Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sew Forth and Sew On!

Living in Nanjing China without children underfoot leads people to ask,

 "So, like, what DO you DO all day?"

One thing I've been doing is sewing up a STORM!  My Janome 6600P was shipped over and so were bins and bins of fabric.  I love to create quilts.  Many are for newborns or new Grandmoms, and I've been "commissioned" to do a few for others. Babies could care less about a crooked seam or two and they LOVE bright colors.
I've definitely cornered a forgiving and playful market.

My stash (that's quilt-talk) takes up an entire wall in my sewing cave...and that's only half of what I've brought. Creative types will tell you that hoarding pallets full of the right STUFF will result in a wide-arrayed palette of possibilities. 

I've got that one DOWN, believe me...

These shelves were filled with Chinese textbooks. The landlord offered to leave them. 
 I had a more COLORFUL plan.

Just as at home in Michigan, I love that my sewing cave is out of the way. It occupies our lowest level, but still has natural light through 3 windows.  Creating anything the "Cricket Way" creates an EXPLOSION of color, books, 'pulled' fabric, sewing notions and STUFF stacked on top of more STUFF.The process is one of options and opportunity resulting in decision and design. Ever so folky and FUN!

Through the years I've learned to write things in a notebook.  Things like the best settings for my machine to do this or that. Or the measurements of my brother's rental units which I made some curtains for one summer day. I often sketch something that is in my mind and need to "get it down" on be later filled in with the details of what evolved.  I do this not because anyone else will EVER read it but it helps ME reference what I've tried and accomplished.

BuBuBu is the name of the Fabric Market in Nanjing, China. I've been twice to the two-story building. Basically there are two floors of vendors and tailors...think arts and craft fair in a very tight space.  It's hard to tell where one person's "shop" stops and the other begins.  Custom draperies and custom clothing can be made here so there are many booths with home decorating fabric or trouser-like fabric.  I was disappointed in the quality of the 100% cotton selection.  It was not the quilt quality I am accustomed to snapping up at brick and mortar quilt shops back home or online.  (Even though many of those are made here in the Middle Kingdom.)

The fabric markets of Shanghai (an hour and twenty minutes from Nanjing on a high speed train)  await my arrival.  I'm expecting trumpeters at the entrance as I enter with my hand clutching my MasterCard. They say it's amazing and I can barely wait to see what they specialize in - silks.   This is not a place I would take the Big Guy unless there was a cigar bar or a Starbucks within a reasonable walk.  He would undoubtedly ask me "How long do you think you're gonna be?" And I would have to give him the bespectacled look OVER my glasses and know that he would get the message that I have NO idea and it could be a VERY, VERY, LONG time. 

I delight in naming each one of my if they were newborns.  This appears on a tag on the back of the quilt. Along with the title is my name and date and the recipient's name too.  Just a few months ago I signed my little treasures:

Carol Johnson~Livonia, Michigan

 and now they read 

Carol Johnson~Nanjing, China

I am truly blessed to be here, in this place, doing what I love to do:
CREATE one HOT MESS and have something to show for it.

And that, my friends, is just ONE of the things I do with my day.

Thanks for Reading,

All "babies" were returned unharmed to their rightful owner.

Throughout this post you will find:

"Constantin Da Dao"      for Baby Constantin Ritz
"Go Aaron James, Go!" for newborn Aaron James Quan
"Hoo-ville"                     for Sharon Brown & her grandbabies
"Giraffe Lu"                   for Rita's friend
"Frisco Sky"                 for soon-to-be Connor Rowan (unseen because it's a SURPRISE!)

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Our USA Mandarin instructor left me with a warning. 

"Don't trust Chinese women, they want to marry an American and they don't care if he is married already or not. Watch out!"

I laughed at her warning six months ago, but human nature has not let me forget it...

About ten years ago, my dear husband came home and said to me, "Well, it's official, I'm invisible!"  Standing at the kitchen sink with my back to him, I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I turned around.  As I did, I squinted through my progressive bifocals (without the telltale line, of course) in search of a super-hero cape or some other indicator of this new super power. Nothing.

"Invisible?" I replied.

"Yep, attractive women.  They look RIGHT through me, RIGHT past me, as if I don't exist and they search beyond me seeking someone worthy of their attention." 

"Uh-oh," I said, having had similar experiences in my pharmaceutical sales representative career when I had hit the 'over the hill' at 40-year old mark.

 "I'm sorry to hear that. You're NOT invisible to me, sweetheart!  We're just getting older, I guess it's to be expected.  We're not in the game. Heck we haven't been in the game in decades.  Oh well.....shake it off."  This was said with a bear hug ending, of course.

And so he did "shake it off"  until he walked back in to the kitchen a few months later. 

"Remember awhile ago I told you I was invisible to younger women?"


"Well, I'm not invisible to ALL of them anymore."

"Okay...." I said, waiting for the latest clarification.

 "Recently, I have been getting the strangest reactions instead.

"Really?  What kind of reactions?"

"Well, for some of the young, cute ones it's just a big, bright 'can I help you' sort of smile. There's also a wistful  'Gee you remind me of my Dad'  kind of a look, too!"

I tried NOT to laugh out wasn't easy. 

And so we march forward with graying hair and an extra chin and hands that look like our parents and grandparents.  But it's all good, right?  We're alive and kicking, albeit slightly achy and more apt to choose sensible shoes over fashionable ones.  We realize more than ever that life goes one way and that's fast and forward.

I've never been a jealous person regarding the Big Guy.  We've been married a very long time and I figure if he finds the need to "move on", well I'd be broken-hearted... until I met with the attorneys.

Fast forward to our 3-year assignment in Nanjing, China:

We often are in search of something besides traditional Chinese food.  The ex-pat community frequents a few "Western" type restaurants.  There aren't many in Nanjing, maybe twenty, but among thousands of traditional fan dian (restaurants) in this city of over 8 million people, that is very few.  We visit them when we want to eat something other than Chinese fare.  Additionally,  there is undoubtedly someone there who can speak English, even if just a wee bit, which makes our meal less stress-filled from the start.  

One of our favorite Western restaurants is a typical pub. They have a variety of food, great nachos and a burger that is much less suspicious than others we've tried here in town.  I contend that if you smear enough cheese on most anything it will improve the taste, right? (Garlic works too.)

So, we often find ourselves walking into the place at least a couple times of month, to meet our ex-pat friends and the guests they bring along. 

A couple of weeks ago, it was just the Big Guy and me out for the evening.   We walked in for our Western fix.  As we passed through the pub door, a diminutive, native Nanjing waitress behind the bar looked up and with her broadest smile gestured for us to have a seat.  We sat on the same side of the table so we could see who would darken the door next and still chat with each other about our week.

This same waitress approached our table with 3 items.  Two drink menus and one food menu.

With her eyes ONLY on the Big Guy, she giggled and said, "Oh!  I not see you in LONG time and I SOOOOOOO happy I forgot to bring you menu!"   She scampered back for the other food menu. [Note that I am now the invisible one in the saga - adorable!] 

We ordered and ate our burgers, trying NOT to succumb to the smoke.  (Enjoy your smoke-free restaurants and bars, dear ones...they are NOT the norm outside of the USA! )

Our meal complete and people watching over, the Big Guy motioned for the mai dan (bill).

He turned to me. "Should I ask her name?"

"Sure, why not?" I said.

She quickly returned and the Big Guy said in perfect Mandarin,

"Ni jiao shenme mingzi?"

She looked at him, wide-eyed, put her tiny hand on her heart and made a fluttery-heart motion over it.  This question, coming from him, literally took her breath away! 

Doe-eyed, she sweetly answered, "Tien Mi."  When the Big Guy replied, "Tien Mi?" as best he could, she answered, "Perfect!" 

So now we knew her name!

A few nights later at our Mandarin lessons we relayed the story to our teacher,Stefanie. She gave us that puzzled brow we've seen before and slyly smiled, trying NOT to giggle.

"What? What?", I said, as I repeated our waitress' name.

"Well," said Stefanie, "Tien Mi is NOT a traditional Chinese family name but it means, well....."Honey- Sweetie." 

"Sounds appropriate then?" I asked. 

"Oh yes!" confirmed our smiling Stefanie.

A week or so later we darkened the door once more, this time with another couple and our Nikon.  The assignment was to enjoy the evening and digitally preserve Tien Mi's photo.

 "For the blog of other reason." 

Big Guy and Tien Mi

Note that in China the Big Guy is not invisible at all!   And maybe....just maybe.....I better keep one eye on MY prize and the other on teensy-tinesy, pocket-sized, conniving Chinese chicky-poos with questionable fast and forward nicknames! 

Re-thinking this, I've decided that if he ever left me I'd take him for 'all the tea in China', half his pension, the house and his Model-A Parts.

Plus, this is now documented and each one of you may be called as a witness for the prosecution.  I just KNOW I can count on you!

See, not a streak of jealousy.  Got the message, Sugar Pie-Honey Bunch?

Thanks for reading,