Where domestic skills + creativity meet, tempered with a dose of procrastination.

The curse of the unexpected closing of a window and loss of the unsaved draft! There was a much more elegant start to this post but I suddenly lost it. Perhaps that’s for the best.

Anyway, before January is through I am outlining some areas to focus on. Work, Finances, Health, Writing (which includes finishing a certificate course that’s job related and more blogging). Then there’s the hobby areas – Music, Gardening, Sewing (crafty stuff). Seven sounded like a good number. But then I thought, what about God? Whoops. Forgot God. After all, it can be argued that all of the other categories don’t exist without heavenly input from above, so to speak. Ok, stick God in the list, not at the bottom though, that doesn’t seem right, better move that one up the list. That makes eight.

And resolutions? To finish what I start. Over Christmas in the family home I was struck by how many little projects I had begun as a child but not completed.  As this is a chronic condition that has plagued me as an adult and begun in childhood, to have some great endings, not just great beginnings, would be a welcome change.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Lots of health issues happened in 2014 which gave me endless fatigue. Upper respiratory infection, allergies, Epstein barr virus plus a recently diagnosed sleep disorder. No wonder I’ve been tired!

But while there were months of just dealing with the fatigue, I still managed to do some new things. So the year isn’t a total write-off.

DIY WEDDING FLOWER ARRANGEMENTS

20140104_154020_Richtone(HDR)A lovely friend was married in January and I did the reception table flowers. Due to her allergies (and common sense) I used artificial flowers. Some she already had, others I bought on sale after Christmas. Another arty activity was face painting children for Halloween at the church’s “trunk n treat”. Yes, Elsa, Frozen princess was the most requested face.

I’d made this resolution to not buy any new clothes or shoes in 2014, apart from underwear, socks, stockings and swimwear. I intended to either sew clothes, or buy second hand, or just make do with what I had. Sewing had to be thrifted fabric or else bought on sale. Oh the idealism!

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Well my dress for the wedding was second hand. The new shoes were a gift from the bride, so they didn’t count.

What do you do with your hands in photos? Don’t they look awkward?

But for the rest of the year, I stuck to my resolution – apart from sewing. Too tired for that and too tired to go shopping much anyway.

 

KNITTING – SOCK FAIL

In January I tried to join K-Line’s knit-a-thon, two socks on circular needles. I’d never used circular needles before. I even got help from Kristin, so nice of her. I knitted two inches, then got sick. Upper respiratory, whooping cough, whatever. Never got back to the socks.

SEWING – MEH

 All year, this Dritz dress form has been used as a hanger for this 70s dress.

I got stuck on the neckline facing and setting in the sleeves. It’s a winter dress and now it’s winter again.

Circle of life, right?

 

4032This did not get made, not even a trial vest in cheap purple fleece. I had bought some top quality fleece on sale intending to make a jacket for mum. Now I have given her the fabric…and she’ll get it made up by a professional, using a different pattern.

 

This came from a co-worker cleaning out his garage. The idea of my very own vintage Singer was an exciting one, so I bought extra cams, and replacement rubber parts for those which had perished. Getting it working again has yet to happen nor do I know where to set it up.

 

 

But I did sew something!! I made my first pair of boxer shorts for a friend. An 80’s McCall pattern bought on eBay and a cotton sheet to make a test version.  These were an exercise to practice flat felled seams and the construction of a fly opening.  And I still need lots of practice on both.
In the past two weeks, which is about two minutes to midnight on the 2014 Doomsday Sewing Clock,  I made another pair of boxers and also pajama pants for myself.  Feedback given on the first boxers was about a lack of roominess, so side panels were added to fix this.

My pj pants are in this Japanese themed print. Alas I cut them too small. Clearly I have delusions about my body size! Any how, once again panels were added to the side seams.

 

I like the print, but the fabric (whatever it is) is slippery and frays easily.  The pants became an exercise in french seams and patience.

In the photo you can see how I stuffed up the first french seam; it’s sewn twice because first it was sewn too close to the edge, and the seam allowance (which is supposed to be enclosed), poked through on the other side. The pattern is a 99 cent Simplicity pants pattern. Two pieces, three seams. I still made mistakes.

 

 

20141224_085228I finished the pjs while on vacation with the help of my sister-in-law who has an overlocker. Thankfully she was very patient, seeing as I pinned it wrong and two side seams had to be unpicked.

Why do Americans call it a serger? Spelt as “surger” would make sense as it does go fast – but overlocker better describes what the machine does.
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I don’t know how long these pj pants will last. Already the fabric is fraying at the seams. Mending required even before wearing them? Yikes!

The overlocker (serger) impresses me though and one is now on my “someday” wish list.

 

Amazon Local – do you purchase deals on Amazon Local? I usually ignore those emails. Until this one. An online sewing course offered for $30, supposedly to the value of $1000. Is it? I am not sure – who decides that? E-Careers is a British site, and once registered, I have 12 months to complete it. Patterns and course content are downloaded. While I can’t see myself getting through all the content, surely I can complete enough to be satisfied of my $30 investment.

KITCHEN SHENANIGANS

I attempted making home fermented foods. The results were mixed:

  • Sauerkraut – the first batch, made at a friend’s house while I watched worked. The second batch made at home – moldy
  • Water kefir – never multiplied and gradually weakened to the point where they no longer fermented the sugar water.
  • Milk kefir – this was successful and now I make regular smoothies

ALDI was selling incredibly cheap small appliances like a dehydrator, icecream maker and a bullet style blender. I bought all three. What did I make?

Dried figs, pineapple, cranberries (fail), mint, basil. Also:

20141101_174550 Free cayenne peppers from co-workers.

 

 

20141101_174615Beef jerky.  I dried raw beef strips and didn’t give myself food poisoning. I’m still amazed (and grateful).

 

20140727_172408Strawberry icecream, nothing more than strawberries, cream, sugar. Yum.

 

 

Two batches of fig jam, thanks to a generous coworker who took time to pick the figs. I added grated ginger root to the second batch. I also made a batch of pineapple jam. Yum. Look for old fruit and veg at the back of Kroger supermarket. That’s how I got 6 pineapples for $6.00.

As ever, Loki the orange kitty supervises.

 

 

Pavlova makes the perfect dessert for a 4th July block party. But what to do with all the egg yolks?

 

 

Wheat free bread means gluten-free flour(s). The bread making attempts were dismal. It tasted as boring as it looks. Now there’s all this gluten-free flour in the pantry to be used up.

20140706_18374620140718_195629 I did some grilling – on a little battered grill that takes a small bottle of gas. Lava rocks is the secret to stopping the massive flare-ups from dripping grease. Those peppers are Hatch chili peppers and taste great charred. I got good at “blackened chicken”. Also, wedges of cabbage charred on the grill are delicious. Strange, but true.

For a few months I went through a juicing phase. What to do with all the pulp? Well you can a) toss it out; b) give it to a friend who has chickens, or c) make veggie patties. Season profusely – curry powder is good, egg and a little coconut flour to bind them. The first batch were fried and I discovered how fragile they are to turn over, so baking in a greased muffin tin works the best.

FREE YOUR MIND

I started a certificate course in technical writing at the local university. It was challenging because my knowledge of grammar is rather impoverished. Looking at a sentence and thinking you know whether the grammar is correct or incorrect is not enough – how to explain your reasoning? That gets me. However I will knuckle down to learn the grammar and complete the remaining units next year.

Coursera.org offers free, online short courses from various universities around the world. There’s a range of topics and I got through this one, a music theory course offered by the University of Edinburgh. It was challenging, and the final assessment was scary:  analyse two pages of a Mozart quartet score. Never thought I’d do that! The teachers were excellent and really made an effort to answer questions in the forums and Facebook page, which is where the students who were from all over the world got a chance to discuss the lectures.

MUSIC MATTERS

Still managed some music – I had to drop out of a songwriting course because I was too sick/too tired to keep up with it, but I did attend HCAMP down at Kerrville (January) and the Winterfest at Irving (February). I also began to go to the Lone Star State Dulcimer Society (LSSDS) club meetings and get a friend I’d made at HCAMP to come along. The dulcimer club meets every two months – and I made a couple. What HCAMP taught me is how important it is to play with others instead of being holed up in your bedroom.

These two autoharps were rescued from the church choir room and made playable again by Chuck Daniels whom I arranged to meet at the LSSDS Winterfest. I also took a few classes on the autoharp at the festival.

 

This is the gospel service with the two autoharps put to use. You can play it either flat, as on the left, or held in a hug. We dressed up in old timey clothes; I already had the hat and found the “granny dress” at the thrift store.  The repertoire included old-timey country gospel and spirituals like I”ll Fly Away, Shall We Gather At the River, Farther On, Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown, I Saw the Light and Angel Band. The fiddle player was hired – and her contribution really made a difference. There was also a guitar player and double bass player. Rehearsing was so enjoyable that we decided to keep on with this “Back Porch Band” concept and prepare a set for the church picnic held at the end of summer.

And here we are doing a sound test outside in preparation for the church picnic. I am on the left playing mountain dulcimer. By this time Emily had joined as the fiddle player. Playing live was lots of fun. Perfect? No. But did people enjoy it? Yes. Yes they did… or else they’re big fat liars!

 

 

428735157933rt-1What is this? This is a bowed psaltery. I bought it on the Goodwill auction site (photo source). Because the soundhole has a distinctive design I was able to  trace it back to this luthier,  Song of the Wood. It’s beautifully made and has the cutest bow, especially when you put it next to a double bass bow!  The bowed psaltery is a chromatic instrument spanning two octaves. Each string is a note, and you simply bow between the pins. Advanced players use two bows. To hear what the bowed psaltery sounds like, this site, Psaltery Strings, has lots of audio and video. I played in this version of Revelation Song, performed in church, and got many comments afterwards about it.

20141211_132148During my Christmas vacation, I have made my mum a dulcimer from a Folkcraft kit. The body is cardboard – it has a surprisingly nice sound. Surprisingly? No one thinks a cardboard instrument is going to sound much, but be surprised.

20141211_175845I surprised myself also by putting it together! It wasn’t easy – the bridge was too high and had to be filed down, using a metal nail file made it a slow process. Then a string snapped when I was putting it on.. but mum is learning to play it now. Word of advice if you ever build a Folkcraft cardboard dulcimer, save yourself a lot of hassle and time by getting the kit with the fretboard already set up. Trust me.

I started piano lessons again. Not just re-learning to play again but to keep up with theory and to learn how to arrangement and improvise. It’s challenging and I love it.

PLANTS THAT CAN

Why do African violets have the reputation of being difficult and fussy? Put them on a window sill facing east, ignore them most of the time, but do water when they start to droop.  They reward this haphazard attention with pretty pink flowers.

Even being knocked off by cats doesn’t seem to do any lasting harm.

 

download_20141224_150823The City of Arlington enforced its rules about nothing being on the walkway areas outside apartments. This meant my plants at the top of the stairs (which were out of the way) had to go. Coping with large chili plants inside was challenging, until I put each pot on a chair and got a couple of 200W lights.  Want to know why your chili plant isn’t setting fruit? It’s not getting pollinated! Now that hand pollination is being performed, the kung pao pepper is setting fruit. I got this seedling from Greens Produce. It’s late.. but at least it now has peppers.

The plant frustration, both outdoors and indoors, led me to this:
my plot for 2015 labelled

A plot rented for 2015 at the Fish Creek Community Garden. Blessings to the person who worked this plot over summer then relinquished it. In November I enjoyed fresh mint, basil, parsley, green capsicums and tomatoes. Look how convenient watering will be – the tap (faucet) is right there poking up out of the cinder block. I used all the fresh herbs to make pesto gifts – not only the traditional basil pesto, but mint and parsley pesto also. No recipe for that, just lots of garden mint, Italian and curly parsley, almonds, coconut and olive oils.

ANIMALS OF NOTE

20140727_153118Cat sitting: My two cats – so suspicious of the little black interloper, Schubert, but by the last day, some peace was restored.

 

 

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These two did very well this year.  Just a pair of typically demanding, bossy, puking (until I stopped le20141130_075409aving out dry food 24/7), peeing on my bathroom mat, crying & jumping at the door to be let in, clawing at boxes, shedding hair, escaping out the front door, stealing food off the counters, bug-hunting, purring, pouncing,  waking me up at 4am, wanting to play cats.

 Cats and catnip. Nothing more to be said!20140125_180359

 

 

 

 

Mum’s little foxie, Dolly, died this year.

Such a sweet little dog.

 

20141209_131649But Sally, a Jack Russel-Maltese cross was rescued and given a loving home. Sally is more outgoing (and naughtier) than Dolly and loves walks and chewing shoes.

 

RileyDog sitting Riley down at Joshua: Although it’s a longer drive to work, it always feels like I’ve had a mini-vacation in the country.

Also dog sat two lovely dachshunds for my friends who were on honeymoon. How can I not have a photo of Sam and Shiner?!

TWO UNMISSABLE TRUTHS

CIMG0561Straight hair looks good on me. For the first time ever I had my hair flat ironed when I got a long over-due hair cut. Of course, I can’t get it to look like that when I do it myself.

I have put on a lot of weight this year.  Hmm.

Sick of Being Sick

So I was actually keeping this up to date in February. It’s now April. I just posted about the little girl’s coat – a draft that had been sitting around for ages. What happened?

Getting sick happened. March was a write off – a miserable month. Fatigue and upper respiratory infections. Finally had allergy testing done. Texas, ya got me. I discovered I’m allergic to a variety of pollens from Texan plants. Plus molds, dust, dustmites, and horse dander.

Horses I can stay away from fairly well… but dust? Dustmites? Ouch! I have to be houseproud! Pollens & Molds? Yikes it’s everywhere. This diagnosis proved to be a bit of a shock. I had no hayfever-like symptoms. But I was told the never ending fatigue was the symptom, due to the immune response being overburdened, and getting constant colds, upper respiratory infections also a sign as the immune system is too overburdened to fight the things it should be fighting. The food allergy testing also showed up food sensitivities which may add to the burden of all the inhaled allergens and make it all worse for me overall. I was advised to go on a 4 week elimination diet. 

So, I’ve been dealing with the fatigue. And this diet of no dairy, wheat, beef, turkey, bananas, fish and clams. (Clams?). Oh and no black pepper also. It’s been ok, but sometimes I know a forbidden food sneaks in. Do I feel different? Hmm. Not sure. I have a little more energy then a few weeks ago. 

Dealing with this has meant that other activities have taken a backseat. I go to work and that’s about it. No sewing. No music. No going out. Not much socialising, as I’m sleeping instead. 

Thank goodness I’m not allergic to cats or dogs. Otherwise these 2 would be in trouble.

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This little girl’s coat was supposed to be a Christmas present for my singing teacher’s little girl, Molly who is almost 4. I cut it to a size 5. I finally finished it at the end of January. At least it was still winter and still the same winter!

20140131_072728_Richtone(HDR)

This is made out of Polartech that was on sale at Mill Yardage LLC.  The little girl likes pink. This was what was on sale that fell into the pink end of the spectrum. I like the rich berry colour,  the honeycomb texture and the price! It was on sale as 2nd quality – but I couldn’t see any flaws.

lining & buttonsBecause of all the seams edges on the inside I wanted to  line it but was unsure of what to use as lining that would be easy to wash. I ended up using a polycotton from Joann’s – not the usual thing to line a coat with, but I liked the butterfly print and was delighted to find matching buttons at the same store.

   coat under collar   I had some green satin  – it was a skirt picked up for free last year, in all the costuming frenzy to  perhaps use for the fabric. Well it wasn’t enough for a lining, but I used it for the underneath of the collar, and put strips of it inside the cuffs for fun. cuffs


I also made bias strips to do the bottom edging. The polartech doesn’t fray of course, but the lining needed some kind of finishing. It would’ve been too bulky to turn up a hem, so I’m pleased I thought of the bias binding option. Ended up doing a lot of hand sewing – hemmed the satin cuffs and the bias strips – I didn’t want stitching to spoil the look of the edging. I should’ve cut the bias strips a little wider, 1 1/2″, not 1 1/4″. It was a little fiddly and the inside finish isn’t perfect.

 

The only alteration to the pattern was to ignore the extra bit that was the front facing – ie, the coat extended and you turned it under and that was the facing for the coat front edging. Otherwise the pattern pieces were kept the same, except for that I lined it.  Used size 90 needle and straight stretch stitch (tongue twister!) on default settings.

Making up the pattern was done a little differently to the instructions due to the lining – the collar had to be sandwiched in between the lining and coat. I attached the lining along the front edges and around the neckline then turned it the right way,  and top stitched down the front edges of the coat.

I procrastinated about the buttonholes for a while – had never  used the buttonholer stitch and attachment on my Kenwood. But it works pretty well – so the couple of years avoiding buttonholes has proved to be rather silly. Sometimes though the buttonhole stitch goes the wrong direction, and I still can’t figure out why. The top buttonhole ended up being a bear. The 2nd and 3rd turned out nicely 1st go., but I unpicked the top buttonhole several times. It’s still not aligned vertically with the others – it’s out by 1/8 inch. Due to the extra thickness, the fabric doesn’t feed through at the rate it should, so you have to pull it fast enough so that you’ll get the 1 1/4″ length button hole needed for the 1 inch buttons. That sounds easy when typing it but not to actually do.

The other bugbear about taking so long to do this coat was that cat hairs ended up on it. The ginger tabby, Loki, has hair that ends up everywhere. I have learned that it pays to have some kind of dustsheet for garments I’m in the middle of making.

So the topstitching isn’t perfect and that top buttonhole doesn’t line up with the 2 beneath it. It is though a warm and pretty coat and both mother and daughter are delighted.

 

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So February is up and that means the 4 weeks of my self-inflicted music challenge have also come to an end.

I was aiming for 12 hours of music practice a week. How was Week 4’s effort?

Thanks to the 2nd day of Winterfest I almost cracked the 12 hour mark. And that’s even missing a day!

11 hours and 35 mins was achieved. So close! If I had been paying attention and tracking the time I would’ve made up that last 25 minutes. Or if I hadn’t skipped a day…. oh well…

Day 22: Autoharp 2 hrs; dulcimer 2 hrs, pennywhistle 1 hr
Day 23: dulcimer 15 mins; voice 15 mins
Day 24: voice 1 hr 45 mins
Day 25: dulcimer 15 mins; autoharp 1 hr 30 mins
Day 26: nil. What happened? Too tired and went to bed early.
Day 27: pennywhistle 45 mins
Day 28: dulcimer 1 hr 10 mins; autoharp 40 mins

Breakdown:
Voice: 2 hours
Dulcimer: 3 hrs 40 mins
Piano: nil
Pennywhistle: 1 hr 45 mins
Autoharp: 4 hrs 10 mins

And because it’s fun to do a pie chart I did one. After all, who can say no to pie? 

music dozen challenge pie over 4 weeksImprovements:

Voice – not so much that’s noticeable. I’d need to be more consistent with the exercises (ie daily) to improve breath control.

Dulcimer: Definitely. Flat picking control has improved, ie hitting the right string without looking down all the time. Corresponding fingering while flat picking also improved. Chord positions not memorized, although I now have to include that 1.5 fret, so getting used to that. Sight reading of tab has improved. Beginning to relate standard music notation to the fretboard. Chop chords improved greatly – not perfected – but getting there.

Piano: Bass clef easier to read – not automatic though. Improvement in remembering the fingering for scales, small improvement in dexterity.

Pennywhistle: This was the surprise outsider – huge improvements made here, from memorizing fingering, slurring, to improved agility switching between certain notes. Upper register notes still iffy, but those very high ones are hard and I’m reluctant to go over and over them in an apartment.

Autoharp: Late entrant proved an easy instrument to see instant improvement. That is, I went from knowing nothing to being able to do some simple strum patterns and melodies of some simple tunes.

Ocarina: Only a 15 minute curiosity play. Managed to get pleasant sounds out of it.  It smells funny though.

Conclusion:
I’m glad I did it. All that forming good habits stuff works. It’s also encouraging to hear /feel the improvements after  only 4 weeks.

I discovered these very important criteria/facts:
1. Instrument, music, music stand etc must be accessible and organized.
2. This means having organized spaces that are kept free of other clutter, including where I sit and where tab/sheet music is stored. Maintaining these spaces is ongoing.
3. Small chunks of time add up over the week.
4. Getting enough sleep is really important!
5. Practicing when tired is still doable, if all I do is some scales and technical exercises. I have energy for that, but no more energy to put into playing a tune. Go figure that one.
6. I used to do more vocal exercises all the time when pottering around. Why did I stop? Shouldn’t have stopped!

If anyone reading this suffers from guilt trips about not practicing enough. Don’t feel guilty, instead look at how you use your time and aim to change some of the daily habits.  Yes, attending Winterfest certainly boosted the practice hours, but I discovered how pleasant and relaxing it is to do some practice after dinner and even better, how uplifting it is to practice in the early mornings before work. As long as it doesn’t make me late for work of course, practicing music puts me in a very cheerful mood to start the work day.

Week 3: Music Dozen

Well, Week 3 (last week – 15th to 21st) was interesting.

Breakdown:

Day 15: Voice 15 mins; Ocarina – 15 mins
Day 16: Voice 1 1/4 hours; Piano – 1 1/2 hours
Day 17: Dulcimer – 15 mins
Day 18: Dulcimer – 1 1/2 hours
Day 19: nil
Day 20: nil
Day 21: Voice – 1 hour, Dulcimer – 2 hours; Autoharp – 2 hours

10 hours total practice time. But I feel I should explain myself.

Ocarina?

I bought an ocarina, a strawfire seedpod-shaped Alto C ceramic ocarina from these people.  It arrived and so I had to test it out. Being strawfired – a process where the ceramics recieve an extra ocarinafiring packed in burning straw – which gives them lovely earthy tones, but also makes them smell. Some folks like this smell, I don’t, but I’m told it will fade. The last thing I should do is attempt to wash it out. Put up with it and let it fade over time. Anyway, burnt grass smell aside, this ocarina has a beautiful tone. Ocarina tab, however, is annoying to read, and so I need to memorize the fingering so as to use standard musical notation instead.

The 2 days of no practice were due to unexpected life things getting in the way. Can’t control those!

Autoharp? Yes, I am learning a little autoharp now. The why and where and who will be explained in it’s own post soon.

The 5 hours of music practice on the last day of Week 3, was achieved because I went to Winterfest – a 2-day gathering of workshops and performances by some very talented players of various folk instruments. Winterfest is an annual event organized by the Lone Start State Dulcimer Society. All kudos to those people!  I went to both days and I’m very glad I did. (It also saved what would’ve been a very poor week, practice-wise.)

This covers 8th  to 14th February

Day 8: Voice 15 mins, Piano – 45 mins. Saturday night I did spend more than 45 mins on the keyboard as I was trying to figure out how to transpose some music.  As I was practicing arpeggios I  did some vocal exercises at the same time. Efficient!

Day 9: Pennywhistle – 30 mins.
Day 10: Dulcimer – 1 1/2 hours
Day 11: Voice – 15 mins, Pennywhistle – 30 mins
Day 12: Nil. What happened? I was tired and had no motivation.
Day 13: Piano – 45 mins (scales, arpeggios, sight reading), Voice – 10 mins
Day 14: Pennywhistle – 40 mins.

Total:  4 hours 20 mins.
Breakdown: Voice –  25 mins, Dulcimer – 1 1/2 hrs, Piano –  45 mins, Pennywhistle – 1hr 40mins

So what happened?
Barbershop rehearsal that week was cancelled due to weather – that would’ve been about 1 3/4 hrs. I didn’t go to choir practice either – another 60 mins lost – and no singing lesson – another 30 mins lost.
Then I was feeling a bit tired and not particularly motivated the rest of the week. The pennywhistle ended up with the most because it’s easy to pick up and play. The piano (keyboard) got  more time because of new sheet music to sight read. Also, the table where the keyboard is, was kept neat enough to be usable without too much tidying up first effort.

So…. already I can see that having an organized space to practice in is one of the challenges facing me. I spent yesterday tidying/rearranging things, but the “music table” got everything dumped on it while I was working on other areas. Straightening that out will be today’s priority. Getting to choir practice today is also a priority. Can’t help bad weather though!

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