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Saturday
Dec012018

The Great Mouse Hunt, Part 2

During the mouse-hunting debacle at the end of August, which very nearly sent me over the edge, we—actually the husband, as my only contribution aside from irrational hysteria was to cut up pieces of cheese—strategically placed half a dozen mouse traps along what appeared to be the most popular rodent highway in the house. Since then, I sometimes will come down in the morning to find a mouse in one of the traps, but it hasn’t felt like an invasion. We live in the woods. A low level of mouse activity year-round is pretty much inevitable. The husband grew up in a 200-year-old stone house with lots of mice so as far as he’s concerned, they’re part of the furnishings. I am not quite as indifferent to their presence as he is.

We were having dinner Thursday night when he commented, ‘Oh, there went a mouse,” and calmly continued eating. He was facing the laundry room and had seen one run across the floor and go behind the dryer. A few minutes later, I saw another—perhaps the same one—dart across the floor of my office. Two mice sightings within the space of five minutes is unacceptable. He re-baited all the traps and went outside to unload the truck. I sat down to watch the news and soon heard one of the traps go off. Yay. One down.

Yesterday morning, I came down and there was another one in a trap. He left to go on a fire call (car accident) and I went into the bathroom off the laundry room to take a shower. I have gotten into the habit of checking all the traps as I pass them, and I noted that there was nothing in the one underneath the laundry tub. Ten minutes later, I came out of the bathroom to find a dead mouse in it.

[The chickens are very appreciative of all this extra protein.]

I thought that three mouse sightings (and subsequent demises) in the space of 12 hours was pretty impressive, but then I spotted another live one dashing about the laundry room. So far it has eluded death. The husband reminds me to be patient.

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He drove up to Eureka yesterday to retrieve all the cut and wrapped pork from the processor. I spent a few hours rotating stock and making sure one of the freezers was completely empty. I have a system. During the year, I periodically move stuff from one freezer to another to make sure the older cuts get used up first, but I almost always have to do one big rearranging session just before the new supply arrives. I’ve got the rest of last year’s fat rendering down for lard and I took three chickens out to defrost so I could cook them down into stock today.

I have reached grand master level when it comes to packing the freezer, something that always amazes me because it is one of those jobs that you would think relies on excellent spatial perception ability. (I am equally adept at loading the car, having schlepped the worldly belongings of two children around the Pacific Northwest for the past eight years.) I had him unload all the boxes and set them down next to the freezer, and then I picked from the boxes and put everything away according to cut and size. That way, I know precisely where the pork chops are and how much bacon we have. And it all fit.

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The past week’s time in the sewing room has resulted in this plastic shoebox filled with sets of half-square triangles waiting to be trimmed:

It looks like a nice supply until you realize that it’s probably only enough to construct six or eight actual blocks, which is a fraction of the number of blocks I need for the entire quilt. I knew that going into this project. As I noted earlier, I suspect this is going to be 90% prep time and 10% actual sewing the quilt top together.

I also have parts cut for 16 canvas grocery bags, sans linings. I’ll choose linings from the stash once I get the exteriors put together. The industrial serger will make short work of sewing the exteriors together, but I am not ready to fire it up yet. The manual was very clear that I needed a specific kind of oil for it—Juki Defrix No.2 (not Juki Defrix No. 1), and I had to order a bottle.

[Almost all the manuals for my vintage Necchis include a statement warning the user not to use olive oil to lubricate the machine. I find that really funny, but I suppose if you were a housewife in Italy with a ready supply of olive oil, you’d be temped to use it.]

The industrial serger is a five-thread serger, which means that it will finish the edges and sew a separate chain-stitch seam in one fell swoop. (Look inside your jeans before you put them on for an example.) It also can be set up to do a two- or three-thread edge finish. My domestic serger is only a four-thread serger. It creates a seam when using four threads, but it’s a different kind of seam. Like its big brother, it also can be set up to do a two- or three-thread edge finish.

The most recent episode of the Love to Sew podcast featured an interview with Alina Kroeker, owner of Dogwood Denim Apparel in Vancouver, BC. Alina designs and makes custom raw denim jeans for her clients. (She will also draft custom sewing patterns for sewists who want to make their own jeans.) I felt a lot better about my setup when I heard that she has 10 industrial machines set up in her workshop, all necessary to the construction of one pair of jeans. Each machine performs a specific task—topstitching, buttonholes, tacking, etc. This allows for the greatest efficiency as she is not constantly changing threads or machine setups.

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Finally (I have a lot to say today, apparently), Netflix occasionally yields up some gems, but you have to drill down through the garbage to find them. I very much enjoyed Monty Don’s Italian Gardens, a four-part BBC series that was part botany, part history. And last night, the husband and I watched a documentary, entitled The True Cost, about fast fashion and its impact socially and environmentally. I have to remind myself that while I can be righteously indignant about fast fashion and the quality of clothing in the stores, my consumption of fabric is not entirely benign. It also has an impact. I need to acknowledge that and own it. 

Thursday
Nov292018

To Blog Or Not to Blog?

I have some thoughts on blogging today, like, “How much is too much?” and “Is blogging obsolete?” My answer to the first question is that I am not holding a gun to people's heads and forcing them to read what I write. Three to four times a week seems to be a good frequency of posts. However, there are times when the words just need to come out. I am also one of those people who gets frustrated when I find a great blog, but the posts are few and far between and don’t seem to be produced on any kind of consistent schedule. I’ve got 30+ blogs in my Bloglovin’ feed and probably only a third of those bloggers post regularly. I would rather err on the side of posting too much than posting too little.

The second question was prompted by a podcast I listened to yesterday for the first time. It’s called the Very Serious Crafts Podcast. It’s produced by three women—all professional makers—who discuss crafting and business. It’s a relatively new podcast and it has potential, although the hosts need to do a better job of staying on topic. (If I wanted to listen to someone talk about cats for 20 minutes, I would listen to a cat-themed podcast.) The subject of blogging came up and there seemed to be consensus among the three of them that “the heyday of blogging is over.”

That made me instantly depressed. After I went and looked at their blogs and thought more about what they were saying and the context in which they were saying it, however, I came to the conclusion that yes, certain kinds of blogging are probably on their way out. I am specifically thinking of the genre of blogging that I refer to as “mommy blogging.” These are the blogs full of ads designed to generate extra income, or the ones containing (supposedly unbiased) reviews for products provided for free by manufacturers. They are heavily dependent on traffic and clicks. A lot of the craft-themed blogs in this category were started in order to attract book deals from publishers. Those kinds of blogs seemed to have been abandoned in favor of Instagram posting.

Endless reviews and ad revenue generation have never been (and never will be, for that matter) the goals of this blog. I am very clear that the purpose of this blog is to have a place to park my thoughts and document my life. If others of you find it entertaining and want to come along for the ride, I’m thrilled. I think there will always be a place for blogs whose intent is to provide thoughtful content. Those are the blogs that I, personally, like to read. I don’t want to have to sift through a bunch of ads or product reviews to find nuggets of information.

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We have some kind of animal(s) tearing around the walls and ceilings of our house. I am hoping it’s not the weasel, which—coincidentally—I have not seen outside since Tuesday. I was making breakfast yesterday morning and it sounded like a herd of buffalo running back and forth above our heads. Fortunately, the husband was in the kitchen with me and heard the same noise, so he couldn’t accuse me of exaggerating (much). The pager went off at 3 a.m. this morning for a fire call (a tree on fire that was extinguished before he even got dressed), and as we were lying there, trying to go back to sleep, we could hear something—multiple somethings, in fact—racing around in the wall next to our bed. I banged on the wall and told whatever it was to go back to sleep.

It’s a darned shame that black rat snakes aren’t indigenous to Montana.

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It took me an hour to get the belt back on the industrial serger yesterday morning, mostly thanks to my inability to translate what I was seeing in the manual to what I was seeing in front of me. I didn’t have the energy or desire to go any further, so I didn’t. I still need to thread it and check the oil level before I turn it on.

Instead, I went upstairs and communed with fabric. I am still working through the pile of fabric I got in Spokane. It’s all been washed and now needs to be pressed. I made significant progress on the supply of half-square triangles for the 2019 Ritzville quilt. That quilt is going to be 90% prep work and 10% actually sewing things together. Some projects are like that. It’s a good thing I like the prep work as much as I like sewing.

I have handwork:

I sat and worked on this last night while the husband watched car and truck videos on YouTube. He wanted to see what I had done. I showed him and explained the process, and he said, “I didn’t hear any swearing so it must not be that complicated.” It’s not. It’s relaxing and just what I needed.

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I happened to visit the Accuquilt website yesterday (thanks to a link from another blogger) and noticed that they have a new die for sale. (I can’t borrow a picture from their website, unfortunately.) It’s a die for the Cleopatra’s Fan quilt block. About 18 months ago, I bought fabric for this pattern intending to make a quilt with it. The fabric is in the Art Deco style, as is the Cleopatra’s Fan quilt block, and I thought they made a great pairing. The reason I haven’t started it is because the quilt block is rather complex. It consists of something like 10 pieces, all of which would have to be cut out using plastic templates. I thought it was a shame that Accuquilt didn’t have a die for it but lo and behold!—now they do. It’s on sale this week for $79.99 (from a regular price of $99.99). I am going to wait before I buy it, though. These dies go on sale every so often and I’m not ready to start that quilt yet. I’m just happy to see that the die is available.

Wednesday
Nov282018

Computers and Clothing and Canvas Bags

It's that post-traveling avalanche of blog posts again...

I had a great visit yesterday with Greg, my computer guru. His wife is a knitter and a friend of mine and his daughter was just a year or two ahead of DD#1 in school. After exploring all the options for systems with him, I went ahead and ordered a 27” iMac with extra memory. I want a computer that is going to last me a while. I have two desks sitting at right angles to each other—one with the Mac, the other with the PC. I’ll shut down the PC and put the existing Mac tower in its place and keep both machines running until I am sure I have everything off the old computer that I want.

Greg also offered to try to fix my Xerox Phaser color laser printer. I have had such bad luck with color laser printers. I had an HP that lasted about two years. The Xerox did a little better (four years, maybe?), but eventually threw a bad RAM code one day and stopped working. I tried the suggested fix, which was to replace the RAM. When that didn’t work, my only other option was to buy a refurbished electronics control module and replace it. I even found a YouTube video with step-by-step instructions, but it was one of those projects I never had time for and that printer has been a large paperweight ever since. I’d be willing to sink a couple hundred dollars into it if I could get it working again. When it worked, it worked well and I have a good supply of ink for it.

I also have an HP LaserJet 1200 that I bought in 1996 (not a typo). I will mourn for weeks if that printer ever stops working or if I can no longer get ink for it. I’d love to know how many millions of pages it has printed. What a workhorse.

My mother commented, when we were out shopping after Thanksgiving, on how bad the quality of clothing has gotten at Macy’s. It’s really astonishing. Liz Claiborne, a staple brand of my wardrobe, also has become a hit-or-miss proposition. I’ve looked at a few items recently that I don’t think would survive one trip through the washing machine.

Even Nordstrom has issues. I ordered a wool coat there a few weeks ago. I had seen one in the store but needed it in a larger size. (I ordered an XL because it looked like it ran small and I wanted to make sure it fit over sweaters.) It came while I was away. I took it out of the box and tried to put it on—tried being the operative word here—and it was way too tight across my shoulders. I don’t think it even would have fit DD#2, model-thin as she is. I sent it back it with a note saying how disappointed I was. Either the size was mislabeled or they need to find designers and manufacturers who actually know how to draft clothing properly.

How did we get to this point?

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After two months of it living in the foyer, we finally got the industrial serger moved downstairs. Our renter came over and helped the husband carry the table down the steps and then the husband set the machine in it: 

One of my tasks for today is to get the belt reattached and get this threaded and running. The owner of the sewing store where I bought it helpfully left it threaded, so I will just tie on the new threads and pull them through. I have mastered threading my domestic serger and will learn how to thread this one at some point. For now, though, I’m more interested in getting it going. I have all of these to work on:

That’s more of a mess than I usually make, but I had a marathon canvas cutting session last week and was trying to keep track of the fabric combinations. It was easiest just to toss them in piles on the floor. Maximizing the number of pieces I get out of each length of canvas is something of a puzzle. The canvas is 60” wide. The handles are 4” x 20”, the bodies are 11-1/2” x 20”, and the bases are 9-1/2” x 20”. I can get three of each by cutting 4”, 11-1/2”, or 9” by the width of the canvas from selvage to selvage and then subcutting, but I have to do it twice to have an even number of pieces that can be combined for three bags. (Did that make any sense?) And I am working with mostly remnants, so no two pieces of canvas are the same size. It’s a lovely workout for my spatially-challenged brain.

And there’s this:

I got out my transfer paper and pencils yesterday afternoon and transferred some designs from the Zakka Embroidery book to a piece of linen. I chose to start with the designs from that book because they are intended for only one or two colors. No need to make things more complicated than they need to be. Now I have something to work on in the evenings.

I am having great fun with the new blog software. It has so many cool features. It’s also forcing me to get in the habit of organizing my photos properly. Up until now, I’ve just been using the default image file name and leaving the images on the SD card. Going forward, I will give each photo a unique name and transfer it to a file on the hard drive (sorted by date) so I can go back and find it if I need it.

The past two days have been devoted mostly to job stuff and running errands in town. Today will be devoted to sewing.

Tuesday
Nov272018

Pop Goes the Weasel

The creature in the garden is a weasel, not a ferret. I was able to get up close to the garden fence to take a good look at it yesterday morning. It is indeed cute, but if it starts attacking chickens, it will no longer be cute and will be consigned to the same level of hell that the ground squirrels currently inhabit. I would not be distressed if the weasel picked off the Leghorns—the Chickens That Will Not Die—as they are no longer laying much. I doubt I could get it to kill them selectively, however. Hopefully it will be satisfied with the menu of rodents in the herb garden and around the chicken coop and leave the chickens be.

I don’t remember signing up to be the head zookeeper for all this wildlife. At least the bears are hibernating. 

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I spent a chunk of time yesterday afternoon moving the job search forward. I am pretty clear that I want a job, at least part-time. I also spent some time exploring Squarespace 7 in anticipation of moving my blog. I looked at WordPress, too, but I am familiar with Squarespace and I don’t have the patience right now to learn a different platform. Squarespace has the features I want. I think I may do simultaneous blog posts to both old and new Squarespace blogs for a few weeks until I am sure I have a handle on the upgrade, although I won’t make the new blog public until January.

I listened to the latest Love to Sew podcast on the way home from Spokane. Helen and Caroline, the hosts, interviewed Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen isn’t a sewist—she bills herself as a “happiness expert”—but she had a lot of interesting things to say and she did try to relate her comments to the process of making. (Do you schedule time for sewing and keep that commitment to yourself?) In one of their episodes a few weeks ago, the podcast hosts previewed this interview and suggested that listeners take the “four tendencies” quiz on Gretchen’s website. This is a personality assessment that evaluates how you respond to both outer and inner expectations. The quiz will tell you if you are an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel. I came down squarely in the Upholder camp, which should come as no surprise as Upholders have no trouble meeting inner or outer expectations. Indeed, they frequently wonder (sometimes aloud) why other people have such trouble managing their daily responsibilities. (The oft-heard refrain on this blog…)

Gretchen commented that she never goes back to look at or edit old blog posts. She said that she always wants to be moving forward. That really resonated with me. I know that some of you have expressed a desire for me to keep the past seven years of blog posts on the web in some format. I likely will download them to a flash drive just to have them, but truly—I have no emotional attachment to what I have written. Like Gretchen, I am most interested in what’s coming next.

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I lost my internal compass there for a while when my job disappeared. It’s nice that I am starting to feel its tug again, and I like the direction in which it is pointing. Being able to wander around Jo-Ann Fabrics for an hour at 7 a.m. on the Saturday after Thanksgiving had something to do with that, I think. Creative pursuits are an important part of what makes me “me,” and I have to acknowledge and honor that. I’m not just talking about quilting and sewing, either; blogging is a creative pursuit, too. Sometimes the words need to come out of my head just as badly as the quilts do.

One of the benefits of having a kid about to graduate with a degree in business and marketing—and who has more than 1000 followers on Instagram—is that she is readily available for free consults. I was able to get a crash course last week on how to better utilize some of these social media platforms. And she knows my personality and what I am trying to accomplish, so she doesn’t suggest things that don’t make sense for me.

The Tim Holtz subway blocks quilt is done:

I sewed the binding onto the quilt the weekend before Thanksgiving and then had to sit on my hands to keep myself from handstitching it down because I wanted to take it with me to Spokane to work on there. I was at loose ends again last night, though, because I wanted to sit and watch videos on YouTube with the husband but I didn’t have any handwork. All of my embroidery supplies are in a pile on my cutting table upstairs. One of the tasks that has now floated to the top of the to-do list is transferring some designs to linen so I can practice my embroidery stitches.

Monday
Nov262018

Happy Birthday Fabric and a Ferret

Back in September, it looked like DD#2 would have to work Black Friday and wouldn't be able to come home for Thanksgiving. I told her I would come to Spokane and spend Thanksgiving with her there. (As it turned out, she didn't get scheduled to work and that was fine.) My birthday also falls around Thanksgiving. Last year, when she was in Italy, I went to Spokane by myself and had a lovely birthday weekend. (DD#1 goes to her boyfriend's parents' house for Thanksgiving.) My mother and my sister decided to fly out and spend Thanksgiving with DD#2 and me this year. We got an Airbnb which worked out really well. It gave us a home base for all our activities. 

One of our family holiday traditions is to go see a movie on Thanksgiving evening. We had all seen the first Fantastic Beasts movie so the second one was an obvious choice. What a disappointment. The plot line was nearly impossible to understand or follow. I was lost from the opening scene, and it seemed that whatever plot line there was existed solely to escort the viewer from one loud, explosive special effects scene to the next. Yawn. It didn't help that this theatre has reclining seats. I am sure I dozed off a couple of times and probably would have had a good nap had I not been awakened by repeated on-screen explosions. Maybe next time I should just read the book. Jude Law as a younger Dumbledore, though, was a nice bit of eye candy. 

I went out early Friday morning because a) I get up at 5 a.m. no matter where I am and b) I wanted to get a good start on my fabric shopping. Jo-Ann Fabrics did something very smart a few years ago, in my opinion. They used to have one huge Black Friday sale, which overwhelmed their sales staff and made people grumpy. Now, they've spread their sales throughout the month of November. The really big discounts are still only available on Black Friday, but it's possible to get great deals on the other days and everyone—shoppers and salespeople alike—are much happier as a result. I bought fabric both on Friday and Saturday and my longest wait at the cut table was 20 minutes. I had some really nice conversations with fellow shoppers, too, while I was waiting. These are my people. 

By the time I was finished at Jo-Anns, everyone else had gotten up and had breakfast. We dropped DD#2's car off to have the summer tires swapped out for snow tires and the four of us headed out to the mall in Spokane Valley. I left my mother, sister, and DD#2 there to do some shopping while I hit Hobby Lobby and another Jo-Ann Fabrics store. I scored big on Kona remnants. Kona yardage was 50% off, too, so I stocked up on a few colors. I've been woefully short on browns and purples. I did not forget the small, independent fabric shops, either, where I was able to find additional fabrics for the 2019 Ritzville quilt. 

It was a good plan to split up. Clothes shopping makes me crazy on the best of days, and they had no interest in shopping for fabric. We kept in contact by text and met up when we needed to eat. I had gone fabric shopping with a specific list (and a budget) and was able to get everything I was looking for. 

Saturday was my birthday. We did a bit of shopping in the morning, had lunch, and then went to the Maryhill Winery tasting room for a wine tasting before our spa appointments. (The restaurant, tasting room, and spa were all in the same area. I don't like to drink if I am driving, but we were there for several hours so it wasn't an issue.) I discovered a new-to-me red wine at Maryhill made from the Cinsault variety of grape. It was delicious. I really like bold, aggressive red wines and this one definitely announced its presence. I bought a bottle to share with Anna some night when we get together to visit. 

The facial was amazing. I would go back for another one. We finished off the day with a dinner at Mizuna, in downtown Spokane, where I had some amazing ginger-jalapeno crabcakes and four perfectly seared sea scallops. It was a fun weekend. When I got home, I found a package from my friend Doreen containing some chocolate, an ornament, some pieces of cork fabric, and an apron pattern:

She also included a couple of the Scandanavian fabric stars that she and her mother made. They turned out so cute!

I may have to try making a few. 

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The husband informed me that we have a new addition to the wildlife zoo. This one is pretty amazing. He happened to be outside one day when he saw movement in the herb garden, so he took some videos on his phone. (I would include the videos here but you really can't see much.) From his description and what we could see on the videos, we determined that we have a Black-Footed Ferret living in the herb garden. What makes this so fascinating is that our area is not their natural habitat. They traditionally have been found in prairie areas on the eastern side of the state because their main source of food is prairie dogs. However—and this is the exciting part—they also kill and eat ground squirrels! (Ground squirrels aren't all that different from prairie dogs, really.) The husband thinks this one is currently subsisting on the mice living around the chicken coop. It was fun to watch it bounding gleefully though the herb garden, stopping every so often to stick its head up from underneath the lavender plants. I might go sit out there for a bit today to see if I can get a better picture. 

The other possibility is that this is a Long-Tailed Weasel, which is native to this area, but the husband was sure that what he saw in the garden has the characteristic black mask of the ferret, which the weasel lacks. And it's entirely possible that the ferret's habitat has shifted. We didn't have eastern blue jays in Montana until about ten years ago. I have to return the transformer for electrifying the chicken coop back to Fish, Wildlife, and Parks this week, so I might ask them what they know. In any case, I hope this one sticks around (and reproduces). It would be great to have some natural predator control for those annoying ground squirrels. And ferrets are kind of cute. 

ETA: It's a weasel, not a ferret. I was outside and got a good look at it up close at the edge of the garden. It has black eyes but no mask. All white with a long tail that is black on the end. Still no picture—it's really fast and has a network of tunnels. I'll keep trying.