Saturday, April 24, 2010

Viva Fiesta!

I love San Antonio. It's quiet demeanor gives the impression that San Antonio is a small town, so most people are surprised to learn that the Alamo City is the seventh largest city in the nation (and is bigger than Dallas, which ranks ninth). It is this small-town ambience that holds my heart and brings me home every weekend after working in Austin during the week.

Every spring in April, the city throws its sombrero in the air and invites the world to Fiesta, a ten-day party that celebrates its multi-ethnic heritage with four major parades (drawing up to 500.000 parade-goers to each parade), a carnival, oyster bake, concerts, art shows, royalty to name just a few events.

Not every event is huge, and today my daughter, granddaughters and I enjoyed one of the smaller neighborhood events--the King William Fair. King William is a neighborhood just south of downtown. The neighborhood was first settled in the 1840s by German immigrants (at that time, one-third of the San Antonio population spoke German). The area is on the National Register of Historic Places. Cross St. Mary's Street, and you arrive in the area known as Southtown where the homes are not as opulent, but I think equally as beautiful.

The house above belongs to author Sandra Cisneros. She caused quite a stink in the neighborhood when she painted her house such bright colors. She finally won the argument and the neighborhood, I believe, is better for it.

The three homes shown above are examples of the Victorian-inspired architecture in the neighborhood.

The fair kicked off with a parade. Now, this is not one of the "big" parades, like the Battle of Flowers or Fiesta Flambeau, but it is big in spirit. Dance school tots, community non-profits, and pooches in Fiesta finery wowed the crowd. The parade queens took the opportunity to poke fun at the "real" Fiesta royalty.

We trekked to the fair proper at the conclusion of the parade. Homes along the route were dressed in Fiesta finery--papel picado (cut paper banners) and huge wreaths adorned with traditional Mexican crepe-paper flowers with flowing ribbons that fluttered in the wind. Families gathered in their front yards welcoming Fiesta visitors to their neighborhood, all the while celebrating Fiesta with barbeque, cascarones (confetti-filled eggshells that are cracked over heads), aquas frescas (fruit drinks, such as lemonade, strawberry, or watermelon), and music.

Mini-papel picado on sticks!

Traditonal papel picado--notice "Fiesta" cutwork on each banner.

We made our way to the children's area, where the girls had their faces painted and made pleated-paper butterflies (a free event thanks to the area Rotary club). The day was beautiful and we had a lot of fun. Viva Fiesta and we will see you next year!

My daughter Kim and granddaughter Gracie (my Etsy store namesake).

My little sweetie, Summer with cascarones confetti in her hair.

Gracie and Summer admire shiny papel picado decorating a fence along the parade route.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Texas Wildflowers

My mom embarrassed me. Whoa.....don't hate me...let me explain!

She embarrassed me when I was a kid and she would stop the car (with me in it) and hop out to look at wildflowers along the road.

First, I could just feel the dirty looks the people in passing cars were giving us for causing a distraction.

Second, and this is what the distraction was, she would bend over to examine the "posies," as she called them, exposing her rear to every passing car. It was the 60s, and she favored a culotte jumper in an animal print, so she really didn't expose her rear, but it was out there for the world to see!

Third, I just knew there must be some kind of law against that sort of thing--you know--looking at posies while exposing your rear to passing motorists.

I just didn't get it.

Until I was in my 40s, and I went back to college to earn a degree. One of the first classes I took was a botany class, and we were assigned a project of collecting and drying wildflower specimens. I loved working on this project, and my project was outstanding (if I may say so myself). I didn't just collect and dry specimens, tape them in some dime-store notebook, and write their scientific names on each page with a fine-tip Sharpie. Oh, no, I made mine into a wonderful scrapbook. I collected specimens from the Panhandle to San Antonio to the Mexican border, and all the way to the coast. I wrote little stories about the flowers, included recipes, and herbal medicinal uses for the flowers.

That project turned out to be a project that renewed me. My husband had died only about two years before, and I was in a funk and trying to find my way. The project made me stop and see the beauty that was all around me. It gave me a reason to get outdoors (I spent a lot of time on the sofa watching TV and eating ice cream after my husband died). The project made me excited to be in school and gave me something to look forward to--a degree. And, the beauty of the flowers gave me peace.

I finally "got" why my mother loved wildflowers so.

You know the old adage, "what goes around, comes around?" Well, I embarrassed my kids, too!

This year, Texas is having a spectacular wildflower season, thanks to perfect winter conditions (abundant rainfall). This past weekend, I enjoyed a day of spotting and photographing the wonderful flowers a bit south of San Antonio in Atascosa and Devine. I hope you enjoy my pictures.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Round Top Antiques Fair

I am bad. My family is big on holidays. Mostly, we get together and eat. Thanksgiving-turkey. Christmas-soup (I will blog about Stone Soup Christmas at a later date). New Year's-sauerkraut and pork AND black eyed peas. Easter-ham. You have to have a pretty good excuse not to show up.

This Easter, I decided to forgo the Easter get-together. I think this surprised most of the family because I believe they thought I would be doing the cooking! I took the coward's way out--I had my daughter tell everyone I wouldn't be there! Instead, I took some time for myself and went to Round Top, Texas, to their spring antiques fair. I had read about the fair in several magazines, and just decided it was time to go to find out what all of the hub-bub was about.

Conditions were perfect to go. I had some extra cash, thanks to the outstanding cascarones sales I had during the month of March (I sold more cascarones during March than I had all of last year!). The weather was great--not too hot, not too cool, no rain. The landscape was painted with the colors of the most incredible wildflowers I have ever seen. I had never been in that part of Texas before and it was very pretty country.

I left Austin for the 70-mile road trip at about 6:30 in the morning, thinking I needed to be in Round Top early to get a jump on the crowds. I also wanted to have time to scout a location to take photos of my Texas wildflower quilt (see my last post for that story). When I cruised on into the Round Top area at about 9 am, I was surprised that many of the vendors were not open for business yet. I commented on that to the first vendor that was open, where I made my first purchase of the day--a vintage mirror. He said that most of the vendors had been there all week, and this being the last day of the show, were pooped and a little slow-going. I could relate to that!

The fair is not confined to just Round Top (population 70 during non-fair weeks). There are vendors set up for miles leading into the town and past the town. A person could spend days at the fair and not see everything there was to offer. Since I was only there for the day, and I had no plan of attack, I pulled into the first free parking lot and figured I would just make my way through the maze. I was a bit disappointed at first because most of the vendors in this first tent were not selling anything vintage, antique, or even handmade. It was all mass-produced products. I didn't spend much time there.

I took advantage of the free parking and headed across the street where I spied things that were old. (Note about parking: most parking is not free, but it wasn't expensive when you did have to pay. The parking fees benefit community organizations.)

Now, this is where I wanted to be. Junk galore. I had been concerned that the "antiques" at the fair would be expensive and out of my range (especially since martha Stewart recommended this fair--I just can't imagine her loving the junk). There was plenty of antiques that could gracefully (and expensively) adorn any room at Martha's , but there also was a lot of merchandise that I would label as flea market finds.

After a while, some tents started to look like the tent you just left. So, I started to focus on finding vintage textiles. I will be soon opening another Etsy store to sell aprons made from vintage and new fabrics and embellishments (tentative shop name is Summer's Heartstrings), and I wanted to find textiles to construct my aprons. In one store, I sat on the floor with a basket of vintage fabrics and had a treasure hunt. Then the vendor brought over another box of goodies she hadn't even put out for sale. I hit the mother lode there. In another store, the seller had beautiful embroidered pillowcases, perfect to repurpose as an apron, and very reasonably price. Bought those, too. Found another seller with a table where everything was $1, and walked out with some pretty teatowels.

After about seven hours, I was pooped and only had $23 left. I had almost escaped to the parking lot when I spied a one-hole chicken roost. Hmmmm...I always wanted a I bought it. I don't think a chicken will every roost in it, but I thought it could be used as a cool prop for my cascarones.

I left tired, penniless, and happy.

The next fair is in June. See you there!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wildflower Quilt

My grandma Lumadue was a quilter.

She split her time living with our family in Texas, my aunt in Detroit, and my uncle in Pennsylvania. When she came to stay with us, mostly during the winter months, the quilting frame came out. She would always be meticulously hand-stitching a new quilt to give to some lucky person. She made patchwork quilts, appliqued quilts, and crazy quilts. There was always one on the frame, and another waiting in the wings.

My sister Donna picked up the sewing and quilting bug from my grandma. And like my grandma's quilts, my sister's quilts adorn the beds of some very fortunate people who are blessed by the gift of her amazing heartfelt art-including mine.

I graduated from college in 1999, only 26 years after I took my first class in 1973! It was a long road, but I finally made it. I had a wonderful graduation party. When the guests left, I opened the many lovely gifts friends and family gave me to celebrate the occasion. There was a gift from my sister. I opened the box and found a rainbow of fabrics carefully cut into pieces that would soon be lovingly appliqued and detailed on a most amazing quilt, designed just for me by my sister. Its design was inspired by a pressed wildflower collection I made for the first class I took when I returned to finish college, biology. I loved that project, and my sister translated every detail of my project into a beautiful piece of fabric art.

It was about three years before the quilt lay on my bed.

The wait was worth it. Every piece of fabric was carefully chosen to reflect the beautiful colors of Texas wildflowers. Every embroidery stitch perfectly accents each appliqued piece. There are surprises in the quilting. I had the quilt for several years before I even noticed the spider webs and dragonflies stitching the layers of fabric and batting together. Each flower's common name is handwritten on each block. There is a new treasure to find every time you examine it.

I took a road trip last weekend to Round Top, Texas. We are graced by a spectacular show of wildflowers this spring in Texas. The conditions have been perfect (lots of fall and winter rains) for prolific blooms of bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, wine cups, verbena, and phlox, to name a few. I happened to have my quilt with me, and found the perfect backdrop of wildflowers to photograph my quilt against.

I hope you enjoy my quilt as much as I do.

In another post, I discussed my sister's struggles with ovarian cancer, the same disease that took our mother at age 58. Donna has endured over a year of chemotherapy-and is still receiving treatment-along with all of the indignities that go along with that. But my sister has remained dignified in her courage as she fights this awful disease; she is dignified by her continued thoughtfulness toward others, even when she is stripped of all of her energy; and she is dignified in the way she retains her faith on such a difficult journey.

She has hasn't been able to quilt since she was diagnosed, but looks forward to making new quilts as soon as she can. Whose bed will be crowned with her next creation? I don't know that, but I do know that they will be the luckiest person in the world!

April 14, 2010 update: My sister had her last chemo last week! The treatments lasted much longer than predicted (almost a year and a half of treatments rather than six months). The chemo was brutal, affecting her so much that she was hospitalized on more than one occasion from the side effects. This is such good news. I know she will be quilting again soon.