Friday, August 31, 2012

I Feel So Guilty

People who live in the desert (or anywhere, actually) have to learn to live in harmony with a number of animals that are considered dangerous. Of course, the term “dangerous animal” is like the term “weed” – the definition changes according to one's outlook or circumstances. Animals are usually not dangerous unless you provoke them by threatening their lives, food, or offspring. Humans are often dangerous for reasons that are less comprehensible.
spiders: I see "cute", others see "scary". source

Hawks and owls are an integral part of our ecosystem and a common sight here, yet some people have the urge to shoot them on sight.
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis. source

Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus. source
Coyotes have adapted to living in towns and cities all over the US. We have a small pack living nearby, and occasionally one of them visits us for an afternoon.
Coyote Canis latrans, relaxing under a tree
Many people find this worrisome, but in spite of a few highly publicized incidents it is rare for a coyote to attack a human. They will eat your dog or cat if it is convenient, so just use common sense and don’t allow your small pets to roam freely if you are fortunate enough to share your property with wildlife.

We have a seemingly infinite array of critters that slither and crawl. I generally don’t care for bitey things, while I strongly support those that help pollinate plants, and those that gobble up the other crawlies that can hurt me.
I love the pretty snakes

Love the cute bees

Centipedes are kind of yucky, but they would be okay if they would just stay outside!

Which is why I had extreme mixed feelings about this lovely creature:
She is, of course, a Black Widow spider. We have lots of them here, mostly living in the tall brick wall that surrounds the back of the property. They hide in little crevices during the day and come out on their long, sticky webs at night, looking for the flies and mosquitoes and beetles that got stuck. I am happy to have them since they stay out of the way and do a lot of pest control work for me.

Unfortunately, they recently started a new colony on the patio furniture. I saw this lady one night, with her huge web stretched across the legs of one of the chairs. I worried about what to do, since the Piemaker sits out there with his coffee and paper each morning before work, one of his few pleasures on a workday. I had just about worked up enough courage to try to catch her and move her to another location, when I noticed there were webs like hers on the other chairs, the table, and a bench, as well as one on the grill.
At that point I felt the whole situation had gone way beyond my capacity, and with a very heavy heart, I called the pest company. Yesterday morning they came out to the house, and killed my Black Widow spiders.

I keep telling myself that if it was between the Piemaker and the spiders, I made the right decision, but that is just oversimplifying. There was probably another answer and I just didn’t work hard enough to find it.

I feel very, very guilty.

Do find yourself in conflict with wildlife? How do you resolve it?


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mauve Madness

It doesn’t matter how many times you reorganize things, if there’s simply not enough space for the stuff you have, there’s always going to be overflow and messy piles. This is why my sewing room and fabric are never completely under control.
Not pink, not rose, not lilac, not lavender...I'm calling them all mauve.
In one of my recent attempts to get all the fabrics into the bins, shelves, or hangers, I noticed that things were not only messed up but they were not in their proper color categories. Horrors! There were blues in with the grays, and pinks in with the purples, even some browns in with the greens. Ugh! Actually, it was mostly those troublesome colors, like russet (between green and brown), slate (between gray and blue), and mauve, which is an odd color all around. Is it rose? Is it violet? Well, it just wouldn’t do. All the mauves had to come out and sit on the floor while I thought about it.
(l) vintage 80s rayon, (r) raw silk
While I thought about it, the fabrics started looking kind of nice together. Now, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about mauve. Do I even like it? I don’t wear much true pink, but I do wear all the purples, from pale lavender to dark red violet. I think dusky shades are very elegant but I don’t know how well they suit me. Still, it seems I have rather a large selection of this odd in-between color. I might as well try it out.
(l) calcutta cloth, (upper right) ribbed cotton knit, (lower right) waffle knit

So, instead of working on things that I need (like new pajamas), or things I should make (like holiday gifts), I’m busy preparing fabric and patterns for a Mauve Madness Collection. So far I think there will be 3 skirts, 2 blouses, a cardigan and a pullover sweater, a dress, and possibly one other blouse. I don’t need any trousers, as the color looks beautiful with all of the dark neutrals that I already have.
cotton voiles
Most of the fabrics are lightweight, and should get me through our so-called Fall, which consists of one month of over-100 degrees, one month between 90 and 100, and then finally November-December which usually gives us a bit of relief in the 70s and 80s. (Yes, this is why our population increases substantially in the winter.)

That’s my plan. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes of it. Do you have any exciting sewing or crafting plans for Fall?


Monday, August 27, 2012

Project Runway Hunger Games

I watched the Hunger Games movie and several episodes of Project Runway in quick succession last week, so it’s no surprise that I had a dream in which I was selected by lottery to participate involuntarily in a Project Runway-like design competition. In my dream we did not have to kill each other, but we might as well have, since the regimentation of the “games” pretty much squashed all the joy out of the creative process.  
Hunger Games source
Which, if you think about it, is what Project Runway does anyway. Sixteen creative personalities are thrown together in a fishbowl, with various unnatural pressures applied, to see what they will do. Who will explode in a rage? Who will break down in a sobbing confession? Who will be rushed to the hospital?  Who will break their contract and disappear in the middle of the night? I don’t think a single one of the contestants enjoys designing clothes while they are on the show. They are just trying to survive.

Project Runway source
I can’t stand Project Runway’s focus on the arguing and sniveling among competitors when all I really want to see is how they come up with a design, and how they drape it, cut it, sew it, and fit it. I guess the producers don’t think that’s good entertainment. Sometimes I just skip the first half of the show and watch the finished looks go down the runway. 
could be either Project Runway or Hunger Games?
Generally I avoid reality TV, since it seems to have degenerated from an interesting and educational concept to a spectacle in which people are subjected to pain, fear, or humiliation for the viewers’ enjoyment. We’re not that far away from Hunger Games. Is this really what the majority of viewers are interested in? I don’t want to believe it.

Maybe there are still some positive, interesting reality shows out there and I just don’t know about them. I do like shows about history, science, etc, pretty much anything where people aren’t competing. So I guess it’s the competition and the associated viciousness that I can’t stand to watch.

Are there any reality television programs out there that you find interesting or enjoyable?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Large Loads of Limes

I had to look back in my garden notes to see if it is normal to have limes in the summer, and it is definitely not. Our Key Limes are not supposed to come until November at the earliest. Usually I am giving away bags of them along with the lemons around the holidays. But here it is the middle of August, and ripe limes are falling off the tree by the dozen. Inexplicable.
This was just one day’s haul, a week ago.

The Piemaker used a favorite recipe from a couple of years ago, Key Lime Pound Cake.
As always Southern Living makes it look so simple yet elegant. The recipe is here.

Note: the recipe asks for butter and shortening – I have never used shortening and don’t intend to start now. We just use all butter. And of course we double the lime juice and zest simply because there is so much available.

Our version looks simple but not at all elegant.

It has a deliciously potent lime flavor and a surprisingly light texture (for pound cake).

I think this pound cake recipe could be easily adapted for other flavors, but for now we will gladly use it to contain the tide of lime juice.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


My inventory of handmade greeting cards was running low in the category of “masculine,” at least in the opinion of the male half of our household. I decided to make a new supply of cards, focusing on masculine themes and colors, rather than my usual florals and glitter and pinks and purples.
This is my kind of card: girls, flowers, butterflies, pink, lavender, and yellow.

I actually had to force myself to pick up the unused colors in my paint box: tangerine, rust, brown, olive, black. Once I’d covered a few sheets of paper with splashes of these unfamiliar hues, I added a few random dollops of “my” colors.

I got out some rubber stamps and stamped over the paint. Astronomy, zebras, antique hardware, old cars; those all seem okay for men’s greeting cards.

After some matting and collaging and more stamping I had a good two dozen manly cards in the orange, green, and brown colors.

I decided some pink therapy was in order, so I tried out some of my pearl acrylics in lovely colors like Cameo, Wisteria, and Cranberry.
Next came the pretty stamps: birds and flowers and ladies and happy children. It was interesting to see how different the stamped images appeared, depending on the colors of my paint on the background paper.
After cutting out the stamped images and layering them, I put together almost 30 more cards.

All together, I ended up with an even more lopsided card inventory (now totaling approximately 300 cards for women and 24 cards for men), and I haven’t yet gotten confirmation from the Piemaker on whether he considers my new “masculine” collection acceptable for him to send or for his friends to receive.
Anyway it was fun to mess around with paints again, and a good exercise to use a few new colors.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Crafty Collection

Pic-heavy post today; I just couldn't resist sharing some of these beauties. It’s another of my collections: Golden Hands magazines from the 1970s.
click on photos to see larger
I bought one of these in a used bookstore just a few years ago, not knowing there was an entire collection to be had. After finding a few more in a magazine bin at a thrift, I realized there must be a whole series. I tried to resist, but it was futile.
I’ve picked them up here and there when I could find them for $1 or less (some are going for $10!). I’ve actually been pretty lucky, and my collection is now close to 60 of the total 70+ magazines issued. I’m not picky about condition, as long as they have all their pages and nothing has been spilled on them.

The magazines were published by Marshall Cavendish in the early to mid-70s. People in the UK probably know the magazine better than we do, but it was also popular here in the US. Viewed today, the aesthetic veers between timeless classics (above) and outfits that are so dated they are almost back in style (below).

The amount of information packed into each issue was incredible. 
Beautifully intricate embroidery patterns

Monthly home decor projects too

Usually it was a combination of knitting, crochet, applique, embroidery, lace, quilting, and sewing projects, with patterns. Plus there would be examples of museum pieces of quilts, carpets, or embroidery, articles about fitting, patternmaking, fabric care, and styling. The idea was to collect all the magazines and have a complete “beautifully illustrated needlecraft encyclopedia.”

One thing I love about pre-digital magazine photography is that the lovely models have their blemishes and body hair intact. Isn’t it refreshing to see a human woman on a magazine?
The male models were also handsome but realistic.

I could overlook the sideburns and, uh, ascot(?) but I'd have to banish the cigarillo.

The illustrators are the unsung heroes of each issue, as far as I’m concerned. J. Rankin was a regular contributor, although I was not able to find out anything about her in a quick internet search.
Look at the incredible detail in these drawings by J. Rankin.

My other favorite illustrator is B. Firth. Her name shows up on technical drawings of patterns, stitches, and techniques, as well as fashion drawing.
excerpt of instructions and illustration by B. Firth

From an article on shirt dresses - I think this is so pretty you could frame it

I was able to track down a B. Firth – I think she is Barbara Firth:
When she was three, she began drawing plants and animals, and when she was eleven years old, her family moved to the country, enabling her to spend even more time sketching the flora and fauna around her.
After leaving school she studied pattern cutting at the London College of Fashion. She was offered a job in the Marks and Spencer design department, but turned it down in favour of a job on Vogue knitting books, producing step-by-step illustrations of knitting, crocheting and dressmaking. It was with Walker Books, however, that Barbara was able to do illustration work in her favourite field – natural history – and has gone on to illustrate many award-winning books. She now lives in Harrow, England.
 “I have always been biased toward illustrating natural history, so it was a joy to be able to draw pages and pages of bears,” Barbara Firth says of her collaboration with Martin Waddell on Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?, the first of their classic Big and Little Bear series.
Doesn't that sound like a wonderful career!

I hope you enjoyed these amazing images (and your internet connection didn’t time out). I use the magazine more for inspiration than reference, but I would agree that Golden Hands creates a complete if somewhat disorganized "beautifully illustrated needlecraft encyclopedia."
Did you (or your mom) get issues of Golden Hands in the 1970s? Do you remember making anything from its pages?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Very Generous Friends

I meant to report this fabulous bonanza some time ago, but it somehow did not make it on to my busy blog schedule. The Piemaker grew up in Northern Arizona and is very fortunate to still have many of his lifelong friends there. Some of them now have a small but exceedingly productive farm on the river in Cottonwood.
This Google Earth image of Cottonwood (red dot in center) has a lot of green, the indicator of a concentration of water in the desert.

A mixture of rich soil, clean water, aptitude, and good fortune have given these guys year after year of incredible bumper crops. So far this year, they have donated more than 1500 pounds of their produce to local food banks, in addition to provisioning their families and friends for months to come.

After a recent visit, the Piemaker came home with loads of tomatoes, peppers, squash, cukes, corn (maize) and other goodies after a weekend harvest party. They even had an assembly line going at the vacuum-packing machine since there was such an abundance of corn.

I was so excited by the sheer abundance that I couldn't hold the camera still. All of my photos are blurry.
But what do we do with blurry photos? We make them even more blurry!
"Still Life with Tomatoes" courtesy of Photoshop's watercolor filter.

Salads and soups and stir-frys, oh my! 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Finally, Some Good News Here

I am usually so discouraged by the local news that when I see something positive I like to grab onto it with both hands and dance around a little.

Two years ago, the Phoenix library system was experiencing severe budget cuts, along with everyone else, and they reduced their hours so much that you could barely find an open library.
Burton Barr Central Library, very retro-looking but built in the 90s. photo source
I felt badly for the librarians whose hours were cut and whose jobs were consolidated. In the age of instant access to information from any location, I think the role of the archivists and information experts has become even more important. Let’s not put any more librarians out of jobs, nor discourage any more students from becoming librarians!

interior, source
But it was the customers who were really hit hard by the library closures, even if it was only a matter of shorter hours. We have thousands of jobless and/or homeless people who use the library for daytime shelter from the heat, while spending their time constructively in online job searches, studying for classes, or just getting lost in a good book for a short while. We have thousands of immigrants who use the library services to learn English, contact family members, find jobs, or involve their children in reading groups. We have thousands of old-school (pun intended) students, like me, who want to pull every book on a subject, spread them out all over a table, and spend an entire day in research.
waiting for the doors to open, source
Phoenix needs its libraries!!!

Anyway, my little snippet of good news appeared last week, in a small article on an inside page of the paper. The libraries are expanding their hours again! Only a few of them, and only by six hours. Still, it’s extremely good news. The main library will open its doors earlier in the morning, while others will stay open later.
Here’s a bit of the article:
Bookworms and Internet users have residents and a faith-based organization to thank for the longer hours. Earlier this year, Valley Interfaith Project and several residents who support the libraries told the Phoenix City Council they were disappointed to see the city's budget proposal lacked additional funds to restore after-school programs and lengthen hours for swimming pools and libraries.

The city had reduced those services during the recession.

In response to the residents and advocates, city officials amended their proposed budget to spend $6 million more on public services, including $500,000 to extend hours for some of the libraries. The City Council supported the increase.

So it turns out that citizens actually can do something to improve their community! Maybe I should stop sitting in my room and whining. Maybe I should go talk to the City Council next time I have an issue.



Friday, August 10, 2012

Another Green Pie

Our lime tree decided to provide ten ripe limes all of a sudden, completely out of season. After hankering after Key Lime Pie for more than a year, I grabbed those limes and presented them to the Piemaker, along with the Key Lime Praline Pie recipe I’d set aside a couple of months ago. He laughed and said that would be enough for about a tablespoon of lime juice, so I gave him a one-time dispensation to buy additional limes.

Key limes are not the mystery they once were, but for clarification, here is a size comparison.
The three large green fruit are plain old limes, known horticulturally as Persian limes, Citrus latifolia. The tree is thornless, and bears a seedless fruit. The small yellow and green fruit are our Key limes. Key lime, Mexican lime, and West Indian lime are common names for the species Citrus aurantifolia, a very thorny tree with these very small, seedy fruit.
My palate is not sophisticated enough to explain the difference in flavors, since they are both vibrantly sour and sweet. But there is a definite difference, which is why genuine Key Lime juice is so sought after and expensive, and people will actually go to the effort of squeezing hundreds of marble-sized fruit to get the juice.

So, back to the pie.
Our favorite magazine, Southern Living, was once again the source for a mouthwatering recipe.
The pie according to Southern Living
For the one cup of lime juice in the recipe, the Piemaker said he needed my 10 tiny Key limes and about 6 regular limes, so, be prepared.

We decided ahead of time that we would not need any whipped cream for this pie and we were glad of that decision later.  
Our version, sans creamy topping

All the rich, sweet-and-sour flavors came through, and the crispy caramel praline was the perfect contrast to the creamy custard filling. Certainly the regular lime juice did not detract from the flavor, so maybe that small amount of Key Lime juice was enough.
This overexposed photo shows the candy-like praline crust

This is definitely the best Key Lime Pie we’ve had.
And I should know! Long before I discovered that all I had to do to get pie was simply to wish for it, I used to make pies myself. (I know, it’s hard to believe. This was probably eight to ten years ago, and thankfully, a time nearly forgotten. ) I went on a quest to find the perfect Key Lime Pie recipe, and I collected and tried at least five of them. There were two Key Lime Cheesecakes, two custard-style pies, and one similar to Lemon Meringue Pie. They were all good, but the recipes used very basic crusts. Since good pies are magical balancing acts between filling and crust, none of the ones I tried really stood out as The Ultimate Key Lime Pie.

I think this pie definitely deserves the title. Plus, have you ever noticed that the pies baked by someone else always taste better than the ones that you yourself make?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Collection of Memories

I think it’s been quite some time since we’ve looked at one of my fun collections (other than the menacing hordes/hoards of fabric and patterns). This is a small collection, but each item has a special meaning for me.

This is the first piece, chronologically.
A penguin. His little button reads “another satisfied customer”
A coworker gave it to me back in 1983, as a sort of joke since I was not much of a sales person.

The little shop where we worked sold skimpy exercise wear and swimsuits, and ladies would ask us such time-honored, delicate questions as “does this [leotard/headband/spike heel/tube top/Brazilian swimsuit] make me look fat?”

From a sales perspective, the correct answer is always “no, it makes you look so svelte and sexy that you should buy five of those just so you will never be without one.”

From my perspective though, the answer was often something like, “you might actually prefer this full-coverage  [jumpsuit/hat/athletic shoe/tee shirt/maillot]. It’s so much more comfortable. Would you like to try it on?”

Let’s just say my approach did not always result in “another satisfied customer.”

Next, I have quite a few endangered animals in my house!
For a few years, various wildlife organizations were offering stuffed animals as incentives for donations or annual membership fees. (Better than tote bags.)

Manatees (the little one is a Beanie baby)

Sea turtle (endangered in more ways than one; my dog wants to eat it)

Next is one of the first gifts I ever received from the Piemaker, in the mid-90s. The very first gift was a package of smoked salmon, and no, I have not kept that one.
It’s an armadillo, as near as I can tell, all dressed up in a hat and bandanna. Piemaker brought it back as a souvenir from a trip to San Antonio back when we were still traveling a lot for business.

Here is a very sentimental piece.
It is a gigantic duck, in fact we call it the Duck. I can’t even remember anymore where the Duck came from, but it was a favorite snuggly pillow for our dog Skyeler, who is no longer with us.

Skyeler loved his Duck
Skyeler was a very excellent dog. He somehow recovered from a truly hellish early life and went on to have happy times with us.
Good dog

It was just so funny that he loved to sleep on the Duck, and now we keep it around to remind us of him.

I didn’t get into the Beanie Baby craze but people gave me some as gifts. My local friends think of me as the birds-and-bees lady so I get a lot of bird-themed things:
A robin, a cockatoo(?), and a blue jay.

Finally, the most recent addition: I fell for the bunny hype­­­­­ at Urban Threads' blog Stitch Punk.
I had to get a Stitch Bunny for the sewing room.
The fanged stitch bunny is actually the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog so I can be a stitch geek and a Python geek at the same time. (Run away! Run away!)

This particular Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog actually looks like a tailless bunny with gum disease, to be honest. Not too scary.
chomp chomp?
Maybe they are more ferocious in herds. 

Possible customer service scenario

There are lots of other stuffed animals around here. They seem to be stuck in corners of closets and on the ends of bookshelves and there are probably a few hiding in unexpected places too.

Do you have some favorite stuffed animals?