Monday, August 31, 2009

Right Again, or my Morning at the Dealership

This morning I took the car to the dealership to have an oil change, and to repair the broken left turn signal that went bad en route to Nebraska last week.

This is a new dealership to me. I don’t have the twenty-some year relationship with them that I had with my former dealership. Those were the days when I called Marty from a remote highway in western Nebraska to schedule an oil change for the day we returned, or manager Craig from Shamrock, Texas for a long-distance troubleshoot when a bolt sheered off our new CRV en route home from Albuquerque, rendering an entire belt-driven system in our car entirely useless. No, these men don’t know me, and I don’t know them. But Marty has been gone for a decade, and Craig “retired” a few years back and is now heading the motor pool at a nearby university. With them gone, and my old house sold, there is really no reason for me to truck back to the old dealership to get the car serviced. So new dealership, here I am.

When I had set up the appointment from the road in Nebraska, I had already informed them that I thought it was the “relay.” The service rep thought that was highly unlikely, and that it was more probably a bad bulb. I thought that unlikely.

The following is a brief account of my service appointment this morning. To the best of my ability, I have included the conversations I had with various staff about the car. Along with it, in italics and enclosed in brackets, is my inner voice, and not anything that was actually verbalized.

“I’m here for my appointment,” I say, greeting the service rep who is approaching the car. “I need an oil change, and my turn signal is broken. I’m fairly certain it’s a bad relay. If it is a bad relay, do you have the part in stock, and how long will the appointment take?”

He smiles at me [I think in a placating way.] “Well, I doubt it’s the relay,” he says.

“No, I’m pretty sure it is,” I say. [because I googled the problem, so even though I have no idea what a relay is or where it fits in the car, I’m certain that’s what is wrong and the part costs around twenty bucks.] “If it’s not the relay, what do you think it is?” His smile broadens. “The bulb,” I ask? [Unless the turn signal is wired up like Christmas tree lights from the ’50s, where one bad bulb makes the entire string stop working, that is highly improbable.]

“Probably. So it flashes really fast when you turn it on?”

“No,” I say again. [sigh] It doesn’t work at all. The entire left side doesn’t work. I’m pretty certain it’s the relay. How long will that take? Should I wait?” [I imagine the service area waiting room as it looked the year before when I stopped by for a simple oil change. The entire building was undergoing a major remodel, so their “waiting room” was two straight-back chairs stuffed into a dark corner next to an occasional table with a table lamp and three out-of-date magazines. I hope that if it’s a wait, that I don’t have to wait long.]

“Well, let’s find out what is wrong, and we’ll go from there.”

I grab my laptop and book, and head inside. To my surprise, the waiting room is done, and it is beautiful, comfortable, well-lit, and expansive. They even offer Starbucks coffee brewed on-demand. The wait is about 15 or 20 minutes while they determine the source of the signal problem. Then the service rep walks in the door, and hands me this:

A bad relay looks like this, apparently.

“It was a bad relay,” he says. [I gaze at the small plastic object in my hand and wonder if this is what a relay looks like, and where the part fits in the car.]

I smile. “I told you, but you doubted me.”

“Oh, no. I believed you,” he says. [liar] “But this part never goes bad.” [Well it did this time.] I’m actually surprised we even had it in stock!”

“My husband and I have been married for 25 years,” I say, “and he learned a long time ago that I am almost always right. I know our relationship has only been a few minutes long, so I’ll give you a pass.”

He laughs [nervously]. It will be a few more minutes while we re-attach the pan, you know,” he makes a motion like he’s pushing a flat object up. I nod knowingly [what “pan”? I guess the relay is accessed underneath the car??] and he leaves [quickly].

I continue to wait. While I do so, I happen to bump into one of my old dealership posse, who now works at this dealership. We exchange pleasantries, and talk about old car times. I mention the reason for my appointment. He, it turns out, is privy to some insider information that the service rep had withheld from me.

“Oh yeah. He came back to get a flasher from parts for your car. But I knew that wasn’t what was wrong because a bad flasher would make the signal blink faster, not stop working altogether.”

I roll my eyes. “I know! [What the hell is a “flasher” for a car?” I know the kind that involves dirty old men and raincoats, but cars?] Can you believe it?” [I add with an incredulous tone]

“Of course, relays almost never go bad,” he says.

A new service rep joins us. It seems that I have been re-assigned, and from now on when I visit this dealership I will be helped by the best service rep they have. That’s how my posse described him anyway, so I believe it.

And the part cost about twenty bucks.

While I have learned not to believe everything I read on the internet (or in the National Enquirer, or told by a podcaster), used wisely, this can be a way to tap into the wisdom of crowds. Chances are someone has had a similar problem at some point in the past, and has written about it on the internet.

And yes, I so know that between finding the source of the plumbing problem (before the actual licensed plumber found it), and determining which part in my car had gone bad (even though I had had no previous knowledge that there even was such a part called a relay), I am overdue to be knocked down a few pegs. It will be something basic, and on a topic that I am totally trained in, and should know better but apparently don’t.

Can’t wait to discover what it will be!

Sunday, August 30, 2009


When I entered high school, I met a girl who had come from a different junior high. Her name was Betty. Betty seemed nice (I eventually discovered she was anything but), and she had a large circle of friends (that she assigned numbered rankings from first best friend to tenth. My personal best was number four.). These were the days of the movie Ten, so she also ranked ranked her friends on that scale (she told me I was four here, as well, but attempted to tell me that a four was a lot better than a seven where she ranked herself) and she was fun. Or at least she seemed that way to me at the time.

Betty was... well... peculiar. According to her, her mother had been involved in witchcraft until things truly dark began to occur around her on a regular basis. Then she put away all her candles and it was all sweetness and light after that.

Betty’s career goal was to become a Julie like on The Love Boat.

Betty believed anything that was in print.

I discovered that last bit the day she informed me that gorillas were eating people in Africa. I stopped short, and tried my best to correct her, telling her that gorillas were herbivores.

No, she insisted. Gorillas are eating people!

I asked her why she believed that. She said she had read it, and if it’s in print, it’s got to be true! (Actually, she had read it in the National Enquirer, or one of its sister rags that her mother routinely purchased.)

I was reminded of Betty this morning while listening to one of my podcasts about podcasting. “Dude,” who shall remain nameless, was telling his listeners (who are listening to his podcast because they want to become better podcasters and that’s what his podcast is about) to listen to another podcast, because they explained this amazing and scary fact about the proposed healthcare plan (that I won’t repeat here because it was asinine and flat out wrong) that - and this is where it gets really really scary - no other news agencies are reporting because they are controlled by the government.


And he said it with as much conviction as he shares his podcasting tips.

Which frankly makes me question everything this ignoramus has said or will say at any time in the future.

Since when has “it’s got to be true because it’s in print,” become “it’s got to be true because a blogger/podcaster said so”?

WOW! That’s all the world needed: another Betty.
Solarium Complete—at Least Until we Tear it Down

After seemingly endless frustration and shopping dead ends, we finally obtained the shade cloth needed to complete the solarium renovation.

You may recall that I recounted my Home Depot shade cloth woes here. In summary, I had ordered shade cloth from their online store because they no longer carried it at the brick and mortar. But after several days of it being in their system, they sent me an email that simply stated my order had been canceled. They offered no explanation. No alternatives. No apology. I had to call their customer service department to find the reason, and was told that the product was no longer available. Then I actually had to ask if there was a substitute. And then I was on hold for about fifteen minutes while she checked to see if the alternative was actually in stock. I finally hung up before she came back on the line. My trust had been completely broken by that point.

From there, I went to my local greenhouse. I knew that they carried shade cloth. It wasn’t the color we wanted, but it was shade cloth and would work. They sold it by the foot. They unrolled the once-large bulk roll to measure how much was left. It was exactly 1' less than we needed. My frustration continued. We left without shade cloth. I began to consider wild alternatives like knitting shade cloth…or weaving!

A few days later a mystery package appeared on our porch. It was shade cloth. From Home Depot. It was our original order, and had been shipped the day before they sent me the email telling me my order had been unceremoniously canceled.

If I had bought the shade cloth from the local vendor, I would not have been able to return it because it would have been a cut good. So while it’s great that the Home Depot order finally appeared (perfect size, perfect color), they nearly cost me a lot of money.

I don’t trust that company. Their customer service and management sucks. And if I have an alternative, I will use it. You betcha.

In the end, I only had to do a few minor mods to the cloth to hang it. The two cut ends were raw, so I turned those under twice and sewed. I also sewed squares of stabilizing canvas to the cloth at the corners, and added four more at points between along the long sides, where I then attached grommets. It is hung from the ceiling with large eye screws with sash cord.

This room has a little over a foot of solid roof, which underneath had been water-stained exposed plywood and 2 x 6's. Michael painted lengths of tongue and groove bead board, which he nailed to the exposed rafters. Then the shade cloth went up.

The feline contingent are mighty satisfied with the result:

Yesterday I attempted to finish my electrical shopping. I had a huge list of switches and plates I needed. All were pretty ordinary and normal, electrically speaking. And I needed them in ivory. Also ordinary, electrically-speaking.

Two hallway light fixtures were operated by two switches each, so I needed to buy four three-way switches, as opposed to the single pole switches that you use when a single switch operates a fixture. These I found.

But I also needed to replace the three switches that operate a light fixture at a critical stair landing. When three switches operate a fixture, this requires two three-way switches and one four-way. Home Depot carried four-ways in white and almond, but no ivory four-ways. Why in the hell not?

To my delight, the lighting department employee was actually trained and had experience with wiring. (Unusual!) He couldn’t find it either. We were both perplexed. He looked it up in their computerized inventory, and indeed, they no longer carry ivory four-ways. He suggested I come back on Monday when the manufacturer is open and they could order it. Or I could buy it on Monday from the local wholesaler. Or I could probably get it today from Westlake.

At this point I explained that I was trying to match my switches, plates and outlets, and that “ivory” from one manufacturer to another is a different color. To my shock, he understood this immediately, adding that even within one manufacturer the color shifts.

“Yes,” I said. “the Leviton outlets aren’t the same color as their outlet plates.” I went on. “And I actually started with a different manufacturer, but the place I was buying it went out of business. Supposedly your store carries that manufacturer, but you really don’t.”

“Was it Pass & Seymour,” he asked?

“Yes,” I said.

“I love Pass & Seymour! I did my whole house in Pass & Seymour.”

If he weren’t half my age, and I weren’t happily married, and my husband weren’t standing next to at the time, I could have ravaged that man right there in aisle 6 of Home Depot.

He told me where he I could continue to buy that line. Of course, now I’m pretty much done, so I’ll just have to live with my mix of Leviton and Pass & Seymour because I’m anal about this issue, but not that anal.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Averting $$$ Plumbing Disasters

Last weekend I noticed a small puddle of water on the floor of the lower level bathroom, right below the exhaust fan for that room. Water there was not an ordinary or usual thing, but at first I chalked it up to its proximity to the toilet, aka watering-hole-of-first-choice for the felines of the cabana. But when it appeared in the same spot on day 2, then my eyes went up, and noticed water slowly dripping from the vent housing. This is not good.

We spent the weekend reasoning out the various causes of such an event. The process of determining the source of a leak when the leak is behind a wall or under the floor is entirely a logic puzzle.

It could have been condensation formed within the exhaust tube through natural air and humidity differences between outside temps and inside. But this seemed unlikely, because that’s a phenomenon that generally occurs in winter when the outside temps are below freezing. Still, we behaved in a normal way for the rest of the day, with the exception that we turned off the air conditioner. That should have ruled out condensation, yet water continued to appear.

Since water doesn’t flow uphill, that pretty much limited the source of the water to two upstairs bathrooms, including a shower, two toilets, and two sinks.

We continued our elimination exercise, and finally had it winnowed down to the toilet in the upstairs’ guest bath. So was the source of the leak on the supply side, or the waste side?

If it had been on the supply side, then the leak would have been constant, and not affected by use of the toilet. Water in the supply is under a great deal of pressure from the city water mains. I have witnessed this devastation first hand, unfortunately (an incident that cost us about $15,000 and gave me a taste for beer). Since the leak was intermittent, chances were excellent that the leak was on the waste side.

Because we had that out of town interview, the plumber appointment had to wait until today. We went through the entire logic process with him. I can honestly say, I’ve never seen a plumber as happy as he was. What we did was everything that he would have had to do. Us doing it saved him time and us money.

Turned out that the wax ring that creates the seal around the waste pipe was slightly damaged due to the toilet not being seated quite properly on the tile floor. He didn’t see much sign of water damage, so apparently we caught this quick.

While he was here, though, we had him look at the toilet in the master bath. This toilet has suffered from what we describe as a “wimpy flush.” It also rocked on the floor. When he realized this, his eyes widened. If the other toilet was leaking, then surely this would soon start—if it hadn’t already. The cost for replacing the entire unit was not significantly more than installing a new flush mechanism and re-fitting a wax seal, so we had him swap out the whole thing. Turns out that finding the one leak was a blessing, because he could see that the master toilet has been leaking for some time. The water just hasn’t found its way into the interior of the home yet.

The visit this morning cost us nearly $500, but catching them early undoubtedly saved us several thousand.

Later in the day we were discussing how our current set of cats are very good with their litter box habits, and that we’re concerned that adding a new feline to the mix might screw that up.

I noted that the cats have been extremely good about not urinating inappropriately, but we, on the other hand, have apparently been peeing in the walls of our new house for the last year, and if that’s not inappropriate urination I don’t know what is.

Good point.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It’s a Weird Life, But it’s Mine

Yesterday I:
Troubleshooted a bad left turn signal on our car that broke while en route to an out-of-state interview and used Google on my iPhone to determine its possible cause after the owner’s manual failed to reveal an easy fix like a bad fuse (turns out it has no fuse, so no easy fix).

Called my dealer back home to set up a repair appointment, and patiently explained—again—that it was probably a bad relay and extremely unlikely that it was a bad bulb, as he suggested, because it was doing thus and so, and had no lights or clicky sound inside, nor front lights nor back lights.

Visited an airplane hangar and gave direction for where certain planes were to be moved, and which lifts were to be readied, for a photo shoot this morning.

Had pizza and beer with a group of men that included: an officer in the Norwegian Air Force, and a personal friend of Warren Buffett.

And returned to the hotel to knit for a few minutes on my World War II red cross pattern Serviceman’s Sock.

Tomorrow we get to learn the exact location and cost to fix a leak in the upstairs bathroom. All we know is the origin of the leak is the guest bath, and that it is behind the wall or under the floor. We know the leak exists because the water eventually is making its way to the bathroom floor below it, by way of the vent fan. Drip. Drip. Drip. $$$, $$$, $$$.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Finished Object

It seems to me that when a craft project has been in the works - or in the UFO pile - for say… 2 1/2 years, that when said object is finally off the needles/sewing machine and bound off, that this should be considered an especially momentous occasion, don’t you?

I present to you: Herringbone Quilt!!!

Yay me!

This is my second quilt topper in my personal history of quilting, but the third to be made into an actual quilt.

This is not a pattern from any quilt book that I know of, but it is based on a classic herringbone brick pattern, as was used in the sidewalks at my old house. Each “brick” is made up of two squares of the same color.

The vertical “bricks” are in gradations of green, starting at its deepest tone in one corner, and working its way to an ever-lighter tone in the opposite corner. The horizontal “bricks” are in gradations of blue. These also start in their deepest tone at one corner, and their lightest tone in the opposite corner. However, the deepest tone of blue shares the same corner as the lightest tone of green, and vice versa. The tones are somewhat equivalent in the middle of the quilt.

Buying the fabric was a chore that took weeks, and were purchased at every fabric store within three counties. Estimating fabric needs was also a chore because I used very little of the lightest and darkest tones, but significant amounts of the central tones. Exactly how much I needed of each color depended a lot of how many interim tones I might find in either direction on a future shopping trip. Also, I would safety pin swatches of each already-purchased fabric onto a string, so as I continued to shop, I could hold the tonal swatch/string up to prospective bolts, to determine where they would fit in the line-up.

I rarely found a fabric that was absolutely perfect. Many were patterned with bright designs in other colors. So I would have to squint my eyes to sort of wash out the specific pattern, thereby allowing me to determine its true tone. From a distance the fabrics are remarkably smooth, tonally speaking that is.

What I learned from this is that it is extraordinarily difficult to find broad tones of fabric in a specific color family, and that if I were to do this again, I should really dye the fabric myself.

The quilt is a custom size - 114" wide x 96" long. I find this proportion works much better as an actual working quilt under which human people are expected to sleep. (You may notice in the top-most photo that the quilt extends all the way to the floor. What store-bought quilt does this? None, I say.)

I opted to machine quilt it rather than hand quilt. Quilt #1 was hand quilt, and I can do a perfectly acceptable job hand quilting. Straight lines, anyway. Machine quilting is something I have yet to master. It is the master of me, really. Wrestling with this much quilt means that my lines often veer a little to the left or the right of where they are meant to go. But if had chosen the hand quilting method, then I would still be quilting this next spring. Machine quilting means that it is on my bed about a week later.

My FIL stopped by a few days ago. I showed him the quilt in-process, which was quilted and ready to be bound. He kept asking me if I was going to quilt it. Yes, it’s quilted. See? And I would patiently show him the stitch lines in the ditch.

This wasn’t what he expected. For him, quilting is the soft curves of stitches plainly visible across the center of fabric panels. It’s something his grandmother did. She spent every winter, all day for days on end, hand quilting on a quilting frame. It was the only memory he had of his grandmother, a memory when he was a small boy shortly after his father died, when he and his mother were forced to move back in with the grandparents.

I turned the quilt over, letting him look at the quilt stitches on the plain back where the colorful blocks of fabric would not distract him. Oh, he said, tracing the lines with his fingers.

It was a good memory.

He was given one of the quilt toppers his grandmother made many years ago, and thinks he still has it, though he hasn’t seen it in years. He never had it made into a quilt, but wishes now that he had. I hope he runs across it one of these days. When he does, I suspect it will come home with me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Can Honestly Say that Today I Bought Something for the First Time in my Life:

A conveyor belt.

More on the why’s of conveyor belt consumerism to come in the future.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

And More Yet in the Continuing Quest for Better

The blond walls from the as-purchased version of the house are going away lickety split. I think we’re down to a just a few service rooms. Everywhere else is color, color, color.

When we closed on the house, the best light fixtures were three Craftsman-style stained glass ceiling lights hanging in the dining room and over the island that divides the dining room from the kitchen. They were shall I put it...least offensive of the bunch? Yeah. Least offensive. If we were living in a Craftsman-style home, I would probably keep them. They were fine. They functioned. But in our home? In an early 1970s mid-century modern-style home? Nope.

The now offensive nature of these light fixtures became very apparent after we de-blonded our walls.

Here’s the before, courtesy of my in-house professional photographer:

Over the weekend we decided to set aside Tuesday afternoon for shopping in Kansas City. Stop one was Rensen House of Lights. (Actually, stop one was Homebrew Pro Shoppe, but I digress.) If it is possible for a human person to lust after a retail business? Just hearing the words “Rensen House of Lights” gets my heart rate up, and I begin to speak more rapidly - when I’m not staring off in the distance dreaming of places I could put this lamp, or that sconce, or oh oh oh - that vanity mirror!

Michael found the new dining room fixture immediately, and in the clearance room. Still a chunk of money, but it was marked down to about a quarter of the original price. The original fixture was a larger version of the island pendants. Here is our new fixture, freshly hung:

(My pic on the iPhone)

It walks that line between being retro, and being thoroughly modern.

So with that decided, we needed to find replacements for the two island fixtures. This was much more difficult. We could have spent a small fortune, but we neither have a small fortune, nor would want to spend that kind of money even if we did, because the kitchen will be completely updated down the road. It’s likely that anything we buy today will be changed out in ten years.

One of the salespeople asked if she could help. I was hesitant. I mean, we know exactly what will work, but would she understand? Still though, she went back to look at the clearance light with us, and she noted the details (chrome finish) and asked about our home (mid-century modern). Then we proceeded to the main showroom. She pointed out a pendant, “I can see this in your home.”

Um... really? It was a wrought iron pendant painted an antiqued white. It would look great in say, a whore house, or any kind of house that this lamp would look good in:

(Real lamp found in antique mall this afternoon.)

But our house? Not a chance. We kept poking around with her “help.” Then Michael spotted the perfect pair.

BTW, the vase on the counter contains about half a dozen antique pools balls I purchased at the White Cloud Flea Market in 2003. Hadn’t been to that flea market before then, and haven’t been since. But we’re going this year. See you there? (September 4-6, 2009)
And Pre-Dawn Machine Quilting Comes to a Screeching Halt

But boy was he delighted with his situation!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bringing Back the Cuisine of the 1960s American Midwest

As you know, last Sunday I celebrated the return of Mad Men with a special dinner and cocktail menu. (BTW-greyhounds are quite yummy!) I had run across a recipe in my go-to cookbook (Worthington Regional Hospital Employee Cook Book, printed 1984) that instantly thrust me back to the dinners of my childhood, sitting on the couch with plate on lap, watching Walter Cronkite read the evening news. It is a tuna casserole recipe, but in particular one that calls for a can of crunchy chow mein noodles.

The casserole was good, or as good as any casserole with a canned soup base can be. Certainly nothing that Chef Rick Bayless would prepare, or any of his fellow contestants on Top Chef Masters, for that matter. But middle-America-home-cook-comfort-food-can’t-go-wrong-because-it’s-so-easy-to-make, kind of good.

My chief complaint about the dish really tells me a lot about myself, and how much I have changed over the years since I began cooking. And that’s that the amount of waste in preparing the meal really offended me. It’s one of those can-dump recipes, so almost every ingredient is a can of something that is opened, dumped and then the package discarded. The recipe only serves four, and yet the volume of waste going into the landfill is about 4x the volume of food in the casserole dish. I wouldn’t have batted an eye at this twenty years ago. But now?

I had informed my mother a few days earlier of my plans for Sunday (she had known the dish instantly, though she had called it something slightly different like Chop Stick Tuna), so I gave her a status report on Monday. While I was telling her my reaction to the waste involved in the dish, chiming off the things that got tossed, she stopped me. “Your recipe calls for mandarin oranges? That’s a better recipe than mine! Mine tastes good, but looks like a gray mush.” The mandarin orange element gives mine both color and a citrusy tartness. She sees it as a perfect dish that her the great-granddaughters can help her make for lunch of dinner on babysitting days. So I guess I need to type up the recipe to give to her. Would you like it too?

Chinatown Tuna Hotdish (or the working woman’s instant friend)

1 can cream of celery soup
1 can tuna
1 c celery, sliced on the diagonal
1/4 c chopped onion
1/2 c sliced almonds
dash pepper
1 3 oz can chow mein noodles
1 small can mandarin oranges

Combine soup, tuna, celery, onions, pepper, almonds and 2/3rds of the noodles in a bowl. Transfer to an ungreased 1 1/2 qt casserole dish. Place remaining noodles on top in the center. Arrange orange segments around the edge. Bake at 375° for 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated (I think it could have stayed in the oven a few more minutes). Serves 3-4

That’s it. Easy! If you prepped the vegetables the night before, you’re talking dinner in a little over 30 minutes with minimal dishes to wash afterward.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chowder Head

Are you in expert need of a feline pin basting assistant?

If so, I highly recommend the Chowder Head variety.

They are not only talented and attentive, but also tasty!

Mad about Mad Men

Season 3 begins Sunday night. In celebration of such a momentous occasion, I have Mad Men’ed myself.

Here I am with a hot cup of coffee, cool plaid capris, and a handbag (containing a sock on the needles, of course), in the lobby of Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency.

Want to try it? Click here.

Sunday night you’ll find me in front of the TV with a greyhound in hand. Wearing those delightful plaid capris, of course!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Actual Crafting Content, or Even More in the Quest for Better

As you see, we are moving ever lower on the priority scale. Here we have perfectly acceptable chairs with perfectly acceptable cushions as purchased at Pottery Barn six years ago.

But perfectly acceptable isn’t perfect enough, is it?

Add a splashy earthy plaid fabric from a stash remnant purchased at Hancock over a decade ago. Then find a coordinating corduroy at Hancock for the base cushions. A little cutting and sewing time, and viola:

Tons better. The lighting here isn’t the best, so you’ll have to trust me that the colors are deep and rich. It gives it a custom look that can’t be found in any store. At least not the ones I can afford.

To my dismay, I have really noticed a slide in the quality of fabric at Hancock. On a quality scale of 1 to 10, with Walmart being a 1, and Mood or Sarah’s being a 10, Hancock used to hover around 3-5. Now they’ve slipped into Jo-Ann’s range of 1-2.

So the remnant I bought ten years ago is a very nice fabric. But the corduroy of a few months ago is noticeably cheaper and lower in quality.


At least I still have Sarah’s.

And with the summer quilt back on the front burner, I’m already planning a new winter quilt. This time made out of Sarah’s goodies. No more flannel funk for this house!
Sarah Palin and her friends at Fox Think We’re Dumb

Sarah Palin hit headlines again recently when she referred to Obama’s health care plan as “downright evil.” She went on to say that Obama was proposing a “death panel.”

I would love to hear a healthy debate on the issues. I don’t think Obama’s plan is perfect. Nor do I think our current system is perfect. But I do think it’s interesting that she and her friends at Fox have so little faith in the ability of fellow Republicans to interpret the ins and outs of the two sides, that they are substituting emotionally-charged words for actual content.

I mean, heck. I may not understand three syllable words, or anything uttered by one of those fancy government types up in Washington, but what I do understand is language that will bring me back to those old-timey days when my priest stood at the pulpit with a fist full of snakes and did his best to keep me out of the fiery depths of hell. Evil. It gives me chills just hearing the word.

Or, at least that seems to be what Palin thinks.

And what’s scary is it seems to be working. Just look at the footage of Fox’s foot soldiers destroying democracy for the masses by drowning out discussions at town hall meetings. God forbid anyone with an actual brain and a thought in their head actually gets to hear about the proposed Obama plan. I mean, one of those people might, knowing what his plan is, see an area that could be improved, and actually work with the Democrats, and... now comes the really crazy talk, together the two parties might come up with a system that works and provides equal opportunity for health care for all Americans.

Palin is afraid of a death panel. But we’ve already got one—more than one, actually. They exist at each and every health insurance company in the United States.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

You’re Pulling What Out?

Yep. Project-ville is winding down sufficiently that I am finally able to pull the Herringbone Quilt out of hibernation.

The original plan was that this was going to be finished in time to use as soon as we moved in. Well that clearly missed its mark by an entire calendar year. I’m not certain that it’ll be done for the anniversary, either. Quilting takes as long as it takes.

The topper is essentially finished, though we pored over it last night looking for spots where the seams didn’t line up quite right. I’ve marked these with safety pins, and will adjust as many of these as is reasonable before starting the quilting process.

I have had the backing fabric for at least a year and a half. Same with the batting. And the binding is all cut and ready to go. Have the quilting sewing machine thread. The only thing I’m short of now are excuses as to why I’m not working on it.

Here’s an overall photo I took when I “finished” the topper in February, 2007. Yes, February, 2007.

Now that I’ve finished the slip covers for our old rattan furniture (to be blogged about later in the week, I hope), I’ve got the room to work on such a large-scale project.

I look forward to starting on it tomorrow. But today is re-wiring day. Woo-HOO.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

An Actual Finished Object

This is the felted pillow with embroidery out of AlterKNITS Felt by Leigh Radford.

Overall, I think it’s a lovely project. But if I had it to do over again, I would adjust the project directions.

I substituted Lamb’s Pride for the Vermont Organic Fiber Company O-Wool Classic that Radford specified. I did this because 1) O-Wool isn’t available locally, and 2) I was looking for a bright safety orange, which I found in Lamb’s Pride.

But the Lamb’s Pride felted at a different ratio length to width than Radford’s fiber. So my length felted too short while my width was still way too wide.

Also, the colors felted at different rates. So orange shrank like a son-of-a-gun, while green held itself back a bit. All the above issues resulted in flairs at the corners.

And Radford had me mattress stitching the slip cover pre-felting, limiting my options for adjustments.

To solve these problems post felting, I (gasp) machine sewed the corners square, and trimmed off the excess. I also removed some of the stuffing from the pillow form.

In the future, I will felt this as a flat piece, then machine sew it afterward.

Now for a cute mother/daughter photo:

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

More Better

We aren’t running out of things to do at the ol’ homestead. But we’re certainly checking off lots of bits on the hit list.

When we first viewed the house prior to placing our offer, there were several things that bugged the holy heck out of us. The wall with the severely bowed sheet rock. That bugged us. The popcorn-gooey ceilings. That bugged us. The room after room of blond paint and blond carpet. That bugged us. (We’re still working on that one, btw.)

The order in which we fix or modify things has been affected by multiple factors. Potentially life-ending hazards were fixed immediately, like the furnace venting carbon monoxide into the attic. No hesitancy or wavering on those fronts.

Items that were best fixed throughout the house in one big pass and before we moved in (like the ceilings) happened on the front end as well.

Then there are issues of weather and travel. Planting things that need time to grow are prioritized over interior cosmetic projects. You get the idea.

Last weekend I was finally able to set aside a day to fix one of those things that bugged us from day -30. And that’s this wall.

Our land slopes deeply, with our home built in almost like a berm. This small retaining wall holds the earth away from the house front. It’s a short wall with an original brick treatment along the top. But grass was planted right up to the wall along both the front and the back, and the slope literally drops the lawn mower into the wall from the rear.

Thirty years of mowing, mostly with self-propelled push mowers and powerful commercial mowers, have damaged the brick topping to the point that entire bricks had broken free.

Friday I prepped the area by removing soil from around the damaged area, and chipping away the old mortar. Then on Saturday I began mixing concrete, first building a good bed for the brick and allowing that to cure while I moved to the second cement project of the day.

The solarium floor is mostly tiled. But there are large rectangles of rough fill cement that are about an inch below the tiled bits. These are awkward because they cause furniture to sit unevenly. And they are also dangerous. It’s easy to twist an ankle. (As to why they exist, my contractor theorized that it was originally raw dirt for plants that someone filled in.) So while I had the cement out, I mixed up about five wheelbarrow loads more to fill in these areas, and floated them to a level somewhat consistent with the rest of the floor.

It’s not a fantastic job, but it’s the temporary fix we need until we raze and rebuild the entire structure from the foundation up.

Back to the brick. Gravity was working against me on the wall. I would have liked to re-lay the brick from the top to the bottom, so that I could ensure an even mortar distance between, and place the end bricks where they would have wanted to fall naturally. Unfortunately, gravity forced me to put the end bricks on first, then work back to the top. At this point I was absolutely exhausted. I’d already hauled around 200 pounds of sand. And that’s not counting the Portland cement, or the effort of hand mixing wheelbarrow loads with water to get the correct consistency. And pushing the loaded barrow. And dumping in a controlled manner said loaded barrow. It was a full body experience, to say the least.

So Michael set down his paint brush to help with the last bit. We set the end bricks in place, then I buttered the in-fill bricks as he set them. And on Sunday he made a nice mulch bed around the wall and some of our new plants. This should make mowing a ton easier from this point forward.

Now it’s done. Could use some paint touch up, but that’s about it.

We had some Portland cement left from the old house, as well as a trowel, cold chisel, masonry hammer, and wheel barrow. All I had to buy to make these two repairs was four bags of sand, and a float, or about $20 in supplies. Mulch extra, of course. I’m guessing that if I had hired a craftsman to do this and the solarium work, it would have run between $500 and $1000.

That’s the kind of more better I can really sink my teeth into!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

I’m Not Trying to be Argumentative, really! But I am Eager to Disagree

At the risk of further offending my recent commenter, I have an issue with several of her points. I mean, if that is how she wants to live, go on. Live and be free. But as a lady who has been around the block several times, I find that viewpoint to be rather short-sighted.

The commenter felt that if someone else in the house was good at, and interested in, working on the computer, or fixing broken pipes, or whatever, that it was reasonable to turn those tasks over to that person.

In the short term, that’s darn convenient. But what are the chances that both SO’s will die simultaneously in a fiery car crash? Slim.

What are the chances that the relationship will break up through separation, divorce or death, leaving one or both of them to fend for themselves? Great. Truly great.

A sad number of widows stumble over the finances because their husband’s always took care of. They have no idea how much money they have, where they have it, or how to manage it.

A sad number of widowers have no idea how to prepare the simplest of meals. Years ago my FIL took over caring for his two boys while his wife was in the hospital. He made a bowl of cereal in the morning - one of those pre-sugared jobbers - and dutifully spooned several more spoonfuls over the top as he handed his kids their breakfast. Blech! And my BIL made a pizza once (this was in the pre-microwave days) by popping the frozen disk whole in the oven. Never bothered to take the plastic off. Double blech!

It’s good and healthy for everyone in the household to have skills - laundry skills, cooking skills, home repair skills, computer skills - because we all will need to take care of these things without our partner at some point.

I decided not to respond directly to her comment this way even though I have very strong feelings about this, because it would basically be a “what good will this strategy do when your husband is dead?” reply. That seemed a tad harsh, even for me.

And regular readers of my blog will know that I live in a very agricultural area. I’m not saying that we all grew up on a farm. But we certainly know which end of a cow we’re looking at.

That’s all I’m sayin’.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Unveiling my Inner Snob

After chatting with the local manager of a chain craft store this weekend, I realized that I am really truly an intellectual snob.

And it’s not that I’m a know-it-all, or that I think I’m the smartest person in the room. I want to make that clear right here and now. There is plenty about the world of which I am and will probably remain ignorant. But, here’s the thing: I have been known to pick up a book now and again, and I also have been known to (gasp) watch public television and listen to public radio.

The manager and I were exchanging bits of chit chat. She’s a nice lady, and I tithe a goodly amount of my income to her store in my quest to renovate the new house. And during this chit chat, she mentioned that she plays a farm simulator game on Facebook, and that it is wrong. Because she’s growing pineapples, but the pineapples are coming up out of the ground rather than from trees.’s how they grow... They aren’t mangoes, and they aren’t coconuts, after all. In my mind, I could picture plantations of pineapples on the islands of Hawai’i. Probably from an Elvis movie, in point of fact, so it’s not as though all knowledge has to come out of a gilded volume. So I pulled out my iPhone and googled it for her, reading a few facts about the bush-like plant off a Wikipedia page. That made her feel better. The fact that she had her pineapple crop growing in Kansas was apparently less troublesome to her.

Before we’d gotten on the subject of pineapples and Facebook, she asked about my current project. I told her that I was making the shadecloth for the solarium, which I explained was like an attached greenhouse, and that it got excessively hot in the afternoon because the ceiling was glazed. She seemed surprised. “It gets that hot, even with a glazed ceiling?” Oh yes, I responded. I puzzled over her surprise for only the briefest moment before pushing on with the conversation and retail exchange. But as I was driving out of the parking lot, I realized: she didn’t know that a “glazed ceiling” is a “glass ceiling.” I admit that that bit of knowledge is perhaps more esoteric, and more tied directly to my personal and painfully long history with home repair and renovation (and I am in great deal of pain right now). And there’s apparently a large portion of the population that doesn’t even own a drill. Though I can’t understand how they can survive that way.

But really. Maybe a little less farm simmin’ and a little more book learnin’ is in order, doncha think?