Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gladiator death matches and seam rippers

As many of you know, I've been taking sewing lessons.  This has been a historically ladylike endeavor but I have to tell you, the words on the tip of my tongue last night were anything but ladylike.  Using my usual replacements would have gotten a lot of bemused looks from people (WHAT THE [GENTLE CARESS] JUST HAPPENED HERE???, etc.).

My teacher, Mikala, is very sweet.  She realized at the last round of classes that I really was lost (I originally wanted to sign up for absolute sewing 101 classes, and she thought I was ready for the more advanced beginner class.  Alas, it had been a while since I'd been at my machine or at a class).  She offered me these classes when she saw how lost I was.

I've been winding bobbins, which had been a mystery of physics to me until recently.  I'm slowly getting used to patterns and cutting things, but despite my best measurements, some pieces turn out longer than they should be (as long as they're not shorter or smaller than they should be--it's easy to just cut cloth back).

In this class we made a pillow cover and we're now making tote bags.  I had made a pillow cover ages ago, and was glad to find that I could manage to make another one.  I'd like to do that (in a different color/pattern) for my sofa and loveseat pillows, and get slipcovers for them both.  We're making tote bags now, and I'm hoping to get mine done by next class (our last).  Last night was interesting because I realized that my lines are either curvy/crooked, or they are straight but go off on a diagonal.  Spatial reasoning is not my strong suit.  This is how the class went:

"Okay, I'm ready to sew this seam." 

[After sewing for a few minutes]

"Oh [BODILY REFUSE]! Mikala, where's the seam ripper?"

(Repeat three or four times.)


Well, then I realized that actually, I would do much worse in a gladiator death match.  And I pictured myself in a gladiator death match.  The only hope I'd ever have would be to annoy my opponent with constant talking, which might ensure a quick death for me. If I was really lucky, it would go something like this.  (Unless the death match had to do with words, or shade throwing, or telling tall tales, or snark--in which case, yes, I would win.)

Then I realized that if I didn't snap to it, Mikala would be all, "Pamela, you're not paying attention," and if I wasn't thinking before I spoke, I'd say, "Oh, I was picturing myself in a gladiator death match."  And I don't think she would have appreciated me being the cause of the entire class throwing down their sewing and running for their lives for fear of the apparently unbalanced middle-aged lady who thinks of gladiator death matches while holding a seam ripper in her hands.

Like growing your own vegetables or raising your own livestock, etc., I think it's foolish advice to urge people to make their own clothes as a solution to financial hard times or as a vehicle for social change.  If you're good at it, such things are doable.  But you can't just buy a sewing machine and start making clothes.  I have had issues with a pillow case and a tote bag!  It takes years of practice to get to the point where you can make things like pants, skirts, shirts, etc.  If we had to rely strictly on ourselves and no one else to survive, this nation would be full of hungry, naked, surly people.

Granted, I think it's good to learn sewing just to understand what goes into it.  I'd urge everyone (including the dudes) to take at least a 101 course so you can really comprehend what it takes to make your clothes.  It is not easy work by any stretch.  

Mikala said that at this point, she can sew a tote bag in a couple of hours.  I would love to get to that point.  But first, I have to remember how to wind the bobbin.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday links

This text message war over a wedding gift has etiquette don'ts on both sides.  Two tips: Graciously accept any gift you give (weddings are not for making money, and not everyone can afford expensive gifts or will hit the mark on the gifts you want).  Also, if someone acts like a rude jackass, don't lecture them about etiquette and insult them and call them names (and call their marriage a sham marriage--that is really not okay).  Roll your eyes and count yourself lucky you saw their true colors early on.

Phelan has a friend who needs some help

Can someone tell me the point of outdoor kitchens?  If you have one inside, wouldn't you just use that, and bring the food out to your patio or porch?

Happy Birthday to Economies of Kale! It's the winter solstice where she is.

Mix your own house paint.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Blogs that appeal

The Grumpies have a list of things that may inspire them to leave a sharply-worded comment on a blog.  The things that inspire me to go from zero to snark are legion and infinite, so I probably won't go there.  What I tend to do is write about the issue generally and get ranty here.

Granted, the general interest, trainwrecky homemaking blogging that I'm doing doesn't often lead me to posts that make me grind my teeth and roll my eyes with such violence that I see my own brain.  Many of the blogs I've read are about how someone's garden is doing, what they're making for dinner, maybe a gripe about a bad day, talk about a craft project, talk about strategies for saving money or resources, talk about creative reuse, etc.  50 Uses for your rhubarb isn't going to inspire snark from me; though I may print out the post so that I can use some of these tips after I pay a visit to my own garden spot.

There are things that make me avoid certain blogs.  There are some big blogs that I don't read because I find them to be a bit on the smug and shamey side, or because someone insists on winning Complete and Total Denier of The Year (it's one thing to be frustrated and not be able to think clearly for a while, it's another to make denial a way of life).  The Grumpies made me think about what would make me avoid a blog like the plague.  They also made me think of what appeals to me.  So here is my list of what appeals to me.  Your mileage may vary:

Open-mindedness.  I don't mean that someone must be a free-love hippie.  There are some folks I read who are fairly conservative.  But they don't post screeds about how hateful group X is or how women all belong in the home or how Black people are all violent or how gays are ruining western civilization.  They're writing about personal finance or their crafts or their cooking or their gardens, and they figure that even people they don't get or don't have much contact with do these things. 

Humility.  This is ironic, since I feel like I'm incredibly arrogant. This is why I highlight my trainwrecks and failures.  I really don't want to be that annoying person who tries to convince everyone of how awesome they are.  We all mess up--well, I do.  I'll own it.  I'm no one's teacher, unless you want to learn about how long it can take to get the hang of something.

Encouragement. It's one thing to not like something or be very strong in your opinions--perhaps you all remember my rants about the voluntary simplicity and local foods movements--but it's another to sneer at people that they're doing it wrong.  We've all got our trainwrecky moments.  We are all doing the best we can, but that means we're not perfect.  Tell me what you're doing and how you're doing it, yes. As long as you don't assume that everyone will be able to do it, and you don't make moral judgements on people who don't do things your way, we're good.

Boundaries.  I prefer people who set some strict boundaries.  If someone has a habit of letting a troll or trolls run amok in their comments section, I'll probably give the blog a pass.  That's just tiring and distracting.  I'm not talking about dissenting opinions or an honest argument.  I'm talking about commenters who act hatefully or try to stir things up.

What will bring you back to a blog? What will turn you off?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A house hunting rant

Okay, so before I start on my rant, I'll catch you up on what has been keeping me occupied.  I found a house that I liked.  It looked like it was in great shape.  It was in my price range, albeit at the higher end of the range, but that was fine since I assumed it was in great shape and didn't need any major work done.  The lot was perfect--flat, sunny, fenced in.  It was 15 minutes away from work. It was on a street off of a major road--so it had the convenience but not the noise.  New floors (laminate), newer windows, newer roof, decent kitchen, bright rooms, good closet space.

Then I had the inspection. Oh, my lord.

The siding on the front and the back had to be replaced.  The front part of the siding was Masonite (I thought it was clapboard).  The parts where the paint and finish wore off turned out to be soggy.  Masonite is basically glorified cardboard.  Once the finish wears off (if it's not repainted, and this wasn't), that's it. The back--which was shaker shingles--was cupping and cracking and splitting.

Siding protects the outside of the house from the elements, including water.  Water can damage a house.  The inspector was very thorough.  When he asked me if I had any questions or if I felt he missed something (something he asked after we went through each section of the house), I pointed to the spot near the door.  "Oh, that's probably nothing," he said, and bent down to tap it with his screw driver.  The screw driver went right through the spackle.  "Oh, that's not good."  He pointed out that it was in a spot where the Masonite had worn away and gotten wet. The owner knew this was an issue, since he'd spackled it.

The deck was deemed unsafe--by both the inspector and by the contractor who went out to give me an estimate for the costs of repairs. There were no footings, it was pulling away from the house, and the inspector was able to make the thing shake with one hand.  Dear lord.

I got estimates for how much this work would cost--it would cost me $14K-$15K, and that's assuming there was no extensive water damage.  The owner would not come down, insisting that the deck was fine (if his tenant got hurt, he would have lost that house, but whatever, I'm a silly female) and that replacing the siding was just home improvement.

No, you eejit.  It's home maintenance.  Obviously, the deal fell through, despite the efforts of all other parties to convince me to pay the originally agreed upon price shy of $2K to take the thing off his hands. The buyer's agent and their project manager said with a straight face that the deck was fine--um, I  had two independent professionals look at it and they said it was a hazard.  My bank was clear that they would not give me a mortgage if the deck was deemed unsafe (it would be an underwriting issue), and an appraiser would take note of the state of the deck. I had this in writing.  I was told by all other parties involved that no one ever heard of banks doing that.  I had to point out, repeatedly, that I had this in writing (they all saw it), and that my bank was doing it, so their insistence that this was unusual didn't matter.  (I later Googled and found out that yes, it does happen). I finally got sick of debating, realized everyone was digging their heels in and assuming I was stupid, that we'd never come to an agreement, and I walked away.  I would never feel comfortable in that house.

Now for my rant.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Dad

My Dad is a very resourceful and resilient guy.  He never let it show if he was stressed out or worried about stuff, though I'm sure he was.  He, like my mother, is frugal and careful, and he knew that we'd be okay no matter what happened.

He made a bed for my dolls and one for my sister's dolls. He assembled our toys (he was a very good sport) and fixed things around the house.  He played catch with my sister and would argue politics with me (look, we are kind of an odd family sometimes).  He gardened with my mother (he still has some tomato plants he grows) and worked hard, but never let his family take second place. 

Being a father was his job.  What he did for work was just how he paid the bills; he identified as a father.  He was never going to be a company man, though he worked hard and did well.  He was never going to play politics and didn't care about getting the corner office.  He cared about us.  What mattered to him was his family--his wife, his kids, and our well-being.  He was never too busy for us. He didn't assume that because he was home from work that he just could sit down and watch TV and not do anything.  He was a father, and that meant that he was raising us kids along with our mother.

When he was growing up, all of the kids had to take turns making dinner and doing chores around the house.  He never thought of certain things being beneath him--growing up, it was typical to see him making meals, doing dishes, cleaning, etc.  He was never one to assert that he was the MAN of the house and the boss of everything--the family was run more by an oligarchy--he and my mother together. 

When I was a kid, he took me and my sister fishing.  I didn't catch anything, but I loved fishing with him.  We snacked on string beans from the garden and hoped for a fish to get hooked.  We fed a lot of sunfish a lot of worms. 

He read to us. He encouraged us. He listened--and still listens--to us.

He is funny.  He loves to joke around. He has a twisted sense of humor (like his daughter, I suppose). He loves his grandchildren and dotes on them. 

He was and is a great Dad.

Happy Father's Day, Dad! And to all of the fathers reading this, Happy Father's Day to you, too.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I have not been kidnapped by aliens or anything like that

House-hunting has just been an interesting process.  I'll write more on it later.  Depending on how things go over the next two weeks, I may have to rethink a few things. 

Gah, I sound so mysterious, don't I?

OK.  Here are other snippets that have kept me away from the interwebs:

1) I cut my hair into a bob, which I'm wont to do periodically.  I actually love this cut, it suits me best, but after a few years I get sick of it and let it grow. 

2) Yard work.  Lots of mowing.  When it hasn't been raining, that is.  This is turning out to be a cool and rainy summer.

3) A Song of Ice and Fire.  I'm reading the series.  I'm on the third book. It's coming off as a bit of a bromance.  It's interesting, but a bit jolting after reading about knights and maidens and courtly intrigue and honor and dishonor to come across the word "butt."

4) I have several friends who keep bees.  One of them had a hive that swarmed, so another friend came over to help her get the swarm into a new hive.  Beekeeping is one of those things that I'm happy to let other people do.  I'll help extract the honey, and I'll enjoy the product, but the bees make me nervous!  One of my friends hives produced over sixty pounds of honey in one year, which was great, but the bees were the surliest creatures ever.

5) My rhubarb is going gangbusters.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Frugal luxury--iced coffee milk, Mister Donuts, and my love of kitsch

This is something I do with leftover coffee.  I got this idea from--of all places--Mister Donut when I was living in Japan. 

The only two places I knew of where you could get bottomless, American-style coffee in Japan was Mister Donut and the Hard Rock Cafe*. 

There was a Mister Donut next door to the school I taught at (it was one of several chain ESL schools).  Teachers and students often stopped in there to get coffee, or muffins, donuts, Chinese dumplings, etc.  Mister Donuts also had a points system, where you'd get a card of points for every 300 yen you spent (or something like that).  Accumulate enough points, and you could get their giveaway. 

By the end of my time there, I had three date books/calendars (those were featured in December/January and I planned on getting them); two pillows; a plate, cup, and saucer; and a couple of towels.  All with the cutesy cartoon characters featured in Mister Donuts in Japan and in the case of the calendar, with little sayings each month ("Spring is here! It's raining a lot. But the snails are happy.")  I had an unbridled thing for kitsch and we all went a little bonkers getting the latest stuff.  They apparently still do it but the prizes have changed a bit since I was there (which isn't surprising since I came home 15 years ago. Gulp.)

Okay. Wow. That was quite a derail.

Anyway, one of the things Mister Donuts offered during the summer was a coffee ice milk drink.  Basically, fill one glass with iced coffee cubes and pour milk over it.  The cubes melt as you drink the milk   You start out with mild milk and end up with a nice, strong iced coffee.  It's perfect on a hot and humid day, which were plentiful in Osaka in the summer.

So of course, I realized that I could do this myself. 

I'm not a big coffee drinker at home.  I'm more of a fan of tea.  However, I do make it, especially if I have people over.  I had my parents over for dinner on Sunday and I made coffee for us all after.  Later, I took the leftover coffee, poured it into ice cube trays, and froze it. I filled a travel mug with some of the cubes this morning, and poured almond milk over them.

You can use regular milk, almond milk, soy milk. . .whichever you like and whichever agrees with you.  It's good. It uses up all the coffee.  And it's quite refreshing.

*I did go to the Hard Rock Cafe with a Japanese coworker who was in a heavy-metal band.  We'd go for the brownie sundaes and bottomless coffee.  She got transferred to the main office and often stayed late because her boss was still in the office--it was bad form to leave before your boss.  However, if we had plans, she'd leave earlier. She'd tell her boss, and her boss would say, "Are you meeting Pamela at the Hard Rock Cafe for brownie sundaes again?"

Monday, June 3, 2013

Gardening news

I planted the garden with my garden partner the weekend before last, and I felt it for the rest of the week! My entire lower half was sore, and I was so stiff that I walked like a zombie.  But the garden was planted.  This is what me and my garden partner are trying this year:

Tomatoes (roma, celebrity, cherry, and a mystery plant or two)
Peppers (red bell, cayenne, jalapeno)
Pole beans (on poles)
Watermelon (on a trellis--it's a smaller variety)
Cantaloupe (on a trellis)
Cucumber (on a trellis)
Butternut squash (on a trellis)
Patty-pan squash
Swiss chard
Garlic (planted in the fall)
Shallots (planted in the fall)

Annuals or plants that survived the winter:
Mint (wow, did it ever survive. . .and thrive!)
Lemon verbena
Walking onions

What I planted in the plot at my rental house:
Peppers (cayenne and jalapeno)
Mint (in a pot)
Chocolate mint (in a pot)

I mulched this past weekend and saw that we lost a couple of tomato plants and a melon plant. So I'll have to replace those.  One of the other gardeners offered a couple of large tomato plants, which I accepted, but I'm not sure how one of them is doing.  Ah, well. It's always an adventure!