Wednesday
Sep052018

Hardware Recycling

The husband bought a new belt. I can't remember the last time he had to replace that particular piece of his wardrobe, so it likely has been a while. He needs a good, sturdy belt to help hold up the 40 pounds of stuff he carries around every day. The new one is from Bullhide Belts.

The old belt had a fair bit of hardware on it, including six Chicago screws. Sometimes those screws get a bit of epoxy or Loctite added to them for added strength and I wasn't sure if they would come out. These did, though:

I took the buckle off, too, and added it to the hardware collection. I know people who recycle hardware from thrift-store bags, but I am not at that point right now. 

I don't like belts and never wear them if I can avoid it. I think it's because my natural waistline is in an odd place, so any piece of clothing with a belt ends up displaced and uncomfortable. It's a problem, though, when I need to put a holster on my jeans; the holster fits better if there is belt to help hold it in place. We were down at the range one time and I was having a heck of a time getting the holster for my pistol onto my pants (the fact that I have hips might also have something to do with that as it's hard to slide a straight molded plastic holster along a curved surface). The husband casually remarked that in a zombie apocalypse, I was probably going to die because the zombies would be attacking and I'd still be getting dressed. 

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After checking on the pumpkins yesterday, I am convinced that we had at least enough cold air in the low-lying sections of the garden, if not an actual frost, to kill off some of the vines:

The pumpkins are turning a nice shade of orange. And I brought in a ripe canteloupe for the husband to have for breakfast. The weather is still clear and warm, so I am leaving the rest of the beans in the garden for a couple more days. This weekend, though, I am going to have to start hauling stuff in. 

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Vittorio and I sewed for a bit yesterday afternoon and evening. I worked on more of these scrappy Log Cabin blocks. I get half a dozen or so started and then just keep chain piecing them through the machine:

After I took this picture, I noticed that I used a couple of the fabrics twice in this block. Normally I try to avoid doing that. Oh well, now that's a design element. It looks like I am also quite fond of polka dots, LOL. 

This is a good project to work on when my brain is tired. It doesn't require any measuring, just sewing and trimming. (When my brain gets so tired that I start using the same fabrics twice, though, I should probably stop). And it churns through quite a bit of fabric.  

We have a quilt made from blocks like this on our bed right now. I made it a few years ago. It's comprised of 36 of these squares, which finish at 12" x 12" when sewn together. I'd like this current one to be bigger, but for that I will need 48 squares. I've become quite fond of sleeping under my quilts. I noticed, after my bout in the ICU in February when I was home recovering and spending a lot of time on the couch, that there is something very comforting about sleeping under a homemade quilt. I have no doubt that quilts, like prayer shawls, get infused with some kind of healing energy during the making. I think that's why I like scrappy quilts, too—they are less like heirlooms and more likely to be used for their intended purpose of keeping people warm. 

Tuesday
Sep042018

On to Fall

We made it through another fire season. The tourists have mostly packed up and gone home. The weather is cooler and (hopefully?) rainier. The sun no longer shines through my bedroom window at 10 p.m. We can have hot soup for dinner. I love this time of year. 

I think we must have gotten a light frost some time in the past couple of days. The cucumber vines are tinged with yellow and some of the tomatoes look a bit anemic. I briefly considered bringing in the green tomatoes that are on the vines and letting them ripen in the greenhouse in hopes of getting a few more quarts of sauce, but I decided it wasn't worth it for golf ball-sized fruit unless I pull the plants up by the roots. I might still do that. We will just chalk this up as a bad year for tomatoes. 

I picked half of one of a row of my dry beans yesterday morning—I think these are the Great Northern beans. Half the row filled a five-gallon bucket and now the beans are drying in the greenhouse:

Those trays have mesh bottoms, so there should be plenty of air flow. I just need to pick the rest of this row and then the row of what I think are pinto beans. It will be a surprise!

It was lovely to be able to drive to Jo-Ann Fabrics yesterday without being stuck behind half a dozen RVs on the way. I figured that Jo-Anns would be having some massive Labor Day sale and indeed, the cones of Gutermann serger thread were 40% off (making them $2.39 each) so I picked up a couple in each of the colors I needed. I am following Mallory and Zede's edict that all four serger threads do not have to be the same color. That saves a bit of money. My vintage Necchis do not like Gutermann thread, as a rule. My serger is a modern Juki, though. It doesn't seem to care. 

I am trying to talk myself out of getting another (domestic) serger. I can't decide if I am being efficient or lazy. Part of the reason I have multiple sewing machines is so I can set them up for different tasks. It occurred to me that it would be handy to have one serger devoted to finishing wovens and one dedicated to knits. That way I wouldn't have to change needles and thread every time I want to switch from one to the other. I won't pay retail for a second serger; I am sure I can find one at a thrift store. If nothing else, I'll ask a couple of my friends for whom I found thrift-store sergers if they would be willing to sell one back to me. 

Sergers are at the front of my thought process right now because I have been experimenting with making pillowcases on mine. Doing it that way is most certainly faster than sewing French seams on a sewing machine, which is a multi-step process. Serging requires one pass through to attach the band to the body, then another pass to seam the sides. Boom, that's it.

 

The downside is that the threads are much more visible in a serged seam. I don't want to have to change threads unnecessarily, so I'm trying to use something neutral. I started out with a charcoal gray. It was still a bit dark for some of the fabrics, though, which led to the trip to Jo-Anns for a lighter color. I've also divided the pile of pillowcases-to-be-assembled into predominantly light ones and predominantly dark ones. I'll do the dark ones first and then change the loopers over to a lighter color. 

I was hoping to be able to sew with the group in Spokane that makes pillowcases for the hospitals there. A few years ago, they had a Saturday sew-in in September, so I contacted the organizer to see if they were doing it again this year. I thought I might go over that weekend and join them. They are doing it again, but on a Thursday this time. Oh well. 

I am also still working on attaching the hardware and straps to the Fremont Tote. This is a slow process because I don't want to mess it up, but it's taking almost as long to attach the hardware as it did to make the bag itself. I got one grab handle attached yesterday:

(Sorry for the blurry picture. And the canvas is more of a sage-y green, not that pea soup green.) I used Chicago screws again, with the suggested piece of leather for reinforcement on the inside, as well:

I don't plan on carrying bricks, but the straps are nice and sturdy. I doubt very much, though, that I will make more bags with the straps and hardware attached like this. It's too nerve-wracking. Either that, or I need to invest in a press. 

I never did make any aprons this weekend. That's okay—I made some significant forward progress and that was the goal. I have a much clearer idea of where I want to go from here. Spending more time with the serger and making more of my own clothes is definitely on the list for this winter. 

Sunday
Sep022018

Head Space

I went into this weekend's sewing marathon with sort of a plan, but with the rule that I would just work on things as I felt like it. If something grabbed me and wouldn't let go, I would acquiesce. The important thing was not so much what I was sewing, just that I had an uninterrupted chunk of time in which to do it. 

I began by cutting up more fabric to make bags for The Nurturing Center in Kalispell. Our church started doing this last year in memory of our friend Cathy, who was the Executive Director there. That whole story was so very tragic—Cathy died of cancer in April of 2017; her daughter, Erin, was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in Portland two months later (they never found out who did it); and then Cathy's father died of a heart attack the weekend of Erin's memorial service. We were looking for a way to honor Cathy and Erin's memory, so we make 14" x 14" drawstring bags that The Nurturing Center fills with supplies for new parents and hands out. We've made some from ladybug fabric in Cathy's memory and now we're going to make some out of cat fabric in Erin's memory. 

From there, I moved on to cutting out more pillowcases—these require less than a yard of fabric for the body, so Jo-Anns remnants are perfect. The contrasting bands come from my stash of Kona. I thought I might sew through the pile of pillowcases, but then I spied a couple of quilt tops and decided to get at least one of them basted together with batting and backing. A few years ago, I cut out a whole bunch of 2-1/2" x 2-1/2" squares to use as leaders and enders for piecing. Half were from scraps of white prints and half were brightly-colored prints (this is similar to a quilt in the Sunday Morning Quilts book). I put them in a plastic shoebox and just moved the box around to whatever machine I was using. I sewed a whole lot of them on Jane, my Singer 66 handcrank, which I keep down here in the living room. 

[Her name is Plain Jane because she was originally festooned with the Singer Red Eye decals, but at some point, she got repainted and re-decaled—probably during WWII when the Singer factories were converted to munitions factories and machines were hard to come by. If you look carefully, you can still see the imprint of the Red Eye decals under the black paint. She is a lot plainer now but still sews beautifully. She is my favorite handcrank machine.] 

I sewed enough (hundreds! thousands?) of those little squares together, and then into rows, that I could have made a queen-sized quilt. I decided to make two smaller lap quilts, instead. I cut the three yards of backing fabric in half and sewed it together along the long edges (Vittorio did that job), then laid it, the batting, and the top out on our bedroom floor and pinned it together. My original plan was to assemble both tops and leave the quilting for some evening later on, but I got carried away and decided to go ahead and quilt the first one. I haven't used my Janome 6600P since it was serviced in June, and my plan for this quilt was just to quilt diagonal lines through the white squares with the walking foot. 

It took me four lovely and meditative hours to do just that, while listening to several episodes of the Love to Sew podcast. This podcast is new to me and I am enjoying it a lot. It is hosted by two women, Helen Wilkinson and Caroline Somos, who live in Vancouver, Canada. Caroline owns Blackbird Fabrics in Vancouver, BC, and Helen is the designer behind Helen's Closet. As much as I love the Sewing Out Loud podcast, sometimes it's a bit too short and a bit too random for me (Zede and Mallory, endearing as they are, have trouble staying on topic). Helen and Caroline do very in-depth interviews and discussions, some of which are 90+ minutes in length. 

[Jordan Peterson (you're going to have to do your own research about him as I don't have the time or the blog space right now, but please don't come back and tell me that he's a spokesperson for the Alt-Right because then I will know you didn't actually bother to find out who he is or what he believes) said recently on the Joe Rogan podcast that long-form podcasts—podcasts over an hour in length—are the Gutenberg revolution of the digital age. He noted that people are tired of sound bites. They are tired of being told what to think. They want to listen to someone plumb the depths of a topic and then process what they hear and make up their own minds. Joe Rogan's interview with Jordan Peterson was something like three hours in length. And it's fascinating that in those kinds of discussions, people from disparate backgrounds and belief systems are able to find common ground. Imagine that.]

In any case...one of the recent Love to Sew podcasts tackled the subject of the financials of sewing. Helen and Caroline did an informal survey (to which they received over 2000 responses), asking questions such as, "How much do you spend on fabric every month?" and "How many patterns do you buy a year?" and then tallied the responses and shared some of the comments. I found myself nodding along as I sewed; I seem be right smack in the middle when it comes to this hobby of mine. And I agree with the idea that you really can't put a dollar amount on what "head space" is worth to you; it's different for each person. I love the concept of "head space" and that was exactly what I needed this weekend. I needed that time to do nothing but feel the fabric under my hands and sew straight lines back and forth. And now I have this:

I already had the binding made (left over from another project), so it was a simple matter to trim this after quilting it and then sew the binding on. This quilt has been added to the pile of quilts and comforters that need the binding sewn down. That will be great handwork for winter evenings.  

The husband has been gone all day and the dogs were sleeping outside, so I took advantage of the time to clean the kitchen and living room and mop the floors. I am still chasing down all the ash from the fires. I haven't done any sewing yet today (there is still time!) but I like seeing my clean house. I think I'll devote tomorrow to sewing again and hopefully get some aprons done. 

Rumor has it, also, that Fish and Wildlife trapped and relocated the black bear and now they are trying to catch the mama grizzly with the three cubs. 

Saturday
Sep012018

The Toad Was Right

As I noted in a post a couple of weeks ago, the appearance of a toad is thought to herald a time of transition. I was a bit baffled as to what transition my giant toad—the one that has been hanging around our house—might represent. The most likely area of transition was probably going to be my job, and sure enough, I received an e-mail on Thursday about proposed new changes to the account I work on. 

I transcribe for an oncology clinic, which is the perfect job for me given the amount of personal experience I have with leukemia (me) and multiple myeloma (my father). Our clinic is going to transition to a program called OncoEMR at the beginning of October. What does this mean for the transcriptionists? For the majority of the doctors, we currently transcribe an entire report, start to finish. Most of them have a personalized template with oft-used components such as the review of systems and physical exam. They might also request to have items from previous reports "pulled forward" and copied into the current report. 

This new system will limit the physicians to dictating only the history of present illness, any surgical procedures (rare, unless it's a bone marrow biopsy done in the office), and the assessment and plan—basically, all the narrative sections only. 

I've been working out in my brain how this is going to affect workflow and—more importantly—pay, and I'm going to go into this transition assuming that it is going to be an improvement, for the following reasons: 

  • I am currently paid by the line. Under the new system, we will be paid by the audio minute. This change alone is going to level out my pay. Depending on who is dictating and whether they are fast or slow, I might transcribe 90 audio minutes one day and make one amount and transcribe 90 minutes the next day and make half that amount. From now on, if I transcribe 90 audio minutes a day, I am going to make the same amount every day. It will be interesting to see if this change to be paid by the audio minute motivates some of these doctors to dictate more quickly, or to spend less of the dictation time reading old reports while they figure out what they want to put in the current report. There is nothing so maddening as having to sit there and listen to five minutes of dead air and not get paid for it. Under this new system, I should get paid for dead air time, which will be a welcome change. 
  • I won't have to spend my non-paid time researching drug names and dosages. Some of the doctors have the patient list of medications pulled in from the current EMR system, but others insist on dictating the names and dosages themselves. Doctors are notorious for not being able to pronounce drug names properly, which leads to me having to spend a lot of time trying to figure out if they meant ibrutinib or acalabrutinib or whether the patient is on 50 micrograms of fentanyl or 15 micrograms of fentanyl. 
  • Under the current system, we also have a lot of niggling details to keep track of that should hopefully go away. Our clinic is a teaching clinic and has several dozen residents, fellows, and med students who dictate on behalf of the doctors. Trying to figure out which person is dictating for which doctor (especially when the person dictating can't be bothered to identify themselves at the beginning of the dictation) is a PITA. 
  • The one downside I see is that we will be transcribing a larger number of shorter reports, and depending on how the system and my internet service is functioning, having to stop and start to send back and load up reports could chew up a fair bit of time. We may also end up with a smaller overall amount of work.

It's going to be a transition and we will just have to ride it out, but I am optimistic. 

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I started looking at Christmas music last night. It's been something of an unofficial job for me to locate choir music for us to sing at Christmas. Fifteen or so years ago, before half our congregation died (not to put too fine a point on it, but that's what happened), we had about two dozen fairly accomplished singers and my friend Catherine was the pianist. (I'm good, but she was a thousand times better.) We used to perform a 30-minute cantata as part of our Christmas Eve service. Our numbers have dwindled, though, to the point where last Christmas, I think we only had a few small groups sing special numbers. 

A large part of the reason I look for the Christmas music is self-preservation: You would not believe how many times people have come to me and said, "Hey, can you learn this accompaniment part so we can sing this in church next week?" Vocalists do not always have a good grasp of what is involved in being an accompianist. If I source the pieces we sing at Christmas, I can make sure they are ones that are within my skill level and that I have time to learn. I can just about guarantee, though, that someone will approach me two weeks before Christmas and ask me to accompany a small group or help them learn a song. I've historically been pretty grumpy for the first two-thirds of December. 

I also have a good grasp on the overall skill level of our singers. I can look at a choir piece and know right away if we're going to have trouble with it or not. We still have a core group of very accomplished musicians, but we have a lot of basses and few tenors. (The fact that I get pulled in to sing tenor on occasion should tell you something.) It's also fun to involve those instrumentalists who aren't singers. We have had flutes, guitars, banjos, violins and other instruments as part of our ensembles. 

We have had some new faces at church recently, including some that I know can sing, so I am going to order a few pieces to see if we can work them up for this year. I'll run them past my friend, Twila, who is our choir director. 

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I've got all my fabric and patterns pulled out and ready to work through today. I am going to cut and trace and do prep work until I need a break, and then I'll do some sewing. The husband is working around the property today but then he is going to be on a new job up in Whitefish Sunday and Monday. (Holidays mean nothing to him, especially when it's this busy.)

Vittorio is ready:

Friday
Aug312018

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Someone whose blog I read regularly had a series of post a few months ago about a personal trial that he went through. He was brutally honest about the physical and emotional toll that it took on him, which led to some reflection about how much bloggers should share about their personal lives. 

This blog started out as a way for me to keep my extended family—most of whom are back on the east coast—updated about what was happening in our lives. It also serves as a creative outlet, a record of my activities, and a form of therapy. I am a bit suprised, to be honest, that it has developed the kind of following that it has. (I check the usage stats from time to time.) I never set out to become any kind of professional blogger. The husband opines occasionally that I should monetize the blog, an idea I have thus far resisted because I know what happens when bloggers go down that road. I don't even want companies sending me things to review. I want all opinions that I express to be mine and mine alone. 

One thing I have noticed, though—and this applies to blogs in general, not my blog specifically—is that talking about strong feelings tends to make some people uncomfortable. It's almost as if bloggers are expected to provide only upbeat entertainment 24/7, and any hint that there might be a current of unhappiness or (heaven forbid) depression underlying some of the posts results in suggestions about how to "fix" that and make it go away. I wonder if we, as a society, have become incapable of sitting with and processing any negative emotions. I say that with the recognition that there are those who do need and benefit from medical or chemical intervention, but sometimes people just have a run of bad days (or even weeks) and it's okay to acknowledge that as part of the human condition. I don't want to have to censor myself any more than I already do, and if it gets to the point where I feel like I can only share the happy stuff, I will probably stop blogging altogether. 

Thank you to those who do post encouraging words when it looks like my life is going off the rails. It's not, but I appreciate the expressions of solidarity. 

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I feel like I also need to clarify something: I am not in indentured servitude to my husband. I know it might sound that way when I talk about having to feed him, but truly—the guy is working long, 14-hour, physically-demanding days most of the time and I am not. I know what it's like to come home exhausted and default to eating ice cream for dinner because the thought of actually cooking something is overwhelming. If I can provide a hot meal and a beer when he walks in the door after a long day, then I am going to do that because I see it as part of my job to clear a path for him. Perhaps that offends some feminist sensibilities, but he reciprocates in his own way. We've been together for 31 years and have had plenty of time to figure out how to divide up the tasks so that things get done in the most efficient manner possible. Sometimes that falls along traditional male/female lines and sometimes it doesn't. 

[Cue Jordan Peterson.]

Speaking of work, we have reached that point in the year when people who want to build realize that the first snowfall is literally only weeks away. This has happened every single year. There is often a lull in July and August, but then panic sets in. The husband noted that it was good that we got the garage foundation done when we did or it would have gotten pushed back another year because he just doesn't have time now. This will likely last until December. And the newspaper published an article last week about the lack of qualified construction laborers here and how that is holding back a lot of projects. We're fortunate to have a reliable crew of three employees, two of whom have been with us for several years. 

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While I am opining on various topics, I have to note that some of this back-to-school stuff has gotten a bit ridiculous. A friend of ours sent her son to kindergarten this week. He very excitedly waved goodbye to his mother and got on the bus and rode to school. Apparently, however, some parents thought it was necessary to drive their kids to school and carry them inside (yes, she said that really happened). And the Gonzaga Facebook page in my newsfeed has been filled with all sorts of helpful hints and tips for parents who are having trouble letting go of their freshmen children, and a list of resources for those students who are finding the transition to college too difficult. 

For pete's sake. When did growing up become a pathologic condition?

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My massage last night was fabulous. There are a few people in this world I trust implicitly, including the husband, my naturopath, and my massage therapist. Gina has always combined soft tissue massage with craniosacral techniques, but she recently attended a workshop at the school in Colorado where she trained as a massage therapist and what she learned really kicked it up a notch. For the past few months, I have noticed a lot of cracking in my spine (and, to a lesser extent, in some of my other joints) when I bend over. I never had any pain, but there was an audible crack-crack-crack-crack-crack sound along my vertebrae whenever I moved. I mentioned it to Gina and it seems to be part of that problem with the fascia shrink-wrapping itself around my joints. She kept calling it "concrete," which I thought was funny given what the husband does for a living. What they learned in this workshop was to address the "concrete" before the massage. (She said the instructor kept asking them why they wanted to work so hard breaking up that concrete during the massage when they could do it first with less forceful techniques and get even more benefit from the soft tissue massage.) The first hour was spent with her moving my body around in various positions and hammering at me with one of those little hammers they use to test reflexes. She was working on my feet—my feet!—when all of a sudden I felt my spine move and all of those vertebrae click back into place, and when I stood up, the cracking had completely disappeared. I can't explain it. She knows what she is doing. She suggested I come back in about a month and then regularly every three months or so. It's definitely worth it to keep me moving around. 

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I think this is going to be the next apron project. It just looks like it would be fun to make:

It is Simplicity pattern 8762. We'll see what comes off the cutting table and sewing machines this weekend. I'm excited!