Monday, May 22, 2017

An Unexpected Date

Bob and I tend to hang onto things.  We've had out Honda for 17 years and it recently turned over 200,000 miles.  Although it was running just fine, we took it in just to have an allover checkup and tuneup.  It was a bit pricey--a lot of the seals were wearing out, the timing belt needed to be replace, odds and ends.  But worth it, because it's a perfect car for us.

You know that old saying--if it ain't broke, don't fix it?  A week later we're driving and smell that hot oil smell and it's smoking under the hood--and dripping oil underneath.

Nuisance and bother--have to take it to the shop again.  We took the other car so we wouldn't have to wait at the Honda place, but it didn't seem worth the driving to go home and then turn around and come back in to pick the car up (it's a 30+ mile round trip).

It was still early and we hadn't had breakfast, so we went to the coffee shop at the grocery story--and that's where the date began.  After the busyness of the last few weeks, we suddenly had enforced idleness.  There was a Scrabble board there, and next thing we knew we had played for 3 hours!  We did a bit of grocery shopping after that, and pizza for lunch at a new pizza place with wood-fired ovens (crispy crust).

We could have been angry, or frustrated, at their mistake in the first place (turns out that a gasket had gotten pinched when they installed the oil pan, hence the leak) but somehow we had been given the gift of a few hours just to enjoy each other's company.

We've been together for 45 years now--but it's still nice to have a date from time to time.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

And the Painting Goes On and On

The professional painting went well.  Then came our turn . . .

After the porch was painted and the new screening put in, we needed a new screen door.  No problem, right?  Go to the store, get a nice white vinyl screen door, and hang it.  Except that the door opening was not standard size--we'd have to cut it wider, or build it in narrower, and make it a wee bit higher.  Sigh.  So we start taking the screen off the old door to repaint it--and discover wood rot.  Yet again back to Home Depot (projects are described by how many trips to the hardware store it takes to do them) to buy a wooden door that we can cut down to size.  Do that, paint it, hang it . . . maybe we should have cut it just a wee tad narrower . . . take it down, plane it down a bit, repaint, and hang.   At least the front door was easier--and we even had a nice, low-humidity day to do it.  Here's the before and after porch

And it feels more open now--the contractor said that the middle supports weren't really necessary so out they came.  Now the porch isn't quite done--the old storage units aren't going back in and what we want is a bench or two with storage but haven't found them yet.
Meanwhile while all this was going on I taught two more workshops.  First one was handspinning (again, no photos, but I carded up all that pretty dyed wool from the last post that we didn't use for felting and used that for the spinning).  Then a workshop on making worbla--a mixture of thermoplastic and sawdust.  It's much used by cosplayers, but I've never experimented with it because it's *way* expensive.  Then I saw a video on how to make it.  I figured that other makers would be interested.  It's fun stuff to use--I've started on a bird mask.
Despite the fact that I have enough spinning fiber on hand to last most of the rest of my life, and that I had a few other things I should have been doing (like paint the back deck) I found out that a farmer in Quincy had babydoll sheep and fleece available.  I've never worked with this breed before, and every now and then I get the urge to work with a raw fleece rather than wool that's been processed and ready to spin.  And it was a lovely day for a drive, and the people were great, and the sheep adorable.
I came home with 12 pounds of fleece.  Apache and Wilhelm helped me sort through the first batch.

The second batch will have to wait--we lost our excuse for not working on the back deck.  We didn't have the painters do it because, well, honestly, we have a lot of stuff (I really want to say crap) back there, and chickens living there (special need chickens) and the living room is already full of the stuff from the front porch.  And besides--we had a wren nest with babies out there.  So obviously we couldn't paint until the babies left the nest.

But, alas--it happened.  And we were lucky enough to see the fledging.  This grand moment is exactly that--a moment.  It takes only a few minutes for the parents to coax the young out and into the trees, so it's something we rarely get to witness.

With the excuse having flown the coop, I've spent the last three days sweeping down cobwebs and painting.  It's been gratifying to see a transformation but not much fun--the temps are in the 90's and the biting flies are out (the mosquitoes I can ignore, but those damned flies . . .)   I still need to do the trim and ceilings.  I was going to start with that--and I did--but ran out of the first can of paint and when I went to open the next found that we had accidently bought interior rather than exterior paint.  We went back today to exchange it and their power had been out--no computers means no sales transactions.  Fortunately it came back on.

This will drag on a bit more--I'm working the next three days and getting a crown on Monday so not much painting will be done.  And then, of course, all the crap has to be organized (trust me--much of it is going away)

But still reading.  Finished American Gods--complex and convoluted and thought provoking.  Then read one of Gaimen's "Dr. Who" children's stories, which was simple and straightforward and fluffy.  The guy is amazing--he can write in all formats (including poetry and "graphic novels" which we used to call comic books)

Now I've started W.H. Hudson's "Far Away and Long Ago."  This month's Smithsonian had an article on him and praised his beautiful and evocative writing.  Ah--the joys of the e-book--I thought it would be interesting, pulled it up, downloaded it, and started reading.  While it's not the same as holding a real book, I have to admit it's convenient and doesn't take up any shelf space.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

From Painting to Possums and Points In Between

My gracious, some weeks do get busy.  We've been in negotiations with a contractor  a couple of weeks to get the house painted, and got the call Tuesday afternoon that the painters would be coming out Friday to do the pressure washing and prep work.  Which was great--except that we'd thought we'd get a wee bit more warning.  There was a bit of work that we had to do before they could get started--like move our storage cabinets and furniture off the front porch, take down various lighting fixtures (and mask off the outlets), take down the hummingbird and squirrel feeders . . .

Which was fine, because we're retired and have nothing else to do, right?

Except . . .

Backtrack a couple of weeks.  I had been experimenting with making worbla.  Worbla is a sheet of material composed of sawdust and thermoplastic--you heat it up and shape it.  Costumers use it a lot for things like masks and armor.  Problem is--it's really expensive.  But there's stuff called Friendly Plastic (meltable, moldable, reusable plastic) and sawdust is easy to get (flour can be substutited) and  you mix the two and roll it out.  So I've been making it, and playing with it, and it's really great stuff.  Being me, I like to share, so I contacted the local Maker Space and asked if their members would like a demo.  I get a message Tuesday afternoon (yes, the same afternoon that we find out about the painters) saying yes, of course.  "Can you come see me at the open house tomorrow night?  and can you bring something that you've made so we can get some pictures?"

Well . . . what I've made is the worbla itself, and some odds and ends just playing with it.  I haven't actually made anything.  So Wednesday (when I should have been helping Bob, and honestly I did, but just a little), I knocked together a vambrace.  And guess what--for my first Thing, it's really not bad.

But that's OK, because I have Thursday to help with the prep work, right?  Except  . . .    


I was teaching the "felt scarf" workshop on Saturday--and I didn't have enough dyed wool.  I like to have a variety of colors for my students, so a chunk of Thursday was spent dyeing.  Fortunately, there's a lot of down time when dyeing--the stuff has to soak, get steamed, sit and cool for awhile--so I was able to pitch in and get stuff moved (like the kitchen last summer--most of what came off the porch isn't coming back).

(The workshop went well, four people made scarves they were happy with, and I accidently hit video on my phone instead of camera so don't have final pictures).

So after getting everything ready, the workers show up Friday--the equipment breaks down, and they leave again, giving us a free day.  Sigh.  They did get the pressure washing done on Saturday.  And we went to town to buy the paint, only to find that they didn't have the proper base to tint (the house is getting painted *beige*.  What paint store doesn't have the base for beige??) so Bob had to go back Saturday (because I was teaching my class) to get it.

But Monday the great transformation began. Twenty years ago I would have been painting it myself--but it was sort of nice just to let someone else go up the ladders.  It felt weird to be in the house while people were working on it, so I spent the next couple of days down in my cottage, working on my loom model and making a blanket
for my grand-nephew Zeke.  A few posts ago I wrote about making a weighted blanket for my niece. I had a few pounds of the pellets left and the blankets are supposed to be good for toddler.  Awhile back I had picked up the fabric--he plays soccer, so I got a soccer ball print.  At the time I messed up--got enough for the front--but they do have two sides.  So later I picked up a solid for the back.  Thank goodness for mistakes!  It didn't occur to me that trying to sew straight lines on a pattern with lots of circles would drive me crazy--so I worked from the back side.  It went smoothly, except for the last row when I ran out of bobbin thread without noticing, so the pockets I thought I had sewn shut weren't, and little plastic beads went flying everywhere when I picked up the blanket.  I'll be finding those for the next few years.

And the painters finished today!  What a tremendous difference.

And to keep things interesting, I got a call from a co-worker that she had spotted a dead opossum on the road, but it looked like the tummy was moving.  She checked--and there was a live baby in the pouch (I have awesome co-workers).  Here is my first foster of 2017.

Reading:  Neil Gaimen, "American Gods."  I saw that this is going to be a mini-series started at the end of this month so wanted to reread it.  I'm curious to see the adaptation--it's a very convoluted and complicated book.



Monday, April 3, 2017

I Have the Touch of Death

Bob came in with something in a yogurt carton.  "I just got a baby snake away from Wilhelm."

I looked at the poor thing.  Then our conversation went something like this:

Ann:  Damn.  Poor little thing

Bob:  I think he might be OK.  There aren't any marks on him.

Ann (poking at limp and unresponsive snake):  Looks pretty dead to me.

Bob:  He was moving a few minutes ago.

Ann:  . . . . . . . .

Bob:  I think it's a hognose.

Ann:  Oh--might be all right, then.

Bob was right on all counts.  He was a hognose, and he was fine.  The hognose snake is famous for "playing possum" when threatened.

We finally decided that we should quit poking at him, even though it was fun to watch his act (honestly, we were trying to check him out for any injuries).  He quickly came back to life when we let him go.

Friday, March 31, 2017

More. Of. The. Projects

OK--where was I?  Projects.  Some short term, some long.  To continue

Getting the garden in.  Around here, the difference between "going to have a killing freeze tonight--too early to plant" and "it's getting too hot to plant" is about 72 hours.  So we've got zucchini, green beans, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes and herbs in.  And yes--that's weedcloth.  Sigh.  I would love to be old-school hippie and just use mulch and get out there and weed--but we admit defeat.  Every year we vow to keep up with the weeds.  "We'll get up early and go weed the garden in the cool of the morning" we say.  We have finally faced reality  and admitted that there is no such thing as "the cool of the morning" around here.  In the summer, the temps are in the 80's by 7:00 a.m. (heck--the middle of the night lows are in the 80's) and the humidity will be somewhere between 95% and 100%.  You can barely breath in the mornings.

So that was a busy few days digging up the garden beds, hauling in the compost, planting seeds, and putting in sets.  Each plant gets it's benediction of a scoop of worm castings--which bring me to another ongoing project--my worms.

Last summer I was raising those adorable little armadillos, who loved earthworms, so I started a worm bin.  After the little guys left, I still had some worms, and I got rather fascinated by how fast they could turn shredded newspapers and scrap food into compost.  So now the bin o' worms is a permanent feature in the guest room (because--guess what?  Red Wrigglers are sensitive to heat.  They wouldn't survive outside)  Every couple of months I can harvest the compost.  Of course--I have to pick out the worms.  There's a trick to it--they don't like the light, so you take the bin outside in the sun and scoop everything into a pile.  Then, after they dig down, you scoop off the top until you hit worms--and then you let it sit again for awhile.  Eventually, like a bunch of fish in the middle of a drying-up pond, you get down to mostly worms, which you thank, take inside, and fill the bin with fresh bedding.

Random Spinning.  Every 4 or 5 years I get a chance to go to a fiber festival, and pick up spinning fibers that I can't resist.  Often I'll spin a sample, or a bit, and then it goes in the stack.  In a rare case of "finish-it is" (that isn't supposed to have a space but autocorrect won't abide by that) I dragged some of them out and turned fiber into yarn.  I have more--of course--but  sometimes I think the fiber is prettier than the yarn and I just want to keep it that way.  (Of course, now I have to decide what to make with this.)

Weaving:  I own a loom (several, in fact).  This does not make me a weaver, merely a women with looms.  I like the idea of weaving more than the reality.  Possibly because I'm not very good at it--because I don't practice.  My last weaving was a set of dishtowels for a gift almost a year ago.  But sometimes in the evening I don't feel like watching TV and it's a bit early to go to bed, so I thought I'd get a project on to have available to toss the shuttle a bit.  Eventually these will be placemats.

 The Really Heavy Blanket:  Our niece Amanda asked me if I could make her a "weighted blanket."  Well, I was flattered that she wanted me to make something for her.  Weighted blankets are supposed to be good to reduce stress--the all over pressure is something like a hug, with some massage tossed in.  The concept is not difficult--you sew two layers of fabric together, make some pockets, and fill them with weighted pellets (you have to have the pockets, otherwise you'll just end up with all the filling at one end).  In
practice, it gets pretty tedious--you sew a line of channels, put about a shot glass of filling down each one, then sew across to secure it.  Continue until you've weighted 150 (!) pockets.  Meanwhile, the blanket is getting heavier and heavier (it topped out a 14 pounds). I admit to a feeling of trepidation when I started--I had ordered the pellets and the 20 pounds of them came in a medium-sized flat rate box, bulging at the seams.  I could envision an explosion of pellets filling up my sewing room.

 I did get it finished--and I even slept under it last night.  I have to admit that I slept pretty well--but possibly not well enough to go through making another one for myself.  

Knitting Swircles:  Through an on-line knitting/fiber arts sort of facebook I came across some archeologists wanting people to do spinning/knitting samples.  They are studying 16th century knitting, specifically (very specifically--archaeologists are like that) the lining of knitted hats.  So they are asking volunteers to knit "swircles" (small round swatches) from various wools, and then trying different finishing techniques to see if they can stab a guess at how the linings were made.  It seemed like fun, so I'm swircle knitting (finishing--meaning washing, shrinking, and trying to raise a nap--will come later).

And I believe that really is all of the projects--for now.  There are more waiting in line . . .

Reading:  I'm being followed by Vikings!  On my own, I was reading about Norse textiles, and Njal's saga.  Then Smithsonian magazine came out with an article on Vikings, as did National Geographic.  Then, last night, Nova had a program on Viking swords.  To cap it off, I found out that Neil Gaiman (one of my favorite authors) just published a new book--Norse Mythology.   So of course I'm reading it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Late Spring

The weird weather system that dumped feet of snow on people in the Northeast merely brought us some gorgeous (perhaps a bit chilly) weather.  Which I found *really* frustrating, as I managed to catch a cold and breathing outside made my chest hurt.  But I was given a reprieve--after a couple of hottish days it cooled off again.  And we managed to take advantage.

Friday was work-related.  Because normally we wouldn't drive 75 miles south and eventually down a dirt road to an obscure boat dock on the Fenholloway River (officially described as a "small, blackwater stream).  But a bunch of students were having a field trip where they were learning how to take water quality samples, and Bob and I were to meet them at one point and talk about native animals.

After we got on that dirt road, it was beautiful, in that wild way that Bob called "quintessential North Florida."  It's wetlands and marshes and palmettos and wildflowers and just plain mysterious.  We got there early so had time to admire.  In a month or two, when the weather will be in the 90's and the air alive with mosquitoes and biting flies, I might not find it so admirable--but Friday was perfect.  Bob commented that it looked like it could be a computer screensaver.  I thought--"needs an alligator."  Then, right on cue, he appeared.  Perfect.

Wild Dixie Irist
Look closely--he's that double-dot floating in the water
The next day was a Archaeology Day at Wakulla Springs, when they open up the dig areas to the public and you can talk to the archeologists. While I'm fascinated by archeology, I could never, never work in that field.  It's far to precise and fussy for me.  At the Wakulla site, it consists of marking off precise squares, cutting them perfectly (I am amazed they can get straight walls in this sand, making it all level, then gently scraping off about 1/4 inch at a time to be sifted.  Their current excitement is over a *lot* of tiny stone chips, meaning that they found a spot where someone, or several someones, had been making arrowheads and spear points.  Even those chips carry information--if, for instance, they're from a rock that isn't found here, it can show that trading occurred.  But I wouldn't be able to do it--I'd be wanting to grab a shovel and just start digging.

We did the riverboat tour afterwards--because I'd never go to the Springs without going out.  It's been kept wild and untouched except for the boats, and the animals have gotten to the point that they ignore them.  Like Friday, it was almost cool, and clear, and the colors of the sky and water and trees looked almost artificial, like Disney World at it's finest.  I rested my head on my arms and watched it all slip past, and realized that I do love this primitive beauty where I've made my home.

And I need to remember these moments and store them for the months ahead when stepping outside into air that feels like hot moldy syrup and all the greens are the color of overboiled spinach.

Another sign of spring--for a few weeks we couldn't handle the hawk at the museum because even though she doesn't have a mate she still built a nest and laid eggs--and guarded them.  Trust me--you don't go near a broody hawk if you don't want to get those 3-inch talons in you.  On the other hand--it was pointed out that she looks like an angry muppet.


Finished Woven into the Earth but am reading the companion book that gives details on the clothing construction.  These were every day clothes, but the craftsmanship on them is exquisite.

"Sourcery" by Terry Pratchett.  Anything by Pratchett is fun--he plays with words like a cat with a toy mouse.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

All. The. Projects.

I had decided in January that this was going to be the year of the "project" blog--but haven't talked about many of them.  That's because when I think about writing about them I get overwhelmed and then wander off and start another one.  So I'm just going to list things that have been started (some finished) that haven't been mentioned yet.  Details will come later.

And now it's a few hours since I wrote that first paragraph and I don't even want to list everything at once.  So I'll just start and quit when I get tired (because it's midnight)

So--some ongoing, some finished.

1)  Scarf for Margo.  Some years ago I made an elegant charcoal gray angora Mobius cowl for Margo (the cowl is a circle with a half twist so you just toss it over your head and it snuggles around your neck).  During my visit in December she got it out--and while I truly appreciate that it's obviously been much loved over the last decade or so, time has not been kind and it rather resembles a drowned rat.  So I got some beautiful yak/silk fiber, spun it up, and knitted a replacement.  I think it's lovely . . . but the reaction was sort of like when a mother tries to get a new fluffy stuffed toy to replace her little girl's long-loved, threadbare, stuffing-coming-out, one-eyed bunny.  I don't think the gray one is going anywhere.

2)  My tushie cushion.  Bob looked over while I was doing this and said "uh--this isn't your usual knitting."  Very observant.  My usual knitting is of fine handspun, lovely colors, a bit fancy, using small needles.  This--I had a ball of cheap acrylic and was using it doubled on large needles and knitting a plain garter stitch square.  This is purely practical.  My back and I are often not on speaking terms, so I like to take hot soaking baths.  But when one is in the bath, the part that you want to pamper happens to be the part that is sitting on the hard tub.  You have to keep sort of bouncing up and down to get the warm water where you need it.  So I've made a quick-drying little cushion that keeps my tushie happy.  I'm really tempted to emulate a knitting designer's "bath-gan" which is a blanket you can use in the tub to cover all the parts that stick out of the water warm.  Maybe next winter.

3)  Big shawl.  I've mentioned before that I like to spin while walking.  This habit has gotten me several random skeins of yarn with no particular purpose.  I decided a couple of months ago to do a big project, one that would keep me inspired to keep spinning (and hence, continue the daily or sometimes twice-daily walk).  This shawl will eventually have 9 leaf-shaped panels--I just finished panel #3.  No rush--it will be at least November before it's cool enough to wear it.  I love the way the colors flow in this pattern.

4.  Warp-weighted loom model.  All this going and hanging around model conferences with Bob made me sort of want to enter a model.  But of what?  Tanks and jeeps aren't my thing.  Maybe dinosaurs--but there are a lot of people who do really good ones (including Bob).  The science fiction/fantasy category is usually under-represented--there's a thought.  But my world isn't plastic--mine is fiber.  Where will the worlds meet?  Well--they don't say *when* the fiction had to be written.  One of the books I've been reading is Njall's saga, which is definitely fiction, written sometime in the 13th century.  There is a loom in it which has intrigued me ever since I first heard about it some 15 years ago--the loom of the Valkyries, on which they weave the fates of men in battle.  The loom is made of weapons and body parts.  So far I've made the spears for the loom frames, and modeled and painted 10 decapitated heads to use as warp weights. I'm inordinately pleased with my little heads.  I thought about buying dolls at the dollar store and popping their heads off, but it would have been too cookie-cutter and I would have felt compelled to keep the headless bodies to "do something with." I was wondering what I could use, because "I can't sculpt."  But I was out there alone with no one to see me messing around with the clay, so I started sculpting.  And I like my little dudes--each one is different.  The have personalities.  They've been "corpsed" with a bit of toilet paper, painted, and had real silk hair added (the silk that I had of the right color and texture is actually a rather rare wild silk, but you use what you must).   I still need to make a sword to beat the weaving, some skeleton arms and hands to hold a heddle rod, and do a weaving that looks like it's done with intestines (although I might substitute blood veins--creative license).  This model should confuse people--if there's a WTF? award, I'm going for it.

OK--4 is enough for right now.  There's a half-dozen other things happening, and more in the pipeline, but it's a start.

And the Reading:

Finished Njal's saga!  My, that was a high body count.  But the textilian in me loves that sometime the attonment fine (the "man payment") often included a suit of clothes or a cloak.  The amazing one was when someone was bribing a lawyer and gave him a gold bracelet worth 1200 ells (!) of russet cloth.  Somehow it's hard today to think of going to pay someone off with a few bolts of cloth.

Still on "Woven into the Earth"--down to reading details of the structure of the clothing

"Respect the Spindle"--a book that not only discusses different spindles and techniques, but goes into detail of the physics involved.

"Mama Makes Up Her Mind, and other dangers of living in the South."  By Maude Bailey (I wrote of her "Quite a Year for Plums" a few posts back.  This was a collection of essays mostly centering around the author's eccentric and very Southern mother.