Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More like semi-colons now

Ten days. That's what it says on this handy little app I have on my iPod that tracks the comings and goings of my monthly friend. The Red Menace. Aunt Flo. The Crimson Tide. Shark Week. I used to be like clockwork, as they say, and so I knew very, very early when I was pregnant with each of my girls. One day late and eight EPTs later? Bingo.

Now, I am a wee bit older, and the clock doesn't keep time like it used to. Thus I downloaded the handy app to see if there was any kind of pattern so I could have some sense of predictability. Turns out my cycle has just gone down from 28 days to around 23 or so. Which means I should have seen the red carpet rolled out oh, about TEN DAYS AGO.

Now, my wonderful husband is, as they say, shooting blanks these days, thanks to the nimble scalpels at Arundel Urology. We are done having kids. Oh so done. So very, very done. I am not - as far as I know - having a torrid affair with anyone. So, unless there has been some sort of spontaneous regeneration of critical tubes or it turns out that it IS in fact possible to get pregnant just from watching George Clooney be charming (Emmys!), then this must be just a product of my perimenopausal endocrine system. Right? RIGHT????

I just don't think it's healthy for a 41-year-old out-of-shape woman with high blood pressure and questionable emotional stability to have a pregnancy scare, no matter how unlikely. But it does make me consider the fact that my car troubles were entirely due to the fact that I hadn't changed my oil in over a year, and thus wonder if I've done something equally as stupid with my own body that is preventing the arrival of the Ketchup Monster. Or perhaps my own oil refuses to change in some sort of twisted solidarity with my car. Next it'll be wanting its spark pistons re-bored or something.

IN THE MEANTIME, in between Googling "spontaneous recanalization of the vas deferens" and ignoring my car maintenance, I have been working on my quilt:

It has gotten so large, it's difficult to hang it straight, and I'm too lazy to move the chair and ironing board out of the way - but you get the idea. It is, as they say (and they've been saying an awful lot today, haven't they?) pretty fucking awesome. I have still committed to pressing all the seams open and though I think this was the right choice, it is still a major pain in the ass. Every time I go to press the row I just sewed on, I realize that all the other rows I so painstakingly flattened have just closed up again. It's like they're not really taking me seriously, like I was just suggesting that they might want to lie flat, but, you know, do whatever works for you.

I know there is a tradition of naming one's quilts, something I've never really indulged in before, since nothing seemed to warrant it, but I think this quilt deserves a name. Right now I'm leaning towards I'M NOT PREGNANT, DAMMIT - but I'd like to hear your suggestions as well. I'm assuming most of you have more experience at naming quilts than I do, and can maybe come up with something that doesn't involve a clogged up throttle.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Apologies may be in order

I have just been making some updates and changes on the old bloggy-poo here, and in doing so I discovered a whole bunch of comments awaiting moderation. Usually, whenever anyone leaves a comment, I get an email, and from there I can publish or delete the comment. Somehow, several emails never came through, and I never check the "moderate comments" page, on the assumption that the emails make it unnecessary. So, to anyone whose comment was delayed by several days or even longer, I sincerely apologize.

One of those comments was a request to have an email notification for new posts, so I have set that up as well. Over to the right, underneath the eerily accurate avatar of my lovely visage, is a place to sign up. I won't have access to your email address, but you should be notified anytime I manage to get off my lazy butt and write something new.

Please let me know if you sign up and end up with a lot of Feedburner spam you weren't expecting.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Procrastination is makin' me way-yay-yay-yait.

Now that the first week of school is drawing to a close, I have completed most of the tasks I needed to accomplish and couldn't with a six-year-old attached to my leg, and I am now stuck at home because my car is finally being worked on at the You Don't Know What You're Talking About, Lady auto repair shop. I finally determined that my car was stalling because it is idling too low, and I discovered that if I turned the air on high, the RPMs went up enough to keep the car from stalling out in most situations. This is how I've been driving it for the last several weeks until we could scrape up enough cash to get it repaired. I drove the car to the repair shop today and tested it again in the parking lot, just to be sure. Yep, put the car in neutral, shut off the A/C and the car stalled. So I tell Mr. Whooziewhatsit at the front desk all this, and he says the blower motor doesn't have anything to do with how fast the engine idles. Then looks at me like, Well? What do you have to say to that? And of course what I want to say is, You wanna come out and see it for yourself, bitch? But I don't, because I'm a pussy.

So now I wait for the phone call that either says, "We figured it out and it will cost you more than you have," or "We can't figure it out because the computer says everything is fine and we don't know how to diagnose a car problem without a computer," or "We fixed something, but something else is going to break even worse next week." This is now paying me back for all those years when I would take the car in and the phone call was always, "We fixed it and it wasn't bad and we're not even going to charge you that much for it because it was so easy we'd be embarrassed to take money for that kind of thing."*

My husband is working from home today so that I could use his car while mine is being mishandled, so I can't do what I usually do when I need to be writing but I can't think of what to write - and that is put on my big headphones and crank the volume on iTunes to 11 and listen to music that makes me dance and laugh like crazy. There's obvious stuff like Flight of the Conchords and Tenacious D, but the real gems are pop and dance songs with some really stupid, yet earnest, lyrics. My current favorite is this:

I think that song is HILARIOUS. It's actually funnier when you don't watch the video. I now instruct my husband to call me "Shawty" and even the girls now run around the house singing, "Somebody call 911!"

But I digress. Because I should be trying to figure out what to write for my next Quilter's Home column, and nothing is coming to mind yet, and I'm sure they're going to tell me it's due, like, Monday, on the assumption that I've been working on it diligently and will turn it in even earlier, like I usually do. But no. I even have an idea list posted on my wall and any time I actually use one of them I get to cross it off, and I've only crossed off three and there's eight left, but none of them seem promising right now.

So, if I can't dance and I can't write, I guess all that's left is either cleaning or quilting. I'm guessing that bathtub is still gonna have a ring come dinnertime.

* HA! Repair guy just called and asked if it had really been 17,000 miles since I last changed the oil. And I wanted to say, YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE, BITCH but I didn't, because I'm a pussy. And, yes, it had been. And apparently that's all the poor car needed. I told you I was slacking off on the routine maintenance thing. Oil changes are one of those things I will always get around to tomorrow or next week, until suddenly, it's been a year and my car is choking to death and I'm putting it off even longer because I think it actually needs a new carburator implosion system or something. So, um, yay! Except for the part where I have to go pick it up and all the mechanics will gather to stare at the idiot who doesn't have the sense to change the oil more than once every 15 months.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Ballad of the Crafty Loner

Yeah, I know it's been a while. All my dreams of posting more often are thwarted by the fact that I am psychologically fragile and currently in a state of near catatonia, due to the fact that I haven't been alone for any length of time since mid-June. Now, every time I express a measure of dissatisfaction with having one or both of my kids around me 24/7, somebody pipes up and says something about how these are the most precious years of their lives and I need to appreciate them because they'll never come again and Hallmark and lollipops and LALALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU. Seriously, y'all, I appreciate the hell out of those little monsters, but it doesn't change the fact that their mother is an introvert who thrives on being alone. I am perfectly happy to play school and dress-up and to bake cupcakes and dig for worms, and I love that I've had the time to do all that this summer, but at the same time, I have done everything - shower, pee, everything - with someone by my side. My brain is wired in such a way that prolonged exposure to other people produces anxiety and severe crabbiness, eventually leading to hopelessness and probably death. School finally starts on Monday, however, and first I plan to sleep for as many hours as possible without someone trying to pry my eyelids open with sticky fingers, and then I am going to blast the most profanity-laden music I can find while dancing in my underwear and drinking tequila straight from the bottle. Then I'll probably clean something.

Despite the fact that I have had to stop any task I might try to engage in every 5 minutes to watch someone kick her leg in a particularly amusing fashion ("Mom! Watch this. This is SO funny!") I have managed to make progress on the triangle quilt:

Then last week, my birthday present arrived a few days before the actual event: a Kindle. Before the kids came along I generally read several books a week, and our tiny apartment was always overflowing with paperbacks. I read everything from the classics to pulp, but motherhood has made it more difficult to read as much as I would like. Add to that the fact that half my bookshelves (I once had six) were given to the girls for their rapidly expanding collection, and not having a lot of extra money, AND the horrid selection at the local library, and a Kindle seemed like a good investment. AND I LOVE IT. Since it arrived last Monday I have read A Room With a View, am halfway through Howard's End, and have the first Percy Jackson book as well as some crazy comic novel from one of those misogynistic British guys and a non-fiction book about space travel. I got a subscription to my beloved New Yorker magazine for only three bucks a month, and I can keep all these things together in one spot. But of course I am terrified that someone will try to use it as a dance floor for a Polly Pocket, so it needed a cover.

I searched all over the net for a pattern, and mostly what I found were just pouches. I wanted one that would be like a cover, where the Kindle would be left in it, and finally discovered it in the January 2010 issue of Quilter's Home. This was my first one:

I thought the Moda Authentic fabric was perfect. I posted pictures of it on my personal Facebook page, and immediately all my friends started asking when I was going to start taking orders for them. It occurred to me that it might not be a bad idea, since I only found one seller on Etsy who sold anything like what I was looking for. This got Harper all in a tizzy, because her entire life lately has been devoted to complaining about the fact that we are not billionaires like London Tipton (and if you don't know who that is, you are very, very lucky and should not pursue it further). In her twisted six-year-old mind, any amount of money is enough to make you rich, so she figures I'm sitting on a cash cow here and I BETTER START SEWING. I did want to see if I could work out some of the kinks, so that I could make them consistently, so I made a second one, this time with a pocket:

The bottom right strap ended up off, so I will have to watch that if I decide to try to make them to sell, and of course I got the Kindle 2 so I will probably have to figure out how to modify it for the new, smaller version. And the whole thing is probably moot anyway because I'm sure it's illegal to sell stuff you make from a magazine pattern.* But they sure are fun to make.

Now if you all will excuse me, the CEO of MegCorp thinks I need to get back in the sweatshop and crank out some moneymakers. And get her some fruit leather. And watch her do that leg kick thing again.

*Update: Yep. Totally illegal. Oh well.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Half-square triangles tutorial

I've had several questions about how I did the triangles for the quilt I'm currently working on, and I thought maybe I'd give you all a little how-to. This is the way my sister taught me, and it has several advantages, the main ones being that it's fast and hard to screw up. Those are generally my criteria with any quilting method: fast and hard to screw up.

There is one main tool that you will need for this method, though it could conceivably be done without it. I use this ruler, from Quilt in a Day by Eleanor Burns:

From The Bitchy Stitcher

Inside the package, she has a chart for cutting your fabric. So, you choose the size you want your finished HST blocks to be - I chose 3 inches (or 3 1/2 unfinished) - and then cut out your fabric in large squares according to the chart. To get HSTs at 3 inches, my big squares need to be 8 inches.

I cut 90 8-inch squares from several batik fat quarters and 90 8-inch squares from Kona cotton in white.

Before placing two of the squares together, take one square (in my case I always used the white, so the marks would show easily), and using your preferred fabric marking tool and a ruler, draw an x across the square from corner to corner (on the wrong side, if using a print):

After marking, lay your two squares together (right side to right side if not using solids or batiks). Pin at each side to hold in place. Using your marks as a guide, stitch along both sides of each line, using a 1/4-inch seam allowance.

Remove pins and press to set stitches.

Now, you are going to cut this square 4 times. Once along each of your drawn lines and once vertically and horizontally. This will produce 8 triangle-square units

Each block you have just produced will be slightly larger than 3.5 inches, so you'll need to trim them. Before pressing them open, lay your Eleanor Burns-approved ruler on the triangle, with the appropriate line on the ruler over the seam line on your block, like so:

Trim the excess on either side of the ruler.

Press open and trim the little tails from the corners. To make 8 blocks from one 8-inch square probably took me between 5 and 10 minutes, with the longer times having more to do with the constant interruptions from my children than from any difficulties. So assuming even 15 minutes for each set of 8, it took me about 3 hours total to make 720. Not that I did it all at once. Even I have a limit for how many times I can repeat the same task over and over in one day.

I'm sure someone with a head for such things could figure out how to do this without one of Eleanor's fancy-schmancy rulers; any right angled ruler would do if you can figure out how to mark that seam line. I noted that the red line for a 3.5-inch square is exactly 2.5 inches from the corner of the ruler. (Okay, here's how. Take the size of your unfinished square - in this case 3.5 - and multiply it by the square root of 2. Then divide that number in half. There's probably a shorter way, but I have to think of it that way or I get confused.)

I hope this helps make half square triangles (or half triangle squares, whichever seems more accurate to you) not so scary and daunting. Next I'll show you how I figured out the layout for the quilt. 

Now please enjoy this cartoon from the inimitable Natalie Dee:


Friday, August 6, 2010

In which I go from being charmingly self-deprecating to totally full of myself.

Can I quilt, or can I quilt? Who's with me? C'mon - up top. Who's got a terrorist fist bump for my awesomeness? Hello? Hellooooo? Hey. Where are you all going?

Honestly, though, this quilt is just sailing along, and I was certain I'd be in tears by this point. The funky seams on HSTs always give my machines a fit, and make me wish I had accepted my mom's offer of her old Singer back when I started sewing. But, save for a few hiccups here and there, I've been able to anticipate the problems and take measures to prevent them. If you were to look closely, and I'd probably tackle you and drag you away by your hair before I'd ever let you do that, you'd see some not-too-precise intersections, but a lot of them are dang-near perfect, and that suits me just fine.

The worst part is the ironing (excuse me - pressing). I elected to press all my seams open, and that is just a major undertaking with a quilt this big. And of course, as I'm gently and carefully trying to open the seams and flatten them gently with my huge-ass iron, I end up messing up all the other seams around them. I finally purchased one of those wee little irons that so many people seem to love, thinking that it might solve my iron trespassing issues, but it was about as useful as glaring at the seams to make them flatten out.

Oh, and here's my submission for Parent of the Year. We had a brief power outage when I had stepped away from my machine, and when it came back on, the needle reverted to its default position, which is not remotely near the opening in my quarter-inch foot. So I blithely went back to sew, and the needle came slamming down on the foot, breaking in half, and causing all kinds of alarms and safety shut-off measures. Since I have done this very thing approximately twelve thousand times (we have a lot of power outages here), I took it in stride and didn't say anything after my little "Oh!" of surprise. So, Harper, who is never farther than three feet from me at all times these days, says, "Isn't this the point where you're supposed to say, 'Shit!'?"

Yes, honey. Yes it is.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sharing is caring

Lemme see...should I start with the quilt or the car? Quilt or car? Yeah, I'm going with the car.

About two weeks ago, my husband called me from work to say that he was having trouble starting his car. His car is a 2000 Saturn LS, and it has well over 100k on it at this point. We have only about 7 payments left on my car, and I was praying to whatever deities deal with this sort of thing that his car would last long enough to get mine paid off, so we wouldn't have to try to swing two car payments, even for a few months. Of course, any god worth his salt wouldn't grant such a wish since this is what parenting types call a "teaching opportunity." See, once upon a time (which, in my parlance, always means "before I had children"), David and I were hyper-responsible about routine car maintenance. Oil changes, tune ups, spark converter adjustments, valve bearing load bushing combustion alignments: all done precisely when the manufacturer recommended. Then I produced a live human from my own body and along with approximately seven million gallons of breast milk, she also apparently sucked out the part of my brain that deals with such things. This includes doctor appointments, insurance renewal, bill paying, even taking medication. I'm lucky if I manage to take my blood pressure medication every other day.

So, we haven't exactly treated the car very well, so asking it to last another seven months was probably pushing fate too far. He took it in for service, and $600 later we had a new starter and a new battery. Five days later, he was getting in the car to come home from work, and it wouldn't start again. Examination showed that the starter was working, as was the battery, so he had the car towed to a mechanic nearby and hitched a ride home with a co-worker. Yesterday, the mechanic finally looked at the car and pronounced it dead, killed by a broken timing chain. We could get a new engine or a new car.

I know someone will argue with me, but we've decided to go with a new car. I just can't see putting another engine in an old Saturn, and who knows what it would take to find an engine and whether it would be in good enough condition to use. So we called the credit union today and they looked at our credit rating, and after the laughter subsided, we were approved for a not totally outrageous rate on a car loan. But until we can actually get to the dealership to get the car we want, we have to play Who Gets the Other Unreliable Vehicle for several days. David tends to win, since he is gainfully employed and all, and I just sit around the house eating pizza flavored goldfish crackers and complaining about how he doesn't make enough money to buy me more fat quarters. I WONDER HOW HE FEELS ABOUT THAT? I'm not even going to go into the question of how we are going to pay for the car, because that will surely send someone over the edge. Possibly me.

On Monday, I finished the second of two feature articles I am writing for the December/January issue of Quilter's Home, and that accomplishment has freed up my time a bit to work on the HST quilt. I completed 720 blocks, each half bright batik, half white, and spent the weekend mulling over how to lay them out:

I ultimately decided to go with the latter, but because I am a stitcher of very little brain, there was no way - or so I thought - that I could figure out how to sew each row without laying out the entire thing first. I didn't want to try to do it on the floor, because that would be too much of a temptation for DESTRUCTO-GIRL, The Toddler Terror, Destroyer of Worlds. No, clearly it was time for a design wall.

For the 1.5 readers out there who are not quilters and don't know what a design wall is, it's basically just a large piece of flannel, usually tacked to a wall, upon which one can stick quilt blocks in order to see how they will look before sewing them together. Kinda like those felt things they used to always have in vacation Bible school when I was a kid, to show how Joseph and his coat of many locusts destroyed the walls of Jericho and turned into a pillar of Sodomites. Or something like that. I figured a flannel sheet would be easier than buying yardage and sewing it together, but as it turns out, you can't actually buy a flannel sheet anywhere in August. You can no longer buy a bathing suit anywhere (not that I would, but still) or a pair of shorts, and you can load up on parkas and snowboots, but apparently flannel sheet season is not the same as fall fashion season. WHO KNOWS WHY? So, yardage it was.

Once I got it sewn together and tacked up, I realized that I just needed to lay out the two center rows, and I could work outward from there without having to place every single piece on the wall.

Harper naturally asked me for whom I was making this quilt, and I told her, "Me." She seemed shocked at this. Why on earth would I make a quilt just for myself when there is a perfectly deserving six-year-old standing right in front of me who only has FIVE quilts? When I refused to cede ownership of the quilt to her, she countered with, "I think this quilt should belong to everybody in our whole family. You're supposed to share, Mom." That got Devon started. "Yeah. You're supposed to share, Mom." David just waggled his eyebrows at me, since he also feels I possess things I do not share enough. Wouldn't want to leave THAT out of a family conversation, now would we?

At the rate I'm going, it will take several weeks to finish, but it is going to be damn beautiful when it is done. Maybe my husband even have a working vehicle by that point. And he damn well better share.