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.