Monday, December 31, 2012

Embroidery Journal Project - December

This is the 12th and final month of the 2012 Embroidery Journal Project. Each month for the past year, I have embroidered a design on a 12" x 12" piece of white, cotton fabric.

The designs have been a combination of ones I have found on the internet - most often a combination of at least 3-4 different images put together in some way to reflect the highlights of the month.

December Embroidery Journal Quilt Square.

The central image of this month's quilt square is a Christmas tree. Christmas was the major focus for us during the month. As we have done during the past few years, we did a Countdown to Christmas in which we did different activities and/or made holiday food each day during the month. 

December had a record-breaking snowstorm on the 9th and 10th. Over 17 inches of snow fell in less than a day. That's a lot of snow...even for Minnesota!

A snowflake to represent a major snowstorm and 
17 inches of snow that fell in one day.

December also was marked by many performances - plays, harp, and choral. Sophia and Olivia played angels in the annual Christmas play at church. They enjoyed the experience...despite the amount of work and practices (twice-weekly during November and December).

Angel to represent Sophia and Olivia.

That same weekend as the play, the girls sang two songs at the St. Lucia service at church. One song was the "tomten song" that they sing each year. Each child in the chorus wears a red hat and scarf to look like a tomten (like a little gnome).

An image to remind me of the girls singing the tomten song
during the St. Lucia service.

December also has been an interesting one in terms of wildlife. A Harris' Sparrow showed up at the feeder after the huge snowstorm and has been here the entire month. Hopefully it will stay around for the rest of the winter rather than migrating further south. It's such a treat to see a new type of bird.

There also have been a flock of pheasants (about seven on the average) that have been hanging out under and by the pine trees on the east side of the farm. They have even wandered into the front yard; and flew up and sat on the fence where we have been able to see the brilliant colors of their feathers.

In addition to an eagle that I saw on New Year's Eve day (more about that later), I also saw some type of hawk. However, as Olivia looked at the picture I took of it and looked at the Minnesota bird book, it looked like a juvenile eagle or osprey. So, I'm not sure what kind of bird it was nestled in the pine tree boughs. Regardless, it was a large bird and one that I typically don't see which made it all that much more thrilling.

Perhaps most exciting for me was seeing an eagle twice during December. Once as I was walking out to get the mail at the end of the driveway, an eagle was flying no more than 20 feet above my head and about a couple feet in front of me. I could hear its wings flap and see its eyes it was so close. It was such an amazing experience to see one fly practically right in front of me (or at least it felt that way).

Embroidered eagle on the quilt square.

The second time I saw an eagle was on New Year's Eve during the day (about 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon). I had been thinking about this time last year - December 31, 2011.

At about this time last year, I was leaving to go visit my Mom who was in the hospital after her blood sugar level had escalated to a dangerous level. After the visit with her, I went to visit my Dad who was at the nursing home. It would be the last time I would see him look at me (he was able to open one of his eyes despite being very sick and - what I would find out within a few days - dying).

So, as I was thinking about these things, I heard a loud screeching sound coming from outside. I looked out a couple of windows upstairs, but couldn't see anything that would make that type of noise.

Walked downstairs and looked out the front window and saw the white feathers on the eagle's head and black feathers covering its body. It was perched in the oak tree along the driveway.

The eagle perched in the oak tree.

I opened the back door quietly and kept the dogs inside. The eagle was facing north towards the cornfield so it didn't see me, however I'm sure it could hear that the door opened.

It sat, facing north, for a bit and then readjusted itself so it faced west. I'm sure it could see me from its new vantage point, but it wasn't frightened. It sat contentedly in the oak tree.

The eagle opening its wings as it 
readjusted its position on the branch.

It remained there for quite a while until a low-flying plane flew right over the house. At that point, the eagle flew off.

I was so happy to have been able to see eagles twice this month. Hopefully the eagle will come back again soon. Even make its home here so we can see it every day.

Take a Stitch Tuesday - Rice Stitch - Week 52

The final week of the Take a Stitch challenge has arrived. I have learned almost 50 new embroidery stitches this year as well as learned how to combine stitches to create interesting samplers.

For the past month and a half, I have been choosing what stitches I've wanted to learn because there are some basic ones that I never learned prior to doing the Take a Stitch challenge. I also had a lot of activities on my plate with the holidays, so trying to learn complicated stitches is something I mentally couldn't undertake at this time. I needed something easier.

So, this week...the 52nd week of Take a Stitch Tuesday...I went back to one of the very basic stitches: the Rice Stitch.

The stitch is basically small straight stitches in a random pattern within a defined area. For one image, I did the rice stitch within a heart shape; and the other I did within the shapes of three balloons.

The heart represents the holidays - the spirit of giving and love that is so prevalent during this season. It also represents missing my Dad...the first Christmas without him.

The balloons represent both Sophia's 12th birthday as well as completing several year-long challenges that I set out to do:
=> Take a Stitch Tuesday
=> P52 Photo Challenge
=> Heartwarming Animal Stories Reading Challenge
=> Embroidery Journal Project
=> 12 in 12

In addition to the personal reflection, gratitude list, and name of the stitch, there are two images this week:

=> Reindeer carrying an evergreen tree with two birds on its back: This is a reminder of Christmas - the preparation, activities, baking, cooking, musical performances, theater performances, and - of course - Christmas Eve traditions of writing letters to Santa; putting cookies and water out for Santa; and putting carrots and oats out for the reindeer on the mudroom roof.

=> Set of 4 pottery mugs with the seasons represented on them: This represents the year-long projects that I now have completed and can put behind me (see above for the projects and challenges).

I am both satisfied with what I accomplished in this most difficult year...and happy that I have ways to remember what I did because - in all honesty - I think most of this year I've been in shock after my Dad's death. As I look back on things I wrote, took photos of, and did I am thankful I have them because in many instances I don't remember doing them.


So, it is with a sense of accomplishment (and relief) that I am wrapping up the Take a Stitch Tuesday challenge. Although I am so happy that I documented this year and recorded the more positive elements of it through the personal reflection and gratitude lists each week, it was a big project to do.

I will not be doing Take a Stitch Tuesday during 2013. Rather, I will be embarking on some new projects that I want to do as part of my lifelong goal list that I wrote about this summer. I'll be writing about some of the goals throughout 2013 and my progress...much like I did for Take a Stitch Tuesday.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

12 in 12: December Update

During 2012, Sophia, Olivia, and I are doing a special challenge that we've named 12 in 12. We are doing 12 different activities that help people in need, animals, or the environment.

This is how we did during December: 

- Take 1 bag of food to the food shelf. 

We purchased and donated a bag of food that the local grocery store makes available to customers.

Sophia and Olivia with the bag of food we purchased and
donated to the food shelf.

We also donated a box of 12 noodle soups to the food shelf collection at the senior center in St. Croix Falls. The center was collecting food during Rivertown Days.

The girls with a donation to a food drive.

- Volunteer 1 hour at a community organization.

We did a variety of volunteer projects this month. First, we collecting worked about 28 hours packing and shipping 1,037 books to Quthing, Africa, to create the first-ever library at Moorosi Primary School. This was a project through the African Library Project.

Sophia writing a letter to the students at Moorosi Primary School.
She attached the letter to a photograph and book 
that complemented one another.

Olivia marking out any words or images on the boxes
in preparation for shipping them to Africa.

Olivia and Sophia with Shadow (the cat) and
20 boxes filled with 1,037 books for the 
library we are helping to create in Quthing, Africa, at
Moorosi Primary School.

Then, on December 12th, we volunteered through church to visit two residents at an assisted living facility and a nursing home in Minnesota and Wisconsin respectively.

Sophia and Olivia with a card and poinsettia
outside the apartment of the first person we were to visit.
She ended up not being there, so we left both items by her door.

We gave each person a card from us and a poinsettia from the church.

The girls after visiting with a senior at another care facility.

Although the first person we visited wasn't there, we enjoyed the second visit with a woman who used to live   about 8 miles from us for about 50 years. She and her husband used to operate a gas station in town.

The last thing that Sophia and I did this month was volunteer for Locks of Love by donating our hair.  Sophia donated 14" of hair and I donated 12" of hair.

Before and after the haircuts.

It took Sophia about four years to grow her hair out to the length is was prior to the cut; and it took me about two years to grow mine out from the last time I cut my hair. (This is the fourth time that I have donated my hair and Sophia's first time that she donated her hair.)

- Donate 1 bag of clothing to a second-hand shop.

We donated one bag of clothing to Family Pathways.

Sophia with a bag of clothes.
Olivia with three bags of non-clothing items.

- Donate 1 bag of toys and other non-clothing items to a second-hand shop.

We donated three bags of household items and fabric to Family Pathways. See the photo above for what we donated.

- Donate 12 books that we no longer read to organizations needing books. 

We donated 42 books to the local library. Some of the books they can use in their collection and others they can sell. The proceeds from book sales helps purchase new books for the library.

Sophia and Olivia with the books we donated to the library and
to Goodwill.

The remaining 67 books that the library couldn't use, we donated to Goodwill.

- Donate $12 to an organization that helps individuals, animals, or the environment.

We chose to donate $12 to Northwoods Humane Society.

Olivia and Sophia with Kitten Chow and 
$12 for Northwoods Humane Society.

We have enjoyed supporting this organization during 2012, and are happy to know that the funds are being used to help animals while they wait for families to adopt them.

One of the dogs needing a loving family and permanent home.

There were many dogs and cats this month compared to last month. Some of the dogs have been there for two months now. It must be a long wait for them.

One of the cats waiting to be adopted.

- Write 1 letter to someone who has made a difference in our lives.

Sophia and Olivia colored pictures and I wrote a letter to Tim DeChristopher who, through his actions, helped preserve thousands of acres of land in Utah that are adjacent to a national park. His non-violent civil disobedience resulted in a two-year prison term and a $10,000 fine.

Yet, what is so inspiring about him is that he stood up for what he believed in, and his courage led to land preservation (something we value) as well as prevented other issues from impacting the animals and people who live and visit that area.

Pictures that Sophia and Olivia colored, and 
the thank you note I wrote to Tim DeChristopher.

- Donate 1 bag of pop cans to places that collect them to raise funds.

We chose to donate cans to Northwoods Humane Society again this month.

Olivia and Sophia ready to put the cans into the collector
at Northwoods Humane Society.

We like that the proceeds help support the animals waiting for new homes.

This puppy at Northwoods was eager to play.

There were quite a few dogs this month at Northwoods Humane Society in comparison to last month.

Olivia with one of the dogs at Northwoods. 
This one was a husky mix that had been adopted and returned. 
The owners had chained the dog to a 20-foot chain 
for its time to be outdoors. 
They never allowed him to run or play. 
Hopefully owners who understand huskies and larger dogs 
will adopt him and provide a better home for him.

- Donate 1 bag of Purina Kitten Chow to Northwoods Humane Society.

We donated one bag of Kitten Chow to Northwoods this month. (See the photo above of Sophia and Olivia standing outside of Northwoods.)

The girls playing with the kittens.

There seemed to be a lot of kittens this month. They enjoyed the attention the girls gave them, and were very playful. Thankfully, the girls aren't old enough to adopt animals yet otherwise we would have come home with lots of kittens and cats.

This cat enjoyed sticking his paw out the cage and playing.

There were many older cats as well looking for families.

This cat reminded me of Boo, 
one of the cats who we had for over 15 years.

Hopefully these animals find loving families soon.

- Spend 1 hour outdoors doing projects that help wildlife.

With the heavy snowfall at the beginning of the month, it is even more important to fill the bird feeders. There have been a wide variety of birds visiting the feeders: cardinals, blue jays, goldfinches, nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, dark-eyed juncos, and house finches.

This month a new bird that we have never seen showed up: the Harris's sparrow. It has been a joy to see a new bird that normally lives in Canada visit the feeder each day. We hope it stays around for the rest of the winter.

The Harris's sparrow that has been eating at the feeders.
It scratches at the food like a chicken does 
which is interesting to watch.

Something else we have never seen is a squirrel in the bird bath. It spent a lot of time drinking water. There was a big snowstorm headed our way the next day. Olivia wondered if maybe the squirrel knew that and was preparing for a challenging day ahead.

The squirrel in the bird bath.

- Make and randomly drop off 1 toy for a child to find as part of The Toy Society.

I made a hand-embroidered cow toy from wool felt and wool stuffing from sheep I raised.

Embroidered cow toy that I made.

We placed the toy in one of the cart at Cub for a child to find.

Olivia by the cart with the toy.
We hope the child who finds it will enjoy playing with it.

- Share 1 time the gift of music (piano and/or harp) or singing with others. 

On December 14th and 15th, Sophia and Olivia sang and acted during the annual Christmas play at church.

The cast of the Christmas play before the performance.

Both the girls were angels in the play.

Olivia as an angel.

They had speaking lines as well as sang several songs during the performance.

Sophia as an angel.

On December 16, Olivia and Sophia sang as part of the children's choir for the St. Lucia services at church.

Olivia and Sophia singing during one of the St. Lucia services.

On December 17th, Sophia played the harp at a Christmas party living at a nearby assisted living facility. The party was for the residents as well as their families.

Sophia playing the harp for over 30 residents, their family members, and
staff members at an assisted living facility.

On December 23rd, Sophia played the harp during both Christmas services at church.

Sophia (on the right) with her harp instructor (on the left)
being accompanied by the organist during one of many pieces
they played during both services on December 23rd.

On December 23rd, Olivia and Sophia sang Jessye's Carol (also known as This Christmastide) at both church services. The children's choir sang with the adult choir; and were accompanied by the harp, organ, cello, viola, and two violins. It was a very moving piece, and beautifully sang and performed.

The children's choir in their robes right before they went into church 
to sing Jessye's Carol with the adult choir.

On December 24th, the girls sang at the Christmas Eve service.

The girls singing at the 3:00 service with the children's choir.

The first song at each service was sung by the choir members.

Half the children's choir left after the 3:00 service,
so the remaining five girls sang nice and loud for the 4:30 service.

The second song (All is Well) was sung at each service by the choir members and their families. I had not heard of it before, but apparently it has been recorded by many artists from Amy Grant to Michael Crawford as well as performed by countless church choirs over the years.

The message of peace and hope are reflected in the lyrics of All is Well. It seemed like a fitting song for both the Christmas Eve service as well as the conclusion of the 12 in 12 challenge that Sophia, Olivia, and I set out to do during each month of this year.  

What we have done for ourselves alone 
dies with us;
what we have done for others and the world
remains and is immortal.
~ Albert Pike ~ 

P52 Photo Challenge - Merry Christmas! - Week 52

This is the final week of the P52 Photo Challenge. The theme this week is "Merry Christmas!" In all honesty, it felt more like "Christmas" than "Merry Christmas!" since this was the first one without my Dad.

In the back of my mind, I kept picturing last year's Christmas - spending time with him at the nursing home, and trying refrain from crying while I was talking to him and holding his hand (he was no longer able to verbally communicate at that point).  They are hard memories to recall since the effects of Alzheimer's Disease had robbed my Dad of his mind and abilities.

So, this year I muddled through the holidays during December - from St. Nicholas Day to St. Lucia Day to Las Posadas to Christmas. I did the best I could...and hopefully Sophia and Olivia enjoyed the activities we did and food we made together.

As I looked at pictures from Christmas day, my favorite one is of my Mom holding a cow bell from Austria. Her Stephen Minister, Tom, gave it to her to use on Christmas to gather everyone together for breakfast and a prayer.

Mom with Austrian Cow Bell on Christmas Day.

My Dad always would say the prayers before holiday meals. This year...with cow bell in Mom did her own prayer. It was one in which she said a phrase and then everyone else repeated something else after her. We did that twice.

The cow bell made her smile...and the prayer she said was one that provided comfort to her. It was a happy moment of the day.

I'm so pleased that I did the P52 Photo Challenge. Even though the year started out on a very difficult note with my Dad dying on January 5th...having a focus and documenting the highlights of a particularly challenging year was worthwhile.

P52 has given me something positive to look back upon for 2012. It also will help me remember the many bright spots and positive experiences of the past year.

Project 52 - p52 weekly photo challenge with Kent Weakley

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Harp and Choral Performance - Countdown to Christmas - Day 23

Today there was "A Service of Lessons and Carols" at church. It is the annual service that is filled with an incredible amount of music by a variety of musicians (harpists, organist, violinists, cellist, violist) and vocalists (soloists and choirs - adult and children). 

Sophia and her harp teacher opened up both services by playing a number of pieces with the organist. 

Sophia and Denise playing the harp, 
accompanied by Bob.

Prior to the service, Sophia had an opportunity to play the organ as her instructor needed to hear the notes on the organ to make sure her harp and Sophia's harp matched the organ's sounds.

Sophia was able to play the organ 
to help Denise tune the harps.

After the prelude, the children's choir waited in the fellowship hall before they sang This Christmastide (also known as Jessye's Carol) with the adult choir. This year is the second time I have heard it and is was equally as moving this year as it was last year.

Burning off a bit of energy prior to singing.

To hear the children's and adults' voices in unison accompanied by the harp, organ, two violins, viola, and cello was beautiful and moving. 

All lined up and ready to go inside to sing.

In the early evening, we got in the car with the dogs and looked at how people decorated their homes this year. 

One of my favorite homes has the front porch lit 
with poinsettias in the front window and 
evergreen swags with red bows out front. 

Montague enjoyed the ride, while Gretel - for some reason - wanted everyone in the car and by the homes we passed that she was not enthusiastic about the ride or looking at Christmas lights.

This house lined the roof lines with lights.

So, we didn't look at as many lights as we wanted to thanks to Gretel. But, at least we saw some which was fun.