March 30, 2011

If I were a rich girl...

I was able to spend yesterday afternoon at a "Sewing Celebration" hosted by Bernina Northwest. Oh boy, do I wish I had a disposable $10K!

Part party, part class, this was a chance for the curious to test drive the Bernina 830. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this sewing machine could also knit or scramble eggs; we used decorative stitches, did some machine embroidery, and came home with something the instructor called a "jewelery clutch" (Heaven knows what I'll do with it, not really be the jewelery or the clutch type). The machine has a touch screen, it does "infinite embroidery" (so you can cover a large area with a continuous design), it can customize buttonhole sizes by length and width (very cool if you've every wrestled with odd-sized buttons), it comes with lots of designs and specialty stitches, and it has a USB port so you can add more. There's probably tons of other things it does that we didn't cover - I kind of got the feeling we were just scratching at the surface.

The part I'm probably most excited about, though, is its large throat area (the space to the right of the needle). As a quilter, I often have huge amounts of fabric to wrestle through a small space; the 830 has about three times more space (I'm totally eyeballing this) than my current machine. And the 830 could potentially sit on my sewing table in a way that a long-arm quilting machine wouldn't be able to, since those are free-standing and are roughly the size of a small car. All that space and the embroidery capabilities would really open up the quilting possibilities!

Alas, even with the "class special" pricing and the financing, I can't justify the price tag. Ten grand or more is a lot to drop all at once for a hobby. I guess I'll have to just carry on with my current sewing machine and hope the price comes down or figure out how to convert my hobbies into something that merit that kind of investment.

Thanks to all the folks at Bernina Northwest for a grand afternoon, especially to Glorianne and Caitlyn (not my Caitlyn) for answering all of my questions. I wish I could; I really, really do.

March 27, 2011


On the way in from lunch the other day, I peeked under the row cover to check on the seeds I planted a few weeks back. Cliff Mass wrote recently that so far our spring (ok, our March) has been cooler than average, and it shows. No sign yet of the peas or of the carrots and spinach under the row cover. It's a bit too soon for the onion seeds in the sun room to have visibly germinated, but that didn't stop me from peeking there, either.

Come on, Spring! Grow, Green Things, Grow!

March 25, 2011

Why I Do It

Three cheers for all the urban homesteading bloggers more dedicated to the lifestyle than I. I'm so very grateful for their posts about their challenges: the bugs, the rats, the lice on the goats, the chickens with infected feet. I might sigh over fresh eggs or get starry eyed over fresh goat milk, but then I find pictures like this one and I'm suddenly a lot less romantic about backyard livestock. I just don't think I'm cut out for the go-to veterinary stuff that goes with having lots of animals. Heck, I can't even clean out the trap full of sludge at the bottom of the dishwasher without loosing my cookies. Excavating a staph infection from a chicken foot is seriously beyond me.

Actually, I don't think I'm up for many new urban homesteading challenges right now. I've mused in the past about soapmaking and candle making but the motivation to go beyond musing isn't there. I'm pretty happy sending our compostables off to the city's composting program. In fact, it might be time to think about putting the backyard compost bin on Craigslist for someone more hardcore than I.

I didn't start down the urban homesteading road primarily out of fear, despite being pretty well convinced that the current Average American Lifestyle is likely on its way out, whether due to climate change, peak oil or general carelessness. While I'm sure my various skills would be useful in The End Of The World As We Know It (aka TEOTWAWKI, an acronym that's rather disturbingly popular in some circles), that wasn't my motivation for gardening, canning, composting, dehydrating, line-drying, cheesemaking, sewing, solar cooking, freezing, rain barreling, edible landscaping or any of the rest of it. Sure, there's the lighter impact, the local food angle, the Apocalypse Survival Benefit, but those are all secondary. I do these things because I like to do them.

I suppose it's strange to like hanging around several large pots of boiling water during the hottest part of the year, but I think it's fun. I think the process of converting milk into cheese is fascinating. I find sewing relaxing. I like the smell of line-dried laundry (not to mention that there's usually less to iron when I don't use the tumble dryer). Being able to bake a loaf of bread in the backyard or muffins on a beach without building a fire is just neat.

Maybe someday we'll invest in solar panels for hot water or home electricity. One of the reasons will likely be to shrink our environmental impact, and another reason will probably be about saving money over time. But it'll also be just because having water hot enough to wash dishes solely by infusing it with focused sunlight is cool. If I ever stop musing and start soap-making, it will be in large part because the equation "fat + lye = something you'd want in the shower with you" is slightly mind-blowing.

March 24, 2011

Another project

new project

Anyone care to guess who picked this fabric out?

March 21, 2011

A Quilt for Caitlyn

Caitlyn's Pink Quilt

A long while back, on a trip to Pacific Fabrics for something entirely different, I found bundles of pre-cut squares from Hoffman Fabrics. On a whim, I asked Caitlyn to pick a bundle. We took home pink, of course.

Caitlyn's Pink Quilt

I didn't have a pattern in mind, so this may be one of my more "organic" quilts. I started with those pre-cut squares, was deliberate with the contrast, and added borders until it felt "done". Special thanks go to Lianna for her more experienced eye for contrast and her magic ability to find the perfect border fabric.

Caitlyn's Pink Quilt

While Caitlyn was out and about yesterday, I remade her bed and added her new quilt. Perhaps I should have made sure I was in her room when she saw it. Ian says she noticed it right away; it reportedly "stopped her mid-babble". But by the time she was ready for bedtime and I came into her room, the quilt had already been accepted as One of Caitlyn's Things and her comments to me were rather blasé.

Caitlyn's Pink Quilt

Oh well. I'm pleased with it, and I'm sure Caitlyn is too, even if she (for once) is less effusive than I'd like. I'll know for sure when she's a teenager and hates pink and still carefully puts this away for her future.

March 20, 2011

The Circle of Potatoes

Today, I used up the last of our stored potatoes, turning them into soup for tonight's dinner. They weren't much good for anything else, all shrivelly and going soft and putting out seriously desperate roots. Soup was good, though.

I'm thinking I'll drape the potato box with heavy black cloth next year, on the theory that the opening and closing of the pantry door, not to mention turning on the pantry light, for the last six months has provided enough stimulus for the potatoes to think they should start getting ready to make more potatoes. Perhaps a colder environment would be helpful in stretching out The Duration of Successful Potato Storage. If I can arrange a sufficiently light-proof container, the sunroom in the winter might be sufficiently cold to help the potatoes maintain hibernation just a little longer.

And then the Potato Life Cycle as it plays out at our address would have a nice symmetry to it. Because the sunroom is where this year's potatoes get started.


The seed potatoes (Yellow Finns) arrived on Friday from Seed Savers Exchange. I wish they offered a small sampler set. I don't have the space for planting any more than the minimum 2 pound order (and that just barely), but I'd love to be able to get a mixed bag so I can plant a couple of the blue potatoes, a few purples, and a handful of reds along with the standard yellows. Of course, I'd want them all to be harvestable at the same time so I could make a multicolored potato salad while it was still summer.

The first step in growing potatoes is to cut the large seed potatoes down to something closer to golf ball size, making sure there's at least one eye on each piece. Then put them somewhere warm and sunny and let them wake up. In about three weeks, those little eyes will be leaf buds and it'll be time to move them out the garden.

So today I started some potatoes and I finished some potatoes. And thus goes the Great Cicle of Potatoes.

March 16, 2011

Pie Night!

Chicken Pot Pie. Shepherd's Pie. An underspiced but worth improving tomato-zucchini pie.

Followed by Peach Pie Pops (they look like lollipops, but they are tiny, personal pies on sticks!), Lemon Meringue Pie, Peach Pie, a triple layer lemon/peach-pear/cream pie, and a Butterscotch Pie. Oh, and ice cream.

No, I didn't make all of that. Just four of them. Which was two more than I originally planned. Because sometimes Pie Happens.

I'd post pictures, but we've eaten it already. Yes, we had help. And yes, there are leftovers. But they aren't so pretty any more.

Thanks to all the Pie Night People for coming and eating (and providing the excuse to make pie!). For those who missed it, Pie Night Will Return.

March 14, 2011

Reusable Dry Goods Bag

We've got reusable fabric shopping bags. Why not have something reusable that you can use in the bulk foods aisle?

reusable dry goods bag

I came up with this baggie a couple months ago, using fabric from the stash and π for possibly the first time since leaving school a million years ago. Since then, it's brought home walnuts, cornmeal, and granola. When it gets dusty inside, I throw it in the wash. The contrasting square is there so I can write in the bag's weight when empty, which would simplify the check-out process at the store. So far, PCC has been awesome about just taking a few ounces off the total weight, but they are probably undercharging me.

I can see making a bunch of these, some wider, some taller. I can't possibly use them all, though. I wonder if other people would want them?

March 13, 2011

Getting There Faster

While waiting for her grilled cheese sandwich yesterday, Caitlyn invented a transporter. Grandma's house is just too far away.

She explained that she wanted a box that she could go into and then when she left it, she would be in California. Actually, she decided, this box should have three doors, one for Grandma's house, one for the museum/aquarium we recently visited, and one for a specific corner on the road to Grandma's house, one that is often hugely decorated for the most recent holiday. It was covered with enormous red hearts and twinkly lights when we saw it last month.

"This is a great idea," I told her. "You figure out how to make this work safely, and we'll have your college tuition totally covered."

"What does that mean?"

"Well, it means that people have been wanting something like this for a long time and if you figure out how to make it happen, we'll never worry about money again."

"Ok. But it's easy. You take a box and then you dig a hole and you make the tunnel go where you want it to go. Then you crawl through the tunnel." Caitlyn is so matter-of-fact about these things.

"But," I reminded her, "it took us three days in the car to get to Grandma's house. How long do you think it will take you to crawl to Grandma's house through a tunnel?"

She thought briefly.

"A day." My eyebrows must have gone up because she hurried on, "You'd have gorp with you and you wouldn't have to stop to eat 'cause you could just eat as you went and you wouldn't have to stop to sleep or anything."

Ah... the transporting qualities of a good trail mix.

March 10, 2011

Eavesdropping in the car

I'm providing the transportation for Caitlyn and her friend to and from circus class these days. Which means I get to overhear some of the things the girls say to each other.

Caitlyn's friend apparently can't decide if she wants to be a teacher (both girls adore their teacher) or a nurse (the friend's mom's new job) when she grows up. But she's only going to do either one on the weekdays; weekends are for skiing. And nights are for reading and knitting. Caitlyn wanted to know when her friend would sleep and received a superior-sounding reminder: "You know how your mama and papa go to sleep after you?" This plan sounded solid to Caitlyn, who then volunteered to "help" her friend with any part of it.

"Sure. You can live with me, but you'll have to be ok with a boy. I'm going to live with Angela and Nate, and you can live with us and take care of the babies."

I think Caitlyn's just been invited to be a future nanny to a future high-powered, multiple-career-woman.

March 09, 2011

Gravity wins

At breakfast this morning, we admired the first of the three amaryllis flowers which had opened overnight. The petals were creamy, streaked with light red (not pink, mind you, light red). It hadn't opened all the way, only about half, so looking at it full on made me think more of trumpets then stars. The second flower probably would have opened tonight.

Amaryllises are ridiculous flowers. You take a bulb the size of a medium onion and put it in pot. Sometime later, it sends up a fat stalk and then unfurls huge, super-saturated flowers, roughly the size of a salad plate. There isn't much in terms of a supporting cast; it's all about the blossoms.

Maybe I should have moved the amaryllis out of the kitchen window. Maybe I should have tossed the cheap plastic pot that came with the bulb in favor of something with some heft to it.

The stalk on our amaryllis is about three feet tall. Three feet.. It wasn't straight, perhaps from reaching for the sun in a generally west-facing window blocked by the house next door. Once those gorgeous blooms started opening, it was officially off-balance. It didn't stand a chance against gravity. We found it on the kitchen floor at lunchtime, the flower spike bent in half, the two unopened buds broken off, the remaining flower somewhat crushed.

Caitlyn has tried to make the best of things by placing the broken buds and petals around the edge of the pot. But tomorrow, I'm going to have to put the remains in the compost, trim the flower spike down, and cross my fingers that sometime in the next two years, our amaryllis will try again. I just couldn't bring myself to do it today.

March 08, 2011

We're Having Triplets!


Why, what did you think I meant?

March 06, 2011

Beginning the season

I took my cough and sniffly sinuses outside today and started Project Garden, 2011, pulling weeds, adding compost to the veggie beds, installing the pea fences and planting pea seeds. The potato bed is just about ready for the seed potatoes, which I expect to arrive in two weeks. I brought in about half of the over-wintered kale, which opens up a half-bed for starting spinach and carrots, assuming I can find my row-cover-anchoring rocks.

Things are actually looking pretty good in the garden, despite the snow and the hard freezes we had this winter. There's plenty still to clean up - the potato vine needs pruning and training as does the jasmine; I need to decide on a perennial herb to replace an extraneous and struggling lavender; the space under the rosemary has opened up some and needs something that won't get in the way of the cherry tree or block access to the rain barrel; my assorted groundcovers need to be tidied up; I need to decide if I should remove the two struggling blueberries and if so, do I replace them. And that's just the back garden; there's still the front yard (which has some bare spots and an over-ambitious volunteer) and the p-patch (where the asparagus needs to be mulched soon) to think about. But I don't think I've lost anything this winter, and all in all, I feel the garden's in surprisingly good shape.

This is how I know spring can't be far away: while I worked, lots of neighbors passed by. One of the East African women stopped to ask about planting order and compost. Some neighbors offered the services of their daughter - who was wearing her dress-up fairy wings - as a pollinator. The grandmother of some other local kids told me that she takes this route from the light rail station just so she can see what my garden's doing. The gentlemen next door took their dog out for a walk. Wasabi sneaked out of the fence to harrass some other dog, who was minding its own business and rather unnerved to be out-postured by a cat.

A handful of the blogs I read have lately announced progress on or intentions to step up from urban agriculture to actually owning a farm. There's a certain romantic appeal there for me, I have to admit. But I know myself well enough to know that as much as I might like the idea, I'm not a milking-in-the-morning person, or a health-care-for-livestock person, or even a pull-weeds-in-a-greater-amount-of-space person. I've got all I need (or at least, all I can handle) here. Call it Adapt In Place, if you want. I'm going to call it Enough.

March 05, 2011

Not there yet

Ian was given an amaryllis bulb a few years ago for his birthday. I planted it, and it put up leaves but never sent up a flower spike. Amaryllis are marketed during the holidays and I'm used to them blooming during cold weather, but I figured it was a gimmick and if we just left it alone it would eventually do what it was naturally inclined to do.

If that's the case, we have the world's laziest amaryllis.

I moved it out of the sun room after Christmas on the theory that it wasn't warm enough. This makes no sense to me since the sun room is plenty warm in other times of the year. Perhaps its the combination of warm and dark that convinced it to get busy.

A month later, we're still waiting.

lazy amaryllis

But if it doesn't bloom soon, it's going to outgrow it's windowsill...

lazy amaryllis

I wonder if I moved it to the living room if Wasabi would leave it alone...

March 04, 2011

Thread Catcher, Version 2

thread catcher, ver. 2

Well, I think it's an improvement over the last one, but it's not quite there yet. For one, I think the fabric combination came out too much like a circus tent for my taste. Less contrast, perhaps, or not using a spacious print/solid combination. A little interfacing would be good for structural integrity, and a tiny bit more height before the rim flips down.

I think the most critical part, though, would be an adjustment to my template so that the outside rim doesn't flare. I was hoping for something more vertical. It kinda looks like a mutant cootie-catcher to me right now.

On the positive side, I'm generally pleased with the process. I used tissue paper to fold a paper version and then used that to create my template. First experience with pattern-making, really. And I think the template is basically strong, it just needs some tweaking. And scalloped edges rather than pointy tips might help with making it less like a clown costume.