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Comfort & Joy

Comfort & Joy - The 2018 Christmas Lights Collection, with Alana Terry, Toni Shiloh, April Hayman, Cathe Swanson and Chautona HavigThis week, I’m finishing up my Christmas novella, The Christmas Glory Quilt. It will be my contribution to the 2018 Christmas Lights novella collection: Comfort & Joy.  This year’s collection is going to be bigger and better than ever before,  with contemporary Christian Christmas stories from Alana Terry, April Hayman, Toni Shiloh, Chautona Havig and me.  Isn’t it a beautiful cover?

Frost Heaves by Alana Terry
The Trouble with Christmas Cheer by April Hayman
Deck the Shelves by Toni Shiloh
The Christmas Glory Quilt by Cathe Swanson
The Ghosts of New Cheltenham by Chautona Havig

Comfort & Joy will be available exclusively on Amazon on October 15th. We’re looking for a few more launch team members, to help share the news. If you are interested in getting a free advance reader copy of the book and participating in our very fun Facebook group, please click HERE for more information and fill out the form.

 

The Christmas Glory Quilt

The Christmas Glory Quilt by Cathe Swanson - in the 2018 Christmas Lights Collection, Comfort & JoyThe Christmas Glory Quilt will be the first in a series with a seasonal quilt theme – Autumn Glory Quilt, Easter Glory Quilt, etc. (I still need to work on those titles!) Being an overachiever, I designed a quilt to go with the book and plan to offer the pattern as a bonus for early purchasers of the book.  It was a busy summer – and I had to write the book! – so it took a long time just to get it pieced.

Yesterday morning, my good friend and book cover designer, the multi-talented Chautona Havig, said, “I need pictures of the quilt, draped around two people. Now.” So I dropped everything and quilted. For nine hours, I sat at the dining room table and quilted. I finished about six o’clock and my husband helped me take pictures. Triumphantly, I sent them to Chautona.

But they weren’t good enough. An iPhone 5S may take good pictures for posting online, even indoors, but they aren’t good enough to use on the front of a printed book. I thought, “All that work, for nothing. I wasted the whole day, when I should have been working on the book, cleaning house, making dinner, taking a shower…”

Have you even done something difficult and then it fell short? Wasn’t good enough? Did it crush you? Make you feel like a failure? In my head, I know that now I have a finished quilt. I need to figure out how to get a better picture. It will be challenging, but I will make it work out. In my heart, I am disappointed. Deflated. Frustrated. I have to do the pictures all over again and I’m further behind on my book.

Redeeming the Time

But there was a grain of something good in the experience, and it wasn’t the quilt or the pictures. For about half an hour, my husband and I had a wonderful time together.

What we needed was a “green screen” picture of the quilt wrapped around two people. Chautona was going to cut out the quilt part of the picture and superimpose it on the purchased picture of these two attractive models. Kind of like paper dolls, if you remember those.

 

 

 

 

 

So the quilt had to be draped just right, to fit the existing picture. My husband hung a black sheet on the wall, and we set the laptop, open to the picture of the models, on a chair in front of us. To get the right angle, we put the phone/camera on top of a stepladder on top of the piano bench. We practiced standing in the right position first, and then we worked on arranging the quilt.

The thing is, those models are wrapped in a soft, stretchy knit blanket. A brand new quilt is stiff. It doesn’t drape. But we tried. We wrapped up in it, as best we could, then we scooted forward to push the camera button and scooted back, trying to get into position before the ten-second timer went off. It was hilarious. We laughed together, harder than we have in years. We have more ‘blooper’ shots than usable pictures. In most of them, we were rolled up like a burrito or shaped like a Christmas tree. Sometimes, the camera snapped the picture before we were ready.

 

And we laughed and laughed. My husband said, “We know how to do Friday night!” It was a good time, and it will be a sweet memory. Marriage is hard, and sometimes the fun is just drained away. Sometimes we – like many married couples – go along from day to day, doing what has to be done. So I spent a day making that quilt, and even though my original purpose wasn’t achieved, the time was redeemed. God knew we needed that “date night” more quilt pictures. Isn’t He wonderful?

Comfort & Joy

I look forward to sharing more about The Christmas Glory Quilt soon. I’m having so much fun writing it!  All of the books in this year’s collection, Comfort & Joy, are enjoyable, so watch for updates on the Comfort & Joy Facebook page. 
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I Love My Instant Pot

You probably don’t need another raving endorsement for this popular new appliance, but I just can’t stop myself. I love this thing. The Instant Pot does it all.  Often, it does it all at once, and there is only one pot to clean up – a nice big stainless steel pot that washes up easily.

I was skeptical when the kids gave it to me for my birthday. I’d been encouraging the girls to get one, since they have families to feed, but I didn’t think it would be worthwhile to get one for myself. All of our children are grown and gone, and I just cook for my husband and myself.  The Instant Pot seemed  unnecessary. Frivolous. I didn’t want another bulky appliance cluttering up my kitchen and collecting dust.

If you don’t have an Instant Pot, go to Amazon and buy one. Here’s my affiliate link: INSTANT POTI love my Instant Pot by Cathe SwansonThis is the one I got:  Instant Pot DUO60 6 Qt 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Steamer, Sauté, Yogurt Maker and Warmer

I started with white rice. It was perfect – just like the chow mein place, A little sticky, but not at all mushy.  Brown rice was just as good. My usual rice is unpredictable, and I always make a mess when the starchy water overflows onto the stove top.  If all the Instant Pot did was cook rice, it would be worth the expense.  But it also makes perfect boiled eggs. (See note above, about my rice-making issues. My eggs technique is similar. ) We now eat more rice and eggs than we used to.

Instant Pot yogurt Cathe Swanson

Then I made yogurt. I eat a lot of Greek yogurt, and the cheapest quart available is nearly $4. I was able to make more than twice that much with one gallon of milk, which cost less than $2, and it’s delicious.  Tastes just like sour cream, and look how thick and yummy it is!

I took a seven-pound ham from the deep freezer and cooked it in an hour.  A whole chicken.  Pork. Sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squash,  and even spaghetti (including the dry noodles – just one pot!) Chili and soup of every kind are fast and easy in the amazing Instant Pot! Dried beans without overnight soaking and hours of cooking! Apparently, corn on the cob and popcorn are possible, too, although I haven’t tried them.  And, of course, it operates as a slow cooker, too.

There are many Instant Pot cookbooks, including those for special diets, but Pinterest will provide abundant information and recipes.

So there you have it… my unsolicited, unpaid, hearty endorsement of the Instant Pot.

Do you have one? Do you love it? What do you cook in it?

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Only Cars and Convicts have Numbers. My Grandchildren have Names.

Only Cars and Convicts have Numbers - My Grandchildren have NamesWhen my boys were young and wild, each of them requiring 100% of my full and undivided attention, I told them I expected six grandchildren from each of them someday. At least half had to be girls. After all, the granddaughters would be perfectly well-behaved little angels, right? And the boys would be payback.

In due time, they grew to be handsome and charming, married lovely girls and started producing babies. And shortly thereafter, each informed me that they would not be having six children. Imagine that. (snicker)

A Story Problem

We have quite a few friends in large families, and sometimes it ‘s easy to identify them by number or position in the family. “What is the name of the third Smith girl?” “Can you believe that woman is having her tenth baby?” “That youngest Jones boy is quite a handful.” “My oldest son is off to college in the fall.” Emma Schenstrom, in my book Baggage Claim, enjoys referring to her numerous offspring like that. It’s a family joke, and no one takes it personally. They’re all happy and well-adjusted. So I did the math – a story problem – for our own growing family:

We started with one granddaughter from our oldest son and his wife, and then the second son and his wife had a girl. Two perfect, precious granddaughters! Son #1 presented us with two grandsons, and then Son #2 and his wife had their first boy – Grandson #3. We had five grandchildren!  Sons (and daughters-in-law) #2 and #3 both announced pregnancies last fall. Grandson #4, the first child of Son #3, was born a few weeks ago, and we are in daily expectation of the arrival of Granddaughter #3. Seven grandchildren. We may get two or three more, but they are definitely falling short of the eighteen I requested.
You don’t need to figure all of that out. It was just silliness. But recently, I was struck by a comment from my youngest daughter-in-law’s mother. We were talking about the new baby, and she said something to the effect that she was very (more) excited because this was their first grandchild and I already had a lot of them. She didn’t mean anything negative – she was just very excited – but it bothered me.

 

Go Pack Go - Cathe SwansonNot a Pack

I don’t think of my grandchildren as a herd. They have names, not numbers, and each of them knows that Grandpa and Grandma loves them individually. This new little fellow stirred as much excitement in us as the first one did, and we are in a state of happy anticipation of our new granddaughter’s arrival.

When asked (or whenever I can work it into a conversation unsolicited), it’s usually easiest to say, “I have seven grandchildren.” The number gives me a prideful thrill, as if I’d accomplished it myself. In a way, that number – each of their positions within the family – is meaningful. It’s like a church. Our local body of believers is a church family. We are individually given various spiritual gifts, to build each other up, and they are all necessary for the functioning of the church. Likewise, we are all parts of the body of which Christ is the head. Grandson #2 may be a foot, and Granddaughter #3 may be an eye, but they are both equally important. That’s what a family is.

We are not numbers. God numbered the sparrows and the hairs on our head, but He knows us by name. In the Book of Life, you will find my name, not an account number.

That’s how it is with my grandchildren. Each new baby is as fresh and exciting as the oldest, who is still as fresh and exciting as the day we welcomed her into our family.

(And no, I couldn’t resist using that picture.)

 

 

 

GrandchildrenGrandchildren – How do you do it?

Do you have grandchildren? How do you keep each of them special and individual while still bonding as a family – especially if you don’t live close together? It’s important to us, but we are finding it difficult to arrange visits with one child at a time. Schedules and transportation issues become complex. I love the “whole family” visits, but the one-on-one time is rare and precious.

How do you do it?

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Rhubarb Crisp – My One Weakness

Rhubarb Crisp Recipe ~ Cathe Swanson

Click HERE for a printable version of my recipe.

First of all… Let’s get real. I have more than one weakness. I admit it – I am a multi-flawed individual. But this is a big one:  I love rhubarb crisp. At least once a year, during rhubarb season, I make as many pans of rhubarb crisp as possible and eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks until it is all gone. It’s good hot from the oven, or at room temperature or cold. I don’t need ice cream or whipped cream. It stands on its own merits. I love rhubarb crisp.

Rhubarb Plant at the Castle - Cathe Swanson - Rhubarb RecipeIt’s seasonal

Normally, I eat a fairly clean diet relatively low in carbs and high in protein. I eat weird things like coconut oil and apple cider vinegar (not together). All year long, I avoid cakes, candy and other sweets, but during rhubarb season, I eat enough sugar, fat and empty calories to make up for it. And I don’t feel guilty.

In the past, I was dependent on the kindness of my friends, so sometimes I could only make one batch a year, but there is an established supply of rhubarb here at the castle.

I’ve already moved most of my plants to the new house, but I want to use the rhubarb this spring, so I’ll come back here in the fall to dig it up and transplant it. Rhubarb is easy to grow and harvest, and YES, you can compost the leaves. You can find more information about rhubarb HERE. 

 

Rhubarb Crisp – the Recipe

My rhubarb crisp recipe came from my friend’s mother. LaVonne assured me it’s not a family secret. LaVonne doesn’t like rhubarb crisp. (That’s why we are such good friends. She doesn’t expect me to give her any of my rhubarb crisp.  Since I won’t be sharing mine, here’s how you can make your own rhubarb crisp.

Harvest rhubarb stalks, cut off the leaves, wash them and chop them into pieces – about 1/3” wide. You will need 3 quarts of chopped rhubarb.

Rhubarb Crisp Recipe - Cathe SwansonHeat the oven to 350*
Grease four 9” square or round cake pans. I use that old-fashioned, much-maligned, trans-fatty Crisco shortening for greasing pans. Butter will scorch.

Put into a large pot:
3 quarts chopped rhubarb
3 C. White sugar (I use 2 1/2 cups, to assuage the guilt)
3 C. Water
3 t. Vanilla
6 T. Cornstarch
Cook this until is it thick and syrupy.
While it is cooking, melt 1 1/2 C. (three sticks!) butter. Put it in a large bowl and stir by hand into crumbles:
3 C. Flour (I use half whole wheat and half unbleached)
2 1/2 C. Oats
1 1/2 C. Brown sugar (I usually use 1 1/4 cup.)
1 1/2 C. White sugar (I usually use one cup.)

Put half the crumbs in the greased pans. Pour the sauce over the crumbs and then put the rest of the crumbs on top. Bake for 40 minutes.

 

CLICK HERE FOR A PRINTABLE VERSION OF MY RECIPE!

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Recipe for Rhubarb Crisp

What is your favorite food weakness?

(It doesn’t have to be a weakness, really. Maybe your very favorite food is green beans!)

 

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Exceedingly, Abundantly

Introducing… Soren

SorenWe welcomed a new baby into our family this weekend.  Our grandson, Soren, was born late Friday night. He’s the first child of our youngest son,  and it brings me joy to see his parents love and cherish their newborn baby. Their awe blesses me.

When my own children were little, I was always pushing for the next milestone – the first tooth, the first word, solid foods, walking, riding a bike, learning to read… forward, forward.  Now, with my grandchildren, I want to slow it all down. To treasure each moment and fully appreciate each stage of their development.

This is a good era for being  a grandparent. Soren is the only grandchild who lives near us, but we see pictures of the others online.  (Never try to tell a grandparent that Facebook is a bad thing. I have even “face-timed” with my grandchildren several times!) Grandchildren grow with astonishing speed. They change too quickly. I’m sure it’s no faster than their parents did, but from a distance, time passes alarmingly fast. We can’t catch it and slow it down. All we can do is be aware of life in each moment.

A few years ago, I heard a man used the phrase: “I’m killing time until…”, and I wanted to shout, “Don’t do that!”  Don’t kill time. You only have so much of it, and once the moments or hours or weeks have slipped past (or been killed), they are gone. Instead, redeem the time.  Let peace abide in your heart for each moment, each slice of life that God gives us. See what He gives us. Give it your full attention. Use it. Treasure it.

As a young mom, the days were long. As an older woman, the years are short.

I see my daughter-in-law stroke her son’s head with wonder, and my own heart overflows. She’s not reading a book or looking at her phone while she feeds him. She’s looking at Soren, marveling at this precious gift. I think I often fail at that. I don’t always give God’s gifts my full attention. Sometimes I wonder why He continues to bless me so abundantly, exceedingly, when I let so many of His “smaller” blessings slip by unnoticed.

Oh, right.  It’s all grace.

I do fail to appreciate the small things sometimes, but He continues to pile on the blessings, filling my cup to overflowing – and then continuing to pour more on top. He is good, kind, loving. His mercies are new every morning. This morning, I am going to keep watch and really see the mercies and the blessings, big and small.  And give thanks for my family – every one of them, individually.

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Do what you love – as long as you love doing it

noquilting

I recently published an article – Quitting Quilting – on my GloryQuilts blog, explaining why I was restructuring my business. It explained the quitting part, but it didn’t really address the “art as career” aspect of the change. Through this experience, I am persuaded that if I am ever forced to support myself financially, I must not do it by making a career from the things I love doing. It sounds good, but it can end up sucking the joy from the creative heart and leaving only resentment.

For more than 20 years, I have been teaching quiltmaking as well as sewing and quilting professionally as GloryQuilts.  At first, I sold class samples and pattern prototypes as well as some things I made just for fun. I did some juried art shows, and then some that were less selective. I had to make quantities of items for the shows, on a strict deadline, and be ready to set up displays and manage sales. I started selling things on eBay and then Etsy.  Instead of selling unique and creative quilts, I began creating quilts specifically to sell, in trendy fabrics and styles. As my reputation grew, I was offered and accepted a number of commissions and special order projects.

But I had never intended to become a quilt factory.  What had once been a delight to me became stressful drudgery. I loathed the sight of my sewing machine and drove around the block to avoid seeing the fabric store. I didn’t even want to make baby quilts for my grandchildren!

Turning a passion into a paying career is something to be approached with caution. If it’s going to remain a creative pleasure, it must remain creative. If it’s going to be profitable, it must be practical. It will probably involve deadlines. It will involve  sales and marketing, business law, accounting, taxes, various expenses that eat into the fruit of your labors… Labors. Are you still feeling the joy of creativity?

It’s a wonderful thing to have work that makes you happy. We all need money, and it’s nice if we can get that money in a pleasant environment. Do what you love and love what you do, right?  The problem is the second part – to keep loving what you are doing once it’s a job. What happens when you give up the life-sucking day job to make a living from your art and then the art becomes the life-sucking day job?

Be realistic in the shift from hobby to career.  Before you start, assess the possibilities and requirements.  In most cases, this kind of self-employment is sales and independent contracting. Can you set aside the creative part of your skill set to practice on the weekends or does the business consume your enthusiasm and energy? Are you a painter willing to work as a commercial artist? An art photographer willing to do senior portraits?  A poet who will write product descriptions for catalogs? A creative chef will be happier in his own restaurant, with creative freedom, than he would be at McDonald’s, at any wage.

It’s easy to be creative on our own terms, without other people telling us what our art should look like and when it should be completed and how much money it’s worth. There is a niche market for art and original work. A few people and companies will appreciate its value, but it’s still a different scenario than just creating for our own pleasure and being willing to sell our art for a good price. Renaissance artists had patrons, and even that could be difficult.

After yet another stressful autumn and early winter, for those reasons and others, I made the firm decision to stop taking commissions and doing special orders. No more craft sales or any other sales event unless I happen to have stacks of finished items available at the time. (unlikely!)

I don’t like to say “God spoke to me and said…”, but I know that this is the will of God. I learned it through prayer, Scripture, wise counsel, observation and examination of the real situation, the preferences of my husband, the changing desires of my own heart. It all led to the unwavering conviction that I needed to stop that cycle and move into a new stage of my life.

In truth, I knew it a long time ago, as God opened portals in my life. I side-stepped them, closed them, looked through them and decided I wasn’t meant to go through them. I wasn’t good enough, they weren’t familiar to me, I needed money (and there didn’t appear to be any on the other sides of those doors.) I can call it fear, feelings of inadequacy, and the disbelief that my desires could really coincide with God’s will for me, but it all boiled down to disobedience and unbelief.

I was slow to make the changes, but I am committed now. I am writing. I am a writer. I believe it is my vocation, at least for now. I will still quilt. I enjoy teaching – especially the workshops that combine Christian ministry and quilting together. I like designing new patterns and making special items. I will still sell things:  class samples, pattern prototypes, and things I make just for fun, but I am not sewing to sell, like a quilt factory. God has called me to do a new thing. I am free to write without feeling guilty – as if I am wasting time in unprofitable activity.

Since I made that firm decision and announced it, I have made several good sales from the current stock in my Etsy shop and increased my internet following by a significant number. I am receiving this as affirmation of my changes. My husband is happy to see me writing and very supportive. Another affirmation.

It shouldn’t surprise us when God gives us the desires of our hearts and frees us from bondage of various kinds, when He makes everything work together for good, but it does surprise us and makes us wary. Sometimes we wonder if we are just seeing our own wishes and calling it God’s will. But we need to remember that He loves us here-and-now as well as for all eternity. He is indeed gracious and blesses us daily, beyond our comprehension.

Those blessings bring a responsibility, though. It’s the tagline for GloryQuilts:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

My (as yet unpublished!) books are not specifically evangelical. They are for the pleasure and encouragement of my fellow believers and a testimony of grace to whoever might read them. I am very grateful to God for this opportunity, and my goal is to glorify Him in all I do. He is good.

And I will love quiltmaking again, and I will make quilts for my grandchildren.

 

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