Thursday
Aug302018

A Canning Journal

The toad was back this morning. It was sitting on the bridge when I let the dogs out. 

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I picked up a $0.25 notebook at the store the other day and decided to start keeping a canning journal. No time like the present, right? I put Grandma Milly's BBQ sauce recipe in there so I wouldn't lose it like I did the first time. (I've copied it and put it several places so I won't lose it.) I put dates and notes about what I canned and how many pints or quarts it made up. I'll make other notes as I go along. 

Peaches were on the schedule for yesterday after work:

This was a variety called Sweet Dreams. Glacier Produce had both regular and organic, so I bought the organic ones. These canned up much easier than the ones I did last year (the name of which I cannot tell you because I wasn't keeping a canning journal then, LOL). The ones I did last year did not ripen evenly throughout the case, so they were hard to peel. All of these were at the peak of ripeness and the skins slipped off in one piece after 30 seconds in boiling water. One case yielded 12 quarts. That will be plenty for this winter. 

[I used my pressure canner as a water bath canner, just because it was out and available and I haven't done that before. Eh. It worked, but I think I will go back to using my regular water bath canner.]

I think I can take a break from canning, now, until the pumpkins ripen. Hallelujah. I can sew with abandon this weekend. I'll probably spend at least one day cutting out and organizing. Hobby Lobby had Simplicity patterns for $0.99 this week, so I picked up the vintage apron ones. One evening last week, I cut up one of my linen remnants from Jo-Anns into 12" x 12" squares and serged the edges to finish them. Those are going to be my practice embroidery pieces. Getting things ready to work on is almost as satisfying as actually working on them. 

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I have a massage scheduled for this evening. I really ought to be better about scheduling these more regularly. My massage therapist is a miracle worker. She had a traumatic brain injury a number of years ago that resulted in her being able to "see" damage in a person's body. She will be able to tell me what part of me needs the most work as soon as I walk into her office. I asked her once what that looks like and she said it "looks black." I can't explain it, but I don't question it. She'll put the pieces of my body back where they belong and I can go on with all of my activities. 

I've started doing some stretching exercises for about 20 minutes before bed. My OT daughter said that as we age, the fascia around our joints and muscles wants to "shrink wrap" itself and that is why older people become less flexible. I don't want to lose what flexibility I have (which was never much to begin with), so I am working on keeping those joints and muscles loosened up. It's easier to do that during the summer when I am working out in the garden. I don't have that same activity level, though, over the winter. And thank goodness for YouTube. I am not going to get into my car on a snowy winter evening and drive 20 minutes to the closest yoga class, so it's nice to be able to put on a video and work on the bedroom floor. 

Wednesday
Aug292018

I Need a Retreat

I'm usually pretty good at figuring out what I need to keep myself functioning optimally. When I get twitchy, a good road trip often cures what is ailing me. This past week, though, has thrown me for such a loop that I don't think even a road trip is going to help me. I said to the husband last night that what I need is to go to a cabin in the woods for three days by myself with only my sewing stuff, a case of Madras Lentils, and some ice cream. 

"That's easy," he said. "Unplug the phone, go upstairs, close the door, and sew for three days." We do live in the woods, so that part is covered. He forgets, though, that he is a Shiny Toy and capable of distracting me without much effort. He is also a Shiny Toy that needs to be fed. I am not sure that I will be able to retreat as much as I want to. 

We'll see. I miss my kids and it would be fun to see them, but if I go to Seattle or Spokane, I will end up shopping for fabric instead of sewing with fabric, and right now, I need to sew with fabric. I can only stuff the creative juices down for so long. I'm also beyond annoyed that my two days off were a total bust because I spent them hosting unexpected guests. It's the height of rudeness to call from Glacier Park and say, "Hey, I'm here and I want to stop in and see you!" (Especially as this was not a spur-of-the-moment trip for this person, but we had no advance warning.) This visit also came with a situation that neither the husband nor I knew about, wanted to know about, or wanted to be involved in. I am angry that we were blindsided the way we were. I was, however, raised properly to be a gracious hostess, so I was. 

I also missed my job, so there's that, too. 

I'll figure out how to regain some sort of equilibrium. I am back at work today. Tourist season is almost over. The weather is pleasant with sunshine and temps in the low 70s. I am making steady progress through my food preservation tasks. I have no rodents in my house at the moment. 

The husband did some tree cutting and cleanup over the weekend. Can you find him? He is hiding. 

We will have plenty of firewood for this winter. 

I'll try to find something interesting to post about later this week. 

Tuesday
Aug282018

Roll With It

Apparently the universe has decided that I need a lesson in being flexible, because nothing about last few days has gone as planned. (Frankly, that seems to have been the theme for most of 2018.) What has happened hasn't been bad, necessarily—it just hasn't been what I expected. As it turns out, it is probably a good thing that I took yesterday and today off from work because we now have some surprise houseguests (human ones, not more rodents). I can't really say more than that, other than I've had to switch some things around (and do a fair bit of quick cleaning). 

Let's talk about hardware. 

One of the things I had on my list for yesterday—early in the day, while I was still fresh—was getting the straps and hardware attached to that Fremont Tote (pattern from Klum House in Portland). This is one of the few bags I've made where the straps aren't integrated into the assembly, and I am reminded again why I don't like to add these components after the bag has been completed. There are too many places where things can go horribly wrong. 

This is the bag for which I bought the hardware kit from Klum House, but as I noted in an earlier blog post, the Klum House version of this bag underwent a few iterations in between me buying the hardware kit and the release of the pattern. Notably, they must have discovered that the rivets provided to hold the straps onto the bag were not strong enough, because those have been replaced with Chicago screws, which look similar to rivets but screw together instead of being hammered together. 

The rivets provided in my hardware kit were indeed too small and I knew they wouldn't hold the straps on. I have one package of Chicago screws—ones I was able to find at Hobby Lobby. They are bright gold, not burnished gold like the rest of the hardware on this bag, but they are close enough. The posts, however, were much thicker than the rivet posts, which meant that I had to enlarge the holes in the straps as well as the holes I put into the bag. There was much checking and double-checking before putting everything together, although the nice thing about Chicago screws is that you can unscrew them and take them out, unlike rivets, which are much harder to remove if something goes wrong and tend to leave visible damage.

Thankfully, I managed to get the side straps with the D-rings attached to the bag. The Chicago screws look like rivets from the outside:

With the screw heads visible on the inside:

I wuld have preferred slightly smaller Chicago screws, but these worked. I am leaving this the way it is. If nothing else, I am confident that these straps will not detach from the bag. I do need to order a different size screws, though, for the grab handle and the shoulder strap, because the ones I have are too big for those areas. 

So work on this bag has stalled again until I source the correct hardware. I was planning to do a bunch of cutting for upcoming projects, but all I was able to do was cut the exterior parts for another Bramble bag out of the rest of the red waxed canvas. That was something of a happy accident. Most of these bags I have been making have boxed bottoms formed by cutting a 2" x 2" square in two corners of the exterior pieces. I cut the corners out of one of the exterior pieces for the Hedgerow bag and then realized that I had cut the corners in landscape format, not vertical format (that bag is taller than it is wide). Fortunately, I had more red waxed canvas. Even more fortunately, the dimensions for the Hedgerow bag and the Bramble bag are almost identical, so that incorrectly-cut piece just became part of the next Bramble bag. 

Sometimes I am accidentally brilliant. 

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One of the other things I got done yesterday, before the unexpected houseguests, was to inventory the supply of stuff I've canned and rotate stock. I added 20 quarts of tomato sauce to the supply:

I still have to do the peaches. Maybe today, although if it's nice out, I might go work in the garden. We have had rain the past couple of days, and even snow in the higher elevations. 

We're also still having issues with bears in the neighborhood. One of our friends up the road was relaxing in her hot tub Friday night when a black bear wandered through her yard. Some of her neighbors have a grizzly sow with three (!) cubs hanging around their place. And our renters caught a black bear on the game camera mounted behind the garage. The dogs were going nuts Friday and Saturday night, so it must have been wandering around here then. 

Saturday
Aug252018

Ding Dong, the Mouse is Dead

I heard a trap go off in the middle of the night. We had put several additional ones out yesterday and one of them worked. Now I just need to stop worrying that we caught the wrong mouse...

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A couple of unrelated things happened last week that I wanted to comment on, so I am going to do it today. The first was an e-mail we received from the management at the transcription company I work for.

[I need to note that I work for this company as an independent contractor, not an employee. Technically, that makes them my client and thus, I should not speak in terms of an employer-employee relationship. But look at how long it took me to explain that and for you to read it, and you'll understand why sometimes I just say they are the company I work for. It's easier that way.]

It was a long e-mail. It's nothing I haven't been hearing for the seven years that I have been a medical transcriptionist. In short, hospitals and providers are under pressure from a provision in the Obamacare legislation to continually shorten the turnaround time for reports. The standard used to be 24 hours from the time the report was submitted to the time it was returned to the doctor. A few years ago, many transcription accounts went from 24 hour TAT to "in by 6 p.m., back by 10. a.m. the following day." (You might notice that that requires a lot of transcriptionists to work in the overnight hours to make that happen.) Now, under pressure to get reports transcribed in real time in order to receive reimbursements under the provisions of Obamacare, a lot of providers have started demanding that reports be returned on the same day they are submitted. That is doable if providers submit dictations on a consistent, reliable schedule, but there are plenty of doctors who hold three days (or more) of dictations, submit them all at once, and expect that the transcriptionist is going to complete all that work on the same day. Apparently, if the transcription company can't deliver the reports in the time required, providers have threatened to start using drop-down menus in electronic medical record (EMR) systems to fill in patient reports, bypassing transcriptionists altogether. (And yes, that probably gets you the kind of medical care you'd expect from a fill in the blank form.)

[Our local hospital has such a lousy EMR system that there was a period of time when some of the local physicians were advertising to hire their own transcriptionists to complete reports. I went to a couple of doctor's appointments with a friend of mine who had a serious medical condition and one of her doctors asked me if I was available to work for him.]

The tone of the e-mail was what gave me a bit of heartburn. Essentially, our management was saying to the transcriptionists, "We know you are overworked and underpaid, but this is what the doctors and hospitals are demanding and if we don't deliver, they will take their business elsewhere. It's up to you to step up and get your work done under these ridiculous constraints, rah, rah rah!"

I should note that part of the reason I am loathe to quit my job is because the account I currently transcribe for is not subject to these rules. (I have no idea why; I am just very grateful.) Our doctors do submit work on a timely basis and we seem to have enough transcriptionists assigned to this account working on a staggered basis throughout the day that we don't tend to have work in the queue that is more than a day old. If that ever changes, though, I am going to be looking for another way to make money. I refuse to work like a slave for a pittance, and I doubt that I would be able to find another account where I could work as an independent contractor and work the hours that suit me. 

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At our PCT (church council) meeting last week, we were informed that the State of Montana has now mandated a program called Y.I.K.E.S.—Your Inventory For Keeping Everyone Safe—to be implemented by licensed child care facilities. Our church offers an after-school child care program. It has been in place for over 20 years and it has been run by my friend, Susan (my children's other mother). When DD#2 was still a toddler, the program started at noon because the elementary schools had not yet gone to all-day kindergarten. When they made the switch, we had no reason to offer child care except from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Three elementary schools feed into our program and the buses bring the kids from the schools right to the church. We are always maxed out (about 24 kids) because there simply aren't enough child care facilities in the valley and especially not out in the rural areas. 

Our facility is barely self-sustaining, and part of the reason we are able to keep the doors open is because the program is subsidized by donations from our church members. Susan has already let us know that this is her last year as director of the program. Without her energy and leadership, I suspect we will close the program next year. However, she now has to spend a great deal of time (and money that the program doesn't have to spare) implementing this Y.I.K.E.S. system.

Y.I.K.E.S. is intended to provide guidelines for what to do in a grid-down situation or serious natural disaster. (My first question upon seeing this was "What do they know that we don't?") If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that the husband and I are pretty serious about our own preparedness. This is not a subject I take lightly—far from it. However, I also have to look at this from the viewpoint of the church council chairman and an understanding of the church and child care program budgets and Susan's available time and energy. (She also works full-time as an aide in one of the elemntary schools during the day.) Y.I.K.E.S. puts a huge burden on our child care program. There are requirements for having enough food and water at the facility to sustain people for a period of time. There are requirements for supplies to be kept on hand in case the staff needs to evacuate children. Some of this is common sense, yes, and we already have policies in place for some of it. Susan is incredibly conscientious when it comes to the safety of the children in her care. I have always thought the the church would be one of the safest places to be in a dire situation—indeed, it is my go-to location if I ever have to evacuate because of a forest fire—because we have a network of people who would be available to help out and care for anyone who was stuck there. But there are also requirements for retrofitting the facility, including having all bookcases attached to walls with bars over the shelving to contain items and things like that. I am not sure what the compliance timeline is or who plans to enforce these new requirements. I suspect that some of this stuff is likely to put some child care facilities in the state out of business.

The upshot of all of this is that when the government gets involved and starts requiring burdensome compliance, businesses that provide needed services suffer. 

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The last thing I want to comment on is this: Some time in the middle of last week, Jo-Ann Fabrics sent out an e-mail to its millions of subscribers with a red, white, and blue background and the heading "Stop the Made in America Tax!" The e-mail was a request for customers to sign a petition against the proposed tariffs, which Jo-Anns noted would cause an increase in the price of goods purchased by makers. They wanted to make the point that tariffs that raised the price of materials for people who make and sell items in the US (or make items for charity) by calling it a "Made in America Tax." 

The backlash was breathtaking and unexpected. I looked at the comments on Jo-Anns Facebook page and my casual perusal indicated that probably 95% of them were anger over the following: 1) That Jo-Anns was sending out an e-mail on a politically charged topic—many people said that they did not want politics involved in something they do to relax; 2) Perceived hypocrisy from a company that buys most of its product from overseas at rock-bottom prices. Even though customers seemed to understand that tariffs would increase the cost of their crafting supplies, many of them said that Jo-Anns started this petition because it was more worried about its own bottom line than the impact on customers (likely true). 

Jo-Anns really stepped in it with this one. I think their mistake was in calling the proposed tariffs a "Made in America Tax." There were many calls from commenters for Jo-Anns to make a bigger effort to source products from American suppliers. I am curious to see if and how they respond to their detractors. 

And because this blog post needs something pretty, here is a picture of my finished Hedgerow Book Bag (free pattern from Red Rabbit Mercantile):

The lining is so cheerful:

I just needed to make something last night and this was all cut out and ready to go.

Friday
Aug242018

So Tired of Rodents

No, we haven't caught the mouse yet. 

Not only have we not caught the mouse, the mouse isn't even running anymore. It casually strolled through my office this morning, navigating its way around both the regular traps and the glue traps and right past the ultrasonic device plugged into an outlet. I admit to a tiny grudging respect for its ability to outwit two relatively intelligent human beings and whole lot of things designed to kill it. However, that tiny grudging respect is still grossly outweighed by my need to have it out of my house, preferably in a body bag. We did bring the live trap in from the greenhouse—the one in which we caught one of the chipmunks—but just because we catch the mouse alive doesn't mean it needs to stay that way. 

I was supposed to leave on a road trip this morning. I cancelled it. We have a denominational board meeting in Portland tomorrow and Sunday and I'll still be able to participate via video; I just won't be there in person. It was not worth adding to either my stress level or the husband's for me to be gone for five days right now. I took Monday and Tuesday off from work, intending to drive up to Seattle after the board meeting to see DD#1 and then stop in Spokane on my way back. I'll use Monday and Tuesday to catch up on cleaning, gardening, canning, and whatever else I can whittle off my to-do list. Next week is a long holiday weekend. I might be able to shoehorn in a trip to Seattle, but if not, I'll at least make it over to Spokane. 

That's life. Sometimes it requires some rescheduling and reoganization. It's Friday and I have an adult sippy cup. Perhaps I'll have ice cream for dinner. 

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