Friday, September 15, 2017

This and that 091517

Wow - not even a full week, and I'm posting again. Nothing of great value, but at least words into pixels.

I was on vacation the week of Labor Day, and naturally, got sick. Stuffy/nose-runny, then a dry, occasional cough began Thursday. Yeah, it's not so "occasional" anymore, and not so dry, but it's not keeping me up at night. More annoying than anything. I had a nasal spray the doctor had given me last winter to dry out my poor, plugged sinuses, and that has done a great job unstuffing them and keeping them from regressing, so breathing is fine.

That whole ability to sleep eleven hours a night - and take a short nap during the day - certainly helped as well.

All that to say I'm feeling a bit better.

While I was off, they came to paint the outside of the condo. Let's just say they did not do a stellar job. They did not replace the globe over the outside light (I can't reach it without a ladder) and did not put the giant planters back where they belong (they only had to move them six inches to paint; instead, it took two guys to move each of them to the center of the patio - yeah, like I'm going to be able to move them back). Oh - and the guy doing trim work overpainted onto the window glass, (again, the highest windows on the place) and that has not been cleaned up. I sent a complaint to the management company a week ago, which they are doing a great job of ignoring.

Oh yeah - they also raised the condo fees for the next quarter, with less than three weeks' notice.

That, at least, is a good development. They were decreased in April, mostly because a bully on the HOA board wanted to sell his unit. But more than three weeks notice would have been appreciated.

While on vacation I began reorganizing the studio. Rather, reorganizing the projects. All of the various tools and patterns, books and fabric stash have homes, but although I know what my started projects/kits/fabric pulled for quilts bins generally contain, I'm no longer sure which of the three bins they reside in, nor what, if any supplies are still needed for completion. That this is an issue was highlighted when I went through the basket of fabric waiting to be used/put away, to discover I'd bought backing for a particular quilt twice. Gah.

I'd planned to take in the 830 for servicing, well, annual cleaning (it's running just fine) and software update, but I'm glad I didn't. My cousin's daughter is getting married in a month, and I'm going to hem a couple of bridesmaid's dresses and the mother of the bride's dress. The 830 has a handy dandy rolled hem foot that makes doing that narrow little hem a breeze.

We finally have a new area vice president at work. The good news is that he has an accounting degree (from our institution, no less); the bad news is that he has absolutely no experience in higher education. Going to be a steep learning curve for him. His first day is Monday; he's scheduled to come and say hi to us that afternoon.

Summer has returned, with temperatures in/around the low eighties for the next week. This, after more than a week of highs in the high sixties. Argh. Once the urns are moved and the light cover put on, I'd like to pack up the patio for the winter. Didn't expect to want to use it this week.

Like I said, not much for content today. There are a lot of things on my heart I can't talk about - friends struggles with health, other things going on - that are an ongoing heaviness. All you can do most of the time is just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Winnie the Pooh

As I mentioned a while back, because my direct report was "too busy" to organize an easy-peasy work baby shower for her assistant, I ended up doing it. Naturally, because of all that, I didn't quite get the last stitches in the binding of the baby quilt started back in April. And it's not even that big.

I fear the picture of the extremely adorable quilt label is on my phone (I really, really hope so) - the pictures below were taken with my actual camera (novel thought, I know) on the floor at work before I put the quilt in the gift bag. Nothing like waiting until the last moment to take pictures. I used both the camera and the phone, covering my bases as the camera on the phone is actually a better one than the Canon, which is at least seven years old, most likely more. You know how quickly things change in the digital world.

The Winnie the Pooh fabric squares were an impulse buy back in January when a pack of 40, five-inch squares were the daily deal at a favorite online quilt store. Silly me, I should have bought two sets, as when they are part of the daily deal, it usually means the retailer is running out of the fabric and it will soon be gone forever.

Which is what I found in April when I went to get some yardage to make things big enough for an actual quilt. The honeycomb fabric on the ends, which I don't particularly like, was the only fabric left from the entire line. Well, since this was all impulse anyway, I rolled with it.

Full quilt
There were forty-two of the Winnie the Pooh fabric squares in the original charm pack; I used every one of them. To make the quilt wider, the six character squares in each row are separated by 2" stripes of a medium gray, which is one color that is in most of the character pieces. In between each row, to give a bit of length, there is a pretty yellow two-inch wide strip. The six-inch strips of honeycomb fabric at the ends got the size where I needed it to be. If memory serves, the quilt ended up around 40 x 56.

The quilting is where the fun started.

I stitched "in the ditch" along the seam lines to stabilize the quilt. Then...it just sat there for over a month, while I thought about it. It's been a while since I've done much machine quilting. In addtion, the batting used is wool, which is not only nice and warm, but very fluffy. What to do?

With time rapidly winding down, I decided to do flowers. After all, the Hundred Acre Wood must have some pretty flora, right? Not to mention that the baby is a girl.

In each of the character squares, there is a swirly-centered daisy. The gray rectangles got a messy rose, or peony, depending on your viewpoint. The long strips simply got a run of leaves, which is also the filler used in the end panels.

All of the quilting is done with a variegated Aurifil 40 weight thread on the top, a solid Aurifil 50 weight on the bottom. The top thread moves from a medium yellow through a very pale lemon and back. The solid thread was a medium yellow. I love the heavier weight for adding a bit of depth to the flowers. Aurifil is an Italian thread, pretty much the Ferrari to everyone else's Ford. I use their color #2600-Dove for piecing, as the light gray seems to blend in with more fabric colors than an ecru or beige.

Assuming I do have one, I'll update with a picture of the label. It was worth setting up the embroidery machine for twenty minutes of stitching, I'll say that much, as well as being in keeping with the theme.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A quick note...

Why yes, I'm still alive. Remember how so many people were whining that they could not wait to see the end of 2016, mostly because of so many celebrity deaths? Well, I feel that way about 2017, but for different reasons.

Lots rolling around in my head, not much making it out anywhere except in the pages of my private journal. Whole lots of sadness in the real world - please pray for a coworker's husband whose cancer is very advanced, and the son of some college friends who collapsed at football practice last week - his heart stopped and was restarted, but there is some concern about neurological damage. They still have him sedated.

I'm fed up with anything political. Both sides. I almost don't recognize this country anymore.

I had to organize a baby shower for a coworker. We don't do much, but it was still an added layer of stress. Pass the card and an envelope for money. Buy the gift, get it to work and hidden under my desk (we collected enough to buy the car seat, which is great, but it was rather bulky in the box, making that whole process, not to mention wrapping it, rather interesting). Order, pick up and bring in to work, a cake. Make sure we have paper plates, napkins and plastic forks. Get the conference room set up (spread out my cute pastel plaid table topper and plunk the cake, napkins, plates and forks on it). Agh. Much easier to do this at home. The mom-to-be was thrilled, which is nice.

Took the last two days of this week off - I usually do take at least the day students return to school as a vacation day. I say it's because of the parking hassle, but honestly, I miss going back to school myself. Not enough to take advantage of our tuition remission program, but I do miss the anticipation and the sense that everything is shiny and new.

Speaking of which, I am making a quilt for the mom-to-be. There wasn't quite enough time to finish it before the shower, but all that is left is to embroider the label and handstitch the binding down. And take some pictures. The last several quilts I've made, I've forgotten that last step. That's why I'm on the computer - I needed to download the (probably illegal) Winnie-the-Pooh motif I want to use on the label to a usb drive, to stick in the sewing machine.

Pictures of the quilt soon.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

This and that and the other thing

- #24in48 - All told, I probably spent more than ten hours reading over the weekend. I did make some progress on the nonfiction, most time was truly spent in fiction. I'm a sucker for a good story.

- Speaking of good stories...the sixth book in the Monster Hunters series dropped yesterday. I may or may not be 37% done with it, having started reading during my lunch break yesterday. By the way, the first book in the series, via the link here, is currently FREE for kindle.

- Good for business - if the environmentalists don't ruin it. Governor Walker announced several days ago that Foxconn was planning to build an enormous facility in SE Wisconsin. Foxconn makes parts for Apple. It would bring thousands of jobs to the state. Since the announcement, the local liberal rag has done nothing but run stories on 1. Whether or not Wisconsin has enough qualified workers to fill the spots, 2. Whether the environment will be totally!!!trashed!!! due to the concessions on a couple of environmental regulations the state is offering to Foxconn, 3. Whether the taxpayers will be able to bear the brunt of the horrible!!!unreasonable!!!unheard of!!! incentives being offered to cement the deal. This tongue-in-check piece captures a bit of the hysteria the announcement has generated.

- How did it get to be August? Seriously, I feel as if July just poked her head in the door to say hello, then disappeared. I realized this morning that in another week, maybe two, I'll be driving to work in the dark again. Oy.

- Something is up at my elderly neighbor's. When I came home Monday, they had a trailer backed in to their parking bay, and a van pulled up in the center. One of their sons and his wife were loading things up, and I overheard bits of "Goodwill or toss?" conversations. As of today, the parking bay, which had been a sort of extra storage spot for the couple, is pretty much bare. Not sure if this is just a huge purge, a purge because they plan to move, or something else. Have never met the son and wife, so didn't want to pry.

- I've been looking at prices on new appliances, in preparation for remodeling the kitchen. Holy mackerel. Gone is any thought of a higher end stove. Because of space issues, I'd like to get a "counter depth" refrigerator, preferably with french doors. Yikes. And I don't need the in door ice/water thing, so the prices I'm seeing are comparatively low. Since I mostly cook for one, a dual oven range makes sense (and I can ditch the toaster oven), but that ups the price a bit. Also forgot I'd need a new garbage disposal.

There are limited things I can do to keep the cost down. I can certainly do the painting. I can mount cabinet hardware. Everything else? Most likely beyond the limits of my ability (or patience).

- 'Tis the season - I've a family wedding shower midmonth, and a baby shower at work the following week. Urgh. Not much of a fan. Happy for people, but sitting around watching someone open gifts is less exciting than watching paint dry.

- Not much of excitement going on, or anticipated. That's fine with me.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

#24in48 post two

So yeah, not so much with the nonfiction. A couple of weeks ago, I started rereading Larry Correia's excellent Monster Hunter International series. It's urban fantasy at its best - inventive villians, brave, if slightly unlikely heros, lots of guns and things that go boom. Perfect summer reading.

The reread was prompted by a recent read of two books set in the Monster Hunter universe, but co-written by John Ringo and Larry Correia. Fun reads, both of them.

What I didn't know until this morning, when I finished the fourth book in the series, and went to pull up the fifth (MH:Nemesis above) is that the sixth book is due out...on August 1st. Hurrah! My preorder is in.

Tomorrow I'll switch over to the nonfiction, both of which are actually paper books, rather than pixels in the kindle.

Time read to date: Roughly four hours.

#24in48 post one

The #24in48 Readathon is off to a blurry start in the quiltbabe household. Ironically, it's because I'm tired to due staying up too late last night...reading.

Need for coffee: Caffeine level five.

The plan, assuming things don't get derailed (and the train of my life never, ever runs on new, smooth track) is to get some coffee and breakfast into me while reading for about an hour. There is still housework to be done, but even that has a reading strategy: clean for twenty minutes, read for twenty minutes. Off and on until the housework is more or less done, or I get so deep in a book I forget to clean. (I know which of those two things is more likely)

The two books I'm trying to finish this weekend:

Giddy Up, Eunice, by Sophie Hudson
This is a simply delightful book on women's mentoring relationships among believers. If you are familir with Sopie's style from her previous books (A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet and Home is Where My People Are) you know that her books are much like sitting down with a good friend and letting the conversation flow.

This book is a bit more structured, as she shares what she has learned both from Scripture and other women on the importance of us mentoring one another. It's worth noting that unlike a lot of other books on the subject, she is not pushing a program, but promoting relationships. I think I'm over halfway through (nonfiction is not my usual jam; it may have been over a month since I last read any of this book.)

Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential, by Barbara Oakley
A couple of years ago I took a free online course called Learning to Learn, for which Dr. Oakley was one of the teachers. The course went through the science of how we learn, and why certain strategies for learning were effective/ineffective. This book carries those ideas a bit further. Through stories of people who have successfully made radical career changes or discovered passions they did not know they had, Dr. Oakely explains the shifts in thinking needed to make those changes.

Interestingly, most of the people whose shifts are documented here have moved from a more creative or less structured realm into the areas of math and science.

I'm slowly making my way through - I'd say I'm about a third of the way done.

I suppose I should wash my face, put in the contact lenses and get to it, huh? Will come back and post the updated hours read periodically.

Total hours read: Zero.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Not Your Momma's Mac & Cheese

Last week, the cheese lady at my local grocer (yes, they have a cheese lady) wondered what I was going to do with all the cheese I bought. This is it. As usual, my personal notes are at the end.

Pasta Al Quattro Formaggi

1 pound penne -- uncooked
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 ounces Italian fontina cheese -- shredded
3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese -- crumbled
1 ounce Pecorino Romano cheese -- grated
1/2 ounce Parmesan cheese -- grated
Bread crumb/Parm topping - see below

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon table salt and the pasta. cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot and toss with the olive oil. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about one minute. Slowly whisk in the cream; bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Off heat, add 1/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Cover to keep warm.

Combine the cheeses in a large bowl. Add the cooked pasta, then pour the hot cream over all. Immediately cover the bowl with a plate or foil. Let stand for three minutes. Uncover and stir with a rubber spatula, scraping the cheese from the bottom of the bowl, until the cheeses are melted and the mix is thoroughly combined.

Transfer the pasta to a 9 x 13 baking dish and sprinkle with bread crumb topping. Bake until the topping is golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Bread crumb/Parm topping

4 slices white sandwich bread -- torn into pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter -- melted
1/2 ounce parmesan cheese

Process the bread and butter in a food processor fitted with the steel blade until coarsely ground. Transfer to a bowl and toss with Parmesan cheese.

My notes:
1. Buy the best cheese you can, as the cheese is the star of the dish.
- Fontina is very soft. Sticking it in the freezer for 10 - 15 minutes before shredding/grating makes it easier. I used the food processor to shred mine.
- YES, Gorgonzola. Do NOT skip this or substitute something else. Regular mac & cheese uses dry mustard to provide a bit of a bite. The Gorgonzola provides a nice tang in this dish.
- Pecorino Romano and Parmesan - For the love of heaven, do NOT use the dust in a can! Both of these are hard cheeses. If you buy a small quantity of the good, imported stuff and keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator, it will keep indefinitely. If you have never had the real thing, you are in for a treat. It is so much better than the green/red can stuff.
2. Don't substitute milk for the cream. Really, over six servings, it is only 1/3 cup per serving. I know people who use that much cream in their coffee over the course of the day. This dish is a treat, not an everyday thing, so live a little.
3. Again, do not skip the topping. This crumb mix is outstanding. Here, you can substitute Panko breadcrumbs if you don't have squishy sandwich bread handy - eyeball the quantity.

This is from Cook's Illustrated, a sister publication to America's Test Kitchen. This is hands down the best variety of mac & cheese I've ever had. There are a few variations to the dish, one adding a drained can of diced tomatoes and some fresh basil, another adding peas and four ounces of chopped Proscuitto. Both sound equally wonderful.

Fast and fairly easy to make, this is a keeper.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Rambling

Wow, it's been more than three weeks? Lots has gone on, some of which I'll backtrack on at a later date.

Meanwhile, how do you tell someone that their contribution is valuable, appreciated and well worth what they are asking in consideration - but there is no way in hell they will get it? It's not that the desire isn't there, but the resources are in short supply and will be for some time to come. Life isn't fair, and this particular situation certainly isn't, but there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. This is going to be a difficult conversation with a very, very nice person.

This summer is racing by. It's less than three weeks until the fourth of July, which most consider the "middle" of summer. Around these parts, that's about when Lake Michigan warms up enough to consider actually swimming in it. We stretch our summer out as far as we can on both ends, with patio heaters, lots of layers of clothes (you need them in the morning, and peel them off through the day) and a dedication to enjoying every possible second of even moderately summer-like weather.

This is my slower season at work, or it should be, at any rate. Staffing issues, combined with an utter disregard for written procedures on the part of the staff who is the issue, will make the summer a bit more challenging than I'd like. I'm trying hard to revamp my own processes and timetables so I don't end up the kind of crazy I was this spring (through someone else's love for "fire drill" style of management, not my own fault). It's difficult to do when you are trying to figure out someone else's job on top of your own.

Annual increases came out last week. Have I mentioned I work for a nonprofit? My life seems to be nonprofit (I'd say "lol", but it is nothing to laugh about). Thanks to changes in insurance coverage, I think my salary has actually gone backwards, though due to changes in out-of-pocket limits and drug program things, not premium increases.

I am oh-so-slowly eating my way through the contents of the freezer, cooking many more meals at home. The sad reality of my single life is that I really don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen on weeknights. I'm hoping, through the aforementioned changes in processes at work, to not arrive home in the evening too emotionally drained to put on a pot of pasta. I tend to pick things up for dinner on the way home; I realized after my most recent vacation(where I cooked almost every meal) that I feel much better when I eat my own cooking regularly.

And then there is the financial savings, as well.

The advantage of cooking more often is the gain in speed. It's not so much that I'm a pokey cook, but more that I'm one who enjoys the process. I'm learning that there is great value in just speeding along to get the #@%$% food on the table. Making a large side dish (a potato gratin this week) near the start of the week cuts down on weeknight prep time. All the little things people who have to feed families daily (they do rather whine if not fed on a regular basis - sheesh) probably already know.

Trying to quilt on a regular basis as well. Not getting in there as quickly as I'd like.

Waiting for people to come and pick up the doggone furniture they've said they want. The twin bedroom set is in my way, and I'm tired of looking at the four drawer file cabinet. I've other furniture to move around, once those things are gone. The file cabinet is going to a family member, but needs to wait until either they find a place of their own, or until after their wedding in October. The bedroom set is going to the daughter of a friend, and I thought they would pick it up when they moved apartments several weeks ago, but I've heard...nothing.

Bah. Anyway, that's some of where I am right now. Now I need to have that difficult meeting...