Thursday
Apr192018

Chipmunks Do Not Like Broccoli

It's amazing how energizing a warm day full of light can be. It got up to the low 50s yesterday with lots of bright sunshine. (Okay, "warm" is relative, but this is Montana and when it hits 50, people go around in T-shirts and flip-flops. I need to go find my toe shoes...) The broccoli seedlings are up—broccoli clearly not being one of the chipmunks' preferred delicacies—and the snow is melting off the garden. When I went out at noon to make the rounds, I took a few minutes to rake some of the dead vegetable matter off the lettuce bed and was thrilled to see the little lettuce seedings underneath. 

That lettuce bed has been the gift that keeps on giving. We planted lettuce there a couple of years ago and every year it comes up, we eat it, and then I just let it go to seed. It's an heirloom variety called Freckles. I am all for anything that doesn't require extra effort. I've also noticed that after two seasons of not tilling with the rototiller, the weed problem in the garden has decreased significantly. The black plastic underneath the zucchini and melons works well, too. I don't even think the husband needs to till this year with the broadfork.  We can just dig where we need to plant. 

He and I went out after dinner and surveyed the rest of the garden. My grapes survived the winter! (It's always a question if they will or not.) The husband had to shore up the wire trellis which had gotten pulled down by the snow, but it was good to see buds on the vines. They need a good pruning. If it stays nice—which it is supposed to—I'll be out in the garden quite a bit over the next week. It's time to plant potatoes. 

The chicks are doing well and running around the brooder box. We are sure that all the incessant peeping annoys the big chickens. 

I took down all the insulated curtains in the living room and washed them and put them away. It's nice not to be living in a cave anymore. And because I was feeling festive, I made the husband a peach pie with some of the canned peaches I put up last summer. This is how much he ate after it cooled off:

People think I am joking when I say that he needs about 5000 calories a day. I made two pumpkin pies a few weeks ago (attempting to use up some eggs) and they were gone by lunchtime on the third day. 

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I'm going to Spokane next weekend. I haven't had a road trip since the beginning of February and I'm pretty twitchy. It's been a lot warmer over there, too. I am sure they have a lot more green than we do. DD#2 is moving to a new house in a couple of weeks. I'm going to take some boxes over so she can start packing. She's pretty resourceful and has a network of friends with trucks that can help her move the furniture. She'll be staying in Spokane again this summer. She scored a plum of an internship at Nordstrom and starts the middle of June, after she and her boyfriend get back from a trip to Spain with his dad and stepmom. 

DD#1 seems to have settled in nicely at her job in Seattle. It's interesting to listen to her talk about the kids she works with. A lot of them are children of Microsoft and Boeing employees. These parents have bought into that whole ridiculous paradigm of accelerating their children through childhood in the name of future success, and many of these kids are being labeled with diagnoses when all they are doing is trying to be kids. My kids weren't scheduled to within a minute of their lives when they were little and they both appear to be doing well. 

[The husband ran across an article, or maybe it was a podcast, where a guy said that his father really pushed him to be a lawyer—which he had no interest in becoming—so when he got his law degree, he handed it to his father and said, "Here is my law degree, now I am going to go be a fireman." The husband brings that up periodically when we have discussions about parents micromanaging their childrens' lives.]

In any case, it will be good to see some different scenery for a few days. 

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I can't decide whether I want to make a black Bramble Bag or a blue one. I have some "smoke blue" waxed canvas that I got from AL Frances Textiles on Etsy—where I buy all my waxed canvas—and it's really pretty. Black might be better as a winter purse. Or maybe I should make one of each. It's Thursday and the husband has fire training tonight, so I'll have an evening of sewing. 

I made the mistake of thinking that because I had gotten the pockets done on that messenger bag, I didn't have that much left to do. Then I looked at the pattern. There are still quite a few fiddly bits coming up. I'll keep plugging away at it, but it's not going to be done anytime soon. 

Wednesday
Apr182018

White Rock Fluffballs

I know that some of you are waiting with bated breath to find out if I conquered the mesh pocket, but first!—this year's crop of baby chicks have arrived:

The light is wonky because they are under heat lamps to keep them warm. It's supposed to break 60, finally, by Friday. I'm glad we didn't get chicks back at the beginning of March. 

These are White Rocks. I had an eyebrow wax appointment Monday afternoon and the salon is right up the street from the farm store. I stopped at the farm store after my appointment to see what they had. The farm store puts out a chick schedule of what breeds they will have when, but that doesn't always mean anything. They had plenty of these, though. I brought home a dozen. That's fewer than we usually get, but we're cutting down on the number of hens we're going to keep. 

I don't know how broody these will be. I am still kind of disappointed in my Buffs. The other Buff Orpingtons we've had always went broody, but not this lot. They look like they're going to and then they don't. 

The husband got some long pieces of scrap sheet metal to put around the base of the greenhouse to make it chipmunk-proof. I wish black snakes were native to Montana. We had one living in our house in Pennsylvania and it did a great job keeping the mice out. 

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Success! The tech pocket on the messenger bag is complete:

And I prevailed over the mesh pocket:

Making the mesh bigger and then trimming it down after sewing made a big difference, as did moving the location of that zipper to provide a bit more mesh above it. (I don't know why the left side of that pocket ended up angling up like that, but this is done and I am not going to go back and fix it. Enough is as good as it gets.) 

That section of canvas above the mesh pocket is supposed to get three lengths of elastic sewn down for holding cords. I did not feel like dealing with elastic last night, so I stopped there and finished sewing down the blue binding on the quilt:

I have a recipient in mind for this quilt, but I think it's going to go spend a few weeks at our church, first. The woman who does all the visuals for our sanctuary asked for quilts to decorate the space. I took two up there already and I'll take this one on Sunday. (Margaret, I will try to remember to take the camera, too, and get a picture for you.) My friend Elaine finished another tied quilt. I'll get that trimmed some night this week and start working on sewing down that binding. 

I think I've got time—before gardening/farm animal season gets into full swing—to make one more waxed canvas project. I really like the Bramble Bag purse pattern from Red Rabbit Mercantile. Red Rabbit is run by the same woman who did the Craftsy class on making that waxed canvas cross-body bag. I am so picky about my purses. The Bramble Bag is very similar to what I usually look for when I buy a purse. Also, I am not ready to be done yet working with waxed canvas. And compared to the messenger bag, the Bramble Bag looks like a relatively quick project. If all goes according to schedule, I'll have the Bramble Bag cut out this weekend. 

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed yesterday. I said to the husband that this is the time of year when I really wish I had a wife. I just do not have time to work full time as a transcriptionist, manage the construction company, stay on top of all the domestic tasks and errands that need to be done, and still eke out a bit of time to work on something creative for the sake of my mental health. The house is a mess. I need to rearrange some freezers so that I have access to ingredients and I'm not throwing meals together at the last minute. (We can only eat spaghetti so many times a week.) I've been drowning in paperwork, although yesterday I managed to clear enough of it that I could see the top of my desk again. The husband pointed out that I don't like to have other people in my house messing with my stuff (which is true), so me having a wife would not work. What I really need is a clone of myself and that won't be happening any time soon. 

I'll get a handle on things. This happens every year and I just have to weather the transition. It doesn't help that everything has gotten pushed back a few weeks because of the Winter That Will Not End. And the husband is just as busy. Everyone wants their concrete poured yesterday. 

I also saw a long-range forecast that predicted another bad fire season this summer, with a hot and dry June. We'll have to see what happens. We got a lot of snow this year, but we got a fair bit of snow last year, too. 

Monday
Apr162018

Carnage in the Greenhouse

It was too much to hope that the chipmunks would leave the seeds alone. When I went out there yesterday afternoon to plant the cabbage seeds, I discovered that they had dug up every single one of the pots with the big seeds in them and eaten them—the corn, the melons, and the cukes and squash. I've reordered the seeds and will replant them this weekend. In the meantime, we put some sheet plastic over the rest of the trays until the seeds germinate. 

If there is going to be any more carnage in the greenhouse, it's going to be a couple of dead little chipmunks. I don't care how cute they are. 

The neighbors across the street caught a bobcat on their game camera last week. It needs to invite a few more of its friends to come around. This rodent pest problem has really escalated in recent years. 

I am trying to prepare myself for the possibility that this may just be a year of crop failures. At the rate we're going, we might get nothing. It's why I try to put up two years' worth of food every year. 

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I ran into my first big problem with the messenger bag pattern. I am working on the "tech pocket," which is a double zippered pocket that folds out to reveal an inside mesh pocket on one side and some elastic on the other side for holding cables, cords, etc. These are the issues:

  1. The first problem is that I am not a fan of mesh pockets. My experience with mesh on backpacks, for example, is that they are a huge weak spot. Mesh either tears or comes out of the seams. 
  2. It's called "air mesh" for a reason. It's an unstable fabric made up mostly of holes. It's also slightly stretchy, which makes it even more unstable. 
  3. The mesh bag is made up of two parts separated by a zipper. The upper piece of air mesh, above the zipper, was cut at 1-1/4" wide according to the pattern. That became a serious problem after seaming.
  4. The pattern calls for 1/4" seams. This is my only quibble with this otherwise well-designed bag. Every other bag I have made either had 1/2" or 3/8" seams. I am not sure if the designer uses 1/4" seams in all her bag designs or she chose them for this one because her version was made out of waxed canvas. I am no stranger to 1/4" seams; quilters use them all the time. I can eyeball one pretty closely. On this bag, though, they are too narrow. Combine an unstable fabric with narrow seams and what you get is an unstable fabric that doesn't want to stay in the seams. I think it would have been better to specify larger seams with instructions to trim them down after sewing. 
  5. Because of the specified zipper placement, the upper piece of the mesh pocket—after inserting the zipper and then sewing the seam attaching the mesh to the backing—measured 3/4". That's simply too narrow to be stable considering that that 3/4" wide piece of fabric is mostly air. 

I carefully followed all the directions and assembled the mesh pocket, but before I clipped the corners (including the excess zipper tape, which would have been a point of no return), I listened to the nagging little voice inside my head and turned the piece inside out to check it. I am glad I did. There were a couple of places where it was obvious that the mesh was not going to stay put. 

By the time I got to that point, it was late in the evening and I didn't want to deal with the pocket anymore. I took it all apart and left it sit overnight. Looking at it this morning, I reconsidered the options:

  1. Eliminate the mesh pocket altogether. On one hand, this is the most attractive option, because it eliminates what I see as a weak spot and also simplifies the assembly process. However, I refuse to be defeated by a simple 7" x 10" piece of mesh. 
  2. Cut the mesh slightly larger and trim after assembly to ensure that all edges are caught securely in the seam. This is a relatively simple fix and the one I am going to try. 
  3. I also re-cut the piece of canvas for the outside of the pocket that this whole mess gets attached to. I made it 1/8" bigger on all sides to give me some wiggle room for that 1/4" seam. I can trim it down afterward. I may also add a line of zig-zag stitching there to further secure the mesh. 
  4. Change the zipper placement in the mesh pocket to provide 1-1/2" of mesh above the zipper instead of 3/4". It's not going to affect the function of the pocket and it will be more stable. 

So now I am back to the beginning of the assembly process for the tech pocket:

We'll see if these mods make a difference. If not, the mesh pocket will simply be eliminated from the bag. Stay tuned. 

Saturday
Apr142018

Janet Versus the Forest Animals, 2018 Edition

I spent a couple of hours in the greenhouse planting seeds this afternoon. I had company:

There were two of them. They came tearing through there and after some intial surprise at seeing me, settled down across from me to watch what I was doing. One of them gave himself a bath. The husband said they were probably thinking, "Who is this crazy lady and why is she in our greenhouse?" (I yelled at them, not that it did a lot of good.) 

They had better not dig up seeds or nibble on seedlings. We briefly kicked around the idea of getting a feral greenhouse cat, but both of us are allergic and we don't want it using the garden as a litter box. 

While I was planting, the husband was mucking out the pig palace and fixing the door. He builds things to last, but the door had to withstand six 300-pound pigs leaning against it last year and it was a bit crooked. It's all better now:

Of course, while he was halfway through this project, I got an e-mail from the pig supplier. Surprise!—he can't deliver pigs this week after all. (I told you he was flaky.) Now it's going to be mid-May, which is better in terms of weather, but the weaners are going to cost almost two-thirds more apiece than the ones we got last year. We opted for four instead of six. We still have plenty of pork in our freezers, so even if we only keep one next fall, we'll have enough. 

And yes, that's how much snow we still have. This is the garden:

I despair of it ever being spring again. The currant bushes I got from Cathy have buds on them, though, so maybe the plants know something we don't. I didn't see any lettuce. Sometimes it pops up under the snow. 

I worked on sewing down the binding on that quilt last night while attempting to watch the Netflix re-launch (pun intended) of "Lost in Space." I couldn't do it. I got about 10 minutes into it and decided that this was a horrific nightmare version of the relatively benign show I used to watch after school when I was a kid. I don't know whose brain this came out of, but when the kid got trapped in the lake of rapidly-freezing water, I had to turn it off. (I tried again this morning while I was straightening up the house, thinking that I could fast forward through that part and keep going, but no luck.) My tolerance for horrific is at an all-time low these days. I don't need to invite it into my house. It's too bad, because there was the hint of some really excellent character development. I was also annoyed by the fact that the oldest kid, Judy, appeared to be a token African-American tossed into the series in the name of diversity. I think it would have made a much stronger statement if they had made the entire Robinson family African-American instead of white. Netflix missed a great opportunity there, but maybe there is some backstory I'm not aware of. 

This is akin to Jim Carrey as the Grinch. He really wrecked it for me. 

I don't know. Maybe I'll skip to episode 2 and give the series another chance. We ended up watching a South Main Auto video about replacing the clutch in a Mazda Miata and then I went to bed. I'll finish sewing down that binding tonight. I'd be working on the messenger bag except that seeds need to be planted and I also need a magnetic snap that somehow didn't make it onto my shopping list yesterday (probably because I thought I already had it). I'll run into Jo-Anns after church tomorrow and pick it up. 

Friday
Apr132018

Bindings and Zippers and Tea

I went in search of some blue to use for binding, but first, I had to inventory the Kona stash:

It desperately needed organizing. I keep the Kona in an old dresser in DD#1's room, and all the cuts had just been put in there without regard to color. That made finding a specific shade somewhat daunting. I'll put them back in arranged by color. Doing this also helped me to see what I have the most of (blue) and what I have the least of (brown—three measley cuts at the bottom of the photo). I'll likely sub-organize the reds, the blues, and the blacks/grays just because I have so many of them. 

Some of this, I am sure, is reflective of the most popular colors at Jo-Anns, because 90% of these came from the remnant rack. I also use a lot of browns as top borders on those pillowcases that I make, which could explain why I have so few pieces. 

I found a nice light blue to use for binding:

I prefer darker bindings, as a rule, because they don't show dirt as quickly, but a dark binding would not have looked right with this quilt. This works with both the front and the back. It's all attached and just needs to be sewn down to the back. I like to hand sew my bindings down. I'm weird that way. 

As a reward to myself for getting the binding done—and because the husband was at fire training and I had the whole evening to myself—I put the 14" zipper into the front of the Ravenwood bag and finished assembling that part:

I still have to topstitch that bottom piece, but it was getting late last night and I knew better than to continue working on it. We got up at 4:30 this morning because the husband is pouring concrete at 7 a.m. I'll do that last bit before I start work. 

If I make this bag again, I will position those cargo pockets down another 1/8" or so. I put them where the pattern instructed, but that didn't leave a lot of room for sewing in the zipper, even though the specified seam allowances were only 1/4". I don't like wavy zippers. Usually I can avoid them, but this one ended up with a swale in the middle. Oh well. Next up is the back of the bag, which has another cargo pocket and a zippered mesh pocket. 

[I would make this bag again; this is exactly the kind of sewing project I like. It's challenging enough to keep me interested and teach me some new techniques, but not so hard that I get too frustrated to continue. And working with that waxed canvas makes my hands very soft.]

I've looked at probably three or four dozen versions of this bag since it came out. Members of the Bag of the Month Club have been posting their finished bags in the Facebook group and that has given me ample opportunity to consider what really makes this design work. I've come to the conclusion that it's the zippers. You wouldn't think that zippers would have such an impact, but in this design, they do. I am glad I waited and got four matching zippers instead of trying to cobble them together from what was available locally. I can't say enough good things about Zipit, the Etsy seller who supplies these zippers. She carries every color in every length that YKK makes. 

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DD#2 brought me some Fortnum and Mason Apricot and Lavender tea from London. (She was there over Thanksgiving break.) It was wonderful. We found the same brand at Williams-Sonoma when we were in Seattle in February, but W-S doesn't carry that particular variety. Amazon carries it—if you are willing to pay $35 plus $16 shipping for 16 tea bags. That's a bit rich for me. I did get this variety at W-S and I like it a lot:

I have to say, the Brits know what they are doing when it comes to tea. American tea is pretty anemic by comparison. I suppose that shouldn't surprise me. We can't make anything worthwhile anymore.