Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sew Much Fun!

(Update:  As of 3/13/11, the name of the quilting club has been changed to Sisters-in-Stitches.)

Last month while participating in one of my favorite pastimes, Girl Chit-Chat, Patricia, a friend of mine from church, and I discovered that both of us were quilters. Patricia, being fairly new to quilting, suggested we get together from time to time. Another gal from church overheard us and said she’d be interested in joining us and had a daughter-in-law who also was an avid quilter. That is the moment we created the Austin Ward Quilting Club.

Last night was the first monthly meeting of the Austin Ward Quilting Club. Patricia and I had gotten the word out through flyers, email and Facebook. I enlisted the help of my dear friend, Tami Horvath, Decorator Extraordinaire, to setup the meeting room with me. And, as the meeting kicked off, five women were in attendance.

I was the speaker for our first meeting on Quilting Basics, and as the night progressed, more women showed up. By the time I was halfway through my lesson, I counted 14 women, which was the number of chairs I had set out. Some of the ones in attendance had not previously expressed interest, which means we may have more members at future meetings!

For decoration, Tami strung thick gauge wire across one wall of the room and draped three of my quilts over it – The Bear’s Paw Quilt, The Dresden Plate Quilt and my wall hanging. My only regret is that I didn’t bring a camera to take pictures. What was I thinking?! I do have other pictures of the quilts that I can share, though, to give you some idea of what the club members saw at our meeting.

Below is a picture of the Bear’s Paw Quilt I made for my father. This quilt was machine-pieced and hand-quilted. It was a bit of a bear for me to make, which is appropriate, since the recipient is a bit of a bear at times, too. This took a year for me to finish, simply because I kept setting it aside to work on other things.

Here’s a picture of the Dresden Plate Quilt I made for my mother, which was all hand-sewn, appliquéd and hand-quilted. I consider this my “therapy” quilt, which I made during the year I was unemployed, living on the Double M Ranch with my parents. This quilt took 2 months to make.

The last quilt displayed on the wall was my appliquéd wall hanging. I hand pieced, appliquéd and hand-quilted this antique-patterned quilt in two months. I made it while working for Visa. I lived in northern Virginia and traveled twice a month on a 5-hour flight to Visa’s headquarters in San Francisco, California. I stored the pieces in baggies and used my fingernail clippers to cut the thread, since I couldn’t take any scissors aboard – needles and clippers were acceptable, though.

On the long, rectangular table in front of me, Tami draped the LeMoyne Star Quilt, which was the second quilt I made. This is one I created for my son, Eric, who at that time was 8 years old and picked out one of the hardest patterns in my quilting book. He also selected the fabric and colors. I learned my lesson that I don’t allow my “quiltees” to pick out patterns for their quilts. Atop the quilt, Tami displayed books, fabric, other sewing notions and quilting tools, which I explained during my lesson.

Susan, Janie and Patricia have experience making quilts, but the remainder of our club members have never made a quilt before, so this will be a wonderful opportunity to share our skills and talents with those who want to learn. Even Tami, who was just there to help me decorate, has caught the quilting bug and has decided to make an art quilt. Awesome!

Public Apology: I’d like to express my sincere thanks to Christine Cain, Young Women’s President, who allowed us to stay in the room where we initially set up the quilts. I had no idea there was a protocol for reserving rooms at the church, but Christine graciously moved her meeting to another room. Christine, I won’t make that mistake again. Thank you so much!!

“Methinks it is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; especially as they are never more at home with their own hearts than while so occupied.” ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, 1859

Happy Quilting, Y’all!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Watching My Wordy Ways

As a business analyst by trade, I swim each day in an ocean of minutiae. My world is made up of facts and words, and as such, I have a virtual red pen in my head. My eyes read over a sentence in a business requirement, a paperback novel, a magazine, a newspaper article, a blog, and as I ingest the content, I see the grammatical errors, misspelled words and misuse of words. While it is a blessing, providing me with a desire to produce professional internal and external documentation for work, it is also a curse.

As a younger woman, much more self-centered, I was inclined to dish out criticism without considering how it might sound to the receiving party. Over the years, I’ve worked hard on my personal and professional communication skills, my delivery of words and my ability to hear criticism. But, no matter how much I improve, I am still a work-in-progress.

Words have power – the power to communicate ideas, to create, to uplift, to cajole, to enlighten, to teach, to entertain, to provoke thought, to inspire action. And, words also have the power to demean, to offend, to insult, to ridicule, to stifle, to abuse, and to incite anger. Whether we desire a world of peace, joy and happiness, an accomplished goal at work or an eternal marriage, we must learn to use restraint of pen and tongue, think before we speak, ponder before sending an email or consult a trusted confidante before acting impulsively.

Most of us would prefer to avoid conflict with others on a daily basis. But, as human beings of unique creation, we will undoubtedly bump into others who do not share our vision or ideals on occasion. How we communicate with and react to others is a personal test for us all.

Am I offended by what you wrote, said or how you behaved? If so, I should take a look at myself, because I certainly have no power to change you. If your words or actions upset me, I must look at your motive. Is there one? Most times, a person’s behavior and words are not designed to harm me. In fact, they may have nothing to do with me. I may’ve just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The English version of The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi offers an outstanding guide by which we may each assess our own shortcomings as we relate to others.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

In my quest to understand how I may best use my words for good, I have identified a pattern, or opportunity, that is recurring in my life, an area in which I need to improve – dealing with micro-managers.

If my manager or other leaders are attempting to micro-manage me, it is important to recognize that the behavior of micro-management is not about me. Micro-management is about control, narcissism, fear, emotional insecurity and ego. states that symptoms of micro-management include:

• Unwillingness to delegate
• Need for overly detailed reporting
• Bullying
• Narcissism
• Perfectionism
• Behavioral dependence upon controlling others
• Hyper-criticism

Life is beyond our control, so the micro-manager, which may be a boss or other type of leader in our lives, feels the need to control all things that may reflect back on her or him. Ironically, micro-managers do not gain devotion and respect from those over whom the leader has stewardship. Rather, they create resentment, lower productivity, disrespect and distrust among their group.

How can I adjust to the feeling of new screws being torqued where perfectly tight screws already exist? I can say a prayer for that person (similar to The Prayer of St. Assisi), pick my battles, and manage my own expectations. I can practice the “art” of communication by choosing my words wisely, practicing love and tolerance of others.

And, what if you are someone who displays the tendencies listed above? Take the “I” out of micro-management, and please just stay out of my way.

"Go on, get out. Last words are for fools who haven't said enough."--Karl Marx

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” --Psalms 19:14

“When words are scarce, they are hardly spent in vain.” –William Shakespeare

Word Up, Y’all!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Harebrained Holiday

Last Saturday, as my husband and I entered the grocery store, I was overwhelmed by the attack of red and pink – red and pink balloons, red heart boxes full of chocolates, pink cupcakes, red heart-shaped cookies and cakes, red and pink roses, wrapped in red and pink tissue paper with red and pink ribbons. I just about puked! As we walked past, I told Gene that under no circumstances was he to buy me anything for Valentine’s Day – no flowers, no chocolates, no cakes or cookies, not even a card. I know Gene loves me. He shows me every day. I don’t need anything red or pink on Valentine’s Day for him to prove it.

This year, for some reason, I am appalled by the commercialism of Valentine’s Day. Perhaps it’s because our country is still in economic turmoil. Maybe it’s because most anything I spend my dollars on costs so much more. (Do you remember when we all thought $2.00/gallon for gasoline was highway robbery?)

The Retail Advertising and Marketing Association estimated that U.S. consumers spent approximately $15.7 billion on Valentine’s Day. Are you kidding me?!

The annual Valentine’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions survey revealed what consumers intended to spend all that money on:

52.1% - Cards
47.5% - Candy
34.6% - Evening Out
34.3% - Flowers
17.3% - Jewelry
14.4% - Clothing
12.6% - Gift Cards
11.2% - Other Gifts

Valentine’s Day was originally called Saint Valentine’s Day, named after one of the early martyrs of the Catholic Church, Saint Valentine, and had nothing to do with romantic love. The holiday was established in 496 AD by Pope Gelasius.

In 1969, Pope Paul VI had the feasting holiday removed from the Roman calendar of saints, and said, "Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14."

We can blame the romantic association with Valentine’s Day on Geoffrey Chaucer, who in 1392 wrote a poem for King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia on the first anniversary of their engagement. It was entitled, Parlement of Foules, and began:

"For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese is make."

Translated: “For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”

I’d just like to stress once again that we don’t need a special holiday to celebrate the romantic love we have for our mate or partner. The most romantic thing we can do is to determine how our mate feels most loved - physical touch, gift giving, words of affirmation, quality time or acts of service (Read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman) – and do something loving for that special person each day.

What did I do lately for Gene? I cleaned the house Saturday, and delivered a banana to his office this morning because he was feeling sluggish. (I thought the potassium might do him good.) Gene feels loved through acts of service.

What romantic thing did Gene do for me recently? He heard the song, “At Last” by Etta James, being piped in at Bed Bath & Beyond while we were shopping there Saturday. He surprised me while I was looking at the sheets on sale and began dancing with me and singing to me. I feel loved through physical touch and words of affirmation. I can assure you my heart was a melted loving puddle on the floor.

And, what about those who don’t have a special somebody in their lives?! How must they feel on this exclusionary, harebrained holiday? One of my friends at church has renamed Valentine’s Day to “Single Awareness Day”.

I vow no more frivolous Valentine’s Day spending for me or my husband!!

Share the Love Every Day, Y’all!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Feasting in SoCo

One of the most eclectic, hip neighborhoods in Austin is SoCo, which is short for “South Congress Avenue”. The area of the SoCo neighborhood stretches from Lady Bird Lake (once known as Towne Lake) near downtown Austin along South Congress Avenue down to Oltorf Street at St. Edward’s University.

The neighborhood even hosts a monthly event called First Thursday. The SoCo shops stay open later, merchants set up tents to showcase their wares and music abounds.

Gene and I discovered a wonderful restaurant in SoCo, called South Congress Café at 1600 South Congress Avenue.

Last night, not wanting to cook dinner, we set out for this hip, happenin’ haven for the Hungry. I was shocked that the place was packed on a Monday evening!

Rather than wait 15 - 20 minutes for a table, we decided to eat at the bar, where the service and food were just as good as the dining room, but the ticket was 20% off!

For an appetizer, Gene ordered the Duck Oyster Gumbo, which I had eaten on a previous visit. As before, this scrumptious, dark rue gumbo was full of succulent duck and oysters.

The Very Bleu Salad, with field greens, rosemary candied pecans and hard-boiled quail eggs, was drizzled in a gorgonzola cream dressing. Rather than an over-powering bleu cheese taste, the salad was refreshing and the dressing was surprisingly mild.

For his main course, Gene chose the Barramundi Almondine ($24), a delicious, pan roasted, white, flaky fish, drizzled in chipotle brown butter, sprinkled with candied, slivered almonds, topped with perfect fresh green beans, all on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes. The Barramundi, also known as Asian Seabass, is farmed raised in Vietnam, Indonesia and Massachusetts.

My main entrée won the prize for the evening, though. I chose the Beef Milanesa ($14), which was cracker-crusted, seared beef tenderloin medallions smothered in crawfish cream gravy, served with garlic mashed potatoes, miniature carrots and broccoli. Oh, how luscious, how perfect was this culinary combination!

The vegetables were indescribably delicious. I have no idea how the broccoli was prepared, but it must have been drizzled in some type of yummy, hot chile oil. The carrots were faintly sweet, but not candied.

The leftovers made for a full lunch the next day. Oh happy day! And, even the little details were attended to, such as writing the name of the restaurant and the date on the lid.

The first time we visited South Congress Café, our waiter was spectacular, and this visit confirmed that South Congress Café hires outstanding wait staff and trains them well on specific food details. Our bartender/waiter knew all about the Barramundi fish, which we’d never heard of.

Everything we’ve had here, salads, soups, meatloaf, fish, beef, vegetables, gravies has all been so delicious and delectable. The flavors blend perfectly and the selections are unusual and enticing. I encourage you to try my new favorite restaurant!

If you want to tempt yourself, see the photos of various dishes on the South Congress Café website.

“If life were predictable it would cease to be life and without flavor.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind.” –Kahlil Gibran

Celebrate Life & Enjoy the Flavor, Y’all!!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Double Wide, Doublicious!

On my way back home from a wonderful free motion quilting lesson with Diane at Sew Much More on Anderson Lane, I called my husband and asked if he wanted me to bring him home a Torchy’s Taco for lunch. Did I even have to ask?!

I pulled up all the Torchy’s Tacos locations using my iPhone and found one surprisingly close, just the other side of Mopac (Loop 1) on Spicewood Springs, near Mesa Drive. I began salivating as the little blue dot (that’s me) on my GPS bopped closer and closer to the little red destination dot (Torchy’s). Finally, I saw the familiar flying red devil sign, and with a sigh of relief, pulled into the parking lot. I did a “double take” as I stared at the sign before me:

A drive-thru?!! No way!! That’s brilliant!! That’s “double brilliant”! (As you can see, when it comes to Torchy’s Tacos, I am easily impressed.) Actually, the manager explained that the Spicewood Springs location was the only one with a drive-thru. But, driving through to pick up a Torchy’s taco, in my opinion, would be to deny oneself the ambiance, the ultimate, “doubly appetizing”, environmental experience of walking inside this true-to-weird Austin eatery.

The first thing I noticed was the huge live oak out front that gave this Torchy’s an inviting feel.

Next, the wonderful outdoor patio was equipped with outdoor heaters and plastic flaps for winter outdoor seating, although today’s temperature was 60 “double-wonderful” degrees. Notice the ironwork beams near the ceiling with interesting cutouts on a red background. Very cool!

“Doubly artistic” was the iron archway entrance to the patio, proclaiming Torchy’s famous line, “Damn Good Tacos”. It ought to say, "Double Damn Good Tacos"!

With giddy anticipation, I entered the indoor restaurant area, and what instantly caught my eye was the rose wall surrounding the counter, which felt very Mexican, very festive. In fact, it made me want to take a rose in my teeth, stomp my heel, clap my hands and shout, “Olé!”

And, just as unique as everything I’d seen to this point, I looked up and saw the wonderful light fixtures and flaming beams. Signature Torchy’s! So creative, so fun!

As always, the staff was friendly and helpful, talkative and smiling. The Torchy’s Team really seems to enjoy what they do!

And I would, too, if I could sink my teeth into a scrumptious Torchy’s Taco every day!

You may be asking yourself, “Why all the “double talk?” Well, February’s Taco of the Month is the Double Wide. Oh…my…goodness! Gene and I both agree this is our favorite Taco of the Month so far! It’s downright “doublicious”!! Imagine this…chicken-fried steak with chopped bacon, smothered in green chile queso, cotija cheese and pico de gallo, wrapped in a flour tortilla. Just reliving the first bite of those perfectly blended flavors is making me drool.

Oh, and don’t forget your Dublin Dr. Pepper with that Double Wide!

"Thou art to me a delicious torment." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Double-Time” It Over to Torchy’s, Y’all!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Patience with Patients

I have a new appreciation for nurses and an increased personal awareness that I would not make a good one. Oh sure, as long as I’m dealing with a good patient, I’d be Florence Nightingale. But, put me in a room with a less-desirable patient, and I would turn into Nurse Ratched from the movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

Worse yet, I’d probably begin channeling Lizzie Borden and chop the patient’s head off. It’s not a coincidence they are called “patients” (patience).

I wouldn’t have this newfound knowledge about myself had it not been for my dad. Dad has been in the hospital in Waco, Texas since last Wednesday, recovering from elective back surgery. During the surgery, in which the surgeon was placing pins between the last several vertebrae in Dad’s ever-compressing spine, the spinal fluid sac began leaking fluid. Although this was expected, when the doctor tried to stitch up the leak, he said the scar tissue on the sac began to disintegrate. The doctor patched the area and gave orders that Dad would need to be on his back for several days with two drains in his back until the sac healed.

I wanted to give my mother a break, and offered to drive up from Austin to spend last Friday night in the hospital with Dad. When I explained to Dad that I was going to stay the night with him, he kiddingly said, “I don’t know if that’s a good idea, I’ll make you crazy!” To which I replied, “Too late!” Little did I know what an ominous, prophetic statement his comment would turn out to be.

Room 412, Dad’s private hospital room, had a large, navy blue leather recliner. However, after sitting down in it, I felt like Goldilocks in Papa Bear’s chair. It swallowed me up. Luckily, though, it almost fully reclined flat, allowing the concerned family member to stay the night and rest.

Dad had a fairly good day until the afternoon, when the raspy breathing was diagnosed as pneumonia. In addition to the labored breathing, every time he took a sip of water, Dad squeezed his eyes shut tightly in pain. He was still so weak I had to hold the cup and straw for him. The doctor-on-call came by to visit Dad, and then Mom left to return to the Ranch for a restful night in her own bed.

By 5:00 p.m., Dad finally had an appetite. When I asked what time Dad’s dinner tray would be delivered, the nurse informed me that the hospital doctor had ordered no food or drink, including water, until he could be seen the next morning by a respiratory specialist to determine if there was anything wrong with his throat. As you might imagine, the news did not sit well with Dad.

Dad asked several times when dinner was coming. Then, he asked for a tall, cold Coke. He asked for water. Denying my father a sip of water was excruciating for me, as well as for him. I told Dad that if he couldn’t eat or drink, then I would suffer right along with him. But, that was not a smart decision on my part.

Next, Dad began to show greater signs of confusion. He was weary and weak, but unable to sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time. Because his daily anti-depressant and sleep aid only came in pill form, the nurse would not administer them, which meant I was in for a rollercoaster of a night ministering to the hallucinations and restlessness of my father.

He wanted the TV on. The sound wasn’t loud enough. The sound was too loud. He wanted the TV off. Rinse and repeat.

During a break from the TV, Dad began talking of fishing with George. “George who, Dad?”, I asked. Dad thought about it a minute. “I only know one George.” But, he never answered my question, at least not until he fell asleep and began talking about “George Dubya”. My dad was hallucinating that he was talking with George W. Bush about fishing.

Throughout the night as I became aware that my father had awakened again, I would look over at him and inevitably, he would be holding onto the sides of his hospital bed, trying unsuccessfully to pull himself up. “What are you doing, Dad?” I’d ask. He always replied the same, “Grayson, come help me get up. I want to get up out of this chair and go to bed.” I would remind him that he was in the hospital, that he’d had back surgery and that the doctor said he had to stay on his back until the spinal fluid sac had healed. By the tenth time we’d had this conversation, I was ready to strap Dad to the bed and stuff a washcloth in his mouth.

Somewhere between the slow ticks of the black and white wall clock and the off-and-on raspy snores of my father, I fell asleep. An hour later, I awoke to my dad urgently calling my name. “Grayson! Help me get up out of this bed!” I could hardly process what my eyes were seeing. There was blood splattered all over his hospital gown, the blanket and the bed. I pressed the nurse’s call button and quickly assessed the situation. He’d pulled out his I.V.! “Grayson! Help me get out of this bed and take me to the bathroom! I don’t care what they say!”

At that moment, I lost my patience with the patient. I walked out of the room, and as I passed the nurse, I mentioned what he’d done. I walked to the waiting room…and waited.

I was so exhausted, and hadn’t eaten since breakfast. More than anything, I yearned to stretch out flat in a nice firm bed and sleep. Obligation finally willed me to my feet, and I returned to Room 412.

Dad was sound asleep.

I quietly eased myself into the monstrous recliner, added yet another prayer to the pile I’d already prayed and shut my eyes.

“Grayson!”….Maybe if I don’t answer, it will go away. “Grayson!” There it was again. “Glenda!”….That’s my mother’s name. Slowly, I opened my eyes.

“Glenda, are you there?!”

I inched my way up out of the recliner. “Dad, Mom is at the Ranch. She’s at home. You’re in the hospital. What do you need?”

“Grayson, I don’t care what they say. You get me up out of this bed right now!”, he demanded.

“Dad, you cannot get up. You’ve had back surgery.”

“Grayson, you get me up right now and set me on the pot. I mean it!”, he threatened.

“I will not!!” I replied, and showed him the controller with the red nurse’s button. “If you need to go to the bathroom, you press this red button and call the nurse. She’ll bring you a bed pan.”

Dad said with disgust, “I don’t want that ol’ thing.”, meaning the controller, as I pressed the button.

“Grayson, you are so mean.”

A soft tone dinged on the controller. “May I help you?”

“I need to take a crap RIGHT NOW!” my dad yelled in his pitifully soft, raspy voice.

At that moment, I mentally hit the proverbial wall. I gathered up my jacket and purse, and told Dad I was leaving for a little bit. I told him to buzz for the nurse if he needed anything while I was gone.

It was 5:00 a.m., and I’d just mentally transformed into the crazy, sleep-deprived, maniacal woman my father had warned me about earlier that day.

I walked out of the hospital into the darkness of early morning and breathed in a lungful of the brisk, fresh-smelling air. Although I wanted to, I couldn’t cry. I had no reason to cry. I wasn’t the one laying in a hospital bed. I wasn’t the one with a painful, bad back. I was just tired and hungry.

Sliding behind the steering wheel in the driver’s seat of my familiar and beloved Dodge Durango and turning the key in the ignition, I fantasized about driving the two hours home right then and there. But, I realized I’d left the tote with my quilt I’d been working on in the hospital room.

It was 5:08 a.m. I took out my cell phone and called my husband. That blessed, wonderful man picked up his phone and listened to me rant and rave about the terrible night I’d spent with Dad. He assured me he could drive up immediately, but I insisted he stay home. My sister was coming early for a visit and my mother would be returning. At the first sign of a family member, I would be handing off the Dad baton and driving home to Austin.

After our phone call, I drove to Starbucks, ordered a Venti Hot Chocolate, No Whipped Cream, Extra Hot and a blueberry muffin. It tasted heavenly. I knew I was going to make it after all, and drove back to the hospital.

Reluctantly, I returned to Room 412. I pushed the door open and stepped inside. Dad was sound asleep. Once again, I sat in the blue recliner, kicked back into a flat position and shut my eyes. It was 6:30 a.m.

Within 30 minutes, the nurse entered the room. Apparently, Dad had fallen asleep on the bed pan and had never pressed the Nurse Call Button, as he’d been instructed. She rolled him over, removed the unused bed pan, and asked where I’d been. She said they’d been talking about me. Dad thought he had run me off. The nurse said she’d found Dad sitting up at the end of his bed twice while I was gone, but each time, the bed alarm sounded and she put him back to bed. (I’m still not sure she was telling me the truth, knowing how weak Dad was.)

When the sun started to shine in through the blinds, my hopeful disposition returned as I waited to be relieved of my duties. At 8:30 a.m., Mom tip-toed in the door, and my chest burned warm with joy as I hugged her and hugged her. All would be well.

At 9:15 a.m., I left Room 412 for the last time, vowing never to return, if at all possible, at least within the next several days.

Since that time, Dad has been allowed to eat, take all his medicines, has had a number of satisfying bowel movements and has been sleeping through the night. And, I have learned a valuable lesson about myself.

If the time ever comes that Dad is alone and needs to be cared for, I won’t be the one to do it. Don't get me wrong. I love my dad. But, I know my limitations.

"Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears."--Barbara Johnson

My Gears Are Stripped, Y'all!!