted to create something like this out of fabric, with color and piecework… here are a few links to previous works that have kind of explored the beginnings of this idea, which I now want to combine into one piece. Or many. Who knows?

The Story of “Fusion,” Part Three: Finishing

Linus the WonderCollie, at long last

Seminole Tutorial post

A Semma Tree

Thank you, Natalia!

So last night I started to play. 20 years ago I made Jerry a cross-stitch of part of the Frank Lloyd Wright “Saguaro Cactus Forms” art glass, and it hangs in our bedroom where I see it every day.

We are both drawn to the colors and shapes of the American Southwest, as evidenced by our paint color choices in our home.

And this summer I’ve been doing a lot of digital “coloring” using the app Happy Color, and several have enchanted me. Here’s one:

This morning I pulled out my Seminole Patchwork book and I’ll keep playing today. Who know where this will lead?

Maybe I’ll write more without the pressure to always write an epic post?

The Story of “Fusion,” Part Three: Finishing

Warning: Lots of photos ahead!

This is Part 3 of 3 about my current favorite quilt that I’ve made, “Fusion,” pictured below. I made it in 2017, after letting it percolate for about 18 months. If you haven’t read Parts 1 and 2 of this series, it’s going to seem like I’m starting in the middle. So go here and here and read those first — I’ll wait.

photo by Jeff White:

I’ve been struggling internally about writing this last installment, partly because I think it’s going to be difficult to write. Yesterday I realized that it probably won’t be all that difficult to write, because I know the story so well… But it’s just one of those Impossible Tasks that become stalling points when depressed.

And admitting that writing this is an Impossible Task is admitting that while I like to pretend that I’m “OK” or “fine” or “doing great,” I’m still not any of those. But today I am telling myself that it’s OK not to be OK. I miss my dad. I miss him a lot. I always will. And while I love this quilt, the story of finishing it makes me sad.

I did go to therapy for a while again last year, but I know what I need to do to get out of this slump. I need to engage with people more, come out from under my rock, exercise my creative mind again. Knowing what I need to do and DOING what I need to do are very different things, though… And the DOING is the Impossible Task again.

So I’ve decided that I’m going to try to attack one Impossible Task a day for a while, just to try to pull myself back up. Feel free to join in with me with your own Impossible Tasks, whatever they might be. So before I go forward with the rest of the story, I’m going to send you to watch a quick video about how friends keep you afloat when you’re struggling, which is something on which I have come to depend. Thanks for jumping down in this hole with me … Together maybe we can find the way out, one Impossible Task at a time.

Today’s IT? Finishing this story. So here we go.

Dad was diagnosed August 6, as I said, and Fusion had been loaded on the longarm quilting machine but not much quilting had been done yet. I loaded it so that the quilt top “floated” over the batting and backing, so the top itself was not secured to the machine in any way. This will become a critical part of our story later.

I decided that in order to let the piecework shine, I would use a ruler and quilt every.single.piece. of fabric in the quilt with matching thread 1/8″ from every seam, and both the top and bobbin threads would match. I like to match my bobbin thread to the top thread because it can help conceal tension problems if I turn a corner a little too fast or things aren’t set totally perfectly. I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to tension, and I do it all by sound and feel, since my machine isn’t computerized. With so many thread changes, I was going to have to be very watchful of the tension, and make adjustments often after rethreading, etc.

So I started quilting.

I would do all of the pieces that were the same color in a row in one pass, breaking thread after every piece and burying the 4 thread tails by hand with a self-threading needle, and then change threads. Then I’d go to the start of the row and do all of the new color. So that first row, with its 252 pieces, had over 1000 thread tails to bury by hand.

Incidentally, I always bury thread tails as I go when I’m quilting, for several reasons: then I don’t have to navigate around them as I quilt to avoid making knots, and so that when I’m finished with the quilting I don’t have hours upon hours of burying threads to do. Yes, it’s probably a bit less efficient, but it makes the act of finishing the quilting on a quilt much more satisfying. And if you collect the threads as you trim them, they can be really pretty to look at:

In any case, halfway through the first row I hated my decision to change threads so much, but I was getting the effect that I wanted with the quilting so I just powered through and kept going.

Two rows in, I was absolutely sure that the trouble of burying all those thread tails was going to be absolutely worth it, though I amended my usual approach to bury all of the threads of one color on a row when I got to the end of the row and before I changed colors, instead of every time I moved to a new piece of fabric. That helped speed up the process a lot, but it still took about 6-8 hours to completely quilt one 9″x72″ row of blocks.

As it started to roll up on the back bar, I got so excited. This was going to be epic, and I could already tell.

And then something went wrong partway through row 3. If I moved the machine trolley backwards and to the left for more than a stitch or two (which was something that had to happen on pretty much every piece since I was going around the perimeter of every section of fabric in the quilt), it would skip stitches. Not just one or two, either.

Because of the way I had loaded the quilt onto the machine with the top floating, I couldn’t take it off partially-quilted without risking ruin. I couldn’t take the machine in to be fixed by a technician without removing the quilt. Only 2/3 of the longarm frame was set up, so I didn’t have a lot of space to work with to access the machine’s insides, attempt to fix the problem, or test what I tried… maybe 6 inches on the left side of the quilt. That was it.

As I saw it, I had two options: fix it myself, or pay a ridiculous amount of money for a house call to have a technician fix it in situ, which would risk them doing something to jeopardize the quilt already on the frame. As that was not an acceptable option, I decided to do everything I could think of to fix the problem.

Dad had raised all three of us kids to be well-versed in the scientific process: try one thing at a time, test, then try something else, test again. If you try too many things at once, you won’t know which adjustment fixed the problem. So, one idea at a time, I tried to figure out what was causing the machine to skip stitches. I cleaned the machine the best I could. I changed the needle. I oiled it. I cleaned it again. I rethreaded the top and bottom multiple times. I tried a different thread. I tried a different fiber of thread. I loosened the tension all the way out and tightened it back up slowly to see if that was the problem, since that often worked with my previous machine. Nothing changed, and it still skipped stitches.

I posted the above picture on Instagram to ask for helpful suggestions.

Many longarmers had ideas of what the problem might be, and gave great suggestions. Again, I tried adjustments one thing at a time, and then tested on that tiny 6″ section to the left of the quilt. I didn’t have success, and while I could break thread more often and only quilt downwards and to the right, that would have doubled the number of thread tails I would have to bury. By this point, I had spent about 4 hours trying to fix the problem and it was nearing midnight on a school night. I had to go to bed. So I dreamed of fixing longarms that night.

The next afternoon, I came home from school and watched several videos on how to fix the timing of a longarm machine. The timing is exactly that — the alignment of the hook of the bobbin case and the threaded needle, so that it’s timed perfectly to make a good stitch. The working theory was that my machine had somehow gotten knocked “out of time,” which is apparently a common issue for this vintage of Handiquilter Avante longarm machines.

None of the videos that I could find were of my particular machine being adjusted, but after watching a few different ones I was able to figure out how it might work. So I set up a strange little workstation: a kitchen stool was directly under the nose of the machine, and my iPhone was on top of the stool with the camera in selfie mode so I could see the underside of the machine as I worked from the top. My iPad Mini had the timing video queued up so I could watch the relevant section over and over as needed, and all of the little tools I might need were carefully laid out where I could reach them easily.

As carefully as I could, I attempted to re-time my machine. My machine had two screws instead of three like the machine in the video that I had to adjust, and these screws needed to be tightened/loosened while the wheel was advanced so make it so that the needle and the hook timed together better. I’d make a small adjustment, tighten everything up again, move the stool out from under the machine, rethread everything, and test in the tiny 6″ of space. I couldn’t advance the quilt to do my tests on a different section of the edge without risking getting puckers and folds when I rolled it back to work after I fixed everything, so I had to keep ripping out the same little test section so that I could use it again. The photo below is probably the fourth or fifth time I set up a test section while fixing the machine.

After over 8 hours total of trying one adjustment at a time, I had retimed my machine such that the stitch quality looked good again, and it was no longer skipping stitches in any direction.

It was loud, though. Every time the machine took a stitch, the hook on the bobbin case would tap the side of the needle, so it made quite a racket. Since my quilting room was directly over Helen’s bedroom, I had to promise her that I would not sew after 9:30pm while it was making so much noise.

Around this time, Dad had his one and only chemotherapy treatment. The poor nurse missed his vein the first time, which had to have been frustrating for Dad and embarrassing for the nurse. As an anesthesiologist, he had a reputation for never missing when inserting IVs. I’m just glad I didn’t witness his reaction when she missed.

On August 25, 2017, both of my brothers had come to town to be with Dad since we didn’t know how much longer he would be with us. Pete was already going to be here for his work, so he just extended the trip so that he could linger with Mom and Dad for a while. Pete left for his hotel, and Tom and Lila stayed in the guest room at my parents’ house after we all had a visit together. Tom helped Mom get Dad up the stairs to their bedroom, and then everyone went to bed.

In the middle of the night, Dad got up to go to the bathroom and fell on his way back to bed. Mom couldn’t get him up off the floor, so she went down and woke Tom up to help. The two of them recognized that Dad was not doing well at all, so they called an ambulance and Dad went to the hospital with Mom and Tom following. Lila kept trying to call us, but the sound was off on my phone so it took me and Jerry way too long to pick up. Nobody knew which hotel Pete was staying at, and his sound was off too.

I suddently remembered that Pete had casually mentioned that his hotel room had a VCR in the room — not a DVD player or BluRay or Roku or Netflix access, but a VCR — and how funny he thought that was. So I looked up hotels near where his entrance to Redstone Arsenal would be, to see if any of them advertised VCRs in the room. One of them actually did, which was bizarre. So we called it and got the front desk to ring Pete’s room, but Pete had turned that phone off too. They finally went and woke Pete up, to tell him that Dad had been taken to the hospital.

Dad was in the hospital for 2 days, and he kept trying to get out of bed and causing the nurses all kinds of headaches. We had to have one of us in the room with him around the clock to keep him in bed, because he was delirious and would get enraged when the nurses told him to be still. His dreams were active, and he’d lift his hands up like he was adjusting knobs and dials, like on the dash of his airplane or on his anesthesia cart, and he’d mutter to whoever was in the dream with him.

The next day we met with the oncologist, and got an honest prognosis. Dad could continue with the chemo, and he might be with us for a few more weeks. Or we could stop the chemo and put Dad in palliative care with Hospice, and he might be with us for a few more weeks. As advanced as his disease was, the chemo wasn’t going to be able to do very much, and at what cost?

So we took Dad home, set up a hospital bed in the den on the main floor of the house with the bathroom right there, and he spent his last 2 weeks surrounded by family. Tom and Lila stayed as long as they could, then returned home to Seattle. Pete stayed as long as he could, and went back to Virginia. Valerie came as soon as Pete left. Dad’s sister Jan came and lived with Mom, reminding Mom to sleep and take care of herself and being bossy when she needed to be bossy with her big brother. Mom secured home health nurses to come around the clock in addition to the Hospice nurses that were provided by the hospital, and we managed Dad’s pain with morphine drops.

Early on in those two weeks, he resisted the morphine. He didn’t want to get addicted, he said. My exhausted reaction made it out of my mouth before I had a chance to stop: “How do you think this is going to go, Dad?” Mom and Jan flinched, ready for the full impact of his rage reaction, but he just blinked at me in understanding. He accepted the morphine after that.

So each day was the same: I’d get up, go to school and pretend everything was normal, then come home and sew for a while, then go visit Dad, then go to bed. And again and again.

Slowly but surely, the unquilted part of the quilt was shrinking as I advanced the quilt and it rolled up on the back bar.

And then I was down to the last two rows.

And then the quilting was finished. I pulled it forward off the rollers and marveled at the texture created by the simple quilting.

At night I had started wearing compression gloves to help manage the pain caused by gripping the needle and burying so many thread tails. The gloves I wear are sold by Dritz… you can get them here if your hands hurt too.

My cutting table was blocked on three sides by walls and the quilting machine, so I took the quilt over to Mom and Dad’s house to trim the edges square. I remember that Dad was out of the bed and sitting in his chair that day, and I was able to take the quilt in and show it to him with the quilting all finished. I told him that I had channeled him and his determination to fix my machine ALL BY MYSELF and he was proud of me.

The back looked really cool, too — it’s subtle, but because of the thread color changes you can see the design from the back. As always, Friday and Ella had to test it to see if it was a good surface for play. It passed!

I chose to face the quilt instead of enclosing it with a binding, using the tutorial at Art With A Needle. The finished piece is 72″x90″ so it took quite a while to get that finished.

The final stitches were put into the facing of “Fusion” late in the evening of Monday, September 11, 2017, while I sat at my Dad’s bedside. He died at 12:34am on Tuesday.

In the just over a month between Dad’s diagnosis and death, I spent a tremendous amount of time at my parents’ house or at the hospital, at school teaching other people’s children, over 100 hours quilting on this monster quilt (plus the 8+ hours fixing a broken machine)… I am reminded again how blessed I am to have the husband and children that I do. They encourage me to create and grieve in this expressive way, and that is an incredible gift. I was not available to them at all that month, and I’ve been a shadow of myself since.

This post is long enough now, so I think I’ll have an Epilogue for this series and detail what has happened with “Fusion” since its completion.

Maybe with this one Impossible Task down, I can start climbing out of this hole and rejoin my family. After 18 months they’ve been more than patient.

Depression sucks. And I’ve been in denial. But now I’m admitting it, and isn’t admitting that you have a problem the first step?

Love to you all.

The Story of “Fusion,” Part Two: Construction

This is Part 2 of 3 about my current favorite quilt that I’ve made, “Fusion,” pictured below. I made it in 2017, after letting it percolate for about 18 months. If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, it’s going to seem like I’m starting in the middle. So go here and read that first — I’ll wait.

Photo by Jeff White Photography

Where were we? Oh, yes.

In late evening one night in March of 2017, over a year after Dad’s heart surgery, I was packing to go on a school trip and suddenly had a compulsive need to sketch out the complete design idea for the quilt.

There used to be a page in my Facebook profile where I collected favorite quotations… it has been swallowed up by webgremlins because I can’t find it, and I can’t remember enough of the quotation I want to mention here, but maybe one of you will know it. Basically, it’s suggesting that when you make art (and I think the originator was talking about composing music, but to me it’s the same), it’s because the act of not making the art is no longer tenable.

I HAD to pick up my pencils that night, and even though I was tired after standing all day, I was so moved to sketch this out that I stood up for almost two hours getting it drawn. I could have taken my pencils to the kitchen table and sat down, but the idea flood was coming so fast I didn’t want to even take a break for that… So I just kept sketching.

After two hours and increasing “ahems” from Jerry reminding me that I had to get up really early the next morning, I had drawn this in my large Moleskine cahier journal. I darkened the one inch grid lines and numbered the squares later.

I went on the trip and dreamed about this quilt idea, looking forward to coming back and working on it. But the more I daydreamed about it, the more I realized that I didn’t need to be dealing with the fractured thinking that the school year causes while I was trying to work through this piece. So I just let it marinate for the rest of the spring, pulling the fabrics from my stash and collecting them in a Sterilite bin. As soon as graduation was over, I eagerly began construction.

I cut 2.5″ strips of all of these fabrics, and piled them up on my table, working to assemble the colors in the same organic manner as in each block of the sketch. I did not use foundations to assemble the blocks, relying instead on spray starch and firmly pressing every seam before I trimmed and added the next piece. Sometimes I’d get the angles a little weird and would have to trim off a section and begin again, but I rarely used my seam ripper to fix errors; I just would trim more and try again.

I also decided that any non-solid quilting cotton was fair game to use in the piece, no matter what genre of fabric was touching it. This meant that batiks danced with modern fabrics, and Thimbleberries mingled with hand-dyes and tonals. I expected to be struck down by Zeus himself because the! very! idea! of mixing batik fabrics with modern fabrics was enough to make some quilters hyperventilate about my heretic behavior.

No lightning came through my windows, so I kept going… Soon I had the top row fully assembled.

At this point I was getting kind of giddy about how it was going, but I was also a bit uncertain about if it would continue to be so cool as it got bigger. I told Jerry, as I often tell him when embarking on a fabric experiment:

This is either going to be really cool or a SPECTACULAR waste of fabric.

Occasionally the experiments end up being the latter, but usually if I can persist I find that they’re the former. The key is to push through the doubt when I start to hate it, and I’ll always start to hate it. It’s part of the process, and the part where most people get stuck and quit.

I probably squealed when I got the first few blocks of the second row done. When I had more of the second row finished, I knew that this was very definitely going to work, and it was going to be even better than I had imagined.

In the photo above, you can see that there are gaps in the blocks that have been finished and assembled on the wall. This is because I decided to work on two non-consecutive blocks at a time, so that a block wouldn’t inform the block next to it in design or fabric selection. I knew that I had very limited quantities of some of the fabrics I would be using, and I didn’t want to have to worry when I couldn’t find a fabric anymore — and some of these fabrics had been aging on my shelves for almost 2 decades. I also didn’t want to feel discouraged from using any fabric up completely. Didn’t I buy it to use it in the first place?

My process was to use Post-it Notes to cover all of the surrounding blocks, so that I could only see the block I was working on. Because of the size of my Post-it Notes, it was best to work on the blocks that were 3 apart. In the photo below you can see the marked sketch and the two visible blocks.

I’d usually work until the shreds of fabric had so encroached my workspace that I was struggling to find anywhere to work, and then I’d clean up until I had about a 16″ square of workable area again. This was right after a big cleanup session, as evidenced by the minimum of tiny shreds of fabric littering the left side of the cutting mat.

I referred to the sketch constantly to know what color fabric to choose next, and to get the angle on the last piece attached right — and to be sure to include enough seam allowance when I trimmed that I didn’t lose the last colors added.


Above are block 70 from the sketch, and block 70 from the quilt. The fabric version wasn’t a perfect duplicate of the sketch, but I decided that I liked the fracture lines caused by these types of imperfection.

It took about a day to assemble two blocks, and more if I made mistakes that I had to trim off and redo.

After I had two rows totally finished, the girls and I drove to Virginia for cousin Lauren’s high school graduation in the middle of June. We stayed in Wytheville, VA on the way up, and I bargained with the girls about fabric shopping at Sew What Fabrics, which is one of my favorite fabric stores in the world. They allowed (ha!) me to go as long as I picked up breakfast for them on the way back and didn’t stay longer than half an hour.

Turns out you can buy a LOT of fabric in half an hour.

And this doesn’t even count the fat quarters of brown Civil War fabrics that I found… I don’t even remember how many of those there were, but it was good handful. I had pretty much run out of yellows and browns and maroons, and I still had 80% of the quilt remaining to assemble, most of which would need brown and maroon.

I told Helen I spent $11.00. I didn’t tell her the multiple of $11.00 that I spent, but she’s well aware of how much fabric costs so I’m pretty sure she was over there judging the stack and making calculations, preparing to rat on me to her daddy… who, as long as I use it up, really doesn’t care that much when I buy fabric.

In Virginia, we noticed that Dad was coughing a lot, and was grumpier and grumpier again — like he had been 2 years before. His coughs were dry and unproductive, and just sounded like they hurt. He’d get winded just walking around my brother’s house, and kept taking long naps. We just rolled our eyes and barked back at him when he was cranky, but something wasn’t right. He insisted he was fine, and at his annual physical appointment that week his doc had also said he was fine.

After our weekend in Virginia and safely back home again with the newly restocked yellows and maroons and browns, I kept working on assembling the rows.

I’d post progress photos on Instagram and people kept suggesting that it looked like a fire. I didn’t confirm or deny what it represented for me, but the working title when Jerry and I would talk about it was “Arterial Spray.” We decided that perhaps that wasn’t a good name for a quilt, because it might invite questions. Lots and lots of questions.

I might watch too many crime TV shows. Perhaps.

I did finally post a photo of the first four rows of the sketch shown with the first four rows of the quilt, and the response was HUGE. “DO YOU TEACH CLASSES IN THIS!?!” Um, I’m figuring out what the heck I’m doing at the moment… lemme get back to you on that.

After I had 5 rows finished, I considered stopping… But I wasn’t out of fabrics yet and I had JUST spent $11.00, so I kept going.

I ran out of design wall, but I kept going. When I finished the piece, it extended two feet below my design wall and weighed more than most of the quilts I make. There were three cans of starch stabilizing everything and well over 2500 individual pieces of fabric sewn together.

Yes. I counted. Well, sort of. There are 252 pieces in the top row. As I got more comfortable with the process, the blocks got a lot more complex and had more pieces in them, and there are ten rows. So I know that there are more than 2500 pieces in it.

I couldn’t even get a photo of the entire thing without hanging off of the ledge over our foyer, but I was in too much of a hurry to get it onto my longarm quilting machine to take a good photo. By now it was August and I was about to have to go back to school. And our local guild’s biannual quilt show entry deadline was in the middle of August, so I needed to have a photo of it for color references in order to enter it into the show. To do the quilting justice, I also knew I was going to need as much of the remaining two months as possible to get it right.

I eagerly loaded the quilt onto the longarm machine with a layer of cotton and another layer of wool batting, basted the top edge to hold it in place, and chose my thread colors.

Mom and Dad had just come back from an RV caravan trip to Albuquerque, and their friends again had expressed concern about Dad’s declining ability to keep up. So they went to the doctor again, who said that this time he heard something weird when Dad was breathing. He was sent for a chest X-ray and CT scan. We waited for news and I went back to school for the faculty in-service training.

On August 6, Dad got a diagnosis: Stage 4 Lung Cancer. He had smoked for about 30 years, finally quitting when I was in high school. He worked in a woodworking shop as his hobby, and who knows what all that sawdust did to him. He loved campfires, and much of our family lore is from stories around a campfire. He had always had a wheezing cough, so that wasn’t all that new. What was new was how out of breath he would get, even when doing things like coming down the stairs after a nap. “Dad, that’s not normal,” was something I said to him often that summer. “You shouldn’t be winded from coming down the stairs.”

Suddenly this quilt had a much more important job to do, and its timeline was even more critical. Two things I knew for sure: I needed the therapy that would be provided by having this creative project, and I needed to finish it before Dad left or I would never finish it at all. Ideally, I wanted Dad to see it finished, since he was the original inspiration behind it, but I didn’t know what his prognosis was and how long it would take me to finish the quilt, so I couldn’t even guess if that was possible.

In Part 3 I’ll talk about the quilting process on “Fusion,” as well as the process of saying goodbye to my Daddy. Part 3 may take me a while to compose, but I’ll try to do it soon.


The Story of “Fusion,” Part One: Idea and Inspiration

This is Part 1 of 3 about my current favorite quilt that I’ve made, “Fusion,” pictured below. I made it in 2017, after letting it percolate for about 18 months.

Photo by Jeff White Photography

2015 was a rough year for my dad, who was slowing down but wouldn’t really address why he didn’t feel well. Doctors are the worst patients, after all.

He just progressively got grumpier and less able to keep up with Mom on their travels, until finally on a cross-country RV caravan some of their friends said something to Mom about his decline.  She made an appointment with a doctor to have Dad checked out, and essentially dragged him kicking and screaming to the appointment.

The doc sent dad to a cardiologist, who did a heart cath and saw that Dad was dealing with severe aortic stenosis and porcelainization of all of the vessels around his heart. They inserted a stint to buy time, and sent him to a cardiac surgeon. The cardiac surgeon recommended a TAVR procedure, but said with the level of porcelainization he wasn’t comfortable doing it here in town. While he had done around 20 TAVRs in his career, he felt that Dad would be better served in a facility that did 20 of them in a given day, because they were better equipped to deal with all of the issues that might arise.

That was in August, so after research of the best facilities and surgeons, referrals, appointments back and forth, the surgery date of December 7 was chosen. My brothers leaned on me to prevent Dad from doing our usual out-in-the-woods camping trip for Thanksgiving, since he was a ticking time bomb; if Huntsville wasn’t equipped to handle his heart issues, rural Virginia very definitely wouldn’t be. Dad was mad as hell at me for insisting, but once he knew that Pete and Tom were on my side, he caved and we stayed local for Thanksgiving.

Dad’s surgery was at the Cleveland Clinic, and our nuclear family was all there. Mom and I stayed in a little apartment hotel around the corner from the main hospital, set up for the families of patients in critical care. Pete and Tom were at a hotel about a mile away. This picture was taken the morning of the surgery, just before we checked him in.

Dad was so pale, even for a white-haired Scandinavian guy!

Mom brought “Houston,” the cat puppet that Dad used to calm his own patients at the hospital, and gave Dad a cat scan before they wheeled him back. He laughed nervously and they took him back.

Mom wore his wedding band on her thumb and we all waited anxiously in the waiting rooms, praying that all of the codes we could hear being called weren’t for us.

There’s lots to do at the Cleveland Clinic, which does not feel like a hospital at all. There are people from all nationalities wandering around, shops and restaurants scattered around, and art installations and musical performances constantly.

We met therapy dogs and listened to music and waited.

We only waited a few hours but it felt a lot longer than that.

When we were finally called upstairs to the post-op waiting area, we met with the head surgeon and his lieutenant, who said that everything had gone very well and we could see him soon.

The image above is of the artificial valve, before and after it was opened up.

Then we were sent to a surgical ICU waiting area, and we could go back two at a time to see him. We spent a lot of time in that waiting room playing cribbage.

Dad had a dedicated nurse at the foot of his bed that night, and we were a little concerned that she would get pushed around by him because he was so hangry by then. Apparently this wasn’t her first rodeo so she was just fine. When he demanded her stethoscope so he could listen to his heart, she raised an eyebrow and barked back at him, “I believe that you forgot how to ask properly. Try again.” Mom and I almost choked on our tongues when he sweetly asked for her stethoscope.

LOOK HOW PINK HE WAS! This was less than 18 hours after his surgery. It was weird to see him so pink after he had been so pale for so long.

I sketched a quilt idea in my bullet journal inspired by watching dad “pink up” after his surgery, as well as a few quotations that I had seen around the Clinic. I wanted to capture the idea of blood flow getting halted through a blocked valve, but ultimately decided I’d rather just celebrate the unblocked flow and ignore what had preceded it.

I wasn’t ready to make the piece yet, because I didn’t feel like I had developed the necessary skills to do it justice. So I hunted around the web and found works that spoke to me. Ursula Kern‘s works have the motion that I wanted to convey, such as the one pictured below:

Here’s another of Kern’s pieces that was a big inspiration to me:

I like how the improvisational piecing in Kern’s work is broken by the strong lines of how the blocks or sections are pieced together. I love improvisational work, but I like the structure that strong block lines can provide to keep things from looking too erratic, and I wanted to include that in my design.

I also love the work of Ann Brauer, for many of the same reasons. I liked the fluidity of her color progressions and wanted to capture that effect as much as possible too.

So… I let the idea sit in the back of my mind for over a year, while I improved my improvisational skills and continued to learn new techniques. And Dad was doing well, back to his usual pink self. We even had a very cold Thanksgiving the next year in rural Virginia. Here’s Dad with a Bailey’s-filled marshmallow shot.

It was good to have him back and spunky again.