Saturday, February 28, 2009

Close call, money-wise

Last summer, if you remember, I was looking at houses and whining because we couldn't find a house to work with our particular physical requirements. I wrote here and here about a builder who specialized in barrier-free construction, and our dealings with him. In short, he built just the kind of house we needed, but was trying to sell them at a cost per square foot way out of step with this region, and was unwilling to do the one thing that would have convinced us to buy - lower the price. He came up with self-financing deals, and offers for his wife the realtor to sell our current house commission-free, and reductions in house size and finish levels, but never got to the point where he priced it competitively with the other builders in town for an equivalent (but not barrier-free) house. And after we said no many times, he quit calling.

There was an air of desperation about him that bothered us. We researched him fully, and there was nothing wrong with him, or his business dealings, or his relationships with his customers, or the quality of his houses. He actually built them a little better than comparable local builders. It was more than his sensing that we were perfect customers for his barrier-free houses and trying to close the deal. He had several developments going on at the same time; we thought he was getting stretched too thin and needed to gin up some cash flow, and quick. And he made us nervous.

Boy, were we right. Yesterday my husband read a notice in the local newspaper that the builder was filing bankruptcy. The completed unsold houses in his developments were to be auctioned and the properties under construction to be sold to other contractors. Our common sense and caution kept us out of a financial mess. If we had signed a construction contract with him, we would probably have lost a lot of money.

There is one townhouse in a subdivision near my current residence that I really liked, which was the model home for the development and was tricked out a little fancier than the rest of the units. If I had considered buying any townhouse, it would have been this one. I'm sure it will be auctioned at a reasonable price, maybe even a bargain. However now, with the economic downturn, I couldn't sell my house and don't want to get into a more valuable property with higher city and county taxes, utilities and other expenses such as homeowner's association fees, even if there wouldn't be a mortgage.

The time isn't right. Isn't that always the way?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Looks like spring to me

This may not be everyone's idea of spring, but it looks pretty close to me. The sky blue, warm greens of new grass, browns of the tree trunks as they begin to be clothed in new leaves, plums of spring bulbs and tree buds. I'm generally not a pastel person. This fat quarter set, Twiggy by Moda, is an encapsulation of my current favorite color palette. Add some dark coral or terracotta in there and a little yellow, and that's me in a nutshell.

My color preferences seem to have evolved as my quilt collection has grown. At times, my color choices were driven by the colors used by my favorite designers. About ten years ago I fell in love with the collections by Robyn Pandolph, and my quilts were softer and more pastel. The muted dusky colors of the Thimbleberries line appealed to me with their richness, so you'll find those in my closet too. I almost never make anything with bright colors, and there's never a lot of red or orange. Almost no black or gray, either.

There's always a good range of blue, and I've made several blue and white quilts, both for myself and as gifts. Blue and yellow are represented too. When I became captivated by the Red Delicious BOM, I was torn because I just don't use red that much. But Esther Alui's Yahoo Group has shown me that this pattern could be wonderful in other color schemes. One quilter is making it in black and white, and it's very striking. I started thinking about my blue and white porcelain collection, and how beautiful this pattern would be if blue were substituted for red. It might become a complement to my Blue Willow dishes. There's food for thought there.

This glorified nine patch is made from a fat quarter bundle with additional yardage for borders. I decided to make blue/cream and green/cream centers and split the "melon" patches down the middle, brown on one side and plum on the other. The plum will face the blue squares and the brown, the green ones. Here's a sketch: There are 36 blocks, which comes out 66" x 66", so borders were necessary. If I had done it all nine patch blocks, it would take years! Also, since the squares come out of the fat quarter bundle, there was only enough for 36 blocks. So 36 blocks it is.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

You bought what??!!

Occasionally you find yourself shelling out perfectly good money for something so embarrassing that you wish you could block it from showing up on your credit card.

No, not THAT.

It's an electric pepper grinder. And it's not like we didn't have a pepper grinder already. We did. That was the problem.

Fresh ground pepper is a wonderful thing, something I never had when I was growing up. Pepper came in a Durkee tin which lasted probably 5 years, so the pepper certainly wasn't fresh. We never noticed. But, unfortunately, when y0u cook a lot and read cookbooks and watch America's Test Kitchen on PBS, you become aware of things you didn't know you needed until then. A pepper mill was one of them.

To try out fresh ground pepper, I bought one of the prefilled McCormick pepper grinder dispensers you can find in the supermarket. What a revelation! The freshness and pungency sold the idea. I used these a while but the grind was inconsistent and occasionally you would bite down on a hunk of pepper. I had to buy a real grinder.

But which one? My husband searched for equipment reviews and discovered it was the consensus that Peugeot made the best ones. Yup, Peugeot, just like the cars. You'd be surprised what some of the European car manufacturers also produce. Peugeot didn't just make a pepper grinder, they made a slew of them. Stainless steel, copper, wood, clear acrylic, acrylic and wood, acrylic and chrome......take your pick.

We finally settled on a set of clear acrylic salt and pepper grinders with black walnut bases and caps. Beautiful things. We waited with baited breath until they arrived, and then filled them and tried them out. Fantastic! They produced a nice even grind, and worked like a finely tuned machine.

But they were small, maybe only 4 inches tall, and didn't hold many peppercorns. And since the grinding area was small too, it didn't produce pepper very quickly. This was fine for the table, but a problem to use when cooking, where you ground and ground and ground and ground to season one pot. We decided that these would be good in the dining room but by the stove we needed another model. And they do look wonderful on the table. Guests never fail to notice the Peugeot emblazoned on the base. I had already had bought a salt pig to keep salt by the stove for seasoning while cooking, which was much easier to use on the fly - just reach in and grab a pinch of sea salt when needed. (And that opens up the whole issue of gourmet salts, in which I simply refuse to get embroiled.)

While browsing through, I came upon a lever action grinder. You could hold it in one hand and pump the lever to dispense pepper. It looked like a good design, was much larger to hold more pepper, and could be used one-handed, which was a plus. So I ordered it.

When it arrived, it was also filled and tested with much anticipation. And while I can say that it does produce a prodigious amount of pepper at a time, the grinder wasn't consistent and the hunk-of-pepper-in-your-food problem re-emerged. Plus, while the one-handed operation was a good idea in theory, you had a seriously tired hand after seasoning a pot of mashed potatoes.

There had to be a better way. I went back to reading equipment reviews.

That was when I came across the Trudeau Gravati, a battery operated pepper grinder with a gravity (get it? Gravati?) switch. Fill it, put in the batteries, and when you invert the grinder it goes to town, producing pepper at a rate hand grinders can only dream about. There's an adjustment on the top for the grind, coarse to very fine, which doesn't seem to impede its production in the least. It's consistent, handy and appeals to all my retired engineer geek genes. It's a winner.

I am acutely aware of the reaction most readers are having right about now. ELECTRIC PEPPER GRINDER? Isn't that a little, I don't know, extreme? Overkill? Ridiculous, in fact? Well, maybe it is, but it works so well I can overlook the obvious reactions that to be honest occurred to me too, even as I was ordering it. But, I have to tell you, if you have any members of the household with dexterity and hand strength issues, it's the berries.Here's the whole lineup, including the salt pig, which really does have pig ears and a tail. I couldn't resist.

If you want something seasoned, you've come to the right house.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Can't sleep

I woke up when my husband came to bed at 3 a.m. He did his eye medications and had quality time with our cat (who only wants him to pet her there on the bed before they go to sleep) and the activity was enough to wake me completely. I gave up and got out of bed at 4.

Time to check in with my favorite blogs. Play a little Scrabble. Read the news. See if any more BOM instructions are published. I'm following six - I didn't say I was MAKING six. I meant to start them but then the double wedding ring got in the way. So, I'm saving all the blocks and will someday be able to devote time to them, especially Esther Aliu's Red Delicious BOM . It will be absolutely gorgeous, but I have to go on a red fabric buying spree - red is not a color well represented in my stash. It might have to be a fused applique, even though I'm not usually a "fuser", but looking at all those pieces, I'm also not that kind of crazy.

What other BOMs? Well, there is Come Over To My House, which will be done in batiks; A Tisket A Tasket, which is about the cutest basket design I've ever seen; A Touch of Amish, all in solids - also need to buy; Batik Baskets, which will probably use up the rest of my batiks (must add them to my list when I shop for reds and solids); and, Building Blocks, which would be great in hand-dyed fabric if I can find some.

In the meantime, being the glutton for punishment that I am, I plan to start my Glorified Nine Patch as soon as I hem the clothes I made. More curved seams - what am I thinking? I did find the perfect fabric for it - Twiggy by Sanae for Moda. I love sky blue, I love chocolate brown, I love mossy green, I love deep plum. It's like they designed it for me.

Oh good grief - now that it's almost 7 a.m., I'm getting sleepy!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Old books with personality

I love all books, but I especially love old books, so when I saw this little gem at a library fundraiser sale, I had to have it. It cost all of $2.00. I know it's not in the best of shape; the cover is discolored, the binding is starting to loosen and the pages have yellowed. However, it has such an aura of mystery!

Where has it been since it was printed in July of 1908? The information available is tantalizing. It is part of the set of Macmillan's Pocket American and English Classics, the list of which is printed inside the frontispiece, and it cost 25 cents when new. It's a small thing, about 4 x 6 inches, and around 200 pages. It's tiny enough to have ridden around in a gentleman's coat pocket or a lady's handbag, ready to read during a spare moment. It was the equivalent to our paperback books. The name J. H. Valley is inscribed in a very old-fashioned hand inside the cover. Was that the original owner?

As precious as it is, I might have passed it by as I did so many other old and intriguing books, except it was a copy of "Cranford", Elizabeth Gaskell's novel chronicling the trials, tribulations and triumphs in the lives of the women in a small English village in 1842, which I have been meaning to read since I saw an excellent BBC miniseries adaptation last year. Since Cranford is a short novel, the miniseries used parts of two other Gaskell novels, "My Lady Ludlow" and "Mr. Harrison's Confessions" to build the story arc. The casting, writing, cinematography and acting are all magnificent, as I have come to expect from BBC productions. It's available on Netfix, so look it up if you want to be enchanted and whisked away to the mid-19th century.

Out of practice sewing clothing

This is the coral pique jacket I bought last month. When I couldn't find a skirt at any store to match, I went to Hancock Fabrics and bought a piece of gauzy print that had the same coral in the design.
As I started sewing together the gored skirt, I kept thinking, "Boy, those seam allowances look awfully large! Am I reading the throat plate markings correctly on my new sewing machine?"

I was, of course. It's just that I have made so many quilts and so few clothes in the last 10 years, the standard 5/8" seam looked enormous!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Let there be (bendable bright) light!

One of the Christmas presents from my husband was a bendable bright light for my sewing machine. I had seen ads for this small auxiliary light on a gooseneck which attaches to your sewing machine, and someone had blogged about how nice it was (I apologize, but I can't remember who it was).

I hadn't gotten around to installing the light because I was working on the Double Wedding Ring gift quilt. Today, I was altering a pair of black pants and fussing about the difficulty of seeing the thread I was picking out. I ended up at my desk with my Verilux adjusted down within 6 inches of the fabric so I could wield my stitch picker with any accuracy. After the pants were taken apart, I started fitting and pinning them and went to the machine to sew the waistband back on.

Boy, if I thought picking the threads out on the black fabric was hard, sewing the seams back in was even harder. I felt blind as a bat, even with the pendant light over the table switched up to 300 watts. Then, I remembered the stick-on light. Would this ever be a challenge for it!

It's a little LED bright white light which comes with a small round adhesive holder that snaps on the base, and adhesive clips for the cord. I positioned the light base at the back of the sewing machine next to the presser foot lever, and stretched the cord along the back, using the clips to keep it out of the way. The cord ran down the other side of the machine, and plugged into the extension cord I use for the sewing machine. I switched it on.

Wow! is all I can say. The dark stitching jumped out at me. I could see everything perfectly. The light didn't glare off the machine parts, or shine in your eyes. The little gooseneck allowed you to focus the small light head exactly where you needed it, on the point where the needle entered the fabric. As an added bonus, you could redirect it to illuminate the eye of the needle when threading the machine.

The literature with the light showed it attached to the left outside face of the machine head, but since that is not a flat surface on the Juki I had to go with the back, which works just fine.

How did I ever sew dark fabric without this?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ott Lite giveaway

Quilting On A Budget is giving away an Ott Lite floor lamp! This is a great product and everyone who reads this post should scurry over there and enter. I have an Ott Lite table lamp and believe me, if you do any kind of hand sewing, this is the way to go. It helped immensely when I was working on the teacup swap blocks and dragonfly applique last year. It's amazing how much the right light can help.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New clothes

I decided to spiff up the wardrobe recently, inspired partly by my upcoming attendance at my brother-in-law's wedding. So joining all the quilting fabrics in the closet are some crepes and such for skirts (I hate straight skirts and like them a little long, so I end up making all of them by a simple six gore pattern) and new pants and two spring jackets in nice spring-y colors from that emporium of style, JCPenney. I'm not being snarky, I really do buy clothes there, because I never liked spending a ton of money on clothes and all I really needed were some solid color short sleeve shells to wear under jackets and some classic pleated pants.

Well, I found the pants, in a nice dressy lightweight fabric that had a little body to hang well, were washable (always a plus) and had small inserts of elastic in the sides of the waistband. Perfect. Until I tried them on. The hips fit but the waist is a good 3 inches too large, without even stretching the elastic. When did clothing manufacturers forget women have waists?

You would have to be shaped like a cylinder to fit into these pants. Honestly, I am on the plus size of things, and my hourglass figure has gained some time, so to speak, but my waist is still 10 inches smaller than my hips, and evidently that's rare nowadays. I found the same thing with skirts in the stores and my beloved LLBean khakis, which have been recut and don't fit like they used to. So, this morning I'm altering the pants.

I would rather be stood out in the rain naked than alter clothes. I would rather make the things completely from scratch. I would rather, gasp, make another Double Wedding Ring quilt than do this. It's a PAIN. Picking out that serger stitching will drive you crazy. And when all of it is disassembled, you have to deal with the threads and the fraying and trying to fit the darned things to your body. Makes a person wish for all elastic waistbands.

But I can't quit until these three pants are altered and three skirts are made. Then I can organize my closet and breathe a sigh of relief. I hadn't bought anything new since I retired 18 months ago, and just ran around in khakis, tees and fleece jackets. I looked kinda ratty, at least to myself. I was never a clotheshorse, but don't subscribe to Thoreau's quote "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes" either. Now, whatever activities come my way, I can meet them with sartorial splendor!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Almost finished with the Double Wedding Ring quilt

I'm down to piecing the back of the DWR. No picture - it doesn't look much different than the last time you saw it, just bigger - maybe when it's all quilted. The backing will have an 11" wide vertical stripe inset about 1/3 of the way from the edge made up of 3" strips of all sorts of colors which coordinate with the large print on the front. They will be cut from all the fat quarters I collected to make star blocks in the original design. In this strip will be a pink "center" section from the DWR pattern, encircled with rose half-melon pieces. The pink center will be where the label is appliqued when it's done. I don't know exactly what the label will look like - I may ask my longarmer to use her embroidery machine to make a rectangle of pink roses on cream fabric so I can add the words inside. I could hand embroider something, but it would take longer than the top did to piece.

Sometimes I think that if I had made the original design that was meant for this fabric the quilt would have been prettier. I like the solid arc wedding ring design, but it is just too plain for my tastes. I hope the recipients like it.

I have also decided that making a glorified nine patch will be a piece of cake compared to this one. The nine patch won't have these darned corner blocks, which had to be inset, and about drove me crazy. The curves are a piece of cake compared to that.

Oh, yes - I heard from the stray girl kitty's new owners about what they chose for her permanent name. Are you ready? Gumbo! The family moved here from the Gulf coast so the woman said it seemed appropriate.

Don't ask me - I'm a Kentucky girl.

My mom remarked that it seemed more like a name for a boy kitty. I thought it was better as a name for a food. I generally don't name animals strange things. Molly, Sasha, Sylvester, Charlie, Zack, Spike (ok, he was an old tough tom - nothing else would do). I will cop to naming a cat Uncle, but that was kind of a family joke. But I have never named a cat for a soup.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Oh wow!

My quilt came back from Deb today, and let me say - her work is exquisite. She has already posted some pictures and I will make more tomorrow, but photos can't convey how beautiful her work is. The exacting parallel quilting and diamond checks, the motif quilted onto each teacup that is derived from the fabric pattern, the little swirls above the cups signifying the steam rising from the tea, the beautiful swirls in the sashing...I'm blown away!

Deb, you're a genius!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Authors you just want to choke

A comment I left on Joan's blog got me to thinking about trying to read a biography of a person whose life choices just exasperate you. I had that experience recently when I read "Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously". Check out my comment on Joan's blog for my review. The gist is that this woman seemed so immature, so self-involved and so rudderless that it was difficult to stay with her through the book. You wanted to grasp her by the shoulders and shake her - "Just grow up, for pity's sake!" Her friends seemed just as clueless and weak-spined, and the passivity of her husband was creepy. If this is typical of 30 year olds nowadays (does that sound old enough for you!) I am worried.

I have run into the overly-intrusive-author's-personality syndrome in several non-fiction books read in the past months. One was "Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World". If the book was about the cat, Ms. Author, why did so much of it revolve around you? Ditto for "Marley and Me" and "A Good Dog". (Wait - there's a trend here. Are people who write about their pets generally insufferable? Remind me not to talk about my cat so much!)

The only book I read recently where this didn't bother me was Anne Lamott's latest, "Grace (Eventually)". Anne Lamott IS all about Anne Lamott, but if you know her you know what you're getting, and conveyed by her wonderfully conversational writing style are the unfliching insights of a woman who has often fallen but keeps limping toward God, a damaged personality that is gamely trying to maintain her balance, sobriety and faith. Her book about her son's first year, "Operating Instructions" is also good, as is "Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith". They may not be a traditionally religious person's cup of tea, but I saw the honesty and effort inside the fluff of self-absorption.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What's wrong with me?

I have a whole uncommitted day ahead of me - no reason to leave the house (and it's colder than whiz, don't want to anyway), nothing looming on the schedule. I planned to sew the entire day and finish piecing the double wedding ring quilt. So what am I doing?

Not sewing. Cleaned the kitchen, straightened the house, made lunch, caught up on the laundry, did my taxes, organized my spice cabinet, for heaven's sake.

Yeah, I'm avoiding, big time.

Why? Who knows. I set up the sewing machine, sewed two arcs on a melon piece, and stopped. I'm just not feeling it.

I know I better start feeling it, and soon, because I only have one row to go and I need to reserve a place in the longarmer's queue. Maybe I want to sew on something else, maybe I'm just burned out on the curves, maybe I just burned out about sewing in general (I get that way sometimes) but whatever the case, I need to light a fire under myself and get at it.

Playtime's over, kid, back to work.

P.S. I got another email from Stray Girl's adoptive family saying how thrilled they were with her. She's sleeping in their bed, for heaven's sake! Now that's a kitty that's got it good.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Stray Girl's adopted family sent me a picture of the children with the kitty and everyone is very happy. What a great ending!

Now that the drama is over I can get back to sewing on the last row of the Double Wedding Ring quilt.

Stray kitty has found a home

The stars were perfectly aligned for me this time. When I went to pick up Stray Girl after she was spayed on Monday, the receptionist handed me a note with a telephone number. "If you still want to find a new home for her, this lady might be interested."

Of course I was interested. While I waited for them to release the kitty, the vet stuck his head into the examining room and filled me in on the details. A family had adopted a 4 month old kitten from the local shelter. After three weeks it suddenly sickened, and died with acute anemia. No one knew what had caused it. The family, especially the 6 year old daughter, was heartbroken. The vet said that they had fought hard to cure the cat and only given up and had it euthanized when it was apparent it was in extreme distress and nothing was going to help, because they didn't want it suffer any more. He didn't have any idea what caused this sudden acute anemia. He knew they still wanted a cat, so he told the lady that I had a cat I was looking to place, and she was interested, especially when she found out it was a calico. She left her name and number for me.
In the mean time I brought the kitty home and made it comfortable in the small bathroom, with her bed, her litter box and her favorite catnip mouse. She was eating well and moving like she was sore but not in tremendous pain. We had a lot of quality time while I sat on the bathroom floor (ouch.).

I called the prospective family last night and emailed a few pictures. She responded immediately that she wanted to see the cat. I told her she was welcome to visit any time today. Around 11 this morning she came by and fell in love with Stray Girl, who is an exceptionally good people kitty, and did all the appropriate rubbing, purring and lap sitting, even while recovering from her surgery and not feeling tip-top.

The lady wanted to know if it was too soon to take Stray Girl home. I gave her advice about isolating the cat in a small room such as a bathroom for a few days to allow her to recover, and making sure the children weren't too rough with her. With those conditions,I felt it was all right for the cat to go to its new home immediately. So Stray Girl was loaded up in a carrier and left my care about noon.

I feel really good about this adoption, both because the little girl will be thrilled to have a new kitty and because of the description of the family the vet gave me. I'm sure they will be good owners, and Stray Girl will have a great life. She's going to email me photos of the children with the cat.

I sent her favorite catnip mouse with her. So, be well and happy in your new home, little stray kitty, I'm glad our paths crossed, and glad to help.