Monday, December 13, 2010

last flyball tournament of the year

The first weekend of December was the last flyball tournament of the year, held up in Abbotsford BC. Despite the very cold temperatures the weather was dry and sunny, and with the nice heated barn we were perfectly comfortable during the race day. We had a good time with not only our teammates but many of our flyball friends from other clubs, and it was a great way to wrap up the year of flyball. Our next tournament isn't until mid-March, which is one of the longest breaks we've had since we began attending tournaments regularly in late 2004.

The border collies relax in their e-pen between races...well as much as border collies EVER relax!

Phoebe has her own crate for tournaments, fondly referred to as the PCU - Phoebe Containment Unit. This way she has her own space, much warmer coverings, and doesn't get stepped on (and therefore pissy) by the border collies. Incidentally, she is now up to number 47 on the top-scoring Jack/Parson Russell Terrier list with NAFA. Flyball does end up being her main redeeming quality, and she is very, very good at it!

We worked together with our friends from Muddy Paws A'Flyin (Salem, OR) to enter three teams into this tournament. As you can see, our board was quite full of races - and the day before, Jadzia ran on the Portland Tail Blazers team, making it four teams we were involved with! All of the dogs ran really well, especially since so many of them had never run together before, and a good time (and many points!) was had by all.

Finally, what would a tournament be without neat prizes? First up is one of the "I <3 Flyball" keychain/pulls that the hosting club (Dogwood Pacesettters) made for all attendees, which are super awesome. My husband wasn't particularly attached to having one himself, so I got to keep his too - I have a green-bead one that's on my Can-Am tote bag, and this purple-bead one that's on the messenger bag that I carry for work.

And secondly, I did a favor for some friends who are also artists, and as a thank-you they made me the most delightful Christmas tree ornament - a replica of our flyball box, loaded with a tennis ball on the side Ezri takes from! It's really amazing, just a few inches tall and with tons of detail, and I absolutely adore it!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

thanksgiving and the holidays!

Two weeks ago, it was Thanksgiving. Despite the wintry weather we had in the days leading up to the holiday, we had everything we needed for a great celebration. Our friends Jeremy, Christy, and Brian (from our D&D group) joined us for dinner, a movie, and Rock Band, and a good time was had by all. I enjoy making Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps because it is only once a year, and everything came out very well.

The turkeys came out very well, with their "before" shot to the left as they were prepped and ready to go into the oven. The long brining really affected the sweet-brined turkey that was wrapped in bacon, as between the two it came out tasting almost like ham! The savory-brined turkey was rubbed with olive oil and stuffed with sage, basil, rosemary, and garlic, and it was amazing as well. My mashed potatoes were a little off, as I cooked them a bit too early and left them in the pot, which caused them to absorb some water, but they were acceptable. The biscuit rolls also got a little worse for wear after being put into a warm crockpot after baking, I think they actually baked a little more while waiting for dinner, so I'll need to adjust that for next year. Everything else was great, however, and I even got some tasty flavored butters from one of the local creameries so I didn't have to make them myself. Yay for Thanksgiving dinner!

Thanksgiving also means I can use our lovely china service, which has been steadily building up since our wedding thanks to gifts from our parents, and my set of sterling silver which was given to me by my Nana as a wedding gift. The crystal goblets were an engagement gift from Chris' paternal grandparents, so nearly everything on the table is a family gift of some sort. Very appropriate to use them for Thanksgiving! I only wish I had a few more excuses to use them throughout the year, but the hand-washing and delicate nature make it not a good idea to use them every day.

Once Thanksgiving was over, it was time to decorate the house for Christmas. Not everything is up yet, but the lights went up on Saturday after Thanksgiving, complete with the annual "drat too many lights died let's race out to Target for more" trip. As usual I handled the lights up on the roof (white icicles with multicolored along the edge) and Chris handled the lights on the ground (green rope around the sidewalk and purple in the rock/plants). This year he expanded his plans and began running colored larger LED's in the bushes alongside the road, and they look great too. Eventually the colored lights might make it all the way out to the stop sign, but not this year!

Since we are traveling back to New Jersey for the actual Christmas holiday, we are not getting a real tree this year so as to not worry about it while we are gone. Instead we found an inexpensive pre-lit 5' tree at Home Depot that I set up in the window seat in the dining room. I decorated it last week with colored lights, a bow for the topper, a bit of bead garland, and as many ornaments as could fit on it. I was actually able to put nearly all of our unique ornaments on the tree, leaving off many of the fillers (glass orbs, metal icicles, etc.) although I did put plenty of our purple bells on the tree for tradition sake. I'm really pleased with how it came out! Yes, there are already presents under it - my mom sent most of them home with me when I saw her in Indiana in October. We will probably have a small "Christmas Morning" on the 23rd before we fly out to open these and any presents to/from each other that are too big to travel easily. I'm not a big fan of splitting up Christmas like that, but I also don't want to ship things two or three times, or end up with something that can't be used in New Jersey anyway. So I will look at the positive side - yay two Christmases!

And of course, no holiday is complete without embarrassing the dogs.

Ezri wants to know why do I do these things to her?

Curzon will do anything to be called a good boy!

No silly picture of Jadzia, as she was at work with Chris when I was taking these shots. :) Speaking of photos, we did a wonderful photo shoot with our friend Amy at Artis Photography on the 28th, and we get to go see our photos tonight! I can't wait - they take SUCH good action shots of the dogs!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

six hours and forty minutes

That was the length of time it took us to get home yesterday, a commute of about 23 miles that even in bad evening commute traffic rarely takes more than 45-60 minutes. However, a winter storm hit around 2:30pm yesterday which rapidly iced the roads and snarled traffic, causing plenty of wrecks, road closures, and general mayhem. The city claims that the traffic meant they couldn't deploy their plows and sand/brine/salt trucks, but in our entire journey we never saw a single one.

Chris picked me up at 3:30pm, as we had carpooled in due to the snow making it inadvisable to ride our motorcycles. It took almost four hours to make it out to I-5, most of it sitting on Mercer Avenue as the traffic tried to merge onto the highway. We sat in unmoving traffic for so long that we took turns walking to the nearby grocery store to get dinner and use the restroom - and it's a good thing we did! Once we were on the highway it took another 2.5 hours to go four miles over the ship canal bridge and around a jackknifed semi near the 65th Street exit. We had plenty of adventure along the way, including pulling up alongside a vanpool of my coworkers and chatting, and having another beleaguered driver ask me to please call her daughter and tell her where she was. Once we cleared the wreck the road was simply snow and ice covered, as the photo above will attest, but was otherwise easy to travel, and it only took us another half-hour to go the remaining 15 miles of our trip.

With parts of I-5 closed this morning, many Metro bus routes shut down, tons of power outages (not us, thankfully), and all schools within a ~100 mile radius closed, we chose to stay put and work from home for the day. The temperature is dropping again tonight, after never having made it above freezing today, so the likelihood of going anywhere tomorrow is also rather slim. I never thought I would be thankful to be working on so many papers at work!

This evening I caught up on my Thanksgiving preparations, which had fallen behind due to yesterday's debacle. I've made the pumpkin pies and the chocolate pies, with the former using a new gluten-free crust that looks much better than ones I've used in the past. I've also hard-boiled the eggs that will be deviled tomorrow, and made up both sweet and savory brines for the two turkey breasts to marinate in until Thursday. The brine recipes were posted a while back, and I made a few modifications. The sweet brine has brown sugar added to it this year, and the savory brine has more garlic cloves (to use up the head), no toasted onions (due to a mishap last week with the rest of my jar), added mustard, and no peppercorns (because I forgot). I'll mix and flip the meat 2-3 times tomorrow and one last time on Thursday morning, before they get roasted for dinner.

Now, we are just hoping that our guests will be able to make it to our house safely! Otherwise, we've got a lot of turkey and pie to eat...

Monday, November 22, 2010

wintertime is here again

So the talking heads have decreed that this will be a harsher winter than usual for the Pacific Northwest, with snow and cold in levels not seen for fifty years. Surprisingly, it looks like they might be right. Not only has it snowed in the mountains enough for several ski resorts to open before Thanksgiving - Crystal and Baker opened last weekend - but it has actually snowed down in the Seattle metro area.

First snow at our house was on Sunday November 21 - it didn't stick around, but it did make the trees look awfully pretty. This will be our tenth winter in Seattle, and this is the first time I think it's snowed at our hose in November.

This morning we were greeted with 25F temperatures and news stories of snow in the city, despite nothing happening at our house yet, so we drove the Subaru into work together. There was indeed plenty of snow downtown already, with the above picture taken from the window of my lab. Note that my work campus is directly on the Puget Sound, so we are at sea level. There was slush on both the 520W - 5S interchange as well as all over the flyover into work, so it is a very good thing we decided to drive instead of ride our motorcycles.

The snow has come and gone in waves, with a good bit on the ground so far although most of the main roads remain clear. I don't expect us to have a problem getting home, although dealing with the rest of the population that has no idea how to drive in snow (or even on wet pavement some days!) might be a challenge. The interesting bit will be if the forecast of a temperature drop into the mid-teens along with 30-40mph winds tonight comes true - that could make tomorrow very interesting!

Welcome, Winter 2010!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

sewing machines, part one

Over the past few years, I've started to quilt and sew, strangely enough. I began with a project that still remains unfinished, namely a queen-sized quilt that I've completed about half of the blocks required for the top. After becoming overwhelmed at this project (protip - don't pick a queen-sized bedspread for your first quilt!), I put it away and waited for a little while for another idea to come around. Late in 2008 I visited the fabric outlet down in Portland with my friends Julie and Lindsey, and I picked up the fabric for my first small project - three matching butterfly-print quilts, done as a simple 8x8 arrangement of 6" square blocks, for my mother, my sister, and myself. I finished one in April 2009 for my sister's birthday, one in May 2009 for Mother's Day, and finished mine in December 2009 just in time to take with me to Phoenix on a flyball road trip. Next I made a baby quilt for little baby Finley, which was described in an earlier post, and that's the quilt where I really started outgrowing the capabilities of my sewing machine...and so the trouble started.

The sewing machine I had been working on was actually one that Chris received as a Christmas present in 1998 or so, a Janome L-108 machine which was pretty simple but did its job well for various small projects through college. It's shown in the photo to the left, taken after I rearranged the music/craft room into a sewing room earlier this year. The problems that I started having with it were fabric travel and inaccurate piecing, namely having difficulty doing accurate seam allowances which is critical for doing any complicated quilt work. So I kept working on the baby quilt, while beginning to look up information on what sewing machines were available these days. The answer to that question is a LOT, with many different brands to choose from and price points from $100 up to $10,000 depending on what features and brand you go with! I ended up trying out several different machines with an eye to finding one that I liked for quilting specifically, and ended up purchasing a Janome MemoryCraft 6600P on the weekend of my birthday this year. However, that was just the start of my journey...and this machine will get its very own post later, mainly because I don't have any pictures of it online!

Around the time that I was getting ready to buy the MC6600P, I noticed a post on my local Freecycle for a "Pfaff sewing machine in cabinet" that was available for pickup (free, as per the group rules). It turned out to be just a few blocks from our house, we had Truck Norris, so I convinced Chris to take me to pick it up. It turned out to be a 1951 Pfaff 130 (one of the first zig-zag sewing machines), which is quite popular with many groups including sailors, outdoorsy folk, and dog folk, as it easily handles sailcloth, webbing, and other difficult and thick fabrics. The lady who gave it to me told me it belonged to her grandmother, and that she hadn't used it in years since obtaining it. The drawers were full of items, including accessories, very old spare parts (the extra belt for the sewing machine was listed as $0.75!), and the manual and original warranty card (marked June 1951). We got it home and I figured out how to plug it in and use it, which took a bit since I'd never seen a knee pedal before, and to my great surprise the machine worked! It wasn't smooth and the wiring was downright frightening, but it did in fact work despite the ten years or so of neglect before I brought it home. The cabinet also badly needed a refinish, although it was very solid and structurally sound, and I wanted to change the knee pedal to a foot pedal.

The photo to the right was taken after I refinished the cabinet (an adventure all on its own!) and had the machine refurbished slightly (it needed a new motor, a foot pedal, and a tuneup). I even painted the insides of the drawers a bright purple, and replaced the ugly drawer pulls with some pretty copper-colored ones from Lowes. The adventure of refinishing the cabinet could fill up a whole post on its own, however! The machine is working, although it's been giving me some fits with what I want to do right now (sew webbing to make leashes and e-pen straps), and I need to take some more time with it to figure out what's wrong and fix it. I really like using it, it sounds very nice, and it's awesome to have a machine actually sunk into a cabinet and at the right height for me to use for sewing.

Just a few weeks later, I was perusing craigslist for the heck of it and found another interesting machine very inexpensively at a secondhand store near my house. I was largely interested for the case it came in, as that seemed like it would also fit the Pfaff so I could take that places if I wanted to, so I went to take a look. It turned out to be an unused (still partially in styrofoam) 1997 Singer NL-15, which is a reproduction model of a 15-91 from the early 1900s, so while it has the same look and similar (albeit slightly more garish) decals as those early models, it's very recently made and probably not the best quality. It is a straight stitch only machine, and it does that job reasonably well - I took it with me on our vacation to Cannon Beach and used it to make a crate cover for Phoebe's new crate. There's definitely nothing wrong with it, although I can see where it's not as precise as the Pfaff or either of my Janomes, and so I wouldn't want to use it for anything critical or complicated. However, it is a machine that can also be very easily converted to a hand-crank or treadle model, so between that and the shiny pretty decals I decided to keep it. Right now it's living on top of my storage cabinet in the sewing room, where the lovely decals are visible for all to see.

Wow, this post is already longer than I expected! Stay tuned for Part Two, which will cover my quality Singer machines!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

so, what about the bikes and the books?

Recent updates have included the border collies and other topics, but what about the first two topics that are in the name of this blog? Well, don't worry, for books and bikes are still very big parts of our lives! We are both still commuting via motorcycle, although we are prepared with the two all-wheel-drive vehicles should the dire predictions of a very cold and snowy winter come true. And we are both still going through books, especially now that Chris has discovered his love for audiobooks which he listens to while commuting and doing chores around the house.

My bike just turned 25,000 miles a few weeks ago, and had its last major service at 24k miles...except for replacing the belt on the belt drive, which will be done this weekend. I put that off until after the Can-Am trip, as the 24k service was expensive enough without adding in that replacement cost as well! As of today, I've worked 195 days this year and ridden to work 180 of them, with 3 days unrideable due to weather and 4 days unrideable due to the bike being in the shop. So out of 188 possible days I could ride, I've ridden a total of 180 for a percentage of 95.7% - pretty awesome! Just about each one of the 8 days that I didn't ride was for a reason like taking the dogs to the vet, or bringing things to work to be shipped (EJS lights, anyone?). The former reason doesn't apply anymore, unfortunately, as dogs are not even allowed on my work campus anymore (not even in your own car), so if they have to go to the vet I either have to miss most of a day of work or have Chris drive to work and trade me the car/dog for my bike when it's time for their appointment.

Chris' bike is just over 32,000 miles and is currently in the shop for not only the 32k service but also because his speedometer assembly died last week, meaning neither the speedometer nor the odometer are working properly. Other than shop time, he's ridden nearly as much as I have, although now that he has his own office at work and since dogs are welcome, he may end up driving more often so he can take Jadzia to work with him. She's quite a good office dog, as it turns out, happily greeting people or snoozing in her bed under his desk, and she's excellent at guarding his office against prankers when he's away for a meeting.

On the books side of the equation, I joined the website GoodReads back in April, and am really enjoying its features quite a bit. Every book I've tried to find has been in their catalog, and with the combination of lists and custom lists available, I've found great utility in keeping track of books I've read, books I want to read, books that we've done for our book club, and so on. Of course I'm positive I haven't entered in every book that I've ever read, but I've currently got 605 books in my "read" category with another 31 in my "to-read" category. You can see what books are in your friends' lists, including seeing how you both rated the same book, write reviews, update on your reading progress, and so on. If nothing else, I'm loving it for the "to-read" list that works both online and via my iPhone app, so that if I see something interesting I can just toss it onto my list and pick it up later. So far I've read 47 books since April 1, when I joined the site, although I have read quite a few completely trashy novels that I don't put on the list. ;)

Chris doesn't find the time to sit down and read like I do, and he also does not read at the crazy speed I am able to, so he's recently found that he loves audio books since he can listen to them while riding/driving or doing other things around the house. He's gone through more than a basic Audible subscription in the past few months, and even found a neat sci-fi/fantasy book club online that he joins in every month by getting the book via Audible. This has worked out well since he can listen to a book, tell me about it, and I can read it quickly enough that we can discuss it soon thereafter. Yay!

I wonder how many more books we will go through before the end of the year...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

quilting projects this year

So far this year I have been working on two quilts, in addition to a few smaller sewing projects, both to improve my sewing skills and to have fun and make nice things for people I care about. The first project that I did this year was a baby quilt for my friend Deborah, whose daughter Finley was born in late April. The baby's room was going to be done up primarily in greens, so I chose a palette of green, brown, and yellow to make a quilt with mixed blocks. Most baby blankets are 40" x 60" in size, so I decided to use 6" finished squares along with 1 4" x 6" finished rectangle per row, for a total of 10 rows of 7 pieces each. I picked out lots of fun fabrics, cut lots of squares (I have enough left over for another quilt of this style!), and then laid them out on my bed to find a pleasing arrangement. I then put the squares together into the 7-unit strips, then put the strips together to finalize the quilt top. The first backing that I chose was too light for the finished quilt (it was white with mint-green stripes), so I found a second fabric that was a nice dark green with white polka dots. I quilted the blanket using a feather stitch in diagonal rows with variegated green/yellow thread, which came out looking very lovely. Finally I used a gorgeous sage-green leaf print to put the binding on, and that was hand-sewn to the backing using the blind stitch that my friend Christy taught me. I finished off the blanket with a small tag noting the date and my name, and it was all done. I really like how it turned out, the weight is very nice and with the cotton on one side and the flannel on the other there are two options for how to use it for snuggling. It also turned out to be the perfect size for the bottom of the Pack-n-Play once folded in half, which is awesome and means I'll use that size for any future baby quilts that I make. Here's a picture of Ben holding up the finished quilt at the baby shower (both the above photo and this one are taken from Deborah's pictures on her blog).

The next quilt that I am still working on is a pattern from the book Quilter's Academy: Volume 1 Freshman Year which I am finding to be a great resource for basic quiltmaking techniques. While I don't quite agree with all that the authors talk about, I very much like how they've put together a skill-building course that involves making parts of a sampler and has at least 2 projects per skillset. The pattern I'm using is a modified log cabin that also uses character fabric panels, and since I am making it for my husband I chose a coffee theme with a touch of dog theme fabric. Once I chose the main fabric (the pattern for the panels, as well as coffee-cup fabric for the outer border), the color palette was set as blues and browns so I picked the other fabric to match. The inner border has flecks of red, and I found a beautiful red fabric with coffee beans on it too, which will be used for the binding.

It took me quite a while to make up the quilt top (shown with Chris holding it up at left), as the piecing was more complicated than simple blocks and I really wanted to take my time and make sure it came out well. I finally got the entire top finished in August, and then moved on to working on the backing and planning out my quilting pattern. I found a lovely blue swirl fabric for the backing, and even with cutting the outer border to follow the fabric directional design I had enough of that to put a stripe onto the backing to match. Since I had to piece the backing anyway due to the width of the quilt, I took the opportunity to put the coffee-cup fabric in as well, with the stripe offset from the middle up towards the top of the quilt (see picture to the right). It took using the ping-pong table in the basement and more safety pins than I expected to put this quilt sandwich together, I'll need more pins if I do quilts this big again! I've completed the quilting on the main part of the quilt, which I did using a large X across the pieced portion which was echoed by V shapes at a set spacing out to the inner border. That was done in blue thread, and finished by a stitch-in-the-ditch around the inside of the inner border also in blue thread. I'm still debating how to quilt the outer border but hope to decide and do that this week, and that quilting will be done in red thread. Once that's done then I just have to cut/make the binding and put it on, and the rest is just the handsewing to finish the binding and it's done! I hope to have it completed before we go to New Jersey for the Christmas holiday this year, so that we can take it with us on the plane.

I haven't done any sewing since before my trip to Can-Am, and I really wanted to play with a charm pack of Halloween fabric that I picked up when I got the backing fabric for Chris' quilt in August, so last night I made the pieced back of a small table runner using a "recipe" I got from the Moda Bakeshop blog. These fabrics just make me happy, it's really silly, but I like them a lot and this little project is perfect to do quickly to show them off. Below is a closeup of the center panel of the backing, followed by a larger photo showing the entire piece (the perspective is off because I used my phone in the other orientation to take the shot!).

That's all for now - next post will be about the scary proliferation of sewing machines that has occurred in the last eight months!

Friday, November 5, 2010

are you still there?

Almost seven months since my last update. Ooops. What I really wish I had was a way to download all of the blog posts I design in my head directly to the blog, as I've written lots mentally and just don't manage to get them online!

So, what have we been doing since April?

Lots of flyball, for starters. Seven regional tournaments since April, one of which was our own tournament that we hosted in late May in Seattle. Jadzia is rapidly closing in on her FGDCh-50k title, with Phoebe right on her heels. It's entirely possible that they will title at the same tournament next spring, depending on how the point totals run over the next few events. Curzon is back racing full-time, and earned his FGDCh in late March and is already halfway to his FGDCh-40k, and is consistently running 4.5's in cleanup position with as much enthusiasm as he ever had in start. Ezri earned her FM in April and her FMX in July, just after her first anniversary of racing. She's continued to speed up, consistently running in the mid-high 3.9's in start position and pulling out a PB of 3.863 in August, followed by a 3.896 in October.

At the beginning of October, my friend Deborah and I drove to Indianapolis, IN taking my truck/trailer rig, her 5-month-old daughter, and four of our dogs (Ezri, Curzon, Epic, and Indigo) in order to attend the NAFA Can-Am Classic (aka NAFA Flyball Nationals). We ran two teams combined with Canine Mutiny, the club Deborah ran with while she interned in Boston for a year, moving the red girls over to their club to race Regular and entering a JCJ team in Open with one of their height dogs. Deborah's husband Ben flew in for the weekend to run Epic and help with the baby, and my mother drove over from Virginia to see me, see her granddogs race, and also help us out with the baby. There's a ton to talk about from this event, and even more pictures, so I'll save the rest of it for its own blog post.

August brought us the annual nerdfest known as PAX (the Penny Arcade Expo), where Chris was an Enforcer for the third year and I took part in BYOC (bring your own computer) for the third time as well. This year we split the dogs amongst our kind friends and stayed in a hotel downtown for the weekend, which made the event much easier for both of us since there was no issue with how/when to get home to care for the critters. The event was a blast, I met some awesome people from Ars, and got to play a -ton- of games all weekend long. My favorites were getting to demo Portal 2 by actually playing it, finding a fun physical-puzzle game called Pajaggle, seeing the Penny Arcade D&D game live, and seeing Wil Wheaton's panel. I also took part in the Buttoneer exchange, which really made the event personal for me and also satisfied my dragonlike "must acquire shiny things" tendency nicely - I'm definitely going to do that again!

The events leading up to Portal 2 were probably the most entertaining, as I was lucky enough to be brought along with an Omeganaut as his "plus one" to enter the Expo Hall on Saturday morning before the regular crowd. We made a beeline for the Portal 2 exhibit, and were in the second group to go in for the day (and got t-shirts, yay!). I happened to be wearing my Portal t-shirt as well, which might have influenced what happened next. As we sat down in the theater, one of the booth people came up to me and we had the following conversation:

Booth Guy: Did you play Portal?
Me: Yep!
BG: Do you know how to use an Xbox controller?
Me: Yep!
BG: Do you want to help us demo Portal 2?

So I got to play the second player during the co-op demonstration of the game! It was WAY fun, even moreso than Portal, because now there are two players with two portal guns, making all kinds of neat things possible. The game comes out around my birthday, and I know what I'll be playing that weekend!

I have also been sewing more, including taking an awesome class on how to maintain my Featherweight sewing machine(s) as well as further reorganizing my sewing room. I'm up to a total of six sewing machines now, which may alarm some people, but oddly enough they all have their uses. My fancy Janome MC6600P is my main machine, and I've been using it to work on a quilt that I'm making for Chris, partially shown in this photo. I've also picked up a Featherweight to use for going to classes, so now I really need to FIND some classes that will work with my schedule, and I used it to piece the borders on the quilt as well. I got a second one very inexpensively from Craigslist, that I will try to refurbish and if that fails I will use it for parts for the first one - they are 50-year-old machines, after all! I picked up a really pretty replica Singer with sphinx decals that I wound up taking on vacation, again inexpensive and while not as good as the Featherweights it is certainly lovely to look at. I finally refinished the cabinet and refurbished the Pfaff 130 that I picked up from Freecycle in February, and I'm trying to figure out how to make it work on some thick webbing in order to make various dog-related items. And of course, we still have the original Janome L-108 that Chris got for Christmas in 1998, as it's the only free-arm machine in the house should we need to hem or mend something!

That should be enough to get over the "oh I haven't posted in so long!" hump, so here's to another post next week! We're heading to Canada for a tournament this weekend, so no online access until late on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

another motorcycling milestone - 20,000 miles

Yesterday on my way home, on the express lanes just before the merge back to I-5 at Northgate to be precise, my bike turned over 20,000 miles. Obviously I have no way to take a picture while riding, so here is one I took this morning.

The last few months have been interesting, not least of which was due to the problems discovered with the bike in February. My ABS suddenly began having fits where it would turn off randomly, only turning back on after restarting the bike. Nothing in the users' manual provided any help, so I made an appointment to take the bike in to have them look at the computer. The morning I was to take the bike in, the auto-shutoff for my turn signals stopped working, which was even stranger. So I rolled into Ride West that afternoon, and the guys started looking at the bike to try and figure out what was wrong. A few minutes later one of the senior techs walked over, squinted at the bike, and then popped it up onto the center stand to show us what was wrong.

The back wheel had about 2" of play in it, meaning it was (a) knocking against the sensors that control the ABS and the turn signal shutoff and (b) in danger of falling off.

Needless to say, the bike stayed there that day and Chris had to come pick me up from the shop. They were able to order a new back wheel assembly, and this was easily covered under warranty so it did not cost me anything. However, they could not tell me how long the problem had occurred, just that it was probably gradual since I had not noticed a sudden change in how the bike handles.

When I got the bike back after the repair was complete, it was like night and day how it handled from when I dropped it off. Curves that I had been taking very slowly recently were now not a problem, turns no longer required hard braking, and the bike generally felt more stable. I had thought my slower curves/turns were simply due to a bit of lingering uneasiness from the getoff last July, but it turns out that I was unconsciously compensating for the changes in the bike's handling characteristics as the back wheel degraded over time. It's entirely possible that the wheel had started to degrade as far back as July, which means that while it was not the cause of my getoff on those steel plates, it is entirely possible that the reduced handling contributed to the accident. I'll never know for sure, unfortunately, but now I'm being extra paranoid about paying attention to the bike and how it's performing each and every time I ride it.

Now if I could just pop it up onto the center stand myself to check on it from time to time...unfortunately, that is simply beyond my abilities. I suppose that's why I have a husband!

Monday, April 19, 2010


I think I have mastered scones now.

That is a fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip scone made with Ghiradelli milk chocolate chips. YUM. The recipe that I've written down below is from my friend Christy, but the comments and how I got them to work best in my kitchen are all from me.

Tasty Sugar/Cream Scones
2 3/4 - 3 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur flour)
3 TB sugar1 TB baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
5 TB cold unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
~1/2 cup mix-in (chocolate chips, dried fruit, etc.)

This is way easier to do if you have a stand mixer and a clean surface for kneading. I've found that the beater blade attachment I bought for my Kitchenaid a while back works the best for getting the butter worked into the dry ingredients.

1. Put dry ingredients into mixer. I've found that I need a little less than the 3 cups of flour called for in the original recipe, so I've been going with about 2 3/4 cups and adding in extra if I need it. Mix up the dry ingredients a bit, then turn off mixer.2. Cut up cold butter straight out of the fridge, touching it as little as possible. If you're using a stick of butter, the trick Christy taught me is to cut it into 1/4" slices, then stand the stack up on end and cut the whole stack into quarters. Turn on the mixer (low speed) and add the butter a chunk at a time. Let mixer run a bit more until you get the "crumbly cornmeal" kind of look to the butter/dry mixture.
3. Add your mix-ins if you want to at this point. I'm using about a quarter-bag of chocolate chips per batch and that's coming out really nicely.
4. Get a spatula ready, measure your heavy cream, and pour it into the mixer while it is running. Quickly use the spatula to get the rest of the cream out of the measuring cup, as the mixer isn't going to run for very long once the cream gets incorporated. Stop mixer when it starts to complain, which will be soon.
5. Take the blade/whisk out of the mixer bowl and knock the dough off of it and back into the bowl. Knead the dough in the bowl as much as you can to get any remaining dry ingredients incorporated, then pull it out and knead it a bit more on the clean surface you have ready. Overall kneading needs to be minimized, especially if you don't have time to chill the scones before baking, but you also need to get dough evenly kneaded, so it's a balance.
6. When the kneading is done, shape the scones for baking. I have been happy with making a large round wedge about 3" thick, then cutting it into eighths with a knife. Once you've got your scone shapes, chill them for at least 2 hours and up to several days (if covered with wrap or in tupperware). This is important so that the butter in the scones won't melt before the baking takes place, as that causes collapsed and funky scones (they taste OK though).
7. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. I'm happiest using a baking stone, and that works best if the stone is also preheated to 425 before use. If I put the scones to be baked onto parchment paper, then I can leave the stone in place and just open the door and pop the paper onto the stone. Bake scones until light brown - I've found that 12 minutes gets me just a bit of browning while baking all the way through.

One batch makes 8 palm-size scones, unless you eat too much of the dough before you bake them. Which is understandable, as it's essentially cream/butter/sugar and it's TASTY. So here are the scones before baking:

And after baking is complete:

Super yummy! :D I am especially fond of hot chocolate chip scones eaten while the chips are still melty, that's what I've been having for dessert most nights for the last two weeks. The scones are easy to make and are done in about 15 minutes, and the hardest part is cutting up the butter into small pieces.

So now I've mastered bread and scones. Now if I could just master gluten-free versions of both, we'd be all set. Sadly my one attempt at GF scones was only good immediately out of the oven, they were not good once they cooled down. We'll see if I get brave enough to try again!

Monday, April 12, 2010

flyball weekend in Canada!

This past weekend was the third of our "Spring Series" of five tournaments in seven weeks, and was again up in Cloverdale, BC. This was also our third outing with our new trailer, and I think we're starting to get the hang of it. Of course, we had to make our lives more challenging by taking another two dogs with us - nothing is ever easy, after all!

This is Truck Norris, hauling our trailer, as we are stopped to fill up our water tanks at the Smokey Point rest stop on our way north to Canada. Notice Chris standing near the back of the trailer, a great reference point for the scale of it!

Six dogs fit nicely enough in the backseat of the truck, although there were some creative sleeping arrangements. Here you can see Ezri sleeping on Phoebe sleeping on Indigo, with Epic sitting up in the center and looking out the window.

Epic is a bit of a baby, plus he needs his feet wrapped before very race. Luckily the former tendency makes the latter requirement much easier to deal with - he thinks it's great to be flipped over and petted, even if it involves his feet being wrapped!

And of course, on our way home we had to hit the dump station...if we ever all caravan together, it'll take a lot longer since there's only three dump ports!

It was quite a successful weekend...Ezri earned her Flyball Master title, and Phoebe became our club's second Flyball Grand Champion 40k. There were four more titles earned within the group that went, including both Indigo (Flyball Master Champion) and Epic (Flyball Dog Champion Gold) who traveled with me. Now, if we could just have some warm weather to go with the dry sunshine we enjoyed last weekend.....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

trailer time for flyball

At last we will be using Truck Norris to his full potential - we are picking up our new RV travel trailer on Friday! We have purchased a 2009 Montana Mountaineer 32PRD from TacomaRV, and we can't wait to go to the UFLI tournament this weekend for its maiden voyage. The trailer is quite spacious and is the best floorplan we've seen for our needs, with a separate bedroom, reasonable-sized bathroom, nice living area, and a separate bunkroom with couch and door that will be the dog room. It's a nicer trailer than we originally were planning on purchasing, with a larger hot-water heater and tanks as well as nicer finishings, but due to it being on closeout we were well within our budget and we're thrilled to pieces. Pictures will be posted next week!

This weekend also marks the beginning of our spring flyball tournament season, which in no small part influenced our decision to buy the RV last week. We have five tournaments in the next seven weeks, with most of them being up in Canada with just one down in Oregon. This schedule should provide a great break-in period for the new rig, and we can't wait!


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

three months! where did winter go?

My last post was on November 30th, and it is now February 24th. It's amazing how time flies when I'm not looking, especially with so many activities filling up our lives. So, a quick sum-up of the past few months, which will hopefully be embellished with photo posts this weekend.

Christmas was lovely, if quiet with just the two of us and Chris working the holiday. We had a great Christmas Eve with friends filled with Rock Band and a tasty dinner from PSC, followed by a morning of video skype with family while opening presents. Just three days later I took Ezri, Jadzia, and Phoebe to go on the JCJ trip to Phoenix AZ for the Wags to Wishes tournament on January 1, 2, 3. The trip was great, if very long on both sides, and it was glorious to leave the cold and rainy Pacific Northwest for a few days in the sunny 70-degree desert. Ezri got to try herding sheep again and earned her HIC, and Phoebe got to try out barn dog several times and ended up tied for first over the weekend with 8 rat finds in just 5 minutes. All three girls ran very well in the tournament, and we set a new club record of 17.82 seconds with a lineup of Ezri / Indigo / Riker / Epic.

My bike has kicked over 18,000 miles, and just two weeks ago we found that the back wheel bearings had gone bad, causing wobble in the wheel and deactivating the ABS and auto-off on the turn signals, which is what led me to take it in to the shop. The degeneration was likely very slow, hence why I didn't realize it was a problem as I kept compensating for the limitations of the bike, but once it was fixed the difference was definitely huge. I'm definitely lucky as it's entirely possible the back wheel could have come off, with obviously bad consequences. All is well now, and I'm now paying much more attention to any change in the bike's handling, no matter how small - I definitely don't want to repeat this experience!!

I've continued to work on my quilting, finishing the third of the three matching butterfly quilts in December before I left for Phoenix, and starting my next project the same week. I've definitely outgrown our original sewing machine (a Janome New Home that Chris received as a gift for Christmas 1997 or 1998), and after several weeks of searching, tryouts, and reading reviews, I purchased a brand new Janome MemoryCraft 6600 from a quilt shop in Duvall. In order to learn all I can about using my new machine as well as improve my quilting techniques, I'm now working through a quilt instruction book including basic techniques, building a sampler quilt top, and doing projects that use each technique as it is taught. Right now I'm learning strip piecing, and will be making Chris a brown-and-blue coffee-themed lap quilt with the first project pattern. Amusingly enough, I've also picked up a third sewing machine - this one given away for free on Freecycle, that turned out to be a 1951 Pfaff 130 still with the original added electrical motor, plenty of extras, and housed inside the original wired cherry cabinet with knee control. Amazingly, it still works just fine after all this time (including at least 10 years in a garage), and had no issues sewing a test piece with all of its different stitches, although there was a slight smell of burning from the aged wiring. I'm planning to take the machine in to have it looked over, have the wiring upgraded to modern standards, and have it updated to have its own power cord and foot control so that it can be used outside of its cabinet. I'm also going to use the cabinet as a project to learn how to refinish wood, as it's pretty nice and just needs a good sanding and new finish to look even more lovely. My research has indicated that this type of machine will go just about forever, and is quite good at doing heavier projects such as light leather, sailcloth, and nylon webbing, so I plan to see if I can make dog collars with it once it's in full working order.

This weekend is the sewing expo in Puyallup, and I'll be going on Friday with Christy, Lindsey, and Julie - I'm definitely looking forward to it!