Some Thoughts About Thread

I said to the husband last night that I am having one of those weeks where I feel like I can't keep all the balls in the air. I have more to do than there are hours in the day. He knows—he is trying to squeeze every last ounce of daylight out of each day, too. I am looking foward to getting back to my regular schedule of adulting soon. And there hasn't even been much sewing. 

Work is still in a constant state of flux. Only half a dozen doctors are dictating into the new system—down from 20+ who normally do. Of the ones who are dictating, two or three are still having trouble following the new rules about what to dictate and what not to dictate. Additional issues with the software are popping up that need to be changed/adjusted. I've had days where I am working half in the old system and half in the new system because any doctor visits that happened before the conversion date need to be transcribed in the old system. I did a report for one doctor yesterday in the new system but someone went in after me and erased everything I had done (I didn't think that was allowed after I signed the note), so I had to redo that whole note again. I got paid twice for that one. 

I know this is all par for the course when it comes to a software conversion like this, but it's turned a job I used to love into something I dread. And can I just say that radio buttons do a lousy job of presenting a thorough clinical picture? I am so glad I am not a doctor. 

Let's talk about thread. The reason I am thinking about this is because I rethreaded the serger the other night and ran into some issues, not with my threading, but with the thread I was using. 

I have long maintained that my vintage machines do not like Gutermann thread. I don't have a lot of it, but when I've tried to use it on Vittorio, my Necchi BF, he has a fit. He loves the Aurifil cotton I use for piecing (no doubt because it is an Italian thread and he is an Italian machine). He doesn't mind the Coats and Clarks polyester that I use for bag linings and clothing. Every time I try the Gutermann, though, I end up with snarls and tension issues. People have told me I am nuts, that machines don't care what thread they are using, but my real-world experience tells me otherwise. 

Jo-Ann Fabrics had their Gutermann serger thread on sale a couple of months ago, so I picked up half a dozen cones in neutral grays and taupes. I've been using the Maxi-Lock brand, also from Jo-Anns. With the Maxi-Lock, I got a perfect serger stitch with all my tension dials set to 4. I wanted to change the serger threads to more neutral colors for making pillowcases, but when I switched over to the Gutermann thread, my serger stitch looked like something a three year-old had sewn. It took me half an hour of messing around to get the stitch to look good again, and when I looked at the tension settings on my machine, they were all over the place. One of the loopers was on 4, one was on 5, the right needle was on 3, and the left needle was on 6. I know that serger settings can be like that, but to have gone from the consistency of the Maxi-Lock to the wild variations with the Gutermann was baffling. 

I am a handspinner. I am intimately acquainted with the mechanics of thread production because, after all, yarn is just gigantic thread. I know the difference between S-twist and Z-twist.  I know how to prepare fibers for spinning woolen yarns and worsted yarns. I can make a Navajo ply and a cabled yarn. I was too tired the other night to try to figure out the differences between the Maxi-Lock and the Gutermann, but I might do that one of these days, just for my own edification. There has to be a reason. 

When it comes to yarn (and thread), I am not a snob. I use what gives me the result I'm looking for. Lion Brand Yarn used to make a lovely worsted-weight yarn called Lion Brand Lion Wool. It was the closest thing I could find to my beloved Brunswick Germantown and it made beautiful cabled and Aran sweaters. I was waxing poetic about it in a knitting class one time when one of the students asked me why on earth I would buy yarn at Michael's instead of supporting my local yarn store (which I did plenty of, trust me). I responded that if Lion Brand had chosen to sell its yarn through independent yarn stores, I would buy it there, but since they had chosen to sell it through the large chain stores, that's where I had to buy it. I've made dozens and dozens of prayer shawls from Lion Brand Homespun. I use the product that is going to give me the result I want. 

[Also, as a knitting teacher, I quickly became cognizant of the fact that some people have larger yarn budgets than others. Same with fabric. If someone loves quilting but can only afford fabric from Wal-Mart, I am not going to look down upon them or their creations. I might gently educate about differences in quality if that is appropriate, but I will not beat people over the head with skeins of Coats or Lion Brand yarns because they did not buy them at an LYS.]

So, back to thread. I have some cones of commercial industrial sewing thread, but you know what I love most for topstitching on my waxed canvas bags? Coats and Clarks upholstery thread or outdoor thread, bought at Jo-Anns. And the Necchi industrial has zero issues with it. I will be curious to see what happens with the industrial serger and which threads it likes best. I'll use the Gutermann thread in the serger, but I've got a note in the manual now about the tension settings. 

I'm thinking about making a few of these for relaxation:

They are from the Scandanavian Fabric Stars tutorial on the Crafting a Rainbow website. I've got tons of strips in the scrap bag. These wouldn't take long. Who am I kidding. 


The Bear Came Back

We were awakened out of a sound sleep at 2:11 this morning by the dogs barking. The husband said, "The bear is back," and grabbed his flashlight and went into the bathroom. He got a glimpse of the bear by the corner of the chicken coop; I missed it while trying to locate my glasses. I could hear it huffing, though, as it wandered off into the woods. That is a very distinctive sound. 

We haven't seen it—or evidence of its presence—for about a month now, so we assumed it had moved on or been picked off during hunting season. It is entirely possible this is a completely different bear as there seems to be no shortage of them in the neighborhood this year. Our renter said he saw it behind the garage again about a week ago, which makes me think it's the same bear making the rounds of places it found food before. 

The dogs probably heard it flinging the rabbit cages around:

These are usually stacked up next to the chicken coop. The bear doesn't like them there so it moves them. 

It left us a calling card full of apples:

The bear must have been raiding someone's orchard recently.

Lila has positioned herself on sentry duty at the end of the porch:

The 12-gauge is here in my office just in case, although I doubt the bear will come back during the day. At least the hot wires around the chicken coop are doing the job they were intended to do. 


Fall Cleanup With Heavy Equipment

Yesterday was our annual clean-out-the chimney day. We do this every fall. It's the one day out of the year when I get to operate the forklift. The husband trusts me to hoist him 40 feet into the air so he can get to the top of the chimney:

Yeah, watching him up there did not make me nuts at all. It was a long hour. 

Of course, because I only operate the forklift once a year or so, I have to have a cheat sheet for the controls:

While I was running the forklift, our neighbor Elysian was zooming back and forth in a rented Bobcat:

We told her she was welcome to the pile of aged chicken manure behind the chicken coop, so she came over and took all of it. Yay! 

It was cold yesterday—only 20 degrees when I left for church. Having a fire in the fireplace last night was welcome. I'll get all the insulated curtains out today and put them up. It makes us feel like we're living in a cave but it really cuts down on the amount of heat loss through the windows. 

I've got a busy week coming up. Tuesday is our Soup for Supper fundraiser for our fire department at the main fire hall. I would like to go over to help, but I told my friend Gloria, who is in charge of it, that depending on how work goes, I may or may not make it. Wednesday night is our church council meeting, when we have to finalize the proposed budget for adoption by the congregation. And Thursday afternoon, I have my annual eye appointment. Next Saturday, the group of us who went to the annual denominational meeting in June is getting together here at my house for a followup video conference. I have the best internet service of any of us and a big living room, so I suggested we all meet here. I'll hook the laptop up to the TV and we can participate in the video conference that way. 

I am hoping that work goes more smoothly this week, but I'm not holding my breath. 

This makes me very happy, though:

After we finished with the chimney yesterday, the husband helped me move the industrial Necchi from the basement to my office. We'll get the industrial serger set up in the basement where the Necchi was. We'll have to get some help moving the table down there, though. It's the same size as the table that the Necchi is in, but with that big honkin' clutch motor on it, it's too heavy for me to help move. I am looking forward to having that machine finally set up and working. 

I might find it hard to resist the temptation to play with the Necchi now that it's here in my office. I adore this machine. On the other hand, it might give me the opportunity to get more done. And if work is as bumpy this week as I think it's going to be, I'll need some time to sit and treadle and center myself. 


Exploring Local Food

My friend Anna and I went to a farm-to-table dinner last night. It was great fun. There were about 30 of us and guests included a mix of chefs and farmers and a few people like me who came along to appreciate the food. Anna is a caterer and is very committed to the local food movement. Thankfully, we have some people here who are trying to continue the long history of farming in the valley. It's distressing to see so much productive farmland being paved over for housing developments. Farming of any kind is not easy and these young farmers are navigating the tricky waters of transitioning from large monocrop farms to small specialty organic ones. 

The dinner was held at a retreat outside of Whitefish; it took us an hour to get there and the last couple of miles took us down a gravel road to a beautiful hidden spot by a lake. (I don't have any pictures for you, I'm sorry). Dinner started with appetizers and cocktails on the edge of the lake. All of the menu offerings were made with ingredients sourced locally, many from the farmers who were present, or foraged from Montana's bounty. My two favorites were the crostini with cheese and morels (morels in October!—they are normally a treat we have in the spring) and the elk steak tartare on Yukon Gold potatoes rounds that had been fried crispy like chips. I very rarely eat raw meat of any kind, so for me to have eaten three of those should tell you how good they were, but it was elk. Elk is so much better than beef. 

We went inside just before the heavens opened and rained down—rain that changed to snow while we were eating—and arranged ourselves at a very long table for a family-style dinner. The chefs gave a lot of background on the ingredients and where they came from. We learned that matsutake mushrooms, highly prized in Asian cooking, grow in Montana, and one of the chefs had foraged for the ones that were in our soup. The flavor was intriguing. 

The main course featured local lamb, roasted beets, delicato squash, a soubise made from apples and onions, and a creamed chard and sunchokes dish (Anna and I decided that one was our favorite and we each had several helpings). I found myself sitting across from one of the owners of Two Bear Farm, a CSA located between Kalispell and Whitefish. (His wife was traveling in Texas, so he was there by himself.) I hope I didn't make a nuisance of myself, but I asked him a lot of questions about running their CSA, not because I want to start one, but just because I find the whole thing fascinating. The husband and I are simply trying to grow enough food to feed ourselves (and provide zucchini to the whole neighborhood). Their farm has 250 CSA customers for a five-month season, something I find absolutely amazing in Montana. And it's run by only six of them. He said they would like to have more employees, but it's hard to find people knowledgeable enough to work on a farm without a lot of training. 

We finished up with a dessert made of Painted Mountain cornmeal simmered in Kalispell Creamery milk to make a porridge, with bits of pear throughout. The husband and I grew Painted Hills corn a few years ago and it did really well for us. Victory Seeds, where I normally order all our seeds, doesn't carry it so we did a different variety this past year and it didn't do well at all. I think we'll have to try Painted Mountain next season. The guy from Two Bear thought that perhaps the Painted Mountain variety—which was developed here in Montana—had been derived from Painted Hills, but it looks like it might be the other way around. I wish those varieties were more widely available. 

Here it is October and I am already planning next year's garden. It's hard not to get excited about the possibilities. That cabbage is still staring at me, though. 


We ran out of transcription work around noon on Friday, which was fine with me. I had already made my quota and then some. I don't think this is necessarily indicative of the amount of work we will have in the future, given that the clinic is on a reduced schedule. And several of the doctors have not even tried to dictate into the new system yet. I do a lot of reports for one of the doctors who is a leukemia specialist. He dictates nearly every day and we didn't have any reports for him at all this week. He may have decided (wisely) to take some vacation time. 

I used the opportunity to get the rest of the tomatoes processed into sauce, and ended up with 11 bonus quarts to round out what I did in August:

We are good for sauce even though it was a lousy tomato year. I use a lot of tomato sauce. Spaghetti (with brown rice pasta) is one of my go-to meals to make when I am really busy. My mother, interestingly, is allergic to tomatoes. She gets a rash if she eats them. So far I don't seem to have that problem. 

I also reorganized two of the freezers in preparation for butchering next month. We are using a different meat processor this year. The husband knows a guy that has just started a meat processing operation about 20 minutes from us, so we're taking the pigs there in November instead of up to Eureka. Eureka is a two-hour drive and although we like that processor a lot, it is a big job to drive the pigs that far and then go back and retrieve the packaged pork. Also, we would like to support a more local business. When we moved here 25 years ago, there were half a dozen meat processors in the valley. Half of them closed up and now it's really difficult to get a spot on the schedule at the places that remain. We'll see how this new place works out. 


The bill for my hospital visit in February is now paid off. I've mentioned before that when Obamacare resulted in our health insurance premium skyrocketing to $2000 a month (that is not a typo), I dropped my health insurance and signed up with Samaritan Ministries. This is a network of members around the United States who pay each other's medical bills. Literally. Each month I send my "share" to someone who has a need and they use that money to pay their bill. When I had a need, other members sent me money to cover it. In addition, I was assigned someone to negotiate the cost of the hospital bill. On Friday, I paid off the balance. I had no out-of-pocket costs for that bill—it was completely covered by Samaritan. If I had kept my health insurance, I would have been on the hook for at least a $12,000 deductible and who knows what else. I cannot say enough good things about this program. Samaritan has been around since 1996, so this isn't some fly-by-night operation. It's a great example of how people can organize to solve problems without getting the government involved (which only ever seems to increase the cost of services). 


Those Sneaky Tote Bags

I've been on a bagmaking hiatus for a while, but it might be time to end that sabbatical. I've seen a few new pattern offerings that are tempting.

Anna Graham, owner and designer behind Noodlehead, just released the Fika Tote:

(Fika is a Swedish word for coffee with friends.) There is so much to love about this tote, starting with the size. I adore big tote bags. This one even looks big enough to double as an overnight bag. I also like the lapped zipper on the outside pocket. And because it's a Noodlehead pattern, I know the instructions are going to be top-notch and easy to follow. The more I look at this design, the more I want to make it. I've got a chunk of Cotton and Steel canvas that would be perfect. 

I haven't forgotten about my plans to work on some embroidery projects, either. Aneela Hoey just released a pattern for the Sunflower Tote:

She made hers using Essex Yarn Dyed Linen. I have some in my stash. I've got practice squares of linen ready to go. It's time to transfer some designs and start experimenting. 

On a sadder note, Mariah McPherson of Red Rabbit Mercantile has decided to close up shop. She has two small kids and a full-time job and I understand completely how impossible it is to fit everything into a mere 24 hours. I love her designs, though. Her Bramble Bag is now my very favorite purse pattern ever, not only to make but also to use. I've got the pieces cut for another one. I took them out last night and found some lining fabric to go with. Forward motion. That's the goal right now. I'm still using the Fremont Tote as my everyday bag, but it's rather driving me nuts. 

Once I get the industrial serger set up—I am so close—I'll start knocking out more canvas grocery bags. Everyone who has been gifted a set loves them. I think they would be big sellers at craft fairs. 

I'll settle down with some projects soon. I think my inability to focus on sewing is a reflection of what's happening in my work life right now. I spent most of last night sewing down binding. That's a simple and meditative activity. 


Yesterday at work was marginally better than Wednesday. More of the doctors are making an effort to adjust to the new system. Our supervisor—bless her heart—put in a request for the transcriptionists to be paid time-and-a-half for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week to help make up for the aggravation we have been through with this transition. Whoever was in charge of scheduling also had the wisdom to cut the patient load by 50% for a couple of weeks to allow everyone to get used to the new normal. 

I am going to sound like a grumpy old person now, but one of the things I find sad about this new EMR system is that patient charts now look like a mish-mash of bad texting. All kinds of people are putting in data using all sorts of abbreviations, poor grammar, and lack of punctuation. As a formally-trained MT, I was taught to follow certain style rules for the clear and accurate presentation of patient information. I am also one of those people who lives and dies by style guides—that's just my personality—so to see what I consider gobbledygook in a chart now has been the hardest part of this transition. Clearly, those skills are not considered valuable any longer. It's something of a metaphor for the current state of our society.

It is what it is. I am going to stick with this until the end of 2018 and then decide how I feel and whether I want to look for something else. 


I saw a report from the Spokane news station yesterday that the prediction for this winter in the PNW is warmer temps and less snow due to an El Nino pattern. We'll have to see how accurate that is. It's also a bit difficult to extrapolate from Spokane to Kalispell, even though we often get what they had a day or two later. There have been years when Spokane has gotten lots of snow and we haven't, simply because the storm systems dove south as they headed into Montana and hit Missoula instead of us. I am hoping for a snowy winter. I don't like it when the fire danger is high in the summer. 

October has been unseasonably cold so far. I don't think it got out of the 40s yesterday. Normal highs for this time of year are the low 60s. We are supposed to be back in that vicinity next week.