Monday, January 31, 2011

new furniture, and another project begins

Once, there was a bedroom. It was functional, but it wasn't very pretty, and it felt very old and worn out. Many of its parts were secondhand and 25+ years old, and really, it was quit distressed about the whole thing. It tried to be friendly and welcoming, but really was only at its best in the dark, which made the bedroom sad. So sad, in fact, that this is the only photo that I'm willing to show of it.

So we bought new bedroom furniture, new curtains, a duvet cover for the comforter, and even got nightlights to go on the nightstands. And after a week of rearranging, building, and a little swearing, the bedroom was much improved and feeling much happier.

The view from the door, showing the bed on its new frame and three of the new dresser cabinets, as well as the curtains and one of the night lights.

Left side of the bed, showing the nightstand, a little bit of the headboard (which is largely covered by our huge mattress, and the long chest of drawers.

Bed and new curtains, showing the pretty blue/gray duvet cover, teal sheets, and teal curtains chosen to coordinate with the aqua glass in the drawers of the new furniture. I also really love these night lights - they're so stylish, and they give just the right amount of light when the ceiling light is turned off.

Better view of the left side of the room, showing the other chest of drawers fully and also showing the art that is currently up in the room (my wedding bouquet flanked by the small paintings that my grandmother gave me that were her parents' from their European Grand Tour).

I plan to get some larger framed photos, probably of Mt Rainier and the ocean, to go over the three dressers on the right side of the room. We're also thinking of putting in a full length mirror near the door to the bathroom, although if I can find a way to hang up the mirror tiles I found in the guest room closet I'll do that instead. Finally, I think a stronger color wallpaper border would look very nice, although what we have does now match (for the first time, hah!) so it certainly doesn't look bad. Overall the effect is very clean and modern, and I find it to be very soothing and calming especially with the new night lights.

And the bedroom was happy, for its people were happy, and it could soldier on content that its purpose in life was renewed.

But wait, there's more!

Yes, this is normally my sewing room...looks a little different right now, doesn't it?

Friday, January 28, 2011

the terror of terriers

This is Phoebe.
She is an almost-eleven-year-old Jack Russell terrier from the Fleck kennels in Woodinville, WA. Phoebe was not perfectly conformed for breeding purposes, so she was fixed and left to roam with the rest of the terriers in the kennel for the first few years of her life. Her fixation on tennis balls and increasing desire to pick fights with the alpha females at the kennel led her to be adopted by a friend of ours in 2004, and we trained her for flyball as a height dog. A few years later the friend could no longer take proper care of her, so between that and the club's need to continue having Phoebe as a height dog, we adopted her in May 2008. Two months later Ezri was born, and she came home two months after that, so in the space of four months we went from two dogs to four.

Phoebe likes to jump. Preferably for tennis balls.

Phoebe spends most of her time trying to find small critters/rodents to harass and preferably kill if she can reach them. She discovered mice in our shed, which we promptly had removed much to her chagrin, and she's been borrowed by a friend to help find where mice/rats were getting into her garage. These skills have proven excellent in a try at the terrier sport of BarnDog, where the point is to find a rat in a PVC pipe as quickly as possible. When we gave it a try while in Phoenix last year for a tournament, she had nine finds in five minutes - and most of that time was re-hiding the rat! Unfortunately every BarnDog and EarthDog event I've found around Seattle has fallen on the same weekend as a flyball tournament, so we haven't given Phoebe any additional work in this area.

Phoebe's insane prey drive and Napoleonic delusions of grandeur have resulted in unhappy events for her, although she refuses to learn from these experiences. We have to keep her and the cats completely separated, which results in the cats staying in the basement all the time. This is because despite both cats outweighing her and having much more formidable weaponry than she will ever possess, Phoebe is insistent that she needs to kill the cats. She's never hurt them, but they have hurt her in their defense, and it's a stressful occasion all around. Phoebe has also decided that she needs to challenge the border collie females as well, and again to her detriment as both Jadzia and Ezri will fight back and end the fight. This photo was taken last summer after an altercation that Phoebe initiated against Jadzia ended with a puncture wound just on her neck (but not quite in the jugular). Phoebe was less than happy about her head being wrapped in vetwrap, but it was necessary to control the bleeding. She's had two more serious altercations with Jadzia, and finally seems to have largely given up challenging poor instead she's started challenging Ezri. Now the demon princess Ezri is much younger and much scrappier than Jadzia, so she's more than happy to bring it to the table when Phoebe starts something. We've had two serious altercations, one of which occurred while Phoebe, Ezri, and Curzon were at play-camp over Christmas, and so we decided that it was time to minimize the triggers that make Phoebe so reactive and attack-prone.

The two biggest triggers for causing Phoebe to pull one of her kamikaze attack missions are a visitor at the front door and time out in the kennel (where the dogs stay while we are at work). We have no idea what the trigger is when the dogs are in the kennel, but my suspicion is that it is when someone walks by the house or pulls into the driveway, which would cause Jadzia and Ezri to do their "OMG I'm a guard dog bark bark" alert, which Phoebe hates and wants to stop. They've never done it when out in the kennel while we're at home, even if they don't know we are (i.e. one of us leaves and the other is still home), so we can't know for sure. But we've decided to block the possibility of an altercation from happening again via the Pen of Shame, shown to the side here. It's our old e-pen, attached to the fence using eyebolts and zipties, that makes a "kennel within a kennel" to corral Phoebe and keep her away from the border collies. This is working just fine so far, although this is the first week we've used it so I'm hesitant to say it's a perfect solution, but it is definitely promising.

Continuing on with our "separation is best" theory of dealing with this, Phoebe now has her own crate for flyball practice and tournaments (leaving the e-pen to the border collies), and we've been leashing her to the couch when people are expected over. We still have a few issues (especially with a surprise visitor), but I am hoping that with some additional training we can overcome these or at least stop the fighting. It's going to be a while before Phoebe can retire from flyball, and although we do plan to find her a nice "retirement" home where she will be happier (i.e. be an only dog), we still have to live with her until we do.

(edit) First two photos are credit to Artis Photography, who take wonderful photos and are tons of fun to work with!

Monday, January 24, 2011

don't underestimate the power of staring...

On Saturday, I finished piecing the main part of one of the two quilt projects I'm working on right now. It's a modified version of the Awesome Lap Quilt posted on the Moda Bakeshop back in November. I took the basic idea, and adjusted it in order to fit the final dimensions for a baby quilt of 40" x 60". The photo below shows the finished piecing, at a size of 36.5" x 54.5", which will be completed with a 2" vertical and 3" horizontal border once I buy the fabric. The fabric comes from a jelly roll of brown/tan/cream fabrics from Shibori Dragon, which I bought at a craft expo back in November. I was originally planning this to be a baby quilt, hence the size, but the fabrics turned out to be much more "adult" than I had expected, and so this will instead be a birthday gift.

It occurred to me that we don't use the hall bathroom for much of anything, and that I might be able to get a great shot of the quilt top if I just clipped it to the shower curtain. This indeed worked out quite well (as seen by the photo above!), although the quality of the light in the bathroom is not nearly as good as that in my sewing room. I am really liking having the quilt hanging there for the moment, however, as it is out of the way and safe from the dogs and is still visible so I can look at it as I decide on how to quilt the pattern. This definitely makes my decision to incorporate a design wall into my sewing room "remodel" even more pronounced!

Since the original fabric roll choice for the baby quilt didn't work out, I found another selection of child-themed fabrics at Quiltworks NW last weekend. The jelly roll had a decent amount of pink and red in it, so I also picked up a few fat quarters to ensure I had enough patterns once I pulled out the pinks/reds (as the expected baby is known to be a boy!). There are three colors of solid/dot patterns in the roll as well, which I pulled out to reserve for use for binding the quilt. The photo to the left is all eighteen of my chosen "main" fabrics that will make up the squares in the pattern, along with the pieces that will make up the middle of each square. I'm still debating if I like the arrangement that I have so far, and will probably leave these sitting still for at least another day or two before I begin putting them together, just to be sure that I like how the patterns mesh together.

Hence, the title of this post - just by taking small moments to stare at the quilt top and the cut pieces, I've already made adjustments to my plans. I've mostly worked out how to quilt this pattern, and I've adjusted some of the pattern pairings in the cut pieces as well. I'm definitely finding it quite helpful - and I'm super excited to soon have a design wall and other methods to keep my projects visible while I decide what to do with them!

Friday, January 21, 2011

grown up stuff? whoa...

In our never-ending quest to turn into actual adults, we have achieved a new milestone. We now have real, used-as-intended, matching, stylish, bedroom furniture. It only took us ten years to get to this point, so maybe that means there is hope for us yet. Instead of a mattress/boxspring on rails, a second-hand nightstand, a second-hand particleboard printer stand masquerading as the other nightstand, a dresser painted black in a fit of teenagerhood, and another dresser covered in stickers, we now have real furniture from IKEA.

Don't laugh. IKEA is awesome. Having a giant truck to TAKE to IKEA is even more awesome, even if you do decide to go after work on a Friday night and you end up having to fight the clock to make it out on time with all of your precious, precious loot. We wound up having to split up, with me taking two full flatbed carts through the checkout line by myself while Chris went to fill up a third cart with the last few things we needed. The truck was almost half-full when we were done, which is impressive given how big that sucker is.

We chose the HOPEN line of bedroom furniture, which is black with teal glass inserts in the front of the drawers. The bed frame is awesome and I love the headboard, but unfortunately our bed is so tall that you cannot see the headboard at all unless you go to the side and lean over. It still provides space between the bed and the wall, which is a new and different situation that is rather pleasing, all told. This effect is exacerbated because we had to rearrange the bedroom entirely, due to a burp in the space-time continuum that said "yes your measurements say that these will fit the way you plan" and the reality once the items were assembled. So the bed got rotated to the wall where it's now under the window, my dresser was replaced directly with a long 8-drawer dresser, and the far wall where the head of the bed used to be is now covered with three dressers (one tall, two short). We even got nightstands, nightlights, new curtains, new sheets, and a duvet cover for the comforter. As of Monday, everything is assembled and installed in its permanent location in our room, and what's left now is to do minor decorative things like move pictures and obtain more art/pictures.

I'm very pleased. And I'm finally getting used to it, so that I'm not waking up thinking that I'm sleeping in a hotel room. This is good.

No photos yet. I want to take pictures after I move the bouquet and paintings this weekend, and maybe not until after I get more art for the other side of the room. We'll see.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

the books of 2010

Last April, I found and joined an excellent website - It's a combination of a book review site, library management tool, and Facebook, where you can mark/sort/rate/review books you own or have read and share these with those who you friend. While I'll probably never manage to put every book I've ever read into the site, it's been wonderful for tracking books I've read as you can sort by "read by" date. I used to write mini reviews of books I read when I had a LiveJournal (well, I still have it...I did pay for a permanent account!), but after a while I got tired of doing them and stopped. This site is great because you don't have to put in a review, but it does prompt you to do so when you mark a book as read. There is an option to keep a "books to read" list, and between that and the matching Goodreads app on my iPhone, that has helped me immensely in keeping track of books that catch my interest for later reading.

In February of 2009. I purchased a Kindle after the second generation version came out. It's been one of my best purchases to date, and I've purchased over 160 books so far - being able to carry a hundred or more books in less than the space of a trade paperback has been very addictive. I've even given a Kindle to my mother as a gift, keeping her on my account so that we can share books! With the advent of the Kindle 3 recently, and the lack of global access on my original Kindle 2, I bought myself a new one a few weeks ago and gave my older one to Chris. Just last night the new skins for them arrived and I was able to put them on - purple lacquer for me, and red fire for him!

Travel with a Kindle is definitely easier as well, as I no longer have to practically pack an extra suitcase just for the books! I haven't missed paper books too much, although there is no digital replacement yet for the beautiful full color cookbooks and sewing books that I use (and received many of for Christmas!), as the Kindle is so small and light that even the slimmest trade paperback is large and heavy by comparison. Love, love, love my Kindle!

So back to the books - since I joined Goodreads last April, I've marked up as read 51 books (although I didn't mark up any of the truly trashy novels that I can read in an hour!). I'm guessing I probably read around 90 books last year, which is a bit under previous years' book counts, but I've traded off some reading time for quilting and Warcraft time.

The best book that I read for my book club last year was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot which delves into the story of the origination of the HeLa cell line from a young black woman in the 1950s, bringing up all sorts of interesting ethics and rights questions along the way.

The best fiction book I read last year was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, which uses an excellent time-travel mechanic to place a woman from 1947 into the mid 1700s before the Jacobite Risings in Scotland. The historical references have been fascinating and the character development excellent, and I'm about a third of the way through the sixth book in the series.

Probably the worst book I read last year was Piers Anthony's Climate of Change, a long-awaited final entry in his Geodyssey series. Like the also long-awaited entry into his Incarnations series, Under a Velvet Cloak, it seems that the author has given up on the vivid settings and characters he's written in the past in order to concentrate solely on tawdry sex. While sex has been a thread of several of his earlier books, it's never been as central (and as boring) as in these two novels. When your reader is thinking "oh god they're having sex AGAIN and it has nothing to do with the plot!!" you're doing it wrong.

I'm looking forward to seeing how many books I read this year - and maybe with a Kindle, Chris will read more this year too!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

new year, new recipe!

This is a (slightly-out-of-focus) slice of gluten free breakfast casserole, one of two that I made over the holiday break. It is made of eggs, sausage, gluten-free bread, and cheese, and if you're interested in learning how to make one, just scroll down!

Recipe for Gluten-Free Breakfast Casserole
Serves 6

1lb ground sausage
4 pieces gluten-free bread
6 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
~1/2 cup 1% milk
shredded cheese (at least 1 cup total)
salt, pepper, garlic powder

1) Brown sausage in a hot skillet, being sure to break it up so it is all in small crumbly bits. If there is a lot of fat left when the sausage is done cooking, drain the sausage. Turn off the heat and allow the sausage to cool down to room temperature.

2) Butter the bottom and sides of an 8"x8" cake pan or casserole dish. Place 4 pieces of gluten-free bread in the bottom of the pan, arranged to cover the bottom of the pan/dish. If need be, cut pieces and rearrange or add extra bread.

3) Sprinkle the bread with shredded cheese (I used Tillamook medium cheddar).

4) Spread the cooled sausage crumbles evenly across the bread.

5) Sprinkle the sausage with shredded cheese (I used mozzarella).

6) Crack all six eggs into one bowl and whisk thoroughly until they are completely combined. Add the heavy cream and mix, then add the milk to dilute it until it is thin enough to pour easily.

7) Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. I used about a teaspoon of salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and about a teaspoon of garlic powder. Mix thoroughly.

8) Pour egg mixture over the top of the sausage layer in the pan, being sure to cover the entire pan evenly. Some sausage will stick out of the top, which is fine, but most of the sausage should be covered.

9) Sprinkle shredded cheese on top (I used Tillamook sharp cheddar).

10) Preheat oven to 350F, and then bake the casserole for at least 30 minutes and up to 45 minutes (depending on your oven and pan/dish selection). The casserole is done when the center is cooked through (test with a toothpick - it should come out clean) and the cheese is lightly browned.

Browning sausage is fun! This was a full pound of Jimmy Dean maple breakfast sausage.

Bread and cheese placement is critical - the bread should cover the entire bottom of the pan, in order to provide a solid foundation for your casserole.

Sausage and the second cheese layer.

Egg mixture fully added - still an inch of clearance on the pan to avoid boilover, but nearly all of the sausage is covered.

Casserole is complete and ready to go into the oven.

Casserole is done baking and is ready to eat!

This recipe is pretty malleable and adjustable to your own taste - use a spicier sausage, use different types of cheese (just not fresh squishy cheese, it will have too much liquid), or add additional flavorings. I've also added toasted onions or freshly sauteed scallions and garlic, and adding in diced peppers would go well to make a spicier result. The recipe can be paused after Step 9 and put in the refrigerator overnight, so that the casserole can be made ahead and baked the next morning (remember to let the casserole warm to room temperature or add additional baking time). Finally, I doubled the recipe and used a 9"x13" casserole dish to make enough for 12 or more servings with ease.

The resulting casserole will keep nicely in the fridge and reheat easily in either the oven or the microwave for about two days, so for example the 6-serving version lasted Chris and I through three days. I wouldn't keep it much longer than that, however, due to the combination of egg and sausage present.

Let 2011 continue on this tasty course!